The following train of thought popped up in an email conversation about running contacts with a friend who is in the process of training her amazingly fast and talented mini-poodle to do running contacts. I’ve always heard that you need access to a real DW in order to train the final stages of running contacts. I didn’t intentionally set out to disprove that premise but since I don’t have access to a rubberized DW, I ended up training Lil’s entire running DW performance on a 12′ plank angled off my back porch, which is only 34″ high. I eventually added a second 12′ plank on the porch that connected to the angled plank so I sort-of had 2/3 of a DW. I think adding the second plank was important because Lil was able to practice a specific striding pattern over the apex to the down ramp. So far, it seems to be working out very well in practice and at trials! 🙂
Running contacts are so much fun to train, I figured I’d give it a shot with Jake. With Lil, I used Dawn Weaver’s method but with Jake I modified it a bit so that it is more of a “moving contact” than a true “running contact.” I really like the way this feels with Jake and I think it might be better for NADAC courses than true running contacts because it gives the handler a moment to connect and direct the dog to the next obstacle vs. having to rely on verbal cues such as GO ON, RIGHT, and LEFT if the handler is very far behind the dog. I believe this will come in handy as I add more and more distance skills to Jake’s tool box! Since I had already trained Lil’s running contacts prior to switching over to NADAC (and she is doing so well with them), I’m leaving them as is. I think it will be fine with Lil since she responds so well to verbals (most of the time). 🙂
Below is a 20 second video of the angled dogwalk ramp.
I leave the plank angling off the porch over one of two sets of stairs most of time. I can close the gate at the top to block access if there is snow or ice on the plank. Although since the rubberized surface is black, snow melts very quickly plus NADAC rubber is amazingly non-slippery, even when wet.
So now, instead of the dogs running up and down the stairs to and from the backyard, they now mostly run up and down the plank. At first, if they saw a chipmunk or something, they would leap off before reaching the bottom of the plank. But that was WAY BETTER than the way they used to leap off the porch if they saw a chipmunk, bypassing the steps entirely, which always made me cringe re: the impact onto the blue stone slab below.
Surprisingly, training running contacts on a plank placed over the stairs helped both dogs generalize the behavior to the stairs as well and now they tend to run all the way to the bottom of the stairs too. At this point, when they run all the way down in route to the backyard, I praise them and when they occasionally leap I say OOPs. That is the extent of the feedback they get outside of “official” training sessions. But I think it has had a significant impact over time and its rare that either dog leaps off the plank OR the stairs.