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Left the Ring!

2562 Views 12 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  CMorton
Katie left the ring (on the last sign!!) in Rally Advanced yesterday! DH was standing in front of the exit gate and as soon as she looked up, she just trotted right out to him.

The day before, she left my side from heeling between signs to check out the perimeter of the ring, although we did finish with 2nd place, as I got her back to "place" each time.

My question is - how do I improve our off-lead heeling (she does fine in class, in the park, in the yard, etc) in the ring?

Obviously, I need to re-work our recall with better distractions (using DH - since he was where she went).

My second question is - should a dog have only one handler? DH and I have both handled our dogs (I handle all 3, he handles 2 of the 3).

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I think this happens a lot. LOL! I hear people say they have to leave when somebody else handles their dog. I think your hubby made a bad decision to stand in front of the exit gate.
I really think that dogs who can heel very nicely elsewhere and who get sloppy in the ring are just reacting to stress. I've been trialing forever (well, feels like forever!) and have had my share of sloppy performances and I really believe that the dogs don't deliberately do what we don't want them to do. They get stressed, they feel our stress, and they mentally distance themselves from us in order to try to alleviate their feelings of anxiety at that point.

One of the things that I found really difficult to get myself to do was to always be positive in the competition ring. That means if my dog does something other than what I want, I need to laugh and clap my hands and say "oooh, silly girl, get back here!" in a very happy, positive tone. Yes, we may lose more points than if I gave a single "heel" command but what I've done at that point is help diminish my dog's stress and that's going to help us the NEXT time we go into the ring. If I act stern or upset, the dog is going to associate that with being in competition and even though it may (at that moment) bring the dog back into heel position it will probably create more problems later on.

It's very hard not to show some disappointment in our dogs when they don't perform at the level that we know they can handle, especially when they've just blown a $25 entry fee (easy to do in regular obedience, rally is a bit more forgiving). But if the plan is to continue to trial this dog, you really have to just shrug it off and be happy and upbeat even when you're thinking "but I KNOW she KNOWS it!".

Leaving the ring to see your DH was probably stress related, too. After all, your dog had the option to stay in the ring with you (the person who was probably tense and commanding) or go out of the stressful area to see her other buddy (who was probably giving much more relaxed signals). Being by the ring gate is probably not the best place for DH, but I really wouldn't be too upset with the dog or with DH. It happened, it's over, it was just a rally trial. To proof against that, you can work her with him nearby and do a lot of happy talk to her (along with toy or treat rewards) every time you go past him and she continues to respond to you. At first if she glances at him and back to you, she gets rewarded. And if she tries to go to him, you just stop and wait (ideally she's on leash at this point). No correction, no commands, you just wait. And he just stands there and waits silently too, with no reaction to her even if she gets all the way to him. When she finally looks back at you or returns, you praise and start forward and after a few steps stop and reward her happily.

When you do this over and over, you will soon have her figure out that going to him gets her nothing, going back to you gets her everything. She'll have much less reason for wanting to go to him when you're working with her.

I went to a Denise Fenzi seminar this weekend and she had us doing that with our dogs. With Khana, we were to the point where the other person was actually holding out very good tempting treats as I heeled by (within reach of those treats) and Khana was heeling with me without going to the person. She did go to her at first, but when she figured out that there was no reward when she did that she chose to stay with me instead. In fact, the person trying to entice her with the treats became a cue for her to look at ME instead. It was really fun and absolutely positive.

Another thing that really helps with the ring distractions is to go to fun matches and to plan on using the match as a training exercise and not as a true run-through. Put your treats/toy on a chair right outside the ring where you can reach for it over the ring gate, and then plan on just doing a short amount of work (like maybe just a heel pattern, or just 5 or 6 rally signs - and then when she's working nicely, break her out of it, run to the ring gate and reach over for your toy/treats, and spend a couple of minutes praising and playing and rewarding her. This helps the dog realize that the ring is a GOOD place and not a stressful place.

Melanie and the gang in Alaska
(where there are few fun matches, unfortunately)
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Originally Posted By: IliamnasQuestI really think that dogs who can heel very nicely elsewhere and who get sloppy in the ring are just reacting to stress. I've been trialing forever (well, feels like forever!) and have had my share of sloppy performances and I really believe that the dogs don't deliberately do what we don't want them to do. They get stressed, they feel our stress, and they mentally distance themselves from us in order to try to alleviate their feelings of anxiety at that point.
This has been my experience as well. Most of these cases are the dogs showing stress. And most dogs leaving the field aren't doing so to go after some distraction or because they just decided they didn't want to perform that day, but they're going into avoidance, getting themselves away from the source of the stress and moving toward a perceived refuge.

And them distancing themselves from us makes perfect sense when usually WE are the major cause of their anxiety. We can train for every possible distraction in every possible different environment, but one thing that we can't train for is trial day nerves. Those are something that almost all of us experience, and it brings out a side of us that our dogs rarely see in training. Even attending fun matches and mock trials for experience isn't the same for most people as an actual trial day when it really counts. And whether the nerves are just little butterflies in the tummy or full blown panic attacks, the dogs notice. We can't hide it from the dogs, and some dogs are more sensitive to such changes in the handlers than others. Its really little wonder why a dog would be stressed when not only is it in a chaotic trial environment, but it's handler has essentially turned into an alien that sounds different, smells different, moves different and acts completely different than the dog is used to.
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Great points, both of you (of course)! LOL

I wasn't upset with DH or Kate. I teased him that he is never allowed to another trial again. LOL Of course, he'll always be there - it's nearly the only "quality time" that we get!

IliamnasQuest - that is exactly how I explained the situation to DH - that the ring was much more stressful than being with "dad" was and given the choice...Ya know.

Best Wishes;
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The first schutzhund trial I attended a dog did the very same thing on the blind search. Unbeknowing to me I was sitting right next to "Dad" and for a few seconds there I was convinced I was about to get eaten......

The handler did get her dog back under control and finished the routine of which the remainder was flawless. She later stated that she said, "Oh well we flunked, the pressure's off and I'm going to have fun."

She passed.
Nothing more to add cause Melanie and Chris said it so well.

Kayos sdid this too, twice in the same weekend. Left on the off lead in Novice. Hubby no longer goes to shows and yes, it was stress. Usually is.

One thing to think about is your stress too. If you have ring nerves the dog will pick up on that and it will stress her worse. Most of us do get nervous but we need to work on minimizing it for the dog.
I'm so glad I read this thread - great explanations Melanie and Chris. Don't want to hijack this thread - but while we're kinda on the subject, any advice for calming show nerves in the handler? No matter what I tell myself, I always get the jitters until we get going in the ring. I'm sure that's why my boy always starts off sloppy and then gets better as we go. How do you guys keep a lid on your nerves?
Well, after nearly 20 years of trialing I still get some butterflies. But I'm finally at a point where I don't really worry much about what people think of what I'm doing, or what the judge will think - it's all about my dog and the relationship we have. The ribbons are immaterial. The titles are immaterial. If my dog flunks everything, I'm still going to take her home and love her. If I flunk everything, my dog is still going to love me.

I love qualifying and it's even nicer if I take home a place ribbon. But I try not to walk into the ring expecting that. I go into the ring with the expectation that we're going to try to have fun. I know that sometimes it's difficult because it costs a lot to trial (especially here where I have to travel to most trials and pay for motel rooms in addition to entry fees). But I try to think of this as a social event for myself and my dog. Some people go to a bar to socialize. Some people go to bingo. I go to dog shows. So the money I spend is not just to get a title, it's to enjoy being in the company of my dog and people who also enjoy dogs.

I wish I had some miracle suggestion for calming nerves, but it's really just a state of mind. When I start feeling some butterflies, I squelch them by reminding myself that no matter what happens in the ring, nothing will have changed between my dog and myself. She's still my buddy and I still love her. I don't care if someone else beats us or if we don't win that neat prize offered for first place. I already have the best prize - a wonderful relationship with a wonderful dog.

And with this attitude, I took my 2 year old chow into the ring eight times last summer and got eight qualifying scores (including several placings) - finishing her RA, RE and CD. Now if I can just keep this attitude as we try for the CDX! *L*

Melanie and the gang
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A known person in the see of faces -- that's unfair! Have hubby or other buddies be a bit further from the ring.

What I picked up on is that what my eldest dog throws me in the ring is calming signals. My 100% reliable sit stay dog decided that I was nervous and she should lie down in long sit our first fun match. After all I always rewarded the down so I must like it! I almost laughed when she did it. She made up for it by doing the nicest recall of any dog - after we were disqualified on the sit. The times we placed were consistently times when I looked at the situation & said "oh screw it. We're not going to do anything here." (All of my trials - and she saw to it that I went to plenty! - except for the last two required driving over 100 miles and usually renting a motel. 1. drove through a nasty rain storm, fairgrounds muddy, motel parking lot required navigating potholes in torn up street & so on 2. on vacation staying with a friend that had other company the night before, raining, first (and only) out door trial, trains passing within a block, lots of people 3. local trial but they closed the arena early on me after I took off work to check it out & set up crate (me unhappy) said what the heck, this is going to suck, went down the next day anyway.

So if I think about it I can give you some 20 ways to blow Novice A. But HIT is not what I train for and not what I trial for. Who was it up above that said she did it for the relationship with her dog? Yeah. I do it so that our last fun match judge will declare "She adores you!" - so that my high prey drive dog will hold a stand stay with a bunny in the bushes (that was a result - I didn't know the bunny was there when I dropped the leash and walked away.) so I can put my dogs in a down stay and walk up someone's walk to drop off a key I found and have the dogs hold the stay.

I miss it. I really wish the old dogs were up to it still. They're old and gimpy and we don't go any more.
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We recently had our first Rally trial about a month ago. We were disqualified in the first 10 seconds, but it was ok. The roof didn't fall in. No one laughed and pointed their fingers. In fact everyone was quite supportive. Bayla is incredible in class and knows the commands forwards and backwards, but she's young, and the circumstances were all terribly exciting. Any notions I had that I might hold her attention were quickly dispelled.

But I found the experience very liberating. Now I've experienced the worst thing that can happen in a trial - disqualification. It didn't hurt a bit and it helped keep in perspective that this is for fun. And actually overall, the day was a huge success. Bayla has been a bit reactive with other dogs - not quite aggressive, just hesitant and blustery. She's an only dog, so the socialization opportunity alone was worth the entry fee. And she behaved so well. I was very proud of her.

It was a 2-day trial, and the next day went a little better. She was more used and better prepared for the environment. Still the waiting around and the constant hustle bustle were challenging for her. We got disqualified again, as I expected, but she did a lot better. And I was relaxed. It was wonderful. It was fun. And so what? We both learned A LOT from the experience.

So we're back to the drawing board on the focus work. I'm a rookie trainer, and now I see where the shortcomings are. No prob. We're making good progress, and I expect our next trial performance to be better. But, really...what does it matter even if it's not if we have fun and learn something?
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I can definitely empathize with show day nerves and stressed dogs.

In these past 2 months I completed a Rally Novice title on a dog of mine who is pretty timid in nature to begin with (that's why we're doing Rally, for confidence building), and evidentally anxiety-ridden in enclosed buildings with a lot of ring pressure.
She knows her stuff in class, and has awesome attention and heeling technique is perfect, but her first trials were completely new to her, and in a building that had bad acoustics, lots of crazy distractions and things to stress her.
She did all of her exercises correctly, but we got taken off for tight lead quite a bit.
She completed her title in a situation that was much more relaxing for her, and she had a much better time and focused so much better.
After the first 2 trials (and she qualified, with a 91, then a 78) we have started on some relaxation techniques to work toward some behavior modification.
I will never be able to do advanced trialing with her until we get her anxiety under control.

I have a ton of pics that were taken with an obviously stressed dog....if anybody needs any pics of different stress signals in dogs let me know. I even have a video of our performance LOL

Just keeping it positive and fun is key!! I was able to get Nina's attention after a broke her spell of bewilderment with something silly!
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In hindsight I wouldn't have entered her the first 2 times she qualified.
Yes, a GSD should be able to handle situations that stress them without letting it overcome them, but Nina has issues that I haven't had to deal with before.
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