I’m a big believer in allowing my dogs to choose their path in agility. I want my dogs to choose what works for them, both physically and mentally, and in my opinion contacts are one of the “big” things that I like to let my dogs choose.
Every dog is different. Their structure is different and where they are mentally is different. So when I start teaching my dogs their contact behavior, I allow the training to be very fluid. I want my dog to tell me what works for them!
All of my dogs start with the same “base” training, but I will make adjustments for each dog. For example, I like to start teaching all of my dogs a rear end behavior on the contact (a 2 on 2 off), and I also teach a contact behavior with a sit. Once those are mastered, I begin to take into consideration the individual dog.
I have four dogs; let’s talk about each of their contact performances:
Try remains in a standing position with all four feet on both the aframe and the dogwalk.
Nargles has a running contact on both the aframe and dogwalk.
Ally has a 2 on 2 off. She chooses to lay down on the dogwalk and sit on the aframe.
Trip does a 2 on 2 off for both the aframe and the dogwalk.
As you can see, all offer very different behaviors, and I am okay with all of them!
Each one of these dogs chose a contact behavior that felt good to them. I used the same “base” training, but then I let them choose what works best both physically and mentally.
Even these contact behaviors could change as well over time. When Ally is sore or she is not properly conditioned after her winter off (and conditioning plays a HUGE role in contact performances), then she will stand for both the aframe and dogwalk. This tells me that something is “up”, and perhaps as she gets older, her contact performances will change. I will allow that! I want her to be happy and choose the behavior that works for her.
Part of my contact training foundation is about observing the dog in daily life. When waiting to go outside, does your dog sit? Stand? Down? What is their natural behavior when asked to wait? Does your dog like to stop? Or run? Or maybe take a few steps and then stop?
All of these things can help tell you what kind of behavior your dog might want on the contacts; pay attention them!
I have also learned that a lot of dogs have different preferences for the aframe and a dogwalk. that’s fine; I allow for that too. 🙂
Another big thing in my dog’s contact training is teaching my dogs to shift weight to their rear end. I want my dog’s body to be in balance when coming down the ramp. This means I want their weight to be balanced between their front and rear end. Naturally, dogs carry more weight on their front end, so I want to help counteract that by encouraging a weight shift to their rear when training contacts. During their training I watch my dog carefully and ensure there is a balance between their front and rear end. I don’t want my dog to come down the ramp with all their weight on the rear, because at the bottom of the ramp they will they transfer their weight to their front, which makes it more likely that they will jam their shoulders.
I help teach a rear end weight shift by asking for a sit behavior in my early contact foundation training. I feel this helps teach the dog a proper weight shift and encourages balance in the dog’s body. Once I have worked through the foundation steps and feel that my dog is weight shifting and keeping their body in balance, I will start to loosen the sit criteria. At that point, if my dog chooses to stand, I will let them. And by the same token, if they choose to lie down, that’s fine too! In Trip’s case, he liked sitting at the bottom, and he continues to do so. But he also sits naturally in daily life as his preferred waiting position, so his behavior on the contact made sense to me.
In my Consistent Contacts through Fenzi Dog Sport Academy I will be talking about my foundation steps, from observing the dog all the way to working the dog on the contact board. This will be a great class for young dogs starting out, and also for older dogs who may need to re-train their contacts. Hope you can join me for this fun class!