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Contact training with Epic

This week has been rainy and dull, but it doesn’t keep us from training. Squid is back from having puppies and is getting ready for her first trial in many months. Her weaves were terrible after the long break, but it didn’t take long to get them back to where they once were. One thing I really like about the 2×2 method is that you can go back and open up the first set of poles to show the dog what we’re after. It worked really well with Squid and she is now showing both confidence and skill in finding her entries. I look forward to the trial on Sunday.

Epic is working a lot on contacts right now. We’ve actually done nose touches, running contacts and up-contacts today. This is how his running contacts looked yesterday. It was his third session on a new height:

I didn’t get his nose touches on video, but we’re making progress. I’ve had some problems with building enough value for targeting on the stairs before, but I’ve found a way that makes him very keen at the same time as he gets more relaxed in agility training in general. I mix nose touches on the stairs with running contacts. It’s a great combination to make sure that Epic offers behaviors in order to get to run through the tunnel and over the dogwalk. If he got to do just that, he’d get tense and stalky.

I’m very concerned with keeping my dogs relaxed and open minded in agility training. Of course, this applies much more to my border collies than to the cockers. You can test the openness in different ways – Do they run to me and do great, repeated nose touches if I present my hand? Can they offer getting into position at the side without help and with good rear end awareness?  Can they look up at me and walk with me between exercises? For a while, most of our running contact training was about Epic offering different kinds of behaviors before he got to run. He is much more relaxed and open minded now. I can also use running contacts to increase the value he has for behaviors that have been hard to build value for – like nose touching on the stairs. We’re now walking to the stairs between repetitions of running contacts, and he has to offer real nice and focused targeting. When he does, he gets his toy and then he gets to run through the tunnel and over the dogwalk. Perfect! It’s 3 for 1 – value for nose touches, open mind on the agility field and training his running contacts. Nice balance in training.

What about the up contacts?  When I do running contacts on the full dogwalk, I’ve put a stride regulator before the dogwalk to make sure that he hits the up contact as well as possible. I don’t think he learns a lot by that in the long run, I just don’t want him to repeat a behavior I don’t want. Now I’ve started to train his up contacts separately. This was his first session and I think the video speaks for it self:

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