Dog Show Jitters

Dog Show Jitters

Sooner or later, everyone who shows dogs succumbs to dog show jitters. Novice owner handlers worry about stepping into the ring with a novice dog. Breeder/owner handlers worry about showing their latest bred-by dog at the national specialty. And professional handlers worry about showing their No. 1 dog to breeder-judges. Everybody worries. However, some exhibitors make the mistake of developing a habit of worrying. For these folks, the surest way to avoid becoming a winner is to become a worrier. So, why worry?

Getting the dog show jitters doesn’t have to be overpowering. In fact, those nerves and butterflies can actually be empowering when that energy is redirected toward achieving specific goals. With worry, exhibitors can perceive dog shows as a kind of threat, where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. When those nervous feelings take over, the capable handler with a promising dog can become, well, a mess in the ring with two left feet, sloppy hands, and poor vision. Worrying can transform the capable owner handler into a hysterical owner handler—in an instant.

How we choose to respond to nervous emotions can mean the difference between having a great day at a dog show (and winning) and repeating the same old mistakes that lead to the same (losing) outcome. Worrying, unsurprisingly, is the surest way to avoid those elusive majors or that BOB win. Thankfully, overcoming the dog show jitters is possible for everyone.

One of the greatest mistakes in life is to continually fear that a mistake will be made. Well, mistakes are a part of life. They offer some of life’s greatest lessons and can lead to unimagined possibilities. It’s the worry about making mistakes that prevents the realization of goals and the fulfillment of dreams. Worry is a fair-weather friend that has you convinced that you are not going to make it; that you are not good enough.

So, how can a nervous owner handler manage the worrying? Well, the first step is to realize that worrying causes more harm than good. It leads to nowhere good for you or your dog. Worrying literally plays mind games. It fools you into thinking that you can’t succeed without it. (What if I stumble? What if my dog sits during the exam? What if she won’t stop sniffing the ground or jumping in the air or doing any one of a million things that dogs are liable to do? What if she doesn’t win?)

But, what is she does win? What if she gaits beautifully and stands perfectly? What if you show her like she’s the best dog in the ring? What if you walk out of the ring with a 5-point major before heading toward the photographer’s stand where your new champion poses for the finest win photo that has ever been taken? What if?

It’s just as easy to imagine victory as it is to imagine defeat. All it takes is blocking the worries in our head by “downloading” a different kind of mental and emotional app that responds to stress in ways that are encouraging, productive, and fun!

Try these exercises to help manage stress:

  • Create Daily Routines (to feel a sense of control);
  • Take Up Exercise (to improve blood circulation);
  • Eat Natural Foods (to nourish the body, mind & spirit);
  • Sit Quietly (to listen to the voice within);
  • Breathe Deeply (to experience one of life’s simple pleasures);
  • Imagine Success (to visualize the possibilities).

Successful owner handlers get excited instead of anxious. They have possibilities instead of problems. They focus instead of fear. And they wonder instead of worry. Owner handlers who achieve their goals simply respond differently to the stresses that come with showing dogs. Winners make choices that losers think are unavailable to them. However, the choice of how to respond to the dog show jitters is up to each individual exhibitor. When better choices are made, better results become available. So, why worry?

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  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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