Pre-Competition Routines with Susan Garrett

Interview with Susan Garrett

Last week I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Susan Garrett about her recent successes at the USDAA Nationals and I thought I’d share some of our discussion.

In the video clip we touched on some of the reasons why having a pre-competition routine helps athletes perform their best. Susan and I also talked about some of the things she uses to get herself and her dogs ready for “Big Events”, and how keeping her routine flexible allows Susan to make adjustments to maximize her performance.

The video starts with me trying to sit down in my chair while talking to Susan :0. We were just chatting and thought that people might find our discussion interesting. You be the judge.

In the clip of Susan’s pre-run routine from the FCI championships you can catch a glimpse of some of the different components she uses to get mentally and physically ready. There’s the physical warm-up for Susan and her canine partner, Feature. Some relaxation breathing and focusing while stretching her dog. And, some visualization while Susan does her final prep of Encore, right before they run.

It’s important to understand that while the goal of a pre-competition routine will be the same for everyone – prepare yourself for a personal best performance, everyone will take a different path to get there. Knowing what you need to set the table for your best performance takes some time and attention to detail. I’ll put up another post in the next few days outlining some ideas of what you can do to get started. In the meantime, here are a couple of examples of what Susan and teammate Kim Cullen used while on their way to winning the 2010 DAM Team Championship.

  • Susan Garret's dynamic-warm-upThis shot is of Susan performing her dynamic warm-up several minutes before getting her dog. This component increases blood flow to Susan’s muscles, boosts her heart rate, raises her core temperature and lets her body send signals to her brain to start focusing. It’s game time!
  • Susan_Garrett's_last_look_over_courseHere we can see Susan doing her last set of course visualizations. A very focused look on her face, Susan is reviewing the course, her handling plan and her timing. This mental rehearsal allows Susan to focus on her key performance cues to get the best out of herself and her dogs without having to worry about the intricate details of her run. They flow “auto-magically”.
  • Kim and Recess preparing for a run.This is Kim and Recess about five minutes before their run. Kim is visualizing her run, relaxing Recess with some light massage (I think Recess is enjoying it), and listening to some calming music. All these components help Kim get into her ideal performance state. Alert, focused, but relaxed. It lets them run personal bests consistently.

If you have a pre-competition routine, what components do you use? Have you seen or heard of any “unique” routines? I know there’s got to be more than one story out there about a professional athlete. Share in the comments. They can be fun to read and help others get started developing their own.


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  1. Julie Rice
    7 years ago

    After I warm up physically I use the warm up jump to practice the handling moves I’m going to need on the course I’m about to run. I find that very helpful especially if I have more than one course in my head “on hold”.

  2. Gemma Osmond
    7 years ago

    I’m very keen to work out a consistent routine that has me in the right frame of mind when my dogs and I step onto the line. There are bits and pieces I do, but nothing structured and I really think it would help. Hoping to hear from you soon about some coaching sessions to kick off the New Year with :)

  3. Mary M
    7 years ago

    My routine is different depending on the dog, but the individual part of the routine (before I bring out the dog to warm them up and engage with them) is the same:

    -walk the course with the dogs path in mind, visualize that I am my dog while doing this, where does he/she need to see me at to understand my positional cues, etc…

    -revisit areas in the course I am unsure of handling, and create mini plans for these tricky areas.

    -walk the course as if I am handling my dog….repeat until I feel like it flows well.

    -visualize (on the last walk through) my dog running with me perfectly nailing all criteria and paths I have chosen, start at beginning of course and move through all the way out of the exit, as if I had my dog with me.

    ———While doing this ignore all outside talking/debating from others in the ring!

    -Then stand outside the ring and visualize the course at least once, maybe twice in my mind while looking at the obstacles, give myself a “pep-self-talk”, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths.

    -Stretch myself out a bit (and at this point all my friends know there is no talking to me, so I can stay in the game so to speak)

    -Go get the dog I am working (FYI – I time this so they have had a 15-20 minute walk before I go out to walk the course), at this point they know when mom comes back we are playing!

    —from this point the routine differs, I have one dog who needs to get revved up a bit and another who needs to work on thinking and focusing on working with me…..however both routines are based on teamwork with the dog, physically warming up the dog, using the warm up jump for any handling spots on course I want my dog to get reinforcement for before I take them on course, and enjoying being with my dog in general.

    ———speaking of warm up routines I take seriously the cool down routine as well, making sure to note anything positive I noticed when running my dog, noting areas I want to focus on in training in the future, rewarding my dog….and heading out the door or away from the ring to a calmer place to allow my dog to stretch out while walking with me, and get more reinforcement from me as well… matter how great or not-so-great the run is, my goal is that the dog doesn’t know the difference on the way out of the gate and they still get my undivided attention for a period of time before heading back to their crate.

  4. Mary M
    7 years ago

    ====LOL after posting this and looking at the length, I have to say I am a bit OCD about this routine :-)

  5. denise crook
    7 years ago

    I have a slightly odd (if not superstitious) end to my warm up routine that I do before every run while I’m waiting in the marshaling area. I find a space as far away from the other waiting competitors as possible and I sit down and put my arm around my dog. I then proceed to quietly talk my dog through the course. “OK Lex, it’s a straight run 1, to 3 then a front cross to 4 ….. tricky weave entry but easy for you …. etc … then a fast run home.” I always end by telling her “it a perfect Lexie course, you’re going to love it!!!. I then give her a big cuddle and get her to bark on command. As we walk into the ring I always say “OK Lex, we can do this – lets go play”.

    At the end of every run she is rewarded for a star performance no matter what the outcome.


  6. Terri Austin-Beech
    7 years ago

    I learned this important thing from Lynda Orton-Hill…Now, my sheltie, who used to average about 2.6yps in his runs is recently running at 4.09yps… We do a bit of brisk walking with outside turns, then just before the ring, spin right, left, then roll over. When we are on the line, I ‘rough his aura’, kiss his forehead, and we take off…..

  7. cherry brewster
    7 years ago

    My husband has a ‘soft’ dog.Since she was tentative on course he used to run around the show grounds to adrenalise her as a warm-up (practice jump was too stressful for both of them). Since that routine did not improve her runs, he is now the man sitting cross-legged at near the start-line playing with the dog in his lap who is fooling around, standing on her head and trying to find treats. Her runs are now 100% better. It has become their individual routine. It seemed the opposite to relax a under involved dog but it works.

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