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Sport psychology in dog sports

June 10, 2020 - Emma Hietarinta

Sport Psychology

”I just wanna train with my dog, so do I really need to see a sport psychologist?”

I would like to say YES, but there is no simple answer to this question. However all of us would benefit from mental skill training, increased self-awareness and enhanced mental flexibility.

If we would rephrase the above question, and ask ”Does it matter what I think, when I’m training my dog?”. I could reply with only one word: YES. Changing the way we think, will change the way we interact with our dog.

”Do you compare yourself to other handlers and think that you will never be as good as they are?” ”Are you easily frustrated?”  or ”Is it difficult to perform at your optimal level when being in a new place?”

Maybe you could work on your self-confidence, or maybe you should check your attitudes and mindset.

Do you sometimes feel so uncomfortable that it is difficult to concentrate on the exercise?”  or
”Do you feel so nervous at times that it is hard to praise your dog in encouraging way?”

Maybe you would need some advices how to cope with intense pressure and stress, or how to manage your performance anxiety.

”Have you ever had a tiny lapse in your focus, which caused your dog to loose contact with you? Then tips how to enhance your focus and concentration might be valuable for you.

”Have you sometimes given unclear messages to your dog?” or ”Do you find it difficult to put your heart into the training?”  In this case the techniques that enhances your emotional regulation, body conciseness and mindfulness could be beneficial.

The methods most commonly used by sports psychologists are not only applicable to elite athletes. Sport psychologist can give you advices on how to cope with challenging situations, or help you to prepare for a competition. When we train our mental skills to enhance our performance, we also increase our overall well-being. 

Different sports vary a lot in terms of abilities and skills set needed or how physically and mentally demanding the sport is. However the mental skills needed for smooth performance are similar. Mastering these skills will make the training sessions more inspiring and enjoyable for you and for your dog.

What are then the mental skills that we can and should train?

Most often it is best to start with increasing the self-awareness. When we are able to see ourselves more objectively, then we can more clearly set our goals for personal growth. Mental flexibility, self regulation and empathy are highly important psychological skills in dog sports.

In the upcoming articles and lectures I will explain in more detail these important mental skills needed for dog sports. I’ll also teach you some interesting cognitive and embodied techniques, like mental imagery and visualization skills, positive self-talk and how to increase your motivation and set realistic goals.