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

1 comment:

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