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.
To be released 10/27/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titling program and her upcoming book.
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.
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.
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.
To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.
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.
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.
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.
To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be released 9/29/2017, featuring Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be released 9/15/2017, featuring Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers.
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.
Nancy Tucker is a full-time pet dog trainer and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She regularly teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training to dog owners, trainers, and veterinary staff in Canada, the US, and in Europe.
Most of her time is spent doing private in-home behavior consultations with clients. She specializes in common behaviour issues that affect the family dog, and is skilled and experienced in treating aggression and anxiety cases.
Nancy has written numerous articles on dog behavior for various French-language Quebec publications, and is a regular contributor to the Whole Dog Journal. At FDSA she’s wrapping up a great class on Separation Anxiety and has a class coming up in December on teaching door manners when guests come to visit.
To be released 9/8/2017, featuring Chrissi Schranz talking about fitting training into our busy lives, teaching a reliable “real life” recall, and other pet skills that help us build a better relationship with our dogs.
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 Nancy Tucker. Nancy is a full-time pet dog training and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She regularly teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training to dog owners, trainers, and veterinary staff in Canada, the US, and in Europe.
Most of her time is spent doing private in-home behavior consultations with clients. She specializes in common behavior issues that affect the family dog and is skilled and experienced in treating aggression and anxiety cases.
Nancy has written numerous articles on dog behavior for various French language Quebec publications, and she is a regular contributor to the Whole Dog Journal. Here at FDSA, she’s wrapping up a great class on separation anxiety, and there’s a class coming up in December on teaching dog door manners so when guests come to visit.
Hi, Nancy. Welcome to the podcast.
Nancy Tucker: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Excited to learn a little bit about your upcoming classes and about you today. To start us out, I know you’re expecting a new puppy. Do you want to share the details?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, man. We are so excited. He’s a Border Terrier and we’re picking him up to take him home this weekend. He’s nine and a half weeks old and I haven’t raised a puppy in decades since my last four dogs were all adult, so I will get to practice what I preach when I dole out advice, and I’m sure it will probably cause me to have a lot more empathy for my clients after this experience.
Melissa Breau: By the time this comes out you’ll probably actually have the puppy so everybody can go on the Facebook group and check out the cute puppy pictures. You’ll share those, right?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, there will be plenty of puppy pictures.
Melissa Breau: So I want to go a little bit into your background. What got you started in dogs? I mean, how did you end up where you are today?
Nancy Tucker: It’s a bit of a funny story and it’s the type of story that’s actually pretty common in trainer circles. You know how you can meet a bunch of trainers who had all kinds of fabulous careers before they were dog trainers and somehow ended up as a dog trainer, so in my life before dogs as they say, my career had nothing to do with training at all. I was a freelance writer and I worked in marketing in public relations and I ended up a trainer quite by accident and then eventually it became my full-time job.
So like most people in that situation, I’ve always loved dogs, I’ve always had dogs, I felt I knew dogs, and years ago I thought that I could offer my services as a PR and marketing consultant to our local shelter just to kind of help out, see what I could do in terms of marketing and PR, so I thought that I could donate some time and services to the shelter in my field of expertise.
And then I learned that the majority of dogs who were surrendered there are there because of behavior problems, that was kind of my first insight into shelter dogs. So I thought well, if I can learn some basic training skills and maybe I could also offer those service to help get more dogs adopted. I don’t know if you can see where this is going, but I was very green, very naive. I had no clue about how anything worked in a shelter, but I wanted to help and I was sure that I could.
So I’m grinning here because, well anyway, I bought some DVDs, I read some books, all on positive reinforcement and after a very short time I was convinced that I was an awesome trainer and I could save all the dogs everywhere. And so I volunteered as an assistant to the head trainer at the shelter who used to give group classes, so I was her assistant for a little while and we hit it off, we became really good friends, I learned a lot from her, and eventually I was teaching my own classes and couple years later opened my own school.
And actually working with dogs and their owners was a huge learning experience for me. It’s not like just you and your own dog, you’re working with people and their dogs, so if anyone’s listening to this and they’re thinking about becoming a professional trainer, I highly recommend getting involved with training shelter dogs and the people who adopt them because you’ll get tons of experience dealing with all kinds of different dogs with different issues and varying human dog teams.
Anyway, at the time I was just teaching basic skills, just regular basic training, and then I adopted Woody. He was a dog who would introduce me to separation anxiety. So it was living with Woody and trying to figure out how to help him that I ended up really diving into the world of dog behavior and to this day I continue to study and learn about behavior.
Melissa Breau: So this is kind of like a big ambiguous question, but why are you a dog trainer? What is it that inspires you every day?
Nancy Tucker: I would say that I’m a dog trainer today for the same reason that I accidentally became one in the first place. I want to help reduce the number of dogs that are surrendered to shelters for behavior reasons. I want to help families deal with their dogs’ behavior issues. Just as people can be when they surrender a dog to a shelter, the truth is that most of these people absolutely adore their dog and they’re simply at the end of their rope. They can’t handle this problem any more and they don’t have the tools or skills or knowledge to work it out, so that’s why I’m a dog trainer, I’m trying to keep dogs in their homes.
Melissa Breau: And I think it’s so common to hear things like, “He’s such a good dog, I’m sure he’ll be adopted. Or, “He’s such a good dog in this situation, that situation. I’m sure he’ll find a great home,” and they kind of make themselves feel a little better because they do love their dogs and they do believe that they’re great dogs and they’re just, like you said, they’re at the end of their rope in that one area.
Nancy Tucker: Absolutely. Yeah, and sometimes it just takes a little bit of guidance and a little bit of help, a little bit of support. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but most of the time things can turn around for the better, so that’s what keeps me motivated.
Melissa Breau: Do you have a particular philosophy or training philosophy that you kind of believe in? I mean, how would you describe your training approach?
Nancy Tucker: My main focus when working with people and their dogs is creating or repairing the bond between them, and I say repairing because sometimes it’s a matter of trust has been broken or like we mentioned a couple of minutes ago where somebody’s at the end of their rope and they just don’t like their dog any more, so I think a lot of my work is about repairing that bond. And once that bond is there and it’s healthy and it’s strong, then all kinds of good things start happening. The training becomes easier, training becomes more fun, interaction in general becomes more fun, and I think that a large part of building a really strong bond is letting go of expectations.
Let go of this idea that we have in our mind about how things should be, and letting go of some of the rules that we tend to put on ourselves and on our dogs’ behavior. I am a big fan of letting dogs be dogs and training them so that our lives can coexist in harmony without kind of training the dog out of the dog.
Melissa Breau: So I kind of mentioned in your bio that you’re wrapping up the class on separation anxiety. I know that’s a really, really hard thing to work on with some dogs, so why is that so hard and kind of how are you approaching it in class?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah. Separation anxiety encompasses a lot of different emotions, for both the dog and the human. So there’s fear, there’s frustration, there’s resentment often. There’s guilt, there’s sadness, there’s loneliness because you find that as a human living with a dog with separation anxiety often your social life is severely affected, you can’t go out, so it’s a super tough situation all around. And of course there’s a lot of emotions involved for the dog, too.
So in this course I skipped a lot of the theory behind this type of problem, you know, the possible causes and symptoms, for example. I figured if people were signing up for the class it’s because they’re already experiencing it, and spending more time on theory means spending less time on working towards solving problems. So because it can take such a long time to solve this type of problem, I wanted to start right away and make the best of the six weeks that we have together.
So right now students are working on very gradually helping their dog learn not to fear being alone, and it is a very gradual process but if it’s done right, we begin to see improvement at every step, and then a spark of hope gets ignited. And then the next thing you know you’re on your way to solving the problem, so for most students this is true. They’ll be able to solve the problem, but there are some cases unfortunately where it’s not so easy to solve or that it just won’t ever be resolved, and this is true, so those are super tough on the student who’s trying so hard.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Sometimes it’s just out of their control. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the dog, it’s just that that’s who the dog is.
Nancy Tucker: Exactly, and to take away that guilt that some people have where somehow they think that it’s something that they’ve done that’s caused the dog to have this problem and that’s so untrue.
Melissa Breau: I mean, behavior issues in general are just, I mean, they’re so hard. I know personally it often feels like because those behaviors are so tied to emotions, right? They’re different than skills, like obedience skills. Because of the emotions, they’re often so much more difficult to teach. Would you agree with that? Can you speak to that a little bit? Kind of how do emotions and behavior interact?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah, for sure. When we’re working on a problem like separation anxiety, for example, we’re directly addressing the dog’s emotions, so how they perceive what being alone means, and this is true for any sort of behavior issue where there are very strong emotions involved, like aggression. So in this case we want to take him from feeling intense fear or panic to being alone, to feeling confident and perfectly okay with being alone at home.
So we are working on the emotions and that’s quite the journey, and this is why it takes time. So we’re not training any new behaviors at all really, we’re not putting any movements on queue, that’s not the type of training we’re doing at all. So what we’re doing is helping the dog feel better, helping him feel safer and more confident about this whole being alone thing, and we’re doing this through what’s called systematic desensitization. And just very quickly, systematic means that we’re working on it very methodically, not making progress at random; there’s a plan. And desensitization means that we’re working to reduce or eliminate this negative emotional response that the dog has to being alone and we’re doing this by exposing him to the situation very, very slowly.
So we start with super easy situations that they can handle and then we very slowly make it a tiny bit harder as we move through the program, so during this six weeks it’s really just all about gradually making the exercises a little teeny bit harder until the dog can handle longer periods of being alone.
Melissa Breau: Yes. Now I imagine that you’re talking about very different emotions in your upcoming class where it’s door greeting versus something like separation anxiety. I mean, in your opinion, what’s kind of the common issue that we tend to see when dogs are just way over the top at the door, kind of what’s going on there?
Nancy Tucker: My God, this is actually one of my favorite training issues to work on because we’re dealing with an issue that’s actually fun to solve, and I just want to clarify here that we’re not talking about dogs who are fearful or who behave aggressively when someone enters the home, that’s a whole other issue. What this class will address, and this is in December, what this class will address are those dogs who scramble to get to the door when someone walks in. They push their way through to greet visitors and they usually come on way too strong, so it might be barking with excitement, they might be jumping up, they might be scratching legs or if they’re big enough they can just lean so hard into people that they knock them down.
And as happy as they appear to be, I think a lot of these dogs are experiencing some sort of conflict of emotions and that’s why we see kind of the over excited behavior. So there’s a huge difference between what the dog wants and needs to do when someone walks through the door and what we want them to do, and I think that’s when some over exuberant behaviors are born.
Melissa Breau: So you said something really interesting, though. You said there’s a conflict of emotions. do you mind just explaining a little bit more what you mean by that?
Nancy Tucker: If they want to greet the people, they want to see the people, they want to smell the people, they want to see what’s going on, they want to interact, but there may be somebody standing behind them pulling on their collar or yelling at them. They know that this seems to be a situation where their human gets very excited or very upset and they’re not quite sure how to behave, but they have this overwhelming sort of urge to go and greet the people at the door. So I think that that’s where I see the conflict of emotion and that’s where we see a bunch of appeasement behaviors or the dog just gets over excited and it’s just overwhelming emotion.
Melissa Breau: Yes. I think that sometimes people aren’t really sure kind of what that phrase means. I mean, I did, there’s this conflict of emotion, it’s like well, I know what I want you to do, why aren’t you just doing it? You should know better. If our dog really knew how to do better they’d be doing better. But I did want to ask you, though, why door skills are so important for the dogs and kind of why the focus on that. So why is that such an important skill?
Nancy Tucker: For safety reasons, first of all. Safety for your guests, and of course I should mention that there are dogs who aren’t nearly as interested in the people walking in the door, they’re more into the fact that the door is open and here’s the chance to slip out for an unauthorized adventure. So it’s safety for the dogs, safety for your guests, and it’s also a matter of being able to have people come into your home without being accosted by your canine welcoming committee. Not everyone’s into that, to getting jumped on or to get greeted by a whole big gang of dogs come running at the door, if you have multiple dogs, of course.
I am, though. When I walk into people’s homes I’m all about greeting the dogs first. It’s actually a fault of mine, I don’t even see the people, you know, can you get out of the way? I want to see your dogs. But not everybody’s into that, so it’s nice to have some sort of control over what happens at the door and it’s nice to have friends who actually want to come over to your house because when you discover that people aren’t coming over any more because walking into your place is such an unpleasant experience, well, that really should probably be addressed.
Melissa Breau: Yes. Can you share a little bit of detail about how you’ll be addressing it in class and maybe even a tip or two for students who are super eager to get started?
Nancy Tucker: Sure. There’s a lot of different ways to deal with this issue, so they don’t all involve sending a dog to a mat which is a legitimate way, of course, to train a dog to behave when somebody comes to the door but it’s not the only way and that can actually be a very difficult thing for many dogs to do. That’s a lot of impulse control to go and sit on a mat away from the door and watch people come in.
So that is a way, but there are others and we’ll be covering a lot of different ways during the course, and I’ve personally always allowed my dog to be part of the greeting committee at the door. They’ve always been there, I’ve never sent my dogs away when somebody comes in. But we worked it out so that I could open the door without tripping over my dog. Sometimes dogs just get so excited that they’re at the door first and you can’t reach the door because the dogs are there. I can leave the door open without a dog trying to slip out, and people can walk in without being accosted.
So for me my dog being there to greet is important. They’re part of my family and I’m okay with that as long as they do it politely. And I think that the first tip that I would give to people who are dealing with this type of issue is to take a deep breath and try to remain calm. It’s easier said than done, but for sure raising your voice or trying to corral a bunch of dogs by grabbing collars or shouting orders is not helping at all and it might even be contributing to the level of excitement.
So the next step is to look at your dog and be thankful that he’s super happy to see people walking in because it could be worse. You could be dealing with a pooch who greets aggressively. An impolite door greeting is far easier to modify and it’s actually a fun process.
Melissa Breau: I know this wasn’t in my prepared questions for you, but how much is the class going to require that students have that other person to be that person at the door and how much of it’s independent skills that they can really work on without those set ups?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, set ups. Well, set ups will be very important, that’s for sure, but set ups, I think that comes later. The dog needs to learn certain skills before we start setting them up in actual scenarios, so management will play a very big part of it and training all kinds of different games and skills. And I think, too, that in a lot of training where we are requiring some sort of impulse control I find that the more restraint we put on a dog the worse it is. They learn to control their impulses and doing it in this sort of game in a fun game fashion seems to work so much better than putting any restraint on the dog. Not any restraint, but we’ll be using management but we won’t be putting physical restraint most of the time on the dog.
So if I remember your original question, you were asking if set ups will be a big part of it? Yeah, definitely it will be but not ‘til later.
Melissa Breau: Okay. Yeah, because I was asking like somebody like me, it’s me and my dogs at the house, right? So the problem is huge but it’s very hard to train a problem when you don’t have somebody who’s willing to come knock on your door 18 times because they live with you. So I was just curious about how much that, like people should be prepared to call up a few friends and be like hey, are you willing to help me train my dog this weekend?
Nancy Tucker: It is an important part but it’s not the entire course, it’s a part of it.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. So to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the last couple questions that I’ve asked everybody who’s been on the podcast. So the first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah. This one’s a bit hard to talk about because it has to do with the dog that we lost this summer, our girl Chili. When we adopted her she was almost three years old and it was impossible to manipulate certain parts of her body, she became very aggressive. She reacted to being touched like around her paws and ears, for example, those two particular places she really didn’t want to be touched, and unfortunately those are two places that we needed to touch regularly.
So anyway, we worked on these things and we eventually got to a point where she did really, really well and we could do her nails and we could clean her ears without any problem at all. But the absolute best part, and this is what I consider to be my greatest accomplishment because of the situation. When I taught her to accept a needle aspiration for a lump that she had on her chest, we were able to get it done at the vet’s office with zero restraint, so in just a little over a week I taught her to lie down and roll over on her back and to lie still while the vet aspirated the lump, and she never flinched.
So we know that this can be done and we can teach dogs to be cooperative participants in their own care, and having done it now with a dog who was previously extremely aggressive when we manipulated her, to me that was just such an eye opener to see that it can be done, and it was a huge accomplishment for myself to be able to train it because I was emotionally involved in the situation, attached to the dog, so sometimes that can be a little bit harder.
Melissa Breau: Yes, absolutely, and that’s really impressive. I mean, that’s quite a skill to have taught and to have accomplished. I mean, somebody who has a dog who’s not thrilled at the vet, I can understand how difficult that can be and yeah, that’s quite an accomplishment. My next question for you here is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Nancy Tucker: The advice that’s always stuck with me and that I incorporate into every single training scenario is that the learner is always right. So if I’m trying to teach a dog something and he keeps offering me the wrong behavior, the problem lies with me as the teacher. The dog is doing the right thing. If I want him to do something different, I’m the one who needs to adjust my approach, so I think that that has been the handiest piece of advice, the most, uh, what's the word I'm looking for? Not handy…Not convenient.
Melissa Breau: Applicable?
Nancy Tucker: Yes. Yeah. For any scenario.
Melissa Breau: And then my last question for you here is, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, my. The list is endless, it truly is. I couldn’t possibly try to narrow it down to a single person, but I can tell you this much. The people that I’m drawn to are those who promote a two-way communication between the trainer and the learner. Those who teach with respect for their learners’ needs and for the learners’ unique personality. That’s what I’m drawn to and those are the people that I really, really love to learn from.
Melissa Breau: I think that you are not alone when it comes to that here in the FDSA community.
Nancy Tucker: Yeah, I definitely detected that and it’s fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Nancy.
Nancy Tucker: Oh, my pleasure. It’s been fun.
Melissa Breau: It was fun. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. I will be back next week with Chrissi Schranz to discuss how to fit training into our busy lives, a very important topic, and teaching a reliable, real-life recall, plus a couple other pet skills that help us with a better relationship with our dog.
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.
Heather Lawson is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP), a CGN Evaluator and a Free-style judge. She has been training dogs and their humans for more than 20 years after deciding that the corporate world just wasn't cutting it anymore.
She is the owner of dogWISE Training & Behaviour Center Inc., where she teaches group classes for companion pets, competitive obedience, and rally in addition to providing behaviour consults and private lessons.
At FDSA, she teaches several classes focused on life skills, including the upcoming Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous and Hounds About Town; she’ll also be teaching a new class on “Match to Sample.”
To be released 9/1/2017, featuring Nancy Tucker talking about the roles of emotions in training, and how to modify behaviors when they are tied to strong emotions in our dogs.
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 Heather Lawson.
Heather is a certified professional dog trainer, and Karen Pryor Academy certified training partner, a CGN evaluator and a free style judge. She’s been training dogs and their humans for more than 20 years after deciding that the corporate world just wasn’t cutting it anymore. She’s the owner of dogWISE Training & Behavior Center where she teaches group classes for companion pets, competitive obedience, and rally in addition to providing behavior consults and private lessons. At FCSA she teaches several classes focused on life skills, including the upcoming Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous and Hounds About Town. She’ll also be teaching a new class on Match to Sample.
Hi, Heather, welcome to the podcast.
Heather Lawson: Hi, Melissa, glad to be here.
Melissa Breau: Looking forward to chatting. SO to start us out, I know we talked about this a little bit before turning on the recording, but do you want to just tell me a little bit about your own dogs, who they are and what you’re working on with them?
Heather Lawson: Okay. Well, my breed of choice, who happens to be currently rumbling in their crate at the moment, is German Shepard. I have two, one a male by the name of Tag, who is 11 years old and he’s retired from active working. He’s just a family companion and does everything else that Piper does but on a lower schedule, and then I have Piper who is a 2-year-old female, and she’s my current work in progress, and I hope to be taking her into the competitive obedience ring, rally, and anything else that I can wrap my head around with her.
Melissa Breau: How did you get your start in the dog sports world?
Heather Lawson: Well, as you mentioned in my bio I was in the corporate world, in human resources, retail management, and after about three downsizings consecutively in a row, it was just that time of the ‘90s and so forth, I just decided that I didn’t want to go back to work and I’d rather stay home and do things with my dogs, and believe it or not I ended up working at a school, an obedience school back east in Ontario and got competing with my own dogs, and then from there just went all over the place wanting to develop my education and just become a better trainer, and I’ve had so much fun doing this that I’ve never looked back on the corporate world since. It’s just been so enjoyable because I get to meet so many new dogs and so many lovely people.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your training philosophy. How do you approach training?
Heather Lawson: For me personally I like to approach it as a teamwork situation. I want to look at the dog that’s in front of me and work with what they are giving me, and work at the level that they’re capable of at that particular moment I guess you could say. My philosophy, you get the old, ‘Well, I want to do positive,’ and everything like that. It just never occurs to me to do anything but positive and I want to make sure that I’m consistent, that I’m fair. I give my animals the better side of me at all times. Above all else my animals are family companions so not only do I have to worry about what I’m doing in training, but I have to worry about what we’re doing when we’re not training, and so everything has to mesh and come together, and it’s just basically a family unit.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to talk a little bit about the classes that you’re going to be offering coming up in October, so let’s start with the Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous class, and I am sure at least once, if not more than that, I will somehow manage to jumble those words because Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous is almost a tongue twister, but why are life skills like that, like leash walking, such an important skill for sports dogs and why is it such an incredibly difficult thing to teach?
Heather Lawson: Well, like most people who do dog sports we travel, so we go to competitions, we do things with our dogs, we have to stay in hotels, we have to be out in the public, and having a dog with good manners, including loose leash walking skills I think is very important because your dog is only working and doing those activities for a very short period of time. The rest of it, if they’re like most people…my dogs, as I said, are part of my family so when I’m not doing those skills or competitions, or anything like that I’m taking my dogs out into the community.
I don’t want to be dragged all over the place. I want to be able to take them on the sea bus that goes from one side of the inlet to the other, I want to be able to take them up and down elevators or into stores and do all of those types of things with them without people turning around and saying, ‘Look at that. The dogs out of control,’ and I think it’s important too even when you’re competing that you have your dogs under control, that they’re not going in every different direction, they’re not dragging you to and from whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s conformation, or obedience, or even agility, or nose work. I mean, sure the dogs get excited but at the same time, it’s still nice to have a little bit of management and manners in place, and that’s my own personal view, and I think it’s important.
The other side of it, why is it so hard to teach, simply because we aren’t consistent enough, I think, and we don’t think of it as a priority, and by priority I mean I picked up on something a long, long time ago from Sue Ailsby, who’s also teaching at Fenzi, and that was when the leash goes on that is your only priority of teaching loose leash walking, so getting from A to B is your only priority on a loose leash, and that has never, ever steered me wrong. If we put the leash on at one point and then we go and we let the dog pull us to their favorite friend, or we let them pull us to go and sniff to something, or pull us to go to the dog park. If we’re inconsistent in our requirements then we never get that loose leash walking as part of regular manners skill, and you know what…and it’s true.
If I don’t have the time to work on that, if I haven’t given myself enough time, if my dogs are going to be excited, and the dogs get excited, and with a little bit of a reset okay. Yeah, okay mom, we remember. If I don’t have that time I just will take them and use a muzzle magnet, which is basically a fistful of food, let them nibble on it as I go from point a to b so that I don’t get that loose leash pulling, but I get the loose leash, so I try to be consistent with everything that I’m doing, and I think that’s why the dogs don’t get as far ahead in their loose leash walking because we’re also very concerned about teaching them all of these other behaviors that one of the most important things is the loose leash walking because if they don’t have that loose leash walking they don’t get out into the community, they don’t get out to socialize, they’re not much a pleasure to be around because they’re hard on your shoulder, they’re hard on your elbow, hard on your back and so they end up only doing certain things and they don’t have a well-rounded life, and especially with pet dogs they end up getting stuck in the backyard so they don’t get the exercise.
They don’t get the exercise then they have problem behaviors, they have the problem behaviors then they get surrendered, so loose leash walking, whether it’s for your competitive dogs or for your family companions is one of the most important skills, at least in my view anyways.
Melissa Breau: And I think you hit on that, like that consistency point. It’s so common to see somebody go into a class, trach loose leash walking, and then the moment they leave the room suddenly they forget everything that they have learned.
Heather Lawson: Oh yeah. Yeah, and if I catch my students, my in person students coming up the walkway and the dog is dragging them up they know, they look at me and they immediately turn right around and go down to the back, and they do their leash walking all the way up, so now it’s actually a running joke in class, is that oh, she caught us. Uh-oh we’ve got to go back, and now they’ve almost…almost every single person who’s been there by about week three they all know that they’ve got to practice their skills coming and going because that’s the whole point of it, right. You’ve got to practice it 24/7 in order for it to stick, and if you don’t then it’s not going to happen and you’re giving the dog an inconsistent message, and dogs don’t work in grey they work a little bit better in black and white.
Melissa Breau: And I think that kind of leads really well into the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is this idea of the dogs being able to go out and about with you and do things. So I know you also teach the Hounds About Town class, which I’m assuming kind of touches on that a little bit. What are the actual skills that you teach in that class, and how do you approach it?
Heather Lawson: Okay. With the Hound About Town, again, we teach loose leash walking, not as in depth as in the Loose Leash Walking Walkers Anonymous, but we teach some loose leash walking. We teach leave it, okay. We don’t need hoovers because there’s so much garbage, and things like that, and bad things that the dogs could pick up, as well as we don’t need them going after that little child in the stroller that’s coming towards them with that ice cream cone that’s right at their level, so a good leave it comes in handy.
Many of the dogs live in condominiums now, so we teach elevator etiquette, which also transfers nicely into riding on transit for those people who are lucky enough to travel on transit. We work on chill and settle on the mat, a little bit of recalls, grooming and touch for the veterinary care, door manners, and some of the other things that we do is we consider etiquette for when you are traveling and staying in hotels, or staying in other locations, and how to manage your dog in busy situations, just the basics, what would you do in your everyday life when you’re out and how to make it easier to take your dog with you more places.
The other thing that we do is we also encourage people to take their dogs more places, don’t just leave them at home all the time, of course weather permitting, because it’s good social interaction for our dogs. They don’t necessarily have to be always just going to the dog park. They need to be with you and be out and about, and part of the community, and the better behaved animals we have in the community the more access we’re going to have for them, and that’s the key thing. People say that there isn’t that much access for animals, but that’s because there’s been perhaps maybe some inconvenient encounters that haven’t gone so well because the dogs haven’t been well-trained. Also too, all of the things that we cover in here can be applied to the…I think in your end of the woods it says CGC, which is the Canine Good Citizen. In our area it’s Canine Good Neighbor and then you also have…then there are other levels. The urban K9 title as well.
If you were to go through the Hound About Town you would be able to go and take your test and get your certificate, so it’s just another way to promote responsible dog ownership, right. Getting them out, getting them trained, and getting them part of the family.
Melissa Breau: Now, you didn’t touch on two of the things that stood out to me when I was looking at the syllabus, which were the Do Nothing training, and Coffee Anyone, so what are those and obviously how do you address them in class?
Heather Lawson: Yeah. I always get kind of weird sideways looks when I talk about do nothing training, because it’s kind of like…people say, ‘What do you mean do nothing training,’ and I say well, how often do you just work on having your dog do nothing, and everybody looks at me, well, you don’t work on having the dog do nothing, and I say oh yeah, you do. That’s what we call settle on the mat, chill, learn how to not bug me every time I sit down at the computer to do some work, not bark at me every time I stop to chat with the neighbor, stop pulling me in all different ways, so it’s kind of like just do nothing, because if you think about it the first maybe six months of your dog’s life it’s all about the dog and the puppy.
Then when they get to look a little bit more adult all of a sudden they’re no longer the center of attention, but because they’ve been the center of attention for that first eight weeks to six months, and there’s been all this excitement whenever they’re out and people stop, and you chat or you do anything it’s very hard for the dog all of a sudden now to have this cut off and just not be acknowledged, and this is where you then get the demand barking, or the jumping on the owner, or the jumping on other people to get that attention, whereas if you teach that right in the very beginning, okay, and teach your puppies how to settle, whether it be in an x pen, or in a crate, or even on a mat beside you while you’re watching your favorite TV show. If you teach them to settle, and how to turn it off then you’re going to not have that much of a problem going forward as they get older.
The other thing too is that by teaching the dogs all of these different things that we want to teach them that’s great, and that’s fabulous, and we should be doing that, but most dogs aren’t active 100 percent of the time, they’re active maybe 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent they’re chilling out, they’re sleeping, they’re…while their owners are away working if they’re not luck enough to be taken out for a daily hike then they’ve got to learn how to turn it off, and if we can teach them that in the early stages you don’t end up with severe behavior problems going forward and I’ve done that with all of my puppies, and my favorite place to train the do nothing training is actually in the bathroom.
What I do with that is my puppies, they get out first thing in the morning, they go their potty, they come back in, we get a chewy or a bully stick, or a Kong filled with food, and puppy goes into the bathroom with me and there’s a mat, they get to lay down on the mat and that’s when I get to take my shower, and all of my dogs, even to this day, even my 11-year-old, if I’m showering and the door’s open they come in and they go right to their mat and they go to sleep, and they wait for me, and that’s that do nothing training right, and that actually even follows into loose leash walking. If you take that do nothing training how often are you out in your loose leash walking and you stop and chat to the neighbor or you stop and you are window shopping or anything else that you when you’re out and about. If your dog won’t even connect with you at the end of the line then just…they won’t even pay attention to you while you’re standing there, or they create a fuss then the chances of you getting successful loose leash walking going forward is going to be fairly slim, okay.
The other thing that you mentioned was the coffee shop training, and that is nowadays people go and they meet at the coffee shop or they go for lunch and more and more people are able to take their dogs to lunch, providing they sit out on a patio, and on the occasion where the dog is allowed to stay close to you we teach the dogs to either go under the table and chill or go and lay beside the chair and chill, and teach them how to lay there, switch off, watch the world go by. Even if the waiter comes up you just chill out and just relax and that allows the dog, again because they’ve got good manners, to be welcomed even more places.
Melissa Breau: Right. It makes it so that you feel comfortable taking them with you to lunch or out.
Heather Lawson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. There’s lots of places that dogs can go providing, and they’re welcome, providing they do have those good manners, and if we can keep those good manners going then regardless of whether or not your dog sports or not it just opens up the avenues for so much more of us to do…more things to do with our dogs.
Melissa Breau: I know the Match to Sample class is new, so I wanted to make sure we talk about that too. For those not familiar with the concept I have to admit I wasn’t initially and then you kind of explained it, I think, on one of the Facebook lists, so for those who don’t know what it is can you kind of explain what that means, Match to Sample?
Heather Lawson: The Match to Sample is a type of concept training, so concept think of it as the concept of mathematics. For us we know that if you add one and one you get two. We’re thinking you can conceptually see that if somebody asks me for this I can also get that, or we have the idea of big versus small. There’s whole different types of varieties of concepts, but match to sample in this particular case is a visual match to sample, so this is where the dog learns to look at an item that the trainer is holding and then find the object on a table that matches the one that the trainer is holding.
It sounds a little complicated but it’s not really, because of the different things that we…the stages that we go through in order to get them there, so for instance I might hold up a Kong and I might have a Kong, and I might have maybe a treat bag, and I might have a cone, and I might have a ball all in a row in front of me, so I hold up my Kong and I say, ‘Match it,’ and the dog looks at that Kong and then has to pick the right item out of that line of items on that table. I’m not saying get the Kong or get the toy, I’m just saying match it.
Once they’ve learned on things they know then we start introducing things that they maybe have never seen before, or they don’t normally interact with, and so we teach them that whatever I’m holding look at it and then figure out which one best matches that item and pick it out for me, either by a retrieve, or a nose touch, or targeting it, and it’s…actually if you think about it, it’s kind of the same thing that they use with nose work, that’s a match to sample. Here’s this sample, this smell. Now go find it for me. It’s sort of what they use with search and rescue. Here’s the smell of the person, I need you to find this person. Now go out into the world and match that smell to what I just gave you, and the concept training is neat because it uses most of what we teach our dogs, like shaping. It uses targeting. It uses problem solving and creativity on the dogs’ part and it also utilizes behavior change, so it’s kind of a fun different thing to do with the dogs and it allows you to really expand and take your thinking past what the dog…you ever thought, maybe, the dog could learn.
Even with you’re doing a match to sample with a nose in cancer. I’m sure you’ve heard of them matching cancer cells to see whether or not an individual has cancer cells. It’s all match to sample, it’s that concept training, right. There are other types of other concepts, which are things such as adduction, where we take one behavior, add it to another behavior and you end up with a third behaviors. That’s called adduction, so it’s one plus one equals three. It doesn’t make sense but it’s what it is, so it’s one behavior, another behavior, and you make a third behavior, that’s where the one plus one equals three comes from. There’s actually counting that the dogs are…has been out there now. I think Ken Ramirez is doing counting with dogs. Also learning about mimicry, which is Julie Flannery’s class at FDFA, can the dogs copy what you actually do. It’s really kind of mind bending and that’s what is really interesting me right now, and that’s what I’m doing with my youngest dog Piper.
I’m teaching her the match to sample as well as we’re going to work on…to see whether or not she actually can read, if you will, and I’ve got flashcards, and so I’m teaching her what this word means and teaching her to see whether or not she can put the two together. You can teach the concepts of big and small, up or down, go back, go forward. It’s just really cool stuff.
Melissa Breau: That sounds really neat. It sounds like it’s a very different, I guess, way of teaching your dog to look at the world, and I’d imagine at least the Match to Sample class would be a really…it would be a good skill to use a dogs’ brain, especially if they’re on medical for something, they could still do some of that stuff. Stuff like that. It would be just a great training tool to have in your kit.
Heather Lawson: Yes, you absolutely hit it on the mark. It’s a really good tool because it doesn’t require a whole lot of activity, but you do have to have the basics in place. It’s not something that you would normally do with a dog that is maybe…doesn’t have any idea on shaping, or targeting or playing creative games. It does require a little bit of basics, but it’s definitely a great tool for the dog that maybe is not just on medical rest but maybe can’t interact with a lot of other dogs, right. Maybe they for some reason…they just need a brain teaser that’s going to keep them from going stir crazy, because the more the brain is worked, it’s a balance right. Everybody thinks the dogs need exercise, but at the same time they need to have that little brain tingled a little bit, and if you don’t balance that off then you get a dog that kind of goes stir crazy, and again, it harkens back to not being able to shut off when needed, right, so it definitely is because it’s…you train all different kinds of new behaviors and it’s just another thing to draw on that trainers toolbox, if you will, to sort of expand and see just what your dog can do.
We often forget and we start to label our dogs as they can only do this, right. I think they can do way more than we give them credit for, and that’s what kind of tweaks my interest a little bit, aside from the competitive obedience stuff that I do with them as well.
Melissa Breau: I do want to talk for just a second more about that, about the idea of how maybe somebody could use those skills to teak some of the other things that they might want to teach. We talked a little bit about how you could teach it as a brain teaser, and as concepts. You mentioned nose work a little bit in there and kind of this idea of teaching a bigger picture. Are there other ways that that skill can be used and other behaviors that you can use those skills in, is it about communication?
Heather Lawson: It’s about communication, so say for instance if we harken back to, say, search and rescue. The dog has to make sometimes independent because they’re out searching and they’ve been sent out, and they’re searching, and they’re going back and they’re searching and what are they supposed to do. I’ve found the person, do I stick with the person, do I come back, so that training aspect of it is that they come back, they tell you that they’re there and then they go back to that person that’s lost.
I guess you could sort of put it down to it teaches your dogs to be creative. Now I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I’ve had a situation with my own dog when I was competing a number of years ago where I threw the dumbbell and it went outside the ring but there was access for her to go around a gate and get it and then come back, and rather than stick her head through and get caught at it, she looked at it, she looked down either side of it and then she backed up and went around got the dumbbell and came back and completed her exercise, so had I just taught it in basic format, go out, get it, come back, whatever, and I hadn’t taught her how to be creative we might’ve failed that whole class, but she did it.
She started to think on her own, and that’s what I appreciate in the dogs is that they can figure it out, they can problem solve and I don’t think that we really truly understand just how much problem solving ability that our dogs really do have, and I’m constantly amazed at how they develop that problem solving, and we sometimes forget because we’re teaching them all of these specific behaviors that we want them to do and we don’t let them sometimes expand on those, and I think that is the role it plays for me in my larger training toolbox, is it allows me to just sit back and say okay, so what if we did this? Can you do that, and the dog goes, yeah, sure I can do that and then you’re off on a different tangent, so it does definitely take your training in different ways, but it also really expands your training and your appreciation for the dog and their capabilities.
Melissa Breau: So it sounds like there are kind of two pieces there, right, to kind of distill that down a little bit. There’s the idea of helping your dog be the best they can be, in terms of as smart they can be, as capable as they can be, and then there’s this piece about teaching them how to be creative problem solvers, which I’d assume also makes things like proofing and fluency much easier.
Heather Lawson: Yeah, exactly because they grasp the concepts much quicker, and I know for…this isn’t really on the match to sample side of it, but if you consider, say, the…I taught her the chin rest, okay, and it’s one of the nest things I ever taught this dog because the chin rest taught her how to be just still, and that stillness transferred into my dumbbell, it transferred into her being examined by a judge in the confirmation ring, and it transferred into her stays, so just that simple thing of a chin rest with duration, or even a duration of the nose touch transferred in and taught her the concept of holding still and waiting until she was released, and it was such an easy transfer of that one single skill of holding skill went to so many different other behaviors, and I’d never taught it that way before, but I’m so glad I did with Piper because it just sort of went oh, that transfers into all kinds of things, and it really made me go you really get this, and so there’s a concept there but in a different way than the match to sample, so it’s what are we teaching them?
It’s not just a sit there and hold that position until I tell you otherwise it’s just the concept of can you transfer this, oh you understand it, so that’s why I like the concept training, such as the adduction, the mimicry, the copy behaviors, the match to sample. All of those things are really kind of mind benders.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to wrap things up by asking you the three questions that I usually ask at the end of the podcast.
Heather Lawson: Okay.
Melissa Breau: The first one is what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Heather Lawson: The biggest and best accomplishment was with my dog Micha, who’s long gone, but she was a dog, German Shepherd, that had a few demons inside, just that she was very sensitive and very aware of sound, and so she was a little concerned when things…even the crack of a bat at a baseball game, or tennis, or things like that, loud speakers God help us, was an issue, and she was also sometimes concerned about people as well. She was a friendly dog, there’s nothing in that issue, but everybody told me you’ll never get this dog in the ring. You’ll never be able to compete with her, and I sat down one day and I was really kind of in tears and I said okay, this isn’t working. What are we going to do? How can I help you through this, and the moment I switched that in myself we just were away to the races. It wasn’t about getting her to do it, it was how can I help her through it, and I ended up taking her Top 10 Obedience Dogs in Canada twice, two years straight, and she ended up being the top obedience driven Shepard in Canada five years straight.
It was nice to be able to do that but at the same time it was, I guess, just sort of really in my heart that wow, when you don’t give up and you don’t listen to everybody and you just listen to the dog amazing things can happen, and I think that’s my proudest accomplishment, I guess, is working with Micha. She taught me so very much and I really appreciate her allowing me the gift of making all my mistakes with her, but we ended up on a high and I’ll never forget that dog ever, but that’s my proudest accomplishment so far.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s a pretty good one.
Heather Lawson: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: All right, so my next question is what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Heather Lawson: Oh geez, there’s been so many different pieces. I guess the best is work with your dog, be a team, and don’t label your dog because you’ll limit their abilities. So you know how people will sometimes oh, it’s the breed. They just do that because they do that? I never try to label or limit what my dogs can do. I always assume that they’re going to rise to the occasion, that they’re going to do the best that they can, and I think that’s probably been the best advice because it’s taken me into different types of sports that I might not have ventured into with my dogs. One of my dogs I did nose work with, that was her thing, so if I had labeled her and said no, you’re going to do this, you’re not going to do that it might not have been the best thing for her but because I let her lead me where she wanted to go and I took what she had to give me we had loads of fun doing nose work and I learned new sport, so I always think of that as work with your dog and be a team, and then don’t label your dog because you’ll limit them and yourself.
Melissa Breau: My last question. You’re in a great position because I know you mentioned Sue earlier and you’ve been good friends with the Fenzi crew for a while now, I know you’re pretty involved, so who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Heather Lawson: Somebody else in the dog world. Well, I’m not going to name names because I think…but what I find is that there’s no one specific individual. What I have done is I’ve been able to meet many different people, many fabulous trainers that I just go wow. Now that’s interesting, and that’s…what I do is I pick up all the little tidbits from all of these different trainers and I think that’s what’s the most important thing, because I don’t want to get caught up in a recipe because there is no recipe.
I could name different kinds of people but I think it’s better to say that I just pick up all the little tidbits along the way that pertain to me and my dogs at that particular time, and that way…and what works for me, because not one single dog trainer will have everything that I’m going to need, and so if I keep my mind open I’m going to get those little tidbits that’s going to make me and my dog better.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much, for coming on the podcast, Heather.
Heather Lawson: You’re more than welcome. This was fun, a little bit nervous, but fun, exciting. I could talk dogs for hours.
Melissa Breau: Hey, me too.
Heather Lawson: I’ve had fun doing this. This was very enjoyable. Thanks for asking me on.
Melissa Breau: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast Heather -- and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Nancy Tucker to discuss greetings, separation anxiety, and behavior modification techniques that work for both parts of the human-canine team. 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.
Melissa Chandler has competed in conformation, agility, obedience, hunt tests, nose work, and rally.
She’s also successfully trained and handled non-owned dogs to many titles and championships. Today her focus is on nose work and parkour, both of which she teaches here at FDSA.
Melissa’s strengths are problem solving, by looking outside the box, and working with soft dogs. Owning and working with soft dogs has given her the ability to coach others to help build confidence, and has taught her how to set up training sessions, specifically with soft dogs in mind. She enjoys helping others and brainstorming to help other teams succeed. She has taught private lessons in agility and nose work that focus on solving specific training problems.
To be released 8/25/2017, featuring Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs and advanced training concepts we can teach our dogs.
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 Melissa Chandler. Melissa has competed in conformation, agility, obedience, hunt tests, nose work, and rally. She’s also successfully trained and handled non-owned dogs to many titles and championships. Today her focus is on nose work and parkour, both of which she teaches here at FDSA. Melissa’s strengths are problem solving, by looking outside the box, and working with soft dogs. Owning and working with soft dogs has given her the ability to coach others to help build confidence, and has taught her how to set up training sessions, specifically with soft dogs in mind. She enjoys helping others and brainstorming to help other teams succeed. She has taught private lessons in agility and nose work that focus on solving specific training problems. Hi Melissa, welcome to the podcast.
Melissa Chandler: Thank you, glad to be here.
Melissa Breau: Excited to chat today. This is definitely a, you know, get into parkour a little bit, get into some of the nose work stuff. It’s a new topic for me so that’s exciting.
Melissa Chandler: Good, I’m glad.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, do want to tell us a little bit about your own dogs? Who they are? What you’re working on with them?
Melissa Chandler: Sure, I’d love to. Edge is my (several) year old Weimaraner who’s responsible for this awesome nose work journey we’re on. He currently has two nose work, three legs. We’ve only competed in two nosework three trials and he qualified and placed in both trials. We’re currently getting ready to enter more trials for this winter to work on our nose work three elite, and for those that are not aware you must qualify in three nose work, three trials, in order to earn your nose work three elite. Neither one of us can handle heat so our competition window is basically October to April, depending on spring weather.
Edge also loved obedience. He’s trained to utility so we do a lot of that just for fun. His absolute favorite thing is the dumbbell so we play a lot of fun retrieve games and a lot of times it’s his reward after a training session. He also loves fitness, which I think comes from all of the parkour exercises and obstacles that we’ve done, and he also loves working on tricks and he’s very awesome at them and he makes them look really easy.
Bam is my 3-year-old Vizsla and he’s actually responsible for our parkour adventures. He took puppy classes, Karen and Abigail who are the founders of the International Dog Parkour Association, and he was a superstar. He had incredible balance and rear end awareness for such a young puppy and he was always like a little kid at Christmas every time they introduced a new obstacle. It became part of our class whenever they brought something new out, we would turn Bam to face the wall so he couldn’t see, and then everyone would watch when he would turn around because he would just smile and light up with a new obstacle to start with. It was so cute.
He loves agility, hunting, obedience, and he’s a super nose work dog, but he also loves quartering. So, we’ve been working really hard at increasing motor value and slowly incorporating that into the environment with fun, easy highs, and also using some Premack, and I’m actually sharing our adventures of this journey in my current nose work 120 class and I think it’s a nice fit in that class because we’re starting all the different elements. And then, I’m also planning on turning it into a full proofing and distraction class at the beginning of 2018.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned the heat. Where are you located?
Melissa Chandler: We’re in Ohio, so we have hot, humid summers and neither one of us can handle it.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I did a summer in Charleston at one point and that was pretty bad too so, I can sympathize.
Melissa Chandler: That’s one thing I love about my training building now because we have a place to go train that’s air conditioned in the summer.
Melissa Breau: Can’t beat that.
Melissa Chandler: No, here we get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, if it’s cooler, and get out and get a little bit of training in before the day starts.
Melissa Breau: I want to just kind of take it back a little bit to the beginning of your journey. I know you kind of mentioned each of your dogs has helped you get into a different sport. How did you originally get started out in dog sports?
Melissa Chandler: I’ve always enjoyed dog training before I really knew anything about it or what it was. I think when I was like 10 or 11 a friend of the family asked me to show her Schnauzer in conformation and I did one show and I was addicted. I convinced, or maybe, for a lack of better term, I negotiated with my dad to get a poodle. I actually asked for a Great Dane knowing I wouldn’t get a Great Dane, but I was able to negotiate down to a poodle, and we started some junior handling, and then from that I started doing conformations, and then I got into a 4H and AKC obedience. We competed locally at our county fairs and every year we were fortunate enough to win a spot to go to state fair.
So, we got to go to big competitions, for us, being at that young age in 4H, and my parents were so supportive. They had to drive me all over for training and trials, and every weekend we’d go off to some remote place to do a conformation or an obedience trial, and I fell in love with it so much, and then I met a Weimaraner and I knew I had to have a Weimaraner and I got my first Weimaraner and started obedience, and then I got my second Weimaraner and that’s when agility was just coming to the US and started agility and it’s kind of all history from there. So, I’ve been doing this for a really long time.
Melissa Breau: Now I know you mentioned Edge got you into nose work, do want to share that story a little bit? Like, what was it about nose work, or about him in nose work, how did that happen?
Melissa Chandler: Sure, as I said, Edge was responsible for this awesome nose work journey that we’ve shared and we both have such a passion for the sport now. He’s very soft and he stresses down. He loves to train and work, but he could not handle a trial environment and we went to several trials and he just wasn’t happy, and if he’s not happy, I’m not happy. So, I was looking for something for him to do and his breeders were in California and they had mentioned the great new sport called nose work. There wasn’t anything in our area so I had traveled and gone to a couple seminars and thought yes, this is for us, and was looking for some ongoing instruction and that is when Denise actually offered her very first online class before FDSA even existed. So, we’re from the pre FDSA days and we took her very first online class, nose work.
We started that and never looked back, took all of the classes online, and I’m one of those people, once I learn something, I want to learn anything and everything I can about it. I just want to know everything I can so I can help my dogs adjust. So, I traveled to a lot of different seminars, I went to different people, different philosophies, different ideas, and just absorbed as much as I could about nose work. I also volunteered at trials, even before Edge and I were competing, so I could learn what it was all about. I learned so much from the judges and debriefings. There’s things that, to this day, that still, they’re like little gems of information that I share with my students that I learned at debriefings. So, I highly recommend anyone that can volunteer at a trial to do it because it’s definitely, it’s a great education and you learn a lot of information.
Melissa Breau: Not to put you on the spot but do you mind sharing one of the tips that you picked up at a debriefing, just kind of for the audience?
Melissa Chandler: Not at all. One of the things, especially when you’re starting nose work, is your dog’s getting close to the source, close to the source, and you want to step in there and look, or step in there to get ready to reward, and the judge’s comment was whenever you feel like you need to step in, you step out — and that is so true because if your dog starts bracketing and working the odor the last thing you want to do is be in their way. So, you just take a step back. They don’t need you. You can’t help them. So, it’s just, get out of their way, they’ll tell you when they find it, and then you can step in and give them their reward. I’ve passed that onto so many students and I still remember it sometimes, you know, we’re working, working, working, you start to step in and it’s like no, take a step back, because if you do get in the odor you can prevent them from following the scent cone before, so, I find that to be very, very valuable. That was probably the very first trial, that I worked at, that I learned that information.
Melissa Breau: And I think that, just in general, kind of attending trials and helping out is such a great tip, I mean, I know I’ve been trying to do that for obedience stuff locally, because my dog’s not ready to trial, and it lets you meet people, it lets you get to know the local community, it lets you kind of see some of the judges and their different styles, I mean, it’s just, it’s incredibly invaluable.
Melissa Chandler: Absolutely. And I, if possible, at the nose work trials, I try to get a job that I have some interaction with the judge because most of them love to teach, so they tell you different things and you can just absorb so much information from them just, you know, if you’re a timer or something because they love to share that information.
Melissa Breau: Now, having worked with a soft dog, do you have tips for others who have soft dogs, kind of to help them let their dog shine or that they should know about setting up training sessions? I mean, what kind of advice would you share?
Melissa Chandler: Sure, this is another subject that I did a lot of research and I attended a lot of different seminars to try and get information, mostly to help Edge, and I think, first and foremost, it’s so important to keep your dog safe and build their trust because once they trust you, that you will keep them safe, that gives them more confidence, and as I always tell my dogs, I have a chew, it’s called I have your back. So, if they see something and they get concerned, I’m like, I got your back. So, that’s our communication of whatever it is, I see it, you’re fine, I got you, and it just takes time and by keeping them safe you build that trust that they know that you do have them.
I would say never lure or trick your dog into doing something that they don’t feel comfortable doing. Sometimes we find that in parkour because someone really thinks their dog should be able to do that behavior and the dog doesn’t feel comfortable in that environment, so they tried to take cookies and lure them there. Just back off, work on it somewhere else, and eventually it’ll happen. If you lure them, and then they get up there and they’re really afraid, they’re never going to want to do it again. If you let them do it on their own then they’ll be able to do that anywhere in the future.
Teach new behaviors in a familiar, comfortable environment, and then when you’re ready to take it to another room or on the road, lower your criteria and reward any effort that the dog gives you in trying to do that for you. And one thing, when you’re setting up your training sessions, make sure you’re not always asking for difficult behaviors or, in nose work, difficult searches. You want your dog to always look forward to and succeed in your training sessions. If your sessions are always difficult and challenging your dog will no longer look forward to them. Have fun sessions that you reward everything, or just play, or do whatever your dog enjoys most. I had mentioned how much Edge loved his dumbbell, there’s times we just go in the other room and we play with the dumbbell and he loves that, and just think of the value you’re building in your relationship in your training because we just went and did what he loves doing.
And then, for nose work, play foundation games. Just have one or two boxes out, do the shell game, play with your game boxes so it’s fun, fast, quick, highly rewarding searches. And, I have a thing that I put in most of my classes, it’s kind of like your recalls but it’s for odor. How much value do you have in your odor bank. And, when you set up these fun, fast, foundation games, you’re putting lots of value in your odor bank so, then when you have a more challenging side, you have deposits in that odor bank that they can pull out in order to work harder to find that odor.
One of the other things I recommend is to be consistent and build routines. Soft dogs feel comfortable in routines, as they know what to expect, and then things are not so scary. And, empower your dog to make decisions and have a party when they do. Again, nose work is great for this. Soft dogs do better with shaping or decision making when they have an obstacle to interact with, versus just blank space that they have to figure something out, so, that’s where parkour comes in. So, parkour is great at empowering your dog, just give them an obstacle and let them do anything they want and reward the interaction with that obstacle.
Back to Edge’s dumbbell again, but find what your dog loves or loves doing and incorporate it into your training and use it as their reward, or even its odor value, your dog loves odor, do something else and let him go do a search for the odor. And I think it’s always important to check in with your soft dog and see how they’re feeling with what you’re doing. We build emotional attachments with everything we teach and do. We need to make sure our dog is not stressed and then we build a positive emotional response with that behavior.
I also like to start off my sessions with an energy game. That helps build energy into the training, and one of the simple ones that I like is the chew cookie toss and it’s just toss the cookie to the left and send your dog to get it and as they’re eating it toss the cookie to the right and send your dog to get it and you’re actually building energy. Most of your soft dogs stress down, they don’t have the energy to put in the training and that’s just kind of a good start. Edge’s first couple nose work trials, I actually did that at the van, you know, I kind of helped just play this cookie game. And you can even do it in your hands, if you have a really small space, just have them bounce back and forth to your hands.
Melissa Breau: It’s kind of the idea of just get them moving a little bit so that they can feel it, they can get a little happy because their body’s moving.
Melissa Chandler: I mean, and it’s like, and I understand how they feel because a lot of times when I get stressed I could do jumping jacks or you jog in place, I mean, it’s amazing what it does, just that little bit of energy really helps get you out of that stress and get your adrenaline going to be able to do what you’re asked to do. And, I actually have a lecture that I have written for my parkour class, it talks about how to deal with soft dogs and a lot of different ideas because, again, not all dogs are the same and different ones will work different for different jobs so it’s just a lot of different things to try. A lot of energy games. I really believe in mat behaviors as the dogs have a safe place to go to their mats. Talk about how to train mat and what you can use it with. And it is for my parkour class but I end up sharing it in most of my classes because, for one, I think people with soft dogs attend my classes for a reason, as well as, with those who work in parkour, those classes are set up for soft and stressy type dogs, so most of them that come in need that lecture.
Melissa Breau: You know, kind of, what is it about those sports that make them so good for softer dogs? I mean, you mentioned that they’re kind of set up for them. What do you mean by that?
Melissa Chandler: For nose work it’s amazing to watch a dog build confidence through nose work. Part of it is we take something that all dogs love to do, sniffing, and we turn it into a highly rewarding behavior. So, it really doesn’t take a lot of energy for them to begin, it’s just put your nose on this odor and they get lots of cookies, and then we start incorporating the cookie toss, so it kind of goes back to my other game but it’s kind of a reset so then they’re driving back because they know as soon as they get into that odor they get rewarded. So, we build a strong foundation by increasing the value of the odor, which then encourages our dogs to work independently.
We also nurture our dog’s excitement for nose work. The pulling you to the lines should not always be discouraged, and this is one of those, know your dog, know your team, I mean, you know, you don’t want your dog to pull you down or…it just can’t go very fast, you don’t want your dog pulling you but I let it pull me, I think it’s fabulous because there were times we’d go to other trials, he didn’t even want to go in the building, you know, he’s like, I can’t handle it, and now he’s like dragging me to the line and I think it’s awesome. So, you know, it’s good for us. So, know your team and let your dog do it if you think it’s good for your dog.
The other thing too is nose work classes are set up for only one dog to work at a time, so the dog doesn’t have to worry about the environment, they don’t have to worry about where the other dogs are, they can just go in and practice. You can do a lot of both parkour and nose work in home so you can do it in the comfort of your own home where they feel safer in the comfort of their own home so they don’t have to worry about anything else in the environment. And then also, when you go out and you train with friends, only one dog should be out at a time, so you have lots of opportunities, and when you’re out training with your friends they should understand and they should be able to keep their dogs in the vehicle until it’s their turn.
So, our dogs no longer focus on the environment, but they focus their energy on finding the odor. And the other thing I think is really great about nose work is I had talked about keeping their routine for your soft dogs and nose work is fabulous for routine. I think everyone in nose work should have a good start line routine, and it basically starts at the vehicle or the crate, wherever you’re getting your dog, and you have a routine of when you put the harness on, when you put the leash on, what warm up you do. I have a pre-cue as we’re going to the search area, just to say, hey, this is what we’re going to do, and once you hit the start line I have a place where I stand, Edge has a place where he stands so that he can take in the odor, and they look at it differently than we do. We may look into a search area and go, oh my gosh, look at all that stuff. They look into a search area and say where is the scent cone.
So, every time they go to a start line they know they’re looking for a scent cone. So, it’s all routine for them. So, I think that’s another reason why nose work is fabulous for soft dogs because it’s just one long routine. They don’t look at it like we do, and I think the most rewarding part is seeing a dog change over time, so you have a dog that’s not confident, and it’s a little soft or stressy, and then, all of a sudden you can see the chest come out, and you can see the confidence in the body language as they’re heading into a search area, and it’s just fabulous to see that transformation with your soft dogs.
Melissa Breau: And you just opened a nose work training academy, didn’t you?
Melissa Chandler: Yes, I did. I’m so excited about it. I’ve always wanted my own training center. It’s been a dream for a long time. I’ve always taught group classes and private classes and I’ve done it in a lot of different sports and then recently I’ve been doing a lot of nose work seminars, and I’ve been looking for a facility for over a year, but this is a part time venture for me so I was limited on budget, and I live in an area that real estate is very expensive. So, I actually was presented with this great opportunity, and it’s like a 30 minute from my house, which in Columbus isn’t bad. So, I’m like, I have to go for it, it’s like, it kind of fell in my lap and then it was perfect timing. I took possession on July first and then started teaching classes mid-July. So, I am very fortunate that I have great students and great friends, they all gave up their fourth of July weekend to come and help me paint and clean and put down flooring and so, we had shifts and people came in and helped and I was actually…took possession on a Saturday and I was teaching privates on a Thursday, so, we did good.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, that’s quick.
Melissa Chandler: Yeah, I know. I am so lucky. I had so much wonderful help. I have a snoopy sign as you walk in the door, it’s a little snoopy sign that says, welcome to my happy place, and that is definitely true. It’s wonderful, and the best part is, my building is fabulous for nose work because I have a really nice training arena, and then I have a hot room where I store all of my odor containers, and then I have a cold room which is for all the non-odor containers, and then I have several rooms that I can work on different interior setups, and I have a suspended hide alley where we have permanent shower rods across the ceiling that we can do suspended hides. And everything I purchase was with nose work in mind so I’ve kind of like…my décor is for nose work and everything has a purpose as far as searching. So, I guess I am truly living the dream now of having my own facility and it’s set up perfect for what we want to do.
Melissa Breau: That sounds great, I mean, that really sounds, I mean, to be able to have both the hot room and a cold room and, I mean, that just all sounds ideal for what you want.
Melissa Chandler: I know, yes, it’s like it couldn’t have been better because, you know, if you just had one big open building that really isn’t the best for nose work unless you build a bunch of rooms, where this was just set up perfect. So, it was a great opportunity.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I wanted to kind of shift gears a little bit. We’ve talked a bunch about nose work and a little bit about parkour. I want to dive into the parkour bit a little more. For those who have, like me, seen a little bit about this sport but don’t know a lot about what it is, can you explain kind of what it is, and how you compete in it, and what’s involved?
Melissa Chandler: Sure. Parkour is also called urban agility, as there are different obstacles that are used for climbing, jumping, balancing, as I said, it’s another great sport for building confidence, also fitness and teamwork. It can be for a very athletic dog, depending on the level, but all dogs can play. Dogs at a novice level can go on to earn your championship because championship and parkour is documenting your journey and your successes. So, you video all your sessions and when you start you show a video, it’s like oh, see, my dog isn’t able to do this yet, they need to build more strength or more confidence, and then you show your journey of how you got there. So, we did something lower and then a little higher, and how did you get from point A to point B. So, that’s what a parkour championship is, so it’s not who’s the fastest or fittest or can jump the highest, it’s documenting your journey and how you took something that they were not able to do, for some reason, and built on those strengths to get to the finished product.
Edge is a big Weimaraner, he’s 100 pounds, so, he did novice parkour. Because of his structure I would never do any other level with him because I don’t think that’s safe, and he can do championships, where Bam, you know, Bam can go all the way, in fact we’re working on expert level with Bam right now, so, but there’s something for every dog, so every dog can play, and they also have, I believe, senior dog or, you know, if your dog has a handicap you just have to contact the organization, explain it to them, and you can modify some of the obstacles because they truly want to make it so everyone can play. It’s also a great sport for fearful or reactive dogs because, again, it can be done in the comfort of your home, and then as you slowly build skills you can move those out into the environment.
Safety is extremely important in parkour because your dogs are going to be jumping, they’re going to be doing high obstacles. They do what’s called tic tacs where it’s kind of rebound, it’s like a flyball box rebound, but it’s done on a tree or a building and some dogs can really get up high on their tic tacs or rebounds. So, we always recommend a back clipped harness, dogs are always spotted, and that’s one thing that I highly emphasize in my class is spotting your dog, and even have a spot your dog that weighs as much as you do, because you can do it, you just have to have the proper technique to make sure that you keep your dog safe at all times.
There’s really no competition in parkour, it’s all about the journey and the relationship, and good fitness for your dog, and you submit for titles. So, there’s different roles and different widths and heights and dimensions on the different obstacles, and that’s part of the fun is going out into the environment and finding all these different things, and then you video them and you submit them to the organization and then they judge them for your title.
Between parkour and nose work it’s like a whole different world because you’re always looking for a great place to search, or a great place to climb, and so you look at everything differently now. You know, we’ll take pictures and…look what I found here, this would be a great such and such obstacle, but it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun for the dogs and the people.
Melissa Breau: So, you mentioned the tic tacs, and you mentioned kind of climbing on things and jumping over things. Are there like, general categories of some of the different behaviors you’re looking for? Like, how does that break down?
Melissa Chandler: It’s actually obstacles, so you have like an over, an under, an in, you have your tic tacs, two feet on, four feet on, you do a weight, you do arounds, a 10 foot send, you do what’s called a gap jump where they jump from one obstacle to another and the intensity or the difficulty increases as you go up levels. So, you have training level, which you do not have to do, it’s more for young dogs because, you know, we don’t want anything very high and it’s just to get them introduced to parkour. And then you go to your novice level and you have certain criteria, and then as you move to intermediate then, like, the balance in novice it’s the width of the shoulders, but once you go to intermediate it’s half the width of the shoulders. So, they need to be able to walk on an obstacle that’s half the width of their shoulders. So, the difficulty of each obstacle increases as you go from novice, to intermediate, to expert.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned teaching, like, how to support your dog and can that piece for, you know, as part of what you include in your class. Do you want to just share a little more about what you kind of cover in the class you offer?
Melissa Chandler: I offer parkour in April and it covers the training, novice and intermediate levels, and then I have an advanced parkour class that’ll actually be in October, and it starts back with intermediate and covers expert and championship. Intermediate seems to take the most time to master as your dog will be gaining strength and skill to complete their requirements, so this level overlaps both classes, and I’ve had people start in April and then they continue working during the down time and then come back in October, for like, the finishing up, or the tuning of the actual obstacles, and then normally they’re ready to submit their title at that point.
My October class, last year, we had several intermediate and a couple expert titles that came out of the class, so that was exciting. I have very detailed, step by step videos for each of the obstacles. There’s dogs at different levels, different size dogs in the videos, and I even took my brothers’ Vizsla strike, who’s never done parkour before, and did all the obstacles with him to show…here’s how you do it, true beginner dogs, so I could work through some of the issues and I didn’t have a dog that already knew the obstacles. So, not only was it fun, but it’s been very informative to the class.
I also include three to four videos of different dogs, showing the finished obstacle, so they can see what it looks like with different dogs and different obstacles that’s passed and earned a title. It’s a really fun class and, like I said, there’s been a lot of titles earned while in the class. The fun part now is I have nose work students taking my parkour class to teach their dogs how to interact with the environment. So, if they have a soft nose work dog that doesn’t like to get into corners, or doesn’t like to put their feet up on things, now they’re bringing them into parkour to teach them parkour to carry over into their nose work training, which I think is absolutely fabulous. And so, I keep teasing them, I’m going to have to offer a nose work parkour class, and just combine the two together. So, and it’s funny because I have to be careful now when I place hides and looks because my dogs have, like, jumped up on something very high above the hide, if they have access to it, now that they have those parkour skills. So, again, it makes you look at the world totally different than you did in the past.
Melissa Breau: Rather than just try and indicate that something’s up high they’ll just be like, well, there’s something here, I’ll just go up there and find out.
Melissa Chandler: Absolutely. I’ll just go put my nose on it.
Melissa Breau: That’s great.
Melissa Chandler: It’s funny because one of my students, I think it was in my very first parkour class, she messaged me after and she says, I need you to add something to your class, she said, please warn people that once they’ve taught them parkour, when they go out on walks, they need to watch their dog, is it jumping on things, and I mean, she meant it in a good way, she’s like, I take my dogs on walks and they want to jump on this and jump on that, and she’s like, it’s fabulous but it caught me off guard. So, I added that to my class, it’s like, be careful because parkour happens everywhere.
Melissa Breau: So, I want to finish up with kind of the three questions I ask everybody who comes on. So, the first one is, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Melissa Chandler: That’s tough. I think I would almost have to say I would have one per dog as each of my dogs have different goals and different accomplishments and it’s all about the relationship in getting there, it’s not about the outcome, but it’s the, what you build along the way.
Melissa Breau: I’ll let you share one per dog, you could do that.
Melissa Chandler: For Edge, with his soft dog style, his very first nose work trial, it wasn’t surprising to me that he went in and he had very subtle indications, as far as you know he’d looked and saw where everybody was and he kind of put his nose toward it and rolled his eyes at me; knowing Edge very well, it’s like, I knew where it was and that was fine, we did great. So, then we went in to our nose work two trial and the hide was in a really short stool and it was kind of between a couch and a furnace and he indicated on it and felt that I didn’t call it fast enough, and he took his paw and he flung the stool across the room. And, you know, it was like, yay, wow, look at him, you know, I was so excited. I mean, this was my soft dog slinging a stool across the room, and my friends were like, well, what if he got disqualified, I’m like, Edge slung a stool across the room in a trial. So, it’s just, I mean, that almost brings tears to my eyes talking about it because that was just awesome for him, that he felt that comfortable and that confident to do something like that. So, again, it’s not about the outcome but it’s our journey and our process getting there, so, that was just very, very exciting.
And then the other, I had a father-son Weimaraner team, I co-bred the litter and so, he was a confirmation champion, and I had a home bred champion, but they are two of the only three USDAA ADCH Weimaraner’s, and it was just really thrilling to have a father-son team, that I bred, competing at national events and, you know, competing at higher levels, and again, all about the journey. It was just so fun being able to do that with them and what we were able to accomplish, and just the memories on that journey.
So, but I feel very blessed to have all the awesome dogs in my life that I have and each and every one of them has taught me something different, so, I think they all come into our lives for a reason and they’ve all taken me different paths and made lots of wonderful memories along the way.
Melissa Breau: So, our second question, and this is usually one of my favorite ones of the podcast is, what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Melissa Chandler: I think this kind of goes hand in hand, but I think we need to let the dog make a decision and trust your dog, and I remember this way back in my agility days, you know, this was like, in the early 90s’ I think, everyone was trying to control what the dog did, you know, especially on the contacts and I was fortunate enough to work with Linda Mecklenburg at that time, and she was like, let the dog decide, let them take ownership, you know, so, way back when it was let the dog make a decision, let them take some responsibilities, and when you allow that to happen it’s amazing the teamwork because you’re not stressed trying to micromanage them and they’re not stressed because they’re being micro managed.
So, it becomes more a teamwork than a controlling, but I think humans try to be so controlling and always want to tell their dog what to do and we need to let our dogs make the decisions and accept responsibility. And again, I think this goes hand in hand with nose work, that’s what I’m always telling people, let the dog make the decision, and I love thinking dogs, I love dogs that think outside the box and work through problems, and I just love working with thinking dogs.
Melissa Breau: So, our last question is about other people in the dog world. So, who is somebody else that you look up to?
Melissa Chandler: There have been so many that have helped inspire me along the way, and I think I take pieces of advice and put things together for what I need to do for my dogs. It seems like they all come into my life when I need them most or maybe I go and seek them out when I need something. I think probably what’s helped me the most with where I am with my dogs right now would be Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed. That just, before I found nose work, that really helped me a lot with Edge, and you should see my book, it’s like, every page has a sticky and notes. It’s looks so used books, but it almost seems like the book was written specifically for Edge, I mean, it was amazing and I now used a lot of those with Bam and I recommend a lot of her protocols with my students, but I think that has been very important in Edge’s success.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast Melissa.
Melissa Chandler: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcasts 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.
Kamal Fernandez is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
To be released 8/18/2017, featuring Melissa Chandler talking about nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs.
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 Kamal Fernandez.
Kamal is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
Hi Kamal, welcome to the podcast!
Kamal Fernandez: Hi Melissa! Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m so glad to chat. Heelwork is always everybody’s favorite topic, so..
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so this should be an interesting conversation.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you tell us a bit about your own dogs -- who they are and what you’re working on with them?
Kamal Fernandez: I have a malinois, I have border collies, I have a German spitz, I have a boxer, and I have a poodle-cross Jack Russell. So I have a real array of dogs and they do various things. Obviously, the primary focus for the majority of my career has been as an obedience competitor, but I’ve recently moved to begin doing other disciplines. Primarily for a bit of a change, really. I think I’ve been doing it for quite a long while, and I was looking for new challenges and something to sort of take my training a little bit further, and I’ve dappled with lots of disciplines throughout my career. So my border collie and my spitz both compete in agility, and my boxer, the intention with him is to do IPO. He’s in the midst of training at the moment; he had quite a long period off with injury, 2 years out with quite a severe injury, so he’s just been, probably in the last year, been brought back into work so we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do. And my malinois and my older border collie, they both do obedience. I’m sort of shifting my goals as it were to new disciplines and I’ve sort of done obedience for so long I just want to have a little bit of a change and I think for an instructor and a teacher it’s really good to keep fresh and to teach your dog new things, and also be a recipient of being a student as well. I think that’s really healthy.
Melissa Breau: So you’re pushing into Agility, is that what you’re saying?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, so I’ve just started -- my spitz does agility. He’s up to… I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in the US but he’s at grade 5 level now, and my border collie bitch is just starting her competitive career. So they’re both doing… I’ve been really really pleased with them, I’ve only.. My times a bit… well, obviously, I have a young child now -- a baby -- so my time’s a little bit limited, which is always a constant battle. Bless their hearts, they seem to be carrying me a little bit at the moment, to be honest, but that’s a good foundation. They’re great; they’re all doing really really well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know you mentioned you started out in obedience, so how did you first get into that -- how did you start out in dog sports?
Kamal Fernandez: So, I was always obsessed with dogs and I was always fanatical about the prospect of owning one. And I badgered my parents for years and years and years about getting a dog and they eventually succumbed, and they buckled in to me to get a dog. And that dog was absolutely every single behavioral issue you can probably ever encounter, that one dog had. And it was largely down to pet dog owners -- you just, just naive people thinking “I tell it sit, why doesn’t it sit?” “I let it off the lead, why doesn’t it come back?” We just didn’t understand the concept of training a dog, we just -- like a lot of people -- we just assumed the dog came hard-wired to do it.
I actually was watching agility on television, and there was a guy there called Greg Derrett who anybody who knows about agility, he’s one of the top competitors and trainers in the world, and Greg’s a little bit older than me, and he was there competing at Crufts in the junior competition and I always thought, well, if he can do it as a junior -- and i think he won that year -- I thought well it must be achievable, i must be able to do it. So I tried to contact the local agility club and at that point they said you can’t start bringing a dog to agility until you’ve gone to obedience training. She wasn’t a puppy-puppy, she must have been 6-10 months old, and they said you can’t start with her until she’s well over a year, so I thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do for this time?” Anyway, they said take your dog to obedience training. And I took her to obedience training and it was just domestic pet training, very, very, very old school, you know. Choke chains, walking around the whole, choking the dog, which you know at the time -- this was 26 years ago -- wasn’t unusual to be honest, in this country. And it just so happened that I stayed on one evening to watch the more advanced people train their dogs and there was somebody doing competitive obedience, and it just really really inspired me because of the level of control she had over her dog and I remember she left it at one end on a stage that’s actually at the hall where i now teach, and she did like 6 position changes and I was just blown away by the fact that she could -- there’s my dog that I can’t even let off the lead and she could leave her dog at the other side of a room and give it positions which appeared to be on some sort of magic slash electronic remote control, i don’t know, i was just blown away by it. So it just really made me go “wow I want to do that” and my career just really went in that path. I sort of got more and more interested in it; I saw her train numerous dogs to do heel work and I just got addicted to that as a concept, really. And I never really followed up on the whole agility thing, and it’s ironic that now, 26 years later, I’m finally getting into agility. I’m a slow learner, but there you go. Better late than never as they say.
Melissa Breau: Hey, you got there. You just took your time. So you mentioned that you started out choke chains and traditional training, all that stuff. How would you describe your training philosophy today?
Kamal Fernandez: I talked recently at a conference, and was speaking about my personal journey in dog training and how it’s really taken a really, really diverse route in that we started out like, i think, a lot of people that have been training dogs for 20+ years, in more compulsion based dog training and in dominance-based theories to training dogs; you know, you have to be the boss, you have to be the pack leader, and it was very much rout learning with them. The dog’s thoughts, feelings, emotions were never considered, really. It was just make the dog do it, but i always instinctively felt there was a better way out there and it didn’t sit with me as an individual; I thought, “Oh, I’m not a forceful person,” I’m determined, I’m very goal-oriented, but I’m not one for force. I wouldn’t force somebody to do something; i wouldn’t force my dogs, it just didn’t quite align with who i was. And then i gravitated to more motivational methodology, which was slightly more what I’d call show and tell, so you’d show the dog what you wanted them to do, you’d reward the dog, and if the dog didn’t do it you’d show them again, and if the dog didn’t do it again after that you’d probably correct it and then reward it. So there was more reinforcement being used, but still that element of compulsion in there. And I was never extreme in my use of -- other than the choke chain scenario, which was just sheer ignorance -- I was always somebody that wanted to interact with my dogs, I wanted to… I mean I used to take my dog that i first had, she was my friend more than anything, I used to take her out and we used to go out for the whole day and we used to go play at what we call the dumps and stuff, so she was my little friend so there was a real conflict between what i was doing in training and how i was with her in general.
So I gravitated to what you would now call reinforcement-based dog training and as clicker training became more prominent, in this country I’d say probably 15 years ago, something like that -- 15-20 years ago -- and initially the reaction was “oh gosh, this is rubbish” but I was inquisitive about it and i was skeptical, but the more and more I watched it I thought there’s something to this, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Again, it’s amazing how life takes you on this journey, I did psychology while I was at college and I did it later on as a -- I studied it as part of a certain degree and an element of it was psychology which part of it talked about learning theory and operant conditioning and classical conditioning and so forth, and it then sort of all fell into place and made more sense. So then i started to delve with the dog that i had into clicker training and my initial reaction was… I tried it, i pressed the clicker, I gave her a reward and the dog didn’t miraculously do it. By that point i was a little more astute but i thought, “I’m missing something,” this isn’t -- i just can’t work this all out. Anyway, it was niggling away for me, and with that dog i sort of tried it and thought, okay this doesn’t work, chuck the clicker, chuck my teddies out the pram, and flounce my skirt and I thought right, that doesn’t work I’m going to go back to what i did. And I trained that dog more, what I’d say, traditionally. Flash with a bit more clicker training interspersed there, and he wasn’t what I’d say was a straightforward, easy dog, but there were a couple of key things that made me realize, “you know what, i have to change what I’m doing.” Because the things I clicker trained where so -- the responses and the reaction and the dog’s understanding were so more salient than what i taught him traditionally. And that’s not to bash traditional training, it could be my application, it could be my understanding, it could be a thousand and one things, so with my subsequent dogs I made a commitment to say that’s it, I’m going to do this or die, basically. I’m going to clicker train these dogs from the get-go, and if i don’t clicker train them I’m not going to train them at all. I had that in my head. So I really sort of held a gun to my own head and said you’re going to do this. And it was the making of my dogs and my career and how i perceive dog training. And now my philosophy in dog training is about reinforcement -- find a way to reinforce the dog and minimize the use of punishment, even just withholding reinforcement. Find a way to reinforce the dog and create the dog being correct and successful. And be strategic in your use of withholding reinforcement, etc. And it’s brought me to a place, a dog training place that i feel really really comfortable with. I feel morally, ethically, even to be … it sound a bit grand, but even spiritually, I like the way that i train my dogs now. I feel comfortable in it, it sits with me on a personal level, it sits with me in terms of the relationship I want with my dogs. They make choices; they don’t want to work, they don’t train. I don’t force them, I don’t push them, I convince them that what i want them to do is interesting and kind of enjoyable and actually really really fun. And so the relationship I have with them, the relationship I have with my dogs now they’re not waiting for the Jekyll and Hyde split personality, i was always very much about interacting with them, but occasionally I’d suddenly be this person that would say, hey now you’re going to do this, and on some level I always felt there was that element of… they were waiting for that person to turn up. Now I don’t have that with my dogs and I have… trained more dogs with reinforcement based methodology than not. And I was just fortunate that the dogs that I had that I trained alternatively were just very very forgiving. So my training philosophy, it’s about really, reinforcement is the key. It builds behavior. If you learn nothing else about operant conditioning and clicker training reinforcement will save the day so-to-speak.
Melissa Breau: So, I did some googling of you, before this call… I mentioned in your intro that you teach seminars internationally and they seem to be on a wide variety of topics, everything from foundations to extreme proofing... So I wanted to ask: what you enjoy teaching, what your favorite thing to teach is? And… why?
Kamal Fernandez: That’s sort of a real easy one. My actual favorite topic is foundations for any dog sport -- that is by far my favorite topic, because that’s where all the good stuff happens. That’s where you really lay your… well, your foundations, for a successful career in any dog discipline. And I think the irony is that people always want to move on to what I would call the sexy stuff, but the irony is the sexy stuff is actually easy if your foundations are laid solidly and firmly. And I think I’ve had more “ah-ha” moments when I teach foundations to people than I have with anything else. I also, i have to say, i like behavioral issues. You can make GREAT impact, and literally change somebody’s life and their dog’s life, or save somebody’s life because behavioral work and giving them a new take on how they deal with their dog at present but i would say really really extreme behavioral cases are really really juicy to get involved in, and dogs that people say they’re on the cusp of writing the dog off, and the dog is so phobic or aggressive or dog reactive or whatever the case may be and you can literally turn that person and that dog’s relationship around. That’s really rewarding and enjoyable to work with. But I would say as a standard seminar, I would say foundations by far. It’s just you’ve got young, green dogs, you can see the light bulbs going off for the dogs, you can see the pieces strung together, that are going to ultimately lead to the dog being this amazing competitive dog, and you can see it literally unfold before your eyes.
Melissa Breau: Right, and with the behavioral thing, a lot of people just think of that as a challenge so I think it takes a certain type of personality to be like, no this is actually pretty cool.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I think you have to be a little bit odd to enjoy it, but i think we’ve seen so many changes in terms of dog training and I think there is a massive lack of knowledge in terms of behavior and how to deal with behavior so that the dog can actually function in the real world and also, I think there’s more a sway toward behavior management versus actually helping the dog, and dealing with the actual cause of the issue, which is where i like to -- I’m all about management, I think that’s great, to have skills to manage your dog and to have knowledge and awareness, etc. but what I really want to do is let’s deal with the core issue. The core issue is this -- the dog is frightened, scared, apprehensive, whatever -- let’s whittle it back and deal with that and let’s help this dog be a confident, well adjusted member of society.
Melissa Breau: Focus on the emotions and not just the behavior.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s stripping it back to the real core, and the beauty is it’s all done with reinforcement. It’s all on just focusing on what you want the dog to do versus the symptoms of - let’s actually get down to the real nuts and bolts of it, and help this dog, you know? As opposed to managing it, you know?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So I want to switch topics a little bit and dive into heeling, since that’s the thing you’re most well known for. At FDSA, I know that’s mostly also kind of your focus -- so since you’re in the UK, and you do FCI-style heeling... and I’m sure you get this question all the time, but can you share some of the differences between the English, FCI and North American styles of heeling? What is that?
Kamal Fernandez: So there is even from FCI obedience, to UK obedience, to AKC obedience there’s slight changes. The basic principle of how i approach teaching it is all the same stuff, I just make minor little adjustments depending on the code that you subscribe to. Obedience in the UK, the general gist of it is that we allow contact with our dogs in heelwork, that our dog can be very very close to the leg where in FCI obedience and AKC or CKC or even Australian obedience the dogs are ideally, they should be a gap or a freeness between the leg and the dog. So that’s the biggest, core, visual difference. There is technical differences between FCI obedience and, say, AKC and that is a different requirement of the test, in the UK our test is probably a lot longer than American heeling, in that it can go up to 5 or 6 minutes of heeling, you can do patterns, you can do weaving, you can do circles, you can do changes of pace and you do positions in motion. So our heeling is probably more complex, in a lot of ways, than AKC heeling. The FCI heeling test there’s actually quite a lot to it, because they do changes of pace, they do positions in motion, they do side-step heeling, they do different little intricate moves. So there’s complexities to FCI heeling that again, it just makes it interesting. Anybody that’s a heelwork or heeling junkie i think that they appreciate that heeling is quite a complex exercise, there’s so many entities to it, there’s so many layers to it, and anybody that’s into detail, that’s into the fanatical little details of dog training would love heeling and the way in which i teach it.
Melissa Breau: So, talking about how you teach it… How do you approach teaching heelwork? How do you start? Or how do you approach the bigger picture and break it all down?
Kamal Fernandez: Yea, so everything is component trained in my training. Everything is broken down into tiny tiny little pieces of a puzzle and the pieces of the puzzle probably look nothing like the greater exercise or the greater goal, but what it does is it allows me to fast track the process of me teaching my dog heeling. And what looks like a very complex exercise for the dog is actually very simple because it’s broken down into tiny little sections. I use a combination of shaping the dog and i will use lures but I fade the lure very very quickly. I minimize the use of a lure, but I use it very, very specifically, and I’m very aware of the times that I would use a lure. I’m looking for the dog to perform heeling with both drive and enthusiasm, but also accuracy and have a really comprehensive knowledge of its body, where it’s body should be, where it’s feet placement should be, where every single part of its position is. So it’s quite a detailed process, and I’d say for people that really like the details of dog training. It’s definitely one of the exercises they would gravitate to and this methodology is… also I appreciate that this methodology and this approach isn’t for everybody because it’s quite… it’s quite intense and quite intricate in some of the maneuvers and handling. But once you have trained it, the way in which i explain it to people it’s like you’ve got a dressage horse, which has the ability to react to a slight little adjustment in movement and they understand the tiniest little detail. For me, it gives the dog a greater level of knowledge and confidence and understanding, and also the end picture to me is far more appealing.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned in there that you break it down, sometimes even to pieces that don’t necessarily look like heelwork - do you have an example of that, just so that we can wrap our brains around what you’re talking about there?
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so one of the things I would teach would be a hand target, and i use the hand target as a means to teach the dog that then i transfer the hand target to a heelwork position, and then i transfer the hand target on my leg and I fade that out of the equation. So that would be one example.
Another example - i teach the dog to do a foot target. The dog has to position its foot in a very specific place, next to the instep of my left foot. So again that one detail looks nothing like the picture of your dog moving and being in motion, but those two simple exercises - a hand target and a foot target - are core entities of how i teach heeling.
Melissa Breau: So, in your bio I mentioned you use games and play to create motivation and control… and those two things, they can often seem like total polar opposites when you’re actually training. How do you walk that fine line to achieve balance?
Kamal Fernandez: You know, this stuff that we ask our dogs to do is largely mundane and boring, and unless there’s an element within the dog that finds the behavior self-rewarding, like tracking or herding can be intrinsically rewarding for some dogs, but the stuff certainly for obedience for a lot of dogs can be very mundane and very monotonous, if there’s a lot of repetition in it, which for a lot of dogs, they’re not going to relish the thought of. So for me, the baseline commitment is i have to create the dog wanting to do this mundane boring stuff. Because at the end of the day it’s just about my ego and my goals, the dog doesn’t really care. He’d be quite happy going for a long walk and having a good time chasing little furry things. So for me i make that committment to motivate my dogs and to make sure the dog wants to engage in every part of their training. In doing so, obviously i need to create motivation, i need to build drive. But I’m always balancing that with self control around the reinforcement and I would do that, again, in my foundation. So there’s foundation games that I play with my dogs that I strongly advise anybody in dog sports to make sure you have these skills. But there’s also a lot of listening and a lot of thinking while in a high state of arousal that I implement via those games. So then when I move that onto actually teaching an exercise, the dog already has the ability to have self control, to have impulse control, understands the concept of proofing, etc. So the two things to me, although they are polar opposites, they’re both striving for the same thing. You know, to have a dog that has loads and loads of enthusiasm, but is largely out of control, to me is displeasing to the eye. To have a dog that has lots of accuracy, if you want or technical correctness, but has no spirit or soul, to me, again is unpleasing to the eye. So it’s about having both ends, and the reason i love obedience so much is that the sport itself is almost like a conflict of both those things; you absolute drive and accuracy, and it’s so hard to get both and that to me is the appeal. I would say that to me, the most skilful trainers in the world, that I’ve seen, are from an obedience background and they have a strong obedience background, and the ability to create drive but also ultimately accuracy which i think, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of dog training.
Melissa Breau: Kind of understanding those two and creating the balance, and having a dog that exhibits both of them so clearly.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a battle. When you get one, you create drive, you lose accuracy; when you create accuracy you lose drive; and the two things, I always say, it’s about tipping the scale -- and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone in there competitively and I’ve gone, wow my dog absolutely… it’s like always get one thing and then you lose another; that’s what you’re striving for. It’s a bit like winning the lottery, that one day when everything goes in your favor and all the years of training culminates in that magic moment, so to speak.
Melissa Breau: So what it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s almost a constant process -- you’re training one, and then you’re training the other. And then you’re training one…
Kamal Fernandez: It’s constantly in play. But to me that’s the joy in it really, you never stop training, you never stop learning and you never stop growing, really.
Melissa Breau: Well, it’s time for us to get to the last 3 questions that I ask everyone who comes on the show. So first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?
Kamal Fernandez: There’s so many things, and not necessarily competitively related that I’m very proud of. I would say I’m proud of the first dog i ever trained competitively, he became an obedience champion and that was a bit of a personal journey as well as a dog training journey, so that was something that I’m immensely proud of.
And the other thing that I’m also proud of when it comes to dogs, was being involved with Dogs Might Fly, a project where we took rescue dogs and we taught them to fly a plane as part of a project on television. The proudest moment in that is that those dogs were largely just discarded; they were rescue dogs. The impact, all those dogs found homes, but that was members of the production crew, largely -- like the makeup artist had one, the cameraman had another, a couple of trainers took dogs on, and it was great; everybody was so for the dogs in that project, it was all about the dogs and showing what can be achieved with good dog training and also that rescue dogs are capable of such great things, so I’d say that was something I’m very proud of, to be involved with something that had such a positive outcome.
Melissa Breau: So, wait a minute - back up. You taught them to fly a plane?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, yeah! So it’s a project I did - oh god, it’s got to be about two years ago now. We took 12 rescue dogs and we were with them for probably about… oh gosh, it was all the summer, so it must have been 6-8… probably 6 months? And we took these 12 dogs and they were literally sourced across the country, all rescue dogs, like one of them was due to be put to sleep the next day, another one was discarded… loads of different background stories, and we were involved with rehabbing them, from whatever issues they had and teaching them basic skills, and then the end goal, 3 of the dogs from the 12 were selected to go on to be trained to control and fly a plane. It was on Sky television - I don’t know if you have that in the States, but it was a really, really great project to be involved with. Victoria Stilwell was involved with it, a guy called Mark Vette, who was involved with the driving dogs, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that on YouTube…
Melissa Breau: I haven’t, but now I’m going to have to go look it up.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, search for Driving Dogs, Mark Vette. So that was, it was his brain child and I was one of the trainers involved with doing it, so that was a really really rewarding project.
Melissa Breau: So when you say fly a plane, what exactly were they doing? What was the behavior…?
Kamal Fernandez: The dog had to control the plane. So it was on a rig. The plane was got… by a pilot up, because they couldn’t do it to land and to take off, but once the plane was flying, the dog had to control the plane and perform a figure of eight, and they ended up with 3 dogs -- actually I saw one yesterday, Thursday and Friday, a friend of mine now owns him -- and they took 3 dogs and they flew up in the air. If you google it, Dogs Might Fly, you’ll see all the information about it.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah and one of the dogs that I trained, because what happened was there was two phases, there was the initial phase, where they had the 12 dogs, and then they selected out of the 12 dogs the 3 dogs, and then they were passed on to 3 trainers to work intensively on it, and initially there were 4 trainers who were given 3 dogs each, and then they were whittled down to 3 dogs and then they took 3 trainers on. And one of the dogs that I worked with closely, his name was Reggie, he was a labrador-german shepherd cross, he went on to be one of the dogs that flew the plane.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Kamal Fernandez: So that’s really rewarding and he now lives in New Zealand, and when I went back to New Zealand recently I went and met him and he gave me the most amazing welcome, and I put it on instagram and what-have-you; just an amazing dog.
Melissa Breau: For our listeners - I will try and find the links to those videos and share them in the show notes, so you guys don’t have to go google a ton. They will be right there for ya. Okay, so this is usually my favorite question, though i think you might have beat it with that last one…
What’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?
Kamal Fernandez: The best piece of training advice I think is a Bob Bailey-ism, and I those well versed in dog training, or animal training… it’s just Think. Plan. Do. Review. So think what you want to train, plan your training sessions, then go do it and then go and review your training sessions. That’s one thing and the other thing is use video recording devices to record your training sessions; it’s absolutely revolutionized my own personal training. It’s like I have my own instructor that’s with me 24/7 and whenever i want him to he can turn up and give me feedback about my dog training. If nothing else, I would suggest that everybody do both, which is what the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is so great for, using the medium of the internet and video to facilitate great learning and i think it just encapsulates how powerful that resource can be if used effectively. And I know people are a little bit self conscious and a little paranoid about watching themselves, but by gosh, you will glean the benefits 10-fold over. So I’d say those two bits of advice -- Think. Plan. Do. And review your training - so be a mindful dog trainer as opposed to a reactive or responsive dog trainer, be thoughtful, be efficient in your use of your time and also video your training sessions.
Melissa Breau: And then, finally… who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Kamal Fernandez: The first person who really really influenced my training was someone called Sylvia Bishop, she lives actually down the road from me now, but she was a pioneer in the concept of play equals work equals play. And Sylvia trains a lot in the states, and our training is different a little bit, now… we don’t necessarily follow the same approach to training dogs, but what i would say about Sylvia is that Sylvia was the first person that talked through the concept of -- or brought to my attention the concept of breaking exercises down into component parts and also making your training a game. And she was so far ahead of her time, when she was around and god she’s been training dogs for… it’s got to be 40-50 years now. And when she first came into dogs or obedience it was very very compulsion based and she was one of the first people that openly used toys and play, etc as a medium to train dogs. So she was somebody that was a massive influence, although as I say our paths are different now, and that’s absolutely fine, i have the utmost respect for her in terms of the influence she had on me. The second person, or group of people, I would say is a really close friend of mine -- somebody called Susanne Jaffa, who is a british obedience trainer and working trials trainer, and she trains australian shepherds and she’s one of the people that really really influenced my change over to clicker training, and she’s again one of the first people that made - or one of the first people that was very very successful clicker training. There was somebody else, who now lives in Canada, a friend of mine called Kathy Murphy. They were the people that were really vocal about, we’re going to clicker train our dogs, and we’re going to do it and be successful at it.
The other person who I’m sure numerous people will quote is Susan Garrett; anybody that knows me knows that I’m a massive, massive Susan Garrett fan. I think she’s phenomenal in what she does, I think being a bit cynical, the internet and good marketing, often create the illusion of somebody being a good dog trainer but having been in Susan’s presence when she’s trained her dogs she’s a phenomenal, phenomenal… her timing… and I would say all those people have what i call dog training hands. You can tell if somebody has dog training hands just by watching them; You know, the way in which they move, they interact, and she has a very comprehensive knowledge of science, and the science behind what she does. But her ability to interact, read, and the relationship she has with her dogs, there’s nothing put on or fake about it. What you see is very much what you get. Yeah, but those are the people for me that I look up to, admire, and I constantly, if i was ever going to look for… and I look in the most weird and wonderful places for inspiration and ideas for my own training, but those would most definitely be…
And the other person is Bob Bailey. Bob Bailey, world-renowned animal trainer, a constant reminder of what is effective dog training or animal training, reinforcement placement, etc etc, the endless list of pearls of wisdom that Bob gives out. So yeah, those are the ones that have really influenced me, or that I look up to, I should say.
Melissa Breau: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Kamal Fernandez: No, my pleasure.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!
We’ll be back next week with Melissa Chandler to discuss nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs. 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.
Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA.
She is the also official show photographer for many of the premier agility events in the United States, including the AKC National Agility Championships, AKC Agility Invitational, USDAA Cynosport World Games, and NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local trials, regional events, and breed national specialties. She has photographed a wide variety of dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, and conformation, and dog events, including FDSA camp.
Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friends' dogs at conformation shows, and quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her own dog -- and today she’s here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day -- dog photos!
To be released 8/11/2017, featuring Kamal Fernandez talking about FCI heeling and balancing motivation and control.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sport using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Amy Johnson. Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA. She is also the official show photographer for many of the premiere agility events in the United States including the AKC National Agility Championships, the AKC Agility Invitational, the USDAA Cynosports World Games, and the NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local tryouts, regional events, and breed national specialties.
She has photographed a wide variety of dog sport including agility, obedience, rally and conformation, and dog events including the FDSA's Camp. Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friend's dogs at conformation shows, and it quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her on dog, and today she's here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day, dog photos. Hi, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Johnson: Hi, Melissa. Thanks so much for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat.
Amy Johnson: I am too.
Melissa Breau: So to kind of start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have, who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. I have two dogs and one of them is here in my office with me, and well, if he makes any noise, but his name is Costner, as in Kevin, and so he is a Great Dane, a Fawn Great Dane, if anybody is interested in those details. He's about 39 inches at the shoulder, about 190 pounds, and that is ribs still visible kind of. That's just how big he is. so he's kind of a goof. We joke that he just has 3 neurons, he can eat, sleep and poop, and you know, he's just a really good hang out around the house dog. And then our other dog is a 60-pound Yellow Lab mix and her name is Dora. We don’t do a lot with our dogs. They are companions, they like to go on walks, they like to go for hikes in the woods, they like to just be near us, and so they don’t have any real special skills.
Melissa Breau: I assume they can pose.
Amy Johnson: They can pose. Although Costner is…if I try and put a camera in his face he generally kind of backs off and is like, what's that? So his actual special skill is that he is an AKC Breed Champion, and I cannot take any credit for that because we got him after his championship was finished from a friend of ours who were involved in the breeding of him, so he can look really pretty, so that’s his special skill. He just doesn’t really enjoy looking pretty, so what gets posted online of him are funny things where he's got drool or his lips are spread out on the floor where he's lying down, or you know, he's massive, and he takes up huge amounts of space, and so the pictures that I take are the ones that are just trying to show that and communicate that. We joke that he's a house pony, you know, he's not even really a dog, he's horse size, and then Dora…it's funny because she's the small dog in the house that people look at me and suddenly say we have a 60-pound dog that's considered the small dog, and then they, you know, okay, but she's got a few more brain cells in there. I do joke that I have to have dogs in my house that are dumber than me, so to call Costner not that smart is really, in our house, it's not an insult. That's just my reality. I admire the people who have the Border Collies, and the Jack Russells, and the Shih Tzus, and all those really, really smart dogs. That is not who I am and what I want to live with, so we have just dogs that are really good dog citizens and they know the routines. Costner knows that he has to sit before he gets his food. Sometimes he just stays sitting, even after I put his food down, but so we have our routines, but basically, we just want our dogs to be good citizens, and I think we've kind of got a good balance of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. So I mentioned in your bio that you got your start taking photos at conformation events. Was that kind of where your interest in photography started? Where did kind of you get started just in photography in general?
Amy Johnson: In general, I got started back in junior high. My dad had a Minolta film camera, SLR camera, manual focus, and he taught me the basics of photography, the basics of exposures. So he taught me about shutter speed, and aperture, and at that point it was called film speed, now it's called ISO, but he taught me the basics of the exposure triangle, as it's called, and how to focus a manual focus camera, and how to set my exposure so that I expose the film properly. I never did any dark room work. It was always take the 35mm film canister to the WalMart, or wherever, and get it developed, so I'm not quite that much of a purist, but my beginnings definitely were in film, and with my dad, and we would vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior here in Minnesota, and so he would take pictures, and then he would show me how to take pictures, and so kind of that father-daughter bond was really enhanced by our experience with him teaching me how to use a camera, and how to take pictures, so I kind of babbled with it throughout the years as I was growing up.
I was given by my brother and my parents one year for my birthday they gave me a film Sor of my own, and this was a little more advanced. It was a Canon EOS Elan II, I think, and it had autofocus, so I didn’t have to do the manual focus thing anymore, which you know, there's a little skill involved in manual focus, and I admired the photographers who could do it, and do it well. It's not my thing, but I understand the appeal of it. It kind of forces you to slow down and really takes things in, but so I had a film Sor that I, again, just kind of kept babbling, and various things, and then I got into dog shows, and that’s a whole long story that we could talk about some other time, but I was showing my second Great Dane, her name was McKenzie, I was showing her in conformation. I was terrible, awful. She didn't have the temperament for it. I didn’t have the skills for it. We tried for about a year and didn’t really get anywhere other than I made a lot of friends, and really enjoyed learning about the conformation world, and understanding even just the rhythm of a conformation show, and understanding okay, these dogs are going in the ring, and then they're coming out, and then they're going back in, and so you know, it's very confusing at first, and then you kind of figure out oh, okay, I know what's going on, those dogs aren’t going back in, and yeah. So I learned a lot about dog shows, and I learned a lot about the people who breed dogs, and that was fascinating to me.
I was taking a camera to most shows that I went to and just taking pictures of my friends, and then one time, and this was actually with a digital camera, one of the very, very early digital cameras that actually use the three and a quarter inch floppy disks in it, so not even memory cards. These were, you know, not the five and a quarter, but I think they're three and a half inch floppy disks, and that was your memory card, so and that didn't respond very fast to a dog moving across the ring, you know, you'd hit the shutter button and about two seconds later it would actually take the picture. Well, there's no more dog left in the frame if it takes that long to take the picture, so one time I brought my film camera with me and really enjoyed the success I had with getting dogs moving in the ring, rather than just the ones where they were stacked. So then my vet invited me to photograph her club's agility trial, and that's where it really kind of took off for me, so I really enjoyed the different games, I think it was a USDAA trial, but I'm not 100 percent sure, but the different games were, you know, some were all jumps, and some where you didn’t know where the dog was going to go, which I know now are gamblers, and again, that camaraderie around the ring, of all the people and their dogs, was really intriguing to me, and just was very welcoming and fun, and there was a market for the photos there. There was nearly no market back in ‘99, 2000 for candid photos ringside at conformation shows. Nobody was doing them, nobody knew what those were, you know, but agility trials, on the other hand, there was a market for that, people understood what that was, people likes pictures of their dog doing agility, so there was a market there for it being a business, not just a, you know, I'm going to show up and have fun.
So I did one agility trial with a film camera, and then quickly realized that I would go broke on film and processing, and then digital SLR's were just coming out, so this was in 2000, and I convinced my poor husband to let me buy a digital SLR, the Canon D30, and as he's hitting submit order on B&H's website he's looking at me saying, "just promise me you'll try and make some money from this," and the camera paid for itself in I think two shows. We realized we had kind of a winning formula there, and so I never have even thought about going back to film, of course, and digital cameras have gotten amazingly good, and amazingly fast, and responsive, and make my job easier with every new camera that I get, so.
Melissa Breau: Can you show a little more about how you went kind of from that stage of your business to where you are now, because now you do really, really, big shows, and I mean, just kind of interesting evolution.
Amy Johnson: Right. Yeah. It started out as me and the camera, and sometimes my husband would come. My first national event was actually in 2001, and you know, I look back on this and I really had no business doing it, but I was invited, again, so the social aspect of it, I had made friends, and they said will you come, and I said okay, sure. So 2001 they'd have championships and it was in Minnesota, it was in Mankato, which is about, I think, five hours south of me, and so it wasn’t like going out of state, and I made the leap. Now, the only really interesting part of this was I had a five-week-old baby at that point, so it was me, and a camera, and Ben, my husband, and Mika, our five-week-old baby, who made the trip down to Mankato, and I had told my friends who were in charge of the show, I had said if this isn’t working for me with having a baby here we're going to just have to cut and run at some point, and they were like, that’s fine, you know, you do what you need to do, but it all worked, and we had an amazing time, and I got an exposure to what a national events was, and there's a lot of adrenaline that comes with that.
In 2007, I was invited to AKC Agility Nationals, so from 2001 to 2007 I was just mostly doing weekend stuff, 07 was AKC Nationals, and again, it was still just me and Ben. Ben was in the booth running the sales side of things, I was taking pictures. Gradually, over the years, I've added photographers, and over the past two years, maybe two and a half, when I go to a national event I've really tried to make sure I had a photographer in every ring, and then also increase the size of my booth staff so that if someone comes through the booth and wants to look at pictures they don’t have to wait to get some help to do that. So the whole business has been a very gradual…well, let's try this now, and let's add this now, and what if we do this, or what if we change this. I've never taken out huge loans for the business. It's always just kind of grown under its own as it can support more, you know, I'll put a little more money out, and then it's just been a very gradual, making sure everything still feels as comfortable as it can be when you're running your own business.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk for a minute there just about having a photographer on each ring and things like that. What's that process, like you mentioned, you know, having a booth, and then having people shooting photos. I mean, how do you get from one to the other and handle all of that in the midst of a big show going on?
Amy Johnson: A lot of deep breaths and a lot of screaming in my head that I don’t let come out of my mouth. No, it's all good. I think if I had tried to go from me, and a camera, and my husband to covering six rings, and having six staff in the booth, you know, and the funny thing, I would have probably decided it was crazy and I was never going to do that again, but it went from…so one of the early AKC Nationals that I did probably in 08 or 09, there was me that was there, Great Dane photos was there, plus another photography vendor was there, so we just very amicably divided it. Well, okay, I'll take these rings on these days, and you take those rings on those days, and so there were two photographers there, and each of us had, I think, at least two photographers that we could cover all the rings, but it was between two different companies, and so that’s okay. I can manage a few people in the booth and a few people out shooting for me, and then it's just gradually shifted to where AKC and these different agility organizations have said, you know, I mean, if you can cover the whole thing we're happy to allow you to do that, and so if It was a sudden transition I would've probably not managed it, but just gradually adding more and more. It's like anything, once you are comfortable at one level of participation you kind of go oh, let's see, how else could I get involved, or what more can I add onto my plate, and you know, at some point you may go oh, that’s too much, but adding photographers has been kind of just word of mouth, and knowing people from other events.
One photographer who had shot for me I had seen his work from a previous special event, and he did a really nice job, and so I invited him to come and work for me, and that's actually happened a couple of times. One of my photographers is someone who approached me at a trial here in Minnesota, and said you know, I'm really interested in this, do you want to just take a peek at what I've done, and she lived close enough to me that she could come to a lot of my different local shows, and I could mentor her, and well, okay, that shot didn’t work so well, so what could we do differently, or oh, well, that’s a great one, if you get a chance to do that kind of a shot again, go for it, so I think that’s the beginnings of the education peaks, you know, I really enjoyed that mentoring process, and she now shoots…I mean, our styles are very similar, and so it makes it really easy to have her in the booth or as a photographer because the experience for the customer is that’s a Great Dane photoist's photo, not that’s Amy's, and that’s so and so's, and oh, that’s another person. It's all very cohesive and that's really important to me that the experience is one of I can go in any ring and get a good photo, not oh, shoot, I'm not in that ring today, so I'm not sure what I'm going to get, so yeah.
Melissa Breau: So I'd imagine that there are probably more than a handful of unique challenges that come with photographing dogs, especially sorts dogs, compared to people, or other common photography subjects. Do you mind just talking about what some of those challenges are and how you guys deal with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. The most unique challenges really do come with the dog sports, especially…it all comes down to speed. You can have an Olympic sprinter in an Olympic stadium doing their race, and I can track that with a camera really easily. Cameras have been tuned to recognize the human form and whatever algorithms are built into their little tiny brains these days. Well, and if you think about it, so many cameras have facial recognition, well, how does it know what a face is and what is a face? Well, it's not looking for dog faces, it's looking for human faces, so there's something about the human from that a camera has been tuned to identify, and prioritize, and its ability to focus. So I'm constantly fighting against some of those things that are engineered into the cameras, so fast, black dogs in bad light are like my nemesis. They are, and the smaller they are, and the fuzzier they are, the worse it gets, but I've taken that on as a challenge. Okay, so that is my hardest subject, fast, tiny, fuzzy, black dogs in bare light, so what I do is make sure that my film and my gear is all prioritizing being able to take a picture of that worst-case dog, and it's nothing against black dogs, believe me, but they are just the hardest thing to photograph, and there's nothing like that in the human sports, or even cars, or you know, whatever.
There's nothing like it out there, and so that’s the most unique challenge I think, and so every time a new camera comes out I'm always hoping for some feature that makes my job of photographing a small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light a little bit easier, but even just the typical dog, you know, they do move very fast, they can move in very unexpected directions, they have really good reflexes, and so tracking that motion can be very difficult. They don't speak English, so if you want to tell them hey, pose for me, you got to figure out what that word is, you know, is it treat, or is it go for a ride, or is it are you ready. Figure out what the trigger word is to make their ears go up, and their mouth close, and their eyes kind of get a little brighter and go oh, oh, something's going to happen, and then that's the moment you click, as opposed to a human where you just say okay, look at the camera, and then you say cheese, right, and everybody follows directions. Now, when you get a teenager who's really not into this you might still get some not so great results, but at least you can speak to them in a common language. Well, and the other challenge I'm fighting that is actually fascinating to me is as people work on their relationship with their dog, which is a fabulous thing, and that’s one of my favorite things about going to a dog show and seeing those relationships, but as they do that it makes it really hard for me if I'm trying to do a picture of the human, and the dog, and a ribbon, the dog is gazing adoringly at the human, and I can't get them to look at the camera. I don’t care what word I throw out. There are times where the dog won't look at me because they are so engaged with their human, and that's a lovely thing, and generally, it's not been a problem, you know, the person is generally okay with that, but still, if you want to get the dog it's kind of a funny, you know, it's a good thing that the dog is so engaged with their person, but it makes my job just a little bit harder, so it's those weird things.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned kind of following gear, and new things coming out, and things like that, so I was curious what equipment you use and you know, you kind of got a little bit into the why there, but if there's more you want to elaborate on?
Amy Johnson: Sure. No, and oh man, I could talk gear for hours. I love gear. I love camera gear, and it's a really good thing I have a job that lets me write it off because otherwise, that would be a problem. So I shoot canon, primarily, and I have canon's top of the line sports camera. It's called the 1D X Mark II. It is their latest and greatest and it shoots 14 frames a second. It has a really high ISO rating or can shoot at a really high ISO, which is the piece that's critical in shooting in the really bad lighting, and actually, my definition of bad lighting is somewhat different than the average Joe Shmoe on the street, you know, a camera needs a descent amount of light to shoot in, and our eyes are amazing, our eyes can really come in the huge range of lighting conditions, and cameras aren’t quite to that point yet, so I need to high ISO so that I can have a high shutter speed so I can stop the motion of my small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light. A Canon Body is the best that money can buy, at least in terms of an SLR. I use what's called fast glass, and that means that it's a lens with a really big opening for the light, it's a big aperture, and so my favorite lens for shooting agility is a 400mm F2.8, as my husband says, it just means is has a really big light bucket so it can collect a lot of light, and make sure I'm getting enough light to again, get that fast shutter speed so that I can stop motion.
I also have a Nikon camera, and I bought that about six months ago, primarily, because I felt like I needed to learn Nikon camera bodies for my students. I am able to give really specific advice and troubleshooting information about Canons, and I was not able to give that same level of troubleshooting advice for Nikons, so I got a Nikon D500, which is not quite the top of the line, but it's a really good performance camera for wildlife, and I got a big lens for it, and I use that for a lot of my bird photography these days. So learning the other major brand of camera has been a really good experience for me. It's given me a new appreciation for oh, yeah, this is what it's like to open up a camera that you've never had your hands on before, and be a little overwhelmed by all those buttons, and dials, and menu items, and all that, but yeah. So my equipment, I tend to get the best I can, which is easier for me to justify, again, because it's a business, as opposed to just a hobby, you know, you got to be a little more careful about how you spend that money, but I do love gear. You know, there's also of course, all these accessories. There's monopods and tripods, you know, there's more lenses than just that 400mm, and that could be a whole other podcast episode.
Melissa Breau: It's really kind of awesome that you are able to provide that kind of support in a class or to a student when you're talking about a Nikon versus a Canon. I would love to dive a little more into what you cover in your classes at FDSA. What are some of the skills you teach? I know right now I think there are two classes... Are there more than that on the calendar?
Amy Johnson: Right now, what's coming up in August are two classes. One of them is my foundation class called Shoot the Dog, and in that class, we really just start from assuming people are starting from ground zero. We learn the basics of exposure, we talk about shutter speed, we talk about aperture, we talk about ISO, we talk about the effects that each of those has on the way a photo looks, as well as just the technical details of, what does it mean to have a fast shutter speed, or what does it mean to have a wide open aperture versus a closed down aperture, and then what does ISO mean? We don’t delve too deeply into the uber techie stuff, but we do talk about that a bit, but really, it comes down to if I change the shutter speed how does that change how my photo looks? If I change the aperture how does that change how my photo looks? When should I care most about aperture, and when should I care the most about shutter speed, and we really work on kind of creating photos that communicate to a broader audience than just you yourself.
So one of my students used the phrase that she had read somewhere, and I don’t where, but the difference in doing an emotional portrait and a photograph, and we kind of laughed about it at first, but the more I think about it I think that’s an important distinction. If I take a quick snapshot of my dog and it's not really in focus, and the light's really not that great, but there is something in that expression that just screams oh, that’s my dog, that’s like the essence of my dog. It doesn’t matter about the technical bits. It doesn’t matter if it's not quite as sharp as I would want it to be. It's an emotional portrait. I have an emotional connection to that. Now, if I post that online my friends are probably going to say oh, that’s great, yes, that looks like Costner, that is so Costner, that's wonderful, but if I post it to a photography site in general, they're going to think I'm crazy because they can't see that emotion, they don’t know my dog, they don’t understand that, that is his quick, essential, expression. They think I can't really see what's going on in his face because the photo's a little dark, and I can't see his eyes all that well because it's really not that in focus, so what I really want students to do is to be able to conquer those technical bits, the sharpness, and the exposure so that they can make the soul of the photo really come through, and be obvious to anybody, rather than have all the technical stuff be in the way and mask the true soul of that photo, the true meaning of that photo. So that's a hard thing for people to do because it takes stepping back and really applying a critical eye to your photos and saying oh, yeah, I see how I can see the dog's expression, but I can see how someone else wouldn't be able to see it and read it as clearly as I can, because they don’t have the emotional connection to the dog, to the subject that I do. So that's something that really has started to be a common thread in all of my classes. We want to move beyond the emotional portraits, and believe me, they have their place, you know, I don’t have any beef with them, but in my classes I want to move beyond that and into something that can speak to a broader audience, and get that emotional connection across.
Melissa Breau: So in August you're teaching a foundational class, and what's the other class that you're offering?
Amy Johnson: The other class is called Chase the Dog, and this is kind of my wheelhouse, and that is dogs motion, so we'll talk about…I kind of break it down into two different kinds of motion. There's motion that's predictable, and motion that's unpredictable, so the prime example of motion that’s predictable is agility, and you know, in general, there are always exceptions, but in general, the dog will go where it's supposed to go. There's a pre-established path, their obstacles are numbered. You do this one, and then you do that one, and then so I know when I can anticipate where the dog is going to be at any point in that run, so I can do things differently with that than if I'm just photographing a dog that is having a good romp in the field for play time, so that would be the unpredictable motion. So you let your dog out and you want to take pictures of it just playing around. Well, unless you set up some sort of fencing it just portions the dog's path, you know, you have no idea where that dog's going to go, so tracking that…camera's, you know, there's a limit to how fast they can track that motion, and then there's a limit of how fast I physically can track that motion, and this is where our fast dogs…you know, this is tough, there's a lot of skills, and a lot of practice that just has to happen of getting that muscle memory in you, and once you can track your own dog really well that doesn’t necessarily mean you can track another dog, because all the dogs have a different rhythm, they all have their own unique characteristics about how they move.
So the class is really about offering some skills for how to do both predictable and unpredictable motion, but it's also about setting some realistic expectations of what can I expect to get out of, you know, a 10 minute photo session with a dog just running and playing in the field? Well, you're not going to end of with every photo being perfectly in sharp, or perfectly in focus, and you know, a true winner. You're going to get a lot of junk, and that's okay, and that process of being okay with the junk is really hard, and take someone like me saying it's okay, I have those too, and what students in the class are going to see are a lot of my…you know, rather than just the edited versions, here are the ones that I kept, they're going to see well, here was a whole series that I shot, and notice how many of those were actually good photos, and notice how many of those were not so great. Here's my junk. They're going to get to see my junk photos. Okay, well, I better be a little more careful here. They're going to get to see my junk photos, and I think that’s a really important process to understand that there's no camera in the world good enough to capture everything, so let's talk about what's realistic, let's talk about what you can expect, let's talk about ways to increase the percentage of those keepers, but let's also become comfortable with the idea that you're going to have some clunkers in there.
Melissa Breau: Now I wanted to ask if there's one piece of advice that you can give listeners, something they can start working on today or tomorrow, to help them take better photos of their dogs, what would that be?
Amy Johnson: The first piece of advice I give everyone who asks me that question is to get down to the dog's level, and it's really easy, and it's really basic, and it does not matter what kind of camera you have, but if you change your perspective instead of shooting the photo from your standing height and looking down on the dog, get down to their level. You know, if you've got a tiny little dog it may mean that you are on your belly in the grass taking a picture of that dog, but you will be amazed at how much of a difference that makes in the photo of your dog. If you don’t want to get down to their level then bring them up to your level, so if you have a grooming table throw a nice tablecloth over it and put the dog up on the grooming table. Bring the dog up to your level. Just be on the same level as the dog that you're trying to take a picture of and it transforms the whole thing, so that’s my go to piece of advice for anybody.
Melissa Breau: That's great because that’s something that people can really just go do.
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I know that we're talking about kind of a little bit of a different subject than we usually do here on the podcast, but I still wanted to ask you those key questions that I always ask at the end of an episode, because I'm going to let you go into photography related stuff if you so choose. So to start, what's the dog or photography related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Amy Johnson: There's the experience of going to the national and that's huge, that's great, and there's a feeling of kind of I've arrived with that, but the most recent thing that I'm proudest of is actually my experience at camp. I had five of my students that came and were my minions, as I called them, and they were the ones who actually did all of the photography for the events at camp, and being able to stand back and watch them in action I was really proud of them, and that was a more of a feeling of accomplishment than going to a national. Don't get me wrong, I love going to nationals, I love interacting with people, I love watching a great run, and then being able to find them later and say I saw that run and that was phenomenal, and it was beautiful, and I was so happy I was able to capture that for you, but working with students and then watching them take the skills they've learned in my classes and do that for others, you know, capture those moments, that was cool, that was really hard to beat. And now to extend on that, one of my sons is showing interest in photography, and he was able to shoot the jumpers courses at AKC trial that I had shot last weekend, and so again, when I had a break I went over to his ring and just stood back and watched, and seeing the next generation whether it's, you know, the literal next generation or just a new group of photographers that have come through my courses, being able to pass that information on has been really an amazing experience.
Melissa Breau: That's really cool because it's something that you managed to learn from your father and now you're passing it on to others.
Amy Johnson: Exactly. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of advice, and this can be either production or photography, that you've ever heard, and bonus points if it applies to both, but it doesn’t have to.
Amy Johnson: The best thing that I've learned to do over the years, and I don’t know that it's ever been told to me exclusively, but it's the thing that I have learned to do is to slow down, and to think, and to just breath, and so that is the thing that I try and tell my students all the time because there's this urge to…the action in front of me is happening really fast and so that means I have to grab my camera fast, and throw it up to my face, and press the shutter, and get the picture really fast, and it doesn’t work that way, or it doesn’t work well that way. So taking a moment to make sure your camera is set correctly for the situation you're trying to photograph, making sure that you understand what's going on in front of you, and can maybe anticipate what's going to happen next, and then just breathing because if you get out of breath or find yourself holding your breath because you're just so excited you end up messing it up more often than not. And that advice I think applies to dog training as well. Slow down, think, just breath, and that kind of brings you back to center, and lets you focus on what's important, and focus on what the task at hand is. Block out everything else that is going on around you and just take it one thing at a time, and the results will be much better.
Melissa Breau: Bonus points earned. So our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Amy Johnson: There are two people that come to mind immediately, and it's not because of their dog training skills, it's because of the way they handle pressure in running their dog businesses, and so the first one is Denise. Who isn’t amazed by Denise and the way she handles FDSA really, and not trying to get brownie points from her, but as a business owner myself it's really important to find those people who are running their own business, and who I admire how they handle that business. You know, Denise has the pressure of thousands of students. She has the pressure of all of the instructors who…meeting some of them at camp was an eye-opening experience, and I love them all, but I admire Denise even more for her ability to handle all of us and our quirks, but to watch her handle that pressure of both the negative and the positive has become important to me. I know one of her things is people won't remember what you say, but they'll remember how you made them feel, and that is a phrase that runs through my mind constantly as I am dealing with customers, or if I'm dealing with students, and even with my family. It's changed the way I interact with everybody, including my family, and to say in my mind, you know, yes, I really want to make that snarky comment, but that's probably not the best way to handle it because it's going to make me feel better, but it's not going to do anything for our relationship, and it's not going to do anything for them and the way they feel, so that's been a really good thing for me.
The other person that I look up to for similar reasons is Carrie DeYoung, who is the head of AKC agility, and I work with her a lot because I do both of AKC's big agility events for the year, so I watch her and how she interacts with her staff, and then watch how she interacts with the exhibitors at those national events, and her calmness, and her…I have never seen her flustered. I'm sure inside there are probably moments of, you know, face palm, or screaming, or whatever, because we all have those, but she does a really good job of on the outside she holds it all together, and that’s something that I don’t always feel like I do very well, but watching her has helped me do that better, so she's another person I really admire in the way that she…granted, she doesn’t own AKC, but she is the queen bee of the agility piece, and I just really admire the way she handles all of the…I mean, if you think about any agility organization there are things that people want to tell them to do differently, things they like, things they don’t like, and to be able to handle all of that constantly takes some real talent and skill. I mean, I admire anybody who trains dogs because I don’t have that talent, and I don’t have the patience to develop it. I know that I could, but it kind of goes back to the whole I live with dogs that are dumber than me, and so I mean, I love watching good trainers, I loved coming to camp and watching all of these amazing instructors that I get to call my colleagues. I loved watching them work with people, and with dogs, and that kind of level of discipline fascinates me, so there's lots to admire about the training side in the dog world in that respect, but for me what's been most important is to find those people, and specifically, women that are at the top of their game and dealing with those pressures that come with being at the top of their game.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amy.
Amy Johnson: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure.
Melissa Breau: It was. It was a lot of fun to chat. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Kamal Fernandez to discuss what it's like to be a man, in a female dominated job. Just kidding. We'll be chatting at FCI style of heeling and more. If you haven’t already subscribed to the 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.
Lori Stevens is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA. She is also the creator of the Balance Harness.
Lori's most recent of 3 DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called 'The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs.' It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time, with a class on the same topic, called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Seattle TTouch (Lori's Website)
To be released 8/4/2017, featuring Amy Johnson talking about taking photographs of our pets.
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 Lori Stevens. Lori is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. She uses intimidation free, scientific, and innovative methods in an educational environment to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals.
Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator of the balance harness. Lori's most recent of three DVDs by Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao, and called The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs. It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time with a class on the same topic called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Hi, Lori. Welcome to the podcast.
Lori Stevens: Hello. Thanks for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to shout today.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So to get us kind of started out, can you tell us a little bit about your own dogs, kind of who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Lori Stevens: Yes. So I'm going to talk about two. One is with me now because both of them actually got me into this business. So right now, I have a 12 year old Aussie named Cassie, and I got her when she was two years old, and at two, what I was working on is very different from what I'm working on now with her. At two we worked on a lot of behavior related issues, especially on leash, what you might label reactivity. She was barking a lot every day, she was unfamiliar, really, with being out in the world, and so I learned a lot from her. Basically, you know, how do you calm, and communicate, and build trust with the dog that basically didn’t have trust in the world, so I learned loads from her, and we're always working on life with her.
Our sport is fitness. We started out in agility, but over time, I figured out that, that was really hard for her, she wasn’t really enjoying it, probably because of all the environmental sensitivity, and as much as I worked with her it just didn’t seem like her thing. She loved it when she was running, but when she wasn’t running it was really hard to hear all the noises and see the other dogs running, so we moved on, so now we do fitness, we do standup paddle boarding, we do lots of hikes, and now I'm living with an aging dog.
So I actually have firsthand experience now in living with a dog that’s getting older, but I wanted to bring up my first dog because that is the dog, Emmy, who got me into any of this work at all, and basically, she had a lot of health challenges, a lot of physical challenges, I learned just loads of stuff from her, and that’s how I originally got into TTouch Training and massage, so I'll talk a little bit about that more, but I just want to bring up that Emmy is always present, even though she's been gone 10 years. She's been gone quite a while.
Melissa Breau: They do manage to have quite a lasting impact sometimes.
Lori Stevens: That is so true. So true.
Melissa Breau: So what led you to where you are now? I mean, you started to mention Emmy a little bit, but how did you kind of end up working with dogs for a living?
Lori Stevens: Well, so Emmy had all these physical issues and I just took a TTouch class, basically, to learn things to help Emmy, and I kept going to my vet, and my vet kept saying you're just doing wonderful work with her, if you would just get cards made up I would send all my clients to you, sent lots of clients to you, and it's kind of strange because…I won't say when, but way back when I ended up with a degree in computer science, but before that I was in occupational therapy, and I was also in the University Dance Company. I danced for many years, so I have this kind of weird dual interest, both in things physical, movement, bodywork. I always had that interest with occupational therapy and dance, but then I ended up in IT for many, many years. I just retired from the University in April 2017, from the university of Washington, but in 2005 I started my practice, and that was at the urging of a vet, so I got cards made up, and I didn’t really think a lot was going to come of it, but in fact, that built my practice. So I went to four days a week at the University and had a practice one day a week for a long time, and then I went half time at the University. I just kept, you know, kind of building my practice and working in IT, and am out of IT, and totally focused on animals, which is fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Indeed. Congrats. That’s so exciting being able to focus on that full time.
Lori Stevens: Yes, it is. Now I'm spending full time writing this course, which is really great fun, but it's a lot of work, and so it's a good thing I don’t have my job too.
Melissa Breau: So there are lots of kind of interesting pieces there, right? Just kind of all the different things that you work with, and all the different techniques you have, but I want to start with TTouch. So for those not familiar with it at all can you kind of explain what it is?
Lori Stevens: I can. You're right, there's all those pieces, and oddly enough, they do all fit together, but what is Tellington TTouch Training? So people here touch and they think it's only body work, but Tellington TTouch Training is actually a lot more than body work. It is body work, and there are a variety of body work touch techniques, but there's also an element of it that is movement, which includes slowing down dogs and having them move precisely over various equipment on different movement patterns over different surfaces, stopping, turning, really slowing down the nervous system and letting them feel themselves, their bodies, in a way that maybe they haven’t felt them before. It's interesting how many dogs move really, really fast, and it's uncomfortable for them to move really slowly when they're working with someone, so you learn a lot from that, and there's also several tools and techniques that go along with TTouch. One of those is leash walking and making it more comfortable for dogs to walk on a leash, and to fit well in their equipment, and that’s pretty much how, you know, it's that awareness that caused me to develop, over years, the balance harness, but there's also the really learning to observe the dogs, and to give them choice. So there's a lot in TTouch that many years ago other people weren’t really focusing on, and now, thankfully, many people are focusing on it all over the place, so it's kind of nice that, you know, it's now overlapping more with other work that people are doing, and anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea, but it's not just body work.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to ask kind of how it works too, and does it work for all dogs, is it something that works, you know, for some dogs better than others, is it something I could learn to do? I mean, how does that all kind of work?
Lori Stevens: Absolutely, you could learn to do it. Does it work for all dogs? I have to answer that…and you know, of course, there's an element of it that works for all dogs, but you have to define what you mean by works, and everything depends on the dog and what you're trying to do, but the thing that makes Tellington TTouch work unique is that it's not habitual. In other words, the way you touch the dog is not the way the dog is used to being touched, so it sort of gets the attention of the nervous system in a different way. The way you move the dogs is different from how they typically move, so it kind of gets their attention in another way. It's almost as if they're listening to the work sometimes. It's super interesting. The nice thing about it is that I can get a dog that’s so fearful in my practice that I can't touch the dog, but I have other tools to use with that dog, so I can move the dog, and over time, with that movement I build trust and we have a dialog going on between us, and eventually, that dog says okay, I'm ready to be touched now. I mean, they really do, they come up to your hands, and then once you start the touch work you've got another set of things you can do, so it's really got a depth to it that isn’t so visible on the surface, and the fact that it's called TTouch often just leads people into thinking that it's just this one thing where you touch your dog.
There's work in humans called Feldenkrais, so it was developed years ago, and it's a technique that moves people in nonhabitual ways to kind of develop new neural pathways to give them freedom of movement again. So people that have serious injuries, and they're, you know, varying them for whatever reason, a variety of reasons, have very limited movement, they can work with the Feldenkrais practitioner, or in a Feldenkrais class called Awareness Through Movement that really slows down and moves your body into nonhabitual patterns to regain new freedom of movement in your own body. It teaches your body to move in another way to get to the same place. Linda Tellington Jones, who developed Tellington TTouch Training, went through that Feldenkrais training for…she did it in order to work with the riders in our Equine Center, the horse riders, so then she started applying those ideas, and those techniques to animals, and that's where the work came from.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: I know. It's a well-kept secret.
Melissa Breau: So you know, you're also a small animal massage practitioner, and you're a certified candidate in massage, so how did those pieces kind of mesh? What are some of the differences between something like TTouch and massage, how do you use them in conjunction?
Lori Stevens: There is overlap and there's also quite a bit of difference, so with my massage training I can really focus on if I'm working with a dog who is super tight in the shoulders from doing too much agility over the weekend, and has big knots, you know, I can get those knots out because I have that training. Also, my training is in rehabilitation massage, so I can do manual lymphatic drainage, so if the dog has lymphoma say, and has huge swollen lymph nodes in the neck that you can actually see how swollen the lymph nodes are, I can do this very gentle work to bring that swelling down, to move the lymph node system lymph fluid again, so I can do very specific work that has a very physical effect.
In TTouch body work I can work on a tail and change the behavior of a dog, so…what? So it's very different, you're more working with fascia and skin in the nervous system than you are working muscles, although muscles can change as well. Both of the techniques can change gate. It's all very, very interesting how, you know, both of them can change gate from working on the bodies, and I'm sure there's a lot of overlap, even when you're focusing on different things, but they really have kind of a different focus. And the TTouch work is much…I won't say lighter, because they both can be quite light, like even when I'm working on a knot in a muscle I don’t dig in there, you know, I'm very…I go with the muscle, but I would just say they have a different focus, and therefore, you can end up with a different result. And the TTouch body work can actually…I see more changes in behavior than I do with massage, and I don’t know if that’s because I'm focused upon that, I don’t know. I mean, it's kind of interesting, but you know, when a dog gets really uptight, often times out on a walk, my dog's tail will start to go up. That will be one of the first things I see. Maybe her ears and head, but I'll see her tail go up. If I actually reach down and just stroke her tail and bring her tail back down it actually brings her back down.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, I know. It's kind of interesting. I might have to teach that in my next Fenzi course.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I'd certainly be interested in learning a little more about it. So it sounds like to me…and I could be totally of base, obviously, but if the TTouch is a little bit more focused on kind of the physical and behavioral tied together, whereas, the massage is more kind of on the physical and performance side. Is that kind of right?
Lori Stevens: Well, sure. You can put it that way. I would just say they are different techniques. There is overlap, but there are different techniques. TTouch in no way does it do manual inside drainage, for example, that is a massage technique, and when I'm doing just message to get knots out I'm not generally looking for changes in behavior. I'm looking for changes in the body. So…I don’t know, I mean, they're both touching the body, both body work.
Melissa Breau: Now, you're also a certified canine fitness trainer, so how does that factor in?
Lori Stevens: So that factors into the movement work, so I have been doing the Tellington TTouch training moment work for years, and it wasn’t really getting dogs to the point that…it wasn’t getting them where I wanted them to go if they were showing weakness in their muscles. Having a background in dance and being active my entire life, I was really looking for ways of helping the dogs be stronger, and more flexible, and more agile, and more confident, and blah blah blah, and some of those TTouch gave, and some of those it didn’t, so it was natural for me to take it a step further. I mean, all the stuff I do sounds like a bunch of certifications, but they're all really interwoven. I had been doing some fitness with dogs for years, and then when the University of Tennessee offered the certified canine fitness trainer program and partnership with Fitpaws I jumped on it, because that was the first program that I saw that I thought would be worth doing, and just going ahead and getting my certification in it, plus I learned things.
When I see…especially a dog's age, is weakness, or you know, I see habitual movement patterns that maybe a dog got injured when they were two, and at six they're still carrying the same pattern, they just never quit taking all their weight off their back right foot, say, so fitness really allowed me to take it a step further and help those dogs get back to being more functional, and stronger. And it's really fun, and it's a fantastic way of building trust, and enjoying communication with your dog. It's just another…well, like I said, it's my sport, one of my sports, so I just think it's fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So I want to kind of shift gears for a minute and look at your interest in older dogs. What led to that? Was it Cassie getting older or was it something else?
Lori Stevens: No, no. I've been working with older dogs for years. It's funny how long I worked with them before I had one, although, I have had older dogs before, but because of the kind of work I was doing the veterinarians were sending lots of senior dogs to me, and because I was helping them get functional again, and helping them feel better I just kept getting them, so I had a lot of experience. Even in 2005 I was getting the older dogs sent to me and I just kept building up that knowledge of working with them, and helping them feel better. I wonder what year it was. I want to say it was 2014, but I can't be certain.
Kathy Sdao and I decided to do Gift of a Gray Muzzle together and really focus on aging dogs in a video in our workshop. We just gave that workshop recently again. It's kind of a passion of mine because you know, everybody when they get a puppy they're very enthusiastic about their new puppy, and you know, they have to learn a bunch of things, but there's a motivation to learn a bunch of things because you have a new puppy, you just went out and got it, but our dogs age gradually, and it's not the same kind of oh boy, I've got an aging dog, and I'll go out and learn all these new things. You know, books on aging dogs don’t sell, and the thing is that there's a real joy of working with aging dogs, and watching them get new light in their eyes, and watching them physically get through things that maybe they weren't getting through before, so anyway, that’s what led me to it.
Melissa Breau: To kind of dig into that a little more, what are some of the issues that older furry friends tend to struggle with where your training and presumably, also your upcoming class may be able to help?
Lori Stevens: Well, I think even with people, keeping our dogs minds, or keeping our minds and bodies active is incredibly important, and this thing happens as dogs age is they all of a sudden get really comfortable sleeping for a very long time, and I think we go…especially if we have more than one dog I think we kind of say to ourselves well, our older dog's fine, you know, I'll put more energy into my younger dog, you know, maybe don’t think that, but that’s what ends up happening, and then one day you notice oh my god, the hind end strength is going, and the proprioception is going, which both of those naturally diminish with age. I better say what proprioception is. Proprioception is your conscience ability to know where your body is in space during movement, so if you think of a toddler at a certain age, they can't hold their cup up with juice in it, they're just pouring it upside down and then they're upset their juice is gone, but then at a certain age they suddenly know how to keep their cup upright while they move. That's proprioception. Well, you lose it with age, and so you have dogs that used to be able to step over and run over everything, running into low poles, or low logs, or whatever, and so hind end strength and proprioception naturally diminish with age, and so in the course, and when I work with older dogs, and when I do the workshops, that’s what I'm helping people do is get those back.
Also, I think we’re not quite prepared as humans to all of a sudden, we have this senior dog, and our dog can't do as much as it could do before, and so we have to change as well, so how do our expectations need to change, and how can we make this time together, which hopefully, will be many years as wonderful as it can be. You know, we have to change our expectations, and rather them be disappointed, find joy in that as much as our dogs need to find joy in a different kind of life as well. Not meaning…this isn’t bad, this is all good stuff. I mean it all in a very good way. It's just that’s it's different, and so you know, in the course I give lots of tips on the easiest way to get your dog in and out of a car, or on the sofa, the functional things that dogs could do when they were younger, sometimes those go away, and so how do we bring back that function or maintain that function and joy with our aging dogs. So we'll be doing lots of activities in that course on keeping our dogs minds and bodies active, but also tools and techniques we can use to participate in making their lives as good as we can. Did that help?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So if you were to make one recommendation for everyone listening who happens to have an aging or older dog, what would it be? Is it about mind shift, is it about, you know, exercise? I mean, what kind of piece would you pull out of that?
Lori Stevens: Well, I certainly have one. Surprise, surprise. I would say be your dog's advocate, trust yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, be a detective until you get to the source. I can't tell you how many times the answer is well, your dog's getting older, you know, you're making stuff up, or that’s just natural, your dog's getting older, and there really has been something, so I do think it's really, really important to be your dog's advocate, and to trust yourself, and it's okay to take your older dog to acupuncture appointments, or TTouch appointments, or massage appointments, or swimming appointment, you know, whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better. That's a good thing, but if you notice that…and your dog feel better, but if you notice something seems off it can be really hard to find what it is, and just be your dog's advocate is all I can say. Go to another vet if your veterinarian isn’t willing to work with you through figuring out what it is.
Melissa Breau: And finally, the questions I ask in every episode. I want to ask you kind of the same three questions that I asked everybody whose come on so far. So to start, what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Lori Stevens: My observation skills. I mean, they have developed since 2005 and I'm happy that I can now recognize how developed they are, and how important observation skills are, and really honoring the dog's needs rather than my own agenda, right. I mean, you know, sometimes it's natural when you have a practice to think through I'm getting ready to see this person and dog, and here's my agenda for the hour-long session, we're going to do it, X, Y, and Z, and then the dog gets there and goes no, we're not, you know, I want to do something else. So really being observant to be able to tell that, and then honoring the dog's needs, and the person, of course, has the say in what you do as well, but you know, really honoring the dog's needs. And I've actually…I will say it's only happened once since 2005, but I lost a client for not forcing a dog to do things, so I didn't mind losing that client, but…
Melissa Breau: It's important to stand up for your principles and kind of do what you believe is the right thing.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, and I'm just not comfortable forcing dogs into position for a massage.
Melissa Breau: Right. So what about training advice, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Lori Stevens: You know, it's funny. I don’t really think these are what you have in mind, but…
Melissa Breau: That’s okay!
Lori Stevens: Yeah. Meet the dog where she is or he is. That was the best piece of advice I heard and that was in TTouch, but just kind of change to meet both learners, the dog and the person, where they are. You can't really tell people to change, right, you have to guide them gently, and kind of move with them when they're really to move. People have to decide for themselves to make changes, and communication is so incredibly important. I've seen dogs and people go from, you know, a pretty dark place to an incredible place, and I'm so thrilled with what, you know, with the influence that I had on that. I would have to say just meeting everybody where they are, and recognizing how important communication is, and that it's not just about what we think, or how we think it should be done, but bringing the person and dog along at their own pace.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Lori Stevens: Well, you know there's several, but I have to say Dr. Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez probably are two top.
Melissa Breau: Ken's well regarded among the FDSA staff. I've heard his name a couple of times now.
Lori Stevens: Yeah. He's pretty great. So is Dr. Susan Friedman. I think you'll hear her name more and more if you haven’t already.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lori. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
Melissa Breau: I feel like I learned a ton.
Lori Stevens: That's great.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Amy Johnson to discuss photography and our dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have or next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Dr. Debbie Gross Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over seventeen years and has both a masters and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field.
She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and is one of the founders of the Certificate Program in Canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee.
She has been widely published, both professionally and in venues for dog enthusiasts.
To be released 7/28/2017, featuring Lori Stevens talking about how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports broadcast 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 Debbie Gross Torraca. Dr. Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over 17 years and has both a master's, and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field. She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and as one of the founders of the certificate program in canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee, she has been widely published both professionally, and in venues for dog enthusiasts. Hi, Debbie, welcome to the podcast.
Debbie Gross: Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat with you. This is not a topic a I know a lot about, so it's always fun to learn something. Just to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about your own dogs, who they are, and what you’re working on with them?
Debbie Gross: Sure. Yeah. So I currently share my home and my life with two dogs. Bogaurt is a Clumber Spaniel, and so that’s a fairly different breed, and then we also have a nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel that was rescued. He was unfortunately beaten by a gentleman in uniform, that's all we know. So we've had him for about six years and we've had to overcome quite a lot of fear issues, and all that sort of stuff, so he's been my different sort of training in progress, and every day I learn from him, and the Clumber Spaniel does a little bit of everything. He's definitely…I've had Clumbers now for almost 10 years and they're just a joy to work with, and you know, people often will ask, "why don't you do agility or other sports with him?", and that’s where kind of I come in and look at the body frame, and that sort of stuff, even though a lot of Clumbers can do agility, his body is just not meant for that, so sadly, we stick to other things, and he's always my willing demo dog, or sometimes unwilling, so that’s always…yeah, exciting. He seems to know when it's guinea pig time and he'll take off if he doesn’t feel up to it, so.
Melissa Breau: He'll let you know if he's not in the mood, huh?
Debbie Gross: Exactly. I mean, he's like typical Clumber, so sweet, but about 22 hours a day, so.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know in your bio I left out some of the alphabet, you've got a lot of credentials, so I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about how you got into animal rehabilitation. What is it that drew you in that direction?
Debbie Gross: Sure. I've always been drawn to animals and you know, just adored them, and when I went to human physical therapy school there was a lot of hands on, a lot of palpation. Eventually, my roommates got tired of being guinea pigs, and at the time, I had an Alaskan Malamute and he was a more than willing participant, so I started to look at his body and say, oh, you know, if we could do all these things for people, why can't we do these for animals, and this was back in the 1980s, and one of my professors said to me, "don't be silly, this is a dog, no one's ever going to spend money or care about that much on a dog." So I kind of, you know, laughed at that and said, okay, and kind of kept that in the back of my mind, and I graduated. I took my first job in New York City and I was working with a lot of dancers in New York City Ballet, and definitely started to appreciate different types of movement, so if a ballerina or another type of dancer's missing five degrees of motion in their big toe, it's going to be significant. And I think about all those minor things so often today when I work with performance dogs, you know, dogs that are involved in high level competitions, but I stayed with human physical therapy for a while, always kind of thinking about my dream of working with dogs, and I fully just started to do a lot of independent learning, a lot of reading, spending a lot of time with veterinarians, and going to different vet schools, and studying anatomy, and things like that.
And then eventually, it turned into more and more, and I then started teaching at the University of Tennessee. And the CCRP letters are the Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, so I helped establish that program, and continued to teach with them, and it's really kind of, you know, it can be kind of a common sense thing. Dogs and other animals suffer many of the same injuries that people do. For example, an ACL injury in people is very common in dogs as well, and there are many different breeds that suffer with that, but things like arthritis, and neurological diseases, and sports related issues. I mean, certainly, everything that we know from the human filed we can just benefit, you know, help the dogs, so it's been pretty awesome to start out with this almost 20 years ago and watch it kind of just be an idea, and now it's definitely becoming more and more commonplace.
And I love looking on Facebook or talking to people from all over the world and they're taking their dog for rehab, or they're perusing other options, and they're doing things like that, which is just fantastic. Yeah. So that's been…you know, it is. It's great when, you know, and I laugh at the professor that I…every once in a while, I'll see her at a conference, and I'll say to her, hey, remember that kind of thought or dream I had, I said, that’s kind of what I do now 24-7 about, so. And a lot of people that have gone through rehab can definitely relate, and they understand, and so I'm always thrilled when more and more owners are perusing different options for their pets, and really, the moto of our clinic is every dog deserves the best quality of life for the longest time possible, and no matter if the dog is seven weeks old or 17 years old, you know, so important just to make sure that they're pain free and have the highest level of function. So it's really been this incredible journey and I love it.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk a little bit there about some of the differences and similarities between physical therapy for people and that for dogs. Are there other key differences you can kind of speak to?
Debbie Gross: Yes. So a lot of…you know, besides the obvious, people being biped and dogs being quadruped, I joke to a dog is not…they have no idea that something should make them feel better. You know, they're so truthful, they're…either a treatment's going to work, or it's not going to work, so there's no secondary games, they're not messing with an insurance company, or anything like that, but you know, for the same kind of similarities, whenever there's pain or inflammation there's going to be weakness that evolves. So like I tell my kids, if your body perceives pain it's going to shut off all the muscles in the area, so very similar. A person can say, hey, my knee hurts, I need to do something about it. Very often take an Advil or a Tylenol. A dog can't say that to an owner, so a lot of times that unless the owner is very perceptive and notices a slight change in their behavior, it's hard to determine if they're in pain until it gets pretty bad, you know, so recognizing pain is definitely a big difference.
I encourage all my owners, all my students, to make sure they go over their dogs on a monthly basis just to check for any pain, or soreness, or anything like that, but many of the on-scene treatment modalities that we would use in human medicine, we use in the animal. So like moist heat, or ice, laser or photobiomodulation is commonly used to help reduce pain and inflammation, and a lot of the exercises we do are very similar. Of course, we have to get a little bit more creative with a dog, but pretty much everything used in human medicine we could, you know, transfer over to the dog, so it's pretty cool.
Melissa Breau: Now, I think that veterinarians and the medical field in general isn't always known as the most positive part of dog sports, so I'd love to get your take on that. How do positive training and rehabilitation overlap, and are there places where they just can't?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. And that's a very good question. I belong to an organization, I sit on the board called Fear Free, and their whole goal and mission is to establish fear free veterinarian offices, rehab offices, looking at training facilities, boarding facilities, things like that, so it's all aimed at making sure the experience is positive and fear free. And certainly…you know, we laugh in our clinic because we're not the vet, so dogs come in and they know they're getting copious amounts of cookies, and it's going to be a great place, and they love it, and so I think it's very important to, you know, right off the bat we want to make sure the owner and the dog are very comfortable.
Certainly, dogs often will become fearful or potentially aggressive if they're in pain, so I always tell the trainers that I work with, assume that it's physical before behavioral. Now, I'll hear so many times from owners, "oh, my dog didn’t want to do the A-frame this morning. It's probably because…" You know, they make something up and then get steak for dinner. They swear they don’t think like that. You know, they probably didn’t want to do something because they're in pain. Something like the A-frame puts a lot of stress on the dogs back, and the hips, and stuff like that, so understanding if a dog is fearful, or doesn’t want to do something, looking at the reason why, you know, so is it pain that is prohibiting them from doing something.
And certainly, some dogs are not candidates, like we've turned dogs away because they're either too fearful, or they just can't do…they don’t want to do anything, and rather than forcing them, we won't do that. You know, and that's a little bit different than traditional vet medicine where dogs need to go in. They may need to get an exam, or their vaccinations, or things like that, but this fear free movement is fantastic, and you know, looks at everything from the lighting, their potential pheromones in the air to relax the dogs, and cats also, and other animals, so most the time in rehab dogs love it. They love coming into our office, and it's fun, and it's all positive, and you know, that's the way I want it to be. I mean, I love when the dogs pull their owners into the office, so you know that they're having a great time, so it's great.
Melissa Breau: Now, is there a website that's conceded with the Fear Free Organization just in case you'd want to look it up?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. I believe. I'll look. I think if someone just googled fear free it would pull up, and actually, fear free pets.com. So and their moto is "Taking the Pet out of Petrified," and it is very nice. It's a nice group that…and the number of practitioners getting certified in Fear Free are growing constantly, so you know, that's really great, and I highly encourage owners to seek out one of these facilities because they just are a little bit more in tune with things, and make the experience as positive as they can.
Melissa Breau: I'll make sure to include a link to the site in the show notes for everybody.
Debbie Gross: Perfect. Great. Perfect.
Melissa Breau: So I want to drill just a little bit more into rehab itself, rehabilitation sort of implies this idea that something's gone wrong and now it's time to try and fix it, so I was curious of how much of what you teach is about preventing problems, and how much of it is about really fixing them.
Debbie Gross: Great question. And we probably…I would say half the dogs that I see have an issue that can be fixed. So for example, they've had a torn ligament, they had surgery, and now we're rehabbing them, getting them back to normal. The other half is all about prevention and looking at what the dog does, what the dog needs to do, and how to get them stronger. So for example, we run a program called The Biggest Loser and it's a weight loss program, so we know that so many dogs…the obesity causes so many orthopedic issues, as well as other issues, and you know, helping owners and the dogs to understand how to get going, and just start a weight loss program, a successful weight loss program.
Then we have older dogs that just need some exercise, and they just need to get moving, and we'll start implementing a simple exercise program. And then on the other end of the spectrum are you know, some of your…we see a ton of conformation dogs where they need to get into shape, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been in shape, and they vary from doing something. We have underwater treadmills. They may run in the underwater treadmills for 30 to 45 minutes, just depending on what they're doing, and but you know, helping to build up their strength and conditioning. And that goes too with different athletic dogs, your Shih Tzu dogs, your agility dogs, obedience work, anything like that, so really on both sides of kind of fixing something, but also the goal is definitely preventing injuries from happening. So we do a little bit of both.
Melissa Breau: Now, are there things that dog sports enthusiasts should be doing to keep their dog in top shape, or does that kind of vary based on sport, or based on breed?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. That’s another great question. So I think that if we look at human sports, no matter whether it's on the collegiate level, the professional or Olympic level, any of our human athletes is involved in a conditioning program, so they have a program set for them, and they would never think about not engaging in a conditioning program, but on the canine side that’s not always the case. Now, I hear so often, you know, the dogs are just weekend warriors, so they just go to an agility trial over the weekend, and the owner does nothing with them during the week. And I think every dog, if they're involved in performance sports, whether it's just a couple times a month, or every weekend, they need to be in a conditioning program, and a conditioning program should definitely include core strength.
So working just like you and I would work on our back strength, our abdominals, all the large muscles of the body, working on endurance. So sometimes it's just simple walking or jogging, and then sports specifics, so a dog involved in agility is going to need more power or explosive events like plyometrics, working on their strength going over jumps, but also stopping quickly, and making sure that their shoulders and their hip flexors are strong enough, and of course, that will differ from your conformation breed. That may need more endurance to run around the ring and also more core strength, so it does depend on the sport, and its also going to depend upon the breed. And I often laugh where I love the big, you know, the gentle monsters, your Newfoundland's, and giant mastiffs, and you know, of course, their activity. If they walk 10 minutes in the underwater treadmill they're sleeping for the next 24 hours, where you have a Border Collie that's already active, they're going to need more exercise, so it will vary by breed, or also vary by age. So very young dogs anywhere under 24 months, you want to be respectful of their growth plates, and their psychological ability to exercise. And then on the flip side, your older dogs, you don’t want to overdo it either, so you want to be respectful, but hands down, any dog that competes in any kind of event, or just does it for fun should be doing some sort of core work, and it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.
Melissa Breau: I'd imagine that there are some injuries you see a lot more often in dog sports than others. What are some of the things that do crop up most often and you know, what are some of the things maybe you do when you work with those types of dogs from a conditioning standpoint, or even from a rehabilitation standpoint?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I think probably two of the more common injuries that have just been unfortunately gaining more popularity are iliopsoas injuries or injuries to the hip flexor, which is back near the front of the dog's hip, and shoulder issues. And I think the iliopsoas is a soft tissue injury and I've definitely been seeing an increase in these injuries as dogs are not really…they're being trained at a younger age without a lot of adequate core strength, and because they're being pushed a lot further, and they don’t have the strength in their core or their hip flexors, so they start to develop this weakness, and this injury, and it's probably one of the more stubborn injuries to rehab from, and part of it is because most owners…and I'm right up there, are impatient, you know, as soon as the dog starts to look better you want to get them out there and play. It's commonly injured by a dog slipping, or excessive ball playing, and that’s something that so many people love to do, toss the ball, and if the dog doesn’t have enough strength they're going to put a lot of stress on that area, but it's the same thing with the shoulder injury, the shoulders stop the dog from moving forward. So for example, when a dog comes over a jump the shoulders are what stabilize the body so the dog doesn’t fall flat on their face, and if there is a minor injury, weakness will develop and then it will start to become an issue. So really, with both of these cases, again, going back to lots of core strengths, and working on sports specifics, so working on the landing over a jump, and building up the strength, working on a lot of what's called eccentric strength, so you know, really preparing them for that. And the other things are proper warm ups and cool downs, so always making sure that the owners are working on that and doing that.
Melissa Breau: Now I know you're offering the Canine Fitness trainer courses through FDSA. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, kind of what they are what the goal is there?
Debbie Gross: Sure. So the fitness trainer courses are so much fun. They're such a great, dedicated group of people because there's four courses in a row, and the goal really is to educate people to either work more with their dog or go out there and help other dogs. So many of the people that have graduated and successfully completed the course and their exam are out there kind of for, you know, if we equate to people, working as a personal canine trainer, so helping dogs with weight loss, helping dogs with different types of exercises, and they've gone through…it's fairly intense. So the first two sessions focus on functional anatomy, so learning about the different muscles, and how to use them, and different exercises to give for them, tons of safety information, and you know, then kind of putting it all together, so talking about the different sports, and what they need, or just different dogs and what they'll need, and how to set up a program that's safe and effective, you know, for an individual dog. So it's so much fun, and I learn something every time we go through a different group of people because they're just incredible, you know, what they think, and the different types of dogs, and so it really has been fantastic, and it's a lot of work, and I'm so proud of everyone that's completed it because it definitely takes a lot of dedication.
Melissa Breau: At the end of the four classes they can take a test, right, to become certified, is that right?
Debbie Gross: Correct. They submit four case studies, so four dogs that they've been working with, and then there's an exam, yes, and then they become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer. Had to think of that for a minute.
Melissa Breau: Very cool. I want to talk too about some of the other classes you offer at FDSA. Do you want to just share kind of what they are and kind of what you cover in those classes?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I offer a bunch of different ones and one is the basic canine conditioning, which I cannot stress, as I said before, that anybody involved in dogs should…it's such a great course for people to take because it just goes over basic things that anyone can do at home, so it doesn’t have to be with equipment, or anything like that, but just basic exercises that anyone can do, and can make more difficult as demands, you know, for the dog.
And then the second canine conditioning course just gets into a little bit more depth, but we've had dogs that are 14 or 15 years old and the owners have just been working with them to improve their quality of life, and we've had other dogs that are high level competitors in class, and so it's so wonderful to see just the different effects simple canine conditioning can have on the individual dogs.
And I teach a course called The Bum Knees and that's…knee injuries are unfortunately very prevalent in dogs, and we talk about different prevention strategies for knee injuries, what to do if your dog has had a knee injury or does have a knee injury, and talk about, you know, safe exercises to go through. And I think there's a course on the iliopsoas, which as I mentioned before, definitely a muscle in an area that is just a hot topic, and it goes over also injury prevention, what to do, how to recognize an injury, and what to do, what different types of exercises.
And I believe there's a shoulder course does the same thing, but just focuses on shoulders. You know, we're looking at different types of should injuries and that sort of stuff. So off the top of my head, I think that’s it. There could be some more, but I love the other…oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say maybe you should do a few more.
Debbie Gross: Yes. You know, there's just so, so many wonderful things that people…people have been asking for a course for senior dogs, so maybe that will be my next project.
Melissa Breau: So I do want to ask you the same questions that I ask everybody who comes on kind of towards the end of the podcast. So what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Debbie Gross: I have to probably involve the dog that I have worked with for quite some time, and she continues to be just an accomplishment that I'm so proud of. A beautiful Irish Setter that I had worked with for a year and she had won, I think 31, best in shows, and it was just amazing to watch her move, and knowing what was kind of lying underneath her, so it was pretty fantastic, and her handler became her owner, and she had been retired, she had 15 puppies, and 14 weeks after the puppies he had come to me and he said, "do you think we can get her ready for Westminster?", and I looked at him and said, are you crazy? You know, this dog has been doing nothing for quite some time, had 15 puppies. And I accepted the challenge, and worked with her, and did so much with her, and I had gone to Westminster that year.
My own dog had won the breed in bullmastiffs, and a Portuguese Water Dog I had bred won the breed. And then I watched this beautiful Irish Setter, and she went on to win the breed, and so I was all done, ready to watch the groups, and I thought, okay, my day is done, I'm just going to kick back and relax, and this dog that’s an Irish Setter won the group, so she was going on to best in show. And it was, you know, just a pretty incredible experience and not only for me, but also for my staff, and then we did it, she went on to win Irish Settler National as a veteran, which was pretty incredible, so even though it wasn’t my dog, it felt pretty incredible to be part of that. So I look back on that and just knowing everything that she had to go through, so it was pretty incredible.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Congrats. So even though we didn’t necessarily talk about training today, I did want to ask you what the best piece of training advice you've ever heard is.
Debbie Gross: You know, I think, like I always tell myself, and I always tell people always listen to the dog. From what I do, dogs always tell us what's wrong with them. You just have to open up your eyes and your ears, and watch, and listen, and they'll tell you. So I know that’s not specifically training, but you know, from what I do, listening to the dog they always know what's right for them. If a dog wants to rest, there's a reason, you know, where sometimes we don’t listen to.
Melissa Breau: Right. And then finally, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Debbie Gross: There are a lot of people that I look up to. Probably coming from my background with structure and all of that sort of stuff, Pat Hastings is someone that I look up to, just form her knowledge, and I've taught with her a few times, and it's been, you know, pretty incredible. And probably too then, you know, from a dog looking at training and that sort of stuff, I am a big fan of Denise's and watching her calmness, how she works with dogs, and there are a couple people that train in my area, the same thing, you know, there's definitely people that just understand dogs, and dogs understand them, so yeah. It's hard to pinpoint to just one.
Fair enough. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Debbie.
Oh, thank you so much. 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 Lori Stevens to discuss supporting our aging dogs. 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.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
In this episode we share a recording of Denise Fenzi's Welcome talk from Camp 2017, followed by a newly recorded Q&A about camp, this year's theme, and how her welcome lectures have evolved over the last few years.
To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.
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’re bringing you a special episode. We’ll share Denise Fenzi’s talk on superheroes from our 2017 FDSA Camp Welcome session. Afterwards, we’ll have Denise herself on to answer a few questions about the session and about camp itself. Enjoy.
Deb Jones: So now I’m going to introduce you to our fearless leader and superhero, Denise Fenzi.
Denise Fenzi: I don’t know where this started, the whole costume thing, and the superhero theme is a pretty easy one, yes, and I bet all of you Wonder Woman, how many of you have looked at what Wonder Woman wears? I’m not going to wear underwear in front of these people. Well, if you’re not sure what Wonder Woman… would you come up here please? All right, there’s Wonder Woman, pretty close.
So I thought I would represent a more middle-aged Wonder Woman, and so that’s us, right? So I just thought that was a far better choice, and the shoes, for those of you who didn’t attend the first year, I wore the boots, and I’m very, very lucky I lived through that experience because I don’t wear heels, and they were like that. It was scary, but this year, I went with slippers. I just thought that was more appropriate for our age. There’s actually two reasons I wore… did not wear boots. One is our age, and the second is I was a little concerned about stepping on my dog, and yeah, if you can’t see him it’s because he’s invisible. He’s a super dog, and I didn’t want to hurt him, and can you imagine stepping on your dog with those big heels like that? The thing about my dog, he is a super dog. He’s not an ordinary dog. So if I had stepped on him, nothing would have happened. He wouldn’t have bitten me or run away, right because that’s what it is to be a super dog. Nothing bothers him, and if you notice, I just walked right in here. I didn’t let him acclimate at all, and then I just asked him to law down, and he’s in a perfect place now. Right there, Hannah. Notice the quality of that down, and I’m going to leave him there, and he is going to be no trouble until I’m done talking. He’s pretty good. That is because he’s a super dog.
Because he’s a super dog, he doesn’t need me to be a superhero. He doesn’t need me at all. If he needs anything, he just talks in real words. So if you want to be a superhero for your dog, it’s not going to be that easy, is it? Your dog doesn’t talk in words, so you’re going to have to maybe approach things differently. So let’s take a minute to think about what does a superhero do? Alright, so you’ve got Batman. We use props. Batman goes to a party. Bat is having a great time hanging out with friends, meets a nice girl, boy whatever. I think it’s time to sit and chat, having a drink. Friends are all there, and the bat call goes off, and what does Batman have to do? Get up and leave. Does Batman want to leave that party? Probably not, no. Do you think other people appreciate it when Batman, because nobody knows he’s Batman remember, jumps up and runs out? Do you think that girl thought that was nice that she just got abandoned like that, or the host of the party? He just left. Being a superhero is not a simple thing. It actually means you are going to be inconvenienced a lot because you know things that other people don’t know. Nobody else heard the bat call. You heard it.
So the first thing is Batman has to pay attention, and when he’s needed, he has to stop doing things that he wants to do because he’s responsible for the underdog, for the ones who cannot take care of themselves or cannot hear what needs to happen, and he’ll often have to do it at personal sacrifice. He can’t explain to people. He has to go. So to be a superhero, you actually have to have willingness to sacrifice to help others. You also need courage. It takes courage to walk away when there are people who don’t understand why you’re doing that. I will give you an example of courage. It happened to me yesterday. Eight o’clock in the morning, I lose my room key. Yes, some of them are laughing already. They thought it was funny. Sometimes, that’s how things work, isn’t it? So I went up to the front desk and asked for another one. This is not unusual. Would this be a good time to tell you that only the room owner can get a key? Probably that information will come up, that will be me. So anyway, I get my key, go to my room, walk in and see my costume. I’m like, “Oh, I’ll show the instructors.” So I put my key down, put my outfit on, zip next door, show them, and then can’t get back in my room. Now the choices are limited here, guys. You can go to the front desk, Wonder Woman style or what? I didn’t have a choice in that matter, right? So I did it. I’m like, in the room, “Oh, there has to be another way.” They’re like, “No, hunny, you go on up to that front desk.” That was forced courage. I am actually referring to the more organic kind where you get a choice. I mean, really what else can I do, just take off all my clothes? No.
So being a superhero for your dog is kind of similar to what Batman does for people. Your dog can’t talk. So you’re going to have to pay attention. You’re going to have to see some body language. If there’s one thing I can give to people, I tell all my classes this. If there’s one thing I can give to you to improve your dog training, you have to pay attention. If your dog is on a leash that way, and you’re talking to him this way, that’s a problem, all right because you’re supposed to be with your dog. You wouldn’t do that with a person, just have them out there on a leash. If you just pay attention, you will see what you need to see, but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll not see what is happening. So you won’t know that you’re needed. If Batman is listening to loud music, he does not hear the bat call. You have to pay attention.
So now that you’re paying attention, what are you going to do if you come into a space like this or a dog training class or whatever, and you see that your dog is struggling? Your dogs have a little doggie meltdown. The first thing is it would be very normal to feel resentful because you actually might not get to do what you had wanted to do. You might have spent a lot of money to bring your dog somewhere. You might have been so excited, so looking forward to it. People you want to see, friends you haven’t seen in awhile, but your dog is saying, “I need you right now.” There’s kind of a few things that you can do if you notice your dog is struggling, cover some basics. One is distance, if you can see the things that’s upsetting your dog, get further away and reassure your dog. Pet your dog. Tell your dog everything is okay, all right? It’s okay to do that. You will not reinforce the fear. The second one is can you change the intensity of what’s upsetting your dog? So let’s say the other dog’s barking, it’s the intensity that’s bothering your dog. Is there anything you can do to help the other person get their dog to stop barking? So think about that. Is there anything you can do to make the situation better? If it’s a room that’s very noise, can you go to a different room that’s just a little less noisy?
Time is a paradoxical one. The amount of time you are in an environment can have two effects on your dog. One is to make them feel better because they acclimate. They get used to the circumstances, but the other is they run out of good brain cells. What I say is especially reactive dogs, they’ll be good in the morning, but they run out of good. They just use up all their good, and then they’re tired and exhausted, and then really the only answer is the dog just wants to be taken out of this space. They can’t recover anymore, so be aware of the paradoxical nature of time.
So if you do all these things, isn’t it like a one-way street right, and you’re just feeding your dog all the time, and I don’t mean literally feeding, giving your energy. The thing is it’s not a one-way street because if Batman came in this room right now, and there was an emergency, where would every person in this room look? Every person in this room would look at the superhero because they have experience, and they know that person will keep them safe, will tell them what to do, and it’s going to be all right. So if you get in the habit of taking care of your dog and protecting your dog, what happens over time is when your dog is unsure about what to do, feeling a little nervous, your dog will start to look at you for direction, and will say, “What should we do now?” and then when you say to your dog, “Everything is all right,” your dog will say, “Okay, I believe you.” My dog is a super dog. The thing is that pup doesn’t exist. There’s no dog. There are no super dogs. There are just dogs, ordinary dogs. What you can do is take the dog you have and make it the best dog possible for you.
So today here, I want you to understand that you’re going to be a superhero to your dog as best you can, and we, the staff, the volunteers, and everybody else in this room, you will be a superhero to each other. If you need help, ask. If you’re struggling with your dog and you’re not sure how to solve the problem, ask and we’ll try to help you. We want this to be super positive experience for everybody because some puzzles are very hard to solve, right, and then you need to think about what is the right thing to do for your dog under these circumstances. Sometimes we can help you, but you have to ask, and we’ll step up and do what we can.
So Denise, you talked about two different ideas during your welcome, the idea of being a superhero for your dog and the idea that there are no super dogs. So let’s start with that first one, the idea of being a superhero for your dog. What were you really hoping that people would take away from that metaphor?
Denise Fenzi: If I had more time, I did mention, you know, if I could just get people to pay attention. That is a hard thing to teach. It comes with time. People sort of develop it on their own, but I find it difficult to communicate regularly, like when I’m saying it, I can get them to do it, and the analogy I use is imagine, as a parent, when you go out in the world with your toddler or young child, you don’t generally use a leash, and you don’t use a stream of M&Ms either. What you do to interact with your child and to get them not to run out into the street and get themselves killed is you pay attention.
So when you go to the park, and your kid sees a red ball, you’ve had enough time with this child to know if that even matters, but you’re constantly scanning the environment, right? It may not matter. Maybe your kid is into trains, and the next one is into balls, but you know when you need to pay attention, and the reason you know is because you have paid attention, and the reason you’ve paid attention is you didn’t want your kid to get killed, and you didn’t have a leash, and you didn’t have M&Ms. So all you had left was preventing it. So things like when I talked to people about if you have a problem, get further away. I don’t have to tell a parent that. If a parent goes to the park, and their child sees a ball, they already know how far it needs to be before it will be a problem, and now they are paying attention. If I could get that way of looking at it to human parents of dogs, my life would be much easier, and then you are a superhero, right? Then kids do look to their parents when they’re unsure because it’s always worked for them. So sometimes I just want people to visualize what a life would look like if you didn’t have a leash and you didn’t have food. Tell me you wouldn’t be way more in tune with your dog because you’d have no choice. So that’s what I meant by being a superhero, if you develop that relationship with your dog that you are paying attention, then your dog will naturally look to you for support when they need it.
Go to the vet, if you don’t know what that looks like. So go to the vet, and watch a waiting room full of people on their cellphones not watching their dogs, and their dog’s having varying forms of meltdowns, and some of the dogs are asking the owner, “Please pay attention.” They’re distressed. They’re clearly asking, and the owner’s paying no attention, and then there are other dogs that have completely given up on asking and are now making mischief in various forms because nobody is paying attention. These kinds of things, you know, when you watch it, it’s the saddest thing ever, you know, and I see this, and I see the dog just is asking for something, and over time, dogs stop asking when we stop paying attention. So if I can give people that, that would really help them both in a performance sense and just really in their enjoyment of their dog.
Melissa Breau: I feel like, I mean just kind of reading posts on the alumni group and things like that, that you often say basically, “Imagine your dog was a child, and behave appropriately.” That seems like a really helpful kind of metaphor for people to kind of understand the idea of what they should do instead of what they’re doing.
Denise Fenzi: Yes, it annoys some people because it’s sort of … scientists sort of say not to do that, but boy does it work. So at the end of the day, I’m a really pragmatic trainer, and I find that if I tell people to visualize their child as a 2-3 year old that they become much better trainers and owners. So I will continue to use my metaphors in spite of what some people think about them.
Melissa Breau: So the flip side of that, you know, instead of just being a super hero for your dog, you mentioned the idea that there are no super dogs, that despite the fact that you had your little pretend dog come out with you and do a perfect down and stay beautifully, that doesn’t exist.
Denise Fenzi: We live in a world where people communicate two things about their lives. Facebook is such a great example, right? You have those who focus on everything that goes wrong. If they have an unhappy moment, you will know about it because that’s just what they tend to do, that is how they process, that is how they great through the world, and that’s fine. Then you have other people who don’t believe in sharing any negative thoughts at all. So if you read their Facebook posts, you’d begin to think they must lead a truly charmed life, like wow, have they ever had a bad day? That’s great too, that’s another side. What I’ve noticed though is people do this with dogs. Say you go out and you bought a dog, if you bought a dog at eight weeks, and its purpose bred. So you bought it for dog sport, then you have a lot of stuff in your head about expectations, and then you go out and you look at other people in the world, and either their puppies are complete meltdown messed up horrors, and you’re going, “Oh please not that,” or their dog seems to be like these amazing dogs that never do anything wrong. That’s just not true, that’s because people present what they want others to see, and 95 percent of dogs are neither one of those things. It’s just that some people talk about all the wrong, bad things and other people talk about all the wonderful, great things, and that totally discounts the actual reality. The reality is 90 percent of the time, you’re all in the middle.
So you have a training session and on balance, you feel good about it, but there are one or two things that weren’t quite right, wrong balance. It wasn’t a great session, but honestly, if you look at it, there was probably right in there than you knew. The reason this is a problem is when people get their dog, they’re constantly comparing it to what they think other people have, and if you bought an eight week old puppy specifically to do things, eight week old puppies are generally not that damaged. I mean, how much can be wrong? You haven’t done anything yet. You haven’t trained that dog yet. So you’re not going to know what you have. It’s not until you actually get into the process three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten months of age that you start realizing that the puppy has issues. All puppies have issues. All of them one day will… I remember walking a dog over a grate, and the dog startled over the grate, and my first thought was, “Oh my God, what does it mean?” which is ridiculous. It means nothing. It means the dog stepped on a grate, but it’s very easy for us to say, “Oh wow, do I have to fix this? Does this matter? Is this career-ending?” We tend to do that, and the more people look around them and look at the things they like in other dogs, the harder they are going to be on themselves and on their own dogs thinking, “How come my dog isn’t like that? How come I didn’t get that dog?” Nobody got that dog. You choose what you want to emphasize. Every dog I have in my house has some pretty notable challenges for competition purposes, and I almost never talk about them because it’s not what I want to talk about with my dogs because if I do, it makes me focus on them, and it makes other people focus on those things. I’m aware of them, and I worked gently over time to try to make things better, but I try really hard not to focus on them, but then sometimes maybe other people think, “Oh she always gets good dogs.” That’s not quite true. I get the dog I’m supposed to have, and then I make the best out of the one I have, and I really work to see the things I love about the dog because I find that over time, people who find and focus on what is right, their dog becomes more of that dog. They live up to expectations. So I think that might be what I would have talked about again. I think I get 10 minutes for my intro so that is probably what I would have added if I was going to expand on that.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s so interesting because in a way, it’s almost like shaping other people’s impressions of you and your dog, right? Focus on the good or your focus on the bad. You’re positively reinforcing it or you’re negatively reinforcing it.
Denise Fenzi: I do talk about things that go wrong. I just don’t emphasize them, and I often talk about them after I resolved them. So I worked through this thing, and I talked about how I worked through that thing. So I acknowledge it exists. I think I’m honest enough about it, but I don’t dwell, and I think it’s the dwelling that is doing people in and making them wish they had a different dog than they have.
Melissa Breau: … and that’s more interesting for people to read about anyway. They don’t really want to read, “Oh woe is me” so much as it is, “Oh, how do I overcome this?”
Denise Fenzi: Yes, probably true.
Melissa Breau: So this year was the third year of camp and the third theme. So I wanted to talk a little bit, kind of take a trip through time here. So what was the theme the very first year? Do you want to share a little about that?
Denise Fenzi: What was the theme the first year? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that would have been the red dress year. Okay, so that came about, it was an accident, and I won’t go into that whole story, but anyway, I decided to do it because it was fun to dress up in the dress, and the basic idea was don’t worry about what other people think. So for those of you who didn’t see the red dress, it was a short red dress, and the boots had high, high heels, very out of character for me, made me quite nervous actually, but I figured if I can get through that, I could do anything, and honestly, the subsequent years have been easier, but the basic idea was don’t spend your energy worrying about what other people see and what they’re looking at. That’s not really what’s important. What’s important is what do you think is right and doing what you think is the right thing to do. So that was where I went that year.
Melissa Breau: So I hear echoes of that idea in this year’s welcome talk about the superhero theme. How is that idea evolved for you over the last three years?
Denise Fenzi: There’s kind of two ways I’m going to look at that. One is I put so much more energy into classical conditioning, how a dog feels, every single year that goes by than the last year. It actually amazes me now how much time I spent on this. It’s constant. So I think three years ago, I would have been seeing it more from a training perspective. So what I mean is I would have seen it more as skill based. When you’re in a public space, what should you be working on skills-wise, and I would say now, I am in my mind, I’m thinking more about emotion based. How is your dog feeling, and what are you going to do about that? So when I go, or when anybody goes to a dog place and choses to spend their ring rental time sitting on the floor petting their dog and playing ball, that’s an unusual way to spend your time, and I would say that is where I’m at now would be more about making sure your dog is comfortable, and three years ago, if you had asked me that question, I think it is more likely I would have talked about doing extremely simple behaviors. So that would be an evolution in my thinking because I don’t think teaching behaviors is hard. I think getting in the ring is hard. So that’s where I’m at, I think now.
In terms of the challenge level, I think every year that goes by, dog sports are evolving to becoming kinder and gentler, and I do think that dog sports enthusiasts are becoming much more educated just across the board, so kind of regardless of how they choose to train. I think knowledge of training, trained principles, approaches to training, options have skyrocketed in the performance world. So people are just much more knowledgeable, and as result, things that would have been particularly bizarre if somebody had seen you do it three years ago probably won’t seem bizarre anymore. They’ve seen it all. So the first time somebody trained with food 20 years ago, I’m sure that stood out like a sore thumb, and now we’re at a point where nobody would think twice about that. I think a person sitting on the floor and choosing to play ball with their dog for 10 minutes in the ring now would not get that much notice in many parts of the country whereas I think a few years ago, it would have. So we are changing. We are evolving.
Melissa Breau: Last year, your topic was more about being ripple and kind of spreading that message, right? You dressed up as a mermaid. What was the message there? What were you trying to convey?
Denise Fenzi: Well ripples and bubbles, we talk about those issues a lot within the schools. Ripples are spreading the information you have a teeny tiny bit at a time, which is not the same as cramming it down another person’s throat because that actually does not change behavior. So I spent a fair amount of energy that year sort of walking through how we might choose to approach people who are doing things differently than we are, how we might choose to approach a conversation if we choose to approach one at all, how we know when it’s time to walk away from the conversation or when it’s time to proceed so that you maximize respect for both sides. By doing that, you leave the lines of communication open.
Now the reason this is important is I have gotten emails or notes or whatever from people that I knew a very long time ago, and we’ve gone in different directions in our lives, and so we may all still be training dogs, but they have chosen to approach it differently than I have, but I get along with them fine, and what I have found is as the years go by, if they do want to make changes to how they train, if they want to explore alternatives may be gentler ways of training, they are comfortable coming back to me because I kept the lines of communication open. I’m not angry with them. I don’t think they’re bad people. I just think we’ve made different choices, and I’m available if they want to have that conversation, and they do.
If I go in kind of guns blazing, pissed off, “You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that,” well, I embarrass people for starters. At the very least, you embarrass people, but also you harden them and you actually make change that much harder, and that’s really what I talked about with ripples is how to do that in a way where you really, truly effectively change behavior, and the second part is the bubbles. That’s the idea that especially if you feel that you are in a minority position, whatever that is, so in obedience, I would say that positive reinforcement trainers are in a minority position, maybe not so much in agility though. If you are in the minority position, you need to have a place you can go that feels safe when you’re just overwhelmed with the reality of being different. Being different is hard. It’s exhausting, and if you always do things that are different when you’re around other dog people, it can feel very isolating. So your bubble might be your friends. It might be your family. It might be an online list that you subscribe to, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just a place where like-minded people can talk and decompress, and I think it’s really important that we have our bubbles because if you don’t, you end up a bitter person, and what fun is that? So that was the second part of that talk.
Melissa Breau: For anyone who’s listening who’s interested, I’ll include the link to Denise’s full talk from last year. She wrote it out and posted it. So I’ll include the link to that in the show notes. So if you want to take a look, you can. Now Denise, I also wanted to ask you just about the idea behind camp in general. Where did the idea for an in-person camp for an online dog training school come from?
Denise Fenzi: I don’t remember who it was. Maybe if the person knows, they can listen to this podcast and pop up. First of all, my husband was probably out of town because he’s usually out of town when I make mischief, usually. So he probably went away for a few days and left me unsupervised, and somebody said something along the lines of, “We should have an in-person camp,” and that would have been on a Thursday afternoon, and yeah, yeah, yeah, and then all these people saying, “Yes, we should. We should,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and by Thursday night, I’m thinking, we should have an in-person camp. So I sent a note to Terry who does a lot of stuff with me, and said, “We should have an in-person camp,” and she said, “Okay,” and we just did, and we had it arranged four days later. We had a location. We thought that’s all it took. So we’re smarter now. That’s all right, you learn. Anyway, we had a fantastic time. We did have a camp, and once you’ve done it once, and you’ve had a great time, then it becomes your annual camp, and now we have an annual camp. So I’m really excited about that.
Melissa Breau: So I know you feel it’s pretty important to have that kind of in-person aspect. Do you want to kind of talk about the value of that, and why you think so?
Denise Fenzi: Well, I live a lot of my life online. I’m very comfortable online. I have a lot of friendships that way, and I really value my online interactions and communities. I also have an in-person life, and I get different things from those two aspects of my life. So I have a family and a husband, and I do actually do things that are not dog related, and I think there is a lot of people out there who really are living their lives almost exclusively online or working, and I think we are losing community, and I think community is very important.
So one advantage to in-person training is that you go to dog training school once a week or wherever you go, and not necessarily in private lessons because when I was teaching, I was teaching private lessons. I’m referring to people who go to a school where there’s classes, and whether or not I think that’s good training, what I think it does offer is community, and I think it’s important to look at people and talk to people and interact and develop sympathy for the reality of life, not the online one which is what other choose to present to you. So I think getting people together in a like-minded community where we look at each other’s faces and become sympathetic to each other, I think is just critically important, plus the fun factor. I think camp is a whole lot of fun, and so I’m actively looking for ways to increase community, and I do encourage students who live in similar areas to get together, and they do. They’re all over the world, you know, these groups get together. So that is absolutely a driver for me, for camp.
Melissa Breau: I know, just kind of having personally been now twice. It is. It’s a lot of fun, and it really does bring that sense of community kind of home.
Denise Fenzi: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So finally, I know there was a bit of confusion about next year’s dates. Do you mind just kind of clearing that up for everyone once and for all? When and where will camp be held next year?
Denise Fenzi: It’s in Wilmington, Ohio, and I’m a little freaked out, but I’m pretty sure the dates are the 1st to the 3rd.
Melissa Breau: That’s what I heard.
Denise Fenzi: Is that what you think?
Melissa Breau: That’s what I think.
Denise Fenzi: Oh good, thank God. Yes, no, we’re good. We’re the 1st through the 3rd. We’re going to permanently confuse people. I won’t even mention the alternative dates so nobody has to worry about it, and it’s at the Eukanuba Center, Roberts Hall, I think it’s called, and I’m told it’s a super nice facility, and we will do the full round of things that we offer. So we should have a pile of instructors and a great experience either to audit or to work. So please, if you cannot work a dog, your dog is not suitable or you don’t have a dog, or you’d have to fly in, don’t discount this camp because it is the only dog sports camp, and it will give you different and maybe more things than you might get out of another camp if you feel like you’ve sort of covered it all. So if you’re a dog sports person, this is kind of a winner for you. So I hope to see some new faces. Every year, we grow so I know I will, but we are extremely welcoming of new people. So come, even if you come alone, and we will go to some trouble to make sure you’re not alone.
Melissa Breau: I have to say, even working as a volunteer, I feel like I’ve learned so much just going, and I’m so excited that next year is close enough. I can drive. So I can bring a dog.
Denise Fenzi: Oh, super.
Melissa Breau: Yes.
Denise Fenzi: Good for you, not me, but good for you.
Melissa Breau: So thanks so much for coming back on the podcast, Denise.
Denise Fenzi: Oh anytime.
Melissa Breau: All right, well we’ll be back next Friday, this time, with Debbie Gross to talk canine conditioning. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast and iTunes with the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!