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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

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

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Aug 31, 2018

Summary:

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

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

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Julie Flanery.

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

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

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

So welcome back to the podcast Julie!

Julie Flanery: Thanks Melissa.

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Flanery: I will too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Flanery: Not quite, not quite.

Melissa Breau: Poor guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 24, 2018

Summary:

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Andrea Harrison.

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

Hi Andrea! Welcome to the podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Harrison: They are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 17, 2018

Summary:

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

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Helene Lawler.

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

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

Hi Helene, welcome to the podcast!

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

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

Helene Lawler: Yes, you did.

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

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

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 10, 2018

Summary:

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

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

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Nancy Tucker.

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

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

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

Hi Nancy, welcome to the podcast!

Nancy Tucker: Hi Melissa.

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

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

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

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

Nancy Tucker: I know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Tucker: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 3, 2018

Summary:

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

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

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Jennifer Summerfield.

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

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

Hi Jen, welcome to the podcast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s my guys in a nutshell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: That’s right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: It’s our very first one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Lots of sticky issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Summerfield: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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