I had a hard time falling asleep last night thinking about this trial. (Yeah, a day after the trial. Delayed reaction!) I realized that our performances and Mika's focus have been deteriorating somewhat at recent trials ("recent" as in this trial and the trials at the end of last year). And I realized what I was doing differently. I changed our mental warm-up routine last year. Not sure when, maybe in the summer or fall.
We used to do a short mental warm-up as we were on deck waiting to enter the ring; just tricks, rewarding with the treats she'd be getting after the run. I changed that routine because Mika loses her peak drive fairly quickly.
Our newer mental warm-up routine (not including physical warm-up) has just been letting the gate steward know that we're in the building and then going in the starting gate the dog ahead of us is halfway through the course. There, we very quickly tug. I tell Mika "Drop It" when the dog ahead of us is finished running, reward her with a piece of whatever food she'll be getting after the run, and carry her in.
Now I'm thinking that maybe her decreased focus while running (at this trial in particular she ran off twice, I think, to run over to other dogs when we were running next to the gate) and decreased drive are a result of our shorter, or lack of, mental warm-up.
In the Masters Standard run, Mika reacted at a dog (a Border Terrier that Mika has reacted at before; she doesn't like any other terrier in general, but especially this little guy for some reason) at the beginning of the run after we'd entered the ring. I carried her in and set her down to tell her to sit for her start-line stay, and she ran over to the dog (who was on deck), barking several times. She's never done this before at the beginning of a run at a trial. I picked her up and held her on the ground for a running start, but she kept looking at the dog. Now this was getting even stranger; usually Mika will recover quickly when she reacts at trials. I had to go to the opposite side of her to block her view of the dog and change how I handled the beginning of the course. We were both rattled and Mika especially was stressed, for the entire run.
Before we left for home, I worked on our reactivity games both inside the trial building and inside. Inside the building, Mika let an aussie sniff her butt when she didn't even see it, which was REALLY amazing for her!! That was a nice highlight of the day.
Things to change or work on: switch our mental warm-up back to our old one; entering the starting gate when the dog ahead of us is about to start the course, and doing tricks. Also, work on our reactivity exercises at the end of every trial, concentrating on inside the building.
Mika also had a very nice, fast DW in the second Masters Gamblers run. She hit 3 out of 4 DW contacts this trial (and the one she missed was close)!!