Okay, we have a plan now to get ready for the next weekend of trials, which is July 24, 25 and 26 - only ten days away! Our plan involves a lot of play time (speed training for me!) - as well as working on more precision. I'm finding that if I keep things upbeat and positive in training, he is less stressed and able to perform with more precision. So, we're going to be training at 'warp' speed for awhile. My goal is to keep things moving at a much faster pace throughout our training sessions.
I'm seeing improvement in his speed on go outs and his sits are much faster - in practice. I've gone back to putting a target out for him to aim for. If I just send him out without a target, his trotting turns to a walk the last 10 feet or so, and he seems confused as to what to do next. Having a target brings out the retrieve focus and gives him something to go after. I then stop him with the sit command before he reaches the target and am finding that his sits are much better - as if the speed of the go out carries over to the sit. After a couple go outs and jumps, I then send him out to retrieve the target. Now, for most of the dogs we train with - the retrieve is a reward in itself. Not Jackson. He doesn't get real excited about going after a dowel, so we then end the exercise with me throwing Bil Jack treats across the ring. Now that gets him excited : )
I've also been including some 'ready, set, GO' commands and racing him to the go out target as well as to the article pile. This gets him excited too. It seems the more briskness he has going out to the article pile - the quicker he gets to work sniffing the pile.
I think what it boils down to is, I need to make it clearer to him exactly what it is that I want him to do and then reward him when he does it. Jackson knows the basic exercises - now my main focus is working on the attitude and showing him more precisely how I want it performed - in most cases this means with 'briskness.'
My goals for the next trials are:
1) to see a more relaxed, happier dog in the ring - and that will be measured by tail wags. I'm hoping to see at least one tail wag per trial; and
2) to see faster sits on the go outs - that will be measured by whether or not he sits before the judge gives the jump command.
To take the pressure off myself, I tell myself that trials are just something you do occasionally to see where you are with your training. So my overall goals for this next weekend of trials is to see how this plan is working, and to hopefully practice some success in the ring with some of the exercises : )