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Ring Rage

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Like a red rag to a bull..

Chris Smith is a mild mannered person, not given to tantrums and rages. Aside from the odd bout of mucus rage when forced to share a train journey with the sort of person who sniffs for two hours rather than carries a handkerchief, she may simmer but she rarely boils over - with one exception...

There is one circumstance guaranteed to blur my eyes with the red mist. When Iíve 'made a bit of a fluff of it' as an agility friend euphemistically likes to say, and a 'ringside critic' is on hand to give some helpful advice. You know the sort of thing:-

You know what you should have done...
You know what you did wrong there...
You took your eye off the dog...

It doesnít much matter if itís friend or foe, smug or sympathetic, constructive or destructive, the result is the same... Heeeeeeereís Johnny!

And, from my informal research amongst agility folk, it seems I am not alone.

Why should this be? The whole thing was a complete mystery to me until a read a book called Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

Our two minds: rational and emotional
Goleman describes in fascinating detail how the human brain has two ways of processing information received through the senses. There is the normal path via the neocortex where it is evaluated against our knowledge and experiences, so that an informed decision can be made on what action is called for.

And there is the emergency system represented by a little almond shaped area called the amygdala. Here there is no pause for judgment, just the instruction for fight or flight. It is a survival mechanism appropriate to a situation where, for instance, faced with a large furry presence one needs to act first and worry later whether or not it poses any danger.

Unfortunately this mechanism, intended to protect us against threats to life and limb, is triggered just as easily by threats to our dignity and ego.

It seems that itís not so much what is said as WHEN. That same remark which gets you reaching for your holster when said as you leave the ring, causes not a ripple of annoyance if said 10 minutes after. In fact, if saved for later, it can be the source of helpful feedback or much shared amusement.

The trick then is to postpone your response until it has been tempered by the neocortex, and thus much more rational.

What can we do?

  1. Forewarned is forearmed. You need to buy some time by having something ready to say, something polite, until you can regain your composure. I have a stock phrase which I can reel out if necessary, and which stops me responding with something impolite.

  2. My own phrase is 'these things happen' Ė said through a smile (or gritted teeth) and with a philosophical little shrug of the shoulders to show just how unruffled I am.

  3. Of course, you can use any phrase you like, but be sure to have it well rehearsed so that it trips off the tongue at the first sign of unsolicited advice coming your way.

  4. Be sure to keep moving as you speak. Donít stop or youíll get embroiled in conversation, inevitably forced into a debate about the deficiencies of your handling, and having to defend your mistakes, or worse apologising for them.

In this way, though the cauldron still bubbles away underneath, you wonít lose a friend through a moment of impulse. Thereís the added bonus that later, when the danger period has passed, you can seek out that person and press them for some clearer feedback and possible suggestions as to an alternative strategy. After all, they may be right!

So next time you see me FUBAR* if, as you go to speak, you are greeted with a gracious smile and a shrug of the shoulders as I float on my merry way Ė donít be upsetÖdonít be alarmed Ė but just donít push it!!

*See Mike Fairlamb for definition.

About the author...
Chris Smith
has been competing with her Border Terriers since 1994. Her most successful dog Teasel won the Eukanuba Challenge in 1999 and the Pedigree Mini Agility Stakes at Olympia in 1999 and 2000.

She is a passionate fan of the breed and for some years has served on the Committee of the Border Terrier in East Anglia where she lives with her partner Frank and dogs Mij, Teasel and Fen.

Chris also judges in agility and enjoys writing on dog-related subjects. She is an ad hoc contributor to agility magazines.

Her book Yuor secret Coach has just been published in paperback by Clean Run Publications in The States. Review.


From Jacqui (Western Australia)...
Oh yes. How easy to relate to this one.
I know when and what mistakes I made and I don't need anyone to tell me.
Well, not until I've had time to think about it, then seek feedback from more experienced competitors and friends.
Great article.

From Mike Afia...
Just a thought on your ring rage article-  how about a swear box at the finish, all proceeds to go to any dog charity? It could earn a lot of money! (08/09/02)

From Fran Walton...
You are so right. There are some people you really don't want to see after blowing a perfectly good round! Why is it then that it is ONLY these people who are hovering around at such times?!?