Sunday, December 28, 2014

Back to the Contact Debate

As a former sworn enemy of the running contact, as well as a current trainer of dual contacts, I feel that I am still grasping the full matrix of pro's and cons, disadvantages and advantages, do's and don't s, yays and nays of running contacts vs. stopped contacts every day.  Currently my conclusion is STILL that both have a place in Agility and will not win or lose the game for you.  It does depend on your own abilities, time, patience and most importantly common sense.  Now a few of my thoughts:

On 2o2o Contacts:

-I don't mind 'over-shooting', if my dog stops dead off the contact, but doesn't self-release so be it.  In a training situation, I will encourage reversing or targetting for the contact with back legs, in competition, I would have released before this moment.
- A slow or creepy positioning will not get rewarded.  This generally means there are huge gaps in training, or problems have been created by handlers not making criteria clear enough, or messing up releases.
- Striding is very important to me, yes, even in 2o2o, I actively train this. It is even more important in 2o2o in the sense that a small 'wobbly' will cause severe deceleration on the contact obstacle, because it is already an exercise in deceleration.
- Position and release, POSITION and RELEASE, position and RELEASE, POSITION and release.  If your dog does not have a 110% clear understanding of these two things, you are lost in the dark without a GPS. Many people tend to neglect their release.
-When it comes to self-control exercises ON an Agility course, I don't believe in over-proofing or over-compensating. We are promoting super high drive and speed and super duper excitement on an Agility course. Personally I don't expect my dogs to hold a wait or a 2o2o or any other seriously controlled position while 15 people are throwing balls, 37 sheep are circling the dog walk with 15 border collies herding them, while 3 Mallinois does attack work on the judge and the president arrives in a helicopter. If a dog is struggling with the position, I won't ask for a 10 second wait, I will ask for 2 seconds and have something to reward.  If a dog continuously self-releases, I won't UP the criteria for holding (increasing time or distractions), but rather decrease it and have something to reward. I work up to high levels of proofing with verbals (I can use tunnel/go go go with all my dogs but they won't release until the 'okay'), physical cues (I can sprint past, none of my dogs will move) and distractions (I can throw a ball or toy, but none of my dogs will move) and combined (so I can say go go go tunnel, while sprinting past and throwing a toy) and my dogs won't move until they have been released.  BUT if a dog should break, you go back to making it easier and working back up to the ultimate proofing.

On Running Contacts

- I believe in very clear understandable criteria for dogs. While hind leg awareness is very important to me in my dogs with regards to Agility in general, I don't think hitting the contact with hind legs while in a full sprint is an actual understandable criteria. I was a long jumper in high school, for me to hit my mark correctly while in full sprint was hard enough, and I was only running on two and had a full comprehension of my requirements.  Striding patterns can be taught easily enough though.
- I believe the egg should come before the chicken.  A dog should be willing to sprint/run/gallop full speed ahead/behind or next to the handler without chasing a toy or food before any contact training is taken on. I don't want my dogs to be running after a toy while they are negotiating any part of the plank/contact.
-Running contacts might never have a 100% consistency rate. Accept it.
- Running contacts are not meant for all dogs.  You have to take the build/size/striding of your dog into account.

Comparing Running Contacts and Stopped Contacts

-It all depends on the scenario and course design.  I have timed many a split in my life, as in tons, from small shows to EO and AWC and I have always found that sometimes stopped contacts still give you the edge.  If you have both... well then you are in the pound seats.
- Neither one is easy to teach, they all have difficulties and all dogs differ, so no predicting in what will be the easiest or the hardest with any given dog.  Don't compare badly trained stopped contacts with running contacts and vice versa.  A high success rate with high speed is possible in both.
- Having trained both, I can assure you that teaching both PROPERLY are equally exhilarating.
-Whether your dog is small, medium, large or anywhere in between is irrelevant, build, forward drive, striding and work ethic are the factors that will determine whether you can teach fast contacts or not.
-If any part of your contact training depends on where you are, what you are doing with your pinkie or your middle toe or whether you get a word out at the right time or not, whether you stop or go, then I you still have work to be done.  Contact performance, if trained properly, shouldn't depend on you.
-2o2o requires more ring training and people often make the mistake of comparing splits/times of when the dogs is released compared to a running contact, instead of thinking when the dog WOULD have been released in a big competition (ie first foot touching contact zone)

All of that said and done, the point I am actually trying to make, is don't knock one method for another, properly trained, anything can be a winner.  Today I did a quick comparison on Dog Walks only, over the next few weeks, I will do a few video studies involving different exits off Dog Walks to expand my ability to read my dog and course we may be presented with.

Today's video shows that, speedwise, 2o2o of dog walks can yield a very different performance depending on many factors, while running dog walks will show marginal differences in this regard. However hits with running dog walks differ a lot more than with stopped contacts. A lot of room for interpretation, thought and growth here...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info on what you do when training a 2 o /2o. Very helpful. I had running contact with Java but I'm trying to change to a 2 o/2o.