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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Running contacts - progression #1!

Since I've been off of agility trialing lately and the weather has gotten warm enough to do agility in our backyard, I thought it was time that I finally got in some running dog walk re-training.

Most of you know if you read my blog, that I have running contacts. Why? Because from the moment I started agility training at just a little over one year old, I just couldn't stop on those contacts. My bum would always, and I mean always, make it to the end of the contact before my nose.

Now we know that the most probable reason that happened was because my backend wasn't the strongest backend, and my structure isn't the most ideal (my bum and lower back slopes down a bit and makes it weaker). And this is most probably the reason I pulled my iliopsoas a year or so ago, and why I get some back strain on occasion.

But now that Mum and I know this, we've worked super hard to strengthen my backend through various exercises (begs, going from a beg to a stand and back to beg, exercise ball work and more). So now my backend is much, much stronger, and I could probably do a 2o2o. But since I've been doing running contacts now for about 3.5 years during my agility career, I really don't know anything else.

I had had pretty reliable running contacts the first part of my agility career, up until the time I had my iliopsoas pull. After it healed up, I started blowing my contacts like crazy. I became faster, and much more confident.

Here's a vid of one of my running contacts after recovery from my iliopsoas pull. But it's a rare one, that I made the contact. Mum knew after seeing this vid, that my running contacts were improving, they had a lot more potential, and that we just need to work on 'em. The running DW is at :35, and the frame is at :58.

I am specifically talking here about the dog walk, because I've always had a near 100% reliable running frame. Why we're not sure, I just get it, and haven't missed an aframe in well over two years, and my frame times in recent trials average about 1.594 with the fastest at 1.23. So if I can have a nice running frame, I surely can have a nice running dogwalk, right?

We were lucky enough about a year ago to attend Silvia Trkman's seminar in Ohio. It was just as I was recovering from my muscle pull, so I didn't have the confidence or quickness I have now. But we loved the seminar, and love Silvia, her philosphy, her enthusiasm, her energy, and her eagerness to help, and of course her pup's running contacts. So when it came time to decide how I was going to re-learn the running dog walk, we really wanted to utilize Silvia's method.

But, one of the drawbacks for us in training the dog walk is that we don't own a dog walk. So after I started blowing my DW contacts last year, Mum started utilizing a mouse pad as a 'run through target' of sorts. We would train on it in the yard, and then take it to training class. But the system just wasn't working. I didn't get it, after many, many and I mean many, sessions.

The main reason this 'system' didn't work for me is because if I see a 'target' type of item, I immediately go nuts over it, pay much too much attention to it, and of course expect my treat. It's just how I'm made up. And getting the timing down on throwing the reward just wasn't working.

So we had to rethink our plans for retraining the dog walk. We knew that Silvia doesn't own a dog walk either (I know, amazing, isn't it) so we re-read all of her dog walk training information on her site, and Mum came up with a plan.

We have a teeter, so Mum thought, why can't we take off the base and utilize the board to start retraining. So that's exactly what we've been doing the past week or so. And since Gracie was learning focus during training and trailing in the past, we thought it was a good time to start training her on the running dogwalk as well.

Our first progression began with the board flat on the ground. Running through the contact to a treat target (since we're both very food motivated) placed about 10 feet from the board. That worked great for Gracie, but for me being used to jumping the yellow, that's exactly what I did when the reward was placed that far out from the board. So Mum moved the reward just about 3 feet closer to the board so that I focused on it more, didn't look at her, and drove straight to the reward, running through the contact. It worked great.

After that was successful about 15 times at 100% success rate, Mum started progressively moving the target out further from the end of the plank, making sure that I focused straight ahead. And it worked. So now I'm running and focused ahead, not looking back at her and driving to the targeted reward with fuller speed through the yellow.

Here's a vid of our first progression with the board flat on the ground (well, as nearly flat as we could get it since there is still some pipe attached from being a teeter we can't get off).

You can see that in the first few runs, I'm focused on looking at Mum, and jumped the contact. That's when the target reward was further out. Then you'll see that when she moved it in a little closer to the end of the plank, I started focusing ahead and not checking in.

You'll also see that Gracie got this 'trick' immediately. She loved 'walking the plank' so to speak! Mum noticed with both of us that the closer she was to the plank and us, the slower I was, and the opportunity increased for Gracie to run around the plank. Mum was crowding us. Looks like we both like our independence, which is great, that's what we wnat. So Mum modified her positioning and tried different placements, running at out angles, in angles, staying in one place, running through with us, etc.

Our goals for the contact are: run full out, focus ahead and not check in with Mum, make the contact of course, and not rely on anything from Mom (positioning, speed, etc.), just make it an independent obstacle. Of course when it comes time, we'll have to work on turning after with a turn command, but for now...

Our next progression (progression #2) started a couple of days later with the plank raised a bit after we were both at 100% success rate with the plank flat on the ground with many repetitions over several days. More about progression #2 and more in coming posts.


  1. Hey Johann! You and Gracie are looking really good on your running dog walks! Great idea you mum had using the teeter board..seems to do the trick!

  2. Great job Johann!! HM is hoping to get me doing some running contact work this spring tooooo!



  3. Nice job. I had the same problem with the mouse pad. Gromit would just hit it with her front paws and never really understood the "hit and run" idea. I resorted to classic shaping too and so far, so good. We haven't been doing as much DW as A-frame because we don't have one either. I just have the DW plank/trainer I had Rick build: http://tinyurl.com/dl889j
    Not height adjustable though. Anyway, keep up the good work.


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