Preparing Yourself for Big Dog Events (Even if You're an Introvert)

Big events are wonderful.

Big events are scary.

Big events in our dog training/ sports world can be a trial, show, championships, nationals, seminar, camp or any time a major outcome goal is on the line.

We often talk about taking care of our dogs through the process: making sure they have the skills to function in that environment; bringing lots of treats; focusing on what they are doing right; setting up their crate area in a good place for them; balancing time out in the atmosphere with time to nap and rest; stopping and assessing where they are at and determining next steps. All these things sound great on paper — and they are!

But if you aren't taking care of yourself, they become moot points. You won't perform at the best level possible unless you are both on your A game.

Events like this feel scary because they matter. They are important to you, and that's why you care. And caring is good right? So, what can we do to take care of ourselves at these events? We need to plan ahead for OUR needs. 

10 Specific Strategies for Enjoying Big Dog Events (and dealing with the stress!)

In no particular order here are 10 specific strategies to experiment with the next time you are at a big, nerve wracking (to you) event. Remember:

1. You are not alone. 

You are not alone. You are human! See that confident looking person over there with the dog gazing adoringly at her as people walk by? She could easily be MORE anxious than you are. Honest! Lots of the people around you are nervous and stressed even if they aren't showing it. Excitement and tension often feel the same. Reframing your anxiety into an expression of your excitement or desire to do well can be very powerful.

2. Take care of your needs. 

Take care of your needs. Find the bathrooms, bring some healthy snacks and hydration to the event. Then use them all! If you need a break, take a break. Don't push through forcing false feelings particularly at a learning event like a workshop or camp. You won't learn well and will struggle to focus. Taking 5 or 10 minutes for self care will allow you to focus on the learning opportunities afterwards.

3. Pack the night ahead. 

Pack the night ahead. That way you won't have to worry about missing anything (for you or your dog(s)) in the morning. Pack what you both need then think about what you might want (for me that's always a sweater and a book or magazine– I get cold easily and while I rarely have time or desire just knowing I can read makes me feel better!).

4. Smile first. 

Smile first. Other people may be too self absorbed or worried to smile but that doesn't need to stop you. Smiles are contagious AND they make you feel better too. Win/Win if you ask me.

5. Compliment someone. 

Compliment someone. It's hard, particularly if you are an introvert (that is get energy from within) but events like these are often about information sharing, and making contacts. Hiding in a corner has its place but saying something nice to someone can set off a whole chain that will improve the entire event. I received a mumbled compliment a week ago which I am still savouring!

6. Define your space. 

Define your space. As a good introvert I like to know where I am. Take the time to explore the space when you are setting up. Go look at the rooms you are working in, find the bathrooms. (note – that's made my list twice – on purpose – it's important.) Having a mental map of where you will be for the term of the event can help you relax and appreciate each stage of the production (speaking of bathrooms – go often – there's nothing wrong with you – I think of it as the body trying to get rid of stress physically!).

7. Your reactions are natural – go with them to start. 

Your reactions are natural – go with them to start. Our stress reactions are generally fight, flight or freeze. While you likely won't actually want to fight you may find yourself amped up and extra chatty or loud. That adrenaline surge is expected – even though it will feel odd to you. The urge to flee is a good opportunity to potty your dog, or go check on them. Giving yourself a little space is totally acceptable when we have the dog excuse! Use 'em! Freeze might manifest itself as not wanting to join lunch or move rooms. Lean into that feeling of dread and think about it. You might truly need to set a timer and give yourself 5 minutes to sit and breath and ground yourself. You might just need to give yourself a gentle nudge to get moving. Both options are okay.

8. Ground yourself. 

Ground yourself. There are a number of ways to do this including breathing work, checking your gratitude, doing five senses check in, repeating an affirmation or mantra, visualization, isometric exercises. Pick one to test and see if it helps you. If it doesn't get some help with it, or test another.

9. Appreciate the learning opportunity. 

Appreciate the learning opportunity. If things go well and all your outcome goals are exceeded that's WONDERFUL and cause for celebration. If they don't (and, life is life, that will happen occasionally) there will still be something positive to take away. A person met, one new technique learned, more information about you, your dog or both of you to help you plan and move forwards again.

10. Recognize you are still taking the best dog home or going home to the best dog. 

Recognize you are still taking the best dog home or going home to the best dog. You are doing your best in the moment at the event. Yes, that best might look different on another day but right at that time it's what you have to offer. And, I can assure you, it's enough. It's special and appreciated by the host and presenter(s) perhaps more than you could ever realize. Love your dog. Love yourself and lean into the learning offered.

See you at Training Camp!

Have fun at your big events whatever they might be! If it's FDSA camp next weekend come say hi to me. If you need to debrief, cry, or just sit with someone for a little, ask a volunteer to get a message to me and I'll come find you. Resilience is hard work – even for those who are naturally inclined that way. Use your supports for big events!

E114: Sarah Stremming - Training Teenage Tyrants
E113: Kamal Fernandez - Pathway to Positivity

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