“I do all the Puppy Culture work and my dogs are rockstars, yet I still struggle with nerves in the show ring and at field trials and it all passes through to my dogs. Do you have any tips and pointers on how I can work on me and minimizing what passes through to enable my dogs to show and work to the incredible dogs they truly are?”
Haha, join the club! We ALL struggle with nerves, especially when we are first beginning to exhibit our dogs. There were times when I was starting that I really thought I was going to pass out from nervousness. Trust me, I feel your pain, and I’m here to tell you there is hope and you will get over it, eventually.
You can take entire courses on combatting ring nerves, but if you want some quick help here are the five most useful things people have ever told me about ring nerves:
1. Give Yourself Permission To Be Nervous.
It’s scary, don’t tell yourself it’s not. Being nervous and having stage fright are normal reactions of a normal individual. People who are never at any point in their life nervous or socially anxious are sociopaths. You are a mentally healthy human being with appropriate human emotions that you will work through.
Give yourself a break, it's unnerving to walk out in the middle of a ring with everyone watching you. There's something wrong with you if you're not even a little bit nervous the first time you do it!
2. Lean Into The Fear.
Envision rolling your nervousness into energy instead of fear. A little adrenaline can make your reflexes faster and your reactions smoother and will sharpen your game. Embrace your "elevation" and turn it to your advantage!
Over time, you your nervousness will subside but the excitement will remain and you'll perform even better at trials and shows than you do at home!
3. Be As Prepared As You Can, But Accept That You Can’t Always Control The Outcome.
At its root, nervousness stems from feeling like you have no control over the outcome. Once you get to a show site, you don’t control the judge, you don’t control the venue, you don’t control whether your dog is actually going to do the things you trained him to do, you don’t control the other competitors, and there’s ALWAYS something that you forgot or didn’t know enough to train.
If there is anything you can do ahead of time to be more prepared and make the outcome more predictable, do it. If there’s nothing within your control that you can do, accept it.
If you start feeling nervous, ask yourself what is making you nervous. You may or may not be able to answer the question, but if it’s something you can’t control, mentally file that under the “not my problem right now” folder and let it go.
Even after decades of trialing, I still never know for sure if my Bull Terriers will run or stop and smell the daisies. It used to make me hyperventilate and almost pass out. Then I had a realization that I always do everything I reasonably can to prepare myself and my dog, and I can't change what the dog decides to do at that point. I started enjoying (and succeeding in) agility with my best friends MUCH more after I embraced this concept!
4. Execute Your Job In A Workmanlike Manner.
Whatever it is, whether it’s an agility course or a conformation class, it’s a series of tasks that you need discharge in sequence. Focus on getting the job done, not what the ultimate “win or lose” outcome.
In the breed ring, focus on the mechanics of presenting your dog to his best advantage. It’s the judge’s job to make a decision about who wins, but it’s your job to show the judge the best picture possible. Do your job.
In performance venues, move from task to task promptly and without worrying about qualifying or winning. A qualifying run is made up of one footstep in front of another. Take the steps.
Even the most complicated agility course is nothing more than a series of simple behaviors. Move promptly from one behavior to the next and get the job done!
5. Go and Keep Going.
Mileage. There is no substitute for it. You have to compete A LOT of times to feel comfortable doing it. I’ve been in the ring thousands of times and there’s still a tickle in the pit of my stomach when I go in, but now it’s a tickle of excitement, not panic. Go and keep going, embrace your fear, get down to work, and know that it’s a process that EVERYONE goes through - it gets better, I promise!
This kind of cool focus is not gained overnight - Jenna has been showing dogs literally since she was a child. When you see someone who looks smooth and at ease in the ring, remember that the biggest difference between them and you is probably experience.