I’ve been working on deliberate practice for Rush’s contacts. There are two pieces to the process: I need to practice holding Rush to my criteria AND Rush needs to practice meeting those criteria. For quite a while, I’ve been using the principles of deliberate practice that are explained in the book Peak to work on small chunks of courses, rather than doing whole courses.
It’s a challenge to make that kind of deliberate practice fun for the dog–but Rush loves speed, so this is what I did.
I set up a speed circle around the outside of the arena, no tricky handling, just straight approaches and every thing set up to make it straightforward and fast. Rush loves speed and has had trouble with his two-on-two-off stopped contacts.
I started with one round of slow running, giving Rush a cookie for each contact before releasing. Then I started doing faster laps, rewarding his stop with a release to go on. After a few rounds of that, I was running as fast as I could and Rush was still holding his contacts even as I sprinted past him.
There are two parts to this. One is the speed circle and the other is adding the contacts to the speed circle. When I set up a speed circle with Rush, I use the full length and width of the arena to set up a course that is a big circle without handling complexity. The jumps are set at spacing that makes sure he is running in full extension or near full extension. Rush has a huge stride, so that distance can be twenty-five feet or more. When he really gets going, I’ve seen him bounce-jump an 18 foot distance. The arena where I train is 70 x 120 so the full-speed-ahead circle–when all I’m training is full-on sprinting for both of us (which I also call aerobic agility because I use it to develop aerobic fitness for both me and the dog)–is tunnels in all four corners, one jump in the middle on the short sides, and three jumps down the long sides.
Those jumps can be the broad jump, tire, double, triple, wingless or winged. I often replace the corner tunnels with short-bar wingless jumps (using a four-foot bar) because dogs often don’t see those jumps and that allows me to practice that skill too. Or I’ll put big winged jumps out in the corners with five-foot bars and work distance on those corners.
When I want to train fast weaves at speed, I replace the middle jump on both sides with six poles. If that goes well, I set up twelve poles.
When I set up this kind of speed circle, I will do three or four rounds of the circle (changing directions halfway, so as to work both leads) before I stop and reward–so thirty or forty obstacles, then a long game of tug and chase-me, which are my dog’s favorite rewards. Rush LOVES running fast though and is in excellent condition, so I would absolutely stop and reward WAY more often with a dog that doesn’t love the game.
For a speed circle with contacts, I replaced the jumps on the long sides with the a-frame and the dogwalk. The teeter was on a long line down the middle so that I could make a long skinny circle with the teeter. Because the teeter is unidirectional, I didn’t put it in the larger circle, since I like to train both leads.
If you’re familiar with the athletic training concept of high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT), speed circles are how I implement HIIT for me and for Rush. I have to run all out, and so does Rush. It’s great for teaching obstacle focus. Now, Rush is a big dog, very fast, and is not naturally inclined to work at a distance. With a dog that likes to work at a distance, the catch is that you may be tempted to not run at YOUR top speed because you can instead stay on the inside of the circle and direct the dog at a distance. That’s cheating yourself of the opportunity to do some fun agility HIIT.