After watching so many dogs have difficulty earning just one qualifying score or just being successful in the ring, I thought it might be of value to share some of the tips I have learned to helping you and your dog be successful in your obedience class.
TIP 1: Familiarizing your dog with the show ring and show site: Some people like to get to a show site the day before so they can see what the ring fence and stantions look like for the GO OUTs. Sometimes it is possible to practice the GO OUT, on a leash outside the ring, the day before or very early the day of the show before the show begins. The more you know about the ring set-up and show site, the better prepared you are. Sometimes this is not possible if you are not staying over night and the drive is long to the show. If you are at the show site the afternoon before, this is the time to do a practice warm-up with heel work, scent articles, glove retrieve or whatever you feel would help you and your dog to be comfortable knowing the site and ring set-up.
PLEASE NOTE, you are never allowed to go into the show ring to practice. Sometimes a show will offer a match the evening before which offers you an excellent opportunity to get in the ring you will be showing in the following day.
TIP 2: Warming up your dog: For most dogs it is not advantageous to spend a long time warming them up and practicing. You and your dog should have done all your training before the show and now the day of the show, warm-up practice should be minimal. For example, in Utility, when the show begins, the judge posts the Utility exercise that you will perform as well as the glove number. Usually I like to do a small amount of heel work for focus; I especially like using heeling around cones to help engage the dog. Then I set up my practice scent articles so the dog is familiar with the new smells of this show site; then I practice retrieve of the glove that we will be asked to retrieve in the ring. I also like to bring a practice jump to help my dog warm up over the jump to help prevent a touch of the jump or injury from not being warmed up.
PLEASE NOTE; You dog must be on a leash at the show site when practicing. A flexi is allowed. Sometimes it is possible to find an area away from the show grounds to do some warm-up like a practice jump.
TIP 3: The day of the show, after you have done your warm-up with your dog, put them back in their crate to rest and relax. Sometimes covering the crate so the dog does not have to see what is going on around him, helps them to better relax. I usually like to take them out of their crate to potty them 3 or 4 dogs before they are scheduled to go into the ring.
TIP 4: Be familiar with the exercise you are going to be asked to do. If you are in Open B or Utility B, the exercises will vary in their order. The judge posts which exercise you are doing at the ring before you class begins. Be sure to be present for before the first dog so you can see the heeling pattern. It is very hard to do good heel work if you do not know what is coming in the heel pattern. It is sometimes helpful to sit by the ring and watch the other dogs. It may be helpful for your to practice the heeling pattern away from the ring without the dog so you are familiar and comfortable with the pattern and transitions you will be asked to do. Reflect on how you plan to indicate to your dog the upcoming transition: from walk to halt; left turn, right turn, stand.
- Watch the heel pattern
- Where will the heel pattern start?
- Watch the glove retrieve
- Where will the moving stand be performed?
- Where is the judge placing the scent article in the pile?
- Are there uneven areas in the ring that you need to be aware of when heeling? Are dogs having a particular problem with one exercise? Why?
- Again watch the heel pattern before the class begins.
- Where will you be standing for the retrieve on the flat?
- Where will you be standing for the drop on recall?
- Where will the figure 8 be performed.
All of this information is very important since you will want to stay connected with your dog between exercises and not be ideal and not sure of where to go or what comes next. STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR DOG.
TIP 5: Keep your dog cool. First and foremost it is very important to keep your dog fresh, rested and COOL. So many people have their dogs on a leash, walking around and visiting others at a show. Or perhaps they have not brought a crate or housing for their dog and their dog has to be on a leash at their side with no place to really relax. I learned this from a gentlemen many years ago who told me to stand in the shade with your dog when you are preparing to be the next dog in the ring.
TIP 6: Building on Tip #5, choose a cool, shaded place to stand and interact with your dog while the dog in the ring before you is performing. Do not stand ringside, or in the sun or be chatting with friends. Use this time to connect with your dog, helping to relax and focus them on the work they are about to do. I usually tell the ring steward where I am and she will let me know when the judge is ready for us to enter the ring.
After the competitor before you finishes, the judge usually has to take a few minutes to complete her notes. DO NOT just be standing ideally waiting. Again, stand away from the ring, in the shade and interact with your dog. When it is time to enter the ring, you want your dog calm and focused.
Tip 7: Before you go into the ring, tell yourself how grateful you are that you have such a wonderful dog who can be your partner for the coming exercise. HAVE NO EXPECTATIONS! Just do your best.
Tip 8: Entering the ring: When it is your turn to enter the ring, try to heel in or have your dog connected and at your side from the close distance you were at in the shade. STAY ENGAGED even when you are taking the dogs leash off for the ring steward. The judge may want to chat with you but your job is to stay connected and focused on YOUR DOG. If the judge asks you to move to a different location look at your dog, and move together connected and ready for work. DO NOT BECOME DISTRACTED. This is a very important time to help your dog relax and feel connected with you and ready to work.
Tip 9: Between exercises. When you are moving to the place an exercise is to begin, you can and should interact with your dog and STAY CONNECTED. Don’t just ideally walk to the location and hope your dog will follow. When an exercise is over, you can talk with your dog, praise him or even do something like a hand touch to let them know how good they are. When you are set up for an exercise and the judge begins to talk to you about the exercise, she will ask you if you are ready. When you reply you are ready, the judging begins and you can no longer interact with or talk with your dog. Be sure to check the rule book to see when this occurs and what you can or cannot do. For example for scent articles, the judge will tell you when to go and pick up your article to scent from a chair. You will be allowed to tell you dog to stay but not further praise or interaction.
Tip 10: When you are finished, praise your dog and tell them they did a good job. I always feel so sad when people finish their work with their dog, put on the leash and just go out of the ring, sometimes dragging the dog along. They may stop and chat with people, or clearly express how bad their dog was. Remember, that it is seldom the dogs fault when things fall apart in the ring. Ask yourself why they did not qualify or why their performance was not up to your standard. What did you do that could have better helped them? Were they fearful and picked up on your nervousness? What did you do that contributed? Were you both adequately prepared which includes preparation at the show site and proofing your dog on all the exercises in new places? Dogs pick up on your disappointment so easily and perhaps will displace their lack of confidence at a later time not wanting to disappoint you again.
Most of all it is important to be grateful that you have such a wonderful dog to share this experience with. SMILE AND BE HAPPY no matter what the outcome. There will always be another day.