Just a few random thoughts for today's Dog Agility Bloggers Event, "The Mental Game."
First and foremost, it is a GAME. Games are supposed to be FUN. Fun for you and fun for your dog. Nothing brings me down so much as watching a handler blame his dog for mistakes on course. The mistakes are almost always the handler's--either she messed up her handling or she hasn't proofed her dog sufficiently, or Dog forbid, she did a crappy job of teaching some aspect(s) of her dog's performance.
In the same vein, don't beat yourself up over handling mistakes. Jot it down and come up with some ideas to work on your skills so that you can handle the sequence, trap, whatever better the next time you see it on a course.
Use the course maps to memorize the sequence of the courses before you walk if at all possible. If you can, watch while the course is being built to mentally test how well you've memorized the course. Then you can spend your walk through time on analyzing what your dog sees and planning your handling. Even after all these years, I'm not terribly good at estimating where my dog and I will be relative to each other, so I usually try to have a Plan B. One thing that I used to overlook frequently was where to set Belle at the start line so she would be able to see me and the obstacles between us. Duh!
Unlike many handlers, I usually don't use all the walk through time allotted. Sometimes, that bites me in the butt, but usually it works for me. Once I've decided on a plan and know where the control points are and how I'm going to get there, I try to get to them once or twice and then I get out of Dodge. If I'm running early in the order, I want to spend the time with my dog. If I'm running later, then I have plenty of runs to watch to see if I missed something.
Plan your run, and run your plan. Well, usually, but sometimes I see another handler do something that is much more logical, efficient, elegant, whatever, than what I had planned. I'm not above giving it a go without having walked it. However, I will rehearse the move mentally. If subsequent handlers do the same move, I have an additional chance to mentally work on my timing.
Above all, have fun and make sure your dog is having fun, too!