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mycobraracr 12-12-2013 10:11 AM

Dogs get trial nerves to
This morning I've been thinking about what dog I'm going to trial with in spring. The puppy won't be old enough yet, the dog I've been playing with will be home (I haven't given her up yet because um... I like her:o), so it looks like I'm going to do an obedience title with Darcey(my pit). Darcey does not have strong nerves, and during trialing he gets very stressed. He just wants off the field as fast as he can. What are some things you guys do to combat trial nerves in the dogs?

crackem 12-12-2013 10:24 AM

clarity. IF the dog is clear on what it needs to do, the nerves go away. and comfort. I'm sensing comfort with the field isn't it or she wouldn't want to be on the field in training either. You just have to train thru it. Vary rewards, string things together, make them strong. I'm guessing it's not the "trial" that's making her nervous, but rather she's not getting a reward, or you're giving commands differently, you've changed the rules from training to trialing and she's unsure and unclear. Make the picture clear and consistent and she won't get so stressed.

Traveler's Mom 12-12-2013 11:18 AM

Stepping out on a limb here. Maybe it's you? My dog reacted the same way-get me out of here!!! I realized later that I was thinking the same thing!:)

kbella999 12-12-2013 11:28 AM

My dog was like that. I almost pulled him from agility because he was so nervous. I gave it some time and kept taking him and rewarded him no matter what happened. He still gets nervous a little bit but not anywhere near like he used to. I think the best thing you can do is keep exposing him to the trial environment and always reward him.

Merciel 12-12-2013 01:41 PM


Originally Posted by kbella999 (Post 4660913)
I think the best thing you can do is keep exposing him to the trial environment and always reward him.

That's basically the key thing.

For us it's been a combination of two things:

(1) repeated exposures to trial environments, with lots of rewards/reinforcements for good performances (and what counts as "good" may be a very small thing in the beginning, depending on just how much your dog is prone to falling apart; with Pongu, who is an extreme case, I used to reward him just for walking into trial venues and being able to look away from all the terrifying things around him to make eye contact with me).

No punishments, however mild, for failures. Not even a frown or a very mild verbal "nope." There is never any penalty associated with the trial environment, because that is already a huge enough stressor on its own. I do everything I can to make it a good place in the dog's mind.

With Pongu, I just resigned myself to the inevitability of repeat failures when trialing. We fail over and over and over, because Crazy Dog Is Crazy and that's how it's gonna be, nothing I can do about it. He fails if there's rain falling on the roof or a ceiling fan overhead or flies buzzing around the course. It's frustrating, but that's the dog I have, so I just aim to "fail upward" and do slightly better each time.

It's been about a year and we do pretty well now (sometimes, at least), but we climbed a mountain of NQs to get there and we'll have many more ahead. Again, I just try to accept this with Zen tranquillity. (I fail at that too. But I try!)

(2) practicing and proofing for the trial environment. Because I'm a reward-based trainer, what this means for us is that I have to get my dog accustomed to performing for long stretches of time without obvious reward. In the obedience ring, he has to get used to working not only without cookies, but without a lot of verbal praise or petting either.

If you don't train and proof for that, a weaker-nerved dog will often fall apart because they aren't getting the reassurance and support that they're used to, and that can make them start worrying, either about the environment or that they're doing something wrong (because you don't seem as visibly pleased as usual) or both.

There are whole seminars on exactly how you accomplish this, but in general it's a combination of environmental proofing and thinning down reinforcement rates and building up the inherent value of the exercises so that the dog finds them intrinsically reinforcing to perform.

onyx'girl 12-12-2013 07:21 PM

My dog showed a completely different picture in trials. He definitely fed off my stress and thought he was doing something wrong, so didn't engage with me. He is of good nerve and did rock the protection phase every time, but tracking and obedience were not what we normally see.
I've been to a seminar with trialing/competing as the subject. It helped me somewhat this year as I wasn't as nervous as a couple yrs ago.
I can't imagine trialing with a weaker dog...I'd worry even more!

Merciel 12-12-2013 07:45 PM

Yeah, there is all kinds of little stuff that changes between trial and practice. We spent a lot of time practicing heeling without eye contact. Pongu used to (haha, "used to," he still does) fall apart because I wasn't looking at him and so he got scared. We had to start with me looking away occasionally, then me looking away for 2 seconds at a time, then looking away for 5 seconds at a time, then looking away on a RIGHT TURN OH MY GOD CERTAIN DEATH, etc. etc.

I know it's an issue so I can train for it, but you really do have to be super conscious of all those differences so you can prep your dog appropriately, especially if you have a wimpier dog.

If you can, set up a fake trial or go to an AKC show-and-go and try to run it exactly the way you'd do a real obedience run (they should let you modify the exercises for your venue if they aren't too drastically different; most AKC show-and-goes will let me do CDSP exercises, for example), and just watch for where your dog starts falling apart. Get somebody to tape it for you, if possible. Then go back and fix everything that needs fixing, and then expect to get MAYBE 75% of it in the actual ring, because probably your own trial nerves/adrenaline will throw your dog off at least that much.

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