Using Run Throughs Wisely

I finally had the opportunity to do an obedience run through with Duckie.  Sadly it was only her 3rd time at an official event and she will be 2yrs old in a few weeks!  Not the amount I wanted to get in by now.

With my local Ring Confidence class just ending and my new online Ring Confidence class starting in two weeks I have the topic of run throughs on my mind.  I have a very specific plan on how to use my 5 minutes of ring time to get full benefit for future trials and I can't say it looks anything like what I watch everyone else doing during their time.

My goal for a run through is to continue my ring confidence work- attitude and focus.  I don't see any point at all in going through a full formal run and listening to the "judge."  Time and time again I see others doing that and all it usually results in is a stressed dog.  Either the dog is a bit down in attitude and focus which the handler completely ignores, not supporting their dog, or corrects like crazy in order to teach him that he can't get away with that behavior in a trial and usually results in the dog developing even more stress towards that exercise.  Even happily interrupting and resetting an exercise in a positive manner can add stress to the behavior, something I want to consider very carefully in a trial environment.  A run through is not the time to teach or fix a behavior before your show.  The dog is either trained or he's not.  In the majority of cases if your dog shows up in a trial with the same level of attitude and focus he shows in practice than the exercises themselves will be there!  Of course that is what makes trialing so hard!  How do you get that attitude and focus in a trial?!

Ring Entrances
So that was my plan tonight with Zumi.  Attitude and focus.

I started with step one of my ring confidence work.  Or in Zumi's case I actually skipped straight to step two as I knew without a doubt that Zumi would be able to offer me great focus from being released from her waiting position to entering the ring and setting up in heel.  I also had strong suspicions that she could do more than just a few steps of heeling with the energy/focus I wanted but I didn't add that in right away as being too greedy had the potential of backfiring and adding stress to this trial like environment.  So all we did was enter the ring- setup in heel- and had a gigantic party.

Left the ring after that first party and waited again for her to push me to work.  Repeat.  Since I wasn't greedy and it went well I added in removing the leash before the party.  Then slowly added more and more trial like behaviors into the mix each time I re-entered the ring and saw that she wasn't just handling it well but was excelling.  I know I looked like an idiot to the others waiting outside the ring and that added a tiny bit of stress. Perfect.  Just enough stress to replicate some trial like feelings for Duckie to experience without actually doing anything difficult.

Because Zumi has had a lot of experience with this type of work, just not in a formal show like environment, I was able to progress quickly with her and actually do bits of heeling and simple versions of other exercises she knows well.  I even did all of it with her toy on the stewards table, putting her in a sit and bringing the toy to her whenever I wanted to party.  But with a dog who has already started trialing and showing signs of stress, or a dog less experienced with ring confidence games, I would stick to pure ring entrances=party.  Exit and try again if the dog shows he's still ready to work.  Rushing through steps and trying to get to the actual exercises will only degrade the hard work you've put in.  Baby steps!

I found out that Zumi's second turn in the ring was a bit too much.  We still had several nice ring entrances but occasionally struggled with taking the leash off when she could see the dog in the adjacent ring having fun with their dumbbell.  So we backed up.  Literally actually.  We just calmly exited the ring and I waited for Zumi to decide she was ready to work with me again.  Which due to her temperament and training didn't take too long.  In the future I think one turn for Zumi is enough, at least for right now.

Choosing to Work
Vito also came along to the run through.  But unlike Zumi, I did not register him for actual time in the ring.  Vito has even more experience with Zumi in the ring confidence games, but I also knew that with the trial environment it would be unlikely for Vito to choose to work at a set time to actually take advantage of ring=fun type games.

So instead this particular location had plenty of room along the edges of the ring and in the exhibitor area to just hang out on leash and let Vito decide what he wanted to do.  I let him sniff around, let him stare at things, and occasionally asked him if he was ready.  Vito told me "no" repeatedly and I respected that.  He will offer me great eye contact, but I know Vito well enough that just eye contact is not a true indicator of being ready to work.  Vito could smell treats on me but I never pulled them out.  I knew that if I pulled out a cookie I could likely get Vito excited enough to overpower the environment but that was not my goal.  In a trial you don't have rewards to overpower the environment.
I also knew that I could ask Vito to do his squish behavior which has been trained/classically conditioned enough that when released from the position Vito will immediately engage with me and with some energy.  But I didn't want to do that either.  That trained squish I only do when I already have a dog.  Using it before he's ready to work will have the effect I want, but the more it's used that way the more it's like withdrawing money from an account versus building that behavior up to be stronger.  I only want to use it that way in an actual trial, if I have to.

So Vito and I walked around a bit, stood around a lot, he got a few butt rubs and some crouching down next to and I just supported him.  And at some point Vito surprised me by actually telling me he was ready.  Still in just the extra space outside of the rings I started personal play and a bit of heeling, and then brought out the food.  I repeated this a few times, releasing him back to sniff/stare after each cookie reward to see if he was done or not.  Only once did Vito tell me he wanted a bit of break.  We didn't play/train long, less than 3 minutes before I put him away.

And I was happy with my decision not have Vito get actual ring time yet.  If you are not yet sure if your dog will engage with you outside of the ring without being shown their rewards then you are not ready to be doing a run through yet.  Instead focus on visiting different locations and just hanging out.  Having an official ring time puts too much pressure on yourself to try and get the dog to work at just that moment.

And of course if you need help with these concepts or want a more concrete plan for  prepping your dog to enter a trial please come join my Ring Confidence class starting October 1st!

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