Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

A Blurb on Contacts

While I was thinking about retraining Maxx’s contacts, a few notable thoughts popped out.  Here is the first one, and for a change, it is not a book!

What makes contact training so different from training things like weave poles?    Weave poles usually become better over time, while contacts frequently deteriorate.  It would appear that consistent performance in the weaves is at least as difficult to teach as consistent performance on contacts, but fewer people have issues with them. 

One possible explanation is the policy of no-fault weaves in the beginning levels of competition.  The dog misses the entry or pops out of the weaves, it is obvious to both the handler and the judge that the dog didn’t perform the obstacle correctly, and the handler returns to the weaves to complete them.  They are allowed to go back and fix them without penalty and if they don’t, they can’t qualify.  The dogs learn to complete the obstacle in a trial setting no matter what.

With contacts, the definition of “correct performance” may not be the same between the judge and the handler.  Since dogs can’t return to the contacts in some venues, and in other venues it is scored as an elimination for training, handlers are much less likely to insist on the same contact behavior at trials.  If the dog hits the yellow, even though he is not maintaining his trained behavior, he can still qualify.  Even when the opportunity exists, unless you have someone like me, who has been burned by letting criteria slide, the incentive is not always there for the handler to go back and insist the dog performs the obstacle “correctly”.

What do you think?  More importantly, if it is a contributor, how can we counteract it in training?


April 15, 2009 - Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Training | , , , ,


  1. “If the dog hits the yellow, even though he is not maintaining his trained behavior, he can still qualify”

    I think you’ve nailed it. Weaves are very black and white. The dog either performs them correctly or not. And if not, you can repeat them until he does. Same with the table. Contacts can be very grey for the dog (and handler). Especially if a variance of performance is allowed in the ring. For example, a running a-frame where the dog may not stride through but leaves at the top of the yellow (but sill in the contact zone), this may not be the criteria the handler wants but it’s a clean run and the dog “did” get the contact. For a stopped 20/20, maybe the dog leaves the end position a split second before the handler releases him. Hmm… do you correct this or keep going? Most handlers will keep going if the run is clean so far. In both cases, the dog is reinforced for the incorrect behavior which over time, causes the original trained behavior to disintegrate.

    Comment by Morganne | April 16, 2009 | Reply

  2. This happens with horses a lot because schooling at a show is a zero score.
    So we have training shows. It works the best if the setting and atmosphere are as close to the real thing as possible even down to the clothing worn.

    The practice agility trial coming up in May (I think) in Kiowa would be a good chance to correct some contacts in a real trial atmosphere. It can be difficult to curb that competitive feeling though and sometimes they know and never make a mistake when you need them to.

    Comment by Lana | April 16, 2009 | Reply

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