Contact Certainty

Q. My poodle Travis loves Agility. At training he is fantastic and never makes a mistake. But the minute he puts his foot into the ring he steps up a gear and forgets everything I’ve ever taught him, especially the contacts. I invested a lot of time teaching these and Trav is usually really reliable. Maybe he’s a jumping-only dog? Why doesn’t he do his contacts?

A. The ultimate test of any training is competition. You will never get the same rush of adrenalin at your local agility club as you will standing under starters’ orders at a show. When you are running under the watchful eye of a judge, nerves usually combine with anxiety to produce a performance that isn’t as good as it is when you are being assessed by your instructor. Contacts are a prime example of good training that flies out the window the minute there is a possibility of a ribbon. Consider the following points…

Was Trav’s contact performance trained as static exercises? It’s easy to hit the contact when nothing follows it, but there can be up to 20 obstacles on an agility course.  Dogs pick up speed and excitement as they travel from start to finish.  Their striding as well as their entries and exits on equipment is bound to be less exact, sometimes non-existent.  Start practicing your contacts in sequences of equipment.

Perhaps Travis has not generalized his contact training?  The dog doesn’t understand that he is expected to tackle the A-frame at a show in exactly the same way as he tackles the A-frame at his local agility ground.  The A-frame may be in a different part of the ring, painted a different color and embedded in a different sequence of obstacles, but it is still an A-frame.  help him to learn that an A-frame is still and A-frame by taking him to different venues and by always maintaining your performance criteria.  Be confident in your chosen training method and remember to apply it.  Don’t rely on luck.

Do you get nervous and lose confidence in yourself?  Nerves can make a handler forget his own protocols.  Do you plan to pause at the foot of the contact, but keep running?  Do you always say “on it” in training but shout “Stop” at the show?  Does your voice sound pleading instead of commanding?  No wonder Travis jumps off the contact.

You need to develop your training program to include competition work.  Your dog is not the only one that forgets everything when stepping up a gear at a show.  In addition to learning the judge’s course, you need to master your own nerves.  Give Travis 100% whenever and whenever you work him.  Be consistent and Travis will know what you expect and produce the goods.  If you don’t accept one toenail on the contact in training, don’t be tempted to accept it in competition.]

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
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1 Comment on “Contact Certainty

  1. I’ve had this problem and in watching videos realized that I tend to “hover” at the contact bottom in competition. In class or at home I stay at a good lateral distance and am standing erect. The videos show me too close and bending over, pointing at the bottom :-). When I keep my distance and don’t worry and “hover”, the contacts are perfect.