The Power of the Mind: Controlling Show-Ring Stress

Mental attitude plays an essential role in your physical response to stress and how you control your emotions. A positive attitude makes a great difference in you, and it can also mean a significant difference in your dog’s reaction to you and the show ring.

While it is not possible to completely hide your nerves from your dog, there are many things you can do to control your stress. One is to become familiar with the routine of the show ring, and training classes and stewarding are very valuable in this regard. Also, you can minimize the dog’s sensing of the extra adrenaline in your body by sucking on a breath mint. That will help mask the adrenaline odor, and if you control your body motions, the dog may not ever notice how scared you are.

Another good idea is to arrive early at ringside, get your armband, and sit watching the judge do his work. Almost all judges use the same pattern and routine in the ring for all of the breeds they judge. If you know what is expected, you should be more confident.

Bring your dog well groomed enough so that the grooming that is done at the show will be pleasant and relaxing for both of you. They say that stroking a dog lowers a person’s blood pressure, and this is the time to try it.

When at ringside, concentrate on your dog rather than visiting and chatting with other exhibitors. It takes concentration to notice subtle differences in your dog’s attitude when in his view he is surrounded by legs and other dogs. How you compensate for changes in his mood and attitude can make a difference between winning or losing in tough competition.

While you are concentrating on your dog, you must also be aware of everything going on around you and how that could affect you and your dog. You might see a dog who is coming too close to yours, and hopefully you will react before your dog does.

The mental preparation is especially important when you have made the cut and you realize that you may be in line for a good win. The adrenaline will be pumping, and your actions will speed up. Adrenaline makes your motions less smooth, and your strength increases, so that little jerk you gave on the lead became a hard yank. Take a deep breath, relax, and slow down a bit.

When nerves start up, you may find yourself looking at your dog’s fault every few seconds, to check that it is still hidden. All that does is call the judge’s attention to what you do not want noticed. Instead of emphasizing a fault buy fussing at it, use subtle presentation to look at and admire the best features of your dog. Human curiosity being what it is, you can draw the judge’s attention to what you want him to see.

The power of your mind is as important in showing dogs as in any endeavor. Everything you do before and during the time you are in the ring has a mental component to it. You must believe in your dog, and you must transfer that belief to the dog so that he feels as if he is the greatest dog in the world. Our Wires tend to believe that anyway, so we are a bit ahead of the game.

The better you can control your thoughts, fears, and emotions and learn to concentrate, the more likely it is that your dog will show better and have a better chance of winning.

Virginia Matanic (briarlea@citlink.net), American Fox Terrier Club

May 2013 AKC Gazette