An Epidemic of “Buck Fever”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My observations from the Ontario regionals this week can be summed up by a comment I am borrowing from a friend. I was talking to a business colleague yesterday and he used the phrase “Buck Fever.”  He spoke about how a marksman on the practice range can hit any target in any situation or environmental stressor. However put that same shooter out in the bush with the adrenaline pumping and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Now as a vegan I may not be crazy about an analogy of hunting down a defenseless animal, however the point is a good one and one I saw played out a lot at the Ontario regionals this past weekend.

I saw many competitors, some my students, some just people I have seen at trials in the past that normally execute pretty well. Their handling choices are normally decent, decision making about “what to do if things do not go as planned” is generally instinctively good. However put these people in a “big event” such as the Ontario regionals and they are stricken with Buck Fever.

Suddenly handling becomes less sensible and more erratic, feet don’t move when they should and the mouth goes when it shouldn’t. At home or in an “regular weekend trial” this doesn’t happen. The biggest problem is that your dog counts on your calm, insightful direction to get him around the course. Once Buck Fever hits, your handling resembles someone juiced up on triple expresso swatting at an annoying mosquito in the dark. 

So what is the antidote to Buck Fever? This may be depressing for some of you but, the best antidote to Buck Fever is success. The more you rehearse being at a big event and handling the way you want the more likely it is that you will be able to do it again and again.  Of course immunity starts only with a solid understanding of dog training and handling. There is no cure without consistency away from the big events. Remember you need to be able to hit the easy targets at home first!

I still suffer from occasional minor bouts of BF myself, especially when I run a new dog for the first time. However just like your immune system, recovery is faster the more you have fought it off in the past. So this past weekend my standard, jumpers and Steeplechase runs with Feature where all pretty good.  I was completely relaxed (cold due to the weather but relaxed) going in. Even on Saturday where it was Day One and we were the first team on the line to start the competition, we ran well and she was only a few tenths of a second behind Encore who won the class. No BF for me here.

Where I did get hit a bit was in the Gamblers class. Quiet honestly it is because I rarely do Gamblers in Canada and it is a lot harder than anywhere else in the world (to start there is a minimum of 18′ distance challenge).

The first step to overcoming BF for all of us is to rehearse success.  Don’t wait for it, go out and create your own success. Since the judge won’t let us have a “do over” you need to rehearse this success in your mind before you go in.  Run your run many times before you step to the line. Then when you actually step into the ring you are on one of your “do overs.”  You should know exactly where every obstacle is, how you plan on executing,  what your next move is and when you need to leave to get there.

Recently someone posed a question to the blog about what to do when your visualization before a run turns to crap.  When you can’t seem to visualize your run without your dog going off course or knocking a bar. Here is a secret I learned from my good friend Greg Louganis. It is a good one, so take note. Allow it to happen. Don’t visualize only the perfect runs. If you brain needs to open the door where crap happens, go ahead and look in through that door.  Acknowledge that that scenario is one of many possible outcomes. How are you feeling? Did you cause the error?  How can you compensate for it?  Adjust and finish that run with your ‘blip’ in it. Acknowledge that you still love your dog just as much even though you didn’t run perfectly together. There is still no world peace and the outcome of your run hasn’t changed anything of any real importance in your life. Now you should be able to close the door of failure and go back to visualizing success. 

Learn from your struggles to visualize. I struggled visualizing my second gamblers runs this weekend with both Encore and Feature but I ignored it. Perhaps next time this happens I will look at possibly altering my opening plan until I could visualize it well and go with what I have succesfully run in my own mind. This is not, by any means, all the mental prep anyone needs to do well in sport, but it is a start.

 Realize that Buck Fever hits everyone hard at some point in their career but it is not fatal. It is a normal process for anyone putting themselves out there to be judged in any walk of life. It is simply an affliction that attacks our humility.  A full recovery can be expected.  You can build your immunity first by improving your handling and dog training skills.  However resistance to disease does come with continued exposure. So don’t step away from your chance to perform under pressure, you will get better eventually. Everyone that sticks with it does. Rather than judging yourself, learn from your experiences and as the slogan from this weekend says, learn to “enjoy the ride.”

Today I am grateful for the booster shot against Buck Fever that I received this weekend. Just like most inoculations, it often hurts at first, but the long term benefits are worth the momentary pain.



  1. Timely reminder for us Aussies, we have an important ADAA event this weekend it is a selection trial for the Australian Team for WAC 2010. Good luck to the contenders. This is my first big comp with Beau I am going to print this blog entry and read it each day before we run. Thanks for sharing Susan 🙂

  2. I wish anything like that would work for me 😦 I have tried all that stuff but I am practically paralyzed with anxiety even at fun runs. Not to say that Fancy and I never had successful run in competition but those were basically in spite of me certainly not because of me.

  3. Thanks for providing training advice that can help dog/handler teams at any stage in their agility journey. You and your dogs are inspiration for novice handlers like me — showing what we can aspire to as well as reminding us of the challenges (such as BF) along the way. The combination of being able to visualize our successes and failures and learn from them is a great antidote to syndromes such as BF!I am bringing home a new puppy soon and this advice, while geared at competition, will certainly set me up well to deal with the failures, successes, and challenges we will face together — in the ring and out.

  4. FANTASTIC POST! Thanks for finally putting a name to it, that makes me smile. Buck Fever was my first experience at a trial and we haven’t trialed since. I won’t let it stop me now.

    This reminds me of my first Ultimate Frisbee tournament. We actually got into dog sports because we’re getting too old to play Ultimate and wanted a freestyle dog – and we found agility. Anyways….my first tourney I was petrified – hoping vehemently that I didn’t get the disc – at all – ever – just in case I dropped it and if I happened to catch it well sheesh…then I’d have to throw it well! We went on to play on a very competitive level with one of the top teams in the state before getting too old (I say again…) to play so hard.

    Thanks for the reminder to stay in the fire and ride it out. The real fun and challenge is still ahead. 🙂

  5. Great Post,

    Though we are far away it seems we feel the same. I always try to remember that even though I love winning I practice Agility with my dog mostly for fun.. and if I do not “enjoy the ride ” as you said then it is not worth it..

    I´ll try to keep your advice in mind next competition.

  6. What an awesome blog today Susan (not that they aren’t ALl great :)!
    Thanks for the reminder. Mel read it too and I am sure it will help him with his terrible ring nerves.

  7. Susan, this is all sooooo true. Couple of thoughts I wanted to share:

    1. One place to build your immune system is to attend Susan’s camps. Lots of top handlers and trainers who are there to evaluate and push you to failure. (Gulp!! My heart races just thinking of it.)
    2. I like to listen to LeeAnn Womak’s song “I hope you dance.” She talks about keeping things in perspect but when given an opportunity to go for it. I think the words of this song are perfect for BF.
    3. At times I find myself wanting to retreat and I blame it on “being shy” or introverted. I heard a call-in radio personality the other day her words to the caller impacted me too. The caller said her daughter was not making friends because she was shy. The host said shyness was a completely selfish emotion. How dare you think it is all about you? Will people like me? Will people laugh at me? Blah-blah-blah. It truly made me think…shyness sounded OK but being selfish was not nearly as complementary.
    4. My last thought is that once you face BF head-on, like competing at a big event, it is a great feeling of confidence for those local events. My Q rates normally go way up after any big event so the risk of facing BF can have good rewards in the long-term!

    As always Susan, thank you for sharing your emotions and letting people like me know my experiences are not unique and giving us teaching points to deal with them.

  8. Great I finally have a word for what I was feeling, haha. “Buck Fever” hit me hard a year ago at our regionals and it cost us a chance to go to nationals. I took alot away from that experience and I’m proud to say that by visualizing my runs over and over before going into the ring and keeping the fever at bay we won our division and many other awards at this years regionals. Although last year broke my heart, I learned alot which has made me a better competitor today.


  9. Great post Susan,
    We all feel the stress in this wonderful game we play. When I walk a course I visualize as many things going wrong as right. And when I walk on to the course I think to my self “now I get the whole course to myself with out all those other people in my way”.
    And being married to a pharmacist doesn’t hurt either…… 🙂

  10. Thanks, I needed exactly this today.

  11. Susan~

    When I read your post yesterday, it really hit home. I actually cried at the end when you said to “enjoy the ride”. I had BF when I attended my first Ontario Regionals back in 2007. Surrounded by a lot of the top Canadian handlers, I’m from Michigan & was a bit intimidated. When Duncan qualified for the Nationals, I was elated, not expecting it. I went to the Nationals thinking that I wasn’t “worthy” to be there (Wayne & Garth come to mind!). A very insightful friend told me that I EARNED the right to be there, look at it as a once in a lifetime experience, to just take everything in & enjoy it. I vowed not to even look at our scores all weekend. I just took each run for what it was-Duncan & I EARNED the right to be there & anything else was icing on the cake.

    At the end of the weekend, I finally got our scores after our last run. We never placed, but I didn’t care. Duncan’s my first agility dog. I never intended to do agility with him in the first place & thought that it was just amazing that we got to that level of competition. He’s getting older & I’m just glad to have had the pleasure to step into the ring with him, yet one more time.

    I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the ride!


  12. You say that people tend to talk to much when they get “buck Fever” but it makes me not talk at all 😦 I get to just a normal trial and I forget to talk to my dog on course. Even forgetting to say the obsticals names alot. We dont Q very much and I think its mostly because of this. Im hopeing that its just because im new to agility and hate being in front of people but i always feel like iv let everyone down at the end of a course because of my “buck fever” whitch doesnt affect me at home.

  13. Great analogy. And thanks for the advice on what to do when you can’t visualize the run going perfectly. I’ve had that happen before. 🙂
    Our first ever regional competition is this weekend, and I’m kind of expecting some “buck fever” to show up. Perfect timing for this post! I’m not a huge fan of shots, but we’ll keep moving forward no matter what happens. 🙂

  14. I have a question about visualization for those of you that do it. When you visualize your run do you do it as if you’re actually running it ie visualize what you would see through your own eyes OR do you visualize both yourself and the dog running as if you were watching your run as a third party.

    I don’t do any real sort of visualizing my run, Basically I just memorize the course map but I’m thinking I’ll try it out at my next trial.


    • Hey Andrea, don’t fight yourself to visualize one way or another when you are just starting. However you want to try to practice more of the visualizing through your own eyes so that you rehearse what you will see when you get out on course— rather than visualizing it as if you are watching your run on TV. That way you will become familiar with the timing of your crosses, know exactly where you dog is when you do them and know exactly where all of the obstacles behind and beside you are located.

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