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Trial Readiness, Part 7 – Failure

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All dog and handler teams fail at one time or another.   It’s no shame to fail a trial, or even to discover that you were much less well prepared than you thought you were, but you’ll want to give some thought to damage control before you go into the competition ring.  Just in case.

Let’s start at the beginning.  You get to the show site and you know that something is wrong.  Your dog seems completely disinterested in you and working. Your dog has stress diarrhea.  Your dog can’t get his nose off the ground no matter what motivators are available.  Your dog won’t take your treats and could care less about his favorite toys.

I’d suggest waiting as long as possible to check in to your ring, and then see how much dog you have.  If you can’t wait any longer and your dog will not engage, I’d pull out of the competition.  It is a rare dog that cannot engage when you have your food and toys that suddenly engages when you step in front of a judge.  Ok, maybe “rare” is the wrong word.  “Unheard of” might be better.

But….you just couldn’t do it; you’re at the show and you have to try.  Or maybe your dog didn’t fall apart until you were already in the ring.  Or maybe your dog started out fine and was well along in the class before the downward slide began.

Now what?

You have the option of leaving the ring – that is the rule.  You politely tell the judge that you will be leaving. You do not ask because they might say no. You thank the judge, take your dog gently by the collar, and head for the exit.  The steward will give you your leash.  If the judge is upset and decides to “write you up”, they will quickly be informed of the rule – AKC has clarified that you have the right to leave with no repercussion.

This is a relatively new happening in the world of obedience, but leaving has been common in agility for a very long time.  Your judge may be surprised by your decision and may even discourage you.  How you proceed at that point it up to you, but do know that you have the right to leave the ring and there is no penalty. You will not affect the point schedule or the placements/rankings of any of the other dogs, because you are not excused.  You are simply leaving. Basically, it is the same as in agility – and the sky has not fallen over there.

Until recently it was considered bad sportsmanship to leave.  Now I see it as a good training decision and much kinder to the dog than finishing in misery.  You are NOT negatively affecting any of your fellow competitors, and indeed you are doing them a favor if your dog’s behavior suggests that he might leave the ring and make mischief, soil the ring, or behave so poorly that judging is being dragged out as your dog wanders about and does everything but work with you.

How about if your dog simply fails an exercise but is not having a complete meltdown?  Know the rules and do what is best for your dog.  If you know the rules, you may well save the exercise.  For example, if you start out heeling and your dog simply sits there, give a second cue!  It’s points off, but if your dog never moves, then it’s failure for sure.  If your dog starts to sniff and you know that your dog is going to get sucked in by the smells, help your dog by cuing “heel” again!

If your dog fails to respond to a first cue where this is a failure,  I’d suggest giving the second cue immediately.  You’ve already failed; might as well help your dog get through it with minimal trauma.

Know the rules – what is a failure, a substantial deduction, or no worry at all?  This information is crucial to managing your ring performance to optimum effect. You don’t need to know exactly what every mistake will cost you, but you do need to know enough to make educated decisions “in the moment”.

Here are a few examples.  How would you handle each of these?

You ask your dog to “stand” in novice and he simply sits there.  Now what?  Should you physically stand your dog?  Give a second cue to stand?  Or assume the exercise is over and looking pleadingly at the judge?

Because the exercise does not start until you leave your dog, simply keep calm and re-cue your dog, assisting as needed.  If it is helpful to you, then you may gently physically position your dog – this is allowed without penalty.

You ask your dog to stay on the recall.  When you turn around, your dog is now lying down.  What should you do?  Tell your dog to sit?  Wait for the judge to cue you to call your dog?  Return to your dog on your own?

Just wait – you have not failed unless your dog followed you in.  While a substantial deduction, you should continue at the judge’s direction.

You have asked your dog to “heel” and he simply sits there as you set off without him.  Now what? Should you cue again, return to your dog, or continue the heeling pattern without him?

Give a second command.  You’ll lose points, but you’ll fail outright if you continue without him.

There are many examples of this type.  If you’re not sure of the rules, get the rule book and read it carefully.  Speak with a judge or an instructor who you trust to know the answers.  You can also ask on FB or a chat group, but be aware that the first answer offered may not be correct (my experience is that errors are corrected very quickly) .  If you simply want to qualify, knowing the answers to these types of questions will tell you exactly how to proceed.

Alright, you went through your individual round and your dog did not qualify.  Maybe it was a simple matter like failure to recall on the first command in Novice (an NQ), or maybe it was a basic free-for-all, with your dog wandering and sniffing throughout the off leash heeling routine.

The judge invites you back for the group exercises.  Should you return?

I’ll consider your options in the final blog in this series.








About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

5 responses »

  1. Good article! and please be aware that if you ask the judge to be excused (using those commonly used words) they could say “No”. It has something to do with the word “excused.” Instead just say something like “Thank you, we need to leave now.”

    And if you are showing under someone who insists you should continue, there is one magic word that will ALWAYS work to insure you a quick exit: diarrhea!

  2. Pauline Hosenfeld

    hi Denise. Really loving these blogs on trial readiness. How about addressing the issue of how the handler responds when the dog fails. That is, dog fails an exercise – does the handler fall apart at that point and let the failure negatively affect the remainder of their performance, and their dog’s attitude about being in the ring?? or does the handler just accept the failure as part of showing, know they now have an issue to work on in training, and be sure for the rest of their performance to make sure the dog thinks they are positively brilliant and that being in the ring with them is the best thing around. Can you tell this is one of my pet peeves: the handler’s dismay and distress at an NQ coloring the rest of their ring performance and their dog’s attitude about being in the ring? I have seen a few people be absolutely awesome in maintaining their composure, perspective and attitude in order to make sure their dog’s experience in the ring is positive. Applause to them! If you’ve already covered this, excuse my rant – it is just so easy to do this right, once we get the idea of how important it is.

    • Wow; that’s a good point and I forget to discuss it. However, I think you just did:). As long as you’re in the ring with your dog, make sure your dog knows that you love him so he’ll want to come back and play the game with you at another time when you’re better prepared!

  3. It has come to my attention that at least one reader believed that I was suggesting it’s ok to bring a sick dog to the show site – that was not my intention. When I said “diarrhea”, I was referring to stress diarrhea, not a dog with an illness. It was also brought to my attention that when I suggested ‘waiting as long as possible to check in” that I meant until the dog before you was warming up and about to enter the ring. That is also not correct. Each region has a tradition of what is “as late as possible” without becoming a problem.. Where I compete that would be about 6 to 8 dogs before it is my turn. In other regions, it is before the class begins. When it doubt, simply ask the table steward and take a moment to speak with your fellow exhibitors. I apologize if my choice of words caused confusion for any other individuals.

  4. Pingback: Weltweites Wissen - Hundesport | Chakanyuka

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