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.
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.
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.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
In 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.
To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.
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.
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.
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!
Laura Waudby was, until recently, a service dog trainer helping to prepare dogs for different types of service dog work. Now she’s a new mom. In her "free time," Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi Lance before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Masters level in agility.
Due to the special behavior needs of her Duck Tolling Retriever Vito, Laura has developed a strong interest in learning how to create motivation and confidence in dogs that struggle, either through genetics or through less than ideal training, to make it into the competition ring. At FDSA Laura offers classes through the Fenzi TEAM Titles program and teaches ring confidence and several specialty classes including a class on articles and a class on stand for exam.
To be released 7/14/2017, featuring Denise Fenzi talking about FDSA camp 2017.
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 Laura Waudby. Until recently by day Laura was a service dog trainer to prepare dogs for different types of service dog work. Now she’s a new mom. In her free time, and that’s in quotes, Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi Lance before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Masters level in agility.
Due to the special behavior needs of her Duck Tolling Retriever Vito, Laura has developed a strong interest in learning how to create motivation and confidence in dogs that struggle, either through genetics or through less than ideal training, to make it into the competition ring. At FDSA Laura offers classes through the Fenzi TEAM Titles program and teaches ring confidence and several specialty classes including a class on articles and a class on stand for exam.
Hi, Laura. Welcome to the podcast.
Laura Waudby: I’m glad to be here.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you mind just telling us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Laura Waudby: As you already mentioned, I have the Corgi, his name is Lance. He did have to retire due to an injury, so right now he’s pretty much just kind of my old dog at home. He’s very sassy, pretty much barks his way through life. Occasionally competes at organizations that have a jumper on the ground, but he’s my sassy man.
Then I have the Toller, his name is Vito and he’s my special need dog. He does have a lot of anxiety issues and some pretty severe ones, but luckily I’ve been able to kind of accommodate him through my lifestyle. Mainly right now we’re working a lot on engagement training and choosing to work. He does compete in agility where he’s mostly conquered his anxiety issues, but obedience is oh, kind of halfway on hold while we work on attitude, attitude, attitude.
And then my youngest dog is the Duck. Her name is Zumi and she’s two and a half years old so we’re primarily working on foundations for agility, obedience, some disc dog field work, pretty much all the things right now. She did just start to compete in agility this past summer but hasn’t really made her way yet into the obedience and rally ring.
Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started in dog sports?
Laura Waudby: Well, when I was in high school I saw agility on TV and of course that’s the flashy, the fun stuff and it kind of got me hooked on wanting to do that. Obedience, though, I kind of only started taking competition classes when I knew I wanted to become a dog trainer and I thought it would prove my skill, I thought I wouldn’t like it very much and it was kind of lame, and then I actually started doing it and I realized how hard it was. and that’s really what I came to love about it was trying to get that happy attitude in the ring along with the precision, so pretty soon I was kind of hooked on the sport of obedience which I thought I would hate to begin with.
Melissa Breau: It’s funny how much, those of us who enjoy dog training just because we enjoy training behaviors to a certain extent, I mean, obedience certainly appeals to that part, right?
Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah, and it helps that the Corgi was very easy with me, kind of held my hands as I was learning things and showed me one by one where I kind of sucked in all the training and he eventually helped me fix them.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned you still have your Corgi. Have you always been a positive trainer? Did you start out that way with him? If not, what kind of got you started down that path?
Laura Waudby: Yeah, he’s always been positive training, at least in the traditional sense. So when I first started training dogs I was doing more pet training route and that was pretty positive, at least at the time, and I was also really lucky that we have one of probably the few, maybe the only I don’t know, a positive-trained AKC club in the area, and so that was my introduction for the competition world. It’s not very popular in the area because most people want to go to the traditional route, but we exist and we’re trying to encourage people to compete positively, so I was really lucky to be pretty much positive straight from the get-go.
Melissa Breau: And what area are you in?
Laura Waudby: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Melissa Breau: I kind of mentioned in the intro that you were training service dogs full time. How long did you do that for?
Laura Waudby: Seven years.
Melissa Breau: Wow. So how did you go from training pet dogs to training service dogs?
Laura Waudby: Well, my first experience with training service dogs actually was my last year of high school. I was able to do a community service class where we were able to volunteer with whatever we wanted to for basically half the day, and my parents were very generous and they allowed me to puppy raise during that time, so I took a little black lab service puppy home to live with us and I was responsible for all of its training.
So that was my kind of my very first experience, and after I kind of graduated from school and their lack of dog training stuff, I went back to volunteer for them and they happened to have a job available at the same time I was volunteering again, so I was very, very lucky in that regard.
But I’d say my first experience was as a high school student being a volunteer puppy raiser.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I think so many people would love to spend all day doing nothing but training dogs.
Laura Waudby: It certainly is easier than training people.
Melissa Breau: Most of the time I’d go so far as to say, but…
Laura Waudby: Yeah, most of the time.
Melissa Breau: So I believe, and certainly correct me if I’m wrong, so you trained several different types of service dogs, right?
Laura Waudby: Yeah. Another organization up here trains five different types of service dogs, which was actually really nice because allows us to have a very high success rate because the dogs who are lower key might do really well in one type or as the kind of nuttier job might do better at another type of job, so I guess the five types of dogs that we trained were mobility assist dogs. Those are the dogs who retrieve things, tug open doors, tug the laundry basket, help with the laundry. Those are most fun for me to train because kind of all the tricks that you think of in the service dog world.
And then we have the hearing alert dogs. Those dogs are trained to alert to sounds in the environment. The diabetic alert dogs who are trained to alert to the smell of low blood sugar, the autism assist dogs who help kids with autism who tend to bolt, and then seizure response dogs who respond once a seizure is happening and help the person get through that seizure.
Melissa Breau: That’s quite a range of different skills.
Laura Waudby: Yeah, it can help break up the day a little bit.
Melissa Breau: I would think that the hardest part of teaching all that is really proofing the behavior for all environments. I mean, when you’re talking service dogs you really need a dog who’s going to do the work kind of no matter what’s going on. Is that your perspective, is that really the hardest thing or is there something else that sticks out as maybe more difficult?
Laura Waudby: Yeah, the training behaviors are really the easy part of the service dog training. It takes time to train their skills to be pretty solid, but that was great, the fun part. The hard part is that dogs have to focus anywhere and everywhere without any acclimation time. We talk a lot about acclimation time with our competition dog training, but the service dogs don’t get that. They might arrive at a store and have to pick up keys at the entrance way, or maybe they just really get out of the car and they have to alert to a low blood sugar, so they kind of have to be ready to focus anywhere no matter what’s going on, and that definitely takes quite a bit of training which is why most of the dogs who are two to three years old by the time they’re placed with a client and they’re still very, very young but definitely no longer puppies at that point.
And of course the general public doesn’t help, either, with all the I know I shouldn’t but as they reach to pet your dog or are barking at your dog and all of the crazy stuff people do in public.
Melissa Breau: Do you mind sharing just a little bit about kind of how you teach that so that the dogs can kind of do their work in those types of environments?
Laura Waudby: Yeah. I’d say a lot of it is their personality. A lot of dogs simply aren’t able to do that, like of the dogs I have now in my house, Lance, like the perfect Corgi, sassy guy, he’d probably be the only one who would make it as a service dog. Vito’s anxiety issues, he couldn’t do that. My young dog Zumi had a little bit of confidence issues where she’s not quite ready to focus all the time. So their natural temperament has a lot to do with whether they make it or not.
But past that point I do a lot of choose to working, a lot of distractions out to the side, rewarding focus, and of course we do it all without a command just like we do want the competition dogs to do. We don’t want to be saying “Watch me, watch me, watch me,” or “Leave it, leave it, leave it.” We want the dogs, their name if they see something, that means their job is to look back at you. Kind of the exact same stuff we do with our competition dogs, just everywhere.
Melissa Breau: And it’s really teaching the dogs how to make the choice and think a little more independently at least than most people probably think about, right?
Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah. It’s a lot of free choice, especially because the clients, they might have limited range of mobility. They can’t force the dog to do anything, the dogs have to want to do it, so it’s a lot of choice-based training with the service dogs.
Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about TEAM. I know Denise and I talked about it briefly the very first episode of the podcast, but for those who aren’t familiar with TEAM at all, do you mind just explaining a little about the concept, kind of what it is and how it works?
Laura Waudby: Sure. So TEAM is an online video-submitted titling program. There are currently six levels that you can title in, and I think there might be plans to have more, I’m not sure. But the goal of TEAM unlike some other organizations, the emphasis isn’t really on finished behavior change whereas I’m teaching the dog and the human each individual piece to get to a really high level of perfection. So basically even if you only get through the first three levels of TEAM, we’re working on those foundational pieces being very solid to get you through pretty much any level of obedience training.
Melissa Breau: Really kind of the concept, right? Is that if you do TEAM you can probably do almost anything else.
Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah. Definitely takes you beyond utility even, I think.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think there’s been an episode of the podcast yet where a guest hasn’t talked about how important foundation skills are. I know that that’s kind of one of the places where TEAM shines, right? How does it kind of do that, how does it approach teaching a foundation?
Laura Waudby: Well, the way that testing is laid out, you’re pretty much forced to work in all those little pieces. The first level you use a ton of props in it, throughout the testing so it pretty much guarantees that the dog is learning those little perfect movements. Basically you don’t really teach just a sit and just a down, but you use a target to help us. The dog is not learning how to sit and down but they’re learning how to do the individual position changes with zero forward movement so by the time you get to 40 feet away, the dog already knows how to do that perfect fold back down, tuck up sit without having any forward motion.
It’s kind of the little pieces that people tend to skip over if they don’t know what the end result should look like. And the levels themselves I think really reward the handler for being patient and not rushing through those foundations because…
Melissa Breau: Because they’re really easy to rush through. It’s easy to overlook kind of the precision that you’re going to want later on early when you have a puppy who’s eight or ten weeks old and you just want to sit.
Laura Waudby: Yeah, definitely.
Melissa Breau: So I believe you’re teaching TEAM one in August, right?
Laura Waudby: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I know you’ve taught it once or twice now. Is there a skill that kind of stands out as something that people struggle with a little bit, and do you mind just sharing a couple of tips maybe on how they can approach it?
Laura Waudby: Sure. Heel position is probably one that people struggle with the most. Primarily in the TEAM level one and two we’re working on the foundational piece of pivoting, teaching the dog exactly what heel position looks like and how to move with the handler to maintain it. And a lot of people who haven’t taught it that way before, because it’s not the way heeling has been traditionally taught, it’s a really hard skill for people to kind of figure out how to hold their hand and how the dog is supposed to move into you. And there are a lot of ways to teach pivoting, there’s not. just one way. I tend to use a blend of shaping and luring that’s a little bit more lure-based based.
And generally probably the biggest tip for people is they want to use a really big arm where they have the dog go really wide, but generally you want the dog’s head to be up a little bit more. Turning their head out causes their butt to swing in towards you, and sometimes it’s easier to see that using a mirror so you can watch the dog’s back legs easier, but generally not having such a big, wide head lure, but really keeping the dog’s head nice and close to your body so he can focus on the head turning out and the back legs moving towards you.
Melissa Breau: And that’s what lets you get those really pretty corners, right? When you’re making your turns in heeling?
Laura Waudby: Oh, yeah, and makes the heeling look really sexy when you do all the side stepping, the backing up, the pivots, and so by the time you do any forward motion your dog already knows all those really fancy moves.
Melissa Breau: I like that, it makes heeling look really sexy. So I want to kind of end things the way I normally end the episode, which is kind of what I guess my three favorite questions, so first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Laura Waudby: When I started thinking about that I first thought I would go with some of the service dog teams, but then I realized that’s actually pretty self centered, and so definitely has to be about my own dogs. And Vito, my very special boy, we’ve been through a lot together, and my most proud accomplishment, and no particular trial with him, but just the ones where he’s radiating pure joy where he’s so happy to be with me and I can just see what the focus he has in me that all of his worries about the people and the stewards have kind of melted. You don’t have that every time but the ones that he does do that for me is just really special, that shows all that hard work that we’d done.
Melissa Breau: That makes it kind of magical.
Laura Waudby: Yeah.
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.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Laura Waudby: One of my favorite trainers is Silvia Trkman, the famous Slovenian agility star, and while she only does agility, she doesn’t actually compete in obedience, I really love her philosophy about having fun with the dog, not being afraid to experiment, respecting the dog in front of you. And Silvia is one where I got a really great piece of advice to help me and my Vito, teaching happy tricks to release stress, and that was probably the biggest change to help Vito a couple years ago to get him barking at me on the start line, get him sassy, jumping up, so that even if he doesn’t feel brave and happy it forces him to kind of act like it and that has helped him a ton. So I really like Silvia Trkman a lot.
Melissa Breau: I love that idea. They kind of have that line for people where if you stand in the Superman pose for two minutes before a talk it makes you feel more confident and like your body chemistry actually changes. It’s a similar idea kind of for dogs, right? The idea that if they get happy and bouncy...
Laura Waudby: It works a lot with people and I think it helps the dogs, too. Happy-making tricks.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I like that a lot. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast, Laura.
Laura Waudby: Well, you’re welcome.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with a special episode with Denise Fenzi to discuss the inspiration behind the theme from camp a few weeks ago, and to chat a bit about next year. If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice, to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called “Buddy.” Audio editing provided by Chris Lang and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Sara Brueske has been training dogs for over 15 years; she became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in 2011 and jumped into the world of professional dog training.
Sara and her dogs work at Purina Farms in Missouri where they demonstrate the sports of disc, agility, and dock diving for the public in over 400 shows each year.
She and her dogs also compete nationwide. Currently, she is active in the sports of disc dog, agility, mondioring and dock diving -- plus, she’s a trick dog enthusiast.
Sara has recently re-entered the world of competitive Disc Dog and is the 2016 overall UpDog International Champion as well as the 2017 UpDog Freestyle Champion.
Sara believes in positive reinforcement not only for dogs, but for their handlers as well. Her biggest joy in training is watching a handler and dog become partners and grow as a team.
Drinking from the Toilet, What to do when you get stuck (full episode)
To be released 7/7/2017, featuring Laura Waudby.
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 Sara Brueske.
Sara Brueske has been training dogs for over 15 years; she became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in 2011 and jumped into the world of professional dog training.
Sara and her dogs work at Purina Farms in Missouri where they demonstrate the sports of disc, agility, and dock diving for the public in over 400 shows each year.
She and her dogs also compete nationwide. Currently, she is active in the sports of disc dog, agility, mondioring and dock diving -- plus, she’s a trick dog enthusiast.
Sara has recently re-entered the world of competitive Disc Dog and is the 2016 overall UpDog International Champion as well as the 2017 UpDog Freestyle Champion.
Sara believes in positive reinforcement not only for dogs, but for their handlers as well. Her biggest joy in training is watching a handler and dog become partners and grow as a team.
Hi Sara! Welcome to the podcast.
Sara Brueske: Hi Melissa, thank you for having me!
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I’m excited to chat a little bit.
Sara Brueske: Definitely.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?
Sara Brueske: I have a whole bunch of dogs. My job kinda dictates that i have more dogs than the average owner. I have 14 current in my household. So all 14 of them are either in training or participate in my job, which is doing shows at Purina Farms. I compete with a handful of them outside of that job as well. So it depends on the dog, what I’m working on with them. My main sports that i do with all of my dogs is agility, disc, and dock diving. And my malinois i compete and train in mondioring as well.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to give us a little bit of an idea of who you have in the household? I know you’ve got a mix of breeds and all sorts of stuff.
Sara Brueske: Yeah, Sure! I’ll do the run down. I have a whole bunch - I really like variety. I have 3 australian koolies, which is a little bit of a rare herding breed here in the United States. I imported 2 of them from Australia and I had my very first litter this year, so I have their daughter, too. She’s about 11 weeks old now. And then I have 2 border collies, both of them are rescues. I have a border staffy, who is a rescue as well, and a whippet -- a rescue actually from the same house as the border staffy. I have 4 malinois, one of those is actually a permanent foster through the malinois ranch rescue in Tennessee. And I have a boston terrier mix, a papillion, and a labrador.
Melissa Breau: Wow, some of those I actually hadn’t seen pictures of before; it’s definitely a household, huh?
Sara Brueske: It’s a full household, they’re all very very active dogs other than the elderly foster; she’s a little bit slow these days, but…
Melissa Breau: How did you get started with all of this? Obviously, where you are today -- it probably took a little while to get there, but how did you first get started in dog sports?
Sara Brueske: I was actually 11 years old when I begged my parents to let me buy my very first sport dog. I wanted a border collie and i wanted to compete in agility and that was because I watched the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge on TV. So I saved up all my money, and I found a border collie in a newspaper, which is the worst place to get a dog, and we went out and i bought my border collie. And so then I did my backyard training -- we had stick-in-the-ground weave poles made out of PVC, my tunnel was actually a construction drainage pipe that my dad found and gave me, and that’s how I trained all my agility and I started competing as a junior handler. He actually got injured, and so I had to stop training him in sports and that’s when I figured out about trick training. When he was 7 years old, he knew about 50 different tricks.
Melissa Breau: wow.
Sara Brueske: So like, high five and wave and spin, and other ones were throwing away my empty soda cans, and turning off the light because by then i was a lazy teenager.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So I think that just goes to prove that anybody… people don’t have an excuse if you could do it in your backyard with sticks and PVC pipe…
Sara Brueske: Exactly! And I think my parents always were hoping that I’d outgrow this, go to school and maybe be a veterinarian, but here I am, with 14 dogs and training is my career.
Melissa Breau: So agility is generally thought of as pretty positive -- same with trick dog training. Have you always been a positive trainer?
Sara Brueske: I actually wasn’t -- I was kind of what you’d consider a balanced trainer back then. All my agility training and trick training, that was all done with clickers, so I had read up on clickers and learned how to do that, kind of a self-study, but my parents were very much punishment based and they should be dogs and they should behave as dogs. And so that’s kind of the background I have with that. I didn’t have any formal dog training, so it’s a mish-mash of everything you can imagine… and I actually was that way until I had a great dane and he was not the most balanced - mentally - dog, he was a little bit reactive and he was a big dog, and everyone told me I had to show him who’s boss, and everything else and alpha roll him, and come-to-jesus moments and all that. Well, the dog out weighed me and it wasn’t working. So that was when I switched and I became a positive-only trainer. That helped him tremendously.
Melissa Breau: And I know that now you’ve done the Karen Pryor Academy, and everything else -- it sounds like that was kind of your pivot moment there… but it sounds like then you went that next step with it, right?
Sara Brueske: Absolutely. So when i had that great dane i also actually on the path to becoming a professional dog trainer. I was looking for ways to enhance my education, looking for places to teach group classes, and that’s where the Karen Pryor Academy came into place - it was a formal education that I could put on my resume and show people that I was serious about becoming a dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: So, I think most dog trainers -- at least professional dog trainers -- would say their dogs are both their life and their work, right? Because of the nature of what you do at Purina, it seems like it takes that to a whole other level. Do you want to just talk for a few minutes about what you do a Purina and what that’s like?
Sara Brueske: Sure. So my job at Purina is to promote pet ownership and Purina believes that your life is really enhanced by owning a pet, so my job at Purina, at Purina Farms is to talk to the public, promote pet ownership by putting on shows every single day. So my shows are three times a day, 6 days a week. And I bring my dogs with me to work everyday and we show them what you can do with rescue dogs, what you can do with your dog at home, which is really why i like to have a variety of dogs. So my goal at Purina is to hear the audience go, “We should go home and train Sparky to do that.” That’s my favorite thing ever to hear. It means they’re going to go home and play with their dog -- and that’s huge to me. And so, because we do so many shows a day I actually bring between 11 and 13 dogs with me every single day to work. And that means my dogs are with me from the time I wake up, I feed them, we get ready, we all go to work - I work with them all day long, I come home, I unload them, I feed them, and they’re with me all evening. My dogs are literally with me 24/7.
Melissa Breau: When do you find time to train, if you’re working with them so much?
Sara Brueske: To train? So that’s my job at Purina, is to train them -- between the shows that’s the time that I have to train my dogs and work them and make sure they’re getting what they get.
Melissa Breau: Wow - that’s a very full day.
Sara Brueske: It’s a very, very full day - yes.
Melissa Breau: You’re basically relying on your dogs for your livelihood; I’m sure that’s had a lot of impact -- and like you said, you’re with them 24/7 -- on the actual relationship that you have with them. Do you want to just talk for a minute about how you think that’s impacted things for you?
Sara Brueske: Sure. It’s really… you hear a lot of the time people in my line of profession looking at their dogs like they’re just part of their paycheck. They have their job - they’re tools of the trade. That’s very much NOT how I view them. The reason why i have so many dogs is that i don’t want my dogs to be burnt out; I don’t want my dogs to hate their job. I want my dogs to have fun, just as much fun as I have working with them. You can’t do this job and have that many shows to perform in and only have 6 dogs… you’ll end up ruining your relationship with your dog. You’ll end up hurting your dog. And really their well-being in the long run is the most important part. That’s what I care about the most and that’s why i have so many dogs. But, I mean, it is what it is. My dogs pour their heart out for me every single day. And I appreciate that so much. But they also really love what we’re doing. So I have dogs that love frisbee, i have dogs that love dock diving, I have dogs that love working with me, and that’s a big part of it as well.
Melissa Breau: I know you mentioned you typically bring up to 13 of the dogs with you each day… how many tend to compete in any given show?
Sara Brueske: So we run 5-6 dog shows. And I rotate through those. So I don’t like my dogs to do more than 3 shows a day, and I actually rotate days. So for instance, yesterday it was Zip Tie, Nowie and Taboo and Zuma’s day to work. I rotated through those dogs for the show, the other trainer covered the rest of the dogs in the show. And then tomorrow, since today was my day off, I’ll have 4 different dogs that I’ll put in the show again.
Melissa Breau: It’s so interesting, just kind of juggling all of it, and managing schedules.
Sara Brueske: Yeah, we count a lot of shows. We tally it all up and make sure everybody’s not working too much all the time, and it’s helpful having other trainers there because we each pull equal weight on any given day.
Melissa Breau: So I want to switch gears and talk a little more specifically about disc -- I know that’s kind of what you teach at FDSA. I think, like you were talking about having watched agility on TV, I think a lot of people have seen some of the cool tricks disc dogs can do and I think that some people probably look at it and go, “my dog couldn’t do that.” So, I was curious what skills a dog actually needs to be able to learn some of those disc tricks.
Sara Brueske: Sure. So freestyle is what you always see on TV and in the incredible dog challenge and really, in reality, that’s just a tiny little aspect of the frisbee dog community and the competitions. It’s actually not even the most competitive, you could argue. There’s a ton of different games you can play with your dog in each competition, in each venue. Just like there’s AKC agility, NADAC agility, USDAA and they all have different rules and different games, the same thing applies to disc dog. So your tradition frisbee dog competition will have freestyle and a toss-and-catch competition. And the toss-and-catch competition is just like it sounds -- it’s a game of fetch, a timed game of fetch where you get extra points for distance and accuracy, so you want to throw in a certain zone, and how many throws you can get off in a minute or the 90 seconds that you have. So really, to compete in toss and catch at the novice level all you have to do is have a dog that loves to play fetch. I mean, whose dog doesn’t really like to go out there in the backyard and catch a frisbee, right? So that’s pretty applicable to any dog. Oh so you also have your handler, who has to be able to throw… but lucky in like the novice competition you just have to throw 20 yards, which isn’t very far. Then there’s other venues, such as UpDog, which is my preferred venue, it’s just come out in the last 3 years or so. And they really cater to new disc players -- they do something that’s called a roller, which is you throw the disc on it’s edge on the ground and it rolls and the dog has to grab that. So you don’t even have to be able to throw a frisbee to be able to compete in novice. And they have a bunch of strategy games, each kind of tailoring to each dog’s individual strength and each handler’s individual strength. So that’s kind of cool; they’re really starting to incorporate the idea that anybody can play frisbee with their dog, which is really interesting.
Melissa Breau: So, in your classes at the academy, what are some of the common things or tricks that you wind up teaching?
Sara Brueske: So all the tricks that we wind up teaching in the academy classes, the tricks themselves, are for freestyle. There are some that apply to the other games, such as the flatwork and stuff like that -- and that’s just moving your dog around the field and connecting with your dog. That’s where I really like to lay my emphasis with my classes, it comes from my agility roots - it’s a lot like handing in agility. But the tricks themselves, for freestyle, we teach a whole bunch of different things. We do dog catches - which is where you literally catch your dog, with or without a disc. We do rebounds, which is where… it’s kind of like a flyball box turn, but on your body, so the dog hits you and then jumps off. And then leg weaves, which is really good for any sport because it’s a nice warm up, and then we also teach things like stalls, where they actually jump up onto a part of your body, and hang out there for a while.
Melissa Breau: That’s kind of neat.
Sara Brueske: Yes, it’s very exciting.
Melissa Breau: So If somebody’s trying to decide if they should take the class, are their any skills they need or their dog needs to start to do some of those tricks?
Sara Brueske: We teach all those tricks actually with food, first. So if your dog has food drive, then you’re pretty much golden for it. You can actually wind up taking the class and teaching those tricks for food and not ever touching a frisbee if you want to. But ideally, if you want the whole frisbee aspect of the class then your dog should have some sort of toy drive or disc drive, because I don’t hit on that a whole lot in the classes. There are plenty of other Fenzi classes that build on toy drive, and I want to make sure that mine focuses just on the frisbee aspect of it.
Melissa Breau: If someone was just interested in getting started, what’s that first step -- where should they start out?
Sara Brueske: The first step, which is what i always recommend to anyone looking at any sport, find a local club, find some local help that can give you hands on help because that hands on help is going to be priceless. And hopefully there’s somebody there that’s actively competing, and who has gone to the world’s level to help you out. That’s where I would start. There are a whole bunch of places on facebook that you can look - disc dog discussions is a group that you can check out and they have a whole bunch of different clubs that participate in that discussion group, so you can always post where you are and somebody will chime in to give you some contact information. After that, the online class at Fenzi is a pretty good one for foundation, and there are other online classes as well for disc dog foundations currently.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. And kind of the way that we end every episode -- our big three questions -- what’s the dog-related accomplishment you’re proudest of?
Sara Brueske: So I thought long and hard about this question. I have a whole lot of accomplishments that I’m very, very proud of. But the reality of that is that I get to experience something that a lot of people don’t get to experience -- forming a new relationship with a whole bunch of different dogs. So in the last 4 years I’ve had 14 different dogs plus many fosters and dogs I’ve raised come through my house. And all of those dogs I’ve started in training and formed relationships with. My most favorite accomplishment i’ve ever had is with each of those dogs is when that dog really kind of has that light bulb moment and goes, “I really do enjoy working with you. This is fun, this is a game!” That’s what I’m most proud of.
Melissa Breau: That’s definitely like that golden moment, that everybody is looking for, right? To form a relationship.
Sara Brueske: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Melissa Breau: So, what’s the best piece of training advice you’ve ever heard?
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 like teaching all those other things I teach.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s really interesting, because you mentioned it specifically in relation to Mondioring, which is not a sport people look at usually and go, “oh it’s just tricks!”
Sara Brueske: No they definitely don’t.
Melissa Breau: And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Sara Brueske: So Sylvia Turkman. And the reason for that is that when i first started my dog training career she was the one i went to for online classes, i watched all the DVDs, and it was her upbeat attitude and her relationship with her dogs that really inspired me to be that kind of trainer. I wanted [my students] to be happy - i wanted to think that they’re still going to come out the other side and they’re still going to enjoy their dog and they’re sitll going to be having fun.
Melissa Breau: Thanks so much for coming on the podcast Sara -- and thanks to our listeners for tuning in!
This week have a special treat -- FDSA's own Hannah Branigan Also runs a podcast, called Drinking from the Toilet - and today we’re sharing an excerpt from her most popular episode, “What to do when you get stuck.” Enjoy!
Hannah Branigan: Hey there - you’re listening to Drinking from the Toilet and I’m Hannah Branigan. Today we’re going to talk about what you can do when you get stuck.
Why are we even talking about this? Well mostly because I was sitting here trying to think what topic i should make my next podcast be about, and I got stuck. I couldn’t think of anything to talk about. So I kind of sat here, I looked at a few things on the internet, facebook, took a few pictures of my dog with my phone, and pondered on how many other places in my life I feel stuck, maybe feel like a failure. And at least one of those places in my life where i feel stuck is when I’m training a dog. So I thought, well, let’s do a podcast about getting stuck when you’re training because I think that’s a fairly ubiquitous experience. There’s probably people out there that sometimes get stuck when they’re trying to train a behavior. And so in my previous life, when I would run into a problem, it really was almost a pattern, really… so I’m working on training a behavior or maybe untraining a behavior problem and I would get so far; I would make a certain amount of progress and then I would get stuck and i would revert to punishment. Maybe intentionally, as a training choice, or unintentionally as an emotional expression of frustration. But either way I would often fall back on these old habits -- after feeling like I was running out of choices. And so as my journey continues, i continue to improve my understanding of behavior, i have a better picture of the behaviors I’m trying to train. My knowledge in that area increases and I think clarity in your goal of your behavior is always helpful. And I learned more and my skill set improved. I had better tools for manipulating behavior and for manipulating contingencies, particularly those using reinforcement. Better understanding of how reinforcement works -- both in general, in concept and in theory, and then also in practical application. And so overtime, i can get a lot further before i would resort to that old habit.
So eventually, maybe about 10 years ago at this point, I made a conscious decision to just take punishment totally off the table. So aversives are no longer an option for my training. So I still have frustration attacks occasionally - I am human - but i do try to recognize them for what they are. They’re just emotional expressions, they have nothing to do with training the dog and i don’t have any expectation that they’re going to change either of our behaviors for the better in the long run. But I still have a lot of situations where I still get stuck. And now there’s a vacuum. I’ll still get training to the same point -- a little further each time because I’m learning more -- but when I get stuck, there’s a place where I would punish or I would use an aversive in some way, which may or may not solve the problem because we know that simply bringing in punishment is no guarantee of getting the results that we want.
And so now I’ll get about 80% of the way there -- I’ll get about 80% of the behavior trained that I want -- and then I’m stuck. And simply not punishing doesn’t give me any information about what i should do instead to continue making forward progress. I end up with a kind of vacuum.
So sometimes I quit. I don’t have all the answers. And I know that’s disappointing to hear, because frankly it disappoints no one more than i disappoint myself when i don’t know the answer to a problem, when i don’t know the solution…. Well, maybe my father. He has pretty high standards so he might be more disappointed but I learned it from somewhere. And I’m willing to bet that you get frustrated sometimes too. And your stuckness may not manifest in quite the same way that mine does, maybe instead of frustration, anger, and potentially aggression you turn to other defensive strategies. Maybe like rationalization. Sometimes I find myself thinking thoughts like, “Maybe my dog just doesn’t like to do obedience. Maybe my dog actually can’t do this -- it’s not possible. You know, maybe he has a health problem! Maybe it’s his thyroid -- he could have a thyroid, he could have low thyroid! So if my training plan didn’t pay out the way that I expected it to, clearly the problem is caused by his thyroid and no protocol would have worked. He needs medication! This dog needs pills to fix this problem, and it has to be just the right medication, and it might take weeks or even months, or years, to find what that medication could be and so none of this is actually a training problem, it’s not in my control. It’s not me, it’s the dog, right?”
Okay. Now, to be clear, I’m not trivializing endocrine disorders in any way. They’re very real and certainly having a health problem does throw a wrench into the works and can add contingencies beyond those that we can realistically control within the context of a training session. So if you’re worried or suspicious that your dog has a physical or medical problem, it’s always a good idea to consult with your vet. Get that physical problem ruled out. Make sure your dog is healthy and sound. I know I certainly have no problem paying my vet $100 -- sometimes maybe more -- to be told I’m crazy and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with my dog. But just to be clear again, every now and then I’m actually right. And so I have that long interval of random reinforcement effect that maintains my behavior on dog after dog, year after year.
Anyways, okay. Let’s assume that we’ve ruled out any physical issue. What can we do when we get stuck trying to train something? So it is a training problem, we’re stuck with the training, we need to change something about the training to get past this obstacle. Ok. So here’s a pretty common scenario. You’re trying to train some behavior. Maybe you’re following a training plan or a recipe that you found on the internet -- or you saw on youtube, or maybe you’ve just been to a seminar and this is now Monday morning and you’re trying to apply the technique you learned at that seminar to your training in real life and now the powerpoint slides aren’t there and the presenter isn’t there, and so you’re on your own. And so maybe you get through the first couple of steps -- you’re shaping and things seem to be going ok. You think you’re doing it right; you think you’re doing it the same way as you learned in that seminar. And then all of a sudden you hit a plateau. And the dog keeps doing the same version of the behavior over and over again without progressing to the next step. So maybe you’ve made it through steps 1 and 2, and step 3 - instead of performing step 3 a couple of times and then moving on to step 4 your dog keeps doing step 3 over and over and over again. You can’t see why you’re not able to make the leap to that next step.
This is a common problem that I run into with different behaviors with different dogs and certainly see it in my own students periodically. Maybe you’re trying to teach your dog to retrieve an object and your shaping plan is I’m going to start by clicking when the dog looks at the object and then click him for sniffing it and then I’ll click him for touching it with his nose or targeting it. And then the next thing I’ll click is for him to open his mouth and bite the object… but instead of biting the object he just keeps touching it with his nose over and over again and he never opens his mouth. What do I do then?
Another common place where we’ll run into this situation would be adding duration or distance to an existing behavior. So you can get the dog to hold the sit for 8 seconds -- as soon as you reach for 9 seconds the behavior falls apart. Or you can get your dog to respond to a cue -- maybe he’ll lay down if you give him the cue at 6 feet but one more step back and the behavior disappears or starts to degrade. And it’s really frustrating - and then it’s easy to think this isn’t working, something’s wrong with this technique, this method is ineffective, or we can continue to spiral down and think about what might be wrong with the dog, and then the world in general.
And so obviously continuing to repeat the thing that’s not working isn’t the right choice; that brings to mind that quote that I know i’ve seen lots of different places… I often see it attributed to Einstein but I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s just internet-true. So, to paraphrase, the idea that repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So, I may still be crazy, but this totally applies here.
Even if we just look at the A-B-C operant contingency, repeating that same A-B-C … the same Antecedent or A, the same Behavior or B, and the same Consequence - “C” - then yes, we’re probably going to continue to get the same result. So, we need to change something. I like thinking about it this way because it gives me three solid categories of things to look at -- and three is my favorite number, also it’s a prime number so a lot of things to recommend it. Three categories is a very achievable way to start putting stuff in buckets and structure our thinking.
So let’s start with A -- antecedent. So the Antecedent, this is the cue. It’s what’s inducing or causing the behavior, what’s associated with the behavior. And when we’re thinking about this in terms of cues from us -- so I say sit and the dog sits -- well that’s easy to recognize and understand. In active training, when we’re learning, the antecedent really is much bigger than that. It’s a bigger idea; it’s more than just the cue you’re deliberately giving, but it’s that whole picture, all of the stimulus and all the pieces of the picture. So it’s the whole set up that the dog is associating with a particular behavior. It’s your body, your body position, where you’re situated in space, your dog’s position, any props that you might be using, if you’re using a platform or a target or if you’re using an object in the case of that retrieve. And it’s the environment in general -- where the dog is, where you’re training, all of the sounds, smells, feels, tastes maybe, all of those things are in that big stimulus picture and that whole picture functions as the cue when the dog is learning the behavior.
Melissa Breau: Thanks to Hannah for letting us share that with you -- I hope you’ll consider subscribing to both our podcast and hers if you haven’t already, in itunes or the podcast app of your choice. We’ll be back next week, this time with Laura Waudby to talk Fenzi TEAM training and training service dogs.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Amanda Nelson has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20+ years teaching all levels of agility, with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between dog and handler.
She works with all styles of handling, from running with your dog to distance handling, and tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and handler. She’s always looking to help bring out the best in each team.
Amanda’s handling system, “Cues for Q’s” works off her three base cues: Upper Body Cues, Lower Body Cues, and Verbal Cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Amanda teaches handlers how to use all of these cues, together, to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All of these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles with her own dogs.
To be released 6/30/2017, featuring Sara Brueske.
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 Amanda Nelson. Amanda has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20 plus years teaching all levels of agility with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between the dog and the handler. She works with all styles of handling from running with your dog to distance handling and tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and the handler. She’s always looking to help bring out the best in each team.
Amanda’s handling system, Cues for Q’s, works off her three base cues, upper body cues, lower body cues, and verbal cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Amanda teaches handlers how to use all of these cues together to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles with her own dogs. Hi, Amanda, welcome to the podcast.
Amanda Nelson: Thank you for having me. This is great.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. I’m not an agility person, so it’ll be fun to learn a little bit more about the sport and hopefully learn some things that I didn’t know before.
Amanda Nelson: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just give us a little bit information about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?
Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So, in the house I actually have three dogs, but one of them belongs to my boyfriend, who’s Trip. I obviously work with him in a lot of stuff, but Jimmy runs him and competes with him and all that, so he’s in my house but he’s technically not my dog.
I have Nargles who is 8 years old, and everybody always asks me what her name is and it’s from Harry Potter because I’m a huge nerd like that, so Nargles is 8, and this season I’m working towards doing conditioning with her and getting her prepped to go to the NADAC Championships in Ohio in October, so that’s my focus with her this year. Then I’m also working towards earning her Platinum Speed title, which is a NADAC title that consists of...it’s a certain number of runs that all have to be extremely fast. In NADAC there’s DRI which is the dog’s run index, and you earn so many DRI points kind of for how fast your dog goes and a Platinum Speed Star, an award, that focuses on how fast your dog is. So I’m working on running that with her this year as well as taking her to the NADAC Championships.
And then Allons-y, again, I’m a bit of a nerd, so Allons-y is from Dr. Who, that’s where her name comes from, I call her Ally for short. She’s 4 years old this year, and her main goal and my main goal I guess with her is prepping her for the NADAC Championships, so that’ll be her first year competing in that, but I want to take her...and I’m not focused on winning as much as I’m just really wanting to go and experience the atmosphere of it and have a good time. So, I’m doing a lot of prep work with her and bigger agility trials, and let her get used to atmosphere of all the dogs and all the people and all that sort of stuff, and then just working on her skills that she’ll need for the championships themselves.
Melissa Breau: Now, are they Border Collies? Are they Shelties?
Amanda Nelson: Yes. All three are all Border Collies, yes.
Melissa Breau: Okay, Border Collie household, for sure, huh?
Amanda Nelson: That’s right, yes.
Melissa Breau: So how did you get started in dog sports? What was kind of the beginning for you?
Amanda Nelson: I’ve actually been involved in dog stuff and dog sports since I was extremely young. I actually did obedience with my Cocker Spaniel when I was I think maybe like 4 or 5 years old. My mom was very much into obedience at that time and then she later was very much into agility, so I kind of grew up with it. So I started, like I said, with my Cocker in obedience and then agility kind of really started taking off and it was a lot of fun. So I had a corgi also, named Sunny, and I started with her in agility. We did USDA. I competed in the European Nationals many times with her. I think I started doing agility when I was like 6 or 7. I don’t remember a lot of it, but there’s pictures to prove it, so I can only remember bits and pieces every now and then.
Melissa Breau: So you definitely grew up in this world, so to speak.
Amanda Nelson: That is right. That is right.
Melissa Breau: What kind of Cocker was it, an English Cocker, American Cocker?
Amanda Nelson: American Cocker.
Melissa Breau: Okay, okay. My grandmother breeds English Cockers so I’ve always kind of followed Cocker Spaniels. They have a special spot in my heart, so...
Amanda Nelson: Oh, that’s very cool, very cool.
Melissa Breau: So, starting off in obedience a while ago, have you always been a positive trainer? If not, kind of what got you started down that path?
Amanda Nelson: So at heart I know I’ve always been a positive trainer. I’m pretty sure I took some detours now and then, you know, as I learned. I try to surround myself with people who are also positive trainers, but I would have to say that I really...you know, because I started so young you kind of just do as everybody else is doing sort of thing, but I really wanted to start training my own dog.
I had a Border Collie before Try and he was 10 and I did agility with her, but I don’t remember really training her, if that make sense because I was young. Try was my first dog that I really...I had her from when she was a puppy and she was really, you know, I trained her I guess - as odd as that sounds. Honestly, my mom helped a lot with my dogs when I was younger, so Try I felt like was my first, I’m going to train her, train her, you know?
And so, I just went in to want to read all these books and I had this cute little angel puppy and she was...she really, really loved clickers and shaping, and I really started getting into it because she loved it so much that she had thought that that was the coolest thing in the whole wide world, so then that really shoved me into the positive world and I just wanted to immerse myself in everything. And so, any book I could get my hands on, YouTube videos, anything I could do to learn more for her I guess, and really I wanted her to be so happy, and then that kind of...I started bringing it into agility, you know?
She didn’t really at that point in time, the way I was teaching the weave poles, like it didn’t work for her, like she didn’t get it, and I’m like, well, I don’t understand why we’re not getting it. So, I started doing all this shaping with the weave poles and then all this targeting and stuff like that and I’m like, oh, my gosh, she really likes this. So I started, you know, what else could I do in agility that I could shape, and that really opened a lot of doors and it also opened my eyes to...then also like a lot of the business work that I do, shaping is a huge part of it now because it really brings it into the dog’s realm that they can...they’re learning.
You know, it’s not just kind of a forced thing, and I don’t say that in a negative way like I’m dragging the dogs out there forcing them, but more of the dogs are making their choice. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but they’re making that choice. They’re being shaped and going, okay, I’m going to go out here and do this and my, you know, Amanda really likes that so I get a click, you know that sort of thing, and she really, really opened the door for that.
She was the kind of dog that any sort of correction, even just me kind of going, oh, you know, and I can’t help it sometimes, you know, something would happen and I go, oh. She would really take it to heart, so I really learned that she liked all that positive, and it really changed the way I looked at things and the way the dogs look at how I could teach something.
Melissa Breau: As someone who hasn’t really done much in the agility world, I definitely did a little bit of research before we had got on the call and it seemed like you can be pretty heavily in NADAC? Did I pronounce that right?
Amanda Nelson: Yes, you did.
Melissa Breau: So, would you mind talking a little bit about how that differs from some of the other agility organizations out there and maybe why it appeals to you so much?
Amanda Nelson: So a lot of focus within NADAC is it’s floating courses that test the dog’s ability to collect and extend. So for example, it might be a really kind of open wide sequence that then comes into a really tight serpentine or pinwheel and it goes back into this really fast extended sequence. So NADAC really focuses on testing the dog’s ability to really extend, really stride out, and then collect in for this nice tight sequence, and then really extend out again, and it tests the handler’s ability to read those sequences, to read, okay, I need my dog to really extend and go fast through this loop here and then run in to collect, collect, collect, and do this really technical sequence here, and now I want them to extend again.
So I like the variety as far as, you know, there’s definitely dog tests I guess on the course as far as testing the dog’s ability to do that kind of collection/extension, and then it tests the handler’s ability to know the dog, know what the dog needs, and to read those sequences.
NADAC also has some focus in distance handling and they have awards aimed at the distance handling, and that’s something that I’ve done for a long time and I really...again with Try, she loved doing that distance work, so NADAC also was a big part of that and I could do a lot of that big distance stuff that she really liked and we liked doing it together as a team.
So, I like the variety with NADAC, but I can go out and I can run right with my dog and be with her and do that sort of thing, and then the next course I look at and go, oh, I’m going to try a distance on this one and I can now work on distance skills all at the same trial, so I really like that variety within NADAC, but I can do different things with my dog whether it’s distance or running with them and looking at the course for those collection/extension sequences and all that sort of fun stuff.
Melissa Breau: Just having watched some distance handling type stuff, it’s just so cool when you see somebody who, you know, they can send the dog out and they have good control and the dog’s doing the things in the right order and you have that distance, it’s just really an impressive skill to watch, it’s really pretty to watch.
And I know that one of your specialties at FDSA is teaching distance, so I wanted to ask a little bit about the kind of skills that a team needs, I guess partly as a team, right, but also just like what skills the dog needs before they can start to introduce distance into their training and before they can really...what they need to be successful with that, right? I would imagine it needs some special skills.
Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So there’s many different ways to teach distance and the way that I do it is my whole philosophy with distance handling is it has a very unique skill in the fact that you’re asking the dog to move away from you and that can be moving out of their comfort zone, and so confidence plays a humungous part in everything I do with my dogs which kind of goes back into all that shaping and clicker training stuff that I do, is that I want my dogs to be super, super confident. I want them to be confident in my handling, confident in their skills, you know, they’d know how to do dog up, they’d know how to do a jump, all that sort of stuff.
So when I start working with a new handler or a new dog or even someone who’s been competing but they want to start introducing distance, the first thing that we sit down and do is like, okay, now let’s see where is your dog at and what is their confidence level at. Are they okay 5 feet away, 10 feet away, you know, where’s their limit? And if say their limit is at 10 feet and their handler really wants them to be 15 feet away, we’re going to build the dog’s confidence up at 10 feet.
And my biggest thing is because of that confidence I want my dogs to trust my handling, I want them to be confident in my handling. So for example, if I tell my dogs “out” and I want them to...out means for them to move out away from me. So I tell them out, and so they understand that, and let’s say I’m at a trial and I’ve forgotten all the core skills, so I’ve said out but in all reality I actually need them coming in towards me and I’m like, oh, no, I’ve given them the wrong cue.
So my reaction and almost all reactions, the same reaction happens for every handler, is you know we’re trying to save that cue so we’re going, no, no, no, no, come in, come in, come in, you know, and we’ll try to save it and get the dog in, and dogs are forgiving and dogs are awesome so they’ll just turn on a dime and come in, but what happens with that is then the dogs don’t trust their handling anymore. You know, we’ve said out, they’re going out, but now in our heads we’re telling ourselves, oh, I screwed up, I screwed up, I needed to say “come in”, but in the dog’s head they’re viewing it as, well, she said out, I went out, and now she’s saying no, no, no, come in, and so that’s what kind of chips away at that trust.
So the first thing I really, really get into with all my students is if you’ve given a wrong cue sometimes you just have to suck it up and go and know that you just lost that run, but you’re going to gain ten more down the road because if the dog doesn’t have confidence in our cues then when we do need that distance and we tell our dog out I never want my dog to look back at me and go are you sure? Like I just want them, when I say out they go, yeah, all right, here we go, she means it, you know, and off we go. So that’s a big thing.
I do lots of ground work. I use road cones and teach my dogs a lot of confidence work around just the road cones because it’s a nice, easy ground work exercise, and also teaches me, myself, and all my students, the timing that they need for all their cues. I teach them the speed the dogs are going to run, and it’s all about equipment so that we’re not also working toward dog knocks a bar and it’s like oh, no, no, we have to fix that. We can just focus on getting our dogs to move out away from us and build that confidence. That’s basically my training philosophy. Everything revolves around confidence.
Melissa Breau: No, I mean that makes total sense because especially when, you know speed is also important and obviously agility, speed is important. Getting a dog to move away from you and not doubt. If they doubt you they’re going to move slower than if they believe that they’re doing the right thing. So even if the dog did come in right, like you might have shaved some seconds the wrong direction...
Amanda Nelson: Exactly. Exactly.
Melissa Breau:...your next run. So, even though I haven’t done agility I do Tribal and that’s also kind of a distance sport, and I know that for me when I was training distance, reward placement was just so important to kind of get that confidence and get the dog to understand, you know, to stay out there and not come back in for a treat, so I’d assume that was a big part for you for training agility too. Do you want to speak to that a little bit and talk about...I mean you can totally correct me if I’m wrong too, you know, I’m kind of guessing a little bit but...
Amanda Nelson: No, no, reward placement is huge, huge, huge, which is why I love using toys when it comes to distance work and it’s super easy, you’ll be able to pass that toy out there, reward at a distance, you’re either handler talking or get toy placed down or something like that. You have to understand they maybe aren’t a big fan of toys, they only want food which Ally absolutely hates toys, she has zero interest in them, but she loves food so for her, you know, reward can be a little bit difficult with her because my other dogs, you know, they love going after the toys so it makes it “a little bit easier.”
With Ally I use those Lotus balls, you know, and they’re Velcro, kind of open, you can put food in, so I use those as some I would be able to...she does a really nice distance sequence. I can either have it placed out there for her out away from me or she can then open it up and get her treat, or a lot of times I just always carry one on me so if she does something really awesome out there at a distance, I can just toss that toy and reward right there. I also have students that the Lotus ball, it does not work for them. Either the handlers don’t really like tossing it, maybe the dogs don’t like it, that sort of thing, so even tossing food is good.
I still vary my rewards because a lot of times, at least with something like distance they get so focused on all this distance and distance and distance, and so they reward all this distance out-away, out-away, out-away, which is great but there are some courses where the dog has to come in, and so sometimes we get a little bit stuck on, oh, my gosh, I’m not going to let my dog out there and the dog gets used to always being say 10, 15 feet away from a handler, but then when we go out of sequence where they need to be say 5 feet within the handler the dogs don’t want to come in.
So, I still do kind of vary my rewards in that sometimes they will come in to me for a treat so that we’re still kind of keeping a nice balance between my dog going really far out and staying out away from me or coming in, but I would say I definitely reward out-away a lot more than I do next to me because I want them again it’s all about that confidence. I want my dogs to feel confident and high reinforcement way out there away from me as well.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, some dogs really struggle with distance and building that confidence to go out there. I have seen that in my own sport, and I think it’s kind of neat that reward placement really can make a huge difference in just communicating and building that confidence.
So I wanted to ask if there was a particular aspect of distance training or really kind of anything in what you do that people usually struggle with, and if you kind of walk us through a little bit how you might problem solve that or some of the solutions you might try out. Just kind of give people a sense of what you teach and how you teach it. Is there anything that jumps out at you?
Amanda Nelson: Yeah. So for me I would say across the board the biggest aspect that I see with all handlers whenever they want to get into distance is they want to stop all movement. They get nervous, especially if there’s a Gamblers line on the ground or _____(20:01) or something like that, and they see that line and we just stop dead.
So a lot of...the way I handle and the way I teach is all based on my body. So my lower body, my feet, are...that’s what creates impulsion. So even, you know, like my videos I use it a lot because people say, “oh, you tell us when we have to keep moving, but your video doesn’t, you know, you’re not.” But I am. It just has to be, even if it’s a small non-movement, even if it’s just one step, one step, you’re still creating movement, and dogs if they see us just kind of come to that brick wall, you know, when we stop right at that line, well, that’s cueing a collection, you’re telling them to stop. So what I try to tell my students all the time is if you want your dog’s feet to move, your feet need to move. It doesn’t mean you have to race them, it doesn’t mean you have to run. Even the smallest step, that motion is going to help them continue to move and continue to push out there.
So again, back to road cones, I do tons of work with footwork for the handlers teaching them, you know, I want you to practice this distance, but you need to always kind of be moving a little bit, you know, always be creating a little bit of motion in your lower body so your dog will continue to read that. And I do a lot of work laying lines on the ground and teaching handlers not to be scared of them, they don’t have to stop right at them, and even staying off that line just by a foot gives you that little bit of cushion that you can still kind of push it on up and they get a little bit of movement, and I would say that to me is the biggest aspect because dogs naturally read our body language.
You know, when you take a little 8-week-old puppy and you start to walk, they’re going walk with you and you stop, they stop, you know, they naturally will read it, whereas we can teach distance with just a verbal cue and teach the dogs to get out there. I know many distance handlers that don’t use a lot of body language, it’s all verbal, and they do extremely well, but it’s a taught skill, it’s not natural to the dog, and I like to do as much natural stuff as I can for the dog so that it makes things easier, and I think for both of us as a team it just makes things easier. I don’t have to teach something that is harder for both me and the dog to teach them, okay, I’m standing perfectly still, but I want you to drive out 30 feet, and it’s harder on the dog and it goes again back to that confidence. It’s harder to gain that confidence when the dog doesn’t feel that level of support from their handler, so I would say that’s the hardest thing that I’ve across with handlers and it’s just a matter of just muscle memory. You know, teach them that you really...it’s okay. You can keep moving at that speed, you’ll be okay, sort of silly -- the line is not going to bite you, I swear.
Melissa Breau: So I mentioned in the bio, and I mean you talked about it a little bit there in that last answer that you have your Cues for Q’s handling system, and I want to make sure we talk about that a little bit more. You kind of mentioned the idea of adapting to what the dog does naturally and building on that, but can you explain the concept a little bit more and maybe touch on how the system can allow a team to really create their own unique handling system?
Amanda Nelson: I kind of break things down into...I have lower body cues, upper body cues, and then my verbal cues. So my lower body cues, that should be basically my primary cue, that should be the first thing my dog sees. So I always want to point my feet or point my foot, you know, if you’re running you’re not going to be able to point both feet at the same time, but point this way where you want your dog to go, so that’s going to be kind of their first cue. Your foot is pointing at that jump you want them to take.
And then your upper body is going to define that cue. Do you want them really continue to push, you’re going to have your arm out because you’re really driving them down that line, or is your dog closer to your body because we’re going to collect after that jump? So your upper body is kind of defining what your lower body is doing, and then your verbal cue should be kind of backing that whole thing up.
So, the picture that I would want to see is if I have a student who, they need to do an out-tunnel is that their foot should be pulling at the tunnel, the hand should be pulling in at the tunnel, and then their verbal cue should be backing all that up by saying out or whatever cue that student uses.
Where I go from there is that I don’t feel that every dog can handle the same way. I’ve had multiple dogs and worked with multiple students’ dogs and run student's dogs, that every dog is unique, every dog is different, and not everything is going to be exactly the same, you know? Like I have all Border Collies and every single one of them is different. I handle every single one of them different. They don’t all just kind of come out of the cookie cutter that just because they’re Border Collies this is the way I’m going to handle them, you know, they’re all very, very different.
So I can adapt this handling system into something that works for each dog. So for example, Trip, that my boyfriend runs, he is much more dependent on Jimmy’s upper body, then he has his feet, and he was trained, you know, all my dogs go through the same foundation training as every other one before them and one after, and Trip and Ally, the two youngest, they were trained in exactly the same way, but for some reason Trip just, he responds better to upper body. So we just adapt the handling a little bit into, okay, instead of Jimmy’s foot is now pointing where we want to go, we really focus on his upper body. His arm really needs to be pointing, this is the jump we’re going to take, and then his feet then become more of a defining cue and not a verbal, if that makes sense. So it just kind of swaps the order.
Whereas now Ally, Ally 100 percent reads off my lower body and then upper body is her defining cue, and what she doesn’t like, and maybe it’s just a phase she’s going through, it’s a teenager phase, she does not like to hear me talk. So verbals cues are just a no-go for her. Every time I say something to her like go or something like that, she barks or she gets a little angry or yeah, I feel like we’re having a teenager stage, you know, don’t tell me what to do. So, for her I use very little verbal cues and she reads my lower body like there’s no tomorrow, you know, she’ll pick up that foot cue and she just goes with it.
So, we just mold and adapt things within that. I have my students kind of follow the base of it, you know, most dogs are going to read your foot and here’s your arm and your verbal, but I let my students pick. They can use any verbal they want as long as it makes sense to them and it makes sense to the dog. They can say spaghetti for all I care as long as it works for them and we all understand it and that’s awesome. I want them to be happy.
My biggest thing and I guess I learned this years and years and years ago. I taught a seminar and I was working with this woman who just, you could tell she was struggling, like she was just having a hard time, she couldn’t get her cues out right, and her handling was very stiff, and so I sat and talked to her, like what’s going on? What’s the issue? She’s like, well, I’ve been taught that I need to handle like A, B or C and I need to do this and I’m like, well, but it’s not working. You know, you’re not happy, which in turn is now making your dog not happy. So I said what would you like to do? Let’s talk about it. So she had shown me and said, okay, now this is how I wanted him. I’m like, well, let’s do that. As long as it works for you and your dog let’s do that.
So my biggest thing is take kind of the baseline basically, you know, here’s how most dogs respond to things, but then mold it into what you like and what works for you. You know, just like Jimmy and Trip, if I were to force them and say no, no, no, you must use your leg and that is what’s going cue him, but if he doesn’t like that, you know, if the dog doesn’t respond and that doesn’t work for him then it’s just a constant battle.
So my biggest thing when I’m teaching any seminar or anything online is my poor students have to hear me say and over and over again, do what works for you and your dog. Don’t get caught up in this, that, or the other that you saw online or whatever. Take something, take an idea and go, okay, how can I make this work for me and my dog, how can I mold that into a training idea or how I handle that makes sense to me and my dog because a Bulldog is not going to remember the same as a Border Collie and they should be handled and trained in each of their own unique way basically.
Melissa Breau: Right. So you kind of mentioned that each dog has their own unique handling system. Is it hard as a handler to have two dogs with a slightly different...I mean I know you mentioned your boyfriend’s dog, but your down dogs I’d assume and also slightly different. Is it hard as a handler to remember which dog you’re handling?
Amanda Nelson: Extremely...extremely hard. So, yeah, I ran with Nargles and like I said, Ally, I’m assuming it’s a phase, perhaps doesn’t like my talking, but Nargles on the other hand loves it, she likes the verbal. So sometimes I’ll work in the ring and I’ll start talking to Ally and she starts barking... I’m like, oh, wrong dog. It is extremely hard and I know I forget and I’m actually working with a student online right now who has two dogs and they are like night and day and she is just having a hell of a time. I’m like, well, you know, when you figure it out you let me know because...
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that’s the hardest part in some ways because like you said, part of it is muscle memory and you’re trying to teach yourself to remember to do the same things and be consistent for your dog and when you have two different dogs who want to do things differently you have to learn two sets of muscle memory. Oh, goodness, it’s funny.
So, I want to end the episode the same way I kind of end most of the episodes which is asking you what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Amanda Nelson: Oh, my gosh. So the 2011 NADAC Championship I won and it is one of the proudest accomplishments I have. So I was competing against Super Stakes which is a distance class, and it’s a very, very hard distance class. Most of the time the distance challenges, your dog is 60 feet, if not 80 feet away from you, extremely hard, and I was competing. It was in Springfield, Illinois and my friend Sunny and I were competing and I was running Try, and we were basically kind of going back and forth between first and second and her and I were probably both having absolutely the best weekend of our lives in dog agility terms, like she was on, I was on. Her dog, Vanessa, we train together all the time, so it was just awesome to go out, and I would have this amazing run and then out comes Sunny and she would have this amazing run. It was absolutely fantastic.
So we ran in the finals. I ran first and oh, my God, it was just a fantastic run, an amazing connection I had with Try. It was one of my best runs. To date it still was one of the best runs I ever had with her. Sunny and her dog, Vanessa, ran after me and they again...it was an amazing breathtaking run and we were 24 seconds apart and Sunny ended up winning. It was the most amazing weekend of my life as far as I just every...you know, four days is how long the championships are, and the level of connection that Try and I had that weekend was absolutely amazing, and to lose to my friend was fantastic.
For her to have such a fantastic weekend as well was just awesome, and that second place ribbon, I love that second place ribbon because every time I look at it all I can think about is we were on fire that whole weekend. It was just such an amazing weekend and competing there with my friend, who was also having the best weekend of her life, it was just one of those things that is just amazing. So I have to say it’s not a title or award or anything like that. It’s my happiest second place ribbon I’ve ever gotten.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Sometimes, you know, there’s really something to be said for the relationships you form in the sports world, right, and you’re cheering on your friends and your teammates and your training buddies and it’s not always just about you and your own dog, but that’s awesome.
Amanda Nelson: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Well, my favorite question of the whole series always, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
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, 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.
Melissa Breau: And finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Amanda Nelson: I would say all of my students. Every time I teach a seminar and in all my classes, all of that, I learn so much from all my students. They inspire me every day to be a better handler, a better trainer. Even I’m in the middle of a Fenzi class I’m teaching right now, I am learning so much from them. The questions they ask, you know, they’ll ask me a question like, oh, you know what, there’s probably a different way to teach this and it brings about how we can approach things differently, how we can train things differently.
I have to say working on all of those awesome people, they inspire me and I look up to every one of them, you know, how we can train different things, you know, all that sort of stuff I just...as corny as it sounds, it’s probably all of my students. I love every single one of them and they do, they truly inspire me to be better, to just be better in general.
Melissa Breau: That’s not corny at all, it’s sweet. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Amanda. It was great to get to chat and to learn a little bit more about what you do. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.
Amanda Nelson: Well, thank you so much. This was fantastic.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, it’s always good to learn a little bit more about some of the different sports out there, and agility is pretty mainstream but it’s still new to me. And we’ll be back next week, this time with Sara Brueske to talk training and competing for disc sports. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
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.
To be released 6/23/2017, featuring Amanda Nelson.
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. At FDSA Andrea 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. Hi, Andrea. Welcome to the podcast.
Andrea Harrison: Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s lovely to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, do you want to just give us a little about your current fur crew?
Andrea Harrison: Sure. We could take up the whole podcast talking about them so I won’t do that, but we’re currently living with too many dogs including my dad’s dog, Franny, who is a lovely older cocker spaniel, and then we have Brody who is 17 almost and he’s what I refer to as my heartbeat at my feet. He’s my Shih Tzu mix and he really taught me that gurus even in dog sports don’t necessarily have all the answers for every dog. Then we have Theo who is a 14-year-old Chihuahua, Sally who is an 11-year-old border collie mix who has really taught me to appreciate joy in everything. She was supposed to be palliative foster, she came to us when she was about six months old and was given less than six months to live, and she’s about to turn eleven. So she’s a good daily reminder. Yeah. She’s a really good daily reminder that life is good and life is worth living. Then we have Sam who is my husband’s golden retriever and I do very, very little with him. He just turned eight, and he came to us as a palliative foster as well. He was five months old with terminal kidney disease, so he’s doing pretty well. We’ve got a crazy, crazy little terrier named Dora who is five years old, and then we have a toy American Eskimo, Yen, who just turned four, and she is certainly my daily reminder that every dog you have to do things your own way.
So yeah, we have a bunch of different breeds and different types represented in the house right now, and as I say, too many dogs, but I also joke that on a per acre basis we have less dogs than most people do because we live on a fairly large farm in the middle of nowhere in Lake Ontario. So per acre we’re well under any limit anybody could set.
Melissa Breau: That certainly helps. I mean, having space is a big benefit when you have dogs.
Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. And it’s nice because I can train down at the front with them, a little agility field set up at the front, so I can take a pair down and work them down there, but every day a part of our routine is to go for a one to two, well, sometimes even three kilometers once the weather is nice, but we’re out doing a good hike off-leash with all five of the dogs who are at a stage in their development where that’s something they enjoy, right? So their fitness, their brain, their recalls, all of that stuff just gets worked on as part of life, you know? They hang out with me, they want to hang out with me. It makes when they come to town much easier, right, because they’re constantly being reinforced for doing sort of the right thing to my husband’s and my eyes.
Melissa Breau: So which of the dogs are you currently competing with?
Andrea Harrison: I don’t actually. Since I’ve been down here we’ve been busy setting up the farm, but Sally, the border collie mix, finished doing a major film fairly recently and has been going out doing some publicity work around that. So her training stayed pretty current. Yeah. She was a lead role in a feature film that was about the character dog, Dinah, in the movie. So she is Dinah. So that’s been kind of neat with being down to the…Toronto has an international film festival and we’ve been in the main theater for that. She was the first dog ever in that theater and stuff. So we had to make sure she was really, really perfect. They were, “A dog? You can’t have a dog in the theater.” We’re like, “Well, she’s the star of the film.” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she’s the star of the film I guess it’s okay.” So she’s been doing stuff.
Ad I’m hoping to get Dora, the two young dogs, Dora and Yen, going in competitive agility one of these days. But my problem is because everything is two or three hours of driving for me, and with my 17-year-old guy, I don’t like to leave him very long, right? He’s very much my heartbeat at my feet, he’s happiest lying on my feet, and I hate to leave him and make him stress out when I’m gone. But unfortunately I don’t think he’ll be with us all that much longer. And then Dora and Yen can get their day of, their 15 minutes of fame, right, the Andy Warhol thing, they can get out there and get their fame and glory or embarrass me, whichever way they choose to go out. They do agility at home and they’re great. They’re ready to go. I just have to get off the farm.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. How long have you guys had the farm now?
Andrea Harrison: Well, we’ve had the land for about ten years and we’ve been living here, we’ve been living here and building our house. We had a house just around the corner, we’ve been building our house for just about five years, we’ve been permanently at the farm for three.
Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s awesome.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been pretty neat. It added a dimension to my life that I really didn’t know how much I was missing until I had it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started with dog sports and the film stuff? I mean, where did all that start?
Andrea Harrison: So when I was little I apparently was pretty opinionated, I hear this quite regularly, and I didn’t like school and I didn’t think I like learning. Turns out I love learning but I was just not being taught the stuff I liked to learn, right? So my dad and mom realized that if they could connect anything to animals I’d buy into it. So they taught me history at the dining room table by using the names of dogs and cats and horses, whatever kind of animal they could find that was connected to an event. I learned about the Civil War in the States because of the horse Traveller, for example, right? Ancient Greek history, they connected it to Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. Rin Tin Tin for the war stuff, right? All of those kinds of things.
And then they realized that if they brought home books that had animals in them I would read, and it turns out I’m a voracious reader, but they connected it through animals. And one of the kinds of books I started reading were books about people, there was a real trend for books about guide dogs, service dogs, seeing eye dogs and those kinds of things, and I read a book, and I was trying to think of the name of it. I think it’s called like, Guided by the Light or something, or Candle in the Light or something, and I read the book and it just amazed me, the gorgeous German shepherd, and I had this clear picture in my head, it was an amazing dog.
I looked at our Irish setter at the time and I said, “You and I are going to do stuff.” And I was 12 and there were no classes available for kids, kids just were not available to take classes. So I made my mom go to the dog sport classes and is at on the sidelines and I watched everything she did and I went home and I did it with our Irish setter in the backyard. By the end of our time doing that class our Irish setter would actually walk down a main street of Toronto off-leash with squirrels and other dogs going by me. She was your pretty typical Irish setter, she was a busy girl, and I was so proud of that. The lift that gave me as a very introverted, not super academic kind of person really built my confidence.
So then just every dog we had from there, I put one leg of an obedience title on a golden retriever. We had foster Sheltie for about eight months, I did some show handling with her. So I just slowly got a little bit more into it. I never found my passion, right?
Then one day, twenty years ago almost exactly I think, I saw agility, just in a field at a local university. Somebody set up a class and I literally stopped dead and went, “That’s amazing.” And I started thinking about agility. I had two older big dogs at the time who couldn’t do it, but I started learning about it and watching it and thinking about it. Then I was hooked. That was it. I mean, my blog is called Agility Addict. I was just absolutely, and I am just nuts about agility.
Melissa Breau: What’s the URL for your blog?
Andrea Harrison: Andrea Agility Addict Blog Spot I think. I don’t know. It comes up, as soon as you type any of that in it flies right up.
Melissa Breau: I will look it up and I will include the link in the show notes. So what do, what you teach at FDSA is a little bit different, kind of, than what any of the other instructors do. You definitely have your own niche. I mean, how do you explain what it is you do at FDSA? How would you kind of summarize it
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a good question. I think what I’d say and what I do say all the time is that I focus on the handler side, right? Because it doesn’t matter if you’re an agility addict or you’re into nose work or you’re into obedience. I’m so grateful I’m learning so much about all these amazing different sports, Rally-FrEe, and all this stuff, it’s just so super what I do because I get to learn and I love learning, right?
So I really focus on the handler side of it. My experiences through all the different things that I have done have reminded me all the time that my mental state, my beliefs, my hang-ups, right, really are going to affect what happens at the end of the leash. When I was filming Zoboomafoo and I needed 15 puppies to run across the floor towards me, if 13 of them ran towards me and two of them went another way it didn’t help to get mad about it, right? I had to just think it through, figure it out, and redo it, right? Or when my little dog was on the stage at the Elgin Theater in Toronto, one of our big theaters doing a thing of Annie, I had to just to let it go.
And it’s hard for me to let it go. I’m your typical Fenzi instructor, you know, type A, cares a lot, wants everything to be right, right? We’re a passionate group of people, right? I mean, that’s wonderful, but it can be hard to remember that we can’t control everything, right? No matter how much we want success we can’t always make success in the moment that we want it. So as I was looking at what I could bring to the FDSA table it was like, there’s a piece of stuff that I’m doing all the time, I’m getting asked to do it all the time, people are asking me questions in my face classes all the time about this, people respond to any blog I write about it.
So I taught a little tiny course just for people locally online, and ended up telling Denise about it, and she was like, “That’s really cool. Do you want to try bringing that here? I don’t know if it’ll work.” She was really honest, right? She’s like, I don’t know if it’ll work. I’m not sure there’s a thing. But that’s where the first course, All in Your Head, came from, this tiny little genesis of a course I ran one summer through a Facebook group, and then it just developed from there. Students are amazing, they ask amazing questions, and they’ve given so much back to sort of my funny little niche program, like you said, but they’ve built it. I’m along for the ride. I’ve got tons of different resources I can plug into and pull out and experiences, but the students of FDSA have really driven what’s happened in my little circle.
Melissa Breau: So to give listeners kind of a sense of the type of issues that your classes can help with, do you mind just talking a little bit about some of the problems you’ve helped handlers address within the classes?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Sure. I mean, it really ranges, right? So All in Your Head looks at sort of who you are, right, and how who you are is going to affect the training choices and things that you do, and starts to address the nerves side of it a little bit, because nerves are a big, big thing that come up. Disappointment, worry, anxiety. People don’t want to let down their dog, right? They get frustrated by their dog, they aren’t sure they’re doing the right sport, they maybe aren’t sure they have the right dog for the right sport, right? How can they make all of these things work, right?
Like, I personally hate coming in second. For me that’s a huge source of frustration, right? So if I was always coming in second I would want to work through a whole bunch of the stuff that I do in a class to make sure that I was dealing with being second. I’d rather be last than second, right? Give me first or don’t place me at all. I mean, I’d like to cue, thank you very much, but in terms of placement type stuff, right?
So the problems really range. I mean, I’ve had people look at relationship issues, grief. The two sort of really specialized courses, Infinite Possibilities and the new one I’m running now, Unleash Personal Potential, people pick their own thing, right? So the range of things we’re seeing in there is amazing. Then of course with Handle This and No More Excuses people are largely looking at setting plans, setting goals, learning about goals, figuring out how to implement plans, right? We all make these great plans, I’m going to train every day, and then life gets in the way because life always gets in the way, right? It always does. So what do you do when life gets in the way? How can you not say, “Oh my God, I’m the worst trainer in the world ever,” and crawl under a rock and not train for three weeks? And there are times when a three week break is what you need, but sometimes you need to say, you know what? This was a throwaway day. It was okay, I didn’t make my plan, it’s okay, tomorrow is a new day and I can start over, right? So the range of problems is just, I mean, you know, you could almost open up a dictionary and look for any adjective and there it comes, right?
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 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 want, 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 trail 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 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 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 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), and that was kind of sucky, but it was okay, right? Like, now with all this perspective it’s fine.
So you have to rehearse for success, let those nerves…think of something that gives you just a little bit less nerves and go and do it, right? Where you get that slight flutter and figure out how to tame the slight flutter. Don’t expect to say, oh my God, I’m so nervous at a trial, I don’t want to be nervous anymore. That won’t work. You need to figure out, right, what tools are going to work for you, right? What makes you nervous, what tools will reduce that element of anxiety, and work on it one element at a time.
I have students where I say to them, I don’t care that you’re not really ready to run, right, in a trial. If you were so nervous about it that’s making you sick, find a match that’s going to make you half sick. Go to a trial and know that you’re not going to be successful. Go and do one lap of the ring. I don’t care. Walk in there and do six things and leave if it’s accessible in your venue. And practice getting over that nervousness so that you can give yourself and your dog the best things that you need to do to be successful. Set yourself up for success, if I had to reduce it to just a couple of words.
Melissa Breau: Right. The same way you set your dog up for success.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. We’re as important part of the team, right? Without us there would be no dog sport. So we spend so much time, right, working on our dogs, and it’s great that we do, and I love it too, but you have to remember to work on yourself too. You know? Unless you’re by nature perfectly calm, perfectly extroverted, never have a thing to worry about at home which I still have yet to meet anybody who can say all of that, right?
Melissa Breau: You and me both. I wanted to dive a little more into the motivation and planning aspect of things too. I know one of the lines in your class description for No More Excuses is it’s for the students who have a library full of classes and haven’t done them, or they have goals and aspirations that they simply aren’t meeting. I think a lot of people who read that, that kind of strikes home, right? So I wanted to ask, what is so hard about just doing it?
Andrea Harrison: Such a good question. And you think, like, we all blame ourselves when we can’t just do it, right? And I think many of us hope that if we fill our libraries up enough that something is going to resonate, something is going to suddenly, magically make us do it. And you know, we all want that magic solution. I mean, self-help sections of libraries and book stores are full, like, shelves and shelves and shelves of books because we all want there to be a magic bullet answer, right? And there isn’t.
I mean, in a nutshell motivation often comes down to people being confused about whether it’s outcome or process that they want, right? Whether it’s learning or performance, right? Four different sort of models to look at motivation. Outcome goals are like, I want to be an Olympic gold medalist, and a process goal is I want to build the skills to be able to be an Olympic gold medalist. Many of us want to go straight to an outcome, goal, right? We want to be able to get the cue without sort of remembering that we have to build that process in. And once people understand that everything we do, we have to break it into a process, that can help them with their own motivation.
So training, and this sounds awful, because different things bore different people, but there’s always some element of training that bores most people, right? So I’ll hear people say, “I hate working on stays, they’re so boring.” Or, “I’d rather be playing on Facebook than training,” right? And that’s okay, that’s legitimate. But if you can start off even just with two or three minutes of whatever you don’t like, particularly working on it, as you start to meet success it becomes more rewarding so you can do more and more. So if you can break down your process, again, similar principle to earlier, if you can break your process down into little tiny chunks and build on those little tiny chunks, as you attain success you’re going to be moving closer to doing the outcome stuff, right?
I mean, in true motivational speak the issues with motivation usually fall into either direction, can you get up off the couch and actually go and train or are you going to get up off the couch and head towards the ice cream in the freezer, right? Which direction are you going to go in? The intensity of what you do, so are you like, oh, yeah, this is great as long as I don’t have to work too hard each step, right? It’s good, I got to the gym, I chatted to the girl at the desk, I did my thing or went to dog school, and it was great, but I really didn’t put any time into training, I was really busy chatting to my friends and watching other people train, right? That’s the intensity piece of it. And then the final piece is persistence, which is do you go back, right? Will you go to training once and you do a great job or will you go to training five times and do as good a job as you can each of those times?
So direction, intensity, and persistence are sort of the hallmarks of real motivational stuff, and they break down really nicely for dog training too, right? Like, where is your gap? So in No More Excuses we help people figure out which priority they want to work on of those three, and then how to do that.
And then the last thing that you want to think about when you’re doing motivation issues is are you in a learning phase or a performance phase of training, trial, and showing, whatever? If you’re in a learning phase you might still be trialing, right? Because you learn when you trial. Every trial I’ve ever gone to you learn tons, right? But if you’re in that learning phase you don’t want to be having tons of outcome based goals or else what happens is you get frustrated and turned off and you stop. I think what happens to a lot of people is they don’t understand the distinctions between outcome and process goals, learning and performance outcomes, right, the goal, and then that intensity, persistence, and direction piece, and if you can sort of marry all of those pieces and figure it out then you’ve got a real head up on making some motivation work for you, right? So it comes to down to sort of planning, right? Figure out what you need to do and then plan for it.
And remember that all those self-help books, right, that are in the library, all the gurus, all the people who say there’s only one way to do things or this is the right way, they have a whole lot invested in making you buy in to what it is they are promoting. They believe it. I’m not saying it’s charlatans at all, but they believe that their way is the right way, and if it doesn’t work for you it tends to make you feel kind of rotten, right? You’re thinking, so-and-so could do this and it’s amazing, and my friend did it and it was amazing, and it doesn’t really work for me. What’s wrong with me? Right? And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, you just have a different approach to learning or the message or the method than the person does. So I think sometimes all the self-help can kind of be negative, you know, which is too bad.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. Despite my comment about just doing it I do know that you’re a big fan of self-care and gratitude, and I’m sure a lot of students in the alumni group on Facebook have seen your Joy Day Care posts. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and have you kind of tell us what’s the story there, how did that get started?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a neat thing. So again, you know, my whole thing earlier my students are always teaching me, the first time we ran Infinite Possibilities back in August of 2013, I think, I had an amazing student, she’s still a great student at FDSA, I know she listens to the podcast so she’ll be like, “Hey, that’s me she’s talking about.” She said, “You know, this gratitude thing, I work on it all the time and it’s really hard for me. I want to get better at being happy.” And there’s tons of great research that says that gratitude is a really good path to being a happier person, right? How can I be happy? It’s a big question I deal with in all of my life.
So we started a gratitude challenge in the class, right, on the discussion thread there was a gratitude challenge that I posted, and then at the end of the class people said, “You can’t stop this. This isn’t right. You just can’t stop this. We need your prompts. We need your help.” I said, “All right. Well, why don’t we take it over to the alumni list and see if people like it?” And people really like it. It’s funny, if I forget to post, if I forget it’s the first day after class officially ends, any of those things for sure somebody will message me, and often it’s somebody who has never worked with me. “Hey, don’t you normally do Joy Day Care now?”
So it started off, we called it just a gratitude challenge, and then it slowly worked towards being a Joy Day Care, the name just evolved over time. It was Joy Day Dare for a long time and then somebody, I mistyped, I think, and it came out as care, and I’m like, yeah, that’s even more perfect for us, do you think? Because one of the things I love about it is how much everybody cares about everybody, right?
And it just helps people remember that happiness is a conscious choice, you know? I had somebody ask me just yesterday, what can I do to be a happier person? I said it sounds so trite, it sounds so dumb, I hate to even tell you this, but you really do have to choose happiness. You know? Life is tough, life is hard. There’s a lot going on in life that gives us good cause to be angry or upset or frustrated or sad, and I mean, obviously if you’re facing some really big thing you’re going to need more than just to go, oh, today I’m going to be happy.
But a gratitude practice where you pick some time of the day to think about one thing you can be grateful for has a measureable impact on people who are suffering from depression, who have schizophrenia. There are tons and tons and tons of studies that show that a very, very short, ten second daily gratitude practice can make a difference to your state of happiness. Like, that’s pretty powerful, right?
And it’s so easy for me to do, right? It’s such an easy thing for me to remind people of sort of in the lull between classes. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I actually quite miss it when it’s done even though sometimes I have to get kind of creative with the prompts because we’ve done it now for a long time. So I’m like, have I done this in the last three sessions? I don’t think so.
Melissa Breau: Well, you could certainly…it certainly can’t hurt to recycle some of those prompts and just think about…absolutely people can think about different things they’re grateful for off the same prompt, and I mean, just…
Andrea Harrison: Sure. Sure.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s great.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. So in fact I did a little workbook too for people because they wanted something in between classes. So there’s a little workbook called Love the One You Are With, it’s just a little workbook that has a bunch, I don’t know, 140 other prompts and pretty pages people can fill in and stuff too. So people seem to be liking that as well.
Melissa Breau: Where can they find that?
Andrea Harrison: It’s called Love the One You Are With, and there’s a Facebook page for it.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Excellent
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Very cool.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end out the podcast, even though we spend a lot of time talking about the handler half of the team, the same way I do for everybody else, because I thought it’d be interesting to talk…I know if the beginning we talked a little bit about you and your dogs, and I wanted to make sure we kind of close it out that way too and talk a little bit about the dogs again. So what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Andrea Harrison: You know, it’s interesting, and I wrack my brain because obviously if you listen to the podcast you know this question is going to be coming up. I mean, I have lots of things, I have been lucky enough, fortunate enough to do some really, really cool things with my dogs, right? They’re superstars and rock stars all in their own right.
But I think if I had to pick the one thing I would have to say it’s probably the hundreds of foster dogs that my husband and I have rehabbed, worked with, trained. We’ve had many, many foster dogs that have been with us more than six months and as long as three years before they’ve been able to go into their own homes, and I think if I had to pick one thing it’s probably doing that, right? Giving back in such a sort of hands on way. Yeah. It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve met some really amazing dogs and by being able to be strong enough to give them up, and sometimes it’s really hard to do that, you know, it lets us take in the next one. So it’s been pretty precious.
Melissa Breau: Right. And that’s always the hardest part, right, in some ways, of fostering or helping with that process.
Andrea Harrison: Oh, I mean, it’s grief. Yeah. It’s absolutely grief in its own way. You miss them. You give a little piece of your heart. I had one of my vet tech friends say to me, “Andrea, you’ve got the biggest chameleon heart of anybody I know.” She calls me Lizard Heart now. I said, “What do you mean, Lizard Heart?” She goes, “Well, if you cut off a little piece of a chameleon’s heart apparently it grows back.” I don’t know how they even do that, I didn’t ask, I didn’t check it or anything. But she calls me Lizard Heart because she says, “You’ve given so much of your heart to other animals, your heart is so patchy and big, right, from all the repairs.” So I’m like, that’s so sweet. Right? Yeah. So I would say that’s probably my proudest accomplishment.
Melissa Breau: And then what is the best piece of training advice, and for you you can do handler or the dog, that you’ve ever heard?
Andrea Harrison: So there’s two, because, you know, why would any of us do what you ask and give one?
Melissa Breau: That’s perfectly okay.
Andrea Harrison: I think the one that really made me think the most and really work on understanding what it meant and figuring out how to apply it to handler side stuff and dog side stuff, actually, is somebody said to me a long, long time ago when they were mad at me in my counseling gig that’s outside of dogs, they said to me, “Andrea, you have to understand, it’s really not personal.” I was like, “But you’re mad at me.” And they’re like, “I’m just mad. I’m not mad at you. It’s not personal.” And I thought, it’s not personal. It really isn’t, is it? And so much of what we get ourselves so worked up about, right, is because we take things personally that aren’t meant personally.
So if your dog has a lousy day and blows you off, your dog poops in the ring, your dog isn’t do that to destruct you. Your dog is being what my husband calls his dog self, right? We talk about that all the time here at the farm. Oh, he’s just being his doggy self. They come in and they’ve rolled in something disgusting, and you know, oh my God, I have to go out for dinner in half an hour and I don’t have time to clean you. My stress level goes through the roof and Tom’s like, “They’re being their doggy self.” And I’m like, yeah it’s not personal. We bathe the dog and we’re ten minutes late and we’re good, right?
So it’s not personal applies, like when that group of women, often, sadly, are standing at the side of the ring watching your run and you think, oh my God, they’re watching me, they’re judging me, the pressure is great, and then you leave the ring and you think, wait a minute, I was the first, second, or third dog in the ring, and they were actually just watching to see how the judge works, or where the judge stands, or what pattern the judge is looking for, whatever, right? So it’s often, even though we take it very personally it’s not personal there. Even when somebody is making a comment to you, right? They’re saying, “Oh, well, if it had been me I would have done it this way.” So what if they would have done it that way? It’s about them, that’s not about you. It’s not personal.
So I think it’s not personal is a really big one that has worked for me to really try to remember both in my dog sports and my just surviving life piece, right? Whatever the issue is it’s much more often about the person who is doing the whatever that’s causing you stress or distress, and it’s often just the dogs being their doggy self. So that’s the first piece of advice I think to get into.
Then the other one came a long, long time ago, and this is sort of for handlers to remember with their dog, and that’s just to stop nagging. I guess that actually could be seen as a life skill too. I work pretty hard not to nag my husband too, but the sort of persistent drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, it can be really irritating, right? Like, if you’re getting nagged it’s irritating, and if you’re nagging your dog it’s irritating too. You’re much better off to break off if things aren’t going right, break off and do something, and have fun with it, and then come back to it, right? Rather than nag, nag, nag, nag, nagging.
If I have a dog that I’m trying to get to sit perfectly on its flat form, and you have a dog that you’re trying to get to sit perfectly on its platform, and I drill, drill, drill, drill, drill that skill for my dog, and you try it three times and say, oh, you know what? You need a break, you need to let off some of that stream, I’m going to go play with you for a minute and come back to it. My guess is a whole lot of the time you’re going to end up with a much nicer sit that’s much more solid in more situations than I will for nagging. Right?
And that came to me from my horse sport stuff early on in life where I was riding a rotten little pony and I had a crop, somebody hands me a crop and I was doing the thwack, thwack, thwack on the shoulder but never hurt enough to make a difference, and like, my coach, Martha Griggs, said to me, “Andrea, if you’re going to use that crop take it and use it once and be done with it. Stop nagging that poor pony.” And I thought, oh, but I don’t want to hit the pony, right? Who wanted to hit a pony? Even back then I was sort of like, there’s got to be a nice way to do it. But I realized that if I could figure out a way to be clear and consistent with my message and stop the drip, drip, drip, drip, dripping nagging of it it was going to work much better, and the pony and I went on to do pretty well in the show we were headed for. So you know, that worked in that moment and that in itself of course became reinforcement.
So it’s something I really look for in my face time students, right? Are you nagging the dog? Because if you’re nagging the dog if I can help you stop nagging the dog you’re going to end up with much more success. Yeah. So I’m grateful to the horse instructor for pointing that out so many years ago.
Melissa Breau: I mean, sometimes it’s really interesting the lessons that carry over from other sports and other things in our lives into the dog world, and how much carryover they really have.
Andrea Harrison: Well, it’s absolutely right. One of the things that people always say, how do you know…what made you come up with the fact that getting a good night’s sleep before a show is important? And I’m like, because in my work as an educator and as a counselor I’ve discovered that if I’m doing a session with somebody and they had a good night’s sleep the night before we’re going to get a lot farther than if they’ve had an awful night’s sleep. Doing sort of a counseling session, if I’m talking to someone and they’ve had a terrible night’s sleep I’ll be like, you know what? Today is not a good day to dig into the heavy stuff. Let’s find something light and fluffy to deal with because we’re not going to get nearly as far, right? Here, let’s talk about how to sleep better, you go home and sleep better, and next week make sure you do those strategies, and then we can get into the heavy stuff.
So yeah, absolutely. What you learn in one place has tons and tons of crossover. And again, I think we forget that, right? We get so hung up on there’s got to be the perfect way to do it that we forget to pull these different skill sets that we have from different places. In the All in Your Head course somebody in the first or second session said to me, “Oh my God, I did this at work, the Meyer Briggs temperament inventory.” He said, “I did this at work. It never occurred to me to think about how what I know about myself at work might influence myself as a dog trainer. It really does make a difference.” I was like, yeah, of course it does. But so many people, we compartmentalize, right? It’s part of being human, we keep things in their little compartments and we forget to open the door between them.
Melissa Breau: So for our last important question, so someone else in the dog world that you look up to, who would you recommend?
Andrea Harrison: There are so many ways to answer this question. I mean, I’ve said it before in this already, the FDSA instructors are just amazing people and so many of the people, like I can throw out a ton of big name agility trainers, American, Canadian, European, but I think if I was going to say who I look up to regularly, and this sounds kind of, I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for so I’ll just say it, it has to be the people who struggle with their dog, right? They’re the inspiration for me. They’ve got this dog that maybe isn’t the perfect match for them, they’re in a sport that isn’t maybe the perfect match for them, and they persist. They want to figure it out, right? And that might mean changing dog sports, that might mean retiring a dog, that might mean taking a long break. There’s so many different things it can mean, but they’re the people that I really look up to because…and lots of the instructors, right, have had their own challenges too. The very fact that they come back to it, right, the resilience of the human, right?
So I guess I would have to say that it’s the resilience that really makes me feel inspired to keep going, right? That if I were looking for a reason to get up in the morning and to log on to see what’s going on with my students, the people who are working with the deaf dog or the blind dog or the dog that, as somebody said, I would divorce if I could, but I can’t divorce him because he’s living with me now so I’m going to figure out how to do that, you know? It’s all those people that really create this inspiration, and I’m sure you would have loved it if I’d grabbed one name, but really when I thought about the question that’s really what gives me my get up and go, is those people.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I’ll take it. It’s a different answer so it works for me. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Andrea. It was so much fun to chat.
Andrea Harrison: Well, such a pleasure, honestly. Just delightful. You do a great job with it.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you. Thanks. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amanda Nelson to talk agility, including tailoring your handling style to your specific team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
And one extra request this week, guys. If you could leave a review on iTunes or mention the podcast to a training buddy we would greatly appreciate it.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
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. Amy Cook. Amy has been training dogs for nearly 25 years and has been specializing in the rehabilitation of shy and fearful dogs for over 15 years. She’s the creator of The Play Way, her process for helping dogs learn to cope with the world around them. She’s also a certified dog behavior consultant, a long-standing professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and has attended all four Chicken Camps in Hot Springs, Arkansas taught by Bob Bailey.
Amy returned to school in 2006 to get her PhD in psychology from UC Berkeley. Her research there focused on the dog/human relationship and its effect on problem solving strategies dogs employ. She also recently started a blog at playwaydogs.com, and everyone should definitely go check it out. Hey, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Cook: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Melissa Breau: I’m very excited to talk to you. To start us out do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Amy Cook: Oh, my dogs. You know, when you start people talking on their dogs it’s kind of endless, so you’re going to have to stop me when you’ve heard about my lovely dogs. I have currently, I lost my old girl last year who I would have had a lot to say about, but I have currently Marzipan who some people know, she’s my Whippet, she’s five and a half, I want to say, or so, and with her I mainly do agility. She’s been actually out with an injury for now what seems like a million years and since dinosaurs have roamed the earth. She got sort of her foot reconstructed, she had reconstructive surgery on her toe. So it’s been a real adventure having a dog go from three classes a week and traveling every weekend to you live in a box. It’s been hard on both of us, but also stretching for both of us because of how I can keep her happy in different ways than I used to before.
And I have little baby Caper who I think you helped name if I’m not mistaken. She is a ten-month-old terrier, chihuahua-terrier is what she is.
Melissa Breau: So what did Marzipan do to her foot that took her out of commission?
Amy Cook: You know, yeah, you’d think it would be during sport or something since we do such crazy stuff, but no, we were hiking and I think the crime was that it was not quite winter, it wasn’t winter, it was summer, and the ground used to be marshy and now was dry and cracked. I think she just tweaked a toe just running, just not even running a lot, just running kind of a normal amount, and it didn’t look injured at all, and so it took so long, it’s like, oh, rest it for three weeks, it’ll be fine. Then it was like, oh, that wasn’t long enough, rest it for eight weeks and it’ll be fine. The specialists come in and they’re like, you’re going to take four months and it’ll be fine. Then finally to the agility, fancy agility surgeon and he said, “Yeah, I think we should do some surgery on her toe. It’s not healing.” So from that point, I know, it was six weeks of splint and six weeks of bandage and now it’s going to be 12 weeks of rehab. You know, it was quite a shock to the system. She’s my main partner, my main dog. I didn’t have the puppy, she was the only dog I had at the time that happened. So our training life took a turn for a bit. But we’re almost there. Almost there. Six more weeks, I hope.
Melissa Breau: The end is in sight.
Amy Cook: End is in sight. Very happy about that.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned the puppy. Where did the puppy come from?
Amy Cook: Caper, she was my unplanned pregnancy as my friend likes to say. God, she was…a friend sent me a picture, I’m like, oh my God, she’s so cute, it’s a classic story, I just need a little pocket dog, I just need a little…Marzipan is going to be out for a while. My next sport dog will come in 2018, I thought to myself, and I just need a little dog to tide me over, I’ll get a little Chihuahua or I’ll get a little pocket dog, I’ll have a little fun companion for a bit. So that’ll be fun.
So I get this little sort of try on as a foster dog and the first thing she does from week one is she’s bringing me toys, she’s pushing me, she’s, “Why are we not doing more? I’m not a pocket dog. Put me down. Why are you picking me up? I don’t want this. Here’s a toy. Can you tug this?” She was so active. It’s like I’d adopted a Border Collie puppy. It’s crazy. I was like, oh, well, that’s not who I thought you were, but I can roll with that. Okay. All right. That’s fun. She’s a fun little dog. She’s really fun to train and she came with focus out of the box. I’ve barely trained focus in her and she doesn’t take her eyes of me. It’s crazy. It’s really fun.
Melissa Breau: She’s really cute.
Amy Cook: It’s a real contrast to Marzipan. She’s so cute. And it’s a real contrast to Marzipan because I’m used to the sighthound way and she’s all terrier, all terrier. I’m learning a lot from that, from working with that psychology, you know? It’s different.
Melissa Breau: So I know that one of the things about your intro that I don’t think I’d known before I started doing some research for the podcast is that you’d been to Chicken Camp, especially four times. So I really want to hear more about that. Just like, what your impressions were, what your thoughts were about it, what was it like?
Amy Cook: Amazing. Amazing. I went to Chicken Camp. It’s like a friend of mine and I, we went together, and I’m really glad to see that Bob is still here and with us and doing Chicken Camps, but at that time I think it was right after his wife had died and they were doing the camps together, and he wasn’t sure how much he was really going to continue. It was like, God, I’ve been putting this off way too long, we have to go, we have to go. So I actually did I think two in one summer and then two the next summer if I’m not mistaken. I kind of crammed them in.
Melissa Breau: Wow.
Amy Cook: Yeah. Because I really wanted to take advantage of learning from Bob. There’s really nobody like him. At the time I was very, very into clicker trainer, I mean of course still, but I was much more so then. Learning it, learning it a lot on the internet, a lot from books, a lot from just every source I could find and I wanted to go to somebody who was so close to the, I guess I could say origins of it if that’s fair to say, and learn as much as I could.
Honestly it was absolutely life changing to learn both from him and to train an animal that does not meet you halfway, that does not help at all with the learning process, isn’t trying to work with you at all. I think if you can train a dog that’s one thing, but it doesn’t guarantee you can train another animal. But if you can train a bunch of other animals you can probably train a dog because they make it so much easier on you and the other animals kind of don’t, at least that’s my impression.
So it was wonderful and he’s such a good teacher. He knows exactly how to lay just the right amount in front of you. There was one time when a chicken was pecking me like crazy and I was really afraid of her and he actually shaped us both without telling me that’s what was happening. So I got the experience of just quietly being compassionately and respectfully shaped. It was just a beautiful experience. I loved chicken camp so much and it changed the way I train fundamentally. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: For anybody out there who might not be familiar with the concept do you want to just briefly kind of explain the idea?
Amy Cook: Sure. So what you do is maybe you’re a dog trainer, maybe you’re a bird or exotic animal trainer, I went to camp with a few of those, or even a psychology professor. If you want to learn how to apply the techniques of operant conditioning in a very controlled environment you can go to Chicken Camp. You pay money to spend a week with Bob and two chickens and a partner and a _____ (16:26) doing the little exercises that he lays out for you.
They get increasingly complex and you first start with how do I click and how do I feed this animal in a way that is correct? How do you feed a chicken? They peck. You can’t hand them with your hand a piece of feed, right? So you go through all the mechanics of how to train a chicken, clicker train, and then he gives you these little tasks. So it’s like, you know, here are some disks, have your chicken peck only the red one and not the yellow or blue one. You’re like, oh, piece of cake. I can do that. Famous last words, right?
Sure enough, one errant click somewhere because you’re late, because dogs can kind of handle you being a little bit late, right, and still progress, one errant late click for the chicken and the chicken goes, oh, all right, got it, and starts doing that thing that you clicked over and over and over again. You’re like, no, no, I didn’t…wait. I just…could you not? I didn’t mean that. No. One click could get you a hundred clicks in the wrong direction to get out.
And you really learn to be accurate because you can’t afford to make certain kinds of mistakes. And the chicken will get full, so every click and every food they eat is measured. You have to really, really be careful and very, very good, and you make all sorts of sloppy mistakes and you pay for them really harshly. Your chicken does not do anything you thought you were teaching, you’re all over the place.
You know, you find yourself maybe turning to things you otherwise do with your dogs that maybe you don’t realize you do, like oh, come on, just could you just…then you’re like, wait, I can’t do that to a chicken. Do I do that to my dog? I shouldn’t do that to my dog either. It pares you down to the pieces of the technology that actually work and the chicken forces you to get better because she’s not going to cover a single mistake that you make, ever. That’s it. Click once wrong and oh, boy. You’re going to be there all day.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think Chicken Camp is on my someday list, on my bucket list, something I would love to do.
Amy Cook: For sure. Absolutely. Run, don’t walk. For sure.
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. It’s been amazing. I got to say, I think that my online students…oh, well, I wrote a blog post about this because I was just so moved by this. My online students get to their goals faster than in person students do, and there’s something very intoxicating about that. To get somebody closer to the resolution in such a shorter amount of time, you know, I was like, well, then I want everybody online. Everybody get online. Everybody, quick. You know?
And it’s amazing how much contact I have with somebody who takes an online class. They can talk to me every day whereas no in-person client does that or can afford to really. That’s the reason. And I get every day almost contact with people trying to apply the lessons, run into problems, and ask again. I get to fine tune it so much. It’s like living with people which is what I always want to do when I get a new client. I’m always thinking wow, if I could just move in, you and I together, we could fix your situation and I could help you. But you get an hour a week. It’s not enough, you know?
And boy, being online with people in amazing and the community that Denise has been able to build through Facebook and all of that. I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I think about how much access we have to changing…I know it’s ____ (22:34) any other way to say it, changing the world. You know? It’s the ripple effect. You have to put it out there and say, this is the way I think we should be doing this, and let me help you with it. And the changes I’ve seen just in these short few years have been really, really inspiring. I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding is the very first class that you started offering right out of the gate with Denise was the Bogeyman course, right?
Amy Cook: It was. It was. And that’s all I ran for a long time.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to just explain briefly to listeners kind of what the course is and a little bit about the methodology that you use?
Amy Cook: Yeah. So the course is Dealing with the Bogeyman, and it’s designed for fearful, stressed, reactive dogs, dogs that are overwhelmed with what’s going on for them, what they’re afraid of, and really getting to the root of problem and really trying to get to the source, get right to the bottom of the problem rather than just kind of manage it which is what we end up doing a lot of times. We find a way to get to about a stasis and we kind of coast along there. But stress is a hard thing to experience. Everybody listening knows exactly what I mean. Wouldn’t we all not want to have the stress we have in our lives? Every one of us wants to have a less stress life pretty much because it’s hard and I feel that for dogs. It’s hard for them to live in our world when they’re so stressed. So this class is designed to help with that at a root level.
What I do is I use social connection and social play to help get them in a state where they can process their triggers a lot better, and I reduce the use of food, I reduce the use of toys sometimes to zero, but not always all the way to zero, to help them. And it didn’t start out…like, it started out, the first iteration of the class is not like the current iteration that’s running right now. It has evolved a lot over time. As I watched students have more success with even more play I started emphasizing more and more play. It was a part of the program before but it wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. But I’ve seen the wonders of what it can do, and so now it’s really the bulk of what the approach is. I think I might have lost your question in the fact that I’m just talking on. Is that what you’re asking?
Melissa Breau: Not at all. You actually answered it pretty well. I just wanted you to kind of explain what the Bogeyman course was and kind of what’s involved and I think you did that very nicely. I do…
Amy Cook: People are going to play. If you take the class you’re going to play, play, play, play, and then you’re going to play some more, and then your dog is going to get better. That’s _____ (25:35).
Melissa Breau: So that leads me very well into my next question which is asking you to kind of…I know when you and I talk about it usually you call it kind of The Play Way is like, the name of the methodology even though the course if the Bogeyman course. So I was curious if you wanted to sum kind of what the play way is up in a short blurb. I mean, you talked about it a little bit, but if there’s anything kind of you want to add there.
Amy Cook: Yeah. The play way is specifically using social play and social connection, so not tug, not fetch, not that kind of thing, but being goofy and silly and making your dog laugh and having a fun time with your dog, and taking that play and using that to directly solve problems that they have with fear. So it’s dog centric, it’s about the dog, him or herself coming to a new understanding of the thing that they don’t currently understand. So if they’re afraid of strangers it’s because they have a misunderstanding of what the strangers are about, because none of the strangers really mean to hurt them, and I think they don’t have enough information.
Now it’s hard to get dogs to get new information about things that are scary to them because they’re scared of them and you can’t look at it openly and you can’t deal with it as well. Like, I can’t deal with spiders. You put one on me, I’m done. I can’t deal with that. So if you want to reframe that it’s not going to work until you get me distance, you get me in a calm state, and I really found that play puts them in this completely different emotional space that allows for our therapeutic attempts to really take root. And I realize none of that is brief, none of what I just said is brief. I don’t think I can be brief. I think I’m genetically wired to be the opposite of.
Melissa Breau: But I think it gives people a good idea, right, of what the methodology is and kind of what you’re endorsing here. I mean, I think that it’s very different probably than what most people are used to hearing about dealing with fear and dealing with dogs’ sensitivities which is so often food-based.
Amy Cook: It’s different from anything I had ever done. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s a complete departure for me. It’s not at all what I’ve done most of the time in helping dogs.
Melissa Breau: So where did it come from? Where did the idea…
Amy Cook: Well, yeah. Kind of…it’s an evolving idea I should first say, right, I’m not finished. I mean, I want to keep investigating all of this and putting all the little pieces together. Right now I’m at a place where I’ve put some pieces together and it’s hanging together, it’s helping, and that’s really exciting.
It’s sort of this big evolution of influences. I first got together with Denise because I had known her before kind of just from our local training circles, but she and I both got puppies at the same time and they both turned out to have every similar sorts of views on the world and challenges and training. It made us get together kind of more often. Once a week we would talk about it and shoot the breeze about these different things.
I started watching her train in person more which I hadn’t really done a lot of previous. And the amount of social interaction and the way she was working with her dogs was sort of reminding me of how I had been feeling lately about a lot of clicker training was feeling remote to me, at least at the time. It was feeling like very Chicken Camp. I’ll tell you maybe a little bit about that later, but where you observe your animal a lot, so you’re watching, and you’re holding your clicker, and you’re kind of being still and letting your animal think. Or maybe it was just me, I was making learning a little more sterile than I needed it to be, and she had so much more play and relationship in it. And through watching her do that and training with her and exploring that with my own dog I started just to…some things were clicking in my head.
Then I’m also friends with Grisha Stewart and when she was creating BAT which is behavior adjustment training she was really exploring how dog centric training could be. Like, how much can I let the dog do for him or herself without intruding so much and let the process happen so naturally? And it was inspiring to me because we were tending not to do that, we were tending to make a lot of associations. Here’s a cookie, I’m making an association for you, I’ll be there in your process with you. That was percolating a bit too, about how to…I mean, really dogs, all of us should know how to deal with our fears if we’re given the right environment to do so. An animal should know how to calm him or herself. An animal should know how to become less afraid, to investigate something that’s frightening. It just isn’t available if the stimulus is too high. If you’re too afraid you can’t do it, but all of us have that kind of wisdom in us. We all know how to make something better. So with that percolating.
And then I sort of had this undercurrent of a bit of dissatisfaction with the way rehab was going with the basic tools that I had. It worked, but I don’t know, I felt that there was something more.
And when I was in grad school I got a chance to actually read a whole bunch more literature than I had been able to read as a nonstudent, although I was studying Skinner and studying Pavlov and using science to train dogs, for sure science based all the way. Now I had big libraries behind me and a whole bunch of information and people I could ask, and I realized when we’re dealing with human fears we don’t really do it like we do with dogs, we don’t really classically condition them in that same way. And more importantly, when children have fears we don’t classically…or maybe someone does, but I was seeing that a lot of therapy has to do with play and has to do with relaxing and talking things through. I thought, how can I do this with dogs? I can’t talk things through with dogs.
So all these pieces were just kind of in the air for me. And as each influence kind of came in I started to think, well, okay, I like what this distance is doing, but the dogs are on their own, and for our sport dogs we need them to be turning to us and be more interactive and wanting to do things with us. How can I put myself in this picture with them, with their dog centric work without impeding it, without taking it over, without going back to trying to click or make associations with classical conditioning? How can I blend them?
And I started to just experiment and see what dogs needed. And it kind of all came together. It took a few passes through Bogeyman for me to see just how I wanted to impart it to people. Honestly that’s not even true because I keep tweaking it, I tweak it every time figuring out how to explain it better and more.
But that’s where it came from. It’s partly human psychology, human therapy, and partly the great distances that Grisha is experimenting with and letting a dog solve her own problems, and then the great relationship building stuff that Denise is just amazing at, and reading when you are being too much for your dog and when you’re not giving them enough agency to come at you. You know, she’s just so good at that and I drink everything…every time I get to see her do anything like that I drink it up and think how can this apply to dogs in trouble? How can I use this? You know, it’s very inspiring.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, having had the chance to watch Denise train a couple of times now I feel exactly the same way. When you see somebody who is really incredible at what they do and you just get a chance to watch it’s just, I mean, it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to camp again this year so much because last year…you get to watch, I mean, all the instructors at FDSA are so incredible, and to be able to spend a couple of days doing nothing but watch these incredible trainers do what they’re best at, it’s a really neat experience.
Amy Cook: It really is. I change every time and I would have my lesson with Denise and then I would sit there and watch her do whoever came after me just to kind of watch what she did and go, how come what she’s doing here isn’t what I have access to in the pet world? I came from…I did pet dog training all of this time, my whole career, my whole life, pet dog training and behaviors in pet dogs, aggression and fear, stress, all that stuff, not really sports stuff. Sport I got into late and I just did for myself. And it’s a whole different world. Pet dog trainers don’t have access. It’s almost two non-overlapping circles. It isn’t quite true but it felt that way. When I watch a lot of…Shade is one of those people too, I watch her and I go, how come that wasn’t something I could have learned when I was learning how to train dogs? That part is missing from the pet dog trainer education and I wish we were a lot more…I wish there was a lot more overlap than there is. I hope that’s in our future.
Melissa Breau: That makes both of us. So we got a little bit away from kind of what we were talking about originally, but that’s okay. I think the conversation went good places. But I want to kind of bring us back for a second to the Bogeyman course. We talked through that a little bit but you also now teach the Management for Reactive Dogs class. So I wanted to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about how that course is different, and what that course covers, and kind of why you felt the need to add a second course.
Amy Cook: Yeah. That course is different. I teach that as an adjunct or kind of a package, but I mean, you can jump in at either point, they’re not sequential.
Because when you live with a dog who has some troubles it’s great that you can put aside time for therapy, and those therapeutic moments are really impactful, they really make a difference and that’s all great. It takes time to do it though, and in the meantime you still have to potty your dog and you still have to get your houseguests in, right, and in the meantime you still have to drive somewhere. Life goes on. You can’t stay under threshold. I have a way more conservative definition of threshold than most people do, so staying under it gets even harder if you’re going with my definition of threshold. So that doesn’t solve everybody’s problem. That’s great, you can go through Bogeyman but you can’t potty your dog, right?
So management class is for the times when your dog is going to be over threshold. Maybe not massively so, maybe not full on into the biggest display over, but worried, actually triggered by being scared, seeing somebody outside or seeing a strange dog, and it covers all of the strategies to get you through daily life. How do you get a positive leash walk going? What do you do when your dog barks at a window when someone is walking by the house? How do you get your dog outside without rehearsing the worst behaviors of their stress and their fear and their anxieties?
I don’t want anyone to worsen anything. Management is what you put in place first, you just say, how can I make sure nothing gets worse than it currently is? How can I relieve the pressure as best I can, keep everything as positive as possible, what skills do I need to do that? Once that’s in place you’re like, all right, now let me set aside some time for therapy to get at the root of this. So management is how you can get through your leash walks without getting your leash all tangled, how to feed in a way that keeps the dog’s nose right on that cookie magnetically. I’m continually surprised that that’s hard for us all because we’re trained to keep the cookie off, it’s not a lure, we’re supposed to reward after. So a lot of little details that way, and the two together get you through kind of the problems you’re having with your dog.
I also teach a learning theory class but it hasn’t been on the schedule for a bit, but I think that one is coming back too. So I do have three classes that I currently teach as well.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s exciting. Do you want to briefly tell us what that kind of…
Amy Cook: Yeah. Yeah. I’m thinking…yeah. I’m thinking of revamping that one. I do a learning theory class that’s a bit of the basics to catch up, make sure we’re all on the same page with operant and classical conditioning and how it works, what it’s for. But I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and there’s a lot of interesting practicalities when using those models. There’s a lot of overlap between the two models. There’s a lot of times when you’re not sure which one to use. So I wrote this class to be a practical introduction for people who had been trying this stuff. Like, I’m trying to use operant conditioning but this is the common thing I run into. I look for all the common pitfalls, all the holes, all the should I do this or that, because I’ve heard if I do that it’s going to make this happen. I’m like, aha, glad you asked, I’m going to write a whole lecture on it.
So it’s sort of very practical, very nitty gritty, very what a dog trainer actually needs to know. Like, you really don’t need to know all the schedules of reinforcement. All of you out there, if you studied all the conditioning models, you also studied schedules of reinforcement, but you don’t really use them in real life, right? So I pared this down to the stuff you actually do every day of your life, and then we talk for fun about things like can dogs feel jealous or can dogs tell time, can they estimate things, what kind of a life does a dog lead inside their brains? We foray into that for fun.
Amy Cook: But I’m currently revamping it a little bit.
Melissa Breau: You can’t dangle those two questions out there without giving us at least a brief answer. So can dogs feel jealous? Can they tell time?
Amy Cook: Well, that’s what we discuss, right? That’s what we discuss. If you lay out the evidence for jealousy I think it doesn’t pass. I think what they feel, and this is a guess, I’m not saying I have a fact, right, I think they feel a precursor to jealousy. I think they feel the thing that is like, oh, I want that, no, why does…I want. A very basic version of feeling upset and wanting that if it had more self-awareness we would be comfortable calling jealousy, because jealousy has this sense of she shouldn’t have that and I wish I had the thing she had. It’s got more layers to it. But just because it doesn’t have the outer layers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the core.
So it’s my guess knowing what emotions they do have and what emotions they don’t have. They don’t seem to have secondary, they do seem to have primary emotions. They probably don’t have well developed jealousy but everything is a continuum and having a basic version of jealousy, it becomes a semantic argument. Like, maybe we would just call that jealousy then, why can’t we just say that’s what jealousy is in dogs and say they have it? You know? So we toss that around a lot. It’s a class for talkers and thinkers and tweakers and people who like to debate back and forth about definitions. It’s that kind of geeky class.
Melissa Breau: That sounds excellent.
Amy Cook: It’s like me.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it sounds pretty good to me. I’ll have to take it next time it comes around.
Amy Cook: You’re welcome.
Melissa Breau: So now that we’ve talked a little bit about that, I mean, looking at a puppy who doesn’t necessarily have a fear issue, or you mentioned you did get Caper fairly recently, how do you kind of try to raise that puppy in a way or lay groundwork for that puppy in a way that really allows them to become a healthy adult dog so you don’t see some of those issues crop up?
Amy Cook: Yeah. It’s been fun. Every puppy is this adventure gift, right? I mean, part of why her name is Caper is because we’re on a caper, we’re on an adventure together. You can think you have one thing when you meet your dog or when you get to know a dog and have something entirely else at any point. And you know, as Denise would say, you train the dog in front of you today, right? So I say great, I’ve started with a brand new puppy, she’s not really a blank slate because we know nobody is really a blank slate, but she hasn’t had anything really happen to her, but you know, really she’s a dog that was found stray in the streets of Fremont and picked up and put into a shelter and then into a rescue, and she certainly has a history.
So what’s been really fun is using the sensitive tools I have now that I didn’t have before, or you know, that you’re always a better trainer this year than you were last year, right? Oh, boy. Please, God. You know, so I feel like she’s the Fenzi puppy in a way because Marzipan kind of wasn’t. I mean, she was, but this one, I don’t know, this one feels like she really is. So I think of that and I think, who do I have today? Who are you today? How do you feel today? I get to keep asking her how she feels, and I feel like I can hear more clearly what her answer is than I have every felt before with other dogs. It’s really exciting.
She has her issues, we went through a season, her heat cycle and a false pregnancy, and maybe from that or maybe a kind of fear period, I don’t know, where she was all of a sudden some other kind of puppy. I thought wow, okay, I don’t have the puppy I had a minute ago. What do I have now? And it’s been just, at times a not so fun challenge, but mostly a fun challenge while I figure out what her needs really are, and she’s completely different.
I mean, maybe everybody says this, I’m going to go back and see if you ask this of everybody or what people say now, but thinking of my last four dogs, not a stitch of similarity in any of them to each other, you know? Like, I’m going to get a dog who’s going to be like this and we’re going to do that. You get the dog and you’re like, oh, hi, nice to meet you. Who are you? What _____ (43:30). You know?
She’s enormous fun and I’m taking a lot of time with her. I don’t care. A lot of people would just…you know, there’s this pressure in puppyhood to get a bunch of skills in because they’re just so malleable and you can start all this stuff and they love to learn and all that is true, but I also know that I can teach an older dog, any dog those kinds of things, and the time in immaturity, the time when they’re growing up is the time to actually smell the flowers, you know? To chase the actual butterflies, to let them take in the world without so much interference from my input and from training. We go out and we exist together. We see the world and I resist the urge to try to take advantage of every second and train all the fun stuff. It feels more holistic and it feels more like we’re bonded in a way that it just feels richer because I’m spending so much time listening and asking her how she feels and what she’d like to do.
She’s just an n of one, we like to say. It’s not like I can say, and that leads you to the best dogs in the world, because I don’t know. It’s her. But I feel like when she does then say yeah, I can work, I’m ready to work, the quality of the connection that we have is much, much better after I’ve let her.
And I directly learned that from the stuff that Denise was investigating with Brito. I mean, it’s really…I’m just so grateful she got a little dog before I did, you know? Next I want her to get a Border Collie so then I can get one of those. It’s like, you do it first. Somebody pave that. I don’t want to make that _____ (45:20).
Melissa Breau: So we’re nearing the end, unfortunately, so I want to ask you those big questions that are always some of my favorites.
Amy Cook: We just started. I have so much more to say. I have so many more things.
Melissa Breau: Well then, we’ll have to have you back, that’s all.
Amy Cook: All right.
Melissa Breau: So I want to ask you what the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of is.
Amy Cook: Oh, my. Well, right now that would be Marzipan who I guess I didn’t talk too much about. I have a theme. I have a theme in my life where sometimes I get a dog and I think, yeah, I can just make her into that, I can do that, I’m a good trainer, I know what I’m doing, I can just solve that problem, no problem. And then I realize that I’m on crack and I don’t know what I’m doing at all, and get in way over my head. I got a dog long ago named Hannah who was very, very fearful, and I didn’t estimate correctly how difficult that was going to be, and it was really, really, really hard, but I got into it going, no, just a few weeks of clicking and I’ll be fine.
So when I get my Whippet, Marzipan, I had intended to get my main sport dog, I’m getting my dog, and I’m going to do all this fun stuff, and I get whippet, and she’s not purpose bred, she was five months old, and she didn’t really work, didn’t enjoy it, and I thought, so what? I’m a trainer, I’ll just train her to like that stuff. It was harder than I thought it was and of course therefore then a gift, right? It led me to people like Denise, it led me to people like Shade, it led me to understand that I don’t know anything about drive building and need to actually learn from people who do.
But we got…she’s in master’s level agility and she does very, very well, and she’s fast, and she’s connected, and she’s focused, and she didn’t start out that way, and it was really hard mostly because I didn’t know. I was applying the tools I had and they weren’t right. So I’m really, really proud that together we were able to find a key to her lock if you can say that, and that I was able to change enough, because I had to do all that work, I had to do all the heavy lifting. It’s not on the dog, right? It’s not on the dog to change. You have to be who the dog needs. I had to change the way I presented myself. She didn’t like a lot of things I would like, a lot of the things I was doing were not the things for her.
Through the help of Sandy Rogers and through a bunch of people we found a way to motivate her, found a way to make her love this, and I got a non-working bred off-breed to find a way to love and look forward to and perform well in agility, and I’m just really proud of that and I’m proud of her for sticking with me through my many, many late front crosses. Thank you very much. I’m really proud of her and I’m really proud of the teamwork we have.
Melissa Breau: That sounds like it’s totally a good thing to be proud of. It sounds like you guys worked really, really hard to develop it and she’s come a long way. So that’s awesome.
Amy Cook: Yeah. I’m thankful for it. It’s lessons to me, right? I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grow in this direction because if she were a really easy dog I might not have the skills that I have, right? So that’s the upside to all those things. So I’m just very grateful.
Melissa Breau: So potentially my favorite question every single episode, since we’ve had somebody quote you on the podcast, not to add any extra pressure.
Amy Cook: Oh my goodness. Hi, Julie.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Amy Cook: Well, you know, my advice, that’s my…no. I’m kidding. That piece that I made up, that’s the best advice ever. No. Gosh, remind me to tell you the story one day of how that lecture at camp came to be because it happened the night before, believe it or not.
Two. Everybody else got two, so I’m taking two.
Melissa Breau: Go for it.
Amy Cook: So I’m just saying that there’s two. One that really, really made a difference, has really impacted me, always stuck with me, was from Bob Bailey. He said observe your animal, observe your learner. And you know, maybe that doesn’t sound so deep at first. Of course, you’ll watch your learner and you’ll learn what you need to know. But it solved so many little problems and so many things that get in the way of your training because you’re not seeing who is actually right there in front of you.
And the short example is that you have to teach a chicken to peck not just the circle, it’s like a construction paper circle, and not just the circle, but the dead center of it. That’s really harder than it sounds because they move very quickly and the speed it takes for you to see the chicken and then depress your thumb onto the clicker, by the time the sound is made the chicken is on its way back up from pecking.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Amy Cook: So you need to click, plan to click and start the clicking when the chicken is on its way down. So it took many lessons, I’m concatenating it for this reason, for you, but Bob had to give me little pieces over time. But it was I had to know what her head and her beak angle, and what she looked like when she was going to be pecking the center and decide before she got there that that was going to be a successful peck and then click that one. And instead I was looking at the peck, I was looking at where the peck landed and trying to click the correct ones. Instead you click on the trajectory toward. And if you don’t know what your animal looks like, if you don’t observe her really closely you can’t tell which peck is going to be the one and therefore your click will be late and therefore you’ll never train the chicken. It doesn’t really happen, with dogs you can be late, it’s all right, but chickens no.
And I was teaching a dog to tug open a fridge and I had to call him because I kept not getting it right, I couldn’t see what my problem was. I was clicking when she was tugging and it just wasn’t getting more tugging out of it. And he asked me, “What does her neck look like when she’s about to make the best tug, about to make the strongest contraction?” I’m like, “I wasn’t looking at her neck.” “What were you looking at?” The tug in her mouth? Well, are you looking at the clench of her claws as she settled in to really get a good tug in? Click that. And in the matter of an evening she was tugging really tugging really hard and pulling the fridge open.
You really have to look at who you have and not see what you want to see and not click or reinforce end products but reinforce process because it’s process you’re trying to often get when you’re training. So that one stuck and made me a much more accurate and better trainer.
Then my second is Denise in the sense of…I don’t know if she boils it down, but in the way of attitude before precision, I’m sorry, yeah, attitude before precision where you feed cookies for attitude. If that behavior was incorrect you give a cookie anyway. I think a lot of times we as trainers get caught up in, I reinforce the right ones and I make sure not to reinforce the ones I don’t want, and that’s very engrained in us. So don’t click or don’t reinforce the incorrect behavior. She does it all the time. She’s like, that isn’t correct, but my dog tried, you know, cookies for attitude.
When I first was aware she was doing that it made me a little nervous. It’s like, you’re going to get all this bad behavior in the mix. How is this going to work? But it works beautifully. It works beautifully. It keeps your dog in the game. She really helped me see that cookies for trying is not bad. How to handle a mistake is to reward it because your dog tried and was with you and you can just _____ (54:03) most of the cookies are for the right things, don’t worry so much. Your learner has an emotional life and that’s way, way, way more important than anything else. She codified it down into attitude over precision. It really centered me in my training a lot. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: Those two things, they feel like they have a lot in common, just in terms of kind of looking at the bigger picture of things, you know?
Amy Cook: Right. Right. Exactly. It’s very bigger picture, and I think clicker training, just for me, I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, can get me a little too focused on minutia and make me forget the rest. So those were good for me to learn and to incorporate at this stage of my training.
Melissa Breau: I certainly don’t think you’re alone in that. I mean, clicker training, it’s all about splitting, and sometimes when you’re splitting it’s hard to hold both ideas in your mind at the same time, right?
Amy Cook: Right. It’s kind of like, wait, I’m splitting, but should I lump again? It’s not lumping, it’s splitting and wait…mixed metaphors. Forest. I’m splitting in the forest. Wait. Something like that, right? Someone listening can suggest something much more elegant than that because I’ve never been known for an elegant metaphor, I’ll tell you that.
Melissa Breau: So for this last one, who else, somebody else in the dog world that you look up to, and I’m going to push you not to name Denise since she’s gotten named lots and we’ve talked to her lots.
Amy Cook: No. You can’t do that. I know, because I talked about her way too much. I didn’t plan to talk about her constantly for the past hour, I promise you.
Melissa Breau: I’m sure you have one or two that I’m not super familiar with.
Amy Cook: No. No. No. It really isn’t all about Denise, but I stand on the shoulders of giants, right? Everybody who has come before me is an influence on me, and everyone has taken their turn. I had a troubled dog years ago that I brought to everybody. Instead of doing some TTouch with her I brought her to Linda Tellington-Jones, you know? Like, I sought everybody I could find to help and to teach me, and I absolutely stand on their shoulders, all of them. I credit myself with nothing and them with everything except my own mistakes and however that phrase really goes.
So since I can’t name Denise I’m going to anyway. What I admire most…no, I’ll be vague and we’ll pretend I didn’t mention her. What I admire most in a trainer I can look up to now is independent thinking. People will say there’s nothing new in training, you know, it’s all been done before it’s just how we’re repacking or talking about it differently. I don’t think so anymore. I think there have been just a few people, at least on my radar, that are willing to challenge something that’s supposed to be the way it’s done and try it on dogs and not say, well, that’s in the wrong _____ (57:12) or that’s supposed to do this, that’s going to make a dog do x, can’t do that.
Because I was that, that’s how we all start when we’re learning, we acquire the wealth and the wisdom of other people who say don’t do it this way and please do it that way. So you do. And we can get a little lost in that sometimes. So I gravitate toward the independent thinker who isn’t about I do it this way because this is the way we do it. I like people who say, I don’t know, what would happen if I just give a cookie when he was wrong? Let’s find out. I mean, yeah, of course it’s going to make him a little confused, but I can fix that, I’m not worried about it. That kind of confidence of I’m an independent thinker and I don’t do just what people do because it’s what they do.
I’m not terribly like that so I look up to it. I think Denise does that. Grisha also does that. And Donna Duford, I don’t know if you remember her, also taught me that same way, and she was one of the early old school clicker trainers from the East Coast.
There was a kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry going on in the clicker training where early on, or at least I’m led to understand, I was a few years later, or I’ll just say that there were people who replaced their methods, people that called themselves crossover trainers, who replaced things they did piecemeal, one at a time. I don’t think this one works so I’m going to do this instead. Oh, this works better, oh, this is really great. Then there are people because they hear about a new system throw out everything they did before and try to put in the new fancy positive system that they’re learning. I think when people have the courage to say, I’m just going to try this little piece and see how it goes, and they put in their system and they go, oh, I think I like this, this is pretty good, I’m going to investigate some other stuff, I’m going to try something new. I think from there comes the innovation.
At least in my world, in the people who have been around me to influence me, there haven’t been a ton of people doing that. So when I see that that really stands out to me. I fully admire it. I think Grisha did that when she just said, “I’m just going to see what happens when we do this.” I think Denise does that all the time. She’s not beholden to the world of some _____ (59:27) training that says this is how you do it. She says, “Let’s find out.” And I look up to anybody who can think independently, try stuff on their own, and just kind of stand their ground with what it is.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. I think that’s exactly what you’ve done with The Play Way, is take a look and do something totally different.
Amy Cook: Well, it’s really what I’m trying to do. It’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know that I bravely strike out so well, but I’m trying to because you know, we have to see things new ways, or we have to explore. If there’s some other way people do it in some other traditions don’t be afraid. If you’re good enough at what you do, if you’re sensitive enough with your learner, if you really are sure that you’re not going to cause harm it’s okay. It’s okay to give a cookie for the wrong behavior, right, to use that again, because you’re not causing any harm, so try and _____ (1:00:19). So that’s I think where innovation will be found, and I think we get a little stuck, we’re a little rutty a little bit in some positive training circles and some pet training circles, and I think it’s time to see what…not to throw out things, but to enrich them with new experiences and new things from other thinkers. I don’t know if I’m headed there but that’s what I think about a lot. So thank you for that but I don’t accept it. I reject your compliment and insert some self-deprecation of my own. You can’t get me. I refuse.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’m going to tell you that I think it anyway and you can choose to accept it or not. But they were sincerely given.
Amy Cook: Thank you so much. Thank you very much.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on, Amy. I really appreciate you taking some time to chat. I know that you weren’t feeling well earlier this week, so I’m glad we managed to reschedule and get this in there.
Amy Cook: Thank you for your patience. I hope I don’t sound too husky, I’m not extra sexy, I’m back to nerdy, but I had no voice _____ (1:01:28). I’m telling you people, I hope you understood everything, I didn’t cut out.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back in two weeks with Julie Flannery to talk about Rally-FrEe, and if you haven’t already please subscribe to the podcast. You can do that in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and you’ll have the next episode of our podcast automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio editing provided by Chris Lang, and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Stacey Barnett is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love.
To be released 4/14/2017, featuring Julie Daniels.
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 Stacy Barnett. Stacy is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love. Welcome to the podcast, Stacy.
Stacy Barnett: Hi, Melissa. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. How are you?
Stacy Barnett: I’m doing very good. Thank you so much.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I’m excited to talk today. To start us out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Stacy Barnett: Sure. I have three dogs currently. I have a seven-and-a-half-year-old rescued Labrador-ish dog named Judd. Judd, he’s my elite dog, my NACSW. That’s National Association of Canine Scent Work. He’s my lead dog, and we’re competing at that level. He’s the one that really kind of got me started in the nose work and really made me very passionate about the sport. I also have Joey. Joey is a nine-year-old standard Poodle, and Joey taught me all about building motivation into my training methods, and Joey is at the NW3 level, and I have Why. Why is a mini Aussie. He is about five years old. He has very, very little confidence. He’s a rescue. He’s got a lot of baggage, and you know, he’s really taught me how to build confidence into the way I teach.
Melissa Breau: Did you start out in nose work? How did you originally get into dog sports?
Stacy Barnett: So how I got into dog sports, actually, I spent a lot of years...you know, I was a horse trainer for a while. I rode in dressage.
Melissa Breau: I Didn't know that.
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Yeah. I was really big into horses. Loved horses. I still love horses, but they’re just a little bit too expensive for me, which, I know, they’re walking money pits, and so I’m a little bit of a frustrated horse trainer. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I love training things. So I’m like, well, if I have a dog, I’m going to train it. Then it just kind of went from there. It just seemed to be a very natural transition. I just love doing it. You know, I love the training aspect, what it does for the relationship that you have with the animal, and I enjoy competing.
Melissa Breau: What was the first dog sport you dove into?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, the first dog sport, I would say it was probably a little bit of agility. I did start out with a little agility, a little bit of rally, not successfully. I don’t have a successful past in any of the sports. You know, nose work’s really it for me.
Melissa Breau: Well, what led you to specialize in nose work? Obviously, being good in it is a big plus, but what led you down that path?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say it was a little bit of a whim. I decided, you know what, hey, I’m going to try nose work, and I tried it with Judd, and he gravitated to it, and I just saw this passion come out of this dog, a dog that...you know, he’s got a nickname. I call him fragile little flower. He’s a washout, and I’m saying that in a very loving way, but he’s a little bit of a washout in a lot of the other sports. I tried all these other sports.
He’s got some titles, but he was really only doing the sports because I wanted him to, and it was to please me. When we got into nose work, he just kind of was like, wow, I really love doing this, and to see my dog so passionate about a sport and so...you know, this inner drive, this inner excitement, this inner desire to do the sport, it made me passionate about it, and then I saw, with my other dogs, the benefits that nose work provides, and it’s just become something that...you know, I eat, sleep, breathe nose work at this point.
Melissa Breau: So you kind of mentioned the benefits in there. I know that nose work’s often referred to as confidence building. Is that what you’re alluding to?
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes. 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.
Melissa Breau: I hadn’t realized that part of that was tied into the actual areas of the brain and some of the science behind that. That’s really kind of neat.
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating, and also, if you have a dog that has a lot of energy or a dog that might be a little bit on the hyper side, it’s really a fantastic way to get them a little on the tired side, because they’re using so much of their brain. They also have a tendency to be less reactive in the moment because an eighth of the brain of the dog is being used at the time, so they’re a little bit less focused on what they see and what they hear.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say nose work seems like it’s really unique just even in the sense that most sports, we really want the dog focused on what we’re telling them to do, and it’s really dog led, right?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it is. It is. It is, and you know, when I tell my students when they’re handling, I say try to think of it as 80 percent dog / 20 percent handler. You’re in there, and you have responsibilities for the search, but the search is really driven by the dog. We use something called scent theory, right? But again, it’s just theory. So although we have ideas of what scent does, we really don’t have a perfect representation of what scent does except by watching the dog, because dogs are able to...
I don’t know if you know this, but they’re able to scent directionally, which actually means that, you know, with a human, we can hear directionally. So if I’m talking to you, you know if I’m in front of you or behind you. Dogs are able to do this with their nose, so they really have to drive the search. This is something that we’re not able to get in there and be involved in this, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we’re covering the search area, and we have to interpret our dog’s body language, because we have to be able to say is the dog at source and call alert so that we can get credit for that hide. So it does require a lot of teamwork, but it is driven by the dog. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: And you mentioned reading your dog’s body language. I feel like that, in and of itself, is such a valuable thing for people who have dogs who are behaviorally challenged in whatever way.
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I don’t have official figures, but at least anecdotally, it seems like nose work is one of the fastest-growing dog sports out there. Do you agree with that? Is that accurate from your perspective?
Stacy Barnett: It’s growing at a pretty good clip, yeah. Last figure I heard with the NACSW, I think there are, like, 15,000 dogs registered at this point.
Melissa Breau: That’s kind of incredible. I mean, I’m a Treibball competitor, and I can see just, comparatively speaking, nose work has taken off in a huge way. So I was wondering if you could give us a 10,000-foot view for people not involved in the sport, maybe what venues are out there, anything else that people should know if they’re just learning about the sport or just starting to become interested?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, certainly. Certainly. Essentially, what the dog is looking for is essential oil, and what we typically use, we use scented Q-tips. So the dogs are able to actually source or actually find these scented Q-tips, and they’re hidden. We call those hides. They could be hidden in a number of different elements, and depending upon which organization you’re competing in, you might have different elements, and these are just basically different searches that the dog has to do.
The searches could be inside a building. It could be outside a building. You know, in some venues, you might have to search vehicles, although we never actually search the interior of the vehicles. We’re just searching the outside of them, or you can be searching containers. So containers could be boxes. It could be luggage, or in some venues, they’re even burying or starting to bury the scent in the ground, and the dog has to be able to locate the source of scent and then to communicate the location of that to the handler.
What we do is we train the dogs very similarly to the way like drug detection dogs are trained. So it’s kind of like having your very own pet detection dog, which is a lot of fun. It’s really a lot of fun. I mean, as an aside, I was driving down the road the other day, and I saw a couple of police cars pulled over, and I saw somebody putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle or a policeman putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle, and I’m like, oh, I know what you’re doing. It’s kind of exciting.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. In terms of venues or organizations, what does that look like right now for the sport?
Stacy Barnett: So that’s also growing. So probably the largest organization in the United States currently is the National Association of Canine Scent Work, or NACSW. That’s a very large organization. I compete a lot in that organization as well. In the United States, we also have the United Kennel Club, or the UKC, that also has their own version of scent work. AKC is coming out with a version. The trial should be available starting in October of this year. We have organizations popping up worldwide. We have an organization in Canada, which is SDDA. They use, you know, some slightly different odors, and there’s a handful of other venues. So, basically, if you want to do nose work, there’s something out there and available for you, and it’s just growing.
Melissa Breau: Is there a lot of crossover between the different venues? Like if you train in one, is it possible to compete in others, or is that difficult to do?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve competed in NACSW. I’ve gone up to Canada. I’ve competed in SDDA. I’ve done a little bit of UKC, and I’m a Performance Scent Dogs judge. That’s another organization that’s also growing. I compete there. Most of the organizations will use a lot of the same odors. Some of them use slightly different odors, but it’s very easy to get your dog onto a new odor. That’s a very easy thing to do, but essentially, at the core of it, the dog is still searching. The dog is still identifying, you know, the location of the hide, and it’s still communicating that location to the handler. So although there are small nuances between differences between the organizations, they’re all pretty much consistent.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned AKC’s new program, and congrats. I hear you’ve been approved as a judge.
Stacy Barnett: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: What do we know about the program so far? You mentioned they’re starting up in October.
Stacy Barnett: It’s a new program. The preliminary rules and regulations are out there. There’s still I think some discussion about the fourth odor, which right now is identified as peppermint, although I think they’re still trying to decide, I think, if that’s going to be the final odor. I’ve heard some things that they might be reconsidering that, but otherwise, it’s still the same first three odors as a lot of the other organizations, the birch, anise, and clove. The AKC also is going to have buried hides. So this is where, at the novice and at the advanced level, the hides are actually going to be buried in dirt in a container, and the dog has to be able to pick out the right container.
At the higher levels, they’re going to have a larger area, and it just might be outside, and the hides will be buried up to eight inches deep into the ground for the dogs to be able to find. They have that. They also have, as a part of the AKC program, is handler discrimination, which is, essentially, the dog is looking for the handler’s scent, which is, you know, trained very similarly to looking for an essential oil, but it requires some different skills for that, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think it’s going to provide a lot more trialing opportunities for folks and open up a lot more doors for a lot of dogs.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, just AKC’s marketing program, in and of itself, is so much more robust than any individual organization can easily manufacture, so hopefully that’ll give the sport an additional boost, too. I heard a rumor that there’s a new FDSA class in the works, specifically to prep competitors for the new AKC program. What do you know about that?
Stacy Barnett: Well, funny that you ask. I was working on a syllabus for one of them this morning. We’re actually taking a look at the whole program, and we think of FDSA nose work as preparing the competitor for nose work regardless of what venue you compete in. So we’re not focused on just one specific venue. So in order to prepare our students also for AKC, we’re going to be making some key changes to our program and adding material. There are a couple different classes that are in the works for April that people can register for come registration that has to do specifically with AKC.
I’m doing one that’s going to be Introduction to AKC Scent Work, and in that class, what we’re going to be doing is actually practicing each of the different elements and learning how to do buried hides and learning how to really, you know, work the dog using the challenges that AKC is going to provide, and all within the guidelines of AKC, and Julie Simons is going to be doing a really great class on handler discrimination, because she has an OTCH.
So she’s done a lot of scent discrimination work. So she’s able to actually take her obedience side and bring a lot of that experience to the table as well. So we’re going to have a class on handler discrimination, and then we’re also going to be looking at our core classes and saying what do we need to do to help to make those more applicable to people who want to also trial in AKC? So there’s a whole lot of stuff going on with that, and I think it’s really going to position our students and really put them into a good position to be able to take advantage of AKC.
Melissa Breau: I think Denise had mentioned the goal is to offer enough classes between now and October that, theoretically, FDSA students could be competing when the first trials are available in October. Is that right?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, I think that’s about right. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding now, being a nose work competitor, is that there are very common methods out there for teaching the fundamentals. Just based on my research at FDSA, you guys use operant conditioning. Can you explain a little bit what that means, and maybe what some of the other things are out there, what maybe the advantages are to that method?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Sure. Certainly. Basically, what I want to do is preface this with all methods work. There are a lot of methods out there for teaching nose work, and I have to say that all the methods I know of are based on caring for the dog, and they’re really positive in their approach. So I do want to say that all the methods work, so I’m not one to say, you know, one method works and one doesn't, but I do think that the method that we teach at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is a fantastic method, and it does use operant conditioning.
So, basically, the dog learns clarity at the get-go. They learn kind of a cause and effect relationship. They learn that putting their nose on source or on the source of an essential oil, right, the odor from the essential oil results in a cookie, or I use cookie generically. I use things like hot dog. Exactly, that’s still a cookie. A hot dog cookie, but what they learn is that they learn very clear from the get-go that their action results in reward. It’s a very, very clear way of teaching nose work. We also introduce hunting very early on, so they understand the discrimination to find odor.
So, for instance, we’ll start out with containers, and they can actually pick out the correct box with the odor in it, and then we build hunting into that approach so that the dog also learns that they have to search for it, and it’s not just selecting one box out of many. One large method uses hunting for food initially, and then they use classical conditioning to pair odor with a food and then wean off the food so that they just have the odor. So all of the methods do work, and they get you to the same place, but I have to say, I think our method, it’s very quick, and it’s very clear to the dog, and I think, from a clarity perspective, clarity builds confidence.
So I really think that the method itself has to build confidence in the dogs. The other nice thing is that, you know, as the dog goes up in levels, food is used as a distraction. So if we start the dog on odor only, the dog never feels that they can self reward on food, right? So food is already out of the equation. We don’t have to teach the dog, okay, I know you’ve been searching for food in the past, but now food is no longer an option. So I think it’s a really clear way of the dog being able to understand what’s going to result in a reward and understand exactly how to play the game and how to win the game.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know that a lot of the questions I came up with, because I don’t compete in nose work, were a little bit beginner things. So I wanted to make sure we included something for the people out there, who are probably your number one fans, who are actually actively competing in the sport. I was curious if there’s one skill or one problem that you find people having issues with again and again and what you recommend or how you typically suggest they tackle that?
Stacy Barnett: So, I don’t actually necessarily see a particular skill. Actually, well, I do see a skill that I see that people have a hard time with, but I’m going to talk about this in two stages. So the first thing that people are focused too much on is skills and not enough on the foundational aspects of good training, and this is just what I see in general. It’s not focused anywhere specifically, but it’s just what I see in general. When I teach, I use a framework, and that framework is built like a pyramid. So, at the bottom of the pyramid, the first layer is confidence.
Then on top of that layer is motivation, and then the third layer of that pyramid is skill. So you don’t even get to skill until you’ve built up a good foundation of confidence and motivation, and then the final layer of that pyramid is stamina. So what I like to do, you know, when I’m taking a look at a dog and I want to see does the dog have an issue, and what kind of problems is the dog exhibiting, I try to take a look at this framework of confidence, motivation, and skills, and stamina to try to understand where the breakdowns are occurring.
A lot of the time, the breakdowns do occur in confidence or motivation, and it really isn’t skills based. So when I see a dog that’s struggling in nose work or having a really hard time with one thing or another, what I’m finding is it’s not a skill usually. Usually, it’s an issue with a motivation issue or it’s an issue with the dog’s confidence, either the confidence in their skills or the confidence in their environment, and I find that if you remedy these things, that then the dog is able to tap into their skillset, and they’re actually able to be a lot more successful. So that’s kind of the one side of things, because I like to, again, diagnose based on that framework.
The other side of things, if we’re going to talk about specific skills, then, that I think a lot of dogs do have a problem with, it’s a fundamental skill that I think sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to. Is, actually, when the dog is searching at the higher levels, they have to be able to search and source more than one hide. So what I’ve actually taught my dogs is once they find a hide and they get rewarded for it, that hide is essentially finished. So the dog is able to then work on the next hide, versus if we say find another, the dog might just go back to the previous hide and expect reinforcement.
So there’s a certain amount of training that has to be put in place so that a dog can effectively search for more than one hide. This is especially important if you’re working on converging odor where the scent cones overlap and the dog might have to work for finding multiple hides within a small area. So, by being able to give this dog this skill and if the dog has the skills, they’re able to find a hide, search, find another hide, search, find another hide without being enticed back to an original hide, and I find that that’s a really core skill that is really essential for being successful at all the levels.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’d imagine that’s something that’s incredibly hard to teach, because you’re rewarding the dog for a behavior and then expecting them not to repeat it.
Stacy Barnett: It’s actually not that hard to teach.
Melissa Breau: Really?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, it’s really not. Dogs are really smart, and we have to give them a lot of credit. Each hide has a different scent profile. So they’re not only looking for birch, anise, or clove, but they also can smell, you know, where the hide is placed. They can smell it’s in a tin. How much QuakeHold is used? A magnet, a Q-tip, everything. So there’s a whole scent profile associated, and they realize that once they get rewarded at that hide, that hide, yes, it’s valuable, but the next hide is even more valuable. So we teach them to actually go to the next hide as being something even more valuable, and then they start to realize through training that a previous hide is no longer valuable. So it’s really just working with the value that you place on what’s going to be reinforced and what’s not going to be reinforced.
Melissa Breau: To round things out, there are three questions I’ve asked everybody who’s been on so far. I wanted to make sure we got to them. So, first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say, that has got to be quitting my job and doing full time nose work.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations. That just happened, right?
Stacy Barnett: It is, and I’m completely free of corporate. I just love this sport so much, that now it’s my complete...you know, this is what I do for a living. I train dogs in scent detection. That, I have to say, is my biggest dog-related accomplishment because I just finally figured, hey, I have one life to live. I could either be semi miserable in my day-to-day job, or I can really embrace my passion and work on something that I love, where, I know I’m working 24/7 it seems, but I love it, and to me, that’s a really big accomplishment because it also means that I can share this passion with other people, and I can share this passion with my dogs.
Melissa Breau: So what does that look like? Obviously, you’re teaching through FDSA. I know that you’re doing some seminar work. Are you teaching locally as well?
Stacy Barnett: I do. I do. I have about a dozen live in-person classes. I teach seminars. I do webinars. I write a blog. I do the podcasts. I have to say, though, that the bulk of what I do is teaching with FDSA, but this has just kind of become all encompassing, and it’s really what I do, basically, day in and day out, and I absolutely love it.
Melissa Breau: So, for those who may be local to you, where are you based?
Stacy Barnett: New Jersey. I’m in Northwest New Jersey.
Melissa Breau: Okay, and then for those who are not close to you, what’s the best place to go to find your webinars, and your blog posts, and all that stuff as they come up?
Stacy Barnett: So I have a website. It is www. ScentsabilitiesNW.com. I also list all my online classes there through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Those are listed there. My webinars are listed, and my seminars schedule is listed as well. I write a blog. The blog is pretty informative and seems to be well read, and that’s on my website as well. So I definitely recommend that, or just contact me. I’m on Facebook. I love chatting with people, so go ahead and reach out to me, and I can point you in the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So the next question here is usually my favorite of the whole interview, which is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say the most impactful part is, actually, I have to credit Denise with this. It’s training the dog in front of you. It is so easy to take a dog and try to apply a recipe to it and try to train each dog the same way, but that’s just not going to work. You know, even when I look at my own dogs, each one of my own dogs is such an individual. Judd’s kind of a rock star, but he has a little bit of a fragile past. Joey had some motivation issues. I had to really work through some really big motivation issues with him.
Why comes to me with a whole history, whole baggage behind him, and he had to really learn how to be confident. So in order to set out the way I was going to train each dog, I had to understand what that dog came to the table with and what kind of history the dog has. So understanding where the dog that you’re working with as a starting point can really help you figure out what is the path forward. So I think that that’s probably the best piece of training advice I’ve ever had.
Melissa Breau: And our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Stacy Barnett: There are many, many, many people. I have to say, from a detection side of it, I really look up to Randy Hare. He’s a professional detection trainer, and I have his DVDs. I watch his DVDs. I’ve learned a ton from him. At some point, I would love to be able to work with him in person. You know, just learning a lot from him. I look up to him. That’s on a detection side.
On the other sports, I have to say, every single instructor at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy I look up to, because I started out as a student. I didn't start out as in instructor. So I’ve learned so much from each and every one of the instructors, and all of that information, all of that knowledge, I’ve been able to transfer and translate a lot of that into how I teach nose work. So I just find that there’s so many people, that I really can’t identify just one person, you know, people that I look up to.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Stacy. I really appreciate it.
Stacy Barnett: Well, thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was great to dig a little bit into nose work, and hopefully we’ll do some more nose-work-focused stuff in the future — and for our listeners, thanks for tuning in.
We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Daniels, one of the foremost names in dog agility in the US. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Sue Ailsby has done a little bit of everything when it comes to dog sports -- from water trials to herding -- but is particularly well known for her Levels training program. In this episode we talk about how that program came to be, and what she's learned in over 50 years training dogs.
To be released 3/31/2017, featuring Stacy Barnett.
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.
Registration opens next Wednesday for the April session of classes, including obedience, rally, nosework, and agility. So head over to the website, fenzidogsportsacademy.com and take a look.
Today we’ll be talking to Sue Ailsby. Sue is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been in dogs for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Portuguese Water Dogs.
She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including, and guys this is quite the list, sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.
Sue’s an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.
Welcome to the podcast, Sue.
Sue Ailsby: Thank you very much, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I’m super excited to be talking to you today and I would love to start off just by having you tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have now and what you’re working on with them.
Sue Ailsby: Okay. My oldest dog right now is Stitch. She’s 12 years old, and what I’m working on with her is mostly going outside to rescue her because she forgets how to come back in through a dog door. She has achieved the lofty status of being able to walk around all day with a smile on her face wondering what’s happening.
And my second dog is Sin, and these are both Portuguese Water Dogs, by the way. Sin is six and I’m working on her, let me think, she’s a champion, she’s finished all her drafting titles. We’re still working on high-level water trials. She’s starting nosework. We’ve done work in studies for medical detection and now I’m looking at competition nosework. We’ve done agility. We’re looking at tracking. Getting ready for some obedience trials. We’ve done rally with her. Yeah, etcetera.
Melissa Breau: Little bit of everything, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I know that you mentioned you’ve done a lot of different breeds and now you’ve two Portuguese Water Dogs. Do you think you’re sticking with the breed for a while?
Sue Ailsby: Oh, right now she’s six. I’m starting to think about another dog, and I had 17 generations of Giant Schnauzers, I so miss my giant Schnauzers. But I’m having such a good time with water trials that I’m really torn, do I get another Giant…because I’m old and it will probably be my last big dog. But then I wouldn’t be able to do water trials with that one, so I have no idea.
Melissa Breau: So we’ll all be on pins and needles to wait and see.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. No less than my husband, believe me.
Melissa Breau: We talked a little bit in the intro about the fact that you’ve been in dogs for quite a while, so I’d love to get your take on what you’ve seen during that time and kind of how your training has changed and what your training philosophy is if you were to look at it today.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, I was tough. I started when I was 11. The only way to train was tough. I used to go to a jeweler to get choke chains made for my Chihuahuas because they didn’t sell choke chains small enough for them. And now I look back and think, you needed a choke chain to train a Chihuahua?
When all there is, is a hammer, everything looks like a nail and you do what you’re told.
And I was very good at it, too. But one day, actually it was in conformation. I got a Best in Show on a Giant Schnauzer and we were waiting for the photographer, and to get a Best in Show you have to look brave and confident and noble and like you’re having a really good time. We’re waiting for the photographer after we got the Best and she was getting a little fussy and I just turned and said, “Sit,” and she turned into an obedience dog. She half closed her eyes and she pulled her neck in and she kind of slowly sat down, and I thought, I’m not ever doing that to another dog.
Melissa Breau: Wow, so it was really that one moment, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If I can’t do obedience any more, then I won’t do obedience any more. But I’m just not making another dog feel like that when I can make her feel glorious to do conformation, and so I quit completely. And then after about six months I started hearing about this weird new cookie pushing sort of thing that was coming in, and I went to Toronto on a plane to talk to a guy who was doing some of this. And he didn’t really know what he was doing, but he got me started and gave me a couple of other leads, and then I went down to the states to see a seminar of a guy. And it wasn’t a ‘how to do this’ seminar, it was a ‘let’s repair the damage’ seminar.
So I didn’t get to hear why he was doing what he was doing, but he’d bring somebody up with a dog that was having a problem and then I’d watch them fix the problem, and from that I kind of started extrapolating what his rules were about how he was doing this and kind of went from there and learned more. And I think about things that I saw before where the dog was actually thinking and how astonished I was.
I had a puppy…I heard about this new thing where you teach the dog to ring a bell to go outside. Oh, what an interesting idea. So I got a bell. Now I’ve got a bell, how do I teach the dog to ring the bell? And just maybe because I’d been doing conformation that morning, certainly not because that’s the way any other obedience trainer would have done it, I smeared some wiener on the bell and I hung the bell down, and she started licking the wiener off the bell. And when she licked it hard enough she made the bell ring, I got all excited, like, “Oh, what a good girl. Good job. Wow, are you ever great.”
And I put more wiener on the bell and hung it down again and she licked it again and made it ring and I’m, “Oh, what a good girl. Wow.” And put more wiener on the bell and put it down. I have no idea whether this is going to work or not. I put the bell down again and she didn’t lick the wiener off. She looked at the bell and she looked at me…this is a five-month-old puppy. Looked at the bell, looked at me, looked at the bell, and then she pulled her great big Giant Schnauzer paw back and whacked that bell into next Tuesday.
And then she looked at me. Is that what you wanted? You wanted me to ring the bell? And that kind of a leap from the dog was completely not part of the training in those days. There was nothing in training that could explain the dog having a brain like that. And those things were so precious, and now I see them all the time. It’s wonderful.
Melissa Breau: It makes you feel totally different about your training relationship and about your dog.
Sue Ailsby: Absolutely. It was all about anger. The dog is doing this deliberately, the dog is defying me, the dog must learn to obey.
Melissa Breau: Right.
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.
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: That’s so funny.
Sue Ailsby: And yet still the devil was screaming, “She’s refusing. She can’t do that.” Fortunately it got smaller and smaller as we went along. I didn’t listen to it any more. So training has changed amazingly.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Hopefully almost entirely for the better.
Sue Ailsby: Entirely for the better, yes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the classes coming up through the Fenzi Academy because I know that you’re offering the levels program, and this will air just before registration for that, so do you want to just explain for those who aren’t familiar with it what levels training is and what the program is?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve been training classes since I was 16. You get to the point where I’m tired of teaching people off the street. Not that they don’t need teaching, not that they’re not nice people, but I started doing them in private lessons and I was doing classes for competition people. And I noticed that my competition people were learning to do the competition behaviors but they weren’t learning to handle their dogs. They weren’t learning the tools to teach their dogs, which is the same way I learned to ride.
I took riding lessons for years and I learned a great deal about riding. I’m a pretty awesome rider, by golly, but I don’t know anything about horses. As long as I’m on top of them, I’m good to go, but on the ground I know nothing. And that to me is an extreme failure of instruction, because surely knowing the animal is the bottom line.
So I started noticing that my competition students, most of them didn’t have the bottom line. And when I’m training, I’m looking at the behaviors that the dog needs to know in everything. The dog needs to know how to be in a crate comfortably. There is nothing worse than trying to go on a six-hour drive to get to some competition and the dog is screaming in the crate the whole way. That’s bad for the handler and it’s also bad for the dog because when she gets there she’s all upset and she’s tired, so nobody’s going to do well.
I had students with competition dogs who were never off leash unless they were in the ring because the people didn’t have a decent recall, and to me a decent recall is a foundation and oh, foundations. So I started thinking about the things that the dog needs to know as foundation behaviors and when they know that foundation, they know already more than they have to know about what’s coming up, no matter what you want to do with them.
I go to a nosework class. Whether my dog knows anything about nosework or not, she knows how to learn. She knows how to behave around other dogs. She knows how to keep the leash loose. She knows that I’m trying to teach her something and she’s eager to learn it. So I started thinking about how we could start with basic behaviors to teach basic concepts, and then I started writing those out, and then taking them to extremes. And then I started thinking about the idea of zen, doggy zen or leave that alone or whatever people call it in whatever program.
But why can’t I put my treats on the floor beside me then work the dog? I can do that. Most people can’t because the dog’s going to be grabbing the food off the floor instead of paying attention. To me that’s a foundation behavior. I’ve got eight-week-old puppies that won’t pay attention when the food is on the floor. And so we start working on that. And then you think about that, the idea of the dog controlling herself to get what she wants rather than just trying to grab it is a foundation concept.
And if she knows that I go into herding, she’s not going, “Give me the sheep, give me the sheep, give me the sheep.” She’s going, “What do I have to give you so I can have those sheep?” And no matter what circumstance we go into, she’s giving me, “What can I do for you to get what I want out of this situation?”
And from there training is just incredibly easy. So that’s why I wrote the Training Levels. Also, people have a problem with splitting behaviors. That’s the one thing people say about clicker training, “I don’t know how to split behaviors. All I’m doing is lumping. I want the dog to sit. I can’t see anything that the dog does that takes her from standing to sitting. She’s just…” They’re describing the enterprise beaming the dog up and beaming her back down in a sit position.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right.
Sue Ailsby: So I wanted to write them also to teach the trainers how to split and how to reward and how to look for the little behaviors that lead where you want to go. So that’s the training level, and they’ve been enormously successful. I’m really, really proud of them.
Melissa Breau: You updated them a few years ago, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah because I started to realize that I had written them originally for my competition students, so there was competition stuff in there, like how to do a stand for examination. And then I realized that these are foundation behaviors I’m talking about, these are not competition behaviors. If you’ve got all your foundation behaviors in place, you’re six or eight weeks from getting a beginning title in any sport because you’ve already got the foundation behaviors.
What is a stay but self control in a sit? It’s an easy explanation. So I rewrote them because I had changed my focus and I realized I was now looking at foundation behaviors for life rather than foundation behaviors just for competition or just for obedience. Now they’re foundation behaviors for pets and service dogs. The service dog community has gone nuts over the training levels as foundation for training service dogs.
Melissa Breau: Right. Now are there any kind of criteria, I mean you can do this with a puppy or as an adult dog, or really with any age, right?
Sue Ailsby: People have done this with llamas and cats and horses and goats and…
Melissa Breau: Wow. You don’t think of a goat as super trainable. That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, goats are very smart.
Melissa Breau: So you do a lot of different things with your dogs and I would love to hear how you decide what to do with each dog, like whether you have goals for them when you get them as a puppy, whether you kind of explore things as they grow up, like how do you decide what sports to focus on?
Sue Ailsby: A lot of it is what’s available at the moment. I have a friend that I trial with who is also interested in all different kinds of sports and that I grew up with in a junior kennel club, and we kind of look ahead and say, “So what are we going to do this year? Oh, well, there’s a tracking test coming up in so and so and oh, that’s relatively close, let’s do some tracking,” and things like that.
And well, there’s some degree of guidance with the Giant Schnauzer. Do I get another Giant so I can do more carting and sled racing sort of stuff, or do I get another Porty so I can continue doing water trials? And then sometimes something’s available and you give it a shot and it’s clear that the dog either isn’t going to enjoy it or just has no aptitude for it. I’ve had lots of Giant Schnauzers with herding titles. My first Porty had a herding title. I take my current Portys out to the sheep and they’re like, “they’re not bothering me.”
Melissa Breau: No interest, huh?
Sue Ailsby: No. And back to how the training has changed, my six-year-old, I took her out as a younger dog onto sheep at a clinic and she was awful. She was just completely uninterested in sheep, and as I started back, okay, my turn is over, I’m starting back towards the other people at the clinic, and I can see on their faces they’re all thinking oh, dear. Sue’s dog was terrible, she’s going to be so mad. And I can see this going through their heads and I’m like mad at my dog because she has no aptitude for herding sheep? That’s kind of silly. But they don’t know that.
So in a big loud voice I said, “She’s terrible at herding sheep.” And they’re all looking at me like here it comes, she’s going to give the dog away or... and I said, “Do you know what this means? I don’t have to buy sheep this year.” Okay. If herding sheep is really, really important to me, then I will sit down and guide her and show her that she can have a good time herding sheep. And if it’s not important to me... which it isn’t. It’s a fun thing to do if the dog’s enjoying it, but in itself it’s not important to me. So okay, so we’re not going to be herding with this dog.
Melissa Breau: That’s really funny. That’s one of those things where especially in a sport like that where at least a big part of it is instinct, you really can’t fault the dog. If it’s not there, it’s just not there.
Sue Ailsby: Right.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And she loves nosework. If I would hide 20 things around the house every day and send her to find them, that would just make her entire year. So we’re going to do some, and they seem to enjoy the carting. And it’s a thrill for me to see her in obedience with her coat flowing and her flag flying and strut stepping and having a good time.
Melissa Breau: Now you also teach rally, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I haven’t had the pleasure of taking your rally class, but I’d love to know what you think you kind of maybe do differently than how other people teach those skills. I know for example, Hannah’s really taught the obedience skill building series very differently than how most people approach obedience, and I’d imagine, you’re an outside the box thinker, that you probably approach rally a little differently. Can you talk to that?
Sue Ailsby: What I see in a lot of physical rally classes is the same thing I see in a lot of physical conformation classes, which is: this is the course. You go through the course and here you get the dog to sit and here you get the dog to back up and here you get the dog to do this, and no, you have to keep the leash loose here and no, you have to give only one queue there, and they’re talking about teaching the handler how to do the course but they’re not teaching the dog how to do the behaviors.
So it’s even worse in conformation where they just take the dog to a class and walk around in a circle for an hour and bore the dog out of its mind and that’s a conformation class instead of teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and how to have a good time. And so I don’t even introduce courses until we’ve gone at least several weeks, and then a course might be two signs. Just maybe walk from this sign to this sign and have the dog sit. And I’m not looking at whether it’s heeling straight or anything, just walk from here to there and have the dog sit because we’ve already talked about how to walk and how to get the dog to sit.
I don’t know, the only thing I’m doing different is that I’m teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and I’m teaching the handler how to teach the dog.
Melissa Breau: Now in the skill building series, is there a particular organization that you‘re focused on, or... I know that you can do rally with a number of different organizations these days.
Sue Ailsby: Well, because Fenzi is an international school, I can’t really focus on one venue, and I know there are people that have taken rally from me in Europe who are doing cyber rally. They’re doing rally where they send in videos and the videos are judged because there’s no rally organization within physical distance of them. So I kind of say this is the basic idea of this sign. Now read the rules of the venue you’re going to be in and we will discuss what the rule says for your venue and any changes you’re going to have to make because of that.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that’s one of the classes where the gold students are extremely helpful, just having the…
Sue Ailsby: Gold students are always precious. Oh, the training levels. A training levels isn’t one class, one session of classes, it’s a semester, it’s a bunch of semesters which you can sign up for one at a time. But the gold students in the fourth semester have been taking the program right from the beginning and it’s a family. It was such an amazing dynamic. It was thrilling to have these people and to realize that now I’m not telling them basic things any more, they know the basic things now. I’m telling them minor modifications, and that was absolutely thrilling.
Melissa Breau: I’d love to make sure that everybody listening to this kind of gets the chance to see a little bit of how you teach or a sample of kind of what some of the things that you tackle are, so is there one skill or problem that you find people consistently have issues with and just come up again and again and again that you wouldn’t mind maybe walking us through how you typically tackle it?
Sue Ailsby: The one thing you absolutely have to have to train a dog anything is the single most important foundation behavior, which is paying attention, I call it being in the game. If the dog is in the game you can teach her anything. If she’s not in the game, you can’t teach her anything.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: Go to an agility trial. Oh, if I’m doing a seminar somewhere…one time people in Detroit or somewhere said we want you to spend one day of the seminar doing agility, and I’m like, “You people are insane. I’m not a high-end agility handler, I do agility because my dog enjoys doing agility and because it makes me move. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m disabled. Surely in Detroit there are world class agility instructors.”
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: And they’re like, “No. We already work with them. We want to know what you have to say about agility.” I said, “Okay, but you make sure everybody who signs up for the agility session knows that I’m an amateur agility person. I’m not going to be out there pretending I’m some agility guru. I was a conformation judge, I know conformation. I don’t know agility like a judge.”
“Okay, we’ll tell them, we’ll tell them.” Well, I get there and they’re like okay, what problem are you having with this dog and I’m thinking, oh, she’s not doing precisely the right behavior on the down contact or I’m having trouble with threadles or something. No. We get halfway through the course and she goes off to visit the steward, or she can’t work if my husband’s watching. These are not agility problems, these are foundation problems.
So I was there for a whole day doing an agility seminar and absolutely nothing of what I did was agility. It was foundation behaviors.
Melissa Breau: That’s why they wanted you to come in.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If the dog isn’t able to focus on you, if the dog is afraid in that situation, if the dog is nervous in that situation, if the dog is just distracted by everything else that’s going on, you can’t be teaching the dog to do a teeter. And yet the more distracted the dog gets, the harder people try to work on the teeter. “No, we’re doing teeters. Come on, you have to do the teeter.” Stop doing the teeter. You can’t teach a teeter when the dog is distracted. You have to get the dog focused. That’s a foundation.
Melissa Breau: So how would somebody who realizes they have that problem start to tackle it? What would you have them do as like that first step of fixing it?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve started students’ dogs sometimes in the bathroom with the door shut and the toilet paper put away so there’s absolutely nothing to distract them. I have students with Salukis. Salukis don’t eat in public.
Melissa Breau: Oh. That’s not a thing I knew.
Sue Ailsby: “Excuse me, I’m a sight hound, I do not eat in public.” And so we start them in the bathroom. Okay, not public. Can you do this, can you take this food from me? Can you take this food from me? Can you look at me and take the food from me? Can you touch my hand and take the food from me? Then you go into a slightly more distracting situation like open the bathroom door and repeat the instruction, and then maybe you go out in the hallway and you repeat the instruction. And you go into the living room and “Oh, you can’t do it here? Okay, let’s go back to the bathroom and we’ll start there again at let me explain that again.”
You touch my hand, you get a treat. You like that? Okay, let’s go out in the hallway. You touch the hand, you get the treat. Let’s go out…no, still can’t do it? Let me explain it again and we go back to the bathroom until they can do it, until they can do it from scratch in the living room. Oh, boy. Now we can go out in the backyard or we can go in the front yard or we can go in the car. We can drive the car to a parking lot and we can get out in the parking lot and see if they can do it there.
Because the big problem with having a class is you take the dog there and the dog is expected to do stuff, and maybe the dog has never been in that situation before and they can’t do stuff there. Mostly they’re just standing there going holy cow, I didn’t know there was that many dogs in the world.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Sue Ailsby: So the absolute bottom line foundation is paying attention, focus. And if you don’t have focus, stop working on something else and go back and get focus. It’s like clothes. Okay, you’re in grade two now, you have to wear clothes. Yeah, but I’m late for school. Oh my God, he’s late for school, let’s go to school. Oh, wait a minute. You still don’t have clothes on.
Melissa Breau: I like that analogy.
Sue Ailsby: I’m not going to take you to school and shove you in the classroom. It doesn’t matter if you’re late for school, you’re going to put your clothes on first.
Melissa Breau: Right. Absolutely.
Sue Ailsby: And trying to get people to the point I think has been a lifelong battle of me trying to get people to the point where they see that the clothes come first. Stop trying to get the dog to do a sit stay when all he wants to do is go see that cute dog at the end of the line. You’re not working on forcing him to do a sit stay, you’re working on him to focus. If that means taking him out of the room into the next room where he’s by himself, “Can you focus now? That’s wonderful. Good job. You can focus.”
And then you take one step into the training room again and he loses it and you take him back out again. “You want to be in the training room where you can see that lovely creature? I need focus. You can focus here. Shall we try it again?”
See what happens to me when I start thinking about the dog getting out of control is I get calmer. My voice goes down. I felt my shoulders come down. Instead of getting more excited and going, “No, no, no. Come over here. Sit.” I said, “No, you can’t do it here, we’ll go back out in the other room. Can you do it there?” And over time he’s going to get to the point where he can walk into the other room and see, oh, she’s still there. Isn’t she cute? But he’s still focused on you and on what he’s supposed to be doing.
My llamas actually taught me this. I have a breeding pen and when I’m going to breed a female I put her in the breeding pen and then I go and get a stud. And if he won’t put his nose in the halter, which is a trained behavior that he already has, if he won’t put his nose in the halter because he’s too busy running back and forth along the fence going “breeding pen, breeding pen,” then I’m going to walk away. I’m not hunting you down, son. The halter’s over here. You don’t get to come out of your pasture until you’ve got your halter on.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: So the second or third time I walk away he’s like, can I put my nose in the halter please? Like yeah, yeah, you can. And then we step out, and he knows in his soul because I taught him this when he was a baby. Tight leashes go away from where you want to go and loose leashes go where you want them to go.
I bought a stud who weighed 400 pounds, an adult, and he didn’t know that. He thought if he wanted to go that way he’d just go that way and you’d come with him. So I had an ATV and I just tied the leash to the ATV and when he tried to drag me to the breeding pen, I’d just turn around and drive the other way.
And so while other people are arguing with their studs, it takes three people to get him safely to the breeding pen, I’m walking across the yard with one finger on the leash and he’s walking backwards because he’s concentrating so hard on keeping that leash loose. It’s not my job any more to control him.
And that’s the bottom line of all training. It’s not my job to control the animal, it’s the animal’s job to control himself. All I do is supply the consequences. Tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, loose leashes go to the breeding pen. But people say, “But my dog really, really, really, really wants the treat. He just goes crazy.” “Honey, your dog doesn’t want the treat more than my stud wants to get to the breeding pen. Trust me on this.”
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And if I one time tell him that dragging me to the pen will get me there, then I’ve lost all the training I did. He has to know in his very soul that tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, and when he’s got that he’s got everything. So I had 4-H kids with breeding males standing in the waiting ring at a show surrounded by females and they’re just like, my leash is loose. Isn’t it great?
Melissa Breau: That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: And yet it’s very standard training.
Melissa Breau: It’s one of those pieces of advice that is simple but not easy.
Sue Ailsby: Yes. Absolutely. And it’s a piece of advice that you have to keep in front of you all the time, just like if you’re not focusing on me, we’re not working on anything but focus.
Melissa Breau: I have three more short questions. I’ve asked these questions to everybody that’s been on the show, and the first one’s usually the hardest. What is the dog-related accomplishment that you would say you’re proudest of?
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.
Melissa Breau: My second to last question is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Sue Ailsby: Get yourself out of the mix. Don’t take it personally. Our entire culture is based on antagonism. I have to fight to defend everything I get and everybody else is trying to not let me have it. And that, especially in the training that I grew up with, was the key to everything. This is my idea and if you’re doing the same thing, you’d better credit me because it’s my idea. And my dog has to do what I tell her to do. She doesn’t have a say in this or she’s defying me.
And to turn it around and take myself out of the mix and say, “How do I get the dog to want to do this, and how do I nudge her gently in the direction I want her to go and still have her think that it was her idea?” I was talking about this to somebody who took tai chi once and they said, “That’s tai chi for dogs.” You don’t meet force head on, you receive it and you change its course and send it on its way. To take something the dog is doing and not think she’s defying me but to be able to sit back completely without rancor and say, why did she do that? How can I make it better for her to do what I want than it was for her to do that?
Melissa Breau: So the last one up is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to? And part of the reason we ask this question is because we’re always looking for who we should talk to in the future, so who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Sue Ailsby: Denise Fenzi. That didn’t help much, did it?
Melissa Breau: That’s all right.
Sue Ailsby: I’m absolutely awe struck at her ability, not just to build a business and to manage a business, but to assemble a group of instructors that I think every single instructor is just giddy over the idea of working with instructors of this quality. To keep us sane and to keep us, and I said before that training was all very tight and greedy. This is mine, this is my idea, and that’s not what happens at Fenzi and it’s because of the kind of training that we do. But it’s not I don’t care how she’s doing it, this is how I do it. It’s more like yeah, that’s not the way I do it but that’s a perfectly legitimate way of doing it and so since you’ve already got that, let’s just work with that.
And the other person I admire is not a single person, it’s the students. It’s the students who know so much and they come to learn more, and it’s the students who know nothing and come and take gold classes to learn more because they trust us not to make fun of them because they don’t know something. It’s to the point where you can tell somebody who has been in another Fenzi class with another instructor because they’re not afraid to take the coaching. They’re not defensive because they know that you’re coaching, you’re not making fun.
The people I really admire are the people who started out in traditional training and are trying to change because changing is so difficult.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much, Sue. I really appreciate you being willing to do this.
Sue Ailsby: That was fun.
Melissa Breau: Thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Stacy Barnett, one of the excellent nosework instructors at FDSA and founder of the Scentsabilities podcast. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Hi, I’m Melissa Breau and today I want to tell you about a new podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
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.
Whether talking to Denise Fenzi about how her dog training philosophy has taken over the rest of her life and influenced many of her other relationships, or Sarah Stremming about the four key questions to ask before beginning any behavior modification program, every other week we’ll bring you new insights into the world of training for and competing in the world of dog sports.
Our first episode will come out December 23rd, with a new episode released every other Friday for the following 3 months. Interested? Subscribe now in itunes or with the podcast app of your choice.
Thanks for tuning in and we’ll be back in 2 weeks with our first real episode.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi and Fenzi Dog Sports Academy 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!