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Training an Independent A-Frame Performance

It's Training Tuesday and this week we're discussing independent A-frame contacts and how to train a solid 2-on/2-off performance. By Elizabeth Dott


There are many opinions on A-Frame contacts and methods to teach it. I have taught both running and 2-on/2-off methods and it really boils down to preference and in many cases the structure of the dog. I choose to teach a 2-on/2-off to my light Border Collies because it involves very consistent criteria and if done correctly, rarely lets you down in the agility ring.

This is also another great way to achieve independent contacts. My dogs are much faster than I am, so it helps to be able to trust my dog to do "HIS" job so I can move away and do my job more effectively. If I know my dog understands what I am asking without a shadow of a doubt, then I can trust him so I can move up the line for the next obstacle.

{Note} If I had a heavy chested dog I might not choose the 2-on/2-off option.

If this option sounds like a good one for you, then let's discuss the methods to teach a rock solid 2-on/2-off performance.

I consider the contacts my dog's job. I say this because I cannot influence how they take this obstacle. The only thing I can influence is safely getting my dog on the A-Frame and the rest is up to him. There really is no handling involved at this point. What my job entails is making sure my dog understands what is expected of him and lots of foundation work done frequently throughout the dogs career.

So lets talk about the best way to achieve this understanding.

It boils down to a few tricks:
- Number One is a release word which must always be used before the dog is allowed to leave the end of the contact.
- Number Two is a word used to tell your dog you are asking for the criteria. For instance, I use "touch". Others I have heard are   "bottom", "spot", "target" and even "feet".
- Number Three is for the dog to clearly understand the exactly position you are asking for to perform the A-Frame.


Elizabeth Dott demonstrates the different steps to teach an independent A-Frame performance.

Understanding of Position or Criteria

I want my dog to understand exactly where he should be stopping for his 2-on/2-off. When I first start training this concept to my young dogs, I work just the bottom of the contact before I ever let my dogs drive over a low, full A-frame.

I want them to clearly understand that their front feet are in the grass with their back toes on the end of the A-Frame. If you are retraining your dog to understand a 2-on/2-off again, it's best to start at the bottom and just do the ends of the contact for a while. {See video for examples of end games}

When we play these games, we are also going to start teaching the dog our release words. I use release words for a lot of other things like start lines and table performance, so they already have a good understanding by this point.

A release word is essential because I want my dog to know without a shadow of a doubt to not come off of his contact until he hears that release word. I want him to understand I can move ahead, move lateral, front cross, blind cross, rear cross or drive forward without me while he still holds that position until he hears his release word. We will be adding this to our end games discussed next. 

End games and How to Begin

I start these exercises by placing my dog's feet in the position I want and reward it, while also encouraging my dog to stay on the end with a treat. Make sure you are marking the behavior. Before you release your dog, use your release word.

I like to place my dog's feet on the contact rather than let him get into position himself the first few weeks I working this. After a while, I add in my criteria word. Mine is "touch", so we will use it as we go along in this article.

When my dog understands this 80 percent of the time, I can then move to the next step and ask him to get into position. Most dogs will know exactly what you want by this time and put themselves in this position on their own.

When I ask for a touch and if my dog understands the behavior, he will usually quickly put his feet on the end of the A-Frame. When my dog is getting into position on his own 80 percent of the time, I start adding in some games. {See video}

I ask my dog to get in position off a table, from the side at speed and I vary my positions asking my dog to stay in his positions with me running by, staying behind, rear crossing, blind crossing etc.

Once my dog understands this, I begin to let him do his end position from higher up on the A-Frame to see if he understands to drive down into the correct position. It's important to not rush these games. You want your dog to know without a shadow of a doubt the end of the A-Frame is where you want him to stop.

Once your dog is playing this game enthusiastically and understands it completely, you can add in the rest of your A-Frame. Start with a low A-Frame and gradually move it up to full height. Make sure you are using your release word to release your dog each time.

Trouble Shooting

If your dog is creeping down the A-Frame, go back and work the end position some more. A dog creeping into position does not understand exactly where his end position is yet. If my dog understands where he should be stopping, he should quickly get into position at the end.

A lot of young dogs will struggle with understanding their striding for a while until they figure out how to come down the A-Frame and go into their end position. Usually they work it out on their own. If you are continually struggling, lower the A-Frame until your dog is comfortable with the striding and then slowly bring it back to full height when your dog understands the striding in all positions.

Check out the video for examples on end games and happy training!

Elizabeth Dott owns Legendary Agility Training in Altamonte Springs, Florida. She has been competing with her dogs in agility for the past 21 years. She has put many championships on her dogs over the years and has competed at the regional and national level. She can be reached at agilebc4me@gmail.com

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