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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

For the last 2 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 other Friday, so stay tuned--and happy training!
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Aug 18, 2017

Summary:

Melissa Chandler has competed in conformation, agility, obedience, hunt tests, nose work, and rally.

She’s also successfully trained and handled non-owned dogs to many titles and championships. Today her focus is on nose work and parkour, both of which she teaches here at FDSA.

Melissa’s strengths are problem solving, by looking outside the box, and working with soft dogs. Owning and working with soft dogs has given her the ability to coach others to help build confidence, and has taught her how to set up training sessions, specifically with soft dogs in mind. She enjoys helping others and brainstorming to help other teams succeed. She has taught private lessons in agility and nose work that focus on solving specific training problems.

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/25/2017, featuring Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs and advanced training concepts we can teach our 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 will be talking to Melissa Chandler. Melissa has competed in conformation, agility, obedience, hunt tests, nose work, and rally. She’s also successfully trained and handled non-owned dogs to many titles and championships. Today her focus is on nose work and parkour, both of which she teaches here at FDSA. Melissa’s strengths are problem solving, by looking outside the box, and working with soft dogs. Owning and working with soft dogs has given her the ability to coach others to help build confidence, and has taught her how to set up training sessions, specifically with soft dogs in mind. She enjoys helping others and brainstorming to help other teams succeed. She has taught private lessons in agility and nose work that focus on solving specific training problems. Hi Melissa, welcome to the podcast.

Melissa Chandler: Thank you, glad to be here.

Melissa Breau: Excited to chat today. This is definitely a, you know, get into parkour a little bit, get into some of the nose work stuff. It’s a new topic for me so that’s exciting.

Melissa Chandler: Good, I’m glad.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, do want to tell us a little bit about your own dogs? Who they are? What you’re working on with them?

Melissa Chandler: Sure, I’d love to. Edge is my (several) year old Weimaraner who’s responsible for this awesome nose work journey we’re on. He currently has two nose work, three legs. We’ve only competed in two nosework three trials and he qualified and placed in both trials. We’re currently getting ready to enter more trials for this winter to work on our nose work three elite, and for those that are not aware you must qualify in three nose work, three trials, in order to earn your nose work three elite. Neither one of us can handle heat so our competition window is basically October to April, depending on spring weather.

Edge also loved obedience. He’s trained to utility so we do a lot of that just for fun. His absolute favorite thing is the dumbbell so we play a lot of fun retrieve games and a lot of times it’s his reward after a training session. He also loves fitness, which I think comes from all of the parkour exercises and obstacles that we’ve done, and he also loves working on tricks and he’s very awesome at them and he makes them look really easy.

Bam is my 3-year-old Vizsla and he’s actually responsible for our parkour adventures. He took puppy classes, Karen and Abigail who are the founders of the International Dog Parkour Association, and he was a superstar. He had incredible balance and rear end awareness for such a young puppy and he was always like a little kid at Christmas every time they introduced a new obstacle. It became part of our class whenever they brought something new out, we would turn Bam to face the wall so he couldn’t see, and then everyone would watch when he would turn around because he would just smile and light up with a new obstacle to start with. It was so cute.

He loves agility, hunting, obedience, and he’s a super nose work dog, but he also loves quartering. So, we’ve been working really hard at increasing motor value and slowly incorporating that into the environment with fun, easy highs, and also using some Premack, and I’m actually sharing our adventures of this journey in my current nose work 120 class and I think it’s a nice fit in that class because we’re starting all the different elements. And then, I’m also planning on turning it into a full proofing and distraction class at the beginning of 2018.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the heat. Where are you located?

Melissa Chandler: We’re in Ohio, so we have hot, humid summers and neither one of us can handle it.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I did a summer in Charleston at one point and that was pretty bad too so, I can sympathize.

Melissa Chandler: That’s one thing I love about my training building now because we have a place to go train that’s air conditioned in the summer.

Melissa Breau: Can’t beat that.

Melissa Chandler: No, here we get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, if it’s cooler, and get out and get a little bit of training in before the day starts.

Melissa Breau: I want to just kind of take it back a little bit to the beginning of your journey. I know you kind of mentioned each of your dogs has helped you get into a different sport. How did you originally get started out in dog sports?

Melissa Chandler: I’ve always enjoyed dog training before I really knew anything about it or what it was. I think when I was like 10 or 11 a friend of the family asked me to show her Schnauzer in conformation and I did one show and I was addicted. I convinced, or maybe, for a lack of better term, I negotiated with my dad to get a poodle. I actually asked for a Great Dane knowing I wouldn’t get a Great Dane, but I was able to negotiate down to a poodle, and we started some junior handling, and then from that I started doing conformations, and then I got into a 4H and AKC obedience. We competed locally at our county fairs and every year we were fortunate enough to win a spot to go to state fair.

So, we got to go to big competitions, for us, being at that young age in 4H, and my parents were so supportive. They had to drive me all over for training and trials, and every weekend we’d go off to some remote place to do a conformation or an obedience trial, and I fell in love with it so much, and then I met a Weimaraner and I knew I had to have a Weimaraner and I got my first Weimaraner and started obedience, and then I got my second Weimaraner and that’s when agility was just coming to the US and started agility and it’s kind of all history from there. So, I’ve been doing this for a really long time.

Melissa Breau: Now I know you mentioned Edge got you into nose work, do want to share that story a little bit? Like, what was it about nose work, or about him in nose work, how did that happen?

Melissa Chandler: Sure, as I said, Edge was responsible for this awesome nose work journey that we’ve shared and we both have such a passion for the sport now. He’s very soft and he stresses down. He loves to train and work, but he could not handle a trial environment and we went to several trials and he just wasn’t happy, and if he’s not happy, I’m not happy. So, I was looking for something for him to do and his breeders were in California and they had mentioned the great new sport called nose work. There wasn’t anything in our area so I had traveled and gone to a couple seminars and thought yes, this is for us, and was looking for some ongoing instruction and that is when Denise actually offered her very first online class before FDSA even existed. So, we’re from the pre FDSA days and we took her very first online class, nose work.

We started that and never looked back, took all of the classes online, and I’m one of those people, once I learn something, I want to learn anything and everything I can about it. I just want to know everything I can so I can help my dogs adjust. So, I traveled to a lot of different seminars, I went to different people, different philosophies, different ideas, and just absorbed as much as I could about nose work. I also volunteered at trials, even before Edge and I were competing, so I could learn what it was all about. I learned so much from the judges and debriefings. There’s things that, to this day, that still, they’re like little gems of information that I share with my students that I learned at debriefings. So, I highly recommend anyone that can volunteer at a trial to do it because it’s definitely, it’s a great education and you learn a lot of information.

Melissa Breau: Not to put you on the spot but do you mind sharing one of the tips that you picked up at a debriefing, just kind of for the audience?

Melissa Chandler: Not at all. One of the things, especially when you’re starting nose work, is your dog’s getting close to the source, close to the source, and you want to step in there and look, or step in there to get ready to reward, and the judge’s comment was whenever you feel like you need to step in, you step out — and that is so true because if your dog starts bracketing and working the odor the last thing you want to do is be in their way. So, you just take a step back. They don’t need you. You can’t help them. So, it’s just, get out of their way, they’ll tell you when they find it, and then you can step in and give them their reward. I’ve passed that onto so many students and I still remember it sometimes, you know, we’re working, working, working, you start to step in and it’s like no, take a step back, because if you do get in the odor you can prevent them from following the scent cone before, so, I find that to be very, very valuable. That was probably the very first trial, that I worked at, that I learned that information.

Melissa Breau: And I think that, just in general, kind of attending trials and helping out is such a great tip, I mean, I know I’ve been trying to do that for obedience stuff locally, because my dog’s not ready to trial, and it lets you meet people, it lets you get to know the local community, it lets you kind of see some of the judges and their different styles, I mean, it’s just, it’s incredibly invaluable.

Melissa Chandler: Absolutely. And I, if possible, at the nose work trials, I try to get a job that I have some interaction with the judge because most of them love to teach, so they tell you different things and you can just absorb so much information from them just, you know, if you’re a timer or something because they love to share that information.

Melissa Breau: Now, having worked with a soft dog, do you have tips for others who have soft dogs, kind of to help them let their dog shine or that they should know about setting up training sessions? I mean, what kind of advice would you share?

Melissa Chandler: Sure, this is another subject that I did a lot of research and I attended a lot of different seminars to try and get information, mostly to help Edge, and I think, first and foremost, it’s so important to keep your dog safe and build their trust because once they trust you, that you will keep them safe, that gives them more confidence, and as I always tell my dogs, I have a chew, it’s called I have your back. So, if they see something and they get concerned, I’m like, I got your back. So, that’s our communication of whatever it is, I see it, you’re fine, I got you, and it just takes time and by keeping them safe you build that trust that they know that you do have them.

I would say never lure or trick your dog into doing something that they don’t feel comfortable doing. Sometimes we find that in parkour because someone really thinks their dog should be able to do that behavior and the dog doesn’t feel comfortable in that environment, so they tried to take cookies and lure them there. Just back off, work on it somewhere else, and eventually it’ll happen. If you lure them, and then they get up there and they’re really afraid, they’re never going to want to do it again. If you let them do it on their own then they’ll be able to do that anywhere in the future.

Teach new behaviors in a familiar, comfortable environment, and then when you’re ready to take it to another room or on the road, lower your criteria and reward any effort that the dog gives you in trying to do that for you. And one thing, when you’re setting up your training sessions, make sure you’re not always asking for difficult behaviors or, in nose work, difficult searches. You want your dog to always look forward to and succeed in your training sessions. If your sessions are always difficult and challenging your dog will no longer look forward to them. Have fun sessions that you reward everything, or just play, or do whatever your dog enjoys most. I had mentioned how much Edge loved his dumbbell, there’s times we just go in the other room and we play with the dumbbell and he loves that, and just think of the value you’re building in your relationship in your training because we just went and did what he loves doing.

And then, for nose work, play foundation games. Just have one or two boxes out, do the shell game, play with your game boxes so it’s fun, fast, quick, highly rewarding searches. And, I have a thing that I put in most of my classes, it’s kind of like your recalls but it’s for odor. How much value do you have in your odor bank. And, when you set up these fun, fast, foundation games, you’re putting lots of value in your odor bank so, then when you have a more challenging side, you have deposits in that odor bank that they can pull out in order to work harder to find that odor.

One of the other things I recommend is to be consistent and build routines. Soft dogs feel comfortable in routines, as they know what to expect, and then things are not so scary. And, empower your dog to make decisions and have a party when they do. Again, nose work is great for this. Soft dogs do better with shaping or decision making when they have an obstacle to interact with, versus just blank space that they have to figure something out, so, that’s where parkour comes in. So, parkour is great at empowering your dog, just give them an obstacle and let them do anything they want and reward the interaction with that obstacle.

Back to Edge’s dumbbell again, but find what your dog loves or loves doing and incorporate it into your training and use it as their reward, or even its odor value, your dog loves odor, do something else and let him go do a search for the odor. And I think it’s always important to check in with your soft dog and see how they’re feeling with what you’re doing. We build emotional attachments with everything we teach and do. We need to make sure our dog is not stressed and then we build a positive emotional response with that behavior.

I also like to start off my sessions with an energy game. That helps build energy into the training, and one of the simple ones that I like is the chew cookie toss and it’s just toss the cookie to the left and send your dog to get it and as they’re eating it toss the cookie to the right and send your dog to get it and you’re actually building energy. Most of your soft dogs stress down, they don’t have the energy to put in the training and that’s just kind of a good start. Edge’s first couple nose work trials, I actually did that at the van, you know, I kind of helped just play this cookie game. And you can even do it in your hands, if you have a really small space, just have them bounce back and forth to your hands.

Melissa Breau: It’s kind of the idea of just get them moving a little bit so that they can feel it, they can get a little happy because their body’s moving.

Melissa Chandler: I mean, and it’s like, and I understand how they feel because a lot of times when I get stressed I could do jumping jacks or you jog in place, I mean, it’s amazing what it does, just that little bit of energy really helps get you out of that stress and get your adrenaline going to be able to do what you’re asked to do. And, I actually have a lecture that I have written for my parkour class, it talks about how to deal with soft dogs and a lot of different ideas because, again, not all dogs are the same and different ones will work different for different jobs so it’s just a lot of different things to try. A lot of energy games. I really believe in mat behaviors as the dogs have a safe place to go to their mats. Talk about how to train mat and what you can use it with. And it is for my parkour class but I end up sharing it in most of my classes because, for one, I think people with soft dogs attend my classes for a reason, as well as, with those who work in parkour, those classes are set up for soft and stressy type dogs, so most of them that come in need that lecture.

Melissa Breau: You know, kind of, what is it about those sports that make them so good for softer dogs? I mean, you mentioned that they’re kind of set up for them. What do you mean by that?

Melissa Chandler: For nose work it’s amazing to watch a dog build confidence through nose work. Part of it is we take something that all dogs love to do, sniffing, and we turn it into a highly rewarding behavior. So, it really doesn’t take a lot of energy for them to begin, it’s just put your nose on this odor and they get lots of cookies, and then we start incorporating the cookie toss, so it kind of goes back to my other game but it’s kind of a reset so then they’re driving back because they know as soon as they get into that odor they get rewarded. So, we build a strong foundation by increasing the value of the odor, which then encourages our dogs to work independently.

We also nurture our dog’s excitement for nose work. The pulling you to the lines should not always be discouraged, and this is one of those, know your dog, know your team, I mean, you know, you don’t want your dog to pull you down or…it just can’t go very fast, you don’t want your dog pulling you but I let it pull me, I think it’s fabulous because there were times we’d go to other trials, he didn’t even want to go in the building, you know, he’s like, I can’t handle it, and now he’s like dragging me to the line and I think it’s awesome. So, you know, it’s good for us. So, know your team and let your dog do it if you think it’s good for your dog.

The other thing too is nose work classes are set up for only one dog to work at a time, so the dog doesn’t have to worry about the environment, they don’t have to worry about where the other dogs are, they can just go in and practice. You can do a lot of both parkour and nose work in home so you can do it in the comfort of your own home where they feel safer in the comfort of their own home so they don’t have to worry about anything else in the environment. And then also, when you go out and you train with friends, only one dog should be out at a time, so you have lots of opportunities, and when you’re out training with your friends they should understand and they should be able to keep their dogs in the vehicle until it’s their turn.

So, our dogs no longer focus on the environment, but they focus their energy on finding the odor. And the other thing I think is really great about nose work is I had talked about keeping their routine for your soft dogs and nose work is fabulous for routine. I think everyone in nose work should have a good start line routine, and it basically starts at the vehicle or the crate, wherever you’re getting your dog, and you have a routine of when you put the harness on, when you put the leash on, what warm up you do. I have a pre-cue as we’re going to the search area, just to say, hey, this is what we’re going to do, and once you hit the start line I have a place where I stand, Edge has a place where he stands so that he can take in the odor, and they look at it differently than we do. We may look into a search area and go, oh my gosh, look at all that stuff. They look into a search area and say where is the scent cone.

So, every time they go to a start line they know they’re looking for a scent cone. So, it’s all routine for them. So, I think that’s another reason why nose work is fabulous for soft dogs because it’s just one long routine. They don’t look at it like we do, and I think the most rewarding part is seeing a dog change over time, so you have a dog that’s not confident, and it’s a little soft or stressy, and then, all of a sudden you can see the chest come out, and you can see the confidence in the body language as they’re heading into a search area, and it’s just fabulous to see that transformation with your soft dogs.

Melissa Breau: And you just opened a nose work training academy, didn’t you?

Melissa Chandler: Yes, I did. I’m so excited about it. I’ve always wanted my own training center. It’s been a dream for a long time. I’ve always taught group classes and private classes and I’ve done it in a lot of different sports and then recently I’ve been doing a lot of nose work seminars, and I’ve been looking for a facility for over a year, but this is a part time venture for me so I was limited on budget, and I live in an area that real estate is very expensive. So, I actually was presented with this great opportunity, and it’s like a 30 minute from my house, which in Columbus isn’t bad. So, I’m like, I have to go for it, it’s like, it kind of fell in my lap and then it was perfect timing. I took possession on July first and then started teaching classes mid-July. So, I am very fortunate that I have great students and great friends, they all gave up their fourth of July weekend to come and help me paint and clean and put down flooring and so, we had shifts and people came in and helped and I was actually…took possession on a Saturday and I was teaching privates on a Thursday, so, we did good.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that’s quick.

Melissa Chandler: Yeah, I know. I am so lucky. I had so much wonderful help. I have a snoopy sign as you walk in the door, it’s a little snoopy sign that says, welcome to my happy place, and that is definitely true. It’s wonderful, and the best part is, my building is fabulous for nose work because I have a really nice training arena, and then I have a hot room where I store all of my odor containers, and then I have a cold room which is for all the non-odor containers, and then I have several rooms that I can work on different interior setups, and I have a suspended hide alley where we have permanent shower rods across the ceiling that we can do suspended hides. And everything I purchase was with nose work in mind so I’ve kind of like…my décor is for nose work and everything has a purpose as far as searching. So, I guess I am truly living the dream now of having my own facility and it’s set up perfect for what we want to do.

Melissa Breau: That sounds great, I mean, that really sounds, I mean, to be able to have both the hot room and a cold room and, I mean, that just all sounds ideal for what you want.

Melissa Chandler: I know, yes, it’s like it couldn’t have been better because, you know, if you just had one big open building that really isn’t the best for nose work unless you build a bunch of rooms, where this was just set up perfect. So, it was a great opportunity.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I wanted to kind of shift gears a little bit. We’ve talked a bunch about nose work and a little bit about parkour. I want to dive into the parkour bit a little more. For those who have, like me, seen a little bit about this sport but don’t know a lot about what it is, can you explain kind of what it is, and how you compete in it, and what’s involved?

Melissa Chandler: Sure. Parkour is also called urban agility, as there are different obstacles that are used for climbing, jumping, balancing, as I said, it’s another great sport for building confidence, also fitness and teamwork. It can be for a very athletic dog, depending on the level, but all dogs can play. Dogs at a novice level can go on to earn your championship because championship and parkour is documenting your journey and your successes. So, you video all your sessions and when you start you show a video, it’s like oh, see, my dog isn’t able to do this yet, they need to build more strength or more confidence, and then you show your journey of how you got there. So, we did something lower and then a little higher, and how did you get from point A to point B. So, that’s what a parkour championship is, so it’s not who’s the fastest or fittest or can jump the highest, it’s documenting your journey and how you took something that they were not able to do, for some reason, and built on those strengths to get to the finished product.

Edge is a big Weimaraner, he’s 100 pounds, so, he did novice parkour. Because of his structure I would never do any other level with him because I don’t think that’s safe, and he can do championships, where Bam, you know, Bam can go all the way, in fact we’re working on expert level with Bam right now, so, but there’s something for every dog, so every dog can play, and they also have, I believe, senior dog or, you know, if your dog has a handicap you just have to contact the organization, explain it to them, and you can modify some of the obstacles because they truly want to make it so everyone can play. It’s also a great sport for fearful or reactive dogs because, again, it can be done in the comfort of your home, and then as you slowly build skills you can move those out into the environment.

Safety is extremely important in parkour because your dogs are going to be jumping, they’re going to be doing high obstacles. They do what’s called tic tacs where it’s kind of rebound, it’s like a flyball box rebound, but it’s done on a tree or a building and some dogs can really get up high on their tic tacs or rebounds. So, we always recommend a back clipped harness, dogs are always spotted, and that’s one thing that I highly emphasize in my class is spotting your dog, and even have a spot your dog that weighs as much as you do, because you can do it, you just have to have the proper technique to make sure that you keep your dog safe at all times.

There’s really no competition in parkour, it’s all about the journey and the relationship, and good fitness for your dog, and you submit for titles. So, there’s different roles and different widths and heights and dimensions on the different obstacles, and that’s part of the fun is going out into the environment and finding all these different things, and then you video them and you submit them to the organization and then they judge them for your title.

Between parkour and nose work it’s like a whole different world because you’re always looking for a great place to search, or a great place to climb, and so you look at everything differently now. You know, we’ll take pictures and…look what I found here, this would be a great such and such obstacle, but it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun for the dogs and the people.

Melissa Breau: So, you mentioned the tic tacs, and you mentioned kind of climbing on things and jumping over things. Are there like, general categories of some of the different behaviors you’re looking for? Like, how does that break down?

Melissa Chandler: It’s actually obstacles, so you have like an over, an under, an in, you have your tic tacs, two feet on, four feet on, you do a weight, you do arounds, a 10 foot send, you do what’s called a gap jump where they jump from one obstacle to another and the intensity or the difficulty increases as you go up levels. So, you have training level, which you do not have to do, it’s more for young dogs because, you know, we don’t want anything very high and it’s just to get them introduced to parkour. And then you go to your novice level and you have certain criteria, and then as you move to intermediate then, like, the balance in novice it’s the width of the shoulders, but once you go to intermediate it’s half the width of the shoulders. So, they need to be able to walk on an obstacle that’s half the width of their shoulders. So, the difficulty of each obstacle increases as you go from novice, to intermediate, to expert.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned teaching, like, how to support your dog and can that piece for, you know, as part of what you include in your class. Do you want to just share a little more about what you kind of cover in the class you offer?

Melissa Chandler: I offer parkour in April and it covers the training, novice and intermediate levels, and then I have an advanced parkour class that’ll actually be in October, and it starts back with intermediate and covers expert and championship. Intermediate seems to take the most time to master as your dog will be gaining strength and skill to complete their requirements, so this level overlaps both classes, and I’ve had people start in April and then they continue working during the down time and then come back in October, for like, the finishing up, or the tuning of the actual obstacles, and then normally they’re ready to submit their title at that point.

My October class, last year, we had several intermediate and a couple expert titles that came out of the class, so that was exciting. I have very detailed, step by step videos for each of the obstacles. There’s dogs at different levels, different size dogs in the videos, and I even took my brothers’ Vizsla strike, who’s never done parkour before, and did all the obstacles with him to show…here’s how you do it, true beginner dogs, so I could work through some of the issues and I didn’t have a dog that already knew the obstacles. So, not only was it fun, but it’s been very informative to the class.

 

I also include three to four videos of different dogs, showing the finished obstacle, so they can see what it looks like with different dogs and different obstacles that’s passed and earned a title. It’s a really fun class and, like I said, there’s been a lot of titles earned while in the class. The fun part now is I have nose work students taking my parkour class to teach their dogs how to interact with the environment. So, if they have a soft nose work dog that doesn’t like to get into corners, or doesn’t like to put their feet up on things, now they’re bringing them into parkour to teach them parkour to carry over into their nose work training, which I think is absolutely fabulous. And so, I keep teasing them, I’m going to have to offer a nose work parkour class, and just combine the two together. So, and it’s funny because I have to be careful now when I place hides and looks because my dogs have, like, jumped up on something very high above the hide, if they have access to it, now that they have those parkour skills. So, again, it makes you look at the world totally different than you did in the past.

Melissa Breau: Rather than just try and indicate that something’s up high they’ll just be like, well, there’s something here, I’ll just go up there and find out.

Melissa Chandler: Absolutely. I’ll just go put my nose on it.

Melissa Breau: That’s great.

Melissa Chandler: It’s funny because one of my students, I think it was in my very first parkour class, she messaged me after and she says, I need you to add something to your class, she said, please warn people that once they’ve taught them parkour, when they go out on walks, they need to watch their dog, is it jumping on things, and I mean, she meant it in a good way, she’s like, I take my dogs on walks and they want to jump on this and jump on that, and she’s like, it’s fabulous but it caught me off guard. So, I added that to my class, it’s like, be careful because parkour happens everywhere.

Melissa Breau: So, I want to finish up with kind of the three questions I ask everybody who comes on. So, the first one is, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Melissa Chandler: That’s tough. I think I would almost have to say I would have one per dog as each of my dogs have different goals and different accomplishments and it’s all about the relationship in getting there, it’s not about the outcome, but it’s the, what you build along the way.

Melissa Breau: I’ll let you share one per dog, you could do that.

Melissa Chandler: For Edge, with his soft dog style, his very first nose work trial, it wasn’t surprising to me that he went in and he had very subtle indications, as far as you know he’d looked and saw where everybody was and he kind of put his nose toward it and rolled his eyes at me; knowing Edge very well, it’s like, I knew where it was and that was fine, we did great. So, then we went in to our nose work two trial and the hide was in a really short stool and it was kind of between a couch and a furnace and he indicated on it and felt that I didn’t call it fast enough, and he took his paw and he flung the stool across the room. And, you know, it was like, yay, wow, look at him, you know, I was so excited. I mean, this was my soft dog slinging a stool across the room, and my friends were like, well, what if he got disqualified, I’m like, Edge slung a stool across the room in a trial. So, it’s just, I mean, that almost brings tears to my eyes talking about it because that was just awesome for him, that he felt that comfortable and that confident to do something like that. So, again, it’s not about the outcome but it’s our journey and our process getting there, so, that was just very, very exciting.

And then the other, I had a father-son Weimaraner team, I co-bred the litter and so, he was a confirmation champion, and I had a home bred champion, but they are two of the only three USDAA ADCH Weimaraner’s, and it was just really thrilling to have a father-son team, that I bred, competing at national events and, you know, competing at higher levels, and again, all about the journey. It was just so fun being able to do that with them and what we were able to accomplish, and just the memories on that journey.

So, but I feel very blessed to have all the awesome dogs in my life that I have and each and every one of them has taught me something different, so, I think they all come into our lives for a reason and they’ve all taken me different paths and made lots of wonderful memories along the way.

Melissa Breau: So, our second question, and this is usually one of my favorite ones of the podcast is, what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Melissa Chandler: I think this kind of goes hand in hand, but I think we need to let the dog make a decision and trust your dog, and I remember this way back in my agility days, you know, this was like, in the early 90s’ I think, everyone was trying to control what the dog did, you know, especially on the contacts and I was fortunate enough to work with Linda Mecklenburg at that time, and she was like, let the dog decide, let them take ownership, you know, so, way back when it was let the dog make a decision, let them take some responsibilities, and when you allow that to happen it’s amazing the teamwork because you’re not stressed trying to micromanage them and they’re not stressed because they’re being micro managed.

So, it becomes more a teamwork than a controlling, but I think humans try to be so controlling and always want to tell their dog what to do and we need to let our dogs make the decisions and accept responsibility. And again, I think this goes hand in hand with nose work, that’s what I’m always telling people, let the dog make the decision, and I love thinking dogs, I love dogs that think outside the box and work through problems, and I just love working with thinking dogs.

Melissa Breau: So, our last question is about other people in the dog world. So, who is somebody else that you look up to?

Melissa Chandler: There have been so many that have helped inspire me along the way, and I think I take pieces of advice and put things together for what I need to do for my dogs. It seems like they all come into my life when I need them most or maybe I go and seek them out when I need something. I think probably what’s helped me the most with where I am with my dogs right now would be Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed. That just, before I found nose work, that really helped me a lot with Edge, and you should see my book, it’s like, every page has a sticky and notes. It’s looks so used books, but it almost seems like the book was written specifically for Edge, I mean, it was amazing and I now used a lot of those with Bam and I recommend a lot of her protocols with my students, but I think that has been very important in Edge’s success.

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

Melissa Chandler: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcasts 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.

 

Aug 11, 2017

Summary:

Kamal Fernandez is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.

Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.

He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.

Links Mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/18/2017, featuring Melissa Chandler talking about nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft 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 Kamal Fernandez.

Kamal is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.

Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.

He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.

Hi Kamal, welcome to the podcast!

Kamal Fernandez: Hi Melissa! Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: I’m so glad to chat. Heelwork is always everybody’s favorite topic, so..

Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so this should be an interesting conversation.

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

Kamal Fernandez: I have a malinois, I have border collies, I have a German spitz, I have a boxer, and I have a poodle-cross Jack Russell. So I have a real array of dogs and they do various things. Obviously, the primary focus for the majority of my career has been  as an obedience competitor, but I’ve recently moved to begin doing other disciplines. Primarily for a bit of a change, really. I think I’ve been doing it for quite a long while, and I was looking for new challenges and something to sort of take my training a little bit further, and I’ve dappled with lots of disciplines throughout my career. So my border collie and my spitz both compete in agility, and my boxer, the intention with him is to do IPO. He’s in the midst of training at the moment; he had quite a long period off with injury, 2 years out with quite a severe injury, so he’s just been, probably in the last year, been brought back into work so we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do. And my malinois and my older border collie, they both do obedience. I’m sort of shifting my goals as it were to new disciplines and I’ve sort of done obedience for so long I just want to have a little bit of a change and I think for an instructor and a teacher it’s really good to keep fresh and to teach your dog new things, and also be a recipient of being a student as well. I think that’s really healthy.       

Melissa Breau: So you’re pushing into Agility, is that what you’re saying?

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, so I’ve just started -- my spitz does agility. He’s up to… I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in the US but he’s at grade 5 level now, and my border collie bitch is just starting her competitive career. So they’re both doing… I’ve been really really pleased with them, I’ve only.. My times a bit… well, obviously, I have a young child now -- a baby -- so my time’s a little bit limited, which is always a constant battle. Bless their hearts, they seem to be carrying me a little bit at the moment, to be honest, but that’s a good foundation. They’re great; they’re all doing really really well.      

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know you mentioned you started out in obedience, so how did you first get into that -- how did you start out in dog sports?

Kamal Fernandez: So, I was always obsessed with dogs and I was always fanatical about the prospect of owning one. And I badgered my parents for years and years and years about getting a dog and they eventually succumbed, and they buckled in to me to get a dog. And that dog was absolutely every single behavioral issue you can probably ever encounter, that one dog had. And it was largely down to pet dog owners -- you just, just naive people thinking “I tell it sit, why doesn’t it sit?” “I let it off the lead, why doesn’t it come back?” We just didn’t understand the concept of training a dog, we just -- like a lot of people -- we just assumed the dog came hard-wired to do it.

I actually was watching agility on television, and there was a guy there called Greg Derrett who anybody who knows about agility, he’s one of the top competitors and trainers in the world, and Greg’s a little bit older than me, and he was there competing at Crufts in the junior competition and I always thought, well, if he can do it as a junior -- and i think he won that year -- I thought well it must be achievable, i must be able to do it. So I tried to contact the local agility club and at that point they said you can’t start bringing a dog to agility until you’ve gone to obedience training. She wasn’t a puppy-puppy, she must have been 6-10 months old, and they said you can’t start with her until she’s well over a year, so I thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do for this time?” Anyway, they said take your dog to obedience training. And I took her to obedience training and it was just domestic pet training, very, very, very old school, you know. Choke chains, walking around the whole, choking the dog, which you know at the time -- this was 26 years ago -- wasn’t unusual to be honest, in this country. And it just so happened that I stayed on one evening to watch the more advanced people train their dogs and there was somebody doing competitive obedience, and it just really really inspired me because of the level of control she had over her dog and I remember she left it at one end on a stage that’s actually at the hall where i now teach, and she did like 6 position changes and I was just blown away by the fact that she could -- there’s my dog that I can’t even let off the lead and she could leave her dog at the other side of a room and give it positions which appeared to be on some sort of magic slash electronic remote control, i don’t know, i was just blown away by it. So it just really made me go “wow I want to do that” and my career just really went in that path. I sort of got more and more interested in it; I saw her train numerous dogs to do heel work and I just got addicted to that as a concept, really. And I never really followed up on the whole agility thing, and it’s ironic that now, 26 years later, I’m finally getting into agility. I’m a slow learner, but there you go. Better late than never as they say.

Melissa Breau: Hey, you got there. You just took your time. So you mentioned that you started out choke chains and traditional training, all that stuff. How would you describe your training philosophy today?

Kamal Fernandez: I talked recently at a conference, and was speaking about my personal journey in dog training and how it’s really taken a really, really diverse route in that we started out like, i think, a lot of people that have been training dogs for 20+ years, in more compulsion based dog training and in dominance-based theories to training dogs; you know, you have to be the boss, you have to be the pack leader, and it was very much rout learning with them. The dog’s thoughts, feelings, emotions were never considered, really. It was just make the dog do it, but i always instinctively felt there was a better way out there and it didn’t sit with me as an individual; I thought, “Oh, I’m not a forceful person,” I’m determined, I’m very goal-oriented, but I’m not one for force. I wouldn’t force somebody to do something; i wouldn’t force my dogs, it just didn’t quite align with who i was. And then i gravitated to more motivational methodology, which was slightly more what I’d call show and tell, so you’d show the dog what you wanted them to do, you’d reward the dog, and if the dog didn’t do it you’d show them again, and if the dog didn’t do it again after that you’d probably correct it and then reward it. So there was more reinforcement being used, but still that element of compulsion in there. And I was never extreme in my use of -- other than the choke chain scenario, which was just sheer ignorance -- I was always somebody that wanted to interact with my dogs, I wanted to… I mean I used to take my dog that i first had, she was my friend more than anything, I used to take her out and we used to go out for the whole day and we used to go play at what we call the dumps and stuff, so she was my little friend so there was a real conflict between what i was doing in training and how i was with her in general.

So I gravitated to what you would now call reinforcement-based dog training and as clicker training became more prominent, in this country I’d say probably 15 years ago, something like that -- 15-20 years ago -- and initially the reaction was “oh gosh, this is rubbish” but I was inquisitive about it and i was skeptical, but the more and more I watched it I thought there’s something to this, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Again, it’s amazing how life takes you on this journey, I did psychology while I was at college and I did it later on as a -- I studied it as part of a certain degree and an element of it was psychology which part of it talked about learning theory and operant conditioning and classical conditioning and so forth, and it then sort of all fell into place and made more sense. So then i started to delve with the dog that i had into clicker training and my initial reaction was… I tried it, i pressed the clicker, I gave her a reward and the dog didn’t miraculously do it. By that point i was a little more astute but i thought, “I’m missing something,” this isn’t -- i just can’t work this all out. Anyway, it was niggling away for me, and with that dog i sort of tried it and thought, okay this doesn’t work, chuck the clicker, chuck my teddies out the pram, and flounce my skirt and I thought right, that doesn’t work I’m going to go back to what i did. And I trained that dog more, what I’d say, traditionally. Flash with a bit more clicker training interspersed there, and he wasn’t what I’d say was a straightforward, easy dog, but there were a couple of key things that made me realize, “you know what, i have to change what I’m doing.” Because the things I clicker trained where so -- the responses and the reaction and the dog’s understanding were so more salient than what i taught him traditionally. And that’s not to bash traditional training, it could be my application, it could be my understanding, it could be a thousand and one things, so with my subsequent dogs I made a commitment to say that’s it, I’m going to do this or die, basically. I’m going to clicker train these dogs from the get-go, and if i don’t clicker train them I’m not going to train them at all. I had that in my head. So I really sort of held a gun to my own head and said you’re going to do this. And it was the making of my dogs and my career and how i perceive dog training. And now my philosophy in dog training is about reinforcement -- find a way to reinforce the dog and minimize the use of punishment, even just withholding reinforcement. Find a way to reinforce the dog and create the dog being correct and successful. And be strategic in your use of withholding reinforcement, etc. And it’s brought me to a place, a dog training place that i feel really really  comfortable with. I feel morally, ethically, even to be … it sound a bit grand, but even spiritually, I like the way that i train my dogs now. I feel comfortable in it, it sits with me on a personal level, it sits with me in terms of the relationship I want with my dogs. They make choices; they don’t want to work, they don’t train. I don’t force them, I don’t push them, I convince them that what i want them to do is interesting and kind of enjoyable and actually really really fun. And so the relationship I have with them, the relationship I have with my dogs now they’re not waiting for the Jekyll and Hyde split personality, i was always very much about interacting with them, but occasionally I’d suddenly be this person that would say, hey now you’re going to do this, and on some level I always felt there was that element of… they were waiting for that person to turn up. Now I don’t have that with my dogs and I have… trained more dogs with reinforcement based methodology than not. And I was just fortunate that the dogs that I had that I trained alternatively were just very very forgiving. So my training philosophy, it’s about really, reinforcement is the key. It builds behavior. If you learn nothing else about operant conditioning and clicker training reinforcement will save the day so-to-speak.

Melissa Breau: So, I did some googling of you, before this call… I mentioned in your intro that you teach seminars internationally and they seem to be on a wide variety of topics, everything from foundations to extreme proofing... So I wanted to ask: what you enjoy teaching, what your favorite thing to teach is? And… why?

Kamal Fernandez: That’s sort of a real easy one. My actual favorite topic is foundations for any dog sport -- that is by far my favorite topic, because that’s where all the good stuff happens. That’s where you really lay your… well, your foundations, for a successful career in any dog discipline. And I think the irony is that people always want to move on to what I would call the sexy stuff, but the irony is the sexy stuff is actually easy if your foundations are laid solidly and firmly. And I think I’ve had more  “ah-ha” moments when I teach foundations to people than I have with anything else. I also, i have to say, i like behavioral issues. You can make GREAT impact, and literally change somebody’s life and their dog’s life, or save somebody’s life because behavioral work and giving them a new take on how they deal with their dog at present but i would say really really extreme behavioral cases are really really juicy to get involved in, and dogs that people say they’re on the cusp of writing the dog off, and the dog is so phobic or aggressive or dog reactive or whatever the case may be and you can literally turn that person and that dog’s relationship around. That’s really rewarding and enjoyable to work with. But I would say as a standard seminar, I would say foundations by far. It’s just you’ve got young, green dogs, you can see the light bulbs going off for the dogs, you can see the pieces strung together, that are going to ultimately lead to the dog being this amazing competitive dog, and you can see it literally unfold before your eyes.

Melissa Breau: Right, and with the behavioral thing, a lot of people just think of that as a challenge so I think it takes a certain type of personality to be like, no this is actually pretty cool.

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I think you have to be a little bit odd to enjoy it, but i think we’ve seen so many changes in terms of dog training and I think there is a massive lack of knowledge in terms of behavior and how to deal with behavior so that the dog can actually function in the real world and also, I think there’s more a sway toward behavior management versus actually helping the dog, and dealing with the actual cause of the issue, which is where i like to -- I’m all about management, I think that’s great, to have skills to manage your dog and to have knowledge and awareness, etc. but what I really want to do is let’s deal with the core issue. The core issue is this -- the dog is frightened, scared, apprehensive, whatever -- let’s whittle it back and deal with that and let’s help this dog be a confident, well adjusted member of society.

Melissa Breau: Focus on the emotions and not just the behavior.

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s stripping it back to the real core, and the beauty is it’s all done with reinforcement. It’s all on just focusing on what you want the dog to do versus the symptoms of - let’s actually get down to the real nuts and bolts of it, and help this dog, you know? As opposed to managing it, you know?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So I want to switch topics a little bit and dive into heeling, since that’s the thing you’re most well known for. At FDSA, I know that’s mostly also kind of your focus -- so since you’re in the UK, and you do FCI-style heeling... and I’m sure you get this question all the time, but can you share some of the differences between the English, FCI and North American styles of heeling? What is that?

Kamal Fernandez:  So there is even from FCI obedience, to UK obedience, to AKC obedience there’s slight changes. The basic principle of how i approach teaching it is all the same stuff, I just make minor little adjustments depending on the code that you subscribe to. Obedience in the UK, the general gist of it is that we allow contact with our dogs in heelwork, that our dog can be very very close to the leg where in FCI obedience and AKC or CKC or even Australian obedience the dogs are ideally, they should be a gap or a freeness between the leg and the dog. So that’s the biggest, core, visual difference. There is technical differences between FCI obedience and, say, AKC and that is a different requirement of the test, in the UK our test is probably a lot longer than American heeling, in that it can go up to 5 or 6 minutes of heeling, you can do patterns, you can do weaving, you can do circles, you can do changes of pace and you do positions in motion. So our heeling is probably more complex, in a lot of ways, than AKC heeling. The FCI heeling test there’s actually quite a lot to it, because they do changes of pace, they do positions in motion, they do side-step heeling, they do different little intricate moves. So there’s complexities to FCI heeling that again, it just makes it interesting. Anybody that’s a heelwork or heeling junkie i think that they appreciate that heeling is quite a complex exercise, there’s so many entities to it, there’s so many layers to it, and anybody that’s into detail, that’s into the fanatical little details of dog training would love heeling and the way in which i teach it.  

Melissa Breau: So, talking about how you teach it… How do you approach teaching heelwork? How do you start? Or how do you approach the bigger picture and break it all down?

Kamal Fernandez: Yea, so everything is component trained in my training. Everything is broken down into tiny tiny little pieces of a puzzle and the pieces of the puzzle probably look nothing like the greater exercise or the greater goal, but what it does is it allows me to fast track the process of me teaching my dog heeling. And what looks like a very complex exercise for the dog is actually very simple because it’s broken down into tiny little sections. I use a combination of shaping the dog and i will use lures but I fade the lure very very quickly. I minimize the use of a lure, but I use it very, very specifically, and I’m very aware of the times that I would use a lure. I’m looking for the dog to perform heeling with both drive and enthusiasm, but also accuracy and have a really comprehensive knowledge of its body, where it’s body should be, where it’s feet placement should be, where every single part of its position is. So it’s quite a detailed process, and I’d say for people that really like the details of dog training. It’s definitely one of the exercises they would gravitate to and this methodology is… also I appreciate that this methodology and this approach isn’t for everybody because it’s quite… it’s quite intense and quite intricate in some of the maneuvers and handling. But once you have trained it, the way in which i explain it to people it’s like you’ve got a dressage horse, which has the ability to react to a slight little adjustment in movement and they understand the tiniest little detail. For me, it gives the dog a greater level of knowledge and confidence and understanding, and also the end picture to me is far more appealing.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned in there that you break it down, sometimes even to pieces that don’t necessarily look like heelwork - do you have an example of that, just so that we can wrap our brains around what you’re talking about there?

Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so one of the things I would teach would be a hand target, and i use the hand target as a means to teach the dog that then i transfer the hand target to a heelwork position, and then i transfer the hand target on my leg and I fade that out of the equation. So that would be one example.

Another example - i teach the dog to do a foot target. The dog has to position its foot in a very specific place, next to the instep of my left foot. So again that one detail looks nothing like the picture of your dog moving and being in motion, but those two simple exercises - a hand target and a foot target - are core entities of how i teach heeling.  

Melissa Breau: So, in your bio I mentioned you use games and play to create motivation and control… and those two things, they can often seem like total polar opposites when you’re actually training. How do you walk that fine line to achieve balance?

Kamal Fernandez: You know, this stuff that we ask our dogs to do is largely mundane and boring, and unless there’s an element within the dog that finds the behavior self-rewarding, like tracking or herding can be intrinsically rewarding for some dogs, but the stuff certainly for obedience for a lot of dogs can be very mundane and very monotonous, if there’s a lot of repetition in it, which for a lot of dogs, they’re not going to relish the thought of. So for me, the baseline commitment is i have to create the dog wanting to do this mundane boring stuff. Because at the end of the day it’s just about my ego and my goals, the dog doesn’t really care. He’d be quite happy going for a long walk and having a good time chasing little furry things. So for me i make that committment to motivate my dogs and to make sure the dog wants to engage in every part of their training. In doing so, obviously i need to create motivation, i need to build drive. But I’m always balancing that with self control around the reinforcement and I would do that, again, in my foundation. So there’s foundation games that I play with my dogs that I strongly advise anybody in dog sports to make sure you have these skills. But there’s also a lot of listening and a lot of thinking while in a high state of arousal that I implement via those games. So then when I move that onto actually teaching an exercise, the dog already has the ability to have self control, to have impulse control, understands the concept of proofing, etc. So the two things to me, although they are polar opposites, they’re both striving for the same thing. You know, to have a dog that has loads and loads of enthusiasm, but is largely out of control, to me is displeasing to the eye. To have a dog that has lots of accuracy, if you want or technical correctness, but has no spirit or soul, to me, again is unpleasing to the eye. So it’s about having both ends, and the reason i love obedience so much is that the sport itself is almost like a conflict of  both those things; you absolute drive and accuracy, and it’s so hard to get both and that to me is the appeal. I would say that to me, the most skilful trainers in the world, that I’ve seen, are from an obedience background and they have a strong obedience background, and the ability to create drive but also ultimately accuracy which i think, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of dog training.   

Melissa Breau: Kind of understanding those two and creating the balance, and having a dog that exhibits both of them so clearly.

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a battle. When you get one, you create drive, you lose accuracy; when you create accuracy you lose drive; and the two things, I always say, it’s about tipping the scale -- and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone in there competitively and I’ve gone, wow my dog absolutely… it’s like always get one thing and then you lose another; that’s what you’re striving for. It’s a bit like winning the lottery, that one day when everything goes in your favor and all the years of training culminates in that magic moment, so to speak.  

Melissa Breau: So what it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s almost a constant process -- you’re training one, and then you’re training the other. And then you’re training one…

Kamal Fernandez: It’s constantly in play. But to me that’s the joy in it really, you never stop training, you never stop learning and you never stop growing, really.

Melissa Breau: Well, it’s time for us to get to the last 3 questions that I ask everyone who comes on the show. So first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?

Kamal Fernandez: There’s so many things, and not necessarily competitively related that I’m very proud of. I would say I’m proud of the first dog i ever trained competitively, he became an obedience champion and that was a bit of a personal journey as well as a dog training journey, so that was something that I’m immensely proud of.

And the other thing that I’m also proud of when it comes to dogs, was being involved with Dogs Might Fly, a project where we took rescue dogs and we taught them to fly a plane as part of a project on television. The proudest moment in that is that those dogs were largely just discarded; they were rescue dogs. The impact, all those dogs found homes, but that was members of the production crew, largely -- like the makeup artist had one, the cameraman had another, a couple of trainers took dogs on, and it was great; everybody was so for the dogs in that project, it was all about the dogs and showing what can be achieved with good dog training and also that rescue dogs are capable of such great things, so I’d say that was something I’m very proud of, to be involved with something that had such a positive outcome.

Melissa Breau: So, wait a minute - back up. You taught them to fly a plane?

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, yeah! So it’s a project I did - oh god, it’s got to be about two years ago now. We took 12 rescue dogs and we were with them for probably about… oh gosh, it was all the summer, so it must have been 6-8… probably 6 months? And we took these 12 dogs and they were literally sourced across the country, all rescue dogs, like one of them was due to be put to sleep the next day, another one was discarded… loads of different background stories, and we were involved with rehabbing them, from whatever issues they had and teaching them basic skills, and then the end goal, 3 of the dogs from the 12 were selected to go on to be trained to control and fly a plane. It was on Sky television - I don’t know if you have that in the States, but it was a really, really great project to be involved with. Victoria Stilwell was involved with it, a guy called Mark Vette, who was involved with the driving dogs, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that on YouTube…

Melissa Breau: I haven’t, but now I’m going to have to go look it up.

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, search for Driving Dogs, Mark Vette. So that was, it was his brain child and I was one of the trainers involved with doing it, so that was a really really rewarding project.

Melissa Breau: So when you say fly a plane, what exactly were they doing? What was the behavior…?

Kamal Fernandez: The dog had to control the plane. So it was on a rig. The plane was got… by a pilot up, because they couldn’t do it to land and to take off, but once the plane was flying, the dog had to control the plane and perform a figure of eight, and they ended up with 3 dogs -- actually I saw one yesterday, Thursday and Friday, a friend of mine now owns him -- and they took 3 dogs and they flew up in the air. If you google it, Dogs Might Fly, you’ll see all the information about it.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting.

Kamal Fernandez: Yeah and one of the dogs that I trained, because what happened was there was two phases, there was the initial phase, where they had the 12 dogs, and then they selected out of the 12 dogs the 3 dogs, and then they were passed on to 3 trainers to work intensively on it, and initially there were 4 trainers who were given 3 dogs each, and then they were whittled down to 3 dogs and then they took 3 trainers on. And one of the dogs that I worked with closely, his name was Reggie, he was a labrador-german shepherd cross, he went on to be one of the dogs that flew the plane.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Kamal Fernandez: So that’s really rewarding and he now lives in New Zealand, and when I went back to New Zealand recently I went and met him and he gave me the most amazing welcome, and I put it on instagram and what-have-you; just an amazing dog.     

Melissa Breau: For our listeners - I will try and find the links to those videos and share them in the show notes, so you guys don’t have to go google a ton. They will be right there for ya. Okay, so this is usually my favorite question, though i think you might have beat it with that last one…    

What’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?

Kamal Fernandez: The best piece of training advice I think is a Bob Bailey-ism, and I those well versed in dog training, or animal training… it’s just Think. Plan. Do. Review. So think what you want to train, plan your training sessions, then go do it and then go and review your training sessions. That’s one thing and the other thing is use video recording devices to record your training sessions; it’s absolutely revolutionized my own personal training. It’s like I have my own instructor that’s with me 24/7 and whenever i want him to he can turn up and give me feedback about my dog training. If nothing else, I would suggest that everybody do both, which is what the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is so great for, using the medium of the internet and video to facilitate great learning and i think it just encapsulates how powerful that resource can be if used effectively. And I know people are a little bit self conscious and a little paranoid about watching themselves, but by gosh, you will glean the benefits 10-fold over. So I’d say those two bits of advice -- Think. Plan. Do. And review your training - so be a mindful dog trainer as opposed to a reactive or responsive dog trainer, be thoughtful, be efficient in your use of your time and also video your training sessions.

Melissa Breau: And then, finally… who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Kamal Fernandez: The first person who really really influenced my training was someone called Sylvia Bishop, she lives actually down the road from me now, but she was a pioneer in the concept of play equals work equals play. And Sylvia trains a lot in the states, and our training is different a little bit, now… we don’t necessarily follow the same approach to training dogs, but what i would say about Sylvia is that Sylvia was the first person that talked through the concept of -- or brought to my attention the concept of breaking exercises down into component parts and also making your training a game. And she was so far ahead of her time, when she was around and god she’s been training dogs for… it’s got to be 40-50 years now. And when she first came into dogs or obedience it was very very compulsion based and she was one of the first people that openly used toys and play, etc as a medium to train dogs. So she was somebody that was a massive influence, although as I say our paths are different now, and that’s absolutely fine, i have the utmost respect for her in terms of the influence she had on me. The second person, or group of people, I would say is a really close friend of mine -- somebody called Susanne Jaffa, who is a british obedience trainer and working trials trainer, and she trains australian shepherds and she’s one of the people that really really influenced my change over to clicker training, and she’s again one of the first people that made - or one of the first people that was very very successful clicker training. There was somebody else, who now lives in Canada, a friend of mine called Kathy Murphy. They were the people that were really vocal about, we’re going to clicker train our dogs, and we’re going to do it and be successful at it.

The other person who I’m sure numerous people will quote is Susan Garrett; anybody that knows me knows that I’m a massive, massive Susan Garrett fan. I think she’s phenomenal in what she does, I think being a bit cynical, the internet and good marketing, often create the illusion of somebody being a good dog trainer but having been in Susan’s presence when she’s trained her dogs she’s a phenomenal, phenomenal… her timing… and I would say all those people have what i call dog training hands. You can tell if somebody has dog training hands just by watching them; You know, the way in which they move, they interact, and she has a very comprehensive knowledge of science, and the science behind what she does. But her ability to interact, read, and the relationship she has with her dogs, there’s nothing put on or fake about it. What you see is very much what you get. Yeah, but those are the people for me that I look up to, admire, and I constantly, if i was ever going to look for… and I look in the most weird and wonderful places for inspiration and ideas for my own training, but those would most definitely be…

And the other person is Bob Bailey. Bob Bailey, world-renowned animal trainer, a constant reminder of what is effective dog training or animal training, reinforcement placement, etc etc, the endless list of pearls of wisdom that Bob gives out. So yeah, those are the ones that have really influenced me, or that I look up to, I should say.

Melissa Breau: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Kamal Fernandez: No, my pleasure.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week with Melissa Chandler to discuss nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs. 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.

Aug 4, 2017

Summary:

Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA.

She is the also official show photographer for many of the premier agility events in the United States, including the AKC National Agility Championships, AKC Agility Invitational, USDAA Cynosport World Games, and NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local trials, regional events, and breed national specialties.  She has photographed a wide variety of dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, and conformation, and dog events, including FDSA camp.  

Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friends' dogs at conformation shows, and quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her own dog -- and today she’s here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day -- dog photos!  

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/11/2017, featuring Kamal Fernandez talking about FCI heeling and balancing motivation and control. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we'll be talking to Amy Johnson. Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA. She is also the official show photographer for many of the premiere agility events in the United States including the AKC National Agility Championships, the AKC Agility Invitational, the USDAA Cynosports World Games, and the NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local tryouts, regional events, and breed national specialties.

She has photographed a wide variety of dog sport including agility, obedience, rally and conformation, and dog events including the FDSA's Camp. Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friend's dogs at conformation shows, and it quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her on dog, and today she's here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day, dog photos. Hi, Amy, welcome to the podcast.

Amy Johnson: Hi, Melissa. Thanks so much for having me on.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat.

Amy Johnson: I am too.

Melissa Breau: So to kind of start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have, who they are, and what you're working on with them?

Amy Johnson: Sure. I have two dogs and one of them is here in my office with me, and well, if he makes any noise, but his name is Costner, as in Kevin, and so he is a Great Dane, a Fawn Great Dane, if anybody is interested in those details. He's about 39 inches at the shoulder, about 190 pounds, and that is ribs still visible kind of. That's just how big he is. so he's kind of a goof. We joke that he just has 3 neurons, he can eat, sleep and poop, and you know, he's just a really good hang out around the house dog. And then our other dog is a 60-pound Yellow Lab mix and her name is Dora. We don’t do a lot with our dogs. They are companions, they like to go on walks, they like to go for hikes in the woods, they like to just be near us, and so they don’t have any real special skills.

Melissa Breau: I assume they can pose.

Amy Johnson: They can pose. Although Costner is…if I try and put a camera in his face he generally kind of backs off and is like, what's that? So his actual special skill is that he is an AKC Breed Champion, and I cannot take any credit for that because we got him after his championship was finished from a friend of ours who were involved in the breeding of him, so he can look really pretty, so that’s his special skill. He just doesn’t really enjoy looking pretty, so what gets posted online of him are funny things where he's got drool or his lips are spread out on the floor where he's lying down, or you know, he's massive, and he takes up huge amounts of space, and so the pictures that I take are the ones that are just trying to show that and communicate that. We joke that he's a house pony, you know, he's not even really a dog, he's horse size, and then Dora…it's funny because she's the small dog in the house that people look at me and suddenly say we have a 60-pound dog that's considered the small dog, and then they, you know, okay, but she's got a few more brain cells in there. I do joke that I have to have dogs in my house that are dumber than me, so to call Costner not that smart is really, in our house, it's not an insult. That's just my reality. I admire the people who have the Border Collies, and the Jack Russells, and the Shih Tzus, and all those really, really smart dogs. That is not who I am and what I want to live with, so we have just dogs that are really good dog citizens and they know the routines. Costner knows that he has to sit before he gets his food. Sometimes he just stays sitting, even after I put his food down, but so we have our routines, but basically, we just want our dogs to be good citizens, and I think we've kind of got a good balance of that, so.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. So I mentioned in your bio that you got your start taking photos at conformation events. Was that kind of where your interest in photography started? Where did kind of you get started just in photography in general?

Amy Johnson: In general, I got started back in junior high. My dad had a Minolta film camera, SLR camera, manual focus, and he taught me the basics of photography, the basics of exposures. So he taught me about shutter speed, and aperture, and at that point it was called film speed, now it's called ISO, but he taught me the basics of the exposure triangle, as it's called, and how to focus a manual focus camera, and how to set my exposure so that I expose the film properly. I never did any dark room work. It was always take the 35mm film canister to the WalMart, or wherever, and get it developed, so I'm not quite that much of a purist, but my beginnings definitely were in film, and with my dad, and we would vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior here in Minnesota, and so he would take pictures, and then he would show me how to take pictures, and so kind of that father-daughter bond was really enhanced by our experience with him teaching me how to use a camera, and how to take pictures, so I kind of babbled with it throughout the years as I was growing up.

I was given by my brother and my parents one year for my birthday they gave me a film Sor of my own, and this was a little more advanced. It was a Canon EOS Elan II, I think, and it had autofocus, so I didn’t have to do the manual focus thing anymore, which you know, there's a little skill involved in manual focus, and I admired the photographers who could do it, and do it well. It's not my thing, but I understand the appeal of it. It kind of forces you to slow down and really takes things in, but so I had a film Sor that I, again, just kind of kept babbling, and various things, and then I got into dog shows, and that’s a whole long story that we could talk about some other time, but I was showing my second Great Dane, her name was McKenzie, I was showing her in conformation. I was terrible, awful. She didn't have the temperament for it. I didn’t have the skills for it. We tried for about a year and didn’t really get anywhere other than I made a lot of friends, and really enjoyed learning about the conformation world, and understanding even just the rhythm of a conformation show, and understanding okay, these dogs are going in the ring, and then they're coming out, and then they're going back in, and so you know, it's very confusing at first, and then you kind of figure out oh, okay, I know what's going on, those dogs aren’t going back in, and yeah. So I learned a lot about dog shows, and I learned a lot about the people who breed dogs, and that was fascinating to me.

I was taking a camera to most shows that I went to and just taking pictures of my friends, and then one time, and this was actually with a digital camera, one of the very, very early digital cameras that actually use the three and a quarter inch floppy disks in it, so not even memory cards. These were, you know, not the five and a quarter, but I think they're three and a half inch floppy disks, and that was your memory card, so and that didn't respond very fast to a dog moving across the ring, you know, you'd hit the shutter button and about two seconds later it would actually take the picture. Well, there's no more dog left in the frame if it takes that long to take the picture, so one time I brought my film camera with me and really enjoyed the success I had with getting dogs moving in the ring, rather than just the ones where they were stacked. So then my vet invited me to photograph her club's agility trial, and that's where it really kind of took off for me, so I really enjoyed the different games, I think it was a USDAA trial, but I'm not 100 percent sure, but the different games were, you know, some were all jumps, and some where you didn’t know where the dog was going to go, which I know now are gamblers, and again, that camaraderie around the ring, of all the people and their dogs, was really intriguing to me, and just was very welcoming and fun, and there was a market for the photos there. There was nearly no market back in ‘99, 2000 for candid photos ringside at conformation shows. Nobody was doing them, nobody knew what those were, you know, but agility trials, on the other hand, there was a market for that, people understood what that was, people likes pictures of their dog doing agility, so there was a market there for it being a business, not just a, you know, I'm going to show up and have fun.

So I did one agility trial with a film camera, and then quickly realized that I would go broke on film and processing, and then digital SLR's were just coming out, so this was in 2000, and I convinced my poor husband to let me buy a digital SLR, the Canon D30, and as he's hitting submit order on B&H's website he's looking at me saying, "just promise me you'll try and make some money from this," and the camera paid for itself in I think two shows. We realized we had kind of a winning formula there, and so I never have even thought about going back to film, of course, and digital cameras have gotten amazingly good, and amazingly fast, and responsive, and make my job easier with every new camera that I get, so.

Melissa Breau: Can you show a little more about how you went kind of from that stage of your business to where you are now, because now you do really, really, big shows, and I mean, just kind of interesting evolution.

Amy Johnson: Right. Yeah. It started out as me and the camera, and sometimes my husband would come. My first national event was actually in 2001, and you know, I look back on this and I really had no business doing it, but I was invited, again, so the social aspect of it, I had made friends, and they said will you come, and I said okay, sure. So 2001 they'd have championships and it was in Minnesota, it was in Mankato, which is about, I think, five hours south of me, and so it wasn’t like going out of state, and I made the leap. Now, the only really interesting part of this was I had a five-week-old baby at that point, so it was me, and a camera, and Ben, my husband, and Mika, our five-week-old baby, who made the trip down to Mankato, and I had told my friends who were in charge of the show, I had said if this isn’t working for me with having a baby here we're going to just have to cut and run at some point, and they were like, that’s fine, you know, you do what you need to do, but it all worked, and we had an amazing time, and I got an exposure to what a national events was, and there's a lot of adrenaline that comes with that.

In 2007, I was invited to AKC Agility Nationals, so from 2001 to 2007 I was just mostly doing weekend stuff, 07 was AKC Nationals, and again, it was still just me and Ben. Ben was in the booth running the sales side of things, I was taking pictures. Gradually, over the years, I've added photographers, and over the past two years, maybe two and a half, when I go to a national event I've really tried to make sure I had a photographer in every ring, and then also increase the size of my booth staff so that if someone comes through the booth and wants to look at pictures they don’t have to wait to get some help to do that. So the whole business has been a very gradual…well, let's try this now, and let's add this now, and what if we do this, or what if we change this. I've never taken out huge loans for the business. It's always just kind of grown under its own as it can support more, you know, I'll put a little more money out, and then it's just been a very gradual, making sure everything still feels as comfortable as it can be when you're running your own business.

Melissa Breau: You started to talk for a minute there just about having a photographer on each ring and things like that. What's that process, like you mentioned, you know, having a booth, and then having people shooting photos. I mean, how do you get from one to the other and handle all of that in the midst of a big show going on?

Amy Johnson: A lot of deep breaths and a lot of screaming in my head that I don’t let come out of my mouth. No, it's all good. I think if I had tried to go from me, and a camera, and my husband to covering six rings, and having six staff in the booth, you know, and the funny thing, I would have probably decided it was crazy and I was never going to do that again, but it went from…so one of the early AKC Nationals that I did probably in 08 or 09, there was me that was there, Great Dane photos was there, plus another photography vendor was there, so we just very amicably divided it. Well, okay, I'll take these rings on these days, and you take those rings on those days, and so there were two photographers there, and each of us had, I think, at least two photographers that we could cover all the rings, but it was between two different companies, and so that’s okay. I can manage a few people in the booth and a few people out shooting for me, and then it's just gradually shifted to where AKC and these different agility organizations have said, you know, I mean, if you can cover the whole thing we're happy to allow you to do that, and so if It was a sudden transition I would've probably not managed it, but just gradually adding more and more. It's like anything, once you are comfortable at one level of participation you kind of go oh, let's see, how else could I get involved, or what more can I add onto my plate, and you know, at some point you may go oh, that’s too much, but adding photographers has been kind of just word of mouth, and knowing people from other events.

One photographer who had shot for me I had seen his work from a previous special event, and he did a really nice job, and so I invited him to come and work for me, and that's actually happened a couple of times. One of my photographers is someone who approached me at a trial here in Minnesota, and said you know, I'm really interested in this, do you want to just take a peek at what I've done, and she lived close enough to me that she could come to a lot of my different local shows, and I could mentor her, and well, okay, that shot didn’t work so well, so what could we do differently, or oh, well, that’s a great one, if you get a chance to do that kind of a shot again, go for it, so I think that’s the beginnings of the education peaks, you know, I really enjoyed that mentoring process, and she now shoots…I mean, our styles are very similar, and so it makes it really easy to have her in the booth or as a photographer because the experience for the customer is that’s a Great Dane photoist's photo, not that’s Amy's, and that’s so and so's, and oh, that’s another person. It's all very cohesive and that's really important to me that the experience is one of I can go in any ring and get a good photo, not oh, shoot, I'm not in that ring today, so I'm not sure what I'm going to get, so yeah.

Melissa Breau: So I'd imagine that there are probably more than a handful of unique challenges that come with photographing dogs, especially sorts dogs, compared to people, or other common photography subjects. Do you mind just talking about what some of those challenges are and how you guys deal with them?

Amy Johnson: Sure. The most unique challenges really do come with the dog sports, especially…it all comes down to speed. You can have an Olympic sprinter in an Olympic stadium doing their race, and I can track that with a camera really easily. Cameras have been tuned to recognize the human form and whatever algorithms are built into their little tiny brains these days. Well, and if you think about it, so many cameras have facial recognition, well, how does it know what a face is and what is a face? Well, it's not looking for dog faces, it's looking for human faces, so there's something about the human from that a camera has been tuned to identify, and prioritize, and its ability to focus. So I'm constantly fighting against some of those things that are engineered into the cameras, so fast, black dogs in bad light are like my nemesis. They are, and the smaller they are, and the fuzzier they are, the worse it gets, but I've taken that on as a challenge. Okay, so that is my hardest subject, fast, tiny, fuzzy, black dogs in bare light, so what I do is make sure that my film and my gear is all prioritizing being able to take a picture of that worst-case dog, and it's nothing against black dogs, believe me, but they are just the hardest thing to photograph, and there's nothing like that in the human sports, or even cars, or you know, whatever.

There's nothing like it out there, and so that’s the most unique challenge I think, and so every time a new camera comes out I'm always hoping for some feature that makes my job of photographing a small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light a little bit easier, but even just the typical dog, you know, they do move very fast, they can move in very unexpected directions, they have really good reflexes, and so tracking that motion can be very difficult. They don't speak English, so if you want to tell them hey, pose for me, you got to figure out what that word is, you know, is it treat, or is it go for a ride, or is it are you ready. Figure out what the trigger word is to make their ears go up, and their mouth close, and their eyes kind of get a little brighter and go oh, oh, something's going to happen, and then that's the moment you click, as opposed to a human where you just say okay, look at the camera, and then you say cheese, right, and everybody follows directions. Now, when you get a teenager who's really not into this you might still get some not so great results, but at least you can speak to them in a common language. Well, and the other challenge I'm fighting that is actually fascinating to me is as people work on their relationship with their dog, which is a fabulous thing, and that’s one of my favorite things about going to a dog show and seeing those relationships, but as they do that it makes it really hard for me if I'm trying to do a picture of the human, and the dog, and a ribbon, the dog is gazing adoringly at the human, and I can't get them to look at the camera. I don’t care what word I throw out. There are times where the dog won't look at me because they are so engaged with their human, and that's a lovely thing, and generally, it's not been a problem, you know, the person is generally okay with that, but still, if you want to get the dog it's kind of a funny, you know, it's a good thing that the dog is so engaged with their person, but it makes my job just a little bit harder, so it's those weird things.  

Melissa Breau: You mentioned kind of following gear, and new things coming out, and things like that, so I was curious what equipment you use and you know, you kind of got a little bit into the why there, but if there's more you want to elaborate on?

Amy Johnson: Sure. No, and oh man, I could talk gear for hours. I love gear. I love camera gear, and it's a really good thing I have a job that lets me write it off because otherwise, that would be a problem. So I shoot canon, primarily, and I have canon's top of the line sports camera. It's called the 1D X Mark II. It is their latest and greatest and it shoots 14 frames a second. It has a really high ISO rating or can shoot at a really high ISO, which is the piece that's critical in shooting in the really bad lighting, and actually, my definition of bad lighting is somewhat different than the average Joe Shmoe on the street, you know, a camera needs a descent amount of light to shoot in, and our eyes are amazing, our eyes can really come in the huge range of lighting conditions, and cameras aren’t quite to that point yet, so I need to high ISO so that I can have a high shutter speed so I can stop the motion of my small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light. A Canon Body is the best that money can buy, at least in terms of an SLR. I use what's called fast glass, and that means that it's a lens with a really big opening for the light, it's a big aperture, and so my favorite lens for shooting agility is a 400mm F2.8, as my husband says, it just means is has a really big light bucket so it can collect a lot of light, and make sure I'm getting enough light to again, get that fast shutter speed so that I can stop motion.

I also have a Nikon camera, and I bought that about six months ago, primarily, because I felt like I needed to learn Nikon camera bodies for my students. I am able to give really specific advice and troubleshooting information about Canons, and I was not able to give that same level of troubleshooting advice for Nikons, so I got a Nikon D500, which is not quite the top of the line, but it's a really good performance camera for wildlife, and I got a big lens for it, and I use that for a lot of my bird photography these days. So learning the other major brand of camera has been a really good experience for me. It's given me a new appreciation for oh, yeah, this is what it's like to open up a camera that you've never had your hands on before, and be a little overwhelmed by all those buttons, and dials, and menu items, and all that, but yeah. So my equipment, I tend to get the best I can, which is easier for me to justify, again, because it's a business, as opposed to just a hobby, you know, you got to be a little more careful about how you spend that money, but I do love gear. You know, there's also of course, all these accessories. There's monopods and tripods, you know, there's more lenses than just that 400mm, and that could be a whole other podcast episode.

Melissa Breau: It's really kind of awesome that you are able to provide that kind of support in a class or to a student when you're talking about a Nikon versus a Canon. I would love to dive a little more into what you cover in your classes at FDSA. What are some of the skills you teach? I know right now I think there are two classes... Are there more than that on the calendar?    

Amy Johnson: Right now, what's coming up in August are two classes. One of them is my foundation class called Shoot the Dog, and in that class, we really just start from assuming people are starting from ground zero. We learn the basics of exposure, we talk about shutter speed, we talk about aperture, we talk about ISO, we talk about the effects that each of those has on the way a photo looks, as well as just the technical details of, what does it mean to have a fast shutter speed, or what does it mean to have a wide open aperture versus a closed down aperture, and then what does ISO mean? We don’t delve too deeply into the uber techie stuff, but we do talk about that a bit, but really, it comes down to if I change the shutter speed how does that change how my photo looks? If I change the aperture how does that change how my photo looks? When should I care most about aperture, and when should I care the most about shutter speed, and we really work on kind of creating photos that communicate to a broader audience than just you yourself.

So one of my students used the phrase that she had read somewhere, and I don’t where, but the difference in doing an emotional portrait and a photograph, and we kind of laughed about it at first, but the more I think about it I think that’s an important distinction. If I take a quick snapshot of my dog and it's not really in focus, and the light's really not that great, but there is something in that expression that just screams oh, that’s my dog, that’s like the essence of my dog. It doesn’t matter about the technical bits. It doesn’t matter if it's not quite as sharp as I would want it to be. It's an emotional portrait. I have an emotional connection to that. Now, if I post that online my friends are probably going to say oh, that’s great, yes, that looks like Costner, that is so Costner, that's wonderful, but if I post it to a photography site in general, they're going to think I'm crazy because they can't see that emotion, they don’t know my dog, they don’t understand that, that is his quick, essential, expression. They think I can't really see what's going on in his face because the photo's a little dark, and I can't see his eyes all that well because it's really not that in focus, so what I really want students to do is to be able to conquer those technical bits, the sharpness, and the exposure so that they can make the soul of the photo really come through, and be obvious to anybody, rather than have all the technical stuff be in the way and mask the true soul of that photo, the true meaning of that photo. So that's a hard thing for people to do because it takes stepping back and really applying a critical eye to your photos and saying oh, yeah, I see how I can see the dog's expression, but I can see how someone else wouldn't be able to see it and read it as clearly as I can, because they don’t have the emotional connection to the dog, to the subject that I do. So that's something that really has started to be a common thread in all of my classes. We want to move beyond the emotional portraits, and believe me, they have their place, you know, I don’t have any beef with them, but in my classes I want to move beyond that and into something that can speak to a broader audience, and get that emotional connection across.

Melissa Breau: So in August you're teaching a foundational class, and what's the other class that you're offering?

Amy Johnson: The other class is called Chase the Dog, and this is kind of my wheelhouse, and that is dogs motion, so we'll talk about…I kind of break it down into two different kinds of motion. There's motion that's predictable, and motion that's unpredictable, so the prime example of motion that’s predictable is agility, and you know, in general, there are always exceptions, but in general, the dog will go where it's supposed to go. There's a pre-established path, their obstacles are numbered. You do this one, and then you do that one, and then so I know when I can anticipate where the dog is going to be at any point in that run, so I can do things differently with that than if I'm just photographing a dog that is having a good romp in the field for play time, so that would be the unpredictable motion. So you let your dog out and you want to take pictures of it just playing around. Well, unless you set up some sort of fencing it just portions the dog's path, you know, you have no idea where that dog's going to go, so tracking that…camera's, you know, there's a limit to how fast they can track that motion, and then there's a limit of how fast I physically can track that motion, and this is where our fast dogs…you know, this is tough, there's a lot of skills, and a lot of practice that just has to happen of getting that muscle memory in you, and once you can track your own dog really well that doesn’t necessarily mean you can track another dog, because all the dogs have a different rhythm, they all have their own unique characteristics about how they move.

So the class is really about offering some skills for how to do both predictable and unpredictable motion, but it's also about setting some realistic expectations of what can I expect to get out of, you know, a 10 minute photo session with a dog just running and playing in the field? Well, you're not going to end of with every photo being perfectly in sharp, or perfectly in focus, and you know, a true winner. You're going to get a lot of junk, and that's okay, and that process of being okay with the junk is really hard, and take someone like me saying it's okay, I have those too, and what students in the class are going to see are a lot of my…you know, rather than just the edited versions, here are the ones that I kept, they're going to see well, here was a whole series that I shot, and notice how many of those were actually good photos, and notice how many of those were not so great. Here's my junk. They're going to get to see my junk photos. Okay, well, I better be a little more careful here. They're going to get to see my junk photos, and I think that’s a really important process to understand that there's no camera in the world good enough to capture everything, so let's talk about what's realistic, let's talk about what you can expect, let's talk about ways to increase the percentage of those keepers, but let's also become comfortable with the idea that you're going to have some clunkers in there.

Melissa Breau: Now I wanted to ask if there's one piece of advice that you can give listeners, something they can start working on today or tomorrow, to help them take better photos of their dogs, what would that be?

Amy Johnson: The first piece of advice I give everyone who asks me that question is to get down to the dog's level, and it's really easy, and it's really basic, and it does not matter what kind of camera you have, but if you change your perspective instead of shooting the photo from your standing height and looking down on the dog, get down to their level. You know, if you've got a tiny little dog it may mean that you are on your belly in the grass taking a picture of that dog, but you will be amazed at how much of a difference that makes in the photo of your dog. If you don’t want to get down to their level then bring them up to your level, so if you have a grooming table throw a nice tablecloth over it and put the dog up on the grooming table. Bring the dog up to your level. Just be on the same level as the dog that you're trying to take a picture of and it transforms the whole thing, so that’s my go to piece of advice for anybody.

Melissa Breau: That's great because that’s something that people can really just go do.

Amy Johnson: Yeah. Exactly.

Melissa Breau: I know that we're talking about kind of a little bit of a different subject than we usually do here on the podcast, but I still wanted to ask you those key questions that I always ask at the end of an episode, because I'm going to let you go into photography related stuff if you so choose. So to start, what's the dog or photography related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Amy Johnson: There's the experience of going to the national and that's huge, that's great, and there's a feeling of kind of I've arrived with that, but the most recent thing that I'm proudest of is actually my experience at camp. I had five of my students that came and were my minions, as I called them, and they were the ones who actually did all of the photography for the events at camp, and being able to stand back and watch them in action I was really proud of them, and that was a more of a feeling of accomplishment than going to a national. Don't get me wrong, I love going to nationals, I love interacting with people, I love watching a great run, and then being able to find them later and say I saw that run and that was phenomenal, and it was beautiful, and I was so happy I was able to capture that for you, but working with students and then watching them take the skills they've learned in my classes and do that for others, you know, capture those moments, that was cool, that was really hard to beat. And now to extend on that, one of my sons is showing interest in photography, and he was able to shoot the jumpers courses at AKC trial that I had shot last weekend, and so again, when I had a break I went over to his ring and just stood back and watched, and seeing the next generation whether it's, you know, the literal next generation or just a new group of photographers that have come through my courses, being able to pass that information on has been really an amazing experience.  

Melissa Breau: That's really cool because it's something that you managed to learn from your father and now you're passing it on to others.

Amy Johnson: Exactly. Yeah.

Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of advice, and this can be either production or photography, that you've ever heard, and bonus points if it applies to both, but it doesn’t have to.

Amy Johnson: The best thing that I've learned to do over the years, and I don’t know that it's ever been told to me exclusively, but it's the thing that I have learned to do is to slow down, and to think, and to just breath, and so that is the thing that I try and tell my students all the time because there's this urge to…the action in front of me is happening really fast and so that means I have to grab my camera fast, and throw it up to my face, and press the shutter, and get the picture really fast, and it doesn’t work that way, or it doesn’t work well that way. So taking a moment to make sure your camera is set correctly for the situation you're trying to photograph, making sure that you understand what's going on in front of you, and can maybe anticipate what's going to happen next, and then just breathing because if you get out of breath or find yourself holding your breath because you're just so excited you end up messing it up more often than not. And that advice I think applies to dog training as well. Slow down, think, just breath, and that kind of brings you back to center, and lets you focus on what's important, and focus on what the task at hand is. Block out everything else that is going on around you and just take it one thing at a time, and the results will be much better.

Melissa Breau: Bonus points earned. So our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Amy Johnson: There are two people that come to mind immediately, and it's not because of their dog training skills, it's because of the way they handle pressure in running their dog businesses, and so the first one is Denise. Who isn’t amazed by Denise and the way she handles FDSA really, and not trying to get brownie points from her, but as a business owner myself it's really important to find those people who are running their own business, and who I admire how they handle that business. You know, Denise has the pressure of thousands of students. She has the pressure of all of the instructors who…meeting some of them at camp was an eye-opening experience, and I love them all, but I admire Denise even more for her ability to handle all of us and our quirks, but to watch her handle that pressure of both the negative and the positive has become important to me. I know one of her things is people won't remember what you say, but they'll remember how you made them feel, and that is a phrase that runs through my mind constantly as I am dealing with customers, or if I'm dealing with students, and even with my family. It's changed the way I interact with everybody, including my family, and to say in my mind, you know, yes, I really want to make that snarky comment, but that's probably not the best way to handle it because it's going to make me feel better, but it's not going to do anything for our relationship, and it's not going to do anything for them and the way they feel, so that's been a really good thing for me.

The other person that I look up to for similar reasons is Carrie DeYoung, who is the head of AKC agility, and I work with her a lot because I do both of AKC's big agility events for the year, so I watch her and how she interacts with her staff, and then watch how she interacts with the exhibitors at those national events, and her calmness, and her…I have never seen her flustered. I'm sure inside there are probably moments of, you know, face palm, or screaming, or whatever, because we all have those, but she does a really good job of on the outside she holds it all together, and that’s something that I don’t always feel like I do very well, but watching her has helped me do that better, so she's another person I really admire in the way that she…granted, she doesn’t own AKC, but she is the queen bee of the agility piece, and I just really admire the way she handles all of the…I mean, if you think about any agility organization there are things that people want to tell them to do differently, things they like, things they don’t like, and to be able to handle all of that constantly takes some real talent and skill. I mean, I admire anybody who trains dogs because I don’t have that talent, and I don’t have the patience to develop it. I know that I could, but it kind of goes back to the whole I live with dogs that are dumber than me, and so I mean, I love watching good trainers, I loved coming to camp and watching all of these amazing instructors that I get to call my colleagues. I loved watching them work with people, and with dogs, and that kind of level of discipline fascinates me, so there's lots to admire about the training side in the dog world in that respect, but for me what's been most important is to find those people, and specifically, women that are at the top of their game and dealing with those pressures that come with being at the top of their game.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amy.

Amy Johnson: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure.

Melissa Breau: It was. It was a lot of fun to chat. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Kamal Fernandez to discuss what it's like to be a man, in a female dominated job. Just kidding. We'll be chatting at FCI style of heeling and more. If you haven’t already subscribed to the 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.

Jul 28, 2017

Summary:

Lori Stevens is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.

She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA. She is also the creator of the Balance Harness.

Lori's most recent of 3 DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called 'The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs.' It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time, with a class on the same topic, called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/4/2017, featuring Amy Johnson talking about taking photographs of our pets. 

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 Lori Stevens. Lori is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. She uses intimidation free, scientific, and innovative methods in an educational environment to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals.

Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator of the balance harness. Lori's most recent of three DVDs by Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao, and called The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs. It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time with a class on the same topic called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.

Hi, Lori. Welcome to the podcast.

Lori Stevens: Hello. Thanks for having me on.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to shout today.

Lori Stevens: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So to get us kind of started out, can you tell us a little bit about your own dogs, kind of who they are, and what you're working on with them?

Lori Stevens: Yes. So I'm going to talk about two. One is with me now because both of them actually got me into this business. So right now, I have a 12 year old Aussie named Cassie, and I got her when she was two years old, and at two, what I was working on is very different from what I'm working on now with her. At two we worked on a lot of behavior related issues, especially on leash, what you might label reactivity. She was barking a lot every day, she was unfamiliar, really, with being out in the world, and so I learned a lot from her. Basically, you know, how do you calm, and communicate, and build trust with the dog that basically didn’t have trust in the world, so I learned loads from her, and we're always working on life with her.

Our sport is fitness. We started out in agility, but over time, I figured out that, that was really hard for her, she wasn’t really enjoying it, probably because of all the environmental sensitivity, and as much as I worked with her it just didn’t seem like her thing. She loved it when she was running, but when she wasn’t running it was really hard to hear all the noises and see the other dogs running, so we moved on, so now we do fitness, we do standup paddle boarding, we do lots of hikes, and now I'm living with an aging dog.

So I actually have firsthand experience now in living with a dog that’s getting older, but I wanted to bring up my first dog because that is the dog, Emmy, who got me into any of this work at all, and basically, she had a lot of health challenges, a lot of physical challenges, I learned just loads of stuff from her, and that’s how I originally got into TTouch Training and massage, so I'll talk a little bit about that more, but I just want to bring up that Emmy is always present, even though she's been gone 10 years. She's been gone quite a while.

Melissa Breau: They do manage to have quite a lasting impact sometimes.

Lori Stevens: That is so true. So true.

Melissa Breau: So what led you to where you are now? I mean, you started to mention Emmy a little bit, but how did you kind of end up working with dogs for a living?

Lori Stevens: Well, so Emmy had all these physical issues and I just took a TTouch class, basically, to learn things to help Emmy, and I kept going to my vet, and my vet kept saying you're just doing wonderful work with her, if you would just get cards made up I would send all my clients to you, sent lots of clients to you, and it's kind of strange because…I won't say when, but way back when I ended up with a degree in computer science, but before that I was in occupational therapy, and I was also in the University Dance Company. I danced for many years, so I have this kind of weird dual interest, both in things physical, movement, bodywork. I always had that interest with occupational therapy and dance, but then I ended up in IT for many, many years. I just retired from the University in April 2017, from the university of Washington, but in 2005 I started my practice, and that was at the urging of a vet, so I got cards made up, and I didn’t really think a lot was going to come of it, but in fact, that built my practice. So I went to four days a week at the University and had a practice one day a week for a long time, and then I went half time at the University. I just kept, you know, kind of building my practice and working in IT, and am out of IT, and totally focused on animals, which is fantastic.

Melissa Breau: Indeed. Congrats. That’s so exciting being able to focus on that full time.

Lori Stevens: Yes, it is. Now I'm spending full time writing this course, which is really great fun, but it's a lot of work, and so it's a good thing I don’t have my job too.

Melissa Breau: So there are lots of kind of interesting pieces there, right? Just kind of all the different things that you work with, and all the different techniques you have, but I want to start with TTouch. So for those not familiar with it at all can you kind of explain what it is?

Lori Stevens: I can. You're right, there's all those pieces, and oddly enough, they do all fit together, but what is Tellington TTouch Training? So people here touch and they think it's only body work, but Tellington TTouch Training is actually a lot more than body work. It is body work, and there are a variety of body work touch techniques, but there's also an element of it that is movement, which includes slowing down dogs and having them move precisely over various equipment on different movement patterns over different surfaces, stopping, turning, really slowing down the nervous system and letting them feel themselves, their bodies, in a way that maybe they haven’t felt them before. It's interesting how many dogs move really, really fast, and it's uncomfortable for them to move really slowly when they're working with someone, so you learn a lot from that, and there's also several tools and techniques that go along with TTouch. One of those is leash walking and making it more comfortable for dogs to walk on a leash, and to fit well in their equipment, and that’s pretty much how, you know, it's that awareness that caused me to develop, over years, the balance harness, but there's also the really learning to observe the dogs, and to give them choice. So there's a lot in TTouch that many years ago other people weren’t really focusing on, and now, thankfully, many people are focusing on it all over the place, so it's kind of nice that, you know, it's now overlapping more with other work that people are doing, and anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea, but it's not just body work.

Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to ask kind of how it works too, and does it work for all dogs, is it something that works, you know, for some dogs better than others, is it something I could learn to do? I mean, how does that all kind of work?

Lori Stevens: Absolutely, you could learn to do it. Does it work for all dogs? I have to answer that…and you know, of course, there's an element of it that works for all dogs, but you have to define what you mean by works, and everything depends on the dog and what you're trying to do, but the thing that makes Tellington TTouch work unique is that it's not habitual. In other words, the way you touch the dog is not the way the dog is used to being touched, so it sort of gets the attention of the nervous system in a different way. The way you move the dogs is different from how they typically move, so it kind of gets their attention in another way. It's almost as if they're listening to the work sometimes. It's super interesting. The nice thing about it is that I can get a dog that’s so fearful in my practice that I can't touch the dog, but I have other tools to use with that dog, so I can move the dog, and over time, with that movement I build trust and we have a dialog going on between us, and eventually, that dog says okay, I'm ready to be touched now. I mean, they really do, they come up to your hands, and then once you start the touch work you've got another set of things you can do, so it's really got a depth to it that isn’t so visible on the surface, and the fact that it's called TTouch often just leads people into thinking that it's just this one thing where you touch your dog.

There's work in humans called Feldenkrais, so it was developed years ago, and it's a technique that moves people in nonhabitual ways to kind of develop new neural pathways to give them freedom of movement again. So people that have serious injuries, and they're, you know, varying them for whatever reason, a variety of reasons, have very limited movement, they can work with the Feldenkrais practitioner, or in a Feldenkrais class called Awareness Through Movement that really slows down and moves your body into nonhabitual patterns to regain new freedom of movement in your own body. It teaches your body to move in another way to get to the same place. Linda Tellington Jones, who developed Tellington TTouch Training, went through that Feldenkrais training for…she did it in order to work with the riders in our Equine Center, the horse riders, so then she started applying those ideas, and those techniques to animals, and that's where the work came from.     

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Lori Stevens: I know. It's a well-kept secret.

Melissa Breau: So you know, you're also a small animal massage practitioner, and you're a certified candidate in massage, so how did those pieces kind of mesh? What are some of the differences between something like TTouch and massage, how do you use them in conjunction?

Lori Stevens: There is overlap and there's also quite a bit of difference, so with my massage training I can really focus on if I'm working with a dog who is super tight in the shoulders from doing too much agility over the weekend, and has big knots, you know, I can get those knots out because I have that training. Also, my training is in rehabilitation massage, so I can do manual lymphatic drainage, so if the dog has lymphoma say, and has huge swollen lymph nodes in the neck that you can actually see how swollen the lymph nodes are, I can do this very gentle work to bring that swelling down, to move the lymph node system lymph fluid again, so I can do very specific work that has a very physical effect.

In TTouch body work I can work on a tail and change the behavior of a dog, so…what? So it's very different, you're more working with fascia and skin in the nervous system than you are working muscles, although muscles can change as well. Both of the techniques can change gate. It's all very, very interesting how, you know, both of them can change gate from working on the bodies, and I'm sure there's a lot of overlap, even when you're focusing on different things, but they really have kind of a different focus. And the TTouch work is much…I won't say lighter, because they both can be quite light, like even when I'm working on a knot in a muscle I don’t dig in there, you know, I'm very…I go with the muscle, but I would just say they have a different focus, and therefore, you can end up with a different result. And the TTouch body work can actually…I see more changes in behavior than I do with massage, and I don’t know if that’s because I'm focused upon that, I don’t know. I mean, it's kind of interesting, but you know, when a dog gets really uptight, often times out on a walk, my dog's tail will start to go up. That will be one of the first things I see. Maybe her ears and head, but I'll see her tail go up. If I actually reach down and just stroke her tail and bring her tail back down it actually brings her back down.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Lori Stevens: Yeah, I know. It's kind of interesting. I might have to teach that in my next Fenzi course.

Melissa Breau: Hey, I'd certainly be interested in learning a little more about it. So it sounds like to me…and I could be totally of base, obviously, but if the TTouch is a little bit more focused on kind of the physical and behavioral tied together, whereas, the massage is more kind of on the physical and performance side. Is that kind of right?

Lori Stevens: Well, sure. You can put it that way. I would just say they are different techniques. There is overlap, but there are different techniques. TTouch in no way does it do manual inside drainage, for example, that is a massage technique, and when I'm doing just message to get knots out I'm not generally looking for changes in behavior. I'm looking for changes in the body. So…I don’t know, I mean, they're both touching the body, both body work.

Melissa Breau: Now, you're also a certified canine fitness trainer, so how does that factor in?

Lori Stevens: So that factors into the movement work, so I have been doing the Tellington TTouch training moment work for years, and it wasn’t really getting dogs to the point that…it wasn’t getting them where I wanted them to go if they were showing weakness in their muscles. Having a background in dance and being active my entire life, I was really looking for ways of helping the dogs be stronger, and more flexible, and more agile, and more confident, and blah blah blah, and some of those TTouch gave, and some of those it didn’t, so it was natural for me to take it a step further. I mean, all the stuff I do sounds like a bunch of certifications, but they're all really interwoven. I had been doing some fitness with dogs for years, and then when the University of Tennessee offered the certified canine fitness trainer program and partnership with Fitpaws I jumped on it, because that was the first program that I saw that I thought would be worth doing, and just going ahead and getting my certification in it, plus I learned things.

When I see…especially a dog's age, is weakness, or you know, I see habitual movement patterns that maybe a dog got injured when they were two, and at six they're still carrying the same pattern, they just never quit taking all their weight off their back right foot, say, so fitness really allowed me to take it a step further and help those dogs get back to being more functional, and stronger. And it's really fun, and it's a fantastic way of building trust, and enjoying communication with your dog. It's just another…well, like I said, it's my sport, one of my sports, so I just think it's fantastic.

Melissa Breau: So I want to kind of shift gears for a minute and look at your interest in older dogs. What led to that? Was it Cassie getting older or was it something else?

Lori Stevens: No, no. I've been working with older dogs for years. It's funny how long I worked with them before I had one, although, I have had older dogs before, but because of the kind of work I was doing the veterinarians were sending lots of senior dogs to me, and because I was helping them get functional again, and helping them feel better I just kept getting them, so I had a lot of experience. Even in 2005 I was getting the older dogs sent to me and I just kept building up that knowledge of working with them, and helping them feel better. I wonder what year it was. I want to say it was 2014, but I can't be certain.

Kathy Sdao and I decided to do Gift of a Gray Muzzle together and really focus on aging dogs in a video in our workshop. We just gave that workshop recently again. It's kind of a passion of mine because you know, everybody when they get a puppy they're very enthusiastic about their new puppy, and you know, they have to learn a bunch of things, but there's a motivation to learn a bunch of things because you have a new puppy, you just went out and got it, but our dogs age gradually, and it's not the same kind of oh boy, I've got an aging dog, and I'll go out and learn all these new things. You know, books on aging dogs don’t sell, and the thing is that there's a real joy of working with aging dogs, and watching them get new light in their eyes, and watching them physically get through things that maybe they weren't getting through before, so anyway, that’s what led me to it.

Melissa Breau: To kind of dig into that a little more, what are some of the issues that older furry friends tend to struggle with where your training and presumably, also your upcoming class may be able to help?     

Lori Stevens: Well, I think even with people, keeping our dogs minds, or keeping our minds and bodies active is incredibly important, and this thing happens as dogs age is they all of a sudden get really comfortable sleeping for a very long time, and I think we go…especially if we have more than one dog I think we kind of say to ourselves well, our older dog's fine, you know, I'll put more energy into my younger dog, you know, maybe don’t think that, but that’s what ends up happening, and then one day you notice oh my god, the hind end strength is going, and the proprioception is going, which both of those naturally diminish with age. I better say what proprioception is. Proprioception is your conscience ability to know where your body is in space during movement, so if you think of a toddler at a certain age, they can't hold their cup up with juice in it, they're just pouring it upside down and then they're upset their juice is gone, but then at a certain age they suddenly know how to keep their cup upright while they move. That's proprioception. Well, you lose it with age, and so you have dogs that used to be able to step over and run over everything, running into low poles, or low logs, or whatever, and so hind end strength and proprioception naturally diminish with age, and so in the course, and when I work with older dogs, and when I do the workshops, that’s what I'm helping people do is get those back.

Also, I think we’re not quite prepared as humans to all of a sudden, we have this senior dog, and our dog can't do as much as it could do before, and so we have to change as well, so how do our expectations need to change, and how can we make this time together, which hopefully, will be many years as wonderful as it can be. You know, we have to change our expectations, and rather them be disappointed, find joy in that as much as our dogs need to find joy in a different kind of life as well. Not meaning…this isn’t bad, this is all good stuff. I mean it all in a very good way. It's just that’s it's different, and so you know, in the course I give lots of tips on the easiest way to get your dog in and out of a car, or on the sofa, the functional things that dogs could do when they were younger, sometimes those go away, and so how do we bring back that function or maintain that function and joy with our aging dogs. So we'll be doing lots of activities in that course on keeping our dogs minds and bodies active, but also tools and techniques we can use to participate in making their lives as good as we can. Did that help?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So if you were to make one recommendation for everyone listening who happens to have an aging or older dog, what would it be? Is it about mind shift, is it about, you know, exercise? I mean, what kind of piece would you pull out of that?

Lori Stevens: Well, I certainly have one. Surprise, surprise. I would say be your dog's advocate, trust yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, be a detective until you get to the source. I can't tell you how many times the answer is well, your dog's getting older, you know, you're making stuff up, or that’s just natural, your dog's getting older, and there really has been something, so I do think it's really, really important to be your dog's advocate, and to trust yourself, and it's okay to take your older dog to acupuncture appointments, or TTouch appointments, or massage appointments, or swimming appointment, you know, whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better. That's a good thing, but if you notice that…and your dog feel better, but if you notice something seems off it can be really hard to find what it is, and just be your dog's advocate is all I can say. Go to another vet if your veterinarian isn’t willing to work with you through figuring out what it is.

Melissa Breau: And finally, the questions I ask  in every episode. I want to ask you kind of the same three questions that I asked everybody whose come on so far. So to start, what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Lori Stevens: My observation skills. I mean, they have developed since 2005 and I'm happy that I can now recognize how developed they are, and how important observation skills are, and really honoring the dog's needs rather than my own agenda, right. I mean, you know, sometimes it's natural when you have a practice to think through I'm getting ready to see this person and dog, and here's my agenda for the hour-long session, we're going to do it, X, Y, and Z, and then the dog gets there and goes no, we're not, you know, I want to do something else. So really being observant to be able to tell that, and then honoring the dog's needs, and the person, of course, has the say in what you do as well, but you know, really honoring the dog's needs. And I've actually…I will say it's only happened once since 2005, but I lost a client for not forcing a dog to do things, so I didn't mind losing that client, but…

Melissa Breau: It's important to stand up for your principles and kind of do what you believe is the right thing.

Lori Stevens: Yeah, and I'm just not comfortable forcing dogs into position for a massage.

Melissa Breau: Right. So what about training advice, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Lori Stevens: You know, it's funny. I don’t really think these are what you have in mind, but…

Melissa Breau: That’s okay!

Lori Stevens: Yeah. Meet the dog where she is or he is. That was the best piece of advice I heard and that was in TTouch, but just kind of change to meet both learners, the dog and the person, where they are. You can't really tell people to change, right, you have to guide them gently, and kind of move with them when they're really to move. People have to decide for themselves to make changes, and communication is so incredibly important. I've seen dogs and people go from, you know, a pretty dark place to an incredible place, and I'm so thrilled with what, you know, with the influence that I had on that. I would have to say just meeting everybody where they are, and recognizing how important communication is, and that it's not just about what we think, or how we think it should be done, but bringing the person and dog along at their own pace.

Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Lori Stevens: Well, you know there's several, but I have to say Dr. Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez probably are two top.

Melissa Breau: Ken's well regarded among the FDSA staff. I've heard his name a couple of times now.

Lori Stevens: Yeah. He's pretty great. So is Dr. Susan Friedman. I think you'll hear her name more and more if you haven’t already.

Melissa Breau: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lori. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.

Melissa Breau: I feel like I learned a ton.

Lori Stevens: That's great.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Amy Johnson to discuss photography and our dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have or 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.

 

Jul 21, 2017

Summary:

Dr. Debbie Gross Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over seventeen years and has both a masters and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field.

She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and is one of the founders of the Certificate Program in Canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee.

She has been widely published, both professionally and in venues for dog enthusiasts.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/28/2017, featuring Lori Stevens talking about how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports broadcast 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 Debbie Gross Torraca. Dr. Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over 17 years and has both a master's, and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field. She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and as one of the founders of the certificate program in canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee, she has been widely published both professionally, and in venues for dog enthusiasts. Hi, Debbie, welcome to the podcast.

Debbie Gross: Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat with you. This is not a topic a I know a lot about, so it's always fun to learn something. Just to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about your own dogs, who they are, and what you’re working on with them?

Debbie Gross: Sure. Yeah. So I currently share my home and my life with two dogs. Bogaurt is a Clumber Spaniel, and so that’s a fairly different breed, and then we also have a nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel that was rescued. He was unfortunately beaten by a gentleman in uniform, that's all we know. So we've had him for about six years and we've had to overcome quite a lot of fear issues, and all that sort of stuff, so he's been my different sort of training in progress, and every day I learn from him, and the Clumber Spaniel does a little bit of everything. He's definitely…I've had Clumbers now for almost 10 years and they're just a joy to work with, and you know, people often will ask, "why don't you do agility or other sports with him?", and that’s where kind of I come in and look at the body frame, and that sort of stuff, even though a lot of Clumbers can do agility, his body is just not meant for that, so sadly, we stick to other things, and he's always my willing demo dog, or sometimes unwilling, so that’s always…yeah, exciting. He seems to know when it's guinea pig time and he'll take off if he doesn’t feel up to it, so.

Melissa Breau: He'll let you know if he's not in the mood, huh?

Debbie Gross: Exactly. I mean, he's like typical Clumber, so sweet, but about 22 hours a day, so.

Melissa Breau: Now, I know in your bio I left out some of the alphabet, you've got a lot of credentials, so I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about how you got into animal rehabilitation. What is it that drew you in that direction?

Debbie Gross: Sure. I've always been drawn to animals and you know, just adored them, and when I went to human physical therapy school there was a lot of hands on, a lot of palpation. Eventually, my roommates got tired of being guinea pigs, and at the time, I had an Alaskan Malamute and he was a more than willing participant, so I started to look at his body and say, oh, you know, if we could do all these things for people, why can't we do these for animals, and this was back in the 1980s, and one of my professors said to me, "don't be silly, this is a dog, no one's ever going to spend money or care about that much on a dog." So I kind of, you know, laughed at that and said, okay, and kind of kept that in the back of my mind, and I graduated. I took my first job in New York City and I was working with a lot of dancers in New York City Ballet, and definitely started to appreciate different types of movement, so if a ballerina or another type of dancer's missing five degrees of motion in their big toe, it's going to be significant. And I think about all those minor things so often today when I work with performance dogs, you know, dogs that are involved in high level competitions, but I stayed with human physical therapy for a while, always kind of thinking about my dream of working with dogs, and I fully just started to do a lot of independent learning, a lot of reading, spending a lot of time with veterinarians, and going to different vet schools, and studying anatomy, and things like that.

And then eventually, it turned into more and more, and I then started teaching at the University of Tennessee. And the CCRP letters are the Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, so I helped establish that program, and continued to teach with them, and it's really kind of, you know, it can be kind of a common sense thing. Dogs and other animals suffer many of the same injuries that people do. For example, an ACL injury in people is very common in dogs as well, and there are many different breeds that suffer with that, but things like arthritis, and neurological diseases, and sports related issues. I mean, certainly, everything that we know from the human filed we can just benefit, you know, help the dogs, so it's been pretty awesome to start out with this almost 20 years ago and watch it kind of just be an idea, and now it's definitely becoming more and more commonplace.

And I love looking on Facebook or talking to people from all over the world and they're taking their dog for rehab, or they're perusing other options, and they're doing things like that, which is just fantastic. Yeah. So that's been…you know, it is. It's great when, you know, and I laugh at the professor that I…every once in a while, I'll see her at a conference, and I'll say to her, hey, remember that kind of thought or dream I had, I said, that’s kind of what I do now 24-7 about, so. And a lot of people that have gone through rehab can definitely relate, and they understand, and so I'm always thrilled when more and more owners are perusing different options for their pets, and really, the moto of our clinic is every dog deserves the best quality of life for the longest time possible, and no matter if the dog is seven weeks old or 17 years old, you know, so important just to make sure that they're pain free and have the highest level of function. So it's really been this incredible journey and I love it.

Melissa Breau: You started to talk a little bit there about some of the differences and similarities between physical therapy for people and that for dogs. Are there other key differences you can kind of speak to?

Debbie Gross: Yes. So a lot of…you know, besides the obvious, people being biped and dogs being quadruped, I joke to a dog is not…they have no idea that something should make them feel better. You know, they're so truthful, they're…either a treatment's going to work, or it's not going to work, so there's no secondary games, they're not messing with an insurance company, or anything like that, but you know, for the same kind of similarities, whenever there's pain or inflammation there's going to be weakness that evolves. So like I tell my kids, if your body perceives pain it's going to shut off all the muscles in the area, so very similar. A person can say, hey, my knee hurts, I need to do something about it. Very often take an Advil or a Tylenol. A dog can't say that to an owner, so a lot of times that unless the owner is very perceptive and notices a slight change in their behavior, it's hard to determine if they're in pain until it gets pretty bad, you know, so recognizing pain is definitely a big difference.

I encourage all my owners, all my students, to make sure they go over their dogs on a monthly basis just to check for any pain, or soreness, or anything like that, but many of the on-scene treatment modalities that we would use in human medicine, we use in the animal. So like moist heat, or ice, laser or photobiomodulation is commonly used to help reduce pain and inflammation, and a lot of the exercises we do are very similar. Of course, we have to get a little bit more creative with a dog, but pretty much everything used in human medicine we could, you know, transfer over to the dog, so it's pretty cool.

Melissa Breau: Now, I think that veterinarians and the medical field in general isn't always known as the most positive part of dog sports, so I'd love to get your take on that. How do positive training and rehabilitation overlap, and are there places where they just can't?

Debbie Gross: Yeah. And that's a very good question. I belong to an organization, I sit on the board called Fear Free, and their whole goal and mission is to establish fear free veterinarian offices, rehab offices, looking at training facilities, boarding facilities, things like that, so it's all aimed at making sure the experience is positive and fear free. And certainly…you know, we laugh in our clinic because we're not the vet, so dogs come in and they know they're getting copious amounts of cookies, and it's going to be a great place, and they love it, and so I think it's very important to, you know, right off the bat we want to make sure the owner and the dog are very comfortable.

Certainly, dogs often will become fearful or potentially aggressive if they're in pain, so I always tell the trainers that I work with, assume that it's physical before behavioral. Now, I'll hear so many times from owners, "oh, my dog didn’t want to do the A-frame this morning. It's probably because…" You know, they make something up and then get steak for dinner. They swear they don’t think like that. You know, they probably didn’t want to do something because they're in pain. Something like the A-frame puts a lot of stress on the dogs back, and the hips, and stuff like that, so understanding if a dog is fearful, or doesn’t want to do something, looking at the reason why, you know, so is it pain that is prohibiting them from doing something.

And certainly, some dogs are not candidates, like we've turned dogs away because they're either too fearful, or they just can't do…they don’t want to do anything, and rather than forcing them, we won't do that. You know, and that's a little bit different than traditional vet medicine where dogs need to go in. They may need to get an exam, or their vaccinations, or things like that, but this fear free movement is fantastic, and you know, looks at everything from the lighting, their potential pheromones in the air to relax the dogs, and cats also, and other animals, so most the time in rehab dogs love it. They love coming into our office, and it's fun, and it's all positive, and you know, that's the way I want it to be. I mean, I love when the dogs pull their owners into the office, so you know that they're having a great time, so it's great.

Melissa Breau: Now, is there a website that's conceded with the Fear Free Organization just in case you'd want to look it up?

Debbie Gross: Yeah. I believe. I'll look. I think if someone just googled fear free it would pull up, and actually, fear free pets.com. So and their moto is "Taking the Pet out of Petrified," and it is very nice. It's a nice group that…and the number of practitioners getting certified in Fear Free are growing constantly, so you know, that's really great, and I highly encourage owners to seek out one of these facilities because they just are a little bit more in tune with things, and make the experience as positive as they can.

Melissa Breau: I'll make sure to include a link to the site in the show notes for everybody.

Debbie Gross: Perfect. Great. Perfect.

Melissa Breau: So I want to drill just a little bit more into rehab itself, rehabilitation sort of implies this idea that something's gone wrong and now it's time to try and fix it, so I was curious of how much of what you teach is about preventing problems, and how much of it is about really fixing them.

Debbie Gross: Great question. And we probably…I would say half the dogs that I see have an issue that can be fixed. So for example, they've had a torn ligament, they had surgery, and now we're rehabbing them, getting them back to normal. The other half is all about prevention and looking at what the dog does, what the dog needs to do, and how to get them stronger. So for example, we run a program called The Biggest Loser and it's a weight loss program, so we know that so many dogs…the obesity causes so many orthopedic issues, as well as other issues, and you know, helping owners and the dogs to understand how to get going, and just start a weight loss program, a successful weight loss program.

Then we have older dogs that just need some exercise, and they just need to get moving, and we'll start implementing a simple exercise program. And then on the other end of the spectrum are you know, some of your…we see a ton of conformation dogs where they need to get into shape, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been in shape, and they vary from doing something. We have underwater treadmills. They may run in the underwater treadmills for 30 to 45 minutes, just depending on what they're doing, and but you know, helping to build up their strength and conditioning. And that goes too with different athletic dogs, your Shih Tzu dogs, your agility dogs, obedience work, anything like that, so really on both sides of kind of fixing something, but also the goal is definitely preventing injuries from happening. So we do a little bit of both.

Melissa Breau: Now, are there things that dog sports enthusiasts should be doing to keep their dog in top shape, or does that kind of vary based on sport, or based on breed?

Debbie Gross: Yeah. That’s another great question. So I think that if we look at human sports, no matter whether it's on the collegiate level, the professional or Olympic level, any of our human athletes is involved in a conditioning program, so they have a program set for them, and they would never think about not engaging in a conditioning program, but on the canine side that’s not always the case. Now, I hear so often, you know, the dogs are just weekend warriors, so they just go to an agility trial over the weekend, and the owner does nothing with them during the week. And I think every dog, if they're involved in performance sports, whether it's just a couple times a month, or every weekend, they need to be in a conditioning program, and a conditioning program should definitely include core strength.

So working just like you and I would work on our back strength, our abdominals, all the large muscles of the body, working on endurance. So sometimes it's just simple walking or jogging, and then sports specifics, so a dog involved in agility is going to need more power or explosive events like plyometrics, working on their strength going over jumps, but also stopping quickly, and making sure that their shoulders and their hip flexors are strong enough, and of course, that will differ from your conformation breed. That may need more endurance to run around the ring and also more core strength, so it does depend on the sport, and its also going to depend upon the breed. And I often laugh where I love the big, you know, the gentle monsters, your Newfoundland's, and giant mastiffs, and you know, of course, their activity. If they walk 10 minutes in the underwater treadmill they're sleeping for the next 24 hours, where you have a Border Collie that's already active, they're going to need more exercise, so it will vary by breed, or also vary by age. So very young dogs anywhere under 24 months, you want to be respectful of their growth plates, and their psychological ability to exercise. And then on the flip side, your older dogs, you don’t want to overdo it either, so you want to be respectful, but hands down, any dog that competes in any kind of event, or just does it for fun should be doing some sort of core work, and it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.

Melissa Breau: I'd imagine that there are some injuries you see a lot more often in dog sports than others. What are some of the things that do crop up most often and you know, what are some of the things maybe you do when you work with those types of dogs from a conditioning standpoint, or even from a rehabilitation standpoint?

Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I think probably two of the more common injuries that have just been unfortunately gaining more popularity are iliopsoas injuries or injuries to the hip flexor, which is back near the front of the dog's hip, and shoulder issues. And I think the iliopsoas is a soft tissue injury and I've definitely been seeing an increase in these injuries as dogs are not really…they're being trained at a younger age without a lot of adequate core strength, and because they're being pushed a lot further, and they don’t have the strength in their core or their hip flexors, so they start to develop this weakness, and this injury, and it's probably one of the more stubborn injuries to rehab from, and part of it is because most owners…and I'm right up there, are impatient, you know, as soon as the dog starts to look better you want to get them out there and play. It's commonly injured by a dog slipping, or excessive ball playing, and that’s something that so many people love to do, toss the ball, and if the dog doesn’t have enough strength they're going to put a lot of stress on that area, but it's the same thing with the shoulder injury, the shoulders stop the dog from moving forward. So for example, when a dog comes over a jump the shoulders are what stabilize the body so the dog doesn’t fall flat on their face, and if there is a minor injury, weakness will develop and then it will start to become an issue. So really, with both of these cases, again, going back to lots of core strengths, and working on sports specifics, so working on the landing over a jump, and building up the strength, working on a lot of what's called eccentric strength, so you know, really preparing them for that. And the other things are proper warm ups and cool downs, so always making sure that the owners are working on that and doing that.

Melissa Breau: Now I know you're offering the Canine Fitness trainer courses through FDSA. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, kind of what they are what the goal is there?

Debbie Gross: Sure. So the fitness trainer courses are so much fun. They're such a great, dedicated group of people because there's four courses in a row, and the goal really is to educate people to either work more with their dog or go out there and help other dogs. So many of the people that have graduated and successfully completed the course and their exam are out there kind of for, you know, if we equate to people, working as a personal canine trainer, so helping dogs with weight loss, helping dogs with different types of exercises, and they've gone through…it's fairly intense. So the first two sessions focus on functional anatomy, so learning about the different muscles, and how to use them, and different exercises to give for them, tons of safety information, and you know, then kind of putting it all together, so talking about the different sports, and what they need, or just different dogs and what they'll need, and how to set up a program that's safe and effective, you know, for an individual dog. So it's so much fun, and I learn something every time we go through a different group of people because they're just incredible, you know, what they think, and the different types of dogs, and so it really has been fantastic, and it's a lot of work, and I'm so proud of everyone that's completed it because it definitely takes a lot of dedication.

Melissa Breau: At the end of the four classes they can take a test, right, to become certified, is that right?

Debbie Gross: Correct. They submit four case studies, so four dogs that they've been working with, and then there's an exam, yes, and then they become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer. Had to think of that for a minute.

Melissa Breau: Very cool. I want to talk too about some of the other classes you offer at FDSA. Do you want to just share kind of what they are and kind of what you cover in those classes?

Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I offer a bunch of different ones and one is the basic canine conditioning, which I cannot stress, as I said before, that anybody involved in dogs should…it's such a great course for people to take because it just goes over basic things that anyone can do at home, so it doesn’t have to be with equipment, or anything like that, but just basic exercises that anyone can do, and can make more difficult as demands, you know, for the dog.

And then the second canine conditioning course just gets into a little bit more depth, but we've had dogs that are 14 or 15 years old and the owners have just been working with them to improve their quality of life, and we've had other dogs that are high level competitors in class, and so it's so wonderful to see just the different effects simple canine conditioning can have on the individual dogs.

And I teach a course called The Bum Knees and that's…knee injuries are unfortunately very prevalent in dogs, and we talk about different prevention strategies for knee injuries, what to do if your dog has had a knee injury or does have a knee injury, and talk about, you know, safe exercises to go through. And I think there's a course on the iliopsoas, which as I mentioned before, definitely a muscle in an area that is just a hot topic, and it goes over also injury prevention, what to do, how to recognize an injury, and what to do, what different types of exercises.

And I believe there's a shoulder course does the same thing, but just focuses on shoulders. You know, we're looking at different types of should injuries and that sort of stuff. So off the top of my head, I think that’s it. There could be some more, but I love the other…oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.

Melissa Breau: I was going to say maybe you should do a few more.

Debbie Gross: Yes. You know, there's just so, so many wonderful things that people…people have been asking for a course for senior dogs, so maybe that will be my next project.

Melissa Breau: So I do want to ask you the same questions that I ask everybody who comes on kind of towards the end of the podcast. So what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Debbie Gross: I have to probably involve the dog that I have worked with for quite some time, and she continues to be just an accomplishment that I'm so proud of. A beautiful Irish Setter that I had worked with for a year and she had won, I think 31, best in shows, and it was just amazing to watch her move, and knowing what was kind of lying underneath her, so it was pretty fantastic, and her handler became her owner, and she had been retired, she had 15 puppies, and 14 weeks after the puppies he had come to me and he said, "do you think we can get her ready for Westminster?", and I looked at him and said, are you crazy? You know, this dog has been doing nothing for quite some time, had 15 puppies. And I accepted the challenge, and worked with her, and did so much with her, and I had gone to Westminster that year.

My own dog had won the breed in bullmastiffs, and a Portuguese Water Dog I had bred won the breed. And then I watched this beautiful Irish Setter, and she went on to win the breed, and so I was all done, ready to watch the groups, and I thought, okay, my day is done, I'm just going to kick back and relax, and this dog that’s an Irish Setter won the group, so she was going on to best in show. And it was, you know, just a pretty incredible experience and not only for me, but also for my staff, and then we did it, she went on to win Irish Settler National as a veteran, which was pretty incredible, so even though it wasn’t my dog, it felt pretty incredible to be part of that. So I look back on that and just knowing everything that she had to go through, so it was pretty incredible.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Congrats. So even though we didn’t necessarily talk about training today, I did want to ask you what the best piece of training advice you've ever heard is.

Debbie Gross: You know, I think, like I always tell myself, and I always tell people always listen to the dog. From what I do, dogs always tell us what's wrong with them. You just have to open up your eyes and your ears, and watch, and listen, and they'll tell you. So I know that’s not specifically training, but you know, from what I do, listening to the dog they always know what's right for them. If a dog wants to rest, there's a reason, you know, where sometimes we don’t listen to.

Melissa Breau: Right. And then finally, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Debbie Gross: There are a lot of people that I look up to. Probably coming from my background with structure and all of that sort of stuff, Pat Hastings is someone that I look up to, just form her knowledge, and I've taught with her a few times, and it's been, you know, pretty incredible. And probably too then, you know, from a dog looking at training and that sort of stuff, I am a big fan of Denise's and watching her calmness, how she works with dogs, and there are a couple people that train in my area, the same thing, you know, there's definitely people that just understand dogs, and dogs understand them, so yeah. It's hard to pinpoint to just one.

Melissa Breau:

Fair enough. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Debbie.

Debbie Gross:

Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Lori Stevens to discuss supporting our aging dogs. 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 14, 2017

Summary:

 

In this episode we share a recording of Denise Fenzi's Welcome talk from Camp 2017, followed by a newly recorded Q&A about camp, this year's theme, and how her welcome lectures have evolved over the last few years.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.

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’re bringing you a special episode. We’ll share Denise Fenzi’s talk on superheroes from our 2017 FDSA Camp Welcome session. Afterwards, we’ll have Denise herself on to answer a few questions about the session and about camp itself. Enjoy.

Deb Jones: So now I’m going to introduce you to our fearless leader and superhero, Denise Fenzi.

Denise Fenzi: I don’t know where this started, the whole costume thing, and the superhero theme is a pretty easy one, yes, and I bet all of you Wonder Woman, how many of you have looked at what Wonder Woman wears? I’m not going to wear underwear in front of these people. Well, if you’re not sure what Wonder Woman… would you come up here please? All right, there’s Wonder Woman, pretty close.

So I thought I would represent a more middle-aged Wonder Woman, and so that’s us, right? So I just thought that was a far better choice, and the shoes, for those of you who didn’t attend the first year, I wore the boots, and I’m very, very lucky I lived through that experience because I don’t wear heels, and they were like that. It was scary, but this year, I went with slippers. I just thought that was more appropriate for our age. There’s actually two reasons I wore… did not wear boots. One is our age, and the second is I was a little concerned about stepping on my dog, and yeah, if you can’t see him it’s because he’s invisible. He’s a super dog, and I didn’t want to hurt him, and can you imagine stepping on your dog with those big heels like that? The thing about my dog, he is a super dog. He’s not an ordinary dog. So if I had stepped on him, nothing would have happened. He wouldn’t have bitten me or run away, right because that’s what it is to be a super dog. Nothing bothers him, and if you notice, I just walked right in here. I didn’t let him acclimate at all, and then I just asked him to law down, and he’s in a perfect place now. Right there, Hannah. Notice the quality of that down, and I’m going to leave him there, and he is going to be no trouble until I’m done talking. He’s pretty good. That is because he’s a super dog.

Because he’s a super dog, he doesn’t need me to be a superhero. He doesn’t need me at all. If he needs anything, he just talks in real words. So if you want to be a superhero for your dog, it’s not going to be that easy, is it? Your dog doesn’t talk in words, so you’re going to have to maybe approach things differently. So let’s take a minute to think about what does a superhero do? Alright, so you’ve got Batman. We use props. Batman goes to a party. Bat is having a great time hanging out with friends, meets a nice girl, boy whatever. I think it’s time to sit and chat, having a drink. Friends are all there, and the bat call goes off, and what does Batman have to do? Get up and leave. Does Batman want to leave that party? Probably not, no. Do you think other people appreciate it when Batman, because nobody knows he’s Batman remember, jumps up and runs out? Do you think that girl thought that was nice that she just got abandoned like that, or the host of the party? He just left. Being a superhero is not a simple thing. It actually means you are going to be inconvenienced a lot because you know things that other people don’t know. Nobody else heard the bat call. You heard it.

So the first thing is Batman has to pay attention, and when he’s needed, he has to stop doing things that he wants to do because he’s responsible for the underdog, for the ones who cannot take care of themselves or cannot hear what needs to happen, and he’ll often have to do it at personal sacrifice. He can’t explain to people. He has to go. So to be a superhero, you actually have to have willingness to sacrifice to help others. You also need courage. It takes courage to walk away when there are people who don’t understand why you’re doing that. I will give you an example of courage. It happened to me yesterday. Eight o’clock in the morning, I lose my room key. Yes, some of them are laughing already. They thought it was funny. Sometimes, that’s how things work, isn’t it? So I went up to the front desk and asked for another one. This is not unusual. Would this be a good time to tell you that only the room owner can get a key? Probably that information will come up, that will be me. So anyway, I get my key, go to my room, walk in and see my costume. I’m like, “Oh, I’ll show the instructors.” So I put my key down, put my outfit on, zip next door, show them, and then can’t get back in my room. Now the choices are limited here, guys. You can go to the front desk, Wonder Woman style or what? I didn’t have a choice in that matter, right? So I did it. I’m like, in the room, “Oh, there has to be another way.” They’re like, “No, hunny, you go on up to that front desk.” That was forced courage. I am actually referring to the more organic kind where you get a choice. I mean, really what else can I do, just take off all my clothes? No.

So being a superhero for your dog is kind of similar to what Batman does for people. Your dog can’t talk. So you’re going to have to pay attention. You’re going to have to see some body language. If there’s one thing I can give to people, I tell all my classes this. If there’s one thing I can give to you to improve your dog training, you have to pay attention. If your dog is on a leash that way, and you’re talking to him this way, that’s a problem, all right because you’re supposed to be with your dog. You wouldn’t do that with a person, just have them out there on a leash. If you just pay attention, you will see what you need to see, but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll not see what is happening. So you won’t know that you’re needed. If Batman is listening to loud music, he does not hear the bat call. You have to pay attention.

So now that you’re paying attention, what are you going to do if you come into a space like this or a dog training class or whatever, and you see that your dog is struggling? Your dogs have a little doggie meltdown. The first thing is it would be very normal to feel resentful because you actually might not get to do what you had wanted to do. You might have spent a lot of money to bring your dog somewhere. You might have been so excited, so looking forward to it. People you want to see, friends you haven’t seen in awhile, but your dog is saying, “I need you right now.” There’s kind of a few things that you can do if you notice your dog is struggling, cover some basics. One is distance, if you can see the things that’s upsetting your dog, get further away and reassure your dog. Pet your dog. Tell your dog everything is okay, all right? It’s okay to do that. You will not reinforce the fear. The second one is can you change the intensity of what’s upsetting your dog? So let’s say the other dog’s barking, it’s the intensity that’s bothering your dog. Is there anything you can do to help the other person get their dog to stop barking? So think about that. Is there anything you can do to make the situation better? If it’s a room that’s very noise, can you go to a different room that’s just a little less noisy?

 

Time is a paradoxical one. The amount of time you are in an environment can have two effects on your dog. One is to make them feel better because they acclimate. They get used to the circumstances, but the other is they run out of good brain cells. What I say is especially reactive dogs, they’ll be good in the morning, but they run out of good. They just use up all their good, and then they’re tired and exhausted, and then really the only answer is the dog just wants to be taken out of this space. They can’t recover anymore, so be aware of the paradoxical nature of time.

So if you do all these things, isn’t it like a one-way street right, and you’re just feeding your dog all the time, and I don’t mean literally feeding, giving your energy. The thing is it’s not a one-way street because if Batman came in this room right now, and there was an emergency, where would every person in this room look? Every person in this room would look at the superhero because they have experience, and they know that person will keep them safe, will tell them what to do, and it’s going to be all right. So if you get in the habit of taking care of your dog and protecting your dog, what happens over time is when your dog is unsure about what to do, feeling a little nervous, your dog will start to look at you for direction, and will say, “What should we do now?” and then when you say to your dog, “Everything is all right,” your dog will say, “Okay, I believe you.” My dog is a super dog. The thing is that pup doesn’t exist. There’s no dog. There are no super dogs. There are just dogs, ordinary dogs. What you can do is take the dog you have and make it the best dog possible for you.

So today here, I want you to understand that you’re going to be a superhero to your dog as best you can, and we, the staff, the volunteers, and everybody else in this room, you will be a superhero to each other. If you need help, ask. If you’re struggling with your dog and you’re not sure how to solve the problem, ask and we’ll try to help you. We want this to be super positive experience for everybody because some puzzles are very hard to solve, right, and then you need to think about what is the right thing to do for your dog under these circumstances. Sometimes we can help you, but you have to ask, and we’ll step up and do what we can.

Melissa Breau:

So Denise, you talked about two different ideas during your welcome, the idea of being a superhero for your dog and the idea that there are no super dogs. So let’s start with that first one, the idea of being a superhero for your dog. What were you really hoping that people would take away from that metaphor?

Denise Fenzi: If I had more time, I did mention, you know, if I could just get people to pay attention. That is a hard thing to teach. It comes with time. People sort of develop it on their own, but I find it difficult to communicate regularly, like when I’m saying it, I can get them to do it, and the analogy I use is imagine, as a parent, when you go out in the world with your toddler or young child, you don’t generally use a leash, and you don’t use a stream of M&Ms either. What you do to interact with your child and to get them not to run out into the street and get themselves killed is you pay attention.

So when you go to the park, and your kid sees a red ball, you’ve had enough time with this child to know if that even matters, but you’re constantly scanning the environment, right? It may not matter. Maybe your kid is into trains, and the next one is into balls, but you know when you need to pay attention, and the reason you know is because you have paid attention, and the reason you’ve paid attention is you didn’t want your kid to get killed, and you didn’t have a leash, and you didn’t have M&Ms. So all you had left was preventing it. So things like when I talked to people about if you have a problem, get further away. I don’t have to tell a parent that. If a parent goes to the park, and their child sees a ball, they already know how far it needs to be before it will be a problem, and now they are paying attention. If I could get that way of looking at it to human parents of dogs, my life would be much easier, and then you are a superhero, right? Then kids do look to their parents when they’re unsure because it’s always worked for them. So sometimes I just want people to visualize what a life would look like if you didn’t have a leash and you didn’t have food. Tell me you wouldn’t be way more in tune with your dog because you’d have no choice. So that’s what I meant by being a superhero, if you develop that relationship with your dog that you are paying attention, then your dog will naturally look to you for support when they need it.

Go to the vet, if you don’t know what that looks like. So go to the vet, and watch a waiting room full of people on their cellphones not watching their dogs, and their dog’s having varying forms of meltdowns, and some of the dogs are asking the owner, “Please pay attention.” They’re distressed. They’re clearly asking, and the owner’s paying no attention, and then there are other dogs that have completely given up on asking and are now making mischief in various forms because nobody is paying attention. These kinds of things, you know, when you watch it, it’s the saddest thing ever, you know, and I see this, and I see the dog just is asking for something, and over time, dogs stop asking when we stop paying attention. So if I can give people that, that would really help them both in a performance sense and just really in their enjoyment of their dog.

Melissa Breau: I feel like, I mean just kind of reading posts on the alumni group and things like that, that you often say basically, “Imagine your dog was a child, and behave appropriately.” That seems like a really helpful kind of metaphor for people to kind of understand the idea of what they should do instead of what they’re doing.

Denise Fenzi: Yes, it annoys some people because it’s sort of … scientists sort of say not to do that, but boy does it work. So at the end of the day, I’m a really pragmatic trainer, and I find that if I tell people to visualize their child as a 2-3 year old that they become much better trainers and owners. So I will continue to use my metaphors in spite of what some people think about them.

Melissa Breau: So the flip side of that, you know, instead of just being a super hero for your dog, you mentioned the idea that there are no super dogs, that despite the fact that you had your little pretend dog come out with you and do a perfect down and stay beautifully, that doesn’t exist.

Denise Fenzi: We live in a world where people communicate two things about their lives. Facebook is such a great example, right? You have those who focus on everything that goes wrong. If they have an unhappy moment, you will know about it because that’s just what they tend to do, that is how they process, that is how they great through the world, and that’s fine. Then you have other people who don’t believe in sharing any negative thoughts at all. So if you read their Facebook posts, you’d begin to think they must lead a truly charmed life, like wow, have they ever had a bad day? That’s great too, that’s another side. What I’ve noticed though is people do this with dogs. Say you go out and you bought a dog, if you bought a dog at eight weeks, and its purpose bred. So you bought it for dog sport, then you have a lot of stuff in your head about expectations, and then you go out and you look at other people in the world, and either their puppies are complete meltdown messed up horrors, and you’re going, “Oh please not that,” or their dog seems to be like these amazing dogs that never do anything wrong. That’s just not true, that’s because people present what they want others to see, and 95 percent of dogs are neither one of those things. It’s just that some people talk about all the wrong, bad things and other people talk about all the wonderful, great things, and that totally discounts the actual reality. The reality is 90 percent of the time, you’re all in the middle.

So you have a training session and on balance, you feel good about it, but there are one or two things that weren’t quite right, wrong balance. It wasn’t a great session, but honestly, if you look at it, there was probably right in there than you knew. The reason this is a problem is when people get their dog, they’re constantly comparing it to what they think other people have, and if you bought an eight week old puppy specifically to do things, eight week old puppies are generally not that damaged. I mean, how much can be wrong? You haven’t done anything yet. You haven’t trained that dog yet. So you’re not going to know what you have. It’s not until you actually get into the process three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten months of age that you start realizing that the puppy has issues. All puppies have issues. All of them one day will… I remember walking a dog over a grate, and the dog startled over the grate, and my first thought was, “Oh my God, what does it mean?” which is ridiculous. It means nothing. It means the dog stepped on a grate, but it’s very easy for us to say, “Oh wow, do I have to fix this? Does this matter? Is this career-ending?” We tend to do that, and the more people look around them and look at the things they like in other dogs, the harder they are going to be on themselves and on their own dogs thinking, “How come my dog isn’t like that? How come I didn’t get that dog?” Nobody got that dog. You choose what you want to emphasize. Every dog I have in my house has some pretty notable challenges for competition purposes, and I almost never talk about them because it’s not what I want to talk about with my dogs because if I do, it makes me focus on them, and it makes other people focus on those things. I’m aware of them, and I worked gently over time to try to make things better, but I try really hard not to focus on them, but then sometimes maybe other people think, “Oh she always gets good dogs.” That’s not quite true. I get the dog I’m supposed to have, and then I make the best out of the one I have, and I really work to see the things I love about the dog because I find that over time, people who find and focus on what is right, their dog becomes more of that dog. They live up to expectations. So I think that might be what I would have talked about again. I think I get 10 minutes for my intro so that is probably what I would have added if I was going to expand on that.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s so interesting because in a way, it’s almost like shaping other people’s impressions of you and your dog, right? Focus on the good or your focus on the bad. You’re positively reinforcing it or you’re negatively reinforcing it.

Denise Fenzi: I do talk about things that go wrong. I just don’t emphasize them, and I often talk about them after I resolved them. So I worked through this thing, and I talked about how I worked through that thing. So I acknowledge it exists. I think I’m honest enough about it, but I don’t dwell, and I think it’s the dwelling that is doing people in and making them wish they had a different dog than they have.

Melissa Breau: … and that’s more interesting for people to read about anyway. They don’t really want to read, “Oh woe is me” so much as it is, “Oh, how do I overcome this?”

Denise Fenzi: Yes, probably true.

Melissa Breau: So this year was the third year of camp and the third theme. So I wanted to talk a little bit, kind of take a trip through time here. So what was the theme the very first year? Do you want to share a little about that?

Denise Fenzi: What was the theme the first year? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that would have been the red dress year. Okay, so that came about, it was an accident, and I won’t go into that whole story, but anyway, I decided to do it because it was fun to dress up in the dress, and the basic idea was don’t worry about what other people think. So for those of you who didn’t see the red dress, it was a short red dress, and the boots had high, high heels, very out of character for me, made me quite nervous actually, but I figured if I can get through that, I could do anything, and honestly, the subsequent years have been easier, but the basic idea was don’t spend your energy worrying about what other people see and what they’re looking at. That’s not really what’s important. What’s important is what do you think is right and doing what you think is the right thing to do. So that was where I went that year.

Melissa Breau: So I hear echoes of that idea in this year’s welcome talk about the superhero theme. How is that idea evolved for you over the last three years?

Denise Fenzi: There’s kind of two ways I’m going to look at that. One is I put so much more energy into classical conditioning, how a dog feels, every single year that goes by than the last year. It actually amazes me now how much time I spent on this. It’s constant. So I think three years ago, I would have been seeing it more from a training perspective. So what I mean is I would have seen it more as skill based. When you’re in a public space, what should you be working on skills-wise, and I would say now, I am in my mind, I’m thinking more about emotion based. How is your dog feeling, and what are you going to do about that? So when I go, or when anybody goes to a dog place and choses to spend their ring rental time sitting on the floor petting their dog and playing ball, that’s an unusual way to spend your time, and I would say that is where I’m at now would be more about making sure your dog is comfortable, and three years ago, if you had asked me that question, I think it is more likely I would have talked about doing extremely simple behaviors. So that would be an evolution in my thinking because I don’t think teaching behaviors is hard. I think getting in the ring is hard. So that’s where I’m at, I think now.  

In terms of the challenge level, I think every year that goes by, dog sports are evolving to becoming kinder and gentler, and I do think that dog sports enthusiasts are becoming much more educated just across the board, so kind of regardless of how they choose to train. I think knowledge of training, trained principles, approaches to training, options have skyrocketed in the performance world. So people are just much more knowledgeable, and as result, things that would have been particularly bizarre if somebody had seen you do it three years ago probably won’t seem bizarre anymore. They’ve seen it all. So the first time somebody trained with food 20 years ago, I’m sure that stood out like a sore thumb, and now we’re at a point where nobody would think twice about that. I think a person sitting on the floor and choosing to play ball with their dog for 10 minutes in the ring now would not get that much notice in many parts of the country whereas I think a few years ago, it would have. So we are changing. We are evolving.

Melissa Breau: Last year, your topic was more about being ripple and kind of spreading that message, right? You dressed up as a mermaid. What was the message there? What were you trying to convey?

Denise Fenzi: Well ripples and bubbles, we talk about those issues a lot within the schools. Ripples are spreading the information you have a teeny tiny bit at a time, which is not the same as cramming it down another person’s throat because that actually does not change behavior. So I spent a fair amount of energy that year sort of walking through how we might choose to approach people who are doing things differently than we are, how we might choose to approach a conversation if we choose to approach one at all, how we know when it’s time to walk away from the conversation or when it’s time to proceed so that you maximize respect for both sides. By doing that, you leave the lines of communication open.

Now the reason this is important is I have gotten emails or notes or whatever from people that I knew a very long time ago, and we’ve gone in different directions in our lives, and so we may all still be training dogs, but they have chosen to approach it differently than I have, but I get along with them fine, and what I have found is as the years go by, if they do want to make changes to how they train, if they want to explore alternatives may be gentler ways of training, they are comfortable coming back to me because I kept the lines of communication open. I’m not angry with them. I don’t think they’re bad people. I just think we’ve made different choices, and I’m available if they want to have that conversation, and they do.

If I go in kind of guns blazing, pissed off, “You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that,” well, I embarrass people for starters. At the very least, you embarrass people, but also you harden them and you actually make change that much harder, and that’s really what I talked about with ripples is how to do that in a way where you really, truly effectively change behavior, and the second part is the bubbles. That’s the idea that especially if you feel that you are in a minority position, whatever that is, so in obedience, I would say that positive reinforcement trainers are in a minority position, maybe not so much in agility though. If you are in the minority position, you need to have a place you can go that feels safe when you’re just overwhelmed with the reality of being different. Being different is hard. It’s exhausting, and if you always do things that are different when you’re around other dog people, it can feel very isolating. So your bubble might be your friends. It might be your family. It might be an online list that you subscribe to, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just a place where like-minded people can talk and decompress, and I think it’s really important that we have our bubbles because if you don’t, you end up a bitter person, and what fun is that? So that was the second part of that talk.

Melissa Breau: For anyone who’s listening who’s interested, I’ll include the link to Denise’s full talk from last year. She wrote it out and posted it. So I’ll include the link to that in the show notes. So if you want to take a look, you can. Now Denise, I also wanted to ask you just about the idea behind camp in general. Where did the idea for an in-person camp for an online dog training school come from?

Denise Fenzi: I don’t remember who it was. Maybe if the person knows, they can listen to this podcast and pop up. First of all, my husband was probably out of town because he’s usually out of town when I make mischief, usually. So he probably went away for a few days and left me unsupervised, and somebody said something along the lines of, “We should have an in-person camp,” and that would have been on a Thursday afternoon, and yeah, yeah, yeah, and then all these people saying, “Yes, we should. We should,” and I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and by Thursday night, I’m thinking, we should have an in-person camp. So I sent a note to Terry who does a lot of stuff with me, and said, “We should have an in-person camp,” and she said, “Okay,” and we just did, and we had it arranged four days later. We had a location. We thought that’s all it took. So we’re smarter now. That’s all right, you learn. Anyway, we had a fantastic time. We did have a camp, and once you’ve done it once, and you’ve had a great time, then it becomes your annual camp, and now we have an annual camp. So I’m really excited about that.

Melissa Breau: So I know you feel it’s pretty important to have that kind of in-person aspect. Do you want to kind of talk about the value of that, and why you think so?

Denise Fenzi: Well, I live a lot of my life online. I’m very comfortable online. I have a lot of friendships that way, and I really value my online interactions and communities. I also have an in-person life, and I get different things from those two aspects of my life. So I have a family and a husband, and I do actually do things that are not dog related, and I think there is a lot of people out there who really are living their lives almost exclusively online or working, and I think we are losing community, and I think community is very important.

So one advantage to in-person training is that you go to dog training school once a week or wherever you go, and not necessarily in private lessons because when I was teaching, I was teaching private lessons. I’m referring to people who go to a school where there’s classes, and whether or not I think that’s good training, what I think it does offer is community, and I think it’s important to look at people and talk to people and interact and develop sympathy for the reality of life, not the online one which is what other choose to present to you. So I think getting people together in a like-minded community where we look at each other’s faces and become sympathetic to each other, I think is just critically important, plus the fun factor. I think camp is a whole lot of fun, and so I’m actively looking for ways to increase community, and I do encourage students who live in similar areas to get together, and they do. They’re all over the world, you know, these groups get together. So that is absolutely a driver for me, for camp.

Melissa Breau: I know, just kind of having personally been now twice. It is. It’s a lot of fun, and it really does bring that sense of community kind of home.

Denise Fenzi: Yes.

Melissa Breau: So finally, I know there was a bit of confusion about next year’s dates. Do you mind just kind of clearing that up for everyone once and for all? When and where will camp be held next year?

Denise Fenzi: It’s in Wilmington, Ohio, and I’m a little freaked out, but I’m pretty sure the dates are the 1st to the 3rd.

Melissa Breau: That’s what I heard.

Denise Fenzi: Is that what you think?

Melissa Breau: That’s what I think.

Denise Fenzi: Oh good, thank God. Yes, no, we’re good. We’re the 1st through the 3rd. We’re going to permanently confuse people. I won’t even mention the alternative dates so nobody has to worry about it, and it’s at the Eukanuba Center, Roberts Hall, I think it’s called, and I’m told it’s a super nice facility, and we will do the full round of things that we offer. So we should have a pile of instructors and a great experience either to audit or to work. So please, if you cannot work a dog, your dog is not suitable or you don’t have a dog, or you’d have to fly in, don’t discount this camp because it is the only dog sports camp, and it will give you different and maybe more things than you might get out of another camp if you feel like you’ve sort of covered it all. So if you’re a dog sports person, this is kind of a winner for you. So I hope to see some new faces. Every year, we grow so I know I will, but we are extremely welcoming of new people. So come, even if you come alone, and we will go to some trouble to make sure you’re not alone.

Melissa Breau: I have to say, even working as a volunteer, I feel like I’ve learned so much just going, and I’m so excited that next year is close enough. I can drive. So I can bring a dog.

Denise Fenzi: Oh, super.

Melissa Breau: Yes.

Denise Fenzi: Good for you, not me, but good for you.

Melissa Breau: So thanks so much for coming back on the podcast, Denise.

Denise Fenzi: Oh anytime.

Melissa Breau: All right, well we’ll be back next Friday, this time, with Debbie Gross to talk canine conditioning. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast and iTunes with the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

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 7, 2017

Summary:

Laura Waudby was, until recently, a service dog trainer helping to prepare dogs for different types of service dog work. Now she’s a new mom. In her "free time," Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi Lance before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Masters level in agility.

Due to the special behavior needs of her Duck Tolling Retriever Vito, Laura has developed a strong interest in learning how to create motivation and confidence in dogs that struggle, either through genetics or through less than ideal training, to make it into the competition ring. At FDSA Laura offers classes through the Fenzi TEAM Titles program and teaches ring confidence and several specialty classes including a class on articles and a class on stand for exam.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.

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 Laura Waudby. Until recently by day Laura was a service dog trainer to prepare dogs for different types of service dog work. Now she’s a new mom. In her free time, and that’s in quotes, Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi Lance before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Masters level in agility.

Due to the special behavior needs of her Duck Tolling Retriever Vito, Laura has developed a strong interest in learning how to create motivation and confidence in dogs that struggle, either through genetics or through less than ideal training, to make it into the competition ring. At FDSA Laura offers classes through the Fenzi TEAM Titles program and teaches ring confidence and several specialty classes including a class on articles and a class on stand for exam.

Hi, Laura. Welcome to the podcast.

Laura Waudby: I’m glad to be here.

Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?

Laura Waudby: As you already mentioned, I have the Corgi, his name is Lance. He did have to retire due to an injury, so right now he’s pretty much just kind of my old dog at home. He’s very sassy, pretty much barks his way through life. Occasionally competes at organizations that have a jumper on the ground, but he’s my sassy man.

Then I have the Toller, his name is Vito and he’s my special need dog. He does have a lot of anxiety issues and some pretty severe ones, but luckily I’ve been able to kind of accommodate him through my lifestyle. Mainly right now we’re working a lot on engagement training and choosing to work. He does compete in agility where he’s mostly conquered his anxiety issues, but obedience is oh, kind of halfway on hold while we work on attitude, attitude, attitude.

And then my youngest dog is the Duck. Her name is Zumi and she’s two and a half years old so we’re primarily working on foundations for agility, obedience, some disc dog field work, pretty much all the things right now. She did just start to compete in agility this past summer but hasn’t really made her way yet into the obedience and rally ring.

Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started in dog sports?

Laura Waudby: Well, when I was in high school I saw agility on TV and of course that’s the flashy, the fun stuff and it kind of got me hooked on wanting to do that. Obedience, though, I kind of only started taking competition classes when I knew I wanted to become a dog trainer and I thought it would prove my skill, I thought I wouldn’t like it very much and it was kind of lame, and then I actually started doing it and I realized how hard it was. and that’s really what I came to love about it was trying to get that happy attitude in the ring along with the precision, so pretty soon I was kind of hooked on the sport of obedience which I thought I would hate to begin with.

Melissa Breau: It’s funny how much, those of us who enjoy dog training just because we enjoy training behaviors to a certain extent, I mean, obedience certainly appeals to that part, right?

Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah, and it helps that the Corgi was very easy with me, kind of held my hands as I was learning things and showed me one by one where I kind of sucked in all the training and he eventually helped me fix them.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned you still have your Corgi. Have you always been a positive trainer? Did you start out that way with him? If not, what kind of got you started down that path?

Laura Waudby: Yeah, he’s always been positive training, at least in the traditional sense. So when I first started training dogs I was doing more pet training route and that was pretty positive, at least at the time, and I was also really lucky that we have one of probably the few, maybe the only I don’t know, a positive-trained AKC club in the area, and so that was my introduction for the competition world. It’s not very popular in the area because most people want to go to the traditional route, but we exist and we’re trying to encourage people to compete positively, so I was really lucky to be pretty much positive straight from the get-go.

Melissa Breau: And what area are you in?

Laura Waudby: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Melissa Breau: I kind of mentioned in the intro that you were training service dogs full time. How long did you do that for?

Laura Waudby: Seven years.

Melissa Breau: Wow. So how did you go from training pet dogs to training service dogs?

Laura Waudby: Well, my first experience with training service dogs actually was my last year of high school. I was able to do a community service class where we were able to volunteer with whatever we wanted to for basically half the day, and my parents were very generous and they allowed me to puppy raise during that time, so I took a little black lab service puppy home to live with us and I was responsible for all of its training.

So that was my kind of my very first experience, and after I kind of graduated from school and their lack of dog training stuff, I went back to volunteer for them and they happened to have a job available at the same time I was volunteering again, so I was very, very lucky in that regard.

But I’d say my first experience was as a high school student being a volunteer puppy raiser.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I think so many people would love to spend all day doing nothing but training dogs.

Laura Waudby: It certainly is easier than training people.

Melissa Breau: Most of the time I’d go so far as to say, but…

Laura Waudby: Yeah, most of the time.

Melissa Breau: So I believe, and certainly correct me if I’m wrong, so you trained several different types of service dogs, right?

Laura Waudby: Yeah. Another organization up here trains five different types of service dogs, which was actually really nice because allows us to have a very high success rate because the dogs who are lower key might do really well in one type or as the kind of nuttier job might do better at another type of job, so I guess the five types of dogs that we trained were mobility assist dogs. Those are the dogs who retrieve things, tug open doors, tug the laundry basket, help with the laundry. Those are most fun for me to train because kind of all the tricks that you think of in the service dog world.

And then we have the hearing alert dogs. Those dogs are trained to alert to sounds in the environment. The diabetic alert dogs who are trained to alert to the smell of low blood sugar, the autism assist dogs who help kids with autism who tend to bolt, and then seizure response dogs who respond once a seizure is happening and help the person get through that seizure.

Melissa Breau: That’s quite a range of different skills.

Laura Waudby: Yeah, it can help break up the day a little bit.

Melissa Breau: I would think that the hardest part of teaching all that is really proofing the behavior for all environments. I mean, when you’re talking service dogs you really need a dog who’s going to do the work kind of no matter what’s going on. Is that your perspective, is that really the hardest thing or is there something else that sticks out as maybe more difficult?

Laura Waudby: Yeah, the training behaviors are really the easy part of the service dog training. It takes time to train their skills to be pretty solid, but that was great, the fun part. The hard part is that dogs have to focus anywhere and everywhere without any acclimation time. We talk a lot about acclimation time with our competition dog training, but the service dogs don’t get that. They might arrive at a store and have to pick up keys at the entrance way, or maybe they just really get out of the car and they have to alert to a low blood sugar, so they kind of have to be ready to focus anywhere no matter what’s going on, and that definitely takes quite a bit of training which is why most of the dogs who are two to three years old by the time they’re placed with a client and they’re still very, very young but definitely no longer puppies at that point.

And of course the general public doesn’t help, either, with all the I know I shouldn’t but as they reach to pet your dog or are barking at your dog and all of the crazy stuff people do in public.

Melissa Breau: Do you mind sharing just a little bit about kind of how you teach that so that the dogs can kind of do their work in those types of environments?

Laura Waudby: Yeah. I’d say a lot of it is their personality. A lot of dogs simply aren’t able to do that, like of the dogs I have now in my house, Lance, like the perfect Corgi, sassy guy, he’d probably be the only one who would make it as a service dog. Vito’s anxiety issues, he couldn’t do that. My young dog Zumi had a little bit of confidence issues where she’s not quite ready to focus all the time. So their natural temperament has a lot to do with whether they make it or not.

But past that point I do a lot of choose to working, a lot of distractions out to the side, rewarding focus, and of course we do it all without a command just like we do want the competition dogs to do. We don’t want to be saying “Watch me, watch me, watch me,” or “Leave it, leave it, leave it.” We want the dogs, their name if they see something, that means their job is to look back at you. Kind of the exact same stuff we do with our competition dogs, just everywhere.

Melissa Breau: And it’s really teaching the dogs how to make the choice and think a little more independently at least than most people probably think about, right?

Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah. It’s a lot of free choice, especially because the clients, they might have limited range of mobility. They can’t force the dog to do anything, the dogs have to want to do it, so it’s a lot of choice-based training with the service dogs.

Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about TEAM. I know Denise and I talked about it briefly the very first episode of the podcast, but for those who aren’t familiar with TEAM at all, do you mind just explaining a little about the concept, kind of what it is and how it works?

Laura Waudby: Sure. So TEAM is an online video-submitted titling program. There are currently six levels that you can title in, and I think there might be plans to have more, I’m not sure. But the goal of TEAM unlike some other organizations, the emphasis isn’t really on finished behavior change whereas I’m teaching the dog and the human each individual piece to get to a really high level of perfection. So basically even if you only get through the first three levels of TEAM, we’re working on those foundational pieces being very solid to get you through pretty much any level of obedience training.

Melissa Breau: Really kind of the concept, right? Is that if you do TEAM you can probably do almost anything else.

Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah. Definitely takes you beyond utility even, I think.

Melissa Breau: I don’t think there’s been an episode of the podcast yet where a guest hasn’t talked about how important foundation skills are. I know that that’s kind of one of the places where TEAM shines, right? How does it kind of do that, how does it approach teaching a foundation?

Laura Waudby: Well, the way that testing is laid out, you’re pretty much forced to work in all those little pieces. The first level you use a ton of props in it, throughout the testing so it pretty much guarantees that the dog is learning those little perfect movements. Basically you don’t really teach just a sit and just a down, but you use a target to help us. The dog is not learning how to sit and down but they’re learning how to do the individual position changes with zero forward movement so by the time you get to 40 feet away, the dog already knows how to do that perfect fold back down, tuck up sit without having any forward motion.

It’s kind of the little pieces that people tend to skip over if they don’t know what the end result should look like. And the levels themselves I think really reward the handler for being patient and not rushing through those foundations because…

Melissa Breau: Because they’re really easy to rush through. It’s easy to overlook kind of the precision that you’re going to want later on early when you have a puppy who’s eight or ten weeks old and you just want to sit.

Laura Waudby: Yeah, definitely.

Melissa Breau: So I believe you’re teaching TEAM one in August, right?

Laura Waudby: Yeah.

 

Melissa Breau: I know you’ve taught it once or twice now. Is there a skill that kind of stands out as something that people struggle with a little bit, and do you mind just sharing a couple of tips maybe on how they can approach it?

Laura Waudby: Sure. Heel position is probably one that people struggle with the most. Primarily in the TEAM level one and two we’re working on the foundational piece of pivoting, teaching the dog exactly what heel position looks like and how to move with the handler to maintain it. And a lot of people who haven’t taught it that way before, because it’s not the way heeling has been traditionally taught, it’s a really hard skill for people to kind of figure out how to hold their hand and how the dog is supposed to move into you. And there are a lot of ways to teach pivoting, there’s not. just one way. I tend to use a blend of shaping and luring that’s a little bit more lure-based based.

And generally probably the biggest tip for people is they want to use a really big arm where they have the dog go really wide, but generally you want the dog’s head to be up a little bit more. Turning their head out causes their butt to swing in towards you, and sometimes it’s easier to see that using a mirror so you can watch the dog’s back legs easier, but generally not having such a big, wide head lure, but really keeping the dog’s head nice and close to your body so he can focus on the head turning out and the back legs moving towards you.

Melissa Breau: And that’s what lets you get those really pretty corners, right? When you’re making your turns in heeling?

Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah, and makes the heeling look really sexy when you do all the side stepping, the backing up, the pivots, and so by the time you do any forward motion your dog already knows all those really fancy moves.

Melissa Breau: I like that, it makes heeling look really sexy. So I want to kind of end things the way I normally end the episode, which is kind of what I guess my three favorite questions, so first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Laura Waudby: When I started thinking about that I first thought I would go with some of the service dog teams, but then I realized that’s actually pretty self centered, and so definitely has to be about my own dogs. And Vito, my very special boy, we’ve been through a lot together, and my most proud accomplishment, and no particular trial with him, but just the ones where he’s radiating pure joy where he’s so happy to be with me and I can just see what the focus he has in me that all of his worries about the people and the stewards have kind of melted. You don’t have that every time but the ones that he does do that for me is just really special, that shows all that hard work that we’d done.

Melissa Breau: That makes it kind of magical.

Laura Waudby: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I think this is probably the question I get told is the hardest question a lot of time, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Laura Waudby: There’s been a lot of good ones out there already, so I thought I would pick the you don’t need to end a session on a good note. Generally if things are going pretty well you should enjoy it, quit before that just one more piece. But when things start going down hill, and they will, just end the session. Quit before you’re digging yourself a hole that’s even harder to get out of. I also would make sure that neither you or the dog are getting frustrated about it. So I have no problem just going well, I guess we’re done for today, or at least done with that exercise, move onto something else before things get worse.

Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Laura Waudby: One of my favorite trainers is Silvia Trkman, the famous Slovenian agility star, and while she only does agility, she doesn’t actually compete in obedience, I really love her philosophy about having fun with the dog, not being afraid to experiment, respecting the dog in front of you. And Silvia is one where I got a really great piece of advice to help me and my Vito, teaching happy tricks to release stress, and that was probably the biggest change to help Vito a couple years ago to get him barking at me on the start line, get him sassy, jumping up, so that even if he doesn’t feel brave and happy it forces him to kind of act like it and that has helped him a ton. So I really like Silvia Trkman a lot.

Melissa Breau: I love that idea. They kind of have that line for people where if you stand in the Superman pose for two minutes before a talk it makes you feel more confident and like your body chemistry actually changes. It’s a similar idea kind of for dogs, right? The idea that if they get happy and bouncy...

Laura Waudby: It works a lot with people and I think it helps the dogs, too. Happy-making tricks.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I like that a lot. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Laura.

Laura Waudby: Well, you’re welcome.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with a special episode with Denise Fenzi to discuss the inspiration behind the theme from camp a few weeks ago, and to chat a bit about next year. If you haven’t already subscribed 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!

Jun 30, 2017

Summary:

 

Sara Brueske has been training dogs for over 15 years; she became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in 2011 and jumped into the world of professional dog training.

Sara and her dogs work at Purina Farms in Missouri where they demonstrate the sports of disc, agility, and dock diving for the public in over 400 shows each year.

She and her dogs also compete nationwide. Currently, she is active in the sports of disc dog, agility, mondioring and dock diving -- plus, she’s a trick dog enthusiast.

Sara has recently re-entered the world of competitive Disc Dog and is the 2016 overall UpDog International Champion as well as the 2017 UpDog Freestyle Champion.

Sara believes in positive reinforcement not only for dogs, but for their handlers as well.  Her biggest joy in training is watching a handler and dog become partners and grow as a team.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/7/2017, featuring Laura Waudby.

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 Sara Brueske.

Sara Brueske has been training dogs for over 15 years; she became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in 2011 and jumped into the world of professional dog training.

Sara and her dogs work at Purina Farms in Missouri where they demonstrate the sports of disc, agility, and dock diving for the public in over 400 shows each year.

She and her dogs also compete nationwide. Currently, she is active in the sports of disc dog, agility, mondioring and dock diving -- plus, she’s a trick dog enthusiast.

Sara has recently re-entered the world of competitive Disc Dog and is the 2016 overall UpDog International Champion as well as the 2017 UpDog Freestyle Champion.

Sara believes in positive reinforcement not only for dogs, but for their handlers as well.  Her biggest joy in training is watching a handler and dog become partners and grow as a team.

Hi Sara! Welcome to the podcast.

Sara Brueske: Hi Melissa, thank you for having me!

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I’m excited to chat a little bit.  

Sara Brueske: Definitely.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Sara Brueske: I have a whole bunch of dogs. My job kinda dictates that i have more dogs than the average owner. I have 14 current in my household. So all 14 of them are either in training or participate in my job, which is doing shows at Purina Farms. I compete with a handful of them outside of that job as well. So it depends on the dog, what I’m working on with them. My main sports that i do with all of my dogs is agility, disc, and dock diving. And my malinois i compete and train in mondioring as well.  

Melissa Breau: Do you want to give us a little bit of an idea of who you have in the household? I know you’ve got a mix of breeds and all sorts of stuff.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, Sure! I’ll do the run down. I have a whole bunch - I really like variety. I have 3 australian koolies, which is a little bit of a rare herding breed here in the United States. I imported 2 of them from Australia and I had my very first litter this year, so I have their daughter, too. She’s about 11 weeks old now. And then I have 2 border collies, both of them are rescues. I have a border staffy, who is a rescue as well, and a whippet -- a rescue actually from the same house as the border staffy. I have 4 malinois, one of those is actually a permanent foster through the malinois ranch rescue in Tennessee. And I have a boston terrier mix, a papillion, and a labrador.

Melissa Breau: Wow, some of those I actually hadn’t seen pictures of before; it’s definitely a household, huh?

Sara Brueske: It’s a full household, they’re all very very active dogs other than the elderly foster; she’s a little bit slow these days, but…

Melissa Breau: How did you get started with all of this? Obviously, where you are today -- it probably took a little while to get there, but how did you first get started in dog sports?

Sara Brueske: I was actually 11 years old when I begged my parents to let me buy my very first sport dog. I wanted a border collie and i wanted to compete in agility and that was because I watched the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge on TV. So I saved up all my money, and I found a border collie in a newspaper, which is the worst place to get a dog, and we went out and i bought my border collie. And so then I did my backyard training -- we had stick-in-the-ground weave poles made out of PVC, my tunnel was actually a construction drainage pipe that my dad found and gave me, and that’s how I trained all my agility and I started competing as a junior handler. He actually got injured, and so I had to stop training him in sports and that’s when I figured out about trick training. When he was 7 years old, he knew about 50 different tricks.

Melissa Breau: wow.

Sara Brueske: So like, high five and wave and spin, and other ones were throwing away my empty soda cans, and turning off the light because by then i was a lazy teenager.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So I think that just goes to prove that anybody… people don’t have an excuse if you could do it in your backyard with sticks and PVC pipe…

Sara Brueske: Exactly! And I think my parents always were hoping that I’d outgrow this, go to school and maybe be a veterinarian, but here I am, with 14 dogs and training is my career.

Melissa Breau: So agility is generally thought of as pretty positive -- same with trick dog training. Have you always been a positive trainer?

Sara Brueske: I actually wasn’t -- I was kind of what you’d consider a balanced trainer back then. All my agility training and trick training, that was all done with clickers, so I had read up on clickers and learned how to do that, kind of a self-study, but my parents were very much punishment based and they should be dogs and they should behave as dogs. And so that’s kind of the background I have with that. I didn’t have any formal dog training, so it’s a mish-mash of everything you can imagine… and I actually was that way until I had a great dane and he was not the most balanced - mentally - dog, he was a little bit reactive and he was a big dog, and everyone told me I had to show him who’s boss, and everything else and alpha roll him, and come-to-jesus moments and all that. Well, the dog out weighed me and it wasn’t working. So that was when I switched and I became a positive-only trainer. That helped him tremendously.

Melissa Breau: And I know that now you’ve done the Karen Pryor Academy, and everything else -- it sounds like that was kind of your pivot moment there… but it sounds like then you went that next step with it, right?

Sara Brueske: Absolutely. So when i had that great dane i also actually on the path to becoming a professional dog trainer. I was looking for ways to enhance my education, looking for places to teach group classes, and that’s where the Karen Pryor Academy came into place - it was a formal education that I could put on my resume and show people that I was serious about becoming a dog trainer.

Melissa Breau: So, I think most dog trainers -- at least professional dog trainers -- would say their dogs are both their life and their work, right? Because of the nature of what you do at Purina, it seems like it takes that to a whole other level. Do you want to just talk for a few minutes about what you do a Purina and what that’s like?

Sara Brueske: Sure. So my job at Purina is to promote pet ownership and Purina believes that your life is really enhanced by owning a pet, so my job at Purina, at Purina Farms is to talk to the public, promote pet ownership by putting on shows every single day. So my shows are three times a day, 6 days a week. And I bring my dogs with me to work everyday and we show them what you can do with rescue dogs, what you can do with your dog at home, which is really why i like to have a variety of dogs. So my goal at Purina is to hear the audience go, “We should go home and train Sparky to do that.” That’s my favorite thing ever to hear. It means they’re going to go home and play with their dog -- and that’s huge to me. And so, because we do so many shows a day I actually bring between 11 and 13 dogs with me every single day to work. And that means my dogs are with me from the time I wake up, I feed them, we get ready, we all go to work - I work with them all day long, I come home, I unload them, I feed them, and they’re with me all evening. My dogs are literally with me 24/7.

Melissa Breau: When do you find time to train, if you’re working with them so much?

Sara Brueske: To train? So that’s my job at Purina, is to train them -- between the shows that’s the time that I have to train my dogs and work them and make sure they’re getting what they get.

Melissa Breau: Wow - that’s a very full day.

Sara Brueske: It’s a very, very full day - yes.

Melissa Breau: You’re basically relying on your dogs for your livelihood; I’m sure that’s had a lot of impact -- and like you said, you’re with them 24/7 -- on the actual relationship that you have with them. Do you want to just talk for a minute about how you think that’s impacted things for you?

Sara Brueske: Sure. It’s really… you hear a lot of the time people in my line of profession looking at their dogs like they’re just part of their paycheck. They have their job - they’re tools of the trade. That’s very much NOT how I view them. The reason why i have so many dogs is that i don’t want my dogs to be burnt out; I don’t want my dogs to hate their job. I want my dogs to have fun, just as much fun as I have working with them. You can’t do this job and have that many shows to perform in and only have 6 dogs… you’ll end up ruining your relationship with your dog. You’ll end up hurting your dog. And really their well-being in the long run is the most important part. That’s what I care about the most and that’s why i have so many dogs. But, I mean, it is what it is. My dogs pour their heart out for me every single day. And I appreciate that so much. But they also really love what we’re doing. So I have dogs that love frisbee, i have dogs that love dock diving, I have dogs that love working with me, and that’s a big part of it as well.

Melissa Breau: I know you mentioned you typically bring up to 13 of the dogs with you each day… how many tend to compete in any given show?

Sara Brueske: So we run 5-6 dog shows. And I rotate through those. So I don’t like my dogs to do more than 3 shows a day, and I actually rotate days. So for instance, yesterday it was Zip Tie, Nowie and Taboo and Zuma’s day to work. I rotated through those dogs for the show, the other trainer covered the rest of the dogs in the show. And then tomorrow, since today was my day off, I’ll have 4 different dogs that I’ll put in the show again.  

Melissa Breau: It’s so interesting, just kind of juggling all of it, and managing schedules.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, we count a lot of shows. We tally it all up and make sure everybody’s not working too much all the time, and it’s helpful having other trainers there because we each pull equal weight on any given day.

Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little more specifically about disc -- I know that’s kind of what you teach at FDSA. I think, like you were talking about having watched agility on TV, I think a lot of people have seen some of the cool tricks disc dogs can do and I think that some people probably look at it and go, “my dog couldn’t do that.” So, I was curious what skills a dog actually needs to be able to learn some of those disc tricks.

Sara Brueske: Sure. So freestyle is what you always see on TV and in the incredible dog challenge and really, in reality, that’s just a tiny little aspect of the frisbee dog community and the competitions. It’s actually not even the most competitive, you could argue. There’s a ton of different games you can play with your dog in each competition, in each venue. Just like there’s AKC agility, NADAC agility, USDAA and they all have different rules and different games, the same thing applies to disc dog. So your tradition frisbee dog competition will have freestyle and a toss-and-catch competition. And the toss-and-catch competition is just like it sounds -- it’s a game of fetch, a timed game of fetch where you get extra points for distance and accuracy, so you want to throw in a certain zone, and how many throws you can get off in a minute or the 90 seconds that you have. So really, to compete in toss and catch at the novice level all you have to do is have a dog that loves to play fetch. I mean, whose dog doesn’t really like to go out there in the backyard and catch a frisbee, right? So that’s pretty applicable to any dog. Oh so you also have your handler, who has to be able to throw… but lucky in like the novice competition you just have to throw 20 yards, which isn’t very far. Then there’s other venues, such as UpDog, which is my preferred venue, it’s just come out in the last 3 years or so. And they really cater to new disc players -- they do something that’s called a roller, which is you throw the disc on it’s edge on the ground and it rolls and the dog has to grab that. So you don’t even have to be able to throw a frisbee to be able to compete in novice. And they have a bunch of strategy games, each kind of tailoring to each dog’s individual strength and each handler’s individual strength. So that’s kind of cool; they’re really starting to incorporate the idea that anybody can play frisbee with their dog, which is really interesting.

Melissa Breau: So, in your classes at the academy, what are some of the common things or tricks that you wind up teaching?

Sara Brueske: So all the tricks that we wind up teaching in the academy classes, the tricks themselves, are for freestyle. There are some that apply to the other games, such as the flatwork and stuff like that -- and that’s just moving your dog around the field and connecting with your dog. That’s where I really like to lay my emphasis with my classes, it comes from my agility roots - it’s a lot like handing in agility. But the tricks themselves, for freestyle, we teach a whole bunch of different things. We do dog catches - which is where you literally catch your dog, with or without a disc. We do rebounds, which is where… it’s kind of like a flyball box turn, but on your body, so the dog hits you and then jumps off. And then leg weaves, which is really good for any sport because it’s a nice warm up, and then we also teach things like stalls, where they actually jump up onto a part of your body, and hang out there for a while.

Melissa Breau: That’s kind of neat.

Sara Brueske: Yes, it’s very exciting.

Melissa Breau: So If somebody’s trying to decide if they should take the class, are their any skills they need or their dog needs to start to do some of those tricks?

Sara Brueske: We teach all those tricks actually with food, first. So if your dog has food drive, then you’re pretty much golden for it. You can actually wind up taking the class and teaching those tricks for food and not ever touching a frisbee if you want to. But ideally, if you want the whole frisbee aspect of the class then your dog should have some sort of toy drive or disc drive, because I don’t hit on that a whole lot in the classes. There are plenty of other Fenzi classes that build on toy drive, and I want to make sure that mine focuses just on the frisbee aspect of it.

Melissa Breau: If someone was just interested in getting started, what’s that first step -- where should they start out?

Sara Brueske: The first step, which is what i always recommend to anyone looking at any sport, find a local club, find some local help that can give you hands on help because that hands on help is going to be priceless. And hopefully there’s somebody there that’s actively competing, and who has gone to the world’s level to help you out. That’s where I would start. There are a whole bunch of places on facebook that you can look - disc dog discussions is a group that you can check out and they have a whole bunch of different clubs that participate in that discussion group, so you can always post where you are and somebody will chime in to give you some contact information. After that, the online class at Fenzi is a pretty good one for foundation, and there are other online classes as well for disc dog foundations currently.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And kind of the way that we end every episode -- our big three questions -- what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?

Sara Brueske: So I thought long and hard about this question. I have a whole lot of accomplishments that I’m very, very proud of. But the reality of that is that I get to experience something that a lot of people don’t get to experience -- forming a new relationship with a whole bunch of different dogs. So in the last 4 years I’ve had 14 different dogs plus many fosters and dogs I’ve raised come through my house. And all of those dogs I’ve started in training and formed relationships with. My most favorite accomplishment i’ve ever had is with each of those dogs is when that dog really kind of has that light bulb moment and goes, “I really do enjoy working with you. This is fun, this is a game!” That’s what I’m most proud of.

Melissa Breau: That’s definitely like that golden moment, that everybody is looking for, right? To form a relationship.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: So, what’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?

Sara Brueske: That everything’s a trick. From my history -- when I couldn’t do agility anymore, I just did tricks with my dog. So when I actually started looking into IPO and Mondioring, and looking at these very complicated obedience maneuvers, and precision things it was really kind of eye opening to remember that everything is a trick. And that kind of came from Sylvia Turkman’s DVD, Heeling is just another Trick. And that was kind of a light bulb moment for me -- this is just like teaching all those other things I teach.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s really interesting, because you mentioned it specifically in relation to Mondioring, which is not a sport people look at usually and go, “oh it’s just tricks!”

Sara Brueske: No they definitely don’t.

Melissa Breau: And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Sara Brueske: So Sylvia Turkman. And the reason for that is that when i first started my dog training career she was the one i went to for online classes, i watched all the DVDs, and it was her upbeat attitude and her relationship with her dogs that really inspired me to be that kind of trainer. I wanted [my students] to be happy - i wanted to think that they’re still going to come out the other side and they’re still going to enjoy their dog and they’re sitll going to be having fun.
Melissa Breau: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast Sara -- and thanks to our listeners for tuning in!

This week have a special treat -- FDSA's own Hannah Branigan Also runs a podcast, called Drinking from the Toilet - and today we’re sharing an excerpt from her most popular episode, “What to do when you get stuck.” Enjoy!

Hannah Branigan: Hey there - you’re listening to Drinking from the Toilet and I’m Hannah Branigan. Today we’re going to talk about what you can do when you get stuck.

Why are we even talking about this? Well mostly because I was sitting here trying to think what topic i should make my next podcast be about, and I got stuck. I couldn’t think of anything to talk about. So I kind of sat here, I looked at a few things on the internet, facebook, took a few pictures of my dog with my phone, and pondered on how many other places in my life I feel stuck, maybe feel like a failure. And at least one of those places in my life where i feel stuck is when I’m training a dog. So I thought, well, let’s do a podcast about getting stuck when you’re training because I think that’s a fairly ubiquitous experience. There’s probably people out there that sometimes get stuck when they’re trying to train a behavior. And so in my previous life, when I would run into a problem, it really was almost a pattern, really… so I’m working on training a behavior or maybe untraining a behavior problem and I would get so far; I would make a certain amount of progress and then I would get stuck and i would revert to punishment. Maybe intentionally, as a training choice, or unintentionally as an emotional expression of frustration. But either way I would often fall back on these old habits -- after feeling like I was running out of choices. And so as my journey continues, i continue to improve my understanding of behavior, i have a better picture of the behaviors I’m trying to train. My knowledge in that area increases and I think clarity in your goal of your behavior is always helpful. And I learned more and my skill set improved. I had better tools for manipulating behavior and for manipulating contingencies, particularly those using reinforcement. Better understanding of how reinforcement works --  both in general, in concept and in theory, and then also in practical application. And so overtime, i can get a lot further before i would resort to that old habit.

So eventually, maybe about 10 years ago at this point, I made a conscious decision to just take punishment totally off the table. So aversives are no longer an option for my training. So I still have frustration attacks occasionally - I am human - but i do try to recognize them for what they are. They’re just emotional expressions, they have nothing to do with training the dog and i don’t have any expectation that they’re going to change either of our behaviors for the better in the long run. But I still have a lot of situations where I still get stuck. And now there’s a vacuum. I’ll still get training to the same point -- a little further each time because I’m learning more -- but when I get stuck, there’s a place where I would punish or I would use an aversive in some way, which may or may not solve the problem because we know that simply bringing in punishment is no guarantee of getting the results that we want.

And so now I’ll get about 80% of the way there -- I’ll get about 80% of the behavior trained that I want -- and then I’m stuck. And simply not punishing doesn’t give me any information about what i should do instead to continue making forward progress. I end up with a kind of vacuum.

So sometimes I quit. I don’t have all the answers. And I know that’s disappointing to hear, because frankly it disappoints no one more than i disappoint myself when i don’t know the answer to a problem, when i don’t know the solution…. Well, maybe my father. He has pretty high standards so he might be more disappointed but I learned it from somewhere. And I’m willing to bet that you get frustrated sometimes too. And your stuckness may not manifest in quite the same way that mine does, maybe instead of frustration, anger, and potentially aggression you turn to other defensive strategies. Maybe like rationalization. Sometimes I find myself thinking thoughts like, “Maybe my dog just doesn’t like to do obedience. Maybe my dog actually can’t do this -- it’s not possible. You know, maybe he has a health problem! Maybe it’s his thyroid -- he could have a thyroid, he could have low thyroid! So if my training plan didn’t pay out the way that I expected it to, clearly the problem is caused by his thyroid and no protocol would have worked. He needs medication! This dog needs pills to fix this problem, and it has to be just the right medication, and it might take weeks or even months, or years, to find what that medication could be and so none of this is actually a training problem, it’s not in my control. It’s not me, it’s the dog, right?”

Okay. Now, to be clear, I’m not trivializing endocrine disorders in any way. They’re very real and certainly having a health problem does throw a wrench into the works and can add contingencies beyond those that we can realistically control within the context of a training session. So if you’re worried or suspicious that your dog has a physical or medical problem, it’s always a good idea to consult with your vet. Get that physical problem ruled out. Make sure your dog is healthy and sound. I know I certainly have no problem paying my vet $100 -- sometimes maybe more -- to be told I’m crazy and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my dog. But just to be clear again, every now and then I’m actually right. And so I have that long interval of random reinforcement effect that maintains my behavior on dog after dog, year after year.

Anyways, okay. Let’s assume that we’ve ruled out any physical issue. What can we do when we get stuck trying to train something? So it is a training problem, we’re stuck with the training, we need to change something about the training to get past this obstacle. Ok. So here’s a pretty common scenario. You’re trying to train some behavior. Maybe you’re following a training plan or a recipe that you found on the internet -- or you saw on youtube, or maybe you’ve just been to a seminar and this is now Monday morning and you’re trying to apply the technique you learned at that seminar to your training in real life and now the powerpoint slides aren’t there and the presenter isn’t there, and so you’re on your own. And so maybe you get through the first couple of steps --  you’re shaping and things seem to be going ok. You think you’re doing it right; you think you’re doing it the same way as you learned in that seminar. And then all of a sudden you hit a plateau. And the dog keeps doing the same version of the behavior over and over again without progressing to the next step. So maybe you’ve made it through steps 1 and 2, and step 3 - instead of performing step 3 a couple of times and then moving on to step 4 your dog keeps doing step 3 over and over and over again. You can’t see why you’re not able to make the leap to that next step.

This is a common problem that I run into with different behaviors with different dogs and certainly see it in my own students periodically. Maybe you’re trying to teach your dog to retrieve an object and your shaping plan is I’m going to start by clicking when the dog looks at the object and then click him for sniffing it and then I’ll click him for touching it with his nose or targeting it. And then the next thing I’ll click is for him to open his mouth and bite the object… but instead of biting the object he just keeps touching it with his nose over and over again and he never opens his mouth. What do I do then?

Another common place where we’ll run into this situation would be adding duration or distance to an existing behavior. So you can get the dog to hold the sit for 8 seconds -- as soon as you reach for 9 seconds the behavior falls apart. Or you can get your dog to respond to a cue -- maybe he’ll lay down if you give him the cue at 6 feet but one more step back and the behavior disappears or starts to degrade. And it’s really frustrating - and then it’s easy to think this isn’t working, something’s wrong with this technique, this method is ineffective, or we can continue to spiral down and think about what might be wrong with the dog, and then the world in general.

And so obviously continuing to repeat the thing that’s not working isn’t the right choice; that brings to mind that quote that I know i’ve seen lots of different places… I often see it attributed to Einstein but I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just internet-true. So, to paraphrase, the idea that repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, I may still be crazy, but this totally applies here.

Even if we just look at the A-B-C operant contingency, repeating that same A-B-C … the same Antecedent or A, the same Behavior or B, and the same Consequence - “C” - then yes, we’re probably going to continue to get the same result. So, we need to change something. I like thinking about it this way because it gives me three solid categories of things to look at -- and three is my favorite number, also it’s a prime number so a lot of things to recommend it. Three categories is a very achievable way to start putting stuff in buckets and structure our thinking.

So let’s start with A -- antecedent. So the Antecedent, this is the cue. It’s what’s inducing or causing the behavior, what’s associated with the behavior. And when we’re thinking about this in terms of cues from us -- so I say sit and the dog sits --  well that’s easy to recognize and understand. In active training, when we’re learning, the antecedent really is much bigger than that. It’s a bigger idea; it’s more than just the cue you’re deliberately giving, but it’s that whole picture, all of the stimulus and all the pieces of the picture. So it’s the whole set up that the dog is associating with a particular behavior. It’s your body, your body position, where you’re situated in space, your dog’s position, any props that you might be using, if you’re using a platform or a target or if you’re using an object in the case of that retrieve. And it’s the environment in general -- where the dog is, where you’re training, all of the sounds, smells, feels, tastes maybe, all of those things are in that big stimulus picture and that whole picture functions as the cue when the dog is learning the behavior.  

Melissa Breau: Thanks to Hannah for letting us share that with you -- I hope you’ll consider subscribing to both our podcast and hers if you haven’t already, in itunes or the podcast app of your choice. We’ll be back next week, this time with Laura Waudby to talk Fenzi TEAM training and training service dogs.

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!

Jun 23, 2017

SHOW NOTES: 

Summary:

Amanda Nelson 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 with her own dogs.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/30/2017, featuring Sara Brueske.

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 plus years teaching all levels of agility with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between the dog and the 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 the 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 these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles with her own dogs. Hi, Amanda, welcome to the podcast.

Amanda Nelson: Thank you for having me. This is great.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. I’m not an agility person, so it’ll be fun to learn a little bit more about the sport and hopefully learn some things that I didn’t know before.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just give us a little bit information about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So, in the house I actually have three dogs, but one of them belongs to my boyfriend, who’s Trip. I obviously work with him in a lot of stuff, but Jimmy runs him and competes with him and all that, so he’s in my house but he’s technically not my dog.

I have Nargles who is 8 years old, and everybody always asks me what her name is and it’s from Harry Potter because I’m a huge nerd like that, so Nargles is 8, and this season I’m working towards doing conditioning with her and getting her prepped to go to the NADAC Championships in Ohio in October, so that’s my focus with her this year. Then I’m also working towards earning her Platinum Speed title, which is a NADAC title that consists of...it’s a certain number of runs that all have to be extremely fast. In NADAC there’s DRI which is the dog’s run index, and you earn so many DRI points kind of for how fast your dog goes and a Platinum Speed Star, an award, that focuses on how fast your dog is. So I’m working on running that with her this year as well as taking her to the NADAC Championships.

And then Allons-y, again, I’m a bit of a nerd, so Allons-y is from Dr. Who, that’s where her name comes from, I call her Ally for short. She’s 4 years old this year, and her main goal and my main goal I guess with her is prepping her for the NADAC Championships, so that’ll be her first year competing in that, but I want to take her...and I’m not focused on winning as much as I’m just really wanting to go and experience the atmosphere of it and have a good time. So, I’m doing a lot of prep work with her and bigger agility trials, and let her get used to atmosphere of all the dogs and all the people and all that sort of stuff, and then just working on her skills that she’ll need for the championships themselves.

Melissa Breau: Now, are they Border Collies? Are they Shelties?

Amanda Nelson: Yes. All three are all Border Collies, yes.

Melissa Breau: Okay, Border Collie household, for sure, huh?

Amanda Nelson: That’s right, yes.

Melissa Breau: So how did you get started in dog sports? What was kind of the beginning for you?

Amanda Nelson: I’ve actually been involved in dog stuff and dog sports since I was extremely young. I actually did obedience with my Cocker Spaniel when I was I think maybe like 4 or 5 years old. My mom was very much into obedience at that time and then she later was very much into agility, so I kind of grew up with it. So I started, like I said, with my Cocker in obedience and then agility kind of really started taking off and it was a lot of fun. So I had a corgi also, named Sunny, and I started with her in agility. We did USDA. I competed in the European Nationals many times with her. I think I started doing agility when I was like 6 or 7. I don’t remember a lot of it, but there’s pictures to prove it, so I can only remember bits and pieces every now and then.

Melissa Breau: So you definitely grew up in this world, so to speak.

Amanda Nelson: That is right. That is right.

Melissa Breau: What kind of Cocker was it, an English Cocker, American Cocker?

Amanda Nelson: American Cocker.

Melissa Breau: Okay, okay. My grandmother breeds English Cockers so I’ve always kind of followed Cocker Spaniels. They have a special spot in my heart, so...

Amanda Nelson: Oh, that’s very cool, very cool.

Melissa Breau: So, starting off in obedience a while ago, have you always been a positive trainer? If not, kind of what got you started down that path?

Amanda Nelson: So at heart I know I’ve always been a positive trainer. I’m pretty sure I took some detours now and then, you know, as I learned. I try to surround myself with people who are also positive trainers, but I would have to say that I really...you know, because I started so young you kind of just do as everybody else is doing sort of thing, but I really wanted to start training my own dog.

I had a Border Collie before Try and he was 10 and I did agility with her, but I don’t remember really training her, if that make sense because I was young. Try was my first dog that I really...I had her from when she was a puppy and she was really, you know, I trained her I guess - as odd as that sounds. Honestly, my mom helped a lot with my dogs when I was younger, so Try I felt like was my first, I’m going to train her, train her, you know?

And so, I just went in to want to read all these books and I had this cute little angel puppy and she was...she really, really loved clickers and shaping, and I really started getting into it because she loved it so much that she had thought that that was the coolest thing in the whole wide world, so then that really shoved me into the positive world and I just wanted to immerse myself in everything. And so, any book I could get my hands on, YouTube videos, anything I could do to learn more for her I guess, and really I wanted her to be so happy, and then that kind of...I started bringing it into agility, you know?

She didn’t really at that point in time, the way I was teaching the weave poles, like it didn’t work for her, like she didn’t get it, and I’m like, well, I don’t understand why we’re not getting it. So, I started doing all this shaping with the weave poles and then all this targeting and stuff like that and I’m like, oh, my gosh, she really likes this. So I started, you know, what else could I do in agility that I could shape, and that really opened a lot of doors and it also opened my eyes to...then also like a lot of the business work that I do, shaping is a huge part of it now because it really brings it into the dog’s realm that they can...they’re learning.

You know, it’s not just kind of a forced thing, and I don’t say that in a negative way like I’m dragging the dogs out there forcing them, but more of the dogs are making their choice. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but they’re making that choice. They’re being shaped and going, okay, I’m going to go out here and do this and my, you know, Amanda really likes that so I get a click, you know that sort of thing, and she really, really opened the door for that.

She was the kind of dog that any sort of correction, even just me kind of going, oh, you know, and I can’t help it sometimes, you know, something would happen and I go, oh. She would really take it to heart, so I really learned that she liked all that positive, and it really changed the way I looked at things and the way the dogs look at how I could teach something.

Melissa Breau: As someone who hasn’t really done much in the agility world, I definitely did a little bit of research before we had got on the call and it seemed like you can be pretty heavily in NADAC? Did I pronounce that right?

Amanda Nelson: Yes, you did.

Melissa Breau: So, would you mind talking a little bit about how that differs from some of the other agility organizations out there and maybe why it appeals to you so much?

Amanda Nelson: So a lot of focus within NADAC is it’s floating courses that test the dog’s ability to collect and extend. So for example, it might be a really kind of open wide sequence that then comes into a really tight serpentine or pinwheel and it goes back into this really fast extended sequence. So NADAC really focuses on testing the dog’s ability to really extend, really stride out, and then collect in for this nice tight sequence, and then really extend out again, and it tests the handler’s ability to read those sequences, to read, okay, I need my dog to really extend and go fast through this loop here and then run in to collect, collect, collect, and do this really technical sequence here, and now I want them to extend again.

So I like the variety as far as, you know, there’s definitely dog tests I guess on the course as far as testing the dog’s ability to do that kind of collection/extension, and then it tests the handler’s ability to know the dog, know what the dog needs, and to read those sequences.

NADAC also has some focus in distance handling and they have awards aimed at the distance handling, and that’s something that I’ve done for a long time and I really...again with Try, she loved doing that distance work, so NADAC also was a big part of that and I could do a lot of that big distance stuff that she really liked and we liked doing it together as a team.

So, I like the variety with NADAC, but I can go out and I can run right with my dog and be with her and do that sort of thing, and then the next course I look at and go, oh, I’m going to try a distance on this one and I can now work on distance skills all at the same trial, so I really like that variety within NADAC, but I can do different things with my dog whether it’s distance or running with them and looking at the course for those collection/extension sequences and all that sort of fun stuff.

Melissa Breau: Just having watched some distance handling type stuff, it’s just so cool when you see somebody who, you know, they can send the dog out and they have good control and the dog’s doing the things in the right order and you have that distance, it’s just really an impressive skill to watch, it’s really pretty to watch.

And I know that one of your specialties at FDSA is teaching distance, so I wanted to ask a little bit about the kind of skills that a team needs, I guess partly as a team, right, but also just like what skills the dog needs before they can start to introduce distance into their training and before they can really...what they need to be successful with that, right? I would imagine it needs some special skills.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So there’s many different ways to teach distance and the way that I do it is my whole philosophy with distance handling is it has a very unique skill in the fact that you’re asking the dog to move away from you and that can be moving out of their comfort zone, and so confidence plays a humungous part in everything I do with my dogs which kind of goes back into all that shaping and clicker training stuff that I do, is that I want my dogs to be super, super confident. I want them to be confident in my handling, confident in their skills, you know, they’d know how to do dog up, they’d know how to do a jump, all that sort of stuff.

So when I start working with a new handler or a new dog or even someone who’s been competing but they want to start introducing distance, the first thing that we sit down and do is like, okay, now let’s see where is your dog at and what is their confidence level at. Are they okay 5 feet away, 10 feet away, you know, where’s their limit? And if say their limit is at 10 feet and their handler really wants them to be 15 feet away, we’re going to build the dog’s confidence up at 10 feet.

And my biggest thing is because of that confidence I want my dogs to trust my handling, I want them to be confident in my handling. So for example, if I tell my dogs “out” and I want them to...out means for them to move out away from me. So I tell them out, and so they understand that, and let’s say I’m at a trial and I’ve forgotten all the core skills, so I’ve said out but in all reality I actually need them coming in towards me and I’m like, oh, no, I’ve given them the wrong cue.

So my reaction and almost all reactions, the same reaction happens for every handler, is you know we’re trying to save that cue so we’re going, no, no, no, no, come in, come in, come in, you know, and we’ll try to save it and get the dog in, and dogs are forgiving and dogs are awesome so they’ll just turn on a dime and come in, but what happens with that is then the dogs don’t trust their handling anymore. You know, we’ve said out, they’re going out, but now in our heads we’re telling ourselves, oh, I screwed up, I screwed up, I needed to say “come in”, but in the dog’s head they’re viewing it as, well, she said out, I went out, and now she’s saying no, no, no, come in, and so that’s what kind of chips away at that trust.

So the first thing I really, really get into with all my students is if you’ve given a wrong cue sometimes you just have to suck it up and go and know that you just lost that run, but you’re going to gain ten more down the road because if the dog doesn’t have confidence in our cues then when we do need that distance and we tell our dog out I never want my dog to look back at me and go are you sure? Like I just want them, when I say out they go, yeah, all right, here we go, she means it, you know, and off we go. So that’s a big thing.

I do lots of ground work. I use road cones and teach my dogs a lot of confidence work around just the road cones because it’s a nice, easy ground work exercise, and also teaches me, myself, and all my students, the timing that they need for all their cues. I teach them the speed the dogs are going to run, and it’s all about equipment so that we’re not also working toward dog knocks a bar and it’s like oh, no, no, we have to fix that. We can just focus on getting our dogs to move out away from us and build that confidence. That’s basically my training philosophy. Everything revolves around confidence.

Melissa Breau: No, I mean that makes total sense because especially when, you know speed is also important and obviously agility, speed is important. Getting a dog to move away from you and not doubt. If they doubt you they’re going to move slower than if they believe that they’re doing the right thing. So even if the dog did come in right, like you might have shaved some seconds the wrong direction...

Amanda Nelson: Exactly. Exactly.

Melissa Breau:...your next run. So, even though I haven’t done agility I do Tribal and that’s also kind of a distance sport, and I know that for me when I was training distance, reward placement was just so important to kind of get that confidence and get the dog to understand, you know, to stay out there and not come back in for a treat, so I’d assume that was a big part for you for training agility too. Do you want to speak to that a little bit and talk about...I mean you can totally correct me if I’m wrong too, you know, I’m kind of guessing a little bit but...

Amanda Nelson: No, no, reward placement is huge, huge, huge, which is why I love using toys when it comes to distance work and it’s super easy, you’ll be able to pass that toy out there, reward at a distance, you’re either handler talking or get toy placed down or something like that. You have to understand they maybe aren’t a big fan of toys, they only want food which Ally absolutely hates toys, she has zero interest in them, but she loves food so for her, you know, reward can be a little bit difficult with her because my other dogs, you know, they love going after the toys so it makes it “a little bit easier.”

With Ally I use those Lotus balls, you know, and they’re Velcro, kind of open, you can put food in, so I use those as some I would be able to...she does a really nice distance sequence. I can either have it placed out there for her out away from me or she can then open it up and get her treat, or a lot of times I just always carry one on me so if she does something really awesome out there at a distance, I can just toss that toy and reward right there. I also have students that the Lotus ball, it does not work for them. Either the handlers don’t really like tossing it, maybe the dogs don’t like it, that sort of thing, so even tossing food is good.

I still vary my rewards because a lot of times, at least with something like distance they get so focused on all this distance and distance and distance, and so they reward  all this distance out-away, out-away, out-away, which is great but there are some courses where the dog has to come in, and so sometimes we get a little bit stuck on, oh, my gosh, I’m not going to let my dog out there and the dog gets used to always being say 10, 15 feet away from a handler, but then when we go out of sequence where they need to be say 5 feet within the handler the dogs don’t want to come in.

So, I still do kind of vary my rewards in that sometimes they will come in to me for a treat so that we’re still kind of keeping a nice balance between my dog going really far out and staying out away from me or coming in, but I would say I definitely reward out-away a lot more than I do next to me because I want them again it’s all about that confidence. I want my dogs to feel confident and high reinforcement way out there away from me as well.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, some dogs really struggle with distance and building that confidence to go out there. I have seen that in my own sport, and I think it’s kind of neat that reward placement really can make a huge difference in just communicating and building that confidence.

So I wanted to ask if there was a particular aspect of distance training or really kind of anything in what you do that people usually struggle with, and if you kind of walk us through a little bit how you might problem solve that or some of the solutions you might try out. Just kind of give people a sense of what you teach and how you teach it. Is there anything that jumps out at you?

Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So for me I would say across the board the biggest aspect that I see with all handlers whenever they want to get into distance is they want to stop all movement. They get nervous, especially if there’s a Gamblers line on the ground or _____(20:01) or something like that, and they see that line and we just stop dead.

So a lot of...the way I handle and the way I teach is all based on my body. So my lower body, my feet, are...that’s what creates impulsion. So even, you know, like my videos I use it a lot because people say, “oh, you tell us when we have to keep moving, but your video doesn’t, you know, you’re not.” But I am. It just has to be, even if it’s a small non-movement, even if it’s just one step, one step, you’re still creating movement, and dogs if they see us just kind of come to that brick wall, you know, when we stop right at that line, well, that’s cueing a collection, you’re telling them to stop. So what I try to tell my students all the time is if you want your dog’s feet to move, your feet need to move. It doesn’t mean you have to race them, it doesn’t mean you have to run. Even the smallest step, that motion is going to help them continue to move and continue to push out there.

So again, back to road cones, I do tons of work with footwork for the handlers teaching them, you know, I want you to practice this distance, but you need to always kind of be moving a little bit, you know, always be creating a little bit of motion in your lower body so your dog will continue to read that. And I do a lot of work laying lines on the ground and teaching handlers not to be scared of them, they don’t have to stop right at them, and even staying off that line just by a foot gives you that little bit of cushion that you can still kind of push it on up and they get a little bit of movement, and I would say that to me is the biggest aspect because dogs naturally read our body language.

You know, when you take a little 8-week-old puppy and you start to walk, they’re going walk with you and you stop, they stop, you know, they naturally will read it, whereas we can teach distance with just a verbal cue and teach the dogs to get out there. I know many distance handlers that don’t use a lot of body language, it’s all verbal, and they do extremely well, but it’s a taught skill, it’s not natural to the dog, and I like to do as much natural stuff as I can for the dog so that it makes things easier, and I think for both of us as a team it just makes things easier. I don’t have to teach something that is harder for both me and the dog to teach them, okay, I’m standing perfectly still, but I want you to drive out 30 feet, and it’s harder on the dog and it goes again back to that confidence. It’s harder to gain that confidence when the dog doesn’t feel that level of support from their handler, so I would say that’s the hardest thing that I’ve across with handlers and it’s just a matter of just muscle memory. You know, teach them that you really...it’s okay. You can keep moving at that speed, you’ll be okay, sort of silly -- the line is not going to bite you, I swear.

Melissa Breau: So I mentioned in the bio, and I mean you talked about it a little bit there in that last answer that you have your Cues for Q’s handling system, and I want to make sure we talk about that a little bit more. You kind of mentioned the idea of adapting to what the dog does naturally and building on that, but can you explain the concept a little bit more and maybe touch on how the system can allow a team to really create their own unique handling system?

Amanda Nelson: I kind of break things down into...I have lower body cues, upper body cues, and then my verbal cues. So my lower body cues, that should be basically my primary cue, that should be the first thing my dog sees. So I always want to point my feet or point my foot, you know, if you’re running you’re not going to be able to point both feet at the same time, but point this way where you want your dog to go, so that’s going to be kind of their first cue. Your foot is pointing at that jump you want them to take.

And then your upper body is going to define that cue. Do you want them really continue to push, you’re going to have your arm out because you’re really driving them down that line, or is your dog closer to your body because we’re going to collect after that jump? So your upper body is kind of defining what your lower body is doing, and then your verbal cue should be kind of backing that whole thing up.

So, the picture that I would want to see is if I have a student who, they need to do an out-tunnel is that their foot should be pulling at the tunnel, the hand should be pulling in at the tunnel, and then their verbal cue should be backing all that up by saying out or whatever cue that student uses.

Where I go from there is that I don’t feel that every dog can handle the same way. I’ve had multiple dogs and worked with multiple students’ dogs and run student's dogs, that every dog is unique, every dog is different, and not everything is going to be exactly the same, you know? Like I have all Border Collies and every single one of them is different. I handle every single one of them different. They don’t all just kind of come out of the cookie cutter that just because they’re Border Collies this is the way I’m going to handle them, you know, they’re all very, very different.

So I can adapt this handling system into something that works for each dog. So for example, Trip, that my boyfriend runs, he is much more dependent on Jimmy’s upper body, then he has his feet, and he was trained, you know, all my dogs go through the same foundation training as every other one before them and one after, and Trip and Ally, the two youngest, they were trained in exactly the same way, but for some reason Trip just, he responds better to upper body. So we just adapt the handling a little bit into, okay, instead of Jimmy’s foot is now pointing where we want to go, we really focus on his upper body. His arm really needs to be pointing, this is the jump we’re going to take, and then his feet then become more of a defining cue and not a verbal, if that makes sense. So it just kind of swaps the order.

Whereas now Ally, Ally 100 percent reads off my lower body and then upper body is her defining cue, and what she doesn’t like, and maybe it’s just a phase she’s going through, it’s a teenager phase, she does not like to hear me talk. So verbals cues are just a no-go for her. Every time I say something to her like go or something like that, she barks or she gets a little angry or yeah, I feel like we’re having a teenager stage, you know, don’t tell me what to do. So, for her I use very little verbal cues and she reads my lower body like there’s no tomorrow, you know, she’ll pick up that foot cue and she just goes with it.

So, we just mold and adapt things within that. I have my students kind of follow the base of it, you know, most dogs are going to read your foot and here’s your arm and your verbal, but I let my students pick. They can use any verbal they want as long as it makes sense to them and it makes sense to the dog. They can say spaghetti for all I care as long as it works for them and we all understand it and that’s awesome. I want them to be happy.

My biggest thing and I guess I learned this years and years and years ago. I taught a seminar and I was working with this woman who just, you could tell she was struggling, like she was just having a hard time, she couldn’t get her cues out right, and her handling was very stiff, and so I sat and talked to her, like what’s going on? What’s the issue? She’s like, well, I’ve been taught that I need to handle like A, B or C and I need to do this and I’m like, well, but it’s not working. You know, you’re not happy, which in turn is now making your dog not happy. So I said what would you like to do? Let’s talk about it. So she had shown me and said, okay, now this is how I wanted him. I’m like, well, let’s do that. As long as it works for you and your dog let’s do that.

So my biggest thing is take kind of the baseline basically, you know, here’s how most dogs respond to things, but then mold it into what you like and what works for you. You know, just like Jimmy and Trip, if I were to force them and say no, no, no, you must use your leg and that is what’s going cue him, but if he doesn’t like that, you know, if the dog doesn’t respond and that doesn’t work for him then it’s just a constant battle.

So my biggest thing when I’m teaching any seminar or anything online is my poor students have to hear me say and over and over again, do what works for you and your dog. Don’t get caught up in this, that, or the other that you saw online or whatever. Take something, take an idea and go, okay, how can I make this work for me and my dog, how can I mold that into a training idea or how I handle that makes sense to me and my dog because a Bulldog is not going to remember the same as a Border Collie and they should be handled and trained in each of their own unique way basically.

Melissa Breau: Right. So you kind of mentioned that each dog has their own unique handling system. Is it hard as a handler to have two dogs with a slightly different...I mean I know you mentioned your boyfriend’s dog, but your down dogs I’d assume and also slightly different. Is it hard as a handler to remember which dog you’re handling?

Amanda Nelson: Extremely...extremely hard. So, yeah, I ran with Nargles and like I said, Ally, I’m assuming it’s a phase, perhaps doesn’t like my talking, but Nargles on the other hand loves it, she likes the verbal. So sometimes I’ll work in the ring and I’ll start talking to Ally and she starts barking... I’m like, oh, wrong dog. It is extremely hard and I know I forget and I’m actually working with a student online right now who has two dogs and they are like night and day and she is just having a hell of a time. I’m like, well, you know, when you figure it out you let me know because...

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that’s the hardest part in some ways because like you said, part of it is muscle memory and you’re trying to teach yourself to remember to do the same things and be consistent for your dog and when you have two different dogs who want to do things differently you have to learn two sets of muscle memory. Oh, goodness, it’s funny.

So, I want to end the episode the same way I kind of end most of the episodes which is asking you what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Amanda Nelson: Oh, my gosh. So the 2011 NADAC Championship I won and it is one of the proudest accomplishments I have. So I was competing against Super Stakes which is a distance class, and it’s a very, very hard distance class. Most of the time the distance challenges, your dog is 60 feet, if not 80 feet away from you, extremely hard, and I was competing. It was in Springfield, Illinois and my friend Sunny and I were competing and I was running Try, and we were basically kind of going back and forth between first and second and her and I were probably both having absolutely the best weekend of our lives in dog agility terms, like she was on, I was on. Her dog, Vanessa, we train together all the time, so it was just awesome to go out, and I would  have this amazing run and then out comes Sunny and she would have this amazing run. It was absolutely fantastic.

So we ran in the finals. I ran first and oh, my God, it was just a fantastic run, an amazing connection I had with Try. It was one of my best runs. To date it still was one of the best runs I ever had with her. Sunny and her dog, Vanessa, ran after me and they again...it was an amazing breathtaking run and we were 24 seconds apart and Sunny ended up winning. It was the most amazing weekend of my life as far as I just every...you know, four days is how long the championships are, and the level of connection that Try and I had that weekend was absolutely amazing, and to lose to my friend was fantastic.

For her to have such a fantastic weekend as well was just awesome, and that second place ribbon, I love that second place ribbon because every time I look at it all I can think about is we were on fire that whole weekend. It was just such an amazing weekend and competing there with my friend, who was also having the best weekend of her life, it was just one of those things that is just amazing. So I have to say it’s not a title or award or anything like that. It’s my happiest second place ribbon I’ve ever gotten.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Sometimes, you know, there’s really something to be said for the relationships you form in the sports world, right, and you’re cheering on your friends and  your teammates and your training buddies and it’s not always just about you and your own dog, but that’s awesome.

Amanda Nelson: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Well, my favorite question of the whole series always, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Amanda Nelson: So this is again from Sunny, she told me just to let it go. I feel like I should start singing Frozen or something. You know, things are going to happen, mistakes are going to happen, you know, what kind of mistake you had as a handler is a mistake you had as a trainer, you know, stuff is going to happen and just let it go because if you keep dwelling on it, you keep thinking about it, you keep beating yourself up over, oh, my gosh, I would’ve handled that differently or if my dog hadn’t missed that contact, you know? Learn from it. Learn from it, move on, and just let it go and think about your next run.  That’s the best training advice I’ve ever had.

Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Amanda Nelson: I would say all of my students. Every time I teach a seminar and in all my classes, all of that, I learn so much from all my students. They inspire me every day to be a better handler, a better trainer. Even I’m in the middle of a Fenzi class I’m teaching right now, I am learning so much from them. The questions they ask, you know, they’ll ask me a question like, oh, you know what, there’s probably a different way to teach this and it brings about how we can approach things differently, how we can train things differently.

I have to say working on all of those awesome people, they inspire me and I look up to every one of them, you know, how we can train different things, you know, all that sort of stuff I just...as corny as it sounds, it’s probably all of my students. I love every single one of them and they do, they truly inspire me to be better, to just be better in general.

Melissa Breau: That’s not corny at all, it’s sweet. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amanda. It was great to get to chat and to learn a little bit more about what you do. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

Amanda Nelson: Well, thank you so much. This was fantastic.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, it’s always good to learn a little bit more about some of the different sports out there, and agility is pretty mainstream but it’s still new to me. And we’ll be back next week, this time with Sara Brueske to talk training and competing for disc sports. 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!

 

Jun 16, 2017

SHOW NOTES: 

Summary:

At FDSA, Andrea Harrison teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio.

She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.  

When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/23/2017, featuring Amanda Nelson. 

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. At FDSA Andrea teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio. She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.

When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work. Hi, Andrea. Welcome to the podcast.

Andrea Harrison: Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s lovely to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, do you want to just give us a little about your current fur crew?

Andrea Harrison: Sure. We could take up the whole podcast talking about them so I won’t do that, but we’re currently living with too many dogs including my dad’s dog, Franny, who is a lovely older cocker spaniel, and then we have Brody who is 17 almost and he’s what I refer to as my heartbeat at my feet. He’s my Shih Tzu mix and he really taught me that gurus even in dog sports don’t necessarily have all the answers for every dog. Then we have Theo who is a 14-year-old Chihuahua, Sally who is an 11-year-old border collie mix who has really taught me to appreciate joy in everything. She was supposed to be palliative foster, she came to us when she was about six months old and was given less than six months to live, and she’s about to turn eleven. So she’s a good daily reminder. Yeah. She’s a really good daily reminder that life is good and life is worth living. Then we have Sam who is my husband’s golden retriever and I do very, very little with him. He just turned eight, and he came to us as a palliative foster as well. He was five months old with terminal kidney disease, so he’s doing pretty well. We’ve got a crazy, crazy little terrier named Dora who is five years old, and then we have a toy American Eskimo, Yen, who just turned four, and she is certainly my daily reminder that every dog you have to do things your own way.

So yeah, we have a bunch of different breeds and different types represented in the house right now, and as I say, too many dogs, but I also joke that on a per acre basis we have less dogs than most people do because we live on a fairly large farm in the middle of nowhere in Lake Ontario. So per acre we’re well under any limit anybody could set.

Melissa Breau: That certainly helps. I mean, having space is a big benefit when you have dogs.

Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. And it’s nice because I can train down at the front with them, a little agility field set up at the front, so I can take a pair down and work them down there, but every day a part of our routine is to go for a one to two, well, sometimes even three kilometers once the weather is nice, but we’re out doing a good hike off-leash with all five of the dogs who are at a stage in their development where that’s something they enjoy, right? So their fitness, their brain, their recalls, all of that stuff just gets worked on as part of life, you know? They hang out with me, they want to hang out with me. It makes when they come to town much easier, right, because they’re constantly being reinforced for doing sort of the right thing to my husband’s and my eyes.

Melissa Breau: So which of the dogs are you currently competing with?

Andrea Harrison: I don’t actually. Since I’ve been down here we’ve been busy setting up the farm, but Sally, the border collie mix, finished doing a major film fairly recently and has been going out doing some publicity work around that. So her training stayed pretty current. Yeah. She was a lead role in a feature film that was about the character dog, Dinah, in the movie. So she is Dinah. So that’s been kind of neat with being down to the…Toronto has an international film festival and we’ve been in the main theater for that. She was the first dog ever in that theater and stuff. So we had to make sure she was really, really perfect. They were, “A dog? You can’t have a dog in the theater.” We’re like, “Well, she’s the star of the film.” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she’s the star of the film I guess it’s okay.” So she’s been doing stuff.

Ad I’m hoping to get Dora, the two young dogs, Dora and Yen, going in competitive agility one of these days. But my problem is because everything is two or three hours of driving for me, and with my 17-year-old guy, I don’t like to leave him very long, right? He’s very much my heartbeat at my feet, he’s happiest lying on my feet, and I hate to leave him and make him stress out when I’m gone. But unfortunately I don’t think he’ll be with us all that much longer. And then Dora and Yen can get their day of, their 15 minutes of fame, right, the Andy Warhol thing, they can get out there and get their fame and glory or embarrass me, whichever way they choose to go out. They do agility at home and they’re great. They’re ready to go. I just have to get off the farm.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. How long have you guys had the farm now?

Andrea Harrison: Well, we’ve had the land for about ten years and we’ve been living here, we’ve been living here and building our house. We had a house just around the corner, we’ve been building our house for just about five years, we’ve been permanently at the farm for three.

Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s awesome.

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been pretty neat. It added a dimension to my life that I really didn’t know how much I was missing until I had it.

Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started with dog sports and the film stuff? I mean, where did all that start?

Andrea Harrison: So when I was little I apparently was pretty opinionated, I hear this quite regularly, and I didn’t like school and I didn’t think I like learning. Turns out I love learning but I was just not being taught the stuff I liked to learn, right? So my dad and mom realized that if they could connect anything to animals I’d buy into it. So they taught me history at the dining room table by using the names of dogs and cats and horses, whatever kind of animal they could find that was connected to an event. I learned about the Civil War in the States because of the horse Traveller, for example, right? Ancient Greek history, they connected it to Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. Rin Tin Tin for the war stuff, right? All of those kinds of things.

And then they realized that if they brought home books that had animals in them I would read, and it turns out I’m a voracious reader, but they connected it through animals. And one of the kinds of books I started reading were books about people, there was a real trend for books about guide dogs, service dogs, seeing eye dogs and those kinds of things, and I read a book, and I was trying to think of the name of it. I think it’s called like, Guided by the Light or something, or Candle in the Light or something, and I read the book and it just amazed me, the gorgeous German shepherd, and I had this clear picture in my head, it was an amazing dog.

I looked at our Irish setter at the time and I said, “You and I are going to do stuff.” And I was 12 and there were no classes available for kids, kids just were not available to take classes. So I made my mom go to the dog sport classes and is at on the sidelines and I watched everything she did and I went home and I did it with our Irish setter in the backyard. By the end of our time doing that class our Irish setter would actually walk down a main street of Toronto off-leash with squirrels and other dogs going by me. She was your pretty typical Irish setter, she was a busy girl, and I was so proud of that. The lift that gave me as a very introverted, not super academic kind of person really built my confidence.

So then just every dog we had from there, I put one leg of an obedience title on a golden retriever. We had foster Sheltie for about eight months, I did some show handling with her. So I just slowly got a little bit more into it. I never found my passion, right?

Then one day, twenty years ago almost exactly I think, I saw agility, just in a field at a local university. Somebody set up a class and I literally stopped dead and went, “That’s amazing.” And I started thinking about agility. I had two older big dogs at the time who couldn’t do it, but I started learning about it and watching it and thinking about it. Then I was hooked. That was it. I mean, my blog is called Agility Addict. I was just absolutely, and I am just nuts about agility.

Melissa Breau: What’s the URL for your blog?

Andrea Harrison: Andrea Agility Addict Blog Spot I think. I don’t know. It comes up, as soon as you type any of that in it flies right up.

Melissa Breau: I will look it up and I will include the link in the show notes. So what do, what you teach at FDSA is a little bit different, kind of, than what any of the other instructors do. You definitely have your own niche. I mean, how do you explain what it is you do at FDSA? How would you kind of summarize it 

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a good question. I think what I’d say and what I do say all the time is that I focus on the handler side, right? Because it doesn’t matter if you’re an agility addict or you’re into nose work or you’re into obedience. I’m so grateful I’m learning so much about all these amazing different sports, Rally-FrEe, and all this stuff, it’s just so super what I do because I get to learn and I love learning, right? 

So I really focus on the handler side of it. My experiences through all the different things that I have done have reminded me all the time that my mental state, my beliefs, my hang-ups, right, really are going to affect what happens at the end of the leash. When I was filming Zoboomafoo and I needed 15 puppies to run across the floor towards me, if 13 of them ran towards me and two of them went another way it didn’t help to get mad about it, right? I had to just think it through, figure it out, and redo it, right? Or when my little dog was on the stage at the Elgin Theater in Toronto, one of our big theaters doing a thing of Annie, I had to just to let it go.

And it’s hard for me to let it go. I’m your typical Fenzi instructor, you know, type A, cares a lot, wants everything to be right, right? We’re a passionate group of people, right? I mean, that’s wonderful, but it can be hard to remember that we can’t control everything, right? No matter how much we want success we can’t always make success in the moment that we want it. So as I was looking at what I could bring to the FDSA table it was like, there’s a piece of stuff that I’m doing all the time, I’m getting asked to do it all the time, people are asking me questions in my face classes all the time about this, people respond to any blog I write about it.

So I taught a little tiny course just for people locally online, and ended up telling Denise about it, and she was like, “That’s really cool. Do you want to try bringing that here? I don’t know if it’ll work.” She was really honest, right? She’s like, I don’t know if it’ll work. I’m not sure there’s a thing. But that’s where the first course, All in Your Head, came from, this tiny little genesis of a course I ran one summer through a Facebook group, and then it just developed from there. Students are amazing, they ask amazing questions, and they’ve given so much back to sort of my funny little niche program, like you said, but they’ve built it. I’m along for the ride. I’ve got tons of different resources I can plug into and pull out and experiences, but the students of FDSA have really driven what’s happened in my little circle.

Melissa Breau: So to give listeners kind of a sense of the type of issues that your classes can help with, do you mind just talking a little bit about some of the problems you’ve helped handlers address within the classes?

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Sure. I mean, it really ranges, right? So All in Your Head looks at sort of who you are, right, and how who you are is going to affect the training choices and things that you do, and starts to address the nerves side of it a little bit, because nerves are a big, big thing that come up. Disappointment, worry, anxiety. People don’t want to let down their dog, right? They get frustrated by their dog, they aren’t sure they’re doing the right sport, they maybe aren’t sure they have the right dog for the right sport, right? How can they make all of these things work, right?

Like, I personally hate coming in second. For me that’s a huge source of frustration, right? So if I was always coming in second I would want to work through a whole bunch of the stuff that I do in a class to make sure that I was dealing with being second. I’d rather be last than second, right? Give me first or don’t place me at all. I mean, I’d like to cue, thank you very much, but in terms of placement type stuff, right?

So the problems really range. I mean, I’ve had people look at relationship issues, grief. The two sort of really specialized courses, Infinite Possibilities and the new one I’m running now, Unleash Personal Potential, people pick their own thing, right? So the range of things we’re seeing in there is amazing. Then of course with Handle This and No More Excuses people are largely looking at setting plans, setting goals, learning about goals, figuring out how to implement plans, right? We all make these great plans, I’m going to train every day, and then life gets in the way because life always gets in the way, right? It always does. So what do you do when life gets in the way? How can you not say, “Oh my God, I’m the worst trainer in the world ever,” and crawl under a rock and not train for three weeks? And there are times when a three week break is what you need, but sometimes you need to say, you know what? This was a throwaway day. It was okay, I didn’t make my plan, it’s okay, tomorrow is a new day and I can start over, right? So the range of problems is just, I mean, you know, you could almost open up a dictionary and look for any adjective and there it comes, right?

Melissa Breau: So let’s dig into a couple of those specifically just a little bit more, because I know there are a couple that we talked about a little bit before the podcast and whatnot as being particularly important. So I wanted to dig into this idea of kind of ring nerves and people experiencing nerves before a competition, things that really impact their handling. I was hoping you could talk a little more about that, maybe include a tip or two listeners can use when it comes to ring nerves and tackling it themselves.

Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. One of the things I really encourage people to do is test those tools. So people go off to a trial and they’re really, really, really nervous, but they don’t know whether those nerves are physical, right, or in their head, or if they’re affecting the dog at all, right? Because they’ve never really thought about it. All they know is that they’re really, really, really nervous. They feel sick but they don’t know is it in their tummy, is it in their head, is it their respiration, is it sweat glands, is it all of them, right? They haven’t thought about it, they know it makes them feel sick so they push it aside, they don’t work on it between trials, they go back to a trial and they’re like, oh my God, I was nervous again. Well, of course you were nervous again. You didn’t try working on anything, right?

So like everything else it’s almost like a training exercise. You have to think about what is making you nervous, how are you manifesting those nerves, and how can you break them down? It’s just the same, right, just the same as positive dog training. Break it down into these tiny little pieces that you can then find a tool to address.

So for example, if your mouth gets really, really dry and that distracts you and you start sort of chewing cud, as it were, as a cow, you’re like, trying to get the water back in your mouth and it makes you nervous. Well, once you figure that out you take peppermints with you in the car, you suck on a peppermint before you go in the ring, and that’s gone away. Right? And that’s gone away so you can concentrate on the thing you need to concentrate on, right?

You want to always build to those results slowly. When you look at the nerves, I can’t say to you, here’s my magic want, I’m going to wave it over you and all your nerves will be gone. But you get that sick, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, why is that? Are you remembering to eat the day before a trial? Are you eating too much the day before a trial? Are you remembering to go to the bathroom? Because when you’re nervous you have to go to the bathroom, so make sure you make time to go to the bathroom because then there’s less to cramp in your tummy, right? 

So step by step by step, you know, you make a plan, you look at the plan. What kind of music should you listen to on the way to the show? Should you listen to a podcast that’s inspirational to you? Should you put together an inspirational play tack? Do you know exactly where the show is? If you’re anxious and worried and always run late, for Lord’s sake, please drive to the trail ahead of time or Google Map it really carefully and build yourself in 15 minutes extra, because being late to that trial is not going to help your nerves. You’re going to be stressed.

So where is that stress coming from? How are those nerves manifesting themselves, right? So the music that you listen to on the way, having the mint if your breath is dry, remembering to go to the bathroom, thinking about what I call Andrea’s Rule of Five. So rule of five is really simple. Is it going to matter in five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five years? Right? So if something is stressing you out you can actually stop, ground yourself which I’ll get into in a sec, but ground yourself and think, rule of five. And the vast majority of the time, yeah, it might matter in five minutes because your run will just be over and it was not successful and you’re embarrassed, maybe, or maybe it was great, and like, super.

But very, very few of us are going to remember a run in even five months, let alone five years. I mean, you might remember in general, but your anxiety is not going to still be there, right? I mean, a great run you can remember. I can probably still tell you the details of some of Brody’s agility runs or Sally’s amazing work, right? Like, I can describe going from the A-frame around to the tunnel and picking him up and staying connected and it was beautiful. I can remember the errors of enthusiasm, right, like when he took an off-course tunnel, and he’s never done that in his life, and I was like, oh my God, he took an off-course tunnel. That’s amazing. That’s so cool, and we celebrated. So just loved that he was that happy about it. But do I remember those very first, early trials where…do I remember the courses where I stood thinking I’m never going to get my agility dog to Canada? No. I don’t really remember. I remember being sad that he was three seconds over the time and _____ (18:35), and that was kind of sucky, but it was okay, right? Like, now with all this perspective it’s fine. 

So you have to rehearse for success, let those nerves…think of something that gives you just a little bit less nerves and go and do it, right? Where you get that slight flutter and figure out how to tame the slight flutter. Don’t expect to say, oh my God, I’m so nervous at a trial, I don’t want to be nervous anymore. That won’t work. You need to figure out, right, what tools are going to work for you, right? What makes you nervous, what tools will reduce that element of anxiety, and work on it one element at a time.

I have students where I say to them, I don’t care that you’re not really ready to run, right, in a trial. If you were so nervous about it that’s making you sick, find a match that’s going to make you half sick. Go to a trial and know that you’re not going to be successful. Go and do one lap of the ring. I don’t care. Walk in there and do six things and leave if it’s accessible in your venue. And practice getting over that nervousness so that you can give yourself and your dog the best things that you need to do to be successful. Set yourself up for success, if I had to reduce it to just a couple of words.

Melissa Breau: Right. The same way you set your dog up for success.

Andrea Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. We’re as important part of the team, right? Without us there would be no dog sport. So we spend so much time, right, working on our dogs, and it’s great that we do, and I love it too, but you have to remember to work on yourself too. You know? Unless you’re by nature perfectly calm, perfectly extroverted, never have a thing to worry about at home which I still have yet to meet anybody who can say all of that, right?

Melissa Breau: You and me both. I wanted to dive a little more into the motivation and planning aspect of things too. I know one of the lines in your class description for No More Excuses is it’s for the students who have a library full of classes and haven’t done them, or they have goals and aspirations that they simply aren’t meeting. I think a lot of people who read that, that kind of strikes home, right? So I wanted to ask, what is so hard about just doing it?

Andrea Harrison: Such a good question. And you think, like, we all blame ourselves when we can’t just do it, right? And I think many of us hope that if we fill our libraries up enough that something is going to resonate, something is going to suddenly, magically make us do it. And you know, we all want that magic solution. I mean, self-help sections of libraries and book stores are full, like, shelves and shelves and shelves of books because we all want there to be a magic bullet answer, right? And there isn’t.

I mean, in a nutshell motivation often comes down to people being confused about whether it’s outcome or process that they want, right? Whether it’s learning or performance, right? Four different sort of models to look at motivation. Outcome goals are like, I want to be an Olympic gold medalist, and a process goal is I want to build the skills to be able to be an Olympic gold medalist. Many of us want to go straight to an outcome, goal, right? We want to be able to get the cue without sort of remembering that we have to build that process in. And once people understand that everything we do, we have to break it into a process, that can help them with their own motivation.

So training, and this sounds awful, because different things bore different people, but there’s always some element of training that bores most people, right? So I’ll hear people say, “I hate working on stays, they’re so boring.” Or, “I’d rather be playing on Facebook than training,” right? And that’s okay, that’s legitimate. But if you can start off even just with two or three minutes of whatever you don’t like, particularly working on it, as you start to meet success it becomes more rewarding so you can do more and more. So if you can break down your process, again, similar principle to earlier, if you can break your process down into little tiny chunks and build on those little tiny chunks, as you attain success you’re going to be moving closer to doing the outcome stuff, right?

I mean, in true motivational speak the issues with motivation usually fall into either direction, can you get up off the couch and actually go and train or are you going to get up off the couch and head towards the ice cream in the freezer, right? Which direction are you going to go in? The intensity of what you do, so are you like, oh, yeah, this is great as long as I don’t have to work too hard each step, right? It’s good, I got to the gym, I chatted to the girl at the desk, I did my thing or went to dog school, and it was great, but I really didn’t put any time into training, I was really busy chatting to my friends and watching other people train, right? That’s the intensity piece of it. And then the final piece is persistence, which is do you go back, right? Will you go to training once and you do a great job or will you go to training five times and do as good a job as you can each of those times?

So direction, intensity, and persistence are sort of the hallmarks of real motivational stuff, and they break down really nicely for dog training too, right? Like, where is your gap? So in No More Excuses we help people figure out which priority they want to work on of those three, and then how to do that.

And then the last thing that you want to think about when you’re doing motivation issues is are you in a learning phase or a performance phase of training, trial, and showing, whatever? If you’re in a learning phase you might still be trialing, right? Because you learn when you trial. Every trial I’ve ever gone to you learn tons, right? But if you’re in that learning phase you don’t want to be having tons of outcome based goals or else what happens is you get frustrated and turned off and you stop. I think what happens to a lot of people is they don’t understand the distinctions between outcome and process goals, learning and performance outcomes, right, the goal, and then that intensity, persistence, and direction piece, and if you can sort of marry all of those pieces and figure it out then you’ve got a real head up on making some motivation work for you, right? So it comes to down to sort of planning, right? Figure out what you need to do and then plan for it.  

And remember that all those self-help books, right, that are in the library, all the gurus, all the people who say there’s only one way to do things or this is the right way, they have a whole lot invested in making you buy in to what it is they are promoting. They believe it. I’m not saying it’s charlatans at all, but they believe that their way is the right way, and if it doesn’t work for you it tends to make you feel kind of rotten, right? You’re thinking, so-and-so could do this and it’s amazing, and my friend did it and it was amazing, and it doesn’t really work for me. What’s wrong with me? Right? And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, you just have a different approach to learning or the message or the method than the person does. So I think sometimes all the self-help can kind of be negative, you know, which is too bad. 

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. Despite my comment about just doing it I do know that you’re a big fan of self-care and gratitude, and I’m sure a lot of students in the alumni group on Facebook have seen your Joy Day Care posts. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and have you kind of tell us what’s the story there, how did that get started?

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a neat thing. So again, you know, my whole thing earlier my students are always teaching me, the first time we ran Infinite Possibilities back in August of 2013, I think, I had an amazing student, she’s still a great student at FDSA, I know she listens to the podcast so she’ll be like, “Hey, that’s me she’s talking about.” She said, “You know, this gratitude thing, I work on it all the time and it’s really hard for me. I want to get better at being happy.” And there’s tons of great research that says that gratitude is a really good path to being a happier person, right? How can I be happy? It’s a big question I deal with in all of my life.

So we started a gratitude challenge in the class, right, on the discussion thread there was a gratitude challenge that I posted, and then at the end of the class people said, “You can’t stop this. This isn’t right. You just can’t stop this. We need your prompts. We need your help.” I said, “All right. Well, why don’t we take it over to the alumni list and see if people like it?” And people really like it. It’s funny, if I forget to post, if I forget it’s the first day after class officially ends, any of those things for sure somebody will message me, and often it’s somebody who has never worked with me. “Hey, don’t you normally do Joy Day Care now?”

So it started off, we called it just a gratitude challenge, and then it slowly worked towards being a Joy Day Care, the name just evolved over time. It was Joy Day Dare for a long time and then somebody, I mistyped, I think, and it came out as care, and I’m like, yeah, that’s even more perfect for us, do you think? Because one of the things I love about it is how much everybody cares about everybody, right?

 And it just helps people remember that happiness is a conscious choice, you know? I had somebody ask me just yesterday, what can I do to be a happier person? I said it sounds so trite, it sounds so dumb, I hate to even tell you this, but you really do have to choose happiness. You know? Life is tough, life is hard. There’s a lot going on in life that gives us good cause to be angry or upset or frustrated or sad, and I mean, obviously if you’re facing some really big thing you’re going to need more than just to go, oh, today I’m going to be happy.  

But a gratitude practice where you pick some time of the day to think about one thing you can be grateful for has a measureable impact on people who are suffering from depression, who have schizophrenia. There are tons and tons and tons of studies that show that a very, very short, ten second daily gratitude practice can make a difference to your state of happiness. Like, that’s pretty powerful, right?

And it’s so easy for me to do, right? It’s such an easy thing for me to remind people of sort of in the lull between classes. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I actually quite miss it when it’s done even though sometimes I have to get kind of creative with the prompts because we’ve done it now for a long time. So I’m like, have I done this in the last three sessions? I don’t think so.

Melissa Breau: Well, you could certainly…it certainly can’t hurt to recycle some of those prompts and just think about…absolutely people can think about different things they’re grateful for off the same prompt, and I mean, just…

Andrea Harrison: Sure. Sure.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s great.

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. So in fact I did a little workbook too for people because they wanted something in between classes. So there’s a little workbook called Love the One You Are With, it’s just a little workbook that has a bunch, I don’t know, 140 other prompts and pretty pages people can fill in and stuff too. So people seem to be liking that as well.

Melissa Breau: Where can they find that?

Andrea Harrison: It’s called Love the One You Are With, and there’s a Facebook page for it.

Melissa Breau: Cool. Excellent 

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Very cool.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end out the podcast, even though we spend a lot of time talking about the handler half of the team, the same way I do for everybody else, because I thought it’d be interesting to talk…I know if the beginning we talked a little bit about you and your dogs, and I wanted to make sure we kind of close it out that way too and talk a little bit about the dogs again. So what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Andrea Harrison: You know, it’s interesting, and I wrack my brain because obviously if you listen to the podcast you know this question is going to be coming up. I mean, I have lots of things, I have been lucky enough, fortunate enough to do some really, really cool things with my dogs, right? They’re superstars and rock stars all in their own right.

But I think if I had to pick the one thing I would have to say it’s probably the hundreds of foster dogs that my husband and I have rehabbed, worked with, trained. We’ve had many, many foster dogs that have been with us more than six months and as long as three years before they’ve been able to go into their own homes, and I think if I had to pick one thing it’s probably doing that, right? Giving back in such a sort of hands on way. Yeah. It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve met some really amazing dogs and by being able to be strong enough to give them up, and sometimes it’s really hard to do that, you know, it lets us take in the next one. So it’s been pretty precious.

Melissa Breau: Right. And that’s always the hardest part, right, in some ways, of fostering or helping with that process.

Andrea Harrison: Oh, I mean, it’s grief. Yeah. It’s absolutely grief in its own way. You miss them. You give a little piece of your heart. I had one of my vet tech friends say to me, “Andrea, you’ve got the biggest chameleon heart of anybody I know.” She calls me Lizard Heart now. I said, “What do you mean, Lizard Heart?” She goes, “Well, if you cut off a little piece of a chameleon’s heart apparently it grows back.” I don’t know how they even do that, I didn’t ask, I didn’t check it or anything. But she calls me Lizard Heart because she says, “You’ve given so much of your heart to other animals, your heart is so patchy and big, right, from all the repairs.” So I’m like, that’s so sweet. Right? Yeah. So I would say that’s probably my proudest accomplishment.

Melissa Breau: And then what is the best piece of training advice, and for you you can do handler or the dog, that you’ve ever heard?

Andrea Harrison: So there’s two, because, you know, why would any of us do what you ask and give one?

Melissa Breau: That’s perfectly okay.

Andrea Harrison: I think the one that really made me think the most and really work on understanding what it meant and figuring out how to apply it to handler side stuff and dog side stuff, actually, is somebody said to me a long, long time ago when they were mad at me in my counseling gig that’s outside of dogs, they said to me, “Andrea, you have to understand, it’s really not personal.” I was like, “But you’re mad at me.” And they’re like, “I’m just mad. I’m not mad at you. It’s not personal.” And I thought, it’s not personal. It really isn’t, is it? And so much of what we get ourselves so worked up about, right, is because we take things personally that aren’t meant personally.

So if your dog has a lousy day and blows you off, your dog poops in the ring, your dog isn’t do that to destruct you. Your dog is being what my husband calls his dog self, right? We talk about that all the time here at the farm. Oh, he’s just being his doggy self. They come in and they’ve rolled in something disgusting, and you know, oh my God, I have to go out for dinner in half an hour and I don’t have time to clean you. My stress level goes through the roof and Tom’s like, “They’re being their doggy self.” And I’m like, yeah it’s not personal. We bathe the dog and we’re ten minutes late and we’re good, right?

So it’s not personal applies, like when that group of women, often, sadly, are standing at the side of the ring watching your run and you think, oh my God, they’re watching me, they’re judging me, the pressure is great, and then you leave the ring and you think, wait a minute, I was the first, second, or third dog in the ring, and they were actually just watching to see how the judge works, or where the judge stands, or what pattern the judge is looking for, whatever, right? So it’s often, even though we take it very personally it’s not personal there. Even when somebody is making a comment to you, right? They’re saying, “Oh, well, if it had been me I would have done it this way.” So what if they would have done it that way? It’s about them, that’s not about you. It’s not personal.

So I think it’s not personal is a really big one that has worked for me to really try to remember both in my dog sports and my just surviving life piece, right? Whatever the issue is it’s much more often about the person who is doing the whatever that’s causing you stress or distress, and it’s often just the dogs being their doggy self. So that’s the first piece of advice I think to get into.

Then the other one came a long, long time ago, and this is sort of for handlers to remember with their dog, and that’s just to stop nagging. I guess that actually could be seen as a life skill too. I work pretty hard not to nag my husband too, but the sort of persistent drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, it can be really irritating, right? Like, if you’re getting nagged it’s irritating, and if you’re nagging your dog it’s irritating too. You’re much better off to break off if things aren’t going right, break off and do something, and have fun with it, and then come back to it, right? Rather than nag, nag, nag, nag, nagging.

If I have a dog that I’m trying to get to sit perfectly on its flat form, and you have a dog that you’re trying to get to sit perfectly on its platform, and I drill, drill, drill, drill, drill that skill for my dog, and you try it three times and say, oh, you know what? You need a break, you need to let off some of that stream, I’m going to go play with you for a minute and come back to it. My guess is a whole lot of the time you’re going to end up with a much nicer sit that’s much more solid in more situations than I will for nagging. Right? 

And that came to me from my horse sport stuff early on in life where I was riding a rotten little pony and I had a crop, somebody hands me a crop and I was doing the thwack, thwack, thwack on the shoulder but never hurt enough to make a difference, and like, my coach, Martha Griggs, said to me, “Andrea, if you’re going to use that crop take it and use it once and be done with it. Stop nagging that poor pony.” And I thought, oh, but I don’t want to hit the pony, right? Who wanted to hit a pony? Even back then I was sort of like, there’s got to be a nice way to do it. But I realized that if I could figure out a way to be clear and consistent with my message and stop the drip, drip, drip, drip, dripping nagging of it it was going to work much better, and the pony and I went on to do pretty well in the show we were headed for. So you know, that worked in that moment and that in itself of course became reinforcement.  

So it’s something I really look for in my face time students, right? Are you nagging the dog? Because if you’re nagging the dog if I can help you stop nagging the dog you’re going to end up with much more success. Yeah. So I’m grateful to the horse instructor for pointing that out so many years ago.

Melissa Breau: I mean, sometimes it’s really interesting the lessons that carry over from other sports and other things in our lives into the dog world, and how much carryover they really have.

Andrea Harrison: Well, it’s absolutely right. One of the things that people always say, how do you know…what made you come up with the fact that getting a good night’s sleep before a show is important? And I’m like, because in my work as an educator and as a counselor I’ve discovered that if I’m doing a session with somebody and they had a good night’s sleep the night before we’re going to get a lot farther than if they’ve had an awful night’s sleep. Doing sort of a counseling session, if I’m talking to someone and they’ve had a terrible night’s sleep I’ll be like, you know what? Today is not a good day to dig into the heavy stuff. Let’s find something light and fluffy to deal with because we’re not going to get nearly as far, right? Here, let’s talk about how to sleep better, you go home and sleep better, and next week make sure you do those strategies, and then we can get into the heavy stuff.

So yeah, absolutely. What you learn in one place has tons and tons of crossover. And again, I think we forget that, right? We get so hung up on there’s got to be the perfect way to do it that we forget to pull these different skill sets that we have from different places. In the All in Your Head course somebody in the first or second session said to me, “Oh my God, I did this at work, the Meyer Briggs temperament inventory.” He said, “I did this at work. It never occurred to me to think about how what I know about myself at work might influence myself as a dog trainer. It really does make a difference.” I was like, yeah, of course it does. But so many people, we compartmentalize, right? It’s part of being human, we keep things in their little compartments and we forget to open the door between them.

Melissa Breau: So for our last important question, so someone else in the dog world that you look up to, who would you recommend?

Andrea Harrison: There are so many ways to answer this question. I mean, I’ve said it before in this already, the FDSA instructors are just amazing people and so many of the people, like I can throw out a ton of big name agility trainers, American, Canadian, European, but I think if I was going to say who I look up to regularly, and this sounds kind of, I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for so I’ll just say it, it has to be the people who struggle with their dog, right? They’re the inspiration for me. They’ve got this dog that maybe isn’t the perfect match for them, they’re in a sport that isn’t maybe the perfect match for them, and they persist. They want to figure it out, right? And that might mean changing dog sports, that might mean retiring a dog, that might mean taking a long break. There’s so many different things it can mean, but they’re the people that I really look up to because…and lots of the instructors, right, have had their own challenges too. The very fact that they come back to it, right, the resilience of the human, right?

So I guess I would have to say that it’s the resilience that really makes me feel inspired to keep going, right? That if I were looking for a reason to get up in the morning and to log on to see what’s going on with my students, the people who are working with the deaf dog or the blind dog or the dog that, as somebody said, I would divorce if I could, but I can’t divorce him because he’s living with me now so I’m going to figure out how to do that, you know? It’s all those people that really create this inspiration, and I’m sure you would have loved it if I’d grabbed one name, but really when I thought about the question that’s really what gives me my get up and go, is those people.

Melissa Breau: Hey, I’ll take it. It’s a different answer so it works for me. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Andrea. It was so much fun to chat.

Andrea Harrison: Well, such a pleasure, honestly. Just delightful. You do a great job with it.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you. Thanks. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amanda Nelson to talk agility, including tailoring your handling style to your specific 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.

And one extra request this week, guys. If you could leave a review on iTunes or mention the podcast to a training buddy we would greatly appreciate it.

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!

Jun 9, 2017

 SHOW NOTES: 

Summary:

Dr. Deborah Jones is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. 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 has 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.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/16/2017, featuring Andrea Harrison. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dogs 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 will be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones, better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.

Deb is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. 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 has 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. Oh, and she’s working on a cat class, too.

Hi, Deb. Welcome to the podcast.

Deb Jones: Hi, Melissa. Thank you, very much, for having me.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today.

Deb Jones: Oh, so am I.

Melissa Breau: So, usually to get started I ask people to tell us a little bit about their dogs and what they are working on with them, but since I know you also have the cat class coming up, do you want to just walk us through your full furry crew and what you’re working on with all of them? 

Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. I have quite a crew right now. I have three Border Collies and three Shelties that I’m working with, along with the cat, Tricky, who is going to be the star of the cat class -- because he insists. Every time I train dogs he’s there, so I figured if he’s going to show up regularly he might as well earn his keep and be part of a class at FDSA.

I have my three Border Collies that I work with the majority of the time now. Many people know Zen, who is almost 10 years old, which seems impossible. He is my demo dog for everything. Always willing to work. He’s done Agility, Obedience, and Rally, and titled in all of those and, these days, he’s pretty much semi-retired. He gets to do almost whatever he wants except what he wants to do is play ball 24 / 7, so we don’t do that, but other than that he gets to do whatever he wants. 

Star is my next oldest dog, a Border Collie, who is, I say constantly, the smartest dog I ever met. She’s scary smart and Star is also great demo dog. Also showed her as well. And my youngest boy now, who is actually Zen’s nephew, Helo is going to be three. A lot of people have seen him in class videos. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been working for FDSA in some form or the other.

And the latest, youngest Sheltie is Tigger, who is a tiny little seven pound thing and he is just so full of himself and full of life, and he’s a lot of fun, so he is also in quite a few of the class videos and he enjoys every second of it, and then the other two Shelties are a little bit older, so they have what we call old dog immunity, which means, again, you get to do whatever you want and they enjoy that.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Deb Jones: So it’s a busy household.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine -- but I’ve seen some of those videos you share of Tigger. He’s so cute.

Deb Jones: Oh. He’s a little firecracker. To have such a tiny little dog…he’s way below size for what Shelties usually are and this was just by chance. It was just a fluke that he was this small, but oh is he full of it, so he makes us laugh every day. That’s the thing we say about Tigger is he makes us laugh constantly, so there’s a lot of value in that. 

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask about how you originally got into dog sports -- I know that you’ve done a lot of different sports and with a lot of different dogs, so what got you started? 

Deb Jones: Yeah. I have. I’ve had a lot of different dogs over the years. Settled on herding dogs now, but I actually started out with a Labrador Retriever, black lab named Katie, and I was in graduate school and I’d been in about two years and just had to have a dog. I’d always had dogs just as pets, and never done a lot with them, but I really felt the need to have some sort of companionship in graduate school that was not stressful, so I got Katie, who was a rescue…from a rescue. She was about 18 months old and we did training classes. Took her to local training classes. 

And this was in 1992, so at that time all there was, was obedience. If you wanted to show a dog in anything you were going to show it in Obedience, so I went through a number of classes. I met a lot of people. I got to know quite a bit about obedience competition and the only…the problem was I was already trained in behavioral psychology and learning theory, and what I saw happening in classes did not match at all my expectation for how we should be training animals. It was still very, very heavy handed and traditional back in those days.

So I liked the idea of competition and performance but I didn’t like the way that people told me you had to train in order to get to it, so that sort of started this conflict in me about I want to do this but I don’t want to do it that way and made me work very hard to try to figure out 'how can I apply what I know from academics and get successful performance?' And so that was the start of it.

Melissa Breau: So how did you bridge that gap? What actually got you started on that positive journey and at what point did you get introduced to clicker training?

Deb Jones: Around the same time I got Katie I was introduced to the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, which was probably the very first book that many dog trainers ever saw that had anything to do with positive training. I’m a voracious reader so I read every dog training book out there and this was one of many, but this was the one that really, really spoke to me and said to me you can take what you know from science, you can apply it to training the animal that you’re working with now and you can be successful. Except the thing was nobody had actually done it. It was theory. It wasn’t yet application.

And so that set me on the path of being able to do this training the way I want to do it and having an enthusiastic and very willing animal partner rather than one who was basically forced to do it because there would be unpleasant consequences if they didn’t, so I really would credit the book with getting me started on that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is that also how you were introduced to clicker training and shaping and all that good stuff?

Deb Jones: Yeah. It all came around about the same time. There was actually…the first internet email group that I was ever on, which was called Click-L. This is really ancient. This was also back in about 1993 or so. When we first got internet at home, which was a big deal at the time, but ClickL was a group of like-minded people and we were all just simply trying to figure out how do we do this? How do we apply this?

And Karen Pryor was on the list along with a number of other people who are still training today and we were all just kind of talking and throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we could use this kind of technique, a clicker training technique, to get the…all different sorts of behaviors, so it was a time when nobody was really an expert because nobody had done it yet, but that’s really what I wanted to work toward was to make it work in our day to day training.

Melissa Breau: I bet back then you never would have thought you’d be teaching online in today’s day in age.

Deb Jones: Absolutely not. No. I remember my great excitement the first time my modem actually hooked up at home because for the longest time we only had access at school, when I was in graduate school, for the first couple of years, so no, I could never have foreseen that one day I would be involved in these online classes. That just would not have ever crossed my map.

Melissa Breau: So one of my favorite lines to come out of the podcast so far Sue made this whole analogy during her interview about training without focus being almost like sending a kid to school without clothes on, right? Like you would never imagine…

Deb Jones: I love that.

Melissa Breau: ...sending a kid to school… 

Deb Jones: No. Yeah.

Melissa Breau: …without his clothes on. Like why would you train a dog if you don’t already have their focus? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that concept. Focus seems likes a place where people just tend to struggle and I was kind of curious to get your take on why you think that is?

Deb Jones: Oh, so many reasons. Yeah. Sue always has the best descriptions of things and I think that one is perfect. The problem with focus though is that it’s invisible to a large extent. Oftentimes people have the illusion that they have focus because they have cookies and they have toys and they’re in a training mode. Then they try to go into performance and all of a sudden it becomes very clear it was only an illusion. You did not have actual offered focus from your dog. You thought you did but you didn’t, so that’s about the time people contact me. They’re like I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going so well and then they’re really surprised.

Sometimes people equate focus with eye contact and what we say is that’s only part of it because you can be focused but not looking at each other. Looking at each other is not always focus. It’s easy to look at somebody and to be a thousand miles away in your mind and dogs do it the same way that people do it, so it’s more than eye contact, which can be a trained behavior.

There has to be this desire to want to do whatever the activity is or the task is. And if that desire isn’t there, there’s not going to be any focus. You’re always going to be looking around for something else that’s more interesting, and I think people just don’t realize any of this. You’re training your dog. You’re teaching behaviors and skills but you’re not teaching it with focus and it falls apart very quickly when it’s put to the test.

Melissa Breau: It’s very hard to...I mean even as a person, right? If you’re focused on one task there’s a big difference between being focused on the task and having eight million tabs open on your browser and you’re jumping back and forth between Facebook and the thing you’re writing and something else and it… 

Deb Jones: Yeah. There is and it takes a while. It’s not something we can expect to have immediately. Every once in a while, and it’s very rare, you get a dog that just is naturally focused but it’s really rare. I’ve only known one dog who, I would say, was really, truly always just focused from the get go. That’s not the norm, so we all have to work at it to get our dogs to that place and people then don’t know. Okay, they want focus but then they have no idea. What do you do? How do I get focus? And that’s really the tricky part of it because there’s a lot of things you do. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.

Melissa Breau: So how do you approach it in the class?

Deb Jones: We have two classes that address focus and the first…I always hope people take them in order. The first class is Get Focused, which is what I always recommend people take first and then a follow-up to that is called Focus Games and we always try to offer Get Focused in one term and then Focus Games in the next so people can follow through with it.

What I try to do is isolate focus from…take it out of the context of anything else and distill it down to this mutual desire to interact with each other, so convincing the dog that what we’re doing is what he wants to do, which sounds hard and it is hard. Sometimes it is very difficult. It’s not easy. We have a number of very specific exercises to work on letting our dogs know that focus pays off and if you focus on me I’ll pay you for it and we try to get people quickly to move from food to toys and back and forth and into personal play as well so that you get paid in some way for focusing. There’s a reinforcer for focusing.

Then we start adding work to focus but what we do is typically the opposite of what everybody else does. We have to have focus first before we ask for work or play even. If the dog isn’t focused we do not go on. We never train an unfocused dog and I say this…this is like a million times. I say this over and over again. If my dog’s not focused I need to stop and this is really, really hard for people to do because they have a plan in their head for something that they wanted to train, but training an unfocused dog is just a waste of time if you truly want to develop this. Work and training always has to be combined with focus.

So we go through a series of exercises designed to improve focus and also to teach people what to do when it’s gone. What do you do? What’s the protocol for when the focus is lost? Because lots of times then people are just kind of stuck. They don’t know what to do so they take responsibility for focus and try to make it happen rather than allowing the dog to offer it.

Melissa Breau: That whole being more exciting than a clown on crack line from Denise, right? Like that idea of just trying to be more and more exciting and your dog just continues to ignore you.

Deb Jones: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Deb Jones: Yeah. That ends up being kind of a death spiral. Things never go well if I have…if I have to add more and more energy to the interaction then there is a problem. I’m giving everything. My dog’s not doing anything. We need to go back to getting the dog to want to focus and work with us and so we continually go back to that and we don’t try to overwhelm the dog with fun and excitement because that’s a dead end. You won’t get very far with that. The problem is it often will temporarily work but it won’t work over the long term. It won’t hold up.

We work on all of this in the Get Focused class. When we move onto the Focus Games class, that’s a lot more about finding the flow and the rhythm to working together and extending it out and adding things like movement and taking food off our bodies and still getting focus, so we add all those kinds of things in there, so it’s a good 12 weeks worth of focused focus on focus.  

Melissa Breau: Right, so both the Focused class and your current class, the Performance Fundamentals class, seem to fall into that foundations category, right? So I wanted to ask you what you thought it was so…what is it about building a good foundation that is so critical when it comes to dog sports? 

Deb Jones: Foundation really is everything. I truly believe that. If you do your foundations well you won’t run into problems later on or…I won’t say you won’t. You won’t run into as many problems later on or if you do run into problems you will have a way to fix them because the problem is in the foundation. Ninety-nine percent of the time something wasn’t taught to fluency or you left something out somewhere. You’ve got a gap or a hole, so going back to foundation and making it strong is always the answer. It’s never a wrong thing to do.

So I really like being able to try to get in that really strong basis for everything else you want. I don’t care what sport people are going into or even if they’re not going into sport at all. If they just like training and they want to train their dog this…a good foundation prepares you for any direction in the future because oftentimes we change direction. You have a dog you think you’re going to be doing obedience with but if you focus in the beginning too much on obedience behaviors it may end up that dog just isn’t right for that, and so you have kind of these gaps for.. "oh well, let’s see if I want to switch to agility. Now I need to train a new set of behaviors." We don’t want that to happen so we’ve got the foundation for pretty much everything.

Melissa Breau: Talk a little bit more about the Fundamentals Class specifically. Do you mind just giving some details around what you cover in that class and how you work to set up that foundation within the class syllabus? Within the class…within, I guess, what you teach there?

Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. Sure. We approach performance fundamentals very differently than many other people do or the way that people think they should approach dog training. I’m considering typically as a class that you either start with a puppy or you’ve gone through a puppy class and now you’re ready to move onto the next thing, so that’s where we would come in. I also think that it’s a really good class for people who haven’t done a lot of positive reinforcement training and they don’t quite understand how to get started with it and what to do.

I think it’s also a good place for that, but the thing is rather than focusing on skills and behaviors…I don’t care at all in a class if the dog learns to sit or lie down or do whatever it is on cue. In fact, lots of times they won’t and they don’t need to. What they need to do in Performance Fundamentals or what I want them to be able to do is to build the foundation for a good working relationship so that, again, the dog is ready. The dog’s willing. The dog really wants to do what you’re doing.

We work hard on balancing things like getting dogs to play as well as food motivation and going back and forth with those quite a bit and my goal is always to make it seem like the dog doesn’t know if you’re playing or training. If they don’t believe there’s any difference, that’s perfect. That’s perfect training, so we do a lot of the foundation things like targeting behavior, so you might have the dog targeting to your hand. You might have the dog targeting with their nose to other objects. Have the dog targeting with their front feet or with their back feet, so we would explore okay there’s all these different things we can do with targeting behavior and those are all going to come in handy for you on down the line.

We’ll look at and play around with shaping because shaping is one of my favorite techniques and it’s also one that’s really hard for people. It takes a lot of practice and you make a lot of mistakes. There’s just no way around it. It’s experimenting, so we play around with shaping and I always like to shape tricks and things that people don’t care about a whole lot so if you mess it up nobody cares. It’s no big deal, you know? You don’t want to start being like.. on your competition retrieve, you don’t want that to be the first time you shape. Because that matters to people, and so we try to get them to do the easier things first. 

In that class we’re also just looking at can you effectively use…once we’ve taught targeting, can you use luring? Can you use shaping? You can teach any behavior any number of ways and so we look a bit more at the techniques that underlie that and there’s…people can make decisions about what they want to train and how they want to go about approaching it and we help them with that once they make some informed decisions. 

Melissa Breau: For sure. I thought, writing the questions for this talk, I felt like there were eight million things I wanted to ask about and jumping back and forth between focus and then the Performance Fundamentals class and I’ve taken the Cooperative Canine Care Class  and loved it, so I wanted to at least briefly kind of touch on the other subjects. We’ll definitely have to have you back to talk more in depth about them, but can you tell us a little bit about the Cooperative Canine Care Class and a little bit about the new cat class you’re working on? And give people… 

Deb Jones: Oh.

Melissa Breau: …a sneak peek?

Deb Jones: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Cooperative Care has turned out to be one of my favorites. Which I think we’ve only been teaching it for a couple of years and I was…I became interested in this whole idea of husbandry work and working on grooming and veterinary procedures with animals after I had gone to a week-long training seminar at Shedd Aquarium a few years ago and the majority of the training they do is cooperative care type training.

They train every day for things that their animals may or may not ever need but if they need them then it’s there, so training their dolphins, for example, to flip upside down and hold still so they can take blood out of the vein by their tail and that’s something they work on everyday even though it happens very rarely, and that got me thinking a lot about what we do with dogs because mostly what we do with dogs is we wrestle with them and usually because we’re a little bit stronger and because they’re nice they don’t bite us, but in reality we do some pretty unpleasant things to them and we don’t prepare them for it. We just do it, okay.

So I wanted to really explore with dogs what can we do to make this more pleasant, more fun for everybody involved? Because it’s no fun for the people either. It’s just a stressful thing all the way around when you have to do something to an animal that it’s afraid of and doesn’t want you to do, so that was the idea for it and we’ve had a lot of fun with it because if you make it all into games and tricks and trained behaviors it really tends to be amazing what they will cooperate with and what they will allow you to do and I’ve used my own dogs as guinea pigs, of course, for everything on this and really been amazed at how much better it is for them than it was in the past.

One of my dogs, Star, had developed a terrible fear of the vet. I was out of town and she ended up having to be spayed and it was unpleasant and just terrible things happened to her at that point. To the point that I was worried she would bite somebody at the vet, and now she goes in. She’s pleased with herself. She jumps up on the table. She wants to do her chin rest and take her squeeze cheese and it just made her…it just made everything so much better for her and that made me so happy and that’s what I hear from students all the time. It’s these little things, you know? That my dog went to the vet and jumped on the scale by themselves or they held still while the vet gave them a shot and didn’t even act like they noticed and that’s what I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things that make that class worthwhile.

Melissa Breau: And I know, for example, I have a German Shepherd with some pressure issues and just the working through the class and working through being able to touch them in different ways that just helped her so much in terms of wanting to cuddle and be a little bit closer to me at different times. It just had so much of a positive impact in the relationship over all. I can’t recommend the class highly enough. 

Deb Jones: Oh. I’m really happy to hear that. I just love hearing things like that because I think when we give our animals a choice…everybody’s afraid to give them a choice because they’re afraid they’re going to say no. We’re afraid they’re going to say no I don’t want you to touch me. No, I don’t want this to happen, but if we approach it in a very incremental, systematic way and make it highly reinforcing they’re much more likely to start saying yes and the whole idea that they have a choice, I think, makes them brave. It makes them confident and it increases our bond with them because we no longer have to wrestle them to the ground to try to do something with them, so they trust us more.

Melissa Breau: Right. Do you want to share a little bit about the cat class?

Deb Jones: The cat class. Yeah. I was just thinking about that. I’m still working on the cat class, which I honestly…honestly when I said it, it was a joke. I didn’t necessarily actually ever intend,…when I first brought it up, I was like you know oh I’m so busy so here I am thinking about teaching a class to train cats and I thought that was funny, but people started jumping in and what I realized from that is every video I get from a student that has a cat the cat is there. Like I said earlier. The cat’s in it. The cat’s interested so what the heck?

And people really do not believe that cats can be trained. They think cats are totally different than any other creature on the planet and you can train everything else but not a cat, so…and working with my own cat, Tricky, who’s about six years old now, I think. I’ve worked quite a bit with Tricky over the years. He likes to train and he trains differently than a dog but in some ways, he’s faster. In some ways a little bit…it’s a little bit more challenging than I expected, so it’s an exploration. It’s an experiment but I’m looking at…started looking at what could we do with a class like this? How could I set it up?  

So it’s going to be a little bit different than some of my other classes because first we have to convince the cats that they want to work with us and I think that’s a little…that’s even more than it takes with a dog because our dogs we tend to be a little more social with anyway and cats sometimes we allow them to be very independent and we assume that’s what they’re supposed to be, so convincing them now that they want to do something with us and that it’s going to pay off. I think that’s going to be a big step, but other than that 90 percent of what I’m looking at it’s the same way you train any animal.

We use lots of positive reinforcement. We break things down into small bits and we work our way up, so I don’t know that it will be that vastly different. It’s not like there’s one way to train cats and then another way to train every other animal in the world. It’s that we train the same way but we have to remember that they are cats and that there are some things that we’ll have to keep in mind that make them different than dogs, so it’s an interesting challenge and I’m really excited about it now, so I’m spending the summer training my cat.

Melissa Breau: I can’t wait to see some of the videos from that. It sounds like it will be entertaining and really useful. I mean, it’s always…I feel like anytime we learn more about training a different species than dogs it only improves your overall ability to train.

Deb Jones: Oh. Definitely. I think I’ve learned more from other species by far than I have from training dogs. They’re always more challenging. You have more to learn about them. Approach them differently, so yeah. I love training other species. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Melissa Breau: We’re getting towards the end of the podcast so we’re at those last three questions that I ask every episode. So what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a tough question. First I…because you’d think okay I’d want to talk about titles or something but not really. What I think I’m most proud of just overall with all of my dogs is that they all want to work with me. If they have a choice between me and anything else in the world they’ll choose me and there’s a lot of effort, on my part in terms of training, that went into that but I’m very proud of the fact that my dogs freely make that decision and I don’t ever have to coerce them to make that, so I’d say that has to be my overall answer.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s an accomplishment almost everybody listening to this would love to have, so I definitely think that’s a good answer. What is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a hard one, too. These are hard questions, Melissa. I’ve heard lots of good and bad training advice over the years but most recently what’s sticking in my mind comes from Denise, actually, which is train the dog in front of you. Train the dog you have right now not the dog you want or the dog that you think you ought to have, but train the one that’s standing there and that is harder than it seems to be, but I think that’s a very good piece of advice. They’re all different and we need to work with each one as a unique individual.

Melissa Breau: And even as a unique individual I mean the dog you have today is not the dog you have next week and it’s so hard to see that sometimes.

Deb Jones: Oh, it is. It’s really hard because we just have built up in our minds this image of what this dog’s like and even if the dog changes our image doesn’t always change, so I think that’s a really good point and I sometimes…I’m so bad I forget which dog knows which behavior. So I’ll tell Helo to do something that Zen knows how to do and then I’ll look at him like oh I never taught you that, so I need to focus a little more on the dog that’s in front of me at the moment. 

Melissa Breau: That’s funny. And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Deb Jones: Oh. Quit asking me hard questions. Well, I have to say as a group really, truly every instructor at FDSA is just amazing and they really inspire me. I feel challenged to always do better because of the people I’m working with. Because the instructors are all so awesome and I don’t want to be the weak link so I always feel like I have to do more and work harder because of them, which is a really good thing.

If we move out of that realm a little bit someone that I do truly admire would be Ken Ramirez. I worked with him at Shedd. Got to know him and work with him at Shedd Aquarium when I was there and have seen him several times since then and I like his approach and I like the fact that he’s worked with so many different species and that he still maintains the science of it but at the same time it’s not clinical. It’s also humanized in a way. I don’t know if that even makes any sense.

Melissa Breau: Very practical. It’s applicable.

Deb Jones: Yes. Very, very applicable to a huge variety of situations, so I admire that.

Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much for coming on the podcast, Deb. It was really great to chat.

Deb Jones: Oh. Thank you for asking me.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. No. I was thrilled that you could make some time and that we could fit this in and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. This time with Andrea Harrison to talk about the human half of the competitive 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!

Jun 2, 2017

 

SHOW NOTES: 

Summary:

Mariah Hinds’ love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.

She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays and greetings while using positive training methodologies.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/9/2017, featuring Deb Jones. 

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 I’ll be talking to Mariah Hinds.

Mariah’s love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters, and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.

She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays, and greetings while using positive training methodologies.

Hi Mariah. Welcome to the podcast.

Mariah Hinds: Hi Melissa, it’s great to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to get to talk to you for the podcast today. I think we’ve been talking about this for a long time so it’s good to finally get you on.

Mariah Hinds: Yes, absolutely.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to get started with the same question that I ask pretty much everybody to start out, but I think you’re the first person I’ve actually had on who I’ve actually met all of your dogs. Still, since the listeners haven’t, can you share who they are and what you’re working on with them.

Mariah Hinds: Sure, yes. I have three dogs. Jada is my oldest. She’s a Doberman. She’ll be 11 years old next month. She’s my Novice A dog and she has her Utility title. She occasionally makes appearances in my training videos. And my middle dog is Clever who I call Liv and she’s four years old. She’s a Border Collie and she’s my first positive-only trained dog. She has her CDX and will be entering utility this fall and I hope to get an OTCH with her. I really think that she can do it. And my puppy is Talent who I call Tally. She’s eight months old and we’re just getting started. We’ve done some shaping and some obedience and agility foundations, but really the focus has been on house manners and socialization and focus and just enjoying each other’s company.

Melissa Breau: Well as I mentioned in the bio at the very beginning, you pretty much always knew you wanted to be a dog trainer... so I wanted to ask how you got started and about that "always a positive trainer" question.

Mariah Hinds: So I’m…I was not always been a positive trainer. Jada actually is my crossover dog. I started off, as most people do, assuming that dogs really just play dumb and choose to ignore us and that some coercion is really required for training. But the more that I worked with dogs, the more I realize that they’re really trying their best to interpret our world and I was what I would call a balanced trainer until I took the Susan Garrett Recallers course and saw dogs of all breeds coming when called in really challenging situations, and that really started my journey, and I spent the next two years watching every competition dog training video, every generic dog training video, and attending as many online classes and seminars as I could.

And all the while I was training pet dogs for 30 hours a week doing private training sessions and so I was able to try new things with those dogs as well, and I decided to commit to raising my middle dog with only positive training methods and watching her thrive and learn and become so precise using only those methods, and incrementally setting her up to succeed, really cemented my commitment to positive training methods.

Melissa Breau: Like you talked a little bit there about kind of how you crossed over and training pet dogs, so what got you into competition obedience?

Mariah Hinds: Well so my first experience with competition obedience was I worked at PetSmart, that was my first job, and I had this dog and we took this…I took this class from a PetSmart trainer named Barb and she competed in obedience with her dog and invited me to go watch a competition obedience class and immediately I was hooked and the dogs were all heeling and paying attention to their handlers, even when they got close to other dogs and it just really looked like a lot of fun. So when I got Jada I knew that I wanted to do competition obedience and when she was four years old I finally found a place to train regularly and she was entered in novice that year and she got her UD when she was four and she really taught me a lot and I’m really proud of her.

Melissa Breau: Was getting a Doberman partly inspired by the obedience? I’m always curious because now you have Border Collies, so what led you to start out with a Doberman?

Mariah Hinds: So it’s kind of interesting. So at the time, before I got my Doberman, I had a Standard Poodle that I was fostering and I kept getting these comments from my pet people saying, "Oh well, you know it’s a fluffy dog, you know and you can’t train a fluffy dog the same way as you train one of those hardcore breeds." And so I was like, okay, well I’ll go get a Doberman because they’re really pretty and I like them and so that’s how I ended up getting a Doberman.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that the Border Collies are very different to train.

Mariah Hinds: They are different, you know, and I never would have gotten them as my first dogs, but really I love Border Collies. I think that they’re a lot of fun and they’re much easier to live with, or mine are, than most people think that they are.

Melissa Breau: Interesting, and we were talking about that a little bit this weekend, just even the difference between the two that you have now, right?

Mariah Hinds: Yeah, they’re definitely different, but they have a lot of similarities as well, and part of that is just how I raised them. Clover was my first Border Collie and so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have the same issue with Jada, like the checking out, so really did a lot of focus on building drive and with my young dog, I’m like, I know that it will come and yes we’ve done a little bit of drive building, but most of it has been, "all right I’m going to get you excited and then we’re going to practice calming down afterwards," and so she was much better at that than my four year old dog.

Melissa Breau: Most of your classes at FDSA kind of revolve around self-control on the part of the dog, like in one format or another, right? So just glancing over some of your upcoming classes, you have Proof Positive this session, a stay class in August, impulse control and a greeting class in October. What is it really about that topic that’s kind of drawn you to teach it and that fascinates you so much?

Mariah Hinds: Well, really it's that I think that reliability is greatly affected by self-control and not knowing how to teach impulse control and self-control positively to dogs initially is what held me back from crossing over just to being a positive trainer, especially early in my career as a pet trainer, and so when I realized that I had this gap in my understanding, I really pursued learning about it as much as I could. I also feel like reliability or the lack of it is really frustrating to most of us and we can greatly impact our relationships with our dogs by working on impulse control and building reliability and I really enjoy seeing people understand their dogs. We see their dog’s point of view and ultimately have a better relationship with their dog.

Melissa Breau: And I want to focus in on proofing for a moment there, so I wanted to ask how you define proofing and kind of how you approach it.

Mariah Hinds: Well so I think that the traditional definition of proofing is to set the dog up to be wrong and tell the dog that he or she is wrong and hope that the dog can bounce back from corrections time and time again, and what we’re going to do in proofing is set the dog up to succeed time and time again with tiny little increases in the difficulty level, and so what I find is that that really builds confidence by showing the dog that they are indeed correct and they have earned a reward for their effort. And so that’s really the big thing of building their confidence and helping them understand that it’s the same behavior even if it’s slightly more challenging with a distraction.

Melissa Breau: And I’ve heard a rumor about, something about costumes in this class. Is that right?

Mariah Hinds: Yes. One of the games we’re going to be playing is about having handler dress up and making sure that the dogs can do the behavior even with the handler dressed up or with a helper dressed up and I find that a lot of times that really impacts the dog because our body language is different, so really helping to again build that reliability. So the other thing that we’re going to go over in Proof Positive is we’re going to over covering maintaining criteria, and often times I find that we build these really beautiful behaviors that are really crisp and clean and fast, and when we add distractions then our criteria drifts and we lose some of that beautiful criteria. So we’re going to go over how to maintain that while we’re adding more levels of difficulty.

Melissa Breau: I definitely think that’s something a lot of people struggle with, just like figuring out how to do that and keep that really pretty behavior that they can get in their living room, when they’re out in the real world, and then eventually in a show ring.

Mariah Hinds: Yeah, it’s definitely…it can be done, it can be done.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to make sure students got something, or listeners got something that they could kind of take away and act on as part of this, so I wanted to ask you if there’s a common piece of proofing or if there’s something else that jumps out to you, that’s fine too, where you feel that students like usually struggle, and if so, kind of how you recommend working through it.

Mariah Hinds: Well I think that most people struggle with seeing the benefit of systematically helping their dog overcome distractions, which is my definition of proofing. I think that a lot of people see it as mean or unnecessary, and personally I think that if we’re going to enter a dog in a trial at some point, then they’re going to need to be able to do the behaviors with distractions and that systematically helping the dog become reliable with distractions is a really kind thing to do to help them prepare for that environment.

I think that the second most common struggle with proofing is really over-facing our dogs. We pick the distraction that’s too challenging for the dog and the dog struggles to make the desired choice and then we get upset or disappointed in the dog, even if it’s just a tiny bit, and then we’re building stress into our behaviors and that’s not the goal. So when a dog struggles with a distraction, then really distance is our friend, you know. We can always go further away from the distraction and then the dog is like, oh okay, I can do it now.

Alternatively, we can dissect the distraction into its simplest parts and build back up from there, once the dog is successful with the individual components. So for example, if a dog struggles with a judge in the ring, then we want to work just on judge being far away and not work on it being a new location and having sounds and having food on the table and all those other things. And the bottom line is that we really want to build confidence with proofing, and not add stress.

Melissa Breau: So do you want to talk just for a minute about how you can kind of tell when the dog is over faced versus kind of working through something or trying to make a choice? Like how do you walk that line? Can you just talk to that for a minute?

Mariah Hinds: So a big part of that is body language. The other thing that I really make sure that I practice with my own dogs is that the 50, 60, 80 rule, and that rule to me is if they’re 80 percent reliable and you’ve done it about five times, then we can make it slightly more challenging. If they’re between 60 and 80 percent reliable and you’ve practiced it five times, then really we’re doing okay. We can keep practicing at that level and the dog will figure it out. We might want to help them a tiny bit if they’re leaning towards the 60 percent, and again, we still want to look at stress signals. If the dog is checking out or if they’re looking worried, then definitely we need to make it easier.

If they’re below 60 percent successful, then we most definitely need to make it easier, and if they’ve failed to make the desired choice twice in a row, then again, we definitely need to back up and help them understand because they’re not going to miraculously figure out that, oh I should be doing this behavior instead of that.

Melissa Breau: You mean they can’t actually read our minds?

Mariah Hinds: No, they can’t. If they could then they would do it already.

Melissa Breau: All right. So I wanted to kind of round out things the way I normally round up a conversation, which is asking about the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of.

Mariah Hinds: So last year when I was in Florida, we had this competition called DOCOF, and what it is it that every year all the obedience clubs in Florida put together teams and then all those teams compete against each other in this one day event. And so last year we were entered in open and Liv won First Place in open with a score of 199 and a half and so I was very proud of that. There were a hundred dogs in that class and she beat several dogs who were really expected to win who were taught with traditional methods, and those trainers had told me in the past that dogs who are only positively trained can’t win, but we did. So that was really exciting. So we tried for…

Melissa Breau: I was just going to say, you’ve had a lot of success with her, right? I mean you guys have done a lot of really cool things.

Mariah Hinds: We have done a lot of cool things. She’s one really fun dog, you know. Yeah, she’s a lot of fun and she loves to train, so we train a lot. And we trained for high in trial with my friend and we did a run off and we finished up in second place out of the 3 hundred dogs that were entered, and then in addition to our individual successes, our team was really supportive of each other and we celebrated each dog and handler’s big and little successes, and we didn’t let each other worry about the tiny baubles, so really overall it was a really great day.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. It sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe you have to start something like that here in NC.

Mariah Hinds: I know, it would be fun. I really…it’s one of the big things that I’m going to miss about Florida, not the heat, but I’ll miss that.

Melissa Breau: And what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Mariah Hinds: Well I think there is a ton of really great pieces of training advice that I’ve heard. My favorite piece of training advice is that training really should look like play. So my goal and my unedited training videos is that it really looks like play with just a tiny bit of training mixed in. But for me, the most impactful piece of training advice is that you don’t have to end training on a success, and when I embraced that, it was really pivotal for me with Jada and my journey to positive training methods.

Originally when a training session was going horribly, I would just keep going and build more and more frustration and anger with our repetitions instead of just calling it a day. And so once I was able to end a training session that wasn’t going well and go back to the training board, then our relationship really improved a lot. So I guess ultimately, it’s play a lot and don’t be afraid to give your dog a cookie and end the training session when it’s not going the right direction.

Melissa Breau: So I’m really curious there. You mentioned your unedited videos kind of look like a play session with a little bit of training mixed in. I mean your dogs are pretty drivey, just kind of knowing them and watching you work with them. What ratio are you actually talking about? Are you thinking like five minutes of play, two minutes of work, or like what do you…can you break that out for me a little more and just talk a little more about it?

Mariah Hinds: So I do a lot of focusing on tiny pieces of behavior. I know that a lot of people really work on sequences, but I don’t focus on that really with my dogs. I focus on just tiny pieces of behavior, like five steps of heeling with some proofing. Or five steps of doing left turns and right turns and then rewarding that and making sure that each tiny piece is really crisp and so that’s what I aim for in a training session, and so we do three minutes of work and they get kibble with that and then we do, after our three minutes, then we do a little bit of play and then we do it again. That’s kind of what it looks like. I don’t really do a lot of five minutes of training in one duration.

Melissa Breau: So for our final question, someone else in the dog world that you look up to.

Mariah Hinds: Well I really look up to Silvia Trkman. I love how she teaches heeling which is now how FDSA teaches heeling. I have no clue if that’s really related or not, but I think that she’s really an expert in shaping and she teaches her dogs some really fun tricks and the reliability that she gets with her dogs in really big events is awe inspiring and she does it all with positive training methods.

So I also really like learning from Bob Bailey. He has some really important things to share regarding training, such as matching law, reward placement, and rewarding more substantially for duration behaviors and I think that these things really impact precision and reliability. So I love taking things that I learned from him and thinking about how I can apply that to 10 different behaviors or scenarios.

Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Mariah, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

Mariah Hinds: Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was good to finally get to talk to you while the recording was running instead of just for fun.

So in case you missed it last week, for all our listeners out there, you’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly which is why you’re hearing this episode now, even though we just published the interview with Julie last week. And that means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Deb Jones to talk performance fundamentals, cooperative canine care, shaping and that all important topic, focus. If you haven’t already subscribed 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 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!

May 26, 2017

SHOW NOTES: 

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, and Agility 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 standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports 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.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/2/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds. 

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, and Agility 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 standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports 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.

Hi, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.

Julie Flanery: Hey, Melissa, thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: So excited to have you on. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dog or dogs you have now and what you’re working on?

Julie Flanery: Yeah. I’m actually down to one dog now. I’ve lost three dogs in the last couple of years, which has been a little bit hard, but all of them were about 15 years old so I’m down to just Kashi, and Kashi is my 6-year-old Tibetan Terrier. She is a great little worker, in spite of some severe food allergies she’s had since she was a puppy and that kind of limits our training with food rewards a little bit, so we’ve really had to work hard to come up with some ways that she really enjoys her training and make every reward count.

We do show, as you said, in Freestyle and Rally-FrEe, and we just showed our intermediate Heelwork routine last weekend and started work on putting together our new routine. It’s a kind of a Las Vegas show-style illusionist routine, I’m kind of excited about it and Kashi plays my disappearing assistant and we just moved into...

Melissa Breau: Sounds so fun.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, it is, it is. I have the ideas kind of swirling around in my brain, nothing complete yet, but that’s kind of where you start with freestyle is with an idea or some type of inspiration and you go from there. And then we also just moved into the Elite Division for Rally-FrEe after completing our Grand Championship last year. That was really exciting for me as well.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Julie Flanery: Yeah.

Melissa Breau:So I want to start kind of at the beginning. You know, I talked a lot about your history there and you’ve accomplished a lot, but how did you originally get into dog sports?

Julie Flanery: That was a long time ago. If I’m really honest I would say it was about 25 years ago when I took my 5-month-old Border Collie to a pet class. I was a new pet dog owner, and I watched one of the instructors do a demo of how many tricks his 5-month-old Border Collie could do in a minute and I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog. I mean I’m just a pet person here, but I saw that and I was so impressed and so intrigued at what training could do, that and having a great dog to start with got me really immersed into training, and my competitive nature kind of kicked in a little bit.

And I didn’t really start competing until probably a couple years in agility to start and then obedience, and both of those were rather short-lived due to my discovery of freestyle I’d say probably in the...oh, I don’t know, mid-90s at an APDT conference after seeing a freestyle demo and again I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog.

And unfortunately, there was no freestyle available in the Pacific Northwest, or much really anywhere in the country at that time. It was just a fairly new sport then and there wasn’t really the luxury of any online training back then, so if I wanted to do this I was going to have to learn this on my own, and because I didn’t really want to do it alone I dragged a few of my students along with me, and today we have one of the largest freestyle clubs in the country and those first few students are still competing, are active members in the club today.

So, that’s kind of how I got started competing in general, first with obedience and agility and then really became enamored with freestyle, but I competed off and on in a variety of dog sports, as you said, so I think I have a little bit of a competitive nature at heart.

Melissa Breau: Well, that’s awesome. It’s kind of cool that you managed to really...I guess you could almost start a movement in that area, right, like for the sport.

Julie Flanery: I don’t want to take that kind of credit, but I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it was not going to be something I could probably do alone. Freestyle’s not an easy sport to stick with and it really takes some perseverance to stay involved in it, and I just felt very passionate about it, and so anytime anybody would listen or anytime anybody wanted me to give a workshop on it I would go and I would oftentimes...early on with the club I would give free workshops just to get people interested and involved in it so that we could have a group that could put on competitions here.

Melissa Breau: Well, I wanted to make sure that I told you, you know, I watched some of the videos of you and I think most of them actually you’re working with Kashi on the FDSA website. Consistently she looks so happy to be working with you, and even the other dogs that you have in the videos, they all look so thrilled to be there and to be performing. So I really was curious what it is, or what you attribute it to in terms of how you train or the sport specifically that leads to that.

Julie Flanery: Oh, I love...I love that that is what you noticed. So to me there really isn’t much point in training unless you have a willing and happy partner, and in freestyle it’s a sport where emotion shows through and emotion is something that you want to convey, and for most of us we want our dogs to be happy out there working, and as I said earlier, it’s a very difficult sport and if you don’t have a dog that’s really enjoying it, it can be very, very difficult to progress in the sport.

For me really, the shift to really wanting a happy, joyful dog out there came about when I started using operant conditioning and shaping specifically with al clicker. I’d always used treats in my training. I primarily have always been a positive reinforcement trainer early on in obedience. I did learn how to use a choke chain and I was quite skilled at that, but I did train with rewards and mostly the reward training, but when I started using a clicker and shaping it became a much more reciprocal learning process where both the dog and the handler have a vested interest in listening to each other and that that outcome includes a sense of enjoyment and a desire to keep going, and I think for me having that experience of learning about shaping and clicker training and really  listening to the other dogs was very impactful for me and impactful about how I structured my sessions and what I wanted out of those sessions in terms of emotional fulfillment for both me and the dog and I think the most effective way to build that is through positive reinforcement training and really important is clear communication, with that communication being a two-way street.

For years training has always been about the dog listening to the handler and I think it’s just as important, even more so, that the handler learn to listen to the dog. So, I think just making sure you’re paying attention to how the dog is feeling and responding in a session makes a huge difference in the outcome of that session and whether there is mutual enjoyment in that session. So, I think it’s a combination of both the sport that I chose and the techniques and methods that I choose to apply in my training.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I mean I’d imagine in something that’s typically set to music where really part of it is a performance aspect, like in obedience precision is precision and it’s possible to a fairly precise performance, even if you’re not super positive in your training, and I imagine it’s much, much more difficult in a sport where the goal is really to have it look joyful and to have it look really pretty.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, it certainly can be, and that’s not to say that there aren’t freestylers that use or have used aversive techniques, and to be quite honest you can’t always tell, the dog’s being just as happy out there. But for me personally, I really enjoy the fact that I know that what I see in my training is what I see in the ring, and that’s all about that enjoyment of working together and bringing that joy to the audience as well because you’re right, freestyle is an audience participation sport, so to speak. It’s a sport that they’re not only for competition but for entertainment as well.

Melissa Breau: You kind of mentioned shaping and luring in there, but you wrapped up a class on Imitation and Mimicry and I have to say that’s like such a fascinating concept. If you could start by just kind of explaining what that is for the listeners in case they’re not aware of it, and just kind of sharing how you got into that, that would be great. 

Julie Flanery: Yeah. No, I’d love to. Imitation and Mimicry is a form of social learning or learning through observation, and we’ve long known it to be effective in human learning, but it wasn’t until probably the last 10 years or so that we’ve really seen any studies on its use in dog training. I first heard about it at a ClickerExpo, a talk that Ken Ramirez gave on concept training in dogs, and then further researched Dr. Claudia Fugazza’s study that she did, and in 2006 she created a protocol that showed that dogs can learn these new skills and behaviors by mimicking their owners and it’s her protocol that we use in class.

Also what’s fascinating is that Ken Ramirez has developed a protocol for a dog-dog imitation and mimicry, and some of the videos I’ve seen on that are just truly, truly amazing. So, things that we didn’t think were possible now we know are and we’re actually able to bring to more people now. The class was really quite inspirational for me because my experience of course had been limited with it in working with it with my own dog and then some of my live classes, my students there in my live classes, we work through it, and when Denise asked me to do a class on it I was really excited, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I have to say my students in that class are just amazing. They have really shown me what this protocol can do and how truly capable our dogs are of learning some of these concepts, so it’s been a really exciting class for me. And matter of fact, I’m going to go ahead and put it back on...I think it is already...Terry’s added it to the schedule for August, and so I’m really excited about doing it all over again.

Melissa Breau: It’s so cool to watch.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. I think you’ve seen some of the videos that were on the alumni page, and they’ve really drawn a really great response, so it is very exciting for me and I hope for the students too that are taking the class.

Melissa Breau: Other than just being an additional tool in the toolbox, and of course we all want as many of those as possible, right, what are some advantages to using that as a technique?

Julie Flanery: Well, first off, mimicry is not necessarily suited to all behavior training. It’s really best used for broad or more general behaviors, behaviors that require a high degree of accuracy or precision may be better learned through shaping or some other method or reward, however mimicry can be quite useful and at least one study has shown that behaviors learned through mimicry were learned as quickly as they were through shaping which really surprised me. I was quite surprised by that.

Some service dog work for example, retrieving items, turning on lights, opening drawers or cabinets, not only can the dog learn these skills very quickly through mimicry, but once the mimic cue is in place, even inexperienced handlers can teach the dog these behaviors with very little training themselves, so it allows inexperienced handlers to train these more complex behaviors much more quickly which I think is really quite cool.

It can also give the dog the big picture, so to speak. So in most training the dog has no idea of what the end result is, only we know what that looks like and the dog needs to muddle along, and he may not even know that when we reach the end result that is the end result. So, mimicry allows the dog to know what he’s working toward and may even help him to better able to guess steps toward that end result, so it could very easily shorten that training process, at least the big picture, at least the broad strokes of that behavior.

I think too it forces us to look at the dog’s perspective in how or what we are communicating. In mimicry the only information you’re giving the dog is your demonstration of the behavior. If your demonstration doesn’t make sense to the dog, he won’t possibly be able to perform it. It’s really no different than other forms of training. If we aren’t giving the dog the information he needs then it’s not that he’s unwilling to do the behavior, it’s that he’s unable, and unfortunately all too often errors are blamed on the dog rather than our inability to communicate, so to me this really gives us that perspective from the dog’s viewpoint. What am I communicating to the dog, and how can I make this more clear, and we learn that through our demonstrations in the mimic protocol and how we actually demonstrate these behaviors.

I think it’s been very fun to see some of the students realize, oh, wow, that demonstration couldn’t possibly make sense to my dog, how could he possibly do that? So, I think that’s a really interesting thing is that we gain a new perspective on the dog.

I’ve also had several students tell me their dogs are more attentive to them, they appear more relaxed in training. The process itself, the protocol itself, is very predictable and so it sets the dog up to succeed. For me though I think it really comes down to a connection. I think I have a pretty good relationship with my dog, but the emotion I felt...the first time she truly mimicked the behavior that I had demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever felt before. Not only did I feel a different kind of connection with her, but I think she felt a different connection with me as well, or at least I’d like to believe that was what I was seeing. So, it’s an amazing feeling that first time your dog mimics something that all you’ve done is demonstrated for them and then asked them to repeat it and like I said, for me it comes down to a different...maybe a deeper connection with my dog.

Melissa Breau: Do you remember what that first behavior was for you?

Julie Flanery: I do. It was a spin.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Julie Flanery: It was amazing. I taught her...went through the protocol of teaching her the mimic cue, and then I did my spin and I told her “do it” and she glanced at me for a second and she did it and I was like, oh, my God. It was really quite exciting for her. I get a little teary thinking of it right now. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it really is such an amazing feeling. It’s a different feeling than what I felt...I can’t say that.

You know it’s funny. The first time I used shaping and had my dog offer something that I did not command him to do because that’s the term we used then, “give your dog a command,” the first time my dog offered something just because I had clicked and rewarded it, that to me was almost the same kind of feeling, it showed me the power that that technique and method had and I felt that same way with the mimicry too. It really showed me the power this method could have.

Melissa Breau: I just think it’s so interesting, the different ways our dogs are really capable of learning if we take the time to teach them how. 

Julie Flanery: It is. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. It reminds me, Ken Ramirez once said in a lecture and it’s actually one of my favorite mantras, I keep it on my monitor. He says, “We limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible” and that is so true I think. It’s so important that we keep an open mind to some of these techniques and methods because we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s up to us to explore these techniques that can really bring out the best in our dogs and our relationships with our dogs.

Melissa Breau: Now this session you’re offering Rally-FrEe class, right?

Julie Flanery: Yes.

Melissa Breau: So, I want to make sure we talk a little bit about that too. In the class description you explain it as a combination of Rally and Freestyle. My understanding is you’re the founder of Rally-FrEe so I’d love to hear what led you to develop the program and why those two sports? Why did you choose to combine them?

Julie Flanery: Right. Originally I wanted to develop a structured way for freestyle teams to focus on their foundation skills and build their heel work and transition skills primarily to better their performances and really to increase their longevity in the sport, and then ultimately improve the quality of the sport.

Since I’ve been involved in freestyle I compete, I’m a judge, I’ve been teaching it for almost 20 years now, and I was seeing a lot of attrition in the sport. Freestyle is not easy. I would say it’s probably one of the more difficult sports out there. There’s a lot more involved in freestyle than just training behaviors. Teams would get through the novice level and then they would really struggle in the intermediate class and they’d end up leaving the sport.

In freestyle you can train any behavior you want. You have a lot of options and so you do, you train anything you want and mostly that’s the really fun, cool, complex sexy tricks, and generally they didn’t train any foundation in to support the complexity of the tricks they were training. So like any sport, freestyle has a specific set of foundation skills, but these skills, these foundation skills, I know when I first started in freestyle nobody told me what they were, I’m not sure anybody knew what they were, it was such a new sport back then, and even if we knew what they were freestylers were so spread out around the country and there was no real instruction available to it, the information just wasn’t accessible, and the information wasn’t really given the importance and value I think. You know, having foundation skills didn’t seem as important because of the perception that freestyle was free and you could do anything you wanted.

And I remember...I remember one of the reasons I wanted to do freestyle was I didn’t want to teach my dog to heel anymore, you know, heeling was, oh, my God, I don’t want to teach my dog to heel, it’s so awful. Of course heeling was taught quite a bit differently than we do now, but I didn’t really understand at that time how important heel work and positions really are for freestyle.

Melissa Breau: When you say foundation behaviors, is that what you’re referring to is kind of the positions and...

Julie Flanery: Yeah, the positions, the transitions, yeah. Those are considered foundation skills, and then there are certain foundation tricks in which all of the other more difficult, more complex tricks are more easily built off of as you know that anytime we start building a skill without a foundation it can be really easy to get frustrated in the training because it’s not built on the foundation skill. The dog doesn’t have any support for that skill, and so the skill tends to fall apart a little bit, and so as teams were moving up both the dog and the handler would start to get frustrated and not have that foundation to support the more difficult criteria and those routines would start to fall apart, and when they fall apart and it gets frustrating it’s no longer enjoyable, and so as a result the quality of freestyle wasn’t really getting any better and we were losing a lot of competitors.

So, Rally-FrEe was a way for freestylers to build skill in their foundation and heel work so that they could be more successful in the sport and find more enjoyment in competing in freestyle, and in the long run improve the quality of freestyle that we were seeing in the ring.

What I didn’t realize is that teams from other dog sports Rally-Obedience, Agility, they were starting to participate. I didn’t realize that this was going to become a worldwide competitive dog sport with participants in over seven countries, I mean I was like, wow. I was like wow. I remember one morning waking up and going how did this happen? I don’t understand how this happened. This was supposed to be a fun little game for me and my students, and I’m not the first one that has put together these two sports in an effort to help freestylers or have more fun with Rally. There are many instructors that have done this. Somehow I was able to and I had the support of many, many people to have this grow into a worldwide competitive dog sport, so I’m very thankful for that happening, but really I have no idea how that happened. 

Melissa Breau: Hey, it was a lucky break, right? 

Julie Flanery: I guess. I guess. I’m sure glad it did though. It truly has met some of my goals. We are seeing a much better quality of freestyle. We are seeing teams coming into it with a stronger foundation, and we’re seeing much more skilled teams staying in it longer, so for that I’m really thankful. And we’re seeing new people coming into the sport, coming into freestyle that maybe never would have considered it partly because of the choreography and dance aspect to it, and partly because it is a difficult sport to understand the foundation for how to start training, and Rally-FrEe really allows the new exhibitor, the person that just is considering wanting to get their feet wet in freestyle but really don’t know much about it, Rally-FrEe is the perfect sport to learn the foundation skills and then maybe ease into freestyle if you find you enjoy that. So, I’ve really actually been quite pleased at where we’ve gone in the last five years and how a lot of my goals have already been met with it.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Hey, good ideas catch on, right?

Julie Flanery: Yeah, I guess so.

Melissa Breau: So I did want to ask you, you mentioned kind of in there something about novice and intermediate levels, and as somebody who hasn’t competed in the sport. I was just kind of curious what some of the different things are I guess that they look at in the competition.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. So for most freestyle organizations the scoring or the judging is broken down into several categories, one would be content and execution. So, content and execution would be what do you put into your routine? What is the variety of behaviors and how well are those behaviors executed? What is the accuracy and precision of those behaviors?

Another thing that is looked at would be difficulty or creativity. How difficult are the behaviors that you’re including in your routine? Are you using hand signals because hand signals indicate lesser difficulty than behaviors that are solely on verbal cues?

Another aspect of it would be musicality and interpretation. How well do your behaviors and your sequences match the phrasing in the music? What is your attire, does it match the genre of the music?

We also look at transitions and flow, and transitions are behaviors that allow the dog and/or handler to change position and/or direction in a way that creates ease of movement and a visual aesthetic or flow to the routine.

And then Rally-FrEe Elements, which is the organization that I created that also conveys titles in freestyle, we also look at the teamwork and engagement between the dog and handler team. How well do they enjoy working together? How well does the handler support the dog? And I think we’re probably the only organization that actually looks at teamwork as a judged criteria, so that’s something that’s a little bit different from most other dog sports.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, and you kind of mentioned something about the verbals and the visuals in there. I was really curious how much of the cueing is verbal versus visual and what the role of each is in the sport, so do you mind just talking a little more about that?

Julie Flanery: Sure. So in freestyle we use three different kinds of cues. We use verbal cues and generally we like those verbal cues to be not loud and obtrusive, but loud enough for the dog to hear them but not so loud that they are disruptive to the routine or distract from the enjoyment of the routine. In using those verbal cues we’re aloud to talk to our dogs through the whole routine. There’s nothing like in obedience where you need to give one cue. In freestyle you may give multiple cues. Obviously, you don’t want your dog refusing cues or not responding to cues, but we are allowed to talk to our dogs the whole time, and so oftentimes we are giving our cues continually throughout a routine.

We also use subtle physical cues. So my sweeping arm might mean for the dog to back around me or go out to a distance, but we want those cues to be hidden somewhat within the choreography, we don’t want them to be very obvious like what a lure-like hand signal would look like.

And then we also use something called choreography cues, and choreography cues allow us to teach new physical cues that we can then use within the routine as our choreography, so they are physical cues that appear counter to a hand signal. So for example, I can teach my dog that when I throw both my arms up into the air that’s actually a cue to spin or to take a bow or whatever behavior I attach to it through training, and I can change those choreography cues for each routine as long as I understand and apply correctly the process for putting new cues onto behaviors.

But truly, verbal cues are extremely important in musical freestyle and they’re probably the most important cues in musical freestyle. It’s those strong verbal cues that allow the handler to include their movement and their interpretation into the ring. If you’re tired to hand cutes then you’re really restricted in how you can interpret the music and that’s part of what you’re scored on, but having those verbal cues doesn’t mean that we don’t use some visual or body cues. We just really want those to be subtle and portrayed as part of the choreography.

The goal in freestyle is to make it appear as if the dog is not being cued, that he or she is in total sync with the handler, and while the handler is leading the dance the dog is a voluntary partner. We want to create that illusion I guess, that illusion of dance partners, not one of telling the other what to do. If you’ve ever watched ballroom dance, even though you know one is leading it’s really hard to tell because they’re both so engaged in that process. So yeah, we have a lot of options in terms of cueing, but we work hard to avoid cues that appear lure-like or showing the dog or leading the dog into what to do.

Melissa Breau: How long is your average performance? I mean it seems like...in agility even you have signs out to help you and I mean you kind of have to memorize the whole thing in a freestyle routine.

Julie Flanery: Right. Yeah. For beginners, generally a routine is going to be about a minute and a half to two minutes. As you get up into the upper levels they’re going to go three minutes plus, and these are routines that you choreograph, so you’re actually memorizing them as you choreograph them. But make no mistake, it’s not an easy task to choreograph two minutes of behaviors. You’re probably looking at anywhere from I would say 30 to 80 cued behaviors in a two to three minutes period. Not only are these cued behaviors, but the dog needs to perform them in a timely manner with the music, so your timing of your cues is actually well before you need the dog to perform it so that he can actually perform it at the point in the music where it makes sense. So there’s a lot to cueing in musical freestyle, and so it’s something that I’ve had to learn an awful lot about and it’s something that once you get involved in freestyle it becomes a really important part of your success.

Melissa Breau: It seems like that would be a really interesting thing, even for somebody who wasn’t interested in freestyle, to take a class on just because it feels like there’s so much carryover there.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. And I think actually, is it Mariah? One of the instructors I think is doing a class on cueing.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I think it’s Mariah.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. It’s an amazing concept in and of itself and all of the different ways that we can teach our dogs to take our cues and all of the different ways that they can read our cues, so yeah, I think it’s fascinating and I’ve spent a lot of time in my own personal training development learning how to do that and what’s the most effective and efficient means of doing that.

Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to kind of round things out with the three questions I ask everybody who comes on the show. So first up, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Julie Flanery: Well, that’s easy. Creating a venue that allows teams to really succeed and enjoy a sport that I love, but if you’re talking personally I’d say that earning our Rally-FrEe Grand Champion MCL title. I really did not realize how hard that accomplishment would be and how fulfilling it was to get there. I created it and I didn’t realize how hard that would be, I mean, I had to work hard for that title and it was very, very satisfying to be able to accomplish that.

Melissa Breau: Well, congratulations. That’s awesome. 

Julie Flanery: Thanks. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: So possibly my favorite question every single episode, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Julie Flanery: The best? Oh, wow. So I’ve heard tons of great training advice. Certainly something we all do, which is to make our training sessions enjoyable for all involved, that learning doesn’t really happen under duress and to keep it fun and light and amusing and enjoyable and amazing. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a quote that always stuck with me is that “criteria is joy” and if we don’t have that within our sessions then it’s really all for naught.

That and what I talked about earlier, Ken Ramirez who said that we limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible. That hangs in my office because so many of the things that I’m doing with my dog now that I would have said weren’t possible just a few years ago, so staying open to that.

But I think the one piece of advice that has really benefited me the most as a trainer, I heard from Hannah Branigan. I bet she gets this a lot that she’s responsible for most people’s success in their training, but for me really she talked about being aware of when and where our peak in a training session and not letting them slide down that backside of the bell curve. I am the queen of just one more, and that little lesson from Hannah has made me so much more aware of when it’s time to end a session and how much that really impacts the success of that session. So that’s probably one that I have benefited the most from, most recently and that sticks with me. I try to remember that every single session, all right, where’s my peak? Don’t want to go down the backside of that bell curve.

Melissa Breau: So that’s three, but I think they were three excellent ones. That’s awesome.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. Sorry, sorry.

Melissa Breau: No, that’s okay. They were worth it.

Julie Flanery: There’s just so much training advice out there, you know?

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. No, it’s my favorite question for exactly that reason because I feel like It’s solid takeaways and you kind of walk away with a really solid reminder of something, and I think those three tie together nicely too.

Julie Flanery: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: So, my final question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Julie Flanery: You mean aside from all the great instructors at FDSA?

Melissa Breau: Preferably, I mean, they’re all awesome.

Julie Flanery: Yeah. That’s right. They really are so passionate, so compassionate about what they do. I couldn’t say goodbye without saying it’s a real honor to work with them all and learn from them all, but outside of Fenzi, boy, the list is almost as long. I think probably Kathy Sadao has had the most long-term impact on me starting from probably about 15 years ago. Diane Valkavitch, my hero in freestyle, who taught me everything I know about transitions. I can’t leave out Michelle Pouliot who inspires and pushes me to do better every single day really. And Cassandra Hartman, she’s another really fabulous freestyler who is...she’s like the complete package when it comes to training, performance, relationships with her dogs. She’s just a real inspiration...all of them, super inspirational trainers and I’m really, really honored to learn from all of them. 

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome because there are some new names in that list, so that’s super exciting.

Julie Flanery: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I’m always interested in more trainers that I can go out and look up and read about and see what they have out there in the world, so that’s awesome. Thank you. 

Julie Flanery: Oh, yeah. They are great, and they all compete in various dog sports as well, so in spite of their current interest in freestyle and them being such great freestyle trainers they really have a wealth of information in regards to all different dog sports and training in general, you know, training is training is training and these folks have really impacted how I train and who I am as a trainer today.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Julie.

Julie Flanery: Thank you so much. It was really fun.

Melissa Breau: It was really fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We have a super special announcement this week.

You’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly.

That means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Mariah Hinds, who Julie mentioned there in the podcast, to talk impulse control, positive proofing, and competitive obedience. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have your episode automatically download 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!

May 12, 2017

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Amy Cook. Amy has been training dogs for nearly 25 years and has been specializing in the rehabilitation of shy and fearful dogs for over 15 years. She’s the creator of The Play Way, her process for helping dogs learn to cope with the world around them. She’s also a certified dog behavior consultant, a long-standing professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and has attended all four Chicken Camps in Hot Springs, Arkansas taught by Bob Bailey.

Amy returned to school in 2006 to get her PhD in psychology from UC Berkeley. Her research there focused on the dog/human relationship and its effect on problem solving strategies dogs employ. She also recently started a blog at playwaydogs.com, and everyone should definitely go check it out. Hey, Amy, welcome to the podcast.

Amy Cook: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.

Melissa Breau: I’m very excited to talk to you. To start us out do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?

Amy Cook: Oh, my dogs. You know, when you start people talking on their dogs it’s kind of endless, so you’re going to have to stop me when you’ve heard about my lovely dogs. I have currently, I lost my old girl last year who I would have had a lot to say about, but I have currently Marzipan who some people know, she’s my Whippet, she’s five and a half, I want to say, or so, and with her I mainly do agility. She’s been actually out with an injury for now what seems like a million years and since dinosaurs have roamed the earth. She got sort of her foot reconstructed, she had reconstructive surgery on her toe. So it’s been a real adventure having a dog go from three classes a week and traveling every weekend to you live in a box. It’s been hard on both of us, but also stretching for both of us because of how I can keep her happy in different ways than I used to before.

And I have little baby Caper who I think you helped name if I’m not mistaken. She is a ten-month-old terrier, chihuahua-terrier is what she is.

Melissa Breau: So what did Marzipan do to her foot that took her out of commission?

Amy Cook: You know, yeah, you’d think it would be during sport or something since we do such crazy stuff, but no, we were hiking and I think the crime was that it was not quite winter, it wasn’t winter, it was summer, and the ground used to be marshy and now was dry and cracked. I think she just tweaked a toe just running, just not even running a lot, just running kind of a normal amount, and it didn’t look injured at all, and so it took so long, it’s like, oh, rest it for three weeks, it’ll be fine. Then it was like, oh, that wasn’t long enough, rest it for eight weeks and it’ll be fine. The specialists come in and they’re like, you’re going to take four months and it’ll be fine. Then finally to the agility, fancy agility surgeon and he said, “Yeah, I think we should do some surgery on her toe. It’s not healing.” So from that point, I know, it was six weeks of splint and six weeks of bandage and now it’s going to be 12 weeks of rehab. You know, it was quite a shock to the system. She’s my main partner, my main dog. I didn’t have the puppy, she was the only dog I had at the time that happened. So our training life took a turn for a bit. But we’re almost there. Almost there. Six more weeks, I hope.

Melissa Breau: The end is in sight.

Amy Cook: End is in sight. Very happy about that.

Melissa Breau: So you mentioned the puppy. Where did the puppy come from?

Amy Cook: Caper, she was my unplanned pregnancy as my friend likes to say. God, she was…a friend sent me a picture, I’m like, oh my God, she’s so cute, it’s a classic story, I just need a little pocket dog, I just need a little…Marzipan is going to be out for a while. My next sport dog will come in 2018, I thought to myself, and I just need a little dog to tide me over, I’ll get a little Chihuahua or I’ll get a little pocket dog, I’ll have a little fun companion for a bit. So that’ll be fun.

So I get this little sort of try on as a foster dog and the first thing she does from week one is she’s bringing me toys, she’s pushing me, she’s, “Why are we not doing more? I’m not a pocket dog. Put me down. Why are you picking me up? I don’t want this. Here’s a toy. Can you tug this?” She was so active. It’s like I’d adopted a Border Collie puppy. It’s crazy. I was like, oh, well, that’s not who I thought you were, but I can roll with that. Okay. All right. That’s fun. She’s a fun little dog. She’s really fun to train and she came with focus out of the box. I’ve barely trained focus in her and she doesn’t take her eyes of me. It’s crazy. It’s really fun.

Melissa Breau: She’s really cute.

Amy Cook: It’s a real contrast to Marzipan. She’s so cute. And it’s a real contrast to Marzipan because I’m used to the sighthound way and she’s all terrier, all terrier. I’m learning a lot from that, from working with that psychology, you know? It’s different.

Melissa Breau: So I know that one of the things about your intro that I don’t think I’d known before I started doing some research for the podcast is that you’d been to Chicken Camp, especially four times. So I really want to hear more about that. Just like, what your impressions were, what your thoughts were about it, what was it like?

Amy Cook: Amazing. Amazing. I went to Chicken Camp. It’s like a friend of mine and I, we went together, and I’m really glad to see that Bob is still here and with us and doing Chicken Camps, but at that time I think it was right after his wife had died and they were doing the camps together, and he wasn’t sure how much he was really going to continue. It was like, God, I’ve been putting this off way too long, we have to go, we have to go. So I actually did I think two in one summer and then two the next summer if I’m not mistaken. I kind of crammed them in.

Melissa Breau: Wow.

Amy Cook: Yeah. Because I really wanted to take advantage of learning from Bob. There’s really nobody like him. At the time I was very, very into clicker trainer, I mean of course still, but I was much more so then. Learning it, learning it a lot on the internet, a lot from books, a lot from just every source I could find and I wanted to go to somebody who was so close to the, I guess I could say origins of it if that’s fair to say, and learn as much as I could.

Honestly it was absolutely life changing to learn both from him and to train an animal that does not meet you halfway, that does not help at all with the learning process, isn’t trying to work with you at all. I think if you can train a dog that’s one thing, but it doesn’t guarantee you can train another animal. But if you can train a bunch of other animals you can probably train a dog because they make it so much easier on you and the other animals kind of don’t, at least that’s my impression.

So it was wonderful and he’s such a good teacher. He knows exactly how to lay just the right amount in front of you. There was one time when a chicken was pecking me like crazy and I was really afraid of her and he actually shaped us both without telling me that’s what was happening. So I got the experience of just quietly being compassionately and respectfully shaped. It was just a beautiful experience. I loved chicken camp so much and it changed the way I train fundamentally. Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: For anybody out there who might not be familiar with the concept do you want to just briefly kind of explain the idea?

Amy Cook: Sure. So what you do is maybe you’re a dog trainer, maybe you’re a bird or exotic animal trainer, I went to camp with a few of those, or even a psychology professor. If you want to learn how to apply the techniques of operant conditioning in a very controlled environment you can go to Chicken Camp. You pay money to spend a week with Bob and two chickens and a partner and a _____ (16:26) doing the little exercises that he lays out for you.

They get increasingly complex and you first start with how do I click and how do I feed this animal in a way that is correct? How do you feed a chicken? They peck. You can’t hand them with your hand a piece of feed, right? So you go through all the mechanics of how to train a chicken, clicker train, and then he gives you these little tasks. So it’s like, you know, here are some disks, have your chicken peck only the red one and not the yellow or blue one. You’re like, oh, piece of cake. I can do that. Famous last words, right?

Sure enough, one errant click somewhere because you’re late, because dogs can kind of handle you being a little bit late, right, and still progress, one errant late click for the chicken and the chicken goes, oh, all right, got it, and starts doing that thing that you clicked over and over and over again. You’re like, no, no, I didn’t…wait. I just…could you not? I didn’t mean that. No. One click could get you a hundred clicks in the wrong direction to get out.

And you really learn to be accurate because you can’t afford to make certain kinds of mistakes. And the chicken will get full, so every click and every food they eat is measured. You have to really, really be careful and very, very good, and you make all sorts of sloppy mistakes and you pay for them really harshly. Your chicken does not do anything you thought you were teaching, you’re all over the place.

You know, you find yourself maybe turning to things you otherwise do with your dogs that maybe you don’t realize you do, like oh, come on, just could you just…then you’re like, wait, I can’t do that to a chicken. Do I do that to my dog? I shouldn’t do that to my dog either. It pares you down to the pieces of the technology that actually work and the chicken forces you to get better because she’s not going to cover a single mistake that you make, ever. That’s it. Click once wrong and oh, boy. You’re going to be there all day.

Melissa Breau: I definitely think Chicken Camp is on my someday list, on my bucket list, something I would love to do.

Amy Cook: For sure. Absolutely. Run, don’t walk. For sure.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you too about the early days of FDSA because I believe, I think you actually told me that you were one of the first teachers that Denise brought on at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. So I was really curious to get some of your impressions on how you think it’s changed and kind of what happened when she initially approached you.

Amy Cook: Oh, boy. You know, it was standing in the right place at the right time, I swear. You know, she had taught online elsewhere and decided to do this endeavor, and I was just…I’m pretty sure I was just finishing grad school and saying, well, I guess I’m going back to dog training. I wasn’t sure what I had in store, I’ll just revamp or ramp up my business again, fine. And I can remember, I was standing near a freezer in her garage and I can’t exactly remember how it came up but she said, “We have a behavior arm, could you teach what you teach, teach a class in what you do?”

Boy, I felt…the answer was both yes and no. The answer is no because I’ve never done that, but the answer is yes because well, it has to be possible, right? Sure. I’ll certainly try it. I really wanted to do something like that. But for a second there I was like, really? Behavior? Behavior, though. I mean, behavior. It’s complicated. People are all over the place. Dogs are behaving all over the place. It’s a lot to…how will I do this online?

But I had faith. She really had vision early on for how this was going to go and we brainstormed, I was really excited about it. She actually came up with the title of the class, Dealing with the Bogeyman, that’s hers. She’s like, let’s call it that. I was like, sure. It was exciting. It was exciting times and I was really just like, well, I’m happy to run a class and see what I can do for people. If it’s something I don’t feel is resulting in improvements that are reasonable for the dogs I’m helping then it’s not right, then online is more suited for skill-based stuff and not so much the concepts or the complicated behaviors.

I shouldn’t have been afraid because it’s been amazing. It’s been amazing. I got to say, I think that my online students…oh, well, I wrote a blog post about this because I was just so moved by this. My online students get to their goals faster than in person students do, and there’s something very intoxicating about that. To get somebody closer to the resolution in such a shorter amount of time, you know, I was like, well, then I want everybody online. Everybody get online. Everybody, quick. You know?

And it’s amazing how much contact I have with somebody who takes an online class. They can talk to me every day whereas no in-person client does that or can afford to really. That’s the reason. And I get every day almost contact with people trying to apply the lessons, run into problems, and ask again. I get to fine tune it so much. It’s like living with people which is what I always want to do when I get a new client. I’m always thinking wow, if I could just move in, you and I together, we could fix your situation and I could help you. But you get an hour a week. It’s not enough, you know?

And boy, being online with people in amazing and the community that Denise has been able to build through Facebook and all of that. I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I think about how much access we have to changing…I know it’s ____ (22:34) any other way to say it, changing the world. You know? It’s the ripple effect. You have to put it out there and say, this is the way I think we should be doing this, and let me help you with it. And the changes I’ve seen just in these short few years have been really, really inspiring. I’m so grateful to be a part of it.

Melissa Breau: So my understanding is the very first class that you started offering right out of the gate with Denise was the Bogeyman course, right?

Amy Cook: It was. It was. And that’s all I ran for a long time.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to just explain briefly to listeners kind of what the course is and a little bit about the methodology that you use?

Amy Cook: Yeah. So the course is Dealing with the Bogeyman, and it’s designed for fearful, stressed, reactive dogs, dogs that are overwhelmed with what’s going on for them, what they’re afraid of, and really getting to the root of problem and really trying to get to the source, get right to the bottom of the problem rather than just kind of manage it which is what we end up doing a lot of times. We find a way to get to about a stasis and we kind of coast along there. But stress is a hard thing to experience. Everybody listening knows exactly what I mean. Wouldn’t we all not want to have the stress we have in our lives? Every one of us wants to have a less stress life pretty much because it’s hard and I feel that for dogs. It’s hard for them to live in our world when they’re so stressed. So this class is designed to help with that at a root level.

What I do is I use social connection and social play to help get them in a state where they can process their triggers a lot better, and I reduce the use of food, I reduce the use of toys sometimes to zero, but not always all the way to zero, to help them. And it didn’t start out…like, it started out, the first iteration of the class is not like the current iteration that’s running right now. It has evolved a lot over time. As I watched students have more success with even more play I started emphasizing more and more play. It was a part of the program before but it wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. But I’ve seen the wonders of what it can do, and so now it’s really the bulk of what the approach is. I think I might have lost your question in the fact that I’m just talking on. Is that what you’re asking?

Melissa Breau: Not at all. You actually answered it pretty well. I just wanted you to kind of explain what the Bogeyman course was and kind of what’s involved and I think you did that very nicely. I do…

Amy Cook: People are going to play. If you take the class you’re going to play, play, play, play, and then you’re going to play some more, and then your dog is going to get better. That’s _____ (25:35).

Melissa Breau: So that leads me very well into my next question which is asking you to kind of…I know when you and I talk about it usually you call it kind of The Play Way is like, the name of the methodology even though the course if the Bogeyman course. So I was curious if you wanted to sum kind of what the play way is up in a short blurb. I mean, you talked about it a little bit, but if there’s anything kind of you want to add there.

Amy Cook: Yeah. The play way is specifically using social play and social connection, so not tug, not fetch, not that kind of thing, but being goofy and silly and making your dog laugh and having a fun time with your dog, and taking that play and using that to directly solve problems that they have with fear. So it’s dog centric, it’s about the dog, him or herself coming to a new understanding of the thing that they don’t currently understand. So if they’re afraid of strangers it’s because they have a misunderstanding of what the strangers are about, because none of the strangers really mean to hurt them, and I think they don’t have enough information.

Now it’s hard to get dogs to get new information about things that are scary to them because they’re scared of them and you can’t look at it openly and you can’t deal with it as well. Like, I can’t deal with spiders. You put one on me, I’m done. I can’t deal with that. So if you want to reframe that it’s not going to work until you get me distance, you get me in a calm state, and I really found that play puts them in this completely different emotional space that allows for our therapeutic attempts to really take root. And I realize none of that is brief, none of what I just said is brief. I don’t think I can be brief. I think I’m genetically wired to be the opposite of.

Melissa Breau: But I think it gives people a good idea, right, of what the methodology is and kind of what you’re endorsing here. I mean, I think that it’s very different probably than what most people are used to hearing about dealing with fear and dealing with dogs’ sensitivities which is so often food-based.

Amy Cook: It’s different from anything I had ever done. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s a complete departure for me. It’s not at all what I’ve done most of the time in helping dogs.

Melissa Breau: So where did it come from? Where did the idea…

Amy Cook: Well, yeah. Kind of…it’s an evolving idea I should first say, right, I’m not finished. I mean, I want to keep investigating all of this and putting all the little pieces together. Right now I’m at a place where I’ve put some pieces together and it’s hanging together, it’s helping, and that’s really exciting.

It’s sort of this big evolution of influences. I first got together with Denise because I had known her before kind of just from our local training circles, but she and I both got puppies at the same time and they both turned out to have every similar sorts of views on the world and challenges and training. It made us get together kind of more often. Once a week we would talk about it and shoot the breeze about these different things.

I started watching her train in person more which I hadn’t really done a lot of previous. And the amount of social interaction and the way she was working with her dogs was sort of reminding me of how I had been feeling lately about a lot of clicker training was feeling remote to me, at least at the time. It was feeling like very Chicken Camp. I’ll tell you maybe a little bit about that later, but where you observe your animal a lot, so you’re watching, and you’re holding your clicker, and you’re kind of being still and letting your animal think. Or maybe it was just me, I was making learning a little more sterile than I needed it to be, and she had so much more play and relationship in it. And through watching her do that and training with her and exploring that with my own dog I started just to…some things were clicking in my head.

Then I’m also friends with Grisha Stewart and when she was creating BAT which is behavior adjustment training she was really exploring how dog centric training could be. Like, how much can I let the dog do for him or herself without intruding so much and let the process happen so naturally? And it was inspiring to me because we were tending not to do that, we were tending to make a lot of associations. Here’s a cookie, I’m making an association for you, I’ll be there in your process with you. That was percolating a bit too, about how to…I mean, really dogs, all of us should know how to deal with our fears if we’re given the right environment to do so. An animal should know how to calm him or herself. An animal should know how to become less afraid, to investigate something that’s frightening. It just isn’t available if the stimulus is too high. If you’re too afraid you can’t do it, but all of us have that kind of wisdom in us. We all know how to make something better. So with that percolating.

And then I sort of had this undercurrent of a bit of dissatisfaction with the way rehab was going with the basic tools that I had. It worked, but I don’t know, I felt that there was something more.

And when I was in grad school I got a chance to actually read a whole bunch more literature than I had been able to read as a nonstudent, although I was studying Skinner and studying Pavlov and using science to train dogs, for sure science based all the way. Now I had big libraries behind me and a whole bunch of information and people I could ask, and I realized when we’re dealing with human fears we don’t really do it like we do with dogs, we don’t really classically condition them in that same way. And more importantly, when children have fears we don’t classically…or maybe someone does, but I was seeing that a lot of therapy has to do with play and has to do with relaxing and talking things through. I thought, how can I do this with dogs? I can’t talk things through with dogs.

So all these pieces were just kind of in the air for me. And as each influence kind of came in I started to think, well, okay, I like what this distance is doing, but the dogs are on their own, and for our sport dogs we need them to be turning to us and be more interactive and wanting to do things with us. How can I put myself in this picture with them, with their dog centric work without impeding it, without taking it over, without going back to trying to click or make associations with classical conditioning? How can I blend them?

And I started to just experiment and see what dogs needed. And it kind of all came together. It took a few passes through Bogeyman for me to see just how I wanted to impart it to people. Honestly that’s not even true because I keep tweaking it, I tweak it every time figuring out how to explain it better and more.

But that’s where it came from. It’s partly human psychology, human therapy, and partly the great distances that Grisha is experimenting with and letting a dog solve her own problems, and then the great relationship building stuff that Denise is just amazing at, and reading when you are being too much for your dog and when you’re not giving them enough agency to come at you. You know, she’s just so good at that and I drink everything…every time I get to see her do anything like that I drink it up and think how can this apply to dogs in trouble? How can I use this? You know, it’s very inspiring.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, having had the chance to watch Denise train a couple of times now I feel exactly the same way. When you see somebody who is really incredible at what they do and you just get a chance to watch it’s just, I mean, it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to camp again this year so much because last year…you get to watch, I mean, all the instructors at FDSA are so incredible, and to be able to spend a couple of days doing nothing but watch these incredible trainers do what they’re best at, it’s a really neat experience.

Amy Cook: It really is. I change every time and I would have my lesson with Denise and then I would sit there and watch her do whoever came after me just to kind of watch what she did and go, how come what she’s doing here isn’t what I have access to in the pet world? I came from…I did pet dog training all of this time, my whole career, my whole life, pet dog training and behaviors in pet dogs, aggression and fear, stress, all that stuff, not really sports stuff. Sport I got into late and I just did for myself. And it’s a whole different world. Pet dog trainers don’t have access. It’s almost two non-overlapping circles. It isn’t quite true but it felt that way. When I watch a lot of…Shade is one of those people too, I watch her and I go, how come that wasn’t something I could have learned when I was learning how to train dogs? That part is missing from the pet dog trainer education and I wish we were a lot more…I wish there was a lot more overlap than there is. I hope that’s in our future.

Melissa Breau: That makes both of us. So we got a little bit away from kind of what we were talking about originally, but that’s okay. I think the conversation went good places. But I want to kind of bring us back for a second to the Bogeyman course. We talked through that a little bit but you also now teach the Management for Reactive Dogs class. So I wanted to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about how that course is different, and what that course covers, and kind of why you felt the need to add a second course.

Amy Cook: Yeah. That course is different. I teach that as an adjunct or kind of a package, but I mean, you can jump in at either point, they’re not sequential.

Because when you live with a dog who has some troubles it’s great that you can put aside time for therapy, and those therapeutic moments are really impactful, they really make a difference and that’s all great. It takes time to do it though, and in the meantime you still have to potty your dog and you still have to get your houseguests in, right, and in the meantime you still have to drive somewhere. Life goes on. You can’t stay under threshold. I have a way more conservative definition of threshold than most people do, so staying under it gets even harder if you’re going with my definition of threshold. So that doesn’t solve everybody’s problem. That’s great, you can go through Bogeyman but you can’t potty your dog, right?

So management class is for the times when your dog is going to be over threshold. Maybe not massively so, maybe not full on into the biggest display over, but worried, actually triggered by being scared, seeing somebody outside or seeing a strange dog, and it covers all of the strategies to get you through daily life. How do you get a positive leash walk going? What do you do when your dog barks at a window when someone is walking by the house? How do you get your dog outside without rehearsing the worst behaviors of their stress and their fear and their anxieties?

I don’t want anyone to worsen anything. Management is what you put in place first, you just say, how can I make sure nothing gets worse than it currently is? How can I relieve the pressure as best I can, keep everything as positive as possible, what skills do I need to do that? Once that’s in place you’re like, all right, now let me set aside some time for therapy to get at the root of this. So management is how you can get through your leash walks without getting your leash all tangled, how to feed in a way that keeps the dog’s nose right on that cookie magnetically. I’m continually surprised that that’s hard for us all because we’re trained to keep the cookie off, it’s not a lure, we’re supposed to reward after. So a lot of little details that way, and the two together get you through kind of the problems you’re having with your dog.

I also teach a learning theory class but it hasn’t been on the schedule for a bit, but I think that one is coming back too. So I do have three classes that I currently teach as well.

Melissa Breau: Well, that’s exciting. Do you want to briefly tell us what that kind of…

Amy Cook: Yeah. Yeah. I’m thinking…yeah. I’m thinking of revamping that one. I do a learning theory class that’s a bit of the basics to catch up, make sure we’re all on the same page with operant and classical conditioning and how it works, what it’s for. But I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and there’s a lot of interesting practicalities when using those models. There’s a lot of overlap between the two models. There’s a lot of times when you’re not sure which one to use. So I wrote this class to be a practical introduction for people who had been trying this stuff. Like, I’m trying to use operant conditioning but this is the common thing I run into. I look for all the common pitfalls, all the holes, all the should I do this or that, because I’ve heard if I do that it’s going to make this happen. I’m like, aha, glad you asked, I’m going to write a whole lecture on it.

So it’s sort of very practical, very nitty gritty, very what a dog trainer actually needs to know. Like, you really don’t need to know all the schedules of reinforcement. All of you out there, if you studied all the conditioning models, you also studied schedules of reinforcement, but you don’t really use them in real life, right? So I pared this down to the stuff you actually do every day of your life, and then we talk for fun about things like can dogs feel jealous or can dogs tell time, can they estimate things, what kind of a life does a dog lead inside their brains? We foray into that for fun.

Amy Cook: But I’m currently revamping it a little bit.

Melissa Breau: You can’t dangle those two questions out there without giving us at least a brief answer. So can dogs feel jealous? Can they tell time?

Amy Cook: Well, that’s what we discuss, right? That’s what we discuss. If you lay out the evidence for jealousy I think it doesn’t pass. I think what they feel, and this is a guess, I’m not saying I have a fact, right, I think they feel a precursor to jealousy. I think they feel the thing that is like, oh, I want that, no, why does…I want. A very basic version of feeling upset and wanting that if it had more self-awareness we would be comfortable calling jealousy, because jealousy has this sense of she shouldn’t have that and I wish I had the thing she had. It’s got more layers to it. But just because it doesn’t have the outer layers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the core.

So it’s my guess knowing what emotions they do have and what emotions they don’t have. They don’t seem to have secondary, they do seem to have primary emotions. They probably don’t have well developed jealousy but everything is a continuum and having a basic version of jealousy, it becomes a semantic argument. Like, maybe we would just call that jealousy then, why can’t we just say that’s what jealousy is in dogs and say they have it? You know? So we toss that around a lot. It’s a class for talkers and thinkers and tweakers and people who like to debate back and forth about definitions. It’s that kind of geeky class.

Melissa Breau: That sounds excellent.

Amy Cook: It’s like me.

Melissa Breau: Hey, it sounds pretty good to me. I’ll have to take it next time it comes around.

Amy Cook: You’re welcome.

Melissa Breau: So now that we’ve talked a little bit about that, I mean, looking at a puppy who doesn’t necessarily have a fear issue, or you mentioned you did get Caper fairly recently, how do you kind of try to raise that puppy in a way or lay groundwork for that puppy in a way that really allows them to become a healthy adult dog so you don’t see some of those issues crop up?

Amy Cook: Yeah. It’s been fun. Every puppy is this adventure gift, right? I mean, part of why her name is Caper is because we’re on a caper, we’re on an adventure together. You can think you have one thing when you meet your dog or when you get to know a dog and have something entirely else at any point. And you know, as Denise would say, you train the dog in front of you today, right? So I say great, I’ve started with a brand new puppy, she’s not really a blank slate because we know nobody is really a blank slate, but she hasn’t had anything really happen to her, but you know, really she’s a dog that was found stray in the streets of Fremont and picked up and put into a shelter and then into a rescue, and she certainly has a history.

So what’s been really fun is using the sensitive tools I have now that I didn’t have before, or you know, that you’re always a better trainer this year than you were last year, right? Oh, boy. Please, God. You know, so I feel like she’s the Fenzi puppy in a way because Marzipan kind of wasn’t. I mean, she was, but this one, I don’t know, this one feels like she really is. So I think of that and I think, who do I have today? Who are you today? How do you feel today? I get to keep asking her how she feels, and I feel like I can hear more clearly what her answer is than I have every felt before with other dogs. It’s really exciting.

She has her issues, we went through a season, her heat cycle and a false pregnancy, and maybe from that or maybe a kind of fear period, I don’t know, where she was all of a sudden some other kind of puppy. I thought wow, okay, I don’t have the puppy I had a minute ago. What do I have now? And it’s been just, at times a not so fun challenge, but mostly a fun challenge while I figure out what her needs really are, and she’s completely different.

I mean, maybe everybody says this, I’m going to go back and see if you ask this of everybody or what people say now, but thinking of my last four dogs, not a stitch of similarity in any of them to each other, you know? Like, I’m going to get a dog who’s going to be like this and we’re going to do that. You get the dog and you’re like, oh, hi, nice to meet you. Who are you? What _____ (43:30). You know?

She’s enormous fun and I’m taking a lot of time with her. I don’t care. A lot of people would just…you know, there’s this pressure in puppyhood to get a bunch of skills in because they’re just so malleable and you can start all this stuff and they love to learn and all that is true, but I also know that I can teach an older dog, any dog those kinds of things, and the time in immaturity, the time when they’re growing up is the time to actually smell the flowers, you know? To chase the actual butterflies, to let them take in the world without so much interference from my input and from training. We go out and we exist together. We see the world and I resist the urge to try to take advantage of every second and train all the fun stuff. It feels more holistic and it feels more like we’re bonded in a way that it just feels richer because I’m spending so much time listening and asking her how she feels and what she’d like to do.

She’s just an n of one, we like to say. It’s not like I can say, and that leads you to the best dogs in the world, because I don’t know. It’s her. But I feel like when she does then say yeah, I can work, I’m ready to work, the quality of the connection that we have is much, much better after I’ve let her.

And I directly learned that from the stuff that Denise was investigating with Brito. I mean, it’s really…I’m just so grateful she got a little dog before I did, you know? Next I want her to get a Border Collie so then I can get one of those. It’s like, you do it first. Somebody pave that. I don’t want to make that _____ (45:20).

Melissa Breau: So we’re nearing the end, unfortunately, so I want to ask you those big questions that are always some of my favorites.

Amy Cook: We just started. I have so much more to say. I have so many more things.

Melissa Breau: Well then, we’ll have to have you back, that’s all.

Amy Cook: All right.

Melissa Breau: So I want to ask you what the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of is.

Amy Cook: Oh, my. Well, right now that would be Marzipan who I guess I didn’t talk too much about. I have a theme. I have a theme in my life where sometimes I get a dog and I think, yeah, I can just make her into that, I can do that, I’m a good trainer, I know what I’m doing, I can just solve that problem, no problem. And then I realize that I’m on crack and I don’t know what I’m doing at all, and get in way over my head. I got a dog long ago named Hannah who was very, very fearful, and I didn’t estimate correctly how difficult that was going to be, and it was really, really, really hard, but I got into it going, no, just a few weeks of clicking and I’ll be fine.

So when I get my Whippet, Marzipan, I had intended to get my main sport dog, I’m getting my dog, and I’m going to do all this fun stuff, and I get whippet, and she’s not purpose bred, she was five months old, and she didn’t really work, didn’t enjoy it, and I thought, so what? I’m a trainer, I’ll just train her to like that stuff. It was harder than I thought it was and of course therefore then a gift, right? It led me to people like Denise, it led me to people like Shade, it led me to understand that I don’t know anything about drive building and need to actually learn from people who do.

But we got…she’s in master’s level agility and she does very, very well, and she’s fast, and she’s connected, and she’s focused, and she didn’t start out that way, and it was really hard mostly because I didn’t know. I was applying the tools I had and they weren’t right. So I’m really, really proud that together we were able to find a key to her lock if you can say that, and that I was able to change enough, because I had to do all that work, I had to do all the heavy lifting. It’s not on the dog, right? It’s not on the dog to change. You have to be who the dog needs. I had to change the way I presented myself. She didn’t like a lot of things I would like, a lot of the things I was doing were not the things for her.

Through the help of Sandy Rogers and through a bunch of people we found a way to motivate her, found a way to make her love this, and I got a non-working bred off-breed to find a way to love and look forward to and perform well in agility, and I’m just really proud of that and I’m proud of her for sticking with me through my many, many late front crosses. Thank you very much. I’m really proud of her and I’m really proud of the teamwork we have.

Melissa Breau: That sounds like it’s totally a good thing to be proud of. It sounds like you guys worked really, really hard to develop it and she’s come a long way. So that’s awesome.

Amy Cook: Yeah. I’m thankful for it. It’s lessons to me, right? I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grow in this direction because if she were a really easy dog I might not have the skills that I have, right? So that’s the upside to all those things. So I’m just very grateful.

Melissa Breau: So potentially my favorite question every single episode, since we’ve had somebody quote you on the podcast, not to add any extra pressure.

Amy Cook: Oh my goodness. Hi, Julie.

Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Amy Cook: Well, you know, my advice, that’s my…no. I’m kidding. That piece that I made up, that’s the best advice ever. No. Gosh, remind me to tell you the story one day of how that lecture at camp came to be because it happened the night before, believe it or not.

Two. Everybody else got two, so I’m taking two.

Melissa Breau: Go for it.

Amy Cook: So I’m just saying that there’s two. One that really, really made a difference, has really impacted me, always stuck with me, was from Bob Bailey. He said observe your animal, observe your learner. And you know, maybe that doesn’t sound so deep at first. Of course, you’ll watch your learner and you’ll learn what you need to know. But it solved so many little problems and so many things that get in the way of your training because you’re not seeing who is actually right there in front of you.

And the short example is that you have to teach a chicken to peck not just the circle, it’s like a construction paper circle, and not just the circle, but the dead center of it. That’s really harder than it sounds because they move very quickly and the speed it takes for you to see the chicken and then depress your thumb onto the clicker, by the time the sound is made the chicken is on its way back up from pecking.

Melissa Breau: Right.

Amy Cook: So you need to click, plan to click and start the clicking when the chicken is on its way down. So it took many lessons, I’m concatenating it for this reason, for you, but Bob had to give me little pieces over time. But it was I had to know what her head and her beak angle, and what she looked like when she was going to be pecking the center and decide before she got there that that was going to be a successful peck and then click that one. And instead I was looking at the peck, I was looking at where the peck landed and trying to click the correct ones. Instead you click on the trajectory toward. And if you don’t know what your animal looks like, if you don’t observe her really closely you can’t tell which peck is going to be the one and therefore your click will be late and therefore you’ll never train the chicken. It doesn’t really happen, with dogs you can be late, it’s all right, but chickens no.

And I was teaching a dog to tug open a fridge and I had to call him because I kept not getting it right, I couldn’t see what my problem was. I was clicking when she was tugging and it just wasn’t getting more tugging out of it. And he asked me, “What does her neck look like when she’s about to make the best tug, about to make the strongest contraction?” I’m like, “I wasn’t looking at her neck.” “What were you looking at?” The tug in her mouth? Well, are you looking at the clench of her claws as she settled in to really get a good tug in? Click that. And in the matter of an evening she was tugging really tugging really hard and pulling the fridge open.

You really have to look at who you have and not see what you want to see and not click or reinforce end products but reinforce process because it’s process you’re trying to often get when you’re training. So that one stuck and made me a much more accurate and better trainer.

Then my second is Denise in the sense of…I don’t know if she boils it down, but in the way of attitude before precision, I’m sorry, yeah, attitude before precision where you feed cookies for attitude. If that behavior was incorrect you give a cookie anyway. I think a lot of times we as trainers get caught up in, I reinforce the right ones and I make sure not to reinforce the ones I don’t want, and that’s very engrained in us. So don’t click or don’t reinforce the incorrect behavior. She does it all the time. She’s like, that isn’t correct, but my dog tried, you know, cookies for attitude.

When I first was aware she was doing that it made me a little nervous. It’s like, you’re going to get all this bad behavior in the mix. How is this going to work? But it works beautifully. It works beautifully. It keeps your dog in the game. She really helped me see that cookies for trying is not bad. How to handle a mistake is to reward it because your dog tried and was with you and you can just _____ (54:03) most of the cookies are for the right things, don’t worry so much. Your learner has an emotional life and that’s way, way, way more important than anything else. She codified it down into attitude over precision. It really centered me in my training a lot. So those are my two.

Melissa Breau: Those two things, they feel like they have a lot in common, just in terms of kind of looking at the bigger picture of things, you know?

Amy Cook: Right. Right. Exactly. It’s very bigger picture, and I think clicker training, just for me, I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, can get me a little too focused on minutia and make me forget the rest. So those were good for me to learn and to incorporate at this stage of my training.

Melissa Breau: I certainly don’t think you’re alone in that. I mean, clicker training, it’s all about splitting, and sometimes when you’re splitting it’s hard to hold both ideas in your mind at the same time, right?

Amy Cook: Right. It’s kind of like, wait, I’m splitting, but should I lump again? It’s not lumping, it’s splitting and wait…mixed metaphors. Forest. I’m splitting in the forest. Wait. Something like that, right? Someone listening can suggest something much more elegant than that because I’ve never been known for an elegant metaphor, I’ll tell you that.

Melissa Breau: So for this last one, who else, somebody else in the dog world that you look up to, and I’m going to push you not to name Denise since she’s gotten named lots and we’ve talked to her lots.

Amy Cook: No. You can’t do that. I know, because I talked about her way too much. I didn’t plan to talk about her constantly for the past hour, I promise you.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure you have one or two that I’m not super familiar with.

Amy Cook: No. No. No. It really isn’t all about Denise, but I stand on the shoulders of giants, right? Everybody who has come before me is an influence on me, and everyone has taken their turn. I had a troubled dog years ago that I brought to everybody. Instead of doing some TTouch with her I brought her to Linda Tellington-Jones, you know? Like, I sought everybody I could find to help and to teach me, and I absolutely stand on their shoulders, all of them. I credit myself with nothing and them with everything except my own mistakes and however that phrase really goes.

So since I can’t name Denise I’m going to anyway. What I admire most…no, I’ll be vague and we’ll pretend I didn’t mention her. What I admire most in a trainer I can look up to now is independent thinking. People will say there’s nothing new in training, you know, it’s all been done before it’s just how we’re repacking or talking about it differently. I don’t think so anymore. I think there have been just a few people, at least on my radar, that are willing to challenge something that’s supposed to be the way it’s done and try it on dogs and not say, well, that’s in the wrong _____ (57:12) or that’s supposed to do this, that’s going to make a dog do x, can’t do that.

Because I was that, that’s how we all start when we’re learning, we acquire the wealth and the wisdom of other people who say don’t do it this way and please do it that way. So you do. And we can get a little lost in that sometimes. So I gravitate toward the independent thinker who isn’t about I do it this way because this is the way we do it. I like people who say, I don’t know, what would happen if I just give a cookie when he was wrong? Let’s find out. I mean, yeah, of course it’s going to make him a little confused, but I can fix that, I’m not worried about it. That kind of confidence of I’m an independent thinker and I don’t do just what people do because it’s what they do.

I’m not terribly like that so I look up to it. I think Denise does that. Grisha also does that. And Donna Duford, I don’t know if you remember her, also taught me that same way, and she was one of the early old school clicker trainers from the East Coast.

There was a kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry going on in the clicker training where early on, or at least I’m led to understand, I was a few years later, or I’ll just say that there were people who replaced their methods, people that called themselves crossover trainers, who replaced things they did piecemeal, one at a time. I don’t think this one works so I’m going to do this instead. Oh, this works better, oh, this is really great. Then there are people because they hear about a new system throw out everything they did before and try to put in the new fancy positive system that they’re learning. I think when people have the courage to say, I’m just going to try this little piece and see how it goes, and they put in their system and they go, oh, I think I like this, this is pretty good, I’m going to investigate some other stuff, I’m going to try something new. I think from there comes the innovation.

At least in my world, in the people who have been around me to influence me, there haven’t been a ton of people doing that. So when I see that that really stands out to me. I fully admire it. I think Grisha did that when she just said, “I’m just going to see what happens when we do this.” I think Denise does that all the time. She’s not beholden to the world of some _____ (59:27) training that says this is how you do it. She says, “Let’s find out.” And I look up to anybody who can think independently, try stuff on their own, and just kind of stand their ground with what it is.

Melissa Breau: I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. I think that’s exactly what you’ve done with The Play Way, is take a look and do something totally different.

Amy Cook: Well, it’s really what I’m trying to do. It’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know that I bravely strike out so well, but I’m trying to because you know, we have to see things new ways, or we have to explore. If there’s some other way people do it in some other traditions don’t be afraid. If you’re good enough at what you do, if you’re sensitive enough with your learner, if you really are sure that you’re not going to cause harm it’s okay. It’s okay to give a cookie for the wrong behavior, right, to use that again, because you’re not causing any harm, so try and _____ (1:00:19). So that’s I think where innovation will be found, and I think we get a little stuck, we’re a little rutty a little bit in some positive training circles and some pet training circles, and I think it’s time to see what…not to throw out things, but to enrich them with new experiences and new things from other thinkers. I don’t know if I’m headed there but that’s what I think about a lot. So thank you for that but I don’t accept it. I reject your compliment and insert some self-deprecation of my own. You can’t get me. I refuse.

Melissa Breau: Well, I’m going to tell you that I think it anyway and you can choose to accept it or not. But they were sincerely given.

Amy Cook: Thank you so much. Thank you very much.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on, Amy. I really appreciate you taking some time to chat. I know that you weren’t feeling well earlier this week, so I’m glad we managed to reschedule and get this in there.

Amy Cook: Thank you for your patience. I hope I don’t sound too husky, I’m not extra sexy, I’m back to nerdy, but I had no voice _____ (1:01:28). I’m telling you people, I hope you understood everything, I didn’t cut out.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back in two weeks with Julie Flannery to talk about Rally-FrEe, and if you haven’t already please subscribe to the podcast. You can do that in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and you’ll have the next episode of our podcast automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio editing provided by Chris Lang, and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.

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!

Apr 28, 2017

SHOW NOTES: 

Summary:

Julie Symons has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking and nosework.

One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team! Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both person and dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust.

She also blogs at K9 Rivarly.com, for those of you out there like me, who just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons. 

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 Symons.

Julie has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking, and Nose work. One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team. Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both the person and the dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust. She also blogs at k9rivalry.com, for those of you, out there who, like me, just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff. Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.

Julie Symons: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Melissa Breau:  Did I totally butcher the Belgian Tervuren there?

Julie Symons: Not bad, but I forgot to remind you Rival is a she and not a he.

Melissa Breau: Oh, well that makes a difference.

Julie Symons: It does.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now?

Julie Symons: I have my Belgian Tervuren, Savvy. She’s nine years old, so she’s my second Terv, and she is, I would not say semi-retirement, but I’m not training her in agility, or showing in agility or obedience anymore. We are focusing on nose work. She has her breed champion, her agility champion. Last year she got her UD and her Nose Work 3, and a couple of years ago she got a Tracking Dog Excellent, and that was really, a really exciting class to title in. It’s hard to get into test, and it’s challenging to find places to track and train, so she’s a Versatility 3 dog, it’s a title in AKC, so she’s my first Versatility 3 dog, so that’s her.

My newest dog is a Belgian Malinois, sometimes also hard to pronounce. He is 17 months old, and I love him. I do prefer girl dogs, but I felt that he was a better addition with my current girl, and they do get along great, and he’s a very friendly dog, not quite much phases him, so it’s been really nice to find that in a Belgian, and it’s just fun to train him, and he’s different, so every dog I’ve had is different. He passed his Nose Work ORTs, Order Recognition Test, last fall, and we have his first Nose Work 1 trial next month. He’s still a baby dog, you know. I don’t like to push them. Nose work is a little different. I know he’s ready for that, but I have years for him, really, you know, trialing and anything else, so I’m taking my time with that.

Melissa Breau: It’s kind of awesome that’s he’s a Belgian with the ability to kind of hang out.

Julie Symons: Yeah. I actually, kind of, joked that he’s like a golden in a Malinois suit, and he’s gone to a couple of conformation shows, sometimes the only Malinois, and I never even, you know, he just didn’t mind people touching him, examining him. I didn’t even have to train that. I probably don’t even want to admit that, but we’ll see. He’s a little older now. He might, you know, sometimes they go through different phases, and they go through different periods of time, and we, actually, have a trial next weekend that we’re showing in conformation, so I do like to get dogs out early. That’s the one thing I do like, conformation is something that you can get them into the ring early, if they’re ready, and they can have some really fun time getting lots of steak and liver in the ring, so.

Melissa Breau: Hey. Can’t beat that.

Julie Symons: No. No.

Melissa Breau: So, I think, from reading your bio, and stuff, you started out in flyball, right?

Julie Symons: Yeah, when I bought my first house, I was an adult, in my 20s, I wanted a dog, so one of the first things I did was I went and got a dog. I went to a shelter and I picked out Dreyfus, really cute dog, kind of a big, you know, 60 pound, 70 pound, you know, Collie mix. We called him the Dick Clark of dogs because he never aged. He lived to 16, almost 16, and except for his physical appearance, you know, he just looked as handsome and young as Dick Clark, I guess.

You know, I don’t really remember how I got into flyball. I do know that I started out in some local class where you just stood in the room for an hour, and you got one time up, you know, in such ways we don’t train anymore. You just don’t have your dog, you know, unfocused and sitting there for an hour, you know, while you wait your turn, and I think I started, I got into the Amber mixed breed, it’s an American mixed breed organization registry. I don’t even think they have it anymore, and I could get like, you know, obedience titles, so I must have been renting, you know, some other training buildings to practice, and there were some people there that were doing flyball, so I must have networked and met them because I once I started going to matches and some UKC trials, and you just started meeting more people, and I got on this flyball team, and it was neat because, you know, I learned how to teach my dog to hit a box and a ball would pop out. He was really good at flyball. He was a big dog, so he was able to jump the little hurdles fast, and he got a run in every heat, at the trials. I remember my team members weren’t always happy that he got a run every time, but he was consistent, you know, and you want the time for the flyball, for the speed.

I also learned, you know, like doing a Front Cross, you send your dog down one side and you do a Front Cross and you pick your dog up. So, you know, I do look back at that as, you know, I didn’t stick with it, I still really like the sport, didn’t stay with it, but it was my first time going to, driving a couple of hours to a trial and I remember thinking, well how can a dog stay in the car that long? What if they have to go to the bathroom? It’s funny, when you look back and see, we were all newbies, we all started out somewhere, and you know, I remember taking pictures of my dog in the hotel room, like, wow, they can be in the hotel room, with us. So, I did that for about a year, went to about three or four tournaments for flyball.

At that same time, I was starting to look for my purebred dogs, and I thought, oh, I like this. There wasn’t as many opportunities for mix breeds back then, as it is today. I, actually, was looking at mixed breeds before I got Drac, my Malinois. I was so open to a mixed breed, it didn’t really matter because you can do so much with them now, but back then you couldn’t, so I definitely wanted a purebred dog. You know, Dreyfus was great, but he really was, you know, not a lot of drive, very distractible. Now I probably have a lot of skills now to deal with that, but you know, he liked to sniff the ground a lot, and he was not the easiest, you know, dog to train, you know, and for being new, you know, it was kind of hard, so I didn’t do much with him, past that.

So, I started researching, and I was looking for my next dog, and I saw the David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks on, you know, one night I was watching TV and they had a Belgian Malinois. I really liked that breed, so I was still going to this local obedience class and I mentioned it, to the instructor, and he said, oh, you should really get a Belgian Tervuren instead, so I went to a show, in Syracuse, a conformation show, and I found when the Belgian Tervuren were on, and I loved them. They were so beautiful. I grew up with rust Collies, so they kind of reminded me of that a little bit, so it was so fortunate how I found my next dog. I contacted breeders. They didn’t know me from anybody. They had a boy and a girl, and I got the girl, from Missouri, flown to me, sight unseen. Her name was Rival, and she changed my life, and she was just this high drive, just very biteable, bonded to me immediately, and then, I think, I did bring her to that same dog, pet, class trainer, for a little bit, but I didn’t stay long because, you know, the methods were much different, and I heard about a local trainer, who had just got her OTCH, on a lab, so I started private lessons with her, and I never, ever, went back to obedience classes, a class environment.

Then, so, when I got her, agility was really starting to hit the scene, so I got into an agility class right away. This is when AKC had one class, you would have the standard class, you would run in. We would drive like, you know, four hours, and you would go in the ring for 30 seconds, and you were done, for the day. So that’s how I, kind of, went. Then, in obedience, of course, I was continuing with that, and private lessons, and then I added agility. I started, when she was young, I started tracking the pet class that I had gone to was run by some Schutzhund trainers, so I would meet with them, when they would do some tracking, and so I learned a little bit about tracking, but I didn’t stay with them long. I would take a lot of breaks on and off from tracking, you know, and of course nose work wasn’t around at that point, but that’s how I, kind of, just, you know, I got the bug. I got the dog training bug with Dreyfus, got the purebred dog that I had more opportunities, and you know, she just made it so enjoyable and easy for me to pick up new sports, and so that’s how I, kind of, you know, you get that first dog, you know…

Melissa Breau: You dive in deep, and the world opens up to you.

Julie Symons: Yep. Yep.

Melissa Breau: So, at what point, I mean, it sounds like you were doing a lot of different things right out of the gate, with Rival. Did you immediately know that versatility was going to be something that was important to you? At what point was that like a conscious thing where that was like something you wanted to focus on?

Julie Symons: You know, I do think it was because of her, and just training her in so many sports, her temperament and her drive were superb. She excelled at everything we did, and she was a great teacher. I mean I still consider myself a novice handler, at that time, and I really got addicted. I got addicted to dog training, and I know, any and all of it, so I just, you know, couldn’t imagine just doing agility. I just enjoyed the cross training and just teaching such different skills, to my dog. I think I would get bored if I only did one, and I think that my dogs, the dogs I tend to get, to me, you know, I don’t want to put human feelings on dogs, but I do think they enjoy the versatility too. I think they like the different skills and the different things they get to do.

Melissa Breau: So, in retrospect, what are some of the benefits that you have seen, from competing in multiple sports, with each of your dogs?

Julie Symons: Yeah. So, what I just mentioned, I do think there’s a cross training aspect to it. I’m not just working on, you know, their muscles for running fast. I’m using their nose, and I’m asking for some precision in other sports, like obedience. It also gives them breaks, you know, instead of working one sport all the time, you know, they take a break from, maybe, some of the more strenuous running and jumping, and then they get to switch to something else. I found that training in the different sports, you just develop and bond and relationship that’s different and maybe a little deeper because you have to learn different context of things, you’re learning more skills, and it strengthens that relationship that you have, you know, you have this mutual understanding with each other, to go out and do these different sports, and that you have these, you know, cues and things that they understand, and it’s just amazing to know that I have…because I train for sports, I don’t normally train just to train. I’ve gotten a little bit more into doing some tricks, I think that’s great for dogs, too, so just to think of all the ways I can teach my dog to do different things, and back to, you know, when I had Rival, she really showed me what was possible to do with a dog, and the possible bonds you can have. I just never thought you could do all of this with a dog, and I just think that’s what made me like the versatility of it too, it’s just a, kind of, challenge to try other sports, you know.

So, when nose work came along, I did not need another dog sport, believe me, but her brother had started it, and I saw a video of it, didn’t know much about it, and he passed away at a little bit of a young age, so I was, kind of, inspired to say, you know, in his honor I’m going to take this nose work class that I heard about Denise teaching, before Fenzi started, and she was actually in heat, or she was injured, or something, so like the timing was really good, so I used that, my dog is in heat or has a minor injury or it’s winter, you know, I think of what else could I do with my dog because I can’t do some of the other things, and that’s, actually, how I got into nose work. So, you know, it just comes along at the right time, for you, with the dog that you have.

Melissa Breau: So, I’d imagine that knowing now, at least, that that’s something that’s important to you, that you want to do a lot of different things with your dog, when you have a new puppy, which you’ve been through fairly recently, you might approach, kind of, those early days a little bit differently, do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Julie Symons: Yeah. I think it is a little different, knowing what you’re going to, you know, train your dog in and compete in, but it’s really quite similar because a lot of the same skills that you need across all the sports, like you need your dog to be able to stay, you know, and sit or down, you really do, in every single sport. You need impulse control, you need them to, you know, wait for your cues. They need focus. They need recalls. You know, you just need all of that stuff, so that’s what I just start building. I tend to train thoughtful dogs. That’s good. I’m thinking like I want more like, almost out of control dogs, but I really don’t. I do tend to train, I tend to teach dogs to be very thoughtful, and I do need to balance that with some of that little bit of edge that I do want from them as well.

Let’s see, what else? But I also, like, approach it by switching on and off. I’m not training every sport all the time, you know, nobody can do that, and even, since training in multiple sports is also a challenge in itself, I also, you know, have a busy day life, day job. I have, you know, a son. I have a husband, so it’s hard to fit everything in. So, how I approach it is I just, sometimes, focus on one thing a month, like I need to teach my dog to weave, so just that month, it happened to be summer, I’m going to just, every day, go out there and train my dogs, a couple of times a day, on the weave poles, and I don’t really have time for anything else, but that’s okay. That’s just what I’m doing that month. Then, the next month, I might focus on, I don’t know, getting out to new places for obedience, and then the next month I may focus on teeter, you know, get my dog on the teeter and everything, so it just, I don’t really have a good, you know, plan around it. I don’t write it down, or anything, I just make sure I train my dog on something, most days, and I usually have a focus, so a lot of it depends on what I might be starting to want to compete in first.

Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense.

Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. Because you can’t, if you try to sit there and say, you’ll get overwhelmed. You’ll get overwhelmed if you’re going to try to say, I want to do all of these six sports, oh my gosh, you know, and you know, I kind of move on. Once Savvy got her MACH 2 to, you now, I didn’t need to get a MACH 3 or 4, so I just decided, she could have still kept running, she was seven or eight, or something, but I just had other things to do. I had to go work on her, you know, TDX or her, whatever, nose work, now. I am very goal oriented to the title, so that kind of drives me in the direction that I train.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that I’ve definitely struggled with, so it’s interesting to hear, kind of, pick one focus. Now, at least, for me, and for my dog, I found that she doesn’t always retain the information long term, if we, kind of, leave it alone and come back to it, you know, like months later. Is that something you’ve had to deal with at all?

Julie Symons: Oh, she doesn’t. Well, no. Well I do think it depends on what it is, if you hadn’t, you know, taught something to kind of fluency, then you’re going to lose a little bit, but I also think they remember some of it, at least, so there are some things that I think you do need to, kind of, not drop off, you know, for too long. It depends, you know, it might be stays or recalls, obviously. I do think that, most part, they do remember, so, in that case, if they don’t, then, you know, you might have to just decide what’s more important that you need, and keep that in because, you know, I could do more than just my weave pole training that month. Obviously, I’m in the catch, and I’ll do stays with my dogs. I’ll put them in a sit stay, while I’m making something, or you know, sometimes it just takes one minute of training, just one to three minutes of training, a day. Everybody can find that.

I started to train a little bit before I went to work. Lately, with Drac, I train when I get home. He is so pumped and into me, that’s when I need to train him because he’s a young, adolescent boy. He, kind of, like doesn’t have a lot of stamina to focus, so I’ve actually had some really, really wonderful sessions, and it just might be as much as i can train with a handful of food and that’s all I do. Now he’s 17 months old, and he is like, oh my gosh, I’m like, he is so focused on me, like that didn’t happen months ago. So then, because I have that focus and maturity, I’m able to, kind of, progress a little bit further or teach him something new, so it’s, kind of, give and take, and you’re right, I know some of the stuff I started with him, like backup, I was teaching him backing up, he doesn’t know that at all, anymore, so, yeah, that is something that I did lose, but that’s not as important to me, to backup, away from me, so I’ve got to get back to that because I do think it’s useful, in some areas, but yeah, I did lose that one on him, by the way. I think what happened was, I was teaching him some other things, like a fold back down, or something else, and he kept backing up, and it wasn’t reinforcing it because I was working on something else, so I think that’s why I lost it because of the reinforcement, you know, I extinguished it. I extinguished his backing up, accidentally.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Do you have any advice, I guess, for other trainers, who maybe want to intentionally train for multiple sports or approach the idea that if they have a dog, they want to compete in multiple sports, either for getting started or just, kind of, for balancing things?

Julie Symons:Yeah. Yes, I do. So, a little bit, what I mentioned earlier, I think if you just don’t get overwhelmed and realize that you aren’t trialling your new dog, right away. It really is going to be years before you really get them in the ring, and I know, like it’s almost like you put a lot of time in those first, you know, two to four years. I didn’t bring in my, you know, Rival, who got an Obedience Champion, she didn’t enter the obedience ring until she was five. She could have gone in a little earlier, but I wasn’t ready, and once I got in and I realized we were ready, but you have time to bring your dog in because once you get them into that ring, at that time, it goes fast after that, so you take that time, you know, I would say two to four years, depending on the sport, and once you get to that point, then it goes really fast. If you start too early, I think you’re just setting yourself up to have too many gaps in your training, and then you’re going to, probably, struggle, and then it’s going to take you longer, so I would, you know, number one, not worry about time. It will come, when ready.

Also, a foundation, like I said earlier, just work on the foundation, work on things that you’re going to want anyway, you’re going to want to save the recalls, the focus, the impulse control, that’s going to apply to every sport, and something that’s near and dear to Denise’s heart, actually, is personal play. I’ve had to learn that more so in the last nine years because my first dog, Rival, was just naturally into me. I was her world. Honestly, I didn’t do anything, to make that happen, and when I got Savvy, and now I have Drac, other things in the world are more interesting, to them, than me, so I have had to think about, wait, I’ve got to build that personal bond, that personal play, not relying on food so much, or toys, and if you can focus on that, and you can have a dog that’s totally into you, that’s half the battle, and then the rest is just skill training, it’s just skills, and we all know how to trail skills.

Seriously, we have all the classes and the tools and the, you know, video examples, and the people’s blogs, we all know how to teach skills, some are harder than others, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a dog that you have built up this wonderful relationship with, I mean we all have wonderful relationships with our dogs. I’m not even saying that. It’s from an interaction, it’s a kind of bonded, you know, interaction that you need to build for that personal play around other, you know, interesting things, in the environment. So, I would say, and I had to, really, grow in that area, for me, and I really bring that into my training more where, to me, it’s more important that I’m going to interact and play with my dog then teach Drac to backup again. To me I’d rather need him to really want to come to me and to play with me, so that’s the things that I would have people to focus on. 

Melissa Breau: You know, I’ve seen, I don’t remember if you shared a video or if it’s on your Fenzi bio, or what, I mean, I’ve seen some of your competition videos, and I would never guess that personal play is something you’ve struggled with. I saw you in between exercises, and on one of the videos you got down on the floor, and you were like very happy to be there. It was really nice. I mean it was…

Julie Symons: Yeah. I mean I think one of the videos might have been Rival, and I did make a clip, once, for somebody, to show what I did between the rings with Savvy, and she’s a very distractible dog. She’ll know the things in her environment, which is typical of Belgians, too, they’re very aware of people, there are some people they just don’t like, and so I’ve really had to work on that, so thank you, for that compliment. To be honest, that is why Savvy didn’t enter the obedience ring for a while. I can’t remember how old she was, when she actually went in for her Novice, CD, but she actually went in for her, you know, Novice CD but she got her Utility title at eight, last year, because I got her, when my son was young, he was only two, so I just didn’t have the time. I had three dogs, and I had my older dog, Dreyfus. I had, did I have three dogs? Yeah. Savvy. I still had Rival and Dreyfus, when I got Savvy, and I just couldn’t do it all. I, actually, realized I cannot do it all right now, and that was okay. That was okay. If I put pressure on myself then it’s just going to carry over to my dogs, so I appreciate that compliment.

Melissa Breau: So, you got there, and you got there at your own pace, and you got beautiful results.

Julie Symons: Yes. Yes.

Melissa Breau: So, I know that, in addition to teaching for FDSA, you also teach in person, right?

Julie Symons: Yeah. So, actually, back in the late ‘90s, I started teaching agility, when I was doing well with my dog and it was still new, in this area. I found, you know, that I enjoyed that. I enjoyed helping people, and I was in a dog club, so I started teaching through a dog club, and then, eventually, when we bought our current property, the first thing we built, you know, we have seven open acres, and the first thing we did is we built a hundred by hundred, you know, fence, so the property was, the house hadn’t even started building, and I had this hundred by hundred, you know, fence.

Melissa Breau: Priorities.

Julie Symons: Yeah. Priorities because it was a lot of deer, and everything, and when I first started, without the fence, you know, a couple of dogs to take off, and that was really scary, so we got the fence up. So, I started teaching on my own. That was probably back in 2000, in 1999 or the year 2000, and then I had my son in 2004, and I tried to keep up, you know, and I tried to keep teaching, and I was still showing Rival actively, finishing up some of her big titles. I just had to back off a bit, so I stopped teaching and took a break from that, and then when I got Savvy into nose work, and she got her nose work 1 title, I immediately was like, “I’m going to start teaching.” I just wanted to get that first title and then start bringing it to my area because I could tell it was an up and coming sport. You know, everybody just didn’t AKC anymore, you know, there’s Barn Hunt, there’s a lot of other venues of dog sports. It was about the same time that I started teaching at FDSA, and so it’s gone very well, locally. People love the in-person classes because they can have them, you know, from me, so they’re spoiled a little bit. So, yeah, really, actually this morning I hosted a little match for some students, and myself, trialing next month, so it’s a lot of work. I rented a building and we had a gym area and another room to do hides. It keeps me busy.

Melissa Breau: So, just for anybody who may happen to be local to you, do you want to share, kind of, what area you’re in?

Julie Symons: Yeah. I’m south of Rochester, New York. I’m near the thruway, so I’m actually equal distance between Syracuse and Buffalo. I do have some people that, you know, come about an hour away, but most are local. Ironically some of them are just like within five minutes of my neighborhood, so we all live pretty close, and Rochester, New York, we’ve heard this for years, we have a really, really big, strong dog community, some really talented people, a lot of people invested in training, you know, competitively with our dogs. You know, I have people, in my classes that, you know, I have few pet people that started with me, people who hadn’t done much of the competitive sports, so I have a mix, but I do have a lot of people who have some dog training experience, and it was cool that they, these are people who do Schutzhund, you know, obedience, rally, agility, like they’re interested in nose work. Their dogs may be getting a little older, they’re retiring form a sport, or they’re young dogs who are coming up, and it’s, really, taught me that it applies, or interests, a wide range of people, you know, it’s not just for certain, you know, demographic of dogs and handlers, so and it’s growing. I, actually, can barely keep up.

I, just recently, made a job change to go to part time. I work at Xerox. I’ve been there my whole career, out of college, and I just decided that I want more time to myself, as well as for dog training. So, yeah, I’m actually really excited about that. The hours will change in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see. I’m not really sure if I’ll get more time to myself. I may just get busier, so we’ll see, but I did find that that’s what I love. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s where I was creative, and that wasn’t the side of my life that I wanted to cut back on, so I just sat back, looked at our situation, and said, “I can do this,” so, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Now you, kind of, mentioned AKC in there, and some of the other Nose work programs, but I know there’s been a lot of buzz about the fact that AKC has just recently added a scent work program, right?

Julie Symons: Yeah, and that timing came quite at a good time, for some of my latest decisions. Yeah. So AKC rolled out a nose work program, they call it scent work, and you know, I think we all expected it to come at some point. I think a lot of people do like to show in AKC. AKC, you know, is a big organization, and probably going to be able to put on more readily available trials for people to enter. I love the other nose work programs. I think they’ve done a really great job with them, and I will still trial in them, but there’s people that are in some isolated areas that are too far for trials, there’s a long waitlist, so I think the AKC program, the reason I’m excited about it, is I think it will get more people into the sport because I really have found that nose work just does something to the dogs. It does something to the handlers. It’s not just the dogs that love because they get to use their nose, but just the people, to see their dogs be these little detection dogs, and there’s something about it. I haven’t quite pinpointed it. I think people like tracking, but tracking, sometimes, is hard to find the field, and there’s also limited, you know, tracking tests. There’s just something about it, and I think it’s just people seeing their dogs, instead of us telling our dogs not to sniff and smell things, we’re letting them sniff and smell things, and they’re doing it with purpose, and they’re doing it, you know, it’s a job. I think dogs are, kind of, bred to do jobs, and it’s a job that comes naturally to them, but there’s still practicing and training and skills that you’ve got to train to actually compete in that sport, so it’s just been something that I’m really excited about with the AKC program.

Then they added this handler discrimination class, which existed in a UKC program, so I’m not as familiar with that, from a nose work context, but I’ve done some articles for 20 years, and you know, I never really had a lot of problem with that, but I understand that it is challenging. I think it’s just more of a mindset of people realizing our dogs really can pick up the smallest amount of smell, and it’s not even a small amount of smell. I mean we’re putting our strong odor on it, compared to anything else, in the environment, so there’s a discrimination that they’re making between our smell and the steward’s, you know, smell, from touching the articles, and in this new AKC program, you actually have your glove, or your sock, that you, you know, scent, and then they’re going to have another  person’s scented, you know, item in one of the other boxes to start, so it’s going to be discrimination, and you know, it’s just like with anything,  you train your dog, what was reinforced, what is the value, so I teach my scent is to be reinforced, there’s a value to that, and to me discrimination is less of an issue than somebody going, oh, I like the steward’s hand smell better. It’s just more that they’re stressed, or they just pick up any article, so I think that the discrimination part, to me, you know, is very trainable, and it’s easy to teach a dog, just like with nose work, we teach our dog these odors, you know, Birch, Anise, Clove, these are odors that we’ve taught you that are reinforced. Any other novel owner, whether it’s a piece of bread or some meat or a toy, or even animal droppings, you know, they may find that self-reinforcing, but if they have the drive for the odors that we have reinforced, then they will seek those out over everything, so. So, yeah, it is pretty exciting, with the AKC program.

 Melissa Breau: My understanding is that you’re going to be a judge, right?

 Julie Symons: Yeah. I did apply, to be a judge, and I was approved. They still have to rollout…

Melissa Breau: Congrats.

Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. I’ve never entered that arena, of judging, so they still have to rollout like some online training and a test to take, so we’re waiting for that to come out, and it’s exciting because somebody, locally, is taking nose work classes with me. She said, oh, we’re thinking of getting this added to our national breed, coming up, and she said, I know somebody who’s a judge, so it will be very nice that I could, you know, maybe for some of the local breed shows, you know, I’ll be available to help with that, to get it started.

Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Now I want to change gears a little bit because I know you also do the obedience games class, at FDSA, even though it’s not in the schedule, until October, I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk a little bit about some of the obedience stuff you teach too, so do you want to just tell us a little bit about the concept for the class and kind of what you cover?

Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for bringing that up. It’s been a very fun class topic for me. It’s called obedience games, and we added a starter version, which I just ended last term because I found that my first version got advanced pretty quickly, so I thought, wow, I can really even break this down more, and that was a real hit. It, kind of, you know, took a life of its own, and it was just real exciting.

It’s about, you know, being informal but still being clear to your dog. It’s about adding more movement and less, you know, static, stationary behaviors, and less fiddling with, you know, precision and the front, so we’re not even doing fronts, so I’m like, we’re not doing fronts in this class. Every time your dog comes here, you’re going to pass a treat between your legs, and then that just builds this like, you know, center of position, and your dog is going to continue with speed, and they’re just going to know, you know, to like go through you, you know. We’re not going to worry about errors. I really emphasize that because we all, you know, we all get a little frustrated or disappointed, and I’m really, really impressed, early on, there are no errors, we’re just training, we’re learning, we’re finding out what gaps we have. We’re getting information from our dogs. There’s no reason to be, you know, upset, or bothered and we don’t want our dogs to ever, you know, we don’t want them to have stress, in this game, and I think that I’m seeing some people give me comments that they’re seeing some people who took my very first obedience game class, last fall, they said, wow, I very rarely still use the games, it’s really helped my dog in the ring. I think it’s more that it’s helped the human, you know, it’s helping humans to, kind of, maybe loosen up a little bit.

One of the things that I really was, you know, enforcing was, you know, these daily games that if you just work, just a few minutes, like I said earlier, a few minutes a day, with your dog, there’s just something about that because I can go days and days without training my dog, I just get busy, you know, but instead, if I just find one little, kind of, action packed, high reinforcing game, to play with my dog, which with a purpose for obedience skills, for example, it just pays off with even your recalls. It pays off with your dog, you know, your personal bond, and I try to do some personal toy and play before every session. I encourage that for the students to do. Then, because we’re all so busy, I’m busy, you know, you can find a couple of minutes every day, and it really will add up and you will find your dog actually learned skills, and they want to work with you more because they look forward to that time of the day, you know, that you train with them.

Another thing is, you know, these scores will come eventually. When I entered, you know, my OTCH dog in her first trial, you know, we did get good scores, but they weren’t going to be scores that got me placed to get the OTCH points, but I was just in the novice class. I didn’t need those points yet, so I wanted her to go in there and know her job and be happy. I just, kind of, worked at those point deductions that I got, I just worked to clean them up, over time. I just said, oh, that’s where our gap is. I’m going to clean it up, and I’m going to lose less points, in that exercise, and that’s how I got to the higher scores, but not until I was, you know, further along, in my obedience competition trial because you’ve got to get that experience, and I just think I was trying to bring that thought process to the games classes. 

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I think that even the mindset, right, from competition to thinking about it all as a game, for the person, is such a difference, and it just brings a more relaxed structure and more fun.

Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. It has. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well it’s been received, and I might even have to come up with like a middle level now. We’ll see how I can plan that. And what I love about it, too, is it complements all the great skills classes that we have, at the Academy, so people can be working on their retrieves, and you know, whatever, you know, all these other little skilled areas, you know, separately but at the same time, but separate from the quick little three minute games sessions because I’m doing that with Drac. Believe me, I’m working on, you know, his retrieve and his hold, and things like that. I’m working those heavy-duty skill things off on the side as well, so.

Melissa Breau: So, to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the three questions that we’ve asked everybody so far, who’s come on the show.

Julie Symons: Okay.

Melissa Breau: So, first, what’s the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Julie Symons: Okay. It has to be just, you know, Rival, my first Terv, she became the first champion OTCH MACH Terv, and just getting that OTCH, actually, in itself, was just a thrill because I just went from the Novice A classes to OTCH, and I learned so much, from her. I, also, had my son, he was a couple of years at that time, and I just needed a couple of more points, and I was going in the ring, and we weren’t doing well. I was no longer training in the open class because my dog was now older, she was ten, or nine, or ten, and there was a lot of jumping. I couldn’t even train. I didn’t have time to train a lot, and I didn’t have time to maintain that, so one of my friends, and trainers, said, “You really need to enter the open class.” On a whim, I entered the one day that had spots left, in open, and we went in the ring, and I said, oh, I’m never going to finish my OTCH. I’m never going to finish my OTCH in an open class because all of the points are in utility and you know the scores, people get such great, you know, scores, you know, and it’s so hard to get the points in open, if you look at the point schedule. We went in the ring, and that’s the one that I show a lot, it’s in my obedience games intro, and we went into the ring, and I love to watch it. I watch it, if I’m down, or something, because just I went in there and I think that’s a lot, what I process my obedience games class with because I went in the ring not expecting much, and my dog was getting older, I knew she was going to be retired soon, and I have a son. I just can’t keep up with everything. I just thought, someday I’m not going to be able to go in the ring with this dog, and so I’m going to go in there and we got like a 199, you know, first place, we got her OTCH from that run.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Julie Symons: Yeah. Then, you know, to be a first in something is so hard, in a breed like the Belgian Tervuren. Now the MACH was a relatively newer title, so some fabulous dogs, before, obviously didn’t have that chance, but yeah, I am, we are the first Belgian Tervuren champion OTCH MACH, so that was very, yeah, special to me.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Julie Symons: To be honest, that dog was so deserving of that, so.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. She really sounds like something special.

Julie Symons: Yes.

Melissa Breau: So, the second question, I like to ask everybody, and I think this is, honestly, my favorite question of the whole podcast, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Julie Symons: Yeah. I was looking forward to this one. I thought a lot about it, and you know, we all get such great training advice, but there’s two that really stuck out to me, and they’ve been pretty recent ones. I absolutely love Amy Cook’s, in one of her classes, but she also said it at camp last year, that, “Every time you train your dog, you’re teaching them how to feel,” and that just, you know, goes back to some of my outlook on training, also, is just like that’s why I don’t want to, if I stress them out, that’s how they’re going to feel about training, so it’s just such a powerful but simple statement that she made, and I really embrace that, and share that as often as I can with my students.

Melissa Breau: That’s great.

Julie Symons: I have a second one too. Can I have two?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Julie Symons: Okay. Another one that I really liked was one from Bob Bailey. It was, you know, he’s big on clicker training, shaping, and he said something that, also, really resonated with me, with, “You better made a decision because the next one is right around the corner.” So, if you think about when you’re training a dog, and you’re like, oh, was that the right criteria. Was it right enough? You know, your next decision is right up on you. You have to make a decision, and it might not be the best decision, and it might not even be the right decision. You probably made a wrong decision, but you have to make a decision on whether you’re going to click something or reinforce something because the next decision is right around the corner, and it’s okay, you look at all of us trainers, our timing is off. We accidently click something that we weren’t supposed to. Look how resilient our dogs are. They recover. You know, they’re fine. So, I just really like that because I think some people, we freeze up, we freeze up in the training, when we don’t know what to do. That’s okay. Do something because you’re going to have to make another decision, like, another second later, so I really pulled that off of a DVD that I was listening to, and I never wrote it down, exactly what he said, but I just remember that concept. So those are my two.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So, for our last one, who is somebody else, in the dog world, that you look up to?

Julie Symons: So, this is, of course, the hardest question, I think, everybody has had, and I thought about it also, so this is obviously tough because I’ve learned so much from people, local and afar, because I work in so many different sport areas, you know, it just multiplies how many people I’ve worked with. I think I’m going to say that I do look up to anyone that thinks out of the box and is willing to try something different. I just think that, sometimes, we all get, kind of, stuck in an area, in a way that we do things, and I think somebody who is willing to, you know, just, kind of, maybe work outside their comfort level or just try something new, I just really respect that because you’re not going to grow if don’t do that. You’re not going to change something, and of course, my learning has exponentially grown, being a part of FDSA. I think the whole base of the FDSA instructors are amazing, so I do look up to the Academy and the instructors that we offer such a diversity of people and topics. It’s not just performance now, it’s from, you know, your mind to cooperative care to competition.

There is one name I will mention, if I have to mention one name, if I have time, is I will never forget one person that I worked with, with Rival, my very first high drive performance dog, her name was Patty Hatfield. She’s from Florida, and she had a wonderful Malinois named Lily, who was on the US agility world team, back in the ‘90s, and she would come to our area frequently for agility seminars, and she helped me, so much, with how I interacted with my dog. I am a pretty high drive person, myself, high energy, actually, high energy, and so with my dog, so she taught me how to, you know, adjust my energy levels, when she needed to be calmer.

She also does just love her dog. She had a great bond with her dog, Lily. She just loved her. She would talk about, you know, when she went home, from a seminar, I know I’m going to do all the wrong things, and I’m going to go hug my dog and just get all crazy when I see her, but you’re not supposed to do that because back in that day, you were supposed to ignore your dog, when you got home. You were supposed to not let them run up the stairs, ahead of you. You’re not supposed to let your dogs on the furniture, or you’re supposed to eat before they ate, all these little, you know, control things that were told to you, and I always remember, because I, kind of, did that stuff too, but I thought, “I’m not going to tell anybody,” but I let my dog up, on my bed, and let my dog run up the stairs, but I always thought I was doing something wrong because that was what you were told back then. I just remember her just saying, “I don’t care what I’m doing, or if I’m doing the wrong thing. I love my dog, and I just got to be excited when I see her, when I come home,” so I always, kind of, still just think of those interactions that I had with her, with the advice she gave me. She had a Malinois, and again, I just love the Belgian breeds, and I could relate to that as well, so.

Melissa Breau: Thanks, so much, for coming on the podcast, Julie, and thanks, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Amy Cook, to talk about using play to help dogs cope with fear and reactivity. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app, of your choice, to have our next episode automatically download 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!

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