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This week we’re going to talk about arousal. It comes out that the arousal level and movement skills are actually intricately linked together. Let’s see how that happens 🙂

Note: My understanding of arousal originates from Hélène Lawler and her amazing course “Optimal Arousal” at FDSA. 

This post will be largely on two different arousal states, or mindsets. Optimal arousal – the best arousal level for doing the task at hand with high precision and focus, aka The Flow. And over arousal – arousal beyond the optimal range, resulting in poorer performance. Aka The Red.

What does it mean to be in The Flow? 

The Flow is an arousal level where the individual is, among other things:

  • highly focused on the task at hand
  • not bothered with distractions
  • responding to cues quickly and with high precision (low latency)
  • showing deliberate, controlled and accurate movements

In other words, The Flow is the best possible arousal level to perform the task at hand with focus, high precision and low latency.

A graphic showing how arousal state is linked to the performance. The darker area in the center indicates the optimal arousal for a given task, marked as Ideal Performance State. In this blog post we refer to it as The Flow. Image taken from here

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? In fact, The Flow is the arousal level we’d love our dogs to have during training and competing. It’s often the arousal level that we IMAGINE our dogs having when picturing the ideal training session or competition.

What’s The Red like?

However, the reality during our training or competitions may often be quite different than described above. We may get frantic and inaccurate movements, whining or barking, slow response to cues, sniffing, disengaging or our dog walking away from the training session altogether. 

In these cases our dogs have drifted away from The Flow arousal level. They are now in The Red. In the high arousal zone where the performance drops (remember the frantic movements and inaccurate, slow response to cues?).

The Flow vs The Red

The Flow sounds pretty amazing while The Red sounds something we’d like to avoid.

Ideally, we really want our dogs to be in The Flow mindset as much as possible. This is the mindset that makes training a joy, is the foundation of competing and getting high performance. By being in The Flow mindset, our dogs can do the exercises with low latency, high precision and with controlled movement.

Being in The Red, one the other hand, means that probably the training, exercises or competitions won’t go quite as planned: we’ll have high latency (slow response to cues), frantic movements with low precision. Being in the over arousal mindset may mean that your dog will bark and whine, will do a different exercise than cued, will make mistakes, take the wrong obstacle and pull the jump bar down.

Linking mindset to coordination and movement skills

When we look at the arousal states from coordination and movement point of view, which arousal state looks like the good place to be? It’s actually written in the descriptions of the arousal states, where The Flow is linked to controlled and deliberate movements with high accuracy and low latency. And The Red is linked to frantic movements with low accuracy and high latency.

Coordination and movement skill training is actually all about being in The Flow mindset. We can’t develop movement skills while our dogs are in The Red. The mindset and ability to develop movement skills are intricately linked together.

As having the flow mindset is crucial for coordination and movement skill training, it may lead us thinking that we can actually solve over arousal issues by doing more coordination and movement skill training with our dogs. While there may be some truth to it (something for the upcoming posts!), I don’t think we can expect coordination exercises to magically help solve over arousal issues we are facing in our training. But…

Arousal is a habit. Being in The Flow is a habit!

However, we do have to consider that arousal is a habit. And being in the flow is a habit! That leads us a realization that the more our dogs practice being in The Flow mindset, the more it will become a habit and the more it will carry over to our sports training and training new exercises. 

Bo is in The Flow – he’s focused, has good movement precision, movements are controlled and deliberate.

The opposite is also true. The more our dogs are used to being in the over aroused state of mind, the more likely it is to carry over to all of our training sessions. And the more likely it is to get The Red mindset when teaching something new to our dogs. 

It has happened to me a couple of times that I’ve ignored the first signs of over arousal kicking in during the training. Maybe a quiet whine somewhere or inability to distinguish marker words. The arousal state gets linked to the exercise. In the future, whenever I cue this exercise, my dog goes straight to over arousal mindset. It’s a real nightmare to get rid of that! We really want to be mindful about the arousal state our dogs are in and practice being in The Flow as much as possible.

Bo showing some over arousal barking during the exercise

Training in The Red = developing poor movement skills

And, something extra to think about: when a lot of the training happens in The Red, then it’s very likely the dog hasn’t developed and will not develop good physical skills, good movement and coordination skills. Which is a huge problem! Good physical skills are what gives us high performance. They also help to protect the body from injuries. We lose all of that if we don’t manage to train physical skills in The Flow mindset.

And it’s yet another proof that we cannot expect our dogs to develop their physical skills during sports training. Even when we aim to train sports exercises in The Flow, it is still a challenge with many dogs. We have to have a plan in place to make sure our dogs do develop good physical skills, good movement and coordination skills. So that they can actually perform at their best and develop skills to protect their own bodies during high-demanding activities.

How can coordination and movement skills exercises help your dog with his mindset? We’ll discuss that in the next blog post. See you next Wednesday 🙂

If you’d like to learn 3 tips for improving your dog’s movement skills, enter your email here and I’ll send you a free PDF with training tips:

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I hope you’ll have an amazing rest of the week. If you enjoyed this blog post, leave me a comment below to let me know you’re here. It’s a huge +R for me 🙂 Thank you!

Happy training!

Mari & Co.

2 thoughts on “Linking mindset and arousal to movement skills

  1. Wendy says:

    Just what I needed at the moment ???? I have had a knee injury and looking for ways to continue our training with limited movement on my part, at least for a while and maybe a long while depending on recovery!! She’s working so well right now it’s very hard to see how to keep this???? thanks so much

    1. Mari says:

      Oh no! I’m sorry to hear about your knee injury ???? I hope you’ll have a quick recovery! And I’m glad if my posts and training ideas help you stay occupied & keep the minds busy ????

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