In agility magazines, Facebook groups and competitions, you hear a lot of discussions and even disputes about running contacts (RC). Some are for and some against RC, and many people feel they are hard to teach, at least for the dog walk. But is it so? I had an honor to interview Anne Lenz, one of the big names when it comes to running contacts.
What is the secret of fluent running contacts?
Anne says that the most important things are to get addicted to fast and fun contacts, and to be consistent in rewarding what you want and not rewarding what you don’t want. “It is also very important that you are able to be happy about the good training sessions and that you don’t despair when there are bad ones.” Sounds so easy, but let’s dig deeper into the subject.
Same method for all dogs - but applied individually
When asked if Anne teaches all dogs similarly or does she use different, personalised, methods with dogs of different temperaments, structure or movement, she says that the same method can be used for all dogs, but it needs to be applied individually, depending on the dog: “I use the same method, yes, but in different ways.” The things she adjusts individually for dogs are:
The size of the target
The time spent on training straight exits before turns
When to add speed
Being precise or less precise with the criteria in the beginning (4 paws on the mat)
The amount of thinking games or speeding games
“To get great running contacts, you need to know your dog and apply the method in a way that is most suitable for your dog, as an individual.”
Most of the basics are done outside the agility field
Anne says, that she does most of the basics outside the agility field. “You can do the basic mat work in your living room. Also, there’s a lot you can do with a plank, but when you begin to train the whole dog walk (DW), it is important to have access to a DW regularly. I’d say that less than twice a week is not enough.”
“You can start training target early with puppies, when target is on the floor. I start when I feel like it and when I want to teach the dog something new. With my young dog, Rosalie, I’ve begun teaching the basics now that she’s 4 months old, and we train to put all 4 paws on the mat.”
The biggest mistakes you can do with running contacts
According to Anne, the biggest mistake you can make with running contacts is giving up. “Running contacts don’t necessarily work as you had thought they would and you might need to adjust your training, or go back to basics, but the most common reason for failure is giving up.”
Anne points out that another very common mistake is lack of patience. “Especially with high drive dogs, you should not hurry and add speed too early. You need to to be patient until they understand the criteria and learn the coordination of the movement.”
Are running contacts a requirement for success in high level agility competitions?
For Anne, running contacts are more than just a way to add speed to trial runs: “I train running contacts because I love it - I would never do it just to succeed on a high level. However, I cannot understand how anyone can love agility without loving RC: the speed, the accuracy, the joy in the dog’s eyes and the smile on the handler’s face should be the reasons for training running contacts.”
“If you have the fastest dog in the world, train all other agility skills and 2on2off to perfection, then, I think RC is not needed. However, if that is not the case, RC would be a good choice. They are not a problem, instead, they make your training and competitions more fun!”
BONUS: Troubleshooting running contacts
Two common problems with running contacts seem to be performance in high drive and situations after the dog walk. Anne has a solution also for these:
What to do, if the dog performs running contacts well in low drive, but not in high drive?
Anne’s advice for those whose dog performs running contacts well in low drive, but fails in high drive, is to take steps back and go back to low drive training, and then, add speed slowly. “Don’t go from zero speed to full speed at once. Instead, you should carefully build the dog’s self-confidence. Ask for a bit more speed in each session as long as the dog is able to hit well and meet the criteria.”
“It requires good coordination from the dog to get good hits in full speed. If you look at long jumpers trying to hit the same point from full speed all the time, and them definitely knowing what to do, it is not that easy. I think for the dogs it is the same - after they have learnt the criteria, they need to learn the coordination and the pattern.”
What to do when situations after the dog walk are chaotic, and the dog just continues straight to the next obstacle?
Anne states that you can avoid chaotic situations after running contacts by teaching good turns off the contacts: “It is the same as with all other obstacles. You train the turns for jumps and you don’t let the dog just run straight to the next obstacle. Similarly with running contacts, the turns are part of the foundation training right from the beginning. That way the dog understands that there are turns. You should also give the dog a turning verbal cue and use your body language to tell the dog where to go next.”
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