a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Tika's Contacts

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tika's Contacts

SUMMARY: #2 of several posts related to this weekend. Tika's contact speed looks good. Accuracy still needs work.

One reason that I've wanted to take time off from agility this winter is to work on Tika's contacts. We have a variety of issues:
  • Predictability: Doesn't always stop and wait for my release at the bottom. This means that she often gets ahead of me because I'm behaving as if she's going to stop, which leads to offcourses and refusals on the next obstacle.
  • Doesn't always even hit bottom, leaves earlier & earlier, lately resulting in flyoffs for faults (or zero points in point games).
  • Speed: When I make her stop or correct her, the result is that she slows way down on the descent. We just can't afford that time loss among the high-speed, high-drive dogs out there, if I want to try to get and stay near the top of the heap.
  • Dogwalk up contacts: Leaping over the up contact zone, resulting in faults in USDAA.

I believe that the first three are interrelated and that I can solve all of them with the same strategy. Since coming home from Scottsdale, I've been doing many, many contacts with this criteria to earn a reward: Tika must run as fast to the bottom as she runs up (which is always pretty fast) AND she must wait for me to release her.

I'm concentrating on high-energy rewards. She's a big food hog and loves her treats; it's been a challenge getting her to take a tug-toy as reward for her contacts, but I think that the treat rewards are one thing that has slowed her down. She's gotten much better about accepting a toy as reward recently. I'm still working on it, but there's improvement. And, very important now, I don't reward if she's slower than I want, rather than rewarding ONLY for the two-on, two-off position and waiting for me.

Sometimes I reward by letting her go into the next obstacle and then playing like crazy, but not too often; just want to keep reminding her that the contact is in a sequence and she doesn't get to slow down just because I'm not at the bottom to reward her. I'm trying to drive in and reward her within microseconds after she hits the contact, not to cruise over saying "goooood girl" before delivering the reward.

I'm concentrating on high-energy approaches to the contacts. I never just line her up and send her; I hold back on her collar (which she takes with high excitement), I play with the toy out of her reach, I beat the toy on the contact zone, I run to a tunnel before the obstacle and then send her. I'm trying to remember to mix up being behind her as she starts the contact, being ahead of her as she starts the contact, and running parallel. (I don't have much room in my yard for crossing in front of the contact, but I know that I need to work on that, too, to keep her from popping off as I cross.)

I've gone back to a lot of basic work, as well--driving to a nose-touch target on the ground; driving to a nose-touch target at the end of a contact training board; putting her on the contact on the down ramp, revving her up, and driving to the end of the contact to a nose-touch target. I'm trying to mix up standing still behind her, running with her, and running out in front of her. I think that this is helping because I can do many more of these than I can do full-length contacts.

I'm trying to be consistent with my command--"Climb! GO!! Touch!"--and not use my voice to try to build drive ("Go! Go! Go! Woohooo!") because I want my performance to be as consistent as possible so that I'm not giving extra cues in competition that it's OK to fly off or that it's OK to slow down.

I'm now trying to do high-energy corrections-- on the lie-down afterwards in competition (when she doesn't wait), rather than stop completely, assume a calm voice, make her lie down, walk past her, then release, I'm trying to do a drivey, high-energy down--so I yell "down" with as much excitement as I can, keep my own body and voice high-energy, run past her, release as quickly as possible. Because, in the past, I've noticed that, when I make her "down," this slows her down. So I want everything that she AND I do in relation to contacts to be high-energy and drivey at all times.

So, at home, I'm trying to make the corrections high-energy, too. No "oops" and just bringing her back around to touch. And I'm trying VERY hard not to ever let her back up a step to put her foot on the contact--if need be, I rush in and grab her before she can try it. I NEVER taught that, but I see her try it once in a while, and I've seen too many dogs lately get faulted for that.

I'm not bothering with 2-on/2-off on the teeter with her, and haven't for a long time, because the only times she's ever done flyoffs is when she doesn't realize that it's a teeter. But I have been working on speed and drive on that her WHOLE agility career, and she's doing very nicely. I almost never get sliding teeter contacts, but she does drive into the contact zone, and I release her quickly and this weekend her teeters were nice.

This weekend, every one of her contacts was fast. She didn't stick her 2-on/2-off dogwalks--ran through them without stopping--but she didn't fly off. I did make her lie down twice, and a couple of her Aframes were just lovely, driving to the bottom and waiting for me, eyes bright, poised to run, rather than simply trotting down and assuming the position, even after the drivey "Down" corrections.

I think we're making progress.

Up contacts? Pfah. I'm still not convinced how I want to do them, so I'm ignoring them yet again.

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