Friday, November 19, 2010

Preparing to Trial - Part Eight: NERVES!!!!

So you've sent in that first entry, stamp on the envelope and signature on the check - then you get your entry confirmation: Fluffy The Dog entered in 16" Novice A Standard, 16" Novice A JWW and 16" Novice A FAST. Wow. It's kinda real now isn't it? You haven't even packed your car yet and your knees are a little wobbly and like one of my readers you're repeating your mantra "Agility is not a contact sport, agility is not a contact sport" over and over again....{GRIN}. You might even be feeling the butterflies when you're practicing - like your training has taken on a new dimension. You've entered at trial and now your perfect weaver can't find an a weave-entry to save your soul....Relax, you'll get through this! But - how do you counter ring-nerves?

You are who you are.
First, everyone is different - I spent an awful lot of time in the saddle at horse shows so when I made the cross-over to dog shows my nerves weren't really a problem per-se - but I did (and still do) have to channel my 'twitches' and honestly, I'm still not very good at waiting around sometimes. I love training - but I am so hooked on the rush of competition...As for nerves and ring nerves, I'll offer some suggestions - but you'll have to plan for what will work for you and your dog.

Play by the Rules
Know the rules and regulations of the venue that you're competing in. This is part of my nature - I'm really uncomfortable playing a game without knowing the rules. Sitting down with the rulebook and knowing everything about the game I was playing was a great relief - one of the reasons I incorporate information about rules and regulations in my classes - I think it's important to be confident in how you play the game.

Separate from your walk-through visualize everything you want to accomplish in your run. Visualize "Fluffy" getting his weave entry, now visualize your dog getting his weave entry. That which you manifest is before you - this goes both ways. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking in pursuit of your goals. No one ever gets to a MACH thinking that they can't do it...

Just breathe. Breathing is related to visualization certainly, but it's important enough to have it's own bullet-point. Breathing is especially important when you're running your course - every once in a while you'll see people come off the course having not breathed for the entire run (or most of it). {Grin} Sometimes a few deep breaths are enough to recenter - close your eyes and breathe.

Go for a walk.
Your dog needs to go out and relive himself anyway. If you're feeling a little nervous go out and blow off some nervous energy walking around the grounds. Some trial sites have some amazing adjoining trails. Keep your eye on time - but just go for a walk.

Trials run with the help of many of the jobs that allow the trial to run smoothly are staffed by volunteers. Know what kind of jobs you're interested in...almost anyone can ring crew (set bars, fluff chutes), leash run (walk the leash from one side of the ring to the other while the current dog is running), Score Run (bring scribe sheets to the score table) and Timer(watch the judge, tell the dog on the line they can go, repeat the dog's time to the assistant scribe).

Make friends. 
Reach out, meet new people. I always try to reach out to the "new' faces in the crowd - are they novice competitors? Are they spectators at their first agility trial? We've all been there right? With a little bit of conversation you just might sit down next to a stranger and leave with a new friend. I have some AMAZING agility friends that I have met on the road. We don't live in the same geographic location - but I love seeing them on trial weekends. How have you been? That was an AWESOME run! We laugh, we cry (at least I do when people MACH) - we share ideas and sometimes hit a restaurant on the way back to the hotel for a margarita.  What's better than that?

Old wives tale or absolute fact - it depends on who you talk to. Dogs can smell fear, dogs can smell your nervous feelings. You dog might be one that stresses based on your stress. Peppermint  might help disguise your nerves. Then again they say that bomb dogs can find explosives hidden in soiled baby diapers, wrapped in rotting fish, concealed in a lead-lined box and embedded in a concrete vault - so maybe not. For one thing it might give you something else to think about, it'll give you good breath and if your tummy is fluttering with butterflies, peppermint just might help settle it...

If it helps you to psych yourself up with "I think I can, I think I can" then do it! However if that voice starts saying things like "I think I can't" you need to stop with the mantras {GRIN}.

I hear music...
When I'm getting ready to go in the ring with Teller (any venue) - I'm usually singing a song in my head - for the same reason that headphones keep everyone out in the walk-through - I pick a song that I find motivating and up-beat and sing along - this usually gives our warm-up a bit of a rhythm.

I love my dog. 
When I get to the startline it's about me and Teller. Yes there's a judge - Yes there are spectators - probably a couple of cameras - ring crew, a scribe, etc etc etc - but it's not about them. It's about me and my dog. I'm not running the course with the scribe - I'm out in the ring playing a game with my dog. When I run a course those other people don't even exist in my sphere of consciousness.

Savor the moment...
You've earned the right to be out there. You've trained hard, you've sacrificed a lot to get to the point of competition. You've given up your weeknights and weekends, you've said "no" to non-doggie friends who don't understand why you'd rather go out and play with your dog instead of going out for thai food with the gang and you've spent hard-earned money to get here. Enjoy it. Let the course unfold as a puzzle that you and your dog can solve - and enjoy the process.

Whatever happens - and I really mean whatever happens - you still get to bring the best dog home with you. Your career is more than that one run and that one trial - there's so much more to come in the future - but for right now your dog is with you and will sleep in your bed tonight when you get home. It's all good.


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