Especially in the last few years the new IGP rules and judge’s interpretations of them in obedience have caused a lot of confusion amongst the IGP trainers. I’ve heard many competitors wondering is nothing anymore enough for the judges and what do they really want to see at the competitions?
Dogs show more activity and energy than 20 years ago. In the beginning of 2000 it was more typical to see passive dogs who were either bored or low motivated. But despite our dogs nowadays being more active, do they really feel better? Not necessarily. Active dogs can feel either pleasant or unpleasant emotions. The same applies to passive dogs. We need to understand the difference between the quality of the mood and the arousal level.
Let’s take a look about Russell’s circumplex model of affect which the sport psychologist Emma Hietarinta has modified fitting to dog training. Read Emma’s article ‘Dog’s emotional state matters’ here.
The problem we have in IGP is that even though our dogs are more active, they are bending too much on the upper left side of the diagram. They are a little bit too stressed, nervous, tense or frantic. These emotions are not comfortable to the dog and we don’t want our dogs to work under constant negative stress. That’s the reason why it’s important that the IGP judges are not only interested in the dog’s activity level but also the quality of the emotions our dogs are expressing.
The dog should perform the whole obedience on the right side of the diagram. It should be enthusiastic, energetic, fully focused and concentrated. When the dog feels like this, it is very close to the Flow state. In the Flow the dog feels confident, efficient and willing to perform each exercise powerfully. The dog is active, but it’s mind is calm. There is no nervous energy and the dog is sure what it is doing.
How can we then interpret these emotions in our dogs? How does the dog look like who works on the pleasant side of the Russell’s model and in the Flow? Are all dogs happy who wag their tail high in obedience? What does breathing tell about a dog’s emotions? What other important things the judges see better than the audience?
Read another article “When the high tail position isn’t enough, where I explain how to interpret dog’s body language and why we should always observe the dog as holistically as possible.
Watch the full lecture of How to reach the Flow where you can learn how to train your dog to perform at the Flow state in competitions.
Reference: Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39(6), 1161.