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Utility and Beyond
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It is not uncommon for a dog to hit a slump, and once again struggle to qualify after earning a utility title. Why is that?

Certainly, the order of the exercises changes. A new utility dog may experience confusion as he adjusts to the different orders in Utility B. Additionally, as you begin showing in new venues, you may discover that some of the exercises simply need more work. For example, your dog may start going crooked or stopping short on go-outs as new and different rings offer a wider variety of backgrounds.

A post-utility slump may be the result of the let-down that comes after a goal is reached. After all, you made it! You achieved your goal by focusing on your dog’s weaknesses and paying attention to the details. Without that focus, momentum can be lost. To maintain the momentum, it is important for you to create your next goal.

If you aspire to earning obedience titles beyond your UD, do yourself a favor and turn your dog into a Utility machine. All the advanced titles, the Obedience Trial Championship, the Obedience Master Titles, and the UDX, are simpler when your dog can consistently qualify in the Utility class.

A student, with a new Utility dog, told me her next goal was to earn an OTCH. I was skeptical. Her dog’s body structure made it tough to heel smoothly and sit squarely, but I kept those concerns to myself. She set the goal, so we needed a strategy.

I asked her to make it her goal to earn 50 OTCH points (1/2 of the number required) from the Utility class. Fewer dogs are good at Utility and even the best fail Utility more often than Open. If she could turn her dog into a consistent Utility performer, where more OTCH points were available, surely the remaining points, as well as the necessary Open B win, could be obtained. Our strategy worked. He has since retired with an OTCH in front of his name and a UDX and OM behind it.

A UDX is a great goal, but it can be earned as a by-product of pursuing your Obedience Trial Championship or Obedience Master titles. If you make a UDX your primary goal (10 qualifying scores in Open and Utility at the same show), the temptation is to lower your standard and ignore errors. After all, "he qualified!" The UDX is earned, but the dog's performance has become inaccurate and problems start to develop, such as sloppy heeling, crooked or short go-outs and slow returns or finishes.

Consider the following elements as you create a strategy for achieving your next goal:
  1. Take a breath. Allow yourself a few weeks to enjoy your success, relax and regroup.

  2. Be clear about your next goal. Don’t be embarrassed to say you want to pursue an Obedience Trial Championship or Obedience Master title. A goal pursued, and missed, is better than not having a goal.

  3. Update your troublesome top three and possible solutions list. You should review and reevaluate this list at least every three weeks.

  4. Establish a schedule for showing and training. I find it ideal to schedule shows three weeks apart. This allows me time to rest and calmly think about the skills I need to improve before the next event. Showing too often can cause training to be an attempt at a quick fix instead of a well thought out solution to a problem.
A Utility title is a great goal, but don't stop there! Turn your dog into a consistent Utility qualifier and then move on to one last challenge, continuing to keep your well-trained dog excited and motivated to perform. I have an idea that will help you with that - more on that next week.


P.S. Unlimited access to videos of he following webinars is available for $20/each including: (1) Planning Your Training, (2) Using Food Effectively, (3) Command Discrimination - Maintaining the Momentum and (4) Problem Solving - Retrieves.