Friday, October 21, 2011


Every once in a while, at a trial or a match, I'll ask someone, "Do you know what the most interesting thing in the world is? "

The person will look bewildered, then reply, "No, I have no idea.  What is it?"

And my response is, "The most interesting thing in the world is whatever is right outside Bravo!"s ring."

My little rescue border collie is a gawker.

Right about now I hear you thinking, "But I thought border collies have been bred forever to lock on and not let go."

Yeah, but lock on to what?  That's the rub.  And I'll go you one better.  Bravo! is a product of Lock-Eye Kennels in Oklahoma.  Lock-Eye is his first name:  Lock-Eye Phantom of the Opera UDX2, OM2. And  Bravo! is quite capable of living up to his name.

At a park where we practice the group exercises with friends, there's a basketball court adjacent to where we place our line of dogs.  Often we set them up so that the basketball game is going on behind them.  I think Bravo! is a closet NBA fan.  On evenings when the lights are on and the game is going full blast, Bravo! will spend the entire long sit (we practice a four-minute sit) with his head swiveled all the way around, watching the action.  Nothing else moves; his feet stay planted as if they're anchored in cement.  Actually, that's one time when I welcome his gawking.  I believe boredom is a major contributor to dogs going down on the sit.  And as long as Bravo! thinks he's at the NBA finals, I'm pretty confident he won't decide to lie down.

So given that I have a problem that requires constant vigilance and reinforcement, I've given a lot of attention to attention.  Admittedly, some of it belatedly.  Along the way I've learned a few things (many of them the hard way) which I'll pass along in this and the next few posts.  We'll sort of meander around, but the common thread will be attention.

When we bring up the subject of attention in competition obedience, the knee-jerk reaction is to think about two exercises, heeling and signals.  But I've come to think that attention between exercises is equally as important.  Years ago, before I had matured in the sport enough to appreciate such words of wisdom, Louise Meredith told me:  "If you lose your dog between exercises, how can you set up for the next exercise?  If he's gawking around the ring, why is he going to be interested in doing a drop on recall?"

That was in 1999.  It took me a long time to assimilate that.  Early in Bravo!'s career he would wander around between exercises.  Near me, but not with me.  Usually sniffing.  But once I got him in position he was ready to go. A few people got on me about that.  My stock reply was, "Bravo! is like the major league pitcher who stays out and parties all night. Then he shows up for the game and pitches a no-hitter."

I wasn't kidding.  Bravo!'s mastery of the exercises is just that good . . . when he is focused.

I can't remember exactly when I attained enlightenment.  There must have been a critical incident that triggered an epiphany -- probably a day when we bombed and I knew darn well that lack of focus was the culprit.  Anyhow, I decided to take control between exercises.  And it was ridiculously easy.

I used the words "right here," put him on leash after every exercise for a few days, encouraged him to be at my side as we transitioned, at a rapid pace, from exercise to exercise -- and reinforced all this generously with treats.

It took only a few days for Bravo! to figure out that "right here" is a nice place to be.

Guess what.  Our performances in the obedience ring improved.  To say nothing of the impression we were making on judges.

And then there were the incredible -- yes, incredible, and that's an understatement -- results with the scent discrimination exercise.  Those of you who have been following this blog (breathlessly?) may remember my post of April 18.  Although Bravo! hasn't blown a scent article in competition for well over three years, he had reached a point earlier this year where his results in practice were increasingly erratic.  I knew the sword was hanging over my head.  In that April post I related how I had started demanding a perfect "watch me" while he sat at my side as I rubbed up the article.  Perfect focus.  I spoke of how the improvement was dramatic and instantaneous -- the very first day.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story.  The thing really took off and I decided to keep score to 1,000.  We recently completed that journey.  Our score:  998 out of 1,000.

This is not a brag.  It's a resounding testament to what a difference attention can make.

Next:  Attention Comes From The Head


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