This subject is much on my mind since I have been going to a lot of matches lately. And I'm not the only one who's out: I had the great pleasure to see Claudia and Cleo Anewalt making their obedience debut in Macungie in August, and Ben and Brutus Gress recently got their first qualifying pre-novice score. What about Max and Melody Burger? They were certainly ready to go when last I saw them at the fun day. And Cheryl Seigfried was talking about matching Cody to get him ready to finish up his CD!
Cheryl has matching down to a fine art, but for the rest of us a few tips might be helpful. Your teacher will no doubt give you lots of ideas for IN the ring, but here are some "outside the ring" things to think about!
TYPES OF MATCHES: Correction matches and "show and go" matches award no prizes, and you usually are free to use whatever corrections (within reason) and positive motivators (such as food) that you wish. Sanctioned matches do award prizes, and operate much as a formal show does, but you do have the option of entering FEO (For Exhibition Only), not eligible for a prize, and correcting as needed. You can also enter normally, and if the dog loses its mind, correct anyway, and take a zero on the exercise. Don't worry about scores and prizes when matching: concentrate on your dog's performance.
YOUR PRE-RING ROUTINE: Matches are great for developing the rituals that you will want to have in place at your first trial. How long does your dog need to settle in at a site before he's ready to work? (Time to look around, become adjusted to the site so he can pay atten- tion to you, time to relieve himself, etc.). You need to strike a happy medium between a dog who is so full of beans that he can't focus, and a dog that is tired from walking all over the show, and wants to take a nap. You need a good store of energy for the ring! Use matches to find out how long your dog needs to be at a site before he settles and is ready to work. Get in the habit of watching the ring that you are going to be in. What is the heeling pattern? Get it firm in your mind. Where is the judge setting people up for the rest of the exercises? Knowing where and how you will be moving your dog helps you to move confidently from exercise to exercise. Time roughly how long a novice routine takes for each dog. This is something you need to know, so that you can gauge when the best time is to start warming up your own dog.
How long does it take to warm your dog up? And what do you need to do in the warm-up? Go over in your mind what his weak links are. Some heeling is almost always in order, but depending on the dog, you may have some other things you need to throw in: fronts? finishes? From watching the judge's heeling pattern, is there a particular combination (such as the classic five steps halt) that might be particularly difficult for your dog? Time how long it takes to get your Pyr "up" in attitude, eyes shining, tail wagging, ready to roll. Being able somewhat to predict when you will be in the ring, how long before that you need to start your warm-up, and what warm-up works best, are all crucial skills when you go to a trial. Use matches to experiment with what you will wear to a trial. Check to make sure that nothing is flapping in your dog's face! Pyrs are tall enough that a shirt tail or a jacket edge might do just that--and shame on you! One theory holds that your pants and the backs of your shoes should match the color of your dog's butt. Supposedly, this creates an optical illusion that makes it harder for the judge to catch it if a sit is slightly crooked, or if the dog lags slightly. I'm not sure I buy this, since Pyr butts are so spectacularly big, but I wear white pants and shoes anyway.
While you are waiting to show, try to find some time not only to watch your own ring, but also some of the activity in other rings, especially the "B" rings (Novice B, Open B, Utility B). Here you will see more experienced handlers. The dogs may be working out problems, but watch the handler footwork on heeling, body posture, voice, etc. Are there any tips or styles you would like to incorporate into your own handling? Do you see any obvious handler mistakes? (The more experienced you become, the more you will!) Educate your eye! It helps you to create a mental picture of what you want your own team to achieve. Also watch for unusual themes in heeling patterns: does it seem like all of the judges are using a very long "slow" section? Or an about turn-halt? There are judging fads in heeling patterns, and if this is the year for long slows, you had better practice it!
Once you have developed your match routine, use it over and over just as if you were at a trial. Clothing and all. Ritual helps people and dogs relax, and our dogs do notice teeny tiny little differences in our behavior. When you are ready for a trial, while a few extra nerves are normal, your routine will help you to keep yourself AND your dog on track.
I have sometimes wondered if the phrase "green handler" refers
not so much to the inexperience of the person, as to the likelihood
that he/she will throw up. The first few times I matched, I had butter-
flies the size of grapefruits bouncing in my stomach. Keeping yourself
focused and busy in a productive way prior to entering the ring will help
you to relax, do your best, and help your dog to do HIS/HER best.