Thursday, August 23, 2012

Using The Tip Assist To Improve Teeter Performance

Many of you have probably seen my Aussie, Leila, joyfully launch herself into the air off of the teeter long before it reaches the ground.  Even though she finds this to be the most fun way to perform the teeter, agility judges don't agree :)

After trying various things in an attempt to convince her to ride the board to the ground, I was at a loss for what to do. Unfortunately, most articles and videos that explain methods for teaching the teeter focus on building the dog’s speed and confidence on the obstacle. Obviously, this was not Leila’s problem. She has no shortage of speed and confidence on the teeter ;) Very few resources addressed my problem: the over-confident dog.

When Lynne Stephens came to give a seminar in May and showcase her new teeter training device, the Tip-Assist, I was very interested. Finally, a piece of equipment that would allow me to reward her for staying on the teeter while it is in the air without having to hold the board myself or use potentially dangerous things to hold it up. Below is a basic synopsis of teaching or retraining the teeter using the Tip-Assist.

First Things First 

Have a mental picture of your dog’s final teeter performance before you begin. Ideally you want the dog to run to the end of the plank, ride it to the ground, and then assume his end position

Work on some foundation exercises to increase the dog's speed, confidence, and independence before you begin working with the actual teeter. Things to work on include getting the dog comfortable on a boggle board/moving surfaces, plank work, targeting, shaping games, teaching a release word, and making sure that the dog is not afraid of loud noises

Now you're ready to begin training in the Tip-Assist.

Using the Tip-Assist

Step 1
  • Start the dog by allowing him to hop onto a low, stationary board.
  • Set the Tip-Assist on #16 and place it under the ground end of the teeter, moving it as close to the center of the teeter as possible. This should place the ground end of the teeter a few inches off the ground and not able to move. (see photo below)

  • Wrap the dog around your body and have him hop onto the side of the board and walk into a 4-on position at the ground end of the teeter. The teeter board should not have moved and the dog should be standing as close to the edge of the elevated board as possible. (see photos below)

  • Reward the dog heavily for staying in position (food is much easier than using toys), then lift him to the ground.
  • Once the dog is happily hopping onto the board and waiting in position to be rewarded, you can move to step 2.
Step 2

  • Teach the dog to ride the board down a few inches.
  • Leaving the Tip-Assist on the same end of the teeter as the last step (the ground end), raise it up to #4. This time you will be working on the opposite end of the teeter. What is usually the “up” end of the teeter should now be 4-6 inches from the ground and will move when the dog jumps on it. (see photo below)

  • Wrap the dog around your body and hop onto the side of the teeter. Have the dog ride the board down and move into his end position (either 4-on or a 2on-2off on the ground.)  (see photos below)

  • Heavily reward the dog and give him his release word. Because the board moves a few inches at this stage, the dog may take more time to get comfortable with this step. You do not want to move past this stage until the dog is completely confident hopping on and riding the board down a few inches. If the dog is having a lot of trouble with the motion, move the Tip-Assist in more towards the center of the teeter to lower the end.
Step 3

  • Place the Tip-Assist under the up-end of the teeter at #1 or #2 so that the board does not move. (see photo below)
  • Hold the dog on leash and walk him up the stationary board (the same way he would go up if he was going to perform a normal teeter.
  • Reward the dog when he is all the way at the end of the board in a 4-on position. The board should not move at all when the dog walks up. (see photos below)

  • Lift the dog onto the ground.
  • Allow the dog to increase speed each time he goes up the teeter, removing the leash when he is confident. You eventually want the dog to be running full speed up the board and waiting to be rewarded at the very edge of the up-positioned board. (see video #1 below)

Proofing Performance

Before lowering the Tip-Assist, start proofing the teeter performance. You want your dog to do the teeter independently right away.
  • Vary handler positions and handling each time, adding things such as a front-cross, rear-cross, running past, hanging back, staying close, getting lateral distance, and running at different speeds. Your motion should not affect the dog’s performance. He should confidently drive to the end of the teeter and wait to be rewarded no matter what you are doing. (see photos below)

  • Add obstacles before the teeter to increase the dog’s speed and excitement, and create a more trial-like environment. Rev your dog up and use high value rewards to keep the dog motivated and excited about the game.
Improving performance

Once the dog is confidently completing the stationary teeter with the proofing exercises, you can move the Tip-Assist down one number so that the teeter has a slight drop. (see photo and video below)

If the dog is afraid of the tip, make the drop even smaller by moving the Tip-Assist in towards the center of the teeter. Even though the teeter is now dropping, you still want the dog to run all the way to the end of the board before he is rewarded. The dog should not be stopping at the tip point. Do many reps with various handling/sequencing patterns at each number before increasing the drop. Do not move forward if the dog shows any type of hesitation. Remember your ideal teeter performance that you pictured at the start of the training (see the first bullet in "First things first" above)!

Continue to lower the board until it is dropping all the way to the ground. Once the teeter is falling to the ground, make sure to reward the dog in whatever end position you have chosen (4-on or 2on-2off) and give your release word before you allow the dog to move.

See the Results!

After working with Leila using the Tip-Assist since mid-May (about 2 weeks), we have just this week made it to the stage where the teeter is falling to the ground. We have not had many opportunities to test her new performance, but from the few repetitions we have done, I have been very pleased with her teeters. Her performance is not yet exactly how I would like it, but there is significant improvement. She is no longer flying into the air, and with my crazy girl that is a major victory. We still have another month to work on her teeter performance before I go back to school and lose access to equipment, so I will continue to proof her teeters, adding as much speed as possible to reinforce her holding onto the board even when she is excited. Training using the Tip-Assist has been very fruitful for Leila and me, and I would suggest that anyone experiencing teeter problems to give it a try.

Good Luck!

Courtney Hoslcher
Leila and Sandy


  1. Great write up, Court! I would say that for people who like to have more info, the Wendy Pape video shows the sequence of steps similar to the ones you used--just without the tip-assist (clearly a very helpful tool!). It's the same concept, though, and I would definitely recommend it.

    1. Could you put up a link to the video by Wendy Pape that you mention, please? It'd be greatly appreciated.

      Fantastic article Courtney :))