Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back in the ring

I just mailed entries for a local obedience cluster on Labor Day weekend. There are 5 trials over 5 days. Phoenix and I entered 3 of them. We're on the every-other-day plan. These shows are very close to home so we won't have to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to drive there and can come home every afternoon. Can't beat that.

I'm looking forward to getting back in the ring. These will be our first obedience trials since the end of June. It will be a chance to see what we've learned from this summer's training. I've learned a LOT. I hope the same is true for Phoenix! While it would be fun to just keep training with no shows on the horizon, I won't know if what I've been doing is working until we test it in the ring.

And I really NEED to know because there aren't many obedience trials on our schedule this fall. I need to find out what's improved and what hasn't before we go into another long stretch of training with no trials this winter. My goals for our few autumn obedience trials are to see a solid understanding and willingness to work in the absence of treats and toys, plus having Phoenix see my verbal praise (and thus, ME) in the ring as a genuine and desirable reward.

In the future, I'll do a "What we learned this summer" post! Amazing how the time has flown since late June when I realized our training needed a major overhaul and dropped out of trialing to focus on fixing some holes in our foundation. Back then it seemed like summer would last forever. Now kids are headed back to school here next week and it's only three weeks until those Labor Day trials.

To address a few comments from yesterday's post: yes, in the obedience ring you CAN give second commands to help your dog if he's struggling. Give too many and you flunk but if things are going that badly, you're probably not going to pass anyway so give your dog some support and try to make the best of it.

If you've already flunked, the run becomes a training session, at least as much as is possible in the ring. You can't touch your dog during an exercise and you can't move forward toward a dog when he's working away from you, but you can give extra commands. A problem can be that sometimes handlers are so upset by that point, their voice is not happy, which can make their poor dog even more confused and stressed.

BUT! Now there are Wildcard obedience classes where you can give extra commands for support and praise without being penalized. More clubs are offering these classes and people use them to bring out green dogs at a new level or to help dogs who are having problems. The general consensus from exhibitors seems to be that no one really cares about "winning" a Wildcard class, they just want the opportunity to verbally work their dog through problem exercises. Finally, the AKC may have come up with a sensible non-regular obedience class!

Yes, you can ask to be excused from the obedience ring but it's looked on a little differently than it is in agility. I don't want to say it's considered poor sportsmanship if you bail out when your dog starts having a bad run because that's not exactly it. If your dog is running amok in agility, the judge and other exhibitors would probably wholeheartedly agree it's fine to respectfully tell the judge, "Thank you, we're done" and leave the course.

If you're having a bad obedience run, I think most people feel obligated to stick it out. That's probably the difference between a 30 second agility run and a 6 minute Utility run. In agility, it may be obvious that things aren't going to get better in the remaining allowed time but in obedience, maybe we hope the next exercise will be better or that we can salvage something positive from the experience if we stay in the ring. I've BEEN excused (Connor! Can you believe it?!) and I've ASKED to be excused (Connor again!).

The bottom line for any training method is that we want to be able to go into the ring with a dog who knows his job and WANTS to do it. Any time your dog fails to perform, don't blame him or worse, take it out on him with rough handling or training - review how you trained that exercise or obstacle. How can you make it better? Clearer? Faster? Straighter? More confident? More funner?

Something that helps me keep a level head is remembering that my dog did not ASK to do any of these things. Sure, he thinks they're generally fun or rewarding or he just enjoys the time doing stuff with me, but the competing, earning titles, etc. is all MY idea. I would like to think he's proud to go into the ring with me and knows when he's done a good job but that might be anthropomorphizing a bit too much.

Happy training.


  1. Dear Editor,

    Is 'funner' a word? I had to look it up, some say 'yes', others say 'no'. VBG

    Anyway, here's to great times in the ring for BOTH OF YOU!!!!

    I agree, where did the summer go!!

  2. Yes. Taz the Terv (who used to post a comment now and then) says "funner" is definitely a word, especially when used with "more." To use it properly in a sentence, "Six cats would be more funner to chase than one cat."

  3. I look forward to seeing you at the trial! I'll be there on Saturday showing my little Field Spaniel girl, Famke in conformation and Rally Novice. :)

  4. Just to be clear, I have a degree in English and do editing as part of my job. _I_ know better that to use the word "funner." "More funner" is a quote from Taz the Terv, who would definitely approve of the above example. Although he's never had a chance to try six cats at once.