Friday, May 16, 2008

Contact questions

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.


Cat, Tessie, & Strata said...

I replied to the Team FernandezLopez blog, but I'll reply here too :)

I have "running" contacts with my Springer, more like "she naturally hits the yellow the vast majority of the time" (always gets A-frame contacts though -- always).

I'm training my Sheltie puppy for Silvia Trkman's running contacts after I took a seminar with her last winter. I've been a big fan of hers for awhile and after talking with her in person I know it's what I want to do.

cedarfield said...

I think teaching the dog how to run fast across a board without jumping is very valuable training even if you later decide to add a stop and wait for release. And for training the release, check out Rachel Sanders DVD called Bridging The Gap. It shows how to train for a verbal release thoroughly and easily.

Diana said...

Im currently trainning my shelite with a running contact. Its been alot of work and there have been problems. I started with Syliva Trkmans method but as the board got highter she started jumping the contact. If I lowered it she was ok again but if I moved it up just a little she would start jumping the contact. I am now using stride regulators. But its a lot of repetition. And I probably dont do enough repetitions comparied to other bloggers Im watching train running contact. Of course their contacts are better than mind too. On the clean run Yahoo site Susan Garrett gave her opinion on 2O/2O vs running contact. I felt like she was saying a 2O/2O off was more reliable and not as hard on your dogs body. Diana

Lisa B. said...

I've heard a lot of people opine that stopping for a 2o2o is harder on a dog's body than running contacts. I'm not sure what to believe! I wonder what S.G.'s reasons were for thinking that the running is worse for them?

I think it all comes down to the fact that with most dogs, training any kind of consistent contact behavior takes a lot of time and effort. I think I'm just inclined to want a running contact for some reason.

Diana said...

Here is part of what S.G. said,
" As for the safety issue I would guess that my dogs that do running contacts
have been
put over the Frame more often in the first 2 years of training then my stopped
dogs did during their entire career. With the stopped contacts I had lots of
games I
played at home to remind them of their job. All of these games could be done at
the end
of the Frame so I rarely did the entire obstacle in training ---just once or
twice in
sequences prior to a trial. So for wear and tear on the dog's body the properly
nose touch contact wins in my opinion." So she doesnt really say it bad for them but is seems to imply it. But she also said if you want to be world team competitive that you need running contacts. Diana

Lisa B. said...

I see what she means ... I guess I was thinking more about the effect that stopping at the bottom might have on their front paws/shoulders. I guess either way has potential for problems.

Pacco de Mongrel said...

i've read about running contact...but since i doesn't hv the contact equipment at home and while at the training ground i've only accessed to it once a week. is impossible to lower the plank and work on it running it.

so 2o2o with a nose touch will be a easier for ppl like me who didn't get frequent accessed to contact equipment. coz i can re-enforce it at home with juz a plank or at the staircase.