Gunclub Labradors

People get nervous when they are under the spotlight. Everyone knows that. Some handle it with relative ease, others get physically ill – and everything in between. I suspect the number of people not nervous is a tiny, tiny number. Even the best and most experienced have their adrenaline pumps activated and exist at a heightened state. Because that is necessary to do well.

Yes, nervousness is extremely useful. We were designed to become ‘nervous’ when faced with challenging situations. It allows for a quicker response time, a heightened awareness and a readiness very useful when a dog is running quickly and occasionally unpredictably. Instead of dreading the automatic physical response you may get as you ready your dog to run, see it for what it is: a good thing preparing you to do your job of handling well.

That said, I recall running a Qualifying in a field trial long ago with my heart beating so rapidly that the heartbeat was the only thing I could hear. My ears pounded with the internal sound and I never even heard that guns as they were fired. The only thing that saved the nervous and insecure me was the fact my dog and I had stepped to a line together many times. Granted 99% of it was in training, but the motions were very familiar. The task was very familiar. And my dog knew what she was supposed to do. That’s the biggest help I know regarding nervousness: be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared. I won that qualifying.

If you are not prepared, I suppose you have every right to be nervous. But if you have gotten yourself ready for the task at hand, then go through the same motions you have every day in training. Exactly the same. And you dog will do the same. If however, your training is different from your testing venue, then you can’t duplicate the motions. So whatever you run, whatever you do with your dog, let that be your standard in training. You might consider some of the following:

1. A holding blind from which you walk to the line quietly and in control.

2. A mat, bucket, ribbon, whatever you encounter in your testing. Make it routine for both of you.

3. People in the field doing the shooting and throwing.

4. Holding blinds in the field so they don’t unnerve a dog that hasn’t seen one before. Duck calls, 

loud gun noises, winger sounds, people hidden, etc., etc.

5. Real birds. Pretty important.

However you want your dog to behave at a test, make that your 100% of the time standard. Want them to walk beside you, calmly and ready? Then do that every single time. Want the dog focused? Then focus entirely on your dog and your dog will acquire the same habit. Consistency is the key to consistency. That is, whatever you do all the time with your dog is what your dog will do all the time. 

Set the standard you want for your dog and hold that forever. Then, be as nervous as you want, but goahead and do what you always do and the outcome will be the same it is in training.

Finally, one of the best ways to quell the bad effects of nervousness is to refrain from watching bad dog work. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen nervous, inexperienced folks run early and do fairly well because they didn’t know how hard the test was. After they watched dog after dog struggle or fail, they realized how hard what they did really was. Had they gone in thinking that, they most likely would have failed also. Keep your mind in the “I can do this mode”, do what you do every day in training, and let the adrenaline pumps work their magic for you. Really.

SNervous Nellies- Handling at Tests

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