It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or a novice just starting out, most handlers never achieve a perfect performance 100 per cent of the time. Whether your dog wants to sniff the ring How do I stop my dog from sniffing the grass., take a look at what’s going on behind them, or backs away from a judge Backing away: Why some dogs fear Judges, refuses to stand still on the stack Stacking Show Dogs: Part I, or simply takes a few exuberant leaps on its way around the ring, things don’t always go to plan.
But it’s not the action of your dog that’s important; it’s your reaction that counts.
Many handlers respond to these situations by having a complete meltdown. They take their dogs behaviour as a personal affront and simply can’t understand why their dog doesn’t understand how important this dog showing business really is!
Of course, these situations can be exasperating – especially when you’re lined up for the judge’s final decision and your dog moves its foot and immediately the judge awards first prize to someone else. However, there’s no point in getting upset about it. What’s done is done, and it can’t be re-done. The most important thing to keep in mind is what you’re going to do next.
For example, if we return to the line up scenario above, you may believe that by moving its foot on the stack, your dog may well have cost you first prize, but it could be equally true that you weren’t going to win anyway. The fact is, if you were really in contention, a good judge will give you time to make a correction before making their final decision, but this is only true if you don’t panic and rush your correction, which may further upset your dog’s performance.
In this situation, my advice is to take a deep breath and, depending on the specific performance issue at hand, return to the basic handling principles that I’ve outlined in my other blogs Out of sight out of mind : How to use signals your dog understands Part III. In other words, regardless of how your dog might be playing up, you can play it down by making the same slow, deliberate and purposeful corrections that you would use outside of the ring Dogs who don’t like the show ring. The key is to keep calm and remember that when it comes to ringcraft slow is fast Patience – Do you give up too soon?, because what may seem like an embarrassing eternity to you is (in reality) most likely only a matter of seconds.
That said, you don’t want to take too long either as this can irritate not only your fellow competitors, but the Judge as well. However, if I were to make a judgement call, I would err on the side of too slow as opposed to too fast, especially when it comes to younger dogs or when competing at non-championship shows. The fact is, the more practiced you and your dog become, the less time it will take to make the corrections required.
When all is said and done, the important thing to keep in mind if your dog does ‘play up’ is that we’re dealing with living, breathing, sentient animals who, like people, can have good days and bad days. With this in mind, the best thing you can do is to keep practicing and if things don’t go according to plan in the ring, to keep calm and patiently carry on using the applicable repertoire of handling techniques at your disposal.