Because of course they go together.  Well, not literally at the same time or you might cast your dog into the truck on his blind retrieve (which I saw done once, but that’s a different story.  And yes, alcohol was involved!).

self-esteem activities

But once our training group gets done in the field we uncork the fruits of the vine.  The only time said cork is unleashed when the dogs are still in play is when we grade a litter of puppies (“Get liquored up to tear ‘em up,” my breeder-friend Jody likes to say).

But the very best training sessions and show runs I have with my dogs are when I move into that zone.  You know the one—athletes talk about it all the time.  It’s when you’re truly present and all the tools you’ve learned wash over you in second-nature fashion and you’re three steps away from reality.  But you and your dog are in sync.

I had this happen with my wonderful Harper Lee last spring at our Labrador Specialty.  I was showing her in Open Obedience, and we had had some “issues,” as my fabulous trainer Denise Tatro would say.  In short, we were screwing up.

And when you’re working with a dog, that translates to the handler is screwing up.  The dog is, well, the dog!  And yep, they mess up, but with mine anyway it’s almost always something I did or didn’t do.  

But anyhow, we were crashing the broad jump.  There were 3 obedience trials at this show, and she was brilliant through the entire first two runs and then jumped into the middle of the last element.  Which is a big fat zero.  To the groans of the judges and gallery.  Because she really is brilliant, when she’s on.

And I was in any and all places possible except Zen.  Frustrated and pissed off, to put it mildly.  We knew this.  She knew this.  What was that stinking look of confusion on her black face?  Aaaaaaccckkkk!

I get nervous going into the ring.  Still.  After all these years.  As Denise says, “If you don’t, you’re in the wrong hobby.  Being nervous means you care.”  But she also says to shake that off when you step into the ring and use it as energy.

Easier said than done.  But really, I’ve been competing all my life so I should know how to deal with this.

And the funny thing?  Once you get into that beating-yourself-up mindset, it just gets worse.  That I also know that is not comforting.

After our second lapse in judgment, one of my other trainers, Cathy Caballero, suggested I change the command.  Which was a really fabulous thing because it gave me something to do.  Which makes me feel better.  And when I feel better, Harper Lee feels better.

So we tried it that way “behind the barn.”  Flawless.  Ready to rumba!

But that’s not what took my nerves away as we walked into the ring for our third run.  It was looking into her big brown soulful eyes, taking a deep breath, and letting the rest of the world disappear as I readied to begin with my best friend.  My heartbeat slowed.  We floated through our pattern, both of us smiling only at one another.  It was the most beautiful feeling ever.  I wouldn’t have cared if she crashed every jump and busted every element.

Of course, she didn’t.  She was near flawless.  On everything.  And sailed over that last element, the broad jump.  The crowd roared. The judge clapped.  Harper Lee flew into my arms.

Oh, and she was High Labrador in Trial . . .

But it’s the feeling I’ll remember forever.

Oh, and the Zen of wine drinking?  That one’s easy as cake.  Uncork, pour, sip.  Feeling the Zen yet?

What brings you into the zone?

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Brian

    Great story! Dog training can be really exhausting, but it is a lot of fun. And the wine definitely helps! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Virginia Tell

    Oh, the goosebumps! And glassy eyes.

    Thank you for sharing that beautiful story!

    What a way to remember how and why to stay in the Zen of life.

  3. jigs

    That’s amazing. It’ll help me a lot to train my lazy dog. Really thanks for this post.

    1. Susan Malone

      Well, you know what they say, Jigs–there are no lazy dogs, only lazy owners!

  4. Heather

    You make a sound point about the problem being with the handler and not the dog. In that sense, the owner is being trained as well! Sounds like fun, great post!

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, the owner is always being trained, Heather! And yep, it’s really, really fun!

  5. Colleeen

    Love this, Susan. Animals really show us how to be, don’t they? I remember working with horses this way. They can sense EVERYTHING about who you are that day, and it’s great practice for getting into the zone as you say. So happy for you and Harper Lee. :O)

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, they do, don’t they, Colleen! Everything travels straight down that lead too. And thank you–I so love this girl!

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