One would think that we learn and apply most of what we need from previous dogs. What I am finding is this is such a false assumption. Yes, each dog is very very different in their drive, motivation, confidence, and natural talent. However, I am finding that obedience showing is now also very very different from when I worked on Kaffee's OTCH . When I was working on Kaffee’s OTCH the number in the classes in his early days might have been 8-12 dogs but when we were trying to finish his OTCH (points obtained by how many dogs were in the class and your placement), we almost always had to get first place to get any OTCH points since the class numbers were so low.
Today, this has changed. With a year off from showing or doing practice matches due to COVID, the number of entries in both Open and Utility are very high….. we are seeing 14-20 dogs in a class. What this means is not only are there more OTCH points available but also more very very good dogs showing – some of which typically get scores of 198, 199 or 200. What this means is in order to place we must also perfect our work in order to get any placement that could have points.
Since Beckett is very new to Utility (he just earned his UD a few months ago after starting work on it a few months prior). I am learning more about pressures in the ring that may cause a dog to loose their focus and in that moment may miss a signal, or command, or even choose to take a different jump in the UTILITY GO OUTS. For example in the show a week ago, a very seasoned judge had very challenging ways she exposed the dogs to pressure….. I am sure this is one way that they can separate out dogs and scores. First there were 3 rings; each was adjoining the other with no distance or alley between. The ring adjacent to the Open and Utility was rally. Rally signs came right up to and touched the Open/Utility ring. Our command discrimination in Open was right next to this ring and the judge stood very close to the dogs to give the CD commands. Very easy way to loose a dog’s focus.
Additionally recalls and dumbbell retrieve were done on the side of the ring where the steward’s table was, large number of people coming and going and watching and standing right next to the ring… Loud noise and very difficult to hear as well as for the dog to hear. I watched a friends dog in Utility become worried about this tight set-up, perhaps noise and so much going on around the scent articles. You could see. the dog start to worry and not perform the scent articles with confidence and then proceeded to move to the Utility GO OUT and be very unfocused and seemingly worried so she could not concentrate on this exercise and ended up with a NQ.... but it started with the previous exercise and pressures the dog was experiencing escalating to the GO OUTS
My goal for Beckett at this show was just to expose him to indoor showing since we normally show outdoors. In working on this goal, I was trying very very hard to keep his focus before we came into the ring, as we came in and between exercises. AND,,, just trying to be a good team partner to HELP AND SUPPORT HIM. Beckett surprised me on Day 1 and was invited back into the ring for a run off with 4 top dogs, some from California who normally get 199-200 scores. He not only got a 198 ½ in this class but also won the run off and won the class, eventually that day giving him his first obedience HIGH IN TRIAL. This was such a special moment which I may never have again in just this way but it was a highlight of my days showing obedience since there were 14 dogs in the class and many very very good seasoned dogs.
So what did I learn at this show to help me moving on and prepare me for new and unexpected challenges?
1.First, when we go to a show survey the ring set up and look for all the things in the environment that could cause my dog to be distracted.
2.Watch the judge’s heel pattern and where each exercise begins. Consider how I will keep my dog focused on and connected to me the entire time between exercises.
3.Watch runs and see what other pressure the judge is using on dogs such as how close and where they stand for exercises? How hard is this for my dog. What can I do to help them?
4.Visualize how I am going to do the run: outside the ring, coming into the ring. How am I going to move between exercises; how am I going to help my dog not loose his focus and attention knowing it can take 5-10 seconds to get it back. Figure into this pre-run visualization to TAKE MY TIME.. DO NOT RUSH. Do not become happy if the dog does a challenging GO OUT in Utility and then rush my signal to jump. Beckett is very different from my other 2 dogs: he does not want to be wrong and if I rush he seems to wonder if he is suppose to go… this at past shows has led to double commands – a NQ.
How do I Train in Preparation for Such Shows?
- First, I find a training partner and we go to many different parks and locations.
- We set up distraction challenges such as having our ring face children playing in a park or playground;, people coming and going or other very busy activity.
- We use each other to be the judge and put pressure on the dog. For example, I have worked very hard to not let Beckett look at a person who comes up next to him (i.e, the judge). He gets a tap on the head if he gets distracted. I ask my training partner to come very close to him and stand either next to him or close behind in all his exercises.
- In the Utility Signal command, judges are standing behind the dog or just to the side but very close.. We do this also.
- We look for places where there are distractions to do signals either with dog having these distractions behind or in front of them.
- Signals from long distances.
- We look for places with tight spaces for the command discrimination – pressure from sides and behind.
- The training partner judge follows the dog closely when heeling.
- For DIRECTED JUMPING, the training judge stands very close to the jump the dog has to take… Amazing how much pressure this is and Beckett early on would choose not to take the jump or take the other jump. Still a continual work in progress but he did very very well today as you will see in the video below.
- For articles, I play an article game in the house with my 2 Border Collies and put down 2 sets of articles (24 articles) in a different room. This helps with the motivation, competition, and learning to quickly determine the scented article. Somehow it has also really helped with not touching or picking up other articles.
- The training judge is asked to stand close to the article pile and then over the pile so the dog must ignore them and focus on the “find my article” command.
- For the Open recall we do the 4 pack: first a straight recall; next a drop with signal or voice, then walk into the dog (helps prevent their anticipation of the drop) and finally one of the other signals. Mix these up but practice all 4.
- Command Discrimination: in Utility B there are 4 different combinations; it is important to practice each one during a training session: perhaps 2, then another exercise; then the other 2.
- Beckett’s big weakness is LOOKING STRAIGHT FOR THE GO OUT – the MARK. He seems to do well in a typical ring set up with baby gates and the 2 jumps but misses the GO OUT and going straight when we work on longer distances and strange looking pole configurations… Much more work on this.
- Gloves…having my training partner judge stand right next to me or walk into Beckett from behind as he is retrieving it….. At the past show he was not focused well and thought he had to bring it to the judge .. fortunately only loosing points since he self corrected at the last minute. The moving judge on exercises where he has to retrieve (dumbbell, scent articles, gloves) have always been a challenge for his FRONTS.
- AND of course FRONTS and FINISHES must always be practiced from all angles and with added pressures for dog’s path… Major point loss if not perfectly correct.
Yes, this is a lot of work. AND, everyone is on a different journey. Since I have a lovely dog who enjoys working with me and can heel nicely, I am working very hard at improving scores. This is my assessment of what we need to practice..not each time but….. to be included when determining practice and preparing to go into the ring.
Below is a video from our club’s practice match today where I asked our judge, who is familiar with Utility, to put a lot of pressure on Beckett.. This video show this nicely and it also shows how much we have improved at staying connected between exercises… A wonderful learning journey with a very special dog.