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

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

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

Determining Performance Criteria

Before you train any behavior, you have an important decision to make.  What are the criteria going to be for correct performance?  Having a plan and end criteria is similar to having goals.  You have to know what you want in order to know what to reinforce.  Also, what you are asking must be something that is understandable to the dog.  Too often, we start training a new behavior without knowing exactly what we want.  The end result is often a confused, frustrated dog and a discouraged trainer.

Your plan will vary depending on your training method.  If you are shaping, you need criteria for each step along the way.  If you are luring or targeting, you will need to know what the end behavior should look like and what variations you are willing to accept to get there.  Either way, your criteria must be clear, enforceable, and you must be able to easily determine whether the criteria have been met.  Make sure that the reinforcement rate can be kept high with the criteria you choose.

A good example is teaching a dog to perform the table.  The steps for shaping a table performance might be broken up as follows:

·         Dog looks at table

·         Dog moves toward table

·         Dog touches table

·         Dog puts a paw on table

·         Dog puts two paws on table

·         Dog jumps on table

·         Dog enthusiastically jumps on table

·         Dog enthusiastically jumps on table from 5 feet back (10 feet back, etc.)

·         Dog lies down on table


·         Dog runs full speed, jumps on the table, lies down immediately, and stays until released

Each of the steps has black and white criteria that can be understood by the dog and easily determined by the trainer.  The behaviors are broken down enough that the reinforcement rate can be kept high, but aren’t so subtle that the dog will be confused.  

Every behavior can be broken down into several steps like those above.   The key is determining the end result so you can map a plan to get there.  Do yourself and your dog a favor and decide on criteria *before* you train, and you’ll be surprised by how easily your dog learns.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Agility, Communication, Training | , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments