Lorrie’s Agility Dog Blog

Musings on Dogs, Agility, and Being an Instructor

Retraining Contacts: Session 10

It was a beautiful day and I got home before dark, so I took the puppies out to play.  Maxx is doing great on his contacts.  I hope he does well at the trial this weekend.  I’m going to try to treat them the same as at home.  He did have one superman moment out of all the repetitions we did.  The video is below.

 Maxx contact retraining session 10

I just had to add this clip of my crazy girl Storm and her sliding contacts.  She is a riot.  Watch her tail – it wags ALL the time.   She’s a happy girl.  I left the sound because it is so funny to hear her slide down.  You would think I’d never have to trim her nails (I wish).

Storm contact training


April 30, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Training | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Teaching Agility, Training | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments


My students hate me.  Any time they are having trouble motivating their dogs or keeping their attention, I pull out the big guns – home made liver treats!  The problem is that as soon as their dogs know I have them, they become my dogs :-).  Actually, I get them out and let my students use them, after they see how much better their dogs perform for something special.  They have been so popular that I have shared the recipe with all of my students and friends. It seemed like a good subject for a post!

These treats are something you can feed your dog and know they are not unhealthy like the “doggie junk food” you buy at the store. The other nice thing about these treats is the consistency. I experimented with the recipe until I got something that was soft but not crumbly or gooey. The secret, I think, is the gelatin.

Liver Treats

  • 2 lb. chicken livers, drained & put through the food processor until soupy (yuck!)
  • 3 eggs
  • ~1/4 cup salmon oil or similar supplemental oil
  • 2 pkg. unflavored gelatin
  • 24 oz. (3 cups) brown rice flour
  • Optional – ¼ c Parmesan cheese
  • Optional – 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • Optional – ~3 Tbsp. liquid glucosamine (not necessary – just a nice added ingredient)

Beat the liver, eggs, oil, glucosamine, and gelatin until thoroughly combined.  Slowly add the rice flour (and garlic or parmesan).  The mixture should look kind of like thick cake batter.  Pour into two well-greased (or parchment paper-lined) 9X11 pans.  The mixture will be about 1/2” – 3/4“ thick.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  It should have a spongy texture and bounce back if you press on it.  Let it cool for a few minutes, then turn out onto a cutting board and cut into 1/4″ cubes with a pizza cutter.  Let cool before packing into plastic bags. 

I use either Bob’s Red Mill rice flour (you can get it at the grocery store) or I use stuff from whole foods.  They sell it in bulk and also near the regular flour. 

I always freeze the treats I make because by the time we get to class, they have started to thaw, and the dogs like them either way.  I don’t know how long these would keep in the fridge, but I’m guessing they would be fine for a few days.

Enjoy! (Or rather, let your dogs enjoy!).

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Teaching Agility, Training | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adding Adrenaline

Instructors sometimes have a difficult time keeping students energized and motivated.  At various points during their agility careers, students can become a bit “ho-hum” about training.  It is sometimes difficult to get beginners to show enthusiasm after the initial thrill of a new activity wears off.  Many people are too embarrassed to be animated in class.  More experienced students have a difficult time reproducing anything resembling the excitement of a trial.  The result is training that is far different than what will occur at a trial.  When classes slow down, it is time to add some adrenaline!

When students are learning handling, they need a lot of practice on crosses.  Here is a way to make that practice fun.  Set up three cones, tunnel bags, or something similar as shown in the picture below.  Create a start/finish line about 15’ back from the cones.  Now it is time for agility barrel racing!  Have each handler do one round with front crosses and one round with rear crosses.  Time each round.  The dog and handler with the lowest combined time wins.


For more advanced students, set up two mini courses that are exactly the same.  There is an example below, but you can use whatever arrangement you want as long as the start/finish line is the same.  Divide the students into two teams.  Try to make them as even as possible in terms of speed, skill, and experience.  Run a simultaneous relay.  If you have any dogs that might get overly excited when another dog is running, put up a ring gate between the two courses.  The team that finishes first wins.  You can make rules about dropped bars (i.e. someone else on the team has to reset them).


For the students who are trialing, set up a full course, or as close to a full course as you have room and equipment for.  Tell the students that the course will be run just as if it was a trial, with an unnamed prize going to first place.  Time each student and keep track of faults.  You can decide to score time plus faults or use standard scoring.  Present a prize to the winning team.

Prizes for winners do not have to break the bank.  I hand out bags of “good” treats (Zuke’s or something similar), stuffed toys, small bags to carry training supplies in, journals, and everyone’s favorite – chocolate bars.  The idea isn’t to have a huge prize for the winner; it is to spur the competitive spirit of the class so they push like it is a trial rather than “only” a class.  Just one of these sessions every other month or so can energize the class and motivate students to practice more at home so they can keep up with their classmates.  Add some adrenaline to your classes and see what your students are really capable of!

April 27, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Mental Management, Teaching Agility | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Retraining Contacts: Session 9

The weather wasn’t as nice today, but we are still plugging along, working on Maxx’s contacts and Dash’s weaves.  It started raining before I got to Storm, but she will get her turn eventually.

 My dogwalk only goes ½ height or full height, so I took the plunge today and raised it.  I also raised the A-Frame to about 4 ½ feet.  This weekend is a NADAC trial, so it will only be at 5’.  We did 10 A-frames and 10 dogwalks.  The good news is that he is still running all the way down the dogwalk and A-frame with the hoop.  The bad news is that he bailed off of the one A-frame that he volunteered when my back was turned.  Hopefully it was just because I wasn’t paying attention.

I’m teaching tomorrow night, and attending class Tuesday, so we probably won’t be able to practice at home again until Wednesday.  

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Training | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tip Of The Day – Explaining The Importance Of Tricks

It really motivates students when they are told how the little “tricks” they are using will translate into agility behaviors. Show them how “spin” evolves into a “walking spin”, and then into rear crosses. Explain how important their “stay” is if they want to be able to have an advantage at the start line. Demonstrate the importance of having a dog that will pay attention and stay next to you by running your dog through obstacles without him taking them (hello Snooker!). Tell them how playing “leave it” games can be used to distract a dog from sniffing or going to visit another dog. New agility students are much more likely to practice foundation when they see how it relates to agility.

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Teaching Agility, Training | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retraining Contacts: Session 8

The nice weather has stuck around, so I was out with all three dogs again yesterday. I’m trying to help Dash better understand weave entries by using some of Susan Garrett’s 2X2 training steps. I taped all of our training and playing. I threw the ball for Dash 105 times. That’s not a typo – 105. Thank heavens for chuck-its!

Storm got to work on her 2o/2o contacts, speeding up the teeter, and threadles.

Maxx had a pretty good session. We worked the lowered dogwalk with a hoop, and I raised the A-Frame a bit more. We did 10 repetitions on the dogwalk. One was slow, but the others were good. We did 8 repetitions of the A-Frame with the hoop. Now that I have raised it some more, I’m going to have to either attach the hoop to the frame so it is at an angle, or move it out from the bottom of the frame. Maxx is hitting it with his tail or rear end every time. We did one last repetition with no hoop. He didn’t jump! The video is below. I hope everyone is enjoying this journey in retraining as much as I am! Comments or suggestions are welcome.

Maxx contacts session 8

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Agility | 1 Comment

Conditioning Tip

To strengthen the hindquarters, teach your dog to sit up, stand, and move back to the sitting up position without their front feet touching the ground.  Start with the dog in a sit.  Raise a treat slowly above her head to get her to sit up.  Mark and reward.  When she has this step down, have her sit up and then bring the treat straight up so she stands.  Mark and reward.  For the last step, very slowly lower the treat so she sinks back down onto her hindquarters.  For longer-backed, out of condition, or heavily-built dogs, you can teach them to sit up while bracing them against your legs (they will have to sit with their backs facing you).   Dogs with very long backs like Corgis may always need support to sit up safely.    

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Conditioning, Training | , , , , | 1 Comment

Retraining Contacts: Session 7

No video today, but I went out and had Maxx do contacts for his dinner.  We did 10 repetitions each of the lowered dog walk and lowered A-frame with hoops.  On each obstacle, when I was standing right at the end of the contact, I got one unwanted repetition of the old 2o/2o behavior.  Otherwise, he ran through with decent speed.  I’m going to continue to use the ball, though.  Surprisingly, he runs faster chasing the ball than he does for the food.  Pretty amazing for a dog that didn’t play with toys at all for the first two years I had him :-).

Dash and Storm worked for their dinners as well, so everyone was happy to get a chance to play.

I’ll continue to keep you posted on our progress.  It will be interesting to see what happens the first time we trial after this retraining phase.  We will find out May 2 – 3!

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Contact Obstacles, Training | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Front Cross Controversy

There is a local rivalry – of the friendly type – regarding front crosses.  One camp is convinced that front crosses slow the dog down and rear crosses allow them to run without interference from the handler.  The other camp insists that front crosses speed the dog up because most dogs run faster if the handler is ahead of them giving them clear direction.  Everyone agrees that it is important to have as many tools as possible in your toolbox, but we can’t agree on whether to use the open-ended wrench or the socket.  So who is right?

Interestingly, I think both camps are correct under certain circumstances.  The reason that one side thinks front crosses slow the dog down is that they have observed so many handlers executing crosses in the dog’s direct path, which does shorten their stride and slow them down.  The other side has learned that correctly placed front crosses keep the dog racing forward because they have clear cues and are driving toward the handler.  The key is “correctly placed” front crosses.

Consider the short sequence below.  The first diagram shows a path for rear crosses.  While the rear cross line looks more economical for the handler, it is not giving the dog as much information, which will cause the dog to slow down.  From three to four, the handler must be facing (and running toward) jump four until the dog commits, so he is traveling in and facing the direction of the off-course tunnel.  If the off-course is avoided, there is still the possibility of the dog turning wide as they look at the tunnel, wasting yardage.  From five to six, the handler is again behind the dog, so they must face the off course jump beyond six.  As a result, the turn from six to seven will not be as tight as it could be.

Diagram 1

Diagram 1

Looking at one of the possible front cross plans (Diagram 2), the handler uses a front cross between two and three to create a smooth turn.  They can then support jump four while moving in the direction of five.  As the dog jumps over four, the handler executes a front cross at five, allowing him to step between five and six and perform a post turn to bring the dog over seven.  With this plan, the dog should never consider the off-course jump as a possibility.



Diagram 2

Diagram 2


The third diagram shows an overlay of the two dogs’ paths.  The one with rear crosses has used more yardage and was probably running slower as well because he had to interpret the handler’s somewhat ambiguous cues.  The one with front crosses has a smoother, more direct line because there is no question about which obstacle the handler is indicating.

Diagram 3

Diagram 3

This will break down if the front crosses are not placed correctly.  Look at the last diagram, below.  The plan is the same, but the placement of the front crosses actually slows the dog down.  This is frequently seen at trials, even with very experienced handlers.   In both places in the sequence, a well-placed rear cross would be better than the front cross that was executed!

Diagram 4

Diagram 4

Obviously there are many more ways to handle the sequence, using a variety of crosses.  I use rear crosses and occasional blind crosses when it makes sense to do so.  With two fast dogs, there is no way I can always be ahead.  Well-trained dogs can be taught that rear crosses mean tight turns, and some dogs will keep their speed up while driving away from the handler.  However, I’m of the camp that believes staying ahead of the dog and using correctly placed front crosses gives the dog a clearer path, causes him to drive toward the handler, and results in a faster sequence.  When faced with a choice, you’ll see me running all out to make that front cross the majority of the time.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Agility | 5 Comments