Have you ever sat ringside at a competition and watched the competitors? Some look like they are about to throw up just before they enter the ring. Others look cool and calm, their dog is attentive and they are working as a team. Have you ever dreamed of being like the calm cool type while you were running for the loo? Here are some suggestions for getting a handle on handling in competition.
One of the most important things you can do (no big surprises here) is BREATHE.
Everyone has told you that from the very first time you began training for the ring, right? In fact this seems a silly comment doesn’t it, since you have obviously been breathing well enough to live this long. What could be wrong with the way you breathe?
To be honest, there are many different ways to breathe, some better than others. People who study voice, spend a lot of time learning how to develop their diaphragm in order to breathe and sing better. We could all do with a little voice training just to learn how to do this, but, since I doubt you are going to run right out and take singing lessons…
So, stop for a moment and close your eyes (obviously you will have to read ahead a little before you try this or you won’t know what comes next!).
Observe what parts of your body move when you breathe. Does the air fill the entire chest cavity, or do you allow only the upper chest to expand with each breathe? Most commonly, people breathe only in the upper part of their chest. For all of you women who have been told to hold your tummy in, FORGET IT for a moment. Now allow the next breath to fill the entire torso so that as the breath comes in the ribs expand and the lower abdomen moves outward with the intake of air. Notice that you can now take deeper, fuller breaths. So what, you may be asking yourself right now, my dog and I aren’t about to start practicing yoga, why should I breathe like this?
In fact, this kind of breathing is very important to all aspects of handling. Not only will it reassure your dog (who is no longer worried about “Master” fainting), breathing fully will help ground you for proper foot work, clear your mind so you can focus on the task ahead, decrease instinctive guarding because the dog senses your relaxation instead of nervousness, and tells the judge subconsciously that you are in charge of your performance rather than signaling to him that you are concerned about your dogs abilities.
As a quick example of how this can make a difference, stand up. Hold this article in one hand and hold your breath. Then, take a step forward. What happened to the article? Is it now all crumpled up because you gripped it when you held your breath? What if this article was your leash? Ok, now read on, then put the article down to do the next exercise. Again, close your eyes. Notice your normal breathing and how your feet feel in contact with the ground. Take a step or two forward and observe your balance. Now breathe, filling your entire torso. In fact, imagine that as you breathe in, you can feel your feet expanding and as you breathe out, your feet relax. Take a step forward. How is your balance now? Which method is going to be more clear and concise. Remember your body is telegraphing messages to your dog constantly, whether you are aware of it or not. So what kinds of messages do you want to send?
Next time you go out to train, start with a moment or two of conscious breathing right down to your toes, then begin your training. Make this a part of your routine so that when you get to the show, it will be automatic and your dog will recognize you instead of thinking you’ve turned into a green two-headed goulie. Breathing will not only help you to relax, you may even find yourself enjoying the process. So have fun and make sure your toes get some oxygen.
Copyright© 1994. All rights reserved.