Picture of my doberman tracking.
Tracking Guide

Imagine This: Preparing for a Tracking Event

by Elizabeth Reynolds

Close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths and IMAGINE

Picture 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 accompany him!

  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…

  Don’t be surprised if, when you return to reality, you have the urge to grab your fuzzy buddy and GO TRACKING.


  Jackie 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!

  The 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 images!!

  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 VICTORY!

  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!!!

  Give it a try, and GOOD LUCK!!

  Besides, it sure beats wondering what the latest Clinton scandal-du-jour is going to be! =8->  

About 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 choice.