We had a great time at the USDAA trial this past weekend. Sinco earned her PD3 title in very short time. She was in PD3 standard for only two trials!
The biggest personal Q was Feisty's awesome table performance on Sunday's Advanced Standard run. The table was very close to the edge of the ring and very close to where a timer, scribe and bar setter were sitting. The bar setter was a tall man who I've worked with in the past for proofing her tables. She is often stressed out by him when doing agility but not when she sees him away from agility. The table was also near the speaker box which had spooked her during her snooker run. I did a lot of desensitization outside of the ring near this area before our standard run. Feisty ran non-stop to the table and got on and laid down immediately with her back to the people. I praised her the entire time on the table and smiled at her. I was thrilled! I thought for a moment about leaving to a party but I remembered the last time I did that I spooked her by being too loud and excited and then she was afraid to do the table near me! So I opted to just be happy while she was there and continue on the course. I've spent a year and a half working on her stress over the table. I have not run her in an AKC Excellent Std class in maybe 9 months or more.
Some folks have asked what I've done to work on this problem, well I've done a LOT of work on it! I decided to not give up on it. The problem started in July of 2008 when at an AKC trial the judge had a loud booming voice and Feisty noticed for the first time a judge's presence while she was on the table. She was visibly distracted and could not focus the rest of the run. She would not go near him when he was judging the JWW class - she knew he was there. So I thought at first it was just an individual judge thing or maybe a male judge thing. But then it generalized to a table problem at trial after trial. She would stop and sniff the table and not get on, she would run away from the table, she would slam on the breaks and refuse to move, she would jump on and then off immediately - you name it she did it.
So I first started by leaving the ring to a big treat party when she got on the table. In the meantime she discovered that judges sometimes laugh when she does her table refusal antics. She loves to make people laugh. So I started to not be able to get her to go on the table at all. I stopped running her in AKC standard classes at that point. I took her to a group class where I could enlist the help of other students to hover around the table and also be major distractions around the course. This was very stressful for her - she had a hard time working through people crowding her on course. She would be fine with people outside the agility ring but not inside it. I had varying degrees of success with this project. I also had my students hang out after class to act as distractions for her.
I used CPE as a good place to train the table because it is the last obstacle in the games so what better way to have a party for getting on the table. Well she was sometimes reluctant to get on the table in CPE. I lost a few Qs because she took too long to get on the table. One time she did get on the table and it was part of the Jackpot class and I was so excited that I scared her with my excitement! That set us back a bit in CPE last summer.
In USDAA Feisty has been pretty good about getting on the table in most cases. There have been a couple of USDAA trials where she balked at it and it took a few seconds to get her to go on it. But this weekend is a major breakthrough for her to get right on the table when so many people were just a couple of feet away from it and it was a male judge in the ring. It was also in a ring where earlier that day and the previous day she experienced some stress. While it is way too early to tell I am thinking positive thoughts for our next AKC trial which will probably be this summer.
I have advised some of my students to reward their dog's table performance by leaving the ring after the table to a party. Mixing up when those rewards come at trials is so important to keeping ring performance fresh and consistent. We too often take our dog's good performance for granted until it deteriorates to the point of losing Qs. This is hard to do but it is SO important to improving a dog's performance in a trial setting. No amount of run throughs or open ring time will be the same as a trial setting.
So we'll see how things go this summer at our next AKC trials.