I thought I’d write a little blog about what we do before and after a show as I am a massive believer about our dogs not only being physically ready to compete but more importantly mentally ready!
Mental preperation for your dog is so important, I see lots of dogs that in my opinion are far from ready to be put into the ring which can lead to all kinds of problems for the dog which then lead to the dog making mistakes which then leads to a wrongly frustrated handler!!
So what do I do on the lead up, at the show and afterwards? Here is a little run down for you :
The following routine works really well for us, I’m not suggesting that you copy it exactly, but that you find a routine that suits you and your dog to make sure they are calm and happy when competing or even in a class.
You all know I bang on about calmness a lot and the reason for that is because it is SO important! For anyone wanting to know more we run a very informative workshop on calmness, I’d recommend booking on that as a fantastic starting point.
On the lead up to a show my dogs will be ’emptying their buckets’ for at least the 2 days before, they won’t go on a walk – they will be practicing lots of calming activities and calm games at home and we will do a lot of scent work to keep their minds busy in a calm manner.
At the show when we arrive we take each dog individually for a little walk round (on lead) to stretch their legs and go to the toilet.
If the dogs aren’t running (having a go at the competition) they will be relaxing in their crates in the van, you will never see my dogs ringside unless they are either queuing or we are doing a bit of training and even then it is max 10 mins but we don’t usually train skills at a show we are competing at.
Flash did a lot of visiting the show environment right from being a puppy and growing up as we were there with Milo. We walked him round, played games, practiced recalls, sit and waits etc just to get him happy being around the show.
Milo didn’t have as much of this preperation and I do belive this is what contributed to his previous lack of confidence in a show environment. The games are so powerful as they are what have transformed Milo’s confidence and just seeing how happy he is at a show now is everything to me!
We have trained / rehearsed the dogs being calm in crates since they were puppies and we have then transferred this over into the van – it’s important to mention our van is kitted out especially for the dogs in all weathers. NEVER leave a dog in a car that is too hot / cold or if the dog isn’t happy in it! If you planning on competing with your dog it is something to consider that your car is adequately kitted out for the dogs in hot weather with adequate cooling methods etc and also for the cold months too as there is a lot of hanging around at competitions.
Once they have been to the loo, depending on the timings of their runs they are back in their crates right until they are due to have their turn.
When it’s our go, we get them out of the van, walk them round calmly and ask them to go to the toilet, they have opportunity to sniff and take in their environment while we are on the way to the queue. We also make sure they are warmed up and physically ready to run.
When we get into the queue it is all about focus and calmness while we wait. My dogs are given space from others, they don’t interact with other dogs or people but there is a constant interaction with me – it is a pet hate of mine when dogs are in the queue interacting with other dogs, as often the dogs don’t like it or they are more interested in the other dogs than the owner which then doesn’t transfer well to the ring! Both my dogs have a different routine to what I do with them in the queue as they both have a different personality and I match the games to suit this.
I guard my dogs very much from interacting with other dogs and people while we are in that environment as its not fair on them if I give them mixed signals on what is allowed sometimes and what isn’t. Imagine how confusing it is for them if we allowed them to say hello to dogs sometimes but then a few mins later, a few yards away they suddenly had to forget about that dog and run agility!
After the run they are rewarded whatever the outcome and I get my dog out of the arena as fast but as calmly as possible – their adrenaline is pumping, they have just concentrated, ran and worked hard for me, this is when their ‘bucket’ would be filling quite fast! When outside I allow them to sniff if they want to, we slowly walk back to the van allowing them to cool down, I guard them from any passing dogs by playing focus games, scatter feeding or simply moving them out of the way.
They are in the arena / environment for maximum 5 minutes, their actual agility run lasts anywhere between 22 and 40 SECONDS. But please don’t underestimate how mentally tough this is for them!
In the van they get a big fuss, another reward and and calming activity to do, I make sure their water bowl is full and I cover their crate to allow them to switch off. This process is repeated throughout the day depending on how many runs the dogs have and the timing of those runs.
The day(s) after a show the dogs spend time ’emptying their buckets’ in the same way they did previous to the show, they won’t be walked, they will have lots of rest time to allow both their bodies and their minds to recover, they will play calm scent games, have Likimats and enjoy time relaxing with lots of cuddles too!
Lots of people don’t train their dogs to switch off and this is so so important for not only agility training but for everyday life !! I work with lots of dogs that spend their time in high arousal where they just can’t think straight – owners often make the mistake of branding the dog ‘naughty or stubborn’
As trainer I’ve never met a naughty or stubborn dog yet – I’ve met lots of dogs who are ‘highly aroused’ either through being worried or excited and I’ve also met lots of dogs who just simply don’t understand the tasks the owners are setting them.
Mental wellbeing in dogs is something I’m hugely passionate about, lots of owners could eradicate problematic behaviours and get a better agility performance if they only knew how to spot the signs and help their dogs out in all situations.
I will never know everything as a trainer and I find that really exciting – the dog world is rapidly growing and this is why it is so important that we grow with it, learning is key!
We will never stop learning, we are always on training courses, workshops and camps to expand our knowledge and training is always ongoing with my dogs. This knowledge then gets passed down to you with workshops, classes and events.
Keep your dogs happy and everyone’s a winner despite the results!
Play… Train… Enjoy… Succeed!