Training Dog Agility Contacts with Targeting

dog agility contact trainersThere can be great debate on which style of contact you should teach your dog, the 2on 2off or running. Each has it’s own downfalls and benefits and really depends on your and your dog. Some dogs are prone to flyoffs when given the opportunity, or take the initiative, to perform a running contact. While others lose motivation and drive when asked to stop. Many trainers now teach both so they can interchange as the course or mood of the dog dictates.

Most will agree, however, that it is imperative to teach your dog a solid 2on 2off for the teeter for you and your dog’s safety. When taught on all obstacles, the 2on 2off can provide you with the time you need to catch up when running a fast dog or getting a lead out on a sticky line that may come after a contact.

On the flip side, a solid running contact can give your dog the ability to perform distance work and keep up their ground speed. It can also help shave some precious time with a slower dog. Though we stress that running contacts should be taught with the help of an experienced instructor as it does tempt fate for fly-offs and injury to your dog when taught incorrectly.

Either way, contact training is a necessary step in agility and needs to be fun and rewarding for the dog. The use of a target as well as teaching a “touch” command is a great place to start with 2on 2off contacts. You want to fade the target as quickly as possible and teach the 2on 2off as an end behavior to the contact area.

As with all new lessons you need to pay attention to your dogs, stopping before the dog becomes overwhelmed or bored. Drilling any agility obstacle can cause avoidance and resentment, you want to keep contacts fun and upbeat. Here are some helpful tips for target training.

REMEMBER: keep sessions very, very short, 1-2 minutes at most, since dogs burn out quickly on targets.

  • Shape the dog to target with his nose or paw, whichever you prefer.  Many handlers prefer the nose since it seems clearer to the dog that they MUST stop.  Reward repetitive touches, or ‘holding’ the touch.  Build value for touching enthusiastically!
  • Practice targeting on stairs, and then fade the target itself, thus leaving your dog with a nose touch to ground behavior. Use any stairs you can, in different settings. Keep sessions short and highly rewarding.
  • Begin practicing the targeting on contact behavior, again beginning with the target so your dog ‘gets it’, and then fading the target, leaving the dog with a nose touch to ground. Keep sessions short and highly rewarding! If at any time your dog’s behavior deteriorates, go back a bit in training, and work your way back up.  Never take a good contact stop for granted.
  • After the dogs are used to contact training, start them on proofing – so they know to stick it no matter WHAT you do!

If you choose to try running contacts, we offer contact zoners to help your dog stay on the contacts to the end and avoid them ever learning to ‘fly off’.