I try to look at trials as an opportunity to evaluate where we are with our training, what is improving, and what areas we need to focus on more. So, I spent most of the trip home from the trials today trying to figure that out, and how to put a positive spin on the weekend. It was one of those weekends again. No udx legs. While he qualified consistently in Open, we couldn't keep it together in the Utility ring. One day we 'pointed out,' which means he completed all the basic utility exercises, however, too many points were deducted for slow responses for him to have a qualifying score. On another day, he got the wrong glove - due to a really bad pivot he was facing the #1 glove instead of the #2 so took the wrong glove. And, to top it off today - I sent him over the wrong jump. I couldn't believe it (banging head against the wall :)! The judge said he would have qualified except for that error on my part.
The positive spin I put on it is - we get to continue training and trialing! After all, it's the journey - not the destination! That's what I keep telling myself anyway : ) Okay, so now for a look at what's going on with him. It's the same thing that we can't seem to overcome - his reaction to the trial environment. When we step into the ring and the leash is off, I cannot keep his focus. He goes through the motions - make that sloooow motions - of the exercises, but loses the enthusiasm, drive and precision that I see in practice. He is constantly trying to keep an eye on what's going on outside the ring and around him rather than focusing on me, which also results in really sloppy fronts and finishes.
In practice we've been playing a lot of games to increase focus and drive - the theory behind this being that if the value and rate of reinforcement is high enough for the behaviors you are shaping, the dog will choose to work with you in spite of the distractions around them. In theory, it sounds good - but, in reality, I'm not sure it can be applied successfully to all dogs - especially low-drive dogs, that are fearful and lack confidence aka dogs like Jackson! Are there some fears and/or distractions that just cannot be overcome in some dogs???
Any thoughts on that? I would love to hear them : )