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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

For the last 2 years, FDSA has been working to provide high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports online, using only the most current and progressive training methods. And now we’re bringing that same focus to you in a new way. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods. We'll release a new episode every other Friday, so stay tuned--and happy training!
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Dec 15, 2017

SUMMARY:

Mariah Hinds’ love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.

She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays and greetings while using positive training methodologies.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 12/22/2017, and it will be a special anniversary edition of the podcast, so stay tuned!

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Mariah Hinds.

Mariah has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). She also just recently put a UD on her awesome border collie, Clever. And she’s here to today to talk about proofing and what it takes to get ready for competition.

Hi Mariah! Welcome to the podcast.

Mariah Hinds: Hi.

Melissa Breau: Can you just remind listeners a little bit about who you are and who the dogs that you share your life with are?

Mariah Hinds: Sure. I have Jada, my Doberman, who is 11-and-a-half years old. I got into competition obedience with her and she’s my novice A dog. We started training for the ring at age 4, and she earned her novice, open, and utility titles, and some optional titles as well, between the ages of 4 and 8, and she’s the one who taught me that positive training methods are much better for her and they’re a lot more fun.

Clever is my 5-year-old border collie. She got her novice title with 198 from 199. She won first place in Open against 100 other dogs last year with the 199, and she just got all three of her utility legs for her title a few weekends ago. She also knows a ton of tricks, and we train in agility as well. My goal with her for 2018 is to compete in open utility at all the local trials, and hopefully we’ll earn some OTCH points along the way, and hopefully we will compete at the Classic next year and place in the top twenty as well. Those are my goals for her for the next year.

And I have Talent, who’s the baby dog. Her name is Squishy because she likes to lay on top of me. She’s 14 months and we’re just building the foundations for precision for obedience, and I hope to earn her MACH as well her OTCH and UDX, so we’re doing a lot of agility training right now as well. So that’s all about my dogs and a little bit about me. Is there anything else you want to know about me?

Melissa Breau: Gee, I don’t know. Is there anything else good that I should want to know?

Mariah Hinds: Not really. I moved from Orlando to Fort Mill, South Carolina, a year ago, and so I’m just having fun getting to know people around here.

Melissa Breau: I know that the core of our conversation today, I’m hoping we’ll get really deep on proofing and getting “ring ready,” but before we dive into that stuff, I figure it makes sense to get some terminology stuff straight. So I wanted to ask what proofing means to you, and then maybe a little bit about why it’s critical for success in competition.

Mariah Hinds: Sure. So for me, proofing means that we’re adding achievable challenges to a skill. So once a dog can do a behavior reliably on cue — and it can be a verbal cue or a hand signal as a cue — then we ask the dog to do the behavior in different locations, and perhaps we can ask the dog to do the behavior with other dogs around, and perhaps we can ask the dog to do the behavior in different locations in proximity to us, so “Can you sit in front of me? Can you sit at heel? Can you sit on the right side of my body? Can you sit between my feet?”

I really think that proofing is critical to success in competition, because there are tons of distractions at a trial, and although you can’t actually train for every single distraction, you can practice adding distractions in training. And if we add distractions in a strategic way so the dog is really successful, then we’re really building the dog’s confidence, and the dog learns to say, “Yes, I know exactly which behavior you want me to do, and no matter what’s going on, no matter how far away I am, or where my handler is, or how quickly I’m moving, I know that this is the behavior that gets me closer to earning my reward.”

Melissa Breau: You mentioned your dogs’ different ages and different stages. At what age or point in your training journey do you really begin to add proofing, and what does that look like?

Mariah Hinds: I think everyone proofs their dog, whether they realize it and they work through the behavior strategically or whether they don’t. We work on adding distractions to our heeling, we work on adding distance to our position changes for utility, we work on adding out of motions to our downs for open, we work on adding distractions to our stays, we work on practicing in new locations, and once the dog has a basic understanding of these cues with different locations and durations and distance, we can oftentimes add another layer of understanding with even more distractions and more proofing.

Typically, I find that those fall into a few different categories. It hasn’t been introduced yet, the skill is just being learned, the dog is more than 50 percent reliable with behavior, we’re adding new locations, or we’re proofing for duration and stimulus control, we’re adding distance or distractions, and so on. Those are all the categories that behavior can really fall into. And when the dog’s just learning the skills, we setup the environment so that the dog can be really successful, and if we set it up well, then the dog goes up to being successful with behavior 50 percent of the time or better really quickly. Then we can start practicing in new locations, such as in the bedroom instead of the training room, or on the patio, or at the training building after the dog is acclimated, and we can also work on building duration and putting behavior on stimulus control. Then we can add distance and distractions.

So I start adding distractions strategically to my dog’s behaviors the moment that the behavior is robust and strong enough that the dog will really likely be successful. And if we practice the skill the same way without building more challenges with the behavior, then our training might just go stagnant and we might not make any real progress toward our goal.

Melissa Breau: Is there ever a point when you stop proofing?

Mariah Hinds: Not really. When I’m first working on sequencing behaviors together, such as for the retrieve over a jump, that’s a behavior sequence, and it starts with the dog sitting in heel position. Then they go over the jump on cue, then they automatically retrieve the item, then they return over the jump, automatically do a front. So when I’m teaching that sequence, then I’m definitely going to start sequencing those things together with much fewer distractions than if I’m just working on one piece of that behavior.

But before that, I want my dog to be able to do those behaviors separately with distractions. I want the dog to be able to pick up the dumbbell off the ground with distractions around. I want the dog to be able to go over the jump with my jump cue and take the cookie as the reward for that behavior. I want the dog to be able to set up in heel position and stay while I throw a distraction such as a cookie or a dumbbell or a toy. I want the dog to be able to come over the jump from a sit/stay at any angles with the cue to jump. I find that that’s a really overlooked part of that behavior sequence and that falls apart really easily.

If the pieces are solved separately before we sequence them together, then sequencing the behaviors together happens really quickly, and if a piece of the sequence falls apart, then we can easily fix that piece of the sequence just by revisiting that piece. And once the behavior sequence or the chain is solid, then we want to go back through and add more layers of understanding, and more layers of confidence, by adding distractions and proofing the entire behavior sequence.

For example, with Clever, we’re working on adding some distractions to our slow heeling. So at the trial, at our third leg, she really was a little forge-y with the slow heel, and so I really wanted to get that a little more reliable. She’s consistent with it until we add distractions, so that’s what we’re working on. The goal, ultimately, for her will be that my training partner can fling a toy and that she’ll remain in heel position while we’re walking. Right now we’re working on food distractions while she heels, because she finds that a lot easier. She’s way more toy motivated than she is food motivated, so I’m building confidence with her with that so that she understands, so then I can add more layers of confidence.

The other thing that we’re working on proofing is doing a finish with the pressure of a judge, without her squeaking from the stress of the pressure. So at home I’m practicing finishing, having her finish on cue with a dog bone as a distraction, or some other distraction, food or toy distraction. And then, when I have my training friends to help me, then I’ll do a few repetitions of what she’s been successful with at home, and then I’ll replace the distraction with a person and see if she can do that successfully.

Melissa Breau: I know that precision and maintaining criteria are super-important to you, so I wanted to delve into that a little bit and ask you what the relationship between proofing and getting really precise, consistent behaviors is, and if you could just talk about that for a minute.

Mariah Hinds: Sure. First, we need to add the behavior. We need the behavior to be precise with our desired criteria. So that means that has to happen first, and that needs to happen before we add layers of proofing. And we can certainly use different reinforcement strategies to help maintain the desired criteria without losing attitude, and that’s really important to do. I do that a lot with my puppy when I’m building reliability, so she’ll get one reward for trying, and she’ll get multiple rewards for doing it accurately.

We can also think about where we place the reward so that we’re getting the most effect for our desired behavior. This is talked about a lot in the Precision Heeling class that Denise does. If a dog is lagging, we want to build more reliability for being in heel position, and then we really want the reward to happen ahead of heel position, and if the dog is heeling too wide, then we want the reward to happen with the dog really close to us, with the rear in as well, because otherwise we’ll create crabbing, and if the dog is heeling and they tend to crab out and forge ahead, then we can have the dog spin away from us, which encourages their butt to get in, and then we can reward them from behind heel position, or even from our right hand. The dogs tend to anticipate when a reward will happen, and they will gravitate more to that area.

And we do talk a lot about reinforcement strategies in my class, and it really can help a lot with building reliability.

Melissa Breau: Do you work precision and consistency separately? It sounds a little bit like they’re very closely related. Can you talk about that for a minute?

Mariah Hinds: I do think they’re closely related. I mean, I think that precision has to happen first, and consistency is really just generalizing the behavior. So first I work on precision. Let’s say that I’m working on fronts. The first thing I do is I’m going to help the dog be correct, so I can use a platform to help the dog find front precisely. I can also do step back fronts where I lure the dog into position while I take a step back, and once the dog is precise at finding front from two or three feet away, with the platform or with luring, then I can start fading my lure, so I can ask the dog to find front with my hands pointing at my face instead of luring the dog with my hand. Another reason why I like to do that stuff is because when I’m teaching a dog where I want them to focus when they’re finding front, I don’t want them to accidentally find front on a stranger or the judge. I do want them to look up at my face, and then I can go to teaching them to find the precise position with my hands at my side. Once the dog can find the position precisely from two to three feet away, then I can start adding different angles to come to front, I can toss a treat from the left or to the right and have the dog find front that way. Again, this is from a very short distance away, and that’s quite a challenging thing to do precisely.

So once they’re precise with that, then I can start adding more speed by tossing the reset cookie further away, I can start weaning off of the platform and going back to an earlier step to help guide them, to help guide the dog to where they should go. I like to do a little bit of pointing to my face as I’m weaning off of the platform, and then I can add in my distractions such as the judge and the pressures of the ring gating and so on. So the dog needs to understand exactly where the position is precisely first before we get consistency with that precision with a lot of variables.

Melissa Breau: I think all novice competitors have been at that place where they thought their dog knew something, they show up to compete, and then their dog’s carefully trained behaviors fall apart totally in the ring. Where do people go wrong when that happens? And what kind of things can they do to prevent it?

Mariah Hinds: I think that’s a really common thing that happens, and I think that we all fall into the habit of training at one or two places because it’s convenient, and then we expect that is enough to get reliability in a new place, with new dogs, and new people, and a stranger in the room with you. I think that’s a lot to ask of our dogs.

I find that training at different places is really important, and going to show and gos is a great way to see where your dog is in terms of readiness. If you can’t find a show and go, then I think another great option is to go to places where there are other dogs behind a fence or on leash. One option would be going to a big, grassy area outside of a dog park and practicing there, or you can go to a parking lot near the dog beach entrance, or you can go to a parking lot at a really busy veterinary clinic. For me and my dogs, that always tends to give me a really accurate gauge as to where they are with reliability with distractions.

For me, I like to combine that with distraction work at home. It just isn’t practical for me to go train at a new place more than once a week, but at home I can add challenging distractions that help my dog understand that the way to earn the reward for the cued behavior is really to ignore the distraction.

Melissa Breau: I think the other place that a lot of people really struggle is when it comes to cleaning up their own body language as part of proofing. We get all this reinforcement built in from our dog doing the right thing when we include those extra movements! When we lean forward slightly on the down cue, or when we use our hands a little more than we should. I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit about why it’s important to get rid of that movement, and then share any tips you have, because I think it’s something that you do really well.

Mariah Hinds: Well, thanks. I do find that it’s really important. I find that especially when we’re preparing to go into the novice ring, that we’ve done a lot of helping the dog set up in heel position by doing certain things with our body, or we help the dog halt when we’re heeling by turning our shoulders toward the dog and looking at their rear, or we help the dog find front by always practicing with our hands near the center of our body during practice. And then we go in the ring and we can’t help the dog, so we’ve removed the cues that the dog was familiar with and the dog doesn’t know what you want anymore because we removed the cue and there are distractions everywhere. So it really can be challenging for the dog to go in the ring when they really just aren’t ready yet. Whereas if we actually prepare the dog, and we show them that the cue for the behavior is in all of this extra body movement, then they’re going to be a lot better prepared.

As for tips, I think the first thing that’s really important is discovering what your body is doing while you say the verbal cue. So the more that you actually video yourself, and then watch those videos back, the more you’re going to realize what you’re doing with your body while you’re saying your cues. So once we realize what the body language cue is that we’re doing, then we can start working on fading them.

I also think that one of the longstanding myths of dog training, especially in obedience, is that you should be saying the verbal cue while you help the dog do the behavior with your body language. And what we really want to be doing is we want the behavior to be reliable without body language, and start saying the verbal cue without moving, and then following that verbal cue with your old cue, which will be the body language help or the hand signal gesture that you’ve been using.

Melissa Breau: I know, for example, some instructors use the prompt “always return your hands to neutral,” or “always return your hands to the same spot.” Is that helpful? Is that kind of a strategy useful?

Mariah Hinds: Yes. We want to practice looking formal, if that’s what we’re going to do in the ring. So yes. If, for example, you’re using pocket hand, or putting your left hand to your side to help the dog actually sit when you stop, then that’s fine. But we want to return to formalness when we can to help the dog see that picture as well.

Melissa Breau: Beyond simply proofing, what other skills are there that somebody needs to know to get “ring ready?” And I know that you’re teaching some classes on this, so I thought it might be a good topic to talk about a little bit.

Mariah Hinds: I’m teaching a class on putting the novice exercises together, called Putting It Together, and I’m teaching Proof Positive: Building Reliability. The first thing we cover in Proof Positive: Building Reliability is discussing our reinforcement strategies for the behavior that the student has chosen to work on in the class. We have some people working on fronts, or position changes, or go outs, some heeling, some drop on recalls, some setting up in heel position, some weaves, some running contacts, some freestyle behaviors, and lots and lots of obedience. I really love that variety. It really keeps the class fun and it’s fun to follow along with.

So the next thing in that class is that we talk about fading our extra body language cues, and we work on actually putting it on a verbal cue, and we work on getting the behavior solid under one set of circumstances, and we work on waiting, and we work on teaching stimulus controls, so helping the dog learn to wait for the cue before doing the behavior, and then we start playing games. This week we’re going to work on teaching the dog to ignore our body language and listen to the verbal cue, and we’re going to work on doing the behavior in various locations, and in the upcoming weeks we work on adding sound distractions and spatial pressure, which is the amount of things around the dog, like ring gates and judges, although we’re not actually going to be working on people, so a trash can can provide spatial pressure, a wall can provide spatial pressure. We’re also going to be adding various angles, adding some duration and distance, different locations, adding some out of motion to the behaviors, and we’re going to work on building reliability with food, and scent distractions in a few different scenarios. So overall we’re playing fun games to build the dog’s understandings and reliability with behaviors.

In the Putting It Together class we’re working on making sure that our behaviors for the novice ring are really solid separately. So we’re working on stays, and fronts, and moving in heel position, and setting up in heel position, and stand stays, and our circles for our figure eights, and our complete figure eight exercise, and our turns and change of pace in heeling, taking off the leash, entering the ring, exiting the ring. So first we’re doing some problem solving, helping the dogs understand the desired behaviors, then when those pieces are solid, then we’re working on sequencing those behaviors together, building confidence by adding realistic ring distractions, weaning off of rewards, and practicing our entire ring performance. So we’re looking at all of these pieces in this class, and putting those pieces together when the pieces are ready to come together.

So in both classes we’re talking about reinforcement strategies, and there are lectures on building reliable, precise fronts. The Putting It Together class covers a lot of topics regarding the novice ring, and polishing those behaviors before sequencing them together and putting them into a ring performance practice. The Building Reliability class covers adding distractions, different locations, spatial pressures, sound distractions, handler body language distractions, and adding those things to our simple behaviors like sit and down. Then we can take those games and practice with our complex behaviors, and we can add duration and out of motion and food distraction to those behaviors as well.

Both classes are a lot of fun, and if you do obedience, then both classes can fit your needs. It just depends on where your dog’s behaviors are and their understanding of the behaviors. So if you’re just starting out, and you’re just working on pivots, then Building Reliability would probably be a better fit, versus if your dog is solid with that, and you’re really ready to move on and start sequencing a little bit of find heel positions stationary with actually moving in heel position, then the Putting It Together class is a good fit.

Melissa Breau: They sound very complementary.

Mariah Hinds: They do.

Melissa Breau: They sound like they work well together.

Mariah Hinds: Yes, definitely.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Mariah. I appreciate it. I know things are crazy, but I’m glad you could make some time for me.

Mariah Hinds: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with a special anniversary edition of the podcast… also, just a last-minute reminder that if you want to take a class for the December term, today -- Dec. 15th, the day this episode comes out -- is the absolute last day for registration. So, if you’re a procrastinator, it’s time….

And, if you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Dec 8, 2017

SUMMARY:

Nancy Gagliardi Little comes back on the podcast — Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an OTCH on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 AKC OTCH titles, 6 UD titles, 3 UDX titles, and multiple championships in herding and agility. Today, she joins me to talk startline stays in agility.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 12/15/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds. We'll be chatting about proofing and building reliably, ring-ready behaviors!

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Nancy Gagliardi Little back on the podcast — Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an OTCH on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 AKC OTCH titles, 6 UD titles, 3 UDX titles, and multiple championships in herding and agility.

Welcome back to the podcast, Nancy!

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks, Melissa. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: The last time we talked a little bit about obedience. Today we’re talking a little bit about agility. To start us out, do you want to just remind listeners who you are and share a little about the dogs you share your life with?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. Who I am … I guess I’m still discovering that, but I live in Minnesota, about 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities, and I compete mostly in agility, AKC mostly, but also USDAA and UKI. I still train my dogs in obedience, I just don’t compete in obedience anymore. I have aspirations of doing that again, but we’ll see. I teach agility and obedience online classes with FDSA, and I teach agility and obedience lessons and classes at a local center here in Minnesota. I did judge obedience, AKC obedience, for about twenty years, and I judged around the country in all classes and also in some national events. So that’s about me.

And then my dogs. I’ve had border collies since the mid-’80s, and I love everything about the breed, including their quirkiness and their sensitivity. My dogs are Score, a border collie, 13. He’s retired, obviously. He did agility and herding. And Schema is 9 years old. She’s currently my competition dog doing agility. She is competing at AKC Nationals this year in 2018, and I think that’s the fifth time she’s qualified. She’s also competed at Cynosport. And then I have Lever. He’s 4, and he is competing in agility. I train him and Schema too, both in obedience. He’s kind of the up-and-coming guy, I guess. And then my husband has a toller and his name is Rugby. He’s 2, and he trains in agility and obedience.

Melissa Breau: That’s your crew, and we were talking a little bit before I hit “record” that hopefully there’ll be one more joining the family early next year, right?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Correct. I think they’re supposed to be born in early December. It’s one of Lever’s puppies.

Melissa Breau: I look forward to lots of puppy pictures.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah. That will be exciting.

Melissa Breau: I mentioned in the intro that last time you were on we really talked obedience, but today we’re going to talk agility, so specifically we’re diving into start line stays. So, I wanted to start with how they’re different from a stay in any other sport, something like obedience, for example.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: They are quite a bit different in the agility environment. Agility is very high-energy, and the environment itself is fairly unpredictable, and that makes for difficult conditions for dogs that are trying to perform these skills that they learned at home and in class, especially the start lines. That’s kind of the transitional exercise into the course. And then of course most dogs love agility, and it’s pretty reinforcing for them to go. In obedience the stays are very predictable, well, in actually all the exercises are fairly predictable. They’re patterns. Dogs learn those patterns, and that gives them pretty clear information when exercises start and end. Even in obedience, dogs can make mistakes. They might read a pattern and anticipate the finish of an exercise, especially the stay, and it’s probably just when the judge says, “Exercise finished,” so they’re pretty much done anyway. So it’s just much more predictable.

Melissa Breau: Why is it so important that people actually have a good start line stay in agility? What benefits does it offer if they put in the work and they get there?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, agility is pretty much all about speed, and most people have dogs that are much faster than they can run. I know I do, and most of the people do, and if they don’t, they want that. Being able to lead out gives you an advantage, especially with a fast dog, and actually on many courses it can be difficult to start without a lead out with a super-fast dog. Going into the sequence, you just can’t get where you need to be to cue something. So yes, it’s quite an advantage having that. It gets you ahead. It might even keep you ahead throughout the course. And without that, you’re going to be behind, which isn’t all that bad if you want to do rear crosses throughout the course. Some people are very good at that. I have some students without start lines just because they came to me after their dog was a little bit older and we just decided we weren’t going to teach the dogs the stay. And there are definitely some sequences that they just can’t … or courses with starts that they just can’t do, or they just have issues with it, so it does put them at a disadvantage.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that you decided just not to bother with it. Why do people struggle with it? Why is it something that’s hard to teach? I think a lot of people think a stay is a stay is a stay, right?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right, right. Well, there’s just so many variations, but it could be that there’s holes in training or holes in generalization. There’s a lot of that that happens. And lots of times handlers try to control the dog’s behavior instead of training, so that would be like a hole in training. It could also be the training sessions are handled differently than the handling at the trials, and there’s a lot of that that’s due to handling. Another thing I see contributing to the start line is — this is interesting — but the handler’s own increased arousal level. And this happens in obedience, you see that too, but in agility it’s pretty much, it’s a big contributing factor where the handlers are too hurried, they’re un-confident and disconnected when they enter the ring, and then, at the beginning of the run, they’re thinking more about the course and they just don’t stay connected and focused on the dog. The dogs sense that, and that can cause — in the dogs we’re talking about, probably the dogs that have increased arousal level — that causes stress and also increased arousal, and that’s never good at the start line. Especially the dogs start reading a disconnected handler, and they start losing the ability to think, and then you have a break. A lot of times there are small issues that crop up along the way and they aren’t noticed by the trainer until it becomes a big problem. And that happens a lot. There’s little things, you know, little things that they just aren’t seeing, or they aren’t aware of, and then they don’t know how they got there.

Melissa Breau: Do you mean on the day of the trial or do you mean …

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I just mean in general kind of building up to that, but it will happen at the trials usually because that’s where the ultimate differences are between the training and the trials.

Melissa Breau: Little stuff like creeping, or what do you mean?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, it would be mostly handling. Some of it would be handling. The dogs start getting a little more and more aroused because they maybe can’t predict when the handler’s going to release them. That causes … and it depends on the dog. It could be that this dog, this particular dog, responds to arousal and stress by creeping forward, or they stand up, or even just a glazed look in their eyes. It just keeps changing until there’s actually just an outright break. And that’s when the handler notices that there’s an issue, but it’s actually happened long before that.

Melissa Breau: I know we talked about this a little bit just now, but I think a lot of people attribute start line problems to poor impulse control. The person just didn’t work it enough, or didn’t do it right, or something.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk a little bit about the role that impulse control actually does play in a good start line stay?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I hear that a lot. People think their dogs are pushy or have impulse control issues. But I’ve seen more over-arousal issues or frustration issues than impulse control issues. And frustration and over-arousal, they can be caused by lack of clarity, unpredictable cues, and then, like I said before, handlers that aren’t connected with their dogs. The dogs really want that. And impulse control skills, they’re just a part of the foundation of training a start line, and it should be fun for the dog. Some of the issues with start lines might be due to poor impulse control training, but there’s a lot more at play here than that. And actually I’ve seen plenty of dogs that really have great impulse control, but they can’t hold a stay at the start line, and a lot of that is due to just their arousal state. They can’t think. People just call that “impulse control issue,” and really it’s something quite different.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. You commented that you’ve seen a lot of dogs with great impulse control who really struggle with this particular skill. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t think about.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine … I don’t do agility, but I’d imagine that part of what often goes wrong with a start line is simply that the dog breaks their stay in a trial situation and people just start the run. And they do that over and over again, and the dog figures out, “Well, we’re just going to go.”

Nancy Gagliardi Little: They’re so smart!

Melissa Breau: Is there a better way to handle that?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: That’s a really good question and it’s a complicated one, too. I think it’s one of those things that’s hard to answer, but it’s part of what goes wrong. Usually there’s an issue, like I said before, that’s starting to manifest long before the dog even breaks the start line, and the handler isn’t recognizing it until the dog finally leaves before that release cue, and it’s actually usually in a really important run for them, so they’re like, “Oh my god.” And a lot of times this has been happening for a while. The dog’s been breaking it, but the handler doesn’t really notice it because they might be just turning back and releasing, and this time they turn back and they don’t release and the dog goes. Something like that. And like you say, the more a dog breaks the start line in a trial, the more it becomes a pattern or a habit, and actually it’s very, very reinforcing to the dog because they love — most of them love — agility and they want to go.

So in terms of a way to handle it once they go, I’m not a big fan of removing the dog for breaking the start line. If you watch some handlers, a lot of times they remove the dog, and the dog’s already taken a few obstacles by the time he realizes that he’s being taken off course, so he’s probably not even going to associate breaking the start line with that removal. And that not understanding why he’s being removed is going to cause more stress and frustration for the dog, and that makes the start line area even more frustrating, and then that causes more mistakes, so how do you handle it? Again, it’s very complicated, and it also depends on the dog and the handler. Lots of times when we decide this with students, I come up with a plan, depending on the dog, the sensitivity of the dog, the experience of the dog, making sure the handler’s being clear, all those things come into play for that. It’s mainly just making sure that the handling is clear. I’ll give you some examples.

Melissa Breau: That would be great.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: And I’ll just use my own dogs because their start lines are very good, but Schema, both of them, have broken their start lines. Schema, so she’s been running about seven-and-a-half years. When she was maybe 4 or 5 years old, it was in a two-ring soccer arena with lots of activity behind and around, and as I’m leading out, I was watching her and she left before I gave her the release cue. But I was watching her, I saw her expression, and she looked the same as she always does. There was no twitching or any odd behavior. I just let her run. I just went on because that’s just the way I feel. It’s like, I’ll look at this later, we’ll deal with this later, and one mistake is not going to affect anything. I looked at the video and I obsessed on it, and then I went to the practice jump between runs, and I tested her with some games, and she was solid, like I figured she would be, and she never broke the rest of the weekend or any time after that run. So I suspect she just heard someone else at the practice jump behind her give the same release cue and truly thought I had released her. So if I would have removed her for that, or done anything but just run her, that would have been very confusing to her, so she never really knew.

An example I have with Lever is he’s got some arousal issues, increased arousal issues, I’ve been working on a lot over the years. He has some great skills but has issues where he’s really gotten, he’s really improved, but his start lines were a little … I guess there’s lots of arousal there, and they’ve gotten better. What I do at the start line is I ask him how aroused he is. I know that sounds funny, but I basically just pause briefly before I leave him, and if he can look at me before I lead out — I step lateral and then wait for him to look at me. It just takes a brief moment. If he looks at me, his arousal level is under control. There was a time when he couldn’t even look at me, and that told me that his arousal level is high. That didn’t mean I was going to do anything different. I just needed to know that. I just would stay super-connected with him as I led out and just be a little bit more focused on him. So about six months ago I waited a little bit too long to see if he could look at me, and that was me trying to control him, a little bit of control. It was too long, and once I decided to leave, he broke. I realized what I was doing at that time and I just went on. I just kept going. And he actually knew right away he made a mistake, and that was not my intention to make him think he made a mistake, because I knew in his case it was arousal. But he did have a really nice run after that. So if I would have pulled him off for that, or handled it in any different way, it would have affected him, and I want him to be very confident in himself at the start line. His start lines have improved dramatically just by me being super-connected to him and just knowing that they’re a work in progress.

So those are a couple of examples. There’s so many different ones, and it really just depends on the team, and the experience of the dog, and what kind of things they’re training for start lines, but they are all very different how you would handle it. The main thing is just ensuring that it’s handled the same in practice as it would be in trials.

Melissa Breau: I was going to say that it sounds like you don’t necessarily have to worry about it a ton until it happens that first time, and then after that first time you want a plan in place in case it happens again.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right, you really do, because the first time it happens, you want to go back and make sure that it’s not handling. People don’t realize how much in agility people work hard on handling, but there’s a lot of handling that goes into start lines and the whole routine with start lines. There’s a lot of handling, and if you don’t, if your handling’s not clear to the dog, there’s going to be issues.

Melissa Breau: Now that we’ve talked a little about problem solving, I want to take a little of a step back and talk about how you actually teach a start line stay. Is there anything special you do during the foundation stages?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I probably teach it the same way most people do, but I do a lot of Zen games, I think some people call it “It’s your choice.” I do lots of that, and on the flat, and my young dogs wanted to stay by, they make a choice not to go, and then that decision brings reinforcement. I do lots and lots of games away from equipment, starting without handler motion and then adding more and more motion. It’s the motion that can really, or even the anticipation of handler motion, that can actually cause issues with the dogs, so adding that is important in agility.

And then lots of behaviors to train in the start line routine: entering the ring, moving to the start line area or the area you’re going to set them up, the position of the dog, what position are they going to be in, a sit, a down, a stand, whatever, between your legs, setups, or how they’re going to line up, and I guess that has more to do with going between your legs, or if they’re going to go to the left side, or the right side, or some handlers stand in front of the dog and position them kind of like a front, and the stay, there’s an actual stay, which isn’t really a big deal, the release is the big deal, there’s a lead out, and then there’s handling and training involved in all those areas. So all of them are worked on separately, and then we gradually put them together as each area is mastered. So it’s like a lot of flat work and fun stuff so dogs don’t even know that we’re working towards a start line.

Melissa Breau: I think that a lot of people probably just think about the stay itself, and they leave out all those other pieces you just mentioned about entering the ring and setting up.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right. And what happens is then they try to control the behavior instead of asking the dog to do the behavior, and then that creates more stress and more issues there, and the dogs don’t want to stay at the start line because they’re never right, they’re always being controlled. So that contributes to it too.

Melissa Breau: So once you’ve gotten the stay that you want, and the entrance that you want, and you’re trialing, what do you do to maintain that stay? How often do you train it, how do you approach it, what do you do to make sure that it doesn’t erode or doesn’t disappear over time?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I don’t think about it that much, but I guess when I think about it, I do it all the time without even thinking. I’m always looking at videos of my runs, or of training, and I’m always checking to see if the dog … how’s the start line. It’s just maintaining it. It happens by keeping the handling clear and the cues clean. When I talk about the cues clean, I’m talking about making sure that it’s not being any of the cues being paired with any extra motion or movement, because that’s a big deal in agility. Well, it’s a big deal in any sport.

And it’s also ensuring that my dogs are going to be able to predict when the release is coming. That’s what people don’t pay attention to, and then the dogs are sitting back there watching the handlers lead out and just arousal level’s going up, like, “When are they going to release me?” They don’t know, they can’t predict, and so I try to create a predictor that is easy for the dog to read. So I’m watching videos of my runs, and I evaluate my dog’s start lines just as much as the rest of the run. I’m always looking to see did the dog release on my cue, or was there any twitching, or whatever.

It’s just really important to know what to look for, and that’s I think what people are missing. They don’t know what to look for. They’re just looking to see if the dog stayed and not looking at a lot of other things, which is a lot of handling. So my start lines are really important to me because my dogs are very fast. But I find them very easy to maintain if my dogs understand the routine. And whenever I lead out, I’m just always checking to see that my dog has made the choice to stay, and if I’m always doing that, then my dog has always made that choice to stay because the release cue is very reinforcing to my dogs. They get to go, and so they learn to choose to stay because that’s what leads them to go. They love that.

Melissa Breau: For people out there who are listening to this and going, “All right, that’s awesome,” but they are in that position where they taught their dog a stay initially and it disappeared after they started running more regularly. How would you handle that? Would you just look at it as a poisoned cue and start over with a new cue? Would you retrain it with their existing cue? How would you approach it?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: That’s a really good question too. I think the first thing that I’d recommend to people in that situation is to make sure that they’re videotaping their training, the dog in training. And also making sure that they’re in that videotape as well, and also in the trial, and then really look at those two sessions and see if the handling is identical. It really needs to be. It’s important for the dogs. Dogs need to see the same thing. It needs to be clear to the dog. Cues need to be clear and clean. And then also the connection to the dog is super-important to the dog in agility, very, very important, and that’s at the start line, not just during the run.

So the questions to ask are, does the dog understand all of the little parts of his job at the start line, or is the handler trying to control the dog, like leading out and telling them to stay constantly. That’s going to be the beginning of a break because it’s going to stress the dog up, and there’s many reasons why that’s going to cause a break. So any type of controlling rather than training is going to make that experience stressful for the dog, so it’s better to take the time to teach those behaviors for the start line routine. So if that’s the case, we look at that. You really take a look at that picture of the start line. Are all those behaviors trained, and is the dog confident in all those little areas? That’s going to make that whole experience very, very easy for the dog.

And then, in terms of whether a new cue or a new setup routine needs to be trained, that just really depends on the dog and the situation. If it’s been going on for a long time, it might be wise to change the position. If the dog was doing a sit and he’s breaking, maybe you just start him in a down. I don’t really think the cue is usually the issue, because probably most likely the dogs are not even reading that cue. They’re probably reading some type of incidental cue or signal or motion from the handler that’s being paired with that. So it’s not even probably an issue, but yet it can make the handler feel better changing the cue, and it might still be the case that we’d want to change it. But it’s just one of those, again, creative processes you have to go through with each individual team. It just depends.

Melissa Breau: I know that, to mention FDSA, again here at the end, but I know you have a class on this subject running – and it’s supposed to start literally the day this airs, but registration is still open! — can you share a little bit about what the class does or doesn’t cover, and the kind of dog-handler team that might benefit most from taking it?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. Like I said before, I’m pretty excited about this class. At one time I had another class that was pretty popular that covered agility, start lines, stopped contacts on the table, and that was just filled with a lot of information, probably too much. So I felt it was important to make the subject of start lines into its own class. So this class is perfect for young dogs starting to train or even getting ready to trial. I think that’s a perfect area for these type of dogs. But it’s also a good class for dogs that are already trialing. I just ask, if they’re going to take the class, to make sure that they stop trialing during this retraining period because that’s really important for the dogs, because we do really want to make the trial and the training the same, otherwise they just become different. What it’s not going to cover is how to address over-arousal issues, or environmental issues at the start line, and that subject’s covered in other FDSA classes. So in this class we’re going to work extensively on creating handling and training skills that will help predict the release. That’s the main thing I want people to be aware of is how much your dogs depend on predictability for start lines. It’s amazing, once you clear that up, it just creates a whole different world for the dogs. So with these consistent predictors the dogs are going to get more confident and adapt much easier in different environments, and that’s hugely important in agility.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much Nancy -- it sounds like a great class.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, I’m really excited.

Melissa Breau: I can see why. And thank you again for coming back on the podcast! I’m glad that you did and I’m glad we got a chance to talk about some of this stuff.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: It was great. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Mariah Hinds to talk about proofing and building reliable, ring-ready behaviors.

Don’t miss it! It if you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Dec 1, 2017

SUMMARY:

Julie Symons has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking and nosework.

One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team! Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both person and dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust.

Today we have Julie Symons, of the newly-named Savvy Dog Sports, to talk about handler discrimination and AKC scentwork.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 12/8/2017, featuring Nancy Gigliardi Little. We'll be chatting about start line stays!

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Julie Symons, of the newly-named Savvy Dog Sports, to talk about handler discrimination and AKC scentwork.

Welcome back to the podcast, Julie!

Julie Symons: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me back.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today. To start us out, do you mind just reminding listeners who you are a little bit and share the dogs you share your life with?

Julie Symons: I have Savvy, she’s my 9-year-old Belgian Tervuren. Gosh, she’s going to be 10 in February. She’s doing great. She’s a champion Mach2, UD, TDX, and recently a Nosework 3 Elite dog. She’s retired from all sports except for nosework, and I keep meaning to work on my variable surface tracking with her. She’s just a phenomenal tracking dog, so if I can just find that time. And I have Drac, who’s my 2-year-old Malinois. He just turned 2 last month, and I’m waiting for him to mature a little bit and his hormones to settle, but he has his Nosework 1 and his Level 1 Interior, Container, and Vehicle titles from the Nosework Association of Canine Scentwork, and he also has his AKC Scentwork Novice title, which means he’s earned all of his novice element other titles. He also has two legs toward his Handler Discrimination Scentwork title and his first Advanced legs in Containers, Interiors, and Exteriors, and he’s actually really turning out to be a nice nosework dog. So it’s been fun training him there. And since you mentioned Savvy Dog Sports, I’ll share that I’m in process of building a training facility — on my property, actually. We have enough acreage out in the country. I’ve always wanted to do this. Back in probably the year 2000, I had thought about doing something like this. So we’re going to start building in February and I’ll be able to teach more dog stuff. There’s, I think, opportunity and need in this area to offer some more obedience or pet classes, so I’m really looking forward to that. And then my nosework students, I’d like to be able to have more opportunities to train with them. So very, very excited.

Melissa Breau: And you said you’re in Rochester, right? Rochester, New York.

Julie Symons: Right. I’m in a suburb of Rochester. I’m south of Rochester near the New York Thruway between Syracuse and Buffalo.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So if anybody listening is in that area, Julie’s your new go-to person.

Julie Symons: Yes. So we’ll be busy getting some more information out on that soon.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Last time you were on the podcast I know we talked a little about the AKC Scentwork. Since today I want to dive a little deeper there, do you mind just starting us out by sharing a little about how the program works?

Julie Symons: Yeah. The AKC Scentwork program has three divisions. They have their Odor Search Division, which is what we’re typically familiar with, with the oils, the birch, the anise, and clove, and they have a new odor, cypress. And they have four search elements: Containers, Interiors, Exteriors, and Buried. Buried is a new element across any of the venues that I’m aware of. There is no vehicle search in this venue. I think that’s actually nice, because vehicles are always hard for trials to find to use, so people don’t want to get their cars scratched up or just to get enough volunteers to volunteer vehicles. So that’s a nice difference for some variety there. They have four levels: Novice, Advanced, Excellent, and Masters. And then they have the Handler Discrimination Division with also the same levels: Novice, Advanced, Excellent, and Masters, where the target scent is your handler scent. It could be your dirty sock that’s been in the laundry, or a cotton item that you scented with your hands. The first level there in Novice is your scented sock or glove that’s in a closed box. And then after that the higher levels are a scented Q-Tip or cotton ball that’s hidden in an interior, exterior, or a multi-element search area. So we’re starting to get some trials out there at the Advanced and Excellent levels, so it’s fun to see how that division is going to progress as time goes on. Then they have a Detective Division, which hasn’t been offered yet because there’s nobody yet that’s qualified to enter one of those. You have to actually have a Master title in one of the other divisions before you can enter a Detective Division. It’s an integrated search environment with unknown number of hides in a variety of elements, so you could be indoors with containers, or outside and buried with containers, and it’s multiple search areas up to ten hides, all four oil odors, and they want it to emulate as closely as possible to the work of a true detection dog. So that’s going to be a really exciting class, once people have trialed enough to get to that level.

Melissa Breau: That sounds awesome.

Julie Symons: Yeah, yeah. And like with most AKC sports, you’re required to get three qualifying scores in each element to earn a title. That’s different from what we’re typically familiar with with the Nosework Association, where you have to pass all four of the elements. You have to pass Vehicles, Containers, Interiors, and Exteriors in the same day, which adds an element of challenge, and you can’t have any errors to title. Whereas in AKC you might not do as well one day, but then you can get your next score the next day and title. So it’s just different. Some people think one’s easier or harder, and I’m just telling people they’re different. They’re just different programs that, to me, result in the same outcome, the same challenges and skills and work involved.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned a little bit in there kind of how it compares to the other venues. Is there more you want to say there? Are there more differences and similarities that are worth making sure people know about?

Julie Symons: Yeah, yeah. I think the skill level’s pretty comparable, and some of the other venues have game classes or specialty classes, like speed, a speed class, or a distance class, you can’t pass or cross a line, or some endurances where they’re going to have, like, ten hides in a small area. So a lot of venues out there can offer something for everybody. AKC is going to allow spectators, and that’s one item that’s different from other venues, where they keep things closely monitored where there’s less people. And in all venues you never have another dog out when you’re working your dog. So those are the differences that you really want to read up on the rules before you decide.

And a lot of the other not-as-known venues are starting to get more popular, some of the California-based, the sniffing dog sports, they’re starting to make their way out here. So there’s a lot of fun options so that you can trial more, because sometimes I’ve only trialed sometimes twice a year. And now it’s so exciting because there’s so many more venues out there that you can get out there and get more experience, and that’s just better for you and your dog.

If you’re already trialing, if you’ve already been trialing in nosework, you’re pretty much ready to go into the early levels of AKC. You pretty much have the skills, but you do want to practice the stronger odor, because AKC does two drops of oil on each Q-Tip, which is quite a lot of odor. It’s not too big of a problem, it’s just sometimes a little bit more pooling odor going on in these search areas, dogs picking it up off hide and alerting on the fringe, and so they might get a “no” because they’re not close enough. So you want to practice with a stronger odor, and you also want to practice buried hides.

Buried hides is unique of any venue that I’m familiar with, and in some ways it’s straightforward, the dogs generally have no issue. The first level it’s just buried two inches from the surface of a stand and a container. So you have six containers. But once you start getting to the advanced and higher levels, it’s deeper, then it’s in the ground, and I think it’s just a little different for the dogs, some different skills that you’re going to want to focus on specifically for buried hides.

And the other main difference with AKC is that they have intentional distractions that get pretty challenging at the higher levels. So you have your typical food and non-food distractors at the early levels, but once you get to Excellent and Masters, they’ll have auditory, visual, mimic, and human distractions, which has concerned a lot of people. A lot of sensitive dogs do this sport, and so if you want to trial in AKC, you definitely want to acclimate your dogs to that, introduce them to these types of things before you’re doing a nosework search.

So those are some of the things that are different and unique in AKC. And I haven’t heard, and we have an AKC judge form, people really are going to be fair. They’re not trying to scare dogs. The intentional distractors aren’t supposed to be meant to scare them. You’re not supposed to drop loud pans or slam doors or anything like that. But they’re going to have, like, a flashing light, or some toy that turns on when your dog gets close to it, or somebody clapping, things like that. Mimic is a statue or stuffed animal that looks like the real thing and might make dogs want to go check it out. So you can train for that stuff pretty easily.

And then I think one of the hardest things for some dogs would be having more people in the search area. So already your dog has to learn to work with the judge, and a couple of the other helpers are in the search area, but they usually stay off to the side. The human distractor can be actually right in the middle of your search area, sitting or standing. So, to me, that’s actually something that’s very doable to train early on with somebody that you know, and let the dogs get used to it. And by the time you’re at that level, if you’re trialing at the Master level, you’re not going to have an issue with that. And dogs, from what we find, once they get working, they get so focused on odor that they really all their worries go away. So those are some of the things you want to look out for, and I would make sure to read the rules very closely because it describes them in more detail.

Melissa Breau: That’s a good tip for any sport.

Julie Symons: I find actually that people don’t read the rules. And sometimes I feel bad that I didn’t tell somebody something in one of my classes, and I’m sure I do at times. Maybe they didn’t go to that class. But you have to take responsibility to read the rules, because you’ll find something. I mean, I’ll find something that I haven’t read the first time I read it. So that’s germane.

Melissa Breau: I want to switch a little bit from outcomes to training… what challenges are there when training a dog to search for handler scent, you kind of mentioned that, that may not be present when you’re teaching traditional odors?

Julie Symons: That’s a good question. First, it is just another odor. We can attack it that way and it’s true, this is another odor that we teach your dog. But it is different in that it does have its challenges, especially for savvy nosework dogs that have been in oil for a lot of years. We’ve seen a little bit of it being a little bit more difficult for them in certain situations. For example, there’s no aging handler scent, like with the oil odor. So oil hides, the nosework venues we’ve been at, they’re usually placed and they’re out there 30 minutes to hours, so the odor is going to disperse more and diffuse into the area. For handler scent you pretty much give it its last scent, you hand it over to the helper, they place it, and then you go in and run. So the scent’s going to have less diffuse in the area, handler scents is heavier, that’s going to fall down more than, like, a vapor odor oil will disperse in a room, and of course it depends on airflow. Any kind of airflow is going to travel in each scent. It’s going to be helpful to your dog that the scent’s going to travel into the space.

With my dogs and many teams that I’ve worked in, I find that the dogs have to get a lot closer to where the hide is for handler scents to really hone on that. So in this case I’m not talking about the novice level and boxes; I’ll get back to that. But if they hide Q-Tips or cotton balls in a search area, your dog really has to get close to it to find it. So what I’m finding is that I’m actually introducing a little bit more of direction with my handler scent and it’s actually helped a lot, and it gets my dog focused and more... not a  patterned search, but just getting them to search. For example, in Advanced Handler Discrimination, it’s an interior search, and no hide is higher than 12 inches. So I’m going to plant low. I’m going to be, like, have my dog search low, and they find it really easily. And I found when I have blind hides somebody has set up for me, I feel more liberated to point and direct. Whereas if I know where the hide is, we tend to not want to intervene at all and my dog finds it quicker, because I don’t know where it is and I’m just going to have my dog cover the area and then they usually find it. So that’s been very helpful in the difference with the handler scent.

Also another thing that’s interesting if you watch dogs search the traditional oil hides in a box, they just find it really easy. You put your scented glove in a box and the dogs just search differently. They have to go cover the boxes a few times, they just don’t hit on it as easily as oil. That oil odor, especially for AKC, is so strong, and your handler scented item is just not going to be as strong in a box, especially it’s not aged. So those are some of the differences and why I think the handler scent is a little bit harder to source for a dog, just because of the amount of odor that you have and the fact that it’s not aged.

Melissa Breau: What additional skills or things do people who have previously taught their dogs on oils need to consider when adding handler scent to their lineup? What do they really need to think about that might not have occurred to them?

Julie Symons: We actually found this when I taught my first Intro to Handler Scent. It was so fun because we were realizing these things, exactly what you just said, like, we were realizing, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about this.” A couple of the things are, we were really worried about “How can I train in my house? My scent is everywhere.” We were really worried about that, but it ended up not being a problem at all because we actually teach our dogs to find our hottest scent. Just like we do with obedience and articles, you’re rubbing, you’re scenting, a hot item. All the other items have been lightly touched by somebody else, so it’s your hottest item. So it ends up not being a problem if you’ve touched stuff in your house, or touched a box that you moved around. It has not messed up any dogs because they’re looking for that hot cloud of odor, the highest gradient of odor. So that was kind of neat to realize we can train at home.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Julie Symons: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Also you can reuse boxes. In nosework it’s about boxes. You can put Q-tips in there, a hide in there, it’s always hot, because if an oil gets on cardboard, it’s there forever. Handler scent, I do keep my hot glove or sock separate, that’s always hot and I throw that in a jar. But for the boxes that I use, if I throw my glove in one of those boxes, once I’m done with that session I’ll just open up my boxes, air them out, some people put them outside on a nice day, let them air out, and you can reuse those. So I don’t have to make a box hot, and always hot, because we all have so many boxes, nobody wants to get any more boxes.

The other thing that’s really important is if you think about the trial situation, so if you’re searching for oil, containers with oil in it, the same container is out there for every dog. So by the time, if you’re at the last of the running order, these dogs, these boxes have saliva on it, they have probably food drops near the hot one, they’re pretty traveled, they’ve been traveled very heavily by the other dogs. In Handler Discrimination you have your unique box that’s pristine, so when the next dog comes in, they take another box that has your glove in it, and you leave with your box. So when you run and hopefully you find your hide, or not, you leave with your box. Your box is never used for another dog in the trials. So they’re pretty pristine when you’re trialing.

In training we were all using the same box just over and over and over, and it had saliva on it, and some food crumbs, and we realized when we went to a clean box, when we switched out to a new box, our dogs really had trouble. And we figured out that the dogs were alerting us the saliva they had left on the hot box, so what we’ve learned is you really, maybe even more so in the oil searches, is to rotate out a new box in your training sessions because you’re going to have a pristine box that doesn’t have any dog’s saliva on it when you go on there. So that was another neat thing that we found out.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. You mentioned your Intro to Handler Discrimination class. When is that up next?

Julie Symons: That is up in December. It opens Wednesday is the registration day and it starts December 1st.

Melissa Breau: Wednesday for us, and we’re talking now, for when this airs it will have happened already, but yeah, so registration will be open when they hear this.

Julie Symons: That’s right, that’s right. What else is different? You can make things different from your regular nosework training. You can have a different start on your routine. That’s really important, so we discuss that a lot in our classes. I decided I’m going to make my handler scent searches to be similar than my obedience article, where you’re rubbing your hands, because you’re scenting an article in obedience utility, and so I’m going to rub my hands because my advanced dog knows what that means, so that means I’m going to do a pivot and turn and send her. So my start routine for my advanced dog, I actually face away from the search area, I rub my hands like I’m scenting an article, I pivot, and I send her, and that just gets her into that frame of mind that it’s, because she turns around and she sees these twelve or ten ORT boxes that look like nosework that she’s done for five years. My young dog, I’m just facing it and rubbing my hands, and I might put my hand up to his nose and send him on his way. So that’s been important. I find having a different search routine when you’re starting to training your dog….

Melissa Breau: Interesting. That’s neat that you use your AKC obedience work to carry over. I wanted to ask if there’s anywhere that people really tend to struggle as they work through this stuff.

Julie Symons: I found that people have a hard time reading their dog at at source initially when we are starting to introduce it. Oil odor is so strong, you know the dog can’t help but notice it. I think they can build that association quicker with a strong odor. But it really is no different with our scent. You just have to have good timing. Your dog has to actually be sniffing and using her nose. Sometimes when you’re starting to get socks or gloves out there, a dog is like, “Oh I’m going to pick it up,” or they’re going to retrieve it, and they’re not sniffing. That’s one problem that they have. So we can work on some of that through the class. You’re not even waiting for an indication. The minute they take it out, you’re rewarding it, and then they’re going to start understanding that, “Hmm, the smell keeps giving me food.”

The other thing is dogs perch, and when you start putting things in containers, and especially we have had more obedience people coming into this area because it relates to them, “This sounds like something I’d be interested in, you know, it’s handler scent, I do this in obedience,” and those dogs have done a lot of platform and pivot work, so they see these containers and boxes and they perch on them. So that’s one of the problems that we deal with.

And tracking dogs. We had one of my students, it was a great, great experience to have her in the class, her dog saw these socks and started downing on them like scent articles. Not scent articles, tracking articles. So what we did was we immediately got them in a bowl, we took her bowls in her kitchen or whatever, and once we changed that picture to the dog, he started doing much better, because again, context is so important that for that dog it just said, “Oh, I always down on socks.” And that’s how we actually teach them article indication. We just lay out some item, and the dog’s supposed to go up to them and down on them. So we got creative with dealing with dogs that thought it was an article.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting.

Julie Symons: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was such a great, and it was so good to have her in class, because I think some of the bronze students really, really resonated with that because they were having the same issues. And then we have dogs that want to retrieve, and it’s not really a problem if they’re retrieving the right one. I mean, I’ve always heard even in nosework, dogs will retrieve a tip or the hide, and there’s nothing more clear when a dog retrieves the source but eventually, they’ll never be able to retrieve at a trial, especially handler scent because it’s either in a box or it’s pretty tucked away, it’ll be a Q-Tip or cotton ball that they’ll hide very well. So unless a dog’s not sniffing, and they’re just retrieving randomly, then we have to pick back up and build the value for that odor before we move on.

Melissa Breau: Since you mentioned that, I’m going to jump around with my questions a little bit here. What can students do to help their dog understand the different contexts? You mentioned the retrieve thing. What should students be doing to make sure their dogs understand, “OK, in this situation, in this type of trial, you’re doing this, in this type of trial you’re doing that”? I feel like that’s such a complex thing.

Julie Symons: I think when you get to the final picture, I think early on, when you’re training, they look very similar. How you teach scent articles is very similar to how you start teaching oil or you start teaching the cotton items with your scent on them. Once you start getting to a picture that looks more like the final picture, like a pile of scent articles, they’re going to know they’re going to retrieve it. And I do think the odor versus handler scent can look similar with the boxes, and that’s why the routine, your start routine, is really important, as well as a different search cue. I had to think long and hard if I wanted to really have a different search cue, and I decided to go ahead and do that. In obedience I do a “find it,” so I did a “find mine” in handler scent, and I’ve always done “search” in nosework, so that’s how I do it. Whether the dogs are really going to pick up on that verbal cue, I don’t know, but I’m going to be consistent with that because I do think in the long run that is going to make a difference.

And then gear is really important. I’ve had people think tracking dogs shouldn’t be doing nosework at the same time. And I get a little bit where one of them is more air scenting, one of them is more ground sniffing, but dogs recognize that flag out in the field versus “I’m in a classroom searching for,” or “I have twelve boxes out.” I think they know the difference between “I’m going to go check these objects” versus “I’m going to go run a track in the field.” So when you have handler scent now in the mix, I think it’s in our minds, we realize it’s just another odor, whether it’s birch, cypress, or handler scent, and we’ve taught our dogs that those odors will pay, then I think with time and some experience they’re just going to be searching for any of those odors, and when they find them, they’re going to all work. That’s how I’m approaching it.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the start routine in there, and I did just want to quickly ask at what point in the training process do you start routinely using the same start system or process?

Julie Symons: I don’t start that right away. I will start using it when a dog’s doing some mini-searches. But of course the first couple of weeks you’re just building value for odor -- we’re just building value for odor -- so I would say maybe halfway, or by the end of a six-week class, you’re going to start putting a search cue, but as with anything, I’m not going to put a search cue to something until they’re actively searching. I think the rubbing of my hands, I did start that pretty early because I often would rub the item and then go put it, hide it, or something, and that was always a warm-up. So we would go place to hide, and then, when we were warming up, I would have another item on me, and I would warm up with my dog with another. You can do that, you could actually, at a trial you give your scented something to the steward, and at the start line you could actually warm up with another glove, and show it to your dog, and then have them search. So I think those things just are all going to be context that’s going to help your dog.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned earlier a little bit about the idea of pulling from your start routine for obedience into your scentwork stuff, and I want to talk a little bit more about how those two things compare. How does the new scentwork program compare to the classic handler scent discrimination task in obedience?

Julie Symons: Again, we mentioned that contextually they’re just very, very different. So when you are going to be in an obedience ring, your dog’s going to have done probably an exercise prior to the scent articles, they’re going to see a pile of articles. When you do obedience scent articles, you start off by facing the steward who’s jingling the bag and putting the articles down. So right there your dog is thinking scent article retrieve. You’ve also taught them that those articles are what you retrieve, so you’ve already gone further in that training process to complete that picture of the behavior that your dog is going to do. So in that case it’s a chain of behaviors. You’re going to be pivoting with your dog, sending your dog, they’re going to search for scent, they’re going to retrieve it, they’re going to do a front and finish, so it’s all these chains that you’ve already taught up to that point. And a good thing is a handler scent search looks so different from that. Like I said earlier, I’m more worried about a search area looking similar for oil odor or handler scent odor. That’s going to be probably more confusing, but between those two exercises, the obedience scent articles and handler scent, the dog’s going to know what they’re there for right off the bat.

Melissa Breau: Does it matter which one somebody trains first?

Julie Symons: No, I don’t think there is any order to that, and if I haven’t mentioned it already, a lot of teams that have come through my class that did obedience are thrilled with their, that have come through are saying their obedience scent articles are just better and better. And I think what we’re able to do is, we’re able to play a lot more games, and the handlers that work arena before were even worrying about retrieves or anything, and were able to build a little bit more value there. And I’m going to already, I already have with Drac, teaching him his scent articles differently than I did my previous dogs, rewarding at source, I’m doing these games, worrying about the retrieve later, but just getting them sniffing. A dog cannot search a pile unless they’re using their nose. So we’re going to teach them to use their nose, we’re going to teach them what odor is valuable. So I don’t see any problem with teaching those two at the same time.

Melissa Breau: Are there any concerns at all when training one or the other if you hope to compete in both sports? Is there carryover? Is there anything else that students should know if they’re going to do both?

Julie Symons: A lot of the ways we train carry over to each other. I think in that way a lot of the same games and exercises that I do are going to carry over. So I found that when I started doing nosework, it helped my tracking dog. It upped her article indication. She started downing an article and holding her nose to the article because of nosework, because I taught her that reward comes from staying at source, whether the source is an article on a track, or it’s oil, or now if it’s handler scent. And they all really just complement each other. One thing that I just love is I love this new sport, I love this new division, Handler Discrimination, because it gives us another thing to learn about our scenting dogs, and learn about scent and our scenting dogs, and I just think, I think they all complement each other. Now I wouldn’t start maybe them on the exact same day, but they can overlap in whatever timeframe, I think, that you have. I have not seen any problems with that.

Melissa Breau: That’s certainly reassuring to hear.

Julie Symons: That question comes up all the time. You’ll see it. It’s one of those questions that just resurface. People are really worried about it. And now maybe some dogs it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. I mean, you have to know your dog, and you have to know your skills, and you just have to make that decision for yourself, for the most part. But I’m here to say context is playing a large hand here, and as a handler I learn more about scent and scenting dogs by participating in these multiple scent areas because of that. So once you do one, you’re just going to be more skilled and be more ready for the other one.

Melissa Breau: To round things out, if someone hasn’t taught any handler scent yet, where should they start? What does that process look like?

Julie Symons: As we mentioned earlier, if people can sign up for this Intro to Handler Scent course, that would be great, and it’s on December 1st. But what you would do, if you’ve done nosework already, then you start the same way. We use a game called It’s Your Choice. I’m not going to hold these scent articles in my hands because my hand actually has the scent, but I get the item on the ground, I just put one item that’s heavily scented, the dog checks it out, I mark quickly and reward, I get quickly to two and three gloves, two cold one hot, and move them around in the shell game, and then I get again quickly, I get some more items. Sometimes people get stuck at a few items, and I think dogs do better with more choices. They’re going to start using their nose more. So I get up to four to five items, socks or gloves, and what I do is I heavily scent it between reps, I do a cookie toss to reset, and then I just move the hot glove and repeat. So you want to get a high rate of reinforcement in a short period of time. So they find a scent in a short period of time, they’re going to hopefully find it, like, twenty times, and you’re going to give them a lot of reward for that. So that’s very similar to how we teach a nosework scent oil, and the same way that we start out scent articles for obedience. We get these metal canning lids, or I actually use some leather strips that I have, and it’s the same way I start that. So if you’ve had some experience at either of those sports, all you’ve got to do is just go get some cotton gloves, some cotton socks, and play around with the same way you’ve taught your other scentwork.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Julie!

Julie Symons: It was great. I love talking about this. I enjoy teaching it, and I enjoy competing and training in it.

Melissa Breau: I think that comes through. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Nancy Gagliardi Little to talk about start line stays.

Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Nov 24, 2017

SUMMARY:

Self-proclaimed taining nerd, Hannah Branigan is back to talk about training those clean, precision behaviors that get obedience competitors everywhere drooling... tuck sits and fold back downs. 

Hannah has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 10 years. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP). Hannah is the owner of Wonderpups, LLC, and teaches workshops nationwide, as well as conducting behavior consultations, teaching private lessons, and conducting group classes on pet manners, rally, and competition obedience. She has titled her own dogs in conformation, obedience, rally, schutzhund, and agility.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 12/1/2017, featuring Julie Symons. We will be talking about Handler Scent Discrimination and AKC Scentwork.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Hannah Branigan, of Wonderpups Training back on the podcast to talk about creating precise behaviors — things like tuck sits and fold back downs.

Welcome back to the podcast, Hannah!

Hannah Branigan: Thanks for having me!

Melissa Breau: I’m thrilled to be talking about this today. To start us out, can you just remind listeners who you are and share a little bit about the dogs you currently share your life with?

Hannah Branigan: Sure. As you said, my name is Hannah Branigan. I married into the name — the last name, not the first name; I was born with that one. My business is Wonderpups Dog Training, and I am very excited/passionate about finding training solutions using positive reinforcement techniques. I can get really nerdy really fast, but I try to kind of tone it down so that it’s appropriate for public consumption. I have a podcast as well. I am a dog trainer/podcaster, and my podcast is Drinking From The Toilet. As you can probably guess from the title, it’s a little less polished than this one, but it’s my own flavor. And my primary sport that I do with my guys is obedience, although I’m a big fan of cross-training, so I tinker in a lot of other sports. We play a lot in agility, Rugby is learning a little fly ball, we’ve tinkered in freestyle and barn hunt, we’ve done a little tracking, and some Schutzhund stuff with the big dogs, not with Rugby. And yeah, if there’s a sport out there, I’ll usually at least dip a toe because I love learning new things, and I love teaching my dogs new behaviors and seeing how everything comes together and how the principles of positive training reinforcement can apply in a wide range of settings. It’s real exciting for me and I could easily get too excited, so I’m going to stop right there. I think that’s most of it. I do have specifically, I have in my house right now, we are down to five, no, we’re down to four. Oh, that’s kind of sad. OK, we’re down to four, and I have three Belgian Tervuren, and they are Gambit, because everybody needs to know the names, Stormy and Spark, and they are, let’s see, 15, 12, and 8, respectively, and then Rugby, who is 3, is a Border Terrier. All of the Tervs are dual-titled in conformation and multiple performance sports, and then Rugby is just starting his career. He will not be titled in conformation due to, well, disqualifying physical characteristic, which he doesn’t like to talk about in public. He has just started novice, and he finished his CDSP novice title with two high-end trials and is looking forward to making his AKC novice debut, I don’t even know what date we’re on, but very soon. In the next month or two, actually, I think.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know that for most people, when they start thinking about precision skills, which will be kind of our focus today, they think fronts, finishes, maybe some heeling. But I know it’s as possible to get just as geeky about sits and downs. So I think a lot of people teach sit and down early on, then decide maybe it’s not as clean or precise as they eventually want it to be, and I wanted to ask you how you handle that. So what do you recommend? Do you just stop paying for what you don’t want? Do you create a new cue? How do you decide?

Hannah Branigan: Those are all really good questions, so just bear with me, but I get real excited! So obedience has a lot to do with sits and downs. If you think about it, the sit is a critical component of so many of the exercises in obedience. If you think about all the places where a sit comes up, so at every setup, the beginning of every exercise, we set the dog up in heel position in a sit, and then all of the halts, those are sits again, every single front, every single finish. So if you add up all of the sits that happen, like, say, in one utility run, you’re into — I did this once, I should have written it down and put it in front of me — but I think we have something like twelve or fourteen fronts and finishes, plus the halts in the heeling pattern, which you’re going to have at least one, maybe two halts and heeling, and then maybe seven or eight setups, so you have, like, twenty-something sits. And so having a dog that sits square, sits fluently, sits quickly, and can sit straight, and then we put it into all these situations, you’re already ahead of the game. And if you don’t have that, then you’re already starting from behind. So having a really clean, square tuck sit is an important piece that we want to have. And what I ran into, and what I think a lot of folks run into, is the way we are taught to teach sit, like in that first puppy class when you take before you know that you think you’re going to do dog sports, because I think most of us rarely get that first dog with the idea of, like, “I’m going to go get a puppy and go do competitive obedience.” Usually we get a puppy because we want a puppy. At least that was me. And then we go to puppy class, and puppy class goes pretty good, and we go to the next one, and the next one, and then what else could we do? And then we start getting into rally or obedience or whatever. So in most puppy classes, most people are taught to teach a sit by putting a treat in front of the dog’s nose and then you lift the treat and push it back over the dog’s back, and so as the puppy follows the treat up in the air and back, they sit down on their rump. And it’s a quick way to lure and teach a sit, and you can get a sit on cue very effectively like that. But it’s a sit where the puppy’s rear feet stay in place and the front feet walk back, so that’s what we call a rock back sit. It’s very much a weight-shifted behavior, because the puppy is looking up and following the treat over his head. A super-fast way to get a sit. And then we’ll often teach a down by luring them up into that rock back sit first, and then we pull the treat down between their paws and forward, and they crawl forward into a down. Again, it’s a super-fast way to lure a puppy into a sit and a down. It takes very little skill on the part of the trainer, the handler, but it is the exact opposite of the mechanics that we need for competitive sports. So a lot of people find themselves in a situation where they had originally taught their puppies to sit and lie down using this particular movement pattern, and then, when their dog is 3 or 4 or 5, now they suddenly care how the dog sits, and not only is their dog not sitting the way they want them to, but they’ve actively taught their dog to sit the complete opposite of what they need for participating in the sport. And that’s what happened to me, and again, I hit that kind of wall when I first started competing with my older dog. I had no idea that there was a different way to sit, like sitting that butt on the ground. And so that’s pretty good, and we had gotten her first title, we had gotten her novice title, and we were competing in open, and I could not figure out for the life of me why on every single retrieve she would hit me in the stomach with a dumbbell and then end up sitting a full arm’s length away. Like, how is that even happening? I was just totally, like, mind blown, perplexed, and some random stranger — I don’t even know who it was — on the sidelines says, “Well, it’s because she’s rocking back into the sit. If you taught her to tuck sit, that wouldn’t happen.” And I’m like, “What are you even talking about? A sit is a sit.” And now of course it’s really obvious, but it was not obvious back then. I don’t know what year that was, 2010 or something, and now I recognize what was happening was she would come in with the dumbbell, bam, punch me in the stomach with it because that’s kind of her style — she’s still like that at 15 — and then, instead of leaving her front feet in place and pulling her pelvis and her rear feet under there, which would leave her close to me, she would leave her rear feet in place and then walk her back feet into that rock back sit, so she would be a full body length away from where she started when she had that dumbbell. Which we were still able to qualify, but it was an expensive deduction that I could have avoided with the correct sit mechanics from the beginning.

Melissa Breau: So what do you do in that situation?

Hannah Branigan: Well, I can tell you we can still fix it, even in a 5-year-old dog, but it is a lot easier to fix it sooner rather than later. Starting with a 5-month-old dog is a lot easier than having a 5-year reinforcement history of rocking back into the sit. But we can actually still, we can still teach the dog, “No, I need you to actually do this differently. I need you to support your weight on your front legs and bring your hind legs underneath you for this behavior.” It is hard, because it … I think you asked earlier should we put it on a new cue, and that would certainly be ideal, because I do think that a rock back sit and a tuck sit — and the tuck sit is what we’re looking for, where the front feet stay still, and a rock back sit is what we don’t want for the purposes of halt or a front or finish — they can be easily defined as different behaviors because there are different body movements, there are different muscles involved in moving the dog through space to achieve. Even if it looks like the same end position, they’re very different movements that get the dog there. But say you have a dog that’s in open, that’s in a retrieve. There is no sit cue there. The cue is the context of you’re doing it in a retrieve, so it’s a part of the cue is that the dog has a dumbbell in her mouth, and part of the cue is you standing there with that formal front posture, and those aren’t things we can change. So we do have to recondition that old cue with a new behavior, which is harder than if we were starting from scratch. But we can still do it, which is cool, and that’s why I get so excited.

Melissa Breau: It often seems like everybody wants to talk sit, but nobody really knows how to get one. Do you want to explain why people go so crazy for a good tuck sit, and then you walked through a little bit of what a tuck sit is, but if there’s anything you want to add there for anybody who doesn’t know?

Hannah Branigan: Because a tuck sit leaves the dog’s front legs in place and this is — I’m actually having a little harder time with this than I expected, because normally when I talk about this you can see me and I can wave my hands and have a whiteboard and video, visuals, and stuff — so with a tuck sit the difference is, if you imagine your dog has four legs — or should, most have four legs, dogs have four legs — and to sit they bring their front and hind legs closer together, because the back is parallel to the ground and then we put it on a diagonal. So the dog goes from being rectangular shaped to a triangle shape. Now he can either do that by leaving the front feet in place and bringing the hind feet closer to the front feet to shorten that base, or he can leave the hind feet in place and walk the front feet back. So either the dog will … since we measure where a dog is, so for our purposes, for our sport, because this is fairly arbitrary but it is what it is, in obedience we are measuring the dog’s position and space based on where the dog’s shoulder is. So when a dog is in heel position, we are measuring that the dogs, our observable criteria, that the dog’s shoulder stays next to the human’s leg, underneath their shoulder, hip, or heel, depending on how tall your dog is, comparatively, and how tall you are. So if the dog is standing in heel position, then his front feet are in line with your front feet. You only have two feet. With your ankles, with your legs. The dog’s front feet are in line with your legs. And if the dog leaves his hind feet in place to sit and walks his front feet back, well, now he’s going to be actually out of heel position because his shoulder will move backward in space. If he leaves his front feet in place and tucks — this is where tuck sit comes from — tucks his hind legs up underneath, so he walks his hind feet closer to his front feet, his shoulder stays in one place, stays in a plane, and so he stays in heel position. So for all of our setups in heel position, all of our halts, all of our finishes, we need that tuck sit so that the shoulder stays in place, so that the dog starts and finishes the whole action in heel position. And then front’s the same basic idea, that we’re measuring front by how close a dog’s front feet are to your front feet, your hind feet, your feet, feet, feet. Your human feet. And so once the dog places those front feet there, I need them to stay put and I need him to bring his hind feet up underneath him. And so how well he can manage that action is part of how we’re scored on those halts, those finishes, and those fronts. So being able to have that set of actions, move the dog from a standing position to a sitting position, is really pretty important for performance.

Melissa Breau: For good scores in performance, at least.

Hannah Branigan: Well, for good scores and even to the point of an end cue. Because for any of our fronts, that threshold between points and an end cue is the dog has to stop within arm’s length of you, so you have to be able to reach the dog’s collar or reach for the dumbbell without moving your feet. And of course if you have a Chihuahua, it’s not going to make a big difference because a 9- or 10-inch dog can sit 9 or 10 inches further away and that’s not going to make that much difference, but if you have a big, let’s say, German Shepherd or other longer dog whose body length exceeds the length of your arm, then your dog could actually conceivably start off standing as close as possible to you for a front and end up sitting in end cue territory if they sit back further than you can reach. So it is important for the scores but may also actually be the difference between a title and no title.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of people, even people who know they want a tuck sit and understand the difference, still really struggle actually to get one from their dog.

Hannah Branigan: Totally.

Melissa Breau: Why is that so hard?

Hannah Branigan: Most of the dogs that I work with, that I have seen — I don’t want to claim all dogs in all of the world, but the dogs that I have had the chance to work with either in person or online usually offer … they fall on a spectrum. They’ll offer a range of sits. So we’ll see a sit that is 100 percent tuck. The front feet plant and stay put, and everything about the dog’s weight moves forward into that sit. And we’ll see dogs that 100 percent rock back, where it almost seems no matter what the circumstances are, the hind feet stay put and the dog walks back into the sit. And then most dogs are somewhere in the middle. They’ll offer some of the time they’ll tuck sit, and some of the time they’ll rock back, and we’ll even see what I consider a hybrid, where they’ll almost move on a diagonal, and they’ll rock back with one front foot and tuck with one hind foot and so they’ll end up a little bit crooked, which also of course affects the straightness of the front or the finish. And so for some dogs that conveniently fall in the middle of the spectrum, it’s just a matter of setting up a situation where a tuck sit is a little more likely. Maybe we’re luring them into a tuck sit, or even just reinforcing them for the tucks and not reinforcing for the not tucks. And there are dogs that you get it for free. So after the dog where I learned about the difference between rock back sits and tuck sits, my next dog, Gambit, came with a tuck sit. I did nothing. It was lovely.

Melissa Breau: Lucky, lucky dog.

Hannah Branigan: Right. The universe loves balance, and I’ll tell the story about my third dog following that. But Gambit came with a tuck sit, so he came at 9, 10 weeks old. If he sat, nine times out of ten it was a front foot planted tuck sit, so that was pretty easy. I could just selectively reinforce those and then all I really had to worry about was straightness. But then my next dog was the opposite. Again, the universe loves balance. And it was … actually it’s kind of funny because it was around the same time I’m really becoming aware of these things, I’m refining my shaping skills so that I have the mental space to pay attention to that kind of detail, and she was the complete opposite. If she sat at all, it was a rock back. It was a real rock back. She’d move one-and-a-half body lengths backwards into that sit, and I was like, “That’s OK, because I’m a dog trainer and I can fix everything if I just love it enough.” I’m just kidding. But I felt like for sure this is a solvable problem, and so I was, like, “Well, I’m going to lure her into a tuck sit,” and I would put food on her nose and I would follow the very best, most effective luring motion up and forward, and she would rock back away from the food into a sit. And we would both just look at each other with rumpled brows, like, “Why aren’t you doing this right?” “No, why aren’t you doing this right? This is how we sit.” And it was actually I started to freak out a little bit. I took her to see a local trainer that was very experienced in obedience, and she basically had me doing what I was already doing and it still didn’t work, so I took her to see a seminar with another nationally recognized, very successful obedience trainer and she helped me problem-solve. We tried a couple of other things, and she couldn’t get her to lure her into a tuck sit, and we tried a couple of other things, we put her on a platform, and there was no tucks. I may as well have asked her to fly. No matter how good the food, no matter how talented and skilled the luring hand that held the food, we could not get her into a sit. She would sit all the time, but it was just a rock back sit. And so I put it on the shelf for a little while, like, I don’t know, seven months, because I couldn’t put a cue on this rock back sit because I was going to compete with this dog in obedience. And so I made, like, a really nice mental block for myself. And the piece that I realized was missing, so then I go, one of my primary defensive strategies is research. So if I don’t know what to do, or I don’t like the answer, I’ll go and “Let’s just do more research.” We can learn more about it, and that’s better than acting and actually making a decision or something. So I go and I start watching a lot of video of dogs sitting, and I watch dogs in person in trials, coming into a front, tucking and sitting, like, what are they doing, what are they doing that my dog is not doing, so that I can break this down into its individual motions. And the first thing that I’m seeing that these dogs do that’s different is that the dogs that tuck into a sit are shifting their full body weight onto their front legs before they even bend a single knee. And my dog was doing the exact opposite. Her head was coming up and she was pushing her body backwards, so her whole weight was rocking backwards to get into the sit. And so then, what happens, if your weight’s shifting backwards, you’re going to tend to move your body backwards. If your weight’s shifting forward, you’re going to tend to move your body forward. So what I needed to do was get that forward weight shift. So I started experimenting with what are places where I get that kind of weight shift. And I tried a lot of it because luring just wasn’t working. So I couldn’t get a full sit, but I could put her front paws on a target, or a low platform, or a step, and she would lean forward over that step. So then I had the weight shift and I could reinforce that. And that turned out to be the pivotal behavior to get a tuck sit out of this dog, and then of course because I’m a good scientist and so I have to test it, so then I tested on all my local clients, and then I tested on my online clients, and so dog after dog, this is the piece for all of those dogs that just seem to be incapable of tucking into the sit. Once we get that forward weight shift, not a sit but just a standing forward weight shift where they lean their weight onto their arms — their front legs, our arms; you can tell I do a lot of projection and gesturing when I’m working through these problems, and if you could see me on video now you would see that I am doing all these actions with my own body on my desk and chair, but anyways. So yeah, once we get that forward weight shift, getting the tuck sit becomes really pretty easy. And if we try to somehow skip that, it’s really hard to get the tuck sit and everybody gets frustrated. So that was the piece that finally clicked into place. And there’s lots of ways to get that weight shift, but the front feet planted, lean your weight forward, and watching her shoulder muscles — at this time she had really no coat; she has a lot more coat now, so it would be harder to see — but I could see her shoulder muscles actually working as she leaned her weight forward onto those front legs. And being able to mark and reinforce that and then work from there into the sit, then from there it was just like rolling a ball down a hill. It was really easy.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. My next question was going to be, can you break it down and explain how you were teaching it, but I think you’ve got that covered, unless there’s anything you want to add.

Hannah Branigan: Really, that’s the main thing — if you can find a way to tap into that weight shift. Early on, I was using a lot of front foot targeting, which required the dog have a huge reinforcement history for sticking their front feet to a target, because still front feet is part of it. Since then, I’ve discovered a few shortcuts, like, for example, using a front edge, like a step. I use the front step on my porch, or I have into the training space that I use has three steps into it, so there’s just a front edge. It’s not a full platform, because I don’t care about the side-to-side limitation at this point. I really actually want the dog to feel comfortable leaning, and we tend to feel more comfortable leaning if we have space to spread out, sort of. But, like, a front step, preferably one that the dog has already existing in their environment. A lot of my clients have the sunken living room where it’s one step down into their living room space. I don’t know if that makes sense. So a lot of folks seem to have that. Or a step on their porch. So your dog’s already used to this in their environment and it doesn’t take a lot of extra training to teach them to stand on the top of the step and to lean forward. And the visual I have in my mind as I’m shaping towards this is, if you ever tried to lure your dog into your bathtub, or lure a horse into a horse trailer, or lure your dog off of the dock into the lake, it is amazing how long the dog or the horse’s neck can stretch forward without a single paw or hoof stepping into the bathtub or onto the trailer. And if you pull them forward over this edge and they are sufficiently motivated to stay on the edge, now with a bathtub or a horse trailer there’s a negative reinforcement instantly because they don’t want to put their feet in the trailer or in the bathtub, but if we fed them a bunch of times for staying up on that step and then we present a target or whatever a little bit further forward, they’re going to be a little bit used to having their feet up on that, so we can use positive reinforcement here. And as they lean forward without stepping down, they lean forward to get the carrot, to get the treat, you’ll actually see their front legs take the weight and their back feet start sliding forward up underneath them. And when we start getting that, because they’re leaning as far forward as they can without moving their feet in order to not just flip head over heels off of the step, their haunches come up underneath them. There’s no weight on them yet, we have to fix that later, but again, it’s that first action of moving from the stand, shifting the weight forward, and letting that pelvis come up underneath them. We can capture that, and then it’s really easy to shape into a sit from that point. But trying to get a sit from the stand without that weight shift is really, really hard. So we get that first little activation energy, that first step, and then it’s all really very easy.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask a little bit about age. At what age can you really start working on a behavior like that with a puppy? I know I’ve seen mixed recommendations in the past and was curious to hear your take...

Hannah Branigan: I think with puppies there’s a happy medium, as with everything. I would definitely put a lot of energy into making sure that that puppy was really confident and able to shift weight forward and back as a balance proprioceptive, that kind of thing, which I think people do. It’s becoming more common, more popular as part of our puppy raising, getting them used to different kinds of surfaces, getting them used to using their body in different ways, and just a forward backward weight shift with a standing puppy is it’s very low impact, you can do a whole bunch of them in a very short amount of time, keep a really high rate of reinforcement, really keep it really positive, really simple, and easy for the puppy. So I would put a lot of energy into that forward backward weight shift because then, whether you’re looking for that tuck sit or whether you’re looking for the fold back down, having a puppy who can confidently balance on front or back and control that movement is going to find any of the other actions that we want to teach easier. I don’t want to put a whole lot of — and maybe this is a human problem — I don’t want to put a whole lot of pressure on myself or on the human side for getting a perfectly square sit, but I want to be setting up situations where I’m encouraging the mechanics that I do want, because it is easier to teach these correct mechanics when you have that brand new, soft, moldable brain and central nervous system to play with than it is with a 4- or 5-year-old dog who’s been sitting a certain way for several years and you have that reinforcement history to overcome. So I think following good puppy training procedures of short, fun sessions, you don’t have to do … certainly not 10 minutes of sitting, but do three reps here, three reps there in between while you’re teaching him to play with you and cultivating your reinforcers. So you’re teaching them about their body, you’re teaching them how to move their body in space so they can be safe, and they can be confident, and then gradually, and I would start this as soon at as they’re ready to start training, so 5-and-a-half weeks, 6 weeks, whenever they’re interested enough in our food and in our interaction that we have leverage, and or 8 or 9 weeks when you bring them home, if you don’t have access to them that early. But we can start setting those things up in the context of all the other normal puppy stuff that we would do without getting super-rigorous and formal about it. I’m looking at these sorts of behaviors are the function of a well-balanced, physically well-balanced dog, and we can start that very, very early, for sure.

Melissa Breau: So, the other precise behavior I want to talk a little bit about is a fold back down. Can you again just talk about what’s the big deal there and describe the behavior a little bit?

Hannah Branigan: The fold back down is sort of the opposite of the tuck sit. In the fold back down, I want everything about the dog moving backwards. And the two places where this matters is the drop on recall and the down in the part of the signals exercise in utility. With the novice, the only down that we have in the novice is the long down for the stay, and it doesn’t really matter how the dog lays down in that context. But by the time you get to open, the drop and recall and signals exercise, both of those are again scored by the dogs … well, they’re kind of scored by the opposite, by how not forward the dog comes after you give the down cue. So ideally you want them to drop in place or even kind of push back into the down. So that’s the fold back down idea. So again, if we look at the dog as being sort of a rectangle, we want to flatten that rectangle. And I don’t know how many Amazon Prime deliveries you get per month, but you may be breaking down some boxes for recycling periodically. If I have the top and bottom punched out and I’m left with hollow rectangle, I can fold it forward or I can fold it back, and with the dog we want them to fold back, so that everything about their body, their weight shift, is pushing backwards, their hind feet stay planted for this transition from stand to down. And the reason that I want that is (1) in signals the judge is looking at the dog, he starts off in standing position, you’re going to give a cue from 40 feet away for the dog to lie down, and the judge is looking for the dog to lie down without coming forward. And so if the dog pushes back, folds back into that down, you’re good, you’re golden, because he’s not going to come forward at all. In the drop on recall, we have that plus the dog is moving towards you like a freight train. So we need not only for the dog not to come forward as part of his down, but we need him to put on the brakes. And what’s kind of cool, and again I get kind of excited, is that the same muscles that fold the dog back into a down from a stand-up push the dog back into the down are those same muscles that put on the brakes when a dog is moving fast. So the same muscles that stop a dog who’s coming down a contact on a dogwalk, those are the same muscles that are pushing against that forward momentum that are pushing him back into a down. So dogs that have really clean, fast, sharp fold back downs are going to drop really cleanly on your cue, and a dog that needs to move his legs forward and out — doesn’t need to because he can learn this — but if his habit of moving into a down is to walk his front legs forward, and he’s already moving forward, hurtling forward through space, then that momentum plus the mechanics of that down are going to carry him even that much more towards you forward. And that’s definitely scorable and again to the point of an end cue, because if he moves more than maybe a body length forward after you’ve given the cue, then we’re potentially end cuing. And that drop on recall is such a common weakness in an open performance, it’s something that I’ve put a lot of attention into because I get a lot of folks that come to seminars and, “You know, we’re doing really good in open, but we can’t seem to qualify on that drop on recall.” It seems to be one of the first things that breaks under pressure, and when we pull it apart we’ll see that certainly imperfect drop mechanics can still qualify, but you really have to have a sharp cue response. And since the cue response tends to degrade a little bit under pressure, we get a little more late and see a little slower responses. It doesn’t take a lot to take an adequate down and turn it into an inadequate down in that setting. So we certainly want to do what we can to improve ring stress, we certainly want to improve the stimulus control over the down, but we can buy ourselves a lot of buffer on those very fragile parts of the performance with a down that is a fold back down because, and even if the dog does take a split-second to respond to the cue, at least once he starts responding, he’s not going to come forward any more than he already has. So we get a lot more robust performance with a dog that is, and again we get some overlap there because they’re both fluent in putting on the brakes, they’re fluent in stopping their forward momentum, and they’re fluent in pushing their body back into the down. Those things come together and we get those really flashy drop on recalls, which are also way more likely to hold up under pressure than a little less sharp drop on recall.

Melissa Breau: When teaching a fold back down, where do people struggle, and I guess if you have any tips for how they can teach the behavior, those would be great too.

Hannah Branigan: Again, one of the problems is how we’re taught to teach that down. Teaching the dog to lay down in puppy class is counterproductive to our goals. I mean, it’s truly like a dead end. So if the dog is taught that he has to sit and then lay down, and that’s what a lot of dogs learn because we teach them to down from a sit, we lure them into the sit and then we lure them forward into the down, and then we put that on cue and the behavior becomes sit and then lay down as, like, one big piece. And so if the dog is standing and you say “down,” the dog puts his butt down and then walks his front feet forward to lie down, and again, that’s not helpful. We want that push back into the down. So one of the first things is making sure, “Can my dog actually go from a stand into a down without sitting first?” That’s the first and most important and critical piece. Most dogs actually can. If you pay attention, they often lay down from a stand all the time, and we can take those moments and we can build on them so that we’re teaching a stand from a down because, or sorry, teaching a down from a stand, because a down from a stand is closer to a down from motion than a down from a sit is, in terms of mechanics, in terms of what muscles are being used and how the body is moving them. So teaching it right off the bat from a standing position instead of cuing or luring the sit first is half the battle. After that, I really find that the most effective thing to look at is the hind feet, making sure that the hind feet stay still. I was originally … I think a lot of us were originally taught to watch the front feet, and those are easier to see, especially from a distance, but they are less predictive of the ideal down mechanics than watching the hind feet. If the hind feet stay in place, then the dog’s body tends to stay in place. If the front feet, the front feet can stay in place, but the dog can still kind of hunch up into a down, which again tends to turn into a creep forward when we add any source of pressure or stress. So looking for, it’s the opposite of the tuck sit, so I’m looking for a backwards weight shift, I’m looking for the rear feet to be planted, instead of a forward weight shift with the front feet planted. And we can do this with a target, we can do this with a platform, there’s lots of pieces, but again it’s that focus on the rear feet is what I’ve observed makes the difference between an OK down and those really snappy, sharp, pretty ones that we all want to replicate.

Melissa Breau: Just looking again at sits and downs as a group, and just the idea of precision, are there any common misconceptions people have when it comes to teaching these kinds of behaviors, and can you set the record straight?

Hannah Branigan: I think really the biggest misconception is either that we can’t change it, like, that’s just how your dog comes, which is total crap because we don’t have to give that away. I’m not going to let you off the hook. We can completely change that. Even if your dog is 5 or 6 years old. We had in the last Devil in the Details class, which is where we work specifically on these behaviors, we had dogs that were, like, 9, 10, and 12 years old, and we were changing mechanics, which was kind of cool. I did not actually expect that. I would have probably not counseled someone with a 12-year-old dog to try and change how their dog lays down. But you know what, they did great, which was really pretty cool. So I think it’s that “This is how my dog comes,” He’s just not good at,” or using a label or qualifying is a characteristic of the dog when it’s just a behavior and we can shape it. All behavior is modifiable, including these. And then the other side of that is, “Well, it’s boring.” And of course that’s not true at all, because dog training is awesome and it’s really exciting, and having clear criteria and a shaping plan — dogs love that. They love clear criteria. So I think there’s this idea of, “Well, if my dog doesn’t sit square and I try to teach him to sit square, then he’ll hate me, he’ll hate obedience, everything sucks, the world sucks,” and that’s really not true. It’s all the same game to the dog. So then it becomes a matter of “How can I set this dog up for success? How can I break down the criteria so that they’re reachable by this dog on this day?” “How can I set up a shaping session that takes me from what my dog currently does, the highest probability version of this behavior, to what my goal for that behavior is?” And being really clear about what each of those steps look like. And when we’re doing that, if you get as excited about shaping as I do — which most people probably don’t and hopefully don’t, for the betterment of the world — then we have these little training projects that we can do, and I’ve not met a single dog that didn’t get more motivated with clearer criteria. As long as they’re reachable, like having more clear criteria first is where we do get in trouble, especially with things like fronts and finishes is if we’re using the word “enough” in our criteria and particularly in our head. Like, if you’re working with your dog on fronts, and you’re watching your dog come into a front and you’re asking yourself, “Is that straight enough to reinforce?” As soon as we’re saying “enough,” then yes, we’re absolutely creating frustration, because if you are thinking, Is this straight enough? you are too late in clicking, you’re too late to reinforce whatever has already happened to impact the outcome. So again, breaking the movements down and having it really, really clear, “What, exactly, what am I reinforcing?” so that you can mark that instant, and when we’re that clear, and our timing is that good, there is absolutely nothing to lose in building that precision. We’ll only create more motivated, more clear dogs that love training because they know exactly what they’re doing, and they feel good about doing it, and they can earn that reinforcement.

Melissa Breau: You snuck in a quick mention there of the Devil in the Details class, and I know it’s coming up again and somehow we managed not to mention it before then, so I want to talk about that for a second. Can you just tell us a little bit about the class and what it is?

Hannah Branigan: The Devil In The Details, I think the title kind of effectively describes it, this is definitely a dog nerd class. It is written for those who enjoy a certain amount of hairsplitting, that love peeling away all the layers and seeing what muscles are moving, and what’s the physiology behind this behavior, and how can I manipulate and adapt my training sessions to effectively change the behavior that my dog is doing. It’s definitely not for a casual, brand new dog trainer. Most people would be bored by it. The right people are going to get totally pumped because it’s really very nerdy. What we really do is we look at these core behaviors, which are certainly critical to obedience but also to a lot of the conditioning and trick behaviors that we want to do involve some of the same mechanics, and so can we look at what’s really going on. If we’re having a problem with teaching a particular behavior, what is the dog doing that needs to be changed, and what are the muscle movements that we need to activate, how we put together a plan to systematically activate the right series of muscle movements to take the dog from stand into that beautiful tuck sit, to square up any straggly feet or crookedness, and build this kind of awesome sit, down, and stand. So it is six weeks on sit, down, and stand, and you’d think, How can you spend six weeks on that? And I could easily spend twelve because you can just keep going. There’s such a rabbit hole there. But if you’ve had trouble teaching a tuck sit, and you are interested in behavior, and you’re kind of a behavior you’d feel like you would maybe qualify as a behavior nerd, then this is a great class for you because we will absolutely get a tuck sit out of your dog. I feel pretty confident in saying that. But we dig pretty deep in terms of mechanics and physiology and criteria and breaking things down to get that, because that’s what the dogs need from us.

Melissa Breau: And that’s offered in December this time, right?

Hannah Branigan: Yes, December. It’s in our December session.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Hannah!

Hannah Branigan: Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Julie Symons. We will be talking about Handler Scent Discrimination and AKC Scentwork.

Don’t miss it! It if you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Nov 17, 2017

SUMMARY:

Sarah Stremming is a dog trainer, a dog agility and obedience competitor, and a dog behavior consultant.  Her credentials include a bachelors of science degree in psychology from Colorado State University, and more than a decade in the field of dog training and behavior.  Her special interest area is problem solving for performance dogs.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 11/24/2017, featuring Hannah Branigan getting geeky about tuck sits.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Sarah Stremming, of Cog-Dog radio and the Cognitive Canine back on the podcast to talk about… dog behavior.

Welcome back to the podcast, Sarah!

Sarah Stremming: Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, I know it’s been a little while since you were on the show, can you just remind listeners how many dogs you have now and who they are?

Sarah Stremming: Sure. Between my partner and I, we have five. I’ll tell you about my two. I have Idgie, who’s an 8-year-old border collie, and Felix, who’s a 2-year-old border collie, and my primary sport’s agility, so that’s what they’re both working on. Idgie doesn’t really train much in agility anymore, she just competes, and Felix is mostly training with hardly any competing. And then I also play around in obedience, so they’re both working on some of that stuff as well.

Melissa Breau: So, I know that last time we talked, we just touched on the 4 steps to behavioral wellness briefly, covering what they are… but since I definitely want to dive a little deeper this time, do you mind just briefly sharing what those 4 steps are again and giving folks a little bit of background so that they’re not totally confused when we start talking about it?

Sarah Stremming: Sure, of course. The four steps to behavioral wellness are something that I came up with a long time ago when I was primarily working with pet dog behavior cases, and they are exercise, enrichment, nutrition, and communication. And basically they’re the four areas that I find are often lacking in our basic dog care, and that includes sport people. What I found is that when trying to modify behavior, if one or more of these areas was lacking so the dog’s basic needs were not being met, we would always hit a point where we couldn’t progress with the behavior modification. So that’s where they came from.

Melissa Breau: Now I believe — though I could be wrong — that most of your students today come to you because of a problem training for a specific sport, but listening to your case studies in the podcast and talking to you a bit, it seems like the solution is often a lifestyle change. So I wanted to ask why it is that a dog’s lifestyle can have such a huge impact on their performance in their sport?

Sarah Stremming: That is true. Most of my clientele now, really all of my clientele now, is sports dog people who are having some kind of behavioral issue, usually a behavior problem that is preventing their dog from being able to compete or being able to compete well. And we definitely do work on specific behavior change protocols, so we definitely do go through behavior modification. But I’ve just come to find out that, over the years I’ve seen that if a dog’s basic needs are not being met, you will not get where you want to get with the behavior modifications. So when we go through a lifestyle change, it is typically about meeting dogs’ basic needs. I think a lot of people look at what I’m doing and they think I’m trying to give every single dog an exceptional life. Now, yes, I would like every dog and every person to have an exceptional life, but that’s not necessarily the goal. The goal first is to meet basic needs, and I think that, unfortunately, that few people understand what some of those basic needs are. And so I think that’s what shines through a lot of the time when I’m talking about my cases is I always want to look through those four steps of behavioral wellness as I want to look at what adjustments were made there, and then after that’s done, we can then get into the nitty-gritty of the behavior modification work.

Melissa Breau: Can you tell me just a little bit more about that? What are some of the common problems that you run into where those 4 steps can help?

Sarah Stremming: Some of the most common things that I deal with are things that people label as “over-arousal issues,” and they’re usually in agility, though I’ve definitely worked with a few obedience clients and a couple other clients from other sports on these issues. The behaviors that we label as over-arousal behaviors tend to be biting the handler during agility, oftentimes at the end of the run but a lot of times during the run, inability to hold front line or contact in competition, and then things that I just call spinning, barking, madness. The dog might spin, might bark, might also bite, just basically explosive behaviors that occur on course or during work. Those are some of the biggest issues that I deal with. Some of the ways that the four steps can help those issues are that when I see these dogs that have these … what we call over-arousal issues, especially in agility, often this is because agility is the most fulfilling thing the dog experiences in their life. So if their agility time is the only time that they actually feel satisfied mentally and physically, they become what I think looks like desperate to do the sport. Anybody that has ever felt desperate for something understands that that’s a yucky way to feel, and I think that I observe dogs feeling desperate to do agility when I’m at trials. I’ve certainly seen it in my own dogs as well. And I think that some of the ways we train them encourage that, but the ways that we can help them feel less desperate are through exercise and enrichment, so those two steps out of the four. With adequate exercise, the dog’s going to feel more like its body has been worked adequately, so that agility isn’t the only time that the dog’s body actually feels physically satisfied. And then enrichment needs to be part of  … environmental enrichment needs to be a part of every dog’s daily life, because they do have brains and they do get to use them and they are not a couch ornament for us. If that sounds a little harsh, I don’t mean to say that most people think that way. I do think, unfortunately, it’s very common in the agility world to feel like agility class is enough. If we’re going to agility class tonight, I don’t have to do anything else today. Or if we had a trial all weekend, I don’t have to do anything else this week to fulfill my dog physically or mentally, and that’s just not true and that can definitely create problems. A couple of the others, just hitting on a few other steps to behavioral wellness, anything I deal with that has to do with generalized anxiety, so things like separation issues or fear responses that keep dogs out of the ring, anything that has to do with overall anxiety, my anecdotal experience is that diet can have an enormous effect on that. So when you feed the gut appropriately — and there is actually some cool research coming out about, cool research that exists and then also more and more research coming out about the relationship between mental health and gut health — but what I have observed anecdotally is that when a dog has a healthy GI, its overall anxiety is reduced, and so diet is a place that we look at. There’s some nutrition being the one of four steps that I emphasize on the anxiety front, and then there just isn’t any behavior problem that isn’t going to be helped with better communication. Communication helps everything. No matter what we’re talking about, that definitely helps everything.

Melissa Breau: To go back a little about the couch potato bit, even if someone doesn’t necessarily think that way, it can be hard if you’ve worked all day for eight hours and then come home and you have agility class. It can be hard to fit something else in. So even if it’s not intentional, sometimes it can be totally easy to de-prioritize those things.

Sarah Stremming: It is. It’s easy for us to go, “OK, the dog box is checked because I have agility class tonight.” Where I want to encourage people to at least provide environmental enrichment for the dogs during the day when you’re gone. So feeding them out of puzzle toys or Kongs as opposed to out of a bowl is a really simple, easy way to do that. And then just basically enrich their environment. Take a page out of the zookeeper’s book and provide them with things in their environment that they have to forage through or rip apart or something. Even if they’re crated during the day, give them stuff in the crate so that they literally aren’t just left to lay around with a bowl of water and maybe a Nylabone that they’ve had for five years.

Melissa Breau: I know that you recently published a series of podcasts on behavior change, talking about things like replacement behaviors… How can someone decide if what they need is just to teach a dog not to jump all over them or if they have a stress problem? And when is it time to look at things like nutrition and exercise — you got into this a little bit, but — versus going back to foundations to prevent frustration and stress through clearer communication in that sport?

Sarah Stremming: The answer is yes. The answer is you should always be doing all of the above. Trying to look at behavior as one thing, or trying to look at a problem behavior as one thing, meaning a behavior is always serving a function for the animal, so it doesn’t exist if there isn’t reinforcement present for it. It doesn’t exist if it doesn’t serve a function. So you always want to look at it like that first, and you always want to make a plan to change it that way first. But you have to understand that if the dog’s needs are not being adequately met that you may not be able to get anywhere with that plan. And then, as far as deciding between “Do I just need a training program, or do I also need a lifestyle change,” I think when most people get down to it and examine their dog’s lifestyle, they will see the answer. I have certainly had clients who showed up and they were pretty much doing everything right. They just needed to tweak some training stuff. That is rare, but that has happened. So I think, to try to make it a simpler answer, I think we should always, always assess the functionality of the behavior you’d like to change. So if it’s jumping all over you, try to look at what the dog is getting out of that, and try to help them to get that a different way, and make a plan to do that. And then also be sure that the dog’s needs are being adequately met, because if you make a plan to solve this problem behavior, so let’s say it is jumping all over you, what do they need? Is it that they are missing you all day long and feeling lonely? A little bit of assigning some human emotions here, but is it that? I mean, I do think that my dogs can feel lonely, but who knows? We can’t ask them.

Melissa Breau: It’s a dog podcast. You can absolutely do that.

Sarah Stremming: Right! So if it is that they’re missing out on that human connection, can we address that as well as making this behavior change plan? And not just saying, “I want to change this behavior, therefore I will,” but also respecting that that behavior has a function, and that behavior came from a need that this dog has, and it’s up to us to fulfill it always.

Melissa Breau: Most of our listeners are probably pretty familiar with the idea of stressing up versus stressing down… that is, having a dog that’s easily over-aroused versus one that completely shuts down. I know you have classes for both ends of the spectrum. So I wanted to ask a little bit about, now that we’ve talked about these four steps and a little bit about behavior change, how are the solutions to the problems different, depending on which end of the spectrum the dog falls on? Can you talk about that a bit?

Sarah Stremming: Sure. And the two classes are Worked Up, which are the dogs that are worked up, just as it sounds, and then I call the other class Hidden Potential, which is about more of the stressed-down types of dogs. And I get this question probably every time I teach a seminar on one or the other. So if I’m teaching a seminar on worked-up types of dogs, the hidden-potential dogs come up and vice versa. And the reason that that’s OK, and the reason that that should be expected, is because the solutions are similar. Both dogs are dealing with states of arousal that are not optimal. So if we’ve got a dog that is in a hyper-aroused state, he’s not able to do his job because his adrenalin is off the charts. And if we have a dog in a kind of suboptimal arousal state, he can’t do his job either, because he would rather go back into his crate and sleep and just may be bored. If we are talking about anxiety or stress, then that’s where things start to change. So if we’re talking about almost a temperament difference, we’ve all seen dogs that movement for them is cheap. They move a lot and they move quickly, versus dogs that … if you’re training a border collie versus a bassett hound, you’ve got the border collie, movement is cheap for them. They will jump a bunch of times, they can heel a bunch of times, and that’s cheap for them. They have a lot of energy. Versus maybe your basset hound has less energy than that and movement is more expensive for him. So then we’re just dealing with differences in arousal states, and what we would do is play games to either bring the arousal up or bring the arousal back down. When we’re dealing with anxiety or stress, that’s where I might deal with it … that’s where I see most of the dogs that fall into the hidden-potential category are. It’s usually more of an anxiety-based or a stress-based or maybe a fear-based issue, and that’s where I would address it in a different way. So if we can identify what the stressor is, I would actually want to tackle that head-on with a specific treatment protocol for whatever the stressor is. A lot of those dogs are worried about other dogs, and then we go to a dog show where there are tons of them. And then a lot of them are worried about people, and we go to a dog show and there’s tons of them. The good news is they can be helped with those things. Certainly some of the worked-up dogs are experiencing environmental arousal or environmental anxiety, and if they are, then we want to go down that path as well and again address it the same way. So a lot of the times the same solution exists. It’s just that we’re looking at a different picture in the beginning and still trying to get to the same picture in the end.

Melissa Breau: What are some of maybe the misconceptions people have about those kind of issues, or what do people commonly think about that maybe isn’t 100 percent accurate when it comes to stressing up or stressing down and managing that? Can you set the record straight?

Sarah Stremming: I think that for the worked-up types of dogs the most common misconception that I hear about is that these dogs lack impulse control, that a lack of impulse control is the problem. Or that a lack of … if we’re going to be very accurate, we would be saying a lack of impulse control training is a problem. Just the phrase “impulse control” makes my eye twitch just a little bit because I think that it implies that there’s this intrinsic flaw in these dogs that if they can’t control themselves that there’s something wrong with them, or that teaching them to control their impulses is something that we can do. I don’t think that we can control their impulses one way or another. We can certainly control their behaviors with reinforcement. Whether or not we’re controlling their impulses is probably one of those things that we would have to ask them about, kind of like asking them if they were lonely and if that was why they were jumping all over the person coming home. So I like to stay away from stating that lack of impulse control is a problem. I also think that in agility specifically we accept that our dogs will be in extremely high states of arousal and be kind of losing their mind, and we almost want them that way, and any kind of calmness is frowned upon. The dogs that are selected to breed for the sport tend to be the frantic, loud, fast ones, and looking at behaviors, there’s just kind of a distaste in agility, I feel — and I’m going to get a million e-mails about this — I love agility, people! I love agility! I’m just going to put that out there! But there is a distaste for calm and methodical behaviors in agility. We push for speed, speed, speed from the beginning, and we forget that sometimes maybe we should shut up and let the dog think through the problem. So I think, to get back to your original question, “What’s the misconception?” The misconception is that we need to put them in a highly aroused state to create a good sport dog, and that impulse control is the be-all, end-all of these things. And then, for the hidden-potential dogs, I think the misconception is just that they lack work ethic. They say, “These dogs they lack work ethic, they give you nothing, they don’t want to try, they’re low drive,” yada yada. I think that’s all misconceptions. Everything comes back to reinforcement. When you realize that reinforcement is the solution to everything, you can start to solve your problems and quit slapping labels on the dogs you’re working with.

Melissa Breau: To be clear, it’s not that people who have a dog that’s shutting down in the ring aren’t rewarding their dog enough. It’s that there is a kind of misstructure there somewhere, right?

Sarah Stremming: Yes. Thank you, Melissa. And actually I’m really glad that you said the word “reward” instead of reinforce, because they probably are rewarding their dogs plenty, but they’re not reinforcing their dogs enough. And the difference is that a reward is just a nice thing that doesn’t necessarily affect behavior. Reinforcement, by definition, affects behavior. So if behavior is not increasing, improving, etc., reinforcement is not present, though rewards well may be present. So if you get a Christmas bonus at work, that’s nice, but that’s not why you showed up the rest of the year.

Melissa Breau: Well, maybe! But …

Sarah Stremming: I’m going to argue it’s not. I’m going to argue the paycheck that you got every other week is why you showed up the rest of the year, and then the reward might have affected your feelings about the job. It might have made you feel nicer about it. It might have made you feel nicer about your boss. Or it could have the total opposite effect, and be a $20 Starbucks card and you’re, like, thanks a lot. But my point being there’s so many

lovely, kind people who are rewarding frequently who don’t have enough understanding of the reinforcement procedures that they could be utilizing to actually increase the dog’s behavior or change the dog’s behavior. I don’t mean to imply that those people are not training well or training nicely and training kindly and being generous. I think they probably are. In fact, they’re probably a lot more generous. But a lot of the people I see training those super-high dogs, I see a lot of super-high dogs that do not get a high enough rate of reinforcement in training, which that’s just amping them up, whereas the other end of the spectrum is that the other dogs are shutting down. So thank you for bringing that up, and I think, yeah, it’s about the fact that understanding that if reinforcement is present, then the behavior will be present as well.

Melissa Breau: I am glad that we went into that a little bit more. That was good information that people maybe don’t hear often enough.

Sarah Stremming: Good question, thank you.

Melissa Breau: Thanks for answering it. Before I let you go, I mentioned earlier that you have a series that you’ve been publishing on effective behavior change, and I wanted to ask a little bit about that. First, what led you to explore that topic?

Sarah Stremming: I’m just excited about the topic constantly, but to be honest with you, I decided to explore the topic based on dog trainers on the Internet. I saw a dog trainer on social media talking about behavior change as a kind of mystical thing, when I’m very passionate about training as an applied science and understanding training as an applied science. That certainly does not mean that I discount the art side of training, because there certainly is an artistic side to it, and before I ever knew anything about the science, the artistic side to it is what kept me in it. And so I think that’s very, very important. But I do think that our industry would be better if all trainers recognized training as an applied science, and when I say “better,” I mean just serving the people and the dogs better. I think that all dog trainers, no matter what kind of training they do or what kind of training background they have, are in this because that’s what they want to do. They want to serve the people and the dogs. They love dogs, and they hopefully like the people who own them, and they want to help people to have better connections with their dogs. I think all dog trainers are after that, no matter what kind of dog training they do. But I do see a general lack of recognition of dog training as an applied science, and specifically I think that a lot of positive-reinforcement-based trainers, especially on the Internet, can be very unkind to each other. I know this seems like, “How did you come up with this podcast series based on that? This has nothing to do with it.” Where I came to it, and where I wanted to talk about it, was because we really all should be generally training, generally the same way, or we all should understand some general basic principles, and I just don’t see that as being reality. We should all be able to talk to each other about the effects of reinforcement and punishment and what makes for effective behavior change instead of … I think what we talk about instead on the Internet is how that person over there is doing it wrong and “This is how I would do it, and that’s the right way to do it,” when in reality the right way to do it is treating it like an applied science. And then there are certainly variations within that, but I’m basically talking about it because we need to be talking about it as an applied science, and I think we do that over at FDSA, and Hannah Branigan does that on her podcast really beautifully. And the more I think we talk about it as an applied science, I think the further we can get and the more undivided we can become, and then the more dogs we can help.

Melissa Breau: Not to ask you to take these three episodes and condense them into one tiny, short, little blurb, but to do exactly that I wanted to talk a little bit about what you cover in them. I definitely fully recommend people go listen to all three, if they haven’t already. The first two have been out and I’ve listened to them and they’re absolutely excellent, and by the time this comes out I know that you’re planning on a third one and hopefully that will be available. But I did want to ask you to share just a couple of the key points or major takeaways that you really want people to walk away from after they listen to those episodes.

Sarah Stremming: Definitely. Thanks for the plug there!

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Sarah Stremming: I’m glad that you liked them and all three should be available; two of them are as we record this, and I just recorded the other one today, so it should be out soon. The first one I did just talked about replacement behaviors. So if we are trying to modify a problem behavior, we want to use a replacement behavior to come in instead of that behavior. What that means is that instead of squashing a behavior, getting rid of a behavior, we just want to swap it out with something else. And so we generally think about incompatible behaviors, so an incompatible behavior, an example of that would be the dog is dashing out the front door. That’s the problem behavior we want to solve, and we can train the dog to go lie on a mat when the door opens instead, and that would be an incompatible behavior because the two behaviors cannot happen at once. I also talked about the concept of alternative behaviors, which are not necessarily incompatible. I think that’s a really interesting concept, that you can actually train the dog to sit, let’s say at the front window, let’s say the dog is barking at passers-by, you can train the dog to sit instead. Now that’s an alternative behavior. My dog Idgie can tell you, she can bark while sitting just fine. She doesn’t need to be standing to be barking. So it’s alternative because both the behaviors can still happen at once, but what’s really nice about it is that if you’re reinforcing an alternative behavior, the problematic behavior still does decrease. So in the first episode we talk about what are some good qualities of incompatible or alternative behaviors, so basically what makes a good replacement behavior, and to really sum it up in short, what makes a good replacement behavior is that (a) it’s incompatible or alternative and (b) it’s already fluent, so it’s something the dog already knows how to do. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but you’ll have to go listen to it. In the next one I talked about antecedent arrangements, or basically just the principal of manipulating the environment in which the behavior occurs, as opposed to attempting to manipulate the behavior itself. I think a lot of times, as dog trainers, we really focus on trying to manipulate behaviors when we should be thinking more about manipulating environments. The third one, that I recorded today, is kind of the other end of the spectrum of the second one. So you can manipulate the environment, and then you can manipulate the reinforcement. You can manipulate the consequences to the behavior. So the third episode is about reinforcement, and specifically, building what I call reinforcement strategies, so that you have a huge toolbox of reinforcement from which to draw from. So the more ways that you can reinforce an animal’s behavior, the more effective you’re likely to be in attempting to change its behavior. So those are the three that I’ve got.

Melissa Breau: I’m curious now and looking forward to hearing that third one and rounding out the series. I really am glad that you tackled it and it’s been a great series so far, so cool.

Sarah Stremming: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Sarah! I know that you’re in the middle of a long drive, so I will let you get back to that. But thank you.

Sarah Stremming: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Hannah Branigan, who Sarah mentioned. Hannah and I will be talking about detail oriented training -- things like getting that miraculous tuck sit or the perfect fold back down.

Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice and have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

 

Nov 10, 2017

SUMMARY:

Dr. Patricia McConnell is a Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals.

She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and taught "The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” for twenty-five years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her radio show, Calling All Pets, was heard in over 110 cities around the country, where Patricia dispensed advice about behavior problems and animal behavior research for over fourteen years.

She is the author of the much-acclaimed books The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of A Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend and Tales of Two Species. Her latest book is a memoir that came out earlier this year, titled The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 11/10/2017, featuring Sarah Stremming, talking about effective behavior change.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have a special guest -- I’m talking to Dr. Patricia McConnell. Although she probably needs no introduction, I will share a bit from her bio.

Dr. Patricia McConnell is a Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals.

She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and taught "The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” for twenty-five years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her radio show, Calling All Pets, was heard in over 110 cities around the country, where Patricia dispensed advice about behavior problems and animal behavior research for over fourteen years.

She is the author of several much-acclaimed books The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of A Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend and Tales of Two Species. Her latest book is a memoir that came out earlier this year, titled The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog.

Welcome to the podcast, Patricia!

Patricia McConnell: Thanks for having me, Melissa. What fun.

Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to be talking to you today. To kind of start us out a little bit, can you just share a little bit about the dogs and the animals you currently share your life with?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, absolutely. The most important animal is the two-legged one, my husband, my wonderful, accommodating husband who puts up with my obsession for dogs and sheep and cats and animals and gardening. So that’s Jim. And so we have three dogs. We have Willie, a 10-year-old border collie who is one of the stars of The Education of Will, and we have Maggie, a 4-year-old border collie who’s my competition sheepdog trial right now and the silliest, funniest, most adorablest dog that ever lived, of course, and Tootsie, who’s the other most adorablest dog, she’s a little Cavalier who was a puppy mill rescue. And we have two cats, Nellie and Polly, and we have 16 sheep.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Here we are. And we have Teresa the toad, who’s living in the cat bowl often, and I could go on and on. We have a little farm, it’s about 12 and a half acres, and so there are lots of critters on there, but the family ones I’ve already mentioned. I’ll stop there.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, I know that you’ve shared kind of in some of the other interviews you’ve done that you’ve been in love with dogs and behavior for as long as you can remember. So I wanted to ask a little bit about kind of when you decided that was what you wanted to do with your life, and see if you could just share a little bit about those early days.

Patricia McConnell: Oh yes, you know, it’s almost like a feminist manifesto, because when I was … I was born in 1948, and when I was 5 — there’s a story about me being asked what I wanted to do when I was 5, and I said, “I want to marry a rancher,” because in 1953 in Arizona, women made babies and casseroles. They didn’t make, they didn’t have careers, they didn’t, you know, make shopping centers and business deals or even be veterinarians. And so gradually over time I had all kinds of different careers. I moved a lot with my first husband, and eventually I got to the point where I thought, You know what, I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to study animal behavior. And what I envisioned is that I would teach it. I would teach at some small private college, and I would teach animal behavior because I loved animals and I loved behavior. And I finally realized in my 30s, early 40s, you know, this is a way I could really enmesh myself in my passion and what I love.

But then I went to an animal behavior society conference — it’s a conference of academics, people who study behavior, mostly wild animals, mostly in the field — and I ran into John Wright, who was an academic, actually a psychologist who was an applied animal behaviorist, and so he took all of his training and behavior and used it to help people solve problems with family dogs. And I was like, Oh, really? I didn’t know that was a possibility.

So it ended up that my colleague, Dr. Nancy Raffetto, and I opened up Dog’s Best Friend as a consulting service. Most people had no idea who we were, what we were doing. Nobody did it then. I mean, nobody did it then. People would call us up, Melissa, and say, “Do you guys groom poodles?”

Melissa Breau: Oh goodness.

Patricia McConnell: Yes. So this was in the late ’80s, and this was a really new field. So it all progressed from there, but it certainly wasn’t linear, and anybody who’s in a path right now of, like, who do I want to be and what do I want to do, or maybe I’m going in a direction that I don’t want to go, is don’t lose heart. I mean, I didn’t get into this until I was in my 40s.

Melissa Breau: And you’ve quite clearly achieved quite a bit of success, so …

Patricia McConnell: It’s been very satisfying, you know. I feel so lucky. I feel very grateful and lucky and privileged and honored to be able to find the right niche, you know? Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I think the rest of us have been pretty privileged that you’ve decided to do this too, so …

Patricia McConnell: Well, thank you.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask, you mentioned that, you know, you’ve been in the field for quite a while, and I wanted to ask kind of how your philosophy is today and maybe a little bit of kind of how even it’s changed over that time. Obviously the world is a very different place for dogs.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, man, so true. I mean, I’ve written quite a few places about the first dog training class I went to when I was, I think, probably 19. The dog trainer was a Marine, and he hung a Basenji — as in, with a choke-chain collar — picked the dog off the ground, so all four feet were off the ground, and hung him there until he started running out of breath and was dying. Actually, it was not all that long, shockingly, not all that long ago somebody, a dog died from that and someone tried to sue, except they didn’t … they weren’t successful because they were told that that was standard in the industry. That was standard practice, so you can’t blame the person for doing it.

Yeah, so boy, have things changed. Boy, have things changed. My philosophy now is very much along the lines of “least intrusive minimally aversive,” you know, the LIMA protocol that I think is fantastic. I would say 99.95 percent of what I do with dogs is positive reinforcement, and I do use, I will use a correction. I mean, if Maggie starts to eat something I don’t want her to eat, sometimes I’ll say “Leave it,” or sometimes I’ll go “Ah-ah,” you know, and that’s positive punishment because I added something to decrease the frequency of a behavior, right.

So, but, I think, you know, besides the really important focus that you see now on positive reinforcement, which I think is just so vital, I think interspersed with that, entwined with that, is a change in our relationship and the way we see our dogs. I mean, it was all about dominance before. It was all about control, and you’re in charge, and sometimes it was just simply, like, well, you know, “You have to be in charge,” and other times it was suggested as a way, as something your dog needed, you know, the old “Your dog needs you to be the alpha of the pack.” But it was always about control.

And now it seems to me, don’t you think, it’s more with many of us about relationship. They are our best friends, you know. They’re great friends of ours, and that’s what I want. You know, my dogs have to do what I ask them to do. Sometimes they have to. They have to lie down if they’re chasing a rabbit towards the road or something. But I value them as members of my family and friends. I don’t think of them as furry people. I think that’s disrespectful to dogs. But they are an integral part of my life and my family and my love.

Melissa Breau: That’s definitely something that is kind of a core part of the kind of Fenzi philosophy, so I mean, I definitely think that we’re seeing more and more of a shift to that, obviously. Not everybody’s there yet, but hopefully they will be one day, right?

Patricia McConnell: Absolutely, yeah, and I think the kind of work that, you know, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is doing is vital to that, you know? We just, we all need to be out there as much as we can, just spreading the word, because it’s, you know, it’s not just more fun, because it works better. I just heard, I was just at APDT not too long ago and somebody was … it was Pat Miller was talking about Bob Bailey saying — who was a professional animal trainer, he trained for movies and commercials — and he said, “I use positive reinforcement because it works better,” he said. “I don’t do it for welfare, I don’t do it to be nice, I do it because it works better and it’s more efficient. I would do, if I had used punishment if it worked better in order to do my job, that’s what I’d do, you know, but,” he said, “it just, it works better.” But so it does work better, but it’s also so much more fun, you know. It’s so much more fun to not have to be a drill sergeant in your own living room.

Melissa Breau: I did hear that you were awarded an award at APDT. Is that right?

Patricia McConnell: I was so honored. They gave me the Lifetime Achievement Award, yeah.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, thank you. I was really honored, yeah. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Obviously, you’re really well known for your work in dog behavior, but I know from your first book that early on in your career you did quite a bit of research on cues, especially across languages. And I know that cues are always kind of a big topic and of interest to people, so I wanted to ask you to kind of share your top takeaway or two from that work.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, thanks for asking, because, you know, that’s how I got into this. I mean, I was … I started as an undergraduate looking for a project, a research project. As an ethologist, somebody who studies animal behavior, I had no thought of working with domestic animals or being an applied animal behaviorist. I was working with a professor who worked with fish, and so what I did is … the question at the time that was really hot in the field at the time was, why do animals take the risk of making noise, you know, what are they doing, are they just sort of expressing an emotional state because they can’t help it, are they, is there some function of what they do? People honestly were asking questions about why are animals making noise, because it’s risky, right, it attracts attention.

So I used working domestic animals, the relationship between handlers and working domestic animals, as a kind of a model for that system. So I recorded the acoustic signals from over 110 handlers who work with racehorses and all different kinds of dogs, different kinds of horses, and they spoke, I think I got 16 different languages, and what I found was I found patterns in how people speed animals up and and how they use sound to slow animals down. And so basically what I learned was short, rapidly repeated notes are used all over the world, no matter what language, what field, to speed animals up, and long, slow, extended ones are used to soothe them, and quick, abrupt ones with an instant onset are used to stop them. So, you know, so it’s the difference between [makes sound] or [makes sound] right, those are all used to speed animals up. “Whoa, lie down,” soothe, slow versus “Whoa!” to stop a quarter horse, for example. And so yeah, so what I learned was it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and that’s had a profound influence on how I work with animals and how I think of how we communicate.

Melissa Breau: So how does that kind of continue to influence what you do today?

Patricia McConnell: It does professionally and it does personally. So, you know, with clients I was always paying attention, and I think we all are. All good trainers, when we’re working with dog owners, we’re paying a lot of attention to how people use sound and how they say things, you know. So, I mean, this probably happened to everybody who’s listening is you had a client who would say, “Jasper, come!” and Jasper would stop in his tracks, you know. And that was standard obedience, by the way, is to shout it out like that, and to stand really stiff and really still and look straight at your dog and, like, “Come!” you know. And dogs had to get over, like, OK, I guess I’m supposed to come forward, rather than their natural instinct, which is, I clearly should stop right now because they’re telling me not to come here. So I pay a lot of attention to how clients would speak, and, you know, I have to work on it too. I mean, I work with working border collies and who are sometimes 500 yards away from you, so you really have to pay attention to tone, you know, and how you sound. I mean, I’ve learned … Maggie, for example. Maggie’s super sensitive and she can get really worried, and so when I ask her to lie down, I say, “Lie down, lie down,” just really sing-songy, really easy, and she’s so responsive that she’ll do it right away. So both personally and professionally I just pay a lot of attention to that. Am I perfect personally? No, of course not.

But the other thing I learned, Melissa, after I finished my dissertation, after I finished all that research on sound, when I started doing dog training classes is I discovered how, yeah, sound has a huge effect on how dogs behave, but they’re primarily watching us, and how unaware most of us are of how our … the movement of our body affects dogs. So that’s the other big takeaway that I’ve learned about cuing is that just whether you’re leaning forward a half an inch can make a profound difference in whether your dog is comfortable coming towards you, or breaks its stay, or you turn your head away from a dog who’s uncomfortable, or stare at it, make it uncomfortable. So, you know, all my training as an ethologist, and study communication and subtle, subtle, tiny, subtle little signals, I think stands everybody who loves dogs in good stead because it’s so important to be aware that less is more. The tiniest little change in inflection, the tiniest little movement, can have a huge effect on your dog’s behavior.

Melissa Breau: And it goes back to, like, the example you mentioned kind of of somebody standing straight up and strict as they yell “Come.” It’s not just the language. It’s also the body language there that’s just so counter, counter to purpose.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to make sure we talked a little bit about the new book, because I know there are a lot of people who are very excited that you wrote it. So how does The Education of Will differ kind of from some of the other books that you’ve written?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, well, thanks for asking about it, first of all. It’s hugely different. It’s … this is a totally different work than I’ve ever done before. It’s a memoir, so it’s very personal. It’s a memoir about me and Willie. That’s why the subtitle — on the hard cover, anyway —  is A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog. I intertwine stories about getting Willie as a puppy who came as if he comes straight from Afghanistan with some canine version of PTSD. He was the most, he was fearful, he was sound reactive, he was pretty much a mess as a young dog. He really was. But he also, you know, he was … when he was good, he was like the best dog ever. He has a face on him that can just melt your bones, and he still does. I mean, there’s something about Willie’s face. That’s why the publisher put his face on the cover of the book, which I still am not crazy about because I don’t think it tells people what the book is really about. But his face, he’s just got the most gorgeous face, and he’s so loving and so friendly and so playful, you know.

The best of Willie is, like, just the dog everybody wants, but he came with all this baggage, and his baggage, as it turned out, triggered all kinds of stuff that I thought I had resolved from my past. I had a lot of traumas in my past. I was raped, I was molested, I had somebody fall and die, literally out of the sky and, like, fall by surprise out of the sky and fall at my feet and die. Yeah, and you know when things like that happen, it really changes … structurally, physically, changes your brain. I mean, when individuals get traumatized with that kind of a trauma and they can’t, they don’t, have enough resilience to bounce back from it, it literally structurally, physically, changes your brain structure. Your amygdala gets more active, your hippocampus shrinks, I mean, all kinds of things happen.

And so I had my own version of PTSD and I thought I’d resolved it, but when I got this super, super sound-reactive little puppy who, when a butterfly in China came out of its chrysalis, would leap up barking, and it set off, it triggered, all this old stuff and all these old symptoms with me. And so I basically figured out eventually that I couldn’t heal Willie until I really healed myself. So he forced me to go farther down and face some of the things I thought I dealt with but I really hadn’t finished.

So I didn’t start writing it to publish it. I actually started writing just segments of it, of some of the traumas that happened to me, as part of therapy, because it’s very therapeutic to write out just about anything. I highly, strongly advise it to any of us. I write in my journal almost every morning and I find it so balancing. But so I started … I wasn’t going to publish this, Melissa. I was just therapizing myself and trying to get better. And then, as a part of that process, I read a couple of books that literally changed my life. I mean, you know, that sounds, it’s used so often and I know we can overuse it, but they really did. That really is how it felt. And I started thinking if I could write this book where I intertwined Willie’s story and my story to show people that both people and dogs can, that the effects of trauma on both people and dogs, because dogs can be traumatized, and I think a lot of people don’t acknowledge that. Horses too, any mammal, but to also that we are ultimately so resilient, and that if we have the right support around us, people can heal from just an amazing amount of things and so can dogs. So that’s why I ended up finishing it, publishing it, and putting it out in the world.

Melissa Breau: How are you and Willie both doing today?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, we’re good, we’re good. He’s 10. I can barely believe that he’s 10 years old. He’s really happy. I think he loves having Maggie there. Maggie is great with him. You know, he’s so much better now. I mean, he recovered so much. He’s still super reactive, but now it’s like happy reactive, you know, it’s not panic, scared reactive. But he’s also … he’s not the best dog around other dogs, and so when Maggie came she’d, like, try and play, and he’d get grumpy and, you know, do a little one of those little tiny little, you know, grumpy tooth displays, you know, like, [makes sound] and she literally would be, like, “Oh Willie, come on, let’s play,” and you could just see he’d be, like, “OK.” So yeah, they play, he gets to work sheep, he gets, he and I still cuddle, and he gets a belly rub, he’s really good, he’s really happy, and it makes me really happy, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Good.

Patricia McConnell: Thanks for asking.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. When you wrote the book, what do you hope people will take away from it? I know you mentioned that you wrote it kind of inspired by these other books that changed your life, but when somebody finishes reading the book, what do you hope they’ve kind of learned or that they walk away with?

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, yeah, thanks for asking. I would say, one, that about that resilience, about the fact that it’s amazing if you know how to handle it, you know. You have to have the tools, you have to have help, you have to have a village. That if you have help and you know how to handle it, it’s astounding how resilient people can be. And I’ve since heard stories, and we’ve all heard stories, about people who have been through just unbelievable nightmares and yet they’re doing good, you know, like, how do you live through that? So people are really resilient.

I really want to emphasize and get out into the world, past sort of the Dog Fancy world, that dogs can be traumatized, you know. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you or listeners is that so much of “aggression” and “disobedience” are is basically behavior that’s motivated by fear, you know. And I see … I saw a lot of dogs who I think were traumatized, I mean, even just in the dog park they got attacked from behind by some dog and then they become dog aggressive. And so knowing that, you know, this is not about dominance, this is not in the, this is not a bad dog, you know, that we need to be really thoughtful.

Veterinarians need to be really aware of how terrifying it can be to a dog to have certain medical procedures, and I think veterinary medicine is starting to come on board, which is really gratifying. Dr. Marty Becker has a book coming out — it’s actually available through Dogwise, it’s coming out in April commercially or everywhere else — it’s called From Fearful to Fear Free, and a lot of what he’s trying to do is to change vet clinics so that they’re more conscious, you know, using a lot of the kind of methods that Sophia Yin did such a great job of spreading out into the world. So that’s another one of the things that I want people to be aware of — that animals can be traumatized and they need understanding. They don’t need dominance. They need understanding.

But, you know, the last thing that I would love people to get is that we all have stories, you know. We all have stories, and we all have things that we’re ashamed of or afraid of. And I’m a big supporter of Brene Brown and her work about facing those fears, about putting light onto some of that, rather than hiding it in the dark. And, you know, we need to be aware of the person we’re sitting next to, or the person who was rude in line at the supermarket or something, you know. We don’t know their story. And even when people are successful and productive, you know, you don’t know. You don’t know. So the more empathy and benevolence and kindness we can have to everybody and anybody, whether person or dog, the better the world will be.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s such, like, a powerful and important message to kind of get out there and think about and to be aware of, not just in your interactions with dogs but also with people.

Patricia McConnell: Thank you. And don’t you think — and this is an authentic question I’m asking you — maybe because of social media, I don’t know what it is about the world, is it in the water, I don’t know, but, you know, it’s true in many fields, and sort of parts of social behavior of humans, but there is a certain amount, in the dog world, of snarkiness, of, you know, of snappiness, of a lack of real thoughtful, benevolent consideration of other people, and I think that’s too bad. I do think it’s partly because of social media, but I just want everybody who loves dogs and is promoting positive training with dogs, if we all — and we all need to be reminded of, believe me, I am no saint, I have to take a breath sometimes too — but we all need to remember that no matter what method somebody uses or how much we disagree with them, we need to be as positive with people as we are with dogs.

Melissa Breau: I think especially in kind of the sports world, or the competitive world, you’ve got a dichotomy there between competition where people want to be better than the others around them and they also do have that relationship with their dog, so I definitely do think that there’s a snarkiness, and we all have to be conscious of our own behavior and our own words and kind of fight against that a little bit.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, yeah, you know, I don’t do, I don’t go to agility, I never competed in it, but I don’t go. I watch it sometimes, but I don’t do it a lot, but I’m in sheepdog handling and, you know, we all know how competitive some people can be. And I love the people who are competitive in a really good way, you know? They want to get better, and they love to, and yeah, it’s way more fun to win. I mean, it’s way more fun to do well. No question about it. It’s way more fun to do well. But overriding all of these has got to be the health and happiness of our dogs and our relationship with them.

Melissa Breau: I could not agree with you more.

Patricia McConnell: Oh good.

Melissa Breau: So I know we’re kind of getting towards the end of the call, but there are three questions that I ask everyone who comes on the podcast and I wanted to make sure we kind of got them in and I got your perspective … so to start out the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Patricia McConnell: Well, you know, I have to separate it out. Personally, I think I’m proudest of giving my dogs a good life. I feel all wussy when I say that. I could just get all soppy and Oprah-ish. But I, you know, I’m not perfect and, I mean, I can beat myself up over things I haven’t done perfectly and I could have done better, but I think, in general, I think I’ve provided quite a few dogs a really, really good life, and understanding them as individuals rather than just dogs and making them fit into some kind of a slot that I wanted them to fit into, so I’m really proud of that. And I also, I guess professionally, I think I’m proudest of combining my respect for good writing and my passion and love for dogs and my interest in science, combining all those three things. I love to read, I love good writing, I don’t think anybody needs to hear how much I’m just stupid in love for dogs, and I think science is really important, and I found a way, sometimes, you know, I get on the right track and I combine all those three things in a way that I feel is good enough, and when that happens I feel really good about that.

Melissa Breau: I love that, especially the bit about just knowing that you’ve provided a good life to your dogs. That’s such an awesome thing to be proud of. I really, I like that answer.

Patricia McConnell: Thank you, thank you.

Melissa Breau: So this one may be a hard question, but what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Patricia McConnell: Oh man, oh wow, oh wow, let’s see. Do I have to pick one? OK, I’ll be really fast.

Melissa Breau: You can share more than one if you want. I’ll let you get away with that.

Patricia McConnell: Good. The thing that pops up in my mind the first time I hear that is actually … it’s not a piece of advice. It’s just a saying and it makes me want to cry. I sound like such a crier.

It makes me want to cry. The saying is, “We train by regret.” It just hits home so hard to me because I think every one of us who cares deeply about dogs and is really honest, and insightful, and learned, and grows, you know, admits that there’s things we’ve done that we wish we’d never done and, you know, some of them are just tiny little stupid things. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” or, you know, so I think that’s a really important saying. But I think that the most important part about it is to remind all of us to be kinder to ourselves. I think a lot of the people I work with who are progressive dog trainers who just adore their dogs and move heaven and earth for them, we’re so hard on ourselves. Don’t you think? I mean, we’re just, you know, I work with clients who are just … they’re just, oh, they’re being so hard on themselves because they haven’t been perfect. They made this one mistake and it’s like, oh man, you know, we are all human here. So I think that strikes home with me a lot.

And I guess the other just sort of solid, quick, concise piece of advice is basically “Say less, mean more.” I just made that up, but I’ve heard people say versions of that, you know, so basically another version is “Just shut up.” I think, I mean, you can hear I like to talk, right, so I can get badly with my dogs, and I think it’s confusing and tiring to our dogs. And I think, you know, some of the people who, you know, those people who dogs just don’t ever want to leave, you know, they meet them, and the second they meet them they sit down beside them and don’t want to leave. There aren’t many of them, and I was never one of those people. I sometimes am now, which makes me really happy, but those are often people who are really quiet. So I think being very mindful of the way we use words and sound around our dogs is really, really important because, I think, frankly, our dogs are often just simply exhausted trying to figure out what the heck we’re trying to convey to them, you know? So I guess I’d just stick with those two things.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you. Kind of the last one here is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Patricia McConnell: If you had asked that first we would still be talking. That’s cold to ask me last when we run out of time! OK, I’ll talk really fast. Susan Friedman — I’d kiss the hem of her skirt or her pants. I bow down to her. I think she’s brilliant, funny, amazing, wonderful. I love Fenzi Dog Sports. I think that incredible work’s being done. Suzanne Hetts is doing great work. Her husband, Dan Estep. Julie Hecht at Dog Spies. Karen Pryor, oh my goodness. Trish King. Steve White. Chris Zink, the … everybody in, you know, dog sports knows. Those are the people who just, like, rattle off the top of my head right now, but I could go on and on and on. There are so many amazing people in this field right now. It’s just so gratifying.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Those are just a few of them, yeah.

Melissa Breau: We’ll have to see if we can get a few of them to come on the show.

Patricia McConnell: Oh absolutely, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Patricia! I really appreciate it.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, it was really fun. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We’ll be back next week with Sarah Stremming. Sarah and I will be talking about life with your dog outside of training… and how what you do then impacts that training.

Don’t miss it! It if you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Nov 3, 2017

SUMMARY:

Shade Whitesel returns to talk about toys and the process of introducing work to play. For those of you who haven’t heard the previous episode with Shade, Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. She has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring and her focus is really on clear communication with your dog.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 11/10/2017, featuring Patricia McConnell, to talk about what she’s learned over her time in dog training.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Shade Whitesel back with us again, this time to talk about toys and the process of introducing work to play. For those of you who haven’t heard the previous episode with Shade, Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. She has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring and her focus is really on clear communication with your dog.

She also recently launched a blog on her website, which all of you should check out at www.shadesdogtraining.net.

Welcome back, Shade!

Shade Whitesell: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be back.

Melissa Breau: I’m glad to have you. So I kind of want to jump straight into things here. So when we talk about play, I think most people think, It’s play, and think it should just kind of come naturally to them and to their dog. But all too often that’s not the case. So why is it that play can be hard?

Shade Whitesel: I think when you’re talking about competitive dog sports, we’re thinking about play as a reinforcement, and so the dog’s idea of what’s reinforcing and our idea what we want to teach them might be different. So it’s not always easy. And also I think we have in our mind this ideal thing, this ideal of our childhood dog who always brought the ball back, and things like that.

My childhood dog didn’t. Maybe that’s why I teach this, because I had work to do to get her to bring it back. But, so keeping in mind that I’m talking about play with toys, it’s basically an interaction between the dog and the handler using toys.

It’s hard because it involves shaping on the handler’s part, where they’re working from approximating a little behavior that the dog is giving you to a bigger behavior that you want to eventually use to reward stuff. So it’s kind of like even though it’s play, we still have to train little parts of it and make it more … train rules in it might be a good way of putting it, where you’ve got, you know, you can reward with a ball, but you’ve got to get the ball back. So kind of like those things are all caught up in our word of play, basically.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned in there kind of the bringing the ball back bit, and I think probably one of the most common issues that you hear about when people are talking about play is the dog takes a toy, runs away in the corner, and enjoys it all on their lonesome. What’s going on there — and how do you go about teaching the dog that you really can be part of that fun?

Shade Whitesel: Well, the dog, when they’re going away and they’re chewing it, they’re really fixated on the object itself, and so they’re thinking that the object itself is fun. And what we need to do is we need to teach the dog that they need us for the interaction. So they need us to activate the toy, whether that’s taught or whether we’re throwing it for them to chase. And that is more fun and we need to create more value for that, rather than the dog taking the toy away and chewing it off in the corner. And one of those things that we need to do is figure out how to play in a way that the dog likes.

It really starts there. And once they figure that out, once you figure out how to play in a way the dog likes, they bring the toy back to you automatically. And then value building for having you in there just works. The problems come when we expect the dog to play how we want them to play, like, for instance, how another dog we have played, or, like, what our sport wants our dog to play like, and then it’s no longer play and the dog may have other ideas of what they consider play. So it’s important to take what the dog offers to you and then reinforce that by giving the dog what they want, which is normally possession of the toy.

I find a lot of people just don’t want to give the dog the toy because they’re so afraid it’s going to take it away and chew it up, because that’s what they do when they’re babies. But in order to get what you want, you kind of have to give the dog what they want, and a lot of times in the beginning of training that’s giving them possession, and honoring that, and being OK with that.

So later on, and this affects right at the beginning, it is you also need to think about the tugging itself. One of my favorite things is to tell handlers to make it 50-50 when you’re tugging with your dog. And that means that 50 percent of the time the dog pulls you around. The other 50 percent you pull the dog around. Most of the issues I see with dogs and handler play is that the handler is pulling the dog around 95 percent or worse, and then the dog doesn’t think you’re fair. They don’t think they can beat you. So then when you finally let them have the toy, they leave.

They’re kind of saying their opinion of your playing and it’s not all that fun for them, so ... And sometimes that’s hard to hear, you know. We’ve got to start with little tiny parts, so …

Melissa Breau: It is a little funny in some respects that kind of the dog wants the toy, but the person wants the toy too.

Shade Whitesel: Right, and you need to learn, too, the word that occurs to me is cooperate. I’m not sure I mean that. To compete in a way that each creature has fun with it, and compete in a way that the dog thinks they can win, and maybe look at it that way, not that you’re just tugging them around because you think that’s what they should do.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned kind of the dog has to think it’s fun. And we’re talking mostly tug and fetch here. So what kinds of cues should people be looking for in their dog’s body language to make sure their dog’s enjoying the game and actually having fun?

Shade Whitesel: Well, they kind of really have to be all in. So I’m not going to really describe what their actual body language looks like, that’s probably different with each dog, but one of the things that I don’t like to see is a dog that I think is frantic or hectic. And so I want to see a dog that’s calmer than frantically tugging backwards.

So I think many handlers are conditioned by their sport, or what they’ve been exposed to, to think that a dog that is frantically tugging backwards, growling and thrashing, is happy, and I’m not sure that that’s always the case. It might be frantic and hectic and not so happy.

The simple thing to ask the dog is, you know, when you let them have it, do they like it? Do they run laps? Do they come back and play with you, in which case they like that type of play, or do they race away? So that’s kind of what you’re looking, the actions that they’re doing, rather than, like, their actual body language, because I just think that’s open to a lot of interpretation based on people seeing other dogs play, things like that. It’s really what does the dog do when you give it and how into it are they. So, yeah, that’s what I’d be looking at.

Melissa Breau: Looking at tug specifically, what are some of the common mistakes maybe that people make -- either in your toys class or in general -- and how would you address them?

Shade Whitesel: Well, the biggest thing is we have to remember we’re bigger than the dog, and so we kind of overwhelm the dog with the tugging, especially if the dog is young or if it’s smaller than us. I mean, you know, really what I see people accidentally doing is they’re dragging the dog all around and they’re never allowing the dog to drag them around. And the dog has to affect you, they have to feel like they can pull you down and get the toy, or make you move, or make your hands go loose, or something like that.

And then the other common thing is people never give the dog the toy, and that’s just a big deal, because they’re scared that the dog might not bring it back, and so they don’t give it to them. It’s a teaching thing. It’s teaching trust around your hands near toys. Hands near the dog. My dog thinks hands are good. He thinks they’re for shoving toys into. And that’s what I want dogs to learn, rather than being overwhelmed.

So that’s kind of why I’m really big on letting the dog have it and then choose to come back. That gives me information on how I’m playing and if the dog likes that.

Melissa Breau: With fetch or with ball play, are there common mistakes you see people make?

Shade Whitesel: Yeah, they start, like, they get really concerned with the dropping, which, you know, we have to get the dog to drop it, so, but they start commanding it and cuing it and verbally making the dog do it, and using a little bit of coercion to get the dog to come back and drop it. And those, I’d say, what I want my dogs to figure out is that their dropping activates me, so when a dog drops a toy at my feet, that activates me to bring out another ball in sight and throw it. That’s what I want them to look at the out as, rather than this thing that has to be commanded.

So dogs will tell you a lot about what they think of the game when they’re coming back to you. So, like, people get really concerned with dogs circling, with arcing, and all that kind of stuff, and it’s good to notice that, but when you’re training that, it’s OK as the dog works it out that, yes, I can come back and drop it. So that’s a little bit of a common mistake.

Melissa Breau: Everybody kind of probably has heard the idea that you should start with the fun and then gradually add work in. So can you talk a little about that? How do you decide when and where you add work to the game?

Shade Whitesel: Well, I have, like, a rote fetch game that I teach with rules, where the dog has to drop it, the handler has to have a marker word, and eye contact has to be added. And the dog needs to know that it dropped the ball to make the other ball in sight.

So it’s kind of a two-ball game, but you have to make sure that the dog understands that their dropping produces the other one in sight and that you’re not bribing or prompting them with the one in your hand to drop. So once you have that basic thing for the chase game, then I would feel confident adding some behavior skills through either obedience or agility. With tugging, the dog needs to be bringing it right back.

But also with tugging, the dog needs to have the self-control of not just jumping all over you. That self-control with the tugging is a big thing, so I want to physically cue the dog to jump on me when it’s allowed, and that way when they’ve got, when they want to come back right away, but they’re also looking for that signal that they’re allowed to come back and shove it at you, that’s kind of they’ve got some self-control in the game and some thinking in there.

It’s not just a frantic thing. When I see that, then I say that you can start to add simple behavior skills, and say you’ve got the rules, and you can start adding behavior skills. And your focus, especially at first, is to add the skills to the game. You don’t want to just run an agility sequence and reward the dog with the ball. You want to basically put the behavior skills into the game itself.

So it might look like you throw the ball to the dog a couple of times and then you cue a jump. And then you throw the ball for the dog a couple of times, and if you’re doing obedience you might cue a sit. And then throw it a couple of times and then a hand touch. So what you’re doing is you’re adding those behavior skills in gradually, and you’re keeping in mind that it’s about the play and the reinforcement of the play. And then in fact it’s easier for the dog. You can start to make that reinforcement of play thinner and thinner. And then, when you start doing that, so that leads to a whole other thing, basically, where eventually you’re going to want to thin the reinforcement schedule so that you can get some stuff done.

You don’t want to have to, for the rest of the dog’s life, have it three ball throws for one sit, you know? But that’s what I call a tell, where, assuming you’ve got all your games really well taught and the dog is bringing back the ball, your dog’s tell are what starts to deteriorate when your rate of reinforcement is too low, or the environment is too hard, or the behavior you’re teaching is too hard for the dog. And so in a fetch game a lot of times what the dog will do is, let’s say you only gave one ball throw for the sit and they thought that was kind of cheap. Then they’ll arc on their way coming back to you when previously they would have run straight back to you. Or they’ll not drop the ball quickly. They’ll chomp it a couple of times. So those are the things that the dog will start deteriorating, the game skills will deteriorate, and that’s what I call the dog’s tell.

So in tugging, the dog might start growling on the tug, or it may jump on you before being cued, or it will re-bite the toy. All those things that you hopefully trained past in your game skills when you were training for reinforcement will then start to resurface when you add things, behavior skills, too quickly. So, like, thinking of behavior skills as work and the game skills as the fun and the play, your game skills will start to deteriorate if your work is too much, in the dog’s opinion. And then you want to figure out as the handler what how your dog is telling you that, because they each have different ways they tell you that.

Like, a border collie will usually always give you the ball, but they’ll usually arc. Arcing is usually what a stereotypical border collie will do. Whereas a German Shepherd will fully come back to you, but he’ll stop dropping the ball. So different types of dogs have different tells.

Melissa Breau: Gee, I wonder if I’ve ever seen that behavior before. Maybe a little.

Shade Whitesel: Yeah. Anybody who’s had a German Shepherd has seen the “Drop? What’s that?”

Melissa Breau: The chomp, chomp, chomp.

Shade Whitesel: Chomp, chomp, exactly.

Melissa Breau: I know kind of before we scheduled this to have you come back on, we chatted a little bit about the idea that you’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about training loops and kind of how they feed into how a dog feels about a training session…. And I wanted to dive into that a little bit, but before we go too deep, just to make sure everybody kind of knows the terminology, can you explain just a little bit what a training loop is and why it’s really important for the dog to feel good about the training session?

Shade Whitesel: Well, I’m not sure this technical way of describing it, but for me right now what a loop is, is think about behaviors as a three-part process.

You’ve got first the dog doing behavior, let’s say it’s sit, and then the second part is he’s collecting his reinforcement, let’s say a treat, and then that little part between the treat and when you cue sit again is what I’m calling a reset. I’m sure there’s another technical name for it. So you’ve got behavior, collecting reinforcement, and a reset. And what I’ve really been interested in, so that all that forms a loop, because once a dog resets back to you, you can then, you know, cue another behavior.

What I’m really concentrating on nowadays is that little part of the reset, because we train it, you can, you know, start paying attention to the dog noticing you and then cue a reward or something, but that’s where it all starts to deteriorate. You’ve got your big loop. And what you’re doing is you’re seeing if the dog decides to do the behavior again or connect with you.

So things happen right there where they’ll start to deteriorate, and what I mean by that is the dog will start sniffing, they’ll start glancing at the environment, and all those are little signs that the dog, how the dog is feeling. So with treats, you give the dog a treat and he’ll always eat the treat, but they’ll sniff around before they look back at you for the next cued behavior. For toys, that’s exactly what the whole toy class is about, basically, teaching the dog how to give up the toy. So they won’t give up the toy if that little reset isn’t trained, or if they think the reinforcement is too thin. So what I’ve been noticing is that part of a behavior loop deteriorates before everything else.

So you’ll have a dog that’s sitting, but they’re glancing away. And so I’m really interested in that, because as positive trainers we really need to notice that, because it’s telling us that the dog is not all into the training session, and I want to know that as their teacher right there. So it’s just that reset, where the dog shows they’re stressed or their conflict, is just something that I’ve really been noticing lately and trying to train better and also to address when it happens.

Melissa Breau: So you talked a little bit there about some of the things that you’ve been doing. Is there more you want to say about that? I mean, I know you mentioned you get a little ahead of yourself, but is there more you want to say about what you've been playing with or you know, what you've been doing?

Shade Whitesel: Well we need to intentionally notice it. I feel like I never noticed it until the last couple years, and so we need to intentionally also train it so train the reset. And how we do that is we, instead of prompting a dog to look at us — we can call it focus, we can call it engagement — but instead of, like, prompting them to look back at us after they’ve eaten a treat, we can actually wait and have the dog notice us, OK, and then reinforce that. And so that’s we’re reinforcing the dog’s check-in, and the dog understands that it leads to work or another behavior.

So being positive trainers, kind of like I said before, we need total buy-in. And if they’re looking away, or they’re sniffing, or they’re not dropping balls, or arcing on the return, we don’t have total buy-in. And so it’s really, I think it’s awesome because we can, like, address that there in the training session instead of waiting for our behaviors to deteriorate. Hopefully that makes sense. It’s, like, the action the dog does between eating a treat or chasing the ball and then doing the next behavior starts to show the stress of the training session on the dog before the actual behaviors deteriorate.

Melissa Breau: You know, most of the time you don’t notice until the behavior starts to change.

Shade Whitesel: Totally, totally. We don’t notice until the sits get slower, or the dog doesn’t sit, or — heaven forbid — we notice when the dog’s not taking food. But I want to notice that stuff before, and I want to address it right then. Because my dog, like, say he starts chomping his ball and he doesn’t want to give it up. Then that tells me he doesn’t trust me to give him enough reinforcement for what behavior he just did.

That tells me that it's hard. Like, if I ask for 50 steps of heeling and I throw the ball, and he brings it right back and drops it at my feet, he’s telling me that 50 steps of heeling was not hard. If he doesn’t drop his ball right away, he’s telling me that was hard, and he needs a lot of ball throws, and he doesn’t trust me to do that.

When you start noticing that — I call it listening to the dog — then it’s so helpful, for me anyway, in my training to know that. And then I can, like, cue another chase. I can throw the ball a couple more times. I can tug a little bit before I ask for 50 more steps of heeling. I can go, “Oh, you can do 50 steps of heeling at home, it’s not that big a deal. But here out in the field with lots of other dogs around, this is a really hard behavior.” So I just like knowing that kind of stuff, and so I’ve been really interested in that the last, especially the last six months. Anyway, lots more questions about that kind of stuff as we all train.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, no, I think it’s really an interesting concept to kind of think of, and I think you hear everybody kind of say, you know, they have that “just one more rep” problem, right, and that seems like such a good way to kind of check in with yourself and check in with your dog before you ever get to the “one more rep” problem.

Shade Whitesel: Yes, exactly. And you know, I think, I think as trainers we all notice this and we call it different things, you know, focus, or engagement, or I call it the reset.

So I think we’re all kind of talking about the same thing, but we all describe it a little differently. And it just, it’s neat and fascinating for me because I always want to know my dog’s opinion. I want to know, so yeah.

Melissa Breau: So for those kind of interested in learning more about this stuff, how much of this do you explore in the advanced toys class, since it’s coming up in December? What do you focus on there?

Shade Whitesel: So the advanced toy class is, it’s Part 1 working on impulse control and making sure everyone, the handler and the dog, has the mechanics down. So we work on presentations, we really work on the different marker words, so “In spite of the tug in front of your face, when I say ‘yes,’ you need to take food,” that kind of thing. And then the second part of it is kind of figuring out where your dog’s tell is, adding the work to it.

Some people can get through that in the regular toy class because I do include it there, but the advanced toy class I usually get a lot of students who really want to concentrate on, like, adding behavior chains and things and figuring out how arousal plays a part, because a toy’s arousal is always there.

Melissa Breau: Of course, yeah.

Shade Whitesel: So and it catches you by surprise sometimes. So yes, we do really work on that reset, basically, and trying to figure out how individual dogs are feeling about their session. Dogs who would do best in class are ones obviously … the prereq is the basic toy class, but they don’t have to have all the skills from the basic toy class, but they do have to have the basics of the fetch game and the tug game. But they just need to work on the specifics. So yeah.

Melissa Breau: Awesome.

Shade Whitesel: Yeah, it’s really a fun class.

Melissa Breau: Hey, Shade, I think any class with you would be fun.

Shade Whitesel: You’re too kind!

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Shade. It’s always a joy to talk to you about this stuff!

Shade Whitesel: Good, yeah, I love to, so thanks so much for having me a second time. I feel honored.

Melissa Breau: Well, for all of our wonderful listeners, we’ll be back next week with Patricia McConnell. Patricia will be on the podcast to talk about what she’s learned over her time in dog training.

Don’t miss it! It if you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Oct 27, 2017

SUMMARY:

The Fenzi TEAM program is a progression-oriented titling program that emphasizes excellence in training. Each TEAM level adds complexity for the dog-handler team in four areas:  the difficulty of the skills being assessed, the potential challenges in the form of food and toy distractions, the challenge of the actual testing location, and finally the quantity of reinforcement allowed during the test.

We invited Denise Fenzi, one of the founders of the program, onto the podcast to talk about creating it and how it all works.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 11/03/2017, featuring Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we have Denise Fenzi with us again, this time to talk through the Fenzi TEAM titling program and then share a little bit about her upcoming book. For those who may not have heard the earlier episodes where I chatted with Denise, she is the founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and, more recently, the Fenzi Team Titles.

Melissa Breau: Welcome back, Denise!

Denise Fenzi:Thank you. How are you?

Melissa Breau: I’m good. I’m excited to talk about TEAM today.

Denise Fenzi: I’m excited about TEAM.

Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to tell us what TEAM stands for?

Denise Fenzi: Training Excellence Assessment Modules.

Melissa Breau: And why did you pick that name?

Denise Fenzi: Well, actually, it was crowdsourced, so I just explained the program on a Facebook list and asked people to contribute their ideas. My experience with Facebook and crowdsourcing is I can come up with a really good answer in a lot less time than I could on my own. So, within an hour or two, somebody came up with that, and I thought it very much described what I was interested in, which is a team event between a dog and a handler. And I wanted to emphasize the training aspect of a competition in this case, and so it fit very well. Training, excellence, assessment, and modules works well because they do build on each other. Each level is a module to the next.

Melissa Breau: So where did the idea for TEAM come from? What led you to create the program?

Denise Fenzi: Well, most people probably know that my interest is competitive obedience, and traditionally I have competed in AKC. And the numbers have fallen off badly over a period of time. So I’ve been competing since I was a kid, so a long time, and back then we would have so many dogs that they would split Open B into two classes, so you would have 60-odd dogs in one class, so that gives you a sense of the numbers. And a lot of things have happened in the meantime.

A lot of new dog sports have come in, and time has gone by, and people have different interests and such. But I hate to see something I love go away, and I think and think about, What was it about the sport that was … why were we suffering so much when other dog sports seem to be doing OK? And as I looked at novice obedience and thought about it, the AKC program was set up a long time ago, when training was done differently, and it was really very logical to start with heeling because of how it was taught. So back then you walked in a circle in a class, or in lines, kind of very military style, up, down, back, forth, run in a circle, and the dog was simply corrected if it went out of position. It was not refined, it was not pretty, it wasn’t meant to be.

The word obedience had meaning. It meant to be obedient. And the dog did what they were told. And so at the novice level, you really did showcase the dog’s ability to walk on a leash, basically what we now call loose-leash walking, except slightly more stylized, right? In heel position. And then eventually you took the leash off, and we had all sorts of ways to do that. And then throw in a recall, because you need a good recall, right? That’s obedience. A stand for exam would have imitated either a stranger touching the dog or a veterinary exam. It wasn’t meant to be beautiful. It was meant to be practical, and the heeling was not beautiful.

So the performances we have now look nothing like the performances of thirty years ago. And as I thought more about it, I think a big part of the problem is we don’t train that way anymore, and really beautiful heeling, the kind of heeling that competitive people want to see in the ring today, takes a couple of years to master. It takes a long time to get a dog to work comfortably for a couple of minutes with extreme precision, head up, and we’re talking 1 inch, in, out, up, down. It’s very minor scoreable issues. Done well, it’s beautiful, and in my opinion, I really enjoy teaching heeling. I like teaching all those tiny bits and pieces. But you don’t just teach it all at once in one fell swoop. You teach it over time. And neither dogs nor handlers really want to spend 10 minutes at a time — and that would be short; some people train for a lot longer than that — working on this one skill. Yet entry-level people who come in from the outside, they’re not thinking utility. They’re thinking, Well, I’ll try the first level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the second level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the third level. Competitive people don’t train that way. They actually train all the skills usually from the start, and by the time they get into the novice ring, they do have two years of heeling, and they have a lot of other skills that they taught.

So if you think about a barrier to entry, when your entry level emphasizes your most difficult skill, you’re going to really struggle to bring in new people because there’s no motivation. And if you do bring them in, what happens is they bring dogs in the ring that aren’t properly prepared. So they may heel, they may get through it, but it’s silent for 45 seconds at a stretch, very, very stressful for the dogs. If you compare that to the higher levels opening utility, the exercises generally don’t go on that long. There’s more going on, there are more cues being given, there’s more movement, there’s more freedom. I mean, on a recall, at least the dog is running and moving. Heeling is hard. And I thought, Well, if I were going to design a program that was designed to reflect the way we train today, what would that look like? And that was the goal of TEAM was to test the same way that we train, and we do train in small pieces, and it was also designed to teach dogs things like distraction training right from the start.

So in our first level we have a stay where there’s a cookie present, but it’s only 2 seconds, so it’s not horrible. But then it’s 15 seconds, and then the dog is working and asked to retrieve within 2 feet of a cookie. But that’s as you go up through the levels, so as one piece gets a little harder, another piece gets a little easier. The other thing we did is incorporated every skill we could think of in the first level. So you have scent discrimination in the first level. You have pivots in the first level. That’s the basis of heeling. You have sit and down in the first level because they matter.

And then, as you work your way up, skills are combined, so now you have a sit and a down, but maybe the distance is greater, or maybe there’s a distraction, or maybe you’re doing it away from home. And it’s kind in the sense that expectations rise over time, so if you are training to the test, you can actually end up with a very well trained dog.

That is not true in traditional competitive obedience. If you train for the test, you’re going to become miserable because you can only do so much heeling and recalls and fronts. And so that’s what we were trying to design was a program that reflected excellent training. So do you generalize your behaviors? Take them new places? Can you engage your dog without a cookie? That’s important to me. Can you engage your dog without a toy? That’s important. Can you end one exercise and go to another one without some kind of external reinforcer besides your voice? Because when I looked around the world at all of the obedience programs, and I looked at a lot of them, what I realized is there’s really a fairly small number of core behaviors that they all use and they combine them in different ways. And if you worked your way through all those levels, including things like fluency, can your dog do it, oh, I don’t know, can your dog sit on cue 20 feet away when you’re laying down on the ground? Well, do you need that? No. But if you can do that, your dog has shown the ability to understand the cue under an unusual circumstance.

Well, a dog show is simply one more unusual circumstance. So the goal of TEAM is that if a person trains the TEAM program and trains for the test, that’s fine, and gets up through several levels, they should be able to go anywhere in the world, take those pieces, look at the organization they are interested in, put those little building blocks together in new ways, and compete successfully.

Melissa Breau: So to dig in a little bit more in the skills specifically, what skills do dogs need in order to compete in the program?

Denise Fenzi:Well, let’s see. You need to retrieve, you need to be able to do scent work, you need excellent rear end awareness, because heeling is very much about moving your rear end and pivoting. We teach skills that include the mouth, the nose, the feet, the eyes. So can you look at the handler? Good. Can you look straight ahead? Good. You need both of those. Can you go out and come back? So we send the dog around a cone. Can the handler teach the dog using props? So you have to be able to show that your dog can effectively pivot on a disc, for example, or find front, which is a precision behavior using a platform.

The first level’s actually quite heavy on precision skills, but each one can be done in a matter of seconds, but I need to know that you can teach really high-level precision skills. But I let you keep your cookies, at least at the beginning levels. That gets thinner as you go, but that’s appropriate as the challenge goes up, as you become more skilled.

Let me think. Scent work, heeling, you need a stay, you’ll need a sit or a down/stay. At the second level you need a sit/stay with a cookie behind the dog with your back to the dog at 15 or 20 feet. You need to be able to jump. The dog has to jump. The dog has to be able to retrieve, but at the first level the retrieve is just hold an object in the mouth for 1 second. It’s not until you get to the top levels that you actually have movement. Eventually the dog needs to be able to work out of motion.

So, for example, the stand out of motion is an AKC utility exercise. We do have that exercise. We do have signals at a distance. We do have go away, so go out to a spot and stay there. We have hold the position for 5 seconds without doing anything, which is shockingly hard for a lot of dogs. They can sit, but if they think you’re going to say something else, they get very agitated when they have to just wait, and that is the expectation of the exercise. The dog has to be able to back up because … and that’s a first level skill. In my experience, dogs that can back up between cues have many fewer problems with creeping forward on a lot of exercises, so I want to see that you’ve taught that. And the dog needs to show a front. Now I will say the first three levels were designed to be foundation for all sports, because as I talked to my agility friends and people in other fields, their dogs can do most of those things.

We actually … many sports start with the same foundation skills. Many of us do touching an object, retrieving, many of us do pivoting on a disc, many of us do platform work, so those things don’t actually change. The really obedient-specific things is probably scent discrimination, and I wanted that in Level 1 because people make it so much harder than it needs to be by waiting. So I think that roughly, I’m sure I left one or two out, but that kind of roughly covers the skills that you work on in TEAM, at progressively more difficult levels as you work your way up. Oh, and behavior chains don’t actually come in until the third level. So up till then, everything is a discreet exercise, go out around a cone and come back.

At the third level there would be exercises like go out 10 feet and get on a platform, and then the handler will direct you to go on. So it’s a go back and field, go on over a jump that’s 10 feet beyond, and then go on to a cone, which is 10 more feet. So now the dog demonstrates that it can work at 30 feet and then come back. That would be a behavior chain. So those don’t start until the third level.

Melissa Breau: At the very least that gives people a pretty good idea of kind of what they’re looking at if they’re interested in the program. Can you share a little bit more about kind of the logistics of how TEAM works? What is the process for somebody interested in titling their dog through TEAM? What do they do?

Denise Fenzi: Well, it is a video submission, so it’s pretty convenient. Now in the first three levels you can tape it anywhere you want. If you have room, you can tape it in your house. A lot of people do the very first level in the house. It’s hard after that because of space. You do have to have a space large enough that the dog and the handler can be clearly seen and heard throughout the test. You videotape your test, you have to do it in order, you submit it through the TEAM website, and then you timestamp where each exercise is in order so that the judge … basically we do that because people forget exercises, so when they’re submitting their video they realize they’re missing one and then they don’t submit, because we really tell people, “Don’t submit a video that’s not going to pass.”

You have all the rules, you can use a very, very active Facebook discussion group to be sure you’ve done them correctly, but we don’t want you to submit a not passing video, so we try to make sure you actually did do all of the exercises. You have to pass all of them except for one. It is “pass not yet.” It’s not fail. It’s not yet. You’ll make it next time. We do not score it, but it’s pretty tight expectations for passing an exercise, so when we say the dog needs to find front, we really do mean front. It needs to be within 30 degrees of front position.

Now admittedly we let you have cookies, right, in those first levels, or we let you have a platform, but not always. So you submit your video and then a judge reviews it. The judge will give you comments on it, so it’s actually a lot of fun to get your results back, because you’ll get all kinds of helpful tips and suggestions.

So the judge might say, “You know, you did a really nice job on this. Consider …” and give you a little advice to progress it forward. So people always say they really like getting the feedback from the judge, rather than a score sheet. I know there are more and more people getting together in groups. I know of a seminar in Ohio, for example, that filled very quickly when they offered it. I know there are training groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and also in Portland. Again, they offered a class and filled it that day. It’s very popular with students because it’s fun. People who are just engaged … people love the idea of coming in and Day 1 their dog is doing cool stuff, not just heeling in a circle. So they love watching their dog do scent discrimination the first week, or get on a disc, or on a platform, and move and do these things. People love that.

Plus, playing with your dog is actually a requirement of TEAM, so people think that’s very entertaining. I love … I love to see that, that people are doing it in groups. You can test alone. I did a test recently with Lyra. She did her TEAM 3. I just set up a video camera, I marked off my area so I wouldn’t walk in and out. You want to think carefully about how you lay it out, because a judge has to be able to judge it, so if they can’t see if your sit is correct in front, or whatever you’ve done, then you won’t … you won’t be able to pass that exercise.

People appreciate it who for whatever reason cannot get to trials, will not get to trials, have test anxiety, whatever the deal might be. It is suitable for more reactive dogs. I will say that all of the levels are off leash, so that is a consideration. You need to be comfortable training your dog off leash, and at some point you have to be able to take your dog to new locations, so that means you either need to feel good enough about your training that your dog is safe off leash in new locations, or that you’re able to find a fair number of new locations to perform. And I know for some people that is a challenge, but I would suggest that that is the nature of competition, that you will go to new places and you must prepare your dog for that. So we do expect that.

Melissa Breau: I think the only thing that maybe you didn’t mention that would be worth bringing up is the idea about questionable exercise. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, we try to give super-clear criteria for what it takes to pass, but the reality is when you’re looking at somebody’s position and you just watched them do a 360-degree pivot, and it’s supposed to be smooth and continuous, and the dog should be parallel every step of the way, and we allow a 30-degree out of position, you know, at some point. Well, for a judge to decide if it was 30 degrees or 45 when it took place at one moment, or if the handler did something funny with their shoulder but we can’t decide, or, you know, little things like that, we do have the option of giving it a questionable, so that’s kind of halfway in between. A questionable is a half point off, so if you think about ten exercises being 10 points, you’re allowed one “not yet,” so you need a 9. A questionable is half off, so you can have two questionables and everything else perfect and you will pass. If you have one “not yet” and one questionable, you won’t quite make it.

But that, actually, it helps the judges. It makes us more comfortable, because it’s very hard to not pass somebody who you really thought was, really had the essence of the exercise, but you also felt that you could not say they truly did it correctly. So it very much puts the handler on notice, because everything you do at the first level is going to come back.

Nothing goes away. So it just builds on it. So if you got a questionable on your down at the first level, be aware that your down at the second level is at a greater distance and for a longer period of time, so you probably need to go back and look at it. So it helps the trainer do a better job.

Melissa Breau: I think you’re pretty well known as an advocate for positive training, and I wanted to ask a little bit about how that ties in or doesn’t tie in to TEAM. So does someone have to be a positive trainer to compete in TEAM? And is there anything about TEAM that kind of inherently tests the trainer’s training philosophy?

Denise Fenzi: No and no. We certainly don’t ask, and to be kind of brutally honest, I don’t even care. You simply have to pass the test.

In my opinion, it is easier to pass the test if you are a positive trainer, because it is designed to test clean training that is broken into small pieces, and since it’s tested off leash from the first level,

I think most people who are interested in TEAM are pretty comfortable training off leash anyway. But we do not, certainly don’t ask about it. You do not need to be a student of mine, you don’t need to share my philosophy at all. I personally believe that a good trainer of any method can teach most anything, one way or the other, you know, being a good trainer just matters because you communicate well.

But no, we don’t test it, no, we don’t check for your philosophy, and to be honest, we’re just pretty welcoming people, so if a person joins the Fenzi TEAM Players List on Facebook and is a balanced trainer, or mixed methods, or whatever, the topic is probably not going to come up. I mean, I don’t think it ever has, and I really would be surprised if somebody asked outright about that.

Melissa Breau: So if I wanted to put a Level 1 title on my dog, what would that video look like? What skills are at that first level?

Denise Fenzi: Well, they do go in order, and now I have to tell you my poor little head is not remembering the exact order. I do know engagement for 15 seconds. That means playing with your dog. Now playing can be as nice as a belly rub. It just needs to show something where the dog is interacting with you and not trying to figure out how they can just get away. That’s what I need to see — that your dog will stay with you and follow you, and if you interact or clap or smile, that the dog shows some kind of a connection to you. So we start there.

Then the dog goes into using a pivot disc in heel position. So we want to see that the dog can find heel position, and it really needs to be correct heel position, and then show me a 180-degree pivot to the left. Then I want to see your dog show me a front. Most people use a platform in front from several angles, so you throw a cookie off to the left, you throw a cookie straightforward, you give one cue, get the cookie, and then we expect the dog to come back and use that platform to find front.

We do the same thing in heel position. You can use a disc or a platform. The dog needs to show the ability to find its way to heel position, even when the cookies are thrown off center. We want to see your dog go over a jump, but you’re welcome to go with the jump with the dog, and the jump is very low. We want to see your dog back up 2 feet continuously.

We want to see your dog do scent articles. Now how does that look? Well, three scent articles, and you can put food in or on one of them. So talk about stacking the deck, right? We’re going to make this work for you. It’s going to get harder down the road, but I just need you to start thinking about scent discrimination. Your dog needs to clearly indicate the correct article, does not need to pick it up. As long as the judge can say, “Yes, the dog has clearly indicated,” it might nose touch and it might hold that, it might pick it up, it might lay down, I don’t care what the dog does. Just I should be able to tell which one is yours.

There is a retrieve — I’m trying to remember, maybe that’s second level — where the dog holds an object. The dog has to stay in the presence of a cookie in a bowl for 2 seconds and has to release when said “OK.”

So I want to know that your dog knows how to stay, and we want to know that your dog knows how to go. Your dog needs a sit and a down at 5 feet, so that’s not so horrible. Your dog needs to go out around a cone and come back, because we want to start that process of showing us that you can get your dog to go away and come back. Am I leaving anything out? I’m sure I’m leaving something out. I believe there are ten exercises in the first level. And in some ways, in my opinion, the first level is the hardest because there are so many things for a new person to look at, and then, over time, it’s really a matter of building up skills, so

… oh, by the way, that scent discrimination — the handler is sitting next to the article. So they throw a cookie to get the dog moving away, they place their article, and then the dog comes back in. So the dog isn’t working by itself at a distance. There’s no retrieve, there’s no front, there’s no formal anything. Those things will come later, but it does get you started on the path.

Melissa Breau: I don’t think you left anything out. I was checking my little cheat sheet here as you went along, so ...

Denise Fenzi: Oh, good for me!

Melissa Breau: So now you’ve kind of walked through the list of skills, so how did you come up with those things, and how did you kind of decide which pieces to include? What was the process like to put all those pieces kind of together into a program?

Denise Fenzi: Well, I worked with Deb Jones and Teri Martin to create this one, and I will say it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I’m not kidding, actually, and I’ve done a lot of stuff. The reason it was so difficult, we really did look around the world at what are all of the obedience skills. They are jumping, they are heeling, they are position changes, they are retrieving, there’s just a set of things and they come, doesn’t matter where you go, they are done, those skills are done. So we had all of those, we broke them all down and said, “What do those all look like?” So that was one side of a spreadsheet. And then we said, “What are all of the elements of great training?” Well, fluency. Can your dog do those behaviors under adversity? OK, we want to test fluency. Formality. Can your dog do those behaviors when you’re quiet and still and only one cue? We’re kind of particular about that. We don’t allow a lot of handler help. You really need to be formal.

Can your dog do these behaviors in an unfamiliar environment? I call that generalization. Can your dog generalize the exercise? Can your dog do it under distraction? So if there are toys or food in the area, can your dog still perform correctly? So we had a spreadsheet, which kind of created a matrix, which said, “How can we test all of these things without pounding a person at each level?” Because we don’t test everything at every level. We sort of, at one level you’ll notice it’s more skill based, so the first level is very heavy on skills, and then also can you create behavior chains?

We don’t even introduce the behavior chains until the third level. I mentioned that. Distraction training does start very, very light in the first level, but it gets harder and harder as you go on, second level, third level. Scent work, we decided first and second level, but you don’t even have it at the third level. You have it harder at the fourth level. So we went through, and we had checkmarks here and there, and we tried to figure out by the time the person has done all six levels did I feel confident that they had the skills to go anywhere in the world and compete. Now I’m not saying they wouldn’t have to rearrange the exercises, because they would, but that’s kind of irrelevant.

A person who finishes all six levels, who has also taken me seriously when I said, “Show me these exercises” in whatever, seven new environments or whatever it is, if they did that and they did it within the spirit of the program, i.e., they really did go to new places, they didn’t just keep going to their friend’s back yard, if they did that and they really did try to show their dog the types of environments that would be involved in competition, then they should be successful, and their dog should be comfortable because they are well trained. So that’s how we got there. Where it got quite painful breaking it up into fair chunks, so you want challenge, but you don’t want people to give up, because it’s kind of hard. Finding the balance between accuracy, which is what we emphasize in the first three levels, and movement, flow, behavior chains, which is what we emphasize in the second three levels.

Making decisions about things like a sit at heel. We actually don’t require it. You just have to tell us. Your dog either sits at heel or stands at heel. Same as front. I don’t care if your dog sits or stands, because again, around the world that varies. So you can pick what is most comfortable for you, or you can pick, like, if you have an older dog, maybe they don’t want to sit anymore, so fine, don’t have them sit, that’s not a problem. But it can’t be haphazard. You have to say, “My dog sits in heel,” or “They stand in heel.” So we judge that. That took a lot of thinking, trying to figure out around the world how could we design a program that didn’t create active conflict. So I think we did all right, but it did take some thought.

The next thing was setting criteria. What is a front? What is a finish? What is a down? It sounds simple until you look at a dog on a down who is one inch from the ground, the elbows aren’t down. Now all of a sudden you say, “What is a down anyway? And you realize these things are not simple. So laying out criteria was very challenging.

We do have video examples of all the exercises, so you can just look. If you’re a reader, you can read through our very detailed descriptions of what we want to see, what it takes to pass, how it should be set up, and then you can look at the video and you’ll see an example, “Oh, OK, that’s what it should be.” We do say what will cause you not to quite make it, but we don’t list everything. It’s impossible. There’s just too many possibilities. We do list the most common elements.

There is a website called fenziteamtitles.com. It’s well laid out, so you can just pick a level and look at it. Most of the levels have video runs where you can see a start to a finish. Not the higher levels, because I think we so far only have one or two dogs that have made it to Level 5, so there’s just no videos to be had at the higher levels, but they’re working on it. The program’s only slightly over a year old, and we did change our rules about two months ago at Level 1. We just made it flow a little bit better, so it’s possible we don’t have up a full Level 1 run with the new rules. We should have one soon.

So what a person will want to do is start with the website, start looking at the levels, they may find they already have several of the skills. Watch the videos so they see how it works.

Join the Fenzi TEAM Players List, which has become quite active, and get to know your team players, the other people, who are very supportive. Register your dog.

I think it’s $20 to register your dog. That will put you in the database. The database is searchable. Some people choose to be searchable to the public and some people choose not to. If you are a trainer and if it matters to you, you might want to make sure you’re public, because then people can see what titles you accomplish. Your TEAM titles will be listed there for each of your dogs. And a video run costs $29, so remember, you should only have to submit it once and you only have to pass once, so don’t submit a video that’s not passing, which makes it a very inexpensive titling program if you submit only passing videos.

We do have a Plus level. Plus just means the 1 Level you showed in a new location, the 2 Level you showed in a new location. When you get to 3 Plus, then you can go on to the fourth level. The fourth, fifth, and sixth are all new locations. So that’s probably how I would start if I was intrigued. I would join the Fenzi TEAM Players, and I would also from there get on the newsletter, you know, because I put out newsletters with tips and videos to kind of help you on your way.

Melissa Breau: So you talked a little bit about this. I wanted to see if you’d talk about it a little bit more, kind of the … that the levels build on each other. I know you added a little bit at the end about the Plus titles, but is there anything you kind of want to add to that?

Denise Fenzi: So when we designed it, so, like, for example at the first level, where you make your pivot on the pivot disc when the dog stays in heel position, you do have a disc. That would be first level. Second level you also have to show us pivots, but there’s no disc this time, so instead of doing 180 degrees to the left, now you’re going to do 360 degrees, and you’re also going to do it to the right, so that’s a little bit harder.

When you get to the third level, now I need to see pivot left, pivot right, pull sideways 2 feet and go forward 2 feet. Now that’s the first true heeling. But if you can do that, if you can pivot left from Level 1, pivot left and right without a disc from Level 2, and do what I just described at Level 3, then when you get to Level 4 and you’re doing true heeling, your dog knows how to heel. There’s just no question about it.

Or in Level 1 you have to show that your dog can find heel position with a platform, and your dog needs to be able to find front. In Level 2 you need to show me a formal recall without a platform. So did you have the skill to get rid of that platform? And your dog needs to show me a correct finish. That means straight without a disc. So the skills in Level 1 directly influence Level 2. So Level 1 can use props. Level 2 can you get rid of props and maintain precision? So that’s what I mean by the levels build on each other.

And then once something we feel is mastered, then we let it slide. So Level 4 we no longer judge the quality of your straightness. We figure you’ve already shown us that you know how to teach straight fronts and finishes. It’s totally up to you if you care to maintain them. We don’t care anymore. Now we’re going to do stuff where your dog runs out 40 feet, goes left around a cone, or maybe over a jump, or maybe gets scent articles, or whatever. Now we’re going to look for other things. But the first three levels are precision. After that it’s just kind of free fun, interesting ways of combining exercises that people wouldn’t have thought of.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask a little bit about the tools that are out there if someone is struggling to teach their dog those skills. I know you mentioned the Facebook group, and I will include a link to that in the show notes, for anyone who’s interested.

Denise Fenzi: We also have at the Academy, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy does teach classes that teach TEAM skills. There’s a couple ways you can get it. One is just take a class called TEAM. TEAM 1 is running right now. Now unfortunately, registration is closed, so you cannot join now. TEAM 2 is running in December. So if you look over the skills and you say, “You know what, I have most of TEAM 1,” then feel free to pop into TEAM 2 in December. It’s not like you have to have the title to take the class. And since TEAM 2 is building on Level 1, you will be improving your Level 1 skills, so you have that option. You also have the option of when Hannah Branigan teaches her obedience skills series, she teaches obedience very much the way we structure the TEAM program.

It’s bits and pieces. So while it’s not a perfect fit because it wasn’t meant to be, many of the skills you would want in TEAM happen to be covered in her Obedience Skillbuilding series. So you can take classes at any given time. There will probably be webinars on the topic. I would guess we will teach webinars on it. There are support groups out there that you can find through the TEAM players list, if you want to hook up with people more locally and see if there’s somebody you can work with.

Melissa Breau: So far, which skills do people seem to struggle with the most? And then I’d love it if you’d share some tips for problem-solving those skills.

Denise Fenzi: Well, the scent discrimination, this is really interesting, almost everybody passes it, but boy do they howl about having to teach it. So if I can get them to believe in themselves, they don’t seem to struggle that much. They do teach it, but getting them to start teaching it is very hard because they can’t get it out of their heads “This is a hard thing, this is an advanced skill.” No, it’s not. It’s no harder than anything else. It’s just that you make it hard by thinking about it like that. So it’s actually almost always, almost always, people pass the scent discrimination, but the getting them to teach it is just misery.

I would say where people struggle the most is on the pivots. Staying in heel position accurately is very hard for people. Their dogs have developed all sorts of habits, you know, maybe they start to pivot and the dog jumps around into position, or the dog waits until they’ve moved 90 degrees before the dog catches up. We score that down, so you cannot pass if your dog does that. And while people gnash their teeth a bit and get very frustrated, the reality is if you ask them again in two weeks if they worked on it, they say, “Thank you for holding your criteria, because, you know what, after I worked on this for two weeks, not only did I do it, but I learned how to do it and my dog got better, but miraculously my dog’s heeling has improved dramatically because he no longer bumps me on left turns.” And that’s kind of the whole point of TEAM. Like what I tell people if they’re struggling with their precision and obedience, I say, “Well, try this.

I don’t care if you’re working on your OTCH. Stop all your obedience for one month and only do TEAM 1. Only TEAM 1 level for one month. Now go back to your obedience and tell me what happened.” And it just never fails. Because they went back and focused on the foundation precision skills, when they go back into their obedience, their dog is that much better.

It’s a bit of an eye-opener for people. So I would say pivoting on a disc gives people a fair amount of … they stress about it, they worry about it, the pass rate is not as high, I would say, on that exercise than most of the other exercises.

Melissa Breau: Any tips for working on it?

Denise Fenzi: I just did the last Fenzi TEAM newsletter. It shows a video, I’m working with Lyra on how to keep her in heel position when I do sit, down, stand in position when I’m moving my feet, and if you want to use that, it will also teach your dog how to — it’s the same skill, actually — how to keep their rear end in position. So feel free to look at that, and that should help you out.

And if you search my blog, I do so much on my blog of obedience. And it has a pretty good search function, so you can put in something like “heeling” or “pivots” or “a disc,” any of those. Or if you want you can buy my self-study program, called Precision Heeling, through FDSA. That is available at any time, not just during terms, so you can buy it today. Tons and tons and tons of video and discussion about pivoting and heel positions, very heavy on that, so you would, in theory, be quite good at it by the time you were done with that course.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. And I think that I can share a link to the last TEAM newsletter in the show notes. So if I can do that, I will.

Denise Fenzi: Oh, that’s awesome.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned a little bit earlier that there are places starting to offer some classes. Is there anything that people have to do if they want to offer classes? Is there anything special they have to do to get started? Or kind of how does that work?

Denise Fenzi: No, I am not at all proprietary about it. You can use the name of the program in your advertising, you do not have to credit me in any way, shape, or form, you can do what you want, you can teach it how you want. So it’s simply there, it’s simply available.

The Fenzi TEAM Titles is not associated with FDSA, it’s not associated with the school. They are two separate things. I have no restrictions whatsoever on how you teach it or anything, really. You can use our logo if you’re teaching. Not the FDSA one, but you can use the Fenzi TEAM Titles logo if you’re offering classes on Fenzi TEAM Titles. Go to town, have a good time.

I think this is good for dogs, I think it’s good for dog training, and I think many trainers are finding it to be quite an eye-opener when they realize how effective training this way is. And since it happens to be one of my personal strong goals, anything I can do to make that work makes me happy, and I actually think if people take to this program that it will also improve the status and the wellbeing of obedience as a sport, regardless of what organization you decide you want to compete in or not. It’s not really that important. What I do care about is that people do things with their dogs in a kind and friendly manner, and so we have set up a program that allows you to do that. So go to town if it serves you well. I mean, I would personally, if it was me, if I was training dogs for AKC obedience competition, I would from Day 1, after those dogs are done with their pet manners class, if they show any interest in competition, I would start them in TEAM, and then, after getting up through a few levels, they could say, “You know what? And you’re ready for your CD,” because they would be, with just a bit of polishing, and the odds that you kept them, and you kept them intrigued and happy.

When I talk to people who teach TEAM classes, they say retention is very high because people have a good time, they love coming back, they love seeing, “Look, my dog can find a scent article,” “Look, my dog can retrieve,” “Look, my dog can jump.” After six weeks your dog will, if it’s well trained, should be able to go around a cone, get on a platform, pivot in heel position with a disc, hold an object in its mouth. That’s cool, that’s interesting.

Pet people do have the attention span for that for six weeks. They do not have the attention span for heel position walking in a circle. I mean, I don’t have the attention span for that. So whether you even want to teach TEAM, I would really suggest that some of these clubs, these AKC clubs that are struggling and that can’t find new members, something like this, where people start to play and laugh and engage, because engagement is part of it, and be silly with it, and teach cool things that everybody, “Oh, it’s a trick,” OK, well, call it what you want, it’s getting to where we need to go, I think that would do wonders for the culture of our sports. So use it as it works for you.

Melissa Breau: So I know that TEAM right now seems pretty focused on obedience, and I wanted to ask if you’ve considered doing TEAM programs for any of the other sports out there.

Denise Fenzi: The first three levels of TEAM was never designed to be obedience. I’ll just put that out there. It was actually really designed to be a foundation for any performance sport, because it teaches skills that the body awareness, the handler cues, the distraction training, the proofing, all of those things were really meant to cross all sports. So the first three levels is for that. I will say that we have at least considered, contemplated, adding stuff. What we’re going to add, I don’t know. Like I said, it was hard. It was a hard thing to do, and I don’t like to do things that aren’t well done, so if we’re going to do another level, it has to be done well. But I would say that, like, nose work might be a possibility, so yeah, you know, you never know. You never know. So it’s something to keep an eye on.

Melissa Breau: Alright, and before we wrap up, I want to ask you about that book. So a new book? Want to share the details?

Denise Fenzi: Can you believe that? I know, I just keep writing them. I wrote a book called Beyond The Back Yard: Train Your Dog Anytime, Anywhere, and I wrote it to the pet market. It’s a distraction-training book, and it was quite popular.

I sold more copies of that book than any other book I’ve done. And it did not sell to the pet market. It actually sold to the competition market just as heavily, which is great, but I’m sort of intrigued by that market, by the sort of in-between pet trainer, a little bit of competition dog trainer, engaged, I’m going to call it an engaged pet person, I’m very interested in that group because those are the future dog people. I like those people.

So this book is called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior, and it is not an obedience book. Actually it’s a hard book to explain. It’s very, very heavy on understanding the emotional reasons that dogs do things. So, for example, if you have a barking problem, you can have a barking problem because you have a stressed dog, a bored dog, an anxious dog, an under-exercised dog.

I mean, there’s so many possibilities, and it’s actually important to understand that, because the solutions are often diametrically opposed to each other. So the way you handle a bored dog and an anxious dog, you cannot use the same solution. If you do, you will make your problem worse. So the book is very much about understanding the reasons, the underlying reasons, for dog behavior, analyzing your dog from that point of view, and once you understand why your dog is doing the things it’s doing, then you can set in place a behavior plan to fix it. And then I give a bunch of case studies using recalls, I think there’s seven dogs that all have recall problems, and they all have problems for different reasons. And it discusses the reasons, and then it discusses potential solutions for each of those dogs.

So you can pretty quickly see why each dog solution needs to be for that dog and not the next dog. And then barking is also handled, dogs that bark excessively. So maybe seven dogs, and again, many different reasons. So we go through and we look at things like temperament of the dog. We do talk about breed, we talk about health, we talk about general emotional state, we talk about training. It’s not a book on training, but in relatively few pages I sort of packed in everything you could ever possibly want to know about what makes good dog training, how to do it, it’s all in there. It’s just exceptionally condensed.

If I was going to say who would get the most bang for the buck out of this book, I would say a dog trainer who specializes in behavior. If they could get their clients that have problem behavior dogs to read this book, they would save themselves an enormous amount of explaining, cajoling, coercing their clients, because the clients would get it. They would get it from the dog’s point of view, and I think they would be endlessly more cooperative with the program when they were able to understand why their dogs, because all behavior serves a purpose, and when people take the time to figure out what is the purpose that this problem behavior is solving, now you can address it.

So that’s what this book is about, and then it also talks about if it doesn’t work, what do you do now? If your solution didn’t work, how do you go back and evaluate and analyze it? So that book will be available in Europe, because they get published in different places, probably in a day or two, so by the time the podcast comes out, it should certainly be out. In the United States I expect it out November 6, and that would be through my own website, thedogathlete.com. In Canada I would expect it maybe the middle of November. Australia/New Zealand probably closer to the end of November. So the Europeans are they’re the lucky ones because it should be out in a day or two.

Melissa Breau: Want to repeat the name one more time for folks so they can Google it?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. It’s called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Denise, for coming back on the podcast.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you for having me, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.

Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Oct 20, 2017

SUMMARY:

Laura began training professionally in 1999, and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over-the-top to Under Control and her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil and Savvy: Training and Socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs.

She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 10/27/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titling program and her upcoming book.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we will be talking to Laura VanArendonk Baugh.

If that name isn't familiar to you, no worries. Laura is actually our first non FDSP instructor to be on the show.

Laura began training professionally in 1999 and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, training crazy dogs from over-the-top to under control. And her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil, and Savvy: Training and socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs. She owns Canines in Action Inc. in Indianapolis and speaks at workshops and seminars. She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

Hi, Laura, welcome to the podcast.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Hi, Melissa. I am thrilled to be here.

Melissa Breau: Good. I'm looking forward to chatting with you. To get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you're working on with them?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I have two dogs at this time. Penny is a Labrador who was raised as part of a Clicker training research project with guide dogs for the blind, and she actually ended up coming back to me. As a trainer, it's important for me to say her training was great. She did not come back to me for a training reason, which would've been fine too, but that's always like, my little, “No, I'm a trainer. She was good.” So anyway, so she now has very important tasks at home. She has to hold my couch down, she has to check my ponds daily to see if it's wet, so that's Penny's life right now.

Melissa Breau: Critical.

Laura: VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, Yeah. Those are important tasks. I also have Undómiel, who is my young Doberman, and she's Danish, so she has ears and a tail and all the extra bits, and she's pretty high-energy, and pretty fun, and I actually have some guilt because you ask what I'm doing with them right now.

Right now, they both are just dogs, which is a little weird for me because they spent so long in the dog sport world. And I took some time off mostly with Undómiel because she loves to work, but she wasn't loving mondioring, which is what we were doing with her as a puppy, and I think that was in part physical. I needed…she had some fairly loose joints and I think it just wasn't comfortable for her, so we could go back and do it now, but she's matured a little bit, but I've scheduled my life poorly so that’s why we’re in a holding pattern still, so yeah.

Melissa Breau: Far enough. So I know I kind of mentioned you've been in personal training since 1999, but I wanted to ask a little bit about how you got into it. So how did you originally get into training professionally?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I didn't want to do what I went to school for is the short answer to that question, so I graduated with a couple of degrees in, you know, mass communications, and a foreign language, and all these things that, you know, I'm like oh, okay, those are nice, but I don't want to do that. I ended up getting into…I’d done some obedience training and such previously. I ended up getting a job doing that actually at a big box store, so that kind of thing. I worked up there, became a regional manager for the training program, and it was actually while I was there that I went… I'm a crossover trainer and I was originally trained in more the Koehler approach and kind of encountered clicker training and was like oh, this makes sense, oh, this works really well, and then so I had my crossover experience, and yeah, just kind of never looked back after that, which is funny because for so many years I was like oh, food and toys are stupid, we don't bribe dogs, and that's totally not where I am now, so. Well, I'm still in the we don't bribe dogs, but toys and food are not necessarily bribing, so.

Melissa Breau: Right. So is there anything in particular that got you started on that journey? What was kind of the switch or was there a particular experience, or anything kind of that you can point to?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There were several things. I mean, I kept seeing people doing interesting things with Clicker training. That was nice.They were doing cute tricks and stuff. And then the kind of the clincher for me was one of my dogs at that time, her name was Chaucer, she was a brilliant little dog, and she was mildly reactive, and the longer we worked the more and more reactive she became, and nothing that I knew how to do was working, and in fact, everything was getting worse, so clearly the dog was stupid. It couldn't possibly be me. And so I ended up talking with someone about Clicker training and the nugget that I got from that was to click for the behavior that you want the dog to do, and I thought okay, I want her to be around other dogs without barking and launching, so I will wait until she looks at another dog and then I will click before she barks. So this actually makes great sense and we do it all the time now, and Leslie McDevitt called it the “look at that” game, so it sounds hilarious to say that I invested the look at that game as my first Clicked behavior, which in no way am I taking credit for that because I had no freaking clue what I was doing. It was one of those things that was very logical and I accidentally got it right, but was amazing about that is it worked, like, within seconds, and I guess that she was a brilliant dog, she made this work for me despite my absolute ignorance. And so I clicked her, she turned around and got her treat, and I clicked her again and she turned around, and I was like, oh, wow. Like, we're 10 seconds in and this is working, and you know, the effect of prompt reinforcement, it changed my behavior, and so that's where I started doing more research and saying oh, this is really cool.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, especially since you've been trying other things for so long and probably got really frustrated, at that point, with the lack of results.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there was a lot of frustration. Yeah. I was so ready for something to work and I think if you look at the dogs…a lot of the dogs that we work with, a lot of the reactive dogs, you know, they're very frustrated, they're ready for something to work, and just having that really powerful instance of positive reinforcement for a different behavior, it can be massively effective because, you know, I lived that, I'm not just making that up because that's the way the theory goes, that was my experience is I was so frustrated, I got something that worked so well, and I was like okay, tell me more. Like, I'm in now.

Melissa Breau: Right. So I want to talk a little bit about your first book, and maybe…you just kind of share a little bit about this. What led you to write Fired up Frantic and Freaked out?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I was... with Canines in Action. I do a lot of in-home sessions. I work with a lot of dogs that aren't equipped, for whatever reason, to come into a group class and I realized that about 70 percent of my cases were anxiety or reactivity, and I just kept saying the same thing over, and over, and over. I'm like oh my gosh, I should just write this down, save time, so I did so. So that's honestly kind of where that came out of was I was seeing so much of it, and doing so much of it. It was made partly as a reference guide for clients if they wanted a homework sheet, you know, here's a book to follow along with, and partly so that I would maybe not have to say it quite as so often in the future, which would be fantastic.

Melissa Breau: So for those not familiar with the book, can you explain a little bit kind of about the main focus and what you talk about?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: The focus there is really on teaching dogs to think and to kind of be cognitive in the moment. One of the things I talk about is if you have a fear reaction or just a pure joyous, excitement reaction, those can frequently result in the same behavior patterns and problems because what you have is a dog who is just way too excited to think, you know, whether he sees eustress or distress, he's still stressed and aroused and not processing. So it's about teaching the dog to think in the moment, it's about reducing threshold, and it's especially about teaching the human end of the leash to develop a good splitting technique and utilize that to make it much easier for the dog to focus in a new situation.

Melissa Breau: I definitely read your first book and one of the things that really stood out to me was the nice balance you managed to strike between the what and kind of the why, so it covers both the approach to training and kind of the science behind what's going on in the dog's brain, and I think you managed to do that in a pretty accessible way. You know, when I picked up the book I definitely did not have the background that I do now, and it really kind of helped build a base understanding for me. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach training for a dog that tends to overreact, like the approach that you use in the book?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Well, first, I'm just so happy to hear you say that because I'm such a science nerd and I wanted to make that science very user-friendly, so thank you, that's awesome. So the mat is…and definitely, I am not the only person to use a mat in this way. I want to be up front. I don't want to claim credit where it's not due. There's a lot of really great matwork protocols out there, but what they all have in common is it's a really handy visual crutch for the dog and it certainly doesn't have to be a mat. There's a lot of just kind of physical or mental touchstones that could be used, but a mat is just so convenient and so easy for the human to use in that way... but what you're doing is you're building a fluency, you're building some patterns of behavior that a stressed animal can fall back on, but you're also building some patterns that they can work through, I guess on a more cognitive level. “Oh, when my mat is presented I should think about going to my mat, I should think about doing these behaviors on it.” And you can use it both as an emotional crutch. “Oh, I'm on my mat, nothing bad can happen to me,” or as a actual behavior prompt, you go through these physical actions and you can earn reinforcement for it. And then the big thing that the mat does so well, and this is why think it so useful, is it's so easy to split behaviors in a situation using that mat, so I can take it, obviously, from looking at the mat, touching the mat, going to the mat, down on the mat, chin down on the mat. But then I also have a nearly infinite number of positions that, that mat can be in, in or around a trigger, or whatever. So it's a very flexible tool, I can fade it, or not fade it based on necessity, it's just a really easy way for people to do that, and for me as an instructor. So I'm working with clients who aren't coming in with a huge skill set and a lot of background. It's easy for me to manipulate the mat and they can focus on the dog or their patterns, and it just takes some of the load off them. There's a lot of flexibility to it. I like it.

Melissa Breau: It makes the criteria clear for the person as well as the dog. It's kind of neat looking at it.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely, Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I knew you mentioned you like to nerd out a little bit on that stuff and I'm going to give you full approval to go ahead and do that. So I wanted to have you share a little bit about kind of why it works and what's going on in the dog's brain, kind of what you're teaching when you introduce the mat work and begin to introduce triggers and all of that.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Awesome. There's a lot going on in the brain, but what I'm specifically…what I think is great about these kinds of approaches is if I have a stressed dog and an anxious dog, and let's be honest, that's where almost all of aggression or reactivity comes from, and so I've got a dog who is not in a happy place in his head, and every time I click with a Clicker-conditioned dog there's a tiny little shot of dopamine that's going on, so if I'm bringing a dog into what could potentially be a trigger situation, and we start with low criteria and we're building up at a rate that he can be successful at, with a high rate of reinforcement, you know, constant reinforcement going on, and this dog is getting dozens or hundreds of little dopamine shots... It's free drugs. Legal. That you don't have to wrestle down his throat in a pill form. It's great.

And so I think that's a really key thing that…you know, it's just built into the system. There's no way to mess that up if we've set up our Clicker and our training situation right that's going to work for us a hundred percent of the time, so I think that's great. And so yeah, a lot of it's just taking the dog…the visual I use, and I always tell my clients, you know, if this works for you, great. If this doesn't work for you, flush it. There will not be a quiz at the end of the day. But the visual I use is there's a continuum and the dog is limbic and reactive at one end, and he's very cognitive and rational, and analytical at the other, and he can't be both at once, so we’re asking the dog to move away from reactive and toward proactive, and we do that by making him…that's why I love Clicker training, specifically shaping and capturing as opposed to luring, which there's nothing…you know, it's not a moral problem to lure, but it's less useful in this particular context because I want that dog being analytical, and kind of really just crunching down on what behaviors should I try next, and he can't do that while he's being reactive, so if I'm reinforcing being analytical it's going to change not only what he's doing, but it's going to change the chemistry in his brain.

I've had this happen a number of times, but I'm thinking of one particular incident. I was working with a client and their dog for the first time. We're in their living room, we're in the front room and we've just been introducing the mat. The dogs not even fully down on the mat yet. He's experimenting with a number of things, but he really hasn't grokked yet that down is what we're after, and while we were working a FedEx delivery guy showed up at the front door, which is the dogs worse trigger, from what I've been told, and they're knocking at the door, he's leaning in, and he's 10 feet away from this dog and the dogs looks up from the mat and he just gets like…his forehead is creased, his little eyebrows are pushed together, and you could almost just see him be like, “dude, I'm busy,” and he looks back at the mat, and I am just clicking and treating, like shot gunning rapid fire because the dog's staying on the mat. And you could see he was just really tempted to… “there's a pattern that I'm supposed to go to, but I'm really concentrating on this right now,” and it's a physically different mode that they had to get into and just like it's hard for them to get out of that…you know, if you've ever tried to talk to dog out of that reactive burst when they're lunging and barking, and they can't snap back into rational thought. It's just as hard to go the other way. So we just put them in the rational thought and then it's harder for them to fall into limbic.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. I love that example just because it really kind of illustrates what the purpose and kind of the effect. I have a change in brain space.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I loved it because it was their first session and I was like, man, if I could have set this up any better to get client buy in, you know? This was great.

Melissa Breau: I bet they followed through.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about your new book. It's a fairly different topic, so what led you to write Social Civil and Savvy?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I think it's really interesting that you say it's a different topic because I'm looking at it as these are the same things. For me, socialization is kind of the prequel, it's getting your dog to think proactively in a novel situation, potentially triggered situation, before we develop a problem, which of course is my idea. I think most trainers would love to put themselves out of business. You can always go and train, fun stuff, but you know, if we're working with reactivity and aggression and all of that we would love to put ourselves out of business there. But yeah, socialization is all about teaching young brains to look at a situation and go, “this is interesting, what can I do here to get what results,” so.

Melissa Breau: So how do you actually define socialization, either for yourself, or you know, kind of in the book?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: That's a much wigglier concept than you would think. There should be a six-word definition that would be easy to apply, but you know, even when you get into psychology texts and stuff it's not that simple even in our own species. The way…I'm going to do this as a truly practical application, I want socialization to mean I am aware of my environment, I am making proactive decisions about my environment, and I'm still thinking about the environment, so even if something is new I can compare to things I've seen before, I can say, “huh, this is interesting, what happens if I try this.” You know, I want an animal whose thinking proactively is my ultimate goal there.

Melissa Breau: Is there one place where people often kind of go wrong, or you know, kind of a misconception you think people have when it comes to socializing puppies that maybe sometimes causes more harm than good?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, I think there's actually two. I think…and it's two ends of a spectrum where you have, you know, the I don't socialize at all, and a lot of times you hear trainers talk about…depending on what part of the country, but you'll hear trainers talk about winter puppy syndrome. The puppies come home in November or December, and the weather is horrible and nobody takes them out to do anything until spring, and by then you have dogs who are like no, no, the world looks like my living room, and then anything outside of that is scary. And in the other extreme is doing too much in the name of socialization and just really overwhelming a dog in teaching them that they don't necessarily have control of their environment and the world is a scary place, and I've seen a few articles circulating lately on the dangers of socialization, and you shouldn't socialize because it's bad for your dog, and on the one hand I was like hey, guys, you know. Several years ago I wrote an article called Don't Socialize the Dog, this isn't new, but the point is not that we don't socialize, the point is not to socialize badly, and I think if I take a dog to a situation that's overwhelming and I don't give him agency, choice and a way to affect his environment, yeah, I'm going to get myself in trouble. I'm teaching the dog that reactivity is his only choice, but that's not a fault of socialization. That's a fault of bad socialization.

Melissa Breau: So I've kind of heard it expressed as, you know, it's not just that you want them exposed to things it's that you actually want to them to have positive experiences with things. Is that kind of…

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Okay.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. I want every socialization experience, if I have perfect control of things, which we rarely do, but this is my goal. I want every socialization experience to end with “I win! What's next?” and that's…even if the dog starts off with a little bit of worry about something, or whatever, like, work through it, let the dog know that everything was a puzzle and he solved it, he's awesome. And you know, I want positive experiences and I specifically want positive experience where the dog felt like he had some control in that environment. So one of the big things…and this is why I think the socialization book and the fired up and frantic book are the same topic.

Predictability and a sense of control are the two things that I tell my clients that we crave in order to feel safe, and you know, I want to know what's coming, and I want to have some say in what happens to me, and that is what socialization is. It's teaching the dog hey, this is how the world works, this is what you can expect to see, and this is what you do to manipulate your environment and get what you want. And manipulate is not a dirty word, it's just agency, so if you want people to pet you this is what you do, if you want people to leave you alone this is what you do, and giving them that sense of control, now there's nothing to fear. Hooray. We're done. It’s awesome.

Melissa Breau: So if people were to pick up the book, read through it, and only walk away with kind of one thing, or one message. What kind of key piece of information would you want them to learn?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Give your dog a happy sense of control. I think. Is that a good…I don't know. That kind of condemns everything I just said. I want a happy puppy feeling he has choice, and yeah.

Melissa Breau: I normally and every episode with kind of the same three questions, so I wanted to give you a chance to answer the same questions, and I'm actually really excited to post under somebody who isn't just an FDSA person, so this will be fun. So to start out, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I might have to say that's actually the first book just because I've gotten so many emails and stories about how that was really helpful not just to people and their dogs, which was the goal, but I've had people tell me that they used the techniques for themselves in their own personal human lives, and that's really awesome, so yeah. I mean, I feel some guilt because that doesn't even involve my own personal dog, but there's…you know, my dogs probably don't need that specific achievement to feel happy. They're having awesome lives hanging out with me. So let's just pretend that they didn't hear that question. Yeah. I'm going to say finding out that it was really helpful to people, so yeah, that's it.

Melissa Breau: Okay. And then what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there's no way I can pick a single one. There are …can I choose two?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Go for it.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Bob Bailey once said…and I'm sure he said it to many people, but he did say to me also, you know, “Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement. Those are your three things. If anything is going wrong it's in one of those three,” and I have never found that not to be true. So anytime I'm looking at a problem it's going to be in my timing, it's going I’ve set the wrong criteria, or my rate of reinforcement is wrong.

Melissa Breau: Want to repeat those one more time for people just so that they can really get them down if they're listening?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Sure. Sure. Because trust me, this is tattooed on the inside of my skull for easy reference. Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.

Any problem you have it's going to be one of those, or maybe two, but it's something in there; don't go looking for weird esoteric stuff. It's going to be timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.

And then the other one…and I have to credit Steve White for this one because I'm one of those people who can get…let's say “focused.” Focused sounds like a nice way to put this, or you can get really intense on solving a particular problem or working a particular session, and Steve said, “The one to quit is the one before you say just one more,” and I was like oh, that's me.

Melissa Breau: I don't think you're alone there. I think that's a common problem.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. We should have membership cards, yeah.

Melissa Breau: So my last question for you is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There's a lot and I'm really hesitant to pick one because that's like picking favorite dogs, but probably Hannah Branigan. I would like to be Hannah when I grow up. That sounds like a good plan.

Melissa Breau: Wouldn't we all?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, yeah. She's got a lot of good stuff going on and she's got a lot of fantastic techniques, so I'm going to say Hannah, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laura. It was great to talk to you.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week with Denise Fenzi to talk about the TEAM program and her new book, which will be out later this month.

Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Oct 13, 2017

Summary:

 

Loretta Mueller returns to talk about her upcoming class, Managing Multi-Dog Mayhem and we talk about the skills it takes to manage a multi-dog household, choosing your next dog, training several dogs at once and how she does it with 6 sports dogs.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today, we'll be talking to Loretta Mueller. For those of you who've been listening to the podcast since the beginning, you'll known this is Loretta's second time on the podcast. She first joined us back in February, for episode five, and today we've brought her back to talk about her upcoming class, Managing Multi-Dog Mayhem, on managing a multi-dog household, because the struggle is real, guys.

All right, well welcome back, Loretta.

Loretta Mueller: Thank you, very much, Melissa. I'm glad to be here again.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you just remind everybody how many dogs you have now and kind of who they are?

Loretta Mueller: Yeah, no problem. So, I have, currently, Klink, who is a 12-year-old, Gator, who's 11, Lynn, who's 8, Even, who is also 8, Gig, who's 3. They are all Border Collies, and then I have Crackers, who is a 9-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, all very high-drive, very motivated dogs.

Melissa Breau: So, what led you to create a class specifically on this?

Loretta Mueller: Well, I will, on occasion, post a video or two of the dogs waiting to work or going on walks as a group, and people would ask me how do you do that, how does that happen, as if it was some magical formula, and at first I kind of was thinking to myself, well, what, what do you mean how does it happen? It's very simple. And then I realized that the more I talked to people, they're struggling. People are really having a hard time managing extra dogs. One dog is easy, for the most part, right? We make mistakes with that first dog, but then we're like, hey, I've got this figured out, let me add a second dog, let me add a third dog, let me get addicted, and the next thing you know, you've got a lot of dogs and you have a lot of problems, and I started realizing that the way I train my dogs is very different because I specifically train them so that they are going to be a part of a multi-dog household, and for many people they don't do that.

And so Denise and I were talking, and she said, you know, I think there's a place for this at the academy. And I said, well, you know what, after some thought, why not? Let's do it. And so, from there, it kind of became a thing. You know you put it on the forum and…or not the forum but the group, and people were very, very excited about it, and it was very funny because I asked for some videos of dogs that were doing this or that, and the number of videos that came in was a little overwhelming, and so what I really liked about this class is I'm going to be helping a lot of people, not just with agility, which is normally what I do, but with just life skills and people enjoying their dogs, and what I've found is there are a lot of people that have a lot of issues and are really struggling, and they just need a lot of advice and help on where to proceed, and I think with the more dogs you have, the more overwhelming it is, and so for me the goal is just to break this down into bits and pieces so that people can attack it with education, as opposed to just be frustrated with their dogs.

Melissa Breau: So, you mentioned you kind of handle training so that the dog will feel like it's part of or know that it's part of a multi-dog household. So, how do you handle training multiple dogs and making sure everyone gets what they need, and you still manage to fit in training, and I mean how do you do it all when there's still only 24 hours in a day?

Loretta Mueller: Well, to me, I'll be the first to admit, and people ask me, usually at every seminar that I teach, how soon do you train your dogs, and normally it's kind of an embarrassment because my dogs do not get long training sessions. Quality is important, not quantity, and people say that over and over again. The nice thing about those of us with multi-dog households is we don't have time to over-train because we're busy training too many dogs. So, that is one really big plus about having a lot of dogs is you're never going to over train anybody. You might under train someone, but you're never going to over train anyone. So, my dogs do not get long training sessions, 5, 10 minutes, usually every day, but I travel a lot, so some days they won't get anything. They do get walks, daily, as a group, and I think for me, being efficient is a really important part of it because I incorporate training into each of those walks, so, for example, recalls out of the group, impulse control when throwing toys for fetching, things like that. So, they are still getting some training, in a group, even if the days they have that pass that they don't get the individual stuff, but I really, really do try to focus for 5 to 10 minutes, every single day.

You know training the dogs, it's a priority. You have to make sure it's a priority. Being that that's what I do for a living, the tendency is just to be, you know, exhausted at the end of the day. You're training other people's dogs. Those dogs become the focus, but I make sure that I do something every day with each dog, if I can, regardless of how old they are. I have a 12-year-old. She's doing nose work. You know you just want to make sure that these dogs have a really wonderful life and are happy and still working their brains as much as possible. Another thing that really helps me be super-efficient is I work really hard on my dogs being able to stay while other dogs work with me. So, my dogs are on mats or their own bed and they just stay there, kind of like, actually, a circus, if you ever go to the circus and you have the lions, you know, on the little stands, and they come off.

They train, do the tricks, go back on the stands, things like that, definitely more positive, but my dogs are kind of like that. They just sit on their little mats or their beds, and I call them off individually, we train for a little bit, they go back to their bed, call the next dog off, and they all know the rules. They all know that they should stay there and wait quietly and things like that, and that's a big priority for me when I'm bringing these dogs up is I know that's going to be an issue, I assume it's going to be an issue, and there's so many people that say I can't train multiple dogs because my other dog screams or my other dog won't stay, and so, from the get-go, these dogs know nothing but that when they come into my house, and so I’m very, very clear with that, and if you can do that and you can train dogs out fairly efficiently, things go really smoothly and you can get dogs worked very quickly.

Melissa Breau: For a lot of people, when they get a second dog, they think it'll actually be easier than it was with the first dog because they'll entertain each other, so I wanted to ask if that's true, and if so, why or why not?

Loretta Mueller: That's a tricky one. I actually say yes and no. So, yes it's nice having another dog because, you know, dogs do well in groups. They're social animals and so I think having another dog around does fill part of that need for them as an animal, as a creature. Plus, you know, you've already made a lot of mistakes with your first dog, and you're like, okay, I got this, I can correct it, not a problem. However, if you're looking at it from the performance side, which most of the dogs at FDSA are looking to perform some sort of dog sport, task, it gets a little trickier. So, dogs can become very dog-focused, you know, I'll use the term doggy, which means they're so excited about other dogs that they kind of forget the human side of the equation. I mean, let's face it, dogs are awesome friends for other dogs, right? They speak the same language, there's no questions, for the most part, as long as everyone's temperamentally sound, there's a lot of wonderful communication that goes on between two dogs, and it's really hard for us to mimic that type of interaction, and so competing with that can be tough, as a handler. So, you have to be very careful with that and limiting, sometimes, the actual exposure or maybe I should say keeping the ratio correct.

So, the dog should spend enough time with me versus the other dogs. So, it gets a little complicated that way, you know, and the other thing I find is they can get themselves worked up very easily, just bouncing off of, you know, each other, as far as energy goes, and things can get very out of hand, very quickly, and then a lot of times people just don't know what to do, and that's a big issue. So, you have to make sure the dogs have alone time with you. It's really, really important. It just requires more time, and sometimes it requires separation in the beginning. So, for example, if I bring a puppy home, do I just let it run amuck and you know run around with all my adult dogs in the group? No, I don't. There's definitely separation as far as, you know, just to protect the puppy from doing anything inappropriate, also protecting the older dogs in the group, you know? Some of them don't like being pestered by little, little puppies, and so it requires that, and I have raised littermates.

As I said in the beginning of the podcast, I have Even and Lynn, both 8, both from the same litter. I will never do it again. It was horrible. I'll be honest with you. It was a very difficult situation because being that I had two puppies, in two crates, they both have to go to the bathroom, right, and first thing in the morning, you let them out of their kennels, you can't let them out together. Why? They'll play. They won't go to the bathroom. You let one out, it goes to the bathroom. By the time you come back in to get the other one, guess one? The other one's already peed. So, you have that whole dynamic that you have to think about. So, I always tell people it's wonderful as long as you can manage it and as long as you understand that in the beginning it's going to take some extra time on your part to set what you want so that the dogs view you as having a lot more value as the other dog, if that makes sense.

Melissa Breau: So you touched on, a little bit, in there, kind of making sure that the dogs get time with you and talking about, you know, training for just a couple minutes with each of the dogs. So, is it important for each dog to really get one-on-one time? You know I guess if it's important, how important? Kind of what are your thoughts on that?

Loretta Mueller: I think it's really important. We spend a lot of time building value in us as trainers, and these dogs learn to depend on us. They learn to trust us. They want to be with us, whether they just have a natural propensity, due to their breed or their temperament, or we've created it with training and things like that, and I think that, you know, the more dogs you get, the more difficult it is to get that one on one time, but I do think that you do have to make time for it, and it doesn't have to be a lot of time. Remember, dogs are social creatures.

They like being in groups, so they do get a lot of, I think, enrichment from the other dogs in the house, but they do still want that time with you, and the thing that I find with a lot of my students is most of my students only make time for training, which is great, okay, because dogs, dogs love to train, if we do it right, hopefully, and if we've trained them to have value in the work, and we're rewarding heavily, and we're not confusing them, which is great, but what I've found is even the highest-drive dogs, those dogs that, you know, will work forever, if they only interaction you have with them is when you're training them, that's the only time, I've seen a lot of fallback from that.

And the reason is, is because no matter how much you enjoy a specific hobby, if the only time you ever see someone, you have to do that hobby, and it happens every day, and there's pressures put onto it, right, expectations of competition or whatever, eventually you're going to need a little bit of a balance there, and so what I always tell my students is it doesn't have to be training, that one on one time. It can be just relaxing on the couch. It can be taking a nap with you. It can be just whatever.

Be with your dog, and I think that's something that a lot of people, especially those that really, really love to train, they lose sight of that sometimes, and I, myself, have done it as well, and so it's just these dogs are so much fun to train, and you're having a great time, but then you also need to realize that every once in a while, you've got to throw in some of that actual just, I don't mean to sound kind of weird, but just kind of the act of being with your dog, being in the same space, touch, things like that, and so I do think it's very, very important. You know training counts, but it isn't the be all to end all with the one-on-one time.

Melissa Breau: So, you kind of mentioned in there people who really like to train, and I think a lot of sports people, especially, have kind of a type when it comes to dogs. You know some like the really pushy, demanding dogs. Others prefer thinkers. You know once a household kind of goes beyond one dog, how much should people be weighing what they like in a training partner kind of against the other personalities they already have with their current dogs?

Loretta Mueller: That's a really good question. I see that a lot. As someone who appreciates both the pushy, demanding dogs and the thinkers, it's not something that I really think about, I guess, as far as my own dogs, because I will assess a puppy and say is this puppy a thinker, is this puppy not? However, I'm always, in the back of my mind, thinking in terms of, again, multi-dog household. So, I could say, oh, well this is the type I want, but in reality, if I look at my subconscious, it's back there. It's always there. It's always thinking in terms of that.

So, yes, absolutely positively people need to always take into consideration what dogs they have when adding another dog. It's very, very important to do that because what you're looking for is just a nice, peaceful group. You're not looking for turmoil, you're not looking for chaos, and if you start from the foundation of just is this dog temperamentally sound, is this dog super type-A, is it going to mess with the other dogs? If you start with that foundation set, everything becomes a lot easier, obviously. A house full of pushy, demanding dogs with type-A personalities? My goodness.

It's going to be tough, and it's going to require a lot more training and possibly more management just because it's like putting a bunch of, you know, high-powered CEOs in a really small apartment and giving them limited resources and expecting them to, you know, passively work it out. It's probably not going to happen because they have that intense drive, that intense need to be first and top, and when you add that many dogs in a situation like that, you're going to have problems. It's just, it's part of it. Do I have several dogs in my group like that? Of course I do, but again, when you bring them in, you teach them, from the get-go, that there is part of the group that you have to take turns, and there is, in a way, kind of situations with sharing, and you have to only deal with your own resources and not worry about anybody else's, and things like that.

So, yeah, it's extremely important to look at all the personalities you have as a whole. I have...a good example would be my first Border Collie Zip, who's no longer with me. She was a very type-A, dominant dog, extremely. She just wanted to do all the things and rules were silly, and that was just her personality, and so the next dog I got, after her, which I knew was going to be having to live with that, we always joked that if she was a human, she would have very few friends because she just was like all the things are mine, and this is mine, and everything's mine, and mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, and that was just her mentality, and so the dog I got after her, who's Klink, my 12-year-old, she doesn't care about much of anything. She's like super chill, so, in the house she doesn't do much of anything. She doesn’t actually care about playing with toys when we're working.

She's on and she wants to go, but as a puppy she was just that chill type of dog, and so that was of interest to me because I had the exact opposite, and it worked out really, really well because those two got along great. Zip cared about all the things. Klink cared about none of the things. Both of them were really, really wonderful working dogs, but it was just a really good choice on my part to get something that was not quite as intense all the time, and I think that that's kind of how I approach things is I look at…normally what I'll look at is my most, I guess, difficult dog in the group, the one that's, you know, wouldn't have friends type of thing, and if I have one of those, I'm going to base a lot of my choices of young dogs or a puppy off of that type of situation.

So, which dog's going to get along with the one that's the most, I guess, apt to cause mayhem? So, yeah, it's really important, and a lot of times, you know, I, you always want to pick your own puppy, right? You always want to be the one to pick the puppy, but if you look at…if you're getting a puppy from a breeder or you're getting a puppy from a rescue group that has seen a litter grow up and things like that, I really do defer a lot to those people because they've watched these dogs grow up. If you're looking at getting a rescue dog, you know, do several meetings, if you can. Obviously do it appropriately where both dogs have space and stuff like that.

There are going to be situations where dogs may or may not get along, and that's one of the nice things about the multi-dog class is that I show you how to assess that, and do we need to go into a management situation or can a lot of training be worked on to make things a lot more, I guess, easy on both dogs that are possibly having some conflict. Conflict is normal. There's going to be conflict in a group of dogs, and people, I think, have a tendency to get in a very utopic thought process about it and say, oh, my dogs are going to get along amazing, and everybody's going to great, and there's never going to be any discussions about things, and in reality that's not…that's just not the case. Anyone who read the sample lecture on the Fenzi site for my class, it says that, that there's going to be some occasional lip raises, there's going to be an occasional grumble, there's going to be things like that, and that's a normal thing. It's no different than me saying, you know, hey, Melissa, don't touch my breakfast, it's mine.

Melissa Breau: Right.

Loretta Mueller: And you know and so I would be considered a resource guarder because I really love food, a lot, and so I would be more apt to be like, you know, the fork on the table type of thing, whereas then you can teach the dog, you know, hey, you can't actually get quite that much, but you can protect your space, as far as food bowls and things like that, but you do it by using games and by using positive rewards and things like that because, you know, in negative situations what happens is that builds an emotional connection to the situation. So, if a negative thing happens every time the dogs are fed, for example, if you yell at the dogs, things like that, it creates that negative emotion, and then you're actually, in many cases, making it worse. So, my goal is to make these dogs feel safe, comfortable, happy, when they're having to share their space or resource with other dogs, and it just is so much simpler. It really is, so.

Melissa Breau: So, we talked a whole bunch kind of about the importance of personalities. Are there other things that people should take into consideration when they're looking at adding another dog?

Loretta Mueller: Yeah, actually, the age of the other dogs. So, I see this a lot, do you have an older dog, you know, does that dog need to have the last part of its golden years being bothered by a puppy? That's something that a lot of people don't always think about when they're looking at getting a puppy or another dog. Time constraints for you and your family, so, do you guys have time for another dog? And a big one, does everyone want the dog, you know, because if you've got some members of the household and some of them want the dog, some of them don't, that can cause a lot of issues. Some may train the dogs. Some may not. Space, do you really have enough space for the number of dogs that you're looking at getting and the size of dogs and the drive of dogs. So, a lot of times, for example, dogs with more of that, as I'll say in some of my lectures, introverted personality, do you have space for these dogs to go away from the main pack, or are they going to be all in a very, very small, contained area?

And that's something, for a dog that needs to go away and get away from the group, that's something that you have to think in terms of is if I can't give that dog a basic need that they have to have, is that going to cause turmoil? And yeah, it is, for sure, and so you need to think in terms of do you have enough space to allow dogs to do what they would naturally do to get away from other dogs in their group. What if they don't get along? So, normally, with an older dog or a rescue dog, they're a little bit older, you kind of have an idea of what their temperament is, but if you're getting puppies, anyone who's raised a puppy knows that they go through all sorts of changes in temperament, and what if this puppy grows up and the two don't like each other?

Can you…do you have the ability to separate and manage, do you want to manage? Is that something that you're willing to do? Some people don't want to do it, and so it's just, it's an understanding of exactly what these dogs need over what you need. You know I think that if you want another dog, getting a dog that isn't necessarily your type, as we talked about before, can actually be a really good thing. I've had several, and they've made me a better trainer and given me a much greater understanding of dogs as a whole. So, when people always ask me do you want a doer, you know, the pushy demander, or do you want a thinking dog, which one's your favorite? I've got both, and I adjust to both, so it's not a big deal for me. So, a lot of times if you have a real demanding dog, maybe getting a lower key dog would be a better bet, so you still get the addition of another dog, but you get a dog that's going to create less turmoil and less mayhem in the long run. So, that's what I usually tell people.

Melissa Breau: So, if I was to restrict you to kind of one core piece of advice for people as they kind of make the move or when they make the move to becoming a multi-dog household, so going from that first dog to adding a second one, what piece of advice would that be?

Loretta Mueller: Two dogs is a change. So, for most people, adding another dog is managed and it's easy, for the most part, with a bit of training. As you add that third dog in, something changes. So, you're dealing with a whole different set of dynamics, and things can get out of hand much quicker. It's best to start training as soon as your new dog or puppy comes home and by themselves, then add each dog in if things progress in a positive way, and never be upset or refuse to back up a step or two. That's one of the things that I try to tell people, when they see my six dogs all loose-leash walking on a flat buckle collar at a local park is this didn't happen in a week, right? This was systematically…Klink learned how to walk on leash, then Gator learned how to walk on leash, then the two are combined, and then you slowly add dogs in, and so it's not something that you're like, okay, well, everybody knows how to stay now, so we're all going to do group stays.

Group stays are not part of the…they don't generalize, so staying on a mat, in the living room, is not the same as staying on a mat, in the living room, with five other dogs there, and so people have to definitely understand that is that you have to always tell yourself that I've got to get the behaviors down with one dog first and each dog individually and then you add the other dogs in, and then that will get you that group control, that group that's going to listen and behave because they know what's expected of them when there are multiple dogs around. So, that's the one piece of advice I think many people have a tendency…they want to just jump over that, and that's where people get themselves in trouble.

Melissa Breau: So, talking about trouble, what are some of the kind of the common challenges that crop up when you have several dogs, especially several sports dogs, presumably all with drive and active interest in training? What happens?

Loretta Mueller: Oh my goodness, demanding, pushy behavior for all of the resources, right, any and all resources, so you, food, toys, couches, spaces in the house. These dogs have been bred and trained to want to work for all the things, and so then all of a sudden they're like well that's mine and that's mine and that's mine, and they're very adamant and they're very intense about it. So, that's a big one, big, big, big one. You know big personalities can have big discussions about things, and most of the time those discussions are all, you know, mouth, but you have to understand that that could occasionally happen, and we're going to go over how to deal with that in a multi-dog class, how to effectively deal with it. We teach them to love the game, we teach them to love being with us, and so what we actually create by doing that, if we're not careful, is we create dogs that absolutely, positively do not want to share their training time with other dogs. They only want us.

So, when we get another dog, it's very difficult for them to understand, well, why is this dog now at the lesson? Well, why is this dog getting my five minutes? And we created it. We did it ourselves, and so then we get upset because these dogs, who we've told to love the game and love us and love all the things that we reward them with, they're barking their heads off and we get frustrated. So, it's a balance that we have to create with our training that gives us a high-drive dog, on command for drive, ideally, that can patiently wait their turn, and I've had questions, before the class started, was do you do alpha deferment, so, that's something that did come up, and what that means is do I let the alpha dog in the group determine, like, for example, would I feed the alpha dog first, would I train the alpha dog first, would I, you know, anything first? And my answer is no. I train everything very randomly, so none of my dogs know when they're going to get picked to get trained. They just know they're on their mat, and as long as they stay, they'll get to work.

So, it's just a matter of them understanding, all the dogs as a whole, that they have to share that time and that you have that balance between, you know, intense love of the game and also the understanding that there must be some semblance of impulse control in order to get, to play the game, and they have to share that with the other dogs in the group. So, that's a big thing that I find that comes up with people, and that's the most common thing I've heard from people that were interested in the class and just people in general that I teach at seminars was that they just don't know how to get their other dogs to be quiet or to sit still while they're training the other dog, and that's a big challenge, and it requires a lot of effort, requires a lot of training, but again, as soon as the dog comes into the household, if you start it immediately, it becomes they only thing they've ever known, and so they're like, yeah, well, we always share time, that's what we do, as opposed to, a lot of people, they're going to be starting from behind the ball, right?

The dog's already been, for two years, going, no, this is all mine, mine, all those things are mine, you're mine, get that other dog out of here. Then it requires a little bit more energy on your part, but once the dogs figure it out, they actually really do roll with it pretty easily, because it makes sense to them, as opposed to the chaos of, oh my gosh, this is horrible, I can't believe she's training another dog. So, it does help, kind of. You know what I mean. They just get really upset. I mean some of these dogs get extremely upset and emotionally just, they become a mess because they don't know what to do, and if you show them what to do, when presented with that problem, all of a sudden they go, oh, okay, I can do this. All right, I can do this, this is good. And so then they have a plan, and that's really what the goal with this class is, to provide people with a plan so that they can start with the group of dogs they have now that may have 1 or 2 or 10 problems and then have a plan and a roadmap to work to a calm, peaceful multi-dog household.

Melissa Breau: I mean if you went from having one significant other and suddenly started dating around, your significant other would probably have a problem with that too, so.

Loretta Mueller: You think? Like, yes…

Melissa Breau: I mean you can't really blame a dog that's thought you were going steady for getting too upset about that.

Loretta Mueller: Yeah, we were exclusive. We were exclusive. What the heck? Yes, exactly. That is exactly what's going on, totally, and then we go I don't understand why you're not getting this, and the dogs are like really? Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. So, yeah, that's exactly what's happening, and so, again, you know, it's, to me it's very obvious that these dogs are doing that because of the fact that we've created such a wonderful relationship with them that we have to then show them, you know, there is going to be times where you're going to have to share me a little bit, and again, once they figure out the process, it actually goes pretty easily, so.

Melissa Breau: So, we've talked a lot, I think, about kind of the idea of running a smooth household and management and training. I wanted to ask a little bit about how you balance the two, both in real life and kind of in the class.

Loretta Mueller: I get this a lot, and sadly I can't give you a definite answer, and the reason I can't is because the dogs kind of decide what needs to happen, as far as management versus training. It is all about the dog. So, you know, with dogs that are temperamentally sound, with no major issues, and what I mean by no major issues is, you know, no severe resource guarding, no severe reactivity, things like that, so just a normal, you know, normal-tempered dog, after they understand the situation with the training and the taking turns and learning how they are supposed to behave when another dog is out and things like that, there's usually very little management after training, and I say management…some people have different terms of management. So, I'll go onto that in a second, but many dogs do have their quirks. I mean I have a houseful of Border Collies, so, they're their own little weirdos, you know, to begin with. I love the breed. I love them, but they definitely all have their quirks. Anyone that has a Border Collie will go, yeah, yeah, yeah.

So, even I have dogs that are a bit on the odd side, and the key, I guess, with that, is to identify it early and see if training can fix it. You apply the training, does it get better, does it progress positively, yay. If it does not, are there other options? So, I will always defer to training first, if I can. You know, so, for example, this is a good example of something that I do with my dogs, and they only know this. They know no other way, training. My dogs are taught that the house is not a place to be in drive unless they're given a trigger word. So, for my dogs it's the word ready, which I'm really happy that I just said that and none of them are getting up off the couch, because they're all five of them currently are just sacked out in my living room with me. So, if I don't say that word, the assumption, to all of my dogs, is the house is a calm place.

So, there's not dogs running around, throwing toys, there's not dogs running around, playing and going crazy in the house. It's just a place that they should be calm and out of drive unless asked into drive and the only place I will actually ask them to go into drive is in my training room, which is in my house, but it's a spare bedroom. So, if they go into the training room, that’s when they will go into drive because the training room itself is a trigger. So, I will say are you ready to work or…I can't even say it because they're going to all get excited. So, that word means get going and let's get to business.

Outside, when we go outside, as long as they behave themselves and go through doors correctly and you know are good with their impulse control, that's where they can be dogs and run around. So, they can go on off-leash walks, things like that, and if I do want them to go into a working drive, I would give them the same word, ready, and they would come to me and we'd work, if needed, and so it's very important because this rule creates a house that doesn't have dogs throwing toys me all hours of the day and night. There's no craziness. The house, to the dogs, is just like a crate, so a place to be calm, and it's something I just, I guess, took for granted because I was like I don't really want six dogs running around amuck in my house, just chaotic, but a lot of people don't do that.

They, the house is a place to play and go crazy and get zoomies, and all these amazing things happen in the house, which is fine, but always be cognizant of what you're actually working, right, because something that might be cute in the beginning, when you add 4 or 5 dogs into the mix, it becomes a major, major issue, and that's the situation that I find with people is that they don't think in terms of the future. They think in terms of, oh, these two dogs are having fun in the living room. And so for me, if, for example, I had a dog that was wanting to play with my puppy in the house, I would most likely, if I could, take them outside and let them have fun outside, and then once puppy was tired, bring them back in the house.

So, I'm just setting an example for calm, controlled behavior in my home, and then, when we go outside, they can be, you know, dogs, within reason, do dog things, run around, bark, things like that. So, I think it's something that people have to always think in terms of, and a lot of people don't because when you have one dog, it's not that big of a deal, but when you have five dogs, it becomes a major thing. So, and that's an example of training. So, for me, management can come in situations with just daily life. So, a good example of management that I do, myself, is not all of my dogs are loose in the house when I'm gone. It's an earned thing because some of my dogs are great in the house, and then I have some, a couple of them, that are a bit more naughty, and the naughty ones are crated, and it's just some people would call that, I guess, true management. I just call that putting dogs that are naughty in crates, and so that's, they can't be naughty when I'm not around.

So, you know, that would be fine. That's just a standard that I have for my dogs. Do I have a dog or two that doesn't necessarily like the other dog? Yeah, I do, and so do those dogs, are they left out when I'm not around? No, they're crated, you know, and so if you have those kind of personality things, you say, okay, there's a personality issue here between two of my dogs. Therefore, I'm not going to create a situation where they have the ability to have any discussions. I'm going to remove that from the table so that the only time they have the ability to have a discussion is when I'm going to be around and I can distract them from it or whatever, if need be. But the dogs, to me, will really determine how much management's required.

Many dogs, when I actually work through all the exercises in my class, don't have as much of an issue of space or reactivity, or they're greatly lessened just due to understanding, but you know, however, if you have dogs that are attacking other dogs, you know, you have to understand that there is a time for management, and sometimes it's just managing, like, situations we'll deal with in the multi-dog class, pinch points, so areas of conflict as far usually that's like space, so hallways, door entryways, things like that. If you acknowledge it and you manage little pieces, then you don't end up having to manage the entire situation all the time and keeping dogs completely separate.

So, it's identifying those trigger or those pinch points that will tell you, hey, this is an area of conflict, I can do this, this, or this, and that will take care of it and get rid of the conflict. You get rid of the conflict, you get rid of the emotion, the dogs then relax and things become much better, and so it's about just observation and seeing exactly what's happening with your group, and that's going to be very, very important when you can decide whether you need to train something or it is a true management situation.

Melissa Breau: Now, you kind of mentioned the loose-leash walking thing earlier, but I want to kind of circle back around to that. I know one of the most common requests, when it comes to having several dogs, is definitely loose-leash walking because there's definitely nothing crazier than having several dogs all pulling you in different directions when you're outside. Ask me how I know. So, I know that, you know, you've shared some pictures on the Facebook group and things of you with your crew, all leashes, nice and loose. Are you covering that in the class?

Loretta Mueller: Yes, I am, definitely, absolutely. I will be going over it, and I'm going to be starting it on week two. I've just released lectures for week one. So, week two we're going to already start on some loose-leash walking, and again, the key is one dog at a time. When you add more dogs, it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse, and so I think as the people are like well, you know, they'll probably be okay, get the leash walking done well with one dog, and then we're kind of adding other dogs, and again, like I said before, people have a tendency to rush it, and then you end up with four dogs dragging you down the road, and that's not fun, and you also have dogs that, you know, they might be somewhat okay as a group on leash, but then a squirrel runs cross your path, and then you are now officially skiing, which we don't want that. We want you to not be ran into trees and not be drug through forests. I actually just got back from a camping trip, and I saw that in full force, a woman with four Goldens, not a cool situation.

So, luckily my dogs are only about 35 pounds, but I do work with a lot of people that have dogs much bigger, and the bottom line is it takes patience, but the rewards are amazing, and I think that's the hardest part, for most people, when they're dealing with loose-leash walking is they want to just get it done and then add all 3, 4 dogs, and that's not how it works, and so again, laying those roadmaps on here's where you start and then there's how you slowly add in more layers, and a layer being distractions, and a layer being a dog, things like that, and that's one of the things we do in week one of this class, actually, is self-assessment of each dog, and I have a couple of the golds say do you really want me to write out everything for each of the dogs in my house?

Yes, I do. I sure do, and the reason is, is because you can use dogs' personalities to benefit another dog's training. So, for example, if you have a really exuberant young dog that's learning loose-leash walking and has it, and has got it, and they're doing really well by themselves, and then you have the option of adding a 4-year-old, who is kind of high strung, your 12-year-old dog, who is not high strung, or a18-month-old young dog that doesn't know how to loose-leash walk. Which one do you add in? You're going to go with the older dog, right? So, you can use those personality characteristics to help you, but you have to understand what those characteristics are because we just have a tendency to look at the group as a whole and not these individual dogs, and you can use them so easily, and I do that a lot in my classes, where I'll deal with certain dogs who get overstimulated by a specific type of dog.

I can use that dog for my group to work them through that, and it's the same thing that you'd be doing when you're dealing with multi-dogs. You can use the dog that best fits the situation that's going to put that positive progress into play, and that's going to be a really, really important thing when you're dealing with loose-leash walking. Again, I think people get on the verge of getting it and then they just lose patience, and I know nothing worse for me, personally, than dealing with a dog dragging me. That's just one of my things. Like, it makes a lot of stuff not fun, and so, for me, it's something that I really work on, and I think it's kind of fun to see a lot of these golds that are in the class, currently, are really excited about doing that.

So, I see some really, really motivated people that are hopefully going to get some really good leash walking out of their dogs, and then again, once they get it on one dog, keep working on all the rest, and then we add them all in, as a group, slowly, and the rewards are awesome because you can just walk your dogs and not have to worry about being pulled or drug, and it's a really awesome thing. I mean I know it's not nearly as cool as doing weep holes or you know dumbbell retrieves, but the bottom line is you're probably going to spend a lot more time walking your dog on-leash than you are, you know, doing other stuff. So, that's going to be a really, really important thing. I'm excited about that, super excited, so.

Melissa Breau: I think most of people taking the class are probably pretty excited about that, too.

Loretta Mueller: Yeah, they are.

Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to just kind of generally ask you a little more about what you will and won't cover in the class. What are some of the other topics?

Loretta Mueller: So I'm going to cover just group mentality, assessing your dogs as far as their temperaments, common areas that cause issues with groups, games to help dogs learn to share and accept other dogs, share and accept resources, understanding what each of the dogs in your group needs to be happy and content, because that's a really, really important one. They're just like people. Some of them are extroverts. Some of them are introverts. It really depends on the dog, and just noticing those characteristics and giving them what they need so that they're more comfortable, and a big one is when you should look into a true management scenario. I think that's a hard one for a lot of people. I find a lot of people go into management before they've actually looked into training first, and I think that a lot of stuff can be accomplished with training, as, again, as long as you're dealing with a dog that's just maybe over threshold or things like that.

Things I'm not going to cover, I'm not going to cover severe aggression issues between pack members, severe resource guarding issues, so dogs that are lunging while being fed, things that should be left to a certified behaviorist. To me, those things can't really be worked through via a lot of video because you're still going to be still missing out on some things or just discussion. I think that in those cases, with severe issues, you need one on one, in person time with a professional in that specific field, and so I think it's just really important that people understand that this is to fix tendencies or slight issues that don't involve severe massive aggression or severe resource guarding or also just, you know, if you're bringing a new puppy into the pack and you want to know how to raise this puppy in a way that it's only going to know that it's…that's how it lives, it's in a group, then the class is for you, but like I said, in severe issue…cases with aggression and resource guarding, I'm going to leave that to someone that is, you know, a professional in the field, and that's where I would send people to go, so.

Melissa Breau: Kind of my last question here, is there, just generally, I guess, anything you'd add and either about the class or in general or maybe something you've learned over time or that hasn't worked, just kind of anything you'd add to anything we talked about?

Loretta Mueller: Yeah. You know I think having a houseful of dogs can be really a fun experience. I love my group. I wouldn't trade them for the world, I'll be honest with you. One of the things I've learned, over time, and I think we've all kind of done it, probably out of frustration more than anything, is yelling or screaming or you know getting upset when the dogs are being silly in a group, it doesn't work. It just doesn't work. I mean it might make us feel a little bit better at the time, that we're trying to, you know, maybe fix something, but the bottom line, it really doesn't work. It's, the goal that you have to think in terms of, and this has taken me, you know, I've been dealing with multi-dogs for many years now, is just think in terms of divide and conquer.

So, if your group is unmanageable, you need to work each dog on their own, get them the skills, and then, like I said, slowly add in dogs if things progress in a positive direction. If you bring dogs in, just assume it's going to be a multi-dog household, and all your training should be around that. If you only ever want one dog, it's a little different, but I think, to me, you know, every dog that comes in is going to understand that they will be in a group situation and they will have to have these specific skills and games that they have learned that will help them deal with that type of life, because it's different.

I mean it's very different, especially going from one dog to multiple dogs, the dogs have to be accepting of personal space, possibly being invaded, things like that, and you have to work with them to develop that understanding and the tolerance to accept, you know, dogs in their space and things like that, and then, on the flip side, you also, as the trainer, have to understand how to make things less evasive and how to give dogs outs and options and things like that, and I think that something I've learned, a lot, just through the years is that incompatible behaviors, so, if you have a behavior you don't like, go the exact opposite and teach that. So, it's really hard for, example, a dog to run ahead of everyone else, and you'll see this common in a lot of the herding breeds, they'll nip. So, for example, if you let your dogs in the house, one dog in particular, normally, will run ahead of everybody because they're busting through the door, of course, and they will wheel around and nip those dogs coming through the hallway or through a door.

So, you just think in terms of incompatible behavior, so, if the dog is waiting at the door to be released, is that compatible with running through the door and biting the other dogs? No. They can't do both, and so you want to think in terms of I want to find a behavior that they can't do simultaneously, and then you work on that as a trained behavior and you'll get that situation. So, one of the things that people will get used to, throughout this session, is in a group, my dogs are released to commands or to food or through doors by their names. So in agility, I say okay. That's their release word. In a group situation, because I would never do agility with my dogs in a group…that just sounds dangerous. It really does. I'm like I've got a little anxiety over that one, actually, but you, I would release them with an okay in agility, but in a group, and for example if I wanted them to come to the door, if I say okay, is that fair?

Melissa Breau: Right.

Loretta Mueller: It's, well, it is, technically, if I want them to all bust through the door at once, which is definitely not what I want, because they'll kill each other, but you know people are like okay, and then all five dogs jump up and bust through the door. Well, that's not what I want. So, in the situation of a group thing, I would be saying, Klink, and Klink means you are released to come to the door. If I want to tug with multiple dogs, for example, I would say Klink, get it, or Lynn, get it. So, it gives the dog's name and then something, and that way I can be very specific about what I want which dog to do, and that was something I didn't think about, actually.

One of my students was just feeding her dogs cookies, you know, just cookies, and one of the dogs was getting a little guard-y, and what I realized through that was that I tell my dogs their names before I give them a cookie, if I have five dogs waiting at my feet, and none of them try to get the other dog's cookie, and I do have a couple dogs that are a little resource-guard-y, but unless they hear their name, they know not to get the cookie, and so it's just little things like that that if you're not training with multiple dogs, you don't think about, and then, all of a sudden, you add in that second dog, and you're like, oh wow, everything has changed now because my first dog doesn't want the other dog to get cookies, etcetera, etcetera.

So, it's stuff like that that I've just naturally developed through the years of having multiple dogs that we will go through, and you know you don't have to say your dog's name. You can…one of my students has uno, dos, tres, one, two, three in Spanish. That's how she calls her dogs, as far as group stuff. So, her dogs are uno, dos, tres in a group, and then her dogs, you know, when they're individually training, have their names and things like that, and so, so my dogs' conceptual…

Melissa Breau: I was going to say I'm assuming that's because she uses their names to mean something else in training.

Loretta Mueller: Yes, exactly, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Loretta Mueller: And you know dogs, dogs are very good at figuring out scenarios. They're phenomenal at figuring them out. I mean my dogs know that if they come out of the house and we turn left, we're going to go into the agility field, but I never work five dogs in agility. So, they don't do agility. If I come out with one dog, and I turn left, and I go to the agility field, they know they're working. So, it's all about context. So, I teach my dogs that in context there's group context and then there's individual context, and they are very, very good at figuring that out, and so we'll be going through that, as well, in the class, but that's a big one is teaching them what they should expect in a group, and so a lot of these people, we're working on a lot of that stuff this, the next six weeks. So, I'm pretty excited about the class.

Melissa Breau: It sounds awesome.

Loretta Mueller: Yeah. Yeah. I'm excited about it. I'm looking forward to seeing the videos and seeing the starting points. I just released a lecture where it says I need to see the ugly, and so I'm kind of excited to go look at the forums and see some ugly, and then we can work on some stuff. So, yeah, it's going to be a fun class.

Melissa Breau: For folks listening, we're actually recording this on the first day of class, on October 1. So, they won't hear this for a week or two, but for you, it's, today's the very first day of class.

Loretta Mueller: Yes, it is.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you, so much, for coming back on the podcast, Loretta. This is great.

Loretta Mueller: Yeah. You're welcome. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll actually be back next week with our first non-FDSA interview. I'll be back with Laura VanArendonk Baugh. I pronounced that right, I'm pretty sure, and she's the author of Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, Training Crazy Dogs From Over-The-Top to Under Control, and Social, Civil, and Savvy, Training and Socializing Puppies to Become the Best Possible Dogs. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Oct 6, 2017

Summary:

In 2004 Barbara Currier and her husband Michael were relocated to Richmond, VA, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her amazing foundation-based training, centered around impulse control and relationship building with your dog.  

She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned from each of them into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method in 2014. She has successfully competed in agility with over 10 different breeds of dogs.

Along the way, she started her own in home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue in assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.

Barbara has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series Satisfaction and various commercials.

Today Barbara is the head dog trainer for the F.I.D.O Program run at Georgia Tech which creates wearable computing for military, SAR and service dogs.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I’ll be talking to Barbara Currier. In 2004, Barbara and her husband, Michael, were relocated to Richmond, VA, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her amazing foundation based training centered around impulse control and relationship building with your dog. She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned, from each of them, into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method, in 2014. She successfully competed in agility with over ten different breeds of dogs.

Along the way, she started her own in-home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue, and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue and assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.

Barbara has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series, Satisfaction, and various commercials. Today Barbara is the head dog trainer for the FIDO Program, run at Georgia Tech, which creates wearable computing for military search and rescue service dogs. Hi, Barbara. Welcome to the podcast.

Barbara Currier: Thanks for having me, Melissa. I’m really happy to be here.

Melissa Breau: As a new FDSA instructor, I’m looking forward to getting to know you a little bit.

Barbara Currier: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have now and what you’re working on with them?

Barbara Currier: Sure. I have four dogs, currently, two Border Collies, a Parson Russell Terrier, and a Miniature Poodle. My oldest is Piper. She is the Parson Russell Terrier. She’s 8 years old. I got her when she was 2 years old. She belonged to a friend of mine, who passed away unexpectedly. We tried agility with her, but she didn’t love it. She loved it when there was cheese around, but the moment the treats went away, it was more of, okay, I’ll do it, but the love clearly wasn’t there. She’s also built like a typical terrier, so she’s very front-end heavy. She’s really straight in the shoulder, and I really struggled with keeping her sound. I specifically thought, when we would work weave poles and when we would do A-frame stuff, she was constantly coming up lame, and so I decided since she didn’t particularly love it, and I, you know, didn’t want to keep injuring her, that I would just find something else that she would like better, so one of the things that she’s always loved is swimming, so I decided to try dock diving with her, and that is, truly, her love. We don’t need to have cheese, or any type of treat, within a 50-mile radius and she will happily do her dock diving all day long, so that’s been really fun.

I have a Border Collie, Brazen. I have two Border Collies. Brazen is the oldest of the two, by a few months. She’s 8 years old. I got her from a breeder, in Virginia, when she was 8 weeks old. Unfortunately, she has a lot of health problems, so she has not really been able to do any type of sport. She has some minor brain damage. The best way to describe her is, basically, she’s like autistic. She doesn’t deal well with any types of changes in her environment. She tends to be a self-mutilator, so when anything changes, like my neighbor parks his truck in a different part of his driveway, she’ll rip the hair out of her body, so we’ve gotten that under control. It was really bad, when she was a puppy, but we’ve gotten it under control, but she doesn’t handle any types of changes well, so she’s happiest when she can just be at home, on the property, so we let her just do that. She also has a very severe case of Border Collie collapse, so she passes out whenever she has any type of hard exercise, even just playing frisbee, so we have to, kind of, keep that managed too, so unfortunately, she never really got to do any type of performance, but she’s happy being at home and chilling and getting out and playing. We have five acres, completely fenced, so she gets plenty of room to run around, so that’s, kind of, what she does.

Blitz is my other Border Collie. He is also 8. I adopted him from Bimmer’s Border Collie Rescue, in Virginia, when he was 10 months old. He just recently retired from agility due to, at 7, he tore his psoas and we rehabbed that for a year, and then, when he came back, he was sound for about two months, and then he injured his flexor tendon, and I felt like we were having progressive injuries, and that was not the way I wanted him to be in his later years. I wanted him to be able to enjoy life and do all of the things that he loves to do without constant rehabbing, so I made the decision to retire him from agility, about three months ago. It just seemed like that was the thing that kept injuring him, but everything else, in life, wasn’t, so it just seemed like it was the right choice, and he’s loving retirement. He’s doing dock diving now. He’s also my service dog. I am hypoglycemic, and he actually detects it about 30 minutes before I know anything is going to happen, and if I eat, then I don’t have any episodes, so he is, kind of, my other half. He’s just amazing.  

Then my youngest is Miso. She is a Miniature Poodle. She is 3 years old, and I got her from a breeder in Florida, when she was 8 weeks, and actually waited for 10 years to get a puppy from her line, and she was worth every year I waited because she has been perfect since the moment she came home. She’s been competing for about a year and a half now, in agility, and in her first year, of competing, she actually qualified for AKC Nationals, and she’s, actually, the seventh ranking dog in the 12-inch division, in the country, and she’s already been to two world team tryouts, and won round one of the FCI World Team tryout. She’s already qualified for her second AKC Nationals. She’s qualified for USDAA Cynosport, and she is one double q away from her MACH, and at this point she’s only been trialing a year and a half, and I actually only trial about once a month because I am so busy, so she is pretty remarkable.

Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s impressive.

Barbara Currier: Yeah. Yes. She is a super impressive little girl, so she’s been really, really fun and we have a new puppy coming, in the fall, hopefully.

Melissa Breau: Fingers crossed.

Barbara Currier: Yeah. Yeah. It’s all good.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So, how did you originally get started in all of this, in dog training and agility. I mentioned a little bit, kind of in the bio, I think 2004, right, so what kind of kicked things off?

Barbara Currier: Well, in the late ‘90s, I adopted a 9 month old Chihuahua, named Cabal, from Chihuahua Rescue, and he was my first dog, as an adult, you know, we had dogs growing up, but he was my very first dog, and at the time I was technician at a veterinarian hospital and one of the technicians that I worked with, there, she bred and trained Belgian Tervurens and competed them in obedience and tracking, and so she started working with me on training dogs, and training for obedience and tracking, and I started, kind of, assisting with her and learning, kind of, the trade, and during our training we discovered that Cabal had a chemical imbalance, which made him, sort of, a challenge to train, so I’m kind of obsessive in anything I do, and I have to learn everything I can and be the best at everything I can, and so I became obsessive on learning about behavior training and how everything I could do to make him have the happiest, most well rounded, stable life, which we were quite successful at. He went on to compete in agility, and he did obedience and carting and climbed mountains all over the White Mountains, in New Hampshire, and taught me so much about dog training, and he really is what opened up the whole world of dog sports for me.

Melissa Breau: So, what got you started, kind of, training positively? Was it that way from the beginning? What got you started on that part of your journey?

Barbara Currier: Well, again, it kind of stemmed back to Cabal. When I started training him, it was, kind of, the old school method of the collar corrections, and there was always this nagging, in the back of my head of, you know, I’m collar correcting a six-pound Chihuahua. There’s got to be a better way, and my background is in equestrian show jumping, and I trained horses for many years, and I was never a harsh physical trainer with my horses either, and I feel like training dogs and training horses is not entirely different, and agility and show jumping are not a lot different, in the way things need to be trained except agility is far less dangerous than show jumping, so that’s always fun. So, I’ve always, kind of, wanted to have a bond with my animals and train my animals through trust and mutual respect. I don’t want a relationship built out of fear and pain, so that’s when I started looking into, you know, there’s got to be more positive ways that I can train this dog without having to collar correct and do those types of physical corrections.

Melissa Breau: How would you describe your training philosophy these days?

Barbara Currier: I really like for my dogs to think of training as lots of games. So, again, I want my relationship to be, with them, a partnership that’s based completely on trust, and so I want them to understand that, you know, if they get something wrong, not to shut down. You know, a mistake is just that didn’t work, try something else, and so, to them, it’s just a big puzzle that they’re trying to figure out, so they never have a fear of, I’m going to be angry, or you know, they’re going to get hurt in any way. It’s just a big game, and it’s a puzzle they’re trying to figure out with lots of rewards throughout it. You know, every time I bring them out for any type of training, they’re just all thinking that it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, and that’s how, I think, it should be, with any animal that you’re training.   

Melissa Breau: So, I have to say, kind of working on your bio, it seems like you’ve had the opportunity to do lots of different really interesting things, in the world of dogs, from animal wrangling to working on wearable computing, so I wanted to ask a little more about what you do now. Can you tell us just a little bit about the FIDO Program there, at Georgia Tech, and what you’re working on with the dogs there?

Barbara Currier: Sure. So, FIDO stands for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. My best friend, Dr. Melody Jackson, she’s a professor there, at Georgia Tech, and she runs the brain lab and the animal computer interaction lab. She came up with the idea of creating wearable computing for service dogs, military dogs, police, search and rescue, any type of working dog, and she asked me to come on to oversee the dog training aspects of the work. Within the last year, I’ve been really busy with travel, and so I, actually, haven’t been working a lot with them, on the project, and she’s actually taking over most of the dog training aspect, the pilot testing, with her dog, but up to this point, a lot of the stuff that they’ve created, it’s kind of funny, when I tell people what I do there, the team that creates all the stuff, it’s Melody Jackson and her lab partner Thad Starner, they’re brilliant people, and the students that all work there are super brilliant. I am not a techy person. I’m lucky if I can turn my computer on, I just train dogs, so I kind of compare it to like the big bang theory, and I’m Penny amongst all of these brilliant people, and they just say stuff and I’m like, that’s great, just tell me what you want the dogs to do. That’s, kind of, where my expertise is, and I don’t have any idea what the technical aspect of it is, but we’ve, actually, created some really cool things.

They’ve created a vest that a service dog is trained to activate that has a tug sensor on it, and so we had a woman come to us that had a speech problem where she doesn’t have, she can’t project her voice out very loudly, and she’s also wheelchair bound, and she was at the dog park, one day, with her dog, and her wheelchair got stuck in some mud, and she couldn’t holler to anybody because her voice just didn’t project like that, and she really needed, like, a way that she could send her service dog to get help to come back, and you know, but a dog running up to somebody, at a dog park, barking, nobody is going to think that’s anything unusual. So, they created a vest that has a computer on it, and the dog has a tug sensor, on the vest, so she can direct the dog to go to somebody, and the dog can go up and it will pull a tug sensor and the vest will actually say, excuse me, my handler needs assistance, please follow me, and the dog can bring that person back to the handler.  

Melissa Breau: That’s pretty cool.

Barbara Currier: Yeah. It’s super cool. So, my dog, Blitz, my Border Collie, Blitz, and Melody’s Border Collie, Sky, are the two main test subjects for all of the stuff that we create. We have a few other dogs that we use consistently, but most of these things, like, we just bring in random people, and their dogs, to train everything, but Sky and Blitz, kind of, go through everything first, and we work all the bugs out on them. They’ve created a haptic bodysuit that allows handlers to communicate with SAR dogs from a distance, so, for instance, if a SAR dog is looking for a child with down syndrome, or autism, where they may be afraid of dogs, so a lot of times the SAR dogs will work at a very far distance from the handler, and they don’t want the dogs to scare the person into running more. So, the SAR dogs can have like a camera on their vest, so when they find, whatever they’re looking for, we have a computer that’s on their vest that they can activate their GPS, so it sends out exactly where their location is, but then the owner can give the dog commands through this haptic vest that has vibrating sensors, in different parts of the dog’s bodies, and each sensor vibrating, on a certain part of the body, means something, so, like, when the sensor vibrates on the back, that means lie down, so the handler can then vibrate the back sensor that tells the dog to lie down and stay, but the handler can be, you know, 20, 30, 40 feet away, so that’s been really fun to work with that.

We’ve taught dogs how to use large touchscreens, so for like hearing dogs, in the house, a lot of times, they don’t wear vests, and so when a hearing dog hears something, they just go to their handler and they need to take them to the source of the sound, but sometimes we don’t want them to take them to the source of the sound, like a tornado siren or a fire alarm, so we’ve created a large touchscreen that the dogs can differentiate the sounds, and they can actually go to the touch screen and detect fire alarm, and hit that, and like if the handler is wearing something that’s called Google Glass, it will show up in the Google Glass that the fire alarm is going off, or if the doorbell is ringing, maybe the handler just doesn’t want to get up and answer it, so the dog can actually differentiate the sounds and tell them, by using, it’s like a giant iPad, exactly what sensor is going off.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Barbara Currier: Yeah. It’s been really fun to watch the dogs be able to do all of these amazing things, and it’s been really fun to watch the students say, do you think a dog can do this? I’m like, sure they can, and they do. I mean, it’s just amazing what dogs can do.

Melissa Breau: So, what about your experience animal wrangling? Do you want to share a little bit about that work?

Barbara Currier: Yeah. I don’t do it anymore. It’s, honestly, not as glamourous as it sounds. Some of it’s fun, some of it, not so much. It depends on, you know, the set you’re working on, like the TV series, Satisfaction was super fun to work on, the people were really great. That was with my friend’s dog. The producers were really great, but like the movies aren’t always so fun to work on because the days are really, really long, and a lot of these people have no idea what it means to train animals, and so they, kind of, think that they’re little computers and you can just program in whatever you want, and just change it, on the fly, and the dogs should just automatically know how to do it. It just can be a little frustrating sometimes, and so I did it for about two years and got burned out pretty quickly.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Now I know that, I kind of mentioned, in the bio, a little bit about Susan Garrett, and I know that you have been able to work with a lot of different excellent handlers, in the agility world, so I wanted to ask a little bit about how working with those professionals has experienced and shaped your training.

Barbara Currier: Well I have been lucky to work with some of the most amazing dog trainers, in the world, and I have to say, I’ve learned something from every trainer I’ve ever worked with. I’m a firm believer that there’s always somebody out there that can teach us something, and the day that we feel that people don’t know more than we do, then our education stops, and so I, for one, always want to keep learning and evolving, in my dog training, so even if I go and I take away one thing, from a weekend seminar, well that’s one thing that I didn’t have going into it, so, to me, it’s just worth it.

Melissa Breau: For those not familiar with OneMind Dog handling, specifically, do you mind just briefly, kind of, explaining what it is?

Barbara Currier: Sure. The OneMind Dog handling, it’s a handling method that’s based on how dogs naturally respond to our physical cues, and what works best, from the dog’s perspective, so it basically teaches us to speak the dog language instead of trying to force dogs to understand us, so a lot of the handling comes very, very natural to the dogs and takes little to no training. It’s mostly just training the humans to learn how to speak to the dog, but the dog’s, right from the beginning, really understand it quite well. I love when I’m working with a student, and I tell them to do something, and they’re like, I don’t think my dog’s going to do that, and I say, if you do this, they will, and then the dogs do, and they’re like, wow. I didn’t know my dog could do that.

Melissa Breau: So, the real question is, who’s harder to train, the students or the dogs?

Barbara Currier: Always the students. The dogs are easy.

Melissa Breau: What was it that, kind of, originally attracted you to OMD?

Barbara Currier: Well Blitz was 4 years old, when I got introduced to OneMind, and I was really struggling with Blitz, and I was having a very hard time. Our cue rate was extremely low. He was a very, very fast dog. He was very obstacle focused, and I just was really, really struggling with him, and I had never had a dog that I struggled that hard with. I’ve always been a very successful agility handler, and I was just really starting to doubt myself, and then I was introduced, I went to a seminar, I was introduced into the OneMind system, and immediately it was like Blitz was saying, oh, thank you. Finally, somebody is going to help her. It kind of just like came into place, and after one seminar, I went to a trial, that weekend, wear we hadn’t cued in months, I think we came home with four cues, in one weekend, which was unheard of, for us, and that was after one seminar, so then I was really hooked, and then Jaakko and Janita, who are the founders, of OneMind, they did a tour, in the United States, a few years back, and they asked to come to my school, and so we hosted them, and they ended up staying with us. We hosted them for a weekend, and then they had like three weeks off between our place and where they were going next, and so we said, why don’t you just stay here, and we’ll show you around Georgia, and take you hiking, so they stayed and insisted on working with us every day to thank us for our hospitality, and so having three weeks of pure immersion into the OneMind system, I was completely hooked, and the difference that it made, in Blitz, was just out of control, and Miso is the first dog I’ve ever had that was trained, from day one, with the OneMind handling system, and the difference in her skill level, going out to start competing and the difference in any dog that I’ve ever had, has been night and day, and so I just was hook, line, and sinker sucked in.

Melissa Breau: So, I want to talk a little bit about the class you have coming up, that kind of include some of those handling methods, so it’s called Making It Easy, 12 Commonly Used OneMind Dog Inspired Techniques. Can you just share a little bit about what you will cover in that class?

Barbara Currier: Sure. So, the OneMind handling system has 30 different handling techniques, and for the average person, who does AKC, USDAA, you’re not going to use all 30 handling techniques. You’ll use a lot more as you start getting into the international type handling, but this course will cover the 12 most commonly used techniques that people are going to use weekend to weekend, at their local trials.

Melissa Breau: So, what are some of the, I guess, the common sticking points, for handlers, looking to teach those skills. How do you problem solve for some of those issues?

Barbara Currier: Basically, one of the things that I see handlers struggle with the most is maintaining connection with their dogs while looking where they need to be going. So, dogs seek out connection with our face, when we’re running, and if they can’t find that connection, with our face, depending on the dog, they can have different reactions. Some dogs will just stop running through the obstacles and just try to drive around and curl in front of you, to search for your face, some will start dropping bars, some will just find a line and take it, so if we’re not connected with our dogs, we also can’t see whether they’re committing to the correct obstacles and when we need to execute their turn signals, but our body wants us to, through self-preservation, look where we’re going, so the hardest thing, for students, is to learn how to run forward, with your head looking back, and be connected with your dog, and see where you’re going out of your peripheral vision, so I teach my students to basically go out and get used to running a course while looking behind you, and using your peripheral vision, because everybody has it, but again, it’s kind of a brain training thing that the more you use it, the stronger it gets. When I first started doing it, I kind of saw blurry objects, in my peripheral, but I was never comfortable to run a whole course that way, where the more I went out and just practiced running a course, without my dog, and the stronger my peripheral vision got, so I can run full courses now and not worry about running into things, while staying strongly connected to my dogs, so that’s probably the thing that I see most people struggle with, and my little games that I’ve created to help that seems to really help them with that.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to talk just, maybe, a little more about which of the OneMind Dog handling techniques are, kind of, included in your class? I know you said the 12 most commonly used ones, but what are some of those?

Barbara Currier: So, in the first week, we’re going to start off with the most common handling technique that everybody knows, but a lot of people, actually, execute incorrectly, which is the front cross, so everybody probably knows that, but it’s also one of the most commonly misused and done incorrectly, so we’re tackling that right off the bat, and then we’ll move into the forced front cross. Then, into week two, we address the Jaakko Turn and the reverse spin.

Melissa Breau: So, for somebody not agility, like, savvy, what is that, the Jaakko turn?

Barbara Currier: The Jaakko turn kind of takes the place of the traditional Post Turn, so in the traditional Post Turn as we’re rotating around. Our chest laser is opened up to tall of these obstacles that we don’t want our dog to take, so as we’re rotating our dog, saying, is it that obstacle, is it that obstacle, is it that obstacle, and it’s not until we actually get to where we want to go that we say, no, no, it’s this one. Where the Jaakko Turn, we get the collection, at the jump, but the dog actually goes around behind our back, so our chest never opens up to all the obstacles we don’t want, it’s only going to be driving straight to the one obstacle we do want, so it’s a really good technique for dogs that are super obstacle focused and really like to scope out lines on their own.  

Then the next technique we’ll tackle, in week two, is the Reverse Spin, which is, basically, it, sort of, looks like a Jaakko, but it doesn’t get you as tight collection as a Jaakko. Your exit line is different, but it’s a really good handling move to use if you, say your dog is on a pinwheel, and you want the first and the third jump but not the second jump, out on the pinwheel. By doing a reverse spin, you’re going to change the dog’s exit line and it’s going to create collection for the dog, so you will not get that jump out on their natural path because you created a turn with more collection. It’s kind of hard to explain without looking at a map, but.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, but still.

Barbara Currier: Then, in week three, we’re going to look at the Reverse Wrap, which is a tight turn off of the backside of a jump, and Rear Cross, which is another one most everybody is familiar with but often done incorrectly. Week four we will look at a Lap Turn, which is a U-shaped turn that the dog turn happens on the flat, and I use Lap Turns so often, in pulling my dog to, if we’re on a course, and the course is sending the dog to the tunnel, but the judge has nicely picked the offside tunnel, for the opening, Lap Turns work so great for that. I also, often, Lap Turn my dog into weave poles, on AKC courses, so that’s a great one, and then we’re going to move into the Double Lap, which is a Lap Turn to a Front Cross, and create the very tight O-shape turn, on a wing, for a dog. Week five we’ll look at the Whisky Turn, which is a very shallow Rear Cross, and we are going to work on the Blind Cross, which I think is one of the most fantastic moves ever, for so many people, especially people that have knee issues because you don’t have to deal with rotation, and it keeps you going forward on the line, but there are appropriate places to put Blind Crosses and places where a Front Cross would be a better choice, but not a lot of people understand.

Then, week six, we’ll work on the German Turn, which is a backside, it’s a little hard to explain, it’s a backside, almost like to a Serpentine into a Blind Cross, and that’s a really fun one to do, and I actually use that one quite a bit, in premiere courses, and kind of the tournament classes in the USDAA classes. Then the Tandem Turn, which is a turn away from the handler, for the dog, on the flat, and that’s a really good turn to have if you are on a straightway and you’re having trouble getting down, in front of your dog, to do a turn, a Tandem Turn is a really, really handy move to have, especially when it’s a straight line to a back side and you just know you’re not beating your dog down that line.

Melissa Breau: So, it sounds like you’re definitely going to cover, kind of, the how to do all of these things. Are you also talking a little bit about when to use each of them, in the course?

Barbara Currier: Yes. So, the course will be broken down to, step by step, how to train, on one jump, and then I’m giving them short sequences of three to eight obstacles, where they’re going to see where this could fit into a course.

Melissa Breau: Is there anything else you think the students, who are kind of trying to decide their classes, because this will go out during October registration, so anything else that students should, maybe, know if they’re considering the class?

Barbara Currier: Well I think it’s important that, you know, and I put in there the pre-requisite for Loretta’s class, because this isn’t going to be the class where you are going to learn how to sequence one or two obstacles. The dogs, coming in, should know how to do, you know, at least eight obstacles in a row, just meaning jumps and a tunnel, so as long as they have a firm understanding of that, and I would assume that, coming in, they know what a Front Cross is and they know what a Rear Cross is. Beyond that, the other ones are all, you know, not ones that I would expect them to know coming in. Some people may know them, the other stuff, but I would, kind of, hope that everybody knows what a Front Cross and a Rear Cross is because those are the basics and everything, kind of, builds off of those.

Melissa Breau: Okay. Excellent. We’re getting close to, kind of, the end here, so I want to ask you the three questions that I always as, at the end of an interview. The first one, and I think some of my guests would say this is, probably, the hardest question, but what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Barbara Currier: You know, I’m probably proudest of my school, Party of 2. I have a really large student base, here in Georgia, and I am so lucky to have the best students. They are just the greatest group of people, and they always want to push themselves to be better. I throw the craziest stuff at them. If I find a comfort level, I’m always looking how to push people out of it, and they are always willing to rise to the challenge, and they are so supportive of each other. We’re like a big, giant family, and everybody is always willing to help anyone out, and I just love it. I’m just super proud of all of my students, at my school.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Barbara Currier: Oh, that’s easy. Comparison is the thief of joy, is the best training advice I have ever had, and I remind myself that often. So, basically, not compare yourself to other dog trainers, your dog to other dogs, your dog to your dog’s litter mates, or your friend’s dog, or your trainer’s dogs because, then, it overshadows any progress or triumphs that you made because you’re always comparing it to somebody else, and it never feels like enough.

Melissa Breau: Then, our last one, here, is who is someone else, in the dog world, that you look up to?

Barbara Currier: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I can only pick one. I’ve have the longest training relationship with my mentor and coach, Tracy Sklenar. She’s been my coach for over 10 years, but since I’ve become involved with OneMind, Jen Pinder and Mary Ellen Barry have been instrumental in my progression and mastering the OneMind handling system, so I would have to say it would be those three amazing, talented ladies that are at the top of my list.

Melissa Breau:  Fair enough. Well thank you, so much, for coming on the podcast, Barbara. This has been great.

Barbara Currier: Thank you, so much, for having me. I really enjoyed myself.

Melissa Breau: Good. Thank you, so much, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, with Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household. As someone who just brought home dog number two, I’m looking forward to talking about skills we can learn and teach our dogs to make life go a little smoother. Don’t miss it. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, or the podcast app of your choice, to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone, as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Sep 29, 2017

Summary:

Donna Hill has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering in working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching.

She stays current in dog behavior in learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers, however she is probably best known for her YouTube videos.

She's active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.

With her own dogs and other pets Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks and other activities such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say she is a splitter. Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and Rally-O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 10/5/2017, featuring Barbara Currier to talk about agility training and handling and I’ll ask her about her work with Georgia Tech which is creating wearable computing devices for military search and rescue and service dogs.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’ll be talking to Donna Hill.

Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering in working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching. She stays current in dog behavior in learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers, however she is probably best known for her YouTube videos. I’ll include a link to her YouTube channels in the shadows so listeners can check her out.

She's active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute. With her own dogs and other pets Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks and other activities such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say she is a splitter. Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Hi Donna welcome to the podcast.

Donna Hill: Thanks for having me!

Melissa Breau: I am looking forward to it. So to get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them now?

Donna Hill: Okay. Let’s start with Jessie. She’s my little German shepherd mix possibly min pin believe it or not. She's 10 1/2 right now and we got her at seven months old from the local city pound. She is doing a public presentation with me next week, so I'm actually currently acclimating her to the new location and we're practicing the known behaviors in the new environment. It's really important that I do this in particular with her, more so than just doing with any dog, because she has a really fearful nature and she needs a lot more support than say your typical dog, whatever that might be. So we tend to spend a lot more time in acclimating with her. My border collie/vizsla mix, Lucy, is actually nine years old today! “Happy Birthday Lucy!”

Melissa Breau: Happy birthday!

Donna Hill: Yeah! We're working on discriminating cues for sound alerts. Yesterday we were up at a campsite at a lake (that’s not very far from our house) and we were working on discriminating a sound alert, which is a nudge behavior. She nudges her nose to my knee. Then the cue for it is actually a knock. I can knock on anything and that becomes the cue for her to run over to me and push her nose against my knee. So one of the discriminations that we have to do is to find my car! The car has a similar behavior in that I tell her “Go find car.” and she takes me to find the car and nose nudges or nose tap targets near the handle of the door.  Because they’re so similar behaviors and especially if I'm standing close, she needs to learn what's the difference. Which one is she having to target depending on the cue?

That was what we were doing in the distraction level of the campsite environment.  Actually, the other thing we're working on with her too, was working on a “Forward” cue which is using a mobility harness.  You teach the dog to actually put some pressure forward to help people with say knee issues or just balance issues. That forward momentum really helps people as they're moving forward, so we were also working on generalizing that as well. We like doing stuff from all over the map! (laughing)

Melissa Breau: So I know you mentioned in your bio that you’ve kind of been involved, you've lived with dogs all your life, but how did you specifically get into training and dog sports a little bit, like how did that part start?

Donna Hill: Okay. Well training started way back. I remember when I had a basset hound as a kid. I taught her to pull me on the toboggan and also run beside me on the bicycle. Now for a basset hound, that's not…neither one are very typical behaviors, (laughing) and they're not known to be particularly trainable, but I don't remember how I did it but I managed to do it. Especially sitting behind the dog and getting the dog to pull forward. I actually don't even remember how I did it. But she was doing it and it was great fun for me! (laughing) I was about ten I think when that happened.  

I remember ticking my brother off when I was teaching his little lab cross to retrieve, and he was hoping to have her as a hunting dog (and I mean she was all of about 30 pounds, this little lab mix,) and instead of teaching her to come back and retrieve and sit on my side, I would actually sit cross-legged on the ground and she would come and sit in my lap. (laughing). So my brother was not very happy with me.

And so for the more formal sport stuff, it sort of came later. I had a number of generations of dogs that we went through. My dachshund which I’ll tell you about a little bit later, and then along came this amazing dog. He was a Dalmatian/springer mix and honest to goodness I think he was half-human! He was just an amazing dog and we had an instant bond! He was definitely MY dog and he was just so smart! You know, I would try things two and three times and by the third time he’d kind of look at me like “Really? I'm not stupid Mom! I got it.”  He was really, really quick. He’d pick behaviors up so fast!

He was, you know, one of those dogs that makes you look really good as a trainer, so of course I thought I was a great trainer. (Laugh) Of course, looking back I go “Yeah! No! It was all Ollie. It wasn't me!” Well I guess some of it was me, but you know mostly it was him.

He loved doing all kinds of stuff so we started with fly ball because that was one of the first dog sports that mixed breeds could actually participate in. The interesting thing was he didn't like retrieving! In my interpretation, he thought retrieving was for dumb dogs! So he was “No. We're not doing that!” but because we took it and he had to do it in order to be competitive (he was incredibly competitive), and he HAD to win against other dogs!

So we used the competitive nature of the sport to teach him to retrieve and he was awesome! He was in the top levels, I forget the numbers whether it was one or five, but they had five different class levels according to speed and he was in the fastest category and he was really good. And if he sensed that another dog might potentially be beating him, he would just turn on the speed as much as he possibly could to make sure that he won! He was just that kind of dog. I've never had seen a dog like him. He was a lot of fun! He also had a really stylized high jump too, where he would like do this exaggerated jump about three feet high over an eighteen-inch jump. It's totally hilarious to watch him! So I started from there.

That's kind of where we went. We put our golden at the time as well into flyball. She did really well, although she was slow. She was at the other end of the category she was the slowest category, but she was very consistent. Then from there, I just started dabbling in rally obedience because that popped up at the time. As more and more sports kind of came, that's where I started getting more involved. Not at a really high level… I like the training aspect more than I like the competing part and so for me the competition was more of a goal. You know, “Can we enter this?” or “Maybe I might think about doing that one day. Let's train towards that?” If we never actually compete, I don’t care. It’s all fun because I just like the training part of it. So that’s kind of where that all came from. (laughing)

Melissa Breau: At what point did you really start looking at positive training specifically? What got you started focusing on positive training?

Donna Hill: Well I wasn't really aware that there were different kinds of training or different approaches to training. At home, we just sort of did our own thing. I actually never took any formal training classes until I was about fifteen and I had my little daxie mix. She was six months old. At the time you had to wait until the dog was six months old to take it to classes. And of course once we did, then we realized why. Because the classes were so punitive, the dog had to be six months of age or you'd actually break the spirit. So we dutifully took her.

There'd been a change in our life. I had moved from the Midwest area of Canada to the West coast with my mom and dad, leaving three siblings behind in the city. So we also left the dog I told you about, my brother's dog, with him because he was old enough that he could stay there as well. Anyway, so Dad decided we were getting a new dog and he marched me off to this litter of dachshund puppies (unbeknownst to my mom). That was my classic dad who was constantly bringing dogs home without letting Mum know. (laughing) So with five kids, we always usually had at least two dogs around.

Anyway, we got this little dog and marched her off to training class. We’d never ever taken any of our dogs to training class before, but we thought “Well, you know this is a new dog and the classes are new!” and okay. So we took her to this this class and let's just say that force- based behaviors and training didn't work with her independent nature. (laughing) She's got a really good oppositional reflex. (laughing) So after the end of class she graduated ninth out of twelve dogs for her, shall we say, lack of obedience! (laughing)

She never did learn how to do a recall because I never figured out how to do it positively. So the ironic thing that I kind of looked at later though was at home I was able to teach her more than 35 tricks! and she did them enthusiastically and eagerly! and I was like “Okay this is really interesting! Hmmm. ” So that was her.

You know, I just kind of dabbled and played and as I said I was a teen and I went off to university and we’d never had any problems with any of our other dogs, so I was like “Okay, what gives here?”

So that started the ball rolling to kind of down the positive way. Then of course once I got my Ollie dog I told you about, my dog of a lifetime. He was a very sensitive boy and I realized that I could not use some harsh methods. We enrolled him in classes too. Some of the methods they were using were again, not so positive. (Sighing)

One of the things I remember distinctly with him was a recall.  The teacher had us put him on a long line and if we called him and he didn't come, we were to back up and pop really hard twice on the long line and then just keep backing up until he came towards you and got to the point where you could grab his collar. And I did this all of twice.

The second time, I looked at him and he was so much in a hurry to get to me the second time, that he crammed himself at me as soon as he knew that pop was coming, he ran as fast as he could and he crammed himself right against my legs (almost knocking me over in his effort to get to me). But I could see it was in fear. It wasn't that he wanted to come to me. It was that he was scared he was getting popped.  I thought “You know what? I can't do this to you!”
His nature was that I just couldn't do that! and then I went, “You know what? We're not using that.”

So we continued going to classes. I just chose not to use the methods that the instructor told us. I found other ways to go and then down the road we found a second level class which actually started using food. “Oh my God! They actually used food in training classes!” and from there I had him…He was a dyed-in-the-wool puller on leash, and to him, the leash was a cue to pull. That's exactly the way he saw it. So when we trained him using the food, heeling beside me without a leash, he was awesome because the leash was no longer the cue.  He was like, “Oh you want me to stay right beside you. No problem! This is cool!” And it used his brain, which is what he liked doing. So, it was just the whole shift at that point. I started going “Okay, let's use some more positive methods. I don't need to use punitive methods to communicate with my dogs and I never liked using it anyway.”  It just felt bad to me. But of course, you know you're young, you're impressionable and you're following the instructors because they supposedly know what they're talking about.

I discovered on my own that you don't need to use that stuff. You can you can use lots of positive stuff and communicate with your dog. Tell them what you want to do before they're going to do it and they are happy to comply. They just want to do and be with you and do stuff with you!

Melissa Breau: What about now? How would you describe your training philosophy today?

Donna Hill: It's always evolving. I'm really eclectic and I take things from different disciplines. I'm really interested in the more cognitive aspects of training. I see dogs as being very thinking animals. I really like that part of them. To me that's how I develop the relationship so I look at how they problem solve and how they try and communicate. I really like the to “Do as I Do” philosophy or approach. Mimicry is something that I've always kind of played with, even with my current dogs that I have now. I notice that Lucy is really good about mimicking Jessie and I've actually used that to train her some behaviors.

I really like the idea that dogs are able to use modifiers. So things like left and right, they can recognize colors by name, shapes. They can count. They can do so many more things than we ever dreamt of when I was a kid, that we never even thought of thinking! Do they do this? Can they do that? So that really is what intrigued me, so the more of the cognitive kind of stuff comes out and the neurological kind of stuff comes out, I just yum that right up and that's what I'm incorporating more and more into what I do.

But basically, I see that they learn in the same way that humans do. In humans we learn in many, many different ways, so depending on the dog their predominant way of learning might be one way, and another dog might have a different way of learning. So I try and learn what those are and then cater to that the dog’s needs using those.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you a little more about the service dog work, that piece of what you do. How did you get started down that road?

Donna Hill: Okay that's a great question! That actually started with Jessie my current dog when she was young and I still had my senior golden. Ollie had just passed away, but I was doing rally obedience with my golden and I decided that I was going to be using positive methods if I could at all with Jessie, and so I started with the clicker with her and she took to it really well. My golden took to it really well and I just started playing with it.  

I had thought that my golden was actually ready to trial in rally obedience until I found Sue Ailsby’s original “Training Levels Program”, and I worked right from scratch through that. It was actually exactly what I was looking for!

I was looking for a structured program to help me learn how to clicker train and how to work with my dogs and learn all of the concepts behind it and it was perfect!

So I just worked my senior dog through until she passed away and Jessie, of course I worked her right almost to the end of the level seven. We were about halfway through level seven.  Because of Jesse's level of fears we weren't able to actually get some of the generalized stuff out there, but we were able to get a lot of them done and so I started to doing that. Then once I started playing around with teaching her just tasks, just for fun, I mean that's how it started, it was like “Oh! Let’s train her to shut the door and open the door and you know do this kind of stuff.”

Once I realized how easy it was and how ANYBODY could do it because the click is really the communication. You didn't need to have a force. You didn't need to have strength. You didn't have to use your lowered voice that we were always taught in class. Anybody could use it, right? I thought “Well! Wow this is really cool! This could be applied towards training service dogs.” and that's actually when I started my YouTube channel.  I thought “I got to get this out there so that other people can see how easy it is and they can train their own service dog.” Service dog training to me was always a mystery and it was really fascinating!

I’d grown up around people that had guide dogs and a lot of people with disabilities and I really didn't know how to train them or how that I could help other people with disabilities, so when everything… all the dots fell in line, I went, “Oh cool! I can do this and I can get out there and I can help other people. This is so awesome!” (laughing) So that's my mantra.

I really like helping people and that's my “AHA” moment when someone gets something because I was able to explain it to them, that's my reinforcer. That's what keeps me going every day. I see someone going “Yes, I got it!” and I'm thinking “Yes. That's me. Woohoo! I helped someone do that.” I also love my feedback. Yeah. (laughing)

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So you do a lot of different types of training right, so I imagine the stuff like behavior modification of the service dog stuff is very different from the reactive dog classes you offer, and I wanted to see how having experience at those different ends of the spectrum has really influenced your training overall.

Donna Hill: -I am a big picture kind of person. I like seeing the big picture at the end -what is the final goal that I'm going to do? I like to see where the animal is starting and then the puzzle for me is figuring out how to get there. You know, what is the little roadmap, the little steps and whether it’s ten steps or a hundred steps is going to get me from the beginning to the end. Sometimes, of course, along the way you're thrown in a fear period in the service dog, or you know just a regular pet dog as well. Sometimes there's aggression issues come up because some trauma happened to the dog.

So those kinds of things definitely throw a wrench in it, but again it's all part of that big picture. So if I have those little pieces that I can pull together and realize this is where the dog is at this particular point, instead of going along my nice little line of a map or my plan.

Of course, as you know dog training is never a linear progression. It always goes all over the place. It's like the piece of string that somebody drops on the floor. When we hit one of those parts or one of those events then I know, “Ah, okay! Time for lateral training!” or “Time for stepping right out of the training altogether, going back and doing some really basic stuff where there's desensitization or counter conditioning or operant training to help the dog overcome whatever that thing is” before we can continue on with my linear training that I have planned out on paper or in my head depending on what it is that we're working on.

I think in that way, it really gives me flexibility to be able to jump wherever I need to jump because it's the dog that’s sitting right in front of me and that's where they're at and that’s what we need to deal with.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk a little bit about the YouTube videos. I know one of the ones that I see come up all the time and get shared all the time in different Facebook groups, I’ve even posted, I saw a couple of times is the video you have on tricks you can teach a dog that's on crate rest. Do you mind just talking a little bit about that, and for those listening I will share a link directly to that video in the show notes if you don't want to go searching for it. But yeah, if you could talk about that Donna.

Donna Hill: Okay when making my YouTube videos, I tend to look for trends so I look at what is already out there and I look at what's missing and that was one of the pieces that I found missing. I was noticing that there seemed to be a lot of people out there whose dogs were having cruciate ligament issues or just issues that really confine them to a crate for long periods of time, and that can be really hard to deal with for a lot of people. So I thought oh, well there's a hole. You know there's no one has ever shown what kinds of things you can do with a dog that's on crate rest because most of the stuff that's out there is very active- oriented right? So that's just kind of where that came from was, you know there's a need and I try and fill it. Again it's me trying to help people learn what they can do with their dogs.

Melissa Breau: So I know one of the big things that you know your classes seem to have in common, is an emphasis on observation skills and I know even in your bio on the actual FDSA site you kind of mentioned that, so I wanted to ask why being able to watch your dog and accurately read their body language is so important, and to ask you to talk a little bit about the role that doing that plays in training.

Donna Hill: Okay. Well I think observation skills has been a hugely underplayed skill in training dogs until fairly recently. It's absolutely key to be able to SEE the behaviors, because if you can't see them then you have no idea how to interpret what the dog is doing. So if you're not seeing some subtle stuff and you just see your dog going along, you may think “Oh well, the dog’s doing fine!” when in fact actually there are some really subtle behaviors that are telling the dog is not so fine. There's some you know, there's subtle stuff going on and of course subtle stuff usually escalates if it's not dealt with.

So by learning the really subtle stuff you can get in there early on and the dog doesn’t have to get to the level of stress where it's really obvious so that you can deal with it and then that helps them in actually learning. One of the other reasons that I do have such a heavy emphasis on that is because my previous career, I was a nature interpreter, or a “naturalist” most people call it, and what a naturalist does is teaches people how to observe nature.

So I had a long history of teaching people about how to observe, mostly it was nature so animals, plants, things like that, you know watching the birds, that kind of stuff. But it’s just a natural translation to watching dogs because dogs are part of nature in my view. You know they're animals.  They have behaviors and I've always been fascinated with their behaviors so it just seemed a natural extension to me to say “Okay. Let's start teaching people about observation skills!”

“Let's look at the dog, what behaviors are we seeing, you know and how does that relate to training and how does that impact training? What information can they give us? So are they relaxed and able to learn? Are they excited about what we're doing with them? Are they frustrated? Are they making mistakes or are they stressed about something in the environment?”  By observing them and in context, and that's a big piece of it is what's happening in the context around the dog, that combination allows us to interpret what's happening for the dog.

So knowing that helps us to adjust the pace of training, how far we need to break down what we're doing to help them to succeed. Or maybe the dog’s just zooming right through and we can make the steps bigger to add more of a challenge for that particular dog.

So yeah, so it really affects training in a big way and I am so thrilled that we're seeing now more and more, particularly on Facebook, people incorporating videotapes of dogs and saying, “Oh you know, have a look! What behaviors do you see?”

That's such a critical skill which is separate from the interpretation part of it, where then we kind of try and make our best guess about what is going on for the dog. But without those observation skills we wouldn’t even be able to see or make good interpretations anyway. So it's a really important part of it.

Melissa Breau: So I want to dive a little bit further into your classes at FDSA. So I know that for those listening this will air I think during registration for October. I think it opens the 22nd, so I think this will be after that I hope I'm not lying. Anyway, so I know that you have two classes coming up in October. One is The Body Awareness For Competition Precision Behaviors, and the other is The Elusive Hand-Delivered Retrieve. I want to start with the body awareness class. Why is body awareness an important skill for a competition dogs?

Donna Hill: Well knowing where their body is in space and how to move it is what makes the difference between a performance that's amazing to watch and one that’s sloppy. Most dogs don't have much clue that they even have a back end. Their front end walks along and they might have some sort of awareness, you know their nose, their muzzle certainly, their front paws, they’re really useful for digging at things and touching things. But the vast majority of dogs have no clue that they have a back end and it just sort of follows along, you know the front left foot comes forward and then the back right foot comes forward and they just kind of do this opposition as they walk. But they're not really that aware.

But once we start teaching them that yes, not only do they have a front end, they also have a back end and they also have hips and they also have shoulders and they have chest, and they can move each piece of that body separately, that really starts putting it together for them. So you get, you get a gawky kid right? They know they're a gawky kid. They're not that coordinated. Once they start to isolate each one of their body parts, so they work on their hands, and they work on their head, and they work on their feet, and they work on their body core and how to move that, once they have individual knowledge of all of those, then the whole package comes together and they move much better as a whole package, and they become much more graceful. And so just like dogs, they become more graceful athletes who perform with speed, precision and confidence. So that's kind of the fundamental idea behind the body awareness classes.

Melissa Breau: And for people listening I did double check while Donna was answering that. Registration is currently open when you hear this. So, it opened last week so you can go to the site and register if you are so inclined. So Donna how do you approach teaching body awareness in the class itself?

Donna Hill: Okay, well I just break it down into the separate parts of the body. So we're looking at some specific behaviors. One is a chin rest which also translates to a whole bunch of other behaviors like a chin rest can be turned into teaching a hold for a retrieve. It can be taught for a placement of the retrieve where the dog comes back and delivers it to you, and most of the behaviors do translate into other into specific behaviors for competition, but which is why I've chosen them.

Muzzle pokes are another thing so the dog is very aware of where they're putting their muzzle so they can poke it through your fingers, they can poke it through a hoop, they can poke it into a yogurt container- those kinds of things and are comfortable doing so, which also gives them more confidence. Like Jessie for example did not like putting her head into anything, so one of the easiest ways I found was actually to use the yogurt containers, and just put some yogurt in the bottom and she would stick her head happily in at the bottom to lick it up. That really built up confidence of facial awareness and you know that kind of stuff. So that's the kind of stuff we're going to be doing in class.

Shoulder, hip, and chest targets, and the other thing we're also going to look at is how to fine tune balance. So if we can get them on like a balance beam and actually teach them how to how to place their feet so that they're not falling off or they're not having to use one foot on the ground and three feet on the balance beam, so that they gain confidence in actually balancing. And that was the one thing with both of my dogs that I really found helped was to build that confidence on narrow surfaces. That in turn of course, once they can do it on a narrow surface while walking on a regular surface and actually moving with precision is much, much easier. In the class, we use the success of approximation and shaping to get the behaviors.

Melissa Breau: Very nice. Well I want to also talk about the retrieve class a little bit. I know that’s something a lot of people struggle with. Why do you think so many people have a hard time teaching retrieves?

Donna Hill: I think most people have an expectation that the dog would just do it, because there's a lot of breeds like the retriever breeds, goldens, labs, flat coats, that have a natural retrieve and look so easy. They make it look so easy because it's bred into them. But what they don't realize is that most dogs that does not come naturally. There's a series, a chain of events, that they do called motor patterns, and the retrieve doesn't really fit in there because most dogs end the motor pattern with either a bite or a consume. Well most dogs don't consume, but some will certainly do a grab bite at the very end. That does not involve picking it up and carrying it anywhere or bringing it back to a person. So what the mistake they make is they toss the ball out, and the dog of course will happily chase it because chasing is part of the prey drive, and then the dog often will lose interest because once the ball stops moving, it's like “Oh yeah. Okay. Whatever.” and they can't do anything with it. So they either drop it and walk away from it or maybe they’ll carry it away and play with it, but they certainly won't bring it back.

The most common error I found is that people don't break it down into the smaller skills the retrieve chain is made up of. It's actually at least six individual skills that are involved in teaching a behavior chain of the retrieve. If people go back and teach the dog each one of those little pieces, then they put the pieces together in a behavior chain, then they can get it right.

The other element as I also will back chain it. That means that we start at the very end of the chain so that the dog is always working towards something that they know, i.e. putting the object in your hand or delivering the object to your lap or wherever it is that you want it at your feet. We start at that point, and then we back up so that eventually the dog is always understanding, “Uh! I have to deliver it at that location, and that's where it has to be. That finishes the chain. That gets me the reinforce.” and it becomes much easier for them to succeed.

So the key thing is breaking them down into the small pieces and then back chaining it. For example, if you need teach a dog to pick up a dime off a smooth floor, you have to train it right? A dog can't just automatically do it. There's a lot of even finer things that go into that. They need to learn how to use their heads and their mouth, to tilt their head and use their mouth and their tongues to pick up the object, and also to place it precisely.

Both of my dogs can take a quarter and place it into a narrow slot, like a piggy bank. That takes a lot of skill to learn. They have to really refine the skills down step by step by step in order to get to that level of accuracy.

It's really interesting to watch the process and to teach them and some of them do it better than others. Jesse is really, really into the fine-tuning behaviors. That’s her specialty. She loves really fine behaviors, whereas for Lucy it’s “Let’s just get it done mom and throw that behavior together!” so for her it was much more of a challenge for me to get her down to that point of taking the quarter and putting in that slot because she really had to get patient and be very careful and be very calm while she does it. She also is very food motivated, so she gets excited about food really easily. So my big challenge with her was learning to keep her calm, which is always another piece of the element for retrieve as well. But each dog does it in their own way.

Melissa Breau: So it sounds like the class would be good for people who are both interested in like a play retrieve with a toy, and more formal retrieve, right?

Donna Hill: Yeah absolutely. A retrieve is a retrieve no matter what kind of sport or environment that you're doing it in. It could be for a sport dog. It could be for a competition dog. It could be for a service dog or it could be for a play dog. So the class really covers the gamut and it was originally designed for…Denise suggested that I design it as a problem solving class. So whatever your problems are, I’m hoping that it covers the main problems.

So you know if your dog rolls a dumbbell, or whether it drops it, or whether it's over excited, I try and cover all of the super common problem areas and then if the goals in particular have additional problems, that's what they're at gold for so that we can actually fine tune it and say, okay you know the dog does well until this point. Let's deal with that point and how do we fix that piece, or maybe we need to go back and retrain something prior to that piece so that when we get to that piece, it just becomes part of the chain and it just flows through and it's no longer an issue.

Melissa Breau: You talked a little bit in there kind of about your approach to teaching it, but is there more you want to say about that, about kind of how you approach the class?

Donna Hill: Basically it's a combination of shaping each part of the chain and then back chaining the parts together. That in a nutshell, that’s kind of a summary. The dog always works towards something that's more familiar because we've already practiced that end piece lots and lots of times, and the more repetitions we do, the more practice so the stronger they get in coming towards it.

So I don't know how many people have been asked to memorize poems, but when I was a kid we had to memorize poems for school, and one of the techniques we were taught was actually back chaining even though they didn't call it that. What we would do is say we had ten verses in the poem or even songs. What we would do is actually start with the last verse or the last piece of it, and we would memorize that. And then we would go to the second last one, and the last one, and then the third last one, the second last one, and then the last one.

And what that allowed us to do, was as we would progress through the recitation, we actually got more confident because we've had more practice with the end one. What often happens is when we forward chain, we start at the beginning. We got a really solid start and then we sort of peter out near the end because we don't have as much practice near the end. Freestyle is another place that we can actually apply that as well but it works really well for a retrieve.

Melissa Breau: Now I know you've got one more class on the schedule, this time for December, and I wanted to talk about that too. So it's called Creativity With Cue Concepts. So talk me through that. What do you cover in that class?

Donna Hill: We break the various parts of cues into smaller components. That allows us to look at how we use the cues and what our dogs need from us to succeed in using them to do the behaviors that we want them to do. So the kinds of things we're looking at are the cues themselves. What are they? The kinds of cues. There's verbal. There's physical. There's environmental. Then we look at the delivery or the response to cues for something called latency which is the time between when the cue is given and when the dog starts responding to it. The speed of the response, so how fast is the dog walking towards you? Is it running towards you once you give the cue?

Things like what is a concept and how do we generalize cues as a concept so that the dog understands that this specific sound means to do this behavior in any environment no matter where you are. That is a concept. Discrimination between cues, so I was telling you what I was doing with Lucy was we were discriminating between competing cues because she had the car that she nose targeted and she had my knee and we had two different cues that were used.  One was a sound and one was a verbal cue. So she had to discriminate between those. How do you start teaching that because that's really confusing for a lot of dogs, especially dogs that like to just throw behaviors at you, the ones that like being shaped.

I really like this class because the students get to choose the behaviors that they want to apply the concept to. So there isn't any prescribed behaviors that they have to work on. They can pick whatever sport that they're working on. “I’m in agility and I want the dog to understand the cue for this and this obstacle. It just makes it easier when I'm sending them out.”

So let's work on that and we apply the concept for the cues in the class to that particular sport, and you can do that with any sport. You can do it with service dogs. It doesn't matter what it is you're training. I really like it because I get to see a wide variety of behaviors from different sports and from different activities with the dogs. It's a really fun class to watch as well as a bronze, but it's even more fun as a gold student because you just get to go wherever you want to go with it. If you want to spend the entire class on one concept, you can do that too. It's entirely up to you. I'm flexible.

Melissa Breau: That's really interesting it's kind of a very different class than a lot of the other classes on the schedule and…

Donna Hill: It is! and you know it for me, it just came together so quickly when I originally developed it! I was just astounded! I thought “This is what we're doing. We’re da da da da.” I explained it and then thought “Oh my goodness! This is so much easier than the rest of the classes where I've had to go through step by step by step.”  Whereas this class, it's more conceptual. Once you get the concept, then you can go to the detail. But you want to get that concept first and then get into the detail that’s, hence the class name.

Melissa Breau: So I want to get into those last three questions that I ask everyone at the end of the interview and the first one is what is the dog related accomplishment that you're proudest of?

Donna Hill: I would have to say, it’s probably two if I'm allowed two. One is developing a great training relationship with each of my dogs. Because I'm a process-oriented person rather than results, I feel that the results come if the process is good. They and I could train all day and I mean I love it! I really love it! When I had Jessie by herself for a couple of years, I consulted a certified Karen Pryor trainer that was the only one on the island at the time where I live, and she said to me, she goes, “Donna you have to get a second dog.” (laughing)  She said “You are loving training too much.” Seriously, I was overtraining Jessie. I was really careful to try not to, and she’s a really sensitive dog, but I just love training so much I just couldn't help myself. I wanted to do so many things! We always had plans for a second dog anyway, so we went out and we got our second dog. It was a bit of a process. We finally found Lucy and I she is so amazing. She is a driven dog and she would work with me all day, honest to goodness. She loves working. She's a really fun dog to train. She throws behaviors at me. She loves shaping. She's a fantastic dog! So as a second dog she's a fantastic dog, because it really took the pressure off Jessie who is a really sensitive dog, and they are a really good combination because you know if I need more training I just take Lucy out and away we go. So that's the first is developing a great relationship with them.

The second part that I'm really proud of is the You Tube channels. So many people can learn so much on the You Tube channels. It's a really great way or venue to put the information out there and reach a lot of people. It was a bonus for me because one of the main reasons I actually started it as well, or I guess the second main reason, was because I was terrified of being videotaped and I wanted to get over that fear and I thought well if I put these videos together, I have control over the process, so if I videotape myself and I hate what I see, I don't have to include it.

And it's really has given me a lot of confidence now. Seriously, when I was at my wedding, I actually banned videotapes and video cameras because I did not want the added stress of being videotaped. (laughing) So yeah, so now I've mostly overcome it. I'm still nervous, but nowhere near the level of nervousness. It's funny because Denise just recently suggested that videotaping yourself really adds that sort of a fake environment of adding extra pressure to yourself, like practicing for a competition, right? Videotaping yourself is a good start to it, because it adds that little bit of pressure. You know someone's watching and she's absolutely right!

That's what I would totally feel and I still feel that that to this day. When I go out and about in public, I still feel like people are watching me. I still feel that pressure of people around watching which in public actually is interesting. I am more nervous in general public just working my dog one on one doing my own thing, than I am in front of a group simply because I think I have more control in the group. Because usually when I'm working with the group, I'm the one leading the group. I'm the speaker. So then I control the rest of it and I'm a real control freak when it comes to that. So if I'm in control, that changes everything. But when I'm not in control, then that makes me really nervous.

So a teaching role is a really good role for me because I feel like I'm in control and yet I can still let the students do their thing, but it takes the pressure off me. So those are the those are two things I am proud of, developing a great training relationship and my two YouTube channels.

Melissa Breau: So this is normally my favorite question of the entire interview and that is what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Donna Hill: Not specifically training related although it totally is relevant. Many years ago, I think I was about twelve or thirteen, my older brother who's quite a bit older than I am. I'm the youngest of five kids and there's a bit of a gap between me and the previous four and I'm also the youngest of three girls and back then it was the old hope chest. I don’t if you’d remember what those, were but they were kind of the hope for the future when you get married. There’s things you started collecting in preparation for that. Kind of an old-fashioned concept I know, but whatever, that’s my family.

Anyway, so many years ago when I was about twelve or thirteen, he gave me this little trivet, which is like basically a hot plate that you can put a pot on the stove and stuff on the counter. It’s just this little metal thing and it had a picture of a little yellow tacky caterpillar on it. But it had a little quote on it, and the quote said, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch!” For some reason it really struck me and I have really taken that to heart and I've applied that to almost everything I do in life.

When I’m faced with something hard, I know it's not this big thing. I can break it down into smaller pieces and we can get through it step by step by step, and ultimately get the final goal that I want. And of course dog training is EXACTLY that. It's all about these teeny tiny little pieces that get you to that final goal. That final behavior, the competition, whatever it is that’s at the end. So I take that and apply it in many different ways in my life, and training certainly.

Melissa Breau: And that's great I like that so much. It's such a great kind of line to kind of remember, you know.

Donna Hill: It’s an easy one. Yeah, it’s everywhere and I've told so many people, that my husband actually this morning when I was talking about that, I thought, oh I bet she's going to ask this question. And he said you know, I remember when you told me that. He said we were back in university and I was helping him with his writing projects, and he said “I remember you telling me that. Break everything down. It was the yard by yard, life is hard, inch by inch it’s a cinch.” So and that was probably about thirty years ago he remembers that from.

Melissa Breau: (Laughs) It's clearly a memorable line.

Donna Hill: Yeah. (Laughs)

Melissa Breau: So my last question for you today. Who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Donna Hill: I can't say one person! I have to say there’s lots of them. I’m a real eclectic learner, and so again back to that real variety of learning styles, so everybody from Karen Pryor, Bob Bailey, Suzanne Clothier, Turid Rugaas, Denise Fenzi of course, Leslie McDevitt, Susan Friedman, Raymond Coppinger, and Jean Donaldson, Sue Ailsby. I take a little piece of something from a lot of the better trainers that are out there. Just things that really appeal to me and I incorporate them, and I try them.

It's all over the map and I think that comes back from my zoology background and just the general interest in animal behavior, because I do see it. It's not just one way or the other way of doing it. There's a whole variety. Some of the new researchers that are coming out are really affecting me too. A lot of the cognitive instructors, half of them I can't pronounce their names. I take the information that they've got and they're just fantastic. So there's tons and tons of not only trainers, but also researchers out there that I really appreciate their contributions so that I can take what I need and put it all together to create something that works for me and for the students that I work with.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Donna.

Donna Hill: Well thank you for having me! This has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it!

Melissa Breau: That's excellent and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Barbara Currier to talk about agility training and handling and I’ll ask her about her work with Georgia Tech which is creating wearable computing devices for military search and rescue and service dogs. Don’t miss it.

If you haven't already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Sep 22, 2017

Summary:

Cassia Turcotte has been involved with the dog training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999. She has a background in private behavior modification, and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, Search And Rescue  training officer, and taught classes for both reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003.

Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her  love of the outdoors, and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.

She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile real world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques.

Her students have titled dogs for both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you will most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak doing what they love most.

Cassia has titled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, conformation, and Nosework.

Additionally, she has been involved with both wilderness and urban Search And Rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness.

Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play.

She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/29/2017, featuring Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Cassia Turcotte. Cassia’s been involved in the dog-training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999.

She has a background in private behavior modification and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, search and rescue training officer, and taught classes both for reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003. Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her love of the outdoors and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.

She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile, real-world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques. Her students have titled dogs through both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you’ll most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak, doing what they love most.

Cassia’s handled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, confirmation, and nose work. Additionally, she has been involved in both wilderness and urban search and rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness. Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset, and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play. She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs. Hi, Cassia. Welcome to the podcast.

Cassia Turcotte: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To start us out, can you tell us a little about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, sure. I have six Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and they’re currently all in different levels of retriever hunt test training. Some of them are versatile hunting companions, so they do both retriever work and real-world hunting and upland hunting. I have one who just started nose work training, literally like day one, and she’s the one we refer to as the soccer mom.

She’s never done any performance sport before, and I didn’t get her until she was five, so she’s just learning how to learn, but everybody else is various stages of training, and we do the breed ring, so we do a little bit of tracking and a little bit of nose work.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. How did you get started in dog sports and training?

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, gosh. Originally, let’s see, I was involved with helping a sheriff’s department with laying tracks, and I think I was about 16, and they were kind enough to let me tag along on their training because I think I annoyed my parents to death training our cocker spaniel, and so they let me volunteer, and eventually, I did some decoy training with them, and I got really involved in search and rescue and ended up getting my own dog, and the dog I got at the time was a problem dog, so he had quite a few issues in terms of…he was, you know, nervous with people.

So we did the search rescue training just as kind of a fun thing to do with him, and he ended up becoming certified later down the road, which was kind of a pretty cool thing. So it sparked my interest in both behavior modification and how that works as well as, you know, performance sports and working dogs.

Melissa Breau: I don’t think there are many people who can say they got their start working with police dogs, so that’s a pretty neat start.

Cassia Turcotte: It was a small town.

Melissa Breau: So what got you started…I mean, maybe it was right from the start, but what got you started on positive training specifically?

Cassia Turcotte: Well, it was a little bit right from the start. I think I was fortunate to be part of a program that, while they certainly weren’t purely positive, they were really exploring newer methods, so I would say it was more a balanced program that I started out in, but the first dog that I started with, I had the grandeur that he was going to be a great retrieving dog, and I still remember taking the ball out and throwing the ball, and he took off after it, and it was going to be this great moment, and then he just sniffed the ball and kept on running, and he had zero retrieve desire whatsoever.

And so I ended up having to look for alternative methods to teach his retrieve, and that ended up being with Karen, how…you know, Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog, and we learned how to shape or retrieve, and it was all downhill from there.

Melissa Breau: So if you were to describe your philosophy now and kind of how you train, how would you describe that for people?

Cassia Turcotte: I think it’s really about living with and playing with dogs. You know, I love teaching. I like breaking things down, and I like for them to have a purpose, but I’m okay if they pick their purpose, you know? I have Chesapeakes, so generally, retrieving is something that they enjoy, but you know, my philosophy is really about let’s find what the dog’s good at and expand on it and teach them games and things that they really seem to naturally want to do, and you know, every dog has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s about finding balance and making them enjoy the things that are their weakness and how that works, so really just living and playing with dogs.

Melissa Breau: I know I mentioned in your bio that you believe dog training should be a form of structured play. It sounds like that’s a little bit what you’re talking about, but can you explain a little more what that phrase means, or at least what it means to you, and what it looks like in practice, like within a training session?

Cassia Turcotte: Sure. I think that…I’m trying to think where I actually first heard that term, and it may have been even Lindsey that said it, but really, it’s…you know, I don’t want the dog to feel like what we’re doing is work. If you feel like you’re being dragged to work every day, it’s mentally hard, but if they go out and they go, oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever, I can’t wait to do more of it, then the attitude’s up, the motivation’s up, and you don’t have any trouble with compliance.

You know, they’re really willing to play the game, and it’s fun. It’s fun for me and it’s fun for them, so you know, it’s one of the things…you know, how would it look in a training session? One of the things that we do in field work is called the walk up, and all that is, is a bumper is thrown in the air as you’re heeling with the dog, and it’s thrown in front of the dog, and the point of it is to challenge the dog to stay heeling and stay steady with you, and the traditional way would be to correct them for not doing that.

So in our way, we jackpot with Chuckit! ball or tug or food as a reinforcement for being steady, you know, so they see the bumper go up, and they sit, and we say, oh my gosh, that’s awesome, and we throw a Chuckit! ball in the opposite direction, and so it’s all a game, and it’s about keeping them guessing and mentally challenging them and getting it so that they really understand what they’re being asked to do, and they’re not just corrected for not understanding. So I think that’s pretty much what it would look lie in an average day.

Melissa Breau: So I know that you’ve got a new class in the schedule for October called Instinct Games - Leadership In Drive, so I was really…I wanted to dig into that a little bit and find out what that means, and then kind of what you’ll cover in the class.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, instinct games, the way I initially thought of it was all different types of dogs have different natural instincts, whether it’s sighthounds who see things or scent hounds who smell things or retrievers who, you know, as in my breed, they tend to pick things up. They don’t necessarily want to give it back, but they tend to want to carry things in their mouth, so there’s a lot of different natural instincts that are governed by the dog’s senses, and I think that’s the piece that as trainers, we frequently miss.

We miss that moment where the dog is…there’s a change in arousal or a change in stimulation based on the initial sensory response, so all of a sudden your dog’s toddling through the woods, and oh, their body language changes because they smelled something. You know, certainly search and rescue handlers notice those really minor alerts that a dog, when they first start getting with the something, but they haven’t gotten fully into a scent cone.

You know, I notice with my dogs, the second they’re watching a bird or a bumper fly through the air, they’re visually watching it, there’s a change in the body language and there’s a change in their stimulation, and I think that in general, in dog training, if you miss those initial moments, it’s really hard to stay ahead of the dog and to be the leader in the relationship and to kind of drive where you want to the train to go.

If you miss that first moment, you’re always reacting, and you’re behind the eight ball, and I think a lot of people struggle with that, so what I started doing with all of my puppies is just developing games that were meant to not only work on self control and impulse control and all of those things that we need for a functional adult dog, but they also work on developing the handler’s awareness of, oh, there’s that moment that I need to respond to, and how do you get that moment, an increased arousal levels?

So, you know, when you’re dealing with a high-drive dog, your reaction time has to be really fast, and to be able to really stop them out of motion, you have to be able to read them, and so it’s all about developing the team based on little games that mean nothing to any sport, but they can be applied to pretty much any sport you do with your dogs.

Melissa Breau: I kind of mentioned that you’ve done a number of different dog sports, but I’d imagine that something like hunt skills are very different than something like agility, so how does teaching those different skills kind of involve a different process for you, or how is it…maybe it’s very similar and just you kind of figured out the secret. I don't know.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, I think there’s a lot of vast similarities, and then there’s differences. I think the biggest difference between, say, agility and obedience with a breed ring for us would be that you’re generally within a confined space, whereas in fieldwork, the distance and the environment is such a big factor. So you know, even when I do other sports, going to a big venue where there’s big loudspeakers, that’s something I have to generalize, but we’re still generally in a similar looking ring.

When we do field work, you know, especially when we travel around the country, there are so many…there’s different plants, there’s different smells, there’s different animals, and there’s so many factors, and I think that’s the big thing. The generalization factor itself is the biggest difference, so it’s really just about people have to get out there and do it, and they have to do it in a number of different environments until their dog feels really confident doing it anywhere, and I think that’s one of the challenging aspects, but I think that the underlying teaching…you know, I teach my dogs to go over the hay bale the same way I would teach them to go over a agility jump, and in fact, I use a lot of the skills that I learned from agility instructors years ago to teach that stuff.

You know, look for the obstacle to jump over, so it’s a lot of that foundation stuff is going to be the same. I teach my obedient jumps the same way, so the underlying methodology is the same. I think it’s the generalization, that it really is different.

Melissa Breau: Now, kind of to pull those two questions together, I guess, is it possible to take the dog’s natural instincts and their drives, things like those things from herding or that nose work, kind of those things that are in them instinctually, and channel them for all sports, or is it kind of more specific to the sports…you know, some sports are a better fit than others, for those types of skills? Is it possible to kind of harness those things for everything? I mean, it sounded like a little bit from your class description, it can be, if it’s done well.

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think the way to look at it is every dog’s an individual, and you know, they need to have a great class on actually train the dog in front of you, and I can’t emphasize how important that is to me, too. You know, it’s the...it really is about each dog is an individual, and yes, they have these natural instincts. First of all, you know, knowing your dog, and what are their natural instincts?

You know, I talked about the dog that has no natural birdiness, and she also has very little desire to just hunt for things. Is she better suited to be a retriever or be a hunting dog? Maybe. Maybe not, you know, but she’s doing fantastic right now, and what we did was we developed those things that she doesn’t have naturally. We developed those, and then the things that she does have naturally, we tried to put a stimulus control on them so she doesn’t just do it all by herself.

Understanding how your dog, you know, how they sense those things…first of all, how they sense those things that are natural to them and how they react to them, and then being able to harness them and use them as part of your training system, regardless of what sports you’re doing, so you know, if you’ve got a dog who’s really interested in scent, sometimes, you know, obedience trials can be painful because they want to sniff the whole 100 yards of the floor, and I have my…one of my older males is very interested in dog smells, so to get his head up and to get him connected in new environments was really challenging.

We have used his natural desire to sniff as part of his reinforcement program for obedience work, so it’s just…it absolutely works for every sport, it’s just how you learn your relationship with your dog. How you learn your dog and how you utilize those things that are naturally reinforcing to them to begin with.

Melissa Breau: So I don’t have the syllabus out in front of me fro the class, but it sounds like it will be part observation skills, part games, part kind of figuring out training plan? Is that accurate? I mean…

Cassia Turcotte: Yeah. I think what it does is the first six weeks is really about learning to observe your dog, learning to develop some basic game skills, and then within those games, we can take those games…you know, for a team that’s more advanced and has done a lot of work, we can apply that game to their sport, or if somebody’s just starting out, you can learn how to put just the basic…how to teach the game step by step, and maybe you only get through the first part of the game, but it will give you that foundation of teaching whatever you need to teach in your sport.

So mostly, it’s about learning to read your dog, learning how to teach the games and what the games are, different games to play. We’ll do a couple different games each week, and then how those games can apply to your sport. How can you use this thing that you’ve learned to apply it to your sport or to real life, or whatever you need from your dog? How does this actually carry over?

Melissa Breau: So it sounds like all ages are okay, all skill levels are okay, it’s a good fit for anybody who’s looking to just really understand that piece of it a little bit more, right?

Cassia Turcotte: Absolutely. Yes.

Melissa Breau: Cool. So I wanted to…we talked kind of about general training a bunch, and I want to dig a little bit more into some of the hunt stuff specifically, because I think that while most people in our audience, and probably, at this point, even the general public, are pretty familiar with agility and maybe even obedience, hunt tests are a little less publicized on TV and in the media, just a little bit.

Cassia Turcotte: Understandably.

Melissa Breau: So can you share a little bit about what a hunt test actually involves and what skills they demand of the dogs?

Cassia Turcotte: I think originally, hunt tests were developed to really identify quality breeding stock, and over the years, we’ve gotten away from that a little bit, and particularly with the retrievers…pointing breeds and spaniel breeds, I think, are a little bit more true to what they started out as. In the retriever world, we’ve gone into a completely different game nowadays, but ideally, it’s about retrieving game, regardless of what type of hunting dog you have. It’s when you’re a hunter you don’t want to…you’re also concerned about preservation, so you don’t want a bird that has been shot to get away, and that’s what the dogs are for.

You don’t want to injure things unnecessarily, and that’s the dog’s job, is to make sure that the game is retrieved, so your upland breeds also do…they help you locate the game. So if there’s a field, there’s birds, you don’t know where they are. You can walk through the field, but if it’s 500 yards by 500 yards, one person walking through that field’s going to take a really long time to find some birds potentially, so the dogs are obviously much more efficient at that by smelling them out.

So in the hunt test, it’s really your upland breed, it’s about how they hunt the field, how they look for birds, and as they go up in the levels, it’s about steadiness under gun fire. So there’s a lot of arousal that goes into the sport in terms of…you know, you get multiple dogs out in the field, you get people yelling, you get gun shots, you get live gain birds, and then at the uppermost levels, there’s usually an honor, which means that somebody else’s dog runs right in front of your dog with all this arousal going on, and your dog has to sit and watch them get to retrieve, and that’s a pretty challenging aspect.

So there’s a lot of development of natural abilities and independent work on the dog, but then, they have to come under immediate control and be able to respond to whistle signals and be, we call it, handling, which is basically hand signals that control where they go in the field, and then first and foremost, they can’t hurt the game, so they’ve got to bring it back intact.

Melissa Breau: So some people definitely say that doing all of that while training positively, it just isn’t possible, but you’re kind of proving that it is. So why is that so hard for some people to believe? Like, why are so many people saying that it isn’t, and how do you kind of overcome those obstacles, those skills that most people really struggle to teach positively, how are you kind of approaching those things?

Cassia Turcotte: I think part of it stems from our mentality as a society in general. You know, you break the speed limit, you get a speeding ticket. You break the law, you go to jail. There’s a consequence-based mentality, and I think we really fail at teaching in general, and it’s not that I’ve never said no to my dogs. I’m human. I’ve certainly done it, but I focus a lot more on just teaching them the job and finding what’s reinforcing to them, and basically, if you do it my way, you can have what you want.

If you want your Chuckit! ball, you can go get this bird in this beautiful straight line and come back and give it to me, and then you can have your Chuckit! ball, you know, and a lot of my dogs…I think the thing that’s fortunate about field work is a lot of the dogs find the bird work, and going back to those natural reinforces, you know, natural senses, a lot of them find, you know, hunting for birds naturally reinforcing, in itself reinforcing, so once you teach them the rules of the game and then they get out there, and they’re like, oh, you mean I get to do this with things that I really like doing it with? Then the game itself, there’s pieces of the game that are naturally reinforcing.

So, you know, I think the pieces that people say you can’t train are partially the pieces that we’ve put into the game, it’s…particularly for retriever work, but if you can’t teach a retrieve without force, and going back decades and decades, we bred dogs to retrieve game, and they did it naturally, and now you read, every gun dog magazine that say, oh, you can’t train a reliable retrieve without forceful…I think we’re failing in our breeding programs.

You know, there’s a problem there. If a dog doesn’t want to retrieve things naturally and then be…in terms of a retriever, I’m going to be concerned. I don’t expect my pointing breeds necessarily to retrieve naturally, but the force breaking came about as ways to train difficult dogs, and then because it was systematic, it gained so much popularity because it was a system. It was a teaching system that the dogs could follow.

It was effective, and so people were having quick results, and so it gained popularity because of that. The dogs were reliable because they’d been taught, and yes, they were harsh methods, but at least it was systematic, and no one really just came behind and said, hey, we can do systematic without all the force. And I do think, to the credit of the trainers today, there are a lot of trainers, professional now, who are really dialing back on the amount of force that they do use in their teaching processes, but really, I just think that nobody has just done the teaching and reinforced the dogs otherwise.

So if everybody says you can’t do it, then who’s going to argue with them, saying oh, it can’t be done that way, but then somebody comes along and says, well, let me just try. You know, I’m okay with failing. I can fail big, but we’re having quite a bit of success and proving that it can be done, over and over again, so I think that’s really the key, is people just seeing that it can be done and that we’re having fun doing it, you know?

Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Well, congratulations on the success that you’ve been having and for doing well in that sphere. So I want to kind of round things out with the three questions that I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Cassia Turcotte: The one of all time that did it has been the dog that I adopted with all the behavior issues, and you know, I started doing search and rescue work with them as a way to boost his confidence, and then he went on to be a certified dog, and he taught me so many things, and then his confidence just bloomed, and I think that, that was a big thing for me, not so much the fact that he got certified, but the fact that we were able to change so much in his life, and he really ended up having a purpose, whereas before, he wasn’t adoptable.

He was scheduled to be euthanized. They didn’t feel safe putting him out with just anybody, you know? So that, to me, is a big accomplishment, and then, probably my second biggest is having people ask for our dogs now. So the retrievers that we’re working with now that, you know, none of our dogs are force fed fetched, none of them use electronic collars, and we’re getting to travel all over the country because our dogs are being requested.

People want to hunt with them. You know, they like what they’re seeing. They like the dogs, and that’s all just word of mouth and people actually seeing the dogs work, and as much as I like the ribbons and I like the accomplishments, I like the fact that people who’ve been hunting for a long time are seeing that these dogs are reliable and they’re consistent and they’re talented, and that, to me, is a pretty big accomplishment.

Melissa Breau: That’s excellent. So my second stumper question is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Cassia Turcotte: Relax. Honestly though, it really is. For me, it’s easy to get serious about training and to want to go faster and do more and be better, and really, what I need to do is relax and play with my dog and teach and have fun, and when I relax and breathe, everything goes much better.

You know, the dogs learn faster, they do better. They do all those things that they want to do when I’m not pushing, so that…honestly, my husband says it to me all the time, which doesn’t actually help me relax, ironically, but it is good advice. He just has poor timing so…

Melissa Breau: So my last one here for you is who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Cassia Turcotte: I look up to the people that are brave enough to just try stuff. You know, try new methods that they think are fair to the dog, and even if somebody tells you not to try it. Denise has obviously given us all a chance to come together and do that through FDSA. You know, I think Ken Ramirez, back when I as first getting started, I loved listening to his lectures and teaching on environmental enrichment.

You know, it changed how I do things, not only for my dogs, for my farm animals, who are spoiled rotten thanks to him, and I’m sure they send a big shout out, and you know, in the field world, Robert Milner was a longtime traditional trainer, longtime back when the electronic parts were much more barbaric than they are now, and he came out and was brave enough to say, hey, we screwed up, you know? We shouldn’t do this. He wrote an article on it, and he’s gone the other way now, and I think in terms of fieldwork, that’s one of the people that I really look up to, as well.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Cassia.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts. Don’t miss it. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Sep 15, 2017

Summary:

Sue Yanoff graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/22/2017, featuring Cassia Turcotte — we'll talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Sue Yanoff. Sue graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.

Hi Sue. Welcome to the podcast.

Sue Yanoff: Hi Melissa. Thanks.

Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. I think that most of the students who have been with FDSA for any period of time have probably seen your dogs in one class or another. But for those that haven’t, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now, and what you’re working on with them?

Sue Yanoff: Sure. My older beagle is Charm. She’s 12 years old. She’s a breed champion. She has her UD, her rally excellent, MX, MXJ, and TD. She’s pretty much retired from performance right now, but I am still doing tracking with her, and would like to get a TDX on her. And then my younger beagle, Ivy, who has been in a lot of Fenzi classes is six years old. She’s also breed champion. She finished her mock last year. She has her rally novice title, and a TD, and she has two legs towards her CDX.

Melissa Breau: Well congrats. Those are some seriously impressive stats, especially with beagles.

Sue Yanoff: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: So how did you get your start in dog sports? What got you started there?

Sue Yanoff: A beagle. Between my sophomore and junior year as an undergraduate here at Cornell, I went home to visit my parents, and I also went to visit the vet I used to work for when I was in high school, and there was a little beagle puppy with a cast on his hind leg coming out of anesthesia, and I picked him up, and I cuddled him. I said oh I want to take this puppy home, and they said well you can because his owners had him for just a couple of days and then their little boy broke his leg, and they were going to pick him up from the vet that afternoon, and take him to the animal shelter.

So some phone calls were made, and I got the puppy and took him back to college with me, and I didn’t know anything about dog training. I had never heard of crate training, so I would just leave him in my apartment, that I shared with two roommates, while I went to class, and of course he destroyed things, and did all the naughty things that puppies do. So I thought I need to do something, and I enrolled him in the kindergarten puppy class at the local dog-training club. That’s how it got started, and I ended up getting a CDX on that dog while I was in Vet school, and that got me started in dog sports.

Melissa Breau: Wow. So to go from, you know, never having done anything dog training wise before, to a CDX. That’s pretty impressive Sue. Now I’d imagine being both the sports dog handler and the vet has led to some pretty unique insights into each field. How has being involved in both influenced your views in each of those?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. As a dog trainer all my dogs have, at one point in their careers, been injured, and I know what it’s like to have to restrict your dog’s activity. You can’t train them. You can’t show them. It’s very frustrating, and so as a vet when I have to tell a client okay you can’t train, you can’t show, you have to restrict your dog for weeks, or months sometimes, I know how frustrating that can be, and how hard it can be, but I also understand where they are coming from so I think I can see it from both sides.

Melissa Breau: Is there anything in particular about veterinary medicine that sports handlers often just don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. I don’t think it’s just sports handlers. I think it’s a lot of people. Veterinary medicine is a science, and the decisions that we make have to be based on science, and not just what people think, or what they heard, and so when you’re making a decision about what the best diagnostics are for a condition, or how best to treat the condition, it has to be based on a series of cases, not just on what somebody thinks, and I go a lot based on what I learn at continuing education conferences, and what I read in the veterinary literature. Because papers that are published in peer reviewed journals are scrutinized to make sure that the science behind the conclusions are valid.

So while, you know, it’s fine for somebody to say well I did this with my dog and he did great. What I want to make my decisions on is what worked well for many dogs, dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of dogs, and not just something that might have worked for your dog where we don’t’ even know if the diagnosis was the same. So I think I want people to know that veterinary medicine is a science, and we have to make our decisions based on science.

Melissa Breau: I think that, you know, especially with the internet these days it’s very common for people to turn to their favorite local forum, and be like well what should I do, but…

Sue Yanoff: I know like let me get advice from everybody, and I know it’s hard to make decisions when it involves your dog and you’re emotionally involved, and that’s one of the reasons I want to teach this class, to give people information that they can use to make those hard decisions.

Melissa Breau: What about the reverse? Are there things about sports that you think most vets just they don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Oh yes. Yes there’s a lot. Unless you’re a vet who’s involved in this thing, most vets don’t understand the time and the effort, and the emotion, and the money that goes into the training, and the trialing that we do. They don’t understand the special relationship that we have with our dogs when we put the time and effort into training them. I have had dogs that were wonderful pets, and I loved them but I never showed them for one reason or another, and there is a different relationship when you accomplish something special with that dog. So I think that’s important thing.

The other thing that most vets don’t understand, and might not agree with, but I have had some clients where we have diagnosed an injury, and said okay we need to restrict activity, and do the conservative treatment route, and they say I will but my national specialty is next week, and she’s entered in whatever class. Or they say I have a herding finals coming up in two weeks, and I really want to run her in those trials, and I’m okay with that if the dog has an injury that I don’t think is likely to get much worse by doing a little more training, or trialing, then I’ll say okay. Well let’s do this in the meantime, and when you’re done with your national or with your specialty or whatever, come on back and we’ll start treatment.

So I think a lot of vets would not understand that point of view, but I’m okay with it as long as I don’t think that it’s going to do serious harm to the dog, and as long as the owner understands that there’s, you know, a slight chance that things could get worse.

Melissa Breau: I think it’s really kind of interesting that you focused a little bit on performance dogs. So I wanted to ask about what led you to that, I guess, to focus on that. Was it your own interest just in the being involved with sports when you joined the practice in New York?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. No. It’s my own interests. I’m mostly retired. I’ve retired from three different jobs now, so I don’t have to do this sports medicine stuff to make a living, and to pay my mortgage.

So I became interested in it when I joined the practice at Colonial Veterinary Hospital about the same time my colleague Lynn joined it. She’s a physical therapist. She was a physical therapist for people for 20 plus years before she decided she wanted to work on animals, so she went to vet tech school to become a vet tech, and get some animal education. And I remember when I first met her she said to me well what do you think about physical therapy for dogs, and I thought I don’t know anything about it.

So the more I learned about it, the more I realized how important it is, and I did a lot of reading, and I went to continuing education about sports medicine, and about the same time, like a few years later, the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation was getting going so the whole topic of canine sports medicine was getting more popular and people were learning more about it. So the more I learned about it, the more I liked it and of course since I did dog sports, I understood what’s involved in dog sports.

So when Lynn and I started this little practice, we did see pets for the first year or two, but then we said you know what, we don’t want to deal with people. Performance dog people, in general, their dogs are better trained. They’re better behaved, which make it easier to examine them. Not all of them but most of them. They’re definitely more committed to doing what needs to be done to get their dog better. So they are more willing to put the time into it, and the work for treating, and rehabbing the dog, and the money that it costs to get their dogs better if the need surgery, or other treatments. So, you know, when Lynn and I started seeing more and more animals we said okay, we’re not doing pets any more. We’re just going to work on performance dogs.

Melissa Breau: Now I want to talk a little bit about your upcoming class. So in some ways it’s the first of it’s kind here at FDSA. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what students can expect to learn?

Sue Yanoff: Well basically the goal of the class is to, in the words of a friend of mine that I was discussing this with, is to make people better consumers of healthcare, for their animals. I want to give them information about the various injuries that the dogs can get, and how they are diagnosed, and what the treatment options are, and what’s the best chance to get them back to competition.

I want them to understand the importance of a good sports medicine exam. When I was a surgeon when I saw an animal for an injury, or a lameness, I would examine the leg that was lame. Most of the time, we knew which leg was lame and I would examine that leg and tell them what surgery I think the dog needs, and that was that.

With a sports medicine exam, I examine the whole dog. At times I don’t even know which leg is lame, because the owner doesn’t know which leg is lame. We come with a history of knocking bars, or popping weaves, or not being as active, and they think there might be something wrong, but they’re not sure. So it’s a totally different type of exam from when I just did surgery to now doing sports medicine. So I want people to understand that, and I just want them to be able to make informed decisions if and when they have to deal with an injury.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine it was probably pretty hard to decide what things to fit into the class and what things were kind of beyond the scope of what you could cover in those six weeks. So what are some of the common types of injuries that you’ll be discussing in those six weeks?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. It was really tough. When I started writing lectures, I had no idea how much material I was eventually going to cover. So people can go to the website to look at the course summary to see what we cover from week to week. But three of the common injuries that we see in sports medicine are injuries to the muscles and tendons of the shoulder, the biceps and supraspinatus specifically. Injuries to the iliopsoas muscle which ten or so years ago I never heard of, and now it’s a very commonly diagnosed injury. And then, also talking about cranial cruciate ligament injuries because just based on a recent thread on the Fenzi Alumni Facebook page, there’s a lot of information out there about cranial cruciate ligament injuries, and some misinformation.

We have a whole lecture just on cranial cruciate ligament injuries to give people, you know just the basic facts of what’s based on science. What’s not based on science. What the options are, because there’s always options. There’s no one best way to treat almost anything. So those are probably the three most common things that people know about that they’ll learn. But there’s a ton of other stuff in the class.

Melissa Breau: Now I know that the syllabus mentions prevention a little bit, and I wanted to know if you could talk for a minute about the role that prevention plays when it comes to these types of injuries. You know, how much should sports handlers focus on preventing problems? If you can, even beyond that, are there skills that they should teach that would make dealing with these kinds of problems, should they occur, easier before there’s ever actually a problem for them to be worried about.

Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well prevention is always best, and as far as preventing injuries in dogs the bottom line is that we don’t know what we can do to prevent injuries. Everything that we know is based on the human literature, and some horse literature, but there are no studies in veterinary medicine for dogs as to anything that’s proven to prevent injuries. So we have to just extrapolate from the human literature, but there certainly are lots of things. In fact my sample lecture is my lecture on preventing injuries, and that’s a freebie for anybody to go read.

But one of the most important things to keep your dog thin and fit, and there’s some really good Fenzi classes on canine conditioning. So I think that’s important. The other thing that is important that I notice that a lot of handlers don’t do because I compete with my clients, I compete with all the people and I can see that they don’t’ spend enough time warming their dogs up before the competition, and cooling the dog down after the competition. Now for an obedience trial, the warm up is probably not as important as something like field trials, or agility trials, and certainly lure coursing. But I think those three things, conditioning, warm up, and cool down will go a long way to helping to prevent injuries.

And then, as far as what they can teach their dog that will help, there’s two things. On is to teach your dog to allow a hands on examination, including lying on their side while I examine them. Most of the dogs that I see are pretty good about it. Some of them will, you know, will fuss a little at first, but they pretty much relax into it. But I’ve had a few dogs where there’s no way we can lay them on their side to examine them, and I can barely get in a good standing exam. So it’d be really nice to be able to have your dog do that, and I know that Deb’s Cooperative Canine Care class, I’m sure, can help with that.

Then the other thing that’s important is best gait to diagnose a lameness is a trot, and a lot of my patients either won’t trot nicely on a leash. They want to bounce around, or pull, or run. Or they won’t trot on a leash next to the owner without looking up at the owner, and that kind of throws the gait off a little. So to teach your dog to have nice straight trot, on leash without looking up at you would be another thing that would make my life a little bit easier.

Melissa Breau: I mean I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that second one. The first one definitely made sense, having the dog lay on its side and being able to be calm while its examined, but it never would have occurred to me that it would be important to have a forward motion where the dog wasn’t looking at you for diagnostic purposes.

Sue Yanoff: Right. That’s why it’s really nice when we get show dogs, confirmation dogs that know this skill. I mean we get the job done, but there are certain things that can make it easier for the dog, the owner, and me.

Melissa Breau: Obviously there’s a limited amount you can do remotely when it comes to canine medicine, so how are you doing the different levels in the class and what will and won’t be covered in class.

Sue Yanoff: Right. Well the first thing I want to say is I will not make any diagnoses over the phone or online, and the reason for that is that, you know, in order to give advice on diagnosis and treatment, you have to establish a veterinary client patient relationship, and in most states, at least in New York state, that means you have to see the client, and the dog in person. So while I can answer people’s questions, and look at video, and say well you know it could be this, and it might be this, and you might want to get these diagnostic tests, and if it’s this then this treatment works, and if it’s that, this treatment works. I don’t want people to sign up for the class expecting me to diagnose their dog online.

So with that said, there’s going to be two levels. Bronze which is the typical bronze level, and then silver, and with this new working silver level that Fenzi has, I think that all of the silver spots will be working silver spots because there’ll be no gold spots. So it’s mainly a discussion class, but I want the silver students to be able to at least post photographs. They can even post radiographs, or x-rays if they want to.

If we mutually agree that a video would be helpful they can post a video of their dog, and they can ask any question they want. They can ask general questions about the material. They can ask specific questions about their dog. They don’t have to pick one dog. They can ask specific questions about any dog they want to. I want there to be a lot of discussion because I think everybody, me, the silver students, and the bronze students will learn a lot from the discussions, you know as much if not more so than from the lectures. So I’m hoping to have some really active silver students.

Melissa Breau: Hopefully, you know, having said that you will now get even more of them, than you would have otherwise. I think that, that will be a real appeal for students to know that you really want an active silver group.

Sue Yanoff: Right, and then the other things that they should understand is there’s so much material that we could cover, but this class is basically covering injuries, and not specifically hereditary or developmental disorders like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia, or OCD. I mean those are common in sports dogs, but that could be a whole class in itself. So I really had to limit some things so we’re going to be talking about injuries that they can acquire.

Melissa Breau: So maybe in the future if this class does well, huh?

Sue Yanoff: Maybe, and when I want to spend another huge amount of time writing these lectures, so.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned earlier treatment decisions for dogs can be super hard, you know whether their a performance dog, or just a pet. So I’d imagine that one of the major benefits to this class would be that students will feel significantly more informed when they have those kinds of decisions to make in the future. First of all, would you agree with that? It sounds like from what you said earlier, you would, and then do you have any advice for students who may be facing those kinds of decisions now?

Sue Yanoff: Yes. So yes the class will provide a lot of information for the students to help them make better decisions about their dogs medical care, but what they need to know for now, are two things that I think are important. One is to get a diagnosis. It’s really hard to make a treatment plan without at least having an idea of what’s going on, and general practitioners are great. I have a lot of respect for general practitioners because I was one for five years, but they’re not specialists in any one subject. So unless the cause of the lameness is very obvious, you might have to see an expert, and there are two experts that can be used for sports dogs.

One is the board certified surgeon, which is what I am, and more, and more board certified surgeons are realizing that sporting dogs, performance dogs, are a little bit different from pets, and so they’re dealing with them a little bit better, although there’s still some that do what I used to do, just look at the leg. Look at the injury, and not look at anything else. But then this new specialty of sports medicine and rehabilitation, there’s more and more vets being trained, and being board certified in that specialty. So that would be another specialist to go see if your general practitioner, you know, is not sure about what might be going on.

The other thing is that I’m a big fan of all the therapists that are out there. Massage therapists, and the physical therapists, and the people that do acupuncture, and chiropractic, but if they’re not also veterinarians, then they may not be able to make the diagnosis. They could look at things that might be causing the dog pain or discomfort that might be secondary to the diagnosis. But sometimes treating the symptoms is all you need to do, but sometimes treating the symptoms won’t cut it. You need to know what the diagnosis is so you know specifically what you have to treat, and we’ll discuss all that in the class.

Melissa Breau: What I was going to say is that I know this was in the questions I sent over, kind of in advance of our call, but I’m curious…you kind of mentioned some specific certifications. Is there anything out there, or do you have any recommendations if students are trying to find a good specialist or kind of get advice on where to look? Is there any, I guess, any way for them to kind of vet on their own, okay this is a person who really, probably is going to be good for a sports dog versus this is somebody who maybe doesn’t have as much of a background in that.

Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well I mean both these specialties have websites. American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and on the websites you can look up to see who in your state is board certified, and you can also look up to see what their special interest is. So, I mean, for the sports medicine and rehab vet’s then obviously their specialty is sports medicine and rehab. But for the board certified surgeons some of them are more geared towards, you know, sports medicine versus just plain old surgery.

The other thing is, you want to, if you’re going to see a board certified surgeon, you want to see somebody that deals with a lot of performance dogs, if possible, and you also want to deal with somebody who understands, and agrees with the importance of physical therapy postoperatively, because there are still some veterinary surgeons out there that don’t think dogs need physical therapy post op. They just, you know, restrict the activity until the surgery is healed, and then say okay well gradually get him back to normal, and it’s like what does that mean, or what do you do.

So I truly believe that the surgery is only half of the story, and that physical therapy, post operative physical therapy, guided by a knowledgeable person, and there are certifications in physical therapy for both veterinarians and technicians, where they can get some, you now, advanced training outside of vet school and tech school, on physical therapy. There’s a lot of human physical therapists that are now doing veterinary physical therapy, and you know, while I don’t know how good they are, you know the Fenzi alumni Facebook page is a great resource if you say okay I need a physical therapist in this area. Can you recommend somebody, or I need a good sports medicine vet or surgeon in this area, can you recommend somebody.

The Fenzi Alumni Facebook page is a great resource, and also just talking to friends, and you know it won’t hurt to ask your veterinarian what’s your experience with this condition, how many have you done, and what’s your success rate? People are a little reluctant to do that, but no good veterinarian is going to be insulted if you ask them that, and they should be able to answer.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s a great piece of advice, just being comfortable asking that kind of question of your vet, or your veterinary surgeon. I mean if you don’t ask, you can’t know, right.

Sue Yanoff: That’s true.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to end with the same few questions that I ask everybody that comes on, at the end of the interview. So the first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, I thought about it, and it’d have to be the UD on my older beagle now, Charm because Charm is a dog that switched me from you know traditional training to positive reinforcement training, and I had shown her nine times in utility, and nine times she NQ’ed, and people just kept telling me well she’s just not putting in any effort. You need to correct her harder, or you need to make her do it. And so the more times she  NQ’ed, the harder I was on her until the final time in utility, I gave her the hell signal and she just sat there, and she basically said nope. I’m done, not doing it.

So I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way, and that led to positive reinforcement training, which led to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and after a few weeks off from training, I retrained Charm pretty much all the utility exercises using positive reinforcement, and about nine months later I showed her in utility again, and she got the UD in four shows. So I am really proud of Charm. I feel bad for all the stuff I did to her before I crossed over, but now that I train with positive reinforcement, there’s just no comparison. So I’m very proud of Charm for getting her UD.

Melissa Breau: Congrats.

Sue Yanoff: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: So the second questions that I usually ask is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. Now this is a hard one, because I’ve been taking classes at FDSA since pretty much Denise started, and there’s so much good information, and great advice. But if I had to pick one I’d say it’s acclimation, and that is because I’ve had people tell me don’t ever let your dog sniff. Wherever you go new, don’t let them sniff. They have to be paying attention to you, like all the time, and it’s like you know what. I’ve tried that with Ivy for a few weeks, and it almost drove both of us crazy. So when I learned about acclimation I thought, yep. This is it. This is the best piece of advice I’ve gotten.

Melissa Breau: And especially I’d imagine with Beagles, that nose, you know. It’s a real thing so. The last question is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, well it’s not anybody that’s known in the dog world, because she doesn’t teach classes, and she doesn’t have a blog, and she, you know, doesn’t do anything online. But she’s a friend of mine who I’ve known since college. We met through dogs. When I was getting a CDX on my first beagle, she was getting a CDX on her first keeshond and since then she has been put multiple notches in herding titles, and some agility titles on her border collies, but she’s also put multiple OTCHs on her Keeshonds, and all of her OTCHd kees are also breed champions, some of them bred by her. So there’s a lot of, you know, trainers out there who have trained another dog other than a border collie, or a golden, or a sheltie whatever to an OTCH, and they do it once, and they never do it again.

But Marian has, I think had, at least four or five, if not six champion OTCH keeshonds, and she’s got a young keeshond coming up now that just finished her CD with six scores or 199 or above, and one score of 200. So I’m sure that’s a future OTCH. So you know, I don’t agree with everything she does in her training, but her dogs are really good, and they are happy in the ring, and they love her, and she gets OTCHs on keeshond’s over, and over, and over again. So I admire her.

Melissa Breau: That is quite the accomplishment. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Sue.

Sue Yanoff: It was fun. Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Breau: It was fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with somebody that I’ve gotten lots of requests for. Cassia Turcotte will be here to talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, or the podcast app of your choice, to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Sep 8, 2017

Summary:

Chrissi Schranz is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.

Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.

Links Mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/15/2017, featuring Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and most progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Chrissi Schranz, a dog trainer, translator, and chocolate addict.

Chrissi is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.

Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.

Hi, Chrissi. Welcome to the podcast.

Chrissi Schranz: Hi. I am excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. To kind of get us started and to dive right in, do you want to tell us about your own crew and what you’re working on with them?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. So I have three dogs right now. The oldest one is Fanta, my greyhound. I got him from Ireland as a retired racing greyhound, and by now, his main job is to be a couch potato and get lots of belly rubs. He basically does everything he wants, but he’s also my assistant when I’m working with reactive dogs. He’s really good for this because he’s very calm and communicates very well, so he’s a very good decoy.

Then there’s Phoebe, my standard poodle. You might have seen her in pictures or videos. She is very crazy. She has an endless supply of energy, is very extroverted and outgoing. Everyone loves her, but she can be very exhausting to live with sometimes. If I didn’t force her to, I think she would never sleep, never stop. So I’ve tried lots of different things with her. She was the dog I tried pretty much everything I could think of with her to see what I like.

She likes everything, so she’s up for anything. Now, I’m mainly focusing on nose work with her. That would be her sport of choice and my sport of choice for her because it’s one thing that she loves but she doesn’t get overexcited about, so she doesn’t lose her mind. She can focus and enjoy it. That’s her biggest issue, that she gets excited so easily that her brain freezes, and she’s just like, oh my god, oh my god, life is so good. Yeah, and we do lots of hiking together and just play.

Melissa Breau: And then you’ve got one more, right?

Chrissi Schranz: Yes, my youngest one. That’s Grit, my mal. She’ll be a year in September. We are working on obedience foundations and some tracking. It’s been really fun to work with Shade here at the FDSA. I think the way she teaches is a perfect fit for her. She’s probably my favorite, but please don’t tell my other dogs. We’ll hopefully be doing a little obedience in the future and tracking, and maybe we’ll get into protection as well. We’ll see. Yeah. My dogs usually get a say in what they want to do as well, so…

Melissa Breau: It sounds like three very different breeds and three very different dogs.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes, they actually really are.

Melissa Breau: So what led you from teaching your own crew to becoming a dog trainer?

Chrissi Schranz: So I grew up with my dad’s dogs, and then when I was 12 or 13, I had my very first own dog. That was the dachshund. He was really difficult. When I had him, I started reading a lot and going to seminars and workshops, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about training. I didn’t plan on becoming a dog trainer yet, but I got more and more fascinated by it, and I started dog-sitting for other people and fostering for a rescue organization, so I got to play with all kinds of different dogs with all kinds of different issues.

I started working as a teacher for German as a foreign language, which was really fun, too, because I’ve always liked teaching. It doesn’t matter what that species is, and then I got Phoebe, and I took her to school with me every day, so she could come to work, and I also started a dog trainer course, which is supposedly teaching you to be a professional dog trainer, but well, I won’t go into that because it was not a very good class, but I still just thought I’d want to learn as much as possible to be a good trainer for my own dogs.

But then the building that our school was located in, the German school, implemented a new policy that there were no dogs allowed anymore in the building, so I couldn’t bring Phoebe anymore, and that kind of annoyed me, so I finished up that term of teaching, and then I quit and opened a business focused on translating and dog training full-time, and yeah, I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Melissa Breau: So I’d imagine that having previous teaching experience was pretty useful when you started teaching people how to train dogs. There’s got to be some crossover there, right?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, actually, a lot because even when you’re working with dogs, you’re really working with people because it’s the people who are living with the dogs every day, and you’re teaching them a foreign language, which is dog, basically, or a foreign language which is German, so there are many similarities, actually.

Melissa Breau: That’s such an interesting way of looking at it, as both just being, you know, kind of different languages that you need to help people understand.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. I feel like it kind of is.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to get into your training philosophy, and lucky me, I got a sneak peek before we started. You sent me over the link for this, but I’d love to have you kind of share your training philosophy and how you describe your approach, and for those of you who are going to want to see this after she talks about it, there will be a link to the comic in the show notes.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, so I’d say my training philosophy is based on my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. So Calvin has a shovel and he’s digging a hole, and then Hobbes comes up and asks him why he’s digging a hole, and Calvin says he’s looking for buried treasure. Hobbes asks him what he has found, and Calvin starts naming all kinds of things, like dirty rocks and roots and some disgusting grubs, and then Hobbes gets really excited, and he’s like, wow, on your first try? And Calvin says, yes. There’s treasure everywhere, and that is the kind of experience I want people and their dogs to have with each other.

I want them to feel like life is an adventure, and there’s so many exciting things to be discovered that they can do together. I want people to learn to look at the world through their dog’s eyes a little bit and find this pleasure and just be together, and doing things and discovering things, whether that’s digging a hole or playing in dog sports. Yeah, I want them to feel like they’re friends and partners in crime and have that Calvin and Hobbes kind of relationship, because I believe if you have that kind of relationship as a foundation, you can do pretty much anything you want, no matter whether you want to have a dog you can take anywhere or whether you want to compete and do well in dog sports. I think if you have that kind of relationship as a basis, everything is possible.

Melissa Breau: I love that, just on so many levels, that comic works for what you’re talking about, right? From the almost literal sense of, okay, they’re digging a hole and they find buried treasure that’s rocks and grubs and things our dogs would actually find pretty fascinating, to that metaphorical level of, like, just wanting to kind of explore and find joy in the everyday with our dogs. I mean, this is just a great illustration, I guess, of kind of a philosophy in a comic. It’s really quite neat.

So I want to dive into a little bit the classes that you teach at FDSA. So I know that your first class at FDSA, I think it was your first class, right? Calling All Dogs?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that, and start off with I guess what may be a little bit of a controversial question. Is there such a thing as a 100 percent reliable recall, and kind of how do we balance the idea of giving our dogs freedom with the realities and dangers of life?

Chrissi Schranz: I don’t think there’s 100 percent reliable recall. I don’t think you can get 100 perfect reliability on any real life behavior, really, simply because you can’t control your environment, so you can prove your recall against lots of distractions, but there’s no way you can prove it against all of them because there’s always unexpected things that will happen and things that will show up that you didn’t even know existed. I mean, it’s different with competition behaviors because those, you only need in very specific environment, so you can prepare for the ring easier than for the real world in some ways.

So you know there won’t be kids on bikes in the ring, and there won’t be loose dogs, and…hopefully not. There won’t be any squirrels, but you don’t know these things about the real world, so I don’t think there’s an objective answer to how we should balance freedom and safety for our dogs. It’s more like a personal decision. So we take risks that we think are worth it because they increase our dogs quality of life, and we don’t take those risks that scare us too much, and I think everyone draws this line differently, and that’s okay.

I think dogs can be perfectly happy even if they never get to be off leash in an unfenced area. So off leash freedom is one of many ways to enrich their lives and share things with them, but it’s not the only way, and yeah, I think there’s just no right answer. Everyone has to answer this question for themselves.

Melissa Breau: Right. It kind of goes back to almost to the comic idea again, like that the Calvin Hobbes comic, just the idea that finding the pleasure in the everyday and what those pleasures are going to be are going to vary. So saying that you can’t get a 100 percent reliable recall, obviously the point of the class is still to teach a really strong, reliable recall, so how do you approach that? How do you teach a recall that’s as strong as you can get it?

Chrissi Schranz: That also goes back to that comic, in a way. I think my approach to recall training is different to many other people’s approaches. For example, so the first one or two weeks of class, there’s no…we don’t even really talk about the recall, but we focus on the relationship. So most people want a recall that they can use when they’re hiking or when they’re…yeah, distractions around or maybe when they’re in a dog park and there are other dogs and so much exciting stuff going on.

So the first weeks are about getting to know your dog in new ways, to observe them, to learn new things about them. I have students offer their dogs various reinforcers and let the dog choose their favorite one, and often, they’ll find out interesting things that they didn’t think were their favorite ones.

Melissa Breau: Do you have an example?

Chrissi Schranz: Well, for example, with my own dogs, when I make the videos for this class, and I haven’t…like, I sometimes do these experiments, but I hadn’t done it in a while, and I was convinced that Phoebe’s and Fanta’s favorite treat was this salmon pâté, but when I offered them various different kinds of treats…and that’s the last thing they ate, so that is not true anymore. Sometimes we just believe that hot dogs is our dog’s favorite treats because that’s what we assume is a dog’s favorite treat, or we ask them when they were puppies and then never again. Their tastes may have changed in the meantime.

Yeah, and there’s lots of games that I ask people to play out on walks and at home in their yard to just make their walks more interactive and to experiment with what kind of games their dogs want and enjoy, so with toys, with food, with food trails, with using their nose, with running, so by the time I actually start conditioning a recall cue, the student’s should have learned something new about their dogs, and they should have started building this kind of invisible connection that they can take with them out into the real world to all the places where they actually want a strong recall.

Yeah, and then it’s pretty straightforward. Classical conditioning of a recall cue, I ask everyone to choose a new one because I’m assuming if you’re taking a recall class, you have problems with your old recall cue, and it’s usually easier to train a new cue than to revive an old one that they have already learned to ignore. Yeah, and then we systematically introduce distractions, and then we go out into the real world and increase the level of difficulty, still like integrating lots of games into the whole training so that the recall always feels like something really, really fun, not necessarily something that gets rewarded with a piece of food, but very often something that gets rewarded with some game that is a little bit of extra they have been looking forward to on their walk.

And in the last week, we’re actually looking at environmental rewards like swimming or chasing squirrels, or maybe even eating food they found on the ground. Anything that’s safe and the dog likes can be a reward.

Melissa Breau: Are there any success stories you particularly want to share? I mean, I know that just kind of hearing you talk about it at a little bit online, it sounds like there are some students who are really struggling with particular distractions that manage to accomplish some pretty awesome results, so…

Chrissi Schranz: There’s like actually so many people I’m so impressed by. well the Gold students, i don’t really see the others, but they’ve come so far in such a short time. Like Tia, Jill’s dog, who started recalling around chipmunks now, and you can really see that they’re more connected now on their walks, or Shila the lab who can now call up…he has started being able to play and focus on her owner near animal carcasses, which is her biggest distraction, and then we have a dog located in Africa.

Her owner is an American expat, and she kind of met that dog out there in Africa and then they kind of became an item. It’s a very independent dog and very interesting. The first week of class, we were like really trying to figure out how to get him to be engaged and to enjoy interacting with his person more than just exploring by himself, and when I look at their videos now, they’re like such a cool team. They’re really having fun together. He’s starting to really enjoy coming back and play with his person.

Melissa Breau: I’ve always thought that if someone has relationship issues, a recall class is always a great place to start to work on rebuilding those, because it’s so positive and it’s all about coming back and coming in, and…

Chrissi Schranz: It’s a good relationship class, too.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I know that there are two other classes that you currently have on the schedule. At least, there were when I was prepping. I was looking, and those were the two that I saw, so Finding Five and The Perfect Pet. So I want to start with Finding Five. What’s the concept there? What’s the idea behind that class?

Chrissi Schranz: I wanted it to be a class for dedicated dog owners, pet owners, and dog sports people. So it’s basically for people who have very busy lives, and they feel like they’re never doing enough with their dogs. There’s never any time to train, but they really want to train. I had the idea when I talked with a friend. She’d just got a dog. It was her first dog, and she asked me a few dog training questions, and I ended up telling her that it’s usually more effective if you have several short sessions than one long session, and she was like, yeah, that makes sense, but I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have time to train several times a day, and I started thinking about this, and I realized that like lots of people have this problem, so I thought there should be a class about this.

It’s still very much a work in progress. I have so many ideas that I want to include, and I know it’s only 6 weeks so I have to narrow it down, but there are two things I want to focus on. One is how to find time to train your dog and how to build new habits and make yourself feel accountable so that you actually really use that time, and the other one is to learn to fully enjoy that training time and to use it to unwind yourself, so even if the rest of your life is crazy busy, or especially if the rest of your life is crazy busy, training your dog shouldn’t feel like just another thing you have to get done. It should be something you’re looking forward to, so it’s little bit about relationships and a little bit about smart ways of training and planning.

Melissa Breau: Do you have any tips for those people who are super excited now and don’t want to have to wait until December?

Chrissi Schranz: Well, one easy thing that might actually help you train more regularly, or just feel more accountable and make time for training, is to write down your training goals for each of your dogs. So you could make a poster and put it on your fridge. Write down three things you’re working on with each of your dogs, and every time you practice one of these things, give yourself a checkmark or a smiley face on your poster, and it will make you feel good and motivate you to do that again.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Now the third class you currently have on the schedule is The Perfect Pet, and that’s just around the corner. It’s coming up in October. Do you want to share a little bit about what that class will cover?

Chrissi Schranz: That’ll be a basic pet dog class. We’ll teach things that make life with a dog easier and more fun for human and dog, so loose leash walking, coming when called, polite greetings, things like leave it, settle on a mat, sit to say please rather than jump up and bark. So we’ll work with the clicker and then starting with an introduction to clicker training. So I’m picturing a person who is really new to the world of dogs and dog training but wants to learn more, so I’m hoping for this to be kind of gateway drug to our nerdier classes. Yeah, so people can get their feet wet and see how much fun positive reinforcement training can be.

Melissa Breau: So it’s the perfect class for everybody who’s listening to recommend to at least three of their friends.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk for a minute about kind of the balance between sports skills and pet skills, and I think that with so many sports dogs, people focus so much time on the sports skills that they don’t always take the time to focus on those life skills, things like loose leash walking, or you know, the kind of actually sitting to say please. Like, those skills are so often overlooked in our sports dogs, so I wanted to see if you had any thoughts on ways that people can better manage or better balance, I guess, those sets of skills as they kind of build out those foundation behaviors on their dogs.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. That’s a great question. From what I’ve seen, people who integrate their sports dogs into everyday life as well, they usually have good life skills as well, and people who only share sport related things with their dogs, they often have rather poor life skills, so I think a good way to balance this is to make an effort to share non-sports related activities with our dogs as well.

So for example, take them along when you go shopping or when you’re meeting a friend for ice cream, or take your dog to Home Depot when you need to go there anyways, have them meet your guests rather than keeping her in a kennel, and a good way to start this would be to decide on one day for each week where you will take your dog on all the errands where dogs are allowed, because I’m sure if you know how to teach sports skills and make an effort to just put your dog into real life situations, you’ll end up teaching life skills without even noticing it, and it will probably also improve your relationship, so I think just doing more non-sports related things with our sports dogs will almost automatically increase their life skills.

Melissa Breau: Is it ever too late to teach an adult dog those types of skills? You know, having a pet class coming up, are there differences in how you teach them to a puppy versus an adult dog?

Chrissi Schranz: No, it’s never too late, and I basically teach most of the skills the same way, too. The only difference is that it usually takes longer in an adult who…because that dogs often have had time to practice unwanted behaviors, and the more you practice something, the more ingrained it gets and the harder it is to change it, but yeah, then the puppy, for example, hasn’t discovered leash pulling yet, so it’s easier to teach loose leash manners, but it’s never too late to start training.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end off with the three questions I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Chrissi Schranz: I think that actually that feeling of being really, really happy with where I am and what I’m doing, it happens every time. I feel like I didn’t just train a dog, that I kind of touched someone’s life. That happens occasionally, and it’s like a really, really nice feeling. For example, a while ago, I taught a beginner group class, and there was this woman in her 60s, and she had a mixed breed dog.

She had never really done anything with him before, but she wanted to try training him, and I showed everyone a few things, and then I went from person to person as they were practicing, as I usually do, and every time I walked past Sammy, she was…that’s her dog…he was already holding a sit or a down or whatever we were practicing. He was already there, and she told me it was going great, it was going great, and I noticed whenever she was working on a down, he was laying on his side, which seemed a little strange.

He did not seem like a very confident dog around the other dogs, so I was like, that’s weird. That looks like a very…I don't know. Well, anyways, she told me things were going great, so I moved on, and I only noticed what was going on in the second lesson of that group class. Right before I got to them, the owner would physically push him into whatever position.

Melissa Breau: That’s just terrible.

Chrissi Schranz: And I don't know, she didn’t…like the only way she knew how to like put him in a down, for example, was to actually tip him over, and he would just lie there. Like, she didn’t want me to see this, she just wanted me to see the result and think that everything was going well. So I saw it before I got there, and I was like, wow. She is really afraid of making mistakes, so I didn’t say anything. I just showed again, like to everyone again, how to lure the sit and how to lure the down, and then to make sure to do something her dog would be really good at, so I think we played leave it, which is what’s very clear, her dog would excel at because he was not the kind of dog who would steal anything.

So then I could tell her in front of everyone how well Sammy was doing. I also made it a point to explain again that the most important thing to me in my classes is that everyone makes sure their dogs are comfortable, and for example, if they are not ready to lie down yet because they’re a little nervous about another dog who is close by, then they should just do a sit instead or give them a little break. I never directly addressed her, but I could start seeing…because now I was, of course, always looking that way and trying to see what she was doing, and I could see her starting doing things differently, and then when I caught her not pushing him into a down the next time, but feeding him for a sit, I went over and told everyone how awesome it was that she was just paying attention to his needs and that this is what I was talking about.

This is one of the most important things a dog owner should learn, and of course, by the third lesson, he was lying down like the other dogs and it wasn’t a problem for him anymore. The exciting thing for me was that I could see that she was feeling so much more comfortable, and she actually started asking questions when she didn’t understand something, and I really felt like I had given her a new learning experience. She seemed like happy and relaxed, and talked to people, and it was like a different person, and I really love it when that happens.

I feel like she took something away from the class that was more important than training her dog, and that’s the atmosphere I want to create. I want to create an atmosphere where people can be themselves and let their guard down online as well as in person, and it always makes me so happy when I feel like I actually accomplished that.

Melissa Breau: There’s a second question I like to ask, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Chrissi Schranz: There’s lots of great things out there, but I think I’ll go with Kathy Sdao, “communication trumps control.” Well, yeah. It’s true for every aspect of our lives. We can either try really hard to control everything and everyone around us, to control our dogs, to control our partners, or we can communicate with them and find out what the reasons for their behavior are and get to our goal that way, and that’s actually a better way to get to your goal, even if you reach the same goal, because both parties will be happier.

Melissa Breau: And then my last question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Chrissi Schranz: Again, like lots and lots of people including pretty much all my colleagues here at the FDSA, if I had to pick on person it would probably be Susan Friedman. A few years ago, I attended my first seminar with her, and I think she was the first big name trainer who I felt was as nice and gentle with people as she was with animals, and that was so nice to see, and it really made me want to be that way, too.

I had hung out with positive reinforcement trainers for a while by then, and very often, I felt like they really didn’t like people or they didn’t like their clients, and it never made sense to me. Susan Friedman made sense, and I really love the way she worked with us, and she was authentic and gentle, and you just felt that she genuinely liked the people she worked with. That’s just something I aspire to, too. Well, yes. I think I mostly do.

Melissa Breau: I think that that’s a…it’s a great goal for everybody to aspire to, right, that they make other people feel that way.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Chrissi.

Chrissi Schranz: Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We’ll be back next week with Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

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