a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Fixing the Danged Contacts

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Fixing the Danged Contacts

SUMMARY: Boosts, once lovely, are broke. Tika's, always struggling, are broke. Plus some useful definitions.


  • Two on/two off (2o/2o): Stops at the bottom of the contact with two feet on it and two feet on the ground. A common strategy for ensuring that the dog hits the contact zone, because it is an easily teachable position.
  • Running contact: A *trained* pattern in which the dog doesn't slow down on the descent but must run through the end of the board, not leap from it.
  • Maintaining criteria: Choosing a way in which something should be done and then refusing to accept less than that. For example, for 2o/2o, not accepting the dog running past it or leaping off it. (That's after you've been through all the training process, of course.)
  • Running contacts through gradual relaxation of criteria: Agility-dog-training joke.

Tika's Contacts

In early training, her contacts were lovely, fast, accurate 2o/2o. That meant things like, if I was way behind her, she still ran full-speed to the end of the contact and stopped; she didn't slow down and wait for me. And she *stopped*. Until there were squirrels in the training facility (remember on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where the voice says, "Thar be squirrels ahead!"? (During the 30 years before the dang move-based renovation anyway.) That was the warning in class!

We fixed that by putting tika on a 20-foot lead, which the instructor held while I ran tika on the contact, and when she flew off after the squirrel, she came to an abrupt and ignominious end (of the lead, that is).

She's been just about perfect just about always in class even since, but I have fought with it at trials for lo these many years. A few years back, I just stopped. I was spending trial after trial after trial giving away my entry fees because I'd do something to correct her or stop her on the contacts when she tried to run through them. Turns out that she was hitting the yellow contact zone most of the time, and she was fast but not as fast as many of those Border Collies, so I've been accepting the "modified running contacts" (as one innocent admirer called them).

Except that means that I have to babysit the contacts. It does make a difference in how i run a course. Like last weekend's Grand Prix, where I really wanted to be 10 feet away from her on the dogwalk to get a critical front cross. And she bailed BIG time.

Or in Steeplechase Round 2, where I got almost right on top of her on the Aframe but she still bailed BIG time.

I'm thinking that it's the rubberized contacts. They are SO quiet and the surface is gentle and easily gripped, and I think it accelerates the dogs!

Boost's contacts

Have always been lovely in class. (You know how it goes.) And were pretty good in competition, too, although--

Well, see, we started with a nose touch at the end of the contact (to keep the dog focused forward) and, despite warnings, I dropped that criteria. So Boost started running to the end and swiveling back to face me. That's a problem when I'm trying to go straight or turn away. And then she started leaving the contacts without waiting for my release --I'm afraid I encouraged that by releasing very quickly in things like Gamblers and Steeplechase.

Last weekend, she stuck only one of all the aframes, dogwalks, and teeters that we did. One. Which makes it very hard to get distance and assume that she'll be facing the correct direction at the end of the contact. In the past, slowing down and making her DOWN when she leaves early has fixed the problem. Well, that didn't work Saturday.

So Sunday I picked her up and took her off after she left the contacts early (well, ok, except in round 2 of the Steeplechase.)

I'm going to blame some of that on the rubberized contacts, too.

So--fixing them--

Hard to fix nonsticky 2o/2o when the dogs do them fine at home and in class. They're way past where me doing things like crossing in front, saying "good dog", moving suddenly, throwing a toy, and so on will get them to break.

In class this week, I bumped up the level to my most excited and devious. Got Boost to break once with one method and another time with a different method, and then she was solid. So I got the instructor involved. NG appeared suddenly on the opposite side of the contact as I yelled "touch!", and NG yelled in an excited voice while running, "yay, get it!" and threw a toy. On the dogwalk, Boost watched with fascination but didn't break; on the Aframe, she broke, we repeated, and then she was solid.

Tika? Ha! No food involved, Tika didn't care what the instructor was doing. Continued with rock solid contacts, completely ignoring NG.

Sigh, so this weekend--Regionals--3 days--

Sooooo with Boost I probably will take her off the course again if she leaves the contacts early. I REALLY need reliable 2o2o. I hope the message gets through.

With Tika, I dunno. In competition, if she's going to do 2o2o, she tends to slow way down, so I like the speed of the "modified running contacts." And she's 9 and a half now. And I fought with them for SO long, I just don't want to go back to it.

Did take a couple of seminars in running contacts, thinking they'd be perfect for her, but the training is (seems to me) far more rigorous than the 2o2o, and I've just never felt rigorous enough. Plus REtraining contacts after 8 years, yeah, well, good luck with that.

Guess we'll see how they look after the minor catches in class! Wish me luck!


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  3. Puppies: Please don't post ads in the comments on my blog. Thanks.

  4. Hope you're having fun at trials and that the contacts are wonderful!