What Does Three Years Between Practicing Contacts Give You?

Well today we opened registration for my latest on line course “Say Yes to Contact Success.”  It has been two years in the planning; how to make sure we get great results for the students without overwhelming anyone with too much “stuff.”  Well yes there is a lot of stuff, but I have vision of amazing contacts in the future for MANY people!

Here is what I have observed about dogs and agility contacts. There seems to be two distinct approaches; training contacts or managing contacts. The minimalist approach is the management approach, which appears to work on some level for those of you that can run faster than your dog; get in front of him manipulate your body in order to to prevent a missed contact.

Honestly, you don’t see a lot of this with people just starting out, it usually is just an erosion of criteria that results in this type of contact performance in a dog that has learned what competition means to his handler.  Remember in our relationships with our dogs there is always one animal shaping the other. As far as dog agility goes one animal shapes the other to do things he possibly would not naturally want to do. So it can be me shaping my dog to drive into position to nose target on a stopped contact or to add an extra stride to get deep into the yellow on his contacts OR . . . it can be the dog shaping us to run an unusual handling path around a course, moving in to be close to the dog any time he has to execute a contact.

One animal shapes the other — always.

Personally I find it much more rewarding to do my shaping at home so the dog doesn’t shape me inside the ring! The very cool thing is that if you train contacts correctly, the behaviour is there for the life of the dog  . . . all it requires is one small element from you and that is consistency.

I think this video clip demonstrates my point perfectly. In the first clip I am totally in the moment with Encore, it is a finals class at the WAO world championship in the UK last May. I  have decided to run her dogwalk (which I have trained both a run and a stop with her) and she has only a running A Frame. I am in the moment driving hard, the dogs can feel it and start to push as well yet one over handling moment causes an off course and so immediately I switch to driving hard by stopping my contacts. Encore is an 8 year old dog, who has experience many “going for it” moments in competitions throughout her career but she is happy to stop when asked and because she wasn’t immediately released she goes into performing her nose taps on the seesaw. Even thought she is long past the mid-point in her career, the performance expectations are still very clear to Encore which makes her very happy to do as I expect.

The next clip just makes me smile. It is DeCaff at 12 years old. I filmed this yesterday morning. DeCaff has not been asked to perform a stopped dogwalk performance in at least 3 1/2 years . . . likely longer. She has been retired that long but I asked her to perform her running dogwalk more than her stopped one when she did compete. So this clip is completely cold turkey, spontaneous, no prepping in advance, I didn’t even ask her to nose touch my hand . . . I just wanted to see how a well understood behaviour in a dog could remain dormant and still come back with brilliance. Well I don’t know the answer but I do now it is at least 3 1/2 years!

Investing your time to train contacts is well . . .  just that; an investment. It takes time to put the pieces together so they are this well understood by your dogs.

Think about the “response cost” of managing your dog’s contact performance. It is not just the agility runs that are wasted because your dog missed another contact it is also all of those other runs you didn’t qualify in because you had to run closer to a contact then you would have liked and so you were so out of position for the following sequence in which the dog either had a bar or took an off course. Training your contacts correctly is an investment up front, but the pay offs are so very worth that investment.

I do all of my training outside at home so that when I step into the ring I can focus all of my efforts on being the best handler possible for my dog. Having contacts you can rely on gives you a higher level of confidence . . . knowing that your dog at any age is going to do what you trained him to do.

If that has an appeal to you, check out my latest course; Say Yes to Contact Success. I know you will be reaping the benefit of your investment for years to come and for dogs to come. If you have any questions I can answer about our upcoming contact course please be sure to leave them here!

Today I am grateful for my nephew Phil who burned the midnight oil with me over the past two weeks videoing and editing until the wee hours then getting up and working for his father during business hours . . . and to Phil’s wife and young son for allowing me to steal him away!

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