Nancy Gagliardi Little has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
To be released 2/17/2017, featuring Sue Ailsby.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Nancy Gagliardi Little.
Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
Welcome to the podcast Nancy!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks Melissa, it's great being here.
Alright, well can you start us off by telling us about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. I've had border collies since 1986, and i usually have about 3 in training. Score is my 12 year old; he's retired. I actually had to retire him around the age of 8 due to a back issue and he was close to finishing his herding championship; he was one point away from finishing it, had all his majors. He competed at AKC Nationals twice, got his ACK MACH, and he was one snooker Q, actually a super Q, away from ADCH in USDAA.
Schema is my 8 year old border collie. She's a bitch. She's actually a really really nice dog; she really is not a bitch, but she's a girl. We're competing in mostly agility. we do USDA and AKC. She's in the masters USDAA; she's got her ADCH. She competed at USDA nationals, she's got a MACH too, she just finished that recently, and she's competed at AKC nationals for the last 3 years. I think it's going to be her fourth time there coming up in March. I do train obedience with her; she's got lovely heeling on both her right and left side. I actually get a big kick out of training heeling on the right side, it's fun. Most of my training with her is in agility. I sold my sheep about 7 or 8 years ago, so i don't do as much herding as i used to, but she is probably one of my most talented herding dogs. She is amazing. I just haven't had the time to go any further than the training.
And then my youngest is a 3 year old border collie named Lever. He was introduced to sheep when he was young. And I did some training with him between a year and two, and he's quite a talented jumper in agility, he's pretty amazing. I can't take any credit for that; I didn't screw it up, but he's just really amazing. He's got the power and speed, and he's just getting used to controlling his body right now. We compete in Master's level in AKC and he just needs one more advanced standard Q to move into Masters USDA. He's doing pretty good.
And then last but not least, I figured I'd bring up my husband's dog is a Toller and this is kind of new for us. He's a year and a half; I'm not training him, he's being trained purely by my husband. I just really love this breed; it's new to us, he's the first Toller we've had, we've had other sporting breeds before, but what a cool breed that is. Yeah, so he's a year and a half.
Melissa Breau: So I don't know if you know this, but Tollers are the breed I'm looking at next, so...
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Really!
Melissa Breau: It's good to hear positive things.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I'm very impressed with the breed.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, you've achieved a lot in the sport -- even with just the dogs you have now that was a lot of letters and a lot of titles, but how did you originally get into dog sports and those types of games with your dogs?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: My dad actually bought me a shetland pony when I was 5 years old. Can you believe that? He can't believe that he did that, but he just says he'd probably be arrested now a days. I just loved animals, and I did a lot with all of my animals. I taught them things. My horses all had recalls from the pasture and just that love of animals.
When I got married my husband and I both loved dogs, and we each got a dog, a Labrador, and we decided to take them to a formal obedience class at a training school here. We were introduced to competitive obedience there. and scent hurdles, and fly ball and it kind of went from there. It was something we could both do together on the weekends; we were both working long weeks at work. So it's not -- it's probably not all that different from a lot of people getting involved in dog sports.
Melissa Breau: So, when you started out, I'm going to guess -- though I could be wrong -- that it was more traditional methods.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah.
Melissa Breau: I'd love to hear -- what got you stared on the journey from that way of training to where you are today, which is much more positive?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: That's interesting, because I'm basically a really positive person. I was raised in a positive environment. So throughout my life I've continued to make changes to make live more pleasant and enjoyable. I think everyone does that sort of thing as the years go by.
So yeah, I started training obedience with traditional methods and I think a lot of people have; I was pretty successful using them, but then one of the last conflicts for me in the quest for me to make life more enjoyable was just addressing the way I was training my dogs. So I did lots of experimenting on my own, with my own dogs. I loved what I was seeing and of course it was much more fun for me. I loved getting out and training, instead of just trying to find the time and I got more involved in the sport of agility finally and as I did that I continued to learn about positive training methods since the majority of that sport trains that way.
I'm a really creative person; it's kind of my forte. I love thinking and obsessing over training. So I started breaking things down more and become more aware of arousal levels and stress contributing to it all, and I started using those ideas and incorporating them into lessons with my local obedience students. And they enjoyed training a little differently. So it's kind of been a wonderful transition for me, and I love training more now than ever.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that you were raised positively. So Denise and I were chatting about this and the fact that I was going to have you on the podcast, and she mentioned your dad, John Gagliardi, and I'm not a football person, so I had to go look him up. I'd heard of you, but I hadn't heard of him. And he's really really well known as a coach with the most wins in college football history, but beyond that he had a really unique approach to coaching. My understanding is that included things like not letting his players call him coach, not using a whistle or blocking sleds, and he even prohibited tackling in practices -- just kind of a very non-traditional approach, very non-traditional techniques and I'd like to hear how that impacted how you train and your perspective on dogs sports.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah, that had a big influence on me. His coaching style was quite a bit different than the norm. It still is. He was ahead of his time by 50 years. By focusing on what he believed in, and not on traditionally what was done. Believe it or not, he actually started coaching when he was 16 years old.
His high school coach -- this is actually kind of a cool story -- his high school coach was drafted into the war at that time and they were going to cancel the football program; they were at the bottom of the conference and always loosing, and so he loved football, so he approached the principal and he proposed to take the team over and coach it himself. So kind of a self-coached team. And they decided to give him a chance, and he changed things so he made practices more fun with a lot of things. Apparently at that time they weren't allowed to drink water; they would drink water, they were told they were going to die, they were going to die if they drank water. Interesting.
So with all the changes his team went from the bottom of the conference to winning that conference that year. He was successfully just making changes to do things that they enjoyed doing, and so many of the things he did in 63 years of coaching are now being looked at by the NFL and other coaches to help prevent injuries. He never wanted to hit in practice. He wanted to save his players for the game. He didn't like injuries. So his practices were centered around enjoying live, having fun, things like that. And his players absolutely LOVED playing for him. They rarely missed practice; he kept things simple worked on fundamentals, and he only added more difficult techniques when his players had mastered all of those pieces. And then he would break those plays down into small pieces, get those pieces perfected, build those pieces into a lot of complicated plays, and so his team rarely lost games because of the depth of training he put into those kids.
He was a master at analysis, details and creative solutions and i think that's something that I've either inherited or I've learned from him.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say, even just listening to you I can hear the parallels to dog sports; just the idea that he broke things down into pieces and foundation skills.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Exactly. This is the other piece that I think is so cool is he expected them to be X1 players, as well as X1 human beings, and he believes in people, respects people, loves to learn about people. There's so much about coaching that parallels the way I train my dogs because I expect and focus on their excellence too. I believe in my dogs -- I always believe in them. I believe they're right and they're telling me things. I listen to them and try to make changes to my training based on what they need. Those are all things that my dad taught me through the way he coached his players. There are so many parallels between coaching and dog training; just his way of coaching it helped me as a dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: I'd really love to hear how you describe your training philosophy now -- what's really important to you? Or what do you see as the big things that you believe in training when you work with dogs today?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, i guess to sum it up, it's not a really long philosophy. What sums it up for me is I just always look at my dogs as my coaches. So the dogs are my coaches, whether they're students' dogs, or my dogs', they're the ones who they're helping me develop a plan, and I like to look at it that way because it keeps me always evaluating and looking at things.
Melissa Breau: I want to make sure we talk a little bit about your experience as an obedience judge. Having had the experience of being a judge, how has it changed how you train and how you prepare yourself for competition? So can you talk a little bit about that?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I got to watch a lot of dogs over the years -- 20 years, i think I was judging, around there. I don't think judging has really influenced the way I train at all; it's kind of separate. But it has made me aware of handling and timing issues that unknowingly contribute to problems in handlers. It's also helped me develop a system of handling for heeling where there's no footwork involved. That's one of the classes I'm doing right now, and it's really different. I noticed, when I was judging, handlers coming in and -- especially new handlers -- even handlers that've been around for a while that are just struggling with getting on the right foot and that. Those are just a few things.
Timing is another issue. Commands that I give to handlers and handlers quickly giving the cue to the dog, and you start to see anticipation issues; those kinds of things.
Melissa Breau: Like I mentioned, I'm fairly new to obedience, so I've been volunteering to steward every chance I can get just to surround myself with the sport, learn a little more about it, make sure that when I do eventually wind up in the ring I'm not quite as nervous. At the very first trial where I got to steward, the judge said something to his beginner novice handlers -- I don't think I'll ever forget this -- he said, "I'm here to work for you. If you're not ready when I ask, tell me so; I'll wait. Take your time." He really emphasized this idea that they were paying for him to be there, not the other way around. Most handlers probably haven't ever thought about a competition quite that way before, or the judge at least quite that way before, and I was curious if you had any nuggets, things you which handlers had known when you were judging that you wish handlers knew when they walked into a ring from your time being on that side.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that's wonderful advice from the judge. So true. That was one of my biggest... one of the things is I wish people would slow down and just take more time, so that's awesome that he or she brought that up.
A couple other things come to mind and one is, I think it's a little better now, but just playing and engagement between exercises. There is countless times when the judge is busy scoring, and you're moving between exercises, when the dog needs a break. And i just wish more people would break the dogs, rather than heeling them, and just play a little bit between exercises. It's fine to do that, if you just don't hold up the ring. Just make sure you're moving between exercises.
Another important thing is just to be your own dog's advocate in the ring. Just making sure that if something is going on that you step in and take control. Just because somebody's telling you not to do that -- just make sure you do what's good for your dog.
Melissa Breau: I didn't include this in the questions I sent over in advance, but I'm curious, since you've had so much experience with the sport, just what some of the changes that you've seen over the years have been. From what I hear, even the instructions the AKC gives to the judges have changed a little bit. They've become a little more about trying to make the sport more acceptable and more interesting for people maybe new to it --
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Which is awesome.
Melissa Breau: Do you have anything that comes to mind about how the sport has changed and what your thoughts may be?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I don't think the sport has changed too much. I wish it would change more. Some of the exercises have changed; the orders in the B classes at one time there was only one order, and now the open B and utility B exercises have... i think there's 6 different orders. At one point in time you could not excuse yourself from the ring and you can do that now. That's fairly recent to change.
There's lots of little things like that. Utility, a long time ago, utility A and B were split recently but at that point in time they could be combined into just one utility class, and there was also an exercises in utility that was a group stand, where the dogs would all be standing and the judge would go down and examine each. That was before I was judging; I was competing then, but the dogs would all stand and the judge would examine them all 12 of them at the most. Those are some changes; in terms of judging, the judges have changed according to the rules. Basically, I think procedures are pretty similar to what it was... since I haven't been judging since 2008, I can't really say what is going on currently.
Melissa Breau: Well just to round things out, I have 3 more short questions that so far I've asked everybody whose been on the podcast. So the first one might be a little hard to answer, but what's the dog related accomplishment you're proudest of?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that can be hard because everyone has that issue, i know for myself, each of my dogs have given me some pretty amazing things to be proud of -- but actually I could think of one thing and I think my proudest accomplishment was that the American Kennel Club's Border Collie Parent club, which is Border Collie Society of America, gave me the 2010 Good Sportsmanship Award, which I was very honored to receive.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks.
Melissa Breau: So the second to last question -- what is the best piece of training advice you've ever heard?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I had one ready for today, and it's not so much training advice buy more life with dogs and that includes training and it's something I love so much I have T-shirts made with it on, and that's "Be the person your dog thinks you are." I just love that slogan or saying. But today Julie Daniels posted a respondences in the instructors' email list, and it was on a discussion we were having and she said something that became my new favorite piece of training advice. So that just happened today, and what she said was, "consequences are not always the enemy, but anger is always our enemy." I just love that.
Melissa Breau: I'm sure she'll be very flattered that that's what you chose.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, so that's just awesome.
Melissa Breau: This last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Boy, this is a heard one. There's so many people in the dog world that I admire, there are too many to mention, so I think I'll say the entire group of instructors at FDSA as an entity. It's an incredibly supportive family and Denise is just the best boss that anyone could possibly have.
Melissa Breau: I'll agree with that. Alright, well thank you so much for joining me, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back in two weeks with Sue Ailsby, the creator of the Levels training program.
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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 and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!