Problems at Trial

Dog Doesn't Work as well as at home

The old saying "my dog did it perfectly - at home" is oh so true. Although some dogs are in fact ring-wise, and do recognize the difference between show and practice, this is usually a way of saying my dog does it so great in practice, but at the show he's a different dog. This is often because you aren't the same at the show as you are in practice. You are telegraphing your stress to the dog. Some dogs don't really care about their handler's stress level, but most dogs are really team players. And when you're stressed, so is he. As much as humans would like to think otherwise, most dogs don't plot their handler's demise. In addition to the stress factor, a lot of handlers do things differently in a show that at practice. At the next show, treat it like a fun match. Forget that there is anything at stake. Stay relaxed. Your best bet is to be your usual practice-self, so your dog can be his practice-self, and will perform like the pro he is. (Billie Rosen)

If you're are *sure* the dog knows what he is supposed to do, you can try this. Find a situation where the dog will make a mistake. Try a friend's backyard, a local park, even a shopping center. Then you will have a chance to correct. If possible, go to matches and show-and-go's. Those can be hard to find, though. (Kate Eaton)

Often times problems in competition occur due to handling. But, sometimes the spirit of the competition and the excitement of it all just gets to the dog no matter what you do. Experience seems to be the best cure. Keep training, keep showing, and above all have fun while you're doing it! If you can review a tape of your run, or have a friend watch it for you you'll probably get some feed back that will help you prepare for the next competition. Enthusiasm should be valued over all else. Keep it happy and keep it fun. The control will come! It's much easier to gain control than it is to put enthusiasm back into the dog that has been screwed down too tight. (Katie Greer)

This is just another training aid to add to your bag of tricks. *Build* that course you had so much trouble with! When you are building a course, you really look at the obstacles in relation to each other in greater detail than you might when you are just walking a course. (Nancy Ballerstedt)

There are a variety of reasons as to why dogs "zone" out during a run, even when there to see it, one can't be sure of what the dog's thinking. The first thing most of us consider is whether or not the dog is stressed. After all we want them to be enjoying themselves, but there are all sorts of interesting distractions out there. Extra people walking/sitting in or around the ring. Food vendor odors to sniff, birds flying in the rafters, cats running by, a cameraman standing by the ring, kids running by. This is just part of the list of things that have distracted some dogs. A few dogs startle, but sometimes dogs just do what dogs do. We can only guess at it. (Katie Greer)

Of course one must be as vigilant as possible in practice about not allowing mistakes that could turn into nightmares in the ring. However, despite our efforts in practice and at show-n-gos, sometimes dogs decide to test us in the ring in actual competition. Some dogs will do this every couple of months--just to see if you're still paying attention. It might start out with the dog leaving the contact before you release him, and by the end of the day, he will be missing the zone entirely. The problem is in not being able to correct the dog in the ring for misbehaving. If at all possible, just pick up the dog (with a smile on my face, of course) to leave. Put him in his crate without saying anything at all or getting mad. Since for most dogs, getting to continue on course is all the positive reinforcement they need, then the only way to deal with a problem in the ring is to leave and sacrifice the money. It's mentally very hard to do (especially if you're running clean), but if you let him continue after he has done something you truly feel he knows is not correct (such as leaving a contact or anticipating the start), you only reinforce the behavior by allowing him to continue with the sport he loves.

Definitely continue working on the problems at correction matches and show-n-gos, but some dogs are really ringwise and you can't even get them to make the mistake in that venue. Make the most of matches by asking fellow handlers to cheer and make noise as might happen at a real show and do whatever they can to pump up the dog and try to cause the situation you are trying to train for. Also ask the judge at the match to help you out -- for example, do you have a table anticipation problem? Ask the judge to say "Go" for you several times during the count. If the dog leaves, you can correct him by putting him back on the table.
(Monica Percival)

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