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A Gangly Lacrosse Player and Your Dog's Load Zones...

***So my last blog post was more of a rant than anything else. I was irritated by the irresponsibility shown by both the dog team and the production team for 'A Dog's Purpose' and I only briefly explained load zones in training. It is SO important to recognize and understand your dog's load as you progress together as a team in training. So to explain it further in a more thorough and positive way...lets first meet high school Chris...he was obsessed lacrosse... (Stick with me, I promise it will come back around to dogs ;) )

6'2" and about 170 pounds at age 14. I was the human version of a tetherball pole. I was goofy gangly and uncoordinated. Ever see those used car lot air dancing men? That was me doing anything...ESPECIALLY lacrosse. Nevertheless, once I learned there was a sport that allowed you to hit people with sticks - I was hooked.

In my mind this is what I felt like playing lacrosse.

This was reality.

Regardless of this physically awkward phase of life : from age 13 on all I did was practice and play this sport year round.

Lacrosse itself was new to our school and our team, in a nutshell, was the bad news bears of the lacrosse world. If any of my former teammates/buddies are reading this I hope you fondly reflect on those days like I do because if I didn't have this sport to get me through high school, I probably would not have made it....

Anyway, regardless of how dysfunctional we all were, we were a team.

Now, being a club sport new to the scene we floundered a bit on even finding teams to play. I remember that first year we were a team (I was 13 years old in middle school playing for the high school squad) we ended up in a stadium, under the lights, with an announcer...and we got our ASSES kicked. It was embarrassing. Those games were tough because when we get punched that hard on the scoreboard...the grunts on my team would answer back by punching faces... in turn, we wouldn't progress as a lacrosse team. Quick side note, the air dancing man version of Chris, believe it or not, was not a physical enforcer on the team. I was a goal scorer (eventually) that embraced my gangliness to coin a movement in the sport that my coaches would laugh at but accept. Lovingly, I remember one of these coaches saying 'Williams...if you didn't score goals doing all that goofy ballerina shit I would kick your ass. But it seems to work so whatever...' So during these games where we would get completely dominated, the enforcers were inflicting punishment and I was doing my best to 'plie' at least 1 point onto the scoreboard... Anyway, back to the team. Those first 2 years of the program were tough. We had some ups but mostly downs. Even in the beginning, if we scored a goal it was HUGE and our confidence would rise but it we got trampled 31-0 (which happened) the air would be sucked out of us and we would have a long bus ride home. Fast forward 5 years... by the time I was a senior in High School the team had a foundation. We knew each other's rhythms and who would do what and when. We actually had a school sponsored event playing under the lights in the football stadium. The stands were packed and we CRUSHED the competition. It was awesome... This is my story. I am sure many of you can relate to this in some way. Whether you played a sport yourself or a musical instrument or had to perform on stage its all the same: You have a skill and an arena to perform in. There are ways to progress your skills and abilities appropriately and there are ways you can slow down or even derail progress. OK, thanks for bearing with me. Now lets relate this ragamuffin lacrosse squad to dog training. Progress in anything (sports, music, dog training) ebbs and flows in load zones. For the sake of simplicity lets say you have 3 zones. Green, Yellow and Red. For you visual learners here is a nifty chart:

  1. GREEN ZONE: This is easy peasy. Not much progression in learning.

  2. YELLOW ZONE: This is where you get challenged. Success here creates a greater understanding and expands the GREEN zone. Pushing yellow to the limit while achieving success without crossing into red zone promotes the MOST growth, learning and confidence building.

  3. RED ZONE: Too far. No constructive learning here.

Lets apply this concept to gangly Chris and his misfit lacrosse team. That first year, playing under the lights at another team's stadium, safe to say this was a red zone for us. We lost all concept of fundamentals. We were scared, stumbling and getting frustrated. The crowd was pretty much laughing at us. It sucked. On the flip side of the coin, the other team was just having fun stomping us...they were in a green zone...Now I am sure they had more fun than us that night, but as far as progressing as a lacrosse team, neither team gained much.

Now fast forward a few years. We had some coaching, understood the concepts of actually working the ball down the field with finesse and could score some goals. We lined up against another club team that had a similar track record to us. Throughout the game we went back and forth scoring. During the game we had to really analyze how to work best as a team and adjust some of our shortcomings. There was one game in particular that stands out to me...we still lost but it was the closest match we had ever had and learned a TON from it. Despite the loss, our confidence was up. We discussed the lost, learned from it and we went on to win a handful of games later in the season.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is dog training. You are a team with your canine. Once you understand the foundational concepts of commands and communication you must then manage your dogs (and your own) load to move forward as constructively as possible.

For example: you are training your dog and they know the 'down' command. You practice in your living room and your dog is an ace! Then the doorbell rings...its the pizza delivery guy. Your dog thinks about jumping up but you are consistent and mark and reward the decision to hold the down. You just successfully proofed that command and allowed your dog to gain further understanding and confidence. Now, to illustrate overloading in this scenario...lets say that the doorbell rings and the door gets kicked in by a swat team. (they actually meant to storm your neighbors house but alas your training gets disrupted) in that moment there is no way your dog (or you) could probably maintain consistency in training.

One of the most important concepts in dog training is consistency. You must first make sure you are consistent in teaching your dog WHAT to do. From there you must appropriately manage load as a team to move forward in learning, confidence and understanding. Just keep in mind, good training is not linear..A+B does not always = C. Have to think of it all more 3 dimensionally and adapt to changing scenarios ...Just be ready to draw upon the skills you and your canine know as a team to work through challenges while managing load... At one point, playing lacrosse in college (another club team) we accidentally signed up for an indoor league that was a tune up circuit for professional lacrosse players. What this meant for me was that although I had become comfortable playing in stadiums... I was now being thrown into an arena where I had to compete against my MY PROFESSIONAL LACROSSE HEROES. Needless to say we got completely dominated and after the game admitted the mishap and switched leagues...but it goes to matter where you are in training, you can always encounter a red zone. The key is identifying it and taking the appropriate steps back to work through yellow zones. If you stay consistent and work through yellow = green expands and red shifts. Those professional lacrosse players, at one point in their career, were probably over loaded playing under stadium lights too. They stuck through it, stayed consistent and eventually were granted the opportunity to play in an arena against 18 year old me... No matter where you are with your canine team (or any team for that matter). Really keep in mind where you are in training. If you hit walls think about whether you are over loading. If you are, can you step back? Training is a never-ending process...AND IF you ever get to the point of metaphorically squaring off against professional lacrosse players then quickly and quietly step back into a manageable yellow zone...instead of doing what I did: 6' 225 pounds and 31 years old. Jake Bergey is a Lacrosse legend. At this point in his career he had been pro for about 8 years. He was a large fast moving vending machine of a man...wielding a metal stick. I idolized him and had seen him play many times...So when I got the ball I decided I was going to try and put a move on Jake Bergey! Adrenaline pumping, I do some fancy footwork, juke juke juke and make a move around was then I felt Thor's hammer (his lacrosse stick) crack across my back sending me superman style into the wall. That was not a moment where I progressed much in becoming a better lacrosse player...

But I treasured that welt as long as it lasted...

***Interesting to see the grey with a splash of orange branding follow me from my years as a goofy lacrosse player to being a professional dog trainer...#runyourpack

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