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!

4 thoughts on “Focus on progress

  1. Angie Bozeman

    I really agree with you about focusing on progress. I am currently trying to get Utility legs on my Border Collie (he has one so far). Last weekend he NQ’d on articles both days. This exercise has been his downfall since puppyhood, as he is very soft and lacks self-confidence. I was disappointed that we didn’t qualify, but I was very happy with his performances otherwise. Both days he got a wrong article the first time, but the correct one the second time. He did not seem worried or confused, and was not slow or hesitant going out or coming back. His signals were gorgeous, go-outs straight as an arrow, no glove-shaking, no creeping on either stand. With the exception of a bump on the left turn the first day and a slight forge on the slow, his heeling was nice.

    I was probably the happiest loser at the show. 🙂 I hope to finish his title soon, but in the meantime I am thrilled with his progress. He has not been an easy dog to train, but he’s taught me an awful lot.


    1. You’ll get there Angie! I sympathize with the article issue…Gunner has started stressing in the pile at shows and I’m not sure why. It sounds like everything else is coming together, so it won’t take long!


  2. Pat O'Hara

    I had the opportunity to see you and Victory trial on Sat. Gunner looked much happier than he did in Melborne!! I wish I had taken a video!!! One thing I notice when I watch you warm up and in the ring is you seem serious and I don’t see you smile at your dog. Do you feel that works for you better and is that something you have always done? I have watched you with the puppy and you use seem to use a happier tone of voice and smile more during your training.

    Regarding my 3 yr. old Golden with 2 Novice A legs… I entered W/C open on she is trained through to Utility. It was a disaster!!! She did not sit after numerous requests, she stopped during the heeling to check out all the crates and would not come when called and then during the finish after the retrieve on the flat, she ran out of the ring, I think to get her own jackpot or she was just stressed!!! This is a happy girl in the ring in training, but obviously we are far from being “ring ready”!!!

    I will be attending a Connie Cleveland seminar this w/e and. Brenda Reimer seminar in Jupiter in Feb , but I welcome any suggestions from you!


    1. In Melbourne, I was trying a couple of different things with him…and it caused our Sunday performances to blow up in my face. Lesson learned. 🙂 Warming up for Utility in Daytona, I tried to stay light with him, but I have to be a little more serious for Open because he can get really high, especially if there is a retrieve or drop first.

      I am a very serious trainer/competitor and, while I do smile at him, I will not cheerlead him. But, I also practice the same way as I show (which is very important). He works more off of the tone of my voice and my body language. Generally, when you see a big disparity of training versus showing, there could be several things at work. (1) The dog may need more proofing and training in more distracting environments, (2) if you were nervous, your dog could have picked up on it, (3) if you handled very differently than you train, your dog may have thought “Who the heck is this lady? Let me out of here!” or (4) you have not trained your dog to work long enough periods of time without a food or tug reward.

      Have fun at the seminars. Keep working at it, you’ll get there!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s