Contact Zone Crash-Course

dillon20aframeContact zones are the yellow areas on dogwalks, aframes, and teeters.  In most cases your dog has to at least touch them on the down slope, and in the case of the teeter and dogwalk, on the up slope also.  In the beginning of your contact obstacle career, your dog is going slower and might not have any problem making the contacts, but watch out! Unless your dog is small, it most likely will become a problem later. Don’t let missed contact zones become a habit. If your dog seems to have difficulty making the contact zones, you can use “zoners” to mark the sides better. Many trainers also encourage you to teach your dog to “target”, which is to have your dog stop just at the bottom of the contact zone (with his feet still on the plank), wait for your treat (or click, if clicker training), then release your dog to the next obstacle. Most people with fast and large dogs would benefit from teaching their dog this command. It is important to be consistent with target training, however. Another method is to teach your dog to slow down with the “easy” command.

10 Comments on “Contact Zone Crash-Course

  1. … oops … make that the up contact on the dog walk. The up is still judged on the teeter. Still, HOORAY!

  2. Hi Faith,
    Overcoming the clicker fear is relatively easy to fix, but will take time (which is half the battle for us I know!). I would suggest using the clicker, but not for training. You can use it often throughout your day, especially at happy times. When your dog is outside romping and playing, for example, and you are relatively far away, do a click. Or when your dog is eating his dinner. You can muffle it in your pocket at first. I have also seen a clicker with a volumne control if this would help. You may not ever want to train with a clicker (there’s varying opinions about them, especially whether they are that advantageous in the majority of agility training) but overcoming any fear for a dog is a huge leap toward increased confidence, especially in environments where that sound is common.

  3. If you can believe it, she’s been fine at fun matches the last few times we went, but it’s back to the sneak-down behavior in the “real” ring. We went to a trial at a venue we haven’t been to in a year and she was great. Probably thought it was class or something. Then, it’s back to the old tricks. Sometimes, I wish she wasn’t so smart!

    She does have verbal markers, but reacts whenever she hears a clicker. It could be all the way across the field at a trial. At least, now she doesn’t run for cover everytime she hears it.

  4. Faith, That’s a mysterious problem! I can imagine it in my head (is she a border collie by chance?) but am trying to think what could be going on in her head. The only thing I can think of is your method of rewarding the 2-on-2-off at home practice. If a toy, she might be waiting to see it in your hands, so is creeping down until it is in view. Of course treats and toys aren’t allowed in the ring, and I think dogs intuitively know this.

    One other idea, is your subtle body language that occurs right when she is about to come down the contacts. At home you are not so concerned about her accuracy, but in trials you are probably tensing up a little more, hoping she doesn’t jump off. Try to be conscious of what you are thinking at that very moment and see if there’s something subtle you can add to your body language to communicate to your dog ‘it’s all right, let’s step it up a bit’.

    Just some thoughts, from someone who doesn’t have this problem (but others!) and hope it might inspire some ideas. Thanks for getting us to think!

  5. Great for the dog that flies over contacts. What about the dog that sneaks down the contacts while in the ring? My dog does perfect 2-on-2-off in training, but does the little “is this far enough?” shuffle in the ring. By the way, she’s afraid of the clicker. How do you proof a behavior that only appears in competition?

    • Huh. Have you tried fun matches so that she gets the trial without the tribulation?

      Also, on the clicker… one of my dogs isn’t a fan, so I replaced it with a verbal marker. 😀 Not as precise, but it gets the point across okay to Nova.

  6. You are right, that is an odd statement. I heard that when I first watched the video and couldn’t figure out what she meant. Expert Village is known for a lot of good agility videos, so I figured she meant one thing, but accidentally said another. Dunno. Thanks for pointing it out!

  7. “For safety reasons your dog does need to stop at the bottom”. Being picky but the statement is not true.