I am a big believer in my dogs choosing their path in agility, I want my dogs to always choose what works for them, both physically and mentally. And in my opinion contacts are one of the “big” things that I like to let my dogs choose.
Every dog is different, their structure is different and where they are mentally is different. So when I start teaching my dogs their contact behavior I let the training be very fluid, I want my dog to tell me what works for them.
All of my dogs start with the same “base” training, but I will make adjusts to it for each dog. For example, I like to start teaching all of my dogs a rear end behavior on the contact (a 2 on 2 off) and I also like to start their contact behavior with a sit. But now this will move and change with each dog.
I have four dogs, lets talk about all of their contact performances:
Try – She would stop with all four on both aframe and dogwalk, in a standing postion
Nargles – She has a running contact, both aframe and dogwalk
Ally – She does a 2 on 2 off, and he likes to lay down on the dogwalk and sit on the aframe.
Trip – He does a 2 on 2 off and sits for both the aframe and dogwalk.
All very different behaviors, but I am okay with all of them!!
Each one of these dogs choose a contact behavior that feels good to them. I use the same “base” training, but then I let them choose what works best both physically and mentally.
And these contact behaviors could change as well, when Ally is sore or she is not properly conditioned after her winter off (and conditioning plays a HUGE role in contact performances) she will stand for both the aframe and dogwalk. This tells me something is “up”, and perhaps as she gets older, her contact performances will change and I will let it. Because I want her to be happy and choose the behavior that works for her.
So part of my contact training foundation really focuses on the dog in daily life. When waiting to go outside, does your dog sit? Stand? Down? What is their natural behavior when asked to wait? Does your dog like to stop? Or run? Or maybe take a few steps and then stop?
All of these things can help tell you what kind of behavior your dog might want on the contacts.
I have found that a lot of dogs also have different positions on both the aframe and a dogwalk, and again, I let them.
Another big thing in my dog’s contact training is teaching my dogs to shift weight to their rear end, I want my dogs body to be in balance when coming down the ramp. This means I want their weight to be balanced between their front and rear end. Naturally, dogs carry more weight on their front end so I want to help counteract that by encouraging a weight shift to their rear when training contacts. But during their training I want to really watch my dog and ensure there is a balance between front and rear end, I don’t want my dog to come down the ramp with all their weight on the rear, because at the bottom of the ramp they will they transfer all their weight to their front and can jam their shoulders.
I help teach a rear end weight shift by asking for a sit behavior in my contact foundation training. I feel this helps teach the dog a proper weight shift and encourages balance in the dogs body. Once I have worked through the foundation steps and feel that my dog is weight shifting and keeping their body in balance, I will start to loosen the sit criteria, if my dog chooses to stand, I will let them, along with laying down, etc. In Trip’s case he liked sitting at the bottom and he continues to do so. But he also sits naturally in daily like all the time, so his behavior on the contact made sense to me.