In the dog world, “pressure” can mean a whole bunch of stuff!

Pressure in an agility – as in pressure on their line or on the dog
Pressure in herding – as in the dog putting pressure on the sheep
Pressure in training – might be adding a positive stressor for proofing
And the list could go on and on and on …

So for clarity, today I’m going to muse about the pressure we put on ourselves as competitors in whatever ring or situation we choose to compete. Yup, today is all about the handler and her mindset.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to perform, to get it all done, to do something right, to land the job. Dog- or life-related, we’re dealing with a LOT of sh*t here.

While you make think that pressure comes from external sources, it really is our own response that creates the pressure. I mean if my boss is on my back about something but I know that on Friday I’m quitting, do I feel pressure? Reeeaaalllly??

We do this to ourselves

If we accept this premise, then the pressure is self-created and not at all compassionate. But where does pressure stem from and why are we creating it when it’s not exactly productive?

Pressure comes from fear and is our old lizard brain hitting an alarm bell. Alright, then where is the fear coming from if it’s not external? Whether it’s our time to perform, to turn in a project, or we just want to do super-awesome, we have to find the source.

Think about a time when you feel pressure to perform as a competitor since that’s what we’re talking about today. Take a second and really feel into that memory. Now, ask yourself a few questions:

Were you prepared?
Was your goal reasonable?
Did you feel in over your head?
Did you train enough?
Was there someone else to “report to?”
Was there someone else watching (besides the judge)?
Were you afraid of failing?
Were you afraid of succeeding?
Did you just want “it” so badly?

The pressure is real, or is it?

When I do this exercise I think of running Indie in agility to get her last point for her MACH. The pressure was all mine and yes, there were people watching, people who would ask about the run, and I wanted it badly. While it wasn’t our best run (read that story here), we got the point and the celebratory cake. We were able to be successful in spite of the pressure because we were prepared, the goal was reasonable, we had trained enough, and I was confident.

When I do this exercise again thinking about Moxie in obedience at our specialty in 2017, the answers are different. I did not feel prepared, the goal (of a high score) was not reasonable, I had not trained enough, I was afraid of failing, I wanted a Q badly, and there were others watching (as in, “judging”). I was not confident about our chances and so I really felt the pressure which had a negative impact on my connection with Mox.

One more example comes from running Indie at the agility invitational last December. Last round and we need to be clean for the medallion. She is hurting and has had two massages that day just to try to combat the cement’s impact on her shoulders. We are prepared, trained, people are watching … but our goal is reasonable. We leave all the bars up but have one time fault which costs us the hardware. Was I crushed or elated? I was elated!!! I sobbed at my girl’s heart and the fact that when it was all on the line we both went for it. Probably my favorite NQ ever.

Get to the REAL reason

So what’s the common denominator? For me, it’s confidence in our preparation, and that preparation includes gaining experience putting myself in the big moments.

When it comes to managing the pressure we put on ourselves, we can only control the control-ables – from how much sleep we get to how much we train and everything in between. When the pressure starts to get to you, go back and ask yourself where it’s originating so you can then address that issue. Some examples:

  • Did you train enough? Get in another lesson; adjust your process goals.
  • The “peanut gallery” got you down? Create a mantra that reminds you it’s just you and your dog; protect your rituals and space.
  • Not feeling physically great? Make sure you’ve had enough protein AND water plus a good night’s sleep – you’ll be surprised at the impact!

Getting to the root of your anxiety with help you slay the pressure when you can address the real issue.