a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Fun Match Oddities

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fun Match Oddities

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.


  1. It has been my experience that at a fun match one of two things happens.

    Either I am so focused on the thing that I am there to train (weavepoles, starts, contacts) and everything else sort of falls apart and I just go with it, because it isn't normally an issue and this one instance is not going to change anything in the future OR I am so unfocused by the general atmosphere that it's one big screw up.

    What the dogs know is that we are different. Not that the match is different that a trial.

    Anyway, that is what I think about fun matches.


  2. I really enjoy fun matches as (a) a way to get more mileage on actual courses with a green dog; (b) a venue for proofing/working on things; and (c) watching the more experienced handlers do their training and try things they might not at a trial - sometimes you get to see some really cool stuff. At the fun matches I've been to, the experienced people seem to stick to their guns and not put up with blown SLS/contacts. Also, I find the nested course setup makes it harder to remember the course due to all of the dummy obstacles around, so remembering a course at a trial is a piece of cake. :-D

  3. We need more fun matches in Texas. I haven't been to one in years, but when I do, I will keep an eye out for this phenomenon. It would make a great Clean Run article--how to use the fun match well, avoiding common pitfalls, etc.

  4. Are you suggesting that you might write it or you're offering it as a suggestion for me to write? :-) I'm up for it--


  5. I was implying YOU should write it! If I had time to write an article, I would trade it in for a few hours of sleep. Maybe it's been done in a past issue, but I bet a nice article could be done on it.