I guess I can quote from one of my own books without seeking permission. The closing sentences of chapter 8 in Remembering to Breathe are:
". . . I often ask those less experienced in the sport, 'What are the three most essential elements in successful obedience competition training?'
"Some may respond, 'A leash, a collar and a dog.'
"But the correct answer is attention, attention,attention."
Many in the competition obedience world get it. Those with good dog attention get better scores. You can tell that a lot of time and effort has gone into teaching those dogs -- and motivating them -- to focus on the handler and the task at hand.
What's missing is equal emphasis on handler focus. If we expect unrelenting, bright-eyed attention from our dogs, shouldn't there be reciprocity? Don't the dogs deserve it?
Yep! But I see blatant, glaring disregard for that important element.
Here we have a group of people standing in a row, 12 yards from a line of dogs practicing Novice sits and downs. "Yaketty-yak." It's a coffee klatch. The dogs are right there in plain sight, but I wish I had $5 for every time I've had to call to a person in the line of handlers, "Hey So-andSo, your dog just went down."
"Oh! So-and-So exclaims, surprised. She goes and fixes her dog. Then she returns and the 'Yaketty-yak" resumes. And she expects what from her dog?
Then there's the the scent articles chit-chat. The handler is rubbing up the article while making small talk with the judge. Meanwhile Fluffy is gawking at, transfixed by, something outside the ring. At that point handler and dog are totally disengaged. Thirty seconds from now Fluffy is supposed to head for the pile sharply focused on getting the correct article.
Not once in more than two decades of showing have I had to politely tell a judge I didn't want to chit-chat while prepared the articles. At that point my body language and demeanor say it loudly and clearly. I have nothing on my mind except keeping my dog focused until I say, "Find mine!" and away he goes.
A big-time focus-buster in the competition ring is the temptation to check out those at ringside. Who's there? Are they watching me? What do they think? It gets infinitely worse when a neighbor or friend has come to watch Fluffy perform (screw up?).
A couple of years ago I decided to put the quietus on that and anything else that could divert my focus away from my dog when we're in the ring. I created my own simple but hard-to-win game. It's a companion piece, the flip side of The Seamless Exercise described in the preceding post.
It works like this: I pledge to myself not to glance outside the ring. Not once, not even for a second. If I do, I flunk -- not an exercise but my own personal commitment. One glance and for that time in the ring I'm an abject failure. There is no justification for my existence.
Try it. Not one glance in an entire run. That's very hard to do.
What came out of this personal focus commitment paired with The Seamless Exercise was the realization that there's being there and then there's intense focus.
Being in the ring with your dog, setting him up for the exercises, parroting the commands -- that's not focus. Intense focus is being locked in on your dog to the same degree you expect him to be locked in on you. We're talking about exclusivity here, my dog and I being singularly focused on each other.
* * *
Something else, something totally unexpected, has emerged from my effort to lock in and focus on my dog to the exclusion of all else.
I suffered from ring nerves from the day I first walked into the ring with my Novice A dog -- that's more than two decades. Dick Guetzloff recently told me, "You should only be nervous if you think your dog is going to screw up."
Well . . . yes!
Anyhow, I've read books written by Olympic gold-medalists. Listened to tapes about athletic performance anxiety. I've tried visualization, positive internal dialogue, deep breathing, psychocybernetics, and all the rest.
One afternoon during the time when I was showing Bravo!, I was talking to Louise Meredith and the subject of ring nerves came up. Louise had recently attained an OTCH with a border collie named Luc, a dog she described as a real scaredy-cat. "The whole time I'm in the ring with him," she told me, "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."
She added, "I think if you can concentrate on your dog so hard, on what you must give him, what you must do for him, you'll lose your ring nerves."
That advice dovetailed perfectly with what I was already committed to focus-wise that I immediately focused even more on, well, on focus. And bingo! That advice transcended all the books, all the tapes, all the relaxation techniques that had netted me nothing for decades. When I focus on my dog -- as Louise said, so hard -- the ring nerves can't penetrate.
And that, obedience fans, is the flip side of The Seamless Exercise.