Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting Serious

       My desire to do well in competition obedience has allowed me to put too high of expectations on myself. Competition Obedience is a precision sport and I invisioned that I had to train Mickey as a robot, always being straight, beyond natural. I wanted to show the world that you can train with all positive reinforcement and get the high scores in the obedience ring. I wanted to show that to get to the top, you don't have to use repetitious corrections, but motivational training and positive reinforcements for the dog to check itself and think what they are dong.

        I have had only one private lesson, been asking people on the Internet who focus on  positive reinforcement and been studying competition videos. Today's workshop, I realized I am further along than I had previously thought. What I have learned in the workshop:

         1. My expectations were too high and unrealistic. Setting myself up right towards burnout.
         2. What I have been doing has been very good.
         3. When I get a little nervous about performing in front of a group, with the instructor giving me a list of criterion that is new, I get nervous. No one can see it, I hide it well, except I can't hide my nervousness from my dog. When this happens, Mickey will check out. Sniffing is a very common stress behavior. Prior to this list of criteria, I was showing a heel, not perfect, but  I wasn't nervous.Mickey was very engaged with me. But when I did get nervous, it is a remarkable difference.  It is very difficult for people to admit that they are nervous and the dog's actions, such as leaving you and sniffing or checking out is because of your inner feelings. People normally want to correct the dog for this, I don't and the best thing for me to work on is myself, not my dog. My dog is a willing participant. If I am going to work on my dog, to teach him when I'm nervous, life is ok and it is still good to work with me. So I will work with this.
         4. I learned some new things to try in my training.
             a. Ease into the official ring slowly, and increase duration slowly so the dog always knows they are going to get some form of reinforcement back at the home base (crate, chair etc.). The dog will see this as fun and not the dreaded stress ring.
             b. Use marking skills with your dog near the distraction, the instant they look at you, click and treat. These are logical concepts I've learned in many settings before, but the actual method and set up used in this workshop was more refining the smaller skills. It was with other people and treats in their hand slightly above the dog's nose and you heel right by it. I've never seen this done, only with one person, but what a concept! Loved watching this! .
         5. I learned proper placement of food dispensing to get nice heeling.
         6. I'm already developing plans and ideas in my head where I want to go next. I have more confidence in myself that I really do know what I'm ding and will work on stress releases for myself along with stress releasing exercises on Mickey.

         I also realized that all my prior training has also lead up for us doing well today. Mickey really is an awesome dog and has a lot of potential to do well in the obedience ring. It really is up to me in how I can stay light hearted, focused on the appropriate goal setting and criterion. This will enable us to move  at a pace that is enriching for both of us. That has been another important goal of mine, to be able to go into a competition ring where there is pressure, but Mickey sees the pressure as an invigorating game and not stress pressure where he wants to check out like many dogs do. Obedience is really teaching me a lot about myself, and my dog. More than I ever realized. More every day I'm seeing the value of training with competition obedience exercises. The precision is such that it puts light on a lot of your handling skills. It isn't about the scores. That shouldn't be the goal, but how to do exceptionally well with being a team with a dog who is ever so willing. I'm now no longer dreading obedience like I once did. I'm seeing its valuable lesson.

         Now to write my plan to when I practice and work on the exercises.

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