An interview with Jenna Caloander: How to turn your agility failures into strengths

Photo by cunfek/iStock / Getty Images

Jenna Caloander already has an impressive career in agility, and most probably, there’s more to come. When asked which topic in agility is especially important to her, she says, without hesitation, “The right attitude towards failures”.

Why is a good attitude towards failures so important?

Failures are a part of agility for everyone. However, what is significant for success is whether you know how to turn failures into strengths or let them ruin your (and your dog’s) spirits. Your attitude can have a major impact on how you (and your dog) feel, and how you develop or don’t develop your (and your dog’s) skills.

Your attitude largely defines, whether you’re going forward with your skills or stay put. In addition to agility, getting quickly over negative feelings affects your whole life.
— Jenna Caloander

How to turn failures into strengths?

Jenna has some good advice on how to turn failures into strengths: “It’s important that you take each failure as an opportunity to improve. After a failed trial run you can’t do anything about it anymore, so ruminating on it won’t make any difference. However, if you see failures as an opportunity to find places for improvement, they will push you forward.

Write down what went wrong and why, add those things to your training list (paper version or AgiNotes) and make it your mission to train those things! This way you have an increasing number of strengths. Otherwise, you will just repeat the same mistakes from competition to competition, and most probably feel bad about them.”

Jenna says that she always makes sure she trains the things that have caused failures in competition:

Failures help me understand what to train next. And after I’ve trained the things that didn’t work before, I know I can face similar parts on courses also in competitions and master them. I think failures often push people forward more effectively than pure success - if you have the right attitude.
— Jenna Caloander

How to work towards a good attitude in agility trials?

Everyone deals with failures in their own way. If a more negative approach to things is in your nature, you need to work harder to learn a good attitude towards failures. “I have advised many to meet with a sports psychologist to get good exercises for improving their way of thinking. But if a positive attitude is really hard for you, you need to take baby steps: let yourself ruminate for one hour and after that make a plan on how to improve the unsuccessful parts of the course.”

When asked how Jenna has learned this attitude, she just states that she is more of an agility trainer than a competitor, so she goes to competitions to check what she needs to train. “And it helps that I’m a very positive person, so for me the attitude comes naturally. I want to enjoy the whole journey, not just the moments of success - and I wish this for others as well.”

How to reach a high level of consistency?

In agility, at least to begin with, you have to accept a certain level of variation in performance with every dog. Naturally, all of us, however, want less failures and more clean runs. What can you concentrate on to reach a high clean run percentage?

Jenna states that there are many factors connected to consistency, but two things rise above the rest:

1. Train the dog well

“If you want a high clean run percentage, it is very important to train the dog so well that it knows exactly what to do in any situation on the course, and even covers the failures of the handler”, Jenna states.

“Training the dog also has a great impact on the anxiety of the handler. If the dog is well trained, the handler doesn’t need to worry about compensating for the dog’s weak spots. The dog covers for you! E.g. you don’t need to worry about the correct use of rhythm to make sure the dog takes a contact, or how you can avoid disturbing the dog so that it won’t drop bars, and you get to leave from one situation on the course to another without a need to babysit the performance of the dog.”

2. More runs with the dog

“You need to have some history with the dog, so that it knows exactly what you mean and you know how your dog acts in different situations. Building cooperation takes time.”

According to Jenna, if you consider the skills and physics of a dog, it is at its best as a 6- to 7-year-old. Even after that, the skill level can rise but the best speed is often starting to fall.

Use AgiNotes to support turning your failures into success! Track your weak spots in competitions, to keep up with as well as prioritise your training list, and keep a training diary.