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 Dr. Amy Cook. Amy has been training dogs for nearly 25 years and has been specializing in the rehabilitation of shy and fearful dogs for over 15 years. She’s the creator of The Play Way, her process for helping dogs learn to cope with the world around them. She’s also a certified dog behavior consultant, a long-standing professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and has attended all four Chicken Camps in Hot Springs, Arkansas taught by Bob Bailey.
Amy returned to school in 2006 to get her PhD in psychology from UC Berkeley. Her research there focused on the dog/human relationship and its effect on problem solving strategies dogs employ. She also recently started a blog at playwaydogs.com, and everyone should definitely go check it out. Hey, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Cook: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Melissa Breau: I’m very excited to talk to you. To start us out do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Amy Cook: Oh, my dogs. You know, when you start people talking on their dogs it’s kind of endless, so you’re going to have to stop me when you’ve heard about my lovely dogs. I have currently, I lost my old girl last year who I would have had a lot to say about, but I have currently Marzipan who some people know, she’s my Whippet, she’s five and a half, I want to say, or so, and with her I mainly do agility. She’s been actually out with an injury for now what seems like a million years and since dinosaurs have roamed the earth. She got sort of her foot reconstructed, she had reconstructive surgery on her toe. So it’s been a real adventure having a dog go from three classes a week and traveling every weekend to you live in a box. It’s been hard on both of us, but also stretching for both of us because of how I can keep her happy in different ways than I used to before.
And I have little baby Caper who I think you helped name if I’m not mistaken. She is a ten-month-old terrier, chihuahua-terrier is what she is.
Melissa Breau: So what did Marzipan do to her foot that took her out of commission?
Amy Cook: You know, yeah, you’d think it would be during sport or something since we do such crazy stuff, but no, we were hiking and I think the crime was that it was not quite winter, it wasn’t winter, it was summer, and the ground used to be marshy and now was dry and cracked. I think she just tweaked a toe just running, just not even running a lot, just running kind of a normal amount, and it didn’t look injured at all, and so it took so long, it’s like, oh, rest it for three weeks, it’ll be fine. Then it was like, oh, that wasn’t long enough, rest it for eight weeks and it’ll be fine. The specialists come in and they’re like, you’re going to take four months and it’ll be fine. Then finally to the agility, fancy agility surgeon and he said, “Yeah, I think we should do some surgery on her toe. It’s not healing.” So from that point, I know, it was six weeks of splint and six weeks of bandage and now it’s going to be 12 weeks of rehab. You know, it was quite a shock to the system. She’s my main partner, my main dog. I didn’t have the puppy, she was the only dog I had at the time that happened. So our training life took a turn for a bit. But we’re almost there. Almost there. Six more weeks, I hope.
Melissa Breau: The end is in sight.
Amy Cook: End is in sight. Very happy about that.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned the puppy. Where did the puppy come from?
Amy Cook: Caper, she was my unplanned pregnancy as my friend likes to say. God, she was…a friend sent me a picture, I’m like, oh my God, she’s so cute, it’s a classic story, I just need a little pocket dog, I just need a little…Marzipan is going to be out for a while. My next sport dog will come in 2018, I thought to myself, and I just need a little dog to tide me over, I’ll get a little Chihuahua or I’ll get a little pocket dog, I’ll have a little fun companion for a bit. So that’ll be fun.
So I get this little sort of try on as a foster dog and the first thing she does from week one is she’s bringing me toys, she’s pushing me, she’s, “Why are we not doing more? I’m not a pocket dog. Put me down. Why are you picking me up? I don’t want this. Here’s a toy. Can you tug this?” She was so active. It’s like I’d adopted a Border Collie puppy. It’s crazy. I was like, oh, well, that’s not who I thought you were, but I can roll with that. Okay. All right. That’s fun. She’s a fun little dog. She’s really fun to train and she came with focus out of the box. I’ve barely trained focus in her and she doesn’t take her eyes of me. It’s crazy. It’s really fun.
Melissa Breau: She’s really cute.
Amy Cook: It’s a real contrast to Marzipan. She’s so cute. And it’s a real contrast to Marzipan because I’m used to the sighthound way and she’s all terrier, all terrier. I’m learning a lot from that, from working with that psychology, you know? It’s different.
Melissa Breau: So I know that one of the things about your intro that I don’t think I’d known before I started doing some research for the podcast is that you’d been to Chicken Camp, especially four times. So I really want to hear more about that. Just like, what your impressions were, what your thoughts were about it, what was it like?
Amy Cook: Amazing. Amazing. I went to Chicken Camp. It’s like a friend of mine and I, we went together, and I’m really glad to see that Bob is still here and with us and doing Chicken Camps, but at that time I think it was right after his wife had died and they were doing the camps together, and he wasn’t sure how much he was really going to continue. It was like, God, I’ve been putting this off way too long, we have to go, we have to go. So I actually did I think two in one summer and then two the next summer if I’m not mistaken. I kind of crammed them in.
Melissa Breau: Wow.
Amy Cook: Yeah. Because I really wanted to take advantage of learning from Bob. There’s really nobody like him. At the time I was very, very into clicker trainer, I mean of course still, but I was much more so then. Learning it, learning it a lot on the internet, a lot from books, a lot from just every source I could find and I wanted to go to somebody who was so close to the, I guess I could say origins of it if that’s fair to say, and learn as much as I could.
Honestly it was absolutely life changing to learn both from him and to train an animal that does not meet you halfway, that does not help at all with the learning process, isn’t trying to work with you at all. I think if you can train a dog that’s one thing, but it doesn’t guarantee you can train another animal. But if you can train a bunch of other animals you can probably train a dog because they make it so much easier on you and the other animals kind of don’t, at least that’s my impression.
So it was wonderful and he’s such a good teacher. He knows exactly how to lay just the right amount in front of you. There was one time when a chicken was pecking me like crazy and I was really afraid of her and he actually shaped us both without telling me that’s what was happening. So I got the experience of just quietly being compassionately and respectfully shaped. It was just a beautiful experience. I loved chicken camp so much and it changed the way I train fundamentally. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: For anybody out there who might not be familiar with the concept do you want to just briefly kind of explain the idea?
Amy Cook: Sure. So what you do is maybe you’re a dog trainer, maybe you’re a bird or exotic animal trainer, I went to camp with a few of those, or even a psychology professor. If you want to learn how to apply the techniques of operant conditioning in a very controlled environment you can go to Chicken Camp. You pay money to spend a week with Bob and two chickens and a partner and a _____ (16:26) doing the little exercises that he lays out for you.
They get increasingly complex and you first start with how do I click and how do I feed this animal in a way that is correct? How do you feed a chicken? They peck. You can’t hand them with your hand a piece of feed, right? So you go through all the mechanics of how to train a chicken, clicker train, and then he gives you these little tasks. So it’s like, you know, here are some disks, have your chicken peck only the red one and not the yellow or blue one. You’re like, oh, piece of cake. I can do that. Famous last words, right?
Sure enough, one errant click somewhere because you’re late, because dogs can kind of handle you being a little bit late, right, and still progress, one errant late click for the chicken and the chicken goes, oh, all right, got it, and starts doing that thing that you clicked over and over and over again. You’re like, no, no, I didn’t…wait. I just…could you not? I didn’t mean that. No. One click could get you a hundred clicks in the wrong direction to get out.
And you really learn to be accurate because you can’t afford to make certain kinds of mistakes. And the chicken will get full, so every click and every food they eat is measured. You have to really, really be careful and very, very good, and you make all sorts of sloppy mistakes and you pay for them really harshly. Your chicken does not do anything you thought you were teaching, you’re all over the place.
You know, you find yourself maybe turning to things you otherwise do with your dogs that maybe you don’t realize you do, like oh, come on, just could you just…then you’re like, wait, I can’t do that to a chicken. Do I do that to my dog? I shouldn’t do that to my dog either. It pares you down to the pieces of the technology that actually work and the chicken forces you to get better because she’s not going to cover a single mistake that you make, ever. That’s it. Click once wrong and oh, boy. You’re going to be there all day.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think Chicken Camp is on my someday list, on my bucket list, something I would love to do.
Amy Cook: For sure. Absolutely. Run, don’t walk. For sure.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you too about the early days of FDSA because I believe, I think you actually told me that you were one of the first teachers that Denise brought on at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. So I was really curious to get some of your impressions on how you think it’s changed and kind of what happened when she initially approached you.
Amy Cook: Oh, boy. You know, it was standing in the right place at the right time, I swear. You know, she had taught online elsewhere and decided to do this endeavor, and I was just…I’m pretty sure I was just finishing grad school and saying, well, I guess I’m going back to dog training. I wasn’t sure what I had in store, I’ll just revamp or ramp up my business again, fine. And I can remember, I was standing near a freezer in her garage and I can’t exactly remember how it came up but she said, “We have a behavior arm, could you teach what you teach, teach a class in what you do?”
Boy, I felt…the answer was both yes and no. The answer is no because I’ve never done that, but the answer is yes because well, it has to be possible, right? Sure. I’ll certainly try it. I really wanted to do something like that. But for a second there I was like, really? Behavior? Behavior, though. I mean, behavior. It’s complicated. People are all over the place. Dogs are behaving all over the place. It’s a lot to…how will I do this online?
But I had faith. She really had vision early on for how this was going to go and we brainstormed, I was really excited about it. She actually came up with the title of the class, Dealing with the Bogeyman, that’s hers. She’s like, let’s call it that. I was like, sure. It was exciting. It was exciting times and I was really just like, well, I’m happy to run a class and see what I can do for people. If it’s something I don’t feel is resulting in improvements that are reasonable for the dogs I’m helping then it’s not right, then online is more suited for skill-based stuff and not so much the concepts or the complicated behaviors.
I shouldn’t have been afraid because it’s been amazing. It’s been amazing. I got to say, I think that my online students…oh, well, I wrote a blog post about this because I was just so moved by this. My online students get to their goals faster than in person students do, and there’s something very intoxicating about that. To get somebody closer to the resolution in such a shorter amount of time, you know, I was like, well, then I want everybody online. Everybody get online. Everybody, quick. You know?
And it’s amazing how much contact I have with somebody who takes an online class. They can talk to me every day whereas no in-person client does that or can afford to really. That’s the reason. And I get every day almost contact with people trying to apply the lessons, run into problems, and ask again. I get to fine tune it so much. It’s like living with people which is what I always want to do when I get a new client. I’m always thinking wow, if I could just move in, you and I together, we could fix your situation and I could help you. But you get an hour a week. It’s not enough, you know?
And boy, being online with people in amazing and the community that Denise has been able to build through Facebook and all of that. I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I think about how much access we have to changing…I know it’s ____ (22:34) any other way to say it, changing the world. You know? It’s the ripple effect. You have to put it out there and say, this is the way I think we should be doing this, and let me help you with it. And the changes I’ve seen just in these short few years have been really, really inspiring. I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding is the very first class that you started offering right out of the gate with Denise was the Bogeyman course, right?
Amy Cook: It was. It was. And that’s all I ran for a long time.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to just explain briefly to listeners kind of what the course is and a little bit about the methodology that you use?
Amy Cook: Yeah. So the course is Dealing with the Bogeyman, and it’s designed for fearful, stressed, reactive dogs, dogs that are overwhelmed with what’s going on for them, what they’re afraid of, and really getting to the root of problem and really trying to get to the source, get right to the bottom of the problem rather than just kind of manage it which is what we end up doing a lot of times. We find a way to get to about a stasis and we kind of coast along there. But stress is a hard thing to experience. Everybody listening knows exactly what I mean. Wouldn’t we all not want to have the stress we have in our lives? Every one of us wants to have a less stress life pretty much because it’s hard and I feel that for dogs. It’s hard for them to live in our world when they’re so stressed. So this class is designed to help with that at a root level.
What I do is I use social connection and social play to help get them in a state where they can process their triggers a lot better, and I reduce the use of food, I reduce the use of toys sometimes to zero, but not always all the way to zero, to help them. And it didn’t start out…like, it started out, the first iteration of the class is not like the current iteration that’s running right now. It has evolved a lot over time. As I watched students have more success with even more play I started emphasizing more and more play. It was a part of the program before but it wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. But I’ve seen the wonders of what it can do, and so now it’s really the bulk of what the approach is. I think I might have lost your question in the fact that I’m just talking on. Is that what you’re asking?
Melissa Breau: Not at all. You actually answered it pretty well. I just wanted you to kind of explain what the Bogeyman course was and kind of what’s involved and I think you did that very nicely. I do…
Amy Cook: People are going to play. If you take the class you’re going to play, play, play, play, and then you’re going to play some more, and then your dog is going to get better. That’s _____ (25:35).
Melissa Breau: So that leads me very well into my next question which is asking you to kind of…I know when you and I talk about it usually you call it kind of The Play Way is like, the name of the methodology even though the course if the Bogeyman course. So I was curious if you wanted to sum kind of what the play way is up in a short blurb. I mean, you talked about it a little bit, but if there’s anything kind of you want to add there.
Amy Cook: Yeah. The play way is specifically using social play and social connection, so not tug, not fetch, not that kind of thing, but being goofy and silly and making your dog laugh and having a fun time with your dog, and taking that play and using that to directly solve problems that they have with fear. So it’s dog centric, it’s about the dog, him or herself coming to a new understanding of the thing that they don’t currently understand. So if they’re afraid of strangers it’s because they have a misunderstanding of what the strangers are about, because none of the strangers really mean to hurt them, and I think they don’t have enough information.
Now it’s hard to get dogs to get new information about things that are scary to them because they’re scared of them and you can’t look at it openly and you can’t deal with it as well. Like, I can’t deal with spiders. You put one on me, I’m done. I can’t deal with that. So if you want to reframe that it’s not going to work until you get me distance, you get me in a calm state, and I really found that play puts them in this completely different emotional space that allows for our therapeutic attempts to really take root. And I realize none of that is brief, none of what I just said is brief. I don’t think I can be brief. I think I’m genetically wired to be the opposite of.
Melissa Breau: But I think it gives people a good idea, right, of what the methodology is and kind of what you’re endorsing here. I mean, I think that it’s very different probably than what most people are used to hearing about dealing with fear and dealing with dogs’ sensitivities which is so often food-based.
Amy Cook: It’s different from anything I had ever done. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s a complete departure for me. It’s not at all what I’ve done most of the time in helping dogs.
Melissa Breau: So where did it come from? Where did the idea…
Amy Cook: Well, yeah. Kind of…it’s an evolving idea I should first say, right, I’m not finished. I mean, I want to keep investigating all of this and putting all the little pieces together. Right now I’m at a place where I’ve put some pieces together and it’s hanging together, it’s helping, and that’s really exciting.
It’s sort of this big evolution of influences. I first got together with Denise because I had known her before kind of just from our local training circles, but she and I both got puppies at the same time and they both turned out to have every similar sorts of views on the world and challenges and training. It made us get together kind of more often. Once a week we would talk about it and shoot the breeze about these different things.
I started watching her train in person more which I hadn’t really done a lot of previous. And the amount of social interaction and the way she was working with her dogs was sort of reminding me of how I had been feeling lately about a lot of clicker training was feeling remote to me, at least at the time. It was feeling like very Chicken Camp. I’ll tell you maybe a little bit about that later, but where you observe your animal a lot, so you’re watching, and you’re holding your clicker, and you’re kind of being still and letting your animal think. Or maybe it was just me, I was making learning a little more sterile than I needed it to be, and she had so much more play and relationship in it. And through watching her do that and training with her and exploring that with my own dog I started just to…some things were clicking in my head.
Then I’m also friends with Grisha Stewart and when she was creating BAT which is behavior adjustment training she was really exploring how dog centric training could be. Like, how much can I let the dog do for him or herself without intruding so much and let the process happen so naturally? And it was inspiring to me because we were tending not to do that, we were tending to make a lot of associations. Here’s a cookie, I’m making an association for you, I’ll be there in your process with you. That was percolating a bit too, about how to…I mean, really dogs, all of us should know how to deal with our fears if we’re given the right environment to do so. An animal should know how to calm him or herself. An animal should know how to become less afraid, to investigate something that’s frightening. It just isn’t available if the stimulus is too high. If you’re too afraid you can’t do it, but all of us have that kind of wisdom in us. We all know how to make something better. So with that percolating.
And then I sort of had this undercurrent of a bit of dissatisfaction with the way rehab was going with the basic tools that I had. It worked, but I don’t know, I felt that there was something more.
And when I was in grad school I got a chance to actually read a whole bunch more literature than I had been able to read as a nonstudent, although I was studying Skinner and studying Pavlov and using science to train dogs, for sure science based all the way. Now I had big libraries behind me and a whole bunch of information and people I could ask, and I realized when we’re dealing with human fears we don’t really do it like we do with dogs, we don’t really classically condition them in that same way. And more importantly, when children have fears we don’t classically…or maybe someone does, but I was seeing that a lot of therapy has to do with play and has to do with relaxing and talking things through. I thought, how can I do this with dogs? I can’t talk things through with dogs.
So all these pieces were just kind of in the air for me. And as each influence kind of came in I started to think, well, okay, I like what this distance is doing, but the dogs are on their own, and for our sport dogs we need them to be turning to us and be more interactive and wanting to do things with us. How can I put myself in this picture with them, with their dog centric work without impeding it, without taking it over, without going back to trying to click or make associations with classical conditioning? How can I blend them?
And I started to just experiment and see what dogs needed. And it kind of all came together. It took a few passes through Bogeyman for me to see just how I wanted to impart it to people. Honestly that’s not even true because I keep tweaking it, I tweak it every time figuring out how to explain it better and more.
But that’s where it came from. It’s partly human psychology, human therapy, and partly the great distances that Grisha is experimenting with and letting a dog solve her own problems, and then the great relationship building stuff that Denise is just amazing at, and reading when you are being too much for your dog and when you’re not giving them enough agency to come at you. You know, she’s just so good at that and I drink everything…every time I get to see her do anything like that I drink it up and think how can this apply to dogs in trouble? How can I use this? You know, it’s very inspiring.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, having had the chance to watch Denise train a couple of times now I feel exactly the same way. When you see somebody who is really incredible at what they do and you just get a chance to watch it’s just, I mean, it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to camp again this year so much because last year…you get to watch, I mean, all the instructors at FDSA are so incredible, and to be able to spend a couple of days doing nothing but watch these incredible trainers do what they’re best at, it’s a really neat experience.
Amy Cook: It really is. I change every time and I would have my lesson with Denise and then I would sit there and watch her do whoever came after me just to kind of watch what she did and go, how come what she’s doing here isn’t what I have access to in the pet world? I came from…I did pet dog training all of this time, my whole career, my whole life, pet dog training and behaviors in pet dogs, aggression and fear, stress, all that stuff, not really sports stuff. Sport I got into late and I just did for myself. And it’s a whole different world. Pet dog trainers don’t have access. It’s almost two non-overlapping circles. It isn’t quite true but it felt that way. When I watch a lot of…Shade is one of those people too, I watch her and I go, how come that wasn’t something I could have learned when I was learning how to train dogs? That part is missing from the pet dog trainer education and I wish we were a lot more…I wish there was a lot more overlap than there is. I hope that’s in our future.
Melissa Breau: That makes both of us. So we got a little bit away from kind of what we were talking about originally, but that’s okay. I think the conversation went good places. But I want to kind of bring us back for a second to the Bogeyman course. We talked through that a little bit but you also now teach the Management for Reactive Dogs class. So I wanted to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about how that course is different, and what that course covers, and kind of why you felt the need to add a second course.
Amy Cook: Yeah. That course is different. I teach that as an adjunct or kind of a package, but I mean, you can jump in at either point, they’re not sequential.
Because when you live with a dog who has some troubles it’s great that you can put aside time for therapy, and those therapeutic moments are really impactful, they really make a difference and that’s all great. It takes time to do it though, and in the meantime you still have to potty your dog and you still have to get your houseguests in, right, and in the meantime you still have to drive somewhere. Life goes on. You can’t stay under threshold. I have a way more conservative definition of threshold than most people do, so staying under it gets even harder if you’re going with my definition of threshold. So that doesn’t solve everybody’s problem. That’s great, you can go through Bogeyman but you can’t potty your dog, right?
So management class is for the times when your dog is going to be over threshold. Maybe not massively so, maybe not full on into the biggest display over, but worried, actually triggered by being scared, seeing somebody outside or seeing a strange dog, and it covers all of the strategies to get you through daily life. How do you get a positive leash walk going? What do you do when your dog barks at a window when someone is walking by the house? How do you get your dog outside without rehearsing the worst behaviors of their stress and their fear and their anxieties?
I don’t want anyone to worsen anything. Management is what you put in place first, you just say, how can I make sure nothing gets worse than it currently is? How can I relieve the pressure as best I can, keep everything as positive as possible, what skills do I need to do that? Once that’s in place you’re like, all right, now let me set aside some time for therapy to get at the root of this. So management is how you can get through your leash walks without getting your leash all tangled, how to feed in a way that keeps the dog’s nose right on that cookie magnetically. I’m continually surprised that that’s hard for us all because we’re trained to keep the cookie off, it’s not a lure, we’re supposed to reward after. So a lot of little details that way, and the two together get you through kind of the problems you’re having with your dog.
I also teach a learning theory class but it hasn’t been on the schedule for a bit, but I think that one is coming back too. So I do have three classes that I currently teach as well.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s exciting. Do you want to briefly tell us what that kind of…
Amy Cook: Yeah. Yeah. I’m thinking…yeah. I’m thinking of revamping that one. I do a learning theory class that’s a bit of the basics to catch up, make sure we’re all on the same page with operant and classical conditioning and how it works, what it’s for. But I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and there’s a lot of interesting practicalities when using those models. There’s a lot of overlap between the two models. There’s a lot of times when you’re not sure which one to use. So I wrote this class to be a practical introduction for people who had been trying this stuff. Like, I’m trying to use operant conditioning but this is the common thing I run into. I look for all the common pitfalls, all the holes, all the should I do this or that, because I’ve heard if I do that it’s going to make this happen. I’m like, aha, glad you asked, I’m going to write a whole lecture on it.
So it’s sort of very practical, very nitty gritty, very what a dog trainer actually needs to know. Like, you really don’t need to know all the schedules of reinforcement. All of you out there, if you studied all the conditioning models, you also studied schedules of reinforcement, but you don’t really use them in real life, right? So I pared this down to the stuff you actually do every day of your life, and then we talk for fun about things like can dogs feel jealous or can dogs tell time, can they estimate things, what kind of a life does a dog lead inside their brains? We foray into that for fun.
Amy Cook: But I’m currently revamping it a little bit.
Melissa Breau: You can’t dangle those two questions out there without giving us at least a brief answer. So can dogs feel jealous? Can they tell time?
Amy Cook: Well, that’s what we discuss, right? That’s what we discuss. If you lay out the evidence for jealousy I think it doesn’t pass. I think what they feel, and this is a guess, I’m not saying I have a fact, right, I think they feel a precursor to jealousy. I think they feel the thing that is like, oh, I want that, no, why does…I want. A very basic version of feeling upset and wanting that if it had more self-awareness we would be comfortable calling jealousy, because jealousy has this sense of she shouldn’t have that and I wish I had the thing she had. It’s got more layers to it. But just because it doesn’t have the outer layers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the core.
So it’s my guess knowing what emotions they do have and what emotions they don’t have. They don’t seem to have secondary, they do seem to have primary emotions. They probably don’t have well developed jealousy but everything is a continuum and having a basic version of jealousy, it becomes a semantic argument. Like, maybe we would just call that jealousy then, why can’t we just say that’s what jealousy is in dogs and say they have it? You know? So we toss that around a lot. It’s a class for talkers and thinkers and tweakers and people who like to debate back and forth about definitions. It’s that kind of geeky class.
Melissa Breau: That sounds excellent.
Amy Cook: It’s like me.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it sounds pretty good to me. I’ll have to take it next time it comes around.
Amy Cook: You’re welcome.
Melissa Breau: So now that we’ve talked a little bit about that, I mean, looking at a puppy who doesn’t necessarily have a fear issue, or you mentioned you did get Caper fairly recently, how do you kind of try to raise that puppy in a way or lay groundwork for that puppy in a way that really allows them to become a healthy adult dog so you don’t see some of those issues crop up?
Amy Cook: Yeah. It’s been fun. Every puppy is this adventure gift, right? I mean, part of why her name is Caper is because we’re on a caper, we’re on an adventure together. You can think you have one thing when you meet your dog or when you get to know a dog and have something entirely else at any point. And you know, as Denise would say, you train the dog in front of you today, right? So I say great, I’ve started with a brand new puppy, she’s not really a blank slate because we know nobody is really a blank slate, but she hasn’t had anything really happen to her, but you know, really she’s a dog that was found stray in the streets of Fremont and picked up and put into a shelter and then into a rescue, and she certainly has a history.
So what’s been really fun is using the sensitive tools I have now that I didn’t have before, or you know, that you’re always a better trainer this year than you were last year, right? Oh, boy. Please, God. You know, so I feel like she’s the Fenzi puppy in a way because Marzipan kind of wasn’t. I mean, she was, but this one, I don’t know, this one feels like she really is. So I think of that and I think, who do I have today? Who are you today? How do you feel today? I get to keep asking her how she feels, and I feel like I can hear more clearly what her answer is than I have every felt before with other dogs. It’s really exciting.
She has her issues, we went through a season, her heat cycle and a false pregnancy, and maybe from that or maybe a kind of fear period, I don’t know, where she was all of a sudden some other kind of puppy. I thought wow, okay, I don’t have the puppy I had a minute ago. What do I have now? And it’s been just, at times a not so fun challenge, but mostly a fun challenge while I figure out what her needs really are, and she’s completely different.
I mean, maybe everybody says this, I’m going to go back and see if you ask this of everybody or what people say now, but thinking of my last four dogs, not a stitch of similarity in any of them to each other, you know? Like, I’m going to get a dog who’s going to be like this and we’re going to do that. You get the dog and you’re like, oh, hi, nice to meet you. Who are you? What _____ (43:30). You know?
She’s enormous fun and I’m taking a lot of time with her. I don’t care. A lot of people would just…you know, there’s this pressure in puppyhood to get a bunch of skills in because they’re just so malleable and you can start all this stuff and they love to learn and all that is true, but I also know that I can teach an older dog, any dog those kinds of things, and the time in immaturity, the time when they’re growing up is the time to actually smell the flowers, you know? To chase the actual butterflies, to let them take in the world without so much interference from my input and from training. We go out and we exist together. We see the world and I resist the urge to try to take advantage of every second and train all the fun stuff. It feels more holistic and it feels more like we’re bonded in a way that it just feels richer because I’m spending so much time listening and asking her how she feels and what she’d like to do.
She’s just an n of one, we like to say. It’s not like I can say, and that leads you to the best dogs in the world, because I don’t know. It’s her. But I feel like when she does then say yeah, I can work, I’m ready to work, the quality of the connection that we have is much, much better after I’ve let her.
And I directly learned that from the stuff that Denise was investigating with Brito. I mean, it’s really…I’m just so grateful she got a little dog before I did, you know? Next I want her to get a Border Collie so then I can get one of those. It’s like, you do it first. Somebody pave that. I don’t want to make that _____ (45:20).
Melissa Breau: So we’re nearing the end, unfortunately, so I want to ask you those big questions that are always some of my favorites.
Amy Cook: We just started. I have so much more to say. I have so many more things.
Melissa Breau: Well then, we’ll have to have you back, that’s all.
Amy Cook: All right.
Melissa Breau: So I want to ask you what the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of is.
Amy Cook: Oh, my. Well, right now that would be Marzipan who I guess I didn’t talk too much about. I have a theme. I have a theme in my life where sometimes I get a dog and I think, yeah, I can just make her into that, I can do that, I’m a good trainer, I know what I’m doing, I can just solve that problem, no problem. And then I realize that I’m on crack and I don’t know what I’m doing at all, and get in way over my head. I got a dog long ago named Hannah who was very, very fearful, and I didn’t estimate correctly how difficult that was going to be, and it was really, really, really hard, but I got into it going, no, just a few weeks of clicking and I’ll be fine.
So when I get my Whippet, Marzipan, I had intended to get my main sport dog, I’m getting my dog, and I’m going to do all this fun stuff, and I get whippet, and she’s not purpose bred, she was five months old, and she didn’t really work, didn’t enjoy it, and I thought, so what? I’m a trainer, I’ll just train her to like that stuff. It was harder than I thought it was and of course therefore then a gift, right? It led me to people like Denise, it led me to people like Shade, it led me to understand that I don’t know anything about drive building and need to actually learn from people who do.
But we got…she’s in master’s level agility and she does very, very well, and she’s fast, and she’s connected, and she’s focused, and she didn’t start out that way, and it was really hard mostly because I didn’t know. I was applying the tools I had and they weren’t right. So I’m really, really proud that together we were able to find a key to her lock if you can say that, and that I was able to change enough, because I had to do all that work, I had to do all the heavy lifting. It’s not on the dog, right? It’s not on the dog to change. You have to be who the dog needs. I had to change the way I presented myself. She didn’t like a lot of things I would like, a lot of the things I was doing were not the things for her.
Through the help of Sandy Rogers and through a bunch of people we found a way to motivate her, found a way to make her love this, and I got a non-working bred off-breed to find a way to love and look forward to and perform well in agility, and I’m just really proud of that and I’m proud of her for sticking with me through my many, many late front crosses. Thank you very much. I’m really proud of her and I’m really proud of the teamwork we have.
Melissa Breau: That sounds like it’s totally a good thing to be proud of. It sounds like you guys worked really, really hard to develop it and she’s come a long way. So that’s awesome.
Amy Cook: Yeah. I’m thankful for it. It’s lessons to me, right? I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grow in this direction because if she were a really easy dog I might not have the skills that I have, right? So that’s the upside to all those things. So I’m just very grateful.
Melissa Breau: So potentially my favorite question every single episode, since we’ve had somebody quote you on the podcast, not to add any extra pressure.
Amy Cook: Oh my goodness. Hi, Julie.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Amy Cook: Well, you know, my advice, that’s my…no. I’m kidding. That piece that I made up, that’s the best advice ever. No. Gosh, remind me to tell you the story one day of how that lecture at camp came to be because it happened the night before, believe it or not.
Two. Everybody else got two, so I’m taking two.
Melissa Breau: Go for it.
Amy Cook: So I’m just saying that there’s two. One that really, really made a difference, has really impacted me, always stuck with me, was from Bob Bailey. He said observe your animal, observe your learner. And you know, maybe that doesn’t sound so deep at first. Of course, you’ll watch your learner and you’ll learn what you need to know. But it solved so many little problems and so many things that get in the way of your training because you’re not seeing who is actually right there in front of you.
And the short example is that you have to teach a chicken to peck not just the circle, it’s like a construction paper circle, and not just the circle, but the dead center of it. That’s really harder than it sounds because they move very quickly and the speed it takes for you to see the chicken and then depress your thumb onto the clicker, by the time the sound is made the chicken is on its way back up from pecking.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Amy Cook: So you need to click, plan to click and start the clicking when the chicken is on its way down. So it took many lessons, I’m concatenating it for this reason, for you, but Bob had to give me little pieces over time. But it was I had to know what her head and her beak angle, and what she looked like when she was going to be pecking the center and decide before she got there that that was going to be a successful peck and then click that one. And instead I was looking at the peck, I was looking at where the peck landed and trying to click the correct ones. Instead you click on the trajectory toward. And if you don’t know what your animal looks like, if you don’t observe her really closely you can’t tell which peck is going to be the one and therefore your click will be late and therefore you’ll never train the chicken. It doesn’t really happen, with dogs you can be late, it’s all right, but chickens no.
And I was teaching a dog to tug open a fridge and I had to call him because I kept not getting it right, I couldn’t see what my problem was. I was clicking when she was tugging and it just wasn’t getting more tugging out of it. And he asked me, “What does her neck look like when she’s about to make the best tug, about to make the strongest contraction?” I’m like, “I wasn’t looking at her neck.” “What were you looking at?” The tug in her mouth? Well, are you looking at the clench of her claws as she settled in to really get a good tug in? Click that. And in the matter of an evening she was tugging really tugging really hard and pulling the fridge open.
You really have to look at who you have and not see what you want to see and not click or reinforce end products but reinforce process because it’s process you’re trying to often get when you’re training. So that one stuck and made me a much more accurate and better trainer.
Then my second is Denise in the sense of…I don’t know if she boils it down, but in the way of attitude before precision, I’m sorry, yeah, attitude before precision where you feed cookies for attitude. If that behavior was incorrect you give a cookie anyway. I think a lot of times we as trainers get caught up in, I reinforce the right ones and I make sure not to reinforce the ones I don’t want, and that’s very engrained in us. So don’t click or don’t reinforce the incorrect behavior. She does it all the time. She’s like, that isn’t correct, but my dog tried, you know, cookies for attitude.
When I first was aware she was doing that it made me a little nervous. It’s like, you’re going to get all this bad behavior in the mix. How is this going to work? But it works beautifully. It works beautifully. It keeps your dog in the game. She really helped me see that cookies for trying is not bad. How to handle a mistake is to reward it because your dog tried and was with you and you can just _____ (54:03) most of the cookies are for the right things, don’t worry so much. Your learner has an emotional life and that’s way, way, way more important than anything else. She codified it down into attitude over precision. It really centered me in my training a lot. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: Those two things, they feel like they have a lot in common, just in terms of kind of looking at the bigger picture of things, you know?
Amy Cook: Right. Right. Exactly. It’s very bigger picture, and I think clicker training, just for me, I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, can get me a little too focused on minutia and make me forget the rest. So those were good for me to learn and to incorporate at this stage of my training.
Melissa Breau: I certainly don’t think you’re alone in that. I mean, clicker training, it’s all about splitting, and sometimes when you’re splitting it’s hard to hold both ideas in your mind at the same time, right?
Amy Cook: Right. It’s kind of like, wait, I’m splitting, but should I lump again? It’s not lumping, it’s splitting and wait…mixed metaphors. Forest. I’m splitting in the forest. Wait. Something like that, right? Someone listening can suggest something much more elegant than that because I’ve never been known for an elegant metaphor, I’ll tell you that.
Melissa Breau: So for this last one, who else, somebody else in the dog world that you look up to, and I’m going to push you not to name Denise since she’s gotten named lots and we’ve talked to her lots.
Amy Cook: No. You can’t do that. I know, because I talked about her way too much. I didn’t plan to talk about her constantly for the past hour, I promise you.
Melissa Breau: I’m sure you have one or two that I’m not super familiar with.
Amy Cook: No. No. No. It really isn’t all about Denise, but I stand on the shoulders of giants, right? Everybody who has come before me is an influence on me, and everyone has taken their turn. I had a troubled dog years ago that I brought to everybody. Instead of doing some TTouch with her I brought her to Linda Tellington-Jones, you know? Like, I sought everybody I could find to help and to teach me, and I absolutely stand on their shoulders, all of them. I credit myself with nothing and them with everything except my own mistakes and however that phrase really goes.
So since I can’t name Denise I’m going to anyway. What I admire most…no, I’ll be vague and we’ll pretend I didn’t mention her. What I admire most in a trainer I can look up to now is independent thinking. People will say there’s nothing new in training, you know, it’s all been done before it’s just how we’re repacking or talking about it differently. I don’t think so anymore. I think there have been just a few people, at least on my radar, that are willing to challenge something that’s supposed to be the way it’s done and try it on dogs and not say, well, that’s in the wrong _____ (57:12) or that’s supposed to do this, that’s going to make a dog do x, can’t do that.
Because I was that, that’s how we all start when we’re learning, we acquire the wealth and the wisdom of other people who say don’t do it this way and please do it that way. So you do. And we can get a little lost in that sometimes. So I gravitate toward the independent thinker who isn’t about I do it this way because this is the way we do it. I like people who say, I don’t know, what would happen if I just give a cookie when he was wrong? Let’s find out. I mean, yeah, of course it’s going to make him a little confused, but I can fix that, I’m not worried about it. That kind of confidence of I’m an independent thinker and I don’t do just what people do because it’s what they do.
I’m not terribly like that so I look up to it. I think Denise does that. Grisha also does that. And Donna Duford, I don’t know if you remember her, also taught me that same way, and she was one of the early old school clicker trainers from the East Coast.
There was a kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry going on in the clicker training where early on, or at least I’m led to understand, I was a few years later, or I’ll just say that there were people who replaced their methods, people that called themselves crossover trainers, who replaced things they did piecemeal, one at a time. I don’t think this one works so I’m going to do this instead. Oh, this works better, oh, this is really great. Then there are people because they hear about a new system throw out everything they did before and try to put in the new fancy positive system that they’re learning. I think when people have the courage to say, I’m just going to try this little piece and see how it goes, and they put in their system and they go, oh, I think I like this, this is pretty good, I’m going to investigate some other stuff, I’m going to try something new. I think from there comes the innovation.
At least in my world, in the people who have been around me to influence me, there haven’t been a ton of people doing that. So when I see that that really stands out to me. I fully admire it. I think Grisha did that when she just said, “I’m just going to see what happens when we do this.” I think Denise does that all the time. She’s not beholden to the world of some _____ (59:27) training that says this is how you do it. She says, “Let’s find out.” And I look up to anybody who can think independently, try stuff on their own, and just kind of stand their ground with what it is.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. I think that’s exactly what you’ve done with The Play Way, is take a look and do something totally different.
Amy Cook: Well, it’s really what I’m trying to do. It’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know that I bravely strike out so well, but I’m trying to because you know, we have to see things new ways, or we have to explore. If there’s some other way people do it in some other traditions don’t be afraid. If you’re good enough at what you do, if you’re sensitive enough with your learner, if you really are sure that you’re not going to cause harm it’s okay. It’s okay to give a cookie for the wrong behavior, right, to use that again, because you’re not causing any harm, so try and _____ (1:00:19). So that’s I think where innovation will be found, and I think we get a little stuck, we’re a little rutty a little bit in some positive training circles and some pet training circles, and I think it’s time to see what…not to throw out things, but to enrich them with new experiences and new things from other thinkers. I don’t know if I’m headed there but that’s what I think about a lot. So thank you for that but I don’t accept it. I reject your compliment and insert some self-deprecation of my own. You can’t get me. I refuse.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’m going to tell you that I think it anyway and you can choose to accept it or not. But they were sincerely given.
Amy Cook: Thank you so much. Thank you very much.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on, Amy. I really appreciate you taking some time to chat. I know that you weren’t feeling well earlier this week, so I’m glad we managed to reschedule and get this in there.
Amy Cook: Thank you for your patience. I hope I don’t sound too husky, I’m not extra sexy, I’m back to nerdy, but I had no voice _____ (1:01:28). I’m telling you people, I hope you understood everything, I didn’t cut out.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back in two weeks with Julie Flannery to talk about Rally-FrEe, and if you haven’t already please subscribe to the podcast. You can do that in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and you’ll have the next episode of our podcast automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio editing provided by Chris Lang, and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!