The Truth About Running Contacts

It’s clear that we are now in the “age of running contacts.” Just between you and me and the wall, as a judge I haven’t called so many missed contacts in like 15 years. But those competitive souls in the know will tell you that you just can’t win these days without running contacts. And you certainly won’t get your dog on the World Team. It kinda raises the question… how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

I contend that it’s really mostly a fraud. And what you’re more often seeing in the “running contact” is actually handling. The proximity of the handler is a key element of the performance. So with that in mind you can’t really call it an “independent performance” at all.

Below is a Master Standard course I put up in Charleston, SC this past weekend. I wasn’t trying to be nefarious or anything. There are a lot of very good people down South Carolina way. They’re salt of the earth to be sure. And they put on an impressive lunch spread. We all know how important that is!

The chief design consideration for me was to allow the challenges to come subtly with the dog working at full speed. I often have to argue a bit with course reviewers on this concept; but I didn’t really have too much trouble with this course.

As it turns out, as simple as the course looks, it had a very low qualifying rate.

The chief culprit was the A-frame. Something like a third of the class missed the down contact.

The broadly jutting tunnel created so much separation that there were two phenomena at work. The obvious thing is that the handler was at a broad lateral distance, dictated by having to run around the tunnel. The other thing was that handler tended to want to race around the tunnel to support their dogs. Of course this gave the dogs a speed cue that didn’t really help to make a controlled dismount.

These days I’m pretty much of the notion that the “running contact” is mostly wishful thinking. Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve put championship titles and national championships on dogs that required a handling initiative on the dismount of a contact obstacle. I think that it is a valid approach for routine competition.

My girl Hazard has a running contact; though she’s just a little slip of a girl with a fairly inconsequential stride. In any case she did 2o2o for four years before I faded it in favor of the running contact. I believe that the 2o2o created a fairly solid muscle memory for running through the bottom of the contact.

But these days dog trainers are endeavoring to teach the running contact as the foundation performance. This is a mission that is obviously more optimistic than fruitful.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training ~ Issue #0 ~ August 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special00” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


10 Responses to “The Truth About Running Contacts”

  1. Laura, Lance, and Vito Says:

    Do you believe that a true independent running contact is wishful thinking, or just that the majority of people out there aren’t actually training it?

    If it’s the latter, then I fully agree with you. I am new to agility, just over a year of trialing with my first dog, and I have already seen a ton of managed contacts. Handlers telling their dog to “touch” and their dog slows down to get the yellow and yet they claim it’s a running contact.

    But I don’t believe that the ability to train an independent running contact is a myth. It is a great challenge but at least one method is proven to be very successful, Silvia Trkman’s. I am still in the process of training the turning part of the method with my baby dog, but am inspired by the results of Silvia’s and her many students. Mainly though I went with a running contact for the pure fun and challenge of training it!

    • budhouston Says:

      We’re on the same page with this. Too often the dog trainer doesn’t actually go through the necessary “granularity” in the training method to arrive at the desired performance. And that is the part that is wishful thinking.

      Thanks for the note.


  2. Chris Says:

    You know with corgis, a stopped Aframe is not good for them! I trained a stop ONLY until we raised the frame, it was a running contact from then on.
    On the dogwalk, I trained a 2o2o that evolved to a quick release and then to my desired end result, a running contact without any of the words that Laura mentions.
    Did anyone front cross after #5 and then either blind cross or front cross at the bottom of the aframe? Or tandem turn in that neighborhood? The thing about the tunnel is that (on the side with the tunnel in the handler’s path) I’d be worried about pulling a dog off at a bad angle–have seen that and it ain’t purty. So I’d do what I could to be on the other side.

    Just thinking on paper, it never looks the same on the ground, I know

    • budhouston Says:

      I agree, the 2o2o isn’t for every dog; I don’t believe that at all. And on the A-frame the 2o2o is wrong for some body types.

      Yes, there were some who picked up the A-frame with dog-on-right so they could have a better proximity to their dog on the dismount. But it didn’t start any trends or anything.

      Bud Houston

  3. mariann jackson Says:

    i’m going out on a limb here but it seems to me there needs to be a new word/term used. i regularly see “running” contacts done by world teams memebers (we have a high concentration of them in my area) and i don’t think they are. to me a running contact would be the dog striding through the yellow and moving on to the next obsticle by a moving handler. no stopping by either party. what i see is the dog and handler racing to the end of the piece of equipment, the team sudddenly stopping hopefully with the dog having at least a foot in the yellow but for the most part the dog is off. the handler then looks intensely at the dog (ususally with hands on hips because the dog is usually doing a 4 on the floor), the handler then moves into position and they both take off. to my untrained, novice eye that’s a sloppy 2o2o not a running contact. unless the hands on hips is the key. and to save time fussing i don’t know who silvia trkman is, i train all by myself in my front pasture and i haven’t been to a seminar in 5 or 6 years but that’s another rant. one last thing. my current dogs do 2o2o (they stop on the equipment as that seeems to be more comfortable for them and i’m not that picky). they are given a release when i’m ready. plus they generally do great distance and usually understand the names of each piece of euipment so bud’s a-frame tunnel wouldn’t have caused them a problem as i would have been making my way straight across to the weaves whilr they were jumping.

    • budhouston Says:

      Mariann, there really is a word for it already. It’s called “handler initiative”. There’s nothing wrong with that really. It’s just another approach to the game. I think the part that gets me is how often they’ll claim to be doing “running contacts.”

      Dang… I wanted to hear your “other rant.”


  4. Darryl Says:

    Hi Bud

    Kiltie injured her tricep, and the stopped contacts seems to aggravate the injury. We’re starting to train running contacts now, because I figure it’s the best way to make agility last longer for her.

    Before her injury, I considered running contacts impossible. Now it’s just nearly impossible 🙂 It’s interesting what you will do if you have to.

    I must admit, I am enjoying the challenge.

    Regards Darryl

  5. Lora Says:

    I agree that many of these so called “running contacts” are just poorly trained or managed contacts. The ones who are truly doing running contacts are quite a sight to see. Recent international quality American dogs that come to mind are Daisy Peel’s Solar and Angie Benacquisto’s Rat Terrier Dylan. These are my inspiration (along with Silvia Trkman, and I am really shocked that any one participating in a discussion about running contacts has not heard of her.)

    The way I look at and treat contacts on course is the same way I treat jumps- I don’t stand there staring at them to see if they kept the bar up or not, I just keep running, so similarly, I shouldn’t stop and stand there to see if my dog makes its contact or not. Some approaches and exits may require a little more handling and help from me to “keep the bar up” (or in this case make the contact) but as the dog becomes more experienced, that support should be less and less. I’ll accept a few missed contacts here or there, just as I’ll accept a few knocked bars throughout my dogs’ careers, especially early on. I expect my baby dog to miss more often than my experienced dog.

    Also, in keeping with my chosen handling system (APHS), running contacts require the dog to perform the obstacle with an extended stride, so I do need to give at least a minimum number of forward cues to get that extension. APHS treats contacts as independent obstacles, so motion rules do not apply, but since I treat contacts the same as jumps, I need to handle them the same way and cue that extension appropriately. What this translates to is NOT stopping and staring at the dog. With my baby dog, this may have looked like “untrained” contacts in the early stages while she was working things out, but she knocked just as many bars as any other Novice dog, and no one was complaining about how untrained these Novice dogs are about jumping. With miles, she is improving greatly and, touch wood, has looked great on the contacts in the past few months.

  6. Karen Sollars Says:

    I couldn’t help it, I thought of you when I saw this one about running contacts!

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