Improve Your Obedience Training & Battle Pandemic Fatigue with Video

how dogs learn teaching the exercises Jun 29, 2020

Battling Pandemic Fatigue with A Virtual Match

When this pandemic ended life as we knew it, I was blessed to have recently created an online community of obedience enthusiasts at What perfect timing to have started teaching and coaching online.

Providing content about training the obedience exercises, answering member’s questions and giving monthly webinars, has kept me busy. However, by the beginning of June, it was clear that we were all struggling with pandemic fatigue. The Obedience Road community was getting tired of staying home with no shows in sight.

Virtual Match Month

So, June was dubbed Virtual Match Month. Afterall, with no training classes or matches to attend, we need a way to test our progress. Members were invited and encouraged to video a performance for my review. 

I decided to go first and submit my video to the Obedience Road community. So, on a very windy May 31, I went to the elementary school parking lot that has served as my training grounds. I did my first Novice run-through with my two-year-old Labrador, Thad. The thought of sharing the performance with all the members was intimidating. My excitement and nervousness made me feel just as if I were stepping into the ring with a new dog for the first time. 

Maintaining a Standard

In the best of times, when training alone, it is hard to maintain a high standard. Without a friend or training buddy calling you to “come train,” nudging you to improve your dog’s attention, or pointing out that your glove pivot could be smoother, it is easy to start going through the motions of training and overlook the details. If you lack experience and are not around dogs trained better than your own, it is difficult to develop the awareness you need to improve your own performance. 

Benefits of Video

Video is a powerful storyteller. Even after decades of experience, I was surprised. Some of the mistakes were predictable, but committing that performance to video, and honestly analyzing my readiness was just what I needed. 

These days, setting up a video camera is so easy, I wonder why I do not do it more often. The cliché “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” is absolutely accurate. Certainly, it allows you to see issues you might not have otherwise noticed. However, it also points to things that are better than you might think. Most importantly, it can help you develop a new training plan, or a new course of action. As disappointed as I was on that Sunday afternoon when I filmed that novice run-through, after watching and evaluating, my motivation to go train was renewed! That four-minute video gave me a clear plan as to what I needed to work on. 

I will not wait another 10-weeks to do another Virtual Match. In fact, I don’t know how long it will be before I actually get to an obedience trial, but one of my resolutions is to video record a run-through every three-four weeks. 

My take-aways

Thad left heel position during the off-leash fast. I have been doing this for decades, and I was amazed at my sense of disappointment.  I had to take a step back, tell myself that I was training, and that stuff happens. It simply means I need to practice more. However, I was surprised that my disappointment was so intense. Was it a response to my expectations being too high after all those weeks of training alone? Was it the realization that I was going to publish this for everyone to watch? I’m not sure, but it took a few minutes for me to shed the initial wave of disappointment and create a plan moving forward. I need to practice longer fasts and more off-leash fasts. 

My starts are not smooth. Thad starts in a pace and it takes 1-2 of my strides for him to find a rhythm at a trot. 

He is crowding. This is the problem I expected to be most prevalent.  

His transition from slow (a walk) to normal (a trot) is not “a noticeable change of pace,” as the rules require. He needs to resume the trot, not move into a pace. Teaching him to go slower on the slow will make it easier to resume a trot, especially important if the slow-normal is followed by an about turn.  

His about turns are better than I expected. Yeah!

Thad really struggles with the stand for exam. Standing still is not a life skill he has any interest in. I would like him to lift his head up on the stand when I return. I had to remind him to do so. 

The front was straight, but off-center. I am going to get my guide for fronts back out and use it for two out of three of his fronts. I have gotten lazy about this.

He dropped his head after the front. Delaying my reward marker will encourage him to maintain eye contact longer. 

My Handling Issues

I make several comments in the video about choreography changes that I need to purposefully make, specific to Thad’s personality. 

I would like my right arm to swing a little less on the heeling. I think it distracts from the performance. 

I want to change my hand position on the on-leash heeling. I want to put my hand in front of my belt buckle. 

I think I am moving at the right speed, but it’s pretty quick, and might be hard to maintain. Using a metronome app on my phone will help me set a consistent rhythm to use during every heeling session.   

I did not practice the “Sit Stay, Go Get Your Leash,” but as I finished the recall and headed to the camera, Thad jumped to my right side. Thad heels on both sides when doing field work. I need to be careful that he does not think the right side is an option in this sport. That could have also contributed to his error on the off-leash fast. 

No matter what dog sport you love, do not let Pandemic Fatigue steal your joy. What will it take for you to stay motivated during the time you have to practice without competition? A Virtual Match may prove to be well worth the effort! 

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