Noticing vs. giving attention

energy ring nerves Jan 23, 2024

When I think about what "takes me out" at a trial, it's usually because I've allowed my attention and energy to wander off in a not-so-good direction. Examples include: the time I obsessed about a fellow competitor's parking choice, letting myself get twisted up about my ring conflict and what the judge said to me, fixating on the dogs around me in the line-up, and more. (Insert your own experiences as you like.)


The point is that I allowed other things (things I did not control) hijack my energy and attention, taking energy and attention away from my own performance.


When I coach handlers on this topic, I talk about the difference between noticing something and giving it attention. The analogy I use is to think of yourself driving down an expressway with billboards on either side. You likely notice the billboards but forget about them as soon as you pass them. However, if you notice a billboard for Starbucks just as your energy wanes, you note the exit number and how many miles until your next shot of caffeine. You will shift your focus to ensure you don't miss the exit and start to think about placing your order.


You've given the Starbucks billboard your attention, and as a result, it's taking up thoughts in your brain until you are back on the road. Noticing the billboard versus giving it your attention.


We do this at trials all day long. We notice all kinds of things, from what someone is wearing to listening to a dog barking in its crate. We notice these things, but they don't take up any mental space, nor do they take up any energy. Our dogs notice all sorts of things all day, too.


Then there are the things we give our attention to - the things we think about repeatedly throughout our day. We get hooked on a thought or a feeling often because we cannot resolve it neatly in our minds. We can't let it go for whatever reason; we are not in control.


When we are nervous, we give our attention away more easily because it becomes an outlet for our nervous energy. Unresolved nerves or anxiety can often look like obsessing over something that seems minor to someone else. The time I obsessed half the day about how someone parked next to me when there was not a designated parking space was just me needing an outlet for my excited energy.


When we train dogs to give us their attention by looking at us, we get to the point in our proofing where it's okay for the dog to notice the distraction so long as they look back at us and not give the distraction their attention. (Click and treat!) That's precisely what we need to do! It's okay (and normal!) to notice things in our environment, but it doesn't mean they warrant our attention. We notice and come back. (Click and treat! Ha!) We get to decide what deserves our attention versus what's an energy-sucking distraction.

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