Before you start – FOCUS
So let’s start at the beginning, because that’s a very good place to start.
After watching videos from a recent VT Tuesday, I was struck by the number of dogs who come in to the ring looking around at everything but their owner, sniffing the grass like they’re on a worm hunt, and tugging as if the owner had nothing to do with what was about to happen. A well connected and fun run doesn’t start at #1 … it starts long before that.
Part of this is just us (as a group) becoming more mindful of our dogs when we take them out of the crate or the car. Dog training practitioners and common sense will both say that a dog will only give you as much attention as you give to the dog. Usually not much more. So if you are watching the run ahead of you (generally not a good idea for a host of reasons) or talking to somebody about what you did over the weekend, the weather, etc., your dog is being left to find their own entertainment … and it usually will involve something other than going over the course map in their head. From the time you open the crate until the time you close the crate, your focus should be at the other end of your leash! Don’t let chatterboxes at the event mess up your run. Sure “have fun out there” and “good luck” are OK, but anything more than “Thanks” is going to start digging you a hole that makes your time in the ring that much more challenging.
That part of the equation is strictly on the handler – not much I can do about it.
My job as a coach / instructor, though, is to help you teach the dog that the ring is a place to work.
In quiet retrospect (yes, I can do something quietly), I realized that we are allowing the ring to be a place for ‘optional connection’. When we’re running the course – we’re connected, when I am talking to you about what went right and what to do better or when I’m introducing a new skill / topic, where is your dog? Usually off sniffing, eating grass, or whatever. Not good … and this one is on ME.
Thankfully, there’s a plan!
When you arrive for training sessions, feel free to walk your dog about the property for potty, play a little in the warm up ring if you like, but PLEASE do not bring your dog to the ring. At the start of each session I’ll be talking with you as I usually do about how things have been going, successes and challenges during the past week, and if nothing urgent needs to be addressed, I’ll introduce new concepts, skills, or courses / sequences with you ONE ON ONE. Your dog remains quietly and safely in your vehicle or crate while this is going on so you don’t have to worry about the other end of your leash during that conversation.
Once we have completed the ‘talk down’ and perhaps you have had a chance to walk through what we’re working on, THEN you can get your team mate and practice a focused and controlled walk to the ring. Loose leash and focused on you is IMPERATIVE! If you don’t have your dog at the start line, you’ll never have your dog during the run … period, the science is settled.
If we’re going back and repeating portions, chances are pretty good you’ll leash your dog up and depending on how long we need to discuss, they may or may not be taken out of the ring.
The goal for all this is to clearly show your dog that walking through that chute and in to the ring means “it’s time to work” and all the other stuff can’t matter.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Dialog is ALWAYS welcomed … go ahead and post below!