Sunday, September 5, 2010

Five Seasons Cluster, Day 2

"These are the times that try men's souls."

I'm not sure who said that. I think it was Winston Churchill and I think it was in reference to World War II, which was certainly a bigger problem than any dog training issue, but it's a quote that seems appropriate at the moment.

Today did not go any better than yesterday. In fact, it was worse. My brisk, confident dog disappeared entirely and was replaced by a very flat, stressed, unhappy dog who plodded his way through the exercises without any measurable enthusiasm. I think he was so worried about the group exercises that the ring ceased to be fun even on the individual exercises.

We had one of the Open B orders with the long down first. In our limited showing, Phoenix has never done that order. All the times he has broken the down, it has followed the sit and I always wondered if that had something to do with it — that he'd completed the 3 minute sit successfully and just couldn't stand the stress of the out-of-sight exercises anymore.

Well, apparently it's the position (down) that is the problem, not the building stress and anxiety that accumulates during the sit, then erupts during the down.

He got up and left the ring after about 30 seconds again. The judge excused us from the sit, which was probably a good idea, but I wondered if he would have held the sit? Somehow the down seems to be more threatening (by who or what, I have NO idea.)

As you can imagine, I've gotten tons of advice on this problem and I really do appreciate it. And I'm totally open to other ideas and interpretations. The three dominant schools of thought here are:

1) He doesn't understand how to correctly perform the exercise (needs more training).

2) He understands how to perform it but chooses not to (needs corrections).

3) He understands how to perform it but has separation anxiety which makes him unable to perform it, even though he "knows he's wrong" (needs to deal with the separation anxiety issue separately.)

After he held his stays for three trials in a row in July, I really thought we had the problem kicked. I thought wrong. Although I've never felt we had a problem with separation anxiety (no symptoms except in the show ring) I want to address that element as well as more proofing to make him confident about his job. When he breaks, he doesn't wander around or run amuck or go to other dogs. He bolts for the ring gate where I left. Every single time. He is coming to find me.

A friend suggested having someone else handle him to see how deeply the problem is tied to ME as the handler or if it's truly the exercise that's the problem and it wouldn't matter who was handling him. Fortunately, I have an evening match I can go to on Wednesday so need to get a game plan for that and hopefully learn a little more about my dog.

My #1 priority now is getting his attitude back. He was so flat and so unhappy in the ring today I felt awful for both of us. I have never had a dog who did not like obedience and I'm not about to start now. Having said that, I honestly have no freaking idea HOW I'm going to do it but I DO know that I have to find his lost "want to." Until we get that back, nothing else matters. 

So we'll go back tomorrow for the final day and give it another shot. Even though it was a pretty crappy day in the ring today, it was still a day spent with friends and lots of laughs. 

On another note: the caliber of dogs at this trial is stunning. There have been multiple 199s and 199.5s from Novice through Utility. Today there were beautiful working dogs who scored 198.5 and didn't even place. Amazing.


  1. Aw man, so sorry that today wasn't much better than yesterday. Since I haven't seen him in person, I can't really give an opinion as to which of the 3 schools of ideas it would be. My only suggestion was already mentioned, see if someone else handling him will make a difference.

    Since he seems to be generally a very happy, confident dog - and since you don't do anything to hinder that - I don't think it'll be long for him to get his old happy self back.

    Hope tomorrow goes better. It's a good thing that the match is so close so you can work on this soon.

    Good luck!!

  2. So sorry about your group down problem. Luckily, I've only had a group sit issue with two dogs and for me that is 'easy' to fix. Downs - not so easy. A friend is fighting with that issue and we are still struggling with a solution 2 years later.
    I, too, have a dog that goes flat in the ring. She's my marshmallow girl and she's different than your Phoenix in that she doesn't really like obedience at all. Please post your journey in fixing this problem as I'm hoping to work thru this with Trey.

  3. Good luck and I too am interested in hearing about things you try to help him enjoy showing again. At our last show Pie was also very stressed and displaying unhappy behaviors, such as trotting on the retrieves and go outs, plus lots of lagging and sniffing. Your post about dealing with stress in the ring has already given me some ideas to try. My last dog didn't enjoy obedience and I always thought that was her temperament. She hated the judge touching her in the stand and that was consistent with how she felt about strangers. I thought Pie would always have fun showing since she enjoys working. I know her temperament is not to blame for her unhappiness but it is discouraging to find two separate dogs have arrived at the same place. (Training/ handling issue- darn!) I believe I have caused the stress by not being supportive when she fails and instead relying too heavily on corrections. Bad training- my fault. Luckily, Pie is not as far "gone" as Fancy was, so I am hoping to reverse the problem. Looking forward to reading about Phoenix, but of course I hope it isn't a long journey for you guys.

  4. Sorry it didn't go much better and really sorry he wasn't even happy doing the "fun stuff". I like the idea of having someone else do the sit/down part and see what happens. Interesting we had a friend this weekend at our trial that asked why her rally dog went flat in the ring and two of us said that we noticed that SHE was flat in the ring and looked nervous even. She admitted she was and agreed that was probably the issue - we can't fool those dogs. Could your nerves or disappointment over the broken stays have affected how YOU were with him in the ring? There are just so many factors to figure out - but you will and so will Phoenix!

  5. I didn't see him today, but yesterday I saw him. He doesn't really bolt for the door either. He sort of crouches out of the down and trots toward the ring gate with his head down. He doesn't try to avoid anyone who takes his collar. Have you seen film of how he behaves when you leave the room? If not - you really should get a good film of the behavior. I am certainly far from an expert, but it looks to me like he knows what he is supposed to do and is nervous or insecure about staying there. Anyway - keep the faith. Like you keep telling me - Phoenix still has a thing or two to teach you.