They’ll Never Find Me There

It takes guts to show up for your life. I read that once somewhere and I can’t remember who said it. Brené Brown, perhaps. It was kind of revolutionary for me because I have always viewed myself as a coward. But if these words are true then maybe all of us who trod on every day, doing the best we can, are individually courageous, even if we don’t feel it. While I do think this might be true, I can’t let it serve as an excuse to avoid doing the things that make me afraid. 

On bad days, that’s everything. But on good days – the majority of the time – it’s not enough for me to accept mediocrity. My standards for myself need to lift higher. No more wussing out.

Okay, no more wussing out all the time. Baby steps.

I am receiving a lot of advice from friends as I prepare for Shiva’s first agility trial. The piece that has most stuck with me goes something like this:

Visualize the worst possible thing that can happen actually happening. Then visualize yourself in that moment with the worst thing happening and being okay with that worst thing.

For many people, the worst thing is their dog pooping on the course, an automatic disqualification. Eliminated for eliminating, as my trainer says.  If that happened to me I am pretty sure I would just laugh and give my dog a new nickname. A little poop is the least of my concerns.

The worst thing for me, the one event that will cause extreme disappointment, is if Shiva runs off at the start line and we don’t even get to perform a single obstacle. That is what will make me cry. The fear of that is what has prevented me from trialing until now.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to visualize these feelings away. I don’t give a rat’s ass about getting a Q or knocking bars or missed contacts. Whatevs. I just don’t want to be done before we even start. If that happens I know I’ll wonder if we should even continue at all, if she’s even happy out there, if I shouldn’t put our hard work toward something else.

That’s a lot of weight to put on one moment, isn’t it?

My PH thinks so too. He thinks I should set us up for success by lowering the bar. He thinks showing up should be our standard for excellence. Not backing out. Getting up to that line with Shiva, walking out, and giving her a release cue. That, he says, should be my only goal.

Since I feel my shoulders tense at the thought of doing even that much, maybe he’s right. Right now, I give myself a fifty-fifty shot of pulling it off. There is a pretty good chance I will spend the entire trial hiding under the A-Frame.

What do you do when you are afraid?

23 thoughts on “They’ll Never Find Me There

  1. I find false bravado will get you far. Dogs (and horses and people, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a group of people lost because I tend to walk quickly and briskly and everyone assumes I know where I’m going. This has happened when visiting friends in a strange city I’ve never been to before on multiple occasions). Also lowering my standards below my current worst showing usually does the trick. Seeing as my current plan involves running really, really fast and not carrying if I mow down any obstacles in the way or if I stay on course, and hoping to at least get Mufaasa over one jump, I figure I can probably pull that off.


  2. I read once that having courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway.

    Sometimes when we are working with challenging dogs (such as Delilah and Shiva) we look at how far we have to go rather than how far we have actually gone. You’ve done an amazing job with her Kristine and I’ve no doubt in my mind that you and she will have fun. In my mind, that is the most important thing, that you and she have fun.

    Believe in your dog Kristine, believe in yourself. I believe in you.


  3. It seems to me that even if she does run away, you’ll have an important piece of knowledge. You’ll know that she *isn’t* happy out there, or that while she loves class, competition may be too much for her. And you can live your life with that. No dog has to compete.

    I do find that living with a fearful dog can be an awkward dance between “I am uncomfortable with this” / “the dog is uncomfortable with this.” and “this is a good uncomfortable” / “this is a bad uncomfortable.” I just have to do the best I can with those feelings, moment to moment.


  4. I was at an agility competition all week-end. Working. There was a lady that caught my eye she was in class two with her sheltie, had signed up for every run possible, but all she did was walk up to the start and work on her stays. If the dog stayed, it got to run the course, if it sprinted off and did the first few obstacles, she walked off.

    On mine and Romeo’s first agility trial, he took off before the first obstacle. Lead off, off he went. I’ve had my shares of embarrassements with Romeo, and have become immune to it since. So it’s not all bad. The most important thing in agility is to have fun. Eventually we became Junior Norwegian champions. It was our one good run that year, but shush, don’t tell anyone.

    Maybe your goal for the competition should be to do the first three obstacles (two if there’s a tricky turn) anything else is just a bonus. I’m competing with Derria on Thursday, we’ve had 8 practices, my goal is eye contact at the start line.

    When I’m afraid I take a deep breath, give my dog a hug and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? And if the worst happens, is that really that bad? Embarrassement is a useless emotion. Especially in dog training.


  5. I can’t believe you’re finally going to your first trial, Kristine!! How exciting and scary. Here’s a bar to set your standards, if Shiva doesn’t act like my dogs would in a crowd with other dogs, you are doing great!! 🙂 My dogs couldn’t even think about doing something like that.

    I don’t know what I do when I’m scared but hang on to the leash real tight and let the dogs take the lead. We are so rooting for you and Shiva. Good Luck!!


  6. I admire you so much for attempting this and can’t imagine that anything bad can come from it. One of the exercises from an acting class I once took was to act like we were not afraid. It loosened up the class and we got very good at it.


  7. I had a similar issue with Toby that you are facing with Shiva. I used to trial in Rally with Toby. Some days, this perfect dog would come into the ring with me, act like he loved listening to me and working with me, and we actually won ribbons which really surprised me – because other times, this same dog would race off and bolt out of the ring for no apparent reason. I never did really figure out with any certainty what triggered the behavior – but I kept going back and trying, right up until he had to retire because he couldn’t jump anymore.

    Why? Because of that first dog – the dog I knew he could sometimes be. So I took the good with the bad, if that makes sense, and each time I went in the ring I hoped for that first dog to be with me. The worst that could happen was that he ran out of the ring, and then we got to trial another day….and it was worth the chance – because the best that could happen is we performed like a team and had a fun run together. No matter what happens, try to have a fun day with your dog – because after all, that’s what really counts.


  8. I remember Oreo’s first trial, and being sooooo nervous. I quickly realized I agonized for no reason.

    My last trial, Chewy got stuck in a continuous loop of tunnel~a frame ~ tunnel ~aframe, repeat, repeat, repeat. Then our next run it was tunnel, run past the weave poles, tunnel, run past the weave poles, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    I know, many people would be horrified, embarrassed, or angry.

    What did I do? I laughed my ass off.

    Even though we had no q’s & no ribbons, the judge was looking for us the next day to give us the “judge’s choice award” for having the best attitude. (Or maybe it was for crowd entertainment. )

    Chewy had a blast, as I’m sure Shiva will. And I bet she might just surprise you!


  9. My big fear at Kol’s first trial is that someone off course would have food and Kol would rendered useless. There was food and he was keenly interested, but I learned that the joys of the tunnel apparently call to him louder than cheese sandwiches and after a brief interlude of sniffing, he got back to work. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined!

    I like your PH’s approach. After thinking (and stressing about it) for this long, to me the goal is to JUST DO IT! You can worry about contacts and technical details later. Sometimes, you get an A just for showing up.


  10. I read a great book on fear lately, called Nerve. The biggest lesson I got from it is that the only way to manage fear is to do what you’re most afraid of and survive it.

    Of course I’m a big chicken so I don’t have any profound advice for you. What I do have is a lot of support for you both, wishes that you have a great time no matter what happens, and confidence that you’ll always do what’s best for your dog.

    I’m very excited that you signed up for the trial. That’s a big step and one you should be very proud of.


  11. I just bought a magnet today that says, “Poop happens. Pick it up and move along.” If you can have that attitude for real poop, why not behavioural poop?

    It’s amazing that you’re going after all this practice. No matter what Shiva does, you’ve accomplished so much with her. Good luck!

    (Is “trailing” a word, by the way? 🙂 )


  12. I agree with your PH, just getting to the event is what your standard of excellence should be! I think you need to listen to him, even though we hate to admit sometimes guys do have a good point. There were many times when I wanted to quit showing the dogs because it was hard work. I would sit and debate whether to enter a show because I feared we didn’t have a shot of winning. My thought process was horrible and very time consuming. His advice-you’ll never know unless you enter, so that’s what I did:))))


  13. I think your PH has the right idea 🙂 I once read something that said that “worrying is like praying for the worst to happen” – so try to visualize You and Shiva having a great run and just enjoy yourself. I think our dogs play off of our emotions more than we realize – so if you are relaxed and having a good time, she will be more likely to be relaxed and have a good time. Deep breaths 🙂 I can’t wait to hear about how it goes!! Good luck! (of course, I have absolutely no experience with agility trials . . .so who am I to offer advice???)


  14. Don’t sweat the details. Go out & have fun, whatever happens, happens. My worst moment was a dog show judge gave me crap because I had a hard time getting Jersey to show her teeth in the ring. Yeah, fun times BUT I went back to show the next day.


  15. I think all you need to do is go with the intenti0n of you and Shiva enjoying yourself. Any good scores, wins, rosettes, etc., are a bonus.


  16. What a way to start your day! I mean I actually tried visualizing the worst possible thing that can happen actually happening. and trust me it was a very URGHH way, but I still kept on doing it and it turned out that I am thinking about how to manage it.. B.E.Autiful way to look at things!


  17. I think your PH is on the right track. Personally? I think eliminating coward from your vocabulary might be the place to start. You are anything but. Using it only reinforces it in your mind.

    I think the rest of the imagining the worst happening and envisioning yourself okay with it is allowing yourself to get past the “what if” part. Example: What if Shiva runs around and can’t settle down enough to run the course? Then, I will calmly redirect her with a treat or a command and get her focused back on me.

    I think you will do fine Kristine. I think Shiva will do fine too. It’s getting past the mental stuff that’s hard. I wish you a great run!


  18. I really have to agree with your PH. What a wonderful way to look at things, too. Just signing up was a big step. Showing up should be the next. Whatever happens from there, happens but be sure to celebrate your victories – even the smallest ones make you stronger. I’m pretty sure you believe that to be true for Shiva, why not allow yourself the same amount of patience? 😉


  19. I hope you know how many people you have rooting for you. Not to win – just to go out there and do it. I’m not trying to add more pressure, because we’ll all still love you if you don’t. But if you find the courage, we’ll get to see you soar, and that will be awesome! My philosophy is to feel the fear and do it anyway. We’ve evolved with this caution for good reason … we needed to be worried about large animals eating us and so on. But nowadays there are very few life-threatening situations, so our fear gets directed at less scary things. So many people let fear stop them from pursuing the things they’d like to do in life, and then regret it later. Even if it’s not this trial – I hope you do one, just so the fear doesn’t win.


  20. Now see, this is why we do hunt test. Pooping or peeing on the field is perfectly fine (as long as the dog holds the bird…lol). IMO training is the standard for excellence. That is where the real work is. But I understand what you are saying about being out before you get to run the course. That is what happens in HT when a dog breaks and it is disappointing.


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