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Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

For the last 2 years, FDSA has been working to provide high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports online, using only the most current and progressive training methods. And now we’re bringing that same focus to you in a new way. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods. We'll release a new episode every other Friday, so stay tuned--and happy training!
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Aug 17, 2018

Summary:

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

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Helene Lawler.

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

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

Hi Helene, welcome to the podcast!

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

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

Helene Lawler: Yes, you did.

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

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

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 3, 2018

Summary:

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

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

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

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

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

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

Hi Jen, welcome to the podcast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s my guys in a nutshell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: That’s right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: It’s our very first one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Lots of sticky issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Summerfield: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Jul 6, 2018

SUMMARY:

Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world: volunteering and working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching.

She is active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association (VIATA) and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.

Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/13/2018, featuring Stacy Barnett talking about tailoring your nosework training (or really any training) to your dog's unique strengths. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Donna Hill.

Donna has had a lifelong love affair with dogs and is fascinated with dog behavior. She has broad practical experience in the dog world: volunteering and working in kennels and shelters, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, teaching behavior modification privately, and teaching reactive dog classes. She also has a background in zoology and teaching. She stays current in dog behavior and learning by regularly attending seminars by top trainers and researchers.

However, she is probably best known for her YouTube videos. I’ll make sure to include a link to her YouTube channels in the show notes so listeners can check her out.

She is active locally as co-founder and professional member of Vancouver Island Animal Training Association (VIATA) and the founder and instructor for the Service Dog Training Institute.

With her own dogs and other pets, Donna loves to apply learning theory to teach a wide variety of sports, games, tricks, and other activities, such as cycling and service dog tasks. She loves using shaping to get new behaviors. Her teaching skill is keeping the big picture in mind while using creativity to define the small steps to help the learner succeed. That is to say, she is a splitter!

Donna has competed in agility, flyball, and rally O and teaches people to train their own service dogs.

Hi Donna, welcome to the podcast!

Donna Hill: Hi, how are you doing?

Melissa Breau: Good, good. I’m excited to chat today. To start us out, can you refresh everyone’s memories by sharing a bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Donna Hill: OK. Jessie is a little, sensitive, German Shepherd dog, possibly Min Pin mix, that’s 11 years old. She’s getting a little bit of gray on her, we used to call her milk chin, now it’s moving up on her little face. We got her from the city pound at 7 months, so we’ve had her quite a while. Lucy, my other dog, is a really drivey, 9-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie mix that we got at almost 2 years of age off of an unfenced acreage, which totally relates to the topic today.

Right now we’re experimenting with using a combination of shaping and mimicry for training, and one of my longtime behaviors I’ve been working on — and I haven’t had a whole lot of success, but I’m starting to now with that combination — is working on their rear paw nail file. So think about that. You’ve got the back feet of the dogs, and not only do they have to have back-end awareness, they have to have awareness of their nails, not just their pads, scraping the area. So it’s been a tough one. So for the last couple of nights … well, for the last while, we’ve been bringing out the scratchboard and trying something new, and it’s actually been a fun process, and we’re almost there.

Melissa Breau: That’s pretty neat.

Donna Hill: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Lucy’s consistently digging with her one back paw, and Jessie’s about halfway there. She’ll do, like, half a scratch. So she’s starting to get there.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. We didn’t get to chat about it much last time, but you’re very involved in the service dog world. I mentioned in the intro you run the Service Dog Training Institute. Can you share a little about that?

Donna Hill: Oh, absolutely. Service Dog Training Institute is an online community for people who are training their own service dogs. We offer self-paced online classes that of course they can check out 24-7, and we have web-based coaching sessions, so they can get on their webcam and chat face-to-face with me, and a few webinars, we haven’t done a whole lot yet, and we also have a new program called Fast Track Training, where people can get either daily help or twice-daily help for the period of a week.

Melissa Breau: Wow, that’s kind of awesome.

Donna Hill: Yeah. We also offer in-person training, and that’s fairly recent. I’ve actually added another trainer to help with those, and she also helps with the online Fast Track Training too. But the key thing people want to know is there’s tons of free resources on my website. I’ve got over 300 training videos, I’ve got a blog, I’ve got general information like laws and stuff about service dogs, so their best bet is to check out the website and read through, click on every link, and see what’s there, because there’s tons of information there.

Melissa Breau: I know you mentioned owner-trained service dogs. Are there advantages and disadvantages to owner-trained service dogs? Would you be able to share your perspective on that whole thing?

Donna Hill: Absolutely. There’s both advantages and disadvantages. I feel a person needs to carefully consider if training their own service dog is right for them. It’s a huge time and energy investment, and even though you are doing most of the training, it still costs money. You need to do group classes with other dogs, and every trainer, whether they’re a professional trainer or an owner who’s training, they still need to get some help at some point in time, whether it’s a fear period or they’ve run into a situation that sort of went south, those kinds of things. One of the biggest problems for a lot of people, they do it because they want to save money, but lack of funds are a super-common issue for owner-training teams.

The other thing that I find is tough for a lot of people is the lack of focus to take the time to do the job right and not rush the dog through the process. Because of course everyone wants their dog trained yesterday, but it can take up to two years or sometimes longer, depending on the dog that they’ve chosen.

The big advantage is that you can train the dog of your choosing, so if there’s a specific breed that you’re interested in that you think would work better for you and your lifestyle, then that’s a choice that you can make. You also get to learn the process of how to train, so when down the road your health changes and you need additional tasks, now you know how to do that, or at least you can figure it out or you know where to get the help to do it. Whereas if you get a program-trained dog, some of the programs actually tell you not to train your dog at all. They just want what the dog is already trained to do. So that can make a big difference. And of course one of the big bonuses of training your own dog is that the bond starts from the day you bring the dog or puppy home, so you don’t have to wait for two or more years for the program-trained dog.

Thinking on the disadvantages side, it takes a lot of time and energy and focus to do it, and not everyone’s got that ability. I always say, just like it takes a community to raise a child, so does it take a community to raise a service dog. And it’s so true because there’s all the pieces that need to come in. Your caregivers need to be on board with helping you in the way that you need help, you need to have trainers lined up for assistance, you need people to act as distractions, and you have to go get resources and all those kinds of things, so you have to know how to go out and get those resources.

Finding the right dog is another huge barrier for many people. They’ll go out, they’ll find a dog that they immediately fall in love with, and it’s not necessarily the best service dog candidate. So they have to be really careful. For that, I recommend bringing in someone who’s less emotionally related, someone like myself, who can help them assess and look at the weaknesses and strengths of that particular dog before they move forward.

The other disadvantage is that, owner-trained or not, sort of an educational component here, is that the handlers in general need to take on an education role at any time, because the public really doesn’t know much about service dogs. Many people want to interact with all dogs they see, including your service dog. Whether it’s in training, whether it’s professional, they don’t care. And of course you’re doing all of this while you’re living with a chronic medical condition that requires the need for the service dog, so that can certainly slow the process. It can throw some glitches into the gears.

So it’s a real balancing act, and you have to seriously look at is it a good thing for you, is it a bad thing for you, would a program-trained dog be better. Maybe there’s even other alternatives. Some people jump immediately to the dog aspect when sometimes there’s assistive technology that might be a better choice for them, and they don’t have the responsibility of maintaining the dog or keeping the dog.

It’s a big-picture thing, and you have to sit back and look at your lifestyle, look at your family, and see if that would all work out, and if you can in fact wait the approximately two years until the dog would be technically ready for public access and be able to go with you into places.

Melissa Breau: Right. You talked a little bit in there about evaluating your dog. What are some of the important traits that people need to objectively evaluate their dog for, if they are considering training it as a service animal?

Donna Hill: This applies to whether you already have a dog in your home or whether you’re going to look for a dog. The first and foremost is a known health history of both the dog and his parents, if you can at all possibly get that, and also looking at getting the pups and the parents and also your dog at 2 years of age medically tested for the common diseases that their breed suffers from. Oftentimes they’ll take it to the vet and the vet goes, “Yeah, looks fine.” Well, there’s a whole lot that the vets can’t see unless they take the proper tests and the proper scans. Yeah, the vet says it’s good, but two years down the road, three years down the road, hip dysplasia “appears” out of nowhere. Well, it was probably there, but they just didn’t look for it.

Hip dysplasia, epilepsy, cancer, heart conditions — those are common health reasons why a dog is pulled from service after it’s been trained. It’s heartbreaking. You spend two years, or whatever it is, to train this dog, and then you get maybe a year and a half, or if you’re lucky, two or three years, and then suddenly, “Oh, sorry, you can’t use that dog anymore because of health conditions.” So that’s one thing.

Another characteristic you look for is a calm temperament. Basically a dog that’s unflappable, meaning nothing fazes them. You really, really want a dog like that, because things like a sheet metal dropped in the next aisle, or a baby screams on the plane in the seat right next to you, your dog should be aware of it but not really worried about it. Both of those things a lot of dogs will react to, and it may take them a while to calm down from. So we want a dog that would notice that, certainly, and be aware that it’s happening, but go, “Oh yeah, no worries. I’ve seen it, done it, been there.”

We also know that there’s a number of things that affect temperament, so the more you know about the history of a dog, the better. For example, genetics has an important role to play in both fear and aggression, as well as a solid temperament too. You’ve got a solid-tempered mom, more likely you’re going to have a solid-tempered puppy. The mom’s stress level during carrying the puppies, how good a parent the dog mom is, and also the physical and emotional environment the puppy is raised in, as well as the physical and emotional environment the adolescent dog is raised in. So you’re seeing before the puppies are even born, and then you’re seeing while the puppies are with the litter, and then what happens to the puppies after they’ve left the litter. Those are three key components that can really affect the future of this dog.

There’s a couple of other things. People-oriented. We want a dog that has the ability to bond strongly with the handler and yet he’s friendly with strangers, and that can be a tough one if you’re looking at some of the protection breeds. Some of them are very protective by nature and their family is very highly regarded but strangers are not, so that’s a safety issue for emergency personnel and things like that, that are dealing with them in public.

You want an animal that’s good with other animals, so dogs, cats, birds, prey species, ideally ignoring them when in public. It makes your life a whole lot easier if you don’t have a dog with a really high prey drive, like Lucy does. Trust me — been there, done that, for a lot of different things, so I have to be on guard, and as a service dog you don’t want to have to be on guard to protect other people or other animals from your dog, and likewise from your dog doing damage to someone else’s animal. That can be a real stressor in itself, so that’s one of the key things you look for as well.

The sensitivity level’s a real interesting thing. You want a dog that has a sensitivity level appropriate for the person that they’re helping. We want them to be sensitive enough that they notice changes in their handler, but not so sensitive that the dog mirrors the emotions of the handler, like anxiety. This is a common issue that I find with people with PTSD and anxiety is that they tend to pick dogs that are very sensitive, and then they end up with an emotional mess that they can’t use as a service dog, so that’s a toughie.

A dog that’s food-motivated/willing to learn, those come together, it’s much easier to teach complex behaviors, we know, to a dog that’s food-motivated, of course using clicker training, marker-based training, whatever you want to call it.

And medium to low need for exercise. That’s assuming this fits the lifestyle of the handler. The vast majority of people out there really don’t want to take the time and energy, or they don’t have the energy, to take a really high-exercise-need dog out for an hour or two a day for exercise, so you really want to make sure that that’s going to meet your needs. Unless you want a dog for competition, and you want an active dog if you’re out and about and your disability doesn’t stop you from hiking two hours a day or whatever it is, then that would be fine, as long as the dog can learn to calm down in public.

The last one I’m going to leave you with is a quiet dog. If a dog barks or causes a disturbance in public, a team can be asked to leave. So you want to make sure you’re not choosing a breed that tends to be on the barky side, because then you’re fighting a losing battle because the dog is going to really want to bark, and it’s harder to inhibit something that’s a genetic trait, once it’s brought out.

One of the other things that I do want to mention is that the breed of dog can be important because public perception plays a huge role in how some service dogs are accepted. For example, any dog that’s not a typical service dog breed tends to draw more attention to the team. So if you’re out and about in public and somebody keeps approaching you, “Oh, you have such a wonderful,” “Oh, isn’t that unusual,” and you get stopped every five seconds just because you have this stunning Dalmation, or something that causes people to notice more than usual, that can play a role as well.

Tiny breeds is another example. They may be commonly dismissed as fakes. Or if you’ve got a protection-breed dog, people are fearful and they’ll give you wider birth. So those kinds of things are important when you’re choosing the breed of the dog as well, or a breed mix. What the dog looks like has an important impact on the public.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I think a lot of people probably don’t think about that piece of it. They think about suitability, maybe, for the tasks and don’t always think that extra step to do they really want to deal with the public’s reaction to that specific dog or that specific breed. So I think that’s a great thing to bring up.

Donna Hill: And there is a lot of prejudice as well around certain breeds. There’s a lot of grey lines with service dogs on when you need permission to get to bring your dog to work, for example. If an employer decides that they don’t like the look of your dog, or they feel that your dog is an aggressive dog or aggressive breed, they can do a lot of things to make sure that your dog can’t come to work with you. They can put a lot of barriers in place. It just happens, unfortunately.

People are really creative when they don’t want something to happen. I’ve had that happen with kids taking dogs to school, I’ve seen that happen at a government level, where a person was taking a service dog to their government agency and they end up getting isolated just because of the breed of dog, but the minute that they get a more accepted breed, suddenly they’re allowed access everywhere. It can make a huge, huge difference, and so I always recommend to people: think really hard about the breed and the look of your dog. You know your dog is a soft mushy, but people look and they make snap judgments, and those judgments can last for a long time.

Melissa Breau: Moving from traits or temperaments and those kinds of things to the core skills: What core skills do service animals need that owner handlers or anybody training a service dog will need to train, in addition to those special behaviors that are medically necessary for whatever their condition may be?

Donna Hill: The two most common I tell everybody is loose-leash walking and settle. That’s because service dogs spend most of their time in “hurry up and wait” mode. It is, seriously. So loose-leash walking gets them from Point A to Point B, and it’s a critical skill so the handler doesn’t have to focus on them all the time as they’re loose-leash walking from Point A to Point B. It’s not a formal competition heel, it’s a loose-leash walking. They can walk within 18 inches to 2 feet of the handler, the leash is at a loopy, U-shaped kind of thing, and the dog can be ahead or behind or beside, it doesn’t really matter.

A lot of people mistake that and think, Oh, the dog has to have this formal competition heel. Well, we at FDSA know that dogs can only maintain that focused heel for a very short period of time. It takes a lot of concentration to keep that desired precision. So a loose-leash walk is acceptable. We don’t have to ask for 95 percent of precision all the time. It can be 80 percent, which is more reasonable to expect a dog to stay within a zone within the handler. It’s really the distractions that are the tough thing, you know, the dog’s not going to the end of the leash to pull to go see another dog, for example. It’s ignoring that dog and moving on. With loose-leash walking that’s kind of the focus. It’s learning to ignore distractions.

Now, the settle or relax, which is the other main skill, it’s not the same as the sphinx-down that’s also used in competition. It is a settle, it’s a relax, let the dog chill out. As long as they’re staying on a single spot, maybe it’s a mat or maybe a defined space under your table, the dog needs to be able to get up and move and turn around, if you’re going to be sitting there for an hour and a half to two hours. It’s not fair to have the dog hold that sphinx-down. We want to give them a bit of latitude that, yeah, it’s OK for you to get up and move around. As long as you’re right here close to me and you’re not getting up and walking away, that’s close enough.

The other key thing is that a service dog needs to learn to assess the situation, because we don’t want, as handlers, you don’t want to have to give your dog a cue for every single behavior. The dog starts to learn to recognize, Oh, in this situation I know we’re going to go sit, I’m going to go lay under the table, OK, no biggie. They start using the environment as the cue for what behavior’s expected, so we end up getting a lot of default behaviors. Sits and downs, leave its, and eye contact are the important ones in general. If the dog’s uncertain what to do, what does he do? Look back up at his handler and say, “Hey, what do you want me to do?” They look back and they just might point to the ground. Guess what. That means settle. So it keeps it simple, and the communication’s really clear, and the dog’s always looking to the person for guidance.

Melissa Breau: Those are all also skills that even if we only have a pet dog, they would be fantastic skills to have well taught for a good pet dog. They’re not necessarily unusual skills to try and teach, but it’s really important, if you’re training a service dog, that they’re taught to a high fluency.

Donna Hill: Absolutely. And it is a fluency difference between a well-trained pet dog and a service dog.

Melissa Breau: So the other topic I was hoping to chat about today for a bit is recalls, since you have a class on it coming up. I think recalls are often touted as perhaps the most important behavior we can teach our dogs. First, do you agree? And second, why are they an important skill?

Donna Hill: That’s a great question. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree. I think it depends on the living situation the dog is in, and how often she or he finds herself off leash. For example, a recall for a service dog is actually pretty low on the importance scale, since in public the dog is rarely if ever off leash, so why would you need a recall if the dog is not off leash. If they are off leash, usually it’s only to perform a trained task, and when dogs get to that level, they’re so focused on the task that a recall is not important, or the recall may be part of the whole behavior, like in a retrieve. You’ve sent your dog off to get something, he’s got to come back to bring it to you, right? So if it’s trained really well, there’s your recall right there. Or if they’re trained to go get somebody, they go get the person and they bring the person back, so there’s sort of a recall in there as well.

For pet or sport dogs, absolutely a recall can be critical, especially if the dog is given a lot of freedom on a regular basis. So you want to know that your dog is going to reliably respond when you call. If she does respond, there’s a potential for so much more freedom for the dog, for one thing, and also if the dog is going to be in environments like agility trials, you don’t want the dog taking off after distractions, or if he happens to, then you know that he’s going to come running back to you when once you realize that he’s taken off, you give the cue and he comes bolting back to you. So you really need that. But the more freedom you give them, the more freedom that they can have as well, so it’s a hand-in-hand kind of thing.

There’s also alternative behaviors that can be taught that might be more appropriate in some situations as well than a recall, so something like a sit or a down at a distance. Your dog’s taken off across the street after a rabbit, and when he finally comes back, you want him to sit on the other side of the street because there’s a car coming. You don’t want him to come dashing across in front of the car. So if you can sit or down your dog at a distance, in that situation that would actually be better than a recall. So I guess my answer is, it depends. Which is kind of funny coming from someone who’s training a recall class.

Melissa Breau: Hey, it’s honest! I think that obviously at FDSA we see lots of sports dog handlers specifically, so in competition obedience they have a formal recall with a front and all that. For those who compete, how would you handle that in training that recall?

Donna Hill: Distance is a real distinction between a competition recall and a real-life recall. For most competitions there is a limited, finite distance within the ring that the dog will be doing the recall, and there is relatively few distractions in that ring. I know some would beg to differ because there’s some nightmaresituations been seen, and I’ve been in the ring and seen that as well.

But in real life, when your dog is at even a greater distance that you can … you may or may not be able to control, depending on the dog. Lucy is another classic example. She will happily run 500 yards away and not think twice about it, whereas Jessie stays much closer, so Lucy’s the one that I have to keep an eye on, and I have to make sure I interrupt her running that far away, because at that distance I don’t have as much control as I do if she’s, say, 100 yards away.

The distance can make or break a dog’s recall success. If a cyclist rides between you and your dog at a junction, or a rabbit pops up and runs across the trail, that definitely can make a difference. In real life, distractions happen between you and the dog, not necessarily around the outside of between you and the dog, so while a recall is a recall, the dogs do distinguish between different working environments.

Because the competition ring tends to be pretty consistent-looking, there’s rings around, or there’s fences around the outside, and there’s certain equipment that are in, the dogs get to know, Oh, OK, I know which kind of recall you want, so they quickly start learning, OK, it’s that form of recall that you want me to run to you, and stop, sit in front of you, and wait for a release to go back to heel, and then the final release at the end of the exercise. So they definitely know the difference between an informal recall that you would do out in the field versus a formal recall that you do in the ring, for sure.

And honestly, most people are happy enough, in a real-life recall, just to be able to have their dog close enough to grab the harness and then otherwise tell the dog what to do. So you don’t have that whole longer chain.

Melissa Breau: For somebody that is working on their recall, and they work on that real-life situation, would you expect to see some carryover that might strengthen their more formal performance?

Donna Hill: For sure. The distraction levels are key in any environment that you’re training. Doesn’t matter what it is that you’re doing, whether it’s a recall, teaching your dog to ignore distractions is the absolutely important thing.

Because any chain of behaviors — and of course a recall is a chain of behaviors — can be broken into smaller bits, each part of the chain can be isolated, so that’s the approach that I take in my recall class. If your dog returns to you slowly, you can work on speeding up just that part of the chain. Or maybe the missing piece is the dog doesn’t reorient to you in the face of distraction, You can work on just that too with little games and using controlled distractions. Once you have those improved, then you can add the pieces back together for either the competition recall or the real-life one. But it definitely would benefit both types of recall.

Melissa Breau: I know you get pretty into the science of training, and I’ve heard a lot of talk about what they’re calling a “classically conditioned” recall. That’s the phrase that’s recurring all over. Can you explain it for us?

Donna Hill: I’ll try. A classically conditioned recall is when the dog reacts to a cue without thinking. Classical conditioning: Think of a cat that comes to the kitchen when he hears the can opener. That’s a classically conditioned behavior. The cat’s not thinking about hearing the can opener. He just hears it and he runs for it because he knows it means food. Or maybe the dog that hears the scrape of the spoon on the bottom of the bowl and he just suddenly appears at your feet, even though he’s not supposed to be begging. That’s a classically conditioned reaction. He hears the sound and it triggers a behavior. He’s not even thinking about it.

I remember years ago with a previous dog, and this was long before I knew much about training dogs, certainly not as much as I know today, he was walking ahead of me on the trail, and out of the blue, for some reason, I don’t even remember why, I decided to call out to him and say “sit.” He was probably about 50 feet in front of me, if that. He didn’t go very far and I told him to sit. As soon as I did, his bum plunked down and he looked around like he was startled, going, Hey, who did that? Just bizarre. He had this startled look on his face. That would be an example of a classically conditioned sit. I must have been practicing in that time period so much that it was “sit,” bum go down, “sit,” bum go down. He wasn’t even thinking about it. Just “sit,” bum go down. So even he was surprised.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Donna Hill: I was pretty thrilled. And of course when I got these two dogs, I thought, OK, that’s my goal. I have to be able to teach these two dogs. Of course, now I know how to do it much, much better, and much more effectively, and it comes much faster, but I’m still thrilled when it happens, anyway.

We want the recall to happen that way ultimately. We want the dog not to think. We just want him to automatically, when he hears the cue or sees the hand signal, because it could be both, it could be a hand signal, it could be a verbal sound that the dog hears.

For dogs who are in a really, really high state of arousal and who haven’t had a chance to practice chasing or catching prey, that can be a really hard level of training to get to. The level of adrenalin overrides everything else and they go into that tunnel-vision mode where they literally go deaf and they can’t see anything other than a really narrow vision right in front of them.

But if we stick to the training, and we keep doing it and doing it, and vary how we are doing it, and add different distractions, and work the dog around higher and higher-level distractions, we can actually increase the threshold so that while they still are under the effects of adrenalin, they can still function at higher arousal levels, so that tunnel vision will be further open, perhaps like the tunnel that they see will be a bigger tunnel. Maybe they can actually still hear you, rather than not being able to hear you. So that’s a big part of it is just learning to increase that arousal level, but lowering or, I guess, increasing the threshold so that the dog can still function at that higher arousal level, I guess would be a better way of putting it.

I’ve got a funny little story about Jessie, my current little dog here. She has a funny combination of an operant and a classical conditioned recall. She actually does both, and one of them is very conscious. She actually sets me up for operant recalls.

She’s a dog that will stay quite close. She’s in general … until we got Lucy, she was quite fearful of being out in the bush or out in the woods by herself with us. She’s very much a city dog and very comfortable in the city. She actually learned … I taught her by starting the capturing the eye contact, which is one of the things we do in class. She would run ahead, and she stops and she’s facing away, and you know she’s waiting for something just by her body position and posture. She’s waiting for something. Sure enough, I give the cue, so that’s what she’s waiting for, and as soon as she hears it, she takes off like a rocket towards me. She does this turn on a dime and bolts right back to me. So she’s set me up for a recall.

She does this a lot, and I thought, You know, this is good. For a dog that’s so fearful and she couldn’t respond because her level of fear was so high, I’m just thrilled that she would do that and she’s actually setting me up. Finally, in the last I would say year or so, we’ve finally done enough of the operant recalls that it has become classically conditioned. I’ve actually been able to call her off chasing a deer in a classical conditioned response. So I’m pretty happy with that.

Melissa Breau: That’s excellent. That’s everybody’s goal, to be able to have their dog in the middle of a chase, and call and have the dog say, “OK, I’d prefer to come back to you.”

Donna Hill: It wasn’t even a preference. It was just a reaction. It was just a response. She heard that and she just turned on that dime, and it’s because we’ve practiced and practiced. I kind of stacked my helping, because she likes high-pitched sounds, she’s very much into squeaky toys, she likes movement, so I stack my success by throwing all of those things together, and I guess it was enough that she was not thinking anymore. It was like, “Yay, Mom’s calling me. Woo hoo!” It becomes a classically conditioned response rather than a thinking or operant response.

The tough thing, though, is, is it a reliable … could I repeat that? I honestly can’t say, because we don’t have enough situations where we encounter deer on a regular basis to purposely test that out. I do know that I can now call her off mice, I can call her off squirrels, and I can call her off grouse. Those are much more controllable situations, and we do run into those a lot more often on our walks on the logging routes. So far, both dogs have stopped when any of those situations arrive, and, lucky for me, they’ve also stopped when we see bears, and I can cue the recall after they stop. So, so far, cross our fingers, no bear chasing. I don’t know whether they stop and they go, “Oh, that’s a big black animal that I’m not sure whether I want to interact with or not, oh, Mom’s calling, OK, the good distraction.”

Melissa Breau: Right, right, definitely don’t want the dogs taking off after the bear.

Donna Hill: So I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily classical. I would say it’s probably more operant, and they’re actually thinking about it and going, “OK, this is the better choice.” But I’m still happy with that too. I don’t want them bringing a bear back to us.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. Often, people start working a recall, they do it at home, they do it in class, and then they just expect it to work everywhere. Most of our listeners probably get that that’s unrealistic, especially if you’re a sports trainer, you know that there’s a little bit more involved to making any cue become that reliable. I think even pretty sophisticated handlers may struggle to build up distractions in a systematic way when it comes to recalls. How DO you simulate things like motion from prey animals, or those reallllllly good smells that a dog just can’t seem to come away from, when you’re training?

Donna Hill: You have to get really creative and you use what you have in your environment. You have to think about what triggers your dog. Is it the scent? Is it the sound? Is it motion? How can you replicate those? Maybe even not to the degree that happens in real life, but certainly at a lower level that you can start building up to that in real life. I start thinking along things like, OK, for scents, I think about how can I get a sample of something similar that my dog might be really interested in, or can I recreate it in a controlled setting with a helper or a decoy animal or a toy that moves.

Those are actually the kinds of secrets we’ll be exploring in Part 2 of The Recall, but I’ll give you an example just to get your juices going. Start where your dog is at. If your dog can’t turn away from rabbit poop, for example, and I know both of my dogs, when we started, rabbit poop was pretty high on their interest list because it smells like rabbits, it’s something that they can eat, so it’s self-reinforcing, So what I did was I went and I found some fresh stuff somewhere in the city. I literally went hunting, we collected some, I wore rubber gloves, I scooped it up, I put it in a container, and I used that sample to train a “leave it” at home to the point of a default “leave it.” They smelled the rabbit poop, Oh, look at Mom, what’s going on here.

So I had a nice little default behavior, and that’s the starting point to get your dogs. If they learn that they can call off of it, that’s where you need to start from. And of course this is not asking for any distance. This is literally the treat … the treat! … OK, rabbit raisins were in a container on the ground right in front of me and right in front of the dogs, so all the dogs literally had to do was look at it and look back at me. I’m not asking for any distance. It’s just “Look at me after you sniff the rabbit poop.”

That’s the kind of small detail where we start, and then we can add motion, maybe we get the dog to have to make the choice to have to turn around back to us, then the dog has to turn around and take two steps to us, and we slowly build it back up until we actually have a recall where the dog might be walking around the yard, and unbeknownst to him, I’ve planted my sample in the yard earlier, and he comes across it, and as soon as he smells it, he does a quick head check-in, and the check-ins as well are another piece, and then I happen to see that and I give my recall and the dog comes flying out. It’s about focusing again on the one piece of the chain at a time and build them up.

Yeah, and I have to admit some of us are that dedicated to our dogs to go and search out things like rabbit poop and bring it home.

Melissa Breau: That’s funny. I like that you called it rabbit raisins.

Donna Hill: That’s more “call-it-able.” So don’t worry, but for those of you listeners, the other ideas in class are not as gross as that.

Melissa Breau: It’s just a good example! I was looking over your syllabus for the class for August, and I noticed you had acclimating on your list of skills for a recall, and I guess it caught me by surprise. Can you explain how that fits into the picture of a recall?

Donna Hill: Yeah, absolutely. Acclimation is the process a dog goes through to become comfortable with the environment. You give them a chance to go into the environment, and you anchor yourself and they have 6 feet of leash, so technically they can probably move about a 14-foot circle diameter and check out that environment.

Sometimes we might want to acclimate them by letting them lead us around a certain space, we usually define that space. But what we find is once they’ve acclimated to that space, then they can focus on what we’re asking them to do. By giving them time to acclimate when they first arrive at a location, we’re giving them a chance to satisfy their natural curiosity that might otherwise distract them from being able to pay attention to us. That’s pretty standard what we do for sport dogs and for service dogs and all that kind of thing.

What I find is that the more we allow them to acclimate in each new location, the more they come to realize that the environment is actually less interesting than interactions with us. So by giving them the chance to go check it out, they go, “OK, I checked everything out,” they look back at us and go, “What now, Mom?” They learn that it always pays for them to orient to us, whether or not we ask for it, or whether they just give it as a default behavior. That’s one piece of it. So that orientation is something we work on. We can’t get the orientation until the dog is acclimated. That’s the first step again.

As well, giving them time to acclimate allows us to identify what they find interesting, and we can use those interesting things to our collection of reinforcers. So by watching our dog sniff a rabbit trail or look up a tree at a squirrel — those are obvious ones — we can actually go, “Ah, that’s something that I can use as a reinforcer because that’s something that I can control.” So we might send them over to sniff a very interesting mole hole that they saw earlier as part of the recall, or maybe they can go greet the person that’s standing over there, if they’re a really people-oriented dog. We can give them more meaningful reinforcers that they really want, rather than what we think they want, and they start to see us as a gateway to the reinforcers. That’s part of the process of building the bond that’s strong enough to be able to call them away from things like deer.

Melissa Breau: You have the class broken into two parts right now, Part 1 and Part 2. You mentioned earlier that some things are in Part 2 that aren’t in Part 1. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve broken that down?

Donna Hill: Part 1 focuses on the basic recall with low to medium distractions in the form of games. So here’s the basic structure of the recall, let’s add some distractions in, and that is a really important piece, because if your dog doesn’t have that fundamental foundation, it certainly isn’t going to be able to do a recall off of higher-level distractions. Part 2 ups the ante to adding a higher-level distraction in controlled settings so that the dog learns, Yes, in fact I can call away from those exciting things.

I previously offered it as a single class, but it was too overwhelming for me, and I think for some of the students, because there’s just so much involved in those two levels. So I split them into the two parts to make it easier to really focus on the pieces that are needed.

Melissa Breau: I know some of the classes have a lot of material and there’s no way you’re going to get through this in six weeks. It makes it a little bit more real time, for lack of a better phrase, so people can work through the class as you’re releasing stuff. Is that the idea?

Donna Hill: Absolutely. The first time I ran it, it just felt too rushed, and while it was fine in that it offered some support for people who were not as far along in the recall, those who already had it were able to zoom ahead. But then it became really confusing to try and watch both ends of the scale, so this just simplifies it that we’ve got to focus, it’s on the basic recall, and then we’re going to add the higher-level distractions in Part 2.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to share a game that listeners might be able to play to work on their recall, to give them a taste of the things you’ll be doing in the class.

Donna Hill: OK. One of my favorite ones that has come over time is I have a game that’s a building speed game, because of course we want the dog not only to come to us, we want the dog to come to us really fast.

I’ve seen this develop with my girl Lucy, the Border Collie mix, and it’s so awesome to be able to see her just run as hard as she possibly can to come back to me. It’s awesome to see that eagerness and that enthusiasm. There’s literally dust flying up behind her when she comes back to me. I tried to get it on videotape last night, and I’m going to try and get it before the class so I can show a clip of it. I might even use it as part of the promo for the class. It’s just hilarious, because it’s been so dry, and the road, we’re on one of these logging roads, and it’s a really new, dusty road, so she’s running. literally there’s these plumes of dust every time she hits the ground that pop up. It’s heart-rendering, I guess, to see your dog do that.

Anyway, so this game we play between two people and we start close up, and once we start adding distance, we can actually start capturing speed because we can select only the fastest responses we’re getting from the dogs. If the dog sort of meanders towards us, OK, not a big deal. We’re not actually recalling, so we don’t have to click and treat, but as we’re playing this back and forth game it sort of turns into intermittent reinforcement so that we can choose the faster responses get the click and the treat, and so what the dog quickly does is starts to offer us faster and faster recalls, so it’s really cool.

In combination with where we happen to live, there’s a lot of hiking trails/biking trails. What I like is finding a narrow trail that looks like a roller coaster. They go up and down, they go side to side, and sometimes you can even find ones that zigzag back and forth down the side of a hill. Once the dog’s built up some good speed for recalls, you can have a person at the top and a person at the bottom, and even going up the hill, which by the way is a really good cardio for your dogs, they build up some pretty good speed. You watch them and they do look like a cart from a roller coaster going back and forth, going up and down, and you can just watch their bodies as they’re flying towards you. It’s really cool to watch. That’s my favorite thing. And they’re learning foot placement and they’re weight-shifting to allow them to careen off the trail banks. You can see they’re having fun with it. I’m having fun with it. I’m not sure if it would be considered agility or parkour, but you’re using the skills of both.

Melissa Breau: Right, right, and everybody’s having a good time and you’re working on those skills. That’s the important part.

Donna Hill: That’s what it’s all about.

Melissa Breau: So one last question and it’s on a different topic because I’ve taken to asking it at the end of all my interviews for guests that have already been on once and done the traditional three questions already and that way I don’t have to repeat them. So the new question is, what is a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Donna Hill: OK. But it’s not about the dogs. It’s about the people. I’ll give you an example. I recently had a client make the realization that her service dog is not a robot. She had come to work with us because her dog was fearful working in public. She had told us, “My dog is fearful about working with the public. She’s scared of people. She’s even scared of strangers coming in our own home.”

What we had seen was a dog that had been shut down and was robotically walking through life when working, and this lady didn’t see that. That’s what she had been told that the dog should be working like. She sort of felt something was off, but she wasn’t sure, and she’d never had a service dog before, so she just trusted what she had been told.

After working with her for about four weeks, we were so thrilled when she came to us and she said, “Oh my god, she doesn’t have to be a robot.” That’s literally the words that she used. That’s why I used those words. She has changed what she does significantly. We’ve helped her learn to reinforce the dog when the dog is doing what she wants her to do, help build confidence in the dog, and it’s going to be a long haul because this dog has a long history of being like this, but the handler now has joy in interacting with her dog, and the dog now has joy at interacting with her human, and that’s not what we were seeing when we first had her come to the classes. So we were both giving them their life back, basically.

Melissa Breau: How awesome is that. That’s got to feel so good.

Donna Hill: Yeah. So if we can teach the people that dogs have needs and emotions just like we do, and those needs have to be met for the dog to be comfortable, I think that we go a long way to strengthening the bond and improving the life of both the people and the dogs.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Donna! This has been great.

Donna Hill: You’re very welcome. You really got me thinking.

Melissa Breau: That’s a good thing, I think.

Donna Hill: Absolutely. Don’t forget to check out the Build A Bond recall class that’s coming up.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week with Stacy Barnett to talk about tailoring your nosework training to your specific dog’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t miss it.

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

CREDITS

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

May 4, 2018

Summary:

Over her 40 years of dog training, Michele Pouliot has presented scores of seminars and has been responsible for bringing science-based clicker training to guide dog training around the world. In her "hobby world," she has actively competed in both horse and dog sports since 1970.

In dog sports alone that includes A.K.C. dog obedience, attaining three OTCHes, agility, tracking, and then, starting in 2006, the sport of canine musical freestyle.

A short time later, in 2007, Karen Pryor invited Michele to join her faculty for Clicker Expo conferences, where Michele presents on the application of clicker training techniques for a variety of dog sports, general training, and for the training of guide dogs for the blind. Karen Pryor and Michele collaborated for the development of Michele's online freestyle course, which is available from the Karen Pryor Academy.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 5/11/2018, featuring Amy Cook, talking about thresholds and managing reactivity while you work on changing how your dog actually feels.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Michele Pouliot.

Over her 40 years of dog training, Michele has presented scores of seminars and has been responsible for bringing science-based clicker training to guide dog training around the world. In her "hobby world," she has actively competed in both horse and dog sports since 1970.

In dog sports alone that includes A.K.C. dog obedience, attaining three OTCHes, agility, tracking, and then, starting in 2006, the sport of canine musical freestyle.

A short time later, in 2007, Karen Pryor invited Michele to join her faculty for Clicker Expo conferences, where Michele presents on the application of clicker training techniques for a variety of dog sports, general training, and for the training of guide dogs for the blind. Karen Pryor and Michele collaborated for the development of Michele's online freestyle course, which is available from the Karen Pryor Academy.

I’m incredibly thrilled to have her here today!

Hi Michele! Welcome to the podcast!

Michele Pouliot: Hi Melissa, and thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here, and I want to thank Fenzi Dog Sports for having me here.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So thrilled to talk to you. To get us started out, do you want to just share a little bit about your own dogs and what you’re working on?

Michele Pouliot: My current dogs are two. One is my English Springer Spaniel Déjà Vu, who is 8-and-a-half years old now, and I have a 4-and-a-half-year-old Australian Shepherd, Saki. They are both continually working on coming up with new ideas for tricks. It’s what canine freestyle pushes you to do is always trying to come up with new moves and new behaviors to make your next routine interesting. So other than that, they’re having fun just being dogs, running around the property.

Melissa Breau: I know that you got started training horses. Do you mind sharing a little bit about how you originally got into training, and what led you then from horses to dogs? Just a little bit on your background?

Michele Pouliot: Sure. We’re going to go way back now. Straight out of high school, I really wanted to have a career in horses. I’m an Air Force brat, so my father, our family, moved all over the world as I was growing up, and in high school we landed on an Air Force base in Louisiana. My entire life I’d wanted a dog, couldn’t have a dog, my mother was not a dog person and used the excuse of us moving so much as to why we couldn’t have one.

And I also wanted a horse. My father had always promised me that if we ever got to an Air Force base that had a stable, that I could have a horse. Well, we did, when we were stationed in the Philippines when I was in junior high school. I just fell in love with working with my horse, and I thought, This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

My father was very supportive when we came back to the States and ended up in Louisiana. In high school I got another horse, and he went ahead and allowed me to skip college and use the money to go to the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm, which was run by Linda Tellington and her husband at that time, Wentworth Tellington, very well-known equestrian professionals. My whole goal was to be a professional horse trainer and instructor.

After spending a year there with Linda and Went, I got my first job, which was running a new equestrian program in Fargo, North Dakota. What happened there was I was giving riding lessons to a woman who was a dog trainer. I got my first dog as soon as I got there, so I had a yellow Labrador. As soon as I got away from home on my own, I got my first dog. So I had this dog, loved it, didn’t know what I was doing.

But one of the gals I taught riding to was a dog trainer locally, and I look back on that experience realizing how lucky I was that the person I ran into about training dogs was such a good dog trainer. She was a traditional trainer, of course, back in those times, but she was a really good traditional trainer. So she taught me, in exchange for riding lessons, all about how to work with this young Labrador puppy that I had and make it a nice, mannerly pet.

I was intrigued with how easy it was to train the dog versus the horses, so it got me interested more in training the dog versus just training it for being a nice pet. That is how I slowly started shifting my focus for my profession towards dogs, yet I always kept horses, so I haven’t ever been without a horse since then. I just slowly, when I left North Dakota after my first winter — that was a sign that I never wanted to stay in North Dakota for another winter — but when I came back to the West Coast, I just decided, You know what, I really like this dog thing, so let me start that. And that’s how I ended up going into dogs.

Melissa Breau: That’s really quite interesting, and I know you started to touch on a little bit there the similarities and differences in training the species, that dogs were a little easier. Do you mind sharing a little more about what you learned, compare and contrast a little bit for us?

Michele Pouliot: Sure. Of course, when you’re thinking that we’re talking back in 1970 -’71, there was no positive training that was known of, so everything was traditional. We were training horses in traditional techniques, training dogs in traditional techniques, and when you’re training traditionally, the gap between training a dog and a horse was huge, because what you had with this dog was a species that really wants to please in general. So not only are they maybe more domesticated than a horse, but they surely love to work with people. That was what stuck out so much to me. Whereas horses, being traditionally trained, it isn’t like they’re all excited to go out and work with you. It was good traditional training, they weren’t afraid, but they certainly weren’t the way horses can be nowadays when they are positively trained.

So I think my first realization in that frame of reference, when you think of the times of training at that point in time, was just how much easier the dog was to train because they were so much more like, “What can I do for you?” The horse took so much longer to train because you didn’t seem to have that automatic impulse from a horse you’re working with to say, “What can I do to please you?” That was the big difference then.

There’s still a big difference, so even though my horses are clicker trained, as my dogs are, you’re dealing with a big animal, so the difference in your safety is a big one. Even though we’re not talking about an aggressive horse, it’s still a big animal. If you think about dogs that will mug people and get in their bait pouches and jump up and want rewards, well, imagine a 1200-pound horse doing that to you.

You have to be much more thoughtful about every step of the training process with a horse to make sure that you’re not inadvertently creating an excitement or an energy in your positive training that can actually be dangerous for a human on the ground. Whereas with dogs, we don’t really think about it that much as far as something that’s going to be dangerous. If I teach a dog to leg kick and he happens to clock my leg, yeah, that’s not great, but it’s not life-threatening.

Melissa Breau: Right. You talked a little bit about the fact that back then everything was traditional training, that approach. What led you to become a positive trainer and to clicker training?

Michele Pouliot: When I got into dogs, first I kind of got my foot in the door with that first dog I had. Once I had him trained, I heard something about AKC and obedience, and I entered him in local obedience trials, and for some reason I was winning. People would meet me outside of the ring and say, “Ooh, do you give lessons?” and I felt weird because I didn’t think I knew anything yet. But I started giving lessons and I was really enjoying that aspect.

I ended up working at a kennel, figuring, You know, Michele, you’ve really got to learn more about dogs. So I took this entry-level position at a kennel in Long Beach, California. I was cleaning kennels and all that, but in the afternoon I would be giving some training lessons to the public, which was a great experience for me. But I wasn’t there very long before I read an article about guide dogs and training dogs for blind people. Remember, there’s no Internet back then. This is a magazine, and in the magazine was this article, and in the end were addresses of three guide dog schools in the country. The article was fascinating to me, and all I could think of is, Oh my god, what an amazing combination: the love of training dogs, and I’m also helping people. This is what I want to do. It just hit me like a thunderbolt that I had to do this work.

We’re in 1973 now, and I write all three schools. One of the schools never responded. Another one, I still have the letter framed on my wall today. The letter reads, “I’m sorry, but women are not emotionally or physically capable of training guide dogs.”

Melissa Breau: Oh dear!

Michele Pouliot: Understand that in 1973, that was not an affrontive letter. My reaction, as this naïve young woman, was, Oh, I didn’t know that, in my head. Whereas ten years later, my hackles would have gone up reading something like that.

Anyway, I got a letter from Guide Dogs for the Blind that invited me to fill out an application. I filled out the application, sent it in, and they had me come for an interview. Everything was great, I got the job, I was so excited.

I found out later, when I arrived, I was the only woman besides one other woman who had just started working six months prior. It was not an easy place for a woman to step into, because there was a belief system that women can’t do this. It’s way too rigorous physically, and emotionally it’s very difficult. So this woman and myself were like the pioneers of trying to get our feet in the door for proving ourselves that we could do it.

When I first got my job at Guide Dogs, which was really my first serious, in my head, dog training assignment, I also was always focused on trying to do so good that I was paving the way for other women to come and do this work. That was the first goal.

A part of that —which you’re probably wondering, Is she ever going to get to answer my question? — a part of that is that I knew that I could do better what they were doing. I was so surprised when I showed up and realized that I was a darn good dog trainer when I was watching some of the techniques that I saw being used. What I saw was some very harsh traditional training. Very harsh. And I just knew I could do better than that.

So, from the day I arrived, I started putting this subtle pressure from demonstrating that you don’t really have to do it that way. My focus was always to be the best trainer I could be, the kindest, the gentlest, even though I was totally understanding of traditional training and that’s what you do, there was no other option.

But because that was my background in the 1970s, when I started hearing in the 1990s about this new, modern training, I was fascinated. Through those twenty years, before I heard about positive training, I had helped the program get better, better, better, and I mean in the early 1990s, our school was doing really good traditional training. I was so happy that the program had come so far that no dogs were being treated really unfairly. Even though it was traditional, it was good traditional training.

I always have this flavor in my heart of, How can I be kind and gentle and still get the job done? Even when you’re a good traditional trainer, you might be focusing on that, but you also inherited the belief that using a lot of punishment to teach is OK. It’s a belief system that you are born into. So as I started opening my mind to looking at this new positive training thing I was seeing, I was so excited that, oh my gosh, there’s other possibilities, and that’s really what led me to start looking at videos and going to seminars and going to conferences and trying to figure out how this fits into my world, especially how does it fit into guide dog work.

Melissa Breau: So, I’d love to hear a little bit more about some of what you did with the guide dog program, if you don’t mind. I know that you spent a large chunk of your career focused there. How did that evolve? Can you share a little more?

Michele Pouliot: Sure. I retired two years ago with forty-two years, so I’ve been doing it a long time. When I chose to introduce positive reinforcement training to my school, my guide dog school, my intent at that time was just, can we even make this better, kinder, gentler, and overall more positive for everybody, including the trainer. Because it was a very physical type of training when you’re doing traditional training, too, so we had injuries. We had people coming in and being injured.

By the way, by this time the staff was majority of women, so over the twenty years a lot changed. The men were in the minority, and I’m not really saying I even know why that is, because it’s kind of true in the guide dog industry and in the cane mobility industry — meaning instructors who teach blind people how to travel with canes — it’s interesting how through the last several decades the majority are women. I think it has to do with being nurturers and wanting to help is why we have more people in there now that are women versus men.

Anyway, back to guide dogs. When I first brought the idea to my supervisor, my supervisor had a lot of faith in me. I had already done a lot for the program and had everyone training so much better than they used to train, so I had a good relationship with my supervisor, but he looked at me like I was crazy.

Now, you have to understand that in the guide dog world, guide dogs have been trained since World War I. That’s when it started. The techniques used for guide dog training were from World War I, meaning war dogs. How do you train a dog to be a war dog? And you know those dogs were hardy, hardy, tough, courageous dogs. So all the guide dog work that started was with very heavy-duty traditional training, and the thought process was you have to be tough to make the dog reliable. No matter how weird that sounds today in the positive training world, it’s a reality for when it started. It was such a unique idea that somebody had in World War I to do this, and they were doing it successfully.

So imagine if you say, “Can we train a guide dog to help a blind person get around safely and keep them from being injured?” and it worked, what does that do for your ego? It pushes it up there pretty big. So when you join a guide dog school and you are in awe of what they do, I was in awe of what they did. It’s like, oh my god, this is like miracles. Those dogs are saving people’s lives.

So when somebody tells you that you can’t use food when you train guide dogs, and the reason is the handler’s blind and there’s food all over the environment, everywhere you go, there’s food, because of that, you believe it. I believed it. I was totally brainwashed. And I brainwashed so many of my blind clients over the years, like we all did, because we didn’t want them hand-feeding their dogs. It was about food only comes in their food pan two times a day when they get fed.

So the first thing that we had to tackle, we were the first school in the world that tackled this whole belief system, which was, believe me, very deeply entrenched worldwide that you can’t use food in training guide dogs. There are still some outliers now that are holding to that, and their programs probably won’t change until there’s a few individuals that retire or leave the program, just because they’re so entrenched in the belief system, and I understand that because I was there too. Thank God I had an open enough mind to say, “Maybe there’s a way.”

So the first task at hand was to show that we could teach the dogs, with food, how to not take food in the environment, and how to avoid offered food in the environment. If you picture that you’ve got this handsome, cute little dog out in harness and you’re blind, how many people do you think a day come up and say, “Oh, he’s so pretty. Can I give him this cookie? I have a little piece of meat.” You have all sorts of people doing that and not even asking. Guide dogs actually are offered food a lot. And imagine how many restaurants that you would go sit in, and your dog goes under the table, and guess what they find under the table that somebody previously dropped on the floor. There’s food all over the place.

So we thought — ha ha — we were doing this great job of teaching food avoidance through correction. The dog, of course, if they went for food, would be corrected. The comical part about that is although the response we trained looked really good at the end of guide dog training, because that means the professional was handling the dog, and the professional has sight, so the professional can do what? Time a correction. They can see what the dog’s about to do.

Well, hand the dog over to a blind client, and guess how long it takes a guide dog who’s been trained that way to figure out that the blind person isn’t responding at all when they head toward some food. We had ourselves brainwashed that we were doing a good job.

The really cool thing about coming up with “How do we teach them with food to leave food?” was incredibly rewarding for us to go, “Oh my gosh, we just blew that belief system out of water.” The dogs are so much better now than they ever were with environmental food. And it’s because they’re choosing. It’s their choice. They’re not being threatened. They know that, If I leave this food alone and if I refuse this food from this person offering it, I know at some point in the near future I’m going to get a reward too.

That was the huge hurdle to get over because of how entrenched that belief system is in the world. From that point on it was saying, OK, let’s look at this clicker training thing, and look at all the skills we teach, and what can we teach with clicker training?

I’m really glad my school took it really slow. At the time I felt like I was dragging them forward — “Please, let’s do more, let’s do more” — but the reality is traditional trainers have to learn these skills, it’s totally new skills. So for us to just overnight decide we were going to change would not have been a good idea. We took it really slow.

I look back at 2006, when all of our instructors were using clicker training, and it’s comical to me to think that we thought we were so advanced, because it’s come so far. Things that we transfer over to clicker training, it was clicker training, but now it’s been improved to where it’s really good clicker training.

So it was a very long haul. The good news was that when we made this change, we had a couple schools that had heard through the grapevine that we were doing this who asked if we could help them out. Management made a decision then that really changed the course of the entire industry, because the industry could be very protective over what they did and their information, not necessarily willing to share “secrets.” Our management at that time decided that we’re going to share this. We’re not going to keep it quiet. And so at that time, around 2007, they started sending me out on the road to any school that wanted help. That is what kind of started the road to changing the industry, because the word started spreading.

And then we started presenting at the International Guide Dog Conference, which happens every two years. That was like an international community, and presenting and showing video of all that we’re doing, showing them data on success rates that skyrocketed higher than ever historically from the day we started clicker training. There was so much information that our school made available to the guide dog industry besides us actually personally helping. I mean, it’s just wonderful.

Let me give you an idea. There’s about a hundred-plus guide dog schools in the world that belong to this International Guide Dog Federation. In 2006, there were three guide dog schools out of that group that were using positive reinforcement. Now it’s over sixty-five. That’s a big deal in ten years.

It’s a really cool thing to see it happening, and it’s a really cool thing that I get to still do. I’m a consultant. I just got back from South Africa in February, helping a South African school, and it’s just wonderful to see the excitement, because most of the staff are younger people now. There are always still some staff that are more senior, and traditional trainers who are learning new skills, but everyone has gotten to the point where they realize this is really a better way to go. So it’s rare for me to run into people now that haven’t realized, because we proved it. Basically our school proved it.

Melissa Breau: That’s fantastic. That’s got to be such a good feeling to know that you’ve had such a huge impact on that field, and to really be able to look at the numbers and see how much change you’ve really created.

Michele Pouliot: It is. It’s an extremely satisfying time in my life to go ahead and retire.

Melissa Breau:  Fair enough.

Michele Pouliot: It was about five or six years ago now I was considering retiring, and I just had a funny feeling that I needed to give it a few more years to make sure that my program that I was leaving was really set to still move forward and not slide back if they didn’t have me bugging the heck out of them all the time, for instance.

Melissa Breau: Right. It’s fantastic you’ve created this change, but I know there are still some fields that are, for lack of a better word, struggling to make the switch, or fields where traditional methods are still the norm. Do you have any advice for people who are maybe positive trainers in those situations, or positive trainers who are surrounded by others who aren’t, when they’re trying to maybe create change or inspire change in others?

Michele Pouliot:  Over the past ten years — I guess more than that now, actually — I feel like I’ve done this so many times with so many different people and organizations, at least in the guide dog and service dog industry, I’ve been involved with so many now that I’ve learned the hard way what not to do.

Even when somebody acts like they’re open-minded and ready to listen, you have to be very careful that you respect them and avoid criticizing then, because the tendency in positive reinforcement trainers is to look down on traditional trainers as if they’re being mean or even abusive or harsh or whatever. So when they’re talking at a traditional trainer, they have that attitude of, “You need to change because da-da-da-da-da.”

Well, the reality is traditional trainers love their dogs, too, and if you think they’re doing it because they want to be meaner than they need to, that’s not so. They inherited that. That’s what they learned. I never thought I was being mean or harsh or too rough. I was a good traditional trainer and I used techniques that worked. My dogs were happy, they worked happy, they weren’t cowering. But when I look back now, of course I realize, wow, there’s so much of a better way to do this, and the animal is so much more joyous in its work.

But people approach, if you want to call it the other side of the fence, they approach that with criticism, even if it’s not direct criticism. You need to give a person respect for what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished, and not in any way punish them.

The comical part, to me, is if you’re truly a positive reinforcement trainer, then why are you punishing these people? Are you going to punish them long enough that you think they’re going to change? You should know that punishment isn’t very effective. It only works with threat, so are you going to threaten them? No. The way you get them to change is reinforce them for their efforts, support them when they’re having trouble, and sometimes that means you have to ignore something that’s still happening and just go, “That will come in time. Leave it alone.” Right now, give them something you can actually help them with, because that reinforces them.

When you solve a problem for someone or some organization with positive reinforcement and it’s a problem they continue to have, you are now God. Now it’s like, “Wow, we were never able to solve that with traditional training, and they just solved it.” That’s all about reinforcement, so it’s no different than applying positive reinforcement to animal training. It’s how do I get this animal, which happens to be human, I have to want and get them inspired and motivated, don’t I? I have to have something they want. So I have to give them the feeling of reinforcement, and usually that comes in the shape of showing them how it works. Don’t just tell them. Show them.

There are a lot of people in the horse barns, for instance, that are certainly surrounded by traditional horse trainers, and they’re the one person in their barn that wants to do clicker training with their horse, so they day in and day out feel like they are one against a hundred. The best thing they can do is just smile and say, “Thank you. That’s really cool that you’re doing that, but I want to do it this way. I’m really enjoying this. This is really fun.” And then, on the side, you’re showing them, from them noticing, that it really works.

There’s no sense in having a war, because the war never gets you anywhere. I’ve been at those wars. I’ve been the positive reinforcement and the traditional trainer wars. It doesn’t work. It just makes the traditional trainers dig their trenches deeper because you’re making them feel they have to defend themselves. The last thing you want to do is make a traditional trainer feel like they have to defend themselves. You have to get them curious so that they’re really interested in how that works.

The good news is in the guide dog world it’s been proven now. We were on new ground when we did it, and when we did it, we didn’t have anything telling us it’s going to work, so we were just hoping we’d get the same quality of response at the end of training, and what wowed us was how much better all the responses were. We were just hoping that going to this new positive thing would be kinder-gentler and we’d still get what we had. We never, never imagined we would get better and better responses than historically the school had ever had.

Melissa Breau: That’s fantastic. I know there are a lot of people out there who are in that exact position, and they’re surrounded by so many trainers who are doing things other ways. They feel like they’re fighting that battle, so I think that’s really useful for folks to hear. What about for those folks that are out there, maybe they’re on the edge, or maybe they’re in the process of crossing over, I think anyone who has done that knows it’s not easy. Do you have any advice for those folks?

Michele Pouliot: The best advice I can give for someone who wants to cross over, they’re in the process, is realize that learning never goes away.

I think in the traditional training world you get to a point — and I say this not just from my experience, but being around so many traditional trainers for so many years in the ’70s and ’80s — you get to a point where you think you’ve learned everything. It’s a little phenomenon. It’s like, I’m there, I’ve got it, I’ve done my thing, and now I just keep practicing it.

As a positive reinforcement trainer I quickly realized that I didn’t know anything about training. It was like, wow, I might be good at actually doing some certain things with animals, but I had never even thought about how the science would affect everything that I’m doing. So realizing that it doesn’t end.

When I first joined the faculty of Clicker Expo, Karen Pryor’s faculty, I was totally intimidated by being on the faculty. It’s like, Oh my god, all these people, they are so much better than me. And then I started getting more comfortable after a few years, but every time I went, I realized I still feel like a novice. Every single time I go to an Expo, I’m learning something else from a faculty member, or two or three of them, that I went, wow, I never even looked at it that way. That has not ended, so I realized it’s an open book. It’s an open end that never stops.

And if you do stop and you say, “I’ve learned enough, this is all I need to know,” that’s sad to me because there’s so much more available to you, even within your own little world and how you’re using it, because it’s constantly got the ability to give you more information and make you even better and better at training both the animal and the student, the person.

Melissa Breau: Even if you’ve learned, say, everything that was out up to a year ago, when you really talk to some of the leading trainers out there, there are always new ideas that they’re trying and they’re testing and they’re playing with, and then going out there and sharing.

Michele Pouliot: Exactly, exactly. Even through things like this, a podcast. You’re listening to a podcast and you go, “Oh, well, that’s interesting. I never quite heard that before.” Or you hear it said a different way, and even if all that gives you is ooh, when I teach that next time, I have another way to say that that might make more sense to that individual person who I’m having trouble getting that concept across to.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I know that that, for me, was a big, big thing when I was teaching pet dog people was that I’d often sit in the class, or listen to somebody talk, and you just come away with, “Oh, well, that was a really great analogy. That was a really good way of phrasing that,” that you can reuse or turn around.

Michele Pouliot: For sure, for sure. And to me, I really always look at myself as when I’m working with somebody, an individual and their animal, I’m never really teaching the animal. I’m teaching them. So it’s my job to be able to be a hugely successful communicator and adjust on the fly when it’s not working, because obviously the way I’m explaining it is not working, so I’ve got to find another way.

Melissa Breau: I know that I mentioned in the intro you’ve done competitive obedience and agility, and that today you mostly compete in musical freestyle. For those who maybe aren’t super-familiar with the sport, can you share a little bit about what it is and how it’s judged?

Michele Pouliot: Most everybody has at some point in the Winter Olympics watched the ice-skating. If you look at that event, the Olympic ice skating, and the short program, long program — years ago they also had the figures that they don’t do anymore because it wasn’t very interesting to watch — but it’s very similar in that you have a piece of music, and what you’re doing is you and your dog are performing certain behaviors and you’re interpreting the music. So freestyle, in its own right, is meaning anything you want to do. Anything goes, so it gives you the open ability to choose a lot of interesting things to do.

Most organizations that you can compete under, and there’s about four or five organizations worldwide, do have some limit in freestyle for safety. In other words, the one limit can be as long as it looks safe for human and dog. Other than that, there really isn’t a limit, other than don’t do something in really bad taste, for instance.

But if you look at the Olympic ice-skating, in that they are judged both technical and artistic, it’s the same thing. In most organizations you have two basic element types you’re being judged on, which is the technical aspect of the performance, including the precision, including how things flowed, and then you have the artistic, which is the creative part, how unique was this, how emotional was it, was it funny, was it dramatic, was it just really amazingly entertaining. If you look at it with that ice skating analogy, I think you’ll realize, yeah, that’s an easy to understand sport.

It is still a bit of a subjective sport, meaning you could have the exact same performance in front of two different judges and they may judge it a little differently. But that’s not really any different than if you get in a high level of competitive obedience. You’re looking at who’s going to win the classes a half-point ahead of the other, and that could be a subjective judgment between judges, so one judge saw it as a perfect sit and one judge saw it as a half-point-off sit.

So no matter what, the subjectivity comes into most sports, agility being one that probably not. The dog either does the … but you still have some judgments about did he make the contact point, did he miss it, so it is a subjective sport.

The cool thing about the sport is everyone going in the ring is doing something different, so you’re not watching the same routine, like an obedience routine or the agility course. You’re not seeing the same thing again and again. Every single person that goes in the ring is doing something different, even if you — by horrors — happen to have the same music as somebody else, which has happened to me. It happened to me. But they’re still totally different routines because you have a different person and a different dog interpreting it. So it’s very cool that it’s your own creation.

I have tons of video of my dogs doing competitive obedience at way back Games Nationals, really cool stuff, and agility runs. Do I ever pull that footage out and watch it? Not really. But do I pull out my old freestyle routines and watch those? I do. It’s more like you created art yourself, you and your dog together created this thing, and nobody else has done that thing.

It’s something that you did, and when you are in freestyle long enough that you’re losing dogs, obviously they die, I mean, that was the first time that hit me was when I was watching my Springer Spaniel Cabo’s performance to Phantom of the Opera at a seminar. Somebody wanted to see it, and I showed it for the first time after he had passed, and I mean I got really emotional because it wasn’t just seeing him on the screen as much as all that we put into that routine to make it an entertaining routine.

The cool thing to me about freestyle, which is why I got so excited about it when I discovered it, is everything keeps changing. It isn’t that you get to this high level and then you’re doing the same skills and maintaining those same skills. You’re always trying to do something new, inventive, because of the piece of music you’ve picked. It brings out the creativity and it really pushes you as a dog trainer.

So it’s been wonderful for me because it keeps pushing me to what is the next thing I’m going to clicker train — not necessarily that I’m going to use it in the next routine, but maybe the routine after that. So it really does help me, personally, get inspired and motivated to train, because my goal is to come up with some sort of performance that is entertaining to the audience. I just love that.

Melissa Breau: You obviously bring it to the sport. You’re very passionate about it. Is there anything, in your opinion, in particular that has led to your success?

Michele Pouliot: I think for anyone’s success, you have to say you’re obviously doing good training. Again, it’s motivating to me to keep pushing myself to become a better and better trainer for that reason, because it’s going to come out in the performance. Creativity is something that I think I probably was born with, because I always had a wild imagination, and my brother is a very creative person too. I actually don’t know how to teach people creativity, but you can get a lot of great ideas from just watching Broadway plays, movies, shows, you can get some great ideas for what might make a very cool routine.

I would have to say that I entered this sport at a point in my career when I’d only been clicker training on my own with my own animals for maybe four or five years when I got into freestyle. But I had already learned the power of it for teaching really great behaviors, entertaining-type behaviors, so that really inspired me to, like, what else can I do?

When you envision something in a routine that might seem a little up there — meaning, well, maybe I shouldn’t really expect that I can make it look that great by teaching a dog to do something like that — and then you actually do it, that’s really rewarding for yourself as a trainer, but rewarding in that you were able to show the audience something.

It also is a really good ambassador for clicker training, because when you see a good freestyle performance, the one thing you know is there are behaviors you just watch that you know you couldn’t train any other way except with clicker training because it wouldn’t work. There’s no way you could teach that traditional. It just wouldn’t happen.

Melissa Breau: I know we’re getting close to the end here, and there are three questions I always ask at the end of my first interview with someone. The first one is what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of — and I feel like you probably have some good ones.

Michele Pouliot: I kind of feel like I have two different worlds that I’ve been in. One is a very serious type of work with the guide dog world and the other is my hobby in the sports. I have to say that being able to look back on my career with the guide dog industry, knowing that I’ve made a big change, now I am one of the catalysts that’s really helped to move that whole industry forward, certainly is something I’m extremely proud of and makes me feel really content that I left that career, officially left the career, when everything was really moving along. That would be the guide dog side.

The dog-related side would probably be just individual great performances I’ve had with my wonderful canine partners. When you said it, I probably had to think of my first Aussie in freestyle, Listo, who passed in 2014. But we’ve had some incredible performances. I don’t know if I can pick one out. But one thing that he did do that no other dog has done is he — I know I should say “he and I together,” but I think of him as such an amazing dog performer. He was like an actor. He was so good at this that I felt like he was carrying me through some of the performances. He not only scored perfect scores from judges once, he did it twenty-four times. It is incredible, and a few of those were at international competitions where there was a judging panel of three judges, and all three judges gave him perfect scores. And I realize gave us perfect scores. But I would have to say that probably is one of the highlights of my hobby career.

Just a couple of weekends ago, my young Aussie, we debuted a brand-new routine, and it’s a very cool routine. I’m very, very proud of this routine. In fact, we dedicated it to Listo. It’s a very cool routine, and he did it so well for his first time. I was totally blown away with how well he did, and he got a perfect score.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Michele Pouliot: For my young boy to get a perfect score was a really cool thing. So there I gave you the serious side of dog training and the fun side.

Melissa Breau: Congrats on the new perfect score. That’s awesome.

Michele Pouliot: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: The second question on my list is about training advice, and I wanted to ask what the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard is.

Michele Pouliot: Oh, so many to choose from. I am going to reach down deep to the first one I ever remember hearing that changed my life, and that was Linda Tellington. In 1970, I was having trouble working with a horse. She stopped me, and she walked over and very quietly said, “Listen to him.” And ever since then, I listen so hard to my learners, and that includes horses, dogs, people that I’m teaching. It’s listening, paying attention to what’s happening, because they’re giving you so much information that so many people ignore.

So I think that would be the first one, because it has affected me, it’s so much a part of who I am when I train is really noticing what’s happening quickly, not waiting until we get five minutes into it to go, “Oh, I guess that’s not working.” Then the other one would be Dr. Phil’s mantra, “How’s that working for you?”

Melissa Breau: I like that.

Michele Pouliot: I say that at seminars all the time. I say it to myself. It’s like somebody comes up with all these questions, “Why is he doing that? Well, I’ve been doing it this way.” And I go, “Well, how’s that working for you?” It’s a great mantra, so I find myself going back to that. It actually is usually quite appropriate for most situations to ask yourself that, or to ask someone else, so I’ll just stick with those two for now.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and it relates back to the first one. If you’re not listening and you ask yourself, “How’s that working for you?” it’s going to remind you... My last question here: Who is somebody else in the training world that you look up to?

Michele Pouliot: That would probably be Ken Ramirez and Kathy Sdao, both. They have been my lights in the distance when I started this guide dog movement to change to positive reinforcement training. Both of them … without them, I don’t know if I could have made it happen, because they again were so supportive of what we were doing, and yet knowing a lot of what we were doing they did not like at that time. They were able to put blinders on and ignore some of what they were looking at, and focus on the stuff we were getting better at, knowing that when more time went, we’d be ready for the next step to improve.

And then, on a personal note, when I joined the faculty, just to have them be so wonderfully friendly and open and warm, and so interested in the way I think about training and what I do. They’ve just always been really dear to me.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming on, Michele! This has been great.

Michele Pouliot: You’re welcome, and I thank you for having me. I enjoyed every bit of it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Amy Cook to talk about the true meaning of a threshold and how to manage your activity while you work on changing your dog’s feelings about the thing.

Credits:

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

Apr 27, 2018

Summary:

Kathy Sdao is an applied animal behaviorist. She has spent 30 years as a full-time animal trainer, first with marine mammals and now with dogs and their people.

She currently owns Bright Spot Dog Training where she consults with families about their challenging dogs, teaches private lessons to dogs and their owners, and coaches novices and professionals to cross over to positive-reinforcement training.

She’s been interviewed pretty much everywhere worth reading — at least as far as dog info is concerned — consulted with organizations including Guide Dogs for the Blind, appeared on Bill Nye the Science Guy, and is one of the original faculty members for Karen Pryor’s long-running ClickerExpos. She is also the author of Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 5/4/2018, featuring Michele Pouliot, talking about being a change-maker in the dog world.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Kathy Sdao -- Kathy is an applied animal behaviorist. She has spent 30 years as a full-time animal trainer, first with marine mammals and now with dogs and their people.

She currently owns Bright Spot Dog Training where she consults with families about their challenging dogs, teaches private lessons to dogs and their owners, and coaches novices and professionals to cross over to positive-reinforcement training.

She’s been interviewed pretty much everywhere worth reading — at least as far as dog info is concerned — consulted with organizations including Guide Dogs for the Blind, appeared on Bill Nye the Science Guy, and is one of the original faculty members for Karen Pryor’s long-running ClickerExpos. She is also the author of Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace.

I’m incredibly thrilled to have her here today!

Hi Kathy! Welcome to the podcast.

Kathy Sdao: Hi Melissa. Thanks so much for the invitation. This is going to be fun.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you mind just sharing a little bit about your own dogs and anything you’re working on with them?

Kathy Sdao: What an embarrassing way to start! I currently have just one dog of my own. His name is Smudge. He’s a … who knows what he is. He’s a mixed breed. Let’s call him a Catahoula mixed breed. He’s about 3 years old, and as I’m reminded after my walk in the woods with him this morning that the combination of young man in a hoodie on a skateboard with an off-leash dog running beside this young man — too much for Smudge to deal with on our walk in the woods, so rather than dog sports, I’m still training this young dog that the world is full of interesting adventures and you really don’t have to bark at them when they startle you. So we’re still doing real-world training just getting him out with me every day in my environment here in Tacoma, Washington, which is beautiful. We spend a lot of time outside. I also am very good friends with the magnificent Michele Pouliot, and she has offered to choreograph a freestyle routine for Smudge and me, and I feel like that would be crazy for me not to take her up on that. So if I ever dip my toe into the water of dog sports, it’s likely to be freestyle, because I have an awesome friend offering to help me.

Melissa Breau: That’s fantastic, and hey, I can’t blame him. I think that if a guy showed up suddenly and surprised me wearing a hoodie and a skateboard with a dog running next to him, I might be a little startled too.

Kathy Sdao: I was having such a peaceful walk, and then we turned a corner and I’m like, Uh-oh, this isn’t going to work. Fortunately, that kid was really nice about it. We all kind of laughed, so it ended up well, but anyway, training goes on, right?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. How did you originally get into training? Can you share a little bit on your background?

Kathy Sdao: When I do Career Days at schools. I think kids always think it was planned, like “You had a plan.” I didn’t have a plan. I was a premed student in college and took an elective, animal behavior, a psych course, which I thought, That’ll be easy. The professor, Dr. Pat Ebert, had a need of someone to help her with some research she was doing and just happened to be at the aquarium where I lived in Niagara Falls, New York. She needed a research assistant, and I went to the aquarium and did some observation work there and fell into the rabbit hole and quit premed and changed my major to psychology.

My beloved dad will turn 97 years old next month, and he still has not gotten over the shock that his daughter left premed to do this crazy career he has never once understood. So it was serendipity that got me to that aquarium where I ended up training my first animal, a harbor seal.

My professor, Dr. Ebert, passed away very suddenly and at a very young age, 32, from liver cancer, and I don’t know, I always felt like there’s some way to pass the gauntlet on to me to study the science of animal learning and be brave about it. I applied to graduate school after I got my bachelor’s degree in fields that could study animal behavior, and all the schools I was going to study either rats or pigeons, except the University of Hawaii, where I would be studying dolphins.

I got accepted to the University of Hawaii to study dolphins, got accepted to Rutgers to study rats, it wasn’t much of a choice: Newark to study rats or Honolulu to study dolphins. That was the beginning. The second animal I learned to train was a dolphin at the University of Hawaii, so that started my career in a really different kind of way.

Melissa Breau: I certainly understand that decision. I think most people would choose dolphins over rats or pigeons.

Kathy Sdao: You know, it’s funny, Melissa. Rutgers gave me a big scholarship and I turned it down and they really were mortified. They couldn’t believe I was leaving money on the table there. In retrospect, I think I made a good choice.

Melissa Breau: It certainly served you well. From dolphins to dogs, it’s a pretty big bridge there. What led you to go from marine animals and zoo animals — because you did some of that, too, if you want to talk about that — to dogs?

Kathy Sdao: When I was fortunate enough to start my career working with marine mammals, I actually worked in three different, amazing settings. For several years I worked at the University of Hawaii, when I was a graduate student, on the research done there that included, among other cool things, teaching sign language to bottlenose dolphins back in the 1980s. That was just an amazing way to start a training career.

I got my masters degree and then was hired as one of the first women to work for the United States Navy’s Department of Defense that was training dolphins at the time to do mine detection and detonation work, also a job in Hawaii, working to prepare those dolphins to be turned over to sailors to actually be in the military. Another amazing job and worked there for several years, and then decided that it was time, even though I loved Hawaii, to go to a place that was more reasonable to live, just cost of living-wise. Honolulu’s gorgeous but expensive.

There were two jobs on the mainland in the United States that year that I decided I was going to transition back to the mainland. One was at Disneyland in Orlando and one was at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. I never lived either place, I didn’t know anybody in either place, but decided that I much more preferred the Pacific Northwest and so took a job as a staff biologist at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, and got to work with beluga whales and porpoises and sea lions and fur seals and walruses and polar bears and sea otters and an amazing collection of marine mammals.

Having worked at the zoo for five years, though, realized it was a difficult job. It was tough physically, it can be tough emotionally — I know people are listening; if they’ve done some zoo work, it’s challenging — and so made the decision that it was time to leave the zoo. But I didn’t want to leave Tacoma, Washington. I still live here. I love it. So training dogs was my creative solution to earn a living and not have to move, and I can’t even recall to you, Melissa, how humbling that switch was, because I was cocky enough to go, “Hey, I’ve trained really cool, big, exotic animals. Dogs are going to be a piece of cake.”

And oh, they weren’t. I really didn’t know what I was doing at all, and quickly found out that I needed a lot more dog savvy if I was going to do a good job, and opened up the first dog daycare in Tacoma, Washington, back in the mid-1990s. Nobody had ever heard of a dog day care here. I had to get special zoning from the city. They thought we were nuts. But I opened that dog daycare to be able to get my eyeballs on dog behavior more and to be immersed in it. I know you’ve got listeners that work in dog daycares, own dog daycares, it’s a good immersion process for the human to learn about dog behavior.

So that was my entry into dog work, and started teaching classes at night in clicker training, and that was really new at the time, a new way to set up dog training classes back in the late 1990s, so haven’t looked back since. And though I loved my time with marine mammals and other exotic species, I really don’t miss it. I’m just as intrigued working with dogs and their people as I ever was with the exotics.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that there was a little bit of a transition there. Can you share some of the similarities and differences and what they were as you went from training dolphins and zoo animals to dogs?

Kathy Sdao: I really look right now, when I’m looking for teachers for myself … it’s interesting, Melissa. One of the reasons I asked you if you would be so kind as to delay our appointment for this recording was so that I could spend a couple of hours this morning listening yet again to my colleague and friend Dr. Susan Friedman. She was doing a webinar this morning on a topic I’ve heard her teach on before, but I’m like, No, I would like to listen to Dr. Friedman again.

What I look for in my teachers when I’m making choices is I really love teachers who are transparent and authentic. So your question invites me to be transparent and authentic, because I’m going to say to you that transition, which should have been smooth in terms of training techniques, I really was able to learn to be a trainer in some extraordinary settings that really call out the best skills.

People often say, “You know, it’s amazing that the dolphins could learn that mine detection and detonation work,” and keep in mind the work I did for the Navy was classified, it is no longer classified, I can tell you about it. The dolphins’ lives were not in danger. That sounds really dramatic, like we were risking the dolphins. We were not. The dolphins and the sailors, the military, all the personnel, all the military personnel, dolphins and people, moved away from the setting before anything was detonated. I don’t want any listeners to think, oh my gosh, how cavalier I am about that training. It was as safe as possible for everybody.

But in saying that, people go, “That’s amazing you could teach that to the dolphins,” and I say, “No, no. What was amazing is every one of those dozens and dozens of dolphins that we took out to the open ocean every day had to jump back in our motorboats, our Boston whalers, to go back to their enclosures every evening, every afternoon, good training session, bad training session. They were free, and they had to choose to jump on a boat and come back to the enclosures.”

When you have that as your school for learning, you get an ego. So I got an ego to go, “Hey, I trained open ocean dolphins. How hard is it to train dogs?” Not only was it hard, here’s the thing I’m sort of dancing around that I’m humbled by. I didn’t think dogs could be trained using the same methods as marine mammals. So I really, switching over species, switched training methods and apprenticed with a local balanced trainer. That wasn’t a term at the time in the mid-’90s, but used leash corrections and also positive reinforcement, but all mixed together.

So I learned how to pop a choke chain, and I trained that way for, I want to say, at least a year, with only the mildest cognitive dissonance in the back of my head going, Why would dogs be different than every other species I’ve ever worked with? But of course we’ve got a mythology about why dogs are different. We can tell that story about pack leaders and hierarchies, and we can spin a good tale about why all other animals can be trained using positive reinforcement and a marker signal, but not dogs, they need corrections.

Karen Pryor, fortuitously, happened to be talking in Seattle. She was giving a seminar, and I went to the seminar because Karen’s a friend, so I just like, Hey, I’ll go visit Karen. I don’t need to learn anything about training. Now I’m mortified to say that out loud. Karen started the weekend seminar — I still remember it, it was more than twenty years ago — Karen started the weekend seminar to this big room filled with dog trainers, hundreds of dog trainers, and she said, “I’d really be grateful if no one gave a leash correction over the time we’re together this weekend. It’s upsetting to me, and it’s upsetting to the dogs and anybody who has to watch it.” And then she just went on to talk, and like, What? What is she talking about? There’s going to be anarchy in here. What does she mean, no leash correction? I had no idea what she was talking about.

Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I wandered into that seminar with her, because she started the dominoes falling in my mind to be able to say, Why, possibly, would you not do this with dogs? She was such a good friend and mentor to me, to help me be brave enough to teach classes in my city in a completely different way that dog training colleagues were saying to me, “Absolutely impossible. You’re going to fail at this.” So I’m grateful to her and so many people that taught me that it was possible.

But my transition was ugly, so if you saw me in that time of me trying to figure out, does all the learning and training I did with marine mammals for over a decade, does it really fit in with dogs? Aren’t dogs different? And the answer really is, no, they’re not. Good thing I could bring all my other skills into the training. It’s a different way to train dogs, but I’d say it’s a better way and it’s certainly more fun. So that kept me going for a long time, because I don’t think we all agree on that yet, so there’s work to do.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. It’s a specific pivot point or turning point for you. At what point would you say you actually became, to steal a line from your website, focused on positive, unique solutions, and what has kept you interested in positive training and made you transition to that so completely?

Kathy Sdao: I owned that dog daycare for several years, and then at some point felt like I could fledge from that work. It was good work, but it wasn’t really feeding me, so I switched at that point to becoming a behavior consultant, becoming a certified applied animal behavior consultant. And so, at that point, to be able to help people create solutions for challenging problems — that brought out a different level of my knowledge than running a daycare.

So I’d have to say it was at that point that you have to make decisions about … today we’d look at the Humane Hierarchy and we’d go, “Wow, that algorithm, that sort of model for choosing behavior interventions to be least intrusive for the learner” — I couldn’t have given that language back in the late 1990s. That’s in reality what I’m doing with the best teachers I can to help me, because I’m now entering people’s lives and their families to help them resolve behavior problems with a family member, so that changes things.

The idea of that algorithm for interventions, for our training methods with nonhuman learners, comes to us from the work that behavior analysts do with children. And so to make that line fuzzier, to stop saying “humans and animals” like that’s a dichotomy, humans or animals, we are animals, and the that learning we do, the teaching we do with animals and people, I want there to be no line dividing those two.

So to be able to say, to help a family understand they can help their dog become less aggressive through skilled behavior intervention that’s mostly focused on positive reinforcement of alternative behaviors, if I can help a family do that, it changes their lives. It not only changes that dog’s life, but if I do my job right, it helps that family become curious about how behavior works.

And you know what? We all behave. I love the kids’ book Everybody Poops. I want there to be a kids’ book called Everybody Behaves. We had the zookeepers read the Everybody Poops kids’ book. I’m not a parent of human children, but parents tell me, “Oh yeah, that’s a classic book. We read Everybody Poops in our family.”

Where’s the book Everybody Behaves, so that you can understand if you can change the behavior in one family member, and it happens to be your four-legged dog, and you’re successful at that, and you sort of had fun doing it, and you didn’t have to be coercive, oh my gosh, then what does that open up for you in terms of all the other behavior change solutions you can come up with? The reason that’s interesting to me is I like my species a lot. The colleagues I have that say, “Oh, I work with animals because I don’t much like people” are in the wrong business. We should like our species, because I feel like we’re doomed if we don’t learn some better ways of interacting.

So I honestly feel like I’m helping people learn about better ways of interacting. I’m teaching them nonviolence in an around-the-corner, sneaky way to go, “Yeah, we’re just training your dog,” but not really. That’s never how I’m going into a situation. I’m hoping we can all be learning together to be effective at the same time we’re being nonviolent. There’s tons of work to do on that. I’m never going to run out of work. It’s a tall mountain to climb.

Every dog that comes into my consultation office — I mean this sincerely — I’m still fascinated at the learning. I had a new … it’s a new breed for me … I always joke when people first contact me and they say, “What do you know about this obscure breed?” Like, in other words, “Are you an expert in …?” My answer to this is “No, but I’ve trained like fifty different species. Does that count that I don’t know?”

So a new breed for me this month was a lovely, lovely client with two Berger Picards, Picardy Shepherds. Beautiful dogs, but the breeder talked my elderly client into taking two puppies — “As long as you’re going to take one, why don’t you take two?” Breeders! Breeders, breeders, breeders! Anyway, lovely woman, retired, her husband just retired, now have two very active herding puppies. As those dogs come into my office, and they’ve got some behavior issues, but just to watch them learn. Tuesday I was sitting on the floor with them, teaching them just basic behaviors, and to watch their behavior change and their agency kick in that they realized, wow, their behavior is controlling my click, I don’t know, it never gets boring for me. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m still as excited with each dog that comes in as I was in the beginning. Aren’t I lucky?

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and it totally comes through in that answer. I do want to back up for a second, because you mentioned two things there that I’m curious. All listeners may not be familiar with what the Humane Hierarchy is, or what it means, and I was hoping you could briefly explain the phrase.

Kathy Sdao: I shouldn’t presume people know it, but I’m hoping it becomes a common term in our conversations about training, because, Melissa, you’ve been doing this a long time, too, you know trainers like to have opinions about what’s the right way to do things. And unfortunately, at least in the United States, there aren’t a lot of laws about what are the right ways to do things, and it’s a Wild West out there, at least in my neck of the woods, about what’s considered acceptable training practices.

I’ve had two different clients come to me, new clients come to me, in the last couple of months, having gone to another local … we’ll call it a trainer. Both of their dogs were in the course of a ten-week package of private lessons. In Week 6, both dogs were hung until they passed out, in Week 6, to make sure that the dogs knew who the leader was. Were hung until they passed out. This is acceptable training. It boggles my mind. So to be able to have an algorithm model to be able to say, “What’s OK when you’re intervening in another organism’s behaviors? Is effectiveness all we care about, that it works?”

I first learned of the Humane Hierarchy through Dr. Susan Friedman’s teaching, and the easiest way, I think, to find out about it would be on her website, behaviorworks.org. I certainly think if you Googled “Humane Hierarchy in training,” you would see that it’s a series of, the last time I looked at it, six levels of intervention. Six choices you would have as a trainer for how you could change your learner’s behavior, starting from the least intrusive way, basically looking at the learner’s physical environment and health situation, to the most intrusive way, Level 6, which would be positive punishment, and that there would be lots of cautions and prohibitions before you’d ever get to Level 6, and that often, if we’re doing our jobs really in a skillful way, we never have to consider using positive punishment, the addition of something painful, pressuring, or annoying, contingent on our learner’s behavior.

Positive punishment is done so casually and flippantly in dog training, especially in the United States, without a second thought, and this sort of hierarchy of methods we might use really calls out our best practices to say we have a lot of other approaches to go through before we jump right to punishing our learner for behavior we find dangerous or destructive.

So I think learning and conversation that continues around the Humane Hierarchy, which comes to us trainers from where? From the rules for behaviorist analysts working with children, human children. They can’t just go in and do whatever they want. They have professional restrictions, as should we, as trainers. But that day is not here yet for us. It’s coming, I hope. So I find that to be a really helpful model. It’s not the only model out there, but it’s the one I go to most often when I’m teaching and also when I’m being a consultant.

Melissa Breau: Thank you. I appreciate you taking a moment just to break that down and explain it for everybody. And then you mentioned Everybody Poops, and I haven’t read that book. So actually I’m curious. Can you give us the gist of what we can imply from the title?

Kathy Sdao: You know what? I’m being really serious. I have not read it since I was a zookeeper and was required. I’m not kidding. It’s a kids’ book, I would think the age group is probably 4-year-olds, to be able to say to your child, “Poop is normal. Poop is good. Don’t worry about your poop. We all poop. We’ve got this thing in common. It’s cool.” It’s actually a powerful message, like, “Wow, all right, there’s nothing weird about that. Everybody poops.”

But seriously, in the back of my head I’ve got this Everybody Behaves book, because if you understood behavior in one organism, seriously … I’ve got dear clients right now, they’re just lovely, they’ve been my clients for a long time. I’m actually friends with the family now, and one of my clients has a 9-year-old son. As a birthday present he got the fish agility set from R2 Fish School, so 9-year-old boy, he’s got his fish agility equipment. What he said to me when I saw him just two days ago, he said to me, “Kathy, I have a science fair coming up. Can you help me teach the fish to do weave poles?” I’m like, This is the best question I’ve ever been asked. Seriously, I’m so ecstatic I can’t even stand it. That a 9-year-old would say, “For my science project I’m going to teach fish to do weave poles”? Aren’t we hopeful what that 9-year-old boy is going to grow into, just for the good of the world? Seriously.

Melissa Breau: That is so cool.

Kathy Sdao: He is going to have the perfect approach to being a parent and a boss and a friend. He’s got it at the age of 9, because he’s going to teach that fish. And how do you teach the fish? The same way I taught the dolphins and the same way I teach the dogs. It’s all the same learning, so that learning principals are general and everybody behaves. Figure it out with one and then it spreads. It’s so exciting. So yes, I’m going to help Ryan with his goldfish-training project. We’re in the process now of choosing the right fish. It’s just making me very happy.

Melissa Breau: I seriously hope you video some of that and share it, just because that’s so cool. It’s such a neat project. It’s such a neat science project.

Kathy Sdao: One of the most valuable books I’ve got on my shelf, and I will never sell it, it was vanity-published probably 20 years ago. The title of the book is How to Dolphin Train Your Goldfish, and the thing that made me buy it in the first place is the author, C. Scott Johnson, was a really high and bio-sonar Ph.D. at the Navy, seriously geeky researcher into sonar. He helped us set up some of the training for the dolphins.

I’m like, That’s such an odd name, C. Scott Johnson. I see it on a book list, I’m like, He wrote a book. It’s a 20-page, black-and-white, vanity-published, it is not a high-end book, but it is a perfect description of teaching five tricks to a goldfish and it’s brilliant. So now everybody’s going to go on Amazon and try to find the book and it’s impossible. I wrote to him once and said, “If you’ve got cases of this book in your garage, I can sell them for you, because it’s awesome.” So I’ve got good resources to help Ryan, and yes, Melissa, it’s a great tip. I will videotape.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I wanted to ask you, as somebody who has been a full-time animal trainer for over 30 years now, and in dogs for quite a while too, how have you seen the field change? What changes are you maybe even seeing today?

Kathy Sdao: Oh my gosh, how long do we have? Oh my gosh, the changes. I don’t even know where to start. I just taught at my 35th ClickerExpo — 35th. I’ve gotten the honor and privilege of not only teaching but attending 35 ClickerExpos over 15 years with amazing faculty as my colleagues, oh my gosh. To look back at the first ClickerExpo 15 years ago, what we were teaching and talking about, and now? I wonder when is it that I need to retire, because everything’s just moved beyond me. It’s so, gosh, I feel like a dinosaur sometimes.

So, first off, I already alluded to the idea that whatever species we train is not unique in how they learn. Now, they might be unique in what reinforces them, how we’re going to choose our reinforcers, or how we’re going to set up the environment, or what behaviors we might teach first, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that the actual laws of learning and that choice of what training methods we will use, maybe with the Humane Hierarchy as a reference for us on how to do that effectively without taking control away from our learner, to be able to say that’s general throughout species, to me, that’s new.

I like that we’re moving in that direction and stopping the conversation, or maybe not having so much of the conversation, that says, “Rottweilers learn this way, and they need this kind of training,” and “High-drive dogs, they need this particular kind of training.” I like that the conversation’s moving to more general. In fact, even the terminology, my terminology, has changed from saying “the animal learned” to “the learner,” so we are actually using a noun that encompasses nonhuman animals and human animals. And actually even the word training is being replaced by the verb teaching. I’m liking that. It’s just a reflection that we teach learners rather than train animals just is taking that it’s not just politically correct, it’s reflecting the science, which says we can use some of these general principals to our advantage and to the learner’s advantage, right?

Melissa Breau: Right.

Kathy Sdao: Even the idea that we want to empower our learners, you know, when I started with dogs, that was heresy. You would empower the dog? You’re supposed to be the leader. You’re supposed to be in charge. This is not about empowering. It’s about showing them their place. They need to learn deference. They need to learn their place in the hierarchy, and if they get that sorted out, all the good behavior will come along with it.

To be able to say that your learner can not only make choices but … I’m so intrigued by this; this is kind of new learning to me and I’m still playing with it. So to be able to say, “Give your learner a way to say “no” to opt out of anything, opt out of a social contact, opt out of a husbandry behavior you’ve asked the dog to do.” If the dog says, “No, I don’t feel like, it,” that we not only accept that no, we reinforce the no — this is like mind-blowing. What does that mean that you say to your learner, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to”?

I’m just intrigued that this doesn’t produce complete opting out, the animal doesn’t want to do anything, you get no compliance at all. No, instead, you set the animal free to feel so brave and safe in your presence that they’re not compelled or pressured to do behaviors. I don’t know. I feel like this is a new conversation that I’ve had with colleagues, again not just about allowing animals to opt out, but reinforcing them for opting.

Ken Ramirez talked about training beluga whales, a specific beluga whale, to have a buoy in the tank that she could press with her big old beluga melon, her big head, and say, “No, I don’t feel like doing it.” The data he collected with his team at Shedd Aquarium — what did that actually do? What did we get in her behavior? Less cooperation? Or did it provide her safety to be able to work with us in a more fluent way? I don’t know. Twenty years ago I can’t even imagine we would have had a conversation like that.

Melissa Breau: That’s so cool. It’s such a neat concept. I’ll have to go look up the specific stuff that Ken’s put out on it, because I don’t think I’ve had the chance to hear him talk about it. So that’s cool.

Kathy Sdao: You know, it’s funny that you say that, Melissa. The timing is really great, because the videos from this year’s ClickerExpo — there’s two ClickerExpos a year in the U.S., one in January on the West Coast and one in March on the East Coast. The presentations, and there’s a lot of them — there are three days, five simultaneous tracks, it’s a lot of presentations — but those are recorded, and they’re usually not available until the summer, but I know that they’re going to be released later this week.

So clickertraining.com, you could actually look for Ken Ramirez’s presentation on — I think it’s called Dr. No — on teaching animals to be able to opt out of procedures. You would actually not only be able to read about it, Ken has written on clickertraining.com about that procedure, you’d actually be able to hear Ken teach on it. So just to know there’s a wealth of educational stuff. Gosh, there’s lots of good stuff out there, but those ClickerExpo recordings are just one thing you can take advantage of and soon.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. And actually this will be out next Friday, so by the time this comes out, those will be available, so anybody who wants to go check them out can.

Kathy Sdao: Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Breau: We talked about the change that you’ve seen. What about where the field is heading, or even just where you’d like for it to go in the next few decades? What do you think is ahead for us?

Kathy Sdao: It’s a different question between where it is going and where I want it to go. I don’t actually know where it’s going. What I dream about. I dream about this. We need some guidelines. We need some legal guidelines. We need some way to have a field that has professional standards, and I don’t know what that looks like, and I know that’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s just not OK. Yes, we continue to educate, and we continue to raise the standards, but I want to bring everybody along with us, meaning all my colleagues. That big line we tend to draw — I’m certainly guilty of this — of this “Us, the positive trainers, and them, the other trainers,” and there’s this big chasm between us. I want to feel like there’s not a big chasm between us. We’re all doing the best we can with the knowledge we have, and you’re putting more information out there through these amazing podcasts and through all the classes that I’m going to call the Academy, it’s not the Academy, I don’t know …

Melissa Breau: FDSA.

Kathy Sdao: The acronym doesn’t trip off my tongue. But to be able to go, there’s amazing education and I know there is, because I’ve got colleagues teaching for you, and I’ve got students who take those courses and rave and are learning so much. That’s great. I love the increased educational opportunities, and the bar has really gotten higher. They’re better. We’re better at teaching this stuff.

But I feel there’s got to be a way that there’s a professional ethic that comes along with. We’ve all got to be striving and moving toward better practices. It’s no longer OK to say, “We’ve always used these coercive tools with dogs, and we’ve been able to teach them just fine.” I want that not to be so OK anymore.

I’m not sounding very eloquent on this because I don’t know exactly how to say … I strive for the day when I’m not losing sleep over what the dog trainer down the street is doing in the name of training. I would like to not lose sleep over what a professional dog trainer with a slick website can do.

Melissa Breau: And I totally get you. I want to transition for a minute there. I’d love to talk a little bit about your book. I mentioned it in the intro, the title is Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace. Can you start off by explaining the name a little bit, and then share a little on what the book is about?

 

Kathy Sdao: Thanks Melissa. I sort of love my book, so thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk about it. I have to credit my publishers at Dogwise. Larry Woodward — what a lovely, kind man. My original title for that book, and I don’t actually remember it because it was so horrible. I didn’t see it. I thought it was really clever. I like puns, and so I’d come up with … honestly, I don’t remember. That’s how much I mentally blocked the bad title I had. Larry so graciously talked me into something else, and Plenty in Life is Free was his idea, and I really love it.

The thing that really inspired me to write the book is I was becoming disenchanted with “Nothing in life is free” protocols that not only was I running into that my colleagues would use, but I used all the time in my consultation practice. I would hand out instructions on “For your aggressive dog,” or your anxious dog or whatever behavior problem brought my clients to me.

Basic rule of thumb we would start at was your dog would get nothing that the dog would consider a reinforcer without doing a behavior for you first. Often these are implemented as the dog must sit before any food, toy, attention, freedom, there can be other behaviors, but it’s sort of like you don’t pay unless the dog complies with one of your signals first.

Those were at the time, and still in some places, not only ubiquitous, like everywhere, but applied to any problem. So not only were they really common, they’re applied to any problem, and the more I used them and really looked at them, I found them wanting in a lot of ways. Not only were they inadequate, but it seemed to me that they were producing really constrained relationships, like not free flowing, spontaneous, joyful relationships between people and their dogs, that everything was all those reinforcers were minutely controlled and titrated.

I had clients say to me, “Oh my gosh, I pet my dog for nothing, just because she’s cute.” I’m like, When did that become a problem? When is loving your dog the issue? And so the more I took a look at them, I realized I and maybe some of my colleagues were handing those out because we didn’t have a way to be able to say, “Yes, we want to reinforce good behavior, but we don’t want to be so stringent about it that we don’t allow for the free flow of attention and love between family members that we aspire to, to have a joyful life.”

Not only did I want to point out the concerns I had for those “Nothing in life is free” or “Say please” protocols — they come by different names — but to give an alternative. So to be able to say, if I looked at my masters degree in animal learning, what would the science say would be the replacement foundation advice we would be giving people. If I’m going to pull the “Nothing in life is free” handout out of my colleagues’ hands — and that’s what some people who have read the book said: “Wait, that’s my Week 1 handout for class. What am I going to do?” “I know, let me give you another handout.”

So, for me, it would be the acronym SMART. I don’t use a lot of acronyms. I worked for the military, you can get really carried away with acronyms, but SMART — See, Mark, And Reinforce Training — is a really nice package to be able to tell my clients what habits I want to create in them. Because I’m actually changing their behavior. Anytime we teach, we’re changing the human’s behavior.

What is it that science says we want the humans to do more of? Notice the behavior. Become a better observer. See behavior in your learner. Mark the behavior you want to see more of. Use a clicker, use a word, use a thumbs up. We’re not going to debate too much about has to be one particular sort of marker signal, but marking is good. It gives information to your learner that’s really important. And reinforce. So to be able to say, if I can develop that see, mark, and reinforce habit in my humans, the animal’s behavior, the dog’s behavior, is going to change, reflecting how much your habit has developed. Just to be able to shift people from that “I’m controlling every reinforcer in your life” strategy to “It’s my responsibility to notice behavior I want to see more of, and to put reinforcement contingencies in place for that to make those behaviors more likely” — that’s a huge shift. If we can get that going, I hope my little book might start the ball rolling in that direction.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know the book came out in 2012, and since then you’ve done some on-demand videos and you have all sorts of other resources on your site. I’d love to know what aspect of training or methods have you most excited today. What’s out there that you want to talk about?

Kathy Sdao: It’s going to probably be a surprising answer to that. In my talks most recently, my presentations most recently, at ClickerExpo, because I’ve been on faculty for a long time there, interesting conversations happen about this time of year between the folks who put on ClickerExpo and me and all the other faculty and say, “Hey, what do you want to talk about next year, Kathy?” When that conversation happened last year, maybe even the year before, one of the things that’s been really on my mind a lot is burnout, is burnout in my colleagues, and so sort of jokingly in that presentation, call it my Flee Control presentation, meaning I see lots of really skilled colleagues leaving the profession. I see some skilled colleagues leaving more than just the profession, leaving life.

It’s a really serious problem for trainers, for veterinarians, and where does this sense of burnout come from when we’ve spent all this time developing our mechanical training chops? We’re actually good at the nuts and bolts, the physical skills of training, and we’re studying the science, and we’re taking courses and we’re getting all this education. How is it that so many colleagues quit?

It’s a hard profession that we’ve got, those of us that are doing it professionally, and it can be exhausting. And so to be able to take a look at how we can support each other in a really skilled way, meaning taking the skills we have as trainers and applying them to our own longevity and mental health as practitioners.

I think we’re missing some sort of support mechanisms that are there in other professions. For instance, I have a client who’s a psychiatrist and she works with a really difficult population, patients who are suicidal, very frequently suicidal and significantly suicidal, so she has a very challenging human patient load. When we were talking a little while back, she was at a dog-training lesson with her Rottweiler, we were working together, she said, “You know, every Thursday at 1:00 I have to meet with three of my peers. I have to. It’s one of my professional demands. I would lose my license if I didn’t. We don’t look at each other’s cases. We don’t offer problem solutions. We give each other support. We’re there to vent, we’re there to listen, we’re there to offload some of the grief and heartache that comes from doing our jobs well, and so that’s just part of our professional standards.”

My jaw sort of dropped open and I’m like, wait, what? I didn’t even know that was a thing. Why is that not a thing for us? Why do we not have structures at least to support us being in this for the long haul? Because really, here’s the thing. When I started out being a trainer and people said, “You’ve got to be a really good observer. That’s what trainers do. They observe behavior.”  I’m like, cool, I’m going to get that 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about on watching animals behave. That’s what the dog daycare did for me, lots and lots of hours watching dogs behave. No one says to you, “Hey, let’s warn you that you’re not going to be able to unsee.” You can’t go back. You can’t stop seeing animals in distress and in difficult situations, and it develops a lot of grief in each of us. So I think I’m losing colleagues not just because they’ve got better job offers. It’s because their hearts are breaking.

I don’t know what the structure looks like to say I want to help prevent burnout in a structured way, but even the title of my book is going to hint the other thing I want to say to you, Melissa, which is intentionally that book title has the word grace in it because I talk about my spirituality in that book, which is kind of weird in a dog-training book, but to me they’re all one and the same. Training, to me, is a spiritual practice, completely, and so I don’t think we have comfortable formats to be able to have the conversation about the overlap of animal training and spirituality, not in a really saccharine, Pollyanna kind of way, but in a really open our hearts to what’s deepest and true for us.

I don’t know. I want to figure out ways to facilitate that conversation. Because this is the conversation I want to have, so I’m brainstorming projects I’m hoping to take on in the next year or so that will let us have some formats to have that conversation. We’re always talking about reinforcement for our learners, and I never want us to forget we have to set up reinforcement for ourselves and the work that we do. I think spirituality talks about how we can develop mindfulness practices that allow us to do good work, but also to stay happy and centered while we’re doing it. I’m sure there are resources out there I haven’t tripped upon, but I’m intrigued at developing even more.

Melissa Breau: It’s such an interesting topic, and it’s definitely something I don’t see enough people talking about or even thinking about, just our own mental health as you are a trainer or as you work towards training. It’s an important topic for sure.

Kathy Sdao: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: We’re getting close to the end here, and I want to ask you a slightly different version of the three questions I usually ask at the end of the podcast when I have a new guest. The first one I tweaked a little bit here, but can you share a story of a training breakthrough, either on your side or on the learner's end?

Kathy Sdao: Anyone who’s heard me teach at all is going to have heard something about my favorite learner of all time. That’s E.T., the male Pacific walrus that I got the privilege to work with at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma.

The very short version of an amazing story is when I first got hired at the zoo in 1990, I had worked with seals and sea lions and other pinnipeds, but had never even seen a walrus. So I spent the morning before my interview at the zoo, walking around the zoo and looking at the animals that I would train, and realized that E.T. — he weighed about 3500 pounds at that point — was one of the scariest animals I had ever seen.

When I went into the interview I got asked the question, “If you get hired here, you’re going to have to work with a new species, a Pacific walrus. What do you think about that?” Of course, anybody who’s been in an interview knows that the answer is, “Ooh, I’d be really intrigued to have the opportunity.” Of course, you’re saying how cool that would be, yet on the inside I’m positive that he’s going to kill me.

I mean this sincerely. I had moved into an unfurnished house, I had no furniture, so I have really clear memories of all I have in that house is a sleeping bag, and I’m waking up in cold sweat nightmares, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor in my empty house in Tacoma right after I got hired, those nightmares are that E.T. is going to kill me.

He is completely aggressive, humans cannot get in his exhibit, he’s destroying the exhibit because it’s inadequate for a walrus. It was designed for sea lions. He came to the zoo as an orphaned pup in Alaska, nobody really expected him to survive, he grew to be an adolescent.

The reason that there was a job opening at that department at the zoo is all the trainers had quit. There were no marine mammal trainers at the time I got hired. I don’t know why they quit, I didn’t ask them, but I suspect it was because E.T. weighed nearly two tons and was an adolescent and he was dangerous, destructive, oh, and he was X-rated — he masturbated in the underwater viewing windows for a couple of hours a day, and you don’t need the visuals for that. Trust me when I tell you, if you were an elementary school teacher in Tacoma, Washington, you did not go to the underwater viewing section. It was awful. We didn’t know what to do with him.

The end of that story that starts with truly I don’t want to be anywhere near him, he’s terrifying me, he becomes one of the best friends I’ve ever had, I trust him with my life. By the time I quit the zoo five years later, E.T. knew over 200 behaviors on cue, we got in the exhibit with him, we took naps with him, I trusted him with my life.

He lived another 20 years. He passed away only a couple of years ago. He was amazing. His behavior changed so much that I am being honest when I tell you I didn’t see the old walrus in the current walrus. There was no more aggression. I don’t mean infrequent outbursts of aggression. I mean we didn’t see it anymore, based on what? We were brilliant trainers? Based on we were stuck with him and we needed to come up — three new trainers, myself and two gentlemen from Sea World — we needed to come up with a plan to make this livable, and what came out wasn’t a tolerable animal. It was genius, and I mean that sincerely. If anyone had had the chance to see E.T. working with his trainers, it wasn’t just that he learned really complicated behavior chains and he was really fluent in them. It was we were his friends, and I mean that in the true sense of the word.

So my biggest breakthrough is that I can say that E.T. considered me his friend. Oh my gosh, that’s it, that’s what I’m putting on my resume. I was E.T. the walrus’s friend, and he taught me more about training and the possibilities, the potential in each learner, that given enough time and resources, we sometimes can unleash and release those behaviors.

That doesn’t mean we don’t ever give up on animals and say, “Oh my gosh, they’re too dangerous, we can’t change this behavior in a way that’s adequate,” but the fact that we didn’t really have that easy choice with E.T., it made us pull out all our best training ideas and to be persistent. Wow, you just couldn’t believe what was in there, and without videos and about ten more hours, I can’t do him justice, but that we were friends? Yeah, that’s my coolest accomplishment.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. My second-to-last question is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Kathy Sdao: Let me do two. I’m going to cheat. Years ago, this is straightforward training advice, but it’s one that I keep in the back of my head, which is, “Train like no one’s watching you.” Because even when I don’t have an audience … sometimes I have a real audience and I’m onstage trying to train an animal, which is nerve-wracking, but I don’t need a human audience in front of me. I have judges in my head, so I always have an audience I always carry around, my critics, and to be able to free myself from those and to instead what happens if I say, “There’s no audience in my head judging me”? It frees me up to see what’s happening right in front of me.

There’s a quote I have next to my desk and it’s from outside of training context. It’s from a Jesuit priest whom I like very much, Father Greg Boyle, and the phrase that’s on the Post-It next to my desk says, “Now. Here. This.” To be able to be in the present moment with your learner and say, “What’s happening right now? What behavior is right in front of me?” sounds really simple, but it’s not. It takes real mindfulness and intention to be in the present moment. When you’re paying attention to your audience, real or imagined in your head, you can’t be really present. So that would be one: Train like no one’s watching you.

And here’s one that comes from my favorite science book, and every time I have a chance to have anybody listen to me anywhere, I’m going to quote the name of the book so that I can get this book in everybody’s hands: Coercion and Its Fallout, by Dr. Murray Sidman. It’s an astonishing book. It’s not a training book. It’s a science book, but it’s very readable, most easily purchased at the behavior website, behavior.org, which is the Cambridge behavioral site. It’s hard to find on Amazon. You shouldn’t pay much more than twenty dollars for Coercion and Its Fallout, by Dr. Murray Sidman.

Here’s the training advice that Dr. Sidman would give. It’s not training advice, it’s life advice, but it’s my new tagline. Let’s see how this works, Melissa, because, you know, you’ve been doing these podcasts for a while, you’re into training deep. It’s hard to go “positive training,” that phrase is kind of vague and weird, and clicker training is … so what am I? I’m going to take Dr. Sidman’s, one of his lines from Coercion and Its Fallout: “Positive reinforcement works and coercion is dangerous.” That’s a seven-word descriptor for what it is I do, and it comes for every learner. Positive reinforcement works, and coercion, Dr. Sidman’s definition is all the other three quadrants: positive punishment, negative punishment, and negative reinforcement. So we’ve got the four operant conditioning quadrants. Dr. Sidman’s going to go, “Positive reinforcement works.” It does the job. It’s all you need. The other three quadrants, they’re there, I know, we use them, but they’re dangerous. I love that summary. I’m using that with my clients now. I’m seeing if I can let that really simple summary of the science and our best practices to see if it works.

Melissa Breau: That’s fantastic. I love that. It’s a very simple, easy line to remember.

Kathy Sdao: It’s Dr. Sidman’s genius, so take it and run with it.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Last question for you: Who is somebody else in the training world that you look up to?

Kathy Sdao: There’s so many. But because he’s now my neighbor … Kathy, what’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you recently? Ken Ramirez has moved in my back yard. I’m so excited!

That genius trainer, the kindest man you’ll ever meet, colleague of mine for the last 25 years, truly amazing human being, is now not only living a half-hour from me in Graham, Washington, just outside of Tacoma, he’s not only living near me but offering courses. He’s teaching a course this week at The Ranch. It’s Karen Pryor’s training facility here in Graham, Washington. It’s an amazing facility, but that Ken, mentor and friend and genius trainer … a client of mine yesterday said, “Wait a minute. Who’s that guy that taught the butterflies to fly on cue for the BBC’s documentary?” Like, oh my gosh, that’s Ken, yes, he taught butterflies, herds of butterflies, what do you call a group of butterflies, swarms of butterflies to fly on cue to the London Symphony for a big fundraising gig. Oh my god. Now is that someone you want to know more about?

So I’m going to do a shout out to Ken and say you can find out more about the educational offerings at The Ranch at Karen Pryor’s website, clickertraining.com. They’ve got a drop-down on The Ranch, and I don’t live far away from there, so if you want to come beachcombing with me after you’ve visited Ken and learned stuff, I’ll take you beachcombing. I love my beachcombing, so I’m happy to share that.

Melissa Breau: That sounds like so much fun. I keep meaning to get out that way at some point and I haven’t been yet, so it’s definitely on the bucket list.

Kathy Sdao: He’s going to draw some really cool people to my neighborhood, so I’m going to share. I’m going to share.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Kathy. This has been truly fantastic.

Kathy Sdao: Thanks so much, Melissa. You made it fun, and it’s just a real treat to be affiliated with … now teach me the name: FDSA.

Melissa Breau: Yes. Absolutely.

Kathy Sdao: Excellent. So cool to be affiliated with you guys. You do great work, and I’m just honored.

Melissa Breau: Thank you. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with — she was mentioned earlier in this podcast — Michele Pouliot to talk about being a change-maker in the dog world.

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

Credits:

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

Apr 20, 2018

Summary:

Eileen Anderson is a writer and dog trainer. She is perhaps best known for her blog, Eileenanddogs, which has been featured on Freshly Pressed by Wordpress.com and won the award “The Academy Applauds” in 2014 from The Academy of Dog Trainers. Her articles and training videos have been incorporated into curricula worldwide and translated into several languages.

Eileen also runs a website for canine cognitive dysfunction, which she started in 2013. That site is www.dogdementia.com, which has become a major resource for pet owners whose dogs have dementia. Then, in 2015, Eileen published Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music performance and a master’s degree in engineering science.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 4/27/2018, featuring Kathy Sdao, author of Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace, to talk about crossing over, how training dogs and marine mammals compare, and the future of dog training.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Eileen Anderson.

Eileen is a writer and dog trainer. She is perhaps best known for her blog, Eileenanddogs, which has been featured on Freshly Pressed by Wordpress.com and won the award “The Academy Applauds” in 2014 from The Academy of Dog Trainers. Her articles and training videos have been incorporated into curricula worldwide and translated into several languages.

Eileen also runs a website for canine cognitive dysfunction, which she started in 2013. That site is www.dogdementia.com, which has become a major resource for pet owners whose dogs have dementia. Then, in 2015, Eileen published Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.

She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music performance and a master’s degree in engineering science.

Hi Eileen, welcome to the podcast!

Eileen Anderson: Hi Melissa, thank you so much for having me. I am stoked about this.

Melissa Breau: I am too. To start us out, do you want to just share a little bit about each of your dogs, who they are, and anything you’re working on with them?

Eileen Anderson: Sure. That is the easiest thing in the world to talk about. I currently have two dogs. I have Zani, who is a hound mix. She looks kind of like a black-and-tan Beagle, and for those who have seen any of my pictures and videos, she’s the one who tilts her head adorably. She was a rehome. I found her at age 1, and took her from someone who could not take care of her any longer. She has a fantastic temperament, and anybody would love to have Zani.

What I’m working with her right now on is that she unfortunately had an accident in February and ran full-tilt into a fence, actually was driven into the fence, I suspect, by my other dog. I was there, I saw it happen, and she got a spinal cord concussion. She was knocked completely out and turned into a little noodle, and I thought I had lost her. But I took her to the vet, she got a CT scan, and they said they didn’t see any permanent damage, that she had just gotten this jolt to her spinal cord. She was quadriplegic. I took her home, her not being able to walk or anything.

But the vet was right — she did gradually recover, and she’s still recovering. We’re more than a month out now, but we’re mostly practicing getting around safely, walking, going up and down the steps, and she’s a little trooper. She hasn’t had any mental problems at all. But it’s been quite a challenge for me. I had to make her a safe space where she couldn’t fall down because literally she couldn’t walk at first.

Melissa Breau: That’s so scary.

Eileen Anderson: It was really scary. It scared me to death. I thought she had died. I thought I had seen her pass away. But as those kind of accidents go, ours was pretty lucky.

And my other dog is Clara. She’s an All-American, she’s bigger, she’s about 44 pounds, and she is the one that I found as a feral puppy. I’ll talk about her now and then through the podcast, but she has come so far. Right now we’re working on just widening her world more. We have another friend’s house that we get to go to now. She’s met another dog, she’s liking another person, and actually because of all the work I’ve done with her, she is a lot more stable in many new situations than lots of “normal dogs.” It’s just such a gas to have a dog who’s resilient. But that’s what I’m doing with Clara right now.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I mentioned the degrees in music and engineering science. How did you end up in dog training? Obviously you didn’t start out there.

Eileen Anderson: My career has kind of been all over the place. I was working first as an editor at a university, and then at my current job, which is a social services job helping women find health care for breast problems.

I was all but dissertation in engineering science. I had passed my qualifying exams and was going on to be an engineer in acoustics, and I got a dog who was a challenge for me, and like everybody else, I got into dog training because I got the difficult dog. That dog was Summer. That was in 2006, and she was more than I was prepared to take care of. She chewed everything, she bullied my younger dog — my smaller dog, sorry — she jumped the fence, she was just basically a busy teenage dog.

Right now I think back and it’s like her problems were nothing, but at the time they were huge for me, so bad that I got depressed because it was changing my life so much to have this dog whom I loved, I loved her pretty much right away, but every time I turned around there was a new problem.

And so I looked for help in the usual ways. I got on the Internet, I found a local obedience club and went through the usual things there, and somewhere along the line — of course I got a good teacher — but along the line I got hooked. And actually dog training made me quit graduate school because I was like, This is a lot more interesting than active noise control to me.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned you started out finding a club. What got you started as a positive trainer?

Eileen Anderson: I started at the very beginning as a positive That’s what I want to do trainer, a wanna-be. I would read about it on the Internet and I thought, That’s what I want to do. But when you’re on your own and you don’t have any coaching, and you’re going by … and this was in the earlier days of the Internet and there weren’t as many good instructions out there, so you try something and it’s kind of in a vacuum, like “be a tree” when your dog pulls when they’re walking on leash. You know, stand still and they’ll stop doing that. I did that for months and it didn’t work because I didn’t have the other half of it, which was reinforce them for walking by your side. So I figured, Well, this positive reinforcement stuff sounds good, but it’s not very practical, or maybe my dog’s not very smart. I did go … those things we think, you know.

I did go to a balanced obedience club. I’m still a member there, the people there adore their dogs, and we get along just fine. I’ve seen a lot of good changes there while I’ve gone there. But I knew that collar pops were not something that I wanted to do, but I could not find other ways to, for instance, get Summer to keep from wandering off into the wide blue yonder mentally whenever we were together and from physically wandering off whenever she had a chance.

And so I did go that direction. I did the collar pops, I did a prong collar for a while, and then I found the agility part of the club, and that’s a familiar story, I’m sure, to a lot of people as well. They were more positive — not completely, but more positive — and through them I found my current trainer, who is Lisa Mantle of Roland, Arkansas, who was trained by Bob and Marian Bailey — Bob Bailey lives here in Arkansas, by the way — and that’s when I really started to get it. Lisa is a great teacher, and that’s pretty much when I turned the corner.

Melissa Breau: I think you mentioned some exciting news related to your experiences there. Do you want to share?

Eileen Anderson: Yes. I am writing another book. I’m writing Summer’s story. Summer, I sadly lost her last summer at only the age of 11. I thought she was going to live a much longer time. She was very healthy. But she got hemangiosarcoma, and after some misdiagnosis of back pain for about a month, we got the news, and by the time they did do exploratory surgery, but it was too far gone and I did have to euthanize her. I wasn’t ready for that at all, nobody ever is, but I didn’t have any lead time on it.

But she was my crossover dog. She went through all of this with me patiently as I learned how to do things and how to treat her better, and she was a lovely soul, and I’m writing a book about that. It’s the story of Summer and me, and also I’m threading into it how I came to change my training ways, and I’m trying to do it in a non-preachy way. I’m writing to pet owners in the book. Recently I saw an op-ed in … I think it was the New York Times, by somebody who just wrote a nice little piece about her old dog, and there were the hallmarks of someone who didn’t know a lot about training. There were humorous moments about how they had to chase the dog down and force the pills down his throat and it took all this, and it wasn’t mentioned as any kind of morality thing. It was just part of the story.

I want our positive training stories to be part of the story too. Not as a preachy thing necessarily, although I can preach with the best of them, but as just part of the story, incidental, this is how we did things. I am feeling like that would be a very persuasive way to write the book. Also I just want to write the book because I loved my dog. But I’m hoping it will be another way just to get the message out in a very incidental way that there’s nothing abnormal about this. This is how I trained my dog, and this is how we learned to get along.

Melissa Breau: When are you thinking it’s going to be available? Do you know yet, and is there anything more you want to share into how you’re planning to talk about that crossing-over experience?

Eileen Anderson: I’m aiming for 2019, which probably means 2020. I’m telling the story of our lives together, and that is my crossover story. Of course I can pull from blogs, which help me get a timeline there. It’s hard to remember what happened when, but I will be incorporating some of the blogs. I’ve written many blogs about her over the years. But again, I want to tell the story. I don’t want to have villains. I do want to have heroes, and I want to talk about how my mind changed as things went along, how my perspective changed, because it changed my whole life. Having an epiphany about positive reinforcement really does filter through your whole life, once you get it, and I hope I can tell that story in a very casual and again non-preachy way and make it interesting for people.

Melissa Breau: Now, you mentioned that this is going to be another book. It’s not your first book. I do want to talk about that first book a little bit. Can you share a little bit about Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? What IS canine cognitive dysfunction, first, and how do you talk about it in the book?

Eileen Anderson: Canine cognitive dysfunction is a term for mental and behavioral decline that’s associated with changes in the brains of aging dogs. It’s not just normal aging. We all lose some of our marbles as we age, but this is abnormal aging, it’s a neurological condition, and it has behavioral symptoms. It’s way under-diagnosed and it’s undertreated.

In the book I tell the story of my little dog, Cricket. She was a rat terrier and she lived to be probably 17, could have been even older, because she was a middle-aged dog when I got her from a rescue. She got canine cognitive dysfunction, and she had it for at least a year before I identified what was wrong. I didn’t know what to tell my vet. Her first symptom was anxiety, and so I just thought she was getting nervous. I didn’t realize that that could be a symptom of CCD.

So the book is the story of Cricket, and how things went for her and for me. The message of the book is that there is help out there and that we need to know about this disease so dogs can get diagnosed sooner. There’s no cure, but there are drugs that can ameliorate the symptoms, there are drugs that can help the dogs and the people have an easier life, and there are so many ways you can enrich the dog’s life. They can still have a good life.

Melissa Breau: If you could tell people just one thing about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, what would it be? What do you wish people really knew about that?

Eileen Anderson: I might cheat and I’m going to say two. One is talk to your vet. I am not a veterinarian. I can’t diagnose your dog. There’s lists all over the Internet now of symptoms, I certainly have one, but you can read all the symptoms but you cannot diagnose your dog. You need to talk to your vet many times about this and get educated, and if you’re worried at all about your dog, talk about a diagnosis.

The second thing is just from my heart. If your dog is diagnosed with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, your dog’s life is not over. Like I was saying, there are many ways to enrich your dog’s life, and if we can get over our own preconceptions, see the dog standing in the corner and go, “Oh, poor thing,” well, sometimes, yes, some of their symptoms are pathetic and uncomfortable for them and need some intervention, but lots of the things they do, I think they’re just in la-la land. They don’t know what you know about what they used to be able to do.

So that’s my little lecture on that is don’t give up on your dog, don’t think they’re miserable unless you have good evidence that they are, because some of this is just unfamiliar to us. They do odd things, and odd doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog is unhappy. You need to learn about that, and again, talk to your vet about all of it.

That was more than one thing. I’m sorry!

Melissa Breau: That’s OK! Sometimes the best things are the more than one thing, right?

Eileen Anderson: Right.

Melissa Breau: To move from your books to your site for a little bit – and for listeners I will make sure to include links to both of Eileen’s sites in the show notes — for listeners who haven’t been

to your site or aren’t familiar with it, can you share a little bit about the topics you usually write about?

Eileen Anderson: I write about training dogs, I write about learning theory, and the thing that I’m able to do that lots of professional trainers are not is that I write about my mistakes a lot. I show things that I’ve tried that don’t work and I show things that I’ve tried that do work. But on my site you get to see videos of dogs who have never learned a behavior before, and me trying to train them with the best intentions and with a lot of information, but with gaps in my understanding. You can see a typical person training their dog and making mistakes, and you can learn from my mistakes.

I talk about dog body language a lot too. Having all the different dogs I’ve had, I have great footage of the interesting things they do with each other and with us. You know, body language is a whole other part we need to learn about when we’re trying to train our dogs well. But I take a scientific approach to the training, but I show a human trying to do it.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. You mentioned the scientific piece there, and I think one of the things that I like best about your work is that you really do approach things pretty scientifically. A while ago you wrote a post asking the question, “When is citing a research study not enough?” and I’d love to talk about that a bit. When IS citing a research study not enough — at least if we want to be right about the facts and present ideas that are actually backed up by research?

Eileen Anderson: OK. One research study is almost never enough. Usually when we want a research study, it’s because we want to win an argument these days, or we want to know something for a fact, you know, “Let’s get to the bottom of this. Let’s figure it out.”

The problem is that we need to look at the bulk of the literature. One brand new study, if it’s the first on a certain topic, that’s just the beginning of the research, and you can’t flap that around and say, “Hey, I’ve proved it now.” You have to look at the bulk of the research, and one example I like to give is that some topics don’t have studies because they are so basic that they are in textbooks. One good example of that is that people will come along and say, “I need a research study that proves that you can’t reinforce fear.” OK, well, as far as I know, there isn’t one, per se, and there’s not one with dogs, and the reason is that that information is implicit and explicit in textbooks and review papers.

To answer that question, all you need to know about — all you need to know about! — you need to know about the difference between operant behavior and respondent behavior, you need to know about how emotions work, and you need to know about the sympathetic nervous system response. And if you put all that together, which is in any psychology book, pretty much — you might have to crack a biology book for some of it — you can see why they didn’t have to do a study to show that emotions are operant behaviors and you don’t reinforce them. You can reinforce behaviors that come around them. But that’s an example of it.

You know, people want one study for something, and it’s either something that’s so basic that you could just open a book and find out, or it’s something that’s so new that we might have one study that shows it, but we need for five or ten more to come in. So I always tell people, “Look for the review study, look for the one that summarizes the research, because that’s going to do the work of assessing whether the study is any good.” Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a psychology degree. I do have a graduate degree. I have two of them. So I’m familiar with research, but I don’t have the basis, the basic knowledge, to really assess a study. So I have to go to the people who can help, and that’s the people who write the review articles and the people who write the textbooks.  

Melissa Breau: I think that’s great advice and a good thing for people to remember, especially in this day and age, like you said, we tend to want to win an argument instead of thinking, Wait a minute, let’s make sure we have our facts straight. The example you mentioned in the post was a post you wrote about errorless learning. I was hoping you’d be willing to maybe share that story with our listeners.

Eileen Anderson: Sure, and this is an example of making a mistake. It was Susan Friedman who told me a couple of years back when I was cringing about making public mistakes and she said, “That’s like science. Science gets it wrong, and then somebody comes along and gets a little better and you get a little closer. You’re shaping the knowledge. So there’s no shame in it, even though it really feels like there is.”

I took exception to the term “errorless learning,” because I read the work of Herb Terrace, who did the famous work, I think it was in the ’60s, with pigeons, where they did thousands and thousands of repetitions of pigeons pecking on a lit disc, and it had, I think, a green light on it. The errorless part was that they made it super-easy to peck on that disc, and then they were teaching them also not to peck on a red disc. At first the other disc was way far away. Then, when they did light it up, they lit it very dimly. In other words, they kept that green disc very attractive and just kind of snuck in the other one. And in thousands of repetitions, when this was done gradually, some of the pigeons had less than one percent error rate, which all of us should aspire to.

Well, I just took exception to that, because they were in completely controlled, a lab environment, the pigeons were starving, you know, they always take them down to a low body weight so they’re wanting to work, they controlled many, many more variables than we ever can, and it just didn’t seem like something we could really emulate. And even the term to me — I nitpick words a lot — but it was not errorless. They had a one percent error rate, so you can’t call that errorless.

So I wrote a little … kind of a ranting article about that, and I snorted around about it. I had a friend — she could have done this through the public comments, but she didn’t — I had a friend whose parents were Ph.D. students under Skinner, so she’s one of the few people in the world who grew up as a human in a positive reinforcement environment, and she said, “Eileen, that’s not quite right. Herb Terrace, his experiments, yes, they were famous, but he was not the first one to talk about errorless learning, and you kind of got it wrong.”

She educated me, and it turns out that Skinner, back in the 1930s, was talking about errorless learning and errorless teaching, because of course to him, if the student made an error, it’s really a mistake of the teacher. And it was — some of us have read about it since then — it was kind of the same principal, but of providing a path for the learner where the easiest path to go is to the behavior you want with the fewest number of errors possible. He had had an argument with Thorndike, who said, “You have to make errors to learn,” and Skinner said, “No, you don’t.” And Skinner kind of won that one.

We think of Skinner as just this dry, cold guy, but he was passionate about teaching and learning, and he was trying to be as humane as possible and make an easy path for the learner, and there’s nothing bad about that, in my opinion. There’s nothing bad. And so I wrote a Part 2, and I left Part 1 up. I was tempted to get rid of it, but I left Part 1 up and I just put a note at the top saying, “If you read this, there are mistakes in here, so please read Part 2, or just read Part 2 instead.”

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I think it’s awesome that you were willing to leave that up. I think that that really says something about your willingness to be transparent about all of this. Like you said, you feel like you can show those errors and those mistakes, where a trainer may not feel comfortable with that. So I think that’s fantastic.

Eileen Anderson: Thank you. That’s something I try to do for the community, even though even for me it’s pretty hard sometimes.

Melissa Breau: How do you try to keep up to date with the latest information, and how do you try to make sure that you’re conducting good research on this stuff when you’re writing?

Eileen Anderson: One thing I learned in my science degree is you don’t just read the paper. Your job is then to go through all the footnotes, to read all the footnotes, and then get on Google Scholar and look at who has cited the paper later. Because if you looked up a paper in 1975 for “Why do humans get ulcers?” that paper would say “From stress and acidic foods.” If you don’t look later in the literature, you won’t find out that, woops, actually it’s from an infection, which they discovered in 1981 or ’82. So you have to look before the research piece that you’re reading and after it.

What I do personally, I set up some Google Alerts, both from standard Google and Google Scholar, and there are a couple topics — one of them is dementia in dogs, and the other one is sound sensitivity and sound capabilities of dogs — and I get alerts whenever anything new is published. Most of it is crap, but I get the good stuff too. I get stuff from Google Scholar when there’s a new paper, for instance, on dog dementia, which one did come out this year.

That’s pretty much how I try to keep up. I try to keep focus because there’s way too much for anybody to learn these days. But I use the tools that are out there and I try to be thorough in terms of also looking at who is arguing against this. That’s the hard part, especially when you get attached to something. You don’t want to read about why it’s wrong, but I try to do that too.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. To shift gears a little bit, you’ve also written quite a bit on your site about Clara, and you mentioned earlier that she was a feral dog and you’ve done a ton of socialization work with her. Do you mind just sharing a little bit about your approach there and how you’ve gone about that?

Eileen Anderson: I would love to, and I have to credit my teacher, Lisa Mantle, with whom … I could not have done this without her. She’s had a lot of experience with feral and other very challenged dogs. She actually says that Clara is one of the most challenging ones she has had.

When Clara came to me, she was between eight and ten weeks old, and her socialization window was in the act of shutting, probably that very night. She was scared of me, and avoidant, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch her. She was slinking away and acting like a wild animal. But when I opened my front door, little Cricket, the rat terrier, was barking inside, and Clara pricked up her ears and slunk by me like I wasn’t there, and came into my house and sat down next to Cricket in her crate. And so it was the other dog that got Clara into the house.

Within the evening she decided I was OK, and part of that was because of spray cheese, which she still thinks is manna from heaven. But I assumed, silly me, that since I had gotten in, everybody would get in, you know, Now she likes people, look, she thinks I’m great, she’s sitting in my lap, she’s flirting with me, she’s jumping up and down. And so the next day I took her somewhere, and I had her in the crate in the car, and I said, “Look, I’ve got this puppy,” and opened the door and Clara went, “Grrrr,” this little tiny puppy growling in the crate. I thought, Oh dear, I’ve got more of a problem here than I thought.

Back to getting to socialization, it was technically not socialization at some point because she was past that window — and there’s a terminology dispute about this, and I try to placate the people who say, “It’s not socialization after they’re a certain age.” We were doing desensitization, counterconditioning, and habituation, but we started with people a hundred feet away. That’s how fearful of people, and we had to start very far away. We did very, very careful exposures, and this was over the course of months and years.

We did a lot of it at a shopping mall, which sounds crazy, but the layout of the place was such that we really could go a hundred feet away and there wouldn’t be anybody to bother us. But it was extremely gradual, and every appearance of a person, whether they were fifty feet away or, later on, walking by on the sidewalk, was paired with something awesome, which, you know, spray cheese or something else she loved. McDonald’s chicken sandwiches were also very popular.

But it was just very gradual, and my teacher was very good at, when we’d hit a bump in the road or get to a plateau, sometimes we could work through it, sometimes we’d just take a different approach. She has good intuitions about that. And one day she said, “Let’s just take her down the sidewalk in the mall,” and by golly, she was fine. She could walk among throngs of people, as long as … there’s things she doesn’t like. If someone walks up to her and says, “Oh, a puppy!” and stares at her, she’s going to chuff at them. But people walking by, people brushing against her, sudden changes in the environment, wheelchairs, anything that might bother a lot of dogs, she is great with, and she has come such a very long way. But it was all very gradual, and it was done through desensitization, counterconditioning, and habituation.

Melissa Breau: Just to give people a little bit of an idea, when you say “very gradual,” how old is she now? How long have you been working on this stuff?

Eileen Anderson: She is 6. The point where we could walk her around in the mall was about two years after we started. But she was happy. It wasn’t this, OK, she’s all right walking around. She was great.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. I think it’s interesting to ask for the timeline a little bit there, because it helps people understand how much work goes into it sometimes. But also there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Eileen Anderson: That’s right, that’s right. And thinking back, a lot of people have had harder situations than we have, but we did have a pretty hard one. She basically was like a wild animal. I didn’t see her as a fearful dog, she wasn’t congenitally startling or fearful. She was just different, you know. She was like a wild animal and had that natural distrust of humans.

Melissa Breau: I don’t know about other people necessarily, but I really find that I personally struggle with what feels like two conflicting pieces of advice out there when it comes to socialization or even the stuff you’re talking about. The idea that, Option 1, bring your puppy lots of places, but don’t overface them, make sure it’s all positive, but bring them all the places you go. And the second is never bring your puppy places unless you’re absolutely sure you can just get up and leave if it’s too much for them. I was curious how you handled determining what to expose Clara to, what she’s ready for, and what is likely to still even today be too much for her.

Eileen Anderson: That’s a really great question. With her, of course we had to take mostly the second method. That was being careful that we had a way to get out. She was not a puppy that I could lug around everywhere and expose her to. I think there can be value in that, as long as you can protect the puppy from people who do the wrong stuff, which any reactive dog group will tell about those people who are going to do stuff to your dog if they get a chance.

But today I feel like I need to just be careful and watch her. For instance, even without really working on veterinary visits, she’s good at veterinary visits now, just because of the general work we’ve done. There’s some times you have to take your dog to the vet, and she does really well. And I feel like I could take her to a new place with people and walk around and she would do fine. I would just watch for situations where people would be too assertive towards her. So it’s not so much the environment, it’s not environmental changes, it’s not crowds. It’s that person who zeroes in and says, “Oh, what a beautiful dog! Can I pet her?” while you’re running away.

Melissa Breau: Right. We’re getting to the end here, and I have these three questions I typically ask everybody the first time they’re on the show, so I’d love to work through those. The first one is: What is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Eileen Anderson: It is that I used classical conditioning to prevent Clara from picking up on Summer’s barking. Summer was a reactive dog and she barked regularly at things that went by the house, particularly delivery trucks and things that were hard for me to control. You can’t control those, and I wasn’t always home. So she had some untreated reactivity, and I did not want Clara, the baby puppy, to pick up on that. She had enough problems.

And so, from the very beginning, very consistently, when Summer would bark, wherever she was, I would give Clara a magnificent treat, usually again spray cheese. It didn’t matter what the dogs were doing, what was happening. So I did a classical pairing of Summer barks, wonderful treats fall from the sky. Lots of the things I think up on my own don’t work out really well because I can’t see down the line well enough to see the end ramifications, but that one worked out great. I have a dog who, when she hears another dog bark, looks at me eagerly instead of running to go bark with them.

Just considering that she had so many other challenges, I didn’t want her to have that challenge. I have a video of her literally drooling when she heard Summer bark, and so I can prove, yes, I have the Pavlovian association there — another dog barking means yummy stuff is coming my way. I am really proud of doing that. It has paid off in so many ways.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and that’s a fantastic idea. The other question, and usually this is one of my favorite questions of the podcast, is: What’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Eileen Anderson: Watch the dog. And I can say that in two ways. One of them is learn about dog body language. I posted a blog just yesterday, I think it was, two days ago, about accidentally using punishing things because you’re following a protocol and trying to do everything right, and you don’t notice that you’re snapping your hand in the dog’s face or something like that they really don’t like. So watch the dog. Make sure that what you’re doing is OK, even when you’re concentrating on your mechanics and following the directions that you’ve read from your teacher. So that’s one way. And also I do agility, and so many times when I made an error, it’s like my teacher would say: “You weren’t watching your dog.” And of course there’s times we have to take our eyes off them, but “Watch the dog.” That’s my mantra.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. It’s nice and concise and easy to remember, too, which is a plus. Last question here: Who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Eileen Anderson: My friend Marge Rogers. Marge and I kind of grew up together in the dog training online world and we started our journeys together. Marge became a professional trainer and I became a writer.

But Marge, before there was ever a Fenzi Academy and people sharing these wonderful ideas of how to be humane to dogs in competition, before there was ever that, Marge trained her dogs way over fluency before she ever competed them. She’s also fantastic at using multiple reinforcers just as a matter of course. Any dog that goes to her is going to end up being able to switch back and forth between a plate of food and a tug toy, and they can tug when the food’s on the ground, and they can eat food even if they love to have a ball. They will get not only multiple reinforcers but the ability to respond to the trainer to transfer back and forth between those reinforcers. She’s just fantastic at that.

She helps me with all my problems. She can usually give a one-line response to whatever stupid thing I’m doing. And not only that, she’s humble. She’s always learning. She’s one of the most humble people I know, and I just love her training.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Eileen. This has been fantastic.

Eileen Anderson: You are welcome. It is my pleasure. I love to talk about this stuff, and I am very honored to be on the Fenzi podcast.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week with Kathy Sdao to talk about everything from training dolphins to dog training — it should be a pretty deep dive on behavior!

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

Credits:

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

Mar 9, 2018

Note: We've rearranged episodes a bit here to better coordinate with guest schedules, so the names mentioned as next episodes in our last podcast was incorrect. Instead of Debbie Torraca, this week we have Esther Zimmerman -- we'll be back next week with Debbie Torraca. 

Summary:

Esther Zimmerman is a long-time FDSA student and has been a participant in AKC events for over 40 years. She’s been teaching dogs and their people since the early 1980's.  

Currently, she is the head competition obedience instructor at MasterPeace Dog Training in Franklin, MA, where she teaches multiple classes at all levels, and coaches many private students.

Over the years, Esther has evolved her own special blend of the art and science of dog training, acquired through years of experience, extensive reading, and continuing education at conferences and seminars. She is well known for her patience, compassion, honesty, and humor, along with an unfailingly positive attitude toward both dogs and handlers.

She feels it’s the trainer's job to have the dogs WANT to play the obedience game, not to make them do it, and that there is no reason to use compulsion for the sake of a ribbon.

Her many high-scoring students are proof of this, as they earn advanced titles, many with non-traditional obedience breeds. Esther herself competes with Schipperke, and she has finished the only Champion/Utility Dog Excellent in the history of Schipperke, and three additional Champion/Utility dogs. She also put three UDX legs on Presto, a Golden Retriever, who died of cancer at an early age.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 3/16/2018, featuring Debbie Torraca to talk about exercises, including exercise for puppies!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Esther Zimmerman.

Esther is a long-time FDSA student and has been a participant in AKC events for over 40 years. She’s been teaching dogs and their people since the early 1980's.  

Currently, she is the head competition obedience instructor at MasterPeace Dog Training in Franklin, MA, where she teaches multiple classes at all levels, and coaches many private students.

Over the years, Esther has evolved her own special blend of the art and science of dog training, acquired through years of experience, extensive reading, and continuing education at conferences and seminars. She is well known for her patience, compassion, honesty, and humor, along with an unfailingly positive attitude toward both dogs and handlers.

She feels it’s the trainer's job to have the dogs WANT to play the obedience game, not to make them do it, and that there is no reason to use compulsion for the sake of a ribbon.

Her many high-scoring students are proof of this, as they earn advanced titles, many with non-traditional obedience breeds. Esther herself competes with Schipperke, and she has finished the only Champion/Utility Dog Excellent in the history of Schipperke, and three additional Champion/Utility dogs. She also put three UDX legs on Presto, a Golden Retriever, who died of cancer at an early age.

Hi Esther, welcome to the podcast!

Esther Zimmerman: Hi Melissa. I’m really happy to be here. Thanks for asking me to do this.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To get us started, do you want to briefly just share a little bit about who your dogs are now and what you’re working on with them?

Esther Zimmerman: I’d love to, but I have to start by talking about Jeeves, my Champion UD Rally X1 NW3 Schipperke, who passed away a few weeks ago at age 14-and-a-half. He was really an amazing ambassador of the breed. He was a perfect gentleman with all people, dogs of all ages and temperaments. He was that priceless known adult dog that we all want our puppies to meet because he’s just so good with them. After surviving several serious illnesses as a youngster, he gave me a very profound appreciation of just how much our dogs do for us and with us when playing the games we love. I was grateful every day he was alive and he is really sorely missed. It’s very fresh still because it was only a few weeks ago.

Melissa Breau: I’m sorry to hear that.

Esther Zimmerman: Thank you. Elphaba is my 9-year-old Schipperke. She happens to be Jeeves’s niece. She has her CDX, which, when she earned it, included the group out-of-sight stays. Those were a real challenge for her. She doesn’t like other dogs looking at her. But we persisted and succeeded. She’s almost ready for the utility ring. She’s the first and only nosework Elite 2 Schipperke and is a real little hunting machine in that sport. She also has her Fenzi TEAM 1 and TEAM 1 Plus titles.

Friday is my 3-year-old Schipperke. His titles at this point are an NW1 and TEAM 1, 1 Plus and 1-H. He just passed his 1-H, which was very exciting. He’s teaching me the importance of patience, a trait that I already have an abundance of, but he really requires it in spades. He really does. He can try my patience sometimes, but he keeps me honest as far as that goes. He’s got tons of obedience skills under his collar, but there’s no way he’s ready for AKC competition. I’m hoping maybe by next year.

And then I have Taxi, my 17-month-old Golden Retriever. He’s had a Gold spot in an Academy class almost every semester since I brought him home as a baby puppy. He’s got great potential, like all of our dogs do. I hope that we get to reach the goals I have in mind. He’s a typical, happy, fun-loving dog. He’s a real joy. And that’s the three dogs that I have right now.

Melissa Breau: How did you originally get into dog sports?

Esther Zimmerman: It’s interesting, because back in the beginning I didn’t have my own dog. I didn’t have my own dog until I was 15, but I’ve been training dogs since I was 5 years old. I grew up in New York City, and every apartment superintendent had a dog that they were more than willing to let me borrow. I read every dog and dog-training book in the library, much to my mother’s dismay, because that’s all I read, and with those dogs, I switched what I was doing based on whatever the advice was that the author of that book gave. So I had a real eclectic education as far as training dogs. Not my own dogs, and I did something different all the time.

The very first dog show I ever attended was Westminster in 1969. School was closed because we had a snowstorm, but the trains were running. Westminster’s on Monday and Tuesday, always has been. So the trains were running and off I went with my tokens, and I went to Westminster. I was in heaven. I had no idea they had 50 percent absenteeism because of the snowstorm, and I thought that the most beautiful dog there was the Basenji. I did not get a Basenji.

Melissa Breau: OK.

Esther Zimmerman: The very first obedience trial I ever went to was the Bronx County Kennel Club, and there I saw a woman in a wheelchair competing in Open with her Labrador Retriever, which just blew my mind. I couldn’t conceive of such a thing, that not only was this dog doing all this amazing stuff, but that his handler was in a wheelchair. She was around for a really, really long time and quite well known on the East Coast and in New England as a competitor.

So I got Juno, my first dog, was a German Shepherd. I got him from an ad in the newspaper — the best way to get a dog, right?

Melissa Breau: Of course.

Esther Zimmerman: She was one of two 10-month-old puppies who were so fearful that they were climbing over each other in their pen, trying to get away from me. So of course I said, “I’ll take that one.” That was Juno. I used the same kind of eclectic training with her, doing something different each week based on what book I was reading from the library.

It did apparently work, though, because seven years later, after I got married and moved to Massachusetts, I joined the New England Dog Training Club, which is the oldest still-existing dog-training club in the country. That summer we entered our first trial, we earned our first leg, and I got my first high-in-trial on this fearful dog

Melissa Breau: Wow.

Esther Zimmerman: And that’s how somebody gets really hooked on this sport. The first time you go in the ring, you win high-in-trial, you want to do that again.

Melissa Breau: Oh yeah.

Esther Zimmerman: And coincidentally, my first paying job as a teenager was as kennel help at Captain Haggerty’s School For Dogs. He’s actually pretty well known. He used to train dogs for movies a lot out in Hollywood. But their training approach was “Break ’em and make ’em.” They would get dogs in there for boarding and training, and they went home trained. They were not happy, but they went home trained. It was absolutely pure compulsion, which as a teenager was really eye-opening and a little bit scary, actually.

Melissa Breau: I can imagine.

Esther Zimmerman: So that’s how I got started in dog sports.

Melissa Breau: Wow. You’ve really been doing it almost your entire life, but in an interesting, different story.

Esther Zimmerman: Yes. Yes.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that it’s been eclectic, and it’s been a little bit here, a little bit there in terms of reading, but what really got you started on your positive training journey? What got you hooked there? Because I certainly know that’s where you are now.

Esther Zimmerman: I think this is a good time for us to talk about Patty Ruzzo, because she’s a big part of that whole journey.

In the early 1980s there was a really tight-knit group of us training at Tails-U-Win in Connecticut, and together we had our first exposures to Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes and John Rogerson and others who totally and completely changed the way we were training and how we even thought about training. We were all attending every seminar we could go to, every clinic we could go to, we were reading dog magazines. I was amassing a huge personal library of dog books. That was all before the Internet, before YouTube, before Facebook.

Patty was an interesting person. She was a really quiet force to be reckoned with. She was a great competitor, she had a great rapport with her dogs, anyone who saw her in the ring with her magnificent Terv, Luca, will always remember what that looked like. They had such a presence about them, and it’s an image I always aspire to. It’s one of those things that if you close your eyes, you can still picture it all these years later.

So Patty was my friend, she was my training buddy, she was my coach. We were determined to pursue a force-free, reward-based approach to training. The first thing we eliminated were the leashes and collars. No more leashes, no more collars. We stopped any physical corrections. As our skills and understanding got better, we were able to even avoid applying psychological pressure to the dogs, and that was a big deal.

My dog at that time was a Schipperke, Zapper. She was a dog that really pushed us to examine what we had been doing, and to see what we could accomplish with this new — to us — approach. She became my first utility dog.

Patty was a really tremendously creative person. She was continually trying and then discarding ideas. It could be dizzying to try and keep up with her, sort of like Denise. Patty passed away twelve years ago. It was a real tragedy for the world of obedience and for me personally.

Several of us from that original group have worked to fill the void by becoming instructors and trainers in our own right. We all made that commitment to stay positive, and I think the group of us really has done a good job of that.

Melissa Breau: Denise brought up the fact that you knew Patty when she and I were talking about having you on. In case anybody doesn’t really know the name, do you mind sharing a just little bit more about the impact she had on the sport in the area, just a little more about her background, or her history, and the role that she played?

Esther Zimmerman: She had multiple OTCH dogs, she competed at the games in regionals and did really, really well at those. She had a Sheltie, she had a Border Collie, and then Luca, the incomparable Luca. And then she got a Whippet. It’s a dog like that that really tests your mettle and your commitment, and she was totally committed to being positive with this dog.

When I tell you that he not able to do a sit-stay of any sort until he was 2-and-a-half, I really mean it, and she just would keep saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll do it. Don’t worry about it, he’ll do it,” and that “Don’t worry about it” is something that I say all the time to my students. “But my dog’s not doing that.” “Don’t worry about it. He will. Eventually.” And she was just like that.

I’ll tell a little anecdote, and this will tell you everything you need to know about Patty and the influence that she had on people. She had two sons. The younger one was about 4 when this happened. They had gone grocery shopping, and they came home and he wanted to help her unload the groceries. So what did he want to carry up the stairs? Take a guess.

Melissa Breau: The eggs?

Esther Zimmerman: The eggs. The eggs of course. So he goes up the stairs, and of course he trips and falls and drops the eggs. She hollers up the stairs, “Are you OK?” He says, “Yes. Six of the eggs did not break.” So just that switch, six of the eggs broke, six of the eggs did not break — that’s how she raised her children to focus on the positive.

Melissa Breau: Part of the impressive part is that back then, nobody was doing that. There weren’t people achieving those kind of things with positive training, and a lot of people were saying it could not be done.

Esther Zimmerman: Right. So the early dogs — it would not be fair to say that she was totally positive with the early dogs. But by the time Luca came along, it was very, very positive, and by the time Flyer, the Whippet, came along, it was totally positive. She didn’t get an OTCH on him, things happened, and then she passed away. But there was and she put it out there in the competitive world the way nobody else was at that point in time.

Melissa Breau: We’ve danced around this question a little bit now, but how would you describe your training philosophy now?

Esther Zimmerman: That’s a good question. My philosophy is fairly simple, actually: Treat the dogs and handlers with kindness and patience. I could probably stop right there, but I won’t. But really, kindness and patience.

Break things down into manageable pieces for each of them. Use varied approaches to the same exercise because dog training isn’t “one size fits all.” The theory, learning theory, applies equally, but not necessarily the specific approach that you use to help them understand.

I try to use a lot of humor to diffuse tension in classes, in private lessons. People are a little bit nervous, or a little bit uptight, so I try to make people laugh. If they can laugh, they feel better about themselves, and what just happened isn’t nearly as important as they thought it was.

I try to be supportive when the dog or person is struggling to learn something. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that, it’s not easy. We’re trying to teach new mechanical skills to people. They’re trying to teach new things to their dogs. That’s a hard combination, and I really respect people who make the effort to do that.

At the same time I encourage independent thinking and problem-solving for the handler and for the dog. I cannot be there all the time when the handler is working with their dog. No instructor can. Even with the online classes, we can’t be there. So if we give the handler the tools to come up with solutions to the problems on their own, now we’ve really accomplished something. Let them figure out how to solve the problem on their own. That’s a big deal to me. I don’t want to be spoon-feeding the answer to every little thing that’s happened there.

So I applaud all their successes, however small. We celebrate everything. My students know that I always advocate for the dog. Whatever the situation is, I’m on the side of the dog, and I urge them to do the same thing when they find themselves in other places, other situations, where perhaps the atmosphere is not quite so positive, or it’s stressful for some reason. Advocate for your dog. You’re the only one that’s looking out for them, and they’re counting on us to do that for them. So I really, really urge people to do that.

And it’s not just about using a clicker and cookies, or any kind of a marker and cookies. It’s about having empathy for a creature who is trying to communicate with us while at the same time we are struggling to communicate with them. It’s all really very simple, but none of it’s very easy. So that’s my philosophy. Pretty simple, don’t you think?

Melissa Breau: Simple but not necessarily easy.

Esther Zimmerman: But not easy. But not easy, yeah.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned you’ve been in dog sports in one variety or another for … you said since you were 15, I think.

Esther Zimmerman: A long time, a long time. I was 22 years old the first time I set foot in the ring.

Melissa Breau: OK.

Esther Zimmerman: So now people can do the math so they’ll know how old I am.

Melissa Breau: As someone who’s been in dog sports for that long, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the last ten or so years?

Esther Zimmerman: Well, for even longer than that, but the sport of AKC obedience has changed dramatically since I started. Classes have been added and deleted, exercises have been added and deleted. The OTCH — the Obedience Trial Championship — was introduced in 1977, and they added the UDX in either 1992 or 1993. I couldn’t find the definitive answer for that, and I couldn’t remember off the top of my head.

The group stays, as of May 1, have been safer in the novice classes and totally eliminated in Open. They’ve added a new and interesting and challenging exercise to Open. Jump heights have been lowered twice. My little German Shepherd, she jumped 32 inches when we started. Now she would have jumped probably 20 inches. There are tons of exceptions from that, from the … once their jump height now, for the really giant breeds, the heavy-boned breeds, the short-legged breeds, the brachycephalic dogs, they just have to jump three-quarters their height at the shoulder, so that’s a big change.

Now you’ve got to remember all of this has been done with the hope of drawing more people into competition. All of it has been done with the accompanying drama, controversy, charges of dumbing-down the sport, nobody’s ever happy with whatever the changes are. But we survived all these changes, and as far as what changes do I want to see in the sport, I don’t really want to see any more for a little while. I think we need to give things a chance to settle down, I think we need to give people a chance to simmer down, because this was a very controversial thing, getting rid of stays.

And then people need time to train the new Open exercise and give that a try. New people coming up will not know that things were different. The command or cue discrimination exercise won’t be something that you teach for Open. As opposed to people who are in a little bit of a panic now, if they’ve got their CDX and they’re going on to a UDX, or they’ve got their UD, they have to go back and teach a new exercise, and not everybody’s happy about that. But I think it’s all going to shake out in time, as it usually does. People resist change because inertia is really a powerful force, and I think we need to move on.

So that’s how I see the changes in the sport. I’m very passionate about the sport, or I wouldn’t still be doing it, and I try and go with the flow with all these changes that have happened.

Melissa Breau: Do you think, or maybe you could talk about, how the addition of other dog sports has changed obedience in particular? I feel like originally it was really conformation and obedience, and now there’s nosework and tricks and all sorts of things.

Esther Zimmerman: I think that one of the reasons for the decline in obedience entries is the proliferation of alternate sports. When I started, like you said, it was basically confirmation, obedience, tracking, herding, and field. That was pretty much it.

Look at what’s been added, not only in sports in general, but there are multiple organizations now that offer their own variations on some of these previously existing activities. I’m just going to rattle these off. Besides those we have rally, we have agility with various venues, earthdog, flyball, multiple venues for nosework, lure coursing, barn hunt, dock diving, parkour, freestyle, weight-pulling, Frisbee, carting, sled dog, treibball, tricks, IPO, French ring. That’s without even really thinking about it terribly very much I came up with that list. And I’m sure there are ones that I have overlooked. So depending on what part of the country you live in, there are many options to choose from on any weekend.

And some of these sports, at the beginner level at least, seem to offer more immediate gratification with a shorter investment of training time than AKC obedience. This can be quite appealing for some competitors. When you get to the upper levels of almost any of these activities, sports, training matters. It really matters.

But there’s another influence on competition, and I think that’s the advent of the private training center. Back in the day, if you wanted to train your dog, you went to a training club. Once you got out of the puppy class you were encouraged to join that club. In order to join that club you had to attend meetings, you had to help out, you set up equipment, you swept the floor, you rolled up mats in the gymnasium, you stewarded the annual trial, and sometimes you became an assistant to a trainer that was already at the club. You became part of something.

Now don’t get me wrong. Again, training centers like MasterPeace, where I work, offer far more than the clubs ever could. MasterPeace has classes and activities seven days a week, morning, noon, and night. But most of the people come for that class, and turn around and go home, so their exposure to the notion of competition may be more limited than it was when they went to a club.

So only AKC clubs can put on an AKC trial. Without the clubs, there are no trials. Several New England clubs no longer exist because of the lack of membership. They had to just fold up and go away. So consider that. Consider … I want people to consider joining their local club. Support them. If you want to be able to compete, there have to be people working to put on the trials. Another thing: I also want to put in a plug for experienced exhibitors to become judges. I don’t care what your activity is. I’m an AKC Open provisional judge now. In case anyone has missed the stat, the average age of judges is getting higher and higher. Without new, younger judges in the pipeline, competition will disappear, because sooner or later these judges have to retire. They can’t go on forever, and there have to be new people coming up to step up and judge. Competition requires judges.

The other thing is that becoming a judge really changes your perspective of your sport. It’s so easy to criticize the judge from outside the ring: “He didn’t see this,” “He didn’t see that,

“She missed this,” “She did something wrong.” Yeah, try stepping behind the clipboard and see how hard it really is to keep all the rules and regs in mind, to see everything that’s going on, mark it all down. Yeah, it’s not that easy, guys. But I encourage everybody to do it, because how else will we go on?

The other thing: I can only compete in New England. I go to my national specialty occasionally, not that much anymore, but I have traveled. But in this area there seems to be an improvement in the general competitive environment. Experienced handlers seem to be a little more welcoming of newbies, and more supportive of each other, than maybe five years ago.

But those of us in the FDSA world would like to think that training overall is moving in a positive direction. Again, in my area, we have pockets of people devoted to that concept, but we’re surrounded by more traditional training. That can feel a bit isolating. But the ripple effect that we talk about is a real thing. We do reach out to support each other, and we have an influence on what other people decide to do when we show how we behave with our dogs when we’re in public, when we’re at competition. People are watching when you don’t think they’re watching, and seeing you celebrate with your dog, even if things haven’t gone quite well — they don’t miss that, and that’s an important thing for them to see. So yeah, things have changed a lot. Things have changed a lot.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, for sure.

Esther Zimmerman: But I’m hopeful for the future, very hopeful for the future.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned FDSA in there, and I’m really curious: What led you to the Academy? How did you wind up there?

Esther Zimmerman: I first encountered Denise at a seminar, and she’s a dynamic presenter. She’s got all this energy, talks really fast, is very excited, she’s also passionate about what she does, committed to it, and her message just resonated with me in a way that nothing had since Patty. So I started following her blog — there’s a lot of information there. Before FDSA, she offered an online course of relationship-building through play through another organization. I thought the idea was intriguing, but was really uncertain of how that could possibly work. So I got a working spot with Elphaba, and as we all know, it works great. It was a fabulous class, and I’ve been a devotee of the Academy since its inception. So that’s how I came to FDSA.

Melissa Breau: We talked through and you had a ton of experience before that point, so what is it that keeps you involved in coming back?

Esther Zimmerman: This is a really easy one for me. I love dogs. I love dogs, number one. I love training, number two. I personally love how detail-oriented competition obedience is. It’s not for everybody, I understand that, but I love that aspect of it. I love every training session, I love every class I teach, I love every lesson that I give, because every single one of them is different.

I really love how my classes are a level playing field. Everyone who comes to the sport is a newbie, regardless of their professional and personal fields of expertise. I have doctors, I have veterinarians, I have lawyers, I have chefs, I have people who are really accomplished in their respective fields who are all starting at the same place when they come to dog training. None of that other stuff matters in the least.

And I’m dealing with all the different breeds that come to me. That makes me a better instructor and trainer. I think to some degree people like to bring their non-traditional breeds to me since I have Schipperke. I think they think I will have a different sympathy and empathy for the perception of what we can expect from the non-traditional breeds, and to a degree that is correct, because I don’t feel, “Oh, it’s a terrier, it can’t do that.” “It’s a sighthound, we can’t expect it to be able to do that.” Right? “It’s a fill-in-the-blank, and therefore…” Yeah, there are predilections, but we can be successful, if we work at it and if we want it, with most breeds. And with FDSA specifically, I love how we have access to such a wide variety of subjects, world-class instructors from different parts of the world, and we never have to get out of our jammies if we don’t want to.

Melissa Breau: That makes me think of Sue’s competition, her PJ competition, of everybody posting pictures of themselves training in their PJs.

Esther Zimmerman: Exactly. And I don’t know if you saw it, somebody was talking about FDSA swag that they bought, I think it was a sweatshirt or something, and I said, “How come there are no FDSA pajamas?”

Melissa Breau: Yeah, we are looking at that. This is an aside, but I found onesies, pajama onesies, that you can get with your logo on them online somewhere, and I was sharing them with the other instructors, like, “I don’t know, I think this should be what we wear to camp.” I think it got vetoed. But I don’t know, I still think it’s a good idea.

Esther Zimmerman: That might be a little small for some of us.

Melissa Breau: It’s pajamas. Footie pajamas. One-piece footie pajamas.

Esther Zimmerman: Hey, why not? You know some people would take you up on that.

Melissa Breau: Right. This has been a lot of fun, but since this is your first time here, I want to ask you the three questions that I used to ask on almost every episode, but now that people have been on once or twice, we haven’t gone back to them. The first question is simply, What’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Esther Zimmerman: I’m not going to limit it to just one. I have a couple of things to say.

Melissa Breau: OK.

Esther Zimmerman: I’m really proud of the titles that I’ve earned with my dogs, with the Schipperke. Some of them have been firsts for the breed, which is really a nice thing to be able to say.

What I’m most proud of, though, is how much I appreciate the partnership that I develop with my dogs as we go along. I have a bunch of candid photos that people have taken, and almost every one of them shows me looking right into my dog’s eyes, and my dog looking right back into my eyes. I cherish those pictures and that feeling that I have. It’s so special, and I can conjure that up at a moment’s notice. I almost get choked up every time I talk about it, because it’s just me and my dog, and everything else just goes away. That is something that I’m proud of, that I have that connection with my dogs.

Melissa Breau: That’s beautiful. I love that.

Esther Zimmerman: Thank you. The second thing is that I love to share in the accomplishments of my students. That brings me so much joy, that they are finding success and happiness in this sport, and I’m just thrilled for all of them, every little thing that they do, and it doesn’t always translate to a ribbon. If a person can come out of the ring when they have not qualified, and come to me and say, “Did you see that drop on recall?” or “Did you see how she worked articles?” when maybe that’s something they’ve been struggling with and the dog did it — even if something else went badly, then I’ve done my job of teaching that person to focus on the positive and not worry about the rest of it, because we can make that better too. Those are the things I’m really proudest.

Melissa Breau: I love that. Our second and second-to-last question is, What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Esther Zimmerman: I’ve got a couple of things here too.

Melissa Breau: OK.

Esther Zimmerman: I do like to talk.

Melissa Breau: That makes for a good podcast, so we’re good!

Esther Zimmerman: Patty said, “When in doubt, put a cookie on it.” That’s it. That simple statement can address so many issues. When in doubt, put a cookie on it. Sheila Booth said — I don’t know if too many people know who she is, but in Schutzhund circles, IPO circles, I think she’s a little better known — but Sheila Booth said, “They can do at 4 what they couldn’t do before.” So she’s saying what they can do at age 4, they couldn’t do before then, which again speaks to patience and not showing prematurely. I firmly believe the dogs will tell you when they’re ready to show, and don’t rush it. There’s no rush. Take your time, put in the work, and you’ll be way happier. There are Flyers, there are dogs you can take out at 1 or 2 and accomplish great things, but for the most part, not so much.

I have a saying that I say to my students, so much that one of them embroidered it on a vest for me. In class it always comes out when someone says, “How come my dog did that?” I always say, “Too far, too fast, too much, too soon.” Don’t go too far too fast. Don’t do too much too soon. That’s how it got embroidered on my vest. That’s my biggest piece of training advice to put out there. Don’t go too far too fast. Don’t do too much too soon.

Melissa Breau: I love that. That’s awesome.

Esther Zimmerman: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: It has a certain sing to it. Too far, too fast, too much, too soon. Last question for you: Who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Esther Zimmerman: This is going to sound like a cliché, but I really admire Denise. In addition to being an outstanding dog trainer and instructor, she’s a really smart businessperson. She works harder than any five people I know, she’s created something unique with FDSA, and surrounds herself with other smart people who help keep it running smoothly and efficiently, specifically you, Melissa, and Teri Martin.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, Teri’s fantastic.

Esther Zimmerman: And then Denise’s generosity to the dog training community always impresses me. There’s so much free material and information out there, the blog and these podcasts are free, of course, she joins in the conversations on the various Facebook pages and gives training advice there, she does her live Facebook sessions are free.

I think the scholarships for free Bronze-level classes and the contests for free Bronze-level classes are amazing at making education available to everybody, even if you have limited means. It’s just a wonderful thing to put out there for people.

And then of course the inception of TEAM — that was also just brilliant. It’s brought high-quality titling opportunities to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It forces people to pay attention to detail. There’s a lot of precision required right through from basic foundation skills through the advanced levels. People who do that are pretty well prepared for success in other types of competition. It was a brilliant concept and brilliant in execution.

I don’t know what Denise has in store for the future, but I know she’s been teasing us about something new coming in April, I don’t like being teased like that, but I also can’t wait to see what it’s going to be, because it’s going to be great. I know it is. So I have to say it’s Denise.

Melissa Breau: I will say that she is by far the most productive person I know. She gets more done in a few hours a day than most people do in a week.

Esther Zimmerman: I don’t know. It boggles my mind. It just boggles my mind.

Melissa Breau: You’re not the only one. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Esther! This has been great. I really appreciate it. This has been fun.

Esther Zimmerman: I know it took us a little bit of time to be able to connect. I had a cold. I hope I sound OK, because my voice was shattered last week. It was worth the wait. It was a lot of fun, and I’m very honored that you decided to ask me to do this.

Melissa Breau: Well, I’m definitely glad that you could.

And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Debbie Torraca, to talk about exercise for puppies.

If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you guys will consider hopping over to iTunes and leaving us a review. I know I mentioned this in our last couple of episodes, but reviews really help the show! We’ve gotten a few new ones since I’ve started including this request, like this one from Schout: “Melissa does a great job interviewing accomplished guests. Filled with useful insights and funny anecdotes.”

Thank you Schout, whoever you are!

And, while you’re there, if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll subscribe to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Mar 2, 2018

SHOW NOTES:

Note: We've rearranged episodes a bit here to better coordinate with guest schedules, so the names mentioned as next episodes in our last podcast and in this one are incorrect. Instead of Esther Zimmerman this week we have Lara Joseph -- we'll be back next week with Esther and the following week with Debbie Torraca. 

Summary:

Lara Joseph owns and operates The Animal Behavior Center in Sylvania, Ohio, which focuses on teaching people how to train using force-free techniques and by empowering the animal and creating strong, reliable, trust-building relationships through positive reinforcement and applications in behavior analysis.

Lara is a professional member of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance and the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, and has been published in numerous industry publications. She travels, lectures, consults, and presents workshops nationally and internationally on behavior, behavior change, positive reinforcement training, and enrichment.

She enjoys working with companion-animal lovers, exotics, and zoos, and has worked with an array of animal organizations across the world via her live-stream training services. Lara also holds many fundraisers, including conservation fundraisers for organizations like Deaf Dogs Rock and the Indonesian Parrot Project, where she also sits on the advisory board.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 3/9/2018, featuring Esther Zimmerman, to talk competitive obedience and dog sports in general.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Lara Joseph.

Lara Joseph owns and operates The Animal Behavior Center in Sylvania, Ohio, which focuses on teaching people how to train using force-free techniques and by empowering the animal and creating strong, reliable, trust-building relationships through positive reinforcement and applications in behavior analysis.

Lara is a professional member of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance and the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, and has been published in numerous industry publications. She travels, lectures, consults, and presents workshops nationally and internationally on behavior, behavior change, positive reinforcement training, and enrichment.

She enjoys working with companion-animal lovers, exotics, and zoos, and has worked with an array of animal organizations across the world via her live-stream training services. Lara also holds many fundraisers, including conservation fundraisers for organizations like Deaf Dogs Rock and the Indonesian Parrot Project, where she also sits on the advisory board.

And I’m very excited to have her here with us today.

Hi Lara, welcome to the podcast!

Lara Joseph: Hi Melissa. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited too. To start us out, do you mind sharing a little bit about what an average day looks like for you, what kind of animals you’re working with, and maybe a little bit on what you’re doing with them?

Lara Joseph: Sure, sure. What an average day looks like for me. There isn’t one. There’s nothing here that’s average. We have a wide variety of animals here at the Center that are permanent residents, and we take in different animals from different organizations. They’re usually either zoos, shelters, or wildlife rehabilitation centers, so we have — it’s across the board, the animals that can come in here.

I have several friends that are great dog trainers, and so I try to focus a lot of my work on how the science of behavior works across the board. We do have a lot of birds — birds are the apple of my eye — but definitely not limited to. We have six parrots, we have a deaf and blind Border Collie, a deaf dog — a Rottweiler, a pig, a vulture to represent the wildlife rehabilitation ambassadors, a pigeon to represent the work of B.F. Skinner, we just had a porcupine — an African crested porcupine — in here, we had recently also a ring-tailed lemur, a Eurasian eagle owl, and several crows, and I’m probably … oh, ostriches, it’s just whatever, and I just like to show people.

What we do here, Melissa, as your listeners probably know, we’re always training. If that animal can see, hear, smell us, a lot of the work I do here is shifting and moving animals safely. When animals come in for training, we usually bring them in for a small period of time. We live-stream our approaches and I show a lot of different species of animals, just showing people the first thing to look for. I just sit back and observe behavior, identify reinforcers and punishers or aversives, and then I usually start with target training, stationing.

We have ten other people, volunteers here as well, so a lot of my time is spent coaching them and guiding them training the animals. My business is all via live stream, so if I see something happening where members can benefit from, boom, I go live immediately and show how we struggle and what approaches we take in training.

Melissa Breau: That’s really, really interesting, just like the insane variety there.

Lara Joseph: It is, it is. There’s usually always something running by your feet, sliding by your feet, climbing on branches overhead, or flying by you.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that going live thing, and I know that you do regular public Facebook lives on the Animal Behavior Center’s Facebook page on Sunday morning. Do you want to go ahead and mention those or plug those?

Lara Joseph: Sure, sure. Every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Eastern, I go live for an hour. It’s called “Coffee with the Critters,” on the Animal Behavior Center’s Facebook page. I started that in March, that will be three years ago. It’s a weekly episode. I never miss one, because if I do, I start getting e-mails and messages of people wanting to know if they’ve missed it.

But, Melissa, it’s so important. I make the use of applied behavior analysis, its application, very easy to understand in everyday terms. We have a large following and it’s very engaging. People ask me questions, and as they ask me questions, I just stand up and turn around and start training one of the animals where I can best give a demonstration of how this is used.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I will make sure I include a link, for all those people listening, to the Facebook page in the show notes, so that if anybody wants to click through, they can go there and they can like the page so that they can catch the next one. So a little bit more about your background. You started out in film, right?

Lara Joseph: I did. I’ve always been interested in animals, in a wide variety of animals. My degree, a bachelor’s in documentary filmmaking, the intention was to make wildlife documentaries. I was never going to be home, I was going to be out gallivanting somewhere, filming something. So my history of my work, I’ve always been interested in communications.

It is kind of funny how all of this has come together, because I have an interest in behavior science, I always have, communication through film, public speaking, and how it all came together is — this was several years ago — I was interacting with an animal that I had no idea … I had no former experience with. It could be dangerous when I started interacting with this animal, so that’s when I went in search of — again, very intrigued with this species of animal — and I went in search of more information on this species, and it seemed most everything I found was not science-based. It was a lot of assumptions. I was like, “There’s got to be something out there that can give me factual scientific research information,” and it was hard to find.

So that’s when I stumbled on applied behavior analysis and was fascinated, jumped in with two feet, went back to school, and started taking master’s classes in it.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. And now that’s what you do day in, day out.

Lara Joseph: Fourteen hours a day, pretty much. But I love it. I never stop working because I love what I do.

Melissa Breau: I certainly understand that perspective.

Lara Joseph: Yeah, I’m sure you do.

Melissa Breau: With that background, starting from the science of it, does that mean you’ve always been an advocate for positive reinforcement, or how did you get there from the science?

Lara Joseph: I’ve not always been an advocate because I didn’t know about it. I wish I would have. Like most of us, I heard about it, I didn’t know what it meant.

I remember walking my Dalmation several years ago, thinking, you know, he kept pulling on the leash. I used to grab a tree branch every time I took him for a walk, and I would just lightly tap him on the butt to get him to stop pulling on the leash, but I noticed that I kept having to do it over and over. I remember thinking, walking down the street one day, I wonder what this positive reinforcement stuff is all about. So I tried a little bit of it, from the little education I had on it, and it worked. That was when I first heard about it. When I first started implementing it was with that species of animal that I was talking about, which happened to be a parrot, because they can bite very hard. And that’s how I got started in it.

Melissa Breau: I want to stop for a second here. You mentioned applied behavior analysis, and I think it’s one of those terms where I’m pretty sure I know what it means, but without looking it up I definitely couldn’t give someone a definition. Would you mind explaining what it is and sharing what that looks like?

Lara Joseph: I used to hesitate in saying “applied behavior analysis,” because you’d get that glazed look in people’s eyes: “Oh, this is going to be too scientific. I’m not going to understand it.” So I quickly followed up.

It’s important to say what it is, because it’s so effective, but when I give a broad general explanation of what it is, it’s using environmental events to control behavior. I also tell people it’s also using observable and measurable behavior in data collecting, you know, is this behavior maintaining or increasing? So applied behavioral analysis, in a nutshell, is using environmental events to control behavior using observable and measurable data collecting.

For example, I’m going to use the vulture we have here for training. Her name is Willie. And vultures, this is what they do. I can say she loves the sun, but what does that look like? When the sun hits her back, her wings will stretch out and she stays pretty much motionless. She’ll watch what’s going on around her — that’s observable, measurable behavior.

She is here because she has a long history of flying and attacking people, so we train her to do other behaviors instead. So here’s a way of using applied behavior, observable and measurable behavior, environmental events. You know that sun, once that sun hits her back, her 5-foot wingspan is going to stretch out. If you have a concern of her flying after somebody, you know that she’s up in the sun, or move her to the sun, because she’s going to station when she’s in the sun, move people through.

That’s using environmental events to control behavior. That’s a very basic way, but it works. Everybody’s using it anyways; they probably just don’t realize to what extent they’re using it. And I also call it the science of common sense.

Melissa Breau: I like that.

Lara Joseph: Because once you start identifying reinforcers, potential aversives in the environment, I identify the animal’s positive reinforcers, and I just virtually stick all of those, everything the animal moves towards, I stick all of those in my pocket. They get the same amount of those environmental events, those reinforcers, every day anyways. I’m just going to deliver them for behaviors I want to see maintain or increase.

I’m going to observe potential aversives. I will remove them from the event or from the environment. If those aversives are things the animal needs to get used to for its future, then I slowly, through shaping, pair those aversives, start pairing them with positive reinforcers, bringing them back into the environment and taking the stress out of the animal’s life.

Melissa Breau: In the dog world that might look as simple as something like, OK, we know that our dog’s going to go crazy when somebody new comes to the door, so you give them a Kong in their crate before going to answer the door. You manage their environment a little bit.

Lara Joseph: Yes. For example, I’m working with a giraffe right now. Those are huge animals that can do a lot of damage fairly quickly, especially if you’re using force. This giraffe needs to have his hooves trimmed. There’s a device that’s commonly used to force them to stay still. If a giraffe breaks its leg, it has to be put down. Those are long legs. So what I do instead is, why don’t you train the giraffe to accept a hoof trim. Come to me, come to you when called, stay still until requested to do otherwise, put your hoof up on a block, allow me to flip it over and file it.

Melissa Breau: This goes really well into the next question I had, we talked a little bit via email, which is, you mentioned that one of the reasons you enjoy working with exotics is because what constitutes a positive reinforcer is often so different than for our dogs. Do you want to talk a little more about that? I know you mentioned the sun example, which is super-interesting.

Lara Joseph: Especially in the world of exotics, many of your exotics are prey animals too, so what could be seen as a positive reinforcer for a dog, such as pace — how fast can you get that positive reinforcer to that dog — could be easily seen as an aversive with an exotic.

For example, I will use, let’s say, a parrot. The immediacy in when the positive reinforcer is delivered is very effective, but that pace in which you move to give a dog a treat, you move that fast towards a parrot, especially if it doesn’t know you, and you’re trying to deliver a food reinforcer, bam, it can easily result in a bite. I tell people, I really point out reinforcers — the pace at which you move, the pace at which you deliver a treat, the pace at which you walk by that food dish — could easily be a positive reinforcer or an aversive. Pay attention. Which one is it?

The tone of your voice — a lot of times I will use a little higher-pitched tone of voice. A lot of the animals that I work with, rhythm can be an attraction. And paying close attention to that body language. You can either pair that as an aversive, if you don’t understand that animal’s body language, or it could easily, if you’re able to identify calm body language and you slowly introduce rhythm. I do rhythm like clapping. I’m not going to do it here, because people will think I’m … I do a lot of tone of voice rhythm. A lot of animals respond to rhythm, such as your elephants, your parrots. Those could easily be used as reinforcers, positive reinforcers, to get the behavior you want.

Melissa Breau: When you say they respond to it, what do you mean by that?

Lara Joseph: They will turn their head and look at you, or in that direction, to better understand and identify what is happening in the environment, and you can easily use that as an antecedent to a behavior that you want. For example, if I’m calling an animal to me, and I’ll start doing this really fast, repetitive tone with my voice, and you can see head crests go up and the animal starts moving toward you. Identify the body language. Is the body language tight and stiff? It could be an aversive. Does it look accepting? If it does, and it’s running towards you, it’s likely a positive reinforcer.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Lara Joseph: Those are small things we have to really pay attention to around here, Melissa, because of the wide variety of exotics we work with. A lot of animals we’re working with are not domesticated, so using any type of anthropomorphism can put you in serious danger very fast.

Melissa Breau: I imagine that the way that reinforcers differ isn’t the only thing that stands out when you’re talking about the difference between exotics and training dogs. What are some of the other differences that you’ve run into, and are there similarities?

Lara Joseph: There’s different things. There’s a reason I like to work with exotics, Melissa, because, like I mentioned earlier, I am friends with a lot of fabulous dog trainers, and they’re getting that message out there that’s very important. A lot of times the community thinks, and dogs can be very resilient to using aversives if people don’t understand what they’re doing, whereas your exotics aren’t so much.

There’s a message why I work with exotics is because OK, you may be able to push your dog or force your dog into doing this, but how are you going to do this with that turkey vulture? You start pushing that turkey vulture, or you start pushing that ape, you’re going to get consequences that you’re probably not going to be very comfortable with, and a lot of times the message is there that these animals can really hurt you very fast.

I always, when I’m training an animal, if there are cage bars between us, I always train for an accident in case those cage bars aren’t there between us. So where someone may be using an aversive with their dog, you do that with an exotic, you’re going to see those consequences so fast. Or maybe not, but when they do happen, you’re likely putting yourself in a very dangerous situation.

Some of the animals that I work with that I was telling you about, some of these animals can weigh a ton. That’s where my message comes in and shows you can be a great part of the team, you and that animal, and you can really work together, and when people see that teamwork here, or through our live streams, or at zoos, or whatever, it really grabs the attention of everybody. They like to see that training. And then I’ll stop training the animal and turn around to the people and say, “This is how positive reinforcement works in your home. This is how it works with your child, your dog, your relationship with your family.”

Another thing is that I like to work with a lot of animals as well that people think are … your average public thinks are dumb, gross, anything, such as even a pest. Why is it a pest? That animal is a pest because it’s quickly outwitting your next step. That’s why rats and crows live so close with human civilization — because they function together. Many people will call that rat or that pigeon or that squirrel a pest. So it is my way to introduce the turkey vulture, the rat, the pig, the pigeon, the porcupine, something that may be easily overlooked. This is an amazing creature that serves a very important role in our ecosystem. Pay attention. Instead of hurting them, find out what their function is in everyday life. It just brings awareness.

You know, the pig is something that is very overlooked. It is one of the smartest animals I have ever trained, and pigs quickly train the people that they’re with. We brought a lot of awareness to the turkey vulture. People are like, “Ugh, that’s such an ugly scavenger,” and I’m like, “Look how amazing this creature is.” I usually do that through I’ll show different things — how she stations on the glove, how she targets, how she flies to my glove when I ask her, and then I just inform them and then they start having that appreciation for that animal.

Melissa Breau: I know in addition to the work you do with the exotics, you also do some work with deaf and blind/deaf dogs. I’d imagine communication there is a bit different. How do you approach things with those dogs versus the exotics, or versus the normal dog training sessions? How does that roll up?

Lara Joseph: As you know, play, with dogs, can be a highly valued reinforcer. A lot of the other animals I have here, we play in different ways. But like with the deaf dogs, one of the first things that I do is reinforce eye contact. Always checking in, always checking in, and I slowly shape that deaf dog in new environments of here’s a new environment, or here’s a new something in your environment. Look at it, and then look at me for information, and then I will communicate with you with a thumbs-up, or come closer and reinforce.

That is probably one that is so misunderstood. I’m talking with somebody right now, shaping the animal in different environments, slowly shape in distractions, and then slowly bring in a distraction, and then that animal, as soon as it turns and looks at you, bam, bridge, reinforce. And then slowly take it into different environments.

With the deaf and blind — we have a deaf and blind dog here, Snow — I immediately started, all I did was watch her. How does she explore her environment? How does she explore new environments? She did that a lot by walking in circles, finding out where there’s a wall here, there’s a wall there. Then she’ll make the circle bigger and bigger, there’s an object here, there’s a wall there, she goes back to where she started, and then she starts exploring more and more.

With her, my work is all via touch and smell. So different taps on her body, for example, one finger-tap to her chest is a bridge, yes, that’s behavior I’m looking for, and then you can see it in her body language. Her head starts going up searching for where the treat is delivered.

A lot of times I will just touch her very lightly on the bottom of the chin. That means keep your head still, the treat is getting ready to be delivered. Because, Melissa, just in how you deliver that treat, if she turns her head in anticipation for “Is the treat over here?” and she hits her head on the side of my hand, that is an aversive to her. You will see her cower and walk away and you’ve quickly … you’ve just punished your training session and any cues that came along with it.

One swipe down the right side of her body, starting from her front shoulder to her hind legs, a quick swipe means turn around and walk the other way. A light swipe underneath the chin means move forward. Two taps on her butt means sit. One tap on her chest is a bridge. Moving my finger from her shoulder down to her paw in a quick motion, that means down. It’s all contingencies. It’s all pairing contingencies.

When I squeeze her shoulders lightly, that means stay where you are, something’s getting ready to happen. For example, I try to put potential danger on cue with her. So if the pig is let out at the same time she is let out, that is a bad encounter. I will put a light squeeze on her shoulder, it’s just more pressure, that means danger’s close, stay still, I will give you more information when I return. There’s a lot with her, and she’s …

Melissa Breau: That sounds like so many.

Lara Joseph: She is an amazing educator of mine. She has really opened my eyes.

Melissa Breau: That’s such a fascinating concept, just that you’ve managed to teach all of these very different behaviors when she can’t see you, she can’t hear you. For the down or the sit, do you still use a treat lure or did you shape them? How did you accomplish that with a dog that can’t see or hear you?

Lara Joseph: If I use a lure, I try to quickly phase it out. With the down, that is one I did use a treat lure with. I would hold the treat up by her shoulder and she would turn to smell it, and I would just keep it in my hands and bring it down to the ground to where it’s once she’s down on the ground, and then that bridge has to be there. So before I can release that treat, tap on the chest because she clearly knows what that is, bam, hand opens up, tap on the chest, and I have to hurry up and get that treat to her as quick as possible, just tap, deliver, tap, deliver, tap, deliver, and then I slowly start spacing tap, one, two, treat deliver. And that’s how I shaped duration with her.

Melissa Breau: It’s a very different thing, especially when you’re used to training, I don’t know, my dog, for example, who does not have those obstacles.

Lara Joseph: She’s hard to keep up with. She’s a Border Collie, and not only is she a Border Collie, now she’s deaf and she’s blind. People will see her running at a fast pace through the Center and they’re like, “Oh, she’s having fun, she’s playing.” I was like, “Um, I don’t think so. I think what I see is she’s searching for information. She’s wanting somebody …” because as soon as you start interacting with her, Melissa, boom, she calms right down, what are we doing next? And she’s looking for body taps — tell me where to go, where are we going, what should I be searching for, what are you training me in, what information do I need? She’s always looking for information, searching for information.

Melissa Breau: Do you have any tips for folks who may have a dog that can’t hear, or maybe has vision problems, to help them with their training? Anything you’ve learned and recommend?

Lara Joseph: Yeah: don’t wait. Don’t wait. They’re already learning. Pay close attention to what they’re reacting to, what they’re moving towards. With the deaf dogs, I cannot put enough emphasis on this: reinforce eye contact, because you always want that dog looking at you. Something’s in front of me, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. You want them to quickly turn and look at you, and you say thumbs-up, yes, this is cool, let’s keep moving forward, or come with me, let’s walk in the other direction. With a blind dog, especially as a lot of senior dogs continue to age, their eyesight starts declining, go ahead and start shaping those sounds. We use target sticks with bells, shaping those sounds now before the vision is completely gone.

Melissa Breau: When you say target sticks with bells, you mean so that dog can orient to the target to find …

Lara Joseph: We use target sticks with bells, and then we usually use something at the end of the target stick, such as … I can’t tell you exactly. Maybe a tennis ball. Maybe, I don’t know, a lot of times it’s paper towels wadded up in a ball, wrapped with rubber bands, because it’s the dog that’s always going to identify if touching the end of that target stick is an aversive. If it can’t see and it moves its head quick towards the target stick, and bam, now he just got poked in the nose with a hard pine dowel, that’s quickly going to be aversive. The dog might not do it again. So that’s why at the end of the target stick we have bells and something soft for them to touch their nose to.

Melissa Breau: I have three questions that I like to ask people their first time on the show to finish things out. I’m excited to have somebody who’s new to the show so I can ask them again. What animal-related accomplishment are you proudest of?

Lara Joseph: Having the Animal Behavior Center what it is today, we just had our five-year anniversary yesterday, and how fast and how strong we are in the message. That’s probably one of the most proudest one.

But as far as an individual animal, I would have to say it is a pigtail macaque. It’s in the primate family, it’s like a large monkey. They can be very dangerous. They have very large teeth that can do damage really quick, especially if you’re using force or coercion. This particular animal, a zoo had asked me to train, and I was like, “I don’t want to train that animal. I am so afraid of that animal.” I didn’t know much about pigtail macaques, and there’s a lot of people that won’t work with them because they have bad … they have reputations. But it’s usually due to people not understanding how to effectively interact with them.

This particular macaque, major resource guarder, his arms are probably just as long as mine and just as strong. If you would walk by the enclosure, the winter enclosure that he was in, he would grab you, he would try to grab you and pull you towards the cage. I’d had very few encounters with him, and none of them were pleasant experiences, and I wasn’t able to read his body language very well, but I could easily tell that, hey, when that mouth opens up and he’s showing those big teeth, probably a form of communication that … stay away.

So I started training him, Melissa, and it was purely off contact. I would ask him to go to his station, deliver reinforcer. That way, some of the first things I train, any animal, is a station, go to an area and don’t move until requested to do otherwise, and a target, so that way you’re touching that target stick, what I’m doing is reading your body language. I quickly pair that target stick with a positive reinforcer, which in his case was banana baby food delivered from a syringe.

Now I can start understanding body language. What does your face look like when in anticipation of the banana baby food coming closer to you? I was just like, Wow, this is so cool. We are communicating. I am starting to understand you. You see me instead of being a cue for these other behaviors that were labeled as aggressive, now when he sees me, that’s a cue, he goes and runs to his station, and sits and waits for information and waits for positive reinforcers.

So now I trim his nails using positive reinforcement through the cage bars. He targets, he goes everywhere with me. Deb Jones has come here several times and seen some of the work I do in my work with him. I took her out there and I said, “This is amazing for me, in my head, I consider this animal amazing. Watch this.”

He’s a big resource guarder, you couldn’t get anywhere near his enclosure. If you even picked up a stick within one foot of his enclosure, he was jumping on those cage bars, vocalizing, shaking the cage bars, and if he could get a hold of you, it wouldn’t be positive. So what I did with him is I worked on his resource guarding, and I taught him to clean his enclosure for me. Go pick up those sticks, go pick up those rags, hand them through the cage bars to me.

That was a lot of shaping, because he’s picking up things of high value. Those are his, in his enclosure, and now offering them to me. That, Melissa, I would say, is one of my most proud animal accomplishments.

Melissa Breau: That’s fantastic. Just the turnaround there is so impressive.

Lara Joseph: It went from me not wanting anything to do with this animal to me … now I cannot wait to go see him, and how are you doing, and I can tell by his body language, OK, let’s get this training moving.

Melissa Breau: That’s so interesting. The second question on my list of three here is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Lara Joseph: Right off the top of my head, because this sticks in my head every single time I’m interacting with an animal — and I don’t know who said it, where it was said, but it has always stuck in my head — and it’s something I’ve always thought of anyways, but I never heard it in these terms, and that is, just because you’re using positive reinforcement does not mean it’s a positive experience for the animal.

That is always in my head when I’m training, because I’m like, Are you still enjoying this? The reinforcer behind why I may keep training you is because I’m getting the behavior that I want, but are you enjoying this as well? If I’m not sure, that’s when I end the training session and start over again.

Melissa Breau: That’s definitely an interesting one. I think that a lot of the times people feel like they’re using positive methods that surely it’s a positive experience, and I definitely agree that’s not always true. Last one here: Who is someone else in the animal behavior world that you look up to?

Lara Joseph: Oh gosh, there’s so many. There’s so many. But one that immediately comes to mind is Jesus Rosales-Ruiz. He’s a professor at the University of North Texas, where I took some of the master’s classes. Fascinating man. Fascinating man. Everything that comes out of his mouth, I am sitting there paying attention like a sponge. He does a lot of work with rats and mice and pigeons.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Lara Joseph: He follows a lot of Skinner’s work very closely.

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

Lara Joseph: You are very welcome. It’s an honor. Thanks. I had fun.

Melissa Breau: Good. I had fun too. This was interesting, and it’s always interesting going more about some of the exotics and some of the beyond dog training applications of some of this stuff.

Lara Joseph: Anytime.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I may take you up on that.

Lara Joseph: OK.

Melissa Breau: Thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We’ll be back next week, this time with Debbie Torraca, to talk canine conditioning.

If you enjoyed the episode, I hope you’ll consider hopping over to iTunes and leaving us a review — reviews really help the show! We’ve gotten a few new ones since I’ve started including this request at the end of the show, like this one from Collie Rules. It was titled Great Information, and we got five stars. Collie Rules wrote, “I love hearing from these class instructors! Training insights and things to consider.”

Thank you Collie Rules, whoever you are!

And, while you’re there, if you haven’t already, subscribe to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Dec 29, 2017

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 1/05/2018, and I'll be talking to Amy Cook about the science of dog training, so stay tuned!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Andrea Harrison.

Andrea is the people trainer on the FDSA team, working with dog sports teams to help handlers train themselves for better performance. She teaches classes on unleashing your personal potential, mental management, planning, goal setting, and more... and with the new year right around the corner, she’s here today to talk goal setting and dog-related new year’s resolutions.

Hi Andrea! Welcome to the podcast.

Andrea Harrison: Hey Melissa. Thank you so much for the invitation. Great to talk to you.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today. To get us started, do you want to just remind listeners who you are and tell us a little bit about the dogs you share your life with?

Andrea Harrison: Sure. I’m Andrea Harrison. I’ve been doing the mental management stuff in some capacity in my life professionally for nearly 30 years. I can’t believe it. The dogs we’re currently living with has changed a bit since the last time I was on the podcast, Melissa. We lost two of our older dogs.

Melissa Breau: I’m sorry.

Andrea Harrison: Yeah, it’s hard. It happens to everybody, but it’s never easy. Now we’re living with Sally and Thea, our senior dogs, and they’re the two dogs that have done the most competitively. Sally was in a feature film. They’re the dogs who really push my dog training along. Then we have my husband’s Golden Retriever, Samson, who is his dog very much. I try to keep hands off, although it’s hard sometimes because he’s lovely and really athletic, so I sneak out and do some stuff with him sometimes, but he’s Tom’s dog, I leave him alone as best as I can. He’s the farm dog. We also have two younger dogs, Yen, who is a toy American Eskimo, and Dora, who is a feral little Cairn terrier mix. They’re both great and lots of fun, and they basically bum around the farm, keeping me company, and I get my eye on them, which we’ll chat about in a bit, I think.

Melissa Breau: To jump right in, are there benefits to having set goals for our dog sports?

Andrea Harrison: There are so many benefits to goal setting, and I think when we’re talking about dog sports, one of the really important things to remember is goals can actually give you power. And I don’t mean power in a dictator sense in an all-controlling way. I mean power of ourselves. Power of understanding that we are good enough and strong enough and competent enough. So many of us in dog training land look to someone else and admire them, and wish we were them, and perhaps have a little envy or jealousy. The goal setting that we do can give us the strength to do our own thing, to manage our own expectations, to create training plans, to create competitive goals, all of those kinds of things.

So when I talk to people about goal setting, I try to remember to focus on goals, and FOCUS is one of my silly acronyms I like to use. The F stands for facing the present. You never want to dwell on the past, and you never want to just dream of the future. Goals give you the opportunity to focus on and face the present moment, because you look at where you are right now and determine what your goals will be. They let you offer a vision, so you decide, are your goals going to be around structure and plans, or are your goals going to be around skills and those sorts of things. So they give you that vision through offering it to you. C I think of as being for clarity. Goals will bring you clarity around what you want to do. If you want to train your dog to do draft titles and you get yourself sucked into doing obedience fronts, that’s not going to be that helpful to you. So if you have good goals, you’ll find it’s easier to find clarity around what to do and those steps to build. I use the U for understanding the choices and priorities that you make. Say you’re looking at what class to take next term at Fenzi, as an example. We all know it’s hard to pick. There are so many great choices and we get ourselves spun. If you’d taken the time and done some goal setting, you can actually see which of the classes will help you move forward with your goals and which of the classes that you need. So to be able to understand the choices and set your own priorities can be really important too and really beneficial. And then of course when you achieve your goals, you get both success and satisfaction from them.

People laugh at me when I say one of the reasons to goal set is to reach success and satisfaction, but it’s so important. So many people don’t internalize their own worth, and if goals give you a way to internalize your worth and feel better about yourself, that’s a really good thing. So I think goal setting is a really important skill to develop, and I think it can add a lot to us as multi-dimensional positive dog trainers.

Melissa Breau: To reiterate that acronym one more time: F is facing the present, O is offering vision, C is clarity, U is understanding, S is success and satisfaction.

Andrea Harrison: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. That’s great. I think that’s really helpful for people to have that to keep in mind as they go through that process.

Andrea Harrison: Exactly, and that’s the thing. It gives you a way to break it down to remember it, because you’re like, “Oh, goal-setting, it’s too much work and you have to think too hard.” You know, you wake up in the morning and drive to work, and you start thinking about a goal, and the phone rings or whatever, and you get distracted. Why would you go back to it? Well, focus. Remember FOCUS and focus on those goals.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. I think people probably set goals that require their dogs to learn new skills when it comes to dog training, or to achieve specific things, like in their first OTCH or what have you… but since we’re relying on another being, our dogs, what special considerations should we be keeping in mind as we set those goals?

Andrea Harrison: Such an important question, and I think the thing I want all of my students, and I hope all of the FDSA students and everybody listening, to remember is that the dogs don’t get a say in the goals we set for them.

My little Chihuahua, Thea, I wanted her to do agility. She’s a Chihuahua, she weighs 6 pounds, agility was not really her thing. She’s quick, she’s a character, she bombs around the field, but every different teeter I put her on dropped at a different rate of speed, even though they’re not supposed to, and she had a couple of quite scary fly-offs. What I did was I started running her in classes that didn’t have a teeter. My goal maybe was to do some more advanced agility titles with her, but my goal was to enjoy agility with her, and she did very, very well as long as she wasn’t getting on strange teeters. Strange teeters were scary for her, and they were dangerous, and because I didn’t let my own personal goals supersede her need to be safe, it allowed us to both enjoy a sport I really love.

So you’ve got to remember the dog didn’t get a say in your goal. If you would run if you were sore and achy, but your dog is sore and achy, it might not be a good day to run, because your dog doesn’t have the same goals as you.

When you look at that, you alluded to it earlier, too, this concept I talk about all the time, the difference between a process goal and an outcome goal. The outcome goal is getting the OTCH, it’s getting the ribbon, it’s going to Nationals, it’s coming first at Nationals for on the podium or whatever, it’s those big sort of ribbon goals. That’s what I think of when I talk about outcome goals. And process goals are all the little steps that get you there. So a process goal might be training at least three times a week, or teaching my dog to find three different scents, or all of this sort of step-building goals. So when you’re thinking about dog training, make sure that you’re remembering to build more process goals than outcome goals. I’m not opposed to outcome goals, but the process goals will help you and your dog reach the outcome goal anyhow, and they’re a little bit fairer for your dog, given that your dog doesn’t have a say in the goal setting.

The weekend warriors who say, “I’m going to a trial on Sunday, and I’m going to start training Friday night, and training like mad Friday and Saturday,” they’re not doing themselves nor their dogs any favors by that kind of goal setting. A systematic method of goal setting that includes process goals as an actually defined piece of the process are going to get you much, much further than just ping-ponging around from outcome goal to outcome goal and getting frustrated when you and your dog aren’t achieving them the way you want.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned outcome and process goals, and you got a little bit into my next question, which is how can people be smart about the goals they set for themselves and their dogs? Is there more you want to get into there?

Andrea Harrison: Well, yeah, because I think you want to remember that process goals allow you to learn. Through the mistakes that you make, through the opportunities that you get through process, through watching what happens, that lets you learn the most from the goal-setting process. Outcome goals are around performance and they’re important too, but outcome goals really are an opportunity to perform and show what you know. So when you’re thinking about smart training, it’s about picking the model goal setting that’s going to work best for you.

I’m always happy to share, there are hundreds of different kinds of goal setting models, but a really easy one is the smart goal setting. You hear about it all the time, and that’s another acronym that’s been around forever. There are some issues with it, but for people who have never goal set before, it can be a good place to start. It looks at having specific goals that are measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, and those are each of the smart: S-M-A-R-T. And so a specific goal would be: I want Dora to do a dog walk. Measurable: Can she do a dog walk when I’m standing behind, at the side, or recalling her over it to me? Is that achievable for her? Yeah, she’s confident on all kinds of shaky surfaces, she’s absolutely fine with that. Is it relevant? Well, I like agility, so yeah, for me it is. Is it timely? Yeah, she’s a mature little dog, she’s still young enough to be fit, all of those kinds of things. So smart goals can give you a nice framework. It can be an intelligent way to look at goal setting.

You want to make sure that you’re making your goals positive, that you can choose to be positive about your goals and make them changing and affirming, as opposed to negative in things that you’re likely to fail at. Some people will set a goal of “I don’t want my dog to bark at strangers.” That’s a good goal: I don’t want my dog to bark at strangers. A better goal for many of the goal setting experts would be to frame it as “I want my dog to walk quietly beside me down the street.” So you can take that negative goal and turn it into a positive goal. That’s one thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to be intelligent about how you goal set.

Also think about making intrinsic goals. When we get into goal setting, we often set our goals for someone else. So we might think, Oh the breeder would love it if I had a versatility title on this dog, or My husband says I’m spending so much money on dog training; I really should bring home some ribbons to show for it, or whatever. We intrinsically tend to set our goals, and that’s why I like process goals, too — because they remind us to remember to be internal, set our goals in an intrinsic sense. You need to goal set for yourself. Not wholly — balance is OK — but make sure that you’ve got that balance, that you’re remembering that you matter in this goal-setting regime that you’re setting up, too.

Melissa Breau: So for those out there, it’s SMART: specific measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Was that it?

Andrea Harrison: Correct, yeah.

Melissa Breau: All right. I’m taking notes as we go through so I can remember some of the acronyms.

Andrea Harrison: You’re good! The acronyms — not everybody does them. They may or may not work for you, and that’s fine. But I’m finding more and more people the acronyms help them hang on to stuff. That one I did not come up with, but I’m trying to create other ones around some of the work that I do to help people who are figuring that stuff out.

Melissa Breau: It helps it stick in your head when you can remember a single word and you go, “Oh wait, I’m missing something, what was the M again, OK.” So, I know that they say something like 80% of New Year’s resolutions tend to fail by February – I wanted to address that a little bit. How can people who set a goal for themselves — a good goal for themselves, following the guidelines you laid out — how can they stay motivated past February, hopefully all the way through the year?

Andrea Harrison: A few things, and we’re lucky with our FDSA community because we’ve got a natural accountability system, partnership. If you’re working on your TEAM titles, you’ve got the TEAM group. If you’re working in a class and working through your bronze, you can post in your local group. There are lots of opportunities for that, and that’s a really important thing. People need to remember to do that.

But one of the things is to take your time and plan your goal. So here we are sitting on December 26 or whatever, and this will come out at the end of the week with hardly any time before New Year’s to do our goal. People will be like, “Oh my god, I didn’t goal set yet! I want to goal set!” And they’ll jump into it and … don’t. Stop, take your time, reflect around what matters to you, talk to an instructor you like or a training buddy already, and figure out what realistic goals are. If we set unrealistic goals, we will fail. We’re setting ourselves up to fail when we do that. You’re much better to invest the front-end time into making your goals realistic and appropriate for you, and attainable for you in the moment — and we can talk more about that — but make sure that you’ve got a way to plan those goals that are sensible for you.

Then make sure you’ve got a system to record-keep, so you know if you’re meeting those goals or not, or where you’ve got some holes, the accountability piece. I suggest people take the occasional goals class just to build in a little bit higher degree of accountability. If they haven’t tried it yet, it can be a really good thing. An in-person a class, if you’re in an area where that’s possible. Something to look forward to. For me, I like going to clinics and seminars sometimes just to remind myself. It reminds me to try and make sure I’m ready for it, and I think that can be a helpful thing.

Identify and accept your flaws when you’re thinking about motivation. Not all of us are equally good at things. If your February’s going to be crazy and you get derailed a little bit, that’s OK. You don’t need to be perfect every day, all the time. If your flaw is that you train in short, intense bursts, make sure your goal reflects that you’re better off training intensely six days and then taking four days off, or whatever it is. So know who you are. Spend a little bit of time identifying who you are as well.

And then, of course, with motivation you always want to know which of direction, intensity, and persistence are your downfall. Direction is your developing the plan, intensity is how often you’ll do it, and persistence is how long you’ll stick with it. If you know which of those three things is your biggest issue in motivation, it can help you figure out how to overcome that. Even sometimes knowing just that that’s your hole, you can be like, “Ah, I just can’t get off the couch tonight. Oh, wait, my direction’s failing me and I set those goals on purpose. Let me get up and go to it.” Or “I trained three times last week. I’m not going to train this week at all. Wait a minute. That’s persistence. I need to get up and get back to it.” So often, just by understanding ourselves, we set ourselves up to be more successful, in this particular regard, anyways.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned setting goals that are attainable for you in the moment. Do you want to go into that just a little bit more, since it came up?

Andrea Harrison: Sure. Attainable for you. So what I’m saying is, if you want … you said your OTCH, and that’s a huge deal in obedience. I hadn’t realized until I started working with somebody who’s well on her way to it. She wanted her OTCH, and she and I spent quite a long time figuring out what her realistic timeline was for it, because so much of that is out of your direct control. You can’t say you will get that in six shows, because it depends on who else is at your show, or twenty shows or whatever it is from where you start. So you have to make sure you build in a little bit of what I would call a buffer. So you think it would take you twenty trials to get it from where you are right now, I would say to you, “Give yourself thirty shots at it.” If you get there faster than you thought, that’s OK. It’s good. No problem. You can always adjust a goal. Goals are highly adjustable. They’re designed to be adjustable. So if you’re reaching it already, that’s great. But if you had said to yourself you’re going to get your OTCH in fifteen, and you needed every one of those fifteen trials to be completely successful and win the class and all that stuff, then you’re going to be really disappointed when you get to trial 14 and you realize you actually still need 13 trials. You’re going to feel like a huge failure.

So you want to make sure that when you’re setting attainable goals, and that’s one of the reasons I said talk to your instructors and your friends, because sometimes we get rosy-colored glasses. We’re like, “Oh, oh, oh, I can do this! I can do this! This is great!” And then somebody will say, “Mmm, you know, three months isn’t a lot of time when you live in a place where …” — well, for me, there’s major snow — “ … you might get snowed in and not be able to get to a trial.” “Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.” You have to make the whole picture, and the more people you can draw into helping you with that, the easier it’s going to be for you in the long run.

Melissa Breau: The other thing you mentioned was record keeping, and I know that’s a topic that comes up over and over again in the alumni group, that whole tracking your training process, or your training progress, and how to do it, and what are the advantages of it. People share their whiteboards, or their bullet journals, or all sorts of stuff. So I wanted to ask what recommendations do you have for people interested in tracking their progress or coming up with a system?

Andrea Harrison: I love this question because it goes right to the heart of me, because my answer is, it depends, and it depends on what works for you. You can set up a really, really simple system that is literally putting a plus, a minus, a plus — it went really well — a minus — it wasn’t such a great day — or a big fat zero with a line through it that you didn’t train at all that day. You can do that on a calendar on the wall in your kitchen, and that is record keeping. That’s legitimate record keeping. You can say to yourself, “I’m going to video every session I do on Friday nights.” And whenever you remember to train on Friday night, you video it. That’s record keeping. Those are legitimate forms of record keeping, and they might be what you want to do. That’s simple, simple, simple, and it’s fine.

You might want to do something a little more medium, where you’ve got a blog going, or you’ve started a tiny little Facebook group with you and two of your friends and you share your successes, or you write on the backs of agility maps how the run went when you show. I had a book full of maps. I still use them. I still set up training based on my book of maps, and I love them. I remember most of my courses that way. There are so many sorts of medium. You might videotape twice a week, or every time you teach something new, or lots of those sorts of things.

And then there are really complex systems, like you mentioned bullet journaling. Bullet journaling’s hot, hot, hot. People love it. It’s great. It’s pretty. Lots of people disappoint themselves because they set up these beautiful bullet journals and then they don’t keep them. They’re colorful. They’re great. If it works for you and you love it, great. If you set it up your own way, set it up your own way. You don’t have to do it the way anybody else tells you to. It’s for you. It’s tracking what you want to track. People get confused, like, “Should I have my grocery lists and my dog training in the same journal?” It’s up to you. If you want to have your grocery lists and your dog training in the same journal, go for it. If you want to have every dog having their own separate folder, go for it. If it doesn’t work for you, you won’t use it. With record keeping, almost more than anything else I teach, it has to work for you. So start simply successfully and build from there.

The last chat I saw they weren’t sharing them, but people share the most beautiful Excel programs that they’ve set up with the exercises and the dogs and the colors. We’ve got some really, really talented people in our group who are happy to share stuff, so I love seeing that conversation come up. I sit back now because people know I’ve got folders and folders of bookmarks and stuff, but people are all doing all kinds of different things, and if it works for you, great. If it isn’t working for you, don’t beat yourself up. Stop, think, try something else. There’s no failure in not setting up a record-keeping system that works for you the first time you try, or the second time, or the fiftieth time. My record keeping has changed so much over the last 15 years of dog training. I can’t even tell you all the different systems I’ve used, because they’re different times in my life. It’s busier and less busy, so I work and I do it and it’s great, but it has to work for you in that moment.

Melissa Breau: You touched on this a little bit in there, but I know for a lot of people, the hardest part of all of that — achieving a goal, tracking it, anything — is when something happens and they miss a day, or life intervenes and maybe they miss a few days… so I wanted to address that too. How can people recover if they do fall off the bandwagon, or if they wake up one morning and realize they have gotten off track and haven’t been working on their goal the way they originally envisioned?

Andrea Harrison: It’s such an important thing. I mean, life happens to us all. No matter how good your goals are, no matter how clear your vision is, life happens. I had a relative diagnosed with cancer, got a call at a trial, left the trial, didn’t do competitive agility for four months, that was just my reality. I beat myself up about it — this was a long time ago — I beat myself up about it and was really upset and mad at the money and the training and all of that. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. I went back to agility, loved it, hit my podium finishes, and did just fine. You have to accept that those sort of throwaway days will happen. Sometimes it’s a throwaway week or a throwaway month.

We do this for fun. The dog sports are about fun, and if we’re in a place where it isn’t fun, we need to stop and regroup and rethink and plan it out. Imperfect action, though, is better than no action, so if you find that you’re stalling out just because you’ve had a few bad days and you don’t know how to get going again, grab a toy and go play, grab a clicker and go teach something, watch a shaping video and try it yourself. Do something. I would rather see someone take imperfect action than just be stalled. If there is a place for that. If there is no place for you mentally, that’s OK too, but it’s a separate issue right there.

There are two reasons life happens to us: one is we can’t overcome it, and one is we get so down on ourselves we can’t. And when you’re that down on yourself, remind yourself of why you’re doing it. Put a picture of a ribbon … hang a ribbon on your bathroom door so you’ll see the ribbon and be like, “Oh yeah, I want to do that.” Put Denise’s book right front and center and think about telling her that what you’re actually achieving that day. Jump on the FDSA thing and say, “Hey, I’m feeling down,” and I guarantee you fifty people are going to say, “Hey, it’s OK. I’ve been there too.” We’ve all been there. Get out there and get training. Have fun with your dog. Use those days to reclaim.

I talked a little bit earlier about power, goals giving us power. Those days actually give you a funny sort of backwards opportunity to reclaim that power, because you’re busy feeling down about yourself, and if you can get yourself to train for just five minutes … I’m not talking about a great training plan that catches up on all the process goals that you missed last week. I’m saying spend five minutes doing something with your dog. That gives you that little bit of power back, and then you can go on and do a little bit of power again so you can build. Take one tiny, tiny, small, imperfect step forward when it’s not working very well, and then you will find that you will be able to make sense of it.

If your training is getting derailed, though, and that’s why you have stopped, that’s OK, and that’s important to stop and redress. You want to look at your goals and make sure they are in fact realistic and measurable and achievable for you in that time, and relevant to what you want to do, and you might need to regroup and change your goals a bit. Sometimes when we get stalled out it’s because the goals we’re working on aren’t really the goals we should be working on. So remember that nothing could be a good choice in that situation. So you’ve gotten really mad at your dog the night before and you’ve done something you aren’t proud of, then you might need to stop and regroup and reassess what your goals are, and that’s OK too. Again, you’re a human being. We’re all human beings. We’re not perfect.

Melissa Breau: You said something in there that I love, and it’s just that idea that we do this to have fun with our dogs, and ultimately if that’s not happening, something’s wrong, and it’s worth taking some time off for rethinking those goals or looking at things again. I just think that’s important for people to hear and to recognize. I just like that line.

Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s so important. To me, it’s the heart of why I do what I do. My dogs are the good thing in my life, and I know that’s true for many of us. So I’m glad it resonated with you.

Melissa Breau: Despite our best efforts, sometimes we just don’t achieve our goals. It just doesn’t happen. Do you have any tips for when that happens, handling it, handling the disappointment and those feelings of having failed, or of failure?

Andrea Harrison: Of course I do! This is my bread and butter! This is what I do. And I can hear half my students laughing, going, “Oh, I know what she’s going to say.” I’ve got some new stuff for some of you coming up, I promise. But when that happens to you, I want you to really stop and think, is this goal too much for you right now? And if it is too much for you, that’s OK.

I often teach people to frame their goals around “at leasts.” Instead of saying, “I’m going to train five times a week,” we’d much rather someone say, “I’m going to train at least four times a week.” You set your goal for what you think it is, and then you backup a step. And then, if you find you’re only training three times a week, you say, “I’m going to actually train at least twice a week.” So as soon as you start to feel that sense of disappointment and failure, reword your goal, rework your goal a little bit, and give yourself a bit of a break.

I already talked that we are humans. You need to balance that fun in the work piece. You want to make sure that fun and work are in good balance. In my blog you’ll see I strike out training and work. Years and years ago I started striking them out and put play, because really that’s what I do. I play with my dogs, and we get some training done, and we have lots of fun doing it. That’s been a very basic philosophy of mine for a long, long time. So that balance is super-important.

Here’s a growth mindset. We can have these fixed minds. That’s where we think this thing is going to be the way it is forever, and our brains are really very changing, they’ve got great plasticity, they’re very accommodating, so remember that, and remember not yet doesn’t mean never. I love that we use “not yet” in the Team stuff, because it’s so true in all of life. If you didn’t get that cue that you wanted, it doesn’t mean you’re never going to get that cue. It means you didn’t get that cue right then — not yet. So not yet is not never.

And mistakes are learning. I say it all the time, and I feel like it’s so trite to say it, but it’s so true. Look for the learning in the mistake that you make and embrace it. You aren’t going to get the opportunity to learn that any other way other than through the mistake you made. If it’s an error of enthusiasm, as I like to call them, that’s great. Celebrate it. If it’s another kind of error, if you over-trained your dog and they’re tired at the trial, or you set up beside the wrong dog and your dog snarked at them and you were asked to leave the show — which is terrible, but it happens — then you know, OK, I need to be more careful about where I set up the next time. No matter how big and bad and awful it feels in that moment, Andrea’s Rule of Five, kick it in: Is it going to matter in five minutes, five hours, five days, five years? At what point is this thing not going to have such a devastating impact on you?

We take things so very, very personally sometimes, and ultimately it really isn’t personal. Most of what happens around us is not personal to us. Even our own failures in some way are just circumstances happening to us. Bad things happen to good people, and if it’s a bad thing, I’m sorry, and I’ll be commiserating, but I’m not going to say to you, “This is the end of the world,” because in all likelihood it probably isn’t.

Melissa Breau: I think the other piece of goal setting that we haven’t touched on is the pressure that sometimes comes with trying to achieve big goals. If someone is feeling stressed out about what they want to achieve, how can they manage that in a way that’s healthy and not destructive or beating up on themselves?

Andrea Harrison: That’s a really good question, and it’s so important to access your toolbox Most of my classes talk about a toolbox, and these few things I’m thinking of as we chat are things that try them out, test them, see if they work for you. If they work, put them in the top drawer of your toolbox so you can use them when you feel stressed and pressured.

Of course I’ve talked about breathing before, I think, and there are two easy breathing techniques. I am, where you breath in and you think I am, and as you breathe out, you think the good thought, so I am a good dog trainer, I am confident, I am successful. Whatever any of those things are, that I am breathing is very useful. Count breathing can also calm your nerves because it makes you focus. It’s a mindfulness practice. You breathe in for a count of four and breathe out for a count of five, so it goes in, two, three, four, out, six, seven, eight, nine. If you can’t breathe for that long, you can do it shorter. Breathe in one count less than you breathe out, so you could breathe in, two, three, out five, six, seven. That can really calm you down quite quickly and give you a thing...

Write down what you’re worried about. Write it out and then tear it up into tiny little strips of paper, or burn it, gives you great satisfaction sometimes, if it’s safe. If you’re frustrated or you’re angry about something, that can be a very helpful tool. Write it down.

Throw a dance party for yourself. You’re mad, you’re grumpy, you’re unhappy, you’re sad, whatever. Crank up a tune you love and bop around the house. Your dog will think you’re nuts, your spouse might think you’re nuts, but get your frustration out. Shake it off.

A grounding thing people can try when you’re absolutely shaking you’re so upset, think about how your feet are touching the ground. Really feel your feet. And in fact you can teach yourself to use that as an anchoring thing when you’re standing still and you can’t get away. For most of us, movement is a release, just like with our dogs. So if you can move, it’s going to help more. You can shake your hands, or push your arms together, or any one of those things. But if you can’t do any of that and you have to just stand there, really concentrate on how your toes are touching in your shoes, and your shoes are pressing into the floor, and feel that root to the ground. That can be a really nice tool.

I talked briefly about my Rule of Five already. You can strike a pose, very Ann Cuddy, power person. I had lots of fun talking about striking Wonder Woman poses and various poses in mirrors. Go sneak into a bathroom, strike a power pose, and then away you go. That can just root you and reground you a little bit.

Another one I like is something I call “traffic light.” When you’re getting tense and fried and upset, think about a traffic light. Red: stop. Amber: think about it and make a plan. Green: try your plan. It’s a very quick way to just go “traffic light,” and you can actually run through it in, like, 10 seconds sometimes, from red to green, and then reset yourself. It’s just a way to reset, and then of course reframe, and whatever’s going on can be really helpful, too, when you’re feeling really stressed out. I’m stressed, but I’m remembering to do my breathing exercise. I’m stressed, but Andrea would tell me I’m learning from this. Somebody messaged me once, I laughed and said, “Did it work?” And they said, “Yes, it did.” So however you can reframe it. I didn’t have a really good show, but I got out of housecleaning today. Whatever it is that will work for you, go ahead and steal it and use it. Reframing can be a very useful tool.

But the thing about all of these tools, Melissa, I wouldn’t want anyone to forget is they all take practice. You can’t just grab one on the fly and go, “Yeah, yeah, I like that ‘feel your feet’ thing,” and try to do it only when you’re stressed. If it’s something that you think might work for you, start trying it now, like any of my tools. I’ve got hundreds, and I just picked out a few, and I picked out some ones that I hadn’t shared in classes very often, if at all, but just to do something a little bit different. But if you don’t practice them, they will not work for you in a stressful situation.

Melissa Breau: So more to Amy’s concept for her management class for managing dogs: you have to practice with the dog so that it becomes second nature before you actually need it in the moment. Same idea. Works on us, too.

Andrea Harrison: Exactly, exactly. We’re all mammals.

Melissa Breau: So I know you touch on a lot of these topics in your “Handle This” class, which is on the calendar for February – and I wanted to ask you to share a little bit about the class and tell students what’s in it, tell students what might make them want to take it, that kind of thing.

Andrea Harrison: Good question. You know, it’s a funny class. When I first developed it, I thought it would be one of the very most popular classes, and it’s one of the most intense classes that I teach — and I teach lots of intense classes. People think hard in my classes and I always apologize, “I’m sorry, you’re thinking,” and they’re always, “No, it’s good, it’s good.” “But I didn’t mean to make you think that hard!”

One of the things we get into is creating a master plan, so whatever it is that you’ve gotten that you want to figure out how to handle. Lots of people come because they’re still really nervous in the ring. It was set up to be a follow-up course to All In Your Head, but you don’t have to have done All In Your Head anymore to do it. I’ve figured out how to work through without having to have it. So lots of people who are nervous come into it, or lots of people who are struggling with trial situations, but there are also now lots of people who are just trying to figure out how to get to a show, so they don’t even know if they’re going to be nervous or not yet because they haven’t gone to a show yet.

It’s become, as well as the nerves piece, it’s become setting up a master plan, like, how are you going to get from where you are to where you want to be, applying all of the different things that have come up in Denise’s class, and Hannah’s class, and all the different classes that you’ve taken. How are we going to marry them all together into a vision of success for you? There’s a lot about change, and being realistic, and adapting to change, and dealing with stressors that come up in your life, but if I was going to give you the one thing, I think it’s that ability to create a master plan to bring in lots of different elements.

And it’s kind of cool because my classes, people come to them from lots of different sports. I have a barn hunt person, a scent work person, an obedience person, an agility person, a drafting person. I usually get lots and lots of variety in the classes, dock diving people have shown up in my classes... so you get to see how all these different sports create these master plans, and sometimes you’re able to use ideas from different threads that you can carry over to your sport. So I really like that about my classes. I think it’s a quite cool way to do it.

The other class I’m running this semester is Unleash Personal Potential, which is the Gold-only class, which is basically whatever people want to do works. The lectures are just around mindfulness, but people do exactly what they want, so we might have somebody trying to peak for performance in March, or somebody who wants to know how to help their boyfriend like their dogs better, or somebody who wants to get a job in a dog-related field. Lots and lots of different things have come up in the class, and it’s a lot of fun too. It’s Gold only, and you have to have taken some class from me at some level to get into it.

Melissa Breau: Alright, I have one final question for you, Andrea… I wanted to ask you if you have any dog-related resolutions or goals that you’re planning on trying to achieve in the next year — at least any that you care to share?

Andrea Harrison: Great question. I always have goals, and I didn’t … I don’t think I blogged about it yet this year. If you look at December in my blog, you can see my goals most years. My goal for Sally and Thea is to keep them as healthy and happy as possible. Sally’s almost 12 and Thea’s 15, and they both have some chronic disease issues that mean they probably shouldn’t still be with us. So that’s my goal for the old guys. But the cobbler’s children, the two young dogs I’ve got, Dora and Yen, I’m quite determined to get Yen going, and I haven’t quite decided whether that means in public doing scent work or agility, or maybe both. She’s quite good at both. She’s a little flying squirrel, so I’ve got to figure out how to manage the flying squirrel, but apart from that, that’s my goal with her. Dora, I would like very much, because she’s feral and quite reactive and quite a character, I’m going to continue working on some of my online stuff. She’s working on her trick titles and has been doing quite well at them. I was thinking of adding parkour to it as well. And then personally, because I like agility and she likes agility, we’ll do some agility at home, because one of my real goals is to get out and keep doing some personal growth stuff for me, so attending some seminars, attending some workshops. I hope I’m going to be, if I’m invited, driving down to camp for one night, and hanging out for the afternoon and overnight and the morning after. That’s my intention, so to get to camp to see everybody. That’s actually high on the list of my personal dog goals. And yeah, I think it will be a fun year. I’m looking forward to doing lots of stuff. We’re also planning on holding an Iron Dog competition here at the farm. So that will be something new for me.

Melissa Breau: Oh, fun!

Andrea Harrison: We’re going to run one, I think, and a couple of FDSA students have offered to help, and I think it’ll be great, so I’m looking forward to setting that up. We have over 200 acres, including a lovely hill that’s quite steep, so we’re going to have options where you can do the Iron Dog thing or do a training thing. You choose your option, so that people will get different points for doing it, and it’ll be a little less of a physical challenge if you choose to do the training options all the way along. A nice walk with some training walks. So there’s lots going on in my life I’m looking forward to in a doggy sense for 2018.

Melissa Breau: I certainly hope you make it to camp, and do you want to mention where you’re located, in case there’s anybody listening who’s close enough to come out for the dog event?

Andrea Harrison: Oh yeah, yeah. I’m in Prince Edward County in Ontario, so in between Ottawa and Toronto, pretty well halfway in between Toronto and Ottawa, so a pretty, pretty part of the world. Lots of wineries and craft breweries and art galleries, and lots of things for spouses to do while you play with your dog in the morning. We’re a hotbed of tourism here. Oh, and you know something else I forgot to mention when we were talking about when you’re down and out and you can’t think of how to get going again, people would be more than welcome to pull one of my task cards out of the deck, so I will make sure I send you a link for how they can get a task card to re-motivate themselves.

Melissa Breau: Perfect. And just because I know you mentioned your blog earlier, and I’m assuming that would be the best place to get more info on the Iron Dog stuff, but correct me if I’m wrong, do you want to mention what your website is?

Andrea Harrison: It’s a blogspot. It’s Andrea Agility Addict at blogspot, and you’ll find it quickly. It’s got really good SEO, despite the fact that I’ve done no work on it, Melissa, you’d be proud of me.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. I will include a link to it in the show notes for anybody who wants to go check that out.

Andrea Harrison: Perfect.
Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, Andrea. I’m really glad you could come back on, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better time to talk goals, so thank you.

Andrea Harrison: It’s always a pleasure talking to you, Melissa, either on- or offline. I love our conversations, and I always feel like I’ve learned lots too, so thank you so much.

Melissa Breau: And thank you, to all of our listeners for tuning in, both this week and every week this year. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amy Cook to talk about the science of dog training.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Dec 22, 2017

SUMMARY:

For our one year anniversary we're releasing a special edition of the podcast... a compilation of some of the most popular clips from the year in an extra long bonus episode. I hope you enjoy!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today I’m here with Teri Martin -- for those of you who don’t know her, Teri is Denise’s right hand woman; she handles setting up the classes for all of you each session, plays tech support, and is the main organizer for camp each year.

Teri and I will be doing something a little different this episode… roughly a year ago today, December 23rd, I launched our very first episode, which was an interview with Denise Fenzi.

To celebrate our anniversary, today we’re going to reshare some of the more memorable moments from the last year. But before we dive into that, Teri is here with me to talk a little about the plans for FDSA Training Camp 2018.

Welcome to the podcast Teri! Excited to have you co-hosting this special episode with me.  

Teri Martin: Thanks, Melissa. Happy to be here.

Melissa Breau: Alright, to start us out, do you want to just remind everyone when and where camp is going to be next year?

Teri Martin: Camp is going to be June 1st to 3rd, that’s a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and it’s going to be at the Roberts Centre/Eukanuba Hall in Wilmington, Ohio. I’m super excited about the venue. It’s going to have six different rings running and it’s going to be amazing.

Melissa Breau: I’m super excited because it’s the first year that it’s been close enough that I can drive, so I can bring a working dog, and I have a puppy, so can’t beat that.

Teri Martin: Cool.

Melissa Breau: How does registration work? I know it’s a little complicated and people tend to ask questions.

Teri Martin: Working spot registration is complicated. The regular stuff isn’t. Working spot are given priority registration, so there are two phases for those. The first one is Phase 1, and it’s going to open on January 8th at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. If you have eight or more courses at any level in FDSA, you will get an invitation to register for that phase. After that, we have Phase 2, which is for people who have four or more courses at any level. That will start January 10th. And then after that we open it to everybody. I should add that auditing is also available and you don’t need to register super early for that, but we do suggest you do at least fairly soon, but it’s not going to be the same as the demand for the working spots.

Melissa Breau: Can they start registering for that on the 8th, did you say?

Teri Martin: If you’re eight or more, then it will start on the 8th, and if you’re four or more it starts on the 2nd. And then general registration opens on the 15th.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. Where do people go for the official schedule and all the additional information that you’ve got out?

Teri Martin: Go to the FDSA website and it’s up on there under “More FDSA Education.” You will see a link for the training camp and all the information is there.

Melissa Breau: All right, last one -- what is your favorite thing about camp?

Teri Martin: Oh, so many things. For so many of us it’s getting to see all these people that we feel that we’ve formed these friendships with, and it’s just like you’re greeting an old friend that you haven’t seen for so long. And those instructors are exactly the same way as they appear when they’re giving you advice. They’re friendly and warm and funny and fabulous. So it’s just the sense of bringing that whole community together in real life and getting all inspired to go home and train your dog.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I’m so looking forward to it. It’s been an amazing experience the last few years being able to attend as a volunteer, and so I’m totally looking forward to seeing things from the other side!

Teri Martin: We’re going to miss having you as a volunteer, though.

Melissa Breau: I’ll be back next year. Do you want to introduce our first clip, or should I?

Teri Martin: (something about the question I asked that led to this -- how Denise’s training philosophy has influenced other aspects of her life -- maybe “First up is that first episode, an interview with Denise, from when you asked her…” ).

I think it’s pretty appropriate that we start with our fearless leader Denise. I think you had a question in the very first episode where you asked her how her training philosophy has influenced other aspects in her life, and for me that just totally sets the ground for how this whole wonderful school and the sense of community that surrounds it has come to be.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Let’s play that clip.

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Denise Fenzi: 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.

But I remember our first outings to restaurants when they were smaller, and if they said they would order for themselves, and they would say please and show nice manners, the second that person would walk away from the table I would say to my husband who’d be there, “I am so proud that we have kids who are so respectful and have such good manners. It makes me happy to go places with them.” And you could almost see the difference the next time that opportunity came up again, you could almost see them go just a little bit further with their good manners.

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 happens I really work 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, so 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.

But it is a short-lived and negative form of emotion, and in the long run it leaves you feeling worse about the world. Whereas when you take the time to think about things from somebody else’s point of view, I find that that leads to an understanding, and honestly it makes my life a lot better. It makes me a more pleasant and happy person, so that has a lot of value.

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Melissa Breau: I think that one has really stuck with me. I think it’s really influenced what FDSA is and how it works, too.

Teri Martin: A little-known fun fact about all of that: As you know, we have a really active Facebook group that’s been so much of this community, and that started way back in November 2013, which was maybe two sessions in. There was a group of us that had taken both of these courses and were totally all excited about the FDSA thing and wanted to start a Facebook group. So I pushed Denise about it, and she was like, “Oh, you know, I’ve had so many bad experiences with groups. People get really nasty and mean, and I just don’t want to have that. Well, you guys can go ahead, if that’s what you want to do, but I don’t want to be part of it.” and then she comes back about a week later and she says, “You know what, I thought it over and I think this is actually a pretty good thing, so let’s go for it.” And from there on, the rest is history.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, think about how big a part that plays in the community today. It’s huge.

Teri Martin: Yes. And another fun fact is she has to be really nice to me, because I can actually kick her out of the group because I’m the original founder.

Melissa Breau: That’s funny. Since you brought up the early days, for our next clip let’s use the clip I have from Amy Cook, where she shares how she became one of the first instructors here at FDSA.

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Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you too about the early days of FDSA because I believe, I think you actually told me that you were one of the first teachers that Denise brought on at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. So I was really curious to get some of your impressions on how you think it’s changed and kind of what happened when she initially approached you.

Amy Cook: Oh, boy. You know, it was standing in the right place at the right time, I swear. You know, she had taught online elsewhere and decided to do this endeavor, and I was just…I’m pretty sure I was just finishing grad school and saying, well, I guess I’m going back to dog training. I wasn’t sure what I had in store, I’ll just revamp or ramp up my business again, fine. And I can remember, I was standing near a freezer in her garage and I can’t exactly remember how it came up but she said, “We have a behavior arm, could you teach what you teach, teach a class in what you do?”

Boy, I felt…the answer was both yes and no. The answer is no because I’ve never done that, but the answer is yes because well, it has to be possible, right? Sure. I’ll certainly try it. I really wanted to do something like that. But for a second there I was like, really? Behavior? Behavior, though. I mean, behavior. It’s complicated. People are all over the place. Dogs are behaving all over the place. It’s a lot to…how will I do this online?

But I had faith. She really had vision early on for how this was going to go and we brainstormed, I was really excited about it. She actually came up with the title of the class, Dealing with the Bogeyman, that’s hers. She’s like, let’s call it that. I was like, sure. It was exciting. It was exciting times and I was really just like, well, I’m happy to run a class and see what I can do for people. If it’s something I don’t feel is resulting in improvements that are reasonable for the dogs I’m helping then it’s not right, then online is more suited for skill-based stuff and not so much the concepts or the complicated behaviors.

I shouldn’t have been afraid because it’s been amazing.

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Teri Martin: It’s just so cool how all this online stuff works. There was a conversation elsewhere about this with Amy where she said she couldn’t believe how much her online students progressed. They get to digest all their information on their own time frame, they get their feedback quickly, they can take the time to set up the scenarios properly so they don’t get dogs overwhelmed, and can ask daily questions of the instructor. That’s just so more efficient than meeting once every two weeks. So it’s really a great way to work behaviour stuff.  

Melissa Breau: I think that was on her blog, where she wrote about the impact of online training.

Teri Martin: I know it’s come up a few times, so it very well could be in her blog.

Melissa Breau: Not only is it an awesome way for people to train where they can set up scenarios and whatnot, but because it’s online, it lets our students learn from some of the best trainers in the world, no matter where they live, it gives them access to these training concepts that maybe haven’t quite become widespread enough for there to be classes on those topics locally. I think a good example of that is Julie Flanery’s Imitation and Mimicry class. It’s this really interesting concept that I couldn’t imagine a local trainer trying to run a class on that. They’d be scrounging up students left and right. So I want to make sure we include a clip of her explaining that concept from her interview back in May.

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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 worked 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...Teri’s added it to the schedule for August, and so I’m really excited about doing it all over again.

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Melissa Breau: I love that our instructors are really well versed in such a wide variety of animal-related training and research.

Teri Martin: No kidding! I think there’s been tons of podcasts where you’ve had discussions about all sorts of cool research with dogs including I think even Kamal talked about teaching dogs how to fly a plane. I listened to one with our newest agility instructor just recently, Barbara Currier, who said that she was doing some wonderful things in the field of service dogs.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Let’s give that a listen.

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Melissa Breau: So, I have to say, kind of working on your bio, it seems like you’ve had the opportunity to do lots of different really interesting things, in the world of dogs, from animal wrangling to working on wearable computing, so I wanted to ask a little more about what you do now. Can you tell us just a little bit about the FIDO Program there, at Georgia Tech, and what you’re working on with the dogs there?

Barbara Currier: Sure. So, FIDO stands for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. My best friend, Dr. Melody Jackson, she’s a professor there, at Georgia Tech, and she runs the brain lab and the animal computer interaction lab. She came up with the idea of creating wearable computing for service dogs, military dogs, police, search and rescue, any type of working dog, and she asked me to come on to oversee the dog training aspects of the work. Within the last year, I’ve been really busy with travel, and so I, actually, haven’t been working a lot with them, on the project, and she’s actually taking over most of the dog training aspect, the pilot testing, with her dog, but up to this point, a lot of the stuff that they’ve created, it’s kind of funny, when I tell people what I do there, the team that creates all the stuff, it’s Melody Jackson and her lab partner Thad Starner, they’re brilliant people, and the students that all work there are super brilliant. I am not a techy person. I’m lucky if I can turn my computer on, I just train dogs, so I kind of compare it to like the Big Bang theory, and I’m Penny amongst all of these brilliant people, and they just say stuff and I’m like, that’s great, just tell me what you want the dogs to do. That’s, kind of, where my expertise is, and I don’t have any idea what the technical aspect of it is, but we’ve, actually, created some really cool things.

They’ve created a vest that a service dog is trained to activate that has a tug sensor on it, and so we had a woman come to us that had a speech problem where she doesn’t have, she can’t project her voice out very loudly, and she’s also wheelchair bound, and she was at the dog park, one day, with her dog, and her wheelchair got stuck in some mud, and she couldn’t holler to anybody because her voice just didn’t project like that, and she really needed, like, a way that she could send her service dog to get help to come back, and you know, but a dog running up to somebody, at a dog park, barking, nobody is going to think that’s anything unusual. So, they created a vest that has a computer on it, and the dog has a tug sensor, on the vest, so she can direct the dog to go to somebody, and the dog can go up and it will pull a tug sensor and the vest will actually say, excuse me, my handler needs assistance, please follow me, and the dog can bring that person back to the handler.  

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Teri Martin: And how cool is that!  FDSA instructors have also been on the forefront of some of the new force free happenings with veterinary medicine. It makes so much sense to extend the positive philosophies when dealing with things that are so often necessary but not necessarily pleasant for the dog.  I think Debbie Gross has some great views on that?   

Melissa Breau: Yup, let’s roll that clip.

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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 veterinarians’ 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.

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Teri Martin: And of course, using positive training in places where it hasn’t historically been used,  carries over into training sports that have been resistant to positive methods too -- like IPO and Gun Dog sports.

Melissa Breau: Cassia offers positive gun dog training classes here at FDSA, so I wanted to include this clip from her on the importance of work and play.

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Melissa Breau: I know I mentioned in your bio that you believe dog training should be a form of structured play. It sounds like that’s a little bit what you’re talking about, but can you explain a little more what that phrase means, or at least what it means to you, and what it looks like in practice, like within a training session?

Cassia Turcotte: Sure. I think that…I’m trying to think where I actually first heard that term, and it may have been even Lindsey that said it, but really, it’s…you know, I don’t want the dog to feel like what we’re doing is work. If you feel like you’re being dragged to work every day, it’s mentally hard, but if they go out and they go, oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever, I can’t wait to do more of it, then the attitude’s up, the motivation’s up, and you don’t have any trouble with compliance.

You know, they’re really willing to play the game, and it’s fun. It’s fun for me and it’s fun for them, so you know, it’s one of the things…you know, how would it look in a training session? One of the things that we do in field work is called the walk up, and all that is, is a bumper is thrown in the air as you’re heeling with the dog, and it’s thrown in front of the dog, and the point of it is to challenge the dog to stay heeling and stay steady with you, and the traditional way would be to correct them for not doing that.

So in our way, we jackpot with Chuckit! ball or tug or food as a reinforcement for being steady, you know, so they see the bumper go up, and they sit, and we say, “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome,” and we throw a Chuckit! ball in the opposite direction, and so it’s all a game, and it’s about keeping them guessing and mentally challenging them and getting it so that they really understand what they’re being asked to do, and they’re not just corrected for not understanding. So I think that’s pretty much what it would look like in an average day.

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Melissa Breau: We also mentioned IPO, before sharing that clip from Cassia, and the trainer best known for that at FDSA, hands down, is Shade Whitesel.

With driven dogs, frustration problems can be a real issue; Shade has spent the last few years looking at how to prevent frustration through clear communication. During her interview back in February, she talked about location specific markers, which are one of the things she’s known for here at the school.

Teri Martin: I’m taking Shade’s class right now with my young, 6-month-old puppy, and I’m absolutely loving this concept. It’s really cool to see the clarification in how my dog knows that chase means [26:33] and you get the ball and [26:34] grab it out of my hands and [26:37] you can see the clarity, so I’m happy to see this clip.

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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.

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Melissa Breau: The other person who really focuses on helping frustrated dogs at FDSA is Sarah Stremming. Sarah has her own podcast, but I’ve been lucky enough to chat with her twice so far, and wanted to share her take on frustrated dogs vs. dogs who just lack impulse control.

Teri Martin: Let’s roll that clip.

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Sarah Stremming: I think that for the worked-up types of dogs the most common misconception that I hear about is that these dogs lack impulse control, that a lack of impulse control is the problem. Or that a lack of … if we’re going to be very accurate, we would be saying a lack of impulse control training is a problem. Just the phrase “impulse control” makes my eye twitch just a little bit because I think that it implies that there’s this intrinsic flaw in these dogs that if they can’t control themselves that there’s something wrong with them, or that teaching them to control their impulses is something that we can do. I don’t think that we can control their impulses one way or another. We can certainly control their behaviors with reinforcement. Whether or not we’re controlling their impulses is probably one of those things that we would have to ask them about, kind of like asking them if they were lonely and if that was why they were jumping all over the person coming home. So I like to stay away from stating that lack of impulse control is a problem. I also think that in agility specifically we accept that our dogs will be in extremely high states of arousal and be kind of losing their mind, and we almost want them that way, and any kind of calmness is frowned upon. The dogs that are selected to breed for the sport tend to be the frantic, loud, fast ones, and looking at behaviors, there’s just kind of a distaste in agility, I feel — and I’m going to get a million e-mails about this — I love agility, people! I love agility! I’m just going to put that out there! But there is a distaste for calm and methodical behaviors in agility. We push for speed, speed, speed from the beginning, and we forget that sometimes maybe we should shut up and let the dog think through the problem. So I think, to get back to your original question, “What’s the misconception?” The misconception is that we need to put them in a highly aroused state to create a good sport dog, and that impulse control is the be-all, end-all of these things. And then, for the hidden-potential dogs, I think the misconception is just that they lack work ethic. They say, “These dogs they lack work ethic, they give you nothing, they don’t want to try, they’re low drive,” yada yada. I think that’s all misconceptions. Everything comes back to reinforcement. When you realize that reinforcement is the solution to everything, you can start to solve your problems and quit slapping labels on the dogs you’re working with.

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Teri Martin: I love that. She says, “Shut up and let the dog think,” and also that she says to quit slapping labels on the dogs, because we see so much of that. I love how she’s challenging people to think outside the box on all those arousal questions.

Melissa Breau: I couldn’t agree more. Those are definitely topics that have come up again and again on the podcast, just the idea of not labeling your dog and giving your dog time to process through things. But they definitely aren’t the only running themes. I think probably one of the most popular things I’ve heard, talking to FDSA instructors at least, is how important foundation skills are, and how much of a difference a strong foundation can really make. In fact, Kamal said it was his absolute favorite thing to teach.

Teri Martin: Cool. Let’s hear.

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Kamal Fernandez: 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 qualify as 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 with 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 being 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.

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Teri Martin: Foundations are one of those things that keep coming up. We see it at camp all the time. People think it’s part of an exercise that’s wrong, and it’s something that’s in that exercise, but nine times out of the ten it comes back to how that foundation was taught.

Melissa Breau: I definitely want to share one more clip on that because, like you said, it’s constantly coming up. This next one’s from Deb Jones, who’s known for covering all of the awesome foundation skills in her Performance Fundamentals class and her Get Focused class. So I asked her that exact question: Why are foundations so important.

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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.

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Teri Martin: So true what Deb says. Having those foundations just sets up the basis for everything we do in a dog’s life, including how they have to function in our society today ... which I believe takes us nicely into our next clip, which is Heather Lawson talking about life skills in her Hound About Town classes.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Let’s let it roll.

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Melissa Breau: Now, you didn’t touch on two of the things that stood out to me when I was looking at the syllabus, which were the Do Nothing training, and Coffee Anyone, so what are those and obviously how do you address them in class?

Heather Lawson: Yeah. I always get kind of weird sideways looks when I talk about Do Nothing training, because it’s kind of like…people say, ‘What do you mean do nothing training,’ and I say, “Well, how often do you just work on having your dog do nothing,” and everybody looks at me, “Well, you don’t work on having the dog do nothing,” and I say, “Oh yeah, you do.” That’s what we call settle on the mat, chill, learn how to not bug me every time I sit down at the computer to do some work, not bark at me every time I stop to chat with the neighbor, stop pulling me in all different ways, so it’s kind of like just do nothing, because if you think about it the first maybe six months of your dog’s life it’s all about the dog and the puppy.

Then when they get to look a little bit more adult all of a sudden they’re no longer the center of attention, but because they’ve been the center of attention for that first eight weeks to six months, and there’s been all this excitement whenever they’re out and people stop, and you chat or you do anything, it’s very hard for the dog all of a sudden now to have this cut off and just not be acknowledged, and this is where you then get the demand barking, or the jumping on the owner, or the jumping on other people to get that attention, whereas if you teach that right in the very beginning, okay, and teach your puppies how to settle, whether it be in an x pen, or in a crate, or even on a mat beside you while you’re watching your favorite TV show. If you teach them to settle, and how to turn it off then you’re going to not have that much of a problem going forward as they get older.

The other thing, too, is that by teaching the dogs all of these different things that we want to teach them, that’s great, and that’s fabulous, and we should be doing that, but most dogs aren’t active 100 percent of the time, they’re active maybe 10 percent of the time. The other 90 percent they’re chilling out, they’re sleeping, they’re…while their owners are away working if they’re not lucky enough to be taken out for a daily hike, then they’ve got to learn how to turn it off, and if we can teach them that in the early stages you don’t end up with severe behavior problems going forward, and I’ve done that with all of my puppies, and my favorite place to train the “do nothing” training is actually in the bathroom.

What I do with that is my puppies, they get out first thing in the morning, they go their potty, they come back in, we get a chewy or a bully stick, or a Kong filled with food, and puppy goes into the bathroom with me and there’s a mat, they get to lay down on the mat and that’s when I get to take my shower, and all of my dogs, even to this day, even my 11-year-old, if I’m showering and the door’s open they come in and they go right to their mat and they go to sleep, and they wait for me, and that’s that “do nothing” training, right, and that actually even follows into loose leash walking. If you take that “do nothing” training how often are you out in your loose leash walking and you stop and chat to the neighbor, or you stop and you are window shopping, or anything else that you when you’re out and about. If your dog won’t even connect with you at the end of the line, then just…they won’t even pay attention to you while you’re standing there, or they create a fuss, then the chances of you getting successful loose leash walking going forward is going to be fairly slim, okay.  

The other thing that you mentioned was the coffee shop training, and that is nowadays people go and they meet at the coffee shop, or they go for lunch, and more and more people are able to take their dogs to lunch, providing they sit out on a patio, and on the occasion where the dog is allowed to stay close to you we teach the dogs to either go under the table and chill or go and lay beside the chair and chill, and teach them how to lay there, switch off, watch the world go by. Even if the waiter comes up, you just chill out and just relax and that allows the dog, again because they’ve got good manners, to be welcomed even more places.

Melissa Breau: Right. It makes it so that you feel comfortable taking them with you to lunch or out.

Heather Lawson: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. There’s lots of places that dogs can go, providing, and they’re welcome, providing they do have those good manners, and if we can keep those good manners going then regardless of whether or not your dog sports or not, it just opens up the avenues for so much more of us to do…more things to do with our dogs.

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Melissa Breau: Of course training and competition aren’t entirely about our dogs… we play a big role in their success or failure in the ring. And that can lead to some serious ring nerves on both ends of the leash.

Teri Martin: It always comes back to us, doesn’t it? But the good news is FDSA has our resident “people trainer,” Andrea Harrison, to help us with this.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But very, very few of us are going to remember a run in even five months, let alone five years. I mean, you might remember in general, but your anxiety is not going to still be there, right? I mean, a great run you can remember. I can probably still tell you the details of some of Brody’s amazing agility runs or Sally’s amazing work, right? Like, I can describe going from the A-frame around to the tunnel and picking him up and staying connected and it was beautiful. I can remember the errors of enthusiasm, right, like when he took an off-course tunnel, and he’s never done that in his life, and I was like, oh my God, he took an off-course tunnel. That’s amazing. That’s so cool, and we celebrated. So I just loved that he was that happy about it. But do I remember those very first, early trials where…do I remember the courses where I stood thinking, I’m never going to get my agility dog to Canada? No. I don’t really remember. I remember being sad that he was three seconds over the time and _____ (18:35) [47:44], and that was kind of sucky, but it was okay, right? Like, now with all this perspective it’s fine.

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Teri Martin: There’s a lot, really, that affects both ends of the leash. After all, we’re all learners… it can be easy to forget that sometimes.

Melissa Breau: Nancy, for example, shared during her interview how her father influenced her training. He was a football coach, and she’s a dog trainer, but that doesn’t matter -- because it’s all training. Let’s listen to that clip.

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Nancy Gagliardi Little: 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 breaking 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 excellent players, as well as excellent human beings, and he believes in people, and he respects people, loves to learn about people. There's so much about his 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 from 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 how 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 my students' dogs, whether they’re my dogs, they're the ones who they're helping me develop a plan, and I like to think of it that way because it keeps me always evaluating and looking at things.

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Teri Martin: Dogs as coaches is one of those gifts that sometimes takes us in new directions we never expected. Take Stacy Barnett, nosework instructor, for example. She sort of fell into that sport because of her dog, Judd, just needed to have something, and now it’s  turned into this incredible passion for scent sports. I think she talks about that on her podcast and how the sport is so good for dogs that might struggle in some of the more traditional sport venues.

Melissa Breau: She did! Let’s give that a listen.

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Stacy Barnett: Nose work is not only a confidence builder. It can also help reactive dogs. Nose work itself is very reactive-dog friendly in those venues because the dog doesn't have to work within eyeshot or earshot of another dog. They get to work on their own. However, it really does help from a confidence perspective. The sense of smell is actually pretty amazing. It goes through the limbic system, which means that it goes through the hippocampus and the amygdala. So the amygdala is kind of the fight or flight area, and the hippocampus is responsible for developing those early memories.

So what happens is, is that the dog is scenting, and the dog is using about one-eighth of his brain with scenting, and this is all going through this system that’s responsible for emotion and responsible for memory. If we can develop this positive feeling toward sensing and toward scent, we can actually help to put the dog into a really good space so that they can work, and also, you know, as long as you’re working the dog under threshold, the dog is able to continue to work and will actually become more confident over time and actually less reactive over time.

I saw this particularly with my little dog, Why. When he came to me, he could not work at all away from the house. He was also fairly reactive to other dogs. Had about 100-foot visual threshold to seeing other dogs. Now, through nose work, he has developed a lot of confidence. He’s now able to search in novel environments with very little acclimation, and he’s also quite a bit less reactive. He’s got about an eight-foot visual threshold now to other dogs, which I think is absolutely amazing. So the behavioral benefits, especially for a dog like Why, they’re off the charts. Absolutely off the charts.

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Melissa Breau: It has been a lot of fun to see the sport of Nosework grow so quickly in the last few years. The AKC has even added it to their list of sports. I caught up with Julie Symons on the new handler scent portion that is part of the new Scent Work competition program with the AKC in Episode 39.

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Melissa Breau: I want to switch a little bit from outcomes to training… what challenges are there when training a dog to search for handler scent, you kind of mentioned that, that may not be present when you’re teaching traditional odors?

Julie Symons: That’s a good question. First, it is just another odor. We can attack it that way and it’s true, this is another odor that we teach your dog. But it is different in that it does have its challenges, especially for savvy nosework dogs that have been in oil for a lot of years. We’ve seen a little bit of it being a little bit more difficult for them in certain situations. For example, there’s no aging handler scent, like with the oil odor. So oil hides, the nosework venues we’ve been at, they’re usually placed and they’re out there 30 minutes to hours, so the odor is going to disperse more and diffuse into the area. For handler scent you pretty much give it its last scent, you hand it over to the helper, they place it, and then you go in and run. So the scent’s going to have less diffuse in the area, handler scents is heavier, that’s going to fall down more than, like, a vapor odor oil will disperse in a room, and of course it depends on airflow. Any kind of airflow is going to travel in each scent. It’s going to be helpful to your dog that the scent’s going to travel into the space.

With my dogs and many teams that I’ve worked in, I find that the dogs have to get a lot closer to where the hide is for handler scents to really hone on that. So in this case I’m not talking about the novice level and boxes; I’ll get back to that. But if they hide Q-Tips or cotton balls in a search area, your dog really has to get close to it to find it. So what I’m finding is that I’m actually introducing a little bit more of direction with my handler scent and it’s actually helped a lot, and it gets my dog focused and more... not a  patterned search, but just getting them to search. For example, in Advanced Handler Discrimination, it’s an interior search, and no hide is higher than 12 inches. So I’m going to plant low. I’m going to be, like, have my dog search low, and they find it really easily. And I found when I have blind hides somebody has set up for me, I feel more liberated to point and direct. Whereas if I know where the hide is, we tend to not want to intervene at all and my dog finds it quicker, because I don’t know where it is and I’m just going to have my dog cover the area and then they usually find it. So that’s been very helpful in the difference with the handler scent.

Also another thing that’s interesting if you watch dogs search the traditional oil hides in a box, they just find it really easy. You put your scented glove in a box and the dogs just search differently. They have to go cover the boxes a few times, they just don’t hit on it as easily as oil. That oil odor, especially for AKC, is so strong, and your handler scented item is just not going to be as strong in a box, especially it’s not aged. So those are some of the differences and why I think the handler scent is a little bit harder to source for a dog, just because of the amount of odor that you have and the fact that it’s not aged.

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Melissa Breau: And while we’re talking nosework, we have to include a clip from my call with Melissa Chandler. Like Stacy, nosework became her passion after she saw the positive effect it could have on a more sensitive dog, like her dog Edge.

Teri Martin: I think there’s some really great takeaways for handlers who have softer dogs in that interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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Melissa Breau: Gotta love those tips from Melissa C. So our next two clips, I think, really speak to Denise’s sixth sense for bringing on new trainers… she seems to excel at tracking down people who really are incredibly good at what they do, but who also truly imbue the FDSA additude.

Teri Martin: I agree. I think our next clip, from Chrissi Schranz, really shows what that attitude is all about.

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Melissa Breau: So I wanted to get into your training philosophy, and lucky me, I got a sneak peek before we started. You sent me over the link for this, but I’d love to have you kind of share your training philosophy and how you describe your approach, and for those of you who are going to want to see this after she talks about it, there will be a link to the comic in the show notes.

Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, so I’d say my training philosophy is based on my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. So Calvin has a shovel and he’s digging a hole, and then Hobbes comes up and asks him why he’s digging a hole, and Calvin says he’s looking for buried treasure. Hobbes asks him what he has found, and Calvin starts naming all kinds of things, like dirty rocks and roots and some disgusting grubs, and then Hobbes gets really excited, and he’s like, “Wow, on your first try?” And Calvin says, “Yes. There’s treasure everywhere,” and that is the kind of experience I want people and their dogs to have with each other.

I want them to feel like life is an adventure, and there’s so many exciting things to be discovered that they can do together. I want people to learn to look at the world through their dog’s eyes a little bit and find this pleasure and just be together, and doing things and discovering things, whether that’s digging a hole or playing in dog sports. Yeah, I want them to feel like they’re friends and partners in crime and have that Calvin and Hobbes kind of relationship, because I believe if you have that kind of relationship as a foundation, you can do pretty much anything you want, no matter whether you want to have a dog you can take anywhere or whether you want to compete and do well in dog sports. I think if you have that kind of relationship as a basis, everything is possible.

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Melissa Breau: I like that… “Everything is possible.” You certainly can’t predict how far a handler and dog can go, if they build a fantastic relationship. Sue Yanoff talked to that a bit too -- she had some great things to say about how our relationship with our dog makes us a great advocate when they need medical care.

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Melissa Breau: Is there anything in particular about veterinary medicine that sports handlers often just don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Yeah. I don’t think it’s just sports handlers. I think it’s a lot of people. Veterinary medicine is a science, and the decisions that we make have to be based on science, and not just what people think, or what they heard, and so when you’re making a decision about what the best diagnostics are for a condition, or how best to treat the condition, it has to be based on a series of cases, not just on what somebody thinks, and I go a lot based on what I learn at continuing education conferences, and what I read in the veterinary literature. Because papers that are published in peer reviewed journals are scrutinized to make sure that the science behind the conclusions are valid.

So while, you know, it’s fine for somebody to say , “Well, I did this with my dog and he did great,” what I want to make my decisions on is what worked well for many dogs, dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of dogs, and not just something that might have worked for your dog where we don’t even know if the diagnosis was the same. So I think I want people to know that veterinary medicine is a science, and we have to make our decisions based on science.

Melissa Breau: I think that, you know, especially with the internet these days it’s very common for people to turn to their favorite local forum, and be like well what should I do, but…

Sue Yanoff: I know, like, let me get advice from everybody, and I know it’s hard to make decisions when it involves your dog and you’re emotionally involved, and that’s one of the reasons I want to teach this class, to give people information that they can use to make those hard decisions.

Melissa Breau: What about the reverse? Are there things about sports that you think most vets just they don’t understand?

Sue Yanoff: Oh yes. Yes there’s a lot. Unless you’re a vet who’s involved in this thing, most vets don’t understand the time and the effort, and the emotion, and the money that goes into the training, and the trialing that we do. They don’t understand the special relationship that we have with our dogs when we put the time and effort into training them. I have had dogs that were wonderful pets, and I loved them, but I never showed them for one reason or another, and there is a different relationship when you accomplish something special with that dog. So I think that’s important thing.

The other thing that most vets don’t understand, and might not agree with, but I have had some clients where we have diagnosed an injury, and said, “Okay, we need to restrict activity, and do the conservative treatment route,” and they say, “I will, but my national specialty is next week, and she’s entered in whatever class.” Or they say, “I have a herding finals coming up in two weeks, and I really want to run her in those trials,” and I’m okay with that if the dog has an injury that I don’t think is likely to get much worse by doing a little more training, or trialing, then I’ll say, “Okay. Well, let’s do this in the meantime, and when you’re done with your national or with your specialty or whatever, come on back and we’ll start treatment.”

So I think a lot of vets would not understand that point of view, but I’m okay with it as long as I don’t think that it’s going to do serious harm to the dog, and as long as the owner understands that there’s, you know, a slight chance that things could get worse.

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Teri Martin: One of the great things about all these podcasts is hearing all the instructors’ personal stories. For example, you’ve just gotta love a Sue Ailsby story. Her talk stories are well worth the price of admission in any of her classes.

Melissa Breau: She shared a great story about her cross-over dog when we talked.

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Sue Ailsby: The first dog I trained, it wasn’t clicker training but it was without corrections, was a Giant Schnauzer and I got her to about eight months and it was glorious. And we were getting ready for an obedience trial and I’m heeling along, and part of my brain is saying, isn’t this glorious? She’s never had a correction and she’s heeling. And the other half of my brain is saying, but she doesn’t know she has to. And then the first part, why should she know she has to? She knows she wants to, but she doesn’t know she has to.

I’m going to put a choke chain on her and I’m just going to tell her that she has to. This is not negotiable. You don’t want to put a choke chain on her, you’ve spent eight months telling her how to enjoy this and you’re going to put a choke chain on her? I can handle it. So I put the choker on and we’re heeling along, and she just glanced away for a second. She didn’t quit or anything, she just, her eyes flicked away and I gave her a little pop on the chain, and my good angel is screaming, “Don’t. Don’t do that.” And the bad angel is, “She can’t refuse.”

And she kind of... “What was that?” And I say okay, so we go on and a few minutes later her eyes flick away again and I give her another shot with the collar. And she stopped and the angel is saying, “Now you’ve done it. You’ve ruined it completely. Why don’t you just go shoot yourself right now.” And the devil is saying, “I could just give her another shot. She can’t just stop.” So she stood there for a minute with a confused look on her face and then her ears came up and her tail came up and she started wagging her tail and she got all excited, and she ran around and started heeling on my right side.

Melissa Breau: Okay.

Sue Ailsby: Okay? Heeling is good, I like to heel. Heeling on the left just became dangerous, let’s do it on the right side instead. And I just sank to the floor and I’m sobbing and apologizing. That was the last time I ever had a choke chain on a dog.

Melissa Breau: She showed you.

Sue Ailsby: She sure did. Oh my goodness. And what an amazing solution.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. She was brilliant.

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Teri Martin: Sue was such a great pioneer with her Training Levels and early days of clicker training and she is so willing to share her experiences both good and bad with such amazing style and humour. You’ve got to love her.  

So now we’re getting close to the end of the episode, and Melissa, seeing as how you’ve asked this question in every single podcast, it’s your turn. I wanted to ask you… what’s your favorite piece of training advice?

Melissa Breau: Hmmm. I think if i had to share just one piece of advice, it would be to take a class at FDSA. I don’t even think it matters which one… pretty much any class you take, you’re guaranteed to learn something and have fun with your dog.

Teri Martin: And, since that question is consistently one of the most popular parts of all episodes, to end things tonight we’ve rounded up a bunch of responses to that question, starting with Hannah Branigan’s response from Episode 3.

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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.

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Melissa Breau: And a response from Donna Hill.

Donna Hill: Not specifically training related although it totally is relevant. Many years ago, I think I was about twelve or thirteen, my older brother who's quite a bit older than I am. I'm the youngest of five kids and there's a bit of a gap between me and the previous four and I'm also the youngest of three girls and back then it was the old hope chest. I don’t if you’d remember what those, were but they were kind of the hope for the future when you get married. There’s things you started collecting in preparation for that. Kind of an old-fashioned concept I know, but whatever, that’s my family.

Anyway, so many years ago when I was about twelve or thirteen, he gave me this little trivet, which is like basically a hot plate that you can put a pot on the stove and stuff on the counter. It’s just this little metal thing and it had a picture of a little yellow tacky caterpillar on it. But it had a little quote on it, and the quote said, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch!” For some reason it really struck me and I have really taken that to heart and I've applied that to almost everything I do in life.

When I’m faced with something hard, I know it's not this big thing. I can break it down into smaller pieces and we can get through it step by step by step, and ultimately get the final goal that I wanted. And of course dog training is EXACTLY that. It's all about these teeny tiny little pieces that get you to that final goal, that final behavior, the competition, whatever it is that’s at the end. So I take that and apply it in many different ways in my life, and training certainly.

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Teri Martin: Episode 26 with Nancy Tucker…

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Nancy Tucker: The advice that’s always stuck with me and that I incorporate into every single training scenario is that the learner is always right. So if I’m trying to teach a dog something and he keeps offering me the wrong behavior, the problem lies with me as the teacher. The dog is doing the right thing. If I want him to do something different, I’m the one who needs to adjust my approach, so I think that that has been the handiest piece of advice, the most, uh, what's the word I'm looking for? Not handy…not convenient.

Melissa Breau: Applicable?

Nancy Tucker: Yes. Yeah. For any scenario.

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Melissa Breau: Love that. This next one is from Amy Johnson, on photography and dog training.

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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 breathe, 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.

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Teri Martin: And from Mariah Hinds…

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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 in 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.

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Melissa Breau: Then from Sara Brueske in episode 17.

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

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Teri Martin: This next one from Julie Daniels really stuck with me -- it was one of those total Ah Ha! Moment.

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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 its head, I fall in love, and I help. And I help by starting where the dog is right now and I accept his premise as valid.

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Melissa Breau: I love that one too. Next up is Loretta Mueller, with an equally important lesson on recognizing effort.

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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.

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Teri Martin: Loretta always makes me wish I did agility just so I could take her classes. This next clip is also from one of our amazing agility instructors -- Amanda Nelson!

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

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Melissa Breau: Next up is Laura Waudby, with something I think we all encounter and probably could serve to be reminded of even more often…

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

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

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Teri Martin: Another important reminder came from Lori Stevens… while she was talking about TTouch, it’s definitely true no matter what you’re doing with your dog.

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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.

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Melissa Breau: Of course we couldn’t leave out Patricia MCconnell…

Patricia McConnell: Oh man, oh wow. Let’s see. Do I have to pick one? OK, I’ll be really fast.

Melissa Breau: You can share more than one if you want. I’ll let you get away with that.

Patricia McConnell: Good. The thing that pops up in my mind the first time I hear that is actually … it’s not a piece of advice. It’s just a saying and it makes me want to cry. I sound like such a crier.

It makes me want to cry. The saying is, “We train by regret.” It just hits home so hard to me because I think every one of us who cares deeply about dogs and is really honest, and insightful, and learned, and grows, you know, admits that there’s things we’ve done that we wish we’d never done and, you know, some of them are just tiny little stupid things. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” or, you know, so I think that’s a really important saying. But I think that the most important part about it is to remind all of us to be kinder to ourselves. I think a lot of the people I work with who are progressive dog trainers who just adore their dogs and move heaven and earth for them, we’re so hard on ourselves. Don’t you think? I mean, we’re just, you know, I work with clients who are just … they’re just, oh, they’re being so hard on themselves because they haven’t been perfect. They made this one mistake and it’s like, oh man, you know, we are all human here. So I think that strikes home with me a lot.

And I guess the other just sort of solid, quick, concise piece of advice is basically “Say less, mean more.” I just made that up, but I’ve heard people say versions of that, you know, so basically another version is “Just shut up.” I think, I mean, you can hear I like to talk, right, so I can get badly with my dogs, and I think it’s confusing and tiring to our dogs. And I think, you know, some of the people who, you know, those people who dogs just don’t ever want to leave, you know, they meet them, and the second they meet them they sit down beside them and don’t want to leave. There aren’t many of them, and I was never one of those people. I sometimes am now, which makes me really happy, but those are often people who are really quiet. So I think being very mindful of the way we use words and sound around our dogs is really, really important because, I think, frankly, our dogs are often just simply exhausted trying to figure out what the heck we’re trying to convey to them, you know? So I guess I’d just stick with those two things.

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Teri Martin: And finally, because it seems like the perfect note to end things on, Sue Ailsby’s response when Melissa asked her what dog-related accomplishment she was most proud of.

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Sue Ailsby: I’m proudest of my relationship with my dogs. I’m proudest that I can go to a competition and people watch me in a water trial or whatever we’re doing and people will come up after and say, “That was so beautiful. She was working with you so beautifully that you were like a team. And it didn’t look like you were trying to get her to do anything, it just looked like you thought, I think I’d like her to do that, and she went and did it for you.” And that to me is the essence of why I have a dog.

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Melissa Breau: And now I just want to say a couple of thank you’s here at the end. A big thank you to Teri for co-hosting this episode with me. An equally big thank you to everyone who has come on the show … we absolutely could not be more thrilled with how the podcast has gone in this first year, and I’m so excited to be celebrating our first anniversary…. Hopefully our first of many. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We truly would not be here without you, and without all of your kind comments over the last year.

We’ll be back next week with more of our usual programming…

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

Dec 8, 2017

SUMMARY:

Nancy Gagliardi Little comes back on the podcast — Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an OTCH on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 AKC OTCH titles, 6 UD titles, 3 UDX titles, and multiple championships in herding and agility. Today, she joins me to talk startline stays in agility.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 12/15/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds. We'll be chatting about proofing and building reliably, ring-ready behaviors!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we have Nancy Gagliardi Little back on the podcast — Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an OTCH on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 AKC OTCH titles, 6 UD titles, 3 UDX titles, and multiple championships in herding and agility.

Welcome back to the podcast, Nancy!

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks, Melissa. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: The last time we talked a little bit about obedience. Today we’re talking a little bit about agility. To start us out, do you want to just remind listeners who you are and share a little about the dogs you share your life with?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. Who I am … I guess I’m still discovering that, but I live in Minnesota, about 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities, and I compete mostly in agility, AKC mostly, but also USDAA and UKI. I still train my dogs in obedience, I just don’t compete in obedience anymore. I have aspirations of doing that again, but we’ll see. I teach agility and obedience online classes with FDSA, and I teach agility and obedience lessons and classes at a local center here in Minnesota. I did judge obedience, AKC obedience, for about twenty years, and I judged around the country in all classes and also in some national events. So that’s about me.

And then my dogs. I’ve had border collies since the mid-’80s, and I love everything about the breed, including their quirkiness and their sensitivity. My dogs are Score, a border collie, 13. He’s retired, obviously. He did agility and herding. And Schema is 9 years old. She’s currently my competition dog doing agility. She is competing at AKC Nationals this year in 2018, and I think that’s the fifth time she’s qualified. She’s also competed at Cynosport. And then I have Lever. He’s 4, and he is competing in agility. I train him and Schema too, both in obedience. He’s kind of the up-and-coming guy, I guess. And then my husband has a toller and his name is Rugby. He’s 2, and he trains in agility and obedience.

Melissa Breau: That’s your crew, and we were talking a little bit before I hit “record” that hopefully there’ll be one more joining the family early next year, right?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Correct. I think they’re supposed to be born in early December. It’s one of Lever’s puppies.

Melissa Breau: I look forward to lots of puppy pictures.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah. That will be exciting.

Melissa Breau: I mentioned in the intro that last time you were on we really talked obedience, but today we’re going to talk agility, so specifically we’re diving into start line stays. So, I wanted to start with how they’re different from a stay in any other sport, something like obedience, for example.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: They are quite a bit different in the agility environment. Agility is very high-energy, and the environment itself is fairly unpredictable, and that makes for difficult conditions for dogs that are trying to perform these skills that they learned at home and in class, especially the start lines. That’s kind of the transitional exercise into the course. And then of course most dogs love agility, and it’s pretty reinforcing for them to go. In obedience the stays are very predictable, well, in actually all the exercises are fairly predictable. They’re patterns. Dogs learn those patterns, and that gives them pretty clear information when exercises start and end. Even in obedience, dogs can make mistakes. They might read a pattern and anticipate the finish of an exercise, especially the stay, and it’s probably just when the judge says, “Exercise finished,” so they’re pretty much done anyway. So it’s just much more predictable.

Melissa Breau: Why is it so important that people actually have a good start line stay in agility? What benefits does it offer if they put in the work and they get there?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, agility is pretty much all about speed, and most people have dogs that are much faster than they can run. I know I do, and most of the people do, and if they don’t, they want that. Being able to lead out gives you an advantage, especially with a fast dog, and actually on many courses it can be difficult to start without a lead out with a super-fast dog. Going into the sequence, you just can’t get where you need to be to cue something. So yes, it’s quite an advantage having that. It gets you ahead. It might even keep you ahead throughout the course. And without that, you’re going to be behind, which isn’t all that bad if you want to do rear crosses throughout the course. Some people are very good at that. I have some students without start lines just because they came to me after their dog was a little bit older and we just decided we weren’t going to teach the dogs the stay. And there are definitely some sequences that they just can’t … or courses with starts that they just can’t do, or they just have issues with it, so it does put them at a disadvantage.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that you decided just not to bother with it. Why do people struggle with it? Why is it something that’s hard to teach? I think a lot of people think a stay is a stay is a stay, right?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right, right. Well, there’s just so many variations, but it could be that there’s holes in training or holes in generalization. There’s a lot of that that happens. And lots of times handlers try to control the dog’s behavior instead of training, so that would be like a hole in training. It could also be the training sessions are handled differently than the handling at the trials, and there’s a lot of that that’s due to handling. Another thing I see contributing to the start line is — this is interesting — but the handler’s own increased arousal level. And this happens in obedience, you see that too, but in agility it’s pretty much, it’s a big contributing factor where the handlers are too hurried, they’re un-confident and disconnected when they enter the ring, and then, at the beginning of the run, they’re thinking more about the course and they just don’t stay connected and focused on the dog. The dogs sense that, and that can cause — in the dogs we’re talking about, probably the dogs that have increased arousal level — that causes stress and also increased arousal, and that’s never good at the start line. Especially the dogs start reading a disconnected handler, and they start losing the ability to think, and then you have a break. A lot of times there are small issues that crop up along the way and they aren’t noticed by the trainer until it becomes a big problem. And that happens a lot. There’s little things, you know, little things that they just aren’t seeing, or they aren’t aware of, and then they don’t know how they got there.

Melissa Breau: Do you mean on the day of the trial or do you mean …

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I just mean in general kind of building up to that, but it will happen at the trials usually because that’s where the ultimate differences are between the training and the trials.

Melissa Breau: Little stuff like creeping, or what do you mean?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, it would be mostly handling. Some of it would be handling. The dogs start getting a little more and more aroused because they maybe can’t predict when the handler’s going to release them. That causes … and it depends on the dog. It could be that this dog, this particular dog, responds to arousal and stress by creeping forward, or they stand up, or even just a glazed look in their eyes. It just keeps changing until there’s actually just an outright break. And that’s when the handler notices that there’s an issue, but it’s actually happened long before that.

Melissa Breau: I know we talked about this a little bit just now, but I think a lot of people attribute start line problems to poor impulse control. The person just didn’t work it enough, or didn’t do it right, or something.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk a little bit about the role that impulse control actually does play in a good start line stay?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I hear that a lot. People think their dogs are pushy or have impulse control issues. But I’ve seen more over-arousal issues or frustration issues than impulse control issues. And frustration and over-arousal, they can be caused by lack of clarity, unpredictable cues, and then, like I said before, handlers that aren’t connected with their dogs. The dogs really want that. And impulse control skills, they’re just a part of the foundation of training a start line, and it should be fun for the dog. Some of the issues with start lines might be due to poor impulse control training, but there’s a lot more at play here than that. And actually I’ve seen plenty of dogs that really have great impulse control, but they can’t hold a stay at the start line, and a lot of that is due to just their arousal state. They can’t think. People just call that “impulse control issue,” and really it’s something quite different.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. You commented that you’ve seen a lot of dogs with great impulse control who really struggle with this particular skill. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t think about.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine … I don’t do agility, but I’d imagine that part of what often goes wrong with a start line is simply that the dog breaks their stay in a trial situation and people just start the run. And they do that over and over again, and the dog figures out, “Well, we’re just going to go.”

Nancy Gagliardi Little: They’re so smart!

Melissa Breau: Is there a better way to handle that?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: That’s a really good question and it’s a complicated one, too. I think it’s one of those things that’s hard to answer, but it’s part of what goes wrong. Usually there’s an issue, like I said before, that’s starting to manifest long before the dog even breaks the start line, and the handler isn’t recognizing it until the dog finally leaves before that release cue, and it’s actually usually in a really important run for them, so they’re like, “Oh my god.” And a lot of times this has been happening for a while. The dog’s been breaking it, but the handler doesn’t really notice it because they might be just turning back and releasing, and this time they turn back and they don’t release and the dog goes. Something like that. And like you say, the more a dog breaks the start line in a trial, the more it becomes a pattern or a habit, and actually it’s very, very reinforcing to the dog because they love — most of them love — agility and they want to go.

So in terms of a way to handle it once they go, I’m not a big fan of removing the dog for breaking the start line. If you watch some handlers, a lot of times they remove the dog, and the dog’s already taken a few obstacles by the time he realizes that he’s being taken off course, so he’s probably not even going to associate breaking the start line with that removal. And that not understanding why he’s being removed is going to cause more stress and frustration for the dog, and that makes the start line area even more frustrating, and then that causes more mistakes, so how do you handle it? Again, it’s very complicated, and it also depends on the dog and the handler. Lots of times when we decide this with students, I come up with a plan, depending on the dog, the sensitivity of the dog, the experience of the dog, making sure the handler’s being clear, all those things come into play for that. It’s mainly just making sure that the handling is clear. I’ll give you some examples.

Melissa Breau: That would be great.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: And I’ll just use my own dogs because their start lines are very good, but Schema, both of them, have broken their start lines. Schema, so she’s been running about seven-and-a-half years. When she was maybe 4 or 5 years old, it was in a two-ring soccer arena with lots of activity behind and around, and as I’m leading out, I was watching her and she left before I gave her the release cue. But I was watching her, I saw her expression, and she looked the same as she always does. There was no twitching or any odd behavior. I just let her run. I just went on because that’s just the way I feel. It’s like, I’ll look at this later, we’ll deal with this later, and one mistake is not going to affect anything. I looked at the video and I obsessed on it, and then I went to the practice jump between runs, and I tested her with some games, and she was solid, like I figured she would be, and she never broke the rest of the weekend or any time after that run. So I suspect she just heard someone else at the practice jump behind her give the same release cue and truly thought I had released her. So if I would have removed her for that, or done anything but just run her, that would have been very confusing to her, so she never really knew.

An example I have with Lever is he’s got some arousal issues, increased arousal issues, I’ve been working on a lot over the years. He has some great skills but has issues where he’s really gotten, he’s really improved, but his start lines were a little … I guess there’s lots of arousal there, and they’ve gotten better. What I do at the start line is I ask him how aroused he is. I know that sounds funny, but I basically just pause briefly before I leave him, and if he can look at me before I lead out — I step lateral and then wait for him to look at me. It just takes a brief moment. If he looks at me, his arousal level is under control. There was a time when he couldn’t even look at me, and that told me that his arousal level is high. That didn’t mean I was going to do anything different. I just needed to know that. I just would stay super-connected with him as I led out and just be a little bit more focused on him. So about six months ago I waited a little bit too long to see if he could look at me, and that was me trying to control him, a little bit of control. It was too long, and once I decided to leave, he broke. I realized what I was doing at that time and I just went on. I just kept going. And he actually knew right away he made a mistake, and that was not my intention to make him think he made a mistake, because I knew in his case it was arousal. But he did have a really nice run after that. So if I would have pulled him off for that, or handled it in any different way, it would have affected him, and I want him to be very confident in himself at the start line. His start lines have improved dramatically just by me being super-connected to him and just knowing that they’re a work in progress.

So those are a couple of examples. There’s so many different ones, and it really just depends on the team, and the experience of the dog, and what kind of things they’re training for start lines, but they are all very different how you would handle it. The main thing is just ensuring that it’s handled the same in practice as it would be in trials.

Melissa Breau: I was going to say that it sounds like you don’t necessarily have to worry about it a ton until it happens that first time, and then after that first time you want a plan in place in case it happens again.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right, you really do, because the first time it happens, you want to go back and make sure that it’s not handling. People don’t realize how much in agility people work hard on handling, but there’s a lot of handling that goes into start lines and the whole routine with start lines. There’s a lot of handling, and if you don’t, if your handling’s not clear to the dog, there’s going to be issues.

Melissa Breau: Now that we’ve talked a little about problem solving, I want to take a little of a step back and talk about how you actually teach a start line stay. Is there anything special you do during the foundation stages?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I probably teach it the same way most people do, but I do a lot of Zen games, I think some people call it “It’s your choice.” I do lots of that, and on the flat, and my young dogs wanted to stay by, they make a choice not to go, and then that decision brings reinforcement. I do lots and lots of games away from equipment, starting without handler motion and then adding more and more motion. It’s the motion that can really, or even the anticipation of handler motion, that can actually cause issues with the dogs, so adding that is important in agility.

And then lots of behaviors to train in the start line routine: entering the ring, moving to the start line area or the area you’re going to set them up, the position of the dog, what position are they going to be in, a sit, a down, a stand, whatever, between your legs, setups, or how they’re going to line up, and I guess that has more to do with going between your legs, or if they’re going to go to the left side, or the right side, or some handlers stand in front of the dog and position them kind of like a front, and the stay, there’s an actual stay, which isn’t really a big deal, the release is the big deal, there’s a lead out, and then there’s handling and training involved in all those areas. So all of them are worked on separately, and then we gradually put them together as each area is mastered. So it’s like a lot of flat work and fun stuff so dogs don’t even know that we’re working towards a start line.

Melissa Breau: I think that a lot of people probably just think about the stay itself, and they leave out all those other pieces you just mentioned about entering the ring and setting up.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Right. And what happens is then they try to control the behavior instead of asking the dog to do the behavior, and then that creates more stress and more issues there, and the dogs don’t want to stay at the start line because they’re never right, they’re always being controlled. So that contributes to it too.

Melissa Breau: So once you’ve gotten the stay that you want, and the entrance that you want, and you’re trialing, what do you do to maintain that stay? How often do you train it, how do you approach it, what do you do to make sure that it doesn’t erode or doesn’t disappear over time?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: I don’t think about it that much, but I guess when I think about it, I do it all the time without even thinking. I’m always looking at videos of my runs, or of training, and I’m always checking to see if the dog … how’s the start line. It’s just maintaining it. It happens by keeping the handling clear and the cues clean. When I talk about the cues clean, I’m talking about making sure that it’s not being any of the cues being paired with any extra motion or movement, because that’s a big deal in agility. Well, it’s a big deal in any sport.

And it’s also ensuring that my dogs are going to be able to predict when the release is coming. That’s what people don’t pay attention to, and then the dogs are sitting back there watching the handlers lead out and just arousal level’s going up, like, “When are they going to release me?” They don’t know, they can’t predict, and so I try to create a predictor that is easy for the dog to read. So I’m watching videos of my runs, and I evaluate my dog’s start lines just as much as the rest of the run. I’m always looking to see did the dog release on my cue, or was there any twitching, or whatever.

It’s just really important to know what to look for, and that’s I think what people are missing. They don’t know what to look for. They’re just looking to see if the dog stayed and not looking at a lot of other things, which is a lot of handling. So my start lines are really important to me because my dogs are very fast. But I find them very easy to maintain if my dogs understand the routine. And whenever I lead out, I’m just always checking to see that my dog has made the choice to stay, and if I’m always doing that, then my dog has always made that choice to stay because the release cue is very reinforcing to my dogs. They get to go, and so they learn to choose to stay because that’s what leads them to go. They love that.

Melissa Breau: For people out there who are listening to this and going, “All right, that’s awesome,” but they are in that position where they taught their dog a stay initially and it disappeared after they started running more regularly. How would you handle that? Would you just look at it as a poisoned cue and start over with a new cue? Would you retrain it with their existing cue? How would you approach it?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: That’s a really good question too. I think the first thing that I’d recommend to people in that situation is to make sure that they’re videotaping their training, the dog in training. And also making sure that they’re in that videotape as well, and also in the trial, and then really look at those two sessions and see if the handling is identical. It really needs to be. It’s important for the dogs. Dogs need to see the same thing. It needs to be clear to the dog. Cues need to be clear and clean. And then also the connection to the dog is super-important to the dog in agility, very, very important, and that’s at the start line, not just during the run.

So the questions to ask are, does the dog understand all of the little parts of his job at the start line, or is the handler trying to control the dog, like leading out and telling them to stay constantly. That’s going to be the beginning of a break because it’s going to stress the dog up, and there’s many reasons why that’s going to cause a break. So any type of controlling rather than training is going to make that experience stressful for the dog, so it’s better to take the time to teach those behaviors for the start line routine. So if that’s the case, we look at that. You really take a look at that picture of the start line. Are all those behaviors trained, and is the dog confident in all those little areas? That’s going to make that whole experience very, very easy for the dog.

And then, in terms of whether a new cue or a new setup routine needs to be trained, that just really depends on the dog and the situation. If it’s been going on for a long time, it might be wise to change the position. If the dog was doing a sit and he’s breaking, maybe you just start him in a down. I don’t really think the cue is usually the issue, because probably most likely the dogs are not even reading that cue. They’re probably reading some type of incidental cue or signal or motion from the handler that’s being paired with that. So it’s not even probably an issue, but yet it can make the handler feel better changing the cue, and it might still be the case that we’d want to change it. But it’s just one of those, again, creative processes you have to go through with each individual team. It just depends.

Melissa Breau: I know that, to mention FDSA, again here at the end, but I know you have a class on this subject running – and it’s supposed to start literally the day this airs, but registration is still open! — can you share a little bit about what the class does or doesn’t cover, and the kind of dog-handler team that might benefit most from taking it?

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. Like I said before, I’m pretty excited about this class. At one time I had another class that was pretty popular that covered agility, start lines, stopped contacts on the table, and that was just filled with a lot of information, probably too much. So I felt it was important to make the subject of start lines into its own class. So this class is perfect for young dogs starting to train or even getting ready to trial. I think that’s a perfect area for these type of dogs. But it’s also a good class for dogs that are already trialing. I just ask, if they’re going to take the class, to make sure that they stop trialing during this retraining period because that’s really important for the dogs, because we do really want to make the trial and the training the same, otherwise they just become different. What it’s not going to cover is how to address over-arousal issues, or environmental issues at the start line, and that subject’s covered in other FDSA classes. So in this class we’re going to work extensively on creating handling and training skills that will help predict the release. That’s the main thing I want people to be aware of is how much your dogs depend on predictability for start lines. It’s amazing, once you clear that up, it just creates a whole different world for the dogs. So with these consistent predictors the dogs are going to get more confident and adapt much easier in different environments, and that’s hugely important in agility.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much Nancy -- it sounds like a great class.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, I’m really excited.

Melissa Breau: I can see why. And thank you again for coming back on the podcast! I’m glad that you did and I’m glad we got a chance to talk about some of this stuff.

Nancy Gagliardi Little: It was great. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Mariah Hinds to talk about proofing and building reliable, ring-ready behaviors.

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

CREDITS:

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

Nov 10, 2017

SUMMARY:

Dr. Patricia McConnell is a Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals.

She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and taught "The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” for twenty-five years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her radio show, Calling All Pets, was heard in over 110 cities around the country, where Patricia dispensed advice about behavior problems and animal behavior research for over fourteen years.

She is the author of the much-acclaimed books The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of A Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend and Tales of Two Species. Her latest book is a memoir that came out earlier this year, titled The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 11/10/2017, featuring Sarah Stremming, talking about effective behavior change.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we have a special guest -- I’m talking to Dr. Patricia McConnell. Although she probably needs no introduction, I will share a bit from her bio.

Dr. Patricia McConnell is a Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals.

She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and taught "The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships” for twenty-five years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her radio show, Calling All Pets, was heard in over 110 cities around the country, where Patricia dispensed advice about behavior problems and animal behavior research for over fourteen years.

She is the author of several much-acclaimed books The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of A Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend and Tales of Two Species. Her latest book is a memoir that came out earlier this year, titled The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog.

Welcome to the podcast, Patricia!

Patricia McConnell: Thanks for having me, Melissa. What fun.

Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to be talking to you today. To kind of start us out a little bit, can you just share a little bit about the dogs and the animals you currently share your life with?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, absolutely. The most important animal is the two-legged one, my husband, my wonderful, accommodating husband who puts up with my obsession for dogs and sheep and cats and animals and gardening. So that’s Jim. And so we have three dogs. We have Willie, a 10-year-old border collie who is one of the stars of The Education of Will, and we have Maggie, a 4-year-old border collie who’s my competition sheepdog trial right now and the silliest, funniest, most adorablest dog that ever lived, of course, and Tootsie, who’s the other most adorablest dog, she’s a little Cavalier who was a puppy mill rescue. And we have two cats, Nellie and Polly, and we have 16 sheep.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Here we are. And we have Teresa the toad, who’s living in the cat bowl often, and I could go on and on. We have a little farm, it’s about 12 and a half acres, and so there are lots of critters on there, but the family ones I’ve already mentioned. I’ll stop there.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, I know that you’ve shared kind of in some of the other interviews you’ve done that you’ve been in love with dogs and behavior for as long as you can remember. So I wanted to ask a little bit about kind of when you decided that was what you wanted to do with your life, and see if you could just share a little bit about those early days.

Patricia McConnell: Oh yes, you know, it’s almost like a feminist manifesto, because when I was … I was born in 1948, and when I was 5 — there’s a story about me being asked what I wanted to do when I was 5, and I said, “I want to marry a rancher,” because in 1953 in Arizona, women made babies and casseroles. They didn’t make, they didn’t have careers, they didn’t, you know, make shopping centers and business deals or even be veterinarians. And so gradually over time I had all kinds of different careers. I moved a lot with my first husband, and eventually I got to the point where I thought, You know what, I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to study animal behavior. And what I envisioned is that I would teach it. I would teach at some small private college, and I would teach animal behavior because I loved animals and I loved behavior. And I finally realized in my 30s, early 40s, you know, this is a way I could really enmesh myself in my passion and what I love.

But then I went to an animal behavior society conference — it’s a conference of academics, people who study behavior, mostly wild animals, mostly in the field — and I ran into John Wright, who was an academic, actually a psychologist who was an applied animal behaviorist, and so he took all of his training and behavior and used it to help people solve problems with family dogs. And I was like, Oh, really? I didn’t know that was a possibility.

So it ended up that my colleague, Dr. Nancy Raffetto, and I opened up Dog’s Best Friend as a consulting service. Most people had no idea who we were, what we were doing. Nobody did it then. I mean, nobody did it then. People would call us up, Melissa, and say, “Do you guys groom poodles?”

Melissa Breau: Oh goodness.

Patricia McConnell: Yes. So this was in the late ’80s, and this was a really new field. So it all progressed from there, but it certainly wasn’t linear, and anybody who’s in a path right now of, like, who do I want to be and what do I want to do, or maybe I’m going in a direction that I don’t want to go, is don’t lose heart. I mean, I didn’t get into this until I was in my 40s.

Melissa Breau: And you’ve quite clearly achieved quite a bit of success, so …

Patricia McConnell: It’s been very satisfying, you know. I feel so lucky. I feel very grateful and lucky and privileged and honored to be able to find the right niche, you know? Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I think the rest of us have been pretty privileged that you’ve decided to do this too, so …

Patricia McConnell: Well, thank you.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask, you mentioned that, you know, you’ve been in the field for quite a while, and I wanted to ask kind of how your philosophy is today and maybe a little bit of kind of how even it’s changed over that time. Obviously the world is a very different place for dogs.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, man, so true. I mean, I’ve written quite a few places about the first dog training class I went to when I was, I think, probably 19. The dog trainer was a Marine, and he hung a Basenji — as in, with a choke-chain collar — picked the dog off the ground, so all four feet were off the ground, and hung him there until he started running out of breath and was dying. Actually, it was not all that long, shockingly, not all that long ago somebody, a dog died from that and someone tried to sue, except they didn’t … they weren’t successful because they were told that that was standard in the industry. That was standard practice, so you can’t blame the person for doing it.

Yeah, so boy, have things changed. Boy, have things changed. My philosophy now is very much along the lines of “least intrusive minimally aversive,” you know, the LIMA protocol that I think is fantastic. I would say 99.95 percent of what I do with dogs is positive reinforcement, and I do use, I will use a correction. I mean, if Maggie starts to eat something I don’t want her to eat, sometimes I’ll say “Leave it,” or sometimes I’ll go “Ah-ah,” you know, and that’s positive punishment because I added something to decrease the frequency of a behavior, right.

So, but, I think, you know, besides the really important focus that you see now on positive reinforcement, which I think is just so vital, I think interspersed with that, entwined with that, is a change in our relationship and the way we see our dogs. I mean, it was all about dominance before. It was all about control, and you’re in charge, and sometimes it was just simply, like, well, you know, “You have to be in charge,” and other times it was suggested as a way, as something your dog needed, you know, the old “Your dog needs you to be the alpha of the pack.” But it was always about control.

And now it seems to me, don’t you think, it’s more with many of us about relationship. They are our best friends, you know. They’re great friends of ours, and that’s what I want. You know, my dogs have to do what I ask them to do. Sometimes they have to. They have to lie down if they’re chasing a rabbit towards the road or something. But I value them as members of my family and friends. I don’t think of them as furry people. I think that’s disrespectful to dogs. But they are an integral part of my life and my family and my love.

Melissa Breau: That’s definitely something that is kind of a core part of the kind of Fenzi philosophy, so I mean, I definitely think that we’re seeing more and more of a shift to that, obviously. Not everybody’s there yet, but hopefully they will be one day, right?

Patricia McConnell: Absolutely, yeah, and I think the kind of work that, you know, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is doing is vital to that, you know? We just, we all need to be out there as much as we can, just spreading the word, because it’s, you know, it’s not just more fun, because it works better. I just heard, I was just at APDT not too long ago and somebody was … it was Pat Miller was talking about Bob Bailey saying — who was a professional animal trainer, he trained for movies and commercials — and he said, “I use positive reinforcement because it works better,” he said. “I don’t do it for welfare, I don’t do it to be nice, I do it because it works better and it’s more efficient. I would do, if I had used punishment if it worked better in order to do my job, that’s what I’d do, you know, but,” he said, “it just, it works better.” But so it does work better, but it’s also so much more fun, you know. It’s so much more fun to not have to be a drill sergeant in your own living room.

Melissa Breau: I did hear that you were awarded an award at APDT. Is that right?

Patricia McConnell: I was so honored. They gave me the Lifetime Achievement Award, yeah.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, thank you. I was really honored, yeah. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Obviously, you’re really well known for your work in dog behavior, but I know from your first book that early on in your career you did quite a bit of research on cues, especially across languages. And I know that cues are always kind of a big topic and of interest to people, so I wanted to ask you to kind of share your top takeaway or two from that work.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, thanks for asking, because, you know, that’s how I got into this. I mean, I was … I started as an undergraduate looking for a project, a research project. As an ethologist, somebody who studies animal behavior, I had no thought of working with domestic animals or being an applied animal behaviorist. I was working with a professor who worked with fish, and so what I did is … the question at the time that was really hot in the field at the time was, why do animals take the risk of making noise, you know, what are they doing, are they just sort of expressing an emotional state because they can’t help it, are they, is there some function of what they do? People honestly were asking questions about why are animals making noise, because it’s risky, right, it attracts attention.

So I used working domestic animals, the relationship between handlers and working domestic animals, as a kind of a model for that system. So I recorded the acoustic signals from over 110 handlers who work with racehorses and all different kinds of dogs, different kinds of horses, and they spoke, I think I got 16 different languages, and what I found was I found patterns in how people speed animals up and and how they use sound to slow animals down. And so basically what I learned was short, rapidly repeated notes are used all over the world, no matter what language, what field, to speed animals up, and long, slow, extended ones are used to soothe them, and quick, abrupt ones with an instant onset are used to stop them. So, you know, so it’s the difference between [makes sound] or [makes sound] right, those are all used to speed animals up. “Whoa, lie down,” soothe, slow versus “Whoa!” to stop a quarter horse, for example. And so yeah, so what I learned was it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and that’s had a profound influence on how I work with animals and how I think of how we communicate.

Melissa Breau: So how does that kind of continue to influence what you do today?

Patricia McConnell: It does professionally and it does personally. So, you know, with clients I was always paying attention, and I think we all are. All good trainers, when we’re working with dog owners, we’re paying a lot of attention to how people use sound and how they say things, you know. So, I mean, this probably happened to everybody who’s listening is you had a client who would say, “Jasper, come!” and Jasper would stop in his tracks, you know. And that was standard obedience, by the way, is to shout it out like that, and to stand really stiff and really still and look straight at your dog and, like, “Come!” you know. And dogs had to get over, like, OK, I guess I’m supposed to come forward, rather than their natural instinct, which is, I clearly should stop right now because they’re telling me not to come here. So I pay a lot of attention to how clients would speak, and, you know, I have to work on it too. I mean, I work with working border collies and who are sometimes 500 yards away from you, so you really have to pay attention to tone, you know, and how you sound. I mean, I’ve learned … Maggie, for example. Maggie’s super sensitive and she can get really worried, and so when I ask her to lie down, I say, “Lie down, lie down,” just really sing-songy, really easy, and she’s so responsive that she’ll do it right away. So both personally and professionally I just pay a lot of attention to that. Am I perfect personally? No, of course not.

But the other thing I learned, Melissa, after I finished my dissertation, after I finished all that research on sound, when I started doing dog training classes is I discovered how, yeah, sound has a huge effect on how dogs behave, but they’re primarily watching us, and how unaware most of us are of how our … the movement of our body affects dogs. So that’s the other big takeaway that I’ve learned about cuing is that just whether you’re leaning forward a half an inch can make a profound difference in whether your dog is comfortable coming towards you, or breaks its stay, or you turn your head away from a dog who’s uncomfortable, or stare at it, make it uncomfortable. So, you know, all my training as an ethologist, and study communication and subtle, subtle, tiny, subtle little signals, I think stands everybody who loves dogs in good stead because it’s so important to be aware that less is more. The tiniest little change in inflection, the tiniest little movement, can have a huge effect on your dog’s behavior.

Melissa Breau: And it goes back to, like, the example you mentioned kind of of somebody standing straight up and strict as they yell “Come.” It’s not just the language. It’s also the body language there that’s just so counter, counter to purpose.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to make sure we talked a little bit about the new book, because I know there are a lot of people who are very excited that you wrote it. So how does The Education of Will differ kind of from some of the other books that you’ve written?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, well, thanks for asking about it, first of all. It’s hugely different. It’s … this is a totally different work than I’ve ever done before. It’s a memoir, so it’s very personal. It’s a memoir about me and Willie. That’s why the subtitle — on the hard cover, anyway —  is A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog. I intertwine stories about getting Willie as a puppy who came as if he comes straight from Afghanistan with some canine version of PTSD. He was the most, he was fearful, he was sound reactive, he was pretty much a mess as a young dog. He really was. But he also, you know, he was … when he was good, he was like the best dog ever. He has a face on him that can just melt your bones, and he still does. I mean, there’s something about Willie’s face. That’s why the publisher put his face on the cover of the book, which I still am not crazy about because I don’t think it tells people what the book is really about. But his face, he’s just got the most gorgeous face, and he’s so loving and so friendly and so playful, you know.

The best of Willie is, like, just the dog everybody wants, but he came with all this baggage, and his baggage, as it turned out, triggered all kinds of stuff that I thought I had resolved from my past. I had a lot of traumas in my past. I was raped, I was molested, I had somebody fall and die, literally out of the sky and, like, fall by surprise out of the sky and fall at my feet and die. Yeah, and you know when things like that happen, it really changes … structurally, physically, changes your brain. I mean, when individuals get traumatized with that kind of a trauma and they can’t, they don’t, have enough resilience to bounce back from it, it literally structurally, physically, changes your brain structure. Your amygdala gets more active, your hippocampus shrinks, I mean, all kinds of things happen.

And so I had my own version of PTSD and I thought I’d resolved it, but when I got this super, super sound-reactive little puppy who, when a butterfly in China came out of its chrysalis, would leap up barking, and it set off, it triggered, all this old stuff and all these old symptoms with me. And so I basically figured out eventually that I couldn’t heal Willie until I really healed myself. So he forced me to go farther down and face some of the things I thought I dealt with but I really hadn’t finished.

So I didn’t start writing it to publish it. I actually started writing just segments of it, of some of the traumas that happened to me, as part of therapy, because it’s very therapeutic to write out just about anything. I highly, strongly advise it to any of us. I write in my journal almost every morning and I find it so balancing. But so I started … I wasn’t going to publish this, Melissa. I was just therapizing myself and trying to get better. And then, as a part of that process, I read a couple of books that literally changed my life. I mean, you know, that sounds, it’s used so often and I know we can overuse it, but they really did. That really is how it felt. And I started thinking if I could write this book where I intertwined Willie’s story and my story to show people that both people and dogs can, that the effects of trauma on both people and dogs, because dogs can be traumatized, and I think a lot of people don’t acknowledge that. Horses too, any mammal, but to also that we are ultimately so resilient, and that if we have the right support around us, people can heal from just an amazing amount of things and so can dogs. So that’s why I ended up finishing it, publishing it, and putting it out in the world.

Melissa Breau: How are you and Willie both doing today?

Patricia McConnell: Oh, we’re good, we’re good. He’s 10. I can barely believe that he’s 10 years old. He’s really happy. I think he loves having Maggie there. Maggie is great with him. You know, he’s so much better now. I mean, he recovered so much. He’s still super reactive, but now it’s like happy reactive, you know, it’s not panic, scared reactive. But he’s also … he’s not the best dog around other dogs, and so when Maggie came she’d, like, try and play, and he’d get grumpy and, you know, do a little one of those little tiny little, you know, grumpy tooth displays, you know, like, [makes sound] and she literally would be, like, “Oh Willie, come on, let’s play,” and you could just see he’d be, like, “OK.” So yeah, they play, he gets to work sheep, he gets, he and I still cuddle, and he gets a belly rub, he’s really good, he’s really happy, and it makes me really happy, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Good.

Patricia McConnell: Thanks for asking.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. When you wrote the book, what do you hope people will take away from it? I know you mentioned that you wrote it kind of inspired by these other books that changed your life, but when somebody finishes reading the book, what do you hope they’ve kind of learned or that they walk away with?

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, yeah, thanks for asking. I would say, one, that about that resilience, about the fact that it’s amazing if you know how to handle it, you know. You have to have the tools, you have to have help, you have to have a village. That if you have help and you know how to handle it, it’s astounding how resilient people can be. And I’ve since heard stories, and we’ve all heard stories, about people who have been through just unbelievable nightmares and yet they’re doing good, you know, like, how do you live through that? So people are really resilient.

I really want to emphasize and get out into the world, past sort of the Dog Fancy world, that dogs can be traumatized, you know. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you or listeners is that so much of “aggression” and “disobedience” are is basically behavior that’s motivated by fear, you know. And I see … I saw a lot of dogs who I think were traumatized, I mean, even just in the dog park they got attacked from behind by some dog and then they become dog aggressive. And so knowing that, you know, this is not about dominance, this is not in the, this is not a bad dog, you know, that we need to be really thoughtful.

Veterinarians need to be really aware of how terrifying it can be to a dog to have certain medical procedures, and I think veterinary medicine is starting to come on board, which is really gratifying. Dr. Marty Becker has a book coming out — it’s actually available through Dogwise, it’s coming out in April commercially or everywhere else — it’s called From Fearful to Fear Free, and a lot of what he’s trying to do is to change vet clinics so that they’re more conscious, you know, using a lot of the kind of methods that Sophia Yin did such a great job of spreading out into the world. So that’s another one of the things that I want people to be aware of — that animals can be traumatized and they need understanding. They don’t need dominance. They need understanding.

But, you know, the last thing that I would love people to get is that we all have stories, you know. We all have stories, and we all have things that we’re ashamed of or afraid of. And I’m a big supporter of Brene Brown and her work about facing those fears, about putting light onto some of that, rather than hiding it in the dark. And, you know, we need to be aware of the person we’re sitting next to, or the person who was rude in line at the supermarket or something, you know. We don’t know their story. And even when people are successful and productive, you know, you don’t know. You don’t know. So the more empathy and benevolence and kindness we can have to everybody and anybody, whether person or dog, the better the world will be.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s such, like, a powerful and important message to kind of get out there and think about and to be aware of, not just in your interactions with dogs but also with people.

Patricia McConnell: Thank you. And don’t you think — and this is an authentic question I’m asking you — maybe because of social media, I don’t know what it is about the world, is it in the water, I don’t know, but, you know, it’s true in many fields, and sort of parts of social behavior of humans, but there is a certain amount, in the dog world, of snarkiness, of, you know, of snappiness, of a lack of real thoughtful, benevolent consideration of other people, and I think that’s too bad. I do think it’s partly because of social media, but I just want everybody who loves dogs and is promoting positive training with dogs, if we all — and we all need to be reminded of, believe me, I am no saint, I have to take a breath sometimes too — but we all need to remember that no matter what method somebody uses or how much we disagree with them, we need to be as positive with people as we are with dogs.

Melissa Breau: I think especially in kind of the sports world, or the competitive world, you’ve got a dichotomy there between competition where people want to be better than the others around them and they also do have that relationship with their dog, so I definitely do think that there’s a snarkiness, and we all have to be conscious of our own behavior and our own words and kind of fight against that a little bit.

Patricia McConnell: Yeah, yeah, you know, I don’t do, I don’t go to agility, I never competed in it, but I don’t go. I watch it sometimes, but I don’t do it a lot, but I’m in sheepdog handling and, you know, we all know how competitive some people can be. And I love the people who are competitive in a really good way, you know? They want to get better, and they love to, and yeah, it’s way more fun to win. I mean, it’s way more fun to do well. No question about it. It’s way more fun to do well. But overriding all of these has got to be the health and happiness of our dogs and our relationship with them.

Melissa Breau: I could not agree with you more.

Patricia McConnell: Oh good.

Melissa Breau: So I know we’re kind of getting towards the end of the call, but there are three questions that I ask everyone who comes on the podcast and I wanted to make sure we kind of got them in and I got your perspective … so to start out the first one is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Patricia McConnell: Well, you know, I have to separate it out. Personally, I think I’m proudest of giving my dogs a good life. I feel all wussy when I say that. I could just get all soppy and Oprah-ish. But I, you know, I’m not perfect and, I mean, I can beat myself up over things I haven’t done perfectly and I could have done better, but I think, in general, I think I’ve provided quite a few dogs a really, really good life, and understanding them as individuals rather than just dogs and making them fit into some kind of a slot that I wanted them to fit into, so I’m really proud of that. And I also, I guess professionally, I think I’m proudest of combining my respect for good writing and my passion and love for dogs and my interest in science, combining all those three things. I love to read, I love good writing, I don’t think anybody needs to hear how much I’m just stupid in love for dogs, and I think science is really important, and I found a way, sometimes, you know, I get on the right track and I combine all those three things in a way that I feel is good enough, and when that happens I feel really good about that.

Melissa Breau: I love that, especially the bit about just knowing that you’ve provided a good life to your dogs. That’s such an awesome thing to be proud of. I really, I like that answer.

Patricia McConnell: Thank you, thank you.

Melissa Breau: So this one may be a hard question, but what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Patricia McConnell: Oh man, oh wow, oh wow, let’s see. Do I have to pick one? OK, I’ll be really fast.

Melissa Breau: You can share more than one if you want. I’ll let you get away with that.

Patricia McConnell: Good. The thing that pops up in my mind the first time I hear that is actually … it’s not a piece of advice. It’s just a saying and it makes me want to cry. I sound like such a crier.

It makes me want to cry. The saying is, “We train by regret.” It just hits home so hard to me because I think every one of us who cares deeply about dogs and is really honest, and insightful, and learned, and grows, you know, admits that there’s things we’ve done that we wish we’d never done and, you know, some of them are just tiny little stupid things. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” or, you know, so I think that’s a really important saying. But I think that the most important part about it is to remind all of us to be kinder to ourselves. I think a lot of the people I work with who are progressive dog trainers who just adore their dogs and move heaven and earth for them, we’re so hard on ourselves. Don’t you think? I mean, we’re just, you know, I work with clients who are just … they’re just, oh, they’re being so hard on themselves because they haven’t been perfect. They made this one mistake and it’s like, oh man, you know, we are all human here. So I think that strikes home with me a lot.

And I guess the other just sort of solid, quick, concise piece of advice is basically “Say less, mean more.” I just made that up, but I’ve heard people say versions of that, you know, so basically another version is “Just shut up.” I think, I mean, you can hear I like to talk, right, so I can get badly with my dogs, and I think it’s confusing and tiring to our dogs. And I think, you know, some of the people who, you know, those people who dogs just don’t ever want to leave, you know, they meet them, and the second they meet them they sit down beside them and don’t want to leave. There aren’t many of them, and I was never one of those people. I sometimes am now, which makes me really happy, but those are often people who are really quiet. So I think being very mindful of the way we use words and sound around our dogs is really, really important because, I think, frankly, our dogs are often just simply exhausted trying to figure out what the heck we’re trying to convey to them, you know? So I guess I’d just stick with those two things.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you. Kind of the last one here is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Patricia McConnell: If you had asked that first we would still be talking. That’s cold to ask me last when we run out of time! OK, I’ll talk really fast. Susan Friedman — I’d kiss the hem of her skirt or her pants. I bow down to her. I think she’s brilliant, funny, amazing, wonderful. I love Fenzi Dog Sports. I think that incredible work’s being done. Suzanne Hetts is doing great work. Her husband, Dan Estep. Julie Hecht at Dog Spies. Karen Pryor, oh my goodness. Trish King. Steve White. Chris Zink, the … everybody in, you know, dog sports knows. Those are the people who just, like, rattle off the top of my head right now, but I could go on and on and on. There are so many amazing people in this field right now. It’s just so gratifying.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

Patricia McConnell: Those are just a few of them, yeah.

Melissa Breau: We’ll have to see if we can get a few of them to come on the show.

Patricia McConnell: Oh absolutely, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Patricia! I really appreciate it.

Patricia McConnell: Oh, it was really fun. Thanks for having me.

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

We’ll be back next week with Sarah Stremming. Sarah and I will be talking about life with your dog outside of training… and how what you do then impacts that training.

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

CREDITS:

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

Oct 20, 2017

SUMMARY:

Laura began training professionally in 1999, and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out: Training Crazy Dogs from Over-the-top to Under Control and her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil and Savvy: Training and Socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs.

She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

Links

Next Episode: 

To be released 10/27/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titling program and her upcoming book.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we will be talking to Laura VanArendonk Baugh.

If that name isn't familiar to you, no worries. Laura is actually our first non FDSP instructor to be on the show.

Laura began training professionally in 1999 and is author of the best-selling book Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out, training crazy dogs from over-the-top to under control. And her newest book, released earlier this year, Social, Civil, and Savvy: Training and socializing puppies to become the best possible dogs. She owns Canines in Action Inc. in Indianapolis and speaks at workshops and seminars. She is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

Hi, Laura, welcome to the podcast.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Hi, Melissa. I am thrilled to be here.

Melissa Breau: Good. I'm looking forward to chatting with you. To get us started out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you're working on with them?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I have two dogs at this time. Penny is a Labrador who was raised as part of a Clicker training research project with guide dogs for the blind, and she actually ended up coming back to me. As a trainer, it's important for me to say her training was great. She did not come back to me for a training reason, which would've been fine too, but that's always like, my little, “No, I'm a trainer. She was good.” So anyway, so she now has very important tasks at home. She has to hold my couch down, she has to check my ponds daily to see if it's wet, so that's Penny's life right now.

Melissa Breau: Critical.

Laura: VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, Yeah. Those are important tasks. I also have Undómiel, who is my young Doberman, and she's Danish, so she has ears and a tail and all the extra bits, and she's pretty high-energy, and pretty fun, and I actually have some guilt because you ask what I'm doing with them right now.

Right now, they both are just dogs, which is a little weird for me because they spent so long in the dog sport world. And I took some time off mostly with Undómiel because she loves to work, but she wasn't loving mondioring, which is what we were doing with her as a puppy, and I think that was in part physical. I needed…she had some fairly loose joints and I think it just wasn't comfortable for her, so we could go back and do it now, but she's matured a little bit, but I've scheduled my life poorly so that’s why we’re in a holding pattern still, so yeah.

Melissa Breau: Far enough. So I know I kind of mentioned you've been in personal training since 1999, but I wanted to ask a little bit about how you got into it. So how did you originally get into training professionally?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I didn't want to do what I went to school for is the short answer to that question, so I graduated with a couple of degrees in, you know, mass communications, and a foreign language, and all these things that, you know, I'm like oh, okay, those are nice, but I don't want to do that. I ended up getting into…I’d done some obedience training and such previously. I ended up getting a job doing that actually at a big box store, so that kind of thing. I worked up there, became a regional manager for the training program, and it was actually while I was there that I went… I'm a crossover trainer and I was originally trained in more the Koehler approach and kind of encountered clicker training and was like oh, this makes sense, oh, this works really well, and then so I had my crossover experience, and yeah, just kind of never looked back after that, which is funny because for so many years I was like oh, food and toys are stupid, we don't bribe dogs, and that's totally not where I am now, so. Well, I'm still in the we don't bribe dogs, but toys and food are not necessarily bribing, so.

Melissa Breau: Right. So is there anything in particular that got you started on that journey? What was kind of the switch or was there a particular experience, or anything kind of that you can point to?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There were several things. I mean, I kept seeing people doing interesting things with Clicker training. That was nice.They were doing cute tricks and stuff. And then the kind of the clincher for me was one of my dogs at that time, her name was Chaucer, she was a brilliant little dog, and she was mildly reactive, and the longer we worked the more and more reactive she became, and nothing that I knew how to do was working, and in fact, everything was getting worse, so clearly the dog was stupid. It couldn't possibly be me. And so I ended up talking with someone about Clicker training and the nugget that I got from that was to click for the behavior that you want the dog to do, and I thought okay, I want her to be around other dogs without barking and launching, so I will wait until she looks at another dog and then I will click before she barks. So this actually makes great sense and we do it all the time now, and Leslie McDevitt called it the “look at that” game, so it sounds hilarious to say that I invested the look at that game as my first Clicked behavior, which in no way am I taking credit for that because I had no freaking clue what I was doing. It was one of those things that was very logical and I accidentally got it right, but was amazing about that is it worked, like, within seconds, and I guess that she was a brilliant dog, she made this work for me despite my absolute ignorance. And so I clicked her, she turned around and got her treat, and I clicked her again and she turned around, and I was like, oh, wow. Like, we're 10 seconds in and this is working, and you know, the effect of prompt reinforcement, it changed my behavior, and so that's where I started doing more research and saying oh, this is really cool.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, especially since you've been trying other things for so long and probably got really frustrated, at that point, with the lack of results.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there was a lot of frustration. Yeah. I was so ready for something to work and I think if you look at the dogs…a lot of the dogs that we work with, a lot of the reactive dogs, you know, they're very frustrated, they're ready for something to work, and just having that really powerful instance of positive reinforcement for a different behavior, it can be massively effective because, you know, I lived that, I'm not just making that up because that's the way the theory goes, that was my experience is I was so frustrated, I got something that worked so well, and I was like okay, tell me more. Like, I'm in now.

Melissa Breau: Right. So I want to talk a little bit about your first book, and maybe…you just kind of share a little bit about this. What led you to write Fired up Frantic and Freaked out?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I was... with Canines in Action. I do a lot of in-home sessions. I work with a lot of dogs that aren't equipped, for whatever reason, to come into a group class and I realized that about 70 percent of my cases were anxiety or reactivity, and I just kept saying the same thing over, and over, and over. I'm like oh my gosh, I should just write this down, save time, so I did so. So that's honestly kind of where that came out of was I was seeing so much of it, and doing so much of it. It was made partly as a reference guide for clients if they wanted a homework sheet, you know, here's a book to follow along with, and partly so that I would maybe not have to say it quite as so often in the future, which would be fantastic.

Melissa Breau: So for those not familiar with the book, can you explain a little bit kind of about the main focus and what you talk about?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: The focus there is really on teaching dogs to think and to kind of be cognitive in the moment. One of the things I talk about is if you have a fear reaction or just a pure joyous, excitement reaction, those can frequently result in the same behavior patterns and problems because what you have is a dog who is just way too excited to think, you know, whether he sees eustress or distress, he's still stressed and aroused and not processing. So it's about teaching the dog to think in the moment, it's about reducing threshold, and it's especially about teaching the human end of the leash to develop a good splitting technique and utilize that to make it much easier for the dog to focus in a new situation.

Melissa Breau: I definitely read your first book and one of the things that really stood out to me was the nice balance you managed to strike between the what and kind of the why, so it covers both the approach to training and kind of the science behind what's going on in the dog's brain, and I think you managed to do that in a pretty accessible way. You know, when I picked up the book I definitely did not have the background that I do now, and it really kind of helped build a base understanding for me. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach training for a dog that tends to overreact, like the approach that you use in the book?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Well, first, I'm just so happy to hear you say that because I'm such a science nerd and I wanted to make that science very user-friendly, so thank you, that's awesome. So the mat is…and definitely, I am not the only person to use a mat in this way. I want to be up front. I don't want to claim credit where it's not due. There's a lot of really great matwork protocols out there, but what they all have in common is it's a really handy visual crutch for the dog and it certainly doesn't have to be a mat. There's a lot of just kind of physical or mental touchstones that could be used, but a mat is just so convenient and so easy for the human to use in that way... but what you're doing is you're building a fluency, you're building some patterns of behavior that a stressed animal can fall back on, but you're also building some patterns that they can work through, I guess on a more cognitive level. “Oh, when my mat is presented I should think about going to my mat, I should think about doing these behaviors on it.” And you can use it both as an emotional crutch. “Oh, I'm on my mat, nothing bad can happen to me,” or as a actual behavior prompt, you go through these physical actions and you can earn reinforcement for it. And then the big thing that the mat does so well, and this is why think it so useful, is it's so easy to split behaviors in a situation using that mat, so I can take it, obviously, from looking at the mat, touching the mat, going to the mat, down on the mat, chin down on the mat. But then I also have a nearly infinite number of positions that, that mat can be in, in or around a trigger, or whatever. So it's a very flexible tool, I can fade it, or not fade it based on necessity, it's just a really easy way for people to do that, and for me as an instructor. So I'm working with clients who aren't coming in with a huge skill set and a lot of background. It's easy for me to manipulate the mat and they can focus on the dog or their patterns, and it just takes some of the load off them. There's a lot of flexibility to it. I like it.

Melissa Breau: It makes the criteria clear for the person as well as the dog. It's kind of neat looking at it.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely, Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So I knew you mentioned you like to nerd out a little bit on that stuff and I'm going to give you full approval to go ahead and do that. So I wanted to have you share a little bit about kind of why it works and what's going on in the dog's brain, kind of what you're teaching when you introduce the mat work and begin to introduce triggers and all of that.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Awesome. There's a lot going on in the brain, but what I'm specifically…what I think is great about these kinds of approaches is if I have a stressed dog and an anxious dog, and let's be honest, that's where almost all of aggression or reactivity comes from, and so I've got a dog who is not in a happy place in his head, and every time I click with a Clicker-conditioned dog there's a tiny little shot of dopamine that's going on, so if I'm bringing a dog into what could potentially be a trigger situation, and we start with low criteria and we're building up at a rate that he can be successful at, with a high rate of reinforcement, you know, constant reinforcement going on, and this dog is getting dozens or hundreds of little dopamine shots... It's free drugs. Legal. That you don't have to wrestle down his throat in a pill form. It's great.

And so I think that's a really key thing that…you know, it's just built into the system. There's no way to mess that up if we've set up our Clicker and our training situation right that's going to work for us a hundred percent of the time, so I think that's great. And so yeah, a lot of it's just taking the dog…the visual I use, and I always tell my clients, you know, if this works for you, great. If this doesn't work for you, flush it. There will not be a quiz at the end of the day. But the visual I use is there's a continuum and the dog is limbic and reactive at one end, and he's very cognitive and rational, and analytical at the other, and he can't be both at once, so we’re asking the dog to move away from reactive and toward proactive, and we do that by making him…that's why I love Clicker training, specifically shaping and capturing as opposed to luring, which there's nothing…you know, it's not a moral problem to lure, but it's less useful in this particular context because I want that dog being analytical, and kind of really just crunching down on what behaviors should I try next, and he can't do that while he's being reactive, so if I'm reinforcing being analytical it's going to change not only what he's doing, but it's going to change the chemistry in his brain.

I've had this happen a number of times, but I'm thinking of one particular incident. I was working with a client and their dog for the first time. We're in their living room, we're in the front room and we've just been introducing the mat. The dogs not even fully down on the mat yet. He's experimenting with a number of things, but he really hasn't grokked yet that down is what we're after, and while we were working a FedEx delivery guy showed up at the front door, which is the dogs worse trigger, from what I've been told, and they're knocking at the door, he's leaning in, and he's 10 feet away from this dog and the dogs looks up from the mat and he just gets like…his forehead is creased, his little eyebrows are pushed together, and you could almost just see him be like, “dude, I'm busy,” and he looks back at the mat, and I am just clicking and treating, like shot gunning rapid fire because the dog's staying on the mat. And you could see he was just really tempted to… “there's a pattern that I'm supposed to go to, but I'm really concentrating on this right now,” and it's a physically different mode that they had to get into and just like it's hard for them to get out of that…you know, if you've ever tried to talk to dog out of that reactive burst when they're lunging and barking, and they can't snap back into rational thought. It's just as hard to go the other way. So we just put them in the rational thought and then it's harder for them to fall into limbic.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. I love that example just because it really kind of illustrates what the purpose and kind of the effect. I have a change in brain space.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I loved it because it was their first session and I was like, man, if I could have set this up any better to get client buy in, you know? This was great.

Melissa Breau: I bet they followed through.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about your new book. It's a fairly different topic, so what led you to write Social Civil and Savvy?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I think it's really interesting that you say it's a different topic because I'm looking at it as these are the same things. For me, socialization is kind of the prequel, it's getting your dog to think proactively in a novel situation, potentially triggered situation, before we develop a problem, which of course is my idea. I think most trainers would love to put themselves out of business. You can always go and train, fun stuff, but you know, if we're working with reactivity and aggression and all of that we would love to put ourselves out of business there. But yeah, socialization is all about teaching young brains to look at a situation and go, “this is interesting, what can I do here to get what results,” so.

Melissa Breau: So how do you actually define socialization, either for yourself, or you know, kind of in the book?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: That's a much wigglier concept than you would think. There should be a six-word definition that would be easy to apply, but you know, even when you get into psychology texts and stuff it's not that simple even in our own species. The way…I'm going to do this as a truly practical application, I want socialization to mean I am aware of my environment, I am making proactive decisions about my environment, and I'm still thinking about the environment, so even if something is new I can compare to things I've seen before, I can say, “huh, this is interesting, what happens if I try this.” You know, I want an animal whose thinking proactively is my ultimate goal there.

Melissa Breau: Is there one place where people often kind of go wrong, or you know, kind of a misconception you think people have when it comes to socializing puppies that maybe sometimes causes more harm than good?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, I think there's actually two. I think…and it's two ends of a spectrum where you have, you know, the I don't socialize at all, and a lot of times you hear trainers talk about…depending on what part of the country, but you'll hear trainers talk about winter puppy syndrome. The puppies come home in November or December, and the weather is horrible and nobody takes them out to do anything until spring, and by then you have dogs who are like no, no, the world looks like my living room, and then anything outside of that is scary. And in the other extreme is doing too much in the name of socialization and just really overwhelming a dog in teaching them that they don't necessarily have control of their environment and the world is a scary place, and I've seen a few articles circulating lately on the dangers of socialization, and you shouldn't socialize because it's bad for your dog, and on the one hand I was like hey, guys, you know. Several years ago I wrote an article called Don't Socialize the Dog, this isn't new, but the point is not that we don't socialize, the point is not to socialize badly, and I think if I take a dog to a situation that's overwhelming and I don't give him agency, choice and a way to affect his environment, yeah, I'm going to get myself in trouble. I'm teaching the dog that reactivity is his only choice, but that's not a fault of socialization. That's a fault of bad socialization.

Melissa Breau: So I've kind of heard it expressed as, you know, it's not just that you want them exposed to things it's that you actually want to them to have positive experiences with things. Is that kind of…

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Okay.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. I want every socialization experience, if I have perfect control of things, which we rarely do, but this is my goal. I want every socialization experience to end with “I win! What's next?” and that's…even if the dog starts off with a little bit of worry about something, or whatever, like, work through it, let the dog know that everything was a puzzle and he solved it, he's awesome. And you know, I want positive experiences and I specifically want positive experience where the dog felt like he had some control in that environment. So one of the big things…and this is why I think the socialization book and the fired up and frantic book are the same topic.

Predictability and a sense of control are the two things that I tell my clients that we crave in order to feel safe, and you know, I want to know what's coming, and I want to have some say in what happens to me, and that is what socialization is. It's teaching the dog hey, this is how the world works, this is what you can expect to see, and this is what you do to manipulate your environment and get what you want. And manipulate is not a dirty word, it's just agency, so if you want people to pet you this is what you do, if you want people to leave you alone this is what you do, and giving them that sense of control, now there's nothing to fear. Hooray. We're done. It’s awesome.

Melissa Breau: So if people were to pick up the book, read through it, and only walk away with kind of one thing, or one message. What kind of key piece of information would you want them to learn?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Give your dog a happy sense of control. I think. Is that a good…I don't know. That kind of condemns everything I just said. I want a happy puppy feeling he has choice, and yeah.

Melissa Breau: I normally and every episode with kind of the same three questions, so I wanted to give you a chance to answer the same questions, and I'm actually really excited to post under somebody who isn't just an FDSA person, so this will be fun. So to start out, what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: I might have to say that's actually the first book just because I've gotten so many emails and stories about how that was really helpful not just to people and their dogs, which was the goal, but I've had people tell me that they used the techniques for themselves in their own personal human lives, and that's really awesome, so yeah. I mean, I feel some guilt because that doesn't even involve my own personal dog, but there's…you know, my dogs probably don't need that specific achievement to feel happy. They're having awesome lives hanging out with me. So let's just pretend that they didn't hear that question. Yeah. I'm going to say finding out that it was really helpful to people, so yeah, that's it.

Melissa Breau: Okay. And then what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Oh, there's no way I can pick a single one. There are …can I choose two?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Go for it.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Bob Bailey once said…and I'm sure he said it to many people, but he did say to me also, you know, “Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement. Those are your three things. If anything is going wrong it's in one of those three,” and I have never found that not to be true. So anytime I'm looking at a problem it's going to be in my timing, it's going I’ve set the wrong criteria, or my rate of reinforcement is wrong.

Melissa Breau: Want to repeat those one more time for people just so that they can really get them down if they're listening?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Sure. Sure. Because trust me, this is tattooed on the inside of my skull for easy reference. Timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.

Any problem you have it's going to be one of those, or maybe two, but it's something in there; don't go looking for weird esoteric stuff. It's going to be timing, criteria, rate of reinforcement.

And then the other one…and I have to credit Steve White for this one because I'm one of those people who can get…let's say “focused.” Focused sounds like a nice way to put this, or you can get really intense on solving a particular problem or working a particular session, and Steve said, “The one to quit is the one before you say just one more,” and I was like oh, that's me.

Melissa Breau: I don't think you're alone there. I think that's a common problem.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. We should have membership cards, yeah.

Melissa Breau: So my last question for you is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: There's a lot and I'm really hesitant to pick one because that's like picking favorite dogs, but probably Hannah Branigan. I would like to be Hannah when I grow up. That sounds like a good plan.

Melissa Breau: Wouldn't we all?

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah, yeah. She's got a lot of good stuff going on and she's got a lot of fantastic techniques, so I'm going to say Hannah, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laura. It was great to talk to you.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

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

We'll be back next week with Denise Fenzi to talk about the TEAM program and her new book, which will be out later this month.

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

CREDITS:

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

Aug 18, 2017

Summary:

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

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

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

Next Episode: 

To be released 8/25/2017, featuring Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs and advanced training concepts we can teach our dogs.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

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

Melissa Chandler: Thank you, glad to be here.

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

Melissa Chandler: Good, I’m glad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Can’t beat that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that’s quick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Chandler: Thank you, I really enjoyed it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Heather Lawson to discuss the importance of life skills for competition dogs. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcasts in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone, as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

 

Jul 14, 2017

Summary:

 

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

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’re bringing you a special episode. We’ll share Denise Fenzi’s talk on superheroes from our 2017 FDSA Camp Welcome session. Afterwards, we’ll have Denise herself on to answer a few questions about the session and about camp itself. Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Melissa Breau:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denise Fenzi: Yes, probably true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denise Fenzi: Yes.

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

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

Melissa Breau: That’s what I heard.

Denise Fenzi: Is that what you think?

Melissa Breau: That’s what I think.

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

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

Denise Fenzi: Oh, super.

Melissa Breau: Yes.

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

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

Denise Fenzi: Oh anytime.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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