The “miracle method” is a popular method for trialing in a variety of sports.  I’ve seen it frequently in agility, obedience, IPO, etc.

It begins when you enter a trial with a dog that has never successfully completed the required exercises for the class entered.  In a mild case, the dog has performed successfully in familiar environments and with frequent support, as long as absolutely nothing goes wrong.  In the most extreme cases, the dog has never succeeded, even at their most familiar training facility and with all props in full use.

Proponents of the miracle method are an odd combination of faith and irritability.  They have faith that entering a trial will suddenly cause their struggling dog to be successful.  The irritability shows as the trial weekend comes closer and it becomes more apparent that the dog has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting through the class.

I have been there.  Most trainers I know have been there.  What you do now, at this point when you’re looking at your canine snowball…that is where things get interesting.

You made a bad decision when you entered your dog in the show.  Too bad; it cost you $60 in entry fees for a couple of classes.

On the bright side, those dollars probably caused you to train with more purpose and intensity, quite likely exposing even more weaknesses in your training.  Good; now you can begin to systematically address them!  I know people who don’t “get serious” about their training until they’ve written the check, and if that’s what it takes to motivate you…fine with me.

On the dark side, some people compound their bad decision to enter the show with an even worse one; they compete with their dog, relying on the miracle method to get them through.

I’m not saying it never works.  I’ve seen the miracle method work in person. Admittedly, I only saw it once, but still…that’s the nature of miracles.  They are rare.  Special.  Not likely to be repeated.  Worse yet, they give everyone who witnesses the event an unshakeable belief that it COULD happen again, if they just keep the faith.

The problem with the miracle method is two fold.  First, it’s incredibly hard on your dog emotionally to be subjected to failure in the ring, where nothing can be done to make the situation better.  Second, it prevents you from taking a pro-active stance in solving your problems.  When it comes to competition, prayer is great, but training is even better.  And anyway, they are not mutually exclusive!

Sadly, proponents of the miracle method tend to be the only ones who believe it might actually come together in the ring.  Everyone else expects a train wreck.   Yet no one wants to speak up and just say it…. “your dog is not ready.”  If your training partner or student has entered a show and is relying on the miracle method,  SPEAK UP!  It is possible to be honest and kind at the same time, and over the long run, it’s a heck of a lot kinder to support someone’s desire to succeed than to abet their almost certain failure.  What they do at that point is up to them, but at least you said your piece.

I know a team that will trial this weekend in Open.  There’s a 50/50 chance that the dog will leave the ring in heeling.  If he gets through that, then there’s a 50/50%  that he’ll drop at his trainer’s feet on the drop on recall.  There’s a 50/50% chance that he’ll retrieve the dumbbell on both the flat and over the high jump before he is sent.   If he’s still in the ring at this point (not likely), then he may well complete the broad jump.  And then there are out of sight stays.  I have never seen him successfully negotiate the out of sight stays for the full duration under any circumstances, so I’d say the odds of failing those exercises is about 98%.

Why? Why torture yourself and your dog?  Why not start over and find the root cause of your failure, and be ready to go back to the most basic foundation skills?  Maybe you’ll spend a full year retraining, and maybe then you’ll be ready.

You already made one bad decision by entering.  Don’t make it worse by competing.

And if you go anyway, then my next best advice would be to start praying.  Oh yeah, and try not to screw up anyone else’s dog while you’re mucking around.