We are getting to the harder obstacles now :)
There are 3 different contact obstacles - A-Frame, Dog Walk, and Teeter Totter.
Today we'll look at the A-Frame and the Dog Walk. The Teeter is one of the hardest obstacles in Agility, so I'll dedicate a separate post to it later.
The A-Frame consists of two wide panels that are attached together to form a climbing obstacle that resembles the letter A (hence the name).
The panels are about 9 feet long each, and the top of the frame is 5 feet 6 inches from the ground - the picture above gives a good perspective of it.
The panels have a rough, non-slip (like sandpaper) surface, as well as small wooden slats going across the width to provide better footing.
The dog must climb up one side of the frame and descend down the other.
You can see that the panel is painted in two colors - the top color can vary, but the bottom part (lower 42 inches in AKC) is almost always yellow to indicate the contact zone. On the ascending side, this is usually called the "up contact", and on the descending side - "down contact". In order to clear the contact correctly, the dog must touch the yellow zone with at least one paw before going past it. In AKC, only the down contact is required for the A-Frame. In USDAA, the up contact needs to be touched as well. This is a safety measure to ensure that no dogs are leaping off of (or on to) the top of the A-Frame, as they could easily hurt themselves that way.
Touching the yellow can be okay with as little as a toenail (judge's call), and many handlers just hope their dogs will hit it on the way. It's hard to teach the up contact to a dog, but is usually only a problem for very leggy dogs. However, the down contact is very easy to be missed, even for very small dogs because they think they can fly!
Obviously, we can't explain to a dog that it much touch the yellow paint, so instead there are different tricks to get them to go to the bottom. Some handlers have their dog lay down at the bottom of the A-Frame, others slowly guide the dog down. In our class we use the "two on, two off" method - I'll cover it in more detail later, but basically it requires the dog to place two front feet on the ground while the two back feet are still resting on the panel.
Blowing the contact (i.e. not touching the yellow when required) is considered a failure to perform and will earn the dog an immediate NQ.
The Dog Walk is constructed of three wood panels (two ramps and a center section) that form a bridge-like obstacle (it's so long, it doesn't even fit in one picture!).
The ramps and center section are 12 feet long each, and the center section is 48 inches from the ground. The surface is the same as that on the A-Frame, and the ramps have similar slats for footing.
The Dog Walk also has contact zones, but unlike the A-Frame, both up and down contacts are required here. Normally, once a dog can perform the A-Frame correctly, it will pick up the Dog Walk quickly after that. The only extra thing to get used to at that point is the thin nature of the planks (they are only 12 inches wide), so some dogs need a little encouragement, as it can be scary, especially for the bigger guys.