Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Retraining Dilemma

Anyone who knows me is aware that Maxx and I have struggled with contacts throughout his agility career.   Last night in class, Katrina commented that she recently went back and looked at my goals over the years, and one of my top goals for 2005 was to fix Maxx’s contacts.  That’s right, 2005.  Guess what one of my top goals is for 2009?  Thank goodness I knew more with Storm and Dash – they both have much better contacts!

Obviously the contact issue hasn’t kept us from accomplishing a lot, but it is extremely frustrating, and if it weren’t a problem, we could have accomplished so much more.  Even more frustrating is that his contacts are perfect in practice.  In the past year of classes, I have managed to cause him to break exactly once.  Trials are a different story.  At the recent USDAA trial in Loveland, most of our NQ runs were due to missed contacts.  He appears to have a very solid understanding of the behavior in a class or fun match situation, but no understanding whatsoever at trials.  So, for about the past month, I’ve been chasing ideas round and round in my head, trying to come up with a plan.

I filled a whole page with thoughts about why contacts are such an issue for so many teams and what makes them different from weave poles or jumps.  That page will be fodder for another post, I’m sure!  I didn’t come to “a” conclusion, but it did make me think through all of the issues involved in training/retraining.

First, I tried to determine the cause of the problem.  Basically I decided that my inexperience during the early years with Maxx was the biggest contributor.  Maxx is the first dog I’ve played agility with, the first dog I’ve ever participated in a sport with, and the first dog I’ve tried to teach anything other than basic family obedience to.  When I started with him, I didn’t know anything about training contacts.  I didn’t realize that not maintaining my criteria in trials would cause the behavior to deteriorate so significantly (hey, beginning students, reread that sentence!!!).   I thought that with such a hard-headed, driven dog, stopping him on the contacts was the only answer.  I am beginning to rethink that position.

All the retraining I have done up to now has revolved around a stop on the contact.  With his drive, Katrina and I thought that anything else would result in him donning his Superman cape and flying over the contacts altogether.  We’ve tried getting a down in the yellow – but in a trial situation, he stands and looks at me like he doesn’t know what the command means.  Judges don’t allow you to stand at the end of the contact waiting for a down for the entire day  J.  We’ve tried taking him off the course if he doesn’t maintain his 2o/2o.  It worked for a few months.  Katrina recently suggested I go to a nose touch, but I honestly don’t believe that I will be able to maintain that criteria at a trial.  I can picture myself standing silently at the end of the dogwalk, waiting 20 seconds or more for Maxx to dip his head, while he is barking at me in frustration.   

The definition of insanity is doing what you have always done and expecting a different result.  My opinion is that Maxx’s biggest roadblock to having great contacts is his desire is to continue on the course without having to come to a stop.  Although it seems contrary to what I have always believed, I have decided to experiment with letting him run through the contact and continue as long as he goes all the way to the bottom.  Crazy?  Maybe.  But no crazier than continuing to fight with him over a stop. 

I have a plan, and I’ll try to keep everyone up to date on his progress.  So far I have shaped him running through a hoop, and in class last night I used a hoop at the end of the contacts.  My biggest challenge will be figuring out how to communicate to him that running all the way to the end is what allows him to continue playing.  Wish me luck!   


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


  1. Just found your blog.
    I went through the same dilemma with Sage. First agility dog, didn’t maintain criteria in the ring, perfect in training but not with the added stress of a trial, etc.

    I also finally did what you are doing. I just let her run them. We practice on the DW a lot at home with a hoop. Seems to be holding up in competition since it’s been a long time since she’s missed a DW contact.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Morganne | April 15, 2009 | Reply

    • One of the things that made me decide to go this route is that I now have a DW and an AF. Hopefully it works for us as well as it has for you! Thanks for the encouragement.

      Comment by lorriemaxx | April 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. Since I started letting Skye run them, we have had good success at AKC, though the smaller contacts at USDAA have been more trouble. He never was good at stop&hold during a trial, so I wasnt able to get my training performance at a trial.
    I dont know that I can say his performance has been deteriorating, though at times it feels that way, and then we will have another trial and he will hit every one.
    Never an easy answer. I make sure he knows what is expected, but I would like to make them more solid. I’ve yet to find the exact solution, so when you find it, let me know 🙂

    Comment by Greg S | April 15, 2009 | Reply

  3. Funny, that yellow zone is there because it’s only natural for a dog to jump off half way down especially if their head is up.

    Hmmmmm……Dogs live by the nose and they can be running and enjoying olfactory stimulation at the same time. Maybe just to get a good habit going
    you could put a teeny tiny whiff of something stinky at the bottom of the contacts. Just a couple molecules of horse poop would bring that nose right on down to the bottom.

    I hope you all don’t mind me commenting on stuff I know nothing about.


    Comment by Lana | April 17, 2009 | Reply

  4. Hmm. One of the reasons I ended up with running contacts is that stopping *anywhere* on a course was ridiculously demoralizing for Emma. I had a motto for about 6 months (about 4-6 days of trialing for us ) of “Run Fast Run Happy”. I kept her moving, no matter what. She launched o a few contacts, but stayed a few as well.

    Comment by Adrienne | March 9, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: