In the first two parts of this series we looked at the process of getting high quality behaviors and then generalizing those behaviors to new environments.  Both of these factors are incredibly important if you want to have a dog that can compete and succeed with confidence in a trial setting. Today we’ll consider the place where you are going to be judged: Inside the competition ring.

If you’ve done a good job with generalization, your dog should be very comfortable with the idea of performing at the show site because you have generalized to a range of environments.  Hopefully this included noisy and busy environments too. Now let’s consider the actual competition space; the ring.

To get into an obedience or rally ring, you can count on a period of waiting outside the ring for up to several minutes.  What is your dog trained to do during this period?  Watch you?  Perform a down stay?  Rest?  It’s up to you what you select, but keep in mind that your dog should be trained that the next thing that will happen is work.  (To see one option, search this blog for “Squishing”).

Now you’ll enter the ring through a relatively narrow space – usually with a table, people in chairs and ring gates on your side.  Sometimes you’ll also have an overhead shade canopy. Does your dog recognize these environmental cues as the precursor to work?  What is your dog’s CER (Conditioned Emotional Response) to these environmental cues – the presence of a ring, the stewards table, canopies, and…a judge?

You’re almost in the ring. Does your dog want to be there? How about agility?  Will your dog have to watch another dog before your run?  What does the entrance to your ring look like?  Does your dog welcome the chance to get into that space?

The issue of building ring confidence is one of the most neglected areas of trial preparation in almost all sports. Your dog should be conditioned to love the cues that represent a trial and teaching them is pretty easy. It goes like this:

Set up a mini ring entrance; whatever that will look like for your sport.  Walk through that entrance and have a party that lasts at least 30 seconds.  Throw food; run with toys, play ball – whatever your dog thinks is a party.  This is one of those times when you cannot care what the neighbors might think; i’ts about your dog, so let go a little and make it special. Leave the ring quietly.  And repeat.  Over and over and over, until your dog visibly brightens and gets excited at the sight of a ring.  Indeed, I’d like to see your dog trying to drag you into the ring.

Stop feeding or playing with you dog on the outside of the ring when you are working on this concept.  All of the fun must take place inside the ring, not outside. When your dog shows an enthusiastic demeanor, you have effectively conditioned the correct response to the competition ring; ready to go and excited to be there! Now you can add a bit of work and control inside the ring, but never stop rewarding your dog simply for entering that space.

If you’re following the progression of this trial readiness series, then hopefully you have a dog that is solid on behaviors, performs well in a range of environments, and LOVES to go inside of a competition ring.  Should you enter a trial? Not yet. In my next blog I’ll consider the need for Proofing; teaching your dog how to perform correctly “under adversity.”