The boys and I are heading out to a training building to get in some obedience time this evening! I'm hoping to be able to video at least some of it but we'll see. As far as training goals go...
I'd like to run Merlin through all the Novice tasks, plus also work on his retrieve. The club's jumps are stored away for the winter, so working on Open stuff will be limited. My main focus is going to be reinforcing his choice to sit when we stop - for whatever reason he really gets concerned about being wrong when he sees things that have traditionally meant conformation. I'm not entirely sure why, as I've always been very careful to differentiate between the two. Heeling is an entirely different body position, different lead (or none at all), different collar, different cues (and is always cued when expected, not assumed)... he's been heeling and gaiting for about the same amount of time (by the time he was 3 months old). Heeling has been entirely clickered, with no corrections (just withheld rewards) for "mistakes" - so he should not have any reason to fear being wrong in this instance. I did not really see this behavior until we took obedience to an environment where all the "context clues" seemed to support (to him) that we would be doing conformation. I do notice that his fluency of sit vs. down vs. stand could use some work, so am working on that as well. I feel that the early classes we attended (before we began training on our own) probably attributed to his worry about being wrong. While he was never corrected in these classes (at least not in a manner that should have this kind of result), the classes were demotivating and the instruction was often very negative and stressful. Regardless, I will NOT permit that to be an excuse of why we can't get through this - I know we can.
For Dewy, I'd like to fine tune his understanding of heel position (it's really rusty as we've not worked on it much) and maybe dabble in the exercises he can do from each level. He can't do the jump height he'd be required to anymore (and we don't have any jumps tonight so it's a moot point anyway), which is why he'll never get his last CDX leg or his UD. He would have to jump 16", whereas his jumping limit is actually about 8" these days. If obedience jumps were forgiving and displaceable, it might be one thing to try for the last CDX leg - but I will NOT risk his safety crashing into a solid jump over a single Q.
For Rio, my main goal is to work his heel position, stays, and recalls. I'd also like to see if I can get him to mouth the "dumbbell" in a different location (which is the stage of retrieve training we're currently at). Rio is another "if it's not food it doesn't belong in my mouth" dog like Merlin was, with few exceptions. He will sometimes grab one of a few squeaky toys and just squeak the heck out of it, but he has no interest whatsoever in playing with a person with a toy. He somewhat likes the Tug-It but again, only if he's in the mood. At this point, his retrieve training is using one of his most preferred squeaky toys since I know he is already willing to mouth it. As he gets more willing to mouth it, I'll gradually transition to less desirable objects - making them more desirable than they were originally, since now they are a key to something he wants. At this time I don't really have an interest in actually trialling with Rio in obedience, but I do have interest in training some of the tasks. Transitional students from more punishment-based methods seem like they'd be a bit more likely to humor me in training it with this method when all 3 of my dogs happily, reliably retrieve via this method instead of 2 out of 3. Plus every dog I train to retrieve this way teaches ME something else that I can then pass on to students and future dogs. I also enjoy the challenge of teaching a task in a positive, motivating way to a dog that has little-to-no natural desire to do that task. :) Not that I find that a desirable characteristic (I do find a lot of value in toy drive), but again - it's not what you have it's what you do with it. To me, the lack of a natural retrieve not an excuse to not be able to train the task (nor do you need to resort to force fetch to achieve it).
Anywho, off to do some homework and then dremel nails before our training time tonight! If you have any thoughts on Merlin's issue, feel free to post - I can't promise I'll try your suggestion (f.ex. if I feel it's likely to increase rather than decrease his worry) but I do promise to consider it. :)