Posted in the BCSA Borderlines Magazine
The problem ~
When showing your dog is leaving to sniff or go visit?
There might be several problems or a combination of issues contributing to the sniffing.
1) Stress of environment. i.e. New places/shows seem to create stress. Is the trainer going to “new” locations to train on a regular basis? This doesn’t mean other training facilities. The new place doesn’t have to have ring gates or rally signs to be effective. Examples could be store fronts, outside dog park fences, business centers on the weekends, etc. It is the “new” that is getting the dog. When going to a show, you are going to a “new” location. Even if you train at that facility on a regular basis the environment is a new one when you go there to show. Why? Different dogs, people, and new atmosphere add to a heightened level of excitement and stress.
2) Stress of inconsistency. i.e. what does the criteria of a skill really mean? This refers to the trainer not asking their dog for skills to be performed the same way anytime or anywhere. For example, is the skill “sit” always performed the same? At home, in the ring, out running and playing with other dogs or chasing a squirrel etc. When asked to “sit” does the dog sit the same way and speed every time? If the dog is expected to sit in 3 seconds then the sit should always be 3 seconds. In order for a dog to know how to perform a command/skill in the ring and under stress, the skill/command should be performed to the same criteria every time no matter where or when.
3) Stress of emotions. i.e. mom is nervous when in the environment (the ring) and so the environment must be a bad place. Making sure the ring is “fun” is important for a dog to learn in order to perform in a confident relaxed manner. How? It is important for the trainer to be able to control emotions when in the ring. How do you do this? 2 ways – first, the handler should practice mental toughness training (there are loads of resources out there and I feel truly a must for anyone doing competition of any kind). Second, confidence in what the dog has been taught. My question to students often is “will you bet me $100 that your dog will perform all the skills needed for the ring if you enter?” If not then your dog might need more training and proofing before he is ready to show.
4) Stress of lack of reinforcement. Have you gone to the next step in training or randomizing your reinforcement? It is important in training to wean off giving your dog a reward every time he does a skill. Once your dog knows a skill, it is time to pick the best efforts and reinforce only those worth the reward. Examples, if you ask your dog to sit five times, pick the best 2-3 sits to reward. Too many times trainers get in the “habit” of always giving a reward for every repetition the dog gives. The result then becomes your dog will not work if not getting a reward. In the ring your dog must be able to chain a number of skills together to create the performance. Randomizing your reward in training will help accomplish this goal.
5) Stress of poor rapport. The one main thing you take into the ring with you, besides your dog, it the relation you two have. Good rapport and steady consistent leadership will be clear whether you win or qualify. You and your dog will look like a team. This relates mainly to everyday life with your dog. Does he work for affection? Treats? to go outside or to play ball? How many times during your daily walks have you trained your dog? It is easy to incorporate training into everyday life. Ask your dog to do a skill or two before getting his meal. When out for a walk, ask your dog to do a trick or come to front. When playing ball, ask for a drop or a sit while the dog is running to the ball or coming back to you. It is easy and once you have established the habit of training 24/7 your dog will find time with you reinforcing and fun.
The issues above are easy ones to fix. Take your time and consider how you can add and or adjust training and everyday life with your dog to benefit showing.