In this episode we share a recording of Denise Fenzi's Welcome talk from Camp 2017, followed by a newly recorded Q&A about camp, this year's theme, and how her welcome lectures have evolved over the last few years.
To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.
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’re bringing you a special episode. We’ll share Denise Fenzi’s talk on superheroes from our 2017 FDSA Camp Welcome session. Afterwards, we’ll have Denise herself on to answer a few questions about the session and about camp itself. Enjoy.
Deb Jones: So now I’m going to introduce you to our fearless leader and superhero, Denise Fenzi.
Denise Fenzi: I don’t know where this started, the whole costume thing, and the superhero theme is a pretty easy one, yes, and I bet all of you Wonder Woman, how many of you have looked at what Wonder Woman wears? I’m not going to wear underwear in front of these people. Well, if you’re not sure what Wonder Woman… would you come up here please? All right, there’s Wonder Woman, pretty close.
So I thought I would represent a more middle-aged Wonder Woman, and so that’s us, right? So I just thought that was a far better choice, and the shoes, for those of you who didn’t attend the first year, I wore the boots, and I’m very, very lucky I lived through that experience because I don’t wear heels, and they were like that. It was scary, but this year, I went with slippers. I just thought that was more appropriate for our age. There’s actually two reasons I wore… did not wear boots. One is our age, and the second is I was a little concerned about stepping on my dog, and yeah, if you can’t see him it’s because he’s invisible. He’s a super dog, and I didn’t want to hurt him, and can you imagine stepping on your dog with those big heels like that? The thing about my dog, he is a super dog. He’s not an ordinary dog. So if I had stepped on him, nothing would have happened. He wouldn’t have bitten me or run away, right because that’s what it is to be a super dog. Nothing bothers him, and if you notice, I just walked right in here. I didn’t let him acclimate at all, and then I just asked him to law down, and he’s in a perfect place now. Right there, Hannah. Notice the quality of that down, and I’m going to leave him there, and he is going to be no trouble until I’m done talking. He’s pretty good. That is because he’s a super dog.
Because he’s a super dog, he doesn’t need me to be a superhero. He doesn’t need me at all. If he needs anything, he just talks in real words. So if you want to be a superhero for your dog, it’s not going to be that easy, is it? Your dog doesn’t talk in words, so you’re going to have to maybe approach things differently. So let’s take a minute to think about what does a superhero do? Alright, so you’ve got Batman. We use props. Batman goes to a party. Bat is having a great time hanging out with friends, meets a nice girl, boy whatever. I think it’s time to sit and chat, having a drink. Friends are all there, and the bat call goes off, and what does Batman have to do? Get up and leave. Does Batman want to leave that party? Probably not, no. Do you think other people appreciate it when Batman, because nobody knows he’s Batman remember, jumps up and runs out? Do you think that girl thought that was nice that she just got abandoned like that, or the host of the party? He just left. Being a superhero is not a simple thing. It actually means you are going to be inconvenienced a lot because you know things that other people don’t know. Nobody else heard the bat call. You heard it.
So the first thing is Batman has to pay attention, and when he’s needed, he has to stop doing things that he wants to do because he’s responsible for the underdog, for the ones who cannot take care of themselves or cannot hear what needs to happen, and he’ll often have to do it at personal sacrifice. He can’t explain to people. He has to go. So to be a superhero, you actually have to have willingness to sacrifice to help others. You also need courage. It takes courage to walk away when there are people who don’t understand why you’re doing that. I will give you an example of courage. It happened to me yesterday. Eight o’clock in the morning, I lose my room key. Yes, some of them are laughing already. They thought it was funny. Sometimes, that’s how things work, isn’t it? So I went up to the front desk and asked for another one. This is not unusual. Would this be a good time to tell you that only the room owner can get a key? Probably that information will come up, that will be me. So anyway, I get my key, go to my room, walk in and see my costume. I’m like, “Oh, I’ll show the instructors.” So I put my key down, put my outfit on, zip next door, show them, and then can’t get back in my room. Now the choices are limited here, guys. You can go to the front desk, Wonder Woman style or what? I didn’t have a choice in that matter, right? So I did it. I’m like, in the room, “Oh, there has to be another way.” They’re like, “No, hunny, you go on up to that front desk.” That was forced courage. I am actually referring to the more organic kind where you get a choice. I mean, really what else can I do, just take off all my clothes? No.
So being a superhero for your dog is kind of similar to what Batman does for people. Your dog can’t talk. So you’re going to have to pay attention. You’re going to have to see some body language. If there’s one thing I can give to people, I tell all my classes this. If there’s one thing I can give to you to improve your dog training, you have to pay attention. If your dog is on a leash that way, and you’re talking to him this way, that’s a problem, all right because you’re supposed to be with your dog. You wouldn’t do that with a person, just have them out there on a leash. If you just pay attention, you will see what you need to see, but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll not see what is happening. So you won’t know that you’re needed. If Batman is listening to loud music, he does not hear the bat call. You have to pay attention.
So now that you’re paying attention, what are you going to do if you come into a space like this or a dog training class or whatever, and you see that your dog is struggling? Your dogs have a little doggie meltdown. The first thing is it would be very normal to feel resentful because you actually might not get to do what you had wanted to do. You might have spent a lot of money to bring your dog somewhere. You might have been so excited, so looking forward to it. People you want to see, friends you haven’t seen in awhile, but your dog is saying, “I need you right now.” There’s kind of a few things that you can do if you notice your dog is struggling, cover some basics. One is distance, if you can see the things that’s upsetting your dog, get further away and reassure your dog. Pet your dog. Tell your dog everything is okay, all right? It’s okay to do that. You will not reinforce the fear. The second one is can you change the intensity of what’s upsetting your dog? So let’s say the other dog’s barking, it’s the intensity that’s bothering your dog. Is there anything you can do to help the other person get their dog to stop barking? So think about that. Is there anything you can do to make the situation better? If it’s a room that’s very noise, can you go to a different room that’s just a little less noisy?
Time is a paradoxical one. The amount of time you are in an environment can have two effects on your dog. One is to make them feel better because they acclimate. They get used to the circumstances, but the other is they run out of good brain cells. What I say is especially reactive dogs, they’ll be good in the morning, but they run out of good. They just use up all their good, and then they’re tired and exhausted, and then really the only answer is the dog just wants to be taken out of this space. They can’t recover anymore, so be aware of the paradoxical nature of time.
So if you do all these things, isn’t it like a one-way street right, and you’re just feeding your dog all the time, and I don’t mean literally feeding, giving your energy. The thing is it’s not a one-way street because if Batman came in this room right now, and there was an emergency, where would every person in this room look? Every person in this room would look at the superhero because they have experience, and they know that person will keep them safe, will tell them what to do, and it’s going to be all right. So if you get in the habit of taking care of your dog and protecting your dog, what happens over time is when your dog is unsure about what to do, feeling a little nervous, your dog will start to look at you for direction, and will say, “What should we do now?” and then when you say to your dog, “Everything is all right,” your dog will say, “Okay, I believe you.” My dog is a super dog. The thing is that pup doesn’t exist. There’s no dog. There are no super dogs. There are just dogs, ordinary dogs. What you can do is take the dog you have and make it the best dog possible for you.
So today here, I want you to understand that you’re going to be a superhero to your dog as best you can, and we, the staff, the volunteers, and everybody else in this room, you will be a superhero to each other. If you need help, ask. If you’re struggling with your dog and you’re not sure how to solve the problem, ask and we’ll try to help you. We want this to be super positive experience for everybody because some puzzles are very hard to solve, right, and then you need to think about what is the right thing to do for your dog under these circumstances. Sometimes we can help you, but you have to ask, and we’ll step up and do what we can.
So Denise, you talked about two different ideas during your welcome, the idea of being a superhero for your dog and the idea that there are no super dogs. So let’s start with that first one, the idea of being a superhero for your dog. What were you really hoping that people would take away from that metaphor?
Denise Fenzi: If I had more time, I did mention, you know, if I could just get people to pay attention. That is a hard thing to teach. It comes with time. People sort of develop it on their own, but I find it difficult to communicate regularly, like when I’m saying it, I can get them to do it, and the analogy I use is imagine, as a parent, when you go out in the world with your toddler or young child, you don’t generally use a leash, and you don’t use a stream of M&Ms either. What you do to interact with your child and to get them not to run out into the street and get themselves killed is you pay attention.
So when you go to the park, and your kid sees a red ball, you’ve had enough time with this child to know if that even matters, but you’re constantly scanning the environment, right? It may not matter. Maybe your kid is into trains, and the next one is into balls, but you know when you need to pay attention, and the reason you know is because you have paid attention, and the reason you’ve paid attention is you didn’t want your kid to get killed, and you didn’t have a leash, and you didn’t have M&Ms. So all you had left was preventing it. So things like when I talked to people about if you have a problem, get further away. I don’t have to tell a parent that. If a parent goes to the park, and their child sees a ball, they already know how far it needs to be before it will be a problem, and now they are paying attention. If I could get that way of looking at it to human parents of dogs, my life would be much easier, and then you are a superhero, right? Then kids do look to their parents when they’re unsure because it’s always worked for them. So sometimes I just want people to visualize what a life would look like if you didn’t have a leash and you didn’t have food. Tell me you wouldn’t be way more in tune with your dog because you’d have no choice. So that’s what I meant by being a superhero, if you develop that relationship with your dog that you are paying attention, then your dog will naturally look to you for support when they need it.
Go to the vet, if you don’t know what that looks like. So go to the vet, and watch a waiting room full of people on their cellphones not watching their dogs, and their dog’s having varying forms of meltdowns, and some of the dogs are asking the owner, “Please pay attention.” They’re distressed. They’re clearly asking, and the owner’s paying no attention, and then there are other dogs that have completely given up on asking and are now making mischief in various forms because nobody is paying attention. These kinds of things, you know, when you watch it, it’s the saddest thing ever, you know, and I see this, and I see the dog just is asking for something, and over time, dogs stop asking when we stop paying attention. So if I can give people that, that would really help them both in a performance sense and just really in their enjoyment of their dog.
Melissa Breau: I feel like, I mean just kind of reading posts on the alumni group and things like that, that you often say basically, “Imagine your dog was a child, and behave appropriately.” That seems like a really helpful kind of metaphor for people to kind of understand the idea of what they should do instead of what they’re doing.
Denise Fenzi: Yes, it annoys some people because it’s sort of … scientists sort of say not to do that, but boy does it work. So at the end of the day, I’m a really pragmatic trainer, and I find that if I tell people to visualize their child as a 2-3 year old that they become much better trainers and owners. So I will continue to use my metaphors in spite of what some people think about them.
Melissa Breau: So the flip side of that, you know, instead of just being a super hero for your dog, you mentioned the idea that there are no super dogs, that despite the fact that you had your little pretend dog come out with you and do a perfect down and stay beautifully, that doesn’t exist.
Denise Fenzi: We live in a world where people communicate two things about their lives. Facebook is such a great example, right? You have those who focus on everything that goes wrong. If they have an unhappy moment, you will know about it because that’s just what they tend to do, that is how they process, that is how they great through the world, and that’s fine. Then you have other people who don’t believe in sharing any negative thoughts at all. So if you read their Facebook posts, you’d begin to think they must lead a truly charmed life, like wow, have they ever had a bad day? That’s great too, that’s another side. What I’ve noticed though is people do this with dogs. Say you go out and you bought a dog, if you bought a dog at eight weeks, and its purpose bred. So you bought it for dog sport, then you have a lot of stuff in your head about expectations, and then you go out and you look at other people in the world, and either their puppies are complete meltdown messed up horrors, and you’re going, “Oh please not that,” or their dog seems to be like these amazing dogs that never do anything wrong. That’s just not true, that’s because people present what they want others to see, and 95 percent of dogs are neither one of those things. It’s just that some people talk about all the wrong, bad things and other people talk about all the wonderful, great things, and that totally discounts the actual reality. The reality is 90 percent of the time, you’re all in the middle.
So you have a training session and on balance, you feel good about it, but there are one or two things that weren’t quite right, wrong balance. It wasn’t a great session, but honestly, if you look at it, there was probably right in there than you knew. The reason this is a problem is when people get their dog, they’re constantly comparing it to what they think other people have, and if you bought an eight week old puppy specifically to do things, eight week old puppies are generally not that damaged. I mean, how much can be wrong? You haven’t done anything yet. You haven’t trained that dog yet. So you’re not going to know what you have. It’s not until you actually get into the process three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten months of age that you start realizing that the puppy has issues. All puppies have issues. All of them one day will… I remember walking a dog over a grate, and the dog startled over the grate, and my first thought was, “Oh my God, what does it mean?” which is ridiculous. It means nothing. It means the dog stepped on a grate, but it’s very easy for us to say, “Oh wow, do I have to fix this? Does this matter? Is this career-ending?” We tend to do that, and the more people look around them and look at the things they like in other dogs, the harder they are going to be on themselves and on their own dogs thinking, “How come my dog isn’t like that? How come I didn’t get that dog?” Nobody got that dog. You choose what you want to emphasize. Every dog I have in my house has some pretty notable challenges for competition purposes, and I almost never talk about them because it’s not what I want to talk about with my dogs because if I do, it makes me focus on them, and it makes other people focus on those things. I’m aware of them, and I worked gently over time to try to make things better, but I try really hard not to focus on them, but then sometimes maybe other people think, “Oh she always gets good dogs.” That’s not quite true. I get the dog I’m supposed to have, and then I make the best out of the one I have, and I really work to see the things I love about the dog because I find that over time, people who find and focus on what is right, their dog becomes more of that dog. They live up to expectations. So I think that might be what I would have talked about again. I think I get 10 minutes for my intro so that is probably what I would have added if I was going to expand on that.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s so interesting because in a way, it’s almost like shaping other people’s impressions of you and your dog, right? Focus on the good or your focus on the bad. You’re positively reinforcing it or you’re negatively reinforcing it.
Denise Fenzi: I do talk about things that go wrong. I just don’t emphasize them, and I often talk about them after I resolved them. So I worked through this thing, and I talked about how I worked through that thing. So I acknowledge it exists. I think I’m honest enough about it, but I don’t dwell, and I think it’s the dwelling that is doing people in and making them wish they had a different dog than they have.
Melissa Breau: … and that’s more interesting for people to read about anyway. They don’t really want to read, “Oh woe is me” so much as it is, “Oh, how do I overcome this?”
Denise Fenzi: Yes, probably true.
Melissa Breau: So this year was the third year of camp and the third theme. So I wanted to talk a little bit, kind of take a trip through time here. So what was the theme the very first year? Do you want to share a little about that?
Denise Fenzi: What was the theme the first year? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that would have been the red dress year. Okay, so that came about, it was an accident, and I won’t go into that whole story, but anyway, I decided to do it because it was fun to dress up in the dress, and the basic idea was don’t worry about what other people think. So for those of you who didn’t see the red dress, it was a short red dress, and the boots had high, high heels, very out of character for me, made me quite nervous actually, but I figured if I can get through that, I could do anything, and honestly, the subsequent years have been easier, but the basic idea was don’t spend your energy worrying about what other people see and what they’re looking at. That’s not really what’s important. What’s important is what do you think is right and doing what you think is the right thing to do. So that was where I went that year.
Melissa Breau: So I hear echoes of that idea in this year’s welcome talk about the superhero theme. How is that idea evolved for you over the last three years?
Denise Fenzi: There’s kind of two ways I’m going to look at that. One is I put so much more energy into classical conditioning, how a dog feels, every single year that goes by than the last year. It actually amazes me now how much time I spent on this. It’s constant. So I think three years ago, I would have been seeing it more from a training perspective. So what I mean is I would have seen it more as skill based. When you’re in a public space, what should you be working on skills-wise, and I would say now, I am in my mind, I’m thinking more about emotion based. How is your dog feeling, and what are you going to do about that? So when I go, or when anybody goes to a dog place and choses to spend their ring rental time sitting on the floor petting their dog and playing ball, that’s an unusual way to spend your time, and I would say that is where I’m at now would be more about making sure your dog is comfortable, and three years ago, if you had asked me that question, I think it is more likely I would have talked about doing extremely simple behaviors. So that would be an evolution in my thinking because I don’t think teaching behaviors is hard. I think getting in the ring is hard. So that’s where I’m at, I think now.
In terms of the challenge level, I think every year that goes by, dog sports are evolving to becoming kinder and gentler, and I do think that dog sports enthusiasts are becoming much more educated just across the board, so kind of regardless of how they choose to train. I think knowledge of training, trained principles, approaches to training, options have skyrocketed in the performance world. So people are just much more knowledgeable, and as result, things that would have been particularly bizarre if somebody had seen you do it three years ago probably won’t seem bizarre anymore. They’ve seen it all. So the first time somebody trained with food 20 years ago, I’m sure that stood out like a sore thumb, and now we’re at a point where nobody would think twice about that. I think a person sitting on the floor and choosing to play ball with their dog for 10 minutes in the ring now would not get that much notice in many parts of the country whereas I think a few years ago, it would have. So we are changing. We are evolving.
Melissa Breau: Last year, your topic was more about being ripple and kind of spreading that message, right? You dressed up as a mermaid. What was the message there? What were you trying to convey?
Denise Fenzi: Well ripples and bubbles, we talk about those issues a lot within the schools. Ripples are spreading the information you have a teeny tiny bit at a time, which is not the same as cramming it down another person’s throat because that actually does not change behavior. So I spent a fair amount of energy that year sort of walking through how we might choose to approach people who are doing things differently than we are, how we might choose to approach a conversation if we choose to approach one at all, how we know when it’s time to walk away from the conversation or when it’s time to proceed so that you maximize respect for both sides. By doing that, you leave the lines of communication open.
Now the reason this is important is I have gotten emails or notes or whatever from people that I knew a very long time ago, and we’ve gone in different directions in our lives, and so we may all still be training dogs, but they have chosen to approach it differently than I have, but I get along with them fine, and what I have found is as the years go by, if they do want to make changes to how they train, if they want to explore alternatives may be gentler ways of training, they are comfortable coming back to me because I kept the lines of communication open. I’m not angry with them. I don’t think they’re bad people. I just think we’ve made different choices, and I’m available if they want to have that conversation, and they do.
If I go in kind of guns blazing, pissed off, “You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that,” well, I embarrass people for starters. At the very least, you embarrass people, but also you harden them and you actually make change that much harder, and that’s really what I talked about with ripples is how to do that in a way where you really, truly effectively change behavior, and the second part is the bubbles. That’s the idea that especially if you feel that you are in a minority position, whatever that is, so in obedience, I would say that positive reinforcement trainers are in a minority position, maybe not so much in agility though. If you are in the minority position, you need to have a place you can go that feels safe when you’re just overwhelmed with the reality of being different. Being different is hard. It’s exhausting, and if you always do things that are different when you’re around other dog people, it can feel very isolating. So your bubble might be your friends. It might be your family. It might be an online list that you subscribe to, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just a place where like-minded people can talk and decompress, and I think it’s really important that we have our bubbles because if you don’t, you end up a bitter person, and what fun is that? So that was the second part of that talk.
Melissa Breau: For anyone who’s listening who’s interested, I’ll include the link to Denise’s full talk from last year. She wrote it out and posted it. So I’ll include the link to that in the show notes. So if you want to take a look, you can. Now Denise, I also wanted to ask you just about the idea behind camp in general. Where did the idea for an in-person camp for an online dog training school come from?
Denise Fenzi: I don’t remember who it was. Maybe if the person knows, they can listen to this podcast and pop up. First of all, my husband was probably out of town because he’s usually out of town when I make mischief, usually. So he probably went away for a few days and left me unsupervised, and somebody said something along the lines of, “We should have an in-person camp,” and that would have been on a Thursday afternoon, and yeah, yeah, yeah, and then all these people saying, “Yes, we should. We should,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and by Thursday night, I’m thinking, we should have an in-person camp. So I sent a note to Terry who does a lot of stuff with me, and said, “We should have an in-person camp,” and she said, “Okay,” and we just did, and we had it arranged four days later. We had a location. We thought that’s all it took. So we’re smarter now. That’s all right, you learn. Anyway, we had a fantastic time. We did have a camp, and once you’ve done it once, and you’ve had a great time, then it becomes your annual camp, and now we have an annual camp. So I’m really excited about that.
Melissa Breau: So I know you feel it’s pretty important to have that kind of in-person aspect. Do you want to kind of talk about the value of that, and why you think so?
Denise Fenzi: Well, I live a lot of my life online. I’m very comfortable online. I have a lot of friendships that way, and I really value my online interactions and communities. I also have an in-person life, and I get different things from those two aspects of my life. So I have a family and a husband, and I do actually do things that are not dog related, and I think there is a lot of people out there who really are living their lives almost exclusively online or working, and I think we are losing community, and I think community is very important.
So one advantage to in-person training is that you go to dog training school once a week or wherever you go, and not necessarily in private lessons because when I was teaching, I was teaching private lessons. I’m referring to people who go to a school where there’s classes, and whether or not I think that’s good training, what I think it does offer is community, and I think it’s important to look at people and talk to people and interact and develop sympathy for the reality of life, not the online one which is what other choose to present to you. So I think getting people together in a like-minded community where we look at each other’s faces and become sympathetic to each other, I think is just critically important, plus the fun factor. I think camp is a whole lot of fun, and so I’m actively looking for ways to increase community, and I do encourage students who live in similar areas to get together, and they do. They’re all over the world, you know, these groups get together. So that is absolutely a driver for me, for camp.
Melissa Breau: I know, just kind of having personally been now twice. It is. It’s a lot of fun, and it really does bring that sense of community kind of home.
Denise Fenzi: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So finally, I know there was a bit of confusion about next year’s dates. Do you mind just kind of clearing that up for everyone once and for all? When and where will camp be held next year?
Denise Fenzi: It’s in Wilmington, Ohio, and I’m a little freaked out, but I’m pretty sure the dates are the 1st to the 3rd.
Melissa Breau: That’s what I heard.
Denise Fenzi: Is that what you think?
Melissa Breau: That’s what I think.
Denise Fenzi: Oh good, thank God. Yes, no, we’re good. We’re the 1st through the 3rd. We’re going to permanently confuse people. I won’t even mention the alternative dates so nobody has to worry about it, and it’s at the Eukanuba Center, Roberts Hall, I think it’s called, and I’m told it’s a super nice facility, and we will do the full round of things that we offer. So we should have a pile of instructors and a great experience either to audit or to work. So please, if you cannot work a dog, your dog is not suitable or you don’t have a dog, or you’d have to fly in, don’t discount this camp because it is the only dog sports camp, and it will give you different and maybe more things than you might get out of another camp if you feel like you’ve sort of covered it all. So if you’re a dog sports person, this is kind of a winner for you. So I hope to see some new faces. Every year, we grow so I know I will, but we are extremely welcoming of new people. So come, even if you come alone, and we will go to some trouble to make sure you’re not alone.
Melissa Breau: I have to say, even working as a volunteer, I feel like I’ve learned so much just going, and I’m so excited that next year is close enough. I can drive. So I can bring a dog.
Denise Fenzi: Oh, super.
Melissa Breau: Yes.
Denise Fenzi: Good for you, not me, but good for you.
Melissa Breau: So thanks so much for coming back on the podcast, Denise.
Denise Fenzi: Oh anytime.
Melissa Breau: All right, well we’ll be back next Friday, this time, with Debbie Gross to talk canine conditioning. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast and iTunes with the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!