The Fenzi TEAM program is a progression-oriented titling program that emphasizes excellence in training. Each TEAM level adds complexity for the dog-handler team in four areas: the difficulty of the skills being assessed, the potential challenges in the form of food and toy distractions, the challenge of the actual testing location, and finally the quantity of reinforcement allowed during the test.
We invited Denise Fenzi, one of the founders of the program, onto the podcast to talk about creating it and how it all works.
To be released 11/03/2017, featuring Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we have Denise Fenzi with us again, this time to talk through the Fenzi TEAM titling program and then share a little bit about her upcoming book. For those who may not have heard the earlier episodes where I chatted with Denise, she is the founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and, more recently, the Fenzi Team Titles.
Melissa Breau: Welcome back, Denise!
Denise Fenzi:Thank you. How are you?
Melissa Breau: I’m good. I’m excited to talk about TEAM today.
Denise Fenzi: I’m excited about TEAM.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to tell us what TEAM stands for?
Denise Fenzi: Training Excellence Assessment Modules.
Melissa Breau: And why did you pick that name?
Denise Fenzi: Well, actually, it was crowdsourced, so I just explained the program on a Facebook list and asked people to contribute their ideas. My experience with Facebook and crowdsourcing is I can come up with a really good answer in a lot less time than I could on my own. So, within an hour or two, somebody came up with that, and I thought it very much described what I was interested in, which is a team event between a dog and a handler. And I wanted to emphasize the training aspect of a competition in this case, and so it fit very well. Training, excellence, assessment, and modules works well because they do build on each other. Each level is a module to the next.
Melissa Breau: So where did the idea for TEAM come from? What led you to create the program?
Denise Fenzi: Well, most people probably know that my interest is competitive obedience, and traditionally I have competed in AKC. And the numbers have fallen off badly over a period of time. So I’ve been competing since I was a kid, so a long time, and back then we would have so many dogs that they would split Open B into two classes, so you would have 60-odd dogs in one class, so that gives you a sense of the numbers. And a lot of things have happened in the meantime.
A lot of new dog sports have come in, and time has gone by, and people have different interests and such. But I hate to see something I love go away, and I think and think about, What was it about the sport that was … why were we suffering so much when other dog sports seem to be doing OK? And as I looked at novice obedience and thought about it, the AKC program was set up a long time ago, when training was done differently, and it was really very logical to start with heeling because of how it was taught. So back then you walked in a circle in a class, or in lines, kind of very military style, up, down, back, forth, run in a circle, and the dog was simply corrected if it went out of position. It was not refined, it was not pretty, it wasn’t meant to be.
The word obedience had meaning. It meant to be obedient. And the dog did what they were told. And so at the novice level, you really did showcase the dog’s ability to walk on a leash, basically what we now call loose-leash walking, except slightly more stylized, right? In heel position. And then eventually you took the leash off, and we had all sorts of ways to do that. And then throw in a recall, because you need a good recall, right? That’s obedience. A stand for exam would have imitated either a stranger touching the dog or a veterinary exam. It wasn’t meant to be beautiful. It was meant to be practical, and the heeling was not beautiful.
So the performances we have now look nothing like the performances of thirty years ago. And as I thought more about it, I think a big part of the problem is we don’t train that way anymore, and really beautiful heeling, the kind of heeling that competitive people want to see in the ring today, takes a couple of years to master. It takes a long time to get a dog to work comfortably for a couple of minutes with extreme precision, head up, and we’re talking 1 inch, in, out, up, down. It’s very minor scoreable issues. Done well, it’s beautiful, and in my opinion, I really enjoy teaching heeling. I like teaching all those tiny bits and pieces. But you don’t just teach it all at once in one fell swoop. You teach it over time. And neither dogs nor handlers really want to spend 10 minutes at a time — and that would be short; some people train for a lot longer than that — working on this one skill. Yet entry-level people who come in from the outside, they’re not thinking utility. They’re thinking, Well, I’ll try the first level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the second level, and if it goes well, I’ll try the third level. Competitive people don’t train that way. They actually train all the skills usually from the start, and by the time they get into the novice ring, they do have two years of heeling, and they have a lot of other skills that they taught.
So if you think about a barrier to entry, when your entry level emphasizes your most difficult skill, you’re going to really struggle to bring in new people because there’s no motivation. And if you do bring them in, what happens is they bring dogs in the ring that aren’t properly prepared. So they may heel, they may get through it, but it’s silent for 45 seconds at a stretch, very, very stressful for the dogs. If you compare that to the higher levels opening utility, the exercises generally don’t go on that long. There’s more going on, there are more cues being given, there’s more movement, there’s more freedom. I mean, on a recall, at least the dog is running and moving. Heeling is hard. And I thought, Well, if I were going to design a program that was designed to reflect the way we train today, what would that look like? And that was the goal of TEAM was to test the same way that we train, and we do train in small pieces, and it was also designed to teach dogs things like distraction training right from the start.
So in our first level we have a stay where there’s a cookie present, but it’s only 2 seconds, so it’s not horrible. But then it’s 15 seconds, and then the dog is working and asked to retrieve within 2 feet of a cookie. But that’s as you go up through the levels, so as one piece gets a little harder, another piece gets a little easier. The other thing we did is incorporated every skill we could think of in the first level. So you have scent discrimination in the first level. You have pivots in the first level. That’s the basis of heeling. You have sit and down in the first level because they matter.
And then, as you work your way up, skills are combined, so now you have a sit and a down, but maybe the distance is greater, or maybe there’s a distraction, or maybe you’re doing it away from home. And it’s kind in the sense that expectations rise over time, so if you are training to the test, you can actually end up with a very well trained dog.
That is not true in traditional competitive obedience. If you train for the test, you’re going to become miserable because you can only do so much heeling and recalls and fronts. And so that’s what we were trying to design was a program that reflected excellent training. So do you generalize your behaviors? Take them new places? Can you engage your dog without a cookie? That’s important to me. Can you engage your dog without a toy? That’s important. Can you end one exercise and go to another one without some kind of external reinforcer besides your voice? Because when I looked around the world at all of the obedience programs, and I looked at a lot of them, what I realized is there’s really a fairly small number of core behaviors that they all use and they combine them in different ways. And if you worked your way through all those levels, including things like fluency, can your dog do it, oh, I don’t know, can your dog sit on cue 20 feet away when you’re laying down on the ground? Well, do you need that? No. But if you can do that, your dog has shown the ability to understand the cue under an unusual circumstance.
Well, a dog show is simply one more unusual circumstance. So the goal of TEAM is that if a person trains the TEAM program and trains for the test, that’s fine, and gets up through several levels, they should be able to go anywhere in the world, take those pieces, look at the organization they are interested in, put those little building blocks together in new ways, and compete successfully.
Melissa Breau: So to dig in a little bit more in the skills specifically, what skills do dogs need in order to compete in the program?
Denise Fenzi:Well, let’s see. You need to retrieve, you need to be able to do scent work, you need excellent rear end awareness, because heeling is very much about moving your rear end and pivoting. We teach skills that include the mouth, the nose, the feet, the eyes. So can you look at the handler? Good. Can you look straight ahead? Good. You need both of those. Can you go out and come back? So we send the dog around a cone. Can the handler teach the dog using props? So you have to be able to show that your dog can effectively pivot on a disc, for example, or find front, which is a precision behavior using a platform.
The first level’s actually quite heavy on precision skills, but each one can be done in a matter of seconds, but I need to know that you can teach really high-level precision skills. But I let you keep your cookies, at least at the beginning levels. That gets thinner as you go, but that’s appropriate as the challenge goes up, as you become more skilled.
Let me think. Scent work, heeling, you need a stay, you’ll need a sit or a down/stay. At the second level you need a sit/stay with a cookie behind the dog with your back to the dog at 15 or 20 feet. You need to be able to jump. The dog has to jump. The dog has to be able to retrieve, but at the first level the retrieve is just hold an object in the mouth for 1 second. It’s not until you get to the top levels that you actually have movement. Eventually the dog needs to be able to work out of motion.
So, for example, the stand out of motion is an AKC utility exercise. We do have that exercise. We do have signals at a distance. We do have go away, so go out to a spot and stay there. We have hold the position for 5 seconds without doing anything, which is shockingly hard for a lot of dogs. They can sit, but if they think you’re going to say something else, they get very agitated when they have to just wait, and that is the expectation of the exercise. The dog has to be able to back up because … and that’s a first level skill. In my experience, dogs that can back up between cues have many fewer problems with creeping forward on a lot of exercises, so I want to see that you’ve taught that. And the dog needs to show a front. Now I will say the first three levels were designed to be foundation for all sports, because as I talked to my agility friends and people in other fields, their dogs can do most of those things.
We actually … many sports start with the same foundation skills. Many of us do touching an object, retrieving, many of us do pivoting on a disc, many of us do platform work, so those things don’t actually change. The really obedient-specific things is probably scent discrimination, and I wanted that in Level 1 because people make it so much harder than it needs to be by waiting. So I think that roughly, I’m sure I left one or two out, but that kind of roughly covers the skills that you work on in TEAM, at progressively more difficult levels as you work your way up. Oh, and behavior chains don’t actually come in until the third level. So up till then, everything is a discreet exercise, go out around a cone and come back.
At the third level there would be exercises like go out 10 feet and get on a platform, and then the handler will direct you to go on. So it’s a go back and field, go on over a jump that’s 10 feet beyond, and then go on to a cone, which is 10 more feet. So now the dog demonstrates that it can work at 30 feet and then come back. That would be a behavior chain. So those don’t start until the third level.
Melissa Breau: At the very least that gives people a pretty good idea of kind of what they’re looking at if they’re interested in the program. Can you share a little bit more about kind of the logistics of how TEAM works? What is the process for somebody interested in titling their dog through TEAM? What do they do?
Denise Fenzi: Well, it is a video submission, so it’s pretty convenient. Now in the first three levels you can tape it anywhere you want. If you have room, you can tape it in your house. A lot of people do the very first level in the house. It’s hard after that because of space. You do have to have a space large enough that the dog and the handler can be clearly seen and heard throughout the test. You videotape your test, you have to do it in order, you submit it through the TEAM website, and then you timestamp where each exercise is in order so that the judge … basically we do that because people forget exercises, so when they’re submitting their video they realize they’re missing one and then they don’t submit, because we really tell people, “Don’t submit a video that’s not going to pass.”
You have all the rules, you can use a very, very active Facebook discussion group to be sure you’ve done them correctly, but we don’t want you to submit a not passing video, so we try to make sure you actually did do all of the exercises. You have to pass all of them except for one. It is “pass not yet.” It’s not fail. It’s not yet. You’ll make it next time. We do not score it, but it’s pretty tight expectations for passing an exercise, so when we say the dog needs to find front, we really do mean front. It needs to be within 30 degrees of front position.
Now admittedly we let you have cookies, right, in those first levels, or we let you have a platform, but not always. So you submit your video and then a judge reviews it. The judge will give you comments on it, so it’s actually a lot of fun to get your results back, because you’ll get all kinds of helpful tips and suggestions.
So the judge might say, “You know, you did a really nice job on this. Consider …” and give you a little advice to progress it forward. So people always say they really like getting the feedback from the judge, rather than a score sheet. I know there are more and more people getting together in groups. I know of a seminar in Ohio, for example, that filled very quickly when they offered it. I know there are training groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and also in Portland. Again, they offered a class and filled it that day. It’s very popular with students because it’s fun. People who are just engaged … people love the idea of coming in and Day 1 their dog is doing cool stuff, not just heeling in a circle. So they love watching their dog do scent discrimination the first week, or get on a disc, or on a platform, and move and do these things. People love that.
Plus, playing with your dog is actually a requirement of TEAM, so people think that’s very entertaining. I love … I love to see that, that people are doing it in groups. You can test alone. I did a test recently with Lyra. She did her TEAM 3. I just set up a video camera, I marked off my area so I wouldn’t walk in and out. You want to think carefully about how you lay it out, because a judge has to be able to judge it, so if they can’t see if your sit is correct in front, or whatever you’ve done, then you won’t … you won’t be able to pass that exercise.
People appreciate it who for whatever reason cannot get to trials, will not get to trials, have test anxiety, whatever the deal might be. It is suitable for more reactive dogs. I will say that all of the levels are off leash, so that is a consideration. You need to be comfortable training your dog off leash, and at some point you have to be able to take your dog to new locations, so that means you either need to feel good enough about your training that your dog is safe off leash in new locations, or that you’re able to find a fair number of new locations to perform. And I know for some people that is a challenge, but I would suggest that that is the nature of competition, that you will go to new places and you must prepare your dog for that. So we do expect that.
Melissa Breau: I think the only thing that maybe you didn’t mention that would be worth bringing up is the idea about questionable exercise. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Denise Fenzi: Yeah, we try to give super-clear criteria for what it takes to pass, but the reality is when you’re looking at somebody’s position and you just watched them do a 360-degree pivot, and it’s supposed to be smooth and continuous, and the dog should be parallel every step of the way, and we allow a 30-degree out of position, you know, at some point. Well, for a judge to decide if it was 30 degrees or 45 when it took place at one moment, or if the handler did something funny with their shoulder but we can’t decide, or, you know, little things like that, we do have the option of giving it a questionable, so that’s kind of halfway in between. A questionable is a half point off, so if you think about ten exercises being 10 points, you’re allowed one “not yet,” so you need a 9. A questionable is half off, so you can have two questionables and everything else perfect and you will pass. If you have one “not yet” and one questionable, you won’t quite make it.
But that, actually, it helps the judges. It makes us more comfortable, because it’s very hard to not pass somebody who you really thought was, really had the essence of the exercise, but you also felt that you could not say they truly did it correctly. So it very much puts the handler on notice, because everything you do at the first level is going to come back.
Nothing goes away. So it just builds on it. So if you got a questionable on your down at the first level, be aware that your down at the second level is at a greater distance and for a longer period of time, so you probably need to go back and look at it. So it helps the trainer do a better job.
Melissa Breau: I think you’re pretty well known as an advocate for positive training, and I wanted to ask a little bit about how that ties in or doesn’t tie in to TEAM. So does someone have to be a positive trainer to compete in TEAM? And is there anything about TEAM that kind of inherently tests the trainer’s training philosophy?
Denise Fenzi: No and no. We certainly don’t ask, and to be kind of brutally honest, I don’t even care. You simply have to pass the test.
In my opinion, it is easier to pass the test if you are a positive trainer, because it is designed to test clean training that is broken into small pieces, and since it’s tested off leash from the first level,
I think most people who are interested in TEAM are pretty comfortable training off leash anyway. But we do not, certainly don’t ask about it. You do not need to be a student of mine, you don’t need to share my philosophy at all. I personally believe that a good trainer of any method can teach most anything, one way or the other, you know, being a good trainer just matters because you communicate well.
But no, we don’t test it, no, we don’t check for your philosophy, and to be honest, we’re just pretty welcoming people, so if a person joins the Fenzi TEAM Players List on Facebook and is a balanced trainer, or mixed methods, or whatever, the topic is probably not going to come up. I mean, I don’t think it ever has, and I really would be surprised if somebody asked outright about that.
Melissa Breau: So if I wanted to put a Level 1 title on my dog, what would that video look like? What skills are at that first level?
Denise Fenzi: Well, they do go in order, and now I have to tell you my poor little head is not remembering the exact order. I do know engagement for 15 seconds. That means playing with your dog. Now playing can be as nice as a belly rub. It just needs to show something where the dog is interacting with you and not trying to figure out how they can just get away. That’s what I need to see — that your dog will stay with you and follow you, and if you interact or clap or smile, that the dog shows some kind of a connection to you. So we start there.
Then the dog goes into using a pivot disc in heel position. So we want to see that the dog can find heel position, and it really needs to be correct heel position, and then show me a 180-degree pivot to the left. Then I want to see your dog show me a front. Most people use a platform in front from several angles, so you throw a cookie off to the left, you throw a cookie straightforward, you give one cue, get the cookie, and then we expect the dog to come back and use that platform to find front.
We do the same thing in heel position. You can use a disc or a platform. The dog needs to show the ability to find its way to heel position, even when the cookies are thrown off center. We want to see your dog go over a jump, but you’re welcome to go with the jump with the dog, and the jump is very low. We want to see your dog back up 2 feet continuously.
We want to see your dog do scent articles. Now how does that look? Well, three scent articles, and you can put food in or on one of them. So talk about stacking the deck, right? We’re going to make this work for you. It’s going to get harder down the road, but I just need you to start thinking about scent discrimination. Your dog needs to clearly indicate the correct article, does not need to pick it up. As long as the judge can say, “Yes, the dog has clearly indicated,” it might nose touch and it might hold that, it might pick it up, it might lay down, I don’t care what the dog does. Just I should be able to tell which one is yours.
There is a retrieve — I’m trying to remember, maybe that’s second level — where the dog holds an object. The dog has to stay in the presence of a cookie in a bowl for 2 seconds and has to release when said “OK.”
So I want to know that your dog knows how to stay, and we want to know that your dog knows how to go. Your dog needs a sit and a down at 5 feet, so that’s not so horrible. Your dog needs to go out around a cone and come back, because we want to start that process of showing us that you can get your dog to go away and come back. Am I leaving anything out? I’m sure I’m leaving something out. I believe there are ten exercises in the first level. And in some ways, in my opinion, the first level is the hardest because there are so many things for a new person to look at, and then, over time, it’s really a matter of building up skills, so
… oh, by the way, that scent discrimination — the handler is sitting next to the article. So they throw a cookie to get the dog moving away, they place their article, and then the dog comes back in. So the dog isn’t working by itself at a distance. There’s no retrieve, there’s no front, there’s no formal anything. Those things will come later, but it does get you started on the path.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think you left anything out. I was checking my little cheat sheet here as you went along, so ...
Denise Fenzi: Oh, good for me!
Melissa Breau: So now you’ve kind of walked through the list of skills, so how did you come up with those things, and how did you kind of decide which pieces to include? What was the process like to put all those pieces kind of together into a program?
Denise Fenzi: Well, I worked with Deb Jones and Teri Martin to create this one, and I will say it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I’m not kidding, actually, and I’ve done a lot of stuff. The reason it was so difficult, we really did look around the world at what are all of the obedience skills. They are jumping, they are heeling, they are position changes, they are retrieving, there’s just a set of things and they come, doesn’t matter where you go, they are done, those skills are done. So we had all of those, we broke them all down and said, “What do those all look like?” So that was one side of a spreadsheet. And then we said, “What are all of the elements of great training?” Well, fluency. Can your dog do those behaviors under adversity? OK, we want to test fluency. Formality. Can your dog do those behaviors when you’re quiet and still and only one cue? We’re kind of particular about that. We don’t allow a lot of handler help. You really need to be formal.
Can your dog do these behaviors in an unfamiliar environment? I call that generalization. Can your dog generalize the exercise? Can your dog do it under distraction? So if there are toys or food in the area, can your dog still perform correctly? So we had a spreadsheet, which kind of created a matrix, which said, “How can we test all of these things without pounding a person at each level?” Because we don’t test everything at every level. We sort of, at one level you’ll notice it’s more skill based, so the first level is very heavy on skills, and then also can you create behavior chains?
We don’t even introduce the behavior chains until the third level. I mentioned that. Distraction training does start very, very light in the first level, but it gets harder and harder as you go on, second level, third level. Scent work, we decided first and second level, but you don’t even have it at the third level. You have it harder at the fourth level. So we went through, and we had checkmarks here and there, and we tried to figure out by the time the person has done all six levels did I feel confident that they had the skills to go anywhere in the world and compete. Now I’m not saying they wouldn’t have to rearrange the exercises, because they would, but that’s kind of irrelevant.
A person who finishes all six levels, who has also taken me seriously when I said, “Show me these exercises” in whatever, seven new environments or whatever it is, if they did that and they did it within the spirit of the program, i.e., they really did go to new places, they didn’t just keep going to their friend’s back yard, if they did that and they really did try to show their dog the types of environments that would be involved in competition, then they should be successful, and their dog should be comfortable because they are well trained. So that’s how we got there. Where it got quite painful breaking it up into fair chunks, so you want challenge, but you don’t want people to give up, because it’s kind of hard. Finding the balance between accuracy, which is what we emphasize in the first three levels, and movement, flow, behavior chains, which is what we emphasize in the second three levels.
Making decisions about things like a sit at heel. We actually don’t require it. You just have to tell us. Your dog either sits at heel or stands at heel. Same as front. I don’t care if your dog sits or stands, because again, around the world that varies. So you can pick what is most comfortable for you, or you can pick, like, if you have an older dog, maybe they don’t want to sit anymore, so fine, don’t have them sit, that’s not a problem. But it can’t be haphazard. You have to say, “My dog sits in heel,” or “They stand in heel.” So we judge that. That took a lot of thinking, trying to figure out around the world how could we design a program that didn’t create active conflict. So I think we did all right, but it did take some thought.
The next thing was setting criteria. What is a front? What is a finish? What is a down? It sounds simple until you look at a dog on a down who is one inch from the ground, the elbows aren’t down. Now all of a sudden you say, “What is a down anyway? And you realize these things are not simple. So laying out criteria was very challenging.
We do have video examples of all the exercises, so you can just look. If you’re a reader, you can read through our very detailed descriptions of what we want to see, what it takes to pass, how it should be set up, and then you can look at the video and you’ll see an example, “Oh, OK, that’s what it should be.” We do say what will cause you not to quite make it, but we don’t list everything. It’s impossible. There’s just too many possibilities. We do list the most common elements.
There is a website called fenziteamtitles.com. It’s well laid out, so you can just pick a level and look at it. Most of the levels have video runs where you can see a start to a finish. Not the higher levels, because I think we so far only have one or two dogs that have made it to Level 5, so there’s just no videos to be had at the higher levels, but they’re working on it. The program’s only slightly over a year old, and we did change our rules about two months ago at Level 1. We just made it flow a little bit better, so it’s possible we don’t have up a full Level 1 run with the new rules. We should have one soon.
So what a person will want to do is start with the website, start looking at the levels, they may find they already have several of the skills. Watch the videos so they see how it works.
Join the Fenzi TEAM Players List, which has become quite active, and get to know your team players, the other people, who are very supportive. Register your dog.
I think it’s $20 to register your dog. That will put you in the database. The database is searchable. Some people choose to be searchable to the public and some people choose not to. If you are a trainer and if it matters to you, you might want to make sure you’re public, because then people can see what titles you accomplish. Your TEAM titles will be listed there for each of your dogs. And a video run costs $29, so remember, you should only have to submit it once and you only have to pass once, so don’t submit a video that’s not passing, which makes it a very inexpensive titling program if you submit only passing videos.
We do have a Plus level. Plus just means the 1 Level you showed in a new location, the 2 Level you showed in a new location. When you get to 3 Plus, then you can go on to the fourth level. The fourth, fifth, and sixth are all new locations. So that’s probably how I would start if I was intrigued. I would join the Fenzi TEAM Players, and I would also from there get on the newsletter, you know, because I put out newsletters with tips and videos to kind of help you on your way.
Melissa Breau: So you talked a little bit about this. I wanted to see if you’d talk about it a little bit more, kind of the … that the levels build on each other. I know you added a little bit at the end about the Plus titles, but is there anything you kind of want to add to that?
Denise Fenzi: So when we designed it, so, like, for example at the first level, where you make your pivot on the pivot disc when the dog stays in heel position, you do have a disc. That would be first level. Second level you also have to show us pivots, but there’s no disc this time, so instead of doing 180 degrees to the left, now you’re going to do 360 degrees, and you’re also going to do it to the right, so that’s a little bit harder.
When you get to the third level, now I need to see pivot left, pivot right, pull sideways 2 feet and go forward 2 feet. Now that’s the first true heeling. But if you can do that, if you can pivot left from Level 1, pivot left and right without a disc from Level 2, and do what I just described at Level 3, then when you get to Level 4 and you’re doing true heeling, your dog knows how to heel. There’s just no question about it.
Or in Level 1 you have to show that your dog can find heel position with a platform, and your dog needs to be able to find front. In Level 2 you need to show me a formal recall without a platform. So did you have the skill to get rid of that platform? And your dog needs to show me a correct finish. That means straight without a disc. So the skills in Level 1 directly influence Level 2. So Level 1 can use props. Level 2 can you get rid of props and maintain precision? So that’s what I mean by the levels build on each other.
And then once something we feel is mastered, then we let it slide. So Level 4 we no longer judge the quality of your straightness. We figure you’ve already shown us that you know how to teach straight fronts and finishes. It’s totally up to you if you care to maintain them. We don’t care anymore. Now we’re going to do stuff where your dog runs out 40 feet, goes left around a cone, or maybe over a jump, or maybe gets scent articles, or whatever. Now we’re going to look for other things. But the first three levels are precision. After that it’s just kind of free fun, interesting ways of combining exercises that people wouldn’t have thought of.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask a little bit about the tools that are out there if someone is struggling to teach their dog those skills. I know you mentioned the Facebook group, and I will include a link to that in the show notes, for anyone who’s interested.
Denise Fenzi: We also have at the Academy, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy does teach classes that teach TEAM skills. There’s a couple ways you can get it. One is just take a class called TEAM. TEAM 1 is running right now. Now unfortunately, registration is closed, so you cannot join now. TEAM 2 is running in December. So if you look over the skills and you say, “You know what, I have most of TEAM 1,” then feel free to pop into TEAM 2 in December. It’s not like you have to have the title to take the class. And since TEAM 2 is building on Level 1, you will be improving your Level 1 skills, so you have that option. You also have the option of when Hannah Branigan teaches her obedience skills series, she teaches obedience very much the way we structure the TEAM program.
It’s bits and pieces. So while it’s not a perfect fit because it wasn’t meant to be, many of the skills you would want in TEAM happen to be covered in her Obedience Skillbuilding series. So you can take classes at any given time. There will probably be webinars on the topic. I would guess we will teach webinars on it. There are support groups out there that you can find through the TEAM players list, if you want to hook up with people more locally and see if there’s somebody you can work with.
Melissa Breau: So far, which skills do people seem to struggle with the most? And then I’d love it if you’d share some tips for problem-solving those skills.
Denise Fenzi: Well, the scent discrimination, this is really interesting, almost everybody passes it, but boy do they howl about having to teach it. So if I can get them to believe in themselves, they don’t seem to struggle that much. They do teach it, but getting them to start teaching it is very hard because they can’t get it out of their heads “This is a hard thing, this is an advanced skill.” No, it’s not. It’s no harder than anything else. It’s just that you make it hard by thinking about it like that. So it’s actually almost always, almost always, people pass the scent discrimination, but the getting them to teach it is just misery.
I would say where people struggle the most is on the pivots. Staying in heel position accurately is very hard for people. Their dogs have developed all sorts of habits, you know, maybe they start to pivot and the dog jumps around into position, or the dog waits until they’ve moved 90 degrees before the dog catches up. We score that down, so you cannot pass if your dog does that. And while people gnash their teeth a bit and get very frustrated, the reality is if you ask them again in two weeks if they worked on it, they say, “Thank you for holding your criteria, because, you know what, after I worked on this for two weeks, not only did I do it, but I learned how to do it and my dog got better, but miraculously my dog’s heeling has improved dramatically because he no longer bumps me on left turns.” And that’s kind of the whole point of TEAM. Like what I tell people if they’re struggling with their precision and obedience, I say, “Well, try this.
I don’t care if you’re working on your OTCH. Stop all your obedience for one month and only do TEAM 1. Only TEAM 1 level for one month. Now go back to your obedience and tell me what happened.” And it just never fails. Because they went back and focused on the foundation precision skills, when they go back into their obedience, their dog is that much better.
It’s a bit of an eye-opener for people. So I would say pivoting on a disc gives people a fair amount of … they stress about it, they worry about it, the pass rate is not as high, I would say, on that exercise than most of the other exercises.
Melissa Breau: Any tips for working on it?
Denise Fenzi: I just did the last Fenzi TEAM newsletter. It shows a video, I’m working with Lyra on how to keep her in heel position when I do sit, down, stand in position when I’m moving my feet, and if you want to use that, it will also teach your dog how to — it’s the same skill, actually — how to keep their rear end in position. So feel free to look at that, and that should help you out.
And if you search my blog, I do so much on my blog of obedience. And it has a pretty good search function, so you can put in something like “heeling” or “pivots” or “a disc,” any of those. Or if you want you can buy my self-study program, called Precision Heeling, through FDSA. That is available at any time, not just during terms, so you can buy it today. Tons and tons and tons of video and discussion about pivoting and heel positions, very heavy on that, so you would, in theory, be quite good at it by the time you were done with that course.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. And I think that I can share a link to the last TEAM newsletter in the show notes. So if I can do that, I will.
Denise Fenzi: Oh, that’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned a little bit earlier that there are places starting to offer some classes. Is there anything that people have to do if they want to offer classes? Is there anything special they have to do to get started? Or kind of how does that work?
Denise Fenzi: No, I am not at all proprietary about it. You can use the name of the program in your advertising, you do not have to credit me in any way, shape, or form, you can do what you want, you can teach it how you want. So it’s simply there, it’s simply available.
The Fenzi TEAM Titles is not associated with FDSA, it’s not associated with the school. They are two separate things. I have no restrictions whatsoever on how you teach it or anything, really. You can use our logo if you’re teaching. Not the FDSA one, but you can use the Fenzi TEAM Titles logo if you’re offering classes on Fenzi TEAM Titles. Go to town, have a good time.
I think this is good for dogs, I think it’s good for dog training, and I think many trainers are finding it to be quite an eye-opener when they realize how effective training this way is. And since it happens to be one of my personal strong goals, anything I can do to make that work makes me happy, and I actually think if people take to this program that it will also improve the status and the wellbeing of obedience as a sport, regardless of what organization you decide you want to compete in or not. It’s not really that important. What I do care about is that people do things with their dogs in a kind and friendly manner, and so we have set up a program that allows you to do that. So go to town if it serves you well. I mean, I would personally, if it was me, if I was training dogs for AKC obedience competition, I would from Day 1, after those dogs are done with their pet manners class, if they show any interest in competition, I would start them in TEAM, and then, after getting up through a few levels, they could say, “You know what? And you’re ready for your CD,” because they would be, with just a bit of polishing, and the odds that you kept them, and you kept them intrigued and happy.
When I talk to people who teach TEAM classes, they say retention is very high because people have a good time, they love coming back, they love seeing, “Look, my dog can find a scent article,” “Look, my dog can retrieve,” “Look, my dog can jump.” After six weeks your dog will, if it’s well trained, should be able to go around a cone, get on a platform, pivot in heel position with a disc, hold an object in its mouth. That’s cool, that’s interesting.
Pet people do have the attention span for that for six weeks. They do not have the attention span for heel position walking in a circle. I mean, I don’t have the attention span for that. So whether you even want to teach TEAM, I would really suggest that some of these clubs, these AKC clubs that are struggling and that can’t find new members, something like this, where people start to play and laugh and engage, because engagement is part of it, and be silly with it, and teach cool things that everybody, “Oh, it’s a trick,” OK, well, call it what you want, it’s getting to where we need to go, I think that would do wonders for the culture of our sports. So use it as it works for you.
Melissa Breau: So I know that TEAM right now seems pretty focused on obedience, and I wanted to ask if you’ve considered doing TEAM programs for any of the other sports out there.
Denise Fenzi: The first three levels of TEAM was never designed to be obedience. I’ll just put that out there. It was actually really designed to be a foundation for any performance sport, because it teaches skills that the body awareness, the handler cues, the distraction training, the proofing, all of those things were really meant to cross all sports. So the first three levels is for that. I will say that we have at least considered, contemplated, adding stuff. What we’re going to add, I don’t know. Like I said, it was hard. It was a hard thing to do, and I don’t like to do things that aren’t well done, so if we’re going to do another level, it has to be done well. But I would say that, like, nose work might be a possibility, so yeah, you know, you never know. You never know. So it’s something to keep an eye on.
Melissa Breau: Alright, and before we wrap up, I want to ask you about that book. So a new book? Want to share the details?
Denise Fenzi: Can you believe that? I know, I just keep writing them. I wrote a book called Beyond The Back Yard: Train Your Dog Anytime, Anywhere, and I wrote it to the pet market. It’s a distraction-training book, and it was quite popular.
I sold more copies of that book than any other book I’ve done. And it did not sell to the pet market. It actually sold to the competition market just as heavily, which is great, but I’m sort of intrigued by that market, by the sort of in-between pet trainer, a little bit of competition dog trainer, engaged, I’m going to call it an engaged pet person, I’m very interested in that group because those are the future dog people. I like those people.
So this book is called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior, and it is not an obedience book. Actually it’s a hard book to explain. It’s very, very heavy on understanding the emotional reasons that dogs do things. So, for example, if you have a barking problem, you can have a barking problem because you have a stressed dog, a bored dog, an anxious dog, an under-exercised dog.
I mean, there’s so many possibilities, and it’s actually important to understand that, because the solutions are often diametrically opposed to each other. So the way you handle a bored dog and an anxious dog, you cannot use the same solution. If you do, you will make your problem worse. So the book is very much about understanding the reasons, the underlying reasons, for dog behavior, analyzing your dog from that point of view, and once you understand why your dog is doing the things it’s doing, then you can set in place a behavior plan to fix it. And then I give a bunch of case studies using recalls, I think there’s seven dogs that all have recall problems, and they all have problems for different reasons. And it discusses the reasons, and then it discusses potential solutions for each of those dogs.
So you can pretty quickly see why each dog solution needs to be for that dog and not the next dog. And then barking is also handled, dogs that bark excessively. So maybe seven dogs, and again, many different reasons. So we go through and we look at things like temperament of the dog. We do talk about breed, we talk about health, we talk about general emotional state, we talk about training. It’s not a book on training, but in relatively few pages I sort of packed in everything you could ever possibly want to know about what makes good dog training, how to do it, it’s all in there. It’s just exceptionally condensed.
If I was going to say who would get the most bang for the buck out of this book, I would say a dog trainer who specializes in behavior. If they could get their clients that have problem behavior dogs to read this book, they would save themselves an enormous amount of explaining, cajoling, coercing their clients, because the clients would get it. They would get it from the dog’s point of view, and I think they would be endlessly more cooperative with the program when they were able to understand why their dogs, because all behavior serves a purpose, and when people take the time to figure out what is the purpose that this problem behavior is solving, now you can address it.
So that’s what this book is about, and then it also talks about if it doesn’t work, what do you do now? If your solution didn’t work, how do you go back and evaluate and analyze it? So that book will be available in Europe, because they get published in different places, probably in a day or two, so by the time the podcast comes out, it should certainly be out. In the United States I expect it out November 6, and that would be through my own website, thedogathlete.com. In Canada I would expect it maybe the middle of November. Australia/New Zealand probably closer to the end of November. So the Europeans are they’re the lucky ones because it should be out in a day or two.
Melissa Breau: Want to repeat the name one more time for folks so they can Google it?
Denise Fenzi: Yeah. It’s called Beyond The Basics: Unlock Your Dog’s Behavior.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Denise, for coming back on the podcast.
Denise Fenzi: Thank you for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Shade Whitesel to talk about toys and common issues, including talking about introducing work to play.
Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
Laura began training professionally in 1999, and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over-the-top to Under Control and her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil and Savvy: Training and Socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs.
She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
To be released 10/27/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titling program and her upcoming book.
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 Laura VanArendonk Baugh.
If that name isn't familiar to you, no worries. Laura is actually our first non FDSP instructor to be on the show.
Laura began training professionally in 1999 and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, training crazy dogs from over-the-top to under control. And her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil, and Savvy: Training and socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs. She owns Canines in Action Inc. in Indianapolis and speaks at workshops and seminars. She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
Hi, Laura, welcome to the podcast.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Hi, Melissa. I am thrilled to be here.
Melissa Breau: Good. I'm looking forward to chatting with you. To get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you're working on with them?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I have two dogs at this time. Penny is a Labrador who was raised as part of a Clicker training research project with guide dogs for the blind, and she actually ended up coming back to me. As a trainer, it's important for me to say her training was great. She did not come back to me for a training reason, which would've been fine too, but that's always like, my little, “No, I'm a trainer. She was good.” So anyway, so she now has very important tasks at home. She has to hold my couch down, she has to check my ponds daily to see if it's wet, so that's Penny's life right now.
Melissa Breau: Critical.
Laura: VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, Yeah. Those are important tasks. I also have Undómiel, who is my young Doberman, and she's Danish, so she has ears and a tail and all the extra bits, and she's pretty high-energy, and pretty fun, and I actually have some guilt because you ask what I'm doing with them right now.
Right now, they both are just dogs, which is a little weird for me because they spent so long in the dog sport world. And I took some time off mostly with Undómiel because she loves to work, but she wasn't loving mondioring, which is what we were doing with her as a puppy, and I think that was in part physical. I needed…she had some fairly loose joints and I think it just wasn't comfortable for her, so we could go back and do it now, but she's matured a little bit, but I've scheduled my life poorly so that’s why we’re in a holding pattern still, so yeah.
Melissa Breau: Far enough. So I know I kind of mentioned you've been in personal training since 1999, but I wanted to ask a little bit about how you got into it. So how did you originally get into training professionally?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I didn't want to do what I went to school for is the short answer to that question, so I graduated with a couple of degrees in, you know, mass communications, and a foreign language, and all these things that, you know, I'm like oh, okay, those are nice, but I don't want to do that. I ended up getting into…I’d done some obedience training and such previously. I ended up getting a job doing that actually at a big box store, so that kind of thing. I worked up there, became a regional manager for the training program, and it was actually while I was there that I went… I'm a crossover trainer and I was originally trained in more the Koehler approach and kind of encountered clicker training and was like oh, this makes sense, oh, this works really well, and then so I had my crossover experience, and yeah, just kind of never looked back after that, which is funny because for so many years I was like oh, food and toys are stupid, we don't bribe dogs, and that's totally not where I am now, so. Well, I'm still in the we don't bribe dogs, but toys and food are not necessarily bribing, so.
Melissa Breau: Right. So is there anything in particular that got you started on that journey? What was kind of the switch or was there a particular experience, or anything kind of that you can point to?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There were several things. I mean, I kept seeing people doing interesting things with Clicker training. That was nice.They were doing cute tricks and stuff. And then the kind of the clincher for me was one of my dogs at that time, her name was Chaucer, she was a brilliant little dog, and she was mildly reactive, and the longer we worked the more and more reactive she became, and nothing that I knew how to do was working, and in fact, everything was getting worse, so clearly the dog was stupid. It couldn't possibly be me. And so I ended up talking with someone about Clicker training and the nugget that I got from that was to click for the behavior that you want the dog to do, and I thought okay, I want her to be around other dogs without barking and launching, so I will wait until she looks at another dog and then I will click before she barks. So this actually makes great sense and we do it all the time now, and Leslie McDevitt called it the “look at that” game, so it sounds hilarious to say that I invested the look at that game as my first Clicked behavior, which in no way am I taking credit for that because I had no freaking clue what I was doing. It was one of those things that was very logical and I accidentally got it right, but was amazing about that is it worked, like, within seconds, and I guess that she was a brilliant dog, she made this work for me despite my absolute ignorance. And so I clicked her, she turned around and got her treat, and I clicked her again and she turned around, and I was like, oh, wow. Like, we're 10 seconds in and this is working, and you know, the effect of prompt reinforcement, it changed my behavior, and so that's where I started doing more research and saying oh, this is really cool.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, especially since you've been trying other things for so long and probably got really frustrated, at that point, with the lack of results.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there was a lot of frustration. Yeah. I was so ready for something to work and I think if you look at the dogs…a lot of the dogs that we work with, a lot of the reactive dogs, you know, they're very frustrated, they're ready for something to work, and just having that really powerful instance of positive reinforcement for a different behavior, it can be massively effective because, you know, I lived that, I'm not just making that up because that's the way the theory goes, that was my experience is I was so frustrated, I got something that worked so well, and I was like okay, tell me more. Like, I'm in now.
Melissa Breau: Right. So I want to talk a little bit about your first book, and maybe…you just kind of share a little bit about this. What led you to write Fired up Frantic and Freaked out?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I was... with Canines in Action. I do a lot of in-home sessions. I work with a lot of dogs that aren't equipped, for whatever reason, to come into a group class and I realized that about 70 percent of my cases were anxiety or reactivity, and I just kept saying the same thing over, and over, and over. I'm like oh my gosh, I should just write this down, save time, so I did so. So that's honestly kind of where that came out of was I was seeing so much of it, and doing so much of it. It was made partly as a reference guide for clients if they wanted a homework sheet, you know, here's a book to follow along with, and partly so that I would maybe not have to say it quite as so often in the future, which would be fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So for those not familiar with the book, can you explain a little bit kind of about the main focus and what you talk about?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: The focus there is really on teaching dogs to think and to kind of be cognitive in the moment. One of the things I talk about is if you have a fear reaction or just a pure joyous, excitement reaction, those can frequently result in the same behavior patterns and problems because what you have is a dog who is just way too excited to think, you know, whether he sees eustress or distress, he's still stressed and aroused and not processing. So it's about teaching the dog to think in the moment, it's about reducing threshold, and it's especially about teaching the human end of the leash to develop a good splitting technique and utilize that to make it much easier for the dog to focus in a new situation.
Melissa Breau: I definitely read your first book and one of the things that really stood out to me was the nice balance you managed to strike between the what and kind of the why, so it covers both the approach to training and kind of the science behind what's going on in the dog's brain, and I think you managed to do that in a pretty accessible way. You know, when I picked up the book I definitely did not have the background that I do now, and it really kind of helped build a base understanding for me. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach training for a dog that tends to overreact, like the approach that you use in the book?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Well, first, I'm just so happy to hear you say that because I'm such a science nerd and I wanted to make that science very user-friendly, so thank you, that's awesome. So the mat is…and definitely, I am not the only person to use a mat in this way. I want to be up front. I don't want to claim credit where it's not due. There's a lot of really great matwork protocols out there, but what they all have in common is it's a really handy visual crutch for the dog and it certainly doesn't have to be a mat. There's a lot of just kind of physical or mental touchstones that could be used, but a mat is just so convenient and so easy for the human to use in that way... but what you're doing is you're building a fluency, you're building some patterns of behavior that a stressed animal can fall back on, but you're also building some patterns that they can work through, I guess on a more cognitive level. “Oh, when my mat is presented I should think about going to my mat, I should think about doing these behaviors on it.” And you can use it both as an emotional crutch. “Oh, I'm on my mat, nothing bad can happen to me,” or as a actual behavior prompt, you go through these physical actions and you can earn reinforcement for it. And then the big thing that the mat does so well, and this is why think it so useful, is it's so easy to split behaviors in a situation using that mat, so I can take it, obviously, from looking at the mat, touching the mat, going to the mat, down on the mat, chin down on the mat. But then I also have a nearly infinite number of positions that, that mat can be in, in or around a trigger, or whatever. So it's a very flexible tool, I can fade it, or not fade it based on necessity, it's just a really easy way for people to do that, and for me as an instructor. So I'm working with clients who aren't coming in with a huge skill set and a lot of background. It's easy for me to manipulate the mat and they can focus on the dog or their patterns, and it just takes some of the load off them. There's a lot of flexibility to it. I like it.
Melissa Breau: It makes the criteria clear for the person as well as the dog. It's kind of neat looking at it.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely, Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I knew you mentioned you like to nerd out a little bit on that stuff and I'm going to give you full approval to go ahead and do that. So I wanted to have you share a little bit about kind of why it works and what's going on in the dog's brain, kind of what you're teaching when you introduce the mat work and begin to introduce triggers and all of that.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Awesome. There's a lot going on in the brain, but what I'm specifically…what I think is great about these kinds of approaches is if I have a stressed dog and an anxious dog, and let's be honest, that's where almost all of aggression or reactivity comes from, and so I've got a dog who is not in a happy place in his head, and every time I click with a Clicker-conditioned dog there's a tiny little shot of dopamine that's going on, so if I'm bringing a dog into what could potentially be a trigger situation, and we start with low criteria and we're building up at a rate that he can be successful at, with a high rate of reinforcement, you know, constant reinforcement going on, and this dog is getting dozens or hundreds of little dopamine shots... It's free drugs. Legal. That you don't have to wrestle down his throat in a pill form. It's great.
And so I think that's a really key thing that…you know, it's just built into the system. There's no way to mess that up if we've set up our Clicker and our training situation right that's going to work for us a hundred percent of the time, so I think that's great. And so yeah, a lot of it's just taking the dog…the visual I use, and I always tell my clients, you know, if this works for you, great. If this doesn't work for you, flush it. There will not be a quiz at the end of the day. But the visual I use is there's a continuum and the dog is limbic and reactive at one end, and he's very cognitive and rational, and analytical at the other, and he can't be both at once, so we’re asking the dog to move away from reactive and toward proactive, and we do that by making him…that's why I love Clicker training, specifically shaping and capturing as opposed to luring, which there's nothing…you know, it's not a moral problem to lure, but it's less useful in this particular context because I want that dog being analytical, and kind of really just crunching down on what behaviors should I try next, and he can't do that while he's being reactive, so if I'm reinforcing being analytical it's going to change not only what he's doing, but it's going to change the chemistry in his brain.
I've had this happen a number of times, but I'm thinking of one particular incident. I was working with a client and their dog for the first time. We're in their living room, we're in the front room and we've just been introducing the mat. The dogs not even fully down on the mat yet. He's experimenting with a number of things, but he really hasn't grokked yet that down is what we're after, and while we were working a FedEx delivery guy showed up at the front door, which is the dogs worse trigger, from what I've been told, and they're knocking at the door, he's leaning in, and he's 10 feet away from this dog and the dogs looks up from the mat and he just gets like…his forehead is creased, his little eyebrows are pushed together, and you could almost just see him be like, “dude, I'm busy,” and he looks back at the mat, and I am just clicking and treating, like shot gunning rapid fire because the dog's staying on the mat. And you could see he was just really tempted to… “there's a pattern that I'm supposed to go to, but I'm really concentrating on this right now,” and it's a physically different mode that they had to get into and just like it's hard for them to get out of that…you know, if you've ever tried to talk to dog out of that reactive burst when they're lunging and barking, and they can't snap back into rational thought. It's just as hard to go the other way. So we just put them in the rational thought and then it's harder for them to fall into limbic.
Melissa Breau: Interesting. I love that example just because it really kind of illustrates what the purpose and kind of the effect. I have a change in brain space.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I loved it because it was their first session and I was like, man, if I could have set this up any better to get client buy in, you know? This was great.
Melissa Breau: I bet they followed through.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about your new book. It's a fairly different topic, so what led you to write Social Civil and Savvy?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I think it's really interesting that you say it's a different topic because I'm looking at it as these are the same things. For me, socialization is kind of the prequel, it's getting your dog to think proactively in a novel situation, potentially triggered situation, before we develop a problem, which of course is my idea. I think most trainers would love to put themselves out of business. You can always go and train, fun stuff, but you know, if we're working with reactivity and aggression and all of that we would love to put ourselves out of business there. But yeah, socialization is all about teaching young brains to look at a situation and go, “this is interesting, what can I do here to get what results,” so.
Melissa Breau: So how do you actually define socialization, either for yourself, or you know, kind of in the book?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: That's a much wigglier concept than you would think. There should be a six-word definition that would be easy to apply, but you know, even when you get into psychology texts and stuff it's not that simple even in our own species. The way…I'm going to do this as a truly practical application, I want socialization to mean I am aware of my environment, I am making proactive decisions about my environment, and I'm still thinking about the environment, so even if something is new I can compare to things I've seen before, I can say, “huh, this is interesting, what happens if I try this.” You know, I want an animal whose thinking proactively is my ultimate goal there.
Melissa Breau: Is there one place where people often kind of go wrong, or you know, kind of a misconception you think people have when it comes to socializing puppies that maybe sometimes causes more harm than good?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, I think there's actually two. I think…and it's two ends of a spectrum where you have, you know, the I don't socialize at all, and a lot of times you hear trainers talk about…depending on what part of the country, but you'll hear trainers talk about winter puppy syndrome. The puppies come home in November or December, and the weather is horrible and nobody takes them out to do anything until spring, and by then you have dogs who are like no, no, the world looks like my living room, and then anything outside of that is scary. And in the other extreme is doing too much in the name of socialization and just really overwhelming a dog in teaching them that they don't necessarily have control of their environment and the world is a scary place, and I've seen a few articles circulating lately on the dangers of socialization, and you shouldn't socialize because it's bad for your dog, and on the one hand I was like hey, guys, you know. Several years ago I wrote an article called Don't Socialize the Dog, this isn't new, but the point is not that we don't socialize, the point is not to socialize badly, and I think if I take a dog to a situation that's overwhelming and I don't give him agency, choice and a way to affect his environment, yeah, I'm going to get myself in trouble. I'm teaching the dog that reactivity is his only choice, but that's not a fault of socialization. That's a fault of bad socialization.
Melissa Breau: So I've kind of heard it expressed as, you know, it's not just that you want them exposed to things it's that you actually want to them to have positive experiences with things. Is that kind of…
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: Okay.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. I want every socialization experience, if I have perfect control of things, which we rarely do, but this is my goal. I want every socialization experience to end with “I win! What's next?” and that's…even if the dog starts off with a little bit of worry about something, or whatever, like, work through it, let the dog know that everything was a puzzle and he solved it, he's awesome. And you know, I want positive experiences and I specifically want positive experience where the dog felt like he had some control in that environment. So one of the big things…and this is why I think the socialization book and the fired up and frantic book are the same topic.
Predictability and a sense of control are the two things that I tell my clients that we crave in order to feel safe, and you know, I want to know what's coming, and I want to have some say in what happens to me, and that is what socialization is. It's teaching the dog hey, this is how the world works, this is what you can expect to see, and this is what you do to manipulate your environment and get what you want. And manipulate is not a dirty word, it's just agency, so if you want people to pet you this is what you do, if you want people to leave you alone this is what you do, and giving them that sense of control, now there's nothing to fear. Hooray. We're done. It’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: So if people were to pick up the book, read through it, and only walk away with kind of one thing, or one message. What kind of key piece of information would you want them to learn?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Give your dog a happy sense of control. I think. Is that a good…I don't know. That kind of condemns everything I just said. I want a happy puppy feeling he has choice, and yeah.
Melissa Breau: I normally and every episode with kind of the same three questions, so I wanted to give you a chance to answer the same questions, and I'm actually really excited to post under somebody who isn't just an FDSA person, so this will be fun. So to start out, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I might have to say that's actually the first book just because I've gotten so many emails and stories about how that was really helpful not just to people and their dogs, which was the goal, but I've had people tell me that they used the techniques for themselves in their own personal human lives, and that's really awesome, so yeah. I mean, I feel some guilt because that doesn't even involve my own personal dog, but there's…you know, my dogs probably don't need that specific achievement to feel happy. They're having awesome lives hanging out with me. So let's just pretend that they didn't hear that question. Yeah. I'm going to say finding out that it was really helpful to people, so yeah, that's it.
Melissa Breau: Okay. And then what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there's no way I can pick a single one. There are …can I choose two?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Go for it.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Bob Bailey once said…and I'm sure he said it to many people, but he did say to me also, you know, “Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement. Those are your three things. If anything is going wrong it's in one of those three,” and I have never found that not to be true. So anytime I'm looking at a problem it's going to be in my timing, it's going I’ve set the wrong criteria, or my rate of reinforcement is wrong.
Melissa Breau: Want to repeat those one more time for people just so that they can really get them down if they're listening?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Sure. Sure. Because trust me, this is tattooed on the inside of my skull for easy reference. Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.
Any problem you have it's going to be one of those, or maybe two, but it's something in there; don't go looking for weird esoteric stuff. It's going to be timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.
And then the other one…and I have to credit Steve White for this one because I'm one of those people who can get…let's say “focused.” Focused sounds like a nice way to put this, or you can get really intense on solving a particular problem or working a particular session, and Steve said, “The one to quit is the one before you say just one more,” and I was like oh, that's me.
Melissa Breau: I don't think you're alone there. I think that's a common problem.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. We should have membership cards, yeah.
Melissa Breau: So my last question for you is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There's a lot and I'm really hesitant to pick one because that's like picking favorite dogs, but probably Hannah Branigan. I would like to be Hannah when I grow up. That sounds like a good plan.
Melissa Breau: Wouldn't we all?
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, yeah. She's got a lot of good stuff going on and she's got a lot of fantastic techniques, so I'm going to say Hannah, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laura. It was great to talk to you.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.
We'll be back next week with Denise Fenzi to talk about the TEAM program and her new book, which will be out later this month.
Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
Loretta Mueller returns to talk about her upcoming class, Managing Multi-Dog Mayhem and we talk about the skills it takes to manage a multi-dog household, choosing your next dog, training several dogs at once and how she does it with 6 sports dogs.
To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.
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 Loretta Mueller. For those of you who've been listening to the podcast since the beginning, you'll known this is Loretta's second time on the podcast. She first joined us back in February, for episode five, and today we've brought her back to talk about her upcoming class, Managing Multi-Dog Mayhem, on managing a multi-dog household, because the struggle is real, guys.
All right, well welcome back, Loretta.
Loretta Mueller: Thank you, very much, Melissa. I'm glad to be here again.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you just remind everybody how many dogs you have now and kind of who they are?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, no problem. So, I have, currently, Klink, who is a 12-year-old, Gator, who's 11, Lynn, who's 8, Even, who is also 8, Gig, who's 3. They are all Border Collies, and then I have Crackers, who is a 9-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, all very high-drive, very motivated dogs.
Melissa Breau: So, what led you to create a class specifically on this?
Loretta Mueller: Well, I will, on occasion, post a video or two of the dogs waiting to work or going on walks as a group, and people would ask me how do you do that, how does that happen, as if it was some magical formula, and at first I kind of was thinking to myself, well, what, what do you mean how does it happen? It's very simple. And then I realized that the more I talked to people, they're struggling. People are really having a hard time managing extra dogs. One dog is easy, for the most part, right? We make mistakes with that first dog, but then we're like, hey, I've got this figured out, let me add a second dog, let me add a third dog, let me get addicted, and the next thing you know, you've got a lot of dogs and you have a lot of problems, and I started realizing that the way I train my dogs is very different because I specifically train them so that they are going to be a part of a multi-dog household, and for many people they don't do that.
And so Denise and I were talking, and she said, you know, I think there's a place for this at the academy. And I said, well, you know what, after some thought, why not? Let's do it. And so, from there, it kind of became a thing. You know you put it on the forum and…or not the forum but the group, and people were very, very excited about it, and it was very funny because I asked for some videos of dogs that were doing this or that, and the number of videos that came in was a little overwhelming, and so what I really liked about this class is I'm going to be helping a lot of people, not just with agility, which is normally what I do, but with just life skills and people enjoying their dogs, and what I've found is there are a lot of people that have a lot of issues and are really struggling, and they just need a lot of advice and help on where to proceed, and I think with the more dogs you have, the more overwhelming it is, and so for me the goal is just to break this down into bits and pieces so that people can attack it with education, as opposed to just be frustrated with their dogs.
Melissa Breau: So, you mentioned you kind of handle training so that the dog will feel like it's part of or know that it's part of a multi-dog household. So, how do you handle training multiple dogs and making sure everyone gets what they need, and you still manage to fit in training, and I mean how do you do it all when there's still only 24 hours in a day?
Loretta Mueller: Well, to me, I'll be the first to admit, and people ask me, usually at every seminar that I teach, how soon do you train your dogs, and normally it's kind of an embarrassment because my dogs do not get long training sessions. Quality is important, not quantity, and people say that over and over again. The nice thing about those of us with multi-dog households is we don't have time to over-train because we're busy training too many dogs. So, that is one really big plus about having a lot of dogs is you're never going to over train anybody. You might under train someone, but you're never going to over train anyone. So, my dogs do not get long training sessions, 5, 10 minutes, usually every day, but I travel a lot, so some days they won't get anything. They do get walks, daily, as a group, and I think for me, being efficient is a really important part of it because I incorporate training into each of those walks, so, for example, recalls out of the group, impulse control when throwing toys for fetching, things like that. So, they are still getting some training, in a group, even if the days they have that pass that they don't get the individual stuff, but I really, really do try to focus for 5 to 10 minutes, every single day.
You know training the dogs, it's a priority. You have to make sure it's a priority. Being that that's what I do for a living, the tendency is just to be, you know, exhausted at the end of the day. You're training other people's dogs. Those dogs become the focus, but I make sure that I do something every day with each dog, if I can, regardless of how old they are. I have a 12-year-old. She's doing nose work. You know you just want to make sure that these dogs have a really wonderful life and are happy and still working their brains as much as possible. Another thing that really helps me be super-efficient is I work really hard on my dogs being able to stay while other dogs work with me. So, my dogs are on mats or their own bed and they just stay there, kind of like, actually, a circus, if you ever go to the circus and you have the lions, you know, on the little stands, and they come off.
They train, do the tricks, go back on the stands, things like that, definitely more positive, but my dogs are kind of like that. They just sit on their little mats or their beds, and I call them off individually, we train for a little bit, they go back to their bed, call the next dog off, and they all know the rules. They all know that they should stay there and wait quietly and things like that, and that's a big priority for me when I'm bringing these dogs up is I know that's going to be an issue, I assume it's going to be an issue, and there's so many people that say I can't train multiple dogs because my other dog screams or my other dog won't stay, and so, from the get-go, these dogs know nothing but that when they come into my house, and so I’m very, very clear with that, and if you can do that and you can train dogs out fairly efficiently, things go really smoothly and you can get dogs worked very quickly.
Melissa Breau: For a lot of people, when they get a second dog, they think it'll actually be easier than it was with the first dog because they'll entertain each other, so I wanted to ask if that's true, and if so, why or why not?
Loretta Mueller: That's a tricky one. I actually say yes and no. So, yes it's nice having another dog because, you know, dogs do well in groups. They're social animals and so I think having another dog around does fill part of that need for them as an animal, as a creature. Plus, you know, you've already made a lot of mistakes with your first dog, and you're like, okay, I got this, I can correct it, not a problem. However, if you're looking at it from the performance side, which most of the dogs at FDSA are looking to perform some sort of dog sport, task, it gets a little trickier. So, dogs can become very dog-focused, you know, I'll use the term doggy, which means they're so excited about other dogs that they kind of forget the human side of the equation. I mean, let's face it, dogs are awesome friends for other dogs, right? They speak the same language, there's no questions, for the most part, as long as everyone's temperamentally sound, there's a lot of wonderful communication that goes on between two dogs, and it's really hard for us to mimic that type of interaction, and so competing with that can be tough, as a handler. So, you have to be very careful with that and limiting, sometimes, the actual exposure or maybe I should say keeping the ratio correct.
So, the dog should spend enough time with me versus the other dogs. So, it gets a little complicated that way, you know, and the other thing I find is they can get themselves worked up very easily, just bouncing off of, you know, each other, as far as energy goes, and things can get very out of hand, very quickly, and then a lot of times people just don't know what to do, and that's a big issue. So, you have to make sure the dogs have alone time with you. It's really, really important. It just requires more time, and sometimes it requires separation in the beginning. So, for example, if I bring a puppy home, do I just let it run amuck and you know run around with all my adult dogs in the group? No, I don't. There's definitely separation as far as, you know, just to protect the puppy from doing anything inappropriate, also protecting the older dogs in the group, you know? Some of them don't like being pestered by little, little puppies, and so it requires that, and I have raised littermates.
As I said in the beginning of the podcast, I have Even and Lynn, both 8, both from the same litter. I will never do it again. It was horrible. I'll be honest with you. It was a very difficult situation because being that I had two puppies, in two crates, they both have to go to the bathroom, right, and first thing in the morning, you let them out of their kennels, you can't let them out together. Why? They'll play. They won't go to the bathroom. You let one out, it goes to the bathroom. By the time you come back in to get the other one, guess one? The other one's already peed. So, you have that whole dynamic that you have to think about. So, I always tell people it's wonderful as long as you can manage it and as long as you understand that in the beginning it's going to take some extra time on your part to set what you want so that the dogs view you as having a lot more value as the other dog, if that makes sense.
Melissa Breau: So you touched on, a little bit, in there, kind of making sure that the dogs get time with you and talking about, you know, training for just a couple minutes with each of the dogs. So, is it important for each dog to really get one-on-one time? You know I guess if it's important, how important? Kind of what are your thoughts on that?
Loretta Mueller: I think it's really important. We spend a lot of time building value in us as trainers, and these dogs learn to depend on us. They learn to trust us. They want to be with us, whether they just have a natural propensity, due to their breed or their temperament, or we've created it with training and things like that, and I think that, you know, the more dogs you get, the more difficult it is to get that one on one time, but I do think that you do have to make time for it, and it doesn't have to be a lot of time. Remember, dogs are social creatures.
They like being in groups, so they do get a lot of, I think, enrichment from the other dogs in the house, but they do still want that time with you, and the thing that I find with a lot of my students is most of my students only make time for training, which is great, okay, because dogs, dogs love to train, if we do it right, hopefully, and if we've trained them to have value in the work, and we're rewarding heavily, and we're not confusing them, which is great, but what I've found is even the highest-drive dogs, those dogs that, you know, will work forever, if they only interaction you have with them is when you're training them, that's the only time, I've seen a lot of fallback from that.
And the reason is, is because no matter how much you enjoy a specific hobby, if the only time you ever see someone, you have to do that hobby, and it happens every day, and there's pressures put onto it, right, expectations of competition or whatever, eventually you're going to need a little bit of a balance there, and so what I always tell my students is it doesn't have to be training, that one on one time. It can be just relaxing on the couch. It can be taking a nap with you. It can be just whatever.
Be with your dog, and I think that's something that a lot of people, especially those that really, really love to train, they lose sight of that sometimes, and I, myself, have done it as well, and so it's just these dogs are so much fun to train, and you're having a great time, but then you also need to realize that every once in a while, you've got to throw in some of that actual just, I don't mean to sound kind of weird, but just kind of the act of being with your dog, being in the same space, touch, things like that, and so I do think it's very, very important. You know training counts, but it isn't the be all to end all with the one-on-one time.
Melissa Breau: So, you kind of mentioned in there people who really like to train, and I think a lot of sports people, especially, have kind of a type when it comes to dogs. You know some like the really pushy, demanding dogs. Others prefer thinkers. You know once a household kind of goes beyond one dog, how much should people be weighing what they like in a training partner kind of against the other personalities they already have with their current dogs?
Loretta Mueller: That's a really good question. I see that a lot. As someone who appreciates both the pushy, demanding dogs and the thinkers, it's not something that I really think about, I guess, as far as my own dogs, because I will assess a puppy and say is this puppy a thinker, is this puppy not? However, I'm always, in the back of my mind, thinking in terms of, again, multi-dog household. So, I could say, oh, well this is the type I want, but in reality, if I look at my subconscious, it's back there. It's always there. It's always thinking in terms of that.
So, yes, absolutely positively people need to always take into consideration what dogs they have when adding another dog. It's very, very important to do that because what you're looking for is just a nice, peaceful group. You're not looking for turmoil, you're not looking for chaos, and if you start from the foundation of just is this dog temperamentally sound, is this dog super type-A, is it going to mess with the other dogs? If you start with that foundation set, everything becomes a lot easier, obviously. A house full of pushy, demanding dogs with type-A personalities? My goodness.
It's going to be tough, and it's going to require a lot more training and possibly more management just because it's like putting a bunch of, you know, high-powered CEOs in a really small apartment and giving them limited resources and expecting them to, you know, passively work it out. It's probably not going to happen because they have that intense drive, that intense need to be first and top, and when you add that many dogs in a situation like that, you're going to have problems. It's just, it's part of it. Do I have several dogs in my group like that? Of course I do, but again, when you bring them in, you teach them, from the get-go, that there is part of the group that you have to take turns, and there is, in a way, kind of situations with sharing, and you have to only deal with your own resources and not worry about anybody else's, and things like that.
So, yeah, it's extremely important to look at all the personalities you have as a whole. I have...a good example would be my first Border Collie Zip, who's no longer with me. She was a very type-A, dominant dog, extremely. She just wanted to do all the things and rules were silly, and that was just her personality, and so the next dog I got, after her, which I knew was going to be having to live with that, we always joked that if she was a human, she would have very few friends because she just was like all the things are mine, and this is mine, and everything's mine, and mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, and that was just her mentality, and so the dog I got after her, who's Klink, my 12-year-old, she doesn't care about much of anything. She's like super chill, so, in the house she doesn't do much of anything. She doesn’t actually care about playing with toys when we're working.
She's on and she wants to go, but as a puppy she was just that chill type of dog, and so that was of interest to me because I had the exact opposite, and it worked out really, really well because those two got along great. Zip cared about all the things. Klink cared about none of the things. Both of them were really, really wonderful working dogs, but it was just a really good choice on my part to get something that was not quite as intense all the time, and I think that that's kind of how I approach things is I look at…normally what I'll look at is my most, I guess, difficult dog in the group, the one that's, you know, wouldn't have friends type of thing, and if I have one of those, I'm going to base a lot of my choices of young dogs or a puppy off of that type of situation.
So, which dog's going to get along with the one that's the most, I guess, apt to cause mayhem? So, yeah, it's really important, and a lot of times, you know, I, you always want to pick your own puppy, right? You always want to be the one to pick the puppy, but if you look at…if you're getting a puppy from a breeder or you're getting a puppy from a rescue group that has seen a litter grow up and things like that, I really do defer a lot to those people because they've watched these dogs grow up. If you're looking at getting a rescue dog, you know, do several meetings, if you can. Obviously do it appropriately where both dogs have space and stuff like that.
There are going to be situations where dogs may or may not get along, and that's one of the nice things about the multi-dog class is that I show you how to assess that, and do we need to go into a management situation or can a lot of training be worked on to make things a lot more, I guess, easy on both dogs that are possibly having some conflict. Conflict is normal. There's going to be conflict in a group of dogs, and people, I think, have a tendency to get in a very utopic thought process about it and say, oh, my dogs are going to get along amazing, and everybody's going to great, and there's never going to be any discussions about things, and in reality that's not…that's just not the case. Anyone who read the sample lecture on the Fenzi site for my class, it says that, that there's going to be some occasional lip raises, there's going to be an occasional grumble, there's going to be things like that, and that's a normal thing. It's no different than me saying, you know, hey, Melissa, don't touch my breakfast, it's mine.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Loretta Mueller: And you know and so I would be considered a resource guarder because I really love food, a lot, and so I would be more apt to be like, you know, the fork on the table type of thing, whereas then you can teach the dog, you know, hey, you can't actually get quite that much, but you can protect your space, as far as food bowls and things like that, but you do it by using games and by using positive rewards and things like that because, you know, in negative situations what happens is that builds an emotional connection to the situation. So, if a negative thing happens every time the dogs are fed, for example, if you yell at the dogs, things like that, it creates that negative emotion, and then you're actually, in many cases, making it worse. So, my goal is to make these dogs feel safe, comfortable, happy, when they're having to share their space or resource with other dogs, and it just is so much simpler. It really is, so.
Melissa Breau: So, we talked a whole bunch kind of about the importance of personalities. Are there other things that people should take into consideration when they're looking at adding another dog?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, actually, the age of the other dogs. So, I see this a lot, do you have an older dog, you know, does that dog need to have the last part of its golden years being bothered by a puppy? That's something that a lot of people don't always think about when they're looking at getting a puppy or another dog. Time constraints for you and your family, so, do you guys have time for another dog? And a big one, does everyone want the dog, you know, because if you've got some members of the household and some of them want the dog, some of them don't, that can cause a lot of issues. Some may train the dogs. Some may not. Space, do you really have enough space for the number of dogs that you're looking at getting and the size of dogs and the drive of dogs. So, a lot of times, for example, dogs with more of that, as I'll say in some of my lectures, introverted personality, do you have space for these dogs to go away from the main pack, or are they going to be all in a very, very small, contained area?
And that's something, for a dog that needs to go away and get away from the group, that's something that you have to think in terms of is if I can't give that dog a basic need that they have to have, is that going to cause turmoil? And yeah, it is, for sure, and so you need to think in terms of do you have enough space to allow dogs to do what they would naturally do to get away from other dogs in their group. What if they don't get along? So, normally, with an older dog or a rescue dog, they're a little bit older, you kind of have an idea of what their temperament is, but if you're getting puppies, anyone who's raised a puppy knows that they go through all sorts of changes in temperament, and what if this puppy grows up and the two don't like each other?
Can you…do you have the ability to separate and manage, do you want to manage? Is that something that you're willing to do? Some people don't want to do it, and so it's just, it's an understanding of exactly what these dogs need over what you need. You know I think that if you want another dog, getting a dog that isn't necessarily your type, as we talked about before, can actually be a really good thing. I've had several, and they've made me a better trainer and given me a much greater understanding of dogs as a whole. So, when people always ask me do you want a doer, you know, the pushy demander, or do you want a thinking dog, which one's your favorite? I've got both, and I adjust to both, so it's not a big deal for me. So, a lot of times if you have a real demanding dog, maybe getting a lower key dog would be a better bet, so you still get the addition of another dog, but you get a dog that's going to create less turmoil and less mayhem in the long run. So, that's what I usually tell people.
Melissa Breau: So, if I was to restrict you to kind of one core piece of advice for people as they kind of make the move or when they make the move to becoming a multi-dog household, so going from that first dog to adding a second one, what piece of advice would that be?
Loretta Mueller: Two dogs is a change. So, for most people, adding another dog is managed and it's easy, for the most part, with a bit of training. As you add that third dog in, something changes. So, you're dealing with a whole different set of dynamics, and things can get out of hand much quicker. It's best to start training as soon as your new dog or puppy comes home and by themselves, then add each dog in if things progress in a positive way, and never be upset or refuse to back up a step or two. That's one of the things that I try to tell people, when they see my six dogs all loose-leash walking on a flat buckle collar at a local park is this didn't happen in a week, right? This was systematically…Klink learned how to walk on leash, then Gator learned how to walk on leash, then the two are combined, and then you slowly add dogs in, and so it's not something that you're like, okay, well, everybody knows how to stay now, so we're all going to do group stays.
Group stays are not part of the…they don't generalize, so staying on a mat, in the living room, is not the same as staying on a mat, in the living room, with five other dogs there, and so people have to definitely understand that is that you have to always tell yourself that I've got to get the behaviors down with one dog first and each dog individually and then you add the other dogs in, and then that will get you that group control, that group that's going to listen and behave because they know what's expected of them when there are multiple dogs around. So, that's the one piece of advice I think many people have a tendency…they want to just jump over that, and that's where people get themselves in trouble.
Melissa Breau: So, talking about trouble, what are some of the kind of the common challenges that crop up when you have several dogs, especially several sports dogs, presumably all with drive and active interest in training? What happens?
Loretta Mueller: Oh my goodness, demanding, pushy behavior for all of the resources, right, any and all resources, so you, food, toys, couches, spaces in the house. These dogs have been bred and trained to want to work for all the things, and so then all of a sudden they're like well that's mine and that's mine and that's mine, and they're very adamant and they're very intense about it. So, that's a big one, big, big, big one. You know big personalities can have big discussions about things, and most of the time those discussions are all, you know, mouth, but you have to understand that that could occasionally happen, and we're going to go over how to deal with that in a multi-dog class, how to effectively deal with it. We teach them to love the game, we teach them to love being with us, and so what we actually create by doing that, if we're not careful, is we create dogs that absolutely, positively do not want to share their training time with other dogs. They only want us.
So, when we get another dog, it's very difficult for them to understand, well, why is this dog now at the lesson? Well, why is this dog getting my five minutes? And we created it. We did it ourselves, and so then we get upset because these dogs, who we've told to love the game and love us and love all the things that we reward them with, they're barking their heads off and we get frustrated. So, it's a balance that we have to create with our training that gives us a high-drive dog, on command for drive, ideally, that can patiently wait their turn, and I've had questions, before the class started, was do you do alpha deferment, so, that's something that did come up, and what that means is do I let the alpha dog in the group determine, like, for example, would I feed the alpha dog first, would I train the alpha dog first, would I, you know, anything first? And my answer is no. I train everything very randomly, so none of my dogs know when they're going to get picked to get trained. They just know they're on their mat, and as long as they stay, they'll get to work.
So, it's just a matter of them understanding, all the dogs as a whole, that they have to share that time and that you have that balance between, you know, intense love of the game and also the understanding that there must be some semblance of impulse control in order to get, to play the game, and they have to share that with the other dogs in the group. So, that's a big thing that I find that comes up with people, and that's the most common thing I've heard from people that were interested in the class and just people in general that I teach at seminars was that they just don't know how to get their other dogs to be quiet or to sit still while they're training the other dog, and that's a big challenge, and it requires a lot of effort, requires a lot of training, but again, as soon as the dog comes into the household, if you start it immediately, it becomes they only thing they've ever known, and so they're like, yeah, well, we always share time, that's what we do, as opposed to, a lot of people, they're going to be starting from behind the ball, right?
The dog's already been, for two years, going, no, this is all mine, mine, all those things are mine, you're mine, get that other dog out of here. Then it requires a little bit more energy on your part, but once the dogs figure it out, they actually really do roll with it pretty easily, because it makes sense to them, as opposed to the chaos of, oh my gosh, this is horrible, I can't believe she's training another dog. So, it does help, kind of. You know what I mean. They just get really upset. I mean some of these dogs get extremely upset and emotionally just, they become a mess because they don't know what to do, and if you show them what to do, when presented with that problem, all of a sudden they go, oh, okay, I can do this. All right, I can do this, this is good. And so then they have a plan, and that's really what the goal with this class is, to provide people with a plan so that they can start with the group of dogs they have now that may have 1 or 2 or 10 problems and then have a plan and a roadmap to work to a calm, peaceful multi-dog household.
Melissa Breau: I mean if you went from having one significant other and suddenly started dating around, your significant other would probably have a problem with that too, so.
Loretta Mueller: You think? Like, yes…
Melissa Breau: I mean you can't really blame a dog that's thought you were going steady for getting too upset about that.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, we were exclusive. We were exclusive. What the heck? Yes, exactly. That is exactly what's going on, totally, and then we go I don't understand why you're not getting this, and the dogs are like really? Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. So, yeah, that's exactly what's happening, and so, again, you know, it's, to me it's very obvious that these dogs are doing that because of the fact that we've created such a wonderful relationship with them that we have to then show them, you know, there is going to be times where you're going to have to share me a little bit, and again, once they figure out the process, it actually goes pretty easily, so.
Melissa Breau: So, we've talked a lot, I think, about kind of the idea of running a smooth household and management and training. I wanted to ask a little bit about how you balance the two, both in real life and kind of in the class.
Loretta Mueller: I get this a lot, and sadly I can't give you a definite answer, and the reason I can't is because the dogs kind of decide what needs to happen, as far as management versus training. It is all about the dog. So, you know, with dogs that are temperamentally sound, with no major issues, and what I mean by no major issues is, you know, no severe resource guarding, no severe reactivity, things like that, so just a normal, you know, normal-tempered dog, after they understand the situation with the training and the taking turns and learning how they are supposed to behave when another dog is out and things like that, there's usually very little management after training, and I say management…some people have different terms of management. So, I'll go onto that in a second, but many dogs do have their quirks. I mean I have a houseful of Border Collies, so, they're their own little weirdos, you know, to begin with. I love the breed. I love them, but they definitely all have their quirks. Anyone that has a Border Collie will go, yeah, yeah, yeah.
So, even I have dogs that are a bit on the odd side, and the key, I guess, with that, is to identify it early and see if training can fix it. You apply the training, does it get better, does it progress positively, yay. If it does not, are there other options? So, I will always defer to training first, if I can. You know, so, for example, this is a good example of something that I do with my dogs, and they only know this. They know no other way, training. My dogs are taught that the house is not a place to be in drive unless they're given a trigger word. So, for my dogs it's the word ready, which I'm really happy that I just said that and none of them are getting up off the couch, because they're all five of them currently are just sacked out in my living room with me. So, if I don't say that word, the assumption, to all of my dogs, is the house is a calm place.
So, there's not dogs running around, throwing toys, there's not dogs running around, playing and going crazy in the house. It's just a place that they should be calm and out of drive unless asked into drive and the only place I will actually ask them to go into drive is in my training room, which is in my house, but it's a spare bedroom. So, if they go into the training room, that’s when they will go into drive because the training room itself is a trigger. So, I will say are you ready to work or…I can't even say it because they're going to all get excited. So, that word means get going and let's get to business.
Outside, when we go outside, as long as they behave themselves and go through doors correctly and you know are good with their impulse control, that's where they can be dogs and run around. So, they can go on off-leash walks, things like that, and if I do want them to go into a working drive, I would give them the same word, ready, and they would come to me and we'd work, if needed, and so it's very important because this rule creates a house that doesn't have dogs throwing toys me all hours of the day and night. There's no craziness. The house, to the dogs, is just like a crate, so a place to be calm, and it's something I just, I guess, took for granted because I was like I don't really want six dogs running around amuck in my house, just chaotic, but a lot of people don't do that.
They, the house is a place to play and go crazy and get zoomies, and all these amazing things happen in the house, which is fine, but always be cognizant of what you're actually working, right, because something that might be cute in the beginning, when you add 4 or 5 dogs into the mix, it becomes a major, major issue, and that's the situation that I find with people is that they don't think in terms of the future. They think in terms of, oh, these two dogs are having fun in the living room. And so for me, if, for example, I had a dog that was wanting to play with my puppy in the house, I would most likely, if I could, take them outside and let them have fun outside, and then once puppy was tired, bring them back in the house.
So, I'm just setting an example for calm, controlled behavior in my home, and then, when we go outside, they can be, you know, dogs, within reason, do dog things, run around, bark, things like that. So, I think it's something that people have to always think in terms of, and a lot of people don't because when you have one dog, it's not that big of a deal, but when you have five dogs, it becomes a major thing. So, and that's an example of training. So, for me, management can come in situations with just daily life. So, a good example of management that I do, myself, is not all of my dogs are loose in the house when I'm gone. It's an earned thing because some of my dogs are great in the house, and then I have some, a couple of them, that are a bit more naughty, and the naughty ones are crated, and it's just some people would call that, I guess, true management. I just call that putting dogs that are naughty in crates, and so that's, they can't be naughty when I'm not around.
So, you know, that would be fine. That's just a standard that I have for my dogs. Do I have a dog or two that doesn't necessarily like the other dog? Yeah, I do, and so do those dogs, are they left out when I'm not around? No, they're crated, you know, and so if you have those kind of personality things, you say, okay, there's a personality issue here between two of my dogs. Therefore, I'm not going to create a situation where they have the ability to have any discussions. I'm going to remove that from the table so that the only time they have the ability to have a discussion is when I'm going to be around and I can distract them from it or whatever, if need be. But the dogs, to me, will really determine how much management's required.
Many dogs, when I actually work through all the exercises in my class, don't have as much of an issue of space or reactivity, or they're greatly lessened just due to understanding, but you know, however, if you have dogs that are attacking other dogs, you know, you have to understand that there is a time for management, and sometimes it's just managing, like, situations we'll deal with in the multi-dog class, pinch points, so areas of conflict as far usually that's like space, so hallways, door entryways, things like that. If you acknowledge it and you manage little pieces, then you don't end up having to manage the entire situation all the time and keeping dogs completely separate.
So, it's identifying those trigger or those pinch points that will tell you, hey, this is an area of conflict, I can do this, this, or this, and that will take care of it and get rid of the conflict. You get rid of the conflict, you get rid of the emotion, the dogs then relax and things become much better, and so it's about just observation and seeing exactly what's happening with your group, and that's going to be very, very important when you can decide whether you need to train something or it is a true management situation.
Melissa Breau: Now, you kind of mentioned the loose-leash walking thing earlier, but I want to kind of circle back around to that. I know one of the most common requests, when it comes to having several dogs, is definitely loose-leash walking because there's definitely nothing crazier than having several dogs all pulling you in different directions when you're outside. Ask me how I know. So, I know that, you know, you've shared some pictures on the Facebook group and things of you with your crew, all leashes, nice and loose. Are you covering that in the class?
Loretta Mueller: Yes, I am, definitely, absolutely. I will be going over it, and I'm going to be starting it on week two. I've just released lectures for week one. So, week two we're going to already start on some loose-leash walking, and again, the key is one dog at a time. When you add more dogs, it's not going to get better. It's going to get worse, and so I think as the people are like well, you know, they'll probably be okay, get the leash walking done well with one dog, and then we're kind of adding other dogs, and again, like I said before, people have a tendency to rush it, and then you end up with four dogs dragging you down the road, and that's not fun, and you also have dogs that, you know, they might be somewhat okay as a group on leash, but then a squirrel runs cross your path, and then you are now officially skiing, which we don't want that. We want you to not be ran into trees and not be drug through forests. I actually just got back from a camping trip, and I saw that in full force, a woman with four Goldens, not a cool situation.
So, luckily my dogs are only about 35 pounds, but I do work with a lot of people that have dogs much bigger, and the bottom line is it takes patience, but the rewards are amazing, and I think that's the hardest part, for most people, when they're dealing with loose-leash walking is they want to just get it done and then add all 3, 4 dogs, and that's not how it works, and so again, laying those roadmaps on here's where you start and then there's how you slowly add in more layers, and a layer being distractions, and a layer being a dog, things like that, and that's one of the things we do in week one of this class, actually, is self-assessment of each dog, and I have a couple of the golds say do you really want me to write out everything for each of the dogs in my house?
Yes, I do. I sure do, and the reason is, is because you can use dogs' personalities to benefit another dog's training. So, for example, if you have a really exuberant young dog that's learning loose-leash walking and has it, and has got it, and they're doing really well by themselves, and then you have the option of adding a 4-year-old, who is kind of high strung, your 12-year-old dog, who is not high strung, or a18-month-old young dog that doesn't know how to loose-leash walk. Which one do you add in? You're going to go with the older dog, right? So, you can use those personality characteristics to help you, but you have to understand what those characteristics are because we just have a tendency to look at the group as a whole and not these individual dogs, and you can use them so easily, and I do that a lot in my classes, where I'll deal with certain dogs who get overstimulated by a specific type of dog.
I can use that dog for my group to work them through that, and it's the same thing that you'd be doing when you're dealing with multi-dogs. You can use the dog that best fits the situation that's going to put that positive progress into play, and that's going to be a really, really important thing when you're dealing with loose-leash walking. Again, I think people get on the verge of getting it and then they just lose patience, and I know nothing worse for me, personally, than dealing with a dog dragging me. That's just one of my things. Like, it makes a lot of stuff not fun, and so, for me, it's something that I really work on, and I think it's kind of fun to see a lot of these golds that are in the class, currently, are really excited about doing that.
So, I see some really, really motivated people that are hopefully going to get some really good leash walking out of their dogs, and then again, once they get it on one dog, keep working on all the rest, and then we add them all in, as a group, slowly, and the rewards are awesome because you can just walk your dogs and not have to worry about being pulled or drug, and it's a really awesome thing. I mean I know it's not nearly as cool as doing weep holes or you know dumbbell retrieves, but the bottom line is you're probably going to spend a lot more time walking your dog on-leash than you are, you know, doing other stuff. So, that's going to be a really, really important thing. I'm excited about that, super excited, so.
Melissa Breau: I think most of people taking the class are probably pretty excited about that, too.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, they are.
Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to just kind of generally ask you a little more about what you will and won't cover in the class. What are some of the other topics?
Loretta Mueller: So I'm going to cover just group mentality, assessing your dogs as far as their temperaments, common areas that cause issues with groups, games to help dogs learn to share and accept other dogs, share and accept resources, understanding what each of the dogs in your group needs to be happy and content, because that's a really, really important one. They're just like people. Some of them are extroverts. Some of them are introverts. It really depends on the dog, and just noticing those characteristics and giving them what they need so that they're more comfortable, and a big one is when you should look into a true management scenario. I think that's a hard one for a lot of people. I find a lot of people go into management before they've actually looked into training first, and I think that a lot of stuff can be accomplished with training, as, again, as long as you're dealing with a dog that's just maybe over threshold or things like that.
Things I'm not going to cover, I'm not going to cover severe aggression issues between pack members, severe resource guarding issues, so dogs that are lunging while being fed, things that should be left to a certified behaviorist. To me, those things can't really be worked through via a lot of video because you're still going to be still missing out on some things or just discussion. I think that in those cases, with severe issues, you need one on one, in person time with a professional in that specific field, and so I think it's just really important that people understand that this is to fix tendencies or slight issues that don't involve severe massive aggression or severe resource guarding or also just, you know, if you're bringing a new puppy into the pack and you want to know how to raise this puppy in a way that it's only going to know that it's…that's how it lives, it's in a group, then the class is for you, but like I said, in severe issue…cases with aggression and resource guarding, I'm going to leave that to someone that is, you know, a professional in the field, and that's where I would send people to go, so.
Melissa Breau: Kind of my last question here, is there, just generally, I guess, anything you'd add and either about the class or in general or maybe something you've learned over time or that hasn't worked, just kind of anything you'd add to anything we talked about?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah. You know I think having a houseful of dogs can be really a fun experience. I love my group. I wouldn't trade them for the world, I'll be honest with you. One of the things I've learned, over time, and I think we've all kind of done it, probably out of frustration more than anything, is yelling or screaming or you know getting upset when the dogs are being silly in a group, it doesn't work. It just doesn't work. I mean it might make us feel a little bit better at the time, that we're trying to, you know, maybe fix something, but the bottom line, it really doesn't work. It's, the goal that you have to think in terms of, and this has taken me, you know, I've been dealing with multi-dogs for many years now, is just think in terms of divide and conquer.
So, if your group is unmanageable, you need to work each dog on their own, get them the skills, and then, like I said, slowly add in dogs if things progress in a positive direction. If you bring dogs in, just assume it's going to be a multi-dog household, and all your training should be around that. If you only ever want one dog, it's a little different, but I think, to me, you know, every dog that comes in is going to understand that they will be in a group situation and they will have to have these specific skills and games that they have learned that will help them deal with that type of life, because it's different.
I mean it's very different, especially going from one dog to multiple dogs, the dogs have to be accepting of personal space, possibly being invaded, things like that, and you have to work with them to develop that understanding and the tolerance to accept, you know, dogs in their space and things like that, and then, on the flip side, you also, as the trainer, have to understand how to make things less evasive and how to give dogs outs and options and things like that, and I think that something I've learned, a lot, just through the years is that incompatible behaviors, so, if you have a behavior you don't like, go the exact opposite and teach that. So, it's really hard for, example, a dog to run ahead of everyone else, and you'll see this common in a lot of the herding breeds, they'll nip. So, for example, if you let your dogs in the house, one dog in particular, normally, will run ahead of everybody because they're busting through the door, of course, and they will wheel around and nip those dogs coming through the hallway or through a door.
So, you just think in terms of incompatible behavior, so, if the dog is waiting at the door to be released, is that compatible with running through the door and biting the other dogs? No. They can't do both, and so you want to think in terms of I want to find a behavior that they can't do simultaneously, and then you work on that as a trained behavior and you'll get that situation. So, one of the things that people will get used to, throughout this session, is in a group, my dogs are released to commands or to food or through doors by their names. So in agility, I say okay. That's their release word. In a group situation, because I would never do agility with my dogs in a group…that just sounds dangerous. It really does. I'm like I've got a little anxiety over that one, actually, but you, I would release them with an okay in agility, but in a group, and for example if I wanted them to come to the door, if I say okay, is that fair?
Melissa Breau: Right.
Loretta Mueller: It's, well, it is, technically, if I want them to all bust through the door at once, which is definitely not what I want, because they'll kill each other, but you know people are like okay, and then all five dogs jump up and bust through the door. Well, that's not what I want. So, in the situation of a group thing, I would be saying, Klink, and Klink means you are released to come to the door. If I want to tug with multiple dogs, for example, I would say Klink, get it, or Lynn, get it. So, it gives the dog's name and then something, and that way I can be very specific about what I want which dog to do, and that was something I didn't think about, actually.
One of my students was just feeding her dogs cookies, you know, just cookies, and one of the dogs was getting a little guard-y, and what I realized through that was that I tell my dogs their names before I give them a cookie, if I have five dogs waiting at my feet, and none of them try to get the other dog's cookie, and I do have a couple dogs that are a little resource-guard-y, but unless they hear their name, they know not to get the cookie, and so it's just little things like that that if you're not training with multiple dogs, you don't think about, and then, all of a sudden, you add in that second dog, and you're like, oh wow, everything has changed now because my first dog doesn't want the other dog to get cookies, etcetera, etcetera.
So, it's stuff like that that I've just naturally developed through the years of having multiple dogs that we will go through, and you know you don't have to say your dog's name. You can…one of my students has uno, dos, tres, one, two, three in Spanish. That's how she calls her dogs, as far as group stuff. So, her dogs are uno, dos, tres in a group, and then her dogs, you know, when they're individually training, have their names and things like that, and so, so my dogs' conceptual…
Melissa Breau: I was going to say I'm assuming that's because she uses their names to mean something else in training.
Loretta Mueller: Yes, exactly, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Loretta Mueller: And you know dogs, dogs are very good at figuring out scenarios. They're phenomenal at figuring them out. I mean my dogs know that if they come out of the house and we turn left, we're going to go into the agility field, but I never work five dogs in agility. So, they don't do agility. If I come out with one dog, and I turn left, and I go to the agility field, they know they're working. So, it's all about context. So, I teach my dogs that in context there's group context and then there's individual context, and they are very, very good at figuring that out, and so we'll be going through that, as well, in the class, but that's a big one is teaching them what they should expect in a group, and so a lot of these people, we're working on a lot of that stuff this, the next six weeks. So, I'm pretty excited about the class.
Melissa Breau: It sounds awesome.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah. Yeah. I'm excited about it. I'm looking forward to seeing the videos and seeing the starting points. I just released a lecture where it says I need to see the ugly, and so I'm kind of excited to go look at the forums and see some ugly, and then we can work on some stuff. So, yeah, it's going to be a fun class.
Melissa Breau: For folks listening, we're actually recording this on the first day of class, on October 1. So, they won't hear this for a week or two, but for you, it's, today's the very first day of class.
Loretta Mueller: Yes, it is.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you, so much, for coming back on the podcast, Loretta. This is great.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah. You're welcome. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll actually be back next week with our first non-FDSA interview. I'll be back with Laura VanArendonk Baugh. I pronounced that right, I'm pretty sure, and she's the author of Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, Training Crazy Dogs From Over-The-Top to Under Control, and Social, Civil, and Savvy, Training and Socializing Puppies to Become the Best Possible Dogs. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
In 2004 Barbara Currier and her husband Michael were relocated to Richmond, VA, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her amazing foundation-based training, centered around impulse control and relationship building with your dog.
She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned from each of them into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method in 2014. She has successfully competed in agility with over 10 different breeds of dogs.
Along the way, she started her own in home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue in assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.
Barbara has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series Satisfaction and various commercials.
Today Barbara is the head dog trainer for the F.I.D.O Program run at Georgia Tech which creates wearable computing for military, SAR and service dogs.
To be released 10/13/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household.
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 Barbara Currier. In 2004, Barbara and her husband, Michael, were relocated to Richmond, VA, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her amazing foundation based training centered around impulse control and relationship building with your dog. She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned, from each of them, into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method, in 2014. She successfully competed in agility with over ten different breeds of dogs.
Along the way, she started her own in-home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue, and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue and assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.
Barbara has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series, Satisfaction, and various commercials. Today Barbara is the head dog trainer for the FIDO Program, run at Georgia Tech, which creates wearable computing for military search and rescue service dogs. Hi, Barbara. Welcome to the podcast.
Barbara Currier: Thanks for having me, Melissa. I’m really happy to be here.
Melissa Breau: As a new FDSA instructor, I’m looking forward to getting to know you a little bit.
Barbara Currier: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Barbara Currier: Sure. I have four dogs, currently, two Border Collies, a Parson Russell Terrier, and a Miniature Poodle. My oldest is Piper. She is the Parson Russell Terrier. She’s 8 years old. I got her when she was 2 years old. She belonged to a friend of mine, who passed away unexpectedly. We tried agility with her, but she didn’t love it. She loved it when there was cheese around, but the moment the treats went away, it was more of, okay, I’ll do it, but the love clearly wasn’t there. She’s also built like a typical terrier, so she’s very front-end heavy. She’s really straight in the shoulder, and I really struggled with keeping her sound. I specifically thought, when we would work weave poles and when we would do A-frame stuff, she was constantly coming up lame, and so I decided since she didn’t particularly love it, and I, you know, didn’t want to keep injuring her, that I would just find something else that she would like better, so one of the things that she’s always loved is swimming, so I decided to try dock diving with her, and that is, truly, her love. We don’t need to have cheese, or any type of treat, within a 50-mile radius and she will happily do her dock diving all day long, so that’s been really fun.
I have a Border Collie, Brazen. I have two Border Collies. Brazen is the oldest of the two, by a few months. She’s 8 years old. I got her from a breeder, in Virginia, when she was 8 weeks old. Unfortunately, she has a lot of health problems, so she has not really been able to do any type of sport. She has some minor brain damage. The best way to describe her is, basically, she’s like autistic. She doesn’t deal well with any types of changes in her environment. She tends to be a self-mutilator, so when anything changes, like my neighbor parks his truck in a different part of his driveway, she’ll rip the hair out of her body, so we’ve gotten that under control. It was really bad, when she was a puppy, but we’ve gotten it under control, but she doesn’t handle any types of changes well, so she’s happiest when she can just be at home, on the property, so we let her just do that. She also has a very severe case of Border Collie collapse, so she passes out whenever she has any type of hard exercise, even just playing frisbee, so we have to, kind of, keep that managed too, so unfortunately, she never really got to do any type of performance, but she’s happy being at home and chilling and getting out and playing. We have five acres, completely fenced, so she gets plenty of room to run around, so that’s, kind of, what she does.
Blitz is my other Border Collie. He is also 8. I adopted him from Bimmer’s Border Collie Rescue, in Virginia, when he was 10 months old. He just recently retired from agility due to, at 7, he tore his psoas and we rehabbed that for a year, and then, when he came back, he was sound for about two months, and then he injured his flexor tendon, and I felt like we were having progressive injuries, and that was not the way I wanted him to be in his later years. I wanted him to be able to enjoy life and do all of the things that he loves to do without constant rehabbing, so I made the decision to retire him from agility, about three months ago. It just seemed like that was the thing that kept injuring him, but everything else, in life, wasn’t, so it just seemed like it was the right choice, and he’s loving retirement. He’s doing dock diving now. He’s also my service dog. I am hypoglycemic, and he actually detects it about 30 minutes before I know anything is going to happen, and if I eat, then I don’t have any episodes, so he is, kind of, my other half. He’s just amazing.
Then my youngest is Miso. She is a Miniature Poodle. She is 3 years old, and I got her from a breeder in Florida, when she was 8 weeks, and actually waited for 10 years to get a puppy from her line, and she was worth every year I waited because she has been perfect since the moment she came home. She’s been competing for about a year and a half now, in agility, and in her first year, of competing, she actually qualified for AKC Nationals, and she’s, actually, the seventh ranking dog in the 12-inch division, in the country, and she’s already been to two world team tryouts, and won round one of the FCI World Team tryout. She’s already qualified for her second AKC Nationals. She’s qualified for USDAA Cynosport, and she is one double q away from her MACH, and at this point she’s only been trialing a year and a half, and I actually only trial about once a month because I am so busy, so she is pretty remarkable.
Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s impressive.
Barbara Currier: Yeah. Yes. She is a super impressive little girl, so she’s been really, really fun and we have a new puppy coming, in the fall, hopefully.
Melissa Breau: Fingers crossed.
Barbara Currier: Yeah. Yeah. It’s all good.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. So, how did you originally get started in all of this, in dog training and agility. I mentioned a little bit, kind of in the bio, I think 2004, right, so what kind of kicked things off?
Barbara Currier: Well, in the late ‘90s, I adopted a 9 month old Chihuahua, named Cabal, from Chihuahua Rescue, and he was my first dog, as an adult, you know, we had dogs growing up, but he was my very first dog, and at the time I was technician at a veterinarian hospital and one of the technicians that I worked with, there, she bred and trained Belgian Tervurens and competed them in obedience and tracking, and so she started working with me on training dogs, and training for obedience and tracking, and I started, kind of, assisting with her and learning, kind of, the trade, and during our training we discovered that Cabal had a chemical imbalance, which made him, sort of, a challenge to train, so I’m kind of obsessive in anything I do, and I have to learn everything I can and be the best at everything I can, and so I became obsessive on learning about behavior training and how everything I could do to make him have the happiest, most well rounded, stable life, which we were quite successful at. He went on to compete in agility, and he did obedience and carting and climbed mountains all over the White Mountains, in New Hampshire, and taught me so much about dog training, and he really is what opened up the whole world of dog sports for me.
Melissa Breau: So, what got you started, kind of, training positively? Was it that way from the beginning? What got you started on that part of your journey?
Barbara Currier: Well, again, it kind of stemmed back to Cabal. When I started training him, it was, kind of, the old school method of the collar corrections, and there was always this nagging, in the back of my head of, you know, I’m collar correcting a six-pound Chihuahua. There’s got to be a better way, and my background is in equestrian show jumping, and I trained horses for many years, and I was never a harsh physical trainer with my horses either, and I feel like training dogs and training horses is not entirely different, and agility and show jumping are not a lot different, in the way things need to be trained except agility is far less dangerous than show jumping, so that’s always fun. So, I’ve always, kind of, wanted to have a bond with my animals and train my animals through trust and mutual respect. I don’t want a relationship built out of fear and pain, so that’s when I started looking into, you know, there’s got to be more positive ways that I can train this dog without having to collar correct and do those types of physical corrections.
Melissa Breau: How would you describe your training philosophy these days?
Barbara Currier: I really like for my dogs to think of training as lots of games. So, again, I want my relationship to be, with them, a partnership that’s based completely on trust, and so I want them to understand that, you know, if they get something wrong, not to shut down. You know, a mistake is just that didn’t work, try something else, and so, to them, it’s just a big puzzle that they’re trying to figure out, so they never have a fear of, I’m going to be angry, or you know, they’re going to get hurt in any way. It’s just a big game, and it’s a puzzle they’re trying to figure out with lots of rewards throughout it. You know, every time I bring them out for any type of training, they’re just all thinking that it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, and that’s how, I think, it should be, with any animal that you’re training.
Melissa Breau: So, I have to say, kind of working on your bio, it seems like you’ve had the opportunity to do lots of different really interesting things, in the world of dogs, from animal wrangling to working on wearable computing, so I wanted to ask a little more about what you do now. Can you tell us just a little bit about the FIDO Program there, at Georgia Tech, and what you’re working on with the dogs there?
Barbara Currier: Sure. So, FIDO stands for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. My best friend, Dr. Melody Jackson, she’s a professor there, at Georgia Tech, and she runs the brain lab and the animal computer interaction lab. She came up with the idea of creating wearable computing for service dogs, military dogs, police, search and rescue, any type of working dog, and she asked me to come on to oversee the dog training aspects of the work. Within the last year, I’ve been really busy with travel, and so I, actually, haven’t been working a lot with them, on the project, and she’s actually taking over most of the dog training aspect, the pilot testing, with her dog, but up to this point, a lot of the stuff that they’ve created, it’s kind of funny, when I tell people what I do there, the team that creates all the stuff, it’s Melody Jackson and her lab partner Thad Starner, they’re brilliant people, and the students that all work there are super brilliant. I am not a techy person. I’m lucky if I can turn my computer on, I just train dogs, so I kind of compare it to like the big bang theory, and I’m Penny amongst all of these brilliant people, and they just say stuff and I’m like, that’s great, just tell me what you want the dogs to do. That’s, kind of, where my expertise is, and I don’t have any idea what the technical aspect of it is, but we’ve, actually, created some really cool things.
They’ve created a vest that a service dog is trained to activate that has a tug sensor on it, and so we had a woman come to us that had a speech problem where she doesn’t have, she can’t project her voice out very loudly, and she’s also wheelchair bound, and she was at the dog park, one day, with her dog, and her wheelchair got stuck in some mud, and she couldn’t holler to anybody because her voice just didn’t project like that, and she really needed, like, a way that she could send her service dog to get help to come back, and you know, but a dog running up to somebody, at a dog park, barking, nobody is going to think that’s anything unusual. So, they created a vest that has a computer on it, and the dog has a tug sensor, on the vest, so she can direct the dog to go to somebody, and the dog can go up and it will pull a tug sensor and the vest will actually say, excuse me, my handler needs assistance, please follow me, and the dog can bring that person back to the handler.
Melissa Breau: That’s pretty cool.
Barbara Currier: Yeah. It’s super cool. So, my dog, Blitz, my Border Collie, Blitz, and Melody’s Border Collie, Sky, are the two main test subjects for all of the stuff that we create. We have a few other dogs that we use consistently, but most of these things, like, we just bring in random people, and their dogs, to train everything, but Sky and Blitz, kind of, go through everything first, and we work all the bugs out on them. They’ve created a haptic bodysuit that allows handlers to communicate with SAR dogs from a distance, so, for instance, if a SAR dog is looking for a child with down syndrome, or autism, where they may be afraid of dogs, so a lot of times the SAR dogs will work at a very far distance from the handler, and they don’t want the dogs to scare the person into running more. So, the SAR dogs can have like a camera on their vest, so when they find, whatever they’re looking for, we have a computer that’s on their vest that they can activate their GPS, so it sends out exactly where their location is, but then the owner can give the dog commands through this haptic vest that has vibrating sensors, in different parts of the dog’s bodies, and each sensor vibrating, on a certain part of the body, means something, so, like, when the sensor vibrates on the back, that means lie down, so the handler can then vibrate the back sensor that tells the dog to lie down and stay, but the handler can be, you know, 20, 30, 40 feet away, so that’s been really fun to work with that.
We’ve taught dogs how to use large touchscreens, so for like hearing dogs, in the house, a lot of times, they don’t wear vests, and so when a hearing dog hears something, they just go to their handler and they need to take them to the source of the sound, but sometimes we don’t want them to take them to the source of the sound, like a tornado siren or a fire alarm, so we’ve created a large touchscreen that the dogs can differentiate the sounds, and they can actually go to the touch screen and detect fire alarm, and hit that, and like if the handler is wearing something that’s called Google Glass, it will show up in the Google Glass that the fire alarm is going off, or if the doorbell is ringing, maybe the handler just doesn’t want to get up and answer it, so the dog can actually differentiate the sounds and tell them, by using, it’s like a giant iPad, exactly what sensor is going off.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Barbara Currier: Yeah. It’s been really fun to watch the dogs be able to do all of these amazing things, and it’s been really fun to watch the students say, do you think a dog can do this? I’m like, sure they can, and they do. I mean, it’s just amazing what dogs can do.
Melissa Breau: So, what about your experience animal wrangling? Do you want to share a little bit about that work?
Barbara Currier: Yeah. I don’t do it anymore. It’s, honestly, not as glamourous as it sounds. Some of it’s fun, some of it, not so much. It depends on, you know, the set you’re working on, like the TV series, Satisfaction was super fun to work on, the people were really great. That was with my friend’s dog. The producers were really great, but like the movies aren’t always so fun to work on because the days are really, really long, and a lot of these people have no idea what it means to train animals, and so they, kind of, think that they’re little computers and you can just program in whatever you want, and just change it, on the fly, and the dogs should just automatically know how to do it. It just can be a little frustrating sometimes, and so I did it for about two years and got burned out pretty quickly.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Now I know that, I kind of mentioned, in the bio, a little bit about Susan Garrett, and I know that you have been able to work with a lot of different excellent handlers, in the agility world, so I wanted to ask a little bit about how working with those professionals has experienced and shaped your training.
Barbara Currier: Well I have been lucky to work with some of the most amazing dog trainers, in the world, and I have to say, I’ve learned something from every trainer I’ve ever worked with. I’m a firm believer that there’s always somebody out there that can teach us something, and the day that we feel that people don’t know more than we do, then our education stops, and so I, for one, always want to keep learning and evolving, in my dog training, so even if I go and I take away one thing, from a weekend seminar, well that’s one thing that I didn’t have going into it, so, to me, it’s just worth it.
Melissa Breau: For those not familiar with OneMind Dog handling, specifically, do you mind just briefly, kind of, explaining what it is?
Barbara Currier: Sure. The OneMind Dog handling, it’s a handling method that’s based on how dogs naturally respond to our physical cues, and what works best, from the dog’s perspective, so it basically teaches us to speak the dog language instead of trying to force dogs to understand us, so a lot of the handling comes very, very natural to the dogs and takes little to no training. It’s mostly just training the humans to learn how to speak to the dog, but the dog’s, right from the beginning, really understand it quite well. I love when I’m working with a student, and I tell them to do something, and they’re like, I don’t think my dog’s going to do that, and I say, if you do this, they will, and then the dogs do, and they’re like, wow. I didn’t know my dog could do that.
Melissa Breau: So, the real question is, who’s harder to train, the students or the dogs?
Barbara Currier: Always the students. The dogs are easy.
Melissa Breau: What was it that, kind of, originally attracted you to OMD?
Barbara Currier: Well Blitz was 4 years old, when I got introduced to OneMind, and I was really struggling with Blitz, and I was having a very hard time. Our cue rate was extremely low. He was a very, very fast dog. He was very obstacle focused, and I just was really, really struggling with him, and I had never had a dog that I struggled that hard with. I’ve always been a very successful agility handler, and I was just really starting to doubt myself, and then I was introduced, I went to a seminar, I was introduced into the OneMind system, and immediately it was like Blitz was saying, oh, thank you. Finally, somebody is going to help her. It kind of just like came into place, and after one seminar, I went to a trial, that weekend, wear we hadn’t cued in months, I think we came home with four cues, in one weekend, which was unheard of, for us, and that was after one seminar, so then I was really hooked, and then Jaakko and Janita, who are the founders, of OneMind, they did a tour, in the United States, a few years back, and they asked to come to my school, and so we hosted them, and they ended up staying with us. We hosted them for a weekend, and then they had like three weeks off between our place and where they were going next, and so we said, why don’t you just stay here, and we’ll show you around Georgia, and take you hiking, so they stayed and insisted on working with us every day to thank us for our hospitality, and so having three weeks of pure immersion into the OneMind system, I was completely hooked, and the difference that it made, in Blitz, was just out of control, and Miso is the first dog I’ve ever had that was trained, from day one, with the OneMind handling system, and the difference in her skill level, going out to start competing and the difference in any dog that I’ve ever had, has been night and day, and so I just was hook, line, and sinker sucked in.
Melissa Breau: So, I want to talk a little bit about the class you have coming up, that kind of include some of those handling methods, so it’s called Making It Easy, 12 Commonly Used OneMind Dog Inspired Techniques. Can you just share a little bit about what you will cover in that class?
Barbara Currier: Sure. So, the OneMind handling system has 30 different handling techniques, and for the average person, who does AKC, USDAA, you’re not going to use all 30 handling techniques. You’ll use a lot more as you start getting into the international type handling, but this course will cover the 12 most commonly used techniques that people are going to use weekend to weekend, at their local trials.
Melissa Breau: So, what are some of the, I guess, the common sticking points, for handlers, looking to teach those skills. How do you problem solve for some of those issues?
Barbara Currier: Basically, one of the things that I see handlers struggle with the most is maintaining connection with their dogs while looking where they need to be going. So, dogs seek out connection with our face, when we’re running, and if they can’t find that connection, with our face, depending on the dog, they can have different reactions. Some dogs will just stop running through the obstacles and just try to drive around and curl in front of you, to search for your face, some will start dropping bars, some will just find a line and take it, so if we’re not connected with our dogs, we also can’t see whether they’re committing to the correct obstacles and when we need to execute their turn signals, but our body wants us to, through self-preservation, look where we’re going, so the hardest thing, for students, is to learn how to run forward, with your head looking back, and be connected with your dog, and see where you’re going out of your peripheral vision, so I teach my students to basically go out and get used to running a course while looking behind you, and using your peripheral vision, because everybody has it, but again, it’s kind of a brain training thing that the more you use it, the stronger it gets. When I first started doing it, I kind of saw blurry objects, in my peripheral, but I was never comfortable to run a whole course that way, where the more I went out and just practiced running a course, without my dog, and the stronger my peripheral vision got, so I can run full courses now and not worry about running into things, while staying strongly connected to my dogs, so that’s probably the thing that I see most people struggle with, and my little games that I’ve created to help that seems to really help them with that.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to talk just, maybe, a little more about which of the OneMind Dog handling techniques are, kind of, included in your class? I know you said the 12 most commonly used ones, but what are some of those?
Barbara Currier: So, in the first week, we’re going to start off with the most common handling technique that everybody knows, but a lot of people, actually, execute incorrectly, which is the front cross, so everybody probably knows that, but it’s also one of the most commonly misused and done incorrectly, so we’re tackling that right off the bat, and then we’ll move into the forced front cross. Then, into week two, we address the Jaakko Turn and the reverse spin.
Melissa Breau: So, for somebody not agility, like, savvy, what is that, the Jaakko turn?
Barbara Currier: The Jaakko turn kind of takes the place of the traditional Post Turn, so in the traditional Post Turn as we’re rotating around. Our chest laser is opened up to tall of these obstacles that we don’t want our dog to take, so as we’re rotating our dog, saying, is it that obstacle, is it that obstacle, is it that obstacle, and it’s not until we actually get to where we want to go that we say, no, no, it’s this one. Where the Jaakko Turn, we get the collection, at the jump, but the dog actually goes around behind our back, so our chest never opens up to all the obstacles we don’t want, it’s only going to be driving straight to the one obstacle we do want, so it’s a really good technique for dogs that are super obstacle focused and really like to scope out lines on their own.
Then the next technique we’ll tackle, in week two, is the Reverse Spin, which is, basically, it, sort of, looks like a Jaakko, but it doesn’t get you as tight collection as a Jaakko. Your exit line is different, but it’s a really good handling move to use if you, say your dog is on a pinwheel, and you want the first and the third jump but not the second jump, out on the pinwheel. By doing a reverse spin, you’re going to change the dog’s exit line and it’s going to create collection for the dog, so you will not get that jump out on their natural path because you created a turn with more collection. It’s kind of hard to explain without looking at a map, but.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, but still.
Barbara Currier: Then, in week three, we’re going to look at the Reverse Wrap, which is a tight turn off of the backside of a jump, and Rear Cross, which is another one most everybody is familiar with but often done incorrectly. Week four we will look at a Lap Turn, which is a U-shaped turn that the dog turn happens on the flat, and I use Lap Turns so often, in pulling my dog to, if we’re on a course, and the course is sending the dog to the tunnel, but the judge has nicely picked the offside tunnel, for the opening, Lap Turns work so great for that. I also, often, Lap Turn my dog into weave poles, on AKC courses, so that’s a great one, and then we’re going to move into the Double Lap, which is a Lap Turn to a Front Cross, and create the very tight O-shape turn, on a wing, for a dog. Week five we’ll look at the Whisky Turn, which is a very shallow Rear Cross, and we are going to work on the Blind Cross, which I think is one of the most fantastic moves ever, for so many people, especially people that have knee issues because you don’t have to deal with rotation, and it keeps you going forward on the line, but there are appropriate places to put Blind Crosses and places where a Front Cross would be a better choice, but not a lot of people understand.
Then, week six, we’ll work on the German Turn, which is a backside, it’s a little hard to explain, it’s a backside, almost like to a Serpentine into a Blind Cross, and that’s a really fun one to do, and I actually use that one quite a bit, in premiere courses, and kind of the tournament classes in the USDAA classes. Then the Tandem Turn, which is a turn away from the handler, for the dog, on the flat, and that’s a really good turn to have if you are on a straightway and you’re having trouble getting down, in front of your dog, to do a turn, a Tandem Turn is a really, really handy move to have, especially when it’s a straight line to a back side and you just know you’re not beating your dog down that line.
Melissa Breau: So, it sounds like you’re definitely going to cover, kind of, the how to do all of these things. Are you also talking a little bit about when to use each of them, in the course?
Barbara Currier: Yes. So, the course will be broken down to, step by step, how to train, on one jump, and then I’m giving them short sequences of three to eight obstacles, where they’re going to see where this could fit into a course.
Melissa Breau: Is there anything else you think the students, who are kind of trying to decide their classes, because this will go out during October registration, so anything else that students should, maybe, know if they’re considering the class?
Barbara Currier: Well I think it’s important that, you know, and I put in there the pre-requisite for Loretta’s class, because this isn’t going to be the class where you are going to learn how to sequence one or two obstacles. The dogs, coming in, should know how to do, you know, at least eight obstacles in a row, just meaning jumps and a tunnel, so as long as they have a firm understanding of that, and I would assume that, coming in, they know what a Front Cross is and they know what a Rear Cross is. Beyond that, the other ones are all, you know, not ones that I would expect them to know coming in. Some people may know them, the other stuff, but I would, kind of, hope that everybody knows what a Front Cross and a Rear Cross is because those are the basics and everything, kind of, builds off of those.
Melissa Breau: Okay. Excellent. We’re getting close to, kind of, the end here, so I want to ask you the three questions that I always as, at the end of an interview. The first one, and I think some of my guests would say this is, probably, the hardest question, but what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Barbara Currier: You know, I’m probably proudest of my school, Party of 2. I have a really large student base, here in Georgia, and I am so lucky to have the best students. They are just the greatest group of people, and they always want to push themselves to be better. I throw the craziest stuff at them. If I find a comfort level, I’m always looking how to push people out of it, and they are always willing to rise to the challenge, and they are so supportive of each other. We’re like a big, giant family, and everybody is always willing to help anyone out, and I just love it. I’m just super proud of all of my students, at my school.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Barbara Currier: Oh, that’s easy. Comparison is the thief of joy, is the best training advice I have ever had, and I remind myself that often. So, basically, not compare yourself to other dog trainers, your dog to other dogs, your dog to your dog’s litter mates, or your friend’s dog, or your trainer’s dogs because, then, it overshadows any progress or triumphs that you made because you’re always comparing it to somebody else, and it never feels like enough.
Melissa Breau: Then, our last one, here, is who is someone else, in the dog world, that you look up to?
Barbara Currier: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I can only pick one. I’ve have the longest training relationship with my mentor and coach, Tracy Sklenar. She’s been my coach for over 10 years, but since I’ve become involved with OneMind, Jen Pinder and Mary Ellen Barry have been instrumental in my progression and mastering the OneMind handling system, so I would have to say it would be those three amazing, talented ladies that are at the top of my list.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Well thank you, so much, for coming on the podcast, Barbara. This has been great.
Barbara Currier: Thank you, so much, for having me. I really enjoyed myself.
Melissa Breau: Good. Thank you, so much, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, with Loretta Mueller to talk about managing a multi-dog household. As someone who just brought home dog number two, I’m looking forward to talking about skills we can learn and teach our dogs to make life go a little smoother. Don’t miss it. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, or the podcast app of your choice, to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone, as soon as it becomes available.
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.