A wing suit dare devil stands on the edge of a cliff preparing to jump. Every fibre of their evolutionary makeup tells them to do the opposite of what they are planning...Anxiously perched above a 3,000 foot drop the jumper carefully eyeballs the route. They mentally visualizes the line they will take through craggy peaks at speeds over 200 mph. Deep breathes, adrenaline pumping, then they leap...
Crippling fear envelopes for 1...2...3...then....calm... Welcome to 'flow state.'
Let me clarify flow state a bit. (I swear this will return back to the dogs bear with me)
Flow state is that special moment in time when nothing else matters other than the present. It's calming, it's clarifying and most of all: it's addictive. Every fibre of your being is present and focused.
In fact, true flow state is so primally attractive that many individuals revolve their lives around searching for it: like our wing suit friend above...Often these individuals are called 'adrenaline junkies'. But that term is off base. See it is our adrenaline pumping that makes us scared. It creates stress which creates conflict. No one likes that. The true magic of these action packed sports is not the jump itself - it is in the clarity, calm and focus achieved 3 seconds after leaping off that cliff or out of that plane = flow state. A more accurate term for these individuals should be 'flow junkies.'
'Gee wiz, flow sounds great but I am not interested in jumping off mountains...'
No worries. Flow is not reserved for the modern day dare devil...Truth is, we have all been there in some shape or form. Human beings tap into the flow in many ways...A hunter crouched in a field stalking a herd of antelope, he's in the flow...A surfer traveling through the pipe of a giant wave, she's in the flow (and totally tubular)...A violinist performing Bach’s Chaconne in front of an audience, yup, in the flow.
Again, you do not need to jump off a mountain to achieve this plain of enlightenment. We all are driven by different passions and can find the flow in different ways. Personally, I love the outdoors and have found the flow doing many activities in that stage. I wouldn't be caught dead standing on the edge of a cliff with a wing suit, but I do love climbing, trail running, mountain biking, hunting, hiking etc.
Another place I find flow? Training dogs.
In the world of dog training, there are many avenues one can achieve a flow state. A trainer executing a SchH3 obedience routine, she's in the flow...A police officer sweeping a building for narcotics, he's in the flow (looking for blow)...An under appreciated decoy taking bites from Malinois after Malinois (Brian Minder/Jake Kemp I am talking to you), you are not just bloody and sweaty, you are in the flow!
This can be said for ANY level of proper dog training. You are engaged, you are focused, you are present, you are in the flow!
And for me, I have not found a flow state that equals man tracking with Liesel Weapon.
I love love love tracking... More specifically I have become addicted to the art of 'trailing' which is a certain style of tracking that allows the dog some freedom of movement while trusting them to appropriately switch from ground scenting to air scenting as needed to find the person of interest. My particular drive and angle of trailing work is geared more towards Search and Rescue (SAR = lost hikers, hunters etc).
My 8 month old GSD, Liesel Weapon, is a trailing machine. Nothing energizes that dog more than going off in search of a 'lost hiker.' She lives for the hunt and my enthusiasm is right up there with her.
Taking off into the mountains as a team...ready to engage in a life or death stakes game of hide and seek....its all very Jack London-esque...
It is easy to get wrapped up in the romanticism of it all...but make no mistake - it takes a TON of work.
From a training perspective, tracking is bit different from other disciplines in the approach. Typically, dog training revolves around humans shaping a behavior for a dog to execute... 'I taught the dog to sit, I taught the dog to lay down, I taught the dog to heel'...but I didn't teach Liesel how to hunt...That is a primal god given GSD talent there...
Sure, I structured the approach of WHICH scent to follow, but when she gets the SUCH command (pronounced sook) she immediately gets to work and I have to trust her to take it from there. No other discipline in dog training allows the dog to be out front guiding their human. One of my mentors in training, Jeff Minder (toptierk9.com), said it well:
'Nothing building confidence like tracking. You want your dog to do better in nose work: teach them to track. You want your dog to excel in bite work: teach them to track. You want a more confident and stable dog during obedience: TEACH THEM TO TRACK.'
He was 100% right. I have seen it payoff well throughout Liesel's training. But there is something else I learned. That same sentiment could be said for me as a trainer. See I have no excuses when we are out on a trail. If Liesel didn't succeed I immediately start assessing what I did wrong. Did I not proof her well enough off distractions? Did we not work through this obstacle before? Did I read her cues correctly? Tracking is the ULTIMATE exercise in self analysis, patience and humility as a trainer...To be successful you have to be a student of your dog and the environment you two are working in. This practice is so valuable for ALL disciplines of training but you won't find a more pure version of it outside of tracking - So to Jeff's point: you want to help your dog excel in all areas of training? Teach them to track...you want to excel as a trainer in all areas of training? Learn how to track with your dog.
Now that I have laid all that out think back to Mr. Wing Suit and why he does what he does. When Liesel and I head into the mountains to track we are preparing for what could be hours of flow state. When she is on a trail I am studying her. Her body language paints a picture of communication and I learn something new every time we head out. While watching her I am also managing my 30' leather lead that attaches us together like an umbilical cord. Reeling that in and letting it out while not getting tangled around trees and brush is a dance in itself. On top of all this I am paying attention to environmental factors like wind, barometric pressure and topography as these can all play a part in the displacement of scent. This is that flow state drug I was talking about. It takes over and hours fly by. The journey is truly remarkable - and when you are successful finding that person...Well, simply put, there is nothing like that feeling. I imagine it can be compared to planting that flag on top of the mountain, or emerging from the inside of that curled wave or, (remembering our wing suit friend), when you land safely on solid ground.
In closing - the drive to be in the flow state is programmed into all of us. It is what allowed mankind to evolve as a successful species...the human animal would not have gotten very far in life if this guy (the leaping gent) forgot to be present and scared off game. Flow state was a way of life for our hunter gatherer ancestors in order to secure food and survive on a day to day basis...
In contrast today, our modern day lives are comfortable yet stressful and hectic. We spend SO much time planning for the future it is easy to forgo being present. But for the health of body, mind and soul...every now and then... be sure to pay homage to your animal roots, tap into that primal vein and engage in activities that allow you to access that awe inspiring flow state.
And remember, you don't have to jump off a cliff to find it...sometimes it is as simple as spending time with those that have truly mastered the art of being present...the dog :)