Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Alternative Contact Training Method

Marco Mouwen showed us his contact method at the end of the seminar last weekend.  It was a short 10-15 minute explanation and Strummer and I were the demo team.  Part of me was mortified but part of me was happy for the hands-on opportunity to try it out. My understanding of it may be a bit fuzzy but I'll try to explain it.  I was hoping to shoot some video on my contact trainer or the dogwalk at the training field but both will be buried in snow for a good long while and I didn't want to leave it too long or I'd forget what I'm doing so I set up a little demo in my living room.

The final dogwalk behavior is the dog switching from a run to a trot on the down plank of the dogwalk and trotting through the yellow at the bottom with no stop.  The A-frame is the same.  I found a video of one of Marco's runs on You Tube and it gives you a good idea of what you're aiming for.  You can clearly see the dog transition from the run to the trot at the down plank of the dogwalk.  There are also some good examples of how he sets a line on course and uses the off-arm.

To start training this method you use a target at the bottom of the dogwalk, get the dog on the dogwalk a step or two above the yellow, release him to the target and have him down.  Reward him in the down position.  At the seminar I was holding Strummer on the dogwalk while Marco baited the target.  Then I released Strummer, he ran down the plank, I told him to down and Marco let him have the treats when he was lying down.  You gradually move the dog up the dogwalk until he's at the top of the down plank.  As he descends the plank you say 'Liiiiieeeee' and then 'Down' when he's at the end.  The extended 'Lie' is the verbal cue for the gait switch to the trot.  Next step is to move the target away from the end of the plank.  In the video I moved it a little but you would work towards moving in farther away.  Then you fade the target but you can still ask the dog to lie down.  Then you fade the down.  I'm a little fuzzy on those last steps but I'm pretty sure that's how it was supposed to go.  I put together a little video of the first steps that we practiced at the seminar.

Alternative Contact Training Method from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I'm not sure if the lying down part is necessary for all dogs or if Marco decided it was something specific that a dog like Strummer needed.

For the A-frame you do the same thing, starting with the frame at roughly the same angle as the dogwalk.

Obviously this method is not as fast as a true running contact.  But it's still pretty darn fast and doesn't involve slamming the shoulders like 2 on/2 off and the dog doesn't have the demotiviation of having to stop so it could be a good method for dogs with motivation/speed issues.  Could also be good for handlers who can't run fast enough to deal with a running contact. 

After giving it much thought I've decided that I'm probably not going to switch Strummer over to this method mostly because I don't think it's a great idea to switch horses at this point in the game.  It's going to be confusing for him and I lose a whole bunch more time with the retrain.  But it's an interesting method and something I would consider if I was starting out  a new dog.  The other issue is that I don't know anyone local or on the internet who has trained this method so if I had problems I'd have to troubleshoot them myself but maybe by the time I'm ready for a new dog there will be more people familiar with it.  It also involves a lot of training methods that I don't like using-targets, luring, fading things-but I suppose I could come up with my own way to accomplish the same end result.  Would be interesting to figure out a way to shape the switch to the trot, maybe starting on the flat.  Might be an interesting winter project just for the heck of it.


  1. Interesting. Sounds like a modified version of 4 on the floor. My concern would be the lack of criteria for the behavior (do you reward everytime the dog is in the yellow regardless of stride? Do you reward the minute the dog breaks stride even though they may still miss the yellow?). Personally I don't think a stopped contact on a dw is hard on the dog's shoulders. I like Summit's stopped contact on dw but I've been letting him run through on the a-frame using a quick release.

  2. A stopped contact on the DW is probably not hard on most dog's shoulders but then there's Strummer. I worked long and hard on a 2o/2o for him on a plank but when I tried to transfer it to the dogwalk he'd fly full speed down the down ramp then slam to a halt at the bottom. And that was with teaching a down at the bottom. Summit has a nice execution and doesn't slam his body to a stop like Strum was doing. It was something to behold.

    As I was driving home a bunch of questions started popping into my head about the method too and if I was intent on pursuing it I'd try emailing Marco about it but for now I'm putting it on the back burner or may play around with it with Lola just for laughs because her contacts are not great.

    As for criteria, you don't reward the dog if they aren't trotting and you don't reward them at the moment they break stride which occurs at the top of the plank. I believe the purpose of the down is to encourage the trotting so it's the down that's being rewarded and the trotting comes as a side effect. But in the excitement of a trial I could see Strummer reverting to the run as he did in the 2o/2o training, especially since he's had so many reps at a run. Unless I could get a trot on a verbal cue, then maybe he'd do it but that's a lot more work and I'd have to be sure to get the cue out in time at a trial which is more difficult than letting him run. I'd rather work on my handling of the running contact which is the issue I was having at the seminar and the reason Marco suggested I abandon them.

  3. Very interesting -- I hadn't heard about that method before. Definitely something I'll keep in mind for a future dog too. Thanks for sharing it.