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Noelle has now gone to three different rally trial buildings and shown in three rings five times now. What this has taught me is I need a solid warm up routine for focus and attention between the crate and the ring. Problem is, I don't have one.

The things Noelle struggles with in a trial environment is confusion and distraction. Confusion shows up as sitting down and scratching her ears in the ring. Where are we? What are we doing? I'm not sure what's expected of me right now. By around sign six or seven, Noelle catches on that, oh, we're doing rally in this place.

Distraction shows up with Noelle looking around and being bewildered by all the different things to see outside of the ring. Combine distraction and confusion, we're muddling through our rally events. We're qualifying OK, but I know we can do much, much better.

What would be a good trial routine for us so we can connect before we get in the ring? As the only A dog at trials, we are often the first dog after the rally walkthrough, so we don't have much time before the judge calls our number. Doing a warm up before the walkthrough doesn't work. When I put her back in the crate, she howls the song of her people.

Arrive, potty, crate time, potty, more crate time, walkthrough, ____, ___, _____, show, jackpot. Help me fill in the blanks. (And kinda hurry, because we trial on Saturday for the Rally Advanced title.)
 

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I wish there was one magical and universal answer to that question! If I had it and could bottle and sell it I would take vendor space at any trial that had vendors.

Anyway having been to well over 100 trials at probably 20 different venues and an over 90% Q rate in rally with Lily I can tell you about my routine for her. First, if I can I go the day before the first entry and set up my crate camp then walk around the venue to let Lily get a feel for the place, echo effects of sound, smells, lighting etc. Since you are usually not allowed to practice in the rings most places (but I adore places where that is possible) I walk to the ring gate with her and talk to her about how we are going to play a game here soon (a pep talk of sorts for both of us). I will then walk around as much of the perimeter of the ring as is accessible and let her sniff as much as she wants, then one more time around with no sniffing.


On the day of the trial(s) I get there are early as possible and put dog(s) in crates while I go check in and get course maps as early as possible. I mentally walk the course with the map and pick out the stations where I think we may have an issue. Then we have our walk thru. If I am near the beginning of the class I only walk once or twice. If I am further back in the order for a larger class then I may walk three times. When the walk thru is running if there is a traffic jam near the start I skip out to the middle to get ahead of that clump of people. If you are the first or only dog or otherwise won't have a lot of time before you have to step up to enter the ring the mental walk through becomes more important.

If I have time before I am called to the ring I take Lily out to practice the stations I think she might bail on me for once or twice and I also do the first three or four stations of the course (although obviously not the jump(s) if one appears early in the course. I think perhaps the second part of that is more important as a "dress rehearsal." I try never to skip the second part of that. I have found generally in all of our RAE legs that Lily does better on the second course (usually advanced) and not because advanced is easier than excellent (not always the case) but because if the courses are well nested she is more comfortable because she feels it is familiar.
 

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My dog is highly distractable dog and the first couple times I went to do a match/class I tried to not let him say hi to anyone, kept him mostly in his crate, then tried to pull him out and get attention right away and he was pretty distracted in the ring still (but usually got better as we went).
Last time I got to the show early and I pretty much let him drag me around the show venue, where he got to look adn see everything, say hi to a few people, etc. Slowly he started to tire out a bit and would give me glances of attention which I would reward. Slowly he started to give me more and more attention until he was pretty much ignoring everything else and paying attention to me. Then I put him in his crate till close to match time. Pulled him out of his crate a bit beforehand (the match was disorganized so it was probably a bit earlier than Iwould have) and just had him on a relax and paid for attention. He was WAY better in the ring and we did our first off leash heeling at a match and he nailed it. My final step I think will be adding just a touch of heeling just before we go in the ring. Trying to NOT let him look at his surroundings was definitely not the right choice for him.
I took the idea a bit from my nosework class. The instructor always emphasized not asking the dog to work till the dog was ready to work and we were encourage to let the dogs sniff out and explore the whole room at their leisure and only once the dog chose to work did we ask them to work.
 

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Waiting for the dog to want to work vs creating a cue that means it's time to work. Two different approaches to get to the same destination. As a service dog, Noelle puts on her cape before going to work. The cape itself is a cue that it's time for work. I wish I had something similar for Noelle with the ring, but I don't. I do have my magical blue Thermos. It's got all the characters from the movie Frozen on it, and inside are chopped bits of Burger King grilled Chicken. Noelle will turn herself inside out for a piece of chicken from that bottle, and the bottle only comes out for trials, so it's very special.

What I want to train is a cue that it's time to work. I did some hunting. Found these two gems. The point is to get the dog excited about working with you and making you do fun things.

https://www.tntkennels.com/competition-heeling-part-1/
https://www.tntkennels.com/competition-heeling-part-2-teaching-activation-cue/

I really like the idea of an activation cue. Turn the dog's brain on and focus on me for fun and joy. I wonder if this would actually work with a poodle? Or if it would turn on the super bouncy side of Noelle and over activate her? Only one way to find out.
 

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As I suspected, the what, what game instantly transformed Noelle into a wild thing. She sure was excited and focused on me, though. All I did was flicker my fingers twice. What? What? Boing! Boing! BOING! Bark! Bark! Boing! BITE! BOING!

Um, no.

That was hilarious, but completely not appropriate for Noelle, or probably any poodle, to be honest. I'll work on some poodle related modifications. I love the idea of activating her and getting her excited and ready for work, but... wow, that was insane.
 

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Waiting for the dog to want to work vs creating a cue that means it's time to work.
In nosework we do both. Since our dogs are still 'beginners' they take longer to be ready to work than a more advanced dog who has had the higher level distraction environment exposure. But once they're ready to work, we put on their nosework harnesses which is their cue to work. She doesn't want to lose the dog's drive by having to 'argue' with the dog cause it's not settled in yet while the dog is supposed to be doing it's job.

For obedience my trainer has started to talk to us about having a cue to start working that she uses just before she goes into the ring that she always does the same way every time, but the dog has to be ready mentally to work before that.
The dog should be offering to work before you start begging it to work. Put it on the dog shoulders' to be the one that offers to work rather than having to try to be more interesting than the dog's environment is what my instructor has told me. Cause in the ring (a bit less with rally where you can use more talking and encouragement, but it still applies) you can't really be more interesting than the environment.

At least that's how my instructors feel about waiting for the dog, but also having a cue.
 

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Ack for some reason my current wifi connection is really slow and the video just wasn't loading so I can't comment on that part of those links, but I have heard of Janice Gunn and know she is a really solid performance sport handler. Now that I see the discussion after my first post I have a better sense of where this discussion is trending to. There is a big difference between waiting for the dog to decide to work and having a set up cure for working. As I said above I do try to do a fair amount to get the dog to be ready to go to work in arriving early, walking the venue and such and even letting the dog goof around, but I also think it is really important to have a time to work cue or activator. Judges won't wait for us and allowing a dog to be disconnected or checked out will get you through the lower classes of rally and even novice in formal obedience, but not any further than that.


Here are go to work cue ideas in no particular order: have a leash and/or collar that are only used for matches and trials (make sure you treat your matches like trials if those pieces of equipment are to be consistent work activators); have a specific set of attention and focus game type exercises that are always followed by serious work (could be anything you like, get it get it, five cookies, it's yer choice) or have a specific verbal cue for getting ready to go into a ring or to do other serious work. If I want a dog to come with me but not to go to work I say "let's go or with me." If I am setting up to go into a match or trial ring I say "get close" to have the dog set up with heads up attention at heel. I never go into the ring without that heads up attention. I actually practice lots of ring entrances to develop and maintain that attention as a work cue. My cue to start heeling is a little left hand finger flick (no words) and in other contexts (non-trial, non-match) I generally say let's go. As I said above for Lily now her cue that we will be working is the dress rehearsal of the first few stations for the most part.



I know there are lots of very top level obedience folks who never let their dogs say hello to other people or dogs or to even allow them to acknowledge that those things are there. I am not quite so rigorous about that in that I do allow my dogs to acknowledge the trial environment but that doesn't mean they get to be inattentive jerks when we are even getting close to on deck to a trial run
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Noelle doesn't get to say hi to anyone. I think that would take her head out of the game. When you watch the video, the activation cue is clever. It gets the dog jumping and really happy to start working. In theory, anyway. In practice, it got Noelle extremely excited and ready to bite my arm. I wish I could talk to Janice Gunn in person because she would probably give me pointers on how to tone down Noelle's response. Or, a different way to get her ready.

I try to acknowledge how Noelle is feeling and keep her comfortable in new environments, but at the same time, I lead and she follows. We went into a very crowded mall on our weekend adventure. People going every direction, strangers asking to pet her, glass elevator trips, kids in a play area shrieking, it was complete chaos. And, Noelle was Noelle in it. Not actively trying to seek attention, and not worried about the insane it. She sat, she heeled, she went under a table, and took a nap under my chair in the noisy food court.

Noelle is great at that. But, if we scroll through her training page to her fifth adventure in public we get a much more confused dog. I'll have to think through a trial ritual. We go in this new space and walk over to the ring gate and play look at that, or something like that. The ring gate is where you sit and look at me and smile.

My next trial I'm going to pay attention to creating a ritual. We have two chances to get our Advanced title, yes, but what matters more to me is getting Noelle comfortable in the trial environment. Rituals matter to Noelle. I've said it before, and I'll say it a million more times: Noelle is the most context specific dog I have ever trained. It takes her no time to learn a new skill, and five times as long to generalize that new behavior. And she's also aware of her surroundings in a way that startles me, too.

In the mall last weekend, there were bald mannequins with stylized black faces. Noelle stopped in her tracks and stared at the window. What... Are... Those? Are those people behind the glass? I had a good laugh with that. We played look at that until Noelle looked at me like, "Mom, stop embarrassing me."

The good news about having a context specific dog is a ring gate is a context. It's a thing we pass through that takes us to a working space. We sit quietly outside the gate. Then we go in the ring and do fun things together. Then we go through the gate. Then we go to the crate and Burger King chicken awaits. It's a routine, something she can learn to anticipate and expect. One contextual block of behaviors leads to another contextual block of behaviors.

My focus this week is going to be on creating ritual around trialing. Q or NQ really is less important to me than ritual. Besides, I get to watch Carol and Gabby win RaCh! Those Q's matter to me far, far more. Carol was one of the first people to teach me rally, so I'm beyond excited to see her 20th Q. Go Carol, go!
 
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