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Utility or Bust
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I was talking with a great gal the other day who is working on her first Utility title. She is getting to the point where she could imagine achieving that goal. She’s been in the ring a couple of times, and has not yet qualified, but has been so close. “My dog finds a way to fail a different exercise every time!” she laments. Have you ever said that? I will bet you have!

Pursuing a Utility title marks a critical time in your dog’s obedience career. I’d like to offer you an important strategy that I believe will help you achieve this goal. The Troublesome Top Three technique is particularly useful when pursuing advanced titles but can be adopted at any time in your dog’s obedience career.

Create a Plan for Your “Troublesome Top Three”

First, make a list of your dog’s weakest exercises. I refer to them as the troublesome top three. The first exercise on the list should be the one that you are least confident that your dog can perform correctly and consistently. If you are like most Utility newcomers, Signals and Go-outs are going to top the list.

Next, decide on the three techniques you will use to make the exercise stronger. For example, if the Signal Exercise topped your list, you would write:
#1 Problem:

My dog stares at me when I give the drop signal but does not go down.

Possible Solutions:
  1. Fifty percent of the time that I heel my dog into the stand, I will mark and reward a quick drop and end the exercise without doing the sit or come.
  2. Vary the distance I stand from my dog when giving signals. Practice performing signals closer to my dog more often than going the full distance to increase the probability of his doing them correctly.
  3. Ask a friend to stand to the side, or slightly in front of my dog and move slightly as I give signals so that he becomes accustomed to having a “judge” standing nearby.
Repeat the process for the other two exercises on your list.
You have just created a training plan. The purpose of having three possible solutions is NOT to attempt all three of them every time you train. Instead, the purpose is for you to rotate through them as you work to improve the exercise. Follow your plan for 10-12 training sessions. Then, ask someone to run you through the Utility exercises to determine whether you are making progress.

If you are not making progress on your problem exercises, change the techniques you are using to improve them. If you are making progress on your troublesome top three, you may discover that you have neglected another exercise that needs its place in the troublesome top three!

Utility or Bust

Consistently qualifying in Utility is difficult, but I want that to be your first goal. You need to qualify in Utility consistently if you want to earn the titles UDX, Obedience Master or Obedience Trial Champion.

Immediately after earning a Utility title, it is not uncommon to hit a slump, and once again struggle to qualify in Utility. Why is that? I’ll share more about that next week. In the meantime, make a list of your troublesome top three.