Ah, the Barn Hunt blind. One hundred square feet of restless nerves and unbridled tension. Five chairs filled with aspirations of glory and humble hope for just one Q this time. For many it is a tea party, rave and/or book club and for many, it is a small box of hell in which one waits with their beloved companion surrounded by loud conversation, barking jostling dogs and the threat of man eating pterodactyls before heading out into a straw jungle in search of magical yet elusive tubes filled with hope and dreams and hardworking rats.
Is your dog reactive? Sensitive? Exuberant? Reserved? Shy? Loud? Quiet? Nervous? Excited? Toy or food obsessed? Is your dog a DOG? Are you a human? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Do you like gory stories of non-qualifying runs, sports injuries and that one time Thelma backed into Josephine in the parking lot at that trial in Timbuctoo? Do you prefer to meditate, silent reflection and peaceful moments of prayer to the dog sport gods? Then this, fellow ratter, is for you.
When presenting handling seminars, the first question I like to ask is, “When does your run start?” Most folks will chime in with “When they call our name to go to the ring!”, “When we enter the ring!”, “When the judge says we can go!”, “When the leash comes off!” All very good answers. Really, your run starts as soon as you decided to enter that trial and arguably even before that. But for the sake of brevity and refraining from long philosophical musings on training and teamwork, a single competition run actually starts in the blind.
What transpires during a team’s time in the blind almost certainly has a profound effect on competition performance. A sound sensitive dog may be stressed by an excited dog barking infrequently. An excited dog may become over aroused by a short game of tug for another team where tugging is part of their focus routine. A handler maybe unsettled after twenty minutes of maneuvering their reactive dog around the blind to avoid a potential incident with unrestrained dogs who “just want to say hello.” And let’s not forget that one piece of gossip or silly story from some trial months ago that one forgets is really about that fellow sitting in the corner.
These are just a few examples. There are many, many more. In fact, as a trainer, judge, trial secretary and exhibitor I am often regaled with blind horror stories. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Fred really likes fish so of course we were stuck in the blind with Frida and Merle. Frida feeds Merle seared ahi tuna THE ENTIRE TIME! We couldn’t focus on our pre-run ritual at all!”
“Gonzo needs a lot of space. I mean A LOT of space. He is 200 lbs and doesn’t like other dogs. We’ve trained and worked really hard to maintain calm. I sit in the corner with my back to everyone but Tootie lets her cocker spaniel Blaire stand at the end of her leash and stare at him while she talks to Judy and Claire EVERY TIME. Gonzo explodes out of the blind and runs around a maniac in the ring after. I know he is stressed and that makes me so upset!”
“Fuzzy is such a good boy, but he gets so excited to play he won’t stop barking. I hate being in the blind with Fuzzy. I can’t think and my dog gets agitated by it. She wants to bark too and I have to constantly tell her to be quiet.”
“Bertha always has Tiger doing tricks. I understand she is trying to keep Tiger from eating me because he doesn’t like women in glasses and hats, but Papi, my Chihuahua, gets over stimulated by all the activity. He was barking and spinning the entire way to the ring and then hits on bedding!”
“Why does Frank have to tell such horrible stories about all his failures in senior? I try and try and try to focus on positive things but when I leave the blind, all I can think about is that one time a pterodactyl flew into the ring and stole rat 4!”
Alright. I may have exaggerated for dramatic effect, but only a little. There is only one conclusion here:
The behavior and actions of others directly affect us.
And equally important, our behavior and actions directly affect others.
Here are a few tips for a better blind experience:
- Treat others as you would like you and your dog to be treated.
Yes, it is that simple. But allow me to elaborate:
We are all special. We all have needs. I know you and Fred are an incredible team. You’ve worked through many challenges. You both have needs and those needs are important. I love you both, respect you both and value you both. Please take a moment to consider that other teams are equally incredible. They have also worked through many challenges. They also have needs and they are equally important. Love them, respect them, value them.
Words have power. Use them wisely. Save the pterodactyl stories for post-trial margaritas. Gossip, complaints, bitter regrets and horror stories have no place in the blind. The blind shouldn’t be a cocktail party or a scene out of “Mean Girls.” Build each other up and remember that famous quote from “Bambi”: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Have a plan. What will your blind behavior be? This should be a routine that helps you and your dog get into the right mind set for a spectacular run. This should be something that works best for you and your dog. When developing that behavior, consider how that behavior may potentially affect others. For an excited, enthusiastic, stressed or sensitive dog, consider training a relaxation protocol or mat training. I highly recommend Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out by Laura VanArendong Baugh as an excellent place to start.
Be respectful of space. One hundred square feet isn’t a lot of room. When practicing that routine, make sure you and your dog can comfortably and unobtrusively conduct your routine in about 16 square feet or less without disrupting others.
And finally, if you have an issue in the blind please communicate your concerns clearly, calmly and respectfully with the specific person you have issues with. If that fails, please immediately see a member of the trial committee or judge for assistance. Lack of communication or choosing to communicate with individuals not directly involved are the most common reasons of interpersonal conflicts, escalating tension at trials or in the blind, misunderstandings, anger, frustration and fear. This affects your run more than pterodactyls and seared ahi tuna.
The blind need not be a place of stress and turmoil. It can be a place for happy socializing with other humans, relaxation or relationship building with your amazing canine teammate prior to your run. Be kind to each other. Be kind to your dog. Be kind to yourself. Your dog isn’t a machine and neither are you. Are you going to end world hunger with a qualifying score and a slip of satin ribbon? Are you and your doing to become millionaires with that very next Q? Remember, if you and your dog are not having fun, it’s time to re-evaluate the game plan. At the end of the day, you will go home with your best friend. We don’t get nearly enough time with them. Enjoy every minute of it. And I swear, Rat 4 has NEVER been stolen by a pterodactyl.
Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved. This article may be shared in its entirety with credit given to the author and Northern Nevada Canine