Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde - How my dog and I get ready for our run!

Today's blog in a part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Event on Mental Management!  Here is the first article, The How To Guide for Multiple Personalities.  The second article is Rehersals! My mental management

I have developed a split personality disorder on purpose.  To learn how, read on....

I have done a TON of work on this front.  I didn't start out with this in mind, but it was really brought about by self preservation.

The journey started with Tip, my first agility dog.  She would arrive ring side (no doubt way too early) and begin her wind up routine.  She would watch the dogs on course, get more and more wound until it was finally our turn.  I would walk out of course and release the wound up spring.  As you can imagine, we hit every obstacle on course, probably twice and would end up with high points in trial.  Only served me well in USDAA Gamblers where her random obstacles would gain us "good" points!!

Conductor of the Crazy Train

I began my journey with myself, determined that this routine wouldn't get me upset and wound just like her.  It took me a couple of years, finally realizing the calmer I was, the more calm she was.  Our runs began to come together.  Also realizing (way too slowly) that I should only get her to ring side about 3 seconds before our run so she couldn't continue her wind up routine.

Tip is an extraordinary agility dog, she is the only one of my dogs that can be truly handler focused and obstacle focused depending on what I need.  I began to incorporate some of this into my warm up routine with her.  So, if we were doing Gamblers (of which she was already an expert) I would warm her up with some distance work.  If we were doing Snooker I would warm her up with "come to hand" and tight flat work.  She slowly began to understand that this translated to what I was about to ask of her on our runs.

Don't get me wrong, we have not arrived.  Tip is still the conductor of the "Crazy Train", but we do manage to pull it together more often to win our share of races.

I will contrast this with Tangle.  Tangle is the opposite of Tip and my third agility dog.  The closer Tangle would get to the ring the more stressed he would get.  Sniffing, calming signals, never playing, and slowing his pace.  We would go into the ring and he would be very careful, never wanting to be wrong.  Always doing a great job, but never having fun.  This is just who Tangle was (yes, I said "was").

Holy cow, now I had a dog that I needed to figure out how to "wing up"!  This journey also took a couple of years.  I needed to learn how to be happy, relaxed and playful around Tangle.  I am these things in real life, but running Tip had taught me to be more meditative when going into the ring to run.

So, I had to teach Tangle that it was OK to play no matter where he was.  We had to play in the backyard, at starbucks, ring side, every where.  I actually had to teach this!  He had to learn to bark and be wild on command.  We had to learn to take that behavior to the ring (the gate steward hates me now, but I am OK with that).  So, with Tangle I broke all the "Tip" rules.  We stayed ring side, I let him get wound watching dogs, I asked him to bark and spin, and finally he agreed to tug ring side!
I documented some of this journey in the blog -- IYC, and  Training in Crazy Places

Cynosport 2012 - Playing before a run

Tangle and I still have some work to accomplish at really big events, but we are setting patterns of success which is important.  He is having fun, running fast, and relaxing!

Then there is Split, not to be minimized, but he is somewhere in between.  He would stay calm ring side, yes, excited to run but not really showing it.  I honestly don't think the excitement hits Split until he is about 3 obstacles into the course.  Then he realizes again why he loves the game and looses all connection to me (joining Tip on the crazy train).  So, with Split I had to bring his excitement level up BEFORE the run so that he could begin to level out before we hit the startline.  Split (thanking the universe as I say this) is fairly easy to deal with mentally.  We have begun to tug ring side (which I also had to teach him to do) and our runs are beginning to level out and be fairly nice.
Split's Crazy AF

All three dogs get the same treatment at the end of our runs and I am religious about this!  We never stop to talk to anyone, we run to their reward, I smother them with praise and we play!

So, no story is the same in terms of mental management of your dog.  But hopefully, you take away the bits and pieces that make sense for your team and learn to get your dog "in the zone" and become the person that they need you to be!


Today's blog in a part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Event on Mental Management!  Here is the first article, The How To Guide for Multiple Personalities.  Here is the link to my dog's mental management, Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde - How my dog and I get ready for our run!

The mental game is a journey.  It helps to know that you may never arrive at the perfect destination!

I am always trying to improve my mental game at trials.  I have made a lot of progress, but there is always more work to be done.  I don't really get nervous anymore at local trials and find that I enjoy myself most of the time (there are exceptions).  But at really, really big events nerves play more of a factor.  I am not going to talk about how to control nerves (see list in the "How To" guide for multiple personalities).  What I want to focus on is "focus".  The mental game of rehearsing my run, and writing this is yet another way for me to improve upon this.

I find that visualizing my run is intensely helpful.   It does a number of things for me.  It helps me relax, it reduces my handler errors, increases my confidence on parts of the course that would otherwise be 'iffy in my mind, and helps me plan better cues for my dog. 

Cynosport 2012 - "In the hole"

When I pick up the course maps in the morning I try to look at all the runs quickly, prioritize which I need to review first.  When I am looking at the course map for the first time I am trying to make some preliminary handling decisions.  There might be a section or two where there are a couple of options.  I will decide those in the walk-through.  If I have some down time after this I will begin to mentally walk through the course as if I am running it with my dog.  Yep, I look like the crazy person on the side lines "air" rehearsing my run!  My objectives are to build muscle memory, picture exactly where my dog and I are on course at all times, and to rehearse the verbal cues that I will be giving.  I try to get very detailed, down to exact where the dog's feet are when I start my cues.

When I walk the course the first time I walk my dog's path.  It is amazingly helpful for me.  I can spot what the dog sees (off courses), pay attention to how my weight shifts, it tells me how big of a lead change my dog will need.  Also, walking his/her path tells me if my dog needs to be in extension/relative extension/collection.  This all confirms my handling decisions.  Then I switch quickly to rehearsing my actual run on course.  I get in as many reps as possible in the time allowed.

Assuming that I have time between the walk-through and my run I do more rehearsing of my run.   I pay attention to how I am breathing.  I pay attention to how relaxed I am.  I must rehearse the relaxation as well!

When I am about ready to enter the ring, I try to smile and feel the love of the game!

The "How To" guide for Multiple Personalities

Today's blog in a part of the Dog Agility Bloggers Event on Mental Management!

My first reaction was "Holy Cow" this topic is so big.  My second reaction was "Holy Cow the more I think about this topic, the bigger it gets!"

The two aspects of this topic that I am intensely interested in are: 1) the dog's mental game, from ~3 minutes before the run to post run  2) My mental game when I pick up the course maps, right after my walk-throughs, and from ~3 before the run through post run.

Enjoy the Ride

But, let me be honest for a moment.  There are lots of tools to help with my mental game, but none hold a candle to the following list.  These are the things that help me relax and get in the zone better than any other:
  • I always remember it is a time that I have carved out in my life to play with my dogs.  I keep it special to my heart.
  • I try to enter the ring and leave the ring with a smile on my face and love in my heart for my dogs.  My dogs and I do agility because we love to play together.
  • Breath deeply and enjoy the ride.  Every run is part of the journey!
So, back to the heady discussion of the mental game...

For those of you who want to read about my mental game, Rehersals!.

If you want to read how I help my dogs get in the zone, you can read Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde - How my dog and I get ready for our run!.

Both of those articles were written for this event, however I need to be in two different places mentally to get them written.

Agility is a complicated game mentally.  The mental dynamics are unparalleled to my time as a musician.  As a musician I only had to worry about me!  Getting myself into the zone.

Agility you have to worry about yourself, your dog, switching between your dogs and always being the person that you want to be and who your dogs need you to be!