One of the most daunting aspects of obedience and rally competition is fear. “Is my dog good enough,” “am I ready.” “What if I fail?” Most of these fears are unfounded. The long-term-diehards of the sport do not fear. They have learned that failure is part of the sport.
But do you need to go to 50 trials before getting your first leg? The answer is simple. No. There are a few ways to make sure that you succeed quickly, and have fun with your dog.
What Do You Need: Trainer – Competitor with Good Track Record – Coach
I have spent the last two months polling long time fans of obedience and rally. There have been some fun stories, like the time two fighting grackles fell into the middle of the figure 8 exercise. Or the time someone knocked over the ring because they were not looking where they were walking.
As I listened to everyone I found out that the main thing is to not taking things seriously. It isn’t about the ribbon. It isn’t about the points. It is about having a fun time out with your dog. But it cannot be fun if you are worried about points.
Look for a place to train with lots of distractions. You want a place that lets dogs bark, and people talk. You don’t want the quiet venue with padded floors and hushed voices. Play music, bounce balls, have more than one dog working at a time.
You also want to find someone who will coach your performance. A dog owner with multiple titles may not have the skills needed to train, or to coach. They may not know your breed, or be afraid of your breed. A trainer may not know the obedience rules. They may not be able to ‘see’ what will cost points. Instead of looking at how well a person does, find out how well their students do.
Why Do Newbies Loose Points in Rally and Obedience Competitions?
The most common reasons for losing points:
- Jerking on the lead. Find a trainer who will work with you off leash. If your dog doesn’t learn to follow at home and focus on you, then it won’t heel well in a trial.
- Teach the dog to avoid distractions. I have heard dozens of times that people’s dogs did wonderful at home, but fell apart in the ring.
- Learn to walk smoothly, keep your hands folded, and don’t do a lot of leaning and turning. It is up to the judge to determine what a secondary cue is. Of course looking back to see if your dog is lagging, tugging the lead, or doing a little ‘jig’ before the halt are obvious. But judges are also watching for a turned shoulder, a hand movement, or other ‘not natural’ body movement.
- Read the rule book. Hands must be at your side in the front exercise. You are disqualified if you repeat a command 3 times – so take time and wait for your dog to respond.
Here is an excellent resource I found on the American Kennel Club website. Click Here http://clubs.akc.org/saints/Archives/Novice-Open-Utility%20-%20Heeling.PDF
Set Realistic Obedience Trial Goals
One of the people I surveyed said their first goal was OTCH, then Advanced title, then a leg, and finally to lose less points than their dog. This comes back to your training venue. Find one where you learn all this as you are coached, each week. You don’t need a place to teach you the basics, you can learn those off youtube.com.
When I go to trials I ‘blow off’ my first 3 events. I go for one purpose, so the dog can have fun. If the dog learns that trialing is fun, then 99% of your problems are solved.