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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

For the last 4 years, FDSA has been working to provide high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports online, using only the most current and progressive training methods. And now we’re bringing that same focus to you in a new way. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods. We'll release a new episode every Friday, so stay tuned--and happy training!
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Sep 14, 2018

Summary:

Sarah Stremming, founder of The Cognitive Canine and host of Cog-Dog Raido and her partner, Dr. Leslie Eide, join me to talk about their latest addition: Watson, a 6-month-old Border Collie puppy.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/21/2018.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 two guests joining us, for the first time ever: Sarah Stremming, of Cog-Dog Radio and the Cognitive Canine, and Leslie Eide. Longtime listeners are undoubtedly are already familiar with Sarah, but let me share a little about Leslie.

Leslie graduated from Colorado State University’s Veterinary School in 2006. She completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine in Albuquerque, N.M., and then became certified in canine rehabilitation with a focus in sports medicine. She is now a resident with the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Eide also helped to create and teaches some of the classes to become a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) through the University of Tennessee's NorthEast Seminars.

Like Sarah, Dr. Eide is involved in the agility world. She has trained two dogs to their ADCH Agility Dog Champion title and one to ADCH Bronze, an Agility Trial Champion title and a Master Agility Champion title. Three of her dogs have qualified and competed at USDAA Nationals with multiple Grand Prix Semi-final runs. And today, these two lovely ladies are here to talk to us about puppies, especially one in particular … . But we’ll get to that.

Welcome back to the podcast, Sarah — and hi Leslie! Pleasure to “meet” you.

Sarah Stremming: Hi Melissa.

Leslie Eide: Hi Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, Sarah, can you just remind listeners how many dogs you have now and who they are?

Sarah Stremming: I have two Border Collies. Idgie is 9 years old and she’s my main competition dog right now. And Felix is 3 years old, and he’s in training and just keeping me on my toes.

Melissa Breau: Leslie, would you mind sharing the same intro for your dogs, including the newest addition?

Leslie Eide: My oldest is Brink, a 12-year-old Border Collie, and he right now is champion of holding the couch down. Next would be Stig, my 7-year-old Border Collie, who’s the main competition dog right now and who most of my online training videos have in them. Next is Ghost, my 5-year-old Australian Shepherd, and she is quickly trying to surpass Stig as the main competition dog. And then finally the puppy, Watson, is 6 months old and 1 day, and he is a new Border Collie.

Melissa Breau: So, it’s Watson I really wanted to talk about today. Leslie, would you mind sharing a little on how you wound up with him? And why him … even though that meant bringing him over from Japan?

Leslie Eide: It just kind of happened. I didn’t go out looking for a Border Collie and saying, “Japan is the place to get him!” I actually met Miki, who is sort of his breeder but not really, a couple of years ago at Cynosport, which is the USDA agility national competition, or international competition, but it’s always held in the U.S. One of her dogs had something happen to him, and I worked on him at the event and he did really well, and we became Facebook friends and stayed in contact.

Last year, she won Grand Prix with her dog Soledea. And Soledea, the weird part about it, actually belongs to someone else. She just competes with her. She announced that Soledea was having a litter, and I had been looking for, I don’t know, probably had my feelers out for about a year, looking for a Border Collie puppy. I really liked Soledea, so through Facebook I was like, “Hey, I’m sort of interested,” and she was really excited about it.

When the puppies were born, I many times thought it was too much trying to get a puppy from Japan, and everything you have to go through, and blah, blah, blah, blah. I kept saying, “No, no, no, no,” and finally she said, “I’m getting the puppy to L.A. Make sure you’re there to go pick him up.” And I was like, “OK.”

So that’s how it ended up getting a puppy from Japan. It all comes back to the world of sports medicine, and that’s how you find puppies. So a little bit of fate in a way of it was just meant to be, despite all the odds.

Melissa Breau: Sometimes, when it’s meant to happen, it’s just meant to happen, and it doesn’t matter how many times you say, “Well, that’s pretty complicated.” You end up with the puppy.

Leslie Eide: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I know Sarah has talked a bit about him on her podcast and you’ve both blogged about him a little bit. My understanding is that you guys are doing things a little … for lack of a better word … differently than other agility handlers or even dog trainers might with a new puppy. Can you share a little bit about your approach thus far with him? What are you working on, what have you worked on?

Leslie Eide: For me, it’s not much different than I would say I’ve raised my other puppies. I’m maybe what you would think of as a lazy trainer. I’m more about building a relationship than necessarily having a list of things I have to accomplish — “He’s this old, he must be able to do these ten things.” I just let everything happen in a more organic manner of he shows me he can do it, and then I say, “OK, I’m going to reinforce that.”

An example is I had him at the agility trial this weekend. He hopped on the measuring table and … we’ve never worked on “stay” a day in his life, and because he was willing to stand on the table, I took the opportunity to say, “Hey, I can reinforce this,” and got some really good training in when it was again more organic of him telling me he knew he was ready for it, rather than saying, “He has to know how to stay by a certain age,” or “He has to be able to know how to wrap a wing jump by a certain age,” that kind of thing.

Sarah Stremming: For me, more what I do with Watson is teaching him how to be a dog in this house, and how to go out on off-leash walks — as everybody knows I’m pretty into — and providing him with lots of environmental enrichment. I just want to make sure that he maintains this delightfully optimistic personality that he has.

I know that you had Julie Daniels, I think just last week, and she talked about optimism. I loved it. I like that word for describing what he is, because it’s not like he doesn’t have any fears, because they all do. That’s not real. That’s not realistic. It’s more that when he encounters something novel, his first guess is that it’s going to be good for him, and I just want that to stay there, because if that stays there, then agility training is a piece of cake.

If you’re not trying to overcome fear of other dogs, or fear of strangers, or fear of loud noises or weird substrates or anything like that, agility training is not that hard, especially for a pretty seasoned competitor like Leslie. I think both of us feel pretty confident in training agility skills and also handling. Not that we can’t improve and that we’re always trying to improve, but for me, I want him to maintain that really optimistic outlook on when something new is happening, he’s game to try it.

Leslie Eide: I guess I would add, goes along with what Sarah was saying, is I also want him to learn what it’s like to be a dog in my life. So, like she said, being able to live in a household with lots of dogs, but it’s also about getting used to our schedule.

I’m a busy person and usually work 12-hour days, and while he may get to come with me to work, he also has to realize there’s going to be some really boring time at work where he just has to sit and chill. And that happens at home too.

So that’s really important to me that he doesn’t necessarily get upset or get stir-crazy or all upset when he doesn’t have something to constantly do. Border Collies are definitely busy, smart dogs, and so learning what our life is like, and not necessarily doing things out of the ordinary while he’s a puppy, and then suddenly, when he’s grown up, being like, “OK, now you’re an adult, and you just have to live with how our life is,” but rather teaching him how to handle it when he’s young.

Sarah Stremming: You said, “How are you guys doing stuff differently?” I think that is the primary component, because most sport people that I know, especially in the agility world, really, really want their puppy to have tons and tons of drive to work with the handler.

I’m not saying that’s bad. We want that too. But they tend to go about it in a way that seems really imbalanced to me, and the dog experiences isolation/boring-ness or super-exciting training time.

That’s not how we live. I guess if your dogs all live in kennels and they come out to train multiple times a day, then you could pull that off. But we both want our dogs to be free for 90 percent of their time. We just don’t want them to be crated, kenneled, etc., for large portions of their lives, so they have to learn how to just hang out early on.

Melissa Breau: I don’t remember if it was the blog or the podcast, but I feel like I remember something one of you at one point put out about planning to hold off on teaching certain skills until he’s a bit older. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that too. What skills are you holding off on, maybe, and sharing a little bit of the reasoning. I know we’ve talked about it a little bit already.

Leslie Eide: I think mostly the blog was relating to agility skills, and that a lot of times we start teaching the foundation movements right away with a puppy, like wrapping a wing, groundwork. You’re not necessarily putting them on equipment or doing anything like that, but everything that you are teaching them in some way relates to eventually an agility skill, including convincing them to tug with you. That’s a big thing of “They have to tug,” and it goes from there. Those things I think will come. I’m not going to push for them too soon.

That’s kind of going back to the story of working on a stay on the table this past weekend. If he shows me he’s ready for something, then I’ll take advantage of it, but I’m not going to push him ahead of his comfort level. I’d rather him be comfortable with everything, be happy with playing with me, and know that good things come from me and that we’re going to do fun things, rather than taking it straight to an agility focus.

Melissa Breau: I’d assume the two of you have had a pretty big influence on each other, and your approach to dogs and all that good stuff, over the years. From the outside, at least, it seems like you’re essentially taking all Sarah’s developed with her Whole Picture approach and applying it to Watson. Sarah, is that accurate? And for those not as familiar with your approach, can you give us the down and dirty version of what I’m talking about?

Sarah Stremming: I would say that’s accurate. The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness is what we’re talking about. That would be communication, nutrition, exercise, and enrichment.

The communication front — that’s just training. That’s just having a positive-reinforcement-based training relationship with the dog, where you give the dog a lot of good positive feedback all the time.

Nutrition is kind of self-explanatory, and Leslie’s a vet, so I pretty much defer to her in that regard with him.

Exercise — I like free exercise. He certainly goes on leash walks, but the leash walks are more about learning how to walk on a leash than exercise. Again, I defer to Leslie in the exercise department because her field is sports medicine. You definitely don’t want to be overdoing it with a puppy at all, and he would like to be completely wild and run and run and run all day long, so we have to talk about that.

The enrichment piece is really big for me. We do lots of things for him to shred. You should see our house. There’s cardboard shreds everywhere. So just giving him things to shred, feeding him his meals out of a slow bowl, we have all kinds of little kibble-dispensing toys around, lots of chew bones, things like that.

So just making sure that his brain is exercised, his body is exercised, he is not confused, he is communicated with appropriately, and that he is fed well. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Melissa Breau: Leslie, I’d guess your background’s had a pretty big influence on your general approach, right? How has your experience as a vet and a canine rehab specialist influenced your views on this stuff and led you to take this approach?

Leslie Eide: It’s maybe changed it a little bit, but not much. I’ve always been a little bit more laid back with my approach with puppies. I’ve always had this belief that puppies should get to be puppies and experience their puppyhood, and not just be thrown into intensive sport training right from Day 1. Maybe that’s a little bit of backlash from my own experience of being thrown into competitive swimming as a 5-year-old and doing that for most of my young life, and everything was about training and being really serious.

I also would say, from the vet side of things, I think there’s a lot of injuries that can happen when they’re young, and by pushing things and doing stuff repetitively that causes problems at a young age, or maybe they’re not as visible at a young age, but then they show up a little later in life and can definitely cut their careers short.

I want to be successful, but I also want to do it for a long time, and not just a year or two and then have to give it up because they’re hurt for some reason.

Melissa Breau: We’ve talked quite a bit about what you’re NOT doing. So I’d love to hear … I know you mentioned a little bit of leash walking. I’d imagine you’re doing some other training with him. What ARE you focusing on as far as training goes with Watson right now?

Leslie Eide: Well, Sarah’s trying to teach me how to teach him marker cues. We’ll see how that goes. So we definitely have that going on. He gets the basics of “sit” and “down,” and again, most of it is capturing offered behavior, rather than setting out as a training session of “OK, we’re going to learn this behavior.”

We do fitness exercises, so I have my building blocks that I use to make all my canine fitness exercises. So starting to work on ones that are appropriate for him, like learning targeting, front paw targeting, rear paw targeting, being comfortable getting in an object or on an object, like a box or a disc or something like that.

And then a lot of new experiences still. Most recently, over the past couple of weeks I’d say, I worked to introduce him to the underwater treadmill so he can start getting some exercise in that, since that’s a really easy way for me to exercise him at work.

Melissa Breau: That’s so cool.

Leslie Eide: Going places, we went to the beach for the first time, he goes to shops and meets people, he goes to agility trials and hangs out. Like I said, at agility trial learned how to do a stand-stay on the measuring table.

So I’m the anti-planner. I don’t set out with “We’re going to learn this.” It’s more see what happens and go from there.

Sarah Stremming: For me, the things that I need to teach him are things that make him easier for me to manage in a house with six dogs.

We’ve recently started working hard on all the dogs are trained to release out the door by name, and so I want Watson also to know that with everybody else. So we’ve been working on some very early iterations of that. And things like the best stuff for puppies is not on the counter or the kitchen table. The best stuff for puppies is on the ground.

And body handling, so handling your feet, and looking in your mouth, and accepting passive restraint, as is so important for all of them to learn. Things like that are more my focus with him.

Leslie Eide: I would say something that’s really big is playtime, too. That’s not necessarily something like a skill we’re teaching, but just making sure that playtime happens every day in some form.

Melissa Breau: Are there skills that you think get overlooked that you’re making sure to cover right from the start? You mentioned handling, you mentioned play skills. Anything else on that list for you?

Sarah Stremming: I do think body handling gets overlooked, but for me, especially within the sport of dog agility, I think a lot of people start out with puppies ringside, watching agility, trying to “teach them” to be cool waiting their turn. And then what happens is at a certain age the puppy notices what’s going on in the ring, and they start to wiggle and scream and not contain themselves.

And then, depending on the trainer, the puppy might get a correction, or the puppy might be removed from the arena, or they might try to distract the puppy with food, or I saw a competitor once basically just hit the side of her puppy with a tug toy until the puppy decided to turn around and latch on the tug toy instead of squeal at the dogs in the ring.

For me, again, it’s an answer of what are we omitting? But it’s about the teaching him the skill of waiting his turn before we ever ask him to wait his turn. The early, early iterations for that, for me, look like feeding all of the dogs a little bite of something, and I say their name and I feed them, and then I say their name and I feed them.

Watson is trying to eat everything that I’m feeding, but he doesn’t get anything until I say his name and then feed him. So he’s bouncing around and being ridiculous, and all the other dogs are sitting and waiting, and eventually they go, “Oh, this isn’t that hard. When she says my name, I get to eat.”

Just like what Leslie was talking about, they show you that capability when they have it. It’s kind of like a 3-year-old child only has so much self-control, and I really feel that way about puppies too. They only have so much ability to “wait their turn.” So teaching him the skill of waiting his turn way before we ever ask him to wait his turn is a big one for me that I think people maybe don’t overlook, but go about it in a way that I wouldn’t.

Leslie Eide: For me, it’s relationship. He can train, and he knew how to do that from pretty much the moment I got him, but he didn’t necessarily know that I was a special person to him. So, to me, it’s about building a relationship before asking him for a list of skills that he needs to be able to do.

Definitely, training can help build that relationship, but I think it’s also just one-on-one time, especially when there’s a large number of dogs in the household. And it’s about snuggles and play and that kind of thing.

Melissa Breau: Obviously we all TRY, when we get a new puppy, to do everything right, and there’s definitely nothing more stressful than that feeling. But inevitably something goes wrong. We’re out and about and another dog barks and lunges at the puppy, or kids come flying at the puppy’s face, screaming, and they scare the bejesus out of him. Have either of you had to deal with any of those types of moments yet? And if so, how did you handle it? Is there prep work you’ve done, or things you do in the moment … or even afterwards, stuff you do for damage control that you can talk about a little bit?

Sarah Stremming: We honestly haven’t had anything big that I have experienced, but there have been things that he saw and went, “Huh, I’m not sure about that.” Like, we had him in this little beach town after running on the beach and there was a lot of construction going on, and so there was a jackhammer going into the concrete, and he wasn’t sure if that was what should be happening, and I can’t blame him, really.

What was important for me, and what I usually tell people to do, is as long as the puppy is still observing the thing, allow them to continue to observe the thing. So he looked at it until he was done looking at it, and then he turned away from it, and then we all retreated away from it together.

I think what people try to do instead is they try to distract the puppy away from it with food, or they try to make it a positive event with food, or they try to drag the puppy towards it, maybe, or lure the puppy towards it, and it’s best to just let them experience their environment from a distance that they feel comfortable with.

He really hasn’t had any huge startles about anything. I tend not to let him see a lot of people unless I know them, because he is going to jump on them and I don’t want them to be a jerk about that. He did meet one strange dog that I hadn’t planned on him meeting once on a walk. And that dog — I actually posted a video of this on the Cognitive Canine Facebook page — that dog was inviting play before Watson was ready, and he scared Watson a little bit, but not terrible. What was amazing was that Felix walked up and intervened, and then the dog played with Felix. Watson still stayed there, and then he was like, “OK, I can tag along if there’s three of us, but I don’t want to be the center of attention.”

If he had run away, let’s say that dog had really scared him and he had tucked his tail and run towards me or something, if the puppy is coming to me looking for shelter from whatever it is, I always give it to them. So I would have absolutely picked him up and just allowed him to look at the dog from a distance.

But I tend not to try to involve food in those moments unless the dog is trying to approach. Let’s say, when Felix was a puppy, he saw a fire hydrant, seemingly for the first time, and decided that it was monster. I let him look at it as long as he wanted to the first day he saw it, and then we walked away. And then the next day, he looked at it and he wanted to sniff it and approach it, and I fed him for that. And then the third day, he was like, “Oh, here’s the thing. Feed me.” And I was like, “OK, good. Done. Here’s one cookie, and now I’m never going to feed you for that again because it’s over.”

I think people freak out, and if you freak out and they’re freaking out, then we’re all freaking out, and it’s not a good thing.

Leslie Eide: Yeah, he really hasn’t had anything, but I completely agree with Sarah. And I’m pretty good about it, again, going along with not planning everything. I’m pretty chill about everything, so when he reacts to something, I’m not going to feed into it by being like, “Oh my god.” It’s about, “Cool, dude. Check it out. I’m not going to force you into anything. We’ll just stand here. If you’re comfortable staying here looking at it, then that’s where we’ll stay.”

If food comes into play, it’s for when he turns around and looks at me and says, “OK, let’s go.” It’s more of a reinforcement of choosing to be back with me and go on with me on our whatever we’re doing, not a reinforcement for necessarily …

Sarah Stremming: Which we would do if the thing was exciting, too, not just if it’s scary. It’s “Choose me over the stuff in the environment that interests you.”

Melissa Breau: I’d love to end on a high note. Can each of you share one piece of advice for anyone out there with their own puppy, hoping to raise a happy, balanced dog?

Leslie Eide: My piece of advice would probably be something like, “It’s all going to be OK.” We all can make mistakes, and luckily dogs are very forgiving, so don’t beat yourself up if something bad happens or you make a mistake. There’s lots that you can do to bounce back and still have a perfectly wonderful puppy.

Sarah Stremming: I think mine is really similar to yours, in that I would say … Melissa, you had mentioned we’re all paranoid about doing everything right and that’s really stressful. So my piece of advice would be to embrace and accept that you will not do everything right. Embrace and accept that you will screw something up at some point and that you’ll survive, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll learn, and that will in the end be a good thing too.

I seriously look back on every puppy and go, “Yeah, could have done that better, could have done that better.” All of us do that, and that’s fine. Embrace it and run with it.

Melissa Breau: For folks out there who are interested in following along as Watson grows up, what’s the best way to do that? And where can people who want to stalk — or at least follow — each of you, where can they go to stay up to date?

Sarah Stremming: The first question, where can they follow Watson, we are running a subscription to a blog just about Watson. It’s called “Puppy Elementary,” and you can find that by clicking the Puppy Elementary tab on my website, which is thecognitivecanine.com.

Again, you can follow me at thecognitivecanine.com. That’s where I blog. I also have a podcast called Cog-Dog Radio, and of course I’m on Facebook with The Cognitive Canine and Cog-Dog Radio, and just me, so that’s where you can find me.

You can find Leslie at work — all day, every day! We are teaching our course together … is it next term? October? Jumping Gymnastics, for FDSA, together, so you can find Leslie there too. But your website is thetotalcanine.net?
Leslie Eide: Yes. And Facebook. I’m on there. My business-y type page is The Total Canine, which has a Facebook page, and then the website is thetotalcanine.net and it is “canine” spelled out. And my real work is SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center, and it’s on Facebook, and the website is soundvetrehab.com.

Melissa Breau: Where are you located again, just in case somebody is in your area and wants to come look you up?

Sarah Stremming: About 40 miles north of Seattle, but the SOUND Veterinary Rehab Center is in Shoreline, Washington, which is just north of Seattle.

Melissa Breau: One last question for each of you — my new “last interview question” that I’ve been asking everyone: What’s a lesson that you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training? Sarah, you want to go first?

Sarah Stremming: Mine is exceedingly nerdy. When I told Leslie what it was, she was like, “Oh God.” It’s to remember not to stay on lesser approximations for too long. In real words, plain English, basically that means to progress as fast as possible. So don’t wait for perfection before moving on to the next thing that you’re going to be reinforcing.

I’m always shooting for low error rates, high rates of reinforcement, I like nice, clean training, and because of that, sometimes I can stay on approximations that are not the final behavior for a little bit too long because I get a little bit too perfectionistic on those, and it bites me every time. I was recently reminded of it in Felix’s contact training.

Melissa Breau: I’ve never done that.

Sarah Stremming: I know, right? I think it’s the sickness, honestly, of people who are really obsessed with training just get way too fixated on the details. But anyway, that’s mine.

Leslie Eide: I think I’m going to pick one specifically to make fun of Sarah.

Sarah Stremming: I expect no less.

Leslie Eide: In that it’s something that I never do, but she probably really wishes I would, and that’s take data.

Sarah Stremming: Leslie never takes data.

Leslie Eide: No.

Sarah Stremming: I take data on everything. I always say that if we could put us together, we’d be a great trainer, because I’m too detail-oriented and nitpicky, and she’s too freeform.

Leslie Eide: Yeah.

Sarah Stremming: Which is why together, with Jumping Gymnastics, I think we do a nice job teaching together, because we do come from both of those different sides.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, ladies, for coming on the podcast! And we managed upon a time when both of you could join me, so that’s awesome. Thank you.

Sarah Stremming: Thanks for having us.

Leslie Eide: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week talking about details with Hannah Branigan to talk about prepping for competition and more.

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.

CREDITS:

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.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Sep 7, 2018

Summary:

Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole life. In fact, she learned to walk by holding on to a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running.

She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, NH, and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, NH.

Julie is well known as a premier teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled and won with all sorts of dogs throughout the years, including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She is the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix finals with a Rottie or a Springer, and she did it two times each. She is also a two-time national champion and a two-time international champion.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/14/2018.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Julie Daniels.

Julie has worked with dogs her whole life. In fact, she learned to walk by holding on to a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running.

She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, NH, and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, NH.

Julie is well known as a premier teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled and won with all sorts of dogs throughout the years, including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She is the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix finals with a Rottie or a Springer, and she did it two times each. She is also a two-time national champion and a two-time international champion.

Hey Julie! Welcome to the podcast.

Julie Daniels: Hi Melissa. So glad to be back with you!

Melissa Breau: I’m glad to have you! To start us out, can you just share a little bit of information about the dogs in your life right now and what you’re working on with them?

Julie Daniels: Oh yeah, everybody’s favorite question. My current pack is just three Border Collies. I have one who’ll be 13 very, very soon, and she does whatever she wants, completely spoiled, it’s just wonderful to see. She’s doing great.

And my competition dog is now 10 years old, which seems impossible to believe. I’ve just moved him down from Championship to Performance and Preferred level so that he can jump a lower jump height. But he’s doing great and we’re having a ball.

And I have a youngster named Koolaid, whom anybody who takes my classes has been following now since the last couple of years. She’s just turned 3, and she’s dynamite and so challenging and fun to train. Always has been, always will be. She keeps me young, keeps me getting smarter, keeps my chops honed every single day.

So those are my three Border Collies.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to talk today about canine confidence. Can you define what confidence is when it comes to our dogs?

Julie Daniels: Oh boy. Confidence can be so elusive, and I also find confidence in dogs and people both to be very elastic. It sort of comes and goes, and they look great, and then all of a sudden we’re shrinking because something makes us feel insecure, and sometimes it’s not environmental, it’s mental. So confidence is tough to define, but let’s consider confidence to be a sense of personal well-being felt by the dog. How does that sound?

Melissa Breau: That certainly makes sense to me.

Julie Daniels: In other words, an optimism that all will be well.

Melissa Breau: If that’s our definition, what are the differences between a confident dog and a not confident dog? Why is that confidence so important for dog sports and stuff we want to be doing with our dogs?

Julie Daniels: I think it’s so important, because the world throws us curve balls on a regular basis and life does not go as expected. When that happens to the confident dog, as it will every single day pretty much, the confidence of some dogs carries through a sense of wellbeing and optimism that all will be all right when the world surprises them. A dog who is not confident doesn’t feel that way.

I think what happens is a dog who has an internal or higher level of confidence tends to say, “Oh boy, what is that?” when he sees something unexpected, and that’s of course what we’re trying to develop. The dog who is not confident, whether it be in the moment or whether it be an overall set point, that dog tends to say, “Oh no, what is that?”

So there are the two extremes: “Oh boy, something new!” “Oh no, I’ve never seen that before!” Those are the two extremes between the dog who has the wellbeing, the optimism, afforded by internal confidence versus the dog who has a much lower confidence set point.

Melissa Breau: How much of that is just innate — who the dog is — versus something you can train or teach?

Julie Daniels: Tough question, but not as tough a question as it used to be, because we know that quite a bit is innate, and we also know … actually, if I can borrow from research done on humans, we know for a fact that human beings can reset their confidence set point, their happiness set point, their optimism set point. We can rewire and reframe in humans.

And certainly it’s the same in dogs. You can see overall changes in the confidence set point and the happiness set point as you work with these problems, so it’s not a life sentence. If the innate set point is low in terms of confidence, happiness, optimism, all these things which we want for our dogs in their lives, there is so, so much we can do.

Thanks to research on humans via, let’s say, SPECT analysis and many other brain work, we can measure the activity centers and the levels of involvement in different areas of the brain, and we can know for a fact that it’s quite possible to reset and rewire even, neurologically, the happiness and confidence and joy centers in the brain.

So we can change, for our dogs as well as for ourselves, we can change the hand that we were dealt with. It is quantifiable and measurable, at least in humans, that many, many people have successfully done so. So it’s not something that is fated, if your dog happens to have been born less confident than you would like.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I hadn’t realized there was research that’s been done on that in people. That’s neat.

Julie Daniels: Let me make mention of my personal favorite book, which is definitely a layperson’s book. It’s by Daniel Amen, M.D. Dr. Amen is one of the leading experts in the world on SPECT analysis of the brain in humans, and his book is quite amazing. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Julie Daniels: Well worth looking up.

Melissa Breau: For those who are starting out with a dog that’s a little on the less confident side, where do you start? What does that type of training look like? How do you help them reset their brain?

Julie Daniels: Well, it goes without saying, but it should be mentioned: there are no mistakes. We don’t call out mistakes on a dog who already is harder on himself than any of us would ever be. I think that’s probably the best start point is there are no mistakes. Anything that the dog offers is going to be well received and reinforced.

It’s not simple, and yet it is that simple. We want to build the dog’s feelings of wellbeing first, so no mistakes. By that I mean anything that the dog offers is by definition correct and reinforceable. That’s where to start.

And this is in daily life. This is not a measure of “I told you to do this,” or “I told you to do that.” I’m not talking about training. I’m talking about anything the dog offers in daily life.

Melissa Breau: What does that look like? Can you walk me through an example?

Julie Daniels: I would want to help any dog of any age who feels insecure. I would want to help that dog become attracted to life. To, let’s say, novelty. So one of the things that I advise people to do all the time, and I’m just saying this over and over and over, it’s so easy to do, and it’s amazing that days go by and we don’t think to do it. When your dog lacks confidence, you should make a habit of taking beloved familiar items around your house and putting them in unfamiliar places. That is the first step toward developing attraction for novelty. That’s what we want.

Remember when I said earlier we’re trying to develop the dog’s ability to say, “Oh boy, what is that?” and we currently have a dog that says, “Oh no, what is that?” So by taking beloved items … they can’t be just neutral items. They really should be things that the dog already enjoys, for example, his food bowl. There’s a good one. Put it on your head. Just put it upside-down on your head after you’ve washed it.

There you are, standing in the kitchen, washing the dog food bowls, and your dog’s probably going to be interested in that because it’s a beloved item, a familiar and well-trusted item, and there you go, you just put it upside-down on your head. Perfect. Do something like that every single day. Pretty soon, when you make yourself do it every day, pretty soon you’re doing it ten times a day because it’s just fun.

Melissa Breau: Makes you laugh.

Julie Daniels: But you forget, if you don’t make it a conscious effort initially, and sometimes you’ll think at the end of the day, Well, what did I show this dog that was different in a positive way, that was unexpected and novel in a positive way? Because obviously if you’ve scared him, you haven’t done any good. So it’s got to be a beloved item, and it’s got to be put in a novel place but a familiar place. We’re not talking about taking it on the road, because you said, “Where do you start?” You start at home. You start in a comfortable, happy place.

Melissa Breau: If you put that food bowl on your head, are you then going to get lower so that the dog can sniff you and sniff the bowl?

Julie Daniels: That’s a great idea! See? You’re good at this already! Yeah, that’s a great idea. But play that by ear, Melissa, because if your dog said, “Oh no, what is that?” then that’s a mistake. But if your dog said, “Hey, that’s my food bowl,” now it’s perfect, and I think what you said is just great: scootch right down.

You don’t need to say anything. This is one thing that I think is difficult to do. We want to talk our dogs into something: “Come and check it out.” And that really is not what you should do. You should allow the dog to show you whether he’s interested or curious enough to come and see it.

Anything that he offers you is reinforceable, even if he decides to leave the room. And the best reinforcement if he backs away would be what? What would the absolute best reinforcement you could give him if he backs away, because that’s not really what you intended to do, because you realize that unexpectedly you’re on the wrong side of confidence. So what it’s very important for you to do, if he shows you that he’s actually concerned, is take it off immediately.

I would say take the food bowl off your head, put it right side up, put it on the floor between you, and say nothing. Allow your dog to make a decision to be attracted to his beloved food bowl in this new context of it being on the floor “where it belongs.” Now you can have your reinforceable event and you’re not going to cause a problem.

I think very often, it happens so very often, either with young puppies or generally with dogs who lack confidence, I think so often we mean well, but we scare them.

Melissa Breau: Because they’re already not sure about things, and we’re throwing novel things at them, and that can be intimidating.

Julie Daniels: Yes.

Melissa Breau: I know a lot of people who wouldn’t appreciate being put in front of a full room to give a presentation, because that’s one of the things that makes them feel not confident.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, I think so.

Melissa Breau: Would you mind sharing maybe one of the other exercises that you use to help build confidence, or a little bit more on how you work on that with them?

Julie Daniels: Attraction to novelty, I think, is fundamentally first. That really is where to start. But let’s look at once we’ve made a few inroads, and now, in addition to being able to put the food bowl on your head and your dog thinks that’s funny, now you switch to a colander and you’ve got other things on your head.

So I think once you’ve got an inroad made with your dog, I think the next thing for me is substrates. Now you want to put things under foot and allow your dog to feel them. It’s not just about “Oh my gosh, plastic is so hard,” and “Tarps make a lot of noise,” and “Bubble wrap — oh no.” It’s not just about that. It’s about things that might feel different neurologically.

For example, when I started working with a teacher in canine fitness, my little Koolaid didn’t like the nubby Paw Pods. Anybody who’s done any fitness work knows about those little nubbies on the various pieces of equipment. They almost always have them, and she just didn’t like that at all.

This is in general quite a confident, self-assured puppy, but those things, boy, she just didn’t like the nubbies, and so of course being the mom I am, I thought, Well, why don’t I just teach her the skills on smooth surfaces first, and then we’ll transfer to nubbies, which would sound like a logical progression, but I was advised against it for a very important reason, which I have internalized and embraced. And that is those little nubbies are actually very important stimulators neurologically, and so we want the feet to be on the nubbies. I really took that to heart and went with it, and I am so glad that I did.

Just so you know the end of the story, Koolaid loves the nubbies and can pound onto four Pods, pretty much stick the landing, and is very happy beyond the nubbies. But it was a process getting her used to it. But that sort of fits the good advice that I was given from very good teachers who have the eye and have the chops to guide me in my canine fitness classes.

That sort of thinking fits perfectly with how I feel about substrate training to build confidence. You want obviously to start with things that are relatively non-threatening to that particular dog. Some dogs need to start with smooth surfaces. Plastic, for example, meaning hard, molded plastic. It just feels different and is smooth underfoot. Other dogs would do better to start with crinkled-up paper inside a box or shredded paper. Some dogs are a long ways away from being able to step on empty water bottles, and other dogs just jump into the kiddie pools full of empty water bottles. So it’s a continuum as to who likes what.

Remember you said earlier about it’s so a dog can be confident about one thing but not another thing. Well, look at little Koolaid who didn’t like the nubbies, but boy, she loves empty water bottles. And normal, everyday grinding sounds that many dogs are offended by, she was actually attracted to going in. So you never know. We all have different feelings about substrates, and I think one of the best things you can do as a second step after novelty would be to introduce and to find out the hierarchy of what feels good to your dog under foot and what feels a little bit concerning to your dog under foot, and try to build … not just tolerance, I don’t work with tolerance, but try to work for attraction to these things that might be concerning to your dog initially. So substrates come after novelty.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk about that just a little bit more. Some dogs definitely seem confident in a lot of situations, like you mentioned Koolaid, but they’re terribly unconfident in other situations, or in a particular setup, or something. I was curious how common that is, and how someone can work to break apart one of those more complex cases to figure out what it is that they’re actually seeing, what it is that the dog is maybe not so sure about.

Julie Daniels: It’s very common, and what is more, it’s very normal. I think probably most of us have little things that are harder for us than they are for other people, and little things that other people find difficult which we find easy. So I don’t think it’s the least bit strange. I think it’s to be expected.

I do find that if you have a dog who’s in general a little bit more reserved, it’s tempting to assume he’s reserved about everything, and that’s not necessarily the case either. So it could be that you just need to explore and experiment with what kinds of things do bother this dog, and what kinds of things is this dog a little bit more self-assured about. By that I mean he has an optimistic sense when he goes toward it that this might be a good thing.

When you see that in your dog, I think you want to make note of it, that your dog is not afraid of everything. Many people who think their dogs are afraid of everything are just plain wrong about that. And if you don’t give the dog a chance at this early level that you and I are talking about, then you really won’t know where your dog’s strengths do lie, and almost every dog has some.

Melissa Breau: So, I’m going to take the next step here. I know we’re planning a rerun of your webinar on all of this stuff on building canine confidence. That’s what inspired me to bring up the topic to do a podcast about it. Can you share a little bit on what you cover in that webinar? Maybe who might want to take it?

Julie Daniels: I hope everybody will take it! First of all, it makes me so proud and happy that I work for a person who values the quality of the webinar, the quality of the recording of the webinar, so much that she is going to give this webinar to the people who bought it the first time for free, because the audio — my fault, not your fault, Melissa — was absolutely terrible, and it was not what it should have been. So you and I have been practicing, you’ve coached me on where to be, and you and I have been playing with the microphone to make sure. I bought a better microphone, I have a better setup, and I know that the audio will not fail this next round.

But it just makes me so happy that I get another crack at this, Melissa. That I’m going to get a chance to present the material in a way that everybody can hear it the way I intended it to be heard. And the fact that my boss is somebody who wants everybody who bought it the first time to have the benefit of this improved recording production values makes me so happy. So I hope everybody will tune in, of course.

We will be talking about the various things that we can do to help dogs who feel insecure, and we’ll be talking about what’s that look like, what does it mean. We’ll pretty much take off running with the kinds of questions that you’re asking me here today.

We’ll be talking about creating attraction to novelty, and we’ll be talking about building of course a positive conditioned emotional response. The all-important CER that everybody talks about these days has so much to do with whether the dog is able to work on confidence in the first place. So this initial attraction, this initial feeling of wellbeing becomes a baseline of optimism so that the dog can feel happy about coming into training situations expecting to do well. It means a lot to me.

The next step is really that we want to build initiative. The subject of this webinar, building canine confidence, is way too broad. But we’re zeroing in on two factors: initiative and self-reliance. After we’ve talked a little bit about the baselines that you and I are talking about, we’re going to talk about building initiative as a major force in helping dogs become more confident and rewiring their brains to change their confidence set point and their happiness set point even, if you will.

So building initiative, obviously in small steps, and the first steps will vary from dog to dog, as we’ve already talked about. But all first steps should come from a feeling that all will be well. That’s what we’re after, that positive CER, and maintaining that positive conditioned emotional response as we go forward and ask the dog to experiment in the world with more and more novel stimuli.

I think I also will be talking a little bit about how it’s OK if the confidence of the team, the dog-person team, originates with the handler. I know many, many successful dogs in sports, and I’ve had several myself, who would not be able to run with anyone else, for example. And I know obviously many dogs who don’t much care who they run with. They just want to run, and if they get good information from their handlers, so much the better, but the game is so much fun and it has value of its own.

But it doesn’t have to be that way in order for a dog to be successful, no matter what the sport is. Obviously my sport is agility, but I don’t think it matters. I’ve seen many, many, many teams where the dog gets that initial charge of confidence from the handler, the leader if you will, and then from there it just energizes and snaps, and you can see that teamwork, that confidence, being passed back and forth from the dog to the handler. And they reinforce each other as they go, whatever the sport may be.

So I want to build that for people and their dogs, and it’s so very doable for us to be able to help dogs in that way and build a team using these kinds of exercises to build confidence. So I have several fun things to do along the way that make that much easier, including we raise the dog’s energy level, very important, motion builds confidence. I have people feeding in motion rather than, “Oh, we’re done. Now let’s stop and eat.” I don’t do it that way. I feed in motion because movement gets the brain working, movement helps optimism, movement builds confidence, believe it or not. It’s very important.

I also work hard to put the dog, if you will, in his prefrontal cortex, since we were talking about the brain earlier. But if you consider it a continuum from the unconscious reactions to the conscious reactions, the dog who has a low confidence set point is, generally speaking, operating from the limbic system, is operating where fear resides, operating where the “Oh no” resides.

What we want to do is bring him forward into his rational brain so he can be engaged with his brain, he can use his brain to solve problems in a constructive way. So here’s where we absolutely need the dog to welcome novelty rather than shrink from novelty, so that the dog can predict fun and predict happiness as he comes forward into a novel task, a novel presentation in the world, whatever it be.

And then we talk in the webinar a good deal about choice and control, how important those things are, how important it is to let the dog make decisions, to give the dog choices all along the way. Not just with the end goal behavior, but all along the training continuum the dog should be able to make small choices and find that every single choice is reinforceable.

The whole bit about breaking things down into small pieces, as you said, part of the beauty of being able to break things down into small pieces is that the dog gets to make all these tiny choices and every single choice is reinforceable. It’s a wonderful thing for the dog to learn how successful he can really be. So yeah, we might have an end goal behavior, and we’re breaking it down for that reason, but we really should be vested in the process rather than the outcome, and we should be thinking of this as, “He’s going to get to make twenty little choices, twenty correct choices, in the next two minutes, and that is plenty for this one session, and then we’ll come back and do it some more.”

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and I think that explains to people both what your approach is for this, and gives them a little bit of insight into what they can expect to learn even more about if they join for the webinar. I also wanted to ask you about the other thing you have coming up, which is your new Magic Mat class. Can you share a little on what the class will cover and what kinds of problems those skills help with?

Julie Daniels: Oh boy, yeah, let’s change the subject. This is a new class, which I’ve just been designing over the summer. It’s called Magic Mat: Where to be, when to go, and what to do. But it really is more broad than that. Magic Mat is a good, catchy name, and everybody knows me for my dedication to matwork, and certainly mats will be covered. But it’s really about what I call placement props – stations and platforms. So yes, we will cover some targeting and perch work and matwork, for sure, but we’re also doing platforms and stations and boundary training and that kind of thing, all by dog’s choice. So all kinds of methods and problem-solving techniques based on where to be.

I put up a picture in the course description today. I put in my front yard, in my door yard, driveway, I literally hauled out a whole bunch of stations and platforms and targets and various things, a perch or two, that I use around the house on a regular basis. I put them in my front yard and took a picture, honestly, because I want people to understand that (a) you need a variety and (b) you’ve got this stuff around your house. Everybody’s got something. You don’t have to buy an expensive item, a Klimb table. One of my favorite raised stations is a wooden pallet that I got for free, and I put a yoga mat on it.

It’s very common in my class for people to use a chair, a sling chair, a canvas chair because we take those to the shows all the time, so it’s very handy to have your dog trained to hang out on your chair. Not that you would leave them there, that’s not really what I mean, while you go have a Pepsi. But it’s a hangout place with you so that the dog can hang out with you in a comfortable and confident way without disconnecting. It’s a place to relax, a place to be, and a place to, for example, wait your turn or wait for something exciting to happen or be polite during dinner. That’s a good one. We use stations here for that.

It’s not taught by “You have to go to your station, now stay.” That’s the opposite of anything I would do. It’s taught around … here, I’ll just give you an example of how on earth would you train your dog to go wait in a certain place while you’re having dinner and just hang out there, and do it all the time.  

My now 13-year-old was instrumental in choosing her own place to wait during dinner, and she chose this very cushy armchair in the other room, the living room, being right next to the dining room. All of a sudden the other dogs were a little bit closer, and I noticed that she was over there in the living room, on this chair, with her adorable little chin coming over the top of the chair, “Hello, anyone, anyone?” So I decided, OK, she’s getting some macaroni. So I just got up from the table, walked over, and gave her a piece of macaroni. That’s awesome for her to decide.

My friend from Virginia used to say, “Go long. Teach them to go long.” Instead of being the dog who’s bugging the people, be the dog who’s out in the backfield, and good stuff will be thrown to you. So that’s how I treated her, and that’s how she taught herself to station on a chair in the other room when we were eating. Isn’t that clever?

So dog’s choice is a big component. For example, where I live now, in quarters that are a lot smaller, I have set up a couple of stations which I think will work fine during dinner, and I’ll let the dogs tell me whether I’m right nor not right. They will hang out, they’ll tend to go to the station and usually sit. One of my dogs would always choose down over sit. That’s fine. A default sit is what I’m developing in Koolaid, and so she would be more apt to sit on the station. But they can do whatever they want. This is a place where they are allowed to show patience in hopefulness of being rewarded.

I will admit out loud, here and now, that I am a person who would toss a piece of macaroni to the dog on the station. Perhaps you wouldn’t do that, so that’s fine. You’ll develop your own reinforcement delivery systems. But we’ll talk about things like variable interval reinforcement, and some of the things about how to develop duration by dog’s choice, because it’s not always that easy when good things are going on.

So in this class we’ll do things like take turns. We will use stations so that one dog is a waiting dog and one dog is a working dog, and then we switch back and forth. I’ll talk about things like, How do you do that by dog’s choice? Does waiting need to pay more than working?

I can use my own example of two brilliant agility dogs, Sport and Colt, who were very good at taking turns in this way. All of a sudden one day, I noticed a funny thing in Sport. I went to trade dogs and it was going to be Colt’s turn to wait on the station and Sport’s turn to work. As I made the switch, I saw in Sport’s face, as I said his name, I saw him say with his face, “Oh, OK, I wanted to be the waiting dog.”

Of course he came out and looked pretty happy to have a turn. However, why did he want to be the waiting dog? Dogs don’t lie. Why was it a disappointment for him to hear that it was his turn? You’ve got to look at those things, and in my family it was very clear: Sport had to be paid more for working and less for waiting, and Colt had to be paid more for waiting and less for working. It was much harder for Colt to wait. But in Sport’s case, once he learned what a great deal, a better deal, I had made waiting than working, guess what: “Actually, I’d rather be the waiting dog, if you don’t mind. If it’s all the same to you, just throw 17 cookies over here by the station, and Colt can have another turn.”

So you’ve got to go dog by dog, and you’ve got to be prepared to switch it up, as I had to do. Over time, the dog is a member of that thinking, working team, and the dog is going to have opinions, and the dog’s feelings are going to develop as the game goes along and the dog becomes an expert in the game. So be prepared. It’s a two-way feedback system. All training should be a two-way feedback system. Learn from your dog as the game goes on, and listen to what he’s saying about how it’s going to play.

Such fun, it is so much fun to use placement props. And of course if you’re interested in the TEAM Foundations training, I’m terribly interested in that, I absolutely love it. I don’t know that I’ll ever go for TEAM titles, although I guess why not? But I don’t think they’re necessary in order to get the utmost out of the program.

Denise did a podcast at one point, maybe you remember it, about TEAM, and one of the things that she mentioned still resonates with me. I still advise my students to do it. She said, “If you’re having trouble in obedience,” she of course was talking about obedience, but I’m not, I’m talking about agility, the exact same thing applies. She said, “If you’re having trouble with some of the advanced exercises in obedience, just take …” I think she said a week, maybe she said two weeks, but “take that time off from all that advanced training and just do the exercises from TEAM 1, Level 1, and then go back to your advanced work and see if you don’t notice improvement.”

Well, I heard that and decided I’m going to do that with my agility people, and it was such a resounding success for the exact same reason. TEAM Foundations is for all sports. It’s not just for obedience. I don’t think it’s sport-specific at all. And much of TEAM training benefits from good station work, good platform work, good targeting skills, perch work, all kinds of really fun challenges that use what I’m calling placement platforms.

Yeah, where to be, when to go, and what to do is the whole concept of this Magic Mat class, and we’ll use lots of fun things. Please, anybody who’s interested, go to the course description and click on the … I think it’s called Prerequisites and Supplies. Click on that tab to see the picture of all the cool stuff that I dragged out into my front yard, which is a subset of all the many different training props and placement platforms that I use around my own house in my everyday training. So you don’t need anything fancy.

I will want you to develop a station before class so you come to class ready with a target and with a perch and with a station and with a platform. It’s not hard. We’ll be talking about that before the class actually begins on October 1. So between the week and a half or two weeks between registration and the beginning of class you’ll have lots of chance to talk about what you’d like to build or make or find, or what’s the best dimension and size for your size dog. We gear the platforms, we gear the stations, to the size of each dog, so there are some good rules of thumb to go by, and we’ll be talking about those before the class gets going.

So it’ll be busy. All my classes are busy. I like them like that. There’s lots to talk about and lots of fun along the way as we see what the dog has to say about each game that we play. It’s a very, very fun process.

Melissa Breau: For folks who have already taken some of your other classes, which I know you do some matwork in some of those, can you talk about the difference between what they learn in that class and what the new material in this class will dive into and what you’re planning to cover?

Julie Daniels: I will cover matwork in Magic Mat. With a name like Magic Mat, I think you have to. But I’m best known for my matwork.

In Week 1 of the Magic Mat class, we will do both Step 1 and Step 2 of my four-step Magic Mat protocol, so we’ll go through it a little bit more quickly. The class I’m doing now, Cookie Jar Games, dives deeply into matwork, and likewise in Baby Genius I actually go through the different steps at length. But in this Magic Mat class we will do all four steps of matwork, but we don’t dive into it quite as deeply because we have so many other kinds of placement props to use.

But matwork is one of my dearest loves and really is a foundation behavior for any dog that I raise. And any dog that comes here for board and train learns matwork as well. I think it’s that powerful a motivator for the dogs.

Melissa Breau: If somebody’s listening to this and trying to decide if it’s the right class for them, do you have anything on who should take the class, what kind of guidance you can give for that?

Julie Daniels: Sure. I guess you could call it a concept class, because it’s a patience class. Some dogs lose confidence when they’re forced to wait, and some dogs just fry their brains over how difficult it is to wait. So it’s very compatible with people who have problems with impulse control in their dogs. For example, the dinner example that I gave is a good one. If your dog can’t hang out politely, if you have to lock your dogs away whenever you want to eat something, this is a very good class for you.

It wouldn’t hurt the over-eager door greeter, either, to do a little station work. It’s very helpful for them. In my limited experience with reactive dogs, station training is very, very helpful in giving them a secure place to be where nobody will bother them. So I think it could be useful for that, but I’m not an expert in that and will not be diving into that specifically. But in terms of impulse control, I think it’s a great class for dogs who need impulse control.

I think it’s a great class for confidence building and for training that is all about hurry up and wait: “We’re not going to go yet, and now you have to wait, and now we’re going to go now, and I need you at full energy now.” A lot of dogs who once you institute a pause, a major pause, in the action, inertia wins and now the dog has a great deal of trouble getting back up to full energy. This class is very good for that as well, because the “when to go” builds anticipation along with patience, and raises the value of the exercise that’s going to come after the station work is completed rep by rep. It actually builds the dog’s enthusiasm for the work at hand as well. So I think it does a lot of good for dogs who tend to get bored with training, and I think it has a lot to offer dogs who need impulse control in their training.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. Awesome. I’ve got one last question for you, Julie. It’s the question I’m asking all of my guests at the end lately. What’s something you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Julie Daniels: Oh gosh, that’s way too easy. It just hit me over the head this past weekend. I don’t get to show all that often in agility anymore, and my competition dog, Sport, who is now 10, is a pro. Thankfully, he’s still going strong, and we’re having a lot of fun whenever we do get to get out to an agility trial.

I got to trial this past weekend, not every day of the weekend, but two days out of three, and all of a sudden it became glaringly apparent that I had no start line. Here I am doing start line work on a regular basis in all my classes, in person and online. OK, I guess I haven’t trained that lately, but the dog is such a pro it would never have crossed my mind that my start line would break. But everything breaks. Everything breaks. Behavior doesn’t stay the same when you don’t work on it.

So that’s the lesson. We don’t stay in the same place when we stop training. We go backwards. That’s the way it is. And here’s me leading out on the outside of a curve because I have such a good start line, and my dog passed me going 90 miles an hour. I was able to save that run by having him wait in his contact, which drew uproarious barking from him. He thought that was about the stupidest assignment he’d ever heard. But he did wait, and I got around the corner and was able to complete the opening. Not pretty.

But that’s the lesson, boy, it just hit me like a ton of bricks over the weekend, like, Hmm, better do a little start line work with your pro dog, because nothing stays fixed if you don’t work on it. You have to constantly maintain all these foundation behaviors that you think you have control of.

Anyway, so that was my lesson, and boy, nobody had more fun with that than all my students who were at the show.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure you shared your lesson, and I’m sure they’ll take it to heart, right?

Julie Daniels: I hope so. I can only hope so, yes.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Julie! It was great to chat again.

Julie Daniels: Likewise, Melissa. Thanks for having me. Such fun to talk to you.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week with Sarah Stremming and Leslie Eide to talk about raising a performance puppy.

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Aug 31, 2018

Summary:

Julie Flanery has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship, through clear communication, and positive reinforcement.

She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West coast. In 2001 she was named "Trainer of the Year" by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003.

Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/07/2018, featuring Julie Daniels, talking about Building Canine Confidence.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Julie Flanery.

Julie has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement.

She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast. In 2001 she was named "Trainer of the Year" by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003.

Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.

So welcome back to the podcast Julie!

Julie Flanery: Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just remind everybody a little bit of information about your dog and what you do with her?

Julie Flanery: I have Kashi and she is my 8-year-old Tibetan Terrier. She thinks her primary job is to keep our home safe from all of those wild rabbits out there. She will sit forever, just staring at the fence line, waiting for one to pop its head through, or if she sees one on the other side of the fence, she’ll calmly sit and wait until they believe she’s no threat, then she goes into stalk mode. My sweet, little, adorable dog has four kills to her name now. So it’s kind of funny, because despite her breed name, there is no terrier in Tibetan Terriers, so it wasn’t something that I expected in her.

But she is really, really fun to train, and I find something enjoyable and fun about her every single day. She makes me laugh every single day. I currently compete with her in Musical Freestyle and Rally FrEe.

And maybe in the fall we might be adding a puppy to the family, but I’m not quite sure yet on that. So more news to come, maybe.

Melissa Breau: I will be excited to hear that, if it happens.

Julie Flanery: I will too.

Melissa Breau: I bet. So, I wanted to have you on tonight to talk about something that I think is probably pretty important to a good percentage of our listeners. I want to talk about heeling. Non-freestylers may not realize it, but heelwork is a pretty big part of freestyle, right? Can you just talk a little bit about the role it plays in the sport?

Julie Flanery: To anybody that has done obedience, there is nothing more beautiful than a joyful heeling dog. We all have that picture in our head, and what it looks like, and it can take your breath away. The only thing I think might be more beautiful is watching a freestyle routine with a joyful heeling dog, and maybe I’m biased there, but I think that adds a whole ’nother level of animation to heelwork.

Heelwork is really what holds a freestyle routine together. We often talk about it’s the glue that holds it together, but I think it’s really so much more than that.

In terms of holding the routine together, it’s very easy to get lost in a routine. We have 3 minutes of 50 to 80 cued behaviors, and we don’t always remember our full routine. No matter how much you memorize your routine, and no matter how much you work your routine, it doesn’t always go as planned. I have never met a freestyler that said, “Oh yeah, we went out there and it was perfect.”

So you have to be a little prepared for that, and having a dog that understands heelwork, has a strong desire to be in heel, one that defaults to a standing heel position, then your dog is always in a right place where you can make things right again.

It also means your dog can maintain a sense of purpose. If he’s not quite sure where he should be, or what he should be doing, either maybe there’s a wrong cue, or I screwed up something in my choreography, he can maintain that level of confidence and joy by defaulting to a heel position, and it gives me the confidence then to pull us out of whatever scrape we’ve gotten into.

In freestyle, we train our behaviors, especially behaviors that we use as transitions from a position to a position, so whatever behavior I’m going to include in my freestyle routines, I train it where my dog starts in a heelwork position. In order for that behavior to be completed, she has to come back to a heelwork position, and if she doesn’t understand those positions, then I’m going to lose the accuracy and precision of the behaviors. Those positions give me a stronger execution of all of my freestyle behaviors.

So without that understanding, many of my freestyle behaviors are going to degrade, and if the dog isn’t set up correctly, then not only is that behavior not going to be accurate, but my next behavior isn’t going to start in a correct place and it’s going to lose its accuracy and precision.

So having a dog that understands their heelwork positions is incredibly important in freestyle, because without it, everything else is going to fall apart, and that’s why we say it’s the glue that holds the routines together.

I think that many see freestyle as kind of a loosey-goosey sport, you know, you go out and you move and you dance with your dog, and you have them do some tricks. But if you look at some of the world’s best freestylers, those handlers understand and utilize heelwork to give their routines that polish, that unity, that really make their routines stand out.

So I think as we are moving forward in the sport, more freestylers are trying to make heelwork a much more important piece of their training program than maybe it was in the past.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that you’re looking for a joyful demeanor in heeling. Can you talk more about that and describe what you’re looking for when you’re training your dog to heel? What does that final picture really look like?

Julie Flanery: As you said, first and foremost, I need my dog to learn to love heeling. That’s for the reasons mentioned above, but also I want her both to look and I want her to feel happy when she’s heeling. If heeling allows her to be in a happy emotional state, then she’s more likely to be able to ignore the environment, she’s better able to take and respond to cues, she understands and loves that job of heeling. If she or I get lost in a routine, her default will be to stay in heel, and if she can do that, I can get us through those rough patches.

In terms of physical appearance, I like my dog’s head up. I like her looking at my face. That’s both because I think it looks pretty, but that’s kind of my security blanket. I think if she’s looking at me, she must be paying attention. So that’s part of my picture. I want her looking up at my face as part of my training.

I like that the front end to be lifted so that the weight is off of the shoulders and you can get more lift to the chest and in the front feet. I like a dog that has a little bit of a prance to it, so I try to work that into my criteria.

What people may not know is that in freestyle, the dog and handler team choose their own heelwork position. So if the dog is a little wide, but consistently a little wide, always that distance from the handler, then no points are taken off. Small dogs oftentimes are a little more comfortable not being right under the handler’s feet, so that’s an example where a handler might decide to allow their dog to have a little more distance from them. As long as that distance is consistent, then it doesn’t hurt the score any.

I like my dog to forge a little, to show off that little prance that she has. So as long as she is consistent in her position, that she’s always forging that little bit, maybe my leg is closer to her shoulder or rib, and as long as she maintains that position in relation to me, then that’s not going to hurt our score any. And it actually showcases the part of her heelwork which I really love, which is that little foot action that she sometimes has.

So in freestyle there’s some leeway. There’s some ability to customize your heelwork position as long as it’s consistent. So you can choose, or use A.K.C’s definition, or whatever organization you show obedience under, or you could vary from that a little bit to either help your dog be more comfortable in heeling or to showcase something that your dog really does well.

Melissa Breau: Obviously, heeling is a super-complex thing to train. Just from that description, you talked about all these pieces of that criteria. Different trainers start with different bits and different approaches. I’d love to hear how you approach it. How do you get started?

Julie Flanery: Like all training, we have to look at both the physical criteria and the emotional component. Heelwork is physically demanding, so I want to make sure that my dog is getting a really high enough rate of reward and value of reinforcement for all of that hard work, and I want to maintain that high rate of reward for a really long time, probably much longer and with much greater frequency than I do for other behaviors.

Hand touches are a huge part of my heelwork. They help me both create position and lift and fun, and I can do all sorts of games with my hand touches. And yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to teach a hand touch, and people will learn that in the class that I’m doing in October.

Platforms also, both standing platforms and pivot platforms, are really important in my program. It’s where I start to add the cue. It’s where I know with certainty that I can get my dog to perform that precision criteria that I really want. And the dog learns to use his rear end in a way through the pivot platforms that helps him maintain position. So those are really big tools that I use.

Shaping is part of my heelwork training. I think a dog that understands how to offer correct positioning can fix an issue without waiting for the handler to do it for them, and I think in heelwork that’s huge. It also helps to build a desire to get to heel and stay in heel. That shaping includes both finding the position while I’m stationary and also while I’m moving. For example, I really like Dawn Jecs’ Choose To Heel protocol, and that’s all about shaping how to find a moving heel position.

Too, with shaping, I don’t necessarily want to use the cue I started to add on the platforms, so I want my dog to understand that she doesn’t have to wait for a cue to give me either some or all of that criteria. So shaping gives the dog control of that reinforcement in a lot of different ways, and if she can offer that heelwork criteria that I’ve been working on at any time, or those things that earn rewards, then that puts me ahead of the game, because I don’t have to work as hard at getting that criteria all the time.

And then, of course, there’s fun and games. We don’t want to forget that. Those things are where we don’t really worry about precision or accuracy at all. The rewards come for moving with me or moving to my side with lots of enthusiasm, and it’s that attitude that I want to really create and reinforce through games.

So I teach technical aspects and then I also teach the fun and games aspects all in the same timeline. I don’t do one first and then the other. They’re both being played and trained all in the same timeframe. Once the dog has some experience in each of those, I can start to combine those components. But really I find that it’s the dog that starts to combine them. You’ll be playing a game and that promotes those certain attributes, like lift, enthusiasm, and all of a sudden she’ll move into a perfect heel position. Those are the times you want to be really ready and willing to click. It’s those one or two steps in the middle of a game that she’s suddenly offering, and that’s what’s really cool, when the dog says, through their offering of the things you’ve been reinforcing, that doing this precision work is really part of the game. That’s what I think is really, really fun to see.

Of course, I use the games to sneak in the different components. So a game of chase could turn into clicking collection as soon as I start to slow down, or a game of “catch me if you can,” where I might use a bit of opposition reflex, will turn into the dog putting some lift and energy into that first step off in heel. So the dog is doing these components as part of that fun game again, and all of the components, whether they’re the game pieces or whether they’re the precision and accuracy pieces, they’re all getting heavily reinforced and rewarded, so I can get both that physical criteria, the technical criteria, and a dog that thinks that this is just all one big game.

So that’s how I look at it. Because both of those pieces are super-important, I don’t think I would want one without the other. Certainly you don’t want this enthusiastic, bouncy, out-of-control dog without that precision and accuracy, and that precision and accuracy really just isn’t the picture that I have in my mind of beautiful heelwork without all that enthusiasm and joy. So I want to make sure that in my program I’m bringing them both together, but training them kind of separately.

Melissa Breau: That’s interesting. It’s kind of a different approach.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. I think a lot of people want both those things, and maybe they’re just putting it together in a slightly different way. But I really like it when the dog says, “Oh, this gets rewarded too,” and “Oh, I really like doing this just as much as I like the game aspect of it.” Because even though they’re rewarded separately, the dog learns to bring those two things together.

They say everything bleeds in training. One piece of criteria sometimes will bleed into another piece of criteria. Or one action will bleed into another. One behavior will bleed into another. Those things that are reinforced will bleed into each other. And this is an area where you want that. Some areas you don’t want that. This is an area where you really do want that.

Melissa Breau: We talked a little bit in there about obedience versus freestyle. I’m curious, how does the heelwork you want in freestyle compare to what somebody might want for the obedience ring? What are some of the similarities or differences?

Julie Flanery: In both sports, obviously, you want that lift, that animation, that focus, the precision. In freestyle, the dog heels on both the right and the left side, so there’s some additional training time that needs to be put into that. Even if you don’t do freestyle, it’s a good idea to train heelwork on both sides to help build symmetry in muscle development, and I think more and more handlers are starting to do that.

In freestyle, we teach heelwork as a specific place in relation to the handler while standing. So there are no default sits in freestyle. In obedience, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the sit in heel. When you think about it, though, when heeling, I would guess that maybe 90 percent of the time the dog is actually on all fours, standing.

So I think it’s important in training to separate out the sit-in-heel from the stand-in-heel from the move-in-heel. They’re all very different components with very different criteria. It’s easy to start to lump them together in our training, and I think that’s oftentimes to the detriment of some of the overall wholeness of our heelwork. If we spend too much time on that sit and heel, sit and heel, getting into to sit and heel, we may not be spending an appropriate amount of time on teaching the dog where he should be when he’s standing in relation to our body, and when he’s moving in relation to our body. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s an interesting point, because you’re right, I see a lot of people practice especially that setup.

Julie Flanery: The setup is huge. In freestyle, the other thing is that we heel in a variety of directions, not just forward. We’ll go sideways or laterally, we’ll be backing in heel or backing in right heel. In obedience, the dog generally is always propelling themselves forward, whereas in freestyle the dog learns that the handler may move in any direction, and that their job is to stay in position no matter what that direction is.

While we do see more and more obedience handlers seeing the value of that, teaching multidirectional heelwork, it’s not required in the obedience ring the same way it is in freestyle. So it’s something that freestylers spend a lot of time on, whereas I think obedience trainers don’t spend quite the amount of time on it that we have to in freestyle. So I think that gives the dog a much better understanding of where that position is.

I train it, I think most freestylers … maybe not all, but I know I train heelwork as a stationary position in relation to the handler. It’s not a moving skill for me to start, for my dog to start. The staying with me is a byproduct of the movement. So if my dog understands that she should be at my left side or at my right side, with her shoulder at my pant seam, then if I take a step backwards and she finds enough value in being there, she’s going to work to get there and stay there. If I step sideways, she’s going to work to get there and stay there. If I step forward, if I pivot, wherever my leg goes, she’s going to work hard to stay there.

But I think some handlers skip the step of building value in the position in relation to the handler and spend more time on teaching the setup, the sit, or teaching forward movement. I think they would have those things if the reinforcement, the time, the energy was spent in teaching the dog to find value in just staying in the position stationary before we start adding a lot of movement, and then teaching the dog to move in more than one direction.

I think that generalizes what we’re trying to teach them, that this is the place we want you to be, this is Disneyland, this is the sweet spot. Everything good happens here, and you only have to do one thing. You don’t have to think about moving forward, you don’t have to think about moving sideways, you don’t have to think about a pivot. All you have to think about is being right here at my side.

I use only a single cue for all of my heelwork, whether I’m going backwards, whether I’m going forwards, or whether I’m doing a lateral side pass or pivoting. It’s all the same cue because it’s all the same behavior to the dog. I think that might be a little bit different than what many obedience handlers train. I think a lot of time is spent on forward-moving heelwork and on the setup. So I think that’s something people will see a little bit differently in freestyle training.

Melissa Breau: I could certainly see how teaching the dog the concept of heelwork from that perspective of sticking with the handler rather than necessarily about a specific direction of what have you. I can see how that would be really valuable, regardless of the sport.

Julie Flanery: To me, I think it simplifies the skill for the dog. It totally simplifies the skill. And in freestyle, again, we have a lot of cues in freestyle. We’re constantly saying, “Oh my God, I’m running out of cues.” To be able to have all of those behaviors — backing in heel, pivots in heel, side passes in heel, forward in heel, forward 360s — to have all of those behaviors be a single cue, I think that really clarifies it for the dog, and it makes it so much easier on both the dog and the handler. The dog doesn’t have to learn all of these different cues and what are the behaviors that they attach to those. They need to learn one cue and one skill. So I think it really simplifies it and clarifies it for the dog.

Melissa Breau: If I understand correctly, one additional piece that maybe you didn’t get into so much is the value that you place on teaching the dog to really listen to a verbal in freestyle and not be cueing so much off your body language. Can you talk a little bit about that, why it’s important and how you work on it?

Julie Flanery: No matter what, our dogs are always going to cue off of our bodies to some extent, and even if you have strong verbal cues, they do look to our bodies for information.

In freestyle we want our verbal cues to override the value of what’s happening with our bodies. That takes a very strong reinforcement history for verbal cues and it takes a very specific process or protocol to teach those verbal cues. I may want to use my body, my arms, my legs, how I tilt my head, to interpret the music, to basically dance to the music or convey a story through a skit.

I want my dog to be able to ignore what I’m doing with my body and favor what I’m cuing verbally. I want to appear as if my dog is performing of her own accord. I don’t want the audience to see my cues, as that can really disrupt the magic that we’re trying to present. We’re trying to show that the dog is not just a willing participant, but is actually initiating parts of this dance.

That’s really the magic of freestyle is when those cues are hidden, when you can’t tell that the dog is being cued, and it appears as if he’s initiating these behaviors. That, to me, is really the magic of freestyle. That’s what I want to portray out there. In getting that, if I really want it, if I need my dog to really respond to my verbal cues, I need to count on his response to those verbal cues, I need to follow a specific protocol that’s going to help her truly learn the meaning of those cues.

I think that, for the most part, handlers make the assumption that if they’re saying it, the dog is learning it, or if they make their hand cue smaller and smaller, the dog will take the information from what we’re saying, rather than that little bit of a hand cue that’s left, and that’s just often not true. We know that by the number of times we say things and our dog just looks at us like, “What?” It’s not until we provide some measure of body cuing that they say, “Oh, it was this. This is what you wanted.” They’ll certainly pick up meanings of certain words that way and phrases over time, you know, “Are you ready to go for a walk?” “Are you ready to get your ball?” And even obedience cues, yes, they will understand those to a certain degree. But I don’t have the time or luxury to assume that they will learn it, either on their own or using a less efficient method.

Like I said, I really need to count on that response in the ring. Otherwise, my performance is just not going to appear polished. If my dog misses a cue in a freestyle routine, the music keeps playing. I can’t give the hand cue then and hope she does it right, because I’ve already lost the opportunity to showcase that behavior. I’ve already lost the opportunity to have it match the phrasing in the music.

So having strong verbal cues is imperative to the freestyler, if they want to put out a really polished routine. And again, we want those cues to be hidden. We don’t want it to look like I’m showing my dog that he needs to spin. I want my dog to spin at a point in the music because the music moved him to spin, or it looks like the music moved him to spin, not that I’m actually cuing him to spin.

And in that same vein I need to proof my cues against my own body movement, because I might be doing something totally different. I might be moving my arm in an opposite direction of the way I want him to spin. So I’ve got to proof those cues against not only the distractions, like we normally proof in training, but I’m going to have to give my verbal cue and make my body do something weird, and reinforce my dog for choosing what I said over what I did.

So that’s a little bit of added training in terms of cueing for freestylers

And then as well, freestylers teach choreographed body movements as new cues. If I know I’m going to use my body in a certain way, I’m going to spin a certain direction, I’m going to put my leg up this way or whatever, I can actually teach my dog that that movement, even though it’s not a lure-like or a leading action, that movement means to do something. It is a cue to do something. But it’s not being used as a leading cue, like if I were putting my hand out in a circle to get my dog to spin. But that’s a whole ’nother podcast. That’s freestyle, not heelwork.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. I know you have a class coming up on this stuff in October. Can you share a little bit on what you’re planning to cover there? What level of class? Is it foundations? Is it intermediate? Problem solving? And maybe a little bit about what skills someone should have if they’re interested in taking it?

Julie Flanery: In a sense, it’s a foundation class. However, it’s going to be most suited to teams where the dog already has some understanding, and has some reinforcement history, of being near or in heel position in relation to the handler. They don’t have to have strong heeling behaviors. They don’t have to have perfect heelwork by any stretch of the imagination. But if they have started on their heelwork skills, and they want to get more out of their training and more out of their dog, they want more joy and lift and precision — we’re going to go over precision and accuracy as well — but if the picture they see in their head of a beautiful heeling dog is not what they’re getting out of their dog in training, then this would be a great class for them.

We are going to go over some precision and accuracy. We are going to go through a lot of different ways there are to build joy in our heelwork training. And then we’re going to be using a lot of reinforcement history and value in each of those pieces to allow the dog to bring that together.

We’re also going to talk a lot about appropriate expectations in your heelwork. There are certain limitations. If you have a certain picture of what you want, and your dog’s structure dictates that that just isn’t going to happen, we still want to get the prettiest and best performance out of your dog that we can get. The Bulldog is not going to heel the same way that a Border Collie or a Belgian is going to heel, so we do want to take those things into account, but there’s still things that we can do to work towards that picture, or build a more dramatic style of heelwork for your dog.

Melissa Breau: You mean a Bulldog can’t get quite that same lift?

Julie Flanery: Not quite, not quite.

Melissa Breau: Poor guys.

Julie Flanery: Doesn’t mean they can’t do beautiful heelwork. I just saw the most gorgeous bulldog — actually it was a mix. I think there was some French bulldog in it, and something else, and oh my gosh, that dog just had such spark in his heelwork, and it was beautiful. It was just gorgeous. No, it wasn’t a Terv and no it wasn’t a border collie. It was just … for that dog, it was just gorgeous heeling, and I enjoy that as much as I enjoy seeing the some of the dogs whose structure is more conducive to the type of heeling that we picture in our heads as being beautiful and joyful.

Melissa Breau: One of the things on your syllabus that caught my eye was that you’re planning on including some information on reinforcement strategies. I know that that’s a big topic. What are some of the common reinforcement strategies someone might want to use when working on heeling? And maybe a little on how to decide which ones you want to use and when?

Julie Flanery: Something to note about reinforcement strategies that I think people aren’t fully aware of, or don’t fully grasp about why we use different reinforcements strategies: Reinforcement strategies are a way to alter future behavior and not the behavior you are currently rewarding.

For example, if I feed with my dog’s head slightly away from me, it’s not an effort to lure her bum in, but rather to get her to start thinking about where reinforcement happens for the next reps.

So if I reward the dog — let’s say just for fronts — if I reward the dog for coming into front by tossing between my legs, I’ve already clicked the behavior. I’ve already said, “You are getting a reward for what you just did.” But by tossing the treat or the toy between my legs, she’s more likely to line up straight and in a way that she can efficiently get to reward faster on the next rep, and that benefits future behavior.

So if I want my dog, say, to take the weight off of her front and drive from her rear for heelwork, I’m likely going to have her reach up and forward a little for her reward, maybe give a little jump up to get her reward. If she starts thinking about that on the next few steps of heelwork and begins to think of, Reward’s coming, reward’s coming, where is it? Oh, it’s going to be up high, she starts to lift herself in preparation for that, and that gives me something I can click. That bit of lift she’s offering in preparation to take the next reward gives me my criteria shift, lets me click that behavior.

Melissa Breau: Even though you designed the class thinking about freestyle, would the class still be a good fit for somebody whose primary interest is obedience or Rally? We talked a little bit about this already, but how would the skills that you value in heeling and in the class for freestyle carry over into those sports?

Julie Flanery: Just given the things we’ve talked about, I think that all of those things, any obedience handler or Rally handler would like to have those things. Especially in Rally, the backing up, in backing up we want that skill to be a very thoughtful, deliberate action on the dog’s part, and I think that in Rally sometimes we’ll see handlers Band-Aiding that a little bit by rushing backwards in an effort to use the dog’s wanting to stay with them, but not really working on the precision aspect of that. For Rally skills such as the side pass — they do side passes in Rally, and they do backing up and heel in Rally — absolutely this class is going to benefit those.

In obedience, again, freestylers are really looking for the same attributes in heelwork that obedience handlers are looking for. So, in many ways, a lot of these things … as a matter of fact, when I worked in obedience, these are a lot of the same skills that I did when I worked in obedience and Rally. The only place where there may not be carryover, and of course this is always added later anyway, would be the sits in heel, the automatic sits, the setup in a sit. But that’s going to be added later anyway. The way I train heelwork, it’s not something I add at the start.

It’s actually going to benefit those obedience folks who maybe have centered their heelwork around that setup or the sit and heel. This is actually going to solidify your dog’s understanding of what it means to keep their body in relation to yours while they’re standing in heel, and while they’re moving forward in heel, and while they’re moving in any direction in heel. So yeah, I think that could definitely benefit obedience and Rally handlers.

Melissa Breau: We talked a bunch about the October class, but I think you have a few other things you’re working on, right? Anything you care to mention?

Julie Flanery: Yeah, just a few! I’m still working on the heeling class, too. I think I just scheduled to do some webinars. I’m not sure when they’re scheduled for, exactly. There was a lot of interest in the mimicry classes that I did, so we thought we would put that in a nutshell and let people experience what that protocol is all about, and try it a little bit with their dogs. So I’ll be doing a webinar on mimicry.

And because my interest is Musical Freestyle and Rally FrEe, and I get a lot of questions from people about “What is it?” “How do you get started?” “How is it different?” So I’m going to do a webinar on Musical Freestyle and Rally FrEe, how they’re related to each other, some of the skills and behaviors that we use, how to start training for that. I’m really looking forward to that one because of course that’s my passion.

I have another class, I think it’s in December maybe, a new class for me, also, Mission Accomplished. That class is going to focus on finishing up and completing all of those dozens of behaviors that we all start and never finish. That might be maybe because we’re stuck, we don’t know how to finish it, or maybe it’s just because we love that acquisition phase. We love starting new behaviors, and so we have dozens of new behaviors started, but we can’t seem to complete any of them. So we’ll help you get through and complete some of those.

I’m really looking forward to that class, too. I think it will help a lot of people get over some training humps that they might be experiencing with some behaviors, and so they just move on because they don’t know where to go from there. So that’s going to be a really fun class, I think, too.

Melissa Breau: Not that I’ve ever done that — had a behavior that I …

Julie Flanery: No, none of us! I’m actually pretty good at finishing out behaviors, because in freestyle I have so many behaviors that I could use. Anything I want to train, I could figure out how to use it in freestyle. So I always have a motivation usually to finish out a behavior, or if I’ve got a theme that I want to use, or anything like that. I always have use for the behaviors that I train, and that motivates me to complete them.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure that will be a popular class because I’m sure it’s pretty common. To round things out, my last question for everyone these days — what’s something you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Julie Flanery: You know, I’ve heard you ask that question before, and so I knew that was coming up. There was a post, a Facebook post, the other day from one of our Fenzi family members. Esther Zimmerman talked about her Golden, and her Golden starting to refuse some cues, or just not seeming right in training.

She talked about some of the steps she went through in her own mind — oh gosh, I’m going to get teary-eyed about this, oh dear — about how her dog’s welfare, and listening to what her dog was telling her, and not assuming that the dog was being stubborn, or blowing her off, or spiteful, or any of those things that we sometimes hear or maybe even sometimes think that in our own training, and that by really considering our dog’s point of view, and why they might not be responding the way they normally do, that really hits home with me. And gosh, this is horrible, Melissa!

Melissa Breau: I think I know the post you’re talking about, where she was, like, the first day your dog doesn’t seem quite into training, OK, well, we just won’t do this today, and put them away. The next day, they’re still not quite into training and you’re, like, “Hmm, I wonder if there’s something wrong,” and by the third day it’s, “OK, it’s time to go see a vet.”

Julie Flanery: And there really was something wrong, and it was just so kind of her, the way she talked about this. I know we all have that same philosophy, but sometimes we need reminding of that.

My dog has had health issues. She’s 8 years old now and she’s had health issues all of her life. It can be difficult for me to sometimes read whether this is due to discomfort, is she not feeling well, but in the end it really doesn’t matter what the reason is. What matters is that we take the dog into account, that we listen to what they’re telling us through their behavior, and that we don’t make assumptions about their motivation. They can’t tell us when they’re feeling not right, not good.

And it might just be a little thing, but continuing to train when our animals are not feeling up to par … if you consider how do you feel when you go into work and you woke up with a stuffy nose and a headache or a migraine, you’re not going to be at your best, and you’re likely going to resent that workplace environment because you have to be there. So it just reminded me to take my dog into account and listen more to her when she’s giving me some of these signals.

Sorry about that! I didn’t mean to go into soap opera mode!

Melissa Breau: No, you’re fine. I think it’s a great reminder.

Julie Flanery: I think that’s really, really important, and we can lose sight of that because we have goals in our training. We have goals when we are working in these performance sports. These aren’t our dogs’ goals. These aren’t our dogs’ goals, and thank goodness they’re willing to do this with us. So it’s up to us to protect them in these environments, in these training situations, where they may not be feeling all that well.

So thank you, Esther, for reminding me of that fact. Keeping track of my dog, my dog’s health, and how she’s feeling during a training session.

Her and Amy Cook. Amy Cook has really changed a lot of my perspectives these last couple of years in training. So a big shout-out to Amy Cook on her work with emotions and training as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Julie. I’m so glad you could come back on the podcast.

Julie Flanery: I am glad too. It was really, really fun. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with Julie Daniels to talk building canine confidence.

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Aug 24, 2018

Summary:

Andrea Harrison is the people trainer on the FDSA team, working with dog sports teams to help handlers train themselves for better performance. She teaches classes on unleashing your personal potential, mental management, planning, goal setting, and more. She’s here today to talk about mental management, self-care, and dealing with failure.

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/31/2018, featuring Julie Flanery, talking about Heeling.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Andrea Harrison.

Andrea is the people trainer on the FDSA team, working with dog sports teams to help handlers train themselves for better performance. She teaches classes on unleashing your personal potential, mental management, planning, goal setting, and more. She’s here today to talk about mental management, self-care, and dealing with failure.

Hi Andrea! Welcome to the podcast.

Andrea Harrison: Hi Melissa. It’s so nice to be here.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just remind listeners a little bit about who you are and who the dogs are that you share your life with?

Andrea Harrison: Sure. I’m Andrea Harrison, I am Canadian, I live in an island in the middle of Lake Ontario … well, not quite the middle, but close enough on the Canadian side.

We live with 32 animals, five of whom are dogs. We’ve got two older dogs, Thea and Sally, who are a Chihuahua and a Border Collie mix. You will have seen both of them in photos of mine, I bet, and they are retired agility dogs, largely. Sally’s done a lot of stuff, actually. She’s been a film star, and she’s been a spokesperson for the SPCA’s spay-neuter program, and all kinds of different things.

And then Tom has a farm dog. He has a Golden Retriever, Samson, who is 9 now; we can’t believe it.

And then my two young dogs are 6 and 5, and they’re a toy American Eskimo, Yen, also known as the flying squirrel, and Dora, who’s a Cairn Terrier mix, who’s 5.

My dogs mostly do farm dog, agility, scent work, and a little bit of playing in whatever kind of sport captures my fancy when I’m working through some concept for one of my students. They’re all really good sports about being flexible. Agility has been my passion for a long time, nosework’s a close second, and I play with some obedience stuff just so I keep my head in the game.

So that’s our current crew. I keep expecting one of these days I’ll be telling you about a puppy, but I’m certainly in no rush for that.

Melissa Breau: Well, I look forward to it. Puppy pictures are the best.

Andrea Harrison: They are.

Melissa Breau: I know we have a couple of things we’re hoping to get to today, but to start us out, I want to talk about motivation. If someone listening has a goal they really want to reach, but they’re struggling a little bit to stay motivated to work on it day by day, do you have tips you can offer for continuing to make progress?

Andrea Harrison: There are tons of tips, and I think we’ll probably cover lots of the more specific tools, but one of the things I encourage people who have that sense of “I don’t know what to do” is to do a really good self-check. That means thinking about your head, your heart, and your gut, and listening to what those three things tell you.

Your head: You’re going to look and make sure that you have a plan in place and that you’re trying to actually honor your plan, that you have some goals set that are both process goals and outcome goals, that you’re meeting both of those needs, and that you’re taking small enough steps to really continue to move forward.

We get these big, big goals sometimes, and when we don’t see that we’re progressing towards them, it’s really easy to give up and think, Oh, I’m never going to [fill in the blank] finish this routine, learn this behavior, whatever it is. So if we can make sure that we’re also meeting with small steps — Oh, my dog is getting better as it comes in, or doing a better sit, whatever it is, hitting the contact more often in agility — then we know that our head is in the game and we actually can help ourselves motivate ourselves to do it right and to keep going.

But we also need to balance out with making sure we’re challenging ourselves, because if all we’re doing is repetitive things that we already know how to do, we’re going to get bored and we’re going to stop doing it. So the head is a really important piece of trying to find this motivation.

And then you want to think about your heart. Are these the right goals for you? Should you be playing the game you’re playing? Is there another game you might enjoy more or be more motivated about? How is your relationship with your dog? Are you feeling that connection and that support, or is that starting to erode a little bit and you need to stop doing some of the competitive training and work on the relationship goals that you have and you want to have with your dog?

It’s important that we sometimes look back and see how far we’ve come, and we look forward to see how far we could go. But in those heart-centered moments you want to stop and make sure that you are in the present. What can you be grateful for right now in this moment in time? That’s really hard when we’re frustrated and feeling a lack of motivation, but it can really turn our thinking around to consider where our incentive is to keep getting up every day. We talk sometimes in other things beyond dog training about a reason to get up out of bed. When we’re talking about dog training, we have to think about what’s the reason we’re getting up to train the dog.

If our head and our heart can’t find those reasons, talk to your gut and really think about how are you feeling. How can you help yourself and your teammate feel better about it? But that’s sort of a last check on this self-check for when we feel blah, but it’s an important piece of it if we can’t figure it out through looking at our head or our heart.

Melissa Breau: Probably one of the key reasons so many people struggle with motivation is simply about time — after a long day at work, they’re totally drained, they get home, and it can be really hard not to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I know I’ve certainly done it, I’m definitely a queen of procrastination some days. What strategies are there for sticking to your guns even when maybe all you really want is to go to bed or sit in front of the TV and veg out?

Andrea Harrison: That’s such an important question, and again it depends on the person, because some of us, we think, OK, I’m going to train the dogs after I’ve had dinner and instead of watching TV. But if you’re sitting on the couch, watching TV, and that’s really rewarding for you, why on earth would you leave it to go train?

You might do better to train your dogs in the morning before you leave for work. Get up 15 minutes early. Or first thing when you come in the door and they’ve got tons of energy and are going bananas. Or right before dinner, because then dinner can be the reward for doing your training.

You have to look at how you work the best and split what you want. Look at your end goal and split it down into tiny, tiny steps, because if 5 minutes of training twice a week will get you where you want to go — because say your goal is six months out, or three months out, which I more often recommend — but if your goal is three months out, you can start with really little steps for right now and get yourself there.

If your goal is you’re competing next weekend … I have a number of students who came to me because they wouldn’t train at all. Their goal would be to go to the show and do well in ten days, and they would do nothing for those ten days. And then they would be so frustrated, because of course they hadn’t trained and nothing went right. They’d never actually taught the behavior they expected the dog to show them.

So with those guys we sit and we talk about direction, intensity, and persistence. Direction is can you get up off the couch and go and do what you should be doing. Intensity is do you do it long enough and hard enough and with a plan. So the weekend warriors can sometimes forget the intensity piece. Persistence is just are you willing to stick with it for the three or four or five months or weeks or whatever it is.

Blocks for our motivation can happen anywhere. So when you are feeling those blocks, and that lack of time management, and that stress, you can actually start to look back at your record-keeping, or start keeping records if you haven’t. Check a video from six months ago. See your progress. You probably aren’t doing as badly as you thought you were in the first place, so sometimes that recognition itself can be a little bit motivating.

Melissa Breau: What about those inevitable times when things just don’t go according to plan? Maybe you’re training and something goes wrong or what have you. We’ve all been there. How can folks avoid letting that send them into a rut, or lead to them abandoning their plan entirely and spending a lot of time living in a place of negative self-talk and beating themselves up about it?

Andrea Harrison: I can show you a hundred articles that tell us “18 types of negative self-talk,” “32 types of negative self-talk.” If you’re feeling that way, acknowledge it, admit it, but don’t get hung up on it. The more you think about, Oh gosh, what kind of negative self-talk is it and how can I beat it, sometimes it can become a bit of a self-fulfilling thing.

So when you feel yourself beating yourself up needlessly, acknowledge it, admit it, and then start thinking again about your motivation, because this is one of the real roots of sometimes negative self-talk. Is your motivation intrinsic? Is it something you’re doing for yourself and your dog? Is it extrinsic or external? Is it something you’re doing for somebody else, like your coach, or your partner who’s giving you all this money for dog sports, or whatever? Or is it affiliative in nature and it’s actually about making relationships? It’s that social aspect of motivation, where we’re doing it for the relationship with our dog club, or the judges group, or for a judge, or whatever it is.

So to acknowledge your negative self-talk is fine and an important step, but then focus on the positive. Focus on figuring out why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re starting to feel negative, and how you can address it head-on.

Again, planning. Sometimes planning a break can be a really good way to beat this negative thinking. You know what? I’m in a really bad headspace, and I’m not going to train for two or three days, or a week. Our dogs won’t roll over and die if we don’t train them for a few days, and most of our dogs actually can benefit from a gap. We certainly can as learners, and there’s some good evidence that they can too.

So it’s quite all right, when you’re getting yourself into one of those negative things, look to your outer circle and find some positive things. Again, look back at the video of you doing well. Go and look at your ribbon wall. I talk about setting up an inspiration or confidence corner of some sort so that you have somewhere where you can go and literally touch the things that are good that help you stay grounded and in this game. When you’re finding that that happens, that can be really, really helpful.

Melissa Breau: What about in the actual moment — if someone is in the middle of a training session with their dog and something goes … let’s not say “wrong” necessarily, but … definitely not according to the plan?

Andrea Harrison: That never happens, does it? I don’t know what you’re talk about. Don’t we wish! I think it happened today actually to me, but that’s a whole separate story!

I think you want to make sure that you can see the whole picture. So many of us work from a place where we’re either looking at the big picture more, or the little tiny details more. I can’t predict what kind of view you take, or any individual takes of their training, unless I’m talking to them, but if you are a detail-oriented person and things are going wrong, stop, take a breath, do one of the grounding exercises, breathe in, breathe out, do count breathe-in, 1-2-3 in, 1-2-3-4 out, whatever it takes, just focus, and then think about the big picture. OK, so the tuck sit isn’t perfect right now, the finish isn’t perfect right now. Why am I doing this big picture thing? I’m doing this big picture thing, those little steps, in order to get the big picture of putting together a show or whatever it is.

So you need to be really careful that you give yourself credit for what kind of skills you’re best at, and then how you break that down into what you need. If you’ve got the little details at hand, think big picture. If you can see the big picture, you know you want a podium at Nationals in three months, make sure you’re putting the little pieces into play. Often when we struggle with what’s happening in the moment, it’s because we’re getting hung up on either small details or big picture and we’re forgetting that balance. And balance is really what it’s about. We have to have that sense of balance in order for us to be able to move forward.

Melissa Breau: Does it matter at all if the mistake was truly a mistake, for example, say the person dropped the leash and their dog decided to go for a very unplanned swim in a nearby lack, or if it’s something maybe where the team just didn’t make as much progress as the person wanted to in that training session and they’re feeling a little disappointed?

Andrea Harrison: For some of us it does make a big difference, and that goes back to that whole affiliate of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re walking with your friends in the park and your dog takes off and runs in the lake without permission, some people will be devastated by that. They’ll be really upset because they’re looking for external validation, or maybe they feel like it’s a great internal failure. But if friends being with them makes it worse, it’s usually because of affiliative or extrinsic values. If it slides off in another direction, that can be a really internal thing. It’s going to depend.

So it’s a tough question for me to answer, because the tools that you need to use are not the same tools that I need to use. Recognizing which failure — and you know me, so you know that failure is in big air quotes — what that learning information from the error, what that information gives us, will help us address how to best deal with it and how to move forward.

If, for you, a dog going for an unexpected swim in the leash is a terrible ordeal, or for somebody only being able to heel for 6 seconds is a terrible ordeal, whatever the trauma is for you, break it down in terms of how traumatic it is, and then take measures to address it.

In the bottom-line world, human, we are all going to make mistakes. I don’t know how to tell anybody that they are going to be perfect, because we are human and we are not perfect. And every trainer — every trainer, I really mean this, I can’t tell you, every single trainer — has a moment where they think, Oh, I wish I’d handled that differently, and that’s OK. It’s all right to be human. We can’t change the fact we’re human, so we want to make sure that we understand where our own stress and distress comes from and that we take steps to address it.

Melissa Breau: Obviously, achieving goals is super-important and a part of what you do, but I know another big topic for you is this idea of self-care. So I wanted to ask what some ways are that people can try and make sure they’re working self-care into their regular routine, whether that’s daily or weekly or what have you.

Andrea Harrison: Self-care is a really good and big topic. It’s something I talk about all the time, and I think it’s really important to remember that if I tell you that self-help works if you do “this,” and it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel badly, because the same tools are not going to work in the same ways for all people. That’s my self-help rant in a nutshell.

But some of the things that people find, and I like to talk about free self-care, because lots of people tell you all kinds of ways to spend money on yourself, and honestly, in my experience, most people feel better if they spend money on themselves, interestingly enough, even if it’s money they don’t have. So I really focus on free self-care and how to make it work for you.

One of the biggest things people can do is use the natural world. There’s actually studies done that show if you take your shoes off and touch the earth with bare feet, or if you put your hand up and touch a tree, or any of that kind of thing, that your brain starts to look happier in scanning. I’m not going to get into all the science of it, but it helps calm us and ground us, and our brain looks prettier on scans.

The natural world is obviously pretty important to people generally, and especially to dog and horse people I find it’s really important because we already have an affinity for natural beings, other beings beyond being human. So take your time and enjoy the natural world.

Maybe consider unplugging from social media or from all electronics for a little while. Even ten minutes of just peace can be a big deal.

Exercise, use music, dance if it works for you, or be really still and just listen and be thoughtful. Again, these things vary so much for the individual. But test them all, because you’re not going to know what works for you unless you’ve tested it.

For some people, self-help is being creative. Coloring, knitting, crocheting, whatever you do. I’m not saying go and find a new hobby, although if you want to, that’s fine, and that can be effective too. But if you have something you love doing and you found it a good release, do it. Sitting in front of the television on a couch is not good self-care. It’s good escapism, and there’s a place for escapism, for sure, but if you want to take your TV time and get an element of self-care in it, think about doing a Sudoku for your brain, or coloring a picture, or doing a needlepoint. Whatever works for you. But you can take those dead times we have in the day and add a little element of self-care to it.

Another example would be listening to inspirational speeches in the car on the way to work instead of listening to the local news.

One of the things I’ve been exploring lately for some of my students is scent. If you are sensitive to scent, a little drop of essential oil, or a little rock that’s impregnated with some scent, in a little empty pill bottle. Lavender’s really good for peace and calm and easing anxiety and panic. Lemon is a really good way to concentrate. Rosemary’s really good to help your mind remember things. Cinnamon and peppermint are two other scents that students have found very effective at tying back to things that help them relax and enjoy. I don’t think of scent as a self-care thing for me, but for somebody else it could be really effective. So I would never rule out that tool, if that makes sense.

Sleep. I talk about sleep, I think, every time we talk. Sleep is like the heartbeat of how our brain learns new information. We have to sleep to lay down those new neural pathways. So when you want to take good care of yourself, make sure you’re addressing your sleeping needs, whether that means going back to bed for half an hour after your dog gets you up early — oh wait, maybe that’s just me! — or whether that’s going to bed an hour early because you can. Whatever it is for you, make sure that you’re filling those sleep needs. That can be a really, really effective way to start self-care fast. Even if it’s just lying in a quiet, dark room. That’s as effective for everything except your brain does the same effect on your organs as actually being asleep. Sleep is restorative, and resting quietly in the dark is restorative. So take advantage of it.

Laughter. We just chuckled. Laughter is such an important self-help tool, and it’s one that’s really easy to forget. We get so busy in our world, training our dogs, and making the money to go to shows, and doing the things, and worrying about the car, and the stress just builds and builds and builds and builds and builds. We can go days without laughing, and days without laughing is not good for any of us. If that’s pulling up a Monty Python clip, going to a comedy, spending time playing with kids, or watching some young animal video on Facebook — it doesn’t matter what it is. If you can find a way to laugh and chuckle, that is going to actually help you with self-care.

I can’t talk about self-care without mentioning gratitude practice. Whatever that means for you, gratitude is demonstrably good for us. It’s good for our head, our heart, and our gut. It actually has measurable impacts on all of our wellbeing in every way possible, so if you want to practice self-care, make sure that you’ve got a little bit of time somewhere, whether it’s through formal journaling or just grabbing a moment when you feel blue and thinking, Oh wait, I’m feeling blue. What can I be grateful for? There are tons of different ways to practice gratitude, and I talk about it quite a lot.

That’s probably enough for now, but positive self-talk. If you are feeling rotten, if you’re getting hung up on negative self-talk, positive self-talk can be really, really good self-care.

Melissa Breau: I was wondering how you define self-care, because I was thinking about it and thinking it’s kind of like reinforcement in dogs, where what’s reinforcing is really dependent on the dog. It seems like we’ve talked about quite a few different forms of self-care. How do you define it, and it’s not all exactly the same for every person, right?

Andrea Harrison: It’s not the same thing for everybody, and what self-care means to me for everyone is feeling better after they practice it. So it doesn’t matter what you do. If the result of what you are doing makes you feel better, I’m going to call it self-care. But if that definition doesn’t work for you, I’m OK with that. My self-help rant: The definition has to work for you. So if you think, Well, self-care must be this very measured thing, I’m OK with that. You go ahead and self-care yourself that way, because at the end of the day you’re likely to meet my definition where you feel better about yourself.

For example, one of my students, a fabulous student, decided, with my help, that she needed a self-care program. She needed to set aside ten minutes a day that was just for her. Because of where she could do it, which was her workplace, and the tools she had at her disposal, she decided that, for her, watching ten minutes of a TED Talk once a day was going to be her self-care. And it caught on at work. Her boss saw her and said, “What are you doing on your break?” She explained what she was doing, and her boss said, “Great. I’m going to do it too.” So now at this workplace they’ve got a little self-care program running that’s all because of one student who said, “Hey, I need to start taking care of myself.” So for her that worked really, really well.

Would I say watching YouTube is necessarily great self-care for everybody? Probably not. But for her and what she needed and where she was, it worked beautifully. So for her, that’s self-care.

For other people, TED Talk might be educational. It might be important, but they’re not going to feel better about themselves at the end of it, so therefore it’s simply educational. Whereas going and hugging a tree for 30 seconds is their self-care, and that’s what they need.

If it doesn’t work for you, it’s not going to be self-care. I think that’s the really big takeaway for this. If it is working for you, then we can call it self-care. If it isn’t working for you, let’s not call it self-care. Let’s say, “Hey, that was a tool to test. It didn’t work. Let’s find something else.”

Melissa Breau: What about … I guess this is a little bit of change of subject … but for somebody who is really goal-oriented, and maybe motivation is not necessarily what they struggle with, but they find instead that they’re so competitive that they’re unintentionally pressuring their dog. What kind of mental management techniques might be useful for somebody like that?

Andrea Harrison: People pressure their dogs? Really? Of course people pressure their dogs, because we’re putting pressure on ourselves. That leash is a two-way communication tool, whether it’s an actual leash or a virtual leash, and for sure when we put pressure on ourselves, we’re putting pressure on our dogs.

I would say to a whole lot of those people, “Hey, what’s your self-care practice like? Do you have a way to let off steam that doesn’t involve dog training? For them, often getting physical outside of dog sports is a good way to relieve some of that pressure and find a valve to let off of it.

One thing I’m always going to say to you, if you say to me, “I put a lot of pressure on myself,” or “my dog,” or “and my dog,” I will say to you, “For every negative thing you identify in a training session or a show, you must tell me two good things.” For some people I’m going to say, “You must tell me three good things,” because what I call that “two-for-one” really makes you focus on the good because … not that it stops you being self-critical, but if you are self-critical, you know … I guess it’s sort of punishment-based … the consequence for that is going to be to come up with two good things.

If you find that hard, you’re going to stop being quite so critical of yourself because you don’t want to have to look for those good things. And if you think it’s great and you are picking yourself apart, then it’s just a nice reminder to find something good.

It’s funny, we talk about rewarding our dogs all the time, and we forget that we can both reward and punish ourselves as well. And it’s not a terrible punishment to have to come up with something good that you’ve done in a video or a training session or at a show.

It shouldn’t be a terrible punishment for anybody, but some people certainly would prefer not to have to do it, so they will settle down being quite so self-critical. And that’s neat to me. It’s an interesting sort of reverse way to use rewards. “You’re going to reward yourself by finding something good.” “I don’t want to.” “Too bad. That’s your homework.”

As well, people need to stop and think, they need to recognize that they are putting that pressure on themselves and give themselves a little bit of space to get out of it. One of the breathing exercises that can work well for that is the “I am” breathing, where you breathe in and you think I am, and then you breathe out and you think whatever the word is. So “I am relaxed,” “I am doing well,” “I am calm” — whatever the state is you want to be in.

For people who have a lot of pressure on themselves and who are being really negative, I am a good dog trainer works really well, or We are a good team works really well too. I’ve got a student using that now, and she’s finding it really effective to just be a little bit of a pressure valve, because when you’ve got that pressure building up, you need to let off a little bit of that pressure, and that can make a really big, important difference to the way that you’re thinking about the training session or the show that’s happened.

Melissa Breau: What about somebody who instead their struggle is ring nerves?

Andrea Harrison: We don’t talk about ring nerves ever here at FDSA! I do ring nerves probably more than anything else, and the reason for that is we all put pressure on ourselves, but we don’t all realize it. We all realize we’re nervous, because being nervous makes us feel edgy or unwell. So we have this sense when we’re nervous that we aren’t going to be successful. That’s what nerves are: the ultimate “fight or flight” response.

When you are nervous, you go right back to that head, heart, and gut thing. Where do you feel your nerves? And then you can also look at the social, emotional, and physical impact those nerves are having on you.

It’s sort of a six-pronged approach to figuring out where the nerves are, because if you just tell me you’re nervous, and you can’t say, “I get so nervous that my palms are sweaty and I can’t think straight and I don’t want to be around my friends,” which hits on all of them … and most people don’t do it quite like that, but if that happens to you and you have all of them, then we have to come up with a tool for every single element of what’s happening instead of just saying, “If you do this breathing exercise at the in-gate, you will be fine.”

That’s what takes me right back to my self-help rant, too, because if somebody says, “You will not be nervous if you do this,” and you do whatever it is they say and then you still feel nervous, you feel like you’re some kind of failure. You aren’t a failure. You’re just being a human being, and you’re just expressing your nerves your own way. So if you are nervous, you want to make sure that you acknowledge it, and this is one of the things I really don’t like about what I do some days, because I have to make people feel a little bit uncomfortable.  

When we’re nervous, we want to stick our heads in the sand and pretend we’re not nervous, fake it till we make it, re-characterize our nerves as excitement. All of those things can work, and they can all be good tools. But if you really want to break down where those nerves are coming from and what we can do about them long-term, often we need to look at them closely enough that it makes us even more uncomfortable.

So we actually have to set ourselves up to feel nervous somewhere so we can think about, Do we get that churning stomach and have to go to the bathroom multiple times a day. Again, totally normal response. People aren’t comfortable talking about it and don’t want to talk about it because they think they’re different or unusual. You’re not. The body’s absolute biological response to fear and stress is to need to go to the bathroom. It’s a given. Biologically, it makes sense. But if you haven’t thought of that and you don’t know that, and you don’t even realize it’s happening, then it can make us more nervous and more anxious and more upset, and it becomes more of a self-fulfilling cycle.

So nerves are a tricky one, because your nerves are going to be different than my nerves, and my nerves are going to be different than another instructor’s nerves or another student’s nerves. But similar tools can help with the head, the heart, the gut, the social, the emotional, and the physical reality of the nerves that we’re dealing with.

Melissa Breau: So for all the folks who are listening to this and thinking, Hmm, I think I need to do some work on that, or I’d really like to learn more about some of those things, what do you have coming up in the near future? Classes? Webinars? What’s on the schedule?

Andrea Harrison: Coming up in October, I’ve got one of my newer classes, called No More Excuses, which is motivation and planning, predominantly. People use it to work through really bad cases of nerves if All In Your Head hasn’t been enough or whatever. But they also use it as a tool to peak performance for a national event, or to figure out a training plan for a new puppy, or to figure out why they are no longer interested in training. It’s a great class. It will be my third time teaching it. I really love it, and we’ve gotten some really exciting work done in it.

And then in the following term, so December 1st, I’m pretty sure it’s Handle This that’s on the schedule, which is really my ultimate nerve course coming up, although we look at other stuff too, like why we can’t memorize a course. What we tend to do in that class is look at all the different symptoms of nerves, and then break them down for people. So that’s a pretty cool class too.

Then, in the end of October, I think October 25th, it’s on the calendar, I’ve got a webinar called Empower Your Team, and that’s about — again, a little bit funny, all this stuff is on a theme — about how to be the best team you can, working with the team you have to make good choices in training, competing, scheduling, motivating yourself, using your plan, using your record-keeping, all of those kinds of things. How you can be the best team you can in the circumstances.

One of the things that came up when I was talking about doing it was a spouse who isn’t too happy about the money that’s being spent on dog sports. They don’t mind the time, but they mind the money. So that’s the kind of thing that I suspect is going to come up, and how to manage all the different stresses of being a dog sport person with grace and dignity. So I’m looking forward to it.

And then I also have a really exciting thing I’m not quite ready to talk about, but I’m hoping it will be announced in the next two or three weeks. I’m really excited and really looking forward to sharing that with everybody.

Melissa Breau: Well, I’m sure everybody will have to just stay tuned and pay attention, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

Andrea Harrison: Oh, you’ll hear all about it!

Melissa Breau: My last question for everyone these days — what’s something you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Andrea Harrison: For sure, for me, it’s that every dog is different, every dog is unique. This came to me because my neighbor’s little mini-horse has been escaping their property and coming over here, and our five dogs have all reacted very differently to him.

He’s really, really cute. If you see me on Instagram, I’ve got pictures of him all over the place because he’s adorable. But he doesn’t belong here, and my dogs know he doesn’t belong here, and they all insist on telling me, and it’s been so interesting to watch them figure out how to tell me. So I had to go back to some pretty strong recall training. Not strong like aggressive, but consistent reinforced recall training, because they all have fits when this strange horse shows up on my front lawn.

They’re all responding to the training a little bit differently, and they’re all reacting now to the mini a little bit differently. Sally, the old Border Collie mix, she makes the biggest racket in the world because she knows I’m going to recall her, and she’s got a fabulous recall, always has. So she’s like, “Hey, this is a great excuse. Bring it on, pony!” The terrier looks at the pony and comes running to me, because she knows there’s going to be reinforcement in there. I can’t even say her name fast enough for her to be at my feet saying, “Ha ha, there’s the mini! Give me the treat!”

They’re all reacting so, so differently, and it’s been a really nice reminder for me in the last two weeks: every dog is different and deserves that same respect and to be treated for who they are, as we do.

The heart of what I do is that we’re all unique and we all have to build our own toolbox. My self-help rant speaks to that. Same deal with our dogs. Don’t forget the dogs are all individuals, so whatever each dog teaches you will teach you something for the next dog, but that doesn’t change the fact that that individual dog is unique and different and has its own needs.

That’s a really neat question. I had to think about that. But yeah, that would be my big, latest epiphany or reminder for sure.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Andrea. This has been great.

Andrea Harrison: I always enjoy chatting, Melissa, very much, and I appreciate all you do for the podcast and the students at FDSA. It’s a fabulous place to get to hang out, so I’m grateful, and grateful for you.

Melissa Breau: Thank you. And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with Julie Flannery to talk about heeling like a freestyler.

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Aug 17, 2018

Summary:

Hélène Lawler has been working with animals her whole life — she started by training her cat to use the toilet when she was 12! Since then she’s spent years heavily invested in both training and the rescue world. She’s dabbled in nosework, tracking, and Search and Rescue, and then began training agility in 2004, followed by herding in 2005. It didn’t take long before she was hooked.

She won the Ontario novice herding championship in 2008, after just two years of training with her dog Hannah, and together they went on to become an Open level team while simultaneously competing in agility to the Masters level and qualifying for the AAC Canadian Nationals. Today, she runs a working mixed livestock farm, with sheep, goats, horses, and poultry … and she recently agreed to do a webinar for FDSA on herding and how to train it using positive reinforcement techniques!

Next Episode: 

NOTE: In the podcast I announce Sarah Stremming, who will actually be one week further out; we rescheduled last minute. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Helene Lawler.

Hélène has been working with animals her whole life — she started by training her cat to use the toilet when she was 12! Since then she’s spent years heavily invested in both training and the rescue world. She’s dabbled in nosework, tracking, and Search and Rescue, and then began training agility in 2004, followed by herding in 2005. It didn’t take long before she was hooked.

She won the Ontario novice herding championship in 2008, after just two years of training with her dog Hannah, and together they went on to become an Open level team while simultaneously competing in agility to the Masters level and qualifying for the AAC Canadian Nationals. Today, she runs a working mixed livestock farm, with sheep, goats, horses, and poultry … and she recently agreed to do a webinar for FDSA on herding and how to train it using positive reinforcement techniques!

Hi Helene, welcome to the podcast!

Helene Lawler: Hi Melissa. Thank you so much for having me here. I’m really excited.

Melissa Breau: Did I get the name pronunciation right there?

Helene Lawler: Yes, you did.

Melissa Breau: Yes! Score! So, to start us out, do you want to share a little bit about each of your dogs and anything you’re working on with them?

Helene Lawler: OK, sure. Yes, I can always talk about my dogs. I currently have eleven, so this might take a couple minutes.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Helene Lawler: First of all, I have Hannah, who you mentioned. She’s 12-and-a-half. She’s my main working dog on the farm these days. She’s still going strong. I don’t compete with her anymore, but she’s still quite active being my working partner and running the farm with me.

I bred her once and I have two of her pups, Desiree and Clayton. They’re now 5. They both do work on the farm as well, and are advancing their herding skills. Desiree is training to be my next agility dog and fill her mother’s shoes in that respect. We’re hoping to start competing in the fall.

I had another fantastic bitch who also helped me run the farm, and I unfortunately had to say goodbye to her last week for health reasons, Kestrel. I’ve actually lost three dogs in the last four months, so it’s been a difficult transition time for us all. But Kessie left me four wonderful pups from two different breedings, so I have Griffon and Raven, the bird puppies, who are two-and-a-half. They both have started their herding training and are showing great promise. I’m really pleased. Griffon is also doing … he’s been very slow to mature, so we’ve been doing Rally. He’s been my introduction to Rally, and I’m really enjoying that a lot. We have a lot of fun with that.

And then I have Kestrel’s second litter of pups. I kept two back from that litter as well, Breganz and Jest. They’re 7 months old, so they’re showing lots of interest, but they’re not old enough to start training yet. So right now they’re just being feral puppies on the farm and having a good life.

And then I have Aoife, who I imported from Ireland last year. She’s a Border Collie, and I think I mentioned all the others were Border Collies as well. Aoife is 14 months old, and I’ve just started working with her, and I’m really excited about her prospects as a working dog. She’s totally new lines to me, and something completely new and different and really fun and great, so I’m very excited about her.

And then I have my Kelpie, Holly, who is the one who has put me on this whole journey of positive reinforcement herding training. She is 8 and still going strong and doing well. We do some stock training around the farm, and she’s really good at nosework, and we’ve been dabbling in barn hunt, and she’s also very athletic and loves to do tricks.

And then finally I have my guardian dogs, who are maremmas, Mikey, and Juno. They live full-time outside and patrol the property, and care for the sheep and keep them safe, because we have an awful lot of wolves around here, so I need some good guardians. They’ve actually been a lot of fun. They’re good farm dogs, but they’re just as trainable as the Border Collies, so I have some fun doing foundation stuff with them as well.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. You mentioned a lot of wolves. Where are you based?

Helene Lawler: I live in eastern Ontario, rural eastern Ontario. We have bush wolves. They’re coyote-wolf hybrids. They’re probably about a 65-pound animal, and they have very little fear of humans and a taste for livestock. I have taken the approach of having a good, hard defense, so I use electric fencing and guard dogs, and that’s been working quite well to convince them to just go and raid other farms. So it’s working quite well.

Melissa Breau: How did you wind up in this world? What got you started, and what got you started specifically in herding?

Helene Lawler: Well, it’s a long story. I’ll try to make it brief. When I was an undergrad, I had a neighbor who had a dog who … undergrad student didn’t take very good care of his dog, so I used to sneak over and take the dog for walks when he was away at classes. I fell in love with the dog, and then he very wisely rehomed the dog, and I didn’t know that was happening, so I didn’t get a chance to ask for her.

So I went out to look for my own dog, and I ended up finding a Border Collie puppy who I named Jake, who ended up being the love of my life and my best friend. Together we went on an incredible journey for 14 years, travelled extensively and … you know how some people get the really challenging dog of their life upfront? He was the perfect dog for me. He was just super-smart and he was this incredible teacher, so I learned so much from him about training.

He was like the littlest hobo, the campus dog, he used to come to class with me and sit outside and wait. Back in the day, this was 1989, the laws were not quite as restrictive as they are now with dogs, so he was everywhere with me off leash. We’d go to the pub, we’d go shopping, he’d wait outside stores. I took him everywhere, and he was one of those traditional, old-school Border Collies that fell into place and did everything I needed him to do without me having to know much about training.

He was like my live business card — everywhere I went, people would be like, “Wow, your dog’s so well trained. Can you teach me?” So I started getting into teaching other people because of Jake, wasn’t necessarily the most effective way of teaching, but I figured it out. So I did end up teaching other people, and I got into it quite seriously for a while of being a dog walker and trainer, and then went in a different direction after that, after doing that exploration for about a year or two.

One day, while I was traveling across the country with Jake — because we traveled extensively all over North America, a girl and her dog — we were at a truck stop, and of course Jake was off leash, as usual. He was sitting on the picnic bench next to me while I was having lunch, and suddenly he just took off — very unusual for him. I raced after him, and what he had taken off after was a big tractor-trailer load of sheep that had pulled into the truck stop. He did an outrun and stopped the tractor-trailer, and I had in that moment the realization that my dog had missed his calling, and I had a pang of regret that I was never able to let him do what he was bred to do. So I promised myself and Jake, in that moment, that my next dog would get to work sheep. At that point, Jake was 8 and we were living in big cities, and it was just not an option for him.

But I did hold true, and so fast-forward a few years later, I guess it was about five or six years later. I was living in London, Ontario, at the time, and Jake had passed away, and I was looking for my new Border Collie, and I found Hannah. She was working bred, and her breeder lived about 45 minutes from me and had offered to train me to do stock work with her because she wanted to see her puppies out working sheep. So that’s how I got started.

I was actually so excited about it that I took lessons for a year before Hannah was ready to get started. Before she was even conceived I started taking lessons, waiting for the breeding and then waiting for her to grow up. I went and I worked the farm with her breeder and learned how to manage sheep without a dog, which is actually an invaluable skill for anybody who wants to herd. I strongly recommend it. And I never looked back.

Melissa Breau: What got you started in positive reinforcement training? Have you always been a positive trainer with that approach, or do you consider yourself a crossover trainer? How did that piece of it come into play?

Helene Lawler: Yes, I would say that I’m a crossover trainer. Back in the 1980s, when I first started training, it was all alpha rolls and collar pops, unfortunately. However, I have always used some positive reinforcement in my training. I was one to always use lots of praise and food and things like that. So I guess technically I would be considered a balanced trainer, by today’s definition. I don’t love that term, but I know that’s how it’s used today. But I definitely was not exclusively positive in my training by any stretch back in the day.

After Jake died in 2004, I wanted to do something in his memory. I did a bunch of research and I found Glen Highland Farm Border Collie Rescue in New York state, which was close to me where I was living at the time, and I thought I wanted to make a donation in his memory. So I went to check them out and ended up falling in love with the place and staying and doing a bunch of volunteer work. There’s a long story around this that I won’t go into right now, but I ended up adopting one of the dogs, not surprising when I was there, Ross.

And Ross was … he passed in April of this year, so we’re still kind of adjusting to that change in my life, but he was a huge, tremendous influence in my life around positive reinforcement. He was a dog that had an unknown background, that showed incredible fear and a lot of rage, a lot of anxiety, and a strong willingness to try and control the world through a lot of bluff, bluster, and aggression.

I quickly figured out that he couldn’t tolerate anything other than positive reinforcement in his interactions with me. I had to build trust with this dog. He was just so ready to be defensive about everything. And I just had to figure it out with him. I didn’t even really know what positive reinforcement training was, in any sort of clear definition of the word or even as a philosophy. It was just how I had to relate to him. Looking back, I now see that’s what it was.

He really got me to think outside the box of how to work with him, and working with him also got me hooked on rescue. And so I started doing work more locally to me at this point in Ontario with other rescue groups and found a terrific mentor. Her name is Cindy Boht, and she runs Border Collie Rescue Ontario, and she really opened my eyes to a lot of positive reinforcement methods. She is completely — she still is to this day — completely dedicated to this philosophy of working with dogs. She taught me an awful lot, and that’s how I really got launched on the path.

Melissa Breau: So today, how would you describe your current philosophy, or your current training approach, I guess?

Helene Lawler: Today I try to be 100 percent positive-reinforcement-based in my training. I have to admit that I’m not always there, but that is my intention and my goal and I’m always striving for it.

Working on a farm, running a farm, there are always things that happen that are beyond my control, as much as I try and manage things, so I try to have really good fencing, I try to have a very good system. But I have livestock and I have Border Collies and sometimes things go south, so sometimes I’m not always successful in being completely positive in my approach. But whenever I do encounter that, I see that as a failure on my part and then I spend some time thinking about how I can make sure that doesn’t happen again, how I can work through it, how I can train it, how I can better set up my management. So my general philosophy is to be 100 percent in practice. It’s something I’m striving for.

Melissa Breau: I know on your website you talk about “force-free herding,” and you have this write-up about it. Can you explain what that phrase means to you and where it came from?

Helene Lawler: Sure. Force-free herding is a term that I came up with in discussion with some other people around it. We were trying to find the best way to describe what we’re trying to accomplish here with developing a new method of training dogs to herd stock.

I almost think that fear-free might be more apt than force-free, because sometimes we might actually use … depending on how you define force. For example, I will actually use a long line for some of the work that I do, so the dog is not completely at liberty. So it depends how strictly you want to stick to the term. But the general idea is to avoid the use of aversives or punishment when teaching dogs to work stock, so that’s my main goal.

That has come about because, when I was training my dogs to work sheep, basically there’s a lot of aversive pressure used on the dogs to get them to do what we want to do. The reason for that is that they get into these fairly high states of arousal, and we need them to be able to think clearly and respond to our cues. And to do that, we need their brains to be in gear and functioning. So a quick and dirty way to do that is to use aversives to keep the dogs a little bit afraid or a lot afraid, depending on the dog, to keep their levels of arousal under wraps and so that they can pay attention and listen.

If you don’t want to do that, which I do not want to do that, then how do we get our dogs to keep us in the picture when we’re working? That’s the challenge I’ve been facing with trying to develop a method of teaching my dogs how to work sheep without using pressure or any types of force or aversive or punishment.

Melissa Breau: You started to answer this a little bit already, but next I was going to ask you how your approach is different than that traditional approach to training a herding dog. Can you just go into that a little bit more?

Helene Lawler: Sure. Traditionally, like I said, people will use an aversive punishment or some level of pressure on the dog to get the dog to keep the handler in the picture.

You asked how does what I’m doing differ from how somebody would traditionally train. It really depends on the trainer. I know some excellent trainers. I would say there would be very little difference, because everybody understands that it’s really critical for the dog to be confident and to have a good experience around stock, and I don’t think there’s anybody who would disagree with that. So people are not wanting their dogs to become afraid around sheep.

The challenge, like I said before, is that we need to keep their level of arousal in check so that they can focus on what we’re asking them to do, and sometimes, a sharp, well-timed correction can be very clear and give the dog the information that it needs to be able to do the job properly. The really great handlers can do that and not have fallout from using a correction. But for the rest of us, and I certainly count myself in that group, I can’t use corrections and not have fallout, and I have certainly tried and failed many times.

I don’t want to take that risk and have that damage to my relationship with my dogs, so what I try to do is find different ways to work with my dogs’ arousal levels. That’s really the key to developing a dog who can work stock without having to use the aversive methods, and that’s what I focus on with my training. So I look at trying to be able to clearly communicate with them and keep myself in the picture through working with their arousal levels around stock, and that can take a lot of work prior to ever going to stock.

So I think that’s one of the biggest differences perhaps that you’ll find in how I train from how I trained before, and how I’ve trained with other people, is that I put a lot of foundation work into my dogs before they ever go to sheep, as a way of making sure that we have that clear communication, and they have those skills to be able to keep themselves in a state of arousal that is sufficient to do the work, but not so high that they can’t hear my cues and respond to them.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine, as somebody using positive training in a field where it’s … not yet … hopefully the norm, there have been times when you’ve been facing an uphill battle. What obstacles would you say you’ve had to overcome in the process of learning and now teaching herding using positive reinforcement?

Helen Lawler: The biggest obstacles have been, well, first of all, not having a mentor to learn from, so having to figure this out from scratch. That’s been quite a challenge. I do have wonderful mentors in the positive reinforcement world, and so I’ve been studying what they’re doing and then trying to extrapolate from that and then putting into play in the herding setting. So it’s not like I’m working in a complete vacuum. Obviously I’ve got lots of material to work with. It’s translating that to the herding world that’s been the big challenge.

A couple of other things that have been challenging for me is that I have yet to find a really systematic approach to follow to try to replicate. Everybody I’ve trained with in herding has their own method, which is similar to dog sports, but I feel like in agility in particular, which I know fairly well now, there really is a systematic way of training your dog, and you can break your training into small pieces, you can split, you can break it out. If you want to teach tight turnings on jumps, you can start that sitting quietly in your bathroom with a cone and have your dog just learn how to go around the cone, and then gradually build up to running in the field at high intensity.

But with herding, you can’t really do that, and so I’ve had to figure out how to break down what my dog is doing into pieces that I can then take away from the sheep, take away from the field, and train them away and then bring it back. That’s been very challenging because there’s very little of that going on, and so it’s all things that I’ve had to figure out on my own. So that’s been quite a process.

The other thing is trying to really know what I’m looking for when working with the sheep. What is it that it needs to really look like, and what does my dog need to be doing, and what is the picture supposed to be? Even understanding that is quite challenging. It takes years and years and years to be able to see what’s going on and really understand it and know that the dog is doing things correctly. When is the dog correct, when is the dog incorrect? The dog is usually correct a lot more often than the handler is. So as a green handler, I was learning along with my dog. That was tremendously difficult. It’s like a green rider on a green horse. There are just so many things to try and figure out in tandem that your brain short-circuits, so my poor dogs, they’ve had to learn along with me.

Now, I said I haven’t had real mentors to follow, but my dogs have been incredible teachers, and I think they have taught me as much or more than anybody else, because they really show clearly when they’re confused, when they’re stressed, when they’re clear and confident, when I’m doing something that’s aversive to them. I’ve had to spend a lot of time studying my dogs and their reaction to what I’m doing to understand if I’m doing something that’s aversive, if I’m not clear, if I’m confusing to them, when they get it.

I will do something, and my dog — you can see the light go on, and that tells me, Oh great, I figured out how to communicate this to the dog. What did I just do? And then I have to break that down. So one of the advantages of having, because I have quite a few dogs and I also work with other people’s dogs, is that I have all these fantastic canine teachers. And so really the dogs have led me through this, in particular my Kelpie. She’s really been the one who spearheaded this whole process.

Melissa Breau: When you are facing one of those problems where most trainers who teach herding, or who train herding with their dogs, would turn to punishment or fear, how do you start to work on coming up with a positive solution instead? Do you have a method that you use, or a thought process you have in place? I’d love to hear a little bit more about your process.

Helene Lawler: Sure. The first thing I do … as I mentioned earlier, sometimes things kind of go south around here, so my very first process when I do that is I go, OK, let’s just hit the brakes here. So I’ll usually end up picking up my dog and carrying it into the house, or whatever, and just stopping the whole scenario and thinking, OK, what just happened here? I then say to myself, OK then, use your big brain. You’re the one with the big human brain, so that’s what you have it for. Figure it out.

I say that to myself all the time: Use your big brain. That gets me into a good analytical mode, and I think about it. I think, OK, What is training? I see training as essentially three things. It’s communication, it’s motivation, and it’s ability.

My dogs are all very strongly working bred, so motivation is pretty much never an issue with my particular dogs. It can be with other dogs, but I don’t have to struggle too much with motivation. They’re keen. They want to work.

So then I have to look at communication and ability. Am I communicating to the dog? Is the dog understanding what it is that I am saying or trying to express to them? If the answer is no, which it would be if they’re not doing what I’m asking them to, then I always assume that they are not doing it most likely because they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do. I don’t ever see my dogs as being willfully disobedient. I just don’t think they are. I think they’re just not clear on what they need to be doing.

So then I go, OK, how can I better communicate? So then I really brainstorm. What can I do, and rarely do I ever mean verbally. It’s like, can I set things up better? Can I change the environment to make things more obvious? Can I use different sheep? Can I use some props? Can I use fencing more effectively? How can I better communicate what I want the dog to understand here? That’s a big part of my process is really trying to break it down.

The other part of the process is does the dog … as I said, they have communication, motivation, and ability. Does the dog have the ability to do what I’m asking them to do? That can mean things like is my dog fit enough to not be tired while we’re working? Do they have the physical capability?

I mentioned I have two 7-month-old puppies. They are crazy keen. They do not have the ability to physically do the work that I want them to do, nor do they have the mental ability to stay present while I’m working with them. So if I put them out on sheep right now, I can put out a group of sheep that will be quieter and move slowly, so that their soft muscles and not fully developed legs can still outrun the sheep. I would keep sessions really short and not ask anything of them, just let them work on instinct and let them drag a short line on a harness, so that when we’re done I can just stand on it and walk them off the field without expecting anything of them other than just working on instinct.

I know that they’re not capable of really responding to me until their brains have fully developed, and sometimes that can be until they’re 2 or 3 years old, so I have to be aware of where the dog is at in terms of their physical and mental ability, If I feel like that is not where I need it to be for the type of work we’re doing, I’ll pull them off stock and do things away from stock for a while until we get to that point, be that fitness, be it more mental work.

I mentioned my dog Griffon, who I do Rally with. When we go out to stock, there’s nobody home. He is just one big, fluffy, black-and-white ball of instinct, and so I can’t really ask him to do anything. Fortunately, he’s got lots of natural ability, so he doesn’t get into trouble, but I can’t really progress his training at this point, so I’ve just done other things with him. We do lots of hikes, we do Rally, we do lots of fun things while his body and brain develop, and if we don’t get seriously into training until he’s almost 3, so be it.

So those are my approaches with my dogs. We look at communication, motivation for some dogs but not mine, and then really looking at their actual ability to do it.

Melissa Breau: We were talking a little bit here about how you approach things, and I know you mentioned that you do more foundation work than some other trainers might. Can you share a little bit about how much of your training methods are foundation work — that is, before introducing or using stock, and how much of the training is done on stock? And maybe a little bit about the skills you teach as foundation behaviors?

Helene Lawler: Sure. When it comes to my approach to using positive methods for herding, I should be clear: we don’t actually teach dogs to herd. I don’t teach my dogs to herd.

I’ll step back for a second. As I said, my dogs are very strongly working bred, so they instinctively know how to herd. They have more herding ability in the tip of their tail than I have in my whole body and will learn in my entire life, so I am not teaching them to herd.

Now, some breeds and some dogs actually do need to learn the skills, and those dogs we would train more mechanically. That’s a different ball of wax, not really what I’m talking about here. What I work with are dogs that are just big balls of instinct, that just want to get out there and work, and so I’m shaping that instinct.

What I’m actually working on with the dog is how to put their natural instincts on cue. So there’s an awful lot of capturing, basically, and helping them with their arousal level so that they can put two and two together and they can recognize that my cue is asking them to do certain things, because often we’re going to be asking them to go against their instincts. So that’s what we’re really working on.

The foundation training that I need them to do is an awful lot around building my relationship with them so that they want to partner with me. I want to look at their ability to manage their arousal levels on stock and keep me in the picture. I keep saying that, but that’s what’s really critical. If they will respond to me, if they can keep their arousal level such that they can hear and respond to my cues, then there’s no need to ever use an aversive. So I do a lot of work around arousals, often at quite a distance from the stock, often without even stock around to start, and you build gradually to that. So that’s a really big part of my foundation work.

And then for actual skills, they need a stop, so that can either be a stop on their feet or a lie-down and a recall off stock. Those are the two critical skills that they need before they start doing any formal training. As long as they have that, I can pretty much work with anything else. So I do a lot of work on lie-downs in growing levels of arousal and around distraction and then recalls.

And I do a tremendous amount of Premack. Premack goes through everything. All my training, I use Premack as my method for building my skills and my dogs’ because typically they don’t want anything else that I can offer. I can’t give them food or toys when they want to work sheep. They want it that badly. So I use the stock as the reward, and that is an extremely effective way, actually, of building these basic skills. So I have a bunch of exercises that I do, first off stock and then I bring it to stock, but outside the fence so they’re within view, and then we gradually build up to working right directly on the sheep.

But the two critical skills are the stop and the recall, and the rest is all arousal training. And then there are little things like shaping a head turn, and a few little odds and ends, but those come in time. But the critical foundation pieces are those three.

There’s another critical piece that I should mention, and that is that we need them to have … I like to use the term “dynamic impulse control,” which to me means the ability to control their impulses, have self-control, whatever you want to use, whatever terms you want to use, while the dog is in motion. We do an awful lot in sport training around having a dog who can hold still around distraction. But in herding we really need them to be able to stay, to maintain their impulse control while in motion, and that is also a key piece of the foundation training that I do with my dogs.

Melissa Breau: I compete in treibball, so I work a German Shepherd, who is obviously a herding dog, in treibball, and it’s interesting to see the tie-ins to some of that stuff. It’s really interesting.

Helene Lawler: I know people who say that that would be a good foundation sport to do. I’ve never done it myself, but I think that that could teach your dog some good skills that would be translatable, from what I know of the sport.

Melissa Breau: It’s definitely not the same, but it’s interesting from a … a lot of dogs do have arousal problems around the ball, especially herding breeds, and there’s just lots of interesting pieces there that I could see having some carryover. I’ve never had the chance to test my dog on stock, but I think that would be a lot of fun to take her out because she’s got the treibball training, so it would see how much it holds up.

Helene Lawler: Yeah, that would be really interesting to see. I didn’t have sheep for Hannah until we were already competing at the Open level, actually, and so I never told anybody this because I would have been laughed at, but I used to take a basketball out and she would herd the basketball. I used it to lengthen her out runs. I have no idea if that actually translated, but it gave me something to do at home, so I would just send her and she would do an out run on a basketball and lie down and flank back and forth around the basketball. It really brought out the instincts, so I thought, OK, I’m going to work with that.

Melissa Breau: That’s so interesting. I know you’re doing a webinar for FDSA on this stuff. It’ll be next week when this airs. Would you mind sharing a little bit about what you plan to cover and give a little insight into the topic?

Helene Lawler: Sure. The webinar is going to be diving deeper into what I’ve just been talking about: looking specifically at the intersection of sport training and herding, what crossover there is, how we can apply what we know from sport training to prepare our dogs for stock work, and also where some of the pitfalls might be. Some of the sport foundation training might actually be counterproductive to stock work.

And at the same time, how stock work can help with dog sports, which is something that I have found. When I first started doing herding training, I had also recently discovered agility. What ended up happening was I did both sports with Hannah, and I couldn’t tell anybody in the herding world that I was doing agility, because they all thought it would ruin her for herding, and I couldn’t tell anybody in the agility world that I was doing herding, because they would all say that it would ruin her for agility. So I just kept my mouth shut and did both sports completely separately, and what I found was that they were very complementary.

Hannah’s confidence in our teamwork just blossomed through agility that translated to working on stock. Her ability to focus on me, her dedication to the job, her start line stays, all these sorts of things were just phenomenal from herding when we took it to agility. So I found that the two sports really complemented each other beautifully, and I think more and more people are discovering that now.

However, there are also pitfalls, and there are things that we do in both that can have some fallout. I think that that might be good insight for us around how to change our training across the board, and so that’s what I want to talk more about as well.

Melissa Breau: Now obviously during the webinar you won’t be able to cover everything …

Helene Lawler: No, I can talk for hours and hours and hours!

Melissa Breau: Hey, most of us dog people can, especially about our sports. But I know you have your own site where you talk about some of this stuff. Do you want to share where folks can go for more information?

Helen Lawler: My site for my dogs is kynicstockdogs.com. I also have a Facebook page with the same name. And I’m just getting up and running my dog-training site, shapingchaosdogtraining.com, which may be live by the time this airs. I’m hoping. I also have been in discussion and planning about starting a Fenzi herding group on Facebook, so that will hopefully be a great resource for people down the road in the near future.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that would be awesome. So the way I tend to end every episode with a first-time guest — I’ve got my three questions here. The first one is, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Helene Lawler: I had to think long and hard about this, and I have quite a few I’d love to discuss, but in keeping with the discussion around herding, I’m going to focus on that. My proudest moment in herding was competing at Grass Creek Sheep Dog Trials, which is actually ongoing this week.

I was there two years ago with Hannah. It was the competition we moved up to Open in, and it is one of the most difficult and prestigious sheep dog trials in North America. There are no novice classes in this trial. It is just purely Open. People come from far and wide, and even overseas, to compete in it, and you’re in there with the best of the best. So it was very, very intimidating, and really I was just proud of myself to be able to find the courage and have a dog who I knew I could count on, and that we were such a strong team that no matter what we faced out there, I knew that we would hold it together and do a good job, do our best.

So I went out there with Hannah knowing I could count on her, Miss Cool As A Cucumber in the field. This dog, she just loves to compete when I don’t, so she really helped me with all my trial nerves and so on and so forth. She’s just amazing. She just loved the crowds, and she just loved the attention and the cameras and so on and so forth.

So anyway, at this competition you get to run twice. The very first time we went out, it was early in the week. It was on Wednesday, and there weren’t that many people watching, and it was the workweek, so we just went out and we worked our dogs.

I said, OK, I’m just going to pretend like I’m at home, and I set myself three goals. The first one was that I wasn’t going to lose my dog. I didn’t want her going out and losing her sheep and running after them, and me having to walk down the field to go get her. I didn’t want to lose my sheep and have them go bolting off into the woods, and I didn’t want to lose my cool. So I sent my dog and she’s so great. She got her sheep, and she didn’t lose her sheep, and she didn’t go running off after them back to the setout. She brought them to me and I was so proud of her.

But I have to say, I was pretty stressed, and so by the time she got them to me and I was just so relieved, but I started stressing enough that I started losing my cool. So I thought, OK, I’m just going to call it quits here. I turned to the judge and I said, “Thank you,” and I exhausted the sheep, and I told my dog how great she was, and we left and we celebrated.

And I thought, OK, this was great, that was good, but the next run I’m going to add one more thing to my list of things I don’t want to lose, and one of that was I was not going to step off the field until we either ran out of time or the judge asked us to leave. So no bailing, we are going to do the whole course the next time.

I showed up, and it was Friday of the competition, and I should say about 10,000 people come to watch this competition over the course of … yeah, it’s a big deal. I wasn’t really prepared for that. I showed up at the competition and there was this huge crowd, and there was an emcee and all sorts of stuff, and I was like, Oh my goodness. I was so overwhelmed. So I thought, OK, let’s do some breathing, and then I thought, OK, here’s my issue. I’m out there with the big hats. I need a bigger hat. So I went and bought myself a big hat.

I put on my big hat, I walked to the post, I sent my dog, she got her sheep, she brought them to me, we made it around the course, and we got a score of numbers, not letters, because in herding you either get a score or you get a retire or you get a disqualify DQ, so the goal is to get numbers not letters. We got numbers, not letters, and I was just so thrilled with my dog, I was really pleased with my own ability to overcome my own inner challenges, and it was this very wonderful moment. I was thrilled. So that was a huge accomplishment that I’m quite proud of.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. My second question here is usually my favorite, but what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Helene Lawler: Again, one I had to think long and hard about, and I know other people have said two, so I’m also going to say two, but they’re nothing new. They are “Train the dog in front of you,” and “It’s all behavior.” Those two, I just tell myself that over and over and over and over and over again. It’s been absolutely critical in everything I’ve been accomplishing.

It’s “Train the dog in front of me,” every day it’s different, forget the dog that my dog was yesterday, especially forget the dog that my dog was a few years ago, which I tend to still hang on to, and just work with the dog I have in this moment right now. What does she need, what are we doing, where is she at? That has just been so critical for my own ability to improve my training.

“It’s all behavior” is so important for staying calm, cool, and collected, and just being analytical and detached and really taking emotions out of the training, which can be a real challenge in herding, in any kind of dog sport, I’m sure, as you and I’m sure all the listeners know. But in herding it’s really easy to lose your emotional cool, so just saying “It’s all behavior” and understanding that at a deep level has been really, really helpful for me.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. The last one: Who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Helene Lawler: Lots and lots of people. Again, I’ll keep this focused on herding. I’m going to say Amanda Milliken. She is one of the giants in the herding world. She is local to me, which I’m very lucky about that. She is the person who has put on the Grass Creek Trials that is running right now, and her dedication, passion, and commitment to the sport and her breed, her commitment well beyond her own performance, has just been amazing. She’s just an incredible woman for all that she has accomplished in herding and with Border Collies in general. I’ve really admired that, and I’ve taken inspiration from how hard she works and how hard she’s trained.

I bought my first Border Collie from her in 1989, and she was competing back then. She’d already started Grass Creek. That was 29 years ago, and she’d already run it for two years. So she has been in this for the long game, and I just love to see people be successful and know that persistence pays, and so I’ve learned a lot from that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.

Helene Lawler: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been such a pleasure and an honor to be here.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week with Sarah Stremming, to talk about her household’s latest new addition — a Border Collie puppy named Watson.

Don’t miss it. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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!

Aug 10, 2018

Summary:

Nancy Tucker is a certified pet dog trainer and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training in Canada, the U.S., and in Europe.

She specializes in common behavior issues that affect the family dog, including more complex issues like aggression and anxiety.

Nancy has also written numerous articles on dog behavior and is a regular contributor to Whole Dog Journal. At FDSA, she teaches a great class on separation anxiety, another on desensitization and counterconditioning, both of which are coming up in October, and a more lighthearted class on door greeting manners, which is currently running.

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/17/2018, featuring Helene Marie, talking about R+ Herding.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Nancy Tucker.

Nancy is a certified pet dog trainer and behavior consultant in Sherbrooke, Quebec. She teaches seminars, webinars, and workshops on dog training, dog behavior, and the business end of training in Canada, the U.S., and in Europe.

She specializes in common behavior issues that affect the family dog, including more complex issues like aggression and anxiety.

Nancy has also written numerous articles on dog behavior and is a regular contributor to Whole Dog Journal. At FDSA, she teaches a great class on separation anxiety, another on desensitization and counterconditioning, both of which are coming up in October, and a more lighthearted class on door greeting manners, which is currently running.

Hi Nancy, welcome to the podcast!

Nancy Tucker: Hi Melissa.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you just share a little information to remind everybody who the dog is that you share your life with and what you’re working on with him?

Nancy Tucker: Yep. We’re a single-dog family, and I know that this is sometimes shocking and even an alien concept to lots of people, especially a trainer who has only one dog. “What? Just the one dog? Oh no, what happened?” Nothing happened, we just have the one dog, and I just find life far more enjoyable and easier to manage with just the one dog.

He’s a 1-year-old Border Terrier named Bennigan — or Benni, for short — and we’re not involved in any dog sports or organized activities. I work on run-of-the-mill pet dog behaviors with him, and of course he’s my demo dog for lots of teaching videos, so sometimes I end up teaching him behaviors I’ll never ask of him again. But he loves to learn and he’s total eye candy on the video because he’s crazy-cute.

Melissa Breau: I cannot believe he’s already a year old. It feels like you just got him.

Nancy Tucker: I know!

Melissa Breau: I do understand he has his own fan club.

Nancy Tucker: He does. He has his own Facebook page called Bennigan’s Shenanigans. It’s where I post lots of silly things, like our pretend conversations between us, or photos and videos of some of his activities. And I’ll sometimes post some really easy training videos, especially when his fans ask how I trained a particular thing he was doing in another video they saw. I really like doing “how to” videos for pet dog stuff because it gets people to interact with their dog in a way they’ve never done before.

I didn’t realize just how popular Benni was until I was teaching a seminar in another city a couple of months ago on separation anxiety for trainers. I had photos and videos of Benni in my presentation, and after hearing me refer to him as “my dog, Benni,” one of the participants looked up suddenly and said, “Oh my god, you’re Benni’s mom?” It was a really humbling experience. She was more excited about that than my presentation. So I’m thinking I should probably put that on my business card: Benni’s mom.

Melissa Breau: How’s his door behavior looking these days?

Nancy Tucker: Pretty good, actually. We’ve come a long way with Benni, because his greetings are super-expressive, especially when me or my husband walk through the door.

To be honest, I let it slide for the longest time because it’s incredibly easy to let these things slide with little dogs. When a large dog greets you by jumping up or weaving between your legs, you can’t ignore that. But when a little guy does it, it’s cute and far less dangerous, of course, so we let it slide a lot more often.

But we worked on his door greeting skills a lot more this summer and he’s a star now. He still needs some help remembering what to do once in a while, and we still use management sometimes, which is normal, but overall he does me pretty proud.

Melissa Breau: Nancy’s class this session, for anybody who doesn’t know, is on just that — getting a calm door greeting, instead of the crazy chaos I know I tend to have at my house when someone gets home. Looking at the syllabus, Nancy, it looks like the first few lectures are heavy on management. Why is managing this behavior such an important step in starting to fix it?

Nancy Tucker: The first step in modifying behavior is doing everything we can to prevent the old behavior from being practiced. Every time a dog gets to do that behavior, it gets reinforced by something, and that means that we’re actually helping to maintain it somehow.

Reinforcement, in this case, can be in the form of getting immediate access to somebody at the door, or sometimes it can also be attention from the person at the door, or attention from us. Even if we’re yelling or grabbing at our dogs to corral them or try to move them out of the way, we could inadvertently be reinforcing that behavior.

Obviously the dog is getting something out of that behavior, or he wouldn’t keep repeating it. If we can prevent it by using some management, we’ll at least stop reinforcing it.

Melissa Breau: Is it possible to manage it forever without actually working on it?

Nancy Tucker: Yeah, for sure. In some instances I’d even recommend it, if the circumstances make training a new behavior more challenging than simple management. My goal is always to find a solution that will make life better for both the human and the dog, so yeah, if management is the best way to obtain that result, then I think it’s perfectly fine.

On the other hand, polite door greeting is actually a fairly simple behavior to teach. It can take some time, especially if the dog has been practicing an unwanted behavior for a long time. But once we’ve got some polite behaviors in place and we continue to reinforce them, it’s so nice to not have to worry or scramble when someone comes to the door.

Melissa Breau: As folks progress from management to training, what are their options? What kinds of alternative behaviors do you like to teach?

Nancy Tucker: Contrary to popular belief, reducing a dog’s access to the door area is not the most effective approach. I talk a lot about this in class. We get the feeling that we need to control our dog’s access to the door, and to get him to stay somewhere else and to stay quiet, and that’s actually really hard.

My goal is never to create robot dogs who stay away from the door and give all visitors a really wide berth. I want to allow dogs to check out who’s coming into their home. I want to encourage interaction. But I also want to help people teach their dogs more appropriate interactions in that context.

So while we do cover some behaviors that essentially send the dog away from the door area when someone walks in, because that can be really handy at times, we’ll also be teaching our dogs that one of the most effective ways for them to get access to visitors is to keep their paws on the floor or to carry something in their mouth. This one’s really good for happy barkers or dogs who get mouthy when they’re excited. And we’ll use nose targeting and other fun games that allow the dog to regain some composure before he interacts with someone at the door. So it’s not about reducing access to visitors. It’s all about adding a little finesse to their greeting behavior.

Melissa Breau: I’m going to guess that some of those things are initially taught away from the door. After all, as with all dog training things, we want to start small and then build up. So how do you go about making the door “small”? How do you break something down like that?

Nancy Tucker: You’re right, we’ll start by working on all the new behaviors in a more neutral area of the home with very little distractions, just like any new behavior. And then we move the whole thing over to the door area, but with nobody coming or going. We’re just helping the dog generalize the behavior to a new location. And then we’ll start introducing the door into our training sessions by first we’re just opening and closing it with no one else around. Again, it’s all about adding an element of difficulty very gradually.

And then we’ll go out and come back in and practice the new behaviors, which really, when you think about it, is not at all exciting to the dog. He’s thinking, “I just saw you two seconds ago. This is boring.” And this is what we want. We want the dog to be able to practice the new behaviors when he’s not excited.

And then, when the dog is able to offer those behaviors in that context, we’ll ask someone else to practice the exercises with us, someone familiar to the dog who has already greeted them, spent a little time with them prior to practicing these exercises — again, we’re trying to make it least exciting possible for the dog — and then we’ll gradually make our way to having a stranger enter the home. That’s the Holy Grail.

I know it can be very difficult for people to find, or they think it can be very difficult for them to find somebody to help them with these types of exercises, especially if they live in a more rural area, for example. But in the past, people have asked neighbors to help play this role, or they’ve invited a co-worker to stop by, and people are generally really happy to help.

Melissa Breau: You’re also covering multi-dog households, right?

Nancy Tucker: That’s right.

Melissa Breau: How does adding extra dogs into it further complicate all of it?

Nancy Tucker: When you have a door-greeting issue with a single dog, that’s usually a pretty basic situation to handle. But when you have multiple dogs, you sometimes need Ninja-level management and handling skills just to even get to your door. So we’ll be handling multi-dog households the same way we train any other behavior with multiple dogs, and that means one dog at a time.

In the lecture that introduces multi-dog households, I talk about the instigator dog. Every multi-dog household has one of those. He’s the one that usually sets the others off by being the first to respond to a sound or other stimulus, and anyone who has more than two dogs can probably already recognize which one of their dogs I’m talking about here. Anyway, we’ll be working with one dog at a time, and ideally we’ll start working with the instigator dog first. And then those handlers can work with each of their other dogs also individually, just like any other training session.

And then, once each dog has learned the new behaviors and they’re doing well with them, we can start working with multiple dogs at the door. But that’s an advanced level of difficulty, and there’s no rush to get to that point. So it’s always best to work systematically with one dog at a time before putting them all into an exciting situation where they can’t possibly succeed.

Melissa Breau: It feels like you’ve got lots of pieces in here. I know you also cover door dashing. Personally, I think door dashing is super-frustrating, in addition to being incredibly dangerous in some situations. Any thoughts on why dogs do that, why they build a habit of dashing out the door?

Nancy Tucker: In most cases, dogs push past us at the door because they’re in a terrible rush to greet whoever is there. Those that run out for an unauthorized adventure when there’s no one there to greet — they’re simply getting out there to have a good time, whether that means exploring the neighborhood or going into the yard down the street to meet up with their buddy.

Sometimes it can be a sign that maybe the dog is a little bored or his needs aren’t being met, but most of the time, as long as we’re not talking about a dog who is aggressively running out the door — and we’ll talk about that a little later as well — but most of the time it’s just to have a good time, or because we’re taking too long to open the door. They want to get there quick.

Melissa Breau: How do you approach that? How do you start to work on door dashing and what do you want the dog to do instead?

Nancy Tucker: I like to teach the dog that an open door is not an invitation to step outside, and I make it really attractive and rewarding to stay put, even while the door is wide open and they can see or hear or smell the outside world.

Naturally, we get there gradually through a series of exercises, but it really doesn’t take that long to teach. I’ve got a couple more exercises that I like to add to the end of this process that makes it even more likely that a dog will stick around close to the door, even if he does manage to step outside. But you have to take the class to know more about those.

Melissa Breau: Some dogs may have years of practicing bad door habits — you mentioned this in passing earlier. Do you find that it can take a really long time to retrain? Obviously every dog is different, and people should move at their dog’s speed, but still, over the course of six weeks, what kind of progress can people expect to make?

Nancy Tucker: You’re right — how long a dog has been practicing a behavior can affect how long it might take to change his behavior in any given context. But generally, once we get rolling with practicing the new games and exercises, people begin to see a shift in their dog’s response to the usual signs that someone’s at the door. Within a few weeks they often see reduced barking, or a faster response to the simple cues that they’ll be working on.

For some people, they’ll get a handle on the door greeting part pretty quickly, and then they’ll spend a few more weeks after the class is finished to work on the dog’s interaction with guests after they’ve come inside and are visiting for a while. You get the dogs that stay excited and happy and are constantly trying to get visitors’ attention, but by then the students have lots of tools and ideas to work with to tackle that part of the problem. That’s kind of outside of the scope of the class, but the things that they learn during class will definitely help with that as well.

Melissa Breau: What if we kind of … you know, secretly LIKE that our dogs are so excited to see us when we get home? Is training control in this situation going to change that?

Nancy Tucker: If you’ve ever taken a training lesson from me, or followed one of my classes, you’ll probably have figured out that I actually like normal dog behaviors. I’m far from one to create super-quiet robot dogs, and I use the term robot dogs a lot. I like natural dog behavior. I think dogs should be allowed to greet guests, and so my goal here is not to take the fun out of it for them, but to at least take the chaos out of it.

If, by the end of the class, your dog is running to the door to greet you or your guests with a super-wiggly body and a toy in his mouth with four paws on the floor and nobody’s tripping over each other and the door can be left wide open and nobody’s running off, then I will consider that a massive success.

Melissa Breau: It sounds like my idea of success. I know you’ve got a note at the bottom of your class description about who is and isn’t appropriate for the class. I wanted to ask you about that. Can you share, along with a bit more information on who might want to consider signing up?

Nancy Tucker: This is a super-important note. I want people to recognize that this class isn’t for the dogs who are fearful of strangers coming through the door, or dogs who might bark and lunge aggressively toward guests. Those dogs that bark at someone walking through the door and at the same time they’re backing up or they’re avoiding eye contact — they’re not happy to see or greet somebody. And that’s a whole other topic. That’s not what we’re addressing in this class.

This class is for the dogs who are so excited about greeting someone, and their behavior is a little over the top, but they don’t know what to do with themselves when someone walks in, or they push past you when you go to open the door, or they knock you out of the way, or they’re jumping up on the door before you even get a chance to open it. These are dogs who are happy to greet someone, not fearful or upset about seeing somebody at the door. So this class is for those happy, excited dogs.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. So one last question — my new “last interview question” — what’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Nancy Tucker: A-ha. Well, this summer I was reminded about how training a behavior in one context, like in one location maybe, doesn’t mean that our dog will know how to behave in a different context.

It’s funny you bring this up, because this just happened again last night, but it’s a pretty simple concept and you would think that I would know this by now, but when the summer weather arrived and we started eating our meals outside on the deck, I realized that I had to teach Benni table manners all over again. He knows what’s expected of him when I’m eating at the kitchen table, or on a coffee table in the living room, or even when I’m sitting at my desk in my office, because we’ve practiced those. I eat all over the house, basically, and we’ve practiced those behaviors, and he’s really, really polite and he’s got this down pat.

But when I sat down … we have an outdoor couch with a table, and when I sat down on the outdoor couch to eat my first meal on the deck this summer, Benni had no manners and he was all up in my face. It only took us a few repetitions to straighten this out, but it really reminded me about the importance of not assuming our dog knows something just because he can do it in another context or another location.

It’s easy for us to forget that and to get frustrated with our dog because he’s doing a behavior that we don’t like, and we think, Well, he knows this. He knows he shouldn’t do this. But the context has changed, and it’s a good reminder that we just need to brush up on our training when we change the context or location.

Melissa Breau: For anybody who is thinking about signing up, class registration closes on the 15th, so that should be in just a couple of days. This will come out, I think, on the 10th, so you’ve got just a couple of days before things close. So if you want to hop in, go over and do that. Also, we are going to be back next week with Helene Marie to talk about a topic that gets asked about a lot: herding in an R+ way, so using positive reinforcement to train herding behaviors.

Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Nancy! This has been great. I’m glad we got to chat through all this.

Nancy Tucker: This is so much fun! I love chatting with you on podcasts!

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Aug 3, 2018

Summary:

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield is a veterinarian and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), with a focus on treating behavior problems including aggression to humans or other animals, separation anxiety, and compulsive behavior disorders. She also teaches group classes and private lessons in basic obedience for pet dogs, and coaches students getting started in dog sports such as agility and competitive obedience.  

Jennifer is proud to be a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). She is a passionate advocate for positive, science-based methods of training and behavior modification, and loves helping pet owners learn to communicate more clearly with their dogs.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/10/2018, featuring Nancy Tucker, talking about how to stop your dog from going crazy at the door.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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. Jennifer Summerfield.

Dr. Jen is a veterinarian and Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), with a focus on treating behavior problems including aggression to humans or other animals, separation anxiety, and compulsive behavior disorders. She also teaches group classes and private lessons in basic obedience for pet dogs, and coaches students getting started in dog sports such as agility and competitive obedience.  

Jennifer is proud to be a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). She is a passionate advocate for positive, science-based methods of training and behavior modification, and loves helping pet owners learn to communicate more clearly with their dogs.

Hi Jen, welcome to the podcast!

Jennifer Summerfield: Hey Melissa. I am excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you share a little bit about your own dogs, who they are, and anything you’re working on with them?

Jennifer Summerfield: Definitely. I have three dogs at the moment. They are all Shelties.

The oldest one is Remy. He just turned 10 years old this year, so double digits now. He’s my old man. We were really excited this past summer because he just finished his PACH, which so far is our highest pinnacle of achievement in agility, and it only took us ten years to get there, so, you know, better late than never! So that’s been really exciting for him. And I finally just got the courage worked up to enter him in AKC Premier in the next trial that we’re entered in, in August. It’s a bit of a new adventure for us because we’ve never tried that before, but I figure what the heck.

My middle dog, Gatsby, is 4-and-a-half years old, he’ll be 5 this November, and he is working on his agility titles as well. He currently is in, I want to say, Master Jumpers and Excellent Standard. His agility career has been a little bit slower than Remy’s. He’s had some stress-related weave pole issues that we’re working through, and he also had some really significant dog-reactivity issues when he was younger, so we spent a lot of time when he was about a year and a half to 2 years old or so just working through that to get him to the point where he could even go to agility trials successfully without having a meltdown. So for him, just the fact that he has any titles at all and can occasionally successfully trial is a pretty great accomplishment. But I have him entered in a couple of trials this fall as well, so hopefully we’ll keep building on that.

And then my youngest dog, Clint, he is 4 years old now, and his history was a little bit different. He came to me as an adult, almost a year old, because I really wanted a dog to show in conformation. When I got Gatsby as a puppy, he was supposed to be my conformation dog. That’s what we were hoping for, but … I don’t know how much you know about Shelties and conformation, but the height thing is a killer. It looked like he was going to be in size on the charts and everything, and then when he got to be about 6 months old, he was over. So I got Clint a little bit later at a year old from his breeder, and he was already a finished champion at that point, so he knew what to do, which was perfect because I was a total beginner. So I had a really good time showing him for about a year after I got him. We finished his Grand Championship together, so that was really cool. And now we’re branching out and he’s starting to learn some agility and some other things as well.

So that’s my guys in a nutshell.

Melissa Breau: I’ve got a bit of a chicken-or-egg question for you here. Did dog training come first, or did becoming a vet come first? How did you get into all this stuff?

Jennifer Summerfield: Funnily enough, I’ve been interested in dog training and dog behavior from as early as I can remember, even before we had a dog. When I was a kid, I was really crazy about dogs, and I was fascinated by dog training. I had books and books and books, just shelves of books on training dogs, obedience training, and also a bunch of random stuff, like, I had books on Schutzhund training, and books on herding training, and books on service dog training, and just everything I could get my hands on.

One of the really formative experiences of my childhood was that my aunt took me to an obedience trial that was at that time … I don’t remember what the name of the kennel club is, but our local kennel club in Charleston — I live in West Virginia — used to have their show at the Civic Center every year, and they would have an obedience trial as part of that. And so my aunt took me one year. I must have been 8 or 9, something like that, and I just remember being absolutely riveted by watching the dogs in the obedience trial, which I guess is maybe a funny thing in retrospect for an 8- or 9-year-old to be riveted by, but I was. I remember watching that and thinking it was absolutely the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and I wanted to do it more than anything, hence all the books and all of that stuff.

I wrote to the AKC when I was a kid to ask for a copy of the obedience regulations, because I had read that that was how you could get them. This was back before everything was online, you know, this would have been the early ’90s. So I wrote to the AKC and I remember being super-excited when they sent the manila envelope back that had the obedience regulations in it. I read them and I was just super-fascinated and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

We got my first dog when I was about 16, and he was a Sheltie named Duncan, so I did a lot of training with him. We were never very successful in the obedience ring, which was completely my fault, not his. But I’ve just always been really fascinated by the idea of being able to communicate with another species that way, being able to have that kind of relationship with a dog where they understand what you want them to do and there’s all this back and forth communication going on to do these really complicated, fancy things.

So when it came time to start thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my life, around junior high school, high school, getting ready to go to college, I always knew that I wanted to do something related to dog training or dog behavior, and I thought about several different ways of going about that. I considered the idea of just being a professional dog trainer straight out, but I was a little bit nervous about that because I wasn’t quite sure if it was easy to make a living doing that, or how one got established, and I was a little bit concerned. It didn’t feel very stable to me, but who knows, but I wanted something that felt like there was more of an established career path for it, I guess.

Of course I thought about veterinary medicine, because that’s one of the most obvious things that everybody thinks about when they want to work with animals. And I did actually give some thought in college to going to graduate school and getting a Ph.D., and then possibly becoming an applied animal behaviorist that way, but there were two reasons I opted not to go that route, and one was that I discovered in college that research is really not my thing, and I knew that unfortunately that was going to be a big part of life getting a Ph.D., so that was kind of a strike against it.

So what I ultimately decided to do instead was go to veterinary school, and what I liked about that idea was that I felt like I would always have something to fall back on, regardless. I knew that I could do behavior, hopefully relatively easily, I could get into doing that with a veterinary degree, but I could also just be a general practice veterinarian too, if need be, and actually I really like that aspect of my job right now. So that’s how I ended up in vet school, but it really was always kind of a back door way to get into the world of behavior.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. It’s fantastic that that appealed to you at such a young age. I think that a lot of people who listen to this podcast can probably relate to that.

Jennifer Summerfield: I think this was probably the audience that would relate to it. It’s only in retrospect that I realize what a strange little child I probably was.

Melissa Breau: Hey, you’re not alone out there.

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: That’s right!

Melissa Breau: So how did you become interested in it from such a young age? Were you always a positive trainer? Is that how you started out, or did you cross over at some point? How did that happen?

Jennifer Summerfield: I do consider myself to be a crossover trainer, and I think a lot of that has to do with the kind of information that was out there at the time that I first started getting interested in these things and I was first collecting all my books and reading everything.

This was the ’90s, for the most part, so positive training I know was starting to become a thing around that time, but it wasn’t, as I recall, super mainstream, at least not where I was, and in the things that I was reading and the classes that I was going to. Most of the books I had, of course, probably like a lot of people at that time, were pretty correction-based, and they talked about how you needed to be in charge, and you needed to make sure that your dog knew who was boss, and that you had to be really careful about using cookies in training because then your dog gets dependent on them, and of course you don’t want your dog to just be working for cookies, you want them to be working for you, and I thought all that made a lot of sense at the time.

When I was first working with Duncan, I had this book that was about competitive obedience training, specifically, and I remember working through this book and just working religiously on doing everything it said. I remember teaching him to heel, and the way that the book said that you taught your dog to heel was you put a choke collar on them and you walked around in circles in the yard, and every time they got in front of your leg, you gave a leash correction and you jerked them back and you just did that until they figured it out. That’s how Duncan learned to heel, and obviously if I had it to go back and do it over again, I would do it differently. But he was a good dog, and he learned, and it worked reasonably well. Like I said, we never got to the point of having any great successes in the obedience ring, for probably a lot of other reasons besides that, but that’s kind of how I got started.

As I got older and I started reading more things, one thing that I remember that was a big turning point for me was reading Jean Donaldson’s book The Culture Clash. I know that probably a lot of your listeners are familiar with that book, because I know it’s kind of a classic in the world of behavior, but it’s very much about how most of the things our dogs do that bother us are just dog things. They’re just doing things that dogs do, and those things happen to bother us, and that’s reasonable sometimes and we can teach them not to do those things. But that was such a revolutionary thing for me to think, like, You mean it’s not all about that my dog is trying to be in charge and he needs to know that this stuff’s not allowed. She just made so much sense. At that time I had never heard anybody put it that way before, and I want to say that was really the first time that the idea of positive training was presented to me in a way that made a lot of sense.

As I got older, of course, and started to learn more about the scientific side of things — you know I’m a huge science nerd, as probably most people are who go to the trouble of getting a veterinary degree — and so as I learned more about the scientific side of things, then I was sold, because obviously the scientific consensus is unanimous that clearly there’s a way to do things that works a lot better than using correction-based techniques, and that there’s lots of really valid scientific reasons to use positive reinforcement training. So I would say by the time I started vet school, I was pretty solidly in that camp.

The other thing that probably cemented it for me was seeing the difference in how quickly Duncan learned things, for one thing, once I switched. He learned to heel the old-fashioned way, but he learned to do his dumbbell retrieve with a clicker, and he loved his dumbbell retrieve. He would find his dumbbell, if I forgot to put it away after a training session, he would find it and bring it to me and sit, and he just had an enthusiasm for it that he never, ever had for the things we learned when I was still teaching the old way. And then, when I got my dog Remy, who was the second dog I had, the first dog after Duncan, who by that point I was pretty solidly in the positive reinforcement camp, and he learned to heel with a clicker. Looking at the difference between the two of them, both in terms of how technically good their heeling was, but also just looking at their attitude differences and how much they wanted to do it, I knew, I think, after I had done a little bit of work with Remy and seen that kind of difference, that I would never train another dog with corrections again.

Melissa Breau: Sometimes the proof really is in the pudding. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t go back.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, and I guess that’s a pretty common experience, I think. I feel like I hear a variation of that from a lot of crossover trainers, that it’s a combination of understanding the science, but also when you see it, you see the difference in your own dog or in a client’s dog and you say, “Why on Earth did I ever used to do it a different way?”

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I’d imagine that being a vet and a dog trainer, you’ve got a lot of knowledge there. How does one body of knowledge inform the other, and how have they both influenced your career?

Jennifer Summerfield: I’m really glad, looking back, that I did make the choice to go to vet school, because I think that’s a good skill set to have. Obviously I like being a vet. I am in general practice. Even though I spend a fair amount of my time seeing behavior cases, I do general practice stuff too, which I really enjoy. But that skill set is definitely useful for seeing behavior cases because there are a lot of behavior issues dogs have, and training issues, that have a physical component to them, and it’s very handy to have that knowledge base to fall back on, so that if somebody comes in and they say, “My dog’s having house training issues all of a sudden again, and he’s always been house trained, but now I don’t know what’s going on,” to be able to say, “Well, you know, your dog might have a urinary tract infection,” or “Your dog might have Cushing’s disease,” or “Your dog might have diabetes.” These are things that sometimes people think they have a training problem or behavior problem when actually they have a medical problem. So it’s definitely useful to have that knowledge base to be able to say, “Well, actually, maybe we should look at this.”

Both being a veterinarian and being a dog trainer are fields that I think people feel like they have to do with dogs, or they have to do with animals, I guess, more broadly, being a veterinarian. And that’s true, but what sometimes I think people don’t realize, if you’re not in one of these two professions, is how much they have to do with people, because all of the animals come with a person, and it would be rare, being either a dog trainer or a veterinarian, that you’re dealing much directly with the animal.

Your job in both of those fields is to coach the owner on what they need to be doing and figuring out what works for them, and engaging in some problem-solving with them and figuring out what they’re able to do with their lifestyle, whether it’s training their dog not to jump on people or whether it’s managing a chronic disease like diabetes. So I think that in a lot of ways that skill set, the people skills part of things, is something that has gotten to be strengthened and developed by doing both of those things. So I think all in all it worked out for the best.

Melissa Breau: The last guest we had on — you’ll be right after Sue — the last guest we had before that was Deb Jones, and we were talking all about that piece of it, just the idea that if you’re a dog trainer, you’re training people, you’re not training dogs. It’s such a big difference.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah. We do Career Day periodically for a lot of the elementary schools, but also junior highs and high schools in the area, because everybody wants a veterinarian to come for Career Day. And it’s amazing, of course, the common thing that you hear from people sometimes is, “Oh, I want to go into veterinary medicine because I really like animals but I don’t like people.” I say, “Well, then, I don’t know if this is the career for you, because it’s very, very, very, very people-centric. It’s all about people, so you really need to like dealing with people and enjoy that aspect of it too.”

Melissa Breau: To shift gears a little bit, I know you’ve got a webinar coming up for FDSA on behavior medications, so I wanted to talk a little bit about that stuff too. At what point should someone start thinking about meds versus training for a behavior problem?

Jennifer Summerfield: What I always harp on about this, and I actually have a blog post that I wrote a while back on this topic specifically, is that I really wish we could get more into the habit of thinking about behavior medication as a first-line treatment option for behavior issues. I see so many cases where I think people want to save that as a last resort, like, “Well, we’re going to try everything else first,” and “We’ve been working on this for a year and a half, and nothing’s helped, and maybe it’s time to consider meds.”

I totally get where they’re coming from with that. I know that there are a lot of reasons people are nervous about medication. But it makes me sad in a lot of ways because I see so many dogs that I think, My goodness, their quality of life could be so much improved with medication, or The training plan that they’re working on could go so much smoother, and be so much less stressful for both the owner and the dog, if they were willing to consider medication earlier in the process.

So for me, when I see behavior cases, certainly not every single one do we go straight to medication, but I would say that, gosh, probably a good 70 or 80 percent of them we talk about medication on that first visit, because usually if there are things that are legitimate behavior issues rather than training problems — which I can touch on here in a second, too, if you want — but if it’s a behavior issue that is enough of a problem that the owner is willing to schedule an appointment for it and pay for the consultation and sit down with me for three hours and talk about it, chances are that it’s something that could benefit from medication of some kind.

I see so many dogs that do better on meds, and there’s very few downsides to them, so in general not anything to be scared of, and not anything that you have to feel like you have to avoid until nothing else has helped. I think of it more as it’s just like if your dog had an infection. You wouldn’t say, “Well, I really want to try everything we can possibly do until we put him on antibiotics.” Or if he had diabetes, “I really don’t want to use insulin. I just really, really don’t want to use it.” I think we just think of behavior medication differently, which is too bad in a lot of ways, and I would love to see the mainstream thinking about behavior medication move more towards the same way that we use medication for anything else.

Melissa Breau: You said you could touch on the behavior stuff in a second. I’d love to have you elaborate. What did you mean?

Jennifer Summerfield: As far as determining whether you have a behavior problem versus a training problem, which I do think can be a little bit of a muddy line sometimes for owners, the way that I usually try to break that down for people is that if you have a training problem, this is usually your dog is normal. Your dog is doing normal dog things that happen to be annoying to you or to other people, which is fine. And that’s legitimate, that’s still definitely something that we want to address, so I’m not saying that as like, “See, this isn’t a problem.” It’s totally a problem if your dog is flattening old ladies when it tries to say hi, or something like that. That’s a problem, but it’s a training problem. If your dog is friendly but otherwise normal, it’s not something that we would treat with medication, because this is just something that we need to teach your dog a different behavior to do in that situation.

Whereas things that we think of more as behavior issues are things that have some kind of emotional component to them, so things that have an anxiety component, that’s probably the most common. The vast majority of behavior issues that we see do have an underlying anxiety component. But it’s that, or it’s a compulsive behavior issue, or it’s something that’s not normal, a genuinely abnormal behavior that the dog is doing. That’s when at that point that we think they’re more of a candidate for medication.

Melissa Breau: That makes sense. It’s kind of, “Is this a normal behavior or is this …”

Jennifer Summerfield: Exactly, exactly. I can’t remember who it was, but I know one year I was at a conference and I was listening to a talk on behavior medication, and I remember the way that the speaker put it, which I really liked, was one of the ways they look at whether it’s a true behavior problem that needs medication or not is, Is it something that’s bothering the dog, or is it just bothering you? Which was a great way to word it.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I like that. I’d love to include a link to the blog post that you mentioned that you wrote a while ago in the show notes. Would you be willing to shoot me over a link to that when you get a chance after we’re done?

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: Absolutely, yeah, I could definitely shoot that over to you.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. To get back to the behavior meds thing, what are some signs that medications might really have a positive influence on a behavioral problem? Is there something about a problem that you go, “Oh, that, definitely. We can work on that with medication”?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, I would say a little bit of what we touched on a minute ago, in that anything that we think has a significant anxiety component to it, which is a lot of things. That encompasses things like separation anxiety, or thunderstorm phobia, or dogs that are generally anxious and constantly on edge and have trouble settling. Anytime we get the sense that,
“Hey, this dog seems to be abnormally fearful or worried about things that are pretty normal in life that a ‘normal’ dog shouldn’t be fearful or worried about,” then that’s a pretty good indicator that medication would probably be helpful.

The other big thing that makes me think, We should consider meds here is if the people have already been doing some work as far as training or behavior modification that’s appropriate, something that’s like, “OK, that sounds like a pretty good plan,” and they’re just having a really hard time making any headway, that, to me, is a strong indication that we could probably help that process along quite a bit with medication.

The problem with a lot of dogs, especially if we’re working on something like, say, leash reactivity, for example, where we know how important it is from a behavior mod standpoint, how important it is to keep the dog below threshold while we’re working with it, for some dogs that are just so sensitive, that’s incredibly difficult because it doesn’t take anything at all to send them over threshold, and it can be really hard to find that little window of opportunity to even start working on training in a way that’s going to be successful. So in a dog like that, for example, medication can be really helpful to just bring things down enough that the dog is able to think, that you’re able to get that little toehold of space where the dog is able to see the trigger and not react so that you actually have some room to do your training.

Melissa Breau: If somebody is considering this, they’re looking at medication or they’re thinking it might be good for their dog, what are some resources that they can use, or that they can turn to, to learn more about some of the options out there and the meds, or even just behavior modification training specifically?

Jennifer Summerfield: That is such a great question. I think in terms of learning about behavior modification in general, there is some great stuff out there. There are tons of obviously really knowledgeable people in the field who have blogs and podcasts that are easy that anybody can access for free. You can find some great webinars through, of course, FDSA, but also through organizations like the Pet Professional Guild or the Association of Professional Dog Trainers or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. There are online courses you can do.

I really think that for a lot of dog owners, they might even consider, if they’re into this kind of thing, attending a conference like ClickerExpo or the APDT National Conference, or something like that, if it’s nearby. I find that a lot of dog owners sometimes don’t think about that, or don’t realize that they can go to things like that, but anybody’s totally welcome at those conferences.

I know the last couple of years when I’ve been at ClickerExpo, certainly the majority of people there, I would say, are professionals in the field of one kind or another, but there’s always a good smattering of people who are just dog owners who want to learn more about this stuff, and I think that’s really cool. So lots of opportunities to learn more about behavior science and behavior modification.

On the behavior meds side of things, I actually wracked my brain trying to come up with some good resources that are available for dog owners for that, and there just really are not a lot, which is one of the reasons that I’m excited to do this webinar, because I do think there’s a lack of good information that is easily accessible for people about behavior meds, other than the very basic stuff, like, “Hey, behavior meds are a thing, you might consider it for your dog.” But beyond that, it is difficult to find much information.

Melissa Breau: Now, I know you specialize in behavior. If somebody goes to their average veterinarian, is that person going to have enough of an understanding to start that conversation, or should they really be seeking out somebody who specializes? What’s the guideline there?

Jennifer Summerfield: The answer is that it really does depend quite a bit on your veterinarian and whether that’s something that they have an interest in or not. That’s true in general of general practitioners about really anything, so I don’t mean that at all to sound like, “Well, if your vet doesn’t know this stuff, they’re lousy.”

Believe me, if you are a general practitioner, you cannot know everything about everything. All of us have areas that we know a lot about and then areas that we know very little about. I know anytime somebody comes to my clinic and they have questions about orthopedic issues, or their dog has a broken leg that it needs pinned or something like that, I send that out the door so fast because I know nothing. That’s not my area and I’ll be the first to say so, and there are some general practitioners who are fantastic at it.

So behavior, to me, is a lot like that. There are some GP’s who are going to be great at it and really know their stuff and going to be really well-versed in all the medication options, and then there are others that that’s just not an area that they deal with much, they may not know a lot.

But one option that is available that I think a lot of pet owners don’t always realize is an option is that if you don’t have a veterinary behaviorist nearby, or a veterinarian who is good with behavior and sees behavior cases, and your vet says, “I’d really like to help you, I just don’t know that much about this stuff,” many veterinary behaviorists will do a remote consultation with your vet, which can be super-helpful.

They can’t do it directly with you, and that has to do with the legalities of the Practice Act and things that we legally cannot make recommendations directly for an animal if we haven’t met them in person. But what they can do is they can talk to your veterinarian, and your veterinarian can give them the whole write-up and details of the case, and they can say, “Oh, OK, I understand. Here is what I would consider as far as a behavior modification plan. Here is what I would consider as far as medication for this dog.” And then your vet can take that information, and they’re the ones who are actually in charge of doing the prescribing and overseeing the case directly, but they can keep in contact with the specialist about the case and make changes as needed and all that kind of stuff.

I think that is a really underutilized service that sometimes people don’t realize is out there, but it is. So if your vet’s not super-well-versed in this stuff, but they’d like to help you and you’re willing to do something like that, talk to them about it, because they may not realize it’s an option either. But I think that can be a really good happy medium sometimes if you don’t have somebody in your area who you can work with in person.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s an awesome thing to have you mention on something like this, because like you said, maybe people don’t know that it’s an option out there. I certainly wouldn’t know.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yeah, definitely. I know I am going to talk a little bit about that in the webinar as well, so I’ll have more details on how that can work and on how people can specifically seek that out, if it’s something they’re interested in.

Melissa Breau: Obviously, during the webinar, you’re not going to be able to give dog-specific advice. Like you said, you have to see the dog, hands on the animal in order to do that. But I would love to give people just a little more of an idea on what you plan to cover, especially since I know we’re doing two webinars back-to -back in the same evening. Can you talk a little bit about what you want to cover?

Jennifer Summerfield: Yes, I’m super-excited, and I guess this is kind of unprecedented for FDSA to do the double-header.

Melissa Breau: It’s our very first one.

Jennifer Summerfield: It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a behavior pharmacology extravaganza, and I could not be more excited.

The first webinar is going to be an introduction, basically, so meant for people who want some basic information about behavior meds. It’s going to talk about things like how do you know if your dog might benefit from medication, because I know that’s probably a question that a lot of people will have who are watching the webinar. I’m assuming a significant portion of people will be watching because they have a specific dog in mind that has some issues. So we’re definitely going to talk about how to decide that for your own dog, is it something that might be helpful.

We’re going to go over all the different classes of drugs that we use for behavior cases, because there are actually quite a few different options now. It just to just be Prozac and Clomicalm, but there’s a lot of other options out now, which is really cool. We’re going to talk about what our goals are when we use behavior meds, so how that works with a training plan and what kinds of things to expect that way. We are going to spend some time also talking about natural supplements and calming aids and things that can help either by themselves or as an adjunct to medication.

In the second webinar, that one is going to go into more detail as far as things like how do we actually choose for real specific cases what medication to use, because there are a lot of options. So we’re going to go into factors that we look at to help us decide what medication we think is going to be best for this particular dog. We’re going to talk about combinations, because for a lot of cases we do actually use more than one medication together, so we’re going to talk about how that works and how you decide whether you want to go down that road, and if you do, what things can go together, what things can’t.

We’re going to have several case studies to go over, and examples to use for discussion, which I’m really excited about, because I think that’s where sometimes you get the most information is seeing how it applies to some actual cases rather than kind of getting everything in the abstract.

And we will be talking in that second webinar, because we know that the FDSA audience obviously is a lot of performance dog people, we are going to talk specifically about considerations for performance dogs, so things like how do behavior meds impact learning and memory, are there any ethical questions that we need to consider when we’re thinking about medicating dogs who are actively showing and competing, that kind of stuff. So I think that will be a really interesting discussion too.

Melissa Breau: That sounds so interesting. I’m actually really excited to dig into it.

Jennifer Summerfield: Me too. I’m so excited!

Melissa Breau: In addition to the webinars and your work as a trainer and a vet — you’re a pretty busy lady — you also blog, and you’ve recently started podcasting. I wanted to point listeners to those resources a little bit. Can you share a little bit on what you write about and talk about, maybe some of the recent topics you’ve covered, and where they can find that stuff?

Jennifer Summerfield: Sure, definitely. My blog is Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog, so you can search for that and it will come right up. I’ve been doing it since, gosh, I think July of 2016, maybe, so I’ve got quite a few posts on there. I think the most recent one I did was on accidental behavior chains that sometimes we teach without realizing to our dogs, which was interesting. I know some of the posts I have had in the past on that blog that people have found really helpful have been on things like I have a post on behavior euthanasia, which actually a lot of people have written to me about and said was helpful for them. I have a post on fear periods and single event learning, which I think a lot of people have found pretty interesting. And then I have some posts on specific topics like leash reactivity and odor-directed aggression and things like that. So if anybody’s curious about those topics, a lot of times I do try to include case examples when I write about those too.

Melissa Breau: Lots of sticky issues.

Jennifer Summerfield: I know, I know. They are sticky issues, but actually those are some of my favorite things to write about because I think that sometimes there’s a lack of honest conversation about some of those things, and I think it’s sometimes useful to just say, “Well, here is something I deal with every day in my job, and here’s some thoughts, here’s my perspective on it.” And I know that I do get a lot of e-mails from people about those sticky topics that they found them helpful, which is really nice to hear.

The podcast is pretty recent. I just started that here earlier this year and it’s been super-fun so far. I only have a few episodes of it out so far, but of course I’m actively doing that and the blog, so there will be more coming. The most recent one I did was on teaching reliable recalls to your dog. That’s a topic I get a lot of questions about and a topic that we troubleshoot a lot in our Basic Manners classes. And I’ve had some past episodes, I know I did one on car ride anxiety, and then I’ve got some basic topics like puppy socialization and housetraining and that kind of stuff.

I guess I should probably mention here I do have a book out as well, if it’s something that people are interested in. The book is called Train Your Dog Now, and it is basically a reference guide, like a handbook to pretty much anything that might come up, behavior- or training-related, with a dog. So it has sections on teaching basic obedience cues and tricks, but it also talks about how to teach your dog to cooperate for grooming and handling — nail trims and teeth brushing and ear cleaning and that kind of stuff — and then there is a whole section on behavior issues. So it does talk about leash reactivity, it does talk about odor-directed aggression, it talks about aggression to visitors, and there is … it’s a brief section, but there is a section in the book also about behavior medication and supplements. So for people that like to have a hard copy of something they can look at in their home, that might be a good option to consider.

Melissa Breau: To round things out, since it’s your first time on, there are three questions I try to ask every guest their first time on the podcast, and I’d love to do those. So first off, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Jennifer Summerfield: I would have to say, and there are so many, that’s always a question that’s hard to narrow down, but honestly, if I had to pick one, I would probably say getting my dog Remy’s CD would be my biggest accomplishment.

From the time that I went to that obedience trial when I was a kid, and I watched the dogs and I just wanted to do that so bad, and with Duncan we muddled along and we did a little bit, we dabbled very briefly in competitive obedience and it didn’t go super-well, but I learned a lot from that, obviously. And then with Remy I did things a little differently, and it still took us a long time to get his CD finished, but the day that we finished it was just like … I went back to the crate and I cried. It was such a big deal for us. And I know obviously, for a lot of your listeners, they have much, much higher accomplishments in the obedience ring, but for us, that was huge.

Sort of the second part of that, I guess, obviously finishing the title itself was such a big thing for me because it was something that we worked so hard on. But one of the things that kind of was the cherry on top about that trial was I remember when we were packing our stuff up and getting ready to go back to the car, there was a woman that came up to me. I didn’t know her, but I guess she had been standing around, watching the obedience ring, and she came up to me afterwards and she congratulated me on finishing my title. I said, “Thanks,’ and she said, “I just wanted to tell you how much fun I had watching you and your dog because he looked so happy,” and that was huge. I probably still feel the greatest about that of everything that we’ve done in our competition career or anywhere. So that was a great feeling.

Melissa Breau: That’s amazing, and I just want to encourage everybody who’s listening, hey, listen, people remember when you say that kind of stuff about them and their dog. It’s worth it.

Jennifer Summerfield: I don’t remember very much about that lady now except that that was what she told us, but she made my whole year, my whole decade. So thank you, whoever that lady was, if you’re listening.

Melissa Breau: And if you see somebody have a really awesome run and you feel something like that, absolutely step up afterwards and let them know how awesome it was.

Jennifer Summerfield: For sure. It makes a big difference.

Melissa Breau: It’s such an amazing thing to hear. That’s just awesome.

Jennifer Summerfield: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: So my second question here is, what’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?

Jennifer Summerfield: What I would have to say — and this is not technically dog training advice, I guess I’ll preface it that way, but I think it can apply to dog training, and I think about it in regards to dog training a lot. It’s actually a quote from Maya Angelou. It gets paraphrased a lot, but the actual quote is, she said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

That has always struck me as being such a great way to look at life, a lot of things about life in general, but specifically about dog training, because I think for probably a lot of us who are crossover trainers, I think it’s probably a pretty widespread thing to have some degree of regret or guilt, maybe, about how we did things with our first dog, or how we taught some things that we wish if we could go back and do it differently.

I love that quote because it’s so true that there’s no reason to feel guilty or to feel ashamed about doing the best that you knew how to do at the time, and that’s all any of us can do. But when new information comes along and you realize that there’s a different way to do things, that you just adjust your behavior and you do it differently.

So I’ve always found that really helpful in terms of thinking about myself and my own choices, but I also think it’s so helpful to keep perspective when I’m thinking about clients and the people that I work with in my job as well, because I think it’s so easy for those of us who do this professionally, and we know all the science and we do this day in and day out, it’s so easy to get a client and to feel like, “Oh, can you believe this person’s been using a shock collar on their aggressive dog,” or “This person’s been alpha-rolling their dog,” and these things that are things that obviously are probably not the ideal way to handle whatever behavior issue they’re having. But I think it’s so helpful to remember that people are just doing the best they can. That’s so powerful, that people are just doing the best they can with what they know, and that’s all any of us can do.

We all were there at one point, too, and that thinking about it from that perspective, that our job is to say, “Hey, you know, I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I understand why that seems like it makes sense, but let’s look at some other ways to address this that hopefully are going to be a little bit more effective and don’t have some of the side effects that those methods have.”

I think about that frequently, both in terms of my own life and also working with clients, just to try and keep that perspective that it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt that we’re working with, too, and remember that everybody is just doing the best they can with what they know.

Melissa Breau: For our last question, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Jennifer Summerfield: All three of your questions are very hard because there are so many choices. I have two for this one, if that’s OK.

For the first one, as far as being a really well-known public figure in our field that I have always looked up to, I would have to say Dr. Sophia Yin for that. For veterinarians especially, she was such a pioneer of changing the way that we deal with dogs in the clinic, and of course she did a lot of behavior stuff besides the low-stress handling as well. But I think she was such a tremendous role model for all veterinarians in the way that she dealt with animals and the way that she dealt with people, and so I look up to her tremendously, and I think she did great things for the field.

The other person that I would have to mention, she’s not overly famous, I don’t think, but she is a great clinical applied animal behaviorist that I worked with when I was in veterinary school, and her name is Traci Shreyer. I worked pretty closely with her through the four years that I was there, because she was very involved in the puppy class program at that school, which I worked with quite a bit, and then she was involved in teaching some of our classes, and things on behavior as well, and working with us, the behavior club setups and some things with her, and so I dealt pretty closely with her the whole four years.

What I loved about her and really took away from that experience is she was great with dogs and animals in general, she was fabulous, but she was also so, so great with people, with clients, and she was always reminding us … I think, again, for many of us in this field, being empathetic towards the dogs is easy, that’s kind of what drew us in in the first place, but I think it’s so, so important to remember that we have to have empathy for our human learners too, that what we’re asking them to do is hard, and that they deserve just as much consideration and kindness and respect as our dog patients do. She was probably the single best example of that that I have ever seen. She was fantastic, and that is a lesson that I definitely took away from working with her. So I would say she’s the other person that I still really look up to in the field.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and that’s such a great compliment to have given somebody you learned from, to say that they are so empathetic and so good with people.

Jennifer Summerfield: Yes, it’s a hard skill, such a hard skill, but it’s so important.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast Jen.

Jennifer Summerfield: No problem. I’ve had a great time!

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week with Nancy Tucker, to talk about getting better door behaviors. Don’t miss it.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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!

Jul 27, 2018

Summary:

Sue Ailsby is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been "in dogs" for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Giant Schnauzers. She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including — and guys, this really is quite the list — sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.  

Sue is an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/3/2018, featuring Sue Ailsby, talking about Rally. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Sue Ailsby. Sue is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been "in dogs" for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Giant Schnauzers. She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including — and guys, this really is quite the list — sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.  

Sue is an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.

Welcome to the podcast Sue!

Sue Ailsby: Thanks Melissa. It’s great to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m super-excited to talk to you today. To get us started, do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?

Sue Ailsby: I have Syn — that’s for synchronized, not for bad — who is a Portuguese Water Dog, 7 years old. She’s finished with conformation and Rally and drafting, and she’s now working on nosework and the highest level of water trials.

Serra is my yearling Giant Schnauzer who’s probably going to be a puppy until he’s 6 or 7. He’s doing foundation work through the training levels. He’s learning to swim and do nosework, and he’s working really, really hard on remembering not to french-kiss people.

Melissa Breau: That would be a good thing with his size to learn not to do!

Sue Ailsby: Yeah, it would be nice.

Melissa Breau: So I was hoping today to talk a bit about today, since I know your Rally 1 class is back on the schedule. Obviously I read that huge list — you’ve competed in a lot of different dog sports. How did you get started in Rally?

Sue Ailsby: Well, when you do everything, you have to try everything that comes along, and once you’ve tried it, then you can decide whether it’s going to be fun for the current team you’ve got or not. And every one of my dogs has really enjoyed Rally. It is fun. Since I had dogs already with obedience titles, it’s an easy transition to get into Rally, so we got into Rally and they enjoyed it and we did it.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. What is it about Rally that appeals to you that’s led you to go through the whole process of developing a course on it?

Sue Ailsby: Well, as I said, it’s fun. And a lot of the behaviors in Rally are really foundation behaviors for all dogs, like sit and down and come and walking on a loose leash and brief stays.

A lot of people try it because it looks easy, and then give up because they don’t have a swing finish or the attention they need from the dog. Since those are behaviors that make life with a dog easier anyway, I just want to spread the love.

One of the things I really like about Rally is how casual it is. It’s great to qualify, it’s great to get a good score, it’s really great to impress people with a good run, but it’s easy to fail, too. So failing becomes sort of normal, like you’re not in there going, “I lost more than 2 points, so I’m a failure and my dog’s a failure.

Out of non-qualifying performances, if out of ten non-qualifying performances, I’ll bet my dog has screwed up twice and I’ve screwed up eight times. After one of my performances, a judge stopped me to address the audience before I left the ring, and she said, “That was truly one of the best 1-2-3 step backwards I have ever seen! I hope you were all watching. It was so good! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the exercise the sign called for, so this is not a passing score.”

Melissa Breau: That’s so funny!

Sue Ailsby: People come in and say, “But what if I fail?” No big deal. Everybody else has failed. Why shouldn’t you?

Melissa Breau: Right. You mentioned in there that it’s friendly and fun, and I think that’s certainly one of the things that most people find about Rally that appeals to them. It’s a little more friendly maybe than some of the traditional obedience venues, for lack of a better phrase, I guess.

Sue Ailsby: It can get kind of competitive sometimes.

Melissa Breau: A little bit, a little bit. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about some of the similarities and differences between the two sports, if somebody is debating which one they want to compete in, or which one they want to compete in first.

Sue Ailsby: OK. You don’t have to decide between Rally and obedience, because practicing for Rally, if you’re aiming for obedience, you can practice for Rally and it’s certainly not wasted practice, and if you’re doing obedience, you’re learning stuff that you need to learn for Rally anyway, so you can start working on one or the other, or both at once, and decide later which you want to do, if you just want to do one of them.

Obedience, the difference is in the focus of the sport. Obedience competition is about precision. Rally is about lots of different behaviors in a flow, more like you’d use for going for a walk. As a former rider, I’d say obedience is like dressage: Can you make this movement perfectly? Rally is like western trail class: Can you do this behavior here and then that behavior over there? Can we get through this course together? It’s the togetherness that brings on a good performance, so you’re working on a team, basically. Which you are in obedience, too, but I think it comes a little more naturally in Rally.

Melissa Breau: Some people start in Rally and then move into obedience, or like you said, you got your obedience title first and then you went back and did the Rally titles for fun. Kind of interesting how they’re different but similar.

Sue Ailsby: Mm-hmm.

Melissa Breau: I can’t talk about a sport without getting into foundations. I feel like every interview I do, that’s the word that comes up, over and over and over again. I’d love to hear your take on that for Rally — what skills you consider foundation skills, or what are some of the skills that dogs need before they begin training for Rally?

Sue Ailsby: One of the things that I really like about being part of the Fenzi Academy is that none of the instructors do things exactly the same way, and yet, more than any other group of instructors that I’ve ever met, the Fenzi instructors believe in foundations right across the board.

You don’t start with fancy stuff, you start with the foundations, and the fancy stuff grows naturally out of it. As a foundation to begin Rally, I’d like the dog to know what the clicker’s for. A general understanding of sit and down and focusing on the handler. A dog who has those skills already is going to progress.

Really, for any sport, focus is a foundation. When I don’t have the dog’s attention, I’m not working on anything but focus. If we’re doing a pivot, I’m trying to teach her a pivot, and the dog’s brain is on a kid walking by, we’re not working on pivots. The fact that I wanted to work on a pivot is really irrelevant. We’re working on focus. Until we have focus, there’s no other work happening.

Focus is the primary indication of teamwork between the dog and the handler. I’d rather walk into the Rally ring, or any other ring, with a focused dog who knows nothing else than with a dog who knows all about the sport behaviors but isn’t on my team yet.

Melissa Breau: That’s something a lot of people overlook. They do train at home, or whatever, and they get a lot of skills on their dog, and then they go out in the real world and they can’t replicate those behaviors because they’re missing that piece of the puzzle.

To put aside the dog for a minute, though, I know that you also talk a little bit about handler skills, and you mentioned earlier that goofing up at the Rally ring, there’s a good chance it wasn’t the dog’s fault. What are some of the things that handlers need to teach themselves in order to do the sport?

Sue Ailsby: There are sport-specific things and there are training-specific things. I’ll talk about the training-specific things first. Pay attention to the dog. Look at the dog. Think about the dog. Ask the dog. Believe the dog. Respond when she asks you questions. Take her questions seriously. You don’t understand her question? That’s OK. She doesn’t understand you half the time, either. But she’s still in there trying. Let her know that you’re trying too.

If she keeps asking you a question and you keep giving her the same old answer, you’re not answering her question, because if you did, she wouldn’t have to keep asking it. It drives me crazy when some dog is sitting there, “I don’t understand you! What are you doing?” and they keep going “Sit, sit, sit.” It drives us all crazy, actually.

As to what the person as a handler needs to learn in Rally is the rules, like you do for any sport. But the hardest part is walking into the ring and having to read the signs. The judge is not telling you what to do. You walk up to a sign on the course and the sign will say, “Sit. Down. Sit.” That means you have to get your dog to sit and down and sit back up again. When you’ve done that, you walk on to the next sign, and it can be really hard to remember to take your dog with you, to read the sign, to get the dog to do what he’s supposed to do before he does something he’s not supposed to do. It gets really complicated. For that reason, once a week we have a practice course in the class, based on the behaviors that the dog’s been working on that week.

Melissa Breau: I certainly imagine getting in there and trying to read on your feet and stick with things — it can throw you for a bit of a loop sometimes if you forgot what comes next or misread a sign in your haste or because of nerves.

Sue Ailsby: And since you’re doing this all on your own, you think about walking on, and suddenly you realize you’ve walked past the previous sign, and then you either skip it and don’t qualify, or you have to back up and hope you can see what it says on the sign or try to remember it. It’s really not as easy as it looks without practice.

Melissa Breau: I know in the syllabus for the class you have a comment in there about mirrors, and you recommend students invest in a few cheap mirrors. I wanted to ask how that comes into play or what that’s about.  

Sue Ailsby: That’s about looking at your dog. Your eyes are 5 feet off the ground, your dog is 18 inches off the ground, and there’s no point in wondering later why the judge took five marks off for crooked sits when you have no idea whether your dog’s sitting crooked or not, and you can’t see from where you are. If you have a mirror 5 feet away from you, you can actually see what the judges is seeing from fifteen feet away. So you can see crooked sits. If you can see a crooked sit, you can work on crooked sits and maybe not lose those five points. Or lose them. That’s the nice thing about Rally. If you want to say, “You know what? My dog’s having a good time, I’m having a good time, I don’t care about those five points,” then you don’t have to work on them. But at least you know that they’re happening.

Melissa Breau: The Rally 1 class is the first in a series. I was curious how you’ve broken down what people need to know into the different classes and what specifically falls into that Rally 1 class, what students should expect to learn the first session.

Sue Ailsby: The first class is about foundations — back to foundations. The behaviors that we meet in a novice-level Rally test are really based on basics, foundations, focus, learning how to handle courses, training for the dog and the handler.

In the second class we get into advanced competition behaviors, heeling while walking backwards instead of forwards, drop on recall, around and over and through different objects, the two-dozen different ways to change heeling sides and turn around. That’s where it really gets to be fun.

Melissa Breau: How do those skills then progress as students go through the series?

Sue Ailsby: That’s one of the things I like best about Rally. Every behavior in the advanced levels is based on the foundation behaviors from the novice levels. It was really well set up that way. You and your dog are heeling. You and your dog do a 180-degree turn to the right or to the left. That’s novice. In an advanced level the question is, can you turn left while your dog turns right or vice versa? If you can do that, can you do it twice in a row?

As you may have realized, my middle name is “foundations,” so my training is all about getting the novice stuff solid so you don’t have to be desperately trying to get a more advanced behavior later. The advanced stuff, as I said, should flow naturally from what the dog already knows. So we start with an easy behavior, and then we make it more difficult and more difficult as you go up through the levels.

Melissa Breau: I believe when I was reading over the description you also said that there’s a lot of crossover between the different venues. Is that right? You cover skills that cross venue, right?

Sue Ailsby: Right. It’s not specifically for the different Rally that we have in Canada or in the United States, or people in Europe have taken the class because they wanted to do online Rally. I went through as many different Rally venues as I could find, read the rules, picked out the behaviors, and there are places where in one venue you have to stop before you do this, but that’s a rule change. That’s not really relevant to how the dog is trained. We’re pretty much using behaviors that are across the board, so it should be useful for anybody, no matter where they are.

Melissa Breau: Anything else you want to share about the class — either what you’ll cover or who should take it?

Sue Ailsby: We’ve had classes where most of the dogs already had a Rally title or two, and we’ve had classes where very few of them had really any training at all. So what we get is what we’ll handle. We’ll go with the flow and hope we can show everybody how much fun they can have in the Rally ring.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I’ve got one last question in here for you, Sue. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Sue Ailsby: Oh, I’m always getting reminded of things that I forgot. I don’t want to be boring, but I have to go back to foundations.

My Portuguese Water Dog has been on bed rest for three weeks, and yesterday I discovered she has completely forgotten the idea of stay. She’s 7 years old, she has titles in five different venues, and she can’t remember how to stay. My Giant Schnauzer, we’ve been camping for two weeks, he’s been walking with my husband on leash in the forest, and he has completely forgotten that he used to have a beautiful loose-leash walk. I would be absolutely hysterical about both of these problems right now if it wasn’t for the foundations.

My Porti has water trials coming up in a month for which I have to travel large distances. The Giant Schnauzer puppy weighs 100 pounds and I just had shoulder surgery. I need those behaviors. The good part is that I’ve put a lot of effort into foundations. I know that I can shoot back to the beginning and I’ll have those behaviors back in less than a week. I don’t have to get all excited about it and “Oh, oh, oh, what am I going to do, what am I going to do?” I’ll have them back in less than a week.

So the one thing that I always am reminded of is “Do not forget your foundations.” That’s it.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s a good reminder, and it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles sometimes occasionally when the dog seem to forget that they have a skill. My German Shepherd’s notorious for that particular bouts of memory loss.

Sue Ailsby: Yes.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Sue. I really appreciate it.

Sue Ailsby: Thank you Melissa.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with Dr. Jennifer Summerfield to talk about behavior medications, chat about them before she has a webinar on those the following week, so you guys can get a sneak peek.

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Jul 20, 2018

Summary:

Dr. Deborah Jones — better known around FDSA as Deb Jones — is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience over the last 25 years.

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes, including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/27/2018, featuring Sue Ailsby, talking about Rally. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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. Deborah Jones -- better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.  

Deb is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience over the last 25 years.

In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the FOCUS training system. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi, co-authoring the “Dog Sports Skills” book series, and authored several other books, with more in the works!

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes, including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.

Hi Deb! Welcome back to the podcast.

Deb Jones: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me back again. It is always fun to be here and get a chance to chat with you.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just reacquaint listeners with the furry friends you currently share your household with?

Deb Jones: Of course. I never pass up an opportunity to talk about my pets. First of all, there’s Zen. Zen is my nearly 11-year-old Border Collie, and it’s impossible that he could be nearly 11. I tell him every night that he needs to stop getting old right now, because I’m not going to allow it. Zen is perfect in practically every way. He’s fun, he’s smart, he has done a lot in his life, and he still enjoys a lot of things, like hiking with me.

The second dog I have is Star. She’s a 7-year-old black-and-white Border Collie. Star has done quite a bit of demo work in classes, as well as we are starting out on working nosework, doing nosework with her as well. She’s also another hiking buddy of mine.

Tigger is the 2-year-old tiny little Sheltie. He really belongs to Judy Keller, but I get to share him. Tigger is fun and he’s funny. He’s very fierce for someone who weighs 7-and-a-half pounds, and he tells you all the time that he’s the biggest dog in the house.

And finally, we also have Trick, the kitty. Tricky is now about 8 years old, I think. Trick has been in a lot of videos. He loves to train just as much as the dogs do, and he’s actually a whole lot of fun to train and a challenge. It’s different. It’s not quite the same as training dogs. But every time you get ready to tape a video, Tricky is here, so he usually gets involved in some way or the other.

So that’s our household right now.

Melissa Breau: I asked you on today to talk about something we haven’t talked about before on the podcast: teaching people. Professional dog trainers are typically training people to train dogs, not actually training the dogs themselves, and even those who aren’t professional trainers often find themselves asked for advice, or maybe they just want to be a positive ripple in their area.

Based on your background, you seem like the perfect person to ask, plus I know you have a class coming up on the topic. I think most of our listeners probably realize you teach for FDSA, but some of them may not realize you also taught psychology at Kent State University for 20 years. Did you always want to be a teacher? What got you started on that path?

Deb Jones: I’m actually pretty surprised that this topic of teaching has not come up until now. It seems to me it’s pretty central to everything we’re doing here at FDSA, so I’m really excited about starting a program for teachers.

Let me go back a little bit and talk about my background in teaching, and give you first of all a personal confession is that I never wanted to be a teacher. That was so far away from anything I ever thought I would do with my life. It was never any kind of consideration for me.

There were some, I think, pretty clear reasons why that was the case. I grew up fairly isolated. I was an only child, I lived way out in the country, we didn’t have a lot of people around, but we did have a lot of animals. Especially across the street from us there was a large farm. They always had chickens, pigs, and lot of horses. So I spent lots of time over there with the animals, and I interacted with the animals very easily. With people not so much. So that started out my idea of spending time animal training, because I was simply much more used to them and more comfortable being around them.

Also something that I know about myself and I’ve come to learn over the years is I’m a pretty strong natural introvert. I’m relaxed and comfortable alone or with a small number of people around. When you start to get a large group of people, that takes a lot of energy from me in terms of interaction. It’s just not quite so natural for me to interact with large groups, which is pretty funny considering that I teach very large classes sometimes.

That was not at all what I would ever have guessed I would have done. It’s something that I learned how to do over the years. It became a role that I could play. But it’s not who I am. There’s a big difference between the role of what we’re doing and our personality, and it’s very clear to me that I’m not a natural teacher, but I could learn how to teach very effectively, and I think it’s something that anybody can learn how to do, if that’s what you want.

I never chose to teach when I went college. I didn’t go back to college until I was about 30 years old. I went back as an adult and I had no idea what I was going to do. My plan was to take one college class and see what it’s like, and that one class happened to be Intro Psychology. So I took my psychology class and that was it — I was hooked. That was the thing I was most interested in. All through undergrad I never really thought about what I would do with this degree, except I realized a bachelor’s in psychology doesn’t get you anywhere. You really have to go on to graduate school, and you really need to get a Ph.D. And so I thought, OK, I could do that. I liked a lot of things about research, so I figured I’d be a researcher, and I saw myself working alone in a lab somewhere, spending a lot of time doing my own individual work and then socializing with people every once in a while. I didn’t really see myself interacting with large numbers of people on a daily basis.

Since I was older when I went back to college, I got to know my professors a little better maybe than some students of a traditional age might have, and they were really, really influential in my decision on what to do and how to go about approaching my career. There are two in particular, Marion Cohn and Anne Crimmings, who were the psychology professors that I worked with as an undergrad, and they both encouraged me strongly to go on to graduate school. In particular, Marion was a really strong influence on me. She was a behaviorist. She trained under somebody named Ivar Lovaas. Anybody in the ABA world probably recognizes the name Lovaas, who pioneered doing behavioral work with people with autism. So she was very much influential in the fact that I knew I wanted to go into something that had to do with behavior and that everything I found there made a lot of sense to me.

So I headed off to graduate school. I had no plans to teach. Again, I thought I would be doing research. But once I got to graduate school, they have an expectation of your work for them. You will work for them 20 hours a week in addition to your class load, and you’re going to be assigned to be either a research or teaching assistant. What I discovered was that research assistantships were harder to get, and usually that happened for the upper-level students. I was pretty much told, “You’re going to be a teaching assistant,” and it was not a happy day for me. That was not what I wanted to hear.

It got even worse, though, because I was going to be a teaching assistant for a statistics class, and I don’t like statistics. There is nothing about it that I cared about in any way. I squeaked through it as an undergrad, but I never felt confident in it or felt like I understood it. I just managed to get an A somehow, and it seemed to me like it was luck as much as anything else.

Since stats didn’t make sense to me, I didn’t want to do it. I’m going to have to teach something I don’t understand, and the final straw there was that it was going to be an 8 o’clock lab, an 8 a.m. lab, and I’m like, I hate everything about this. There was nothing that sounded like a good plan. I seriously considered dropping out of graduate school. I’m glad I didn’t, but at the time it did not seem like this was going to lead me anywhere down a career path that I wanted to go. Just the opposite. It seemed like it was taking me away from what I wanted to do.

But in the end of it, what happened was I learned a really, really important lesson, and that was that in order to teach something, if I had to stand up in front of a group of people and be the expert on something, I really needed to understand it completely. In order for me to understand statistics, of all things, I needed to break it down into tiny little parts and basically split it, is how we talk about it in training now. I needed to split it down, and it needed to make sense to me first before I could use it to make sense to anybody else.

I spent a lot of time that first year learning statistics myself. I would take the lesson I learned the night before and present it to my class the next morning. What happened was my students liked it and they did well. They liked the way things were broken down. They liked that things were very clear and understandable to them. As we know, many times you get a professor who really understands the topic, but they can’t make it understandable to the student. With my own struggles I was able to do that right off the bat. I was able to find ways to make it understandable to others.

We keep it sort of a secret among teachers that many times we’re barely ahead of our students in the material. We may have been reading that textbook right before we went in the classroom to teach it. So you become, again, play your role. You become good at projecting confidence, even when you may not totally have it. But that’s part of the teaching role that we take on.

I finally did get away from teaching statistics in grad school. I got to teach a lot of other classes as well, though my career in teaching altogether I taught statistics every single semester for 20 years. It kept me employed because nobody else wanted to do it. It became very easy for me to do over time, and they were very popular classes, so I always had full classes, which was good. But I taught a lot of other classes in grad school.

Once I got my master’s, I taught at a few different area colleges and I started to feel like I was getting control of this, or understanding how to develop material and how to teach it. Of course, when I decided to get a job, then I found out that any job I got was going to be mainly teaching. If there was any research involved, it was going to be minimal.

Academic jobs at the time I was looking were very competitive and hard to get, so I was lucky that I had a good friend, Lee [Fox], who is going to be teaching this teaching class with me at FDSA, and I’ll talk about her more in a bit. I was lucky that she had gotten a job at Kent State a few years before me and come up here. So she knew about the opening, she connected me to an opening here, I got the job at Kent State, I decided I’d probably stay for a year or two. Twenty years later, here I am, just retiring from Kent State. So things kind of take on a life of their own.

But I’ve been really happy here. I moved from the big Kent campus down to a regional campus called the Stark campus, which is in Canton, Ohio, where my classes were small, I knew most of my students, I had good colleagues, so it’s been a really good career and a really good experience. But I was ready to get away from it. Probably for about the last four or five years I’ve been really done with college teaching. It takes a lot of energy and it does burn you out over time.

At the same time I was also starting to teach more and more for FDSA and I saw a couple of things. One of those is that, gee, this thing is going to continue growing. It’s not going to be something that lasts for a year or two. It just keeps expanding, and FDSA has a lot to offer the dog training world. I knew I wanted to get more and more involved here, but I still had a full-time job there, so finally I was in a position, luckily, that I could make the decision to focus my teaching efforts more at FDSA and go ahead and retire from Kent State.

That was a long-winded way of telling you where I came from.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s all good. You mentioned a bunch of things in there, though. One of the things you talked about were some of the skills that go into being a good teacher, and obviously there’s a difference between being given a job as a teacher and really learning how to teach. Can you identify what some of those skills were? What skills do teachers need that someone might not think about until they are actually in that role?

Deb Jones: There’s a lot of on-the-job learning typically involved in teaching, and that’s not always a good thing. In fact, we’d be much better off to have more preparation, but we don’t get that often. We get knowledge of the material. So you come in to teach something, you’re teaching it because you know it, because you understand it, or you do well at it.

If we switch from college teaching to talk about dog trainers a little bit — we understand how to train an animal. Once you get that, people are going to encourage you to teach others, which is a good thing. We should share that knowledge. We shouldn’t keep it all to ourselves. But if you’re only good with animals and you don’t know how to teach people, it’s not going to go well for you.

People skills, being able to communicate very clearly and effectively with the person, because animals come with people attached. Whether we like it or not, we need to work with the person to change the animal’s situation or to change their behavior. So learning how to communicate with another human, as opposed to communicating with an animal of any species, is much more difficult. People are more complicated, much more complicated.

I’ve also come to see that our job is not just to present information. We really are there to motivate and support students, much more than just give them info. That is probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned over my career is that I need to be, and I am now more than I was, a motivator and somebody who’s there for support when the person needs it.

As a teacher, being able to take theoretical information, and an understanding of that information, and make it into something that the student can use and apply right away. Some of us are good at book learning. That’s why I’m an academic, because I like that kind of stuff. But if I give all that to my students, I’m going to overwhelm them very, very quickly. So I need to be able to take what I know from theories and pull out the important pieces of information and use those appropriately. I don’t want to overwhelm students. We don’t want to flood students with new information, and that easily happens sometimes, especially with new teachers. You tell them everything, and everything is too much.

In college teaching we’re still in the model of lecture. I lecture to you, you listen to me, and then I test you on what you remember from the lecture. That’s the whole mode. It’s not really the best model for learning, probably, but it’s a very strong tradition of that in academics, so that’s not going to go away anytime soon.

But in dog training it’s different, because if I lecture my students for very long, they’re bored and they’re finished. I need to be working with them. I need to take information and make it into something that you actually physically do. That can be hard, because I do things without thinking about every little detail and every little step, and when I have to think through that, all of a sudden something that I thought was very simple to teach takes ten times longer because I have forgotten all those details that go in along the way.

I think we’re really good at FDSA with this is we approach students differently. It’s not “the instructor has all the power, the student has none” relationship and all the information flows from me to you. It’s much more interactive, it’s much more about the information flow coming from the student as well. I learn as much as I ever teach a lot of people. And it’s much more about how to support our students and help them, as opposed to just give them information. I think those are very different things that we’re doing here with dog training than I do in college teaching.

Melissa Breau: How did you learn some of those skills? Where did those abilities come from?

Deb Jones: We learn on the job, which is not the best way. Trial and error. When I first started teaching at Kent State, when I got hired at Kent State, one of my first classes was 500 people. It was 500 people, Introductory Psychology class. That’s daunting, and nobody tells you what to do or how to do it. You are basically left on your own: “Here you go, here’s your class, teach Intro Psychology.” And I’m like, OK, I know Intro Psychology, but I’m standing on a stage in an auditorium, which is like my worst nightmare ever, trying to figure out how do I keep these people interested, how do I give them what they need to know, and how do I control this group? Because now I’ve got this large group of people I have to somehow control. So it’s very much sink or swim, trial and error, and I don’t think that’s a good way to do it at all.

And so what happens? Some people do well. Some people learn how to teach, they figure it out, they thrive, they have a career out of it. But other people don’t. They hate it, they do poorly, either they quit or they find a way to avoid teaching as much as possible, which is actually true of many college professors. They teach as little as they possibly can.

If you have somebody to support you and mentor you, that can be helpful, but that’s not something always that occurs. It’s not a big deal in most colleges. They’re more interested in research than in teaching. Teaching is seen as something we have to do, but that’s not their focus for a lot of people in college. You’d think it would be, because that’s what a university is all about, but oftentimes it’s much more about doing research. So there’s not much effort put into supporting teachers, or showing people how to teach, or giving instruction.

So we tend to model, I think, mostly after how we were taught. You probably had a professor that you really liked, and a professor that you felt like you got a lot from their class or classes. And that’s what we tend to do — we model after them. That’s good if you had a great professor, and if that happens to work for your personality and for your topic, but it doesn’t always work out quite that way.

That’s one of the reasons, I think this is the main reason, we thought about first offering a class on how to teach. Because it can be a very painful, difficult experience if you don’t know what you’re doing, and hopefully we can save people from some of that. You can learn from our pain. You don’t have to have your own. We can show you and help you along the way, and that’s why we’re doing this.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of dog trainers, when they decide to become professionals, like you’re saying, they jump right into it, so it leads to a bit of flying by the seat of their pants, for lack of a better term. I’d love to hear a little bit about how much of teaching can be, or has to be, that ad hoc, that fly by the seat of your pants, and how much it really requires careful planning and should require that careful planning. What’s the balance like there?

Deb Jones: That’s an excellent question, because I think everything requires planning. I’m not a big believer in spontaneity. Part of that is my personality, but part of it is also my experience of teaching for about 25 years now. Very few people … now there are some who can be spontaneous and it goes really well, but they’re not a lot. For most people, when you’re spontaneous, things start to go off the rails pretty quickly. It’s also frightening, it’s pretty scary, to not have a plan, so I’m a total big believer in planning.

You may be very good at what you do with animals, but you may need much more work on how do I take that and make it into something that is going to be understandable to humans. Lots of times, students never see the preparation stage of teaching. They have no idea it exists, because it’s invisible. They don’t know how much work we put in behind the scenes before we even get to interacting with them.

I know you’ve taught a class or so, and you’re going to be teaching classes, and you know now a little bit about how much work goes on before you ever get there. There’s a lot that needs to be done. We don’t just jump into class on the first day and go, “Ah, I wonder what I’m going to do today.” I know what I’m going to do for the entire session. I have it all planned out, and even if my plan falls apart somewhere along the way, at least I had a plan to start with. I often in my college classes make up a schedule, I always make up a schedule, for every day of the semester for the four months that we would be there. I knew exactly what I was going to do before the class ever started.

Whether or not I stuck to that plan is something else. That’s where the spontaneity might come in, where I have to change things because I moved faster or slower than I thought I would, or I needed some more time to talk about a particular topic. So I can change things as I go along, but I need the plan first. That, to me, is just vitally important, and for all the good teachers I know, that is the case. They know what they’re doing. They always know every single day. It’s not, “Huh, I wonder what I feel like teaching this morning.” It’s very much “This is where we go now in the lesson plan.”

It helps a lesson plan to be sensible and to be logical and to build one thing on the next. If you’re just jumping around from one topic to another, that feels disjointed and people don’t like that so much. So more planning never hurts. This is what I always say: Plan everything. You can never over-plan. It’s fine. Do as much as you think you need to do. Then, once you have the plan, now you can be flexible. Now you can be a little more spontaneous, if you see the need arise. But don’t just go into it cold, because that’s unlikely for most people to end well.

Melissa Breau: That leads directly into what I was going to ask you next, which obviously, no matter how much planning you do, there are going to be times when you have to think on your feet and you have to respond when something unexpected happens, especially if you’re dealing with a dog training class in person, where you have students and you have their dogs and you never know exactly what crazy things could enter somebody’s head, or a dog’s head, in a given moment. How did you learn to handle that aspect of the job — handling the unexpected — and any advice you have, of course.

Deb Jones: What do they say, “Expected the unexpected.” Things are going to happen that you could never have planned for or predicted. That’s always very, very true. Things that in your wildest dreams you would not have imagined they’d occur, happen, and I think with new teachers we’re terrified of those possibilities. We’re very worried that something is going to happen, out of my control, I’m not going to know what to do about it. And it will. There’s no question it will.

So what do you do? You can panic. You can kind of lose your ability to think and process information. I’ve had that happen now and again. I’m thinking about instructors in early teaching of anything. You’re often worried that you’re going to get questions that you can’t answer. That’s an interesting fear to have, because it is reasonable. There will be questions that I don’t know the answer to because I don’t know everything in the world. I have no idea what the answer might be to certain questions. But I usually can figure out where to find that information. It might not be something I can answer right away, but just that fear that people are going to ask me something I don’t know — I don’t worry about that so much because usually my answer to that is something like, “Well, that a really interesting question and I haven’t really thought about that. So let me think about it a little bit and we can talk about it later, or let me go do some research on it and next time we’ll discuss it.”

So you don’t have to answer everything right now. You don’t have to know everything in the world, even about the topic you’re teaching. You can only know your part of it. There’s nothing wrong with that when it happens, and it will happen.

The other thing that sometimes happens that’s unexpected is you made your plan for class, you know what you’re going to do, you’ve got it all figured out, and when you get there, that plan is just not right for that group. It may be that my material is too simple, and my group is beyond where I thought they would be. The more likely the problem is my material is too complex, and the group is not ready for this level of material that I was planning to give them and talk about and work on that day. You have to be able to figure out when do I need to go back and go to an easier level, or when do I need to add some challenge that I wasn’t necessarily expecting I was going to have to do here.

So my lesson plan is sort of a suggested outline for what is going to happen in a class. That can always be changed. If I have that dog that does something I didn’t expect, either good or bad — either they do much better than I thought they would, or they’re nowhere near ready to do what I had planned for them that day — that’s when I do have to be flexible and be spontaneous. We develop, as we go along with training, ways to deal with that: What am I going to do when I get into that situation?

Let’s say you have the dog and the owner that show up to your advanced class and they’re not advanced. They’re barely beginners, and somehow they ended up in your advanced class. This happens all the time. So what you planned for them to do is absolutely not possible for them. Now the question is what do you do at that moment? We want to very quickly drop back down to the level where they can be successful and start them there. That’s all you can do in the moment is to give them something to work on that they can succeed with. Trying to hold them to the same level as everybody else in the class is just never going to work. It’s going to be frustrating for all of you.

After the fact, it might be they don’t really belong in that class, but that’s not something to address immediately. You can address that privately at the end of class. Maybe that the class is not right for them, they don’t have the background or the skills that they need, but we can’t derail the whole lesson and say, “OK, because Joe and Fido are having this problem with reactivity and it’s an agility class, we’re all going to stop and I’m going to work with him on this problem.” We can’t do that either.

We have to think constantly about the group. What is the group here to be taught? What did I say I was going to teach? I have to do that. Like I say, I can try to alter things as much as I can for somebody who’s not quite fitting, but in the end they may or may not be right for that particular class. We can’t be all things to all people all the time, and we can deal with that after the fact.

The other issue, the opposite issue of that, is you get somebody in class who is well advanced of what you’re teaching. This can be disconcerting, especially if you’re a new instructor, because now all of a sudden the student knows more than you do, and you don’t know what you have to offer them. In these cases, with experience, you start to learn to add challenges for those students who are ready for them as part of what you’re doing in the class.

Judy used to complain when she had her first agility dog, Morgan, who was Mr. Perfect. Morgan did everything right all the time. Morgan would do an agility sequence perfectly, and they’d be, “That was great, OK, next.” And then the next dog comes up and they’re having trouble, so they get three or four tries at the agility sequence and much more of the instructor’s time. When you get something like this, you’re not real happy if you’re the person who has the perfect dog, because you haven’t been challenged in any way, and you really haven’t gotten the time from the instructor that you should have.

So knowing I have to give the same amount to each of my students and I have to meet them or start where they are. Even though I have this general idea of where they ought to be, I’m working with them from where they are right now, which is exactly the same thing we do with dogs. We work from where they are right now. It’s the same with people.

Melissa Breau: As somebody who has taught in both a traditional classroom setting and who has taught people to train their dogs, what similarities or differences pop out at you?

Deb Jones: This is a really interesting distinction to make between teaching my college classes and teaching my dog training classes because I’ve done both for over 25 years. In terms of preparation, I think they’re pretty much the same. I prepare the same way no matter what the topic is that I’m teaching, whether it’s dog training classes or college classes.

Some of the issues you’re going to see that are similar include just dealing with people — interpersonal issues, group dynamics that you have going on. How do I deal with this large group of people effectively? Most of us don’t know naturally how to do that, so that’s something we learn. In dog training, though, it’s interesting because you would think you’re training the dog. That’s what it’s called. It’s called dog training, so our focus is on training the dog. But we all know, who have taught for any time at all, what you’re actually doing is teaching the person to train the dog. So I, as the instructor here, have a double job. I’m teaching a person, also making sure the dog gets trained at the same time.

Many dog trainers would say, “The animal is easy, the person is hard,” and that’s probably true. I feel like I could train the dog very quickly, but that’s not the job. The job is to teach the person to train the dog, and that’s not going to be as quick and easy.

If you’ve ever learned how to ride a horse — I spent a lot of time when I was younger with horses and riding horses and at stables — oftentimes when you take lessons, what happens, you get a new person who’s never ridden a horse before, and we give them what’s called a school horse. The school horse is usually the one that’s going to be very easy. That horse is experienced. It knows what’s going on. The person knows nothing, but at least the horse knows. And so the horse is pretty easy going, it’s used to beginners, it’s not going to hurt anybody, everything will go along OK. As you get better as a rider, you get the horses that are less trained or more difficult to work with.

We don’t do that with dogs. We don’t have school dogs. I think that would be a really good idea, if you had these well-trained dogs that people could practice on before they work with their own. I think that would make things simpler. But we don’t have that. We’re teaching a person and an animal brand new things at the same time, which makes it difficult.

We’re also teaching … in dog training, the difference is that’s a physical skill, and it involves a lot of motor skill, and it involves timing, observational skills. These are things I don’t teach in college classes. I teach information. I teach material. I talk about academic stuff out of books, theories and ideas. That’s very different than teaching somebody how to click at the proper moment. That’s a whole different set of skills. Or how to manage a clicker and your treats and your dog and your leash and all those things at one time. This is a lot of mechanical stuff that we work with when we’re teaching animals different behaviors. And again, things I don’t think about. I just do them. So when I have to start to think about how to explain it to somebody, then I have to break it down into tiny little parts.

I remember when I first started thinking about teaching FOCUS. I didn’t know how I taught FOCUS. I just did. I just somehow had it with my dogs. There were a lot of things I was doing, but it took me a while to think through all those and to actually be able to verbalize them to other people, because I felt like it’s just what you do, it’s just how you are with your dog, it’s how you live with your puppy. But clearly it’s not, because everybody wasn’t doing those things. Once I started to verbalize it, it just kept growing and growing. It’s like, I do a lot of things I never said or I never even recognized.

That’s a lot of what happens in dog training. We have to go, we do this and it works, but how do I tell you to do the same thing? We get students … because we’re working with physical skills, we all end up with students who have difficulty with those skills, who have trouble following direction, or who have some sort of issue with something that I might think is simple. I might say, “Turn to your right,” and to me that would be a simple cue that I would give a person, but that might be very complicated for them. They might struggle with the difference between left and right. So I have to break it down and make it easy enough for that one particular person in my class, and then I have, say, ten of those people, and I have to do that for every single person that I’m working with.

Those are challenges, those kinds of things that I didn’t see in college teaching. I just had a group of people sitting in chairs, looking at me. I got to talk to them, which was fine, which was easy, but you didn’t get that intense one-on-one that you do with dog training.

Melissa Breau: To kind of flip the switch there, you talked about “The animal is easy, the person is hard.” What are some of the similarities or even the differences, I guess, between teaching your actual dog and teaching those human students? Are there things that stand out?

Deb Jones: I think there are a lot of similarities. I mean, the general rules of learning still apply to everybody. I always say they apply to all species, and I don’t say “except humans.” They apply to all species. We all learn in the same way, and we all also need to consider motivation, emotional responses, and reactions to things. I need to consider those in my human students as well as in my animals, and sometimes as teachers we forget about that stuff. We think about it with the animals, but we figure the people must be motivated or they wouldn’t be there, so they must be able to figure it out and they want to do it. But not always. We can have a big effect on their emotional responses and on how much they try and how hard they work.

Lots of times, something I see that is challenging with people in animal training, and especially for those of us who are positive-reinforcement-based trainers, is that what I’m teaching you pretty much contradicts your previous learning. It does not agree with what you think you know or what you know about dog training, and what I’m telling you is completely different. So we’re getting into space here where we have to be very, very careful. Even if I’m just implying everything you’ve done up to now is wrong, just listen to me and I’ll tell you what’s right, people don’t like that. They become defensive. They go, “No, wait a minute. I know what I was doing. I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” or “The fact that you’re implying I was doing something wrong is bothersome.”

So we have to be very delicate in how we present information that we know is going to disagree with the way that they have always done things. The last thing we want our human students to do is become resistant to learning our ideas. We want them to be open to it, so we need to be very, very careful that I’m not implying to you that everything you’ve done up to now is wrong, thank goodness you found me, because otherwise you’re just messing up left and right. That’s not going to go over well.

When you first learn about positive reinforcement training and you’re so excited about it, it’s easy to let that creep in, that this is the right way, everything you’ve been doing is the wrong way. We need to be careful about that as teachers, or we’re not going to convince anybody if we take that approach.

Also with humans what I’ve come to see is it’s not my job to convert anybody to believe what I believe about animal training. I feel very strongly about the way I train and teach, and I feel like it’s the right way to go about it. But my job is not to convert the world. My job is to do what I do to the best of my ability. When somebody’s ready to hear what I have to say, they’ll be there. They’ll find me, and then they’ll be ready to make the changes that are necessary. But I’m not going out, pulling people in, trying to make them see how right I am. I think that is something that just turns people away from us, so we need to be careful about that.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that students sometimes are at different places in their learning, and I’m curious how, when professional trainers are dealing with a new class, I think they often struggle with this idea of how you break things down into tiny pieces so the dog can be successful without frustrating their human learners. Do you have any advice or suggestions around that?

Deb Jones: Oh, of course I do. I definitely do. This is something I think about a lot. As animal trainers, we’re always talking about the importance of splitting things down into small pieces and making it easy for our animals to learn. We know that lumping things together is going to lead to confusion and frustration. It doesn’t help in the bigger picture. We apply that to animals pretty well, but oftentimes as instructors we have difficulty applying that to our human learners.

One of the problems I see here is that our human students come in with unrealistic expectations about how much progress they’re going to make in a class or over the course of a session that you have. They expect a lot more than is realistically possible. I think one of our jobs as instructors is to help them set those expectations more realistically. They want to see some big change right away, and we know that it’s not about big change. It’s about a whole lot of little tiny bits of incremental change that eventually lead to the bigger change. So one of our first jobs, I think, is to convey this information to them, that what you’re seeing here, this is progress. This is what we’re looking at, how do we know it when we see it, and then they can start to look for it a little more as well.

The other thing that often happens in classes, and it’s often with new instructors, is that you just feel like you have to give your students everything you know. Give them so much information that it becomes overwhelming to them, and they tend to shut down and stop hearing you pretty quickly. You can only process so much information at a time. We want to tell them everything, we want to give them everything they need to know, but we need to edit that. We need to keep that to a point where it’s enough for now and I can give them more later, so enough to be successful, and then we can build on that in the future. But when we flood people with large amounts of information, it’s not useful to them in any way, and it does make them feel overwhelmed and frustrated, so that’s not helpful as a learner.

If you have students in class, as I sort of mentioned this already, lots of different places, some are more advanced than others, finding the level of material and difficulty to give them can indeed be difficult. You’ve got the new pet person in a class along with the experienced dog sport trainer. How am I going to make them both happy? That’s a big challenge, and you’ll probably never feel like you do it perfectly.

Perfect and teaching do not go together. Those are not two words that happen. We do our best. We do our best every single time we teach. Later on, you’ll think, Oh, I wish I’d said this, or Oh, I wish I’d done that instead. Next time. Now you know. Next time you can do it that way. But we learn more, we do better. We don’t expect ourselves to be perfect all the time and hit it exactly right for every single class. You’ll have absolutely great classes and then you’ll have absolutely awful ones, and it may or may not have much to do with the material at all.

Back to this idea one more time, because I’ll say it again because I think it’s important: More material is not better. It’s flooding. New instructors go into too much theory, too much detail. Narrow things down for your audience. What do they need to know right now? I think that’s the best way to find a balance here. If you have somebody who you really feel like is interested in more and wants to learn more, or is ready to learn more, then you pull out the extra stuff you have for them and give them a little extra instruction in that and give them a little extra challenge.

Melissa Breau: I think that so often new instructors are a little bit … I don’t want to say unconfident, but to a certain extent it’s, OK, I’m going to prove you can trust me by telling you all the science that I know to prove that I know the science, so that we can do this thing and it’s going to work. But obviously that’s not, like you said, more information is not better.

Deb Jones: Right, and the science is something we can talk about with our colleagues. We’re behavior geeks, a lot of us. That’s why we do this. We love to talk about the science of things. But we have to know our audience. Is my audience one that wants to talk about all this science or not? So save that for the right situation.

Melissa Breau: For those who are listening who maybe don’t actually plan to become a teacher, but inevitably, as positive trainers, they find themselves questioned about their training and their techniques, do you have any advice for ways that Joe Schmo or the average positive trainer can maybe bridge that gap and help educate others around them?

Deb Jones: Yeah, this is going to come up for you. If you train with positive reinforcement, people are going to be curious, especially if they’ve had more traditional training techniques. That’s all they know, so they’re going to want to know what you do.

I’d say a few things that I think can be helpful here. First of all, your first job is to be a good example of positive reinforcement training. Nobody expects you or your dog to be perfect. I know I and my dog are far from perfect in our training. Many positive reinforcement trainers actually have very challenging dogs and that’s why they made this switch to more positive reinforcement, because they found it worked better for them. So you don’t have to be perfect, but do your best to actually train your dog so that they’re a good example of what you can do.

If you can get a lot of hands-on experience with more dogs, that’s all the better. There are a lot of people who are very good at the theory and the science, and they understand it cognitively, but they can’t apply it to their own animals or to anybody else’s. I’ve seen that more than once, where somebody talks a very good talk, but when you see them try to train an animal, they haven’t bridged that gap yet. They’re not capable of taking from one to the other.

When I first started teaching at Kent State, there was another professor who’s very well known in the world of learning theory. He’s written textbooks on learning, and he came to one of my dog training classes. He was my worst student. He was terrible. He understood the theory better than anybody in the room. That didn’t help him when it came to the hands-on stuff. So I think just because we like the theory and we think all that part of it is interesting, we also need to have a lot of hands-on training of a lot of different animals.

So train your own dogs. Train any dog you can get your hands on — your family’s, your friends’, the neighborhood dogs. Train. If you can find a good positive reinforcement trainer to apprentice under, do that. The more animals you can work with, the better. Volunteer at a shelter, do rescue work, lots of dogs. The more dogs, the more you will learn, there’s no doubt about it.

You can’t really teach other people until you’ve had a wide variety of experiences. Working with one type of dog does not always translate into helping people with other problems and issues. So getting that variety in.

I think one of the best things that ever happened to me was training so many different types of dogs so early in my dog training career. I got a little bit of everything, and I got to see the differences as well as the similarities.

Then, once you’ve got that as a positive reinforcement trainer, when people ask you for advice and information, this is kind of a dangerous moment because we want to help so much. When somebody asks me for help, I want to help them. I want them to take my advice, I want my advice to work, I want everybody to be better, I want everybody to be happy.

But that’s not always how it ends up working out. People often ask you for advice, and do they take it? No, they do not. Or they apply it very poorly. Or they mix it with something somebody else told them to do and it doesn’t work out. Especially if it’s family, then almost always they’re not doing what you tell them to do, because you’re family, what do you know? So my general rule for other people asking for help and advice and information is I don’t put more effort into solving their problem than they are putting into it.

Oftentimes we put so much into it to try to get them fixed. That’s not my job. My job is to give advice. If I choose to — I don’t have to, but if I choose to — my role is to give advice. I’m not responsible for their issues. I like to give enough advice that they can find more help, they can find more hands-on help. And maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but again, I have to let them be responsible for that. I can’t take responsibility for everybody who has a problem and comes and asks for help with it.

So don’t get too invested in any one single person. Have an idea of how much time am I willing to spend working with somebody, especially if they’re not paying you. How much time are you willing to spend, because if they’re not paying you, often they think it’s not very valuable, and then they don’t take you very seriously.

Melissa Breau: I mentioned earlier, and it’s come up a couple of times, that you have a class coming up on all this, so I wanted to talk about that briefly. What led you to create the class, and maybe if you can share a little on what it will cover, that kind of thing.

Deb Jones: Sure, yes, I’m very excited to talk about this. This class, and actually we have a series of two set right now and maybe a third one, enough material for a third one sitting in the works somewhere. About two years ago, my friend Lee and I went to Florida for a vacation. You wouldn’t think we’d be talking about teaching when we’re on vacation, but we are.

My friend Lee is also a social psychologist. She’s the person who got me the job here at Kent State. We were roommates when we were in graduate school. We’ve known each other for a long, long time. I’ve probably known her longer than I’ve known any other friend, as far as I can remember, except from high school.

Lee and I went on vacation together, and we were talking about the fact that I was looking forward to retirement at some point, hopefully in the not too distant future. Luckily, that worked out really well for me and I was able to retire, but what would I do? She actually asked the same thing. She did not choose to retire, and part of the reason is she doesn’t know what she would do. I said, “There has to be something we can do together that would be interesting to us and that would use our skills.” What do we know how to do? We know how to teach. That’s what we do. Between the two of us we’ve been teaching for something close to 55 or 60 years, if you add it all together. That’s a lot of teaching.

We started talking about this, and I had also been talking about the classes at FDSA and how much I enjoy online teaching, and I see that as the big wave of the future. In fact, most colleges now have a lot of online classes as well. Lee and I have both taught online classes at Kent State too. But we saw that, again, nobody tells you how to do it. There’s no sort of teacher training happening. So here’s an area where there’s a need that’s not addressed, and this is something we thought we could do.

We started talking about it, and we had, like, an 18-hour drive home from Florida. We started taking notes, whoever wasn’t driving was taking notes, and talking about it helped us pass the time, anyway. But by the time we got back, we had an outline for a class pretty easily. From there, we started to get more specific and spent some time together last summer working on pulling together actual lesson plans and getting much more thoughtful about, OK, we took this vague idea, now what are we really going to do with it?

Melissa Breau: Do you want to just share a little bit on what type of material you’ll be covering in the class and who should be a really good fit, if they’re interested?

Deb Jones: Yes. As I said, we have two classes planned right now. The first one’s completely done. We’re just finishing up some of the videos on that. The second one’s written. We’ll still have to do the videos that we’re going to do for that one. Possibly a third going on here.

Our focus is on how to teach, not on what you teach. Not on the content, but on the process. This could apply to any area of training, whether you’re interested in teaching classes in agility or obedience or nosework or rally. Whatever the dog sport or activity, pet classes as well, whatever the dog sport or activity, it’s going to be how do you approach and teach something. Not exactly what to do — that’s your part of it to bring to the table is the information itself.

As always, of course, we’re splitting it down into little parts, as we would do in beginning stages for anybody, teaching being not a natural thing for most people.

Now there are a few people who are very extroverted who enjoy talking in front of groups, but most of us do not. Most of us find it somewhat aversive and difficult. But if you’re going to do it, you need some practice at it, and you need to be able to have a safe place to practice and get some supportive feedback. That is what we are planning to offer. Breaking it down into some little pieces, having you work on small assignments that take a minute or so to present and to show, and then letting us give you some feedback on the clarity of it, what might be changed, just as we do with all FDSA classes, how can we make this better, what can you do to improve this thing.

Of course, there’s no formula for teaching. Everybody can approach it in different ways and be successful at it. But we are going to give you some structure and some guidelines for what has worked well for us over time.

Let’s see … what can I say? Most people … I talked about being stressed, so how can we deal with that? We deal with stress by being prepared. So preparation. The class will give you, hopefully, confidence. If you take this class, you go through the materials, you work through the exercises, we have both written and video exercises to do. Once you work through those you’ll come to get more comfortable teaching something, presenting something. We put you under a little bit of time limitation in terms of how long you have to present certain information, which forces you to narrow it down and to not get too big, and that’s a really important thing.

So we’re going to work on those kinds of exercises, thinking about what you’re going to teach, how are you going to convey to your students it’s important, how are you going to start at the level that the student is at. We go through talking about these kinds of questions and how we start our interactions with students, how we basically start to get them to buy into what we want them to do.

Practice … something that, as dog trainers, those of us who train and teach have done a lot is I have a demo dog, and I’m demonstrating with my dog while I’m explaining to the class what’s going on. That can be really, really hard to do. That in itself you’re asking somebody to do two things. I’m asking you to pay attention to your dog and use the proper mechanics to get them to do this thing, and at the same time pay attention to an audience who’s watching you do this and tell them exactly what you’re doing as you go through it.

Something that sounds easy like that, it’s not so simple in the beginning. If they’re both difficult for you, you’re going to become flustered. If you’re good at one, and typically we’re pretty good at the dog part, then we can concentrate on the other. But putting those kinds of things together in terms of having a demo dog and how useful they can be for certain things, and how to do and talk about what you’re doing at the same time.

Something that we’ve added in here that I don’t think a lot of dog trainers think about at all, but I believe it’s really important — we think about it all the time in academics — is where do you get your resource material and where are you getting your information from? In college, of course we have textbooks or journal articles, and so that’s where we get the information that we teach, and then we supplement with many other things.

But in dog training, where is our information coming from that’s going to be our class? Lots of stuff in dog training is common knowledge, public knowledge, and you can’t always figure out where this idea or this technique came from. But when we can, when we can know something, when I know where I learned something, or I know somebody who is working with this and has done a certain application of it, we want to give them acknowledgement and say, “OK, I learned this from …” and “Here’s another way you can use it that I saw in a video by …” whoever is doing that. So we talk about giving credit, we talk about finding valid and accurate sources, we talk about avoiding plagiarism, things that we think about much more in academics than the dog training world, but I think it has a place.

The other thing that, at least in this first set of classes, we’re going to address is how to take on that role. I mentioned teaching being a role, so how to take on that role of teacher so that it’s still authentic to you, that you’re not being fake about it. It takes part of your personality and also then takes on the necessary demands of the role of being a teacher. How do you combine those things together? Because I say all the time I’m not a natural teacher, but I do it well. How do I do it well? I figured out how to mix these two together. So that’s something we’re going to talk about and have people work on as we go through the course as well.

Of course, we’re trying not to overload people in the first course, so in the second one we get more into things like how do you develop a syllabus and lesson plans for a six-week class, how do you deal with challenging students — I won’t say difficult — challenging students to manage, and group dynamics, classroom setups, things like that.

Of course I’m going to say, who should take this class, I think everybody. But particularly if you’re instructing anybody, even if you’re instructing one other person, knowing how to do that well, I think, is a really important skill, and if you are ever intending to teach a group, I think it will be really, really helpful. You’re adding the teaching skills set to your training skills set and that can be a very valuable thing to have.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and it sounds like it’s a very full, chock-full class of lots of different bits and pieces. I’ve got one last question for you here, and it’s my new “last interview question” for everyone who comes on. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Deb Jones: Oh, there are so many lessons. The thing I would probably say here right now, the thing that I’ve learned, is that we’re never done learning. There’s absolutely no end to how much we can learn as dog trainers. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always something more out there. These days I define somebody as an expert, and I think somebody who’s an expert in what they do, they’re still learning. They’re a lifelong learner. So if you’re an expert, you should still be learning as much as a beginner does.

Melissa Breau: I like that, and it’s very on theme for us today.

Deb Jones: Yes, it is, actually. Excellent.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Deb!

Deb Jones: Thank you Melissa. I always enjoy it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with Sue Ailsby to talk about training for Rally.

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.

CREDITS:

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!

Jul 13, 2018

Summary:

Stacy Barnett is an active competitor in Nosework, Tracking, Obedience, Rally, Agility and Barn Hunt, but Scent Sports are her primary focus and her first love. She is an AKC Judge and contractor, as well as an instructor at FDSA. She hosts the Scentsabilities podcast and blogs regularly on nosework topics at www.scentsabilitiesnw.com.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/20/2018, featuring Deb Jones, talking about teaching people to teach dogs. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Stacy Barnett. Stacy is an active competitor in Nosework, Tracking, Obedience, Rally, Agility and Barn Hunt, but Scent Sports are her primary focus and her first love. She is an AKC Judge and contractor, as well as an instructor at FDSA. She hosts the Scentsabilities podcast and blogs regularly on nosework topics at www.scentsabilitiesnw.com — I’ll be sure to include a link in the show notes for anyone who is interested.

Hi Stacy, welcome to the podcast.

Stacy Barnett: Hi Melissa. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, can you just remind listeners who the dogs are that you share your life with?

Stacy Barnett: I have four crazy hooligans who live in my hut. They are; they’re nuts. I’ll start out with my older dogs. I have an almost 11-year-old Standard Poodle named Joey. He’s a brown Standard Poodle. He’s absolutely wonderful. I absolutely love him.

I have a 7-year-old miniature American Shepherd, which is, you know, a mini-Aussie, named Why, and Why is actually his name. He came with it. I always have people ask me, “Why is his name Why?” And I always say, “Why not?”

So I have Why, and then I have my two Labradors, who I refer to as my Dream Team. My Labradors, I have Judd, who’s almost 9 years old. He is my heart and soul. He’s actually the one that really got me going in nosework and is the reason why I ended up quitting corporate and pursuing a whole job in nosework. He’s my baby, he’s my Labrador, my 9-year-old Labrador.

And then I have my youngest, who is a major hooligan. She is about 15 months old and she is a Labrador, a little shrimpy Lab. Her name is Brava, and I absolutely adore her. She’s the only girl in the house, so she’s like my soul sister.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure she gets a little spoiled being the only girl in the house.

Stacy Barnett: She does, and the boys love her. They absolutely love her. They fawn over her. We all do. We think she’s wonderful.

Melissa Breau: Alright, so I know you’ve been on the podcast a few times now to talk about different aspects of nosework, but today I want to focus our conversation on how handlers can tailor nosework training to their specific dog. Is there a particular type of dog or particular skills or maybe a personality type that really lends itself to helping a dog become a strong nosework competitor?

Stacy Barnett: There are, but at the same time I also want to emphasize the fact that every dog can do this sport. Maybe not every dog can compete in this sport, it really depends on the dog, but every dog can do this sport.

There are certain aspects of the dog’s personality or what is intrinsic to the dog that will help the dog to become a really strong competitor in terms of being very competitive, or a dog that will really gravitate toward the sport and really, really love the sport. In my experience, all dogs do love the sport, but there are some that just seem to live and breathe for it.

And the ones that seem to live and breathe for it, there are a couple of different things that contribute to that. Number one, the dog is a little bit more independent. If the dog is more handler-focused, I say if the dog is really into you and really cares what you think, those dogs tend to not be as gung-ho for the sport. The dogs that are a little bit more independent but have a nice balance between environmental and handler focus seem to do a little bit better.

Above all, they have to have a natural love of scenting. Now, most dogs do have this natural love, but there are some dogs that just really, really love it. Those are the dogs I would say make the strongest nosework competitors.

Melissa Breau: What other factors may influence how well a dog does when it comes to nosework?

Stacy Barnett: One of them has to do with how motivated they are for food and toys. We tend to use food and toys as primary reinforcers for nosework. It’s very easy to reinforce with food, for instance, because it’s very fast. This is a timed sport. You have a certain amount of time to do the search, and typically, at least in the U.S., the fastest dog wins. If you can reward very quickly with food, you’re going to be at an advantage. Toys work really well too. Dogs like toys, they tend to work really hard for toys, you can use toys for a reward, but having a motivation for either food or toys is a real advantage.

Another thing is the dog’s ability to think on their own and to problem solve. This goes hand-in-hand with dogs being independent, so if you have a more independent dog that can do some problem solving, you can do really well. I look at Brava, for instance. Brava, and I actually put a video of this on my Facebook page, knows how to open doors. She is a problem solver. The latch doors, the lever doors, she knows how to push down on the door and pull on it and open the door, which is really kind of amusing in some respects but kind of scary in other respects. But having that problem-solving ability can really help in nosework.

The third thing that is not a requirement but is definitely helpful is physical fitness. Physical fitness is not a requirement. You know, this is a really great sport for older dogs, for infirm dogs, that sort of thing, but having that physical fitness can give you an edge in competition. There’s different sorts of physical fitness. There’s also fitness related to stamina. Stamina is important from both a physical perspective and a mental perspective. If you can have that mental stamina or that physical stamina, and I’m also thinking nasal stamina, dogs that can sniff for a long period of time, can help in competition.

Melissa Breau: To dig a little more into it, you were saying about nosework being good for many different types of dogs. Can you talk to that a little bit more? What are some of the benefits of doing nosework?

Stacy Barnett: Oh, there are so many benefits of doing nosework, and in fact I think we could do a whole podcast on this. I think we really could. I’m thinking of three different groups of dogs that really benefit from nosework from a therapeutic perspective.

One of them is reactive dogs. For a reactive dog, what it can do is you can develop a positive conditioned emotional response to odor, and then if you have very mild triggers while the dog is experiencing — and I’m talking extremely mild, where the dog is under threshold — and the dog has a positive conditioned emotional response to odor, your dog’s reactivity level can actually go down.

With my dog Why, for instance, he used to be extremely dog-reactive, and he was dog-reactive out of fear. So I started to train him in nosework, and he started to really enjoy nosework. At the same time, in doing nosework and having fun in doing nosework, he was also exposed to the smell of other dogs, not necessarily dogs in his surroundings, but the smell of other dogs. The end result was actually lowering of his reactivity level, which was really fantastic. So now he can be within about 8 feet of another dog, which is unbelievable.

Older dogs. Older dogs are really super. It can keep their mind active. If they can’t physically do all of the things that they used to be able to do, they still have an active mind. They still want to do things. They may not be able to do agility or heavy-duty obedience or IPO or whatever, dock diving, I don’t know, whatever you’re doing. Even barn hunt. Barn hunt requires a certain amount of physical ability because they have to jump up and down hay bales. These are all dogs that when they get older they still want to work, they still want to do stuff.

So if you do nosework, it exercises the mind and it keeps them busy because olfaction, the olfactory lobe, is one-eighth of the dog’s brain, so you’re really, really using the dog’s brain and they can stay engaged. I’ve seen it do incredible things for dogs with cognitive dysfunction who have gotten older. We have seen some amazing, amazing things with the older dogs.

Then you have the young dogs. Young dogs, their joints are young, you don’t want to stress out their joints, you don’t want to over-exercise them, but yet you still have these energetic young animals who need an outlet. And it tires them out, which is super, because it does use so much of their brain. In AKC, for instance, you can even trial your dog as young as 6 months old. For a lot of dogs that may be too early, based upon their emotional maturity, but you can do this when they’re young and it’s not going to tax their bodies. So you can protect their bodies but you can still get them tired, which is a really, really great thing, trust me.

Melissa Breau: Especially when you’ve got a drivey young dog.

Stacy Barnett: I do, I do. She’s about 15 months old right now, and I have to tell you, nosework has been amazing for my sanity and for her sanity.

Melissa Breau: I think most people probably start out teaching nosework by following a class or they’re using somebody else’s training plan. But at some point, all these different kinds of dogs, handlers need to tailor that training. How can a beginner handler tailor their training based on their dog’s stage of learning and their temperament?

Stacy Barnett: You have to be in tune with your dog’s emotions. So whether or not you’re a beginner or not, you can still read your dog. You can still tell if your dog is confident, if they’re feeling motivation for an activity. You have to be able to read that confidence and that motivation because that’s really the core. Those are sacred. Confidence and motivation are sacred in my book.

Once those are in place, you can start to build on skills. But you have to always think about having like a little meter on the back of your dog, like a little meter that says how confident they are, how motivated they are. But based upon that confidence and that motivation, you can tailor what you do with your dog.

Maybe you want to build the confidence, or your dog is having some confidence issues — and I don’t just mean confidence in the environment, by the way. There are three different kinds of confidence that I talk about. There’s confidence in skills, which is basically does the dog believe in themselves. There’s confidence in the environment. That’s is the dog comfortable in the environment. Is the dog comfortable in new places. And then there’s confidence in the handler, and this is something that I think a lot of people don’t think about. That’s basically does your dog trust you. Does your dog trust that they’re always going to get their reward for the work that they do.

Basically you need to evaluate all of these things and always check for that confidence and that motivation. If you have that, then you can work on the skills, because the skills should be secondary to the confidence and motivation.

Melissa Breau: I know you’re a fan of Denise’s book, Train the Dog in Front of You. Can you share a little bit about how that concept applies to nosework?

Stacey Barnett: Yes, I love that book. I love, love, love, love, love that book, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my boss. No, I really do, and I tell everybody it’s not a nosework book, but that doesn’t matter. It is such a good dog-training book, and especially chapters 2 and 3 — notice I even know the chapters — chapters 2 and 3 are especially applicable to nosework. Those are the chapters that relate to whether or not the dog is cautious or secure, and whether or not the dog is environmental versus handler focused. Because those are two really core things that affect the dog’s ability to do nosework. If the dog is cautious, for instance, you might want to work in a known environment. If the dog is more secure, maybe you want to work in more novel environments.

The same thing goes with environmental versus handler focus. You’ve got to think of these things as spectrums. It’s not an either/or, it’s not whether the dog is handler or environmental focused. It’s on the spectrum. So if the dog is more environmentally focused, you might have a slightly different way of handling the dog, where you might be thinking more about distractions and how you’re going to work with distractions, or if the dog is more handler focused, you might want to be thinking about how to build independence.

Actually there’s three different kinds of focus, although this is not in the book, this is more my interpretation. There’s environmental, there’s handler, and there’s search focus. So if you can understand where your dog falls on these spectrums that Denise talks about in terms of environmental and handler focus, you can figure out how do you then reorient your dog onto the search focus.

Melissa Breau: Denise opens the book by asking handlers if they are handling their dog in a manner that builds on his strengths while also improving his weaknesses. I was hoping we’d get into that a little bit. Can you share some examples of how a dog’s personality or strengths might influence their nosework training? For example, if a dog is super-confident or less confident, how would that impact training?

Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I always talk about my pyramid. I have a pyramid of training, and that pyramid of training, there’s confidence on the bottom, then there’s motivation is the next layer, then skills, and then stamina.

Basically, if you have a confident and a motivated dog, you can work on harder skills, because confidence and motivation, again, it’s sacred. You can also work on their personality strengths. If your dog is confident and motivated more naturally, maybe you can work on harder skills, or maybe you can work in new environments.

The other thing is that it’s also important to really evaluate the dog’s resilience. From a resilience perspective, that will help you to identify whether or not your search is too challenging or not challenging enough. So you need to think about the dog’s natural drive levels, the dog’s resilience, and that can help you to understand how challenging of a search that you can make for your dog in order to keep the dog from … because you don’t want anxiety and you don’t want boredom. You can actually find a sweet spot based upon the dog’s resilience and the dog’s drive levels. But again, the basis, of course, is confidence and motivation.

Melissa Breau: Funny enough, I was debating whether or not to announce it here, so I guess I will. We started a new Facebook group specifically for the podcast, and we’re going to encourage people to listen and then ask some questions, so maybe if anybody has a question, I’ll have to tag you.  

Stacy Barnett: That sounds great.

Melissa Breau: Come dish out a little more. I know you enjoy talking about this stuff.

Stacy Barnett: I love this stuff. I love this stuff. I eat, sleep, and breathe this.

Melissa Breau: What about natural arousal states? How might a handler tailor training based on those?

Stacy Barnett: Arousal is one of those things that … don’t fear arousal. If your dog is high arousal, don’t fear it. Embrace it. Arousal is actually the key to really successful nosework trialing.

What’s interesting is that dogs have a natural arousal state, so dogs either have what I call an arousal excess or an arousal gap. If you think about what your dog does when they’re at rest, where that arousal state is compared to their arousal state when they’re in drive, that will tell you whether or not you have an arousal excess or you have an arousal gap. The size of that gap is going to indicate how much work you have to do, because some dogs are a little bit closer to the ideal than other dogs.

But what you want to do is when you train them and you’re actually working them, you always want to make sure that your dog is in drive — in drive approaching the start line and in drive while they’re actually searching. You can condition this arousal, because arousal is a habit, and if you can always work your dog in the right arousal state, you’re going to find that your dog is going to come more naturally to the start line and in the right arousal state, and the right arousal state is when the dog is in drive. That’s at the peak arousal.

If we think about the Yerkes-Dodson Law, like the curve, it looks like a bell-shaped curve, for dogs who have an arousal gap, we want to increase the arousal to the point that they’re in drive. For dogs who have an arousal excess, we want to decrease the arousal to get the dog into drive, because just because you’re peeling the dog off the ceiling doesn’t mean that they’re in drive. And that’s not what we want. We don’t want the dog that we have to peel off the ceiling. For those dogs, we have to lower the arousal so that they can focus and they can really think. And working in drive really becomes a habit, so you always want to work the dog in drive and always want to work the dog in the right arousal state.

Melissa Breau: Of course, if handlers are doing this well, as training progresses their dog will improve; but I think it’s common for trainers in all sports to find they are training the dog they used to have instead of the one that’s in front of them right now. How can handlers evaluate their dogs as they go along and avoid that misstep?

Stacy Barnett: That’s really interesting, and I refer to something called typecasting. If you’re familiar with typecasting and you think about the movies, there are a couple movie stars that I can think of off the top of my head that definitely get typecasted. Typecasting is something where you have an actor who might be casted in a very similar role, regardless of the movie that they’re in. Two of the major type-casted actors that I can think of are Christopher Walken and Jim Carrey. Christopher Walken, he’s always kind of that creepy, funny dude. He’s always kind of creepy, he’s always kind of funny, he’s always in those creepy roles, he’s always in just this weird role, and then Jim Carrey is always in the role he’s very kind of a slapstick, silly, funny, not very serious role. And for type-casted actors, it’s very difficult for those actors to break out into another type of role.

So it’s very possible that you have type-casted your own dog. If you think about Judd, he used to have a nickname. I used to call him Fragile Little Flower. He was my fragile little flower, and he had a hard time in obedience and rally and agility. He’d be the dog stuck at the top of the A-frame and that kind of thing, just very nervous, very shut down. He is no longer that dog, so I had to divorce that typecast of his. Now he is “I am Judd, hear me roar.” He’s this really great search dog. So I had to break that typecast, because if you have a preconceived notion about your dog, you can train to that preconceived notion and you can actually impose restrictions on your dog. So think about whether or not you can break that typecast.

The other thing is have a framework. I suggest my pyramid, and I mentioned my pyramid before, earlier, where you have confidence, motivation, skills, and stamina. So always reevaluate your dog in every search session. Every time you do a search, is your dog confident, is your dog motivated, that sort of thing, especially confidence and motivation, what is the dog’s right arousal state. And sometimes recognize that your dog is going to have an off day. So reevaluate your dog with every search, but also, if you have an off day and all of a sudden your dog doesn’t seem very motivated, there could be something else that’s going on. Maybe say, “All right, today is not our day, and tomorrow’s a different day.”

Those are the things I would do to make sure that from a handling perspective you’re always reevaluating your dog and you’re always training the dog in front of you.

Melissa Breau: I’m not sure who said it, but somebody at one point mentioned if the dog doesn’t do something you’re pretty sure they’ve been trained to do, let it go. Happened once, don’t worry about it. If it happens two or three times, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can change your training.

Stacy Barnett: Absolutely. Absolutely. Whoever said that is a genius.

Melissa Breau: Are there any dead giveaways — or even something maybe a little more subtle — that indicate it’s time to go through that process in your own head and reevaluate the dog that you have and maybe your training plan a little bit?

Stacy Barnett: Absolutely, absolutely. Things like if your dog is bored, or if your dog is anxious, these are the things where perhaps you’re not evaluating your dog’s resilience level or your dog’s drive level well enough. Because depending upon the dog’s drive level and the dog’s resilience level, you could easily put your dog into an anxious situation. Or if the dog is bored, then you need to reevaluate and say maybe you’re making your searches a little bit too hard, or maybe you’re making them a little bit too easy. Maybe the challenge level isn’t right compared to the dog’s skill level.

The other thing is look for changes in the dog’s attitude, and whether or not they’re positive or negative, and then modify your approach based upon that, because you always want the dog to come thinking, This is the most fun part of my day, and if your dog isn’t having fun, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing, and maybe you need to reevaluate what your dog needs, so maybe your dog needs something different from you.

Melissa Breau: To round things out, I want to give you a little bit of time to talk about some of the exciting things on the calendar. I know you’ve got a webinar next week on Setting Meaningful Scent Puzzles for Your Dog. Can you share a little bit about it, what the premise is?

Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely. I can’t wait for that one. The keyword is meaningful. Because it’s not just about setting scent puzzles. We can all set scent puzzles. Scent puzzles are basically our way of creating problems for our dogs to solve so they can learn and build skills, and it’s all about skill building. However, it’s really, really important that we think about the word meaningful, and meaningful really refers to the resilience and the drive of the dog.

For instance, I’m not a big fan of … sometimes we see this in seminars and it actually bothers me, where a clinician may set out a really, really hard hide and have green dogs work the hard hide. What you end up with is a dog that might lose their confidence or lose their motivation.

So it’s really important that you set the right challenge and right challenge level for your dog, based upon the dog’s resilience and natural drive levels. That’s really what I want to talk about is based upon the dog’s natural drive levels and resilience, how do you know you’re setting a meaningful scent puzzle that’s going to build the skills at the same time as caring for the dog’s confidence and motivation. So it’s not just about building the skills, but rather it’s about how you build the skills so that you can preserve that.

Melissa Breau: What about for August, what classes do you have coming up? Anything you want to mention?

Stacy Barnett: Oh, I have three classes coming up. I’m teaching 101, so if you want to get into nosework and you haven’t started nosework, join me in NW101, that’s Introduction to Nosework. I’m also teaching NW230, which is polishing skills for NW2 and NW3. And the one that I want to mention today and talk a little bit about is Nosework Challenges. That’s NW240. That’s a series that I haven’t taught in a while, and I’m going to bring that series back. NW240 is Nosework Challenges. It’s a lot of fun. It’s going to be focused on skills, but at the same time what I’m going to do is I’m going to add in elements of this discussion around resilience and drive, so that we can make sure that we’re doing the puzzles in the right way.

Melissa Breau: One last question for you. It’s my new ending question for people when they come on. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Stacy Barnett: You have to actually train, which sounds kind of funny, but nosework can seem so natural, so it can be like, well, the dog is just scenting, they know how to find the hide, they have value for the odor, so they go out and they find the target odor.

Well, that sounds great and all, but you really have to train, because it’s very possible now, with nosework being a lot more popular than it used to be, now with the addition of AKC out there and some other venues, there’s a lot of trialing opportunities and it’s very possible to get into a situation where you’re trialing more than you’re training. If that’s the case, that’s going to have a negative impact on your trialing. You’re going to find that having that competitive mindset instead of the evaluative context is going to be a detriment to your training. So it’s really important to work your dog while you’re evaluative versus competitive, if that makes sense.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. That’s great. I like that a lot. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Stacy! I really appreciate it.

Stacy Barnett: I’ve had so much fun with this. This is a really great topic, a really, really great topic, and I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much for having me on.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and I hope some folks come and join you for the webinars.

Thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time we’ll be back with Deb Jones to talk about becoming a better teacher for the human half of the dog-handler team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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!

Jul 6, 2018

SUMMARY:

Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world: volunteering and working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching.

She is active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association (VIATA) and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.

Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/13/2018, featuring Stacy Barnett talking about tailoring your nosework training (or really any training) to your dog's unique strengths. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Donna Hill.

Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world: volunteering and working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching. She stays current in dog behavior and learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers.

However, she is probably best known for her YouTube videos. I’ll make sure to include a link to her YouTube channels in the show notes so listeners can check her out.

She is active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association (VIATA) and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.

With her own dogs and other pets, Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks, and other activities, such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say, she is a splitter!

Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Hi Donna, welcome to the podcast!

Donna Hill: Hi, how are you doing?

Melissa Breau: Good, good. I’m excited to chat today. To start us out, can you refresh everyone’s memories by sharing a bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Donna Hill: OK. Jessie is a little, sensitive, German Shepherd dog, possibly Min Pin mix, that’s 11 years old. She’s getting a little bit of gray on her, we used to call her milk chin, now it’s moving up on her little face. We got her from the city pound at 7 months, so we’ve had her quite a while. Lucy, my other dog, is a really drivey, 9-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie mix that we got at almost 2 years of age off of an unfenced acreage, which totally relates to the topic today.

Right now we’re experimenting with using a combination of shaping and mimicry for training, and one of my longtime behaviors I’ve been working on — and I haven’t had a whole lot of success, but I’m starting to now with that combination — is working on their rear paw nail file. So think about that. You’ve got the back feet of the dogs, and not only do they have to have back-end awareness, they have to have awareness of their nails, not just their pads, scraping the area. So it’s been a tough one. So for the last couple of nights … well, for the last while, we’ve been bringing out the scratchboard and trying something new, and it’s actually been a fun process, and we’re almost there.

Melissa Breau: That’s pretty neat.

Donna Hill: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Lucy’s consistently digging with her one back paw, and Jessie’s about halfway there. She’ll do, like, half a scratch. So she’s starting to get there.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. We didn’t get to chat about it much last time, but you’re very involved in the service dog world. I mentioned in the intro you run the Service Dog Training Institute. Can you share a little about that?

Donna Hill: Oh, absolutely. Service Dog Training Institute is an online community for people who are training their own service dogs. We offer self-paced online classes that of course they can check out 24-7, and we have web-based coaching sessions, so they can get on their webcam and chat face-to-face with me, and a few webinars, we haven’t done a whole lot yet, and we also have a new program called Fast Track Training, where people can get either daily help or twice-daily help for the period of a week.

Melissa Breau: Wow, that’s kind of awesome.

Donna Hill: Yeah. We also offer in-person training, and that’s fairly recent. I’ve actually added another trainer to help with those, and she also helps with the online Fast Track Training too. But the key thing people want to know is there’s tons of free resources on my website. I’ve got over 300 training videos, I’ve got a blog, I’ve got general information like laws and stuff about service dogs, so their best bet is to check out the website and read through, click on every link, and see what’s there, because there’s tons of information there.

Melissa Breau: I know you mentioned owner-trained service dogs. Are there advantages and disadvantages to owner-trained service dogs? Would you be able to share your perspective on that whole thing?

Donna Hill: Absolutely. There’s both advantages and disadvantages. I feel a person needs to carefully consider if training their own service dog is right for them. It’s a huge time and energy investment, and even though you are doing most of the training, it still costs money. You need to do group classes with other dogs, and every trainer, whether they’re a professional trainer or an owner who’s training, they still need to get some help at some point in time, whether it’s a fear period or they’ve run into a situation that sort of went south, those kinds of things. One of the biggest problems for a lot of people, they do it because they want to save money, but lack of funds are a super-common issue for owner-training teams.

The other thing that I find is tough for a lot of people is the lack of focus to take the time to do the job right and not rush the dog through the process. Because of course everyone wants their dog trained yesterday, but it can take up to two years or sometimes longer, depending on the dog that they’ve chosen.

The big advantage is that you can train the dog of your choosing, so if there’s a specific breed that you’re interested in that you think would work better for you and your lifestyle, then that’s a choice that you can make. You also get to learn the process of how to train, so when down the road your health changes and you need additional tasks, now you know how to do that, or at least you can figure it out or you know where to get the help to do it. Whereas if you get a program-trained dog, some of the programs actually tell you not to train your dog at all. They just want what the dog is already trained to do. So that can make a big difference. And of course one of the big bonuses of training your own dog is that the bond starts from the day you bring the dog or puppy home, so you don’t have to wait for two or more years for the program-trained dog.

Thinking on the disadvantages side, it takes a lot of time and energy and focus to do it, and not everyone’s got that ability. I always say, just like it takes a community to raise a child, so does it take a community to raise a service dog. And it’s so true because there’s all the pieces that need to come in. Your caregivers need to be on board with helping you in the way that you need help, you need to have trainers lined up for assistance, you need people to act as distractions, and you have to go get resources and all those kinds of things, so you have to know how to go out and get those resources.

Finding the right dog is another huge barrier for many people. They’ll go out, they’ll find a dog that they immediately fall in love with, and it’s not necessarily the best service dog candidate. So they have to be really careful. For that, I recommend bringing in someone who’s less emotionally related, someone like myself, who can help them assess and look at the weaknesses and strengths of that particular dog before they move forward.

The other disadvantage is that, owner-trained or not, sort of an educational component here, is that the handlers in general need to take on an education role at any time, because the public really doesn’t know much about service dogs. Many people want to interact with all dogs they see, including your service dog. Whether it’s in training, whether it’s professional, they don’t care. And of course you’re doing all of this while you’re living with a chronic medical condition that requires the need for the service dog, so that can certainly slow the process. It can throw some glitches into the gears.

So it’s a real balancing act, and you have to seriously look at is it a good thing for you, is it a bad thing for you, would a program-trained dog be better. Maybe there’s even other alternatives. Some people jump immediately to the dog aspect when sometimes there’s assistive technology that might be a better choice for them, and they don’t have the responsibility of maintaining the dog or keeping the dog.

It’s a big-picture thing, and you have to sit back and look at your lifestyle, look at your family, and see if that would all work out, and if you can in fact wait the approximately two years until the dog would be technically ready for public access and be able to go with you into places.

Melissa Breau: Right. You talked a little bit in there about evaluating your dog. What are some of the important traits that people need to objectively evaluate their dog for, if they are considering training it as a service animal?

Donna Hill: This applies to whether you already have a dog in your home or whether you’re going to look for a dog. The first and foremost is a known health history of both the dog and his parents, if you can at all possibly get that, and also looking at getting the pups and the parents and also your dog at 2 years of age medically tested for the common diseases that their breed suffers from. Oftentimes they’ll take it to the vet and the vet goes, “Yeah, looks fine.” Well, there’s a whole lot that the vets can’t see unless they take the proper tests and the proper scans. Yeah, the vet says it’s good, but two years down the road, three years down the road, hip dysplasia “appears” out of nowhere. Well, it was probably there, but they just didn’t look for it.

Hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cancer, heart conditions — those are common health reasons why a dog is pulled from service after it’s been trained. It’s heartbreaking. You spend two years, or whatever it is, to train this dog, and then you get maybe a year and a half, or if you’re lucky, two or three years, and then suddenly, “Oh, sorry, you can’t use that dog anymore because of health conditions.” So that’s one thing.

Another characteristic you look for is a calm temperament. Basically a dog that’s unflappable, meaning nothing fazes them. You really, really want a dog like that, because things like a sheet metal dropped in the next aisle, or a baby screams on the plane in the seat right next to you, your dog should be aware of it but not really worried about it. Both of those things a lot of dogs will react to, and it may take them a while to calm down from. So we want a dog that would notice that, certainly, and be aware that it’s happening, but go, “Oh yeah, no worries. I’ve seen it, done it, been there.”

We also know that there’s a number of things that affect temperament, so the more you know about the history of a dog, the better. For example, genetics has an important role to play in both fear and aggression, as well as a solid temperament too. You’ve got a solid-tempered mom, more likely you’re going to have a solid-tempered puppy. The mom’s stress level during carrying the puppies, how good a parent the dog mom is, and also the physical and emotional environment the puppy is raised in, as well as the physical and emotional environment the adolescent dog is raised in. So you’re seeing before the puppies are even born, and then you’re seeing while the puppies are with the litter, and then what happens to the puppies after they’ve left the litter. Those are three key components that can really affect the future of this dog.

There’s a couple of other things. People-oriented. We want a dog that has the ability to bond strongly with the handler and yet he’s friendly with strangers, and that can be a tough one if you’re looking at some of the protection breeds. Some of them are very protective by nature and their family is very highly regarded but strangers are not, so that’s a safety issue for emergency personnel and things like that, that are dealing with them in public.

You want an animal that’s good with other animals, so dogs, cats, birds, prey species, ideally ignoring them when in public. It makes your life a whole lot easier if you don’t have a dog with a really high prey drive, like Lucy does. Trust me — been there, done that, for a lot of different things, so I have to be on guard, and as a service dog you don’t want to have to be on guard to protect other people or other animals from your dog, and likewise from your dog doing damage to someone else’s animal. That can be a real stressor in itself, so that’s one of the key things you look for as well.

The sensitivity level’s a real interesting thing. You want a dog that has a sensitivity level appropriate for the person that they’re helping. We want them to be sensitive enough that they notice changes in their handler, but not so sensitive that the dog mirrors the emotions of the handler, like anxiety. This is a common issue that I find with people with PTSD and anxiety is that they tend to pick dogs that are very sensitive, and then they end up with an emotional mess that they can’t use as a service dog, so that’s a toughie.

A dog that’s food-motivated/willing to learn, those come together, it’s much easier to teach complex behaviors, we know, to a dog that’s food-motivated, of course using clicker training, marker-based training, whatever you want to call it.

And medium to low need for exercise. That’s assuming this fits the lifestyle of the handler. The vast majority of people out there really don’t want to take the time and energy, or they don’t have the energy, to take a really high-exercise-need dog out for an hour or two a day for exercise, so you really want to make sure that that’s going to meet your needs. Unless you want a dog for competition, and you want an active dog if you’re out and about and your disability doesn’t stop you from hiking two hours a day or whatever it is, then that would be fine, as long as the dog can learn to calm down in public.

The last one I’m going to leave you with is a quiet dog. If a dog barks or causes a disturbance in public, a team can be asked to leave. So you want to make sure you’re not choosing a breed that tends to be on the barky side, because then you’re fighting a losing battle because the dog is going to really want to bark, and it’s harder to inhibit something that’s a genetic trait, once it’s brought out.

One of the other things that I do want to mention is that the breed of dog can be important because public perception plays a huge role in how some service dogs are accepted. For example, any dog that’s not a typical service dog breed tends to draw more attention to the team. So if you’re out and about in public and somebody keeps approaching you, “Oh, you have such a wonderful,” “Oh, isn’t that unusual,” and you get stopped every five seconds just because you have this stunning Dalmation, or something that causes people to notice more than usual, that can play a role as well.

Tiny breeds is another example. They may be commonly dismissed as fakes. Or if you’ve got a protection-breed dog, people are fearful and they’ll give you wider birth. So those kinds of things are important when you’re choosing the breed of the dog as well, or a breed mix. What the dog looks like has an important impact on the public.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I think a lot of people probably don’t think about that piece of it. They think about suitability, maybe, for the tasks and don’t always think that extra step to do they really want to deal with the public’s reaction to that specific dog or that specific breed. So I think that’s a great thing to bring up.

Donna Hill: And there is a lot of prejudice as well around certain breeds. There’s a lot of grey lines with service dogs on when you need permission to get to bring your dog to work, for example. If an employer decides that they don’t like the look of your dog, or they feel that your dog is an aggressive dog or aggressive breed, they can do a lot of things to make sure that your dog can’t come to work with you. They can put a lot of barriers in place. It just happens, unfortunately.

People are really creative when they don’t want something to happen. I’ve had that happen with kids taking dogs to school, I’ve seen that happen at a government level, where a person was taking a service dog to their government agency and they end up getting isolated just because of the breed of dog, but the minute that they get a more accepted breed, suddenly they’re allowed access everywhere. It can make a huge, huge difference, and so I always recommend to people: think really hard about the breed and the look of your dog. You know your dog is a soft mushy, but people look and they make snap judgments, and those judgments can last for a long time.

Melissa Breau: Moving from traits or temperaments and those kinds of things to the core skills: What core skills do service animals need that owner handlers or anybody training a service dog will need to train, in addition to those special behaviors that are medically necessary for whatever their condition may be?

Donna Hill: The two most common I tell everybody is loose-leash walking and settle. That’s because service dogs spend most of their time in “hurry up and wait” mode. It is, seriously. So loose-leash walking gets them from Point A to Point B, and it’s a critical skill so the handler doesn’t have to focus on them all the time as they’re loose-leash walking from Point A to Point B. It’s not a formal competition heel, it’s a loose-leash walking. They can walk within 18 inches to 2 feet of the handler, the leash is at a loopy, U-shaped kind of thing, and the dog can be ahead or behind or beside, it doesn’t really matter.

A lot of people mistake that and think, Oh, the dog has to have this formal competition heel. Well, we at FDSA know that dogs can only maintain that focused heel for a very short period of time. It takes a lot of concentration to keep that desired precision. So a loose-leash walk is acceptable. We don’t have to ask for 95 percent of precision all the time. It can be 80 percent, which is more reasonable to expect a dog to stay within a zone within the handler. It’s really the distractions that are the tough thing, you know, the dog’s not going to the end of the leash to pull to go see another dog, for example. It’s ignoring that dog and moving on. With loose-leash walking that’s kind of the focus. It’s learning to ignore distractions.

Now, the settle or relax, which is the other main skill, it’s not the same as the sphinx-down that’s also used in competition. It is a settle, it’s a relax, let the dog chill out. As long as they’re staying on a single spot, maybe it’s a mat or maybe a defined space under your table, the dog needs to be able to get up and move and turn around, if you’re going to be sitting there for an hour and a half to two hours. It’s not fair to have the dog hold that sphinx-down. We want to give them a bit of latitude that, yeah, it’s OK for you to get up and move around. As long as you’re right here close to me and you’re not getting up and walking away, that’s close enough.

The other key thing is that a service dog needs to learn to assess the situation, because we don’t want, as handlers, you don’t want to have to give your dog a cue for every single behavior. The dog starts to learn to recognize, Oh, in this situation I know we’re going to go sit, I’m going to go lay under the table, OK, no biggie. They start using the environment as the cue for what behavior’s expected, so we end up getting a lot of default behaviors. Sits and downs, leave its, and eye contact are the important ones in general. If the dog’s uncertain what to do, what does he do? Look back up at his handler and say, “Hey, what do you want me to do?” They look back and they just might point to the ground. Guess what. That means settle. So it keeps it simple, and the communication’s really clear, and the dog’s always looking to the person for guidance.

Melissa Breau: Those are all also skills that even if we only have a pet dog, they would be fantastic skills to have well taught for a good pet dog. They’re not necessarily unusual skills to try and teach, but it’s really important, if you’re training a service dog, that they’re taught to a high fluency.

Donna Hill: Absolutely. And it is a fluency difference between a well-trained pet dog and a service dog.

Melissa Breau: So the other topic I was hoping to chat about today for a bit is recalls, since you have a class on it coming up. I think recalls are often touted as perhaps the most important behavior we can teach our dogs. First, do you agree? And second, why are they an important skill?

Donna Hill: That’s a great question. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree. I think it depends on the living situation the dog is in, and how often she or he finds herself off leash. For example, a recall for a service dog is actually pretty low on the importance scale, since in public the dog is rarely if ever off leash, so why would you need a recall if the dog is not off leash. If they are off leash, usually it’s only to perform a trained task, and when dogs get to that level, they’re so focused on the task that a recall is not important, or the recall may be part of the whole behavior, like in a retrieve. You’ve sent your dog off to get something, he’s got to come back to bring it to you, right? So if it’s trained really well, there’s your recall right there. Or if they’re trained to go get somebody, they go get the person and they bring the person back, so there’s sort of a recall in there as well.

For pet or sport dogs, absolutely a recall can be critical, especially if the dog is given a lot of freedom on a regular basis. So you want to know that your dog is going to reliably respond when you call. If she does respond, there’s a potential for so much more freedom for the dog, for one thing, and also if the dog is going to be in environments like agility trials, you don’t want the dog taking off after distractions, or if he happens to, then you know that he’s going to come running back to you when once you realize that he’s taken off, you give the cue and he comes bolting back to you. So you really need that. But the more freedom you give them, the more freedom that they can have as well, so it’s a hand-in-hand kind of thing.

There’s also alternative behaviors that can be taught that might be more appropriate in some situations as well than a recall, so something like a sit or a down at a distance. Your dog’s taken off across the street after a rabbit, and when he finally comes back, you want him to sit on the other side of the street because there’s a car coming. You don’t want him to come dashing across in front of the car. So if you can sit or down your dog at a distance, in that situation that would actually be better than a recall. So I guess my answer is, it depends. Which is kind of funny coming from someone who’s training a recall class.

Melissa Breau: Hey, it’s honest! I think that obviously at FDSA we see lots of sports dog handlers specifically, so in competition obedience they have a formal recall with a front and all that. For those who compete, how would you handle that in training that recall?

Donna Hill: Distance is a real distinction between a competition recall and a real-life recall. For most competitions there is a limited, finite distance within the ring that the dog will be doing the recall, and there is relatively few distractions in that ring. I know some would beg to differ because there’s some nightmaresituations been seen, and I’ve been in the ring and seen that as well.

But in real life, when your dog is at even a greater distance that you can … you may or may not be able to control, depending on the dog. Lucy is another classic example. She will happily run 500 yards away and not think twice about it, whereas Jessie stays much closer, so Lucy’s the one that I have to keep an eye on, and I have to make sure I interrupt her running that far away, because at that distance I don’t have as much control as I do if she’s, say, 100 yards away.

The distance can make or break a dog’s recall success. If a cyclist rides between you and your dog at a junction, or a rabbit pops up and runs across the trail, that definitely can make a difference. In real life, distractions happen between you and the dog, not necessarily around the outside of between you and the dog, so while a recall is a recall, the dogs do distinguish between different working environments.

Because the competition ring tends to be pretty consistent-looking, there’s rings around, or there’s fences around the outside, and there’s certain equipment that are in, the dogs get to know, Oh, OK, I know which kind of recall you want, so they quickly start learning, OK, it’s that form of recall that you want me to run to you, and stop, sit in front of you, and wait for a release to go back to heel, and then the final release at the end of the exercise. So they definitely know the difference between an informal recall that you would do out in the field versus a formal recall that you do in the ring, for sure.

And honestly, most people are happy enough, in a real-life recall, just to be able to have their dog close enough to grab the harness and then otherwise tell the dog what to do. So you don’t have that whole longer chain.

Melissa Breau: For somebody that is working on their recall, and they work on that real-life situation, would you expect to see some carryover that might strengthen their more formal performance?

Donna Hill: For sure. The distraction levels are key in any environment that you’re training. Doesn’t matter what it is that you’re doing, whether it’s a recall, teaching your dog to ignore distractions is the absolutely important thing.

Because any chain of behaviors — and of course a recall is a chain of behaviors — can be broken into smaller bits, each part of the chain can be isolated, so that’s the approach that I take in my recall class. If your dog returns to you slowly, you can work on speeding up just that part of the chain. Or maybe the missing piece is the dog doesn’t reorient to you in the face of distraction, You can work on just that too with little games and using controlled distractions. Once you have those improved, then you can add the pieces back together for either the competition recall or the real-life one. But it definitely would benefit both types of recall.

Melissa Breau: I know you get pretty into the science of training, and I’ve heard a lot of talk about what they’re calling a “classically conditioned” recall. That’s the phrase that’s recurring all over. Can you explain it for us?

Donna Hill: I’ll try. A classically conditioned recall is when the dog reacts to a cue without thinking. Classical conditioning: Think of a cat that comes to the kitchen when he hears the can opener. That’s a classically conditioned behavior. The cat’s not thinking about hearing the can opener. He just hears it and he runs for it because he knows it means food. Or maybe the dog that hears the scrape of the spoon on the bottom of the bowl and he just suddenly appears at your feet, even though he’s not supposed to be begging. That’s a classically conditioned reaction. He hears the sound and it triggers a behavior. He’s not even thinking about it.

I remember years ago with a previous dog, and this was long before I knew much about training dogs, certainly not as much as I know today, he was walking ahead of me on the trail, and out of the blue, for some reason, I don’t even remember why, I decided to call out to him and say “sit.” He was probably about 50 feet in front of me, if that. He didn’t go very far and I told him to sit. As soon as I did, his bum plunked down and he looked around like he was startled, going, Hey, who did that? Just bizarre. He had this startled look on his face. That would be an example of a classically conditioned sit. I must have been practicing in that time period so much that it was “sit,” bum go down, “sit,” bum go down. He wasn’t even thinking about it. Just “sit,” bum go down. So even he was surprised.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Donna Hill: I was pretty thrilled. And of course when I got these two dogs, I thought, OK, that’s my goal. I have to be able to teach these two dogs. Of course, now I know how to do it much, much better, and much more effectively, and it comes much faster, but I’m still thrilled when it happens, anyway.

We want the recall to happen that way ultimately. We want the dog not to think. We just want him to automatically, when he hears the cue or sees the hand signal, because it could be both, it could be a hand signal, it could be a verbal sound that the dog hears.

For dogs who are in a really, really high state of arousal and who haven’t had a chance to practice chasing or catching prey, that can be a really hard level of training to get to. The level of adrenalin overrides everything else and they go into that tunnel-vision mode where they literally go deaf and they can’t see anything other than a really narrow vision right in front of them.

But if we stick to the training, and we keep doing it and doing it, and vary how we are doing it, and add different distractions, and work the dog around higher and higher-level distractions, we can actually increase the threshold so that while they still are under the effects of adrenalin, they can still function at higher arousal levels, so that tunnel vision will be further open, perhaps like the tunnel that they see will be a bigger tunnel. Maybe they can actually still hear you, rather than not being able to hear you. So that’s a big part of it is just learning to increase that arousal level, but lowering or, I guess, increasing the threshold so that the dog can still function at that higher arousal level, I guess would be a better way of putting it.

I’ve got a funny little story about Jessie, my current little dog here. She has a funny combination of an operant and a classical conditioned recall. She actually does both, and one of them is very conscious. She actually sets me up for operant recalls.

She’s a dog that will stay quite close. She’s in general … until we got Lucy, she was quite fearful of being out in the bush or out in the woods by herself with us. She’s very much a city dog and very comfortable in the city. She actually learned … I taught her by starting the capturing the eye contact, which is one of the things we do in class. She would run ahead, and she stops and she’s facing away, and you know she’s waiting for something just by her body position and posture. She’s waiting for something. Sure enough, I give the cue, so that’s what she’s waiting for, and as soon as she hears it, she takes off like a rocket towards me. She does this turn on a dime and bolts right back to me. So she’s set me up for a recall.

She does this a lot, and I thought, You know, this is good. For a dog that’s so fearful and she couldn’t respond because her level of fear was so high, I’m just thrilled that she would do that and she’s actually setting me up. Finally, in the last I would say year or so, we’ve finally done enough of the operant recalls that it has become classically conditioned. I’ve actually been able to call her off chasing a deer in a classical conditioned response. So I’m pretty happy with that.

Melissa Breau: That’s excellent. That’s everybody’s goal, to be able to have their dog in the middle of a chase, and call and have the dog say, “OK, I’d prefer to come back to you.”

Donna Hill: It wasn’t even a preference. It was just a reaction. It was just a response. She heard that and she just turned on that dime, and it’s because we’ve practiced and practiced. I kind of stacked my helping, because she likes high-pitched sounds, she’s very much into squeaky toys, she likes movement, so I stack my success by throwing all of those things together, and I guess it was enough that she was not thinking anymore. It was like, “Yay, Mom’s calling me. Woo hoo!” It becomes a classically conditioned response rather than a thinking or operant response.

The tough thing, though, is, is it a reliable … could I repeat that? I honestly can’t say, because we don’t have enough situations where we encounter deer on a regular basis to purposely test that out. I do know that I can now call her off mice, I can call her off squirrels, and I can call her off grouse. Those are much more controllable situations, and we do run into those a lot more often on our walks on the logging routes. So far, both dogs have stopped when any of those situations arrive, and, lucky for me, they’ve also stopped when we see bears, and I can cue the recall after they stop. So, so far, cross our fingers, no bear chasing. I don’t know whether they stop and they go, “Oh, that’s a big black animal that I’m not sure whether I want to interact with or not, oh, Mom’s calling, OK, the good distraction.”

Melissa Breau: Right, right, definitely don’t want the dogs taking off after the bear.

Donna Hill: So I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily classical. I would say it’s probably more operant, and they’re actually thinking about it and going, “OK, this is the better choice.” But I’m still happy with that too. I don’t want them bringing a bear back to us.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. Often, people start working a recall, they do it at home, they do it in class, and then they just expect it to work everywhere. Most of our listeners probably get that that’s unrealistic, especially if you’re a sports trainer, you know that there’s a little bit more involved to making any cue become that reliable. I think even pretty sophisticated handlers may struggle to build up distractions in a systematic way when it comes to recalls. How DO you simulate things like motion from prey animals, or those reallllllly good smells that a dog just can’t seem to come away from, when you’re training?

Donna Hill: You have to get really creative and you use what you have in your environment. You have to think about what triggers your dog. Is it the scent? Is it the sound? Is it motion? How can you replicate those? Maybe even not to the degree that happens in real life, but certainly at a lower level that you can start building up to that in real life. I start thinking along things like, OK, for scents, I think about how can I get a sample of something similar that my dog might be really interested in, or can I recreate it in a controlled setting with a helper or a decoy animal or a toy that moves.

Those are actually the kinds of secrets we’ll be exploring in Part 2 of The Recall, but I’ll give you an example just to get your juices going. Start where your dog is at. If your dog can’t turn away from rabbit poop, for example, and I know both of my dogs, when we started, rabbit poop was pretty high on their interest list because it smells like rabbits, it’s something that they can eat, so it’s self-reinforcing, So what I did was I went and I found some fresh stuff somewhere in the city. I literally went hunting, we collected some, I wore rubber gloves, I scooped it up, I put it in a container, and I used that sample to train a “leave it” at home to the point of a default “leave it.” They smelled the rabbit poop, Oh, look at Mom, what’s going on here.

So I had a nice little default behavior, and that’s the starting point to get your dogs. If they learn that they can call off of it, that’s where you need to start from. And of course this is not asking for any distance. This is literally the treat … the treat! … OK, rabbit raisins were in a container on the ground right in front of me and right in front of the dogs, so all the dogs literally had to do was look at it and look back at me. I’m not asking for any distance. It’s just “Look at me after you sniff the rabbit poop.”

That’s the kind of small detail where we start, and then we can add motion, maybe we get the dog to have to make the choice to have to turn around back to us, then the dog has to turn around and take two steps to us, and we slowly build it back up until we actually have a recall where the dog might be walking around the yard, and unbeknownst to him, I’ve planted my sample in the yard earlier, and he comes across it, and as soon as he smells it, he does a quick head check-in, and the check-ins as well are another piece, and then I happen to see that and I give my recall and the dog comes flying out. It’s about focusing again on the one piece of the chain at a time and build them up.

Yeah, and I have to admit some of us are that dedicated to our dogs to go and search out things like rabbit poop and bring it home.

Melissa Breau: That’s funny. I like that you called it rabbit raisins.

Donna Hill: That’s more “call-it-able.” So don’t worry, but for those of you listeners, the other ideas in class are not as gross as that.

Melissa Breau: It’s just a good example! I was looking over your syllabus for the class for August, and I noticed you had acclimating on your list of skills for a recall, and I guess it caught me by surprise. Can you explain how that fits into the picture of a recall?

Donna Hill: Yeah, absolutely. Acclimation is the process a dog goes through to become comfortable with the environment. You give them a chance to go into the environment, and you anchor yourself and they have 6 feet of leash, so technically they can probably move about a 14-foot circle diameter and check out that environment.

Sometimes we might want to acclimate them by letting them lead us around a certain space, we usually define that space. But what we find is once they’ve acclimated to that space, then they can focus on what we’re asking them to do. By giving them time to acclimate when they first arrive at a location, we’re giving them a chance to satisfy their natural curiosity that might otherwise distract them from being able to pay attention to us. That’s pretty standard what we do for sport dogs and for service dogs and all that kind of thing.

What I find is that the more we allow them to acclimate in each new location, the more they come to realize that the environment is actually less interesting than interactions with us. So by giving them the chance to go check it out, they go, “OK, I checked everything out,” they look back at us and go, “What now, Mom?” They learn that it always pays for them to orient to us, whether or not we ask for it, or whether they just give it as a default behavior. That’s one piece of it. So that orientation is something we work on. We can’t get the orientation until the dog is acclimated. That’s the first step again.

As well, giving them time to acclimate allows us to identify what they find interesting, and we can use those interesting things to our collection of reinforcers. So by watching our dog sniff a rabbit trail or look up a tree at a squirrel — those are obvious ones — we can actually go, “Ah, that’s something that I can use as a reinforcer because that’s something that I can control.” So we might send them over to sniff a very interesting mole hole that they saw earlier as part of the recall, or maybe they can go greet the person that’s standing over there, if they’re a really people-oriented dog. We can give them more meaningful reinforcers that they really want, rather than what we think they want, and they start to see us as a gateway to the reinforcers. That’s part of the process of building the bond that’s strong enough to be able to call them away from things like deer.

Melissa Breau: You have the class broken into two parts right now, Part 1 and Part 2. You mentioned earlier that some things are in Part 2 that aren’t in Part 1. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve broken that down?

Donna Hill: Part 1 focuses on the basic recall with low to medium distractions in the form of games. So here’s the basic structure of the recall, let’s add some distractions in, and that is a really important piece, because if your dog doesn’t have that fundamental foundation, it certainly isn’t going to be able to do a recall off of higher-level distractions. Part 2 ups the ante to adding a higher-level distraction in controlled settings so that the dog learns, Yes, in fact I can call away from those exciting things.

I previously offered it as a single class, but it was too overwhelming for me, and I think for some of the students, because there’s just so much involved in those two levels. So I split them into the two parts to make it easier to really focus on the pieces that are needed.

Melissa Breau: I know some of the classes have a lot of material and there’s no way you’re going to get through this in six weeks. It makes it a little bit more real time, for lack of a better phrase, so people can work through the class as you’re releasing stuff. Is that the idea?

Donna Hill: Absolutely. The first time I ran it, it just felt too rushed, and while it was fine in that it offered some support for people who were not as far along in the recall, those who already had it were able to zoom ahead. But then it became really confusing to try and watch both ends of the scale, so this just simplifies it that we’ve got to focus, it’s on the basic recall, and then we’re going to add the higher-level distractions in Part 2.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to share a game that listeners might be able to play to work on their recall, to give them a taste of the things you’ll be doing in the class.

Donna Hill: OK. One of my favorite ones that has come over time is I have a game that’s a building speed game, because of course we want the dog not only to come to us, we want the dog to come to us really fast.

I’ve seen this develop with my girl Lucy, the Border Collie mix, and it’s so awesome to be able to see her just run as hard as she possibly can to come back to me. It’s awesome to see that eagerness and that enthusiasm. There’s literally dust flying up behind her when she comes back to me. I tried to get it on videotape last night, and I’m going to try and get it before the class so I can show a clip of it. I might even use it as part of the promo for the class. It’s just hilarious, because it’s been so dry, and the road, we’re on one of these logging roads, and it’s a really new, dusty road, so she’s running. literally there’s these plumes of dust every time she hits the ground that pop up. It’s heart-rendering, I guess, to see your dog do that.

Anyway, so this game we play between two people and we start close up, and once we start adding distance, we can actually start capturing speed because we can select only the fastest responses we’re getting from the dogs. If the dog sort of meanders towards us, OK, not a big deal. We’re not actually recalling, so we don’t have to click and treat, but as we’re playing this back and forth game it sort of turns into intermittent reinforcement so that we can choose the faster responses get the click and the treat, and so what the dog quickly does is starts to offer us faster and faster recalls, so it’s really cool.

In combination with where we happen to live, there’s a lot of hiking trails/biking trails. What I like is finding a narrow trail that looks like a roller coaster. They go up and down, they go side to side, and sometimes you can even find ones that zigzag back and forth down the side of a hill. Once the dog’s built up some good speed for recalls, you can have a person at the top and a person at the bottom, and even going up the hill, which by the way is a really good cardio for your dogs, they build up some pretty good speed. You watch them and they do look like a cart from a roller coaster going back and forth, going up and down, and you can just watch their bodies as they’re flying towards you. It’s really cool to watch. That’s my favorite thing. And they’re learning foot placement and they’re weight-shifting to allow them to careen off the trail banks. You can see they’re having fun with it. I’m having fun with it. I’m not sure if it would be considered agility or parkour, but you’re using the skills of both.

Melissa Breau: Right, right, and everybody’s having a good time and you’re working on those skills. That’s the important part.

Donna Hill: That’s what it’s all about.

Melissa Breau: So one last question and it’s on a different topic because I’ve taken to asking it at the end of all my interviews for guests that have already been on once and done the traditional three questions already and that way I don’t have to repeat them. So the new question is, what is a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Donna Hill: OK. But it’s not about the dogs. It’s about the people. I’ll give you an example. I recently had a client make the realization that her service dog is not a robot. She had come to work with us because her dog was fearful working in public. She had told us, “My dog is fearful about working with the public. She’s scared of people. She’s even scared of strangers coming in our own home.”

What we had seen was a dog that had been shut down and was robotically walking through life when working, and this lady didn’t see that. That’s what she had been told that the dog should be working like. She sort of felt something was off, but she wasn’t sure, and she’d never had a service dog before, so she just trusted what she had been told.

After working with her for about four weeks, we were so thrilled when she came to us and she said, “Oh my god, she doesn’t have to be a robot.” That’s literally the words that she used. That’s why I used those words. She has changed what she does significantly. We’ve helped her learn to reinforce the dog when the dog is doing what she wants her to do, help build confidence in the dog, and it’s going to be a long haul because this dog has a long history of being like this, but the handler now has joy in interacting with her dog, and the dog now has joy at interacting with her human, and that’s not what we were seeing when we first had her come to the classes. So we were both giving them their life back, basically.

Melissa Breau: How awesome is that. That’s got to feel so good.

Donna Hill: Yeah. So if we can teach the people that dogs have needs and emotions just like we do, and those needs have to be met for the dog to be comfortable, I think that we go a long way to strengthening the bond and improving the life of both the people and the dogs.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Donna! This has been great.

Donna Hill: You’re very welcome. You really got me thinking.

Melissa Breau: That’s a good thing, I think.

Donna Hill: Absolutely. Don’t forget to check out the Build A Bond recall class that’s coming up.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week with Stacy Barnett to talk about tailoring your nosework training to your specific dog’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t miss it.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS

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.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Jun 29, 2018

SUMMARY:

Julie Symons is owner and head dog trainer at Savvy Dog Sports and she joined to break down what it's like to compete in a nose work trial, plus we talk introducing handler scent to your nose work dog.

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/06/2018, featuring Donna Hill, talking about owner-handler trained service dogs and what it takes to get a fantastic recall.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Julie Symons, owner and head dog trainer at Savvy Dog Sports, to talk about scentwork.

Welcome back to the podcast Julie!

Julie Symons: Hi Melissa. It’s great to be here again.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. Just to refresh everyone’s memories, can you share a little bit about who you are and the dogs that you share your life with?

Julie Symons: I’ve been training since the early to mid-1990s. Started out, I think, obedience, like most people probably did, and then agility came on the scene, and then I got my first purebred dog. What I was really drawn to from the very beginning was the versatile sports that I got into with my dog and how much I enjoyed the cross-training. I’ve stayed with the Belgian breed so far and really enjoyed that journey, and starting to look at some other breeds as well. I also incorporated my Savvy Dog Sports training, I have my own training center now, and I just very recently, haven’t really gone public with it, gave my notice at my corporate day job that I’ve been at for 30 years, and my last day is July 6, so that’s pretty exciting for me. A lot of change going on.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Congrats. That’s so exciting.

Julie Symons: My two dogs that I have, Savvy, who I can’t believe is 10-and-a-half. She’s done everything I wanted her to do. She is a breed champion, she has her MACH 2, she has her TDX, she has her UD, and she has her Elite 1 nosework trial. Right there it shows my love of versatility, and how well dogs enjoy and that we can train across different sports. Obviously all this occurred over her lifespan up to now. I didn’t do it all in one year, obviously. But we’re focusing on nosework now and enjoying trialing her at the Elite level, and just want to see how far I can go with that before she’s just not able to trial.

And then I have my baby dog, who’s not really a baby anymore, Drac, who’s a Belgian Malinois. I got him because I thought having two different genders would work out better in the household, and it really does. They get along great. He’s 2-and-a-half, and he’s out of most of his hormonal peak. He was a late bloomer, I think, and I think with boy dogs they mature a little slower. I’m really, really seeing the days of adolescence in our past, and really see the potential in how I can get a little bit more … not that I wasn’t serious, but more serious and formal with his training coming up, so I’m really excited about that. We trialed in nosework and confirmation so far with him.

Melissa Breau: Awesome, and that’s reassuring to hear, considering I have a year-and-change puppy, a boy, still definitely maturing.

Julie Symons: I wrote a blog about that, I believe, and I saw somebody recently asking and I haven’t had time to reply, but I am experiencing the first time for myself having an intact male. The last year I’ve been busy with other stuff, I’m still training him, but I didn’t put any pressure on him or myself, and he’s really come along. For example, in agility classes I couldn’t get his nose off the ground. Now he stays in the whole class without sniffing the ground. It just was waiting that out and working with him, letting him acclimate, and not putting the pressure on either one of us.

Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to talk about trialing in nosework. I know you have this webinar coming up on achieving nosework trial day success, so I was hoping you might start us out by walking us through what a nosework trial looks like. I know it’s super-different than some of the other sports that are out there. What that looks like, how it works, and when everything goes well.

Julie Symons: Absolutely. One thing that’s interesting about it, at least in the Nosework Association, which is the main venue that most of us got involved with, is you get maybe 30 to 40 dogs, total, at a trial, and you are staying in your parking lot with the dogs inside because they usually are in locations where it’s not like a training building and you can’t crate anywhere else. So you have to get used to working out of the car, and your dog does have to get used to hanging out in the car all day long. You have to deal with, handle the different temperatures and weather concerns you may have, and when you get there, especially with the Nosework Association, they don’t want a lot of dogs hanging out and wandering around because, as many people know who do nosework, a lot of it is geared toward supportive reactive dogs.

In the AKC venue it’s just like a regular AKC trial, but most people are still very courteous of that. A little bit different situation in their locations, but for the most part you’re at a school or maybe a Boys Club of America or something that you’re just going to be waiting outside with your dog.

They have a running order, and there’s a briefing, so you meet with maybe the host, the judges, and they talk about some of the logistics and the situations of how the day is going to run. They tell you if there are back-to-back searches, are you going to run and then go back to your car, and then they take you on a walkthrough. So you go on a walkthrough — most trials you get a walkthrough, some of them you don’t, depending on the level — you get a look at your search areas, and then you come back and ask questions about the areas, if you have them. And then the judge or the certifying official, depending on what venue, will go over how many hides you have, if it’s a level of known hides, and your time limit that you have to search.

Except for AKC, where they do a lot of spectators if there’s room, you are generally in there searching, nobody else can watch. There’s a few people in the room that are timing and judging and videoing and things like that. It can be a very low-key situation. For some dogs it can be a little worrisome, when you go into this empty room with one or two people can actually be more concerning for a dog, versus having people around all the time, and then you’re just working in that environment.

Those are some of the “how a typical day goes,” and you end up sitting outside your car and you meet your parking lot neighbors, because you usually don’t know a lot of people, especially if you go out of town. Of course I know a lot more, and everybody does as you go to more and more trials, but it’s not like you go with your friend who also entered, because the odds of two people getting in, most of it’s a lottery system, is not likely, so you’re usually traveling by yourself and meeting new people. It’s a good question you asked, because it is a very different trial day compared to other sports.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there how hard it is to get into trials, and looking through some of the webinar description and some other stuff, it seems like maybe that leads people to sign up for a chance to compete even if they’re not sure they’re really entirely ready. How can a handler ensure their team is truly ready to trial? What advice do you have there?

Julie Symons: I would say luckily at least I know my students are prepared to enter. I’m always happy when some of them are even unsure if they’re ready, and I assure them that they are in most cases. They have the skills, they may be concerned about the level of difficulty or the differences, and I’m also proud of some of my students who realized, I shouldn’t move up in AKC, because you can get your novice title on the weekend and move up in the Sunday afternoon trial, but you might not have taught multiple hides or the second odor. So I really admire my students who realize, Why would I move up? I’m just going to run bumper legs and go home early because I don’t have those skills. Why would I put my dog in there?

But I do see the occasional teams, now that I can spectate in AKC, I hate to see the teams that aren’t prepared, either the handlers or the dogs, and I’m hoping it’s less of an issue. I think more of it is, as you said, getting into trials is challenging, so when you can only get into maybe two trials a year — and that’s changing, so I don’t want to scare people off with that type of cadence — but you can’t make the same mistakes in those two trials a year that you have.

Back to being ready for trialing, if you have a good foundation and you know the skills that are required at that level, I would say that you’re ready to enter. We all run into something that we haven’t expected, or just not had a good trial day, but it’s mostly just know what’s expected and make sure you have trialed in those novel situations that can prepare you, because all of the trial situations you’re going to be in are novel and new, with new people around.

Melissa Breau: I know you’ve also talked about the importance of taking inventory of training gaps and handling mistakes. How can a team do that before the actual trial, especially if, like you said, there’s maybe two trials a year that they’re going to compete in?

Julie Symons: You definitely see your training gaps. They usually surface when you’re trialing, because that’s when we’re nervous and so we’re acting a little different, or the place is novel and we just aren’t our normal selves. That’s something that we do have to, as best we can, combat that, like, develop good mental strategies and just realize that everybody’s nervous. If you go there with the idea of, depending on what your goals are, if you just go there and do your thing and not worry about passing or whatever, you actually usually do pass when you take that pressure off of yourself.

When you do trial and some of these training gaps surface, you know that by purchasing the trial video. So how you can inventory your gaps is either videoing your blind training searches, if you’re in classes or whatever, or definitely your trial video. What you can do, and this is what we did in my Shoulda Woulda class, is we had people review some trial videos that didn’t go as well. A trial I would say doesn’t go as well is if you don’t find all the hides, or if you get a no from the judge — you called an alert and the judge said no. And that’s the worst thing to hear at a nosework trial.

So you watch those videos of those experiences, and you take inventory. You say, “Oh, I was crowding my dog, I talked my dog into a hide,” or “You know, I never taught my dog to search over 4 feet, and that’s why that’s a gap I have.” By watching your trial video is where you’re going to really see those gaps, and then you literally want to write them out, list them out.

One of the neat things about that class that I didn’t really anticipate was it kind of … not forced people, but it had them go back and kind of organize their trial videos. They went back and re-watched them with a fresh set of eyes, and they said, “Wow, I sometimes don’t watch them a second time,” or “I haven’t watched all these.” It was eye-opening to them to go back and not just watch them to watch them, but to watch them with a purpose of saying, “What didn’t go well here?”

We also of course in the class go over what goes well, because we want to stay positive and be aware of how well we’re doing. But since we’re focusing on trialing better, you have to know what didn’t work when you trialed and how to not do that mistake again when you go to your next trial that you got into.

I just was reading something on Facebook that somebody said. We were like, “We always remember that one mess-up that we had, and we can’t let go of it.” And somebody said, “You know, I drove eight hours, I didn’t sleep the night before, I was busy at work, the first one in my day I just blurred an alert, and all that stress and tiredness and everything, it was over.” So we need to be in a better state, go there with the right, I guess, tools and strategies to start off the trial well.

Sometimes it’s that first search that is the most stressful, definitely, and maybe we’re going to make some mistakes. So if we just can hold it together and learn to be in that moment and having a plan, and that’s what we did in the class is people had trials coming up, it was really cool, and we said, “What are your goals? What are your goals for your next trial? What are you going to do differently? What are you going to do the same?”

These people are going to trials and passing and placing, and I’m getting goose bumps talking about it, and it was such a rewarding experience because we were looking at the trial experience not in a different way but just in a specific way to inventory and to just know it’s OK. We need to own our mistakes. Somebody actually shared with me that it was so refreshing to have this topic in the class, because every time they talked to somebody who went to a trial, they would always blame the trial site, the hide placements, the people, the dogs. Sometimes we need to own where we have training gaps and how we can improve our handling instead of blaming other things.

Melissa Breau: What were some of the common “holes,” or some examples of the holes that people discovered? Maybe if you’d just walk us through a little bit of problem-solving?

Julie Symons: Yeah — this is neat. I had a guest, a lecturer, Holly Bushard. From a judge’s perspective, she listed what she believed were the common handler mistakes. But these are my list, so if you want to know what Holly thinks, there’s definitely some overlap.

I also just had a recent judging assignment, as my first AKC judging assignment, in North Dakota. It was fun. You’re in the best seat in the house, and I was nervous because I was, like, I want my high placements to be good, and I want the dogs to be able to find them.

So this is what I saw there, as well as I see when I’m teaching. I think the number one hole that we have is not covering the search area. Just to back up a little bit, sometimes your gaps are your handling. Our handling is the problem. If you cleaned up some of your handling, then that’s going to go better. Some of the other, and I can get to those later, are actually your dog’s skills. Those are the types of gaps that we would find: our handling and our dog’s skills.

The number one hole is not covering the search area. What happens is our dog shows interest in an area, and it could be pulling odor, which means odor has blown, maybe you even found that hide, but then it also collected further down into an area. Or you say, “This would be such a great place for a hide,” and your dog maybe showed a little bit of interest, maybe it wasn’t because of picking up some odor there, and you’re sure there’s something there, so we stay there and we stay there and we stay there.

I just did a class recently, and most of the people in the class stayed about a minute and a half in one-fourth or third of the search area, having not even covered the rest of the area, and there was no hide there. I always tell people, “If there was a hide there, your dog would have found it within a minute and a half, and even if there was a hide and they didn’t, you need to leave, cover it, and you can always go back.”

So that’s the number one. I saw that at the trial, not very many, there were a few teams that got convinced that there was a hide somewhere, and every dog that left that area and walked about 8 feet found the other hide. So they just were convinced, and you just need to cover your search area. And sometimes I think people are nervous, they don’t realize the search area, sometimes you don’t get a walkthrough, or it’s covered so fast that you forget, and again, when you’re nervous, our mind’s a little fuzzy. I have actually asked during a search when I was trialing, “Remind me, is this in the search area,” so that in case I forget, to make sure that I am covering it.

The second thing that I notice a hole in training is crowding our dogs. Again, when we get nervous, I’m not sure why we do this, but we stand closer to our dog. Maybe it’s a security thing for us too, but what happens is you could be affecting the dog’s access to a hide. You could actually be blocking a hide or affecting the airflow. But what generally that says to the dog is because when we’re training and we know where the hide is — this is actually one of my topics in my current class, Nosework Coaching — is we need to be good actors when we are running known hides. When we know where the hide is, almost everybody is fishing food out of their pocket. I catch myself doing that. And so then at a trial, when you walk in, because you’re nervous, you’re crowding your dog, the dog goes, I smell odor, and my handler’s coming in really close to me, and I’m a little nervous with this environment, and the dog offers some type of an indication and you call it. So you talk your dog into a false alert by crowding your dog, because to the dog it contextually can mean, Oh, this is normally when I get fed because I find something.

The third thing which plays into that is you can talk your dog into a hide. That’s a very common mistake because you’re convinced that somewhere you’re crowding your dog, you’re nervous, and sometimes our dogs give a little bit weaker indications at a trial and we can so easily talk our dogs into a hide.

The last thing I came up with, there’s many more, but the more difficult one that I’m seeing, I see in training and when I was judging, is when to let your dog drive the search and when you need to intervene. That’s why I always say that we’re 50 percent a teammate to our dog — we both have half of a role in the job to do. Sometimes it’s better to let the dog drive, and then there’s times when you have to intervene and get the dog to a different search area, or cover an area, or refocus them if they’re distracted. We won’t always get this right, but what I generally see, I know where the hide is because I placed it, and the dog is heading right to the hide, but the handler goes, “Oh, you didn’t cover these chairs over here.” Now, that’s not necessarily a bad decision, because maybe you have a dog that doesn’t have time to search the whole area twice. You need to cover this area. But it happens more than not where that area was cold and the dog was going right to odor and you just pulled him off.

It’s not the easiest call to make in the moment, but I also did this in one of my Elite trials where Savvy was going to a hide. I pulled her off, but when I took her back to where I went, she found a hide and ended up finding all the hides in that search area. So even if you pull your dog, I’m not talking about literally some dogs, the dogs are building a sign that says, “The hide is here,” and you pull your dog off. I’m talking about your dog is working their way toward the area where the source is, because they’ve picked up odor, and then you interrupt them on their way and say, “No, come check here.” Sometimes that works in your favor, but sometimes it’s, “Oh shoot, the dog was headed right to source.”

So sometimes I feel like if the dog is actually working and moving, and you can tell, some dogs will pick up speed because they pick up odor, and again, we’re not going to always get that right, but it’s something that we need to, I think, continually improve in when to intervene and when to let the dog drive.

And again, by videoing and by reviewing that, that’s how you’re going to progress with that, and maybe getting another set of eyes to review. I have some of my colleagues review my videos, because I don’t go to a regular trainer, or a training buddy, just somebody else that can view your work and say, “Hey, did you notice you did this?” can be very helpful.

Melissa Breau: Are there other issues that usually are overlooked in training, and even when prepping, that tend to pop up just in that trial situation?

Julie Symons: I think the main thing, if you truly are prepared, you know the rules, the thing that tends to pop up is a novel situation, a surface you never got your dog on before, or a distractor that they’ve purposely put in a container, or even an unintentional distractor in the environment. That’s usually something that pops that can catch you off guard, and of course in that area you want to train in as many novel locations with as many novel distractors as possible. You’re not going to ever train for everything, but as we know, as long as you generalize, for the most part, and when the dog has confidence with the job, they do overcome these novel situations.

But I noticed with my dog Savvy, I didn’t realize one year she had no problem going across a laquered gym floor, but the following year she bellied to the ground. I think it was a visual thing, with age, maybe, I don’t know, and I’ve had to work that afterwards.

Melissa Breau: I want to shift from talking about trialing to, I guess, the other end of the spectrum — those early steps. I know we’re in the middle of … recording this, we’re in the middle of the June session right now, and you’re teaching Intro to Nosework this session, and then next session you have Intro to Handler Scent Discrimination in August. I wanted to ask you what the difference is between those two classes.

Julie Symons: They’re quite similar in the approach, I mean, a target odor is a target odor. So we teach a target odor pretty similarly. We do use the same games, very similar games, that make sense for each of the areas.

With HD there’s just some different considerations, like, is it a problem searching or training in your area where you live and spend a lot of time in it, ended up not being a problem. But what I found was that I did a lot of nosework searches in my house so that sometimes I could tell my dog was like, I’m looking for oil, and I don’t know I’m supposed to be looking for your scent. So we worked through that basically with the two different target odors. We developed different start line cues and different search strategies.

I think the biggest difference between the two is I go into handler discrimination with a different search strategy, a different start line. One of the different strategies is I’m going to probably direct my dog a little bit more, because handler scent is going to be heavier and it’s going to drop, so dogs are going to pick that up more low. Also the hide placements, they’ll go as high as the oil searches, so your dog generally doesn’t have to, depending on the dog’s size, they don’t have to search as high.

So those are the different things. And I think the biggest difference is just our brain realizing that our dogs can find our handler scent just as easily as oil, but they disperse into the area differently, and dogs have to be a lot closer to the handler scents, I found with watching many dogs run, than they do in oil searches.

Melissa Breau: Are there additional skills that the dogs need to learn specifically for handler scent discrimination? Is that an issue for it?

Julie Symons: I haven’t noticed that there was a need for a new skill as much as we need to train HD a little bit more frequently to solidify the understanding. We have to stay with it, and then if I were at a trial, I would have to refresh and remind them. Whereas oil, at the point where my dogs are, if I just did a real cursory session before a trial, they’re going to be pretty strong.

The other thing I’ve noticed with HD, though, is it sounds kind of strange, but the dog really has to be using their nose. I think with nosework, oil is so strong, and it’s so different for a dog to learn wintergreen or birch that they just notice it, like, I know there’s something about this funny-smelling birch over here, so they pick that up. But when you start doing handler scent, we start with gloves and dogs want to retrieve them, if they’re retrievers or they’ve done tracking.

So there’s, I think, with handler discrimination there’s a little bit of context overlap, but it’s doable to train across the different sports. They just have to get past the context that you normally think it is. It’s a little different, and we have some really neat games to work through those, like put the socks right in the bowl if the dog wants to retrieve them, because the dog has never seen a sock in a bowl in tracking or in obedience scent articles. So we just need to get them to use their nose, and if they want to retrieve the sock, then we actually start getting it covered inside of a container. That’s generally the difference.

I do a neat little thing that’s different is a lot of people pair a food with the odor, it’s very common with scent articles, but I’ve found the pure shaping of only the target odor, so what I do is to get dogs to actually use their nose when they have four or five socks, because in handler discrimination we use a cotton sock or glove. I rub food on the cold items, completely opposite of one of the methods, and I tell you, it works wonderful, because the item with your scent on it happens to get food crumbs and food smell on it because we’re refreshing it with our food hands and dropping crumbs on it and stuff, so what becomes unique about a hot sock is that they are cotton, they all have some food smudge on it, but only one of them has your scent, and it gets the dog using their nose. Even with scent work with oil, I find some dogs we have to kick-start them using their nose, not their eyes, not thinking the container is a pivot box or what to do with a box. But generally, and I find it more with handler discrimination, where we need to find a way to jumpstart their seeking sense over their retrieving.

Melissa Breau: Are false alerts more common when training handler scent discrimination, especially since so often we’re probably training in a “usual” training environment where maybe handler scent is all over?

Julie Symons: I thought that was the case from training at home. I did find when I went outside into the fresh air and I was doing exteriors with this little, tiny cotton ball, I was amazed at how well the dogs did. I think the airflow probably helped, and maybe being outside of where I live. But I never had my dog truly false. They would false where I had placed the hide just before it, since I’m lingering handler scent.

I think false alerts are comparable across the two, and I would say if you’re not prepared for handler discrimination, but you’re a nosework dog and you enter a trial too soon and the dog sees these boxes out, which contextually for years has meant oil, and you send your dog out there and they’re thinking, I’m looking for oil, and they just aren’t clear that it’s your handler scent, and they might false because they can’t find anything. And then there is a judge’s scent there, and I do think sometimes they false for the other handler’s scent, if that’s not thoroughly trained, because it’s sometimes hard to get access to other people scenting socks for you.

But in general I’m going to switch the other way and say in nosework oil work we do containers for the rest of the dogs’ lives, and in handler discrimination for AKC you only do containers for Novice and then you’re out of there. You get three legs in Novice, and it’s like everybody has a party because we want to get out of the boxes with our socks, and we get into interior searches and we get that scent outside of a box. Whereas in nosework oil searches, you have container searches in every level, and I do believe containers have the highest false alert rate, and because boxes become such a context of being reinforced, so dogs who are nervous or unsure, or if there are distractors, they do tend to false on containers. So I think it’s comparably they have the risk of false alerts.

Melissa Breau: I know the class discusses both UKC and AKC. I was curious what some of the differences are in the different venues.

Julie Symons: UKC only does HD in a box, so they never move to scent outside a box, and in Novice it’s only your scent. There’s no discrimination with the judges having a scent out there. Another thing that’s different with UKC, actually similar to SDDA in Canada, is you have to indicate your dog’s alert behavior. In UKC you also have to say what your search command is, how you’re going to cue your dog to search, and that might be how they start, maybe they start the timer, I’m not sure.

In the Novice class they don’t judge that part, but you still have to provide it. When you get into Advanced and Excellent, they are going to judge you on that you used the search command you said that you do, and that your dog alerted in the way in that you expect to call it.

Those other search levels, though, every box has a discrimination scent, so in Advanced, the judge puts a scented glove of theirs in eleven of the boxes and yours is the hot in the twelfth. In the Advanced level, each of the competitors that are there with you provide their scented sock, and they’re all out there when you search. So everyone else’s sock is out there, and they must group them by groups of twelve or whatever.

I haven’t trialed in UKC, there’s just none in my area. So it’s kind of neat that that’s a little different. But then that ends there. They don’t search for this outside the box.

Melissa Breau: That’s all super-interesting. I’ve got one last question, though, here for you, and it’s a little bit different. It’s a new question that I’m asking returning guests each time they’re on the podcast, because hopefully it’s a question that you can actually answer more than once and have a different answer. My question is, what’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Julie Symons: I thought about this, and because I’m now training more locally, and I have either returned to sports I used to train or I’m extending into some other areas, is that dog training is dog training, and no matter what sport you do, or if it’s a pet class or a puppy class, you have the same foundation skills. You need the same skills and concepts as your foundation. So many of them apply to other sports.

I always knew that, but since I started delivering the curriculum and talking to different groups of people that are coming in with different goals, I’m teaching the same thing. I’m teaching the same thing to them as a foundation. That was something that I very recently was reminded of — how it’s not really that different what you need across the different sports, and even for a pet dog, but it’s acclimating, it’s your mechanics, it’s building your dog’s motivators, it’s having good cue control. All of those things are common across all of the sports.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Julie!

Julie Symons: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Donna Hill to talk about owner handler trained service dogs and teaching a recall.

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.

CREDITS:

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.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!




Jun 22, 2018

SUMMARY:

Sue Yanoff graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y, in 1980.

After three years in private practice, she joined the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty, she completed a 3-year residency in small-animal surgery at Texas A&M University and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at the Colonial Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. She then retired from there in December 2009 — her on-call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends!

The following month, she started working for Shelter Outreach Services, a high-quality, high-volume spay-neuter organization. About the same time, Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician, to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center, in Genoa, N.Y. The practice is limited to performance dogs. That means that’s basically all she does these days, performance dogs, so she knows her stuff.

She also teaches a class on Canine Sports Medicine for Performance Dog Handlers here at FDSA.

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/29/2018, featuring Julie Symons, talking introducing handler scent discrimination. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we’ll be talking to Sue Yanoff.

Sue graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y, in 1980.

After three years in private practice, she joined the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. While on active duty, she completed a 3-year residency in small-animal surgery at Texas A&M University and became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

She retired from the Army in 2004, after almost 21 years on active duty. After working for a year on a horse farm in Idaho, she returned to Ithaca to join the staff at the Colonial Veterinary Hospital as their second surgeon. She then retired from there in December 2009 — her on-call schedule was interfering with those dog show weekends!

The following month, she started working for Shelter Outreach Services, a high-quality, high-volume spay-neuter organization. About the same time, Sue joined her colleague, a physical therapist and licensed veterinary technician, to start a canine sports medicine practice at the Animal Performance and Therapy Center, in Genoa, N.Y. The practice is limited to performance dogs. That means that’s basically all she does these days, performance dogs, so she knows her stuff.

She also teaches a class on Canine Sports Medicine for Performance Dog Handlers here at FDSA.

Hi Sue, welcome back to the podcast!

Sue Yanoff: Hi Melissa, it’s good to be back.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out and refresh our memories a little bit, can you share a bit about the dogs that you have at home now?

Sue Yanoff: Yes. I have two Beagles. The older Beagle is almost 13, and she’s retired from everything except hiking and having fun. She’s a breed champion, she has her UD, her Rally Excellent MX MXJ and TD.

My younger Beagle, Ivy, is 6. Most people know her from FDSA classes. She’s also a breed champion. She has her MACH. She recently finished her CDX and we’re working on Utility. She has her Rally Novice and a TD.

Melissa Breau: That’s a lot of titles there, lady. Congrats.

Sue Yanoff: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: So we went back and forth a bit before this call on topics to talk about today, and I want to start out by just talking about some of the basics. What is the difference between a sports specialist and a regular vet?

Sue Yanoff: In veterinary medicine, in order to call yourself a specialist, you have to meet certain requirements, and that includes completing a residency in whatever area you’re a specialist in, passing a very long and difficult certifying examination, and being board-certified by the specialty board that oversees your specialty. So if you’re a specialist in internal medicine, it’s the American College of Veterinary and Internal Medicine. If you’re a specialist in surgery, it’s the American College of Veterinary surgeons. So to call yourself a specialist, you have to be certified, board certified, by one of these specialty organizations. Now, a lot of people can be very good at something and not have gone through all the requirements of being able to call themselves a specialist. But a sports specialist basically is somebody that has extra training and experience in that particular area. Regular veterinarians might be very good at sports medicine, but they can’t call themselves a specialist. But, in general, regular veterinarians are general practitioners and they have to be good at everything, so it’s very hard to be good at everything and specialize in any one area. I used to be a general practitioner, I have a lot of respect for general practitioners, I couldn’t do what they do, but that’s the difference between a regular vet, a general practitioner, and a specialist.

Melissa Breau: One of the things I’ve heard you talk about a little bit before is this idea of a good sports medicine exam. What’s really involved in that? What does that look like?

Sue Yanoff: A good sports medicine exam, like any good exam, starts with a patient’s history. It’s very important to get a good history because a lot of times we don’t have a history that a dog is lame. We have a history that the dog’s performance is deteriorating. Their times are little slower, they might be knocking bars or popping weaves. Sometimes they might be a little reluctant to jump into the car. So it all starts with a good history, which takes time.

And then a sports medicine exam involves examining the whole dog and not just one leg. When I was an orthopedic surgeon, I often would just examine the leg that the dog was lame on. We knew which leg was a problem, I’d examine that leg, say, “Here’s the problem, here’s what we need to do,” and that was the extent of the exam. With a sports medicine exam, I examine the whole dog — the neck, the back, all four legs, even if I know which leg the dog is lame in, which oftentimes we don’t know which leg the dog is lame in, so I examine the entire dog.

As an orthopedic surgeon, I would mostly concentrate on bones and joints. For a sports medicine exam, it’s really important to look at the muscles and tendons and ligaments, which often are injured.

So it’s just a different way of doing the exam. It’s much more complete, it takes more time, and to do a good sports medicine exam I think you need more than a 20-minute office visit, which is often difficult for general practitioners to do.

Melissa Breau: A lot of the time, people have a dog that comes up lame or has an ongoing issue and they aren’t really sure what the cause is. We talked a little about regular vets, they might even take their dog to that regular vet, and the vet does what they normally do, they get an “all clear,” but they’re still seeing signs of pain. I guess what stood out to me from your last answer was this idea that maybe it’s a little more subtle when we’re talking about a performance dog. Handlers may notice the more subtle signs of pain. What should they do in that kind of situation? How can they find out what’s actually going on?

Sue Yanoff: There’s two ways to handle that. Oftentimes the regular vet doesn’t find anything because, it’s as you say, it’s very subtle, or they’re actually not looking in the right place.

And oftentimes dogs will get better with what I call “the standard conservative treatment,” which involves restricted activity, no running, no jumping, no playing with other dogs, no training, leash walks only. When I say “restricted activity,” I usually mean a lot more restriction than most people think.

And then put them on some type of pain medicine, anti-inflammatory medicine. I like to use NSAIDs; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a good first start. Oftentimes with a minor injury, if you treat them with restricted activity and NSAIDs, they will often get better, so there’s nothing wrong with handling the situation that way. But if they’re still seeing signs of pain after doing that, then they really need to seek out a specialist to find out what’s going on.

When I say “a specialist,” I usually mean somebody who is either a board-certified surgeon that does a lot of orthopedics, or a board-certified sports medicine vet — and we’ll talk about what that means later — or somebody that has some advanced certification and training in sports medicine and rehab. We would like to hope that one of those specialists can do a good exam and try to pinpoint what the problem is, because, as you know, you’ve also heard me say, we need a diagnosis.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with treating generically for a minor injury, and a lot of dogs will get better if you do that. But if they don’t, we really need to have a better idea of what’s going on, what’s the diagnosis, what are we treating, and are we treating it appropriately.

Melissa Breau: What if the dog is given a diagnosis and a treatment plan, and the treatment plan just doesn’t seem to be doing the trick? The dog doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Sue Yanoff: In that case, if the diagnosis is not correct, which happens — it even happens to me, and I could give you an example of a case that I sent for referral a few weeks ago — or the treatment plan is not appropriate … I find what’s more common is the clients that I see, if they have been to another vet, or even another specialist, they have not been given a diagnosis. I often will ask a client, “What did your vet say is wrong?” and they say, “Well, they didn’t really say.” So that’s a problem right there. If they’re given a diagnosis, that’s great. Oftentimes my clients aren’t even given a diagnosis. And if the treatment plan doesn’t seem to be helping, either we’re not treating them appropriately, or — and this happens much more commonly with pet owners — they’re not following instructions. So if I ask you to rest the dog and restrict them, and you’re not really doing that, then the problem might not get better.

Melissa Breau: Do most dogs recover from sports-related injuries? What does that kind of “recovery” usually look like? You just talked a little bit about what you mean when you say “rest a dog.” Do you usually recommend rehab of some sort? Can you talk a little bit about how all that works?

Sue Yanoff: Sure. That’s a good question, several good questions. In my practice, yes, most dogs recover from sports-related injuries. Now, there are some things, like if it’s a chronic degenerative disease like arthritis or lumbosacral disease, then the dog is not ever going to recover fully. We can only manage the symptoms. But for muscle and tendon injuries, and even for fractures and some things like torn cranial cruciate ligaments, yes, dogs absolutely can recover from sports-related injuries.

In our practice there’s three phases of recovery. The first is rest and restricted activity. We need to allow the injury to get better. We need to allow the injury to heal. During this phase of healing, we basically don’t do anything more than have the owners do short leash walks a couple of times a day. So there’s minimum stretching and minimum p.t. and not a lot of strengthening activities.

And then we will recheck the dog, and if the owner thinks the dog is doing better, and we don’t find as much pain as we felt on the first exam, then we will go to the second phase of treatment, which is rehab. This is where you put in your stretching and your strengthening exercises and your increased activity to build up the dog’s endurance again, and that progresses as the dog progresses, and that’s tailored to each dog.

I should say, during the initial stage of treatment we will do modalities like ultrasound, if necessary, or more commonly laser or massage and mobilization and things like that.

So the first phase is treatment, which is basically restricted activity, the second phase is conditioning, where we start to increase the dog’s activity with the goal to get them back to normal activity, and then the third stage is what we call retraining, and this is where we give the owner a program to get the dog back to competition in their sport of choice. That can take anywhere from three to twelve weeks, depending on what the injury is and how long the dog has been restricted and other things like that.

Melissa Breau: For that three to twelve weeks, you’re just talking about that last phase, right? Might take three to twelve weeks for training.

Sue Yanoff: Yes. The last phase might take three to twelve weeks. So if you have a dog with an injury like medial shoulder syndrome, the post-operative recovery period is twelve weeks, and then probably another eight to ten to twelve weeks of conditioning and rehab to get them back to normal activity, and then another ten to twelve weeks of retraining to get them back to competition. That is one of the injuries that takes a long time to get back to competition, but certainly it’s possible.

A lot of the dogs that we treat, when they get back to competition, they’re better than they ever have been because they are in excellent condition, they’re very well trained, the owner knows a lot about warming up and cooling down, and a lot of them go back to very long, successful careers.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I want to shift gears a little bit. I know that I’ve heard you say on numerous occasions that pain in general is undertreated in dogs. Why do you think that is? Why does that happen?

Sue Yanoff: I think it’s because dogs can’t whine and complain like people can. And a lot of dogs don’t show strong, overt signs of pain. There are ways they can tell us subtly, but a lot of people don’t know what these signs are and don’t really think that they’re causing pain.

I’ve had a lot of clients say, when they bring the dog to me, “Well, I don’t think he’s in pain,” and I can tell you right off that if your dog is limping, 99.9 percent of the time it’s because of pain. It interests me that people know that their dog is limping but don’t think they’re in pain, because I can tell you from experience with me, when I bang my knee or stub a toe, I limp because it hurts, and when it doesn’t hurt anymore, then I stop limping. So if the dog’s limping, it’s because of pain.

But oftentimes the dogs that I see are not limping, but there are other, more subtle signs, and we often find pain when I examine the dog. I’ll move a joint in a certain way and the dog will react, or I’ll push on a certain place on the spine and the dog will react, and the reaction can be anything from something very subtle, like if they’re panting, they stop panting, or they’ll lick their lips, or they’ll look back at me. Occasionally I’ll have a dog that will yelp or whine or try to bite me, which is great, because then I know for sure that they’re in pain.

Melissa Breau: There aren’t many people who would follow “try to bite me” with “which is great.”

Sue Yanoff: Yeah, right. Usually, I can get out of the way fast enough, because I haven’t been bitten yet doing a sports medicine exam. I can’t say that for any other type of exam.

But we miss signs of pain, and then it’s not treated because, again, people think, Well, she’s not in that much pain, so she’ll be OK. What I was taught in vet school — and I graduated 38 years ago — is, this was common back then, is, “We don’t want to treat the pain, because if we treat the pain, the dog will be too active.” There’s even veterinarians and people that believe that today: Let’s not treat the pain because we don’t want them to be too active.

But we know that’s not true. Anybody that has a high-drive sports dog, or even a dog that wants to chase a ball or chase a squirrel, they’re going to do it whether they have pain or not, and then worry about the pain later.

That’s why I think that pain is undertreated in dogs. It’s either not recognized, or people don’t think it’s that important.

Melissa Breau: What’s your approach? How can you tell if pain is the problem, and then what do you usually do about it?

Sue Yanoff: My approach is, if the dog is coming to see me, whether they’re limping or it’s a performance issue, it is very likely due to pain, and it’s likely due to pain because of an injury.

As I said, there are a few things that will make a dog limp that’s not due to pain. but that really has nothing to do with sports medicine. So limping is an obvious sign of pain, crying and whining, obviously, or shifting the weight off the leg, or stiff when they’re getting up. Those are pretty obvious things that people can observe in their dog at home.

But then there are some less-obvious signs that people might not notice, like if your dog normally stretches a lot when they get up in the morning, and they’re not stretching as much as they used to, that could be a sign of pain. You know how when your dog shakes the water off of them they shake their whole body? Well, some dogs will shake half their body, and that might be a sign that the body part they’re not shaking is painful. They might come out of their crate a little slower, they might be reluctant to go up and down stairs, they might not want to play as much with the other dogs, they might be more grumpy with the other dogs, they might have a slight personality change.

In my webinar Chronic Pain, I listed nineteen signs of pain in dogs, and there’s probably more, so I think sometimes handlers need to listen to their dogs. Certainly performance issues can be a sign of pain, and we’ve discussed this before. A lot of people will blame a dog’s reluctance to jump, or going around a jump, or not listening, to being naughty and they try to fix it with training, but it could be that the dog is painful and that’s why they don’t want to do that thing.

Melissa Breau: I know if I over-exert myself, I tend to get a little bit sore, and I’ve certainly seen my own dogs, if we do something a little over the top one day, they might be a little less …

Sue Yanoff: Active.

Melissa Breau: Yes, or sore, the next day. So I’d assume it’s the same for dogs. If a dog is just a bit sore, or seems a bit sore the day after a trial, at what point do you start to worry that it might be something more serious than just that?

Sue Yanoff: I think it’s something that has to go on for a while. All of us have had dogs who were out hiking, or after a trial, and they’re favoring a leg, or they’ll step on something and yelp and hold their leg up and then they’re fine, and the next day they’re fine, and that’s OK with me. Or if they’re a little bit stiff and sore the day after trial, especially if they’re a little bit older, especially if it’s a four-day trial, then I would just rest the dog, give them a day off, and if they’re fine after that, then I wouldn’t worry. But if they continue to show problems, if the soreness continues, as we talked about, or if performance deteriorates, or if it comes and goes, so you rest them for a day or two and then they’re fine, and then you go back to normal activity, and then in another week or so, or a month or so, the same thing happens, and then you rest them for a few days and then they’re fine, at that point either they’re not getting better, or if it comes and goes, that’s when you should maybe look further.

Melissa Breau: You recently gave a whole webinar where you talked about pain management, and you talked quite a bit about some of the drug options that are out there. What do you wish more handlers knew when it came to pain meds? Could you share one or two things that come to mind?

Sue Yanoff: I know a lot of people are reluctant to give their dogs pain meds, and I think those are mostly people that have high pain thresholds and so they don’t take pain meds themselves until it’s really, really bad.

I have a very low pain threshold. I’m a wimp, so if I have pain or soreness, I’m taking drugs. And I assume that all dogs are like me, that they’re pain wimps and they need meds. Now there are some dogs that we all know, Labs and Border Collies come to mind, that they can have a lot of pain and still will do their thing because they’re so driven. But just because they will doesn’t mean they should, and just because they seem to tolerate the pain well doesn’t mean they should.

So I think what I would like the handlers to know is just because you wouldn’t take pain meds for certain pain doesn’t mean that it’s OK to not give your dog pain meds, because I think we need to address their pain, since they can’t tell us how bad it is.

The other thing I want people to know are there are more drugs out there than NSAIDs. NSAIDs, I think, are really good drugs, but some people are scared because they can have serious side effects — not often, but they can. But I want them to know that NSAIDs for most dogs are great, that there are several different NSAIDs available, so if one NSAID doesn’t help your dog, or your dog has an adverse reaction to one NSAID, there are other options.

One thing we talked about in the webinar that if people didn’t take it might not know: there’s a new NSAID available for dogs called Galliprant, which has a lot fewer side effects than the NSAIDs that we have been using.

Melissa Breau: If somebody has been listening to all this, or they have a dog that’s injured at some point and they think the dog might benefit from seeing a sports specialist, what’s the best way to go about actually finding one and then getting an appointment?

Sue Yanoff: There’s three different types of veterinarians that you might want to see, if you need somebody with more training and experience than your general practitioner.

The first is a board-certified surgeon. This is a veterinarian that has been certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, who has the training required to meet those certification requirements. Surgeons are trained in orthopedic, neurological, and soft-tissue surgery. Once they finish their residency and go into practice, they might specialize in a particular area like orthopedics or neuro, but we’re trained in all three. So if you want to find a board-certified surgeon who has a special interest in orthopedics or sports medicine, then you can find somebody like that. You can get on the website of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and find a specialist.

I would recommend that you find a specialist who specifically states that they have an interest in sports medicine and has several years experience, because the more we practice, the better we get, because, to tell you the truth, I’ve learned the most from the diagnoses that I’ve missed and referred for a second opinion and go, Oh, I didn’t know that was a problem. Now I know.

The second type of specialist is a board-certified sports medicine vet. This is a veterinarian that has been certified by the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, and again, my recommendation is to look for somebody that has several years experience in the specialty. And for the sports medicine specialty I kind of like it if you find a veterinarian who actually does some sports with their dogs, because I think you get a whole different perspective on sports medicine when you actually do some of these sports.

The third type of veterinarian, who can’t really be called a specialist but has some extra training in sports medicine rehab, is a veterinarian who has a certification called CCRT, which stands for Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. This is somebody that has some extra training through online classes, through three weeks of in-person classes, and while the training is not as extensive as a board-certified specialist, at least they have some advanced training.

The point I want to make is just because somebody is a specialist doesn’t mean that they’re good at what they do. You would think that they would be pretty good, but not always, and just because somebody is not a specialist doesn’t mean that they’re not good. So if you have no place to start, those are good places to start. I like for you to get recommendations from somebody who has seen the sports medicine vet, whose dog has been treated successfully, and start there. But if you don’t have a recommendation from somebody, then I think looking at the websites of American College of Veterinary Surgeons or American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehab, or finding a veterinarian with a CCRT certification is a good place to start.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. I’ve got one more question here for you, Sue. I’ve replaced the three questions at the end of every interview with a new question for repeat guests, so as a final question I want to get back to dog training. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to training?

Sue Yanoff: I like this question a lot because I have probably ten answers for that. But having just come back from the FDSA camp, I think the lesson that came to mind first and I think is very important and that is foundation. That’s getting back to the foundations. Whether you’re having trouble with something or whether you just want to have an easy training session with your dog, get back to the foundations.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Sue!

Sue Yanoff: Thanks, Melissa. It was fun, as always.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week with Nancy Tucker to talk about behavior change and why it can be so hard.

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.

CREDITS:

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.

Jun 15, 2018

SUMMARY:

This week we talked to Denise Fenzi about FDSA Training Camp 2018!

In previous years, we’ve shared the audio from Denise’s opening talk, but unfortunately the camera this year didn’t do a great job picking up her voice, so instead we’re just going to talk through all the themes from camp.

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/22/2018, featuring Sue Yanoff, talking canine sports medicine!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Denise Fenzi about FDSA Training Camp 2018!

In previous years, we’ve shared the audio from Denise’s opening talk, but unfortunately the camera this year didn’t do a great job picking up her voice, so instead we’re just going to talk through all the themes from camp.

Hi Denise. Welcome back to the podcast!

Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa. It’s always nice to be here.

Melissa Breau: For anyone who is new to the podcast or to FDSA, can you share a little bit about camp? What is it? Why is it awesome?

Denise Fenzi: Well, camp is probably the highlight of my year in relation to FDSA. For starters, we have so much going on at any given time. I think we had 15 or 16 instructors this year, and we run six sessions at a time. So if you come, you have a whole lot of opportunity to see pretty much anything, and we cover a lot of dog sports now, you know, nosework and obedience and behavior, and it goes on and on.

Probably the thing that stands out for me is how consistent all of the instructors are with things we really care about, the wellbeing of the dog, and at the same time how different we all are in what we care about and where we choose to put our energy. So it’s a pretty amazing experience for me and I think for most of our participants as well.

Melissa Breau: I definitely agree. I feel like a lot of seminars and things, as an attendee you go and at the end you feel, OK, I’ve got some stuff to work on. Whereas I feel like the biggest takeaway for me from camp was the end of it I heard over and over and over again, “I’m so proud of my dog. They did awesome this weekend.” And I really think that can be attributed to the staff and the way the instructors work with the students. I think it just makes them feel good about their relationship with their dog.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. I think the corollary to that is that the instructors spend a lot of time saying, “I’m just so proud of my students.” Because the dogs got that from somewhere. Those dogs didn’t just show up being amazing. They’re amazing because the people who work with them have spent so much energy making training a wonderful experience. I’m so proud of my instructors because my instructors give so much to their students, and I’m so proud of my students because they give so much to their dogs. So it’s an amazing cycle for all of us.

Melissa Breau: This was the fourth annual FDSA Training Camp, and each year, camp has a theme. Do you mind sharing what the theme was for this year?

Denise Fenzi: This year we did Face Your Fears. So many students, they want to do it right, they care so much, and that’s amazing, but sometimes it’s also a little paralyzing, and what if? What if my dog pees in the ring? What if … you can fill in any blank you want, people are all over the map. And so I think that is something that is holding us back. So our theme this year was Face Your Fears. What can we do to allow us to succeed?

Melissa Breau: Do you mind … can you share the story of the dream that inspired all of that?

Denise Fenzi: That was not our original theme. We changed it. What tends to happen each year is something happens during the year that sparks a topic. So, for example, the first year was The Red Dress. That was because one of the students drew a picture of me which is often associated with the school, it’s our logo. But she put me in a red dress with heels, and it was kind of cute and fun and a lot of people talked about it, so what the hell, I dressed up in that outfit, which was actually quite hard, but it was fun.

The second year, we did a lot of conversation about the idea of ripples and bubbles, so the idea that you want to go out in the world and make change, and at the same time you’ve really got to have a safe space, so that’s a bubble that you hide in, and so I dressed up as a mermaid and represented that theme.

The third year, we had talked a lot about advocating for your dog, which is very much a focal point at FDSA, as we just talked about, and so I dressed up as a superhero, Wonder Woman.

This year, I’m not going to tell you the original theme because, who knows, we might come back to it. But I had a dream, not an amazing dream, just a regular dream, but it was something of a nightmare. What happened was at first I showed up for camp and there was some fellow teaching a lecture, a lab, and everybody was there, and he was somebody I did not know, and all of the students were riveted by him and he was teaching them about football. I remember being a little bit like, Wow, that’s different. I didn’t expect somebody I don’t know to be here teaching football, but I’ll figure it out later. And then I went outside and I saw all of these lions in cages, and I thought, I really have to talk to my instructors about telling me if they’re going to do something like that. But I was kind of OK with that too. I’m pretty easygoing. Then I came back in and looked at the clock and I realized I was about to teach, and I looked down and I was wearing a towel. I hadn’t gotten dressed yet. Of those events, a stranger teaching at camp football to the students and lions in cages outside, those didn’t particularly bother me. But being in a towel bothered me very much. And I did teach, by the way. I think in my dream I went ahead and taught. I don’t remember how it went beyond that.

But as I brought that up on the alumni list and I talked to the students about that dream and said, “Oh, I must be anxious about camp,” and that led to an amazing discussion where people talked about things that had happened to them for real at dog shows. Funny things, mostly. Well, it depends — funny is from your point of view. It’s not funny when your skirt falls off. It is funny when somebody else’s falls off. But the thing that came back to me is that people overcame those experiences and did continue to show, because they’re on the alumni list. They’re still in the community.

That led to my thinking about how is it that some people are able to face the fears that have happened, the clothing failures, and how other people are really more worried about what might happen, and how much of that is centered around the issue of being embarrassed. It’s not physical harm that most people were worried about. It’s emotional harm. So that was the dream that inspired our theme, and that was where we went with our discussion.

Melissa Breau: I think it’s funny that you say of the three things, the thing that bothered you most is talking in a towel, so you actually made that happen. For anybody that wasn’t there, Denise came out in a Pac-Man towel.

Denise Fenzi: I did, yeah. I think next year I’m going to go for a lot of clothing. It’s a little easier.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. During your opening talk, you had three tips for helping to deal with embarrassment. Can you rehash those for us?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. The first one is a little bit of an understanding of biology. When you are anxious, your body releases a variety of hormones that tells you, “Oh my goodness, you’re having an emotion.” But what’s interesting is those hormonal experiences are the same if you’re excited or anxious. It’s your brain that tells you, “I’m really excited because this amazing thing is going to happen,” or “I’m really anxious because this horrible thing might happen.”

That’s actually a fascinating and powerful thing to know, because if you know that, then you actually have a lot of control over the situation. So rather than saying, ‘I’m really anxious about showing my dog. She might pee in the ring,” you have the option of saying, “I’m really excited about showing my dog. I’ve never done this before. This is going to be new.”

And admittedly you have to do a little mental gymnastics, because our natural tendency, I think in particular for women, is to assume anxiety maybe when it really isn’t anxiety. Maybe we really are excited. They’ve done some really interesting research on that topic that you can tell yourself “I’m excited,” and that will help you become excited as opposed to anxious. So that would be one thing I would recommend is an awareness of that, and then just keep telling yourself, “I’m so excited to be at the dog show. This is going to be amazing,” rather than “I’m so scared.”

The second thing I talked about was preparation. When you’re afraid, instead of hiding it and smushing it down in your head, pull it out. What are you concerned about? And then prepare to make those incidences less likely. So if you are afraid that your dog is going to pee in the ring, teach your dog to go to the bathroom on cue, if that’s important to you, if that will give you comfort, so that when you go in the ring that is less likely to happen. Or if you think that you might go in the ring and your dog is going to have a meltdown of whatever type, ask yourself where that is coming from and is it a legitimate concern, because if it is, there are things you can do to prepare your dog and yourself to make that less likely. Don’t turn away from the things that concern you. Address them.

The final thing I suggested was train yourself and treat yourself with the kindness that we treat our dogs. We talk a lot about criteria with our dogs. Don’t put your dogs in circumstances that will over-faze them and make them uncomfortable. Don’t put yourself in circumstances that are above your readiness.

Your first dog show does not have to be a great big show with six rings and a lot of activity. Maybe start with some video competitions or a smaller local trial or a fun match. Ease into the dog show world or the world of competition. You may never go to a dog show, but I guarantee you will be just as nervous at your first video competition when you turn on that video camera as you will at a show.

So treat yourself with some kindness and set yourself up for success, because success really does breed success. That is absolutely well researched. We know this is true for dogs and people, that when people have many successful experiences they build confidence in themselves and they are willing to keep trying and moving forward. Failure, it’s wonderful to say “Well, just get back up,” but the fact is failure has a tendency to beat people down and they don’t keep getting back up. They stop trying.

So those were my three suggestions: a little understanding of biology, prepare yourself well so that you can feel like you’ve done everything in your power, and set some criteria that will set you up for likelihood of success.

Melissa Breau: You also shared some advice on what to do if it DOES all go to hell. How would you recommend people handle that?

Denise Fenzi: I’m a pretty big fan of preparing for everything, because I find that if I have a plan for how I’m going to handle it if it doesn’t go right, so just in a very straight training sense, I have asked my dog to do something, I have asked my dog to spin, and my dog just looks at me, has never heard that in her life or his life, it’s actually important to me to already know exactly what I will do. I asked you to spin, you didn’t do it, I am going to move my hand in a way that is going to cause you to spin and make it more likely.

When I do that, what I find is two things happen. One, I am more likely to recover quickly because I’ve already made a decision about what I’m going to do. But the second thing is, in a very subtle way you send off signals to your dog that tell them you have a plan and you are in control.

So if I think it is possible that my dog might run amuck in the ring and take off, I’ve already worked on an emergency recall and I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to kneel down and call my dog to me, because standing and looking paralyzed, not only is that very, very hard on you emotionally, and your dog, it creates long-term issues. Often if I give someone a plan for when things don’t go wrong, I’ve noticed that they have this instant change in their demeanor and then they never have a chance to practice their emergency situation because the dog reads their confidence. So I absolutely believe that you should have some ideas for everything if it’s going to go right. You can’t pick every possibility, but the ones that are biggest in your head you can pick some strategies in advance.

Melissa Breau: Our shirts this year all said, “Game on,” and they had a Pac-Man theme. I’d love to hear how you came up with that, and obviously it connects to the
“eating your fears” concept. So I’d love to hear where all the awesome designs come from and where the thought process occurs for that.

Denise Fenzi: Well, the school, FDSA, is quite a bit more than me. It’s many, many, many people. Teri Martin is sort of, well, she’s kind of everything, you know, she’s always right there supporting me in many ways. She is the one that came up with the idea of the Pac-Man creature eating up your fears. And then Rebecca Aube is my designer, and she’s designed all of the T-shirts for camp. She took Teri’s ideas and said, “I can run with that.” There’s always a process of back and forth, so we had power-ups. Eating the fruits in the real game of Pac-Man gives you power, so for us, eating up your fear, your anxiety, your worries. So it’s a cumulative process and effort of many people on our team to come up with these ideas.

Melissa Breau: That was all for the welcome talk or the intro talk, but you also gave a short closing talk, and your focus for that was on the importance of being happy in order to learn. I’d love to have you elaborate a bit more on that, why it’s important, and what made you talk about that.

Denise Fenzi: Well, I think most of us are aware that when we are embarrassed or afraid, we do not learn well. If something happens in a circumstance and we find ourselves embarrassed, most of us lose the next 15 or 20 minutes of the talk or the event or whatever it is, because we’re stewing. I mean, some of us lose days or months or years, even, over embarrassment. And fear is the same. When you are uncomfortable and nervous, really, fear dominates everything and we tend to focus on that.

Now, if you think about it, camp can be a very high-pressure situation for both the human and the dog. You’re standing in front of maybe a hundred people, you’re about to be taught and directed, and that’s stressful, so it’s so important that we have people as comfortable as we can possibly make them.

As a result, everyone — the instructors and the students and the dogs — we all think so much about the importance of maintaining happiness, and I know our students think about it a lot in relation to their dogs because we talk about it so much. That’s called a CER: a conditioned emotional response. We want our dogs to be conditioned to loving being with us and training and finding it fun and low stress. But the same is true for the people, and as a result, staff at FDSA and the design of camp is set up to minimize the human stress as much as possible, and to make sure that people are happy and feel loved and warm and excited to be there and understand that if they make an error, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s OK.

What I found as the years go by this becomes easier for all of us. We all become more comfortable with how this works. You could see the effects in camp. You could see that people were able to learn in real time and they were happy, so then of course their dogs are happy, and then of course the staff is happy, and again you have that circle.

I do not choose my closing speech in advance. I just talk about whatever stood out for me at camp. And it really stood out for me, was almost a bit of an epiphany for me, that CER, that conditioned emotional response, the importance of it, the importance of happiness and feeling good is just as important for the handler as it is for the dog and that we all take some responsibility for making that happen.

Melissa Breau: Of course the other thing you talk about during the closing talk every single year is the date and location for next year. I want to talk a little more about that, but first, where and when is it next year?

Denise Fenzi: All right. It is May 19 through the 21st, it’s three days, 2019, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The location is the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center. Once again we have lots of space. We go to some trouble to ensure that we have a lot of space so that we have the best possible sound. Once again we’ll have a wide variety of instructors. We do have a few changes, I think people will be excited about that, a couple of new people coming in.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to get in a little bit more into what goes into choosing the location and the space and stuff like that. I know everybody at camp was pretty excited about where camp would be, but obviously choosing that location is a very involved process, and I know usually Teri is working on it pretty much as soon as one year ends, trying to plan for the next year. So how do you decide where to have camp each year? What goes into that?

Denise Fenzi: It’s actually, it’s really quite complex. Planning camp is actually a two-year cycle, so we are already picking our 2020 facility now because you have to start really far in advance.

For 2019, we have a contract signed, but I think maybe more goes into camp than people realize, and it’s a very complex thing. Just finding a facility that can host us is hard because we need large, open working spaces. Many conferences don’t have working dogs that require large open spaces. It’s just the nature of our dog sports. That alone takes a lot of space.

The second one is sound. If you’re going to run six rings at the same time, you need six distinct spaces. But you don’t want six huge spaces, because one, sound does not, it’s not as efficient to be in a huge building with a smaller number of people, and the second thing is just expense. You pay for all those large spaces.

Just logistically there are only so many places in the United States, and each one that we investigate ends up taking us several hours, once we narrow it down, and then we find something that’s just not going to work, so lack of air conditioning or no airport nearby or whatever is part of that.

Some of the criteria, we are looking for heavy student population centers because experience has taught us that people generally drive within about an eight-hour radius, although I did notice this year people are coming from further. So we’re looking for places where we already know we have a lot of students.

In addition, we are trying to rotate it around the country, sort of a north, south, east, west, but it’s not that clean because again we’re looking for population centers. So this year we’re about eight hours east of last year because we feel that we can fill that effectively at this time. We can pull people down from the northeast, it was too far for them, and we can pull people up from the southeast because it was too far for them, and hopefully we’ll also pull people in from the middle of the country, and we have an airport within about an hour. Next year we’ll probably make a more radical change the year after that and head back to the other side of the country.

It’s actually very, very difficult for us to pick locations, and we worry and we want everyone to be able to participate, but we recognize the difficulty of that. And we do generally have people come internationally, so hopefully people from Europe and, well, Europe in particular will consider coming over next year, because it’s really only about six or seven hours to get to the East Coast, so we’re trying to maximize, and Canadians tend to represent very, very well at camp, so we’re hoping they’re going to come down. They’re some lively people, those Canadians.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure they’d appreciate that. I know that you were talking about the sound thing, and a lot of the time when those threads pop up on the alumni list, people suggest places where they’ve had great nationals and things like that. I think there’s often a failure to realize what you said that not only do we need the space to have six rings essentially, but they need to be divided into their own rooms, because otherwise you get so much bleed from sounds. I know that’s been an issue in past years. And you’ve worked to remedy food issues from past years and bathroom issues from past years. There’s just so many factors. I think it’s incredible.

Denise Fenzi: We do ask. We do a survey every year and it’s incredibly valuable for us. We get feedback about what does or doesn’t work. It also comes when I read the survey that I understand that some people just don’t understand. For example, we don’t choose the caterer. Most of the time the facility tells us what our options are, so we don’t say, “We’re going to bring in pizza.” They say, “No, you’re not.” For example, that is one. They tell us where we can do it. They tell us if we can or cannot have outside alcohol. They tell us what the prices are going to be. We do not make money on those things. So we have to work within the constraints that we have, and I think people are unaware of many of our constraints. However, we always get suggestions every year that we look at and we say, “This we can do.”

So if you are really passionate about something and you don’t understand why we are ignoring you, it’s not necessarily that we think it’s not a good idea. It may be outside of our control, or there may be other expenses or other things that people are not aware of that we have to dovetail all of these things together. It’s a very complicated and rewarding experience for us.

Melissa Breau: I just have one more question on my list, but before we get to that, I wanted to give you an open choice question, for lack of a better term. Is there anything else fun or exciting going on at the academy or favorite moments from camp that you want to share?

Denise Fenzi: There’s so much. You know, you go home from camp on such a high, and I think a big part for me is this sense of wonder. I’m amazed at what FDSA is and who it is. It is the people. Where did I find a Teri and a Melissa and a Rebecca? Where did I find these amazing people? So, for me, camp is really the people. Where did I find these amazing students? The volunteers — they’re fantastic. They work so hard, they’re focused, they just do so much.

I think the thing I flew home with on my airplane as I came home was that sense of people, how amazing people can be, if you’re looking for what’s going right. Camp is a great example of what went right, and that will hold me probably for months. I’ll stay excited about that.

Melissa Breau: So I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve been trying something new at the end of each episode. The three questions at the end of every interview were definitely one of my favorite things early on, but it obviously doesn’t make sense to ask them over and over when people come back. So I’ve come up with a new question for returning guests, and I think you’re the second or third person I’ve had the chance to ask it. What is a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Denise Fenzi: This is one I talk about a lot for other people, but it came home to roost. I would like to talk about videotaping. Has anybody not heard me tell you, “You have to videotape your work if you really want to improve.” Of course you can do it other ways, but my goodness, if you videotape and look at it — this is the second part — look at it from an outside perspective, don’t watch yourself training your dog, watch your friend training a dog, and that extra step of removal will show you things. It will allow you to relax your brain and your defensive side that says, “I know I’m doing it right,” because we all have that, and it will allow you to say, “Oh, that’s really a quick tweak here, just let’s change that little thing.”

It did kind of come home. I’ve been doing some new stuff with Brito, and I was reminded that I need to pay more attention to my basic mechanics. Many of these things are fairly muscle memory for me, but if you don’t pay attention, you will start to slide. You’ll just get a little bit sloppy. And I realized as I’m trying to teach him some new skills, I am reminded that I need to pay more attention to my mechanical skills. Think about it. You give your cue, you give your hand help if needed, you take your food out of your pocket. That simple sequence has started to blend together over time. So I would say that has been my lesson, my recent lesson that is serving me well.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Denise! This was great.

Denise Fenzi: Oh, it’s always great to be here. Thank you, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! As a last-minute reminder, this comes out on Friday the 15th, which is also the last day to register for this session at FDSA. There are a ton of amazing classes running this term, so if you haven’t, you should go check them out. And we’ll be back next week, this time with Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine.

CREDITS:

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.

Jun 8, 2018

SUMMARY:

Amanda has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20+ years, teaching all levels of agility with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between dog and handler.

She works with all styles of handling, from running with your dog to distance handling, and tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and handler. She’s always looking to help bring out the best in each team.

Amanda’s handling system, “Cues for Q’s,” works off her three base cues: Upper Body Cues, Lower Body Cues, and Verbal Cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Amanda teaches handlers how to use all of these cues together to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All of these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles on her own dogs.

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/15/2018, featuring Denise Fenzi, talking about camp this year!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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 Amanda Nelson.

Amanda has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20+ years, teaching all levels of agility with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between dog and handler.

She works with all styles of handling, from running with your dog to distance handling, and tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and handler. She’s always looking to help bring out the best in each team.

Amanda’s handling system, “Cues for Q’s,” works off her three base cues: Upper Body Cues, Lower Body Cues, and Verbal Cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Amanda teaches handlers how to use all of these cues together to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All of these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles on her own dogs.

Hi Amanda! Welcome back to the podcast.

Amanda Nelson: Hi, it’s so great to be back again.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. To start us out, can you just refresh our listeners’ memories by telling us a little bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Amanda Nelson: Technically three dogs, although one of them is my boyfriend’s. My older dog, Nargles, is 9 years old, and I’m spending most of this year getting her ready to go to the NADAC championships in the Stakes Division, which is a distance class, basically.

My young dog, Ally, is 5 years old, and this will be her first year going to championships, again hopefully in the Stakes Division. So I’ve been practicing a lot of distance stuff with them, really trying to fine-tune Nargles and build up Ally’s confidence and all that good stuff for her pushing out and doing all that good distance stuff.

And then my boyfriend, Jimmy, has Tripp that I’ve trained with him. He, too, is going in Stakes, hopefully, so it’s a whole group of them all going together, so that’s a lot of fun.

Melissa Breau: I don’t train agility with my dogs — at least not yet. I do know that most competitors who do have a lot of foundation skills they work on with dogs for jumps and tunnels and contacts. How common is it to include foundation skills for distance specifically in that “beginner” work?

Amanda Nelson: I think it’s fairly common, especially if that’s something that you’re wanting to do in the future, it’s a goal or something that you’re looking towards. I think it’s fairly easy to go ahead and incorporate those distance skills in with the foundation skills. I do it a lot with my young dogs.

With that being said, I listen to the dog quite a bit, and I don’t want to push them too much or ask for too much distance work right off the bat. But I do start incorporating some of that confidence work and some of those skills to help build up that confidence and build up that drive to want to work away from me, especially with those younger dogs, and get them used to that kind of work and that kind of distance right from the get-go.

Melissa Breau: When you’re training your own dogs, at what point do you start that, do you begin working on those distance skills?

Amanda Nelson: It really depends on the dog. Nargles, right from the very beginning, was very much into … she liked moving away from me, she liked doing the distance work. So I started incorporating it pretty much right from the start. When I started doing even my groundwork skills with her, my targeting and working with cone work and things like that, I started asking for quite a bit of distance from her because that’s really what she wanted and really what she liked.

Ally, on the other hand, who I said was 5, she is just now this year really wanting to get into that distance work. She’s just now coming into her own and thinking that maybe she would like to do something like that. So her foundation I did incorporate distance work and distance skills, but I definitely didn’t push for it or ask too much of her, just because she just wasn’t mentally quite ready. So with her, I let her tell me when she was ready to start adding more and more distance. But I still incorporate it, I guess, in her training. I just didn’t push it, I guess would be the best way to explain it.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned cones a little bit in there. What do those early steps in training look like, for those that are out there and interested?

Amanda Nelson: I start with the cones, and pretty much the early steps when I start doing foundation work, with my distance training even, the cones are great, even if your eye is not looking towards distance, you’re just looking at handling and commitment skills.

I start teaching my dogs to work with the cones — when I say “out,” that means go to the outside of the cone, “here” means come to the inside of the cone — I developed working with the cones and working my dogs on those because I didn’t have a lot of space and I still don’t, and I travel extensively without equipment. Using the cones, I can set them up at campgrounds, or I can set them up just about anywhere, and I can work my young dogs on all their distance and directional skills with four to six cones, depending on how much space I have.

So when I’m beginning with them, it basically is just, “Here, we’re going to send you out around a couple of cones,” build their confidence to go out away from me to get around those cones, and then I can also work on my handling timing, because my dog’s definitely going faster just going around a cone, as opposed to going over a jump and things like that. So it improves my timing quite a bit by using the cones, and I can also work on not only their distance skills but their directional skills as well.

Melissa Breau: How do you then take those and build on them? What are some of the intermediate steps between go around a cone, and sending to an obstacle that may be a few yards away?

Amanda Nelson: What I usually do  — it’s what I did with Ally, I think again is what really helped build her confidence and build her drive to want to work away from me — is once I have my dogs doing what I call cone work, so they’re doing six cones and we’re doing a bunch of directional changes, distance work, and things like that, I’ll take the cones and I’ll place them next to jumps or hoops. They can be placed next to the wing of a jump, and because I’ve done so much foundation and value-building for those cones, when I give my dog an “out” cue, or whatever directional cue I want to use, they’re going to see that cone and go, “Oh, OK, I know that cone, I know that,” and be able to push out around that jump wing and start applying the cones to obstacles.

I can also use them in sequences. What I really like to use them for is in-between, say, a contact tunnel discrimination, so when I say “out,” they can go out tunnel, or here into the contact walk-it.

I like to start blending them in with my equipment, and it gives my dogs something that is a visual. So when I say “out,” they see that cone and like, “OK, yes, I need to go out around that cone,” and then I can start fading that cone back a little bit.

I’ve also brought them back in for my older dogs. As an example, Nargles, for some reason she’s having a brain fart on her discriminations. In her old age she’s forgotten what that means.

Melissa Breau: It happens to the best of us.

Amanda Nelson: That’s right. So in her training sessions I’ve actually brought the cones back, and I’ve put them in-between the contact and the tunnel and just helping her remember that “out tunnel” really truly does mean “out tunnel.” So they’re great for that too — to help those bring older dogs, if they need a little tuning up or something like that, to bring it back into perspective for them.

Melissa Breau: I know you mentioned “out” and “here.” Do you mind repeating which ones which way again? I know people are always interested in cues.

Amanda Nelson: My basic cues, “out” means for my dog to move out away from me, “here” means for my dog to move in towards me, just like a discrimination “out” would be out to the outside obstacle, which is usually a tunnel, and “here” would be to come to the inside obstacle. A “switch” means for my dog to turn away from me, so if they’re on my left side, they’re going to turn away from that left side. And then I have a “tight,” which is basically just my wing wrap cue when I want them to wrap a hoop, or wrap a jump, or something similar, and I need them to turn very tightly back towards me.

Those are my base cues, and I tend to blend them together. For instance, today I’m at an agility competition, and Ally needed to change directions, so I needed to give her a “switch,” which meant I needed her to turn away from me, and then I needed her to wrap the jumps. So I would say “switch,” which meant for her to turn away, and then I would say “tight,” which meant for her to wrap the jump towards me.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, because it really helps communicate all those different spatial things, the different directionals.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah, yeah.

Melissa Breau: I know distance is a pretty big element in the competition venue you usually compete in. Is it beneficial for dogs in other venues too? What advantages does training for distance really give an agility team?

Amanda Nelson: I definitely think it’s beneficial. A lot of venues now, I think, are all asking for more and more distance, and I think it’s beneficial no matter what agility venue you want to do with your dog, especially for the distance classes — NADAC, Chances, or Gamblers, Fast, any of that, it’s great to have those skills. Each venue asks for just a little bit of a … they’re all a little different in the distance skills they ask. But the core quality or core skill that you’re looking for is for your dog to move away from you, and so I truly think distance is great for that.

And distance is great to be able to use to get where you need to be as a handler. To be able to send your dog out away from you to go do that jump so you can get somewhere else — that, I think, is the biggest benefit of distance. Especially for me, I’m not perhaps the speediest handler in the world, so I like to use that to my advantage that I can send my dog out and away, and then I can get to where I need to go to help them on a piece of the course where they really need me to be there as a handler. So I love using distance for that.

Melissa Breau: Is this something that all teams can learn? Is it something that all teams can at least work on?

Amanda Nelson: I definitely think so. Between teaching online and teaching in person, I feel like I’ve dealt with just about every breed in the whole wide world, mixed breeds, it just feels like I’ve seen them all, which is fantastic because I love going to seminars and seeing all these different breeds. At one seminar I taught last year, in the same session I had a Great Dane and a Chihuahua and it was fantastic. It made my whole year.

But each dog is going to be a little different in how they learn. Each dog is going to be a little different in how much distance they can give. I have three Border Collies, and all three of them are vastly different in what they’re comfortable with, what distances are comfortable.

I really tend to listen to the dog, and I do believe all handler and dog teams are capable of distance. It’s just a matter of, in my opinion, confidence is the biggest thing with distance. Being clear in your cues and your dog having the confidence to perform those cues away from you is huge, and I think once you’ve crossed that bridge, once you’ve taught your dog that “When I say ‘out,’ I really mean ‘out,’” and you’ve built so much value for moving out away from you, whether it’s with the cones or whatever system you would like to use.

But once you’ve built all that confidence, and built that drive to move away from you, I think dogs really like it. I loved watching, for instance, the little Chihuahua I worked with. She just lit up. Every time her owner said “out,” she was like, “I can, I can, I can,” and her little legs were going a hundred miles an hour, and she was so excited because she got to do something all by herself sort of thing. She was so happy to go show that she really could do that. It was very cool.

Melissa Breau: I was waiting for that c-word to come up, because I know what we talked about heavily last time was the fact that confidence is such a huge component of good distance skills, and so I knew it was going to come up sooner or later. Your class on Intro to Distance — I know you’re teaching that this session, so it starts on June 1st. I can’t remember if this is coming out right before this or right after that, but would you be willing to share a little more about the class itself, what you’ll cover, maybe who would be a good fit?

Amanda Nelson: Yeah, definitely. I love this class. It’s definitely one of my favorites. I love the beginning stages of teaching distance. I love watching dogs light up when they start putting pieces together.

So this class is going to be … it covers all of my foundation work, so it’s very minimal equipment. I do think towards about Week 5, Week 6, we start using jumps and hoops, but it’s very minimal.

A lot of it is focusing on the handlers, making sure that our handlers are all using the feet in the right direction, the arms in the right direction, that the verbals match what all that should be saying, and teaching the dog to really … a lot of it, again, is confidence — building that confidence to go out around that cone, building value for the body language and the verbal cue of “out,” so every time they hear it that they light up and they want to go out do it. This class really focuses on building that up.

As far as who it’s good for, the last time I ran this class, I had a bunch of foundation, like puppies and young dogs who were just coming in and really wanting to get that foundation training right from the get-go and really wanted to build that confidence. But then I also had about three older dogs that came in, and the dogs are competing, they’re high-level competition dogs, and the dogs just weren’t giving that same spark that they were, so the students really wanted to see if this class would help bring that back, and that was a ton of fun.

So it is a foundation groundwork class, but whether, I think, you have a young dog or even an older dog who maybe you want to start working on some distance skills because maybe you haven’t previously, or want to build that confidence back up, I really like this class in that respect. The focus is all about bringing up that spark and bringing back the confidence and that push to get them to want to go out and do things all by themselves sort of thing.

Melissa Breau: This wasn’t necessarily in the questions, but I know earlier you mentioned that one of the reasons you like using your cones is because it lets you work in a fairly limited amount of space. How much space is somebody going to need to work on the exercises from this class?

Amanda Nelson: Very minimal. Like I said, towards the end of class I set up some more advanced-type exercises that have a couple of jumps, a couple of hoops, that sort of thing, but they’re more like bonus lessons. Most of the stuff is focused around the four cones, and most of the lessons that you’ll see if you sign up for the class, most everything, all my lessons are filmed, I’m in a very tiny little area. I would say maybe, oh geez, 25 feet wide maybe by 25 feet. It’s very small, if that. Enough for four cones set up. Some of the videos you can watch my progression of travels because they’re filmed in a different location almost every week. So it’s a very small little area. I think I usually recommend people have about 30 by 30 feet, somewhere in there, so they have enough room to get around. But I tend to modify any of the lessons if it doesn’t quite work for someone’s space.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. Now, in addition to that class, you’re also teaching an agility Handler’s Choice this session. I’d love to hear a little bit about what kinds of problems students could work on if they wanted to take that class.

Amanda Nelson: Again Handler’s Choice. That’s again another favorite class. Apparently all mine I like a lot, so that’s probably a good thing.

Melissa Breau: That is a good thing.

Amanda Nelson: That’s a good start, right? I was just getting ready to say that’s my favorite class. Handler’s Choice I think is a ton of fun. There’s other instructors in the school that offer Handler’s Choice, and I always sign up for them at least at Bronze because I love seeing … in one six-week class you get to see so much stuff. It’s just so awesome.

The last time I ran Handler’s Choice we had people wanting to work on weave poles, we had distance, we had handling. I had one handler who wanted to prep for an upcoming championship, and then I had a couple of puppies that were just working on cone work. I believe one dog didn’t want to do any agility. She just wanted to focus on her start line and things like that.

So the Handler’s Choice, as long as it’s agility-related, so obviously equipment-related, you want to work on your weave poles, jumping contacts, that sort of thing. Also, skill-wise, you want to work on your directionals, distance, start line. We cover it all, as long as it’s related back into agility at some point for me.

But the Handler’s Choice I think is so much fun. Again, anytime I see an instructor in the school offering Handler’s Choice, I always sign up at Bronze because it is such a wealth of information. You get to watch all these Gold students working on a ton of things. It’s like having … if there’s ten Golds, it’s like watching ten different classes all at once. It’s fantastic. I think Handler’s Choice is fantastic.

Melissa Breau: It’s definitely, I think, one of the more undervalued classes on the schedule. Folks don’t really realize that even if they were to hire an instructor for private lessons for six weeks, compared to the cost of Gold class they’d be in a very different situation, and they’d be working once a week, not several times a week. So basically anything agility-related that’s not on the schedule specifically in the class they can come to you for.

Amanda Nelson: That is right. That’s right.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, for our last question here I want to try something new, and I’m hoping it goes well. Originally we had those three questions at the end of every interview, which was one of my favorite parts of doing a call with somebody, especially asking for favorite pieces of training advice, and I used to get all kinds of great feedback on them. Now that we’ve had all the instructors on a couple of times, it makes it a little bit harder to … we don’t ask the same question over and over again. So I’ve been coming up with a new way to ask a new question for returning guests, and I think I’ve finally come up with one. You get to be the first guest to try and answer it, so no pressure! What’s a lesson you’ve learned, or that you’ve been reminded of recently, when it comes to dog training?

Amanda Nelson: Honestly, it just happened today. I’m at a competition right now — see, this is perfect timing. That’s a good question. I’m actually at a trial this weekend. Nargles isn’t competing this weekend, so I’m putting all my focus into Ally, and I found myself today … because I’ve never put a lot of pressure on Ally because I’ve let her blossom and become her own little doggie, but I’ve always had Nargles to run.

I realized today, I was running Ally and I found myself just putting all this pressure on her of … now Nargles can’t run for a couple of weekends because she’s got a little injury, so I’m letting her have some time off, and all of a sudden I just found myself putting all this pressure on to “Well, you need to do this, and you need to do this, and we should be doing this.” I learned today, and I’ve been doing it for the past couple of weekends, patience and let your dog be your dog. Let them just be.

I found she completely changed. She was really coming up, and I was running her and Nargles together, like, “Wow, look at Ally go, she’s giving me so much good stuff.” Then all of a sudden these past couple of weekends, to me, until somebody pointed it out, I keep telling myself, “She’s going backwards, she’s not doing well, she’s not doing her contacts very well, she’s not doing this very well, and the big thing she’s not wanting to change directions really well, she’s regressing, I need to do this, I need to retrain this.”

And then I took a step back, and a friend of mine was like, “You know, you’re treating her like she’s already this elite-level competition dog, and she’s not. Because all your focus is on her.” Definite lesson I learned, but I think everybody — I think every dog trainer, every handler, no matter what sport — you find yourself falling into that trap of “My dog needs to be this. My dog is this old, and all these other dogs have all these titles, and my dog should have that title,” or “The littermates from that litter are all going to World Team, but my dog is not.” That sort of thing. I found myself doing that. I found myself going, “She’s 5, she should do this and she should be this and we should be here.”

I’ve never felt that way with her before because I’ve always had my other dog to focus on, and I found myself falling into that trap.

So it’s a lesson I don’t quite know how to put into words. I guess the one word would be behind it, but I guess it’s more of let your dog be who they are, I guess is what I’m trying to say in a roundabout jumble of words.

Melissa Breau: I honestly think it’s a great lesson, because I think anybody who’s ever competed in anything, not just agility, knows that feeling. You start to get nervous before a competition, especially if you only have one dog that you’re running. You get a little hyper-focused, you get a little hyper-attentive, you start to stress about little things that maybe wouldn’t bother you if you had another dog to think about running before them, or something else to think about or focus on. I totally get that. That seems like it’s something that will resonate big-time. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Amanda! This is great.

Amanda Nelson: Thank you so much. I love this. This is just fantastic.

Melissa Breau: It was fun to chat. And thank you to all of our wonderful listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time we’ll actually be back with Denise Fenzi! We’ll be doing a short recap of Camp from this year, and I’ll share a recording of her opening talk, so you won’t want to miss it!

If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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.

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