The Fenzi TEAM program is a progression-oriented titling program that emphasizes excellence in training. Each TEAM level adds complexity for the dog-handler team in four areas: the difficulty of the skills being assessed, the potential challenges in the form of food and toy distractions, the challenge of the actual testing location, and finally the quantity of reinforcement allowed during the test.
We invited Denise Fenzi, one of the founders of the program, onto the podcast to talk about creating it and how it all works.
To be released 11/03/2017, featuring Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we have Denise Fenzi with us again, this time to talk through the Fenzi TEAM titling program and then share a little bit about her upcoming book. For those who may not have heard the earlier episodes where I chatted with Denise, she is the founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and, more recently, the Fenzi Team Titles.
Melissa Breau: Welcome back, Denise!
Denise Fenzi:Thank you. How are you?
Melissa Breau: I’m good. I’m excited to talk about TEAM today.
Denise Fenzi: I’m excited about TEAM.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to tell us what TEAM stands for?
Denise Fenzi: Training Excellence Assessment Modules.
Melissa Breau: And why did you pick that name?
Denise Fenzi: Well, actually, it was crowdsourced, so I just explained the program on a Facebook list and asked people to contribute their ideas. My experience with Facebook and crowdsourcing is I can come up with a really good answer in a lot less time than I could on my own. So, within an hour or two, somebody came up with that, and I thought it very much described what I was interested in, which is a team event between a dog and a handler. And I wanted to emphasize the training aspect of a competition in this case, and so it fit very well. Training, excellence, assessment, and modules works well because they do build on each other. Each level is a module to the next.
Melissa Breau: So where did the idea for TEAM come from? What led you to create the program?
Denise Fenzi: Well, most people probably know that my interest is competitive obedience, and traditionally I have competed in AKC. And the numbers have fallen off badly over a period of time. So I’ve been competing since I was a kid, so a long time, and back then we would have so many dogs that they would split Open B into two classes, so you would have 60-odd dogs in one class, so that gives you a sense of the numbers. And a lot of things have happened in the meantime.
A lot of new dog sports have come in, and time has gone by, and people have different interests and such. But I hate to see something I love go away, and I think and think about, What was it about the sport that was … why were we suffering so much when other dog sports seem to be doing OK? And as I looked at novice obedience and thought about it, the AKC program was set up a long time ago, when training was done differently, and it was really very logical to start with heeling because of how it was taught. So back then you walked in a circle in a class, or in lines, kind of very military style, up, down, back, forth, run in a circle, and the dog was simply corrected if it went out of position. It was not refined, it was not pretty, it wasn’t meant to be.
The word obedience had meaning. It meant to be obedient. And the dog did what they were told. And so at the novice level, you really did showcase the dog’s ability to walk on a leash, basically what we now call loose-leash walking, except slightly more stylized, right? In heel position. And then eventually you took the leash off, and we had all sorts of ways to do that. And then throw in a recall, because you need a good recall, right? That’s obedience. A stand for exam would have imitated either a stranger touching the dog or a veterinary exam. It wasn’t meant to be beautiful. It was meant to be practical, and the heeling was not beautiful.
So the performances we have now look nothing like the performances of thirty years ago. And as I thought more about it, I think a big part of the problem is we don’t train that way anymore, and really beautiful heeling, the kind of heeling that competitive people want to see in the ring today, takes a couple of years to master. It takes a long time to get a dog to work comfortably for a couple of minutes with extreme precision, head up, and we’re talking 1 inch, in, out, up, down. It’s very minor scoreable issues. Done well, it’s beautiful, and in my opinion, I really enjoy teaching heeling. I like teaching all those tiny bits and pieces. But you don’t just teach it all at once in one fell swoop. You teach it over time. And neither dogs nor handlers really want to spend 10 minutes at a time — and that would be short; some people train for a lot longer than that — working on this one skill. Yet entry-level people who come in from the outside, they’re not thinking utility. They’re thinking, Well, I’ll try the first level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the second level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the third level. Competitive people don’t train that way. They actually train all the skills usually from the start, and by the time they get into the novice ring, they do have two years of heeling, and they have a lot of other skills that they taught.
So if you think about a barrier to entry, when your entry level emphasizes your most difficult skill, you’re going to really struggle to bring in new people because there’s no motivation. And if you do bring them in, what happens is they bring dogs in the ring that aren’t properly prepared. So they may heel, they may get through it, but it’s silent for 45 seconds at a stretch, very, very stressful for the dogs. If you compare that to the higher levels opening utility, the exercises generally don’t go on that long. There’s more going on, there are more cues being given, there’s more movement, there’s more freedom. I mean, on a recall, at least the dog is running and moving. Heeling is hard. And I thought, Well, if I were going to design a program that was designed to reflect the way we train today, what would that look like? And that was the goal of TEAM was to test the same way that we train, and we do train in small pieces, and it was also designed to teach dogs things like distraction training right from the start.
So in our first level we have a stay where there’s a cookie present, but it’s only 2 seconds, so it’s not horrible. But then it’s 15 seconds, and then the dog is working and asked to retrieve within 2 feet of a cookie. But that’s as you go up through the levels, so as one piece gets a little harder, another piece gets a little easier. The other thing we did is incorporated every skill we could think of in the first level. So you have scent discrimination in the first level. You have pivots in the first level. That’s the basis of heeling. You have sit and down in the first level because they matter.
And then, as you work your way up, skills are combined, so now you have a sit and a down, but maybe the distance is greater, or maybe there’s a distraction, or maybe you’re doing it away from home. And it’s kind in the sense that expectations rise over time, so if you are training to the test, you can actually end up with a very well trained dog.
That is not true in traditional competitive obedience. If you train for the test, you’re going to become miserable because you can only do so much heeling and recalls and fronts. And so that’s what we were trying to design was a program that reflected excellent training. So do you generalize your behaviors? Take them new places? Can you engage your dog without a cookie? That’s important to me. Can you engage your dog without a toy? That’s important. Can you end one exercise and go to another one without some kind of external reinforcer besides your voice? Because when I looked around the world at all of the obedience programs, and I looked at a lot of them, what I realized is there’s really a fairly small number of core behaviors that they all use and they combine them in different ways. And if you worked your way through all those levels, including things like fluency, can your dog do it, oh, I don’t know, can your dog sit on cue 20 feet away when you’re laying down on the ground? Well, do you need that? No. But if you can do that, your dog has shown the ability to understand the cue under an unusual circumstance.
Well, a dog show is simply one more unusual circumstance. So the goal of TEAM is that if a person trains the TEAM program and trains for the test, that’s fine, and gets up through several levels, they should be able to go anywhere in the world, take those pieces, look at the organization they are interested in, put those little building blocks together in new ways, and compete successfully.
Melissa Breau: So to dig in a little bit more in the skills specifically, what skills do dogs need in order to compete in the program?
Denise Fenzi:Well, let’s see. You need to retrieve, you need to be able to do scent work, you need excellent rear end awareness, because heeling is very much about moving your rear end and pivoting. We teach skills that include the mouth, the nose, the feet, the eyes. So can you look at the handler? Good. Can you look straight ahead? Good. You need both of those. Can you go out and come back? So we send the dog around a cone. Can the handler teach the dog using props? So you have to be able to show that your dog can effectively pivot on a disc, for example, or find front, which is a precision behavior using a platform.
The first level’s actually quite heavy on precision skills, but each one can be done in a matter of seconds, but I need to know that you can teach really high-level precision skills. But I let you keep your cookies, at least at the beginning levels. That gets thinner as you go, but that’s appropriate as the challenge goes up, as you become more skilled.
Let me think. Scent work, heeling, you need a stay, you’ll need a sit or a down/stay. At the second level you need a sit/stay with a cookie behind the dog with your back to the dog at 15 or 20 feet. You need to be able to jump. The dog has to jump. The dog has to be able to retrieve, but at the first level the retrieve is just hold an object in the mouth for 1 second. It’s not until you get to the top levels that you actually have movement. Eventually the dog needs to be able to work out of motion.
So, for example, the stand out of motion is an AKC utility exercise. We do have that exercise. We do have signals at a distance. We do have go away, so go out to a spot and stay there. We have hold the position for 5 seconds without doing anything, which is shockingly hard for a lot of dogs. They can sit, but if they think you’re going to say something else, they get very agitated when they have to just wait, and that is the expectation of the exercise. The dog has to be able to back up because … and that’s a first level skill. In my experience, dogs that can back up between cues have many fewer problems with creeping forward on a lot of exercises, so I want to see that you’ve taught that. And the dog needs to show a front. Now I will say the first three levels were designed to be foundation for all sports, because as I talked to my agility friends and people in other fields, their dogs can do most of those things.
We actually … many sports start with the same foundation skills. Many of us do touching an object, retrieving, many of us do pivoting on a disc, many of us do platform work, so those things don’t actually change. The really obedient-specific things is probably scent discrimination, and I wanted that in Level 1 because people make it so much harder than it needs to be by waiting. So I think that roughly, I’m sure I left one or two out, but that kind of roughly covers the skills that you work on in TEAM, at progressively more difficult levels as you work your way up. Oh, and behavior chains don’t actually come in until the third level. So up till then, everything is a discreet exercise, go out around a cone and come back.
At the third level there would be exercises like go out 10 feet and get on a platform, and then the handler will direct you to go on. So it’s a go back and field, go on over a jump that’s 10 feet beyond, and then go on to a cone, which is 10 more feet. So now the dog demonstrates that it can work at 30 feet and then come back. That would be a behavior chain. So those don’t start until the third level.
Melissa Breau: At the very least that gives people a pretty good idea of kind of what they’re looking at if they’re interested in the program. Can you share a little bit more about kind of the logistics of how TEAM works? What is the process for somebody interested in titling their dog through TEAM? What do they do?
Denise Fenzi: Well, it is a video submission, so it’s pretty convenient. Now in the first three levels you can tape it anywhere you want. If you have room, you can tape it in your house. A lot of people do the very first level in the house. It’s hard after that because of space. You do have to have a space large enough that the dog and the handler can be clearly seen and heard throughout the test. You videotape your test, you have to do it in order, you submit it through the TEAM website, and then you timestamp where each exercise is in order so that the judge … basically we do that because people forget exercises, so when they’re submitting their video they realize they’re missing one and then they don’t submit, because we really tell people, “Don’t submit a video that’s not going to pass.”
You have all the rules, you can use a very, very active Facebook discussion group to be sure you’ve done them correctly, but we don’t want you to submit a not passing video, so we try to make sure you actually did do all of the exercises. You have to pass all of them except for one. It is “pass not yet.” It’s not fail. It’s not yet. You’ll make it next time. We do not score it, but it’s pretty tight expectations for passing an exercise, so when we say the dog needs to find front, we really do mean front. It needs to be within 30 degrees of front position.
Now admittedly we let you have cookies, right, in those first levels, or we let you have a platform, but not always. So you submit your video and then a judge reviews it. The judge will give you comments on it, so it’s actually a lot of fun to get your results back, because you’ll get all kinds of helpful tips and suggestions.
So the judge might say, “You know, you did a really nice job on this. Consider …” and give you a little advice to progress it forward. So people always say they really like getting the feedback from the judge, rather than a score sheet. I know there are more and more people getting together in groups. I know of a seminar in Ohio, for example, that filled very quickly when they offered it. I know there are training groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and also in Portland. Again, they offered a class and filled it that day. It’s very popular with students because it’s fun. People who are just engaged … people love the idea of coming in and Day 1 their dog is doing cool stuff, not just heeling in a circle. So they love watching their dog do scent discrimination the first week, or get on a disc, or on a platform, and move and do these things. People love that.
Plus, playing with your dog is actually a requirement of TEAM, so people think that’s very entertaining. I love … I love to see that, that people are doing it in groups. You can test alone. I did a test recently with Lyra. She did her TEAM 3. I just set up a video camera, I marked off my area so I wouldn’t walk in and out. You want to think carefully about how you lay it out, because a judge has to be able to judge it, so if they can’t see if your sit is correct in front, or whatever you’ve done, then you won’t … you won’t be able to pass that exercise.
People appreciate it who for whatever reason cannot get to trials, will not get to trials, have test anxiety, whatever the deal might be. It is suitable for more reactive dogs. I will say that all of the levels are off leash, so that is a consideration. You need to be comfortable training your dog off leash, and at some point you have to be able to take your dog to new locations, so that means you either need to feel good enough about your training that your dog is safe off leash in new locations, or that you’re able to find a fair number of new locations to perform. And I know for some people that is a challenge, but I would suggest that that is the nature of competition, that you will go to new places and you must prepare your dog for that. So we do expect that.
Melissa Breau: I think the only thing that maybe you didn’t mention that would be worth bringing up is the idea about questionable exercise. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Denise Fenzi: Yeah, we try to give super-clear criteria for what it takes to pass, but the reality is when you’re looking at somebody’s position and you just watched them do a 360-degree pivot, and it’s supposed to be smooth and continuous, and the dog should be parallel every step of the way, and we allow a 30-degree out of position, you know, at some point. Well, for a judge to decide if it was 30 degrees or 45 when it took place at one moment, or if the handler did something funny with their shoulder but we can’t decide, or, you know, little things like that, we do have the option of giving it a questionable, so that’s kind of halfway in between. A questionable is a half point off, so if you think about ten exercises being 10 points, you’re allowed one “not yet,” so you need a 9. A questionable is half off, so you can have two questionables and everything else perfect and you will pass. If you have one “not yet” and one questionable, you won’t quite make it.
But that, actually, it helps the judges. It makes us more comfortable, because it’s very hard to not pass somebody who you really thought was, really had the essence of the exercise, but you also felt that you could not say they truly did it correctly. So it very much puts the handler on notice, because everything you do at the first level is going to come back.
Nothing goes away. So it just builds on it. So if you got a questionable on your down at the first level, be aware that your down at the second level is at a greater distance and for a longer period of time, so you probably need to go back and look at it. So it helps the trainer do a better job.
Melissa Breau: I think you’re pretty well known as an advocate for positive training, and I wanted to ask a little bit about how that ties in or doesn’t tie in to TEAM. So does someone have to be a positive trainer to compete in TEAM? And is there anything about TEAM that kind of inherently tests the trainer’s training philosophy?
Denise Fenzi: No and no. We certainly don’t ask, and to be kind of brutally honest, I don’t even care. You simply have to pass the test.
In my opinion, it is easier to pass the test if you are a positive trainer, because it is designed to test clean training that is broken into small pieces, and since it’s tested off leash from the first level,
I think most people who are interested in TEAM are pretty comfortable training off leash anyway. But we do not, certainly don’t ask about it. You do not need to be a student of mine, you don’t need to share my philosophy at all. I personally believe that a good trainer of any method can teach most anything, one way or the other, you know, being a good trainer just matters because you communicate well.
But no, we don’t test it, no, we don’t check for your philosophy, and to be honest, we’re just pretty welcoming people, so if a person joins the Fenzi TEAM Players List on Facebook and is a balanced trainer, or mixed methods, or whatever, the topic is probably not going to come up. I mean, I don’t think it ever has, and I really would be surprised if somebody asked outright about that.
Melissa Breau: So if I wanted to put a Level 1 title on my dog, what would that video look like? What skills are at that first level?
Denise Fenzi: Well, they do go in order, and now I have to tell you my poor little head is not remembering the exact order. I do know engagement for 15 seconds. That means playing with your dog. Now playing can be as nice as a belly rub. It just needs to show something where the dog is interacting with you and not trying to figure out how they can just get away. That’s what I need to see — that your dog will stay with you and follow you, and if you interact or clap or smile, that the dog shows some kind of a connection to you. So we start there.
Then the dog goes into using a pivot disc in heel position. So we want to see that the dog can find heel position, and it really needs to be correct heel position, and then show me a 180-degree pivot to the left. Then I want to see your dog show me a front. Most people use a platform in front from several angles, so you throw a cookie off to the left, you throw a cookie straightforward, you give one cue, get the cookie, and then we expect the dog to come back and use that platform to find front.
We do the same thing in heel position. You can use a disc or a platform. The dog needs to show the ability to find its way to heel position, even when the cookies are thrown off center. We want to see your dog go over a jump, but you’re welcome to go with the jump with the dog, and the jump is very low. We want to see your dog back up 2 feet continuously.
We want to see your dog do scent articles. Now how does that look? Well, three scent articles, and you can put food in or on one of them. So talk about stacking the deck, right? We’re going to make this work for you. It’s going to get harder down the road, but I just need you to start thinking about scent discrimination. Your dog needs to clearly indicate the correct article, does not need to pick it up. As long as the judge can say, “Yes, the dog has clearly indicated,” it might nose touch and it might hold that, it might pick it up, it might lay down, I don’t care what the dog does. Just I should be able to tell which one is yours.
There is a retrieve — I’m trying to remember, maybe that’s second level — where the dog holds an object. The dog has to stay in the presence of a cookie in a bowl for 2 seconds and has to release when said “OK.”
So I want to know that your dog knows how to stay, and we want to know that your dog knows how to go. Your dog needs a sit and a down at 5 feet, so that’s not so horrible. Your dog needs to go out around a cone and come back, because we want to start that process of showing us that you can get your dog to go away and come back. Am I leaving anything out? I’m sure I’m leaving something out. I believe there are ten exercises in the first level. And in some ways, in my opinion, the first level is the hardest because there are so many things for a new person to look at, and then, over time, it’s really a matter of building up skills, so
… oh, by the way, that scent discrimination — the handler is sitting next to the article. So they throw a cookie to get the dog moving away, they place their article, and then the dog comes back in. So the dog isn’t working by itself at a distance. There’s no retrieve, there’s no front, there’s no formal anything. Those things will come later, but it does get you started on the path.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think you left anything out. I was checking my little cheat sheet here as you went along, so ...
Denise Fenzi: Oh, good for me!
Melissa Breau: So now you’ve kind of walked through the list of skills, so how did you come up with those things, and how did you kind of decide which pieces to include? What was the process like to put all those pieces kind of together into a program?
Denise Fenzi: Well, I worked with Deb Jones and Teri Martin to create this one, and I will say it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I’m not kidding, actually, and I’ve done a lot of stuff. The reason it was so difficult, we really did look around the world at what are all of the obedience skills. They are jumping, they are heeling, they are position changes, they are retrieving, there’s just a set of things and they come, doesn’t matter where you go, they are done, those skills are done. So we had all of those, we broke them all down and said, “What do those all look like?” So that was one side of a spreadsheet. And then we said, “What are all of the elements of great training?” Well, fluency. Can your dog do those behaviors under adversity? OK, we want to test fluency. Formality. Can your dog do those behaviors when you’re quiet and still and only one cue? We’re kind of particular about that. We don’t allow a lot of handler help. You really need to be formal.
Can your dog do these behaviors in an unfamiliar environment? I call that generalization. Can your dog generalize the exercise? Can your dog do it under distraction? So if there are toys or food in the area, can your dog still perform correctly? So we had a spreadsheet, which kind of created a matrix, which said, “How can we test all of these things without pounding a person at each level?” Because we don’t test everything at every level. We sort of, at one level you’ll notice it’s more skill based, so the first level is very heavy on skills, and then also can you create behavior chains?
We don’t even introduce the behavior chains until the third level. I mentioned that. Distraction training does start very, very light in the first level, but it gets harder and harder as you go on, second level, third level. Scent work, we decided first and second level, but you don’t even have it at the third level. You have it harder at the fourth level. So we went through, and we had checkmarks here and there, and we tried to figure out by the time the person has done all six levels did I feel confident that they had the skills to go anywhere in the world and compete. Now I’m not saying they wouldn’t have to rearrange the exercises, because they would, but that’s kind of irrelevant.
A person who finishes all six levels, who has also taken me seriously when I said, “Show me these exercises” in whatever, seven new environments or whatever it is, if they did that and they did it within the spirit of the program, i.e., they really did go to new places, they didn’t just keep going to their friend’s back yard, if they did that and they really did try to show their dog the types of environments that would be involved in competition, then they should be successful, and their dog should be comfortable because they are well trained. So that’s how we got there. Where it got quite painful breaking it up into fair chunks, so you want challenge, but you don’t want people to give up, because it’s kind of hard. Finding the balance between accuracy, which is what we emphasize in the first three levels, and movement, flow, behavior chains, which is what we emphasize in the second three levels.
Making decisions about things like a sit at heel. We actually don’t require it. You just have to tell us. Your dog either sits at heel or stands at heel. Same as front. I don’t care if your dog sits or stands, because again, around the world that varies. So you can pick what is most comfortable for you, or you can pick, like, if you have an older dog, maybe they don’t want to sit anymore, so fine, don’t have them sit, that’s not a problem. But it can’t be haphazard. You have to say, “My dog sits in heel,” or “They stand in heel.” So we judge that. That took a lot of thinking, trying to figure out around the world how could we design a program that didn’t create active conflict. So I think we did all right, but it did take some thought.
The next thing was setting criteria. What is a front? What is a finish? What is a down? It sounds simple until you look at a dog on a down who is one inch from the ground, the elbows aren’t down. Now all of a sudden you say, “What is a down anyway? And you realize these things are not simple. So laying out criteria was very challenging.
We do have video examples of all the exercises, so you can just look. If you’re a reader, you can read through our very detailed descriptions of what we want to see, what it takes to pass, how it should be set up, and then you can look at the video and you’ll see an example, “Oh, OK, that’s what it should be.” We do say what will cause you not to quite make it, but we don’t list everything. It’s impossible. There’s just too many possibilities. We do list the most common elements.
There is a website called fenziteamtitles.com. It’s well laid out, so you can just pick a level and look at it. Most of the levels have video runs where you can see a start to a finish. Not the higher levels, because I think we so far only have one or two dogs that have made it to Level 5, so there’s just no videos to be had at the higher levels, but they’re working on it. The program’s only slightly over a year old, and we did change our rules about two months ago at Level 1. We just made it flow a little bit better, so it’s possible we don’t have up a full Level 1 run with the new rules. We should have one soon.
So what a person will want to do is start with the website, start looking at the levels, they may find they already have several of the skills. Watch the videos so they see how it works.
Join the Fenzi TEAM Players List, which has become quite active, and get to know your team players, the other people, who are very supportive. Register your dog.
I think it’s $20 to register your dog. That will put you in the database. The database is searchable. Some people choose to be searchable to the public and some people choose not to. If you are a trainer and if it matters to you, you might want to make sure you’re public, because then people can see what titles you accomplish. Your TEAM titles will be listed there for each of your dogs. And a video run costs $29, so remember, you should only have to submit it once and you only have to pass once, so don’t submit a video that’s not passing, which makes it a very inexpensive titling program if you submit only passing videos.
We do have a Plus level. Plus just means the 1 Level you showed in a new location, the 2 Level you showed in a new location. When you get to 3 Plus, then you can go on to the fourth level. The fourth, fifth, and sixth are all new locations. So that’s probably how I would start if I was intrigued. I would join the Fenzi TEAM Players, and I would also from there get on the newsletter, you know, because I put out newsletters with tips and videos to kind of help you on your way.
Melissa Breau: So you talked a little bit about this. I wanted to see if you’d talk about it a little bit more, kind of the … that the levels build on each other. I know you added a little bit at the end about the Plus titles, but is there anything you kind of want to add to that?
Denise Fenzi: So when we designed it, so, like, for example at the first level, where you make your pivot on the pivot disc when the dog stays in heel position, you do have a disc. That would be first level. Second level you also have to show us pivots, but there’s no disc this time, so instead of doing 180 degrees to the left, now you’re going to do 360 degrees, and you’re also going to do it to the right, so that’s a little bit harder.
When you get to the third level, now I need to see pivot left, pivot right, pull sideways 2 feet and go forward 2 feet. Now that’s the first true heeling. But if you can do that, if you can pivot left from Level 1, pivot left and right without a disc from Level 2, and do what I just described at Level 3, then when you get to Level 4 and you’re doing true heeling, your dog knows how to heel. There’s just no question about it.
Or in Level 1 you have to show that your dog can find heel position with a platform, and your dog needs to be able to find front. In Level 2 you need to show me a formal recall without a platform. So did you have the skill to get rid of that platform? And your dog needs to show me a correct finish. That means straight without a disc. So the skills in Level 1 directly influence Level 2. So Level 1 can use props. Level 2 can you get rid of props and maintain precision? So that’s what I mean by the levels build on each other.
And then once something we feel is mastered, then we let it slide. So Level 4 we no longer judge the quality of your straightness. We figure you’ve already shown us that you know how to teach straight fronts and finishes. It’s totally up to you if you care to maintain them. We don’t care anymore. Now we’re going to do stuff where your dog runs out 40 feet, goes left around a cone, or maybe over a jump, or maybe gets scent articles, or whatever. Now we’re going to look for other things. But the first three levels are precision. After that it’s just kind of free fun, interesting ways of combining exercises that people wouldn’t have thought of.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask a little bit about the tools that are out there if someone is struggling to teach their dog those skills. I know you mentioned the Facebook group, and I will include a link to that in the show notes, for anyone who’s interested.
Denise Fenzi: We also have at the Academy, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy does teach classes that teach TEAM skills. There’s a couple ways you can get it. One is just take a class called TEAM. TEAM 1 is running right now. Now unfortunately, registration is closed, so you cannot join now. TEAM 2 is running in December. So if you look over the skills and you say, “You know what, I have most of TEAM 1,” then feel free to pop into TEAM 2 in December. It’s not like you have to have the title to take the class. And since TEAM 2 is building on Level 1, you will be improving your Level 1 skills, so you have that option. You also have the option of when Hannah Branigan teaches her obedience skills series, she teaches obedience very much the way we structure the TEAM program.
It’s bits and pieces. So while it’s not a perfect fit because it wasn’t meant to be, many of the skills you would want in TEAM happen to be covered in her Obedience Skillbuilding series. So you can take classes at any given time. There will probably be webinars on the topic. I would guess we will teach webinars on it. There are support groups out there that you can find through the TEAM players list, if you want to hook up with people more locally and see if there’s somebody you can work with.
Melissa Breau: So far, which skills do people seem to struggle with the most? And then I’d love it if you’d share some tips for problem-solving those skills.
Denise Fenzi: Well, the scent discrimination, this is really interesting, almost everybody passes it, but boy do they howl about having to teach it. So if I can get them to believe in themselves, they don’t seem to struggle that much. They do teach it, but getting them to start teaching it is very hard because they can’t get it out of their heads “This is a hard thing, this is an advanced skill.” No, it’s not. It’s no harder than anything else. It’s just that you make it hard by thinking about it like that. So it’s actually almost always, almost always, people pass the scent discrimination, but the getting them to teach it is just misery.
I would say where people struggle the most is on the pivots. Staying in heel position accurately is very hard for people. Their dogs have developed all sorts of habits, you know, maybe they start to pivot and the dog jumps around into position, or the dog waits until they’ve moved 90 degrees before the dog catches up. We score that down, so you cannot pass if your dog does that. And while people gnash their teeth a bit and get very frustrated, the reality is if you ask them again in two weeks if they worked on it, they say, “Thank you for holding your criteria, because, you know what, after I worked on this for two weeks, not only did I do it, but I learned how to do it and my dog got better, but miraculously my dog’s heeling has improved dramatically because he no longer bumps me on left turns.” And that’s kind of the whole point of TEAM. Like what I tell people if they’re struggling with their precision and obedience, I say, “Well, try this.
I don’t care if you’re working on your OTCH. Stop all your obedience for one month and only do TEAM 1. Only TEAM 1 level for one month. Now go back to your obedience and tell me what happened.” And it just never fails. Because they went back and focused on the foundation precision skills, when they go back into their obedience, their dog is that much better.
It’s a bit of an eye-opener for people. So I would say pivoting on a disc gives people a fair amount of … they stress about it, they worry about it, the pass rate is not as high, I would say, on that exercise than most of the other exercises.
Melissa Breau: Any tips for working on it?
Denise Fenzi: I just did the last Fenzi TEAM newsletter. It shows a video, I’m working with Lyra on how to keep her in heel position when I do sit, down, stand in position when I’m moving my feet, and if you want to use that, it will also teach your dog how to — it’s the same skill, actually — how to keep their rear end in position. So feel free to look at that, and that should help you out.
And if you search my blog, I do so much on my blog of obedience. And it has a pretty good search function, so you can put in something like “heeling” or “pivots” or “a disc,” any of those. Or if you want you can buy my self-study program, called Precision Heeling, through FDSA. That is available at any time, not just during terms, so you can buy it today. Tons and tons and tons of video and discussion about pivoting and heel positions, very heavy on that, so you would, in theory, be quite good at it by the time you were done with that course.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. And I think that I can share a link to the last TEAM newsletter in the show notes. So if I can do that, I will.
Denise Fenzi: Oh, that’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned a little bit earlier that there are places starting to offer some classes. Is there anything that people have to do if they want to offer classes? Is there anything special they have to do to get started? Or kind of how does that work?
Denise Fenzi: No, I am not at all proprietary about it. You can use the name of the program in your advertising, you do not have to credit me in any way, shape, or form, you can do what you want, you can teach it how you want. So it’s simply there, it’s simply available.
The Fenzi TEAM Titles is not associated with FDSA, it’s not associated with the school. They are two separate things. I have no restrictions whatsoever on how you teach it or anything, really. You can use our logo if you’re teaching. Not the FDSA one, but you can use the Fenzi TEAM Titles logo if you’re offering classes on Fenzi TEAM Titles. Go to town, have a good time.
I think this is good for dogs, I think it’s good for dog training, and I think many trainers are finding it to be quite an eye-opener when they realize how effective training this way is. And since it happens to be one of my personal strong goals, anything I can do to make that work makes me happy, and I actually think if people take to this program that it will also improve the status and the wellbeing of obedience as a sport, regardless of what organization you decide you want to compete in or not. It’s not really that important. What I do care about is that people do things with their dogs in a kind and friendly manner, and so we have set up a program that allows you to do that. So go to town if it serves you well. I mean, I would personally, if it was me, if I was training dogs for AKC obedience competition, I would from Day 1, after those dogs are done with their pet manners class, if they show any interest in competition, I would start them in TEAM, and then, after getting up through a few levels, they could say, “You know what? And you’re ready for your CD,” because they would be, with just a bit of polishing, and the odds that you kept them, and you kept them intrigued and happy.
When I talk to people who teach TEAM classes, they say retention is very high because people have a good time, they love coming back, they love seeing, “Look, my dog can find a scent article,” “Look, my dog can retrieve,” “Look, my dog can jump.” After six weeks your dog will, if it’s well trained, should be able to go around a cone, get on a platform, pivot in heel position with a disc, hold an object in its mouth. That’s cool, that’s interesting.
Pet people do have the attention span for that for six weeks. They do not have the attention span for heel position walking in a circle. I mean, I don’t have the attention span for that. So whether you even want to teach TEAM, I would really suggest that some of these clubs, these AKC clubs that are struggling and that can’t find new members, something like this, where people start to play and laugh and engage, because engagement is part of it, and be silly with it, and teach cool things that everybody, “Oh, it’s a trick,” OK, well, call it what you want, it’s getting to where we need to go, I think that would do wonders for the culture of our sports. So use it as it works for you.
Melissa Breau: So I know that TEAM right now seems pretty focused on obedience, and I wanted to ask if you’ve considered doing TEAM programs for any of the other sports out there.
Denise Fenzi: The first three levels of TEAM was never designed to be obedience. I’ll just put that out there. It was actually really designed to be a foundation for any performance sport, because it teaches skills that the body awareness, the handler cues, the distraction training, the proofing, all of those things were really meant to cross all sports. So the first three levels is for that. I will say that we have at least considered, contemplated, adding stuff. What we’re going to add, I don’t know. Like I said, it was hard. It was a hard thing to do, and I don’t like to do things that aren’t well done, so if we’re going to do another level, it has to be done well. But I would say that, like, nose work might be a possibility, so yeah, you know, you never know. You never know. So it’s something to keep an eye on.
Melissa Breau: Alright, and before we wrap up, I want to ask you about that book. So a new book? Want to share the details?
Denise Fenzi: Can you believe that? I know, I just keep writing them. I wrote a book called Beyond The Back Yard: Train Your Dog Anytime, Anywhere, and I wrote it to the pet market. It’s a distraction-training book, and it was quite popular.
I sold more copies of that book than any other book I’ve done. And it did not sell to the pet market. It actually sold to the competition market just as heavily, which is great, but I’m sort of intrigued by that market, by the sort of in-between pet trainer, a little bit of competition dog trainer, engaged, I’m going to call it an engaged pet person, I’m very interested in that group because those are the future dog people. I like those people.
So this book is called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior, and it is not an obedience book. Actually it’s a hard book to explain. It’s very, very heavy on understanding the emotional reasons that dogs do things. So, for example, if you have a barking problem, you can have a barking problem because you have a stressed dog, a bored dog, an anxious dog, an under-exercised dog.
I mean, there’s so many possibilities, and it’s actually important to understand that, because the solutions are often diametrically opposed to each other. So the way you handle a bored dog and an anxious dog, you cannot use the same solution. If you do, you will make your problem worse. So the book is very much about understanding the reasons, the underlying reasons, for dog behavior, analyzing your dog from that point of view, and once you understand why your dog is doing the things it’s doing, then you can set in place a behavior plan to fix it. And then I give a bunch of case studies using recalls, I think there’s seven dogs that all have recall problems, and they all have problems for different reasons. And it discusses the reasons, and then it discusses potential solutions for each of those dogs.
So you can pretty quickly see why each dog solution needs to be for that dog and not the next dog. And then barking is also handled, dogs that bark excessively. So maybe seven dogs, and again, many different reasons. So we go through and we look at things like temperament of the dog. We do talk about breed, we talk about health, we talk about general emotional state, we talk about training. It’s not a book on training, but in relatively few pages I sort of packed in everything you could ever possibly want to know about what makes good dog training, how to do it, it’s all in there. It’s just exceptionally condensed.
If I was going to say who would get the most bang for the buck out of this book, I would say a dog trainer who specializes in behavior. If they could get their clients that have problem behavior dogs to read this book, they would save themselves an enormous amount of explaining, cajoling, coercing their clients, because the clients would get it. They would get it from the dog’s point of view, and I think they would be endlessly more cooperative with the program when they were able to understand why their dogs, because all behavior serves a purpose, and when people take the time to figure out what is the purpose that this problem behavior is solving, now you can address it.
So that’s what this book is about, and then it also talks about if it doesn’t work, what do you do now? If your solution didn’t work, how do you go back and evaluate and analyze it? So that book will be available in Europe, because they get published in different places, probably in a day or two, so by the time the podcast comes out, it should certainly be out. In the United States I expect it out November 6, and that would be through my own website, thedogathlete.com. In Canada I would expect it maybe the middle of November. Australia/New Zealand probably closer to the end of November. So the Europeans are they’re the lucky ones because it should be out in a day or two.
Melissa Breau: Want to repeat the name one more time for folks so they can Google it?
Denise Fenzi: Yeah. It’s called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Denise, for coming back on the podcast.
Denise Fenzi: Thank you for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.
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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.