I think there are two main issues - 1. Peyton doesn't have the best "down" in general and 2. the added stress/arousal involved in running in a trial makes *thinking* difficult, especially when he has to stop and has 5+ seconds to notice everything happening around him.
Soooo, even though I think we now have a fairly decent (and sometimes impressive) table performance at home, the challenge is how do I recreate a similar kind of excitement/overstimulation that Peyton experiences in trials? While toys and treats definitely get him excited, they are still no match.
The other night when I let Peyton out in the backyard he saw a squirrel and went NUTS - barking, squealing, leaping, spinning, and running around like a crazed spotty dog. And that's when the lightbulb came on - I need to use the squirrels to help train the table! And because even the word "squirrel" gets him excited, he doesn't even need to see one to play the game.
So with the help of premack (thank you Leslie McDevitt), we've been playing "go get the squirrels" followed by "come table" followed by "ok, go get the squirrels!" And even though we've only played this game a few times, I'm already seeing the same wide-eyed look that I see in trials AND I'm seeing a much more enthusiastic table performance! I'm really hoping that games like this one will help him learn to *think* through his excitement at trials.
With regard to our lousy down in general, I've added a "touch" cue where he bobs his head, which will hopefully help to keep his elbows down. I might need to go back and train a more "flat" down, but I thought I'd try this approach first since it's a command that he already knows.
Who knows if this approach will really work, but I think it's worth a try. :)
In other news, I went to throw away a wrapper in the trash can in my backyard today and found this:
This little guy has been hanging out in our courtyard at night. I thought he was dead at first, but he was just playing possum. :)