See What? Peripheral for the Win!

Peripheral Vision. You have it. Are you using it effectively on course to guide yourself and your dog along the lines? Every handler has been told to look at the dog, look at the line, see the dog, see the line, look up, look down, what are you looking at???!!!!! Huh? It’s confusing for sure.

Agility has shifted greatly from its beginnings of “point to point” handling, that is, the handler looks at an obstacle and goes towards it, shows the obstacle to the dog, and indicates to the dog what it should do, to “line” handling. Line handling requires the handler to “look” (we’ll get to what that means in a bit) at the bigger picture, draw the line for the dog (using a combination of handling elements) and relies on indirect sight of obstacles. Dogs, being curious, tend to pay attention to what WE look at, and they use that information to help make decisions about where they should go on course. Line handling supports what I consider to be the “Big 3” questions … do you see where your dog is coming from, where it is going to, and where it is on the continuum of the line? With course design and evolution, it becomes increasingly valuable to use peripheral to help answer the Big 3. (My course on “String Theory” has been effective for those who want to know more about “seeing” their dog 😉 ).

Before anything else …. disclaimer alert …. I am NOT an eye doctor (nor do I pretend to be one while teaching or handling). I am concerned about teaching more than how to do a front cross, and that requires supporting handler mindset, physical capabilities, skills and emotional control. “Dr. Google” (and your eye doctor) has a wealth of info to consider. To save you some time, below are a few items I encourage teams I work with to see on their agility journies 😉 .

Field of Vision (FOV) includes the entirety of what you (or your dog) can see. Placement of eyes in the head is a determinant of the range of field of vision in both humans and dogs. Humans can see up to 180 degrees (most of us don’t, we are at a fair 100-120 degrees) while dogs (depending on the breed) can see up to 270 degrees. Dogs with eyes placed more “front” (Pugs, Boston Terriers and Papillons, for example) have less than 270 degrees by virtue of how their eyes sit in the head. Dogs with eyes that slant to the sides (Border Collies, Malinois, some terriers for example) have a large field of vision that helps them in doing what they were bred to do. Think about what your dog sees. Really sees. It’s NOT the same as your point of view or field of view, and honestly … what is more important in this game than knowing how to navigate the information your dog is using to make its decisions? Unless you do, you put yourself at a disadvantage, as agility courses look like wonderful adventures to our pups! Wearing glasses can impact your FOV. Good as your eye doctor may be, there’s always some part of the lens that doesn’t get the prescription and that creates a “blind spot” so to speak. Some athletes who must wear glasses have found that contact lenses can improve their peripheral, while others have found that they can train themselves to run without glasses (be careful!). If you wear bifocals, trifocals or have astigmatism, you may already be aware of how those lenses impact your FOV.

Central (Direct or Tunnel) Vision is what you see when you look ahead. It’s a more pin-pointed view. You might say it’s like looking at something with blinders on. Have you ever seen a horse wearing blinders? It keeps the horse from seeing what is around it that could cause it to lose focus or become alarmed. Keeps them looking straight ahead. People who wear multi-focal lenses know to “point your nose at what you want to see,” and this is similar to what tunnel vision is. If this is you, you’re already aware that your peripheral vision is not being used fully when you handle.

Peripheral (Indirect or Edge) Vision is seeing items on the edge of your field of vision. Peripheral vision is what you use most often when driving your car, it is what helps you avoid those pesky little deer and other critters that like to jump in front of your car as you drive. Peripheral vision is (to be a bit cliché) one of the first things to go as we age, and through aging, you can lose up to 40% of your peripheral range. As we age up in this sport, it’s worth working on as a skill to improve, because it IS possible to improve with eye exercises and attention. Peripheral vision can decline due to chronic illnesses and disease (migraines, cataracts, glaucoma to name a few). Signs that peripheral vision is declining may include not being able to see well at night, seeing halos around lights, bumping into things that should be in our central vision field, blurry vision.

By virtue of the rods/cones and whatever else makes up a dog’s eye, they have a very strong central (forward) vision field. Ever notice how your dog turns its head to look at you? That’s in part because if they don’t do that, they can’t see you clearly 😉 . This is why your instructor should be telling you to position yourself ahead of your dog, physically and laterally … it’s not because we like to see you run faster, it’s so the dog can see you as you give it information.

On the other hand, humans have good peripheral vision. We can clearly see our dog in our peripheral if we are close to it as we handle. (If you’ve worked with me, you know I call that the “obedience handling” method, and you KNOW that I’ll try to discourage you from doing it … for the sake of your dog!) So, think about this as you step to the line … dogs often miss the “obvious” because their physical make up supports them seeing what is directly in front of them more easily than what is around them. You as the handler, need to remember this, and act accordingly. Examples? Startlines with your dog beside you give less quality information to your dog than leading out. Walking/jogging beside your dog in the weave poles provides a minimum of information. “See” what I’m talking about??

The balance of vision. There is give and take in your vision, depending on the situation. Situations that you face and your response to those situations can indeed have an impact on what you see. Based on your emotional responses, your short-term FOV can decrease. Anyone who has run Snooker successfully has likely run somewhat in “Tunnel Vision,” as seeing the Big Picture can get you a lot of off-courses!

As “threats” (otherwise known as arousal, excitement, nerves) increase, so does tunnel vision. This applies to both the handler and the dog. Equally, as confidence and clarity increase, so can peripheral abilities. Let’s break that down ….. as your dog gets aroused (either before or during your run) you may have noticed your dog taking off courses when you KNOW you have indicated the turn/obstacle, etc. And, that’s when handlers yell, “Bad dog, why does s/he do that?” Or worse, you get complacent and give up trying to understand the issue and find a solution. Hey, we’ve all been there, we’re all in the same boat at some point. Getting out of the boat is what matters, so, give some thought to your pre-game dog in order to affect your in-game performance. Your dog may not see your cues because of its aroused state. It’s not a “bad dog” at all, it’s a dog whose tunnel vision may be on hyper-drive. BE CLEAR. BE CONNECTED. BE IN POSITION. BE CALM.

On the human side of the team, when you get aroused (excited, feeling emotionally unprepared, scared cuz you WANT that Q dammit), the changes to your physical state can cause your peripheral to lessen, as you go into a pseudo “flight or fight” mode. You can’t “see” what’s next, because honestly, your vision becomes more pin-pointed the more aroused you get. If you’ve ever finished a run and said, “I didn’t see that jump/tunnel/off-course,” join the club. As tunnel vision increases, peripheral decreases. BE CALM. BE CLEAR. Get your Agility Mindset right.

The good news is this … CAN train your peripheral vision, and it doesn’t cost you anything but time and persistence to do it. I’m adding a few video links to give you ideas on the very simple things you can do to help see what you need to see. I am not affiliated in any way with the presenters on the video links, they are being provided as courtesy from “Dr. Google” and are meant to help jumpstart your journey towards seeing what you need to see.

Working on your mindset so that you can say “It’s like me to be calm” can support your mental game. That’s another topic, happy to chat with you if that’s your need. You CAN improve your understanding of and ability to relax, to focus, to be the best handler you can be for your dog. While the sport of agility indeed is about doing a great front cross or two, training to see the WHOLE of agility (mental, physical, emotional and skills based) will really help you move forward in the game, and that’s what I like to work on with myself and with clients.

The bottom line about vision …. remember Diane’s Big 3 … if you can say YES to knowing where your dog is coming from, going to, and where it is, you are seeing the Big Picture. And that, puts you on the path of success. Peripheral and central vision CAN and DO impact your performance. Challenge yourself to see the line, and the big picture as you run towards your dreams.

Happy Training! 🙂

Remember Your Reason

We may encounter defeats and cannot let them defeat us.

I wrote this piece on June 12, 2017, the one-year anniversary of an accident in which our beautiful dog, Cruzer, sustained a spinal cord injury that caused irreparable damage to his body and organs.  Six months later, we chose to let him go … with grace, and with a promise that his mess would become our message.  Below is the original post, thank you for reading it.

Remember Your Reason

Fifty-two Sundays have gone by since Cruzer Patterson ran for the last time. By fate, a friend captured his last run on her iPad. Four hours after that random act of kindness, she sent it to me. She had no way to know we were in an emergency room hoping that he lived the night. She had no way to know that her casual grab would become a gift nearly as precious as he. He lived through that night, and that is important, because if Cruzer’s story ended there, his reason for being would have been lost.

On-course, I led the dance we ran. Off-course, he became my coach for how to live. As weeks turned into months, and now, into a year, Cruzer continues to send me patience, joy in miracles, a remembrance to be grateful for what is around me. His injuries gave me courage, no matter how desperately I wanted to crawl in a hole and pull his blanket around me.

Strength became a way of life. Once you’ve seen hell, nothing much scares you. Understanding the honor and privilege that is the gift of every moment was his biggest lesson. He makes me be aware.

I believe Cruzer wanted me to understand his lessons as well as I understand how to do a front cross. From the universe that he now lives in, he continues to guide me.

1. Be grateful. There is always something to say thank you for in your day. 

2. Wag your tail, even if no one can see it (he could not wag his tail after the injury). More joy would be a good thing. 

3. Chase a ball, even if the universe says you can’t. You may fall, or, you may get it. Honor the effort.

4. You can’t push the river. It goes at the speed it goes, no matter what. So take time to splash around and get a little wet. The people you find out there on the water may turn out to be the liferaft that will keep you afloat when the tide turns rough. 

5. Try … really really wholeheartedly try. Not the wishy-washy attempts at trying, but the honest to goodness college effort kind of trying. “Trying honestly sucks,” said no one ever. 

6. Horrible, bad, unexplainable things happen. Figure out what you can use from each mess and make it your super power. 

7. Be aware. This journey is yours, and it has to feel right for you. If it doesn’t, move. If it does, soak it in, and hold onto it. 

8. Embrace the judgemental and the awkward. Those folks are afraid of something, too, maybe the same thing you are. That’s honorable.

9. The two most powerful words are “I am.” What you choose to put after them defines you. Resilient, strong, durable, reliable, honest, naïve, humorous, resourceful, tenacious, believing, aware, at peace …… those are good ones to be. 

10. Acceptance doesn’t mean you gave up. We can’t change everything, but, we can give it a hell of a good try (see #5). And as we try, our circles become bigger, and richer, and the world can be a vibrant place, if we believe.

Six-weeks after his accident, Cruzer continued to remind me to find joy in the simple things, like, standing. Even if someone has to help you.

But today, there was also joy. I floated on a river, paddling a kayak alongside wonderful people, seeing and experiencing things, taking a moment to breathe and remember that the river would carry me, I just had to follow it, and keep going forward. Plenty of time in the miles we traveled to give thanks for the moments along life’s path …..

Admittedly, today, this fifty-second Sunday has been a challenge. I would be a liar if I said that any of these days have been easy. Today (as on many other days), there have been tears, and I’m sure more will happen before the day is through, and through days going forward.

And, while I want to give in on many days because of the numerous injustices the universe has tossed at Billy and me over these last fifty-two Sundays, I remember his name ….. Keep on Cruz’n …… and I will. 

Trust Your Dog

In life’s learnings, trusting others is not the easiest of decisions to make (we can all chat with our therapists later about this one 😉). And yet, we’ve all been told (Ordered? Encouraged?) countless times by people in the agility community and may have said it ourselves to someone else on occasion, to “trust your dog.” As if trusting the dog is the magic elixir of success.

The sound of that three-syllable phrase trips my gut and a tiny fear-filled voice in my head asks “why?”  I’m going out on a limb here and say that I bet you know the feeling.  There’s a flutter of your heat beat kicking it up a notch, you flash to what can go wrong if you relinquish control of the situation, and you question yourself ….. what if I haven’t trained a send well enough, what if I don’t get there in time?  What if, what if, what if ……  courtesy of three little words ….. Trust your dog.  By the way, have you ever wanted to buy a product from a salesperson who uttered, “Trust me” in their pitch? I didn’t think so.

The interesting thing about trust is that as soon as someone tells you to enact it, you push it away. Doubt, seeing an open door, tries to push it wide enough to weaken your belief in yourself.   

Trust is a decision.  Much like fear, joy and gratefulness, we can choose trust, or choose to give up. Trust can be good. Very good. Trust builds leaders and leadership, it sets the tone for success, for progress for achievement and attainment. And because all of life is balanced, the flip side of trust requires abdication of control, disposal of responsibility for the outcome of actions. There’s risk of failure and miscommunication. 

I don’t believe people really mean it when they say to trust the dog. Here’s why. To trust my dog means that I would have to stop believing in me, and I’ve worked too hard to do that. I’d have to believe that I’m incapable of leadership, unable to make decisions, of handling well and perhaps that I am untalented, slow, and uncoordinated. As I read those statements, none of them sound like me. I am capable of leading, I am capable of making decisions, I am talented and because I’ve practiced, I am coordinated and prepared. To hand over the outcome of a run or training to my dog (who is lovely yet can’t read numbers, hasn’t walked the course, and has the reasoning level of a toddler (proven by scientific studies) is just not going to happen. And, it’s unfair to both of us.

I trust (see? I really DO trust!) that my friends in agility want the best for me, and when they remind me to trust my dog, I hear in their voices a clear reminder ……

BECAUSE I have trained, BECAUSE I have reasoned, BECAUSE I have put the time and effort into being the very best supporter and leader that I can be for my dog, I can TRUST MYSELF to handle and act with excellence, confidence and strength.  

I like to play agility. I don’t like to play with my decisions, especially ones rooted in something that I’ve worked hard to achieve, that can be so easily cracked and so very hard to repair if broken.  So, I keep it simple.    

I choose me. I choose to TRUST MYSELF.   

On Roadtrips and Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's Pie at O'Possum's Pub in Murfreesboro, TN

It has been a long time since I have played this agility game I love. Not so long as an eon or an eternity, but, fifteen months (so far) without a dog beside me that loves the geometry and poetry of the lines and the motions to master them as much as me, is long enough already. I miss Shepherd’s Pie, too.  Meat, veggie, potatoes, cheese and gravy.  Seriously, a concoction of delicious (my choice, I know there are others with other views!).

Pick a path. Take a roadtrip.
On the road with Jamie and Stephen (and Cruzer), deciding the path to reach our destination. Away we go!

The day will come again, each day is one day nearer, I tell myself.  Be patient.  Be aware in today’s choices, it is tasty, all in itself. My Happiness (for that is what he is) will not be old enough to legally give this sport a go for another year at least.  So, I wait.  And, enjoy.

To pass the time, I’ve begun revisiting photos from the roadtrips and adventures of my experience.  (I did not look at them for this short term eon, it hurt too much, but I find now, it’s okay).  There are plenty of photos of ribbons and reminders of success, but those have begun to feel like they belong to someone else, not to the me that I am (becoming?) today.

I’m not the handler that can tell you about a course I ran 5 years ago, about the turns and the challenges and my handling. Once I run a course, it falls out of my head. On to the next one. I admire athletes that can describe a run from a decade ago in its entirety.  I cannot. A jump or two, perhaps, or a finish line, but, that is all.

I can, however, tell you about the courses that I visualize for my future. I can tell you about the colors of the jumps in the internalized TV screen in my head, of the footing and of the feeling of the flow and the flawless timing of my imagined runs. Of the exhilaration as I swagger to the startline, or, blast past the finish. Runs of the past served their purpose, I learned from them, and they live in my subconscious, where they have settled in as the foundation to support me today without me knowing it. I do not need to call them out in my “now.” They were. Today I AM, and tomorrow, they will help me be.

Vici, Fin, and Me
8 years as friends, and we’d never met, until a roadtrip brought each of us (Vici, Fin, and me) from our respective coasts to Cynosports. Fin made Finals. I don’t remember that part (I’m certain it was spectacular), but, I do remember elation felt for meeting this amazing woman and burying my head in Fin’s fur as I shed a tear of Joy for that moment.

I am using this time to remind myself of the “why” of my game. Ribbons and accolades are wonderful and serve as roadtrip markers.  They validate my desire and confirm my belief in myself. They give me reason to value the effort. They are “rewards,” with little real meaning to anyone but me.

In the photo album of my life, it’s the travels (near and far, day to day and of duration) that stand out. And, the people I meet. And, of course, the Shepherd’s Pie.

So, I remind myself:  Always look for a place with homemade Shepherds Pie on the menu to share with friends (or, sushi, if that’s your fav.  Maybe a vegan burger or two, go green).  Stop the car often, because I might find the doppelganger of Mayberry’s Aunt Bea offering coffee in a fast food chain, and wouldn’t that be a delicious take out? But, most of all, get out and enjoy the roads my feet are on today. The ones behind me brought me to this moment, in order for me to continue to move forward.

And, if I do, I will find unexpected Joy to make me Happy. And, the best Shepherd’s Pie I could ever imagine. Though, it will be tough to beat the ones that I’ve had already.  (Have I mentioned I like Shepherd’s Pie???)

Nothing is worth more than this day.

Nothing is worth more than this day.

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” ~Goethe

“When hearts and minds meet, unimagined success is assured.” ~ Cruzer Patterson

There will never be another moment exactly like this one.  I hope that you make the most of it.  Drink in the joy, smile at the hope, live for the now.  There are so many moments of our lives that we can’t plan for, or direct.  There is however, one thing we can do anytime and with no limits, and that is to be aware.  The Agility Mindset is a journey that begins by helping to determine where you are, and the roads of possibilities that can take you on adventures a plenty.  I’d like to help you connect with yourself and your furry canine companion on this adventure, and maybe, to inspire you to be your best agility athlete ever.  You can make it happen if you believe.  I did.  Follow me, and let’s be always awesome!