I feel like I left everyone with a good introduction into how important understanding one’s mental and emotional state is to develop a good human/canine team. The second step is to assess the mental and emotional state of your dog. Is she/he like to practice a lot, stay focused for long periods of time, get edgy when things are not working out, practice needs to be short, etc. etc. How in tune with your moods is your dog? Some dogs are clingy and some have a need to please. These dogs will pickup on our disappointment, our frustration with ourselves in not figuring out how to fix things. Remember that they read frustration with ourselves as frustration with them. They can tell this from tone of voice, body language, aura, and other ways dogs pick up on things in ways we don’t understand. Some dogs are unsure of new things, new people, new places. As a matter of fact, many people don’t function so well under these conditions. Hence, to develop a successful mental program, you must figure out how to function together in a way that “the team” performs at it’s optimal level. Everyone has an optimal performance level. Some people, like me, like a situation where there are 2 outs, 2 people on base, 1 run down, and I am up. Others cannot function under those conditions. In agility, there are the people that are very consistent until it comes to a title and the stress level is increased. To develop a good mental program means that as the situation changes your program can meet the increased or decreased situational demands. Those demands can be competing when you have family or work problems, a new facility, etc. However, the key is to meld how you and your dog function together under competitive situations. Hence, you must not only be in tune with your dog and yourself, you must also have an in depth understanding of your optimal team performance level.
This means that if you have a high drive dog that can go overboard under competitive pressure and you are typically calm under pressure, you must not raise your voice or do things that make your dog go beyond optimal anxiety level. I remember watching a woman at WTT. The dog was over the top. After every jump and obstacle, you could see the anxiety level increasing. The handler kept raising her voice as they moved through the course. I knew they were going to blow up. The handler increased the dog’s stress level beyond optimal performance level. If she had gone in calm and composed, they may have had a great run. Instead, the run became a disaster. The reverse holds true also. If you are high drive and optimal level of performance is higher than your dog’s, you can push the dog beyond what it can handle. That is why you must find a way to perform as a team by finding the right combined tempo. You know that tempo. It is when, no matter whether you “Q” or not it was an awesome run. You were on. You knew by the sound of your dog landing and breathing that you were providing your cues on time and everything fell into place. These types of runs are better than any “Q”. When you are visualizing a course, not only should you be visualizing that particular course, but also the feeling brought on by those runs where you are one with your dog. The next blog will be on visualization.