Posts Tagged ‘mental prep’


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.


Message Deliveries & Getting the Most From a Coach

Monday, March 9, 2009

Over the course of my seminar presenting career I know I have helped a lot of dogs by sharing with their owners, the knowledge that I have gleaned from my mentors.  However, there have also been those students that did not hear the message as I intended and, for whatever reason, suffered a bruised ego or hurt feelings. For this reason, you will find people that rave wildly about my workshops and those that pass along warnings of impending horrors.  I recognize that you can’t be all things to all people and that no seminar presenter will be everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t pretend to paint myself with a rose-coloured, blameless paintbrush. My fault lies entirely in my passion. I remind myself every time I teach of the truth that “people will not remember what you say as much as they will remember how you made them feel.”  Regardless of this reminder, I know that I can get carried away with my drive to improve people’s dog training. Without intending to be, I can occasionally may step on toes when delivering my message. However my heart is always in the right spot and luckily for me,  there are far more people that thoroughly enjoy the workshops that those that go home feeling otherwise.

 There are students that just want to be told that they are wonderful and that their only limitations are that of  their dog’s lack of talent. Imagine if Susan Garrett told you, you were amazing and with a better dog your potential would be limitless? I know students have been told that, but I can honestly say it has never come out of my mouth! I believe in the potential of every dog and the only way a dog can live up to his potential is for his owner to recognize his role in the transition. We all need to realize that change is the only way to improve in anything. I have many students that have no desire to be world-team brilliant. They continue to work with me because they want the constant reminders of how to steadily improve as they enjoy time training their dogs. I am not suggesting it is everyone’s duty to make their dog be as good as it could be, only that we should all be careful to not allow pride to limit the education we receive. In order to take advantage of all the knowledge that you are exposed to, take the advise of mental prep coach Terry Orlick. In his book “In Pursit of Excellence” Terry suggests that coaches are humans.  Passionate and caring but deliver messages differently – as athletes, we process the information differently. Our ulitimate role is to process it, and make the change immediately.  The delivery may or not be in the format you would like, but the change in behavior needs to happen, it is why you are at the workshop or why you have the coach.  While dog training, you need to make those changes in your next work session or run, not a week from now or after you digest the delivery and process how you are feeling. Acting on the feedback immediately means you won’t continue to rehearse errors and your implementation of the coaches input will help to heal any mis-communication that may have occurred between you and the coach during the delivery of the message.

For more great tips from Terry check out his website at

There was not any one person or situation that prompted this blog post (if any of your are feeling I am writing about you I am not:)). Perhaps I wrote this to prepare the people in Vancouver where I will be teach for 10 days at the end of March:). What is more likely, is that my intend is just to share the tools to help us all to make the most out of any learning situation that happens our way.  

I am grateful to everyone that has spent time with me at a workshop during my 14 year career. I am grateful both to the “easy” students and those that I may have thought at the time, where a pain in my behind. Like anything in life, it is in the reaching of the more challenging students that makes me a better teacher  (or drives me to drink:). If anyone  reading this has felt offended by something I have said at a workshop, please accept my apologize as I am sincerely not the type of person to purposely hurt anyone. Feel free to post your comments, I promise I won’t censor anyone!