Monday, September 28, 2009

Mental Prep

As I once again prepare to trial one of my dogs, my mind is focused not so much on the physical abilities of my dog (I know he knows how to do it), but more so on my mental preparation. Mental prep is such a big part of our success in dog sports. So much so that I have become consumed with thoughts of how to improve my mental abilities before I compete so that I can "keep it together", so to speak, for my dog. I have unfortunately had years of practice "doing it badly", meaning that I have allowed my mind to negatively affect my performance with my dog. I think that proper mental preparation leading up to and during competitions is seriously lacking in my dog training circles. Sure I have lots of help teaching my dog how to indicate articles, how to do a send out, how to do a hold and bark, how to do weave poles, how to do front crosses... but I find that there seems to be very little opportunity around to discuss the importance of positive mental prep before a trial. This whole idea is becoming more and more popular, as I feel that poor mental prep before a trial affects quite a few people, and they are recognizing it and want to improve their mind's ability to deal with stress related to dogs sports. Many have researched on their own and found valuable resources to help improve their mental performance. I still feel that I am in the novice or beginner stage when it comes to learning about good mental preparedness for competition. And I am even further behind that when it comes to "practicing" good mental control at a competition. I have just had too many years practicing "bad mental behavior, thoughts, and images" that it has become a very, very hard habit to break... at least for me. I often refer to Susan Garrett's training blog, as she has some good ideas and words of wisdom. I am amazed at her ability to keep mentally focused and also her ability to "recover" after an upset in performance.

Here is one of my favourite posts from her blog... "How many of you lose your concentration partway through a run you when you are otherwise acing it? Likely it is a really important run, say the last leg of a double Q or a big qualifier or perhaps even a “finals” class. Things are going along swimmingly and then you let your “conscious mind” know how good you think you are doing. I have done it myself many times. When you allow your conscious mind to play a role in your run it will immediately say things to you like “wow, don’t screw up now” or “if you can just not make any errors you can go clean.” Once thoughts like that enter your head, your focus has been taken away from your run and more often than not it is difficult to get it back without a “hiccup” in the run. That hiccup can be your downfall, that is when you are out of position or cue a turn incorrectly and disaster flows." from this page of her blog, .

I have done this particular thing to myself many times, and subsequently blew what was otherwise a clean run, usually near the end, with only 2 or 3 obstacles left on the course. Mental prep and performance is so important to our success in dog sports, I'm surprised that more attention is not paid to this critical aspect of success. Perhaps it comes more naturally to others and they are able to master it with little help? Perhaps they feel that experience alone will eventually correct the problems? I don't really know what the answer is, but being relatively new to the dog sports world I feel that I myself need some help and coaching in the mental prep department. Especially as my dogs progress in their respective disciplines and move on to higher levels of competition, I am finding it increasingly more difficult to harness and control my thoughts surrounding a competition.

More on this later... Now I move on to researching ways to improve my skills at mental control.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wallace Payne & Pedro - 2007 North American FH Champion

I am sure this video has been well watched by many in the Schutzhund world, but I came across it just recently in a round about way. I have heard of Wallace Payne, but I was really not that familiar with him. I was on a tracking blog, and his name was mentioned... The name rang a bell for me, but it was not immediately apparent who he is. With the beauty of the internet, he was just a few clicks away. Needless to say, this video speaks for itself. Pedro does an "off-leash" 99 point FH track. It is spectacular. For the untrained eye, it may just appear that the dog is merely... "tracking". To those of us who actively train and compete in the sport, we are awed by Pedro, and even more so that this entire track is done off leash, with no communication from Wallace. Even though when we trial, we are not allowed to "help" our dogs via the tracking line, there is still an element of communication that goes on there between dog and handler. Even subtle changes to the tension in the line can affect the dog. Here is the link for this amazing track:

And here is Wallace's website:

This style of tracking is what we are all striving for in schutzhund...


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Olympic's Zorro, TD - CKC Tracking Dog Title

Myself, CKC tracking judge Dawn Sanderson, and trial secretary Pando Stepanis at Tersha Kennels. I was accepting Eros' plaque, ribbon, and his tracking map from the judge after the test.

We were at Tersha Kennels in Thorndale, near London, Ontario today for a CKC tracking test. The test was hosted by the German Shepherd Dog Club of London. Tersha Kennels is the home of CKC judges Sharon Smith and the late Terry Smith. I was very pleased to be a part of this test, as those hosting the test are good friends. It was also that much more special, as it was a great way to honor Terry's memory by participating in a tracking trial at his home club. His presence could be felt all around, and I knew he would be proud.

After Arlo passed his TD test in June of this year, I decided to give it a try with Eros. Eros is not as confident in tracking yet as Arlo, but I had quite a few weeks to prepare, plus access to many different practice fields. Additionally, I had the help of my club members to help with laying "stranger" tracks and articles for Eros. I was feeling very confident about Eros' skills going in to this test. The other issue for us here in Ontario is that there are relatively few opportunities to enter tracking tests, and when one is offered, there are so few spaces available. One often has to try entering many times to actually get a chance to run their dog in a tracking test. I felt I had to take the opportunity when it was available.

There were 4 TD tracks today, with 3 of the 4 dogs passing. The tracks were laid on alfalfa. It was a sunny day, with moderate temperatures, and moderate winds. The field was dewy, but the track was not at all visible to the handlers. It was a great lesson in "trusting your dog"... I did not know where the track went, I could not see it, so I had to trust my dog. Eros did have a bit of trouble with the wind, and he circled at two of his corners, but after a bit of searching (which felt like an eternity when out there) he found the track again and carried on confidently. He found the article at the end without difficultly, and indicated clearly. I was very, very proud of him.

Now the option is available to us to train for the higher level tracking tests, and I do want to work towards these titles with both dogs. Happy Tracking Everyone!

Myself, Eros, and judge Dawn Sanderson after Eros passed his test. Dawn is holding Eros' plaque and ribbon, and Eros' glove is on the ground at his feet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Doggie Fun in the Sun

Blaze, having fun.

There is a river not far from our house that we occasionally take the dogs to for some water play. I had not been for a while, as the last time I went we were constantly dive bombed by large biting insects, and I came home with a leech on my toe..... a couple of really good reasons not to go back! I decided recently to check out the river at another location up stream a little bit. This part of the river has a very wide open bank with few large trees, and faster flowing water that was clear and clean. There were no blood thirsty insects, and so far, no leeches! It is not the same as a beautiful lake, but it does provide some water fun, and it is deep enough in places for the dogs to swim.

Blaze diving after his toy.
Blaze swimming with his toy, he loves to retrieve...
Two very wet German Shepherds... Blaze on the left looking up, and Tito on the right, both waiting for the "throw"...
Double retrieve... Tito on the left, Blaze on the right.
Double retrieve... love this photo.
Blaze splashing through the water.
Blaze with his toy.
Double splash. Tito on the left, Blaze on the right.
Blaze swimming.
Tito on the left, Blaze on the right.
Double retrieve... Tito at the back, Blaze at the front.
Tito. Tito is by far our most confident swimmer. You could easily say he may have had a little TOO much fun here. This was his first time swimming.
Tito... big splash!
Tito going after his stick...
Tito splashing!
Tito with his very large stick.
Tito... no fear.
Mika contemplating...
Mika going in the deep end.
Mika biting the water, she loves the water!
Mika, the big shake!
Mika swimming.
Mika getting her stick, love the water flick from her tail.
Mika biting the water.
Mika with her stick.
Cole going after the toy that is getting carried away by the current.
Cole splashing after his toy.
Cole retrieving.
Cole. You can see the clear water in this photo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tito - TEC, Temperament Evaluation Certified

Today Tito passed his temperament evaluation, the TEC. This is awarded by the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada. Tito's temperament was never in question, and I enter these tests merely for fun and to support the club. I feel temperament is extremely important in any breed, but especially for the German Shepherd Dog. This evaluation is similar to the TT, the American temperament test, and the temperament portion of the Bh evaluation. Tito is only 13 months old, and had little to no preparation (meaning training for the various exercises) for this test. This makes the evaluation even more genuine, as his reactions to the various stimuli are for the most part natural behaviours, not learned responses. Tito is handled by Sean.

The tattoo check. Sean is in the blue shirt, judges Pando (black shirt) and Sharon (shorts).

Greeting a friendly stranger who ignores the dog.

Greeting a friendly stranger who ignores the handler and interacts with the dog.

Reaction to unknown noise... Helper Josie has some stones in a metal bucket, she rattles the bucket and walks out perpendicular to the dog, ignores the dog, places the bucket on the ground and walks away... the dog should investigate the bucket.

Reaction to gunfire. Not in the photo is a helper hiding behind a blind, to the right of the dog. As the dog approaches the pylon, the gun is fired once, a pause, then the gun is fired 2 more times in short succession. The helper is approximately 15 feet away. Tito shows no reaction, relaxed body posture, does not startle or look concerned.

Umbrella... as the dog approaches, the helper opens an automatic umbrella. The dog is allowed to startle, but should recover quickly and should investigate the umbrella.

"Bad Guy"... Here a person comes out of hiding wearing a rain poncho and holding a riding crop. The person approaches the dog head on, yelling in an angry and convincing voice. The person makes eye contact with the dog, and hits the ground in front of himself with the riding crop three times. He then pauses briefly and then retreats away from the dog. Here dogs should at minimum stand their ground, or ideally, bark at the person. Any retreat behind the handler or attempt to bolt is an automatic fail. Tito is seen here barking at the helper.

Traffic portion. The dogs are walked in a line and a jogger, a cyclist, and various cars pass by. Tito is at the back.

Tie out isolation. The dog is tied up, and the handler moves out of sight. The judge passes by the dogs in a neutral way. The dogs should remain calm and self assured. Fear, panic, attempts to bolt or lunging at the judge are not allowed. Tito remained calm and relaxed.

Loud and Rowdy group... here the dog and handler approaches a loud and rowdy group. Tito looks quite happy.

Tito and Sean after passing their test, Congrats! Good Boy Tito!