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Protecting What is Important to Your Dog Agility Career

Posted on 07/26/12 20 Comments

There are many attributes that separates the “greats” from the “frustrated” in the sport of dog agility. Sure there is the dog, the training opportunities, the overall mental game of the handler or the athleticism of both parts of the team. But one thing that allows the “elite” in any sport to stand apart from the rest is the confidence level of the individual as they step out on the competition field. I have heard people say many times “I wish I could buy that kind of confidence some place.”  With the AAC Nationals just around the corner (next week) I was asked to write a blog to help competitors do their best. This was a good email because A) It prompted me to actually take some time and post a blog (I admit I have been a tad busy this summer) and B) It made me sit back and consider all of the competitors heading to Victoria, British Columbia next week and what can possibly make a difference to their performance in less than a week’s time.

Bingo, it came to me. “confidence”. If I could give everyone and extra dose confidence they could improve their game. Now this isn’t just a selfless gesture on my part, writing about confidence can only help me as well as I head into this event with one dog that has been injured most of the last full year and another one that will turn 18 months old just two days prior to the opening ceremonies and me nursing a hamstring I injured at the beginning of the month! Yes, uncertainty could loom big, so loading up the confidence would do me well.

As luck would have it earlier this week I was at one of my coaching meetings in Toronto and one of the topics for discussion was confidence. The speaker started her presentation with this statement

“Confidence is our greatest treasure; build it & protect it.”

I think as agility competitors this certainly is true. Confidence has got to be one of our top ten most desired attributes. Mark Twain once said that “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”  Now I am pretty sure dear old Mark never had an opportunity to try his luck at agility or he may have re-considered his statement. Because talent and training surely does play a roll in our sport. But all things being equal if you have two dog and handler teams of equal skill level and one handler is Twaining (if I can use the man’s name as a verb) and the other is second guessing, the confident and ignorant Twainer-trainer is going to blow the doors off of the other doubt-filled dude.

There are many examples of people loaded of talent but light on belief that have never reached their potential in life. There are just as many tales of victory from seemingly talentless people with tons of drive and confidence. I am not talking about false confidence. You can’t take a dog off of the street that has never been trained in agility and win the national championship no matter how much “belief” you have. But the reverse is also true. A handler with no belief can make a talented dog appear like he has had no training.

Sadly much of the self doubt I see in agility handlers is put there in the form of jest. You make a joke of your dog’s ability or your lack of skill in order to prevent someone from doing it first. “Yeah we know we suck, we are just here for comic relief.” Comments like that are  unfair to your dog, to your instructor and to the hours training you have put in.

Let me share a little secret. None of us ever feels like we have “done enough” before a big event. We all think we could have done more. I don’t think I have ever entered an event where I didn’t think “crap I could have done more of x-y-z.” I quickly dismiss these thoughts by reminding myself of all the good training I have done to prepare myself and my dogs.

As the late great John Wooden used to say “Earn the right to be proud and confident.” Well, here is the thing . . . each of us have earned it! Those of you competing at AAC Nationals next week have all got at least 350 points at your regional qualifying event (well except for those of us entered in the pre-qualifier). I would say that is reason number one to feel pretty darn confident about yourself and your dog. What are your other reasons? Take some time before next week (the sooner the better actually) and make a list of anything you can think of that makes you feel confident.  It could be dressing well, being fit and healthy or it may be skill related. Skills like having a rock solid start line, or consistent contacts or a dog that jumps well or turns tightly or can work at a distance. Maybe it is because you can run like the wind or have trained superior verbal cues or you have a relaxed disposition. What gives you confidence in agility? Make a list of as many reasons you can think of makes you feel you have confidence to crow about before you attempt an agility run. Start with your points from your regional and build your list from there. If you need help, ask your friends or your instructor to look over your Confidence List, to see if you are missing anything that may help.

Now circle the reasons that really make you feel different, just saying them. Yes! That does make me feel more confident just reading THAT! Narrow it down to your top ten things that give you crowing confidence in your dog or in your performance.  You may want to narrow this list further to just a few “trigger” words. Words that you can write on your hand or whisper to your dog before the two of you go into the ring. Words that will help you to relax and do your best.

Now put that list aside and think of your confidence kryptonite. What can shatter your confidence before you step into the ring? Are there thoughts, something your dog might do, something someone could say to you or an event that might happen before your run that could shake you? Introduce self doubts? Knowing ahead of time will allow you to take mind out of that state and back into your confident state and you can do it in a blink of an eye! What can you do ahead of time to alter your response to this potential kryptonite?

Now that you have your trigger words, use those trigger words any time something comes up that may “rattle” you. Know that you are a martini, you may be shaken but you will never lose your pizazz. As long as you have your trigger words, you can change your state and re- focus as quickly as you can blink your eyes.

Comedian Tina Fey in Vogue magazine was quoted as saying

“Confidence is 10% skill and 90% delusion”

That I believe! So if you see me walking around the AAC Nationals next week like I am living my life as if a fantasy . . . it because I am!

Today I am grateful for having enjoyed a wonderful birthday! It is my birthday today it was an awesome day!  Life is a fantasy. Best of luck to all of you competing at the European Open this week and at the AAC Nationals next week!


  1. Laurie says:
    Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 9:23am

    Ouch! Just yesterday when speaking with a friend, I made the comment that my dog and I would give the judge a laugh at the next obedience trial. I definitely need to work on that area of MY piece of the partnership. My dog sure doesn’t deserve it.


  2. Carol Morgan says:
    Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 8:53am

    Following your success at Canadian Nationals, and with the Olympics in full swing, this is a great time for a blog posting on the mental part of the game – in any sport.


  3. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 10:45pm

    Just got to read this blog, Susan. By now you’re probably finishing up on your trials. I know it will be awesome for you and the Swaggerman. Can’t remember if Encore was competing? You’d be proud of Snap, she’s been awesome on this road trip. Every day is a Do Land Day! Much luck on the nationals and can’t wait for videos!


  4. Sam says:
    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 6:17pm

    And outside of agility, this helps too; or at least it will help me.

    I love Inka with all my heart, but I can get a bit down when he (still) can’t go places with me. But then, in our “confidence list” I could put about him overcoming noise sensitivity in time for bonfire night last year; him not throwing up in the car any more(!!); him starting to be calm before and during his (very many!) vet visits; how he’s improved in the two months since we stopped going to class and saw a behaviourist; his amazing recall (something I love training for); his willingness to try (sometimes too much!); how he dreams now, twitching and yipping away (yep, my 22Kg yips in his sleep!). And all that makes me very happy.


  5. Christine says:
    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 4:16pm

    A late happy birthday and all the best for the Nationals, much fun and health for all of yoz two- and four legged.
    Christine and Pappnasen


  6. Gail says:
    Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 7:46pm

    Looking forward to finally meeting you and your wonderful dogs ‘in person’….see you in Nanaimo at the Nationals!!

    all the very best to you! gail 🙂


  7. Training Software says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 5:04pm

    Useful post and great responses. Susan I hope you keep writing more blogs like this one. Another good post Susan.


  8. Barbara says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 12:56pm

    Great post Susan. Loved the words of wisdom about confidence. So true. Sasha and I are ready to give it our best next week in Nanaimo. See you there.


  9. Heidi & Poppie says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 10:53am

    Good Luck for next week – And happy belated birthday!! 🙂

    Now we have no plans for agility, but yet there is no point limiting ourselves, we are loving your course and shes doing so well, I’m happy on carrying forward progressing slowly as we are, in our own little way.

    Though admittedly things have been tough for me on another personal level. I’m taking my final written exams for the third time this september – and whether pass or fail – it will definitly be my last exams. I have struggled with the vet degree, I have let the pressure of the exams and the fear of losing my dream, take over.

    So here are my triggers – and Thank you, for such an inspirational read.

    Poppie, Magic and Joy


  10. Kristi says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 9:49am

    Love the photo of your “two on, bum off” writing pose. And your dogs always radiate joy. Wonderful!
    Sometimes to gain confidence, I have to “fake it ’til I feel it” while I get my mental game in order, but the result is always better than when I go focused on the reasons I may not be ready. And, as with so many things learned in dog training, the lesson applies to life beyond the ring, too. Thanks for the focus on this topic.


  11. MRB says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 9:02am

    I think, for me, confidence comes in knowing my dog often does much better than I thought we could.

    So I try to not-care about succeeding or failing, and to care about doing each bit as best I can, and being able to adjust when things don’t always go how I imagined (either better or worse).

    And every run is a learning opportunity – for both of us. I’m confident about that, since we’re just starting out with competing.


  12. Debbie M says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 8:42am

    Love it! Good reminders, fantasy girl!


  13. Lora says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 8:36am

    Good points – good thoughts hold true for all our performance sports. Thanks for the blog.


  14. Andrea says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 7:56am

    hehe glad you listened to those advocating for a blog – sorry to hear about your injuries but glad it hasn’t shaken your confidence.
    I love the idea of people finding confidence triggers and thinking of themselves as martinis! That last one alone should crack through some nerves!
    I am very fortunate in that I don’t really suffer from ring nerves … seminars and workshops are what bring out my angst 😉


  15. Patti says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 7:16am

    Thank you, I needed that right now, and I have missed your blogs!


  16. Ninette says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 3:39am

    Thanks Susan – a very helpful post! Good luck at the Nationals.


  17. T says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 12:16am

    Great post Susan!


  18. Lia says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 12:11am

    Thank you so much for this post Susan! It is so true and I can definitely tell the difference in our performance and how I felt about our performance when I am feeling confident and when I am worried.


  19. anji says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 12:04am

    Excellent post! Have a good flight – see you in Nanaimo!


  20. Nicki Gurr says:
    Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 11:56pm

    Twainer Trainer… LOVE IT! Great blog Susan. Safe travels and see you next week!!



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