Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

For the last 4 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 Friday, so stay tuned--and happy training!
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Sep 8, 2017


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

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

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Next Episode: 

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


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

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

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

Hi, Chrissi. Welcome to the podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrissi Schranz: Yes, they actually really are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Do you have an example?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That’s just terrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrissi Schranz: Yes.

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

Chrissi Schranz: Thank you for having me.

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

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


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; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.