You’ve tried over and over again and that title just isn’t happening. It’s always just one thing… and sometimes it’s several of those things! Maybe you’re getting frustrated, or maybe you are tired of wait lists and long drives.
Just a little while ago I wrote a blog called “It’s not about the Title…“. I wrote about how all dogs are different and how we need to find the joy in their work no matter what. It’s about having fun with your dog and prioritizing your experience over the ribbon. So often we get so focused on the title that we lose sight of what is precious. When you have a challenging dog, it’s so easy to get despondent. You don’t WANT to make it about the title but darn it… wouldn’t it be nice?
Maybe you are even thinking about quitting.
I understand the feeling. Sometimes we also try to tell ourselves one thing when deep down we feel another. We say, “I don’t care what happens today”, but to some extent we are really just trying to fool ourselves. We really DO care, even though we also know and treasure the experience with our dog. Maybe our dog is a bit low drive, or older, or the “wrong breed” (there is no such thing, but genetics DO come into play).
Here’s the thing. If your dog is having fun and YOU are also having fun, keep going and keep trying. The stars will align. Your journey is personal, and you CAN’T count your success on how many times it took you to pass a level. If your dog has the skills and proper foundations, it will eventually happen. As long as you are caring for your dog’s training and emotional state, keep trying! Just make sure that you don’t wrap your own identity around whether or not you title.
The hard part of this equation is handler resilience.
It’s SO easy to get caught in a downward death spiral, ultimately caused by too many “failures”. Maybe it’s one element. Containers got you down? Or, maybe you just can’t seem to pass Interiors? How do you set aside the history and come to the search with your head on straight?
That’s definitely the hard part. But it’s also something that CAN be done!
Compartmentalization is really the answer.
Remember how I wrote about Joey’s journey? I think I wrote the blog after having titled in NW2 with my young, very fast and talented girl on the same weekend as not passing NW3 (again) with Joey. Well, just this past weekend, the stars aligned! I went into each search with a clear mind, and I cared for Joey’s comfort in and between the searches. In the end, Joey ended up 3rd Overall on a day when there were only 5 titles! He earned his first NW3!
So since I wrote a blog about how “It’s not about the title…”, now that he HAS the title, I thought I should write about how to get there mentally.
What is Compartmentalization?
Wikipedia defines Compartmentalization as:
Compartmentalization is a subconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.
Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgement and interaction between separate compartmentalized self-statesWikipedia
I’m not a psychologist and I’ve never played one on TV. I don’t think I’ve even ever stayed at a Holiday Inn Express! Granted, compartmentalization may not be a great thing in the grand world of psychology, but assuming you are caring for your dog’s comfort, happiness and well-being, it IS an available mechanism to support Mental Management.
What does this mean?
This means that we can use Compartmentalization as a way to set aside our own disbelief as to whether we can pass a level or element in order to focus on the task at hand.
Here’s an important aspect. You can’t tell yourself ideas like “I don’t really care if I title” in order to fool your mind into believing what you are saying. Your mind is pretty sharp! It knows when you are just trying to fool yourself. This approach doesn’t work.
The key is simple. Make every search a single search.
Joey’s first search of the day was Containers (his least successful element). My approach looked like this:
- I walked to the line only thinking about THAT search.
- I thought about calling his alerts as they happened.
- I handled each alert as a separate entity.
We found two hides and decided not to overwork the search. I called “Finish”.
Next up was Interiors.
- I set aside my thoughts about our earlier Container search.
- Whether or not we had No No’s didn’t play into it.
- I did not do math. I called the first room as blank and set that search aside.
- Each search was its own entity.
Again, No No’s. This approach continued through finding 2 hides in Vehicles and 1 hide in Exteriors.
Essentially, I successfully compartmentalized and was able to focus on each search as its own entity.
Be in the Moment
If you think about your other searches or your other trials instead of thinking about your current search, your likelihood of passing drops pretty dramatically. This is especially important with the more challenging dogs. Dogs like Joey REALLY NEED you to be focused.
When you are in the moment, you will be less likely to manufacture hides in your head. This is actually really important. The more in the present you are, the more you will focus on your dog and the search at hand. This means fewer false alerts. Fewer false alerts dramatically increases your chances of passing.
I used compartmentalization to stay in the moment.
The next time you find yourself at a trial, try these ideas! Believe in yourself and your dog. The stars will align… maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but they WILL eventually align!
Thank you, Stacy. Sam and I ran right behind you (talk about intimidating!) this weekend and did not title again. Disheartening and frustrating, but next time I will take this advice to heart and slow down. Congrats!
Terrific blog, and perfectly timed for me! I was thinking about stopping competition with my old girl, but realize now it is me that needs work, not her. Patience, focus, and thinking about the experience we share. Thank you!
Thank you Stacey. Finn and I are in NW3 for the first time next weekend. Six months since our last trial. Nearly a year since our last formal lesson with you. I’ve identified one hole in our training, not enough Vehicle searches. Plan is to work on that this weekend. I am the other weak link. This blog is exactly what I needed to hear at this time. Thanks again, and have fun with the kids this weekend!
Love this! I had not tried to put it into words, but I strive to treat each element search as the first of the day – no preconceived notions. I am happier and so are my dogs 🙂 Thank you Stacy!
Great blog Stacey! Perfect timing for Finn and I, as our first NW3 is in early May. We’ve done no formal training in Scentwork in about a year, but Finn seems to be enjoying what we do, which is mainly go out and search in town, or anywhere I can beg my way in the door…tomorrow is a Firehouse! I just realized yesterday that we haven’t done much with Vehicles, so we’ll be on that this weekend. My plan is to make the day all about Finn, and take one element at a time with no pressure. Thanks again for this post.
Thank you, just what I needed to read. I have been practicing mental management but it’s hard not to think of past trials. Being in the moment with my dog, one search at a time and breathe.
Great blog Stacey!!
This was very helpful to me at my last trial. I kept saying to myself that one day the stars WILL align so stop stressing. I treated each search as an entity onto itself. I took many deep breaths and focused on my dog. And we got that elusive third NW3. Thank you for this and all your other blogs, Webinars, and classes.
Congrats on your NW3 Elite! That’s fantastic!!!!