The Shop Dog Effect

I’ve been part of two teams and was witness to a third who added shop dogs to their team and have seen how these teams have improved as well. This left me wondering, “How do shop dogs relate to team performance?”

Hypothesis: Shop dogs lessen team anxiety and stress, thus allowing teams to be more clear and focused during the meeting to accomplish tasks. Additionally, they allow mentors to spend more time at the shop, helping with student learning and efficiency,

Prediction: Shop dogs lead to team success

Data and Methods:
I compiled data on 3 teams across 4 years; 1296, 148, and 253 for years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. I was able to use personal observation and TBA to verify the number of dogs and official event results of 1296 and 253. I cross referenced personal observations with JVN’s build blog for 148’s data.

Team performance is converted to numerical data by assigning a team’s performance to their highest point of success in a season based off the following:

Top advancement Value
Not Picked 1
Quarterfinals 2
Captain 3
Semifinals 4
Finals 5
Quarters Worlds 6
Semis Worlds 7
Finals Worlds 8
Einstein 9
World Champs 10

The results:

Lets start with 253:

In previous years they did not have any shop dogs. This year they have been visited by a dog multiple times (Gatsby). 2018, the team’s highest achievements were ranking 3rd and making it to semifinals.

Next, 1296:

1296 shows that with more shop dogs comes more success. In 2016, the team had no shop dogs. In 2017, dogs Captain and Gatsby joined the team. In 2018, a student’s dog also made appearances at the shop. However, in 2019 the team moved facilities to a school - where dogs were not allowed.

Finally, 148:

I couldn’t find any evidence that a dog was part of 148 until 2018, where JVN’s blog mentions multiple dogs visiting the shop including the weekend warrior - Matilda. Personal observation backs up that there were, in fact, multiple dogs who have visited the shop at one point or another. In 2019, the only dog mentioned on the blog is Goddard. 148 is a high performance team but 2018 was the year they won it all, with the help of dogs.

More shop dogs = more success
Less shop dogs = less success

I propose that teams should be encouraged to have furry visitors to reduce team stress and improve robot performance. Thus, I think FIRST should present The Paws Award to teams who best incorporate dogs into their team dynamics and are role models for other teams to emulate.

Everyone should be yelling at their computer, “CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION” and I applaud you for that. But that’s just the first problem with my report.

Lets consider the following:

  • What are my motives for presenting this data?
  • Where this data come from? Is it valid?
  • What are other factors that could play a part?

What are my motives for presenting this data?
I have a dog and I want to be able to bring it to robotics. If you are aware of my personal history, you’d know that I like bringing my dog to things. Also I think its a funny correlation.

Where this data come from? Is it valid?
So as I reported, this data came from blogs, personal observation, and TBA. Those seem like reputable sources, right? However, can we trust that JVN would post about every dog that walked into 148’s shop? Is my memory perfect?

Which leads to the next part: what constitutes a shop dog? Can they visit once and be counted? Do they need to visit multiple times? How many times? Do they need to meet the same time requirements as team members?

253 has seen Gatsby maybe 3 or 4 times - hardly a serious contender for “shop dog.”
Gatsby and Cap were around very frequently in 2017 and 2018 and would be easily considered shop dogs, but I also counted Hannah’s dog who visited once or twice.
As for 148 - I could only go off stories, memory, and the blog. I don’t know the frequency or duration of the dog visits so I could interpret the data as I wished.

I also didn’t bring up any other teams with dogs - 125 has shop dogs, as does 5940. It could be because I didn’t have that information (I don’t) but also because its likely that including their data would nullify my conclusion.

What are other factors that could play a part?
Team performance changes from year to year and its hard to pinpoint a specific factor. But its worth noting that 1296’s dog status changed due to their change in venue but also because one of the dogs moved to California along with two mentors. Losing key mentors can be a tough transition for teams. Similarly, this is the first year in known history that 253 has had technical mentors (4 .5 of them to be precise). It also happens that one of their mentors has a dog.

148 is a consistently high performing team and frequently reach the furthest stages of the competition - at which point success is also tied to luck. The minor variations in their performance could be correlated with many things, and I chose to use dogs.

Why are you doing this?

Mostly because I found the correlation in 2018 and thought it was funny, but I realized there is some value in this exercise.

  1. Be skeptical of data, especially when it comes from one source
  • Question the motives of the presenter (are they friends with someone, are they trying to promote their idea)
  • Question how they gathered that data (did they use reliable and repeatable measures)
  • Question the data they gathered (did they gather enough data, did they gather the right data)
  1. There is a story behind the data
  • As it applies to robots: don’t just use numbers to identify a team’s strengths. Look at trends. Try to find the story behind why the trends change.
  • Just because it looks like correlation, does not mean its causation - it might not even be correlation
  1. I like shop dogs
  • except when they makes others uncomfortable (eg allergies and phobias)

How can we apply this thought process to prototyping?
How does this apply to scouting?
Where else can we use this type of productive skepticism?

JVN Blog

Further Reading:
Winston, 148 dog visitor
Pasta and Pesto, 125 dogs
Gatsby, my dog

if I missed any dog credits, please let me know and I will update :slight_smile:


It took my halfway through the post to realize “shop dog” meant a literal dog in the workshop as opposed to some other hidden technique or leadership role related to managing a workshop.


What if certain members are allergic / scared of dogs

Remove those members from the team. They are only holding you back.

Dogs > People.

I rest my case.


What if you read the entire post before commenting?


Too hard, talks about dogs.

Cats > Dogs.

The more cat hair i bring with me to 4513, the more awards/banners they win.
Source: My clothes


For 2016, 2017, and 2018, my team worked in a local makerspace where one of the regular members brought his dog to the shop every day. I can testify that I felt better when the dog was around. And coincidentally, 2016 started a 5 regional streak of being picked for eliminations, including two Finalist finishes and two wildcards.


It’s 40 degrees and the leaves are changing color in Minnesota… I thought summer (and summer CD) were over!


We started seeing Cody (a dog) hanging out in our shop in 2018, who continued to be present in 2019 as well. Those two years at the only in our history that we have made eliminations at Championships.



This post reminds me of this site.

Kind of want to find a big dataset of yearly statistics like those and give every team some ridiculous metric that correlates well with their Elo each season.


I bet you could correlate some stats from the anonymized usage statistics and have fun with that


It’s closer to 40 Celcuis than 40 Farenheit on much of the East Coast today.


Number of zip ties used per robot, weight of pins the technician wore, type of drive computer, brand of toolbox, average comp pit size…

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I assume a shop dog is a dog who regularly visits the shop and not one who lives there full time, right? Has any team tried actually having a dog live in their shop permanently? If a dog visiting causes marginal improvements, imagine what one could do full time!


In 2017, 1296’s head mentor worked out of the space that the team used and would always have his dog in tow. I would argue it was the closest to a “live in” shop dog that I’ve even seen - he worked long hours and the dog had a set of bed/bowl/food at the shop.

First time I read it, I assumed “dog” was some sort of role. We call our shop-vac the “dog” lol.

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Just looking at the last two years with 2019 = no dogs and 2018 = dogs, that we performed better with dogs. We moved to a building that is so far less dog friendly, because the entry is more restrictive and it is located away from other buildings (where earlier we were downtown near residential – and near dogs). Jojo is our main out of the area visiting dog, so maybe we’ll have more visits this year (and more success!).

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We’ve had shop dogs for a number of years. One of the other mentors has a dog she carries around in a sling on a regular basis (it probably only weighs 5 lbs!), and mine has visited a few times each year - mainly during meetings where we aren’t actually in the shop building things. Most recently, they were both at our team retreat last Saturday, and they can definitely serve to help individuals handle stress and other feelings. It’s the whole basic argument behind therapy/emotional support animals!

Dogs are nice, and generally will receive passing attention from any individual, not distracting them from their task. On the other hand, we’ve had some shop babies show up (mentor’s with very young children). That can be highly distracting at times!

3 Shop dogs = Einstein.

Looks like I need to go get another two puppers.


There are these things called doors that people frequently exit through.