Don’t let stress keep you from doing your best
By Jordan York
This issue’s training tip is from Jordan York, who lives in Southern Indiana with three dogs: a 9-year-old All American, Moses; a 4-year-old Border Collie rescue, Nile; and a 7-month-old Border Collie puppy, Capture. Jordan is a registered nurse and works as an emergency department nurse during the week and competes with his dogs on the weekends. He also teaches agility handling for the Agility Club of Evansville.
Moses is Jordan’s Novice A dog who he took to an AKC Agility Grand Championship. He also competes in obedience, rally, and tricks. Moses is finishing his RAE5 and is returning to the obedience world to begin working on UDX this year. Moses has competed in multiple agility and rally national events and has been invited to the AKC Agility Invitational three times, where he placed seventh in the 20-inch class in 2017.
Below, Jordan shares tips that will help take the stress out of competitions for dogs and their handlers.
As a Novice A handler, I can vividly remember the overwhelming feelings and emotions as I entered the ring for my very first competition. I started with basic home obedience classes when Moses was 6 months old and moved on to Rally classes soon after. Moses was around 2 years old for his first Rally Trial. I was a nervous wreck going into the ring, and every bit of that nervousness transferred to my dog. The leash between you and the dog is literally a line that connects you, and feelings and emotions are transferred between that line constantly. As I have become more familiar with the trial environment, I have learned many tricks along the way to make the trial experience much more pleasant for the handler and the dog.
Before entering your first trial, planning is needed. Much of this planning and “pre-trial” work can be done between you and your trainer. Work with your trainer to mimic the trial environment. Practice run throughs just as if you were going to a show for real. Have your trainer be with you out in the ring. Whether obedience or agility, there will be a judge in the ring. This can cause problems for some dogs and handlers. Many clubs offer show-n-go’s or practice run-throughs. Take full advantage of these events as they are the closest thing to the trial environment that you can get.
Work with your trainer on the rules and entry forms. Many new handlers have problems with knowing the rules before entering an event or do not know how to properly fill out an entry form. Our obedience club has started a class that teaches new handlers how to fill out forms and how to perform the stewarding jobs at the trial. When you sign the entry form, you are stating that you know the rules. While reading the entire rule book front to back may not be necessary, going over “what-ifs” with your trainer or things you can and cannot do can be a big help and stress reliever for the first time you enter the ring.
Your First Trial
Pack for success. Every great trainer and competitor I know has a trial bag with anything and everything that they could ever need at a trial. Your dog’s favorite treats, toys, water dishes, collars, leashes, waste disposal bags, and many other things can be placed in your training/trial bag. I also keep a spare dumbbell for obedience and a spare pair of agility shoes in case I forget mine when packing. I keep a folder with all my paperwork. Print your trial confirmation from the trial secretary; it has ring times, armband numbers, classes entered, and many other useful bits of information that you might need at the trial. I also keep a copy of the most recent rule book for the event entered, copies of my jump height cards for agility, and updated records of my dog’s vaccines and rabies information. A final item that I keep in my trial bag is breath mints. One of my first trainers noted that a quick breath mint before going into the ring can help decrease stress; I have one before every obedience and rally run to this day! A well-stocked trial bag can help decrease nerves and stress prior to entering the ring.
I recommend that your first trial be somewhere you are familiar with: either your own training facility or somewhere you have been before. Going somewhere new can be a stressor for you and your dog, but is certainly something that can be overcome if you choose to show someplace new. Arrive early to get your crate set up, provide fresh water for your dog, take him for a small walk and relax before worrying about your first run. Arriving late can cause you to be rushed and lose bonding time with your dog before going in to the ring. Once you are set up and familiar with the site, review the order of obedience exercises that the judge has picked for the day or review your rally/agility maps. Familiarizing yourself with the course will help you maximize your time walking the course if it is allowed. Each trial will have a set of maps posted for review; use your phone to take a picture of these maps if paper copies have run out – something that does happen. You can use the map after the trial to set up and work on sequences with your trainer back home.
VOLUNTEER! Once you enter your first trial, volunteer to ring steward or re-set jump heights. This is one of the best ways to learn your sport. You get a front row seat to see fellow competitors; you can see what works and what doesn’t. Chief ring stewards are more than happy to have your help and will always take the time to teach you the job. Many times, if the judge knows that you are a new steward, they will even take the time to explain to you what they want to see happen in their ring and give you tips along the way to help you succeed.
Heading in To the Ring
When it’s time for your run, make sure that the only things that you are focused on are you, your dog, and the task at hand. Now is not the time to check your cell phone for text messages or talk to friends about their runs. Connect with your dog and get ready to do the best that you can. I like to warm up with fun tricks before going into the ring. For obedience and rally, we do small space pivots and attention exercises to warm up our bodies and sharpen our focus to each other. Before agility runs, we do fun tricks like “take a bow” and “say your prayers.” These not only help us to connect before we go in, but they also help Moses stretch his muscles before running. Little tricks like “spin” and “reverse” can help warm up the rear end before running. These tricks can help put you both at ease and gives you something to focus on with your dog.
Once the judge calls you in to the ring TAKE A DEEP BREATH! Relax your shoulders, take a breath, and do what you and your dog know how to do. Remember that this is a dog sport and not rocket science. You filled out your form and paid your entries to come and have fun with your dog. Mistakes will happen, and they are there for you to learn from. If you have the chance, pack a recording device in your training bag. Before your run, ask a fellow competitor to record you. You can learn so much from reviewing your runs once the you are done. The more you trial, the less the ring stress will get to you and your dog. Enjoy the sport and cherish the time showing off what you and your dog have (or haven’t) learned and then grow from that time in the ring.