Tonight was the part I was most looking forward to out of Silvia's visit to Minnesota! Even though all her steps to teaching a running contact are posted on her website, free for all, I needed to hear her in person. I found I did some things wrong in the beginning and some things that aren't bad but I will do different for the next dog.
1. I was way too strict in criteria from the get go. In the beginning she doesn't look at feet placement at all, just watches for running. Eventually she jackpots the lower hits, but by limiting Vito's options so early it will be harder for him to maintain criteria and he will have to slow down a bit at certain times to make the low hit.
In my defense I STILL can not see hind feet separation. I was watching the dogs new to RCs just run over the plank and couldn't see it. I could tell the obvious jumps and could get a sense of what was great and what sucked, but I really have a hard time.
Just make sure you are getting flat out running. If the dog isn't running full out then it's not going to tell you anything about their final behavior when they're going to be amped up in competition.
2. I progressed the early stages way too slowly. It doesn't have an effect in the long run, but there was no reason for me to go in height brick by brick. Do make sure your dog has a very high success rate though.
3. Have the reward out far! She prefers throwing as it gets most dogs more excited, but I'm a horrible thrower and could never throw early enough (before the dog gets to the down plank) and be somewhat accurate. So I placed the toy down but didn't have it out far enough. Having the toy only 10ft from the end was likely creating more jumping. I also could have put the toy between a jump standard to make it easier for Vito to see and as a bonus to encourage the dog to drive to a jump from the early stages. If you do throw the toy, throw it early, before the dog starts running down the plank.
4. Start the dog farther back. With Vito I was very limited on this as I didn't/don't really have a DW and didn't have anything to use nor the space for it. But for future dogs it helps if they have room to get up to speed before hitting the plank, especially in those early stages.
5. No need to vary your position early on. Silvia's lazy and doesn't bother and has never had a problem with the dog generalizing. Vito had problems with me working on this in the early stages and I guess it was just added work for us.
6. Don't practice the aframe until you're very happy with the DW. When you do start it, start with it lowered but within 2 sessions raise it to full height. Then never practice just the aframe again, only do it in sequences and never reward it! Crazy but she says it works!
7. A 90 degree turn really isn't a turn. Unless the dog is super long strided there is really no reason to tell the dog left/right until they are taking their last stride on the DW. Your position and calling the dog should be plenty.
8. When working on very tight turns look for front feet hits. Silvia prefers jackpoting hind feet making the contact normally as it is physically easier for the dog to get but it creates wider turns.
When it was Vito's turn to go he did pretty bad! Lots of jumping even for a jump that really wasn't a turn. He actually did much better without any stick which is surprising since he should be very used to having a stick at the bottom to help with turning. Because he was doing so bad, Silvia recommended doing some side loading to practice wrapping around the pole. I hadn't thought of this before and am very excited to continue working on it! I'm hoping if it can teach Vito to go to the bottom and turn very tight then actual turns shouldn't be that hard. Vito seemed to be starting to get it by the end at least.
And as a bonus I asked about running contacts with a corgi who runs like a bunny. Little hind feet separation! Silvia thinks that it shouldn't be a problem as long as I know how he runs normally and compares his stride length to running on the plank. She didn't pick up on hind feet separation as a cue until after Bu (or during Bu?) so it is very possible to train her method without paying attention to that! I'm not sure that I am going to change Lance's contact criteria (again!) but it has been in the back of my mind. I know he doesn't like stopping and thus our issues with his 4 on the floor in a trial. I am also not happy with the way he sometimes jumps off and lands like a brick.