Remember back in September after the Labor Day trials when things absolutely went to hell in the ring for Phoenix and me and I swore we were going to take a looooong break from obedience and stay home and work on rebuilding our foundation and not show again until spring?
I showed Phoenix in Open B at a UKC trial this weekend.
After two months of playing with some new training ideas, I wanted to see if anything was ready to transfer into the ring. Phoenix already has his U-CDX, so there wasn't anything on the line. I just wanted to have a happy dog in the ring. It was an experiment.
Phoenix was great. He trotted through the ring gate and bounced and wagged his tail all the way to the set up point. He was silly between exercises. His work was brisk, efficient and thoughtful. (I say 'thoughtful' because Phoenix will never be a frivolous dog, if you know what I mean.) He only lost half point on heeling and gave me 4 perfect fronts on Saturday, confirming my theory that when he's relaxed and happy, he understands his job and is willing to make the effort to be right.
He won Open B and went High In Trial both days, plus nice bonus rosettes for Highest Scoring Herding Dog both days.
I'd like to say all our problems are fixed and the troubled past is behind us but that would not be realistic. We've still got a lot of work to do on building the "want to" element of some exercises (especially in Utility where his confidence is not as high as with the Open exercises) but the weekend showed me that what I'm doing (letting him be right and helping him be right vs telling him his work is never good enough), is starting to pay off.
This weekend was a tremendous confidence boost for both of us. FINALLY I feel good about my training again. I feel good about going into the ring with my dog. Phoenix had fun in the ring (#1 goal achieved!) and it was beautiful to look down and see him looking back at me with a "What are we doing next?" look on his face, so different from the stress yawning, sniffing and looking away we've struggled with. He was an actively engaged partner, not just going through the motions.
Today his heeling was amazing (40 pts.) but he missed most of his fronts and finishes. This slight decrease in his second day performance tells me the obedience scene is still mentally exhausting for him and that's something to take into consideration as we train. I'm looking for the reason behind his errors so I can address them specifically (lack of engagement, distraction, etc.), not just assume if we train "harder," those problems will disappear.
NOW we're off for about 4 months, until our next obedience trial in February, when we'll jump back into the Open and Utility rings again. I mean it this time.
Good boy, Phoenix!