I always enter one trial during tax season. My own club's trial is held early in April and it is the very worst time for me to be entering a trial, but it is my own club and I always enter. This year I entered Jazz in novice obedience - with high hopes - and Coach in Rally novice - with no hope.
Jazz and I have been working very hard all winter on attention and enthusiasm. He has gone from drooping around the practice ring to an occasional, heads up pace. I tried to reward often and unexpectedly. I also tried to only reward attention. Looking at me is what counts. I have to laugh at myself because I fell for the old "northern breeds aren't supposed to look at you" line. "How can they pull a sled if they are looking at you?" Then again - who asked him to pull a sled? Silly me. I really didn't enjoy heeling either. I didn't expect him to look at me and I didn't enjoy heeling with him because I didn't understand it. No wonder we had trouble. Any way - I am on the way to trying to fix all that. I felt very encouraged by our work in training this winter and I was ready to try it in the ring.
Here was my biggest surprise. All seven years of his life, I believed that Jazz was a very confident dog. Then I met Coach and realized that Jazz is not that confident, he just isn't shy to the point of panic. What I took for indifference or confusion, is Jazz shutting down. I feel pretty bad about my misunderstanding, but nothing I can do about past mistakes now. I want to try to give him a confidence boost and see if we can have fun in the ring.
We went into the obedience ring on my birthday and I wasn't real nervous. (I have gotten very nervous in obedience and am working hard to get over that.) Jazz sat nicely at the start - he usually won't even do that. That was the highlight. I have been working on saying "ready" and giving him a treat, then starting to move and treating as soon as he comes with me. That seemed to help - he started with me. That was it. From then on he was dragging around the ring. I was much less tentative than I usually am and continued walking briskly around the ring. (I do a lovely heeling pattern when I don't have to worry about those pesky dogs!) This was at least as bad as any time we have entered the obedience ring. Rats! Oh well - I did the one thing I haven't been good at doing. I stayed totally confident and happy to see him. I told him he was great and we finished all the exercises. I left the ring and did my very best to show him how much I love him and how proud I am that he is willing to be that miserable for me. I don't know if it made a difference, but it was the best I could do.
The next day was Coach's turn. I wanted to get him in the ring at a fairly young age (eight months) and make it fun, exciting and profitable for him. I am trying to learn from my mistakes with Jazz and help Coach stay upbeat and confident. I guess so far I am doing that! He was a hoot in the ring. He nearly knocked the easel down on the way in. He was leaping around like a lunatic and I thought, "Uh oh - bad idea." We got in the ring and I asked him to sit. He plopped down and looked at me like the perfect little guy. I was way too excited about this. I sounded like a chubby, middle-aged, squeaky toy! I chirped, cheered and carried on throughout the course. I was so busy encouraging Coach and convincing him that this was fun, that I nearly missed two signs. After that, I settled down nicely. (He settled down nicely from the beginning.) Anyway - I cost us a few points, but Coach was really great. He pranced around the ring like he owned the place. We got 88 points, a qualifying leg, and 4th place out of about six dogs. What fun!
We took a "first time in the ring" picture of Coach and I. The judge offered to make it a ribbon picture. I felt kind of silly, but it really will be a nice memory of our very first ring experience. The judge made me laugh - she said she was a little concerned by the way he came in the ring, but he settled down to work very nicely. That is a great description. He really was working with me. Funny that this is the first time I have felt that in the Rally or obedience ring. Poor Jazz - we will relearn and try some more. At least I finally know what I am aiming for!
I am including a clip of Coach and I in Rally novice. The wonderful thing about video clips is that I can find the very best part to show off! Try to ignore the obnoxious, high voice I am using! Who knows where that came from!