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Attitude Competitor

Believing In Your Team

I know, I know. Easier said than done.

The truth of it is that there will always be reasons to doubt your abilities or your dog’s potential. You won’t always feel supported. You won’t always get back the effort you put in. You won’t always receive the validation that you feel you need. You won’t always feel that your team is “ready” for the opportunity before you.

Those feelings and thoughts are a part of everyone’s agility journey at some point in some way. To work through the discomfort of self-doubt and to give your best effort in the face of unknowable outcomes is part the journey. To survive those feelings and learn to thrive despite the odds you need to cultivate a sense of belief in yourself and your dog.

If you’re struggling to believe in your team, check out the daily drills below to help you change and strengthen your beliefs.

1. Write Out Your Reasons to Believe

⭐️ 5 reasons your dog is a great a teammate.

⭐️ 5 reason you’re a great teammate for your dog

⭐️ 5 reasons you and your dog are a great team

Go big, go small and list every reason in between. Often handlers struggle to see the “evidence” that they’ll be successful in reaching their goals, training this dog or being the type of handler their dog deserves. It’s much easier for your mind to focus on what you’re lacking, rather than acknowledging how far you’ve come and all you’ve gained so far.

This listing activity helps you build evidence that you, your dog and your team are worth believing in. This exercise should be done daily or weekly to gain the most benefit.

2. Set Process Goals

If you’re struggling to see your teams progress or don’t feel that you’re getting results you want, this drill is for you. A goal can be “results oriented” or “process oriented”. Results are often out of our control; someone else can have a better performance, the judge makes a bad call or the weather just fucks up everything. For this reason of uncontrollability, results oriented goals can cause more frustration than inspiration.

A process goal focuses on actions or tasks within your control that you can always succeed at completing as long as you put in the effort. A process goal is trackable task that you do daily or at every competition that benefits your performance and your dogs performance.

For example…

⭐️ “This week I will reward my dog’s sit stay behavior 5x per day.”

⭐️ “I will play with my dog for 5 minutes after every run regardless of how the run went.”

⭐️ “This week I will train and reward my dog’s weaves in three different locations.”

Now, actually check off that you complete this goal each week, day or every run of the weekend.

Attitude Competitor

Handling Your Emotions

Introduction to Emotional Agility

Emotions are a part of the journey for every handler. From moments in the ring that thrill you to training conundrums that leave you confused, the emotions you feel in any given moment inform your mind and body of what to do next.

Being aware of your emotional reactions can help you better navigate your emotional experience and help you do the next best thing possible, whatever that may be in the present moment.

In psychology, your ability to experience and process emotions in a way that allows you to meet your needs and adapt to the situation is known as “Emotional Agility”.

When people are driven by their emotions they react to a situation.
For example, when someone cracks a joke, you’re amused and react with laughter. The appropriate emotional response to the situation is followed with beneficial behavior, in this case, laughing. Yay, the brain did a good job responding.

Unfortunately, your mind isn’t always the best at pairing an appropriate or beneficial response to every situation, sensation or thought you have. When cut off in traffic an angry driver can quickly feel intense emotions of rage, the thoughts and actions that follow are likely impaired by this intense emotional reaction.

This emotional reaction does not help meet the needs of this individual OR help them adapt to the situation. In fact, this driver’s likely thinking or acting in a way that intensifies their unpleasant emotions further, such as verbalizing that they “hate” the other driver or screaming profanities.

However, the feelings that well up inside of you do not have to dictate your thoughts and actions. By becoming aware of your emotional experience you’ll be better able to respond to a situation, sensation or thought appropriately. A momentarily pissed off driver that’s practiced emotional awareness can shift their emotional response from enraged to calm, thankful, relieved or any pleasant feeling that would best support them in that moment.

The same is true for handlers in training, competition and beyond. The ability to respond rather than react enhances resilience after mistakes, reduces stress, improves decision making and a host of other benefits for your performance in the ring and personal life.

Becoming Aware of Your Emotions

While it can be easy to lump your emotional experience under broad terms like happy, sad or angry, these base level emotions don’t provide enough depth to articulate your experience. By exploring and using different sub-categories of emotions to describe your feelings in the moment, you’ll be better able to choose actions and thoughts that shift your emotional response.

Your emotions may vary in their complexity, such as experiencing the combination of excitement and anxiousness on your first trip to nationals. Your emotions can also range in their intensity. A vague feeling of annoyance after overhearing a comment from the crowd is a different experience than feeling animosity towards someone for making a blatantly offensive statement about your dog.

The complexity and intensity of your emotional experience can make it difficult in the moment to manage your response to what is happening. Consistently drawing awareness to these aspects allows you to reassess if the complexity of your emotions and the intensity of your emotions are beneficial for you in the moment.

Additionally, you’ll want to pay attention to non-feeling words that can be used to make sense of a situation, sensation or thought that are not representative of your emotional response. 

For example, a handler may say they feel bad after their handling performance in the ring. While you can phrase this as “I feel bad” this is an evaluation of your performance, rather than an accurate description of your emotions. 

Often people assess a situation by evaluating or judging their behaviors or the behavior of those around them, rather than assessing how those behaviors made them feel. This can often be a barrier when trying to shift out of one emotional state to another, as the evaluation is likely not amendable to change. You can’t make a “bad” performance “good”. However, you can take actions or use certain thought processes to change your emotions from stressed to curious OR heartbroken to grateful in response to that experience.

Now not every event, experience or thought will elicit an emotional response from you. Watching your dog sniff a blade of grass or the sensation of taking a gulp of water probably won’t leave you feeling one way or another. Reading a thread of comments online about border collie breeders, that’s another whole story.

You may feel irritated or frustrated by one comment. In the same thread, comments about your breeder’s lines may leave you feeling secure in your decisions or curious to learn more. 

Awareness of your emotions is not only about knowing what emotion you’re experiencing in the moment, but also why that emotion arose in that moment and whether it is beneficial to your wellbeing and your goals.

Awareness of your emotions requires you to practice non-judgement towards your emotional experience. Often, we start making judgements or having feelings about our feelings (also known as, meta emotions).

That was a total disaster, I am so embarrassed. Ugh. It is stupid to be sad about it, it’s just a game with my dog. But, I feel totally humiliated and uncomfortable going back to the building. What’s wrong with me? I should just get over it and be happy. 

In an instant, the judgement placed on oneself for feeling the “wrong” emotion digs the hole much, much deeper than it needed to be.

Experiencing an unpleasant emotion is not wrong, stupid, bad or anything else.

All of your emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, are an important part of your journey in this sport and in life. The goal isn’t to eliminate unpleasant emotions or to only feel pleasant emotions, but to have compassion for your everchanging emotional experience. 

Shaming yourself for feeling a certain way leads to suppression of your emotions OR avoidance of situations that make you feel unpleasant emotions. Unpleasant emotions, like anxiousness, frustration, discomfort, or confusion, are necessary for you to learn, grow and develop. You can’t reach your goals without them! 

To start developing your own emotional agility, practice awareness of your emotions and begin making choices that help you feel or think in ways that support your goals and uphold your personal values.

Attitude Competitor

Motivation is Magic

The rush of motivation that comes with taking on a new goal can inspire us to tackle something grand.

But, what happens when the daily grind drains that initial motivation? Leaving you feeling burdened by your goals as you simultaneously “will” yourself to complete tasks or simply procrastinate until time runs out. 

The truth is that the pep talk you think you need isn’t what you need to get motivated.

Filling your pinterest board with motivational quotes isn’t getting you any closer to where you want to be. You’re not wrong to crave motivation; it’s exactly what we need to do hard things.

Motivation is the direction and intensity with which you tackle goals. Motivation is what takes people from the couch to the top of Mt Fuji, it is what pushes people to take control of their health, careers, and dreams.

Motivation is the magic you need

Instead of looking for the magic, let’s create the magic. 

Here are three ways you can create sustainable motivation to use every day. 

1. Actually use micro-goals.

You probably already know breaking our goals into manageable chunks is helpful for achieving goals. Motivation is increased when a task seems easier and more do-able. This helps us in the long run because it can create the consistency needed to accomplish the goals we set.

The problem is that what is “manageable” is different for each person, and can even vary (wildly) day-to-day for any individual.

For example, a micro-goal for me is to train my dogs every day. That doesn’t mean setting up and running a full international course every time… I don’t even have to use agility equipment. The micro-goal is accomplished when I pick up my clicker and treat bag.

I don’t have to run clean or teach a new skill to succeed, I can take pride in showing up as a dog-trainer. Depending on the day, we might sequence, work on ring-side behaviors or reinforce contact criteria. 

Now, that’s on a good day.
How do we stick to micro-goals on the bad days? 

Do what’s manageable. If stepping out the door to train, go to the gym or anything else feels truly overwhelming, don’t attach your pride, success, or self-worth to it.

Scale your micro-goal to something smaller.

For me this has been everything from doing my dog’s active stretches for 5 minutes to training a random pet trick for fun. These actions aren’t always propelling me warpspeed towards my goals, but they keep me in motion

Remember, the purpose of micro-goals is to create consistency. 

2. Don’t give 100% to your goals.

If you take off from the start line of a running race at 100% effort, you won’t make it very far before you’re winded and ready to quit. The same is true for your goals. 

You need to pace yourself. 

Knowing how much effort to give a task is important. You shouldn’t come back from the gym too sore to walk the next day or stay up until 4am working on a new project. This amount of effort is unsustainable.

The first step to pacing yourself is to become aware of your effort

Check in with yourself on how hard you (or your dog) are working and how you feel. Being more aware of your physical state and emotional state will help you gauge whether you’re overworking yourself (or your dog).

If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew for today, take a break. You can either scale down your micro-goal or continue working towards this goal tomorrow.

The second step is to set boundaries before you start working or training.

Boundaries for how long you’ll work, how many repetitions you’ll do or how much of a challenge you can take on today will help you set achievable micro-goals.

For example, I’m currently teaching turns for my sheltie’s running dog-walk. As you can imagine, this is a big, daunting project. So, before each training session, I set boundaries to keep me from over working my dog or myself. 

My boundaries include setting a time domain, such as “we will train dog walks for 15 minutes”. I set a limit for repetitions, “we will do no more than 12 full dog walks”. And, before I start training I decide how much of a challenge to train, such as deciding whether to put the skill in sequence and how hard of a sequence.

You can learn more about how we set training boundaries in our article, 4 Steps for Purposeful Practice.

Awareness of your effort and setting boundaries can be a huge help whether you’re working on an agility goal, trying to get fit or learn something new. Not only can this prevent burnout and the abandonment of goals, but it will help you create sustainable motivation. 

3. Remember Your Why

Your “why” is your purpose for setting a goal in the first place. This can be anything from being the best dog owner you can be to being healthy enough to play with your grandkids. The one thing your “why” has to be is meaningful to you.

Committing to a goal is often impossible without having a meaningful reason behind taking those actions. On the flipside, remembering your “why” can serve as instant motivation in the most challenging moments.

When Whimzy was still in novice, I would close my eyes every time the national anthem  played to start the day. I would hold my dog and picture standing on the podium at worlds. For those two minutes, Whimzy and I would be transported to a foreign country with our flag draped over us savoring the victory of a gold medal for Team USA. The honor of representing the USA overseas for agility was to me the culmination of being the best dog trainer, handler and competitor that I could be, it’s what motivates me to compete in agility.

When Whimzy broke her start line, I miscued a turn or lost her to an off course, I would remember why I was doing agility today. I’m doing my best to learn from today, so that someday my dream will be my reality. And, it did.

Keep your why close. Write it down. Say it out loud.

A fellow competitor recently asked me if I still dream like this. 

The answer?
Yes, all the time. 

I find that remembering my why is the most helpful when I’m doing what’s necessary, but not enjoyable.

Right now, that’s working on outside the ring behaviors with my young sheltie. While her ground speed on course is to die for, her over the top arousal level quite frankly makes agility unsafe. 

Unfortunately for me, behavior training is not my jam.

It’s not fun to go to the agility field and not train agility. It’s not fun to spend hours at a trial sitting a hundred yards away to keep her under threshold. It’s not fun to leave her home when I go to the agility field. But, when I remember my why, I am motivated to do what’s necessary for her to stand on a podium someday like her sister Whimzy. 

Believe in the power of your why, and use the magic of motivation to move you towards your wildest dreams.

Attitude Competitor

Leash Your Focus

“Tunnel! Go tunnel!” You’ve sent your dog into the last tunnel and are well ahead for the four jump end line. As your perfect run becomes three jumps and then just two, you begin enthusiastically waving to your friends sitting ringside and then crack a joke to the judge. Sound truly outlandish? Absolutely! You would never focus on friends or the judge while your dog is running on course. You know how important it is to keep your focus on your dog.

What do you focus on right before your run, during the walk through, or while you were driving to the trial?

As a competitor, your thoughts are important and how you use your attention matters. You do not want to waste time and energy focusing on things outside of your control. Every weekend we see our students spend their time and energy on things they cannot control like the running order, course design, weather, trial schedule and results. 

Now, you might feel like some of these challenges warrant your attention and you’re not wrong as long as you use your attention responsibly. Attention is one of your most valuable resources. During a trial day, attention is a combination of your time and energy; mental, emotional, and physical.

Many handlers spend their attention on the uncontrollable – panicking about being first in the running order, fussing about potential ring conflicts, complaining about the course design, or stressing over the results. When your reactions and thoughts are not managed, you are using your attention frivolously. Stress, complaining and focusing on problems that don’t have solutions is costly and will leave you feeling mentally and physically drained. You need to save your attentional resources so you can focus on your teammate and your runs.

To use our attention responsibly, we need to be response-able. This means focusing on the problems that are within our control and for which we can create solutions

For instance, when you’re first in the running order, you can control your time by warming up your dog before the walk-through. When the course design is unappealing or seems dangerous, you have choices within your handling plan or you can talk directly to the judge about a change or you can make it a training run. When you feel stressed over the results, how many points you earned (or didn’t) or where you placed in a round (or didn’t), you can control your attitude and can create new training goals to work through frustrating results. 

All of these examples and many more are positive responses to events and thoughts. Focusing on what you can control ensures the time with your dog will be rewarding and fun. 


Trialing During COVID-19

We had a positive experience at our local AKC show, hosted by the Krusin’ Kanine Agility & Dog Sports Club. This was my first trial since COVID-19 hit the United States, and its a whole new way of doing dog shows. I’d like to thank the volunteers and club members that went the extra mile to organize and run a dog show while being as safe and health conscious as possible. This post is going to walk through what our trial day was like for anyone curious about how things have changed. Thankfully, running courses with our dogs was just as fun as ever. 

We gathered for the briefing outside the building, with everyone in masks and while practicing social distancing. The judges explained the new regulations, such as wearing your mask into the ring and the option to carry your leash. We had a contactless check-in with the gate, and a series of split walk through limited to about 10 people per group. While this took a while, the small groups made it exceptionally easy to social distance during the walk through. 

Volunteers wore masks and gloves to touch obstacles and the materials for score keeping. In between classes, volunteers sanitized the obstacles before the next group of volunteers entered the ring for bar setting and course building. A club member also took the time to set up a live stream on Facebook for us to watch our friends as no spectators were allowed in the building. 

Competitor lined up in a waiting box before their run.
Split walk-throughs to encourage
social distancing

Before our run, the gate steward lined up competitors five at a time. Each competitor progressively moved through pre-set waiting boxes to ensure social distancing as we approached the ring. When the dog before us left the start line, the previous dog and handler were invited to leave the building. And then, we were invited into the final staging box before our run. Here, we waited for the dog before us to leave the ring where they would wait in an exit area until we’d left the start line. While it sounds complicated, volunteers did an exceptional job directing traffic to ensure handlers kept their distance from one another. 

Example of Competitor flow around the ring
Green Path shows teams waiting to run, and
Red Path shows teams that have finished.

We were not required to wear our masks in the ring, but carried our masks with us during our runs. We had the option of wearing/carrying our leash or having the leash runner move it to the end. The leash runner used a grabber which was sanitized between runs to limit contact with leashes. 

After our run, we were invited to leave the exit area and collect our items (i.e. coats, treats, toys) before exiting the building. With two entrances to the building, the handlers leaving were directed out a separate entrance from where competitors were lined up for their turn.

In between runs we spent a lot of time chilling in our cars outside. While this made for a quiet and unique trial experience, it was an absolute pleasure to see familiar faces, even under masks, and run my girls in agility. 

Attitude Competitor

Rethinking Accomplishments

In a recent podcast I listened to, the host asked, “What will you say after 2-3 months to friends and coworkers to the question…
what did you do during the quarantine?

My type A personality loved this question and multiple possible answers popped into my mind. Did you write a book, start a blog, run a mile or five or ten, learn to cook new exotic foods, train your dog to do 101 new tricks, read a dozen new books, or….?

The next day a friend pointed out that while my reaction was full of energy and enthusiasm, others might actually feel additional stress and despair if this question was pointed at them. Her concern was that having to have “accomplishments” would add pressure to some people whose new life changes were stressful enough. It was a fair argument and made me consider how we think about accomplishments during this time.

An accomplishment is defined as the successful completion or achievement of a task. We assign value to tasks which influences how worthwhile we believe that task to be.

However, almost anything can be an accomplishment.
Finishing a home renovation, resurrecting an old hobby, homeschooling two kids for four months, or walking your dogs every day. These tasks all hold immense value for the individual and completing them is undoubtedly attaining success. 

Your time in quarantine should not be defined by what you do or don’t do; it is the intention behind your actions that matters. Rather than worrying about how to strive for accomplishments that hold societal value, consider what simple tasks will add value to your life each day. While writing a novel might sound impressive, making a commitment to call your mom or an old friend each week can yield more significance to your life.

When life gets more difficult and is full of unknowns and inconveniences, it is important to pause and recognize the immense value in your daily accomplishments.  

Competitor Prepare

Start with Intention

You’re waiting to go in the ring and you’re quickly using up all your treats trying to keep your dog focused. Your gaze shifts from your dog to the ring as you see another dog take the off course tunnel. Ugh. No one is getting through this course. You think, “Should I front and try to block the off course…no, no, I should definitely rear. I walked the rear cross, but I haven’t seen anyone get through it with a rear.” As your gut twists with anxiety, you snap back into the moment to see your dog now behind you with his nose glued to the ground. You scramble to regain the lost attention as the team before you races down the end-line.
You’re up. 

You’re waiting to go in the ring and you take a breath. You take a moment to review your plan while keeping your eyes on your dog. You work through your favorite three behaviors to keep him engaged. You hear the crowd groan as another team bites the off course tunnel. You take another breath, reminding yourself that, “We’ve trained that tunnel trap before and the rear cross will set the right line.” Your plan is as good as it is going to be for this run. As the team before you finishes, you take one last deep breath.
You’re up. 

Which pre-run experience would you rather have?

I thought so, I like the second one better too. 

The first pre-run experience is hectic; the handler’s focus is split between watching the dog, considering the potential for an off course and waffling on her chosen plan. Being caught off guard by her dog sniffing causes extra stress and re-affirms the feeling that her dog isn’t focused either. Stepping to the line distracted and doubting the handling plan, this handler is likely to make a mistake on course. 

The second pre-run experience is intentional; each time this handler reviews her plan she adds a breath – deep breaths cause the body to physically calm down. She keeps her attention on her partner and engages with him. Keeping the mind occupied helps block out distractions and thoughts of self-doubt. When briefly considering the dismal Q-rate so far, she reminds herself of successful practices and stays confident in her handling choice. This handler used her pre-run routine to get in the right mental space, and is more likely to execute her plan successfully

When used correctly, routines can enhance your focus, reduce stress and, ultimately, increase the consistency and accuracy of your performance. I can’t promise that a pre-run routine will put your Q-rate at 100%. But,I know if you’re not taking the time to be intentional about your pre-run routine, you are missing out on Q’s and the fun of stress-free runs.

As you step to the line that exhilarating wave of adrenaline rushes through you, the question is – are you prepared? It’s a fallacy to assume your plan or your dog’s skills are the only factor determining your chance for success.

The moments before your run can have a huge impact on your success too.

Want to master your own pre-run routine?
Download our free Pre-Run Checklist – a guide to creating an effective pre-run routine!