Performance with dogs is very much a give and take. There are times when we handlers rightfully ask for high level criteria, precision, and top focus from a well trained dog under challenging competition conditions. There are also times when the right call is to accept the best that the dog has to give, even when the dog's performance does not exactly meet the highest criteria, is not particularly precise, or when focus is "off" at best. How do we know which standard is appropriate at any give time? It really is part of the art of training and handling to correctly discern that in any given circumstance. Being able to make that kind of judgment call comes from knowing the individual dog, balancing the dog's training, talents, and ability with his or her challenges and limitations, from having a decent amount of competition experience, and . . . sometimes . . . you just know!
One part of Tessa's Rally run this past weekend really illustrated this. The only stationary exercises on the entire course, other than the bonus, were one set of three exercises married together. There was a call front-finish left, left pivot, and a halt-stand.
This started off well for us. Tessa did a lovely call front-sit, and then a beautiful finish left-sit. I was so happy that she actually sat instead of standing there waggling her tail as if to say, "I know I don't really have to sit here!" as she often does in Cyber Rally-O where she is absolutely correct - she does not have to sit! I gave her a treat and when I did, she stood. That was perfectly OK, but it threw me off.
All I had to do there was take a step forward, have Tessa sit again, and do the pivot. The signs are married, but may be performed separately. I drew a blank! I almost went on without asking for that sit again, but remember that I needed to, backed up and retired it. That was OK. We lost a few points for the retry, but it was all legitimate.
Immediately after that, Tessa made a blip! In spite of her being the Princess of the Pivot, when I asked for the right pivot, she started to come front! She did swing around into heel, but never did actually pivot!! That was OK. We actually didn't lose points off of the exercise. But she could have done better.
Well, I could have done better, too!
Give and take. We both blundered a bit. No harm done - we managed to successfully complete everything and earned a good score.
But the whole thing really made the fact that handling requires a willingness to give and take. How can I insist on perfect performance from my dog when I myself have "blips" on my handling?
I hold myself to a high standard as a handler. When I go into the ring, I want to do the best that I can possibly do. This used to make me extremely rigid and stiff in the ring, but I've learned to temper that by remembering that I am also there to enjoy time with my dog. The preparation and training is done. Now is the time to put the best we have out there, but I always want to enjoy the performance at the same time! I want to have a healthy sense of humor about the whole endeavor at the same time that I strive to do my best.
And I apply that same attitude to my dog. So, Tessa didn't exactly pivot. My handling probably had something to do with that. I appreciate her willingness to put herself out there and try her best! And she is incredibly cute, no matter what she does!
Tessa has the potential to be excellent, but I always want to see that tail waggling, her eyes sparkling, and her feeling comfortable enough to let her best self shine.
Sometimes that means letting stuff go for the time being. Knowing when to chalk it up to "things happen" is part of the game. A part that Tessa, much to my surprise, is teaching me quite a lot about.