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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Dog Agility


The Mental Game Of Dog Agility

Manage Pressure And Stay Process Focused

Bill Cole, MS, MA

How is your mental game of dog agility? This article helps you improve your mental approach to competition. Soon, competitors from all over will descend upon the Cynosport World Games in August in Morgan Hill, California.

This is the world series of dog agility competitions, and I'll be there as a mental game coach to some of the competitors. When I coach these folks I focus on first helping them develop a solid understanding of the entire scope of the mental game of dog agility. Next, I help them become self aware about their mental strengths and weaknesses, and finally, I give them techniques and methods that help them handle their own stress, that of their dogs, and to maintain focus over a long series of days competing in the sun. This all improves their mental game of dog agility.

Am I an animal behavior expert? No. Am I an expert in the psychology of dog handling? Kind of. Even though I love dogs and all animals, I really primarily work with the handlers on how to read their dog's mood, connect with their dog using rapport, communicate with their dog, and mainly to help the owner to manage their own mind, emotions and behavior. To that end, here are two mental game of dog agility approaches you can use right away to get some fast traction.

  1. Control What You Can, And Let The Rest Go: Performers who are wise know what they can control, and what they cannot control. They make this distinction so they can manage their mind and emotions better. Most worry and stress comes from trying to control those things over which we have limited or no control. This is the definition of insanity-doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results!

    First, make a list of all those things and situations over which you have zero control. That would be key things such as environmental conditions, scheduling factors and even who your opponents are, or what capabilities they possess. All of these you cannot affect in the slightest. To perform well, you need to accept these conditions. This of course does not mean you like them, want them or approve of them. It only means you accept them as a reality that you must deal with if you hope to be successful.

    Next, make a list of those things and situations over which you have partial control. These largely tend to be the people in your events. For example, if you are nice to people, they tend to be nice back to you. This Golden rule effect (Karma if you prefer) is operating so you might as well tap into it. This may or may not apply to your opponents, but it should apply to your staff, officials, teammates, friends, family, etc.

    Finally, make a list of those factors over which you have 100% control. Guess what? That would be YOU. Yes, you. The only thing you have direct control over in a performance is yourself. That would primarily be your breath, your muscles, your mind, and your behavior. By the way, since you have a dog with his own mind and officials that have their own mind, winning is not directly in your control.

    Can you control what someone may be thinking about you? No. Let it go. Can you control what you are thinking, about anything? Yes. It's very simple, but it takes discipline and mental control. Try it—you'll be amazed at how something so simple can be so powerful. These three control boxes help you maintain mental and emotional discipline. Use this in practice and in competitions.

  2. Focus On Process: Performers who are able to create sustainable peak performance are process focused. Inconsistent performers, or those who feel huge pressure and choke tend to be outcome focused. Process focused means to pay attention to the factors that guide your behavior moment to moment in a competition. These are generally under your control to a very high degree. Outcome focused means you pay attention to the score, how you are doing, and keeping track of whether you will win or not. You focus on the end result. Winning is not under your direct control. You cannot make up your mind that you will win, and then simply win. Why? You usually have an opponent trying to do the same thing. And of course, you have a dog, who may suddenly decide that chasing another dog is more exciting than following you. Of course, if you are far superior to your opponents the chances of you winning certainly increase, but there is still no guarantee. Focusing on a result makes you lose sight of the process required to get you to that result.

    Here is the saying I use to show this process-outcome relationship. "Mile by mile it's a trial. Yard by yard it's hard. But inch by inch it's a cinch". If you focus on one small thing over and over, the next thing you know, you've advanced by quite a bit. This is a process focus. But unfortunately the wheels often come off for competitors when they get closer to the finish line. They may be having a great run, and they suddenly think, "Wow, I'm nailing this. I could win this. That would be awesome." And they take their mind off what they were doing that got them to this point. They begin savoring "the fruits of victory". And they fail. Don't let that happen to you. Stay process focused.

Now you have some new mental insights into the mental game of mental game of dog agility. And now you know more about how to handle your mind, and how to manage your stress and energy and focus. Take these out to your next tournament and put them to good use. Good luck!

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS., MA. 2014 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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