Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Get rid of with the flying monkeys

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!

Happy training!


  1. Very interesting! I have no basis to judge on as my dogs are still in the early stages of really learning the exercises. But the corgi works really hard when he knows I'm proofing him. We have less forging, straighter go outs, etc as he really does try harder! I do feel that proofing is helping to give him a greater understanding of the exercises but there is a lot to say for the emptiness of the ring.

  2. Oh my you even make your posts funny when you had a bad trial I am in love with Phoenix. I hope you will post the videos so we too can learn from your experiences in this journey. Good Luck next wknd.

  3. Great thoughts! I intend to bring some of my "tools" into the ring with me, such as touch and a couple of bounces. :)

  4. Sometimes we focus too much on 'making it look like a trial' and the dogs don't generalize the concept. Some dogs are not concept-oriented and those I suppose have to have the entire ring set up to do a go out, for instance. I do go outs on walks down the road, in the driveway using the barn wall or a fence or a gate. The dog, if she has the concept, will go straight until you tell her to sit no matter what, jumps or no jumps. Same with the other exercises that aren't 'dependent' on an obstacle being there. Drops on recalls, moving stand, signals, even gloves are done on our twice-daily walks down our country (and little traveled) road. It helped my dog understand the concept of what I was asking her to do so the ring is just another place we do these things, not the ONLY place we do these things.

  5. I am discovering with my current dog something I never saw before with my other dogs. This dog really seems to enjoy challenging proofing, she does better. But when it's "boring" ring-style, she seems to have time to worry. I am glad to see you wondering about the same thing. What is the solution? I guess a combo of good proofing and "regular ring style".

  6. I know that I discovered that all my "proofing" of long sits and downs did not include a whole room full of silent, still people with crossed arms who stared at the dogs. Coach sat, he cocked his head, he gawked around, and he started partying! I really felt stupid. With Jazz I was afraid to breathe for fear he's get up. With Coach - I can do jumping jacks and he stays. If I stand really still - he freaks out and runs around! Thank goodness for fun matches or I would have found that one out the hard way!

  7. this is a tricky thing; training like you show and showing like you train. No good trainer would really train like they show....the boredom and lack of feedback (positive or negative) would make it a complete misery for all involved.
    My current strategy is to use as little reinforcement that is not "allowed in the ring" as possible. So...food and toys are great for training but there comes a time when the chance to retrieve, jump, run, and play and snuggle with me is the primary reinforcer for training.
    I try to make most of my sessions extremely fun. Even the ones where I practice having nothing happen for stretches are fun, because out of nowhere they will become exciting.
    If I can convince my dog that time with me is the best part of their day, then time with me in the ring is better than no time with me at all.
    It's never the same as training, but it's the best I can do.
    And...I'm becoming a master at figuring out what you CAN do in the ring. There is never a minute that I'm not engaging my dog (in whatever way that particular dog wants to be engaged), unless we working an actual exercise. I stand out like a sore thumb against my competitors, but it's rare that a judge takes points from me for my between exercise behavior. It's a good idea for each of us to figure out what we can get away with. Melinda, send me a private note if you want to see video of what I'm doing in competition rings.