On Managing the Space Between Your Ears (The Mental Game)

This is my first post for the dog agility blog event – please be gentle with me :)!

brainI had been doing agility for many years before I got serious about developing a mental game. It’s something nobody talks about or teaches in class. Yet what I’ve learned in my journey is that what goes on in the space between your ears is every bit as critical to your performance as what goes on in the space between obstacles.

In every aspect of our lives, we have a “self image” – our perception of our abilities and skills in various situations. Brains are funny – they like to be consistent. So subconsciously, we are drawn to remaining in our comfort zone. This means that like it or not, we will act in ways which “fit” our self image. Your subconscious tries to make sure that you behave “like yourself” – whatever that may be.

So what does that mean in an agility context?

– If you keep telling yourself that you’re an awful handler, are you comfortable with being a “good” handler? Is that “like you?”
– If you keep telling yourself you always mess up sequence xyz, is it “like you” to handle xyz correctly?
– If you keep telling yourself you have no concentration span and can’t even focus for the 30-70 seconds it takes to run a course, is it “like you” to stay focused for just those few seconds?

Step #1 – Stop the negative self talk! Just … stop it!

Every time you put yourself down – whether you say it out loud, write it on Facebook or just listen to that evil little voice inside your head, you reinforce the negative self-image and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We focus on the positive with our dogs, right? Focus on what you did RIGHT during that last run. Replay the parts that went well. Watch the “bloopers” on video just enough to see what you need to practice or proof, or to understand how you could have handled that section more successfully. Then stop. Practice the skills you need to practice. Watch videos of the good runs at least twice as many times as you watch the bad ones.

If your instructor treats you like a lost cause, find another instructor – one who believes in you AND your dog!

Like any skill, managing your mental game isn’t something you learn overnight. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. If you can just make that one little change, you’ll be off to a good start.

Thanks for listening! In case you’re wondering, I loosely follow Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management system. You can read more about it in his book With Winning in Mind. If you aren’t convinced about the effect your thoughts can have on your life, grab a copy of Freedom Flight too.

Don’t forget to stop by http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/the-mental-game/ and read what other agility bloggers have to say about the mental game.

Kacey, Novice Trick Cat

Kacey, Novice Trick Cat

Kacey, posing with her DMWYD Novice Trick Cat title certificate. Kacey is only the 4th cat titled through that program. Video to follow (’cause I know there will be doubters!)

This and That

Well another year coming to a close! Who saw THAT coming?

I’ve been a very bad blogger lately and I blame Facebook. It’s too easy hop on there and post a quick status instead of a lengthy blog post, and after several status updates the blog post seems redundant.

Somehow we got through the Fall agility season fairly well despite only having use of my teeny-tiny yard to train in. Jayda (who just moved into the B classes this summer) is now 2 Q’s from her MJP, halfway to her MXP and, after several weekends in the “one little thing” club, finally got her first double Q. She’s also just 2 Jackpots and 5 Standard Q’s from her C-ATCH2. Despite her issues, I’m really enjoying her these days. Jayda is the poster child for “good egg” and she really has no technical/equipment issues at all – getting good runs out of her really comes down to choosing venues where she feels “safe”, and I’ve added a few more of those to our list this year. And at home she makes me smile, she makes me laugh – I adore her :)!

Raven started out the season really well, only to fall apart in the end. Not sure what’s up with her – if it’s a confidence problem or something physical. Probably a little of both. She tested negative for TBD’s, but to me she looks “stuck” in her mid-lower back so a long-postponed trip to the chiropractor is definitely in order, probably followed by some remedial training and a lot of cookies.

Bryce is still in clinical remission. If I look at him at certain times and in certain light, he looks exactly the same as he always has, but looking at him closely he seems to get older by the minute. He’s developed some really odd quirks, and I have to wonder if we will share another New Years after this – that makes me sad. I know I’ve been saying that since his cancer diagnosis, but he IS almost 13 1/2 now. I ran him in agility a couple weekends ago – just CPE Fullhouse (Veteran, Level 5.) I found a nice do-able strategy for him, we had a good run – qualified and placed with time to spare, but I could see him get a little “confused” at one point. It may be time to fully retire him – will totally miss running the little guy, but it would be nice to end his career on a happy and dignified note.

Speaking of agility, I am going to be teaching agility part-time again next year :)! I’m excited and a little apprehensive all at once, having been away from it for several years, but I do miss it. I love agility and I like helping other teams learn and be their best – simple as that.

Hopefully not a bad omen that I got miserably sick (sore throat, coughing, sneezing, laryngitis, sniffling, fever, not-sleeping, tapering off to just a lttle sniffling and coughing now) after spending a weekend at the facility where I will be teaching – or maybe it’s some kind of really weird good omen?

Kitties are good. Kacey and Hat have become BFF’s – they often sleep together and there’s a ridiculous amount of mutual grooming. Cuteness overload! Kacey is doing pretty well at nearly 16 – I do have to watch her eating, since Biki often noses her out and eats her food! She’s a skinny little thing to begin with so I’m always giving her “snacks” – she doesn’t complain.

Cassie (left) now has the run of my upstairs room most of the time, and is pretty friendly with Hat and Kacey. I need to bring the dogs up there more often so that they’re “familiar” to her when she starts to come downstairs. Biki refuses to even go upstairs and LOOK at her (though she’s curious enough to sit outside the door) – I have a feeling it will be ugly when those two (who are probably real-life sisters, or half-sisters) finally meet!

Cassie is a little snugglebug with me, and now that she’s not constantly on alert like she was outside, she’s relaxing and learning to play. She loves her catnip and is just starting to see the fun in wand toys. She may be getting a new name for the new year – “Cassie” and “Kes-Kes” started turning into “Cassandra” and the urban-chic “Kessindra” which has lately turned into “Cindee”. It seems to fit her.

I love that Cassie/Cindee and Hat are both safely inside now, but it has its drawbacks: After years of freedom from rodent pest problems, there are icky mice in my basement again, and even worse, I had a flying squirrel in my house again a few weeks ago! I think I need another “porch cat!” Any takers?

Constellation Energy – Way to NOT get my Business!

Dear Constellation Energy:

With the deregulation of power suppliers in my state, many energy companies, including yours, have been sending me offers soliciting my business.

Small problem. You see, you never sent an offer to ME. Instead, the one and only offer from you arrived at my house addressed to my father. My father who has been deceased for over a decade. My father who never was in any way a bill payer at this address – a single family home which I own and which is in MY name.

So why was this offer addressed to him? Because the prefix was “Mr.???”

I realize this is just some computer program / mailing list screwup and not a personal decision on your part, but FYI, that sort of thing pisses me off. I trashcanned your offer. I may go with one of your competitors. One who knows who pays the freakin’ bills.

Have a nice day.

A Touch of Summer in Fall on Long Island

In the spring and fall, agility trials are so plentiful around here that you might have a choice of several venues and locations on any given weekend. This past weekend there was Skyline’s CPE trial in Stony Point and two AKC trials – a small one on Long Island and a larger one in eastern PA. Door #1, door #2 or door #3? The CPE trial was the closest and being a Skyline member I rarely pass up a club trial, but I’m prioritizing on AKC these days so I broke with tradition and went with door #2 – the Long Island trial.

I’m not at all sorry I did! While participants at the other trials ended up slogging through a cross between agility and mud wrestling, we had great footing and not a drop of rain. If I were to be picky, I would have preferred it to have been about 10 degrees cooler and a little less humid, but it overall we lucked out big-time. A great judge and some fun courses rounded out the weekend.

Big news of the weekend was that Raven got her AXJ on Saturday on a very technical course which didn’t yield a lot of Q ribbons! We had some weebly-wobbly lines which cost us time, but her short body and responsiveness make her fun to handle on that kind of course.

I don’t always bother to take a toy when we win one, but I couldn’t resist that one – it’s a Halloween bat and it’s too cute!

I think Jayda would have done well on that course too, had she not taken down the triple early on. She was feeling rather stressed on Saturday and I think she was taking off early, because she ticked the triple on her Standard run also. After she dropped the bar, I decided to try a blind cross in part of the course – I was really itching to try it, but would never have had the guts if there was a Q on the line. It almost worked – I didn’t give her long legs quite enough room and pushed her to the wrong side of the jump. But she took the cue nicely and didn’t even look at the off course tunnel – had I stepped a little deeper into the pocket and given her the room she needed, it would have been really nice – that move is filed away for future use :).

It was a jumpers kind of weekend. Sunday’s course was promised to be a “wahoo” course, and it was, with lots of running for dogs and handlers alike. On Sunday Jayda was much more relaxed and this time BOTH girls Q’d in JWW. Raven started out very sluggish (she’s not a fan of hot weather) but picked up speed about 4 obstacles into the course, JUST squeaking by on time for her first MXJ leg. Jayda finished the weekend with a beautiful, attentive 1st place run, beating Raven’s time for her 4th MJP leg and the most points she’s ever earned in a Jumpers run! Wahoo, Jayda :)!

So the new Family Challenge is on: Which sister will get her Master Jumpers title first? Stay tuned!