Saturday, April 13, 2013

Out of the comfort zone!

One of the things that I learned as a musician was that if you want to improve you have to practice at the extremes of your ability.

I am not the person who sits in her comfort zone for too long.

The day has come when I have decided to step COMPLETELY outside my comfort zone and do something in agility to really push myself.  I am going to try out for AKC's European Open World Team with Tangle (now 2.5 years old).  I am going this year as a demo dog which means that I have zero chance of making the team, but for me this year isn't about making the team.  It is about pushing myself to improve and this is an experience that will do that.  It is about learning to play successfully with the "big boys".

This already has been a totally new experience for me and will continue to be for months to come. 

How do you prepare yourself and your dog for this challenge?  I have thought about physical preparation for both of us, and mental preparation for both of us. 

Physically - Tangle normally jumps 22", I have to move him up to 26", and get the muscles built.  Along the way, I have been working to keep his confidence intact (he is only 2) and increase the fun factor for him.  I have had adjustments in my timing and how much space to physically allow him on course.  I have to enter him in some competitions at the new jump height.

For myself, I am working hard to get my pulled muscles recovered, keep from pulling more and just develop a solid base condition.

Mentally - It is very important to me that Tangle enjoys this experience.  Sure, he loves running the courses, but there is so much more.  Tangle stresses when he is surrounded by stressed people/dogs.  Hum, there might be a couple of those (including me) at this competition.  I am working hard at training all sorts of "fun" tricks that we can pull out of our bag when the need arises.  I don't want to push myself at the expense of my dog.  It is a journey for both of us.  One of my goals is to keep Tangle's stress at a minimum.

For me, I need to remain mentally attuned to the challenges that each moment will bring.  What are my measurable goals for this trial?  When we have our "practice" run what will my objective be?  How do I use my time now to sharpen my mental game?  As a demo dog, I will be the first in the running order, I want to come to the start line with the confidence that I have in a local trial, how do I do that?  I have so little time to prepare (made my decision to go late), how do I prioritize and make the most of my time?  Don't let your confidence get shaken by those around you.

I have read the rules and know the specifications for the equipment.  I am not normally a rule reader I just follow the customs around me.  But, this is so different. 

There are several pieces of equipment Tangle hasn't seen before--wall jump and the "Euro" double (two singles placed 18-22" apart in ascending order).  Made those and trained on those.

I am studying course maps.  Lots of the obstacles are the same, but the approaches that they give you to those obstacles are totally different than what we encounter at any US venue.  Setting up exercises that allow us to practice those items.

Lessons learned so far:
Prepare your family, this will be an obsessive effort and will invade life as you know it.
It takes more than a month to prepare for this type of competition (given my experience base)
Talk to everyone you can who has actually done what you are going to do to limit the surprises along the way.
When the weather doesn't cooperate, you have to still figure out how to be productive

So, for me, this is a fairly steep hill to climb: really young, but talented dog, physical and mental preparedness, building my team, making equipment, researching courses, connecting with people, etc.

I know, you say "dah?" of course you have to do all this.  I would too if this was actually a goal of mine 3 months ago!
Practice April 9th! - Restrained sends to a tunnel

P.S. of course this is the spring where it has to snow every 4 days as well!  Thankful for the water, but it isn't helping my preparedness :)

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