Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creating "Trial Stress" at home

Mad Dog - Courier Ball Drop Exercise
(Photo By Marsha Kingsley)

It doesn't matter what type of dog sport you participate in, your dog will have 'Trial Stress'.

Stress reactions can or will vary from dog to dog. There are stress yawns, and scratches. Stress 'rips', where the dog seems to be having a lot of fun running all out, but in fact, this is how the dog's releasing it's stress. Some dogs might slow down or avoid a piece of equipment. After the first attempt, they might then willing complete the obstacle or exercise. Other dogs might bark or 'freeze' in certain circumstances. Just like people, all dogs are individuals, and will behave as such.

As Handlers, we also suffer from stress. Handlers stress reactions are just as varied as the dogs. Sometimes we move slower or faster than we would during training. Some will get louder or quieter when at a trial. Others will even feel an overwhelming lack of confidence. No wonder our dogs are stress, they look at their teammate and have to wonder, "Who the HECK are YOU!!"

I know it's silly, we are trialing because we love the atmosphere, the chance to have fun with our dogs, as well as visiting/eating with our friends. We have a common love for dogs and dog training. So, why do we get stressed?

Maybe we need 'one more leg', or 'one more DQ', or just want to be able to ..... (Input your exercise here.) I will admit, it's really hard to work past that. However, both you and your dog will benefit if you can.

Knowing 'us' Handlers are not perfect, we need to figure out a way to help our dogs work through 'Trial Stress' at home. It's really not all that hard, you just need to get 'creative' and keep it POSITIVE!!!

You're reinforcement MUST be better than the distraction.

One way you can create stress is by distraction training. You'll need to be sure that the distraction isn't too "distracting" at first. Then slowly move the distraction closer. For example, the chickens in the weave poles. Let's face it, I wouldn't take a dog that had never seen the chickens before and expect him to weave. I might let him weave 20' (or whatever distance he could successfully weave), from the chicken pen first. The birds are confined and he's not terribly interested in them. Then I might move the weaves closer to the pen. Working up to the point where chickens were loose, but not necessarily close to the poles.

If you don't have chickens, you can do the same thing with people. Although, they probably don't need to be penned up. G You can have people in various positions or wearing various things in practice. Again, work up to the level of distraction, you want your dog to be SUCCESSFUL!! Build up his confidence. Your "people" distractions can then sit down, lay down or even 'hover' over the area you are working. Maybe open an umbrella, or snap a tarp. Be CREATIVE!!!!

No People Available? How about food or food bowls? HELLO!! If someone put a 'Lock N Lock' container out on course and it appeared to have "treats" in it, you can be I'd be DISTRACTED! So, start off with a couple of 'empty' bowls at distance, that's not distracting to the dog. You wouldn't want him to 'know' they were empty of course. Then slowly move the bowls in closer. Start dropping food in the bowls and move them back. Let the dog 'see' you put food in them. Slowly move them closer. Work up to being able to drop the food on the ground. Once they are good at this, you can release them to clean it up!

I'm sure there are THOUSANDS of ways to help create and work through 'Trial Stress' at home.

What have you tried?


  1. Ain't it the truth! How can something we enjoy so much make us so uptight!

    I do the same thing w/food bowls and toys on the ground for obedience proofing or "accidentally" dropping a toy while we are heeling.

    Jamie "helps" by running around with a squeaky toy while Phoenix works.

    Also, having Phoenix work while his papa is nearby. He loooooves his papa.

    When he is successful in ignoring the distraction, he gets to GET the distraction. Look out, papa!

  2. Good post with helpful hints. Thanks, Diana.
    P.S I loved your weave pole video

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