Monday, July 12, 2010

An inconvenient truth (or two)

The Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the oft quoted line, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.” This is often paraphrased in English as “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

That would pretty much sum up my pursuit of Phoenix’s CDX.

We were supposed to be DONE with this silly title back in April.


Three months ago. I think there was still snow on the ground then.

It is now mid-July and he still needs one leg.

We won’t trial again in obedience until September.

Bang head here. (Hey, Team Orange, who has the Bang Head Here sign these days? Sharon and I REALLY could have used it last weekend!!!)

The “what will happen next?” trial in Missouri brought to light some truths I’d been conveniently ignoring. Getting smacked in the face by the truth is just another step in the journey of figuring out what I need to do in order to build a better relationship with Phoenix and to find success. Hey, he didn’t come into my life wanting an OTCh/200 so I need to take the responsibility for figuring out how to create a happy, willing partner on this journey that is totally of my own desire.

Truth #1: I’ve only been asking for 100% effort in training. This is a mistake because if you ask for 100% effort in training, then go into the ring and your dog stresses down, you might get 85% effort. Or you might get 75% effort. Throw in a couple of odd distractions (like sexy daschunds in the next ring) and you might as well go home.

How to fix it: Let’s say you let a few things slide in practice. A lag here and there on heeling. A sluggish set-up. Whatever. That’s only going to get worse in the ring. And those are LITTLE things. If you start letting bigger things slide in practice, like slow responses or sloppy execution, etc., those are going to be HUGE in the ring. Trust me, they’re not magically going to improve just because you're at a trial.

I created the following imaginary obedience performance scale to demonstrate my point. On a rising scale of obedience ring performance, here are five possible levels: barely passing, adequate, pretty good, great, totally brilliant.

So imagine your dog’s performance in practice is pretty good. You can probably expect an adequate performance in the ring. Maybe he’s brilliant in training. That’ll get you great in the ring. What if you train for just the bare minimum of barely passing? Uh-oh. My goal with Phoenix is now to have practice sessions that are absolutely stunning to increase our odds of turning in ring performances that are totally brilliant.

Truth #2: In my eternal quest for perfection, I was boring my poor little sweetums right out of his ever-lovin’ mind. I THOUGHT I was being a brisk, motivational, happy, high energy trainer. I was not.

How to fix it: Our performance the first day was abysmal. Having been accused of exaggeration at times, trust me, I am NOT using that term loosely. Lagging heeling and a death march in after the drop on recall is abysmal. Ugh. Scores be damned, this was so totally NOT the picture I want in the ring. So when we did the show-n-go that afternoon, my only goal was to have a dog who showed some form of animation beyond simply breathing. I spent my five minutes doing running heeling, chase recalls, informal dumbbell throws, more running heeling, more chase recalls and hand touches until I literally couldn’t breathe. D*mned asthma. But I got what I wanted: an animated dog with bright eyes and a waggy tail and total attention even though I wasn’t shoving a cookie in his mouth ever 10 seconds.

Okay. Lessons learned. Those were the two big points that really came home to roost at the Sedalia trials and by focusing on those two goals — asking for a higher level of performance in practice and making practice sessions much less tedious — we’ll stand a better chance of getting that last CDX leg with a performance we'll both enjoy.

I'm also going to re-teach his left finish to incorporate a flip. I've never ever in all my years taught a flip finish. Always thought they were kind of silly, to tell you the truth. But they are a great way to add a little fun to a pretty dull skill (find heel, spot, place, close or whatever you call it.) And we're all about fun! More funner, as Taz the Terv would say!

And we'll keep working the jackpot concept and moderating use of food during training so the Skinny Little Dog doesn't freak out when the cheese disappears in the ring.

Honestly, what would I spend my time thinking about if I didn't have a dog to train?


  1. Hmmm... I thought YOU had that sign! I hope we didn't leave it at a trial somewhere!!

  2. I love the post. Sorry the first day of the trial was so crappy, but at least you not only figured out the problem, but also a solution. Sounds like a very successful weekend in terms of long range thinking.

    It's already a great start that he did so well at the show-and-go without constant food. Everything will probably be fixed much faster than originally thought.

    Also, I'd love to teach a left flip finish. But I'll have to start with any kind of finish first :)

  3. Thanks for the chance to listen to your thought process! Coach has a "flip" finish - unfortunately at this stage he appears to be trying to put out my left eye on his way to heel. Enthusiasm is fine, but I'm still in life saving mode! I'm sure you will be successful and it will be fun to watch as you work through this new dog lesson.

  4. I think the "Bang Head Here" sign has a hole in it from OVER USE!! G I'm with MeMe, I thought YOU HAD IT!! I'm sure it will turn up, somewhere! Nix is BRILLIANT no matter what!

  5. Yeah! I am now famous, being quoted on your fabulous blog. You can now teach Mama about being More Funner in training, including how to do the flip finish, which I have never tried. She forgets to do the running and playing and gets miffy when I pay attention to kitties when we are training, but it is her fault as she isn't necessarily funner than kitties, which are really extremely fun.
    --Taz the Terv

  6. Hey Melinda, Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this post. It really hits home. While I'm getting 'pretty good' performance in training, it usually drops down to 'barely passing'(if passing at all) in the trials when you factor in his lack of confidence and fear issues. I definitely need to shoot for the 'totally brilliant' in order to get the 'adequate' :) The addition of more play in training may also be a great help. Thanks!