Today when we went to the club to train, another member was working her dogs and offered to give us a utility run-through. I thought it would be helpful to see where we were at with a stranger (judge) in the ring. The heeling and signals were good, but when it came to articles - which in solo practice he does well - he succumbed to the pressure and started his circling the pile behavior. We worked through this by having the 'judge' step up to the pile to block his circling. This stopped his circling and, though stressed, he did work the pile and retrieve the correct article with just a little help. This circling the pile under stress has been a real problem. So much a problem in the Arizona trials that he never did pick up the articles even though he had indicated them. I'm thinking I need to create more distractions in practice and find more strangers to work in the ring with us so he'll get used to working under stress.
The gloves were okay, but the stress factor again affected his precision with the pivots and fronts. The go-outs today were pretty good, although sits were very slow. I went out and rewarded the sits then came back to start position to signal the jumps. I am really pleased with his directed jumping. I've been just giving the hand signal for the jumps lately and he has really been paying attention.
After the run-through, we did some extra work on heeling. I kept him on lead for the heeling. Gotta get a lighter lead because he knows when the lead is on. We also practiced some fronts. I've been trying the 'teach to touch' technique to straighten up his fronts and get him in closer. I'm working with him to touch a spot on my chest for a reward. This works nicely in the kitchen and in practice when I have a piece of cheese on the spot, so I'm hoping with a thousand repetitions it will become entrenched in his come fronts - without the cheese!
Another thing I am working on is his downs. When heeling, or when I am close in and give the down signal, he does a real nice foldback down. But, when I give him the down signal from across the ring, as in the utility signal exercise, he first sits then slowly goes down - moving one foot at a time in front of him until he's down. It's one continuous movement, so I think it would pass, but it would be nice to get the foldback down for this exercise. But, on the other hand, I don't want to mess up his signals by giving corrections for that.