Donna Hill has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering in working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching.
She stays current in dog behavior in learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers, however she is probably best known for her YouTube videos.
She's active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.
With her own dogs and other pets Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks and other activities such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say she is a splitter. Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and Rally-O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.
To be released 10/5/2017, featuring Barbara Currier to talk about agility training and handling and I’ll ask her about her work with Georgia Tech which is creating wearable computing devices for military search and rescue and service dogs.
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 Donna Hill.
Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering in working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching. She stays current in dog behavior in learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers, however she is probably best known for her YouTube videos. I’ll include a link to her YouTube channels in the shadows so listeners can check her out.
She's active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute. With her own dogs and other pets Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks and other activities such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say she is a splitter. Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.
Hi Donna welcome to the podcast.
Donna Hill: Thanks for having me!
Melissa Breau: I am looking forward to it. So to get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them now?
Donna Hill: Okay. Let’s start with Jessie. She’s my little German shepherd mix possibly min pin believe it or not. She's 10 1/2 right now and we got her at seven months old from the local city pound. She is doing a public presentation with me next week, so I'm actually currently acclimating her to the new location and we're practicing the known behaviors in the new environment. It's really important that I do this in particular with her, more so than just doing with any dog, because she has a really fearful nature and she needs a lot more support than say your typical dog, whatever that might be. So we tend to spend a lot more time in acclimating with her. My border collie/vizsla mix, Lucy, is actually nine years old today! “Happy Birthday Lucy!”
Melissa Breau: Happy birthday!
Donna Hill: Yeah! We're working on discriminating cues for sound alerts. Yesterday we were up at a campsite at a lake (that’s not very far from our house) and we were working on discriminating a sound alert, which is a nudge behavior. She nudges her nose to my knee. Then the cue for it is actually a knock. I can knock on anything and that becomes the cue for her to run over to me and push her nose against my knee. So one of the discriminations that we have to do is to find my car! The car has a similar behavior in that I tell her “Go find car.” and she takes me to find the car and nose nudges or nose tap targets near the handle of the door. Because they’re so similar behaviors and especially if I'm standing close, she needs to learn what's the difference. Which one is she having to target depending on the cue?
That was what we were doing in the distraction level of the campsite environment. Actually, the other thing we're working on with her too, was working on a “Forward” cue which is using a mobility harness. You teach the dog to actually put some pressure forward to help people with say knee issues or just balance issues. That forward momentum really helps people as they're moving forward, so we were also working on generalizing that as well. We like doing stuff from all over the map! (laughing)
Melissa Breau: So I know you mentioned in your bio that you’ve kind of been involved, you've lived with dogs all your life, but how did you specifically get into training and dog sports a little bit, like how did that part start?
Donna Hill: Okay. Well training started way back. I remember when I had a basset hound as a kid. I taught her to pull me on the toboggan and also run beside me on the bicycle. Now for a basset hound, that's not…neither one are very typical behaviors, (laughing) and they're not known to be particularly trainable, but I don't remember how I did it but I managed to do it. Especially sitting behind the dog and getting the dog to pull forward. I actually don't even remember how I did it. But she was doing it and it was great fun for me! (laughing) I was about ten I think when that happened.
I remember ticking my brother off when I was teaching his little lab cross to retrieve, and he was hoping to have her as a hunting dog (and I mean she was all of about 30 pounds, this little lab mix,) and instead of teaching her to come back and retrieve and sit on my side, I would actually sit cross-legged on the ground and she would come and sit in my lap. (laughing). So my brother was not very happy with me.
And so for the more formal sport stuff, it sort of came later. I had a number of generations of dogs that we went through. My dachshund which I’ll tell you about a little bit later, and then along came this amazing dog. He was a Dalmatian/springer mix and honest to goodness I think he was half-human! He was just an amazing dog and we had an instant bond! He was definitely MY dog and he was just so smart! You know, I would try things two and three times and by the third time he’d kind of look at me like “Really? I'm not stupid Mom! I got it.” He was really, really quick. He’d pick behaviors up so fast!
He was, you know, one of those dogs that makes you look really good as a trainer, so of course I thought I was a great trainer. (Laugh) Of course, looking back I go “Yeah! No! It was all Ollie. It wasn't me!” Well I guess some of it was me, but you know mostly it was him.
He loved doing all kinds of stuff so we started with fly ball because that was one of the first dog sports that mixed breeds could actually participate in. The interesting thing was he didn't like retrieving! In my interpretation, he thought retrieving was for dumb dogs! So he was “No. We're not doing that!” but because we took it and he had to do it in order to be competitive (he was incredibly competitive), and he HAD to win against other dogs!
So we used the competitive nature of the sport to teach him to retrieve and he was awesome! He was in the top levels, I forget the numbers whether it was one or five, but they had five different class levels according to speed and he was in the fastest category and he was really good. And if he sensed that another dog might potentially be beating him, he would just turn on the speed as much as he possibly could to make sure that he won! He was just that kind of dog. I've never had seen a dog like him. He was a lot of fun! He also had a really stylized high jump too, where he would like do this exaggerated jump about three feet high over an eighteen-inch jump. It's totally hilarious to watch him! So I started from there.
That's kind of where we went. We put our golden at the time as well into flyball. She did really well, although she was slow. She was at the other end of the category she was the slowest category, but she was very consistent. Then from there, I just started dabbling in rally obedience because that popped up at the time. As more and more sports kind of came, that's where I started getting more involved. Not at a really high level… I like the training aspect more than I like the competing part and so for me the competition was more of a goal. You know, “Can we enter this?” or “Maybe I might think about doing that one day. Let's train towards that?” If we never actually compete, I don’t care. It’s all fun because I just like the training part of it. So that’s kind of where that all came from. (laughing)
Melissa Breau: At what point did you really start looking at positive training specifically? What got you started focusing on positive training?
Donna Hill: Well I wasn't really aware that there were different kinds of training or different approaches to training. At home, we just sort of did our own thing. I actually never took any formal training classes until I was about fifteen and I had my little daxie mix. She was six months old. At the time you had to wait until the dog was six months old to take it to classes. And of course once we did, then we realized why. Because the classes were so punitive, the dog had to be six months of age or you'd actually break the spirit. So we dutifully took her.
There'd been a change in our life. I had moved from the Midwest area of Canada to the West coast with my mom and dad, leaving three siblings behind in the city. So we also left the dog I told you about, my brother's dog, with him because he was old enough that he could stay there as well. Anyway, so Dad decided we were getting a new dog and he marched me off to this litter of dachshund puppies (unbeknownst to my mom). That was my classic dad who was constantly bringing dogs home without letting Mum know. (laughing) So with five kids, we always usually had at least two dogs around.
Anyway, we got this little dog and marched her off to training class. We’d never ever taken any of our dogs to training class before, but we thought “Well, you know this is a new dog and the classes are new!” and okay. So we took her to this this class and let's just say that force- based behaviors and training didn't work with her independent nature. (laughing) She's got a really good oppositional reflex. (laughing) So after the end of class she graduated ninth out of twelve dogs for her, shall we say, lack of obedience! (laughing)
She never did learn how to do a recall because I never figured out how to do it positively. So the ironic thing that I kind of looked at later though was at home I was able to teach her more than 35 tricks! and she did them enthusiastically and eagerly! and I was like “Okay this is really interesting! Hmmm. ” So that was her.
You know, I just kind of dabbled and played and as I said I was a teen and I went off to university and we’d never had any problems with any of our other dogs, so I was like “Okay, what gives here?”
So that started the ball rolling to kind of down the positive way. Then of course once I got my Ollie dog I told you about, my dog of a lifetime. He was a very sensitive boy and I realized that I could not use some harsh methods. We enrolled him in classes too. Some of the methods they were using were again, not so positive. (Sighing)
One of the things I remember distinctly with him was a recall. The teacher had us put him on a long line and if we called him and he didn't come, we were to back up and pop really hard twice on the long line and then just keep backing up until he came towards you and got to the point where you could grab his collar. And I did this all of twice.
The second time, I looked at him and he was so much in a hurry to get to me the second time, that he crammed himself at me as soon as he knew that pop was coming, he ran as fast as he could and he crammed himself right against my legs (almost knocking me over in his effort to get to me). But I could see it was in fear. It wasn't that he wanted to come to me. It was that he was scared he was getting popped. I thought “You know what? I can't do this to you!”
His nature was that I just couldn't do that! and then I went, “You know what? We're not using that.”
So we continued going to classes. I just chose not to use the methods that the instructor told us. I found other ways to go and then down the road we found a second level class which actually started using food. “Oh my God! They actually used food in training classes!” and from there I had him…He was a dyed-in-the-wool puller on leash, and to him, the leash was a cue to pull. That's exactly the way he saw it. So when we trained him using the food, heeling beside me without a leash, he was awesome because the leash was no longer the cue. He was like, “Oh you want me to stay right beside you. No problem! This is cool!” And it used his brain, which is what he liked doing. So, it was just the whole shift at that point. I started going “Okay, let's use some more positive methods. I don't need to use punitive methods to communicate with my dogs and I never liked using it anyway.” It just felt bad to me. But of course, you know you're young, you're impressionable and you're following the instructors because they supposedly know what they're talking about.
I discovered on my own that you don't need to use that stuff. You can you can use lots of positive stuff and communicate with your dog. Tell them what you want to do before they're going to do it and they are happy to comply. They just want to do and be with you and do stuff with you!
Melissa Breau: What about now? How would you describe your training philosophy today?
Donna Hill: It's always evolving. I'm really eclectic and I take things from different disciplines. I'm really interested in the more cognitive aspects of training. I see dogs as being very thinking animals. I really like that part of them. To me that's how I develop the relationship so I look at how they problem solve and how they try and communicate. I really like the to “Do as I Do” philosophy or approach. Mimicry is something that I've always kind of played with, even with my current dogs that I have now. I notice that Lucy is really good about mimicking Jessie and I've actually used that to train her some behaviors.
I really like the idea that dogs are able to use modifiers. So things like left and right, they can recognize colors by name, shapes. They can count. They can do so many more things than we ever dreamt of when I was a kid, that we never even thought of thinking! Do they do this? Can they do that? So that really is what intrigued me, so the more of the cognitive kind of stuff comes out and the neurological kind of stuff comes out, I just yum that right up and that's what I'm incorporating more and more into what I do.
But basically, I see that they learn in the same way that humans do. In humans we learn in many, many different ways, so depending on the dog their predominant way of learning might be one way, and another dog might have a different way of learning. So I try and learn what those are and then cater to that the dog’s needs using those.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you a little more about the service dog work, that piece of what you do. How did you get started down that road?
Donna Hill: Okay that's a great question! That actually started with Jessie my current dog when she was young and I still had my senior golden. Ollie had just passed away, but I was doing rally obedience with my golden and I decided that I was going to be using positive methods if I could at all with Jessie, and so I started with the clicker with her and she took to it really well. My golden took to it really well and I just started playing with it.
I had thought that my golden was actually ready to trial in rally obedience until I found Sue Ailsby’s original “Training Levels Program”, and I worked right from scratch through that. It was actually exactly what I was looking for!
I was looking for a structured program to help me learn how to clicker train and how to work with my dogs and learn all of the concepts behind it and it was perfect!
So I just worked my senior dog through until she passed away and Jessie, of course I worked her right almost to the end of the level seven. We were about halfway through level seven. Because of Jesse's level of fears we weren't able to actually get some of the generalized stuff out there, but we were able to get a lot of them done and so I started to doing that. Then once I started playing around with teaching her just tasks, just for fun, I mean that's how it started, it was like “Oh! Let’s train her to shut the door and open the door and you know do this kind of stuff.”
Once I realized how easy it was and how ANYBODY could do it because the click is really the communication. You didn't need to have a force. You didn't need to have strength. You didn't have to use your lowered voice that we were always taught in class. Anybody could use it, right? I thought “Well! Wow this is really cool! This could be applied towards training service dogs.” and that's actually when I started my YouTube channel. I thought “I got to get this out there so that other people can see how easy it is and they can train their own service dog.” Service dog training to me was always a mystery and it was really fascinating!
I’d grown up around people that had guide dogs and a lot of people with disabilities and I really didn't know how to train them or how that I could help other people with disabilities, so when everything… all the dots fell in line, I went, “Oh cool! I can do this and I can get out there and I can help other people. This is so awesome!” (laughing) So that's my mantra.
I really like helping people and that's my “AHA” moment when someone gets something because I was able to explain it to them, that's my reinforcer. That's what keeps me going every day. I see someone going “Yes, I got it!” and I'm thinking “Yes. That's me. Woohoo! I helped someone do that.” I also love my feedback. Yeah. (laughing)
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So you do a lot of different types of training right, so I imagine the stuff like behavior modification of the service dog stuff is very different from the reactive dog classes you offer, and I wanted to see how having experience at those different ends of the spectrum has really influenced your training overall.
Donna Hill: -I am a big picture kind of person. I like seeing the big picture at the end -what is the final goal that I'm going to do? I like to see where the animal is starting and then the puzzle for me is figuring out how to get there. You know, what is the little roadmap, the little steps and whether it’s ten steps or a hundred steps is going to get me from the beginning to the end. Sometimes, of course, along the way you're thrown in a fear period in the service dog, or you know just a regular pet dog as well. Sometimes there's aggression issues come up because some trauma happened to the dog.
So those kinds of things definitely throw a wrench in it, but again it's all part of that big picture. So if I have those little pieces that I can pull together and realize this is where the dog is at this particular point, instead of going along my nice little line of a map or my plan.
Of course, as you know dog training is never a linear progression. It always goes all over the place. It's like the piece of string that somebody drops on the floor. When we hit one of those parts or one of those events then I know, “Ah, okay! Time for lateral training!” or “Time for stepping right out of the training altogether, going back and doing some really basic stuff where there's desensitization or counter conditioning or operant training to help the dog overcome whatever that thing is” before we can continue on with my linear training that I have planned out on paper or in my head depending on what it is that we're working on.
I think in that way, it really gives me flexibility to be able to jump wherever I need to jump because it's the dog that’s sitting right in front of me and that's where they're at and that’s what we need to deal with.
Melissa Breau: I want to talk a little bit about the YouTube videos. I know one of the ones that I see come up all the time and get shared all the time in different Facebook groups, I’ve even posted, I saw a couple of times is the video you have on tricks you can teach a dog that's on crate rest. Do you mind just talking a little bit about that, and for those listening I will share a link directly to that video in the show notes if you don't want to go searching for it. But yeah, if you could talk about that Donna.
Donna Hill: Okay when making my YouTube videos, I tend to look for trends so I look at what is already out there and I look at what's missing and that was one of the pieces that I found missing. I was noticing that there seemed to be a lot of people out there whose dogs were having cruciate ligament issues or just issues that really confine them to a crate for long periods of time, and that can be really hard to deal with for a lot of people. So I thought oh, well there's a hole. You know there's no one has ever shown what kinds of things you can do with a dog that's on crate rest because most of the stuff that's out there is very active- oriented right? So that's just kind of where that came from was, you know there's a need and I try and fill it. Again it's me trying to help people learn what they can do with their dogs.
Melissa Breau: So I know one of the big things that you know your classes seem to have in common, is an emphasis on observation skills and I know even in your bio on the actual FDSA site you kind of mentioned that, so I wanted to ask why being able to watch your dog and accurately read their body language is so important, and to ask you to talk a little bit about the role that doing that plays in training.
Donna Hill: Okay. Well I think observation skills has been a hugely underplayed skill in training dogs until fairly recently. It's absolutely key to be able to SEE the behaviors, because if you can't see them then you have no idea how to interpret what the dog is doing. So if you're not seeing some subtle stuff and you just see your dog going along, you may think “Oh well, the dog’s doing fine!” when in fact actually there are some really subtle behaviors that are telling the dog is not so fine. There's some you know, there's subtle stuff going on and of course subtle stuff usually escalates if it's not dealt with.
So by learning the really subtle stuff you can get in there early on and the dog doesn’t have to get to the level of stress where it's really obvious so that you can deal with it and then that helps them in actually learning. One of the other reasons that I do have such a heavy emphasis on that is because my previous career, I was a nature interpreter, or a “naturalist” most people call it, and what a naturalist does is teaches people how to observe nature.
So I had a long history of teaching people about how to observe, mostly it was nature so animals, plants, things like that, you know watching the birds, that kind of stuff. But it’s just a natural translation to watching dogs because dogs are part of nature in my view. You know they're animals. They have behaviors and I've always been fascinated with their behaviors so it just seemed a natural extension to me to say “Okay. Let's start teaching people about observation skills!”
“Let's look at the dog, what behaviors are we seeing, you know and how does that relate to training and how does that impact training? What information can they give us? So are they relaxed and able to learn? Are they excited about what we're doing with them? Are they frustrated? Are they making mistakes or are they stressed about something in the environment?” By observing them and in context, and that's a big piece of it is what's happening in the context around the dog, that combination allows us to interpret what's happening for the dog.
So knowing that helps us to adjust the pace of training, how far we need to break down what we're doing to help them to succeed. Or maybe the dog’s just zooming right through and we can make the steps bigger to add more of a challenge for that particular dog.
So yeah, so it really affects training in a big way and I am so thrilled that we're seeing now more and more, particularly on Facebook, people incorporating videotapes of dogs and saying, “Oh you know, have a look! What behaviors do you see?”
That's such a critical skill which is separate from the interpretation part of it, where then we kind of try and make our best guess about what is going on for the dog. But without those observation skills we wouldn’t even be able to see or make good interpretations anyway. So it's a really important part of it.
Melissa Breau: So I want to dive a little bit further into your classes at FDSA. So I know that for those listening this will air I think during registration for October. I think it opens the 22nd, so I think this will be after that I hope I'm not lying. Anyway, so I know that you have two classes coming up in October. One is The Body Awareness For Competition Precision Behaviors, and the other is The Elusive Hand-Delivered Retrieve. I want to start with the body awareness class. Why is body awareness an important skill for a competition dogs?
Donna Hill: Well knowing where their body is in space and how to move it is what makes the difference between a performance that's amazing to watch and one that’s sloppy. Most dogs don't have much clue that they even have a back end. Their front end walks along and they might have some sort of awareness, you know their nose, their muzzle certainly, their front paws, they’re really useful for digging at things and touching things. But the vast majority of dogs have no clue that they have a back end and it just sort of follows along, you know the front left foot comes forward and then the back right foot comes forward and they just kind of do this opposition as they walk. But they're not really that aware.
But once we start teaching them that yes, not only do they have a front end, they also have a back end and they also have hips and they also have shoulders and they have chest, and they can move each piece of that body separately, that really starts putting it together for them. So you get, you get a gawky kid right? They know they're a gawky kid. They're not that coordinated. Once they start to isolate each one of their body parts, so they work on their hands, and they work on their head, and they work on their feet, and they work on their body core and how to move that, once they have individual knowledge of all of those, then the whole package comes together and they move much better as a whole package, and they become much more graceful. And so just like dogs, they become more graceful athletes who perform with speed, precision and confidence. So that's kind of the fundamental idea behind the body awareness classes.
Melissa Breau: And for people listening I did double check while Donna was answering that. Registration is currently open when you hear this. So, it opened last week so you can go to the site and register if you are so inclined. So Donna how do you approach teaching body awareness in the class itself?
Donna Hill: Okay, well I just break it down into the separate parts of the body. So we're looking at some specific behaviors. One is a chin rest which also translates to a whole bunch of other behaviors like a chin rest can be turned into teaching a hold for a retrieve. It can be taught for a placement of the retrieve where the dog comes back and delivers it to you, and most of the behaviors do translate into other into specific behaviors for competition, but which is why I've chosen them.
Muzzle pokes are another thing so the dog is very aware of where they're putting their muzzle so they can poke it through your fingers, they can poke it through a hoop, they can poke it into a yogurt container- those kinds of things and are comfortable doing so, which also gives them more confidence. Like Jessie for example did not like putting her head into anything, so one of the easiest ways I found was actually to use the yogurt containers, and just put some yogurt in the bottom and she would stick her head happily in at the bottom to lick it up. That really built up confidence of facial awareness and you know that kind of stuff. So that's the kind of stuff we're going to be doing in class.
Shoulder, hip, and chest targets, and the other thing we're also going to look at is how to fine tune balance. So if we can get them on like a balance beam and actually teach them how to how to place their feet so that they're not falling off or they're not having to use one foot on the ground and three feet on the balance beam, so that they gain confidence in actually balancing. And that was the one thing with both of my dogs that I really found helped was to build that confidence on narrow surfaces. That in turn of course, once they can do it on a narrow surface while walking on a regular surface and actually moving with precision is much, much easier. In the class, we use the success of approximation and shaping to get the behaviors.
Melissa Breau: Very nice. Well I want to also talk about the retrieve class a little bit. I know that’s something a lot of people struggle with. Why do you think so many people have a hard time teaching retrieves?
Donna Hill: I think most people have an expectation that the dog would just do it, because there's a lot of breeds like the retriever breeds, goldens, labs, flat coats, that have a natural retrieve and look so easy. They make it look so easy because it's bred into them. But what they don't realize is that most dogs that does not come naturally. There's a series, a chain of events, that they do called motor patterns, and the retrieve doesn't really fit in there because most dogs end the motor pattern with either a bite or a consume. Well most dogs don't consume, but some will certainly do a grab bite at the very end. That does not involve picking it up and carrying it anywhere or bringing it back to a person. So what the mistake they make is they toss the ball out, and the dog of course will happily chase it because chasing is part of the prey drive, and then the dog often will lose interest because once the ball stops moving, it's like “Oh yeah. Okay. Whatever.” and they can't do anything with it. So they either drop it and walk away from it or maybe they’ll carry it away and play with it, but they certainly won't bring it back.
The most common error I found is that people don't break it down into the smaller skills the retrieve chain is made up of. It's actually at least six individual skills that are involved in teaching a behavior chain of the retrieve. If people go back and teach the dog each one of those little pieces, then they put the pieces together in a behavior chain, then they can get it right.
The other element as I also will back chain it. That means that we start at the very end of the chain so that the dog is always working towards something that they know, i.e. putting the object in your hand or delivering the object to your lap or wherever it is that you want it at your feet. We start at that point, and then we back up so that eventually the dog is always understanding, “Uh! I have to deliver it at that location, and that's where it has to be. That finishes the chain. That gets me the reinforce.” and it becomes much easier for them to succeed.
So the key thing is breaking them down into the small pieces and then back chaining it. For example, if you need teach a dog to pick up a dime off a smooth floor, you have to train it right? A dog can't just automatically do it. There's a lot of even finer things that go into that. They need to learn how to use their heads and their mouth, to tilt their head and use their mouth and their tongues to pick up the object, and also to place it precisely.
Both of my dogs can take a quarter and place it into a narrow slot, like a piggy bank. That takes a lot of skill to learn. They have to really refine the skills down step by step by step in order to get to that level of accuracy.
It's really interesting to watch the process and to teach them and some of them do it better than others. Jesse is really, really into the fine-tuning behaviors. That’s her specialty. She loves really fine behaviors, whereas for Lucy it’s “Let’s just get it done mom and throw that behavior together!” so for her it was much more of a challenge for me to get her down to that point of taking the quarter and putting in that slot because she really had to get patient and be very careful and be very calm while she does it. She also is very food motivated, so she gets excited about food really easily. So my big challenge with her was learning to keep her calm, which is always another piece of the element for retrieve as well. But each dog does it in their own way.
Melissa Breau: So it sounds like the class would be good for people who are both interested in like a play retrieve with a toy, and more formal retrieve, right?
Donna Hill: Yeah absolutely. A retrieve is a retrieve no matter what kind of sport or environment that you're doing it in. It could be for a sport dog. It could be for a competition dog. It could be for a service dog or it could be for a play dog. So the class really covers the gamut and it was originally designed for…Denise suggested that I design it as a problem solving class. So whatever your problems are, I’m hoping that it covers the main problems.
So you know if your dog rolls a dumbbell, or whether it drops it, or whether it's over excited, I try and cover all of the super common problem areas and then if the goals in particular have additional problems, that's what they're at gold for so that we can actually fine tune it and say, okay you know the dog does well until this point. Let's deal with that point and how do we fix that piece, or maybe we need to go back and retrain something prior to that piece so that when we get to that piece, it just becomes part of the chain and it just flows through and it's no longer an issue.
Melissa Breau: You talked a little bit in there kind of about your approach to teaching it, but is there more you want to say about that, about kind of how you approach the class?
Donna Hill: Basically it's a combination of shaping each part of the chain and then back chaining the parts together. That in a nutshell, that’s kind of a summary. The dog always works towards something that's more familiar because we've already practiced that end piece lots and lots of times, and the more repetitions we do, the more practice so the stronger they get in coming towards it.
So I don't know how many people have been asked to memorize poems, but when I was a kid we had to memorize poems for school, and one of the techniques we were taught was actually back chaining even though they didn't call it that. What we would do is say we had ten verses in the poem or even songs. What we would do is actually start with the last verse or the last piece of it, and we would memorize that. And then we would go to the second last one, and the last one, and then the third last one, the second last one, and then the last one.
And what that allowed us to do, was as we would progress through the recitation, we actually got more confident because we've had more practice with the end one. What often happens is when we forward chain, we start at the beginning. We got a really solid start and then we sort of peter out near the end because we don't have as much practice near the end. Freestyle is another place that we can actually apply that as well but it works really well for a retrieve.
Melissa Breau: Now I know you've got one more class on the schedule, this time for December, and I wanted to talk about that too. So it's called Creativity With Cue Concepts. So talk me through that. What do you cover in that class?
Donna Hill: We break the various parts of cues into smaller components. That allows us to look at how we use the cues and what our dogs need from us to succeed in using them to do the behaviors that we want them to do. So the kinds of things we're looking at are the cues themselves. What are they? The kinds of cues. There's verbal. There's physical. There's environmental. Then we look at the delivery or the response to cues for something called latency which is the time between when the cue is given and when the dog starts responding to it. The speed of the response, so how fast is the dog walking towards you? Is it running towards you once you give the cue?
Things like what is a concept and how do we generalize cues as a concept so that the dog understands that this specific sound means to do this behavior in any environment no matter where you are. That is a concept. Discrimination between cues, so I was telling you what I was doing with Lucy was we were discriminating between competing cues because she had the car that she nose targeted and she had my knee and we had two different cues that were used. One was a sound and one was a verbal cue. So she had to discriminate between those. How do you start teaching that because that's really confusing for a lot of dogs, especially dogs that like to just throw behaviors at you, the ones that like being shaped.
I really like this class because the students get to choose the behaviors that they want to apply the concept to. So there isn't any prescribed behaviors that they have to work on. They can pick whatever sport that they're working on. “I’m in agility and I want the dog to understand the cue for this and this obstacle. It just makes it easier when I'm sending them out.”
So let's work on that and we apply the concept for the cues in the class to that particular sport, and you can do that with any sport. You can do it with service dogs. It doesn't matter what it is you're training. I really like it because I get to see a wide variety of behaviors from different sports and from different activities with the dogs. It's a really fun class to watch as well as a bronze, but it's even more fun as a gold student because you just get to go wherever you want to go with it. If you want to spend the entire class on one concept, you can do that too. It's entirely up to you. I'm flexible.
Melissa Breau: That's really interesting it's kind of a very different class than a lot of the other classes on the schedule and…
Donna Hill: It is! and you know it for me, it just came together so quickly when I originally developed it! I was just astounded! I thought “This is what we're doing. We’re da da da da.” I explained it and then thought “Oh my goodness! This is so much easier than the rest of the classes where I've had to go through step by step by step.” Whereas this class, it's more conceptual. Once you get the concept, then you can go to the detail. But you want to get that concept first and then get into the detail that’s, hence the class name.
Melissa Breau: So I want to get into those last three questions that I ask everyone at the end of the interview and the first one is what is the dog related accomplishment that you're proudest of?
Donna Hill: I would have to say, it’s probably two if I'm allowed two. One is developing a great training relationship with each of my dogs. Because I'm a process-oriented person rather than results, I feel that the results come if the process is good. They and I could train all day and I mean I love it! I really love it! When I had Jessie by herself for a couple of years, I consulted a certified Karen Pryor trainer that was the only one on the island at the time where I live, and she said to me, she goes, “Donna you have to get a second dog.” (laughing) She said “You are loving training too much.” Seriously, I was overtraining Jessie. I was really careful to try not to, and she’s a really sensitive dog, but I just love training so much I just couldn't help myself. I wanted to do so many things! We always had plans for a second dog anyway, so we went out and we got our second dog. It was a bit of a process. We finally found Lucy and I she is so amazing. She is a driven dog and she would work with me all day, honest to goodness. She loves working. She's a really fun dog to train. She throws behaviors at me. She loves shaping. She's a fantastic dog! So as a second dog she's a fantastic dog, because it really took the pressure off Jessie who is a really sensitive dog, and they are a really good combination because you know if I need more training I just take Lucy out and away we go. So that's the first is developing a great relationship with them.
The second part that I'm really proud of is the You Tube channels. So many people can learn so much on the You Tube channels. It's a really great way or venue to put the information out there and reach a lot of people. It was a bonus for me because one of the main reasons I actually started it as well, or I guess the second main reason, was because I was terrified of being videotaped and I wanted to get over that fear and I thought well if I put these videos together, I have control over the process, so if I videotape myself and I hate what I see, I don't have to include it.
And it's really has given me a lot of confidence now. Seriously, when I was at my wedding, I actually banned videotapes and video cameras because I did not want the added stress of being videotaped. (laughing) So yeah, so now I've mostly overcome it. I'm still nervous, but nowhere near the level of nervousness. It's funny because Denise just recently suggested that videotaping yourself really adds that sort of a fake environment of adding extra pressure to yourself, like practicing for a competition, right? Videotaping yourself is a good start to it, because it adds that little bit of pressure. You know someone's watching and she's absolutely right!
That's what I would totally feel and I still feel that that to this day. When I go out and about in public, I still feel like people are watching me. I still feel that pressure of people around watching which in public actually is interesting. I am more nervous in general public just working my dog one on one doing my own thing, than I am in front of a group simply because I think I have more control in the group. Because usually when I'm working with the group, I'm the one leading the group. I'm the speaker. So then I control the rest of it and I'm a real control freak when it comes to that. So if I'm in control, that changes everything. But when I'm not in control, then that makes me really nervous.
So a teaching role is a really good role for me because I feel like I'm in control and yet I can still let the students do their thing, but it takes the pressure off me. So those are the those are two things I am proud of, developing a great training relationship and my two YouTube channels.
Melissa Breau: So this is normally my favorite question of the entire interview and that is what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Donna Hill: Not specifically training related although it totally is relevant. Many years ago, I think I was about twelve or thirteen, my older brother who's quite a bit older than I am. I'm the youngest of five kids and there's a bit of a gap between me and the previous four and I'm also the youngest of three girls and back then it was the old hope chest. I don’t if you’d remember what those, were but they were kind of the hope for the future when you get married. There’s things you started collecting in preparation for that. Kind of an old-fashioned concept I know, but whatever, that’s my family.
Anyway, so many years ago when I was about twelve or thirteen, he gave me this little trivet, which is like basically a hot plate that you can put a pot on the stove and stuff on the counter. It’s just this little metal thing and it had a picture of a little yellow tacky caterpillar on it. But it had a little quote on it, and the quote said, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch!” For some reason it really struck me and I have really taken that to heart and I've applied that to almost everything I do in life.
When I’m faced with something hard, I know it's not this big thing. I can break it down into smaller pieces and we can get through it step by step by step, and ultimately get the final goal that I want. And of course dog training is EXACTLY that. It's all about these teeny tiny little pieces that get you to that final goal. That final behavior, the competition, whatever it is that’s at the end. So I take that and apply it in many different ways in my life, and training certainly.
Melissa Breau: And that's great I like that so much. It's such a great kind of line to kind of remember, you know.
Donna Hill: It’s an easy one. Yeah, it’s everywhere and I've told so many people, that my husband actually this morning when I was talking about that, I thought, oh I bet she's going to ask this question. And he said you know, I remember when you told me that. He said we were back in university and I was helping him with his writing projects, and he said “I remember you telling me that. Break everything down. It was the yard by yard, life is hard, inch by inch it’s a cinch.” So and that was probably about thirty years ago he remembers that from.
Melissa Breau: (Laughs) It's clearly a memorable line.
Donna Hill: Yeah. (Laughs)
Melissa Breau: So my last question for you today. Who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Donna Hill: I can't say one person! I have to say there’s lots of them. I’m a real eclectic learner, and so again back to that real variety of learning styles, so everybody from Karen Pryor, Bob Bailey, Suzanne Clothier, Turid Rugaas, Denise Fenzi of course, Leslie McDevitt, Susan Friedman, Raymond Coppinger, and Jean Donaldson, Sue Ailsby. I take a little piece of something from a lot of the better trainers that are out there. Just things that really appeal to me and I incorporate them, and I try them.
It's all over the map and I think that comes back from my zoology background and just the general interest in animal behavior, because I do see it. It's not just one way or the other way of doing it. There's a whole variety. Some of the new researchers that are coming out are really affecting me too. A lot of the cognitive instructors, half of them I can't pronounce their names. I take the information that they've got and they're just fantastic. So there's tons and tons of not only trainers, but also researchers out there that I really appreciate their contributions so that I can take what I need and put it all together to create something that works for me and for the students that I work with.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Donna.
Donna Hill: Well thank you for having me! This has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it!
Melissa Breau: That's excellent and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Barbara Currier to talk about agility training and handling and I’ll ask her about her work with Georgia Tech which is creating wearable computing devices for military search and rescue and service dogs. Don’t miss it.
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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.
Cassia Turcotte has been involved with the dog training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999. She has a background in private behavior modification, and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, Search And Rescue training officer, and taught classes for both reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003.
Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her love of the outdoors, and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.
She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile real world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques.
Her students have titled dogs for both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you will most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak doing what they love most.
Cassia has titled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, conformation, and Nosework.
Additionally, she has been involved with both wilderness and urban Search And Rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness.
Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play.
She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs.
To be released 9/29/2017, featuring Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts.
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 progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Cassia Turcotte. Cassia’s been involved in the dog-training world for nearly two decades and has been training professionally since 1999.
She has a background in private behavior modification and has worked as a kennel manager, volunteer shelter staff, veterinary technician, search and rescue training officer, and taught classes both for reactive and fearful dogs. She completed her first professional certification in 2003. Midway through her career, Cassia decided to combine her passion for positive dog training with her love of the outdoors and a background in waterfowl and upland game hunting.
She channeled her training efforts into developing a program for versatile, real-world hunting companions, building hunt test teams using positive training techniques. Her students have titled dogs through both retrieving and pointing breeds. During the hunting season, you’ll most likely find Cassia and her dogs in a duck blind or kayak, doing what they love most.
Cassia’s handled her own dogs in numerous dog sports including hunt tests, obedience and rally, agility, confirmation, and nose work. Additionally, she has been involved in both wilderness and urban search and rescue teams, including the evaluation of operational readiness. Cassia believes in finding joy in the process of training rather than adopting an outcome oriented mindset, and she believes strongly that dog training should be a form of structured play. She is an advocate for positive training methods for field dogs. Hi, Cassia. Welcome to the podcast.
Cassia Turcotte: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. To start us out, can you tell us a little about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?
Cassia Turcotte: Oh, sure. I have six Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and they’re currently all in different levels of retriever hunt test training. Some of them are versatile hunting companions, so they do both retriever work and real-world hunting and upland hunting. I have one who just started nose work training, literally like day one, and she’s the one we refer to as the soccer mom.
She’s never done any performance sport before, and I didn’t get her until she was five, so she’s just learning how to learn, but everybody else is various stages of training, and we do the breed ring, so we do a little bit of tracking and a little bit of nose work.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. How did you get started in dog sports and training?
Cassia Turcotte: Oh, gosh. Originally, let’s see, I was involved with helping a sheriff’s department with laying tracks, and I think I was about 16, and they were kind enough to let me tag along on their training because I think I annoyed my parents to death training our cocker spaniel, and so they let me volunteer, and eventually, I did some decoy training with them, and I got really involved in search and rescue and ended up getting my own dog, and the dog I got at the time was a problem dog, so he had quite a few issues in terms of…he was, you know, nervous with people.
So we did the search rescue training just as kind of a fun thing to do with him, and he ended up becoming certified later down the road, which was kind of a pretty cool thing. So it sparked my interest in both behavior modification and how that works as well as, you know, performance sports and working dogs.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think there are many people who can say they got their start working with police dogs, so that’s a pretty neat start.
Cassia Turcotte: It was a small town.
Melissa Breau: So what got you started…I mean, maybe it was right from the start, but what got you started on positive training specifically?
Cassia Turcotte: Well, it was a little bit right from the start. I think I was fortunate to be part of a program that, while they certainly weren’t purely positive, they were really exploring newer methods, so I would say it was more a balanced program that I started out in, but the first dog that I started with, I had the grandeur that he was going to be a great retrieving dog, and I still remember taking the ball out and throwing the ball, and he took off after it, and it was going to be this great moment, and then he just sniffed the ball and kept on running, and he had zero retrieve desire whatsoever.
And so I ended up having to look for alternative methods to teach his retrieve, and that ended up being with Karen, how…you know, Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog, and we learned how to shape or retrieve, and it was all downhill from there.
Melissa Breau: So if you were to describe your philosophy now and kind of how you train, how would you describe that for people?
Cassia Turcotte: I think it’s really about living with and playing with dogs. You know, I love teaching. I like breaking things down, and I like for them to have a purpose, but I’m okay if they pick their purpose, you know? I have Chesapeakes, so generally, retrieving is something that they enjoy, but you know, my philosophy is really about let’s find what the dog’s good at and expand on it and teach them games and things that they really seem to naturally want to do, and you know, every dog has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s about finding balance and making them enjoy the things that are their weakness and how that works, so really just living and playing with dogs.
Melissa Breau: I know I mentioned in your bio that you believe dog training should be a form of structured play. It sounds like that’s a little bit what you’re talking about, but can you explain a little more what that phrase means, or at least what it means to you, and what it looks like in practice, like within a training session?
Cassia Turcotte: Sure. I think that…I’m trying to think where I actually first heard that term, and it may have been even Lindsey that said it, but really, it’s…you know, I don’t want the dog to feel like what we’re doing is work. If you feel like you’re being dragged to work every day, it’s mentally hard, but if they go out and they go, oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever, I can’t wait to do more of it, then the attitude’s up, the motivation’s up, and you don’t have any trouble with compliance.
You know, they’re really willing to play the game, and it’s fun. It’s fun for me and it’s fun for them, so you know, it’s one of the things…you know, how would it look in a training session? One of the things that we do in field work is called the walk up, and all that is, is a bumper is thrown in the air as you’re heeling with the dog, and it’s thrown in front of the dog, and the point of it is to challenge the dog to stay heeling and stay steady with you, and the traditional way would be to correct them for not doing that.
So in our way, we jackpot with Chuckit! ball or tug or food as a reinforcement for being steady, you know, so they see the bumper go up, and they sit, and we say, oh my gosh, that’s awesome, and we throw a Chuckit! ball in the opposite direction, and so it’s all a game, and it’s about keeping them guessing and mentally challenging them and getting it so that they really understand what they’re being asked to do, and they’re not just corrected for not understanding. So I think that’s pretty much what it would look lie in an average day.
Melissa Breau: So I know that you’ve got a new class in the schedule for October called Instinct Games - Leadership In Drive, so I was really…I wanted to dig into that a little bit and find out what that means, and then kind of what you’ll cover in the class.
Cassia Turcotte: Well, instinct games, the way I initially thought of it was all different types of dogs have different natural instincts, whether it’s sighthounds who see things or scent hounds who smell things or retrievers who, you know, as in my breed, they tend to pick things up. They don’t necessarily want to give it back, but they tend to want to carry things in their mouth, so there’s a lot of different natural instincts that are governed by the dog’s senses, and I think that’s the piece that as trainers, we frequently miss.
We miss that moment where the dog is…there’s a change in arousal or a change in stimulation based on the initial sensory response, so all of a sudden your dog’s toddling through the woods, and oh, their body language changes because they smelled something. You know, certainly search and rescue handlers notice those really minor alerts that a dog, when they first start getting with the something, but they haven’t gotten fully into a scent cone.
You know, I notice with my dogs, the second they’re watching a bird or a bumper fly through the air, they’re visually watching it, there’s a change in the body language and there’s a change in their stimulation, and I think that in general, in dog training, if you miss those initial moments, it’s really hard to stay ahead of the dog and to be the leader in the relationship and to kind of drive where you want to the train to go.
If you miss that first moment, you’re always reacting, and you’re behind the eight ball, and I think a lot of people struggle with that, so what I started doing with all of my puppies is just developing games that were meant to not only work on self control and impulse control and all of those things that we need for a functional adult dog, but they also work on developing the handler’s awareness of, oh, there’s that moment that I need to respond to, and how do you get that moment, an increased arousal levels?
So, you know, when you’re dealing with a high-drive dog, your reaction time has to be really fast, and to be able to really stop them out of motion, you have to be able to read them, and so it’s all about developing the team based on little games that mean nothing to any sport, but they can be applied to pretty much any sport you do with your dogs.
Melissa Breau: I kind of mentioned that you’ve done a number of different dog sports, but I’d imagine that something like hunt skills are very different than something like agility, so how does teaching those different skills kind of involve a different process for you, or how is it…maybe it’s very similar and just you kind of figured out the secret. I don't know.
Cassia Turcotte: Well, I think there’s a lot of vast similarities, and then there’s differences. I think the biggest difference between, say, agility and obedience with a breed ring for us would be that you’re generally within a confined space, whereas in fieldwork, the distance and the environment is such a big factor. So you know, even when I do other sports, going to a big venue where there’s big loudspeakers, that’s something I have to generalize, but we’re still generally in a similar looking ring.
When we do field work, you know, especially when we travel around the country, there are so many…there’s different plants, there’s different smells, there’s different animals, and there’s so many factors, and I think that’s the big thing. The generalization factor itself is the biggest difference, so it’s really just about people have to get out there and do it, and they have to do it in a number of different environments until their dog feels really confident doing it anywhere, and I think that’s one of the challenging aspects, but I think that the underlying teaching…you know, I teach my dogs to go over the hay bale the same way I would teach them to go over a agility jump, and in fact, I use a lot of the skills that I learned from agility instructors years ago to teach that stuff.
You know, look for the obstacle to jump over, so it’s a lot of that foundation stuff is going to be the same. I teach my obedient jumps the same way, so the underlying methodology is the same. I think it’s the generalization, that it really is different.
Melissa Breau: Now, kind of to pull those two questions together, I guess, is it possible to take the dog’s natural instincts and their drives, things like those things from herding or that nose work, kind of those things that are in them instinctually, and channel them for all sports, or is it kind of more specific to the sports…you know, some sports are a better fit than others, for those types of skills? Is it possible to kind of harness those things for everything? I mean, it sounded like a little bit from your class description, it can be, if it’s done well.
Cassia Turcotte: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think the way to look at it is every dog’s an individual, and you know, they need to have a great class on actually train the dog in front of you, and I can’t emphasize how important that is to me, too. You know, it’s the...it really is about each dog is an individual, and yes, they have these natural instincts. First of all, you know, knowing your dog, and what are their natural instincts?
You know, I talked about the dog that has no natural birdiness, and she also has very little desire to just hunt for things. Is she better suited to be a retriever or be a hunting dog? Maybe. Maybe not, you know, but she’s doing fantastic right now, and what we did was we developed those things that she doesn’t have naturally. We developed those, and then the things that she does have naturally, we tried to put a stimulus control on them so she doesn’t just do it all by herself.
Understanding how your dog, you know, how they sense those things…first of all, how they sense those things that are natural to them and how they react to them, and then being able to harness them and use them as part of your training system, regardless of what sports you’re doing, so you know, if you’ve got a dog who’s really interested in scent, sometimes, you know, obedience trials can be painful because they want to sniff the whole 100 yards of the floor, and I have my…one of my older males is very interested in dog smells, so to get his head up and to get him connected in new environments was really challenging.
We have used his natural desire to sniff as part of his reinforcement program for obedience work, so it’s just…it absolutely works for every sport, it’s just how you learn your relationship with your dog. How you learn your dog and how you utilize those things that are naturally reinforcing to them to begin with.
Melissa Breau: So I don’t have the syllabus out in front of me fro the class, but it sounds like it will be part observation skills, part games, part kind of figuring out training plan? Is that accurate? I mean…
Cassia Turcotte: Yeah. I think what it does is the first six weeks is really about learning to observe your dog, learning to develop some basic game skills, and then within those games, we can take those games…you know, for a team that’s more advanced and has done a lot of work, we can apply that game to their sport, or if somebody’s just starting out, you can learn how to put just the basic…how to teach the game step by step, and maybe you only get through the first part of the game, but it will give you that foundation of teaching whatever you need to teach in your sport.
So mostly, it’s about learning to read your dog, learning how to teach the games and what the games are, different games to play. We’ll do a couple different games each week, and then how those games can apply to your sport. How can you use this thing that you’ve learned to apply it to your sport or to real life, or whatever you need from your dog? How does this actually carry over?
Melissa Breau: So it sounds like all ages are okay, all skill levels are okay, it’s a good fit for anybody who’s looking to just really understand that piece of it a little bit more, right?
Cassia Turcotte: Absolutely. Yes.
Melissa Breau: Cool. So I wanted to…we talked kind of about general training a bunch, and I want to dig a little bit more into some of the hunt stuff specifically, because I think that while most people in our audience, and probably, at this point, even the general public, are pretty familiar with agility and maybe even obedience, hunt tests are a little less publicized on TV and in the media, just a little bit.
Cassia Turcotte: Understandably.
Melissa Breau: So can you share a little bit about what a hunt test actually involves and what skills they demand of the dogs?
Cassia Turcotte: I think originally, hunt tests were developed to really identify quality breeding stock, and over the years, we’ve gotten away from that a little bit, and particularly with the retrievers…pointing breeds and spaniel breeds, I think, are a little bit more true to what they started out as. In the retriever world, we’ve gone into a completely different game nowadays, but ideally, it’s about retrieving game, regardless of what type of hunting dog you have. It’s when you’re a hunter you don’t want to…you’re also concerned about preservation, so you don’t want a bird that has been shot to get away, and that’s what the dogs are for.
You don’t want to injure things unnecessarily, and that’s the dog’s job, is to make sure that the game is retrieved, so your upland breeds also do…they help you locate the game. So if there’s a field, there’s birds, you don’t know where they are. You can walk through the field, but if it’s 500 yards by 500 yards, one person walking through that field’s going to take a really long time to find some birds potentially, so the dogs are obviously much more efficient at that by smelling them out.
So in the hunt test, it’s really your upland breed, it’s about how they hunt the field, how they look for birds, and as they go up in the levels, it’s about steadiness under gun fire. So there’s a lot of arousal that goes into the sport in terms of…you know, you get multiple dogs out in the field, you get people yelling, you get gun shots, you get live gain birds, and then at the uppermost levels, there’s usually an honor, which means that somebody else’s dog runs right in front of your dog with all this arousal going on, and your dog has to sit and watch them get to retrieve, and that’s a pretty challenging aspect.
So there’s a lot of development of natural abilities and independent work on the dog, but then, they have to come under immediate control and be able to respond to whistle signals and be, we call it, handling, which is basically hand signals that control where they go in the field, and then first and foremost, they can’t hurt the game, so they’ve got to bring it back intact.
Melissa Breau: So some people definitely say that doing all of that while training positively, it just isn’t possible, but you’re kind of proving that it is. So why is that so hard for some people to believe? Like, why are so many people saying that it isn’t, and how do you kind of overcome those obstacles, those skills that most people really struggle to teach positively, how are you kind of approaching those things?
Cassia Turcotte: I think part of it stems from our mentality as a society in general. You know, you break the speed limit, you get a speeding ticket. You break the law, you go to jail. There’s a consequence-based mentality, and I think we really fail at teaching in general, and it’s not that I’ve never said no to my dogs. I’m human. I’ve certainly done it, but I focus a lot more on just teaching them the job and finding what’s reinforcing to them, and basically, if you do it my way, you can have what you want.
If you want your Chuckit! ball, you can go get this bird in this beautiful straight line and come back and give it to me, and then you can have your Chuckit! ball, you know, and a lot of my dogs…I think the thing that’s fortunate about field work is a lot of the dogs find the bird work, and going back to those natural reinforces, you know, natural senses, a lot of them find, you know, hunting for birds naturally reinforcing, in itself reinforcing, so once you teach them the rules of the game and then they get out there, and they’re like, oh, you mean I get to do this with things that I really like doing it with? Then the game itself, there’s pieces of the game that are naturally reinforcing.
So, you know, I think the pieces that people say you can’t train are partially the pieces that we’ve put into the game, it’s…particularly for retriever work, but if you can’t teach a retrieve without force, and going back decades and decades, we bred dogs to retrieve game, and they did it naturally, and now you read, every gun dog magazine that say, oh, you can’t train a reliable retrieve without forceful…I think we’re failing in our breeding programs.
You know, there’s a problem there. If a dog doesn’t want to retrieve things naturally and then be…in terms of a retriever, I’m going to be concerned. I don’t expect my pointing breeds necessarily to retrieve naturally, but the force breaking came about as ways to train difficult dogs, and then because it was systematic, it gained so much popularity because it was a system. It was a teaching system that the dogs could follow.
It was effective, and so people were having quick results, and so it gained popularity because of that. The dogs were reliable because they’d been taught, and yes, they were harsh methods, but at least it was systematic, and no one really just came behind and said, hey, we can do systematic without all the force. And I do think, to the credit of the trainers today, there are a lot of trainers, professional now, who are really dialing back on the amount of force that they do use in their teaching processes, but really, I just think that nobody has just done the teaching and reinforced the dogs otherwise.
So if everybody says you can’t do it, then who’s going to argue with them, saying oh, it can’t be done that way, but then somebody comes along and says, well, let me just try. You know, I’m okay with failing. I can fail big, but we’re having quite a bit of success and proving that it can be done, over and over again, so I think that’s really the key, is people just seeing that it can be done and that we’re having fun doing it, you know?
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Well, congratulations on the success that you’ve been having and for doing well in that sphere. So I want to kind of round things out with the three questions that I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Cassia Turcotte: The one of all time that did it has been the dog that I adopted with all the behavior issues, and you know, I started doing search and rescue work with them as a way to boost his confidence, and then he went on to be a certified dog, and he taught me so many things, and then his confidence just bloomed, and I think that, that was a big thing for me, not so much the fact that he got certified, but the fact that we were able to change so much in his life, and he really ended up having a purpose, whereas before, he wasn’t adoptable.
He was scheduled to be euthanized. They didn’t feel safe putting him out with just anybody, you know? So that, to me, is a big accomplishment, and then, probably my second biggest is having people ask for our dogs now. So the retrievers that we’re working with now that, you know, none of our dogs are force fed fetched, none of them use electronic collars, and we’re getting to travel all over the country because our dogs are being requested.
People want to hunt with them. You know, they like what they’re seeing. They like the dogs, and that’s all just word of mouth and people actually seeing the dogs work, and as much as I like the ribbons and I like the accomplishments, I like the fact that people who’ve been hunting for a long time are seeing that these dogs are reliable and they’re consistent and they’re talented, and that, to me, is a pretty big accomplishment.
Melissa Breau: That’s excellent. So my second stumper question is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Cassia Turcotte: Relax. Honestly though, it really is. For me, it’s easy to get serious about training and to want to go faster and do more and be better, and really, what I need to do is relax and play with my dog and teach and have fun, and when I relax and breathe, everything goes much better.
You know, the dogs learn faster, they do better. They do all those things that they want to do when I’m not pushing, so that…honestly, my husband says it to me all the time, which doesn’t actually help me relax, ironically, but it is good advice. He just has poor timing so…
Melissa Breau: So my last one here for you is who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Cassia Turcotte: I look up to the people that are brave enough to just try stuff. You know, try new methods that they think are fair to the dog, and even if somebody tells you not to try it. Denise has obviously given us all a chance to come together and do that through FDSA. You know, I think Ken Ramirez, back when I as first getting started, I loved listening to his lectures and teaching on environmental enrichment.
You know, it changed how I do things, not only for my dogs, for my farm animals, who are spoiled rotten thanks to him, and I’m sure they send a big shout out, and you know, in the field world, Robert Milner was a longtime traditional trainer, longtime back when the electronic parts were much more barbaric than they are now, and he came out and was brave enough to say, hey, we screwed up, you know? We shouldn’t do this. He wrote an article on it, and he’s gone the other way now, and I think in terms of fieldwork, that’s one of the people that I really look up to, as well.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Cassia.
Cassia Turcotte: Well, thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Donna Hill to talk about training service dogs, perfecting the retrieve, and cue concepts. Don’t miss it. 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.
Sue Yanoff graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.
To be released 9/22/2017, featuring Cassia Turcotte — we'll talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive.
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 Sue Yanoff. Sue graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York in 1980. After three years in private practice she joined the US Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty she completed a three-year residency in small animal surgery at Texas A&M University, and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at Cornell Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. Sue retired from Cornell in December of 2009. After all her on call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends. The following month she started working for shelter outreach services. A high quality, high volume spay neuter organization. About the same time Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center in Genoa, New York. The practice is limited to performance dogs, and now she’s joined the team here at FDSA to teach a class on canine sports medicine for performance dog handlers.
Hi Sue. Welcome to the podcast.
Sue Yanoff: Hi Melissa. Thanks.
Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. I think that most of the students who have been with FDSA for any period of time have probably seen your dogs in one class or another. But for those that haven’t, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now, and what you’re working on with them?
Sue Yanoff: Sure. My older beagle is Charm. She’s 12 years old. She’s a breed champion. She has her UD, her rally excellent, MX, MXJ, and TD. She’s pretty much retired from performance right now, but I am still doing tracking with her, and would like to get a TDX on her. And then my younger beagle, Ivy, who has been in a lot of Fenzi classes is six years old. She’s also breed champion. She finished her mock last year. She has her rally novice title, and a TD, and she has two legs towards her CDX.
Melissa Breau: Well congrats. Those are some seriously impressive stats, especially with beagles.
Sue Yanoff: Thanks.
Melissa Breau: So how did you get your start in dog sports? What got you started there?
Sue Yanoff: A beagle. Between my sophomore and junior year as an undergraduate here at Cornell, I went home to visit my parents, and I also went to visit the vet I used to work for when I was in high school, and there was a little beagle puppy with a cast on his hind leg coming out of anesthesia, and I picked him up, and I cuddled him. I said oh I want to take this puppy home, and they said well you can because his owners had him for just a couple of days and then their little boy broke his leg, and they were going to pick him up from the vet that afternoon, and take him to the animal shelter.
So some phone calls were made, and I got the puppy and took him back to college with me, and I didn’t know anything about dog training. I had never heard of crate training, so I would just leave him in my apartment, that I shared with two roommates, while I went to class, and of course he destroyed things, and did all the naughty things that puppies do. So I thought I need to do something, and I enrolled him in the kindergarten puppy class at the local dog-training club. That’s how it got started, and I ended up getting a CDX on that dog while I was in Vet school, and that got me started in dog sports.
Melissa Breau: Wow. So to go from, you know, never having done anything dog training wise before, to a CDX. That’s pretty impressive Sue. Now I’d imagine being both the sports dog handler and the vet has led to some pretty unique insights into each field. How has being involved in both influenced your views in each of those?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. As a dog trainer all my dogs have, at one point in their careers, been injured, and I know what it’s like to have to restrict your dog’s activity. You can’t train them. You can’t show them. It’s very frustrating, and so as a vet when I have to tell a client okay you can’t train, you can’t show, you have to restrict your dog for weeks, or months sometimes, I know how frustrating that can be, and how hard it can be, but I also understand where they are coming from so I think I can see it from both sides.
Melissa Breau: Is there anything in particular about veterinary medicine that sports handlers often just don’t understand?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah. I don’t think it’s just sports handlers. I think it’s a lot of people. Veterinary medicine is a science, and the decisions that we make have to be based on science, and not just what people think, or what they heard, and so when you’re making a decision about what the best diagnostics are for a condition, or how best to treat the condition, it has to be based on a series of cases, not just on what somebody thinks, and I go a lot based on what I learn at continuing education conferences, and what I read in the veterinary literature. Because papers that are published in peer reviewed journals are scrutinized to make sure that the science behind the conclusions are valid.
So while, you know, it’s fine for somebody to say well I did this with my dog and he did great. What I want to make my decisions on is what worked well for many dogs, dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of dogs, and not just something that might have worked for your dog where we don’t’ even know if the diagnosis was the same. So I think I want people to know that veterinary medicine is a science, and we have to make our decisions based on science.
Melissa Breau: I think that, you know, especially with the internet these days it’s very common for people to turn to their favorite local forum, and be like well what should I do, but…
Sue Yanoff: I know like let me get advice from everybody, and I know it’s hard to make decisions when it involves your dog and you’re emotionally involved, and that’s one of the reasons I want to teach this class, to give people information that they can use to make those hard decisions.
Melissa Breau: What about the reverse? Are there things about sports that you think most vets just they don’t understand?
Sue Yanoff: Oh yes. Yes there’s a lot. Unless you’re a vet who’s involved in this thing, most vets don’t understand the time and the effort, and the emotion, and the money that goes into the training, and the trialing that we do. They don’t understand the special relationship that we have with our dogs when we put the time and effort into training them. I have had dogs that were wonderful pets, and I loved them but I never showed them for one reason or another, and there is a different relationship when you accomplish something special with that dog. So I think that’s important thing.
The other thing that most vets don’t understand, and might not agree with, but I have had some clients where we have diagnosed an injury, and said okay we need to restrict activity, and do the conservative treatment route, and they say I will but my national specialty is next week, and she’s entered in whatever class. Or they say I have a herding finals coming up in two weeks, and I really want to run her in those trials, and I’m okay with that if the dog has an injury that I don’t think is likely to get much worse by doing a little more training, or trialing, then I’ll say okay. Well let’s do this in the meantime, and when you’re done with your national or with your specialty or whatever, come on back and we’ll start treatment.
So I think a lot of vets would not understand that point of view, but I’m okay with it as long as I don’t think that it’s going to do serious harm to the dog, and as long as the owner understands that there’s, you know, a slight chance that things could get worse.
Melissa Breau: I think it’s really kind of interesting that you focused a little bit on performance dogs. So I wanted to ask about what led you to that, I guess, to focus on that. Was it your own interest just in the being involved with sports when you joined the practice in New York?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah. No. It’s my own interests. I’m mostly retired. I’ve retired from three different jobs now, so I don’t have to do this sports medicine stuff to make a living, and to pay my mortgage.
So I became interested in it when I joined the practice at Colonial Veterinary Hospital about the same time my colleague Lynn joined it. She’s a physical therapist. She was a physical therapist for people for 20 plus years before she decided she wanted to work on animals, so she went to vet tech school to become a vet tech, and get some animal education. And I remember when I first met her she said to me well what do you think about physical therapy for dogs, and I thought I don’t know anything about it.
So the more I learned about it, the more I realized how important it is, and I did a lot of reading, and I went to continuing education about sports medicine, and about the same time, like a few years later, the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation was getting going so the whole topic of canine sports medicine was getting more popular and people were learning more about it. So the more I learned about it, the more I liked it and of course since I did dog sports, I understood what’s involved in dog sports.
So when Lynn and I started this little practice, we did see pets for the first year or two, but then we said you know what, we don’t want to deal with people. Performance dog people, in general, their dogs are better trained. They’re better behaved, which make it easier to examine them. Not all of them but most of them. They’re definitely more committed to doing what needs to be done to get their dog better. So they are more willing to put the time into it, and the work for treating, and rehabbing the dog, and the money that it costs to get their dogs better if the need surgery, or other treatments. So, you know, when Lynn and I started seeing more and more animals we said okay, we’re not doing pets any more. We’re just going to work on performance dogs.
Melissa Breau: Now I want to talk a little bit about your upcoming class. So in some ways it’s the first of it’s kind here at FDSA. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what students can expect to learn?
Sue Yanoff: Well basically the goal of the class is to, in the words of a friend of mine that I was discussing this with, is to make people better consumers of healthcare, for their animals. I want to give them information about the various injuries that the dogs can get, and how they are diagnosed, and what the treatment options are, and what’s the best chance to get them back to competition.
I want them to understand the importance of a good sports medicine exam. When I was a surgeon when I saw an animal for an injury, or a lameness, I would examine the leg that was lame. Most of the time, we knew which leg was lame and I would examine that leg and tell them what surgery I think the dog needs, and that was that.
With a sports medicine exam, I examine the whole dog. At times I don’t even know which leg is lame, because the owner doesn’t know which leg is lame. We come with a history of knocking bars, or popping weaves, or not being as active, and they think there might be something wrong, but they’re not sure. So it’s a totally different type of exam from when I just did surgery to now doing sports medicine. So I want people to understand that, and I just want them to be able to make informed decisions if and when they have to deal with an injury.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine it was probably pretty hard to decide what things to fit into the class and what things were kind of beyond the scope of what you could cover in those six weeks. So what are some of the common types of injuries that you’ll be discussing in those six weeks?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah. It was really tough. When I started writing lectures, I had no idea how much material I was eventually going to cover. So people can go to the website to look at the course summary to see what we cover from week to week. But three of the common injuries that we see in sports medicine are injuries to the muscles and tendons of the shoulder, the biceps and supraspinatus specifically. Injuries to the iliopsoas muscle which ten or so years ago I never heard of, and now it’s a very commonly diagnosed injury. And then, also talking about cranial cruciate ligament injuries because just based on a recent thread on the Fenzi Alumni Facebook page, there’s a lot of information out there about cranial cruciate ligament injuries, and some misinformation.
We have a whole lecture just on cranial cruciate ligament injuries to give people, you know just the basic facts of what’s based on science. What’s not based on science. What the options are, because there’s always options. There’s no one best way to treat almost anything. So those are probably the three most common things that people know about that they’ll learn. But there’s a ton of other stuff in the class.
Melissa Breau: Now I know that the syllabus mentions prevention a little bit, and I wanted to know if you could talk for a minute about the role that prevention plays when it comes to these types of injuries. You know, how much should sports handlers focus on preventing problems? If you can, even beyond that, are there skills that they should teach that would make dealing with these kinds of problems, should they occur, easier before there’s ever actually a problem for them to be worried about.
Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well prevention is always best, and as far as preventing injuries in dogs the bottom line is that we don’t know what we can do to prevent injuries. Everything that we know is based on the human literature, and some horse literature, but there are no studies in veterinary medicine for dogs as to anything that’s proven to prevent injuries. So we have to just extrapolate from the human literature, but there certainly are lots of things. In fact my sample lecture is my lecture on preventing injuries, and that’s a freebie for anybody to go read.
But one of the most important things to keep your dog thin and fit, and there’s some really good Fenzi classes on canine conditioning. So I think that’s important. The other thing that is important that I notice that a lot of handlers don’t do because I compete with my clients, I compete with all the people and I can see that they don’t’ spend enough time warming their dogs up before the competition, and cooling the dog down after the competition. Now for an obedience trial, the warm up is probably not as important as something like field trials, or agility trials, and certainly lure coursing. But I think those three things, conditioning, warm up, and cool down will go a long way to helping to prevent injuries.
And then, as far as what they can teach their dog that will help, there’s two things. On is to teach your dog to allow a hands on examination, including lying on their side while I examine them. Most of the dogs that I see are pretty good about it. Some of them will, you know, will fuss a little at first, but they pretty much relax into it. But I’ve had a few dogs where there’s no way we can lay them on their side to examine them, and I can barely get in a good standing exam. So it’d be really nice to be able to have your dog do that, and I know that Deb’s Cooperative Canine Care class, I’m sure, can help with that.
Then the other thing that’s important is best gait to diagnose a lameness is a trot, and a lot of my patients either won’t trot nicely on a leash. They want to bounce around, or pull, or run. Or they won’t trot on a leash next to the owner without looking up at the owner, and that kind of throws the gait off a little. So to teach your dog to have nice straight trot, on leash without looking up at you would be another thing that would make my life a little bit easier.
Melissa Breau: I mean I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that second one. The first one definitely made sense, having the dog lay on its side and being able to be calm while its examined, but it never would have occurred to me that it would be important to have a forward motion where the dog wasn’t looking at you for diagnostic purposes.
Sue Yanoff: Right. That’s why it’s really nice when we get show dogs, confirmation dogs that know this skill. I mean we get the job done, but there are certain things that can make it easier for the dog, the owner, and me.
Melissa Breau: Obviously there’s a limited amount you can do remotely when it comes to canine medicine, so how are you doing the different levels in the class and what will and won’t be covered in class.
Sue Yanoff: Right. Well the first thing I want to say is I will not make any diagnoses over the phone or online, and the reason for that is that, you know, in order to give advice on diagnosis and treatment, you have to establish a veterinary client patient relationship, and in most states, at least in New York state, that means you have to see the client, and the dog in person. So while I can answer people’s questions, and look at video, and say well you know it could be this, and it might be this, and you might want to get these diagnostic tests, and if it’s this then this treatment works, and if it’s that, this treatment works. I don’t want people to sign up for the class expecting me to diagnose their dog online.
So with that said, there’s going to be two levels. Bronze which is the typical bronze level, and then silver, and with this new working silver level that Fenzi has, I think that all of the silver spots will be working silver spots because there’ll be no gold spots. So it’s mainly a discussion class, but I want the silver students to be able to at least post photographs. They can even post radiographs, or x-rays if they want to.
If we mutually agree that a video would be helpful they can post a video of their dog, and they can ask any question they want. They can ask general questions about the material. They can ask specific questions about their dog. They don’t have to pick one dog. They can ask specific questions about any dog they want to. I want there to be a lot of discussion because I think everybody, me, the silver students, and the bronze students will learn a lot from the discussions, you know as much if not more so than from the lectures. So I’m hoping to have some really active silver students.
Melissa Breau: Hopefully, you know, having said that you will now get even more of them, than you would have otherwise. I think that, that will be a real appeal for students to know that you really want an active silver group.
Sue Yanoff: Right, and then the other things that they should understand is there’s so much material that we could cover, but this class is basically covering injuries, and not specifically hereditary or developmental disorders like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia, or OCD. I mean those are common in sports dogs, but that could be a whole class in itself. So I really had to limit some things so we’re going to be talking about injuries that they can acquire.
Melissa Breau: So maybe in the future if this class does well, huh?
Sue Yanoff: Maybe, and when I want to spend another huge amount of time writing these lectures, so.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned earlier treatment decisions for dogs can be super hard, you know whether their a performance dog, or just a pet. So I’d imagine that one of the major benefits to this class would be that students will feel significantly more informed when they have those kinds of decisions to make in the future. First of all, would you agree with that? It sounds like from what you said earlier, you would, and then do you have any advice for students who may be facing those kinds of decisions now?
Sue Yanoff: Yes. So yes the class will provide a lot of information for the students to help them make better decisions about their dogs medical care, but what they need to know for now, are two things that I think are important. One is to get a diagnosis. It’s really hard to make a treatment plan without at least having an idea of what’s going on, and general practitioners are great. I have a lot of respect for general practitioners because I was one for five years, but they’re not specialists in any one subject. So unless the cause of the lameness is very obvious, you might have to see an expert, and there are two experts that can be used for sports dogs.
One is the board certified surgeon, which is what I am, and more, and more board certified surgeons are realizing that sporting dogs, performance dogs, are a little bit different from pets, and so they’re dealing with them a little bit better, although there’s still some that do what I used to do, just look at the leg. Look at the injury, and not look at anything else. But then this new specialty of sports medicine and rehabilitation, there’s more and more vets being trained, and being board certified in that specialty. So that would be another specialist to go see if your general practitioner, you know, is not sure about what might be going on.
The other thing is that I’m a big fan of all the therapists that are out there. Massage therapists, and the physical therapists, and the people that do acupuncture, and chiropractic, but if they’re not also veterinarians, then they may not be able to make the diagnosis. They could look at things that might be causing the dog pain or discomfort that might be secondary to the diagnosis. But sometimes treating the symptoms is all you need to do, but sometimes treating the symptoms won’t cut it. You need to know what the diagnosis is so you know specifically what you have to treat, and we’ll discuss all that in the class.
Melissa Breau: What I was going to say is that I know this was in the questions I sent over, kind of in advance of our call, but I’m curious…you kind of mentioned some specific certifications. Is there anything out there, or do you have any recommendations if students are trying to find a good specialist or kind of get advice on where to look? Is there any, I guess, any way for them to kind of vet on their own, okay this is a person who really, probably is going to be good for a sports dog versus this is somebody who maybe doesn’t have as much of a background in that.
Sue Yanoff: Yes. Well I mean both these specialties have websites. American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and on the websites you can look up to see who in your state is board certified, and you can also look up to see what their special interest is. So, I mean, for the sports medicine and rehab vet’s then obviously their specialty is sports medicine and rehab. But for the board certified surgeons some of them are more geared towards, you know, sports medicine versus just plain old surgery.
The other thing is, you want to, if you’re going to see a board certified surgeon, you want to see somebody that deals with a lot of performance dogs, if possible, and you also want to deal with somebody who understands, and agrees with the importance of physical therapy postoperatively, because there are still some veterinary surgeons out there that don’t think dogs need physical therapy post op. They just, you know, restrict the activity until the surgery is healed, and then say okay well gradually get him back to normal, and it’s like what does that mean, or what do you do.
So I truly believe that the surgery is only half of the story, and that physical therapy, post operative physical therapy, guided by a knowledgeable person, and there are certifications in physical therapy for both veterinarians and technicians, where they can get some, you now, advanced training outside of vet school and tech school, on physical therapy. There’s a lot of human physical therapists that are now doing veterinary physical therapy, and you know, while I don’t know how good they are, you know the Fenzi alumni Facebook page is a great resource if you say okay I need a physical therapist in this area. Can you recommend somebody, or I need a good sports medicine vet or surgeon in this area, can you recommend somebody.
The Fenzi Alumni Facebook page is a great resource, and also just talking to friends, and you know it won’t hurt to ask your veterinarian what’s your experience with this condition, how many have you done, and what’s your success rate? People are a little reluctant to do that, but no good veterinarian is going to be insulted if you ask them that, and they should be able to answer.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s a great piece of advice, just being comfortable asking that kind of question of your vet, or your veterinary surgeon. I mean if you don’t ask, you can’t know, right.
Sue Yanoff: That’s true.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to end with the same few questions that I ask everybody that comes on, at the end of the interview. So the first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah, I thought about it, and it’d have to be the UD on my older beagle now, Charm because Charm is a dog that switched me from you know traditional training to positive reinforcement training, and I had shown her nine times in utility, and nine times she NQ’ed, and people just kept telling me well she’s just not putting in any effort. You need to correct her harder, or you need to make her do it. And so the more times she NQ’ed, the harder I was on her until the final time in utility, I gave her the hell signal and she just sat there, and she basically said nope. I’m done, not doing it.
So I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way, and that led to positive reinforcement training, which led to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and after a few weeks off from training, I retrained Charm pretty much all the utility exercises using positive reinforcement, and about nine months later I showed her in utility again, and she got the UD in four shows. So I am really proud of Charm. I feel bad for all the stuff I did to her before I crossed over, but now that I train with positive reinforcement, there’s just no comparison. So I’m very proud of Charm for getting her UD.
Melissa Breau: Congrats.
Sue Yanoff: Thanks.
Melissa Breau: So the second questions that I usually ask is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah. Now this is a hard one, because I’ve been taking classes at FDSA since pretty much Denise started, and there’s so much good information, and great advice. But if I had to pick one I’d say it’s acclimation, and that is because I’ve had people tell me don’t ever let your dog sniff. Wherever you go new, don’t let them sniff. They have to be paying attention to you, like all the time, and it’s like you know what. I’ve tried that with Ivy for a few weeks, and it almost drove both of us crazy. So when I learned about acclimation I thought, yep. This is it. This is the best piece of advice I’ve gotten.
Melissa Breau: And especially I’d imagine with Beagles, that nose, you know. It’s a real thing so. The last question is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Sue Yanoff: Yeah, well it’s not anybody that’s known in the dog world, because she doesn’t teach classes, and she doesn’t have a blog, and she, you know, doesn’t do anything online. But she’s a friend of mine who I’ve known since college. We met through dogs. When I was getting a CDX on my first beagle, she was getting a CDX on her first keeshond and since then she has been put multiple notches in herding titles, and some agility titles on her border collies, but she’s also put multiple OTCHs on her Keeshonds, and all of her OTCHd kees are also breed champions, some of them bred by her. So there’s a lot of, you know, trainers out there who have trained another dog other than a border collie, or a golden, or a sheltie whatever to an OTCH, and they do it once, and they never do it again.
But Marian has, I think had, at least four or five, if not six champion OTCH keeshonds, and she’s got a young keeshond coming up now that just finished her CD with six scores or 199 or above, and one score of 200. So I’m sure that’s a future OTCH. So you know, I don’t agree with everything she does in her training, but her dogs are really good, and they are happy in the ring, and they love her, and she gets OTCHs on keeshond’s over, and over, and over again. So I admire her.
Melissa Breau: That is quite the accomplishment. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Sue.
Sue Yanoff: It was fun. Thanks Melissa.
Melissa Breau: It was fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with somebody that I’ve gotten lots of requests for. Cassia Turcotte will be here to talk about positive gun dog training, and her upcoming class on channeling dog’s natural instincts for high level behaviors while they are in drive. 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.
Chrissi Schranz is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.
Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.
To be released 9/15/2017, featuring Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and most progressive training methods. Today, I’ll be talking to Chrissi Schranz, a dog trainer, translator, and chocolate addict.
Chrissi is based in Vienna and lower Austria. She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she’s been able to think, especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free motivational methods.
Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most, thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Her German language puppy book was released in April, and a recall book will be released next spring. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs and training, playing, and hiking with her own three dogs, who we’ll learn a little more about in a second.
Hi, Chrissi. Welcome to the podcast.
Chrissi Schranz: Hi. I am excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m looking forward to chatting. To kind of get us started and to dive right in, do you want to tell us about your own crew and what you’re working on with them?
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. So I have three dogs right now. The oldest one is Fanta, my greyhound. I got him from Ireland as a retired racing greyhound, and by now, his main job is to be a couch potato and get lots of belly rubs. He basically does everything he wants, but he’s also my assistant when I’m working with reactive dogs. He’s really good for this because he’s very calm and communicates very well, so he’s a very good decoy.
Then there’s Phoebe, my standard poodle. You might have seen her in pictures or videos. She is very crazy. She has an endless supply of energy, is very extroverted and outgoing. Everyone loves her, but she can be very exhausting to live with sometimes. If I didn’t force her to, I think she would never sleep, never stop. So I’ve tried lots of different things with her. She was the dog I tried pretty much everything I could think of with her to see what I like.
She likes everything, so she’s up for anything. Now, I’m mainly focusing on nose work with her. That would be her sport of choice and my sport of choice for her because it’s one thing that she loves but she doesn’t get overexcited about, so she doesn’t lose her mind. She can focus and enjoy it. That’s her biggest issue, that she gets excited so easily that her brain freezes, and she’s just like, oh my god, oh my god, life is so good. Yeah, and we do lots of hiking together and just play.
Melissa Breau: And then you’ve got one more, right?
Chrissi Schranz: Yes, my youngest one. That’s Grit, my mal. She’ll be a year in September. We are working on obedience foundations and some tracking. It’s been really fun to work with Shade here at the FDSA. I think the way she teaches is a perfect fit for her. She’s probably my favorite, but please don’t tell my other dogs. We’ll hopefully be doing a little obedience in the future and tracking, and maybe we’ll get into protection as well. We’ll see. Yeah. My dogs usually get a say in what they want to do as well, so…
Melissa Breau: It sounds like three very different breeds and three very different dogs.
Chrissi Schranz: Yes, they actually really are.
Melissa Breau: So what led you from teaching your own crew to becoming a dog trainer?
Chrissi Schranz: So I grew up with my dad’s dogs, and then when I was 12 or 13, I had my very first own dog. That was the dachshund. He was really difficult. When I had him, I started reading a lot and going to seminars and workshops, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about training. I didn’t plan on becoming a dog trainer yet, but I got more and more fascinated by it, and I started dog-sitting for other people and fostering for a rescue organization, so I got to play with all kinds of different dogs with all kinds of different issues.
I started working as a teacher for German as a foreign language, which was really fun, too, because I’ve always liked teaching. It doesn’t matter what that species is, and then I got Phoebe, and I took her to school with me every day, so she could come to work, and I also started a dog trainer course, which is supposedly teaching you to be a professional dog trainer, but well, I won’t go into that because it was not a very good class, but I still just thought I’d want to learn as much as possible to be a good trainer for my own dogs.
But then the building that our school was located in, the German school, implemented a new policy that there were no dogs allowed anymore in the building, so I couldn’t bring Phoebe anymore, and that kind of annoyed me, so I finished up that term of teaching, and then I quit and opened a business focused on translating and dog training full-time, and yeah, I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Melissa Breau: So I’d imagine that having previous teaching experience was pretty useful when you started teaching people how to train dogs. There’s got to be some crossover there, right?
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, actually, a lot because even when you’re working with dogs, you’re really working with people because it’s the people who are living with the dogs every day, and you’re teaching them a foreign language, which is dog, basically, or a foreign language which is German, so there are many similarities, actually.
Melissa Breau: That’s such an interesting way of looking at it, as both just being, you know, kind of different languages that you need to help people understand.
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. I feel like it kind of is.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to get into your training philosophy, and lucky me, I got a sneak peek before we started. You sent me over the link for this, but I’d love to have you kind of share your training philosophy and how you describe your approach, and for those of you who are going to want to see this after she talks about it, there will be a link to the comic in the show notes.
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, so I’d say my training philosophy is based on my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. So Calvin has a shovel and he’s digging a hole, and then Hobbes comes up and asks him why he’s digging a hole, and Calvin says he’s looking for buried treasure. Hobbes asks him what he has found, and Calvin starts naming all kinds of things, like dirty rocks and roots and some disgusting grubs, and then Hobbes gets really excited, and he’s like, wow, on your first try? And Calvin says, yes. There’s treasure everywhere, and that is the kind of experience I want people and their dogs to have with each other.
I want them to feel like life is an adventure, and there’s so many exciting things to be discovered that they can do together. I want people to learn to look at the world through their dog’s eyes a little bit and find this pleasure and just be together, and doing things and discovering things, whether that’s digging a hole or playing in dog sports. Yeah, I want them to feel like they’re friends and partners in crime and have that Calvin and Hobbes kind of relationship, because I believe if you have that kind of relationship as a foundation, you can do pretty much anything you want, no matter whether you want to have a dog you can take anywhere or whether you want to compete and do well in dog sports. I think if you have that kind of relationship as a basis, everything is possible.
Melissa Breau: I love that, just on so many levels, that comic works for what you’re talking about, right? From the almost literal sense of, okay, they’re digging a hole and they find buried treasure that’s rocks and grubs and things our dogs would actually find pretty fascinating, to that metaphorical level of, like, just wanting to kind of explore and find joy in the everyday with our dogs. I mean, this is just a great illustration, I guess, of kind of a philosophy in a comic. It’s really quite neat.
So I want to dive into a little bit the classes that you teach at FDSA. So I know that your first class at FDSA, I think it was your first class, right? Calling All Dogs?
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that, and start off with I guess what may be a little bit of a controversial question. Is there such a thing as a 100 percent reliable recall, and kind of how do we balance the idea of giving our dogs freedom with the realities and dangers of life?
Chrissi Schranz: I don’t think there’s 100 percent reliable recall. I don’t think you can get 100 perfect reliability on any real life behavior, really, simply because you can’t control your environment, so you can prove your recall against lots of distractions, but there’s no way you can prove it against all of them because there’s always unexpected things that will happen and things that will show up that you didn’t even know existed. I mean, it’s different with competition behaviors because those, you only need in very specific environment, so you can prepare for the ring easier than for the real world in some ways.
So you know there won’t be kids on bikes in the ring, and there won’t be loose dogs, and…hopefully not. There won’t be any squirrels, but you don’t know these things about the real world, so I don’t think there’s an objective answer to how we should balance freedom and safety for our dogs. It’s more like a personal decision. So we take risks that we think are worth it because they increase our dogs quality of life, and we don’t take those risks that scare us too much, and I think everyone draws this line differently, and that’s okay.
I think dogs can be perfectly happy even if they never get to be off leash in an unfenced area. So off leash freedom is one of many ways to enrich their lives and share things with them, but it’s not the only way, and yeah, I think there’s just no right answer. Everyone has to answer this question for themselves.
Melissa Breau: Right. It kind of goes back to almost to the comic idea again, like that the Calvin Hobbes comic, just the idea that finding the pleasure in the everyday and what those pleasures are going to be are going to vary. So saying that you can’t get a 100 percent reliable recall, obviously the point of the class is still to teach a really strong, reliable recall, so how do you approach that? How do you teach a recall that’s as strong as you can get it?
Chrissi Schranz: That also goes back to that comic, in a way. I think my approach to recall training is different to many other people’s approaches. For example, so the first one or two weeks of class, there’s no…we don’t even really talk about the recall, but we focus on the relationship. So most people want a recall that they can use when they’re hiking or when they’re…yeah, distractions around or maybe when they’re in a dog park and there are other dogs and so much exciting stuff going on.
So the first weeks are about getting to know your dog in new ways, to observe them, to learn new things about them. I have students offer their dogs various reinforcers and let the dog choose their favorite one, and often, they’ll find out interesting things that they didn’t think were their favorite ones.
Melissa Breau: Do you have an example?
Chrissi Schranz: Well, for example, with my own dogs, when I make the videos for this class, and I haven’t…like, I sometimes do these experiments, but I hadn’t done it in a while, and I was convinced that Phoebe’s and Fanta’s favorite treat was this salmon pâté, but when I offered them various different kinds of treats…and that’s the last thing they ate, so that is not true anymore. Sometimes we just believe that hot dogs is our dog’s favorite treats because that’s what we assume is a dog’s favorite treat, or we ask them when they were puppies and then never again. Their tastes may have changed in the meantime.
Yeah, and there’s lots of games that I ask people to play out on walks and at home in their yard to just make their walks more interactive and to experiment with what kind of games their dogs want and enjoy, so with toys, with food, with food trails, with using their nose, with running, so by the time I actually start conditioning a recall cue, the student’s should have learned something new about their dogs, and they should have started building this kind of invisible connection that they can take with them out into the real world to all the places where they actually want a strong recall.
Yeah, and then it’s pretty straightforward. Classical conditioning of a recall cue, I ask everyone to choose a new one because I’m assuming if you’re taking a recall class, you have problems with your old recall cue, and it’s usually easier to train a new cue than to revive an old one that they have already learned to ignore. Yeah, and then we systematically introduce distractions, and then we go out into the real world and increase the level of difficulty, still like integrating lots of games into the whole training so that the recall always feels like something really, really fun, not necessarily something that gets rewarded with a piece of food, but very often something that gets rewarded with some game that is a little bit of extra they have been looking forward to on their walk.
And in the last week, we’re actually looking at environmental rewards like swimming or chasing squirrels, or maybe even eating food they found on the ground. Anything that’s safe and the dog likes can be a reward.
Melissa Breau: Are there any success stories you particularly want to share? I mean, I know that just kind of hearing you talk about it at a little bit online, it sounds like there are some students who are really struggling with particular distractions that manage to accomplish some pretty awesome results, so…
Chrissi Schranz: There’s like actually so many people I’m so impressed by. well the Gold students, i don’t really see the others, but they’ve come so far in such a short time. Like Tia, Jill’s dog, who started recalling around chipmunks now, and you can really see that they’re more connected now on their walks, or Shila the lab who can now call up…he has started being able to play and focus on her owner near animal carcasses, which is her biggest distraction, and then we have a dog located in Africa.
Her owner is an American expat, and she kind of met that dog out there in Africa and then they kind of became an item. It’s a very independent dog and very interesting. The first week of class, we were like really trying to figure out how to get him to be engaged and to enjoy interacting with his person more than just exploring by himself, and when I look at their videos now, they’re like such a cool team. They’re really having fun together. He’s starting to really enjoy coming back and play with his person.
Melissa Breau: I’ve always thought that if someone has relationship issues, a recall class is always a great place to start to work on rebuilding those, because it’s so positive and it’s all about coming back and coming in, and…
Chrissi Schranz: It’s a good relationship class, too.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I know that there are two other classes that you currently have on the schedule. At least, there were when I was prepping. I was looking, and those were the two that I saw, so Finding Five and The Perfect Pet. So I want to start with Finding Five. What’s the concept there? What’s the idea behind that class?
Chrissi Schranz: I wanted it to be a class for dedicated dog owners, pet owners, and dog sports people. So it’s basically for people who have very busy lives, and they feel like they’re never doing enough with their dogs. There’s never any time to train, but they really want to train. I had the idea when I talked with a friend. She’d just got a dog. It was her first dog, and she asked me a few dog training questions, and I ended up telling her that it’s usually more effective if you have several short sessions than one long session, and she was like, yeah, that makes sense, but I can’t do that. Like, I don’t have time to train several times a day, and I started thinking about this, and I realized that like lots of people have this problem, so I thought there should be a class about this.
It’s still very much a work in progress. I have so many ideas that I want to include, and I know it’s only 6 weeks so I have to narrow it down, but there are two things I want to focus on. One is how to find time to train your dog and how to build new habits and make yourself feel accountable so that you actually really use that time, and the other one is to learn to fully enjoy that training time and to use it to unwind yourself, so even if the rest of your life is crazy busy, or especially if the rest of your life is crazy busy, training your dog shouldn’t feel like just another thing you have to get done. It should be something you’re looking forward to, so it’s little bit about relationships and a little bit about smart ways of training and planning.
Melissa Breau: Do you have any tips for those people who are super excited now and don’t want to have to wait until December?
Chrissi Schranz: Well, one easy thing that might actually help you train more regularly, or just feel more accountable and make time for training, is to write down your training goals for each of your dogs. So you could make a poster and put it on your fridge. Write down three things you’re working on with each of your dogs, and every time you practice one of these things, give yourself a checkmark or a smiley face on your poster, and it will make you feel good and motivate you to do that again.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Now the third class you currently have on the schedule is The Perfect Pet, and that’s just around the corner. It’s coming up in October. Do you want to share a little bit about what that class will cover?
Chrissi Schranz: That’ll be a basic pet dog class. We’ll teach things that make life with a dog easier and more fun for human and dog, so loose leash walking, coming when called, polite greetings, things like leave it, settle on a mat, sit to say please rather than jump up and bark. So we’ll work with the clicker and then starting with an introduction to clicker training. So I’m picturing a person who is really new to the world of dogs and dog training but wants to learn more, so I’m hoping for this to be kind of gateway drug to our nerdier classes. Yeah, so people can get their feet wet and see how much fun positive reinforcement training can be.
Melissa Breau: So it’s the perfect class for everybody who’s listening to recommend to at least three of their friends.
Chrissi Schranz: Yes.
Melissa Breau: I want to talk for a minute about kind of the balance between sports skills and pet skills, and I think that with so many sports dogs, people focus so much time on the sports skills that they don’t always take the time to focus on those life skills, things like loose leash walking, or you know, the kind of actually sitting to say please. Like, those skills are so often overlooked in our sports dogs, so I wanted to see if you had any thoughts on ways that people can better manage or better balance, I guess, those sets of skills as they kind of build out those foundation behaviors on their dogs.
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. That’s a great question. From what I’ve seen, people who integrate their sports dogs into everyday life as well, they usually have good life skills as well, and people who only share sport related things with their dogs, they often have rather poor life skills, so I think a good way to balance this is to make an effort to share non-sports related activities with our dogs as well.
So for example, take them along when you go shopping or when you’re meeting a friend for ice cream, or take your dog to Home Depot when you need to go there anyways, have them meet your guests rather than keeping her in a kennel, and a good way to start this would be to decide on one day for each week where you will take your dog on all the errands where dogs are allowed, because I’m sure if you know how to teach sports skills and make an effort to just put your dog into real life situations, you’ll end up teaching life skills without even noticing it, and it will probably also improve your relationship, so I think just doing more non-sports related things with our sports dogs will almost automatically increase their life skills.
Melissa Breau: Is it ever too late to teach an adult dog those types of skills? You know, having a pet class coming up, are there differences in how you teach them to a puppy versus an adult dog?
Chrissi Schranz: No, it’s never too late, and I basically teach most of the skills the same way, too. The only difference is that it usually takes longer in an adult who…because that dogs often have had time to practice unwanted behaviors, and the more you practice something, the more ingrained it gets and the harder it is to change it, but yeah, then the puppy, for example, hasn’t discovered leash pulling yet, so it’s easier to teach loose leash manners, but it’s never too late to start training.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end off with the three questions I always ask at the end of the interview. So the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Chrissi Schranz: I think that actually that feeling of being really, really happy with where I am and what I’m doing, it happens every time. I feel like I didn’t just train a dog, that I kind of touched someone’s life. That happens occasionally, and it’s like a really, really nice feeling. For example, a while ago, I taught a beginner group class, and there was this woman in her 60s, and she had a mixed breed dog.
She had never really done anything with him before, but she wanted to try training him, and I showed everyone a few things, and then I went from person to person as they were practicing, as I usually do, and every time I walked past Sammy, she was…that’s her dog…he was already holding a sit or a down or whatever we were practicing. He was already there, and she told me it was going great, it was going great, and I noticed whenever she was working on a down, he was laying on his side, which seemed a little strange.
He did not seem like a very confident dog around the other dogs, so I was like, that’s weird. That looks like a very…I don't know. Well, anyways, she told me things were going great, so I moved on, and I only noticed what was going on in the second lesson of that group class. Right before I got to them, the owner would physically push him into whatever position.
Melissa Breau: That’s just terrible.
Chrissi Schranz: And I don't know, she didn’t…like the only way she knew how to like put him in a down, for example, was to actually tip him over, and he would just lie there. Like, she didn’t want me to see this, she just wanted me to see the result and think that everything was going well. So I saw it before I got there, and I was like, wow. She is really afraid of making mistakes, so I didn’t say anything. I just showed again, like to everyone again, how to lure the sit and how to lure the down, and then to make sure to do something her dog would be really good at, so I think we played leave it, which is what’s very clear, her dog would excel at because he was not the kind of dog who would steal anything.
So then I could tell her in front of everyone how well Sammy was doing. I also made it a point to explain again that the most important thing to me in my classes is that everyone makes sure their dogs are comfortable, and for example, if they are not ready to lie down yet because they’re a little nervous about another dog who is close by, then they should just do a sit instead or give them a little break. I never directly addressed her, but I could start seeing…because now I was, of course, always looking that way and trying to see what she was doing, and I could see her starting doing things differently, and then when I caught her not pushing him into a down the next time, but feeding him for a sit, I went over and told everyone how awesome it was that she was just paying attention to his needs and that this is what I was talking about.
This is one of the most important things a dog owner should learn, and of course, by the third lesson, he was lying down like the other dogs and it wasn’t a problem for him anymore. The exciting thing for me was that I could see that she was feeling so much more comfortable, and she actually started asking questions when she didn’t understand something, and I really felt like I had given her a new learning experience. She seemed like happy and relaxed, and talked to people, and it was like a different person, and I really love it when that happens.
I feel like she took something away from the class that was more important than training her dog, and that’s the atmosphere I want to create. I want to create an atmosphere where people can be themselves and let their guard down online as well as in person, and it always makes me so happy when I feel like I actually accomplished that.
Melissa Breau: There’s a second question I like to ask, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Chrissi Schranz: There’s lots of great things out there, but I think I’ll go with Kathy Sdao, “communication trumps control.” Well, yeah. It’s true for every aspect of our lives. We can either try really hard to control everything and everyone around us, to control our dogs, to control our partners, or we can communicate with them and find out what the reasons for their behavior are and get to our goal that way, and that’s actually a better way to get to your goal, even if you reach the same goal, because both parties will be happier.
Melissa Breau: And then my last question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Chrissi Schranz: Again, like lots and lots of people including pretty much all my colleagues here at the FDSA, if I had to pick on person it would probably be Susan Friedman. A few years ago, I attended my first seminar with her, and I think she was the first big name trainer who I felt was as nice and gentle with people as she was with animals, and that was so nice to see, and it really made me want to be that way, too.
I had hung out with positive reinforcement trainers for a while by then, and very often, I felt like they really didn’t like people or they didn’t like their clients, and it never made sense to me. Susan Friedman made sense, and I really love the way she worked with us, and she was authentic and gentle, and you just felt that she genuinely liked the people she worked with. That’s just something I aspire to, too. Well, yes. I think I mostly do.
Melissa Breau: I think that that’s a…it’s a great goal for everybody to aspire to, right, that they make other people feel that way.
Chrissi Schranz: Yes.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Chrissi.
Chrissi Schranz: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.
We’ll be back next week with Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine for sports dog handlers. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Nancy Tucker is a full-time pet dog trainer and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She regularly teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training to dog owners, trainers, and veterinary staff in Canada, the US, and in Europe.
Most of her time is spent doing private in-home behavior consultations with clients. She specializes in common behaviour issues that affect the family dog, and is skilled and experienced in treating aggression and anxiety cases.
Nancy has written numerous articles on dog behavior for various French-language Quebec publications, and is a regular contributor to the Whole Dog Journal. At FDSA she’s wrapping up a great class on Separation Anxiety and has a class coming up in December on teaching door manners when guests come to visit.
To be released 9/8/2017, featuring Chrissi Schranz talking about fitting training into our busy lives, teaching a reliable “real life” recall, and other pet skills that help us build a better relationship with our dogs.
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 Tucker. Nancy is a full-time pet dog training and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She regularly teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training to dog owners, trainers, and veterinary staff in Canada, the US, and in Europe.
Most of her time is spent doing private in-home behavior consultations with clients. She specializes in common behavior issues that affect the family dog and is skilled and experienced in treating aggression and anxiety cases.
Nancy has written numerous articles on dog behavior for various French language Quebec publications, and she is a regular contributor to the Whole Dog Journal. Here at FDSA, she’s wrapping up a great class on separation anxiety, and there’s a class coming up in December on teaching dog door manners so when guests come to visit.
Hi, Nancy. Welcome to the podcast.
Nancy Tucker: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Excited to learn a little bit about your upcoming classes and about you today. To start us out, I know you’re expecting a new puppy. Do you want to share the details?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, man. We are so excited. He’s a Border Terrier and we’re picking him up to take him home this weekend. He’s nine and a half weeks old and I haven’t raised a puppy in decades since my last four dogs were all adult, so I will get to practice what I preach when I dole out advice, and I’m sure it will probably cause me to have a lot more empathy for my clients after this experience.
Melissa Breau: By the time this comes out you’ll probably actually have the puppy so everybody can go on the Facebook group and check out the cute puppy pictures. You’ll share those, right?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, there will be plenty of puppy pictures.
Melissa Breau: So I want to go a little bit into your background. What got you started in dogs? I mean, how did you end up where you are today?
Nancy Tucker: It’s a bit of a funny story and it’s the type of story that’s actually pretty common in trainer circles. You know how you can meet a bunch of trainers who had all kinds of fabulous careers before they were dog trainers and somehow ended up as a dog trainer, so in my life before dogs as they say, my career had nothing to do with training at all. I was a freelance writer and I worked in marketing in public relations and I ended up a trainer quite by accident and then eventually it became my full-time job.
So like most people in that situation, I’ve always loved dogs, I’ve always had dogs, I felt I knew dogs, and years ago I thought that I could offer my services as a PR and marketing consultant to our local shelter just to kind of help out, see what I could do in terms of marketing and PR, so I thought that I could donate some time and services to the shelter in my field of expertise.
And then I learned that the majority of dogs who were surrendered there are there because of behavior problems, that was kind of my first insight into shelter dogs. So I thought well, if I can learn some basic training skills and maybe I could also offer those service to help get more dogs adopted. I don’t know if you can see where this is going, but I was very green, very naive. I had no clue about how anything worked in a shelter, but I wanted to help and I was sure that I could.
So I’m grinning here because, well anyway, I bought some DVDs, I read some books, all on positive reinforcement and after a very short time I was convinced that I was an awesome trainer and I could save all the dogs everywhere. And so I volunteered as an assistant to the head trainer at the shelter who used to give group classes, so I was her assistant for a little while and we hit it off, we became really good friends, I learned a lot from her, and eventually I was teaching my own classes and couple years later opened my own school.
And actually working with dogs and their owners was a huge learning experience for me. It’s not like just you and your own dog, you’re working with people and their dogs, so if anyone’s listening to this and they’re thinking about becoming a professional trainer, I highly recommend getting involved with training shelter dogs and the people who adopt them because you’ll get tons of experience dealing with all kinds of different dogs with different issues and varying human dog teams.
Anyway, at the time I was just teaching basic skills, just regular basic training, and then I adopted Woody. He was a dog who would introduce me to separation anxiety. So it was living with Woody and trying to figure out how to help him that I ended up really diving into the world of dog behavior and to this day I continue to study and learn about behavior.
Melissa Breau: So this is kind of like a big ambiguous question, but why are you a dog trainer? What is it that inspires you every day?
Nancy Tucker: I would say that I’m a dog trainer today for the same reason that I accidentally became one in the first place. I want to help reduce the number of dogs that are surrendered to shelters for behavior reasons. I want to help families deal with their dogs’ behavior issues. Just as people can be when they surrender a dog to a shelter, the truth is that most of these people absolutely adore their dog and they’re simply at the end of their rope. They can’t handle this problem any more and they don’t have the tools or skills or knowledge to work it out, so that’s why I’m a dog trainer, I’m trying to keep dogs in their homes.
Melissa Breau: And I think it’s so common to hear things like, “He’s such a good dog, I’m sure he’ll be adopted. Or, “He’s such a good dog in this situation, that situation. I’m sure he’ll find a great home,” and they kind of make themselves feel a little better because they do love their dogs and they do believe that they’re great dogs and they’re just, like you said, they’re at the end of their rope in that one area.
Nancy Tucker: Absolutely. Yeah, and sometimes it just takes a little bit of guidance and a little bit of help, a little bit of support. It doesn’t always work out, of course, but most of the time things can turn around for the better, so that’s what keeps me motivated.
Melissa Breau: Do you have a particular philosophy or training philosophy that you kind of believe in? I mean, how would you describe your training approach?
Nancy Tucker: My main focus when working with people and their dogs is creating or repairing the bond between them, and I say repairing because sometimes it’s a matter of trust has been broken or like we mentioned a couple of minutes ago where somebody’s at the end of their rope and they just don’t like their dog any more, so I think a lot of my work is about repairing that bond. And once that bond is there and it’s healthy and it’s strong, then all kinds of good things start happening. The training becomes easier, training becomes more fun, interaction in general becomes more fun, and I think that a large part of building a really strong bond is letting go of expectations.
Let go of this idea that we have in our mind about how things should be, and letting go of some of the rules that we tend to put on ourselves and on our dogs’ behavior. I am a big fan of letting dogs be dogs and training them so that our lives can coexist in harmony without kind of training the dog out of the dog.
Melissa Breau: So I kind of mentioned in your bio that you’re wrapping up the class on separation anxiety. I know that’s a really, really hard thing to work on with some dogs, so why is that so hard and kind of how are you approaching it in class?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah. Separation anxiety encompasses a lot of different emotions, for both the dog and the human. So there’s fear, there’s frustration, there’s resentment often. There’s guilt, there’s sadness, there’s loneliness because you find that as a human living with a dog with separation anxiety often your social life is severely affected, you can’t go out, so it’s a super tough situation all around. And of course there’s a lot of emotions involved for the dog, too.
So in this course I skipped a lot of the theory behind this type of problem, you know, the possible causes and symptoms, for example. I figured if people were signing up for the class it’s because they’re already experiencing it, and spending more time on theory means spending less time on working towards solving problems. So because it can take such a long time to solve this type of problem, I wanted to start right away and make the best of the six weeks that we have together.
So right now students are working on very gradually helping their dog learn not to fear being alone, and it is a very gradual process but if it’s done right, we begin to see improvement at every step, and then a spark of hope gets ignited. And then the next thing you know you’re on your way to solving the problem, so for most students this is true. They’ll be able to solve the problem, but there are some cases unfortunately where it’s not so easy to solve or that it just won’t ever be resolved, and this is true, so those are super tough on the student who’s trying so hard.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Sometimes it’s just out of their control. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the dog, it’s just that that’s who the dog is.
Nancy Tucker: Exactly, and to take away that guilt that some people have where somehow they think that it’s something that they’ve done that’s caused the dog to have this problem and that’s so untrue.
Melissa Breau: I mean, behavior issues in general are just, I mean, they’re so hard. I know personally it often feels like because those behaviors are so tied to emotions, right? They’re different than skills, like obedience skills. Because of the emotions, they’re often so much more difficult to teach. Would you agree with that? Can you speak to that a little bit? Kind of how do emotions and behavior interact?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah, for sure. When we’re working on a problem like separation anxiety, for example, we’re directly addressing the dog’s emotions, so how they perceive what being alone means, and this is true for any sort of behavior issue where there are very strong emotions involved, like aggression. So in this case we want to take him from feeling intense fear or panic to being alone, to feeling confident and perfectly okay with being alone at home.
So we are working on the emotions and that’s quite the journey, and this is why it takes time. So we’re not training any new behaviors at all really, we’re not putting any movements on queue, that’s not the type of training we’re doing at all. So what we’re doing is helping the dog feel better, helping him feel safer and more confident about this whole being alone thing, and we’re doing this through what’s called systematic desensitization. And just very quickly, systematic means that we’re working on it very methodically, not making progress at random; there’s a plan. And desensitization means that we’re working to reduce or eliminate this negative emotional response that the dog has to being alone and we’re doing this by exposing him to the situation very, very slowly.
So we start with super easy situations that they can handle and then we very slowly make it a tiny bit harder as we move through the program, so during this six weeks it’s really just all about gradually making the exercises a little teeny bit harder until the dog can handle longer periods of being alone.
Melissa Breau: Yes. Now I imagine that you’re talking about very different emotions in your upcoming class where it’s door greeting versus something like separation anxiety. I mean, in your opinion, what’s kind of the common issue that we tend to see when dogs are just way over the top at the door, kind of what’s going on there?
Nancy Tucker: My God, this is actually one of my favorite training issues to work on because we’re dealing with an issue that’s actually fun to solve, and I just want to clarify here that we’re not talking about dogs who are fearful or who behave aggressively when someone enters the home, that’s a whole other issue. What this class will address, and this is in December, what this class will address are those dogs who scramble to get to the door when someone walks in. They push their way through to greet visitors and they usually come on way too strong, so it might be barking with excitement, they might be jumping up, they might be scratching legs or if they’re big enough they can just lean so hard into people that they knock them down.
And as happy as they appear to be, I think a lot of these dogs are experiencing some sort of conflict of emotions and that’s why we see kind of the over excited behavior. So there’s a huge difference between what the dog wants and needs to do when someone walks through the door and what we want them to do, and I think that’s when some over exuberant behaviors are born.
Melissa Breau: So you said something really interesting, though. You said there’s a conflict of emotions. do you mind just explaining a little bit more what you mean by that?
Nancy Tucker: If they want to greet the people, they want to see the people, they want to smell the people, they want to see what’s going on, they want to interact, but there may be somebody standing behind them pulling on their collar or yelling at them. They know that this seems to be a situation where their human gets very excited or very upset and they’re not quite sure how to behave, but they have this overwhelming sort of urge to go and greet the people at the door. So I think that that’s where I see the conflict of emotion and that’s where we see a bunch of appeasement behaviors or the dog just gets over excited and it’s just overwhelming emotion.
Melissa Breau: Yes. I think that sometimes people aren’t really sure kind of what that phrase means. I mean, I did, there’s this conflict of emotion, it’s like well, I know what I want you to do, why aren’t you just doing it? You should know better. If our dog really knew how to do better they’d be doing better. But I did want to ask you, though, why door skills are so important for the dogs and kind of why the focus on that. So why is that such an important skill?
Nancy Tucker: For safety reasons, first of all. Safety for your guests, and of course I should mention that there are dogs who aren’t nearly as interested in the people walking in the door, they’re more into the fact that the door is open and here’s the chance to slip out for an unauthorized adventure. So it’s safety for the dogs, safety for your guests, and it’s also a matter of being able to have people come into your home without being accosted by your canine welcoming committee. Not everyone’s into that, to getting jumped on or to get greeted by a whole big gang of dogs come running at the door, if you have multiple dogs, of course.
I am, though. When I walk into people’s homes I’m all about greeting the dogs first. It’s actually a fault of mine, I don’t even see the people, you know, can you get out of the way? I want to see your dogs. But not everybody’s into that, so it’s nice to have some sort of control over what happens at the door and it’s nice to have friends who actually want to come over to your house because when you discover that people aren’t coming over any more because walking into your place is such an unpleasant experience, well, that really should probably be addressed.
Melissa Breau: Yes. Can you share a little bit of detail about how you’ll be addressing it in class and maybe even a tip or two for students who are super eager to get started?
Nancy Tucker: Sure. There’s a lot of different ways to deal with this issue, so they don’t all involve sending a dog to a mat which is a legitimate way, of course, to train a dog to behave when somebody comes to the door but it’s not the only way and that can actually be a very difficult thing for many dogs to do. That’s a lot of impulse control to go and sit on a mat away from the door and watch people come in.
So that is a way, but there are others and we’ll be covering a lot of different ways during the course, and I’ve personally always allowed my dog to be part of the greeting committee at the door. They’ve always been there, I’ve never sent my dogs away when somebody comes in. But we worked it out so that I could open the door without tripping over my dog. Sometimes dogs just get so excited that they’re at the door first and you can’t reach the door because the dogs are there. I can leave the door open without a dog trying to slip out, and people can walk in without being accosted.
So for me my dog being there to greet is important. They’re part of my family and I’m okay with that as long as they do it politely. And I think that the first tip that I would give to people who are dealing with this type of issue is to take a deep breath and try to remain calm. It’s easier said than done, but for sure raising your voice or trying to corral a bunch of dogs by grabbing collars or shouting orders is not helping at all and it might even be contributing to the level of excitement.
So the next step is to look at your dog and be thankful that he’s super happy to see people walking in because it could be worse. You could be dealing with a pooch who greets aggressively. An impolite door greeting is far easier to modify and it’s actually a fun process.
Melissa Breau: I know this wasn’t in my prepared questions for you, but how much is the class going to require that students have that other person to be that person at the door and how much of it’s independent skills that they can really work on without those set ups?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, set ups. Well, set ups will be very important, that’s for sure, but set ups, I think that comes later. The dog needs to learn certain skills before we start setting them up in actual scenarios, so management will play a very big part of it and training all kinds of different games and skills. And I think, too, that in a lot of training where we are requiring some sort of impulse control I find that the more restraint we put on a dog the worse it is. They learn to control their impulses and doing it in this sort of game in a fun game fashion seems to work so much better than putting any restraint on the dog. Not any restraint, but we’ll be using management but we won’t be putting physical restraint most of the time on the dog.
So if I remember your original question, you were asking if set ups will be a big part of it? Yeah, definitely it will be but not ‘til later.
Melissa Breau: Okay. Yeah, because I was asking like somebody like me, it’s me and my dogs at the house, right? So the problem is huge but it’s very hard to train a problem when you don’t have somebody who’s willing to come knock on your door 18 times because they live with you. So I was just curious about how much that, like people should be prepared to call up a few friends and be like hey, are you willing to help me train my dog this weekend?
Nancy Tucker: It is an important part but it’s not the entire course, it’s a part of it.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. So to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the last couple questions that I’ve asked everybody who’s been on the podcast. So the first one is, what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Nancy Tucker: Yeah. This one’s a bit hard to talk about because it has to do with the dog that we lost this summer, our girl Chili. When we adopted her she was almost three years old and it was impossible to manipulate certain parts of her body, she became very aggressive. She reacted to being touched like around her paws and ears, for example, those two particular places she really didn’t want to be touched, and unfortunately those are two places that we needed to touch regularly.
So anyway, we worked on these things and we eventually got to a point where she did really, really well and we could do her nails and we could clean her ears without any problem at all. But the absolute best part, and this is what I consider to be my greatest accomplishment because of the situation. When I taught her to accept a needle aspiration for a lump that she had on her chest, we were able to get it done at the vet’s office with zero restraint, so in just a little over a week I taught her to lie down and roll over on her back and to lie still while the vet aspirated the lump, and she never flinched.
So we know that this can be done and we can teach dogs to be cooperative participants in their own care, and having done it now with a dog who was previously extremely aggressive when we manipulated her, to me that was just such an eye opener to see that it can be done, and it was a huge accomplishment for myself to be able to train it because I was emotionally involved in the situation, attached to the dog, so sometimes that can be a little bit harder.
Melissa Breau: Yes, absolutely, and that’s really impressive. I mean, that’s quite a skill to have taught and to have accomplished. I mean, somebody who has a dog who’s not thrilled at the vet, I can understand how difficult that can be and yeah, that’s quite an accomplishment. My next question for you here is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Nancy Tucker: The advice that’s always stuck with me and that I incorporate into every single training scenario is that the learner is always right. So if I’m trying to teach a dog something and he keeps offering me the wrong behavior, the problem lies with me as the teacher. The dog is doing the right thing. If I want him to do something different, I’m the one who needs to adjust my approach, so I think that that has been the handiest piece of advice, the most, uh, what's the word I'm looking for? Not handy…Not convenient.
Melissa Breau: Applicable?
Nancy Tucker: Yes. Yeah. For any scenario.
Melissa Breau: And then my last question for you here is, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Nancy Tucker: Oh, my. The list is endless, it truly is. I couldn’t possibly try to narrow it down to a single person, but I can tell you this much. The people that I’m drawn to are those who promote a two-way communication between the trainer and the learner. Those who teach with respect for their learners’ needs and for the learners’ unique personality. That’s what I’m drawn to and those are the people that I really, really love to learn from.
Melissa Breau: I think that you are not alone when it comes to that here in the FDSA community.
Nancy Tucker: Yeah, I definitely detected that and it’s fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Nancy.
Nancy Tucker: Oh, my pleasure. It’s been fun.
Melissa Breau: It was fun. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. I will be back next week with Chrissi Schranz to discuss how to fit training into our busy lives, a very important topic, and teaching a reliable, real-life recall, plus a couple other pet skills that help us with a better relationship with our dog.
If you haven’t already subscribed 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.
Heather Lawson is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP), a CGN Evaluator and a Free-style judge. She has been training dogs and their humans for more than 20 years after deciding that the corporate world just wasn't cutting it anymore.
She is the owner of dogWISE Training & Behaviour Center Inc., where she teaches group classes for companion pets, competitive obedience, and rally in addition to providing behaviour consults and private lessons.
At FDSA, she teaches several classes focused on life skills, including the upcoming Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous and Hounds About Town; she’ll also be teaching a new class on “Match to Sample.”
To be released 9/1/2017, featuring Nancy Tucker talking about the roles of emotions in training, and how to modify behaviors when they are tied to strong emotions in our dogs.
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 Heather Lawson.
Heather is a certified professional dog trainer, and Karen Pryor Academy certified training partner, a CGN evaluator and a free style judge. She’s been training dogs and their humans for more than 20 years after deciding that the corporate world just wasn’t cutting it anymore. She’s the owner of dogWISE Training & Behavior Center where she teaches group classes for companion pets, competitive obedience, and rally in addition to providing behavior consults and private lessons. At FCSA she teaches several classes focused on life skills, including the upcoming Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous and Hounds About Town. She’ll also be teaching a new class on Match to Sample.
Hi, Heather, welcome to the podcast.
Heather Lawson: Hi, Melissa, glad to be here.
Melissa Breau: Looking forward to chatting. SO to start us out, I know we talked about this a little bit before turning on the recording, but do you want to just tell me a little bit about your own dogs, who they are and what you’re working on with them?
Heather Lawson: Okay. Well, my breed of choice, who happens to be currently rumbling in their crate at the moment, is German Shepard. I have two, one a male by the name of Tag, who is 11 years old and he’s retired from active working. He’s just a family companion and does everything else that Piper does but on a lower schedule, and then I have Piper who is a 2-year-old female, and she’s my current work in progress, and I hope to be taking her into the competitive obedience ring, rally, and anything else that I can wrap my head around with her.
Melissa Breau: How did you get your start in the dog sports world?
Heather Lawson: Well, as you mentioned in my bio I was in the corporate world, in human resources, retail management, and after about three downsizings consecutively in a row, it was just that time of the ‘90s and so forth, I just decided that I didn’t want to go back to work and I’d rather stay home and do things with my dogs, and believe it or not I ended up working at a school, an obedience school back east in Ontario and got competing with my own dogs, and then from there just went all over the place wanting to develop my education and just become a better trainer, and I’ve had so much fun doing this that I’ve never looked back on the corporate world since. It’s just been so enjoyable because I get to meet so many new dogs and so many lovely people.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your training philosophy. How do you approach training?
Heather Lawson: For me personally I like to approach it as a teamwork situation. I want to look at the dog that’s in front of me and work with what they are giving me, and work at the level that they’re capable of at that particular moment I guess you could say. My philosophy, you get the old, ‘Well, I want to do positive,’ and everything like that. It just never occurs to me to do anything but positive and I want to make sure that I’m consistent, that I’m fair. I give my animals the better side of me at all times. Above all else my animals are family companions so not only do I have to worry about what I’m doing in training, but I have to worry about what we’re doing when we’re not training, and so everything has to mesh and come together, and it’s just basically a family unit.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to talk a little bit about the classes that you’re going to be offering coming up in October, so let’s start with the Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous class, and I am sure at least once, if not more than that, I will somehow manage to jumble those words because Loose Leash Walkers Anonymous is almost a tongue twister, but why are life skills like that, like leash walking, such an important skill for sports dogs and why is it such an incredibly difficult thing to teach?
Heather Lawson: Well, like most people who do dog sports we travel, so we go to competitions, we do things with our dogs, we have to stay in hotels, we have to be out in the public, and having a dog with good manners, including loose leash walking skills I think is very important because your dog is only working and doing those activities for a very short period of time. The rest of it, if they’re like most people…my dogs, as I said, are part of my family so when I’m not doing those skills or competitions, or anything like that I’m taking my dogs out into the community.
I don’t want to be dragged all over the place. I want to be able to take them on the sea bus that goes from one side of the inlet to the other, I want to be able to take them up and down elevators or into stores and do all of those types of things with them without people turning around and saying, ‘Look at that. The dogs out of control,’ and I think it’s important too even when you’re competing that you have your dogs under control, that they’re not going in every different direction, they’re not dragging you to and from whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s conformation, or obedience, or even agility, or nose work. I mean, sure the dogs get excited but at the same time, it’s still nice to have a little bit of management and manners in place, and that’s my own personal view, and I think it’s important.
The other side of it, why is it so hard to teach, simply because we aren’t consistent enough, I think, and we don’t think of it as a priority, and by priority I mean I picked up on something a long, long time ago from Sue Ailsby, who’s also teaching at Fenzi, and that was when the leash goes on that is your only priority of teaching loose leash walking, so getting from A to B is your only priority on a loose leash, and that has never, ever steered me wrong. If we put the leash on at one point and then we go and we let the dog pull us to their favorite friend, or we let them pull us to go and sniff to something, or pull us to go to the dog park. If we’re inconsistent in our requirements then we never get that loose leash walking as part of regular manners skill, and you know what…and it’s true.
If I don’t have the time to work on that, if I haven’t given myself enough time, if my dogs are going to be excited, and the dogs get excited, and with a little bit of a reset okay. Yeah, okay mom, we remember. If I don’t have that time I just will take them and use a muzzle magnet, which is basically a fistful of food, let them nibble on it as I go from point a to b so that I don’t get that loose leash pulling, but I get the loose leash, so I try to be consistent with everything that I’m doing, and I think that’s why the dogs don’t get as far ahead in their loose leash walking because we’re also very concerned about teaching them all of these other behaviors that one of the most important things is the loose leash walking because if they don’t have that loose leash walking they don’t get out into the community, they don’t get out to socialize, they’re not much a pleasure to be around because they’re hard on your shoulder, they’re hard on your elbow, hard on your back and so they end up only doing certain things and they don’t have a well-rounded life, and especially with pet dogs they end up getting stuck in the backyard so they don’t get the exercise.
They don’t get the exercise then they have problem behaviors, they have the problem behaviors then they get surrendered, so loose leash walking, whether it’s for your competitive dogs or for your family companions is one of the most important skills, at least in my view anyways.
Melissa Breau: And I think you hit on that, like that consistency point. It’s so common to see somebody go into a class, trach loose leash walking, and then the moment they leave the room suddenly they forget everything that they have learned.
Heather Lawson: Oh yeah. Yeah, and if I catch my students, my in person students coming up the walkway and the dog is dragging them up they know, they look at me and they immediately turn right around and go down to the back, and they do their leash walking all the way up, so now it’s actually a running joke in class, is that oh, she caught us. Uh-oh we’ve got to go back, and now they’ve almost…almost every single person who’s been there by about week three they all know that they’ve got to practice their skills coming and going because that’s the whole point of it, right. You’ve got to practice it 24/7 in order for it to stick, and if you don’t then it’s not going to happen and you’re giving the dog an inconsistent message, and dogs don’t work in grey they work a little bit better in black and white.
Melissa Breau: And I think that kind of leads really well into the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is this idea of the dogs being able to go out and about with you and do things. So I know you also teach the Hounds About Town class, which I’m assuming kind of touches on that a little bit. What are the actual skills that you teach in that class, and how do you approach it?
Heather Lawson: Okay. With the Hound About Town, again, we teach loose leash walking, not as in depth as in the Loose Leash Walking Walkers Anonymous, but we teach some loose leash walking. We teach leave it, okay. We don’t need hoovers because there’s so much garbage, and things like that, and bad things that the dogs could pick up, as well as we don’t need them going after that little child in the stroller that’s coming towards them with that ice cream cone that’s right at their level, so a good leave it comes in handy.
Many of the dogs live in condominiums now, so we teach elevator etiquette, which also transfers nicely into riding on transit for those people who are lucky enough to travel on transit. We work on chill and settle on the mat, a little bit of recalls, grooming and touch for the veterinary care, door manners, and some of the other things that we do is we consider etiquette for when you are traveling and staying in hotels, or staying in other locations, and how to manage your dog in busy situations, just the basics, what would you do in your everyday life when you’re out and how to make it easier to take your dog with you more places.
The other thing that we do is we also encourage people to take their dogs more places, don’t just leave them at home all the time, of course weather permitting, because it’s good social interaction for our dogs. They don’t necessarily have to be always just going to the dog park. They need to be with you and be out and about, and part of the community, and the better behaved animals we have in the community the more access we’re going to have for them, and that’s the key thing. People say that there isn’t that much access for animals, but that’s because there’s been perhaps maybe some inconvenient encounters that haven’t gone so well because the dogs haven’t been well-trained. Also too, all of the things that we cover in here can be applied to the…I think in your end of the woods it says CGC, which is the Canine Good Citizen. In our area it’s Canine Good Neighbor and then you also have…then there are other levels. The urban K9 title as well.
If you were to go through the Hound About Town you would be able to go and take your test and get your certificate, so it’s just another way to promote responsible dog ownership, right. Getting them out, getting them trained, and getting them part of the family.
Melissa Breau: Now, you didn’t touch on two of the things that stood out to me when I was looking at the syllabus, which were the Do Nothing training, and Coffee Anyone, so what are those and obviously how do you address them in class?
Heather Lawson: Yeah. I always get kind of weird sideways looks when I talk about do nothing training, because it’s kind of like…people say, ‘What do you mean do nothing training,’ and I say well, how often do you just work on having your dog do nothing, and everybody looks at me, well, you don’t work on having the dog do nothing, and I say oh yeah, you do. That’s what we call settle on the mat, chill, learn how to not bug me every time I sit down at the computer to do some work, not bark at me every time I stop to chat with the neighbor, stop pulling me in all different ways, so it’s kind of like just do nothing, because if you think about it the first maybe six months of your dog’s life it’s all about the dog and the puppy.
Then when they get to look a little bit more adult all of a sudden they’re no longer the center of attention, but because they’ve been the center of attention for that first eight weeks to six months, and there’s been all this excitement whenever they’re out and people stop, and you chat or you do anything it’s very hard for the dog all of a sudden now to have this cut off and just not be acknowledged, and this is where you then get the demand barking, or the jumping on the owner, or the jumping on other people to get that attention, whereas if you teach that right in the very beginning, okay, and teach your puppies how to settle, whether it be in an x pen, or in a crate, or even on a mat beside you while you’re watching your favorite TV show. If you teach them to settle, and how to turn it off then you’re going to not have that much of a problem going forward as they get older.
The other thing too is that by teaching the dogs all of these different things that we want to teach them that’s great, and that’s fabulous, and we should be doing that, but most dogs aren’t active 100 percent of the time, they’re active maybe 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent they’re chilling out, they’re sleeping, they’re…while their owners are away working if they’re not luck enough to be taken out for a daily hike then they’ve got to learn how to turn it off, and if we can teach them that in the early stages you don’t end up with severe behavior problems going forward and I’ve done that with all of my puppies, and my favorite place to train the do nothing training is actually in the bathroom.
What I do with that is my puppies, they get out first thing in the morning, they go their potty, they come back in, we get a chewy or a bully stick, or a Kong filled with food, and puppy goes into the bathroom with me and there’s a mat, they get to lay down on the mat and that’s when I get to take my shower, and all of my dogs, even to this day, even my 11-year-old, if I’m showering and the door’s open they come in and they go right to their mat and they go to sleep, and they wait for me, and that’s that do nothing training right, and that actually even follows into loose leash walking. If you take that do nothing training how often are you out in your loose leash walking and you stop and chat to the neighbor or you stop and you are window shopping or anything else that you when you’re out and about. If your dog won’t even connect with you at the end of the line then just…they won’t even pay attention to you while you’re standing there, or they create a fuss then the chances of you getting successful loose leash walking going forward is going to be fairly slim, okay.
The other thing that you mentioned was the coffee shop training, and that is nowadays people go and they meet at the coffee shop or they go for lunch and more and more people are able to take their dogs to lunch, providing they sit out on a patio, and on the occasion where the dog is allowed to stay close to you we teach the dogs to either go under the table and chill or go and lay beside the chair and chill, and teach them how to lay there, switch off, watch the world go by. Even if the waiter comes up you just chill out and just relax and that allows the dog, again because they’ve got good manners, to be welcomed even more places.
Melissa Breau: Right. It makes it so that you feel comfortable taking them with you to lunch or out.
Heather Lawson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. There’s lots of places that dogs can go providing, and they’re welcome, providing they do have those good manners, and if we can keep those good manners going then regardless of whether or not your dog sports or not it just opens up the avenues for so much more of us to do…more things to do with our dogs.
Melissa Breau: I know the Match to Sample class is new, so I wanted to make sure we talk about that too. For those not familiar with the concept I have to admit I wasn’t initially and then you kind of explained it, I think, on one of the Facebook lists, so for those who don’t know what it is can you kind of explain what that means, Match to Sample?
Heather Lawson: The Match to Sample is a type of concept training, so concept think of it as the concept of mathematics. For us we know that if you add one and one you get two. We’re thinking you can conceptually see that if somebody asks me for this I can also get that, or we have the idea of big versus small. There’s whole different types of varieties of concepts, but match to sample in this particular case is a visual match to sample, so this is where the dog learns to look at an item that the trainer is holding and then find the object on a table that matches the one that the trainer is holding.
It sounds a little complicated but it’s not really, because of the different things that we…the stages that we go through in order to get them there, so for instance I might hold up a Kong and I might have a Kong, and I might have maybe a treat bag, and I might have a cone, and I might have a ball all in a row in front of me, so I hold up my Kong and I say, ‘Match it,’ and the dog looks at that Kong and then has to pick the right item out of that line of items on that table. I’m not saying get the Kong or get the toy, I’m just saying match it.
Once they’ve learned on things they know then we start introducing things that they maybe have never seen before, or they don’t normally interact with, and so we teach them that whatever I’m holding look at it and then figure out which one best matches that item and pick it out for me, either by a retrieve, or a nose touch, or targeting it, and it’s…actually if you think about it, it’s kind of the same thing that they use with nose work, that’s a match to sample. Here’s this sample, this smell. Now go find it for me. It’s sort of what they use with search and rescue. Here’s the smell of the person, I need you to find this person. Now go out into the world and match that smell to what I just gave you, and the concept training is neat because it uses most of what we teach our dogs, like shaping. It uses targeting. It uses problem solving and creativity on the dogs’ part and it also utilizes behavior change, so it’s kind of a fun different thing to do with the dogs and it allows you to really expand and take your thinking past what the dog…you ever thought, maybe, the dog could learn.
Even with you’re doing a match to sample with a nose in cancer. I’m sure you’ve heard of them matching cancer cells to see whether or not an individual has cancer cells. It’s all match to sample, it’s that concept training, right. There are other types of other concepts, which are things such as adduction, where we take one behavior, add it to another behavior and you end up with a third behaviors. That’s called adduction, so it’s one plus one equals three. It doesn’t make sense but it’s what it is, so it’s one behavior, another behavior, and you make a third behavior, that’s where the one plus one equals three comes from. There’s actually counting that the dogs are…has been out there now. I think Ken Ramirez is doing counting with dogs. Also learning about mimicry, which is Julie Flannery’s class at FDFA, can the dogs copy what you actually do. It’s really kind of mind bending and that’s what is really interesting me right now, and that’s what I’m doing with my youngest dog Piper.
I’m teaching her the match to sample as well as we’re going to work on…to see whether or not she actually can read, if you will, and I’ve got flashcards, and so I’m teaching her what this word means and teaching her to see whether or not she can put the two together. You can teach the concepts of big and small, up or down, go back, go forward. It’s just really cool stuff.
Melissa Breau: That sounds really neat. It sounds like it’s a very different, I guess, way of teaching your dog to look at the world, and I’d imagine at least the Match to Sample class would be a really…it would be a good skill to use a dogs’ brain, especially if they’re on medical for something, they could still do some of that stuff. Stuff like that. It would be just a great training tool to have in your kit.
Heather Lawson: Yes, you absolutely hit it on the mark. It’s a really good tool because it doesn’t require a whole lot of activity, but you do have to have the basics in place. It’s not something that you would normally do with a dog that is maybe…doesn’t have any idea on shaping, or targeting or playing creative games. It does require a little bit of basics, but it’s definitely a great tool for the dog that maybe is not just on medical rest but maybe can’t interact with a lot of other dogs, right. Maybe they for some reason…they just need a brain teaser that’s going to keep them from going stir crazy, because the more the brain is worked, it’s a balance right. Everybody thinks the dogs need exercise, but at the same time they need to have that little brain tingled a little bit, and if you don’t balance that off then you get a dog that kind of goes stir crazy, and again, it harkens back to not being able to shut off when needed, right, so it definitely is because it’s…you train all different kinds of new behaviors and it’s just another thing to draw on that trainers toolbox, if you will, to sort of expand and see just what your dog can do.
We often forget and we start to label our dogs as they can only do this, right. I think they can do way more than we give them credit for, and that’s what kind of tweaks my interest a little bit, aside from the competitive obedience stuff that I do with them as well.
Melissa Breau: I do want to talk for just a second more about that, about the idea of how maybe somebody could use those skills to teak some of the other things that they might want to teach. We talked a little bit about how you could teach it as a brain teaser, and as concepts. You mentioned nose work a little bit in there and kind of this idea of teaching a bigger picture. Are there other ways that that skill can be used and other behaviors that you can use those skills in, is it about communication?
Heather Lawson: It’s about communication, so say for instance if we harken back to, say, search and rescue. The dog has to make sometimes independent because they’re out searching and they’ve been sent out, and they’re searching, and they’re going back and they’re searching and what are they supposed to do. I’ve found the person, do I stick with the person, do I come back, so that training aspect of it is that they come back, they tell you that they’re there and then they go back to that person that’s lost.
I guess you could sort of put it down to it teaches your dogs to be creative. Now I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I’ve had a situation with my own dog when I was competing a number of years ago where I threw the dumbbell and it went outside the ring but there was access for her to go around a gate and get it and then come back, and rather than stick her head through and get caught at it, she looked at it, she looked down either side of it and then she backed up and went around got the dumbbell and came back and completed her exercise, so had I just taught it in basic format, go out, get it, come back, whatever, and I hadn’t taught her how to be creative we might’ve failed that whole class, but she did it.
She started to think on her own, and that’s what I appreciate in the dogs is that they can figure it out, they can problem solve and I don’t think that we really truly understand just how much problem solving ability that our dogs really do have, and I’m constantly amazed at how they develop that problem solving, and we sometimes forget because we’re teaching them all of these specific behaviors that we want them to do and we don’t let them sometimes expand on those, and I think that is the role it plays for me in my larger training toolbox, is it allows me to just sit back and say okay, so what if we did this? Can you do that, and the dog goes, yeah, sure I can do that and then you’re off on a different tangent, so it does definitely take your training in different ways, but it also really expands your training and your appreciation for the dog and their capabilities.
Melissa Breau: So it sounds like there are kind of two pieces there, right, to kind of distill that down a little bit. There’s the idea of helping your dog be the best they can be, in terms of as smart they can be, as capable as they can be, and then there’s this piece about teaching them how to be creative problem solvers, which I’d assume also makes things like proofing and fluency much easier.
Heather Lawson: Yeah, exactly because they grasp the concepts much quicker, and I know for…this isn’t really on the match to sample side of it, but if you consider, say, the…I taught her the chin rest, okay, and it’s one of the nest things I ever taught this dog because the chin rest taught her how to be just still, and that stillness transferred into my dumbbell, it transferred into her being examined by a judge in the confirmation ring, and it transferred into her stays, so just that simple thing of a chin rest with duration, or even a duration of the nose touch transferred in and taught her the concept of holding still and waiting until she was released, and it was such an easy transfer of that one single skill of holding skill went to so many different other behaviors, and I’d never taught it that way before, but I’m so glad I did with Piper because it just sort of went oh, that transfers into all kinds of things, and it really made me go you really get this, and so there’s a concept there but in a different way than the match to sample, so it’s what are we teaching them?
It’s not just a sit there and hold that position until I tell you otherwise it’s just the concept of can you transfer this, oh you understand it, so that’s why I like the concept training, such as the adduction, the mimicry, the copy behaviors, the match to sample. All of those things are really kind of mind benders.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to wrap things up by asking you the three questions that I usually ask at the end of the podcast.
Heather Lawson: Okay.
Melissa Breau: The first one is what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Heather Lawson: The biggest and best accomplishment was with my dog Micha, who’s long gone, but she was a dog, German Shepherd, that had a few demons inside, just that she was very sensitive and very aware of sound, and so she was a little concerned when things…even the crack of a bat at a baseball game, or tennis, or things like that, loud speakers God help us, was an issue, and she was also sometimes concerned about people as well. She was a friendly dog, there’s nothing in that issue, but everybody told me you’ll never get this dog in the ring. You’ll never be able to compete with her, and I sat down one day and I was really kind of in tears and I said okay, this isn’t working. What are we going to do? How can I help you through this, and the moment I switched that in myself we just were away to the races. It wasn’t about getting her to do it, it was how can I help her through it, and I ended up taking her Top 10 Obedience Dogs in Canada twice, two years straight, and she ended up being the top obedience driven Shepard in Canada five years straight.
It was nice to be able to do that but at the same time it was, I guess, just sort of really in my heart that wow, when you don’t give up and you don’t listen to everybody and you just listen to the dog amazing things can happen, and I think that’s my proudest accomplishment, I guess, is working with Micha. She taught me so very much and I really appreciate her allowing me the gift of making all my mistakes with her, but we ended up on a high and I’ll never forget that dog ever, but that’s my proudest accomplishment so far.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s a pretty good one.
Heather Lawson: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: All right, so my next question is what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Heather Lawson: Oh geez, there’s been so many different pieces. I guess the best is work with your dog, be a team, and don’t label your dog because you’ll limit their abilities. So you know how people will sometimes oh, it’s the breed. They just do that because they do that? I never try to label or limit what my dogs can do. I always assume that they’re going to rise to the occasion, that they’re going to do the best that they can, and I think that’s probably been the best advice because it’s taken me into different types of sports that I might not have ventured into with my dogs. One of my dogs I did nose work with, that was her thing, so if I had labeled her and said no, you’re going to do this, you’re not going to do that it might not have been the best thing for her but because I let her lead me where she wanted to go and I took what she had to give me we had loads of fun doing nose work and I learned new sport, so I always think of that as work with your dog and be a team, and then don’t label your dog because you’ll limit them and yourself.
Melissa Breau: My last question. You’re in a great position because I know you mentioned Sue earlier and you’ve been good friends with the Fenzi crew for a while now, I know you’re pretty involved, so who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Heather Lawson: Somebody else in the dog world. Well, I’m not going to name names because I think…but what I find is that there’s no one specific individual. What I have done is I’ve been able to meet many different people, many fabulous trainers that I just go wow. Now that’s interesting, and that’s…what I do is I pick up all the little tidbits from all of these different trainers and I think that’s what’s the most important thing, because I don’t want to get caught up in a recipe because there is no recipe.
I could name different kinds of people but I think it’s better to say that I just pick up all the little tidbits along the way that pertain to me and my dogs at that particular time, and that way…and what works for me, because not one single dog trainer will have everything that I’m going to need, and so if I keep my mind open I’m going to get those little tidbits that’s going to make me and my dog better.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much, for coming on the podcast, Heather.
Heather Lawson: You’re more than welcome. This was fun, a little bit nervous, but fun, exciting. I could talk dogs for hours.
Melissa Breau: Hey, me too.
Heather Lawson: I’ve had fun doing this. This was very enjoyable. Thanks for asking me on.
Melissa Breau: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast Heather -- and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Nancy Tucker to discuss greetings, separation anxiety, and behavior modification techniques that work for both parts of the human-canine 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.
Kamal Fernandez is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
To be released 8/18/2017, featuring Melissa Chandler talking about nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs.
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 Kamal Fernandez.
Kamal is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
Hi Kamal, welcome to the podcast!
Kamal Fernandez: Hi Melissa! Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m so glad to chat. Heelwork is always everybody’s favorite topic, so..
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so this should be an interesting conversation.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you tell us a bit about your own dogs -- who they are and what you’re working on with them?
Kamal Fernandez: I have a malinois, I have border collies, I have a German spitz, I have a boxer, and I have a poodle-cross Jack Russell. So I have a real array of dogs and they do various things. Obviously, the primary focus for the majority of my career has been as an obedience competitor, but I’ve recently moved to begin doing other disciplines. Primarily for a bit of a change, really. I think I’ve been doing it for quite a long while, and I was looking for new challenges and something to sort of take my training a little bit further, and I’ve dappled with lots of disciplines throughout my career. So my border collie and my spitz both compete in agility, and my boxer, the intention with him is to do IPO. He’s in the midst of training at the moment; he had quite a long period off with injury, 2 years out with quite a severe injury, so he’s just been, probably in the last year, been brought back into work so we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do. And my malinois and my older border collie, they both do obedience. I’m sort of shifting my goals as it were to new disciplines and I’ve sort of done obedience for so long I just want to have a little bit of a change and I think for an instructor and a teacher it’s really good to keep fresh and to teach your dog new things, and also be a recipient of being a student as well. I think that’s really healthy.
Melissa Breau: So you’re pushing into Agility, is that what you’re saying?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, so I’ve just started -- my spitz does agility. He’s up to… I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in the US but he’s at grade 5 level now, and my border collie bitch is just starting her competitive career. So they’re both doing… I’ve been really really pleased with them, I’ve only.. My times a bit… well, obviously, I have a young child now -- a baby -- so my time’s a little bit limited, which is always a constant battle. Bless their hearts, they seem to be carrying me a little bit at the moment, to be honest, but that’s a good foundation. They’re great; they’re all doing really really well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know you mentioned you started out in obedience, so how did you first get into that -- how did you start out in dog sports?
Kamal Fernandez: So, I was always obsessed with dogs and I was always fanatical about the prospect of owning one. And I badgered my parents for years and years and years about getting a dog and they eventually succumbed, and they buckled in to me to get a dog. And that dog was absolutely every single behavioral issue you can probably ever encounter, that one dog had. And it was largely down to pet dog owners -- you just, just naive people thinking “I tell it sit, why doesn’t it sit?” “I let it off the lead, why doesn’t it come back?” We just didn’t understand the concept of training a dog, we just -- like a lot of people -- we just assumed the dog came hard-wired to do it.
I actually was watching agility on television, and there was a guy there called Greg Derrett who anybody who knows about agility, he’s one of the top competitors and trainers in the world, and Greg’s a little bit older than me, and he was there competing at Crufts in the junior competition and I always thought, well, if he can do it as a junior -- and i think he won that year -- I thought well it must be achievable, i must be able to do it. So I tried to contact the local agility club and at that point they said you can’t start bringing a dog to agility until you’ve gone to obedience training. She wasn’t a puppy-puppy, she must have been 6-10 months old, and they said you can’t start with her until she’s well over a year, so I thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do for this time?” Anyway, they said take your dog to obedience training. And I took her to obedience training and it was just domestic pet training, very, very, very old school, you know. Choke chains, walking around the whole, choking the dog, which you know at the time -- this was 26 years ago -- wasn’t unusual to be honest, in this country. And it just so happened that I stayed on one evening to watch the more advanced people train their dogs and there was somebody doing competitive obedience, and it just really really inspired me because of the level of control she had over her dog and I remember she left it at one end on a stage that’s actually at the hall where i now teach, and she did like 6 position changes and I was just blown away by the fact that she could -- there’s my dog that I can’t even let off the lead and she could leave her dog at the other side of a room and give it positions which appeared to be on some sort of magic slash electronic remote control, i don’t know, i was just blown away by it. So it just really made me go “wow I want to do that” and my career just really went in that path. I sort of got more and more interested in it; I saw her train numerous dogs to do heel work and I just got addicted to that as a concept, really. And I never really followed up on the whole agility thing, and it’s ironic that now, 26 years later, I’m finally getting into agility. I’m a slow learner, but there you go. Better late than never as they say.
Melissa Breau: Hey, you got there. You just took your time. So you mentioned that you started out choke chains and traditional training, all that stuff. How would you describe your training philosophy today?
Kamal Fernandez: I talked recently at a conference, and was speaking about my personal journey in dog training and how it’s really taken a really, really diverse route in that we started out like, i think, a lot of people that have been training dogs for 20+ years, in more compulsion based dog training and in dominance-based theories to training dogs; you know, you have to be the boss, you have to be the pack leader, and it was very much rout learning with them. The dog’s thoughts, feelings, emotions were never considered, really. It was just make the dog do it, but i always instinctively felt there was a better way out there and it didn’t sit with me as an individual; I thought, “Oh, I’m not a forceful person,” I’m determined, I’m very goal-oriented, but I’m not one for force. I wouldn’t force somebody to do something; i wouldn’t force my dogs, it just didn’t quite align with who i was. And then i gravitated to more motivational methodology, which was slightly more what I’d call show and tell, so you’d show the dog what you wanted them to do, you’d reward the dog, and if the dog didn’t do it you’d show them again, and if the dog didn’t do it again after that you’d probably correct it and then reward it. So there was more reinforcement being used, but still that element of compulsion in there. And I was never extreme in my use of -- other than the choke chain scenario, which was just sheer ignorance -- I was always somebody that wanted to interact with my dogs, I wanted to… I mean I used to take my dog that i first had, she was my friend more than anything, I used to take her out and we used to go out for the whole day and we used to go play at what we call the dumps and stuff, so she was my little friend so there was a real conflict between what i was doing in training and how i was with her in general.
So I gravitated to what you would now call reinforcement-based dog training and as clicker training became more prominent, in this country I’d say probably 15 years ago, something like that -- 15-20 years ago -- and initially the reaction was “oh gosh, this is rubbish” but I was inquisitive about it and i was skeptical, but the more and more I watched it I thought there’s something to this, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Again, it’s amazing how life takes you on this journey, I did psychology while I was at college and I did it later on as a -- I studied it as part of a certain degree and an element of it was psychology which part of it talked about learning theory and operant conditioning and classical conditioning and so forth, and it then sort of all fell into place and made more sense. So then i started to delve with the dog that i had into clicker training and my initial reaction was… I tried it, i pressed the clicker, I gave her a reward and the dog didn’t miraculously do it. By that point i was a little more astute but i thought, “I’m missing something,” this isn’t -- i just can’t work this all out. Anyway, it was niggling away for me, and with that dog i sort of tried it and thought, okay this doesn’t work, chuck the clicker, chuck my teddies out the pram, and flounce my skirt and I thought right, that doesn’t work I’m going to go back to what i did. And I trained that dog more, what I’d say, traditionally. Flash with a bit more clicker training interspersed there, and he wasn’t what I’d say was a straightforward, easy dog, but there were a couple of key things that made me realize, “you know what, i have to change what I’m doing.” Because the things I clicker trained where so -- the responses and the reaction and the dog’s understanding were so more salient than what i taught him traditionally. And that’s not to bash traditional training, it could be my application, it could be my understanding, it could be a thousand and one things, so with my subsequent dogs I made a commitment to say that’s it, I’m going to do this or die, basically. I’m going to clicker train these dogs from the get-go, and if i don’t clicker train them I’m not going to train them at all. I had that in my head. So I really sort of held a gun to my own head and said you’re going to do this. And it was the making of my dogs and my career and how i perceive dog training. And now my philosophy in dog training is about reinforcement -- find a way to reinforce the dog and minimize the use of punishment, even just withholding reinforcement. Find a way to reinforce the dog and create the dog being correct and successful. And be strategic in your use of withholding reinforcement, etc. And it’s brought me to a place, a dog training place that i feel really really comfortable with. I feel morally, ethically, even to be … it sound a bit grand, but even spiritually, I like the way that i train my dogs now. I feel comfortable in it, it sits with me on a personal level, it sits with me in terms of the relationship I want with my dogs. They make choices; they don’t want to work, they don’t train. I don’t force them, I don’t push them, I convince them that what i want them to do is interesting and kind of enjoyable and actually really really fun. And so the relationship I have with them, the relationship I have with my dogs now they’re not waiting for the Jekyll and Hyde split personality, i was always very much about interacting with them, but occasionally I’d suddenly be this person that would say, hey now you’re going to do this, and on some level I always felt there was that element of… they were waiting for that person to turn up. Now I don’t have that with my dogs and I have… trained more dogs with reinforcement based methodology than not. And I was just fortunate that the dogs that I had that I trained alternatively were just very very forgiving. So my training philosophy, it’s about really, reinforcement is the key. It builds behavior. If you learn nothing else about operant conditioning and clicker training reinforcement will save the day so-to-speak.
Melissa Breau: So, I did some googling of you, before this call… I mentioned in your intro that you teach seminars internationally and they seem to be on a wide variety of topics, everything from foundations to extreme proofing... So I wanted to ask: what you enjoy teaching, what your favorite thing to teach is? And… why?
Kamal Fernandez: That’s sort of a real easy one. My actual favorite topic is foundations for any dog sport -- that is by far my favorite topic, because that’s where all the good stuff happens. That’s where you really lay your… well, your foundations, for a successful career in any dog discipline. And I think the irony is that people always want to move on to what I would call the sexy stuff, but the irony is the sexy stuff is actually easy if your foundations are laid solidly and firmly. And I think I’ve had more “ah-ha” moments when I teach foundations to people than I have with anything else. I also, i have to say, i like behavioral issues. You can make GREAT impact, and literally change somebody’s life and their dog’s life, or save somebody’s life because behavioral work and giving them a new take on how they deal with their dog at present but i would say really really extreme behavioral cases are really really juicy to get involved in, and dogs that people say they’re on the cusp of writing the dog off, and the dog is so phobic or aggressive or dog reactive or whatever the case may be and you can literally turn that person and that dog’s relationship around. That’s really rewarding and enjoyable to work with. But I would say as a standard seminar, I would say foundations by far. It’s just you’ve got young, green dogs, you can see the light bulbs going off for the dogs, you can see the pieces strung together, that are going to ultimately lead to the dog being this amazing competitive dog, and you can see it literally unfold before your eyes.
Melissa Breau: Right, and with the behavioral thing, a lot of people just think of that as a challenge so I think it takes a certain type of personality to be like, no this is actually pretty cool.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I think you have to be a little bit odd to enjoy it, but i think we’ve seen so many changes in terms of dog training and I think there is a massive lack of knowledge in terms of behavior and how to deal with behavior so that the dog can actually function in the real world and also, I think there’s more a sway toward behavior management versus actually helping the dog, and dealing with the actual cause of the issue, which is where i like to -- I’m all about management, I think that’s great, to have skills to manage your dog and to have knowledge and awareness, etc. but what I really want to do is let’s deal with the core issue. The core issue is this -- the dog is frightened, scared, apprehensive, whatever -- let’s whittle it back and deal with that and let’s help this dog be a confident, well adjusted member of society.
Melissa Breau: Focus on the emotions and not just the behavior.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s stripping it back to the real core, and the beauty is it’s all done with reinforcement. It’s all on just focusing on what you want the dog to do versus the symptoms of - let’s actually get down to the real nuts and bolts of it, and help this dog, you know? As opposed to managing it, you know?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So I want to switch topics a little bit and dive into heeling, since that’s the thing you’re most well known for. At FDSA, I know that’s mostly also kind of your focus -- so since you’re in the UK, and you do FCI-style heeling... and I’m sure you get this question all the time, but can you share some of the differences between the English, FCI and North American styles of heeling? What is that?
Kamal Fernandez: So there is even from FCI obedience, to UK obedience, to AKC obedience there’s slight changes. The basic principle of how i approach teaching it is all the same stuff, I just make minor little adjustments depending on the code that you subscribe to. Obedience in the UK, the general gist of it is that we allow contact with our dogs in heelwork, that our dog can be very very close to the leg where in FCI obedience and AKC or CKC or even Australian obedience the dogs are ideally, they should be a gap or a freeness between the leg and the dog. So that’s the biggest, core, visual difference. There is technical differences between FCI obedience and, say, AKC and that is a different requirement of the test, in the UK our test is probably a lot longer than American heeling, in that it can go up to 5 or 6 minutes of heeling, you can do patterns, you can do weaving, you can do circles, you can do changes of pace and you do positions in motion. So our heeling is probably more complex, in a lot of ways, than AKC heeling. The FCI heeling test there’s actually quite a lot to it, because they do changes of pace, they do positions in motion, they do side-step heeling, they do different little intricate moves. So there’s complexities to FCI heeling that again, it just makes it interesting. Anybody that’s a heelwork or heeling junkie i think that they appreciate that heeling is quite a complex exercise, there’s so many entities to it, there’s so many layers to it, and anybody that’s into detail, that’s into the fanatical little details of dog training would love heeling and the way in which i teach it.
Melissa Breau: So, talking about how you teach it… How do you approach teaching heelwork? How do you start? Or how do you approach the bigger picture and break it all down?
Kamal Fernandez: Yea, so everything is component trained in my training. Everything is broken down into tiny tiny little pieces of a puzzle and the pieces of the puzzle probably look nothing like the greater exercise or the greater goal, but what it does is it allows me to fast track the process of me teaching my dog heeling. And what looks like a very complex exercise for the dog is actually very simple because it’s broken down into tiny little sections. I use a combination of shaping the dog and i will use lures but I fade the lure very very quickly. I minimize the use of a lure, but I use it very, very specifically, and I’m very aware of the times that I would use a lure. I’m looking for the dog to perform heeling with both drive and enthusiasm, but also accuracy and have a really comprehensive knowledge of its body, where it’s body should be, where it’s feet placement should be, where every single part of its position is. So it’s quite a detailed process, and I’d say for people that really like the details of dog training. It’s definitely one of the exercises they would gravitate to and this methodology is… also I appreciate that this methodology and this approach isn’t for everybody because it’s quite… it’s quite intense and quite intricate in some of the maneuvers and handling. But once you have trained it, the way in which i explain it to people it’s like you’ve got a dressage horse, which has the ability to react to a slight little adjustment in movement and they understand the tiniest little detail. For me, it gives the dog a greater level of knowledge and confidence and understanding, and also the end picture to me is far more appealing.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned in there that you break it down, sometimes even to pieces that don’t necessarily look like heelwork - do you have an example of that, just so that we can wrap our brains around what you’re talking about there?
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so one of the things I would teach would be a hand target, and i use the hand target as a means to teach the dog that then i transfer the hand target to a heelwork position, and then i transfer the hand target on my leg and I fade that out of the equation. So that would be one example.
Another example - i teach the dog to do a foot target. The dog has to position its foot in a very specific place, next to the instep of my left foot. So again that one detail looks nothing like the picture of your dog moving and being in motion, but those two simple exercises - a hand target and a foot target - are core entities of how i teach heeling.
Melissa Breau: So, in your bio I mentioned you use games and play to create motivation and control… and those two things, they can often seem like total polar opposites when you’re actually training. How do you walk that fine line to achieve balance?
Kamal Fernandez: You know, this stuff that we ask our dogs to do is largely mundane and boring, and unless there’s an element within the dog that finds the behavior self-rewarding, like tracking or herding can be intrinsically rewarding for some dogs, but the stuff certainly for obedience for a lot of dogs can be very mundane and very monotonous, if there’s a lot of repetition in it, which for a lot of dogs, they’re not going to relish the thought of. So for me, the baseline commitment is i have to create the dog wanting to do this mundane boring stuff. Because at the end of the day it’s just about my ego and my goals, the dog doesn’t really care. He’d be quite happy going for a long walk and having a good time chasing little furry things. So for me i make that committment to motivate my dogs and to make sure the dog wants to engage in every part of their training. In doing so, obviously i need to create motivation, i need to build drive. But I’m always balancing that with self control around the reinforcement and I would do that, again, in my foundation. So there’s foundation games that I play with my dogs that I strongly advise anybody in dog sports to make sure you have these skills. But there’s also a lot of listening and a lot of thinking while in a high state of arousal that I implement via those games. So then when I move that onto actually teaching an exercise, the dog already has the ability to have self control, to have impulse control, understands the concept of proofing, etc. So the two things to me, although they are polar opposites, they’re both striving for the same thing. You know, to have a dog that has loads and loads of enthusiasm, but is largely out of control, to me is displeasing to the eye. To have a dog that has lots of accuracy, if you want or technical correctness, but has no spirit or soul, to me, again is unpleasing to the eye. So it’s about having both ends, and the reason i love obedience so much is that the sport itself is almost like a conflict of both those things; you absolute drive and accuracy, and it’s so hard to get both and that to me is the appeal. I would say that to me, the most skilful trainers in the world, that I’ve seen, are from an obedience background and they have a strong obedience background, and the ability to create drive but also ultimately accuracy which i think, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of dog training.
Melissa Breau: Kind of understanding those two and creating the balance, and having a dog that exhibits both of them so clearly.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a battle. When you get one, you create drive, you lose accuracy; when you create accuracy you lose drive; and the two things, I always say, it’s about tipping the scale -- and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone in there competitively and I’ve gone, wow my dog absolutely… it’s like always get one thing and then you lose another; that’s what you’re striving for. It’s a bit like winning the lottery, that one day when everything goes in your favor and all the years of training culminates in that magic moment, so to speak.
Melissa Breau: So what it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s almost a constant process -- you’re training one, and then you’re training the other. And then you’re training one…
Kamal Fernandez: It’s constantly in play. But to me that’s the joy in it really, you never stop training, you never stop learning and you never stop growing, really.
Melissa Breau: Well, it’s time for us to get to the last 3 questions that I ask everyone who comes on the show. So first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?
Kamal Fernandez: There’s so many things, and not necessarily competitively related that I’m very proud of. I would say I’m proud of the first dog i ever trained competitively, he became an obedience champion and that was a bit of a personal journey as well as a dog training journey, so that was something that I’m immensely proud of.
And the other thing that I’m also proud of when it comes to dogs, was being involved with Dogs Might Fly, a project where we took rescue dogs and we taught them to fly a plane as part of a project on television. The proudest moment in that is that those dogs were largely just discarded; they were rescue dogs. The impact, all those dogs found homes, but that was members of the production crew, largely -- like the makeup artist had one, the cameraman had another, a couple of trainers took dogs on, and it was great; everybody was so for the dogs in that project, it was all about the dogs and showing what can be achieved with good dog training and also that rescue dogs are capable of such great things, so I’d say that was something I’m very proud of, to be involved with something that had such a positive outcome.
Melissa Breau: So, wait a minute - back up. You taught them to fly a plane?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, yeah! So it’s a project I did - oh god, it’s got to be about two years ago now. We took 12 rescue dogs and we were with them for probably about… oh gosh, it was all the summer, so it must have been 6-8… probably 6 months? And we took these 12 dogs and they were literally sourced across the country, all rescue dogs, like one of them was due to be put to sleep the next day, another one was discarded… loads of different background stories, and we were involved with rehabbing them, from whatever issues they had and teaching them basic skills, and then the end goal, 3 of the dogs from the 12 were selected to go on to be trained to control and fly a plane. It was on Sky television - I don’t know if you have that in the States, but it was a really, really great project to be involved with. Victoria Stilwell was involved with it, a guy called Mark Vette, who was involved with the driving dogs, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that on YouTube…
Melissa Breau: I haven’t, but now I’m going to have to go look it up.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, search for Driving Dogs, Mark Vette. So that was, it was his brain child and I was one of the trainers involved with doing it, so that was a really really rewarding project.
Melissa Breau: So when you say fly a plane, what exactly were they doing? What was the behavior…?
Kamal Fernandez: The dog had to control the plane. So it was on a rig. The plane was got… by a pilot up, because they couldn’t do it to land and to take off, but once the plane was flying, the dog had to control the plane and perform a figure of eight, and they ended up with 3 dogs -- actually I saw one yesterday, Thursday and Friday, a friend of mine now owns him -- and they took 3 dogs and they flew up in the air. If you google it, Dogs Might Fly, you’ll see all the information about it.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah and one of the dogs that I trained, because what happened was there was two phases, there was the initial phase, where they had the 12 dogs, and then they selected out of the 12 dogs the 3 dogs, and then they were passed on to 3 trainers to work intensively on it, and initially there were 4 trainers who were given 3 dogs each, and then they were whittled down to 3 dogs and then they took 3 trainers on. And one of the dogs that I worked with closely, his name was Reggie, he was a labrador-german shepherd cross, he went on to be one of the dogs that flew the plane.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Kamal Fernandez: So that’s really rewarding and he now lives in New Zealand, and when I went back to New Zealand recently I went and met him and he gave me the most amazing welcome, and I put it on instagram and what-have-you; just an amazing dog.
Melissa Breau: For our listeners - I will try and find the links to those videos and share them in the show notes, so you guys don’t have to go google a ton. They will be right there for ya. Okay, so this is usually my favorite question, though i think you might have beat it with that last one…
What’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?
Kamal Fernandez: The best piece of training advice I think is a Bob Bailey-ism, and I those well versed in dog training, or animal training… it’s just Think. Plan. Do. Review. So think what you want to train, plan your training sessions, then go do it and then go and review your training sessions. That’s one thing and the other thing is use video recording devices to record your training sessions; it’s absolutely revolutionized my own personal training. It’s like I have my own instructor that’s with me 24/7 and whenever i want him to he can turn up and give me feedback about my dog training. If nothing else, I would suggest that everybody do both, which is what the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is so great for, using the medium of the internet and video to facilitate great learning and i think it just encapsulates how powerful that resource can be if used effectively. And I know people are a little bit self conscious and a little paranoid about watching themselves, but by gosh, you will glean the benefits 10-fold over. So I’d say those two bits of advice -- Think. Plan. Do. And review your training - so be a mindful dog trainer as opposed to a reactive or responsive dog trainer, be thoughtful, be efficient in your use of your time and also video your training sessions.
Melissa Breau: And then, finally… who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Kamal Fernandez: The first person who really really influenced my training was someone called Sylvia Bishop, she lives actually down the road from me now, but she was a pioneer in the concept of play equals work equals play. And Sylvia trains a lot in the states, and our training is different a little bit, now… we don’t necessarily follow the same approach to training dogs, but what i would say about Sylvia is that Sylvia was the first person that talked through the concept of -- or brought to my attention the concept of breaking exercises down into component parts and also making your training a game. And she was so far ahead of her time, when she was around and god she’s been training dogs for… it’s got to be 40-50 years now. And when she first came into dogs or obedience it was very very compulsion based and she was one of the first people that openly used toys and play, etc as a medium to train dogs. So she was somebody that was a massive influence, although as I say our paths are different now, and that’s absolutely fine, i have the utmost respect for her in terms of the influence she had on me. The second person, or group of people, I would say is a really close friend of mine -- somebody called Susanne Jaffa, who is a british obedience trainer and working trials trainer, and she trains australian shepherds and she’s one of the people that really really influenced my change over to clicker training, and she’s again one of the first people that made - or one of the first people that was very very successful clicker training. There was somebody else, who now lives in Canada, a friend of mine called Kathy Murphy. They were the people that were really vocal about, we’re going to clicker train our dogs, and we’re going to do it and be successful at it.
The other person who I’m sure numerous people will quote is Susan Garrett; anybody that knows me knows that I’m a massive, massive Susan Garrett fan. I think she’s phenomenal in what she does, I think being a bit cynical, the internet and good marketing, often create the illusion of somebody being a good dog trainer but having been in Susan’s presence when she’s trained her dogs she’s a phenomenal, phenomenal… her timing… and I would say all those people have what i call dog training hands. You can tell if somebody has dog training hands just by watching them; You know, the way in which they move, they interact, and she has a very comprehensive knowledge of science, and the science behind what she does. But her ability to interact, read, and the relationship she has with her dogs, there’s nothing put on or fake about it. What you see is very much what you get. Yeah, but those are the people for me that I look up to, admire, and I constantly, if i was ever going to look for… and I look in the most weird and wonderful places for inspiration and ideas for my own training, but those would most definitely be…
And the other person is Bob Bailey. Bob Bailey, world-renowned animal trainer, a constant reminder of what is effective dog training or animal training, reinforcement placement, etc etc, the endless list of pearls of wisdom that Bob gives out. So yeah, those are the ones that have really influenced me, or that I look up to, I should say.
Melissa Breau: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Kamal Fernandez: No, my pleasure.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!
We’ll be back next week with Melissa Chandler to discuss nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs. 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.
Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA.
She is the also official show photographer for many of the premier agility events in the United States, including the AKC National Agility Championships, AKC Agility Invitational, USDAA Cynosport World Games, and NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local trials, regional events, and breed national specialties. She has photographed a wide variety of dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, and conformation, and dog events, including FDSA camp.
Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friends' dogs at conformation shows, and quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her own dog -- and today she’s here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day -- dog photos!
To be released 8/11/2017, featuring Kamal Fernandez talking about FCI heeling and balancing motivation and control.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sport using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Amy Johnson. Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA. She is also the official show photographer for many of the premiere agility events in the United States including the AKC National Agility Championships, the AKC Agility Invitational, the USDAA Cynosports World Games, and the NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local tryouts, regional events, and breed national specialties.
She has photographed a wide variety of dog sport including agility, obedience, rally and conformation, and dog events including the FDSA's Camp. Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friend's dogs at conformation shows, and it quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her on dog, and today she's here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day, dog photos. Hi, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Johnson: Hi, Melissa. Thanks so much for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat.
Amy Johnson: I am too.
Melissa Breau: So to kind of start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have, who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. I have two dogs and one of them is here in my office with me, and well, if he makes any noise, but his name is Costner, as in Kevin, and so he is a Great Dane, a Fawn Great Dane, if anybody is interested in those details. He's about 39 inches at the shoulder, about 190 pounds, and that is ribs still visible kind of. That's just how big he is. so he's kind of a goof. We joke that he just has 3 neurons, he can eat, sleep and poop, and you know, he's just a really good hang out around the house dog. And then our other dog is a 60-pound Yellow Lab mix and her name is Dora. We don’t do a lot with our dogs. They are companions, they like to go on walks, they like to go for hikes in the woods, they like to just be near us, and so they don’t have any real special skills.
Melissa Breau: I assume they can pose.
Amy Johnson: They can pose. Although Costner is…if I try and put a camera in his face he generally kind of backs off and is like, what's that? So his actual special skill is that he is an AKC Breed Champion, and I cannot take any credit for that because we got him after his championship was finished from a friend of ours who were involved in the breeding of him, so he can look really pretty, so that’s his special skill. He just doesn’t really enjoy looking pretty, so what gets posted online of him are funny things where he's got drool or his lips are spread out on the floor where he's lying down, or you know, he's massive, and he takes up huge amounts of space, and so the pictures that I take are the ones that are just trying to show that and communicate that. We joke that he's a house pony, you know, he's not even really a dog, he's horse size, and then Dora…it's funny because she's the small dog in the house that people look at me and suddenly say we have a 60-pound dog that's considered the small dog, and then they, you know, okay, but she's got a few more brain cells in there. I do joke that I have to have dogs in my house that are dumber than me, so to call Costner not that smart is really, in our house, it's not an insult. That's just my reality. I admire the people who have the Border Collies, and the Jack Russells, and the Shih Tzus, and all those really, really smart dogs. That is not who I am and what I want to live with, so we have just dogs that are really good dog citizens and they know the routines. Costner knows that he has to sit before he gets his food. Sometimes he just stays sitting, even after I put his food down, but so we have our routines, but basically, we just want our dogs to be good citizens, and I think we've kind of got a good balance of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. So I mentioned in your bio that you got your start taking photos at conformation events. Was that kind of where your interest in photography started? Where did kind of you get started just in photography in general?
Amy Johnson: In general, I got started back in junior high. My dad had a Minolta film camera, SLR camera, manual focus, and he taught me the basics of photography, the basics of exposures. So he taught me about shutter speed, and aperture, and at that point it was called film speed, now it's called ISO, but he taught me the basics of the exposure triangle, as it's called, and how to focus a manual focus camera, and how to set my exposure so that I expose the film properly. I never did any dark room work. It was always take the 35mm film canister to the WalMart, or wherever, and get it developed, so I'm not quite that much of a purist, but my beginnings definitely were in film, and with my dad, and we would vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior here in Minnesota, and so he would take pictures, and then he would show me how to take pictures, and so kind of that father-daughter bond was really enhanced by our experience with him teaching me how to use a camera, and how to take pictures, so I kind of babbled with it throughout the years as I was growing up.
I was given by my brother and my parents one year for my birthday they gave me a film Sor of my own, and this was a little more advanced. It was a Canon EOS Elan II, I think, and it had autofocus, so I didn’t have to do the manual focus thing anymore, which you know, there's a little skill involved in manual focus, and I admired the photographers who could do it, and do it well. It's not my thing, but I understand the appeal of it. It kind of forces you to slow down and really takes things in, but so I had a film Sor that I, again, just kind of kept babbling, and various things, and then I got into dog shows, and that’s a whole long story that we could talk about some other time, but I was showing my second Great Dane, her name was McKenzie, I was showing her in conformation. I was terrible, awful. She didn't have the temperament for it. I didn’t have the skills for it. We tried for about a year and didn’t really get anywhere other than I made a lot of friends, and really enjoyed learning about the conformation world, and understanding even just the rhythm of a conformation show, and understanding okay, these dogs are going in the ring, and then they're coming out, and then they're going back in, and so you know, it's very confusing at first, and then you kind of figure out oh, okay, I know what's going on, those dogs aren’t going back in, and yeah. So I learned a lot about dog shows, and I learned a lot about the people who breed dogs, and that was fascinating to me.
I was taking a camera to most shows that I went to and just taking pictures of my friends, and then one time, and this was actually with a digital camera, one of the very, very early digital cameras that actually use the three and a quarter inch floppy disks in it, so not even memory cards. These were, you know, not the five and a quarter, but I think they're three and a half inch floppy disks, and that was your memory card, so and that didn't respond very fast to a dog moving across the ring, you know, you'd hit the shutter button and about two seconds later it would actually take the picture. Well, there's no more dog left in the frame if it takes that long to take the picture, so one time I brought my film camera with me and really enjoyed the success I had with getting dogs moving in the ring, rather than just the ones where they were stacked. So then my vet invited me to photograph her club's agility trial, and that's where it really kind of took off for me, so I really enjoyed the different games, I think it was a USDAA trial, but I'm not 100 percent sure, but the different games were, you know, some were all jumps, and some where you didn’t know where the dog was going to go, which I know now are gamblers, and again, that camaraderie around the ring, of all the people and their dogs, was really intriguing to me, and just was very welcoming and fun, and there was a market for the photos there. There was nearly no market back in ‘99, 2000 for candid photos ringside at conformation shows. Nobody was doing them, nobody knew what those were, you know, but agility trials, on the other hand, there was a market for that, people understood what that was, people likes pictures of their dog doing agility, so there was a market there for it being a business, not just a, you know, I'm going to show up and have fun.
So I did one agility trial with a film camera, and then quickly realized that I would go broke on film and processing, and then digital SLR's were just coming out, so this was in 2000, and I convinced my poor husband to let me buy a digital SLR, the Canon D30, and as he's hitting submit order on B&H's website he's looking at me saying, "just promise me you'll try and make some money from this," and the camera paid for itself in I think two shows. We realized we had kind of a winning formula there, and so I never have even thought about going back to film, of course, and digital cameras have gotten amazingly good, and amazingly fast, and responsive, and make my job easier with every new camera that I get, so.
Melissa Breau: Can you show a little more about how you went kind of from that stage of your business to where you are now, because now you do really, really, big shows, and I mean, just kind of interesting evolution.
Amy Johnson: Right. Yeah. It started out as me and the camera, and sometimes my husband would come. My first national event was actually in 2001, and you know, I look back on this and I really had no business doing it, but I was invited, again, so the social aspect of it, I had made friends, and they said will you come, and I said okay, sure. So 2001 they'd have championships and it was in Minnesota, it was in Mankato, which is about, I think, five hours south of me, and so it wasn’t like going out of state, and I made the leap. Now, the only really interesting part of this was I had a five-week-old baby at that point, so it was me, and a camera, and Ben, my husband, and Mika, our five-week-old baby, who made the trip down to Mankato, and I had told my friends who were in charge of the show, I had said if this isn’t working for me with having a baby here we're going to just have to cut and run at some point, and they were like, that’s fine, you know, you do what you need to do, but it all worked, and we had an amazing time, and I got an exposure to what a national events was, and there's a lot of adrenaline that comes with that.
In 2007, I was invited to AKC Agility Nationals, so from 2001 to 2007 I was just mostly doing weekend stuff, 07 was AKC Nationals, and again, it was still just me and Ben. Ben was in the booth running the sales side of things, I was taking pictures. Gradually, over the years, I've added photographers, and over the past two years, maybe two and a half, when I go to a national event I've really tried to make sure I had a photographer in every ring, and then also increase the size of my booth staff so that if someone comes through the booth and wants to look at pictures they don’t have to wait to get some help to do that. So the whole business has been a very gradual…well, let's try this now, and let's add this now, and what if we do this, or what if we change this. I've never taken out huge loans for the business. It's always just kind of grown under its own as it can support more, you know, I'll put a little more money out, and then it's just been a very gradual, making sure everything still feels as comfortable as it can be when you're running your own business.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk for a minute there just about having a photographer on each ring and things like that. What's that process, like you mentioned, you know, having a booth, and then having people shooting photos. I mean, how do you get from one to the other and handle all of that in the midst of a big show going on?
Amy Johnson: A lot of deep breaths and a lot of screaming in my head that I don’t let come out of my mouth. No, it's all good. I think if I had tried to go from me, and a camera, and my husband to covering six rings, and having six staff in the booth, you know, and the funny thing, I would have probably decided it was crazy and I was never going to do that again, but it went from…so one of the early AKC Nationals that I did probably in 08 or 09, there was me that was there, Great Dane photos was there, plus another photography vendor was there, so we just very amicably divided it. Well, okay, I'll take these rings on these days, and you take those rings on those days, and so there were two photographers there, and each of us had, I think, at least two photographers that we could cover all the rings, but it was between two different companies, and so that’s okay. I can manage a few people in the booth and a few people out shooting for me, and then it's just gradually shifted to where AKC and these different agility organizations have said, you know, I mean, if you can cover the whole thing we're happy to allow you to do that, and so if It was a sudden transition I would've probably not managed it, but just gradually adding more and more. It's like anything, once you are comfortable at one level of participation you kind of go oh, let's see, how else could I get involved, or what more can I add onto my plate, and you know, at some point you may go oh, that’s too much, but adding photographers has been kind of just word of mouth, and knowing people from other events.
One photographer who had shot for me I had seen his work from a previous special event, and he did a really nice job, and so I invited him to come and work for me, and that's actually happened a couple of times. One of my photographers is someone who approached me at a trial here in Minnesota, and said you know, I'm really interested in this, do you want to just take a peek at what I've done, and she lived close enough to me that she could come to a lot of my different local shows, and I could mentor her, and well, okay, that shot didn’t work so well, so what could we do differently, or oh, well, that’s a great one, if you get a chance to do that kind of a shot again, go for it, so I think that’s the beginnings of the education peaks, you know, I really enjoyed that mentoring process, and she now shoots…I mean, our styles are very similar, and so it makes it really easy to have her in the booth or as a photographer because the experience for the customer is that’s a Great Dane photoist's photo, not that’s Amy's, and that’s so and so's, and oh, that’s another person. It's all very cohesive and that's really important to me that the experience is one of I can go in any ring and get a good photo, not oh, shoot, I'm not in that ring today, so I'm not sure what I'm going to get, so yeah.
Melissa Breau: So I'd imagine that there are probably more than a handful of unique challenges that come with photographing dogs, especially sorts dogs, compared to people, or other common photography subjects. Do you mind just talking about what some of those challenges are and how you guys deal with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. The most unique challenges really do come with the dog sports, especially…it all comes down to speed. You can have an Olympic sprinter in an Olympic stadium doing their race, and I can track that with a camera really easily. Cameras have been tuned to recognize the human form and whatever algorithms are built into their little tiny brains these days. Well, and if you think about it, so many cameras have facial recognition, well, how does it know what a face is and what is a face? Well, it's not looking for dog faces, it's looking for human faces, so there's something about the human from that a camera has been tuned to identify, and prioritize, and its ability to focus. So I'm constantly fighting against some of those things that are engineered into the cameras, so fast, black dogs in bad light are like my nemesis. They are, and the smaller they are, and the fuzzier they are, the worse it gets, but I've taken that on as a challenge. Okay, so that is my hardest subject, fast, tiny, fuzzy, black dogs in bare light, so what I do is make sure that my film and my gear is all prioritizing being able to take a picture of that worst-case dog, and it's nothing against black dogs, believe me, but they are just the hardest thing to photograph, and there's nothing like that in the human sports, or even cars, or you know, whatever.
There's nothing like it out there, and so that’s the most unique challenge I think, and so every time a new camera comes out I'm always hoping for some feature that makes my job of photographing a small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light a little bit easier, but even just the typical dog, you know, they do move very fast, they can move in very unexpected directions, they have really good reflexes, and so tracking that motion can be very difficult. They don't speak English, so if you want to tell them hey, pose for me, you got to figure out what that word is, you know, is it treat, or is it go for a ride, or is it are you ready. Figure out what the trigger word is to make their ears go up, and their mouth close, and their eyes kind of get a little brighter and go oh, oh, something's going to happen, and then that's the moment you click, as opposed to a human where you just say okay, look at the camera, and then you say cheese, right, and everybody follows directions. Now, when you get a teenager who's really not into this you might still get some not so great results, but at least you can speak to them in a common language. Well, and the other challenge I'm fighting that is actually fascinating to me is as people work on their relationship with their dog, which is a fabulous thing, and that’s one of my favorite things about going to a dog show and seeing those relationships, but as they do that it makes it really hard for me if I'm trying to do a picture of the human, and the dog, and a ribbon, the dog is gazing adoringly at the human, and I can't get them to look at the camera. I don’t care what word I throw out. There are times where the dog won't look at me because they are so engaged with their human, and that's a lovely thing, and generally, it's not been a problem, you know, the person is generally okay with that, but still, if you want to get the dog it's kind of a funny, you know, it's a good thing that the dog is so engaged with their person, but it makes my job just a little bit harder, so it's those weird things.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned kind of following gear, and new things coming out, and things like that, so I was curious what equipment you use and you know, you kind of got a little bit into the why there, but if there's more you want to elaborate on?
Amy Johnson: Sure. No, and oh man, I could talk gear for hours. I love gear. I love camera gear, and it's a really good thing I have a job that lets me write it off because otherwise, that would be a problem. So I shoot canon, primarily, and I have canon's top of the line sports camera. It's called the 1D X Mark II. It is their latest and greatest and it shoots 14 frames a second. It has a really high ISO rating or can shoot at a really high ISO, which is the piece that's critical in shooting in the really bad lighting, and actually, my definition of bad lighting is somewhat different than the average Joe Shmoe on the street, you know, a camera needs a descent amount of light to shoot in, and our eyes are amazing, our eyes can really come in the huge range of lighting conditions, and cameras aren’t quite to that point yet, so I need to high ISO so that I can have a high shutter speed so I can stop the motion of my small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light. A Canon Body is the best that money can buy, at least in terms of an SLR. I use what's called fast glass, and that means that it's a lens with a really big opening for the light, it's a big aperture, and so my favorite lens for shooting agility is a 400mm F2.8, as my husband says, it just means is has a really big light bucket so it can collect a lot of light, and make sure I'm getting enough light to again, get that fast shutter speed so that I can stop motion.
I also have a Nikon camera, and I bought that about six months ago, primarily, because I felt like I needed to learn Nikon camera bodies for my students. I am able to give really specific advice and troubleshooting information about Canons, and I was not able to give that same level of troubleshooting advice for Nikons, so I got a Nikon D500, which is not quite the top of the line, but it's a really good performance camera for wildlife, and I got a big lens for it, and I use that for a lot of my bird photography these days. So learning the other major brand of camera has been a really good experience for me. It's given me a new appreciation for oh, yeah, this is what it's like to open up a camera that you've never had your hands on before, and be a little overwhelmed by all those buttons, and dials, and menu items, and all that, but yeah. So my equipment, I tend to get the best I can, which is easier for me to justify, again, because it's a business, as opposed to just a hobby, you know, you got to be a little more careful about how you spend that money, but I do love gear. You know, there's also of course, all these accessories. There's monopods and tripods, you know, there's more lenses than just that 400mm, and that could be a whole other podcast episode.
Melissa Breau: It's really kind of awesome that you are able to provide that kind of support in a class or to a student when you're talking about a Nikon versus a Canon. I would love to dive a little more into what you cover in your classes at FDSA. What are some of the skills you teach? I know right now I think there are two classes... Are there more than that on the calendar?
Amy Johnson: Right now, what's coming up in August are two classes. One of them is my foundation class called Shoot the Dog, and in that class, we really just start from assuming people are starting from ground zero. We learn the basics of exposure, we talk about shutter speed, we talk about aperture, we talk about ISO, we talk about the effects that each of those has on the way a photo looks, as well as just the technical details of, what does it mean to have a fast shutter speed, or what does it mean to have a wide open aperture versus a closed down aperture, and then what does ISO mean? We don’t delve too deeply into the uber techie stuff, but we do talk about that a bit, but really, it comes down to if I change the shutter speed how does that change how my photo looks? If I change the aperture how does that change how my photo looks? When should I care most about aperture, and when should I care the most about shutter speed, and we really work on kind of creating photos that communicate to a broader audience than just you yourself.
So one of my students used the phrase that she had read somewhere, and I don’t where, but the difference in doing an emotional portrait and a photograph, and we kind of laughed about it at first, but the more I think about it I think that’s an important distinction. If I take a quick snapshot of my dog and it's not really in focus, and the light's really not that great, but there is something in that expression that just screams oh, that’s my dog, that’s like the essence of my dog. It doesn’t matter about the technical bits. It doesn’t matter if it's not quite as sharp as I would want it to be. It's an emotional portrait. I have an emotional connection to that. Now, if I post that online my friends are probably going to say oh, that’s great, yes, that looks like Costner, that is so Costner, that's wonderful, but if I post it to a photography site in general, they're going to think I'm crazy because they can't see that emotion, they don’t know my dog, they don’t understand that, that is his quick, essential, expression. They think I can't really see what's going on in his face because the photo's a little dark, and I can't see his eyes all that well because it's really not that in focus, so what I really want students to do is to be able to conquer those technical bits, the sharpness, and the exposure so that they can make the soul of the photo really come through, and be obvious to anybody, rather than have all the technical stuff be in the way and mask the true soul of that photo, the true meaning of that photo. So that's a hard thing for people to do because it takes stepping back and really applying a critical eye to your photos and saying oh, yeah, I see how I can see the dog's expression, but I can see how someone else wouldn't be able to see it and read it as clearly as I can, because they don’t have the emotional connection to the dog, to the subject that I do. So that's something that really has started to be a common thread in all of my classes. We want to move beyond the emotional portraits, and believe me, they have their place, you know, I don’t have any beef with them, but in my classes I want to move beyond that and into something that can speak to a broader audience, and get that emotional connection across.
Melissa Breau: So in August you're teaching a foundational class, and what's the other class that you're offering?
Amy Johnson: The other class is called Chase the Dog, and this is kind of my wheelhouse, and that is dogs motion, so we'll talk about…I kind of break it down into two different kinds of motion. There's motion that's predictable, and motion that's unpredictable, so the prime example of motion that’s predictable is agility, and you know, in general, there are always exceptions, but in general, the dog will go where it's supposed to go. There's a pre-established path, their obstacles are numbered. You do this one, and then you do that one, and then so I know when I can anticipate where the dog is going to be at any point in that run, so I can do things differently with that than if I'm just photographing a dog that is having a good romp in the field for play time, so that would be the unpredictable motion. So you let your dog out and you want to take pictures of it just playing around. Well, unless you set up some sort of fencing it just portions the dog's path, you know, you have no idea where that dog's going to go, so tracking that…camera's, you know, there's a limit to how fast they can track that motion, and then there's a limit of how fast I physically can track that motion, and this is where our fast dogs…you know, this is tough, there's a lot of skills, and a lot of practice that just has to happen of getting that muscle memory in you, and once you can track your own dog really well that doesn’t necessarily mean you can track another dog, because all the dogs have a different rhythm, they all have their own unique characteristics about how they move.
So the class is really about offering some skills for how to do both predictable and unpredictable motion, but it's also about setting some realistic expectations of what can I expect to get out of, you know, a 10 minute photo session with a dog just running and playing in the field? Well, you're not going to end of with every photo being perfectly in sharp, or perfectly in focus, and you know, a true winner. You're going to get a lot of junk, and that's okay, and that process of being okay with the junk is really hard, and take someone like me saying it's okay, I have those too, and what students in the class are going to see are a lot of my…you know, rather than just the edited versions, here are the ones that I kept, they're going to see well, here was a whole series that I shot, and notice how many of those were actually good photos, and notice how many of those were not so great. Here's my junk. They're going to get to see my junk photos. Okay, well, I better be a little more careful here. They're going to get to see my junk photos, and I think that’s a really important process to understand that there's no camera in the world good enough to capture everything, so let's talk about what's realistic, let's talk about what you can expect, let's talk about ways to increase the percentage of those keepers, but let's also become comfortable with the idea that you're going to have some clunkers in there.
Melissa Breau: Now I wanted to ask if there's one piece of advice that you can give listeners, something they can start working on today or tomorrow, to help them take better photos of their dogs, what would that be?
Amy Johnson: The first piece of advice I give everyone who asks me that question is to get down to the dog's level, and it's really easy, and it's really basic, and it does not matter what kind of camera you have, but if you change your perspective instead of shooting the photo from your standing height and looking down on the dog, get down to their level. You know, if you've got a tiny little dog it may mean that you are on your belly in the grass taking a picture of that dog, but you will be amazed at how much of a difference that makes in the photo of your dog. If you don’t want to get down to their level then bring them up to your level, so if you have a grooming table throw a nice tablecloth over it and put the dog up on the grooming table. Bring the dog up to your level. Just be on the same level as the dog that you're trying to take a picture of and it transforms the whole thing, so that’s my go to piece of advice for anybody.
Melissa Breau: That's great because that’s something that people can really just go do.
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I know that we're talking about kind of a little bit of a different subject than we usually do here on the podcast, but I still wanted to ask you those key questions that I always ask at the end of an episode, because I'm going to let you go into photography related stuff if you so choose. So to start, what's the dog or photography related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Amy Johnson: There's the experience of going to the national and that's huge, that's great, and there's a feeling of kind of I've arrived with that, but the most recent thing that I'm proudest of is actually my experience at camp. I had five of my students that came and were my minions, as I called them, and they were the ones who actually did all of the photography for the events at camp, and being able to stand back and watch them in action I was really proud of them, and that was a more of a feeling of accomplishment than going to a national. Don't get me wrong, I love going to nationals, I love interacting with people, I love watching a great run, and then being able to find them later and say I saw that run and that was phenomenal, and it was beautiful, and I was so happy I was able to capture that for you, but working with students and then watching them take the skills they've learned in my classes and do that for others, you know, capture those moments, that was cool, that was really hard to beat. And now to extend on that, one of my sons is showing interest in photography, and he was able to shoot the jumpers courses at AKC trial that I had shot last weekend, and so again, when I had a break I went over to his ring and just stood back and watched, and seeing the next generation whether it's, you know, the literal next generation or just a new group of photographers that have come through my courses, being able to pass that information on has been really an amazing experience.
Melissa Breau: That's really cool because it's something that you managed to learn from your father and now you're passing it on to others.
Amy Johnson: Exactly. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of advice, and this can be either production or photography, that you've ever heard, and bonus points if it applies to both, but it doesn’t have to.
Amy Johnson: The best thing that I've learned to do over the years, and I don’t know that it's ever been told to me exclusively, but it's the thing that I have learned to do is to slow down, and to think, and to just breath, and so that is the thing that I try and tell my students all the time because there's this urge to…the action in front of me is happening really fast and so that means I have to grab my camera fast, and throw it up to my face, and press the shutter, and get the picture really fast, and it doesn’t work that way, or it doesn’t work well that way. So taking a moment to make sure your camera is set correctly for the situation you're trying to photograph, making sure that you understand what's going on in front of you, and can maybe anticipate what's going to happen next, and then just breathing because if you get out of breath or find yourself holding your breath because you're just so excited you end up messing it up more often than not. And that advice I think applies to dog training as well. Slow down, think, just breath, and that kind of brings you back to center, and lets you focus on what's important, and focus on what the task at hand is. Block out everything else that is going on around you and just take it one thing at a time, and the results will be much better.
Melissa Breau: Bonus points earned. So our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Amy Johnson: There are two people that come to mind immediately, and it's not because of their dog training skills, it's because of the way they handle pressure in running their dog businesses, and so the first one is Denise. Who isn’t amazed by Denise and the way she handles FDSA really, and not trying to get brownie points from her, but as a business owner myself it's really important to find those people who are running their own business, and who I admire how they handle that business. You know, Denise has the pressure of thousands of students. She has the pressure of all of the instructors who…meeting some of them at camp was an eye-opening experience, and I love them all, but I admire Denise even more for her ability to handle all of us and our quirks, but to watch her handle that pressure of both the negative and the positive has become important to me. I know one of her things is people won't remember what you say, but they'll remember how you made them feel, and that is a phrase that runs through my mind constantly as I am dealing with customers, or if I'm dealing with students, and even with my family. It's changed the way I interact with everybody, including my family, and to say in my mind, you know, yes, I really want to make that snarky comment, but that's probably not the best way to handle it because it's going to make me feel better, but it's not going to do anything for our relationship, and it's not going to do anything for them and the way they feel, so that's been a really good thing for me.
The other person that I look up to for similar reasons is Carrie DeYoung, who is the head of AKC agility, and I work with her a lot because I do both of AKC's big agility events for the year, so I watch her and how she interacts with her staff, and then watch how she interacts with the exhibitors at those national events, and her calmness, and her…I have never seen her flustered. I'm sure inside there are probably moments of, you know, face palm, or screaming, or whatever, because we all have those, but she does a really good job of on the outside she holds it all together, and that’s something that I don’t always feel like I do very well, but watching her has helped me do that better, so she's another person I really admire in the way that she…granted, she doesn’t own AKC, but she is the queen bee of the agility piece, and I just really admire the way she handles all of the…I mean, if you think about any agility organization there are things that people want to tell them to do differently, things they like, things they don’t like, and to be able to handle all of that constantly takes some real talent and skill. I mean, I admire anybody who trains dogs because I don’t have that talent, and I don’t have the patience to develop it. I know that I could, but it kind of goes back to the whole I live with dogs that are dumber than me, and so I mean, I love watching good trainers, I loved coming to camp and watching all of these amazing instructors that I get to call my colleagues. I loved watching them work with people, and with dogs, and that kind of level of discipline fascinates me, so there's lots to admire about the training side in the dog world in that respect, but for me what's been most important is to find those people, and specifically, women that are at the top of their game and dealing with those pressures that come with being at the top of their game.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amy.
Amy Johnson: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure.
Melissa Breau: It was. It was a lot of fun to chat. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Kamal Fernandez to discuss what it's like to be a man, in a female dominated job. Just kidding. We'll be chatting at FCI style of heeling and more. If you haven’t already subscribed to the 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.
Lori Stevens is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA. She is also the creator of the Balance Harness.
Lori's most recent of 3 DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called 'The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs.' It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time, with a class on the same topic, called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Seattle TTouch (Lori's Website)
To be released 8/4/2017, featuring Amy Johnson talking about taking photographs of our pets.
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 Lori Stevens. Lori is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. She uses intimidation free, scientific, and innovative methods in an educational environment to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals.
Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator of the balance harness. Lori's most recent of three DVDs by Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao, and called The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs. It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time with a class on the same topic called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Hi, Lori. Welcome to the podcast.
Lori Stevens: Hello. Thanks for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to shout today.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So to get us kind of started out, can you tell us a little bit about your own dogs, kind of who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Lori Stevens: Yes. So I'm going to talk about two. One is with me now because both of them actually got me into this business. So right now, I have a 12 year old Aussie named Cassie, and I got her when she was two years old, and at two, what I was working on is very different from what I'm working on now with her. At two we worked on a lot of behavior related issues, especially on leash, what you might label reactivity. She was barking a lot every day, she was unfamiliar, really, with being out in the world, and so I learned a lot from her. Basically, you know, how do you calm, and communicate, and build trust with the dog that basically didn’t have trust in the world, so I learned loads from her, and we're always working on life with her.
Our sport is fitness. We started out in agility, but over time, I figured out that, that was really hard for her, she wasn’t really enjoying it, probably because of all the environmental sensitivity, and as much as I worked with her it just didn’t seem like her thing. She loved it when she was running, but when she wasn’t running it was really hard to hear all the noises and see the other dogs running, so we moved on, so now we do fitness, we do standup paddle boarding, we do lots of hikes, and now I'm living with an aging dog.
So I actually have firsthand experience now in living with a dog that’s getting older, but I wanted to bring up my first dog because that is the dog, Emmy, who got me into any of this work at all, and basically, she had a lot of health challenges, a lot of physical challenges, I learned just loads of stuff from her, and that’s how I originally got into TTouch Training and massage, so I'll talk a little bit about that more, but I just want to bring up that Emmy is always present, even though she's been gone 10 years. She's been gone quite a while.
Melissa Breau: They do manage to have quite a lasting impact sometimes.
Lori Stevens: That is so true. So true.
Melissa Breau: So what led you to where you are now? I mean, you started to mention Emmy a little bit, but how did you kind of end up working with dogs for a living?
Lori Stevens: Well, so Emmy had all these physical issues and I just took a TTouch class, basically, to learn things to help Emmy, and I kept going to my vet, and my vet kept saying you're just doing wonderful work with her, if you would just get cards made up I would send all my clients to you, sent lots of clients to you, and it's kind of strange because…I won't say when, but way back when I ended up with a degree in computer science, but before that I was in occupational therapy, and I was also in the University Dance Company. I danced for many years, so I have this kind of weird dual interest, both in things physical, movement, bodywork. I always had that interest with occupational therapy and dance, but then I ended up in IT for many, many years. I just retired from the University in April 2017, from the university of Washington, but in 2005 I started my practice, and that was at the urging of a vet, so I got cards made up, and I didn’t really think a lot was going to come of it, but in fact, that built my practice. So I went to four days a week at the University and had a practice one day a week for a long time, and then I went half time at the University. I just kept, you know, kind of building my practice and working in IT, and am out of IT, and totally focused on animals, which is fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Indeed. Congrats. That’s so exciting being able to focus on that full time.
Lori Stevens: Yes, it is. Now I'm spending full time writing this course, which is really great fun, but it's a lot of work, and so it's a good thing I don’t have my job too.
Melissa Breau: So there are lots of kind of interesting pieces there, right? Just kind of all the different things that you work with, and all the different techniques you have, but I want to start with TTouch. So for those not familiar with it at all can you kind of explain what it is?
Lori Stevens: I can. You're right, there's all those pieces, and oddly enough, they do all fit together, but what is Tellington TTouch Training? So people here touch and they think it's only body work, but Tellington TTouch Training is actually a lot more than body work. It is body work, and there are a variety of body work touch techniques, but there's also an element of it that is movement, which includes slowing down dogs and having them move precisely over various equipment on different movement patterns over different surfaces, stopping, turning, really slowing down the nervous system and letting them feel themselves, their bodies, in a way that maybe they haven’t felt them before. It's interesting how many dogs move really, really fast, and it's uncomfortable for them to move really slowly when they're working with someone, so you learn a lot from that, and there's also several tools and techniques that go along with TTouch. One of those is leash walking and making it more comfortable for dogs to walk on a leash, and to fit well in their equipment, and that’s pretty much how, you know, it's that awareness that caused me to develop, over years, the balance harness, but there's also the really learning to observe the dogs, and to give them choice. So there's a lot in TTouch that many years ago other people weren’t really focusing on, and now, thankfully, many people are focusing on it all over the place, so it's kind of nice that, you know, it's now overlapping more with other work that people are doing, and anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea, but it's not just body work.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to ask kind of how it works too, and does it work for all dogs, is it something that works, you know, for some dogs better than others, is it something I could learn to do? I mean, how does that all kind of work?
Lori Stevens: Absolutely, you could learn to do it. Does it work for all dogs? I have to answer that…and you know, of course, there's an element of it that works for all dogs, but you have to define what you mean by works, and everything depends on the dog and what you're trying to do, but the thing that makes Tellington TTouch work unique is that it's not habitual. In other words, the way you touch the dog is not the way the dog is used to being touched, so it sort of gets the attention of the nervous system in a different way. The way you move the dogs is different from how they typically move, so it kind of gets their attention in another way. It's almost as if they're listening to the work sometimes. It's super interesting. The nice thing about it is that I can get a dog that’s so fearful in my practice that I can't touch the dog, but I have other tools to use with that dog, so I can move the dog, and over time, with that movement I build trust and we have a dialog going on between us, and eventually, that dog says okay, I'm ready to be touched now. I mean, they really do, they come up to your hands, and then once you start the touch work you've got another set of things you can do, so it's really got a depth to it that isn’t so visible on the surface, and the fact that it's called TTouch often just leads people into thinking that it's just this one thing where you touch your dog.
There's work in humans called Feldenkrais, so it was developed years ago, and it's a technique that moves people in nonhabitual ways to kind of develop new neural pathways to give them freedom of movement again. So people that have serious injuries, and they're, you know, varying them for whatever reason, a variety of reasons, have very limited movement, they can work with the Feldenkrais practitioner, or in a Feldenkrais class called Awareness Through Movement that really slows down and moves your body into nonhabitual patterns to regain new freedom of movement in your own body. It teaches your body to move in another way to get to the same place. Linda Tellington Jones, who developed Tellington TTouch Training, went through that Feldenkrais training for…she did it in order to work with the riders in our Equine Center, the horse riders, so then she started applying those ideas, and those techniques to animals, and that's where the work came from.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: I know. It's a well-kept secret.
Melissa Breau: So you know, you're also a small animal massage practitioner, and you're a certified candidate in massage, so how did those pieces kind of mesh? What are some of the differences between something like TTouch and massage, how do you use them in conjunction?
Lori Stevens: There is overlap and there's also quite a bit of difference, so with my massage training I can really focus on if I'm working with a dog who is super tight in the shoulders from doing too much agility over the weekend, and has big knots, you know, I can get those knots out because I have that training. Also, my training is in rehabilitation massage, so I can do manual lymphatic drainage, so if the dog has lymphoma say, and has huge swollen lymph nodes in the neck that you can actually see how swollen the lymph nodes are, I can do this very gentle work to bring that swelling down, to move the lymph node system lymph fluid again, so I can do very specific work that has a very physical effect.
In TTouch body work I can work on a tail and change the behavior of a dog, so…what? So it's very different, you're more working with fascia and skin in the nervous system than you are working muscles, although muscles can change as well. Both of the techniques can change gate. It's all very, very interesting how, you know, both of them can change gate from working on the bodies, and I'm sure there's a lot of overlap, even when you're focusing on different things, but they really have kind of a different focus. And the TTouch work is much…I won't say lighter, because they both can be quite light, like even when I'm working on a knot in a muscle I don’t dig in there, you know, I'm very…I go with the muscle, but I would just say they have a different focus, and therefore, you can end up with a different result. And the TTouch body work can actually…I see more changes in behavior than I do with massage, and I don’t know if that’s because I'm focused upon that, I don’t know. I mean, it's kind of interesting, but you know, when a dog gets really uptight, often times out on a walk, my dog's tail will start to go up. That will be one of the first things I see. Maybe her ears and head, but I'll see her tail go up. If I actually reach down and just stroke her tail and bring her tail back down it actually brings her back down.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, I know. It's kind of interesting. I might have to teach that in my next Fenzi course.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I'd certainly be interested in learning a little more about it. So it sounds like to me…and I could be totally of base, obviously, but if the TTouch is a little bit more focused on kind of the physical and behavioral tied together, whereas, the massage is more kind of on the physical and performance side. Is that kind of right?
Lori Stevens: Well, sure. You can put it that way. I would just say they are different techniques. There is overlap, but there are different techniques. TTouch in no way does it do manual inside drainage, for example, that is a massage technique, and when I'm doing just message to get knots out I'm not generally looking for changes in behavior. I'm looking for changes in the body. So…I don’t know, I mean, they're both touching the body, both body work.
Melissa Breau: Now, you're also a certified canine fitness trainer, so how does that factor in?
Lori Stevens: So that factors into the movement work, so I have been doing the Tellington TTouch training moment work for years, and it wasn’t really getting dogs to the point that…it wasn’t getting them where I wanted them to go if they were showing weakness in their muscles. Having a background in dance and being active my entire life, I was really looking for ways of helping the dogs be stronger, and more flexible, and more agile, and more confident, and blah blah blah, and some of those TTouch gave, and some of those it didn’t, so it was natural for me to take it a step further. I mean, all the stuff I do sounds like a bunch of certifications, but they're all really interwoven. I had been doing some fitness with dogs for years, and then when the University of Tennessee offered the certified canine fitness trainer program and partnership with Fitpaws I jumped on it, because that was the first program that I saw that I thought would be worth doing, and just going ahead and getting my certification in it, plus I learned things.
When I see…especially a dog's age, is weakness, or you know, I see habitual movement patterns that maybe a dog got injured when they were two, and at six they're still carrying the same pattern, they just never quit taking all their weight off their back right foot, say, so fitness really allowed me to take it a step further and help those dogs get back to being more functional, and stronger. And it's really fun, and it's a fantastic way of building trust, and enjoying communication with your dog. It's just another…well, like I said, it's my sport, one of my sports, so I just think it's fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So I want to kind of shift gears for a minute and look at your interest in older dogs. What led to that? Was it Cassie getting older or was it something else?
Lori Stevens: No, no. I've been working with older dogs for years. It's funny how long I worked with them before I had one, although, I have had older dogs before, but because of the kind of work I was doing the veterinarians were sending lots of senior dogs to me, and because I was helping them get functional again, and helping them feel better I just kept getting them, so I had a lot of experience. Even in 2005 I was getting the older dogs sent to me and I just kept building up that knowledge of working with them, and helping them feel better. I wonder what year it was. I want to say it was 2014, but I can't be certain.
Kathy Sdao and I decided to do Gift of a Gray Muzzle together and really focus on aging dogs in a video in our workshop. We just gave that workshop recently again. It's kind of a passion of mine because you know, everybody when they get a puppy they're very enthusiastic about their new puppy, and you know, they have to learn a bunch of things, but there's a motivation to learn a bunch of things because you have a new puppy, you just went out and got it, but our dogs age gradually, and it's not the same kind of oh boy, I've got an aging dog, and I'll go out and learn all these new things. You know, books on aging dogs don’t sell, and the thing is that there's a real joy of working with aging dogs, and watching them get new light in their eyes, and watching them physically get through things that maybe they weren't getting through before, so anyway, that’s what led me to it.
Melissa Breau: To kind of dig into that a little more, what are some of the issues that older furry friends tend to struggle with where your training and presumably, also your upcoming class may be able to help?
Lori Stevens: Well, I think even with people, keeping our dogs minds, or keeping our minds and bodies active is incredibly important, and this thing happens as dogs age is they all of a sudden get really comfortable sleeping for a very long time, and I think we go…especially if we have more than one dog I think we kind of say to ourselves well, our older dog's fine, you know, I'll put more energy into my younger dog, you know, maybe don’t think that, but that’s what ends up happening, and then one day you notice oh my god, the hind end strength is going, and the proprioception is going, which both of those naturally diminish with age. I better say what proprioception is. Proprioception is your conscience ability to know where your body is in space during movement, so if you think of a toddler at a certain age, they can't hold their cup up with juice in it, they're just pouring it upside down and then they're upset their juice is gone, but then at a certain age they suddenly know how to keep their cup upright while they move. That's proprioception. Well, you lose it with age, and so you have dogs that used to be able to step over and run over everything, running into low poles, or low logs, or whatever, and so hind end strength and proprioception naturally diminish with age, and so in the course, and when I work with older dogs, and when I do the workshops, that’s what I'm helping people do is get those back.
Also, I think we’re not quite prepared as humans to all of a sudden, we have this senior dog, and our dog can't do as much as it could do before, and so we have to change as well, so how do our expectations need to change, and how can we make this time together, which hopefully, will be many years as wonderful as it can be. You know, we have to change our expectations, and rather them be disappointed, find joy in that as much as our dogs need to find joy in a different kind of life as well. Not meaning…this isn’t bad, this is all good stuff. I mean it all in a very good way. It's just that’s it's different, and so you know, in the course I give lots of tips on the easiest way to get your dog in and out of a car, or on the sofa, the functional things that dogs could do when they were younger, sometimes those go away, and so how do we bring back that function or maintain that function and joy with our aging dogs. So we'll be doing lots of activities in that course on keeping our dogs minds and bodies active, but also tools and techniques we can use to participate in making their lives as good as we can. Did that help?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So if you were to make one recommendation for everyone listening who happens to have an aging or older dog, what would it be? Is it about mind shift, is it about, you know, exercise? I mean, what kind of piece would you pull out of that?
Lori Stevens: Well, I certainly have one. Surprise, surprise. I would say be your dog's advocate, trust yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, be a detective until you get to the source. I can't tell you how many times the answer is well, your dog's getting older, you know, you're making stuff up, or that’s just natural, your dog's getting older, and there really has been something, so I do think it's really, really important to be your dog's advocate, and to trust yourself, and it's okay to take your older dog to acupuncture appointments, or TTouch appointments, or massage appointments, or swimming appointment, you know, whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better. That's a good thing, but if you notice that…and your dog feel better, but if you notice something seems off it can be really hard to find what it is, and just be your dog's advocate is all I can say. Go to another vet if your veterinarian isn’t willing to work with you through figuring out what it is.
Melissa Breau: And finally, the questions I ask in every episode. I want to ask you kind of the same three questions that I asked everybody whose come on so far. So to start, what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Lori Stevens: My observation skills. I mean, they have developed since 2005 and I'm happy that I can now recognize how developed they are, and how important observation skills are, and really honoring the dog's needs rather than my own agenda, right. I mean, you know, sometimes it's natural when you have a practice to think through I'm getting ready to see this person and dog, and here's my agenda for the hour-long session, we're going to do it, X, Y, and Z, and then the dog gets there and goes no, we're not, you know, I want to do something else. So really being observant to be able to tell that, and then honoring the dog's needs, and the person, of course, has the say in what you do as well, but you know, really honoring the dog's needs. And I've actually…I will say it's only happened once since 2005, but I lost a client for not forcing a dog to do things, so I didn't mind losing that client, but…
Melissa Breau: It's important to stand up for your principles and kind of do what you believe is the right thing.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, and I'm just not comfortable forcing dogs into position for a massage.
Melissa Breau: Right. So what about training advice, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Lori Stevens: You know, it's funny. I don’t really think these are what you have in mind, but…
Melissa Breau: That’s okay!
Lori Stevens: Yeah. Meet the dog where she is or he is. That was the best piece of advice I heard and that was in TTouch, but just kind of change to meet both learners, the dog and the person, where they are. You can't really tell people to change, right, you have to guide them gently, and kind of move with them when they're really to move. People have to decide for themselves to make changes, and communication is so incredibly important. I've seen dogs and people go from, you know, a pretty dark place to an incredible place, and I'm so thrilled with what, you know, with the influence that I had on that. I would have to say just meeting everybody where they are, and recognizing how important communication is, and that it's not just about what we think, or how we think it should be done, but bringing the person and dog along at their own pace.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Lori Stevens: Well, you know there's several, but I have to say Dr. Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez probably are two top.
Melissa Breau: Ken's well regarded among the FDSA staff. I've heard his name a couple of times now.
Lori Stevens: Yeah. He's pretty great. So is Dr. Susan Friedman. I think you'll hear her name more and more if you haven’t already.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lori. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
Melissa Breau: I feel like I learned a ton.
Lori Stevens: That's great.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Amy Johnson to discuss photography and our dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have or next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Dr. Debbie Gross Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over seventeen years and has both a masters and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field.
She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and is one of the founders of the Certificate Program in Canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee.
She has been widely published, both professionally and in venues for dog enthusiasts.
To be released 7/28/2017, featuring Lori Stevens talking about how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports broadcast 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 Debbie Gross Torraca. Dr. Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over 17 years and has both a master's, and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field. She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and as one of the founders of the certificate program in canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee, she has been widely published both professionally, and in venues for dog enthusiasts. Hi, Debbie, welcome to the podcast.
Debbie Gross: Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat with you. This is not a topic a I know a lot about, so it's always fun to learn something. Just to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about your own dogs, who they are, and what you’re working on with them?
Debbie Gross: Sure. Yeah. So I currently share my home and my life with two dogs. Bogaurt is a Clumber Spaniel, and so that’s a fairly different breed, and then we also have a nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel that was rescued. He was unfortunately beaten by a gentleman in uniform, that's all we know. So we've had him for about six years and we've had to overcome quite a lot of fear issues, and all that sort of stuff, so he's been my different sort of training in progress, and every day I learn from him, and the Clumber Spaniel does a little bit of everything. He's definitely…I've had Clumbers now for almost 10 years and they're just a joy to work with, and you know, people often will ask, "why don't you do agility or other sports with him?", and that’s where kind of I come in and look at the body frame, and that sort of stuff, even though a lot of Clumbers can do agility, his body is just not meant for that, so sadly, we stick to other things, and he's always my willing demo dog, or sometimes unwilling, so that’s always…yeah, exciting. He seems to know when it's guinea pig time and he'll take off if he doesn’t feel up to it, so.
Melissa Breau: He'll let you know if he's not in the mood, huh?
Debbie Gross: Exactly. I mean, he's like typical Clumber, so sweet, but about 22 hours a day, so.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know in your bio I left out some of the alphabet, you've got a lot of credentials, so I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about how you got into animal rehabilitation. What is it that drew you in that direction?
Debbie Gross: Sure. I've always been drawn to animals and you know, just adored them, and when I went to human physical therapy school there was a lot of hands on, a lot of palpation. Eventually, my roommates got tired of being guinea pigs, and at the time, I had an Alaskan Malamute and he was a more than willing participant, so I started to look at his body and say, oh, you know, if we could do all these things for people, why can't we do these for animals, and this was back in the 1980s, and one of my professors said to me, "don't be silly, this is a dog, no one's ever going to spend money or care about that much on a dog." So I kind of, you know, laughed at that and said, okay, and kind of kept that in the back of my mind, and I graduated. I took my first job in New York City and I was working with a lot of dancers in New York City Ballet, and definitely started to appreciate different types of movement, so if a ballerina or another type of dancer's missing five degrees of motion in their big toe, it's going to be significant. And I think about all those minor things so often today when I work with performance dogs, you know, dogs that are involved in high level competitions, but I stayed with human physical therapy for a while, always kind of thinking about my dream of working with dogs, and I fully just started to do a lot of independent learning, a lot of reading, spending a lot of time with veterinarians, and going to different vet schools, and studying anatomy, and things like that.
And then eventually, it turned into more and more, and I then started teaching at the University of Tennessee. And the CCRP letters are the Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, so I helped establish that program, and continued to teach with them, and it's really kind of, you know, it can be kind of a common sense thing. Dogs and other animals suffer many of the same injuries that people do. For example, an ACL injury in people is very common in dogs as well, and there are many different breeds that suffer with that, but things like arthritis, and neurological diseases, and sports related issues. I mean, certainly, everything that we know from the human filed we can just benefit, you know, help the dogs, so it's been pretty awesome to start out with this almost 20 years ago and watch it kind of just be an idea, and now it's definitely becoming more and more commonplace.
And I love looking on Facebook or talking to people from all over the world and they're taking their dog for rehab, or they're perusing other options, and they're doing things like that, which is just fantastic. Yeah. So that's been…you know, it is. It's great when, you know, and I laugh at the professor that I…every once in a while, I'll see her at a conference, and I'll say to her, hey, remember that kind of thought or dream I had, I said, that’s kind of what I do now 24-7 about, so. And a lot of people that have gone through rehab can definitely relate, and they understand, and so I'm always thrilled when more and more owners are perusing different options for their pets, and really, the moto of our clinic is every dog deserves the best quality of life for the longest time possible, and no matter if the dog is seven weeks old or 17 years old, you know, so important just to make sure that they're pain free and have the highest level of function. So it's really been this incredible journey and I love it.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk a little bit there about some of the differences and similarities between physical therapy for people and that for dogs. Are there other key differences you can kind of speak to?
Debbie Gross: Yes. So a lot of…you know, besides the obvious, people being biped and dogs being quadruped, I joke to a dog is not…they have no idea that something should make them feel better. You know, they're so truthful, they're…either a treatment's going to work, or it's not going to work, so there's no secondary games, they're not messing with an insurance company, or anything like that, but you know, for the same kind of similarities, whenever there's pain or inflammation there's going to be weakness that evolves. So like I tell my kids, if your body perceives pain it's going to shut off all the muscles in the area, so very similar. A person can say, hey, my knee hurts, I need to do something about it. Very often take an Advil or a Tylenol. A dog can't say that to an owner, so a lot of times that unless the owner is very perceptive and notices a slight change in their behavior, it's hard to determine if they're in pain until it gets pretty bad, you know, so recognizing pain is definitely a big difference.
I encourage all my owners, all my students, to make sure they go over their dogs on a monthly basis just to check for any pain, or soreness, or anything like that, but many of the on-scene treatment modalities that we would use in human medicine, we use in the animal. So like moist heat, or ice, laser or photobiomodulation is commonly used to help reduce pain and inflammation, and a lot of the exercises we do are very similar. Of course, we have to get a little bit more creative with a dog, but pretty much everything used in human medicine we could, you know, transfer over to the dog, so it's pretty cool.
Melissa Breau: Now, I think that veterinarians and the medical field in general isn't always known as the most positive part of dog sports, so I'd love to get your take on that. How do positive training and rehabilitation overlap, and are there places where they just can't?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. And that's a very good question. I belong to an organization, I sit on the board called Fear Free, and their whole goal and mission is to establish fear free veterinarian offices, rehab offices, looking at training facilities, boarding facilities, things like that, so it's all aimed at making sure the experience is positive and fear free. And certainly…you know, we laugh in our clinic because we're not the vet, so dogs come in and they know they're getting copious amounts of cookies, and it's going to be a great place, and they love it, and so I think it's very important to, you know, right off the bat we want to make sure the owner and the dog are very comfortable.
Certainly, dogs often will become fearful or potentially aggressive if they're in pain, so I always tell the trainers that I work with, assume that it's physical before behavioral. Now, I'll hear so many times from owners, "oh, my dog didn’t want to do the A-frame this morning. It's probably because…" You know, they make something up and then get steak for dinner. They swear they don’t think like that. You know, they probably didn’t want to do something because they're in pain. Something like the A-frame puts a lot of stress on the dogs back, and the hips, and stuff like that, so understanding if a dog is fearful, or doesn’t want to do something, looking at the reason why, you know, so is it pain that is prohibiting them from doing something.
And certainly, some dogs are not candidates, like we've turned dogs away because they're either too fearful, or they just can't do…they don’t want to do anything, and rather than forcing them, we won't do that. You know, and that's a little bit different than traditional vet medicine where dogs need to go in. They may need to get an exam, or their vaccinations, or things like that, but this fear free movement is fantastic, and you know, looks at everything from the lighting, their potential pheromones in the air to relax the dogs, and cats also, and other animals, so most the time in rehab dogs love it. They love coming into our office, and it's fun, and it's all positive, and you know, that's the way I want it to be. I mean, I love when the dogs pull their owners into the office, so you know that they're having a great time, so it's great.
Melissa Breau: Now, is there a website that's conceded with the Fear Free Organization just in case you'd want to look it up?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. I believe. I'll look. I think if someone just googled fear free it would pull up, and actually, fear free pets.com. So and their moto is "Taking the Pet out of Petrified," and it is very nice. It's a nice group that…and the number of practitioners getting certified in Fear Free are growing constantly, so you know, that's really great, and I highly encourage owners to seek out one of these facilities because they just are a little bit more in tune with things, and make the experience as positive as they can.
Melissa Breau: I'll make sure to include a link to the site in the show notes for everybody.
Debbie Gross: Perfect. Great. Perfect.
Melissa Breau: So I want to drill just a little bit more into rehab itself, rehabilitation sort of implies this idea that something's gone wrong and now it's time to try and fix it, so I was curious of how much of what you teach is about preventing problems, and how much of it is about really fixing them.
Debbie Gross: Great question. And we probably…I would say half the dogs that I see have an issue that can be fixed. So for example, they've had a torn ligament, they had surgery, and now we're rehabbing them, getting them back to normal. The other half is all about prevention and looking at what the dog does, what the dog needs to do, and how to get them stronger. So for example, we run a program called The Biggest Loser and it's a weight loss program, so we know that so many dogs…the obesity causes so many orthopedic issues, as well as other issues, and you know, helping owners and the dogs to understand how to get going, and just start a weight loss program, a successful weight loss program.
Then we have older dogs that just need some exercise, and they just need to get moving, and we'll start implementing a simple exercise program. And then on the other end of the spectrum are you know, some of your…we see a ton of conformation dogs where they need to get into shape, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been in shape, and they vary from doing something. We have underwater treadmills. They may run in the underwater treadmills for 30 to 45 minutes, just depending on what they're doing, and but you know, helping to build up their strength and conditioning. And that goes too with different athletic dogs, your Shih Tzu dogs, your agility dogs, obedience work, anything like that, so really on both sides of kind of fixing something, but also the goal is definitely preventing injuries from happening. So we do a little bit of both.
Melissa Breau: Now, are there things that dog sports enthusiasts should be doing to keep their dog in top shape, or does that kind of vary based on sport, or based on breed?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. That’s another great question. So I think that if we look at human sports, no matter whether it's on the collegiate level, the professional or Olympic level, any of our human athletes is involved in a conditioning program, so they have a program set for them, and they would never think about not engaging in a conditioning program, but on the canine side that’s not always the case. Now, I hear so often, you know, the dogs are just weekend warriors, so they just go to an agility trial over the weekend, and the owner does nothing with them during the week. And I think every dog, if they're involved in performance sports, whether it's just a couple times a month, or every weekend, they need to be in a conditioning program, and a conditioning program should definitely include core strength.
So working just like you and I would work on our back strength, our abdominals, all the large muscles of the body, working on endurance. So sometimes it's just simple walking or jogging, and then sports specifics, so a dog involved in agility is going to need more power or explosive events like plyometrics, working on their strength going over jumps, but also stopping quickly, and making sure that their shoulders and their hip flexors are strong enough, and of course, that will differ from your conformation breed. That may need more endurance to run around the ring and also more core strength, so it does depend on the sport, and its also going to depend upon the breed. And I often laugh where I love the big, you know, the gentle monsters, your Newfoundland's, and giant mastiffs, and you know, of course, their activity. If they walk 10 minutes in the underwater treadmill they're sleeping for the next 24 hours, where you have a Border Collie that's already active, they're going to need more exercise, so it will vary by breed, or also vary by age. So very young dogs anywhere under 24 months, you want to be respectful of their growth plates, and their psychological ability to exercise. And then on the flip side, your older dogs, you don’t want to overdo it either, so you want to be respectful, but hands down, any dog that competes in any kind of event, or just does it for fun should be doing some sort of core work, and it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.
Melissa Breau: I'd imagine that there are some injuries you see a lot more often in dog sports than others. What are some of the things that do crop up most often and you know, what are some of the things maybe you do when you work with those types of dogs from a conditioning standpoint, or even from a rehabilitation standpoint?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I think probably two of the more common injuries that have just been unfortunately gaining more popularity are iliopsoas injuries or injuries to the hip flexor, which is back near the front of the dog's hip, and shoulder issues. And I think the iliopsoas is a soft tissue injury and I've definitely been seeing an increase in these injuries as dogs are not really…they're being trained at a younger age without a lot of adequate core strength, and because they're being pushed a lot further, and they don’t have the strength in their core or their hip flexors, so they start to develop this weakness, and this injury, and it's probably one of the more stubborn injuries to rehab from, and part of it is because most owners…and I'm right up there, are impatient, you know, as soon as the dog starts to look better you want to get them out there and play. It's commonly injured by a dog slipping, or excessive ball playing, and that’s something that so many people love to do, toss the ball, and if the dog doesn’t have enough strength they're going to put a lot of stress on that area, but it's the same thing with the shoulder injury, the shoulders stop the dog from moving forward. So for example, when a dog comes over a jump the shoulders are what stabilize the body so the dog doesn’t fall flat on their face, and if there is a minor injury, weakness will develop and then it will start to become an issue. So really, with both of these cases, again, going back to lots of core strengths, and working on sports specifics, so working on the landing over a jump, and building up the strength, working on a lot of what's called eccentric strength, so you know, really preparing them for that. And the other things are proper warm ups and cool downs, so always making sure that the owners are working on that and doing that.
Melissa Breau: Now I know you're offering the Canine Fitness trainer courses through FDSA. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, kind of what they are what the goal is there?
Debbie Gross: Sure. So the fitness trainer courses are so much fun. They're such a great, dedicated group of people because there's four courses in a row, and the goal really is to educate people to either work more with their dog or go out there and help other dogs. So many of the people that have graduated and successfully completed the course and their exam are out there kind of for, you know, if we equate to people, working as a personal canine trainer, so helping dogs with weight loss, helping dogs with different types of exercises, and they've gone through…it's fairly intense. So the first two sessions focus on functional anatomy, so learning about the different muscles, and how to use them, and different exercises to give for them, tons of safety information, and you know, then kind of putting it all together, so talking about the different sports, and what they need, or just different dogs and what they'll need, and how to set up a program that's safe and effective, you know, for an individual dog. So it's so much fun, and I learn something every time we go through a different group of people because they're just incredible, you know, what they think, and the different types of dogs, and so it really has been fantastic, and it's a lot of work, and I'm so proud of everyone that's completed it because it definitely takes a lot of dedication.
Melissa Breau: At the end of the four classes they can take a test, right, to become certified, is that right?
Debbie Gross: Correct. They submit four case studies, so four dogs that they've been working with, and then there's an exam, yes, and then they become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer. Had to think of that for a minute.
Melissa Breau: Very cool. I want to talk too about some of the other classes you offer at FDSA. Do you want to just share kind of what they are and kind of what you cover in those classes?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I offer a bunch of different ones and one is the basic canine conditioning, which I cannot stress, as I said before, that anybody involved in dogs should…it's such a great course for people to take because it just goes over basic things that anyone can do at home, so it doesn’t have to be with equipment, or anything like that, but just basic exercises that anyone can do, and can make more difficult as demands, you know, for the dog.
And then the second canine conditioning course just gets into a little bit more depth, but we've had dogs that are 14 or 15 years old and the owners have just been working with them to improve their quality of life, and we've had other dogs that are high level competitors in class, and so it's so wonderful to see just the different effects simple canine conditioning can have on the individual dogs.
And I teach a course called The Bum Knees and that's…knee injuries are unfortunately very prevalent in dogs, and we talk about different prevention strategies for knee injuries, what to do if your dog has had a knee injury or does have a knee injury, and talk about, you know, safe exercises to go through. And I think there's a course on the iliopsoas, which as I mentioned before, definitely a muscle in an area that is just a hot topic, and it goes over also injury prevention, what to do, how to recognize an injury, and what to do, what different types of exercises.
And I believe there's a shoulder course does the same thing, but just focuses on shoulders. You know, we're looking at different types of should injuries and that sort of stuff. So off the top of my head, I think that’s it. There could be some more, but I love the other…oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say maybe you should do a few more.
Debbie Gross: Yes. You know, there's just so, so many wonderful things that people…people have been asking for a course for senior dogs, so maybe that will be my next project.
Melissa Breau: So I do want to ask you the same questions that I ask everybody who comes on kind of towards the end of the podcast. So what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Debbie Gross: I have to probably involve the dog that I have worked with for quite some time, and she continues to be just an accomplishment that I'm so proud of. A beautiful Irish Setter that I had worked with for a year and she had won, I think 31, best in shows, and it was just amazing to watch her move, and knowing what was kind of lying underneath her, so it was pretty fantastic, and her handler became her owner, and she had been retired, she had 15 puppies, and 14 weeks after the puppies he had come to me and he said, "do you think we can get her ready for Westminster?", and I looked at him and said, are you crazy? You know, this dog has been doing nothing for quite some time, had 15 puppies. And I accepted the challenge, and worked with her, and did so much with her, and I had gone to Westminster that year.
My own dog had won the breed in bullmastiffs, and a Portuguese Water Dog I had bred won the breed. And then I watched this beautiful Irish Setter, and she went on to win the breed, and so I was all done, ready to watch the groups, and I thought, okay, my day is done, I'm just going to kick back and relax, and this dog that’s an Irish Setter won the group, so she was going on to best in show. And it was, you know, just a pretty incredible experience and not only for me, but also for my staff, and then we did it, she went on to win Irish Settler National as a veteran, which was pretty incredible, so even though it wasn’t my dog, it felt pretty incredible to be part of that. So I look back on that and just knowing everything that she had to go through, so it was pretty incredible.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Congrats. So even though we didn’t necessarily talk about training today, I did want to ask you what the best piece of training advice you've ever heard is.
Debbie Gross: You know, I think, like I always tell myself, and I always tell people always listen to the dog. From what I do, dogs always tell us what's wrong with them. You just have to open up your eyes and your ears, and watch, and listen, and they'll tell you. So I know that’s not specifically training, but you know, from what I do, listening to the dog they always know what's right for them. If a dog wants to rest, there's a reason, you know, where sometimes we don’t listen to.
Melissa Breau: Right. And then finally, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Debbie Gross: There are a lot of people that I look up to. Probably coming from my background with structure and all of that sort of stuff, Pat Hastings is someone that I look up to, just form her knowledge, and I've taught with her a few times, and it's been, you know, pretty incredible. And probably too then, you know, from a dog looking at training and that sort of stuff, I am a big fan of Denise's and watching her calmness, how she works with dogs, and there are a couple people that train in my area, the same thing, you know, there's definitely people that just understand dogs, and dogs understand them, so yeah. It's hard to pinpoint to just one.
Fair enough. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Debbie.
Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Lori Stevens to discuss supporting our aging dogs. 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.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Dr. Deborah Jones is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.
To be released 6/16/2017, featuring Andrea Harrison.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dogs 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 will be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones, better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.
Deb is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer. Oh, and she’s working on a cat class, too.
Hi, Deb. Welcome to the podcast.
Deb Jones: Hi, Melissa. Thank you, very much, for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today.
Deb Jones: Oh, so am I.
Melissa Breau: So, usually to get started I ask people to tell us a little bit about their dogs and what they are working on with them, but since I know you also have the cat class coming up, do you want to just walk us through your full furry crew and what you’re working on with all of them?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. I have quite a crew right now. I have three Border Collies and three Shelties that I’m working with, along with the cat, Tricky, who is going to be the star of the cat class -- because he insists. Every time I train dogs he’s there, so I figured if he’s going to show up regularly he might as well earn his keep and be part of a class at FDSA.
I have my three Border Collies that I work with the majority of the time now. Many people know Zen, who is almost 10 years old, which seems impossible. He is my demo dog for everything. Always willing to work. He’s done Agility, Obedience, and Rally, and titled in all of those and, these days, he’s pretty much semi-retired. He gets to do almost whatever he wants except what he wants to do is play ball 24 / 7, so we don’t do that, but other than that he gets to do whatever he wants.
Star is my next oldest dog, a Border Collie, who is, I say constantly, the smartest dog I ever met. She’s scary smart and Star is also great demo dog. Also showed her as well. And my youngest boy now, who is actually Zen’s nephew, Helo is going to be three. A lot of people have seen him in class videos. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been working for FDSA in some form or the other.
And the latest, youngest Sheltie is Tigger, who is a tiny little seven pound thing and he is just so full of himself and full of life, and he’s a lot of fun, so he is also in quite a few of the class videos and he enjoys every second of it, and then the other two Shelties are a little bit older, so they have what we call old dog immunity, which means, again, you get to do whatever you want and they enjoy that.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Deb Jones: So it’s a busy household.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine -- but I’ve seen some of those videos you share of Tigger. He’s so cute.
Deb Jones: Oh. He’s a little firecracker. To have such a tiny little dog…he’s way below size for what Shelties usually are and this was just by chance. It was just a fluke that he was this small, but oh is he full of it, so he makes us laugh every day. That’s the thing we say about Tigger is he makes us laugh constantly, so there’s a lot of value in that.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask about how you originally got into dog sports -- I know that you’ve done a lot of different sports and with a lot of different dogs, so what got you started?
Deb Jones: Yeah. I have. I’ve had a lot of different dogs over the years. Settled on herding dogs now, but I actually started out with a Labrador Retriever, black lab named Katie, and I was in graduate school and I’d been in about two years and just had to have a dog. I’d always had dogs just as pets, and never done a lot with them, but I really felt the need to have some sort of companionship in graduate school that was not stressful, so I got Katie, who was a rescue…from a rescue. She was about 18 months old and we did training classes. Took her to local training classes.
And this was in 1992, so at that time all there was, was obedience. If you wanted to show a dog in anything you were going to show it in Obedience, so I went through a number of classes. I met a lot of people. I got to know quite a bit about obedience competition and the only…the problem was I was already trained in behavioral psychology and learning theory, and what I saw happening in classes did not match at all my expectation for how we should be training animals. It was still very, very heavy handed and traditional back in those days.
So I liked the idea of competition and performance but I didn’t like the way that people told me you had to train in order to get to it, so that sort of started this conflict in me about I want to do this but I don’t want to do it that way and made me work very hard to try to figure out 'how can I apply what I know from academics and get successful performance?' And so that was the start of it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you bridge that gap? What actually got you started on that positive journey and at what point did you get introduced to clicker training?
Deb Jones: Around the same time I got Katie I was introduced to the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, which was probably the very first book that many dog trainers ever saw that had anything to do with positive training. I’m a voracious reader so I read every dog training book out there and this was one of many, but this was the one that really, really spoke to me and said to me you can take what you know from science, you can apply it to training the animal that you’re working with now and you can be successful. Except the thing was nobody had actually done it. It was theory. It wasn’t yet application.
And so that set me on the path of being able to do this training the way I want to do it and having an enthusiastic and very willing animal partner rather than one who was basically forced to do it because there would be unpleasant consequences if they didn’t, so I really would credit the book with getting me started on that.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is that also how you were introduced to clicker training and shaping and all that good stuff?
Deb Jones: Yeah. It all came around about the same time. There was actually…the first internet email group that I was ever on, which was called Click-L. This is really ancient. This was also back in about 1993 or so. When we first got internet at home, which was a big deal at the time, but ClickL was a group of like-minded people and we were all just simply trying to figure out how do we do this? How do we apply this?
And Karen Pryor was on the list along with a number of other people who are still training today and we were all just kind of talking and throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we could use this kind of technique, a clicker training technique, to get the…all different sorts of behaviors, so it was a time when nobody was really an expert because nobody had done it yet, but that’s really what I wanted to work toward was to make it work in our day to day training.
Melissa Breau: I bet back then you never would have thought you’d be teaching online in today’s day in age.
Deb Jones: Absolutely not. No. I remember my great excitement the first time my modem actually hooked up at home because for the longest time we only had access at school, when I was in graduate school, for the first couple of years, so no, I could never have foreseen that one day I would be involved in these online classes. That just would not have ever crossed my map.
Melissa Breau: So one of my favorite lines to come out of the podcast so far Sue made this whole analogy during her interview about training without focus being almost like sending a kid to school without clothes on, right? Like you would never imagine…
Deb Jones: I love that.
Melissa Breau: ...sending a kid to school…
Deb Jones: No. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: …without his clothes on. Like why would you train a dog if you don’t already have their focus? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that concept. Focus seems likes a place where people just tend to struggle and I was kind of curious to get your take on why you think that is?
Deb Jones: Oh, so many reasons. Yeah. Sue always has the best descriptions of things and I think that one is perfect. The problem with focus though is that it’s invisible to a large extent. Oftentimes people have the illusion that they have focus because they have cookies and they have toys and they’re in a training mode. Then they try to go into performance and all of a sudden it becomes very clear it was only an illusion. You did not have actual offered focus from your dog. You thought you did but you didn’t, so that’s about the time people contact me. They’re like I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going so well and then they’re really surprised.
Sometimes people equate focus with eye contact and what we say is that’s only part of it because you can be focused but not looking at each other. Looking at each other is not always focus. It’s easy to look at somebody and to be a thousand miles away in your mind and dogs do it the same way that people do it, so it’s more than eye contact, which can be a trained behavior.
There has to be this desire to want to do whatever the activity is or the task is. And if that desire isn’t there, there’s not going to be any focus. You’re always going to be looking around for something else that’s more interesting, and I think people just don’t realize any of this. You’re training your dog. You’re teaching behaviors and skills but you’re not teaching it with focus and it falls apart very quickly when it’s put to the test.
Melissa Breau: It’s very hard to...I mean even as a person, right? If you’re focused on one task there’s a big difference between being focused on the task and having eight million tabs open on your browser and you’re jumping back and forth between Facebook and the thing you’re writing and something else and it…
Deb Jones: Yeah. There is and it takes a while. It’s not something we can expect to have immediately. Every once in a while, and it’s very rare, you get a dog that just is naturally focused but it’s really rare. I’ve only known one dog who, I would say, was really, truly always just focused from the get go. That’s not the norm, so we all have to work at it to get our dogs to that place and people then don’t know. Okay, they want focus but then they have no idea. What do you do? How do I get focus? And that’s really the tricky part of it because there’s a lot of things you do. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.
Melissa Breau: So how do you approach it in the class?
Deb Jones: We have two classes that address focus and the first…I always hope people take them in order. The first class is Get Focused, which is what I always recommend people take first and then a follow-up to that is called Focus Games and we always try to offer Get Focused in one term and then Focus Games in the next so people can follow through with it.
What I try to do is isolate focus from…take it out of the context of anything else and distill it down to this mutual desire to interact with each other, so convincing the dog that what we’re doing is what he wants to do, which sounds hard and it is hard. Sometimes it is very difficult. It’s not easy. We have a number of very specific exercises to work on letting our dogs know that focus pays off and if you focus on me I’ll pay you for it and we try to get people quickly to move from food to toys and back and forth and into personal play as well so that you get paid in some way for focusing. There’s a reinforcer for focusing.
Then we start adding work to focus but what we do is typically the opposite of what everybody else does. We have to have focus first before we ask for work or play even. If the dog isn’t focused we do not go on. We never train an unfocused dog and I say this…this is like a million times. I say this over and over again. If my dog’s not focused I need to stop and this is really, really hard for people to do because they have a plan in their head for something that they wanted to train, but training an unfocused dog is just a waste of time if you truly want to develop this. Work and training always has to be combined with focus.
So we go through a series of exercises designed to improve focus and also to teach people what to do when it’s gone. What do you do? What’s the protocol for when the focus is lost? Because lots of times then people are just kind of stuck. They don’t know what to do so they take responsibility for focus and try to make it happen rather than allowing the dog to offer it.
Melissa Breau: That whole being more exciting than a clown on crack line from Denise, right? Like that idea of just trying to be more and more exciting and your dog just continues to ignore you.
Deb Jones: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Deb Jones: Yeah. That ends up being kind of a death spiral. Things never go well if I have…if I have to add more and more energy to the interaction then there is a problem. I’m giving everything. My dog’s not doing anything. We need to go back to getting the dog to want to focus and work with us and so we continually go back to that and we don’t try to overwhelm the dog with fun and excitement because that’s a dead end. You won’t get very far with that. The problem is it often will temporarily work but it won’t work over the long term. It won’t hold up.
We work on all of this in the Get Focused class. When we move onto the Focus Games class, that’s a lot more about finding the flow and the rhythm to working together and extending it out and adding things like movement and taking food off our bodies and still getting focus, so we add all those kinds of things in there, so it’s a good 12 weeks worth of focused focus on focus.
Melissa Breau: Right, so both the Focused class and your current class, the Performance Fundamentals class, seem to fall into that foundations category, right? So I wanted to ask you what you thought it was so…what is it about building a good foundation that is so critical when it comes to dog sports?
Deb Jones: Foundation really is everything. I truly believe that. If you do your foundations well you won’t run into problems later on or…I won’t say you won’t. You won’t run into as many problems later on or if you do run into problems you will have a way to fix them because the problem is in the foundation. Ninety-nine percent of the time something wasn’t taught to fluency or you left something out somewhere. You’ve got a gap or a hole, so going back to foundation and making it strong is always the answer. It’s never a wrong thing to do.
So I really like being able to try to get in that really strong basis for everything else you want. I don’t care what sport people are going into or even if they’re not going into sport at all. If they just like training and they want to train their dog this…a good foundation prepares you for any direction in the future because oftentimes we change direction. You have a dog you think you’re going to be doing obedience with but if you focus in the beginning too much on obedience behaviors it may end up that dog just isn’t right for that, and so you have kind of these gaps for.. "oh well, let’s see if I want to switch to agility. Now I need to train a new set of behaviors." We don’t want that to happen so we’ve got the foundation for pretty much everything.
Melissa Breau: Talk a little bit more about the Fundamentals Class specifically. Do you mind just giving some details around what you cover in that class and how you work to set up that foundation within the class syllabus? Within the class…within, I guess, what you teach there?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. Sure. We approach performance fundamentals very differently than many other people do or the way that people think they should approach dog training. I’m considering typically as a class that you either start with a puppy or you’ve gone through a puppy class and now you’re ready to move onto the next thing, so that’s where we would come in. I also think that it’s a really good class for people who haven’t done a lot of positive reinforcement training and they don’t quite understand how to get started with it and what to do.
I think it’s also a good place for that, but the thing is rather than focusing on skills and behaviors…I don’t care at all in a class if the dog learns to sit or lie down or do whatever it is on cue. In fact, lots of times they won’t and they don’t need to. What they need to do in Performance Fundamentals or what I want them to be able to do is to build the foundation for a good working relationship so that, again, the dog is ready. The dog’s willing. The dog really wants to do what you’re doing.
We work hard on balancing things like getting dogs to play as well as food motivation and going back and forth with those quite a bit and my goal is always to make it seem like the dog doesn’t know if you’re playing or training. If they don’t believe there’s any difference, that’s perfect. That’s perfect training, so we do a lot of the foundation things like targeting behavior, so you might have the dog targeting to your hand. You might have the dog targeting with their nose to other objects. Have the dog targeting with their front feet or with their back feet, so we would explore okay there’s all these different things we can do with targeting behavior and those are all going to come in handy for you on down the line.
We’ll look at and play around with shaping because shaping is one of my favorite techniques and it’s also one that’s really hard for people. It takes a lot of practice and you make a lot of mistakes. There’s just no way around it. It’s experimenting, so we play around with shaping and I always like to shape tricks and things that people don’t care about a whole lot so if you mess it up nobody cares. It’s no big deal, you know? You don’t want to start being like.. on your competition retrieve, you don’t want that to be the first time you shape. Because that matters to people, and so we try to get them to do the easier things first.
In that class we’re also just looking at can you effectively use…once we’ve taught targeting, can you use luring? Can you use shaping? You can teach any behavior any number of ways and so we look a bit more at the techniques that underlie that and there’s…people can make decisions about what they want to train and how they want to go about approaching it and we help them with that once they make some informed decisions.
Melissa Breau: For sure. I thought, writing the questions for this talk, I felt like there were eight million things I wanted to ask about and jumping back and forth between focus and then the Performance Fundamentals class and I’ve taken the Cooperative Canine Care Class and loved it, so I wanted to at least briefly kind of touch on the other subjects. We’ll definitely have to have you back to talk more in depth about them, but can you tell us a little bit about the Cooperative Canine Care Class and a little bit about the new cat class you’re working on? And give people…
Deb Jones: Oh.
Melissa Breau: …a sneak peek?
Deb Jones: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Cooperative Care has turned out to be one of my favorites. Which I think we’ve only been teaching it for a couple of years and I was…I became interested in this whole idea of husbandry work and working on grooming and veterinary procedures with animals after I had gone to a week-long training seminar at Shedd Aquarium a few years ago and the majority of the training they do is cooperative care type training.
They train every day for things that their animals may or may not ever need but if they need them then it’s there, so training their dolphins, for example, to flip upside down and hold still so they can take blood out of the vein by their tail and that’s something they work on everyday even though it happens very rarely, and that got me thinking a lot about what we do with dogs because mostly what we do with dogs is we wrestle with them and usually because we’re a little bit stronger and because they’re nice they don’t bite us, but in reality we do some pretty unpleasant things to them and we don’t prepare them for it. We just do it, okay.
So I wanted to really explore with dogs what can we do to make this more pleasant, more fun for everybody involved? Because it’s no fun for the people either. It’s just a stressful thing all the way around when you have to do something to an animal that it’s afraid of and doesn’t want you to do, so that was the idea for it and we’ve had a lot of fun with it because if you make it all into games and tricks and trained behaviors it really tends to be amazing what they will cooperate with and what they will allow you to do and I’ve used my own dogs as guinea pigs, of course, for everything on this and really been amazed at how much better it is for them than it was in the past.
One of my dogs, Star, had developed a terrible fear of the vet. I was out of town and she ended up having to be spayed and it was unpleasant and just terrible things happened to her at that point. To the point that I was worried she would bite somebody at the vet, and now she goes in. She’s pleased with herself. She jumps up on the table. She wants to do her chin rest and take her squeeze cheese and it just made her…it just made everything so much better for her and that made me so happy and that’s what I hear from students all the time. It’s these little things, you know? That my dog went to the vet and jumped on the scale by themselves or they held still while the vet gave them a shot and didn’t even act like they noticed and that’s what I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things that make that class worthwhile.
Melissa Breau: And I know, for example, I have a German Shepherd with some pressure issues and just the working through the class and working through being able to touch them in different ways that just helped her so much in terms of wanting to cuddle and be a little bit closer to me at different times. It just had so much of a positive impact in the relationship over all. I can’t recommend the class highly enough.
Deb Jones: Oh. I’m really happy to hear that. I just love hearing things like that because I think when we give our animals a choice…everybody’s afraid to give them a choice because they’re afraid they’re going to say no. We’re afraid they’re going to say no I don’t want you to touch me. No, I don’t want this to happen, but if we approach it in a very incremental, systematic way and make it highly reinforcing they’re much more likely to start saying yes and the whole idea that they have a choice, I think, makes them brave. It makes them confident and it increases our bond with them because we no longer have to wrestle them to the ground to try to do something with them, so they trust us more.
Melissa Breau: Right. Do you want to share a little bit about the cat class?
Deb Jones: The cat class. Yeah. I was just thinking about that. I’m still working on the cat class, which I honestly…honestly when I said it, it was a joke. I didn’t necessarily actually ever intend,…when I first brought it up, I was like you know oh I’m so busy so here I am thinking about teaching a class to train cats and I thought that was funny, but people started jumping in and what I realized from that is every video I get from a student that has a cat the cat is there. Like I said earlier. The cat’s in it. The cat’s interested so what the heck?
And people really do not believe that cats can be trained. They think cats are totally different than any other creature on the planet and you can train everything else but not a cat, so…and working with my own cat, Tricky, who’s about six years old now, I think. I’ve worked quite a bit with Tricky over the years. He likes to train and he trains differently than a dog but in some ways, he’s faster. In some ways a little bit…it’s a little bit more challenging than I expected, so it’s an exploration. It’s an experiment but I’m looking at…started looking at what could we do with a class like this? How could I set it up?
So it’s going to be a little bit different than some of my other classes because first we have to convince the cats that they want to work with us and I think that’s a little…that’s even more than it takes with a dog because our dogs we tend to be a little more social with anyway and cats sometimes we allow them to be very independent and we assume that’s what they’re supposed to be, so convincing them now that they want to do something with us and that it’s going to pay off. I think that’s going to be a big step, but other than that 90 percent of what I’m looking at it’s the same way you train any animal.
We use lots of positive reinforcement. We break things down into small bits and we work our way up, so I don’t know that it will be that vastly different. It’s not like there’s one way to train cats and then another way to train every other animal in the world. It’s that we train the same way but we have to remember that they are cats and that there are some things that we’ll have to keep in mind that make them different than dogs, so it’s an interesting challenge and I’m really excited about it now, so I’m spending the summer training my cat.
Melissa Breau: I can’t wait to see some of the videos from that. It sounds like it will be entertaining and really useful. I mean, it’s always…I feel like anytime we learn more about training a different species than dogs it only improves your overall ability to train.
Deb Jones: Oh. Definitely. I think I’ve learned more from other species by far than I have from training dogs. They’re always more challenging. You have more to learn about them. Approach them differently, so yeah. I love training other species. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
Melissa Breau: We’re getting towards the end of the podcast so we’re at those last three questions that I ask every episode. So what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a tough question. First I…because you’d think okay I’d want to talk about titles or something but not really. What I think I’m most proud of just overall with all of my dogs is that they all want to work with me. If they have a choice between me and anything else in the world they’ll choose me and there’s a lot of effort, on my part in terms of training, that went into that but I’m very proud of the fact that my dogs freely make that decision and I don’t ever have to coerce them to make that, so I’d say that has to be my overall answer.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s an accomplishment almost everybody listening to this would love to have, so I definitely think that’s a good answer. What is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a hard one, too. These are hard questions, Melissa. I’ve heard lots of good and bad training advice over the years but most recently what’s sticking in my mind comes from Denise, actually, which is train the dog in front of you. Train the dog you have right now not the dog you want or the dog that you think you ought to have, but train the one that’s standing there and that is harder than it seems to be, but I think that’s a very good piece of advice. They’re all different and we need to work with each one as a unique individual.
Melissa Breau: And even as a unique individual I mean the dog you have today is not the dog you have next week and it’s so hard to see that sometimes.
Deb Jones: Oh, it is. It’s really hard because we just have built up in our minds this image of what this dog’s like and even if the dog changes our image doesn’t always change, so I think that’s a really good point and I sometimes…I’m so bad I forget which dog knows which behavior. So I’ll tell Helo to do something that Zen knows how to do and then I’ll look at him like oh I never taught you that, so I need to focus a little more on the dog that’s in front of me at the moment.
Melissa Breau: That’s funny. And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Deb Jones: Oh. Quit asking me hard questions. Well, I have to say as a group really, truly every instructor at FDSA is just amazing and they really inspire me. I feel challenged to always do better because of the people I’m working with. Because the instructors are all so awesome and I don’t want to be the weak link so I always feel like I have to do more and work harder because of them, which is a really good thing.
If we move out of that realm a little bit someone that I do truly admire would be Ken Ramirez. I worked with him at Shedd. Got to know him and work with him at Shedd Aquarium when I was there and have seen him several times since then and I like his approach and I like the fact that he’s worked with so many different species and that he still maintains the science of it but at the same time it’s not clinical. It’s also humanized in a way. I don’t know if that even makes any sense.
Melissa Breau: Very practical. It’s applicable.
Deb Jones: Yes. Very, very applicable to a huge variety of situations, so I admire that.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much for coming on the podcast, Deb. It was really great to chat.
Deb Jones: Oh. Thank you for asking me.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. No. I was thrilled that you could make some time and that we could fit this in and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. This time with Andrea Harrison to talk about the human half of the competitive 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.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Mariah Hinds’ love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
To be released 6/9/2017, featuring Deb Jones.
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 I’ll be talking to Mariah Hinds.
Mariah’s love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters, and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays, and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
Hi Mariah. Welcome to the podcast.
Mariah Hinds: Hi Melissa, it’s great to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to get to talk to you for the podcast today. I think we’ve been talking about this for a long time so it’s good to finally get you on.
Mariah Hinds: Yes, absolutely.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to get started with the same question that I ask pretty much everybody to start out, but I think you’re the first person I’ve actually had on who I’ve actually met all of your dogs. Still, since the listeners haven’t, can you share who they are and what you’re working on with them.
Mariah Hinds: Sure, yes. I have three dogs. Jada is my oldest. She’s a Doberman. She’ll be 11 years old next month. She’s my Novice A dog and she has her Utility title. She occasionally makes appearances in my training videos. And my middle dog is Clever who I call Liv and she’s four years old. She’s a Border Collie and she’s my first positive-only trained dog. She has her CDX and will be entering utility this fall and I hope to get an OTCH with her. I really think that she can do it. And my puppy is Talent who I call Tally. She’s eight months old and we’re just getting started. We’ve done some shaping and some obedience and agility foundations, but really the focus has been on house manners and socialization and focus and just enjoying each other’s company.
Melissa Breau: Well as I mentioned in the bio at the very beginning, you pretty much always knew you wanted to be a dog trainer... so I wanted to ask how you got started and about that "always a positive trainer" question.
Mariah Hinds: So I’m…I was not always been a positive trainer. Jada actually is my crossover dog. I started off, as most people do, assuming that dogs really just play dumb and choose to ignore us and that some coercion is really required for training. But the more that I worked with dogs, the more I realize that they’re really trying their best to interpret our world and I was what I would call a balanced trainer until I took the Susan Garrett Recallers course and saw dogs of all breeds coming when called in really challenging situations, and that really started my journey, and I spent the next two years watching every competition dog training video, every generic dog training video, and attending as many online classes and seminars as I could.
And all the while I was training pet dogs for 30 hours a week doing private training sessions and so I was able to try new things with those dogs as well, and I decided to commit to raising my middle dog with only positive training methods and watching her thrive and learn and become so precise using only those methods, and incrementally setting her up to succeed, really cemented my commitment to positive training methods.
Melissa Breau: Like you talked a little bit there about kind of how you crossed over and training pet dogs, so what got you into competition obedience?
Mariah Hinds: Well so my first experience with competition obedience was I worked at PetSmart, that was my first job, and I had this dog and we took this…I took this class from a PetSmart trainer named Barb and she competed in obedience with her dog and invited me to go watch a competition obedience class and immediately I was hooked and the dogs were all heeling and paying attention to their handlers, even when they got close to other dogs and it just really looked like a lot of fun. So when I got Jada I knew that I wanted to do competition obedience and when she was four years old I finally found a place to train regularly and she was entered in novice that year and she got her UD when she was four and she really taught me a lot and I’m really proud of her.
Melissa Breau: Was getting a Doberman partly inspired by the obedience? I’m always curious because now you have Border Collies, so what led you to start out with a Doberman?
Mariah Hinds: So it’s kind of interesting. So at the time, before I got my Doberman, I had a Standard Poodle that I was fostering and I kept getting these comments from my pet people saying, "Oh well, you know it’s a fluffy dog, you know and you can’t train a fluffy dog the same way as you train one of those hardcore breeds." And so I was like, okay, well I’ll go get a Doberman because they’re really pretty and I like them and so that’s how I ended up getting a Doberman.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that the Border Collies are very different to train.
Mariah Hinds: They are different, you know, and I never would have gotten them as my first dogs, but really I love Border Collies. I think that they’re a lot of fun and they’re much easier to live with, or mine are, than most people think that they are.
Melissa Breau: Interesting, and we were talking about that a little bit this weekend, just even the difference between the two that you have now, right?
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, they’re definitely different, but they have a lot of similarities as well, and part of that is just how I raised them. Clover was my first Border Collie and so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have the same issue with Jada, like the checking out, so really did a lot of focus on building drive and with my young dog, I’m like, I know that it will come and yes we’ve done a little bit of drive building, but most of it has been, "all right I’m going to get you excited and then we’re going to practice calming down afterwards," and so she was much better at that than my four year old dog.
Melissa Breau: Most of your classes at FDSA kind of revolve around self-control on the part of the dog, like in one format or another, right? So just glancing over some of your upcoming classes, you have Proof Positive this session, a stay class in August, impulse control and a greeting class in October. What is it really about that topic that’s kind of drawn you to teach it and that fascinates you so much?
Mariah Hinds: Well, really it's that I think that reliability is greatly affected by self-control and not knowing how to teach impulse control and self-control positively to dogs initially is what held me back from crossing over just to being a positive trainer, especially early in my career as a pet trainer, and so when I realized that I had this gap in my understanding, I really pursued learning about it as much as I could. I also feel like reliability or the lack of it is really frustrating to most of us and we can greatly impact our relationships with our dogs by working on impulse control and building reliability and I really enjoy seeing people understand their dogs. We see their dog’s point of view and ultimately have a better relationship with their dog.
Melissa Breau: And I want to focus in on proofing for a moment there, so I wanted to ask how you define proofing and kind of how you approach it.
Mariah Hinds: Well so I think that the traditional definition of proofing is to set the dog up to be wrong and tell the dog that he or she is wrong and hope that the dog can bounce back from corrections time and time again, and what we’re going to do in proofing is set the dog up to succeed time and time again with tiny little increases in the difficulty level, and so what I find is that that really builds confidence by showing the dog that they are indeed correct and they have earned a reward for their effort. And so that’s really the big thing of building their confidence and helping them understand that it’s the same behavior even if it’s slightly more challenging with a distraction.
Melissa Breau: And I’ve heard a rumor about, something about costumes in this class. Is that right?
Mariah Hinds: Yes. One of the games we’re going to be playing is about having handler dress up and making sure that the dogs can do the behavior even with the handler dressed up or with a helper dressed up and I find that a lot of times that really impacts the dog because our body language is different, so really helping to again build that reliability. So the other thing that we’re going to go over in Proof Positive is we’re going to over covering maintaining criteria, and often times I find that we build these really beautiful behaviors that are really crisp and clean and fast, and when we add distractions then our criteria drifts and we lose some of that beautiful criteria. So we’re going to go over how to maintain that while we’re adding more levels of difficulty.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think that’s something a lot of people struggle with, just like figuring out how to do that and keep that really pretty behavior that they can get in their living room, when they’re out in the real world, and then eventually in a show ring.
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, it’s definitely…it can be done, it can be done.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to make sure students got something, or listeners got something that they could kind of take away and act on as part of this, so I wanted to ask you if there’s a common piece of proofing or if there’s something else that jumps out to you, that’s fine too, where you feel that students like usually struggle, and if so, kind of how you recommend working through it.
Mariah Hinds: Well I think that most people struggle with seeing the benefit of systematically helping their dog overcome distractions, which is my definition of proofing. I think that a lot of people see it as mean or unnecessary, and personally I think that if we’re going to enter a dog in a trial at some point, then they’re going to need to be able to do the behaviors with distractions and that systematically helping the dog become reliable with distractions is a really kind thing to do to help them prepare for that environment.
I think that the second most common struggle with proofing is really over-facing our dogs. We pick the distraction that’s too challenging for the dog and the dog struggles to make the desired choice and then we get upset or disappointed in the dog, even if it’s just a tiny bit, and then we’re building stress into our behaviors and that’s not the goal. So when a dog struggles with a distraction, then really distance is our friend, you know. We can always go further away from the distraction and then the dog is like, oh okay, I can do it now.
Alternatively, we can dissect the distraction into its simplest parts and build back up from there, once the dog is successful with the individual components. So for example, if a dog struggles with a judge in the ring, then we want to work just on judge being far away and not work on it being a new location and having sounds and having food on the table and all those other things. And the bottom line is that we really want to build confidence with proofing, and not add stress.
Melissa Breau: So do you want to talk just for a minute about how you can kind of tell when the dog is over faced versus kind of working through something or trying to make a choice? Like how do you walk that line? Can you just talk to that for a minute?
Mariah Hinds: So a big part of that is body language. The other thing that I really make sure that I practice with my own dogs is that the 50, 60, 80 rule, and that rule to me is if they’re 80 percent reliable and you’ve done it about five times, then we can make it slightly more challenging. If they’re between 60 and 80 percent reliable and you’ve practiced it five times, then really we’re doing okay. We can keep practicing at that level and the dog will figure it out. We might want to help them a tiny bit if they’re leaning towards the 60 percent, and again, we still want to look at stress signals. If the dog is checking out or if they’re looking worried, then definitely we need to make it easier.
If they’re below 60 percent successful, then we most definitely need to make it easier, and if they’ve failed to make the desired choice twice in a row, then again, we definitely need to back up and help them understand because they’re not going to miraculously figure out that, oh I should be doing this behavior instead of that.
Melissa Breau: You mean they can’t actually read our minds?
Mariah Hinds: No, they can’t. If they could then they would do it already.
Melissa Breau: All right. So I wanted to kind of round out things the way I normally round up a conversation, which is asking about the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of.
Mariah Hinds: So last year when I was in Florida, we had this competition called DOCOF, and what it is it that every year all the obedience clubs in Florida put together teams and then all those teams compete against each other in this one day event. And so last year we were entered in open and Liv won First Place in open with a score of 199 and a half and so I was very proud of that. There were a hundred dogs in that class and she beat several dogs who were really expected to win who were taught with traditional methods, and those trainers had told me in the past that dogs who are only positively trained can’t win, but we did. So that was really exciting. So we tried for…
Melissa Breau: I was just going to say, you’ve had a lot of success with her, right? I mean you guys have done a lot of really cool things.
Mariah Hinds: We have done a lot of cool things. She’s one really fun dog, you know. Yeah, she’s a lot of fun and she loves to train, so we train a lot. And we trained for high in trial with my friend and we did a run off and we finished up in second place out of the 3 hundred dogs that were entered, and then in addition to our individual successes, our team was really supportive of each other and we celebrated each dog and handler’s big and little successes, and we didn’t let each other worry about the tiny baubles, so really overall it was a really great day.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. It sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe you have to start something like that here in NC.
Mariah Hinds: I know, it would be fun. I really…it’s one of the big things that I’m going to miss about Florida, not the heat, but I’ll miss that.
Melissa Breau: And what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Mariah Hinds: Well I think there is a ton of really great pieces of training advice that I’ve heard. My favorite piece of training advice is that training really should look like play. So my goal and my unedited training videos is that it really looks like play with just a tiny bit of training mixed in. But for me, the most impactful piece of training advice is that you don’t have to end training on a success, and when I embraced that, it was really pivotal for me with Jada and my journey to positive training methods.
Originally when a training session was going horribly, I would just keep going and build more and more frustration and anger with our repetitions instead of just calling it a day. And so once I was able to end a training session that wasn’t going well and go back to the training board, then our relationship really improved a lot. So I guess ultimately, it’s play a lot and don’t be afraid to give your dog a cookie and end the training session when it’s not going the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So I’m really curious there. You mentioned your unedited videos kind of look like a play session with a little bit of training mixed in. I mean your dogs are pretty drivey, just kind of knowing them and watching you work with them. What ratio are you actually talking about? Are you thinking like five minutes of play, two minutes of work, or like what do you…can you break that out for me a little more and just talk a little more about it?
Mariah Hinds: So I do a lot of focusing on tiny pieces of behavior. I know that a lot of people really work on sequences, but I don’t focus on that really with my dogs. I focus on just tiny pieces of behavior, like five steps of heeling with some proofing. Or five steps of doing left turns and right turns and then rewarding that and making sure that each tiny piece is really crisp and so that’s what I aim for in a training session, and so we do three minutes of work and they get kibble with that and then we do, after our three minutes, then we do a little bit of play and then we do it again. That’s kind of what it looks like. I don’t really do a lot of five minutes of training in one duration.
Melissa Breau: So for our final question, someone else in the dog world that you look up to.
Mariah Hinds: Well I really look up to Silvia Trkman. I love how she teaches heeling which is now how FDSA teaches heeling. I have no clue if that’s really related or not, but I think that she’s really an expert in shaping and she teaches her dogs some really fun tricks and the reliability that she gets with her dogs in really big events is awe inspiring and she does it all with positive training methods.
So I also really like learning from Bob Bailey. He has some really important things to share regarding training, such as matching law, reward placement, and rewarding more substantially for duration behaviors and I think that these things really impact precision and reliability. So I love taking things that I learned from him and thinking about how I can apply that to 10 different behaviors or scenarios.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Mariah, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.
Mariah Hinds: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was good to finally get to talk to you while the recording was running instead of just for fun.
So in case you missed it last week, for all our listeners out there, you’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly which is why you’re hearing this episode now, even though we just published the interview with Julie last week. And that means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Deb Jones to talk performance fundamentals, cooperative canine care, shaping and that all important topic, focus. If you haven’t already subscribed 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 soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Flanery has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
To be released 6/2/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds.
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 Julie Flanery.
Julie has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
Hi, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Flanery: Hey, Melissa, thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: So excited to have you on. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dog or dogs you have now and what you’re working on?
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I’m actually down to one dog now. I’ve lost three dogs in the last couple of years, which has been a little bit hard, but all of them were about 15 years old so I’m down to just Kashi, and Kashi is my 6-year-old Tibetan Terrier. She is a great little worker, in spite of some severe food allergies she’s had since she was a puppy and that kind of limits our training with food rewards a little bit, so we’ve really had to work hard to come up with some ways that she really enjoys her training and make every reward count.
We do show, as you said, in Freestyle and Rally-FrEe, and we just showed our intermediate Heelwork routine last weekend and started work on putting together our new routine. It’s a kind of a Las Vegas show-style illusionist routine, I’m kind of excited about it and Kashi plays my disappearing assistant and we just moved into...
Melissa Breau: Sounds so fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it is, it is. I have the ideas kind of swirling around in my brain, nothing complete yet, but that’s kind of where you start with freestyle is with an idea or some type of inspiration and you go from there. And then we also just moved into the Elite Division for Rally-FrEe after completing our Grand Championship last year. That was really exciting for me as well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau:So I want to start kind of at the beginning. You know, I talked a lot about your history there and you’ve accomplished a lot, but how did you originally get into dog sports?
Julie Flanery: That was a long time ago. If I’m really honest I would say it was about 25 years ago when I took my 5-month-old Border Collie to a pet class. I was a new pet dog owner, and I watched one of the instructors do a demo of how many tricks his 5-month-old Border Collie could do in a minute and I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog. I mean I’m just a pet person here, but I saw that and I was so impressed and so intrigued at what training could do, that and having a great dog to start with got me really immersed into training, and my competitive nature kind of kicked in a little bit.
And I didn’t really start competing until probably a couple years in agility to start and then obedience, and both of those were rather short-lived due to my discovery of freestyle I’d say probably in the...oh, I don’t know, mid-90s at an APDT conference after seeing a freestyle demo and again I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog.
And unfortunately, there was no freestyle available in the Pacific Northwest, or much really anywhere in the country at that time. It was just a fairly new sport then and there wasn’t really the luxury of any online training back then, so if I wanted to do this I was going to have to learn this on my own, and because I didn’t really want to do it alone I dragged a few of my students along with me, and today we have one of the largest freestyle clubs in the country and those first few students are still competing, are active members in the club today.
So, that’s kind of how I got started competing in general, first with obedience and agility and then really became enamored with freestyle, but I competed off and on in a variety of dog sports, as you said, so I think I have a little bit of a competitive nature at heart.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s awesome. It’s kind of cool that you managed to really...I guess you could almost start a movement in that area, right, like for the sport.
Julie Flanery: I don’t want to take that kind of credit, but I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it was not going to be something I could probably do alone. Freestyle’s not an easy sport to stick with and it really takes some perseverance to stay involved in it, and I just felt very passionate about it, and so anytime anybody would listen or anytime anybody wanted me to give a workshop on it I would go and I would oftentimes...early on with the club I would give free workshops just to get people interested and involved in it so that we could have a group that could put on competitions here.
Melissa Breau: Well, I wanted to make sure that I told you, you know, I watched some of the videos of you and I think most of them actually you’re working with Kashi on the FDSA website. Consistently she looks so happy to be working with you, and even the other dogs that you have in the videos, they all look so thrilled to be there and to be performing. So I really was curious what it is, or what you attribute it to in terms of how you train or the sport specifically that leads to that.
Julie Flanery: Oh, I love...I love that that is what you noticed. So to me there really isn’t much point in training unless you have a willing and happy partner, and in freestyle it’s a sport where emotion shows through and emotion is something that you want to convey, and for most of us we want our dogs to be happy out there working, and as I said earlier, it’s a very difficult sport and if you don’t have a dog that’s really enjoying it, it can be very, very difficult to progress in the sport.
For me really, the shift to really wanting a happy, joyful dog out there came about when I started using operant conditioning and shaping specifically with al clicker. I’d always used treats in my training. I primarily have always been a positive reinforcement trainer early on in obedience. I did learn how to use a choke chain and I was quite skilled at that, but I did train with rewards and mostly the reward training, but when I started using a clicker and shaping it became a much more reciprocal learning process where both the dog and the handler have a vested interest in listening to each other and that that outcome includes a sense of enjoyment and a desire to keep going, and I think for me having that experience of learning about shaping and clicker training and really listening to the other dogs was very impactful for me and impactful about how I structured my sessions and what I wanted out of those sessions in terms of emotional fulfillment for both me and the dog and I think the most effective way to build that is through positive reinforcement training and really important is clear communication, with that communication being a two-way street.
For years training has always been about the dog listening to the handler and I think it’s just as important, even more so, that the handler learn to listen to the dog. So, I think just making sure you’re paying attention to how the dog is feeling and responding in a session makes a huge difference in the outcome of that session and whether there is mutual enjoyment in that session. So, I think it’s a combination of both the sport that I chose and the techniques and methods that I choose to apply in my training.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I mean I’d imagine in something that’s typically set to music where really part of it is a performance aspect, like in obedience precision is precision and it’s possible to a fairly precise performance, even if you’re not super positive in your training, and I imagine it’s much, much more difficult in a sport where the goal is really to have it look joyful and to have it look really pretty.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it certainly can be, and that’s not to say that there aren’t freestylers that use or have used aversive techniques, and to be quite honest you can’t always tell, the dog’s being just as happy out there. But for me personally, I really enjoy the fact that I know that what I see in my training is what I see in the ring, and that’s all about that enjoyment of working together and bringing that joy to the audience as well because you’re right, freestyle is an audience participation sport, so to speak. It’s a sport that they’re not only for competition but for entertainment as well.
Melissa Breau: You kind of mentioned shaping and luring in there, but you wrapped up a class on Imitation and Mimicry and I have to say that’s like such a fascinating concept. If you could start by just kind of explaining what that is for the listeners in case they’re not aware of it, and just kind of sharing how you got into that, that would be great.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. No, I’d love to. Imitation and Mimicry is a form of social learning or learning through observation, and we’ve long known it to be effective in human learning, but it wasn’t until probably the last 10 years or so that we’ve really seen any studies on its use in dog training. I first heard about it at a ClickerExpo, a talk that Ken Ramirez gave on concept training in dogs, and then further researched Dr. Claudia Fugazza’s study that she did, and in 2006 she created a protocol that showed that dogs can learn these new skills and behaviors by mimicking their owners and it’s her protocol that we use in class.
Also what’s fascinating is that Ken Ramirez has developed a protocol for a dog-dog imitation and mimicry, and some of the videos I’ve seen on that are just truly, truly amazing. So, things that we didn’t think were possible now we know are and we’re actually able to bring to more people now. The class was really quite inspirational for me because my experience of course had been limited with it in working with it with my own dog and then some of my live classes, my students there in my live classes, we work through it, and when Denise asked me to do a class on it I was really excited, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I have to say my students in that class are just amazing. They have really shown me what this protocol can do and how truly capable our dogs are of learning some of these concepts, so it’s been a really exciting class for me. And matter of fact, I’m going to go ahead and put it back on...I think it is already...Terry’s added it to the schedule for August, and so I’m really excited about doing it all over again.
Melissa Breau: It’s so cool to watch.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I think you’ve seen some of the videos that were on the alumni page, and they’ve really drawn a really great response, so it is very exciting for me and I hope for the students too that are taking the class.
Melissa Breau: Other than just being an additional tool in the toolbox, and of course we all want as many of those as possible, right, what are some advantages to using that as a technique?
Julie Flanery: Well, first off, mimicry is not necessarily suited to all behavior training. It’s really best used for broad or more general behaviors, behaviors that require a high degree of accuracy or precision may be better learned through shaping or some other method or reward, however mimicry can be quite useful and at least one study has shown that behaviors learned through mimicry were learned as quickly as they were through shaping which really surprised me. I was quite surprised by that.
Some service dog work for example, retrieving items, turning on lights, opening drawers or cabinets, not only can the dog learn these skills very quickly through mimicry, but once the mimic cue is in place, even inexperienced handlers can teach the dog these behaviors with very little training themselves, so it allows inexperienced handlers to train these more complex behaviors much more quickly which I think is really quite cool.
It can also give the dog the big picture, so to speak. So in most training the dog has no idea of what the end result is, only we know what that looks like and the dog needs to muddle along, and he may not even know that when we reach the end result that is the end result. So, mimicry allows the dog to know what he’s working toward and may even help him to better able to guess steps toward that end result, so it could very easily shorten that training process, at least the big picture, at least the broad strokes of that behavior.
I think too it forces us to look at the dog’s perspective in how or what we are communicating. In mimicry the only information you’re giving the dog is your demonstration of the behavior. If your demonstration doesn’t make sense to the dog, he won’t possibly be able to perform it. It’s really no different than other forms of training. If we aren’t giving the dog the information he needs then it’s not that he’s unwilling to do the behavior, it’s that he’s unable, and unfortunately all too often errors are blamed on the dog rather than our inability to communicate, so to me this really gives us that perspective from the dog’s viewpoint. What am I communicating to the dog, and how can I make this more clear, and we learn that through our demonstrations in the mimic protocol and how we actually demonstrate these behaviors.
I think it’s been very fun to see some of the students realize, oh, wow, that demonstration couldn’t possibly make sense to my dog, how could he possibly do that? So, I think that’s a really interesting thing is that we gain a new perspective on the dog.
I’ve also had several students tell me their dogs are more attentive to them, they appear more relaxed in training. The process itself, the protocol itself, is very predictable and so it sets the dog up to succeed. For me though I think it really comes down to a connection. I think I have a pretty good relationship with my dog, but the emotion I felt...the first time she truly mimicked the behavior that I had demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever felt before. Not only did I feel a different kind of connection with her, but I think she felt a different connection with me as well, or at least I’d like to believe that was what I was seeing. So, it’s an amazing feeling that first time your dog mimics something that all you’ve done is demonstrated for them and then asked them to repeat it and like I said, for me it comes down to a different...maybe a deeper connection with my dog.
Melissa Breau: Do you remember what that first behavior was for you?
Julie Flanery: I do. It was a spin.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: It was amazing. I taught her...went through the protocol of teaching her the mimic cue, and then I did my spin and I told her “do it” and she glanced at me for a second and she did it and I was like, oh, my God. It was really quite exciting for her. I get a little teary thinking of it right now. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it really is such an amazing feeling. It’s a different feeling than what I felt...I can’t say that.
You know it’s funny. The first time I used shaping and had my dog offer something that I did not command him to do because that’s the term we used then, “give your dog a command,” the first time my dog offered something just because I had clicked and rewarded it, that to me was almost the same kind of feeling, it showed me the power that that technique and method had and I felt that same way with the mimicry too. It really showed me the power this method could have.
Melissa Breau: I just think it’s so interesting, the different ways our dogs are really capable of learning if we take the time to teach them how.
Julie Flanery: It is. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. It reminds me, Ken Ramirez once said in a lecture and it’s actually one of my favorite mantras, I keep it on my monitor. He says, “We limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible” and that is so true I think. It’s so important that we keep an open mind to some of these techniques and methods because we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s up to us to explore these techniques that can really bring out the best in our dogs and our relationships with our dogs.
Melissa Breau: Now this session you’re offering Rally-FrEe class, right?
Julie Flanery: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I want to make sure we talk a little bit about that too. In the class description you explain it as a combination of Rally and Freestyle. My understanding is you’re the founder of Rally-FrEe so I’d love to hear what led you to develop the program and why those two sports? Why did you choose to combine them?
Julie Flanery: Right. Originally I wanted to develop a structured way for freestyle teams to focus on their foundation skills and build their heel work and transition skills primarily to better their performances and really to increase their longevity in the sport, and then ultimately improve the quality of the sport.
Since I’ve been involved in freestyle I compete, I’m a judge, I’ve been teaching it for almost 20 years now, and I was seeing a lot of attrition in the sport. Freestyle is not easy. I would say it’s probably one of the more difficult sports out there. There’s a lot more involved in freestyle than just training behaviors. Teams would get through the novice level and then they would really struggle in the intermediate class and they’d end up leaving the sport.
In freestyle you can train any behavior you want. You have a lot of options and so you do, you train anything you want and mostly that’s the really fun, cool, complex sexy tricks, and generally they didn’t train any foundation in to support the complexity of the tricks they were training. So like any sport, freestyle has a specific set of foundation skills, but these skills, these foundation skills, I know when I first started in freestyle nobody told me what they were, I’m not sure anybody knew what they were, it was such a new sport back then, and even if we knew what they were freestylers were so spread out around the country and there was no real instruction available to it, the information just wasn’t accessible, and the information wasn’t really given the importance and value I think. You know, having foundation skills didn’t seem as important because of the perception that freestyle was free and you could do anything you wanted.
And I remember...I remember one of the reasons I wanted to do freestyle was I didn’t want to teach my dog to heel anymore, you know, heeling was, oh, my God, I don’t want to teach my dog to heel, it’s so awful. Of course heeling was taught quite a bit differently than we do now, but I didn’t really understand at that time how important heel work and positions really are for freestyle.
Melissa Breau: When you say foundation behaviors, is that what you’re referring to is kind of the positions and...
Julie Flanery: Yeah, the positions, the transitions, yeah. Those are considered foundation skills, and then there are certain foundation tricks in which all of the other more difficult, more complex tricks are more easily built off of as you know that anytime we start building a skill without a foundation it can be really easy to get frustrated in the training because it’s not built on the foundation skill. The dog doesn’t have any support for that skill, and so the skill tends to fall apart a little bit, and so as teams were moving up both the dog and the handler would start to get frustrated and not have that foundation to support the more difficult criteria and those routines would start to fall apart, and when they fall apart and it gets frustrating it’s no longer enjoyable, and so as a result the quality of freestyle wasn’t really getting any better and we were losing a lot of competitors.
So, Rally-FrEe was a way for freestylers to build skill in their foundation and heel work so that they could be more successful in the sport and find more enjoyment in competing in freestyle, and in the long run improve the quality of freestyle that we were seeing in the ring.
What I didn’t realize is that teams from other dog sports Rally-Obedience, Agility, they were starting to participate. I didn’t realize that this was going to become a worldwide competitive dog sport with participants in over seven countries, I mean I was like, wow. I was like wow. I remember one morning waking up and going how did this happen? I don’t understand how this happened. This was supposed to be a fun little game for me and my students, and I’m not the first one that has put together these two sports in an effort to help freestylers or have more fun with Rally. There are many instructors that have done this. Somehow I was able to and I had the support of many, many people to have this grow into a worldwide competitive dog sport, so I’m very thankful for that happening, but really I have no idea how that happened.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it was a lucky break, right?
Julie Flanery: I guess. I guess. I’m sure glad it did though. It truly has met some of my goals. We are seeing a much better quality of freestyle. We are seeing teams coming into it with a stronger foundation, and we’re seeing much more skilled teams staying in it longer, so for that I’m really thankful. And we’re seeing new people coming into the sport, coming into freestyle that maybe never would have considered it partly because of the choreography and dance aspect to it, and partly because it is a difficult sport to understand the foundation for how to start training, and Rally-FrEe really allows the new exhibitor, the person that just is considering wanting to get their feet wet in freestyle but really don’t know much about it, Rally-FrEe is the perfect sport to learn the foundation skills and then maybe ease into freestyle if you find you enjoy that. So, I’ve really actually been quite pleased at where we’ve gone in the last five years and how a lot of my goals have already been met with it.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Hey, good ideas catch on, right?
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I guess so.
Melissa Breau: So I did want to ask you, you mentioned kind of in there something about novice and intermediate levels, and as somebody who hasn’t competed in the sport. I was just kind of curious what some of the different things are I guess that they look at in the competition.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. So for most freestyle organizations the scoring or the judging is broken down into several categories, one would be content and execution. So, content and execution would be what do you put into your routine? What is the variety of behaviors and how well are those behaviors executed? What is the accuracy and precision of those behaviors?
Another thing that is looked at would be difficulty or creativity. How difficult are the behaviors that you’re including in your routine? Are you using hand signals because hand signals indicate lesser difficulty than behaviors that are solely on verbal cues?
Another aspect of it would be musicality and interpretation. How well do your behaviors and your sequences match the phrasing in the music? What is your attire, does it match the genre of the music?
We also look at transitions and flow, and transitions are behaviors that allow the dog and/or handler to change position and/or direction in a way that creates ease of movement and a visual aesthetic or flow to the routine.
And then Rally-FrEe Elements, which is the organization that I created that also conveys titles in freestyle, we also look at the teamwork and engagement between the dog and handler team. How well do they enjoy working together? How well does the handler support the dog? And I think we’re probably the only organization that actually looks at teamwork as a judged criteria, so that’s something that’s a little bit different from most other dog sports.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, and you kind of mentioned something about the verbals and the visuals in there. I was really curious how much of the cueing is verbal versus visual and what the role of each is in the sport, so do you mind just talking a little more about that?
Julie Flanery: Sure. So in freestyle we use three different kinds of cues. We use verbal cues and generally we like those verbal cues to be not loud and obtrusive, but loud enough for the dog to hear them but not so loud that they are disruptive to the routine or distract from the enjoyment of the routine. In using those verbal cues we’re aloud to talk to our dogs through the whole routine. There’s nothing like in obedience where you need to give one cue. In freestyle you may give multiple cues. Obviously, you don’t want your dog refusing cues or not responding to cues, but we are allowed to talk to our dogs the whole time, and so oftentimes we are giving our cues continually throughout a routine.
We also use subtle physical cues. So my sweeping arm might mean for the dog to back around me or go out to a distance, but we want those cues to be hidden somewhat within the choreography, we don’t want them to be very obvious like what a lure-like hand signal would look like.
And then we also use something called choreography cues, and choreography cues allow us to teach new physical cues that we can then use within the routine as our choreography, so they are physical cues that appear counter to a hand signal. So for example, I can teach my dog that when I throw both my arms up into the air that’s actually a cue to spin or to take a bow or whatever behavior I attach to it through training, and I can change those choreography cues for each routine as long as I understand and apply correctly the process for putting new cues onto behaviors.
But truly, verbal cues are extremely important in musical freestyle and they’re probably the most important cues in musical freestyle. It’s those strong verbal cues that allow the handler to include their movement and their interpretation into the ring. If you’re tired to hand cutes then you’re really restricted in how you can interpret the music and that’s part of what you’re scored on, but having those verbal cues doesn’t mean that we don’t use some visual or body cues. We just really want those to be subtle and portrayed as part of the choreography.
The goal in freestyle is to make it appear as if the dog is not being cued, that he or she is in total sync with the handler, and while the handler is leading the dance the dog is a voluntary partner. We want to create that illusion I guess, that illusion of dance partners, not one of telling the other what to do. If you’ve ever watched ballroom dance, even though you know one is leading it’s really hard to tell because they’re both so engaged in that process. So yeah, we have a lot of options in terms of cueing, but we work hard to avoid cues that appear lure-like or showing the dog or leading the dog into what to do.
Melissa Breau: How long is your average performance? I mean it seems like...in agility even you have signs out to help you and I mean you kind of have to memorize the whole thing in a freestyle routine.
Julie Flanery: Right. Yeah. For beginners, generally a routine is going to be about a minute and a half to two minutes. As you get up into the upper levels they’re going to go three minutes plus, and these are routines that you choreograph, so you’re actually memorizing them as you choreograph them. But make no mistake, it’s not an easy task to choreograph two minutes of behaviors. You’re probably looking at anywhere from I would say 30 to 80 cued behaviors in a two to three minutes period. Not only are these cued behaviors, but the dog needs to perform them in a timely manner with the music, so your timing of your cues is actually well before you need the dog to perform it so that he can actually perform it at the point in the music where it makes sense. So there’s a lot to cueing in musical freestyle, and so it’s something that I’ve had to learn an awful lot about and it’s something that once you get involved in freestyle it becomes a really important part of your success.
Melissa Breau: It seems like that would be a really interesting thing, even for somebody who wasn’t interested in freestyle, to take a class on just because it feels like there’s so much carryover there.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. And I think actually, is it Mariah? One of the instructors I think is doing a class on cueing.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I think it’s Mariah.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. It’s an amazing concept in and of itself and all of the different ways that we can teach our dogs to take our cues and all of the different ways that they can read our cues, so yeah, I think it’s fascinating and I’ve spent a lot of time in my own personal training development learning how to do that and what’s the most effective and efficient means of doing that.
Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to kind of round things out with the three questions I ask everybody who comes on the show. So first up, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Julie Flanery: Well, that’s easy. Creating a venue that allows teams to really succeed and enjoy a sport that I love, but if you’re talking personally I’d say that earning our Rally-FrEe Grand Champion MCL title. I really did not realize how hard that accomplishment would be and how fulfilling it was to get there. I created it and I didn’t realize how hard that would be, I mean, I had to work hard for that title and it was very, very satisfying to be able to accomplish that.
Melissa Breau: Well, congratulations. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Thanks. Thank you.
Melissa Breau: So possibly my favorite question every single episode, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Flanery: The best? Oh, wow. So I’ve heard tons of great training advice. Certainly something we all do, which is to make our training sessions enjoyable for all involved, that learning doesn’t really happen under duress and to keep it fun and light and amusing and enjoyable and amazing. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a quote that always stuck with me is that “criteria is joy” and if we don’t have that within our sessions then it’s really all for naught.
That and what I talked about earlier, Ken Ramirez who said that we limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible. That hangs in my office because so many of the things that I’m doing with my dog now that I would have said weren’t possible just a few years ago, so staying open to that.
But I think the one piece of advice that has really benefited me the most as a trainer, I heard from Hannah Branigan. I bet she gets this a lot that she’s responsible for most people’s success in their training, but for me really she talked about being aware of when and where our peak in a training session and not letting them slide down that backside of the bell curve. I am the queen of just one more, and that little lesson from Hannah has made me so much more aware of when it’s time to end a session and how much that really impacts the success of that session. So that’s probably one that I have benefited the most from, most recently and that sticks with me. I try to remember that every single session, all right, where’s my peak? Don’t want to go down the backside of that bell curve.
Melissa Breau: So that’s three, but I think they were three excellent ones. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. Sorry, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No, that’s okay. They were worth it.
Julie Flanery: There’s just so much training advice out there, you know?
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. No, it’s my favorite question for exactly that reason because I feel like It’s solid takeaways and you kind of walk away with a really solid reminder of something, and I think those three tie together nicely too.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, my final question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Flanery: You mean aside from all the great instructors at FDSA?
Melissa Breau: Preferably, I mean, they’re all awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. That’s right. They really are so passionate, so compassionate about what they do. I couldn’t say goodbye without saying it’s a real honor to work with them all and learn from them all, but outside of Fenzi, boy, the list is almost as long. I think probably Kathy Sadao has had the most long-term impact on me starting from probably about 15 years ago. Diane Valkavitch, my hero in freestyle, who taught me everything I know about transitions. I can’t leave out Michelle Pouliot who inspires and pushes me to do better every single day really. And Cassandra Hartman, she’s another really fabulous freestyler who is...she’s like the complete package when it comes to training, performance, relationships with her dogs. She’s just a real inspiration...all of them, super inspirational trainers and I’m really, really honored to learn from all of them.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome because there are some new names in that list, so that’s super exciting.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I’m always interested in more trainers that I can go out and look up and read about and see what they have out there in the world, so that’s awesome. Thank you.
Julie Flanery: Oh, yeah. They are great, and they all compete in various dog sports as well, so in spite of their current interest in freestyle and them being such great freestyle trainers they really have a wealth of information in regards to all different dog sports and training in general, you know, training is training is training and these folks have really impacted how I train and who I am as a trainer today.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Julie.
Julie Flanery: Thank you so much. It was really fun.
Melissa Breau: It was really fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We have a super special announcement this week.
You’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly.
That means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Mariah Hinds, who Julie mentioned there in the podcast, to talk impulse control, positive proofing, and competitive obedience. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have your episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Symons has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking and nosework.
One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team! Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both person and dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust.
She also blogs at K9 Rivarly.com, for those of you out there like me, who just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
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 Julie Symons.
Julie has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking, and Nose work. One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team. Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both the person and the dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust. She also blogs at k9rivalry.com, for those of you, out there who, like me, just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff. Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Symons: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Melissa Breau: Did I totally butcher the Belgian Tervuren there?
Julie Symons: Not bad, but I forgot to remind you Rival is a she and not a he.
Melissa Breau: Oh, well that makes a difference.
Julie Symons: It does.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now?
Julie Symons: I have my Belgian Tervuren, Savvy. She’s nine years old, so she’s my second Terv, and she is, I would not say semi-retirement, but I’m not training her in agility, or showing in agility or obedience anymore. We are focusing on nose work. She has her breed champion, her agility champion. Last year she got her UD and her Nose Work 3, and a couple of years ago she got a Tracking Dog Excellent, and that was really, a really exciting class to title in. It’s hard to get into test, and it’s challenging to find places to track and train, so she’s a Versatility 3 dog, it’s a title in AKC, so she’s my first Versatility 3 dog, so that’s her.
My newest dog is a Belgian Malinois, sometimes also hard to pronounce. He is 17 months old, and I love him. I do prefer girl dogs, but I felt that he was a better addition with my current girl, and they do get along great, and he’s a very friendly dog, not quite much phases him, so it’s been really nice to find that in a Belgian, and it’s just fun to train him, and he’s different, so every dog I’ve had is different. He passed his Nose Work ORTs, Order Recognition Test, last fall, and we have his first Nose Work 1 trial next month. He’s still a baby dog, you know. I don’t like to push them. Nose work is a little different. I know he’s ready for that, but I have years for him, really, you know, trialing and anything else, so I’m taking my time with that.
Melissa Breau: It’s kind of awesome that’s he’s a Belgian with the ability to kind of hang out.
Julie Symons: Yeah. I actually, kind of, joked that he’s like a golden in a Malinois suit, and he’s gone to a couple of conformation shows, sometimes the only Malinois, and I never even, you know, he just didn’t mind people touching him, examining him. I didn’t even have to train that. I probably don’t even want to admit that, but we’ll see. He’s a little older now. He might, you know, sometimes they go through different phases, and they go through different periods of time, and we, actually, have a trial next weekend that we’re showing in conformation, so I do like to get dogs out early. That’s the one thing I do like, conformation is something that you can get them into the ring early, if they’re ready, and they can have some really fun time getting lots of steak and liver in the ring, so.
Melissa Breau: Hey. Can’t beat that.
Julie Symons: No. No.
Melissa Breau: So, I think, from reading your bio, and stuff, you started out in flyball, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, when I bought my first house, I was an adult, in my 20s, I wanted a dog, so one of the first things I did was I went and got a dog. I went to a shelter and I picked out Dreyfus, really cute dog, kind of a big, you know, 60 pound, 70 pound, you know, Collie mix. We called him the Dick Clark of dogs because he never aged. He lived to 16, almost 16, and except for his physical appearance, you know, he just looked as handsome and young as Dick Clark, I guess.
You know, I don’t really remember how I got into flyball. I do know that I started out in some local class where you just stood in the room for an hour, and you got one time up, you know, in such ways we don’t train anymore. You just don’t have your dog, you know, unfocused and sitting there for an hour, you know, while you wait your turn, and I think I started, I got into the Amber mixed breed, it’s an American mixed breed organization registry. I don’t even think they have it anymore, and I could get like, you know, obedience titles, so I must have been renting, you know, some other training buildings to practice, and there were some people there that were doing flyball, so I must have networked and met them because I once I started going to matches and some UKC trials, and you just started meeting more people, and I got on this flyball team, and it was neat because, you know, I learned how to teach my dog to hit a box and a ball would pop out. He was really good at flyball. He was a big dog, so he was able to jump the little hurdles fast, and he got a run in every heat, at the trials. I remember my team members weren’t always happy that he got a run every time, but he was consistent, you know, and you want the time for the flyball, for the speed.
I also learned, you know, like doing a Front Cross, you send your dog down one side and you do a Front Cross and you pick your dog up. So, you know, I do look back at that as, you know, I didn’t stick with it, I still really like the sport, didn’t stay with it, but it was my first time going to, driving a couple of hours to a trial and I remember thinking, well how can a dog stay in the car that long? What if they have to go to the bathroom? It’s funny, when you look back and see, we were all newbies, we all started out somewhere, and you know, I remember taking pictures of my dog in the hotel room, like, wow, they can be in the hotel room, with us. So, I did that for about a year, went to about three or four tournaments for flyball.
At that same time, I was starting to look for my purebred dogs, and I thought, oh, I like this. There wasn’t as many opportunities for mix breeds back then, as it is today. I, actually, was looking at mixed breeds before I got Drac, my Malinois. I was so open to a mixed breed, it didn’t really matter because you can do so much with them now, but back then you couldn’t, so I definitely wanted a purebred dog. You know, Dreyfus was great, but he really was, you know, not a lot of drive, very distractible. Now I probably have a lot of skills now to deal with that, but you know, he liked to sniff the ground a lot, and he was not the easiest, you know, dog to train, you know, and for being new, you know, it was kind of hard, so I didn’t do much with him, past that.
So, I started researching, and I was looking for my next dog, and I saw the David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks on, you know, one night I was watching TV and they had a Belgian Malinois. I really liked that breed, so I was still going to this local obedience class and I mentioned it, to the instructor, and he said, oh, you should really get a Belgian Tervuren instead, so I went to a show, in Syracuse, a conformation show, and I found when the Belgian Tervuren were on, and I loved them. They were so beautiful. I grew up with rust Collies, so they kind of reminded me of that a little bit, so it was so fortunate how I found my next dog. I contacted breeders. They didn’t know me from anybody. They had a boy and a girl, and I got the girl, from Missouri, flown to me, sight unseen. Her name was Rival, and she changed my life, and she was just this high drive, just very biteable, bonded to me immediately, and then, I think, I did bring her to that same dog, pet, class trainer, for a little bit, but I didn’t stay long because, you know, the methods were much different, and I heard about a local trainer, who had just got her OTCH, on a lab, so I started private lessons with her, and I never, ever, went back to obedience classes, a class environment.
Then, so, when I got her, agility was really starting to hit the scene, so I got into an agility class right away. This is when AKC had one class, you would have the standard class, you would run in. We would drive like, you know, four hours, and you would go in the ring for 30 seconds, and you were done, for the day. So that’s how I, kind of, went. Then, in obedience, of course, I was continuing with that, and private lessons, and then I added agility. I started, when she was young, I started tracking the pet class that I had gone to was run by some Schutzhund trainers, so I would meet with them, when they would do some tracking, and so I learned a little bit about tracking, but I didn’t stay with them long. I would take a lot of breaks on and off from tracking, you know, and of course nose work wasn’t around at that point, but that’s how I, kind of, just, you know, I got the bug. I got the dog training bug with Dreyfus, got the purebred dog that I had more opportunities, and you know, she just made it so enjoyable and easy for me to pick up new sports, and so that’s how I, kind of, you know, you get that first dog, you know…
Melissa Breau: You dive in deep, and the world opens up to you.
Julie Symons: Yep. Yep.
Melissa Breau: So, at what point, I mean, it sounds like you were doing a lot of different things right out of the gate, with Rival. Did you immediately know that versatility was going to be something that was important to you? At what point was that like a conscious thing where that was like something you wanted to focus on?
Julie Symons: You know, I do think it was because of her, and just training her in so many sports, her temperament and her drive were superb. She excelled at everything we did, and she was a great teacher. I mean I still consider myself a novice handler, at that time, and I really got addicted. I got addicted to dog training, and I know, any and all of it, so I just, you know, couldn’t imagine just doing agility. I just enjoyed the cross training and just teaching such different skills, to my dog. I think I would get bored if I only did one, and I think that my dogs, the dogs I tend to get, to me, you know, I don’t want to put human feelings on dogs, but I do think they enjoy the versatility too. I think they like the different skills and the different things they get to do.
Melissa Breau: So, in retrospect, what are some of the benefits that you have seen, from competing in multiple sports, with each of your dogs?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, what I just mentioned, I do think there’s a cross training aspect to it. I’m not just working on, you know, their muscles for running fast. I’m using their nose, and I’m asking for some precision in other sports, like obedience. It also gives them breaks, you know, instead of working one sport all the time, you know, they take a break from, maybe, some of the more strenuous running and jumping, and then they get to switch to something else. I found that training in the different sports, you just develop and bond and relationship that’s different and maybe a little deeper because you have to learn different context of things, you’re learning more skills, and it strengthens that relationship that you have, you know, you have this mutual understanding with each other, to go out and do these different sports, and that you have these, you know, cues and things that they understand, and it’s just amazing to know that I have…because I train for sports, I don’t normally train just to train. I’ve gotten a little bit more into doing some tricks, I think that’s great for dogs, too, so just to think of all the ways I can teach my dog to do different things, and back to, you know, when I had Rival, she really showed me what was possible to do with a dog, and the possible bonds you can have. I just never thought you could do all of this with a dog, and I just think that’s what made me like the versatility of it too, it’s just a, kind of, challenge to try other sports, you know.
So, when nose work came along, I did not need another dog sport, believe me, but her brother had started it, and I saw a video of it, didn’t know much about it, and he passed away at a little bit of a young age, so I was, kind of, inspired to say, you know, in his honor I’m going to take this nose work class that I heard about Denise teaching, before Fenzi started, and she was actually in heat, or she was injured, or something, so like the timing was really good, so I used that, my dog is in heat or has a minor injury or it’s winter, you know, I think of what else could I do with my dog because I can’t do some of the other things, and that’s, actually, how I got into nose work. So, you know, it just comes along at the right time, for you, with the dog that you have.
Melissa Breau: So, I’d imagine that knowing now, at least, that that’s something that’s important to you, that you want to do a lot of different things with your dog, when you have a new puppy, which you’ve been through fairly recently, you might approach, kind of, those early days a little bit differently, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I think it is a little different, knowing what you’re going to, you know, train your dog in and compete in, but it’s really quite similar because a lot of the same skills that you need across all the sports, like you need your dog to be able to stay, you know, and sit or down, you really do, in every single sport. You need impulse control, you need them to, you know, wait for your cues. They need focus. They need recalls. You know, you just need all of that stuff, so that’s what I just start building. I tend to train thoughtful dogs. That’s good. I’m thinking like I want more like, almost out of control dogs, but I really don’t. I do tend to train, I tend to teach dogs to be very thoughtful, and I do need to balance that with some of that little bit of edge that I do want from them as well.
Let’s see, what else? But I also, like, approach it by switching on and off. I’m not training every sport all the time, you know, nobody can do that, and even, since training in multiple sports is also a challenge in itself, I also, you know, have a busy day life, day job. I have, you know, a son. I have a husband, so it’s hard to fit everything in. So, how I approach it is I just, sometimes, focus on one thing a month, like I need to teach my dog to weave, so just that month, it happened to be summer, I’m going to just, every day, go out there and train my dogs, a couple of times a day, on the weave poles, and I don’t really have time for anything else, but that’s okay. That’s just what I’m doing that month. Then, the next month, I might focus on, I don’t know, getting out to new places for obedience, and then the next month I may focus on teeter, you know, get my dog on the teeter and everything, so it just, I don’t really have a good, you know, plan around it. I don’t write it down, or anything, I just make sure I train my dog on something, most days, and I usually have a focus, so a lot of it depends on what I might be starting to want to compete in first.
Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. Because you can’t, if you try to sit there and say, you’ll get overwhelmed. You’ll get overwhelmed if you’re going to try to say, I want to do all of these six sports, oh my gosh, you know, and you know, I kind of move on. Once Savvy got her MACH 2 to, you now, I didn’t need to get a MACH 3 or 4, so I just decided, she could have still kept running, she was seven or eight, or something, but I just had other things to do. I had to go work on her, you know, TDX or her, whatever, nose work, now. I am very goal oriented to the title, so that kind of drives me in the direction that I train.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that I’ve definitely struggled with, so it’s interesting to hear, kind of, pick one focus. Now, at least, for me, and for my dog, I found that she doesn’t always retain the information long term, if we, kind of, leave it alone and come back to it, you know, like months later. Is that something you’ve had to deal with at all?
Julie Symons: Oh, she doesn’t. Well, no. Well I do think it depends on what it is, if you hadn’t, you know, taught something to kind of fluency, then you’re going to lose a little bit, but I also think they remember some of it, at least, so there are some things that I think you do need to, kind of, not drop off, you know, for too long. It depends, you know, it might be stays or recalls, obviously. I do think that, most part, they do remember, so, in that case, if they don’t, then, you know, you might have to just decide what’s more important that you need, and keep that in because, you know, I could do more than just my weave pole training that month. Obviously, I’m in the catch, and I’ll do stays with my dogs. I’ll put them in a sit stay, while I’m making something, or you know, sometimes it just takes one minute of training, just one to three minutes of training, a day. Everybody can find that.
I started to train a little bit before I went to work. Lately, with Drac, I train when I get home. He is so pumped and into me, that’s when I need to train him because he’s a young, adolescent boy. He, kind of, like doesn’t have a lot of stamina to focus, so I’ve actually had some really, really wonderful sessions, and it just might be as much as i can train with a handful of food and that’s all I do. Now he’s 17 months old, and he is like, oh my gosh, I’m like, he is so focused on me, like that didn’t happen months ago. So then, because I have that focus and maturity, I’m able to, kind of, progress a little bit further or teach him something new, so it’s, kind of, give and take, and you’re right, I know some of the stuff I started with him, like backup, I was teaching him backing up, he doesn’t know that at all, anymore, so, yeah, that is something that I did lose, but that’s not as important to me, to backup, away from me, so I’ve got to get back to that because I do think it’s useful, in some areas, but yeah, I did lose that one on him, by the way. I think what happened was, I was teaching him some other things, like a fold back down, or something else, and he kept backing up, and it wasn’t reinforcing it because I was working on something else, so I think that’s why I lost it because of the reinforcement, you know, I extinguished it. I extinguished his backing up, accidentally.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Do you have any advice, I guess, for other trainers, who maybe want to intentionally train for multiple sports or approach the idea that if they have a dog, they want to compete in multiple sports, either for getting started or just, kind of, for balancing things?
Julie Symons:Yeah. Yes, I do. So, a little bit, what I mentioned earlier, I think if you just don’t get overwhelmed and realize that you aren’t trialling your new dog, right away. It really is going to be years before you really get them in the ring, and I know, like it’s almost like you put a lot of time in those first, you know, two to four years. I didn’t bring in my, you know, Rival, who got an Obedience Champion, she didn’t enter the obedience ring until she was five. She could have gone in a little earlier, but I wasn’t ready, and once I got in and I realized we were ready, but you have time to bring your dog in because once you get them into that ring, at that time, it goes fast after that, so you take that time, you know, I would say two to four years, depending on the sport, and once you get to that point, then it goes really fast. If you start too early, I think you’re just setting yourself up to have too many gaps in your training, and then you’re going to, probably, struggle, and then it’s going to take you longer, so I would, you know, number one, not worry about time. It will come, when ready.
Also, a foundation, like I said earlier, just work on the foundation, work on things that you’re going to want anyway, you’re going to want to save the recalls, the focus, the impulse control, that’s going to apply to every sport, and something that’s near and dear to Denise’s heart, actually, is personal play. I’ve had to learn that more so in the last nine years because my first dog, Rival, was just naturally into me. I was her world. Honestly, I didn’t do anything, to make that happen, and when I got Savvy, and now I have Drac, other things in the world are more interesting, to them, than me, so I have had to think about, wait, I’ve got to build that personal bond, that personal play, not relying on food so much, or toys, and if you can focus on that, and you can have a dog that’s totally into you, that’s half the battle, and then the rest is just skill training, it’s just skills, and we all know how to trail skills.
Seriously, we have all the classes and the tools and the, you know, video examples, and the people’s blogs, we all know how to teach skills, some are harder than others, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a dog that you have built up this wonderful relationship with, I mean we all have wonderful relationships with our dogs. I’m not even saying that. It’s from an interaction, it’s a kind of bonded, you know, interaction that you need to build for that personal play around other, you know, interesting things, in the environment. So, I would say, and I had to, really, grow in that area, for me, and I really bring that into my training more where, to me, it’s more important that I’m going to interact and play with my dog then teach Drac to backup again. To me I’d rather need him to really want to come to me and to play with me, so that’s the things that I would have people to focus on.
Melissa Breau: You know, I’ve seen, I don’t remember if you shared a video or if it’s on your Fenzi bio, or what, I mean, I’ve seen some of your competition videos, and I would never guess that personal play is something you’ve struggled with. I saw you in between exercises, and on one of the videos you got down on the floor, and you were like very happy to be there. It was really nice. I mean it was…
Julie Symons: Yeah. I mean I think one of the videos might have been Rival, and I did make a clip, once, for somebody, to show what I did between the rings with Savvy, and she’s a very distractible dog. She’ll know the things in her environment, which is typical of Belgians, too, they’re very aware of people, there are some people they just don’t like, and so I’ve really had to work on that, so thank you, for that compliment. To be honest, that is why Savvy didn’t enter the obedience ring for a while. I can’t remember how old she was, when she actually went in for her Novice, CD, but she actually went in for her, you know, Novice CD but she got her Utility title at eight, last year, because I got her, when my son was young, he was only two, so I just didn’t have the time. I had three dogs, and I had my older dog, Dreyfus. I had, did I have three dogs? Yeah. Savvy. I still had Rival and Dreyfus, when I got Savvy, and I just couldn’t do it all. I, actually, realized I cannot do it all right now, and that was okay. That was okay. If I put pressure on myself then it’s just going to carry over to my dogs, so I appreciate that compliment.
Melissa Breau: So, you got there, and you got there at your own pace, and you got beautiful results.
Julie Symons: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I know that, in addition to teaching for FDSA, you also teach in person, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, actually, back in the late ‘90s, I started teaching agility, when I was doing well with my dog and it was still new, in this area. I found, you know, that I enjoyed that. I enjoyed helping people, and I was in a dog club, so I started teaching through a dog club, and then, eventually, when we bought our current property, the first thing we built, you know, we have seven open acres, and the first thing we did is we built a hundred by hundred, you know, fence, so the property was, the house hadn’t even started building, and I had this hundred by hundred, you know, fence.
Melissa Breau: Priorities.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Priorities because it was a lot of deer, and everything, and when I first started, without the fence, you know, a couple of dogs to take off, and that was really scary, so we got the fence up. So, I started teaching on my own. That was probably back in 2000, in 1999 or the year 2000, and then I had my son in 2004, and I tried to keep up, you know, and I tried to keep teaching, and I was still showing Rival actively, finishing up some of her big titles. I just had to back off a bit, so I stopped teaching and took a break from that, and then when I got Savvy into nose work, and she got her nose work 1 title, I immediately was like, “I’m going to start teaching.” I just wanted to get that first title and then start bringing it to my area because I could tell it was an up and coming sport. You know, everybody just didn’t AKC anymore, you know, there’s Barn Hunt, there’s a lot of other venues of dog sports. It was about the same time that I started teaching at FDSA, and so it’s gone very well, locally. People love the in-person classes because they can have them, you know, from me, so they’re spoiled a little bit. So, yeah, really, actually this morning I hosted a little match for some students, and myself, trialing next month, so it’s a lot of work. I rented a building and we had a gym area and another room to do hides. It keeps me busy.
Melissa Breau: So, just for anybody who may happen to be local to you, do you want to share, kind of, what area you’re in?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I’m south of Rochester, New York. I’m near the thruway, so I’m actually equal distance between Syracuse and Buffalo. I do have some people that, you know, come about an hour away, but most are local. Ironically some of them are just like within five minutes of my neighborhood, so we all live pretty close, and Rochester, New York, we’ve heard this for years, we have a really, really big, strong dog community, some really talented people, a lot of people invested in training, you know, competitively with our dogs. You know, I have people, in my classes that, you know, I have few pet people that started with me, people who hadn’t done much of the competitive sports, so I have a mix, but I do have a lot of people who have some dog training experience, and it was cool that they, these are people who do Schutzhund, you know, obedience, rally, agility, like they’re interested in nose work. Their dogs may be getting a little older, they’re retiring form a sport, or they’re young dogs who are coming up, and it’s, really, taught me that it applies, or interests, a wide range of people, you know, it’s not just for certain, you know, demographic of dogs and handlers, so and it’s growing. I, actually, can barely keep up.
I, just recently, made a job change to go to part time. I work at Xerox. I’ve been there my whole career, out of college, and I just decided that I want more time to myself, as well as for dog training. So, yeah, I’m actually really excited about that. The hours will change in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see. I’m not really sure if I’ll get more time to myself. I may just get busier, so we’ll see, but I did find that that’s what I love. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s where I was creative, and that wasn’t the side of my life that I wanted to cut back on, so I just sat back, looked at our situation, and said, “I can do this,” so, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Now you, kind of, mentioned AKC in there, and some of the other Nose work programs, but I know there’s been a lot of buzz about the fact that AKC has just recently added a scent work program, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, and that timing came quite at a good time, for some of my latest decisions. Yeah. So AKC rolled out a nose work program, they call it scent work, and you know, I think we all expected it to come at some point. I think a lot of people do like to show in AKC. AKC, you know, is a big organization, and probably going to be able to put on more readily available trials for people to enter. I love the other nose work programs. I think they’ve done a really great job with them, and I will still trial in them, but there’s people that are in some isolated areas that are too far for trials, there’s a long waitlist, so I think the AKC program, the reason I’m excited about it, is I think it will get more people into the sport because I really have found that nose work just does something to the dogs. It does something to the handlers. It’s not just the dogs that love because they get to use their nose, but just the people, to see their dogs be these little detection dogs, and there’s something about it. I haven’t quite pinpointed it. I think people like tracking, but tracking, sometimes, is hard to find the field, and there’s also limited, you know, tracking tests. There’s just something about it, and I think it’s just people seeing their dogs, instead of us telling our dogs not to sniff and smell things, we’re letting them sniff and smell things, and they’re doing it with purpose, and they’re doing it, you know, it’s a job. I think dogs are, kind of, bred to do jobs, and it’s a job that comes naturally to them, but there’s still practicing and training and skills that you’ve got to train to actually compete in that sport, so it’s just been something that I’m really excited about with the AKC program.
Then they added this handler discrimination class, which existed in a UKC program, so I’m not as familiar with that, from a nose work context, but I’ve done some articles for 20 years, and you know, I never really had a lot of problem with that, but I understand that it is challenging. I think it’s just more of a mindset of people realizing our dogs really can pick up the smallest amount of smell, and it’s not even a small amount of smell. I mean we’re putting our strong odor on it, compared to anything else, in the environment, so there’s a discrimination that they’re making between our smell and the steward’s, you know, smell, from touching the articles, and in this new AKC program, you actually have your glove, or your sock, that you, you know, scent, and then they’re going to have another person’s scented, you know, item in one of the other boxes to start, so it’s going to be discrimination, and you know, it’s just like with anything, you train your dog, what was reinforced, what is the value, so I teach my scent is to be reinforced, there’s a value to that, and to me discrimination is less of an issue than somebody going, oh, I like the steward’s hand smell better. It’s just more that they’re stressed, or they just pick up any article, so I think that the discrimination part, to me, you know, is very trainable, and it’s easy to teach a dog, just like with nose work, we teach our dog these odors, you know, Birch, Anise, Clove, these are odors that we’ve taught you that are reinforced. Any other novel owner, whether it’s a piece of bread or some meat or a toy, or even animal droppings, you know, they may find that self-reinforcing, but if they have the drive for the odors that we have reinforced, then they will seek those out over everything, so. So, yeah, it is pretty exciting, with the AKC program.
Melissa Breau: My understanding is that you’re going to be a judge, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I did apply, to be a judge, and I was approved. They still have to rollout…
Melissa Breau: Congrats.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. I’ve never entered that arena, of judging, so they still have to rollout like some online training and a test to take, so we’re waiting for that to come out, and it’s exciting because somebody, locally, is taking nose work classes with me. She said, oh, we’re thinking of getting this added to our national breed, coming up, and she said, I know somebody who’s a judge, so it will be very nice that I could, you know, maybe for some of the local breed shows, you know, I’ll be available to help with that, to get it started.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Now I want to change gears a little bit because I know you also do the obedience games class, at FDSA, even though it’s not in the schedule, until October, I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk a little bit about some of the obedience stuff you teach too, so do you want to just tell us a little bit about the concept for the class and kind of what you cover?
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for bringing that up. It’s been a very fun class topic for me. It’s called obedience games, and we added a starter version, which I just ended last term because I found that my first version got advanced pretty quickly, so I thought, wow, I can really even break this down more, and that was a real hit. It, kind of, you know, took a life of its own, and it was just real exciting.
It’s about, you know, being informal but still being clear to your dog. It’s about adding more movement and less, you know, static, stationary behaviors, and less fiddling with, you know, precision and the front, so we’re not even doing fronts, so I’m like, we’re not doing fronts in this class. Every time your dog comes here, you’re going to pass a treat between your legs, and then that just builds this like, you know, center of position, and your dog is going to continue with speed, and they’re just going to know, you know, to like go through you, you know. We’re not going to worry about errors. I really emphasize that because we all, you know, we all get a little frustrated or disappointed, and I’m really, really impressed, early on, there are no errors, we’re just training, we’re learning, we’re finding out what gaps we have. We’re getting information from our dogs. There’s no reason to be, you know, upset, or bothered and we don’t want our dogs to ever, you know, we don’t want them to have stress, in this game, and I think that I’m seeing some people give me comments that they’re seeing some people who took my very first obedience game class, last fall, they said, wow, I very rarely still use the games, it’s really helped my dog in the ring. I think it’s more that it’s helped the human, you know, it’s helping humans to, kind of, maybe loosen up a little bit.
One of the things that I really was, you know, enforcing was, you know, these daily games that if you just work, just a few minutes, like I said earlier, a few minutes a day, with your dog, there’s just something about that because I can go days and days without training my dog, I just get busy, you know, but instead, if I just find one little, kind of, action packed, high reinforcing game, to play with my dog, which with a purpose for obedience skills, for example, it just pays off with even your recalls. It pays off with your dog, you know, your personal bond, and I try to do some personal toy and play before every session. I encourage that for the students to do. Then, because we’re all so busy, I’m busy, you know, you can find a couple of minutes every day, and it really will add up and you will find your dog actually learned skills, and they want to work with you more because they look forward to that time of the day, you know, that you train with them.
Another thing is, you know, these scores will come eventually. When I entered, you know, my OTCH dog in her first trial, you know, we did get good scores, but they weren’t going to be scores that got me placed to get the OTCH points, but I was just in the novice class. I didn’t need those points yet, so I wanted her to go in there and know her job and be happy. I just, kind of, worked at those point deductions that I got, I just worked to clean them up, over time. I just said, oh, that’s where our gap is. I’m going to clean it up, and I’m going to lose less points, in that exercise, and that’s how I got to the higher scores, but not until I was, you know, further along, in my obedience competition trial because you’ve got to get that experience, and I just think I was trying to bring that thought process to the games classes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I think that even the mindset, right, from competition to thinking about it all as a game, for the person, is such a difference, and it just brings a more relaxed structure and more fun.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. It has. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well it’s been received, and I might even have to come up with like a middle level now. We’ll see how I can plan that. And what I love about it, too, is it complements all the great skills classes that we have, at the Academy, so people can be working on their retrieves, and you know, whatever, you know, all these other little skilled areas, you know, separately but at the same time, but separate from the quick little three minute games sessions because I’m doing that with Drac. Believe me, I’m working on, you know, his retrieve and his hold, and things like that. I’m working those heavy-duty skill things off on the side as well, so.
Melissa Breau: So, to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the three questions that we’ve asked everybody so far, who’s come on the show.
Julie Symons: Okay.
Melissa Breau: So, first, what’s the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Symons: Okay. It has to be just, you know, Rival, my first Terv, she became the first champion OTCH MACH Terv, and just getting that OTCH, actually, in itself, was just a thrill because I just went from the Novice A classes to OTCH, and I learned so much, from her. I, also, had my son, he was a couple of years at that time, and I just needed a couple of more points, and I was going in the ring, and we weren’t doing well. I was no longer training in the open class because my dog was now older, she was ten, or nine, or ten, and there was a lot of jumping. I couldn’t even train. I didn’t have time to train a lot, and I didn’t have time to maintain that, so one of my friends, and trainers, said, “You really need to enter the open class.” On a whim, I entered the one day that had spots left, in open, and we went in the ring, and I said, oh, I’m never going to finish my OTCH. I’m never going to finish my OTCH in an open class because all of the points are in utility and you know the scores, people get such great, you know, scores, you know, and it’s so hard to get the points in open, if you look at the point schedule. We went in the ring, and that’s the one that I show a lot, it’s in my obedience games intro, and we went into the ring, and I love to watch it. I watch it, if I’m down, or something, because just I went in there and I think that’s a lot, what I process my obedience games class with because I went in the ring not expecting much, and my dog was getting older, I knew she was going to be retired soon, and I have a son. I just can’t keep up with everything. I just thought, someday I’m not going to be able to go in the ring with this dog, and so I’m going to go in there and we got like a 199, you know, first place, we got her OTCH from that run.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Then, you know, to be a first in something is so hard, in a breed like the Belgian Tervuren. Now the MACH was a relatively newer title, so some fabulous dogs, before, obviously didn’t have that chance, but yeah, I am, we are the first Belgian Tervuren champion OTCH MACH, so that was very, yeah, special to me.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: To be honest, that dog was so deserving of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. She really sounds like something special.
Julie Symons: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, the second question, I like to ask everybody, and I think this is, honestly, my favorite question of the whole podcast, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I was looking forward to this one. I thought a lot about it, and you know, we all get such great training advice, but there’s two that really stuck out to me, and they’ve been pretty recent ones. I absolutely love Amy Cook’s, in one of her classes, but she also said it at camp last year, that, “Every time you train your dog, you’re teaching them how to feel,” and that just, you know, goes back to some of my outlook on training, also, is just like that’s why I don’t want to, if I stress them out, that’s how they’re going to feel about training, so it’s just such a powerful but simple statement that she made, and I really embrace that, and share that as often as I can with my students.
Melissa Breau: That’s great.
Julie Symons: I have a second one too. Can I have two?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely.
Julie Symons: Okay. Another one that I really liked was one from Bob Bailey. It was, you know, he’s big on clicker training, shaping, and he said something that, also, really resonated with me, with, “You better made a decision because the next one is right around the corner.” So, if you think about when you’re training a dog, and you’re like, oh, was that the right criteria. Was it right enough? You know, your next decision is right up on you. You have to make a decision, and it might not be the best decision, and it might not even be the right decision. You probably made a wrong decision, but you have to make a decision on whether you’re going to click something or reinforce something because the next decision is right around the corner, and it’s okay, you look at all of us trainers, our timing is off. We accidently click something that we weren’t supposed to. Look how resilient our dogs are. They recover. You know, they’re fine. So, I just really like that because I think some people, we freeze up, we freeze up in the training, when we don’t know what to do. That’s okay. Do something because you’re going to have to make another decision, like, another second later, so I really pulled that off of a DVD that I was listening to, and I never wrote it down, exactly what he said, but I just remember that concept. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So, for our last one, who is somebody else, in the dog world, that you look up to?
Julie Symons: So, this is, of course, the hardest question, I think, everybody has had, and I thought about it also, so this is obviously tough because I’ve learned so much from people, local and afar, because I work in so many different sport areas, you know, it just multiplies how many people I’ve worked with. I think I’m going to say that I do look up to anyone that thinks out of the box and is willing to try something different. I just think that, sometimes, we all get, kind of, stuck in an area, in a way that we do things, and I think somebody who is willing to, you know, just, kind of, maybe work outside their comfort level or just try something new, I just really respect that because you’re not going to grow if don’t do that. You’re not going to change something, and of course, my learning has exponentially grown, being a part of FDSA. I think the whole base of the FDSA instructors are amazing, so I do look up to the Academy and the instructors that we offer such a diversity of people and topics. It’s not just performance now, it’s from, you know, your mind to cooperative care to competition.
There is one name I will mention, if I have to mention one name, if I have time, is I will never forget one person that I worked with, with Rival, my very first high drive performance dog, her name was Patty Hatfield. She’s from Florida, and she had a wonderful Malinois named Lily, who was on the US agility world team, back in the ‘90s, and she would come to our area frequently for agility seminars, and she helped me, so much, with how I interacted with my dog. I am a pretty high drive person, myself, high energy, actually, high energy, and so with my dog, so she taught me how to, you know, adjust my energy levels, when she needed to be calmer.
She also does just love her dog. She had a great bond with her dog, Lily. She just loved her. She would talk about, you know, when she went home, from a seminar, I know I’m going to do all the wrong things, and I’m going to go hug my dog and just get all crazy when I see her, but you’re not supposed to do that because back in that day, you were supposed to ignore your dog, when you got home. You were supposed to not let them run up the stairs, ahead of you. You’re not supposed to let your dogs on the furniture, or you’re supposed to eat before they ate, all these little, you know, control things that were told to you, and I always remember, because I, kind of, did that stuff too, but I thought, “I’m not going to tell anybody,” but I let my dog up, on my bed, and let my dog run up the stairs, but I always thought I was doing something wrong because that was what you were told back then. I just remember her just saying, “I don’t care what I’m doing, or if I’m doing the wrong thing. I love my dog, and I just got to be excited when I see her, when I come home,” so I always, kind of, still just think of those interactions that I had with her, with the advice she gave me. She had a Malinois, and again, I just love the Belgian breeds, and I could relate to that as well, so.
Melissa Breau: Thanks, so much, for coming on the podcast, Julie, and thanks, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Amy Cook, to talk about using play to help dogs cope with fear and reactivity. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app, of your choice, to have our next episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
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 Julie Daniels. Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Hi, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: How are you doing today?
Julie Daniels: I’m really ready for this and I’m doing great today. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. I’m excited to talk about this. I know we’ve talked a little bit in the past about other things, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a chance to focus on the dog stuff.
Julie Daniels: No. My first podcast. I’m used to be on TV with people making faces behind the camera to try to make me screw up, so this is very different for me. Lots of fun.
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. Well, to start us out can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. I currently live with three Border Collies plus my roommate’s All-American mix, and I’ve got quite a houseful here. I often have dogs in for training as well. So our mix is always fluctuating and the personalities are always changing in their interrelationships. But Boss, my oldest, is eleven and a half years old, still strong and healthy, hale and hearty, runs with the boys and completely spoiled. Sport is my competition dog currently, he’s going on nine years old, still competing well, fingers crossed of course. Over the years I’ve lost three top agility togs in their prime of life so I do hold my breath and count my blessings every time I’m able to go to the start line with Sport. But then I have a youngster and Karen also has a youngster. So we have two adolescent sport dogs in the household who need training every day. They are night and day in their personalities and just so much fun to work with every single day. So we have two youngsters and then the older dogs.
Melissa Breau: What are the youngsters’ names?
Julie Daniels: Comet and Kool-Aid. Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue? Karen’s rescue mix is Comet who was not supposed to survive as a puppy. He has a liver shunt that was supposed to kill him and didn’t so he’s a real unique individual. And my young Border Collie is now a year and a half, Kool-Aid. She came full of confidence and Comet came full of fears and different issues. So they truly are night and day and they are best buds, best friends, absolutely perfectly compatible in their differences if that makes sense.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. That’s kind of awesome, actually.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. Yeah. It is. It’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: So in addition to Comet I know most of your dogs right now are Border Collies, but you’ve had a lot of different experiences with a lot of different breeds. You’ve worked with a wide range of breeds and I really wanted to ask you kind of what the secret was, if you have any advice out there for people in the dog sports world who may be competing, whatever their sport, with just a breed that’s not traditional for what they’re doing.
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Thanks for asking that because I think people do think of my sport, agility, as particular to a few breeds doing well, and it’s really not that way at all. Any sport that you want to do can be enjoyed with any dog. I always tell people, start with the dog you love. That’s the only way to do well anyway. And I think I can tell you from experience, all the extra work that it takes to make it in a sport with an unlikely breed, all I can tell you is keep at it because it’s worth it. It’s just plain worth it to go out there and do well with a breed or an individual dog, actually, of any breed who was not expected to do well. The pride just wells up in the teamwork that you accomplish over the years. I think no matter what your sport is that’s the case. So don’t worry about what breed you have. Choose the breed you love and play the sports that you’re interest in.
Melissa Breau: Your focus has been agility for the last while, but I was curious how you originally got into dog sports since I know you were in agility in the very early days, I’m assuming there’s a story there.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think you just called me old, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I didn’t go that far.
Julie Daniels: It’s true, I was one of the early people who saw agility coming from overseas and just jumped and said this is the sport I’ve been waiting for, that is true. So before that I was into competitive obedience and I actually had a Rough Collie whom I had for 13 years who developed an overshot bite, actually not exactly an overshot bite but a faulty bite as in common in the breed, and that’s the only reason why I went from breed to obedience. Of course like many people, just kind of never looked back, enjoyed the performance aspects more than the confirmation aspects, and just started down that road of dog sports as a team sport. That’s where my interest lies.
Melissa Breau: So how did you get from those initial days in obedience and become a positive trainer?
Julie Daniels: Well, positive dog training. Well, it’s been dogs and me my whole life, I mean, since before I could walk. My family loved dogs, my mother’s father had favorite farm dogs. So having been raised with that kind of exposure and being a very young, small child in a big family I was raised with a good deal of what I would say benign neglect.
All my dogs were walk-ins when I was a kid. My parents were all about, “You’re not feeding that dog, are you? We didn’t need another mouth to feed,” so to speak. Of course I lied, no, no, not feeding the dog, then pretty soon it’s no, but look what he can do. So ta-da, meet my next new dog. So my parents were open as much as they didn’t want me to have more animals I just had all kinds of animals as a kid from very, very, very young age.
As a little kid overpowering an animal doesn’t work, even a small animal, but certainly not big dogs, and relationship first and food second, that does work. I will say some of my earliest, fondest memories of being a small child in a big family, my mom was not particularly generous with praise, but one thing she said about me on a regular basis when speaking to other people, “Julie can do anything with any dog.” And I grew up knowing that was true, feeling that from the bottom of my heart from the time I was a tiny child.
So yes, as an adult earning money in college by training dogs and that kind of thing, of course I got off on the bandwagons which were popular at the times, much more corrective methods in the era of choke chains and stuff. I went down that path too, just like most people did, but it wasn’t really a stretch for me to come back, if you know what I mean, because I had such a base layer of success with positive reinforcement from the time I was a tiny child.
Melissa Breau: So what got you from doing obedience over to agility in those early days and then what led you to really kind of champion it and help set up clubs and things like that?
Julie Daniels: I saw agility first in…must I admit this? 1986. So my daughter was three years old, I was a stay at home mom, I had, oh, I don’t know, four or five dogs at the time and all the neighborhood kids hung out at my house.
I truly did see, I think I saw a book by Peter Lewis called The Agility Dog and I just jumped at it. I don’t know how to describe it, but at the visceral level that’s the sport I’ve been waiting for. So it really wasn’t that hard once I started researching who was doing agility back then and trying to find out what was available in this country which was not much.
And by the way, no internet, no cell phones, right? So my telephone bills were over 200 dollars a month, much more than I now spend on my cell phone which is kind of funny. But trying to make connections that we take for granted today back then was not simple and not easy.
So anyway, I got in touch finally with the person who really was starting an organization, an official agility organization in the United States which is USDAA. Ken Tosh and I have known each other since 1986 and he put me together with other people around the country who also were like-minded and he also organized these trips which were grueling but so satisfying. I actually bought a trailer and literally brought equipment all over the East Coast and we operated at major horse shows like Dressage at Devon and Fair Hill and all kinds of prestigious horse shows where people just…we literally came in and set up an agility rink full of equipment and people just brought their animals. So listen, I got to work with pigs, goat, miniature horses, all the stable dogs. So it was a very exciting and wonderful way to spend a weekend. Over and over.
My little girl came with me so Heather was exposed to all of this from a very, very early age too, my daughter’s name is Heather. She’s a very well-traveled individual. We literally brought the sport to new locations. And you know what? When I was younger I remember making fun of the Tupperware ladies because they had to cart all that stuff around so that’s Karma for you.
Melissa Breau: That’s great. You mentioned traveling all around and by demoing it, it kind of sounds like, almost, letting people come in, try the equipment, how did it kind of get to that next stage, that next step? What was it like to kind of help it get its legs?
Julie Daniels: Because I believe in this as a team sport, the best, most fun team sport I’ve ever played, it was easy for me to see that as a worthwhile way for me to spend my allowance and spend my vacation and travel time. So long before there were any official competitions there were a few of us diehards who were driving oh, certainly it was 800 miles down to Danville, Virginia, and I would drive that just to play with friends down there for a weekend on their equipment on their location. And there were no trials, so we’re not even going for any kind of prestige, we just want to play the game. So to be in at the ground level, I think it’s true in any endeavor but it certainly was true in agility, you just really had to want to play the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever lost that. I love to play the game. It’s the best team sport I’ve ever enjoyed.
Melissa Breau: Well, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your recent Baby Genius class at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy as well as the class you’re offering this session, and I think the day this airs will actually be the very last day before registration closes. People have one more day to actually go sign up. Which is you’re offering your adolescent sports dog class this session.
Most people, when they first get a puppy, there’s kind of a mix of emotions there, right? People are really excited but there’s also this sense of fear, this fear of messing up that perfect puppy. So I wanted to ask you, any advice you have for kind of overcoming that fear to actually accomplish things?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think that’s a very important point, Melissa, because I think we all have that kind of fear and should embrace it and laugh about it. We all know with our positive training methods that one rep is only one rep. One session is only one session. So you got off on the wrong foot? Just go in a different direction and do better next time. It really is that simple.
But I know that fear that you’re talking about. Usually when I have chosen a dog or a dog has chosen me in the past I tend to gravitate towards dogs who have issues, what other people would not want to try to raise. But yeah, I do have the occasional puppy in my life. In fact, Kool-Aid is one of those, my current youngster, who really didn’t come with any issues. She was beautifully bred, beautifully raised, a wanted child, and came without the problems that I normally embrace in a puppy and boy, did I ever have that feeling too.
So when I first started Baby Genius class I thought, I just have to put that out there. So I wrote that, how does that feel? Exactly like you’re saying it, I sure hope I don’t screw this up, and I have that feeling just like everybody else has that feeling. Even though I know in my heart it’s going to be a wonderful and beautiful relationship that will change and grow as we both grow together you can’t avoid that feeling of gosh, I hope I don’t screw this up, and did I cause every little thing that happens. Oh, no, did I cause this? Look at the monster I’ve created.
But you have to embrace that, laugh it off, just like we have to do that with parenthood and human children, you know, any one day…in fact, I remember posting on Facebook when Kool-Aid was ten months about criteria and I had asked Karen to please tape because Kool-Aid was just in one of those adolescent moods that are so difficult to regain your equanimity with. She just was being a little brat at the door if you know what I mean. And by ten months old these criteria of being polite when the door opens, those are pretty well in place, right? But nothing is perfectly well in place with an adolescent. That’s the beauty of the adolescent, you never know. She just was berserk. I can’t describe it any other way. Screaming, flipping, pounding, rushing the door and banking off it, punching me, punching the other dogs. So my poor adult angels, you know, and are being long-suffering and polite at the door, and this little brat puppy is just throwing the tantrum of her life.
So I remember posting it, putting it out there, and just saying, “I don’t care who you are, your ten-month-old puppy can look perfectly trained day after day but then come tantrum day.” And I think it’s very important to embrace. Tantrum day is a normal part of adolescence, a normal part of growing up, and not the end of the world. The test is for the handler, the owner, the dog mom to embrace the needs of the puppy in that moment. So the real question becomes, do I let her work this out? Do I help her by holding her collar? Do I let the other dogs go and make this dog stay behind? Which, by the way, don’t do that. That’s a mistake.
What I ended up doing was a lot of fun. It was interesting for me and it sort of gave me the next phase of that work that I needed to do with Kool-Aid. I really didn’t know that the tantrum was going to go on for a full two minutes. You don’t know that kind of thing until you’re in the moment, and it really did go on for two full minutes. I looked at the video afterwards and decided based on that…
By the way, you should tape yourself, I don’t care if you’re taking a class or not, videotape is so incredibly useful. The camera can always see something that you didn’t see in the moment nor should you see everything in the moment. You should be focused on your criteria and let the camera do its job of catching what’s going on behind you. Anyway, a little bit aside, but a plug for videotaping yourself whether you’re gold, silver, or bronze.
Melissa Breau: So what did you wind up doing that day with her throwing her tantrum?
Julie Daniels: Well, I truly did let her work it out, Melissa, and in the future I decided, no, I think because she really had so much trouble working it out I put my hand in the collar next time and just helped her. I didn’t pull her down but I eliminated the option of, for example, charging the door and banking off of it or harassing the other adult dogs. I eliminated those options by just holding, slipping two fingers down through her collar. A bigger dog, more fingers, simple as that, and eliminating the options that I really did not want to see again, did not want her practicing which might inadvertently be self-reinforcing because they feel pretty good, that kind of venting.
So eliminating those options actually helped her better herself in the future so that’s the way I do it now with this particular dog. A different dog, if it had played out differently, letting her work it out might be the best way to go, but for Kool-Aid it wasn’t.
I’ll have to share that video. It’s not currently in one of my lectures for that class. I bet I should share that. Especially now people are going to want to see it.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Probably. To kind of talk back through that for a second, I was originally just going to ask you what’s special about dogs at this phase of their life, kind of that ten month to two year old phase. Kind of what do you see…is it just that you should kind of expect that they’re going to go through that testing boundaries phase and be prepared to deal with it? Is it something more than that?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I actually love that question, what’s special about that phase, and I think there’s one underlying common denominator and that’s puberty. It is a special phase and I think what you said is true, you do need to embrace that the boundaries will be tested. I think any sport dog is going to be testing all your theories. So I think it’s important to embrace that phase, but puberty changes everything.
It’s very, very different and we tend to expect that what was taught to the teeny baby is in there pretty good by virtue of our having taught it young, and I think it’s fair to say it’s in there, but what you said is absolutely true. In this stage of puberty everything will be tested. So all those things you thought were in there pretty good, they are still in there, don’t worry about it, you’ll get back to them, but you’re going to have to earn them over and over again through adolescence. I think it’s very important to embrace that stage.
Melissa Breau: So is there anything that people can do when they’re still dealing with a puppy to kind of help make that phase of their dog’s life a little simpler?
Julie Daniels: I think expecting and learning to predict your dog’s likely behaviors is a very important part of getting through puberty. So as you get to know your adolescent dog better and better you become better, hopefully, at predicting how the dog will feel about a certain situation. So for example, I truly did learn from that ten month old example of full blown tantrum at the door over a behavior, mind you, which had been well taught. Well taught, well learned, well received, not particularly difficult or demanding. I think it’s really important to learn from each development that surprises you and to adjust future expectations accordingly the way I did with Kool-Aid.
So the next time at the door I didn’t even wait to see whether there would be a tantrum or not, I just hooked a finger downward through her collar, I think it was just one little finger. She didn’t look like she was going to throw a tantrum and she didn’t, but just that little bit of reminder. It’s not a reminder, don’t worry, you’re not going to be able to get away with this, it’s a reminder, don’t worry, I’m here to help you. That’s really what the finger is saying. There’s no pressure on the collar, it’s just a little reminder that we’re a team, we’re in this together, if we stay connected at the door we’ll all get outside much more quickly.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. I want to help you. There are rules but I’m going to help you get through them.
Julie Daniels: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I kind of want to know if there are any other common threads that you kind of see running through that adolescent dogs class, any particular problems you see that come up over and over again? Maybe that you could kind of talk us through how you would handle them just so people kind of get a sense of what’s in the class and also kind of your problem-solving style.
Julie Daniels: I solve problems, first and foremost, through games. Games are powerful because they relax everybody, both the trainer and the puppy, and they remove the necessary behaviors from the context of the sport where they will be used. That’s actually very, very important, that the behaviors are taught out of context first and then brought, you know, in a pretty well learned way, are brought to the environment where they will be used.
So that’s one reason that adolescent sport dog class is not sport specific. So we’ll be using props of all sorts. I love props and they are very, very…well, the clicker is a prop. Well, every little tool that we use and then have to wean from is helpful to getting the behavior in the first place in a way that minimizes mistakes and maximizes the fun of learning.
If your dog doesn’t love school, I don’t care what your sport is, you’re going to have a little bit of trouble learning behaviors which require things like self-control, impulse control, focus, and heavy thought. It’s very important that first and foremost your dog loves school.
So obviously we start that in Baby Genius class. The most important thing that we can give the baby is not any particular skill, even a basic skill like sit, I’m probably one of the most lax people I know, for example, in requiring a baby dog to sit, to greet people. That is not my first priority at all. My first priority is I love people. So the decorum, the elements of decorum, come a little bit later for me than for some people, and obviously that’s dog specific too. So if you have an adolescent Malamut jumping up on a human has to be long gone by the time they’re ten months old. It does make a big difference how big or small the dog is.
But it also is important even as we train these specific behaviors such as greeting behaviors, just the example that we’re using, it’s really important that we don’t lose the joy of greeting. So this whole concept of my dog can do this, my dog can do that, and he’s only x months old, I’m already competing and my dog is just 18 months old, I’m not likely to be doing that. I’m much more likely to be developing the teamwork, the love of the game, and the ability to work together than I am in being sport specific.
So adolescent sport dog is not sport specific. It is advanced foundation work to be carried over into any active sport. It is designed for active sports therefore things like impulse control are hugely important and we will play with impulse control forwards, backwards, sideways, and inside out. So the dog really understands how to offer certain behaviors in the context of high activity and excitement.
Melissa Breau: So I think that’s really interesting because I think that’s a problem a lot of people have found they have even with their older dogs. If they didn’t curb it in adolescence they end up with a three or four year old or even five year old dog who may still be struggling with nice greetings or some of those behaviors that sounds like you’re addressing really in this class.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think the ability to think amid distraction is something that we all have to work on steadily, don’t you, for the people as well as the dogs, right? Because it’s very common for people to become disconnected from the dogs at the drop of a hat and that’s part of this class too. It’s not just the dog who needs to stay focused amid distraction, that focus and that team play are a very important two way street and we give, we will learn to give as well as we want to get.
So the ability to tell the person who just came in the door to wait a minute without even looking at that person in order not to break the connection which you were in the middle of with your dog, I think that’s a very, very important skill for a human to develop as a trainer. We have to give as good as we want to get. That’s not simple and that requires multitasking skills which is also a focus of this class, the ability to take in peripheral information while we’re operating on the information currently on the table, that’s tricky, and it’s tricky for both humans and dogs, and both members of the team need that skill.
Melissa Breau: That’s very interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that quite looked at from that angle before.
Julie Daniels: I’m always siding with the dog, right? So it’s always clear to me the unfairness of people requiring things from their dogs that they’re not willing to give themselves. I call people on that all the time as gently as I can, although I admit that my in-person students are apt to say, “You’re much gentler with your online students than you are with us.” I think that’s true. That’s true. Guilty as charged. Boy. I call people on things immediately when I’m looking at it in person, right?
Melissa Breau: Of course it’s real time and you can call them live whereas online it’s after the moment, it’s already passed.
Julie Daniels: That’s right.
Melissa Breau: All right. To round things out I just have three more short questions. They’re the questions I’ve asked everybody so far who have come on the podcast. The first one is what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Daniels: Proudest of. I don’t think I’m a very proud person in general, but no, there is something. Over the years I think maybe it’s because I was involved in my sport of agility from the very beginning, before we had competitions, but I do think that over the years I’ve become both comfortable and philosophical about winning and losing even in big competition, even in very prestigious competition. I think one strength of mine is that I do not stand on a podium and think wow, I kicked everybody’s butt. I don’t think like that, I don’t act like that. Instead, if I had to put it to words, I think it’s more like, I have let this great dog down more times than I can count but not today.
Melissa Breau: I like that. I like that way of looking at it.
Julie Daniels: It’s not world peace when I go to the start line with my dog, it’s a game I get to play with this wonderful teammate that I enjoy every day.
Melissa Breau: So my second and perhaps my favorite question that I ask the guests who come on is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I remember hearing that on the other podcasts and I remember thinking at the time, oh my God, how did they choose? It’s such a difficult question. So I actually gave this some thought and obviously it is hard to choose, but I decided to go with some words that struck me at the time like a ton of bricks and still come back to me strongly almost every day when I work with other people’s dogs particularly. And it’s from an abnormal psych class that I took in college, but you said training, you didn’t say dog training. So it pertains to everybody, it pertains to everybody including dogs. But this professor said in abnormal psych class, I don’t remember the question he was asked that he was responding to, but it was about irrational fears, it was about irrational fears, phobias and the like, and this professor just, I remember the stroking the goatee type thing, and he says, “You can’t help anyone unless you begin by accepting their premise as valid.”
So I think I try to bring that acceptance to all my dog training. So therefore I’m less apt to judge the dog, I’m less apt to waste time trying to talk him into things that he’s obviously loathe to do or certainly afraid to do. I go deeper, I get inside his head, I fell in love, and I help. And I help by starting where the dog is right now and I accept his premise as valid.
Melissa Breau: And that premise can really be almost anything, it can be fear, it can be excitement, it can be joy, I mean it really can be almost anything. That’s a really interesting angle to look at training, kind of a lens to look at training through.
So my last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Daniels: Another tough one. I think one of the people who helped me the most with a couple of difficult training issues with my own dogs is Temple Grandin. I first saw her book, Thinking in Pictures, it’s not her first book but it’s the first book of hers that I saw. Since then, long since then a movie has been made of her life and the work that she’s done with animals. She’s primarily a livestock person but she actually likes dogs very much. Her three books that I would recommend everybody pick up, Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation which came after that, and then later than that, Animals Make Us Human.
Temple Grandin, you would think because of her background with livestock would consider dogs and certainly my sport, dog agility, as absolutely frivolous. I mean, you could make a case for that, it’s not the kind of thing that she works with. But I’ve been to three of her conferences, and actually she thinks dog agility is pretty cool. She loves the whole, as I do, loves the whole interspecies thing. I grew up with all kinds of different animals, and the whole interspecies relationship, interspecies communication thing is just fascinating and wonderful to me. I can’t get enough of it.
And Temple Grandin is like that. She’s the kind of person who wants good for all creatures and really is one of the world’s experts in accepting the animal…she doesn’t say it this way, but she accepts the animal’s premise as valid better than anybody else I know.
Melissa Breau: I actually haven’t read her books. Now I’ll have to go pick them up.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. She helped me a great deal with one very special dog I had named Superman, Clark Kent, my students used to say he’s Clark Kent in the house but he’s Superman in the arena. He was certainly an autistic dog, you know what I mean, more than ADHD, he really was challenging to train, and he became, ultimately made challengers round the only time he went to AKC National. So no slouch, the dog was, let’s just say had a lot going for him but was extremely challenging to work with.
She said to me about him, “You’re treating it like he needs the big picture but he can’t…there will never be a big picture. It’s all detail. All detail. So when you give him cues you’ll have to give them sequentially.” Of course me as a world class agility trainer I’m like, oh, you have to do at least three things at once. Who are you kidding? But she was absolutely right and when I started breaking down what she had said and trying to apply it to the way I was training Clark at seven yards per second she was absolutely right and that is what helped me more than anything else with being able to communicate at full speed with this phenomenal dog.
So anyway, that’s just one little example, but she’s helped very, very many people by giving them a different way of looking at things, but it always, always embraces that premise that you have to accept the dog where he is, and that’s your start point.
Melissa Breau: Very interesting. Well, thank you so much, Julie, for coming on the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our audience for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Symons to talk about versatility in dog sports, obedience, and scent work. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!