Updated: Oct 10
Trialling 2014. Still the same for 2017. Still relevant in 2020
Dog Competition has been a very popular sport in Australia for many years. It looks easy, but it is not as simple as it looks; especially for newcomers to the sport. Ask the old hands and they will tell you: ‘my dog and I dog failed on this exercise last week and on a different exercise the week before, etc. One of these days we will get it all together.’
Remember, this is just written in the hope it will get you started in the Trialling Ring.
There are many things that influence the success or failure at a trial: - age and breed of dog, the weather, illness, amount of training, distractions at the time of the trial and many others.
Nerves of the handler play a huge part, and they are something that never really goes away.
When the handler first decides to give ‘trialling’ a go, the handler looks at someone carrying out the various exercises and they wish to do the same thing with their own dog. However, little thought is given as to how long it took to get the dog to that stage and whether the training it has been given is successfully habit forming. A really competent trialler with a well trained dog is an absolute joy to watch. They make it all look so easy.
In regards to ‘training’ it might assist the newcomer to more successes if they consider the following technique of breaking the ‘exercises’ into distinct P A R T S.
Remember, the exercises in Novice, Open and U.D and U.D.X. have been chosen and refined over many years. They are not there by chance. They test the companionship and understanding of dog and owner and progressively become more difficult as they require the dog to work on its own using its sense of smell or hand signals only, etc. In many cases, these exercises will test the dogs ability to work and think for itself.
So, all the more reason why the basics should be solid. Instead of trying to teach the dog the whole of the exercise in one go, let us break each exercise up into small pieces and practice each part separately.
Listed below are the levels of trialling you can achieve. They are in order from beginning to end.
Heel on lead; Stand for examination; Recall off-lead; 1 minute sit stay; 2 minute down stay.
Heel off-lead; Stand free for examination; Recall; Choice of either a) Retrieve or b) Change of position; 1 minute sit stay; 3 minute down stay.
Heel off-lead; Stand free for examination; Drop on recall; Retrieve the dumbbell on the flat; Retrieve the dumbbell over the jump; Broad jump OR distance control; 3 minute sit-stay, handler out of sight; 5 minute down-stay, handler out of sight.
Retrieve a lost object (seek back); Directional jumping; Scent discrimination; Signals only; Directional retrieve; One of the following 3 exercises:
· Food refusal or
· Speak on command or
· Directed retrieve
Plus Stand for examination; 7 minute down, handler stay out of sight.
Seek back with decoy; Positions in motion; Scent discrimination (with judge’s scent); Directed send away & recall; Distance control; Multiple retrieve; group Exercise
.All of the above levels take from page 21 to page 67 in the rule book to explain. That’s 46 pages and you really think you are going to teach all that’s involved solidly and correctly in no time at all and with very little effort on your part?
‘But I have a very clever dog’ you may say. I am sure you do. We all think that, BUT does your dog have a very clever handler? That is the main question here.
To teach all that your dog needs to know takes extreme patience, understanding, confidence, an ability to listen and learn from others who have already achieved the required goals, to be consistent in all you do with the dog and never to set up the dog for failure.
We all suffer from the proverbial words of ‘JUST ONE MORE”. These are fatal words in dog training. Don’t ever fall into the trap of using them. All they will do is set your dog up for failure. This, I believe, is a very important piece of advice, so try not to forget it.
Try teaching just one exercise at a time and try teaching it first in a fun manner. The dog must really enjoy what it is doing. Break each exercise into tiny pieces and don’t try putting them all together until each part is solidly ingrained in your dogs mind.
A Recall for example: - Teach the initial ‘forward’ (dog at heel and sit); if this is not working with precision why try to go any further? Then ‘leave the dog’ - if your dog won’t ‘stay’ why keep going? Work on this part of the recall separately and then put the first two parts together. Then ‘about turn, call your dog.’ Now you need the dog to come immediately and ‘sit’ directly in front of you and as close as possible. If this part is not working, work on it separately. Then the ‘finish’ to heel position. The dog needs to do either a ‘flip turn’ as close as possible or turn around behind you, finishing as close to heel as possible. Once again, practise this until it is as good as you and the dog can get it. Then put it all together. This following piece you can do in your lounge room in front of the T.V. during commercials: dog sits in front and then you give the finish. You can reward when the exercise is precise or to your liking. Remember only do each part of an exercise about three times, and then finish with a play session.
I am not here to try to teach you every method of training, but I would really like you to be a successful trialler. Don’t rush your exercises. Take your time. Your dog doesn’t really care if it never gets a title. We care. It is our pride that makes us hurry things along, but in the long run he who hastens quickly will take a lot longer to achieve the final results you require.
Some exercises, especially in the upper level of trialling, may take several weeks to get them perfect. Again I repeat, only do about 3 times then have some play time. Don’t make your dog bored. These things are supposed to be fun!
Learn to read your rule book so you are familiar with the words the Judge will be using. This will certainly assist with your training. Understand that as soon as the Judge has asked “Are you ready?” and you have answered “yes”, then the judging starts from that point and any mishandling or mistakes which may be made will be marked accordingly.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. There are several really good triallers around. Just don’t ask too many at once, because you will get many different answers, and while none of these will be incorrect they will differ. You will get confused and then that will confuse your dog and instead of helping, could set you back weeks in your training. It is best to find one person who can and will assist. Take their advice, try it, and if it doesn’t work for you after about 6 weeks, tell them and try something else. Remember what suits one, doesn’t always suit another.
Trialling is supposed to be a relaxing enjoyable sport. I don’t know about the relaxing part, but like every other sport, if you are well prepared, well trained, and passionate about what you are doing, you will find it enjoyable. You will meet many others who have the same interests as you, and who possibly are having the same hair-tearing problems you may have, but don’t let yourself get into the habit of trialling just to see if you are ready. Make sure you are ready, and your dog is ready, before going into the ring for an official trial. Don’t use the trialling ring as a practice ground. You may have to let your dog get away with things that it should never have come up against at this time - not a good habit to get into.
When you practice your completed exercises, train as you will trial. Try not to do anything different. People sometimes find when they get in the trial ring, the dog doesn’t do as well as when it is practicing. This is because you are doing something different. Body language plays a huge part in everything we do with the dog. Change it in some way and the dog becomes confused; keep your feet the same, your hand signals the same, voice the same, commands the same always. Don’t change because of nerves or for any other reason. It is so ingrained in the dog, that just to nod your head when the Judge asks “are you ready” is acceptable by the Judge, but if your dog is used to you saying “Yes” in training, then that is what it is waiting for. It is that subtle.
Select the trials you wish to enter. Remember only trial under the same Judge twice if you qualify each time. You must have a different Judge for the 3rd qualifier.
Learn ‘ring craft’ from an experienced trialler. This means – how to enter the ring – when you may praise your dog – how to ask a question of the Judge if needed – how to try and settle your nerves – how to leave the ring. Learn about giving hand signals than can be seen by the dog when trialling at night. You may need to use either hand depending on the lighting of the ring. If you have a small dog, don’t get into the habit of walking away from your dog. Always remember a small dog needs to take lots of steps. You can’t slow down for the dog, but possibly you are taking steps that are too long for it. Get someone with experience to watch you. Be aware you must use 3 different paces in the ring and work your dog accordingly. NORMAL pace, SLOW pace, and FAST pace. Work these paces according to the size of the dog, and your own capabilities,
Pulling on the collar or check chain at any time will cause you to lose points. Read and understand the section in the front of the Rule Book which talks about misbehaviour. This is an important part of your education on trialling.
Some people have disabilities, but if you are training your dog it will be used to handling any disability you may have.
There are often reasons why a dog doesn’t perform very well on a specific occasion. Perhaps it is not really feeling well. It may have received a fright from another dog either that day or another day of a trial. Anything is possible. You may not be feeling well. If storms are about your dog will know, and some dogs will stress out. Be aware.
HOWEVER – PLEASE DON’T LET A LEGITIMATE REASON FOR SUBSTANDARD WORK BECOME AN EXCUSE. Get over it. There is always a next time to be planned and executed. Go back to basics with your training if necessary.
Always have some fun with your dog.
I really could go on and on here, but I won’t. There is so much to say about trialling but I think I have given you the basics.
It is up to you how you read and interpret this article. Remember - your dog is the best mate you will ever have, and it doesn’t care if it never has a title after it’s name.
5 minutes training. 10 minutes play will give you a happy, contented, well adjusted dog.
Good luck and happy trialling. If you have any queries, you can email me direct on email@example.com
Val Bonney (Canine Behavioural Specialist/International Trainer /Trialler Senior Judge Author)