The Age of Running Contacts

I’m in Indianapolis this weekend judging for Pawsitive Partners, a USDAA trial. The competitors are a fun bunch; quite laid back and apparently having a lot of fun. I’m finding that if I’ve ever had a mind like a steel trap, that time has passed and I’m just keeping up as best I can.

The weather is cooperating. Today has been a balmy 50 degree day. It easily could have been below freezing… and two days ago, it would have been.

Yeah, it’s the age of Running Contacts. It’s a devil may care go for the gusto kind of training and competition objective. I can’t say I’ve called so many missed contacts in over ten years. It’s really kind of a funny thing. Six or seven years ago I was railing against the crazy two-on/two-off thing and pontificating on the obvious and observable phenomenon that the insistence on a two-on/two-off performance for all dogs was mostly degrading the motive and performance of many dogs. I preferred for myself handling contacts with my old boys Bogie and Birdie as a matter of handler initiative.

Today with my young girls (the next generation) Hazard and Blue, I’ve gone over to the two-on/two-off performance. And inasmuch as my training approach isn’t degrading anything, I’m at peace with the idea. Indeed, with Hazard I’m already fading the two-on/two-off to a running contact.

What I’ve said forever, and what I maintain today is this… a dog who is given to a running contact because his natural stride favors going all the way down the plank has not been trained for any kind of performance at all. There will come a time, that I call the “cowabunga moment!” in which the dog’s brain catches afire and he’s all speed and gusto and the handler/trainer discovers this one sure fact… he’s never trained the dog anything at all in terms of the down contacts. And the dog will demonstrate in consistent fashion that when you are in a hurry it is most expedient to skip that yellow bit at the bottom of the contact.

Oh and By the Bye

The dogwalk at this trial is out of spec. Under USDAA rules and regs there should not be a slat affixed to the board within 4” of the upper edge of the contact zone. The slat at Pawsitive Paws is less than an inch from the top of the yellow.

I point this out because a slat to the dog’s point of view becomes a bit of a “stride regulator”. It could influence a number of dogs to bail the ramp just a step early to avoid actually stepping on the slat. This observation mitigates to a certain extent the number of missed down contacts I’ve called today. Of course it needs to appear in the judges report I send to the USDAA. I also should strongly advise that this needs to be a “must fix”.

More on the Nature of Tunnels

I wrote the other day on the Nature of Pipe Tunnels

You should know that I came up with these matters of discipline in honest manner, simply by observation of performance that elevates each observation nearly to the virtue of “law” by seeing them in play over and over again. Of course when I’m out there judging I can only amuse myself by making observation on matters of performance… the handler’s initiative weighed against the dog’s response. It’s why I love to judge. It’s why I judge at all.


This sequence was the essential feature of a jumpers course I put up today. I’ll share some observations with you. I wrote:

The handler’s job is to show the dog the entry to the pipe tunnel. The dog finds the exit all by himself. I’ve never really understood why a handler on the approach to the pipe tunnel will suddenly break off and head towards the exit. While a handler will get away with this loss of discipline it makes no real sense to escalate the risk on such a simple and obvious obstacle.

On this course I wasn’t necessarily surprised… but we got a lot of refusals at the #8 pipe tunnel for handlers suddenly turning off the entry and running towards the exit. Indeed, this tendency to break off from focus and pressure to the correct end of the pipe tunnel also caused a couple of wrong course performance into the wrong end of the pipe tunnel.

I also wrote:

A tunnel is a cannon. Consider the dog, like a cannonball, inclined to fire in the direction the cannon is pointed. When walking the course the handler should take careful note of where the pipe tunnel is aimed. If the pipe tunnel is aimed at an option / trap / wrong course the dog will see it while he is still in the tunnel; and should he have any obstacle focus and work ethic at all it will be the handler’s job convince him otherwise and redirect him on course.

Good handler movement is wasted on the dog engaged in the performance of the pipe tunnel since the dog doesn’t actually get to see it. If the dog needs to be convinced into a turn the handler should await the moment he sees his dog’s nose as the timing cue. Of course the significance of waiting to see the dog’s nose is that is the first moment the dog actually sees the handler.

I put these two together… only because they are related. I saw a gentleman pull his dog out of the pipe tunnel with a Blind Cross. He immediately lost his dog to a wrong course over the dummy jump. It was kind of funny… if you weren’t actually him. The Blind Cross is a very weak signal. One of my rules of the Blind Cross is to defer to the Front Cross in the presence of an option (a course that makes more sense to the dog than the course the judge actually numbered). And, the tunnel being a cannon [note the spelling, Chris Eastwood!]… the blind cross is fail in this context.

Oh, but we had more wrong courses over the dummy jump. If the handler does a nifty, smart, compelling Front Cross while the dog is engaged in the performance of the tunnel… then the dog doesn’t actually get to see it so the nifty, smart, compelling stuff is all negated… and the handler might just as well have done a Blind Cross.

More, but not

There was a whole bunch more today. But I’m really tired and need to get in bed. At home I usually rouse myself out of bed by 9:00 am… but when judging… and this is no joke… I have to get up at 4:00 am. It’s sick and depraved, but quite true..

I’ll leave you with this bit. I nearly skunked the Masters/ PIII class with today’s distance challenge. I guess I gotta put this one in a drawer and lock it up because the world just isn’t ready for it.


This is actually a very doable gamble. Though I only had three qualifiers in Masters/PIII.  I submit I could probably do it with about every dog I’ve every trained. But the handler challenge in the transition from the pipe tunnel to the weave poles is what I call a technical Tandem… and there’s few of us in the world that actually teach it to our dogs.

And, one must understand that we point with our feet… not our hands.

I’ll bring it back out again until the world is ready for it.

Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at


6 Responses to “The Age of Running Contacts”

  1. agiledogs Says:

    Hi Bud! Just your notes about that Masters Gamble with the tunnel followed by a tandem 180 out to the weave poles. I set up a similar one for CPE level 4/5/C back in November in Ohio, with 6 weave poles, with similar bad results. I got so much grief (even from my friends who had come to play)! The weaves at a distance from the “off-side” combined with the tandem 180 from a tunnel, was just too much for folks. Maybe just one or the other challenge, fine. I have not yet set this up to try myself with my Border Collie, so can’t yet say “But I can do it!”. So, I will reserve judgement in that regard. But I still think it’s a do-able challenge, one where the handler has to have good timing, movement, and location when the dog comes out of the tunnel to redirect the dog out to the weave poles.


    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Trisha,

      Solving requires a very technical movement. If you think about it, the handler must store up all of the movement cues for the instant the dog makes his exit from the pipe tunnel (‘cuz the dog doesn’t see any of it until that moment). Part of the deal is storing up enough real estate to take a step or two to indicate the new direction of movement. This small detail was overlooked more often than not.

      The biggest mistake I saw is that so many handlers aren’t aware that they point more surely with their feet than with their hands. So the handler will point out to the weave with his hands but the toes curl up (like the wicked witch of the west) pointing back into the pipe tunnel. Doom doom.

      There’s also an argument to be made for using a bit of Kentucky Windage… but that’s probably a separate blog discussion all by itself.


  2. agiledogs Says:

    What I noticed most people doing when I judged this type of gamble was just what you said – moving when the dog was in the tunnel, and then stuck flatfooted on the line when the dog came out, using only arm signals. I also remember several whose feet were pointed straight forward along the line (parallel to the tunnel…) instead of outward towards the weave poles.

    A couple backed up when their dog was in the tunnel so they could push at an angle outward when they saw the dog’s head exit. I think 2 people got the gamble; one got it but the dog missed a weave pole – and it’s nearly impossible to fix weave poles from about 10 feet away.

    My weave poles were set a little closer to the line than yours were, about 12 feet away. However, I was in Medina Swarm’s building, which I’m sure you know has several posts. One, as it happens, was a bit in the handler path, right near the line; and although I adjusted things a bit so the impact of the poles was minimzed, it still got in the way of several handlers and dogs eyeing each other from a distance in my gamble.

    OK, Bud, I just looked up the meaning of Kentucky Windage. One definition was quite entertaining; here’s an excerpt:

    “There are numerous definitions for what “Kentucky windage”
    means, though it all amounts to pretty much the same thing. In
    our definition Kentucky windage means, “making something
    work.” For the shooter, it means “hitting your target.” Hitting a
    target in the real world (not on the blackboard) means
    compensating for variables, such as natural, varying winds and
    elevation, speed of the target and speed of the shooter.

    So… I think you’re saying some dogs succeed at the gamble despite the handler’s confusing movements, conflicting signals, etc. There’s a bit of luck and a bit of skill involved, but it’s a crap shoot…?


    • budhouston Says:

      Kentucky Windage

      This is a very old term in the American lexicon. It is the habit of the Kentucky rifleman who knows that the wind will push his bullet off target… to lean the shot into the wind without the benefit of a sight adjustment.

      Now, as it pertains to agility. One of the “Laws of a Dog in Motion” says this, “A dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position”. This is rather like the effect of the wind on the marksman’s bullet. So the crafty handler will send the dog at such a trajectory that as the dog curls back to him, his nose comes to target, rather than off of it.



  3. agiledogs Says:

    Oh, yes, it makes perfect sense. I was reading too much into it, wasn’t I??

    And here I was thinking it was a bad thing to be called that!

    That would be a great subject for a blog, btw.


  4. Daisy Says:

    One of the first things I noticed when I saw the dogwalk was that slat at the very bottom. My young dog’s running dogwalk performance, while certainly not a ‘natural’ performance, in the sense that a lot of training has gone in to it, is still early enough in the whole process of proofing and testing in different environments and set ups that I wondered how he would do with that weird slat way down low. He hadn’t even ever seen a triple at an angle to the dogwalk like he saw on Sunday. It’s funny how we forget about all the things that, for a young dog, are new the first time…

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