Visualization and Mental Preparation

While there are many different aspects to the “mental game” in dog agility, the most useful concept for you to understand and use at any big event is visualization, the act of mentally rehearsing the performance that both you and your dog will deliver on course. The walk through is essentially an exercise in visualization. Have you ever wanted more time to walk the course? You can—in your mind.

Your actual walk through has two distinct phases:

  1. Planning your course (choosing your handling manoeuvres).

  2. Memorizing/rehearsing your run. Pay attention to details like footwork, the path you will run, how fast you will run, where you will slow down, where you will rotate your shoulders, when you will make eye contact with your dog, and which verbal cues you will use.

Helpful Tips:

  • Have a plan in place before you start your walk through, so that you can spend the first few minutes fine tuning your plan (the first phase), while devoting the rest of your walk through to memorizing and rehearsing your run (the second phase). Avoid wasting time memorizing the order of obstacles during the walk through—you can do that before & after course walking from outside the ring.

  • Once the physical walk through is over, you may have a long period of time, even a few hours, before you actually run the course. Naturally, you will begin to forget the course, so you must visualize your run a few times each hour to keep it fresh in your mind.

  • When is the best time to rehearse your runs after the walk through? Your first rehearsal should be immediately following the walk through! Stand on the side of the ring, or in the stands, and run the course several times in your mind while the next group of handlers is walking the course.

  • It can be difficult for beginners to mentally rehearse a run when another dog is running on the course, so start your rehearsal in between dogs so that you and your imaginary dog have a head start on the real dog running in the ring. There may also be forced five minute breaks in the middle of each class where no one is on the course—this is the best time to rehearse!

  • Avoid focusing on what can go wrong; thinking about results is a distraction and will not help you visualize your run. Remember, visualization is basically free practice, and will benefit you greatly.

  • Unless you have a dog that you must manage due to distraction or aggression issues, your last rehearsal should be while you are in line with your dog preparing to run. Do NOT watch the competitors in front of you; instead imagine you and your dog running the course.

  • Practice your visualization, even with your back to the course so you know it by heart before entering the ring.


“Great timing is an important part of any great dog agility performance. You can improve your timing by videotaping your competition and practice runs, and freezing the video at your dog’s take-off point. Once your dog is in the air, he is not able to change his path until he lands on the ground. So to get tight turns and maximum speed, your dog needs most of the information before he begins to jump, and the take-off point is the last chance for your dog to respond to  your cue in a timely way.”

Articles are taken from Best of Bad Dog Agility