How deliberate training builds confidence.

dog training Jul 25, 2019
Photo Kim Perry

When we go into the ring – any ring: conformation, agility, obedience, draft, etc. – there are SO many components that go into making a performance excellent. Yet one of the main causes of not feeling confident is rooted in feeling unprepared or even just less prepared than we would prefer.

I want to pause and emphasize the word “feeling” as I’m using it intentionally. Our ring nerves and performance anxieties are emotional states and not necessarily based in logic, nor are they rational, but they are real.

OK, back to feeling prepared. It helps to distinguish between things we can do something about and plan for (like packing for ourselves and our dogs) and things I’ll call “circumstances” (like the heat/air conditioning not working or a flat tire). It’s hard to let go of the latter group, but truthfully it’s a waste of energy and imagination! Plus, unchecked, fleeting thoughts can become worries can become obsessions and that leads to nowhere good.

So assuming we get good at letting go of what we can’t control, we’re left with what we can address. In this category sits the preparedness of our dog to be able to do what we are asking him/her to do.

Ready or not

If I’m personalizing, I have absolutely entered a dog into a ring where he wasn’t as prepared as I would like. Sometimes I’ve done it to test readiness and training; other times I’m working through a known issue, and sometimes it’s my specialty and I think, “why not?!”

But here, let’s narrow the conversation to entering dogs who we believe are ready to be in the ring – maybe not be perfect – and be respectable. Self-doubt can creep in when there’s something about the situation that pings an insecurity. It could be a concern about a skill our dog may not have down all the way or something nagging about our own ability to execute, but on some level we don’t feel prepared.

Is there an “enough?”

I think that the concept of being prepared “enough” is personal and unique to everyone and every dog. I am naturally inclined to be more prepared for venues I really care about and/or am confident in teaching my dogs the skills. What matters is that we match our expectations with our own concept of (good) “enough.”

“If we want to be consistently confident, we have to take consistent action.” — Annette Paterakis

The best handlers have the best habits, or those things they do regularly – every day or every time they pick up a leash. Our confidence in the ring starts with cultivating good habits and one I will challenge you to create is that of training deliberately.

Deliberate training: practicing or training in purposeful, deliberate ways until you master individual skills, or ones you shine a spotlight on.

The best handlers also have a growth mindset (something we will delve into in the upcoming Masterclass), and are striving to always improve. As a matter of fact, they want to grow and evolve as much as they want to win. So these handlers are willing to go deep on a skill and master it with all the patience necessary to achieve their process goals. In this context, failure is just feedback.

Deliberate in real life

Many of us, myself included, take group classes and are guilty of showing up to class and giving ourselves and our dog over to whatever the instructor has planned. In a novice obedience class, for example, we might rotate through all the exercises working just a little on each one instead of focusing on a few. 

Now I love group classes and find they hold me accountable, provide distractions for proofing and even apply a little peer pressure. However I would be a much better student and more successful handler if I showed up to class with my own plan that was in line with my goals and worked those skills within the class.

Plan your plan

Of course, in order to train deliberately – focus on a few skills until they are excellent – we need to take the time to create a roadmap and develop goals that will build toward a smooth agility run or elegant obedience pattern. I suggest taking one venue at a time and breaking down all the skills you and your dog will need in order to lay down a terrific performance. I mentioned in the FB Live that I use 3×5 cards for this (an idea shared with me). Then I can pick up a couple of cards from the pile and really focus since I’ve already identified the skills I will need.

Training deliberately will help you improve your preparedness quickly and with focus. This will become a habit that in turn will support you in building confidence because you can trust in your training. You’ll be developing a growth mindset, planning training sessions, and getting results – just like those successful handlers you admire!

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