Thoughts on running contacts

This is just a fun to thing to think about, in theory. I have no plans to change my current dogs' 2o/2o contacts. I would like to give a go for our next dog, assuming the dog is smaller. I MAY be bold enough to try it with a big dog, but I'd probably wimp out.

First, my definition of a running contact involves a TOTALLY INDEPENDENT performance on the dog's part, running full speed across the aframe/dogwalk all the way through the contact while maintaining focus on where the handler is and being able to send on, come to the handler or turn away immediately after exiting the equipment while still maintaining a clear criteria of performance.

One of the problems I tend to see with running contacts is that the dog often has offcourses/wide turns after the equipment as the dog leaves the equipment full speed and accelerates towards whatever caught his eye while he was on it. Whether this is from poor handling (the handler did not indicate any direction to the dog before/while the dog was on the equipment), or inadequate training (the dog has inadvertantly been taught to take whatever piece of equipment is in front of them), I'm not sure. Also, the other obvious problem with running contacts is missed contacts, from jumping over or just striding over (in the case of a big dog).

So running contact methods that I've seen/heard about:

Hoops
Stride Regulators (foam tubes, low jumps, wallpaper trays)
Natural Stride
Nose Target the Handler's Hand/Foot
Breaking the Dog's Stride (by telling the dog to lie down at a certain point on the equipment)
Foot Target a Slat
Foot Target a Target/Mouse Pad/Touch-It Board on the Equipment
Foot Target a Target/Mouse Pad/Touch-It Board off the Equipment
Clicker Training for a Lowered Head
Clicker Training for Not Jumping Off the Board

Now, what don't I like about these?

Hoops and stride regulators will give you great results when the equipment is there ... but aren't teaching the dog anything. Without thoughtful performance on the dog's part where he really knows what his job is, the behavior will never be reliable.

Natural stride will only get you so far, as the dog's stride will vary depending on how fast or what angle the dog entered the piece of equipment. Once again, there is no criteria that you can reinforce to duplicate the behavior. This is just plain luck!

Targeting the hand/foot first breaks my requirements for a good running contact, it's not an independent performance and you will not be able to ever move away from the equipment. Second, if your dog has any speed at all, good luck getting in front them for every piece of equipment!

Breaking the dog's stride, once again, no clear criteria to the dog, and from what I've heard these contacts are not very reliable. My ideal performance would be a 99% success rate for contacts with a running contact method, and this method will not provide that.

Foot targeting a slat is much more clearly defined and can be broken down from taking a 'slat-like' piece of wood and training that away from the equipment then moving it onto the equipment. It can be used to train an independent contact with clear criteria for the dog. What I don't like is that dogs don't like to step on slats! Also, it can be very hard to know if the dog actually hit the target at speed in training.

Foot targeting a mouse pad/target pad I think would be easier for the dog to hit, give them more room to manuever as they're moving at top speed as well. What I don't like about targets in general is the potential to slow the dog down and create an uncomfortable stride for the dog.

Foot targeting off the board I don't like because after the target is removed there is no clear criteria to the dog, nor is there any actual criteria for the dog while they're on the equipment. As I saw with Poco, whom I tried this method with, the dog can very easily jump OFF the equipment to get ON the target no matter where you place it! I can see this behavior rapidly falling apart.

Clicking for a lowered head is an interesting theory, but a difficult criteria to maintain, and not very specific for the dog. Just a lowered head is also no indication the dog the will actually hit the contact either.

Clicking for not jumping off the board is an interesting theory, but I don't feel it gives the dog a rock solid comprehension of what their job should be.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't think all the methods don't have their benefits! Which is why in my current (theoretical!) plan, I combine several of the ideas above.

STEP ONE - INTRODUCE HOOPS: Teach the dog to drive through (at full speed) a set of PVC hoops, 12 inches wide and tall enough to let the dog easily go through without altering body style. The dog should be able to send, recall and run with the handler from all angles and positions both sending on to a toy or target, returning or coming to the handler and turning away from the handler afterwards on verbal cue.

STEP TWO - TWO HOOPS: The dog should drive through two hoops on the flat at least 20 feet apart, using the same criteria as above.

STEP THREE - ADD BOARD: The dog should drive through two hoops at the entrance/exit of a 12 foot long, 12 inch wide flat board (surfaced) using all of the same criteria as above.

STEP FOUR - ADD ANGLE: Start adding an angle to the board, now clicking the dog as he's preparing to leave the board through the hoop. I'm envisioning doing this in my living room, gradually propping the board up on different furniture to create the height increases. Once again, making sure the dog is completing the board independently no matter where the handler is, and being rewarded both at the handler and away (randomly).

STEP FIVE - LOWERED DOGWALK: Lower down a full size dogwalk and work this same exercise with the full length of the obstacle. The dog should be able to both find the entrance (PVC hoop) from any angle and drive full speed across the equipment to the exit (PVC hoop) and either send on, come to the handler or turn away from the handler from and angle independent of handler position at this point. The dog should still be being clicked for preparing to exit the board with all feet driving through the contact.

STEP SIX - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS I: Using either the lowered dogwalk and the lowered board at home, take off the tops of the PVC hoops so only the uprights remain. Repeat the exercises above, this time only clicking and rewarding assuming the dog is running smoothly across the board with no signs jumping. Clicking when the dog is about to exit the board running through the contact.

STEP SEVEN - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS II: Raise the board gradually up to 48 inches, keeping your criteria very clear.

STEP EIGHT - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS III: Raise the lowered dogwalk up to full height and practice the same behavior with the full length and speed.

STEP NINE - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS IV: Now to start fading out the rest of the hoops, once again, lower the board and also go back to the lowered dogwalk. Exchange the current PVC uprights with a pair of slightly shorter pieces. Once again, work gradually back up to full height on the practice board, maintaining your criteria for where the dog should be exiting/striding through the board and varying your position and exit criteria.

STEP TEN - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS COMPLETE: Continue to lower the uprights until they're removed completely and only the bases remain, then slowly remove the bases, replacing with smaller and smaller pieces of PVC until the dog clearly understands the behavior you want without any external props. The dog should be clear this his job is to run all the way to the end of the board, without jumping, independent of handler position and be able to send, recall, run with the handler.

STEP ELEVEN - RUN THE FULL HEIGHT DOGWALK: The dog should be able to run the full height dogwalk full speed without jumping off the board, sending, recalling and running and turning away at the exit of the board.

STEP TWELVE - RUNNING FOOT TARGET: While teaching the running board behavior, also be teaching a running foot target seperately. This part I'm still debating on the best way to introduce this to a dog. The end result should be a dog that can send, run, recall and hit the target from any angle or position. The dog should clearly understand how to alter their stride to hit the target, as well as to accelerate away from the target immediately. I really think a touch-it pad would be invaluable for this. The dog should be able to send to the target and either drive on, return to the handler or turn away from the handler on cue that is given BEFORE the dog gets to the target (example - "touch, come!", "touch, go!")

STEP THIRTEEN - INTRODUCING THE TARGET ON THE PRACTICE BOARD: Naturally, all the work with the practice running board/lowered dogwalk would be filmed. Looking closely at the video, determine the area on the contact that the dog is mostly comfortable striding through at a run from all speeds/angles. Measure this out on the practice board at home and place the touch-it board at this position. Lower the board down flat and and introduce running across the board while touching the foot target. Naturally, this would involving sending, recalling and running with the dog from all angles, as well as either sending on, calling the dog to you or turning the dog away from you as the dog exits the board.

STEP FOURTEEN - RAISING THE BOARD WITH TARGET: Start adding angle to the board, and introduce the touch-it board on the lowered dogwalk. The criteria should be for the dog to be going as close to full speed as they can while still consistantly touching the target no matter what the exercise. The touch-it 'beep' is used the reward marker from now on.

STEP FIFTEEN - RAISE TO FULL HEIGHT: Raise the practice board to full height, thoroughly proof the behavior. Raise the dogwalk to full height, thoroughly proof the behavior.

STEP SIXTEEN - TUNNEL DISCRIMINATION: Add other obstacles, starting with tunnels. Start with just one straight tunnel directly in front of the dogwalk and practice both sending to the tunnel (while still hitting the target, naturally!), and giving the dog a cue before the dog gets to the target to return to the handler. Then make the tunnel a 'C' in front of the dogwalk and practice using directionals to guide the dog into the correct side of the tunnel from behind, while still frequently alternating with recalling the dog to you. Then add a tunnel under the dogwalk and teach the dog to perform the tunnel flip on verbal while the handler is behind. Alternate with sending to the tunnel in front or calling the dog you. Make the tunnel a "C" under the dogwalk and teach the dog to find this tunnel entrance on verbal as well. This proofing and discrimination will give plenty of opportunities for the dog to miss the 'touch', and opportunities to take the dog back and correct that mistake, making the exercise easier if necessary.

STEP SEVENTEEN - INTRODUCE THE AFRAME: Lower down the aframe and bring back your contact hoops, placing one at the entrance/exit of the board about 3 feet from the board itself. Teach the dog to drive confidentally full speed across the lowered aframe from all angles and positions.

STEP EIGHTEEN - RAISE THE AFRAME: Gradually raise the height of the aframe, making careful note where the dog is striding through, and adjusting the PVC hoops closer or farther away depending on what is needed at that height. The dog should be striding full speed across the obstacle while still fully running through the contacts. Raise the aframe up to full height.

STEP NINETEEN - PHASE OUT THE HOOPS: Same as above for the the dogwalk, follow the steps for phasing out the hoops. Starting with a lowered aframe and removing the tops of the hoops, work back up to a full size aframe, clicking and rewarding the dog for running all the way down (as far as is natural and comfortable) through the contact without jumping or launching off. Fade the hoops out completely.

STEP TWENTY - ADD THE TARGET: Same as above, on the lowered aframe at the target board and then increase back up to full height, proofing for all positions and angles.

STEP TWENTY-ONE - ADD OBSTACLES: Same as for the dogwalk, do tunnel discrimation and verbal directional exercises.

STEP TWENTY-TWO - FADE OUT THE TARGET: I think the target should almost always be used in practice to maintain the behavior, but just using the 'light' sensor rather than the beep. I might first try putting a 'cover' over the target pad so the whole portion of the contact that it was in looks 'smooth' like a 'real contact', like a thin surfaced yellow board. The board would still sound, but there would be no physical cue. Then you can transition from that to using the light marker so only you will know if the dog maintains criteria. Then of course there's plenty of proofing, proofing, proofing and adding in full sequences and different places and locations. But that's just time ...

And there you have it, 22 steps to running contacts! Well, maybe. It's funny how sometimes real life doesn't work the way you plan.

As for the teeter, despite the fact that Fenwick has the only 'running contact' in the house and that's on the teeter, I don't think I would teach a 'running teeter' from the start. Fenwick had to stop for many years, and he 'knows' where he needs to leave the board now, it's all sort of magical. I didn't really train it!

I think in order to transition (eventually) to a running contact on the teeter that a 4-on teeter contact is the way to go. Sure, there are plenty of dogs that can 'slide' all the way to the end of the teeter into 2o/2o position. It looks very impressive! The problem being with this performance is the dog is coming to a completely stop. It's my theory that the fastest teeters take into account if the dog can be moving continuously on the board and accelerate immediately off the board. It doesn't matter who gets to the end of the teeter first, it matters who gets to the next OBSTACLE first. I think the most efficient/fast teeter is one where the dog is just moving continuously from entrance to exit, no dramatic artsy move into a stop at the end. So my theory is I would teach our next dog a good 4-on contact and then as the dog gains confidence start early releasing, then releasing on the 'bang' and let the dog figure out where he needs to be. Which isn't a 'true' running teeter, but I think is the best performance.

As always, I could change my mind next week, but this is how I'm envisioning attempting to train running contacts at the moment ....
Running contacts. Hmmm, your pretty damn barmy. With a wee lad I could understand, but a dog with speed and length of body like London. Are you daft? Your Scottish pal,
Anice Beathas
Who knows, I love so many. The choices are limitless and it changes day to day. I have three or so years to decide.
If I wanted a mini aussie I would get a pom/sheltie cross and dock the tail. No, I really like King Charles Spaniels. If a small dog comes into my life it will be a cavalier. Easy dogs. The aussies are so demanding, it would would be nice to have an easy dog.
running contacts
I would just like to know why you *want* running contacts? You've just finished listing all the problems with training them (and who do we know who has trained them and has found them to be as good or better than a properly trained 2o2o)? If a fast dog is really doing a running contact (no slowing) how are they going to be able to turn tight into a tunnel? How will you be able to teach a "right" jump at the bottom of the plank when there's more than one jump to the right? And I still maintain that the amount of time spent trying to train a running contact could be better spent in developing speed on the flat and good, tight turns when you need them. I doubt that too many classes are won or lost on the contacts if the ground game is all it could be.
Re: running contacts
Running contacts are FUN! I just love the flow of running a course without having to keep stopping all the time. I really enjoy it when I run courses with Fenwick and let him run his contacts, total blast! However, I can't do that all the time or we wouldn't have any contacts at all, naturally.

I don't think there is that much of an advantage to running contacts, and, like I said, I probably wouldn't try it with a big dog! Then there is just the challenge of it all ... COULD I even do it? Hmmm ...
Re: running contacts
(Anonymous)
Elicia Calhoun has running contacts on her aussie
I actually...have a big dog and am in the process of training running contacts. He's not built very athletic so whatever we can do to get more speed, we're doing it. The way I was possibly thinking about was a target (plate) a few feet away from the end of the contact obstacle with a nose touch. Has anyone heard about this? I'd love to know if it was successful.
Perfect timing you put this up Heather...haha the last few days I've been thinking about this...;)
The problem with target plates off of the equipment is that the dog can still leap off the equipment and touch the target plate. If you're trying a retrain, I would suggest starting with a hoop and the target, so you don't get the jumping at the end of the contact. Let me know how the training goes!