But mostly just plain confused.
Phoenix worked better on his individual exercises today. Still not good but not as stressy as yesterday. I loaded up on the treats for warm ups and we did lots of games, tugging and play before we went in. Seemed to help but I still didn't have the focused, confident dog I have in training. He was just plain not happy in the ring. The long down was first again and bless his heart, he held it, even looked relaxed and calm when I returned. I really thought we had a chance to get through the long sit.
But he broke almost immediately and bolted toward the gate.
Once again, I'm beating my head against the wall (ouch) trying to figure out what the heck is going on in his brain.
Each day when I have retrieved him from the steward, he has looked bright and alert but not frantic. So I'm really struggling with the separation anxiety theory. He doesn't show separation anxiety symptoms any other times. He has even been allowed to run loose in the house for short periods of time and been fine, plus he's never tried to chew out of his crate or anything like that when's he been left alone. Not to mention he is virtually bombproof and is fine with thunderstorms, farm machinery, loud noises, etc. I've always thought of him as a very well balanced fellow.
Does he know his job? I've played around with putting him in a stay, both sit and down, and having friends try to break him out of it. They can't. He won't move. Today Barb even tried pulling him out of a down on a slick cement floor today and he dug in and back-pedaled so he didn't move. So I really think he understands what he's supposed to do.
Weird as this may sound, I think he's scared of being left in a lineup with strange dogs. Bizarre? He's fine on stays everywhere but in the ring when he's around strange dogs. When he breaks, he runs immediately to the ring gate, never goes to another dog. He wants OUT of the ring. Sure, he's running TO me but he's also running AWAY from the other dogs.
Nothing has ever happened to him on stays, never been attacked or anything, so I don't know where this came from. I do know when we walk into a show site, even agility trials, his body language is not as comfortable and relaxed as my other dogs have been.
Hindsight being what it is, I should have realized he wasn't totally comfortable in close proximity to dogs he's not familiar with. I never paid it much attention because Nix was such a rock otherwise. Maybe I should have. I think I may have misread some other cues along the line, too.
What to do now? I don't know. But I'm working on it and will let you know what I come up with.