Consistent But Not In The Same Place

It is time for my dog and I to get back in the show ring. Are we ready? I don’t know. I use to ask (or think) how can someone not know if they are ready for the show ring. Have they trained the skill or not? If it is just training the skills so the dog can perform them, then yes, we are ready. However, Psalm has taught me that it is more than just being able to perform certain skills.

I am certain that if the show was held in my living room we are blue ribbon ready. But the show is not only not in my living room, it is outdoors and in an environment visited by many other people and animals. In fact the show site will have hosted a barn full of rabbits a few weeks earlier at a county fair! And as to the ring gates, I am not sure of what year they were last washed.

Are we ready? Yes, I know he can perform the skills, BUT, is performing the skills in the show environment likely?  Psalm’s motivators are not static. They are relative to the alternatives that are available to him.

Let’s say his normal interest in receiving a treat is 6 out of 10, as long as the alternative options are lower, he will likely work well. For example, in my living room his interest level is a 2. He will work for treats. In the show barn, I am guessing his interest level will be 8 or higher, greatly impeding his ability to work for a treat after the class.

Dogs will be dogs. Moreover, Psalm will be the dog I have prepared him to be. As a handler I need to be consistent in training and in the show ring. Inconsistency leads to stress on the dog’s end.  I am not a person who stresses while showing. I have even been told by a judge that I need to “be more strict” with my dog. What I am is inconsistent.

Have you ever watched a 4-H Dog Show? At one moment the member is holding and cuddling with their dog, then all of a sudden they pop out of the chair and expect the dog to no longer be in the cuddle or play mode but in the work mode. How is the dog supposed to know the situation has changed? Then the dog enters the ring with the 4-H’er and is directed around the ring with a constant tight leash. The dog was not being a bad dog and he did not forget proper heel position. He did not know his role had changed from loving pet to show dog. And there was a huge inconsistency in the messages he was given.

Dogs must be trained in many places that include a large variety of scents, sights and sounds.  This is where the dog handler works on the cues the dog is given. Are we at the park to play or are you going to make it more fun by training me with lots of treats?

What cues are given to help the dog know which behavior is expected? When in a park setting it is important that you are focused. If you give your dog a cue and he does not follow through, do you retrieve the dog, place him back into the original position, and stick with it until he complies with the cue or do you just give up after a few times and let the dog go on its way? Unless you stick with it and follow through until the dog complies with your cue, you have just taught your dog that his compliance to your cues is optional.

If the dog moves from the SIT without you releasing him and you do not place him back into the SIT, he will learn that he gets a say in when the exercise has ended. Too many owners see the dog get up from the SIT without being released and think that if the original purpose for the SIT has been met, then they were done and it won’t matter if the dog moves from the SIT. But it DOES matter because the dog just decided when he was done with sitting. And if you teach a dog that he has the power to choose when he does or does not comply, you will have created a dog that does not listen to your cues.

These are examples of basic dog training. They happen consistently and correctly in my house. The challenge for me and for almost all 4-H members is to make sure training is consistent everywhere we train, and we need to train everywhere. That includes parks, baseball fields, play grounds, parking lots, patios of ice cream parlors and if possible on a farm.

If I (and 4-H members) can make training have an interest level of 8-10 in these settings, the ring should be no problem. Perhaps there are a few other factors, but we will discuss them in later post.

Most importantly always remember this – At the end of the day you are going home with the best dog!

Please share how you prepare your dog for experiences away from your home. We learn more through others.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those that know how to listen.”


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