Problems at Trial

Handler's nervousness affects the dog

Here are some things that might help:

  • Leave the dog in the crate until showtime. Don't mess with the dog. When you go to get them out they are real happy to see you and want to please you.
  • When you walk up to the ring entrance make every effort to remember to breath. A dog's first clue that something is wrong in the pack is one of the members freeze and don't breath. Have someone with you who constantly reminds you to breath.
  • Before you go to get the dog put a mint (preferably spearmint) in your mouth. Dogs have good smelling and can smell fear (something to do with your body chemistry change). The mint will cover this up.
  • Think POSITIVE!!!!! If you imagine a perfect run through enough times it WILL happen!!
  • Always have fun!

(Elaine Striler)

Try the book "That Winning Feeling" by Jane Savoie which has helped lots of people. You might also try taking a hold of yourself, giving yourself a good mental shake and saying to yourself, "Now look. This is stupid. You've got a well-trained dog and have worked hard. Go in there and see what you still have to work on. That's all this is: another practice that'll tell you where your training flaws are, and will also tell you what you've done RIGHT." Other than that, the only cure is to show A LOT and you are likely to "get over it". It's hard to sustain terror. (Pam Hartley)

Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic remedy that you can buy from health food shops. Some people have used it with success when they become very nervous in the ring. (Pam Smith)

Agility is a TEAM sport. It's not just you and not just your dog. It's the two of you. In practice, you are relaxed, you are breathing, the tone of your voice is nice and normal, you aren't broadcasting to your dog STRESS STRESS STRESS. When you exhibit such stress to the dog at a show, you are a Jeckyll and Hyde to your dog. Sometimes -- in practice or in matches, where no titles are on the line -- you are your dog's good ole partner, working with the dog, communicating to him as a partner. Other times, the times that you are stressed, you ARE NOT THE PARTNER YOUR DOG IS USED TO. You're a stranger he doesn't know and, obviously, doesn't want to know. You aren't BREATHING, your voice and body are radiating stress in every direction. You are only going to solve this problem by finding ways to reduce your stress at the trial so that you are the same partner your dog is used to. Among the things that you can do:

  • BREATHE. It is really amazing how many exhibitors, in whatever dog sport, stop breathing!!! So as you are waiting to go to the line and waiting at the line, BREATHE.
  • As you get to the start line, release the stress out of your body, starting with your head and working down the body. You will only have a few seconds to do this, but practice at it helps a lot. Think about where you most carry your stress in your body and concentrate on those areas - shoulders, butt, neck, whatever.
  • Work on keeping your voice soft and low. This is definitely easier said than done, but it is essential.
  • Do whatever it takes to keep you relaxed before you go to the ring. Have a routine for warming up your dog. Get a shoulder massage. Take a nap. Whatever it takes to stay calm and cool.
  • Don't get into situations that will cause you to stress. For example, don't lose track of the running order or what dogs in front of you in the catalogue have scratched, so that you get to the line in a frazzled state. Get to the gate area early, and have a routine for getting ready to enter the gate. If you need to work with the practice jump or do some quick heel-work, or potty your dog, make a routine out of it and know when to do each thing.
  • Doing Tellington touch work on your dog before you get ready to go to the gate may be really helpful for both you and the dog.

(Billie Rosen)

The original Tellington Touch Book is The Tellington Touch by Linda Tellington-Jones with Sybil Taylor. It was published by Viking in the US and by Penguin Books in the UK, Canada and Australia. The ISBN is 0-670-82578-6. There are books specifically for dogs and cats now. In the US, at least, you can call 800-854-TEAM for more information. (Rebecca Wong)

Some more suggestions:

  • When you are waiting by the gate, try to avoid touching the dog. If your dog is food motivated, bring something REALLY good (such as Roll-Over or liver brownies) with you to the ring. Feed the dog liberally while you are waiting--not big pieces, but little pieces. Feed the dog until you are called into the area where food is no longer allowed. If your dog is toy-motivated, play with him and his favorite toy. The nice thing about feeding the dog is that his attention will be totally captivated and you can take your eyes off of him and watch the dog on course so you can remember the course!
  • Teach your dog some silly pet tricks--like roll over. You can have the dog do the trick outside the ring while you are feeding him. In fact, you can even do it right on the start line and then just take off. The silly trick may help take both of your minds off the stress.
  • Doing something out of the ordinary can help snap a dog out of the stress...try doing something different every few shows whether it be having the dog roll over on the line or blowing in his face at the line or whatever. Turn it into a game and then just take off running.
  • If you have started the course and see that the dog is really stressed out, stop and pet him.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations for both yourself and the dog. Many dogs are more sensitive to failure than we give them credit for. You know that your goals are realistic when you can come away from any trial and feel you have accomplished something (whether or not there are ribbons in the car).
  • Agility is a voluntary sport! You're in the ring because you want to be! Have fun.

(Monica Percival)

One way to work on this is to make your practices MORE stressful. Get all your friends together and set up a Masters/Elite course. With everyone watching you, the pressure will build a little like a real trial. Run your dog, and when you make a mistake, and you will, RECOVER. DO SOMETHING. DON'T LET THE DOG KNOW THAT ANYTHING IS WRONG. Those watching can yell "RECOVER" to jar the handler into action. As you learn to cope with mistakes without loosing your cool, you will make fewer mistakes, and the dog will stay much happier. (Nancy Ballerstedt)

For anxious and fearful dogs, try Homeopet's Anxiety formulation and the Bach Flower Remedies: Aspen, Larch and Mimulus. (Rebecca Wong) There is a great book on the subject that even includes a section on which flower essences to use to treat various animal problems. FLOWER ESSENCE REPERTORY: A Comprehensive Guide to North American and English Flower Essences for Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being, Patricia Kaminski & Richard Katz, The Flower Essence Society/Earth-Spirit, Inc., 1994, P.O. Box 459, Nevada City, Ca. 95959, Tel: (800) 548-0075 (916) 265-6193 Fax: (916) 265-6467. (Bonnie Goodfriend)

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