Weekend in the Ring

Hudson and I spent several hours early Friday evening then much of Saturday and Sunday at our first big dog trial.

There are many dog "sports" offered at Trials. The ones we entered this weekend were for judging traditional obedience - demonstrating (or in our case trying to demonstrate) Hudson and I can work together, despite the many distractions and self imposed pressure presented at the trail. What's judged is the dog's ability and willingness to comply with Handler commands - commands being prompted by the Judge.

For example, in on leash heeling, we set up so Hudson is sitting close to my left side, his front leg lined up with my thigh. The Judge says "forward", I give the command "Heel" and Hudson and I begin walking, hopefully together, until instructions from the judge such as "Fast" or "Slow" prompt me to change speed or we're instructed to turn one way or the other or "Halt". At every change of speed or direction he should stay with me.  With his level of intelligence, if he stays in position, with his shoulder beside my thigh he should be able to "read" my movements with his peripheral view of my leg while having a very enjoyable walk alongside me.

For many handler's performance in the ring is the goal. For me, its to have a dog - a big dog - that despite his size and power we can take anywhere - including a busy, crowded city street, a dog who will move easily and happily along with us. Trials, insofar as they prompt me to train him, are a means to that end.

Of course there are many other skills tested at trials other than heeling, all of which, once mastered will make for a happier, more portable dog and for Hudson, a more enjoyable life with us. At the level we're at (aka the bottom) just attending the show is a huge learning curve for both of us. Imagine being in an arena (ice is gone for the summer) with four trial rings and at least a couple of hundred dogs milling about waiting their turns or dozing in their crates around the edges but if you close your eyes you can't hear a single bark.

The dogs learn to leave each other alone in that context. Its really amazing to see and really challenging to help an inexperienced dog learn how to handle the situation but invaluable when living in a big city with lots and lots of dogs.

Once you've navigated the arena and enter the ring the dog should have a great time in there so the Handler needs to be relaxed, using clear commands to keep the dog at ease and being successful. (No food inducements or rewards are allowed - you need to personally motivate the dog.) Some breeds - like herding dogs bred for generations to respond to human cues are very, very good at this stuff.

Poodles can be good but not because its instinctual for them. Rather because they want to please you and enjoy working together with you.  Poodles also very much enjoy mental stimulation much like a Golden Retriever wants you to keep throwing a tennis ball over and over. For Hudson it provides an opportunity to think. I just have to keep it from getting boring. No endless hours of routine practice and no flat, uninspired commands in the ring. If he's bored he'll disengage and we'll be toast.

I find this endlessly amusing because it really creates the need for a great relationship between us and the need for us to understand each other beyond just living together.

Now I know this stuff isn't every dog owner's cup of tea and because we're just starting out we may stink at obedience and it will become a passing fad for Hudson and I but yesterday afternoon as I stood waiting for our turn to come up again in the ring I was talking to another poodle owner I'd met the day before and you'll never guess what she told me. She said..."in addition to working with her dogs she's just recently undertaken learning how to knit. Really? I said, I knit as well". Really!? she gasped then turned and over her shoulder called to another handler "hey Cheryl, this lady knits too!"

You know as much as I like it so far there might be benefits to this "world" of dog obedience I hadn't even dreamed possible! What if, in addition to hundreds of dogs in that arena there are also dozens and dozens of knitters?!

I'm sure you can understand how my mind was racing at the possibilities! So I had a great weekend. 'Hope you did too!

I'm off to do my baking for tonight's Craft Group Meeting...thanks for dropping by!


Lorraine said...

Poodles are highly intelligent, and one of the best breeds to work with. If more people worked with their dogs more, and exercised them, dogs and people would be happier.

Mmmmm, baking, sounds yummy.

Brendaknits said...

I spent the weekend with family which included two dogs owned by the younger generation. The dogs growled, weaved in and out of eveyone's legs and were a gereral pain in the butt. I really admire your efforts to make Hudson a dog that all will love.

Needles said...

There are no bad dogs but I have seen a few bad owners. Not many thankfully. I think it is great that you are working with this big beautiful guy to help him cope with the world.