Cannot decide between 2on 2off or running contacts? You can have both.
To be honest, I didn`t plan to teach Kiša both, I started her on running contacts, but like with Šaj I had huge problems with them once I started to compete. I tried to improve them, but at one point I gave up, and decided I will just switch to 2on 2off. After she learned how to do the 2on 2off perfectly on the plank and it was time to ask for the same behavior on the dog-walk, I started to postpone it week by week. It is simply too nice to watch your dog run full speed over the dog-walk hitting the contact in the end, especially after you have put so much effort into training the dog to do it.
So at one point I figured – if my dog can understand to jump in 2 different ways (extended and collected) over the same jump, I am quite sure he can also learn 2 different behaviors for the dog-walk.
The idea is to have RC for the situations where the next obstacle is straight ahead or at an angle lower than 90 degrees and 2on2off for tight turns after the dog-walk. That was the idea so I tried and it worked – and what is even better – understanding 2on2off position somehow helped Kiša to understand running contacts better, so from that time on, she is far more reliable with running contacts as well.
In the following text I will try to explain the training process. I think it is important that you know exactly what you are doing and it definitely helps if you are familiar with both methods. So this article is more about mixing the methods that it is about teaching them.
If you start from scratch I think it is much better to start with running contacts.
That way it is much easier to get care-free, full speed running that you need for good RC performance. The dog that is trained to stop in the end, will need more time before he is able to forget all about what he was doing before, especially if you want to bring the stopping back at one point. Of course there is more to running contacts than just letting your dog run over the dog walk, so if you are not familiar with the method I recommend reading: LINK
At the same time that you are teaching your dog to run over the plank, you start teaching your dog to understand the 2on2off position–AWAY from agility obstacles.
I prefer to use shaping to make sure the dog really understands the position. After he learns the position use every stump, stairs, pavement, suitcase… to practice it. It is good to train different approaches and independence, and of course – the release command.
Once you are done with the plank training and your dog can run over the whole dog-walk, you introduce 2on 2off position on the plank. If you did your homework well, it should be very easy. When the dog can jump into the position immediately with no confusion – start to backchain the behavior. If the dog goes into the position from the floor first, the next step is to put him with all 4 legs on the plank and let him move only one step into the position. Slowly you put him further and further back, until he is able to do the whole plank. At the same time you are teaching him to go in to 2on2off on the plank, you should also be practicing RC on the dog-walk.
So if everything goes well, you now have 2on2off on the plank, and RC on the dog-walk. At that point it is time to mix both methods, starting on the plank first.
When you start asking your dog to run down the plank again, it is important to be VERY obvious with your cues. You want your dog to remember the drills he was doing on the plank before the 2on2off practice, so help him as much as you can to remember them. Run really fast, be in front of him, throw the reward in advance or place it in an eyesight of the dog, keep saying go, go, go…, do whatever you used to do in the beginning of RC training. It is important that you get your dog to really run full speed down. If he is thinking about going into 2on2off, just encourage him until he is running full speed. The dog needs to really understand that he is doing running contact, not just 2on2off with early release, so you need to practice until he is running with full speed. And when he does, you can ask for 2on2off again – with really obvious cue. Stop when he is supposed to stop, and turn your upper body towards him, or place a reward in front of the plank, so the dog doesn`t need to rely only on your verbal command. There is no need to make things more difficult for a dog at this point, so make sure your handling is very distinctive.
Now let`s talk about possible mistakes. The dog can make two different types of mistakes. In the beginning it is most likely he will mix methods. This problem is impossible to avoid, but you can reduce the number of mistakes with your handling. Being really clear with cues is especially important in the beginning, because you need your dog to be confident. So if the dog makes mistake, don’t even comment it, just try again, this time help him even more. And the good news – this problem goes away on its own in time, because the dog gets better and better idea about what he is doing.
The second type of mistake is more delicate – he chooses the right method, but either jumps the contact while doing RC or doesn’t stop in the position even though he recognized the cue for 2on2off. (The dog is slowing down, but not stopping in the end) In that case I use a cue to let my dog know that I am not satisfied with what how he performed the behavior. (Simple no will do just fine) When I asked Kiša to re-do the obstacle and correct the mistake she made, she often offered me the opposite method. She didn`t think about the mistake, she just figured she choose the wrong method. To avoid that confusion I have a different approach with each mistake. If she jumps while doing running contact, I send her back on the dog walk and re-do just the down-ramp of the obstacle, and only after she makes that well, I send her to re-do the whole thing. With 2on2off I immediately send her to re-do the whole obstacle. That way I make a clear distinction so I give her very little space for confusion.
So the key to success in training both methods at the same time is distinction.
With lots of training the dog gets confident and he doesn’t need all that help any more. At this point Kiša can rely only on my verbal commands, but as everything I make sure they are not similar at all. I give her the command that tells her which method to choose already before the obstacle. That way she has enough time to process my information. When I want her to perform the 2on2off, I give her the cue while she is approaching the dog walk, and afterwards I don’t say anything until she is in the position and ready for a release command. So there is 2on2off command, release command and silence in between. With running contact, I give her the cue again while she is approaching the dog walk. When she is on top of the obstacle I start saying go, go go… until she is on the ground again. Go, go go… reassure her, so she starts accelerating for the running contact.
I recommend watching the video; it will help you understand what you have just read.