19 March 2012

The Answer: Training nice contacts...

haha if you think this is an exact recipe for perfect contacts.. it's not! BUT I will give some pointers as to what's worked for me. Each person and each dog is different and what works for some may not work for others.

This is what I work towards, if I don't have everything on this list below, I DO NOT TRAIN contacts!

  • My dog is not under 6 months when I start contact training... I feel that I want to bond with my puppy first, and have a good working relationship before I train anything serious with the pup.
  • My pup must KNOW how to play, and be SUPER enthusiastic about anything that I ask her to do.
  • I have 100% focus - and by that I mean my pup must 'drive' to be with me, so toys and reward types are very important here, as well as a good recall and retrieve.
  • I decide on a method and stick to it - no changing methods halfway through because something is not working - rather go back and retrain the same method!
  • I break down my method into all its individual parts, and train each one separately until it is brilliant - the pup does not even know that she is in training (the parts of the performance are so simple!)
  • I clicker EVERYTHING so there is no misunderstanding! And training aids, if I need them, are brought in, but only in the early stages of working each part. I fade these as soon as my dog has understood the requirements, and bring them back briefly later if I need to!
  • I never EVER discipline a dog on any contact obstacle, NEVER raise my voice on a contact obstacle, NEVER correct an incorrect behaviour by reprimanding a dog on a contact obstacle. It is a happy place and the dog  MUST feel GREAT being there.
  • Any incorrect behaviour is gently corrected followed by a reward for the correct behaviour. Severely incorrect behaviour is ignored and I simply try again.
  • I try to be as consistent as possible. Inconsistency leads to the breakdown of behaviours, and accepting less that you want will result in not-so-good contacts. My frame of mind is also a huge factor - I must be in a great mood when I train contacts :)
I feel that there is no hurry for contact training - I go by the dog's pace, as well as mine. A lot of people start their puppies early on (some as early as 10 weeks!) but I feel that this is perhaps a way to create the opposite effect of the desired performance! I rather wait before training contacts and weaves, and rather focus on all the fundamentals and foundation behaviours in a young dog. After all, entering agility can only be from 18 months of age, and to train the obstacles you need perhaps a few months. Waiting until the growth plates have closed is a given, for full obstacles anyway... so counting back from 18 months (if you want to be extreme and enter from day 1, which I don't even do), I reckon starting contacts at 10 months is probably the soonest I would ever do it.... Having said that, if I had begun nicely with training focus and drive with my baby puppy, that would allow me to start early 'contact training' (not on an actual contact). By this I mean I can prepare my dog to learn the desired behaviours... from about 6 months of age... all in a fun and "game-like" way. So I have 4 months to play around with light hearted fun introduction to contacts!

Aim for confidence and full understanding, and you should have great contacts!