I train running contacts using Silvia Trkman’s method which is in a nutshell “make the dog run full speed over a plank on the ground, gradually angle it more and more and mark when dog hits the contact”.
When training RC with Ruby there was no special class for it. Every two weeks we would go to LoLaBu Land for our Agility Foundations lesson and I would pester Silvia with questions about RC. We trained them at home and it seems like I made every possible mistake.
I thought that for sure before we can start focusing on hitting the contact the dog should know that he needs to run over the plank. At first I tried to keep him on by clicking for walking on it, then I put thin poles at the end of the plank to make it a bit more obvious. My plank was of the same width as dog walk (30cm) and the sand on it (to prevent skidding) was actually small pebbles. Ruby did not like the feeling of those pebbles under his feet so keeping him on the plank was quite a project. This is one of our early sessions:
As you can see he was quite bouncy and I spent all my energy on keeping him on the plank instead of getting him to run fast. I was even clicking his bounces because I didn’t see them from my vantage point… I only saw them on video. So for a whole month I was teaching him how to leap instead of how to run.
Compare this to Java’s training. This is her second session:
She is running on a carpet that is 1m wide – that is 3x the width of Ruby’s plank. I was using a carpet because I wanted to minimize the risk that she would be leaping to get off the plank. As you can see she prefers to run on grass, but we handle this in a way that still allows her to run fast and it’s not a big problem because running on a carpet is not that different from running on the grass.
We did a few sessions on the carpet and Java was not leaping at all. Ever. Just happy, fast runs. So now came the time when we should transfer this to a plank, but I wanted to have a GREAT plank for learning RC. A plank that would be 50cm wide so she would feel she has enough space that she won’t fall off, 4m long so that she can fit in two strides and as thin as possible so that she won’t hurt her toes if she steps on the edge. Getting such a plank was quite a project so our RC training was put on hold.
When my SuperPlank was ready for a test Java ran beautifully. She tried running beside the plank a few times, but then we agreed on running on the plank and again there was no leaping, just fast running.
We did about five sessions on this setup, not because she would have problems, but to get many successful repetitions before I make things more difficult for her.
Today I raised the SuperPlank for the first time and Java didn’t even seem to notice! Sure it was a small raise (about 7cm), but I just can’t believe how EASY it is to train running contacts with the right equipment and with the right training mechanics (though my ball throwing skills still have a lot to be desired)! In fact it’s so easy that I was wondering whether I should blog about training RC at all. I just expect it to work and it does. Magic.
Silvia has a wonderful DVD that details all aspects of her method including turns after dog walk / A frame that you can get here. You can also enroll in her online class on running contacts at LoLaBuLand site.