Sunday, September 4, 2011

The experiment

Yesterday I showed Phoenix again. Our Utility run was not a thing of beauty but it WAS better than Thursday's. Even though we NQ'd 2 exercises, I felt like he was working a little better and giving a little more effort. 

The longer we were in the ring, the more relaxed he seemed to get. He was still pretty "sticky," not the relaxed, happy dog I ultimately want but he managed a couple of perfect exercises and had lovely straight go-outs and didn't sniff the gate this time. This tells me he was at least trying. By the end of the run, I was seeing little signs he was relaxing, like "up" ears, more eye contact and a willingness to bounce.

I realize 3 months of a new training method won't create overnight results but I had expected to see some indication that what we were doing was working this weekend, even if the finished product wasn't complete. And now I feel like I did.

Then Michele took Phoenix into Open for me. This was a total experiment. I wanted to see if any of his ring issues were connected to me and if I weren't in the picture, would that make any difference in how he worked.

I told Michele if things didn't go well and she wanted to be excused, that was fine with me. She took Phoenix outside and spent some time working heeling, drops and playing with the dumbbell. He worked for her but was constantly scanning, looking for me.

I debated about leaving the building entirely but thought maybe if I just stood in one place and stayed there, so he could get a fix on where I was, that would be the best idea.

It wasn't. In hindsight, leaving the building probably wouldn't have made any difference. And let me tell you, if I ever thought I was nervous before going into the ring, it was NOTHING compared to watching someone else take my dog in!

The judge was Phil Rustad and he was incredibly patient. It took Michele a long time to get set up for the first exercise, the retrieve on flat, because Phoenix kept circling her, scanning the crowd, and wouldn't come to heel. Once they got going, he retrieved fine but didn't front, went straight to heel, then began circling again, with the dumbbell still in his mouth.

The drop on recall followed and it was lovely, complete with front and finish. Retrieve over the high was next and again, the set up was difficult. He was circling and scanning, clearly concerned about where I was. 

He went out over the jump, grabbed the dumbbell and then turned to the crowd, scanning. He missed the jump coming back, Michele released him and Phil asked if she would like to be excused. She said yes, which was the perfect decision.

So . . . what did I learn from this? I think the biggest lesson was that Phoenix may not be the picture of ultimate joy in the obedience ring at the moment but he'd still rather be in the ring with me than with anyone else, even a friend who he likes very much and knows is a generous hand when it comes to treats. That's not to say I'm not part of the problem but at least now I know I'm not the ENTIRE problem! 

Thank you, Michele, for being part of this experiment. You and Phoenix look good together! I think with a little practice, he would happily work for her. It was fun standing back and watching my own dog in the ring, at least when things were going well!

We have today off, then back to the show tomorrow.

I'm already starting to build a new training plan for the coming months. We're definitely not going to show again until until spring (not counting Wild Card and Versatility at Des Moines next weekend) but I'm getting a clearer picture of what Phoenix and I really need to be doing (and not doing) until then. Will explore that in a future post.


  1. I really liked your F & F column, and like your blog even more. It's so hard to find top level trainers, like you, who are willing to talk about the difficult days. As a results, the rest of us mostly end up viewing descriptions of 200 runs, and OTCH titles achieved. So all your columns are helpful. And, they are a delight to read--beautifully written and often *funny*
    Sharon Hall

  2. It must be a great feeling knowing that he'd still rather do Obedience with you than with someone else!

  3. I just realized today that my favorite blogger also writes for my favorite magazine. I'll miss your columns in F&F. Please keep the blog going! I'm dealing with the same struggles with my dog in utility, so your comments are always helpful.

  4. It was great to see you and Phoenix this weekend!! I really admire you for being so honest and so willing to share your journey with the handsome guy. I really look forward to reading your blog post!

    And thank you very much for your kind words after Famke's Rally run. I really appreciate it. :)

  5. I let a good friend (one Legend loves) run her in agility when she was really stressing out. It didn't really seem to help but it didn't hurt either. And it was to watch her run anyway.