The Tipping Point: Games to Build Contacts and Teeter Skills

 We all have that dream of perfect contacts. The dream of running as fast as you can while your dog comes down into their perfect contact position and holds that position until you release. Your dog is not distracted by anything you are doing, whether you are running lateral or running past as hard as you can. They drive to the end of the obstacle with no questions. 

Well here is the good news….this doesn't have to be a dream! 

It can be reality with some training and proofing and you too can have the contacts everyone dreams of!

In April I will be teaching a course at FDSA called The Tipping Point. We address many games that will help with all the contacts but we also spend a lot of time on the teeter.

The teeter can be one of the hardest contacts to teach out of the 3 contact obstacles. 

The teeter comes with many difficulties. 

The noise it makes when it hits the ground, the movement of dropping while the dog is on it, the height, the change in tipping point from teeter to teeter…all these things can create fear in the dogs. I like to play lots of games with my dogs to break down all these aspects of the teeter into small steps so I can isolate if there is one particular thing is making my dog nervous. 

A lot of the games I play don't even need agility equipment. I will tell about a couple to get you started!

Motion Override

This game teaches your dog to respond to commands as simple as sit and down while you are in motion. This is the same type of self-control that your dog will need to get into and hold their position, even though you are running past them and getting to your next position.

Get your dog excited through either play or having them chase you back and forth. Starting at a very slow walk, ask for a sit or a down. Use the one your dog finds easier. For instance, most Border Collies find a down pretty easy to do. Do not stop moving until the dog has made the decision to sit or down. Even if you have to just walk in place. Once they have made the decision, release quickly to play or you can go back and reward the position. Mix it up so your dog has a different reward each time. 

If the dog makes a mistake and offers a different behavior, you will gently push them out of position, move to a new area with no tug or cookies and start again.

Once they are successful you can move to jogging then running. You can also mix up the cues by sometimes asking for a down and throwing in some sits to keep them thinking.

Toy Races

This is one of my favorite games to play with my dogs. It teaches the dog to run as fast as they can while driving forward in a straight line. It is the beginning steps to teaching our dogs how to accelerate on course. 

Get your dog excited about playing with a tug toy or a food toy (lotus balls or stuffed Kong). Hold your dog by the collar or you can hold them back by putting a hand on their chest. Throw the toy while you hold your dog. This is very similar to how we played the Focus Forward game. Use the opposition reflex, like in the FF game, and let them focus on the toy for a few seconds. You can even rev them up by saying, ready….ready…. When they are straining to get to the reward, release them and race them to the toy. The KEY to this game is: if you get to the toy first, pick it up and play with it up high and do not let the dog get it. Make a big deal of playing with it. Tease them and make them want it but don't give it to them. Then start the game again. Throw the toy and restrain then release and race. If they get to the toy first, have a fun game of tug. If your dog is likely to run around with it then put your toy on a long line. 

Some things to keep in mind:

  • You must really run. No standing still and sending them dog. Don't let your dog win. 
  • If your dog wins all the time, set them up to lose sometimes. Push them back to give you more of a head start. 
  • If you win all the time you may need to use a higher value toy or food. You can also start with the toy very close and let your dog dive onto the toy. You can also race on your knees. Your dog will still be driving to the toy and you will also be going as fast as you can, but not covering ground as fast.
E104: Laura Waudby - From Pivots to The Ring
E103: Deb Jones - "Train it before you need it"

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