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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: February, 2018

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Feb 23, 2018

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Summary:

 

Kamal Fernandez is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor, and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog-training experience, based on a combination of science and hands-on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.

Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders. This has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students — human and canine alike.

He’s probably most well known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards-based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports, and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.

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Next Episode: 

To be released 3/2/2018, featuring Esther Zimmerman, to talk competitive obedience and dog sports in general.

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 Kamal Fernandez.

Kamal is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor, and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog-training experience, based on a combination of science and hands-on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.

Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders. This has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students — human and canine alike.

He’s probably most well known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards-based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports, and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.

Hi Kamal, welcome back to the podcast!

Kamal Fernandez: Hi Melissa, thank you for having me back. I’m grateful, I should say, to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited. To start us out, do you want to refresh our memories a little bit by reminding us who the dogs are that you share your life with and what you do with them?

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to do so. I own eight dogs — that’s a lot of dogs — and several breeds. My oldest dog is a Malinois called Thriller, and she does obedience along with my oldest Border Collie, Scooter, and they’re both 10 years old. After them comes a German Spitz called Sonic, and he does agility. He is 7 or 8 years old. I got him when he was a little dog, so I always lose track of their date of birth when I’ve got them a little bit older. After that is Punch and Fire. Punch is my boxer who I’m currently training to do OPI, hopefully, which is a protection sport, and Fire, my Border Collie, who I do agility with, followed by Super, who is my Border Collie, he’s 3 years old. I’m contemplating at the moment doing tracking with him. And then I have Super and Fire’s daughter, Mighty, who is my young Border Collie. She is 18 months old, and I’m undecided again about what I’m going to do with her. And then finally my little crossbreed, Sugarpuff, who really is just a very content lap dog. So a lot of dogs.

Melissa Breau: I love that at the end of all these working dogs you have a lap dog, which is perfect.

Kamal Fernandez: Well, she was meant to be my girlfriend’s dog, but she is really just a family pet, she’s an absolute little puppet. She’s a dog that we got that we rehomed, and she’s an absolute joy in every sense. She’s just the perfect family pet, so you know what? She can do what she likes, and she gets away with blue murder.

Melissa Breau: To dive into things, I did a little bit of reading before putting together the questions. I got caught up on your blog. For those of you who don’t know, Kamal writes a blog at kamalfernandez.blog. If you Google his name, it does come up. Anyway, you recently wrote a post about why you choose to compete in dog sports, and you shared that you’re under no illusions, that dog sports aren’t really about your dogs, they’re not sitting around dying for a chance to compete. So can you share some of that here? Why do you compete in dog sports?

Kamal Fernandez: Absolutely. I’m happy to do so. As the blog said, I’m under no illusions — competing in dog sports is very much for my ego and my benefit. My dogs love the interaction, they love the training, but to actually put them in my vehicle, drive to Timbuktu, get them out, and ask them to perform at a dog show or a dog trial, or an agility competition is very, very much about my ego. So for me that dictates the reason why I train my dogs, sorry, the manner in which I train my dogs, which is using reinforcement, because, as I say, it’s for my ego, the least I can do is sell it to them in a way that’s beneficial to them.

Now the flipside to that is I have dogs that definitely need a vocation. They’re high-drive dogs, they’re dogs with a lot of energy, and they’re dogs that on paper you would say would have definitely behavioral issues if it wasn’t channeled, so I train them because it appeases that part of their personality, but I could just as easily go to my local park, or train at a village hall, or any location, and do exactly what I do with them, and that would appease that need.

So the reason for which I compete is because, one, I’m going to be truthful: it’s for my ego. I’m a competitive person. I like to push myself as a trainer to see if I can train my dogs to the standard where it’s better than my peers. I think that challenge keeps my training fresh, it keeps me innovative, and it also gives me a standard to aspire to. It would be very easy with a certain type of dog that I own, certainly, to manage their behavior and not deal with it if the dog had a dog aggression issue, or was reactive, or was chase motivated — or chase orientated, I should say — it would be very easy to stay in my life and manage their behavior. But going to competition a lot forces me, as the trainer, to have to deal with some of those issues, and as a byproduct of that it actually creates a dog that is able to function in society with great ease.

My dogs, I can take anywhere. I can take them to High Street if I’m having a cup of coffee, I could take them to a public place and they would be well-mannered and they would have good social skills. Taking them to competitions forces my hand to have to deal with that stuff. I have to socialize them, I have to teach them self-control, I have to teach them impulse control, I have to teach them to be focused on me and ignore other dogs or fast-moving things. So from a behavioral point of view I actually benefit from having to take them to those environments because I have to deal with the things I could quite easily manage and deal with in other ways. So that’s part of the thing.

The other thing is that, for me, I train dogs because it’s an extension of my relationship, and being amongst other people that have a similar ethos is you accrue — I wrote a blog today about villages — you acquire people who support you in the journey in which you choose to tread. That is not only in the manner in which I train my dogs, but also showing what can be achieved by this methodology and this approach to dog training.

So certainly for dog sports, which is largely … the majority of dog sports have, with the exception of, I’d say, agility and heelworks freestyle, those are sports that are relatively new in comparison to, say, bite work and protection work and IPO and obedience, there’s less bias toward more traditional and sometimes compulsive methods.

I think the way we would change people’s perception of how to train dogs is to get out there and show and illustrate to people what can be achieved, not just at a more local level but at the highest level of all sports, so nationally and even world championship level. I’ve had students that have gone to the world championships with dogs that have been trained positively in a sport that is primarily … for example, it was IPO, which is a sport which largely still has a lot of compulsion within it, so that was a huge thing to illustrate what could be achieved by reinforcement-based methodology, and I think if we are going to change the way in which people perceive how to train dogs, then we need to be out there and be almost ambassadors for that change.

Melissa Breau: A lot of people tend to wind up at a competition for the first time before they or their dogs are really ready, often without realizing how unprepared they actually are. If you could talk a little bit about how you officially decide when to begin trialing a dog when they have those skills and you feel they’re ready to go to a real competition.

Kamal Fernandez: I do a lot of preparation for my dogs, and my actual goal whenever I get a dog is to create a well-adjusted family pet. That’s my agenda, because I know by putting in the layers of creating a well-adjusted family pet, I’m going to get a great competition dog.

I was in a situation where, with one of my dogs, his career in dog sports was a little bit in jeopardy. He had a major injury, and I wasn’t sure if the dog would be able to recover from that injury to be able to ever compete, and I was faced with the prospect of having this dog and he would have to be just a family pet. Well, if I got the dog with the primary intention of competing him, I would have been focused on, say, drive building and bite work when he wouldn’t have been a nice dog to own. But because my agenda was to first and foremost make him a great family pet, it was neither here nor there.

So the process of creating a dog that’s great at competitions is about establishing things like focus, a great recall, getting them to be socially acceptable to work on their temperament. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t have dogs that are all of that ilk. I have rescue dogs, I have rehomed dogs, I have breeds of dogs that are predisposed to having aggression, chase drive, reactivity issues, and as part of dog training, and as part of preparing them for competition, I have to create a dog that’s stable in those environments, so I’m a great believer in training beyond the requirements of competition, so I do a lot of generalizing with my dogs. I take them to weird and wonderful places to get them confident in those environments, I teach them to cope with all the things they’re going to encounter in competition, and that is other dogs, other people, motion, distractions, tense, flapping things, things like the head, etcetera. All that stuff’s done first and foremost.

It would be great to have a dog with a baseline temperament that I could get away with not having to do that work, but the type of dogs I have — and I don’t just have one type of breed of dog. I don’t have dogs all that are from specific working lines. I have rescue dogs, I have rehomed dogs, I have dogs of unusual breeds, and my first goal is to get that dog comfortable in all environments. That in itself can take time and patience and dedication. And then, from that, I am obviously building behaviors like focus, simple behaviors like sit, down, stand, train them to focus on me, work on their domestic recall. By doing all that I create the basis of a dog that can cope with competition, so that’s my primary objective initially.

Once I’ve done that, training the dog to do the specifics needed for competition — actually here’s the ironic thing — is actually really, really easy. It’s easy  to teach a dog to pick up a dumbbell and come back, if you’ve done all those preliminaries. So, for example, if I’ve created lots of focus for me via using the medium of play, I know it’s going to be easy to teach my dog to bring a retrieved article back. I know that it’s going to teach my dog to be a great agility dog, or have agility skills, if my dog has the ability to ignore distractions. For example, all that would transfer to me walking down the local... the street and the dog ignoring distraction. The whole thing — it’s a holistic way in which I engage with my dogs.

So it’s all about preparation. We used to have a phrase when I was a police officer: “Lack of preparation is preparing to fail, and failure to prepare makes an ass out of you and me.” If you don’t put the work into preparing your dogs — and that is not only the dog trainer, that’s the you training. That’s looking at yourself, that’s looking at your mental game, that’s looking at your confidence level, that’s the whole picture.

As a sports dog coach, my agenda, my goal, is to create the team — and I use that word specifically, the team — both the dog and handler that can cope with the rigors and challenges faced within dog sports.

Melissa Breau: You said in there you take them to lots of weird and wonderful places. I love that turn of phrase. That just rolls off the tongue really neat. I was hoping that you might be willing to dive a little bit deeper into your process of preparing for that first competition. Can you just share a little bit about how you go about that?

Kamal Fernandez: The first thing is I create a lot of focus to me, and that’s done … I work a lot on my dog’s recall domestically, I take them to lots of environments, and I do the socializing process with other people and dogs, etcetera. But the main thing that I’m aspiring to create with my dog is largely indifferent to things. I don’t want my dog to be overly focused with dogs. I don’t want it to be overly focused with people. I would like them to be indifferent, like, “Yeah, people, dogs, I’m certainly not stressed by them, I’m certainly not excited by them, I’m largely indifferent.”

How I do that is I’m very diligent about how, and aware about how, I socialize my dogs. I ensure that … even socialization, it’s a process. It’s strategic. I choose the dogs that my dogs will mix with. I choose the people that my dogs will mix with. Obviously, as a professional dog trainer, I’m able to do that, but even my domestic clients who have no interest in doing dog sports specifically, we discuss the need to be vigilant with how you socialize and engage your dogs with the world.

So I’ll identify if the dog has any issues with his baseline temperament, because not all dogs are predisposed to coping with those things. That’s my first thing. I need to see what I’ve got. And then. if the dog lacks confidence, or is nervous, or apprehensive, or fearful, I first do work to create a dog that’s confident and well-adjusted in all environments.

Then I work on basic skills. I work on my foundation, and this is something that I would say most people underestimate: the need to teach foundation. It’s called foundation because that is where you are laying your basis for which your house, your building, your tower of dog training is going to be placed. If your space isn’t solid and secure and well grounded, your house will inevitably fall down. And that is having a dog that has great skills in relation to toys. So I teach distinct skills, that is, my dog to tug a toy, my dog to bring the toy back at speed, my dog to release the toy on cue, my dog to drive to a dead toy on the ground, and my dog to chase a moving toy. I do those in relation to play, and I teach distinct marker words, which I blatantly took from another Fenzi dog instructor, Shade, whose concept of introducing marker words is absolutely fantastic, and I believe other trainers in Europe use a similar principal. So I teach all that first and in relation to toys.

Parallel to that, I work skills in relation to food, and I also get my dog shaping behavior and understanding to offer behavior.

I lay all that foundation before I teach a specific exercise. The reason I do that is because now I have the mechanical skills, and the dog has the skills, to be able to train the dog effectively and efficiently for that specific behavior.

For example, if I need to teach a behavior that requires distance, a great way to reward the dog would be to throw the toy to the dog. If my dog doesn’t pursue a moving toy and then bring it back to hand and doesn’t release it, I now have to come up with an alternative solution. I would have to either go to the dog or I would have to use food, which might not be appropriate in the environment, or might reduce drive, but I’m having to compromise the A-1 means of reinforcement for that dog.

So for me, it’s all about laying foundations, and a really good example is my youngest dog, Mighty. Mighty was born and she coincided with the birth of my daughter, and obviously my priorities for dog training was very much about putting that on the backburner, so she largely was left to pasture, so to speak. I worked on social skills, I took her out on her own and I did recalls and stuff, but she had no training for any dog sport specific behavior at all. I didn’t teach heeling, I didn’t teach retrieves, I didn’t teach any of that stuff.  I didn’t do a foundation for agility. I did nothing. But what I did do was teach her skills in relation to toys, food, shaping, etcetera. I did five-minute sessions with her whenever I could, and her training was very sporadic.

Her siblings were trained and didn’t have that issue and they obviously … it was very much a toss, and they raced off and they’re doing amazing things by a year old. The irony is that now they’re 18 months old, I probably caught up with every single one of her siblings because she had a great foundation, so what they were fastidiously working at, and that’s not a criticism of them, it’s just that all I did was work from foundation. I worked on her being able to be focused with me, I worked on her understanding to pick up a toy, let it go, bring it back to me, etcetera. Now I can move her through her training relatively quickly, and she’s caught up or most certainly is fast catching up with her siblings on what she can do, and that’s all about having a great foundation.

I think that most people, they desperately want to move on to the sexy stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff that looks like real dog sports, and just working on being able to give your dog a treat without the dog taking your hand off is something that people go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll do that later on,” and yet they miss the importance of being able to deliver reinforcement effectively, and that’s really where I would urge people to place their emphasis and their attention and their training time.

Melissa Breau: Because it makes everything else so much easier, right?

Kamal Fernandez: Absolutely, yes.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned a little bit, you were talking about how you evaluate dogs and their tendencies, and I know that some of your dogs came to you with what people might consider “issues,” for lack of a better term. You mentioned last time you were on the podcast that you actually really enjoy working with behavioral cases, so I wanted to ask you a little bit about how you decide what a particular dog’s tendencies are and how those impact what you focus on in your training, or even what sports you might do with that particular dog.

Kamal Fernandez: I would get a dog with some idea of what I would like to do with that dog. But if I could, I could pick a dog from a certain line or lineage or temperament that’s going to be best suited for a vocation. However, I’ve had dogs that I literally saw, for example, my Border Collie, Scooter, and my German Spitz. I literally saw them … one was online, I saw a picture of him, I rang up the breeder, and I think I got him with no knowledge of anything about him, his history. I made the decision that I wanted a little small dog, I was Googling, he came up, and that was about as complicated as it got.

With my Border Collie, Scooter, I’d lost two dogs very young and I was frantically looking for another dog. At the time there was no puppies for some reason at least that’s how it came across, all litters had all gone, the time was wrong, and I saw him in a magazine, looking for a home, and I went and got him with no history. I had intentions of what I’d like to do with that dog. I was going to do tracking, but he had a reoccurring physical injury, which meant that he couldn’t do that. So in his situation I was forced to change what I do with him, and the irony is that he was a brilliant, brilliant tracking dog. He just had a natural aptitude toward it, but he couldn’t jump because of this particular reoccurring injury.

In that instance it wasn’t so much his temperament that dictated it, it was physicality, so that was what dictated the way the sport I did with him. But temperament’s a massive thing. If the dog has an aptitude for something and the dog gets joy from that, why not investigate that as a chosen career or sport for that dog, because I’m a great believer in doing what your dog loves, and finding what your dog loves, and manipulate it to get what you want from the dog.

If my dog has a particular tendency towards, say, for example, chase drive, the obvious sport I’m going to pick for them may be something like agility or something that is motion driven. You have to appease what the dog is naturally. You have to give the dog what its baseline requirements are. If I have a dog that likes to run in some way, shape, or form in its life, I need to almost appease that part of its personality. Same if I have a dog that likes to hunt, I’m going to do something with it that appeases that part of its personality. That doesn’t mean I might compete with it, but in its daily life I’m going to do something that satisfies them. I greatly, genuinely believe that creates a dog that is content and happy because they don’t have that sort of frustration of not having that part of their temperament or what is hardwired into them genetically not satisfied. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I think that’s super-important. A lot of people get a dog that was bred for a job and they don’t always think about how that should influence, or does influence, what they should do on a daily basis. So I think that’s an interesting point.

Kamal Fernandez: Absolutely. A lot of the behavioral cases I work with, it’s because they get a dog that happens to be from a certain breed that is predisposed to work. They need a task. That doesn’t mean that I would say you need to do a dog sport with this dog, but you do need to do something that appeases that part of their characteristics. Like a cocker spaniel — play some search games with it, throw a ball in long grass, teach it to go finding things, do some fun scent work in your living room. Something that just checks the box of hunting in that dog’s DNA, as it were. It’s the same for … if I had a dog that was predisposed to running, or liked to chase, I would channel that chasing onto me via recall so that my dog didn’t then externalize that in a negative way and therefore become reactive, become the dog that chases traffic, becomes the dog that obsesses with shadow, etcetera.

Melissa Breau: Did you pull out the cocker spaniel example because you know that I have a 9-month-old English cocker puppy?

Kamal Fernandez: Absolutely. Got to love a cocker puppy.

Melissa Breau: I know you’ve been doing some writing lately about the term leadership, and how you’ve struggled a bit with the term because of how strongly it’s associated with dominance theory, so I wanted to ask you a little about that. What got you started thinking about the concept?

Kamal Fernandez: I’ve been dog training for a little while now, and I’ve seen a real journey from how we used to train dogs and how we viewed dogs, and even from a social setting, to how we see them now, and I would say the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another and that we’ve gone from the use of compulsion was very much accepted and the norm.

Just to give you an example, the first day I went to dog training with my little crossbreed, I was 8 or 9 years old, I was taught how to put a choke chain on her, and we walked around the hall for the whole 45 minutes and we did recalls, we did all these exercises, which now I look back and I shudder of all the things that were wrong with that situation and what is best dog training.

Now don’t get me wrong — the intentions of the people were genuine and they were heartfelt and they believed — like Maya Angelou says, when we know better, we do better — they believed what they did was correct. But that opinion and viewpoint has largely changed into more positive-reinforcement-based. We’ve had more studies completed about dogs and dogs’ behavior and how behavior is viewed, and how the interpersonal relationship with dogs isn’t about them plotting up at night thinking about how, I mean, now Sugar’s sitting on my bed. I can’t for one minute think that I have to sleep with one eye open in the risk of her taking over the world, so to speak. We’ve made peace with that. We know that that isn’t the case.

But we’ve become almost reluctant to give our dogs leadership, and to give them direction, and to say to them, “It’s OK, it’s fine, you’re going to be OK,” or to say to them, “That’s not acceptable behavior. That is acceptable behavior. That’s what I’d like for you to do.”

I spoke at a conference, talking about the dirty words in dog training and the concept of saying no, not as in I’m literally saying no, but laying boundaries for my dog and having lines drawn in the sand about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior. I believe there’s a lot of guilt in dog training. I think that we have a real issue of guilt about how we treat these amazing animals who have forgiven us for poor communication, misunderstanding, and really, really inadequate training, and we’re overcompensating in that there’s a train of thought about not to put your dog in a collar, that head collars are aversive, which you could argue aversive that they are, that any sort of stress or frustration to your dog is to be avoided at all costs.

It’s not even a balance. It’s not even a balance, because my life is very much in the realm of reinforcement and positive dog training, and I absolutely, absolutely believe in its power and its potency. The way in which I approach dog training isn’t just about dog training. It’s about the way in which I lead my life. I believe in being positive, positive energy, putting positivity out there.

The parallel I use is, as a new parent, my role for my daughter is to give her direction, is to give her leadership, and to give her confidence, and that’s the greatest gift I can give her, in my opinion. If I can give her confidence and self-belief, for me, you can give a child no greater gift. That stems from sometimes it’s going to be saying to her, “That’s not appropriate. You can’t speak to people like that. That’s amazing. That’s fantastic. We’re super-proud of you.”

I consider myself somebody that leads by example in a professional sense and also a personal sense, and I have no qualms with talking about the concept of leadership. My dogs require leadership. I’ve had dogs like my Spitz — he was incredibly fearful, incredibly nervous with people and dogs and life. The way in which I built his confidence up was to give him light leadership and teach him, “It’s fine, the flappy thing’s not going to hurt you. This person’s not going to come near you. I will look after you. I will be there. I’ll support you.” I never forced him, I never grabbed him and said, “You’re going to put up with the thing that scares you most.” I was always the person that gave him confidence, and I fed that through to him with my interactions and my presence and the way I dealt with him.

We have become dubious about talking about leadership because I think that it has connotations with dominance-based theories to dog training, in which it was all about being the alpha, and being stronger and bigger, and we know that’s been dispelled. I have no negative connotations about leadership, and I have no negative connotations about being a leader to my dogs and giving them confidence.

I hope that people realize — and I stress this — that leaders don’t oppress. Leaders inspire. They cause you to want to do better. I look at the people that I consider as leaders in the public eye, and I look to them and I think they inspire you to do better. They show you what can be achieved by greatness, or what greatness looks like, and for me, I use that parallel with my dog training.

Melissa Breau: There are a couple of things in there, and one it sounds like partially what you’re talking about leadership as the idea that positive isn’t permissive, that it doesn’t mean we have to take whatever our dogs do. It also seems there’s this bigger idea of what leadership is in there. How do you define that term, or how are you defining that term? What does that look like? You talked about with your Spitz what you did to feed that confidence. Maybe you can paint that picture just a little bit more, what that looked like and what you were doing.

Kamal Fernandez: I deal with a lot of dogs that have reactivity issues and fear issues. I’ll give you an example of a dog I had. I posted videos of him on my Facebook page, and that was a Great Dane called Jensen. He was obviously a large adolescent Great Dane, and fortunately I didn’t miss my first interaction with him. He was incredibly fearful and he had a history of being reactive. He chased after a child, and there were a couple of other things going on with him.

When he came to me, the first time I met him he spook-barked at me, he backed off, etcetera, and his owner was really dubious about it. She was concerned about leaving him. Within, I would say, 24 hours, the dog’s behavior changed. It’s the same dog, and bear in mind she dropped him off for training with me, I had the dog for ten days, within 24 hours the dog was different, and within 48 hours you would have said I’d done something with that dog, or given him some sort of medication, or he was doped or tranquilized, because his temperament changed.

The way in which I dealt with him was I just never made a big deal out of his … when he got worried or apprehensive or scared, it was OK. I just allowed him to figure things out for himself. I allowed him the space and the time to just work out that the world isn’t a scary place.

I can remember distinctly taking him past a large garden ornament and he absolutely freaked out and he spook-barked at it. He was on a lead, so it was fine. It was quite a long lead, and I just let him go to the end of the lead, and I just stood my ground, and scratched my head, and looked around, and remained really nondescript about the whole thing. I was like, “OK, he’s scared of the garden ornament,” and I just allowed him to figure out. He sniffed the ground and went up to it. I didn’t feed him or reinforce him for any behavior. I just allowed him to realize, “Oh, it’s a garden ornament, that’s all it is.” Once he figured it out, the dog was absolutely fine. But because I didn’t react, and I didn’t panic, and I didn’t get stressed, or I didn’t hide or I didn’t go fearful, the dog picked up from me that, “Oh, OK, this guy doesn’t seem to be concerned about it. Why should I?” That was a consistent thing with him.

Another scenario — I had him on a training camp with me for a week, as I say. This was a dog that had reactive issues. He would lunge, and he caused quite a bit of damage to his owner’s hand by pulling and sort of strained … I think he fractured her finger, her whole hand, by his strength, obviously. So he had major issues with reactivity and lunging. I was training him one day, I was just playing with him and doing stuff with him, and somebody didn’t know I was training and they let their dog in the field. It came rushing up to him, straight up to him. It was a Golden Retriever, a really lovely dog, really super-friendly, and Jensen did nothing. He just sniffed it and he relaxed and I gave him a bit of lead and he sniffed it and that was the end of that. Now if that was previous to my dealings with him, that dog would have definitely, definitely reacted.

And again, it just stemmed from... I did things with him, like I definitely worked on his recall. I took him out with my other dogs, and my dogs are all very confident, so dogs pick up on that energy and they pick up on that vibe. If you’re with a group of people that are gregarious, outgoing, and positive, you tend to pick up on that energy, so it’s the same with dogs.

The other thing I did with him is I allowed him just to figure stuff out. I let him be a dog, and I think that’s a really, really, really key thing. Allow the dog to be a dog. Let him be a little bit freaked out by something and let him just work it out. “Oh, it isn’t a big scary scarecrow. It’s an inanimate object. It’s not an ax murderer that’s going to kill me.” Stay a safe distance, and be cautious and be sensible, but don’t be fearful in your dealings.

I’m very much about letting dogs figure that stuff out and I give them time. Obviously I use reinforcement, if appropriate. I give the dog space, and I’m mindful of who I’m interacting the dog with, so long as there’s things that help the dog. But the big thing is I give them leadership. I say to him, “The world isn’t a scary place. You’re going to be fine. Let’s walk past the ornament. Let’s just ignore it. It’s fine. Let’s go. I’m not bothered, so you’re not bothered.” I’m a confident person when I deal with dogs, and dogs definitely pick up on that.

Practical things that people can do and take away is video your training, video your interactions, and look at triggers that you do. Do you tense up the lead? Do you tense up your shoulders? Does your body posture change? Those are things that you can untrain the dog’s association with by doing those in the privacy of your own home and pairing them with reinforcement so you can help your dog understand that those triggers equate to good things happening to them.

The other thing is accrue people that are going to help you build your confidence with your dog, if you’re not naturally a confident person. I talk about accruing villages, people that have the same ethos, if you have the same approach to dealing with dogs, and therefore are going to help you with dogs that are challenging or that have issues and that you need to be a leader in, so you want supportive people around you. There is information out there. Obviously I teach for the FDSA, and I am going to use her as an example: Denise Fenzi is by definition a leader. She created the FDSA from nothing and she’s accrued people, villages, whatever you want to call them, who are on the same ethos. We are all individual, we have our own little things, and I think that’s the strength of the school, we’re all leaders in our own field, but Denise leads from the front, and she sets the tone and the example of how everybody engages, and how we operate, and how we teach, and how we approach our teaching.

From my personal experience that’s been a learning curve — how to deal with people online, and how to teach them and be more effective in my teaching and my communication, to be better and to be able to help more people. That’s the epitome of what a leader should be. There’s no judgment. It’s about inspiring people to want to do better, and I would say Denise is a great example of that. There are other people within our industry who I would look to as great leaders. She’s definitely somebody that’s taken the bull by the horns and set up this amazing school to do so.

Melissa Breau: Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more.

To shift gears a little back to the leadership concept, the last time you were on, we talked about this idea that work equals play equals work, and it seems like that idea and this idea of leadership are connected somehow. I’m not sure exactly where to pull those threads together. Do you see those ideas as related, and if so, how or how not?

Kamal Fernandez: Absolutely I do. The way in which I explain it is when I was a police officer, we always had a phrase in that you’d say, “You’d go the extra mile for a good governor.” A governor would be a person of rank who would be your manager, and you would go the extra mile for somebody that recognized your value. I think that’s very much applicable to dog training.

The reason they appreciated you is because you didn’t feel like you were going to work. You felt like you were going to be part of a team and having a great time with your mates, and everybody had the same vision, everybody was collective in what they were aiming for. I don’t want to say we were playing a game, because it was obviously serious work, but it never felt like work, it never felt like a chore to engage with the team I was specifically thinking about, because the person that led us created that ethos within the group, if that makes sense.

I’d say the same applies to dog training, in that if you can inspire your dog to want to play the game with you … Susan Garrett has a great phrase in that she says, “People that do great things, or leaders, they make the mundane tasks a game. They make things that are laborious and hard, they make it a game, and everybody wants to play games.” My role is to make it a game so the dog wants to play the game with me. Being an effective leader, you are inspiring the people that you lead, whether it be two-legged or four-legged, to want to participate. For me, the way in which I do that is via the medium of a game.

Melissa Breau: I want to totally change gears on you for a minute here and talk about your Handler’s Choice classes. I know Denise often says that the Handler’s Choice classes are one of the best values at FDSA, and I know you’ve taught them, at least the last few sessions. It seems like when I look back it seems pretty consistent. So I wanted to see if there’s something special about these classes that’s led you to offer them regularly, and if you could just share a little about how you run them and what they’re all about.

Kamal Fernandez: Handler’s Choice is probably one of my favorite courses I’ve ever done. It’s like a smorgasbord of dog training, and anybody that does Gold in the Handler’s Choice, you are going to get such amazing value for money, and you’re going to learn so much because there’s so many things that are covered. I’ve done Handler’s Choice and I had heeling, retrieves, go out, send aways, I had impulse control, I had a behavioral thing in there, all in one course, and you’re thinking, like, you sign up as a Bronze, you’re getting five or six or seven or eight, depending on how many different goal participants, you’re going to get all that information, all that different stuff, and I just think it’s such a great thing.

The way in which I do it is I allow everybody in Handler’s Choice to pick two things that they want to work on, so it might be, for example, heeling and retrieves, or it might be impulse control and tugging, for example, hypothetical, and work through that over the six-week period. I will post videos that are lectures related to your specific needs, and I’ll also do ad hoc ones. If I haven’t got video that’s appropriate I’ll go and do one that’s literally specific to your needs.

Another thing I do, which is really, really cool and I love to do, is I live-stream a session relating to somebody on that course. I have an alumni group for the Fenzi students that have done any of my courses, and I have done live streams talking about everything from heelwork to behavioral issues and adolescents, for example, I think I did a live stream on.

It’s such a great course. It’s like the secret course. People just don’t pick up on how amazing it is. You have so many courses that are very specific and the information is amazing, but it’s very, very much about a specific task or specific skill. But Handler’s Choice is literally a smorgasbord of brilliant training and so many different subjects, so if you’re a dog training geek like me, Handler’s Choice is definitely the course to do.

Melissa Breau: One last question before I let you go. I didn’t see anything scheduled with you yet after February when I was checking. It’s possible that will have changed by the time this comes out, but are there any other classes coming up that you’re going to be offering in the next couple of sessions that listeners should keep an eye out for?

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah. I’m the world’s worst in getting my calendar in order, and I tend to message Denise going, “Oh, Denise, can I do this in February?” And Denise being Denise goes, “Yes, message Teri to sort it out, whatever.” I probably, knowing me, will do something in February. At this moment I’m not sure what it’s going to be. I would have thought it would be Handler’s Choice again because that’s just a rolling class and I love teaching that, but at the moment I’m doing the FCI Foundation heeling course, which probably the natural thing would be to do the next subsequent course after that to give the people on the Foundation course continuity. That’s probably the way in which I’m heading.

The whole concept of the school is just fantastic. I love the ethos, I love the message, I love what the other instructors bring to the table. Some of them are very diverse and very different to what I do, and I’m very different to what they do, and I think the beauty is that we’re all individual, but we’re all on the same song sheet, so to speak. I think for anybody contemplating doing a course, it’s amazingly great value for money. It’s such a reasonably priced product. To be crass, it doesn’t cost the world to do six weeks of dog training with a world-renown international dog trainer in a specific field for $65. I think it’s $65.

Melissa Breau: The bronze? Yeah.

Kamal Fernandez: …where you can get that information. It’s ridiculously cost-effective, so hopefully more people will sign up and they’ll get on board with what Fenzi has to offer.

Melissa Breau: I certainly hope so. Thank you so much, Kamal. I really appreciate you coming back on the podcast.

Kamal Fernandez: My pleasure, Melissa. Thank you very much for asking me, and thank you very much for having me, and all the best.

Melissa Breau: You too. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, this time with long-time FDSA student Ester Zimmerman, to talk competitive obedience and dog sports in general.

And guys, this week I want to repeat my special request from the last couple of episodes. If you listen to podcasts, I’m sure you’ve heard other people say this, but reviews in iTunes have a HUGE impact on helping new people find the show and letting iTunes know that our show is actually worth listening to. So if you’ve enjoyed this episode or any of the previous ones, I’d really appreciate it if you could take a moment, go to iTunes, and leave us a review.

We’ve gotten a few new ones -- like this one, titled Another Way to Learn from Top Dog Trainers from A Very Dead Bird.

“I'm excited that the Fenzi Academy has another venue to educate about progressive, effective dog training methods. If you're a fellow behavior geek, especially if you're into dog sports, this podcast is for you.”

Thank you a very dead bird, whoever you are!

And, while you’re there, if you haven’t already, subscribe 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.

Feb 15, 2018

SHOW NOTES:

Summary:

Julie Flanery has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship, through clear communication, and positive reinforcement.

She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast. In 2001 she was named "Trainer of the Year" by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.

Next Episode: 

To be released 2/23/2018, featuring Kamal Fernandez, to talk about the benefits of competition and the concept of leadership in dog training.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Julie Flanery.

Julie has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship, through clear communication, and positive reinforcement.

She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast. In 2001 she was named "Trainer of the Year" by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.

Welcome back to the podcast Julie!

Julie Flanery: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: To start people out, can you just remind folks a little bit of information about your dog, what you do with her, and who she is?

Julie Flanery: Currently I work with my 7-year-old Tibetan Terrier, and we are competing in Musical Freestyle and In Sync, which is a version of Heelwork to Music, and also Rally-FrEe. She’s earned her Championships in both Freestyle and in Rally-FrEe, and a Grand Championship in Rally-FrEe, and we’re working towards our Grand Championship in Musical Freestyle and our Championship in In Sync.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to share her name?

Julie Flanery: Kashi.

Melissa Breau: Kashi. Excellent.

Julie Flanery: Kashi. Like the cereal, you know? Good for you and makes you feel good.

Melissa Breau: I like that! So I think we have a pretty fun topic lined up for today. I wanted to talk about the skills that trainers need but they sometimes don’t learn until they get pretty into dog sports. To start us out, I wanted to start with talking about shaping. What aspect of shaping do you feel is usually the hardest for new trainers to implement effectively and why?

Julie Flanery: I think there are a couple of things that can be really hard for trainers. The first thing, I think there is a very fine line between clicking what you observe and anticipating what the dog will do, so that your click is well timed. There’s a tendency to wait until you actually see it, and then in that moment we have to process that information before we can act on it and actually click it. While this happens really quickly in the brain, there’s still some latency, and this can actually result in late clicks, so you’re giving the dog information that isn’t actually what you want to convey. So first, having a picture in your head of the path the dog is likely to take, and shaping that behavior.

Let’s say you’re shaping going under a chair. You can picture the dog’s most likely path from where he’s starting, as well as from where your reward is placed, and have a sense ahead of time of where your click points will be. You want to anticipate those click points. You at least want to have the precursor to your click points in mind and what they’ll look like. This way you’re going to be able to anticipate the dog’s next likely action, and that’s really imperative to good click timing.

In a lot of respects this also relates to raising criteria, which is another place that handlers tend to have a lot of difficulty, and they’re often getting stuck by clicking the same criteria for longer than is actually beneficial. You can often get stuck by clicking that same criteria for longer than we want, longer than is beneficial, so having that picture ahead of time can actually help the handler move forward in their criteria shifts as well.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the going under a chair example. If you know you’re going to have the dog go under the chair, what is it that you’re looking for? That first drop of the head? The drop of the shoulders? Am I on the right track?

Julie Flanery: Depending on where the dog is starting, you might just be looking for looking at the chair. That might be your first click point. And certainly before the dog can move toward the chair, he’s going to look at it. Before the dog can go under it, he’s going to move towards it. But before he can move towards it, he needs to look at it. So you’re looking at that progression and the behavior to determine where your click points are going to be so you can anticipate those things. If you put your chair out and then you go stand next to the dog and wait for something, you’ve probably already missed that first click. So setting that chair out, the dog is likely to look at it. That would be your first click. And then moving towards it, we can anticipate he’s going to take a step towards the chair if he has any experience interacting with props. So we’re anticipating that, and we’re looking for it to happen, and we’re trying to time our click and mark it just as he’s doing that. If we wait until he actually does it, we’re probably going to be late in our timing.

Melissa Breau: Talking about timing, I know that one of the things you stress in your shaping class is the importance of good handler mechanics. I wanted to get into that a little bit. Can you share what you mean by that and how it’s supposed to work? Maybe where folks tend to go wrong when it comes to mechanics?

Julie Flanery: Sure. I think that we make it much harder on our dogs to shape than it needs to be sometimes. The dog needs to concentrate on the task, the task of figuring out “How do I earn reinforcement?” Remember, the dog doesn’t know we’re working toward something specific. He doesn’t know there is an end-behavior goal. We know that, but he doesn’t. He only knows that if he does certain things, he earns rewards.

But I do believe that experienced shaping dogs do learn there is an end result and that they are working toward completion. They learn there is a process being followed and can anticipate the next steps, what we sometimes call “learning to learn.” They can anticipate within the process, once we have allowed them to experience it enough, which I believe is why some dogs seem to be better at getting behaviors on verbal cue while other dogs seem to struggle with that a bit. So the more verbal cues the dog learns, the quicker he learns the next ones, so there’s an understanding of the process, what comes next, and the understanding from experience that verbal cues have meaning and value.

In terms of clean training, clean training is really about creating the best environment for the dog to concentrate on the task and not be distracted from that. So in shaping, the primary information we want to provide to the dog is the marker and subsequent reinforcement. This is really all he needs within the shaping process in order to progress toward the handler’s end goal. Yet we’re constantly hindering their ability to do so in a variety of ways. Hovering over the bait bag, hands in pockets, reaching for food, or having food in our hands all indicate reward is imminent. The only thing that should indicate that reward is imminent is the sound of our marker. Anything else is overshadowing and diminishing the meaning and value of that marker: the click. That’s our most powerful communication tool while shaping, and yet we’re constantly putting in these extraneous movements or chattering to our dogs, and all of this, if done when shaping, can draw their attention away from the task.

Think about if you’re concentrating on a crossword puzzle and someone keeps interrupting you to ask a question. It’s going to take longer to complete your puzzle, as there’s all this extraneous stimulus that you keep having to deal with. So in our attempts to help our dog — getting the treat out faster, saying encouraging things, moving in a way that we think will prompt the dog — he’s having to filter through what is relevant and what is not, and in our efforts to help, we’re actually pulling the dog off task. So let them work. Your job is to provide relevant information and not to cloud the learning process by doing things that distract the dog from working towards that task. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Sometimes it just helps to stop and think about, OK, this is the process I’m actually following: it’s a click and a pause and then reach for the treat, that piece.

Julie Flanery: Right. In terms of mechanical skills, those are the things we’re talking about. We’re talking about, What is the handler doing with their body? Is their body still and quiet? Are they allowing the dog to focus on what’s important, or are they taking the dog’s focus away from that because there’s something going on with the handler that isn’t really adding to the learning process and is actually detracting from it.

Melissa Breau: Even knowing all that, people tend to get frustrated when they’re trying shaping, especially if they haven’t done a lot of it, because they wind up with a dog that does one of two things. They wind up with a dog that stands or sits there and stares at them, especially if they’ve done a lot of focus work, or they get a dog that is throwing out behavior so fast that they’re having trouble targeting one specific thing or getting motion towards the behavior that they’re looking for. Any tips for folks struggling with those issues? I don’t know if there are generic tips that apply to both, but maybe you could talk to that a little bit.

Julie Flanery: That can be a huge deterrent and pretty frustrating to someone that’s just starting out in shaping, and I know many, many trainers who gave up or basically said, “It doesn’t work.” It’s not that the process and protocol don’t work. It’s that they need to learn how to apply it effectively. So these are two separate issues: the dog that stands still and does nothing, and the dog that just starts frantically throwing behaviors at you. But in general I’d say they have the same solution, and it’s a pretty easy mantra to remember: Click for anything but. Anything but standing still and staring earns a click, even if you have to toss a cookie to start them moving and give you an opportunity to click. Anything but standing still. A lot can happen, even in a dog that’s standing still, but for a lot of new shapers, the two-legged kind, larger movements are going to be easier for them to see. So getting the dog moving and clicking anything but standing still will help.

For those dogs that are frantically throwing things at you, you want to click way early, before they have an opportunity to start throwing behaviors out. You want to be ready before you get the dog out. A lot of dogs, we give these cues that we’re about to start shaping. We pick up our clicker, we put the bait bag on, we put our hand in our pocket, we go to a certain place, and our dogs, before we even in our minds are starting to train, are already starting to throw behaviors out at us. All of those “pre-cues” that we’re giving are actually cues to the dog to offer. So be ready before you get the dog out.

The worst thing you can do with both these kinds of dogs is look at them expectantly, like, “OK, do something,” or “Do something else.” Sometimes we have to create those first few clicks to get the dog on the right path, so setting up our environment or a session to prevent both of those things by creating some type of an effective antecedent. So if a dog is constantly throwing things at me, then I might use a prop to direct his activity. Or I might click upon coming out of the crate and each step forward toward where we want to train.

Often, dogs that throw behaviors just aren’t being given enough information of what to do, so they’re giving you everything they can think of in hopes that one of those will get clicked. So rather than shaping toward something, the handler is waiting for it to occur. I want you to click — again, it’s “Click anything but,” so if you can take that moment of behavior — a single step, a single look, coming out of the crate — and click that, that can start to define for the dog the path you’re going to lead them onto. It can tell them, “Oh, I don’t have to keep throwing all of this stuff, because she’s already clicking something. Now what did she click, so that I can repeat it?”

The other thing that often happens with these dogs that tend to throw things or push farther in the criteria than we want them to be is although we aren’t willing to drop back in the criteria, to move forward again. When the movement gets out of hand and you feel like the dog is pushing, or you’re pushing, or you’re rushing, it’s OK to just stop, breathe, go back earlier in the criteria, click something way less than what you’ve been clicking, and then build it gradually back up again. So again, I think the answer is the same for both those situations: Click anything but.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. I like that. It’s nice, short, and easy to remember. This seems like a good point to dig in more a little bit on criteria. You were talking a little bit there about thinking about your criteria maybe a little differently than most people do. Are there general guidelines for how fast to raise criteria? I know you talked a little bit about going backwards in your criteria. When is it a good idea to do that?

Julie Flanery: For me, and I think most of the Fenzi instructors, we all have a pretty common idea about raising or lowering criteria, and that is when it’s predictable, when you can predict they’re going to give you the exact same criteria again. I like to include the word confident, so when it’s confident and predictable, then increase criteria, and if you have two incorrect responses in a row, then it’s time to lower criteria.

For my dog, oftentimes she’s ready to raise criteria and looks confident, and for me, it’s predictable in her within three repetitions. I can tell whether it’s time to raise criteria, stay where I’m at, or lower criteria. A response might be predictable, but I’m not seeing quite the confidence I want to see, and so I might hold off another repetition or two to ensure that she really has some good understanding of that. But certainly if I see two incorrect responses in a row, then I’m going to lower criteria.

Now that precludes that you know where your criteria shifts are, because when I say “incorrect responses,” you have to know what that is and what that isn’t. Let’s say I’m training a bow, and I am watching for the head and shoulder lowering, and she’s moving in a progression forward, so I’m clicking the head drop, click the head drop again, then she lowers slightly lower, I click that, and I’m anticipating what her next movement is, so that I can actually see and anticipate, through my click, when she will do that.

Let’s say, for shaping, an incorrect response might be either less than what I previously clicked or no response whatsoever. She’s predictably dropping her head and starting to lower her chest, but maybe her elbows aren’t on the ground yet, and she’s done that same thing three times in a row, then I’m not going to click that anymore. I’m going to wait, and hopefully she’ll give me a little bit more, based on the fact that I’ve clicked this previously, she knows she’s on the right track, and she’ll be like, “Hey, did you see this?” and give me a little bit more, and I can click that.

So it was predictable that she was going to drop her chest a little bit and her head is lowering. I don’t want to keep clicking that because I’m going to get stuck there, because she’s going to think, “Oh, this is right, I think I’ll keep doing this.” If she is at that point, say, and the next offering, the next rep, her head isn’t quite as low, so I don’t click that and she just stands up. So she offers again and she still doesn’t get as low as the previous one, and she just stands up. Then I’m going to say, “OK, she doesn’t have clear enough understanding of what the next step is, so I want to build confidence in the previous.” In that case I’m going to lower my criteria maybe for a couple more reps and then start to build back up again. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and that was a great example because it walked us through thinking through the different steps and the bits and pieces there.

Julie Flanery: Hopefully you can actually visualize that a little bit so you can actually see and be able to anticipate what that next step is. We all know what it looks like for a dog to bow and bring his chest and elbows down to the ground. You can map that out in your head and be able to anticipate what comes next, and if what you expect to come next isn’t happening, you’re stagnated, or you’re getting lesser responses, then that’s showing that the dog doesn’t understand what that forward progression is next.

Melissa Breau: You said something recently, and I can’t remember if I originally heard it in a webinar or if it’s from class, but you were talking about “leaps of learning” and how to respond if, while shaping, the dog suddenly makes a big leap in the right direction. Maybe we’re trying for four paws on a platform, they’ve been struggling to give two, and suddenly they step on it with all four paws. Obviously you click it. Do you mind just sharing it here? Because I thought it was really interesting and I hadn’t heard that before.

Julie Flanery: I don’t know if I will say exactly what you remember, but I understand what you’re asking, and it did come up recently in the shaping class I’m teaching that you are a student of — and you’re doing very well, by the way.

Melissa Breau: Thank you.

Julie Flanery: So there are times when it seems like our dogs get it right away, like, all of a sudden — what you just described —they were struggling with two and all of a sudden there’s four and “Yay!” That doesn’t mean you’re going to hold out for four feet on the platform now. One correct response doesn’t indicate understanding, and yet sometimes we forge ahead as if it does.

I want to see not only predictable responses, I want to see confident, predictable responses, so that leap up of four feet on the platform might have looked confident, but we don’t really know if it’s predictable until we get a few reps. So I want to make sure that I see confident, predictable responses before I increase criteria, even if it appears that they’ve got it.

Now, having said that, I don’t want to stay stuck at the same criterion too long, so each handler has to determine what that looks like in their dog. For me, I can recognize confidence in my own dog, in Kashi, and for her, if she provides the same response three to four times in a row, that’s predictable, and I’m going to go ahead and raise criteria there. If I made an error in judgment, I can always drop back down, but my goal is still going to be always forward progression. I don’t want to stay stuck in any single criterion for too long, and that might be different for each dog, but consider your definition of predictable. For me, again, if she does it three or four times in a row and she looks confident in her actions, I can predict that she’ll do it that fourth time or that fifth time. If I can predict it, I don’t want to stay there.

Kathy Sdao talked about criteria shifts in one of her lectures in relation to a recording being played on a record player, and how the needle can get stuck in a groove and not advance, so the record keeps skipping over the same place in the music. Well, if we click the same criteria for too many reps, the dog will get stuck in that groove, and you risk some increased frustration in working to get out of that groove. Sometimes lowering criteria is the way out. Sometimes withholding the click is the way out. Either way, you need to get out of that groove.

Melissa Breau: Frustration on both the dog and the handler’s part.

Julie Flanery: Exactly, exactly. It’s kind of like that dog that stands still and does nothing. You need to get out of that groove. What I talked about earlier about having a picture in your mind of the likely path the dog will take – that will help you not get stuck. I think sometimes people get stuck because they just don’t know what to click next. So having a picture in your head, thinking ahead of time, “What is this process going to look like?” will help you anticipate that and will help you move forward in the process, to progress in the process, and not get stuck at any one point.

Melissa Breau: What about duration? First of all, is it possible to actually shape duration, and then if so, how is shaping duration different than shaping more active behaviors?

Julie Flanery: That’s a really interesting question, and it’s interesting because of the way you framed it. You said, “Is it actually possible to shape duration?” and that surprised me because yes, it’s totally possible to shape duration, and I think really in general all duration is shaped in that we are marking and rewarding in small increments towards that end behavior, towards that extended duration of behavior.

Shaping duration is like shaping any other skill, though your increments need to be sliced very thin in order to not get some other behavior in there. You’re still withholding the click for a little more, and for most dogs withholding the click means do something else or push ahead. Duration needs to be more finely sliced so that we don’t get some of that junk behavior in there. But that little bit, little generally less than what you might hold out for in a moving behavior, so you’re not waiting long chunks of time, too, what we have to measure can be more difficult, so it’s not as difficult to measure movement, as there is time and space, you can see a dog’s action and how it carries him forward. So clicking movement, marking movement, in increments is not too difficult for the observer.

In building duration, there’s only time, there’s no space, and we aren’t very good at keeping track of time. If I paused here, then I asked three different people how many seconds did I pause, they would all have a different answer. So I often either count in my head or out loud to measure the advancement of my duration criteria. In appropriate criteria shifts for duration, especially since they should be sliced thin, we often aren’t very consistent in our forward progression of time, and that can lead to inconsistency and a lack of understanding in the dog. I think that the reason people have difficulty shaping duration is because they aren’t slicing those increments of time small enough. They’re thinking of it like they would shape movement and larger pieces of behavior, and in shaping duration you can’t do that because the dog is going to pull off.

Let’s take for example a sustained nose target. We want the dog to hold that nose target for — let’s say our goal is three seconds. Four seconds, three seconds. Initially we click the act of pressing the nose and we click immediately. That tells the dog what the intended behavior is to which we’re now going to start to attach duration. Once the dog presses the nose and expects a click and it doesn’t come, he’s likely to pull off, which is not going to get clicked either.

Often when we withhold a click, which is what just happened here, on the next rep we will see a slightly higher-energy behavior, a little bit more, a little bit stronger, again it’s like that “Hey, didn’t you see this? Look, I’m going to do it a little bit more so you can see it.” In that moment of that second offering after the withheld click, you’re likely to see a little more pressure — and I know it’s hard to see, and this is why hand touches are a good thing for this, because you’ll feel that pressure — and in that moment of more pressure, that takes a slightly longer amount of time. The time it takes for your dog to just touch something, and the time it takes a dog to touch something and put a little pressure, is slightly longer, and that’s what you’re clicking.

That pressure is also criteria of sustained nose target, because they’re going to have to put a little pressure there in order to keep their nose there. So that slice right there is super-thin, and once the dog pushes on again, you may have to go through a couple of clicks of he pushes, or, I’m sorry, he touches, it’s not sustained even for a fraction of a second, you wait, that second one is sustained a fraction of a second, you click. Then you can start to extend by not seconds but almost fractions of seconds. So you’re not counting one-one-thousand. You’re counting one, click, one two, click, one two, click. If the dog pulls off, there’s no click.

So the dog is starting to understand, through both the withheld click for when he comes off and the click for continued small slivers of duration, that by keeping the nose to the hand, or the wall, or wherever you wanted the target, that’s what he’s building toward. But as soon as you start to increase that too far, too fast, you’re going to get frustration, you’re going to get poking at the wall, which is not what you want, and so the key to duration, to shaping duration, is really making sure that, number one, you are slicing those increments very small, and that those increments are very consistent, that you’re not going all over the place with your duration, and that’s where the counting or doing something that helps you measure that passing of time so that you have appropriate clicks will help.

I’m not going to deny that it’s a harder concept for some people to get, or it’s a harder skill for some people to get, but if you understand the concept of shaping, and progressing through a behavior through small increments, it’s just a matter of how finely you slice it for duration. That’s all.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, because typically you think of it’s always easier to teach a dog to do something in the absence of a behavior.

Julie Flanery: Correct. But you have to think of duration as a behavior. Does that make sense? Duration isn’t the absence of a behavior. It’s the continuation of a behavior. It’s the absence of movement, and we’ve always been taught “Click for movement, feed for position” — still a very, very good rule. But in duration it seems as if it’s the absence of a behavior, when in actuality it’s the extension of a behavior.

Melissa Breau: That gives me a lot to think on.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m sure.

Melissa Breau: Hopefully it gives a lot for everybody to think on. But I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about training in general. I think you gave a great webinar last year on verbal cues, and it’s part of what inspired the topic for today, the idea of what you didn’t learn in puppy class. I feel like the concept of when to add a cue and how to go about it sometimes gets glossed over for a number of reasons, obviously, when dog owners are first learning to train. So when do you typically add a cue to behavior and how do you go about it?

Julie Flanery: For me, something that I touched on earlier, I like the dog to have confident, predictable, correct responses that include the majority if not all of my criteria for that behavior. I say majority because there are some times, or some things, that I can add later, and the cue actually helps me draw that base behavior out of the dog.

So, for example, duration or distance may be something I don’t have yet, but will go ahead and put it on cue and build those in later. The behavior may or may not be fully generalized when I put it on cue, depending on the behavior. I may use cue discrimination as part of my generalization process. For me, the criteria, the majority of the criteria, needs to be predictable and confident and I’m certain that I’m going to get correct responses. As soon as I have that, I will start the process of putting the behavior on cue.

Now, having said that, that will fluctuate, so I might have predictable, confident, correct responses in a session in the morning, and so partway through that session I start to add the cue. But maybe that afternoon or the next day, when I start my session, I’m not seeing the same confidence or the same predictability, and in that case I’m not going to continue to use the cue or add the cue in that session.

There’s kind of an ebb and flow to our dogs’ ability to maintain predictability when they’re first learning behaviors. It has to do with that leap of learning we were talking about earlier, about not assuming that because the dog does it correct once that they have understanding, and it’s the same with adding the cue. I do want to take advantage of my dog’s predictable responses in any given session, those predictable responses that again that are confident and contain the majority of my criteria. But just because I’ve started putting the behavior on cue doesn’t mean that that next session, or that next location that I might work the behavior, that my dog is ready then to put it on cue.

It’s kind of like Denise’s “Work the dog in front of you.” That dog changes from session to session, and so my training strategies have to change session to session, depending on what he’s giving me at the start of that session. So again: predictable, I’m going to insert the cue; not predictable, I’m going to hold off a little bit. And that may all very well be with the exact same behaviors over different sessions.

I think you are right in using the term “glossed over.” It’s a part of the process that few spend very much time planning or implementing. It’s either almost like an afterthought — “Oh yeah, now I need to put the cue on” — or they make the assumption that if they just start using the cue while training, the dog will get it somehow. So that process they apply is often random and very inefficient.

Overlapping the behavior and the cue is a really common thing that I see. Cues should always precede behaviors with nothing in between, no junk behavior in between the cue and the behavior. You want it to have meaning for them. In putting behaviors on cue or transferring the cue, you really need to set that up. So if you’re shaping, you first need a predictable, correct response. Are you noticing a theme here, Melissa? A predictable, correct response with confidence — that’s really key to the dog’s understanding. If the response is confident and correct and predictable, then we can start to assume some understanding. Until that happens, though, we’re still working towards that. Once you have that, you insert your cue just prior to the dog either offering the behavior or the behavior being prompted.

For example, we might have used a hand signal, we might not be shaping, we might have used a hand signal, or we might be prompting the dog in some other way, a visual cue or a prop might prompt the dog to interact with it. So just before the key phrase is, just prior to the dog offering the behavior or performing the behavior, that’s when you insert the cue. Not as the dog is doing the behavior. Cues always precede behavior. It’s why they’re called antecedents. It’s that old ABC: the cue is the antecedent, then behavior, then consequence.

So when putting a cue to shape behavior, where people tend to shoot themselves in the foot is continuing to reward offered behavior. They might have started to put the behavior on cue, great, the dog is predictable, the dog is consistent, you’re doing the correct thing by inserting the cue before the behavior, but unfortunately, you might be continuing to reward that offered behavior. So once you start to put the behavior on cue, execution on cue is the only thing that gets rewarded. Otherwise there’s no value in the cue to the dog. If he can offer and get rewarded, or if he can get rewarded for doing it on cue, you’re not going to get stimulus control because there’s no value in the cue. Now there’s a caveat to that.

Melissa Breau: Of course.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, and you’ll learn about it next week in class, but there are times when you have a behavior that’s on cue and you’re going to want to remove the cue and encourage the dog to offer it again so that you can either fix or improve on the behavior. Maybe something’s gone a little bit wrong, or you’re not getting the criteria you used to have with it. It’s gone a bit south. Then you want to remove that cue so that you can refine or improve the behavior, and then put that cue back on. That’s a little more advanced process that is an important process too.

Cues are cool. To me, putting the behavior on cue is the most important part of training the behavior, if you ever want to be able to draw it out of your dog. If you want the dog to respond reliably, then you have to really apply that process of putting it on cue very succinctly and very deliberately and not in a random fashion. We don’t need cues if we don’t care when the dog performs the behavior. But we do care. That’s why we train. So cues should be a priority, and understanding how to put behaviors on cue should be a priority in any handler’s learning.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of people struggle with that concept: the idea of getting something on stimulus control, getting a behavior to the point where it is reliable but also only actually happens on cue.

Julie Flanery: And the reason is exactly that, because we have a tendency to still click off the behavior when it’s offered. We love it, we like it, it’s cute, I mean, “Oh, look at you, you did it again. How great,” and we have been patterned to click that offered behavior. We have to get ourselves out of that pattern. The rule is: Once you start putting the behavior on cue, you only click it when you cue it. That’s what builds stimulus control.

Melissa Breau: Let’s say that you like to train, and you often get behaviors to that point where they’re reliable enough for a cue. Is there any downside to having a bunch of half-trained behaviors that you never actually attach a cue to? …

Julie Flanery: Well, that depends a little on your goals. If your goal is to compete and you need those behaviors, well, that’s a really obvious detriment. But even more than that, in leaving behaviors what we’re calling “half-trained,” you’re denying your dog the opportunity and the experience to learn how to learn, how to learn a behavior to completion, and how to understand when you want him to perform that said behavior.

Like most trainers, I love the acquisition stage. I love shaping, I love developing a behavior, but I also need my dog to understand the whole process if I ever want those behaviors to be of any use to me. I need my dog to learn how the process of adding a cue works so that he can also anticipate what comes next in the process.

The more experience I give him at learning the whole process complete through generalization, adding the cue, and fluency, the faster and easier it is to train the next behavior, because it becomes something we are both working through the pieces to completion. The dog can help drive the process forward. That not only builds stronger behaviors, that builds faster behaviors, and that builds truly greater teamwork, in my mind, because you both are on the same path. You both have the same type of goal.

But if we have a lot of half-trained behaviors, and only some of our behaviors are trained through completion, the dog just doesn’t have enough experience to understand the full process and help drive that process to completion.

Melissa Breau: A little birdie told me that maybe you’re working on a class on that topic.

Julie Flanery: I was asking the other instructors if they thought a class on finishing up all those half-trained behaviors would be a good idea, and they all jumped on it. So I’m planning to call it Mission Accomplished, and in effect you’ll be providing your dog lots of opportunity and experience at learning how to learn.

I think, for some, the reason that they haven’t finished these behaviors is because they and their dog just need more experience at how to do it effectively and efficiently. People can get stuck in the process, just like dogs, and oftentimes that’s why we have those half-trained behaviors. Maybe we don’t know what we should do next, how to get it on cue, how to generalize it — all of those things that are involved in having a completed, reliable behavior.

So hopefully that class will help some people. I think it will be a really fun class, and I’m just starting to develop it, but you’ve given me a lot of ideas in this podcast now that I can include in there, so that’s super.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Do you have any idea yet when it’s going to show up on the schedule?

Julie Flanery: Oh my gosh, I have no idea. I’m just trying to get through this session. But I am keeping some notes and have some ideas floating around in my brain, and the schedule is a little bit set, but every now and then I’ll add in a class if it’s ready to go, so hopefully within the next few sessions it will be up on the schedule.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I’m looking forward to it, I will tell you that.

Julie Flanery: Good.

Melissa Breau: I think the other topic that gets overlooked — for lack of a better word — in pet training classes where most of us start out is fading treats from the training picture, so how to start reducing reinforcement. At what point in the process do you feel like a behavior is well enough established that you can start that process, and how do you usually tend to go about that?

Julie Flanery: First thing somebody said is, I don’t want the behavior well established before I take food out of my hand. That’s personally for me. My rule of thumb for luring and removing the food from my hand is really first session, three to five reps, then present the hand cue, it needs to look exactly like my active lure, and I use it as a test. In general, especially dogs that have gone through this process, most dogs can do at least one correct response, or a partial response, without the food in your hand, due to the perception that the food is actually there, and you can build on that.

Again, this is kind of important in terms of what we just talked about, about dogs learning the process. If a dog has gone through lure reward training and understands that at a point early in the process the food will no longer be an active lure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be rewarded for following the hand signal, then that’s a much easier leap for them than the dog that has an expectation of having food in the hand all the time, and really the only time he gets rewarded is when there is food in the hand. So that’s one of the issues is we tend to reward less if we don’t have the food right in our hand.

But really it goes back to that teaching the dog the process so he has an appropriate expectation, and so it’s not difficult to make those criteria shifts. The criteria shift of having food in the hand to having no food in the hand — that’s criteria shift that the dog and handler go through. So three to five reps, and then I will remove the food from my hand and I will click early. I won’t wait for the full behavior. I will click the dog following an empty hand cue on the path to the end behavior. I don’t need to have the full behavior before I click the first time I take food out of my hand.

If you tend to lure, if you use the lure for several sessions, then that’s what your dog is going to expect. Lures are really effective for showing criteria, I do use lures on occasion, they’re very effective at building patterns for the dog, but the sooner the dog learns to offer the criteria without food in your hand, the faster you’re on your way to a more robust behavior, one that’s going to, in my mind, have more strength and more longevity. So when I use lures, it’s as a means to jumpstart my dog’s understanding of what they should be offering.

I think lures are an important tool, and I don’t think we need to remove them from our toolbox, but I do think that people tend to keep food in their hand for far too long, far too deep into the process, so it becomes too much of an expectation for the dog, too much of a prompt, certainly. I hate to use the word “crutch,” but in a way it is, because really, until the food is gone, they’re just following food. I don’t believe that that stronger learning process starts to take place until the dog is initiating the behavior without prompts.

Melissa Breau: That certainly matched my experience.

Julie Flanery: I think that’s why so many trainers now are really delving into shaping and are really starting to use that more as a primary tool than luring.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Julie! I really appreciate it.

Julie Flanery: I had a great time. I hope I get to come back again. I’m sorry I took so long. I get excited about this stuff and I love sharing it, and I want to share that with people, so I really appreciate you having me back here.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I think folks are going to take a ton out of this. There’s a lot of great information here, so thank you, seriously.

Julie Flanery: Super.

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

We’ll be back next week, this time with Kamal Fernandez to talk about the benefits of competition and the concept of leadership in dog training.

And guys, this week I want to repeat my special request from the last few episodes. If you listen to podcasts, I’m sure you’ve heard other people say this, but reviews in iTunes have a HUGE impact on helping new people find the show and in letting iTunes know that our show is worth listening to. It helps us get recommended and it helps us get more eyeballs on the podcast and ears. So if you’ve enjoyed this episode or any of the previous ones, I’d really appreciate it if you could take a moment and leave us a review over in iTunes.

And if you haven’t already, subscribe while you’re there 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.

Feb 9, 2018

SHOW NOTES:

Summary:

Denise Fenzi is the founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (FDSA). She has competed in a wide range of dog sports, titling dogs in obedience, tracking, Schutzhund, Mondioring, herding, conformation, and agility.

She is best-known for her flashy and precise obedience work, as demonstrated by two AKC OTCH dogs and perfect scores in both Schutzhund and Mondioring sport obedience. Her specialty is in developing motivation, focus, and relationship in competition dogs, and she has consistently demonstrated the ability to train and compete with dogs using motivational methods in sports where compulsion is the norm.

Next Episode: 

To be released 2/16/2018, featuring Julie Flanery, talking about all the things you were never taught in puppy class.

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 Denise Fenzi.

At this point, Denise probably needs to introduction, and I want to save every minute of this interview that we can for what we’re here to talk about today: the benefits of play.

So welcome back to the podcast Denise!

Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa. Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited. This is a good topic. To start us out, do you want to just remind listeners who each of the dogs is that you share your life with right now?

Denise Fenzi: I have three dogs. Raika is the oldest. She’s 13-and-a-half and doing very well. There’s Lyra, and I believe she’s about 6 now, and she is also doing well. And there is little Brito, my terrier mix. He’s 4 now.

Melissa Breau: It seems like it was not long ago that you got him.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. Every time I think about it, I’m kind of amazed at how time goes by.

Melissa Breau: As I mentioned in the intro, we’re going to talk about play today… and I think a lot of people who sign up for your class on the topic, they’re thinking about one thing: its benefits for competition. So do you want to just briefly talk about what those are, and how play fits into the competition picture?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. My online play class covers personal play, which is interaction without toys and food, and also covers toy play and play with food. Most people, when they talk about play, personal play, are thinking in terms of what they can do when they go in a competition ring with their dog when they don’t have their cookies and toys. That’s actually pretty understandable and is actually what caused me to explore the issue in the first place. But the longer I’ve been playing with it, and teaching the class, and exploring the topic, the more I’ve realized that the question’s a little bit premature. It probably makes more sense to think about play in terms of building the underlying relationship, and less energy should be spent on what you are going to do with that play.

The reason it matters is because the play you can use in the ring may have absolutely nothing to do with the play you do at home while you are working to develop your relationship. But you can’t jump ahead. You have to go through the process. So it’s kind of an issue of goal versus process.

I have noticed — I’ve taught this class many times now, I would say maybe five times — and I have noticed that the students come into the class with a different perspective. The very first time I taught the class it was kind of universal. Every person said the same thing, which is, “But how will I use this in competition?” And honestly, this term, so far not one student has actually said that. So change is taking place. I don’t know if it’s because the reputation of the class has encouraged that, or if it’s our student base has developed and they see things differently. I’m not sure, but it certainly has saved me some time writing to people, “Please let’s focus on the process for now. We’ll get to that later.”

Melissa Breau: What kind of benefits can learning to play with your dog really have on that underlying relationship?

Denise Fenzi: The one I usually bring up first is that to play well with a dog without food or toys requires an incredible amount of attention to how the dog is responding to what you are doing, kind of on a second-by-second basis, because if you do something that you think is attractive to your dog and your dog has a different opinion, you have about a half a second to figure that out before your dog avoids you. Now I look at this as all a great big learning opportunity, so it’s not a problem that your dog runs off when you do something. You say to yourself, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t do that again.”

What I find is that the process of teaching play is probably the fastest way for me to teach people how to observe their dog’s body language, because everything is so immediate. The handler does something, the dog responds, the handler responds, the dog gives a final response, and if you made good decisions at those two junctures, then you will have a good response or a neutral response, and if you misread the dog’s behavior, you will get instant feedback, and I find that’s invaluable.

Melissa Breau: So how does that compare or maybe mix with play’s role as a motivator for training?

Denise Fenzi: Well, within training, if I still have my food and my toys, I primarily use it as a way to break up sessions. For example, over the last month I’ve been recording every single session with Lyra and Brito learning to heel on my right-hand side, which is a new thing for all of us. That means I’m spending longer than I should on each training session. So let’s say that an ideal training session with a new skill is a minute, which is probably about right. After I’ve taken the time to set up the video camera and make it happen, just for purely pragmatic reasons I cannot do that. But what I can do is train for a minute, stop, and play with my dog. It can be as little as five seconds. As a matter of fact, it often … that would be normal. Five seconds, 10 seconds, maybe 15 or 20 seconds — that would be unusual — and then I can ask for another minute or two.

Those little mini-breaks relax everyone. They relax me and the dog, and they let go of the stress which is invariably part of learning. So while positive reinforcement training is designed to be fun and to be low stress, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the dog or the human is not getting it right and that builds up stress. So being able to play in the middle of a session is really a fantastic thing for everyone. If nothing else, it reminds the handler of why they have their dog, and it reminds the dog that “Everything’s good, mama still loves me even if I make some mistakes, everything is fine here.”

Melissa Breau: I know you touched on this a little bit already, but how does learning to play really help people read their dog and why is that beneficial?

Denise Fenzi: I think for anybody involved in dog training, being able to read your dog is 90 percent of the game. It’s actually so significant that now when people describe to me what is happening with their dog, I almost refuse to answer if I don’t have a video, because I find it so common that I see something different than they see. So when people can see what their dog is doing and accurately interpret it, their training is going to skyrocket. It’s hard to underestimate the value of accurately reading your dog’s behavior.

For example, when dogs walk off in the middle of training to sniff, the vast majority of novice trainers see that as the dog finding something better to do. They found a good smell. It takes a lot of time to learn that most of the time the dog is actually avoiding you, and while that’s a little uncomfortable, recognizing it for what it is, it’s not a condemnation of you as a person. It simply means that whatever you are doing at that moment at that time is causing distress to your dog. It’s nothing more than that. So if I’m in a training session and it seems to be going OK, and my dog starts to scratch or shows some other sign of distress, I don’t get upset about it. I just change my ways. That is something that play can give to you — that quick ability to in real time instantly identify how your dog is feeling.

And while I specifically called that distress, that’s equally true of a happy dog. So what are your dog’s happy signals? What do the ears do? What does the mouth do? What do the eyes do? What does the tail do? There’s a lot to the picture. And there’s just the sheer fun of it, right? So for the handler to look at their dog and recognize their dog really wants to be there, and to feel confident in that assessment, that really does amazing things for your training.

Melissa Breau: What about specifically for anxious dogs? Are there benefits to learning to play for those dogs?

Denise Fenzi: Personally, I don’t go in that direction in my classes. What I tell people is, “My job is going to be to help you become a better play partner to your dog.” That is my emphasis. However, I know that, for example, Amy Cook, who also teaches at the Academy, she uses play as a way of relaxing dogs in stressful situations, and also as a barometer for the dog’s suitability for the place where it’s at. So being able to play with an anxious dog is actually super-critical to behavior work. The other thing is, in my opinion, when you play with your dog, what you’re able to tell them is that everything’s OK and that you’re on their side. To be able to communicate that is a big deal. If I’m with somebody and I’m feeling a little nervous, they can absolutely hand me something to eat, it will certainly distract me. But if they put their hand on my shoulder and tell me, “You know what? It’s OK. It’s going to be OK. I’m right here with you,” that’s a completely different level of support. And I think being able to play with your dog, especially with an anxious dog, will take you in the right direction.

Melissa Breau: What about me as the human or handler? Is play really all about the dog, or are there benefits for me, too?

Denise Fenzi: A few years ago I was going to give — not a webinar — a presentation on play to an audience, and I thought it might be a tough sell to that particular audience. So I felt the need to have a little bit of background and backup for my assertion that I think play is important — and I sure hope nobody contacts me and asks me for the information now, because I don’t have it anymore — but I found quite a few studies which talked about the effects on both the dog and the handler on mutual interaction. In some cases the interaction was simply looking at each other. In other cases it was playing together, sometimes it was about playing ball or whatever. And there was just a lovely thread of discussions about how the hormones on both sides of the picture here, for both the dog and the human, the happy hormones went up, the sad hormones went down, and the end result is a more content picture. Like I said, I don’t have that anymore, but I’m sure if somebody wants to investigate it they can find that information again.

Melissa Breau: It would be interesting to look up some of that stuff and be able to point to some of those studies. I know that you also teach engagement, obviously, so do you mind just talking a little bit about how play, or being able to play with your dog, can impact or influence your engagement training? And maybe just start out with a little bit of explanation on what engagement training is, for those who may not know.

Denise Fenzi: The word engagement is a little bit complicated, because when we say “to engage another,” we simply mean to mutually interact. When I talk about engagement training, I’m actually talking about a very specific training process which teaches the dog that it’s their responsibility to let the handler know, first of all, when they’re comfortable, and secondly, that they would like to work. The second part of that involves the dog engaging the handler in play or strong interactive behaviors. So an example of play would be that the dog play-bows at the human and the human responds. An example of just a strong behavior might be that the dog jumps on the person. So there’s variations. I teach engagement online, and I find that students who already have developed some repertoire of play with their dog have a much easier time with it because, first of all, it actually occurs to their dog to offer play, because engagement is a shaped process. It crosses the dog’s mind that maybe they should ask the owner to play and see what happens next. So that’s a huge benefit right there. The handlers who don’t have play training or some comfort with play, they struggle. Not only do their dogs not think to offer it, but even if their dog does think to offer it, they don’t know what to do next, and so now it sort of stops the process of training engagement and we redirect into the process of training play. And while that’s not terrible, I just find that most people came into engagement class to learn engagement, and the ones who came in with play already make a lot more progress on that skill, and the ones who have to stop and redirect simply don’t go as far. Now that’s no emergency, but for sure having play skills will make your engagement training easier.

Melissa Breau: Let’s assume that some of the folks listening are convinced… they want to give this a go, they want to focus on trying to play more with their dog. Where should they start? What are some good ways to start play, especially if it hasn’t been a big part of life with their dog before now?

Denise Fenzi: Well, right off the bat, loud and crazy is probably not the direction you want to go. Generally when people think about play, they think they’re going to imitate how dogs play with each other. That’s a little unrealistic in terms of a place to start. So unless you’re 5 years of age, you are not going to run around the back yard like a crazy person with your dog, and even if you did, your dog would think that was so bizarre and out of character that you would actually be likely to frighten your dog. And then I’ve noticed that people get a little intense and nervous because that’s not the response they were looking for, and that’s when they start to sort of, for lack of a better word, assault their dogs. They come up and start — they call it “playfully,” but anyway — they start pinching and pulling and doing weird things, and that drives the dog further into avoidance. So Rule Number One: start low key. I find it so much more effective to start with what we would normally call praise rather than play. Pet your dog, scratch their ears, gently and sweet. Now, from there, can you ratchet that up to look something like what happens when you walk in the front door and your dog is glad to see you? So maybe you went from a gentle massaging-type interaction, let’s call that a 1 or 2 out of 10, to something a little more “Oh boy, you’re home, Mom, I’m so glad to see you.” Let’s say that’s in your 3 to 6 range, depending on your dog. Can you start to get that behavior you get at the front door in your play session when you don’t have that context? What do you do at the front door? How do you interact with your dog? Do you clap? Do you pet them? Do you talk to them? And what happens, and what does your dog look like at that moment? What kind of an expression does your dog have? All of that should feel fairly natural and seamless to most people. From there we can start ratcheting up, and little taps and running away. That brings me to my second rule of thumb: I generally strongly suggest that people try to figure out on a scale of 1 to 10, what energy level is your dog showing you right now, and can you match that plus or minus 1? So if your dog’s being kind of crazy, and you don’t really want to hang out at a 10 with a Great Dane, the problem is you can’t go to a 1 because you’re not going to register and your dog’s going to leave you. So can you get to a 9, and then quickly to an 8 and a 7 and a 6 and a 5? From my point of view, it’s perfectly legitimate to put a toy in the dog’s mouth or use food for redirection, if it’s really rambunctious and you need to get your dog to a level that’s more sustainable for both of you. But using the matching system, the number system, helps a lot. It helps people match their dog and stay in the game without it getting out of control, feeling free to add food and toys if you need to. This is a little bit new for me. A few years ago I tried to do a lot more without that, and I don’t do that as much. And also starting on the low end of the scale and working your way up — that is also something I would say is new to me. Over time I have discovered that works much, much better for all parties. The final thing I would mention is really watch for signs that your dog isn’t having a good time, and take your dog seriously. Respect that. So if you can get one great minute, that’s fantastic. Just stop. Don’t go for 5 or 10. And if your dog says they want a little break, honor that. It’s not personal. Your dog didn’t take a break because they think you’re horrible. Your dog took a break because he needed one and he recognized that he was struggling with his own arousal — too high, too low, whatever. If you pursue, you will drive your dog into avoidance. So I think I would start with that package and see where that gets you.

Melissa Breau: Do you mind just talking a little bit more about that toy piece? What made you change your mind, or how can people use that in a way that it doesn’t become all about the toy?

Denise Fenzi: Well, I think a lot of it was simply safety. Dogs can hurt us with their teeth, whether they mean to or not, and if you give the dog a toy, and they chomp on the toy instead of on your arm, that’s obviously a lot more pleasant. There’s all sorts of other things that go with that, you know — habits, and teaching your dog that it hurts when you bite, and all kinds of stuff. The problem is, asking a dog not to use their mouth in play is a lot like asking a human child not to use their hands. That is how dogs communicate with each other. It’s how they communicate in play. And so if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time teaching them how to do that. So in the same way that if you tried to teach a child to play with their hands behind their back, while doable, if you gave them something to hold in their hands behind their back while they were doing that, they would be much more likely to remember, and it would give them something to do with their hands, to grip a thing. If you give the dog something to hold, and they have those urges to bite down or to grab, they have something in their mouth already. With Lyra, I don’t think I tried to play with her without a toy in her mouth until she was probably 2 years old, and what I discovered is after that time we had made enough progress that she didn’t need it anymore. And so then, when the toy was out of her mouth, she didn’t have that desire to grab me. She knew what to do. And the time when the toy was in her mouth gave both of us time to learn how to play with each other and kept us out of over-arousal situations while we were learning the game. So it solves a lot of problems. Now if the dog says, “It’s all about the toy. If the toy’s in my mouth, then let’s play with it,” that’s actually not that much of a problem. What I do is I will pull on the toy, let’s say every 10 seconds, just enough to keep the dog holding it. But the rest of the time is spent quick little tap, run away, little play bow, clapping, finding ways that the dog keeps the toy in their mouth but redirects their energy to me. When I say the dog holds a toy, I don’t mean you never touch the toy, and I don’t mean it’s not OK to play with the toy a little. It’s a balance issue. So let’s say the first day it’s 50/50: 50 percent of the time you’re playing with the toy and 50 percent of the time you’re playing with the dog. The next day could you get that to 48/52? So over time can you get it to the point where it’s 10 percent toy, 90 percent dog, and eventually can you get it where you take the toy away from the dog, play with the dog for 10 seconds, and then go get the toy together and go back to your 90 percent playing with the dog, 10 percent toy. That’s how I’m approaching it these days.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting to hear how you’ve evolved that concept a little bit. What about those people who want to do this, they try to play with their dog and … their dog just doesn’t seem to be interested. What might be going on there? Is there still hope that they can figure this out, that they can do this?

Denise Fenzi: Well, there’s definitely hope. I’m actually amazed at how many people who go through the play class make significant progress when they were pretty sure they weren’t going to get anywhere. And, in fairness, I have read some introductions where my initial reaction was, “This is going to be really hard.” And most people progress. Now I define progress exactly as that word states. It’s progress. I’m not a goal-oriented person, so what I’m looking for is did we move forward? If we moved forward, I’m probably pretty happy, and I find most of my students get there. So is there hope? Absolutely positively. Might it look the way you thought it was going to look? Might it look like your neighbor’s dog? Well, maybe, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t need to look like your neighbor’s dog. It needs to work for you and your dog, and honestly, if that never gets past the point where you are able to scratch your dog’s head and thump your dog’s side, even though you’re in the middle of a training session and you have access to food and toys and your dog knows it, I’m happy, because as soon as I can get the dog off that look of “Don’t touch me, I want my food and toys,” I’m going to be happy. That to me is a huge success. So rethink your goals, and make sure that you’re really being reasonable, and I think you will progress.

Melissa Breau: If people want to see some examples of this stuff, if they’re having a little trouble picturing it, because some of this stuff is complex and it’s hard to visualize, can you talk about where they might be able to go to find some of those examples, which pieces of this you cover in class?

Denise Fenzi: This particular class I believe has over a hundred videos. It’s incredibly dense and complex. One of the cool things about the class itself is the active students, the ones that are learning. Every term I learn a new way to play with a dog. Somebody does something I’ve never seen before and I go, “Oh, I never thought to cover the dog with a towel and snap it off. I never thought to cover myself with a towel and let the dog find me.” So little things like that. It’s a constant process of evolution. Deb Jones and I did write a book on the topic of play, so the third book in the Dog Sports Skills series is on the topic of play and has an awful lot of detail. Having said that, I would say that between a class and a book, this is something … I think you make a lot more progress if you watch videos, because it is so second-by-second, so that is one place where I think video would serve you well. I’ve never actually searched YouTube for videos of playing with a dog, but you know what, if you are not interested in taking classes, that’s not your cup of tea, and you don’t really want to sit down with a book, the first thing I would probably do is go to YouTube and search “playing with a dog,” and something has got to come up. It has to. In this day and age there’s so much out there. That’s probably where I would start. The second thing I would do, if I really wanted to go it myself, is just go back through this podcast, because I gave you a lot of places to work from and a lot to start with, and just give it a shot. See what you get. If you end this podcast feeling inspired to try it, then you’re halfway there already.

Melissa Breau: I was actually going to add to that, if you don’t mind, that I think that some of the TEAM videos have some really nice examples of engagement, and some of those samples of engagement have really nice pieces of play in them, if people wanted to see some additional examples. That’s just on the TEAM site free.

Denise Fenzi: Not only that. I forgot about that. The Fenzi TEAM Players Facebook list is very active, and a couple three weeks ago I did do a flash challenge on the topic of engagement. So many people did put up their examples of working on engagement, and because it was a flash challenge, I respond to those videos, so I would have given my input and my thoughts on that. That would have been playing more specifically focused towards engagement and work, but regardless, you got to see play there, so maybe join that list.

Melissa Breau: That list is free, right? Anybody can join that. They’re welcome to join.

Denise Fenzi: Sure.

Melissa Breau: Just a last question here. If somebody does want to take the class, is there a dog that’s good for the class, or maybe not a good fit for the class? Is there anything they should think about from that stance?

Denise Fenzi: This term I probably have the widest variety of dogs, off the top of my head, that I’ve ever had. Let me think about it. I have a Great Dane, a Mastiff, then I have some more typical dogs, Sheltie, Corgi, then I have some teeny guys. I’ve got a Chihuahua, a softer. more fragile dog, I have a small mix, I think she said it was 10 or 11 pounds. I do believe there might be an Aussie in there, a Corgi. I have much greater size discrepancies than I’ve ever seen before, so I’ve got the tiniest and the largest, which is fun and interesting. I have non-players. I have dogs that have shown no interest whatsoever in a toy. And actually those dogs, the first week’s lectures, the ones that have been released this week, are all about toy play. So we are focused on toy play right now, but I’ve seen the baselines for all types of play. So right off the bat the toy play’s going really, really well, and the owners are excited because they’re seeing things they hadn’t expected. Next week, around the 9th or so, is when I start releasing the personal play lectures, and having seen the baseline, there’s going to be a little of everything. There are going to be dogs that tend toward over-arousal, and there are going to be dogs that think it’s all kinds of crazy and don’t want to stay in the game at all, maybe showing avoidance, and I think there will be some middle ground as well. My personal preference when I teach a class is an incredible variety of dogs, and when people join the class I really try to encourage them to understand that there are no good dogs or bad dogs, there are just dogs. So it’s OK, the responses your dog gives you, they’re not right responses or wrong responses. They’re just the response that the dog gave you, and we can just keep changing direction. That’s no problem. We explore and look for what works for a more serious dog, a more anxious dog, not an aggressive dog but an assertive dog, and try to find a way, find a route, that makes you love your dog a little bit more and makes your dog think you’re just a wee bit more interesting than they did yesterday. Which does bring up a point I meant to say and I forgot it. In my experience, when I go back and read my survey results for this class, probably the most common thing that people say to me at the end of class is that they’re surprised at how much more their dog watches them in life. Without being trained to do so, the dog simply finds them more worth their while than they did before, and the dog checks in more. So when they go on walks, the dog just checks, “Are you coming? What are you doing?” The dog just seems to recognize that they offer more than Pez-dispenser-style training. They’re more than a food dispenser or a toy machine. They are a valuable person who means more than the next person, and if I get that feedback, if I get that result, then I have won, and I feel very good about that.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and I think that’s a great point. There’s some really great gems in there for people that want to tease them out. Thank you so much, Denise, for coming back on the podcast. It was great to chat again.

Denise Fenzi: It’s always great to be here, Melissa. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Julie Flanery, and we’ll be talking about the things no one ever told you in puppy class. That is, we’ll be diving into some of my favorite topics — handler mechanics, verbal cues, all those types of things.

And guys, this week I have a special request. If you listen to the podcasts, or you listen to other podcasts, I’m sure you’ve heard other people say this, but reviews in iTunes have a HUGE impact on helping new people find the show and letting iTunes know that our show is actually worth listening to. So if you’ve enjoyed this or any of the previous ones, I would really appreciate it personally if you could take a minute to just go into iTunes and leave us a review.

And if you haven’t already, subscribe while you’re there, and our next episode will automatically download 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.

 

Feb 2, 2018

SUMMARY:

Dr. Deborah Jones -- better known around FDSA as Deb Jones -- she is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in agility, rally, and obedience over the last 25 years.

In 2004 Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the FOCUS training system. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi, co-authoring the “Dog Sports Skills” book series and authored several other books, with more in the works!

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes, including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 2/9/2018, and I'll be talking to Denise Fenzi about Play, so stay tuned!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones -- better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.  

Deb is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience over the last 25 years.

In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the FOCUS training system. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency Lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi, co-authoring the “Dog Sports Skills” book series, and authored several other books, with more in the works!

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes, including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.

Hi Deb! Welcome back to the podcast.

Deb Jones: Thanks, Melissa. I’m really happy to be here.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to just reacquaint listeners with the furry friends you share your household with?

Deb Jones: At the moment, we have four dogs and one cat. We have a wide variety. Smudge is the oldest dog. He’s a Blue Merle Sheltie. He’s 14 now, and sadly, he’s sort of in the hospice stage of life. He’s having more and more issues, so that’s always a tough thing to deal with. But we’re taking it day to day and seeing how he is.

Then I have Zen, my red Border Collie, who’s 10 years old. Zen still is his wild and crazy self. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Star is my black-and-white Border Collie, and she’s going to be 7 this year, which is just stunning to me because it seems like she’s still just 2 years old. I can’t believe they keep getting older. I tell them to stop, and I tell them 7’s a perfect age, just stay 7 forever and I’d be thrilled because it’s just the right time.

Then we have little Tigger, who is the tiny little Sheltie. He is just going to be turning 2 next week, and he only weighs 7 and a half pounds, so he’s very, very small for a Sheltie, but he’s full of himself. He’s got enough attitude for everybody.

And finally we have Tricky the cat. I think Trick’s about 8 or so now. He’s been around for a while. He was the star of the Cat Class that we put on last year. So that’s the group for the moment.

Melissa Breau: Last time you were on the podcast, I know we talked quite a bit about focus, since that’s a big part of what you teach. For anyone who’s listening who wants to go back and listen to that, which I recommend, it’s Episode 14. But I did have a question or two that we didn’t get to last time, so I wanted to dive into that just a little bit. On your syllabus for the Get Focused class, you have a line that says, “What is focus? How is it different from attention?” So I wanted to ask, what is your definition of focus, and how is it different from attention?

Deb Jones: OK, I’m glad to talk about that. That’s a common question that we get all the time. The way that I think about focus is that it’s the ability to concentrate on a task despite distractions. So whatever it is that we’re doing, you can keep doing that without being pulled away or pulled in other directions by things going on around you.

In the dog training world, attention is often considered to be either the dog’s looking at you or making eye contact with you. Focus is a lot more than that. That’s a part of it, but it’s actually a small part. With focus, my dog might be working on a task totally independently of me, and I don’t want them looking at me or making eye contact. You can imagine, for example, pretty much most of agility, nosework, working in obedience at the upper levels in particular, something like go outs — there are lots of times when the dog needs to focus on what they’re doing, and then appropriately switch back to trainer focus when it’s necessary.

So there’s a lot more going on there than just “Look at me,” because if you just look at me all the time, we’re not going to get very far in our training. We start out with that, we start out with “Pay attention to the trainer,” because that is really the first step. But it’s also, I think, a lot more about persistence at the task, sticking on task once you start doing something, no matter what is going on around you. That’s sort of my expanded answer of the difference there.

Melissa Breau: A lot of people tend to ask about focus. They’re those students that have worked really hard, and they finally managed to achieve good focus from their dogs, and then they’re really scared to ruin it. They’re working at their desk, or they’re watching TV, or who knows, but they’re doing something of their own that does not involve the dog, and the dog comes over and offers focus, offers to engage, and wants to work, and they feel like, OK, my choices are ruin my dog’s focus and all this work that I put in, or ignore my dog, and they struggle with that a little bit. How do you handle that? What do you recommend in that kind of situation?

Deb Jones: That’s something that does start to happen, especially if you’ve done very much focus work. All of a sudden now, too much focus is a problem. But it’s really not a problem. We’re all happy when we have more focus. We can’t say that’s a problem.

Melissa Breau: It’s a good problem.

Deb Jones: Yes, it’s a very good problem. So if your dog wants to interact with you, I always think that is fabulous. Take it. I always acknowledge it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and train you right now, but I am going to respond to you in some way, even if I’m just petting you and saying we’re going to do something later. That’s still responding to you. I don’t jump up every time that you focus on me.

In our work, in the system that we have set up and the way we teach focus, we set up expectations for when we want focus and when we don’t need it anymore, and we’re clear about when those times are. We want focus work for training sessions. When I’m training my dog, I want focus a hundred percent of the time. But when we’re lounging around the house, we don’t need focus anymore. So we set up the dogs to understand, These are the times, these are the signals I’ll give you that focus will be reinforced, and these are the signals that I give you that we are done for now and you can pretty much do whatever you want … well, within reason. You can’t get into trouble, but you can pretty much do whatever you want. So we have those on and off cues that we use with them.

If I had a dog, though, who was very sensitive, or really hardly ever engaged with me and was very new to this, I would probably leap up from my desk and have a party if they showed me that they wanted to be engaged. So it really very much depends on the dog, as well as the level of training you’re at.

If I did that now, though, with Zen, I would never do anything else. It would be like a constant 24/7, so with him it’s the opposite. It’s “We’re done for now. We don’t need any more focus at the moment.”

We do actually in focus training, the second exercise we do, we capture focus when it happens, and we acknowledge it with something that’s non-food. So we want to get into the fact that my paying attention to you, my interacting with you, playing, praise, petting, all of those things, we will do. And what surprises people is how often then the dog starts focusing on them around the house. So it shows us that they’re willing to do it, as long as we’re willing to acknowledge it.

The other thing I want to mention here, because this is something that also comes up a lot, is people will talk about doing focus work while they’re walking their dog, or hiking, and I tell them, “Don’t do that.” To me, that is totally separate from my focus work. When we’re out hiking, or out walking, that’s my dog’s chance to relax, and to sniff, and to do again whatever they want to do within reason. I’ll stop when they stop, I’ll move when they move, I don’t make a big deal about it. It’s for them to relax as much as for me, and that’s not a time when I want focus. I may have to give you a cue at some point, I may have to call them back to me, or ask them to lie down or something, as necessary, but we don’t ever combine focus work with those informal activities. We keep those totally separate, again so it’s clear to the dog: I’m expecting focus from you now; I’m not going to be expecting it from you in these other situations.

Melissa Breau: Hearing you say this, it almost sounds like you’re essentially putting it on stimulus control.

Deb Jones: Exactly. I could have said that and not gone through all these explanations. Yes, that is exactly what we’re doing is putting it on stimulus control. Maybe I need to stop being so wordy.

Melissa Breau: No, no, I think that was good, because I’ve taken the class and I hadn’t thought of it that way until you described it this time around. That’s an interesting way of thinking about it. Now, I know in addition to Get Focused this session, you’re teaching a new class, and the topic is kind of fascinating. You called it Achieving a Balance Between Motivation and Control, which I think everybody wants that, right? So can you share a little bit about what the class covers?

Deb Jones: Well, I can probably share a lot about what the class covers, because it’s on my mind. Whenever we develop a new class, we think about it 24/7. It’s on my mind a lot, and I’ve been thinking about this class for a long time and trying to figure out how to put it into the format that I wanted in order to teach it. When I was thinking back, I realized I was writing lectures for this when we went to camp last year, on the plane to camp, so it’s been a while. I’ve been working on pulling this together, and the thought’s been in the back of my mind even longer.

This is another what we would call a concept class, meaning the class is not about any particular behavior or skill. It’s more like it’s built around a theme, and everything we do then kind of supports that theme or helps us explore it or find ways to make changes based on that. Concept classes in general are harder because they require more from the trainer. They require more thought and effort. And they’re harder for the instructor for the same reason. They just are a little bit different. A skills class is just, “We’re going to work on this thing, like a retrieve, and that’s all we’re going to work on for six weeks,” which is a lot more straightforward. But concept classes tend to be a bit different.

I first really started thinking about this idea of balance in dogs back when I was doing a lot of agility. You would see what would happen over time pretty regularly. Somebody would start out, say, with their first agility dog, and often the dog was never gotten with performance in mind. They just stumbled into it. And as they started to do agility, typically what happened was they would say, “Oh, this dog isn’t fast enough,” “This dog isn’t interested,” or “This dog isn’t very driven” — and I’ll talk about drive in a second here — and then they would go, “I need a dog that’s going to be better suited for this,” which I’m good with that. I think that’s a very smart thing to think about: Is the dog I have suited for what I want to do?

But then they would get a faster model, oftentimes a model with no brakes, so typically a herding breed. And then they have this little baby puppy herding-breed dog, and they spend about a year building drive in the dog because they’re so worried. Since their last dog didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm and energy, they’re going to get it with this next dog. Of course what happens is this dog already had plenty of motivation, and what you’re doing is not building drive in any way at all. What you’re doing is building over-arousal. So now you have dogs that are high as kites, and what happens? No control, because the person was afraid to work on control because that was a bad idea with their last dog. We’re pretty much always training our last dog, and it’s usually very different from what the dog in front of us needs right now. So we end up with these dogs that are highly over-aroused, often around agility, and that’s just the first place I saw it. People do it in other sports as well.

Let me get back to the term drive, though, because this is one that I very carefully left out of the description of the class. I purposely thought about it and left it out and changed it to motivation. The term motivation, I think, is a better one for what we’re talking about. When you’re motivated, you want to do something. You have a reason to do it, you have the energy to do it, you have the desire to do it. That’s what we think of in dogs when we talk about drive. But scientific terms we never use the term drive. That’s just something that’s seen as not even a real thing. It doesn’t exist. It’s a word that can be described better in many other ways, or a quality that can be described better in many other ways.

On the other hand, dog trainers use it all the time, so it’s not like I can say I will never use that word, because people do understand what you’re saying when you talk about drive. Actually, in my first lecture in the class, I talk about … say a little bit about this and why I don’t use that term, but I understand that a lot of people do. To me, it’s more of a motivation issue than it is a drive issue. That’s why I don’t use that term a lot. I may lapse into it now and again, if I forget myself.

But typically, so let’s go back to my example of the totally over-aroused dog. So now what we’ve got is no control. What that really means is there’s no balance. You’ve got all arousal, no control, or all motivation, no control. That’s not a good place to be for the dog or the trainer — trust me, I’ve been there. You wish greatly for your more careful, thoughtful dog when you have a dog that just “go, go, go” a thousand miles an hour, and you cannot get them to slow down for a second. That’s a problem. That’s a big problem.

I think in general it’s hard for us to know who our dogs are, to really, clearly see them, and to see what they actually need. Again, we have this illusion that either we’re training the dog we had before, or we have this mythical, idealized version of who the dog is. So we’re not actually thinking and really analyzing who’s this dog and what do they need to get them more into this balanced place where they can do whatever we want, yet they can still make good choices and decisions and think about what they’re doing.

This is where we get into nature and nurture a little bit in my thinking about it. Genetics matters. There’s no question about that. You can’t say they don’t, and I sort of believe they matter more than 50 percent. Of course in psychology, for years we’ve talked about the nature-nurture controversy and what determines how you turn out as an adult. Was it all determined by your genetics, or does your environment and experience have a lot more to do with it? Of course it’s not one or the other. It’s an interaction of the two. But lately the thinking has been going back to the nature part of it, and that there are some things that were hardwired into us, and it’s really hard to change them. You can’t override nature. You can modify it a little bit.

So we’re going to be looking at what has nature given you with this dog. I have sort of a temperament test. It’s not really a test. It’s you answering questions about your dog from what you know of them, trying to answer them honestly in terms of what is this dog, who is this dog, what do they bring into the world in terms of core characteristics? In humans we talk about something called the “big five personality characteristics,” so I sort of built it off of that, that these are the things that people think are genetic. Where do you fall on introvert/extrovert, where do you fall on resilience when something bad happens and you recover from it — those kinds of things.

So we’ll look at that, but of course the flipside of that is your environment and experiences. They matter. They may not again override what you normally are going to be, but they certainly matter a lot. So we’ll look at those as well and talk a little bit about it.

It used to be the early behaviorists like John Watson would say, “Give me a baby and I can make him anything I want him to be.” And I’m, like, Oh, I don’t think so. Parents everywhere would tell you that is so very wrong. That’s not the case at all that you could possibly … nobody comes into the world a blank slate, or the Tabula Rasa idea that we have from John Locke. That just doesn’t happen, really.

We’re not all interchangeable when we could be whatever we wanted, and that’s not true for our dogs, either. We know they’re different, and we have to take that into account. So we look at that interaction. I’m going to talk a lot about that the first couple weeks of class, the interaction of nature and nurture, and look at where we’re standing with these dogs right now. So, what is my dog, to the best of my knowledge, really like?

Then we’re going to talk a lot about arousal levels. I’ve mentioned arousal a few times because you can have too much. Too much, too little, over- and under-arousal. But that’s something that we can modify. Classical conditioning, in particular, plays a huge role in this process of arousal. We connect certain stimuli to being over-aroused or under-aroused.

So we’ll talk about how that works, and look at how we might change some of those fairly automatic responses. They just happen. When you are exposed to stimuli, you have that response. I’ve had dogs, personally — Smudgie, the old dog, right now is a good example of that. You get within a certain distance to the agility ring, and he had no brain. Absolutely no brain. Screaming, lunging, just … you know, he didn’t do it on purpose. It was just his automatic response because the stimuli of agility brought out that response. We had to work very, very hard to change that and to get him at an appropriate level where he could think at least a little bit as he went into the agility ring, because if you go in like that, nothing good ever happens afterwards. It tends to be a train wreck. So we’ll talk a little bit about — I’ve had some train wrecks now and again — we’ll talk a little about how arousal levels and classical conditioning work.

One of the things that has been fascinating to me lately is to think about what they call “tells.” Tell is a subtle sign that you could easily miss that something is happening or is going to happen. They talk about it in gambling, that if you’re good at understanding another player’s tells, you can tell what kind of hand they have, even if they’re trying to hide that. So learning this about our dogs, what are the precursors to arousal changes? If we can see those early, we can jump in there and make some changes so that they don’t go too high or too low. We can get them in that optimal state of arousal where they have plenty of energy and yet they still can think and learn.

Tells are really different for every dog and very, very easy to miss. I think here’s where video is really helpful, because you didn’t see it when you were training, but when you go back and look, you start to see this pattern. I was actually doing some video for this class, for the later parts of this class, talking about tells, and I realized that I was ignoring one from Star. I was getting it regularly that it was definitely one of her tells, and I was ignoring it and not even thinking about it. When I looked back over the videos, I was like, Oh, she does do that regularly when she’s too aroused, and then the next thing’s going to be a bark. So that led me to go, If I could change when I see this, the very beginnings of it, then everything would go better. So we’ll work with people to try to figure out what their dogs’ tells are, and to pick up on them earlier in the training process.

I think there’s a lot here, and it’s taken me a long time actually to pull it together in a way that made sense to me. We still go on things like … typical things like the reinforcers we’re using, when we’re using them, how we’re using them. Even the markers and the fact that markers can lead to different levels of arousal. I know I see that in many dogs. There are lots of dogs that the click is a signal for over-arousal, and as soon as they hear a click, they’re off. They’re just higher than possible. I can’t even use a click — I rarely use a click, I should say — with Zen in shaping anymore because I realized I had done that with him. So I switched to a verbal marker, and he doesn’t get nearly as high when we do that.

The other thing we’ll look at here and talk about are energy levels from us and our dogs, and the fact that we want to change their energy level. We want more or less of something, but we have to be very subtle and careful about how we go about doing it. You can’t force it. You have to move them very slowly in the direction you want. If we change our energy levels too drastically, it doesn’t really help. It only frustrates them or causes them to avoid us. So you have a low-energy dog and you’re acting like a clown — clowns are on my mind because I’m doing the webinar on classical conditioning, and scary clowns seems to come up a lot — so you’re acting like a clown, and you’re actually going to turn your dog off and push them even further away from you, rather than if you just bring up your energy a tiny bit, they’ll likely come up to meet that. So we have to experiment with that and see what works for any particular team.

A lot of this, in fact all of this, is very, very customized to different teams. The good thing is usually in Gold spots you get enough variety in dogs that you see a little bit of everything. We don’t get dogs that are all the same. So we’ll be looking at over-arousal, under-arousal, we’ll be looking at things I’ve probably never seen before in terms of arousal, and working with that, which is always the fun part of teaching — when you get something you didn’t expect. OK, so that’s the long version of what the class is about.

Melissa Breau: It sounds even more fascinating now than it did before. I just think it’s going to be such an interesting topic. It sounds like the Gold spots are going to be invaluable in that class.

Deb Jones: I think it can help people in many ways. I think it really can. As I said, it’s going to be challenging for the trainers because they do more work than the dogs. It’s the same as trained Focus class. It’s more about giving you a lot of information to help you start to see things differently and start to approach your training differently. I think that that’s definitely going to be something that comes out of this.

Melissa Breau: I know the title includes the word balance, and you talked a little bit in there about looking at different skills and thinking about where your dog is. I’ve always thought of it as a little bit of a game of tug-of-war, where you work a little bit on precision, then you have to work a little bit more on building drive, and they impact each other. Is it ever really possible to have a dog that’s equally motivated and controlled?

Deb Jones: I think that there are some dogs who just by nature are pretty equally balanced. It’s nothing we do. They just came that way. In fact, Judy Keller’s first Sheltie, Morgan, I’d say he was just the perfect dog. In terms of arousal and control, he was ideal. She didn’t do anything to cause that. He was her first performance dog. She didn’t even know what she had at the time. Looking back now, you know what you had. But it’s like, yeah, by nature, some dogs are just like that. They just come prewired that way.

But most of us are not that lucky. We’re going to get dogs that come at all different levels of this, and yes, we’re going to be constantly working on it. It’s maintenance. It’s always maintenance. You will push your dog too far in one direction and then have to go a little bit back in the other, though most of them we know.

For example, I know with Zen, his lifetime is about a little more control, because he’s got all the motivation in the world. With another dog, like my Papillon from years ago, Copper, he had so much control just naturally, and he was a little inhibited naturally, so everything for Copper was always about more motivation. That’s all we worked on. I never worked on control because he didn’t need it. He already had that. And in fact the day in agility when Copper actually was running so fast that he missed his contact on the dog walk, we were stunned, and I’m, like, Good for him. The fact that he was in it so much, and moving so fast that he didn’t even hit the contact on the way down, I was proud of myself and him because it’s like, that’s the motivation I want. And in fact the judge didn’t even see it and didn’t call it. We didn’t realize it until we watched the video later, because he was so fast, and I’m sure the judge never expected that this little dog was going to miss a contact zone.

So yes, we’re constantly trying to get them in the zone, in the optimal level or state of arousal is how we often refer to it. There’s something called the Yerkes-Dodson Law that is well known to quite a few dog trainers. It talks about your level of motivation, and when you get too much or not enough, that’s not good. You want that optimal middle state that you’re in, where everything is flowing along, and it’s perfect, and you have enough of both things. You do everything with lots of energy, yet you can still make thoughtful decisions as you go along.

Melissa Breau: Stacy talked a little bit about that when she was on, just looking at that curve and what it means and what it’s like. I know she’s got her puppy now who’s on the opposite end of the curve than what she’s used to.

Deb Jones: Yes, she does, and that’s exactly the thing. It’s almost like you have to learn to train all over again when you get a dog that’s the opposite, because if you don’t, you’ll make some pretty big mistakes along the way and have to try to fix them later on down the line.

Melissa Breau: Looking at it as a balance, how can people start to get an idea of where their dog is now on that scale or in that balance, if they’re too much on the control side or too much on the motivation side?

Deb Jones: First thing I always look at is the energy and enthusiasm level. How excited is the dog to do whatever it is you’re asking them to do? It really doesn’t matter what the task is, but how much energy do they normally bring to it? And is it appropriate for the task? Is it going to be enough? The energy level you need for competition obedience is different than the energy level you need to do well in agility. So are they bringing the right amount of energy? If you take the energy for agility and you put it in a competition obedience ring, it’s probably going to be a hot mess because you’re just going to have too little control. So we look at are they doing what’s appropriate for what we’re working on?

The other part of that is looking at how, say, clear headed your dog is. Can they think while they’re working? Can they seem to make decisions? Can they learn to regulate themselves a little bit and come up or down? That’s one of the things we work on, we want to help them with, is this idea of modulating arousal. Can they do that? Can they respond to well-known cues? Do they have enough control for that or not? If they don’t respond, it isn’t usually a skill problem. It’s a problem of arousal, much of the time.

Melissa Breau: If you have a dog that you know tends to be more on the control side, or more on the arousal side, how do all those different factors play into that? How many different sides of a dog can there be?

Deb Jones: Everything affects it. Everything affects it, and every moment can be different within a given dog. It’s a constant process of adjusting to what your dog is giving you right now. It’s definitely different from dog to dog, but it’s also different in the same dog, I would say, not even day to day but sometimes moment to moment, if you have dogs that can be wildly inconsistent in terms of their ability to work and respond appropriately. So it’s this constant fluid process.

Arousal isn’t a static thing. You don’t get the same level of arousal, because it’s what is the behavior itself, what are the reinforcers you’re using, what is your mood? My little Papillion Copper, for example, who was fairly inhibited, if he thought for one second I wasn’t in a good mood for whatever reason, even if it had nothing to do with him, he was done. That was the end of the day. I might as well just not even bother. So it’s a constant fluid process.

We always have to be thinking about all of those factors and how they’re affecting what we’re trying to do right now, because people say, “Well, my dog did great in this situation and not in another one,” and I’m, like, “Well, I believe that.” I believe that to be the case, and there are probably a dozen things that went into that difference. So at least being aware of them and knowing that there’s going to be a lot of variation. Our job is to read our dogs and to try to help them stay on the path, to try to help them be as consistent as possible with their emotional states and their reactions. That’s what we do.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask you to share a couple of tips. First, looking at the dog who is well-mannered and very much under control, but maybe who they are struggling to get to enthusiastically respond or feel really motivated about training or work. Do you have a tip or two that people can try or do to work on that?

Deb Jones: Yeah, kind of a general suggestion. Dogs that are too controlled for whatever reason, either they’re inhibited themselves, or they’re controlled because the environment makes them a little nervous or uncomfortable, or they’re worried about being wrong, there’s a million reasons, but they don’t have enough energy or confidence to do what we want them to do. For these guys, I think the most important thing you can do is to never, ever, ever let your dog know that he made a mistake, ever. The dog is never wrong. You have to keep up that hugely high rate of reinforcement so that success builds on success, and success also builds confidence.

A more confident dog is a sturdy dog. A confident dog can take things that don’t go perfectly and roll with it and move on. But a very sensitive dog cannot, and so letting them know they’re not right is the biggest mistake I think people make. So I’d say that’s the one thing: Don’t ever let them know they’re wrong.

And they learn that, of course, our behavior tells them. They don’t know it’s wrong unless we tell them it’s wrong somehow, so you’re going to have to control your own reactions in order to not let them know that there are mistakes, and then make it easier, or make it easy enough, so they can be successful. That’s the one thing about those types of dogs. They need to feel free to make mistakes, just to do things, and once they start to feel freer, then you start to get a lot more confidence building.

Melissa Breau: What about the opposite? What about those dogs that are driven, they’re motivated, but maybe they’re a little less under control.

Deb Jones: Yeah, a lot of experience with these dogs. A whole lot of personal experience. The dogs that are like, “go, go, go, do, do, do, move, move, move,” any activity is often very addictive to them. Moving feels good. We call them adrenaline junkies, because movement starts to release a lot of these different hormones, adrenalin being a big one, and they’re like, Oh, man, this feels so good. It feels so good to do things where there’s lots of action. It doesn’t feel so good to do things where there’s a lot more control.

The problem with these guys is if we try to squash that enthusiasm, to overdo control work, to stop them from doing the things that they want to do, that typically leads to frustration, and so we get a lot of frustration behaviors like barking and spinning. At the end of agility runs you’ll see dogs that, because they have to stop now, they leap up and start biting their handlers. That’s a frustration, because they’re now having to inhibit something that felt really, really good to them. So it’s a little tricky here because we want to help these dogs see that they can still do everything. They don’t need to be high as a kite to do it.

I have a little section in the class called Arousal Modulation: learning to change your arousal level without going immediately from zero to a thousand, but coming up a little bit and then going back down, and getting used to these changes or transitions in the amount of energy that you would see from a dog for different exercises or different things that we’re training. We start to see these guys like to move. So what happens if you do a moving exercise, and then you go into one that requires more thoughtfulness and control? We work through some experimenting here to see what kind of transitions work best, how can we move from one activity to the other and help them not get too high when we’re doing it. So teaching them basically to gear down, but doing it carefully, and not completely squashing their desire to do anything, because that usually ends badly then.

Melissa Breau: Everybody wants that dog that’s perfectly balanced between motivation and control. But I wanted to ask who you really think is an ideal fit for a Gold spot in this class. What would make a dog a really good candidate? What skills do they need? Can somebody take it with a brand-new puppy? Should they be taking it with a slightly older dog? What kind of dog are you hoping will enroll?

 

Deb Jones: It’s true for almost everybody that you want that perfect balance, so I would think that a lot of people would. Of course we’ll see certain people who are having problems right now and they want to work on those. If you’re having issues training and showing, and it’s not a skills problem, so you see lots of times dogs do great at home, or great in familiar environments where they’re comfortable, but then you get them out into other settings, and they get too high or too low and they can’t perform, that would be the kind of dog that I think this could help, and the kind of team, I should say — not just the dog; I hope to help the whole team — that this should help.

So when you see that inconsistency between different contexts with your dog. Of course what we always say, “My dog did it perfectly in the living room,” and if I had a dollar every time somebody told me that, I’d be rich. And I believe that. I believe that is very true. Your dog did do it perfectly there because their arousal level was at a good level. It wasn’t too high, it wasn’t too low. So if you see different things in different situations.

If you are one of those people who find yourself saying, and I’ve done it too, “He knows how to do this,” when your dog is clearly not doing it. It’s like, “But he knows this.” Again, I don’t know that it’s a skills issue anymore. I think that is definitely much more an arousal issue, and so that means we have to look at the bigger picture, not just look at, OK, I’ll train some more on this behavior. It doesn’t ever hurt to strengthen behaviors, but I don’t know that that actually addresses the problem that you’re having. It only partially does. So anytime you have a lot of inconsistency in the dog’s behavior.

We don’t have any sort of restriction on age or experience for dogs for this class. In thinking about it, a lot of the things that I think about and do, I do this with my puppies, I start very early on, and I work on it basically their whole lives, so young dogs are fine. Older dogs that are having issues are fine as well.

The one thing I would hope for is that you have a few behaviors that are on cue. It doesn’t have to be much. But for some of our later exercises, we like to move between some trained behaviors and a few behaviors in process that you can use in the exercises. I don’t care what the behaviors are. We’re not even actually going to be critiquing your behaviors in any way. They’re just necessary so we can work on the new things that we’re going to try to be instilling in this class, so the exercises are sort of just we’re going to ignore those. We’re going to ignore the behaviors that you bring in, unless you really want feedback, but that’s not the point. The point is can they do them in these different settings and states and in different ways.

So the class is pretty open, I think. As always, our job is to adjust for every team that we get. We do the best we can to meet them where they are, and to try to help them from that point. That’s why I expect that there’ll be a lot of variety in Gold spots. I think we’ll have it all over the map, and so that makes it a little challenging for me in terms of I can’t just give you any sort of canned answer to something that comes up, but I think that’s also what makes it more interesting for people to watch, the people who are in the Silver/Bronze spots, to be able to see that much variety. So we’re pretty open, and people can always contact me if they have questions about whether they think their situation would be appropriate for class. I’m very happy to answer any questions they might have about that.

Melissa Breau: It really does sound like a fascinating class. I think it’s going to be great. The students who get Gold are going to be lucky, lucky people.

Deb Jones: Let’s hope they think so when class is done.

Melissa Breau: I have every confidence that they will. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Deb! It was really good to chat again and to learn a little bit more about the new class.

Deb Jones: Oh, thank you, Melissa. I always have fun talking about training. What could possibly be better? So I always enjoy this.

Melissa Breau: Thanks again, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Denise Fenzi to talk about Play.

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.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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