I’m a few days late for dog agility bloggers day, but finally had a few minutes and thought I’d write a bit on this topic. There are plenty of resources out there on mental management for sports and some are even starting to be agility specific. I think what makes agility different from other sports is that while it is a team sport, one team mate is essentially responsible for managing the quality of the experience for the other. My dogs don’t have a lot of decision making ability about when and where we compete, it’s my job to make those decisions in a way that is fair to them.
I’m not a typical masters level competitor and don’t run typical dogs. Generally for me and my girls, the course is not the most challenging part of the agility experience. We can get through most challenges that we face on course. The hard part for me is keeping my agility partners happy and feeling safe enough to run fast- we have many more NQs because of time faults than course faults.
Running scent hounds means having dogs that are very aware of their environment. This means that I need to be aware of things also, but not to the point where I make a big deal and draw the dogs’ attention to the problem. If I worry, so will the dogs and my dogs get slower and slower when they are worried. There are many high level competitors who will say that an agility dog should be so into the game that they don’t notice the environment, even making demeaning statements like, “your dog finds the dirt more appealing than you”. Generally the people making these statements are not running shy PBGVs who spent their first year hiding behind their owner in fear (Chili) or low drive GBGVs who required months of hand feeding before even the most basic training could start (Juno) but often the idea that a well trained dog is never aware of his surroundings is accepted without question.
For me mental management means running the dogs I have, not the dogs that the agility world thinks they should be. This means controlling their environment and routine to the extent of my ability and avoiding trial sites that are really stressful for them. I am also trying to do every run as fast as possible. Chili and Salsa will always need points more than QQs and running conservatively isn’t as much fun for them. I’m using more blind crosses, even though they still scare me a bit, and this is showing me that some of my front crosses were slowing things down.
Next week we head to the AKC agility invitational. Chili and Salsa will be among the 5 PBGVs representing the breed- hopefully with fast, happy runs.