Tag Archives: contacts

Strata’s Contact Training Journey

Mr. Strata! (Photo by Katie Rogers/Smiling Wolf Photography)
Mr. Strata! (Photo by Katie Rogers/Smiling Wolf Photography)

In my previous post, I wrote about common stopped contact training mistakes and promised to share some of the errors I’ve made along the way with Strata. Learn from my mistakes! :)

Strata is my six-year-old Shetland Sheepdog. He’s earned his MACH and a USDAA Performance Tournament Master title, and has competed at two AKC Nationals as well as International Team Tryouts last year. So, he’s a pretty experienced competition dog.

I originally wanted to teach Strata a running contact using Silvia Trkman’s method, but after a couple of months realized that I did not have enough access to equipment to pull it off. (At the time, I was traveling 45 minutes each way to do ring rentals.)

Begrudgingly, I started teaching him two-on two-off for the dogwalk and teeter. He already had a pretty consistent running A-frame, so I didn’t need to change that.

Our first contact training problem had nothing to do with the end position. Strata is afraid of heights, and it took a lot of work to get him over his fear of the middle plank of the dogwalk. (Yes, really. Here’s a video of him trotting across the dogwalk in an Open Standard run. And this was an improvement over where he had been for some time!)

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5 Common Stopped Contact Training Mistakes

Dog Jumping Through Contact
Are you confident in your dog’s contact training? Or are you hoping, wishing, praying he’ll hit every contact? (Photo Credit: Lil Shepherd, Flickr)

As I prepare Spark for his Standard class début, I have spent a lot of time watching the Novice and Open classes at local agility trials. I am trying to find the “holes” in those dogs’ training. What is causing them to NQ? Does Spark have that skill? (Do my students’ dogs have that skill?)

Contacts are a huge trouble area for dogs competing in agility. Some handlers haven’t really trained contacts at all, and are just relying on luck to get them through. More troubling to me are the handlers who think they’ve trained their dogs to understand correct contact performance, but don’t realize the dog’s behavior is still very much depending on what the handler is doing.

Here are five common stopped contact training mistakes I have identified.

1. Multiple Cues (Physical & Verbal)

Scenario: The dog charges up and across the first two planks of the dogwalk with his handler racing beside him. As the dog begins his descent of the third plank, the handler slows down, turns to face the dog, places a hand in front of the dog’s face, and/or points at the contact zone. This is often accompanied by multiple verbal cues (“touch! touch! touch!”) or reminders to stay (“wait! you wait! WAIT!”).

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Contact Training Methods: Two-On Two-Off vs. Running

Running or stopped? If you’re having trouble choosing a contact training method, here is a list of the pros and cons of both running contacts and two-on two-off contacts.

Running Contact Training

Strata Running A-frame
To run or to stop? That is the question! (Photo by Smiling Wolf Photography)

There are a variety of running contact training methods for handlers to choose from. Popular methods include:

  • Silvia Trkman‘s method: no props, usually toy reward (she has a DVD)
  • Daisy Peel‘s method: uses a Treat-n-Train/Manners Minder food dispenser
  • Rachel Sanders‘ PVC box method for the A-frame only (she has a DVD)
  • Using a PVC hoop at the end of the equipment, which the dog is trained to run through.


It’s faster! That’s the most obvious advantage to training a running contact. The dog runs across the entire obstacle without ever stopping or slowing down.

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Agility is a Behavior Chain

Do you know what a behavior chain is? All agility competitors should understand this concept. If this is unfamiliar to you, this will change your understanding of how dogs learn. Buckle your seat belts and enjoy the ride.

What is a behavior chain?

A behavior chain is an event in which units of behavior occur in sequences and are linked together by learned cues. -Karen Pryor

What does that mean in English? A behavior chain is a performance in which behaviors are strung together by cues the learner understands. Cue-behavior-cue-behavior-cue-behavior-cue-behavior, followed by a consequence at the end of the chain (reinforcement or punishment).

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