Melissa and I have been busy this month, we were at dog shows for 3 of the November weekends. This was Melissa's first time to be at indoor all-breed shows. Her last show was the Borzoi National last May in Kentucky.....indoors but it was a show just for Borzoi. These 3 weekends exposed her to many different breeds she had never seen along with loudspeakers, crowds, LOTS of children, LOTS of strollers and dogs running agility.
I always check the surroundings of a new venue and try to imagine what my dogs will take in: sights, sounds and the surface they will be walking on. I arrived early at each show so Melissa had time to look around. I want Melissa to feel comfortable in every venue she is exposed to in her lifetime. Shows with 2000 plus dogs entered and with just as many people walking around is a lot for a young dog to absorb. I allowed her to look, and sniff. At first I didn't cue her to do anything, but I did have my clicker and a pocket full of treats. When she began to offer 'check-ins', just looking in my direction, I began to click and treat. As Melissa became more focused on me and less interested in the environment, I asked her for some behaviors she had on verbal cue. Take a bow, sit, shake, and target to my hand. We stayed a distance from the crowds at first. When she was eagerly following each cue at a distance from the crowds, we moved closer to the distractions. Melissa was learning how to focus on me in some very distracting situations.
We took time for walks with friends and their dogs during show hours. She got reacquainted with her litter brother who now lives in Canada. At first she was a bit cautious, I let her slowly get acquainted, and before long Melissa was leaping, spinning and rolling on the grass with him. Inside the building where agility was being judged, she met an 11 month old Collie named Artemis. His owner Martha was also exposing him to the sounds and sights of the agility venue. Each of us gave our dogs permission to play. Artemis and Melissa rolled on the ground engrossed in each other and oblivious to what was going on in the building. This is part of Melissa's training. She was making a nice association of being in a building that echoed each time the loudspeaker came on, dogs barking while they ran the agility course, and dogs tugging off to the side. If she can be relaxed in that environment, she will be ready to focus on me.
This past Sunday about an hour before Melissa had to go into the breed ring to be shown, she saw her best hiking buddy Tate from across the parking field. I cued Melissa to first target her nose to the palm of my hand and then released her to go play with Tate. They rolled and played. Our two young dogs were able to associate a new venue with some good feelings.
I didn't worry that Melissa got dust on her coat from the agility building which had dirt rings, I didn't care that she might get grass stains from rolling in the grass. To me, dog shows are more then showing my dogs in competition. I want my dogs to enjoy being at each and every venue. It can be overwhelming for a dog new to the show scene, no need to be serious and make it stressful for Melissa. I cleaned Melissa's coat and no one was the wiser that she had been rolling on dirt flooring and on the grass, and had had some dog saliva on her. She needed to be comfortable in her surroundings, inside and outside the ring. Playing and visiting with two and four footed friends got her in a relaxed and happy state of mind.
I will admit that at one of the shows while she was being judged, the herding group was being held in the ring adjacent to ours. I let Melissa look over to see what all the commotion was about. She didn't move exactly in a straight line and it may have caused her movement to be off a bit...but she had never heard such clapping and cheering....she needed to see what all the noise was about. In time she will take no notice, it will be just part of the show scene and she will be mentally relaxed and ready to compete. But for now, I will continue to let her look at anything new and different. Focus in distracting situations will come. I was pleased that Melissa was able to hand target ringside and also in the ring.
It was an extra bonus to have my friends Sue and Debi ringside on Sunday. I let Melissa hang her head over the ring gates to visit. Melissa was able to bring her focus back onto me when cued to do so. She was in a relaxed state of mind, she was ready to be my teammate.