Sue Ailsby has done a little bit of everything when it comes to dog sports -- from water trials to herding -- but is particularly well known for her Levels training program. In this episode we talk about how that program came to be, and what she's learned in over 50 years training dogs.
To be released 3/31/2017, featuring Stacy Barnett.
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.
Registration opens next Wednesday for the April session of classes, including obedience, rally, nosework, and agility. So head over to the website, fenzidogsportsacademy.com and take a look.
Today we’ll be talking to Sue Ailsby. Sue is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been in dogs for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Portuguese Water Dogs.
She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including, and guys this is quite the list, sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.
Sue’s an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.
Welcome to the podcast, Sue.
Sue Ailsby: Thank you very much, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I’m super excited to be talking to you today and I would love to start off just by having you tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have now and what you’re working on with them.
Sue Ailsby: Okay. My oldest dog right now is Stitch. She’s 12 years old, and what I’m working on with her is mostly going outside to rescue her because she forgets how to come back in through a dog door. She has achieved the lofty status of being able to walk around all day with a smile on her face wondering what’s happening.
And my second dog is Sin, and these are both Portuguese Water Dogs, by the way. Sin is six and I’m working on her, let me think, she’s a champion, she’s finished all her drafting titles. We’re still working on high-level water trials. She’s starting nosework. We’ve done work in studies for medical detection and now I’m looking at competition nosework. We’ve done agility. We’re looking at tracking. Getting ready for some obedience trials. We’ve done rally with her. Yeah, etcetera.
Melissa Breau: Little bit of everything, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I know that you mentioned you’ve done a lot of different breeds and now you’ve two Portuguese Water Dogs. Do you think you’re sticking with the breed for a while?
Sue Ailsby: Oh, right now she’s six. I’m starting to think about another dog, and I had 17 generations of Giant Schnauzers, I so miss my giant Schnauzers. But I’m having such a good time with water trials that I’m really torn, do I get another Giant…because I’m old and it will probably be my last big dog. But then I wouldn’t be able to do water trials with that one, so I have no idea.
Melissa Breau: So we’ll all be on pins and needles to wait and see.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. No less than my husband, believe me.
Melissa Breau: We talked a little bit in the intro about the fact that you’ve been in dogs for quite a while, so I’d love to get your take on what you’ve seen during that time and kind of how your training has changed and what your training philosophy is if you were to look at it today.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, I was tough. I started when I was 11. The only way to train was tough. I used to go to a jeweler to get choke chains made for my Chihuahuas because they didn’t sell choke chains small enough for them. And now I look back and think, you needed a choke chain to train a Chihuahua?
When all there is, is a hammer, everything looks like a nail and you do what you’re told.
And I was very good at it, too. But one day, actually it was in conformation. I got a Best in Show on a Giant Schnauzer and we were waiting for the photographer, and to get a Best in Show you have to look brave and confident and noble and like you’re having a really good time. We’re waiting for the photographer after we got the Best and she was getting a little fussy and I just turned and said, “Sit,” and she turned into an obedience dog. She half closed her eyes and she pulled her neck in and she kind of slowly sat down, and I thought, I’m not ever doing that to another dog.
Melissa Breau: Wow, so it was really that one moment, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If I can’t do obedience any more, then I won’t do obedience any more. But I’m just not making another dog feel like that when I can make her feel glorious to do conformation, and so I quit completely. And then after about six months I started hearing about this weird new cookie pushing sort of thing that was coming in, and I went to Toronto on a plane to talk to a guy who was doing some of this. And he didn’t really know what he was doing, but he got me started and gave me a couple of other leads, and then I went down to the states to see a seminar of a guy. And it wasn’t a ‘how to do this’ seminar, it was a ‘let’s repair the damage’ seminar.
So I didn’t get to hear why he was doing what he was doing, but he’d bring somebody up with a dog that was having a problem and then I’d watch them fix the problem, and from that I kind of started extrapolating what his rules were about how he was doing this and kind of went from there and learned more. And I think about things that I saw before where the dog was actually thinking and how astonished I was.
I had a puppy…I heard about this new thing where you teach the dog to ring a bell to go outside. Oh, what an interesting idea. So I got a bell. Now I’ve got a bell, how do I teach the dog to ring the bell? And just maybe because I’d been doing conformation that morning, certainly not because that’s the way any other obedience trainer would have done it, I smeared some wiener on the bell and I hung the bell down, and she started licking the wiener off the bell. And when she licked it hard enough she made the bell ring, I got all excited, like, “Oh, what a good girl. Good job. Wow, are you ever great.”
And I put more wiener on the bell and hung it down again and she licked it again and made it ring and I’m, “Oh, what a good girl. Wow.” And put more wiener on the bell and put it down. I have no idea whether this is going to work or not. I put the bell down again and she didn’t lick the wiener off. She looked at the bell and she looked at me…this is a five-month-old puppy. Looked at the bell, looked at me, looked at the bell, and then she pulled her great big Giant Schnauzer paw back and whacked that bell into next Tuesday.
And then she looked at me. Is that what you wanted? You wanted me to ring the bell? And that kind of a leap from the dog was completely not part of the training in those days. There was nothing in training that could explain the dog having a brain like that. And those things were so precious, and now I see them all the time. It’s wonderful.
Melissa Breau: It makes you feel totally different about your training relationship and about your dog.
Sue Ailsby: Absolutely. It was all about anger. The dog is doing this deliberately, the dog is defying me, the dog must learn to obey.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: The first dog I trained, it wasn’t clicker training but it was without corrections, was a Giant Schnauzer and I got her to about eight months and it was glorious. And we were getting ready for an obedience trial and I’m heeling along, and part of my brain is saying, isn’t this glorious? She’s never had a correction and she’s heeling. And the other half of my brain is saying, but she doesn’t know she has to. And then the first part, why should she know she has to? She knows she wants to, but she doesn’t know she has to.
I’m going to put a choke chain on her and I’m just going to tell her that she has to. This is not negotiable. You don’t want to put a choke chain on her, you’ve spent eight months telling her how to enjoy this and you’re going to put a choke chain on her? I can handle it. So I put the choker on and we’re heeling along, and she just glanced away for a second. She didn’t quit or anything, she just, her eyes flicked away and I gave her a little pop on the chain, and my good angel is screaming, “Don’t. Don’t do that.” And the bad angel is, “She can’t refuse.”
And she kind of... “What was that?” And I say okay, so we go on and a few minutes later her eyes flick away again and I give her another shot with the collar. And she stopped and the angel is saying, “Now you’ve done it. You’ve ruined it completely. Why don’t you just go shoot yourself right now.” And the devil is saying, “I could just give her another shot. She can’t just stop.” So she stood there for a minute with a confused look on her face and then her ears came up and her tail came up and she started wagging her tail and she got all excited, and she ran around and started heeling on my right side.
Melissa Breau: Okay.
Sue Ailsby: Okay? Heeling is good, I like to heel. Heeling on the left just became dangerous, let’s do it on the right side instead. And I just sank to the floor and I’m sobbing and apologizing. That was the last time I ever had a choke chain on a dog.
Melissa Breau: She showed you.
Sue Ailsby: She sure did. Oh my goodness. And what an amazing solution.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. She was brilliant.
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: That’s so funny.
Sue Ailsby: And yet still the devil was screaming, “She’s refusing. She can’t do that.” Fortunately it got smaller and smaller as we went along. I didn’t listen to it any more. So training has changed amazingly.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Hopefully almost entirely for the better.
Sue Ailsby: Entirely for the better, yes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the classes coming up through the Fenzi Academy because I know that you’re offering the levels program, and this will air just before registration for that, so do you want to just explain for those who aren’t familiar with it what levels training is and what the program is?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve been training classes since I was 16. You get to the point where I’m tired of teaching people off the street. Not that they don’t need teaching, not that they’re not nice people, but I started doing them in private lessons and I was doing classes for competition people. And I noticed that my competition people were learning to do the competition behaviors but they weren’t learning to handle their dogs. They weren’t learning the tools to teach their dogs, which is the same way I learned to ride.
I took riding lessons for years and I learned a great deal about riding. I’m a pretty awesome rider, by golly, but I don’t know anything about horses. As long as I’m on top of them, I’m good to go, but on the ground I know nothing. And that to me is an extreme failure of instruction, because surely knowing the animal is the bottom line.
So I started noticing that my competition students, most of them didn’t have the bottom line. And when I’m training, I’m looking at the behaviors that the dog needs to know in everything. The dog needs to know how to be in a crate comfortably. There is nothing worse than trying to go on a six-hour drive to get to some competition and the dog is screaming in the crate the whole way. That’s bad for the handler and it’s also bad for the dog because when she gets there she’s all upset and she’s tired, so nobody’s going to do well.
I had students with competition dogs who were never off leash unless they were in the ring because the people didn’t have a decent recall, and to me a decent recall is a foundation and oh, foundations. So I started thinking about the things that the dog needs to know as foundation behaviors and when they know that foundation, they know already more than they have to know about what’s coming up, no matter what you want to do with them.
I go to a nosework class. Whether my dog knows anything about nosework or not, she knows how to learn. She knows how to behave around other dogs. She knows how to keep the leash loose. She knows that I’m trying to teach her something and she’s eager to learn it. So I started thinking about how we could start with basic behaviors to teach basic concepts, and then I started writing those out, and then taking them to extremes. And then I started thinking about the idea of zen, doggy zen or leave that alone or whatever people call it in whatever program.
But why can’t I put my treats on the floor beside me then work the dog? I can do that. Most people can’t because the dog’s going to be grabbing the food off the floor instead of paying attention. To me that’s a foundation behavior. I’ve got eight-week-old puppies that won’t pay attention when the food is on the floor. And so we start working on that. And then you think about that, the idea of the dog controlling herself to get what she wants rather than just trying to grab it is a foundation concept.
And if she knows that I go into herding, she’s not going, “Give me the sheep, give me the sheep, give me the sheep.” She’s going, “What do I have to give you so I can have those sheep?” And no matter what circumstance we go into, she’s giving me, “What can I do for you to get what I want out of this situation?”
And from there training is just incredibly easy. So that’s why I wrote the Training Levels. Also, people have a problem with splitting behaviors. That’s the one thing people say about clicker training, “I don’t know how to split behaviors. All I’m doing is lumping. I want the dog to sit. I can’t see anything that the dog does that takes her from standing to sitting. She’s just…” They’re describing the enterprise beaming the dog up and beaming her back down in a sit position.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right.
Sue Ailsby: So I wanted to write them also to teach the trainers how to split and how to reward and how to look for the little behaviors that lead where you want to go. So that’s the training level, and they’ve been enormously successful. I’m really, really proud of them.
Melissa Breau: You updated them a few years ago, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah because I started to realize that I had written them originally for my competition students, so there was competition stuff in there, like how to do a stand for examination. And then I realized that these are foundation behaviors I’m talking about, these are not competition behaviors. If you’ve got all your foundation behaviors in place, you’re six or eight weeks from getting a beginning title in any sport because you’ve already got the foundation behaviors.
What is a stay but self control in a sit? It’s an easy explanation. So I rewrote them because I had changed my focus and I realized I was now looking at foundation behaviors for life rather than foundation behaviors just for competition or just for obedience. Now they’re foundation behaviors for pets and service dogs. The service dog community has gone nuts over the training levels as foundation for training service dogs.
Melissa Breau: Right. Now are there any kind of criteria, I mean you can do this with a puppy or as an adult dog, or really with any age, right?
Sue Ailsby: People have done this with llamas and cats and horses and goats and…
Melissa Breau: Wow. You don’t think of a goat as super trainable. That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, goats are very smart.
Melissa Breau: So you do a lot of different things with your dogs and I would love to hear how you decide what to do with each dog, like whether you have goals for them when you get them as a puppy, whether you kind of explore things as they grow up, like how do you decide what sports to focus on?
Sue Ailsby: A lot of it is what’s available at the moment. I have a friend that I trial with who is also interested in all different kinds of sports and that I grew up with in a junior kennel club, and we kind of look ahead and say, “So what are we going to do this year? Oh, well, there’s a tracking test coming up in so and so and oh, that’s relatively close, let’s do some tracking,” and things like that.
And well, there’s some degree of guidance with the Giant Schnauzer. Do I get another Giant so I can do more carting and sled racing sort of stuff, or do I get another Porty so I can continue doing water trials? And then sometimes something’s available and you give it a shot and it’s clear that the dog either isn’t going to enjoy it or just has no aptitude for it. I’ve had lots of Giant Schnauzers with herding titles. My first Porty had a herding title. I take my current Portys out to the sheep and they’re like, “they’re not bothering me.”
Melissa Breau: No interest, huh?
Sue Ailsby: No. And back to how the training has changed, my six-year-old, I took her out as a younger dog onto sheep at a clinic and she was awful. She was just completely uninterested in sheep, and as I started back, okay, my turn is over, I’m starting back towards the other people at the clinic, and I can see on their faces they’re all thinking oh, dear. Sue’s dog was terrible, she’s going to be so mad. And I can see this going through their heads and I’m like mad at my dog because she has no aptitude for herding sheep? That’s kind of silly. But they don’t know that.
So in a big loud voice I said, “She’s terrible at herding sheep.” And they’re all looking at me like here it comes, she’s going to give the dog away or... and I said, “Do you know what this means? I don’t have to buy sheep this year.” Okay. If herding sheep is really, really important to me, then I will sit down and guide her and show her that she can have a good time herding sheep. And if it’s not important to me... which it isn’t. It’s a fun thing to do if the dog’s enjoying it, but in itself it’s not important to me. So okay, so we’re not going to be herding with this dog.
Melissa Breau: That’s really funny. That’s one of those things where especially in a sport like that where at least a big part of it is instinct, you really can’t fault the dog. If it’s not there, it’s just not there.
Sue Ailsby: Right.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And she loves nosework. If I would hide 20 things around the house every day and send her to find them, that would just make her entire year. So we’re going to do some, and they seem to enjoy the carting. And it’s a thrill for me to see her in obedience with her coat flowing and her flag flying and strut stepping and having a good time.
Melissa Breau: Now you also teach rally, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I haven’t had the pleasure of taking your rally class, but I’d love to know what you think you kind of maybe do differently than how other people teach those skills. I know for example, Hannah’s really taught the obedience skill building series very differently than how most people approach obedience, and I’d imagine, you’re an outside the box thinker, that you probably approach rally a little differently. Can you talk to that?
Sue Ailsby: What I see in a lot of physical rally classes is the same thing I see in a lot of physical conformation classes, which is: this is the course. You go through the course and here you get the dog to sit and here you get the dog to back up and here you get the dog to do this, and no, you have to keep the leash loose here and no, you have to give only one queue there, and they’re talking about teaching the handler how to do the course but they’re not teaching the dog how to do the behaviors.
So it’s even worse in conformation where they just take the dog to a class and walk around in a circle for an hour and bore the dog out of its mind and that’s a conformation class instead of teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and how to have a good time. And so I don’t even introduce courses until we’ve gone at least several weeks, and then a course might be two signs. Just maybe walk from this sign to this sign and have the dog sit. And I’m not looking at whether it’s heeling straight or anything, just walk from here to there and have the dog sit because we’ve already talked about how to walk and how to get the dog to sit.
I don’t know, the only thing I’m doing different is that I’m teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and I’m teaching the handler how to teach the dog.
Melissa Breau: Now in the skill building series, is there a particular organization that you‘re focused on, or... I know that you can do rally with a number of different organizations these days.
Sue Ailsby: Well, because Fenzi is an international school, I can’t really focus on one venue, and I know there are people that have taken rally from me in Europe who are doing cyber rally. They’re doing rally where they send in videos and the videos are judged because there’s no rally organization within physical distance of them. So I kind of say this is the basic idea of this sign. Now read the rules of the venue you’re going to be in and we will discuss what the rule says for your venue and any changes you’re going to have to make because of that.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that’s one of the classes where the gold students are extremely helpful, just having the…
Sue Ailsby: Gold students are always precious. Oh, the training levels. A training levels isn’t one class, one session of classes, it’s a semester, it’s a bunch of semesters which you can sign up for one at a time. But the gold students in the fourth semester have been taking the program right from the beginning and it’s a family. It was such an amazing dynamic. It was thrilling to have these people and to realize that now I’m not telling them basic things any more, they know the basic things now. I’m telling them minor modifications, and that was absolutely thrilling.
Melissa Breau: I’d love to make sure that everybody listening to this kind of gets the chance to see a little bit of how you teach or a sample of kind of what some of the things that you tackle are, so is there one skill or problem that you find people consistently have issues with and just come up again and again and again that you wouldn’t mind maybe walking us through how you typically tackle it?
Sue Ailsby: The one thing you absolutely have to have to train a dog anything is the single most important foundation behavior, which is paying attention, I call it being in the game. If the dog is in the game you can teach her anything. If she’s not in the game, you can’t teach her anything.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: Go to an agility trial. Oh, if I’m doing a seminar somewhere…one time people in Detroit or somewhere said we want you to spend one day of the seminar doing agility, and I’m like, “You people are insane. I’m not a high-end agility handler, I do agility because my dog enjoys doing agility and because it makes me move. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m disabled. Surely in Detroit there are world class agility instructors.”
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: And they’re like, “No. We already work with them. We want to know what you have to say about agility.” I said, “Okay, but you make sure everybody who signs up for the agility session knows that I’m an amateur agility person. I’m not going to be out there pretending I’m some agility guru. I was a conformation judge, I know conformation. I don’t know agility like a judge.”
“Okay, we’ll tell them, we’ll tell them.” Well, I get there and they’re like okay, what problem are you having with this dog and I’m thinking, oh, she’s not doing precisely the right behavior on the down contact or I’m having trouble with threadles or something. No. We get halfway through the course and she goes off to visit the steward, or she can’t work if my husband’s watching. These are not agility problems, these are foundation problems.
So I was there for a whole day doing an agility seminar and absolutely nothing of what I did was agility. It was foundation behaviors.
Melissa Breau: That’s why they wanted you to come in.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If the dog isn’t able to focus on you, if the dog is afraid in that situation, if the dog is nervous in that situation, if the dog is just distracted by everything else that’s going on, you can’t be teaching the dog to do a teeter. And yet the more distracted the dog gets, the harder people try to work on the teeter. “No, we’re doing teeters. Come on, you have to do the teeter.” Stop doing the teeter. You can’t teach a teeter when the dog is distracted. You have to get the dog focused. That’s a foundation.
Melissa Breau: So how would somebody who realizes they have that problem start to tackle it? What would you have them do as like that first step of fixing it?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve started students’ dogs sometimes in the bathroom with the door shut and the toilet paper put away so there’s absolutely nothing to distract them. I have students with Salukis. Salukis don’t eat in public.
Melissa Breau: Oh. That’s not a thing I knew.
Sue Ailsby: “Excuse me, I’m a sight hound, I do not eat in public.” And so we start them in the bathroom. Okay, not public. Can you do this, can you take this food from me? Can you take this food from me? Can you look at me and take the food from me? Can you touch my hand and take the food from me? Then you go into a slightly more distracting situation like open the bathroom door and repeat the instruction, and then maybe you go out in the hallway and you repeat the instruction. And you go into the living room and “Oh, you can’t do it here? Okay, let’s go back to the bathroom and we’ll start there again at let me explain that again.”
You touch my hand, you get a treat. You like that? Okay, let’s go out in the hallway. You touch the hand, you get the treat. Let’s go out…no, still can’t do it? Let me explain it again and we go back to the bathroom until they can do it, until they can do it from scratch in the living room. Oh, boy. Now we can go out in the backyard or we can go in the front yard or we can go in the car. We can drive the car to a parking lot and we can get out in the parking lot and see if they can do it there.
Because the big problem with having a class is you take the dog there and the dog is expected to do stuff, and maybe the dog has never been in that situation before and they can’t do stuff there. Mostly they’re just standing there going holy cow, I didn’t know there was that many dogs in the world.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Sue Ailsby: So the absolute bottom line foundation is paying attention, focus. And if you don’t have focus, stop working on something else and go back and get focus. It’s like clothes. Okay, you’re in grade two now, you have to wear clothes. Yeah, but I’m late for school. Oh my God, he’s late for school, let’s go to school. Oh, wait a minute. You still don’t have clothes on.
Melissa Breau: I like that analogy.
Sue Ailsby: I’m not going to take you to school and shove you in the classroom. It doesn’t matter if you’re late for school, you’re going to put your clothes on first.
Melissa Breau: Right. Absolutely.
Sue Ailsby: And trying to get people to the point I think has been a lifelong battle of me trying to get people to the point where they see that the clothes come first. Stop trying to get the dog to do a sit stay when all he wants to do is go see that cute dog at the end of the line. You’re not working on forcing him to do a sit stay, you’re working on him to focus. If that means taking him out of the room into the next room where he’s by himself, “Can you focus now? That’s wonderful. Good job. You can focus.”
And then you take one step into the training room again and he loses it and you take him back out again. “You want to be in the training room where you can see that lovely creature? I need focus. You can focus here. Shall we try it again?”
See what happens to me when I start thinking about the dog getting out of control is I get calmer. My voice goes down. I felt my shoulders come down. Instead of getting more excited and going, “No, no, no. Come over here. Sit.” I said, “No, you can’t do it here, we’ll go back out in the other room. Can you do it there?” And over time he’s going to get to the point where he can walk into the other room and see, oh, she’s still there. Isn’t she cute? But he’s still focused on you and on what he’s supposed to be doing.
My llamas actually taught me this. I have a breeding pen and when I’m going to breed a female I put her in the breeding pen and then I go and get a stud. And if he won’t put his nose in the halter, which is a trained behavior that he already has, if he won’t put his nose in the halter because he’s too busy running back and forth along the fence going “breeding pen, breeding pen,” then I’m going to walk away. I’m not hunting you down, son. The halter’s over here. You don’t get to come out of your pasture until you’ve got your halter on.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: So the second or third time I walk away he’s like, can I put my nose in the halter please? Like yeah, yeah, you can. And then we step out, and he knows in his soul because I taught him this when he was a baby. Tight leashes go away from where you want to go and loose leashes go where you want them to go.
I bought a stud who weighed 400 pounds, an adult, and he didn’t know that. He thought if he wanted to go that way he’d just go that way and you’d come with him. So I had an ATV and I just tied the leash to the ATV and when he tried to drag me to the breeding pen, I’d just turn around and drive the other way.
And so while other people are arguing with their studs, it takes three people to get him safely to the breeding pen, I’m walking across the yard with one finger on the leash and he’s walking backwards because he’s concentrating so hard on keeping that leash loose. It’s not my job any more to control him.
And that’s the bottom line of all training. It’s not my job to control the animal, it’s the animal’s job to control himself. All I do is supply the consequences. Tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, loose leashes go to the breeding pen. But people say, “But my dog really, really, really, really wants the treat. He just goes crazy.” “Honey, your dog doesn’t want the treat more than my stud wants to get to the breeding pen. Trust me on this.”
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And if I one time tell him that dragging me to the pen will get me there, then I’ve lost all the training I did. He has to know in his very soul that tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, and when he’s got that he’s got everything. So I had 4-H kids with breeding males standing in the waiting ring at a show surrounded by females and they’re just like, my leash is loose. Isn’t it great?
Melissa Breau: That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: And yet it’s very standard training.
Melissa Breau: It’s one of those pieces of advice that is simple but not easy.
Sue Ailsby: Yes. Absolutely. And it’s a piece of advice that you have to keep in front of you all the time, just like if you’re not focusing on me, we’re not working on anything but focus.
Melissa Breau: I have three more short questions. I’ve asked these questions to everybody that’s been on the show, and the first one’s usually the hardest. What is the dog-related accomplishment that you would say you’re proudest of?
Sue Ailsby: I’m proudest of my relationship with my dogs. I’m proudest that I can go to a competition and people watch me in a water trial or whatever we’re doing and people will come up after and say, “That was so beautiful. She was working with you so beautifully that you were like a team. And it didn’t look like you were trying to get her to do anything, it just looked like you thought, I think I’d like her to do that, and she went and did it for you.” And that to me is the essence of why I have a dog.
Melissa Breau: My second to last question is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Sue Ailsby: Get yourself out of the mix. Don’t take it personally. Our entire culture is based on antagonism. I have to fight to defend everything I get and everybody else is trying to not let me have it. And that, especially in the training that I grew up with, was the key to everything. This is my idea and if you’re doing the same thing, you’d better credit me because it’s my idea. And my dog has to do what I tell her to do. She doesn’t have a say in this or she’s defying me.
And to turn it around and take myself out of the mix and say, “How do I get the dog to want to do this, and how do I nudge her gently in the direction I want her to go and still have her think that it was her idea?” I was talking about this to somebody who took tai chi once and they said, “That’s tai chi for dogs.” You don’t meet force head on, you receive it and you change its course and send it on its way. To take something the dog is doing and not think she’s defying me but to be able to sit back completely without rancor and say, why did she do that? How can I make it better for her to do what I want than it was for her to do that?
Melissa Breau: So the last one up is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to? And part of the reason we ask this question is because we’re always looking for who we should talk to in the future, so who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Sue Ailsby: Denise Fenzi. That didn’t help much, did it?
Melissa Breau: That’s all right.
Sue Ailsby: I’m absolutely awe struck at her ability, not just to build a business and to manage a business, but to assemble a group of instructors that I think every single instructor is just giddy over the idea of working with instructors of this quality. To keep us sane and to keep us, and I said before that training was all very tight and greedy. This is mine, this is my idea, and that’s not what happens at Fenzi and it’s because of the kind of training that we do. But it’s not I don’t care how she’s doing it, this is how I do it. It’s more like yeah, that’s not the way I do it but that’s a perfectly legitimate way of doing it and so since you’ve already got that, let’s just work with that.
And the other person I admire is not a single person, it’s the students. It’s the students who know so much and they come to learn more, and it’s the students who know nothing and come and take gold classes to learn more because they trust us not to make fun of them because they don’t know something. It’s to the point where you can tell somebody who has been in another Fenzi class with another instructor because they’re not afraid to take the coaching. They’re not defensive because they know that you’re coaching, you’re not making fun.
The people I really admire are the people who started out in traditional training and are trying to change because changing is so difficult.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much, Sue. I really appreciate you being willing to do this.
Sue Ailsby: That was fun.
Melissa Breau: Thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Stacy Barnett, one of the excellent nosework instructors at FDSA and founder of the Scentsabilities podcast. 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 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!