Friday, January 31, 2014

Agility Training - Running Contacts vs. Stopped Contacts

In agility there are many decisions a handler has to make while training their dog. You have to decide what their criteria will be on all of the obstacles. There are some obstacles where the criteria is already determined, like weave poles. The dog must weave through all of the poles, and must enter with their left shoulder to the first pole. We don’t get to choose that. The training methods may vary, but the end result is basically the same. Most obstacles are this way, but there are some where you have to choose how to get to the end result. The biggest “criteria choice” handlers have is their contact performance.

Contact performance can vary depending on the dogs speed, size, or even their confidence level. Everyone has their own personal preference, and may make a decision based on their past experiences or on the dog they have now. 

Handlers can choose from “running contacts” or “stopped contacts.” As you begin agility training, learning the difference between running contacts and stopped contacts can help you choose how to train your pet. There are some pros and cons to both:

Running Contacts: Running contacts are when the dog continues at full speed and strides down into the contact zone. A true running contact has no deceleration. There are many methods to training this performance. Some include teaching the dog to foot target, or teaching them to control their stride down the contact.

Pros to running contacts:

  • Running contacts take less time for the dog to perform because they never stop until the end, so it will contribute to a faster course time.
  • Running contacts do not put as much physical wear and tear on a dogs body, because we are not asking them to stop on an incline at high speed.
  • For environment sensitive dogs, running contacts keep the dog moving, so they don’t have time to think about the environment and get distracted.

Cons to running contacts:

  • For handlers that need a physical advantage over their dog, running contacts do not give the handler a chance to get ahead.
  • Running contacts take lots of repetitive training and commitment, and will take longer to train consistently than a stopped contact.
  • A running contact performance is not as consistent of a behavior as a stopped contact, it’s nearly impossible to make sure the dogs feet are in exactly the same place each time.
  • Turns off a contact have to be trained very well. The dog must really understand how to run through the contact but turn as soon as they hit the ground.
  • Running contacts make it more difficult for this obstacle to become independent.
Border Collie on A-Frame must "hit" the yellow area in stride

Stopped Contacts: Stopped contacts, usually a “2 on 2 off” behavior, is when the dog stops at the end of the contact with their two rear feet still on the contact, and their two front feet on the ground. The dog would then be released by the handler before continuing forward. There are many methods to teaching stopped contacts. Some include a nose target, while lots of people will shape the behavior.

Pros to Stopped Contacts:

  • Stopped contacts give the handler a chance to get ahead of their dog.
  • Stopped contacts may not take as much training time and commitment as running contacts.
  • There is no question if the dog has hit the contact or not, because they should be stopped in the contact zone.
  • Sequencing off of the contact can be easier because the handler has a chance to position themselves where they need to be. This also means that the dog can turn off the contact with the handler, they don’t necessarily have to be driving straight.
  • Stopped contacts are an easier position to teach independently.

Cons to Stopped Contacts:
  • Stopped contacts add to your course time, because the dog is stopping, even if just for a brief moment.
  • For environment sensitive dogs, stopped contacts give the dog a chance to look at their surroundings, like the judge standing nearby or the busy situation of a trial, which could lead to the dog getting distracted.
  • Stopped contacts require more impulse control for the dog, because they have to wait to be released. A common problem for high drive or fast dogs is that at competition, they are too amped-up to stop.
German Shepherd would allow board to hit the ground in a stopped contact.
His 2 back feet should be on the yellow board with his 2 front feet on the ground waiting for instruction.

These contact positions can always be modified, depending on what works best for your dog. When choosing one for your dog, think about the following things:
  • Is speed something you are concerned with? Do you mind that stopped contacts will take a few more seconds, or do you want the fast running contacts because you want a better course time?
  • How much time are you willing or able to commit to the training? Our lives can be busy and not everyone has the time or place to train every day or even every week. Figure out what time you can commit. Running contacts take more consistent training and more repetition. If you are only going to class once a week, a stopped contact may be more realistic.
  • Figure out what is best for your dog. Is your dog comfortable enough in the competition environment to stop and wait to be released, or is it best for them to keep moving?
3rd Contact Obstacle known as the dog walk.
 The dog should be hitting the yellow at the end of the board before moving on in the course
Regardless of which performance you choose, you can be successful with either one. We’d love to hear your opinions on the different contact positions, and what works best for you! Comment or e-mail your stories to

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bonding and Building Trust - On training the "ideal dog"

Everyone wants to own their “ideal dog.” Whether that means having a big, playful pup or a small little couch potato, the description of this ideal dog can vary greatly from person to person. Whatever you picture as your perfect pet, people often share one common ideal trait: a dog that listens to you when you ask them to do something.

An obedient dog that pays attention when you say things like, “no jumping on the houseguest,” or “get off the furniture” is always ideal, but the question is, how do you get your dog to listen? The first step is to teach them a command that means a behavior. This is why taking pet training classes with your dog is one of the most essential things you could ever do. 

Through training, you can teach your dog behaviors that will not only help improve their quality of life¸ but it will make your job easier as well. Pet training can also teach your dog behaviors that have the potential of saving their life. Something just as important as pet training itself, however, is you, their human, being involved in your dog’s training.

Being present and active in training is critical in the reinforcement of your dog’s behaviors elsewhere. When you are involved in training, you are building a relationship with your dog that will greatly enhance the bond that you share. Beyond building that bond, training your dog also builds trust. Your pet begins to really understand that you are there to reward them when they do something good. If you are not the one teaching the dog behaviors, your dog never learns that they need to work for you. You have to teach your dog to listen to you, and they need to know when they do listen, they will be rewarded greatly.

More than just being involved yourself, it is important to have as many people in your household participate in training as possible. Having more people in the family involved helps confirm that everyone will be reinforcing similar things. 

Pet training is extremely important for you and your dog, and it’s so crucial that you are involved in your dog’s training as well. In recognition of January as National Train Your Dog Month, Morris K9 Campus realizes the importance of training and owner involvement and has collaborated with six different local shelters and rescues: 11th Hour Rescue, Randolph Animal Pound, One Step Closer Animal Rescue (O.S.C.A.R.), Cold Nose Warm Heart, Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter and Coming Home Rescue. Every dog adopted from these shelters during the month of January can enter for a chance to win one of six 2-month training memberships to Morris K9 Campus! Call or visit these shelters to consider adding a new ideal pet to your family and to enter this exciting contest.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Socialization Window - Helping your puppy grow

Socialization is extremely important when it comes to your young puppy. Puppies may seem happy-go-lucky and invincible, but that behavior will not necessarily translate to adulthood unless you reinforce those behaviors by socializing your dog. Letting dogs learn to interact in new situations as puppies is important because it creates the building blocks to a successful adult dog. 

There are many lifelong benefits to presenting your dog with new scenarios while they are young. Introducing them to other people, other dogs, new situations and different environments while encouraging positive interaction is especially critical during what is called the “Puppy Socialization Window.”

Puppies under sixteen to eighteen weeks old are in this window, which essentially means that puppies are a sponge; they will soak up everything they are exposed to. Failing to socialize your dog during this time period can lead to serious issues, including behavior problems during their adult life. Begin socializing your dog as much as you can during this young age.

“It should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated,” according to The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Somewhere between sixteen to eighteen weeks, the puppy reaches their socialization deadline. What your dog has been exposed to prior to this point will shape what type of adult dog your puppy will be.

This is great if you get your dog at a young age, when they are clearly in their socialization window, but what happens if you adopt an older dog who wasn’t socialized as a puppy? Just because you have missed this socialization window doesn’t mean you can’t help your dog, however it will be a much bigger challenge. With an under socialized adult dog, you have to paying close attention to the signals that they give you and make sure you are not intentionally making your dog uncomfortable. Although you want to expose your dog to new things, if they are nervous, they are past the point of becoming used to something new and continued exposure may scare them. Consult the above chart, courtesy of Sara Reusche of and doggie artist Lilli Chin for more information on reading your dog’s signals.

A dog that has been well socialized is able to go out confidently into everyday situations. For those that aren’t, the world can be extremely frightening and this can limit what you will be able to comfortably do with your dog. Get out and allow your dog to interact with other people, pets and places as much as possible, at as young an age as possible. However, if you are having certain issues with your dog, it is best to seek the advice of a professional. Morris K9 Campus offers a variety of different solutions for many issues that you may be having along the way. We offer Free Saturday Puppy Classes for dogs under the age of 20 weeks and fun, interactive training classes to help any dog grow into the well-socialized pet you know they can be.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dog Daycare Lingo - How to describe play

When you take your dog to daycare, you may hear specific words used to describe your dog’s day during off-leash play. Knowing what the staff means by using these words can be essential to understanding what your pooch is trying to “say” when they are at daycare. Here are five words or phrases that every owner should expect their pet professional to know about off-leash play:
Loose, curvy bodies indicating comfortable dogs.
Appropriate playtime body language between dogs.
Play Solicitation: This term refers to how a dog attempts to get another dog to play with them. It’s a behavior or series of behaviors that a dog will display in order to communicate to the other dog. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways that dogs communicate with each other:
Appropriate: Play bow, light muzzle nudging, wiggly movements
Inappropriate: Humping, growling, barking, incessant muzzle nudging, or nipping
Body language: The way a dog uses their body is like the way people talk to each other. A dog’s ability to read this language is a critical skill for dogs, especially in off-leash play. Dogs need to be able to interpret another dog’s body language as well as being able to clearly display these behaviors themselves. Another dog will recognize stiff body posture as a dog being uncomfortable. Loose, curvy body language indicates that a dog is very comfortable.

Play bowing - a comfortable posture between dogs.
Tolerance: Dogs will do best in the group play environment if they are tolerant of all kinds of dog behavior. This may include some roughhousing with more high-energy dogs or puppies. Tolerance is a skill that is built over time, so attending daycare will help your pet become used to these behaviors. Regular exposure will help increase tolerance, especially as your dog gets to know the other pets in daycare.
Relationship: When dogs get acquainted and have a better understanding of each other, they can form a bond. Daycare essentially creates a virtual home environment, as if the dogs are living together, so they learn to treat each other with affection, love and trust.
Dogs who know and understand each other can enjoy play.
Stiff Body Language indicating that a dog is uncomfortable.
Socialization: Socialization is essential to a dog’s experience in daycare. Forcing a dog that isn’t comfortable with other dogs to participate can actually do more harm than good.  Daycare is best for dogs that love other dogs, as it presents an opportunity to “fine tune” their social skills. They will be exposed to many different breeds with all kinds of personalities. A dog will learn that maybe one friend likes to wrestle but another would rather run around and play chase.
Knowledge of these few daycare terms makes it easier to understand what your furry friend is experiencing. Since our pups can’t speak directly to us, it is through their body language and the application of the terms above that we figure out how they fit into the daycare environment.

The goal of our daycare program is to provide a fun, happy and safe environment by recognizing these terms and behaviors. Think your dog would enjoy off-leash play at Morris K9 Campus? Visit our website or call 973-252-5100 to learn more about doggie daycare.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Agility Training - To Compete or Not Compete?

So you’ve been training with your dog in agility for a while and you think you might be ready to compete. But how do you know for sure? The most important thing to remember is that every dog is different. Dogs mature differently and have varying confidence levels. While some dogs are ready to go at 15 months (the minimum age in most agility venues to start competing), others may need more time. There are many things to consider when deciding to compete for the first time. Take the following steps to help determine if you and your pooch are ready to move forward.

Get your dog comfortable in the environment. Lots of agility trials are held in barns or at indoor sports facilities with surroundings dogs have never encountered before. Your dog must be comfortable around unfamiliar dogs, people and noises in different situations. Agility trials can also get very loud and crowded, so it’s important that your dog is exposed to that prior to competing. 

When you first get a new dog - puppy or older - consider taking them with you when you travel, especially if you already attend agility events. Most show grounds allow puppies older than four months. Exposure to this kind of stimulus in a positive way will help your dog become more at ease with things they will encounter during their future agility career.

Have a solid set of skills. Prior to competition, your dog should be able to accurately complete all obstacles to the criteria you have chosen. For example, if you have trained a stopped contact, your dog should perform that behavior with confidence anywhere. If a dog is unsure on an obstacle, competition could make them even less sure of themselves and could result in the dog shutting down.  

Attend a Match or Run-Thru. Test your pet’s confidence with an agility match show or run-thru. This is basically a fake trial; it gives your dog exposure to agility in another location while being around other people and dogs. Most places allow you to use training aids during these events, such as food, toys or clickers. Keep these trial sessions short, successful and happy. 

Morris K9 Campus offers run-thru’s and match-style competitions for agility training participants to provide them with a chance to practice. If you feel ready to take the next step, consider signing up for one of our upcoming trials. 

Don’t be nervous! As a handler, sometimes your first competition can be nerve wracking. Be careful of getting too nervous at the match. Dogs pick up your emotions, so being nervous is not going to help your dog. Try to remember this is only a game, and that no matter how your run goes, there are people there to support you. 

Choose the right trial. Once you feel confident in yourself and you are seeing confidence and performance from your dog , you are ready to find a trial to enter! Smaller trials are often a little less intimidating. Some clubs even hold Novice only trials. Ask around and see what facilities people recommend for beginner dogs if you haven’t been to one before. 

Record and report. After your trial, report back to your instructor about how things went. It’s always a good idea to find someone to videotape your run. If things went well, pick a few trials to go to next. You don’t want to overwhelm your dog, so stick with the occasional trial to start. If things didn’t go as well as you hoped, make a training plan and try again later. There will always be trials to go to, so don’t rush it. Let your dog blossom at their own rate, and as always, enjoy the time spent together. At the end of the day, agility is a sport that can and should be enjoyed by all participants.