This weekend of trials really was great for building confidence - mine and Jackson's. By the end of the weekend (today) I could see where we had made a lot of improvement in our performance in the ring when compared to where we were a few months ago, and we have one more leg toward our Utility Dog (UD) title to show for it! Yay, only one more leg to go : )
We're still getting lots of points off for lagging, crooked sits, lack of briskness, etc. (all those stress-related behaviors) but, we had good solid performances on the basics of each exercise - just not always on the same day though! After our first trial Friday, I thought we were in for a long weekend (not a good thing). The building where the trials were held was really nice - only three rings and lots of room to set up crates and to warm up. The problem for Jackson was the go-outs were toward an active ring - not a wall like we're used to in practice. So, the first trial we were doing pretty good until we got to the go-outs. The first go-out was barely the minimum distance past the jumps. He performed that jump okay. But, on the second go out, he just wasn't going to go anywhere near that other ring so was not far enough out to take the jump. NQ for Friday. Lesson learned - practice go-outs to active rings with lots of distractions, not just to a blank wall!
Well, I was surprised Saturday when his go-outs were good. He had no problem going out toward the active ring. And, he performed all the other exercises satisfactorily, so we qualified and earned our second leg.
His performance at the trial today was his best ever, EXCEPT for one of the articles! He NQd today because he circled the pile one too many times without getting to work and the judge had me call him in. That's something we've been working on for quite a long time, and will continue to work on. When he's stressed he tends to circle more. The second article went much better. He circled the pile once, then went directly to the correct article, picked it up and brought it back. He passed the article exercises on the previous days without much problem, although he did circle a couple times before he went to work. I think the circling is an avoidance thing, but not sure.
The high points of the weekend -
1) His go-outs and sits at the second and third trial were great. We've been working a lot lately on speeding up the sits on the go-outs, so I was really pleased with his quick (for him anyway) sits on the go-outs. Today he only lost 2 points on the directed jumping exercise : )
2) The signals all three days were good. Another exercise I had been worried about and we had been working on quite a lot. The directed retrieve and the moving stand were also pretty solid.
Overall, I think we were able to practice some success in the ring that will help us continue building confidence. And, that was the main thing I had decided to work on lately - building confidence. I know he can do the exercises, if he is just confident enough in the ring to ignore the distractions and focus on the job at hand.
We had fun (at least I did!) I had convinced myself this was not a life and death matter - it was just an exercise to help us evaluate where we were in training. I used to get quite frustrated with him when his performance in the ring was so different than in training. Now, as I'm figuring out why he behaves the way he does when he's stressed, I'm trying to focus on what I can do in training and in the ring to help him work through the stress. Perhaps my lightening up will help : )