After our delightfully successful return to the obedience ring in February, which netted an Open B win with a lovely score (198), tying for first place in Utility B and earning our first UDX leg and High Combined with work that was focused and happy, Phoenix and I have spiraled gradually downward. Our last few obedience trials have been marked by NQs in both classes, sloppy work and a generally crappy attitude in the ring.
So we’re back to square one. Again. This is becoming a very familiar and well-worn path. The good thing is that I know each trip brings us that much closer to never having to come back here again. I am seeing improvement but so far it’s not genuine, lasting improvement. We’re here again for a reason - my dog still has things to teach me.
It’s not a bad thing. Yes, it’s frustrating and disappointing. I thought we’d put the crappy obedience ring attitude behind us. Yet, we’ve gone from Q-ing and winning to Q-ing and placing to just Q-ing to not Q-ing and not even having any fun in the process.
And here’s the weird thing - amidst each of those recent dismal NQ-ing performances, Phoenix would suddenly snap into brilliance and do something like only lose half a point on Directed Jumping, or score perfect, happy articles. So SOMETHING was alive and well and connecting in the obedience lobe of his brain. But like faulty wiring, it switches on and off without warning.
Believe me, I’ve had more WTF moments in the last three months than in my entire life. When the Farmer asks if "his" dog was good at the show on any given day, he knows there's not going to be a simple yes or no answer.
So. As much as I’m getting really tired of re-inventing my training approach after yet another series of disappointing weekends, it’s forcing me to look outside the dog training box more than ever before. I’m starting to try some new methods that I’d been exposed to before but never felt I needed to use. I'm also not as disheartened by our "failures" as I was initially. True, they're certainly not what I want to see in the ring but they'll only be a true failure if I quit trying to find a solution.
I’ve also become more willing to re-evaluate the root of our problems, such as they are. I’ve decided the basis of our ring problems is not as connected to the use-lots of-rewards-in-training, can’t-use-rewards-in-the-ring as I’d always felt. I mean, that was the standard answer to our problems, right? How many times had I been told I was using too much food in training, needed to train without food, “correct” my dog for errors, blah, blah, blah.
Been there, tried that, didn’t work, sorry. If it works for you and your dog, I’m happy for you. But it wasn’t getting me anywhere I wanted to be. Neither Phoenix nor I were happy about training and if we can’t enjoy our training time, well, really, what’s the point?
However, I’m realizing that our training time may not have been as wonderful as I’d thought. Oh, it was happy enough, but often in a going through the motions, shoving less than excellent stuff under the rug, sort of way on both Phoenix’s AND my part. I had made the mistake of settling for the bare minimum of effort to achieve, then being disappointed when the bare minimum didn’t stand up to trial pressure. Taking that attitude into the ring was just asking for trouble. I need my dog to give me the proverbial 110% in training in order to get 99% in the ring.
Our work with building cue words is coming along. There is a learning curve involved. Phoenix is working for about 80 - 100% of his meals. (That’s 80 to 100% of each meal. Yes, he's working twice a day, very briefly in the morning, longer in the evening but trust me, no marathon sessions). I’ve frequently asked my dogs to work for part of their meals at some stage in their training but have never gone down this road before. Phoenix is very food driven and believe me, he knows when it’s a certain time of day and his food bowl has not been produced. Have I got his attention? That would be yes.
I’ve also learned how much my crazy dog values a tennis ball - to the point of bypassing a bowl of food sitting, partially uncovered on the ground NEXT to the ball. Kind of an eye opener.
The journey continues.