As I think back on the past five years of my involvement in nose work, I have seen a lot of growing. Not only my growth, but the growth of the sport of Nose Work. We are experiencing new territory, the growing pains, and the excitement of how this sport is evolving. Even with the pains of waiting lists with nearly 180, the sport has enabled many people to catch the Nose Work fever.
This sport has also enabled me to grow as a person. Learning about myself and gaining my confidence.
I have succeeded in nose work trials with Mickey. I have gone further in Nose Work than any other dog sport. When I first started NW3 (Nose Work level 3) trials in the fall of 2014, it was the highest level of competition before Nationals at that time. I felt so honored to finally reach the highest level of competition in a dog sport short of Nationals. That feeling did give me the confidence I could perform with the top. I could do this. I may not be the best, but I was right up there side by side with the National winners.. An exhilarating feeling.
Mickey and I have titled two times out of the 5 times we competed at the NW3 level. On the days we titled, I was relaxed and with a carefree attitude. I had been to a sport psychologist, read up on how to get me in the right frame of mind for competitions. I had the attitude of what ever happens, life is good and most of all I love my dog. Last June, Mickey took 5 months to recover from an injury. Two weeks before his trial, he stopped limping. We didn't practice much, but we titled. We danced that day. I set the mood. I listened to music that put me in a good mood, I didn't focus on getting everything right. I just flowed. Waiting my turn I read something to get my mind in a calm state. I also meditated. No mapping search areas, no over thinking the day of the trial. My focus was to set this up so Mickey had fun in a relaxed way. No forced fun; relaxed fun.
So after two titles in NW3 in a row, I really thought I had gotten it all together. How could we not get our Elite title at the next trial? As time past, NW3 was no longer the highest level of competition before Nationals. A new level was introduced to Nose work, the Elite Division. Getting the Elite title in NW3 now no longer meant a ticket to Nationals. The sport has grown that Elite Division was born. Getting the Elite title in NW3 now means going to Elite Division. I now was not in the highest level of competition. I felt the pressure to try and get to the next level.
Last Thanksgiving weekend I trialed in Sacramento. Now my goal was to get into the Elite Division. I was a little pressured because Mickey was 10, soon to be 11 years old. His eyes have the slight frost look of an older dog. His hinds legs are not as strong. His age is showing. How much longer can I trial him? I want to still stay in the highest level of competition. I also was struggling with some serious health issues. With all this on my mind, it was boring into my brain as my relaxed state was dissipating. I started to lose my competitive edge. My mind was cluttered with the wrong thoughts.
From October to November 2015, I entered five trials, four with Mickey and one with Divine. Titled only in one Level 1 element for interiors. What happened? I was supposed to have it made.
My health was deteriorating. November I started Kidney Dialysis and my eye had experience two traumatic events and I was developing haze in my field of vision. I was being bumped out of my comfort zone with these changes. Changes of not seeing people's faces, not being able to drive, being dependent on a dialysis machine that took about 3 hours from my evenings. The complications I had with dialysis also didn't help. I had some major events preoccupying my mind. I was off kilter and dissociated from my relaxed self. I tried hiding behind positive statements and positive thinking, hoping that could pull me through. In many situations it did, but it didn't help me to keep my right focus for competitions.
I started to create a fear of handling my dogs. Going into rooms were darker than usual, my eyes wouldn't adjust, glare disturbed my ability to see and the haze made me lose clarity. My ability to read alerts diminished. I slipped. This made me tense, which affected Mickey. He started to change. I wasn't going to quit, so I realized I need to start practice over again to get use to the "new" way. Even though my confidence was disturbed, I still had the desire to go forward. My handling wasn't up to par, but I kept going. Denial enabled me to continue to move forward and ignore the pains of what was happening. I lost my dance with Mickey. We were not in sync. But I still kept going like nothing was lost.i was still driven to move forward. My desire was still alive, I had a new component I needed to figure out. It would come, but I had to go through the process of learning how to live a different life.
This new challenged taught me a lot. In life we are all going to have something to knock us off our balance. This was mine. For others it could be a loss of a job, a divorce, loss of a spouse, a loss of child and the list can go on. We all will have a curve ball thrown at us, this was mine. The strong people learn to work through these and become stronger. I had to go back and relearn how to focus. I had to remember how not to let fear take over, and ego take over. i needed to be mindful and step in again. I was learning how to be stronger.
When we do things from our ego, it isn't genuine because if we don't succeed, our ego gets damaged. All those trials I was devastated for not titling, was my ego. It is not productive. It isn't right to put our dogs through that feeling. they really have no concept or idea of a title, they just know when mom or dad is happy or when mom and dad is upset. I did this to my first NW3 trials. It broke my heart seeing how I affected my dog. I knew I had to change. Then to have it happen again last Thanksgiving, really taught me how I always have to manage myself.
So now I need to get back on track. I need to train my brain to get back into the right focus. Let go of ego, let go of title, let go of fame, let go over thinking, and let go of fretting. Let self-compassion come in to Mickey and priority is to make this fun for Mickey. I should also extend that self-compassion to my fellow competitors, the host of the trial, the volunteers and to the sport of nose work. It is amazing what this shift of thinking does. It brings peace, calmness and relaxations. Finally, we need to remember to have self-compassion for ourselves. Be our best friends and good to ourselves. When we can do that without criticism, we become a much better person over all. We can extend the compassion to others.
I have had this state of mind before, I can do it again. I will practice, but not over do it. I will continue my regular classes and keep my happy. My mind will be clear, not trying to be a perfectionist. Iw ill develop a regime. In practices, I will have a routine of what I do at the start line. While there, I have a breathing pattern. During that time I take one deep breath and let it out slowly. It is about 10 minutes. This allows Mickey to scope the area. I will have good thoughts for Mickey like what an awesome dog he is. While at a trial, I will not think about the trial, I will read things not related to nose work. Sometimes I will quietly sing a silly hip hop song. Helps me get into a grove and relaxes my whole body. While walking to my element I will do happy talk to Mickey. "What a HAPPY bay" in a happy voice which Mickey really does respond. I ignore the volunteers and everyone because to "hear" them say something me I have to take my concentration off Mickey. I will only pay attention to instructions that direct me to my element. When I go to the start line I do what I practiced. When I let Mickey go, I follow him, but give him space. I stand back and "let go". This let go is like letting my 6th sense take over. That gut that already knows from several practices. It enables me to dance with Mickey. When this happens it is beautiful. We are in sync. I did this with my last NW3 I titled. We can do it again. Now that I'm getting back on track, we are going to have success again. We will be able to handle anything that comes our way.