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Noelle's response to stress in the ring is sitting down and scratching her neck. Obviously, this will not work in a trial. I can't have her decide right in the middle of stand for exam to sit down and have a good scratch. She scratches before figure eight, too. How can I help Noelle defuse stress and get into her happy place in the ring?

In class my trainers are in favor of a leash pop and telling her to stop that. I hesitate to do a leash pop with my soft marshmallow dog, because leash pops always set off a chain reaction of more scratching. And I can't do that during a trial anyway.

Playing touch helped a little. Teasing her with a handful of imaginary treats helped right before off leash heel. Any other ideas for a stress release between exercises? Those moments after "Exercise Finished" and before "Are You Ready?" matter. I don't want Noelle to sit down and scratch like she is being attacked by bionic fleas. Ideas?
 

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I’m trying to keep things low key when the judge says exercise finished. I’m saying “good girl” with some petting. I’ve noticed people who get very excited can rile their dogs up too much so they can’t settle down for the next exercise.

Can you give her some good scratching in addition to petting. Some people train their dog to turn circles or do a touch to their hand.
 
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When I first read this I thought it was for you and not Noelle. A group of us in my obedience trial are going to our first competition and I’m nervous as heck.
 
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Oh, I can see how getting riled up with Noelle would be a huge flashing No-No sign. It's those 10 seconds before the judge says, "Are you ready?" That's when Noelle starts scratching. How can I engage her before those itchy-scratchy moments?
 

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I would never, ever leash pop. I find that disgusting. Why are we competing with our dogs? For most of us it is to build a stronger bond with our dogs. (If we Q, get a good score, or win, even better! But only if the dog is kept happy!)

If you have prepared well at home, you should have little schooling to do at the show. Focus on breathing and keeping yourself calm. Take a walk with Noelle. Be lighthearted. Play touch, tug, or ball. Talk to fellow newbie competitors. When it's your turn, take a deep breath at the beginning and connect with your dog (in rally, don't forget to talk to her the whole time). In between obedience exercises, I give Frosty hugs and kisses and tell him how good he is (we haven't competed in obedience, but in practice runs).

Remember this is for fun, for heaven's sake. If you or Noelle make a mistake, be able to recover easily and laugh it off.

I realize this isn't answering your specific question, but hopefully it will help anyway :)
 

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I give a hearty praise and let my boy jump in between obedience exercises, a behavior that is otherwise discouraged. Then I pet him. Any kind of trick that will relax her would do -- tricks don't require a toy or treat reward and strengthen connection in the ring. For my own nerves, I try to smile because that seems to reduce my stress level, and that's where some/most of my dog's stress comes from.
 

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Can you get out to matches, where it has the feel of a competition but you can me more free in the ring with being able to stop and fix things a bit more?
 

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I will probably have more of an answer for you next week since I will be at a seminar this weekend titled "Mental Skills Training for Competitive Canine Handlers." That said I do have some ideas for you. As you move from exercise to exercise you can do hand touches or spins just so long as you don't dilly dally on the way. You can talk to Noelle as you move from exercise to exercise too. Keep connected to her using those tools. When the judge says exercise finished you can talk to her and tell her she is good and give her a bit of a pet on the chest or wherever will help her relax. I would also say that if you are in your trial and you see a disconnect or stress sign starting say something and take the points off. If the dog looks away then say hey, with me or look or whatever your reconnect to be ready to work words are. For Javelin his order to set up at heel is "get close" which means come sit straight not forged not lagged and look at me. If he looks away the reminder to attend to me is "up up." You can say those things before you say you are ready for the orders do do the exercise. Once you say you are ready then you should try not to say anything, but again if your dog gets lost and is stressed say something to reconnect. It is points, not an NQ. And especially in novice A you say something sort of apologetic to the judge like "sorry I'm nervous because I'm new" you should be fine. I can't get away with that since I have to be in the B classes for rally and beginner novice and novice.

Keeping connected with heads up attention while you wait for the judge to say all the "welcome to your novice A heel on leash stuff...Are you ready?" is super important to keep your dog understanding that you are working. You want heads up attention at this time no matter how long it takes. This is actually something that was built into a lot of the proofs that we did at the workshop we were at last week. I can tell you all that this absolutely does matter.

Now as to leash pops. I don't like punishing leash pops where you yank the dog off balance or provoke a yelp and such. However there is a way to make a tiny little leash pop a positive reinforcer. You would be using the lightest weight leash you have (like those fine braided heeling leashes I use) and you hold the leash in your left hand with just enough tension and your fingers on it arranged such that you can give it little flicks like reigning a horse (proportioned to the size of your dog). You associate the pop to a cookie and eventually fade the cookie so the dog will know from the feel of the leash moving that you are pleased with what it is doing when you can't or don't want to use a verbal marker. It should be a small enough change in leash tension that most people watching would barely notice you had done it. I would not do this in a trial ring, but I do use it for heeling practice with Javelin who finds it very motivating.



ETA: Under the new rules in AKC obedience the judge is required to tell you something to the effect of "attach your leash to your dog's collar and leave the ring with your dog under control" after you finish your individual exercises. Also as Skylar noted sometimes people get their dogs too amped up by jump ups (Javelin can easily go over the top if I encourage jump ups). You can potentially have things happen like not being invited back for the novice group stays if your dog doesn't leave under control. While some of us may have a dog jump up in a controlled way not all judges will see such a thing that way, so be careful.


Also Click and Skylar when are your shows? Soon I think...

 
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October 5 and 6 for us. Hopefully it'll go ok.

Today, I worked on stays and heavily reinforcing our release cue, which is, "Whoopee!" while heeling forward several happy steps. My trainer says to use, "Whoopee," because it's hard to sound angry when you say it. And the release being five or six steps forward in heel reinforces heeling as a fun activity. When the judge tells me to leave the ring with my dog under control, we'll "Whoopee," ourselves right out of the ring.

Spins, jumping, any of that stuff would get Noelle cranked up for zoomies. My best bet is touch, I think. Also, call front and finish, which Noelle really loves doing. That and Schutzhund turns which she likes, too. Come to think about it, there's several different rally signs I could throw in the mix just to break things up for a second. A whole lot of Rally signs are doodling around training games after all.

I'll give this a whirl in the ring next week and let you know. And please tell me more about your seminar! Wish I could go. Thinking about showing makes me feel as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
 

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You can even just go in a small circle left to collect Noelle if she is getting ahead or amped. A small circle right with a verbal reminder to stay close can bring drive forward up if you see a down stress. Those give you a tiny bit of practice for figure eights and lots of people use them to help the dog to get set up for the start of exercises.

You have time to keep things nice and do a little fine tuning, but don't change anything big at this point. You will do just fine so long as you remember to breathe and smile even if you don't feel like it. We have trials the 28th and 29th of September (Lily for versatility 2 days and veterans 1; Javelin for beginner novice twice). This is show season.
 
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My trial is 9/28 and 9/310.

Click - I do pops and those flicks that Catherine mentioned. I've seen people do really rough pops - OMG I could never do that with Babykins. My pop is so light and subtle that many people probably wouldn't even notice them - it's more a slight lifting of the leash and it's a indication that she should sit.

The flicks are also very light - I've got the leash in my hand between my fingers and when I want to remind her to heel properly, I flick at the leash with two fingers. However I don't do the flicks - I find Babykins tends to ignore them.

Good luck to all of us. For me my goal is just to gain experience in the process and leave with a happy dog. It's very stressful for me so I'm taking the stress off myself by treating it as a learning experience.

We have been going to run through and while they are similar - it's not the same as going to a real trial.
 

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Today is my last real day to practice most likely. Our trials are Friday and Saturday next week. I may be able to get to my club with Javelin Tuesday or Thursday morning, but after that it is show time.


Let's hope none of us actually needs luck to get it done. Let's hope for happy focused workers at both ends of the leash.
 
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