This post at the Team Fernadezlopez blog was of great interest to me, because I'm currently waffling back and forth on the question of what kind of contacts I should teach Pinky. With Lucy and Mr. Gomez I just accepted that I should strive for 2o2o (for non-agility folks, that means "two on, two off," which is how we describe the contact criterion where the dog stops with its back paws on the contact and its front paws off). I think it's probably easiest way for a brand-new handler to train and enforce some consistency.
But I have a few problems with the 2o2o. The biggest is that in order to make them reliable in a trial one must be prepared to clearly mark their absence as incorrect even if the dog actually touched the contact enough to satisfy the judge. That means you have to do something that could potentially interrupt what might have been a qualifying run just because the dog didn't stop and hold at the bottom of a contact. Some people go so far as to end a run and carry the dog off the field if he doesn't stop, others just use a verbal mark or pause. If you don't consistently mark an incorrect performance, what happens is that a dog can learn two ways of doing contacts: one for practice and another for trials. That's what my dogs did (my own damn fault, of course). Because I wasn't the greatest contact trainer, I ended up with leaping contacts in trials (and eventually in practice, too) for a while. Through a lot of re-training and practice, Lucy and I have worked out a "moving contact" compromise wherein I signal her to slow down and shorten her stride enough to get a foot or two on the yellow before commencing her leap.
This isn't a great system, of course. For starters, it's really hard to front cross her coming off the A-frame, and that's occasionally been a bit inconvenient. But the worst part is that even though I've gotten to where I can signal the slowdown from about 15 feet away, I'm still stuck babysitting her contacts all the time. If I were to keep running forward or turn away slightly, odds are she would either leap the contact or come off the side. This has been a big disadvantage to me many times on the Masters Level courses, especially in Gamblers.
But even if I had done all the necessary work to get reliable 2o2o contacts, I sort of doubt they would be independent of any action by me. I rarely ever see a dog that will reliably stop in 2o2o and await the release no matter where the handler is or what she is doing. Getting a 2o2o that doesn't require at least a little "babysitting," takes months of repetitions and reinforcement ... as do most methods of teaching running contacts (like Sylvia Trkman's, for example). So if I'm going to put in all that work, why not use it to at least have FAST independent contacts?
I'm really interested to know what other people think about the pros and cons of running contacts, so if you have an opinion, please comment.