At FDSA, Andrea Harrison teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio.
She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.
When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work.
To be released 1/05/2018, and I'll be talking to Amy Cook about the science of dog training, so stay tuned!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Andrea Harrison.
Andrea is the people trainer on the FDSA team, working with dog sports teams to help handlers train themselves for better performance. She teaches classes on unleashing your personal potential, mental management, planning, goal setting, and more... and with the new year right around the corner, she’s here today to talk goal setting and dog-related new year’s resolutions.
Hi Andrea! Welcome to the podcast.
Andrea Harrison: Hey Melissa. Thank you so much for the invitation. Great to talk to you.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today. To get us started, do you want to just remind listeners who you are and tell us a little bit about the dogs you share your life with?
Andrea Harrison: Sure. I’m Andrea Harrison. I’ve been doing the mental management stuff in some capacity in my life professionally for nearly 30 years. I can’t believe it. The dogs we’re currently living with has changed a bit since the last time I was on the podcast, Melissa. We lost two of our older dogs.
Melissa Breau: I’m sorry.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah, it’s hard. It happens to everybody, but it’s never easy. Now we’re living with Sally and Thea, our senior dogs, and they’re the two dogs that have done the most competitively. Sally was in a feature film. They’re the dogs who really push my dog training along. Then we have my husband’s Golden Retriever, Samson, who is his dog very much. I try to keep hands off, although it’s hard sometimes because he’s lovely and really athletic, so I sneak out and do some stuff with him sometimes, but he’s Tom’s dog, I leave him alone as best as I can. He’s the farm dog. We also have two younger dogs, Yen, who is a toy American Eskimo, and Dora, who is a feral little Cairn terrier mix. They’re both great and lots of fun, and they basically bum around the farm, keeping me company, and I get my eye on them, which we’ll chat about in a bit, I think.
Melissa Breau: To jump right in, are there benefits to having set goals for our dog sports?
Andrea Harrison: There are so many benefits to goal setting, and I think when we’re talking about dog sports, one of the really important things to remember is goals can actually give you power. And I don’t mean power in a dictator sense in an all-controlling way. I mean power of ourselves. Power of understanding that we are good enough and strong enough and competent enough. So many of us in dog training land look to someone else and admire them, and wish we were them, and perhaps have a little envy or jealousy. The goal setting that we do can give us the strength to do our own thing, to manage our own expectations, to create training plans, to create competitive goals, all of those kinds of things.
So when I talk to people about goal setting, I try to remember to focus on goals, and FOCUS is one of my silly acronyms I like to use. The F stands for facing the present. You never want to dwell on the past, and you never want to just dream of the future. Goals give you the opportunity to focus on and face the present moment, because you look at where you are right now and determine what your goals will be. They let you offer a vision, so you decide, are your goals going to be around structure and plans, or are your goals going to be around skills and those sorts of things. So they give you that vision through offering it to you. C I think of as being for clarity. Goals will bring you clarity around what you want to do. If you want to train your dog to do draft titles and you get yourself sucked into doing obedience fronts, that’s not going to be that helpful to you. So if you have good goals, you’ll find it’s easier to find clarity around what to do and those steps to build. I use the U for understanding the choices and priorities that you make. Say you’re looking at what class to take next term at Fenzi, as an example. We all know it’s hard to pick. There are so many great choices and we get ourselves spun. If you’d taken the time and done some goal setting, you can actually see which of the classes will help you move forward with your goals and which of the classes that you need. So to be able to understand the choices and set your own priorities can be really important too and really beneficial. And then of course when you achieve your goals, you get both success and satisfaction from them.
People laugh at me when I say one of the reasons to goal set is to reach success and satisfaction, but it’s so important. So many people don’t internalize their own worth, and if goals give you a way to internalize your worth and feel better about yourself, that’s a really good thing. So I think goal setting is a really important skill to develop, and I think it can add a lot to us as multi-dimensional positive dog trainers.
Melissa Breau: To reiterate that acronym one more time: F is facing the present, O is offering vision, C is clarity, U is understanding, S is success and satisfaction.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. That’s great. I think that’s really helpful for people to have that to keep in mind as they go through that process.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly, and that’s the thing. It gives you a way to break it down to remember it, because you’re like, “Oh, goal-setting, it’s too much work and you have to think too hard.” You know, you wake up in the morning and drive to work, and you start thinking about a goal, and the phone rings or whatever, and you get distracted. Why would you go back to it? Well, focus. Remember FOCUS and focus on those goals.
Melissa Breau: Right, right. I think people probably set goals that require their dogs to learn new skills when it comes to dog training, or to achieve specific things, like in their first OTCH or what have you… but since we’re relying on another being, our dogs, what special considerations should we be keeping in mind as we set those goals?
Andrea Harrison: Such an important question, and I think the thing I want all of my students, and I hope all of the FDSA students and everybody listening, to remember is that the dogs don’t get a say in the goals we set for them.
My little Chihuahua, Thea, I wanted her to do agility. She’s a Chihuahua, she weighs 6 pounds, agility was not really her thing. She’s quick, she’s a character, she bombs around the field, but every different teeter I put her on dropped at a different rate of speed, even though they’re not supposed to, and she had a couple of quite scary fly-offs. What I did was I started running her in classes that didn’t have a teeter. My goal maybe was to do some more advanced agility titles with her, but my goal was to enjoy agility with her, and she did very, very well as long as she wasn’t getting on strange teeters. Strange teeters were scary for her, and they were dangerous, and because I didn’t let my own personal goals supersede her need to be safe, it allowed us to both enjoy a sport I really love.
So you’ve got to remember the dog didn’t get a say in your goal. If you would run if you were sore and achy, but your dog is sore and achy, it might not be a good day to run, because your dog doesn’t have the same goals as you.
When you look at that, you alluded to it earlier, too, this concept I talk about all the time, the difference between a process goal and an outcome goal. The outcome goal is getting the OTCH, it’s getting the ribbon, it’s going to Nationals, it’s coming first at Nationals for on the podium or whatever, it’s those big sort of ribbon goals. That’s what I think of when I talk about outcome goals. And process goals are all the little steps that get you there. So a process goal might be training at least three times a week, or teaching my dog to find three different scents, or all of this sort of step-building goals. So when you’re thinking about dog training, make sure that you’re remembering to build more process goals than outcome goals. I’m not opposed to outcome goals, but the process goals will help you and your dog reach the outcome goal anyhow, and they’re a little bit fairer for your dog, given that your dog doesn’t have a say in the goal setting.
The weekend warriors who say, “I’m going to a trial on Sunday, and I’m going to start training Friday night, and training like mad Friday and Saturday,” they’re not doing themselves nor their dogs any favors by that kind of goal setting. A systematic method of goal setting that includes process goals as an actually defined piece of the process are going to get you much, much further than just ping-ponging around from outcome goal to outcome goal and getting frustrated when you and your dog aren’t achieving them the way you want.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned outcome and process goals, and you got a little bit into my next question, which is how can people be smart about the goals they set for themselves and their dogs? Is there more you want to get into there?
Andrea Harrison: Well, yeah, because I think you want to remember that process goals allow you to learn. Through the mistakes that you make, through the opportunities that you get through process, through watching what happens, that lets you learn the most from the goal-setting process. Outcome goals are around performance and they’re important too, but outcome goals really are an opportunity to perform and show what you know. So when you’re thinking about smart training, it’s about picking the model goal setting that’s going to work best for you.
I’m always happy to share, there are hundreds of different kinds of goal setting models, but a really easy one is the smart goal setting. You hear about it all the time, and that’s another acronym that’s been around forever. There are some issues with it, but for people who have never goal set before, it can be a good place to start. It looks at having specific goals that are measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, and those are each of the smart: S-M-A-R-T. And so a specific goal would be: I want Dora to do a dog walk. Measurable: Can she do a dog walk when I’m standing behind, at the side, or recalling her over it to me? Is that achievable for her? Yeah, she’s confident on all kinds of shaky surfaces, she’s absolutely fine with that. Is it relevant? Well, I like agility, so yeah, for me it is. Is it timely? Yeah, she’s a mature little dog, she’s still young enough to be fit, all of those kinds of things. So smart goals can give you a nice framework. It can be an intelligent way to look at goal setting.
You want to make sure that you’re making your goals positive, that you can choose to be positive about your goals and make them changing and affirming, as opposed to negative in things that you’re likely to fail at. Some people will set a goal of “I don’t want my dog to bark at strangers.” That’s a good goal: I don’t want my dog to bark at strangers. A better goal for many of the goal setting experts would be to frame it as “I want my dog to walk quietly beside me down the street.” So you can take that negative goal and turn it into a positive goal. That’s one thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to be intelligent about how you goal set.
Also think about making intrinsic goals. When we get into goal setting, we often set our goals for someone else. So we might think, Oh the breeder would love it if I had a versatility title on this dog, or My husband says I’m spending so much money on dog training; I really should bring home some ribbons to show for it, or whatever. We intrinsically tend to set our goals, and that’s why I like process goals, too — because they remind us to remember to be internal, set our goals in an intrinsic sense. You need to goal set for yourself. Not wholly — balance is OK — but make sure that you’ve got that balance, that you’re remembering that you matter in this goal-setting regime that you’re setting up, too.
Melissa Breau: So for those out there, it’s SMART: specific measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Was that it?
Andrea Harrison: Correct, yeah.
Melissa Breau: All right. I’m taking notes as we go through so I can remember some of the acronyms.
Andrea Harrison: You’re good! The acronyms — not everybody does them. They may or may not work for you, and that’s fine. But I’m finding more and more people the acronyms help them hang on to stuff. That one I did not come up with, but I’m trying to create other ones around some of the work that I do to help people who are figuring that stuff out.
Melissa Breau: It helps it stick in your head when you can remember a single word and you go, “Oh wait, I’m missing something, what was the M again, OK.” So, I know that they say something like 80% of New Year’s resolutions tend to fail by February – I wanted to address that a little bit. How can people who set a goal for themselves — a good goal for themselves, following the guidelines you laid out — how can they stay motivated past February, hopefully all the way through the year?
Andrea Harrison: A few things, and we’re lucky with our FDSA community because we’ve got a natural accountability system, partnership. If you’re working on your TEAM titles, you’ve got the TEAM group. If you’re working in a class and working through your bronze, you can post in your local group. There are lots of opportunities for that, and that’s a really important thing. People need to remember to do that.
But one of the things is to take your time and plan your goal. So here we are sitting on December 26 or whatever, and this will come out at the end of the week with hardly any time before New Year’s to do our goal. People will be like, “Oh my god, I didn’t goal set yet! I want to goal set!” And they’ll jump into it and … don’t. Stop, take your time, reflect around what matters to you, talk to an instructor you like or a training buddy already, and figure out what realistic goals are. If we set unrealistic goals, we will fail. We’re setting ourselves up to fail when we do that. You’re much better to invest the front-end time into making your goals realistic and appropriate for you, and attainable for you in the moment — and we can talk more about that — but make sure that you’ve got a way to plan those goals that are sensible for you.
Then make sure you’ve got a system to record-keep, so you know if you’re meeting those goals or not, or where you’ve got some holes, the accountability piece. I suggest people take the occasional goals class just to build in a little bit higher degree of accountability. If they haven’t tried it yet, it can be a really good thing. An in-person a class, if you’re in an area where that’s possible. Something to look forward to. For me, I like going to clinics and seminars sometimes just to remind myself. It reminds me to try and make sure I’m ready for it, and I think that can be a helpful thing.
Identify and accept your flaws when you’re thinking about motivation. Not all of us are equally good at things. If your February’s going to be crazy and you get derailed a little bit, that’s OK. You don’t need to be perfect every day, all the time. If your flaw is that you train in short, intense bursts, make sure your goal reflects that you’re better off training intensely six days and then taking four days off, or whatever it is. So know who you are. Spend a little bit of time identifying who you are as well.
And then, of course, with motivation you always want to know which of direction, intensity, and persistence are your downfall. Direction is your developing the plan, intensity is how often you’ll do it, and persistence is how long you’ll stick with it. If you know which of those three things is your biggest issue in motivation, it can help you figure out how to overcome that. Even sometimes knowing just that that’s your hole, you can be like, “Ah, I just can’t get off the couch tonight. Oh, wait, my direction’s failing me and I set those goals on purpose. Let me get up and go to it.” Or “I trained three times last week. I’m not going to train this week at all. Wait a minute. That’s persistence. I need to get up and get back to it.” So often, just by understanding ourselves, we set ourselves up to be more successful, in this particular regard, anyways.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned setting goals that are attainable for you in the moment. Do you want to go into that just a little bit more, since it came up?
Andrea Harrison: Sure. Attainable for you. So what I’m saying is, if you want … you said your OTCH, and that’s a huge deal in obedience. I hadn’t realized until I started working with somebody who’s well on her way to it. She wanted her OTCH, and she and I spent quite a long time figuring out what her realistic timeline was for it, because so much of that is out of your direct control. You can’t say you will get that in six shows, because it depends on who else is at your show, or twenty shows or whatever it is from where you start. So you have to make sure you build in a little bit of what I would call a buffer. So you think it would take you twenty trials to get it from where you are right now, I would say to you, “Give yourself thirty shots at it.” If you get there faster than you thought, that’s OK. It’s good. No problem. You can always adjust a goal. Goals are highly adjustable. They’re designed to be adjustable. So if you’re reaching it already, that’s great. But if you had said to yourself you’re going to get your OTCH in fifteen, and you needed every one of those fifteen trials to be completely successful and win the class and all that stuff, then you’re going to be really disappointed when you get to trial 14 and you realize you actually still need 13 trials. You’re going to feel like a huge failure.
So you want to make sure that when you’re setting attainable goals, and that’s one of the reasons I said talk to your instructors and your friends, because sometimes we get rosy-colored glasses. We’re like, “Oh, oh, oh, I can do this! I can do this! This is great!” And then somebody will say, “Mmm, you know, three months isn’t a lot of time when you live in a place where …” — well, for me, there’s major snow — “ … you might get snowed in and not be able to get to a trial.” “Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.” You have to make the whole picture, and the more people you can draw into helping you with that, the easier it’s going to be for you in the long run.
Melissa Breau: The other thing you mentioned was record keeping, and I know that’s a topic that comes up over and over again in the alumni group, that whole tracking your training process, or your training progress, and how to do it, and what are the advantages of it. People share their whiteboards, or their bullet journals, or all sorts of stuff. So I wanted to ask what recommendations do you have for people interested in tracking their progress or coming up with a system?
Andrea Harrison: I love this question because it goes right to the heart of me, because my answer is, it depends, and it depends on what works for you. You can set up a really, really simple system that is literally putting a plus, a minus, a plus — it went really well — a minus — it wasn’t such a great day — or a big fat zero with a line through it that you didn’t train at all that day. You can do that on a calendar on the wall in your kitchen, and that is record keeping. That’s legitimate record keeping. You can say to yourself, “I’m going to video every session I do on Friday nights.” And whenever you remember to train on Friday night, you video it. That’s record keeping. Those are legitimate forms of record keeping, and they might be what you want to do. That’s simple, simple, simple, and it’s fine.
You might want to do something a little more medium, where you’ve got a blog going, or you’ve started a tiny little Facebook group with you and two of your friends and you share your successes, or you write on the backs of agility maps how the run went when you show. I had a book full of maps. I still use them. I still set up training based on my book of maps, and I love them. I remember most of my courses that way. There are so many sorts of medium. You might videotape twice a week, or every time you teach something new, or lots of those sorts of things.
And then there are really complex systems, like you mentioned bullet journaling. Bullet journaling’s hot, hot, hot. People love it. It’s great. It’s pretty. Lots of people disappoint themselves because they set up these beautiful bullet journals and then they don’t keep them. They’re colorful. They’re great. If it works for you and you love it, great. If you set it up your own way, set it up your own way. You don’t have to do it the way anybody else tells you to. It’s for you. It’s tracking what you want to track. People get confused, like, “Should I have my grocery lists and my dog training in the same journal?” It’s up to you. If you want to have your grocery lists and your dog training in the same journal, go for it. If you want to have every dog having their own separate folder, go for it. If it doesn’t work for you, you won’t use it. With record keeping, almost more than anything else I teach, it has to work for you. So start simply successfully and build from there.
The last chat I saw they weren’t sharing them, but people share the most beautiful Excel programs that they’ve set up with the exercises and the dogs and the colors. We’ve got some really, really talented people in our group who are happy to share stuff, so I love seeing that conversation come up. I sit back now because people know I’ve got folders and folders of bookmarks and stuff, but people are all doing all kinds of different things, and if it works for you, great. If it isn’t working for you, don’t beat yourself up. Stop, think, try something else. There’s no failure in not setting up a record-keeping system that works for you the first time you try, or the second time, or the fiftieth time. My record keeping has changed so much over the last 15 years of dog training. I can’t even tell you all the different systems I’ve used, because they’re different times in my life. It’s busier and less busy, so I work and I do it and it’s great, but it has to work for you in that moment.
Melissa Breau: You touched on this a little bit in there, but I know for a lot of people, the hardest part of all of that — achieving a goal, tracking it, anything — is when something happens and they miss a day, or life intervenes and maybe they miss a few days… so I wanted to address that too. How can people recover if they do fall off the bandwagon, or if they wake up one morning and realize they have gotten off track and haven’t been working on their goal the way they originally envisioned?
Andrea Harrison: It’s such an important thing. I mean, life happens to us all. No matter how good your goals are, no matter how clear your vision is, life happens. I had a relative diagnosed with cancer, got a call at a trial, left the trial, didn’t do competitive agility for four months, that was just my reality. I beat myself up about it — this was a long time ago — I beat myself up about it and was really upset and mad at the money and the training and all of that. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. I went back to agility, loved it, hit my podium finishes, and did just fine. You have to accept that those sort of throwaway days will happen. Sometimes it’s a throwaway week or a throwaway month.
We do this for fun. The dog sports are about fun, and if we’re in a place where it isn’t fun, we need to stop and regroup and rethink and plan it out. Imperfect action, though, is better than no action, so if you find that you’re stalling out just because you’ve had a few bad days and you don’t know how to get going again, grab a toy and go play, grab a clicker and go teach something, watch a shaping video and try it yourself. Do something. I would rather see someone take imperfect action than just be stalled. If there is a place for that. If there is no place for you mentally, that’s OK too, but it’s a separate issue right there.
There are two reasons life happens to us: one is we can’t overcome it, and one is we get so down on ourselves we can’t. And when you’re that down on yourself, remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Put a picture of a ribbon … hang a ribbon on your bathroom door so you’ll see the ribbon and be like, “Oh yeah, I want to do that.” Put Denise’s book right front and center and think about telling her that what you’re actually achieving that day. Jump on the FDSA thing and say, “Hey, I’m feeling down,” and I guarantee you fifty people are going to say, “Hey, it’s OK. I’ve been there too.” We’ve all been there. Get out there and get training. Have fun with your dog. Use those days to reclaim.
I talked a little bit earlier about power, goals giving us power. Those days actually give you a funny sort of backwards opportunity to reclaim that power, because you’re busy feeling down about yourself, and if you can get yourself to train for just five minutes … I’m not talking about a great training plan that catches up on all the process goals that you missed last week. I’m saying spend five minutes doing something with your dog. That gives you that little bit of power back, and then you can go on and do a little bit of power again so you can build. Take one tiny, tiny, small, imperfect step forward when it’s not working very well, and then you will find that you will be able to make sense of it.
If your training is getting derailed, though, and that’s why you have stopped, that’s OK, and that’s important to stop and redress. You want to look at your goals and make sure they are in fact realistic and measurable and achievable for you in that time, and relevant to what you want to do, and you might need to regroup and change your goals a bit. Sometimes when we get stalled out it’s because the goals we’re working on aren’t really the goals we should be working on. So remember that nothing could be a good choice in that situation. So you’ve gotten really mad at your dog the night before and you’ve done something you aren’t proud of, then you might need to stop and regroup and reassess what your goals are, and that’s OK too. Again, you’re a human being. We’re all human beings. We’re not perfect.
Melissa Breau: You said something in there that I love, and it’s just that idea that we do this to have fun with our dogs, and ultimately if that’s not happening, something’s wrong, and it’s worth taking some time off for rethinking those goals or looking at things again. I just think that’s important for people to hear and to recognize. I just like that line.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s so important. To me, it’s the heart of why I do what I do. My dogs are the good thing in my life, and I know that’s true for many of us. So I’m glad it resonated with you.
Melissa Breau: Despite our best efforts, sometimes we just don’t achieve our goals. It just doesn’t happen. Do you have any tips for when that happens, handling it, handling the disappointment and those feelings of having failed, or of failure?
Andrea Harrison: Of course I do! This is my bread and butter! This is what I do. And I can hear half my students laughing, going, “Oh, I know what she’s going to say.” I’ve got some new stuff for some of you coming up, I promise. But when that happens to you, I want you to really stop and think, is this goal too much for you right now? And if it is too much for you, that’s OK.
I often teach people to frame their goals around “at leasts.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to train five times a week,” we’d much rather someone say, “I’m going to train at least four times a week.” You set your goal for what you think it is, and then you backup a step. And then, if you find you’re only training three times a week, you say, “I’m going to actually train at least twice a week.” So as soon as you start to feel that sense of disappointment and failure, reword your goal, rework your goal a little bit, and give yourself a bit of a break.
I already talked that we are humans. You need to balance that fun in the work piece. You want to make sure that fun and work are in good balance. In my blog you’ll see I strike out training and work. Years and years ago I started striking them out and put play, because really that’s what I do. I play with my dogs, and we get some training done, and we have lots of fun doing it. That’s been a very basic philosophy of mine for a long, long time. So that balance is super-important.
Here’s a growth mindset. We can have these fixed minds. That’s where we think this thing is going to be the way it is forever, and our brains are really very changing, they’ve got great plasticity, they’re very accommodating, so remember that, and remember not yet doesn’t mean never. I love that we use “not yet” in the Team stuff, because it’s so true in all of life. If you didn’t get that cue that you wanted, it doesn’t mean you’re never going to get that cue. It means you didn’t get that cue right then — not yet. So not yet is not never.
And mistakes are learning. I say it all the time, and I feel like it’s so trite to say it, but it’s so true. Look for the learning in the mistake that you make and embrace it. You aren’t going to get the opportunity to learn that any other way other than through the mistake you made. If it’s an error of enthusiasm, as I like to call them, that’s great. Celebrate it. If it’s another kind of error, if you over-trained your dog and they’re tired at the trial, or you set up beside the wrong dog and your dog snarked at them and you were asked to leave the show — which is terrible, but it happens — then you know, OK, I need to be more careful about where I set up the next time. No matter how big and bad and awful it feels in that moment, Andrea’s Rule of Five, kick it in: Is it going to matter in five minutes, five hours, five days, five years? At what point is this thing not going to have such a devastating impact on you?
We take things so very, very personally sometimes, and ultimately it really isn’t personal. Most of what happens around us is not personal to us. Even our own failures in some way are just circumstances happening to us. Bad things happen to good people, and if it’s a bad thing, I’m sorry, and I’ll be commiserating, but I’m not going to say to you, “This is the end of the world,” because in all likelihood it probably isn’t.
Melissa Breau: I think the other piece of goal setting that we haven’t touched on is the pressure that sometimes comes with trying to achieve big goals. If someone is feeling stressed out about what they want to achieve, how can they manage that in a way that’s healthy and not destructive or beating up on themselves?
Andrea Harrison: That’s a really good question, and it’s so important to access your toolbox Most of my classes talk about a toolbox, and these few things I’m thinking of as we chat are things that try them out, test them, see if they work for you. If they work, put them in the top drawer of your toolbox so you can use them when you feel stressed and pressured.
Of course I’ve talked about breathing before, I think, and there are two easy breathing techniques. I am, where you breath in and you think I am, and as you breathe out, you think the good thought, so I am a good dog trainer, I am confident, I am successful. Whatever any of those things are, that I am breathing is very useful. Count breathing can also calm your nerves because it makes you focus. It’s a mindfulness practice. You breathe in for a count of four and breathe out for a count of five, so it goes in, two, three, four, out, six, seven, eight, nine. If you can’t breathe for that long, you can do it shorter. Breathe in one count less than you breathe out, so you could breathe in, two, three, out five, six, seven. That can really calm you down quite quickly and give you a thing...
Write down what you’re worried about. Write it out and then tear it up into tiny little strips of paper, or burn it, gives you great satisfaction sometimes, if it’s safe. If you’re frustrated or you’re angry about something, that can be a very helpful tool. Write it down.
Throw a dance party for yourself. You’re mad, you’re grumpy, you’re unhappy, you’re sad, whatever. Crank up a tune you love and bop around the house. Your dog will think you’re nuts, your spouse might think you’re nuts, but get your frustration out. Shake it off.
A grounding thing people can try when you’re absolutely shaking you’re so upset, think about how your feet are touching the ground. Really feel your feet. And in fact you can teach yourself to use that as an anchoring thing when you’re standing still and you can’t get away. For most of us, movement is a release, just like with our dogs. So if you can move, it’s going to help more. You can shake your hands, or push your arms together, or any one of those things. But if you can’t do any of that and you have to just stand there, really concentrate on how your toes are touching in your shoes, and your shoes are pressing into the floor, and feel that root to the ground. That can be a really nice tool.
I talked briefly about my Rule of Five already. You can strike a pose, very Ann Cuddy, power person. I had lots of fun talking about striking Wonder Woman poses and various poses in mirrors. Go sneak into a bathroom, strike a power pose, and then away you go. That can just root you and reground you a little bit.
Another one I like is something I call “traffic light.” When you’re getting tense and fried and upset, think about a traffic light. Red: stop. Amber: think about it and make a plan. Green: try your plan. It’s a very quick way to just go “traffic light,” and you can actually run through it in, like, 10 seconds sometimes, from red to green, and then reset yourself. It’s just a way to reset, and then of course reframe, and whatever’s going on can be really helpful, too, when you’re feeling really stressed out. I’m stressed, but I’m remembering to do my breathing exercise. I’m stressed, but Andrea would tell me I’m learning from this. Somebody messaged me once, I laughed and said, “Did it work?” And they said, “Yes, it did.” So however you can reframe it. I didn’t have a really good show, but I got out of housecleaning today. Whatever it is that will work for you, go ahead and steal it and use it. Reframing can be a very useful tool.
But the thing about all of these tools, Melissa, I wouldn’t want anyone to forget is they all take practice. You can’t just grab one on the fly and go, “Yeah, yeah, I like that ‘feel your feet’ thing,” and try to do it only when you’re stressed. If it’s something that you think might work for you, start trying it now, like any of my tools. I’ve got hundreds, and I just picked out a few, and I picked out some ones that I hadn’t shared in classes very often, if at all, but just to do something a little bit different. But if you don’t practice them, they will not work for you in a stressful situation.
Melissa Breau: So more to Amy’s concept for her management class for managing dogs: you have to practice with the dog so that it becomes second nature before you actually need it in the moment. Same idea. Works on us, too.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly, exactly. We’re all mammals.
Melissa Breau: So I know you touch on a lot of these topics in your “Handle This” class, which is on the calendar for February – and I wanted to ask you to share a little bit about the class and tell students what’s in it, tell students what might make them want to take it, that kind of thing.
Andrea Harrison: Good question. You know, it’s a funny class. When I first developed it, I thought it would be one of the very most popular classes, and it’s one of the most intense classes that I teach — and I teach lots of intense classes. People think hard in my classes and I always apologize, “I’m sorry, you’re thinking,” and they’re always, “No, it’s good, it’s good.” “But I didn’t mean to make you think that hard!”
One of the things we get into is creating a master plan, so whatever it is that you’ve gotten that you want to figure out how to handle. Lots of people come because they’re still really nervous in the ring. It was set up to be a follow-up course to All In Your Head, but you don’t have to have done All In Your Head anymore to do it. I’ve figured out how to work through without having to have it. So lots of people who are nervous come into it, or lots of people who are struggling with trial situations, but there are also now lots of people who are just trying to figure out how to get to a show, so they don’t even know if they’re going to be nervous or not yet because they haven’t gone to a show yet.
It’s become, as well as the nerves piece, it’s become setting up a master plan, like, how are you going to get from where you are to where you want to be, applying all of the different things that have come up in Denise’s class, and Hannah’s class, and all the different classes that you’ve taken. How are we going to marry them all together into a vision of success for you? There’s a lot about change, and being realistic, and adapting to change, and dealing with stressors that come up in your life, but if I was going to give you the one thing, I think it’s that ability to create a master plan to bring in lots of different elements.
And it’s kind of cool because my classes, people come to them from lots of different sports. I have a barn hunt person, a scent work person, an obedience person, an agility person, a drafting person. I usually get lots and lots of variety in the classes, dock diving people have shown up in my classes... so you get to see how all these different sports create these master plans, and sometimes you’re able to use ideas from different threads that you can carry over to your sport. So I really like that about my classes. I think it’s a quite cool way to do it.
The other class I’m running this semester is Unleash Personal Potential, which is the Gold-only class, which is basically whatever people want to do works. The lectures are just around mindfulness, but people do exactly what they want, so we might have somebody trying to peak for performance in March, or somebody who wants to know how to help their boyfriend like their dogs better, or somebody who wants to get a job in a dog-related field. Lots and lots of different things have come up in the class, and it’s a lot of fun too. It’s Gold only, and you have to have taken some class from me at some level to get into it.
Melissa Breau: Alright, I have one final question for you, Andrea… I wanted to ask you if you have any dog-related resolutions or goals that you’re planning on trying to achieve in the next year — at least any that you care to share?
Andrea Harrison: Great question. I always have goals, and I didn’t … I don’t think I blogged about it yet this year. If you look at December in my blog, you can see my goals most years. My goal for Sally and Thea is to keep them as healthy and happy as possible. Sally’s almost 12 and Thea’s 15, and they both have some chronic disease issues that mean they probably shouldn’t still be with us. So that’s my goal for the old guys. But the cobbler’s children, the two young dogs I’ve got, Dora and Yen, I’m quite determined to get Yen going, and I haven’t quite decided whether that means in public doing scent work or agility, or maybe both. She’s quite good at both. She’s a little flying squirrel, so I’ve got to figure out how to manage the flying squirrel, but apart from that, that’s my goal with her. Dora, I would like very much, because she’s feral and quite reactive and quite a character, I’m going to continue working on some of my online stuff. She’s working on her trick titles and has been doing quite well at them. I was thinking of adding parkour to it as well. And then personally, because I like agility and she likes agility, we’ll do some agility at home, because one of my real goals is to get out and keep doing some personal growth stuff for me, so attending some seminars, attending some workshops. I hope I’m going to be, if I’m invited, driving down to camp for one night, and hanging out for the afternoon and overnight and the morning after. That’s my intention, so to get to camp to see everybody. That’s actually high on the list of my personal dog goals. And yeah, I think it will be a fun year. I’m looking forward to doing lots of stuff. We’re also planning on holding an Iron Dog competition here at the farm. So that will be something new for me.
Melissa Breau: Oh, fun!
Andrea Harrison: We’re going to run one, I think, and a couple of FDSA students have offered to help, and I think it’ll be great, so I’m looking forward to setting that up. We have over 200 acres, including a lovely hill that’s quite steep, so we’re going to have options where you can do the Iron Dog thing or do a training thing. You choose your option, so that people will get different points for doing it, and it’ll be a little less of a physical challenge if you choose to do the training options all the way along. A nice walk with some training walks. So there’s lots going on in my life I’m looking forward to in a doggy sense for 2018.
Melissa Breau: I certainly hope you make it to camp, and do you want to mention where you’re located, in case there’s anybody listening who’s close enough to come out for the dog event?
Andrea Harrison: Oh yeah, yeah. I’m in Prince Edward County in Ontario, so in between Ottawa and Toronto, pretty well halfway in between Toronto and Ottawa, so a pretty, pretty part of the world. Lots of wineries and craft breweries and art galleries, and lots of things for spouses to do while you play with your dog in the morning. We’re a hotbed of tourism here. Oh, and you know something else I forgot to mention when we were talking about when you’re down and out and you can’t think of how to get going again, people would be more than welcome to pull one of my task cards out of the deck, so I will make sure I send you a link for how they can get a task card to re-motivate themselves.
Melissa Breau: Perfect. And just because I know you mentioned your blog earlier, and I’m assuming that would be the best place to get more info on the Iron Dog stuff, but correct me if I’m wrong, do you want to mention what your website is?
Andrea Harrison: It’s a blogspot. It’s Andrea Agility Addict at blogspot, and you’ll find it quickly. It’s got really good SEO, despite the fact that I’ve done no work on it, Melissa, you’d be proud of me.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. I will include a link to it in the show notes for anybody who wants to go check that out.
Andrea Harrison: Perfect.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, Andrea. I’m really glad you could come back on, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better time to talk goals, so thank you.
Andrea Harrison: It’s always a pleasure talking to you, Melissa, either on- or offline. I love our conversations, and I always feel like I’ve learned lots too, so thank you so much.
Melissa Breau: And thank you, to all of our listeners for tuning in, both this week and every week this year. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amy Cook to talk about the science of dog training.
If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. And Happy New Years!
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!