Probably the hardest thing in Nosework competition is staying PRESENT in the search. It’s so easy to get lost in thought about what is NEXT or what has PASSED. You will find though that if you can stay in get moment, you will be more aware of your dog’s changes of behavior. This will result in TRUST and most probably the very best word in competitive canine scent work… “YES”. The answer is Mental Management and Mindfulness.
Learning from past mistakes
Just this past weekend I had the opportunity to compete at Judd’s second Summit Trial for the year. Summit League is the new NACSW level AFTER Elite. It’s intended primarily for Elite Champions to continue competition. You are only allowed to compete twice in a year at Summit Trials so there is some pressure going in.
The number of titles will depend on the number of dogs competing. Only the top 20% title. This means that out of the 22 competing last weekend, we knew going in that there would only be 4 titles. At Judd’s first Summit Trial this Summer, we came in 5th… when only 4 titles were awarded. It was a bit of a bummer to do so well and to come so close only to lose it because I made the all the mistakes… and I did! I had a huge number of No’s and one time out. I was adamant that this was not going to happen again. I’m happy to say that we were successful and came in Third Overall competing with some of the top dogs in the country! I couldn’t be more proud.
But… this blog is NOT about Judd’s wonderful accomplishment. It’s really about an aspect of mental management that can make or break our success.
So what was different? Mental Management!
Mental Management is such a nebulous, hard to understand topic sometimes. There are aspects of self confidence, self competence and mindfulness. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how much self confidence you have or how competent you are. If you don’t practice mindfulness, you just won’t be successful.
So what is Mindfulness?
Wikipedia says, “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment”
Mindfulness for Nosework doesn’t have to require extensive meditation although meditation might help your performance. It DOES require that you FOCUS and PAY ATTENTION.
I like to think of FOCUS as NOTICING when it comes to watching my dog work. This is Mindfulness for Nosework. Can you simply watch and focus? Can you clear your mind of your mental baggage?
Mental baggage occurs when you are thinking about something just prior to the current moment or your mind wanders to focus on what happens next. Perhaps you are thinking about a No that you received earlier or in a previous trial. Perhaps you are looking forward to calling Finish. Whatever you are doing, you are not watching your dog.
Practice when you search, completely blocking out everything but your dog. Empty your thoughts and just WATCH. You will be amazed at what you notice. Tiny changes of behavior will pop out at you! And all of a sudden, you will have time to ascertain whether you should indeed call Alert.
Let go of your Mental Baggage!
Staying in the NOW
When you block out everything but the current, you are practicing Mindfulness. Staying in the current can be a challenge and it requires practice. The first step is a decision. Seriously, that’s all it is. You have to DECIDE to stay in the now. You will be amazed as to how easy it is to focus once you have actually made the decision to do so.
Secondly, you need to let go of your nerves. This may mean that you need to actually breathe! When we are not in the now, we are usually holding our breath! Do you get trial nerves? Many people do. You will find that breathing and being mindful of the present will actually kick your nerves to the curb. It’s impossible to think about how nervous you are if you are focused on your dog.
Staying in the NOW, also gives you the power to take your time. Once you divorce your thoughts on the past or the future, your mental processes open and allow for more attention on the task at hand. All of that mental prowess is now targeted at whether or not you call Alert! Just think about how much more effective you will be!
Once you start practicing mindfulness as a part of metal management while searching, something magical will happen. You will stop kicking yourself for making mistakes. Why? Because you will be making far fewer of them to begin with!