Handler stress is something that after almost 5 years… I am understanding and conquering. This is a big statement as historically i’ve been known to come completely unglued if things went wrong. Understand that a lot of this stems from experiences with Simon where when things went wrong, there was blood. Not a lot, but enough to be memorable. Between bad previous experiences which lead to an erosion of my own self confidence and my impatient nature, I’ve not been trialing much. Having that much anxiety sucks the fun out of ever step you take.
So the solution? Like every dog, every handler is different.
Anxiety can be centered more generally around not looking foolish or the dog not performing up to par. These kinds of anxieties aren’t uncommon even in seasoned handlers. Like athletes, everyone has found what works for them. I’ve always been most envious of the handlers that just suck it up and get it done. However, I know a few seasoned handlers that have a variety of processes, prized charms and such that bring them luck. Probably a bit of comfort as well. Questioning these sorts of things, to me falls under the category of Gift Horse. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, carry on.
My particular brand of anxiety is centered not only around looking foolish, but generally not trusting my dog and not being comfortable having people watch me doing things.
Now that i’m getting back into trialing, i’ve been thinking about what calms me.
First – Music. Country, classical, mashup, whatever. When i pull into the field, i make a conscious thought about the song in my head and select accordingly. If you have a solid wifi connection (which almost never happens but worth mentioning) you can use Songza to find playlists with that song. I have an SOP collection of stuff on my phone from SoundCloud:
Second – For me, i try to not imagine the perfect run. I know this is contradictory to everything we’re told about mental management for athletes, but I am SO guilty of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (Voltaire). So when i break from the visualized perfect run, i freeze and it gets worse. Imagine that, right?
Third – What are the essential goals? I make a mental list of essential goals. For instance at our farm trial the goals were as follows: get the sheep in the 3 sided pen, stay on the hold, don’t throw up, finish before time expires, dog stops on command most of the time. Basic? You betcha. I’ve not trialed in 3 years, so rusty doesn’t cover it. The goals i set have almost nothing to do with Qualifying even though we did that anyhow. So whether you’re setting out for trial, or setting out to practice, have a high goal in the back of your mind, but the real goals seem just barely attainable.
Fourth – Drugs. Ok so not drugs, but drugs, supplements, herbs, pot, drink; whatever really relaxes and focus’ your mind if you are prone to totally freaking out. The ‘not throwing up’ as a goal is not an exaggeration. When my anxiety gets going, it all comes up and there is nothing i can do about it. It’s horrible. I tried Chill Out Drops at the most recent trial and not only did i not throw up, things went sideways and i didn’t freak out unreasonably. I have an agility friend who uses these too and we have decided that we don’t care if it is the placebo effect. For $11 a bottle, it is worth it! LOL But find what you need to be in the moment with a clear head.
Fifth – Remember, this is supposed to be fun, damnit.