At FDSA, Andrea Harrison teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio.
She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.
When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work.
To be released 6/23/2017, featuring Amanda Nelson.
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 Andrea Harrison. At FDSA Andrea teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio. She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.
When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work. Hi, Andrea. Welcome to the podcast.
Andrea Harrison: Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s lovely to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, do you want to just give us a little about your current fur crew?
Andrea Harrison: Sure. We could take up the whole podcast talking about them so I won’t do that, but we’re currently living with too many dogs including my dad’s dog, Franny, who is a lovely older cocker spaniel, and then we have Brody who is 17 almost and he’s what I refer to as my heartbeat at my feet. He’s my Shih Tzu mix and he really taught me that gurus even in dog sports don’t necessarily have all the answers for every dog. Then we have Theo who is a 14-year-old Chihuahua, Sally who is an 11-year-old border collie mix who has really taught me to appreciate joy in everything. She was supposed to be palliative foster, she came to us when she was about six months old and was given less than six months to live, and she’s about to turn eleven. So she’s a good daily reminder. Yeah. She’s a really good daily reminder that life is good and life is worth living. Then we have Sam who is my husband’s golden retriever and I do very, very little with him. He just turned eight, and he came to us as a palliative foster as well. He was five months old with terminal kidney disease, so he’s doing pretty well. We’ve got a crazy, crazy little terrier named Dora who is five years old, and then we have a toy American Eskimo, Yen, who just turned four, and she is certainly my daily reminder that every dog you have to do things your own way.
So yeah, we have a bunch of different breeds and different types represented in the house right now, and as I say, too many dogs, but I also joke that on a per acre basis we have less dogs than most people do because we live on a fairly large farm in the middle of nowhere in Lake Ontario. So per acre we’re well under any limit anybody could set.
Melissa Breau: That certainly helps. I mean, having space is a big benefit when you have dogs.
Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. And it’s nice because I can train down at the front with them, a little agility field set up at the front, so I can take a pair down and work them down there, but every day a part of our routine is to go for a one to two, well, sometimes even three kilometers once the weather is nice, but we’re out doing a good hike off-leash with all five of the dogs who are at a stage in their development where that’s something they enjoy, right? So their fitness, their brain, their recalls, all of that stuff just gets worked on as part of life, you know? They hang out with me, they want to hang out with me. It makes when they come to town much easier, right, because they’re constantly being reinforced for doing sort of the right thing to my husband’s and my eyes.
Melissa Breau: So which of the dogs are you currently competing with?
Andrea Harrison: I don’t actually. Since I’ve been down here we’ve been busy setting up the farm, but Sally, the border collie mix, finished doing a major film fairly recently and has been going out doing some publicity work around that. So her training stayed pretty current. Yeah. She was a lead role in a feature film that was about the character dog, Dinah, in the movie. So she is Dinah. So that’s been kind of neat with being down to the…Toronto has an international film festival and we’ve been in the main theater for that. She was the first dog ever in that theater and stuff. So we had to make sure she was really, really perfect. They were, “A dog? You can’t have a dog in the theater.” We’re like, “Well, she’s the star of the film.” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she’s the star of the film I guess it’s okay.” So she’s been doing stuff.
Ad I’m hoping to get Dora, the two young dogs, Dora and Yen, going in competitive agility one of these days. But my problem is because everything is two or three hours of driving for me, and with my 17-year-old guy, I don’t like to leave him very long, right? He’s very much my heartbeat at my feet, he’s happiest lying on my feet, and I hate to leave him and make him stress out when I’m gone. But unfortunately I don’t think he’ll be with us all that much longer. And then Dora and Yen can get their day of, their 15 minutes of fame, right, the Andy Warhol thing, they can get out there and get their fame and glory or embarrass me, whichever way they choose to go out. They do agility at home and they’re great. They’re ready to go. I just have to get off the farm.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. How long have you guys had the farm now?
Andrea Harrison: Well, we’ve had the land for about ten years and we’ve been living here, we’ve been living here and building our house. We had a house just around the corner, we’ve been building our house for just about five years, we’ve been permanently at the farm for three.
Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s awesome.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been pretty neat. It added a dimension to my life that I really didn’t know how much I was missing until I had it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started with dog sports and the film stuff? I mean, where did all that start?
Andrea Harrison: So when I was little I apparently was pretty opinionated, I hear this quite regularly, and I didn’t like school and I didn’t think I like learning. Turns out I love learning but I was just not being taught the stuff I liked to learn, right? So my dad and mom realized that if they could connect anything to animals I’d buy into it. So they taught me history at the dining room table by using the names of dogs and cats and horses, whatever kind of animal they could find that was connected to an event. I learned about the Civil War in the States because of the horse Traveller, for example, right? Ancient Greek history, they connected it to Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. Rin Tin Tin for the war stuff, right? All of those kinds of things.
And then they realized that if they brought home books that had animals in them I would read, and it turns out I’m a voracious reader, but they connected it through animals. And one of the kinds of books I started reading were books about people, there was a real trend for books about guide dogs, service dogs, seeing eye dogs and those kinds of things, and I read a book, and I was trying to think of the name of it. I think it’s called like, Guided by the Light or something, or Candle in the Light or something, and I read the book and it just amazed me, the gorgeous German shepherd, and I had this clear picture in my head, it was an amazing dog.
I looked at our Irish setter at the time and I said, “You and I are going to do stuff.” And I was 12 and there were no classes available for kids, kids just were not available to take classes. So I made my mom go to the dog sport classes and is at on the sidelines and I watched everything she did and I went home and I did it with our Irish setter in the backyard. By the end of our time doing that class our Irish setter would actually walk down a main street of Toronto off-leash with squirrels and other dogs going by me. She was your pretty typical Irish setter, she was a busy girl, and I was so proud of that. The lift that gave me as a very introverted, not super academic kind of person really built my confidence.
So then just every dog we had from there, I put one leg of an obedience title on a golden retriever. We had foster Sheltie for about eight months, I did some show handling with her. So I just slowly got a little bit more into it. I never found my passion, right?
Then one day, twenty years ago almost exactly I think, I saw agility, just in a field at a local university. Somebody set up a class and I literally stopped dead and went, “That’s amazing.” And I started thinking about agility. I had two older big dogs at the time who couldn’t do it, but I started learning about it and watching it and thinking about it. Then I was hooked. That was it. I mean, my blog is called Agility Addict. I was just absolutely, and I am just nuts about agility.
Melissa Breau: What’s the URL for your blog?
Andrea Harrison: Andrea Agility Addict Blog Spot I think. I don’t know. It comes up, as soon as you type any of that in it flies right up.
Melissa Breau: I will look it up and I will include the link in the show notes. So what do, what you teach at FDSA is a little bit different, kind of, than what any of the other instructors do. You definitely have your own niche. I mean, how do you explain what it is you do at FDSA? How would you kind of summarize it
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a good question. I think what I’d say and what I do say all the time is that I focus on the handler side, right? Because it doesn’t matter if you’re an agility addict or you’re into nose work or you’re into obedience. I’m so grateful I’m learning so much about all these amazing different sports, Rally-FrEe, and all this stuff, it’s just so super what I do because I get to learn and I love learning, right?
So I really focus on the handler side of it. My experiences through all the different things that I have done have reminded me all the time that my mental state, my beliefs, my hang-ups, right, really are going to affect what happens at the end of the leash. When I was filming Zoboomafoo and I needed 15 puppies to run across the floor towards me, if 13 of them ran towards me and two of them went another way it didn’t help to get mad about it, right? I had to just think it through, figure it out, and redo it, right? Or when my little dog was on the stage at the Elgin Theater in Toronto, one of our big theaters doing a thing of Annie, I had to just to let it go.
And it’s hard for me to let it go. I’m your typical Fenzi instructor, you know, type A, cares a lot, wants everything to be right, right? We’re a passionate group of people, right? I mean, that’s wonderful, but it can be hard to remember that we can’t control everything, right? No matter how much we want success we can’t always make success in the moment that we want it. So as I was looking at what I could bring to the FDSA table it was like, there’s a piece of stuff that I’m doing all the time, I’m getting asked to do it all the time, people are asking me questions in my face classes all the time about this, people respond to any blog I write about it.
So I taught a little tiny course just for people locally online, and ended up telling Denise about it, and she was like, “That’s really cool. Do you want to try bringing that here? I don’t know if it’ll work.” She was really honest, right? She’s like, I don’t know if it’ll work. I’m not sure there’s a thing. But that’s where the first course, All in Your Head, came from, this tiny little genesis of a course I ran one summer through a Facebook group, and then it just developed from there. Students are amazing, they ask amazing questions, and they’ve given so much back to sort of my funny little niche program, like you said, but they’ve built it. I’m along for the ride. I’ve got tons of different resources I can plug into and pull out and experiences, but the students of FDSA have really driven what’s happened in my little circle.
Melissa Breau: So to give listeners kind of a sense of the type of issues that your classes can help with, do you mind just talking a little bit about some of the problems you’ve helped handlers address within the classes?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Sure. I mean, it really ranges, right? So All in Your Head looks at sort of who you are, right, and how who you are is going to affect the training choices and things that you do, and starts to address the nerves side of it a little bit, because nerves are a big, big thing that come up. Disappointment, worry, anxiety. People don’t want to let down their dog, right? They get frustrated by their dog, they aren’t sure they’re doing the right sport, they maybe aren’t sure they have the right dog for the right sport, right? How can they make all of these things work, right?
Like, I personally hate coming in second. For me that’s a huge source of frustration, right? So if I was always coming in second I would want to work through a whole bunch of the stuff that I do in a class to make sure that I was dealing with being second. I’d rather be last than second, right? Give me first or don’t place me at all. I mean, I’d like to cue, thank you very much, but in terms of placement type stuff, right?
So the problems really range. I mean, I’ve had people look at relationship issues, grief. The two sort of really specialized courses, Infinite Possibilities and the new one I’m running now, Unleash Personal Potential, people pick their own thing, right? So the range of things we’re seeing in there is amazing. Then of course with Handle This and No More Excuses people are largely looking at setting plans, setting goals, learning about goals, figuring out how to implement plans, right? We all make these great plans, I’m going to train every day, and then life gets in the way because life always gets in the way, right? It always does. So what do you do when life gets in the way? How can you not say, “Oh my God, I’m the worst trainer in the world ever,” and crawl under a rock and not train for three weeks? And there are times when a three week break is what you need, but sometimes you need to say, you know what? This was a throwaway day. It was okay, I didn’t make my plan, it’s okay, tomorrow is a new day and I can start over, right? So the range of problems is just, I mean, you know, you could almost open up a dictionary and look for any adjective and there it comes, right?
Melissa Breau: So let’s dig into a couple of those specifically just a little bit more, because I know there are a couple that we talked about a little bit before the podcast and whatnot as being particularly important. So I wanted to dig into this idea of kind of ring nerves and people experiencing nerves before a competition, things that really impact their handling. I was hoping you could talk a little more about that, maybe include a tip or two listeners can use when it comes to ring nerves and tackling it themselves.
Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. One of the things I really encourage people to do is test those tools. So people go off to a trial and they’re really, really, really nervous, but they don’t know whether those nerves are physical, right, or in their head, or if they’re affecting the dog at all, right? Because they’ve never really thought about it. All they know is that they’re really, really, really nervous. They feel sick but they don’t know is it in their tummy, is it in their head, is it their respiration, is it sweat glands, is it all of them, right? They haven’t thought about it, they know it makes them feel sick so they push it aside, they don’t work on it between trials, they go back to a trial and they’re like, oh my God, I was nervous again. Well, of course you were nervous again. You didn’t try working on anything, right?
So like everything else it’s almost like a training exercise. You have to think about what is making you nervous, how are you manifesting those nerves, and how can you break them down? It’s just the same, right, just the same as positive dog training. Break it down into these tiny little pieces that you can then find a tool to address.
So for example, if your mouth gets really, really dry and that distracts you and you start sort of chewing cud, as it were, as a cow, you’re like, trying to get the water back in your mouth and it makes you nervous. Well, once you figure that out you take peppermints with you in the car, you suck on a peppermint before you go in the ring, and that’s gone away. Right? And that’s gone away so you can concentrate on the thing you need to concentrate on, right?
You want to always build to those results slowly. When you look at the nerves, I can’t say to you, here’s my magic want, I’m going to wave it over you and all your nerves will be gone. But you get that sick, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, why is that? Are you remembering to eat the day before a trial? Are you eating too much the day before a trial? Are you remembering to go to the bathroom? Because when you’re nervous you have to go to the bathroom, so make sure you make time to go to the bathroom because then there’s less to cramp in your tummy, right?
So step by step by step, you know, you make a plan, you look at the plan. What kind of music should you listen to on the way to the show? Should you listen to a podcast that’s inspirational to you? Should you put together an inspirational play tack? Do you know exactly where the show is? If you’re anxious and worried and always run late, for Lord’s sake, please drive to the trail ahead of time or Google Map it really carefully and build yourself in 15 minutes extra, because being late to that trial is not going to help your nerves. You’re going to be stressed.
So where is that stress coming from? How are those nerves manifesting themselves, right? So the music that you listen to on the way, having the mint if your breath is dry, remembering to go to the bathroom, thinking about what I call Andrea’s Rule of Five. So rule of five is really simple. Is it going to matter in five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five years? Right? So if something is stressing you out you can actually stop, ground yourself which I’ll get into in a sec, but ground yourself and think, rule of five. And the vast majority of the time, yeah, it might matter in five minutes because your run will just be over and it was not successful and you’re embarrassed, maybe, or maybe it was great, and like, super.
But very, very few of us are going to remember a run in even five months, let alone five years. I mean, you might remember in general, but your anxiety is not going to still be there, right? I mean, a great run you can remember. I can probably still tell you the details of some of Brody’s agility runs or Sally’s amazing work, right? Like, I can describe going from the A-frame around to the tunnel and picking him up and staying connected and it was beautiful. I can remember the errors of enthusiasm, right, like when he took an off-course tunnel, and he’s never done that in his life, and I was like, oh my God, he took an off-course tunnel. That’s amazing. That’s so cool, and we celebrated. So just loved that he was that happy about it. But do I remember those very first, early trials where…do I remember the courses where I stood thinking I’m never going to get my agility dog to Canada? No. I don’t really remember. I remember being sad that he was three seconds over the time and _____ (18:35), and that was kind of sucky, but it was okay, right? Like, now with all this perspective it’s fine.
So you have to rehearse for success, let those nerves…think of something that gives you just a little bit less nerves and go and do it, right? Where you get that slight flutter and figure out how to tame the slight flutter. Don’t expect to say, oh my God, I’m so nervous at a trial, I don’t want to be nervous anymore. That won’t work. You need to figure out, right, what tools are going to work for you, right? What makes you nervous, what tools will reduce that element of anxiety, and work on it one element at a time.
I have students where I say to them, I don’t care that you’re not really ready to run, right, in a trial. If you were so nervous about it that’s making you sick, find a match that’s going to make you half sick. Go to a trial and know that you’re not going to be successful. Go and do one lap of the ring. I don’t care. Walk in there and do six things and leave if it’s accessible in your venue. And practice getting over that nervousness so that you can give yourself and your dog the best things that you need to do to be successful. Set yourself up for success, if I had to reduce it to just a couple of words.
Melissa Breau: Right. The same way you set your dog up for success.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. We’re as important part of the team, right? Without us there would be no dog sport. So we spend so much time, right, working on our dogs, and it’s great that we do, and I love it too, but you have to remember to work on yourself too. You know? Unless you’re by nature perfectly calm, perfectly extroverted, never have a thing to worry about at home which I still have yet to meet anybody who can say all of that, right?
Melissa Breau: You and me both. I wanted to dive a little more into the motivation and planning aspect of things too. I know one of the lines in your class description for No More Excuses is it’s for the students who have a library full of classes and haven’t done them, or they have goals and aspirations that they simply aren’t meeting. I think a lot of people who read that, that kind of strikes home, right? So I wanted to ask, what is so hard about just doing it?
Andrea Harrison: Such a good question. And you think, like, we all blame ourselves when we can’t just do it, right? And I think many of us hope that if we fill our libraries up enough that something is going to resonate, something is going to suddenly, magically make us do it. And you know, we all want that magic solution. I mean, self-help sections of libraries and book stores are full, like, shelves and shelves and shelves of books because we all want there to be a magic bullet answer, right? And there isn’t.
I mean, in a nutshell motivation often comes down to people being confused about whether it’s outcome or process that they want, right? Whether it’s learning or performance, right? Four different sort of models to look at motivation. Outcome goals are like, I want to be an Olympic gold medalist, and a process goal is I want to build the skills to be able to be an Olympic gold medalist. Many of us want to go straight to an outcome, goal, right? We want to be able to get the cue without sort of remembering that we have to build that process in. And once people understand that everything we do, we have to break it into a process, that can help them with their own motivation.
So training, and this sounds awful, because different things bore different people, but there’s always some element of training that bores most people, right? So I’ll hear people say, “I hate working on stays, they’re so boring.” Or, “I’d rather be playing on Facebook than training,” right? And that’s okay, that’s legitimate. But if you can start off even just with two or three minutes of whatever you don’t like, particularly working on it, as you start to meet success it becomes more rewarding so you can do more and more. So if you can break down your process, again, similar principle to earlier, if you can break your process down into little tiny chunks and build on those little tiny chunks, as you attain success you’re going to be moving closer to doing the outcome stuff, right?
I mean, in true motivational speak the issues with motivation usually fall into either direction, can you get up off the couch and actually go and train or are you going to get up off the couch and head towards the ice cream in the freezer, right? Which direction are you going to go in? The intensity of what you do, so are you like, oh, yeah, this is great as long as I don’t have to work too hard each step, right? It’s good, I got to the gym, I chatted to the girl at the desk, I did my thing or went to dog school, and it was great, but I really didn’t put any time into training, I was really busy chatting to my friends and watching other people train, right? That’s the intensity piece of it. And then the final piece is persistence, which is do you go back, right? Will you go to training once and you do a great job or will you go to training five times and do as good a job as you can each of those times?
So direction, intensity, and persistence are sort of the hallmarks of real motivational stuff, and they break down really nicely for dog training too, right? Like, where is your gap? So in No More Excuses we help people figure out which priority they want to work on of those three, and then how to do that.
And then the last thing that you want to think about when you’re doing motivation issues is are you in a learning phase or a performance phase of training, trial, and showing, whatever? If you’re in a learning phase you might still be trialing, right? Because you learn when you trial. Every trial I’ve ever gone to you learn tons, right? But if you’re in that learning phase you don’t want to be having tons of outcome based goals or else what happens is you get frustrated and turned off and you stop. I think what happens to a lot of people is they don’t understand the distinctions between outcome and process goals, learning and performance outcomes, right, the goal, and then that intensity, persistence, and direction piece, and if you can sort of marry all of those pieces and figure it out then you’ve got a real head up on making some motivation work for you, right? So it comes to down to sort of planning, right? Figure out what you need to do and then plan for it.
And remember that all those self-help books, right, that are in the library, all the gurus, all the people who say there’s only one way to do things or this is the right way, they have a whole lot invested in making you buy in to what it is they are promoting. They believe it. I’m not saying it’s charlatans at all, but they believe that their way is the right way, and if it doesn’t work for you it tends to make you feel kind of rotten, right? You’re thinking, so-and-so could do this and it’s amazing, and my friend did it and it was amazing, and it doesn’t really work for me. What’s wrong with me? Right? And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, you just have a different approach to learning or the message or the method than the person does. So I think sometimes all the self-help can kind of be negative, you know, which is too bad.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. Despite my comment about just doing it I do know that you’re a big fan of self-care and gratitude, and I’m sure a lot of students in the alumni group on Facebook have seen your Joy Day Care posts. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and have you kind of tell us what’s the story there, how did that get started?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a neat thing. So again, you know, my whole thing earlier my students are always teaching me, the first time we ran Infinite Possibilities back in August of 2013, I think, I had an amazing student, she’s still a great student at FDSA, I know she listens to the podcast so she’ll be like, “Hey, that’s me she’s talking about.” She said, “You know, this gratitude thing, I work on it all the time and it’s really hard for me. I want to get better at being happy.” And there’s tons of great research that says that gratitude is a really good path to being a happier person, right? How can I be happy? It’s a big question I deal with in all of my life.
So we started a gratitude challenge in the class, right, on the discussion thread there was a gratitude challenge that I posted, and then at the end of the class people said, “You can’t stop this. This isn’t right. You just can’t stop this. We need your prompts. We need your help.” I said, “All right. Well, why don’t we take it over to the alumni list and see if people like it?” And people really like it. It’s funny, if I forget to post, if I forget it’s the first day after class officially ends, any of those things for sure somebody will message me, and often it’s somebody who has never worked with me. “Hey, don’t you normally do Joy Day Care now?”
So it started off, we called it just a gratitude challenge, and then it slowly worked towards being a Joy Day Care, the name just evolved over time. It was Joy Day Dare for a long time and then somebody, I mistyped, I think, and it came out as care, and I’m like, yeah, that’s even more perfect for us, do you think? Because one of the things I love about it is how much everybody cares about everybody, right?
And it just helps people remember that happiness is a conscious choice, you know? I had somebody ask me just yesterday, what can I do to be a happier person? I said it sounds so trite, it sounds so dumb, I hate to even tell you this, but you really do have to choose happiness. You know? Life is tough, life is hard. There’s a lot going on in life that gives us good cause to be angry or upset or frustrated or sad, and I mean, obviously if you’re facing some really big thing you’re going to need more than just to go, oh, today I’m going to be happy.
But a gratitude practice where you pick some time of the day to think about one thing you can be grateful for has a measureable impact on people who are suffering from depression, who have schizophrenia. There are tons and tons and tons of studies that show that a very, very short, ten second daily gratitude practice can make a difference to your state of happiness. Like, that’s pretty powerful, right?
And it’s so easy for me to do, right? It’s such an easy thing for me to remind people of sort of in the lull between classes. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I actually quite miss it when it’s done even though sometimes I have to get kind of creative with the prompts because we’ve done it now for a long time. So I’m like, have I done this in the last three sessions? I don’t think so.
Melissa Breau: Well, you could certainly…it certainly can’t hurt to recycle some of those prompts and just think about…absolutely people can think about different things they’re grateful for off the same prompt, and I mean, just…
Andrea Harrison: Sure. Sure.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s great.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. So in fact I did a little workbook too for people because they wanted something in between classes. So there’s a little workbook called Love the One You Are With, it’s just a little workbook that has a bunch, I don’t know, 140 other prompts and pretty pages people can fill in and stuff too. So people seem to be liking that as well.
Melissa Breau: Where can they find that?
Andrea Harrison: It’s called Love the One You Are With, and there’s a Facebook page for it.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Excellent
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Very cool.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end out the podcast, even though we spend a lot of time talking about the handler half of the team, the same way I do for everybody else, because I thought it’d be interesting to talk…I know if the beginning we talked a little bit about you and your dogs, and I wanted to make sure we kind of close it out that way too and talk a little bit about the dogs again. So what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Andrea Harrison: You know, it’s interesting, and I wrack my brain because obviously if you listen to the podcast you know this question is going to be coming up. I mean, I have lots of things, I have been lucky enough, fortunate enough to do some really, really cool things with my dogs, right? They’re superstars and rock stars all in their own right.
But I think if I had to pick the one thing I would have to say it’s probably the hundreds of foster dogs that my husband and I have rehabbed, worked with, trained. We’ve had many, many foster dogs that have been with us more than six months and as long as three years before they’ve been able to go into their own homes, and I think if I had to pick one thing it’s probably doing that, right? Giving back in such a sort of hands on way. Yeah. It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve met some really amazing dogs and by being able to be strong enough to give them up, and sometimes it’s really hard to do that, you know, it lets us take in the next one. So it’s been pretty precious.
Melissa Breau: Right. And that’s always the hardest part, right, in some ways, of fostering or helping with that process.
Andrea Harrison: Oh, I mean, it’s grief. Yeah. It’s absolutely grief in its own way. You miss them. You give a little piece of your heart. I had one of my vet tech friends say to me, “Andrea, you’ve got the biggest chameleon heart of anybody I know.” She calls me Lizard Heart now. I said, “What do you mean, Lizard Heart?” She goes, “Well, if you cut off a little piece of a chameleon’s heart apparently it grows back.” I don’t know how they even do that, I didn’t ask, I didn’t check it or anything. But she calls me Lizard Heart because she says, “You’ve given so much of your heart to other animals, your heart is so patchy and big, right, from all the repairs.” So I’m like, that’s so sweet. Right? Yeah. So I would say that’s probably my proudest accomplishment.
Melissa Breau: And then what is the best piece of training advice, and for you you can do handler or the dog, that you’ve ever heard?
Andrea Harrison: So there’s two, because, you know, why would any of us do what you ask and give one?
Melissa Breau: That’s perfectly okay.
Andrea Harrison: I think the one that really made me think the most and really work on understanding what it meant and figuring out how to apply it to handler side stuff and dog side stuff, actually, is somebody said to me a long, long time ago when they were mad at me in my counseling gig that’s outside of dogs, they said to me, “Andrea, you have to understand, it’s really not personal.” I was like, “But you’re mad at me.” And they’re like, “I’m just mad. I’m not mad at you. It’s not personal.” And I thought, it’s not personal. It really isn’t, is it? And so much of what we get ourselves so worked up about, right, is because we take things personally that aren’t meant personally.
So if your dog has a lousy day and blows you off, your dog poops in the ring, your dog isn’t do that to destruct you. Your dog is being what my husband calls his dog self, right? We talk about that all the time here at the farm. Oh, he’s just being his doggy self. They come in and they’ve rolled in something disgusting, and you know, oh my God, I have to go out for dinner in half an hour and I don’t have time to clean you. My stress level goes through the roof and Tom’s like, “They’re being their doggy self.” And I’m like, yeah it’s not personal. We bathe the dog and we’re ten minutes late and we’re good, right?
So it’s not personal applies, like when that group of women, often, sadly, are standing at the side of the ring watching your run and you think, oh my God, they’re watching me, they’re judging me, the pressure is great, and then you leave the ring and you think, wait a minute, I was the first, second, or third dog in the ring, and they were actually just watching to see how the judge works, or where the judge stands, or what pattern the judge is looking for, whatever, right? So it’s often, even though we take it very personally it’s not personal there. Even when somebody is making a comment to you, right? They’re saying, “Oh, well, if it had been me I would have done it this way.” So what if they would have done it that way? It’s about them, that’s not about you. It’s not personal.
So I think it’s not personal is a really big one that has worked for me to really try to remember both in my dog sports and my just surviving life piece, right? Whatever the issue is it’s much more often about the person who is doing the whatever that’s causing you stress or distress, and it’s often just the dogs being their doggy self. So that’s the first piece of advice I think to get into.
Then the other one came a long, long time ago, and this is sort of for handlers to remember with their dog, and that’s just to stop nagging. I guess that actually could be seen as a life skill too. I work pretty hard not to nag my husband too, but the sort of persistent drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, it can be really irritating, right? Like, if you’re getting nagged it’s irritating, and if you’re nagging your dog it’s irritating too. You’re much better off to break off if things aren’t going right, break off and do something, and have fun with it, and then come back to it, right? Rather than nag, nag, nag, nag, nagging.
If I have a dog that I’m trying to get to sit perfectly on its flat form, and you have a dog that you’re trying to get to sit perfectly on its platform, and I drill, drill, drill, drill, drill that skill for my dog, and you try it three times and say, oh, you know what? You need a break, you need to let off some of that stream, I’m going to go play with you for a minute and come back to it. My guess is a whole lot of the time you’re going to end up with a much nicer sit that’s much more solid in more situations than I will for nagging. Right?
And that came to me from my horse sport stuff early on in life where I was riding a rotten little pony and I had a crop, somebody hands me a crop and I was doing the thwack, thwack, thwack on the shoulder but never hurt enough to make a difference, and like, my coach, Martha Griggs, said to me, “Andrea, if you’re going to use that crop take it and use it once and be done with it. Stop nagging that poor pony.” And I thought, oh, but I don’t want to hit the pony, right? Who wanted to hit a pony? Even back then I was sort of like, there’s got to be a nice way to do it. But I realized that if I could figure out a way to be clear and consistent with my message and stop the drip, drip, drip, drip, dripping nagging of it it was going to work much better, and the pony and I went on to do pretty well in the show we were headed for. So you know, that worked in that moment and that in itself of course became reinforcement.
So it’s something I really look for in my face time students, right? Are you nagging the dog? Because if you’re nagging the dog if I can help you stop nagging the dog you’re going to end up with much more success. Yeah. So I’m grateful to the horse instructor for pointing that out so many years ago.
Melissa Breau: I mean, sometimes it’s really interesting the lessons that carry over from other sports and other things in our lives into the dog world, and how much carryover they really have.
Andrea Harrison: Well, it’s absolutely right. One of the things that people always say, how do you know…what made you come up with the fact that getting a good night’s sleep before a show is important? And I’m like, because in my work as an educator and as a counselor I’ve discovered that if I’m doing a session with somebody and they had a good night’s sleep the night before we’re going to get a lot farther than if they’ve had an awful night’s sleep. Doing sort of a counseling session, if I’m talking to someone and they’ve had a terrible night’s sleep I’ll be like, you know what? Today is not a good day to dig into the heavy stuff. Let’s find something light and fluffy to deal with because we’re not going to get nearly as far, right? Here, let’s talk about how to sleep better, you go home and sleep better, and next week make sure you do those strategies, and then we can get into the heavy stuff.
So yeah, absolutely. What you learn in one place has tons and tons of crossover. And again, I think we forget that, right? We get so hung up on there’s got to be the perfect way to do it that we forget to pull these different skill sets that we have from different places. In the All in Your Head course somebody in the first or second session said to me, “Oh my God, I did this at work, the Meyer Briggs temperament inventory.” He said, “I did this at work. It never occurred to me to think about how what I know about myself at work might influence myself as a dog trainer. It really does make a difference.” I was like, yeah, of course it does. But so many people, we compartmentalize, right? It’s part of being human, we keep things in their little compartments and we forget to open the door between them.
Melissa Breau: So for our last important question, so someone else in the dog world that you look up to, who would you recommend?
Andrea Harrison: There are so many ways to answer this question. I mean, I’ve said it before in this already, the FDSA instructors are just amazing people and so many of the people, like I can throw out a ton of big name agility trainers, American, Canadian, European, but I think if I was going to say who I look up to regularly, and this sounds kind of, I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for so I’ll just say it, it has to be the people who struggle with their dog, right? They’re the inspiration for me. They’ve got this dog that maybe isn’t the perfect match for them, they’re in a sport that isn’t maybe the perfect match for them, and they persist. They want to figure it out, right? And that might mean changing dog sports, that might mean retiring a dog, that might mean taking a long break. There’s so many different things it can mean, but they’re the people that I really look up to because…and lots of the instructors, right, have had their own challenges too. The very fact that they come back to it, right, the resilience of the human, right?
So I guess I would have to say that it’s the resilience that really makes me feel inspired to keep going, right? That if I were looking for a reason to get up in the morning and to log on to see what’s going on with my students, the people who are working with the deaf dog or the blind dog or the dog that, as somebody said, I would divorce if I could, but I can’t divorce him because he’s living with me now so I’m going to figure out how to do that, you know? It’s all those people that really create this inspiration, and I’m sure you would have loved it if I’d grabbed one name, but really when I thought about the question that’s really what gives me my get up and go, is those people.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I’ll take it. It’s a different answer so it works for me. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Andrea. It was so much fun to chat.
Andrea Harrison: Well, such a pleasure, honestly. Just delightful. You do a great job with it.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you. Thanks. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amanda Nelson to talk agility, including tailoring your handling style to your specific team. 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.
And one extra request this week, guys. If you could leave a review on iTunes or mention the podcast to a training buddy we would greatly appreciate it.
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!