Julie Symons has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking and nosework.
One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team! Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both person and dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust.
She also blogs at K9 Rivarly.com, for those of you out there like me, who just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’ll be talking to Julie Symons.
Julie has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking, and Nose work. One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team. Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both the person and the dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust. She also blogs at k9rivalry.com, for those of you, out there who, like me, just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff. Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Symons: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Melissa Breau: Did I totally butcher the Belgian Tervuren there?
Julie Symons: Not bad, but I forgot to remind you Rival is a she and not a he.
Melissa Breau: Oh, well that makes a difference.
Julie Symons: It does.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now?
Julie Symons: I have my Belgian Tervuren, Savvy. She’s nine years old, so she’s my second Terv, and she is, I would not say semi-retirement, but I’m not training her in agility, or showing in agility or obedience anymore. We are focusing on nose work. She has her breed champion, her agility champion. Last year she got her UD and her Nose Work 3, and a couple of years ago she got a Tracking Dog Excellent, and that was really, a really exciting class to title in. It’s hard to get into test, and it’s challenging to find places to track and train, so she’s a Versatility 3 dog, it’s a title in AKC, so she’s my first Versatility 3 dog, so that’s her.
My newest dog is a Belgian Malinois, sometimes also hard to pronounce. He is 17 months old, and I love him. I do prefer girl dogs, but I felt that he was a better addition with my current girl, and they do get along great, and he’s a very friendly dog, not quite much phases him, so it’s been really nice to find that in a Belgian, and it’s just fun to train him, and he’s different, so every dog I’ve had is different. He passed his Nose Work ORTs, Order Recognition Test, last fall, and we have his first Nose Work 1 trial next month. He’s still a baby dog, you know. I don’t like to push them. Nose work is a little different. I know he’s ready for that, but I have years for him, really, you know, trialing and anything else, so I’m taking my time with that.
Melissa Breau: It’s kind of awesome that’s he’s a Belgian with the ability to kind of hang out.
Julie Symons: Yeah. I actually, kind of, joked that he’s like a golden in a Malinois suit, and he’s gone to a couple of conformation shows, sometimes the only Malinois, and I never even, you know, he just didn’t mind people touching him, examining him. I didn’t even have to train that. I probably don’t even want to admit that, but we’ll see. He’s a little older now. He might, you know, sometimes they go through different phases, and they go through different periods of time, and we, actually, have a trial next weekend that we’re showing in conformation, so I do like to get dogs out early. That’s the one thing I do like, conformation is something that you can get them into the ring early, if they’re ready, and they can have some really fun time getting lots of steak and liver in the ring, so.
Melissa Breau: Hey. Can’t beat that.
Julie Symons: No. No.
Melissa Breau: So, I think, from reading your bio, and stuff, you started out in flyball, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, when I bought my first house, I was an adult, in my 20s, I wanted a dog, so one of the first things I did was I went and got a dog. I went to a shelter and I picked out Dreyfus, really cute dog, kind of a big, you know, 60 pound, 70 pound, you know, Collie mix. We called him the Dick Clark of dogs because he never aged. He lived to 16, almost 16, and except for his physical appearance, you know, he just looked as handsome and young as Dick Clark, I guess.
You know, I don’t really remember how I got into flyball. I do know that I started out in some local class where you just stood in the room for an hour, and you got one time up, you know, in such ways we don’t train anymore. You just don’t have your dog, you know, unfocused and sitting there for an hour, you know, while you wait your turn, and I think I started, I got into the Amber mixed breed, it’s an American mixed breed organization registry. I don’t even think they have it anymore, and I could get like, you know, obedience titles, so I must have been renting, you know, some other training buildings to practice, and there were some people there that were doing flyball, so I must have networked and met them because I once I started going to matches and some UKC trials, and you just started meeting more people, and I got on this flyball team, and it was neat because, you know, I learned how to teach my dog to hit a box and a ball would pop out. He was really good at flyball. He was a big dog, so he was able to jump the little hurdles fast, and he got a run in every heat, at the trials. I remember my team members weren’t always happy that he got a run every time, but he was consistent, you know, and you want the time for the flyball, for the speed.
I also learned, you know, like doing a Front Cross, you send your dog down one side and you do a Front Cross and you pick your dog up. So, you know, I do look back at that as, you know, I didn’t stick with it, I still really like the sport, didn’t stay with it, but it was my first time going to, driving a couple of hours to a trial and I remember thinking, well how can a dog stay in the car that long? What if they have to go to the bathroom? It’s funny, when you look back and see, we were all newbies, we all started out somewhere, and you know, I remember taking pictures of my dog in the hotel room, like, wow, they can be in the hotel room, with us. So, I did that for about a year, went to about three or four tournaments for flyball.
At that same time, I was starting to look for my purebred dogs, and I thought, oh, I like this. There wasn’t as many opportunities for mix breeds back then, as it is today. I, actually, was looking at mixed breeds before I got Drac, my Malinois. I was so open to a mixed breed, it didn’t really matter because you can do so much with them now, but back then you couldn’t, so I definitely wanted a purebred dog. You know, Dreyfus was great, but he really was, you know, not a lot of drive, very distractible. Now I probably have a lot of skills now to deal with that, but you know, he liked to sniff the ground a lot, and he was not the easiest, you know, dog to train, you know, and for being new, you know, it was kind of hard, so I didn’t do much with him, past that.
So, I started researching, and I was looking for my next dog, and I saw the David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks on, you know, one night I was watching TV and they had a Belgian Malinois. I really liked that breed, so I was still going to this local obedience class and I mentioned it, to the instructor, and he said, oh, you should really get a Belgian Tervuren instead, so I went to a show, in Syracuse, a conformation show, and I found when the Belgian Tervuren were on, and I loved them. They were so beautiful. I grew up with rust Collies, so they kind of reminded me of that a little bit, so it was so fortunate how I found my next dog. I contacted breeders. They didn’t know me from anybody. They had a boy and a girl, and I got the girl, from Missouri, flown to me, sight unseen. Her name was Rival, and she changed my life, and she was just this high drive, just very biteable, bonded to me immediately, and then, I think, I did bring her to that same dog, pet, class trainer, for a little bit, but I didn’t stay long because, you know, the methods were much different, and I heard about a local trainer, who had just got her OTCH, on a lab, so I started private lessons with her, and I never, ever, went back to obedience classes, a class environment.
Then, so, when I got her, agility was really starting to hit the scene, so I got into an agility class right away. This is when AKC had one class, you would have the standard class, you would run in. We would drive like, you know, four hours, and you would go in the ring for 30 seconds, and you were done, for the day. So that’s how I, kind of, went. Then, in obedience, of course, I was continuing with that, and private lessons, and then I added agility. I started, when she was young, I started tracking the pet class that I had gone to was run by some Schutzhund trainers, so I would meet with them, when they would do some tracking, and so I learned a little bit about tracking, but I didn’t stay with them long. I would take a lot of breaks on and off from tracking, you know, and of course nose work wasn’t around at that point, but that’s how I, kind of, just, you know, I got the bug. I got the dog training bug with Dreyfus, got the purebred dog that I had more opportunities, and you know, she just made it so enjoyable and easy for me to pick up new sports, and so that’s how I, kind of, you know, you get that first dog, you know…
Melissa Breau: You dive in deep, and the world opens up to you.
Julie Symons: Yep. Yep.
Melissa Breau: So, at what point, I mean, it sounds like you were doing a lot of different things right out of the gate, with Rival. Did you immediately know that versatility was going to be something that was important to you? At what point was that like a conscious thing where that was like something you wanted to focus on?
Julie Symons: You know, I do think it was because of her, and just training her in so many sports, her temperament and her drive were superb. She excelled at everything we did, and she was a great teacher. I mean I still consider myself a novice handler, at that time, and I really got addicted. I got addicted to dog training, and I know, any and all of it, so I just, you know, couldn’t imagine just doing agility. I just enjoyed the cross training and just teaching such different skills, to my dog. I think I would get bored if I only did one, and I think that my dogs, the dogs I tend to get, to me, you know, I don’t want to put human feelings on dogs, but I do think they enjoy the versatility too. I think they like the different skills and the different things they get to do.
Melissa Breau: So, in retrospect, what are some of the benefits that you have seen, from competing in multiple sports, with each of your dogs?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, what I just mentioned, I do think there’s a cross training aspect to it. I’m not just working on, you know, their muscles for running fast. I’m using their nose, and I’m asking for some precision in other sports, like obedience. It also gives them breaks, you know, instead of working one sport all the time, you know, they take a break from, maybe, some of the more strenuous running and jumping, and then they get to switch to something else. I found that training in the different sports, you just develop and bond and relationship that’s different and maybe a little deeper because you have to learn different context of things, you’re learning more skills, and it strengthens that relationship that you have, you know, you have this mutual understanding with each other, to go out and do these different sports, and that you have these, you know, cues and things that they understand, and it’s just amazing to know that I have…because I train for sports, I don’t normally train just to train. I’ve gotten a little bit more into doing some tricks, I think that’s great for dogs, too, so just to think of all the ways I can teach my dog to do different things, and back to, you know, when I had Rival, she really showed me what was possible to do with a dog, and the possible bonds you can have. I just never thought you could do all of this with a dog, and I just think that’s what made me like the versatility of it too, it’s just a, kind of, challenge to try other sports, you know.
So, when nose work came along, I did not need another dog sport, believe me, but her brother had started it, and I saw a video of it, didn’t know much about it, and he passed away at a little bit of a young age, so I was, kind of, inspired to say, you know, in his honor I’m going to take this nose work class that I heard about Denise teaching, before Fenzi started, and she was actually in heat, or she was injured, or something, so like the timing was really good, so I used that, my dog is in heat or has a minor injury or it’s winter, you know, I think of what else could I do with my dog because I can’t do some of the other things, and that’s, actually, how I got into nose work. So, you know, it just comes along at the right time, for you, with the dog that you have.
Melissa Breau: So, I’d imagine that knowing now, at least, that that’s something that’s important to you, that you want to do a lot of different things with your dog, when you have a new puppy, which you’ve been through fairly recently, you might approach, kind of, those early days a little bit differently, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I think it is a little different, knowing what you’re going to, you know, train your dog in and compete in, but it’s really quite similar because a lot of the same skills that you need across all the sports, like you need your dog to be able to stay, you know, and sit or down, you really do, in every single sport. You need impulse control, you need them to, you know, wait for your cues. They need focus. They need recalls. You know, you just need all of that stuff, so that’s what I just start building. I tend to train thoughtful dogs. That’s good. I’m thinking like I want more like, almost out of control dogs, but I really don’t. I do tend to train, I tend to teach dogs to be very thoughtful, and I do need to balance that with some of that little bit of edge that I do want from them as well.
Let’s see, what else? But I also, like, approach it by switching on and off. I’m not training every sport all the time, you know, nobody can do that, and even, since training in multiple sports is also a challenge in itself, I also, you know, have a busy day life, day job. I have, you know, a son. I have a husband, so it’s hard to fit everything in. So, how I approach it is I just, sometimes, focus on one thing a month, like I need to teach my dog to weave, so just that month, it happened to be summer, I’m going to just, every day, go out there and train my dogs, a couple of times a day, on the weave poles, and I don’t really have time for anything else, but that’s okay. That’s just what I’m doing that month. Then, the next month, I might focus on, I don’t know, getting out to new places for obedience, and then the next month I may focus on teeter, you know, get my dog on the teeter and everything, so it just, I don’t really have a good, you know, plan around it. I don’t write it down, or anything, I just make sure I train my dog on something, most days, and I usually have a focus, so a lot of it depends on what I might be starting to want to compete in first.
Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. Because you can’t, if you try to sit there and say, you’ll get overwhelmed. You’ll get overwhelmed if you’re going to try to say, I want to do all of these six sports, oh my gosh, you know, and you know, I kind of move on. Once Savvy got her MACH 2 to, you now, I didn’t need to get a MACH 3 or 4, so I just decided, she could have still kept running, she was seven or eight, or something, but I just had other things to do. I had to go work on her, you know, TDX or her, whatever, nose work, now. I am very goal oriented to the title, so that kind of drives me in the direction that I train.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that I’ve definitely struggled with, so it’s interesting to hear, kind of, pick one focus. Now, at least, for me, and for my dog, I found that she doesn’t always retain the information long term, if we, kind of, leave it alone and come back to it, you know, like months later. Is that something you’ve had to deal with at all?
Julie Symons: Oh, she doesn’t. Well, no. Well I do think it depends on what it is, if you hadn’t, you know, taught something to kind of fluency, then you’re going to lose a little bit, but I also think they remember some of it, at least, so there are some things that I think you do need to, kind of, not drop off, you know, for too long. It depends, you know, it might be stays or recalls, obviously. I do think that, most part, they do remember, so, in that case, if they don’t, then, you know, you might have to just decide what’s more important that you need, and keep that in because, you know, I could do more than just my weave pole training that month. Obviously, I’m in the catch, and I’ll do stays with my dogs. I’ll put them in a sit stay, while I’m making something, or you know, sometimes it just takes one minute of training, just one to three minutes of training, a day. Everybody can find that.
I started to train a little bit before I went to work. Lately, with Drac, I train when I get home. He is so pumped and into me, that’s when I need to train him because he’s a young, adolescent boy. He, kind of, like doesn’t have a lot of stamina to focus, so I’ve actually had some really, really wonderful sessions, and it just might be as much as i can train with a handful of food and that’s all I do. Now he’s 17 months old, and he is like, oh my gosh, I’m like, he is so focused on me, like that didn’t happen months ago. So then, because I have that focus and maturity, I’m able to, kind of, progress a little bit further or teach him something new, so it’s, kind of, give and take, and you’re right, I know some of the stuff I started with him, like backup, I was teaching him backing up, he doesn’t know that at all, anymore, so, yeah, that is something that I did lose, but that’s not as important to me, to backup, away from me, so I’ve got to get back to that because I do think it’s useful, in some areas, but yeah, I did lose that one on him, by the way. I think what happened was, I was teaching him some other things, like a fold back down, or something else, and he kept backing up, and it wasn’t reinforcing it because I was working on something else, so I think that’s why I lost it because of the reinforcement, you know, I extinguished it. I extinguished his backing up, accidentally.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Do you have any advice, I guess, for other trainers, who maybe want to intentionally train for multiple sports or approach the idea that if they have a dog, they want to compete in multiple sports, either for getting started or just, kind of, for balancing things?
Julie Symons:Yeah. Yes, I do. So, a little bit, what I mentioned earlier, I think if you just don’t get overwhelmed and realize that you aren’t trialling your new dog, right away. It really is going to be years before you really get them in the ring, and I know, like it’s almost like you put a lot of time in those first, you know, two to four years. I didn’t bring in my, you know, Rival, who got an Obedience Champion, she didn’t enter the obedience ring until she was five. She could have gone in a little earlier, but I wasn’t ready, and once I got in and I realized we were ready, but you have time to bring your dog in because once you get them into that ring, at that time, it goes fast after that, so you take that time, you know, I would say two to four years, depending on the sport, and once you get to that point, then it goes really fast. If you start too early, I think you’re just setting yourself up to have too many gaps in your training, and then you’re going to, probably, struggle, and then it’s going to take you longer, so I would, you know, number one, not worry about time. It will come, when ready.
Also, a foundation, like I said earlier, just work on the foundation, work on things that you’re going to want anyway, you’re going to want to save the recalls, the focus, the impulse control, that’s going to apply to every sport, and something that’s near and dear to Denise’s heart, actually, is personal play. I’ve had to learn that more so in the last nine years because my first dog, Rival, was just naturally into me. I was her world. Honestly, I didn’t do anything, to make that happen, and when I got Savvy, and now I have Drac, other things in the world are more interesting, to them, than me, so I have had to think about, wait, I’ve got to build that personal bond, that personal play, not relying on food so much, or toys, and if you can focus on that, and you can have a dog that’s totally into you, that’s half the battle, and then the rest is just skill training, it’s just skills, and we all know how to trail skills.
Seriously, we have all the classes and the tools and the, you know, video examples, and the people’s blogs, we all know how to teach skills, some are harder than others, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a dog that you have built up this wonderful relationship with, I mean we all have wonderful relationships with our dogs. I’m not even saying that. It’s from an interaction, it’s a kind of bonded, you know, interaction that you need to build for that personal play around other, you know, interesting things, in the environment. So, I would say, and I had to, really, grow in that area, for me, and I really bring that into my training more where, to me, it’s more important that I’m going to interact and play with my dog then teach Drac to backup again. To me I’d rather need him to really want to come to me and to play with me, so that’s the things that I would have people to focus on.
Melissa Breau: You know, I’ve seen, I don’t remember if you shared a video or if it’s on your Fenzi bio, or what, I mean, I’ve seen some of your competition videos, and I would never guess that personal play is something you’ve struggled with. I saw you in between exercises, and on one of the videos you got down on the floor, and you were like very happy to be there. It was really nice. I mean it was…
Julie Symons: Yeah. I mean I think one of the videos might have been Rival, and I did make a clip, once, for somebody, to show what I did between the rings with Savvy, and she’s a very distractible dog. She’ll know the things in her environment, which is typical of Belgians, too, they’re very aware of people, there are some people they just don’t like, and so I’ve really had to work on that, so thank you, for that compliment. To be honest, that is why Savvy didn’t enter the obedience ring for a while. I can’t remember how old she was, when she actually went in for her Novice, CD, but she actually went in for her, you know, Novice CD but she got her Utility title at eight, last year, because I got her, when my son was young, he was only two, so I just didn’t have the time. I had three dogs, and I had my older dog, Dreyfus. I had, did I have three dogs? Yeah. Savvy. I still had Rival and Dreyfus, when I got Savvy, and I just couldn’t do it all. I, actually, realized I cannot do it all right now, and that was okay. That was okay. If I put pressure on myself then it’s just going to carry over to my dogs, so I appreciate that compliment.
Melissa Breau: So, you got there, and you got there at your own pace, and you got beautiful results.
Julie Symons: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I know that, in addition to teaching for FDSA, you also teach in person, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, actually, back in the late ‘90s, I started teaching agility, when I was doing well with my dog and it was still new, in this area. I found, you know, that I enjoyed that. I enjoyed helping people, and I was in a dog club, so I started teaching through a dog club, and then, eventually, when we bought our current property, the first thing we built, you know, we have seven open acres, and the first thing we did is we built a hundred by hundred, you know, fence, so the property was, the house hadn’t even started building, and I had this hundred by hundred, you know, fence.
Melissa Breau: Priorities.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Priorities because it was a lot of deer, and everything, and when I first started, without the fence, you know, a couple of dogs to take off, and that was really scary, so we got the fence up. So, I started teaching on my own. That was probably back in 2000, in 1999 or the year 2000, and then I had my son in 2004, and I tried to keep up, you know, and I tried to keep teaching, and I was still showing Rival actively, finishing up some of her big titles. I just had to back off a bit, so I stopped teaching and took a break from that, and then when I got Savvy into nose work, and she got her nose work 1 title, I immediately was like, “I’m going to start teaching.” I just wanted to get that first title and then start bringing it to my area because I could tell it was an up and coming sport. You know, everybody just didn’t AKC anymore, you know, there’s Barn Hunt, there’s a lot of other venues of dog sports. It was about the same time that I started teaching at FDSA, and so it’s gone very well, locally. People love the in-person classes because they can have them, you know, from me, so they’re spoiled a little bit. So, yeah, really, actually this morning I hosted a little match for some students, and myself, trialing next month, so it’s a lot of work. I rented a building and we had a gym area and another room to do hides. It keeps me busy.
Melissa Breau: So, just for anybody who may happen to be local to you, do you want to share, kind of, what area you’re in?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I’m south of Rochester, New York. I’m near the thruway, so I’m actually equal distance between Syracuse and Buffalo. I do have some people that, you know, come about an hour away, but most are local. Ironically some of them are just like within five minutes of my neighborhood, so we all live pretty close, and Rochester, New York, we’ve heard this for years, we have a really, really big, strong dog community, some really talented people, a lot of people invested in training, you know, competitively with our dogs. You know, I have people, in my classes that, you know, I have few pet people that started with me, people who hadn’t done much of the competitive sports, so I have a mix, but I do have a lot of people who have some dog training experience, and it was cool that they, these are people who do Schutzhund, you know, obedience, rally, agility, like they’re interested in nose work. Their dogs may be getting a little older, they’re retiring form a sport, or they’re young dogs who are coming up, and it’s, really, taught me that it applies, or interests, a wide range of people, you know, it’s not just for certain, you know, demographic of dogs and handlers, so and it’s growing. I, actually, can barely keep up.
I, just recently, made a job change to go to part time. I work at Xerox. I’ve been there my whole career, out of college, and I just decided that I want more time to myself, as well as for dog training. So, yeah, I’m actually really excited about that. The hours will change in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see. I’m not really sure if I’ll get more time to myself. I may just get busier, so we’ll see, but I did find that that’s what I love. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s where I was creative, and that wasn’t the side of my life that I wanted to cut back on, so I just sat back, looked at our situation, and said, “I can do this,” so, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Now you, kind of, mentioned AKC in there, and some of the other Nose work programs, but I know there’s been a lot of buzz about the fact that AKC has just recently added a scent work program, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, and that timing came quite at a good time, for some of my latest decisions. Yeah. So AKC rolled out a nose work program, they call it scent work, and you know, I think we all expected it to come at some point. I think a lot of people do like to show in AKC. AKC, you know, is a big organization, and probably going to be able to put on more readily available trials for people to enter. I love the other nose work programs. I think they’ve done a really great job with them, and I will still trial in them, but there’s people that are in some isolated areas that are too far for trials, there’s a long waitlist, so I think the AKC program, the reason I’m excited about it, is I think it will get more people into the sport because I really have found that nose work just does something to the dogs. It does something to the handlers. It’s not just the dogs that love because they get to use their nose, but just the people, to see their dogs be these little detection dogs, and there’s something about it. I haven’t quite pinpointed it. I think people like tracking, but tracking, sometimes, is hard to find the field, and there’s also limited, you know, tracking tests. There’s just something about it, and I think it’s just people seeing their dogs, instead of us telling our dogs not to sniff and smell things, we’re letting them sniff and smell things, and they’re doing it with purpose, and they’re doing it, you know, it’s a job. I think dogs are, kind of, bred to do jobs, and it’s a job that comes naturally to them, but there’s still practicing and training and skills that you’ve got to train to actually compete in that sport, so it’s just been something that I’m really excited about with the AKC program.
Then they added this handler discrimination class, which existed in a UKC program, so I’m not as familiar with that, from a nose work context, but I’ve done some articles for 20 years, and you know, I never really had a lot of problem with that, but I understand that it is challenging. I think it’s just more of a mindset of people realizing our dogs really can pick up the smallest amount of smell, and it’s not even a small amount of smell. I mean we’re putting our strong odor on it, compared to anything else, in the environment, so there’s a discrimination that they’re making between our smell and the steward’s, you know, smell, from touching the articles, and in this new AKC program, you actually have your glove, or your sock, that you, you know, scent, and then they’re going to have another person’s scented, you know, item in one of the other boxes to start, so it’s going to be discrimination, and you know, it’s just like with anything, you train your dog, what was reinforced, what is the value, so I teach my scent is to be reinforced, there’s a value to that, and to me discrimination is less of an issue than somebody going, oh, I like the steward’s hand smell better. It’s just more that they’re stressed, or they just pick up any article, so I think that the discrimination part, to me, you know, is very trainable, and it’s easy to teach a dog, just like with nose work, we teach our dog these odors, you know, Birch, Anise, Clove, these are odors that we’ve taught you that are reinforced. Any other novel owner, whether it’s a piece of bread or some meat or a toy, or even animal droppings, you know, they may find that self-reinforcing, but if they have the drive for the odors that we have reinforced, then they will seek those out over everything, so. So, yeah, it is pretty exciting, with the AKC program.
Melissa Breau: My understanding is that you’re going to be a judge, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I did apply, to be a judge, and I was approved. They still have to rollout…
Melissa Breau: Congrats.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. I’ve never entered that arena, of judging, so they still have to rollout like some online training and a test to take, so we’re waiting for that to come out, and it’s exciting because somebody, locally, is taking nose work classes with me. She said, oh, we’re thinking of getting this added to our national breed, coming up, and she said, I know somebody who’s a judge, so it will be very nice that I could, you know, maybe for some of the local breed shows, you know, I’ll be available to help with that, to get it started.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Now I want to change gears a little bit because I know you also do the obedience games class, at FDSA, even though it’s not in the schedule, until October, I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk a little bit about some of the obedience stuff you teach too, so do you want to just tell us a little bit about the concept for the class and kind of what you cover?
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for bringing that up. It’s been a very fun class topic for me. It’s called obedience games, and we added a starter version, which I just ended last term because I found that my first version got advanced pretty quickly, so I thought, wow, I can really even break this down more, and that was a real hit. It, kind of, you know, took a life of its own, and it was just real exciting.
It’s about, you know, being informal but still being clear to your dog. It’s about adding more movement and less, you know, static, stationary behaviors, and less fiddling with, you know, precision and the front, so we’re not even doing fronts, so I’m like, we’re not doing fronts in this class. Every time your dog comes here, you’re going to pass a treat between your legs, and then that just builds this like, you know, center of position, and your dog is going to continue with speed, and they’re just going to know, you know, to like go through you, you know. We’re not going to worry about errors. I really emphasize that because we all, you know, we all get a little frustrated or disappointed, and I’m really, really impressed, early on, there are no errors, we’re just training, we’re learning, we’re finding out what gaps we have. We’re getting information from our dogs. There’s no reason to be, you know, upset, or bothered and we don’t want our dogs to ever, you know, we don’t want them to have stress, in this game, and I think that I’m seeing some people give me comments that they’re seeing some people who took my very first obedience game class, last fall, they said, wow, I very rarely still use the games, it’s really helped my dog in the ring. I think it’s more that it’s helped the human, you know, it’s helping humans to, kind of, maybe loosen up a little bit.
One of the things that I really was, you know, enforcing was, you know, these daily games that if you just work, just a few minutes, like I said earlier, a few minutes a day, with your dog, there’s just something about that because I can go days and days without training my dog, I just get busy, you know, but instead, if I just find one little, kind of, action packed, high reinforcing game, to play with my dog, which with a purpose for obedience skills, for example, it just pays off with even your recalls. It pays off with your dog, you know, your personal bond, and I try to do some personal toy and play before every session. I encourage that for the students to do. Then, because we’re all so busy, I’m busy, you know, you can find a couple of minutes every day, and it really will add up and you will find your dog actually learned skills, and they want to work with you more because they look forward to that time of the day, you know, that you train with them.
Another thing is, you know, these scores will come eventually. When I entered, you know, my OTCH dog in her first trial, you know, we did get good scores, but they weren’t going to be scores that got me placed to get the OTCH points, but I was just in the novice class. I didn’t need those points yet, so I wanted her to go in there and know her job and be happy. I just, kind of, worked at those point deductions that I got, I just worked to clean them up, over time. I just said, oh, that’s where our gap is. I’m going to clean it up, and I’m going to lose less points, in that exercise, and that’s how I got to the higher scores, but not until I was, you know, further along, in my obedience competition trial because you’ve got to get that experience, and I just think I was trying to bring that thought process to the games classes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I think that even the mindset, right, from competition to thinking about it all as a game, for the person, is such a difference, and it just brings a more relaxed structure and more fun.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. It has. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well it’s been received, and I might even have to come up with like a middle level now. We’ll see how I can plan that. And what I love about it, too, is it complements all the great skills classes that we have, at the Academy, so people can be working on their retrieves, and you know, whatever, you know, all these other little skilled areas, you know, separately but at the same time, but separate from the quick little three minute games sessions because I’m doing that with Drac. Believe me, I’m working on, you know, his retrieve and his hold, and things like that. I’m working those heavy-duty skill things off on the side as well, so.
Melissa Breau: So, to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the three questions that we’ve asked everybody so far, who’s come on the show.
Julie Symons: Okay.
Melissa Breau: So, first, what’s the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Symons: Okay. It has to be just, you know, Rival, my first Terv, she became the first champion OTCH MACH Terv, and just getting that OTCH, actually, in itself, was just a thrill because I just went from the Novice A classes to OTCH, and I learned so much, from her. I, also, had my son, he was a couple of years at that time, and I just needed a couple of more points, and I was going in the ring, and we weren’t doing well. I was no longer training in the open class because my dog was now older, she was ten, or nine, or ten, and there was a lot of jumping. I couldn’t even train. I didn’t have time to train a lot, and I didn’t have time to maintain that, so one of my friends, and trainers, said, “You really need to enter the open class.” On a whim, I entered the one day that had spots left, in open, and we went in the ring, and I said, oh, I’m never going to finish my OTCH. I’m never going to finish my OTCH in an open class because all of the points are in utility and you know the scores, people get such great, you know, scores, you know, and it’s so hard to get the points in open, if you look at the point schedule. We went in the ring, and that’s the one that I show a lot, it’s in my obedience games intro, and we went into the ring, and I love to watch it. I watch it, if I’m down, or something, because just I went in there and I think that’s a lot, what I process my obedience games class with because I went in the ring not expecting much, and my dog was getting older, I knew she was going to be retired soon, and I have a son. I just can’t keep up with everything. I just thought, someday I’m not going to be able to go in the ring with this dog, and so I’m going to go in there and we got like a 199, you know, first place, we got her OTCH from that run.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Then, you know, to be a first in something is so hard, in a breed like the Belgian Tervuren. Now the MACH was a relatively newer title, so some fabulous dogs, before, obviously didn’t have that chance, but yeah, I am, we are the first Belgian Tervuren champion OTCH MACH, so that was very, yeah, special to me.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: To be honest, that dog was so deserving of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. She really sounds like something special.
Julie Symons: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, the second question, I like to ask everybody, and I think this is, honestly, my favorite question of the whole podcast, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I was looking forward to this one. I thought a lot about it, and you know, we all get such great training advice, but there’s two that really stuck out to me, and they’ve been pretty recent ones. I absolutely love Amy Cook’s, in one of her classes, but she also said it at camp last year, that, “Every time you train your dog, you’re teaching them how to feel,” and that just, you know, goes back to some of my outlook on training, also, is just like that’s why I don’t want to, if I stress them out, that’s how they’re going to feel about training, so it’s just such a powerful but simple statement that she made, and I really embrace that, and share that as often as I can with my students.
Melissa Breau: That’s great.
Julie Symons: I have a second one too. Can I have two?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely.
Julie Symons: Okay. Another one that I really liked was one from Bob Bailey. It was, you know, he’s big on clicker training, shaping, and he said something that, also, really resonated with me, with, “You better made a decision because the next one is right around the corner.” So, if you think about when you’re training a dog, and you’re like, oh, was that the right criteria. Was it right enough? You know, your next decision is right up on you. You have to make a decision, and it might not be the best decision, and it might not even be the right decision. You probably made a wrong decision, but you have to make a decision on whether you’re going to click something or reinforce something because the next decision is right around the corner, and it’s okay, you look at all of us trainers, our timing is off. We accidently click something that we weren’t supposed to. Look how resilient our dogs are. They recover. You know, they’re fine. So, I just really like that because I think some people, we freeze up, we freeze up in the training, when we don’t know what to do. That’s okay. Do something because you’re going to have to make another decision, like, another second later, so I really pulled that off of a DVD that I was listening to, and I never wrote it down, exactly what he said, but I just remember that concept. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So, for our last one, who is somebody else, in the dog world, that you look up to?
Julie Symons: So, this is, of course, the hardest question, I think, everybody has had, and I thought about it also, so this is obviously tough because I’ve learned so much from people, local and afar, because I work in so many different sport areas, you know, it just multiplies how many people I’ve worked with. I think I’m going to say that I do look up to anyone that thinks out of the box and is willing to try something different. I just think that, sometimes, we all get, kind of, stuck in an area, in a way that we do things, and I think somebody who is willing to, you know, just, kind of, maybe work outside their comfort level or just try something new, I just really respect that because you’re not going to grow if don’t do that. You’re not going to change something, and of course, my learning has exponentially grown, being a part of FDSA. I think the whole base of the FDSA instructors are amazing, so I do look up to the Academy and the instructors that we offer such a diversity of people and topics. It’s not just performance now, it’s from, you know, your mind to cooperative care to competition.
There is one name I will mention, if I have to mention one name, if I have time, is I will never forget one person that I worked with, with Rival, my very first high drive performance dog, her name was Patty Hatfield. She’s from Florida, and she had a wonderful Malinois named Lily, who was on the US agility world team, back in the ‘90s, and she would come to our area frequently for agility seminars, and she helped me, so much, with how I interacted with my dog. I am a pretty high drive person, myself, high energy, actually, high energy, and so with my dog, so she taught me how to, you know, adjust my energy levels, when she needed to be calmer.
She also does just love her dog. She had a great bond with her dog, Lily. She just loved her. She would talk about, you know, when she went home, from a seminar, I know I’m going to do all the wrong things, and I’m going to go hug my dog and just get all crazy when I see her, but you’re not supposed to do that because back in that day, you were supposed to ignore your dog, when you got home. You were supposed to not let them run up the stairs, ahead of you. You’re not supposed to let your dogs on the furniture, or you’re supposed to eat before they ate, all these little, you know, control things that were told to you, and I always remember, because I, kind of, did that stuff too, but I thought, “I’m not going to tell anybody,” but I let my dog up, on my bed, and let my dog run up the stairs, but I always thought I was doing something wrong because that was what you were told back then. I just remember her just saying, “I don’t care what I’m doing, or if I’m doing the wrong thing. I love my dog, and I just got to be excited when I see her, when I come home,” so I always, kind of, still just think of those interactions that I had with her, with the advice she gave me. She had a Malinois, and again, I just love the Belgian breeds, and I could relate to that as well, so.
Melissa Breau: Thanks, so much, for coming on the podcast, Julie, and thanks, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Amy Cook, to talk about using play to help dogs cope with fear and reactivity. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app, of your choice, to have our next episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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!
Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Julie Daniels. Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Hi, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: How are you doing today?
Julie Daniels: I’m really ready for this and I’m doing great today. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. I’m excited to talk about this. I know we’ve talked a little bit in the past about other things, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a chance to focus on the dog stuff.
Julie Daniels: No. My first podcast. I’m used to be on TV with people making faces behind the camera to try to make me screw up, so this is very different for me. Lots of fun.
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. Well, to start us out can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. I currently live with three Border Collies plus my roommate’s All-American mix, and I’ve got quite a houseful here. I often have dogs in for training as well. So our mix is always fluctuating and the personalities are always changing in their interrelationships. But Boss, my oldest, is eleven and a half years old, still strong and healthy, hale and hearty, runs with the boys and completely spoiled. Sport is my competition dog currently, he’s going on nine years old, still competing well, fingers crossed of course. Over the years I’ve lost three top agility togs in their prime of life so I do hold my breath and count my blessings every time I’m able to go to the start line with Sport. But then I have a youngster and Karen also has a youngster. So we have two adolescent sport dogs in the household who need training every day. They are night and day in their personalities and just so much fun to work with every single day. So we have two youngsters and then the older dogs.
Melissa Breau: What are the youngsters’ names?
Julie Daniels: Comet and Kool-Aid. Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue? Karen’s rescue mix is Comet who was not supposed to survive as a puppy. He has a liver shunt that was supposed to kill him and didn’t so he’s a real unique individual. And my young Border Collie is now a year and a half, Kool-Aid. She came full of confidence and Comet came full of fears and different issues. So they truly are night and day and they are best buds, best friends, absolutely perfectly compatible in their differences if that makes sense.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. That’s kind of awesome, actually.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. Yeah. It is. It’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: So in addition to Comet I know most of your dogs right now are Border Collies, but you’ve had a lot of different experiences with a lot of different breeds. You’ve worked with a wide range of breeds and I really wanted to ask you kind of what the secret was, if you have any advice out there for people in the dog sports world who may be competing, whatever their sport, with just a breed that’s not traditional for what they’re doing.
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Thanks for asking that because I think people do think of my sport, agility, as particular to a few breeds doing well, and it’s really not that way at all. Any sport that you want to do can be enjoyed with any dog. I always tell people, start with the dog you love. That’s the only way to do well anyway. And I think I can tell you from experience, all the extra work that it takes to make it in a sport with an unlikely breed, all I can tell you is keep at it because it’s worth it. It’s just plain worth it to go out there and do well with a breed or an individual dog, actually, of any breed who was not expected to do well. The pride just wells up in the teamwork that you accomplish over the years. I think no matter what your sport is that’s the case. So don’t worry about what breed you have. Choose the breed you love and play the sports that you’re interest in.
Melissa Breau: Your focus has been agility for the last while, but I was curious how you originally got into dog sports since I know you were in agility in the very early days, I’m assuming there’s a story there.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think you just called me old, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I didn’t go that far.
Julie Daniels: It’s true, I was one of the early people who saw agility coming from overseas and just jumped and said this is the sport I’ve been waiting for, that is true. So before that I was into competitive obedience and I actually had a Rough Collie whom I had for 13 years who developed an overshot bite, actually not exactly an overshot bite but a faulty bite as in common in the breed, and that’s the only reason why I went from breed to obedience. Of course like many people, just kind of never looked back, enjoyed the performance aspects more than the confirmation aspects, and just started down that road of dog sports as a team sport. That’s where my interest lies.
Melissa Breau: So how did you get from those initial days in obedience and become a positive trainer?
Julie Daniels: Well, positive dog training. Well, it’s been dogs and me my whole life, I mean, since before I could walk. My family loved dogs, my mother’s father had favorite farm dogs. So having been raised with that kind of exposure and being a very young, small child in a big family I was raised with a good deal of what I would say benign neglect.
All my dogs were walk-ins when I was a kid. My parents were all about, “You’re not feeding that dog, are you? We didn’t need another mouth to feed,” so to speak. Of course I lied, no, no, not feeding the dog, then pretty soon it’s no, but look what he can do. So ta-da, meet my next new dog. So my parents were open as much as they didn’t want me to have more animals I just had all kinds of animals as a kid from very, very, very young age.
As a little kid overpowering an animal doesn’t work, even a small animal, but certainly not big dogs, and relationship first and food second, that does work. I will say some of my earliest, fondest memories of being a small child in a big family, my mom was not particularly generous with praise, but one thing she said about me on a regular basis when speaking to other people, “Julie can do anything with any dog.” And I grew up knowing that was true, feeling that from the bottom of my heart from the time I was a tiny child.
So yes, as an adult earning money in college by training dogs and that kind of thing, of course I got off on the bandwagons which were popular at the times, much more corrective methods in the era of choke chains and stuff. I went down that path too, just like most people did, but it wasn’t really a stretch for me to come back, if you know what I mean, because I had such a base layer of success with positive reinforcement from the time I was a tiny child.
Melissa Breau: So what got you from doing obedience over to agility in those early days and then what led you to really kind of champion it and help set up clubs and things like that?
Julie Daniels: I saw agility first in…must I admit this? 1986. So my daughter was three years old, I was a stay at home mom, I had, oh, I don’t know, four or five dogs at the time and all the neighborhood kids hung out at my house.
I truly did see, I think I saw a book by Peter Lewis called The Agility Dog and I just jumped at it. I don’t know how to describe it, but at the visceral level that’s the sport I’ve been waiting for. So it really wasn’t that hard once I started researching who was doing agility back then and trying to find out what was available in this country which was not much.
And by the way, no internet, no cell phones, right? So my telephone bills were over 200 dollars a month, much more than I now spend on my cell phone which is kind of funny. But trying to make connections that we take for granted today back then was not simple and not easy.
So anyway, I got in touch finally with the person who really was starting an organization, an official agility organization in the United States which is USDAA. Ken Tosh and I have known each other since 1986 and he put me together with other people around the country who also were like-minded and he also organized these trips which were grueling but so satisfying. I actually bought a trailer and literally brought equipment all over the East Coast and we operated at major horse shows like Dressage at Devon and Fair Hill and all kinds of prestigious horse shows where people just…we literally came in and set up an agility rink full of equipment and people just brought their animals. So listen, I got to work with pigs, goat, miniature horses, all the stable dogs. So it was a very exciting and wonderful way to spend a weekend. Over and over.
My little girl came with me so Heather was exposed to all of this from a very, very early age too, my daughter’s name is Heather. She’s a very well-traveled individual. We literally brought the sport to new locations. And you know what? When I was younger I remember making fun of the Tupperware ladies because they had to cart all that stuff around so that’s Karma for you.
Melissa Breau: That’s great. You mentioned traveling all around and by demoing it, it kind of sounds like, almost, letting people come in, try the equipment, how did it kind of get to that next stage, that next step? What was it like to kind of help it get its legs?
Julie Daniels: Because I believe in this as a team sport, the best, most fun team sport I’ve ever played, it was easy for me to see that as a worthwhile way for me to spend my allowance and spend my vacation and travel time. So long before there were any official competitions there were a few of us diehards who were driving oh, certainly it was 800 miles down to Danville, Virginia, and I would drive that just to play with friends down there for a weekend on their equipment on their location. And there were no trials, so we’re not even going for any kind of prestige, we just want to play the game. So to be in at the ground level, I think it’s true in any endeavor but it certainly was true in agility, you just really had to want to play the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever lost that. I love to play the game. It’s the best team sport I’ve ever enjoyed.
Melissa Breau: Well, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your recent Baby Genius class at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy as well as the class you’re offering this session, and I think the day this airs will actually be the very last day before registration closes. People have one more day to actually go sign up. Which is you’re offering your adolescent sports dog class this session.
Most people, when they first get a puppy, there’s kind of a mix of emotions there, right? People are really excited but there’s also this sense of fear, this fear of messing up that perfect puppy. So I wanted to ask you, any advice you have for kind of overcoming that fear to actually accomplish things?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think that’s a very important point, Melissa, because I think we all have that kind of fear and should embrace it and laugh about it. We all know with our positive training methods that one rep is only one rep. One session is only one session. So you got off on the wrong foot? Just go in a different direction and do better next time. It really is that simple.
But I know that fear that you’re talking about. Usually when I have chosen a dog or a dog has chosen me in the past I tend to gravitate towards dogs who have issues, what other people would not want to try to raise. But yeah, I do have the occasional puppy in my life. In fact, Kool-Aid is one of those, my current youngster, who really didn’t come with any issues. She was beautifully bred, beautifully raised, a wanted child, and came without the problems that I normally embrace in a puppy and boy, did I ever have that feeling too.
So when I first started Baby Genius class I thought, I just have to put that out there. So I wrote that, how does that feel? Exactly like you’re saying it, I sure hope I don’t screw this up, and I have that feeling just like everybody else has that feeling. Even though I know in my heart it’s going to be a wonderful and beautiful relationship that will change and grow as we both grow together you can’t avoid that feeling of gosh, I hope I don’t screw this up, and did I cause every little thing that happens. Oh, no, did I cause this? Look at the monster I’ve created.
But you have to embrace that, laugh it off, just like we have to do that with parenthood and human children, you know, any one day…in fact, I remember posting on Facebook when Kool-Aid was ten months about criteria and I had asked Karen to please tape because Kool-Aid was just in one of those adolescent moods that are so difficult to regain your equanimity with. She just was being a little brat at the door if you know what I mean. And by ten months old these criteria of being polite when the door opens, those are pretty well in place, right? But nothing is perfectly well in place with an adolescent. That’s the beauty of the adolescent, you never know. She just was berserk. I can’t describe it any other way. Screaming, flipping, pounding, rushing the door and banking off it, punching me, punching the other dogs. So my poor adult angels, you know, and are being long-suffering and polite at the door, and this little brat puppy is just throwing the tantrum of her life.
So I remember posting it, putting it out there, and just saying, “I don’t care who you are, your ten-month-old puppy can look perfectly trained day after day but then come tantrum day.” And I think it’s very important to embrace. Tantrum day is a normal part of adolescence, a normal part of growing up, and not the end of the world. The test is for the handler, the owner, the dog mom to embrace the needs of the puppy in that moment. So the real question becomes, do I let her work this out? Do I help her by holding her collar? Do I let the other dogs go and make this dog stay behind? Which, by the way, don’t do that. That’s a mistake.
What I ended up doing was a lot of fun. It was interesting for me and it sort of gave me the next phase of that work that I needed to do with Kool-Aid. I really didn’t know that the tantrum was going to go on for a full two minutes. You don’t know that kind of thing until you’re in the moment, and it really did go on for two full minutes. I looked at the video afterwards and decided based on that…
By the way, you should tape yourself, I don’t care if you’re taking a class or not, videotape is so incredibly useful. The camera can always see something that you didn’t see in the moment nor should you see everything in the moment. You should be focused on your criteria and let the camera do its job of catching what’s going on behind you. Anyway, a little bit aside, but a plug for videotaping yourself whether you’re gold, silver, or bronze.
Melissa Breau: So what did you wind up doing that day with her throwing her tantrum?
Julie Daniels: Well, I truly did let her work it out, Melissa, and in the future I decided, no, I think because she really had so much trouble working it out I put my hand in the collar next time and just helped her. I didn’t pull her down but I eliminated the option of, for example, charging the door and banking off of it or harassing the other adult dogs. I eliminated those options by just holding, slipping two fingers down through her collar. A bigger dog, more fingers, simple as that, and eliminating the options that I really did not want to see again, did not want her practicing which might inadvertently be self-reinforcing because they feel pretty good, that kind of venting.
So eliminating those options actually helped her better herself in the future so that’s the way I do it now with this particular dog. A different dog, if it had played out differently, letting her work it out might be the best way to go, but for Kool-Aid it wasn’t.
I’ll have to share that video. It’s not currently in one of my lectures for that class. I bet I should share that. Especially now people are going to want to see it.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Probably. To kind of talk back through that for a second, I was originally just going to ask you what’s special about dogs at this phase of their life, kind of that ten month to two year old phase. Kind of what do you see…is it just that you should kind of expect that they’re going to go through that testing boundaries phase and be prepared to deal with it? Is it something more than that?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I actually love that question, what’s special about that phase, and I think there’s one underlying common denominator and that’s puberty. It is a special phase and I think what you said is true, you do need to embrace that the boundaries will be tested. I think any sport dog is going to be testing all your theories. So I think it’s important to embrace that phase, but puberty changes everything.
It’s very, very different and we tend to expect that what was taught to the teeny baby is in there pretty good by virtue of our having taught it young, and I think it’s fair to say it’s in there, but what you said is absolutely true. In this stage of puberty everything will be tested. So all those things you thought were in there pretty good, they are still in there, don’t worry about it, you’ll get back to them, but you’re going to have to earn them over and over again through adolescence. I think it’s very important to embrace that stage.
Melissa Breau: So is there anything that people can do when they’re still dealing with a puppy to kind of help make that phase of their dog’s life a little simpler?
Julie Daniels: I think expecting and learning to predict your dog’s likely behaviors is a very important part of getting through puberty. So as you get to know your adolescent dog better and better you become better, hopefully, at predicting how the dog will feel about a certain situation. So for example, I truly did learn from that ten month old example of full blown tantrum at the door over a behavior, mind you, which had been well taught. Well taught, well learned, well received, not particularly difficult or demanding. I think it’s really important to learn from each development that surprises you and to adjust future expectations accordingly the way I did with Kool-Aid.
So the next time at the door I didn’t even wait to see whether there would be a tantrum or not, I just hooked a finger downward through her collar, I think it was just one little finger. She didn’t look like she was going to throw a tantrum and she didn’t, but just that little bit of reminder. It’s not a reminder, don’t worry, you’re not going to be able to get away with this, it’s a reminder, don’t worry, I’m here to help you. That’s really what the finger is saying. There’s no pressure on the collar, it’s just a little reminder that we’re a team, we’re in this together, if we stay connected at the door we’ll all get outside much more quickly.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. I want to help you. There are rules but I’m going to help you get through them.
Julie Daniels: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I kind of want to know if there are any other common threads that you kind of see running through that adolescent dogs class, any particular problems you see that come up over and over again? Maybe that you could kind of talk us through how you would handle them just so people kind of get a sense of what’s in the class and also kind of your problem-solving style.
Julie Daniels: I solve problems, first and foremost, through games. Games are powerful because they relax everybody, both the trainer and the puppy, and they remove the necessary behaviors from the context of the sport where they will be used. That’s actually very, very important, that the behaviors are taught out of context first and then brought, you know, in a pretty well learned way, are brought to the environment where they will be used.
So that’s one reason that adolescent sport dog class is not sport specific. So we’ll be using props of all sorts. I love props and they are very, very…well, the clicker is a prop. Well, every little tool that we use and then have to wean from is helpful to getting the behavior in the first place in a way that minimizes mistakes and maximizes the fun of learning.
If your dog doesn’t love school, I don’t care what your sport is, you’re going to have a little bit of trouble learning behaviors which require things like self-control, impulse control, focus, and heavy thought. It’s very important that first and foremost your dog loves school.
So obviously we start that in Baby Genius class. The most important thing that we can give the baby is not any particular skill, even a basic skill like sit, I’m probably one of the most lax people I know, for example, in requiring a baby dog to sit, to greet people. That is not my first priority at all. My first priority is I love people. So the decorum, the elements of decorum, come a little bit later for me than for some people, and obviously that’s dog specific too. So if you have an adolescent Malamut jumping up on a human has to be long gone by the time they’re ten months old. It does make a big difference how big or small the dog is.
But it also is important even as we train these specific behaviors such as greeting behaviors, just the example that we’re using, it’s really important that we don’t lose the joy of greeting. So this whole concept of my dog can do this, my dog can do that, and he’s only x months old, I’m already competing and my dog is just 18 months old, I’m not likely to be doing that. I’m much more likely to be developing the teamwork, the love of the game, and the ability to work together than I am in being sport specific.
So adolescent sport dog is not sport specific. It is advanced foundation work to be carried over into any active sport. It is designed for active sports therefore things like impulse control are hugely important and we will play with impulse control forwards, backwards, sideways, and inside out. So the dog really understands how to offer certain behaviors in the context of high activity and excitement.
Melissa Breau: So I think that’s really interesting because I think that’s a problem a lot of people have found they have even with their older dogs. If they didn’t curb it in adolescence they end up with a three or four year old or even five year old dog who may still be struggling with nice greetings or some of those behaviors that sounds like you’re addressing really in this class.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think the ability to think amid distraction is something that we all have to work on steadily, don’t you, for the people as well as the dogs, right? Because it’s very common for people to become disconnected from the dogs at the drop of a hat and that’s part of this class too. It’s not just the dog who needs to stay focused amid distraction, that focus and that team play are a very important two way street and we give, we will learn to give as well as we want to get.
So the ability to tell the person who just came in the door to wait a minute without even looking at that person in order not to break the connection which you were in the middle of with your dog, I think that’s a very, very important skill for a human to develop as a trainer. We have to give as good as we want to get. That’s not simple and that requires multitasking skills which is also a focus of this class, the ability to take in peripheral information while we’re operating on the information currently on the table, that’s tricky, and it’s tricky for both humans and dogs, and both members of the team need that skill.
Melissa Breau: That’s very interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that quite looked at from that angle before.
Julie Daniels: I’m always siding with the dog, right? So it’s always clear to me the unfairness of people requiring things from their dogs that they’re not willing to give themselves. I call people on that all the time as gently as I can, although I admit that my in-person students are apt to say, “You’re much gentler with your online students than you are with us.” I think that’s true. That’s true. Guilty as charged. Boy. I call people on things immediately when I’m looking at it in person, right?
Melissa Breau: Of course it’s real time and you can call them live whereas online it’s after the moment, it’s already passed.
Julie Daniels: That’s right.
Melissa Breau: All right. To round things out I just have three more short questions. They’re the questions I’ve asked everybody so far who have come on the podcast. The first one is what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Daniels: Proudest of. I don’t think I’m a very proud person in general, but no, there is something. Over the years I think maybe it’s because I was involved in my sport of agility from the very beginning, before we had competitions, but I do think that over the years I’ve become both comfortable and philosophical about winning and losing even in big competition, even in very prestigious competition. I think one strength of mine is that I do not stand on a podium and think wow, I kicked everybody’s butt. I don’t think like that, I don’t act like that. Instead, if I had to put it to words, I think it’s more like, I have let this great dog down more times than I can count but not today.
Melissa Breau: I like that. I like that way of looking at it.
Julie Daniels: It’s not world peace when I go to the start line with my dog, it’s a game I get to play with this wonderful teammate that I enjoy every day.
Melissa Breau: So my second and perhaps my favorite question that I ask the guests who come on is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I remember hearing that on the other podcasts and I remember thinking at the time, oh my God, how did they choose? It’s such a difficult question. So I actually gave this some thought and obviously it is hard to choose, but I decided to go with some words that struck me at the time like a ton of bricks and still come back to me strongly almost every day when I work with other people’s dogs particularly. And it’s from an abnormal psych class that I took in college, but you said training, you didn’t say dog training. So it pertains to everybody, it pertains to everybody including dogs. But this professor said in abnormal psych class, I don’t remember the question he was asked that he was responding to, but it was about irrational fears, it was about irrational fears, phobias and the like, and this professor just, I remember the stroking the goatee type thing, and he says, “You can’t help anyone unless you begin by accepting their premise as valid.”
So I think I try to bring that acceptance to all my dog training. So therefore I’m less apt to judge the dog, I’m less apt to waste time trying to talk him into things that he’s obviously loathe to do or certainly afraid to do. I go deeper, I get inside his head, I fell in love, and I help. And I help by starting where the dog is right now and I accept his premise as valid.
Melissa Breau: And that premise can really be almost anything, it can be fear, it can be excitement, it can be joy, I mean it really can be almost anything. That’s a really interesting angle to look at training, kind of a lens to look at training through.
So my last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Daniels: Another tough one. I think one of the people who helped me the most with a couple of difficult training issues with my own dogs is Temple Grandin. I first saw her book, Thinking in Pictures, it’s not her first book but it’s the first book of hers that I saw. Since then, long since then a movie has been made of her life and the work that she’s done with animals. She’s primarily a livestock person but she actually likes dogs very much. Her three books that I would recommend everybody pick up, Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation which came after that, and then later than that, Animals Make Us Human.
Temple Grandin, you would think because of her background with livestock would consider dogs and certainly my sport, dog agility, as absolutely frivolous. I mean, you could make a case for that, it’s not the kind of thing that she works with. But I’ve been to three of her conferences, and actually she thinks dog agility is pretty cool. She loves the whole, as I do, loves the whole interspecies thing. I grew up with all kinds of different animals, and the whole interspecies relationship, interspecies communication thing is just fascinating and wonderful to me. I can’t get enough of it.
And Temple Grandin is like that. She’s the kind of person who wants good for all creatures and really is one of the world’s experts in accepting the animal…she doesn’t say it this way, but she accepts the animal’s premise as valid better than anybody else I know.
Melissa Breau: I actually haven’t read her books. Now I’ll have to go pick them up.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. She helped me a great deal with one very special dog I had named Superman, Clark Kent, my students used to say he’s Clark Kent in the house but he’s Superman in the arena. He was certainly an autistic dog, you know what I mean, more than ADHD, he really was challenging to train, and he became, ultimately made challengers round the only time he went to AKC National. So no slouch, the dog was, let’s just say had a lot going for him but was extremely challenging to work with.
She said to me about him, “You’re treating it like he needs the big picture but he can’t…there will never be a big picture. It’s all detail. All detail. So when you give him cues you’ll have to give them sequentially.” Of course me as a world class agility trainer I’m like, oh, you have to do at least three things at once. Who are you kidding? But she was absolutely right and when I started breaking down what she had said and trying to apply it to the way I was training Clark at seven yards per second she was absolutely right and that is what helped me more than anything else with being able to communicate at full speed with this phenomenal dog.
So anyway, that’s just one little example, but she’s helped very, very many people by giving them a different way of looking at things, but it always, always embraces that premise that you have to accept the dog where he is, and that’s your start point.
Melissa Breau: Very interesting. Well, thank you so much, Julie, for coming on the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our audience for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Symons to talk about versatility in dog sports, obedience, and scent work. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Nancy Gagliardi Little has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
To be released 2/17/2017, featuring Sue Ailsby.
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 Gagliardi Little.
Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
Welcome to the podcast Nancy!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks Melissa, it's great being here.
Alright, well can you start us off by telling us about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. I've had border collies since 1986, and i usually have about 3 in training. Score is my 12 year old; he's retired. I actually had to retire him around the age of 8 due to a back issue and he was close to finishing his herding championship; he was one point away from finishing it, had all his majors. He competed at AKC Nationals twice, got his ACK MACH, and he was one snooker Q, actually a super Q, away from ADCH in USDAA.
Schema is my 8 year old border collie. She's a bitch. She's actually a really really nice dog; she really is not a bitch, but she's a girl. We're competing in mostly agility. we do USDA and AKC. She's in the masters USDAA; she's got her ADCH. She competed at USDA nationals, she's got a MACH too, she just finished that recently, and she's competed at AKC nationals for the last 3 years. I think it's going to be her fourth time there coming up in March. I do train obedience with her; she's got lovely heeling on both her right and left side. I actually get a big kick out of training heeling on the right side, it's fun. Most of my training with her is in agility. I sold my sheep about 7 or 8 years ago, so i don't do as much herding as i used to, but she is probably one of my most talented herding dogs. She is amazing. I just haven't had the time to go any further than the training.
And then my youngest is a 3 year old border collie named Lever. He was introduced to sheep when he was young. And I did some training with him between a year and two, and he's quite a talented jumper in agility, he's pretty amazing. I can't take any credit for that; I didn't screw it up, but he's just really amazing. He's got the power and speed, and he's just getting used to controlling his body right now. We compete in Master's level in AKC and he just needs one more advanced standard Q to move into Masters USDA. He's doing pretty good.
And then last but not least, I figured I'd bring up my husband's dog is a Toller and this is kind of new for us. He's a year and a half; I'm not training him, he's being trained purely by my husband. I just really love this breed; it's new to us, he's the first Toller we've had, we've had other sporting breeds before, but what a cool breed that is. Yeah, so he's a year and a half.
Melissa Breau: So I don't know if you know this, but Tollers are the breed I'm looking at next, so...
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Really!
Melissa Breau: It's good to hear positive things.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I'm very impressed with the breed.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, you've achieved a lot in the sport -- even with just the dogs you have now that was a lot of letters and a lot of titles, but how did you originally get into dog sports and those types of games with your dogs?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: My dad actually bought me a shetland pony when I was 5 years old. Can you believe that? He can't believe that he did that, but he just says he'd probably be arrested now a days. I just loved animals, and I did a lot with all of my animals. I taught them things. My horses all had recalls from the pasture and just that love of animals.
When I got married my husband and I both loved dogs, and we each got a dog, a Labrador, and we decided to take them to a formal obedience class at a training school here. We were introduced to competitive obedience there. and scent hurdles, and fly ball and it kind of went from there. It was something we could both do together on the weekends; we were both working long weeks at work. So it's not -- it's probably not all that different from a lot of people getting involved in dog sports.
Melissa Breau: So, when you started out, I'm going to guess -- though I could be wrong -- that it was more traditional methods.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah.
Melissa Breau: I'd love to hear -- what got you stared on the journey from that way of training to where you are today, which is much more positive?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: That's interesting, because I'm basically a really positive person. I was raised in a positive environment. So throughout my life I've continued to make changes to make live more pleasant and enjoyable. I think everyone does that sort of thing as the years go by.
So yeah, I started training obedience with traditional methods and I think a lot of people have; I was pretty successful using them, but then one of the last conflicts for me in the quest for me to make life more enjoyable was just addressing the way I was training my dogs. So I did lots of experimenting on my own, with my own dogs. I loved what I was seeing and of course it was much more fun for me. I loved getting out and training, instead of just trying to find the time and I got more involved in the sport of agility finally and as I did that I continued to learn about positive training methods since the majority of that sport trains that way.
I'm a really creative person; it's kind of my forte. I love thinking and obsessing over training. So I started breaking things down more and become more aware of arousal levels and stress contributing to it all, and I started using those ideas and incorporating them into lessons with my local obedience students. And they enjoyed training a little differently. So it's kind of been a wonderful transition for me, and I love training more now than ever.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that you were raised positively. So Denise and I were chatting about this and the fact that I was going to have you on the podcast, and she mentioned your dad, John Gagliardi, and I'm not a football person, so I had to go look him up. I'd heard of you, but I hadn't heard of him. And he's really really well known as a coach with the most wins in college football history, but beyond that he had a really unique approach to coaching. My understanding is that included things like not letting his players call him coach, not using a whistle or blocking sleds, and he even prohibited tackling in practices -- just kind of a very non-traditional approach, very non-traditional techniques and I'd like to hear how that impacted how you train and your perspective on dogs sports.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah, that had a big influence on me. His coaching style was quite a bit different than the norm. It still is. He was ahead of his time by 50 years. By focusing on what he believed in, and not on traditionally what was done. Believe it or not, he actually started coaching when he was 16 years old.
His high school coach -- this is actually kind of a cool story -- his high school coach was drafted into the war at that time and they were going to cancel the football program; they were at the bottom of the conference and always loosing, and so he loved football, so he approached the principal and he proposed to take the team over and coach it himself. So kind of a self-coached team. And they decided to give him a chance, and he changed things so he made practices more fun with a lot of things. Apparently at that time they weren't allowed to drink water; they would drink water, they were told they were going to die, they were going to die if they drank water. Interesting.
So with all the changes his team went from the bottom of the conference to winning that conference that year. He was successfully just making changes to do things that they enjoyed doing, and so many of the things he did in 63 years of coaching are now being looked at by the NFL and other coaches to help prevent injuries. He never wanted to hit in practice. He wanted to save his players for the game. He didn't like injuries. So his practices were centered around enjoying live, having fun, things like that. And his players absolutely LOVED playing for him. They rarely missed practice; he kept things simple worked on fundamentals, and he only added more difficult techniques when his players had mastered all of those pieces. And then he would break those plays down into small pieces, get those pieces perfected, build those pieces into a lot of complicated plays, and so his team rarely lost games because of the depth of training he put into those kids.
He was a master at analysis, details and creative solutions and i think that's something that I've either inherited or I've learned from him.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say, even just listening to you I can hear the parallels to dog sports; just the idea that he broke things down into pieces and foundation skills.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Exactly. This is the other piece that I think is so cool is he expected them to be X1 players, as well as X1 human beings, and he believes in people, respects people, loves to learn about people. There's so much about coaching that parallels the way I train my dogs because I expect and focus on their excellence too. I believe in my dogs -- I always believe in them. I believe they're right and they're telling me things. I listen to them and try to make changes to my training based on what they need. Those are all things that my dad taught me through the way he coached his players. There are so many parallels between coaching and dog training; just his way of coaching it helped me as a dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: I'd really love to hear how you describe your training philosophy now -- what's really important to you? Or what do you see as the big things that you believe in training when you work with dogs today?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, i guess to sum it up, it's not a really long philosophy. What sums it up for me is I just always look at my dogs as my coaches. So the dogs are my coaches, whether they're students' dogs, or my dogs', they're the ones who they're helping me develop a plan, and I like to look at it that way because it keeps me always evaluating and looking at things.
Melissa Breau: I want to make sure we talk a little bit about your experience as an obedience judge. Having had the experience of being a judge, how has it changed how you train and how you prepare yourself for competition? So can you talk a little bit about that?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I got to watch a lot of dogs over the years -- 20 years, i think I was judging, around there. I don't think judging has really influenced the way I train at all; it's kind of separate. But it has made me aware of handling and timing issues that unknowingly contribute to problems in handlers. It's also helped me develop a system of handling for heeling where there's no footwork involved. That's one of the classes I'm doing right now, and it's really different. I noticed, when I was judging, handlers coming in and -- especially new handlers -- even handlers that've been around for a while that are just struggling with getting on the right foot and that. Those are just a few things.
Timing is another issue. Commands that I give to handlers and handlers quickly giving the cue to the dog, and you start to see anticipation issues; those kinds of things.
Melissa Breau: Like I mentioned, I'm fairly new to obedience, so I've been volunteering to steward every chance I can get just to surround myself with the sport, learn a little more about it, make sure that when I do eventually wind up in the ring I'm not quite as nervous. At the very first trial where I got to steward, the judge said something to his beginner novice handlers -- I don't think I'll ever forget this -- he said, "I'm here to work for you. If you're not ready when I ask, tell me so; I'll wait. Take your time." He really emphasized this idea that they were paying for him to be there, not the other way around. Most handlers probably haven't ever thought about a competition quite that way before, or the judge at least quite that way before, and I was curious if you had any nuggets, things you which handlers had known when you were judging that you wish handlers knew when they walked into a ring from your time being on that side.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that's wonderful advice from the judge. So true. That was one of my biggest... one of the things is I wish people would slow down and just take more time, so that's awesome that he or she brought that up.
A couple other things come to mind and one is, I think it's a little better now, but just playing and engagement between exercises. There is countless times when the judge is busy scoring, and you're moving between exercises, when the dog needs a break. And i just wish more people would break the dogs, rather than heeling them, and just play a little bit between exercises. It's fine to do that, if you just don't hold up the ring. Just make sure you're moving between exercises.
Another important thing is just to be your own dog's advocate in the ring. Just making sure that if something is going on that you step in and take control. Just because somebody's telling you not to do that -- just make sure you do what's good for your dog.
Melissa Breau: I didn't include this in the questions I sent over in advance, but I'm curious, since you've had so much experience with the sport, just what some of the changes that you've seen over the years have been. From what I hear, even the instructions the AKC gives to the judges have changed a little bit. They've become a little more about trying to make the sport more acceptable and more interesting for people maybe new to it --
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Which is awesome.
Melissa Breau: Do you have anything that comes to mind about how the sport has changed and what your thoughts may be?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I don't think the sport has changed too much. I wish it would change more. Some of the exercises have changed; the orders in the B classes at one time there was only one order, and now the open B and utility B exercises have... i think there's 6 different orders. At one point in time you could not excuse yourself from the ring and you can do that now. That's fairly recent to change.
There's lots of little things like that. Utility, a long time ago, utility A and B were split recently but at that point in time they could be combined into just one utility class, and there was also an exercises in utility that was a group stand, where the dogs would all be standing and the judge would go down and examine each. That was before I was judging; I was competing then, but the dogs would all stand and the judge would examine them all 12 of them at the most. Those are some changes; in terms of judging, the judges have changed according to the rules. Basically, I think procedures are pretty similar to what it was... since I haven't been judging since 2008, I can't really say what is going on currently.
Melissa Breau: Well just to round things out, I have 3 more short questions that so far I've asked everybody whose been on the podcast. So the first one might be a little hard to answer, but what's the dog related accomplishment you're proudest of?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that can be hard because everyone has that issue, i know for myself, each of my dogs have given me some pretty amazing things to be proud of -- but actually I could think of one thing and I think my proudest accomplishment was that the American Kennel Club's Border Collie Parent club, which is Border Collie Society of America, gave me the 2010 Good Sportsmanship Award, which I was very honored to receive.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks.
Melissa Breau: So the second to last question -- what is the best piece of training advice you've ever heard?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I had one ready for today, and it's not so much training advice buy more life with dogs and that includes training and it's something I love so much I have T-shirts made with it on, and that's "Be the person your dog thinks you are." I just love that slogan or saying. But today Julie Daniels posted a respondences in the instructors' email list, and it was on a discussion we were having and she said something that became my new favorite piece of training advice. So that just happened today, and what she said was, "consequences are not always the enemy, but anger is always our enemy." I just love that.
Melissa Breau: I'm sure she'll be very flattered that that's what you chose.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, so that's just awesome.
Melissa Breau: This last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Boy, this is a heard one. There's so many people in the dog world that I admire, there are too many to mention, so I think I'll say the entire group of instructors at FDSA as an entity. It's an incredibly supportive family and Denise is just the best boss that anyone could possibly have.
Melissa Breau: I'll agree with that. Alright, well thank you so much for joining me, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back in two weeks with Sue Ailsby, the creator of the Levels training program.
If you haven't already, subscribe now in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Loretta Mueller has been involved in agility since 2003. Loretta and her dogs are no strangers to the finals at the USDAA World Championships and she currently coaches the World Agility Organization USA Agility Team.
She also runs FullTilt Agility Training in central Minnesota. Outside of the agility world, Loretta has been involved in herding, competitive obedience, rally and service dog training.
To be released 3/3/2017, featuring Nancy Gagliardi Little.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Loretta Mueller. Loretta has been involved in agility since 2003. Loretta and her dogs are no strangers to the finals at the USDAA World Championships and she currently coaches the World Agility Organization USA Agility Team. She also runs FullTilt Agility Training in central Minnesota. Outside of the agility world, Loretta has been involved in herding, competitive obedience, rally and service dog training. Welcome to the podcast, Loretta.
Loretta Mueller: Thanks for having me Melissa, I’m excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: Excited to be talking to you. So, to get us started out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and kind of what you’re working on?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. I have six dogs. Their names are Clink, Gator, Lynn, Even, Crackers and Gig and I train all of them in agility. I also work the dogs on sheep, except for the terrier.
Melissa Breau: And Crackers is your terrier, right?
Loretta Mueller: Yes, correct.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So how did you get into competitive dog sports and training?
Loretta Mueller: It all started out with my first dog, Ace. He was a rescue from a no-kill shelter and he had a lot of fear issues. On top of fear issues, he also had separation anxiety and an excessive amount of energy, so I started taking some dog obedience classes with him to see if that would help with some of his behavior issues, and it did of course. After obedience, I discovered agility and pretty much never looked back. I still do obedience and I still train it a lot, but agility is my passion for sure.
Melissa Breau: So in your bio on the Fenzi website, it says that you believe there’s never a one size fits all method in training. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. I never just go into a lesson or a seminar thinking today we’re going to learn about “insert topic here.” I go with a general plan, but I let the dog dictate what we work on. I’m about the entire picture. So, to try to teach each dog and each handler in the exact same way doesn’t make sense to me. There’s always adjustments, sometimes to the point of trying something totally different so the team gets it. I really want to teach people to read their dogs to try to put themselves in their dog’s place as much as they possibly can. There’s always a reason the dog does something, and I feel it’s our job to know why they’re doing it, or at least to help them find the correct path. And you can’t know why if you don’t observe.
Melissa Breau: Do you have any examples where that’s kind of happened recently that you can give us or kind of talk us through?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah. Just recently at a seminar I actually had a woman that was having some major issues with start line stays. The dog was breaking in trials. The dog was breaking in training and she was really frustrated because, of course, the normal does everything perfect at home, and so she came in to the seminar wanting that help, and what happened was it turned into a, what is your dog’s emotional state, and are they stressed, and in this situation, the dog was definitely stressed. And so, we had to adjust all the training that she had planned for the day to work on the dog’s emotional state and then by the end of the day the dog’s emotional state was awesome and magically the dog was able to do a start line stay with no issues whatsoever. So, I think it’s just about seeing what dog comes into the ring and you have to figure out what the main issue is and then go from there and I make sure I do that with each and every team so if you go to a seminar with me, you’re going to see me do a ton of different techniques and a ton of different things for dogs. Each dog’s going to be a tiny bit different or majorly different, depending on the dog.
Melissa Breau: Do you kind of see that as a philosophy of how you teach and train?
Loretta Mueller: For sure. Yes, definitely. It’s all about the dogs in my opinion and I think that if I can get a person to understand that and to learn how to communicate with their dog, that’s the number one thing I’m there to do. Once that happens, everything falls into place.
Melissa Breau: So, how did that kind of come about? Like, how did you reach that conclusion that that’s really how you wanted to teach and train?
Loretta Mueller: I think, you know I used to do research, and so my years in research taught me that there are always things you’re looking for, obviously, or expect to happen, and people are really good at that, right? They know to expect this and they know to expect that, and usually that’s not the issue. It’s normally those small moments that missing a tiny change in behavior or not taking into consideration the dog’s emotional state that can really get you into trouble. I’ve never met a dog that was bad. I’ve only met dogs that were trying desperately to communicate with their owners. Sometimes their form of communication isn’t what we want, so it’s up to us to learn how to communicate with our dogs. It’s hard I think for us to get into that mindset sometimes that we have to make all the changes so that the dog understands. Can dogs change? Of course they can, but they are going to communicate with us in the only way they know how, and so for us, we have to learn their language and I think once that happens it’s amazing how obvious everything turns out to be.
Melissa Breau: So I was doing some googling and looking up stuff and doing my research before we got on the phone, and I came across a review from one of your seminars where a student was singing your praises and she mentioned that you’ve a quality that’s really hard to find in a trainer. She said that you were “able to work with fast dogs, motivate slow dogs, build confidence in the shy and calm the crazy.” She said that you were “equally good at handling both experienced and inexperienced trainers.” What do you think, I mean we’ve been talking a little bit about the idea of adapting to the dog, but especially that piece in there about both experienced and inexperienced trainers. What do you feel that you do differently that’s allowed you to be so successful with a wide variety of dogs and handlers?
Loretta Mueller: I think I try to not get myself so much into rules but more about guidelines. I always tell people I would be that dog that everyone doesn’t want. So, I’m that environmentally sensitive dog who can stress up or down. I personally am the type of dog that if the leader doesn’t know what they’re doing that’s going to stress me out, so, if a person’s learning a front cross, things like that, people make mistakes. I only have a limited number of reps and in my opinion, what’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I can be very food motivated, not always toy motivated and I can be very oppositional, so if I feel I am being forced into something, anything basically, I’ll put the brakes on instantly. And if you start to get frustrated with me or I feel like you’re not being fair with me, I’m done. So, that’s how I train people too. I just think in terms of, I don’t want to put them over their head. I want to minimize any frustration and I want to give them a good experience as far as that goes.
When I’m teaching, and this is very, very important I think, is I don’t have expectations of a team when they come into the ring. I don’t assume that I know what the team is or what they need. I observe them for that moment in time that I’m with them and I show them the things that they need to work on or change. Again, it all starts with the dog and then goes to the human. I like to think of it as I’m observing a science experiment. I write down what the team needs in a totally non-emotional way and then I work to solve the problem. As I said before, I’m all about the dog, so people ask me all the time, how do you work with people who are not open to change, because I get that in seminars sometimes. And people are amazed, I guess that I can get people who are normally like, I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to do that, to change and to be honest with you, from my standpoint it’s very simple. They see the dog change and they change, and so I think that that’s a really important thing.
Another thing for me, is it’s just my experiences, so I’ve had so many experiences with all different types of dogs and teams and I need to make sure I thank the people that have really helped me with that and the big, big group of them was my very first set of private students, though I like to call them my island of misfit toys, and that’s actually a good thing. They were all people who were ready to give up agility and they came to me and asked me for lessons. The dogs were frustrated or had behavior issues. The people were frustrated and it just wasn’t fun for them. One of my examples is one of my dearest friends, she had a lab and the first lesson she put the dog on the start line and let out to cue jumps and said, okay, and the dog spent an hour chasing birds. So these students, they taught me so much, and their dogs taught me so much and I wouldn’t be here without them, you know. I’m still giving lessons to all of them 13 years later with their newer dogs and just seeing that type of evolution.
I’m all about what the dogs have to teach me. So, every dog I’ve had has taught me something. I’ve had the range of dogs. People always say, oh border collies are all the same, and you know, I’ve had one really good border collie that was a nice mix of high drive, but totally could control herself. She was great between training and trialing. She didn’t change. The rest of my dogs I’ve had a range, so some of them are scared. They were unmotivated. Some of them were over threshold, losing their brain, and each one of my dogs has also taught me so much in my opinion. They really are the best teachers. They’re super consistent and we can learn a lot from them if we just choose to listen.
Melissa Breau: So, kind of talking a little more about your dogs, and switching gears at the same time, I guess, Denise mentioned that you have, what she considered, a different approach to raising puppies, at least those first couple weeks and months after you bring them home. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, I can. I thought she’d maybe do that. So, this doesn’t sell books or DVDs, but when I get a puppy home, I don’t normally do what everybody else does. I don’t instantly start training them. I observe. So, I’m sure you noticed that the word observation comes up a lot in this interview, but I observe my puppies, and yes, I do some playing, so like normally, with or without toys, and I get them out. But I do a lot of watching and I write down things, and what that allows me to do is, it allows me to get a baseline for this puppy so I know what the ins and outs of the puppy are. I believe with each training session you’re changing the dog and one must always realize that when they’re training, so I think it’s so important to know exactly what you have. What’s the base model so to speak? Are they timid? Are they bold? Do they problem solve well? Do they get frustrated easily? All those things come into play when I work on how I want to train that specific dog. And the only way you can get a totally sterile idea of what the puppy is, is just to observe them those first few weeks. It’s really quite fascinating and you’ll learn so much about your puppy. It’s not that you’re just letting them do whatever they want, but a lot of trick training and stuff like that, I just don’t do the first few weeks just so I can really get an idea of what kind of puppy I actually have.
Melissa Breau: Is there anything specific you look for in a puppy that you’re trying to validate or not validate, or what have you?
Loretta Mueller: You know, people always ask me if I want doers or thinkers, and personally I’m okay either way. It doesn’t really bother me. What I’m looking for usually in a puppy is I want to see that they’re taking on the world, they can be cautious if they want, but that they bounce back. I want to see a puppy that’s curious, but the one that just throws himself into situations, I don’t necessarily care about that positively or negatively. But I just want a puppy that’s going to bounce back from things. That’s to me the biggest thing because the bottom line is, for me in competitive sports, you can have the most amazingly structured dog and the dog can move just perfect, but if they can’t handle noise, if they can’t handle flags flapping in the wind, people behind them, things like that, it doesn’t matter how well they move. All that matters is that they can’t compete if they’re like that or they’re going to be a challenge to compete.
So, that’s really what I’m looking for and if I get a puppy that’s not quite how I want it, the nice thing is I can get a good sense for where they’re at and then from there I can design some training whether I’m building confidence or building some control into the training and things like that. So, it’s a really good place to start and get a great idea before you start training something you may or may not have wanted in a dog.
Melissa Breau: So after this first couple of weeks of observing their behavior and kind of getting to know them, do you mind just telling us a little bit about how you approach this first steps of building a relationship and socialization and what training you do do with a young dog or a puppy?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. If you would compare how I used to train versus how I’m training now, it’s really changed a lot. I could say with each dog I’ve gotten, it’s taught me so much about this. I guess for me it’s all about in the beginning just being there which I know probably sounds kind of weird. But just the act of being with the puppy is so much more important than teaching tricks. Now, I have no problem with teaching tricks. I love teaching tricks. I’m going to usually start with basic tricks like wave and things like that. I think it’s a great way to get your dog’s brain worked and teaching them to be resilient and keep trying, but honestly it cannot be a replacement for just being with your dog.
But I’m going to work on…you know I have a dog with a lot of motion sensitivity. Obviously, they’re all herding bred border collies, and so I’m going to work on a lot of motion desensitization as far as look at me games and getting them to redirect automatically, and that’s the first thing I teach all of my puppies is, they see something they want, they immediately look to me. And that’s the foundation obviously for recalls and it’s the foundation for attention and things like that, and I’m going to be working on that the entire time they’re growing up because it’s really important that my dogs don’t look at a jogger and say, ‘oh, great. Taking off now, thank you very much.’ I don’t want that, and so that’s going to be a big one. But as far as tricks, whatever you want to teach your dog. If you’re playing with your dog, I’m happy. But for me, a lot of times what I see with my students, is they have a working relationship, which is great. That’s what you want to build, but sometimes I see some of it lacking in the actual just relationship of being with a puppy.
A good example of this is my youngest border collie, Gig. She’s two now, but when she was six months old, she tore a muscle in her shoulder after a freak accident where her leg got caught in a metal crate, and I had nothing to do with her. Yeah, it was tough you know. A six-month-old very high drive border collie puppy and I didn’t have much I could do with her. If you’re familiar with shoulders, they’re just really a pain in the rear end to have to rehab, and the only things I really had that I could do with her was, I could be in an ex pen with her and just kind of sit with her, pet her. I could nap with her… which, she didn’t sleep much, and I could do some little tiny playing, like I call it bitey face. You know, where the puppy kind of bites at your hand type of thing, and that was it. I couldn’t teach her anything, and it kind of broke my heart when this happened, obviously because it happened, but also because this puppy was by far my most independent dog that I’ve ever raised. She was an eight-week-old puppy and she would just run away. So when I put her down, I’m thinking eight-week-old puppies they come with me, yay, right? Nope, gone. See ya. Bye-bye.
And so I spent months going, this is going to be horrible when I get this puppy out of an ex pen, when I can put her on a leash and take her for leash walks, because all I had was just the act of being with her. That’s it, and without tricks and training could we bond, and the bottom line is, yeah. She’s the most bonded dog I have, and so just being there in the moment with puppies, no expectations, I think is key to having great relationship and building a foundation for all the tricks, training and things like that that you want to do. Socialization is also key, right, but then again, I’m just there. I don’t force the dogs to interact with the environment. It’s just kind of one of those, here you go puppy, we’re at the park. What do you think? Take them. Let them take it all in. No expectations, and you know when I’m doing training, as far as the actual skill sets, like I mentioned before, there are doers and there are thinkers.
The doers just like to go, and then the thinkers are always trying to analyze stuff, and I like to take my training and make the doers more into thinkers and vice versa. I do a lot of drive training with my dogs and what that does is for the dogs that are thinkers it makes them more into a doer and they grab at the toy and I say kind of go a little feral for a while and get that drive up, and then the doers have to put a little bit more control, control their drive and I think that that works great with all of them. And everything’s going to be tailored using that information that I gathered in the first few weeks of having that puppy. I know what I have. I can start my training program adjusted for each puppy. Of course I have general guidelines, so dogs all need to start line sync, but how I get to that finished product isn’t the same for each dog, and then also when they’re young, I’m not much of a record keeper. I kind of have tendency to not do that, because if I put things down in a record, what happens is my type A personality says, okay, in this session you must do dumbbell retrieves. But the problem is, sometimes the dog changes the program and you have to adjust.
So, I tend to not write down plans for stuff, but I will, for my young dogs and I do have a book for each one of my dogs the first two years of their life, I reevaluate my dog each month. So, I treat it just as if I was evaluating a new student’s dog. So, dogs change constantly and they should, because you’re training them, and so I want to make sure that, for example, the timid dog that I had at eight weeks has not gotten more timid, or I need to definitely change something. And if I had a high drive dog, let’s say that I put too much control on, so the dog won’t do anything on its own, then I will adjust my training to get them to party a bit more, and it’s all about that balancing act. Dog training’s definitely an art in many situations and so it’s nice to be able to look back and then be able to somewhat predict or change things to make sure I’m progressing in a way that takes me where I want the dogs to go.
Melissa Breau: Now when you say you evaluate them each month, do you have a specific way that you do that? Or do you just kind of reflect on what you’ve done or reflect on how they’ve been the last couple of training sessions, or what’s your process there? Because that’s really interesting.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, so what I do is I kind of go through a series of little situations. So for example, I’m going to write down the dog’s weaknesses, and what I do when I’m doing this, is I don’t read the previous month, because I believe that it kind of will make you change things. So, I just say, what is the dog I have right now today? If a student brought this dog in, what would I say about it? So, what are the dog’s weaknesses, whether it’s a skill set or something like that? What are the dog’s strengths? What do they know? What do they not know? And resiliency. So, does the dog bounce back? Does it care if there’s a mistake made? Things like that. I work pressure work with my dogs so people behind my dogs to prepare them for trialing, and I always take note of how the dog’s handling it. Do they care about the pressure this month? Do they not? At what point does that bubble happen where the person invades their pressure and they don’t like it? Things like that.
So, I’m looking at those skills. Delay of reward. Are the dogs able to work through that as far as you not having any treats or toys on you, because that’s something you definitely have to work on before you start trialing, and things like that. So, I’m looking at individual skill sets, but also just the overall picture of, is the dog in drive? Are they staying in drive? Are they emotionally happy, and are they resilient and bouncing back? And if I see anything that doesn’t make sense or when I look back the previous month, that I noticed that they did something where they kind of backslid a little bit, then I’m going to adjust things.
I just started working on that actually with my young dog, Gig, who has suddenly started, when the weave poles are in situation, she will, instead of going to the weave pole, she will come back and try to redirect to me and usually it’s my sweatshirt, which is not an appropriate behavior and she wasn’t doing it a month ago, and now she’s doing it now. And so, I’m in the process of saying, okay that’s a big change. I have to figure out how to make that better and for her, it was just mainly an over threshold thing. So, we’re working on different levels of threshold and she’s getting it. So next month, I’m probably going to have another thing, right, because dog’s just continuously change things, and that’s a big thing I always think of in terms of, is instinctive drift, right?
We’re always training against instinctive drift, so weave poles. Dog’s don’t weave stuff in nature, ever, and weave poles break. Stopped contacts break. Why? Dog’s don’t run down hills and slam into a sit or a down. They just don’t do it, and so usually those are the things that are going to break. Those are the things that are going to show up most often in those journals, is okay, the weaves are bad this week or the A-frame contact was bad, and normally it’s not necessarily jumping or handling or tunnels. Usually tunnels don’t break, but it’s just those behaviors that the dogs really have to go against what they instinctively know and do naturally that have a tendency to kind of break down and so you’re going to see those. But if I see an emotional thing in looking through stuff, what I’m going to immediately do, is I’m going to say, okay there’s an emotional aspect to all of this. Everything else stops, and I must deal with that.
And so it’s just, those are things I’ve encountered and it’s just really good. Because I think a lot of people…you know I see people that come to seminars and they say, my dog is a bar knocker or my dog is stressy, and a lot of times I’ll end up asking them, well the dog I see is not stressy, so when was this dog stressy? And you know when they actually…you’ll see them kind of sit and think, and they’ll go well, like when he was six months old he was stressy. Okay, well he’s changed since then, right? And so it’s a nice way for us as trainers to be able to let go of stuff, because we have a tendency of holding on to things way longer than the dogs do, and the dogs are just like, you know, I know I was sensitive six months ago. But I’m not now. I’m good. I’m cool. And so then you can train that dog, which could be a totally different dog.
I look at my dog Lynn. As a young dog, she was an analytical…she reminded me of Sheldon off Big Bang Theory. Super analytical, super thinky, didn’t like to try a lot, it was tough. She was sensitive, and now whenever anything goes wrong, very vocal and it is completely my fault. All of it, and I like that. I want a dog to respond to me and say, you know what, you caused all of this. Especially a dog like her who was the type that would just lay down and go, I’m not going to do anything I’m just going to lay here because I don’t know what’s going to happen. And so you know, she’s not at all the same dog, and so it’s just neat to go back and be able to see that, and then the nice thing about having all those journals is, you get another puppy and you can compare and say, okay, so my Clink dog who had over threshold issues, is growing up a lot like my current young dog, Gig, who also has over threshold issues, and I can actually take those two journals and compare them and I see a ton of similarities. So, it’s a nice way to predict a lot of times what you’re going to have and then you can kind of copy some training along with it.
Melissa Breau: And it gives you a sense of whether what you’re doing works or doesn’t work and…
Loretta Mueller: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Normally I tell people if you’re going to try something different with a method or whatever, give it two weeks. See what you have. See what’s happening. If you have some little steps forward, that’s great. Don’t expect something huge. If you get something huge, awesome, but if you notice steps back then it’s time to reevaluate and to say, okay, this isn’t working and most of the time we get so stuck in patterns of working on usually our strengths, because we want to make ourselves feel better, that we have a tendency to lose some of that stuff and so this just kind of keeps you on track and keeps you honest about what you really should be working on with the dogs.
Melissa Breau: And you mentioned, and I just think this is important so I want to emphasize it, kind of the idea that sometimes we get stuck on labels for our dogs that no longer apply to them, and so we continue training a dog that’s no longer the dog in front of us. I just think that’s so poignant and crucial for people to understand that they need to actually look at their dog for who they are today and not be judging the dog they had six months or a year ago or when they were six months old.
Loretta Mueller: Exactly, and it’s hard for us, because we get wrapped up in this emotionally and we have such a great emotional connection with these dogs that we just, yeah, we get stuck sometimes. I’d be the first person to say that I’ve gotten stuck on a couple dogs and it just…it’s hard for us to let go of it. Meanwhile, the dogs are changing, but at the same time they’re getting treated the same. If you think about when you were five years old versus now, you’re definitely not even remotely the same person you were probably at five and you had a foundation temperament, but in general you’ve changed a lot and so I think it’s just really important, because that’s what I see a lot of. When I do just problem solving seminars or stress seminars, especially, I see people that come in and they are already stressed about something that hasn’t happened yet, and then of course that feeds down to the dogs and then that makes them stressed.
I think that dogs in general, they’re either affected by their environment or they’re not, and so if the person’s stressed and the dog is the type that gets affected by the environment, then you’re going to have a dog that’s going to react differently. And if you can just stop and say, you know what, your dog is not this stressy dog anymore. It’s amazing when you change the person how much different the dog changes and it’s very cool to see the dog go, ah, okay. This is good, and then the confidence comes out, and I’ve had my share of not confident dogs. I’ve had my share of scared dogs.
My ten-year-old dog, Gator, who’s been to finals many, many times, doesn’t like people, and doesn’t like cameras and that’s what happens in the finals and he runs and he’s a good boy and life is good, but that’s due to training and due to trust and the fact of the matter is, now that he’s ten, he doesn’t care about anything. But as a young dog, when he was 18 months old, he cared about everything and all things were horrible and children were bad and now, he’ll play tennis if someone wants to hit a tennis ball or whatever, he’ll play with a kid. He doesn’t care, and so it was up to me to say, okay, Gator, you know what? He’s just pretty normal now, and so it’s easy to get stuck there and so it’s just that book…like I said I only do it the first two years. In reality, I probably should do it a lot more and a lot longer, but it just gives you the ability to say, for most people, wow, you know. We’ve really come a long way, and I think that’s really important for people to be able to see that.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s definitely a lesson I’ve been gradually absorbing. My shepherd can sometimes get awful environmentally sensitive and barky and all that other stuff and we’ve done a lot of work on it and she’s come a long way and it took me a while to actually realize how far she’d come and realize I didn’t have to be quite so nervous all the time.
Loretta Mueller: Exactly, yeah.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to kind of round things out by saying three final short questions that I’ve asked everybody so far that’s come on the podcast. So the first one is what dog related accomplishment are you proudest of?
Loretta Mueller: Wow. There’s so many. I have a lot of moments with my dogs and my student’s dogs. It’s really hard to pick sometimes. I would say probably getting a silver medal at the USDAA Cynosports World Championships with Clink. She’s my 11-year-old. She was the dog that at six months I was told would not make a good agility dog because she was so over threshold. She screamed every single moment on course. Every photo I have her mouth is wide open, slobber everywhere, and she was the dog that I would have called the bar knocker. And you know, I have a story about Clink that I always tell people, especially when they’re struggling, and it was during one of my runs at a regional after I was a little frustrated with her because she’d been knocking a lot of bars. I bent down, right before the run, and I kissed her on the forehead, which I didn’t normally do, and I felt her whole body relax, and she went on and ran and got a silver medal, and I realized at that moment that she was not a bar knocker. She was a dog that was really anxious and really, really wanted to please me, and as long as she knew that she was fine. And so overnight at a regional my entire thought process changed about her and I went from thinking she was a tough dog and a dog that didn’t always listen, to a dog that just really kind of had a Dennis the Menace, right? I’ll fix it, I’ll fix it, and do it faster and I learned a lot from her. So, for her to be able to get on the podium at the World Championships USDAA and get a silver medal was just, to me, an amazing thing, because I already knew she was awesome. But then the whole world got to see just how cool she was, and so for her that was huge and for me as a trainer and then also just as my relationship with her for sure.
Melissa Breau: That’s an awesome story. I like that.
Loretta Mueller: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: So, our second to the end, I guess, question. Is what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Loretta Mueller: I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people in obedience and herding and agility, and I guess, I don’t know what everybody else has said, but to me, one of my most cherished and amazing statements that I’ve heard was from Ray Hunt, who was a horse trainer and he said, you must realize the slightest change and the smallest try, and so meaning, reward the effort. Acknowledge that the animal is trying and if you choose to recognize that smallest try or slightest change, that’s what makes or breaks your training. And if you don’t notice that small change in the dogs, then they do one of two things. They either give up, or they get harder, and they say, you know what? I tried. You didn’t acknowledge it, therefore, meh, I’m good. And for me, if you ever owned a dog like that, they do that. They just go, eh whatever. I’m going to keep doing my thing.
And so for me it was huge, because we get so stuck in a world of criteria, right? Criteria, criteria. Did they meet criteria? When in reality, when you think about it, it doesn’t matter how much training your dog has. It doesn’t matter if their weave poles are spotless, right? It doesn’t matter any of that stuff. If your dog is in the wrong emotional state, that training will never show. So, what they’re doing, is a lot of the dogs, they are trying so hard, but then they don’t get rewarded and then that causes a lot of issues. So, that’s why I always have kind of a graduated reward system that I do with my dogs. So, I’ll use either lower value, higher value treats. To differentiate, I’ll choose the way I play with the dog, and that way these dogs always get rewarded for that effort and I acknowledge those small changes in their behavior and I don’t ask for too much too soon and I think that that keeps the dogs confident, it keeps them feeling like they’re a champion, because that’s very important if you want a dog to be confident and feel like they can conquer the world, you have to tell them that they can conquer the world.
So, if they give you the smallest change, then you reward it and you have a dog that’s going to try even harder the next time, and so for me that totally changed a lot of my training. Because before, an example would be if my dog didn’t do six weave poles and let’s say they were in a novice trial and they were baby dogs. I would be frustrated. And if they continuously did it, before I got this little nugget of information, I would go home and say okay my dog has a weave pole issue and I’m going to go train the weave. But in reality, is it a weave pole issue, or is it the fact that the dog’s not emotionally right? Most likely it’s because the dog’s not emotionally right. So you actually have to deal with that. So what does that involve? It might involve the dog doing three weave poles and you clapping and having a party and leaving. But that’s not to criteria. And so for me, it was just a huge eye opener that the dogs know how to do these skills. It’s just we have to have them in the right emotional state so they can actually perform the behaviors that they’ve been taught. And that’s just to me a cornerstone of what I think of when I’m training. So, it’s just been huge for me to have that statement and understand that and apply it to all of my training.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s one of my favorite questions in the whole podcast because we always get such great responses. Totally different and fantastic, so thank you for that.
Loretta Mueller: Cool. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: And the last one is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Loretta Mueller: Again, I’ve had chances to work with so many people and I’m probably going to go outside of the box here, but for me it’s going to be in the herding world. My mentor has been Kathy Knox, who’s a border collie enthusiast and herding and sheep trials. She’s the first person to really get into my head that there’s always a reason the dog does something, and I think that’s really important to understand, because we have a tendency to say, well they didn’t do this and they didn’t do that. But in reality, we should say, what are they doing? Because they’re obviously doing something that you don’t want them to do, so we have a focus on that and so there’s always a reason they’re doing stuff and for me, before I met Kathy, it was just like, do the thing that I tell you to do, right?
And then it changed from there, and a lot of my students, I always tell them, if you can go to a natural clinician in the herding world, so somebody that just uses the dog and just uses the sheep, so no harnesses or ropes or anything like that, they are the most, in my opinion, talented clicker trainers you will ever witness. Their timing is amazing. They understand exactly how and when to reward and their placement of reward, it’s not based on where they can put it, right? You can’t just tell the sheep go over here to point B. They have to know at that exact moment when the sheep are right and what to do instantly to help the dog, or to reward the dog. And so, I always think in terms of, can you imagine if your reward had a mind of its own. Like trying to train a terrier with a live squirrel would be an analogy that would be quite fitting.
And so, these people they have this amazing ability to teach these dogs using extremely high value reward that is instinctive that is bred into them and they can get these dogs to totally understand what behaviors they want and use that reward and their timing, and they’re just, a good clinician. They’re going to do just what I do when I go to a seminar. They’re going to look at the dog. They’re going to read the dog. They’re going to figure out what the dog needs, and again, you change the dog, you change the person, and it’s just an amazing thing and I think for me that’s where the passion comes into play. It’s just to see where…I always joke that it’s like the dogs are sitting there trying to decipher things because dogs in agility read motion first and then they read verbal second. So verbals are a second language to them, and so they hear human, human, human, human, dog. So a person suddenly does something that they go, oh my gosh, right? So, if you’ve ever watched a movie that’s been in a language you don’t know and all of a sudden they say one word that you do know, it’s like this sudden understanding. Wow. Oh, I get this. This is what you want.
And so for me, that’s the key is, I don’t want to present the dogs with questions as far as handling goes. I want to present them only with answers so they say, okay, I’ve got this. There’s no thinking required, and to me that’s an important part of it and you can’t present the dogs with answers in quite the best way possible if you don’t understand what language the dogs are speaking. So suddenly, you start speaking dog, and these dogs just go, oh my goodness, thank you. And I see it every single weekend I teach. The dogs just changing and then the people change. I have people come in that you can tell they’re ready to quit agility. You can tell that if this dog doesn’t do something that’s going to give them a little bit of hope, they’re going to quit. And people always say, don’t you get frustrated with that with people that are, you know? No, I don’t get frustrated with them and the reason why is they just, they’re at their wits end. They don’t know what else to do. They’re lost and they’ve tried everything. People have told them a big menagerie of what to do and none of it’s worked.
But a lot of times it’s because people tell you to do stuff based on what? Human. And I’m trying to convey to people, learn dog, and it’s so much easier. Everything becomes so much easier. Then these people do something, and usually it’s a minor thing, like don’t bend over, or make eye contact, or look at the right place, or use your hand this way, and you see the people who go into a situation and they’re very worried and frustrated and you can see all of it just melt away. And it’s just such a fascinating thing for me as an instructor to be able to help people on that level, and we’re not talking just backyard enthusiasts or weekend warriors. We’re talking world team people. It’s all the same. It’s these little things usually that cause the issues, and so for me, I’ve learned from herding clinicians and people like Kathy Knox and Ray Hunt that those little moments are the ones that really matter. Those are the moments where trust is built. Those are the moments that really open up that light for the dog to understand exactly what you want from them. And then, from there, all those little moments build up into a fully trained dog and so we have to concentrate on those tiny moments in time and we have to observe and pay attention so that we can get to where we want to go.
Melissa Breau: Gee, that makes me kind of want to go see a herding seminar.
Loretta Mueller: They’re pretty cool. I’m telling you, it’s pretty awesome.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for joining me Loretta and thank you to our audience for tuning in.
We’ll be back in two weeks with a retired obedience judge, Nancy Gagliardi Little to talk about dog sports from a judge’s perspective. If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Shade Whitesel has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid.
Always interested in how dogs learned, she has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring.
What started out as an experiment, competing at the national level in IPO without the use of an e collar, has now turned into a firm commitment to positive training and the desire to teach other trainers and dogs how to be successful in bitesports with as little punishment as possible.
Her focus as a trainer is on clear communication with your dog -- as we discuss in the podcast, she believes this relieves frustration and improves the overall quality of the dog's work.
To be released 2/17/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller.
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 Shade Whitesel. Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. Always interested in how dogs learned, she has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring.
What started out as an experiment, competing at the national level in IPO without the use of an e collar, has now turned into a firm commitment to positive training and the desire to teach other trainers and dogs how to be successful in bitesports with as little punishment as possible. Hi, Shade. Welcome to the podcast.
Shade Whitesel: Hi, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: So, to start out can you tell me a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Shade Whitesel: Sure. My youngest dog is Ones who is 4 years old and he just recently earned his Schutzhund 2 in December. I’m looking forward to getting his Schutzhund 3 this spring and then going on to compete nationally with him if it looks like we’re a good enough team.
Briefly, Schutzhund is kind of like a triathlon for dogs, based on police work. It requires tracking, where they have to follow a person’s track and indicate articles that the person’s dropped, and then an obedience portion, and then a protection portion. So, Ones attained pretty good scores in his one and his two, and I’m excited about his future career.
I tend to do AKC later in the dog’s career, since it’s easier on their bodies than bitesports. I also have Baileys, Ones’s sister, who was returned to me a year ago and we’ve start setting the foundation for AKC obedience, and she’s coming along.
She’s been teaching me a lot about working an older dog with established habits before I got them. So, kind of what to do with that and how to retrain.
And Reiki my old guy, he’s both Ones’s and Bailey’s dad, he’s 10 years old and I had really hoped to get him in the AKC utility ring. He’s got his CDX, but he’s getting older there so we’ll see. And he has numerous IPO 3’s. We competed nationally for four years, that kind of thing, and he did really well. So, that’s my current dogs.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. And they’re all German Shepherds, right?
Shade Whitesel: They are. I have only German Shepherds right now and I’ll add a couple of more breeds eventually, but right now because of Schutzhund, I need to do the bite work and so I’ve chosen the German Shepherd as my breed for that.
Melissa Breau: How did you get into competitive dog sports and training?
Shade Whitesel: Well, I always wanted a dog when I was a kid and I finally got a mixed breed dog. And at that time, your training classes were kind of like AKC obedience and she did really well in her training class, but I couldn’t compete with her because she was a mixed breed.
So, I always wanted to kind of compete and then when I got my first purebred dog I got interested in Schutzhund because it’s a breed test for the Shepherds. And I started really getting into it and getting titles on the dogs.
So, that kind of morphed into people asking me to give training lessons to them and once I put a Schutzhund 1 on a dog then I figured that I could at least start training other people. So, that’s kind of when it morphed into becoming a professional dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: I’ve heard you talk before a little bit about your positive training journey and kind of what got you started. But can you kind of share it for the audience?
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. In bite work sports and in Schutzhund training you’re normally dealing with pretty strong dogs physically and mentally, that really like to bite. So, they have lots of reinforcement history for biting, whether that is the ball or the tug, or the bad guy.
And there’s a culture correction in this sport when it comes to getting control. Because these dogs are really strong willed and eventually you have to get obedience around that high value reinforcer, there’s a lot of correction involved.
When I first started doing Schutzhund I definitely was no different than anyone else. I used a lot of correction with my dogs, but I really started breaking down the behaviors much more than anyone I knew at the time. Teaching them at lower arousal, breaking it down in much tinier steps... and then I realized that I could use the helper as a reward.
So, for instance, “Hey, dog heel two steps and then I’ll send you to the helper for a bite,” and then I really started questioning all the correction, because that worked so well. And so, I kind of started out as a trainer using a lot of correction and then figuring out, and gradually getting more positive as I went till what I am right now.
Melissa Breau: And I’ve seen some of your videos. I mean, you really truly manage to get that same precision and that beauty in the performance that I think most people are looking for. And I know from talking to you, you really do, do it completely positive so it’s really impressive.
Shade Whitesel: I think there’s this thing that sometimes...I remember in Schutzhund even when I used correction we always said we use the ball for reward, but we can’t get as precise behaviors when you do that and that was the argument against using a lot of motivation. And I always was like, “Well, I want both. I want the motivation, I want the strongness and then I want the preciseness.”
So, even when I was figuring out how to do it without correction I was like, “I don’t want to sacrifice anything. I still want really high quality behaviors,” and since Reiki took me to Nationals, now I’m not satisfied with anything other than as good as I can get. So, yeah, it’s been a journey. That’s a cliché thing, but it’s definitely been a journey to figure out how to do that.
Melissa: So, how would you describe your training philosophy now?
Shade Whitesel: Right now, I feel like I haven’t said no to any of my dogs for like four years. No. Seriously, I’m really currently most interested in what the dog is feeling about our training session and what their emotional state is.
That’s been my task. Ones has been definitely my teacher in that way, because I really need to know what his emotional state is in bite work. They’ll tell you way before the behavior skills breakdown. Either lost focus, stressing, whatever that looks like. So, that’s currently what I’m really into, trying to figure out how the dog feels and what that tells me of my training plan. And that kind of segues into creating the toy play as a reinforcement.
So many of us use toys with our dogs because we realize how joyful they can get with that and how excited. But we could get much more efficient training done if we created more of a significant reinforcement if we had some rules in there like bring the toy back. When they all of a sudden don’t drop the toy they’re not being belligerent, they’re pretty much telling us our rate of reinforcement wasn’t up as much as it should be in the training plan. Also, when we use toys to teach stuff it gives us ways to work through high arousal situations, like, we’re going to encounter in agility or bite work, or anything else a dog wants.
I mean really a high arousal situation for my dogs is going from the car to the beach. That’s a situation where they have to be on leash and it is none too fun if I can’t get them to walk calmly from point A to point B.
So, the toy play reinforcement gives us ways to work through that. I’d say that Ones is my most positively trained dog to date, since he’s my youngest and I bred him so I’ve known him since minute one. I feel like sometimes I’ve gotten so positive in my teaching that most cases where we use negative punishment I look at that and I’m like, “We could teach that without even that.” So, I feel like I’ve swung really far in a very positive way in my training, which is good.
Melissa Breau: And just in case anybody’s not familiar with the four quadrants. Negative punish is the removal of something the dog doesn’t like, right?
Shade Whitesel: Exactly. And we as positive trainers tend to use that when we don’t know what else to do or when we’re having a dog that’s doing behaviors we don’t like. That’s accepted for us to go there and it can be good. There’s still some fallout sometimes, but it can be a polishing technique.
Melissa Breau: So, I was super lucky. I got to shadow you at FDSA Training Camp last year. I have to say I definitely learned a ton following you around for a couple of days.
Shade Whitesel: And I appreciated your technical skills, because I don’t have any.
Melissa Breau: Well, it was a pleasure to get to follow you around. I feel like I learned so, so much. And some of my favorites were just listening to you talk about play and how you structure some of that. And just some of the takeaways that I got at camp definitely I brought them home and worked with my own dog differently, and it really has had an impact.
Shade Whitesel: Well, good. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, it included everything from play to location specific markers... kind of, you ran the gambit, I think, at camp last year and it seems like, or at least seems to me, that there’s a theme that kind of runs through all of your FDSA classes and all of the talks that I’ve heard you give — this idea of communicating as clearly as possible with your dogs. So, do you mind just sharing a little bit why you feel that’s so critical?
Shade Whitesel: No matter how you train, communicating as clearly as possible is so important, because 99.9 percent of our problems are due to the unclarity of our teaching.
And all of our problems with dogs — I mean it’s really our problem it’s not theirs — go away when you look at the clarity, or more accurately the ‘not clarity’ of your teaching.
When your communication is clear arousal levels go down, frustration from your learner dog goes down, and you get more confident and fluent behaviors from them. And this holds true over trialing, over living with them, over everything, just to be as clear as possible and predictable, that goes into predictability too. So, no matter what method you do that is just so important I think — obviously, since I talk about it.
Melissa Breau: So, I think one really good example of that is the work you’ve done with location specific markers. Do you mind just briefly kind of explaining what that means and kind of how you use them?
Shade Whitesel: You know, markers are such a good thing and people are exploring them, and figuring out that it’s really nice to bridge what behavior your dogs doing to get their reward. Tell the dog where to collect their reinforcement, like, technically I want a different marker that means collect it from my hands, whether that’s food or a toy and I want a different marker that means collect it away from there, whether it’s go pick-up the toy on the ground or whether I’m going to throw the toy, and again it’s just that clarity. And I notice with my own dogs if I had a different marker word for, “Strike the tug out of my hand,” versus, “I’m going to throw it,” the dog stopped mugging me, they stopped looking for where the toy was all the time when I was asking for behaviors. Because they knew that I would tell them exactly how to get their reinforcement. And again, it just goes back to the clarity.
So, location specific markers is just the dog knows exactly where to go and they don’t have to be checking where the toy is or the food — is the food in your pocket? Is it over there in the dish? Because you’re going to tell them so they can put 100 percent of their attention to figuring out what behavior you want them to do, because they can trust that you’re going to tell them where the reinforcement is.
Melissa Breau: I think a lot of trainers tend to rely really heavily on one or two training methods. So, somebody may lean really heavily on shaping, while somebody else tends to mostly lure behaviors or throw a ball, or whatever. I know that in the current session at FDSA, which will be current when this goes live, you’re going to be teaching a class to help handlers better use all of their tools. Do you mind just talking a little bit about what that class is, and what it’s about?
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. I think the more we know and feel comfortable about all the positive ways we can train our dogs the more effective we’re going to be as a teacher. And then, if we know how to lure and we know how to shape, and we know how to capture, we can then be more informed about what technique that we want to use to teach a certain behavior. I think we all could use a little more knowledge on how to get behaviors on cue. How to name it, how to get it on stimulus control, whether that behavior is lured or shaped and the one constant that I know I always struggle with is timing. Click, pause, treat.
And I see many students coming through the academy, who are great at one technique, but they’re kind of unsure of the other techniques and I’d like to help out with that. I’d like to teach that and help people figure out what effective technique they want to use to teach their dog a behavior.
Melissa Breau: Now, does the class have specific behaviors that you try and work on through the course of the class? Are the students going to pick their own behavior and use different techniques to accomplish it? Kind of how do you structure it?
Shade Whitesel: I’ll give a couple of examples of what they can do. They can use behaviors their dog already knows or they can pick new ones. But it’s really more about we can, for instance, ‘go to a bed’ behavior, we can lure that, we can shape that, we can capture that so it’s not so much about having behaviors already for your dog, but about explaining the different ways of getting there. It’s good if your dog has some behaviors already on cue; so they can be experienced dogs, where the handler just wants to learn more about it, or it can be a dog that’s brand new to stuff.
Melissa Breau: So, when you’re working with your own dogs how do you decide which technique to use? I assume you’re probably better with all of them than say me.
Shade Whitesel: Well, it’s a steep learning curve for everything.
Melissa Breau: But how do you decide whether you want to lure something or shape something, or capture something? Like, how do you pick which method to use when you’re teaching something?
Shade Whitesel: Well, I have to say when I first started training I was a big lurer and I came late to shaping. I really had no idea and my evolution in my last, I don’t know, six, seven years has been really getting better at shaping. I’d be the first to say I’m not the greatest at it, but I’m getting better. So, for my own dogs shaping and capturing shaped behaviors, like, the dog offering a completed shaped behavior that’s my preferred technique at this point.
If I can communicate to the dog effectively through shaping and then they can choose the behavior, I’ll always teach that way first. I think it creates stronger and then more confident and faster behaviors out of the dog.
But I can’t always figure out how to communicate via shaping. And so, if I can’t figure that out I’ll lure the behavior. I have no issue luring, but I’ll then always put it on what I call capturing. And so, even if it’s a lured behavior, I’ll eventually want to have the dog offer it and then it becomes a strong shaped behavior, so to speak.
Melissa Breau: So, to round things out. I have three more short questions that I’ve asked everyone so far at the tail end of the interview. So, first what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Shade Whitesel: That’s such a hard one because every single dog I have had there are accomplishments that I’m really proud of with the individual dog. So, I don’t think of it so much as what I’ve done, but more of what me and dog have done. [I Recently competed with Ones]. Schutzhund is tracking, obedience and protection and you get 100 in each. And he got 99 out of 100 in the tracking phase, he got 95 out of 100 in obedience and he got 96 out of 100 in protection. And that’s a pretty good score for a young dog, because in the one and the two in Schutzhund we’re kind of just seeing what does he know, how is my training going and you kind of get your three. And then, if you want to compete, you compete nationally and that’s where you start to get your good scores. So, I’m excited for what the future holds for us.
Melissa Breau: So, what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Shade Whitesel: It sounds cliché, but listen to the dog. I’m so into listening to what the dog says at this point. It holds me accountable in my training, it holds me accountable in their reinforcement and I feel like many people say, “Listen to the dog,” but I think we could be doing a lot more of it.
Melissa Breau: And the last one. So, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up too?
Shade Whitesel: That’s always such a hard question as well. I’ve been training dogs for 20 years and there’s too many to name. I’ve learned so many things from each and every trainer, and person that I’ve encountered and trained with. So, I’ve just learned from so many people and I look up to each and every one of them.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thanks Shade so much for joining me.
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. Thanks so much.
Melissa Breau: And for those listening, thank you for tuning in. As a heads-up to those of you who aren’t currently part of the FDSA community, registration is currently open when this airs for February classes, including Shade’s Crucial Concepts for Competition Class, the one we talked about during the podcast.
And in two weeks we’ll be back with Loretta Mueller to talk about why one size does not fit all when it comes to dog training.
If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Hannah Branigan has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 12 years. In addition to being a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, she is a faculty member for Karen Pryor Academy and a teacher at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Hannah is a Professional Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.
She has presented at APDT and Clicker Expo and teaches workshops all over the USA.
Owner of Wonderpups, LLC, Hannah is committed to training both dogs and people with positive reinforcement methods. She has titled her dogs in Conformation, Obedience, IPO (Schutzhund), Agility, and Rally.
To be released 2/3/2017, featuring Shade Whitesel.
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 Hannah Branigan. Hannah has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 12 years. In addition to being a Karen Pryor Academy-Certified Training Partner, she's a faculty member for Karen Pryor Academy and a teacher at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
Hannah is a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and a certified professional dog trainer. She has presented at APDT and Clicker Expo, and teachers workshops all over the US.
Owner of Wonderpups LLC, Hannah is committed to training both dogs and people with positive reinforcement methods. She has titled her dogs in conformation, obedience, IPO, agility, and rally.
Hannah Branigan: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Thanks for joining us. To get started, can you just tell us a bit about the dogs you have now and what you're working on with them?
Hannah Branigan: We're actually down to four right now, which is kind of weird. I still keep getting out five bully sticks, and then I wonder why I still have one left in my hand.
Right now, I have…Stormy is my oldest and she's pretty much retired from anything competitive. She acts as sort of my guinea pig if I have a new, crazy idea that I want to try out on something. So, I'll often try it out on her because I figure, hey, she's 14, she's not going to be in a dog show again, and so if I completely ruin her heeling, then that's not a big deal.
So, she will often show up in some of my videos that you'll see in class or on YouTube. So, she still stays busy and still likes to stay active that way.
And then there's Gambit. So he's an AKC Champion. We finished his UDX. He's got an OM--something, I don't even remember which number we're on at this point, finished his CDSP OCH last year. We tinkered a little bit in Nose Work. I think this year we're going to go ahead and finish up his RAE, and he's still showing in CDSP, mostly for fun.
He's older and he's had a knee injury when he was younger that's starting to kind of catch up with him, so that we appreciate the lower-jump heights of the CDSP Obedience, and we're still hitting the occasional AKC trial locally, depending on how he's feeling, but that's sort of where he is right now, and also, again, guinea pig and often video star.
And then the next one down, in order of age, would be Spark. She's also an AKC Champion. In AKC, she's finished her UD and she has I want to say 25 or 30 OCH points, all in Utility. She has some personal space issues with other dogs that have caused me to be a little reticent to put her back in the open stay ring situation. So, I haven't quite decided what I'm going to do with her in that area yet, and we may just kind of rest on our laurels there. She did, this year, just finished her CDSP OCH, where of course there is no group stay. Right now, our main focus with her -- with me and her together -- is in expanding our agility skills. So, we've been doing a lot of playing in agility and doing some trials in that.
And then the baby of the family is Rugby, who I think everyone on the internet knows, and he is, let's see, he's currently training in obedience and of course also rally and then also cross-trains in agility and flyball.
This past year, he debuted in CDSP Novice and picked up his first High-in-Trial and was basically awesome, so I was really, really happy with how he's working there, and I think we're going to set our eyes on going into the AKC Novice Ring this coming year. I need to look at my schedule and actually see when I have a weekend available to aim for, but he likes to do a little bit of everything. So, we're hopefully going to be competing, eventually, in all four of those sports and maybe a little barn hunt, maybe a little nose work. He's a terrier, so I feel like I feel compelled to at least…
Melissa Breau: ...Honor that side?
Hannah Branigan: Show up. Yeah, exactly, take advantage of that, those instincts, rather than always working against them. I think he would definitely enjoy barn hunt.
Melissa Breau: Congrats on the High-in-Trial. That's very exciting, especially with your baby dog.
Hannah Branigan: Thank you. Yes.
Melissa Breau: Now, I'm lucky because you're here in North Carolina, not too far from me, and I had the pleasure of actually attending one of your workshops…I think it was at Lap it Up, and you tend to describe yourself as a dog-training geek, and I think you started the workshop out by kind of mentioning that. So, I wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit about what you mean by that.
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I usually apologize in advance when people have me in person. There's no editing involved.
You know, honestly, it's more in the more modern sense of the word geek, really, rather than the original definition, but well, all I really mean by that is just that I'm sort of inordinately fascinated with dogs and behavior and learning, possibly to the point of obsession, and I really love, you know, like I love really digging into those sort of like microcosmic details of the behavior and really looking at how things can be broken apart atomically and how they're all interconnected, and that's really sort of what I spend my Friday nights doing, watching videos in slow motion and trying out stuff and just really, yeah, okay, obsession is probably the right word. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, I'm guessing you didn’t start out that way. How did you get into dog sports and training and kind of into being interested in all this?
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I'm not even really sure. That was kind of a complete accident. I think, like a lot of trainers, I had a pet dog, who was a rescue, and he turned out to have more challenges than I knew how to handle, and so through the process of learning more about training and learning more about dogs to figure out how to help him, so that he would stop biting me, I got kind of like hooked on this concept of training, and then somehow that turned into, once I had the dog that I could take for walks around the neighborhood and be relatively safe with, then I had to teach him to retrieve beer from a fridge.
That one, in all honesty, was also to impress a boy, who I then married, so it turned out to be worth it.
So, after the beer retrieve, then it was like well, what can I teach him next, and so we tried a little bit of agility, but that was going to be a lot for him, behaviorally, to manage, to handle that environment, and we kind of just ended up finding our way into a UKC Obedience Trial, and I still don't even really remember exactly how that happened, but there we were, and then I thought, well, that was kind of fun, what if I got a registered dog?
And I started from scratch, because of course if you buy a purebred dog or, in my case, were given a purebred dog, it's absolutely a guarantee that they'll be easy to train for sports, right?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. That's everybody's favorite line. I think that may be the first time I've ever heard somebody get into dogs to impress a boy, though.
Hannah Branigan: Well, I mean I did get the dog on his own merits, but it was the beer retrieve that was…
Melissa Breau: That was to impress the boy?
Hannah Branigan: Was really, yeah, to show him up. That's how I impress boys, I prove that I'm better than them at whatever the thing is, and it's actually kind of a funny story because, so, my husband, who I was dating at the time, was a computer engineer, and for his project in college, his team was making a beer robot, a robot that would basically retrieve a beer, and I said that I could train my dog to do that faster than he could make a robot do it, and so I did, and I was right.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome.
Hannah Branigan: I know, right? Exactly. So, and that's how it happened.
Melissa Breau: I mean, I think that's a great story to tell. Now, I know that at FDSA, one of like your big series is the skill-building series, the obedience skill-building series, so I wanted to make sure we talk a little bit about that and the role of foundation skills overall. So, do you mind talking for a moment kind of how foundation skills turn into obedience exercises and kind of why they're so important to start out with?
Hannah Branigan: Sure, and I think the skill-building series is kind of a…it's an interesting place to start because it's not structured the way most people who are used to competition obedience training expect.
So, your average obedience club will typically have, they'll have, you know, maybe some kind of introductory class, if you're lucky, or they may start right out with novice, but they'll have a novice class where you learn how to do novice, and then you go to the dog show and you get your novice title, and then you start attending the open class, and you go to the open classes and learn how to teach that, and you get your open title, and then you go to the Utility class and you learn how to do those exercises, and that's really what most people are expecting when they're thinking about sort of a training progression, but that's not how the experienced elite dog trainers actually train their own dogs.
Nobody who is really successful in obedience teaches that way, so, or trains their dogs that way, at any rate.
So, when we designed the skill-building series, the goal was really, or our priority was let's set up a series of training progressions that actually mirror the way we would actually train our own dogs. So, you know, when I get a young dog and I intend to compete with that dog in obedience, I don't start with novice. I actually start with most of Utility, so, you know one of the first things that I teach a puppy is scent discrimination and we get started with some of the beginning steps that are going to become go-outs and directed jumping, and also there are things that will lead into heeling, but I don't wait until I have the novice title.
We're actually, you know, mostly almost teaching it in reverse, right? So, with the skill-building series, we've very much done that. So, like the skill building one class, we're giving you the building blocks for scent discrimination, for directed jumping and go-outs, for the retrieve, for signals, drop on recall, all of the jumping-related exercises, all of the retrieving-related exercises, and getting those first steps trained, and then as we move through the progression of the classes, we build on those and we start to put them together and form sequences that become the exercises.
So, it's a much more logical progression from a behavior standpoint, assuming that you're planning to take that dog into Utility at some point. The way that I think about it is really, like, well it's sort of like Legos, right?
So, if you open up a box of Legos, which I was just playing with a minute ago, so that's where my mind is, there's really only like 5 or 6 different types of Lego blocks, right? So, they come in lots of different colors, but there's really only a couple of different shapes. There's the ones with like the 2 dots, and then there's the ones with the 4 dots that are kind of square, and then there's the 6 and then 8 and 12, and using just those blocks, you can really build almost anything, right, like anything from a Millennium Falcon to a dining room table, and it's just by putting those blocks together in different orders and repeating different ones, and I'm kind of getting lost with this metaphor.
I don't remember where I was going with it, but…yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, so my point is that all of these exercises really only break down into kind of a handful of behavioral units that we can then sort of change the colors of, right, like we can put them together in different ways and we can modify them in kind of cosmetic ways, but there's not that much, really, to teach, and so if we concentrate on building these really strong, ubiquitous units of behavior that go into all of these advanced exercises, well, the exercises don't turn out to be quite that hard, right?
So, the challenge is in getting those really strong little individual units, and then I can build lots of different things out of those, so, a dog that really understands concepts of targeting, that really understands the concept of stimulus control. I can teach a new behavior with a target, fade the target, get a cue on it really, really fast, and it's a strong behavior because they really understand how it works and how we're communicating that way.
So, a large part of what we're doing, when we're talking about those foundation skills, is establishing these kind of, you know, we're looking at kind of two categories, right?
There's the movement skills that I need the dog to know how to use his body in a certain way, so I need him to be able to shift his weight back and forth and I need him to be able to control his body and then use that to form these positions and understand the communication strategies that we're going to use to communicate with each other, and once I have those things, I can build so much out of it, and I get very excited, so, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No. Absolutely.
Hannah Branigan: So, yeah, so that's my goal. I want to take this like really mystical, challenging Utility exercise or any of the obedience exercises — I think heeling is more mystical than scent discrimination, really, but that's just me —and how can I break that down into its atomic units, like what are the things that the dog needs to know that then I put together that makes that heeling pictures, makes that scent discrimination picture?
Those blocks, those little, individual Lego blocks, are really very achievable for anybody, and that makes it…it takes away that mysticism element, right, and it makes it very actionable, very practical training, and then it also then makes it easy to put them together, and then when they break, take them back apart and fix it and put it back together again.
Melissa Breau: I think that leads really naturally into the next question, which is how does having strong foundation skills really help when it comes to proofing and problem solving, when you get to that point where you're starting to prep for competition?
Hannah Branigan: First off, I don't love the word proofing, but I know why you're using it and I'm okay with that. I like words like fluency enhancement, just because it puts us in a little bit more of a positive reinforcement mindset, but I understand what you're saying.
So, yeah, so having those really strong units of behavior, what I love about that is when I think about training an exercise in sort of a modular way, then if something does break, it's really easy for me to separate out the broken piece and figure out what's wrong here, what does he not understand, because the problem with teaching, and it's just as much of a problem while working human-to-human as gosh, well working between species, human-to-dog, is are they actually learning what I'm teaching, and the answer is not always yes.
So, when we start putting together more increasingly-complex behaviors and chains of behaviors and sequences, we'll often find out that no, actually what I was laying down is not what he was picking up, and I need to figure out where that miscommunication happened and what I need to do to clarify that, or is there a legitimately missing skill here, you know, just from a mechanic standpoint, my dog can't do the thing.
When I've gone through the thought process, the mental process, of breaking that complex sequence into individual behavioral components, then that really saves a lot of time when I need to go back and kind of debug, right? So, like what is wrong here, and I can check. I can pull it out and I can say okay, is it Unit A? No, looks great. Unit B? Looks great. Unit C? Absolutely perfect. Unit D? Oh gosh, oh, this isn't right.
So, all right, this is where I need to spend my time. So, it really saves a lot of time because I've done all of that thinking in advance, right, during the original training process. I mean the behaviors are always functioning as behavioral sequences. That's not something that we've invented. It has a lot more to do with our approach for how we're thinking about it and how we go about teaching it that have the advantage.
Melissa Breau: So, to take that and kind of, I don't want to take it from conceptual to practical, but kind of to take that idea just to that next step. Is there a common problem that students run into again and again where maybe you can kind of talk us through having strong foundation skills might help?
Hannah Branigan: Like so the vast majority of problem-solving issues that people bring to me come down to exactly that thing, right? There's a piece, there's one of those components that was not well-understood, that the human part of the team thought they had taught, and the dog was not learning exactly what the human thought that they were teaching, and in fact I've dropped the term problem-solving or troubleshooting from my workshop materials just because, again, it so often puts us into that mind-space, which then makes it really hard to take a proactive approach to the training when we're trying to come up with a training plan, but so a really common example that I'll get all the time, and I get it online, I get it in person, so it's the drop on recall. It's a really common one.
It's, you know, relatively easy to squeak through your novice, and you get into open and there's a really big monster on that drop on recall, and it catches a lot of teams, and a lot of teams struggle with it, and so people come to me that the dog is, you know, classically they're not dropping when I call him or he's dropping very slowly or he's creeping forward or he sits or he just stands and stares at me, and it is a complex exercise.
There's a lot going on there, both bio-mechanically and behaviorally, with that exercise.
We give a cue 'come,' and then we interrupt that behavior with a cue to do something completely different, suddenly stop and lay down, which is weird, and so there's a lot of stuff that can go on there, and it's a fairly complex training process, and when we have that kind of complexity, that opens a window for a lot of emotional problems when the people get frustrated, and the dog gets frustrated and confused, and so there can be a whole lot of baggage there, and what often it comes down to is that, you know, we start peeling away the layers and digging. Now, what's actually broken here is, well, it turned out the dog didn't actually have stimulus control on the down itself, right?
So, the handler thought when I say down, the dog understands to lay down, and of course we're kind of on thin ice for a cognitive science standpoint when we talk about what dogs know and what dogs understand, but we're going to go with it, and what frequently has turned out to be the case, like, we could write a book about it, is the handler has taught the down with some kind of lure or prompt, nothing wrong with that. That's often how I teach it myself, right?
But as part of the training process, if we're using some kind of physical gesture to teach the dog to lay down, and it's assuming that it's not a legal one that we can use in the ring, which in the case of food lure, of course you can't, and under no circumstances, for the drop on recall, can you step towards the dog, put your hand in front of his nose, and point towards the ground, right? That's not a valid cue at any venue that I compete in.
So most of the time we transfer that either to a hand signal, and the classic hand signal, of course, is the one-hand-straight-over-head like a traffic cop, or verbal, down, plotz, whatever, and so we have to do some kind of fading of the prompt or lure, that extra, illegal physical gesture, which often involves some amount of dropping of the head and shoulders towards the ground and/or into the dog's personal space, which is a really common way to teach a drop is we use a little bit of that spatial pressure to push into the dog's space, which causes the dog to lay down, and then we go through the steps of fading that, and then hopefully, we're now completely still and quiet with our body language. We can stand completely neutral, say "down," and the dog hits the dirt, right?
What often happens is the handler thinks that's the process that's happened, but what's actually occurred is that the handler's continuing to do some amount of gesturing with the upper body, either at the same time as they say down or even just before it, and then they get in the ring, they say come when the dog is 25 feet away, they say down without that little ducking movement of the head and shoulders that has become the functional cue for the dog, and then, of course, there is no down because you did not give the same cue that you've been giving in training, and classic way to solve that is while you call the dog, and while they're coming towards you, you say down. If they don't down right away, you lean forward, step into them, with or without some amount of intimidation, and then perhaps the dog downs, and then you can say good boy and you can repeat it.
Well, we can't do that in the ring, so it still doesn't solve the problem in the ring, and what the problem really is, is that original piece of the behavior, the down, is not actually on the cue that the handler thinks that the dog should be responding to.
Melissa Breau: So, for problem-solving that, you then break that piece out and go back and work on just that piece, right?
Hannah Branigan: Right. So, you know, what we would do to test it, then, is well, let's try just stand there and give your cue for down, and so, like 99 percent of the time, if we have the hander cross their arms, look at the ceiling, and say down, the dog just looks at them hopefully and wags his tail, right? So, "I know you're talking to me but I've never seen that cue before," and if you have them, you know, how would you normally handle this, and they will often drop their shoulders, lean forward, maybe point at the ground and gesture down, there's some upper-body movement, and the dog goes, "Oh, right, right, right!" and lays down, with or without emotional baggage, depending on what the last six months of that dog's life have looked like, right?
My standard protocol is, okay, so now we know this is the situation. Let's just walk through the progression that you used to teach it originally, and so, you know, a lot of the time it's a food lure, which is fine, so we'll lure them down, great, that looks fantastic, fade the lure, now it's a gesture, dog's still dropping really nicely, start fading the gesture, the dog's continuing to drop, and then we'll get to some point in that progression where something's not quite right, like either there's a little bit of a hesitation on the part of the dog or the behavior starts to degrade. Great.
That's where we want to act, right? We don't want to wait until we're at a complete failure. We're looking for that first glimmer that there's a question mark. Is it a down? Did you still want me to lay down? And then we shore that up and then continue through the progression from there.
Melissa Breau: So, that kind of covers what my next question was going to be, which is what would your recommendation be to a student struggling with this issue. Is there anything you'd want to add there? I just want to make sure that, since I sent you the questions in advance, you get a chance to say anything else that you may have wanted to say.
Hannah Branigan: I know. I cheated. They sent me the questions in advance.
I think the main thing is kind of my visualization that I would love to share with people is when you use words like foundation, and I think that's a completely valid word to use because we are building our exercises out of these critical supporting concepts — but we often kind of think of it as like, it's like a one and done, like once I've trained these foundation skills, whatever you consider…you know you put these particular items in the foundation box, and you're done, and you tape it closed, and then you keep going.
And I think that that doesn't really do us any favors, and I really kind of prefer the learning model that we'll run across a lot in human learning and human sports, which is really more of a spiral staircase, rather than like the house, right, with the bricks, and then you just start building the house on top of the foundation, but it's more like the spiral staircase because we're never done with these behaviors.
Behaviors, always, are dynamic. They're always changing, and they're always responding to their environment and processes of reinforcement and punishment and everything else, and so when I'm thinking about it in the way that I approach training and I think the way that a lot of people do, whether it's conscious or not, is I'm always moving up, I'm always moving forward, and we're always progressing, but we're always also circling past these same concepts and refining them and strengthening them and building on them, and sometimes yes, picking up gaps and filling them in as we discover them, because dogs are really good at letting us know when we've left a gap in our training, and so that's, you know, I think that spiral staircase is a really good visualization for me because I do spend a lot of time, so, you know, working on maybe positions, like the mechanics or the positions.
Well, all of my dogs have sit down and stand on cue, I think, and then it's not a done thing. So, we periodically, you know, we're circling back around, and now what does my sit down and stand look like? Oh, how could I sharpen that up? What if I improve the latency on this one a little bit, or those mechanics are slipping, I need to make sure that my dog is really planting his rear end before he pushes into that drop, before we get into the drop on recall, and there's always little things that we can keep improving and refining and strengthening as we continue to build on these behaviors and make bigger, more complex exercises out of them.
Melissa Breau: Awesome, and I think that that spiral staircase, I actually haven't heard it used quite that way before and I think that's really interesting and really helpful, even for me to just kind of think through training in that way.
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I invented it myself. I just thought of it. You can call it the Branigan Spiral Staircase Method.
Melissa Breau: Deal. Done. I'll name the whole episode that.
Hannah Branigan: Perfect.
Melissa Breau: So, to round things out, I just have three more short questions for you. So, to start, what's the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Hannah Branigan: Yeah, so now we're into the beauty pageant section of the interview. Okay. So, it's not dog-related, but it's kind of fresh in my mind since we've been out of school and home for a whole week…I mean it's dog related, but not the dogs themselves.
I would say that right now, at this stage, life stage that I find myself in, I am most proud of how my daughter Harper has learned to invite the dogs for petting and attention, rather than reaching out for them or grabbing them.
That was something that we've worked really, really hard on for, well, four years now, and it's so awesome to watch it starting to solidify into this interaction that they have, and it started out…it's something we still coach her in, and it was very, very coached. We used a lot of tag teach to initiate it, because as a toddler, she's very grabby because she's a small primate infant person, and so I was like okay, we have to invite dogs to be petted. We don't reach out for the dog.
She learned to pat her knee, pat-pat, clap her hands, clap-clap, and then she opens up her hands, palms up, and invites the dogs to come and greet her, and what is so cool is she pats pat and they're like okay, and when she opens her hands, they clearly make a choice of yes, and they come push their neck and chest into her hands and she can start petting them, or they'll just do a beautiful, smooth head-turn away, very canine, thank you, not right now, and we're still working on handling disappointment.
That's, of course, that's something I, as an adult, continue to struggle with, but watching them communicate that smoothly when I'm cooking dinner and she's sitting there, and she sees Gambit and she really wants to pet him because, of course, who wouldn't? He's gorgeous. And she pat-pat, clap-clap, opens her hands, and he says oh, yes, please, finally someone to rub me, and he just melts into her hands, and she pets him, and it's so smooth and just seamless and natural, and that's another thing that, you know, when I see it, even though it's just one of those little daily miracles that kind of makes me like, oh, I get chills.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. You share lots of parenting and dog stories online, on Facebook and in other forums, so it's kind of neat.
Hannah Branigan: It's all the same thing, completely the same.
Melissa Breau: So, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Hannah Branigan: Oh, that one's easy. So, Leslie Nelson: "When in doubt, throw food."
And I fall back on that all the time. Whenever there's a question, something weird comes up in a training session or even at home, I don't know what to do right now, that was a very weird behavior and I have no idea how I should handle it, throw a handful of food on the ground, and while they're gobbling the food, I can think about my solution, and it turns out that there's a whole lot of behavior problems out there in the world that we can solve in very practical ways by throwing a handful of food at them.
Melissa Breau: Both to give ourselves five minutes to think and to give them something else to do?
Hannah Branigan: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: All right. So, the last one, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Hannah Branigan: Oh, okay. So, well, of course, you know I really admire Denise and Deb and Shade and all the other folks in the FDSA community. Outside of that, Ken Ramirez is really somebody that I admire a lot, well, basically because he's perfect in every way. So, I'm definitely a member of the Ken fan club. We're going to get t-shirts, maybe to share.
Melissa Breau: I hope he listens to this, just so he can hear you call him perfect in every way.
Hannah Branigan: He knows. I've told him.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome.
Well, thank you so much for joining us, Hannah, and thank you everybody else for tuning in. We'll be back in two weeks with Shade Whitesel to talk about location-specific markers and being a top IPO competitor, using R+ philosophies. If you haven't already, please subscribe on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice, and our next episode will automatically be downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Sarah Stremming is a dog trainer, a dog agility and obedience competitor, and a dog behavior consultant. Her specialty is working with behavior problems in competition dogs.
During her interview we talk about her approach to training -- including allowing dogs their dog-ness -- and the 4 things she looks at before making behavior recommendations: exercise, enrichment, diet and communication.
To be released 1/20/2017, featuring Hannah Branigan.
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 Sarah Stremming. Sarah’s voice may be familiar to some of you since she owns the excellent Cog-Dog Radio. Sarah is owner and operator of the Cognitive Canine. She has been working with dogs in the realms of performance training and behavior solutions for over a decade.
Her special area of interest has long been helping dog owners address behavioral concerns in their competition dogs. Reactivity, anxiety, aggression, and problems with arousal are all major concerns for many competitors, and Sarah works to help her clients overcome these issues and succeed in their chosen arena. Hi, Sarah, welcome to the podcast.
Sarah Stremming: Hi, Melissa, and thanks for having me.
Melissa: Absolutely. Sarah, to start out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Sarah: Sure. I have Idgie, who is an 8-year-old border collie, and she’s competing in agility and her agility training is really just kind of in maintenance phase, but I’m getting her ready to go into the open level of obedience next year; and I have Felix who is also a border collie and he’s a year and a half, so he’s learning everything. He’s learning agility, obedience, and mostly how to just kind of keep his head on his shoulders in the agility environment is our number one project… and those are my two dogs.
Melissa: Excellent. How did you originally get into dog sports?
Sarah: I saw agility on TV when I was probably nine or ten and immediately knew that that was for me, and it was like five years later that I actually got to do agility, but as soon as I saw it I wanted to do it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Melissa: That’s awesome. So did you start out R+ then, since you started in agility or kind of what got you started on that positive training journey?
Sarah: I definitely did not start with all positive reinforcement. I am definitely what I would call a crossover trainer. I started in not just agility but competitive obedience. Agility really got me started, but the kind of local dog training school required an obedience class before you started agility training, and I actually really liked the obedience side as well, so I competed in obedience and agility with my first dog Kelso.
He had some really severe behavioral problems, primarily aggression towards other dogs, and so I learned to do all kinds of nasty things from people who…everybody I worked with was really trying to help me, and so I did all kinds of corrections as far as obedience is concerned and as well as his aggression was concerned.
Because he had these behavior problems I reached outside of the realm of performance training into the animal training world and found out that all of these corrections that I had been taught from really the competitive obedience sector were not only not necessary but probably causing some of my problems. So when I started to realize that and started to change the way that I did things, he started to get better and that was really all that I needed to see.
Melissa: I know that for most trainers it’s definitely an evolving journey, so how would you describe where you are now in terms of what your training philosophy is and kind of how you approach training?
Sarah: My training approach I actually have a philosophy that I really sat down and figured out and wrote out a while ago so that I could reference it and come back to it in my work with my own dogs as well as with other people and so it’s kind of four different mantras, and the first one is ‘Do not deny dogs their dogness.’ So meaning dogs are dogs, they’re going to act like dogs.
Dogs like to bark and pee on stuff and dig holes and do things like that, and we really have no right to deny them those things because we chose to bring dogs into our lives, but that segues into the next mantra, which is to teach dogs what we need from them in a kind way, so we need them to not do those things all the time and it’s important for us to teach them what they need to know to live in our world in a way that is kind. Then the next one is ‘Provide dogs what they need,’ which is a big deal to me to just make sure that their needs are being met.
I find that a lot of dogs living with people don’t have all of their basic dog needs met, and then the last one is just ‘Above all honor the dog,’ which means always honor their experience of what you are doing, that this isn’t just about you. They’re here. They have autonomy. They have ownership over their own lives and we really have no right to not take their opinions and experiences into account.
Melissa: I know you kind of mentioned Kelso at the beginning, and your specialty now, at least as far as I understand it, is over-arousal in competition dogs. Does that kind of tie back to that or can you tell me kind of how you got started in that and kind of just a little bit about your work now?
Sarah: That being my special interest area was really shaped by the competitors and the current climate of agility. Kelso actually wouldn’t be described by anybody who knew him as over-aroused. They would describe him more as one of those shut-down type of dogs, so he was overwhelmed by the environment, but it translated into a dog that was slow and didn’t do agility very fast versus most of the dogs that I work with now are kind of the opposite.
They are also overwhelmed by the environment, but it comes out in big displays, big behaviors of biting the handler, excessive barking, not being able to stay on the start line, that kind of thing. I do work with the dogs that shut down too. Most of the dogs that I work with are over-aroused, and I think that that has been largely cultivated by just the culture in agility right now, which is we’re breeding dogs with hair-trigger arousal on purpose and we are fostering really, really high levels of arousal in training and the reason is everybody wants faster.
Everybody wants speed, and they really think that this is how they’re going to get there. When you put all of this arousal into the picture and you’re not actually sure how to deal with it once you’ve got it, you run into problems and it’s everywhere. Every single time I go to an agility trial, which is frequently, I see dogs that are really struggling with the environment and really just if they were people would be screaming and banging their fists against the wall and instead they’re a dog on a leash being asked to stand next to a handler quietly. So we see a lot of problems come out because that arousal has got to come out somewhere.
Melissa: So I’m actually going to shift gears slightly and then come back to this topic. Before starting this podcast, I asked around for other good dog training podcasts. Cog-Dog came very highly recommended, which is how I first learned a little about you and a little about what you’re doing. For anyone listening who may not be familiar with it, can you just briefly tell us a little bit what Cog-Dog Radio is and kind of how you have it set up?
Sarah: Yeah. So I really started getting out there through my blog, which is at the cognitivecanine.com and I wanted to cover specific cases that I have worked on. I thought that was a good idea for material basically, and I tried to write them as blogs and they really weren’t working out, and a friend of mine suggested that I try a podcast and so that’s how Cog-Dog Radio was born and so it’s my podcast. You can find it on SoundCloud or iTunes just by searching for Cog-Dog Radio. You can also get it through my website.
The format is that I do a series of three episodes at a time, and the three episodes cover a case that I worked on. So I start out talking about kind of the basics of the case and then in the next episode I talk about specific behavior modification that happened in the case and then the third episode, which is turning out to be everybody’s favorite episode is that I interview the owner of the dogs that we’re talking about.
Melissa: Now I know, kind of to tie this back to the previous question, which is why I wanted to make sure we talked about this first. In one of your early podcasts, you talked about like the four things that you consider before creating a program or a behavior modification process for a dog. Exercise, enrichment, diet, and communication. Did I get all of them that time?
Sarah: You got them. So this is what I call the four steps to behavioral wellness and this is something that I came up with a long time ago when I was working primarily actually with the general public with their dogs so general public versus the dog sport public, which is more who I work with now, and it’s basically just these four areas.
If you come back to my philosophy in dog training, one of them was to provide dogs what they need, and since we examined these four areas, we find out where we maybe aren’t giving them what they need and that way we can adjust it. So exercise is the first one that you mentioned and I really advocate a specific type of exercise for dogs. I find that them being allowed to just mill around and sniff around and be a dog in an open space type area is best so off-leash or on a long line and a harness if off-leash is not safe where you are.
I find it really best for them as far as reducing overall anxiety and stress in their life versus the exercise that most dogs get, if they get any, it’s fetching a ball or a Frisbee. Going to agility class, a lot of people tell me that they see that as a form of exercise for their dogs, and I would totally disagree, or just walking on a short leash around the neighborhood. A lot of times that even does the opposite of what we would like it to do. It creates more stress for the dog so exercise is a big one for me. I find that most dogs aren’t getting enough and I would include my own dogs in that statement. I mean, it is very difficult to get them what I would call enough, right?
And so the next one is enrichment, which is basically just that we’ve got a hunter/scavenger species on our hands here, and we put kibble in a bowl and hand it to them twice a day and we could be using those calories in a way smarter way. We could be having them work to find their food essentially, so giving them projects that they can do that help them meet their own needs somehow as opposed to a lot of people recommend giving all the food through training and there’ve definitely been situations where I’ve recommended that, but usually I think if they also are allowed to search and find food as their way of getting food as well as not all dogs are super-hot on food and we’ll use toys and hide toys and have them find it.
Just any kind of mental enrichment that we can give them that helps them meet a need of theirs on their own without human interaction tends to be really helpful and the people that I work with learn a lot about their dogs through these things. If you hide food and give your dog a puzzle to figure out, the way that they figure out how to get to the food or if they figure it out at all tells us a lot about them.
So if you, for instance, wrap a bully stick up in a paper bag and then stick the paper bag in a box and then put the box underneath a blanket, there are going to be dogs that are not even going to try to figure it out. There are going to be dogs that are going to plough through it really, really quickly and really frantically.
There are going to be dogs that think really hard but wind up getting there and basically learn a lot about what kind of problem solver your dog is and what kind of thinker they are just by giving them problems to solve. And then over time if you don’t give them things that are too hard, but you give them things that are kind of just hard enough, they start to be this dog that says I can solve problems and their confidence in training gets better and their confidence in other situations, maybe competition, gets better because, and this is purely anecdotal, I don’t think there’s any research on this, but what I witnessed is that over time they start to have more self-confidence because we’ve provided them with puzzles to solve.
Then diet is something that I am not specifically trained in and technically cannot advise specifically on. I get a lot of emails asking for specific diet recommendations and formulas and I always tell people that I can’t give them that. What I can tell you is that what I observe anecdotally is that a fresh food diet is best when we’re talking about behavior and I think all of us know that already when we think about ourselves, whether it’s a better idea to have a meal made of fresh whole food or a pre-processed powder, I think we all know which is better for us.
We just forget what’s better for dogs because there are so many processed options for dogs that are supposedly healthy and good for them, and I’ve just seen too many of my cases where the behavior change that we really, really needed happened after the diet change. I have to mention it, and I really do think that even if you switched from one processed food to maybe a better one that works better for your dogs, diet should always be considered, especially when anxiety or over-arousal are involved.
Then the final one, communication, I just want people to better tell their dogs when they’re right and to have a better system for telling their dogs when they’re “wrong.” But basically we need to be telling them when they’re right more often. And I really like Kathy Sdao has a system for this that she calls SMART x50, and SMART stands for See, Mark, and Reward Training and then x50 is just that your goal is to do it 50 times a day. And all that means is you see the dog doing something right, you tell them, hey, that was right, I liked that and then you give them a piece of food or a game or something.
So that’s how you can reinforce behavior throughout the day that’s working for you and then I have people do something so instead of corrections I want them to instruct, so we are going to replace correction with instruction and then always follow up that instruction with reinforcement. So if my dog is let’s say barking at the front window and I ask her to go lie on the mat instead and then I give her a cookie for doing that, that’s a more effective way for me to alter her behavior than to spray her with water or throw something at her or yell at her for barking. So those are my four areas.
Melissa: And I’m assuming those didn’t sort of immediately pop into your brain all together fully formed. How did you come to that?
Sarah: That’s a good question, and to be honest I came to them through my own kind of journey with mental health. So I have an anxiety disorder and that really, even though it’s not fun for me, it helps me to really help dogs better. There’s some really great research in the human world as far as anxiety disorders go and other mood disorders go as far as what we can do in our daily lives to help lessen our needs for medications.
One of them is exercise. You’re not going to find a single resource on any mood disorder, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or anything else that won’t tell you exercise will help. For me personally I know that getting out and walking up a dirt path with a forest and trees and animals and everything is better for my brain than getting on a treadmill, and I see the treadmill as like us walking our dog around on concrete in the neighborhood. So that’s the exercise piece.
The enrichment piece is just you have to feel that’s being satisfied in your daily life so that’s liking your job, finding your job interesting, not being bored, that’s the enrichment piece for people. Being involved in hobbies so not just sitting and watching a television but reading a book or writing or something like that. These adult coloring books. There’s a craze right now, adult coloring books and it’s because of enrichment. It’s because we all need a little bit more of it in our lives.
We need to unplug and do something with our brains and our hands and that’s exactly what we’re doing with dogs when we give them a puzzle to figure out. And then diet’s a huge component. It’s a huge component for me, and I know it’s a huge component for everybody that I’ve talked to that has any kind of mental health concern but if they really examine what they’re eating and really adjust what they’re eating towards a whole food-type of diet, they get better and then communication for me that is mostly about dogs.
That stems from my belief that I’ve kind of formulated over all this time working with dogs, that there is nothing that a dog finds more aversive than confusion and there is nothing that they will work harder to avoid than confusion, meaning that’s why you have so many trainers who are still using x, y, z aversive tool, prong collar, choke collar, or shock collar, whatever, who say but look at my dog and look how happy they are working, and a lot of those people are right.
The dogs do it great. The dogs look fine, and the reason is they’re skilled using that tool and the dog is not confused. The dog fully understands how to avoid the correction and they’re not confused. To be clear, I’m not advocating for that, but I believe that their priority one is to better understand what’s going on in their own lives and that we throw them into kind of an alien existence and expect them to just figure it out and I do believe that it causes a lot of stress for them so that’s where that one comes from.
Melissa: Well, I mean that’s true with people too. If you have a boss and you just don’t understand what he or she wants from you and you just don’t understand how to succeed at your job, you get frustrated and upset and unhappy.
Sarah: Absolutely. Any kind of human-to-human relationship that does not have communication will not work for very long.
Melissa: Right. Right. So to round things out, I have three more short questions that I’m trying to ask kind of towards the end of each of the interviews. So the first one, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Sarah: I have to think pretty hard about this one because I feel like every time my dogs do have some minor breakthrough, I’m really proud of it, but this last year at AKC Nationals Idgie and I made the Challengers round and if you’re familiar with AKC Nationals, the Challengers round is not easy to get into.
Just making the Challengers round that’s not what I consider the proudest moment for me, but the fact that Idgie who’s a dog that used to really struggle with arousal issues in agility was able to not only have a clean round and run really nicely but really fully be the dog that I have been training in the most intense pressure-cooker type of arena that she’s ever been in.
Just standing in the dirt in the Challengers round in the main arena with the crowd cheering and a lot of really intense competitors around us and to be able to just stand there ringside with her and know that she was okay and know that I was okay and we could both walk into that ring and we could both do what we know how to do, I would say that’s my proudest moment in dogs so far.
Melissa: I mean that’s a pretty good proudest moment. My next question is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Sarah: I’m not even sure if this is advice but just kind of, I guess it is advice, and it’s not from a specific person but it’s kind of a collective idea that is a common thread amongst some of my biggest influences in training, which is that if something that you’re doing is species-specific, meaning it would only work for the species in front of you, there’s probably a smarter way to do it.
Melissa: I like that. So my final question to wrap everything up is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Sarah: I look up to so many people in the dog world and a lot of people really in the training world, but a person who’s a competitor in dog agility who I really look up to is my friend Tori Self, and she lives in Wales now, but she has been on the FCI Agility World Team multiple times with a lot of success and she’s a person that to me is able to achieve the highest level types of achievement in my favorite sport and still maintain this really deep, loving connection for her dog that she would do anything for.
For her it’s always been about the dog first and the sport second and yet she’s still able to achieve these really high-level things, and for me that’s the ultimate because I know a lot of competitors really it is about the sport first and the dog second whether they would admit that in words or not, that’s what I observe in their behavior, and that’s never been the case with Tori and I really respect her for that.
Melissa: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate you taking some time out to chat through this with me. Hopefully it was fun for you. It was definitely fun for me.
Sarah: Definitely. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa: Thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Hannah Branigan to talk about the relationship of foundation skills and problem solving. If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and our next episode will automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Competitive sports dog trainer and founder of FDSA Denise Fenzi talks about how she got into dog sports, her journey from traditional training to her current all positive approach, and more.
To be released 1/6/2017, featuring Sarah Stremming
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 FDSA founder Denise Fenzi. Denise has competed in a wide range of dog sports, titling dogs in obedience, tracking, Schutzhund, Mondioring, herding, conformation, and agility.
She is best-known for her flashy and precise obedience work, as demonstrated by two AKC OTCH dogs and perfect scores in both Schutzhund and Mondioring sport obedience. Her specialty is in developing motivation, focus, and relationship in competition dogs, and she has consistently demonstrated the ability to train and compete with dogs using motivational methods in sports where compulsion is the norm.
Hi Denise, can you tell us a bit about the dogs you have known and what you’re working on with them?
Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa, how are you?
Denise: Good. I’m excited to do this. Yeah, I’ll tell you. Let’s see, I have three dogs here now. I have Raika, she’s my oldest dog, she’s 12½ and she is retired and mostly spends her days hanging out with me and going for long walks. That’s what she wants to do now. My two younger dogs are Lyra, she’s also a Belgian Tervuren, and Brito, who’s a little mixed-breed, and I primarily train them to learn new things. So I do a lot of play skills with them, I do a lot of obedience with them.I just use them as, I want to say sample dogs, that’s not quite the word I want. But I like to experiment with them and try out new things. And right now I’m sort of in a coaching phase of my life more than a competitive phase of my life, so I’m not actually sure if or when I’ll compete. I have done some of the TEAM obedience levels with both of them, and I think they both have a TEAM Two title, [but] I’d have to look. And at some point if I get inspiration I’m going to keep going. So those are my dogs.
Melissa: So I know it wasn’t on the list of questions I sent over, but do you want to briefly just tell us a little bit more about TEAM?
Denise: Oh, TEAM is Training Excellence Assessment Modules, and it’s the new obedience program that we started for people who want to compete via video and with more emphasis on quality of training and less about the competitive environment. So anybody who wants can look it up at fenziteamtitles.com. It’s, in my opinion, an extremely well-designed program and worth taking a look at.
Denise: Yeah, my parents showed dogs, and I’m 48, so I was sort of born into it. They actually competed with Lhasa Apsos in obedience, which is _____ (3.23). I know my parents got a CDX on a Lhasa Apso; it took 23 shows. I think their final show was a 171 1/2, but they did it. So I give them credit for that. It was kind of an ugly way of getting titles back then, it was uglier to watch, but they did it.
Melissa: So is that what originally got you into dog sports?
Denise: Yes, I guess I inherited it. When I was about 10 I raised a couple of guide dog puppies, and my parents said that if I did that then I could have a dog of my own. So my first dogs were Shelties, because they had to be small dogs. And I just sort of went from there.
Melissa: What got you started with positive training?
Well, I had been competing in AKC obedience for a long time, and then I decided to try IPO. And when I went over and watched the IPO training at that time, which would have been, I don’t know, 20 years ago now I guess I started, I was kind of appalled actually, because they were using so much compulsion and such poor training that my reaction was to go the opposite way. And so I felt obligated to use as little as little as possible and to be successful. But I still absolutely would have called myself a balanced trainer, and I absolutely used compulsion with that dog. He did end up a Schutzhund III. But I did my best to minimize it.
And then as time went on I found that I became a better trainer, and I wouldn’t say I was trying not to use compulsion so much as just becoming a better trainer and needing less and less. Also, I had some good dogs, that really helps, that were cooperative. And I continued to use compulsion with my student dogs well after I stopped myself. And actually I was thinking about that recently, looking back, why was that? I think I was using it to compensate for my lack of ability to communicate with the humans who owned the dogs how to be better trainers, so it was a bit of an out for me.
It’s much easier to say, “Correct your dog when the dog sniffs,” than to take the time to try to figure out why the dog is sniffing and then adjust your training, i.e. my training, to get the handler to do it correctly. And so I did use compulsion there, and I can actually look back and see why I did that and also really how under the particular circumstances how unfair it was, because both of those corrections almost certainly were the result of the dog showing displacement behaviors.
And then I taught seminars as I traveled; because those weren’t my personal students I didn’t feel as vested in the same way in the entire process. And so it was pretty obvious when I would walk in that the problems were handler-generated, and so I never got around to correcting the dogs, I was pretty busy correcting the handlers.
And after a year of that, seminar after seminar realizing I was never correcting the dogs at all, that I never even got around to the dogs, then it started to be a philosophical thing. And that’s when I started looking at it and saying, there’s something wrong with holding the dog responsible when in every single case I can look at the situation and see how the handler caused it, and that’s when I switched. And that was sort of interesting.
Because in terms of solving problems, if you come in with a philosophical point of view and you don’t decide that you have the option of reverting to compulsion if you get stuck, I can tell you your ability to problem solve will skyrocket, because it’s not sitting there any more as an option. And you get a lot more clever, and you learn to think much more broadly. So it’s actually a very good thing for me in my training.
Melissa: It always seems easier to train the dog than to train the people. Sometimes the people are definitely the hardest part.
Denise: That’s true.
Melissa: So you kind of mentioned your training philosophy now. Do you want to just describe that a little more for us and tell us kind of how you approach training now?
Denise: Well, I think most of us continue to evolve over time, and there’s no question that I continue to evolve. Right now I really am looking at dogs a little bit differently. For me it’s less than what can the dog do for me to humor me, so I like to do dog sports. So rather than thinking, how can I get the dog to do this for me, I’m more in a place of, how can I get to a point where I can enjoy my time with this dog? And instead of thinking, how can [I set up the] environment so that time spent with me is the best part of their day I’m thinking more, how can I become important to this dog so they want to do things with me?
And at first it may sound the same, getting the dog on my team as opposed to me joining their team, but if you think about it you start to realize it’s not the same. So I’m perfectly happy to spend time with my young terrier who loves to hunt lizards, and I will sit with him in his little lizard territory telling him, “Did you see that one? Did you look over there?” It’s a lot of fun, it really is. It sounds odd, but it’s a lot of fun. And I think when I do that with him, I think it creates a really nice place for both of us that makes me appreciate him for who he really is. And then I think he’s more willing to play my games.
And so it’s very much a relationship-based way of thinking about dog training, and sometimes this is hard for people to understand. But I really believe that if your dog genuinely likes you because you are interested in them and because you make their life more interesting, I think that skyrockets what the dog is capable of doing for you. So it’s not because the rest of your life is miserable that you want to spend time with me. My dogs have great lives, they have a lot of freedom. I think it’s because we just like doing stuff together and it’s really fun.
So if you can get that relationship down, like I tell people, if you can get your dog to play with you, just run and play and be silly, your dog will start to look at you more, which is really interesting. It’s not a trained response at all, it’s because we look at others that we enjoy. And that’s true with people too. So for example with my older son, he’s 16 now, and so he’s getting into that, well, independent’s not the word I want, but perfectly happy to lock himself in his room sort of phase. And recently he sent me by message text a game, and it’s pool, billiards. And he had done a turn, and then says, “Next.”
And so when I opened it up it showed me his turn, and then I had a chance to play back. So then I played, and then I sent it back to him. And so we do this, and it’s not because I have some great interest in playing pool via text with my son. But what means a lot to me is that he wants me to do that with him. It’s something we can do together. So while it would not be my first choice, you bet I respond when he sends me those. And then what I find is, it changes how he interacts with me in general.
So that when I need things from him, I think because we have that baseline relationship that we’re trying to maintain even as he gets older, I think it allows us to have a better relationship in general, not just about what I want or what he wants. And so I think that dogs are very similar, that if you can find a way to just simply be generically important to them, and accepting, and forgiving, and have a little give and take… You don’t always have to get your way. What a concept. It’s okay. Your dog does not go through life trying to manipulate you. And I think really internalizing that would sum up where I am right now in terms of how I see training.
Melissa: So I know that you kind of touched on this a little bit there with your son, but we’ve talked before about just the impacts that your training beliefs have had on your other relationships. Do you want to talk a little more about that? I know you’ve said it’s influenced almost all of your relationships, including with your parents and things like that.
Denise: It’s been probably the most significant thing that’s happened in my entire life. When I changed how I trained dogs, you have to be pretty obtuse not to recognize that we all learn the same way. And if you’re a positive trainer with dogs and you really emphasize catching what they do right and ignoring what they do wrong, I mean, you really have to choose not to think about it, to realize that exactly the same thing is true with people. So for example both of my kids have very good manners, and I know how that came about in part. One thing is, I’m simply a respectful person and I encourage that.
And it’s not something I comment on any more, because they’re older, they’re 12 and 16, but they do it by habit. And I know that some part of their brain is always aware of it. So I’ve never said to them “Say please, say thank you,” I don’t tell them what to do, but when it happened I really worked to catch those moments and acknowledge them. And I think dog training is a lot easier than child training, that’s just my perspective. But I try to work with that, and I try not to think in terms of getting my kids to go to school and do well because I’ve restricted the rest of their lives, and I try to think in terms of balance and cooperation.
Of course with people you can talk things out more. But at the end of the day if you’re having any kind of conflict with another person, whether it’s a family member or some random person you see on the street, the question I ask myself now is, do I want to feel better or do I want to change behavior? So if I want to feel better I may well behave badly, I may yell. I do yell, by the way. I do yell at my children, I do yell at my dogs. I know some people say, “That’s amazing you do, you’re not supposed to do that.” Well that’s great, I’m glad you’re all there. I’m not, so I will yell, “Get off the couch,” or whatever.
I’m not really training, I’m expressing my upsetness. So that’s, do I want to feel better? Yes, I’m going to yell. Or somebody irritates me on the street because their dog runs up to mine and is off-leash, and so maybe I’m having a particularly bad day, and I might respond inappropriately. But then the second question is, do I want to change behavior? And I think recognizing that those are different things is really important because never, ever, ever am I yelling if I want to change behavior, and never am I talking to somebody like they’re dumb, or ignorant, or anything, because it’s all perspective, because they just have a different perspective.
So maybe they don’t understand that their off-leash dog running up to my old dog is a problem. And the reason it’s a problem is, my dog is old and she doesn’t like other dogs jumping on her. And I’ve had much better luck saying, “I know your dog is friendly, but my dog is very old and she has a lot of arthritis. And when your dog comes up like that it really scares her, and it hurts her.” And when I say that, without fail they apologize and they put their dogs on a leash. And I smile, I’m not angry. I might be inside, but I don’t show it. The next time I see them we continue with a pleasant set of interactions.
And that kind of thinking, do I want to feel better or do I want to change behavior, has been really quite impactful, whether in my family or with people. We often talk about with our dogs, sometimes dog trainers are a lot nicer to their dogs than people. I find that very incongruent, and I don’t like to live my life that way. I like my life to make sense. And I think we need to be very aware of not only how we treat our pets but show that same courtesy to each other, and I find that from there I am a happier person.
Because when you are kind with people instead of getting your emotions from stewing in your, "oh my God, I can’t believe how stupid that person is," that I understand that we take pleasure in those periods of time when we feel superior to other people, because I guess that’s where that comes from, I understand that.
Melissa: That kind of transitions us really nicely into my next question, which was going to be, what led you to start FDSA, the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy? And I want to say kind of before you respond to that, that I think that that’s part of the reason that there’s been such a fantastic community kind of that’s grown up around the school, is just because you have that belief and it spreads through the other teachers and the students. It’s really created a really welcoming community for dog sports competitors. Now that I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself, so what did lead you to start the school?
Denise: It was a numbers thing. If I spend a half-hour with one person I can work with one person for half an hour. Online, if I can do it well, then I can spend a half-hour with a much greater number of people. And we each have our own drivers in life, and one of my big drivers is, I want to see change in the dog sports community, and that’s very important to me. So to be able to affect a large number of people as opposed to a small number of people was very appealing to me. The school in many ways has just sort of exceeded any expectations I could have possibly had, in many ways.
But probably one of the most valuable is, I did not recognize what would happen in terms of the culture, not just with each other. There’s a second culture that people wouldn’t really know about, and that’s the one among the instructors. The way they interact with each other, the way they talk on the mailing list, the support they offer is extraordinary. And I see the same thing with the students, the way they interact. And there really is a sense that your accomplishments mean a lot to you, and everybody else is willing to honor that.
So if you figured out how to teach your dog to lay down and it’s the first time you ever did that, I find that people are just as excited about that for you as another person who went to a dog show and got maybe a high in trial. Because we’re each at a different place in what we value. And I think people have really internalized that, and it is extraordinary. I get a fair number of e-mails from people saying thank you for something or the other, maybe with their dog.
But the ones I value the most are the ones where people say, “Over time I started to recognize that the same things we do with our dogs work with each other, and I have become kinder to myself, kinder to people around me, and you know, generally I’m just a much happier person.” That’s enormous. And starting an online dog training school I really never saw that one coming. I didn’t realize how that could work out like that, and it’s been really amazing for me.
Melissa: Yeah, I mean, the community’s probably one of the few places online where even controversial topics are handled very politely. And people honor each other’s opinions and honor each other’s thoughts, and they don’t break down into insults and arguments, at least not that I’ve seen yet.
Denise: No, it’s amazing. I mean, it’s not that it’s perfect. We have a few thousand members, so you’re always going to have differences. But I find that people have become quite good at saying, “This has been my experience, and this is my feelings,” as opposed to, “You’re dumb and stupid for thinking that.” And I know that people don’t mean to come across that way, but sometimes the online communities, all of them, people simply write and don’t think too carefully about how what they just said might be interpreted by another person.
And within the alumni group or within the Academy group I find an awareness of considering how you phrase things. And anyway the reality is, if you want to change behavior it’s the same thing I said earlier. It may make you feel better to say, “You’re dumb to think that way,” but you won’t change behavior. If you say, “This has been my experience,” now you might actually change behavior, but you have to give up being self-righteous, and that’s not always what people have in mind.
Melissa: So I know that we wanted to talk about some of the other stuff you’ve been working on too. FDSA isn’t the only thing you’ve created in the last few years. So you have another new book coming out.
I don’t know if you want to take a minute and tell us about some of the books that you already have out and then the new book, or if you just want to talk about the new book. I’ll leave that up to you.
Denise: Oh, so many. I didn’t even know I was such a writer until I started writing, and now I can’t stop writing. I’ve written seven, I’m actually looking at them. Four of them I wrote with Deb Jones, that’s the Dog Sports Skills Series. Those are all generic to all dog sports but provide a really nice foundation for dog training. I wrote a book called Beyond the Back Yard, which was targeted at the pet market to help them understand how to get from the point of cookie in the hand in the kitchen and hoping for the best to actually getting some very cooperative real-world obedience.
That book has done very well, and a lot of people are using it to teach their classes, which makes me very happy. It does have a free instructor’s guide to go with it. And then I wrote Blogger Dog, Brito!, which is about Brito. It’s, well, I’m going to say a true story, but keep in mind the dog wrote it, so take that with a grain of salt. And it’s designed for about a fourth grade audience to read to themself. And if a person reads it they will learn quite a bit about dog behavior without learning that they learned about dog behavior, which was really what I had in mind.
And then my newest book is Train the Dog in Front of You. I would call that my personal pet book, and what I mean is, it is how I feel about training and dogs. I feel that every dog is very unique, and I tried hard to find dimensions that people could work with to say, is your dog more secure, more cautious, more handler-focused, more environmental, and then offered suggestions for how to work with a dog based on those qualities. Actually I’m running a class online right now on that topic.
And as you might expect there are many, many nontraditional breeds in that class, and I actually find it extremely interesting to watch different dogs behave in different ways under different circumstances. So you can see some of the dogs do a lot with their eyes. They stare when they go to a park. And other dogs’ noses never come off the ground when they go to a park. And other dogs air sniff the whole time they’re at the park. And other dogs just jump on their owners.
And all of these things are really quite relevant to how you train your dog. So if you understand that your dog’s dominant sense is going to be sniffing you might be better off training in a shopping center, whereas another dog that has a lot of pressure issues with people in buildings would be much better off in a big open park than in a shopping center. So thinking that way is very interesting to me. And I hope a lot of dog sports people pick this book up, because I think it has a lot to offer.
Melissa: I mean, having had a chance to read an advance copy of the book I think it’s a fantastic guide, even just as a thought exercise to think through kind of where your dog falls on some of those different meters, and what they are closer to than other things, and what traits are more true for your personal dog than others. Just to kind of give people a little more sense of what’s inside the book, do you mind talking about any one of your dogs that you want, just kind of where they fall on some of those spectrums?
Denise: In the first chapter I actually did go through the dogs. Well, Brito is, he’s the little terrier dog of mine, he’s about 10 pounds. He’s a small dog. But he’s very terrier, he’s classic terrier. He’s not handler-focused. So if I take him somewhere his nose goes down, he doesn’t do a lot of looking with his eyes, he uses his nose. He does very little air sniffing, it’s to the ground. Vegetative surfaces, he will not look back at me, it doesn’t cross his mind for 15, 20 minutes.
He is not what we’d call naturally handler-focused when he’s in a new environment. But there’s a piece that goes with that. He’s also a very confident and social dog, so he likes people, he’s confident with people. He’s a little careful with dogs. They’re big and that makes him nervous. He’s also got a little bit of that terrier behavior, so he can get kind of puffed-up. And if he sees aggression around him he’ll go there fast, so I keep an eye on that.
And in some ways a dog like that is the polar opposite of Raika, my oldest dog who’s here. Raika’s always liked to be with me, she just does, it doesn’t matter where I go. And actually I had to go to some trouble to teach her to look around, which is something I talk about in the book. Why would I do that? Why would I teach her to stop staring at me? It was a very good decision. And she does get nervous about people and dogs, whereas Brito, it just wouldn’t happen to him. And knowing these things about them does make a difference, because Raika, I just take her to a park, I can take her anywhere and work with her, and that’s easy and makes sense.
I don’t sit down and actually consciously go through it any more, it’s just something that sort of happens in my head. And in the book I talk about case studies, more so in the online class. I put up case studies of specific dogs that I’ve worked with. But after a while you start to see packages, you just start to notice that dogs that tend to be a little more insecure are a little more likely to look to their owners. You start looking for stuff like that, and it helps you make a plan about which direction to try with the dog. And it also helps you recognize when you’ve made a bad decision so that you can back up, turn around, and try something else.
Melissa: So to kind of bring things to a little bit of a close I have three last questions, kind of quicker questions. So the first one is, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Denise: My second OTCH dog had a fairly complete meltdown about a third of the way into her OTCH, and I could not resolve that. I didn’t know what to do, so I retired her for about a year-and-a-half. And while she was retired I finished an OTCH on a different dog. So she must have been, I don’t know, I want to say eight, maybe nine years old. And I just kept thinking about what I now knew, because I had learned a lot, we’re always learning, and I decided to try again. And I thought that we had lots of time to actually pursue the OTCH, because it does take a bit of time, and it helps to have a young and very fit dog.
And I just felt that her jumping days were going to be wrapping up soon, and so I decided to go back into competition with a different goal. I simply wanted to see if I could stay connected with her and keep the stress out of the picture just for one exercise, and just for two exercises. Could I do this? And I went in with such a different mindset.
It was really no longer about finishing the title, I was no longer frustrated, and she finished her OTCH in two months. So just my changing my way of thinking, and it was really amazing. I will tell you that when you hit about 90 points it gets a little hard to say, “Oh gee, I’m just doing this for fun,” but I managed to keep myself under control with it. I’m very proud of that, because it was hard, and I think hard things are always a bigger accomplishment.
Melissa: And what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Denise: It’s just behavior. So there’s an expression, it’s just behavior. When something is happening in front of you it doesn’t mean deep and horrible things, it doesn’t mean your dog hates you, it doesn’t mean you’re never going to be successful, it doesn’t mean much of anything. It just means it’s behavior. The dog just showed you something, and it has roots from where? Maybe an emotion. But it’s not more than that. And that is why most of us when we’re training our own dogs, everything is so big and magnified.
So your dog goes around the broad jump and, "oh my God." "It’s oh my God, what am I going to do? It’s over." And we obsess and we stress, and we train and we train on the poor thing and the poor dog, and it’s very hard to walk away. Whereas an outsider looks at it and says, “I have no idea what you’re getting so worked up about. Your dog went around the jump. It’s not a big deal, it’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean it’s going to keep happening.” And I think that expression, it’s just behavior, really helps us remember that it’s not worth quite that much energy. It just happened, it’s okay. Move on, train.
Melissa: That in some ways seems to sum up your philosophy almost as well as some of your other answers.
Denise: That’s true.
Melissa: So for our last question, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Denise: There are actually a lot of trainers out there that I really respect. I’ve often said I don’t think I’m a great dog trainer. I think I’m a pretty good dog trainer. I think what I do well is not dig a grave. I mean, if I see I’m starting a hole I back out of it. Whereas there are a lot of other trainers out there who I think are much better than I am at not starting the hole in the first place. So I can’t go with just skills, because there’s lots of people who are more skilled.
So I think I’m going to say Suzanne Clothier, and the reason is, I have a lot of respect for her ability to look at the situation, the dog, the person, the whole picture, and stand back, and get an overview on what’s happening, and then communicate that in a way that people can understand. So I really respect that.
And she’s been around for a long time, much longer than I would say it’s been popular to be a force-free trainer. And she’s been at it for really some time, and I appreciate that, and I appreciate her honesty and her ability to communicate what I think sometimes people need to hear that might not be very comfortable without getting stuck in how we’re supposed to do things. So I think that’s my answer.
Melissa: All right. Well, thank you so much, Denise. It’s been awesome to chat, it’s been a lot of fun.
Denise: Thank you. I am excited to see who comes after me.
Melissa: Well, let me get to that. So for all of our brand-new listeners, since this is our first official podcast, thank you for tuning in, and we’ll be back in two weeks.
We’ll be back with Sarah Stremming. She’s the founder of Cognitive Canine, and we’ll be talking about over-arousal in sports dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice, and you’ll have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, happy training.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!