That is the question of the day. I'm really trying to get into the mindset of asking, "What can I do to help my dog be successful?" when he appears to not understand what it is I am asking him to do in an exercise, or reducing his stress level. Lately, I've been thinking more about the stress thing. I'm wondering what I may be doing to create/reinforce stress, and/or what can I do to reduce the stress he feels in trial situations? The stress is definitely affecting his performance in the ring, so maybe I need to examine more closely, and objectively, what I am doing. Am I unconsciously reinforcing his reaction to stressful situations?
I really do believe dogs pick up on the handler's emotions. I was in denial for a long time regarding my nervousness in the ring - thinking that if I said I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't be nervous :) But, in fact, I do get nervous in the ring and I'm sure Jackson picks up on that. It is getting better though. I believe if you 'act' confident, you will become confident, so I am trying to practice acting confident - and more relaxed in the ring. If I can get control of that, it may go a long way to helping him.
I need to examine what else I am doing or not doing to increase Jackson's confidence. When we are waiting our turn to go in the ring I tend to have my hands on Jackson a lot, if he's not in his crate. I find myself stroking him and massaging his shoulders - thinking that is relaxing him, and me. But, is it? He also likes to sit on my lap. Now you may be wondering how a Dane can sit on your lap - easy, they just back up to you and sit :) Is allowing this behavior reducing or reinforcing stress? Should I just leave him in his crate except for taking him out to warm up prior to going in the ring?
Away from the trials, I am following through with my goal of getting him out several times per week to train in new locations, which I think may help with working through distractions. Yesterday we went to the Wal-Mart parking lot and worked on some attention and heeling exercises for a few minutes. There happened to be a couple pylons set up to block off a drive so that was perfect for doing some figure 8s. Finding new places to work for a few minutes is turning out to be easier than I thought.
If anyone has found exercises that helped them reduce their own stress and that of their dogs, I'd love to hear them!