When showing, is your dog leaving you to sniff or go visit?

Is your dog stressed in new locations when training or anytime you show?

Does your dog not perform in the ring as he does while training?

In other words, do you often say, “he never does that in training!”  


Many problems or a combination of issues can contribute to dogs leaving their handlers, become unable to perform in the ring, or show differently than they train.  Problems such as stress in the ring, lack of confidence, inconsistent handling, etc. can create a dog that has issues when showing or even training.

First, Stress in the Show Ring can cause a dog to become unconfident and fearful to the point of leaving their handler.  Every show you attend is a “new” location.  This even applies to a training facility in which you train frequently, because the environment of the show is new and different.  Why?  Different dogs, different people, a new atmosphere, etc. all add to a heightened level of excitement, stress, and “newness” to your dog.

  • Solution– One way to help reduce show ring stress is to train in “new” locations on a regular basis.  This doesn’t mean other training facilities.  This means going to a new location that you have never been before or rarely visit.  New locations do not need ring gates, rally signs, or jumps and contacts to be effective.  Examples of new locations include store fronts (Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, etc.), outside dog park fences, business centers, schools on the weekends, etc.  It is the “new” that gets the dog.  In fact, train in new locations more than you train at home or in your training facility.

Second, Stress of inconsistency.  What does your criteria of a skill really mean?  Are you inconsistent in asking your dog for skills to be performed the same way, anytime, or anywhere?  For example, is your dog’s “sit” always performed the same?  Does your dog sit the same way, with the same speed, every time, even if he is at home, in the ring, out running and playing with other dogs, or chasing a squirrel, etc.?  If the sit is expected to occur in 3 seconds, then the sit should always be 3 seconds, regardless.

  • Solution– In order for your dog to perform a command/skill in the ring and under stress, that skill/command should be performed to the same criteria every time no matter where or when.  Also, that skill should be tested and proofed before ever asking your dog to perform at a show.

Third, Stress of emotions.  When going into the ring, you, the handler, are nervous.  Your dog picks up on your nervousness and feels that the ring must be a bad place.  Make sure the ring is “fun” for your dog so that he can perform in a confident, relaxed manner.  How?  You, the trainer, have to be able to control your emotions when in the ring.

  • Solution– 2 ways – First, the handler should practice mental toughness training (see the MindSet Tab). Second, is the confidence you have in what your dog has been taught.  My question to students is “will you bet me $100 that your dog will perform all the skills needed for the ring if you enter?”  If not, then your dog might need more training and proofing before he is ready to show.

Fourth, Stress of lack of reinforcement.  Have you gone to the next step in training by randomizing your reinforcement?  It is important to wean off giving your dog a reward EVERY TIME he does a skill properly.  Once your dog knows a skill, pick your dog’s best efforts, and reinforce only those worth the reward.  For example, if you ask your dog to sit five times, pick the best 2-3 sits to reward.  Too often trainers get in the “habit” of rewarding their dog for every repetition.  The result, then becomes, your dog expecting a reward every time and will quickly stop working if not rewarded.  In the ring, your dog must be able to chain a number of skills together to create the performance.

  • Solution– Randomizing your rewards will help accomplish this goal.  Once your dog understands a skill, pick the best efforts to reward.  Rewards, while still used in training, need to be given for best efforts.

Give more treats less often!  OR instead of giving a treat for every skill, pick the best efforts and give a bunch of treats.

Finally, Stress of poor rapport.  The one thing that becomes clear when you go into the ring, is the RELATIONSHIP that you and your dog share.  Good rapport and steady, consistent leadership will be clear whether you win or qualify.  With a great relationship, you and your dog will look like a team.

  • Solution– It is easy and once you have established the habit of training 24/7, your dog will find the time with you reinforcing and fun.
  • How do you build a great relationship?  It is establishing good structure and boundaries.  This includes your everyday life with your dog.
  • Does he work for affection?  Treats?  To go outside, or to play ball?  The more your dog works for what he gets, the more “in tune” to you he will be.
  • How many times during your daily walks have you trained your dog?  It is easy to incorporate training into everyday life.  Ask your dog to do a skill, or two before getting his meal.  YES, change the skills you use on a regular basis.  When out for a walk, ask your dog to do a trick, or come to front, or walk with you without sniffing.  When playing ball, ask him for a down or a sit while he is running to pick up the ball, or coming back to you.

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