©Therese Hübner

Running Contacts is a form of learning on the dog walk whwre we teach the dog to run the dog walk at full speed and run all the way down, hitting the contact field with two paws as they go. Running is by far the fastest way to take on the dog walk but perhaps the trickiest to learn. You need to put a lot of time and effort down to master running contacts and to me it all boils down to the dogs understanding of what we ask of it. They need to learn to always go all the way down on the dog walk, never jump the last part towards the ground. Dante is my first dog I tought running contacts, on both dog walk and a-frame, and today he has quite good runnings and a great understanding of what he's supposed to do.

Down below I show you my way of teaching running contacts to a dog, but I do advise you to at least take one course in how it's done, this is just to point you in the right direction and to let you know when it might be time to advance in the steps.

step 1

I start with taking the first or last part of the dog walk and putting it flat on the ground. Nowadays you may have access to a lowable dog walk which of course is great to work with but step one is still this, you may use the dogwalk from step two if you can lower it that much. Once it's on the ground I put a toy or have a helper wave the toy around 8 meters away from the end of the plank whilst I take my dog in it's harness and put it right at the start of the plank, at the opposite side of the toy of course, and let go when it's looking forward towards the toy (or candy) and softly start accustomizing them to my command. Examples of commands are 'go', 'run' etc. This need to be repeated many a times! When the dog to 99 % runs on the plank and don't 'fall off' it's time to back the dog up a bit. Take it off the plank and start it right before the plank starts so it has to go up on the plank and then run towards the toy. This continues until you and your dog are about 8 meters away from the plank, then you can start sending the dog around a cone or something similar and let it freely run up on the plank and go get its toy. The speed has no importance here, I put understanding way before speed as speed always comes along naturally when they know what they're doing, what we want them to do. So no worries and don't push your dog to go faster, let it advance by itself, let it grow. Also don't worry about how the dog hits the contact here, we are just teaching it to run the plank right now.

When your dog to 99% runs the plank perfectly after being sent around a cone and runs independently, letting you as the handler go, it is time to start increasing the height of one side of the plank. Here we go 5 cm a time, so very little, and then do exactly the same as in step one although you can now start directly with sending the dog around a cone and towards the toy. Here it's also quite good to have a candy machine at hands so you can train alone without help and still reward at the right time and distance. Throwing the toy is a no no. We are humans and we mess up badly from time to time, and throwing the toy and then realising they didn't do it right just confuses the dog. So candy machine or help with a toy. I did a lot of work with the candy machine because I could train him alone then and it went great. So accustomizing them to the machine early is a good thing. Here we also start changing our positions as the handler: in front of the dog when it comes running on the plank, behind it, far to the sides etc. You can also start yelling your command with more power even if the dog doesn't go any faster because of it, it's just to accustomize them to the way you'll be sayin it when in a course later on. When the dog to 99% takes the contact field you can increase the height by 5 cm. Here we start awarding a hit with one paw but really jackpott award great hits! It's important to let the dog know when they did something great! If they only get one paw on or a really high hit you award them but not excessivly. Remember to back down a bit if the dog starts missing a lot of contacts and also remember to not do too many repeats before taking a break - the less repeats you do the better focused they are and the higher probability for them to do the right thing. 

step 2

step 3

When the height of the plank is getting so high that it is no longer safe for the dog to jump up on whatever is holding up the plank in speed and then running the plank down it is time to go over to the full dog walk, but still only the last part. So put it back up on the dog walk and start the dog just before the last part of the dog walk, where it starts going down, and continue from there. Here you can slowly back up the dog a bit on the dog walk until it starts from the highest part of the first part of the dog walk, right where it starts going straight instead of up and from there we go on to the entire dog walk. Keep jackpott awarding the great hits and only rewarding the bad hits a little bit and if they miss the contact field you do nothing and just redo the plank. When letting the dog run the full dog walk it's good to start the dog not too far from it, maybe put a cone a few meters away from the start of the dog walk and ask them to run around it and then up on the dog walk and make sure you can send the dog far away from you so you can stand in a position where you can see how they hit the contact field so you can award accordingly. Now it's time to do a looooooot of repeats during a long period of time and eventually they will gain speed and start naturally finding out how they themselves want to take the contact: with hindpaws, frontpaws, in 5 strides, in 6 strides etc. I believe it's important to give the dog enough space so they themselves can figure out what they want to do and how, as long as it's within reason. A tip is to film their dog walks in slow motion with your phone so you can study their running afterwards. Dante always takes the dog walk in 5 strides and does the contact with his hindpaws, unless he's turning, then he puts in one more stride to be able to turn sharply, but more on that down below.

With running contact turns you can either start training them right at the beginning when you start teaching them running or you can do what I did and let them do their running for a while and when they are 100% sure of what they're doing, both in training and competition, you can continue their rc training by training turns. I started teaching Dante turns when he was over 2 years old and had been competing for 6 months already. I didn't want to teach him too many things at once and I also wanted him to have a clear understaning in what runnin contacts are and I believe it helped a lot with him later understaning rc turns. I put him on the dog walk very close to the ground, right at the end of the dog walk, and put a little cone at the end of the dog walk so he would figure out he wasn't supposed to take the short cut to the reward but go straight off the dog walk and then turn. I put my candy machine or a bowl of candy about 3 m away in a 180 degrees turn from the dog walk and first just said 'ok' so he would know it was time for him to go. Since he started so far down it was basically impossible for him to fail at the beginning. Then I slowly backed him up on the dog walk and started accustomizing him to the new command, 'turn', as we continued training these turns and put the reward in different angles from the dogwalk. I also took away the cone quite fast so he didn't become dependent on it. I still used it once in a while but not every time. Since he had been running his rc for half a year now he already knew he was supposed to run all the way down which made it easier to teach him these turns and it only took a few sessions until he did the whole dog walk. Dante takes 6 strides when turning, the last one he puts in on the down slope of the dog walk to be able to turn sharply, when going straight he takes the dog walk in 5 strides. This was exactly what I wanted him to do so that's great! I also used a new command, 'dog walk', which I use before he goes up on the dog walk to let him know he is going to turn at the end, otherwise my rc command is the swedish equivalent for 'go'. Now he gets the information that he is going to turn way before he even goes up on the dog walk and as soon as he does I switch to 'turn' which means turn to me. Of course you can also teach the dog left or right but that's not my may of doing things so he knows to turn towards me when commanded with 'turn'. 

step 4
rc turns