Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Overcome Analysis Paralysis

A comment somebody made on my last post about goals really resonated with me -- the commenter wrote that she was trying not to get so paralyzed worrying about doing something wrong with her puppy that she didn't get anywhere at all.

I can totally relate. Even though I started playing flyball in 2000 and have trained a bunch of dogs since then, I still fall into the analysis paralysis trap all the time. In fact, I'm probably more worried about doing something wrong now than when I was a newbie. I worry about disappointing the breeders who entrusted me with a puppy, I worry about screwing the dog up so they don't reach their full potential, I worry about letting down my team, I worry about giving people who don't like me one more reason to talk shit about me.

It's a fact of life that in flyball people are going to watch your dogs and judge you, whether they're literally judging you as the line judge or box judge or standing on the sidelines with the express purpose of watching your dog run. Sometimes they're watching because they're stuck in the chair, sometimes they're just curious, sometimes they're on a rival team and looking for something to criticize or laugh at. This happens in all kinds of sports, not just flyball.

Recently a competitor was watching me warm up Kraken (aka The Spitter) and asked one of my teammates if I had sent him away to Aaron Robbins for training. The insinuation being that I couldn't have possibly trained a dog whose turn looked that good by myself, I guess. (Although I'm betting if Aaron had trained Kraken, he'd already be running by now and he wouldn't be spitting his ball! ;)).

You just have to make the decision that you don't care what other people think (especially if it's a rival -- they aren't going to be happy for you no matter what you do). Then you have to back it up with the best training you can. Take action -- any action -- right now. If you're not sure how you want to train the box yet, at least focus on your recall or targeting or something instead. Just do something. Action leads to more action.

Other thoughts:

Don't be shy about asking others for help
There are so many really gifted trainers who are more than happy to advise you if you just ask. Start taking video of your training sessions (I use my daughter's digital camera -- it takes great little short videos and they're easy to upload to You Tube). You could start by asking your pup's breeder and the folks who have its littermates what they think. You can also post a link to your videos on Facebook and ask for input.

Try not to let anybody's comments hurt your feelings. We all have to start somewhere, and they're just trying to help. I'd rather hear that I'm not being exciting enough or that my arm position is totally wrong, versus having somebody just say "That looks great" and not really mean it. Remember there are 10 different ways to train everything in flyball (and they've all worked for somebody -- every dog needs different things), so pick what you feel will work best for you and your puppy. 

Resist the urge to send your dog away for training
Although your dog might end up faster if you send him to an expert, you won't have the same feeling of accomplishment and pride that you get when you do it yourself. Plus, as I mentioned in an earlier post, you won't know what the other trainer did in terms of drills, rewards, motivation, etc., so it'll be hard for you to duplicate that when you get your dog back. If their turn starts to go bad or something, you won't know what to do to fix it.

Build a great foundation, the sooner the better
It is so much easier to create a good flyball foundation in a puppy versus a dog that is a year or two old, so don't let analysis paralysis mess things up.

I have made the mistake of waiting too long with several of my dogs and paid for it dearly, ending up with chasers, dogs who don't focus on me, dogs who don't like balls, etc. I actually have a 4-year-old Jack Russell at home who has been able to run the entire course since 2008, as long as there are no other dogs or people (or squirrels, or food) in his line of sight. I taught him flyball skills but didn't do enough basic focus and distraction work. He's in serious need of some "Control Unleashed."

Play chase games at home. Build up that crazy tug drive in your puppy early. Teach them to get a ball and exchange it for the tug. Make the tug (or other reward) the best thing in the universe.

Teach them to target a pointer stick so that you can use it when you're ready to put them on the wall/ramp/box.

Teach them to come to you when they're called -- work on building up a really great recall in the face of distractions. Socialize your pup out in the world, take them to practices and tournaments to get them used to the traveling, noise, and tournament chaos.

Do lots of recalls with them at practice. Borrow the practice drill from the Slammers, where you run a pup side by side next to an experienced dog to head off chasing very early on.

Speaking of Slammers, I hear they put on a good seminar. I've been to seminars by Rocket Relay (3 times) and Spring Loaded, and I learned a lot. Touch N Go's is supposed to be great as well. If you can find a seminar to attend in your area, try to make the trip, it's worth it.

Try to get your dog into a warm-up slot as soon as you can
I don't mean you need to have them up and running as soon as they turn a year old -- I just mean get them to the point where they can do recalls and a little box work (hit-its or turns with a prop in front) during warm-ups, that way you can start desensitizing them to the tournament environment early. It's hard to recreate that cranked-up tourney atmosphere at practice.

Take advantage of single-dog racing
NAFA and U-FLI both offer it, although NAFA's is usually more laid back (and cheaper) because it's not sanctioned and the rules are determined by the host club. In NAFA you can usually put a prop in front of the box, run your dog unopposed, etc., which is a little more green-dog friendly (U-FLI's singles and pairs are geared more towards dogs who are practically ready to compete or are gunning for a fast time in the U-FLI database).

If you aren't happy with your dog's turn, DON'T COMPETE YET
Do as I say, not as I've done -- I've made this mistake three times already.

Once your dog is racing and repeating their less-than-perfect turn with no prop heat after heat after heat, they're developing the wrong muscle memory and it's really hard to fix.

Think about it. How many practice turns do you do with your dog in between tournaments? Maybe 10 or 15 each practice? Plus a few sessions at home? (Note that these usually aren't full runs, either, they're usually partial runs or close-up box work.) Then you get to a tournament and run them 30 heats or so, plus warmups and re-runs. So you could get in 30-40 bad turns in one weekend.

There's a book called "Motor Learning and Performance" by Dr. Richard Schmidt that many people quote from when discussing human muscle memory retention. In it, Dr. Schmidt says, "it takes 300-500 poor movement patterns to create a faulty motor engram and takes 3,000-5,000 good quality movements to unwind it.” So if you translate that to box turns: it'll take about 300-500 reps for a bad box turn to become muscle memory, and 3,000-5,000 good box turns to fix it. Blah! So do it right the first time!

Don't be intimidated by the rockstars
Not all dogs debut at 3.7. You will hear about the ones that do on Facebook, and it will probably freak you out (especially if they are related to your pup :)), but remember that:
  • These people are probably great trainers (often professional ones whose life revolves around dogs) on 15-second teams who practice several times a week
  • These people have more to prove than you do
  • In some cases, these people refuse to race their dog publicly until they know it's going to be a sub-4, because they think it will reflect badly on them as trainers. They probably timed that dog with a stopwatch every practice for months until they knew it was sub-4, then "debuted" it.
  • These people are going to censor what they post publicly (they aren't going brag about their 4.3 dog's debut). Sometimes they will quietly place a dog elsewhere if it looks like they won't pan out. You won't hear about those on Facebook.
Try to relax and keep it all in perspective
Dogs don't have to debut at 3.7 to end up fast in the long run. Sometimes it takes a dog a year or so to really get into the groove.

My border collie Sky started racing at age 2 and at her first tournament we put her in start position. She ran consistent 4.5's. She was my first border collie and it was 7 years ago, so I was really happy with that.

Every tournament after that she dropped a tenth, until she leveled out at 3.9. She ran 3.9-4.0 consistently for years and still runs 4.0-4.1 now at age 9.

My first flyball dog, Hathaway (JRT), started out around 5.2 and got a little bit faster every year until he hit his personal best time of 4.6 at age 7 or 8 (after 5 or 6 years of racing). Then he got old and slowed down again, dammit.

Just be patient, have faith in yourself, do your best, and don't worry about what everybody else thinks. And start training that puppy, right now.


Susan said...

Wow. I didn't know my comment would get me so much...maybe I should make more? ;) So first off THANK YOU. All the advice and encouragement is so greatly appreciated. I'm lucky enough to be getting help from a lot of different sources (breeder, team, random other flyball people from around the country, you). I think for me it's a lot about letting down the breeder, my team, and myself. And that if he doesn't reach his full potential I know exactly who's fault that would be, mine. Given that my other dog is pretty slow (he's a Cavalier) I don't really think anyone comes out to watch him run (although they should because he's freakin' adorable and he's pretty sure all that cheering is especially for him) or do any critiquing that way. That would be mighty intimidating.

So far he's got a great restrained recall and the next practice after seeing your post about the Slammer's training technique we totally used it. He did awesome, and we only had his "lane" maybe 8' from the actual lane. He didn't even look at what was going on over there. A few practices later we even added in an additional distraction of having a handler/dog stand near the runback of his "lane" sort of like they were going to be next as Wixer did the recall. He didn't even look, awesome puppy.

In a low distraction environment (inside) he will reliably mouth the ball for his tug - next step picking it up. I haven't had much luck getting him to tug with the ball at all. At practice he did get a hold of a squishy ball once. Yikes. Took off with it and it took a good long time to get him back. I think one of the hardest parts of that was getting the rest of the team to be patient while I didn't run after him. I think there is a strong urge to move on already, but I'm not chasing after him when he's got something in his mouth. No way I'm playing that game with this puppy (learned my lesson on that one hmmmm?)

We're just about to complete puppy kindergarten and I would call his everyday recall average. Still needs a lot of work, but given that he is 4.5 months old...he's pretty dern awesome. So smart, so quick. I love to brag about him!

I'm feeling kind of lucky that he's so young and I don't have to tackle box work just yet, although I need to get started on the target stick. I bought the materials to put together a matted board for wall work as well, but haven't put it together yet. I worry a bit about the team wanting him to be ready before I think he's ready, but I will just have to put my foot down as many times as it takes...and stomp if necessary.

Again, thank you so much for this blog and especially this post!

Kim said...

Making sure to actually something done is important and Susan sounds like you are on the right track.

My husband doesn't do the flyball training but he likes insert comments from time to time. He also tries to move further along than I think the dog is ready for - these my dogs not the club dogs. He stays out of that training altogether.

I am a firm believer that if someone wants the dog to the best they can be then don't push the dog too fast. Somewhere along the line something will break down in the training - losing the boxturn, missing jumps, spitting the ball, etc... but on the other hand some people will take things so slow that it becomes very boring for the dog.

I love how I feel when I spent the time training my dog and they do well. They may not be perfect but no dog is. They all have some quirk but it may just be more subtle or it took a lot of time to train out of them.

I recently posted video of my rescue acd and her boxwork. Her turn is a tad slow for me but then again, we are in a garage with no run back. It will get better with time us running. I did receive some responses but I really wanted some responses from folks who have trained lots of the "faster" dogs out there. Yes I have a low 4 second dog but I still want the extra eyes from people who know more than me.

I love asking for advice and wish folks were more willing to give it. I also wish people would also post some of the fixes they have found for problems which this blog is helping with...


Anonymous said...

LOVE this post! I've found myself in this exact position of training paralysis. I'm currently working on 2 puppies - well, not really puppies at 2.5yrs of age, but mentally it's a fitting description. My training philosophy and situation (people, equipment, facility etc) has changed since training my 3 dogs that currently race. I'm feeling more pressure to prove myself as a trainer, don't want to let my team down, and want to make sure my dogs reach their full potential.

I've recently decided to just go for it - do what I think is best for each dog. Like Lisa says above - there are 10 different ways to train everything. No dog is perfect and each dog develops it's own way, in it's own time. Better to focus on my dogs and forget about what others might think as they watch from the sidelines - they aren't there during training.

At practice this week I'm going to remind myself that I'm doing the best I can, my dogs are giving me all they can and the rest will work itself out through consistent training on our way to competing.

I echo Kim's comments as well about wishing more people were willing to share their training experience. I recently requested help with my dog's box training and recieved some good feedback (thanks Kim and others!). I was surprised I didn't get more tips from folks - when I figure out something that works I like sharing it with others and seeing their dogs improve. It doesn't matter if that means their dog is then faster than mine - my goal continues to be getting my dogs as fast as then can be - wether that is low 5s for my 9yr Boston or 3.9/4s for my younger border collie.

Really enjoying this blog, it's helping me focus on the real reasons I play this sport and let all the other crap fall away.


leerie said...

Just potentially someone who you might consider one of your "rivals," although that's not how I view it...if you see me watching your dog run, I'm not judging you (well, unless I actually am with a whistle and flags and such)...I'm just watching to see how your young dog(s) are coming along...or I think they are cute, or I like the dog (e.g. I think Punk is a cool dog...whatever times he's running...i just like to watch him play).

And I have posted on facebook about my current young dog, Dexter, who is faster...but I've also posted about my Freak, who wrote a country/western song about his flyball experiences "Low 4 Dog in a Sub 4 World." It's a pretty sad song. But we still have a lot of fun playing.

Lisa Pignetti Murnan said...

Tanya, i love what you said here: "Really enjoying this blog, it's helping me focus on the real reasons I play this sport and let all the other crap fall away." Thank you! You pretty much just summed up the whole reason i created this blog. :) Flyball is supposed to be fun, right?!

Leerie, I've always found you to be sweet and sincere (in your devilish rapscallion way), so no worries. :)

BC Insanity said...

OMG, that so hit home.It's almost as if you were putting words in my mouth of thoughts I couldn't formulate.

Chris said...

I would add one more thing to "do".

DO remember to have FUN with your dog. People watching you or watching your dog may make you nervous but, I doubt if your dog notices them watching at all.

....of course, there's a clown on every team who seems to love playing to an audience!


Anonymous said...

All I have to say is this..Rooster is super cute.

d (carpe pilam)

K-Koira said...

This really resonated for me a lot. About a year ago, I went to my first flyball tournament and ran my first dog. I know now that my dog was not ready to run, but then, I didn't know any better. I have been retraining from that one tournament since then.

The dog that did a full run better than most of our new club's dog now falls apart when asked to push to the box away from me. Her turn is being retrained, but falls apart all the time. Running one tournament, part time, did this to my dog, and it was my fault. But, I have to not let that get to me.

My second dog (adopted the following Monday after that tournament) has been competing for almost 9 months now, is solid, has a great turn, and is getting faster every time we go out. He started in his first tournament with a 7.9 as the personal best we had recorded, and his current personal best is 5.3. He will likely never be a low 4 dog.

A lot of it is perspective, and feeling out the dog you are working with.

Cynthia said...

I have training paralysis once in a while, but I'm a bit of a experimenter, much to my obedience instructors dismay. LOL. But when cross training multiple sports (agility, obedience, flyball, K9 Nose Work, Conformation... and hopefully Earthdog and Herding, yeah I'm a nut) I have to find things that work, that hopefully won't screw up any of my other training goals. :)

So far, so good!

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