This: Preparing for a
your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths and IMAGINE…
a beautiful fall day just past sunrise. Imagine
yourself arriving at the field where you and your canine partner will attempt to
earn a tracking title. Months of preparation and planning have gone into this
day…practice sessions spent in the company of your dog, following the unseen
trail that only your four-legged companion can pursue while you confidently
Imagine the cool, crisp breeze on
your face and see the steamy breath blowing rhythmically from your dog as he
exhales in articulation of the search. Smell the pleasant, rich scented autumn
air. Feel yourself going through the often-practiced routine of preparing the
tracking line and harness or collar, and exercising your dog before the track.
Picture yourself and your dog at the start, calmly beginning the track, and
closely watching your dog’s now-familiar body movements as he seeks signs of
the track, the corners, cross-tracks and changes in direction. Feel the surge if
adrenaline as your dog downs on the articles! See yourself heartily praising him
for a job well done!! You feel proud, successful and one with your dog.
Focus on this
image for five minutes…
be surprised if, when you return to reality, you have the urge to grab your
fuzzy buddy and GO TRACKING.
THIS IS THE POWER
Joyner-Kersee, Joan Benoit Samuelson and virtually every Olympic athlete have
practiced imagery for performance enhancement. Many professional athletes, such
as Gabriella Sabatini, Chris Evert and Fran Tarkenton, attribute their success
to the use of imagery.
But you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to try imagery!
You don’t even have to learn much…just to have the desire to reach your goal
with your dog and to spend pretest/trial time constructively, rather than
dithering through hours of NERVOUS anticipation,
upset stomachs and tense anticipation
that is a TOTAL waste of time.
You can practice imagery anywhere
and for any dog performance event! …In the shower, while doing routine things
around the house or in the car. The MORE
you use imagery, the more intensely
your body responds until your participation in the actual tracking test seems LIKE
A WALK IN THE PARK!
Here’s how it works. Our minds take a picture of skills we watch or imagine.
Then, we use these pictures as a blueprint for our performance. This is
sometimes referred to as, muscle memory,
or letting the mind take over to move the muscles.
In this process, the body can’t discriminate between what’s real and
what’s imagined. When we imagine ourselves preparing for and participating in
the tracking test or trial, for example, the same brain and muscle neuron
activity takes place as when we actually are doing it.
It’s a neural
*workout* for the brain!
first step to building imagery is to become aware of what you’re focusing on
when you and your dog prepare for and are participation in the test. If you’re
focusing on NEGATIVE thoughts or see
yourself performing poorly, you MUST
stop and get control of that image! Your dog will sense the negativity, too,
in your body language and tension!! It takes time to develop clear positive
While building your images of a successful test experience, use as many senses
as possible. Recall the SMELL and FEEL
of the air during a tracking session. Mentally TOUCH
your dog and equipment as you are preparing to enter the field. Hear
and FEEL your breathing calming
down. FEEL your stride as you and
your dog purposefully and confidently approach the start. SENSE
the environment that you share with your dog, block OUT
the watchful eyes of the judges and spectators, knowing that you are HEADEDFOR
It is important to recreate thoughts and feelings experienced during the
competition to help understand the negative impact anxiety may have on your
performance…AND ON YOUR DOG’S!
Create and recreate feelings of pride, success and satisfaction!!!
Not only is there scientific evidence that imagery
CAN ENHANCE PERFORMANCE. There are real life examples, as well. Champion
golfer, Jack Nicklaus, for example, says he would “watch a movie” before
every golf shot. And Greg Louganis, Olympic gold medal diver, sometimes would
replace actual weekend training with imagery.
Several Soviet Olympic swimming teams over a twelve-year period spent at least
60% of their training time in guided visualization and increased their
performance by 75%!!!
Conjuring up mental images can help you develop an “image bank”, as
psychologists suggest. This image bank is invaluable for many situations, not
just during a tracking test. Playing back your mental *movies* can help you
achieve relaxation. Get motivated or build confidence…and can be applied to
numerous dog sport and life situations.
Imagery may just be the secret
ingredient to boost your performance. It has been a benefit, not only to this
author, but also to others who have been mentored in this process. For those of
you who are PLAGUED by pretest
jitters, sweaty palms and other physical symptoms of a BAD
case of nerves before taking your dog on the field, try
this for at LEAST THREE MONTHS on a daily basis, and you will experience a
more relaxed and focused performance with your dog.
AND he won’t
feel the constant shock waves coming down the leash as your nervous energy
“sheds” into him!!!
it a try, and GOOD LUCK!!
Besides, it sure beats wondering what the latest Clinton scandal-du-jour is
going to be! =8->
the Author: Elizabeth has been a teacher at the secondary and college level for
the past 26 tears. She has also served as a middle school principal. She is
currently a K-12 Curriculum Coordinator in a public school district in southern
Michigan. Upon entering into a partnership with her Rottweiler, Rommel, in 1988,
she embarked on an adventure of training for competition in various dog sports,
including Schutzhund, AKC and
CKC obedience and tracking, herding and NOW, a bit of field work, with
Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs and Golden Retrievers.
In order to make her competitive experiences more enjoyable for both herself and
the dogs she has trained and handled, she began to blend her knowledge of human
brain research and learning behavior with her dog training and activities. This
resulted in some reflections on observations of handlers dealing with anxiety
prior to competitive events and what can be done to alleviate this behavior