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I had the good fortune to be able to attend a mental skills workshop with Brenda Riemer, Ph.D. who is a professor of sports psychology and also an OTCh (obedience trial champion) handler. I was one of ten people who had a working spot.

Compared to many of the others who were there I was a relative newbie, but the whole group was very positive and supportive. On Saturday we had a series of talks about aspects of performance psychology and what kinds of thinking can lead to roadblocks to attaining the outcomes we desire. Additionally we did exercises on using imagery to visualize our preparation and performance. One of the useful parts of this was to pay attention to our responses to the images we mentally saw and to see where we get nervous or anxious. For me it is really right at the ring gate when going in for a trial run. To help to let go of anxious energy at any point where it arises we also practiced a number of deep and rhythmic breathing exercises. I found deep breathing to be particularly relaxing.

On Sunday those of us who had working spots told Brenda what level routine we wanted to do. She gave us armbands so that we could create as trial realistic an environment as possible. I wanted to do beginner novice with Javelin since I need to get a handle on why he is stressing up for the heeling recently. I am convinced it is something I signal to him about this being different from all of our training and practice. Since I was the only person who wanted a BN/novice routine (no jumps out) we went first which by itself was a bit nerve wracking given who the audience was. Needless to say Javvy did his full head falling off bouncy mouthy performance through a full heeling pattern. Feedback was really helpful. People saw that I was tense. Also people saw that slow was less chaotic than normal or fast. Everything other than the heeling was pretty good. After we finished the routine and had discussion it was suggested that I do another heeling pattern all on a slow. It was almost like I had a different dog with me. Javelin was very attentive to what we were doing all the way.

I do think that incorporating deep breathing and visualization of a calm state is going to help. We will also do a lot of long slows in practice.

I will add some more from my notes later, but right now I have to get ready for trials with both poodles tomorrow and Saturday. The trials are at my home club. Lily is in versatility and veterans and Javelin is in beginner novice. Just remember to breathe deeply and calmly Catherine.
 

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Thanks for this post. I’ve recommended that my training club bring Brenda in after one of our experienced trainers pointed out the feedback loop between myself and my spoo in the performance ring. He does something ‘unexpected’, and then I react mentally, and then he reacts behaviorally, and on and on. I absolutely know that my nerves are the problem in obedience—we are also running in BN. We’ll try again at my club’s November obedience trial. I’m open to continuing on in obedience, Utility would be a blast with my smart boy, but need to conquer the weak link of my thinking.

Does Brenda conduct any ‘virtual’ training?
 

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Reading this was helpful as I prepare for tomorrow.

I'm terrible at taking exams - I always want perfection and get so stressed out.

I was watching some agility videos and these trainers were explaining that when you go to compete you should have 2 or 3 very small and specific goals and this is what you should be aiming to achieve and this is what you use to define success. I've been using this concept to help prepare myself.

IOW, the goal for Friday and Sunday when we compete is not to get a high score or even to quality which is what people normally would consider as their goals. My goals are more modest. I do these stupid quirky moves when I'm nervous - one of them is I say "let's go" while I also swing my arm forward and then up to rest on my hip. I have to stop that stupid arm movement and just rest my arm on my hip in the proper position for heeling.

Another thing I do subconsciously is I will step into Babykins if she doesn't sit close enough when we set up for figure eight. I need to be more careful about my arm position to bring her into sitting in heel properly. And I must not step in.

So those are my three very specific goals. When we first started competing in rally one of my goals we just to enjoy the process - just let things flow and again not get caught up on scores and qualifying. I'm working through all of this - it's definitely a mental challenge.

I did have a really good run through after rally class Monday night (my rally trainer does all the beginner novice run throughs for my AKC club so she's savvy). Anyhow if we do as well during the competition she thinks we will qualify. So that has also helped relax me a bit. I've been going to the run throughs a couple of times - treating them like a competition bringing my crate and trying develop my pre and post ring routines.

Originally I was going to sign up for another Obedience competition but my nerves/fears set in and I kept putting it off until the deadline had passed. Boy am I glad I didn't - everyone who competed had horrible stories about the judge. She was wearing one of those uneven floaty dresses with triangles of sheer material floating and flying as she moved. It was a huge distraction for many of the dogs at all levels. Some were just plain scared and my trainers dog kept heeling with the judge instead of her because she was fascinated. Plus the judge was so disorganized - she didn't set up the course properly so it caused chaos and major delays and they ran several hours over time. This judge was banned by my AKC club years ago- but this was I think the German Shepherd or Golden Retriever club who held the event and hired this judge.
 

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Scooterscout I am not sure if she does any virtual trainings or if she has any YouTube videos, but I certainly would recommend having her come to your club. She really created a very personal and supportive experience.

Skylar I hear you on the practice vs. the real test thing. I have done some really dopey things that I think have contributed to Javelin's upstressing behaviors in the last couple of times out. Hopefully since we are showing at "home" this weekend we can work through some of it. I will then be staying in beginner novice for a while to implement some of those mental skills so I can support Javvy in a way that lets us be the team in trials that we are in training.
 

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Thank you Catherine for posting that, it sounds like it was an interesting seminar.Sorry I missed it! Hopefully she will come back this way again. Looks like she really tailored the instruction to individual needs, what a great opportunity for you to work on specific skills with Javvy!

Competition is such a mind thing isn’t it? I guess just like anything else. It’s not about the drills, or techniques, although that’s certainly a piece of it. Reminds me of my profession (nursing)- you need the psychomotor/skills piece, but if the knowledge and attitude isn’t there, it never truly comes together.

I just started taking a class at a different facility, and they follow the One Mind Dogs philosophy. Very interesting, I’ve only taken a few classes now, but I think it will help expand our repertoire. I’ll still continue with my original trainer....because I love her, and she’s awesome and has helped Lily and me move to a whole different level! But it’s good to get different perspectives too. Here’s the link to the site
https://www.oneminddogs.com/category/about/

With my new puppy(coming mid January if whelping goes well) we’ll start agility foundations early and see how it all goes. Lily didn’t start agility till she was 6, so this will be very different.
 

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Carolinek, Brenda is a very good friend of a member of the Albany Obedience Club, so perhaps they will have her back.


You are right about the balance of skills and knowledge supported by mental game. When I do my lab safety orientation for microbiology I talk about fire safety. We do have a fire blanket in the lab and I show the students where it is and what to do, but then I ask them what to do if they are on fire and would have to go all the way across the room to get to the blanket. It is often a bit of teeth pulling to get "stop drop roll" out of them. I then ask them if it was hard to know that was what to say how hard it might be to remember to do it. Later in the semester I often go back to that little discussion when they are not really using the mental game to their advantage. I remind them that book knowledge matters, but is not so useful if they get stuck in an emergency. Most of my students in that course want to be nurses or PAs.


I was at my club for versatility this morning with Lily. We were in versatility (2 novice (stand for exam, recall), 2 open (retrieve on flat, broad jump) and 2 utility (signals, moving stand) exercises). We had nice qualifying work on all but the heeling and signal exercise from utility where Lily stopped and stood when I started the fast heel. The judge and a couple of my friends thought she misread my hand movement as I started to trot as a signal for the moving stand. The big thing was that she worked happy through the whole routine. Since she can be a big worrier this was really wonderful. We will try again tomorrow (same judge, but will be different exercises). I am going back in about an hour with Javelin for beginner novice. I will do some deep breathing to see if I can center myself better and keep him more focused on his job for the heeling.
 

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With ten working spots, it sounds like it was well attended so perhaps she will return.

That is the key isn’t it - making sure that no matter what happens, the dog is still having a good time. Your description of Lily possibly reading the hand signal wrong but happily continuing speaks to that balance.

I found agility to be a very humbling experience, and one of my biggest mental hurdles was to develop a calm confidence, that feeling of being centered no matter what happens. And with Lily, anything can happen. When she’s good and we’re clicking as a team, it’s amazing. But if I falter, and lose her for even a split second, she takes matters in her own hands and can get very “inventive.”
 

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Lilycd, thanks for mentioning criteria. A happy dog is the ideal, whether or not a qualifying run. Good luck the rest of the weekend.

Carolinek, ditto on agility. So much can go wrong with a big, fast boy. We have a month of fun runs to employ criteria-based runs in a trial-like atmosphere. He’s a different dog at trials than in classes, much more amped and likely to break start line stays and contacts.
 

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ScooterScout-
I hear you about start line stays! In a trial, if Lily is too amped, I don’t even attempt it- we just go, and it works. Otherwise I may lose her to zoomies, then it’s all over.

I think it’s important to develop foundations, but you also have to meet them where they’re at. Even in class, she still sometimes gets zoomies in the first run at the start line. Some say that’s stress, but I think it’s more that she is so excited to be there that she can’t contain herself. She is an enthusiastic little dog, in everything she does. She’s almost 9 now, and has yet to show signs of slowing down!
 
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