I have been showing in obedience a lot this year, working towards my boy Flat-Coated Retriever Gryffin's OTCh., UDX, and OM1 titles. At the time of writing this, he has all his 1st places needed for his OTCh., 82 of the required 100 points, and he finished both his UDX and OM1 at Tri-Cities' morning trial on May 2.
I also have two students actively pursuing a UDX on their 1st Utility dogs. Watching and helping them deal with the emotional roller coaster that is typical while pursuing advanced titles, and dealing with my own ups and downs in the ring this year has gotten me pondering ways to encourage both myself and others while in the almost inevitable disappointment phase.
Along with showing Gryffin, I have been training and showing my son's Border Terrier, Joker, for his CDX. Because of my prior OTCh. dogs, I had to title Joker in Open B, poor lad. Last fall, Joker & I were 0 for 4, failing 3 of 4 sit stays. This year, he finished his CDX in April, going 3 for 6 along the way, doing all his stays correctly, but failing the Broad Jump twice and doing his Drop on Recall once without benefit of a command from me. I am not looking for super high scores with him, just to get his title and give him the solo attention that he seems to enjoy so much that training provides. My goal when I show him is to put a smile on the judge's face, and we seem to accomplish this.
I have also been showing Ty, my 4 year old Flat-Coat girl. After having trouble with her stays in several trials, she earned her first CDX leg the same day Gryff finished his UDX.
I tell you all of that to say I have been in the ring a lot this year, and it has not all been good. I've had my ups and downs, as many exhibitors do. I have been dealing with my own disappointment at various times. However, my history in obedience has shown me that with hard work and persistence, I eventually reach my goals, in spite of the bumps along the way. Although it sometimes seems to be so, no one wins all the time!
When I was showing my Australian Terrier Rio for his UDX and OTCh titles, he NQ'ed Utility from May to November one year. Talk about disappointing! I was retraining his go-outs during that time with the help of my friend Judy Byron, but he just kept NQ'ing Directed Jumping. We didn't show often, but I would venture out once or twice a month, only to NQ once again. I remember being really frustrated with a few of those NQ's, but usually for just 5 minutes or so after exiting the ring. Then I'd go back to training and working on the problems. Finally, in late November, he passed everything in Utility. What a relief! Then, to my huge surprise and pleasure, he won the class, earning 33 OTCh. points, still the most I have ever garnered from a single class. All those months of training finally paid off.
I started writing this in the midst of an 0 for 6 streak (he failed at least one exercise in at least one class) with Gryffin while trying to get his 10th UDX leg. After going 8 for 10 for legs 2 through 9, it was frustrating and disappointing to say the least. His issue in the last 4 NQ's was his stays, scratching and sitting up briefly on a down stay, and going down on the sit stay 3 times. We spent the two weeks before our last trials doing a LOT of random stays around the house and training building, taking Linda Koutsky's advice in her Nov/Dec 2008 article in Front and Finish. My dogs responded in a way similar to what Linda wrote about, with both dogs making a lot of errors, not really taking my casual "SIT" commands very seriously at first. The efforts paid off with a 5 for 5 day at Tri-Cities, with Gryffin earning legs 10 & 11 on his UDX, and Ty earning her 1st CDX leg. Are we out of the woods on stays? I seriously doubt it! It was just a huge relief to see Gryffin sitting there when I returned on the first sit stay. It was big thrill when he did it again in the afternoon, and an even bigger thrill when Ty did both stays correctly.
I don't remember where I learned this, but something I like to remind myself about periodically is that if the only way you are going to come home happy from a trial is by qualifying or winning class X or getting a higher score than So and So, you probably better just stay home. We are working with dogs, not robots. I remind myself that I want to put forth the best effort that my dog and I can in that trial under the conditions of the day. If it's good enough to qualify/win etc. that day, great. If not, I need to make adjustments in my training. Trials are a test of my training. When things go a little bit wrong, the adjustments may be small. When things really go badly - and yes, I've had many of those days! - I take a hard look at several factors:
• Training frequency: Too much? Maybe my dog is stale from over-training. Too little? Maybe our teamwork isn't what it should be because we haven't been training enough.
• Training locations: Too many familiar places, too few less familiar or unfamiliar places?
• How much food have I been using lately?
• Have I been formal enough while still keeping my dog happy?
• Have I trained alone too much? While it takes effort to arrange it and more time to train with others, it really does pay off.
• Have I been working heavily on one or two problem exercises and letting others slide?
Obedience trainers often have a strong tendency to focus on what went wrong instead of what went right. Connie Cleveland wrote a wonderful article entitled "Don't You Dare Steal My Joy!" With a little help from Google, I found it here. It's in the "Honey's Corner" column. Take a read. You won't regret it.
In closing, I have certainly found disappointment to be a part of training and showing my dogs. Sometimes, you can put an incredible amount of time and effort into your preparation but still come up short. When this happens, pick yourself up, take a hard look at how you prepared and what your dog did well and not so well, and then go back to training. I have found that those goals reached after difficulties are all the sweeter to achieve.
Until next time, happy training!