When we attend competitions with our dogs, we tend to stiffen up, get snappy at other people, become annoyed by sounds, turn anti social, and sometimes maybe even get mad at our dogs for no apparent reason. We might even start blaming every little thing on everyone else, the weather, the guy who cut the grass, or the colour of the walls of an indoor venue. We have chosen to attend this event ourselves, so why can’t we enjoy it while we’re there? It’s the nerves!!
I’ve competed a lot through the years. First with the family dog who was trained by my parents at first and then later by me at age 7. We only did ordinary obedience competitions and fun “youth obedience” competitions. Later, when I was 10, I got my own dog that I had to train up myself. We competed in Agility, rally-o, and dog dancing. And now, with my new puppy, we’ve just started competing in dog dancing too. Before, I would get really upset if I didn’t live up to my own expectations on the day of the competition. I would feel like a failure, like my dog hated me and wouldn’t be with me, and like I would never be as good as any of the others (because in my eyes, no one else did as poorly as myself!). I know what it’s like.
Feeling nervous when faced with an assessment of any kind is normal. People don’t like to fail. This might be linked to how failure or success could determine how long you would have lived way, way back in time, or it could simply be an unexplainable, completely inappropriate feeling – I don’t know. Nevertheless, we tend to set expectations of ourselves, and when those expectations rely on someone else (even worse, an animal with whom we cannot simply speak!) it doesn’t take much to push us over our edges. And that is why I’ve written this post! So here are my tips for how to fight those ugly nerves and manage to actually enjoy the competition.
Remember the journey!
We’ve all put a lot of work into preparing ourselves and our dogs for this competition, so it makes sense that we want to do our best and that we get upset if all that hard work didn’t pay off. We often forget that we actually enjoy spending time with our dog – yes, training a dog can be hard work, but along the way we have moments that we shouldn’t forget! Remember the surprise, confidence, and happiness your dog showed the first time it really got that super difficult exercise completely right? Do you remember the goofy faces your dog has made while having fun with you? Those are the times you want to hold on to!
Sometimes we need to bring a lot of stuff with us to competitions, and often we have to leave home really early in the morning. Getting up early, and maybe having to pack the car (even just a few couple of things) can actually put a whole lot of stress onto us. Sometimes we feel it straight away, and other times we don’t notice – but it will always add up and accumulate over the day and the closer to the competition you get, so make sure to have packed everything the day before! Sometimes, it can actually help to leave the day before and then sleep somewhere close to the competition. Personally, I prefer camp sites if there are any near the competition. Limit all the possible stress factors on the day!
Even though some of us tend to close ourselves to the rest of the world, it is a really good idea to bring someone with you. Friends, family.. Maybe even other dog people who know what it’s like. You might not talk with them much, but they can be really great and helpful if you need it! Sometimes, just having someone to give you a hug or a pat on the back is all you need. And if they can help you with all the small things like getting you something to drink or eat, or help you prepare more treats or find poo bags it can make a huge difference in your stress levels! Ultimately, your stress levels will be what influences your ability to enjoy the day. Therefore, by cutting down on responsibilities and things you need to do on the day, even the most simple tasks, you get a bigger chance of feeling happiness despite the nerves!
Be well rested
Along with being prepared and trying to avoid stressing in the morning, it is also important that you are well rested and not in need of sleep. We all tend to get irritable if we’re tired – so combining fatigue with stress is never good! So if you know that you never sleep well in strange places, or where there is lots of noise, then avoid those places the night before! Maybe you’ll have to pay a little extra to find a place where you’re able to rest properly, but it ought to be worth it. It’s not really money out the window if the alternative is that you won’t even enjoy your competition, is it?
You get to try again
Sometimes, a different mindset is all that is needed. You might be thinking that if you don’t place a certain number at the competition, then this whole dog competition will have been wasted along with all of the dog training and time put into it. Not to mention the money as well. But really, we train dogs because we love it, right ? So if you don’t place, then you GET to try again. You’re lucky! You have been awarded more time training with your best friend – your dog! Isn’t that great?
Now – go back to training with your dog, and prepare yourself for having fun at your next dog show, agility race, flyball competition, or whatever else you and your dog compete in! High five!