Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog – The Mental Game

My experience of dog agility has multiple mental games. The first is the shear pleasure as I attend training events, play with my dog, make plans for daily training regimens, and socialize with my friends. The second is the intense focus (or fuzziness) while I stand with my dog at the start line at a familiar trial site. The third is the pressure cooker of the national event final round.

If my mental game is flawed, if I don’t practice the way I compete (or compete the way I practice), then my attitude will not be appropriate for the event with which I’m faced.

If I practice with focus and drive, and compete with the same focus and drive, then I’m practicing the skill I’ll need to succeed in a trial setting.

If I practice with lightness and joy, playing with my dog in a relaxed manner, and compete with the same lightness and joy, then I’m practicing the skill I’ll need to succeed in a trial setting.

Neither of those choices are wrong. If, however, I train and practice with lightness and joy, and compete with focus and drive, not only is my mental game flawed, but my dog is probably confused.

For many years my “novice A” dog and I struggled. She was a bar dropper, built badly for agility, and poorly conditioned for the task. But she loved agility and I loved running her.

After several years in novice and open my attitude towards the game began to shift. I stood at the start line wondering “how are we going to screw this course up?” I wasn’t enjoying myself and I had no faith in my dog. Should I even continue? Everyone around me was Q-ing, earning titles, etc.  (Sometimes handlers get another dog at this point.)

And then I had an epiphany. Bud Houston and I did agility training as a business. Trial weekends were my only vacations. Why was I having such a lousy time on my vacation? Why was I putting such pressure on myself?

If my vacation involved going to the beach and playing frisbee, would I have an intense need to qualify at frisbee? To earn a Q and move up to the next level? Of course not – when I’m on vacation I try to be more relaxed and have fun.

So I applied the “relax and have fun” idea to my agility trial experience. When I practice I do so with lightness and joy. I tell my dog he’s lovely and such a good boy. If we Q that’s great. If we don’t that’s okay as well.

I know many of the blogs in this cluster (see <;) regarding “the mental game” will discuss the intense, focused, driven mentality required to give a peak performance.  Other folks live this way, it just doesn’t work for me.

I don’t love dog agility any less than they do. My mental game is just different.

In order for me to do well, I have to be happy with myself. I have to show my dog that he’s right in what he’s doing, and loved for what he’s doing. I have to be relaxed at the start line, and up-beat at the finish line.

I must resolve to spend time conditioning proper performance in my dog. I must resolve to swim and take my pain meds.

I must resolve to never blame my dog for failure. I must resolve to always finish a run telling my dog he’s loved and appreciated.

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One Response to “Marsha Houston’s 2-minute dog trainer blog – The Mental Game”

  1. DuncanDes Says:

    That last sentence says it all. Nicely put.

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