wtorek, 14 marca 2017

On importance of mental preparation

The video of little Jack Russell Olly on Crufts went viral recently and as my friend Maria observed, it is met with three different kinds of reactions: some people find it hillarious (as the commentator on Crufts), some people despair that the dog is clearly stressed and some claim that dog sports as such are evil / cruel / stressful/ unnecessary. With the last group I'm not even going  into discussion, as I don't believe fanatics can be persuaded, also usually those people know next to nothing about dog training and dog sports in general. However, I didn't find the video hillarious either, and not just because Olly's fall after the jump is really nasty and personally I would have him checked by a physiotherapist. The dog actually is stressed. Dogs can stress high or low: low stressing dogs are easy to recognize, because they actually look stressed or afraid and their body language clearly shows it. We feel for dogs stressing low, we understand we need to take them out of the situation or teach them how to deal with it. Dog stressing high is slightly different matter and it's easily mistook for naughtiness / happiness / zoomies etc. Olly appears to be seeking exit of the ring at some point, which is a bit easier to recognize as a sign of his discomfort, but his awful miscalculation of the take off point for the jump, his inability to complete the weaves or his flying over the A-frame are also signs that he is not really able to think clearly under these circumstances. 

Let me clarify certain things: I don't blame the handler here - I've been there, done that, had such runs with Vigo, Considering that it was rescue novice I think it might have been really difficult to predict that awesome little dog would react in that way - possibly he never behaved like that before. I don't even think it was really such a terrible experience for him or that he should have never been exposed to it. But I do think Olly could have been prepared better for this, for his stress results not from fear for his life, but from the inability to deal with his emotions and excitement. 

Agility is stressful up to a point, both for us and for our dogs. I'm not saying it's bad - I actually believe that certain amount of stress is beneficial (some people believe otherwise, but there is enough scientific evidence proving that moderate stress can motivate us, challenge us and even make us healthier... or maybe it's just for us, the adreanaline junkies 😜). The crucial point here is that stress is only beneficial if we know how to deal with it, if we feel that in the end we can control it. These are the skills Olly was lacking - good thing is they can be taught and this is something that I really focus on with my puppies. The reason for that is that I want my dogs to be able to deal even with potentially as difficult environment as Crufts (lots of spectators, lots of lights and sounds, handler most probably being more stressed than normally during training or competition). I want them to be able to think clearly, I want them to be able to perform the obstacles safely, I want them to actually have the time of their lives whenever we step into the ring together. I would say that this is as important a skill as actually teaching them to perform the obstacles correctly. Without that, you can never have a dog that is consistently happy and cool in the competition environment or one that is consistently performing his or her best. Key elements of this mental preparation are socialisation, self-control and ability to "switch off" or relax after really high-charged, motivating play. It also helps to have certain rituals for warming up and coolind the dog down after the run. 

Just give it some thought. Prepare your dog. Don't forget mental preparation is key to your future success and most importantly, to your dog's well-being.

(Photo for attention and because they are so pretty).