Training a Dog to Be Measured

In dog agility venues, many, if not all, dogs need to be measured to determine which jump height category they fall into.  Some venues measure the exact height of the dog, some simply measure if the dog is under a certain height.  The devices used to measure dogs can range from wickets to measuring sticks.

Generally, a dog cannot receive a measurement for what is known as a permanent height card until the age of 2 (when they are done growing), but if you begin competing with your dog before their 2nd birthday they would still need to be measured until receiving that permanent height card.  Depending on the venue and whether you are having your dog measured for a permanent height card or not, measurements may be done by the judge of record or by a club member designated by the agility trial committee.

In NADAC, the venue I compete it, wickets are used to measure if a dog is under a certain height.  It used to be that if you had a dog who was in the jump height exemption category (primarily comprised of dwarf breeds, such as corgis and basset hounds), your dog didn’t need to be measured.  But with the recent update of their rule book, it looks like my little short dog now needs a height card to confirm that she is indeed a short dog.

A few trials ago, I took Zora over to the measuring area to practice with her and she was very wigged out by the wicket being lowered over her back.  I was surprised at her response, as she’s usually pretty unflappable with such things, but ok, I noted in my brain as something to work on at some point in the future.

Now that she’s needing to be measured at upcoming trials, well the future is here.

So, first order of business: build a wicket.  As Zora is an 8″ jumping dog, the wicket I need would have to be 11″.   If she were a larger corgi, I would probably need to build a 14″ wicket as in NADAC dogs under 11″ jump 8″, dogs under 14″ jump 12″ (though being a corgi, if she was over 11″ but under 14″ the breed height exemption would apply so she would still be permitted to jump 8″).

Building said wicket was fairly easy.  I used some 3/4″ PVC (really, I grabbed an extra weave pole and cut it up) and some 3/4″ PVC Ts I had lying around (I could have used elbows instead, but I happened to have the Ts already).

First I cut 3 pieces 12″ long.  1 piece I used as the cross piece and 2 as the legs.  Once I had put the pieces together and made sure the legs were firmly in the T connectors, then I measured down from the cross piece to the floor (making sure I was first on a level flat surface, I used our kitchen counter top) and marked where I would need to cut to make the device 11″ from floor to cross piece.  Taking my handy jig saw, I quickly cut on my marks and wha-la a wicket.

PVC wicket with tape measure showing it is 11″ tall

Next order of business: train the dog.

As I already knew this was something Zora might be concerned about, I started with the big guns- left over steak.  With her I’ve also found that she will acclimate and become enthusiastic about something faster if she sees Tom or another dog getting attention and treats at the same time.  And I went into it with a plan to keep sessions super short.  I wanted after each session her wanting to play the game more!

Session 1:  I had 10 bits of steak.  4 for Zora, 3 for Tom and 3 for Dulce the spaniel who happened to be staying with me at the time.  Wicket in hand, I called the dogs over.  Zora saw the wicket just in my hand and her ears went back “what is this thing and what are going planning to do to me with it?”  So, I had Tom go first.  I held the wicket up in 1 hand, treat in my other lured him to reach his head under the wicket.  Then Dulce.  By then Zora was, “Hey!  Me too!  Me too!”  So, her turn.  She was still hesitant, ears back reaching then fast retreat.  Then Tom, Dulce and Zora a 2nd time.  Ears forward this time, but still fast retreat.  The 3rd rep I changed the order, Tom then Zora.  And finally Dulce and Zora one last time.  End session 1.

Setting up to play the Wicket game

Session 2:  a few hours later.  Again 10 pieces of steak.  This time I had Tom and Dulce reinforced for different cues (sit and down) and Zora for engagement with the wicket.  This session, as she has a rather solid stand cue, I introduced the pattern of her standing and the wicket lowered over her.  Which would be the behavior requested when being measured at a trial.  In this session, I worked with the wicket about 2′ over her withers, marking and rewarding when she stood steady until her release cue.

Session 3:  next day, by now Dulce has gone back home so it’s down to T and Z and I have 8 treats out.  Began as with session #2, progressively lowering the wicket over her withers.  By now she is able to stand stay with the wicket lowered to about 3″ from the ground, but does a fast duck back once released.

Lowering the wicket

Session 4: now on day #3.  Progress to wicket lowered that same 3″ from the ground, but her comfortable enough to stay around once it has been lifted up and she’s been released.  No more fast ‘get me out of here!’ on the release cue.  Yay!

Session 5: later on day #3.  We’re able now to get the wicket all the way to the ground, but I notice when it touches down and makes a tap sound on the floor her ears go back and she wants out.  Ok, now let’s work just on building comfort with the wicket touching the floor sound without her being under it.

Lower the wicket again.  This time nice stand and ears up

Session 6: on day #4.  Start the session with the tap sound, no adverse reaction from her.  Ok, good, now let’s go back to her stand and it lowered over her back.  Wow!  I have a happy comfortable corgi, she can do it!  Yay!

Session 7: later that day.  Yup, still have a happy comfortable corgi who can be wicketed.  Yay!

Session 8: day #5.  Hmm, let’s see if this transfers to another location.  So we go outside to the porch.  Yup, still have happy comfortable corgi.  Yay!  Let’s try out back up on the pause box.  Yup, still have happy comfortable corgi.  Yay!

Standing under the wicket, reaching to eat her treat on the release.

Since then, at least once a day we practice a little bit of being wicketed.  And yup, happy comfortable corgi has prevailed.  Yay!  Now as she is to be measured at a trial this weekend, I have a plan to take her over to the wicketing station ahead of time and practice.  Helping her remember the experiences at home can transfer to the trial.


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