Mental Management Success Stories

Janis Roberts and Blue

I have a great dog and training/trialing partner in my dog Blue.  He is smart, willing and eager.  We began this journey in Nose Work just about 3 years ago.  In that time, I – working with Blue – have learned so many skills-based lessons: how the dog’s nose works, how odor works in the air, wind, on, above and under objects, how to train both obedience to odor and drive, leash handling, assessing the search area, and devising a search plan.  Blue and I progressed through our ORT, NW1, 2 and 3, despite my mistakes, and due largely to Blue’s skill, speed and absolute tolerance of my stress, which I know he could feel at the end of his leash.  Like most of us, the only way I knew to compete and to train for competition was to focus on the outcome . . . The award . . . The title.

In spite of my obsessive focus on outcome, Blue carried us through to our NW1 and 2 on the first try.  We had begun training with Nancy sometime after our NW2.  I saw in Nancy not only expert training on all the skills I referred to above, but also a positive, process-oriented attitude, which I decided I wanted in my work with Blue.

I took Nancy’s Mental Management Seminar in November 2018, and tried (really struggled at first) to incorporate some of the concepts in my training.  

Blue and I titled on our first 3, but I knew I was fighting the inside of my head the whole time, with a focus on myself, my stress and my negative thoughts.  The next trial, my negative focus and worry resulted in a negative outcome, as it darn well should have.  

I went back to the well, taking a private with Nancy and reading Lanny Bassham’s book, With Winning in Mind. I pasted a picture of Blue from the vehicle search in our first 3, with a paraphrased quote from Bassham’s book underneath:

In our training and in our trials, I kept trying to change my focus from myself and the goal of winning to the process of performing well.

Three more NW3 trials and we achieved our NW3 Elite.  I continued to work on my Mental Management.

We just completed our second Elite trial.  When the day began, the size of the search areas and the weather started my negative thinking.  I decided then and there to try to focus on each search as part of a day long seminar rather than a trial with a possible ribbon at the end.  I decided to see what we could find, and learn from what we missed.

We had not had a placement ribbon since our NW1, when we had taken 1st in Containers.  But at this trial we took 3rd in Containers, 2nd in Exteriors and 2nd in trial.  

The most memorable moment/search was the exterior.  I had what I believed was a good search plan.  It was a fairly large exterior area, and I could feel myself starting to get nervous.  But as we stepped over the start line, for the first time ever, I was able to switch off that worry and focus instead on performing the “process” that we had trained for.  And when we finished, I knew we had done well.

I may not always be able to replicate that feeling and that good of a performance.  But the experience has given me another tool in the Mental Management program:  “Remember something that you did well . . . . Fill your thoughts only with your best performances, and you cannot help but be successful.” Id. 41.  I now have a search, a process and a feeling I can keep my focus on replicating.

Val and Fringe

Mental Management for the win!

Looking back on when Fringe passed her 3 NW3s, there is one common denominator. At those trials, there were outside non-nosework issues going on in my life. Some good, some not so good. I recall distinctly going into those trials thinking the outcome didn’t matter. Just go and have fun with my bestie. Enjoy the search areas and thank everyone.

Now in Elite, I make note of what challenge do I want to give us in each search area. Nothing to complex, simple things like on or off lead, me determining search plan or letting Fringe be Fringe, hit corners, pause at threshold those types of things. When done with the search, I make note of what worked and what didn’t. Focus on positive and move on. Clean slate for the next search. A nice reminder from the CO at the last trial – you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve taken that to mean “Dont sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff”. I try to take the attitude of my dog who, luckily for me, takes it all in stride.

Cindy Scheidemantel

Mental management has taught me to focus on the moment and to revel in my dog’s enthusiasm for the search. Ribbons are nice, but not nearly as appealling to me as the expression on my dog’s face when we’re headed to the search area, his confident swagger when I release him to work, and the self-satisfied look he shares with me when we’re walking back to the car. I accept that he knows what he’s doing and is happy to do it if I can stay out of his way. 

To me, mental management involves being a fair, relaxed, and attentive teammate. My dog knows we’re playing a game together. He enjoys the treats he earns but I truly believe he takes as much pleasure in sourcing the scent, and knowing he’s helping me find something I couldn’t otherwise locate. Mental management has taught me to let my dog feel the joy of being valued. Trials are way more relaxing and fun since adopting this perspective.

The time we have with our dogs is fleeting, and no matter how long they live it won’t be long enough. Enjoy them for who and what they are while you can.

Deb Evins

Competing in Nosework is inherently stressful; competing in Nosework with a reactive dog is beyond stressful. Will my dog behave and stay focused on the task at hand, or will she become distracted by the other dogs, videographer, trial crew, blowing papers, etc? Couple those concerns with the need to be perfect in order to move on to the next level and you have a recipe for performance disaster.

Mindy and I started out well. We got our NW1 and NW2 fairly easily, and I began to feel confident in our abilities. But getting through NW3 to Elite was a nightmare. The more we missed (and we missed a lot) the more pressure I felt to be perfect the next time. Trialing under that amount of pressure was not fun, but we kept at it and after MANY attempts we finally earned our Elite title.

Shortly before we earned our Elite I started learning Mental Management skills. I didn’t want to continue to trial under stress; I wanted to play and have fun with Mindy. I needed to rethink my attitude about having a reactive dog, and I needed to look at trialing with Mindy differently. The Mental Management skills taught me to look at trialing with a positive attitude. I learned the importance of being in the moment and to stop worrying about the outcome. My opportunity to practice what I learned came on the first element in our first Elite trial; an outdoor campsite. I was nervous, but also excited. Mindy crossed the start line, found odor, walked back to the start line, squatted and peed. And my reaction? I started laughing; what a great way to start our Elite adventure! I knew then that we didn’t have to be perfect; we didn’t have to rack up the points and win ribbons; we just had to have fun together. We earned enough points that trial to keep, showing me that with the right attitude we can recover and do ok. I still get anxious before a trial, but I’m able to think about staying in the moment. I remind myself we’re there to have fun. I watch Mindy and see how much she loves what she’s doing, which is the real goal, and I’m able to relax. Sure, we have some runs that I’d like to do over; I sometimes focus on what I/we did “wrong”; I get stuck on how I could have “been better”. But I think back on our first element in our first trial, start laughing, and remind myself we’re there to have fun.

Deborah & Otter

Getting our third NW3 was occupying far too much of my mind.  I really, really, wanted to finish before the year’s end, especially seeing as the rules were changing in January. All I could think of was “We’ve got to title!”…and this was making me crazy nervous.  I had to stop worrying about this.

During the walk-through the morning of the trial I took video of the search areas.  When I got back in my car, I imagined in detail each search we were going to do, focusing on what I wanted it to look, feel, smell, sound like, how my dog and I would move through the area, and what we would each do.

Of course throughout the day none of it played out exactly as I imagined, but I tried hard not to think about getting my title, and when my mind started to go there, I’d switch on the movies I had created in my head instead.  I’d immerse myself in the process of each search – not the outcome – and focus on being present, being outdoors, and enjoying playing with my dog.

All was going well until it came to exteriors, a really difficult search.  Otter quickly started working but the odor was swirling and it took her a while to source the first hide.  She did, but then suddenly we got a 30 second warning….and we still had over half the area to cover.  My mind flipped to “Oh no, we’re not going to title.”  I started to panic, but took a deep breath, turned off that film, and used all my energy to focus instead on the sights, sounds, smells I had imagined and practiced, so we could finish covering the area and call finish.  

And then with a snap of her head, Otter was clearly in odor again.  The clock was ticking.  I used everything I had to stay in the moment, concentrate on the challenge in front of us, and give her the space and time she needed to source it.  Suddenly there it was.  I blurted out “Alert!” followed quickly by “Finish!” and we somehow managed to squeak by with 56/100ths of a second left. 

Yes, we titled that day, and got second place overall, but more importantly, we had a fun time working on some interesting challenges.  This mental management stuff is not easy, but I’m convinced that staying in the moment, focusing on the process rather than the outcome, and simply having fun playing with my dog and doing what we do best, one search at a time, is what enabled us to achieve our goal. 

Erin Rezmer

Kahlua earned her NACSW Elite 3 title (650 points to earn this title) on Sunday, November 10th at the young age of 12. She also earned 1st Place and Pronounced in the Exterior search (judge thought we worked exceptional as a team). Kahlua becomes the 5th Boxer registered with NACSW with this title. We are in exceptional company.

I’m not sharing this to simply brag about my Boxer, but as a testament to the power of mental management during competition.

Going into this trial we needed 50.07 points to earn the title. This is our last trial of the year and my dog turned 12 years old a week ago. She also has an unstable knee. A week before she received her custom knee brace. Alot for any handler to manage mentally.

Our first search was inside a not very large building with 3 rooms, 4 known hides, 3 1/2 minutes, and on/off leash. I chose to not have Kahlua wear her brace as she is only to wear it several hours, several times a day through this second week of acclimation. The building was small and the floor not slick. I went in confident. Kahlua went in super jazzed. No leash and freedom. While she was searching, she couldn’t slow herself down to problem solve. I go two no’s for calling false alerts. I put her back on leash and continued searching. We never found one hide. Our search was a bust. We hadn’t earned any points. To say I was upset is an understatement. I still gave my dog treats as we walked back to the car as I said outloud to myself, “That was just sh%t.”

I put her back in the car. I was angry. For a second with my dog but in reality with myself. I didn’t practice what I teach my students. When I put her back on leash, I should have reset her and started over. We are better than this.

I talked with Nancy Reyes who is my friend and instructor and person with whom I’ve taken the Mental Management training program under as she was there competing too. We had 3 more searches to do. She said to me, “What are you going to do mental management wise.” The next search was the exterior search. I said, “I’m going to look at the search area so I understand the search boundaries (we had a virtual walk through of it). I’m going to take note of the wind and decide my search plan based on that.” The trial took a lunch break before this next search.

During lunch, I looked on my phone where I have a quote from former Cubs manager Joe Maddon who is all about mental management (see photo).

I did exactly what I planned. We had 5 1/2 minutes with an unknown number. I worked my plan. Kahlua wore her knee brace and her coat as it was cold. She found 4 hides. She clearly told me there was no more to find. I called finish at 03:39:51. As we walked back to the car, I gave her all the treats I had, bent down and gave her a kiss and told her how much I loved her. Then I said to her, “I’ve redeemed myself as your handler.”

We did well in the other searches. Got a few no calls which reduces our points. We earned 56.25 points. Enough for her Elite 3 title.

While I am thrilled we finished the title and got a placement for the exterior search, I’m most proud of the Pronounced in what I’m calling the “come back” search. In all the journeys Kahlua and I have taken, I’ve always valued our time together and teamwork. Bottom line, I love my dog.

Never quit and always play through the last play, no matter what that may be.