The question on most trainers' minds after any given trial weekend is, "Why did he/she do that?" Why did we get no-sits and go-outs to glove corners and walk-ins on recalls and Heaven only knows what other clever things our dogs came up with that they have NEVER EVER been allowed or encouraged or rewarded for doing in training?
I have some thoughts on this. I have NO IDEA how valid they are. But they're bouncing around in my head and I want to throw this out and see what you guys think.
Point A: The "experts" say we should make training look like showing and vice versa. I agree with the experts. In order to get a dog who understands his job and can perform it with the utmost willingness in the ring, showing cannot look drastically different from training (once you're past the point of teaching the individual skills) or the dog will think it is something totally new and weird and behave accordingly. This is dramatically illustrated when a trainer who works constantly with bait bag on her belt enters the ring cookie-less.
Point B: In order to keep obedience fun and refreshing, we come up with a million creative things to do with our dogs in training to challenge their minds. Everyone would agree this is necessary.
So we do bounces, touches and spins on heeling. We release to jackpots. We let our dogs chase us, chase food and bite toys for recalls. We sit on the ground and do signals. We throw gloves all over, then send the dog on a go-out. I've scattered scent articles over, under and on a lawn chair and asked Phoenix to "find it." I've had friends race him to his dumbbell. He's worked with toys scattered all over the ring and a friend offering him treats every turn. This has all been very fun and good.
Then we go into the show ring and IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE TRAINING.
Sometimes I think in my eternal pursuit of "new, fresh, challenging, motivating, fun, happy, make-him-think" stuff to do in training, I've totally neglected the bare essentials of teaching my dog to work when there is nothing but me, him and the judge in the ring and no one or no thing is deliberately trying to distract or confuse him. It's almost as if the lack of distraction is overwhelmingly distracting.
When using a lot of creative proofing, I've always thought, "If I make things harder in training, they'll seem easy by comparison when we show."
Honestly, I'm not seeing this.
Maybe it's just our current stage of training.
Maybe I haven't found the magic thread that will pull everything together.
Maybe I'll read this post in five years and laugh and wonder what I was fussing about.
Whatever it is, last weekend I truly felt like I had neglected to train the simple ability to walk into a ring and perform without any flying monkeys.
Don't get me wrong - proofing is definitely valuable and will always be part of my training tool box. But throughout Phoenix's Open career and now two trials into the infancy of his Utility career, I sometimes wonder if I've made things harder than they need to be.
Time will tell.
One of my goals for this year is definitely to blur the line between training and showing. On the surface, that sounds so simple. If you've done it, you know it's anything but. That's going to be a post by itself and I welcome any input!