Focus on progress

It is hard not to focus on results. Every trial weekend, people ask you what place you received or what your score was. They don’t ask if your problem area had improved or if you had a better connection with your dog in the ring. After all, this is a competition. Weekend after weekend, we enter the ring to find out who is the best team, on that particular day, under that particular judge.

I am no different. After not showing much at the beginning of the year, I have been showing my older Springer, Gunner, trying to finish his Obedience Grand Master (OGM) title. But, for this, I need scores…good ones. So, I have been concentrating on results. But, because I have also been fighting stress and effort issues, I failed to see progress. So, our ring performances were sporadic. I was either pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough, trying to find the perfect balance to pull out my dog’s best performance. But, as a result, our relationship was suffering. I wasn’t happy and Gunner was most definitely not happy.

And then one day while driving, I heard a comment while listening to the radio…

“When you focus on results, you fail to see progress.”

I realized this was exactly what I was doing to my dog…to both of my dogs. Gunner in the show ring and Kazee in some of his foundation exercises. I was so focused on the end result, I wasn’t looking at what each dog was giving me. And, when the dog is trying his best, you are not going to correct him for trying hard, but not being able to give you what you want.

So, you know what I did? I stopped. I stopped thinking about my score. I stopped thinking about my competition. I stopped trying to “think” at all. If you have ever listened to mental management tapes, they talk about moving your skills from your conscious mind into your subconscious mind. Think of your subconscious mind as your body’s autopilot. This “autopilot” is developed through the countless hours you spend training and working with your dog. For example, when the judge tells you to do an about turn during heeling, you do not have to concentrate on each foot placement, you just DO the turn. The same is true with your dog. He should no longer be thinking “What does ‘down’ mean?” He should just drop. But in the beginning, your dog needs to process your commands and think about what to do. He needs to think about how to actually manipulate his body to go from a run into a down.

And you know what, our trial last weekend was better. Open was about as close to perfect as we can get, with a 199.5 on Saturday and a 196.5 on Sunday (with a -3 for an exuberant finish on the JUDGE’s command on one of the exercises). And, right after my dog autofinished, I told him it was the “most brilliant autofinish ever!” Yes, I actually praised my dog for finishing on the judge’s command. Why? Because the finish was fast, happy and straight…three important components that we had not been getting in the ring lately. Utility still had a few minor issues, but overall it was much better. I am hopeful that a few more Utility classes with the “right” handler and our problems will be even more under control. 🙂

Kazee’s progress on the dumbbell has been another issue. Shaping was not progressing as I had hoped and Kazee was not moving past a quick open mouth over the dumbbell bar. I changed tactics and was thrilled to have him reaching for and holding the dumbbell. But then, he refused to move (even a fraction of an inch) when the dumbbell was in his mouth. He literally turned into a statue as soon as he closed his mouth over the bar. Taking a hold of his collar and insisting on movement backfired completely and we were soon back at square one. Another change in tactics and Kazee is finally picking up the dumbbell happily and bringing it up to me. Yay, my NINE MONTH OLD DOG is picking up his dumbbell. 😉 Talk about a work in progress!!

I love working with this little guy though. Problems aside, he is confident, outgoing and drivey, everything I wanted in a puppy. I am definitely going to have to think outside of the box though. He is independent and does not like to be “told” what to do. And don’t even think about drilling something! But yet, he needs structure and impulse control. Wish us luck!

As always, train hard, play harder!

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