Solid Contacts in Dog Agility
While dog agility evolves and matures in training and handling there are some age old questions that will always remain. One of those questions is whether to teach stopped or running contacts. You have to admit that watching a team with solid running contacts is amazing, but they aren’t for everyone or even for every course. In fact, they aren’t for every piece of equipment either. The dog walk is the “safest” obstacle for a running contact whereas the teeter screams for a 2on 2off to avoid “fly offs” and missed contacts. That is why more and more teams are choosing to teach both the running and a stopped contact. Both have their place in dog agility and they both have this in common, they need to be solid and consistent and both need to be started well before heading to the actual equipment.
Stopped contacts start with target training and shaping. Using nose targeting requires the dog to understand the command to touch and hold the touch with their nose long before anything else is added. 2on 2off should start with teaching the dog to maintain position with the hind feet on a target, usually a small board with the contact color. And running contacts demand a knowledge by your dog of their striding that is best taught with no height to a board.
Some handlers will avoid running contacts for the mere reason that they cannot keep up with their dog doing running contacts on some if not all courses. Some dogs just can’t handle the speed and like adrenaline junkies, get carried away and lose control. These are conditions that would justify staying with stopped contacts.
Other dogs will get too slow after repeatedly doing stopped contacts and need to learn how to drive into the stopped position. And some dogs are just plain too relaxed and the stopped position sucks the drive out of them. These are examples that may dictate trying some running contacts to boost drive again.
Some ideas to help keep your running contacts grounded are using a jump directly before and after the contact obstacle, using contact zoners as well as going back in training to striding lessons and keeping angles low until your dog is back on track. And getting those stopped contacts solid takes loads of proofing off then on the equipment. Using stairs, boxes, boards at shallow angles, changing your positions as well as running past while your dog maintains position are some of the most common ways to proof your stopped contacts.
Whatever contact you decide to try, Take Your Time on the foundation work and be open to the possibility of trying another method if your team struggles with your chosen method. What may look really nice on one team may destroy yours. And if you have a story about your struggles and successes with contact training, we would love to hear them.