Sunday, January 15, 2012


As I worked with my commitment to the "seamless exercise," I was pleased with my progress toward focusing exclusively on my canine partner.  But I was totally surprised when out of the blue came a bonus benefit -- one that has had a major impact on my ring experiences.

Although I've been heavily engaged in competition obedience for more than two decades, I had been plagued by ring nerves every inch of the way -- a subject I've addressed in depth in my upcoming book.

Across the decades, I've tried it all:  visualizing, deep breathing, self-talk, positive thinking, meditation.  I've read and followed the principles suggested in two marvelous books:  Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, M.D.; and Conquering Ring Nerves by Diane Peters Mayer.  None of which did the trick.  All the theory and all the practice went right out the window when we entered the competition ring.

Until one day when I brought up the subject with Louise Meredith.  Without saying it directly, Louise reminded me that there's being there and then there's focus. 

Being in the ring with the dog, setting him up for the exercises, saying the commands -- that ain't focus!  Focus is being locked in on the dog to exactly the same degree that I expect him to be locked in on me during our ring run.  Louise was talking about exclusivity, singularly targeting one thing (the dog) to the exclusion of all else.

Hello! Suddenly I realized that, without being aware of it, she was reinforcing my then-fledgling concept of the ring appearance as a seamless exercise.  Only in a different context.

"I think if you concentrate so hard on your dog, on what you must give him, on what you must do for him (in the ring), you'll lose your ring nerves," she told me.

At the time, she had recently attained an OTCH with her border collie named Luc.  A dog she describes as "a real scardy cat."  She continued, " The whole time I'm in there with him I'm thinking, What can I do to make him feel better about himself?  Each exercise, each step.  So much focus on him that I lose my anxieties."

And by God she's right!  Anytime I'm disciplined enough to practice what I'm preaching here, anytime I fully commit a ring run to my seamless exercise resolution, my ring nerves plummet.

Who knew that working on my own focused attention as much as I work on the attention of my dog would result in such an important freebie?


1 comment:

  1. Willard,

    Thanks for crystallizing an inkling of a realization that came to me on the last trial of last year. I had been puzzling over Maple’s behavior in the ring during our Novice and Rally runs. (Maple is a young golden retriever.) She would act like a completely different dog, sniffing, avoiding eye contact, wandering, than she was outside the ring. I don’t mean just in comparison to being in her own backyard. I mean compared to practicing outside the ring before we went in or doing run-throughs with friends. She was showing a whole lot of stress in the ring that didn’t seem warranted. It dawned on me that I might be expressing my stress in the ring by making frowny, stern faces at her as we set up to go in, too quick to give her a sharp verbal correction at any sign of misbehavior, or, worse, totally freezing her out of the picture in my absorption in my own stress.

    So, I decided to try an experiment on during the last run of the year, which was in Rally Excellent. I made a vow to smile at her every time she was looking at me, to give only the mildest of reminders if she looked away, and to smile and praise the instant she looked back. I would totally put Q and score out of my mind. We would not redo any signs. The run was all about focusing on her and letting her know that I was happy when she focused on me.
    By the third station, she was paying more attention and doing virtually no sniffing. I messed up a sign (my fault) and stuck to my plan to keep going and not repeat it. She was much perkier by the end of the run that I’ve seen her in most trials. But the biggest revelation was that, after the run, I realized I actually remembered seeing her for the entire run. I tend to get total tunnel vision as soon as I walk into a ring. I stride along with a vague idea that my dog is somewhere in the vicinity. Afterwards, I don’t remember much about what my dog was doing. Being totally focused on being there for MY DOG pushed a lot of the stress out of the picture.