Training Tip – Staying Cool & Calm in Agility Competitions

This month’s tip is contributed by agility competitor Kaela Morris of Thousand Oaks, CA. Kaela shares some great tips on what all competitors experience, especially when they first start competing – nerves!

Kaela started agility training with her All-American Dog, Jeter, when he was 7 months old and they began competing when he was 15 months old. The team has shared many achievements, including earning two Master Agility Championships and qualifying for three AKC National Agility Championships.

Try not to put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Nobody is perfect and mistakes happen! They are doing everything in their power to please you! It's hard I have been there where I get frustrated if everything goes wrong, but you have to remember that they didn't intentionally do it! 

Do not beat yourself up or dwell on what could have happened. It happened and now you could learn from that mistake and try not to do it again!

 In my experience if I would have stuck to that mindset, I know we would have had more Q's! More often than not, nerves get the best of you. When this happens to me I try to remain calm and remember we are all participating in this great sport to have fun and bond with our dogs! 

Here are a few things I do to remain calm during my agility runs and have a positive mindset:

  • Have More Than 1 Plan -  I walk the agility course several different ways. I have a few plans in my head and different options for how to handle different parts of the course. When I first started trying to run the course the exact way I walked it, I would panic if something went wrong. I wouldn't be able to think fast enough to show my dog where I want him to go. All those runs I would be a nervous wreck after making a mistake. I know I needed to fix that. 

This past year I have been walking the course the way I want to run it. Then I would walk it looking at other ways I could handle different sections. The way I end up running the course really depends on my dog's speed and my positioning. His speed throughout the run helps me decide what crosses I need to execute to show him the best path for that particular section of the course. 

  • Visualize - After walking the courses with several options, I stand at the front of the ring and visualize the order of the obstacles. I always worry I am going to forget part of the course right before I run or during my run. To help with this, I do not dwell on one part of the courses; I visualize the whole thing. I used to worry about a difficult part of the course and focus all my attention to that one part. I would then mess up another part of the course, because I used all my focus and attention on this one spot and not the whole course. For me it's very important to visualize the whole course from start to finish, and not just one part that I find difficult or challenging. 
  • Warm up - Once I visualized the whole course I go and get my dog and warm him up. It calms me down to focus only on him and not worry about who is running and how other people are handling the course. I really do love watching my friends and their dogs run, but every dog is different and my dog especially runs differently than most dogs. I do a few stretches with him and a few attention exercises to make sure he is focused on me and not distracted on what's happening around us. 
  • Be Confident in Your Partner - Once I feel like he is ready to go, and I see I have a few dogs left before we have to go in, I walk up to the ring, and have him sit by my side. To make sure my nerves don't get the best of me, I visualize the course one more time and how I want to run it. I am truly confident in my dog and his abilities and how I want to handle the course. Right before I go into the ring, I do a few attention exercises, I give him a kiss, and take a big breath in and out. I tell myself to have fun and think about how grateful I am to be able to run with my best friend. He keeps me calm and reminds me how lucky I am to be in a position to spend our weekends doing what we love!