Bess has made this the best year of my life. I have been lucky to have wonderful teachers; for agility, Gayle York and world champion Jeanette Hutchinson, for obedience and rally, Canine Training Solutions (CTS). Learning to communicate and handle better has made this year so great. This is the first dog I have entered working competitions with. We got our Rally Novice title in 3 shows and that meant we were now in Advanced, which is off leash. 5 weeks ago I got back to CTS and obedience training. Bess and I had 5 weeks to prepare for a three day show AKC obedience show. We worked super hard and just 2 weeks before the show I made big strides in my handling and changed my methods for the better. I learned to make sure training is fun for the dog. I went to shorter, higher quality sessions, always followed by a fun break.
This weekend we showed twice in Advanced Rally and twice in Novice A Obedience. We qualified in all four classes and had 3 seconds and one first. In Sundayís Novice A only 2 of the 8 dogs entered qualified. That all sounds really impressive but doesnít tell the real story.
Usually poor performances are the result of handler tension going down the leash to the dog, who then performs poorly. When we stepped in the ring for our first time in Novice A, I was keeping my nerves under pretty good control. We had prepared well and practiced under big pressure. When we stepped in the ring I lost Bessís attention because of her tension. She was many times worse than any time in the past. I am very proud of what happened next. I didnít get frustrated and let her know how disappointed I was. At the short break between each exercise, I broke her with a Free and made a big fuss about how well she was doing. I continued this till we got out of the ring. We were a team and that was how it was going to go down. We still got second but it was a bad performance.
At the end of the afternoon we went in to the rally ring and put on a very good run, with a 96 out of 100 and first place. The next day I got to repeat the Novice A and I had Bessís attention. We were second with a 94 out of 100. 6 of the 8 competitors failed to qualify.
There were some huge lessons I learned in the last couple of weeks.
#1. Showing must be fun for the dog and they should look forward to it. This also applies to training. Simple but hugeÖ.
#2. How you perform in the ring, shows where you are and where your dog is, in your training. It points out what you need to work on. Getting upset with your dog is wrong and will lead to more poor performances. No dog ever sent in a show application. This is your idea.
#3. It is critical that dog and handler work as a team, not as Koehler taught us so many years ago with an omnipotent handler and subservient dog, but the team must be a partnership, with the handler leading just like dancers who must have a leader and a partner.
Our plans are to continue and get our CD in obedience and also continue with Rally, which is fast and fun, while learning tricks and starting to do therapy dog visits to show off and brighten peopleís days. When the heat breaks we will go back to agility too.
The best year of my life was given to me by Bess, the most incredible dog Iíve known, and my super teachers, whoíve taught me to communicate clearly and handle properly. It has been a wonderful journey.