Friday, September 2, 2011

What comes before Square One?

Cuz that's where we need to go back to.

I debated about posting today because I'm not sure where things are headed and as a writer, I always think I need to have a clear position to present before I start putting something into words.

I showed Phoenix in a local trial yesterday and it did not go well. I feel like all of our hard work over the summer was a complete waste of time. (Although spending time with your dog is never really a waste, is it?) He was not a happy dog in the ring. He barely managed to go through the motions. We Q'd in Open with a mediocre score. We NQ'd Utility on signals and barely skated through the rest of the exercises.

I tried hard to find something good about the day but "good" just wasn't on the agenda. I figure the purely compulsion trainers will say we just haven't worked long enough to instill the "have to" and the purely positive trainers will say "I told you so" for pulling the rewards out of the picture and asking him to work "just because."

But now I don't think it's either one of those things. He worked just as badly in the ring after 3 months of patient and constructive "no cookies" training as he worked after years of being trained generously with food. He was just plain miserable. A friend watching outside the ring said "He doesn't want to be in there." She was absolutely right.

He had been working well in training and I had high hopes that his confidence had returned with improved understanding and that he could give me some solid effort in the ring. But it didn't happen. Again, Phoenix warmed up nicely outside the ring, ears up, eyes bright, happy tugging on the leash, a few big bounces, into the ring and . . . flat as yesterday's beer.

We're entered two more days this weekend (regular classes), then two days next weekend (Wild Card Utility and Versatility). After that, I do not anticipate showing in obedience for a very long time.

After chatting with a dear training friend this morning (okay, wailing and gnashing my teeth!), I'm going to experiment and have two friends show Phoenix for me - once this weekend and once next weekend. They won't show him in all the classes, just one class each day. I don't expect this to miraculously cause him to start performing like the obedience ring is the best place in the world. Hell, I don't even know if he'll stay in the ring with them. But it can't hurt (and will probably make Michele and Renee appreciate their own dogs even more!)

Like Renee said, no matter what happens, at the end of the day, I still get to take my beautiful, amazing, smart, strong, funny dog home with me. If we need to take a break from obedience, we will. We can play more agility. We can start tracking. I will love him no matter what.


  1. I finally gave took my mal out of the obedience ring. We do agility and just started K9 Nose Work. He absolutely loves it. He is an obedient dog, maybe he just doesn't care about an OTCH.

  2. Good luck whatever happens. Coach had such a shrieking fit in Rally today that they held up the long sits in the next ring until he was done. Very embarrassing! I hope you and Phoenix can reach an agreement that makes you both happy. Kind of like any relationship isn't it? Full of compromises, changes, work, fun and love.

  3. Doggy Psychic. You've tried everything else thoroughly and rationally. Find a dog psychic with good recommendations and see if he/she can give you any insight. I mean, it can't hurt!!! You never know, it might be helpful.

  4. Sorry to hear you had such a hard time in the ring this past show. Good luck with whatever you guys choose to do.

  5. Ughhh I am so sorry Melinda. :( Gosh wouldn't it be wonderful if he could just tell you what the deal is??!!

  6. This past summer, have you been taking him to matches at all? I found with one of mine, once he soured on the ring (due to mistakes I'd made in training - repeat after me, he is NOT his grandfather!), I had to spend quite a bit of time showing him at matches that if he'd give me effort in the ring like he does out of the ring, he'd get that reward he wanted. We also learned ring games that started out with food but still held out as rewards once the food was faded.

    You can also try back-chaining. Even tho we have the scrambles in the B classes now, this will still work. Start with teaching it as if you were showing in A and once he gets the idea, you can go back to scrambles and start back-chaining those. You shouldn't have to actually teach it for each scramble - by the second or third one they get the idea that after a certain amount of time or something, the reward comes.

    Good luck and don't give up on obedience! Think of all you will learn from this experience

  7. how very frustrating for you ...
    I can't help but feel all your hard work will pay off - somehow? some day?

    I hope the rest of the weekend is more fun at the very least

  8. I know how disappointing it can be when you truly love something and your dog does not.. I actually had the opposite problem my GSD actually loved it too much great worker very enthusastic but he thought that the open out of site stays were certainly a terrible error and though he would stay where he was put he let everyone know that his Mom had left him to the wolves and she must come back so he would ehemmm call her. Oh if I had a penny for every dirty look people gave me as the "singing" of my big baby boy began.... I loved the judge that called it singing... but oh the obedience people were not happy about my rather verbal dog though to his credit it was not barking and not terribly loud and no one's dog ever moved Actually I think they all stayed because of him LOL So yes I worked on it and even continued training right through utility but our highest obed title was CD... and then we went on to do his Rally Master title which for the most part he did rather quietly with wonderful scores and wonderful work ethic so who can complain but I admit I wished we could have gone farther because I LOVED it lucky for him he could make all the noise he wanted in agility and loved that too.So while I hope things work out for you and your wonderful Phoenix it might just be that he just doesn't see the point in obedience trials. We love hearing about Phoenix's adventures and all the training you put into him He is a wonderful dog.

  9. I like the idea of the doggie psychic, especially that lady who you've used before. I still have her name/phone number and am waiting to give her a call!

    Also, it will suck to use such a very expensive "training" session, but what about "jackpotting" and leaving the ring in obedience? You walk into the ring, have him bouncy, and then leave for some more tugging. That's a lot of money, but it'll give him the impression that trials are fun too. I think he's too smart to think matches and trials are the same.

  10. ". . . after 3 months of patient and constructive "no cookies" training as he worked after years of being trained generously with food. . ."

    Three months is not enough time to 'undo' years of cookie dependence - especially with a dog of Phoenix's personality type.

    I'm rooting for you because I have sorta the same problem except she hates obedience altogether - doesn't even likt to train with me. Herding is her forte but I'm determined to get those last 2 legs on her CDX before I retire her. Your journey has inspired me to try. I hope we have better luck in a few weeks!

    Keep going. He's making you a better trainer in the long run!

  11. I feel for ya- we made our debut in Open 2 wks ago; day one we did not Q but I was encouraged because we had focus and up attitude through the whole routine; though we were lacking a bit in accuracy. He missed his drop, which surprised me but I chalked up to just an Open A thing, and came straight to me on the BJ, which did not surprise me as we have issues with this exercise. Day 2 was a different story- he slunk around the ring like I took him out and beat him the night before, finished the fig 8 sitting a good six feet behind me. He DID everything- barely- but he dropped the dumbell on the ROF and stood in front of me. Instead of picking it up myself and saving the Q, I made him pick it back up, which in retrospect was the best choice anyway as I did NOT want to see that score! Since then we have continued our BJ battles- he will be fine one day with cute snappy fronts, and the next day act as if he's never seen that white thing before...I have been working my butt off trying to find a fix, we have one more shot next Sunday and then if things are not better we will go back to the drawing board again for a while!

    Wonder what Phoenix would think if you took him to some trials but put your old guy in veterans, or showed a dog for a friend, and made a big production of making over them and giving them treats and ignoring him and just letting him sit in a crate all day without showing. A little jealousy can sometimes go a long way towards improving attitude...!

  12. Melinda, I have watched this column for months, and have encouraged many others to do the same. I'm blown away by how systematically and intelligently you have worked with your dog. You have reasoned through the possibilities with humor and kindness, never forgetting that both of you have interests that need to be considered.

    Your blog has done more for my doggy education than anything else this past year. You've heightened my awareness of the fragility of the ring...the importance of careful training, careful ring preparation, keeping a long term perspective and selecting for a dog that is likely to share my interests.

    You've also held to the basis tenet of any team sport... don't' hurt any member of the team.

    Many of the dogs I see at any given trial are suffering through the issues that you've written about, but most of the owners put their head in the sand and refuse to see their dog's complete lack of engagement and "want to". Not only do you see, you've put out each step of the process for anyone who wants to learn.

    Your blog has improved the state of obedience. People are talking about your blog, arguing, debating, and clarifying what they believe and what they want from their dogs in the ring. What a gift you have given to the sport! I'm sorry it didn't' generate the goals you had for Team Phoenix, but you have certainly moved forward the sport as a whole.

    I wish you continued success. I have a feeling this journey isn't over, and I look forward to seeing what factors you come up with that haven't been considered yet.