Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Choosing a Contact Behavior

One of the important decisions to make when training a new dog is what type of contacts the dog will have.  The decision depends on the goals of the team, their dedication to training, and the trainer’s ability to teach the dog.  Part of the difficulty for new people is that they are making a decision without having any experience.  Their decision is further complicated by the numerous choices including 2O/2O, 4OTF, 1RTO, and several types of running contacts.  It is up to the instructor to tell them what the future ramifications of each choice might be.   Veteran handlers with new dogs have at least been exposed to the various contact performances and usually have an idea of what they want for their next dog. 

As an instructor, my job is to consider the team and guide them in the right direction or make sure that their expectations are realistic if they already have something in mind.  Everyone thinks running contacts are wonderful, but new students don’t always realize the effort required to train and maintain them.  I only recommend that students train running contacts if they meet the following criteria:  they can keep up with their dog well enough to direct them at the end of the contact, they have equipment or are willing to make something resembling equipment to practice on at home, and they are willing to practice almost every day.  If these criteria aren’t met, I recommend a different method. 

For beginning handlers, we almost always start them off with 2O/2O.  The criteria for that type of contact are very clear.  The dog has two feet on the floor, and two feet on the contact.  It is easy for both the dog and handler to understand, and it is easy to determine if the criteria have been met.  2O/2O contacts can be transitioned fairly easily to “quick release” if the student later decides their goal is to compete at the national or international level.  For long-backed dogs or large dogs with straight shoulders, I generally recommend a different type of contact behavior, like 4-on-the-floor (modified running contacts with a down at the bottom of the contact), a modified 2O/2O, with the dog stopping right at the bottom of the contact, or running contacts.  I discuss the reasons with the handler, give them the options, and let them determine their choice.  

For experienced handlers, the contact method depends on their goals.  Teams that want to have fun at the local level and qualify consistently usually choose to teach 2O/2O.  Because the behavior is so clear-cut, as long as they maintain their criteria at trials, it is very reliable.  If they want to be competitive at a national or international level, they generally choose running contacts. 

Part of the difficulty with teaching running contacts is that the criteria are not always clear.  With a 2O/2O or 1RTO, the answer is very black and white.  4OTF are a bit gray, only because the dog may lie down 6″ from the bottom of the contact, or 2′ away and the handler generally will accept either.  Running contacts are more difficult to define for the dog.  Many methods have been developed to try to “tell” the dog what the criteria are.  Things that promote foot touches are black and white, but it appears that the dogs concentrate more on the target than they do on the contact behavior.  The same is true with the box method or stride regulators.  If you can do enough repetitions, it can be argued that you build muscle memory, but what have you actually taught the dog?  Will it hold up on slatted and unslatted equipment?  How do you clarify your criteria if you are just teaching them to run into the yellow?  Do you reward 1 foot 1 inch into the yellow?  Do you only reward all four feet in the yellow?  Does the dog understand the difference?  How do you tell for sure if the criteria were met when the dog is running at full speed?

Deciding on a contact behavior doesn’t have to be difficult.   If you want to compete at the national (or international) level and you are willing to work through the gray areas, running is probably the way to go.  If you are going to compete locally and don’t have the inclination to spend large amounts of time on contacts, 2O/2O is a smarter choice as long as your dog is built reasonably well.  The most important consideration is to be sure that your choice is one you are willing to stick with.  Retraining is much more difficult than training and takes more time with less consistent results.  That’s the voice of experience talking!

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April 29, 2009 - Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Teaching Agility, Training | , , , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. 1RTO? All I can come up with is “1 right toe on”!

    Comment by Jackie | April 29, 2009 | Reply

    • One Rear Toe On. The criteria is that the dog has to be touching the board with at least one rear foot (toe).

      Comment by lorriemaxx | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  2. Yea, Im in the screwed up contacts area. Diana

    Comment by Diana | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  3. Does this mean that my 4OTY get a treat is a forever choice?
    Gosh darn it. I thought it would soon be turning into SDOTY and then would become RDOTY someday. You know huh?

    Comment by Lana | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. Skye is opting for the NCAA (No Contact At All) or LOTY (Leap Over The Yellow) choice with his running dogwalk, so he’s going back to the ‘ol 2O2O, but I haven’t told him yet.

    Comment by Greg S | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  5. I still think LOTY is natural for a dog.

    I’m hoping my Xena taught herself a lessen when she jumped off the tall AF.
    She scared me to death and herself too. Luckily she veered to the right or she
    would have landed on Lorries head. She won’t soon forget the landing
    and the gasps from us and she obviously knew it was a mistake because she clawed her way back up there without being asked and made the contact. Her dew claw pad was missing some skin but that’s all.

    Lana

    Comment by Lana | April 30, 2009 | Reply

  6. I think no matter what you end up doing the 2o/2o should be taught in the beginning & then move on to the other behaviors. Then if the new stuff falls apart, you have something to go back to. Although running contacts are lots of fun & very pretty…when they go right & aren’t flying contacts.

    Comment by Kim W | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  7. I think I lucked into a method of training a running contact. One that seems to be working for us anyhoo.

    I started by cuing Emma to “Waaaait” as she came down the downside of her contacts. At the start this made her slow WAY down. Then I started running her flat out and she kept leaping over the contacts. Woosh! So I began cuing her to wait to slow her down a bit, then releasing her at the end of the contact. We’ve sort of met in the middle and now I have a running contact with a throttle. lol

    Comment by Adrienne | March 9, 2010 | Reply


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