Kamal Fernandez is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
To be released 8/18/2017, featuring Melissa Chandler talking about nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Kamal Fernandez.
Kamal is an internationally renowned dog trainer and seminar instructor, Championship Obedience Judge, Crufts competitor and the head trainer and owner of East London Dog Training. He has over 25 years of practical dog training experience, based on a combination of science and hands on work that have led him to establish a reputation for positive training and to champion reward-based methods all over the world.
Kamal has made a study of psychology and began his career as a police officer working with young offenders -- this has shaped his training philosophy and helped him craft a style that gets the best from his students, human and canine alike.
He’s probably most well-known for teaching heelwork, his primary focus here at FDSA, but he’s successfully used rewards based methods in a wide variety of dog sports, including obedience, agility, protection sports and canine freestyle. His training specialty revolves around using play and games to create motivation and control.
Hi Kamal, welcome to the podcast!
Kamal Fernandez: Hi Melissa! Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m so glad to chat. Heelwork is always everybody’s favorite topic, so..
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so this should be an interesting conversation.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you tell us a bit about your own dogs -- who they are and what you’re working on with them?
Kamal Fernandez: I have a malinois, I have border collies, I have a German spitz, I have a boxer, and I have a poodle-cross Jack Russell. So I have a real array of dogs and they do various things. Obviously, the primary focus for the majority of my career has been as an obedience competitor, but I’ve recently moved to begin doing other disciplines. Primarily for a bit of a change, really. I think I’ve been doing it for quite a long while, and I was looking for new challenges and something to sort of take my training a little bit further, and I’ve dappled with lots of disciplines throughout my career. So my border collie and my spitz both compete in agility, and my boxer, the intention with him is to do IPO. He’s in the midst of training at the moment; he had quite a long period off with injury, 2 years out with quite a severe injury, so he’s just been, probably in the last year, been brought back into work so we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do. And my malinois and my older border collie, they both do obedience. I’m sort of shifting my goals as it were to new disciplines and I’ve sort of done obedience for so long I just want to have a little bit of a change and I think for an instructor and a teacher it’s really good to keep fresh and to teach your dog new things, and also be a recipient of being a student as well. I think that’s really healthy.
Melissa Breau: So you’re pushing into Agility, is that what you’re saying?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, so I’ve just started -- my spitz does agility. He’s up to… I’m not sure what the equivalent would be in the US but he’s at grade 5 level now, and my border collie bitch is just starting her competitive career. So they’re both doing… I’ve been really really pleased with them, I’ve only.. My times a bit… well, obviously, I have a young child now -- a baby -- so my time’s a little bit limited, which is always a constant battle. Bless their hearts, they seem to be carrying me a little bit at the moment, to be honest, but that’s a good foundation. They’re great; they’re all doing really really well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know you mentioned you started out in obedience, so how did you first get into that -- how did you start out in dog sports?
Kamal Fernandez: So, I was always obsessed with dogs and I was always fanatical about the prospect of owning one. And I badgered my parents for years and years and years about getting a dog and they eventually succumbed, and they buckled in to me to get a dog. And that dog was absolutely every single behavioral issue you can probably ever encounter, that one dog had. And it was largely down to pet dog owners -- you just, just naive people thinking “I tell it sit, why doesn’t it sit?” “I let it off the lead, why doesn’t it come back?” We just didn’t understand the concept of training a dog, we just -- like a lot of people -- we just assumed the dog came hard-wired to do it.
I actually was watching agility on television, and there was a guy there called Greg Derrett who anybody who knows about agility, he’s one of the top competitors and trainers in the world, and Greg’s a little bit older than me, and he was there competing at Crufts in the junior competition and I always thought, well, if he can do it as a junior -- and i think he won that year -- I thought well it must be achievable, i must be able to do it. So I tried to contact the local agility club and at that point they said you can’t start bringing a dog to agility until you’ve gone to obedience training. She wasn’t a puppy-puppy, she must have been 6-10 months old, and they said you can’t start with her until she’s well over a year, so I thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do for this time?” Anyway, they said take your dog to obedience training. And I took her to obedience training and it was just domestic pet training, very, very, very old school, you know. Choke chains, walking around the whole, choking the dog, which you know at the time -- this was 26 years ago -- wasn’t unusual to be honest, in this country. And it just so happened that I stayed on one evening to watch the more advanced people train their dogs and there was somebody doing competitive obedience, and it just really really inspired me because of the level of control she had over her dog and I remember she left it at one end on a stage that’s actually at the hall where i now teach, and she did like 6 position changes and I was just blown away by the fact that she could -- there’s my dog that I can’t even let off the lead and she could leave her dog at the other side of a room and give it positions which appeared to be on some sort of magic slash electronic remote control, i don’t know, i was just blown away by it. So it just really made me go “wow I want to do that” and my career just really went in that path. I sort of got more and more interested in it; I saw her train numerous dogs to do heel work and I just got addicted to that as a concept, really. And I never really followed up on the whole agility thing, and it’s ironic that now, 26 years later, I’m finally getting into agility. I’m a slow learner, but there you go. Better late than never as they say.
Melissa Breau: Hey, you got there. You just took your time. So you mentioned that you started out choke chains and traditional training, all that stuff. How would you describe your training philosophy today?
Kamal Fernandez: I talked recently at a conference, and was speaking about my personal journey in dog training and how it’s really taken a really, really diverse route in that we started out like, i think, a lot of people that have been training dogs for 20+ years, in more compulsion based dog training and in dominance-based theories to training dogs; you know, you have to be the boss, you have to be the pack leader, and it was very much rout learning with them. The dog’s thoughts, feelings, emotions were never considered, really. It was just make the dog do it, but i always instinctively felt there was a better way out there and it didn’t sit with me as an individual; I thought, “Oh, I’m not a forceful person,” I’m determined, I’m very goal-oriented, but I’m not one for force. I wouldn’t force somebody to do something; i wouldn’t force my dogs, it just didn’t quite align with who i was. And then i gravitated to more motivational methodology, which was slightly more what I’d call show and tell, so you’d show the dog what you wanted them to do, you’d reward the dog, and if the dog didn’t do it you’d show them again, and if the dog didn’t do it again after that you’d probably correct it and then reward it. So there was more reinforcement being used, but still that element of compulsion in there. And I was never extreme in my use of -- other than the choke chain scenario, which was just sheer ignorance -- I was always somebody that wanted to interact with my dogs, I wanted to… I mean I used to take my dog that i first had, she was my friend more than anything, I used to take her out and we used to go out for the whole day and we used to go play at what we call the dumps and stuff, so she was my little friend so there was a real conflict between what i was doing in training and how i was with her in general.
So I gravitated to what you would now call reinforcement-based dog training and as clicker training became more prominent, in this country I’d say probably 15 years ago, something like that -- 15-20 years ago -- and initially the reaction was “oh gosh, this is rubbish” but I was inquisitive about it and i was skeptical, but the more and more I watched it I thought there’s something to this, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Again, it’s amazing how life takes you on this journey, I did psychology while I was at college and I did it later on as a -- I studied it as part of a certain degree and an element of it was psychology which part of it talked about learning theory and operant conditioning and classical conditioning and so forth, and it then sort of all fell into place and made more sense. So then i started to delve with the dog that i had into clicker training and my initial reaction was… I tried it, i pressed the clicker, I gave her a reward and the dog didn’t miraculously do it. By that point i was a little more astute but i thought, “I’m missing something,” this isn’t -- i just can’t work this all out. Anyway, it was niggling away for me, and with that dog i sort of tried it and thought, okay this doesn’t work, chuck the clicker, chuck my teddies out the pram, and flounce my skirt and I thought right, that doesn’t work I’m going to go back to what i did. And I trained that dog more, what I’d say, traditionally. Flash with a bit more clicker training interspersed there, and he wasn’t what I’d say was a straightforward, easy dog, but there were a couple of key things that made me realize, “you know what, i have to change what I’m doing.” Because the things I clicker trained where so -- the responses and the reaction and the dog’s understanding were so more salient than what i taught him traditionally. And that’s not to bash traditional training, it could be my application, it could be my understanding, it could be a thousand and one things, so with my subsequent dogs I made a commitment to say that’s it, I’m going to do this or die, basically. I’m going to clicker train these dogs from the get-go, and if i don’t clicker train them I’m not going to train them at all. I had that in my head. So I really sort of held a gun to my own head and said you’re going to do this. And it was the making of my dogs and my career and how i perceive dog training. And now my philosophy in dog training is about reinforcement -- find a way to reinforce the dog and minimize the use of punishment, even just withholding reinforcement. Find a way to reinforce the dog and create the dog being correct and successful. And be strategic in your use of withholding reinforcement, etc. And it’s brought me to a place, a dog training place that i feel really really comfortable with. I feel morally, ethically, even to be … it sound a bit grand, but even spiritually, I like the way that i train my dogs now. I feel comfortable in it, it sits with me on a personal level, it sits with me in terms of the relationship I want with my dogs. They make choices; they don’t want to work, they don’t train. I don’t force them, I don’t push them, I convince them that what i want them to do is interesting and kind of enjoyable and actually really really fun. And so the relationship I have with them, the relationship I have with my dogs now they’re not waiting for the Jekyll and Hyde split personality, i was always very much about interacting with them, but occasionally I’d suddenly be this person that would say, hey now you’re going to do this, and on some level I always felt there was that element of… they were waiting for that person to turn up. Now I don’t have that with my dogs and I have… trained more dogs with reinforcement based methodology than not. And I was just fortunate that the dogs that I had that I trained alternatively were just very very forgiving. So my training philosophy, it’s about really, reinforcement is the key. It builds behavior. If you learn nothing else about operant conditioning and clicker training reinforcement will save the day so-to-speak.
Melissa Breau: So, I did some googling of you, before this call… I mentioned in your intro that you teach seminars internationally and they seem to be on a wide variety of topics, everything from foundations to extreme proofing... So I wanted to ask: what you enjoy teaching, what your favorite thing to teach is? And… why?
Kamal Fernandez: That’s sort of a real easy one. My actual favorite topic is foundations for any dog sport -- that is by far my favorite topic, because that’s where all the good stuff happens. That’s where you really lay your… well, your foundations, for a successful career in any dog discipline. And I think the irony is that people always want to move on to what I would call the sexy stuff, but the irony is the sexy stuff is actually easy if your foundations are laid solidly and firmly. And I think I’ve had more “ah-ha” moments when I teach foundations to people than I have with anything else. I also, i have to say, i like behavioral issues. You can make GREAT impact, and literally change somebody’s life and their dog’s life, or save somebody’s life because behavioral work and giving them a new take on how they deal with their dog at present but i would say really really extreme behavioral cases are really really juicy to get involved in, and dogs that people say they’re on the cusp of writing the dog off, and the dog is so phobic or aggressive or dog reactive or whatever the case may be and you can literally turn that person and that dog’s relationship around. That’s really rewarding and enjoyable to work with. But I would say as a standard seminar, I would say foundations by far. It’s just you’ve got young, green dogs, you can see the light bulbs going off for the dogs, you can see the pieces strung together, that are going to ultimately lead to the dog being this amazing competitive dog, and you can see it literally unfold before your eyes.
Melissa Breau: Right, and with the behavioral thing, a lot of people just think of that as a challenge so I think it takes a certain type of personality to be like, no this is actually pretty cool.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I think you have to be a little bit odd to enjoy it, but i think we’ve seen so many changes in terms of dog training and I think there is a massive lack of knowledge in terms of behavior and how to deal with behavior so that the dog can actually function in the real world and also, I think there’s more a sway toward behavior management versus actually helping the dog, and dealing with the actual cause of the issue, which is where i like to -- I’m all about management, I think that’s great, to have skills to manage your dog and to have knowledge and awareness, etc. but what I really want to do is let’s deal with the core issue. The core issue is this -- the dog is frightened, scared, apprehensive, whatever -- let’s whittle it back and deal with that and let’s help this dog be a confident, well adjusted member of society.
Melissa Breau: Focus on the emotions and not just the behavior.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s stripping it back to the real core, and the beauty is it’s all done with reinforcement. It’s all on just focusing on what you want the dog to do versus the symptoms of - let’s actually get down to the real nuts and bolts of it, and help this dog, you know? As opposed to managing it, you know?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So I want to switch topics a little bit and dive into heeling, since that’s the thing you’re most well known for. At FDSA, I know that’s mostly also kind of your focus -- so since you’re in the UK, and you do FCI-style heeling... and I’m sure you get this question all the time, but can you share some of the differences between the English, FCI and North American styles of heeling? What is that?
Kamal Fernandez: So there is even from FCI obedience, to UK obedience, to AKC obedience there’s slight changes. The basic principle of how i approach teaching it is all the same stuff, I just make minor little adjustments depending on the code that you subscribe to. Obedience in the UK, the general gist of it is that we allow contact with our dogs in heelwork, that our dog can be very very close to the leg where in FCI obedience and AKC or CKC or even Australian obedience the dogs are ideally, they should be a gap or a freeness between the leg and the dog. So that’s the biggest, core, visual difference. There is technical differences between FCI obedience and, say, AKC and that is a different requirement of the test, in the UK our test is probably a lot longer than American heeling, in that it can go up to 5 or 6 minutes of heeling, you can do patterns, you can do weaving, you can do circles, you can do changes of pace and you do positions in motion. So our heeling is probably more complex, in a lot of ways, than AKC heeling. The FCI heeling test there’s actually quite a lot to it, because they do changes of pace, they do positions in motion, they do side-step heeling, they do different little intricate moves. So there’s complexities to FCI heeling that again, it just makes it interesting. Anybody that’s a heelwork or heeling junkie i think that they appreciate that heeling is quite a complex exercise, there’s so many entities to it, there’s so many layers to it, and anybody that’s into detail, that’s into the fanatical little details of dog training would love heeling and the way in which i teach it.
Melissa Breau: So, talking about how you teach it… How do you approach teaching heelwork? How do you start? Or how do you approach the bigger picture and break it all down?
Kamal Fernandez: Yea, so everything is component trained in my training. Everything is broken down into tiny tiny little pieces of a puzzle and the pieces of the puzzle probably look nothing like the greater exercise or the greater goal, but what it does is it allows me to fast track the process of me teaching my dog heeling. And what looks like a very complex exercise for the dog is actually very simple because it’s broken down into tiny little sections. I use a combination of shaping the dog and i will use lures but I fade the lure very very quickly. I minimize the use of a lure, but I use it very, very specifically, and I’m very aware of the times that I would use a lure. I’m looking for the dog to perform heeling with both drive and enthusiasm, but also accuracy and have a really comprehensive knowledge of its body, where it’s body should be, where it’s feet placement should be, where every single part of its position is. So it’s quite a detailed process, and I’d say for people that really like the details of dog training. It’s definitely one of the exercises they would gravitate to and this methodology is… also I appreciate that this methodology and this approach isn’t for everybody because it’s quite… it’s quite intense and quite intricate in some of the maneuvers and handling. But once you have trained it, the way in which i explain it to people it’s like you’ve got a dressage horse, which has the ability to react to a slight little adjustment in movement and they understand the tiniest little detail. For me, it gives the dog a greater level of knowledge and confidence and understanding, and also the end picture to me is far more appealing.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned in there that you break it down, sometimes even to pieces that don’t necessarily look like heelwork - do you have an example of that, just so that we can wrap our brains around what you’re talking about there?
Kamal Fernandez: Yes, so one of the things I would teach would be a hand target, and i use the hand target as a means to teach the dog that then i transfer the hand target to a heelwork position, and then i transfer the hand target on my leg and I fade that out of the equation. So that would be one example.
Another example - i teach the dog to do a foot target. The dog has to position its foot in a very specific place, next to the instep of my left foot. So again that one detail looks nothing like the picture of your dog moving and being in motion, but those two simple exercises - a hand target and a foot target - are core entities of how i teach heeling.
Melissa Breau: So, in your bio I mentioned you use games and play to create motivation and control… and those two things, they can often seem like total polar opposites when you’re actually training. How do you walk that fine line to achieve balance?
Kamal Fernandez: You know, this stuff that we ask our dogs to do is largely mundane and boring, and unless there’s an element within the dog that finds the behavior self-rewarding, like tracking or herding can be intrinsically rewarding for some dogs, but the stuff certainly for obedience for a lot of dogs can be very mundane and very monotonous, if there’s a lot of repetition in it, which for a lot of dogs, they’re not going to relish the thought of. So for me, the baseline commitment is i have to create the dog wanting to do this mundane boring stuff. Because at the end of the day it’s just about my ego and my goals, the dog doesn’t really care. He’d be quite happy going for a long walk and having a good time chasing little furry things. So for me i make that committment to motivate my dogs and to make sure the dog wants to engage in every part of their training. In doing so, obviously i need to create motivation, i need to build drive. But I’m always balancing that with self control around the reinforcement and I would do that, again, in my foundation. So there’s foundation games that I play with my dogs that I strongly advise anybody in dog sports to make sure you have these skills. But there’s also a lot of listening and a lot of thinking while in a high state of arousal that I implement via those games. So then when I move that onto actually teaching an exercise, the dog already has the ability to have self control, to have impulse control, understands the concept of proofing, etc. So the two things to me, although they are polar opposites, they’re both striving for the same thing. You know, to have a dog that has loads and loads of enthusiasm, but is largely out of control, to me is displeasing to the eye. To have a dog that has lots of accuracy, if you want or technical correctness, but has no spirit or soul, to me, again is unpleasing to the eye. So it’s about having both ends, and the reason i love obedience so much is that the sport itself is almost like a conflict of both those things; you absolute drive and accuracy, and it’s so hard to get both and that to me is the appeal. I would say that to me, the most skilful trainers in the world, that I’ve seen, are from an obedience background and they have a strong obedience background, and the ability to create drive but also ultimately accuracy which i think, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of dog training.
Melissa Breau: Kind of understanding those two and creating the balance, and having a dog that exhibits both of them so clearly.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always a battle. When you get one, you create drive, you lose accuracy; when you create accuracy you lose drive; and the two things, I always say, it’s about tipping the scale -- and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone in there competitively and I’ve gone, wow my dog absolutely… it’s like always get one thing and then you lose another; that’s what you’re striving for. It’s a bit like winning the lottery, that one day when everything goes in your favor and all the years of training culminates in that magic moment, so to speak.
Melissa Breau: So what it sounds like what you’re saying is it’s almost a constant process -- you’re training one, and then you’re training the other. And then you’re training one…
Kamal Fernandez: It’s constantly in play. But to me that’s the joy in it really, you never stop training, you never stop learning and you never stop growing, really.
Melissa Breau: Well, it’s time for us to get to the last 3 questions that I ask everyone who comes on the show. So first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?
Kamal Fernandez: There’s so many things, and not necessarily competitively related that I’m very proud of. I would say I’m proud of the first dog i ever trained competitively, he became an obedience champion and that was a bit of a personal journey as well as a dog training journey, so that was something that I’m immensely proud of.
And the other thing that I’m also proud of when it comes to dogs, was being involved with Dogs Might Fly, a project where we took rescue dogs and we taught them to fly a plane as part of a project on television. The proudest moment in that is that those dogs were largely just discarded; they were rescue dogs. The impact, all those dogs found homes, but that was members of the production crew, largely -- like the makeup artist had one, the cameraman had another, a couple of trainers took dogs on, and it was great; everybody was so for the dogs in that project, it was all about the dogs and showing what can be achieved with good dog training and also that rescue dogs are capable of such great things, so I’d say that was something I’m very proud of, to be involved with something that had such a positive outcome.
Melissa Breau: So, wait a minute - back up. You taught them to fly a plane?
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, yeah! So it’s a project I did - oh god, it’s got to be about two years ago now. We took 12 rescue dogs and we were with them for probably about… oh gosh, it was all the summer, so it must have been 6-8… probably 6 months? And we took these 12 dogs and they were literally sourced across the country, all rescue dogs, like one of them was due to be put to sleep the next day, another one was discarded… loads of different background stories, and we were involved with rehabbing them, from whatever issues they had and teaching them basic skills, and then the end goal, 3 of the dogs from the 12 were selected to go on to be trained to control and fly a plane. It was on Sky television - I don’t know if you have that in the States, but it was a really, really great project to be involved with. Victoria Stilwell was involved with it, a guy called Mark Vette, who was involved with the driving dogs, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that on YouTube…
Melissa Breau: I haven’t, but now I’m going to have to go look it up.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah, search for Driving Dogs, Mark Vette. So that was, it was his brain child and I was one of the trainers involved with doing it, so that was a really really rewarding project.
Melissa Breau: So when you say fly a plane, what exactly were they doing? What was the behavior…?
Kamal Fernandez: The dog had to control the plane. So it was on a rig. The plane was got… by a pilot up, because they couldn’t do it to land and to take off, but once the plane was flying, the dog had to control the plane and perform a figure of eight, and they ended up with 3 dogs -- actually I saw one yesterday, Thursday and Friday, a friend of mine now owns him -- and they took 3 dogs and they flew up in the air. If you google it, Dogs Might Fly, you’ll see all the information about it.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting.
Kamal Fernandez: Yeah and one of the dogs that I trained, because what happened was there was two phases, there was the initial phase, where they had the 12 dogs, and then they selected out of the 12 dogs the 3 dogs, and then they were passed on to 3 trainers to work intensively on it, and initially there were 4 trainers who were given 3 dogs each, and then they were whittled down to 3 dogs and then they took 3 trainers on. And one of the dogs that I worked with closely, his name was Reggie, he was a labrador-german shepherd cross, he went on to be one of the dogs that flew the plane.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Kamal Fernandez: So that’s really rewarding and he now lives in New Zealand, and when I went back to New Zealand recently I went and met him and he gave me the most amazing welcome, and I put it on instagram and what-have-you; just an amazing dog.
Melissa Breau: For our listeners - I will try and find the links to those videos and share them in the show notes, so you guys don’t have to go google a ton. They will be right there for ya. Okay, so this is usually my favorite question, though i think you might have beat it with that last one…
What’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?
Kamal Fernandez: The best piece of training advice I think is a Bob Bailey-ism, and I those well versed in dog training, or animal training… it’s just Think. Plan. Do. Review. So think what you want to train, plan your training sessions, then go do it and then go and review your training sessions. That’s one thing and the other thing is use video recording devices to record your training sessions; it’s absolutely revolutionized my own personal training. It’s like I have my own instructor that’s with me 24/7 and whenever i want him to he can turn up and give me feedback about my dog training. If nothing else, I would suggest that everybody do both, which is what the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is so great for, using the medium of the internet and video to facilitate great learning and i think it just encapsulates how powerful that resource can be if used effectively. And I know people are a little bit self conscious and a little paranoid about watching themselves, but by gosh, you will glean the benefits 10-fold over. So I’d say those two bits of advice -- Think. Plan. Do. And review your training - so be a mindful dog trainer as opposed to a reactive or responsive dog trainer, be thoughtful, be efficient in your use of your time and also video your training sessions.
Melissa Breau: And then, finally… who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Kamal Fernandez: The first person who really really influenced my training was someone called Sylvia Bishop, she lives actually down the road from me now, but she was a pioneer in the concept of play equals work equals play. And Sylvia trains a lot in the states, and our training is different a little bit, now… we don’t necessarily follow the same approach to training dogs, but what i would say about Sylvia is that Sylvia was the first person that talked through the concept of -- or brought to my attention the concept of breaking exercises down into component parts and also making your training a game. And she was so far ahead of her time, when she was around and god she’s been training dogs for… it’s got to be 40-50 years now. And when she first came into dogs or obedience it was very very compulsion based and she was one of the first people that openly used toys and play, etc as a medium to train dogs. So she was somebody that was a massive influence, although as I say our paths are different now, and that’s absolutely fine, i have the utmost respect for her in terms of the influence she had on me. The second person, or group of people, I would say is a really close friend of mine -- somebody called Susanne Jaffa, who is a british obedience trainer and working trials trainer, and she trains australian shepherds and she’s one of the people that really really influenced my change over to clicker training, and she’s again one of the first people that made - or one of the first people that was very very successful clicker training. There was somebody else, who now lives in Canada, a friend of mine called Kathy Murphy. They were the people that were really vocal about, we’re going to clicker train our dogs, and we’re going to do it and be successful at it.
The other person who I’m sure numerous people will quote is Susan Garrett; anybody that knows me knows that I’m a massive, massive Susan Garrett fan. I think she’s phenomenal in what she does, I think being a bit cynical, the internet and good marketing, often create the illusion of somebody being a good dog trainer but having been in Susan’s presence when she’s trained her dogs she’s a phenomenal, phenomenal… her timing… and I would say all those people have what i call dog training hands. You can tell if somebody has dog training hands just by watching them; You know, the way in which they move, they interact, and she has a very comprehensive knowledge of science, and the science behind what she does. But her ability to interact, read, and the relationship she has with her dogs, there’s nothing put on or fake about it. What you see is very much what you get. Yeah, but those are the people for me that I look up to, admire, and I constantly, if i was ever going to look for… and I look in the most weird and wonderful places for inspiration and ideas for my own training, but those would most definitely be…
And the other person is Bob Bailey. Bob Bailey, world-renowned animal trainer, a constant reminder of what is effective dog training or animal training, reinforcement placement, etc etc, the endless list of pearls of wisdom that Bob gives out. So yeah, those are the ones that have really influenced me, or that I look up to, I should say.
Melissa Breau: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Kamal Fernandez: No, my pleasure.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!
We’ll be back next week with Melissa Chandler to discuss nosework, parkour, and problem solving for soft dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in itunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA.
She is the also official show photographer for many of the premier agility events in the United States, including the AKC National Agility Championships, AKC Agility Invitational, USDAA Cynosport World Games, and NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local trials, regional events, and breed national specialties. She has photographed a wide variety of dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, and conformation, and dog events, including FDSA camp.
Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friends' dogs at conformation shows, and quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her own dog -- and today she’s here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day -- dog photos!
To be released 8/11/2017, featuring Kamal Fernandez talking about FCI heeling and balancing motivation and control.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sport using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Amy Johnson. Amy is the owner of Great Dane Photos and teaches the dog photography classes offered through FDSA. She is also the official show photographer for many of the premiere agility events in the United States including the AKC National Agility Championships, the AKC Agility Invitational, the USDAA Cynosports World Games, and the NADAC Championships, as well as numerous local tryouts, regional events, and breed national specialties.
She has photographed a wide variety of dog sport including agility, obedience, rally and conformation, and dog events including the FDSA's Camp. Her start in professional photography came by taking pictures of her friend's dogs at conformation shows, and it quickly grew to outpace her interest in showing her on dog, and today she's here to talk to us about the reason a great number of people use the internet each day, dog photos. Hi, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Johnson: Hi, Melissa. Thanks so much for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat.
Amy Johnson: I am too.
Melissa Breau: So to kind of start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have, who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. I have two dogs and one of them is here in my office with me, and well, if he makes any noise, but his name is Costner, as in Kevin, and so he is a Great Dane, a Fawn Great Dane, if anybody is interested in those details. He's about 39 inches at the shoulder, about 190 pounds, and that is ribs still visible kind of. That's just how big he is. so he's kind of a goof. We joke that he just has 3 neurons, he can eat, sleep and poop, and you know, he's just a really good hang out around the house dog. And then our other dog is a 60-pound Yellow Lab mix and her name is Dora. We don’t do a lot with our dogs. They are companions, they like to go on walks, they like to go for hikes in the woods, they like to just be near us, and so they don’t have any real special skills.
Melissa Breau: I assume they can pose.
Amy Johnson: They can pose. Although Costner is…if I try and put a camera in his face he generally kind of backs off and is like, what's that? So his actual special skill is that he is an AKC Breed Champion, and I cannot take any credit for that because we got him after his championship was finished from a friend of ours who were involved in the breeding of him, so he can look really pretty, so that’s his special skill. He just doesn’t really enjoy looking pretty, so what gets posted online of him are funny things where he's got drool or his lips are spread out on the floor where he's lying down, or you know, he's massive, and he takes up huge amounts of space, and so the pictures that I take are the ones that are just trying to show that and communicate that. We joke that he's a house pony, you know, he's not even really a dog, he's horse size, and then Dora…it's funny because she's the small dog in the house that people look at me and suddenly say we have a 60-pound dog that's considered the small dog, and then they, you know, okay, but she's got a few more brain cells in there. I do joke that I have to have dogs in my house that are dumber than me, so to call Costner not that smart is really, in our house, it's not an insult. That's just my reality. I admire the people who have the Border Collies, and the Jack Russells, and the Shih Tzus, and all those really, really smart dogs. That is not who I am and what I want to live with, so we have just dogs that are really good dog citizens and they know the routines. Costner knows that he has to sit before he gets his food. Sometimes he just stays sitting, even after I put his food down, but so we have our routines, but basically, we just want our dogs to be good citizens, and I think we've kind of got a good balance of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. So I mentioned in your bio that you got your start taking photos at conformation events. Was that kind of where your interest in photography started? Where did kind of you get started just in photography in general?
Amy Johnson: In general, I got started back in junior high. My dad had a Minolta film camera, SLR camera, manual focus, and he taught me the basics of photography, the basics of exposures. So he taught me about shutter speed, and aperture, and at that point it was called film speed, now it's called ISO, but he taught me the basics of the exposure triangle, as it's called, and how to focus a manual focus camera, and how to set my exposure so that I expose the film properly. I never did any dark room work. It was always take the 35mm film canister to the WalMart, or wherever, and get it developed, so I'm not quite that much of a purist, but my beginnings definitely were in film, and with my dad, and we would vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior here in Minnesota, and so he would take pictures, and then he would show me how to take pictures, and so kind of that father-daughter bond was really enhanced by our experience with him teaching me how to use a camera, and how to take pictures, so I kind of babbled with it throughout the years as I was growing up.
I was given by my brother and my parents one year for my birthday they gave me a film Sor of my own, and this was a little more advanced. It was a Canon EOS Elan II, I think, and it had autofocus, so I didn’t have to do the manual focus thing anymore, which you know, there's a little skill involved in manual focus, and I admired the photographers who could do it, and do it well. It's not my thing, but I understand the appeal of it. It kind of forces you to slow down and really takes things in, but so I had a film Sor that I, again, just kind of kept babbling, and various things, and then I got into dog shows, and that’s a whole long story that we could talk about some other time, but I was showing my second Great Dane, her name was McKenzie, I was showing her in conformation. I was terrible, awful. She didn't have the temperament for it. I didn’t have the skills for it. We tried for about a year and didn’t really get anywhere other than I made a lot of friends, and really enjoyed learning about the conformation world, and understanding even just the rhythm of a conformation show, and understanding okay, these dogs are going in the ring, and then they're coming out, and then they're going back in, and so you know, it's very confusing at first, and then you kind of figure out oh, okay, I know what's going on, those dogs aren’t going back in, and yeah. So I learned a lot about dog shows, and I learned a lot about the people who breed dogs, and that was fascinating to me.
I was taking a camera to most shows that I went to and just taking pictures of my friends, and then one time, and this was actually with a digital camera, one of the very, very early digital cameras that actually use the three and a quarter inch floppy disks in it, so not even memory cards. These were, you know, not the five and a quarter, but I think they're three and a half inch floppy disks, and that was your memory card, so and that didn't respond very fast to a dog moving across the ring, you know, you'd hit the shutter button and about two seconds later it would actually take the picture. Well, there's no more dog left in the frame if it takes that long to take the picture, so one time I brought my film camera with me and really enjoyed the success I had with getting dogs moving in the ring, rather than just the ones where they were stacked. So then my vet invited me to photograph her club's agility trial, and that's where it really kind of took off for me, so I really enjoyed the different games, I think it was a USDAA trial, but I'm not 100 percent sure, but the different games were, you know, some were all jumps, and some where you didn’t know where the dog was going to go, which I know now are gamblers, and again, that camaraderie around the ring, of all the people and their dogs, was really intriguing to me, and just was very welcoming and fun, and there was a market for the photos there. There was nearly no market back in ‘99, 2000 for candid photos ringside at conformation shows. Nobody was doing them, nobody knew what those were, you know, but agility trials, on the other hand, there was a market for that, people understood what that was, people likes pictures of their dog doing agility, so there was a market there for it being a business, not just a, you know, I'm going to show up and have fun.
So I did one agility trial with a film camera, and then quickly realized that I would go broke on film and processing, and then digital SLR's were just coming out, so this was in 2000, and I convinced my poor husband to let me buy a digital SLR, the Canon D30, and as he's hitting submit order on B&H's website he's looking at me saying, "just promise me you'll try and make some money from this," and the camera paid for itself in I think two shows. We realized we had kind of a winning formula there, and so I never have even thought about going back to film, of course, and digital cameras have gotten amazingly good, and amazingly fast, and responsive, and make my job easier with every new camera that I get, so.
Melissa Breau: Can you show a little more about how you went kind of from that stage of your business to where you are now, because now you do really, really, big shows, and I mean, just kind of interesting evolution.
Amy Johnson: Right. Yeah. It started out as me and the camera, and sometimes my husband would come. My first national event was actually in 2001, and you know, I look back on this and I really had no business doing it, but I was invited, again, so the social aspect of it, I had made friends, and they said will you come, and I said okay, sure. So 2001 they'd have championships and it was in Minnesota, it was in Mankato, which is about, I think, five hours south of me, and so it wasn’t like going out of state, and I made the leap. Now, the only really interesting part of this was I had a five-week-old baby at that point, so it was me, and a camera, and Ben, my husband, and Mika, our five-week-old baby, who made the trip down to Mankato, and I had told my friends who were in charge of the show, I had said if this isn’t working for me with having a baby here we're going to just have to cut and run at some point, and they were like, that’s fine, you know, you do what you need to do, but it all worked, and we had an amazing time, and I got an exposure to what a national events was, and there's a lot of adrenaline that comes with that.
In 2007, I was invited to AKC Agility Nationals, so from 2001 to 2007 I was just mostly doing weekend stuff, 07 was AKC Nationals, and again, it was still just me and Ben. Ben was in the booth running the sales side of things, I was taking pictures. Gradually, over the years, I've added photographers, and over the past two years, maybe two and a half, when I go to a national event I've really tried to make sure I had a photographer in every ring, and then also increase the size of my booth staff so that if someone comes through the booth and wants to look at pictures they don’t have to wait to get some help to do that. So the whole business has been a very gradual…well, let's try this now, and let's add this now, and what if we do this, or what if we change this. I've never taken out huge loans for the business. It's always just kind of grown under its own as it can support more, you know, I'll put a little more money out, and then it's just been a very gradual, making sure everything still feels as comfortable as it can be when you're running your own business.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk for a minute there just about having a photographer on each ring and things like that. What's that process, like you mentioned, you know, having a booth, and then having people shooting photos. I mean, how do you get from one to the other and handle all of that in the midst of a big show going on?
Amy Johnson: A lot of deep breaths and a lot of screaming in my head that I don’t let come out of my mouth. No, it's all good. I think if I had tried to go from me, and a camera, and my husband to covering six rings, and having six staff in the booth, you know, and the funny thing, I would have probably decided it was crazy and I was never going to do that again, but it went from…so one of the early AKC Nationals that I did probably in 08 or 09, there was me that was there, Great Dane photos was there, plus another photography vendor was there, so we just very amicably divided it. Well, okay, I'll take these rings on these days, and you take those rings on those days, and so there were two photographers there, and each of us had, I think, at least two photographers that we could cover all the rings, but it was between two different companies, and so that’s okay. I can manage a few people in the booth and a few people out shooting for me, and then it's just gradually shifted to where AKC and these different agility organizations have said, you know, I mean, if you can cover the whole thing we're happy to allow you to do that, and so if It was a sudden transition I would've probably not managed it, but just gradually adding more and more. It's like anything, once you are comfortable at one level of participation you kind of go oh, let's see, how else could I get involved, or what more can I add onto my plate, and you know, at some point you may go oh, that’s too much, but adding photographers has been kind of just word of mouth, and knowing people from other events.
One photographer who had shot for me I had seen his work from a previous special event, and he did a really nice job, and so I invited him to come and work for me, and that's actually happened a couple of times. One of my photographers is someone who approached me at a trial here in Minnesota, and said you know, I'm really interested in this, do you want to just take a peek at what I've done, and she lived close enough to me that she could come to a lot of my different local shows, and I could mentor her, and well, okay, that shot didn’t work so well, so what could we do differently, or oh, well, that’s a great one, if you get a chance to do that kind of a shot again, go for it, so I think that’s the beginnings of the education peaks, you know, I really enjoyed that mentoring process, and she now shoots…I mean, our styles are very similar, and so it makes it really easy to have her in the booth or as a photographer because the experience for the customer is that’s a Great Dane photoist's photo, not that’s Amy's, and that’s so and so's, and oh, that’s another person. It's all very cohesive and that's really important to me that the experience is one of I can go in any ring and get a good photo, not oh, shoot, I'm not in that ring today, so I'm not sure what I'm going to get, so yeah.
Melissa Breau: So I'd imagine that there are probably more than a handful of unique challenges that come with photographing dogs, especially sorts dogs, compared to people, or other common photography subjects. Do you mind just talking about what some of those challenges are and how you guys deal with them?
Amy Johnson: Sure. The most unique challenges really do come with the dog sports, especially…it all comes down to speed. You can have an Olympic sprinter in an Olympic stadium doing their race, and I can track that with a camera really easily. Cameras have been tuned to recognize the human form and whatever algorithms are built into their little tiny brains these days. Well, and if you think about it, so many cameras have facial recognition, well, how does it know what a face is and what is a face? Well, it's not looking for dog faces, it's looking for human faces, so there's something about the human from that a camera has been tuned to identify, and prioritize, and its ability to focus. So I'm constantly fighting against some of those things that are engineered into the cameras, so fast, black dogs in bad light are like my nemesis. They are, and the smaller they are, and the fuzzier they are, the worse it gets, but I've taken that on as a challenge. Okay, so that is my hardest subject, fast, tiny, fuzzy, black dogs in bare light, so what I do is make sure that my film and my gear is all prioritizing being able to take a picture of that worst-case dog, and it's nothing against black dogs, believe me, but they are just the hardest thing to photograph, and there's nothing like that in the human sports, or even cars, or you know, whatever.
There's nothing like it out there, and so that’s the most unique challenge I think, and so every time a new camera comes out I'm always hoping for some feature that makes my job of photographing a small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light a little bit easier, but even just the typical dog, you know, they do move very fast, they can move in very unexpected directions, they have really good reflexes, and so tracking that motion can be very difficult. They don't speak English, so if you want to tell them hey, pose for me, you got to figure out what that word is, you know, is it treat, or is it go for a ride, or is it are you ready. Figure out what the trigger word is to make their ears go up, and their mouth close, and their eyes kind of get a little brighter and go oh, oh, something's going to happen, and then that's the moment you click, as opposed to a human where you just say okay, look at the camera, and then you say cheese, right, and everybody follows directions. Now, when you get a teenager who's really not into this you might still get some not so great results, but at least you can speak to them in a common language. Well, and the other challenge I'm fighting that is actually fascinating to me is as people work on their relationship with their dog, which is a fabulous thing, and that’s one of my favorite things about going to a dog show and seeing those relationships, but as they do that it makes it really hard for me if I'm trying to do a picture of the human, and the dog, and a ribbon, the dog is gazing adoringly at the human, and I can't get them to look at the camera. I don’t care what word I throw out. There are times where the dog won't look at me because they are so engaged with their human, and that's a lovely thing, and generally, it's not been a problem, you know, the person is generally okay with that, but still, if you want to get the dog it's kind of a funny, you know, it's a good thing that the dog is so engaged with their person, but it makes my job just a little bit harder, so it's those weird things.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned kind of following gear, and new things coming out, and things like that, so I was curious what equipment you use and you know, you kind of got a little bit into the why there, but if there's more you want to elaborate on?
Amy Johnson: Sure. No, and oh man, I could talk gear for hours. I love gear. I love camera gear, and it's a really good thing I have a job that lets me write it off because otherwise, that would be a problem. So I shoot canon, primarily, and I have canon's top of the line sports camera. It's called the 1D X Mark II. It is their latest and greatest and it shoots 14 frames a second. It has a really high ISO rating or can shoot at a really high ISO, which is the piece that's critical in shooting in the really bad lighting, and actually, my definition of bad lighting is somewhat different than the average Joe Shmoe on the street, you know, a camera needs a descent amount of light to shoot in, and our eyes are amazing, our eyes can really come in the huge range of lighting conditions, and cameras aren’t quite to that point yet, so I need to high ISO so that I can have a high shutter speed so I can stop the motion of my small, fuzzy, black dog in bad light. A Canon Body is the best that money can buy, at least in terms of an SLR. I use what's called fast glass, and that means that it's a lens with a really big opening for the light, it's a big aperture, and so my favorite lens for shooting agility is a 400mm F2.8, as my husband says, it just means is has a really big light bucket so it can collect a lot of light, and make sure I'm getting enough light to again, get that fast shutter speed so that I can stop motion.
I also have a Nikon camera, and I bought that about six months ago, primarily, because I felt like I needed to learn Nikon camera bodies for my students. I am able to give really specific advice and troubleshooting information about Canons, and I was not able to give that same level of troubleshooting advice for Nikons, so I got a Nikon D500, which is not quite the top of the line, but it's a really good performance camera for wildlife, and I got a big lens for it, and I use that for a lot of my bird photography these days. So learning the other major brand of camera has been a really good experience for me. It's given me a new appreciation for oh, yeah, this is what it's like to open up a camera that you've never had your hands on before, and be a little overwhelmed by all those buttons, and dials, and menu items, and all that, but yeah. So my equipment, I tend to get the best I can, which is easier for me to justify, again, because it's a business, as opposed to just a hobby, you know, you got to be a little more careful about how you spend that money, but I do love gear. You know, there's also of course, all these accessories. There's monopods and tripods, you know, there's more lenses than just that 400mm, and that could be a whole other podcast episode.
Melissa Breau: It's really kind of awesome that you are able to provide that kind of support in a class or to a student when you're talking about a Nikon versus a Canon. I would love to dive a little more into what you cover in your classes at FDSA. What are some of the skills you teach? I know right now I think there are two classes... Are there more than that on the calendar?
Amy Johnson: Right now, what's coming up in August are two classes. One of them is my foundation class called Shoot the Dog, and in that class, we really just start from assuming people are starting from ground zero. We learn the basics of exposure, we talk about shutter speed, we talk about aperture, we talk about ISO, we talk about the effects that each of those has on the way a photo looks, as well as just the technical details of, what does it mean to have a fast shutter speed, or what does it mean to have a wide open aperture versus a closed down aperture, and then what does ISO mean? We don’t delve too deeply into the uber techie stuff, but we do talk about that a bit, but really, it comes down to if I change the shutter speed how does that change how my photo looks? If I change the aperture how does that change how my photo looks? When should I care most about aperture, and when should I care the most about shutter speed, and we really work on kind of creating photos that communicate to a broader audience than just you yourself.
So one of my students used the phrase that she had read somewhere, and I don’t where, but the difference in doing an emotional portrait and a photograph, and we kind of laughed about it at first, but the more I think about it I think that’s an important distinction. If I take a quick snapshot of my dog and it's not really in focus, and the light's really not that great, but there is something in that expression that just screams oh, that’s my dog, that’s like the essence of my dog. It doesn’t matter about the technical bits. It doesn’t matter if it's not quite as sharp as I would want it to be. It's an emotional portrait. I have an emotional connection to that. Now, if I post that online my friends are probably going to say oh, that’s great, yes, that looks like Costner, that is so Costner, that's wonderful, but if I post it to a photography site in general, they're going to think I'm crazy because they can't see that emotion, they don’t know my dog, they don’t understand that, that is his quick, essential, expression. They think I can't really see what's going on in his face because the photo's a little dark, and I can't see his eyes all that well because it's really not that in focus, so what I really want students to do is to be able to conquer those technical bits, the sharpness, and the exposure so that they can make the soul of the photo really come through, and be obvious to anybody, rather than have all the technical stuff be in the way and mask the true soul of that photo, the true meaning of that photo. So that's a hard thing for people to do because it takes stepping back and really applying a critical eye to your photos and saying oh, yeah, I see how I can see the dog's expression, but I can see how someone else wouldn't be able to see it and read it as clearly as I can, because they don’t have the emotional connection to the dog, to the subject that I do. So that's something that really has started to be a common thread in all of my classes. We want to move beyond the emotional portraits, and believe me, they have their place, you know, I don’t have any beef with them, but in my classes I want to move beyond that and into something that can speak to a broader audience, and get that emotional connection across.
Melissa Breau: So in August you're teaching a foundational class, and what's the other class that you're offering?
Amy Johnson: The other class is called Chase the Dog, and this is kind of my wheelhouse, and that is dogs motion, so we'll talk about…I kind of break it down into two different kinds of motion. There's motion that's predictable, and motion that's unpredictable, so the prime example of motion that’s predictable is agility, and you know, in general, there are always exceptions, but in general, the dog will go where it's supposed to go. There's a pre-established path, their obstacles are numbered. You do this one, and then you do that one, and then so I know when I can anticipate where the dog is going to be at any point in that run, so I can do things differently with that than if I'm just photographing a dog that is having a good romp in the field for play time, so that would be the unpredictable motion. So you let your dog out and you want to take pictures of it just playing around. Well, unless you set up some sort of fencing it just portions the dog's path, you know, you have no idea where that dog's going to go, so tracking that…camera's, you know, there's a limit to how fast they can track that motion, and then there's a limit of how fast I physically can track that motion, and this is where our fast dogs…you know, this is tough, there's a lot of skills, and a lot of practice that just has to happen of getting that muscle memory in you, and once you can track your own dog really well that doesn’t necessarily mean you can track another dog, because all the dogs have a different rhythm, they all have their own unique characteristics about how they move.
So the class is really about offering some skills for how to do both predictable and unpredictable motion, but it's also about setting some realistic expectations of what can I expect to get out of, you know, a 10 minute photo session with a dog just running and playing in the field? Well, you're not going to end of with every photo being perfectly in sharp, or perfectly in focus, and you know, a true winner. You're going to get a lot of junk, and that's okay, and that process of being okay with the junk is really hard, and take someone like me saying it's okay, I have those too, and what students in the class are going to see are a lot of my…you know, rather than just the edited versions, here are the ones that I kept, they're going to see well, here was a whole series that I shot, and notice how many of those were actually good photos, and notice how many of those were not so great. Here's my junk. They're going to get to see my junk photos. Okay, well, I better be a little more careful here. They're going to get to see my junk photos, and I think that’s a really important process to understand that there's no camera in the world good enough to capture everything, so let's talk about what's realistic, let's talk about what you can expect, let's talk about ways to increase the percentage of those keepers, but let's also become comfortable with the idea that you're going to have some clunkers in there.
Melissa Breau: Now I wanted to ask if there's one piece of advice that you can give listeners, something they can start working on today or tomorrow, to help them take better photos of their dogs, what would that be?
Amy Johnson: The first piece of advice I give everyone who asks me that question is to get down to the dog's level, and it's really easy, and it's really basic, and it does not matter what kind of camera you have, but if you change your perspective instead of shooting the photo from your standing height and looking down on the dog, get down to their level. You know, if you've got a tiny little dog it may mean that you are on your belly in the grass taking a picture of that dog, but you will be amazed at how much of a difference that makes in the photo of your dog. If you don’t want to get down to their level then bring them up to your level, so if you have a grooming table throw a nice tablecloth over it and put the dog up on the grooming table. Bring the dog up to your level. Just be on the same level as the dog that you're trying to take a picture of and it transforms the whole thing, so that’s my go to piece of advice for anybody.
Melissa Breau: That's great because that’s something that people can really just go do.
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I know that we're talking about kind of a little bit of a different subject than we usually do here on the podcast, but I still wanted to ask you those key questions that I always ask at the end of an episode, because I'm going to let you go into photography related stuff if you so choose. So to start, what's the dog or photography related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Amy Johnson: There's the experience of going to the national and that's huge, that's great, and there's a feeling of kind of I've arrived with that, but the most recent thing that I'm proudest of is actually my experience at camp. I had five of my students that came and were my minions, as I called them, and they were the ones who actually did all of the photography for the events at camp, and being able to stand back and watch them in action I was really proud of them, and that was a more of a feeling of accomplishment than going to a national. Don't get me wrong, I love going to nationals, I love interacting with people, I love watching a great run, and then being able to find them later and say I saw that run and that was phenomenal, and it was beautiful, and I was so happy I was able to capture that for you, but working with students and then watching them take the skills they've learned in my classes and do that for others, you know, capture those moments, that was cool, that was really hard to beat. And now to extend on that, one of my sons is showing interest in photography, and he was able to shoot the jumpers courses at AKC trial that I had shot last weekend, and so again, when I had a break I went over to his ring and just stood back and watched, and seeing the next generation whether it's, you know, the literal next generation or just a new group of photographers that have come through my courses, being able to pass that information on has been really an amazing experience.
Melissa Breau: That's really cool because it's something that you managed to learn from your father and now you're passing it on to others.
Amy Johnson: Exactly. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of advice, and this can be either production or photography, that you've ever heard, and bonus points if it applies to both, but it doesn’t have to.
Amy Johnson: The best thing that I've learned to do over the years, and I don’t know that it's ever been told to me exclusively, but it's the thing that I have learned to do is to slow down, and to think, and to just breath, and so that is the thing that I try and tell my students all the time because there's this urge to…the action in front of me is happening really fast and so that means I have to grab my camera fast, and throw it up to my face, and press the shutter, and get the picture really fast, and it doesn’t work that way, or it doesn’t work well that way. So taking a moment to make sure your camera is set correctly for the situation you're trying to photograph, making sure that you understand what's going on in front of you, and can maybe anticipate what's going to happen next, and then just breathing because if you get out of breath or find yourself holding your breath because you're just so excited you end up messing it up more often than not. And that advice I think applies to dog training as well. Slow down, think, just breath, and that kind of brings you back to center, and lets you focus on what's important, and focus on what the task at hand is. Block out everything else that is going on around you and just take it one thing at a time, and the results will be much better.
Melissa Breau: Bonus points earned. So our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Amy Johnson: There are two people that come to mind immediately, and it's not because of their dog training skills, it's because of the way they handle pressure in running their dog businesses, and so the first one is Denise. Who isn’t amazed by Denise and the way she handles FDSA really, and not trying to get brownie points from her, but as a business owner myself it's really important to find those people who are running their own business, and who I admire how they handle that business. You know, Denise has the pressure of thousands of students. She has the pressure of all of the instructors who…meeting some of them at camp was an eye-opening experience, and I love them all, but I admire Denise even more for her ability to handle all of us and our quirks, but to watch her handle that pressure of both the negative and the positive has become important to me. I know one of her things is people won't remember what you say, but they'll remember how you made them feel, and that is a phrase that runs through my mind constantly as I am dealing with customers, or if I'm dealing with students, and even with my family. It's changed the way I interact with everybody, including my family, and to say in my mind, you know, yes, I really want to make that snarky comment, but that's probably not the best way to handle it because it's going to make me feel better, but it's not going to do anything for our relationship, and it's not going to do anything for them and the way they feel, so that's been a really good thing for me.
The other person that I look up to for similar reasons is Carrie DeYoung, who is the head of AKC agility, and I work with her a lot because I do both of AKC's big agility events for the year, so I watch her and how she interacts with her staff, and then watch how she interacts with the exhibitors at those national events, and her calmness, and her…I have never seen her flustered. I'm sure inside there are probably moments of, you know, face palm, or screaming, or whatever, because we all have those, but she does a really good job of on the outside she holds it all together, and that’s something that I don’t always feel like I do very well, but watching her has helped me do that better, so she's another person I really admire in the way that she…granted, she doesn’t own AKC, but she is the queen bee of the agility piece, and I just really admire the way she handles all of the…I mean, if you think about any agility organization there are things that people want to tell them to do differently, things they like, things they don’t like, and to be able to handle all of that constantly takes some real talent and skill. I mean, I admire anybody who trains dogs because I don’t have that talent, and I don’t have the patience to develop it. I know that I could, but it kind of goes back to the whole I live with dogs that are dumber than me, and so I mean, I love watching good trainers, I loved coming to camp and watching all of these amazing instructors that I get to call my colleagues. I loved watching them work with people, and with dogs, and that kind of level of discipline fascinates me, so there's lots to admire about the training side in the dog world in that respect, but for me what's been most important is to find those people, and specifically, women that are at the top of their game and dealing with those pressures that come with being at the top of their game.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amy.
Amy Johnson: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure.
Melissa Breau: It was. It was a lot of fun to chat. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Kamal Fernandez to discuss what it's like to be a man, in a female dominated job. Just kidding. We'll be chatting at FCI style of heeling and more. If you haven’t already subscribed to the podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
Lori Stevens is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA. She is also the creator of the Balance Harness.
Lori's most recent of 3 DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called 'The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs.' It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time, with a class on the same topic, called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Seattle TTouch (Lori's Website)
To be released 8/4/2017, featuring Amy Johnson talking about taking photographs of our pets.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we'll be talking to Lori Stevens. Lori is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch training practitioner. She continually studies how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact. She uses intimidation free, scientific, and innovative methods in an educational environment to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals.
Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator of the balance harness. Lori's most recent of three DVDs by Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao, and called The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs. It focuses on improving the life of senior dogs. She will be teaching at FDSA in August for the first time with a class on the same topic called Helping Dogs Thrive: Aging Dogs.
Hi, Lori. Welcome to the podcast.
Lori Stevens: Hello. Thanks for having me on.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to shout today.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, me too. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So to get us kind of started out, can you tell us a little bit about your own dogs, kind of who they are, and what you're working on with them?
Lori Stevens: Yes. So I'm going to talk about two. One is with me now because both of them actually got me into this business. So right now, I have a 12 year old Aussie named Cassie, and I got her when she was two years old, and at two, what I was working on is very different from what I'm working on now with her. At two we worked on a lot of behavior related issues, especially on leash, what you might label reactivity. She was barking a lot every day, she was unfamiliar, really, with being out in the world, and so I learned a lot from her. Basically, you know, how do you calm, and communicate, and build trust with the dog that basically didn’t have trust in the world, so I learned loads from her, and we're always working on life with her.
Our sport is fitness. We started out in agility, but over time, I figured out that, that was really hard for her, she wasn’t really enjoying it, probably because of all the environmental sensitivity, and as much as I worked with her it just didn’t seem like her thing. She loved it when she was running, but when she wasn’t running it was really hard to hear all the noises and see the other dogs running, so we moved on, so now we do fitness, we do standup paddle boarding, we do lots of hikes, and now I'm living with an aging dog.
So I actually have firsthand experience now in living with a dog that’s getting older, but I wanted to bring up my first dog because that is the dog, Emmy, who got me into any of this work at all, and basically, she had a lot of health challenges, a lot of physical challenges, I learned just loads of stuff from her, and that’s how I originally got into TTouch Training and massage, so I'll talk a little bit about that more, but I just want to bring up that Emmy is always present, even though she's been gone 10 years. She's been gone quite a while.
Melissa Breau: They do manage to have quite a lasting impact sometimes.
Lori Stevens: That is so true. So true.
Melissa Breau: So what led you to where you are now? I mean, you started to mention Emmy a little bit, but how did you kind of end up working with dogs for a living?
Lori Stevens: Well, so Emmy had all these physical issues and I just took a TTouch class, basically, to learn things to help Emmy, and I kept going to my vet, and my vet kept saying you're just doing wonderful work with her, if you would just get cards made up I would send all my clients to you, sent lots of clients to you, and it's kind of strange because…I won't say when, but way back when I ended up with a degree in computer science, but before that I was in occupational therapy, and I was also in the University Dance Company. I danced for many years, so I have this kind of weird dual interest, both in things physical, movement, bodywork. I always had that interest with occupational therapy and dance, but then I ended up in IT for many, many years. I just retired from the University in April 2017, from the university of Washington, but in 2005 I started my practice, and that was at the urging of a vet, so I got cards made up, and I didn’t really think a lot was going to come of it, but in fact, that built my practice. So I went to four days a week at the University and had a practice one day a week for a long time, and then I went half time at the University. I just kept, you know, kind of building my practice and working in IT, and am out of IT, and totally focused on animals, which is fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Indeed. Congrats. That’s so exciting being able to focus on that full time.
Lori Stevens: Yes, it is. Now I'm spending full time writing this course, which is really great fun, but it's a lot of work, and so it's a good thing I don’t have my job too.
Melissa Breau: So there are lots of kind of interesting pieces there, right? Just kind of all the different things that you work with, and all the different techniques you have, but I want to start with TTouch. So for those not familiar with it at all can you kind of explain what it is?
Lori Stevens: I can. You're right, there's all those pieces, and oddly enough, they do all fit together, but what is Tellington TTouch Training? So people here touch and they think it's only body work, but Tellington TTouch Training is actually a lot more than body work. It is body work, and there are a variety of body work touch techniques, but there's also an element of it that is movement, which includes slowing down dogs and having them move precisely over various equipment on different movement patterns over different surfaces, stopping, turning, really slowing down the nervous system and letting them feel themselves, their bodies, in a way that maybe they haven’t felt them before. It's interesting how many dogs move really, really fast, and it's uncomfortable for them to move really slowly when they're working with someone, so you learn a lot from that, and there's also several tools and techniques that go along with TTouch. One of those is leash walking and making it more comfortable for dogs to walk on a leash, and to fit well in their equipment, and that’s pretty much how, you know, it's that awareness that caused me to develop, over years, the balance harness, but there's also the really learning to observe the dogs, and to give them choice. So there's a lot in TTouch that many years ago other people weren’t really focusing on, and now, thankfully, many people are focusing on it all over the place, so it's kind of nice that, you know, it's now overlapping more with other work that people are doing, and anyway, I hope that gives you a better idea, but it's not just body work.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So I wanted to ask kind of how it works too, and does it work for all dogs, is it something that works, you know, for some dogs better than others, is it something I could learn to do? I mean, how does that all kind of work?
Lori Stevens: Absolutely, you could learn to do it. Does it work for all dogs? I have to answer that…and you know, of course, there's an element of it that works for all dogs, but you have to define what you mean by works, and everything depends on the dog and what you're trying to do, but the thing that makes Tellington TTouch work unique is that it's not habitual. In other words, the way you touch the dog is not the way the dog is used to being touched, so it sort of gets the attention of the nervous system in a different way. The way you move the dogs is different from how they typically move, so it kind of gets their attention in another way. It's almost as if they're listening to the work sometimes. It's super interesting. The nice thing about it is that I can get a dog that’s so fearful in my practice that I can't touch the dog, but I have other tools to use with that dog, so I can move the dog, and over time, with that movement I build trust and we have a dialog going on between us, and eventually, that dog says okay, I'm ready to be touched now. I mean, they really do, they come up to your hands, and then once you start the touch work you've got another set of things you can do, so it's really got a depth to it that isn’t so visible on the surface, and the fact that it's called TTouch often just leads people into thinking that it's just this one thing where you touch your dog.
There's work in humans called Feldenkrais, so it was developed years ago, and it's a technique that moves people in nonhabitual ways to kind of develop new neural pathways to give them freedom of movement again. So people that have serious injuries, and they're, you know, varying them for whatever reason, a variety of reasons, have very limited movement, they can work with the Feldenkrais practitioner, or in a Feldenkrais class called Awareness Through Movement that really slows down and moves your body into nonhabitual patterns to regain new freedom of movement in your own body. It teaches your body to move in another way to get to the same place. Linda Tellington Jones, who developed Tellington TTouch Training, went through that Feldenkrais training for…she did it in order to work with the riders in our Equine Center, the horse riders, so then she started applying those ideas, and those techniques to animals, and that's where the work came from.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: I know. It's a well-kept secret.
Melissa Breau: So you know, you're also a small animal massage practitioner, and you're a certified candidate in massage, so how did those pieces kind of mesh? What are some of the differences between something like TTouch and massage, how do you use them in conjunction?
Lori Stevens: There is overlap and there's also quite a bit of difference, so with my massage training I can really focus on if I'm working with a dog who is super tight in the shoulders from doing too much agility over the weekend, and has big knots, you know, I can get those knots out because I have that training. Also, my training is in rehabilitation massage, so I can do manual lymphatic drainage, so if the dog has lymphoma say, and has huge swollen lymph nodes in the neck that you can actually see how swollen the lymph nodes are, I can do this very gentle work to bring that swelling down, to move the lymph node system lymph fluid again, so I can do very specific work that has a very physical effect.
In TTouch body work I can work on a tail and change the behavior of a dog, so…what? So it's very different, you're more working with fascia and skin in the nervous system than you are working muscles, although muscles can change as well. Both of the techniques can change gate. It's all very, very interesting how, you know, both of them can change gate from working on the bodies, and I'm sure there's a lot of overlap, even when you're focusing on different things, but they really have kind of a different focus. And the TTouch work is much…I won't say lighter, because they both can be quite light, like even when I'm working on a knot in a muscle I don’t dig in there, you know, I'm very…I go with the muscle, but I would just say they have a different focus, and therefore, you can end up with a different result. And the TTouch body work can actually…I see more changes in behavior than I do with massage, and I don’t know if that’s because I'm focused upon that, I don’t know. I mean, it's kind of interesting, but you know, when a dog gets really uptight, often times out on a walk, my dog's tail will start to go up. That will be one of the first things I see. Maybe her ears and head, but I'll see her tail go up. If I actually reach down and just stroke her tail and bring her tail back down it actually brings her back down.
Melissa Breau: Interesting.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, I know. It's kind of interesting. I might have to teach that in my next Fenzi course.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I'd certainly be interested in learning a little more about it. So it sounds like to me…and I could be totally of base, obviously, but if the TTouch is a little bit more focused on kind of the physical and behavioral tied together, whereas, the massage is more kind of on the physical and performance side. Is that kind of right?
Lori Stevens: Well, sure. You can put it that way. I would just say they are different techniques. There is overlap, but there are different techniques. TTouch in no way does it do manual inside drainage, for example, that is a massage technique, and when I'm doing just message to get knots out I'm not generally looking for changes in behavior. I'm looking for changes in the body. So…I don’t know, I mean, they're both touching the body, both body work.
Melissa Breau: Now, you're also a certified canine fitness trainer, so how does that factor in?
Lori Stevens: So that factors into the movement work, so I have been doing the Tellington TTouch training moment work for years, and it wasn’t really getting dogs to the point that…it wasn’t getting them where I wanted them to go if they were showing weakness in their muscles. Having a background in dance and being active my entire life, I was really looking for ways of helping the dogs be stronger, and more flexible, and more agile, and more confident, and blah blah blah, and some of those TTouch gave, and some of those it didn’t, so it was natural for me to take it a step further. I mean, all the stuff I do sounds like a bunch of certifications, but they're all really interwoven. I had been doing some fitness with dogs for years, and then when the University of Tennessee offered the certified canine fitness trainer program and partnership with Fitpaws I jumped on it, because that was the first program that I saw that I thought would be worth doing, and just going ahead and getting my certification in it, plus I learned things.
When I see…especially a dog's age, is weakness, or you know, I see habitual movement patterns that maybe a dog got injured when they were two, and at six they're still carrying the same pattern, they just never quit taking all their weight off their back right foot, say, so fitness really allowed me to take it a step further and help those dogs get back to being more functional, and stronger. And it's really fun, and it's a fantastic way of building trust, and enjoying communication with your dog. It's just another…well, like I said, it's my sport, one of my sports, so I just think it's fantastic.
Melissa Breau: So I want to kind of shift gears for a minute and look at your interest in older dogs. What led to that? Was it Cassie getting older or was it something else?
Lori Stevens: No, no. I've been working with older dogs for years. It's funny how long I worked with them before I had one, although, I have had older dogs before, but because of the kind of work I was doing the veterinarians were sending lots of senior dogs to me, and because I was helping them get functional again, and helping them feel better I just kept getting them, so I had a lot of experience. Even in 2005 I was getting the older dogs sent to me and I just kept building up that knowledge of working with them, and helping them feel better. I wonder what year it was. I want to say it was 2014, but I can't be certain.
Kathy Sdao and I decided to do Gift of a Gray Muzzle together and really focus on aging dogs in a video in our workshop. We just gave that workshop recently again. It's kind of a passion of mine because you know, everybody when they get a puppy they're very enthusiastic about their new puppy, and you know, they have to learn a bunch of things, but there's a motivation to learn a bunch of things because you have a new puppy, you just went out and got it, but our dogs age gradually, and it's not the same kind of oh boy, I've got an aging dog, and I'll go out and learn all these new things. You know, books on aging dogs don’t sell, and the thing is that there's a real joy of working with aging dogs, and watching them get new light in their eyes, and watching them physically get through things that maybe they weren't getting through before, so anyway, that’s what led me to it.
Melissa Breau: To kind of dig into that a little more, what are some of the issues that older furry friends tend to struggle with where your training and presumably, also your upcoming class may be able to help?
Lori Stevens: Well, I think even with people, keeping our dogs minds, or keeping our minds and bodies active is incredibly important, and this thing happens as dogs age is they all of a sudden get really comfortable sleeping for a very long time, and I think we go…especially if we have more than one dog I think we kind of say to ourselves well, our older dog's fine, you know, I'll put more energy into my younger dog, you know, maybe don’t think that, but that’s what ends up happening, and then one day you notice oh my god, the hind end strength is going, and the proprioception is going, which both of those naturally diminish with age. I better say what proprioception is. Proprioception is your conscience ability to know where your body is in space during movement, so if you think of a toddler at a certain age, they can't hold their cup up with juice in it, they're just pouring it upside down and then they're upset their juice is gone, but then at a certain age they suddenly know how to keep their cup upright while they move. That's proprioception. Well, you lose it with age, and so you have dogs that used to be able to step over and run over everything, running into low poles, or low logs, or whatever, and so hind end strength and proprioception naturally diminish with age, and so in the course, and when I work with older dogs, and when I do the workshops, that’s what I'm helping people do is get those back.
Also, I think we’re not quite prepared as humans to all of a sudden, we have this senior dog, and our dog can't do as much as it could do before, and so we have to change as well, so how do our expectations need to change, and how can we make this time together, which hopefully, will be many years as wonderful as it can be. You know, we have to change our expectations, and rather them be disappointed, find joy in that as much as our dogs need to find joy in a different kind of life as well. Not meaning…this isn’t bad, this is all good stuff. I mean it all in a very good way. It's just that’s it's different, and so you know, in the course I give lots of tips on the easiest way to get your dog in and out of a car, or on the sofa, the functional things that dogs could do when they were younger, sometimes those go away, and so how do we bring back that function or maintain that function and joy with our aging dogs. So we'll be doing lots of activities in that course on keeping our dogs minds and bodies active, but also tools and techniques we can use to participate in making their lives as good as we can. Did that help?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So if you were to make one recommendation for everyone listening who happens to have an aging or older dog, what would it be? Is it about mind shift, is it about, you know, exercise? I mean, what kind of piece would you pull out of that?
Lori Stevens: Well, I certainly have one. Surprise, surprise. I would say be your dog's advocate, trust yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, be a detective until you get to the source. I can't tell you how many times the answer is well, your dog's getting older, you know, you're making stuff up, or that’s just natural, your dog's getting older, and there really has been something, so I do think it's really, really important to be your dog's advocate, and to trust yourself, and it's okay to take your older dog to acupuncture appointments, or TTouch appointments, or massage appointments, or swimming appointment, you know, whatever you want to do to make yourself feel better. That's a good thing, but if you notice that…and your dog feel better, but if you notice something seems off it can be really hard to find what it is, and just be your dog's advocate is all I can say. Go to another vet if your veterinarian isn’t willing to work with you through figuring out what it is.
Melissa Breau: And finally, the questions I ask in every episode. I want to ask you kind of the same three questions that I asked everybody whose come on so far. So to start, what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Lori Stevens: My observation skills. I mean, they have developed since 2005 and I'm happy that I can now recognize how developed they are, and how important observation skills are, and really honoring the dog's needs rather than my own agenda, right. I mean, you know, sometimes it's natural when you have a practice to think through I'm getting ready to see this person and dog, and here's my agenda for the hour-long session, we're going to do it, X, Y, and Z, and then the dog gets there and goes no, we're not, you know, I want to do something else. So really being observant to be able to tell that, and then honoring the dog's needs, and the person, of course, has the say in what you do as well, but you know, really honoring the dog's needs. And I've actually…I will say it's only happened once since 2005, but I lost a client for not forcing a dog to do things, so I didn't mind losing that client, but…
Melissa Breau: It's important to stand up for your principles and kind of do what you believe is the right thing.
Lori Stevens: Yeah, and I'm just not comfortable forcing dogs into position for a massage.
Melissa Breau: Right. So what about training advice, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Lori Stevens: You know, it's funny. I don’t really think these are what you have in mind, but…
Melissa Breau: That’s okay!
Lori Stevens: Yeah. Meet the dog where she is or he is. That was the best piece of advice I heard and that was in TTouch, but just kind of change to meet both learners, the dog and the person, where they are. You can't really tell people to change, right, you have to guide them gently, and kind of move with them when they're really to move. People have to decide for themselves to make changes, and communication is so incredibly important. I've seen dogs and people go from, you know, a pretty dark place to an incredible place, and I'm so thrilled with what, you know, with the influence that I had on that. I would have to say just meeting everybody where they are, and recognizing how important communication is, and that it's not just about what we think, or how we think it should be done, but bringing the person and dog along at their own pace.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Lori Stevens: Well, you know there's several, but I have to say Dr. Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez probably are two top.
Melissa Breau: Ken's well regarded among the FDSA staff. I've heard his name a couple of times now.
Lori Stevens: Yeah. He's pretty great. So is Dr. Susan Friedman. I think you'll hear her name more and more if you haven’t already.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lori. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.
Melissa Breau: I feel like I learned a ton.
Lori Stevens: That's great.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Amy Johnson to discuss photography and our dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have or next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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.
Dr. Debbie Gross Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over seventeen years and has both a masters and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field.
She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and is one of the founders of the Certificate Program in Canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee.
She has been widely published, both professionally and in venues for dog enthusiasts.
To be released 7/28/2017, featuring Lori Stevens talking about how animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health interact.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports broadcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we'll be talking to Debbie Gross Torraca. Dr. Torraca has been involved in the field of animal physical rehabilitation for over 17 years and has both a master's, and a doctorate, as well as other advanced certifications in her field. She currently owns a small animal rehabilitation practice in Connecticut called Wizard of Paws Physical Rehabilitation for Animals. Over the last 12 years, she has lectured throughout the world on the topic of small animal rehabilitation, and as one of the founders of the certificate program in canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee, she has been widely published both professionally, and in venues for dog enthusiasts. Hi, Debbie, welcome to the podcast.
Debbie Gross: Hi, Melissa. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat with you. This is not a topic a I know a lot about, so it's always fun to learn something. Just to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about your own dogs, who they are, and what you’re working on with them?
Debbie Gross: Sure. Yeah. So I currently share my home and my life with two dogs. Bogaurt is a Clumber Spaniel, and so that’s a fairly different breed, and then we also have a nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel that was rescued. He was unfortunately beaten by a gentleman in uniform, that's all we know. So we've had him for about six years and we've had to overcome quite a lot of fear issues, and all that sort of stuff, so he's been my different sort of training in progress, and every day I learn from him, and the Clumber Spaniel does a little bit of everything. He's definitely…I've had Clumbers now for almost 10 years and they're just a joy to work with, and you know, people often will ask, "why don't you do agility or other sports with him?", and that’s where kind of I come in and look at the body frame, and that sort of stuff, even though a lot of Clumbers can do agility, his body is just not meant for that, so sadly, we stick to other things, and he's always my willing demo dog, or sometimes unwilling, so that’s always…yeah, exciting. He seems to know when it's guinea pig time and he'll take off if he doesn’t feel up to it, so.
Melissa Breau: He'll let you know if he's not in the mood, huh?
Debbie Gross: Exactly. I mean, he's like typical Clumber, so sweet, but about 22 hours a day, so.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know in your bio I left out some of the alphabet, you've got a lot of credentials, so I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about how you got into animal rehabilitation. What is it that drew you in that direction?
Debbie Gross: Sure. I've always been drawn to animals and you know, just adored them, and when I went to human physical therapy school there was a lot of hands on, a lot of palpation. Eventually, my roommates got tired of being guinea pigs, and at the time, I had an Alaskan Malamute and he was a more than willing participant, so I started to look at his body and say, oh, you know, if we could do all these things for people, why can't we do these for animals, and this was back in the 1980s, and one of my professors said to me, "don't be silly, this is a dog, no one's ever going to spend money or care about that much on a dog." So I kind of, you know, laughed at that and said, okay, and kind of kept that in the back of my mind, and I graduated. I took my first job in New York City and I was working with a lot of dancers in New York City Ballet, and definitely started to appreciate different types of movement, so if a ballerina or another type of dancer's missing five degrees of motion in their big toe, it's going to be significant. And I think about all those minor things so often today when I work with performance dogs, you know, dogs that are involved in high level competitions, but I stayed with human physical therapy for a while, always kind of thinking about my dream of working with dogs, and I fully just started to do a lot of independent learning, a lot of reading, spending a lot of time with veterinarians, and going to different vet schools, and studying anatomy, and things like that.
And then eventually, it turned into more and more, and I then started teaching at the University of Tennessee. And the CCRP letters are the Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, so I helped establish that program, and continued to teach with them, and it's really kind of, you know, it can be kind of a common sense thing. Dogs and other animals suffer many of the same injuries that people do. For example, an ACL injury in people is very common in dogs as well, and there are many different breeds that suffer with that, but things like arthritis, and neurological diseases, and sports related issues. I mean, certainly, everything that we know from the human filed we can just benefit, you know, help the dogs, so it's been pretty awesome to start out with this almost 20 years ago and watch it kind of just be an idea, and now it's definitely becoming more and more commonplace.
And I love looking on Facebook or talking to people from all over the world and they're taking their dog for rehab, or they're perusing other options, and they're doing things like that, which is just fantastic. Yeah. So that's been…you know, it is. It's great when, you know, and I laugh at the professor that I…every once in a while, I'll see her at a conference, and I'll say to her, hey, remember that kind of thought or dream I had, I said, that’s kind of what I do now 24-7 about, so. And a lot of people that have gone through rehab can definitely relate, and they understand, and so I'm always thrilled when more and more owners are perusing different options for their pets, and really, the moto of our clinic is every dog deserves the best quality of life for the longest time possible, and no matter if the dog is seven weeks old or 17 years old, you know, so important just to make sure that they're pain free and have the highest level of function. So it's really been this incredible journey and I love it.
Melissa Breau: You started to talk a little bit there about some of the differences and similarities between physical therapy for people and that for dogs. Are there other key differences you can kind of speak to?
Debbie Gross: Yes. So a lot of…you know, besides the obvious, people being biped and dogs being quadruped, I joke to a dog is not…they have no idea that something should make them feel better. You know, they're so truthful, they're…either a treatment's going to work, or it's not going to work, so there's no secondary games, they're not messing with an insurance company, or anything like that, but you know, for the same kind of similarities, whenever there's pain or inflammation there's going to be weakness that evolves. So like I tell my kids, if your body perceives pain it's going to shut off all the muscles in the area, so very similar. A person can say, hey, my knee hurts, I need to do something about it. Very often take an Advil or a Tylenol. A dog can't say that to an owner, so a lot of times that unless the owner is very perceptive and notices a slight change in their behavior, it's hard to determine if they're in pain until it gets pretty bad, you know, so recognizing pain is definitely a big difference.
I encourage all my owners, all my students, to make sure they go over their dogs on a monthly basis just to check for any pain, or soreness, or anything like that, but many of the on-scene treatment modalities that we would use in human medicine, we use in the animal. So like moist heat, or ice, laser or photobiomodulation is commonly used to help reduce pain and inflammation, and a lot of the exercises we do are very similar. Of course, we have to get a little bit more creative with a dog, but pretty much everything used in human medicine we could, you know, transfer over to the dog, so it's pretty cool.
Melissa Breau: Now, I think that veterinarians and the medical field in general isn't always known as the most positive part of dog sports, so I'd love to get your take on that. How do positive training and rehabilitation overlap, and are there places where they just can't?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. And that's a very good question. I belong to an organization, I sit on the board called Fear Free, and their whole goal and mission is to establish fear free veterinarian offices, rehab offices, looking at training facilities, boarding facilities, things like that, so it's all aimed at making sure the experience is positive and fear free. And certainly…you know, we laugh in our clinic because we're not the vet, so dogs come in and they know they're getting copious amounts of cookies, and it's going to be a great place, and they love it, and so I think it's very important to, you know, right off the bat we want to make sure the owner and the dog are very comfortable.
Certainly, dogs often will become fearful or potentially aggressive if they're in pain, so I always tell the trainers that I work with, assume that it's physical before behavioral. Now, I'll hear so many times from owners, "oh, my dog didn’t want to do the A-frame this morning. It's probably because…" You know, they make something up and then get steak for dinner. They swear they don’t think like that. You know, they probably didn’t want to do something because they're in pain. Something like the A-frame puts a lot of stress on the dogs back, and the hips, and stuff like that, so understanding if a dog is fearful, or doesn’t want to do something, looking at the reason why, you know, so is it pain that is prohibiting them from doing something.
And certainly, some dogs are not candidates, like we've turned dogs away because they're either too fearful, or they just can't do…they don’t want to do anything, and rather than forcing them, we won't do that. You know, and that's a little bit different than traditional vet medicine where dogs need to go in. They may need to get an exam, or their vaccinations, or things like that, but this fear free movement is fantastic, and you know, looks at everything from the lighting, their potential pheromones in the air to relax the dogs, and cats also, and other animals, so most the time in rehab dogs love it. They love coming into our office, and it's fun, and it's all positive, and you know, that's the way I want it to be. I mean, I love when the dogs pull their owners into the office, so you know that they're having a great time, so it's great.
Melissa Breau: Now, is there a website that's conceded with the Fear Free Organization just in case you'd want to look it up?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. I believe. I'll look. I think if someone just googled fear free it would pull up, and actually, fear free pets.com. So and their moto is "Taking the Pet out of Petrified," and it is very nice. It's a nice group that…and the number of practitioners getting certified in Fear Free are growing constantly, so you know, that's really great, and I highly encourage owners to seek out one of these facilities because they just are a little bit more in tune with things, and make the experience as positive as they can.
Melissa Breau: I'll make sure to include a link to the site in the show notes for everybody.
Debbie Gross: Perfect. Great. Perfect.
Melissa Breau: So I want to drill just a little bit more into rehab itself, rehabilitation sort of implies this idea that something's gone wrong and now it's time to try and fix it, so I was curious of how much of what you teach is about preventing problems, and how much of it is about really fixing them.
Debbie Gross: Great question. And we probably…I would say half the dogs that I see have an issue that can be fixed. So for example, they've had a torn ligament, they had surgery, and now we're rehabbing them, getting them back to normal. The other half is all about prevention and looking at what the dog does, what the dog needs to do, and how to get them stronger. So for example, we run a program called The Biggest Loser and it's a weight loss program, so we know that so many dogs…the obesity causes so many orthopedic issues, as well as other issues, and you know, helping owners and the dogs to understand how to get going, and just start a weight loss program, a successful weight loss program.
Then we have older dogs that just need some exercise, and they just need to get moving, and we'll start implementing a simple exercise program. And then on the other end of the spectrum are you know, some of your…we see a ton of conformation dogs where they need to get into shape, and for whatever reason, they haven’t been in shape, and they vary from doing something. We have underwater treadmills. They may run in the underwater treadmills for 30 to 45 minutes, just depending on what they're doing, and but you know, helping to build up their strength and conditioning. And that goes too with different athletic dogs, your Shih Tzu dogs, your agility dogs, obedience work, anything like that, so really on both sides of kind of fixing something, but also the goal is definitely preventing injuries from happening. So we do a little bit of both.
Melissa Breau: Now, are there things that dog sports enthusiasts should be doing to keep their dog in top shape, or does that kind of vary based on sport, or based on breed?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. That’s another great question. So I think that if we look at human sports, no matter whether it's on the collegiate level, the professional or Olympic level, any of our human athletes is involved in a conditioning program, so they have a program set for them, and they would never think about not engaging in a conditioning program, but on the canine side that’s not always the case. Now, I hear so often, you know, the dogs are just weekend warriors, so they just go to an agility trial over the weekend, and the owner does nothing with them during the week. And I think every dog, if they're involved in performance sports, whether it's just a couple times a month, or every weekend, they need to be in a conditioning program, and a conditioning program should definitely include core strength.
So working just like you and I would work on our back strength, our abdominals, all the large muscles of the body, working on endurance. So sometimes it's just simple walking or jogging, and then sports specifics, so a dog involved in agility is going to need more power or explosive events like plyometrics, working on their strength going over jumps, but also stopping quickly, and making sure that their shoulders and their hip flexors are strong enough, and of course, that will differ from your conformation breed. That may need more endurance to run around the ring and also more core strength, so it does depend on the sport, and its also going to depend upon the breed. And I often laugh where I love the big, you know, the gentle monsters, your Newfoundland's, and giant mastiffs, and you know, of course, their activity. If they walk 10 minutes in the underwater treadmill they're sleeping for the next 24 hours, where you have a Border Collie that's already active, they're going to need more exercise, so it will vary by breed, or also vary by age. So very young dogs anywhere under 24 months, you want to be respectful of their growth plates, and their psychological ability to exercise. And then on the flip side, your older dogs, you don’t want to overdo it either, so you want to be respectful, but hands down, any dog that competes in any kind of event, or just does it for fun should be doing some sort of core work, and it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.
Melissa Breau: I'd imagine that there are some injuries you see a lot more often in dog sports than others. What are some of the things that do crop up most often and you know, what are some of the things maybe you do when you work with those types of dogs from a conditioning standpoint, or even from a rehabilitation standpoint?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I think probably two of the more common injuries that have just been unfortunately gaining more popularity are iliopsoas injuries or injuries to the hip flexor, which is back near the front of the dog's hip, and shoulder issues. And I think the iliopsoas is a soft tissue injury and I've definitely been seeing an increase in these injuries as dogs are not really…they're being trained at a younger age without a lot of adequate core strength, and because they're being pushed a lot further, and they don’t have the strength in their core or their hip flexors, so they start to develop this weakness, and this injury, and it's probably one of the more stubborn injuries to rehab from, and part of it is because most owners…and I'm right up there, are impatient, you know, as soon as the dog starts to look better you want to get them out there and play. It's commonly injured by a dog slipping, or excessive ball playing, and that’s something that so many people love to do, toss the ball, and if the dog doesn’t have enough strength they're going to put a lot of stress on that area, but it's the same thing with the shoulder injury, the shoulders stop the dog from moving forward. So for example, when a dog comes over a jump the shoulders are what stabilize the body so the dog doesn’t fall flat on their face, and if there is a minor injury, weakness will develop and then it will start to become an issue. So really, with both of these cases, again, going back to lots of core strengths, and working on sports specifics, so working on the landing over a jump, and building up the strength, working on a lot of what's called eccentric strength, so you know, really preparing them for that. And the other things are proper warm ups and cool downs, so always making sure that the owners are working on that and doing that.
Melissa Breau: Now I know you're offering the Canine Fitness trainer courses through FDSA. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, kind of what they are what the goal is there?
Debbie Gross: Sure. So the fitness trainer courses are so much fun. They're such a great, dedicated group of people because there's four courses in a row, and the goal really is to educate people to either work more with their dog or go out there and help other dogs. So many of the people that have graduated and successfully completed the course and their exam are out there kind of for, you know, if we equate to people, working as a personal canine trainer, so helping dogs with weight loss, helping dogs with different types of exercises, and they've gone through…it's fairly intense. So the first two sessions focus on functional anatomy, so learning about the different muscles, and how to use them, and different exercises to give for them, tons of safety information, and you know, then kind of putting it all together, so talking about the different sports, and what they need, or just different dogs and what they'll need, and how to set up a program that's safe and effective, you know, for an individual dog. So it's so much fun, and I learn something every time we go through a different group of people because they're just incredible, you know, what they think, and the different types of dogs, and so it really has been fantastic, and it's a lot of work, and I'm so proud of everyone that's completed it because it definitely takes a lot of dedication.
Melissa Breau: At the end of the four classes they can take a test, right, to become certified, is that right?
Debbie Gross: Correct. They submit four case studies, so four dogs that they've been working with, and then there's an exam, yes, and then they become a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer. Had to think of that for a minute.
Melissa Breau: Very cool. I want to talk too about some of the other classes you offer at FDSA. Do you want to just share kind of what they are and kind of what you cover in those classes?
Debbie Gross: Yeah. So I offer a bunch of different ones and one is the basic canine conditioning, which I cannot stress, as I said before, that anybody involved in dogs should…it's such a great course for people to take because it just goes over basic things that anyone can do at home, so it doesn’t have to be with equipment, or anything like that, but just basic exercises that anyone can do, and can make more difficult as demands, you know, for the dog.
And then the second canine conditioning course just gets into a little bit more depth, but we've had dogs that are 14 or 15 years old and the owners have just been working with them to improve their quality of life, and we've had other dogs that are high level competitors in class, and so it's so wonderful to see just the different effects simple canine conditioning can have on the individual dogs.
And I teach a course called The Bum Knees and that's…knee injuries are unfortunately very prevalent in dogs, and we talk about different prevention strategies for knee injuries, what to do if your dog has had a knee injury or does have a knee injury, and talk about, you know, safe exercises to go through. And I think there's a course on the iliopsoas, which as I mentioned before, definitely a muscle in an area that is just a hot topic, and it goes over also injury prevention, what to do, how to recognize an injury, and what to do, what different types of exercises.
And I believe there's a shoulder course does the same thing, but just focuses on shoulders. You know, we're looking at different types of should injuries and that sort of stuff. So off the top of my head, I think that’s it. There could be some more, but I love the other…oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say maybe you should do a few more.
Debbie Gross: Yes. You know, there's just so, so many wonderful things that people…people have been asking for a course for senior dogs, so maybe that will be my next project.
Melissa Breau: So I do want to ask you the same questions that I ask everybody who comes on kind of towards the end of the podcast. So what's the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Debbie Gross: I have to probably involve the dog that I have worked with for quite some time, and she continues to be just an accomplishment that I'm so proud of. A beautiful Irish Setter that I had worked with for a year and she had won, I think 31, best in shows, and it was just amazing to watch her move, and knowing what was kind of lying underneath her, so it was pretty fantastic, and her handler became her owner, and she had been retired, she had 15 puppies, and 14 weeks after the puppies he had come to me and he said, "do you think we can get her ready for Westminster?", and I looked at him and said, are you crazy? You know, this dog has been doing nothing for quite some time, had 15 puppies. And I accepted the challenge, and worked with her, and did so much with her, and I had gone to Westminster that year.
My own dog had won the breed in bullmastiffs, and a Portuguese Water Dog I had bred won the breed. And then I watched this beautiful Irish Setter, and she went on to win the breed, and so I was all done, ready to watch the groups, and I thought, okay, my day is done, I'm just going to kick back and relax, and this dog that’s an Irish Setter won the group, so she was going on to best in show. And it was, you know, just a pretty incredible experience and not only for me, but also for my staff, and then we did it, she went on to win Irish Settler National as a veteran, which was pretty incredible, so even though it wasn’t my dog, it felt pretty incredible to be part of that. So I look back on that and just knowing everything that she had to go through, so it was pretty incredible.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Congrats. So even though we didn’t necessarily talk about training today, I did want to ask you what the best piece of training advice you've ever heard is.
Debbie Gross: You know, I think, like I always tell myself, and I always tell people always listen to the dog. From what I do, dogs always tell us what's wrong with them. You just have to open up your eyes and your ears, and watch, and listen, and they'll tell you. So I know that’s not specifically training, but you know, from what I do, listening to the dog they always know what's right for them. If a dog wants to rest, there's a reason, you know, where sometimes we don’t listen to.
Melissa Breau: Right. And then finally, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?
Debbie Gross: There are a lot of people that I look up to. Probably coming from my background with structure and all of that sort of stuff, Pat Hastings is someone that I look up to, just form her knowledge, and I've taught with her a few times, and it's been, you know, pretty incredible. And probably too then, you know, from a dog looking at training and that sort of stuff, I am a big fan of Denise's and watching her calmness, how she works with dogs, and there are a couple people that train in my area, the same thing, you know, there's definitely people that just understand dogs, and dogs understand them, so yeah. It's hard to pinpoint to just one.
Fair enough. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Debbie.
Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Lori Stevens to discuss supporting our aging dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Dr. Deborah Jones is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.
To be released 6/16/2017, featuring Andrea Harrison.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dogs Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we will be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones, better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.
Deb is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer. Oh, and she’s working on a cat class, too.
Hi, Deb. Welcome to the podcast.
Deb Jones: Hi, Melissa. Thank you, very much, for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today.
Deb Jones: Oh, so am I.
Melissa Breau: So, usually to get started I ask people to tell us a little bit about their dogs and what they are working on with them, but since I know you also have the cat class coming up, do you want to just walk us through your full furry crew and what you’re working on with all of them?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. I have quite a crew right now. I have three Border Collies and three Shelties that I’m working with, along with the cat, Tricky, who is going to be the star of the cat class -- because he insists. Every time I train dogs he’s there, so I figured if he’s going to show up regularly he might as well earn his keep and be part of a class at FDSA.
I have my three Border Collies that I work with the majority of the time now. Many people know Zen, who is almost 10 years old, which seems impossible. He is my demo dog for everything. Always willing to work. He’s done Agility, Obedience, and Rally, and titled in all of those and, these days, he’s pretty much semi-retired. He gets to do almost whatever he wants except what he wants to do is play ball 24 / 7, so we don’t do that, but other than that he gets to do whatever he wants.
Star is my next oldest dog, a Border Collie, who is, I say constantly, the smartest dog I ever met. She’s scary smart and Star is also great demo dog. Also showed her as well. And my youngest boy now, who is actually Zen’s nephew, Helo is going to be three. A lot of people have seen him in class videos. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been working for FDSA in some form or the other.
And the latest, youngest Sheltie is Tigger, who is a tiny little seven pound thing and he is just so full of himself and full of life, and he’s a lot of fun, so he is also in quite a few of the class videos and he enjoys every second of it, and then the other two Shelties are a little bit older, so they have what we call old dog immunity, which means, again, you get to do whatever you want and they enjoy that.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Deb Jones: So it’s a busy household.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine -- but I’ve seen some of those videos you share of Tigger. He’s so cute.
Deb Jones: Oh. He’s a little firecracker. To have such a tiny little dog…he’s way below size for what Shelties usually are and this was just by chance. It was just a fluke that he was this small, but oh is he full of it, so he makes us laugh every day. That’s the thing we say about Tigger is he makes us laugh constantly, so there’s a lot of value in that.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask about how you originally got into dog sports -- I know that you’ve done a lot of different sports and with a lot of different dogs, so what got you started?
Deb Jones: Yeah. I have. I’ve had a lot of different dogs over the years. Settled on herding dogs now, but I actually started out with a Labrador Retriever, black lab named Katie, and I was in graduate school and I’d been in about two years and just had to have a dog. I’d always had dogs just as pets, and never done a lot with them, but I really felt the need to have some sort of companionship in graduate school that was not stressful, so I got Katie, who was a rescue…from a rescue. She was about 18 months old and we did training classes. Took her to local training classes.
And this was in 1992, so at that time all there was, was obedience. If you wanted to show a dog in anything you were going to show it in Obedience, so I went through a number of classes. I met a lot of people. I got to know quite a bit about obedience competition and the only…the problem was I was already trained in behavioral psychology and learning theory, and what I saw happening in classes did not match at all my expectation for how we should be training animals. It was still very, very heavy handed and traditional back in those days.
So I liked the idea of competition and performance but I didn’t like the way that people told me you had to train in order to get to it, so that sort of started this conflict in me about I want to do this but I don’t want to do it that way and made me work very hard to try to figure out 'how can I apply what I know from academics and get successful performance?' And so that was the start of it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you bridge that gap? What actually got you started on that positive journey and at what point did you get introduced to clicker training?
Deb Jones: Around the same time I got Katie I was introduced to the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, which was probably the very first book that many dog trainers ever saw that had anything to do with positive training. I’m a voracious reader so I read every dog training book out there and this was one of many, but this was the one that really, really spoke to me and said to me you can take what you know from science, you can apply it to training the animal that you’re working with now and you can be successful. Except the thing was nobody had actually done it. It was theory. It wasn’t yet application.
And so that set me on the path of being able to do this training the way I want to do it and having an enthusiastic and very willing animal partner rather than one who was basically forced to do it because there would be unpleasant consequences if they didn’t, so I really would credit the book with getting me started on that.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is that also how you were introduced to clicker training and shaping and all that good stuff?
Deb Jones: Yeah. It all came around about the same time. There was actually…the first internet email group that I was ever on, which was called Click-L. This is really ancient. This was also back in about 1993 or so. When we first got internet at home, which was a big deal at the time, but ClickL was a group of like-minded people and we were all just simply trying to figure out how do we do this? How do we apply this?
And Karen Pryor was on the list along with a number of other people who are still training today and we were all just kind of talking and throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we could use this kind of technique, a clicker training technique, to get the…all different sorts of behaviors, so it was a time when nobody was really an expert because nobody had done it yet, but that’s really what I wanted to work toward was to make it work in our day to day training.
Melissa Breau: I bet back then you never would have thought you’d be teaching online in today’s day in age.
Deb Jones: Absolutely not. No. I remember my great excitement the first time my modem actually hooked up at home because for the longest time we only had access at school, when I was in graduate school, for the first couple of years, so no, I could never have foreseen that one day I would be involved in these online classes. That just would not have ever crossed my map.
Melissa Breau: So one of my favorite lines to come out of the podcast so far Sue made this whole analogy during her interview about training without focus being almost like sending a kid to school without clothes on, right? Like you would never imagine…
Deb Jones: I love that.
Melissa Breau: ...sending a kid to school…
Deb Jones: No. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: …without his clothes on. Like why would you train a dog if you don’t already have their focus? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that concept. Focus seems likes a place where people just tend to struggle and I was kind of curious to get your take on why you think that is?
Deb Jones: Oh, so many reasons. Yeah. Sue always has the best descriptions of things and I think that one is perfect. The problem with focus though is that it’s invisible to a large extent. Oftentimes people have the illusion that they have focus because they have cookies and they have toys and they’re in a training mode. Then they try to go into performance and all of a sudden it becomes very clear it was only an illusion. You did not have actual offered focus from your dog. You thought you did but you didn’t, so that’s about the time people contact me. They’re like I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going so well and then they’re really surprised.
Sometimes people equate focus with eye contact and what we say is that’s only part of it because you can be focused but not looking at each other. Looking at each other is not always focus. It’s easy to look at somebody and to be a thousand miles away in your mind and dogs do it the same way that people do it, so it’s more than eye contact, which can be a trained behavior.
There has to be this desire to want to do whatever the activity is or the task is. And if that desire isn’t there, there’s not going to be any focus. You’re always going to be looking around for something else that’s more interesting, and I think people just don’t realize any of this. You’re training your dog. You’re teaching behaviors and skills but you’re not teaching it with focus and it falls apart very quickly when it’s put to the test.
Melissa Breau: It’s very hard to...I mean even as a person, right? If you’re focused on one task there’s a big difference between being focused on the task and having eight million tabs open on your browser and you’re jumping back and forth between Facebook and the thing you’re writing and something else and it…
Deb Jones: Yeah. There is and it takes a while. It’s not something we can expect to have immediately. Every once in a while, and it’s very rare, you get a dog that just is naturally focused but it’s really rare. I’ve only known one dog who, I would say, was really, truly always just focused from the get go. That’s not the norm, so we all have to work at it to get our dogs to that place and people then don’t know. Okay, they want focus but then they have no idea. What do you do? How do I get focus? And that’s really the tricky part of it because there’s a lot of things you do. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.
Melissa Breau: So how do you approach it in the class?
Deb Jones: We have two classes that address focus and the first…I always hope people take them in order. The first class is Get Focused, which is what I always recommend people take first and then a follow-up to that is called Focus Games and we always try to offer Get Focused in one term and then Focus Games in the next so people can follow through with it.
What I try to do is isolate focus from…take it out of the context of anything else and distill it down to this mutual desire to interact with each other, so convincing the dog that what we’re doing is what he wants to do, which sounds hard and it is hard. Sometimes it is very difficult. It’s not easy. We have a number of very specific exercises to work on letting our dogs know that focus pays off and if you focus on me I’ll pay you for it and we try to get people quickly to move from food to toys and back and forth and into personal play as well so that you get paid in some way for focusing. There’s a reinforcer for focusing.
Then we start adding work to focus but what we do is typically the opposite of what everybody else does. We have to have focus first before we ask for work or play even. If the dog isn’t focused we do not go on. We never train an unfocused dog and I say this…this is like a million times. I say this over and over again. If my dog’s not focused I need to stop and this is really, really hard for people to do because they have a plan in their head for something that they wanted to train, but training an unfocused dog is just a waste of time if you truly want to develop this. Work and training always has to be combined with focus.
So we go through a series of exercises designed to improve focus and also to teach people what to do when it’s gone. What do you do? What’s the protocol for when the focus is lost? Because lots of times then people are just kind of stuck. They don’t know what to do so they take responsibility for focus and try to make it happen rather than allowing the dog to offer it.
Melissa Breau: That whole being more exciting than a clown on crack line from Denise, right? Like that idea of just trying to be more and more exciting and your dog just continues to ignore you.
Deb Jones: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Deb Jones: Yeah. That ends up being kind of a death spiral. Things never go well if I have…if I have to add more and more energy to the interaction then there is a problem. I’m giving everything. My dog’s not doing anything. We need to go back to getting the dog to want to focus and work with us and so we continually go back to that and we don’t try to overwhelm the dog with fun and excitement because that’s a dead end. You won’t get very far with that. The problem is it often will temporarily work but it won’t work over the long term. It won’t hold up.
We work on all of this in the Get Focused class. When we move onto the Focus Games class, that’s a lot more about finding the flow and the rhythm to working together and extending it out and adding things like movement and taking food off our bodies and still getting focus, so we add all those kinds of things in there, so it’s a good 12 weeks worth of focused focus on focus.
Melissa Breau: Right, so both the Focused class and your current class, the Performance Fundamentals class, seem to fall into that foundations category, right? So I wanted to ask you what you thought it was so…what is it about building a good foundation that is so critical when it comes to dog sports?
Deb Jones: Foundation really is everything. I truly believe that. If you do your foundations well you won’t run into problems later on or…I won’t say you won’t. You won’t run into as many problems later on or if you do run into problems you will have a way to fix them because the problem is in the foundation. Ninety-nine percent of the time something wasn’t taught to fluency or you left something out somewhere. You’ve got a gap or a hole, so going back to foundation and making it strong is always the answer. It’s never a wrong thing to do.
So I really like being able to try to get in that really strong basis for everything else you want. I don’t care what sport people are going into or even if they’re not going into sport at all. If they just like training and they want to train their dog this…a good foundation prepares you for any direction in the future because oftentimes we change direction. You have a dog you think you’re going to be doing obedience with but if you focus in the beginning too much on obedience behaviors it may end up that dog just isn’t right for that, and so you have kind of these gaps for.. "oh well, let’s see if I want to switch to agility. Now I need to train a new set of behaviors." We don’t want that to happen so we’ve got the foundation for pretty much everything.
Melissa Breau: Talk a little bit more about the Fundamentals Class specifically. Do you mind just giving some details around what you cover in that class and how you work to set up that foundation within the class syllabus? Within the class…within, I guess, what you teach there?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. Sure. We approach performance fundamentals very differently than many other people do or the way that people think they should approach dog training. I’m considering typically as a class that you either start with a puppy or you’ve gone through a puppy class and now you’re ready to move onto the next thing, so that’s where we would come in. I also think that it’s a really good class for people who haven’t done a lot of positive reinforcement training and they don’t quite understand how to get started with it and what to do.
I think it’s also a good place for that, but the thing is rather than focusing on skills and behaviors…I don’t care at all in a class if the dog learns to sit or lie down or do whatever it is on cue. In fact, lots of times they won’t and they don’t need to. What they need to do in Performance Fundamentals or what I want them to be able to do is to build the foundation for a good working relationship so that, again, the dog is ready. The dog’s willing. The dog really wants to do what you’re doing.
We work hard on balancing things like getting dogs to play as well as food motivation and going back and forth with those quite a bit and my goal is always to make it seem like the dog doesn’t know if you’re playing or training. If they don’t believe there’s any difference, that’s perfect. That’s perfect training, so we do a lot of the foundation things like targeting behavior, so you might have the dog targeting to your hand. You might have the dog targeting with their nose to other objects. Have the dog targeting with their front feet or with their back feet, so we would explore okay there’s all these different things we can do with targeting behavior and those are all going to come in handy for you on down the line.
We’ll look at and play around with shaping because shaping is one of my favorite techniques and it’s also one that’s really hard for people. It takes a lot of practice and you make a lot of mistakes. There’s just no way around it. It’s experimenting, so we play around with shaping and I always like to shape tricks and things that people don’t care about a whole lot so if you mess it up nobody cares. It’s no big deal, you know? You don’t want to start being like.. on your competition retrieve, you don’t want that to be the first time you shape. Because that matters to people, and so we try to get them to do the easier things first.
In that class we’re also just looking at can you effectively use…once we’ve taught targeting, can you use luring? Can you use shaping? You can teach any behavior any number of ways and so we look a bit more at the techniques that underlie that and there’s…people can make decisions about what they want to train and how they want to go about approaching it and we help them with that once they make some informed decisions.
Melissa Breau: For sure. I thought, writing the questions for this talk, I felt like there were eight million things I wanted to ask about and jumping back and forth between focus and then the Performance Fundamentals class and I’ve taken the Cooperative Canine Care Class and loved it, so I wanted to at least briefly kind of touch on the other subjects. We’ll definitely have to have you back to talk more in depth about them, but can you tell us a little bit about the Cooperative Canine Care Class and a little bit about the new cat class you’re working on? And give people…
Deb Jones: Oh.
Melissa Breau: …a sneak peek?
Deb Jones: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Cooperative Care has turned out to be one of my favorites. Which I think we’ve only been teaching it for a couple of years and I was…I became interested in this whole idea of husbandry work and working on grooming and veterinary procedures with animals after I had gone to a week-long training seminar at Shedd Aquarium a few years ago and the majority of the training they do is cooperative care type training.
They train every day for things that their animals may or may not ever need but if they need them then it’s there, so training their dolphins, for example, to flip upside down and hold still so they can take blood out of the vein by their tail and that’s something they work on everyday even though it happens very rarely, and that got me thinking a lot about what we do with dogs because mostly what we do with dogs is we wrestle with them and usually because we’re a little bit stronger and because they’re nice they don’t bite us, but in reality we do some pretty unpleasant things to them and we don’t prepare them for it. We just do it, okay.
So I wanted to really explore with dogs what can we do to make this more pleasant, more fun for everybody involved? Because it’s no fun for the people either. It’s just a stressful thing all the way around when you have to do something to an animal that it’s afraid of and doesn’t want you to do, so that was the idea for it and we’ve had a lot of fun with it because if you make it all into games and tricks and trained behaviors it really tends to be amazing what they will cooperate with and what they will allow you to do and I’ve used my own dogs as guinea pigs, of course, for everything on this and really been amazed at how much better it is for them than it was in the past.
One of my dogs, Star, had developed a terrible fear of the vet. I was out of town and she ended up having to be spayed and it was unpleasant and just terrible things happened to her at that point. To the point that I was worried she would bite somebody at the vet, and now she goes in. She’s pleased with herself. She jumps up on the table. She wants to do her chin rest and take her squeeze cheese and it just made her…it just made everything so much better for her and that made me so happy and that’s what I hear from students all the time. It’s these little things, you know? That my dog went to the vet and jumped on the scale by themselves or they held still while the vet gave them a shot and didn’t even act like they noticed and that’s what I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things that make that class worthwhile.
Melissa Breau: And I know, for example, I have a German Shepherd with some pressure issues and just the working through the class and working through being able to touch them in different ways that just helped her so much in terms of wanting to cuddle and be a little bit closer to me at different times. It just had so much of a positive impact in the relationship over all. I can’t recommend the class highly enough.
Deb Jones: Oh. I’m really happy to hear that. I just love hearing things like that because I think when we give our animals a choice…everybody’s afraid to give them a choice because they’re afraid they’re going to say no. We’re afraid they’re going to say no I don’t want you to touch me. No, I don’t want this to happen, but if we approach it in a very incremental, systematic way and make it highly reinforcing they’re much more likely to start saying yes and the whole idea that they have a choice, I think, makes them brave. It makes them confident and it increases our bond with them because we no longer have to wrestle them to the ground to try to do something with them, so they trust us more.
Melissa Breau: Right. Do you want to share a little bit about the cat class?
Deb Jones: The cat class. Yeah. I was just thinking about that. I’m still working on the cat class, which I honestly…honestly when I said it, it was a joke. I didn’t necessarily actually ever intend,…when I first brought it up, I was like you know oh I’m so busy so here I am thinking about teaching a class to train cats and I thought that was funny, but people started jumping in and what I realized from that is every video I get from a student that has a cat the cat is there. Like I said earlier. The cat’s in it. The cat’s interested so what the heck?
And people really do not believe that cats can be trained. They think cats are totally different than any other creature on the planet and you can train everything else but not a cat, so…and working with my own cat, Tricky, who’s about six years old now, I think. I’ve worked quite a bit with Tricky over the years. He likes to train and he trains differently than a dog but in some ways, he’s faster. In some ways a little bit…it’s a little bit more challenging than I expected, so it’s an exploration. It’s an experiment but I’m looking at…started looking at what could we do with a class like this? How could I set it up?
So it’s going to be a little bit different than some of my other classes because first we have to convince the cats that they want to work with us and I think that’s a little…that’s even more than it takes with a dog because our dogs we tend to be a little more social with anyway and cats sometimes we allow them to be very independent and we assume that’s what they’re supposed to be, so convincing them now that they want to do something with us and that it’s going to pay off. I think that’s going to be a big step, but other than that 90 percent of what I’m looking at it’s the same way you train any animal.
We use lots of positive reinforcement. We break things down into small bits and we work our way up, so I don’t know that it will be that vastly different. It’s not like there’s one way to train cats and then another way to train every other animal in the world. It’s that we train the same way but we have to remember that they are cats and that there are some things that we’ll have to keep in mind that make them different than dogs, so it’s an interesting challenge and I’m really excited about it now, so I’m spending the summer training my cat.
Melissa Breau: I can’t wait to see some of the videos from that. It sounds like it will be entertaining and really useful. I mean, it’s always…I feel like anytime we learn more about training a different species than dogs it only improves your overall ability to train.
Deb Jones: Oh. Definitely. I think I’ve learned more from other species by far than I have from training dogs. They’re always more challenging. You have more to learn about them. Approach them differently, so yeah. I love training other species. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
Melissa Breau: We’re getting towards the end of the podcast so we’re at those last three questions that I ask every episode. So what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a tough question. First I…because you’d think okay I’d want to talk about titles or something but not really. What I think I’m most proud of just overall with all of my dogs is that they all want to work with me. If they have a choice between me and anything else in the world they’ll choose me and there’s a lot of effort, on my part in terms of training, that went into that but I’m very proud of the fact that my dogs freely make that decision and I don’t ever have to coerce them to make that, so I’d say that has to be my overall answer.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s an accomplishment almost everybody listening to this would love to have, so I definitely think that’s a good answer. What is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a hard one, too. These are hard questions, Melissa. I’ve heard lots of good and bad training advice over the years but most recently what’s sticking in my mind comes from Denise, actually, which is train the dog in front of you. Train the dog you have right now not the dog you want or the dog that you think you ought to have, but train the one that’s standing there and that is harder than it seems to be, but I think that’s a very good piece of advice. They’re all different and we need to work with each one as a unique individual.
Melissa Breau: And even as a unique individual I mean the dog you have today is not the dog you have next week and it’s so hard to see that sometimes.
Deb Jones: Oh, it is. It’s really hard because we just have built up in our minds this image of what this dog’s like and even if the dog changes our image doesn’t always change, so I think that’s a really good point and I sometimes…I’m so bad I forget which dog knows which behavior. So I’ll tell Helo to do something that Zen knows how to do and then I’ll look at him like oh I never taught you that, so I need to focus a little more on the dog that’s in front of me at the moment.
Melissa Breau: That’s funny. And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Deb Jones: Oh. Quit asking me hard questions. Well, I have to say as a group really, truly every instructor at FDSA is just amazing and they really inspire me. I feel challenged to always do better because of the people I’m working with. Because the instructors are all so awesome and I don’t want to be the weak link so I always feel like I have to do more and work harder because of them, which is a really good thing.
If we move out of that realm a little bit someone that I do truly admire would be Ken Ramirez. I worked with him at Shedd. Got to know him and work with him at Shedd Aquarium when I was there and have seen him several times since then and I like his approach and I like the fact that he’s worked with so many different species and that he still maintains the science of it but at the same time it’s not clinical. It’s also humanized in a way. I don’t know if that even makes any sense.
Melissa Breau: Very practical. It’s applicable.
Deb Jones: Yes. Very, very applicable to a huge variety of situations, so I admire that.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much for coming on the podcast, Deb. It was really great to chat.
Deb Jones: Oh. Thank you for asking me.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. No. I was thrilled that you could make some time and that we could fit this in and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. This time with Andrea Harrison to talk about the human half of the competitive team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Mariah Hinds’ love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
To be released 6/9/2017, featuring Deb Jones.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I’ll be talking to Mariah Hinds.
Mariah’s love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters, and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays, and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
Hi Mariah. Welcome to the podcast.
Mariah Hinds: Hi Melissa, it’s great to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to get to talk to you for the podcast today. I think we’ve been talking about this for a long time so it’s good to finally get you on.
Mariah Hinds: Yes, absolutely.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to get started with the same question that I ask pretty much everybody to start out, but I think you’re the first person I’ve actually had on who I’ve actually met all of your dogs. Still, since the listeners haven’t, can you share who they are and what you’re working on with them.
Mariah Hinds: Sure, yes. I have three dogs. Jada is my oldest. She’s a Doberman. She’ll be 11 years old next month. She’s my Novice A dog and she has her Utility title. She occasionally makes appearances in my training videos. And my middle dog is Clever who I call Liv and she’s four years old. She’s a Border Collie and she’s my first positive-only trained dog. She has her CDX and will be entering utility this fall and I hope to get an OTCH with her. I really think that she can do it. And my puppy is Talent who I call Tally. She’s eight months old and we’re just getting started. We’ve done some shaping and some obedience and agility foundations, but really the focus has been on house manners and socialization and focus and just enjoying each other’s company.
Melissa Breau: Well as I mentioned in the bio at the very beginning, you pretty much always knew you wanted to be a dog trainer... so I wanted to ask how you got started and about that "always a positive trainer" question.
Mariah Hinds: So I’m…I was not always been a positive trainer. Jada actually is my crossover dog. I started off, as most people do, assuming that dogs really just play dumb and choose to ignore us and that some coercion is really required for training. But the more that I worked with dogs, the more I realize that they’re really trying their best to interpret our world and I was what I would call a balanced trainer until I took the Susan Garrett Recallers course and saw dogs of all breeds coming when called in really challenging situations, and that really started my journey, and I spent the next two years watching every competition dog training video, every generic dog training video, and attending as many online classes and seminars as I could.
And all the while I was training pet dogs for 30 hours a week doing private training sessions and so I was able to try new things with those dogs as well, and I decided to commit to raising my middle dog with only positive training methods and watching her thrive and learn and become so precise using only those methods, and incrementally setting her up to succeed, really cemented my commitment to positive training methods.
Melissa Breau: Like you talked a little bit there about kind of how you crossed over and training pet dogs, so what got you into competition obedience?
Mariah Hinds: Well so my first experience with competition obedience was I worked at PetSmart, that was my first job, and I had this dog and we took this…I took this class from a PetSmart trainer named Barb and she competed in obedience with her dog and invited me to go watch a competition obedience class and immediately I was hooked and the dogs were all heeling and paying attention to their handlers, even when they got close to other dogs and it just really looked like a lot of fun. So when I got Jada I knew that I wanted to do competition obedience and when she was four years old I finally found a place to train regularly and she was entered in novice that year and she got her UD when she was four and she really taught me a lot and I’m really proud of her.
Melissa Breau: Was getting a Doberman partly inspired by the obedience? I’m always curious because now you have Border Collies, so what led you to start out with a Doberman?
Mariah Hinds: So it’s kind of interesting. So at the time, before I got my Doberman, I had a Standard Poodle that I was fostering and I kept getting these comments from my pet people saying, "Oh well, you know it’s a fluffy dog, you know and you can’t train a fluffy dog the same way as you train one of those hardcore breeds." And so I was like, okay, well I’ll go get a Doberman because they’re really pretty and I like them and so that’s how I ended up getting a Doberman.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that the Border Collies are very different to train.
Mariah Hinds: They are different, you know, and I never would have gotten them as my first dogs, but really I love Border Collies. I think that they’re a lot of fun and they’re much easier to live with, or mine are, than most people think that they are.
Melissa Breau: Interesting, and we were talking about that a little bit this weekend, just even the difference between the two that you have now, right?
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, they’re definitely different, but they have a lot of similarities as well, and part of that is just how I raised them. Clover was my first Border Collie and so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have the same issue with Jada, like the checking out, so really did a lot of focus on building drive and with my young dog, I’m like, I know that it will come and yes we’ve done a little bit of drive building, but most of it has been, "all right I’m going to get you excited and then we’re going to practice calming down afterwards," and so she was much better at that than my four year old dog.
Melissa Breau: Most of your classes at FDSA kind of revolve around self-control on the part of the dog, like in one format or another, right? So just glancing over some of your upcoming classes, you have Proof Positive this session, a stay class in August, impulse control and a greeting class in October. What is it really about that topic that’s kind of drawn you to teach it and that fascinates you so much?
Mariah Hinds: Well, really it's that I think that reliability is greatly affected by self-control and not knowing how to teach impulse control and self-control positively to dogs initially is what held me back from crossing over just to being a positive trainer, especially early in my career as a pet trainer, and so when I realized that I had this gap in my understanding, I really pursued learning about it as much as I could. I also feel like reliability or the lack of it is really frustrating to most of us and we can greatly impact our relationships with our dogs by working on impulse control and building reliability and I really enjoy seeing people understand their dogs. We see their dog’s point of view and ultimately have a better relationship with their dog.
Melissa Breau: And I want to focus in on proofing for a moment there, so I wanted to ask how you define proofing and kind of how you approach it.
Mariah Hinds: Well so I think that the traditional definition of proofing is to set the dog up to be wrong and tell the dog that he or she is wrong and hope that the dog can bounce back from corrections time and time again, and what we’re going to do in proofing is set the dog up to succeed time and time again with tiny little increases in the difficulty level, and so what I find is that that really builds confidence by showing the dog that they are indeed correct and they have earned a reward for their effort. And so that’s really the big thing of building their confidence and helping them understand that it’s the same behavior even if it’s slightly more challenging with a distraction.
Melissa Breau: And I’ve heard a rumor about, something about costumes in this class. Is that right?
Mariah Hinds: Yes. One of the games we’re going to be playing is about having handler dress up and making sure that the dogs can do the behavior even with the handler dressed up or with a helper dressed up and I find that a lot of times that really impacts the dog because our body language is different, so really helping to again build that reliability. So the other thing that we’re going to go over in Proof Positive is we’re going to over covering maintaining criteria, and often times I find that we build these really beautiful behaviors that are really crisp and clean and fast, and when we add distractions then our criteria drifts and we lose some of that beautiful criteria. So we’re going to go over how to maintain that while we’re adding more levels of difficulty.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think that’s something a lot of people struggle with, just like figuring out how to do that and keep that really pretty behavior that they can get in their living room, when they’re out in the real world, and then eventually in a show ring.
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, it’s definitely…it can be done, it can be done.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to make sure students got something, or listeners got something that they could kind of take away and act on as part of this, so I wanted to ask you if there’s a common piece of proofing or if there’s something else that jumps out to you, that’s fine too, where you feel that students like usually struggle, and if so, kind of how you recommend working through it.
Mariah Hinds: Well I think that most people struggle with seeing the benefit of systematically helping their dog overcome distractions, which is my definition of proofing. I think that a lot of people see it as mean or unnecessary, and personally I think that if we’re going to enter a dog in a trial at some point, then they’re going to need to be able to do the behaviors with distractions and that systematically helping the dog become reliable with distractions is a really kind thing to do to help them prepare for that environment.
I think that the second most common struggle with proofing is really over-facing our dogs. We pick the distraction that’s too challenging for the dog and the dog struggles to make the desired choice and then we get upset or disappointed in the dog, even if it’s just a tiny bit, and then we’re building stress into our behaviors and that’s not the goal. So when a dog struggles with a distraction, then really distance is our friend, you know. We can always go further away from the distraction and then the dog is like, oh okay, I can do it now.
Alternatively, we can dissect the distraction into its simplest parts and build back up from there, once the dog is successful with the individual components. So for example, if a dog struggles with a judge in the ring, then we want to work just on judge being far away and not work on it being a new location and having sounds and having food on the table and all those other things. And the bottom line is that we really want to build confidence with proofing, and not add stress.
Melissa Breau: So do you want to talk just for a minute about how you can kind of tell when the dog is over faced versus kind of working through something or trying to make a choice? Like how do you walk that line? Can you just talk to that for a minute?
Mariah Hinds: So a big part of that is body language. The other thing that I really make sure that I practice with my own dogs is that the 50, 60, 80 rule, and that rule to me is if they’re 80 percent reliable and you’ve done it about five times, then we can make it slightly more challenging. If they’re between 60 and 80 percent reliable and you’ve practiced it five times, then really we’re doing okay. We can keep practicing at that level and the dog will figure it out. We might want to help them a tiny bit if they’re leaning towards the 60 percent, and again, we still want to look at stress signals. If the dog is checking out or if they’re looking worried, then definitely we need to make it easier.
If they’re below 60 percent successful, then we most definitely need to make it easier, and if they’ve failed to make the desired choice twice in a row, then again, we definitely need to back up and help them understand because they’re not going to miraculously figure out that, oh I should be doing this behavior instead of that.
Melissa Breau: You mean they can’t actually read our minds?
Mariah Hinds: No, they can’t. If they could then they would do it already.
Melissa Breau: All right. So I wanted to kind of round out things the way I normally round up a conversation, which is asking about the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of.
Mariah Hinds: So last year when I was in Florida, we had this competition called DOCOF, and what it is it that every year all the obedience clubs in Florida put together teams and then all those teams compete against each other in this one day event. And so last year we were entered in open and Liv won First Place in open with a score of 199 and a half and so I was very proud of that. There were a hundred dogs in that class and she beat several dogs who were really expected to win who were taught with traditional methods, and those trainers had told me in the past that dogs who are only positively trained can’t win, but we did. So that was really exciting. So we tried for…
Melissa Breau: I was just going to say, you’ve had a lot of success with her, right? I mean you guys have done a lot of really cool things.
Mariah Hinds: We have done a lot of cool things. She’s one really fun dog, you know. Yeah, she’s a lot of fun and she loves to train, so we train a lot. And we trained for high in trial with my friend and we did a run off and we finished up in second place out of the 3 hundred dogs that were entered, and then in addition to our individual successes, our team was really supportive of each other and we celebrated each dog and handler’s big and little successes, and we didn’t let each other worry about the tiny baubles, so really overall it was a really great day.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. It sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe you have to start something like that here in NC.
Mariah Hinds: I know, it would be fun. I really…it’s one of the big things that I’m going to miss about Florida, not the heat, but I’ll miss that.
Melissa Breau: And what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Mariah Hinds: Well I think there is a ton of really great pieces of training advice that I’ve heard. My favorite piece of training advice is that training really should look like play. So my goal and my unedited training videos is that it really looks like play with just a tiny bit of training mixed in. But for me, the most impactful piece of training advice is that you don’t have to end training on a success, and when I embraced that, it was really pivotal for me with Jada and my journey to positive training methods.
Originally when a training session was going horribly, I would just keep going and build more and more frustration and anger with our repetitions instead of just calling it a day. And so once I was able to end a training session that wasn’t going well and go back to the training board, then our relationship really improved a lot. So I guess ultimately, it’s play a lot and don’t be afraid to give your dog a cookie and end the training session when it’s not going the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So I’m really curious there. You mentioned your unedited videos kind of look like a play session with a little bit of training mixed in. I mean your dogs are pretty drivey, just kind of knowing them and watching you work with them. What ratio are you actually talking about? Are you thinking like five minutes of play, two minutes of work, or like what do you…can you break that out for me a little more and just talk a little more about it?
Mariah Hinds: So I do a lot of focusing on tiny pieces of behavior. I know that a lot of people really work on sequences, but I don’t focus on that really with my dogs. I focus on just tiny pieces of behavior, like five steps of heeling with some proofing. Or five steps of doing left turns and right turns and then rewarding that and making sure that each tiny piece is really crisp and so that’s what I aim for in a training session, and so we do three minutes of work and they get kibble with that and then we do, after our three minutes, then we do a little bit of play and then we do it again. That’s kind of what it looks like. I don’t really do a lot of five minutes of training in one duration.
Melissa Breau: So for our final question, someone else in the dog world that you look up to.
Mariah Hinds: Well I really look up to Silvia Trkman. I love how she teaches heeling which is now how FDSA teaches heeling. I have no clue if that’s really related or not, but I think that she’s really an expert in shaping and she teaches her dogs some really fun tricks and the reliability that she gets with her dogs in really big events is awe inspiring and she does it all with positive training methods.
So I also really like learning from Bob Bailey. He has some really important things to share regarding training, such as matching law, reward placement, and rewarding more substantially for duration behaviors and I think that these things really impact precision and reliability. So I love taking things that I learned from him and thinking about how I can apply that to 10 different behaviors or scenarios.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Mariah, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.
Mariah Hinds: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was good to finally get to talk to you while the recording was running instead of just for fun.
So in case you missed it last week, for all our listeners out there, you’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly which is why you’re hearing this episode now, even though we just published the interview with Julie last week. And that means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Deb Jones to talk performance fundamentals, cooperative canine care, shaping and that all important topic, focus. If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Flanery has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
To be released 6/2/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’ll be talking to Julie Flanery.
Julie has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
Hi, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Flanery: Hey, Melissa, thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: So excited to have you on. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dog or dogs you have now and what you’re working on?
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I’m actually down to one dog now. I’ve lost three dogs in the last couple of years, which has been a little bit hard, but all of them were about 15 years old so I’m down to just Kashi, and Kashi is my 6-year-old Tibetan Terrier. She is a great little worker, in spite of some severe food allergies she’s had since she was a puppy and that kind of limits our training with food rewards a little bit, so we’ve really had to work hard to come up with some ways that she really enjoys her training and make every reward count.
We do show, as you said, in Freestyle and Rally-FrEe, and we just showed our intermediate Heelwork routine last weekend and started work on putting together our new routine. It’s a kind of a Las Vegas show-style illusionist routine, I’m kind of excited about it and Kashi plays my disappearing assistant and we just moved into...
Melissa Breau: Sounds so fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it is, it is. I have the ideas kind of swirling around in my brain, nothing complete yet, but that’s kind of where you start with freestyle is with an idea or some type of inspiration and you go from there. And then we also just moved into the Elite Division for Rally-FrEe after completing our Grand Championship last year. That was really exciting for me as well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau:So I want to start kind of at the beginning. You know, I talked a lot about your history there and you’ve accomplished a lot, but how did you originally get into dog sports?
Julie Flanery: That was a long time ago. If I’m really honest I would say it was about 25 years ago when I took my 5-month-old Border Collie to a pet class. I was a new pet dog owner, and I watched one of the instructors do a demo of how many tricks his 5-month-old Border Collie could do in a minute and I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog. I mean I’m just a pet person here, but I saw that and I was so impressed and so intrigued at what training could do, that and having a great dog to start with got me really immersed into training, and my competitive nature kind of kicked in a little bit.
And I didn’t really start competing until probably a couple years in agility to start and then obedience, and both of those were rather short-lived due to my discovery of freestyle I’d say probably in the...oh, I don’t know, mid-90s at an APDT conference after seeing a freestyle demo and again I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog.
And unfortunately, there was no freestyle available in the Pacific Northwest, or much really anywhere in the country at that time. It was just a fairly new sport then and there wasn’t really the luxury of any online training back then, so if I wanted to do this I was going to have to learn this on my own, and because I didn’t really want to do it alone I dragged a few of my students along with me, and today we have one of the largest freestyle clubs in the country and those first few students are still competing, are active members in the club today.
So, that’s kind of how I got started competing in general, first with obedience and agility and then really became enamored with freestyle, but I competed off and on in a variety of dog sports, as you said, so I think I have a little bit of a competitive nature at heart.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s awesome. It’s kind of cool that you managed to really...I guess you could almost start a movement in that area, right, like for the sport.
Julie Flanery: I don’t want to take that kind of credit, but I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it was not going to be something I could probably do alone. Freestyle’s not an easy sport to stick with and it really takes some perseverance to stay involved in it, and I just felt very passionate about it, and so anytime anybody would listen or anytime anybody wanted me to give a workshop on it I would go and I would oftentimes...early on with the club I would give free workshops just to get people interested and involved in it so that we could have a group that could put on competitions here.
Melissa Breau: Well, I wanted to make sure that I told you, you know, I watched some of the videos of you and I think most of them actually you’re working with Kashi on the FDSA website. Consistently she looks so happy to be working with you, and even the other dogs that you have in the videos, they all look so thrilled to be there and to be performing. So I really was curious what it is, or what you attribute it to in terms of how you train or the sport specifically that leads to that.
Julie Flanery: Oh, I love...I love that that is what you noticed. So to me there really isn’t much point in training unless you have a willing and happy partner, and in freestyle it’s a sport where emotion shows through and emotion is something that you want to convey, and for most of us we want our dogs to be happy out there working, and as I said earlier, it’s a very difficult sport and if you don’t have a dog that’s really enjoying it, it can be very, very difficult to progress in the sport.
For me really, the shift to really wanting a happy, joyful dog out there came about when I started using operant conditioning and shaping specifically with al clicker. I’d always used treats in my training. I primarily have always been a positive reinforcement trainer early on in obedience. I did learn how to use a choke chain and I was quite skilled at that, but I did train with rewards and mostly the reward training, but when I started using a clicker and shaping it became a much more reciprocal learning process where both the dog and the handler have a vested interest in listening to each other and that that outcome includes a sense of enjoyment and a desire to keep going, and I think for me having that experience of learning about shaping and clicker training and really listening to the other dogs was very impactful for me and impactful about how I structured my sessions and what I wanted out of those sessions in terms of emotional fulfillment for both me and the dog and I think the most effective way to build that is through positive reinforcement training and really important is clear communication, with that communication being a two-way street.
For years training has always been about the dog listening to the handler and I think it’s just as important, even more so, that the handler learn to listen to the dog. So, I think just making sure you’re paying attention to how the dog is feeling and responding in a session makes a huge difference in the outcome of that session and whether there is mutual enjoyment in that session. So, I think it’s a combination of both the sport that I chose and the techniques and methods that I choose to apply in my training.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I mean I’d imagine in something that’s typically set to music where really part of it is a performance aspect, like in obedience precision is precision and it’s possible to a fairly precise performance, even if you’re not super positive in your training, and I imagine it’s much, much more difficult in a sport where the goal is really to have it look joyful and to have it look really pretty.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it certainly can be, and that’s not to say that there aren’t freestylers that use or have used aversive techniques, and to be quite honest you can’t always tell, the dog’s being just as happy out there. But for me personally, I really enjoy the fact that I know that what I see in my training is what I see in the ring, and that’s all about that enjoyment of working together and bringing that joy to the audience as well because you’re right, freestyle is an audience participation sport, so to speak. It’s a sport that they’re not only for competition but for entertainment as well.
Melissa Breau: You kind of mentioned shaping and luring in there, but you wrapped up a class on Imitation and Mimicry and I have to say that’s like such a fascinating concept. If you could start by just kind of explaining what that is for the listeners in case they’re not aware of it, and just kind of sharing how you got into that, that would be great.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. No, I’d love to. Imitation and Mimicry is a form of social learning or learning through observation, and we’ve long known it to be effective in human learning, but it wasn’t until probably the last 10 years or so that we’ve really seen any studies on its use in dog training. I first heard about it at a ClickerExpo, a talk that Ken Ramirez gave on concept training in dogs, and then further researched Dr. Claudia Fugazza’s study that she did, and in 2006 she created a protocol that showed that dogs can learn these new skills and behaviors by mimicking their owners and it’s her protocol that we use in class.
Also what’s fascinating is that Ken Ramirez has developed a protocol for a dog-dog imitation and mimicry, and some of the videos I’ve seen on that are just truly, truly amazing. So, things that we didn’t think were possible now we know are and we’re actually able to bring to more people now. The class was really quite inspirational for me because my experience of course had been limited with it in working with it with my own dog and then some of my live classes, my students there in my live classes, we work through it, and when Denise asked me to do a class on it I was really excited, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I have to say my students in that class are just amazing. They have really shown me what this protocol can do and how truly capable our dogs are of learning some of these concepts, so it’s been a really exciting class for me. And matter of fact, I’m going to go ahead and put it back on...I think it is already...Terry’s added it to the schedule for August, and so I’m really excited about doing it all over again.
Melissa Breau: It’s so cool to watch.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I think you’ve seen some of the videos that were on the alumni page, and they’ve really drawn a really great response, so it is very exciting for me and I hope for the students too that are taking the class.
Melissa Breau: Other than just being an additional tool in the toolbox, and of course we all want as many of those as possible, right, what are some advantages to using that as a technique?
Julie Flanery: Well, first off, mimicry is not necessarily suited to all behavior training. It’s really best used for broad or more general behaviors, behaviors that require a high degree of accuracy or precision may be better learned through shaping or some other method or reward, however mimicry can be quite useful and at least one study has shown that behaviors learned through mimicry were learned as quickly as they were through shaping which really surprised me. I was quite surprised by that.
Some service dog work for example, retrieving items, turning on lights, opening drawers or cabinets, not only can the dog learn these skills very quickly through mimicry, but once the mimic cue is in place, even inexperienced handlers can teach the dog these behaviors with very little training themselves, so it allows inexperienced handlers to train these more complex behaviors much more quickly which I think is really quite cool.
It can also give the dog the big picture, so to speak. So in most training the dog has no idea of what the end result is, only we know what that looks like and the dog needs to muddle along, and he may not even know that when we reach the end result that is the end result. So, mimicry allows the dog to know what he’s working toward and may even help him to better able to guess steps toward that end result, so it could very easily shorten that training process, at least the big picture, at least the broad strokes of that behavior.
I think too it forces us to look at the dog’s perspective in how or what we are communicating. In mimicry the only information you’re giving the dog is your demonstration of the behavior. If your demonstration doesn’t make sense to the dog, he won’t possibly be able to perform it. It’s really no different than other forms of training. If we aren’t giving the dog the information he needs then it’s not that he’s unwilling to do the behavior, it’s that he’s unable, and unfortunately all too often errors are blamed on the dog rather than our inability to communicate, so to me this really gives us that perspective from the dog’s viewpoint. What am I communicating to the dog, and how can I make this more clear, and we learn that through our demonstrations in the mimic protocol and how we actually demonstrate these behaviors.
I think it’s been very fun to see some of the students realize, oh, wow, that demonstration couldn’t possibly make sense to my dog, how could he possibly do that? So, I think that’s a really interesting thing is that we gain a new perspective on the dog.
I’ve also had several students tell me their dogs are more attentive to them, they appear more relaxed in training. The process itself, the protocol itself, is very predictable and so it sets the dog up to succeed. For me though I think it really comes down to a connection. I think I have a pretty good relationship with my dog, but the emotion I felt...the first time she truly mimicked the behavior that I had demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever felt before. Not only did I feel a different kind of connection with her, but I think she felt a different connection with me as well, or at least I’d like to believe that was what I was seeing. So, it’s an amazing feeling that first time your dog mimics something that all you’ve done is demonstrated for them and then asked them to repeat it and like I said, for me it comes down to a different...maybe a deeper connection with my dog.
Melissa Breau: Do you remember what that first behavior was for you?
Julie Flanery: I do. It was a spin.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: It was amazing. I taught her...went through the protocol of teaching her the mimic cue, and then I did my spin and I told her “do it” and she glanced at me for a second and she did it and I was like, oh, my God. It was really quite exciting for her. I get a little teary thinking of it right now. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it really is such an amazing feeling. It’s a different feeling than what I felt...I can’t say that.
You know it’s funny. The first time I used shaping and had my dog offer something that I did not command him to do because that’s the term we used then, “give your dog a command,” the first time my dog offered something just because I had clicked and rewarded it, that to me was almost the same kind of feeling, it showed me the power that that technique and method had and I felt that same way with the mimicry too. It really showed me the power this method could have.
Melissa Breau: I just think it’s so interesting, the different ways our dogs are really capable of learning if we take the time to teach them how.
Julie Flanery: It is. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. It reminds me, Ken Ramirez once said in a lecture and it’s actually one of my favorite mantras, I keep it on my monitor. He says, “We limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible” and that is so true I think. It’s so important that we keep an open mind to some of these techniques and methods because we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s up to us to explore these techniques that can really bring out the best in our dogs and our relationships with our dogs.
Melissa Breau: Now this session you’re offering Rally-FrEe class, right?
Julie Flanery: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I want to make sure we talk a little bit about that too. In the class description you explain it as a combination of Rally and Freestyle. My understanding is you’re the founder of Rally-FrEe so I’d love to hear what led you to develop the program and why those two sports? Why did you choose to combine them?
Julie Flanery: Right. Originally I wanted to develop a structured way for freestyle teams to focus on their foundation skills and build their heel work and transition skills primarily to better their performances and really to increase their longevity in the sport, and then ultimately improve the quality of the sport.
Since I’ve been involved in freestyle I compete, I’m a judge, I’ve been teaching it for almost 20 years now, and I was seeing a lot of attrition in the sport. Freestyle is not easy. I would say it’s probably one of the more difficult sports out there. There’s a lot more involved in freestyle than just training behaviors. Teams would get through the novice level and then they would really struggle in the intermediate class and they’d end up leaving the sport.
In freestyle you can train any behavior you want. You have a lot of options and so you do, you train anything you want and mostly that’s the really fun, cool, complex sexy tricks, and generally they didn’t train any foundation in to support the complexity of the tricks they were training. So like any sport, freestyle has a specific set of foundation skills, but these skills, these foundation skills, I know when I first started in freestyle nobody told me what they were, I’m not sure anybody knew what they were, it was such a new sport back then, and even if we knew what they were freestylers were so spread out around the country and there was no real instruction available to it, the information just wasn’t accessible, and the information wasn’t really given the importance and value I think. You know, having foundation skills didn’t seem as important because of the perception that freestyle was free and you could do anything you wanted.
And I remember...I remember one of the reasons I wanted to do freestyle was I didn’t want to teach my dog to heel anymore, you know, heeling was, oh, my God, I don’t want to teach my dog to heel, it’s so awful. Of course heeling was taught quite a bit differently than we do now, but I didn’t really understand at that time how important heel work and positions really are for freestyle.
Melissa Breau: When you say foundation behaviors, is that what you’re referring to is kind of the positions and...
Julie Flanery: Yeah, the positions, the transitions, yeah. Those are considered foundation skills, and then there are certain foundation tricks in which all of the other more difficult, more complex tricks are more easily built off of as you know that anytime we start building a skill without a foundation it can be really easy to get frustrated in the training because it’s not built on the foundation skill. The dog doesn’t have any support for that skill, and so the skill tends to fall apart a little bit, and so as teams were moving up both the dog and the handler would start to get frustrated and not have that foundation to support the more difficult criteria and those routines would start to fall apart, and when they fall apart and it gets frustrating it’s no longer enjoyable, and so as a result the quality of freestyle wasn’t really getting any better and we were losing a lot of competitors.
So, Rally-FrEe was a way for freestylers to build skill in their foundation and heel work so that they could be more successful in the sport and find more enjoyment in competing in freestyle, and in the long run improve the quality of freestyle that we were seeing in the ring.
What I didn’t realize is that teams from other dog sports Rally-Obedience, Agility, they were starting to participate. I didn’t realize that this was going to become a worldwide competitive dog sport with participants in over seven countries, I mean I was like, wow. I was like wow. I remember one morning waking up and going how did this happen? I don’t understand how this happened. This was supposed to be a fun little game for me and my students, and I’m not the first one that has put together these two sports in an effort to help freestylers or have more fun with Rally. There are many instructors that have done this. Somehow I was able to and I had the support of many, many people to have this grow into a worldwide competitive dog sport, so I’m very thankful for that happening, but really I have no idea how that happened.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it was a lucky break, right?
Julie Flanery: I guess. I guess. I’m sure glad it did though. It truly has met some of my goals. We are seeing a much better quality of freestyle. We are seeing teams coming into it with a stronger foundation, and we’re seeing much more skilled teams staying in it longer, so for that I’m really thankful. And we’re seeing new people coming into the sport, coming into freestyle that maybe never would have considered it partly because of the choreography and dance aspect to it, and partly because it is a difficult sport to understand the foundation for how to start training, and Rally-FrEe really allows the new exhibitor, the person that just is considering wanting to get their feet wet in freestyle but really don’t know much about it, Rally-FrEe is the perfect sport to learn the foundation skills and then maybe ease into freestyle if you find you enjoy that. So, I’ve really actually been quite pleased at where we’ve gone in the last five years and how a lot of my goals have already been met with it.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Hey, good ideas catch on, right?
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I guess so.
Melissa Breau: So I did want to ask you, you mentioned kind of in there something about novice and intermediate levels, and as somebody who hasn’t competed in the sport. I was just kind of curious what some of the different things are I guess that they look at in the competition.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. So for most freestyle organizations the scoring or the judging is broken down into several categories, one would be content and execution. So, content and execution would be what do you put into your routine? What is the variety of behaviors and how well are those behaviors executed? What is the accuracy and precision of those behaviors?
Another thing that is looked at would be difficulty or creativity. How difficult are the behaviors that you’re including in your routine? Are you using hand signals because hand signals indicate lesser difficulty than behaviors that are solely on verbal cues?
Another aspect of it would be musicality and interpretation. How well do your behaviors and your sequences match the phrasing in the music? What is your attire, does it match the genre of the music?
We also look at transitions and flow, and transitions are behaviors that allow the dog and/or handler to change position and/or direction in a way that creates ease of movement and a visual aesthetic or flow to the routine.
And then Rally-FrEe Elements, which is the organization that I created that also conveys titles in freestyle, we also look at the teamwork and engagement between the dog and handler team. How well do they enjoy working together? How well does the handler support the dog? And I think we’re probably the only organization that actually looks at teamwork as a judged criteria, so that’s something that’s a little bit different from most other dog sports.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, and you kind of mentioned something about the verbals and the visuals in there. I was really curious how much of the cueing is verbal versus visual and what the role of each is in the sport, so do you mind just talking a little more about that?
Julie Flanery: Sure. So in freestyle we use three different kinds of cues. We use verbal cues and generally we like those verbal cues to be not loud and obtrusive, but loud enough for the dog to hear them but not so loud that they are disruptive to the routine or distract from the enjoyment of the routine. In using those verbal cues we’re aloud to talk to our dogs through the whole routine. There’s nothing like in obedience where you need to give one cue. In freestyle you may give multiple cues. Obviously, you don’t want your dog refusing cues or not responding to cues, but we are allowed to talk to our dogs the whole time, and so oftentimes we are giving our cues continually throughout a routine.
We also use subtle physical cues. So my sweeping arm might mean for the dog to back around me or go out to a distance, but we want those cues to be hidden somewhat within the choreography, we don’t want them to be very obvious like what a lure-like hand signal would look like.
And then we also use something called choreography cues, and choreography cues allow us to teach new physical cues that we can then use within the routine as our choreography, so they are physical cues that appear counter to a hand signal. So for example, I can teach my dog that when I throw both my arms up into the air that’s actually a cue to spin or to take a bow or whatever behavior I attach to it through training, and I can change those choreography cues for each routine as long as I understand and apply correctly the process for putting new cues onto behaviors.
But truly, verbal cues are extremely important in musical freestyle and they’re probably the most important cues in musical freestyle. It’s those strong verbal cues that allow the handler to include their movement and their interpretation into the ring. If you’re tired to hand cutes then you’re really restricted in how you can interpret the music and that’s part of what you’re scored on, but having those verbal cues doesn’t mean that we don’t use some visual or body cues. We just really want those to be subtle and portrayed as part of the choreography.
The goal in freestyle is to make it appear as if the dog is not being cued, that he or she is in total sync with the handler, and while the handler is leading the dance the dog is a voluntary partner. We want to create that illusion I guess, that illusion of dance partners, not one of telling the other what to do. If you’ve ever watched ballroom dance, even though you know one is leading it’s really hard to tell because they’re both so engaged in that process. So yeah, we have a lot of options in terms of cueing, but we work hard to avoid cues that appear lure-like or showing the dog or leading the dog into what to do.
Melissa Breau: How long is your average performance? I mean it seems like...in agility even you have signs out to help you and I mean you kind of have to memorize the whole thing in a freestyle routine.
Julie Flanery: Right. Yeah. For beginners, generally a routine is going to be about a minute and a half to two minutes. As you get up into the upper levels they’re going to go three minutes plus, and these are routines that you choreograph, so you’re actually memorizing them as you choreograph them. But make no mistake, it’s not an easy task to choreograph two minutes of behaviors. You’re probably looking at anywhere from I would say 30 to 80 cued behaviors in a two to three minutes period. Not only are these cued behaviors, but the dog needs to perform them in a timely manner with the music, so your timing of your cues is actually well before you need the dog to perform it so that he can actually perform it at the point in the music where it makes sense. So there’s a lot to cueing in musical freestyle, and so it’s something that I’ve had to learn an awful lot about and it’s something that once you get involved in freestyle it becomes a really important part of your success.
Melissa Breau: It seems like that would be a really interesting thing, even for somebody who wasn’t interested in freestyle, to take a class on just because it feels like there’s so much carryover there.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. And I think actually, is it Mariah? One of the instructors I think is doing a class on cueing.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I think it’s Mariah.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. It’s an amazing concept in and of itself and all of the different ways that we can teach our dogs to take our cues and all of the different ways that they can read our cues, so yeah, I think it’s fascinating and I’ve spent a lot of time in my own personal training development learning how to do that and what’s the most effective and efficient means of doing that.
Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to kind of round things out with the three questions I ask everybody who comes on the show. So first up, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Julie Flanery: Well, that’s easy. Creating a venue that allows teams to really succeed and enjoy a sport that I love, but if you’re talking personally I’d say that earning our Rally-FrEe Grand Champion MCL title. I really did not realize how hard that accomplishment would be and how fulfilling it was to get there. I created it and I didn’t realize how hard that would be, I mean, I had to work hard for that title and it was very, very satisfying to be able to accomplish that.
Melissa Breau: Well, congratulations. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Thanks. Thank you.
Melissa Breau: So possibly my favorite question every single episode, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Flanery: The best? Oh, wow. So I’ve heard tons of great training advice. Certainly something we all do, which is to make our training sessions enjoyable for all involved, that learning doesn’t really happen under duress and to keep it fun and light and amusing and enjoyable and amazing. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a quote that always stuck with me is that “criteria is joy” and if we don’t have that within our sessions then it’s really all for naught.
That and what I talked about earlier, Ken Ramirez who said that we limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible. That hangs in my office because so many of the things that I’m doing with my dog now that I would have said weren’t possible just a few years ago, so staying open to that.
But I think the one piece of advice that has really benefited me the most as a trainer, I heard from Hannah Branigan. I bet she gets this a lot that she’s responsible for most people’s success in their training, but for me really she talked about being aware of when and where our peak in a training session and not letting them slide down that backside of the bell curve. I am the queen of just one more, and that little lesson from Hannah has made me so much more aware of when it’s time to end a session and how much that really impacts the success of that session. So that’s probably one that I have benefited the most from, most recently and that sticks with me. I try to remember that every single session, all right, where’s my peak? Don’t want to go down the backside of that bell curve.
Melissa Breau: So that’s three, but I think they were three excellent ones. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. Sorry, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No, that’s okay. They were worth it.
Julie Flanery: There’s just so much training advice out there, you know?
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. No, it’s my favorite question for exactly that reason because I feel like It’s solid takeaways and you kind of walk away with a really solid reminder of something, and I think those three tie together nicely too.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, my final question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Flanery: You mean aside from all the great instructors at FDSA?
Melissa Breau: Preferably, I mean, they’re all awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. That’s right. They really are so passionate, so compassionate about what they do. I couldn’t say goodbye without saying it’s a real honor to work with them all and learn from them all, but outside of Fenzi, boy, the list is almost as long. I think probably Kathy Sadao has had the most long-term impact on me starting from probably about 15 years ago. Diane Valkavitch, my hero in freestyle, who taught me everything I know about transitions. I can’t leave out Michelle Pouliot who inspires and pushes me to do better every single day really. And Cassandra Hartman, she’s another really fabulous freestyler who is...she’s like the complete package when it comes to training, performance, relationships with her dogs. She’s just a real inspiration...all of them, super inspirational trainers and I’m really, really honored to learn from all of them.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome because there are some new names in that list, so that’s super exciting.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I’m always interested in more trainers that I can go out and look up and read about and see what they have out there in the world, so that’s awesome. Thank you.
Julie Flanery: Oh, yeah. They are great, and they all compete in various dog sports as well, so in spite of their current interest in freestyle and them being such great freestyle trainers they really have a wealth of information in regards to all different dog sports and training in general, you know, training is training is training and these folks have really impacted how I train and who I am as a trainer today.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Julie.
Julie Flanery: Thank you so much. It was really fun.
Melissa Breau: It was really fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We have a super special announcement this week.
You’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly.
That means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Mariah Hinds, who Julie mentioned there in the podcast, to talk impulse control, positive proofing, and competitive obedience. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have your episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
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.
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.
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.
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!