Recently I volunteered to be a ring steward at a local obedience trial. I did this for two reasons. Firstly I believe that we all need to step up and volunteer occasionally to support the sports we love. Secondly I thought it would be a valuable learning experience. I am new to competitive obedience and have only done pre-novice with my dogs. I was set to go into the ring with Riley last spring for his CD but we stopped when his physical problems became apparent. Stella could probably pass her CD fairly well currently but I have decided that I want to train more precision in her heeling and also get a good start on the Open exercises before going into the ring. I am going to continue with Rally Obedience for now as it is fun and great ring experience.
I found my volunteering experience to be rewarding and informative. I ended up being the table steward which meant I got to do the paperwork for all the rounds. Our judge was wonderful, very fair and honestly wanted every competitor to succeed. Being an "insider" means I got to see how each round was scored and also to observe the patterns and necessary setup procedures. I find it fascinating to watch how different dog/handler teams work together and connect. There was some wonderful working teams in all levels. I still have a "newbie" eye and I was working so didn't get to watch every round entirely but I picked up on the following observations:
* Get that proper footwork on your turns. The judge observed a lot of very bad about turn footwork.
* Watch out for anticipating commands. Competitors sometimes forgot to wait for the judges command and dogs sometimes acted on the judges command before the competitor cued the behaviour.
* Be aware of your leash handling. Competitors might not realize how much they use that leash to encourage or control but be aware that the judge does see it and it can be penalized.
* Know and understand the rules. Score sheets for each level are available here and have a lot of great information on them. Understanding what type or combination of cues are permitted (ie signal and/or command versus signal OR command) can either save or fail some exercises. Reading the CKC Rule Book including the section on commands and signals is in my future!
* A change of pace to fast means move it! Lots of competitors "run" but really they aren't moving any faster than they walk and the dog doesn't shift pace.
* Match your energy to your dog. More and more people are using play in their training which is wonderful but realize that sometimes ring stress means your dog would prefer a gentle butt scratch instead of a muzzle push back or other high energy moves. This is something I will need to be aware of with Stella.
It was a long day but I enjoyed it and will do it again. It confirmed to me that my decision to wait a bit is a good one. It also was another "brick over the head" that I need to do more video in my training sessions so I can hopefully prevent myself from some of these errors.