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.
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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.