Although I wasn't expecting a 200 in each ring, I thought I'd set some reasonable expectations for the weekend, the least of which was to have my dog stay focused on me as we moved between the exercises and do quick, clean set-ups. That didn't happen.
I got walk-ins, stress yawns, slow responses, malinois-in-the-headlights looks and more. I felt like Phoenix was the poster child for "My dog hates obedience."
This is an extra hard slap in the face because I love obedience. I've loved obedience since showing in my first 4-H dog show at the county fair when I was 9 years old. And until now, all my dogs have loved obedience. Doesn't mean they always qualified or were in the placings, but they went into the ring with their head high and their tail wagging and we had fun doing whatever we did. This weekend, Phoenix slunk around like he'd been beaten and his responses were so achingly slow people probably wondered why I didn't retire the poor "old" dog.
So, enough wallowing in the misery of the weekend. What's next?
I still feel that I'm on the right track with the "make ME the cookie" approach but obviously it's going to take a fair amount of time to build that to the point where I can expect it to hold up in the ring. I have NO IDEA how long that might be.
Our next potential trials are 9 weeks out. When it's time to send entries, I'll re-evaluate and decide if I want to enter, what I want to enter and how often I want to enter. With the addition of an all-breed obedience trial sponsored by a local boxer club, there will be 5 straight days of obedience trials on Labor Day weekend - all 7 miles from our house. So I am very motivated to train and be ready to show, although I would never dream of doing all 5 days.
Since Phoenix loves running agility with single-minded focus, energy, drive and enthusiasm, I know he is physically capable of performing well in the obedience ring. If he were a slug on the agility course as well, I might suspect some physical problem or genuine phobia about performing in public but that is clearly not the issue. The difference between Agility Phoenix and Obedience Phoenix is night and day. He's obviously a speed freak, adrenaline junkie who relishes a 25 second JWW course but is nonplussed with the much-slower pace and demands of the formal obedience ring. Even if he's not racing about the obedience ring at breakneck speed, I still want him to enjoy what he's doing and put on an attractive performance that has "Happy Obedience Dog" written all over it.
I want the silly, happy, goofy, growly dog in obedience that I have in agility. Is that asking too much? Geez, I wish someone would give me the answers! Or, maybe I WILL find the answers, write a book and earn a million dollars.
Or maybe I should just keep training my dog and keeping a clear picture in my mind of how I want us to look in the ring - whether it happens this fall or next spring or 2 years from now. If I don't train, it's not going to fix itself and since I created the problem, it's clearly up to me to un-create it. No finger pointing, no blame game. (Ugh. Really, this would all be much easier to deal with if I could blame someone else!)
Here are some immediate ideas that I have for the rest of the summer:
Keep training sessions short and clearly focused; reward intensely.
Blend toy rewards and food rewards with ME rewards.
Forget the formal: work elements of each exercise with emphasis on speed and informality.
As often as possible, train somewhere new. Backyards and club buildings are convenient but they also do not present a challenging new environment.
Reward effort; perfection is not the issue here.
I hope you all had wonderful weekends and learned something about your dogs that will help you improve your relationship with them, both in and out of the ring.