It is the challenge of each competitor to minimize, prepare for and work around all the variables that will effect your dog's performance. That is why how you handle your dog outside of ring can be more important than what you do inside of the ring. As Rugby went from Novice, to Open, to Utility, the variables have changed and we have had to adjust. Age, maturity, training level, training schedule, mental and physical stamina, warm up, down time, acclimation to the trial environment, stress of travel, etc. are some of the things I take into consideration when entering Obedience trials.
Since Rugby earned his Novice, Open and Utility titles at a young age, it seemed that each time I took him out for a new title, I had a new dog. Our OTCH/UDX journey earlier this year was the first time that Rugby was showing consistently enough to reduce the number of variables we were working with. His age was the same, his stamina was the same, and his training level didn't change much in the week or two between trials.
I know that Rugby does better on the second day of trials, like three weeks ago at the Hyattsville Dog Training Club trial where Rugby had a horrible first day, and came back the next to earn a 199 in Open and a 196.5 in Utility. I know he doesn't do well if he is not worked the day before a trial. I know that he needs to spend the time during and after a trial resting so that he has plenty of energy for his 15 minutes in the ring.
Still, there is a lot I don't know about Rugby. Now that he has the OTCH and UDX experience as a foundation, I think it is time to start narrowing down even further what variables will lead to Rugby's best performances. What has he learned from showing this year? Can he do three classes in a day instead of two? Can he show three days in a row (he has had trouble with this in the past)? Can I change his response to some of those variables to make him more confident and successful?
I started to ask some of those questions when I entered him in Versatility this weekend, in addition to Open and Utility B. We had mixed results. We had a fair number of NQ's, but he did place in the class the times he qualified. He only came away from the weekend with one Versatility leg, but it was very valuable in helping to fix his all-of-a-sudden directed jumping problem (only taking the high jump). We have a few more trials left this year and we will keep trying new things in an attempt to keep Rugby's Obedience fresh.