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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!