Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. She has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring and her focus is really on clear communication with your dog.
She also recently launched a blog on her website, which all of you should check out at www.shadesdogtraining.com.
To be released 10/05/2018, an interview with Stacy Barnett to take a deeper dive into scentwork than we have previously here on the podcast, talking about everything from start line routines to scent cones and converging odor.
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 have Shade Whitesel back on the podcast to talk about concepts of competition. For those of you who haven’t heard the previous episodes with Shade, Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. She has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring, and her focus is really on clear communication with your dog.
She also recently launched a blog on her website, which all of you should check out at www.shadesdogtraining.net.
Welcome back to the podcast, Shade!
Shade Whitesel: Thank you Melissa. Thanks for having me on again.
Melissa Breau: Of course! To start us out, do you want to just remind listeners a little bit about who you are and share a little about the dogs you share your life with … including of course that newest addition?
Shade Whitesel: Well, we’ve got six dogs right now. We’ve got three old ones — 10 and a half, 11 and a half, and 12 — so it’s going to be a hard couple of years, but they’re all doing really well. And we have two we call the twins, which is Bailey and Ones, who are almost 6. And the new arrival is a 4-month-old German Shepherd puppy. All of them are German Shepherds, with the exception of one of our old ones, who is a German Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix. So yeah, we’ve got a full house here, including two kitties, so a lot of individuals in our small house.
Melissa Breau: So let’s start with the puppy. It’s Talic, right? Am I pronouncing it right?
Shade Whitesell: Yeah, you’re pronouncing it great.
Melissa Breau: All right. So I’m pretty sure it’s puppy season, because it feels like everybody has puppies right now. I talked to Sarah Stremming and Leslie about Watson, and I talked to Hannah recently about Figment, and I’ve asked everybody a different version of this question, but … with a new puppy in the house, what have you been focusing on?
Shade Whitesel: Well, I haven’t listened to what they said, so I’m interested in what they said. But I’m really about building his reinforcements, like, how I’m going to reinforce him, which means training his toy skills, how to use “chase” and “strike” as reinforcement, will you eat food here, will you eat food there, and then also, as far as skill-wise, how to move his body.
Onesie’s got some challenges in his body as far as doing Schutzhund, and Schutzhund is physically challenging on the dogs, so I’m wanting Talic to understand how to move his body in different directions, how to be two on, two off, hind feet. I just want him to be really aware and really flexible and really supple, so I’ve been concentrating a lot on shaping skills like that.
And he still does not know how to sit, and that’s not a bad thing. He knows a lot of other words that mean reinforcement, but it’s mainly about building the joy in what I can give him, because that’s what I’m going to be using to teach all the behaviors, like sit, and if I don’t have the reinforcement, then I can’t get the sit.
Melissa Breau: We see that pop up on the Facebook page every so often, where people are like, “I have a puppy and I just realized that he’s however many month’s old and he doesn’t actually have that many things on verbal.” It’s like, they’ll come, they’ll happen, as long as you’ve got the other pieces.
With new puppies, one of the places people tend to struggle is looking at those long-term goals — like you mentioned Schutzhund — that they have for that dog, and figuring out what to teach more immediately or in the short term. Can you talk a little bit about what your longer-term goals are with Talic and how you’re starting to prepare him for that?
Shade Whitesel: Short term is basically the reinforcement, and how to move his body, and long term would be Schutzhund and AKC.
I really want him to be OK around other dogs, working in close quarters with other dogs. I taught a seminar this weekend, a camp seminar with Amy Cook and Sarah Stremming, and it was really busy. We had lots of dogs around, and I was really impressed with how Talic handled himself in that environment. He was able to demo a couple of times, he was able to eat, he was able to demo his light toy skills. That’s so important to me because that’s going to fit into his long term, which is do the stuff around other dogs and be comfortable about it. So longer term, the competition goals.
No one ever talks about it as much, but short term and long term is life skills. My dogs are in the house, and my short-term goal is getting along with everybody in the house, including that cats. That’s my long-term goal as well — to get along with everybody for all your life. Dogs mature and they’re at different stages, so sometimes that can be challenging when you’ve got a lot of dogs, and when you’ve got highly motivated dogs too.
Melissa Breau: This session obviously you’ve got your “Crucial Concepts of Competition” class back on the schedule, which feels a little timely! What “crucial concepts” does it address, and how do those skills eventually help prepare us and obviously our dogs for competition?
Shade Whitesel: First of all, I think I might enter Talic in the class, which means I’ll run a Gold spot showing what I’m working on with him and he’ll work through the class skills. I find a lot of people gain perspective seeing the trainers work the dog, so it’s good being a student. When I critique my own videos, when I realize how much more work we have to do, I have more empathy, so that’s a good thing.
The class itself is about different ways of getting behavior. Do you want to lure that do you want to shape it, I just go through the ways in which to get it, making sure people are knowledgeable about when do you add the cue, how do you name a lured behavior, how do you name a shaped behavior. Not so much what’s the best way; I don’t really want to compare the ways. I just want to say, “Here’s how you do this, here’s how you do this.”
We go through offered behaviors, we go through getting plain behavior loops, clean movement cycles, how do you decide whether your learner is in the frame of mind to work, things like that. I love giving the class because I feel that it covers a lot of different stuff, and so people can get an overall of what they’re going to use to get behaviors.
Melissa Breau: I mentioned in the intro that one of the things you focus on is really clear communication when training, which I know obviously all of those bits and pieces fall into that. What are a few of the ways that we can, for lack of a better word, muddy things up when we’re trying to train a new behavior?
Shade Whitesel: The first and foremost thing is people’s mechanics aren’t clean. It’s basically click, pause, then treat. That way the dog starts understanding to listen, and not to watch your hands and not to watch where the treats are.
I see training get really muddy when there’s not clear cues for what the dog is supposed to do. There’s a lot of training sports that we do want the dog to watch us, like in heeling they need to be on one side of our body, so obviously they need to watch the left side of our body. But we really want the dog also to be listening to what you’re saying as you’re teaching them. In a lot of our sports, body language is not allowed, and we want to be clear in those mechanics.
Also know what you’re teaching. Have a clear idea of the steps to get there, and what exactly you want to teach and what you’re going to reinforce. So I really like people to know what they’re teaching and what they’re going for.
Melissa Breau: What are some of those common signs that our dogs give us that maybe we’re not being clear?
Shade Whitesel: My puppy walked away from me today in his little training session, and we want to stop before they do that. Walking away — that’s not so good. I should have noticed before. But basically look-aways, not re-orienting toward you right away, sniffing, leaving, vocalization, things like that are a good sign that your training is going in a way that you don’t want it to. If you’re using toy skills, dogs that are taking a little longer to come back to you, or a little longer to give up the ball or the toy.
You know things are going wrong, or you know your learner is having a hard time with stuff, when they stop re-orientating to you for the next rep, if that’s what you want. If you have a training loop where the dog is doing something, getting reinforcement, and then re-orientating to you in that behavior, then that re-orientating to you — I call that a reset — when that starts to deteriorate, that’s when you know your training session is getting a little harder for your learner.
If you’re doing something shaping and the dog is re-orientating to the mat when you’re teaching a “Go to the mat,” if they start arcing on the way to the mat or something, that would be another sign that the training is not going well. And dogs will do that before they leave, before they sniff, so those are the things you want to start noticing and adjust your training session for.
Melissa Breau: A lot of times we miss those early signals where things are taking a little bit longer, and it’s good to know that that’s where we want to start to listen.
Shade Whitesel: Yeah, and more and more I know that I, as a trainer, I start noticing it faster. It’s a look away, it’s a slow into heel that we need to notice, because those things come before the dog is like, “I don’t know what heel means.” So we need to notice those little things, if that’s how we’re training.
If your dog normally looks away in heel, then that wouldn’t be something that would give you information, but if normally they’re heeling along really well and then heel up against a baby gate and the dog looks away, that’s a real good sign that that’s hard.
Melissa Breau: And it makes sense to go back and bring it down, and obviously that’s one of those places where video becomes super valuable, because even if you don’t see it in the moment, when you look back at that video, sometimes it’s a lot more obvious.
Shade Whitesel: Video is great because you don’t always know. Or if I videoed my session before I’m sure the puppy did some stuff, before he went, “You know, that’s too hard,” if I videoed, I might be a little bit more knowledgeable about that, and in fact I will video our next session for that information.
Melissa Breau: Often, if communication is less than clear, it leads to mistakes or misunderstandings about the behavior that we’re trying to teach. I know you have a specific protocol that you share for dealing with mistakes that happen during training. Can you talk us through that?
Shade Whitesel: Just having taught this camp seminar with Amy Cook and Sarah Stremming, we had a Q&A session at the end of it, and we talked about mistakes both days. I want to thank … I didn’t know the woman who said this, but a shout out to her because it’s a really good way to put it: I want people to think of mistakes as information for the handler — not for the dog, for the handler — that whatever we’re trying to teach, it’s not getting through.
So first of all, just knowing that, knowing that mistakes are information that we’re not communicating what we thought we did, because the learner, the dog, they always think they’re right. They’re doing what we’re teaching them, so mistakes are not really that much mistakes. They’re information that “I need to get a little better about something in that training session,” and we don’t always know at the time.
As far as specific protocols, I have some stuff where it’s like, OK, the dog makes one mistake, reset the circumstances that made that mistake, and then, if they make two mistakes in a row, always, always go back, make it super easy, make sure they get reinforced afterwards. Another thing I might do, if I’m working on positions or something, I might feed the dog in position and then do a reset cookie. So basically the dog’s getting two treats: they’re getting one in position and then a reset cookie. If they get the position wrong, then I might not feed them in position, but I would still get that reset treat out there, so if they understand what to do instead, the next time they’ll do it. So they know they missed their opportunity for a cookie there.
Everything I’m talking about, like the resetting or missing out on a cookie, that really depends a lot on the history of your learner and how old your learner is in the work. You don’t want to reset a puppy. I might treat one of these mistakes — I have a 6-year-old dog — a little differently than I will treat Talic’s mistakes, both of them being my own fault as their teacher, but one has six years of learning history, whereas the little puppy just has a couple months of learning history, so treating those differently might be a possibility.
The big thing, too, is they made a mistake — they already made a mistake. There’s nothing you can do. Don’t worry about it. Give them another behavior they can do. I find everyone’s so worried about the mistakes, and more and more I think we should go … we should note it in our minds: They came off 30 degrees off position in heel position. Let’s not do that again. Let’s figure out and let’s give them a behavior that they can do that I can pay them for, get them reinforced as quickly as possible, and then move on and try to evaluate why they didn’t come in correctly to heel position.
Those are just some things I’m thinking about off the top of my head about what we call mistakes but really should be information for us.
Melissa Breau: If that kind of stuff happens regularly, obviously it can lead to frustration on the dog’s part.
Let’s say someone is seeing definite signs of frustration in their training — barking or leaving or any of those obvious flags. How can they begin to figure out what’s going on and make a plan to fix it?
Shade Whitesel: Well, video is your friend, and we’re all kind of talking about the same thing: frustration, mistakes, training being muddy, not having clear resets, behavior from the dog — it’s all kind of the same thing.
Frustration — I think we label frustration when the dog is barking or pushy at us, whereas it’s probably the same reason as the dog that sniffs and leaves. Both of it is that they’re semi-confused over what we want, or we’re not communicating correctly.
What I always look at is I look at my resets. Does my dog re-orientate to me as fast as they can? If that gets slow, then I always look. If my dog’s barking, that’s definitely I’m going to make sure my rate of reinforcement is up, make sure I’m communicating, make sure I’m breaking it down as tiny steps as possible.
Working on my German Shepherds, they love to bark, and I’m very, very careful about drilling very hard behaviors. Frustration-wise, a lot of Shepherds will bark when you ask them to back up or ask them to do a left finish, and I’m very, very careful about training those in a calm way so that I don’t get any extra whines, things like that, and making sure that I don’t ask for ten of them, so that my dog isn’t frustrated, like, “I just did that.” Whereas a lot of times where the dog is moving forward, that’s not as frustrating for them.
So look at your training, make sure everything’s clear so your dog isn’t frustrated, but also look at what you’re asking them to do. If they’re trying to inhibit themselves and do a lot of start-stops, that can be really frustrating for dogs that like to move and go forward, so that’s an extra thing to think about.
The other thing about frustration is did your dog expect reinforcement, and have you made this association of your dog wanting reinforcement and now all of a sudden you’re not giving them reinforcement, so they get frustrated at you. So it’s about associations.
I see a lot of times — and myself included, because I’m far from a perfect trainer — we may stay too long at one step in eventually what’s going to be a behavior chain, and when we try to move beyond that step of training, the dog is like, “But wait a minute. You paid me twenty times, and now this twenty-first time, why aren’t you paying me?” So we have to make sure that we up the criteria as fast as our learner is able to, so we don’t create that frustration of being at one step and then the dog thinking that that’s the end product.
I usually describe it, if we’re teaching “Go to the mat,” because that’s a really easy way to describe it. Let’s say it’s five steps to go to the mat, and if we click at Step 2 three times and then we expect Step 3, maybe our specific learner thought, I only moved two steps to this mat. Have you clicked that three times so that’s all I do. And then they don’t understand when two steps doesn’t get a click. I always describe it that way because that seems to make sense to people, where we’re thinking we’re waiting for the next step, where the learner is like, “Wait a minute. You just taught me take two steps.” That’s often a thing that we can figure out in video when we watch them and think about in our training sessions.
So lots of stuff to think about, and there’s no recipe for this, which makes it a little hard sometimes.
Melissa Breau: Another endorsement for the value of video for sure.
Shade Whitesel: Totally. It’s made me a better trainer.
Melissa Breau: Looking at the syllabus for “Crucial Concepts,” it lists a lot of, obviously, a lot of concepts. Do you have specific skills — I know you mentioned mat work a couple of times — that students will work through to apply those concepts, or are they picking their own behaviors to work on? How does that work?
Shade Whitesel: I do show behaviors that I want them to do, and they can pick their own, if they know those. For instance, one of the behaviors we show is “Go to a mat.” That’s real simple for the shaping part of it. You can choose to shape something else, but I’d rather people take non-trial behaviors so they aren’t so worried about stuff.
I don’t want them to try to lure a perfect sit because they’re worried about having that perfect sit for heeling, things like that. I just want nonsense behaviors for them to practice these concepts on, so I really want people to do it on tricks. So I have suggested behaviors, but they can also, with instructor approval, pick their own.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Fair enough.
Share Whitesel: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I think, for a lot of folks, they’ll look at a class like this and they aren’t sure how to tell if it’s a good fit for them and their dog. Can you talk a little bit about who the class is for? Is it for beginners? Folks with young dogs? Experienced competitors? Where’s the focus?
Shade Whitesel: All the things. All the people. I don’t think people realize that it’s not for beginners. It’s a great class for beginners because I start really basic and then I work up, but it’s also … I can guarantee you there’s stuff in there that you don’t know, even if you’ve been training dogs a lot. We’re always learning, and as instructors, we’re always learning, and I want this class to show you the basic stuff of how to learn, how to shape, and how to get offered behaviors, but I also talk about how to get clean loops in your training.
By far, I see people not doing what we consider the foundation behaviors, the foundation mechanics, and it really, really helps to go back and work on that, and it’s going to really help your training. I’ve had a couple people say, after they took the class, that they got so much out of it; that they thought it was an elementary class, but they got a lot out of it that they didn’t realize. So I think a lot of people should take that. It’s going to be really helpful.
Melissa Breau: You’ve also got your retrieve class on the schedule this term. Can you share a little about that class too, just what approach you use and who should consider that class?
Shade Whitesel: I shape the retrieve, specifically shape the hold. And to clarify, this class, the retrieve is on retrieving a dumbbell, or mainly an obedience retrieve, where you’re going to send the dog out for a dumbbell and they’re either going to come to heel if they’re hunting, or I think FCI they come to heel position, they don’t do front, or we’ll teach the basic AKC or CKC dumbbell retrieve where the dog comes to front.
So to clarify, we’re using … this is a formal, so the dog goes out, gets a dumbbell, and comes back. I’m not playing with the dumbbell, I’m not getting the dumbbell to be very exciting. I’m using what the dog is already is reinforced by, which is normally toy stuff to shape the hold and the dumbbell, so basically they’re retrieving the dumbbell for their toy.
It’s preferable and ideal if people already have the toy class in their libraries, if they already have some toy skills, because I really, really like to use the toy marker cue of switch, which is switching grip to grip, so like toy to toy, but it’s not necessary for them to do the class. We can do a lot of the stuff with food, or if they already have some toy skills but they don’t have switch, I’ve got a couple of clients or student who have used just the basic toy skills they already had.
So ideally I’d love for people to have the relevant toy skill of switch to shape the hold, but it’s not totally necessary. I’ll work with you, especially at the Gold spot, if you just have food. But really we’re shaping it.
We, in the past, have given this class back-to-back, because I think it takes six weeks to get a really good hold on the object that you’re going to have to get, and then the next six weeks to get a really nice retrieve. So I’ve given the class in back-to-back terms. I’m not going to this time. I’m probably going to start teaching this class twice a year, and so ideally be realistic and realize you’re not going to usually be able to teach a retrieve in six short weeks. That’s really a three-month project.
Melissa Breau: You mean people can’t get their final formal retrieve ready to walk into an obedience ring in six weeks? No way!
Shade Whitesel: It’s like heeling. It takes a little longer.
Melissa Breau: That’s so funny.
Shade Whitesel: But I’m going to give it more often. People can work on it, and then work on it again in a couple of months. So they should get a good hold out of a hold in front or a hold in heel for this. And I do think this class might be good for people who need to work on dogs that chew in a hold. This might be a good class for that.
Melissa Breau: To help problem-solve that a little bit.
Shade Whitesel: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I will say, while I have absolutely shaped a “Bring the object to me,” I have no hold on my retrieve, so it’s interesting. Maybe that’s a class I should look at.
Shade Whitesel: It is the most boring part because often we can convince a dog to go get something for us. It’s the sitting in front, holding it calmly, that’s so weird for the dogs. I mean, boy, who dreams up that, you know? The dogs are like, “Why would I sit here in perfect front and hold this calmly? I want to chew it, I want to fling it at you,” all the things that they want to do. I enjoy it, but it’s a behavior that probably doesn’t make sense to dogs, which makes it hard for us.
Melissa Breau: Right. So I’ve got one last question here. My last question is the one that I’ve taken to asking everyone when they come on: What’s a lesson that you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Shade Whitesel: You know what? Listen to your dog. I think I said that before, too, but just over and over, listen to your learner, listen to what they’re saying.
My little puppy, a couple of days ago I’m trying to teach him a chin rest, and I stick my hand … and he would do one perfect chin rest and then he’d leave. He’s a leaver, and I haven’t had a leaver in a while. Normally I have dogs that bark at me. He’d do this perfect chin rest, and I’d give him his little marker cue and give him his little treat, and then he’d be like, “Nope, not doing it again.” And it’s like, why not? Because he was doing it perfectly. Well, obviously I’m not reinforcing it enough. So I switched to, like, five treats in a row, and he was like, “Oh, OK. I’ll do more than one.”
I think it’s easy for us, not that I did, but I think it’s easy for us to go, “Well, he knows how to do it, because he just did it, and he’s choosing not to.” And he was. He was like, “You’re not paying me enough for that hard behavior.”
I don’t tend to think of a chin rest as a hard behavior, because my other dogs are like, “Sure, we’ll chin rest all day.” But for him, as a young, active puppy, it’s a really hard, expensive behavior, and he was telling me that. Once I started paying it with more food, he was happy to do it again and again, and he’s got a beautiful chin rest now. And now it’s an easier behavior for him, and I don’t have to pay him five treats at once.
But over and over in my training sessions, listen to what your dog’s telling you. Listen to what your learner’s telling you. Is your rate of reinforcement up there? Do they like it? I love that way of training, just listening to what they’re saying and their opinion about it. I just think that’s cool.
Melissa Breau: That’s so interesting, because it’s something that I was talking to Hannah about. She was on last week and we chatted quite a bit about this idea that dogs really are each unique, and they really do have different things that are hard for them than other dogs, and it’s important to recognize that. Some things are going to be an expensive behavior and some things are going to be a cheap behavior, they’re not going to be the same as the dog you trained before this one. So yes, it’s really interesting.
Shade Whitesel: Yeah, and in a way, of course, because I don’t like the same things that my brother and sister like. We all have different interests. So of course dogs, even if they’re related to each other, even if they’re same breed, they’re going to have different likes.
I do automatically think of that, but I need to be reminded by my listener, or by my learner, that “This behavior, even though your other dogs know it really well and it was easy, this behavior is hard for me.”
So yeah, they’re all individuals, and that’s what makes them pretty darn fascinating.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much Shade. I really appreciate you coming back on the podcast.
Shade Whitesel: Thanks for having me. It’s good to talk about this stuff. I enjoy it.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. we’ll be back next week with Stacy Barnett to take a deeper dive into scent work than we previously have here on the podcast, talking about everything from start line routines to scent cones and converging odor.
Don’t miss it! 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.