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!

Kathleen Oswald

Written by

Kathleen Oswald

Mental Performance Coach and long time agility competitor with a M.S. Exercise and Sport Science