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?