Over the years, I have had the chance to prepare for many of training sessions and competition runs, with a wide variety of dogs. They have all needed something different from me, and overtime, I've become very open to having my dogs tell me how ready they are.
I remember with my Sheltie, Ty, (2003ish) he really wanted to run, but he was worried about the pressure at first. He was worried about making mistakes, and it showed in his confidence in the run. So, his beginning of run routine included very active, fun games, and yeah, I admit, some barking. Eventually, the ring entry became conditioned with the high intensity games I was play, and a whole lot of barking 🙂 But, that conditioned emotional response turned into a very fast dog that would go on to make Steeplechase Finals at his (and my) first Cynosport together.
Fast forward a few years, and I started asking my dogs a series of questions to evaluate their readiness before going into the ring. When I first started experimenting with this process, I was stuck on “yes/no” as the only answers I'd get from my dog. I'd get a lot of “yes” from them, but I still wasn't 100% happy with their performance – because it was so different from what I saw in training. I was getting inconsistent performances from my dog, even though they were saying they were ready to work.
Nowadays, the trainer I am today, still asks questions, but I'm more curious about their “yes”, and I'm finding that the dogs answer with “yes, but” more often than “no” or “yes, definitely”.
In this video, you can see that Shrek is answering all of my questions correctly (what I would call a “yes”), but do you also see the little bits of “garbage” behavior in between the questions? To me, this is “yes, but”.
I think of this “yes, but” like battery life on my phone. If I have 100% battery power, I don't have to worry that I have 17 tabs open on safari, all of my apps open, and a podcast playing. A fully charged battery is ready to handle it all.
But, what if my battery is at 60%? Sure, it might be able to handle all of that, for a little while, but it's unlikely to last all day.
And we know, depending on your phone model, battery life may drain more quickly than others! Our dogs are the same. Some dogs start the day at 100% and can be at a dog show all day long and leave the dog show with 70% of their battery; I believe Smack is this way.
However, some dogs drain a lot more quickly, and put a lot of energy into other things besides the work that day!
We need to be able to assess our dogs' readiness, and think about how much battery they are using for things that do or do not serve your competitive goals.
Shrek, for example, uses way too much battery life thinking about visiting people. He uses up so much of it, that he has very little to give me on the agility course. I need to know how much he has to give, so that I can make good choices for him when I ask him to work. You can see in the video above, that he is using up precious battery on his social behaviors. If I were to take that dog into the ring, I risk that those “social tabs” will be open while I'm trying to run him, and he might try to multi-task. This doesn't serve me when I need him to be focused on completing obstacles and following handling cues!
And, then we have this video, below, where I feel like I have 98% – 100% of Shrek. He's not thinking about other people or dogs. He's committed to the work, he's not multi-tasking, and when I ask him to work, I feel like it won't drain too much battery.
Consider adding a ready to work routine into your dog's life, for training and competition. And, observe all of their answers, and consider what they might be using their battery life on, and how you might be able to help them conserve a little battery during long days of training or trialing.