While there are many different aspects to the “mental game” in dog agility, the most useful concept for you to understand and use at any big event is visualization, the act of mentally rehearsing the performance that both you and your dog will deliver on course. The walk through is essentially an exercise in visualization. Have you ever wanted more time to walk the course? You can—in your mind.
- Course maps will be available early, before the walk through. Have a plan in place before you start your walk through, so that you can spend the first few minutes fine tuning your plan (the first phase), while devoting the rest of your walk through to memorizing and rehearsing your run (the second phase). Avoid wasting time memorizing the order of obstacles during the walk through—you can do that with the course map in hand.
- Once the physical walk through is over, you may have a long period of time, even a few hours, before you actually run the course. Naturally, you will begin to forget the course, so you must visualize your run a few times each hour to keep it fresh in your mind.
- When is the best time to rehearse your runs after the walk through? Your first rehearsal should be immediately following the walk through! Stand on the side of the ring, or in the stands, and run the course several times in your mind while the next group of handlers is walking the course.
- It can be difficult for beginners to mentally rehearse a run when another dog is running on the course, so start your rehearsal in between dogs so that you and your imaginary dog have a head start on the real dog running in the ring. There may also be forced five minute breaks in the middle of each class where no one is on the course—this is the best time to rehearse!
- Avoid focusing on what can go wrong; thinking about results is a distraction and will not help you visualize your run. Remember, visualization is basically free practice, and will benefit you greatly.
- Unless you have a dog that you must manage due to distraction or aggression issues, your last rehearsal should be while you are in line with your dog preparing to run. Do NOT watch the competitors in front of you; instead imagine you and your dog running the course.
- Practice your visualization at a local trial before the big event.
If you’d like to listen to a podcast about this topic, check out our podcast Improving Your Mental Game for Big Events.
(note: This post was originally published as part of our online prep course.)