It is over 2 months since I last posted and the competitive year has now started with a vengeance. Unfortunately Roy, Rafa and I have been temporarily side-lined so our season is going to be starting later than usual – much later. Even when we do finally get going we have a lot of missed training to catch up on. We did get to one show in March but with little or no preparation we came away empty handed. Now I have had knee surgery at last. So I am hoping that in a few weeks I’ll be able to train my boys again. At the moment even static work is proving to be a bit of a challenge to say the least!
Time out is probably not such a bad thing as far as Rafa is concerned. It all started in February. I was working on his retrieve because his return was not as fast as his go out. We had a wonderful 2 day training course at our club with top trainer Mavis Mills, well known for her positive methods. Naturally we came away full of enthusiasm. Unfortunately in the next couple of days I failed to notice that Rafa was going through a fear period. This is a time particularly noticeable in sensitive young males when the hormones are surging and a dog can exhibit strange behaviour and act as if the end of the world is close. In Rafa’s case he started to behave as if he had never learned to retrieve.
We had one last winter league match. As usual Rafa’s heelwork was very neat and so was his recall. Then came retrieve. The dumbell landed on one end and Rafa who had run straight out went into total meltdown and simply stopped in his tracks completely unable to cope. For once he was not in pole position. This left the team needing to win the final class to win the match. Fortunately Roy obliged and we just scraped through. Our team won the league and last week we were presented with a magnificent trophy at the league presentation evening, an event enjoyed by us all.
Rafa’s retrieve problem lasted a few weeks but fortunately it eventually came to an end and he is now back to his usual sunny natured self. He was never a natural retriever and I was beginning to wonder if he would ever regain his confidence. But he has come back stronger than ever. Training has had to take a back seat so my boys have had to pursue other hobbies for the past couple of weeks. Fortunately some of their favourite programmes have been on TV. And they have a lot of fun chasing round the garden playing with a log. Rafa’s confidence is so high now that he will even beat Roy to it and fly back up the garden to show me his prize.
I have noticed some strange hormonal behaviour over the years. One young dog I had would suddenly take off if you spoke to him at a particular point on his walk. He too was a sensitive soul. I wonder how many times dogs have been punished for things which are simply not their fault. I didn’t see Rafa’s retrieve problem as a dog who had decided he was going to ‘try it on’ or ‘be dominant’ so just waited for him to return to normal but at the same time working on building his confidence. I think it is just a particular mindset. Positive trainers try to work out how they can communicate better when things go wrong. Traditional or so-called ‘balanced’ trainers resort to corrections.
I think it is important to establish a relationship with your dog and this has to be one of honesty and trust. How can a dog trust if he is punished for doing his best? Because most dogs tend to give their best so long as they have a strong relationship with their handler. If they are constantly being criticised why should they keep trying? I wouldn’t. But so many people expect their dogs to keep trying even though rewards are rarely if ever forthcoming. I believe it is important to make sure that all training is geared to producing a happy and confident canine partner who works with his handler because he enjoys it not because he has no choice.
Many judges dread people coming in to the ring to do a training round because so many end up with the handler constantly nagging the obviously miserable dog. Why people think this will help a dog to gain confidence and produce a superior performance I have no idea. We are not obliged to allow training rounds but most of us want to help. And as everyone knows there is a world of difference between training at home and performance in the ring. It is almost impossible to replicate the atmosphere at a show at home. Training in the ring done well can really help a dog’s confidence. And we all want to win but with a dog who is clearly enjoying himself not one who appears to be under duress. If one or more well thought out training rounds can help us to achieve this then the dog can only benefit and everybody wins.
I did think the standard at Crufts this year was higher than ever. Even those lower down the order looked happy and confident and definitely qualified to be there. No doubt the round set by judge Dave Howell helped because it was challenging enough to bring out the best in the qualified teams. No dog looked miserable as has been the case in years gone by. I thought the quality was outstanding and thoroughly entertaining. I do love to watch top teams performing well.
Unfortunately this is not a view shared by many. And I do understand that competitive obedience is not such a spectator sport as, agility for example. But perhaps this is more that people don’t understand the technicalities. Heelwork done well looks deceptively easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find it strange that the public find stays (that most boring of exercises!) fascinating but are distinctly underwhelmed by a brilliant heelwork performance.
However this is not confined to dog sports. I went to watch a dressage competition recently and was amazed to find that barely a handful of people were watching in each arena. And this was a championship event. At least at Crufts there are plenty of people enjoying themselves and soaking up the atmosphere. Until Crufts comes round again there will be a lot more championship shows and the race is now on to qualify for next year.
My ambitions for the year are more modest. I want to get back into regular training. First I need to work hard to rebuild the muscles in my damaged knee. Then I hope that Roy, Rafa and I can get to shows and have some fun. Any places this year will be a bonus although we will obviously be doing our best to win. I know that Roy will try too hard as usual. Rafa is gaining confidence daily as he matures. I hope that this year it will carry over into the ring. Whatever happens we are going to enjoy our days out at the shows.
Just when you think you know your dogs well they sometimes do something to surprise you. A couple of days ago I was throwing a ball for my lot. Unfortunately I failed to notice they were looking away and the ball bounced awkwardly landing somewhere in the middle of a huge bramble patch. Bramble is most definitely a ‘no go’ area because it’s thick and practically impenetrable. But I thought I knew approximately where the ball had landed so I asked Roy to fetch it. I was completely wrong. Roy did find it but in a totally different place. He systematically searched the whole area. This may not sound like much but he kept going for nearly 15 minutes and all I could do was stand back and watch in awe. He was so thrilled when he eventually emerged with his prize. Words cannot begin to describe how much I love and admire this dog.
The photo above shows the actual area Roy searched. It is the whole of the left side of the track right down to the trees in the distance. That is some area!