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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

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

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Sep 29, 2017

Summary:

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

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

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

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

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Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

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

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

Hi Donna welcome to the podcast.

Donna Hill: Thanks for having me!

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

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

Melissa Breau: Happy birthday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Hill: Yeah. (Laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That's excellent and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Barbara Currier to talk about agility training and handling and I’ll ask her about her work with Georgia Tech which is creating wearable computing devices for military search and rescue and service dogs. Don’t miss it.

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

CREDITS:

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

Sep 22, 2017

Summary:

Cassia Turcotte has been involved with the dog training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999. She has a background in private behavior modification, and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, Search And Rescue  training officer, and taught classes for both reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003.

Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her  love of the outdoors, and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.

She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile real world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques.

Her students have titled dogs for both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you will most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak doing what they love most.

Cassia has titled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, conformation, and Nosework.

Additionally, she has been involved with both wilderness and urban Search And Rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness.

Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play.

She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/29/2017, featuring Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Cassia Turcotte. Cassia’s been involved in the dog-training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999.

She has a background in private behavior modification and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, search and rescue training officer, and taught classes both for reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003. Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her love of the outdoors and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.

She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile, real-world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques. Her students have titled dogs through both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you’ll most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak, doing what they love most.

Cassia’s handled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, confirmation, and nose work. Additionally, she has been involved in both wilderness and urban search and rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness. Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset, and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play. She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs. Hi, Cassia. Welcome to the podcast.

Cassia Turcotte: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To start us out, can you tell us a little about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, sure. I have six Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and they’re currently all in different levels of retriever hunt test training. Some of them are versatile hunting companions, so they do both retriever work and real-world hunting and upland hunting. I have one who just started nose work training, literally like day one, and she’s the one we refer to as the soccer mom.

She’s never done any performance sport before, and I didn’t get her until she was five, so she’s just learning how to learn, but everybody else is various stages of training, and we do the breed ring, so we do a little bit of tracking and a little bit of nose work.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. How did you get started in dog sports and training?

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, gosh. Originally, let’s see, I was involved with helping a sheriff’s department with laying tracks, and I think I was about 16, and they were kind enough to let me tag along on their training because I think I annoyed my parents to death training our cocker spaniel, and so they let me volunteer, and eventually, I did some decoy training with them, and I got really involved in search and rescue and ended up getting my own dog, and the dog I got at the time was a problem dog, so he had quite a few issues in terms of…he was, you know, nervous with people.

So we did the search rescue training just as kind of a fun thing to do with him, and he ended up becoming certified later down the road, which was kind of a pretty cool thing. So it sparked my interest in both behavior modification and how that works as well as, you know, performance sports and working dogs.

Melissa Breau: I don’t think there are many people who can say they got their start working with police dogs, so that’s a pretty neat start.

Cassia Turcotte: It was a small town.

Melissa Breau: So what got you started…I mean, maybe it was right from the start, but what got you started on positive training specifically?

Cassia Turcotte: Well, it was a little bit right from the start. I think I was fortunate to be part of a program that, while they certainly weren’t purely positive, they were really exploring newer methods, so I would say it was more a balanced program that I started out in, but the first dog that I started with, I had the grandeur that he was going to be a great retrieving dog, and I still remember taking the ball out and throwing the ball, and he took off after it, and it was going to be this great moment, and then he just sniffed the ball and kept on running, and he had zero retrieve desire whatsoever.

And so I ended up having to look for alternative methods to teach his retrieve, and that ended up being with Karen, how…you know, Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog, and we learned how to shape or retrieve, and it was all downhill from there.

Melissa Breau: So if you were to describe your philosophy now and kind of how you train, how would you describe that for people?

Cassia Turcotte: I think it’s really about living with and playing with dogs. You know, I love teaching. I like breaking things down, and I like for them to have a purpose, but I’m okay if they pick their purpose, you know? I have Chesapeakes, so generally, retrieving is something that they enjoy, but you know, my philosophy is really about let’s find what the dog’s good at and expand on it and teach them games and things that they really seem to naturally want to do, and you know, every dog has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s about finding balance and making them enjoy the things that are their weakness and how that works, so really just living and playing with dogs.

Melissa Breau: I know I mentioned in your bio that you believe dog training should be a form of structured play. It sounds like that’s a little bit what you’re talking about, but can you explain a little more what that phrase means, or at least what it means to you, and what it looks like in practice, like within a training session?

Cassia Turcotte: Sure. I think that…I’m trying to think where I actually first heard that term, and it may have been even Lindsey that said it, but really, it’s…you know, I don’t want the dog to feel like what we’re doing is work. If you feel like you’re being dragged to work every day, it’s mentally hard, but if they go out and they go, oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever, I can’t wait to do more of it, then the attitude’s up, the motivation’s up, and you don’t have any trouble with compliance.

You know, they’re really willing to play the game, and it’s fun. It’s fun for me and it’s fun for them, so you know, it’s one of the things…you know, how would it look in a training session? One of the things that we do in field work is called the walk up, and all that is, is a bumper is thrown in the air as you’re heeling with the dog, and it’s thrown in front of the dog, and the point of it is to challenge the dog to stay heeling and stay steady with you, and the traditional way would be to correct them for not doing that.

So in our way, we jackpot with Chuckit! ball or tug or food as a reinforcement for being steady, you know, so they see the bumper go up, and they sit, and we say, oh my gosh, that’s awesome, and we throw a Chuckit! ball in the opposite direction, and so it’s all a game, and it’s about keeping them guessing and mentally challenging them and getting it so that they really understand what they’re being asked to do, and they’re not just corrected for not understanding. So I think that’s pretty much what it would look lie in an average day.

Melissa Breau: So I know that you’ve got a new class in the schedule for October called Instinct Games - Leadership In Drive, so I was really…I wanted to dig into that a little bit and find out what that means, and then kind of what you’ll cover in the class.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, instinct games, the way I initially thought of it was all different types of dogs have different natural instincts, whether it’s sighthounds who see things or scent hounds who smell things or retrievers who, you know, as in my breed, they tend to pick things up. They don’t necessarily want to give it back, but they tend to want to carry things in their mouth, so there’s a lot of different natural instincts that are governed by the dog’s senses, and I think that’s the piece that as trainers, we frequently miss.

We miss that moment where the dog is…there’s a change in arousal or a change in stimulation based on the initial sensory response, so all of a sudden your dog’s toddling through the woods, and oh, their body language changes because they smelled something. You know, certainly search and rescue handlers notice those really minor alerts that a dog, when they first start getting with the something, but they haven’t gotten fully into a scent cone.

You know, I notice with my dogs, the second they’re watching a bird or a bumper fly through the air, they’re visually watching it, there’s a change in the body language and there’s a change in their stimulation, and I think that in general, in dog training, if you miss those initial moments, it’s really hard to stay ahead of the dog and to be the leader in the relationship and to kind of drive where you want to the train to go.

If you miss that first moment, you’re always reacting, and you’re behind the eight ball, and I think a lot of people struggle with that, so what I started doing with all of my puppies is just developing games that were meant to not only work on self control and impulse control and all of those things that we need for a functional adult dog, but they also work on developing the handler’s awareness of, oh, there’s that moment that I need to respond to, and how do you get that moment, an increased arousal levels?

So, you know, when you’re dealing with a high-drive dog, your reaction time has to be really fast, and to be able to really stop them out of motion, you have to be able to read them, and so it’s all about developing the team based on little games that mean nothing to any sport, but they can be applied to pretty much any sport you do with your dogs.

Melissa Breau: I kind of mentioned that you’ve done a number of different dog sports, but I’d imagine that something like hunt skills are very different than something like agility, so how does teaching those different skills kind of involve a different process for you, or how is it…maybe it’s very similar and just you kind of figured out the secret. I don't know.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, I think there’s a lot of vast similarities, and then there’s differences. I think the biggest difference between, say, agility and obedience with a breed ring for us would be that you’re generally within a confined space, whereas in fieldwork, the distance and the environment is such a big factor. So you know, even when I do other sports, going to a big venue where there’s big loudspeakers, that’s something I have to generalize, but we’re still generally in a similar looking ring.

When we do field work, you know, especially when we travel around the country, there are so many…there’s different plants, there’s different smells, there’s different animals, and there’s so many factors, and I think that’s the big thing. The generalization factor itself is the biggest difference, so it’s really just about people have to get out there and do it, and they have to do it in a number of different environments until their dog feels really confident doing it anywhere, and I think that’s one of the challenging aspects, but I think that the underlying teaching…you know, I teach my dogs to go over the hay bale the same way I would teach them to go over a agility jump, and in fact, I use a lot of the skills that I learned from agility instructors years ago to teach that stuff.

You know, look for the obstacle to jump over, so it’s a lot of that foundation stuff is going to be the same. I teach my obedient jumps the same way, so the underlying methodology is the same. I think it’s the generalization, that it really is different.

Melissa Breau: Now, kind of to pull those two questions together, I guess, is it possible to take the dog’s natural instincts and their drives, things like those things from herding or that nose work, kind of those things that are in them instinctually, and channel them for all sports, or is it kind of more specific to the sports…you know, some sports are a better fit than others, for those types of skills? Is it possible to kind of harness those things for everything? I mean, it sounded like a little bit from your class description, it can be, if it’s done well.

Cassia Turcotte: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think the way to look at it is every dog’s an individual, and you know, they need to have a great class on actually train the dog in front of you, and I can’t emphasize how important that is to me, too. You know, it’s the...it really is about each dog is an individual, and yes, they have these natural instincts. First of all, you know, knowing your dog, and what are their natural instincts?

You know, I talked about the dog that has no natural birdiness, and she also has very little desire to just hunt for things. Is she better suited to be a retriever or be a hunting dog? Maybe. Maybe not, you know, but she’s doing fantastic right now, and what we did was we developed those things that she doesn’t have naturally. We developed those, and then the things that she does have naturally, we tried to put a stimulus control on them so she doesn’t just do it all by herself.

Understanding how your dog, you know, how they sense those things…first of all, how they sense those things that are natural to them and how they react to them, and then being able to harness them and use them as part of your training system, regardless of what sports you’re doing, so you know, if you’ve got a dog who’s really interested in scent, sometimes, you know, obedience trials can be painful because they want to sniff the whole 100 yards of the floor, and I have my…one of my older males is very interested in dog smells, so to get his head up and to get him connected in new environments was really challenging.

We have used his natural desire to sniff as part of his reinforcement program for obedience work, so it’s just…it absolutely works for every sport, it’s just how you learn your relationship with your dog. How you learn your dog and how you utilize those things that are naturally reinforcing to them to begin with.

Melissa Breau: So I don’t have the syllabus out in front of me fro the class, but it sounds like it will be part observation skills, part games, part kind of figuring out training plan? Is that accurate? I mean…

Cassia Turcotte: Yeah. I think what it does is the first six weeks is really about learning to observe your dog, learning to develop some basic game skills, and then within those games, we can take those games…you know, for a team that’s more advanced and has done a lot of work, we can apply that game to their sport, or if somebody’s just starting out, you can learn how to put just the basic…how to teach the game step by step, and maybe you only get through the first part of the game, but it will give you that foundation of teaching whatever you need to teach in your sport.

So mostly, it’s about learning to read your dog, learning how to teach the games and what the games are, different games to play. We’ll do a couple different games each week, and then how those games can apply to your sport. How can you use this thing that you’ve learned to apply it to your sport or to real life, or whatever you need from your dog? How does this actually carry over?

Melissa Breau: So it sounds like all ages are okay, all skill levels are okay, it’s a good fit for anybody who’s looking to just really understand that piece of it a little bit more, right?

Cassia Turcotte: Absolutely. Yes.

Melissa Breau: Cool. So I wanted to…we talked kind of about general training a bunch, and I want to dig a little bit more into some of the hunt stuff specifically, because I think that while most people in our audience, and probably, at this point, even the general public, are pretty familiar with agility and maybe even obedience, hunt tests are a little less publicized on TV and in the media, just a little bit.

Cassia Turcotte: Understandably.

Melissa Breau: So can you share a little bit about what a hunt test actually involves and what skills they demand of the dogs?

Cassia Turcotte: I think originally, hunt tests were developed to really identify quality breeding stock, and over the years, we’ve gotten away from that a little bit, and particularly with the retrievers…pointing breeds and spaniel breeds, I think, are a little bit more true to what they started out as. In the retriever world, we’ve gone into a completely different game nowadays, but ideally, it’s about retrieving game, regardless of what type of hunting dog you have. It’s when you’re a hunter you don’t want to…you’re also concerned about preservation, so you don’t want a bird that has been shot to get away, and that’s what the dogs are for.

You don’t want to injure things unnecessarily, and that’s the dog’s job, is to make sure that the game is retrieved, so your upland breeds also do…they help you locate the game. So if there’s a field, there’s birds, you don’t know where they are. You can walk through the field, but if it’s 500 yards by 500 yards, one person walking through that field’s going to take a really long time to find some birds potentially, so the dogs are obviously much more efficient at that by smelling them out.

So in the hunt test, it’s really your upland breed, it’s about how they hunt the field, how they look for birds, and as they go up in the levels, it’s about steadiness under gun fire. So there’s a lot of arousal that goes into the sport in terms of…you know, you get multiple dogs out in the field, you get people yelling, you get gun shots, you get live gain birds, and then at the uppermost levels, there’s usually an honor, which means that somebody else’s dog runs right in front of your dog with all this arousal going on, and your dog has to sit and watch them get to retrieve, and that’s a pretty challenging aspect.

So there’s a lot of development of natural abilities and independent work on the dog, but then, they have to come under immediate control and be able to respond to whistle signals and be, we call it, handling, which is basically hand signals that control where they go in the field, and then first and foremost, they can’t hurt the game, so they’ve got to bring it back intact.

Melissa Breau: So some people definitely say that doing all of that while training positively, it just isn’t possible, but you’re kind of proving that it is. So why is that so hard for some people to believe? Like, why are so many people saying that it isn’t, and how do you kind of overcome those obstacles, those skills that most people really struggle to teach positively, how are you kind of approaching those things?

Cassia Turcotte: I think part of it stems from our mentality as a society in general. You know, you break the speed limit, you get a speeding ticket. You break the law, you go to jail. There’s a consequence-based mentality, and I think we really fail at teaching in general, and it’s not that I’ve never said no to my dogs. I’m human. I’ve certainly done it, but I focus a lot more on just teaching them the job and finding what’s reinforcing to them, and basically, if you do it my way, you can have what you want.

If you want your Chuckit! ball, you can go get this bird in this beautiful straight line and come back and give it to me, and then you can have your Chuckit! ball, you know, and a lot of my dogs…I think the thing that’s fortunate about field work is a lot of the dogs find the bird work, and going back to those natural reinforces, you know, natural senses, a lot of them find, you know, hunting for birds naturally reinforcing, in itself reinforcing, so once you teach them the rules of the game and then they get out there, and they’re like, oh, you mean I get to do this with things that I really like doing it with? Then the game itself, there’s pieces of the game that are naturally reinforcing.

So, you know, I think the pieces that people say you can’t train are partially the pieces that we’ve put into the game, it’s…particularly for retriever work, but if you can’t teach a retrieve without force, and going back decades and decades, we bred dogs to retrieve game, and they did it naturally, and now you read, every gun dog magazine that say, oh, you can’t train a reliable retrieve without forceful…I think we’re failing in our breeding programs.

You know, there’s a problem there. If a dog doesn’t want to retrieve things naturally and then be…in terms of a retriever, I’m going to be concerned. I don’t expect my pointing breeds necessarily to retrieve naturally, but the force breaking came about as ways to train difficult dogs, and then because it was systematic, it gained so much popularity because it was a system. It was a teaching system that the dogs could follow.

It was effective, and so people were having quick results, and so it gained popularity because of that. The dogs were reliable because they’d been taught, and yes, they were harsh methods, but at least it was systematic, and no one really just came behind and said, hey, we can do systematic without all the force. And I do think, to the credit of the trainers today, there are a lot of trainers, professional now, who are really dialing back on the amount of force that they do use in their teaching processes, but really, I just think that nobody has just done the teaching and reinforced the dogs otherwise.

So if everybody says you can’t do it, then who’s going to argue with them, saying oh, it can’t be done that way, but then somebody comes along and says, well, let me just try. You know, I’m okay with failing. I can fail big, but we’re having quite a bit of success and proving that it can be done, over and over again, so I think that’s really the key, is people just seeing that it can be done and that we’re having fun doing it, you know?

Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Well, congratulations on the success that you’ve been having and for doing well in that sphere. So I want to kind of round things out with the three questions that I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Cassia Turcotte: The one of all time that did it has been the dog that I adopted with all the behavior issues, and you know, I started doing search and rescue work with them as a way to boost his confidence, and then he went on to be a certified dog, and he taught me so many things, and then his confidence just bloomed, and I think that, that was a big thing for me, not so much the fact that he got certified, but the fact that we were able to change so much in his life, and he really ended up having a purpose, whereas before, he wasn’t adoptable.

He was scheduled to be euthanized. They didn’t feel safe putting him out with just anybody, you know? So that, to me, is a big accomplishment, and then, probably my second biggest is having people ask for our dogs now. So the retrievers that we’re working with now that, you know, none of our dogs are force fed fetched, none of them use electronic collars, and we’re getting to travel all over the country because our dogs are being requested.

People want to hunt with them. You know, they like what they’re seeing. They like the dogs, and that’s all just word of mouth and people actually seeing the dogs work, and as much as I like the ribbons and I like the accomplishments, I like the fact that people who’ve been hunting for a long time are seeing that these dogs are reliable and they’re consistent and they’re talented, and that, to me, is a pretty big accomplishment.

Melissa Breau: That’s excellent. So my second stumper question is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Cassia Turcotte: Relax. Honestly though, it really is. For me, it’s easy to get serious about training and to want to go faster and do more and be better, and really, what I need to do is relax and play with my dog and teach and have fun, and when I relax and breathe, everything goes much better.

You know, the dogs learn faster, they do better. They do all those things that they want to do when I’m not pushing, so that…honestly, my husband says it to me all the time, which doesn’t actually help me relax, ironically, but it is good advice. He just has poor timing so…

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

Cassia Turcotte: I look up to the people that are brave enough to just try stuff. You know, try new methods that they think are fair to the dog, and even if somebody tells you not to try it. Denise has obviously given us all a chance to come together and do that through FDSA. You know, I think Ken Ramirez, back when I as first getting started, I loved listening to his lectures and teaching on environmental enrichment.

You know, it changed how I do things, not only for my dogs, for my farm animals, who are spoiled rotten thanks to him, and I’m sure they send a big shout out, and you know, in the field world, Robert Milner was a longtime traditional trainer, longtime back when the electronic parts were much more barbaric than they are now, and he came out and was brave enough to say, hey, we screwed up, you know? We shouldn’t do this. He wrote an article on it, and he’s gone the other way now, and I think in terms of fieldwork, that’s one of the people that I really look up to, as well.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Cassia.

Cassia Turcotte: Well, thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts. Don’t miss it. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Sep 15, 2017

Summary:

Sue Yanoff graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/22/2017, featuring Cassia Turcotte — we'll talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Sue Yanoff. Sue graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.

Hi Sue. Welcome to the podcast.

Sue Yanoff: Hi Melissa. Thanks.

Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. I think that most of the students who have been with FDSA for any period of time have probably seen your dogs in one class or another. But for those that haven’t, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now, and what you’re working on with them?

Sue Yanoff: Sure. My older beagle is Charm. She’s 12 years old. She’s a breed champion. She has her UD, her rally excellent, MX, MXJ, and TD. She’s pretty much retired from performance right now, but I am still doing tracking with her, and would like to get a TDX on her. And then my younger beagle, Ivy, who has been in a lot of Fenzi classes is six years old. She’s also breed champion. She finished her mock last year. She has her rally novice title, and a TD, and she has two legs towards her CDX.

Melissa Breau: Well congrats. Those are some seriously impressive stats, especially with beagles.

Sue Yanoff: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: So how did you get your start in dog sports? What got you started there?

Sue Yanoff: A beagle. Between my sophomore and junior year as an undergraduate here at Cornell, I went home to visit my parents, and I also went to visit the vet I used to work for when I was in high school, and there was a little beagle puppy with a cast on his hind leg coming out of anesthesia, and I picked him up, and I cuddled him. I said oh I want to take this puppy home, and they said well you can because his owners had him for just a couple of days and then their little boy broke his leg, and they were going to pick him up from the vet that afternoon, and take him to the animal shelter.

So some phone calls were made, and I got the puppy and took him back to college with me, and I didn’t know anything about dog training. I had never heard of crate training, so I would just leave him in my apartment, that I shared with two roommates, while I went to class, and of course he destroyed things, and did all the naughty things that puppies do. So I thought I need to do something, and I enrolled him in the kindergarten puppy class at the local dog-training club. That’s how it got started, and I ended up getting a CDX on that dog while I was in Vet school, and that got me started in dog sports.

Melissa Breau: Wow. So to go from, you know, never having done anything dog training wise before, to a CDX. That’s pretty impressive Sue. Now I’d imagine being both the sports dog handler and the vet has led to some pretty unique insights into each field. How has being involved in both influenced your views in each of those?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. As a dog trainer all my dogs have, at one point in their careers, been injured, and I know what it’s like to have to restrict your dog’s activity. You can’t train them. You can’t show them. It’s very frustrating, and so as a vet when I have to tell a client okay you can’t train, you can’t show, you have to restrict your dog for weeks, or months sometimes, I know how frustrating that can be, and how hard it can be, but I also understand where they are coming from so I think I can see it from both sides.

Melissa Breau: Is there anything in particular about veterinary medicine that sports handlers often just don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. I don’t think it’s just sports handlers. I think it’s a lot of people. Veterinary medicine is a science, and the decisions that we make have to be based on science, and not just what people think, or what they heard, and so when you’re making a decision about what the best diagnostics are for a condition, or how best to treat the condition, it has to be based on a series of cases, not just on what somebody thinks, and I go a lot based on what I learn at continuing education conferences, and what I read in the veterinary literature. Because papers that are published in peer reviewed journals are scrutinized to make sure that the science behind the conclusions are valid.

So while, you know, it’s fine for somebody to say well I did this with my dog and he did great. What I want to make my decisions on is what worked well for many dogs, dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of dogs, and not just something that might have worked for your dog where we don’t’ even know if the diagnosis was the same. So I think I want people to know that veterinary medicine is a science, and we have to make our decisions based on science.

Melissa Breau: I think that, you know, especially with the internet these days it’s very common for people to turn to their favorite local forum, and be like well what should I do, but…

Sue Yanoff: I know like let me get advice from everybody, and I know it’s hard to make decisions when it involves your dog and you’re emotionally involved, and that’s one of the reasons I want to teach this class, to give people information that they can use to make those hard decisions.

Melissa Breau: What about the reverse? Are there things about sports that you think most vets just they don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Oh yes. Yes there’s a lot. Unless you’re a vet who’s involved in this thing, most vets don’t understand the time and the effort, and the emotion, and the money that goes into the training, and the trialing that we do. They don’t understand the special relationship that we have with our dogs when we put the time and effort into training them. I have had dogs that were wonderful pets, and I loved them but I never showed them for one reason or another, and there is a different relationship when you accomplish something special with that dog. So I think that’s important thing.

The other thing that most vets don’t understand, and might not agree with, but I have had some clients where we have diagnosed an injury, and said okay we need to restrict activity, and do the conservative treatment route, and they say I will but my national specialty is next week, and she’s entered in whatever class. Or they say I have a herding finals coming up in two weeks, and I really want to run her in those trials, and I’m okay with that if the dog has an injury that I don’t think is likely to get much worse by doing a little more training, or trialing, then I’ll say okay. Well let’s do this in the meantime, and when you’re done with your national or with your specialty or whatever, come on back and we’ll start treatment.

So I think a lot of vets would not understand that point of view, but I’m okay with it as long as I don’t think that it’s going to do serious harm to the dog, and as long as the owner understands that there’s, you know, a slight chance that things could get worse.

Melissa Breau: I think it’s really kind of interesting that you focused a little bit on performance dogs. So I wanted to ask about what led you to that, I guess, to focus on that. Was it your own interest just in the being involved with sports when you joined the practice in New York?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. No. It’s my own interests. I’m mostly retired. I’ve retired from three different jobs now, so I don’t have to do this sports medicine stuff to make a living, and to pay my mortgage.

So I became interested in it when I joined the practice at Colonial Veterinary Hospital about the same time my colleague Lynn joined it. She’s a physical therapist. She was a physical therapist for people for 20 plus years before she decided she wanted to work on animals, so she went to vet tech school to become a vet tech, and get some animal education. And I remember when I first met her she said to me well what do you think about physical therapy for dogs, and I thought I don’t know anything about it.

So the more I learned about it, the more I realized how important it is, and I did a lot of reading, and I went to continuing education about sports medicine, and about the same time, like a few years later, the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation was getting going so the whole topic of canine sports medicine was getting more popular and people were learning more about it. So the more I learned about it, the more I liked it and of course since I did dog sports, I understood what’s involved in dog sports.

So when Lynn and I started this little practice, we did see pets for the first year or two, but then we said you know what, we don’t want to deal with people. Performance dog people, in general, their dogs are better trained. They’re better behaved, which make it easier to examine them. Not all of them but most of them. They’re definitely more committed to doing what needs to be done to get their dog better. So they are more willing to put the time into it, and the work for treating, and rehabbing the dog, and the money that it costs to get their dogs better if the need surgery, or other treatments. So, you know, when Lynn and I started seeing more and more animals we said okay, we’re not doing pets any more. We’re just going to work on performance dogs.

Melissa Breau: Now I want to talk a little bit about your upcoming class. So in some ways it’s the first of it’s kind here at FDSA. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what students can expect to learn?

Sue Yanoff: Well basically the goal of the class is to, in the words of a friend of mine that I was discussing this with, is to make people better consumers of healthcare, for their animals. I want to give them information about the various injuries that the dogs can get, and how they are diagnosed, and what the treatment options are, and what’s the best chance to get them back to competition.

I want them to understand the importance of a good sports medicine exam. When I was a surgeon when I saw an animal for an injury, or a lameness, I would examine the leg that was lame. Most of the time, we knew which leg was lame and I would examine that leg and tell them what surgery I think the dog needs, and that was that.

With a sports medicine exam, I examine the whole dog. At times I don’t even know which leg is lame, because the owner doesn’t know which leg is lame. We come with a history of knocking bars, or popping weaves, or not being as active, and they think there might be something wrong, but they’re not sure. So it’s a totally different type of exam from when I just did surgery to now doing sports medicine. So I want people to understand that, and I just want them to be able to make informed decisions if and when they have to deal with an injury.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine it was probably pretty hard to decide what things to fit into the class and what things were kind of beyond the scope of what you could cover in those six weeks. So what are some of the common types of injuries that you’ll be discussing in those six weeks?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. It was really tough. When I started writing lectures, I had no idea how much material I was eventually going to cover. So people can go to the website to look at the course summary to see what we cover from week to week. But three of the common injuries that we see in sports medicine are injuries to the muscles and tendons of the shoulder, the biceps and supraspinatus specifically. Injuries to the iliopsoas muscle which ten or so years ago I never heard of, and now it’s a very commonly diagnosed injury. And then, also talking about cranial cruciate ligament injuries because just based on a recent thread on the Fenzi Alumni Facebook page, there’s a lot of information out there about cranial cruciate ligament injuries, and some misinformation.

We have a whole lecture just on cranial cruciate ligament injuries to give people, you know just the basic facts of what’s based on science. What’s not based on science. What the options are, because there’s always options. There’s no one best way to treat almost anything. So those are probably the three most common things that people know about that they’ll learn. But there’s a ton of other stuff in the class.

Melissa Breau: Now I know that the syllabus mentions prevention a little bit, and I wanted to know if you could talk for a minute about the role that prevention plays when it comes to these types of injuries. You know, how much should sports handlers focus on preventing problems? If you can, even beyond that, are there skills that they should teach that would make dealing with these kinds of problems, should they occur, easier before there’s ever actually a problem for them to be worried about.

Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well prevention is always best, and as far as preventing injuries in dogs the bottom line is that we don’t know what we can do to prevent injuries. Everything that we know is based on the human literature, and some horse literature, but there are no studies in veterinary medicine for dogs as to anything that’s proven to prevent injuries. So we have to just extrapolate from the human literature, but there certainly are lots of things. In fact my sample lecture is my lecture on preventing injuries, and that’s a freebie for anybody to go read.

But one of the most important things to keep your dog thin and fit, and there’s some really good Fenzi classes on canine conditioning. So I think that’s important. The other thing that is important that I notice that a lot of handlers don’t do because I compete with my clients, I compete with all the people and I can see that they don’t’ spend enough time warming their dogs up before the competition, and cooling the dog down after the competition. Now for an obedience trial, the warm up is probably not as important as something like field trials, or agility trials, and certainly lure coursing. But I think those three things, conditioning, warm up, and cool down will go a long way to helping to prevent injuries.

And then, as far as what they can teach their dog that will help, there’s two things. On is to teach your dog to allow a hands on examination, including lying on their side while I examine them. Most of the dogs that I see are pretty good about it. Some of them will, you know, will fuss a little at first, but they pretty much relax into it. But I’ve had a few dogs where there’s no way we can lay them on their side to examine them, and I can barely get in a good standing exam. So it’d be really nice to be able to have your dog do that, and I know that Deb’s Cooperative Canine Care class, I’m sure, can help with that.

Then the other thing that’s important is best gait to diagnose a lameness is a trot, and a lot of my patients either won’t trot nicely on a leash. They want to bounce around, or pull, or run. Or they won’t trot on a leash next to the owner without looking up at the owner, and that kind of throws the gait off a little. So to teach your dog to have nice straight trot, on leash without looking up at you would be another thing that would make my life a little bit easier.

Melissa Breau: I mean I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that second one. The first one definitely made sense, having the dog lay on its side and being able to be calm while its examined, but it never would have occurred to me that it would be important to have a forward motion where the dog wasn’t looking at you for diagnostic purposes.

Sue Yanoff: Right. That’s why it’s really nice when we get show dogs, confirmation dogs that know this skill. I mean we get the job done, but there are certain things that can make it easier for the dog, the owner, and me.

Melissa Breau: Obviously there’s a limited amount you can do remotely when it comes to canine medicine, so how are you doing the different levels in the class and what will and won’t be covered in class.

Sue Yanoff: Right. Well the first thing I want to say is I will not make any diagnoses over the phone or online, and the reason for that is that, you know, in order to give advice on diagnosis and treatment, you have to establish a veterinary client patient relationship, and in most states, at least in New York state, that means you have to see the client, and the dog in person. So while I can answer people’s questions, and look at video, and say well you know it could be this, and it might be this, and you might want to get these diagnostic tests, and if it’s this then this treatment works, and if it’s that, this treatment works. I don’t want people to sign up for the class expecting me to diagnose their dog online.

So with that said, there’s going to be two levels. Bronze which is the typical bronze level, and then silver, and with this new working silver level that Fenzi has, I think that all of the silver spots will be working silver spots because there’ll be no gold spots. So it’s mainly a discussion class, but I want the silver students to be able to at least post photographs. They can even post radiographs, or x-rays if they want to.

If we mutually agree that a video would be helpful they can post a video of their dog, and they can ask any question they want. They can ask general questions about the material. They can ask specific questions about their dog. They don’t have to pick one dog. They can ask specific questions about any dog they want to. I want there to be a lot of discussion because I think everybody, me, the silver students, and the bronze students will learn a lot from the discussions, you know as much if not more so than from the lectures. So I’m hoping to have some really active silver students.

Melissa Breau: Hopefully, you know, having said that you will now get even more of them, than you would have otherwise. I think that, that will be a real appeal for students to know that you really want an active silver group.

Sue Yanoff: Right, and then the other things that they should understand is there’s so much material that we could cover, but this class is basically covering injuries, and not specifically hereditary or developmental disorders like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia, or OCD. I mean those are common in sports dogs, but that could be a whole class in itself. So I really had to limit some things so we’re going to be talking about injuries that they can acquire.

Melissa Breau: So maybe in the future if this class does well, huh?

Sue Yanoff: Maybe, and when I want to spend another huge amount of time writing these lectures, so.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned earlier treatment decisions for dogs can be super hard, you know whether their a performance dog, or just a pet. So I’d imagine that one of the major benefits to this class would be that students will feel significantly more informed when they have those kinds of decisions to make in the future. First of all, would you agree with that? It sounds like from what you said earlier, you would, and then do you have any advice for students who may be facing those kinds of decisions now?

Sue Yanoff: Yes. So yes the class will provide a lot of information for the students to help them make better decisions about their dogs medical care, but what they need to know for now, are two things that I think are important. One is to get a diagnosis. It’s really hard to make a treatment plan without at least having an idea of what’s going on, and general practitioners are great. I have a lot of respect for general practitioners because I was one for five years, but they’re not specialists in any one subject. So unless the cause of the lameness is very obvious, you might have to see an expert, and there are two experts that can be used for sports dogs.

One is the board certified surgeon, which is what I am, and more, and more board certified surgeons are realizing that sporting dogs, performance dogs, are a little bit different from pets, and so they’re dealing with them a little bit better, although there’s still some that do what I used to do, just look at the leg. Look at the injury, and not look at anything else. But then this new specialty of sports medicine and rehabilitation, there’s more and more vets being trained, and being board certified in that specialty. So that would be another specialist to go see if your general practitioner, you know, is not sure about what might be going on.

The other thing is that I’m a big fan of all the therapists that are out there. Massage therapists, and the physical therapists, and the people that do acupuncture, and chiropractic, but if they’re not also veterinarians, then they may not be able to make the diagnosis. They could look at things that might be causing the dog pain or discomfort that might be secondary to the diagnosis. But sometimes treating the symptoms is all you need to do, but sometimes treating the symptoms won’t cut it. You need to know what the diagnosis is so you know specifically what you have to treat, and we’ll discuss all that in the class.

Melissa Breau: What I was going to say is that I know this was in the questions I sent over, kind of in advance of our call, but I’m curious…you kind of mentioned some specific certifications. Is there anything out there, or do you have any recommendations if students are trying to find a good specialist or kind of get advice on where to look? Is there any, I guess, any way for them to kind of vet on their own, okay this is a person who really, probably is going to be good for a sports dog versus this is somebody who maybe doesn’t have as much of a background in that.

Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well I mean both these specialties have websites. American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and on the websites you can look up to see who in your state is board certified, and you can also look up to see what their special interest is. So, I mean, for the sports medicine and rehab vet’s then obviously their specialty is sports medicine and rehab. But for the board certified surgeons some of them are more geared towards, you know, sports medicine versus just plain old surgery.

The other thing is, you want to, if you’re going to see a board certified surgeon, you want to see somebody that deals with a lot of performance dogs, if possible, and you also want to deal with somebody who understands, and agrees with the importance of physical therapy postoperatively, because there are still some veterinary surgeons out there that don’t think dogs need physical therapy post op. They just, you know, restrict the activity until the surgery is healed, and then say okay well gradually get him back to normal, and it’s like what does that mean, or what do you do.

So I truly believe that the surgery is only half of the story, and that physical therapy, post operative physical therapy, guided by a knowledgeable person, and there are certifications in physical therapy for both veterinarians and technicians, where they can get some, you now, advanced training outside of vet school and tech school, on physical therapy. There’s a lot of human physical therapists that are now doing veterinary physical therapy, and you know, while I don’t know how good they are, you know the Fenzi alumni Facebook page is a great resource if you say okay I need a physical therapist in this area. Can you recommend somebody, or I need a good sports medicine vet or surgeon in this area, can you recommend somebody.

The Fenzi Alumni Facebook page is a great resource, and also just talking to friends, and you know it won’t hurt to ask your veterinarian what’s your experience with this condition, how many have you done, and what’s your success rate? People are a little reluctant to do that, but no good veterinarian is going to be insulted if you ask them that, and they should be able to answer.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s a great piece of advice, just being comfortable asking that kind of question of your vet, or your veterinary surgeon. I mean if you don’t ask, you can’t know, right.

Sue Yanoff: That’s true.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to end with the same few questions that I ask everybody that comes on, at the end of the interview. So the first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, I thought about it, and it’d have to be the UD on my older beagle now, Charm because Charm is a dog that switched me from you know traditional training to positive reinforcement training, and I had shown her nine times in utility, and nine times she NQ’ed, and people just kept telling me well she’s just not putting in any effort. You need to correct her harder, or you need to make her do it. And so the more times she  NQ’ed, the harder I was on her until the final time in utility, I gave her the hell signal and she just sat there, and she basically said nope. I’m done, not doing it.

So I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way, and that led to positive reinforcement training, which led to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and after a few weeks off from training, I retrained Charm pretty much all the utility exercises using positive reinforcement, and about nine months later I showed her in utility again, and she got the UD in four shows. So I am really proud of Charm. I feel bad for all the stuff I did to her before I crossed over, but now that I train with positive reinforcement, there’s just no comparison. So I’m very proud of Charm for getting her UD.

Melissa Breau: Congrats.

Sue Yanoff: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: So the second questions that I usually ask is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. Now this is a hard one, because I’ve been taking classes at FDSA since pretty much Denise started, and there’s so much good information, and great advice. But if I had to pick one I’d say it’s acclimation, and that is because I’ve had people tell me don’t ever let your dog sniff. Wherever you go new, don’t let them sniff. They have to be paying attention to you, like all the time, and it’s like you know what. I’ve tried that with Ivy for a few weeks, and it almost drove both of us crazy. So when I learned about acclimation I thought, yep. This is it. This is the best piece of advice I’ve gotten.

Melissa Breau: And especially I’d imagine with Beagles, that nose, you know. It’s a real thing so. The last question is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, well it’s not anybody that’s known in the dog world, because she doesn’t teach classes, and she doesn’t have a blog, and she, you know, doesn’t do anything online. But she’s a friend of mine who I’ve known since college. We met through dogs. When I was getting a CDX on my first beagle, she was getting a CDX on her first keeshond and since then she has been put multiple notches in herding titles, and some agility titles on her border collies, but she’s also put multiple OTCHs on her Keeshonds, and all of her OTCHd kees are also breed champions, some of them bred by her. So there’s a lot of, you know, trainers out there who have trained another dog other than a border collie, or a golden, or a sheltie whatever to an OTCH, and they do it once, and they never do it again.

But Marian has, I think had, at least four or five, if not six champion OTCH keeshonds, and she’s got a young keeshond coming up now that just finished her CD with six scores or 199 or above, and one score of 200. So I’m sure that’s a future OTCH. So you know, I don’t agree with everything she does in her training, but her dogs are really good, and they are happy in the ring, and they love her, and she gets OTCHs on keeshond’s over, and over, and over again. So I admire her.

Melissa Breau: That is quite the accomplishment. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Sue.

Sue Yanoff: It was fun. Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Breau: It was fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with somebody that I’ve gotten lots of requests for. Cassia Turcotte will be here to talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, or the podcast app of your choice, to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Sep 8, 2017

Summary:

Chrissi Schranz is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.

Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.

Links Mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/15/2017, featuring Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and most progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Chrissi Schranz, a dog trainer, translator, and chocolate addict.

Chrissi is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.

Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.

Hi, Chrissi. Welcome to the podcast.

Chrissi Schranz: Hi. I am excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. To kind of get us started and to dive right in, do you want to tell us about your own crew and what you’re working on with them?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. So I have three dogs right now. The oldest one is Fanta, my greyhound. I got him from Ireland as a retired racing greyhound, and by now, his main job is to be a couch potato and get lots of belly rubs. He basically does everything he wants, but he’s also my assistant when I’m working with reactive dogs. He’s really good for this because he’s very calm and communicates very well, so he’s a very good decoy.

Then there’s Phoebe, my standard poodle. You might have seen her in pictures or videos. She is very crazy. She has an endless supply of energy, is very extroverted and outgoing. Everyone loves her, but she can be very exhausting to live with sometimes. If I didn’t force her to, I think she would never sleep, never stop. So I’ve tried lots of different things with her. She was the dog I tried pretty much everything I could think of with her to see what I like.

She likes everything, so she’s up for anything. Now, I’m mainly focusing on nose work with her. That would be her sport of choice and my sport of choice for her because it’s one thing that she loves but she doesn’t get overexcited about, so she doesn’t lose her mind. She can focus and enjoy it. That’s her biggest issue, that she gets excited so easily that her brain freezes, and she’s just like, oh my god, oh my god, life is so good. Yeah, and we do lots of hiking together and just play.

Melissa Breau: And then you’ve got one more, right?

Chrissi Schranz: Yes, my youngest one. That’s Grit, my mal. She’ll be a year in September. We are working on obedience foundations and some tracking. It’s been really fun to work with Shade here at the FDSA. I think the way she teaches is a perfect fit for her. She’s probably my favorite, but please don’t tell my other dogs. We’ll hopefully be doing a little obedience in the future and tracking, and maybe we’ll get into protection as well. We’ll see. Yeah. My dogs usually get a say in what they want to do as well, so…

Melissa Breau: It sounds like three very different breeds and three very different dogs.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes, they actually really are.

Melissa Breau: So what led you from teaching your own crew to becoming a dog trainer?

Chrissi Schranz: So I grew up with my dad’s dogs, and then when I was 12 or 13, I had my very first own dog. That was the dachshund. He was really difficult. When I had him, I started reading a lot and going to seminars and workshops, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about training. I didn’t plan on becoming a dog trainer yet, but I got more and more fascinated by it, and I started dog-sitting for other people and fostering for a rescue organization, so I got to play with all kinds of different dogs with all kinds of different issues.

I started working as a teacher for German as a foreign language, which was really fun, too, because I’ve always liked teaching. It doesn’t matter what that species is, and then I got Phoebe, and I took her to school with me every day, so she could come to work, and I also started a dog trainer course, which is supposedly teaching you to be a professional dog trainer, but well, I won’t go into that because it was not a very good class, but I still just thought I’d want to learn as much as possible to be a good trainer for my own dogs.

But then the building that our school was located in, the German school, implemented a new policy that there were no dogs allowed anymore in the building, so I couldn’t bring Phoebe anymore, and that kind of annoyed me, so I finished up that term of teaching, and then I quit and opened a business focused on translating and dog training full-time, and yeah, I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Melissa Breau: So I’d imagine that having previous teaching experience was pretty useful when you started teaching people how to train dogs. There’s got to be some crossover there, right?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, actually, a lot because even when you’re working with dogs, you’re really working with people because it’s the people who are living with the dogs every day, and you’re teaching them a foreign language, which is dog, basically, or a foreign language which is German, so there are many similarities, actually.

Melissa Breau: That’s such an interesting way of looking at it, as both just being, you know, kind of different languages that you need to help people understand.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. I feel like it kind of is.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to get into your training philosophy, and lucky me, I got a sneak peek before we started. You sent me over the link for this, but I’d love to have you kind of share your training philosophy and how you describe your approach, and for those of you who are going to want to see this after she talks about it, there will be a link to the comic in the show notes.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, so I’d say my training philosophy is based on my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. So Calvin has a shovel and he’s digging a hole, and then Hobbes comes up and asks him why he’s digging a hole, and Calvin says he’s looking for buried treasure. Hobbes asks him what he has found, and Calvin starts naming all kinds of things, like dirty rocks and roots and some disgusting grubs, and then Hobbes gets really excited, and he’s like, wow, on your first try? And Calvin says, yes. There’s treasure everywhere, and that is the kind of experience I want people and their dogs to have with each other.

I want them to feel like life is an adventure, and there’s so many exciting things to be discovered that they can do together. I want people to learn to look at the world through their dog’s eyes a little bit and find this pleasure and just be together, and doing things and discovering things, whether that’s digging a hole or playing in dog sports. Yeah, I want them to feel like they’re friends and partners in crime and have that Calvin and Hobbes kind of relationship, because I believe if you have that kind of relationship as a foundation, you can do pretty much anything you want, no matter whether you want to have a dog you can take anywhere or whether you want to compete and do well in dog sports. I think if you have that kind of relationship as a basis, everything is possible.

Melissa Breau: I love that, just on so many levels, that comic works for what you’re talking about, right? From the almost literal sense of, okay, they’re digging a hole and they find buried treasure that’s rocks and grubs and things our dogs would actually find pretty fascinating, to that metaphorical level of, like, just wanting to kind of explore and find joy in the everyday with our dogs. I mean, this is just a great illustration, I guess, of kind of a philosophy in a comic. It’s really quite neat.

So I want to dive into a little bit the classes that you teach at FDSA. So I know that your first class at FDSA, I think it was your first class, right? Calling All Dogs?

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that, and start off with I guess what may be a little bit of a controversial question. Is there such a thing as a 100 percent reliable recall, and kind of how do we balance the idea of giving our dogs freedom with the realities and dangers of life?

Chrissi Schranz: I don’t think there’s 100 percent reliable recall. I don’t think you can get 100 perfect reliability on any real life behavior, really, simply because you can’t control your environment, so you can prove your recall against lots of distractions, but there’s no way you can prove it against all of them because there’s always unexpected things that will happen and things that will show up that you didn’t even know existed. I mean, it’s different with competition behaviors because those, you only need in very specific environment, so you can prepare for the ring easier than for the real world in some ways.

So you know there won’t be kids on bikes in the ring, and there won’t be loose dogs, and…hopefully not. There won’t be any squirrels, but you don’t know these things about the real world, so I don’t think there’s an objective answer to how we should balance freedom and safety for our dogs. It’s more like a personal decision. So we take risks that we think are worth it because they increase our dogs quality of life, and we don’t take those risks that scare us too much, and I think everyone draws this line differently, and that’s okay.

I think dogs can be perfectly happy even if they never get to be off leash in an unfenced area. So off leash freedom is one of many ways to enrich their lives and share things with them, but it’s not the only way, and yeah, I think there’s just no right answer. Everyone has to answer this question for themselves.

Melissa Breau: Right. It kind of goes back to almost to the comic idea again, like that the Calvin Hobbes comic, just the idea that finding the pleasure in the everyday and what those pleasures are going to be are going to vary. So saying that you can’t get a 100 percent reliable recall, obviously the point of the class is still to teach a really strong, reliable recall, so how do you approach that? How do you teach a recall that’s as strong as you can get it?

Chrissi Schranz: That also goes back to that comic, in a way. I think my approach to recall training is different to many other people’s approaches. For example, so the first one or two weeks of class, there’s no…we don’t even really talk about the recall, but we focus on the relationship. So most people want a recall that they can use when they’re hiking or when they’re…yeah, distractions around or maybe when they’re in a dog park and there are other dogs and so much exciting stuff going on.

So the first weeks are about getting to know your dog in new ways, to observe them, to learn new things about them. I have students offer their dogs various reinforcers and let the dog choose their favorite one, and often, they’ll find out interesting things that they didn’t think were their favorite ones.

Melissa Breau: Do you have an example?

Chrissi Schranz: Well, for example, with my own dogs, when I make the videos for this class, and I haven’t…like, I sometimes do these experiments, but I hadn’t done it in a while, and I was convinced that Phoebe’s and Fanta’s favorite treat was this salmon pâté, but when I offered them various different kinds of treats…and that’s the last thing they ate, so that is not true anymore. Sometimes we just believe that hot dogs is our dog’s favorite treats because that’s what we assume is a dog’s favorite treat, or we ask them when they were puppies and then never again. Their tastes may have changed in the meantime.

Yeah, and there’s lots of games that I ask people to play out on walks and at home in their yard to just make their walks more interactive and to experiment with what kind of games their dogs want and enjoy, so with toys, with food, with food trails, with using their nose, with running, so by the time I actually start conditioning a recall cue, the student’s should have learned something new about their dogs, and they should have started building this kind of invisible connection that they can take with them out into the real world to all the places where they actually want a strong recall.

Yeah, and then it’s pretty straightforward. Classical conditioning of a recall cue, I ask everyone to choose a new one because I’m assuming if you’re taking a recall class, you have problems with your old recall cue, and it’s usually easier to train a new cue than to revive an old one that they have already learned to ignore. Yeah, and then we systematically introduce distractions, and then we go out into the real world and increase the level of difficulty, still like integrating lots of games into the whole training so that the recall always feels like something really, really fun, not necessarily something that gets rewarded with a piece of food, but very often something that gets rewarded with some game that is a little bit of extra they have been looking forward to on their walk.

And in the last week, we’re actually looking at environmental rewards like swimming or chasing squirrels, or maybe even eating food they found on the ground. Anything that’s safe and the dog likes can be a reward.

Melissa Breau: Are there any success stories you particularly want to share? I mean, I know that just kind of hearing you talk about it at a little bit online, it sounds like there are some students who are really struggling with particular distractions that manage to accomplish some pretty awesome results, so…

Chrissi Schranz: There’s like actually so many people I’m so impressed by. well the Gold students, i don’t really see the others, but they’ve come so far in such a short time. Like Tia, Jill’s dog, who started recalling around chipmunks now, and you can really see that they’re more connected now on their walks, or Shila the lab who can now call up…he has started being able to play and focus on her owner near animal carcasses, which is her biggest distraction, and then we have a dog located in Africa.

Her owner is an American expat, and she kind of met that dog out there in Africa and then they kind of became an item. It’s a very independent dog and very interesting. The first week of class, we were like really trying to figure out how to get him to be engaged and to enjoy interacting with his person more than just exploring by himself, and when I look at their videos now, they’re like such a cool team. They’re really having fun together. He’s starting to really enjoy coming back and play with his person.

Melissa Breau: I’ve always thought that if someone has relationship issues, a recall class is always a great place to start to work on rebuilding those, because it’s so positive and it’s all about coming back and coming in, and…

Chrissi Schranz: It’s a good relationship class, too.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I know that there are two other classes that you currently have on the schedule. At least, there were when I was prepping. I was looking, and those were the two that I saw, so Finding Five and The Perfect Pet. So I want to start with Finding Five. What’s the concept there? What’s the idea behind that class?

Chrissi Schranz: I wanted it to be a class for dedicated dog owners, pet owners, and dog sports people. So it’s basically for people who have very busy lives, and they feel like they’re never doing enough with their dogs. There’s never any time to train, but they really want to train. I had the idea when I talked with a friend. She’d just got a dog. It was her first dog, and she asked me a few dog training questions, and I ended up telling her that it’s usually more effective if you have several short sessions than one long session, and she was like, yeah, that makes sense, but I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have time to train several times a day, and I started thinking about this, and I realized that like lots of people have this problem, so I thought there should be a class about this.

It’s still very much a work in progress. I have so many ideas that I want to include, and I know it’s only 6 weeks so I have to narrow it down, but there are two things I want to focus on. One is how to find time to train your dog and how to build new habits and make yourself feel accountable so that you actually really use that time, and the other one is to learn to fully enjoy that training time and to use it to unwind yourself, so even if the rest of your life is crazy busy, or especially if the rest of your life is crazy busy, training your dog shouldn’t feel like just another thing you have to get done. It should be something you’re looking forward to, so it’s little bit about relationships and a little bit about smart ways of training and planning.

Melissa Breau: Do you have any tips for those people who are super excited now and don’t want to have to wait until December?

Chrissi Schranz: Well, one easy thing that might actually help you train more regularly, or just feel more accountable and make time for training, is to write down your training goals for each of your dogs. So you could make a poster and put it on your fridge. Write down three things you’re working on with each of your dogs, and every time you practice one of these things, give yourself a checkmark or a smiley face on your poster, and it will make you feel good and motivate you to do that again.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Now the third class you currently have on the schedule is The Perfect Pet, and that’s just around the corner. It’s coming up in October. Do you want to share a little bit about what that class will cover?

Chrissi Schranz: That’ll be a basic pet dog class. We’ll teach things that make life with a dog easier and more fun for human and dog, so loose leash walking, coming when called, polite greetings, things like leave it, settle on a mat, sit to say please rather than jump up and bark. So we’ll work with the clicker and then starting with an introduction to clicker training. So I’m picturing a person who is really new to the world of dogs and dog training but wants to learn more, so I’m hoping for this to be kind of gateway drug to our nerdier classes. Yeah, so people can get their feet wet and see how much fun positive reinforcement training can be.

Melissa Breau: So it’s the perfect class for everybody who’s listening to recommend to at least three of their friends.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk for a minute about kind of the balance between sports skills and pet skills, and I think that with so many sports dogs, people focus so much time on the sports skills that they don’t always take the time to focus on those life skills, things like loose leash walking, or you know, the kind of actually sitting to say please. Like, those skills are so often overlooked in our sports dogs, so I wanted to see if you had any thoughts on ways that people can better manage or better balance, I guess, those sets of skills as they kind of build out those foundation behaviors on their dogs.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. That’s a great question. From what I’ve seen, people who integrate their sports dogs into everyday life as well, they usually have good life skills as well, and people who only share sport related things with their dogs, they often have rather poor life skills, so I think a good way to balance this is to make an effort to share non-sports related activities with our dogs as well.

So for example, take them along when you go shopping or when you’re meeting a friend for ice cream, or take your dog to Home Depot when you need to go there anyways, have them meet your guests rather than keeping her in a kennel, and a good way to start this would be to decide on one day for each week where you will take your dog on all the errands where dogs are allowed, because I’m sure if you know how to teach sports skills and make an effort to just put your dog into real life situations, you’ll end up teaching life skills without even noticing it, and it will probably also improve your relationship, so I think just doing more non-sports related things with our sports dogs will almost automatically increase their life skills.

Melissa Breau: Is it ever too late to teach an adult dog those types of skills? You know, having a pet class coming up, are there differences in how you teach them to a puppy versus an adult dog?

Chrissi Schranz: No, it’s never too late, and I basically teach most of the skills the same way, too. The only difference is that it usually takes longer in an adult who…because that dogs often have had time to practice unwanted behaviors, and the more you practice something, the more ingrained it gets and the harder it is to change it, but yeah, then the puppy, for example, hasn’t discovered leash pulling yet, so it’s easier to teach loose leash manners, but it’s never too late to start training.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end off with the three questions I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Chrissi Schranz: I think that actually that feeling of being really, really happy with where I am and what I’m doing, it happens every time. I feel like I didn’t just train a dog, that I kind of touched someone’s life. That happens occasionally, and it’s like a really, really nice feeling. For example, a while ago, I taught a beginner group class, and there was this woman in her 60s, and she had a mixed breed dog.

She had never really done anything with him before, but she wanted to try training him, and I showed everyone a few things, and then I went from person to person as they were practicing, as I usually do, and every time I walked past Sammy, she was…that’s her dog…he was already holding a sit or a down or whatever we were practicing. He was already there, and she told me it was going great, it was going great, and I noticed whenever she was working on a down, he was laying on his side, which seemed a little strange.

He did not seem like a very confident dog around the other dogs, so I was like, that’s weird. That looks like a very…I don't know. Well, anyways, she told me things were going great, so I moved on, and I only noticed what was going on in the second lesson of that group class. Right before I got to them, the owner would physically push him into whatever position.

Melissa Breau: That’s just terrible.

Chrissi Schranz: And I don't know, she didn’t…like the only way she knew how to like put him in a down, for example, was to actually tip him over, and he would just lie there. Like, she didn’t want me to see this, she just wanted me to see the result and think that everything was going well. So I saw it before I got there, and I was like, wow. She is really afraid of making mistakes, so I didn’t say anything. I just showed again, like to everyone again, how to lure the sit and how to lure the down, and then to make sure to do something her dog would be really good at, so I think we played leave it, which is what’s very clear, her dog would excel at because he was not the kind of dog who would steal anything.

So then I could tell her in front of everyone how well Sammy was doing. I also made it a point to explain again that the most important thing to me in my classes is that everyone makes sure their dogs are comfortable, and for example, if they are not ready to lie down yet because they’re a little nervous about another dog who is close by, then they should just do a sit instead or give them a little break. I never directly addressed her, but I could start seeing…because now I was, of course, always looking that way and trying to see what she was doing, and I could see her starting doing things differently, and then when I caught her not pushing him into a down the next time, but feeding him for a sit, I went over and told everyone how awesome it was that she was just paying attention to his needs and that this is what I was talking about.

This is one of the most important things a dog owner should learn, and of course, by the third lesson, he was lying down like the other dogs and it wasn’t a problem for him anymore. The exciting thing for me was that I could see that she was feeling so much more comfortable, and she actually started asking questions when she didn’t understand something, and I really felt like I had given her a new learning experience. She seemed like happy and relaxed, and talked to people, and it was like a different person, and I really love it when that happens.

I feel like she took something away from the class that was more important than training her dog, and that’s the atmosphere I want to create. I want to create an atmosphere where people can be themselves and let their guard down online as well as in person, and it always makes me so happy when I feel like I actually accomplished that.

Melissa Breau: There’s a second question I like to ask, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Chrissi Schranz: There’s lots of great things out there, but I think I’ll go with Kathy Sdao, “communication trumps control.” Well, yeah. It’s true for every aspect of our lives. We can either try really hard to control everything and everyone around us, to control our dogs, to control our partners, or we can communicate with them and find out what the reasons for their behavior are and get to our goal that way, and that’s actually a better way to get to your goal, even if you reach the same goal, because both parties will be happier.

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

Chrissi Schranz: Again, like lots and lots of people including pretty much all my colleagues here at the FDSA, if I had to pick on person it would probably be Susan Friedman. A few years ago, I attended my first seminar with her, and I think she was the first big name trainer who I felt was as nice and gentle with people as she was with animals, and that was so nice to see, and it really made me want to be that way, too.

I had hung out with positive reinforcement trainers for a while by then, and very often, I felt like they really didn’t like people or they didn’t like their clients, and it never made sense to me. Susan Friedman made sense, and I really love the way she worked with us, and she was authentic and gentle, and you just felt that she genuinely liked the people she worked with. That’s just something I aspire to, too. Well, yes. I think I mostly do.

Melissa Breau: I think that that’s a…it’s a great goal for everybody to aspire to, right, that they make other people feel that way.

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Chrissi.

Chrissi Schranz: Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We’ll be back next week with Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Sep 1, 2017

Summary:

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.

Links Mentioned:

Next Episode: 

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.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to 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.

 

CREDITS:

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

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