This past weekend Seppel finally earned his IPO-VO title!! Our scores are not brag worthy - 71, 71, 79 but this trial was so much more than the title.
The day started with tracking. Seppel did kind of what he did at the last trial, he got off track and kind of started running around. I thought for sure we would just have to call it. However, since I was not competing against anyone for my title [I was the only VO] the judge offered up some help. Basically he had me use a lot of handler help and even though I lost a lot of points, it was better than losing the entire exercise. Seppel's failure with the track was 90% handler error. I am still really green when it comes to tracking and I did not keep the line taught enough, and I wasn't sure how much I could help him without losing the whole thing. The judge also told us the morning of tracking that in order to be successful, we have to fail and that if you are afraid of failing you won't be able to win. Everyone fails at some point and it is nothing to be afraid of. The morning started off really well for me with that sage advice because it was so true.
The second stage of our title was obedience:
To a lot of people we probably look like a train wreck, but I am really happy with how Seppel performed considering. We went up two days before the trial to get acquainted with the field and also to work on Seppel's gunfire problem. The issue we are having is that Seppel is not afraid of the gun, when he hears it go off he thinks it's go time for protection. When we went for practice the guy firing the gun is someone Seppel doesn't like and he did it in front of us - so we were heeling towards the gun fire. In every trial the person shooting the gun is off to the side or kind of behind. The shots are heard as we are heeling away. I didn't realize that when we were practicing, and Seppel was horrible. I have tried EVERYTHING to try to work on this problem. I've used positive reinforcement and I have used punishment. Corrections make it worse, in fact they actually make him more amped up/crazy. Positive reinforcement [allowing him to run around after the shots are fired] at this point just made things worse also. When he bolts for the off-leash heeling that is a direct result of us letting him run around the night before. When we walked onto the field he was already on edge, again, I feel as a direct result of the horrible training session we had prior. Even though his obedience performance was far from perfect I thought his heeling [when he wasn't being a jerk] was spot on, his flat retrieve was perfect, AND he didn't break his down when the gun shots were fired while the other guy was working! He sat up, but he didn't leave! I didn't have to return to him which would have taken all of the points.
As far as tackling the gun problem, while I know it will take a lot of time and repetition, I think I do need to let him "break" after our two shots as long as he is fairly under control while heeling. It is very obvious to me that using punishment/corrections will get us no where and only make things worse, my hope is that in time when I release him he won't actually find the gun holder interesting. I know it can only get better, he was already improved from the horrible night he had so I think it is within our reach.
The third portion of our trial was protection:
I left part of the critique on the video [I was in a hurry.]. I don't completely agree with the judge, when Seppel was growling it was primarily when I grabbed his collar. He is well beyond VO protection and if I had been able to heel him away instead of grab him he would not have been growling. I feel that grabbing his collar created some conflict as well as just amped him up even more [like a correction]. I do think he is more of a defensive dog and there is a part of him that would like to flee if things got too intense, however like the judge said, even if we work in strictly in prey we will be losing points. I am hoping in time Seppel will become braver working with other helpers and working in the trial environment. He is kind of weird about new places and change and it's just something I have to accept. I still felt like he did wonderful and his outs were fabulous.
Overall the trial experience was a great one. I now have more experience under my belt for trialing and the information that the judge shared was so helpful. Like he said as well, not that many people actually go to trial, people sometimes wait years and the sport is reliant on those of us willing to participate. He wasn't suggesting you trial a dog who isn't ready, but he was basically saying kudos to those of us getting out there and gaining experience. He said it doesn't matter how much you practice or how many mock trials you go to, nothing can replace the nerves of the real experience.
If Seppel is not ready for his IPO I in the spring we will go for a VO again, in hopes of improving our scores.
Another thing that happened last week is that Seppel has been here for FOUR years!!!! When I chose to take in Seppel, I had no idea what we would be doing. He has changed my life in so many ways. Because of him I am a much better dog owner than I used to be. With lower drive dogs the need for exercise is a lot less great[Not really, but they let me be lazy!], since I got him I exercise my dogs daily and their fitness has become so much more important to me. He has taught me a lot in terms of teaching obedience and teaching different exercises and behaviors. He has also taught me to just laugh at myself or laugh at him when he does something random or weird. I can really appreciate his antics sometimes because I know he's not a herding dog and I know it's just how he is. We still train and I still try to teach him impulse control and reliability, but I know he's not a border collie. I feel so lucky to have him and so lucky that because I have him we can compete in a sport that we both enjoy. I would not have the opportunities I have had if it were not for him. It blows my mind four years have already gone by, it seems like only yesterday I told my parents I was only going to "foster" him until I could "find him a home."
I look forward to our future together and hope that we can still continue to train and trial and have a good time in the process.