We trialed over the weekend, and Noelle struggled with distraction. Not as badly as before Mr. Fox came to play in the ring, but it's still a problem. As I was driving home from Iowa, I thought about the trialing environment. It's so different from training. Not just the noise, which Noelle filters out pretty well, but the visual stimulation. Heeling Noelle off leash worked just fine until the about turn in the corner by the spectators and other dogs. Then, uh-oh! It's like turning on Dog TV.
Oh look, it's my favorite show. Bye mom. You can heel all by yourself now. Which I did for a little while, until Noelle realized I was still walking and ran to catch up.
In Rally, I can say, "Noelle, let's go this way!" In obedience, I can't talk to her, except maybe one extra command. Having to figure out how to train Noelle to pay attention to me, despite my silence, is a massive challenge.
I saw all the Open and Utility Dogs heeling. I swear, 10 people dressed like Big Bird could dance in the center of the ring and none of those dogs would notice. It's humbling showing your dog. You see where you are, and where you want to be. The distance between them seems infinite. And if you have a National Obedience Champion heeling in the ring next to you... Well, you feel like you're holding up a finger painting next to The Mona Lisa. Look at what I just... did.
How can I train Noelle to ignore what's outside of the ring, and just pay attention to me? How can I train Noelle to ignore visual distractions and focus 100% on me? Well, we need some visual distractions to train around. Duh! But what? What can I put in the ring that would distract Noelle? As I was crossing the Mississippi River I thought about wind-up toys. Can Noelle heel in a ring with a tiny toy chicken pecking at the ring floor?
Well, I already know the answer is a big flashing NOPE!
But... if we practice...
Look at that, click treat, look at that, click treat. Wait until she is calm and focused for one second, jackpot. Reset. Repeat. Repeat. Calm for two seconds, jackpot.
And if we practice... Heel one step, jackpot. Heel two steps, jackpot. Sit calmly, jackpot. Heel three steps, jackpot.
And if we practice... and practice... eventually Noelle will learn to heel right past a toy chicken pecking on the floor. That's when I'll add a dinosaur. And a toy monkey doing backflips. And eventually heel around a gauntlet of wind-up toys.
Until Noelle can do rally in a ring with 25 assorted toys wandering around, there is no point in trying to start our journey toward Rally Champion. Noelle knows every rally sign and can do them perfectly every single time, if she is paying attention. Once we have visual distractions figured out, look out, it's time to RACH! Ten trials. 20 entries. 20 Q's. 150 Master points. 150 RAE points. RACH!
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Lao Tzu
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On our Thursday night review class, we used to bring distractions. One time I tied a child's quaking duck pull toy to my dog. It drove even the best trained dogs crazy. Another trainer brought a mechanzied chimpanzee... it was fine until two Aussies tried to kill it. We used to have contests where we had to dress our dogs and make them work in clothes. It was great fun and accomplished a lot of bomb-proofing, too.
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My Friday morning obedience instructor (okay, my only obedience instructor) has a lot of interesting things to proof for. An added plus for me is that she has earned the OTCH title on two different dogs, and is a creative, positive-reinforcement trainer.
We've had Minions and life-size toy German Shepherds and Yellow Labs sitting on the other side of the gating from the gloves for directed retrieve. We've had toys on the floor. We've had people standing in the middle of the article pile.
Neely could not overcome the appearance of the quacking duck pull toy. In Neely's defense, when he was still a young dog, he spotted a mother duck and her babies while we were walking in the nearby recreation park. His eyes got big, his jaw dropped open, and then he really, REALLY wanted to go look at them. True to his breeding, I suppose.
I too am working through distraction issues. He's much more distracted at multi-ring trials and we can often be successful at one-ring trials. The exception seems to be a particular building about an hour from me, used by several different clubs for their obedience and rally trials. He even earned his last two Preferred Utility legs there.
I have an array of things that are big time distractors like a mechanical purple chihuahua toy that barks while it moves and has flashing red eyes. I also use a weasel ball and sometimes hang holiday decorations on ring gates. However I will also say you need things similar to what the dog will encounter in a trial ring. Have a couple of people sit in chairs near the ring to serve as the stewards and/or the gallery. Have someone stand in the ring and follow you like a pushy judge. Put sticky dots, painters tape or chalk lines and Xs on the floor as judges will do in trials to lay out where the exercises will start and end. Have noise distractions. You can get CDs with dog show sounds. If I practice by myself I always play dog show sounds.
Click, you just described my situation perfectly. I have no ambitions for a RACH, but I would like to keep going in Obedience, and certainly to get past Novice. The heel free has been our nemesis. I take her to stores and training and she heels beautifully past shoppers etc... but in a trial venue I may as well not exist
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Raven's Mom, I know exactly what you mean. The trial environment is just so darn overwhelming for Noelle. Heel free went so much better on our third leg. The judge even noticed. What I did before going in the ring was play, Mr. Fox is up my sleeve and toss Mr. Fox forward. Noelle was still distracted on the about turns, but not as badly.
We got some wind up toys. Noelle was able to ignore them a whole lot faster than I expected. We'll keep practicing. And, Catherine, yes, I will ask people in my club to act more like trial spectators and judges during training.
This is going to be hard work. Yay! I love hard work.
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