SUMMARY: Dogs are smarter than we think they are; they know the difference.
In a comment in response to yesterday's blog, Elayne said...
I always think fun matches are kind of a weird atmosphere, in a way almost more challenging than a real trial. Things are typically more loosely organized and people don't seem to watch their dogs as closely plus all the nervous energy of both the green dogs and the green and/or experienced handlers nervous about their green dogs. I sometimes get weird behavior from the dogs that I normally wouldn't get at a trial too.
How interesting that she notes this, because this is my 3rd or 4th fun match ever, and this is the first time I've noticed this phenomenon. Although I think of fun matches as being primarily a venue of novice handlers with novice dogs, in fact yesterday there were several experienced, top-flight handlers with their experienced dogs. I don't know why all were there; one was working on perennial contact problems; one has a dog in rehabilitation. That sort of thing. I ran Tika only because I was there with Boost anyway.
From the sidelines, I watched in amazement as some of these perennial USDAA masters ribbon-winners missed gambles, popped contacts, knocked bars, skipped tunnels, missed weave entries--yes, certainly, things that occasionally happen, but not all at once and not typically to these dogs. Tika's behavior fell into that same lot. Later, one of those other handlers commented, "I can't believe that [Fido] did that; she's never done that! And she also did this other thing, and that's so rare for her!" Curiouser and curiouser.
My response was that I think the dogs know it's different. We already know that they can sense things that we're only barely aware of--so they know it's not a competition; they know it's not a class; they know it's not the back yard. So what kind of thing IS this? I saw it all morning among dogs and handlers with whom I was familiar.
Neither I nor this friend have attended many fun matches. Don't know about the others. So perhaps if we did enough of them, we and our dogs would learn how to behave in such an environment. Which might or might not be such a good thing, if you're trying to use a fun match to simulate the environment of a trial.