Amanda Nelson has been traveling the country and teaching seminars for 20+ years teaching all levels of agility, with nearly all dog breeds. She focuses on teaching teamwork and how to create a strong connection between dog and handler.
She works with all styles of handling, from running with your dog to distance handling, and tailors each training session, large or small, to the dog and handler. She’s always looking to help bring out the best in each team.
Amanda’s handling system, “Cues for Q’s” works off her three base cues: Upper Body Cues, Lower Body Cues, and Verbal Cues. This system was derived from the natural cues that most dogs read and pick up quickly. Amanda teaches handlers how to use all of these cues, together, to create a customized handling system that can be tailored to their unique dog. All of these techniques have resulted in Amanda earning numerous top agility titles with her own dogs.
To be released 6/30/2017, featuring Sara Brueske.
Transcription to come! Show notes will be updated once the transcription is 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!
At FDSA, Andrea Harrison teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio.
She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.
When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work.
To be released 6/23/2017, featuring Amanda Nelson.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Andrea Harrison. At FDSA Andrea teaches classes for the human half of the competitive team. She’s an educator who is passionate about all species including dogs and humans. Having lived with dogs her whole life, Andrea was an early convert to positive training. She has taken this message to the media many times including appearances on many TV shows and news programs as well as in print and on the radio. She has explored the science of brain research and worked with people of all ages on being successful and reducing anxiety and stress using her training and counseling, personality typing, and her own experiences.
When it comes to dog sports her competitive addiction is agility. Andrea and her dogs have many titles between them with placements in regional and national competitions. Andrea has experienced animal wrangling for television and more recently has begun to explore scent work. Hi, Andrea. Welcome to the podcast.
Andrea Harrison: Thank you so much, Melissa. It’s lovely to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To start us out, do you want to just give us a little about your current fur crew?
Andrea Harrison: Sure. We could take up the whole podcast talking about them so I won’t do that, but we’re currently living with too many dogs including my dad’s dog, Franny, who is a lovely older cocker spaniel, and then we have Brody who is 17 almost and he’s what I refer to as my heartbeat at my feet. He’s my Shih Tzu mix and he really taught me that gurus even in dog sports don’t necessarily have all the answers for every dog. Then we have Theo who is a 14-year-old Chihuahua, Sally who is an 11-year-old border collie mix who has really taught me to appreciate joy in everything. She was supposed to be palliative foster, she came to us when she was about six months old and was given less than six months to live, and she’s about to turn eleven. So she’s a good daily reminder. Yeah. She’s a really good daily reminder that life is good and life is worth living. Then we have Sam who is my husband’s golden retriever and I do very, very little with him. He just turned eight, and he came to us as a palliative foster as well. He was five months old with terminal kidney disease, so he’s doing pretty well. We’ve got a crazy, crazy little terrier named Dora who is five years old, and then we have a toy American Eskimo, Yen, who just turned four, and she is certainly my daily reminder that every dog you have to do things your own way.
So yeah, we have a bunch of different breeds and different types represented in the house right now, and as I say, too many dogs, but I also joke that on a per acre basis we have less dogs than most people do because we live on a fairly large farm in the middle of nowhere in Lake Ontario. So per acre we’re well under any limit anybody could set.
Melissa Breau: That certainly helps. I mean, having space is a big benefit when you have dogs.
Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. And it’s nice because I can train down at the front with them, a little agility field set up at the front, so I can take a pair down and work them down there, but every day a part of our routine is to go for a one to two, well, sometimes even three kilometers once the weather is nice, but we’re out doing a good hike off-leash with all five of the dogs who are at a stage in their development where that’s something they enjoy, right? So their fitness, their brain, their recalls, all of that stuff just gets worked on as part of life, you know? They hang out with me, they want to hang out with me. It makes when they come to town much easier, right, because they’re constantly being reinforced for doing sort of the right thing to my husband’s and my eyes.
Melissa Breau: So which of the dogs are you currently competing with?
Andrea Harrison: I don’t actually. Since I’ve been down here we’ve been busy setting up the farm, but Sally, the border collie mix, finished doing a major film fairly recently and has been going out doing some publicity work around that. So her training stayed pretty current. Yeah. She was a lead role in a feature film that was about the character dog, Dinah, in the movie. So she is Dinah. So that’s been kind of neat with being down to the…Toronto has an international film festival and we’ve been in the main theater for that. She was the first dog ever in that theater and stuff. So we had to make sure she was really, really perfect. They were, “A dog? You can’t have a dog in the theater.” We’re like, “Well, she’s the star of the film.” And they were like, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she’s the star of the film I guess it’s okay.” So she’s been doing stuff.
Ad I’m hoping to get Dora, the two young dogs, Dora and Yen, going in competitive agility one of these days. But my problem is because everything is two or three hours of driving for me, and with my 17-year-old guy, I don’t like to leave him very long, right? He’s very much my heartbeat at my feet, he’s happiest lying on my feet, and I hate to leave him and make him stress out when I’m gone. But unfortunately I don’t think he’ll be with us all that much longer. And then Dora and Yen can get their day of, their 15 minutes of fame, right, the Andy Warhol thing, they can get out there and get their fame and glory or embarrass me, whichever way they choose to go out. They do agility at home and they’re great. They’re ready to go. I just have to get off the farm.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough. How long have you guys had the farm now?
Andrea Harrison: Well, we’ve had the land for about ten years and we’ve been living here, we’ve been living here and building our house. We had a house just around the corner, we’ve been building our house for just about five years, we’ve been permanently at the farm for three.
Melissa Breau: Wow. That’s awesome.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Yeah. It’s been pretty neat. It added a dimension to my life that I really didn’t know how much I was missing until I had it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you originally get started with dog sports and the film stuff? I mean, where did all that start?
Andrea Harrison: So when I was little I apparently was pretty opinionated, I hear this quite regularly, and I didn’t like school and I didn’t think I like learning. Turns out I love learning but I was just not being taught the stuff I liked to learn, right? So my dad and mom realized that if they could connect anything to animals I’d buy into it. So they taught me history at the dining room table by using the names of dogs and cats and horses, whatever kind of animal they could find that was connected to an event. I learned about the Civil War in the States because of the horse Traveller, for example, right? Ancient Greek history, they connected it to Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. Rin Tin Tin for the war stuff, right? All of those kinds of things.
And then they realized that if they brought home books that had animals in them I would read, and it turns out I’m a voracious reader, but they connected it through animals. And one of the kinds of books I started reading were books about people, there was a real trend for books about guide dogs, service dogs, seeing eye dogs and those kinds of things, and I read a book, and I was trying to think of the name of it. I think it’s called like, Guided by the Light or something, or Candle in the Light or something, and I read the book and it just amazed me, the gorgeous German shepherd, and I had this clear picture in my head, it was an amazing dog.
I looked at our Irish setter at the time and I said, “You and I are going to do stuff.” And I was 12 and there were no classes available for kids, kids just were not available to take classes. So I made my mom go to the dog sport classes and is at on the sidelines and I watched everything she did and I went home and I did it with our Irish setter in the backyard. By the end of our time doing that class our Irish setter would actually walk down a main street of Toronto off-leash with squirrels and other dogs going by me. She was your pretty typical Irish setter, she was a busy girl, and I was so proud of that. The lift that gave me as a very introverted, not super academic kind of person really built my confidence.
So then just every dog we had from there, I put one leg of an obedience title on a golden retriever. We had foster Sheltie for about eight months, I did some show handling with her. So I just slowly got a little bit more into it. I never found my passion, right?
Then one day, twenty years ago almost exactly I think, I saw agility, just in a field at a local university. Somebody set up a class and I literally stopped dead and went, “That’s amazing.” And I started thinking about agility. I had two older big dogs at the time who couldn’t do it, but I started learning about it and watching it and thinking about it. Then I was hooked. That was it. I mean, my blog is called Agility Addict. I was just absolutely, and I am just nuts about agility.
Melissa Breau: What’s the URL for your blog?
Andrea Harrison: Andrea Agility Addict Blog Spot I think. I don’t know. It comes up, as soon as you type any of that in it flies right up.
Melissa Breau: I will look it up and I will include the link in the show notes. So what do, what you teach at FDSA is a little bit different, kind of, than what any of the other instructors do. You definitely have your own niche. I mean, how do you explain what it is you do at FDSA? How would you kind of summarize it
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a good question. I think what I’d say and what I do say all the time is that I focus on the handler side, right? Because it doesn’t matter if you’re an agility addict or you’re into nose work or you’re into obedience. I’m so grateful I’m learning so much about all these amazing different sports, Rally-FrEe, and all this stuff, it’s just so super what I do because I get to learn and I love learning, right?
So I really focus on the handler side of it. My experiences through all the different things that I have done have reminded me all the time that my mental state, my beliefs, my hang-ups, right, really are going to affect what happens at the end of the leash. When I was filming Zoboomafoo and I needed 15 puppies to run across the floor towards me, if 13 of them ran towards me and two of them went another way it didn’t help to get mad about it, right? I had to just think it through, figure it out, and redo it, right? Or when my little dog was on the stage at the Elgin Theater in Toronto, one of our big theaters doing a thing of Annie, I had to just to let it go.
And it’s hard for me to let it go. I’m your typical Fenzi instructor, you know, type A, cares a lot, wants everything to be right, right? We’re a passionate group of people, right? I mean, that’s wonderful, but it can be hard to remember that we can’t control everything, right? No matter how much we want success we can’t always make success in the moment that we want it. So as I was looking at what I could bring to the FDSA table it was like, there’s a piece of stuff that I’m doing all the time, I’m getting asked to do it all the time, people are asking me questions in my face classes all the time about this, people respond to any blog I write about it.
So I taught a little tiny course just for people locally online, and ended up telling Denise about it, and she was like, “That’s really cool. Do you want to try bringing that here? I don’t know if it’ll work.” She was really honest, right? She’s like, I don’t know if it’ll work. I’m not sure there’s a thing. But that’s where the first course, All in Your Head, came from, this tiny little genesis of a course I ran one summer through a Facebook group, and then it just developed from there. Students are amazing, they ask amazing questions, and they’ve given so much back to sort of my funny little niche program, like you said, but they’ve built it. I’m along for the ride. I’ve got tons of different resources I can plug into and pull out and experiences, but the students of FDSA have really driven what’s happened in my little circle.
Melissa Breau: So to give listeners kind of a sense of the type of issues that your classes can help with, do you mind just talking a little bit about some of the problems you’ve helped handlers address within the classes?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Sure. I mean, it really ranges, right? So All in Your Head looks at sort of who you are, right, and how who you are is going to affect the training choices and things that you do, and starts to address the nerves side of it a little bit, because nerves are a big, big thing that come up. Disappointment, worry, anxiety. People don’t want to let down their dog, right? They get frustrated by their dog, they aren’t sure they’re doing the right sport, they maybe aren’t sure they have the right dog for the right sport, right? How can they make all of these things work, right?
Like, I personally hate coming in second. For me that’s a huge source of frustration, right? So if I was always coming in second I would want to work through a whole bunch of the stuff that I do in a class to make sure that I was dealing with being second. I’d rather be last than second, right? Give me first or don’t place me at all. I mean, I’d like to cue, thank you very much, but in terms of placement type stuff, right?
So the problems really range. I mean, I’ve had people look at relationship issues, grief. The two sort of really specialized courses, Infinite Possibilities and the new one I’m running now, Unleash Personal Potential, people pick their own thing, right? So the range of things we’re seeing in there is amazing. Then of course with Handle This and No More Excuses people are largely looking at setting plans, setting goals, learning about goals, figuring out how to implement plans, right? We all make these great plans, I’m going to train every day, and then life gets in the way because life always gets in the way, right? It always does. So what do you do when life gets in the way? How can you not say, “Oh my God, I’m the worst trainer in the world ever,” and crawl under a rock and not train for three weeks? And there are times when a three week break is what you need, but sometimes you need to say, you know what? This was a throwaway day. It was okay, I didn’t make my plan, it’s okay, tomorrow is a new day and I can start over, right? So the range of problems is just, I mean, you know, you could almost open up a dictionary and look for any adjective and there it comes, right?
Melissa Breau: So let’s dig into a couple of those specifically just a little bit more, because I know there are a couple that we talked about a little bit before the podcast and whatnot as being particularly important. So I wanted to dig into this idea of kind of ring nerves and people experiencing nerves before a competition, things that really impact their handling. I was hoping you could talk a little more about that, maybe include a tip or two listeners can use when it comes to ring nerves and tackling it themselves.
Andrea Harrison: Yes. For sure. One of the things I really encourage people to do is test those tools. So people go off to a trial and they’re really, really, really nervous, but they don’t know whether those nerves are physical, right, or in their head, or if they’re affecting the dog at all, right? Because they’ve never really thought about it. All they know is that they’re really, really, really nervous. They feel sick but they don’t know is it in their tummy, is it in their head, is it their respiration, is it sweat glands, is it all of them, right? They haven’t thought about it, they know it makes them feel sick so they push it aside, they don’t work on it between trials, they go back to a trial and they’re like, oh my God, I was nervous again. Well, of course you were nervous again. You didn’t try working on anything, right?
So like everything else it’s almost like a training exercise. You have to think about what is making you nervous, how are you manifesting those nerves, and how can you break them down? It’s just the same, right, just the same as positive dog training. Break it down into these tiny little pieces that you can then find a tool to address.
So for example, if your mouth gets really, really dry and that distracts you and you start sort of chewing cud, as it were, as a cow, you’re like, trying to get the water back in your mouth and it makes you nervous. Well, once you figure that out you take peppermints with you in the car, you suck on a peppermint before you go in the ring, and that’s gone away. Right? And that’s gone away so you can concentrate on the thing you need to concentrate on, right?
You want to always build to those results slowly. When you look at the nerves, I can’t say to you, here’s my magic want, I’m going to wave it over you and all your nerves will be gone. But you get that sick, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, why is that? Are you remembering to eat the day before a trial? Are you eating too much the day before a trial? Are you remembering to go to the bathroom? Because when you’re nervous you have to go to the bathroom, so make sure you make time to go to the bathroom because then there’s less to cramp in your tummy, right?
So step by step by step, you know, you make a plan, you look at the plan. What kind of music should you listen to on the way to the show? Should you listen to a podcast that’s inspirational to you? Should you put together an inspirational play tack? Do you know exactly where the show is? If you’re anxious and worried and always run late, for Lord’s sake, please drive to the trail ahead of time or Google Map it really carefully and build yourself in 15 minutes extra, because being late to that trial is not going to help your nerves. You’re going to be stressed.
So where is that stress coming from? How are those nerves manifesting themselves, right? So the music that you listen to on the way, having the mint if your breath is dry, remembering to go to the bathroom, thinking about what I call Andrea’s Rule of Five. So rule of five is really simple. Is it going to matter in five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five years? Right? So if something is stressing you out you can actually stop, ground yourself which I’ll get into in a sec, but ground yourself and think, rule of five. And the vast majority of the time, yeah, it might matter in five minutes because your run will just be over and it was not successful and you’re embarrassed, maybe, or maybe it was great, and like, super.
But very, very few of us are going to remember a run in even five months, let alone five years. I mean, you might remember in general, but your anxiety is not going to still be there, right? I mean, a great run you can remember. I can probably still tell you the details of some of Brody’s agility runs or Sally’s amazing work, right? Like, I can describe going from the A-frame around to the tunnel and picking him up and staying connected and it was beautiful. I can remember the errors of enthusiasm, right, like when he took an off-course tunnel, and he’s never done that in his life, and I was like, oh my God, he took an off-course tunnel. That’s amazing. That’s so cool, and we celebrated. So just loved that he was that happy about it. But do I remember those very first, early trials where…do I remember the courses where I stood thinking I’m never going to get my agility dog to Canada? No. I don’t really remember. I remember being sad that he was three seconds over the time and _____ (18:35), and that was kind of sucky, but it was okay, right? Like, now with all this perspective it’s fine.
So you have to rehearse for success, let those nerves…think of something that gives you just a little bit less nerves and go and do it, right? Where you get that slight flutter and figure out how to tame the slight flutter. Don’t expect to say, oh my God, I’m so nervous at a trial, I don’t want to be nervous anymore. That won’t work. You need to figure out, right, what tools are going to work for you, right? What makes you nervous, what tools will reduce that element of anxiety, and work on it one element at a time.
I have students where I say to them, I don’t care that you’re not really ready to run, right, in a trial. If you were so nervous about it that’s making you sick, find a match that’s going to make you half sick. Go to a trial and know that you’re not going to be successful. Go and do one lap of the ring. I don’t care. Walk in there and do six things and leave if it’s accessible in your venue. And practice getting over that nervousness so that you can give yourself and your dog the best things that you need to do to be successful. Set yourself up for success, if I had to reduce it to just a couple of words.
Melissa Breau: Right. The same way you set your dog up for success.
Andrea Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. We’re as important part of the team, right? Without us there would be no dog sport. So we spend so much time, right, working on our dogs, and it’s great that we do, and I love it too, but you have to remember to work on yourself too. You know? Unless you’re by nature perfectly calm, perfectly extroverted, never have a thing to worry about at home which I still have yet to meet anybody who can say all of that, right?
Melissa Breau: You and me both. I wanted to dive a little more into the motivation and planning aspect of things too. I know one of the lines in your class description for No More Excuses is it’s for the students who have a library full of classes and haven’t done them, or they have goals and aspirations that they simply aren’t meeting. I think a lot of people who read that, that kind of strikes home, right? So I wanted to ask, what is so hard about just doing it?
Andrea Harrison: Such a good question. And you think, like, we all blame ourselves when we can’t just do it, right? And I think many of us hope that if we fill our libraries up enough that something is going to resonate, something is going to suddenly, magically make us do it. And you know, we all want that magic solution. I mean, self-help sections of libraries and book stores are full, like, shelves and shelves and shelves of books because we all want there to be a magic bullet answer, right? And there isn’t.
I mean, in a nutshell motivation often comes down to people being confused about whether it’s outcome or process that they want, right? Whether it’s learning or performance, right? Four different sort of models to look at motivation. Outcome goals are like, I want to be an Olympic gold medalist, and a process goal is I want to build the skills to be able to be an Olympic gold medalist. Many of us want to go straight to an outcome, goal, right? We want to be able to get the cue without sort of remembering that we have to build that process in. And once people understand that everything we do, we have to break it into a process, that can help them with their own motivation.
So training, and this sounds awful, because different things bore different people, but there’s always some element of training that bores most people, right? So I’ll hear people say, “I hate working on stays, they’re so boring.” Or, “I’d rather be playing on Facebook than training,” right? And that’s okay, that’s legitimate. But if you can start off even just with two or three minutes of whatever you don’t like, particularly working on it, as you start to meet success it becomes more rewarding so you can do more and more. So if you can break down your process, again, similar principle to earlier, if you can break your process down into little tiny chunks and build on those little tiny chunks, as you attain success you’re going to be moving closer to doing the outcome stuff, right?
I mean, in true motivational speak the issues with motivation usually fall into either direction, can you get up off the couch and actually go and train or are you going to get up off the couch and head towards the ice cream in the freezer, right? Which direction are you going to go in? The intensity of what you do, so are you like, oh, yeah, this is great as long as I don’t have to work too hard each step, right? It’s good, I got to the gym, I chatted to the girl at the desk, I did my thing or went to dog school, and it was great, but I really didn’t put any time into training, I was really busy chatting to my friends and watching other people train, right? That’s the intensity piece of it. And then the final piece is persistence, which is do you go back, right? Will you go to training once and you do a great job or will you go to training five times and do as good a job as you can each of those times?
So direction, intensity, and persistence are sort of the hallmarks of real motivational stuff, and they break down really nicely for dog training too, right? Like, where is your gap? So in No More Excuses we help people figure out which priority they want to work on of those three, and then how to do that.
And then the last thing that you want to think about when you’re doing motivation issues is are you in a learning phase or a performance phase of training, trial, and showing, whatever? If you’re in a learning phase you might still be trialing, right? Because you learn when you trial. Every trial I’ve ever gone to you learn tons, right? But if you’re in that learning phase you don’t want to be having tons of outcome based goals or else what happens is you get frustrated and turned off and you stop. I think what happens to a lot of people is they don’t understand the distinctions between outcome and process goals, learning and performance outcomes, right, the goal, and then that intensity, persistence, and direction piece, and if you can sort of marry all of those pieces and figure it out then you’ve got a real head up on making some motivation work for you, right? So it comes to down to sort of planning, right? Figure out what you need to do and then plan for it.
And remember that all those self-help books, right, that are in the library, all the gurus, all the people who say there’s only one way to do things or this is the right way, they have a whole lot invested in making you buy in to what it is they are promoting. They believe it. I’m not saying it’s charlatans at all, but they believe that their way is the right way, and if it doesn’t work for you it tends to make you feel kind of rotten, right? You’re thinking, so-and-so could do this and it’s amazing, and my friend did it and it was amazing, and it doesn’t really work for me. What’s wrong with me? Right? And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, you just have a different approach to learning or the message or the method than the person does. So I think sometimes all the self-help can kind of be negative, you know, which is too bad.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. Despite my comment about just doing it I do know that you’re a big fan of self-care and gratitude, and I’m sure a lot of students in the alumni group on Facebook have seen your Joy Day Care posts. So I wanted to ask you a little bit about that and have you kind of tell us what’s the story there, how did that get started?
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. It’s such a neat thing. So again, you know, my whole thing earlier my students are always teaching me, the first time we ran Infinite Possibilities back in August of 2013, I think, I had an amazing student, she’s still a great student at FDSA, I know she listens to the podcast so she’ll be like, “Hey, that’s me she’s talking about.” She said, “You know, this gratitude thing, I work on it all the time and it’s really hard for me. I want to get better at being happy.” And there’s tons of great research that says that gratitude is a really good path to being a happier person, right? How can I be happy? It’s a big question I deal with in all of my life.
So we started a gratitude challenge in the class, right, on the discussion thread there was a gratitude challenge that I posted, and then at the end of the class people said, “You can’t stop this. This isn’t right. You just can’t stop this. We need your prompts. We need your help.” I said, “All right. Well, why don’t we take it over to the alumni list and see if people like it?” And people really like it. It’s funny, if I forget to post, if I forget it’s the first day after class officially ends, any of those things for sure somebody will message me, and often it’s somebody who has never worked with me. “Hey, don’t you normally do Joy Day Care now?”
So it started off, we called it just a gratitude challenge, and then it slowly worked towards being a Joy Day Care, the name just evolved over time. It was Joy Day Dare for a long time and then somebody, I mistyped, I think, and it came out as care, and I’m like, yeah, that’s even more perfect for us, do you think? Because one of the things I love about it is how much everybody cares about everybody, right?
And it just helps people remember that happiness is a conscious choice, you know? I had somebody ask me just yesterday, what can I do to be a happier person? I said it sounds so trite, it sounds so dumb, I hate to even tell you this, but you really do have to choose happiness. You know? Life is tough, life is hard. There’s a lot going on in life that gives us good cause to be angry or upset or frustrated or sad, and I mean, obviously if you’re facing some really big thing you’re going to need more than just to go, oh, today I’m going to be happy.
But a gratitude practice where you pick some time of the day to think about one thing you can be grateful for has a measureable impact on people who are suffering from depression, who have schizophrenia. There are tons and tons and tons of studies that show that a very, very short, ten second daily gratitude practice can make a difference to your state of happiness. Like, that’s pretty powerful, right?
And it’s so easy for me to do, right? It’s such an easy thing for me to remind people of sort of in the lull between classes. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I actually quite miss it when it’s done even though sometimes I have to get kind of creative with the prompts because we’ve done it now for a long time. So I’m like, have I done this in the last three sessions? I don’t think so.
Melissa Breau: Well, you could certainly…it certainly can’t hurt to recycle some of those prompts and just think about…absolutely people can think about different things they’re grateful for off the same prompt, and I mean, just…
Andrea Harrison: Sure. Sure.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s great.
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. So in fact I did a little workbook too for people because they wanted something in between classes. So there’s a little workbook called Love the One You Are With, it’s just a little workbook that has a bunch, I don’t know, 140 other prompts and pretty pages people can fill in and stuff too. So people seem to be liking that as well.
Melissa Breau: Where can they find that?
Andrea Harrison: It’s called Love the One You Are With, and there’s a Facebook page for it.
Melissa Breau: Cool. Excellent
Andrea Harrison: Yeah. Very cool.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to kind of end out the podcast, even though we spend a lot of time talking about the handler half of the team, the same way I do for everybody else, because I thought it’d be interesting to talk…I know if the beginning we talked a little bit about you and your dogs, and I wanted to make sure we kind of close it out that way too and talk a little bit about the dogs again. So what is the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Andrea Harrison: You know, it’s interesting, and I wrack my brain because obviously if you listen to the podcast you know this question is going to be coming up. I mean, I have lots of things, I have been lucky enough, fortunate enough to do some really, really cool things with my dogs, right? They’re superstars and rock stars all in their own right.
But I think if I had to pick the one thing I would have to say it’s probably the hundreds of foster dogs that my husband and I have rehabbed, worked with, trained. We’ve had many, many foster dogs that have been with us more than six months and as long as three years before they’ve been able to go into their own homes, and I think if I had to pick one thing it’s probably doing that, right? Giving back in such a sort of hands on way. Yeah. It’s been pretty amazing. We’ve met some really amazing dogs and by being able to be strong enough to give them up, and sometimes it’s really hard to do that, you know, it lets us take in the next one. So it’s been pretty precious.
Melissa Breau: Right. And that’s always the hardest part, right, in some ways, of fostering or helping with that process.
Andrea Harrison: Oh, I mean, it’s grief. Yeah. It’s absolutely grief in its own way. You miss them. You give a little piece of your heart. I had one of my vet tech friends say to me, “Andrea, you’ve got the biggest chameleon heart of anybody I know.” She calls me Lizard Heart now. I said, “What do you mean, Lizard Heart?” She goes, “Well, if you cut off a little piece of a chameleon’s heart apparently it grows back.” I don’t know how they even do that, I didn’t ask, I didn’t check it or anything. But she calls me Lizard Heart because she says, “You’ve given so much of your heart to other animals, your heart is so patchy and big, right, from all the repairs.” So I’m like, that’s so sweet. Right? Yeah. So I would say that’s probably my proudest accomplishment.
Melissa Breau: And then what is the best piece of training advice, and for you you can do handler or the dog, that you’ve ever heard?
Andrea Harrison: So there’s two, because, you know, why would any of us do what you ask and give one?
Melissa Breau: That’s perfectly okay.
Andrea Harrison: I think the one that really made me think the most and really work on understanding what it meant and figuring out how to apply it to handler side stuff and dog side stuff, actually, is somebody said to me a long, long time ago when they were mad at me in my counseling gig that’s outside of dogs, they said to me, “Andrea, you have to understand, it’s really not personal.” I was like, “But you’re mad at me.” And they’re like, “I’m just mad. I’m not mad at you. It’s not personal.” And I thought, it’s not personal. It really isn’t, is it? And so much of what we get ourselves so worked up about, right, is because we take things personally that aren’t meant personally.
So if your dog has a lousy day and blows you off, your dog poops in the ring, your dog isn’t do that to destruct you. Your dog is being what my husband calls his dog self, right? We talk about that all the time here at the farm. Oh, he’s just being his doggy self. They come in and they’ve rolled in something disgusting, and you know, oh my God, I have to go out for dinner in half an hour and I don’t have time to clean you. My stress level goes through the roof and Tom’s like, “They’re being their doggy self.” And I’m like, yeah it’s not personal. We bathe the dog and we’re ten minutes late and we’re good, right?
So it’s not personal applies, like when that group of women, often, sadly, are standing at the side of the ring watching your run and you think, oh my God, they’re watching me, they’re judging me, the pressure is great, and then you leave the ring and you think, wait a minute, I was the first, second, or third dog in the ring, and they were actually just watching to see how the judge works, or where the judge stands, or what pattern the judge is looking for, whatever, right? So it’s often, even though we take it very personally it’s not personal there. Even when somebody is making a comment to you, right? They’re saying, “Oh, well, if it had been me I would have done it this way.” So what if they would have done it that way? It’s about them, that’s not about you. It’s not personal.
So I think it’s not personal is a really big one that has worked for me to really try to remember both in my dog sports and my just surviving life piece, right? Whatever the issue is it’s much more often about the person who is doing the whatever that’s causing you stress or distress, and it’s often just the dogs being their doggy self. So that’s the first piece of advice I think to get into.
Then the other one came a long, long time ago, and this is sort of for handlers to remember with their dog, and that’s just to stop nagging. I guess that actually could be seen as a life skill too. I work pretty hard not to nag my husband too, but the sort of persistent drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, it can be really irritating, right? Like, if you’re getting nagged it’s irritating, and if you’re nagging your dog it’s irritating too. You’re much better off to break off if things aren’t going right, break off and do something, and have fun with it, and then come back to it, right? Rather than nag, nag, nag, nag, nagging.
If I have a dog that I’m trying to get to sit perfectly on its flat form, and you have a dog that you’re trying to get to sit perfectly on its platform, and I drill, drill, drill, drill, drill that skill for my dog, and you try it three times and say, oh, you know what? You need a break, you need to let off some of that stream, I’m going to go play with you for a minute and come back to it. My guess is a whole lot of the time you’re going to end up with a much nicer sit that’s much more solid in more situations than I will for nagging. Right?
And that came to me from my horse sport stuff early on in life where I was riding a rotten little pony and I had a crop, somebody hands me a crop and I was doing the thwack, thwack, thwack on the shoulder but never hurt enough to make a difference, and like, my coach, Martha Griggs, said to me, “Andrea, if you’re going to use that crop take it and use it once and be done with it. Stop nagging that poor pony.” And I thought, oh, but I don’t want to hit the pony, right? Who wanted to hit a pony? Even back then I was sort of like, there’s got to be a nice way to do it. But I realized that if I could figure out a way to be clear and consistent with my message and stop the drip, drip, drip, drip, dripping nagging of it it was going to work much better, and the pony and I went on to do pretty well in the show we were headed for. So you know, that worked in that moment and that in itself of course became reinforcement.
So it’s something I really look for in my face time students, right? Are you nagging the dog? Because if you’re nagging the dog if I can help you stop nagging the dog you’re going to end up with much more success. Yeah. So I’m grateful to the horse instructor for pointing that out so many years ago.
Melissa Breau: I mean, sometimes it’s really interesting the lessons that carry over from other sports and other things in our lives into the dog world, and how much carryover they really have.
Andrea Harrison: Well, it’s absolutely right. One of the things that people always say, how do you know…what made you come up with the fact that getting a good night’s sleep before a show is important? And I’m like, because in my work as an educator and as a counselor I’ve discovered that if I’m doing a session with somebody and they had a good night’s sleep the night before we’re going to get a lot farther than if they’ve had an awful night’s sleep. Doing sort of a counseling session, if I’m talking to someone and they’ve had a terrible night’s sleep I’ll be like, you know what? Today is not a good day to dig into the heavy stuff. Let’s find something light and fluffy to deal with because we’re not going to get nearly as far, right? Here, let’s talk about how to sleep better, you go home and sleep better, and next week make sure you do those strategies, and then we can get into the heavy stuff.
So yeah, absolutely. What you learn in one place has tons and tons of crossover. And again, I think we forget that, right? We get so hung up on there’s got to be the perfect way to do it that we forget to pull these different skill sets that we have from different places. In the All in Your Head course somebody in the first or second session said to me, “Oh my God, I did this at work, the Meyer Briggs temperament inventory.” He said, “I did this at work. It never occurred to me to think about how what I know about myself at work might influence myself as a dog trainer. It really does make a difference.” I was like, yeah, of course it does. But so many people, we compartmentalize, right? It’s part of being human, we keep things in their little compartments and we forget to open the door between them.
Melissa Breau: So for our last important question, so someone else in the dog world that you look up to, who would you recommend?
Andrea Harrison: There are so many ways to answer this question. I mean, I’ve said it before in this already, the FDSA instructors are just amazing people and so many of the people, like I can throw out a ton of big name agility trainers, American, Canadian, European, but I think if I was going to say who I look up to regularly, and this sounds kind of, I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for so I’ll just say it, it has to be the people who struggle with their dog, right? They’re the inspiration for me. They’ve got this dog that maybe isn’t the perfect match for them, they’re in a sport that isn’t maybe the perfect match for them, and they persist. They want to figure it out, right? And that might mean changing dog sports, that might mean retiring a dog, that might mean taking a long break. There’s so many different things it can mean, but they’re the people that I really look up to because…and lots of the instructors, right, have had their own challenges too. The very fact that they come back to it, right, the resilience of the human, right?
So I guess I would have to say that it’s the resilience that really makes me feel inspired to keep going, right? That if I were looking for a reason to get up in the morning and to log on to see what’s going on with my students, the people who are working with the deaf dog or the blind dog or the dog that, as somebody said, I would divorce if I could, but I can’t divorce him because he’s living with me now so I’m going to figure out how to do that, you know? It’s all those people that really create this inspiration, and I’m sure you would have loved it if I’d grabbed one name, but really when I thought about the question that’s really what gives me my get up and go, is those people.
Melissa Breau: Hey, I’ll take it. It’s a different answer so it works for me. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Andrea. It was so much fun to chat.
Andrea Harrison: Well, such a pleasure, honestly. Just delightful. You do a great job with it.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you. Thanks. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week, this time with Amanda Nelson to talk agility, including tailoring your handling style to your specific team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
And one extra request this week, guys. If you could leave a review on iTunes or mention the podcast to a training buddy we would greatly appreciate it.
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!
Dr. Deborah Jones is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.
To be released 6/16/2017, featuring Andrea Harrison.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dogs Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we will be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones, better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.
Deb is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top level titles in Agility, Rally, and Obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the Focus Training System. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series and has authored several other books with more in the works.
At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer. Oh, and she’s working on a cat class, too.
Hi, Deb. Welcome to the podcast.
Deb Jones: Hi, Melissa. Thank you, very much, for having me.
Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today.
Deb Jones: Oh, so am I.
Melissa Breau: So, usually to get started I ask people to tell us a little bit about their dogs and what they are working on with them, but since I know you also have the cat class coming up, do you want to just walk us through your full furry crew and what you’re working on with all of them?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. I have quite a crew right now. I have three Border Collies and three Shelties that I’m working with, along with the cat, Tricky, who is going to be the star of the cat class -- because he insists. Every time I train dogs he’s there, so I figured if he’s going to show up regularly he might as well earn his keep and be part of a class at FDSA.
I have my three Border Collies that I work with the majority of the time now. Many people know Zen, who is almost 10 years old, which seems impossible. He is my demo dog for everything. Always willing to work. He’s done Agility, Obedience, and Rally, and titled in all of those and, these days, he’s pretty much semi-retired. He gets to do almost whatever he wants except what he wants to do is play ball 24 / 7, so we don’t do that, but other than that he gets to do whatever he wants.
Star is my next oldest dog, a Border Collie, who is, I say constantly, the smartest dog I ever met. She’s scary smart and Star is also great demo dog. Also showed her as well. And my youngest boy now, who is actually Zen’s nephew, Helo is going to be three. A lot of people have seen him in class videos. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been working for FDSA in some form or the other.
And the latest, youngest Sheltie is Tigger, who is a tiny little seven pound thing and he is just so full of himself and full of life, and he’s a lot of fun, so he is also in quite a few of the class videos and he enjoys every second of it, and then the other two Shelties are a little bit older, so they have what we call old dog immunity, which means, again, you get to do whatever you want and they enjoy that.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Deb Jones: So it’s a busy household.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine -- but I’ve seen some of those videos you share of Tigger. He’s so cute.
Deb Jones: Oh. He’s a little firecracker. To have such a tiny little dog…he’s way below size for what Shelties usually are and this was just by chance. It was just a fluke that he was this small, but oh is he full of it, so he makes us laugh every day. That’s the thing we say about Tigger is he makes us laugh constantly, so there’s a lot of value in that.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask about how you originally got into dog sports -- I know that you’ve done a lot of different sports and with a lot of different dogs, so what got you started?
Deb Jones: Yeah. I have. I’ve had a lot of different dogs over the years. Settled on herding dogs now, but I actually started out with a Labrador Retriever, black lab named Katie, and I was in graduate school and I’d been in about two years and just had to have a dog. I’d always had dogs just as pets, and never done a lot with them, but I really felt the need to have some sort of companionship in graduate school that was not stressful, so I got Katie, who was a rescue…from a rescue. She was about 18 months old and we did training classes. Took her to local training classes.
And this was in 1992, so at that time all there was, was obedience. If you wanted to show a dog in anything you were going to show it in Obedience, so I went through a number of classes. I met a lot of people. I got to know quite a bit about obedience competition and the only…the problem was I was already trained in behavioral psychology and learning theory, and what I saw happening in classes did not match at all my expectation for how we should be training animals. It was still very, very heavy handed and traditional back in those days.
So I liked the idea of competition and performance but I didn’t like the way that people told me you had to train in order to get to it, so that sort of started this conflict in me about I want to do this but I don’t want to do it that way and made me work very hard to try to figure out 'how can I apply what I know from academics and get successful performance?' And so that was the start of it.
Melissa Breau: So how did you bridge that gap? What actually got you started on that positive journey and at what point did you get introduced to clicker training?
Deb Jones: Around the same time I got Katie I was introduced to the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, which was probably the very first book that many dog trainers ever saw that had anything to do with positive training. I’m a voracious reader so I read every dog training book out there and this was one of many, but this was the one that really, really spoke to me and said to me you can take what you know from science, you can apply it to training the animal that you’re working with now and you can be successful. Except the thing was nobody had actually done it. It was theory. It wasn’t yet application.
And so that set me on the path of being able to do this training the way I want to do it and having an enthusiastic and very willing animal partner rather than one who was basically forced to do it because there would be unpleasant consequences if they didn’t, so I really would credit the book with getting me started on that.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is that also how you were introduced to clicker training and shaping and all that good stuff?
Deb Jones: Yeah. It all came around about the same time. There was actually…the first internet email group that I was ever on, which was called Click-L. This is really ancient. This was also back in about 1993 or so. When we first got internet at home, which was a big deal at the time, but ClickL was a group of like-minded people and we were all just simply trying to figure out how do we do this? How do we apply this?
And Karen Pryor was on the list along with a number of other people who are still training today and we were all just kind of talking and throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we could use this kind of technique, a clicker training technique, to get the…all different sorts of behaviors, so it was a time when nobody was really an expert because nobody had done it yet, but that’s really what I wanted to work toward was to make it work in our day to day training.
Melissa Breau: I bet back then you never would have thought you’d be teaching online in today’s day in age.
Deb Jones: Absolutely not. No. I remember my great excitement the first time my modem actually hooked up at home because for the longest time we only had access at school, when I was in graduate school, for the first couple of years, so no, I could never have foreseen that one day I would be involved in these online classes. That just would not have ever crossed my map.
Melissa Breau: So one of my favorite lines to come out of the podcast so far Sue made this whole analogy during her interview about training without focus being almost like sending a kid to school without clothes on, right? Like you would never imagine…
Deb Jones: I love that.
Melissa Breau: ...sending a kid to school…
Deb Jones: No. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: …without his clothes on. Like why would you train a dog if you don’t already have their focus? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that concept. Focus seems likes a place where people just tend to struggle and I was kind of curious to get your take on why you think that is?
Deb Jones: Oh, so many reasons. Yeah. Sue always has the best descriptions of things and I think that one is perfect. The problem with focus though is that it’s invisible to a large extent. Oftentimes people have the illusion that they have focus because they have cookies and they have toys and they’re in a training mode. Then they try to go into performance and all of a sudden it becomes very clear it was only an illusion. You did not have actual offered focus from your dog. You thought you did but you didn’t, so that’s about the time people contact me. They’re like I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going so well and then they’re really surprised.
Sometimes people equate focus with eye contact and what we say is that’s only part of it because you can be focused but not looking at each other. Looking at each other is not always focus. It’s easy to look at somebody and to be a thousand miles away in your mind and dogs do it the same way that people do it, so it’s more than eye contact, which can be a trained behavior.
There has to be this desire to want to do whatever the activity is or the task is. And if that desire isn’t there, there’s not going to be any focus. You’re always going to be looking around for something else that’s more interesting, and I think people just don’t realize any of this. You’re training your dog. You’re teaching behaviors and skills but you’re not teaching it with focus and it falls apart very quickly when it’s put to the test.
Melissa Breau: It’s very hard to...I mean even as a person, right? If you’re focused on one task there’s a big difference between being focused on the task and having eight million tabs open on your browser and you’re jumping back and forth between Facebook and the thing you’re writing and something else and it…
Deb Jones: Yeah. There is and it takes a while. It’s not something we can expect to have immediately. Every once in a while, and it’s very rare, you get a dog that just is naturally focused but it’s really rare. I’ve only known one dog who, I would say, was really, truly always just focused from the get go. That’s not the norm, so we all have to work at it to get our dogs to that place and people then don’t know. Okay, they want focus but then they have no idea. What do you do? How do I get focus? And that’s really the tricky part of it because there’s a lot of things you do. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.
Melissa Breau: So how do you approach it in the class?
Deb Jones: We have two classes that address focus and the first…I always hope people take them in order. The first class is Get Focused, which is what I always recommend people take first and then a follow-up to that is called Focus Games and we always try to offer Get Focused in one term and then Focus Games in the next so people can follow through with it.
What I try to do is isolate focus from…take it out of the context of anything else and distill it down to this mutual desire to interact with each other, so convincing the dog that what we’re doing is what he wants to do, which sounds hard and it is hard. Sometimes it is very difficult. It’s not easy. We have a number of very specific exercises to work on letting our dogs know that focus pays off and if you focus on me I’ll pay you for it and we try to get people quickly to move from food to toys and back and forth and into personal play as well so that you get paid in some way for focusing. There’s a reinforcer for focusing.
Then we start adding work to focus but what we do is typically the opposite of what everybody else does. We have to have focus first before we ask for work or play even. If the dog isn’t focused we do not go on. We never train an unfocused dog and I say this…this is like a million times. I say this over and over again. If my dog’s not focused I need to stop and this is really, really hard for people to do because they have a plan in their head for something that they wanted to train, but training an unfocused dog is just a waste of time if you truly want to develop this. Work and training always has to be combined with focus.
So we go through a series of exercises designed to improve focus and also to teach people what to do when it’s gone. What do you do? What’s the protocol for when the focus is lost? Because lots of times then people are just kind of stuck. They don’t know what to do so they take responsibility for focus and try to make it happen rather than allowing the dog to offer it.
Melissa Breau: That whole being more exciting than a clown on crack line from Denise, right? Like that idea of just trying to be more and more exciting and your dog just continues to ignore you.
Deb Jones: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Deb Jones: Yeah. That ends up being kind of a death spiral. Things never go well if I have…if I have to add more and more energy to the interaction then there is a problem. I’m giving everything. My dog’s not doing anything. We need to go back to getting the dog to want to focus and work with us and so we continually go back to that and we don’t try to overwhelm the dog with fun and excitement because that’s a dead end. You won’t get very far with that. The problem is it often will temporarily work but it won’t work over the long term. It won’t hold up.
We work on all of this in the Get Focused class. When we move onto the Focus Games class, that’s a lot more about finding the flow and the rhythm to working together and extending it out and adding things like movement and taking food off our bodies and still getting focus, so we add all those kinds of things in there, so it’s a good 12 weeks worth of focused focus on focus.
Melissa Breau: Right, so both the Focused class and your current class, the Performance Fundamentals class, seem to fall into that foundations category, right? So I wanted to ask you what you thought it was so…what is it about building a good foundation that is so critical when it comes to dog sports?
Deb Jones: Foundation really is everything. I truly believe that. If you do your foundations well you won’t run into problems later on or…I won’t say you won’t. You won’t run into as many problems later on or if you do run into problems you will have a way to fix them because the problem is in the foundation. Ninety-nine percent of the time something wasn’t taught to fluency or you left something out somewhere. You’ve got a gap or a hole, so going back to foundation and making it strong is always the answer. It’s never a wrong thing to do.
So I really like being able to try to get in that really strong basis for everything else you want. I don’t care what sport people are going into or even if they’re not going into sport at all. If they just like training and they want to train their dog this…a good foundation prepares you for any direction in the future because oftentimes we change direction. You have a dog you think you’re going to be doing obedience with but if you focus in the beginning too much on obedience behaviors it may end up that dog just isn’t right for that, and so you have kind of these gaps for.. "oh well, let’s see if I want to switch to agility. Now I need to train a new set of behaviors." We don’t want that to happen so we’ve got the foundation for pretty much everything.
Melissa Breau: Talk a little bit more about the Fundamentals Class specifically. Do you mind just giving some details around what you cover in that class and how you work to set up that foundation within the class syllabus? Within the class…within, I guess, what you teach there?
Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. Sure. We approach performance fundamentals very differently than many other people do or the way that people think they should approach dog training. I’m considering typically as a class that you either start with a puppy or you’ve gone through a puppy class and now you’re ready to move onto the next thing, so that’s where we would come in. I also think that it’s a really good class for people who haven’t done a lot of positive reinforcement training and they don’t quite understand how to get started with it and what to do.
I think it’s also a good place for that, but the thing is rather than focusing on skills and behaviors…I don’t care at all in a class if the dog learns to sit or lie down or do whatever it is on cue. In fact, lots of times they won’t and they don’t need to. What they need to do in Performance Fundamentals or what I want them to be able to do is to build the foundation for a good working relationship so that, again, the dog is ready. The dog’s willing. The dog really wants to do what you’re doing.
We work hard on balancing things like getting dogs to play as well as food motivation and going back and forth with those quite a bit and my goal is always to make it seem like the dog doesn’t know if you’re playing or training. If they don’t believe there’s any difference, that’s perfect. That’s perfect training, so we do a lot of the foundation things like targeting behavior, so you might have the dog targeting to your hand. You might have the dog targeting with their nose to other objects. Have the dog targeting with their front feet or with their back feet, so we would explore okay there’s all these different things we can do with targeting behavior and those are all going to come in handy for you on down the line.
We’ll look at and play around with shaping because shaping is one of my favorite techniques and it’s also one that’s really hard for people. It takes a lot of practice and you make a lot of mistakes. There’s just no way around it. It’s experimenting, so we play around with shaping and I always like to shape tricks and things that people don’t care about a whole lot so if you mess it up nobody cares. It’s no big deal, you know? You don’t want to start being like.. on your competition retrieve, you don’t want that to be the first time you shape. Because that matters to people, and so we try to get them to do the easier things first.
In that class we’re also just looking at can you effectively use…once we’ve taught targeting, can you use luring? Can you use shaping? You can teach any behavior any number of ways and so we look a bit more at the techniques that underlie that and there’s…people can make decisions about what they want to train and how they want to go about approaching it and we help them with that once they make some informed decisions.
Melissa Breau: For sure. I thought, writing the questions for this talk, I felt like there were eight million things I wanted to ask about and jumping back and forth between focus and then the Performance Fundamentals class and I’ve taken the Cooperative Canine Care Class and loved it, so I wanted to at least briefly kind of touch on the other subjects. We’ll definitely have to have you back to talk more in depth about them, but can you tell us a little bit about the Cooperative Canine Care Class and a little bit about the new cat class you’re working on? And give people…
Deb Jones: Oh.
Melissa Breau: …a sneak peek?
Deb Jones: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Cooperative Care has turned out to be one of my favorites. Which I think we’ve only been teaching it for a couple of years and I was…I became interested in this whole idea of husbandry work and working on grooming and veterinary procedures with animals after I had gone to a week-long training seminar at Shedd Aquarium a few years ago and the majority of the training they do is cooperative care type training.
They train every day for things that their animals may or may not ever need but if they need them then it’s there, so training their dolphins, for example, to flip upside down and hold still so they can take blood out of the vein by their tail and that’s something they work on everyday even though it happens very rarely, and that got me thinking a lot about what we do with dogs because mostly what we do with dogs is we wrestle with them and usually because we’re a little bit stronger and because they’re nice they don’t bite us, but in reality we do some pretty unpleasant things to them and we don’t prepare them for it. We just do it, okay.
So I wanted to really explore with dogs what can we do to make this more pleasant, more fun for everybody involved? Because it’s no fun for the people either. It’s just a stressful thing all the way around when you have to do something to an animal that it’s afraid of and doesn’t want you to do, so that was the idea for it and we’ve had a lot of fun with it because if you make it all into games and tricks and trained behaviors it really tends to be amazing what they will cooperate with and what they will allow you to do and I’ve used my own dogs as guinea pigs, of course, for everything on this and really been amazed at how much better it is for them than it was in the past.
One of my dogs, Star, had developed a terrible fear of the vet. I was out of town and she ended up having to be spayed and it was unpleasant and just terrible things happened to her at that point. To the point that I was worried she would bite somebody at the vet, and now she goes in. She’s pleased with herself. She jumps up on the table. She wants to do her chin rest and take her squeeze cheese and it just made her…it just made everything so much better for her and that made me so happy and that’s what I hear from students all the time. It’s these little things, you know? That my dog went to the vet and jumped on the scale by themselves or they held still while the vet gave them a shot and didn’t even act like they noticed and that’s what I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things that make that class worthwhile.
Melissa Breau: And I know, for example, I have a German Shepherd with some pressure issues and just the working through the class and working through being able to touch them in different ways that just helped her so much in terms of wanting to cuddle and be a little bit closer to me at different times. It just had so much of a positive impact in the relationship over all. I can’t recommend the class highly enough.
Deb Jones: Oh. I’m really happy to hear that. I just love hearing things like that because I think when we give our animals a choice…everybody’s afraid to give them a choice because they’re afraid they’re going to say no. We’re afraid they’re going to say no I don’t want you to touch me. No, I don’t want this to happen, but if we approach it in a very incremental, systematic way and make it highly reinforcing they’re much more likely to start saying yes and the whole idea that they have a choice, I think, makes them brave. It makes them confident and it increases our bond with them because we no longer have to wrestle them to the ground to try to do something with them, so they trust us more.
Melissa Breau: Right. Do you want to share a little bit about the cat class?
Deb Jones: The cat class. Yeah. I was just thinking about that. I’m still working on the cat class, which I honestly…honestly when I said it, it was a joke. I didn’t necessarily actually ever intend,…when I first brought it up, I was like you know oh I’m so busy so here I am thinking about teaching a class to train cats and I thought that was funny, but people started jumping in and what I realized from that is every video I get from a student that has a cat the cat is there. Like I said earlier. The cat’s in it. The cat’s interested so what the heck?
And people really do not believe that cats can be trained. They think cats are totally different than any other creature on the planet and you can train everything else but not a cat, so…and working with my own cat, Tricky, who’s about six years old now, I think. I’ve worked quite a bit with Tricky over the years. He likes to train and he trains differently than a dog but in some ways, he’s faster. In some ways a little bit…it’s a little bit more challenging than I expected, so it’s an exploration. It’s an experiment but I’m looking at…started looking at what could we do with a class like this? How could I set it up?
So it’s going to be a little bit different than some of my other classes because first we have to convince the cats that they want to work with us and I think that’s a little…that’s even more than it takes with a dog because our dogs we tend to be a little more social with anyway and cats sometimes we allow them to be very independent and we assume that’s what they’re supposed to be, so convincing them now that they want to do something with us and that it’s going to pay off. I think that’s going to be a big step, but other than that 90 percent of what I’m looking at it’s the same way you train any animal.
We use lots of positive reinforcement. We break things down into small bits and we work our way up, so I don’t know that it will be that vastly different. It’s not like there’s one way to train cats and then another way to train every other animal in the world. It’s that we train the same way but we have to remember that they are cats and that there are some things that we’ll have to keep in mind that make them different than dogs, so it’s an interesting challenge and I’m really excited about it now, so I’m spending the summer training my cat.
Melissa Breau: I can’t wait to see some of the videos from that. It sounds like it will be entertaining and really useful. I mean, it’s always…I feel like anytime we learn more about training a different species than dogs it only improves your overall ability to train.
Deb Jones: Oh. Definitely. I think I’ve learned more from other species by far than I have from training dogs. They’re always more challenging. You have more to learn about them. Approach them differently, so yeah. I love training other species. That’s one of my favorite things to do.
Melissa Breau: We’re getting towards the end of the podcast so we’re at those last three questions that I ask every episode. So what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a tough question. First I…because you’d think okay I’d want to talk about titles or something but not really. What I think I’m most proud of just overall with all of my dogs is that they all want to work with me. If they have a choice between me and anything else in the world they’ll choose me and there’s a lot of effort, on my part in terms of training, that went into that but I’m very proud of the fact that my dogs freely make that decision and I don’t ever have to coerce them to make that, so I’d say that has to be my overall answer.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s an accomplishment almost everybody listening to this would love to have, so I definitely think that’s a good answer. What is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a hard one, too. These are hard questions, Melissa. I’ve heard lots of good and bad training advice over the years but most recently what’s sticking in my mind comes from Denise, actually, which is train the dog in front of you. Train the dog you have right now not the dog you want or the dog that you think you ought to have, but train the one that’s standing there and that is harder than it seems to be, but I think that’s a very good piece of advice. They’re all different and we need to work with each one as a unique individual.
Melissa Breau: And even as a unique individual I mean the dog you have today is not the dog you have next week and it’s so hard to see that sometimes.
Deb Jones: Oh, it is. It’s really hard because we just have built up in our minds this image of what this dog’s like and even if the dog changes our image doesn’t always change, so I think that’s a really good point and I sometimes…I’m so bad I forget which dog knows which behavior. So I’ll tell Helo to do something that Zen knows how to do and then I’ll look at him like oh I never taught you that, so I need to focus a little more on the dog that’s in front of me at the moment.
Melissa Breau: That’s funny. And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Deb Jones: Oh. Quit asking me hard questions. Well, I have to say as a group really, truly every instructor at FDSA is just amazing and they really inspire me. I feel challenged to always do better because of the people I’m working with. Because the instructors are all so awesome and I don’t want to be the weak link so I always feel like I have to do more and work harder because of them, which is a really good thing.
If we move out of that realm a little bit someone that I do truly admire would be Ken Ramirez. I worked with him at Shedd. Got to know him and work with him at Shedd Aquarium when I was there and have seen him several times since then and I like his approach and I like the fact that he’s worked with so many different species and that he still maintains the science of it but at the same time it’s not clinical. It’s also humanized in a way. I don’t know if that even makes any sense.
Melissa Breau: Very practical. It’s applicable.
Deb Jones: Yes. Very, very applicable to a huge variety of situations, so I admire that.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much for coming on the podcast, Deb. It was really great to chat.
Deb Jones: Oh. Thank you for asking me.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. No. I was thrilled that you could make some time and that we could fit this in and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. This time with Andrea Harrison to talk about the human half of the competitive team. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
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!
Mariah Hinds’ love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
To be released 6/9/2017, featuring Deb Jones.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I’ll be talking to Mariah Hinds.
Mariah’s love affair with dogs and fascination with their behavior began young. She’s wanted to be a dog trainer since she was eight years old. She’s now been training dogs and teaching people for more than 14 years and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Mariah has broad practical experience in the dog world, volunteering and working in kennels, shelters, and veterinary hospitals, dog sitting and walking, fostering rescue dogs, and two years of veterinary technician college.
She has a passion for finding the best way to communicate with the human half of the dog handler team, because she knows small changes in the handler and practice can yield big results in the long run. Her specialty at FDSA is teaching skills that require self-control from the dog including proofing, impulse control, stays, and greetings while using positive training methodologies.
Hi Mariah. Welcome to the podcast.
Mariah Hinds: Hi Melissa, it’s great to be here.
Melissa Breau: I’m so excited to get to talk to you for the podcast today. I think we’ve been talking about this for a long time so it’s good to finally get you on.
Mariah Hinds: Yes, absolutely.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to get started with the same question that I ask pretty much everybody to start out, but I think you’re the first person I’ve actually had on who I’ve actually met all of your dogs. Still, since the listeners haven’t, can you share who they are and what you’re working on with them.
Mariah Hinds: Sure, yes. I have three dogs. Jada is my oldest. She’s a Doberman. She’ll be 11 years old next month. She’s my Novice A dog and she has her Utility title. She occasionally makes appearances in my training videos. And my middle dog is Clever who I call Liv and she’s four years old. She’s a Border Collie and she’s my first positive-only trained dog. She has her CDX and will be entering utility this fall and I hope to get an OTCH with her. I really think that she can do it. And my puppy is Talent who I call Tally. She’s eight months old and we’re just getting started. We’ve done some shaping and some obedience and agility foundations, but really the focus has been on house manners and socialization and focus and just enjoying each other’s company.
Melissa Breau: Well as I mentioned in the bio at the very beginning, you pretty much always knew you wanted to be a dog trainer... so I wanted to ask how you got started and about that "always a positive trainer" question.
Mariah Hinds: So I’m…I was not always been a positive trainer. Jada actually is my crossover dog. I started off, as most people do, assuming that dogs really just play dumb and choose to ignore us and that some coercion is really required for training. But the more that I worked with dogs, the more I realize that they’re really trying their best to interpret our world and I was what I would call a balanced trainer until I took the Susan Garrett Recallers course and saw dogs of all breeds coming when called in really challenging situations, and that really started my journey, and I spent the next two years watching every competition dog training video, every generic dog training video, and attending as many online classes and seminars as I could.
And all the while I was training pet dogs for 30 hours a week doing private training sessions and so I was able to try new things with those dogs as well, and I decided to commit to raising my middle dog with only positive training methods and watching her thrive and learn and become so precise using only those methods, and incrementally setting her up to succeed, really cemented my commitment to positive training methods.
Melissa Breau: Like you talked a little bit there about kind of how you crossed over and training pet dogs, so what got you into competition obedience?
Mariah Hinds: Well so my first experience with competition obedience was I worked at PetSmart, that was my first job, and I had this dog and we took this…I took this class from a PetSmart trainer named Barb and she competed in obedience with her dog and invited me to go watch a competition obedience class and immediately I was hooked and the dogs were all heeling and paying attention to their handlers, even when they got close to other dogs and it just really looked like a lot of fun. So when I got Jada I knew that I wanted to do competition obedience and when she was four years old I finally found a place to train regularly and she was entered in novice that year and she got her UD when she was four and she really taught me a lot and I’m really proud of her.
Melissa Breau: Was getting a Doberman partly inspired by the obedience? I’m always curious because now you have Border Collies, so what led you to start out with a Doberman?
Mariah Hinds: So it’s kind of interesting. So at the time, before I got my Doberman, I had a Standard Poodle that I was fostering and I kept getting these comments from my pet people saying, "Oh well, you know it’s a fluffy dog, you know and you can’t train a fluffy dog the same way as you train one of those hardcore breeds." And so I was like, okay, well I’ll go get a Doberman because they’re really pretty and I like them and so that’s how I ended up getting a Doberman.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that the Border Collies are very different to train.
Mariah Hinds: They are different, you know, and I never would have gotten them as my first dogs, but really I love Border Collies. I think that they’re a lot of fun and they’re much easier to live with, or mine are, than most people think that they are.
Melissa Breau: Interesting, and we were talking about that a little bit this weekend, just even the difference between the two that you have now, right?
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, they’re definitely different, but they have a lot of similarities as well, and part of that is just how I raised them. Clover was my first Border Collie and so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have the same issue with Jada, like the checking out, so really did a lot of focus on building drive and with my young dog, I’m like, I know that it will come and yes we’ve done a little bit of drive building, but most of it has been, "all right I’m going to get you excited and then we’re going to practice calming down afterwards," and so she was much better at that than my four year old dog.
Melissa Breau: Most of your classes at FDSA kind of revolve around self-control on the part of the dog, like in one format or another, right? So just glancing over some of your upcoming classes, you have Proof Positive this session, a stay class in August, impulse control and a greeting class in October. What is it really about that topic that’s kind of drawn you to teach it and that fascinates you so much?
Mariah Hinds: Well, really it's that I think that reliability is greatly affected by self-control and not knowing how to teach impulse control and self-control positively to dogs initially is what held me back from crossing over just to being a positive trainer, especially early in my career as a pet trainer, and so when I realized that I had this gap in my understanding, I really pursued learning about it as much as I could. I also feel like reliability or the lack of it is really frustrating to most of us and we can greatly impact our relationships with our dogs by working on impulse control and building reliability and I really enjoy seeing people understand their dogs. We see their dog’s point of view and ultimately have a better relationship with their dog.
Melissa Breau: And I want to focus in on proofing for a moment there, so I wanted to ask how you define proofing and kind of how you approach it.
Mariah Hinds: Well so I think that the traditional definition of proofing is to set the dog up to be wrong and tell the dog that he or she is wrong and hope that the dog can bounce back from corrections time and time again, and what we’re going to do in proofing is set the dog up to succeed time and time again with tiny little increases in the difficulty level, and so what I find is that that really builds confidence by showing the dog that they are indeed correct and they have earned a reward for their effort. And so that’s really the big thing of building their confidence and helping them understand that it’s the same behavior even if it’s slightly more challenging with a distraction.
Melissa Breau: And I’ve heard a rumor about, something about costumes in this class. Is that right?
Mariah Hinds: Yes. One of the games we’re going to be playing is about having handler dress up and making sure that the dogs can do the behavior even with the handler dressed up or with a helper dressed up and I find that a lot of times that really impacts the dog because our body language is different, so really helping to again build that reliability. So the other thing that we’re going to go over in Proof Positive is we’re going to over covering maintaining criteria, and often times I find that we build these really beautiful behaviors that are really crisp and clean and fast, and when we add distractions then our criteria drifts and we lose some of that beautiful criteria. So we’re going to go over how to maintain that while we’re adding more levels of difficulty.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think that’s something a lot of people struggle with, just like figuring out how to do that and keep that really pretty behavior that they can get in their living room, when they’re out in the real world, and then eventually in a show ring.
Mariah Hinds: Yeah, it’s definitely…it can be done, it can be done.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to make sure students got something, or listeners got something that they could kind of take away and act on as part of this, so I wanted to ask you if there’s a common piece of proofing or if there’s something else that jumps out to you, that’s fine too, where you feel that students like usually struggle, and if so, kind of how you recommend working through it.
Mariah Hinds: Well I think that most people struggle with seeing the benefit of systematically helping their dog overcome distractions, which is my definition of proofing. I think that a lot of people see it as mean or unnecessary, and personally I think that if we’re going to enter a dog in a trial at some point, then they’re going to need to be able to do the behaviors with distractions and that systematically helping the dog become reliable with distractions is a really kind thing to do to help them prepare for that environment.
I think that the second most common struggle with proofing is really over-facing our dogs. We pick the distraction that’s too challenging for the dog and the dog struggles to make the desired choice and then we get upset or disappointed in the dog, even if it’s just a tiny bit, and then we’re building stress into our behaviors and that’s not the goal. So when a dog struggles with a distraction, then really distance is our friend, you know. We can always go further away from the distraction and then the dog is like, oh okay, I can do it now.
Alternatively, we can dissect the distraction into its simplest parts and build back up from there, once the dog is successful with the individual components. So for example, if a dog struggles with a judge in the ring, then we want to work just on judge being far away and not work on it being a new location and having sounds and having food on the table and all those other things. And the bottom line is that we really want to build confidence with proofing, and not add stress.
Melissa Breau: So do you want to talk just for a minute about how you can kind of tell when the dog is over faced versus kind of working through something or trying to make a choice? Like how do you walk that line? Can you just talk to that for a minute?
Mariah Hinds: So a big part of that is body language. The other thing that I really make sure that I practice with my own dogs is that the 50, 60, 80 rule, and that rule to me is if they’re 80 percent reliable and you’ve done it about five times, then we can make it slightly more challenging. If they’re between 60 and 80 percent reliable and you’ve practiced it five times, then really we’re doing okay. We can keep practicing at that level and the dog will figure it out. We might want to help them a tiny bit if they’re leaning towards the 60 percent, and again, we still want to look at stress signals. If the dog is checking out or if they’re looking worried, then definitely we need to make it easier.
If they’re below 60 percent successful, then we most definitely need to make it easier, and if they’ve failed to make the desired choice twice in a row, then again, we definitely need to back up and help them understand because they’re not going to miraculously figure out that, oh I should be doing this behavior instead of that.
Melissa Breau: You mean they can’t actually read our minds?
Mariah Hinds: No, they can’t. If they could then they would do it already.
Melissa Breau: All right. So I wanted to kind of round out things the way I normally round up a conversation, which is asking about the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of.
Mariah Hinds: So last year when I was in Florida, we had this competition called DOCOF, and what it is it that every year all the obedience clubs in Florida put together teams and then all those teams compete against each other in this one day event. And so last year we were entered in open and Liv won First Place in open with a score of 199 and a half and so I was very proud of that. There were a hundred dogs in that class and she beat several dogs who were really expected to win who were taught with traditional methods, and those trainers had told me in the past that dogs who are only positively trained can’t win, but we did. So that was really exciting. So we tried for…
Melissa Breau: I was just going to say, you’ve had a lot of success with her, right? I mean you guys have done a lot of really cool things.
Mariah Hinds: We have done a lot of cool things. She’s one really fun dog, you know. Yeah, she’s a lot of fun and she loves to train, so we train a lot. And we trained for high in trial with my friend and we did a run off and we finished up in second place out of the 3 hundred dogs that were entered, and then in addition to our individual successes, our team was really supportive of each other and we celebrated each dog and handler’s big and little successes, and we didn’t let each other worry about the tiny baubles, so really overall it was a really great day.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. It sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe you have to start something like that here in NC.
Mariah Hinds: I know, it would be fun. I really…it’s one of the big things that I’m going to miss about Florida, not the heat, but I’ll miss that.
Melissa Breau: And what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Mariah Hinds: Well I think there is a ton of really great pieces of training advice that I’ve heard. My favorite piece of training advice is that training really should look like play. So my goal and my unedited training videos is that it really looks like play with just a tiny bit of training mixed in. But for me, the most impactful piece of training advice is that you don’t have to end training on a success, and when I embraced that, it was really pivotal for me with Jada and my journey to positive training methods.
Originally when a training session was going horribly, I would just keep going and build more and more frustration and anger with our repetitions instead of just calling it a day. And so once I was able to end a training session that wasn’t going well and go back to the training board, then our relationship really improved a lot. So I guess ultimately, it’s play a lot and don’t be afraid to give your dog a cookie and end the training session when it’s not going the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So I’m really curious there. You mentioned your unedited videos kind of look like a play session with a little bit of training mixed in. I mean your dogs are pretty drivey, just kind of knowing them and watching you work with them. What ratio are you actually talking about? Are you thinking like five minutes of play, two minutes of work, or like what do you…can you break that out for me a little more and just talk a little more about it?
Mariah Hinds: So I do a lot of focusing on tiny pieces of behavior. I know that a lot of people really work on sequences, but I don’t focus on that really with my dogs. I focus on just tiny pieces of behavior, like five steps of heeling with some proofing. Or five steps of doing left turns and right turns and then rewarding that and making sure that each tiny piece is really crisp and so that’s what I aim for in a training session, and so we do three minutes of work and they get kibble with that and then we do, after our three minutes, then we do a little bit of play and then we do it again. That’s kind of what it looks like. I don’t really do a lot of five minutes of training in one duration.
Melissa Breau: So for our final question, someone else in the dog world that you look up to.
Mariah Hinds: Well I really look up to Silvia Trkman. I love how she teaches heeling which is now how FDSA teaches heeling. I have no clue if that’s really related or not, but I think that she’s really an expert in shaping and she teaches her dogs some really fun tricks and the reliability that she gets with her dogs in really big events is awe inspiring and she does it all with positive training methods.
So I also really like learning from Bob Bailey. He has some really important things to share regarding training, such as matching law, reward placement, and rewarding more substantially for duration behaviors and I think that these things really impact precision and reliability. So I love taking things that I learned from him and thinking about how I can apply that to 10 different behaviors or scenarios.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast Mariah, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.
Mariah Hinds: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was good to finally get to talk to you while the recording was running instead of just for fun.
So in case you missed it last week, for all our listeners out there, you’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly which is why you’re hearing this episode now, even though we just published the interview with Julie last week. And that means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Deb Jones to talk performance fundamentals, cooperative canine care, shaping and that all important topic, focus. If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Flanery has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
To be released 6/2/2017, featuring Mariah Hinds.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’ll be talking to Julie Flanery.
Julie has been working professionally with dogs and their handlers since 1993. She focuses on the needs of the dog and helping people form a strong relationship through clear communication and positive reinforcement. She has placed Obedience, Freestyle, Rally-Obedience, Rally-FrEe, and Agility titles on her dogs. She began competing in Musical Freestyle in 1999 and was the first to both title and earn a Heelwork to Music Championship on the West Coast.
In 2001 she was named Trainer of the Year by the World Canine Freestyle Organization and has been a competition freestyle judge since 2003. Five years ago Julie developed the sport of Rally-FrEe to help freestylers increase the quality and precision of their performances. It has since become a standalone sport enjoyed by dog sports enthusiasts all over the world. Julie has been a workshop and seminar presenter both nationally and internationally. She currently trains and competes with her Tibetan Terrier in both Musical Freestyle and Rally-FrEe.
Hi, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Flanery: Hey, Melissa, thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: So excited to have you on. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Melissa Breau: So to start us out, do you want to just tell us a little bit about the dog or dogs you have now and what you’re working on?
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I’m actually down to one dog now. I’ve lost three dogs in the last couple of years, which has been a little bit hard, but all of them were about 15 years old so I’m down to just Kashi, and Kashi is my 6-year-old Tibetan Terrier. She is a great little worker, in spite of some severe food allergies she’s had since she was a puppy and that kind of limits our training with food rewards a little bit, so we’ve really had to work hard to come up with some ways that she really enjoys her training and make every reward count.
We do show, as you said, in Freestyle and Rally-FrEe, and we just showed our intermediate Heelwork routine last weekend and started work on putting together our new routine. It’s a kind of a Las Vegas show-style illusionist routine, I’m kind of excited about it and Kashi plays my disappearing assistant and we just moved into...
Melissa Breau: Sounds so fun.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it is, it is. I have the ideas kind of swirling around in my brain, nothing complete yet, but that’s kind of where you start with freestyle is with an idea or some type of inspiration and you go from there. And then we also just moved into the Elite Division for Rally-FrEe after completing our Grand Championship last year. That was really exciting for me as well.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau:So I want to start kind of at the beginning. You know, I talked a lot about your history there and you’ve accomplished a lot, but how did you originally get into dog sports?
Julie Flanery: That was a long time ago. If I’m really honest I would say it was about 25 years ago when I took my 5-month-old Border Collie to a pet class. I was a new pet dog owner, and I watched one of the instructors do a demo of how many tricks his 5-month-old Border Collie could do in a minute and I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog. I mean I’m just a pet person here, but I saw that and I was so impressed and so intrigued at what training could do, that and having a great dog to start with got me really immersed into training, and my competitive nature kind of kicked in a little bit.
And I didn’t really start competing until probably a couple years in agility to start and then obedience, and both of those were rather short-lived due to my discovery of freestyle I’d say probably in the...oh, I don’t know, mid-90s at an APDT conference after seeing a freestyle demo and again I thought, wow, I want to do that with my dog.
And unfortunately, there was no freestyle available in the Pacific Northwest, or much really anywhere in the country at that time. It was just a fairly new sport then and there wasn’t really the luxury of any online training back then, so if I wanted to do this I was going to have to learn this on my own, and because I didn’t really want to do it alone I dragged a few of my students along with me, and today we have one of the largest freestyle clubs in the country and those first few students are still competing, are active members in the club today.
So, that’s kind of how I got started competing in general, first with obedience and agility and then really became enamored with freestyle, but I competed off and on in a variety of dog sports, as you said, so I think I have a little bit of a competitive nature at heart.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s awesome. It’s kind of cool that you managed to really...I guess you could almost start a movement in that area, right, like for the sport.
Julie Flanery: I don’t want to take that kind of credit, but I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew it was not going to be something I could probably do alone. Freestyle’s not an easy sport to stick with and it really takes some perseverance to stay involved in it, and I just felt very passionate about it, and so anytime anybody would listen or anytime anybody wanted me to give a workshop on it I would go and I would oftentimes...early on with the club I would give free workshops just to get people interested and involved in it so that we could have a group that could put on competitions here.
Melissa Breau: Well, I wanted to make sure that I told you, you know, I watched some of the videos of you and I think most of them actually you’re working with Kashi on the FDSA website. Consistently she looks so happy to be working with you, and even the other dogs that you have in the videos, they all look so thrilled to be there and to be performing. So I really was curious what it is, or what you attribute it to in terms of how you train or the sport specifically that leads to that.
Julie Flanery: Oh, I love...I love that that is what you noticed. So to me there really isn’t much point in training unless you have a willing and happy partner, and in freestyle it’s a sport where emotion shows through and emotion is something that you want to convey, and for most of us we want our dogs to be happy out there working, and as I said earlier, it’s a very difficult sport and if you don’t have a dog that’s really enjoying it, it can be very, very difficult to progress in the sport.
For me really, the shift to really wanting a happy, joyful dog out there came about when I started using operant conditioning and shaping specifically with al clicker. I’d always used treats in my training. I primarily have always been a positive reinforcement trainer early on in obedience. I did learn how to use a choke chain and I was quite skilled at that, but I did train with rewards and mostly the reward training, but when I started using a clicker and shaping it became a much more reciprocal learning process where both the dog and the handler have a vested interest in listening to each other and that that outcome includes a sense of enjoyment and a desire to keep going, and I think for me having that experience of learning about shaping and clicker training and really listening to the other dogs was very impactful for me and impactful about how I structured my sessions and what I wanted out of those sessions in terms of emotional fulfillment for both me and the dog and I think the most effective way to build that is through positive reinforcement training and really important is clear communication, with that communication being a two-way street.
For years training has always been about the dog listening to the handler and I think it’s just as important, even more so, that the handler learn to listen to the dog. So, I think just making sure you’re paying attention to how the dog is feeling and responding in a session makes a huge difference in the outcome of that session and whether there is mutual enjoyment in that session. So, I think it’s a combination of both the sport that I chose and the techniques and methods that I choose to apply in my training.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I mean I’d imagine in something that’s typically set to music where really part of it is a performance aspect, like in obedience precision is precision and it’s possible to a fairly precise performance, even if you’re not super positive in your training, and I imagine it’s much, much more difficult in a sport where the goal is really to have it look joyful and to have it look really pretty.
Julie Flanery: Yeah, it certainly can be, and that’s not to say that there aren’t freestylers that use or have used aversive techniques, and to be quite honest you can’t always tell, the dog’s being just as happy out there. But for me personally, I really enjoy the fact that I know that what I see in my training is what I see in the ring, and that’s all about that enjoyment of working together and bringing that joy to the audience as well because you’re right, freestyle is an audience participation sport, so to speak. It’s a sport that they’re not only for competition but for entertainment as well.
Melissa Breau: You kind of mentioned shaping and luring in there, but you wrapped up a class on Imitation and Mimicry and I have to say that’s like such a fascinating concept. If you could start by just kind of explaining what that is for the listeners in case they’re not aware of it, and just kind of sharing how you got into that, that would be great.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. No, I’d love to. Imitation and Mimicry is a form of social learning or learning through observation, and we’ve long known it to be effective in human learning, but it wasn’t until probably the last 10 years or so that we’ve really seen any studies on its use in dog training. I first heard about it at a ClickerExpo, a talk that Ken Ramirez gave on concept training in dogs, and then further researched Dr. Claudia Fugazza’s study that she did, and in 2006 she created a protocol that showed that dogs can learn these new skills and behaviors by mimicking their owners and it’s her protocol that we use in class.
Also what’s fascinating is that Ken Ramirez has developed a protocol for a dog-dog imitation and mimicry, and some of the videos I’ve seen on that are just truly, truly amazing. So, things that we didn’t think were possible now we know are and we’re actually able to bring to more people now. The class was really quite inspirational for me because my experience of course had been limited with it in working with it with my own dog and then some of my live classes, my students there in my live classes, we work through it, and when Denise asked me to do a class on it I was really excited, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I have to say my students in that class are just amazing. They have really shown me what this protocol can do and how truly capable our dogs are of learning some of these concepts, so it’s been a really exciting class for me. And matter of fact, I’m going to go ahead and put it back on...I think it is already...Terry’s added it to the schedule for August, and so I’m really excited about doing it all over again.
Melissa Breau: It’s so cool to watch.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. I think you’ve seen some of the videos that were on the alumni page, and they’ve really drawn a really great response, so it is very exciting for me and I hope for the students too that are taking the class.
Melissa Breau: Other than just being an additional tool in the toolbox, and of course we all want as many of those as possible, right, what are some advantages to using that as a technique?
Julie Flanery: Well, first off, mimicry is not necessarily suited to all behavior training. It’s really best used for broad or more general behaviors, behaviors that require a high degree of accuracy or precision may be better learned through shaping or some other method or reward, however mimicry can be quite useful and at least one study has shown that behaviors learned through mimicry were learned as quickly as they were through shaping which really surprised me. I was quite surprised by that.
Some service dog work for example, retrieving items, turning on lights, opening drawers or cabinets, not only can the dog learn these skills very quickly through mimicry, but once the mimic cue is in place, even inexperienced handlers can teach the dog these behaviors with very little training themselves, so it allows inexperienced handlers to train these more complex behaviors much more quickly which I think is really quite cool.
It can also give the dog the big picture, so to speak. So in most training the dog has no idea of what the end result is, only we know what that looks like and the dog needs to muddle along, and he may not even know that when we reach the end result that is the end result. So, mimicry allows the dog to know what he’s working toward and may even help him to better able to guess steps toward that end result, so it could very easily shorten that training process, at least the big picture, at least the broad strokes of that behavior.
I think too it forces us to look at the dog’s perspective in how or what we are communicating. In mimicry the only information you’re giving the dog is your demonstration of the behavior. If your demonstration doesn’t make sense to the dog, he won’t possibly be able to perform it. It’s really no different than other forms of training. If we aren’t giving the dog the information he needs then it’s not that he’s unwilling to do the behavior, it’s that he’s unable, and unfortunately all too often errors are blamed on the dog rather than our inability to communicate, so to me this really gives us that perspective from the dog’s viewpoint. What am I communicating to the dog, and how can I make this more clear, and we learn that through our demonstrations in the mimic protocol and how we actually demonstrate these behaviors.
I think it’s been very fun to see some of the students realize, oh, wow, that demonstration couldn’t possibly make sense to my dog, how could he possibly do that? So, I think that’s a really interesting thing is that we gain a new perspective on the dog.
I’ve also had several students tell me their dogs are more attentive to them, they appear more relaxed in training. The process itself, the protocol itself, is very predictable and so it sets the dog up to succeed. For me though I think it really comes down to a connection. I think I have a pretty good relationship with my dog, but the emotion I felt...the first time she truly mimicked the behavior that I had demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever felt before. Not only did I feel a different kind of connection with her, but I think she felt a different connection with me as well, or at least I’d like to believe that was what I was seeing. So, it’s an amazing feeling that first time your dog mimics something that all you’ve done is demonstrated for them and then asked them to repeat it and like I said, for me it comes down to a different...maybe a deeper connection with my dog.
Melissa Breau: Do you remember what that first behavior was for you?
Julie Flanery: I do. It was a spin.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: It was amazing. I taught her...went through the protocol of teaching her the mimic cue, and then I did my spin and I told her “do it” and she glanced at me for a second and she did it and I was like, oh, my God. It was really quite exciting for her. I get a little teary thinking of it right now. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it really is such an amazing feeling. It’s a different feeling than what I felt...I can’t say that.
You know it’s funny. The first time I used shaping and had my dog offer something that I did not command him to do because that’s the term we used then, “give your dog a command,” the first time my dog offered something just because I had clicked and rewarded it, that to me was almost the same kind of feeling, it showed me the power that that technique and method had and I felt that same way with the mimicry too. It really showed me the power this method could have.
Melissa Breau: I just think it’s so interesting, the different ways our dogs are really capable of learning if we take the time to teach them how.
Julie Flanery: It is. It’s amazing. It’s really amazing. It reminds me, Ken Ramirez once said in a lecture and it’s actually one of my favorite mantras, I keep it on my monitor. He says, “We limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible” and that is so true I think. It’s so important that we keep an open mind to some of these techniques and methods because we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s up to us to explore these techniques that can really bring out the best in our dogs and our relationships with our dogs.
Melissa Breau: Now this session you’re offering Rally-FrEe class, right?
Julie Flanery: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I want to make sure we talk a little bit about that too. In the class description you explain it as a combination of Rally and Freestyle. My understanding is you’re the founder of Rally-FrEe so I’d love to hear what led you to develop the program and why those two sports? Why did you choose to combine them?
Julie Flanery: Right. Originally I wanted to develop a structured way for freestyle teams to focus on their foundation skills and build their heel work and transition skills primarily to better their performances and really to increase their longevity in the sport, and then ultimately improve the quality of the sport.
Since I’ve been involved in freestyle I compete, I’m a judge, I’ve been teaching it for almost 20 years now, and I was seeing a lot of attrition in the sport. Freestyle is not easy. I would say it’s probably one of the more difficult sports out there. There’s a lot more involved in freestyle than just training behaviors. Teams would get through the novice level and then they would really struggle in the intermediate class and they’d end up leaving the sport.
In freestyle you can train any behavior you want. You have a lot of options and so you do, you train anything you want and mostly that’s the really fun, cool, complex sexy tricks, and generally they didn’t train any foundation in to support the complexity of the tricks they were training. So like any sport, freestyle has a specific set of foundation skills, but these skills, these foundation skills, I know when I first started in freestyle nobody told me what they were, I’m not sure anybody knew what they were, it was such a new sport back then, and even if we knew what they were freestylers were so spread out around the country and there was no real instruction available to it, the information just wasn’t accessible, and the information wasn’t really given the importance and value I think. You know, having foundation skills didn’t seem as important because of the perception that freestyle was free and you could do anything you wanted.
And I remember...I remember one of the reasons I wanted to do freestyle was I didn’t want to teach my dog to heel anymore, you know, heeling was, oh, my God, I don’t want to teach my dog to heel, it’s so awful. Of course heeling was taught quite a bit differently than we do now, but I didn’t really understand at that time how important heel work and positions really are for freestyle.
Melissa Breau: When you say foundation behaviors, is that what you’re referring to is kind of the positions and...
Julie Flanery: Yeah, the positions, the transitions, yeah. Those are considered foundation skills, and then there are certain foundation tricks in which all of the other more difficult, more complex tricks are more easily built off of as you know that anytime we start building a skill without a foundation it can be really easy to get frustrated in the training because it’s not built on the foundation skill. The dog doesn’t have any support for that skill, and so the skill tends to fall apart a little bit, and so as teams were moving up both the dog and the handler would start to get frustrated and not have that foundation to support the more difficult criteria and those routines would start to fall apart, and when they fall apart and it gets frustrating it’s no longer enjoyable, and so as a result the quality of freestyle wasn’t really getting any better and we were losing a lot of competitors.
So, Rally-FrEe was a way for freestylers to build skill in their foundation and heel work so that they could be more successful in the sport and find more enjoyment in competing in freestyle, and in the long run improve the quality of freestyle that we were seeing in the ring.
What I didn’t realize is that teams from other dog sports Rally-Obedience, Agility, they were starting to participate. I didn’t realize that this was going to become a worldwide competitive dog sport with participants in over seven countries, I mean I was like, wow. I was like wow. I remember one morning waking up and going how did this happen? I don’t understand how this happened. This was supposed to be a fun little game for me and my students, and I’m not the first one that has put together these two sports in an effort to help freestylers or have more fun with Rally. There are many instructors that have done this. Somehow I was able to and I had the support of many, many people to have this grow into a worldwide competitive dog sport, so I’m very thankful for that happening, but really I have no idea how that happened.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it was a lucky break, right?
Julie Flanery: I guess. I guess. I’m sure glad it did though. It truly has met some of my goals. We are seeing a much better quality of freestyle. We are seeing teams coming into it with a stronger foundation, and we’re seeing much more skilled teams staying in it longer, so for that I’m really thankful. And we’re seeing new people coming into the sport, coming into freestyle that maybe never would have considered it partly because of the choreography and dance aspect to it, and partly because it is a difficult sport to understand the foundation for how to start training, and Rally-FrEe really allows the new exhibitor, the person that just is considering wanting to get their feet wet in freestyle but really don’t know much about it, Rally-FrEe is the perfect sport to learn the foundation skills and then maybe ease into freestyle if you find you enjoy that. So, I’ve really actually been quite pleased at where we’ve gone in the last five years and how a lot of my goals have already been met with it.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. Hey, good ideas catch on, right?
Julie Flanery: Yeah, I guess so.
Melissa Breau: So I did want to ask you, you mentioned kind of in there something about novice and intermediate levels, and as somebody who hasn’t competed in the sport. I was just kind of curious what some of the different things are I guess that they look at in the competition.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. So for most freestyle organizations the scoring or the judging is broken down into several categories, one would be content and execution. So, content and execution would be what do you put into your routine? What is the variety of behaviors and how well are those behaviors executed? What is the accuracy and precision of those behaviors?
Another thing that is looked at would be difficulty or creativity. How difficult are the behaviors that you’re including in your routine? Are you using hand signals because hand signals indicate lesser difficulty than behaviors that are solely on verbal cues?
Another aspect of it would be musicality and interpretation. How well do your behaviors and your sequences match the phrasing in the music? What is your attire, does it match the genre of the music?
We also look at transitions and flow, and transitions are behaviors that allow the dog and/or handler to change position and/or direction in a way that creates ease of movement and a visual aesthetic or flow to the routine.
And then Rally-FrEe Elements, which is the organization that I created that also conveys titles in freestyle, we also look at the teamwork and engagement between the dog and handler team. How well do they enjoy working together? How well does the handler support the dog? And I think we’re probably the only organization that actually looks at teamwork as a judged criteria, so that’s something that’s a little bit different from most other dog sports.
Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, and you kind of mentioned something about the verbals and the visuals in there. I was really curious how much of the cueing is verbal versus visual and what the role of each is in the sport, so do you mind just talking a little more about that?
Julie Flanery: Sure. So in freestyle we use three different kinds of cues. We use verbal cues and generally we like those verbal cues to be not loud and obtrusive, but loud enough for the dog to hear them but not so loud that they are disruptive to the routine or distract from the enjoyment of the routine. In using those verbal cues we’re aloud to talk to our dogs through the whole routine. There’s nothing like in obedience where you need to give one cue. In freestyle you may give multiple cues. Obviously, you don’t want your dog refusing cues or not responding to cues, but we are allowed to talk to our dogs the whole time, and so oftentimes we are giving our cues continually throughout a routine.
We also use subtle physical cues. So my sweeping arm might mean for the dog to back around me or go out to a distance, but we want those cues to be hidden somewhat within the choreography, we don’t want them to be very obvious like what a lure-like hand signal would look like.
And then we also use something called choreography cues, and choreography cues allow us to teach new physical cues that we can then use within the routine as our choreography, so they are physical cues that appear counter to a hand signal. So for example, I can teach my dog that when I throw both my arms up into the air that’s actually a cue to spin or to take a bow or whatever behavior I attach to it through training, and I can change those choreography cues for each routine as long as I understand and apply correctly the process for putting new cues onto behaviors.
But truly, verbal cues are extremely important in musical freestyle and they’re probably the most important cues in musical freestyle. It’s those strong verbal cues that allow the handler to include their movement and their interpretation into the ring. If you’re tired to hand cutes then you’re really restricted in how you can interpret the music and that’s part of what you’re scored on, but having those verbal cues doesn’t mean that we don’t use some visual or body cues. We just really want those to be subtle and portrayed as part of the choreography.
The goal in freestyle is to make it appear as if the dog is not being cued, that he or she is in total sync with the handler, and while the handler is leading the dance the dog is a voluntary partner. We want to create that illusion I guess, that illusion of dance partners, not one of telling the other what to do. If you’ve ever watched ballroom dance, even though you know one is leading it’s really hard to tell because they’re both so engaged in that process. So yeah, we have a lot of options in terms of cueing, but we work hard to avoid cues that appear lure-like or showing the dog or leading the dog into what to do.
Melissa Breau: How long is your average performance? I mean it seems like...in agility even you have signs out to help you and I mean you kind of have to memorize the whole thing in a freestyle routine.
Julie Flanery: Right. Yeah. For beginners, generally a routine is going to be about a minute and a half to two minutes. As you get up into the upper levels they’re going to go three minutes plus, and these are routines that you choreograph, so you’re actually memorizing them as you choreograph them. But make no mistake, it’s not an easy task to choreograph two minutes of behaviors. You’re probably looking at anywhere from I would say 30 to 80 cued behaviors in a two to three minutes period. Not only are these cued behaviors, but the dog needs to perform them in a timely manner with the music, so your timing of your cues is actually well before you need the dog to perform it so that he can actually perform it at the point in the music where it makes sense. So there’s a lot to cueing in musical freestyle, and so it’s something that I’ve had to learn an awful lot about and it’s something that once you get involved in freestyle it becomes a really important part of your success.
Melissa Breau: It seems like that would be a really interesting thing, even for somebody who wasn’t interested in freestyle, to take a class on just because it feels like there’s so much carryover there.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. And I think actually, is it Mariah? One of the instructors I think is doing a class on cueing.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I think it’s Mariah.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. It’s an amazing concept in and of itself and all of the different ways that we can teach our dogs to take our cues and all of the different ways that they can read our cues, so yeah, I think it’s fascinating and I’ve spent a lot of time in my own personal training development learning how to do that and what’s the most effective and efficient means of doing that.
Melissa Breau: So, I wanted to kind of round things out with the three questions I ask everybody who comes on the show. So first up, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Julie Flanery: Well, that’s easy. Creating a venue that allows teams to really succeed and enjoy a sport that I love, but if you’re talking personally I’d say that earning our Rally-FrEe Grand Champion MCL title. I really did not realize how hard that accomplishment would be and how fulfilling it was to get there. I created it and I didn’t realize how hard that would be, I mean, I had to work hard for that title and it was very, very satisfying to be able to accomplish that.
Melissa Breau: Well, congratulations. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Thanks. Thank you.
Melissa Breau: So possibly my favorite question every single episode, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Flanery: The best? Oh, wow. So I’ve heard tons of great training advice. Certainly something we all do, which is to make our training sessions enjoyable for all involved, that learning doesn’t really happen under duress and to keep it fun and light and amusing and enjoyable and amazing. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a quote that always stuck with me is that “criteria is joy” and if we don’t have that within our sessions then it’s really all for naught.
That and what I talked about earlier, Ken Ramirez who said that we limit ourselves and our animals by assuming things aren’t possible. That hangs in my office because so many of the things that I’m doing with my dog now that I would have said weren’t possible just a few years ago, so staying open to that.
But I think the one piece of advice that has really benefited me the most as a trainer, I heard from Hannah Branigan. I bet she gets this a lot that she’s responsible for most people’s success in their training, but for me really she talked about being aware of when and where our peak in a training session and not letting them slide down that backside of the bell curve. I am the queen of just one more, and that little lesson from Hannah has made me so much more aware of when it’s time to end a session and how much that really impacts the success of that session. So that’s probably one that I have benefited the most from, most recently and that sticks with me. I try to remember that every single session, all right, where’s my peak? Don’t want to go down the backside of that bell curve.
Melissa Breau: So that’s three, but I think they were three excellent ones. That’s awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. Sorry, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No, that’s okay. They were worth it.
Julie Flanery: There’s just so much training advice out there, you know?
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. No, it’s my favorite question for exactly that reason because I feel like It’s solid takeaways and you kind of walk away with a really solid reminder of something, and I think those three tie together nicely too.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, my final question is who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Flanery: You mean aside from all the great instructors at FDSA?
Melissa Breau: Preferably, I mean, they’re all awesome.
Julie Flanery: Yeah. That’s right. They really are so passionate, so compassionate about what they do. I couldn’t say goodbye without saying it’s a real honor to work with them all and learn from them all, but outside of Fenzi, boy, the list is almost as long. I think probably Kathy Sadao has had the most long-term impact on me starting from probably about 15 years ago. Diane Valkavitch, my hero in freestyle, who taught me everything I know about transitions. I can’t leave out Michelle Pouliot who inspires and pushes me to do better every single day really. And Cassandra Hartman, she’s another really fabulous freestyler who is...she’s like the complete package when it comes to training, performance, relationships with her dogs. She’s just a real inspiration...all of them, super inspirational trainers and I’m really, really honored to learn from all of them.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome because there are some new names in that list, so that’s super exciting.
Julie Flanery: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I’m always interested in more trainers that I can go out and look up and read about and see what they have out there in the world, so that’s awesome. Thank you.
Julie Flanery: Oh, yeah. They are great, and they all compete in various dog sports as well, so in spite of their current interest in freestyle and them being such great freestyle trainers they really have a wealth of information in regards to all different dog sports and training in general, you know, training is training is training and these folks have really impacted how I train and who I am as a trainer today.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Julie.
Julie Flanery: Thank you so much. It was really fun.
Melissa Breau: It was really fun, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We have a super special announcement this week.
You’ll no longer have to wait two weeks between episodes. That’s right. We’re taking the podcast weekly.
That means we’ll be back next Friday, this time with Mariah Hinds, who Julie mentioned there in the podcast, to talk impulse control, positive proofing, and competitive obedience. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have your episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Amy Cook. Amy has been training dogs for nearly 25 years and has been specializing in the rehabilitation of shy and fearful dogs for over 15 years. She’s the creator of The Play Way, her process for helping dogs learn to cope with the world around them. She’s also a certified dog behavior consultant, a long-standing professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and has attended all four Chicken Camps in Hot Springs, Arkansas taught by Bob Bailey.
Amy returned to school in 2006 to get her PhD in psychology from UC Berkeley. Her research there focused on the dog/human relationship and its effect on problem solving strategies dogs employ. She also recently started a blog at playwaydogs.com, and everyone should definitely go check it out. Hey, Amy, welcome to the podcast.
Amy Cook: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Melissa Breau: I’m very excited to talk to you. To start us out do you want to tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Amy Cook: Oh, my dogs. You know, when you start people talking on their dogs it’s kind of endless, so you’re going to have to stop me when you’ve heard about my lovely dogs. I have currently, I lost my old girl last year who I would have had a lot to say about, but I have currently Marzipan who some people know, she’s my Whippet, she’s five and a half, I want to say, or so, and with her I mainly do agility. She’s been actually out with an injury for now what seems like a million years and since dinosaurs have roamed the earth. She got sort of her foot reconstructed, she had reconstructive surgery on her toe. So it’s been a real adventure having a dog go from three classes a week and traveling every weekend to you live in a box. It’s been hard on both of us, but also stretching for both of us because of how I can keep her happy in different ways than I used to before.
And I have little baby Caper who I think you helped name if I’m not mistaken. She is a ten-month-old terrier, chihuahua-terrier is what she is.
Melissa Breau: So what did Marzipan do to her foot that took her out of commission?
Amy Cook: You know, yeah, you’d think it would be during sport or something since we do such crazy stuff, but no, we were hiking and I think the crime was that it was not quite winter, it wasn’t winter, it was summer, and the ground used to be marshy and now was dry and cracked. I think she just tweaked a toe just running, just not even running a lot, just running kind of a normal amount, and it didn’t look injured at all, and so it took so long, it’s like, oh, rest it for three weeks, it’ll be fine. Then it was like, oh, that wasn’t long enough, rest it for eight weeks and it’ll be fine. The specialists come in and they’re like, you’re going to take four months and it’ll be fine. Then finally to the agility, fancy agility surgeon and he said, “Yeah, I think we should do some surgery on her toe. It’s not healing.” So from that point, I know, it was six weeks of splint and six weeks of bandage and now it’s going to be 12 weeks of rehab. You know, it was quite a shock to the system. She’s my main partner, my main dog. I didn’t have the puppy, she was the only dog I had at the time that happened. So our training life took a turn for a bit. But we’re almost there. Almost there. Six more weeks, I hope.
Melissa Breau: The end is in sight.
Amy Cook: End is in sight. Very happy about that.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned the puppy. Where did the puppy come from?
Amy Cook: Caper, she was my unplanned pregnancy as my friend likes to say. God, she was…a friend sent me a picture, I’m like, oh my God, she’s so cute, it’s a classic story, I just need a little pocket dog, I just need a little…Marzipan is going to be out for a while. My next sport dog will come in 2018, I thought to myself, and I just need a little dog to tide me over, I’ll get a little Chihuahua or I’ll get a little pocket dog, I’ll have a little fun companion for a bit. So that’ll be fun.
So I get this little sort of try on as a foster dog and the first thing she does from week one is she’s bringing me toys, she’s pushing me, she’s, “Why are we not doing more? I’m not a pocket dog. Put me down. Why are you picking me up? I don’t want this. Here’s a toy. Can you tug this?” She was so active. It’s like I’d adopted a Border Collie puppy. It’s crazy. I was like, oh, well, that’s not who I thought you were, but I can roll with that. Okay. All right. That’s fun. She’s a fun little dog. She’s really fun to train and she came with focus out of the box. I’ve barely trained focus in her and she doesn’t take her eyes of me. It’s crazy. It’s really fun.
Melissa Breau: She’s really cute.
Amy Cook: It’s a real contrast to Marzipan. She’s so cute. And it’s a real contrast to Marzipan because I’m used to the sighthound way and she’s all terrier, all terrier. I’m learning a lot from that, from working with that psychology, you know? It’s different.
Melissa Breau: So I know that one of the things about your intro that I don’t think I’d known before I started doing some research for the podcast is that you’d been to Chicken Camp, especially four times. So I really want to hear more about that. Just like, what your impressions were, what your thoughts were about it, what was it like?
Amy Cook: Amazing. Amazing. I went to Chicken Camp. It’s like a friend of mine and I, we went together, and I’m really glad to see that Bob is still here and with us and doing Chicken Camps, but at that time I think it was right after his wife had died and they were doing the camps together, and he wasn’t sure how much he was really going to continue. It was like, God, I’ve been putting this off way too long, we have to go, we have to go. So I actually did I think two in one summer and then two the next summer if I’m not mistaken. I kind of crammed them in.
Melissa Breau: Wow.
Amy Cook: Yeah. Because I really wanted to take advantage of learning from Bob. There’s really nobody like him. At the time I was very, very into clicker trainer, I mean of course still, but I was much more so then. Learning it, learning it a lot on the internet, a lot from books, a lot from just every source I could find and I wanted to go to somebody who was so close to the, I guess I could say origins of it if that’s fair to say, and learn as much as I could.
Honestly it was absolutely life changing to learn both from him and to train an animal that does not meet you halfway, that does not help at all with the learning process, isn’t trying to work with you at all. I think if you can train a dog that’s one thing, but it doesn’t guarantee you can train another animal. But if you can train a bunch of other animals you can probably train a dog because they make it so much easier on you and the other animals kind of don’t, at least that’s my impression.
So it was wonderful and he’s such a good teacher. He knows exactly how to lay just the right amount in front of you. There was one time when a chicken was pecking me like crazy and I was really afraid of her and he actually shaped us both without telling me that’s what was happening. So I got the experience of just quietly being compassionately and respectfully shaped. It was just a beautiful experience. I loved chicken camp so much and it changed the way I train fundamentally. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: For anybody out there who might not be familiar with the concept do you want to just briefly kind of explain the idea?
Amy Cook: Sure. So what you do is maybe you’re a dog trainer, maybe you’re a bird or exotic animal trainer, I went to camp with a few of those, or even a psychology professor. If you want to learn how to apply the techniques of operant conditioning in a very controlled environment you can go to Chicken Camp. You pay money to spend a week with Bob and two chickens and a partner and a _____ (16:26) doing the little exercises that he lays out for you.
They get increasingly complex and you first start with how do I click and how do I feed this animal in a way that is correct? How do you feed a chicken? They peck. You can’t hand them with your hand a piece of feed, right? So you go through all the mechanics of how to train a chicken, clicker train, and then he gives you these little tasks. So it’s like, you know, here are some disks, have your chicken peck only the red one and not the yellow or blue one. You’re like, oh, piece of cake. I can do that. Famous last words, right?
Sure enough, one errant click somewhere because you’re late, because dogs can kind of handle you being a little bit late, right, and still progress, one errant late click for the chicken and the chicken goes, oh, all right, got it, and starts doing that thing that you clicked over and over and over again. You’re like, no, no, I didn’t…wait. I just…could you not? I didn’t mean that. No. One click could get you a hundred clicks in the wrong direction to get out.
And you really learn to be accurate because you can’t afford to make certain kinds of mistakes. And the chicken will get full, so every click and every food they eat is measured. You have to really, really be careful and very, very good, and you make all sorts of sloppy mistakes and you pay for them really harshly. Your chicken does not do anything you thought you were teaching, you’re all over the place.
You know, you find yourself maybe turning to things you otherwise do with your dogs that maybe you don’t realize you do, like oh, come on, just could you just…then you’re like, wait, I can’t do that to a chicken. Do I do that to my dog? I shouldn’t do that to my dog either. It pares you down to the pieces of the technology that actually work and the chicken forces you to get better because she’s not going to cover a single mistake that you make, ever. That’s it. Click once wrong and oh, boy. You’re going to be there all day.
Melissa Breau: I definitely think Chicken Camp is on my someday list, on my bucket list, something I would love to do.
Amy Cook: For sure. Absolutely. Run, don’t walk. For sure.
Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask you too about the early days of FDSA because I believe, I think you actually told me that you were one of the first teachers that Denise brought on at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. So I was really curious to get some of your impressions on how you think it’s changed and kind of what happened when she initially approached you.
Amy Cook: Oh, boy. You know, it was standing in the right place at the right time, I swear. You know, she had taught online elsewhere and decided to do this endeavor, and I was just…I’m pretty sure I was just finishing grad school and saying, well, I guess I’m going back to dog training. I wasn’t sure what I had in store, I’ll just revamp or ramp up my business again, fine. And I can remember, I was standing near a freezer in her garage and I can’t exactly remember how it came up but she said, “We have a behavior arm, could you teach what you teach, teach a class in what you do?”
Boy, I felt…the answer was both yes and no. The answer is no because I’ve never done that, but the answer is yes because well, it has to be possible, right? Sure. I’ll certainly try it. I really wanted to do something like that. But for a second there I was like, really? Behavior? Behavior, though. I mean, behavior. It’s complicated. People are all over the place. Dogs are behaving all over the place. It’s a lot to…how will I do this online?
But I had faith. She really had vision early on for how this was going to go and we brainstormed, I was really excited about it. She actually came up with the title of the class, Dealing with the Bogeyman, that’s hers. She’s like, let’s call it that. I was like, sure. It was exciting. It was exciting times and I was really just like, well, I’m happy to run a class and see what I can do for people. If it’s something I don’t feel is resulting in improvements that are reasonable for the dogs I’m helping then it’s not right, then online is more suited for skill-based stuff and not so much the concepts or the complicated behaviors.
I shouldn’t have been afraid because it’s been amazing. It’s been amazing. I got to say, I think that my online students…oh, well, I wrote a blog post about this because I was just so moved by this. My online students get to their goals faster than in person students do, and there’s something very intoxicating about that. To get somebody closer to the resolution in such a shorter amount of time, you know, I was like, well, then I want everybody online. Everybody get online. Everybody, quick. You know?
And it’s amazing how much contact I have with somebody who takes an online class. They can talk to me every day whereas no in-person client does that or can afford to really. That’s the reason. And I get every day almost contact with people trying to apply the lessons, run into problems, and ask again. I get to fine tune it so much. It’s like living with people which is what I always want to do when I get a new client. I’m always thinking wow, if I could just move in, you and I together, we could fix your situation and I could help you. But you get an hour a week. It’s not enough, you know?
And boy, being online with people in amazing and the community that Denise has been able to build through Facebook and all of that. I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I think about how much access we have to changing…I know it’s ____ (22:34) any other way to say it, changing the world. You know? It’s the ripple effect. You have to put it out there and say, this is the way I think we should be doing this, and let me help you with it. And the changes I’ve seen just in these short few years have been really, really inspiring. I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding is the very first class that you started offering right out of the gate with Denise was the Bogeyman course, right?
Amy Cook: It was. It was. And that’s all I ran for a long time.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to just explain briefly to listeners kind of what the course is and a little bit about the methodology that you use?
Amy Cook: Yeah. So the course is Dealing with the Bogeyman, and it’s designed for fearful, stressed, reactive dogs, dogs that are overwhelmed with what’s going on for them, what they’re afraid of, and really getting to the root of problem and really trying to get to the source, get right to the bottom of the problem rather than just kind of manage it which is what we end up doing a lot of times. We find a way to get to about a stasis and we kind of coast along there. But stress is a hard thing to experience. Everybody listening knows exactly what I mean. Wouldn’t we all not want to have the stress we have in our lives? Every one of us wants to have a less stress life pretty much because it’s hard and I feel that for dogs. It’s hard for them to live in our world when they’re so stressed. So this class is designed to help with that at a root level.
What I do is I use social connection and social play to help get them in a state where they can process their triggers a lot better, and I reduce the use of food, I reduce the use of toys sometimes to zero, but not always all the way to zero, to help them. And it didn’t start out…like, it started out, the first iteration of the class is not like the current iteration that’s running right now. It has evolved a lot over time. As I watched students have more success with even more play I started emphasizing more and more play. It was a part of the program before but it wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. But I’ve seen the wonders of what it can do, and so now it’s really the bulk of what the approach is. I think I might have lost your question in the fact that I’m just talking on. Is that what you’re asking?
Melissa Breau: Not at all. You actually answered it pretty well. I just wanted you to kind of explain what the Bogeyman course was and kind of what’s involved and I think you did that very nicely. I do…
Amy Cook: People are going to play. If you take the class you’re going to play, play, play, play, and then you’re going to play some more, and then your dog is going to get better. That’s _____ (25:35).
Melissa Breau: So that leads me very well into my next question which is asking you to kind of…I know when you and I talk about it usually you call it kind of The Play Way is like, the name of the methodology even though the course if the Bogeyman course. So I was curious if you wanted to sum kind of what the play way is up in a short blurb. I mean, you talked about it a little bit, but if there’s anything kind of you want to add there.
Amy Cook: Yeah. The play way is specifically using social play and social connection, so not tug, not fetch, not that kind of thing, but being goofy and silly and making your dog laugh and having a fun time with your dog, and taking that play and using that to directly solve problems that they have with fear. So it’s dog centric, it’s about the dog, him or herself coming to a new understanding of the thing that they don’t currently understand. So if they’re afraid of strangers it’s because they have a misunderstanding of what the strangers are about, because none of the strangers really mean to hurt them, and I think they don’t have enough information.
Now it’s hard to get dogs to get new information about things that are scary to them because they’re scared of them and you can’t look at it openly and you can’t deal with it as well. Like, I can’t deal with spiders. You put one on me, I’m done. I can’t deal with that. So if you want to reframe that it’s not going to work until you get me distance, you get me in a calm state, and I really found that play puts them in this completely different emotional space that allows for our therapeutic attempts to really take root. And I realize none of that is brief, none of what I just said is brief. I don’t think I can be brief. I think I’m genetically wired to be the opposite of.
Melissa Breau: But I think it gives people a good idea, right, of what the methodology is and kind of what you’re endorsing here. I mean, I think that it’s very different probably than what most people are used to hearing about dealing with fear and dealing with dogs’ sensitivities which is so often food-based.
Amy Cook: It’s different from anything I had ever done. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s a complete departure for me. It’s not at all what I’ve done most of the time in helping dogs.
Melissa Breau: So where did it come from? Where did the idea…
Amy Cook: Well, yeah. Kind of…it’s an evolving idea I should first say, right, I’m not finished. I mean, I want to keep investigating all of this and putting all the little pieces together. Right now I’m at a place where I’ve put some pieces together and it’s hanging together, it’s helping, and that’s really exciting.
It’s sort of this big evolution of influences. I first got together with Denise because I had known her before kind of just from our local training circles, but she and I both got puppies at the same time and they both turned out to have every similar sorts of views on the world and challenges and training. It made us get together kind of more often. Once a week we would talk about it and shoot the breeze about these different things.
I started watching her train in person more which I hadn’t really done a lot of previous. And the amount of social interaction and the way she was working with her dogs was sort of reminding me of how I had been feeling lately about a lot of clicker training was feeling remote to me, at least at the time. It was feeling like very Chicken Camp. I’ll tell you maybe a little bit about that later, but where you observe your animal a lot, so you’re watching, and you’re holding your clicker, and you’re kind of being still and letting your animal think. Or maybe it was just me, I was making learning a little more sterile than I needed it to be, and she had so much more play and relationship in it. And through watching her do that and training with her and exploring that with my own dog I started just to…some things were clicking in my head.
Then I’m also friends with Grisha Stewart and when she was creating BAT which is behavior adjustment training she was really exploring how dog centric training could be. Like, how much can I let the dog do for him or herself without intruding so much and let the process happen so naturally? And it was inspiring to me because we were tending not to do that, we were tending to make a lot of associations. Here’s a cookie, I’m making an association for you, I’ll be there in your process with you. That was percolating a bit too, about how to…I mean, really dogs, all of us should know how to deal with our fears if we’re given the right environment to do so. An animal should know how to calm him or herself. An animal should know how to become less afraid, to investigate something that’s frightening. It just isn’t available if the stimulus is too high. If you’re too afraid you can’t do it, but all of us have that kind of wisdom in us. We all know how to make something better. So with that percolating.
And then I sort of had this undercurrent of a bit of dissatisfaction with the way rehab was going with the basic tools that I had. It worked, but I don’t know, I felt that there was something more.
And when I was in grad school I got a chance to actually read a whole bunch more literature than I had been able to read as a nonstudent, although I was studying Skinner and studying Pavlov and using science to train dogs, for sure science based all the way. Now I had big libraries behind me and a whole bunch of information and people I could ask, and I realized when we’re dealing with human fears we don’t really do it like we do with dogs, we don’t really classically condition them in that same way. And more importantly, when children have fears we don’t classically…or maybe someone does, but I was seeing that a lot of therapy has to do with play and has to do with relaxing and talking things through. I thought, how can I do this with dogs? I can’t talk things through with dogs.
So all these pieces were just kind of in the air for me. And as each influence kind of came in I started to think, well, okay, I like what this distance is doing, but the dogs are on their own, and for our sport dogs we need them to be turning to us and be more interactive and wanting to do things with us. How can I put myself in this picture with them, with their dog centric work without impeding it, without taking it over, without going back to trying to click or make associations with classical conditioning? How can I blend them?
And I started to just experiment and see what dogs needed. And it kind of all came together. It took a few passes through Bogeyman for me to see just how I wanted to impart it to people. Honestly that’s not even true because I keep tweaking it, I tweak it every time figuring out how to explain it better and more.
But that’s where it came from. It’s partly human psychology, human therapy, and partly the great distances that Grisha is experimenting with and letting a dog solve her own problems, and then the great relationship building stuff that Denise is just amazing at, and reading when you are being too much for your dog and when you’re not giving them enough agency to come at you. You know, she’s just so good at that and I drink everything…every time I get to see her do anything like that I drink it up and think how can this apply to dogs in trouble? How can I use this? You know, it’s very inspiring.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, having had the chance to watch Denise train a couple of times now I feel exactly the same way. When you see somebody who is really incredible at what they do and you just get a chance to watch it’s just, I mean, it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to camp again this year so much because last year…you get to watch, I mean, all the instructors at FDSA are so incredible, and to be able to spend a couple of days doing nothing but watch these incredible trainers do what they’re best at, it’s a really neat experience.
Amy Cook: It really is. I change every time and I would have my lesson with Denise and then I would sit there and watch her do whoever came after me just to kind of watch what she did and go, how come what she’s doing here isn’t what I have access to in the pet world? I came from…I did pet dog training all of this time, my whole career, my whole life, pet dog training and behaviors in pet dogs, aggression and fear, stress, all that stuff, not really sports stuff. Sport I got into late and I just did for myself. And it’s a whole different world. Pet dog trainers don’t have access. It’s almost two non-overlapping circles. It isn’t quite true but it felt that way. When I watch a lot of…Shade is one of those people too, I watch her and I go, how come that wasn’t something I could have learned when I was learning how to train dogs? That part is missing from the pet dog trainer education and I wish we were a lot more…I wish there was a lot more overlap than there is. I hope that’s in our future.
Melissa Breau: That makes both of us. So we got a little bit away from kind of what we were talking about originally, but that’s okay. I think the conversation went good places. But I want to kind of bring us back for a second to the Bogeyman course. We talked through that a little bit but you also now teach the Management for Reactive Dogs class. So I wanted to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about how that course is different, and what that course covers, and kind of why you felt the need to add a second course.
Amy Cook: Yeah. That course is different. I teach that as an adjunct or kind of a package, but I mean, you can jump in at either point, they’re not sequential.
Because when you live with a dog who has some troubles it’s great that you can put aside time for therapy, and those therapeutic moments are really impactful, they really make a difference and that’s all great. It takes time to do it though, and in the meantime you still have to potty your dog and you still have to get your houseguests in, right, and in the meantime you still have to drive somewhere. Life goes on. You can’t stay under threshold. I have a way more conservative definition of threshold than most people do, so staying under it gets even harder if you’re going with my definition of threshold. So that doesn’t solve everybody’s problem. That’s great, you can go through Bogeyman but you can’t potty your dog, right?
So management class is for the times when your dog is going to be over threshold. Maybe not massively so, maybe not full on into the biggest display over, but worried, actually triggered by being scared, seeing somebody outside or seeing a strange dog, and it covers all of the strategies to get you through daily life. How do you get a positive leash walk going? What do you do when your dog barks at a window when someone is walking by the house? How do you get your dog outside without rehearsing the worst behaviors of their stress and their fear and their anxieties?
I don’t want anyone to worsen anything. Management is what you put in place first, you just say, how can I make sure nothing gets worse than it currently is? How can I relieve the pressure as best I can, keep everything as positive as possible, what skills do I need to do that? Once that’s in place you’re like, all right, now let me set aside some time for therapy to get at the root of this. So management is how you can get through your leash walks without getting your leash all tangled, how to feed in a way that keeps the dog’s nose right on that cookie magnetically. I’m continually surprised that that’s hard for us all because we’re trained to keep the cookie off, it’s not a lure, we’re supposed to reward after. So a lot of little details that way, and the two together get you through kind of the problems you’re having with your dog.
I also teach a learning theory class but it hasn’t been on the schedule for a bit, but I think that one is coming back too. So I do have three classes that I currently teach as well.
Melissa Breau: Well, that’s exciting. Do you want to briefly tell us what that kind of…
Amy Cook: Yeah. Yeah. I’m thinking…yeah. I’m thinking of revamping that one. I do a learning theory class that’s a bit of the basics to catch up, make sure we’re all on the same page with operant and classical conditioning and how it works, what it’s for. But I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, and there’s a lot of interesting practicalities when using those models. There’s a lot of overlap between the two models. There’s a lot of times when you’re not sure which one to use. So I wrote this class to be a practical introduction for people who had been trying this stuff. Like, I’m trying to use operant conditioning but this is the common thing I run into. I look for all the common pitfalls, all the holes, all the should I do this or that, because I’ve heard if I do that it’s going to make this happen. I’m like, aha, glad you asked, I’m going to write a whole lecture on it.
So it’s sort of very practical, very nitty gritty, very what a dog trainer actually needs to know. Like, you really don’t need to know all the schedules of reinforcement. All of you out there, if you studied all the conditioning models, you also studied schedules of reinforcement, but you don’t really use them in real life, right? So I pared this down to the stuff you actually do every day of your life, and then we talk for fun about things like can dogs feel jealous or can dogs tell time, can they estimate things, what kind of a life does a dog lead inside their brains? We foray into that for fun.
Amy Cook: But I’m currently revamping it a little bit.
Melissa Breau: You can’t dangle those two questions out there without giving us at least a brief answer. So can dogs feel jealous? Can they tell time?
Amy Cook: Well, that’s what we discuss, right? That’s what we discuss. If you lay out the evidence for jealousy I think it doesn’t pass. I think what they feel, and this is a guess, I’m not saying I have a fact, right, I think they feel a precursor to jealousy. I think they feel the thing that is like, oh, I want that, no, why does…I want. A very basic version of feeling upset and wanting that if it had more self-awareness we would be comfortable calling jealousy, because jealousy has this sense of she shouldn’t have that and I wish I had the thing she had. It’s got more layers to it. But just because it doesn’t have the outer layers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the core.
So it’s my guess knowing what emotions they do have and what emotions they don’t have. They don’t seem to have secondary, they do seem to have primary emotions. They probably don’t have well developed jealousy but everything is a continuum and having a basic version of jealousy, it becomes a semantic argument. Like, maybe we would just call that jealousy then, why can’t we just say that’s what jealousy is in dogs and say they have it? You know? So we toss that around a lot. It’s a class for talkers and thinkers and tweakers and people who like to debate back and forth about definitions. It’s that kind of geeky class.
Melissa Breau: That sounds excellent.
Amy Cook: It’s like me.
Melissa Breau: Hey, it sounds pretty good to me. I’ll have to take it next time it comes around.
Amy Cook: You’re welcome.
Melissa Breau: So now that we’ve talked a little bit about that, I mean, looking at a puppy who doesn’t necessarily have a fear issue, or you mentioned you did get Caper fairly recently, how do you kind of try to raise that puppy in a way or lay groundwork for that puppy in a way that really allows them to become a healthy adult dog so you don’t see some of those issues crop up?
Amy Cook: Yeah. It’s been fun. Every puppy is this adventure gift, right? I mean, part of why her name is Caper is because we’re on a caper, we’re on an adventure together. You can think you have one thing when you meet your dog or when you get to know a dog and have something entirely else at any point. And you know, as Denise would say, you train the dog in front of you today, right? So I say great, I’ve started with a brand new puppy, she’s not really a blank slate because we know nobody is really a blank slate, but she hasn’t had anything really happen to her, but you know, really she’s a dog that was found stray in the streets of Fremont and picked up and put into a shelter and then into a rescue, and she certainly has a history.
So what’s been really fun is using the sensitive tools I have now that I didn’t have before, or you know, that you’re always a better trainer this year than you were last year, right? Oh, boy. Please, God. You know, so I feel like she’s the Fenzi puppy in a way because Marzipan kind of wasn’t. I mean, she was, but this one, I don’t know, this one feels like she really is. So I think of that and I think, who do I have today? Who are you today? How do you feel today? I get to keep asking her how she feels, and I feel like I can hear more clearly what her answer is than I have every felt before with other dogs. It’s really exciting.
She has her issues, we went through a season, her heat cycle and a false pregnancy, and maybe from that or maybe a kind of fear period, I don’t know, where she was all of a sudden some other kind of puppy. I thought wow, okay, I don’t have the puppy I had a minute ago. What do I have now? And it’s been just, at times a not so fun challenge, but mostly a fun challenge while I figure out what her needs really are, and she’s completely different.
I mean, maybe everybody says this, I’m going to go back and see if you ask this of everybody or what people say now, but thinking of my last four dogs, not a stitch of similarity in any of them to each other, you know? Like, I’m going to get a dog who’s going to be like this and we’re going to do that. You get the dog and you’re like, oh, hi, nice to meet you. Who are you? What _____ (43:30). You know?
She’s enormous fun and I’m taking a lot of time with her. I don’t care. A lot of people would just…you know, there’s this pressure in puppyhood to get a bunch of skills in because they’re just so malleable and you can start all this stuff and they love to learn and all that is true, but I also know that I can teach an older dog, any dog those kinds of things, and the time in immaturity, the time when they’re growing up is the time to actually smell the flowers, you know? To chase the actual butterflies, to let them take in the world without so much interference from my input and from training. We go out and we exist together. We see the world and I resist the urge to try to take advantage of every second and train all the fun stuff. It feels more holistic and it feels more like we’re bonded in a way that it just feels richer because I’m spending so much time listening and asking her how she feels and what she’d like to do.
She’s just an n of one, we like to say. It’s not like I can say, and that leads you to the best dogs in the world, because I don’t know. It’s her. But I feel like when she does then say yeah, I can work, I’m ready to work, the quality of the connection that we have is much, much better after I’ve let her.
And I directly learned that from the stuff that Denise was investigating with Brito. I mean, it’s really…I’m just so grateful she got a little dog before I did, you know? Next I want her to get a Border Collie so then I can get one of those. It’s like, you do it first. Somebody pave that. I don’t want to make that _____ (45:20).
Melissa Breau: So we’re nearing the end, unfortunately, so I want to ask you those big questions that are always some of my favorites.
Amy Cook: We just started. I have so much more to say. I have so many more things.
Melissa Breau: Well then, we’ll have to have you back, that’s all.
Amy Cook: All right.
Melissa Breau: So I want to ask you what the dog related accomplishment that you’re proudest of is.
Amy Cook: Oh, my. Well, right now that would be Marzipan who I guess I didn’t talk too much about. I have a theme. I have a theme in my life where sometimes I get a dog and I think, yeah, I can just make her into that, I can do that, I’m a good trainer, I know what I’m doing, I can just solve that problem, no problem. And then I realize that I’m on crack and I don’t know what I’m doing at all, and get in way over my head. I got a dog long ago named Hannah who was very, very fearful, and I didn’t estimate correctly how difficult that was going to be, and it was really, really, really hard, but I got into it going, no, just a few weeks of clicking and I’ll be fine.
So when I get my Whippet, Marzipan, I had intended to get my main sport dog, I’m getting my dog, and I’m going to do all this fun stuff, and I get whippet, and she’s not purpose bred, she was five months old, and she didn’t really work, didn’t enjoy it, and I thought, so what? I’m a trainer, I’ll just train her to like that stuff. It was harder than I thought it was and of course therefore then a gift, right? It led me to people like Denise, it led me to people like Shade, it led me to understand that I don’t know anything about drive building and need to actually learn from people who do.
But we got…she’s in master’s level agility and she does very, very well, and she’s fast, and she’s connected, and she’s focused, and she didn’t start out that way, and it was really hard mostly because I didn’t know. I was applying the tools I had and they weren’t right. So I’m really, really proud that together we were able to find a key to her lock if you can say that, and that I was able to change enough, because I had to do all that work, I had to do all the heavy lifting. It’s not on the dog, right? It’s not on the dog to change. You have to be who the dog needs. I had to change the way I presented myself. She didn’t like a lot of things I would like, a lot of the things I was doing were not the things for her.
Through the help of Sandy Rogers and through a bunch of people we found a way to motivate her, found a way to make her love this, and I got a non-working bred off-breed to find a way to love and look forward to and perform well in agility, and I’m just really proud of that and I’m proud of her for sticking with me through my many, many late front crosses. Thank you very much. I’m really proud of her and I’m really proud of the teamwork we have.
Melissa Breau: That sounds like it’s totally a good thing to be proud of. It sounds like you guys worked really, really hard to develop it and she’s come a long way. So that’s awesome.
Amy Cook: Yeah. I’m thankful for it. It’s lessons to me, right? I’m grateful that I’ve been able to grow in this direction because if she were a really easy dog I might not have the skills that I have, right? So that’s the upside to all those things. So I’m just very grateful.
Melissa Breau: So potentially my favorite question every single episode, since we’ve had somebody quote you on the podcast, not to add any extra pressure.
Amy Cook: Oh my goodness. Hi, Julie.
Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Amy Cook: Well, you know, my advice, that’s my…no. I’m kidding. That piece that I made up, that’s the best advice ever. No. Gosh, remind me to tell you the story one day of how that lecture at camp came to be because it happened the night before, believe it or not.
Two. Everybody else got two, so I’m taking two.
Melissa Breau: Go for it.
Amy Cook: So I’m just saying that there’s two. One that really, really made a difference, has really impacted me, always stuck with me, was from Bob Bailey. He said observe your animal, observe your learner. And you know, maybe that doesn’t sound so deep at first. Of course, you’ll watch your learner and you’ll learn what you need to know. But it solved so many little problems and so many things that get in the way of your training because you’re not seeing who is actually right there in front of you.
And the short example is that you have to teach a chicken to peck not just the circle, it’s like a construction paper circle, and not just the circle, but the dead center of it. That’s really harder than it sounds because they move very quickly and the speed it takes for you to see the chicken and then depress your thumb onto the clicker, by the time the sound is made the chicken is on its way back up from pecking.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Amy Cook: So you need to click, plan to click and start the clicking when the chicken is on its way down. So it took many lessons, I’m concatenating it for this reason, for you, but Bob had to give me little pieces over time. But it was I had to know what her head and her beak angle, and what she looked like when she was going to be pecking the center and decide before she got there that that was going to be a successful peck and then click that one. And instead I was looking at the peck, I was looking at where the peck landed and trying to click the correct ones. Instead you click on the trajectory toward. And if you don’t know what your animal looks like, if you don’t observe her really closely you can’t tell which peck is going to be the one and therefore your click will be late and therefore you’ll never train the chicken. It doesn’t really happen, with dogs you can be late, it’s all right, but chickens no.
And I was teaching a dog to tug open a fridge and I had to call him because I kept not getting it right, I couldn’t see what my problem was. I was clicking when she was tugging and it just wasn’t getting more tugging out of it. And he asked me, “What does her neck look like when she’s about to make the best tug, about to make the strongest contraction?” I’m like, “I wasn’t looking at her neck.” “What were you looking at?” The tug in her mouth? Well, are you looking at the clench of her claws as she settled in to really get a good tug in? Click that. And in the matter of an evening she was tugging really tugging really hard and pulling the fridge open.
You really have to look at who you have and not see what you want to see and not click or reinforce end products but reinforce process because it’s process you’re trying to often get when you’re training. So that one stuck and made me a much more accurate and better trainer.
Then my second is Denise in the sense of…I don’t know if she boils it down, but in the way of attitude before precision, I’m sorry, yeah, attitude before precision where you feed cookies for attitude. If that behavior was incorrect you give a cookie anyway. I think a lot of times we as trainers get caught up in, I reinforce the right ones and I make sure not to reinforce the ones I don’t want, and that’s very engrained in us. So don’t click or don’t reinforce the incorrect behavior. She does it all the time. She’s like, that isn’t correct, but my dog tried, you know, cookies for attitude.
When I first was aware she was doing that it made me a little nervous. It’s like, you’re going to get all this bad behavior in the mix. How is this going to work? But it works beautifully. It works beautifully. It keeps your dog in the game. She really helped me see that cookies for trying is not bad. How to handle a mistake is to reward it because your dog tried and was with you and you can just _____ (54:03) most of the cookies are for the right things, don’t worry so much. Your learner has an emotional life and that’s way, way, way more important than anything else. She codified it down into attitude over precision. It really centered me in my training a lot. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: Those two things, they feel like they have a lot in common, just in terms of kind of looking at the bigger picture of things, you know?
Amy Cook: Right. Right. Exactly. It’s very bigger picture, and I think clicker training, just for me, I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, can get me a little too focused on minutia and make me forget the rest. So those were good for me to learn and to incorporate at this stage of my training.
Melissa Breau: I certainly don’t think you’re alone in that. I mean, clicker training, it’s all about splitting, and sometimes when you’re splitting it’s hard to hold both ideas in your mind at the same time, right?
Amy Cook: Right. It’s kind of like, wait, I’m splitting, but should I lump again? It’s not lumping, it’s splitting and wait…mixed metaphors. Forest. I’m splitting in the forest. Wait. Something like that, right? Someone listening can suggest something much more elegant than that because I’ve never been known for an elegant metaphor, I’ll tell you that.
Melissa Breau: So for this last one, who else, somebody else in the dog world that you look up to, and I’m going to push you not to name Denise since she’s gotten named lots and we’ve talked to her lots.
Amy Cook: No. You can’t do that. I know, because I talked about her way too much. I didn’t plan to talk about her constantly for the past hour, I promise you.
Melissa Breau: I’m sure you have one or two that I’m not super familiar with.
Amy Cook: No. No. No. It really isn’t all about Denise, but I stand on the shoulders of giants, right? Everybody who has come before me is an influence on me, and everyone has taken their turn. I had a troubled dog years ago that I brought to everybody. Instead of doing some TTouch with her I brought her to Linda Tellington-Jones, you know? Like, I sought everybody I could find to help and to teach me, and I absolutely stand on their shoulders, all of them. I credit myself with nothing and them with everything except my own mistakes and however that phrase really goes.
So since I can’t name Denise I’m going to anyway. What I admire most…no, I’ll be vague and we’ll pretend I didn’t mention her. What I admire most in a trainer I can look up to now is independent thinking. People will say there’s nothing new in training, you know, it’s all been done before it’s just how we’re repacking or talking about it differently. I don’t think so anymore. I think there have been just a few people, at least on my radar, that are willing to challenge something that’s supposed to be the way it’s done and try it on dogs and not say, well, that’s in the wrong _____ (57:12) or that’s supposed to do this, that’s going to make a dog do x, can’t do that.
Because I was that, that’s how we all start when we’re learning, we acquire the wealth and the wisdom of other people who say don’t do it this way and please do it that way. So you do. And we can get a little lost in that sometimes. So I gravitate toward the independent thinker who isn’t about I do it this way because this is the way we do it. I like people who say, I don’t know, what would happen if I just give a cookie when he was wrong? Let’s find out. I mean, yeah, of course it’s going to make him a little confused, but I can fix that, I’m not worried about it. That kind of confidence of I’m an independent thinker and I don’t do just what people do because it’s what they do.
I’m not terribly like that so I look up to it. I think Denise does that. Grisha also does that. And Donna Duford, I don’t know if you remember her, also taught me that same way, and she was one of the early old school clicker trainers from the East Coast.
There was a kind of East Coast/West Coast rivalry going on in the clicker training where early on, or at least I’m led to understand, I was a few years later, or I’ll just say that there were people who replaced their methods, people that called themselves crossover trainers, who replaced things they did piecemeal, one at a time. I don’t think this one works so I’m going to do this instead. Oh, this works better, oh, this is really great. Then there are people because they hear about a new system throw out everything they did before and try to put in the new fancy positive system that they’re learning. I think when people have the courage to say, I’m just going to try this little piece and see how it goes, and they put in their system and they go, oh, I think I like this, this is pretty good, I’m going to investigate some other stuff, I’m going to try something new. I think from there comes the innovation.
At least in my world, in the people who have been around me to influence me, there haven’t been a ton of people doing that. So when I see that that really stands out to me. I fully admire it. I think Grisha did that when she just said, “I’m just going to see what happens when we do this.” I think Denise does that all the time. She’s not beholden to the world of some _____ (59:27) training that says this is how you do it. She says, “Let’s find out.” And I look up to anybody who can think independently, try stuff on their own, and just kind of stand their ground with what it is.
Melissa Breau: I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. I think that’s exactly what you’ve done with The Play Way, is take a look and do something totally different.
Amy Cook: Well, it’s really what I’m trying to do. It’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know that I bravely strike out so well, but I’m trying to because you know, we have to see things new ways, or we have to explore. If there’s some other way people do it in some other traditions don’t be afraid. If you’re good enough at what you do, if you’re sensitive enough with your learner, if you really are sure that you’re not going to cause harm it’s okay. It’s okay to give a cookie for the wrong behavior, right, to use that again, because you’re not causing any harm, so try and _____ (1:00:19). So that’s I think where innovation will be found, and I think we get a little stuck, we’re a little rutty a little bit in some positive training circles and some pet training circles, and I think it’s time to see what…not to throw out things, but to enrich them with new experiences and new things from other thinkers. I don’t know if I’m headed there but that’s what I think about a lot. So thank you for that but I don’t accept it. I reject your compliment and insert some self-deprecation of my own. You can’t get me. I refuse.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’m going to tell you that I think it anyway and you can choose to accept it or not. But they were sincerely given.
Amy Cook: Thank you so much. Thank you very much.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on, Amy. I really appreciate you taking some time to chat. I know that you weren’t feeling well earlier this week, so I’m glad we managed to reschedule and get this in there.
Amy Cook: Thank you for your patience. I hope I don’t sound too husky, I’m not extra sexy, I’m back to nerdy, but I had no voice _____ (1:01:28). I’m telling you people, I hope you understood everything, I didn’t cut out.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you for coming on and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back in two weeks with Julie Flannery to talk about Rally-FrEe, and if you haven’t already please subscribe to the podcast. You can do that in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and you’ll have the next episode of our podcast automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today’s show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio editing provided by Chris Lang, and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Symons has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking and nosework.
One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team! Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both person and dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust.
She also blogs at K9 Rivarly.com, for those of you out there like me, who just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today we’ll be talking to Julie Symons.
Julie has been involved in dog sports for over 20 years. She’s competed in flyball, conformation, agility, obedience, herding, tracking, and Nose work. One of Julie’s favorite things is a versatile team. Her first Belgian Tervuren, Rival, was the first of his breed to finish his championship in conformation, obedience, and agility. Julie truly believes that participating in multiple sports is enriching to both the person and the dog and builds on that mutual partnership and trust. She also blogs at k9rivalry.com, for those of you, out there who, like me, just can’t get enough of all this dog stuff. Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Symons: Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Melissa Breau: Did I totally butcher the Belgian Tervuren there?
Julie Symons: Not bad, but I forgot to remind you Rival is a she and not a he.
Melissa Breau: Oh, well that makes a difference.
Julie Symons: It does.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now?
Julie Symons: I have my Belgian Tervuren, Savvy. She’s nine years old, so she’s my second Terv, and she is, I would not say semi-retirement, but I’m not training her in agility, or showing in agility or obedience anymore. We are focusing on nose work. She has her breed champion, her agility champion. Last year she got her UD and her Nose Work 3, and a couple of years ago she got a Tracking Dog Excellent, and that was really, a really exciting class to title in. It’s hard to get into test, and it’s challenging to find places to track and train, so she’s a Versatility 3 dog, it’s a title in AKC, so she’s my first Versatility 3 dog, so that’s her.
My newest dog is a Belgian Malinois, sometimes also hard to pronounce. He is 17 months old, and I love him. I do prefer girl dogs, but I felt that he was a better addition with my current girl, and they do get along great, and he’s a very friendly dog, not quite much phases him, so it’s been really nice to find that in a Belgian, and it’s just fun to train him, and he’s different, so every dog I’ve had is different. He passed his Nose Work ORTs, Order Recognition Test, last fall, and we have his first Nose Work 1 trial next month. He’s still a baby dog, you know. I don’t like to push them. Nose work is a little different. I know he’s ready for that, but I have years for him, really, you know, trialing and anything else, so I’m taking my time with that.
Melissa Breau: It’s kind of awesome that’s he’s a Belgian with the ability to kind of hang out.
Julie Symons: Yeah. I actually, kind of, joked that he’s like a golden in a Malinois suit, and he’s gone to a couple of conformation shows, sometimes the only Malinois, and I never even, you know, he just didn’t mind people touching him, examining him. I didn’t even have to train that. I probably don’t even want to admit that, but we’ll see. He’s a little older now. He might, you know, sometimes they go through different phases, and they go through different periods of time, and we, actually, have a trial next weekend that we’re showing in conformation, so I do like to get dogs out early. That’s the one thing I do like, conformation is something that you can get them into the ring early, if they’re ready, and they can have some really fun time getting lots of steak and liver in the ring, so.
Melissa Breau: Hey. Can’t beat that.
Julie Symons: No. No.
Melissa Breau: So, I think, from reading your bio, and stuff, you started out in flyball, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, when I bought my first house, I was an adult, in my 20s, I wanted a dog, so one of the first things I did was I went and got a dog. I went to a shelter and I picked out Dreyfus, really cute dog, kind of a big, you know, 60 pound, 70 pound, you know, Collie mix. We called him the Dick Clark of dogs because he never aged. He lived to 16, almost 16, and except for his physical appearance, you know, he just looked as handsome and young as Dick Clark, I guess.
You know, I don’t really remember how I got into flyball. I do know that I started out in some local class where you just stood in the room for an hour, and you got one time up, you know, in such ways we don’t train anymore. You just don’t have your dog, you know, unfocused and sitting there for an hour, you know, while you wait your turn, and I think I started, I got into the Amber mixed breed, it’s an American mixed breed organization registry. I don’t even think they have it anymore, and I could get like, you know, obedience titles, so I must have been renting, you know, some other training buildings to practice, and there were some people there that were doing flyball, so I must have networked and met them because I once I started going to matches and some UKC trials, and you just started meeting more people, and I got on this flyball team, and it was neat because, you know, I learned how to teach my dog to hit a box and a ball would pop out. He was really good at flyball. He was a big dog, so he was able to jump the little hurdles fast, and he got a run in every heat, at the trials. I remember my team members weren’t always happy that he got a run every time, but he was consistent, you know, and you want the time for the flyball, for the speed.
I also learned, you know, like doing a Front Cross, you send your dog down one side and you do a Front Cross and you pick your dog up. So, you know, I do look back at that as, you know, I didn’t stick with it, I still really like the sport, didn’t stay with it, but it was my first time going to, driving a couple of hours to a trial and I remember thinking, well how can a dog stay in the car that long? What if they have to go to the bathroom? It’s funny, when you look back and see, we were all newbies, we all started out somewhere, and you know, I remember taking pictures of my dog in the hotel room, like, wow, they can be in the hotel room, with us. So, I did that for about a year, went to about three or four tournaments for flyball.
At that same time, I was starting to look for my purebred dogs, and I thought, oh, I like this. There wasn’t as many opportunities for mix breeds back then, as it is today. I, actually, was looking at mixed breeds before I got Drac, my Malinois. I was so open to a mixed breed, it didn’t really matter because you can do so much with them now, but back then you couldn’t, so I definitely wanted a purebred dog. You know, Dreyfus was great, but he really was, you know, not a lot of drive, very distractible. Now I probably have a lot of skills now to deal with that, but you know, he liked to sniff the ground a lot, and he was not the easiest, you know, dog to train, you know, and for being new, you know, it was kind of hard, so I didn’t do much with him, past that.
So, I started researching, and I was looking for my next dog, and I saw the David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks on, you know, one night I was watching TV and they had a Belgian Malinois. I really liked that breed, so I was still going to this local obedience class and I mentioned it, to the instructor, and he said, oh, you should really get a Belgian Tervuren instead, so I went to a show, in Syracuse, a conformation show, and I found when the Belgian Tervuren were on, and I loved them. They were so beautiful. I grew up with rust Collies, so they kind of reminded me of that a little bit, so it was so fortunate how I found my next dog. I contacted breeders. They didn’t know me from anybody. They had a boy and a girl, and I got the girl, from Missouri, flown to me, sight unseen. Her name was Rival, and she changed my life, and she was just this high drive, just very biteable, bonded to me immediately, and then, I think, I did bring her to that same dog, pet, class trainer, for a little bit, but I didn’t stay long because, you know, the methods were much different, and I heard about a local trainer, who had just got her OTCH, on a lab, so I started private lessons with her, and I never, ever, went back to obedience classes, a class environment.
Then, so, when I got her, agility was really starting to hit the scene, so I got into an agility class right away. This is when AKC had one class, you would have the standard class, you would run in. We would drive like, you know, four hours, and you would go in the ring for 30 seconds, and you were done, for the day. So that’s how I, kind of, went. Then, in obedience, of course, I was continuing with that, and private lessons, and then I added agility. I started, when she was young, I started tracking the pet class that I had gone to was run by some Schutzhund trainers, so I would meet with them, when they would do some tracking, and so I learned a little bit about tracking, but I didn’t stay with them long. I would take a lot of breaks on and off from tracking, you know, and of course nose work wasn’t around at that point, but that’s how I, kind of, just, you know, I got the bug. I got the dog training bug with Dreyfus, got the purebred dog that I had more opportunities, and you know, she just made it so enjoyable and easy for me to pick up new sports, and so that’s how I, kind of, you know, you get that first dog, you know…
Melissa Breau: You dive in deep, and the world opens up to you.
Julie Symons: Yep. Yep.
Melissa Breau: So, at what point, I mean, it sounds like you were doing a lot of different things right out of the gate, with Rival. Did you immediately know that versatility was going to be something that was important to you? At what point was that like a conscious thing where that was like something you wanted to focus on?
Julie Symons: You know, I do think it was because of her, and just training her in so many sports, her temperament and her drive were superb. She excelled at everything we did, and she was a great teacher. I mean I still consider myself a novice handler, at that time, and I really got addicted. I got addicted to dog training, and I know, any and all of it, so I just, you know, couldn’t imagine just doing agility. I just enjoyed the cross training and just teaching such different skills, to my dog. I think I would get bored if I only did one, and I think that my dogs, the dogs I tend to get, to me, you know, I don’t want to put human feelings on dogs, but I do think they enjoy the versatility too. I think they like the different skills and the different things they get to do.
Melissa Breau: So, in retrospect, what are some of the benefits that you have seen, from competing in multiple sports, with each of your dogs?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, what I just mentioned, I do think there’s a cross training aspect to it. I’m not just working on, you know, their muscles for running fast. I’m using their nose, and I’m asking for some precision in other sports, like obedience. It also gives them breaks, you know, instead of working one sport all the time, you know, they take a break from, maybe, some of the more strenuous running and jumping, and then they get to switch to something else. I found that training in the different sports, you just develop and bond and relationship that’s different and maybe a little deeper because you have to learn different context of things, you’re learning more skills, and it strengthens that relationship that you have, you know, you have this mutual understanding with each other, to go out and do these different sports, and that you have these, you know, cues and things that they understand, and it’s just amazing to know that I have…because I train for sports, I don’t normally train just to train. I’ve gotten a little bit more into doing some tricks, I think that’s great for dogs, too, so just to think of all the ways I can teach my dog to do different things, and back to, you know, when I had Rival, she really showed me what was possible to do with a dog, and the possible bonds you can have. I just never thought you could do all of this with a dog, and I just think that’s what made me like the versatility of it too, it’s just a, kind of, challenge to try other sports, you know.
So, when nose work came along, I did not need another dog sport, believe me, but her brother had started it, and I saw a video of it, didn’t know much about it, and he passed away at a little bit of a young age, so I was, kind of, inspired to say, you know, in his honor I’m going to take this nose work class that I heard about Denise teaching, before Fenzi started, and she was actually in heat, or she was injured, or something, so like the timing was really good, so I used that, my dog is in heat or has a minor injury or it’s winter, you know, I think of what else could I do with my dog because I can’t do some of the other things, and that’s, actually, how I got into nose work. So, you know, it just comes along at the right time, for you, with the dog that you have.
Melissa Breau: So, I’d imagine that knowing now, at least, that that’s something that’s important to you, that you want to do a lot of different things with your dog, when you have a new puppy, which you’ve been through fairly recently, you might approach, kind of, those early days a little bit differently, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I think it is a little different, knowing what you’re going to, you know, train your dog in and compete in, but it’s really quite similar because a lot of the same skills that you need across all the sports, like you need your dog to be able to stay, you know, and sit or down, you really do, in every single sport. You need impulse control, you need them to, you know, wait for your cues. They need focus. They need recalls. You know, you just need all of that stuff, so that’s what I just start building. I tend to train thoughtful dogs. That’s good. I’m thinking like I want more like, almost out of control dogs, but I really don’t. I do tend to train, I tend to teach dogs to be very thoughtful, and I do need to balance that with some of that little bit of edge that I do want from them as well.
Let’s see, what else? But I also, like, approach it by switching on and off. I’m not training every sport all the time, you know, nobody can do that, and even, since training in multiple sports is also a challenge in itself, I also, you know, have a busy day life, day job. I have, you know, a son. I have a husband, so it’s hard to fit everything in. So, how I approach it is I just, sometimes, focus on one thing a month, like I need to teach my dog to weave, so just that month, it happened to be summer, I’m going to just, every day, go out there and train my dogs, a couple of times a day, on the weave poles, and I don’t really have time for anything else, but that’s okay. That’s just what I’m doing that month. Then, the next month, I might focus on, I don’t know, getting out to new places for obedience, and then the next month I may focus on teeter, you know, get my dog on the teeter and everything, so it just, I don’t really have a good, you know, plan around it. I don’t write it down, or anything, I just make sure I train my dog on something, most days, and I usually have a focus, so a lot of it depends on what I might be starting to want to compete in first.
Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. Because you can’t, if you try to sit there and say, you’ll get overwhelmed. You’ll get overwhelmed if you’re going to try to say, I want to do all of these six sports, oh my gosh, you know, and you know, I kind of move on. Once Savvy got her MACH 2 to, you now, I didn’t need to get a MACH 3 or 4, so I just decided, she could have still kept running, she was seven or eight, or something, but I just had other things to do. I had to go work on her, you know, TDX or her, whatever, nose work, now. I am very goal oriented to the title, so that kind of drives me in the direction that I train.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s something that I’ve definitely struggled with, so it’s interesting to hear, kind of, pick one focus. Now, at least, for me, and for my dog, I found that she doesn’t always retain the information long term, if we, kind of, leave it alone and come back to it, you know, like months later. Is that something you’ve had to deal with at all?
Julie Symons: Oh, she doesn’t. Well, no. Well I do think it depends on what it is, if you hadn’t, you know, taught something to kind of fluency, then you’re going to lose a little bit, but I also think they remember some of it, at least, so there are some things that I think you do need to, kind of, not drop off, you know, for too long. It depends, you know, it might be stays or recalls, obviously. I do think that, most part, they do remember, so, in that case, if they don’t, then, you know, you might have to just decide what’s more important that you need, and keep that in because, you know, I could do more than just my weave pole training that month. Obviously, I’m in the catch, and I’ll do stays with my dogs. I’ll put them in a sit stay, while I’m making something, or you know, sometimes it just takes one minute of training, just one to three minutes of training, a day. Everybody can find that.
I started to train a little bit before I went to work. Lately, with Drac, I train when I get home. He is so pumped and into me, that’s when I need to train him because he’s a young, adolescent boy. He, kind of, like doesn’t have a lot of stamina to focus, so I’ve actually had some really, really wonderful sessions, and it just might be as much as i can train with a handful of food and that’s all I do. Now he’s 17 months old, and he is like, oh my gosh, I’m like, he is so focused on me, like that didn’t happen months ago. So then, because I have that focus and maturity, I’m able to, kind of, progress a little bit further or teach him something new, so it’s, kind of, give and take, and you’re right, I know some of the stuff I started with him, like backup, I was teaching him backing up, he doesn’t know that at all, anymore, so, yeah, that is something that I did lose, but that’s not as important to me, to backup, away from me, so I’ve got to get back to that because I do think it’s useful, in some areas, but yeah, I did lose that one on him, by the way. I think what happened was, I was teaching him some other things, like a fold back down, or something else, and he kept backing up, and it wasn’t reinforcing it because I was working on something else, so I think that’s why I lost it because of the reinforcement, you know, I extinguished it. I extinguished his backing up, accidentally.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Do you have any advice, I guess, for other trainers, who maybe want to intentionally train for multiple sports or approach the idea that if they have a dog, they want to compete in multiple sports, either for getting started or just, kind of, for balancing things?
Julie Symons:Yeah. Yes, I do. So, a little bit, what I mentioned earlier, I think if you just don’t get overwhelmed and realize that you aren’t trialling your new dog, right away. It really is going to be years before you really get them in the ring, and I know, like it’s almost like you put a lot of time in those first, you know, two to four years. I didn’t bring in my, you know, Rival, who got an Obedience Champion, she didn’t enter the obedience ring until she was five. She could have gone in a little earlier, but I wasn’t ready, and once I got in and I realized we were ready, but you have time to bring your dog in because once you get them into that ring, at that time, it goes fast after that, so you take that time, you know, I would say two to four years, depending on the sport, and once you get to that point, then it goes really fast. If you start too early, I think you’re just setting yourself up to have too many gaps in your training, and then you’re going to, probably, struggle, and then it’s going to take you longer, so I would, you know, number one, not worry about time. It will come, when ready.
Also, a foundation, like I said earlier, just work on the foundation, work on things that you’re going to want anyway, you’re going to want to save the recalls, the focus, the impulse control, that’s going to apply to every sport, and something that’s near and dear to Denise’s heart, actually, is personal play. I’ve had to learn that more so in the last nine years because my first dog, Rival, was just naturally into me. I was her world. Honestly, I didn’t do anything, to make that happen, and when I got Savvy, and now I have Drac, other things in the world are more interesting, to them, than me, so I have had to think about, wait, I’ve got to build that personal bond, that personal play, not relying on food so much, or toys, and if you can focus on that, and you can have a dog that’s totally into you, that’s half the battle, and then the rest is just skill training, it’s just skills, and we all know how to trail skills.
Seriously, we have all the classes and the tools and the, you know, video examples, and the people’s blogs, we all know how to teach skills, some are harder than others, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a dog that you have built up this wonderful relationship with, I mean we all have wonderful relationships with our dogs. I’m not even saying that. It’s from an interaction, it’s a kind of bonded, you know, interaction that you need to build for that personal play around other, you know, interesting things, in the environment. So, I would say, and I had to, really, grow in that area, for me, and I really bring that into my training more where, to me, it’s more important that I’m going to interact and play with my dog then teach Drac to backup again. To me I’d rather need him to really want to come to me and to play with me, so that’s the things that I would have people to focus on.
Melissa Breau: You know, I’ve seen, I don’t remember if you shared a video or if it’s on your Fenzi bio, or what, I mean, I’ve seen some of your competition videos, and I would never guess that personal play is something you’ve struggled with. I saw you in between exercises, and on one of the videos you got down on the floor, and you were like very happy to be there. It was really nice. I mean it was…
Julie Symons: Yeah. I mean I think one of the videos might have been Rival, and I did make a clip, once, for somebody, to show what I did between the rings with Savvy, and she’s a very distractible dog. She’ll know the things in her environment, which is typical of Belgians, too, they’re very aware of people, there are some people they just don’t like, and so I’ve really had to work on that, so thank you, for that compliment. To be honest, that is why Savvy didn’t enter the obedience ring for a while. I can’t remember how old she was, when she actually went in for her Novice, CD, but she actually went in for her, you know, Novice CD but she got her Utility title at eight, last year, because I got her, when my son was young, he was only two, so I just didn’t have the time. I had three dogs, and I had my older dog, Dreyfus. I had, did I have three dogs? Yeah. Savvy. I still had Rival and Dreyfus, when I got Savvy, and I just couldn’t do it all. I, actually, realized I cannot do it all right now, and that was okay. That was okay. If I put pressure on myself then it’s just going to carry over to my dogs, so I appreciate that compliment.
Melissa Breau: So, you got there, and you got there at your own pace, and you got beautiful results.
Julie Symons: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, I know that, in addition to teaching for FDSA, you also teach in person, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. So, actually, back in the late ‘90s, I started teaching agility, when I was doing well with my dog and it was still new, in this area. I found, you know, that I enjoyed that. I enjoyed helping people, and I was in a dog club, so I started teaching through a dog club, and then, eventually, when we bought our current property, the first thing we built, you know, we have seven open acres, and the first thing we did is we built a hundred by hundred, you know, fence, so the property was, the house hadn’t even started building, and I had this hundred by hundred, you know, fence.
Melissa Breau: Priorities.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Priorities because it was a lot of deer, and everything, and when I first started, without the fence, you know, a couple of dogs to take off, and that was really scary, so we got the fence up. So, I started teaching on my own. That was probably back in 2000, in 1999 or the year 2000, and then I had my son in 2004, and I tried to keep up, you know, and I tried to keep teaching, and I was still showing Rival actively, finishing up some of her big titles. I just had to back off a bit, so I stopped teaching and took a break from that, and then when I got Savvy into nose work, and she got her nose work 1 title, I immediately was like, “I’m going to start teaching.” I just wanted to get that first title and then start bringing it to my area because I could tell it was an up and coming sport. You know, everybody just didn’t AKC anymore, you know, there’s Barn Hunt, there’s a lot of other venues of dog sports. It was about the same time that I started teaching at FDSA, and so it’s gone very well, locally. People love the in-person classes because they can have them, you know, from me, so they’re spoiled a little bit. So, yeah, really, actually this morning I hosted a little match for some students, and myself, trialing next month, so it’s a lot of work. I rented a building and we had a gym area and another room to do hides. It keeps me busy.
Melissa Breau: So, just for anybody who may happen to be local to you, do you want to share, kind of, what area you’re in?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I’m south of Rochester, New York. I’m near the thruway, so I’m actually equal distance between Syracuse and Buffalo. I do have some people that, you know, come about an hour away, but most are local. Ironically some of them are just like within five minutes of my neighborhood, so we all live pretty close, and Rochester, New York, we’ve heard this for years, we have a really, really big, strong dog community, some really talented people, a lot of people invested in training, you know, competitively with our dogs. You know, I have people, in my classes that, you know, I have few pet people that started with me, people who hadn’t done much of the competitive sports, so I have a mix, but I do have a lot of people who have some dog training experience, and it was cool that they, these are people who do Schutzhund, you know, obedience, rally, agility, like they’re interested in nose work. Their dogs may be getting a little older, they’re retiring form a sport, or they’re young dogs who are coming up, and it’s, really, taught me that it applies, or interests, a wide range of people, you know, it’s not just for certain, you know, demographic of dogs and handlers, so and it’s growing. I, actually, can barely keep up.
I, just recently, made a job change to go to part time. I work at Xerox. I’ve been there my whole career, out of college, and I just decided that I want more time to myself, as well as for dog training. So, yeah, I’m actually really excited about that. The hours will change in a couple of weeks, so we’ll see. I’m not really sure if I’ll get more time to myself. I may just get busier, so we’ll see, but I did find that that’s what I love. That’s what I was passionate about. That’s where I was creative, and that wasn’t the side of my life that I wanted to cut back on, so I just sat back, looked at our situation, and said, “I can do this,” so, yeah.
Melissa Breau: Now you, kind of, mentioned AKC in there, and some of the other Nose work programs, but I know there’s been a lot of buzz about the fact that AKC has just recently added a scent work program, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah, and that timing came quite at a good time, for some of my latest decisions. Yeah. So AKC rolled out a nose work program, they call it scent work, and you know, I think we all expected it to come at some point. I think a lot of people do like to show in AKC. AKC, you know, is a big organization, and probably going to be able to put on more readily available trials for people to enter. I love the other nose work programs. I think they’ve done a really great job with them, and I will still trial in them, but there’s people that are in some isolated areas that are too far for trials, there’s a long waitlist, so I think the AKC program, the reason I’m excited about it, is I think it will get more people into the sport because I really have found that nose work just does something to the dogs. It does something to the handlers. It’s not just the dogs that love because they get to use their nose, but just the people, to see their dogs be these little detection dogs, and there’s something about it. I haven’t quite pinpointed it. I think people like tracking, but tracking, sometimes, is hard to find the field, and there’s also limited, you know, tracking tests. There’s just something about it, and I think it’s just people seeing their dogs, instead of us telling our dogs not to sniff and smell things, we’re letting them sniff and smell things, and they’re doing it with purpose, and they’re doing it, you know, it’s a job. I think dogs are, kind of, bred to do jobs, and it’s a job that comes naturally to them, but there’s still practicing and training and skills that you’ve got to train to actually compete in that sport, so it’s just been something that I’m really excited about with the AKC program.
Then they added this handler discrimination class, which existed in a UKC program, so I’m not as familiar with that, from a nose work context, but I’ve done some articles for 20 years, and you know, I never really had a lot of problem with that, but I understand that it is challenging. I think it’s just more of a mindset of people realizing our dogs really can pick up the smallest amount of smell, and it’s not even a small amount of smell. I mean we’re putting our strong odor on it, compared to anything else, in the environment, so there’s a discrimination that they’re making between our smell and the steward’s, you know, smell, from touching the articles, and in this new AKC program, you actually have your glove, or your sock, that you, you know, scent, and then they’re going to have another person’s scented, you know, item in one of the other boxes to start, so it’s going to be discrimination, and you know, it’s just like with anything, you train your dog, what was reinforced, what is the value, so I teach my scent is to be reinforced, there’s a value to that, and to me discrimination is less of an issue than somebody going, oh, I like the steward’s hand smell better. It’s just more that they’re stressed, or they just pick up any article, so I think that the discrimination part, to me, you know, is very trainable, and it’s easy to teach a dog, just like with nose work, we teach our dog these odors, you know, Birch, Anise, Clove, these are odors that we’ve taught you that are reinforced. Any other novel owner, whether it’s a piece of bread or some meat or a toy, or even animal droppings, you know, they may find that self-reinforcing, but if they have the drive for the odors that we have reinforced, then they will seek those out over everything, so. So, yeah, it is pretty exciting, with the AKC program.
Melissa Breau: My understanding is that you’re going to be a judge, right?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I did apply, to be a judge, and I was approved. They still have to rollout…
Melissa Breau: Congrats.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. I’ve never entered that arena, of judging, so they still have to rollout like some online training and a test to take, so we’re waiting for that to come out, and it’s exciting because somebody, locally, is taking nose work classes with me. She said, oh, we’re thinking of getting this added to our national breed, coming up, and she said, I know somebody who’s a judge, so it will be very nice that I could, you know, maybe for some of the local breed shows, you know, I’ll be available to help with that, to get it started.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. Now I want to change gears a little bit because I know you also do the obedience games class, at FDSA, even though it’s not in the schedule, until October, I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk a little bit about some of the obedience stuff you teach too, so do you want to just tell us a little bit about the concept for the class and kind of what you cover?
Julie Symons: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for bringing that up. It’s been a very fun class topic for me. It’s called obedience games, and we added a starter version, which I just ended last term because I found that my first version got advanced pretty quickly, so I thought, wow, I can really even break this down more, and that was a real hit. It, kind of, you know, took a life of its own, and it was just real exciting.
It’s about, you know, being informal but still being clear to your dog. It’s about adding more movement and less, you know, static, stationary behaviors, and less fiddling with, you know, precision and the front, so we’re not even doing fronts, so I’m like, we’re not doing fronts in this class. Every time your dog comes here, you’re going to pass a treat between your legs, and then that just builds this like, you know, center of position, and your dog is going to continue with speed, and they’re just going to know, you know, to like go through you, you know. We’re not going to worry about errors. I really emphasize that because we all, you know, we all get a little frustrated or disappointed, and I’m really, really impressed, early on, there are no errors, we’re just training, we’re learning, we’re finding out what gaps we have. We’re getting information from our dogs. There’s no reason to be, you know, upset, or bothered and we don’t want our dogs to ever, you know, we don’t want them to have stress, in this game, and I think that I’m seeing some people give me comments that they’re seeing some people who took my very first obedience game class, last fall, they said, wow, I very rarely still use the games, it’s really helped my dog in the ring. I think it’s more that it’s helped the human, you know, it’s helping humans to, kind of, maybe loosen up a little bit.
One of the things that I really was, you know, enforcing was, you know, these daily games that if you just work, just a few minutes, like I said earlier, a few minutes a day, with your dog, there’s just something about that because I can go days and days without training my dog, I just get busy, you know, but instead, if I just find one little, kind of, action packed, high reinforcing game, to play with my dog, which with a purpose for obedience skills, for example, it just pays off with even your recalls. It pays off with your dog, you know, your personal bond, and I try to do some personal toy and play before every session. I encourage that for the students to do. Then, because we’re all so busy, I’m busy, you know, you can find a couple of minutes every day, and it really will add up and you will find your dog actually learned skills, and they want to work with you more because they look forward to that time of the day, you know, that you train with them.
Another thing is, you know, these scores will come eventually. When I entered, you know, my OTCH dog in her first trial, you know, we did get good scores, but they weren’t going to be scores that got me placed to get the OTCH points, but I was just in the novice class. I didn’t need those points yet, so I wanted her to go in there and know her job and be happy. I just, kind of, worked at those point deductions that I got, I just worked to clean them up, over time. I just said, oh, that’s where our gap is. I’m going to clean it up, and I’m going to lose less points, in that exercise, and that’s how I got to the higher scores, but not until I was, you know, further along, in my obedience competition trial because you’ve got to get that experience, and I just think I was trying to bring that thought process to the games classes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I mean, I think that even the mindset, right, from competition to thinking about it all as a game, for the person, is such a difference, and it just brings a more relaxed structure and more fun.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Yeah. It has. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well it’s been received, and I might even have to come up with like a middle level now. We’ll see how I can plan that. And what I love about it, too, is it complements all the great skills classes that we have, at the Academy, so people can be working on their retrieves, and you know, whatever, you know, all these other little skilled areas, you know, separately but at the same time, but separate from the quick little three minute games sessions because I’m doing that with Drac. Believe me, I’m working on, you know, his retrieve and his hold, and things like that. I’m working those heavy-duty skill things off on the side as well, so.
Melissa Breau: So, to kind of round things out, I want to ask you the three questions that we’ve asked everybody so far, who’s come on the show.
Julie Symons: Okay.
Melissa Breau: So, first, what’s the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Symons: Okay. It has to be just, you know, Rival, my first Terv, she became the first champion OTCH MACH Terv, and just getting that OTCH, actually, in itself, was just a thrill because I just went from the Novice A classes to OTCH, and I learned so much, from her. I, also, had my son, he was a couple of years at that time, and I just needed a couple of more points, and I was going in the ring, and we weren’t doing well. I was no longer training in the open class because my dog was now older, she was ten, or nine, or ten, and there was a lot of jumping. I couldn’t even train. I didn’t have time to train a lot, and I didn’t have time to maintain that, so one of my friends, and trainers, said, “You really need to enter the open class.” On a whim, I entered the one day that had spots left, in open, and we went in the ring, and I said, oh, I’m never going to finish my OTCH. I’m never going to finish my OTCH in an open class because all of the points are in utility and you know the scores, people get such great, you know, scores, you know, and it’s so hard to get the points in open, if you look at the point schedule. We went in the ring, and that’s the one that I show a lot, it’s in my obedience games intro, and we went into the ring, and I love to watch it. I watch it, if I’m down, or something, because just I went in there and I think that’s a lot, what I process my obedience games class with because I went in the ring not expecting much, and my dog was getting older, I knew she was going to be retired soon, and I have a son. I just can’t keep up with everything. I just thought, someday I’m not going to be able to go in the ring with this dog, and so I’m going to go in there and we got like a 199, you know, first place, we got her OTCH from that run.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: Yeah. Then, you know, to be a first in something is so hard, in a breed like the Belgian Tervuren. Now the MACH was a relatively newer title, so some fabulous dogs, before, obviously didn’t have that chance, but yeah, I am, we are the first Belgian Tervuren champion OTCH MACH, so that was very, yeah, special to me.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.
Julie Symons: To be honest, that dog was so deserving of that, so.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. She really sounds like something special.
Julie Symons: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So, the second question, I like to ask everybody, and I think this is, honestly, my favorite question of the whole podcast, is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Julie Symons: Yeah. I was looking forward to this one. I thought a lot about it, and you know, we all get such great training advice, but there’s two that really stuck out to me, and they’ve been pretty recent ones. I absolutely love Amy Cook’s, in one of her classes, but she also said it at camp last year, that, “Every time you train your dog, you’re teaching them how to feel,” and that just, you know, goes back to some of my outlook on training, also, is just like that’s why I don’t want to, if I stress them out, that’s how they’re going to feel about training, so it’s just such a powerful but simple statement that she made, and I really embrace that, and share that as often as I can with my students.
Melissa Breau: That’s great.
Julie Symons: I have a second one too. Can I have two?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely.
Julie Symons: Okay. Another one that I really liked was one from Bob Bailey. It was, you know, he’s big on clicker training, shaping, and he said something that, also, really resonated with me, with, “You better made a decision because the next one is right around the corner.” So, if you think about when you’re training a dog, and you’re like, oh, was that the right criteria. Was it right enough? You know, your next decision is right up on you. You have to make a decision, and it might not be the best decision, and it might not even be the right decision. You probably made a wrong decision, but you have to make a decision on whether you’re going to click something or reinforce something because the next decision is right around the corner, and it’s okay, you look at all of us trainers, our timing is off. We accidently click something that we weren’t supposed to. Look how resilient our dogs are. They recover. You know, they’re fine. So, I just really like that because I think some people, we freeze up, we freeze up in the training, when we don’t know what to do. That’s okay. Do something because you’re going to have to make another decision, like, another second later, so I really pulled that off of a DVD that I was listening to, and I never wrote it down, exactly what he said, but I just remember that concept. So those are my two.
Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. So, for our last one, who is somebody else, in the dog world, that you look up to?
Julie Symons: So, this is, of course, the hardest question, I think, everybody has had, and I thought about it also, so this is obviously tough because I’ve learned so much from people, local and afar, because I work in so many different sport areas, you know, it just multiplies how many people I’ve worked with. I think I’m going to say that I do look up to anyone that thinks out of the box and is willing to try something different. I just think that, sometimes, we all get, kind of, stuck in an area, in a way that we do things, and I think somebody who is willing to, you know, just, kind of, maybe work outside their comfort level or just try something new, I just really respect that because you’re not going to grow if don’t do that. You’re not going to change something, and of course, my learning has exponentially grown, being a part of FDSA. I think the whole base of the FDSA instructors are amazing, so I do look up to the Academy and the instructors that we offer such a diversity of people and topics. It’s not just performance now, it’s from, you know, your mind to cooperative care to competition.
There is one name I will mention, if I have to mention one name, if I have time, is I will never forget one person that I worked with, with Rival, my very first high drive performance dog, her name was Patty Hatfield. She’s from Florida, and she had a wonderful Malinois named Lily, who was on the US agility world team, back in the ‘90s, and she would come to our area frequently for agility seminars, and she helped me, so much, with how I interacted with my dog. I am a pretty high drive person, myself, high energy, actually, high energy, and so with my dog, so she taught me how to, you know, adjust my energy levels, when she needed to be calmer.
She also does just love her dog. She had a great bond with her dog, Lily. She just loved her. She would talk about, you know, when she went home, from a seminar, I know I’m going to do all the wrong things, and I’m going to go hug my dog and just get all crazy when I see her, but you’re not supposed to do that because back in that day, you were supposed to ignore your dog, when you got home. You were supposed to not let them run up the stairs, ahead of you. You’re not supposed to let your dogs on the furniture, or you’re supposed to eat before they ate, all these little, you know, control things that were told to you, and I always remember, because I, kind of, did that stuff too, but I thought, “I’m not going to tell anybody,” but I let my dog up, on my bed, and let my dog run up the stairs, but I always thought I was doing something wrong because that was what you were told back then. I just remember her just saying, “I don’t care what I’m doing, or if I’m doing the wrong thing. I love my dog, and I just got to be excited when I see her, when I come home,” so I always, kind of, still just think of those interactions that I had with her, with the advice she gave me. She had a Malinois, and again, I just love the Belgian breeds, and I could relate to that as well, so.
Melissa Breau: Thanks, so much, for coming on the podcast, Julie, and thanks, to our listeners, for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Amy Cook, to talk about using play to help dogs cope with fear and reactivity. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app, of your choice, to have our next episode automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
To be released 4/28/2017, featuring Julie Symons.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Julie Daniels. Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole lie. In fact, she learned to walk by holding onto a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She’s one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. She owns and operates both Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, New Hampshire and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, New Hampshire. Julie is well known as a premiere teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled, and won with all sorts of dogs through the years including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She’s the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix Finals with a Rottie or a Springer and she did it two times each.
Hey, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Hi, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: How are you doing today?
Julie Daniels: I’m really ready for this and I’m doing great today. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. I’m excited to talk about this. I know we’ve talked a little bit in the past about other things, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a chance to focus on the dog stuff.
Julie Daniels: No. My first podcast. I’m used to be on TV with people making faces behind the camera to try to make me screw up, so this is very different for me. Lots of fun.
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. Well, to start us out can you tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. I currently live with three Border Collies plus my roommate’s All-American mix, and I’ve got quite a houseful here. I often have dogs in for training as well. So our mix is always fluctuating and the personalities are always changing in their interrelationships. But Boss, my oldest, is eleven and a half years old, still strong and healthy, hale and hearty, runs with the boys and completely spoiled. Sport is my competition dog currently, he’s going on nine years old, still competing well, fingers crossed of course. Over the years I’ve lost three top agility togs in their prime of life so I do hold my breath and count my blessings every time I’m able to go to the start line with Sport. But then I have a youngster and Karen also has a youngster. So we have two adolescent sport dogs in the household who need training every day. They are night and day in their personalities and just so much fun to work with every single day. So we have two youngsters and then the older dogs.
Melissa Breau: What are the youngsters’ names?
Julie Daniels: Comet and Kool-Aid. Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue? Karen’s rescue mix is Comet who was not supposed to survive as a puppy. He has a liver shunt that was supposed to kill him and didn’t so he’s a real unique individual. And my young Border Collie is now a year and a half, Kool-Aid. She came full of confidence and Comet came full of fears and different issues. So they truly are night and day and they are best buds, best friends, absolutely perfectly compatible in their differences if that makes sense.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. That’s kind of awesome, actually.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. Yeah. It is. It’s awesome.
Melissa Breau: So in addition to Comet I know most of your dogs right now are Border Collies, but you’ve had a lot of different experiences with a lot of different breeds. You’ve worked with a wide range of breeds and I really wanted to ask you kind of what the secret was, if you have any advice out there for people in the dog sports world who may be competing, whatever their sport, with just a breed that’s not traditional for what they’re doing.
Julie Daniels: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Thanks for asking that because I think people do think of my sport, agility, as particular to a few breeds doing well, and it’s really not that way at all. Any sport that you want to do can be enjoyed with any dog. I always tell people, start with the dog you love. That’s the only way to do well anyway. And I think I can tell you from experience, all the extra work that it takes to make it in a sport with an unlikely breed, all I can tell you is keep at it because it’s worth it. It’s just plain worth it to go out there and do well with a breed or an individual dog, actually, of any breed who was not expected to do well. The pride just wells up in the teamwork that you accomplish over the years. I think no matter what your sport is that’s the case. So don’t worry about what breed you have. Choose the breed you love and play the sports that you’re interest in.
Melissa Breau: Your focus has been agility for the last while, but I was curious how you originally got into dog sports since I know you were in agility in the very early days, I’m assuming there’s a story there.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think you just called me old, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I didn’t go that far.
Julie Daniels: It’s true, I was one of the early people who saw agility coming from overseas and just jumped and said this is the sport I’ve been waiting for, that is true. So before that I was into competitive obedience and I actually had a Rough Collie whom I had for 13 years who developed an overshot bite, actually not exactly an overshot bite but a faulty bite as in common in the breed, and that’s the only reason why I went from breed to obedience. Of course like many people, just kind of never looked back, enjoyed the performance aspects more than the confirmation aspects, and just started down that road of dog sports as a team sport. That’s where my interest lies.
Melissa Breau: So how did you get from those initial days in obedience and become a positive trainer?
Julie Daniels: Well, positive dog training. Well, it’s been dogs and me my whole life, I mean, since before I could walk. My family loved dogs, my mother’s father had favorite farm dogs. So having been raised with that kind of exposure and being a very young, small child in a big family I was raised with a good deal of what I would say benign neglect.
All my dogs were walk-ins when I was a kid. My parents were all about, “You’re not feeding that dog, are you? We didn’t need another mouth to feed,” so to speak. Of course I lied, no, no, not feeding the dog, then pretty soon it’s no, but look what he can do. So ta-da, meet my next new dog. So my parents were open as much as they didn’t want me to have more animals I just had all kinds of animals as a kid from very, very, very young age.
As a little kid overpowering an animal doesn’t work, even a small animal, but certainly not big dogs, and relationship first and food second, that does work. I will say some of my earliest, fondest memories of being a small child in a big family, my mom was not particularly generous with praise, but one thing she said about me on a regular basis when speaking to other people, “Julie can do anything with any dog.” And I grew up knowing that was true, feeling that from the bottom of my heart from the time I was a tiny child.
So yes, as an adult earning money in college by training dogs and that kind of thing, of course I got off on the bandwagons which were popular at the times, much more corrective methods in the era of choke chains and stuff. I went down that path too, just like most people did, but it wasn’t really a stretch for me to come back, if you know what I mean, because I had such a base layer of success with positive reinforcement from the time I was a tiny child.
Melissa Breau: So what got you from doing obedience over to agility in those early days and then what led you to really kind of champion it and help set up clubs and things like that?
Julie Daniels: I saw agility first in…must I admit this? 1986. So my daughter was three years old, I was a stay at home mom, I had, oh, I don’t know, four or five dogs at the time and all the neighborhood kids hung out at my house.
I truly did see, I think I saw a book by Peter Lewis called The Agility Dog and I just jumped at it. I don’t know how to describe it, but at the visceral level that’s the sport I’ve been waiting for. So it really wasn’t that hard once I started researching who was doing agility back then and trying to find out what was available in this country which was not much.
And by the way, no internet, no cell phones, right? So my telephone bills were over 200 dollars a month, much more than I now spend on my cell phone which is kind of funny. But trying to make connections that we take for granted today back then was not simple and not easy.
So anyway, I got in touch finally with the person who really was starting an organization, an official agility organization in the United States which is USDAA. Ken Tosh and I have known each other since 1986 and he put me together with other people around the country who also were like-minded and he also organized these trips which were grueling but so satisfying. I actually bought a trailer and literally brought equipment all over the East Coast and we operated at major horse shows like Dressage at Devon and Fair Hill and all kinds of prestigious horse shows where people just…we literally came in and set up an agility rink full of equipment and people just brought their animals. So listen, I got to work with pigs, goat, miniature horses, all the stable dogs. So it was a very exciting and wonderful way to spend a weekend. Over and over.
My little girl came with me so Heather was exposed to all of this from a very, very early age too, my daughter’s name is Heather. She’s a very well-traveled individual. We literally brought the sport to new locations. And you know what? When I was younger I remember making fun of the Tupperware ladies because they had to cart all that stuff around so that’s Karma for you.
Melissa Breau: That’s great. You mentioned traveling all around and by demoing it, it kind of sounds like, almost, letting people come in, try the equipment, how did it kind of get to that next stage, that next step? What was it like to kind of help it get its legs?
Julie Daniels: Because I believe in this as a team sport, the best, most fun team sport I’ve ever played, it was easy for me to see that as a worthwhile way for me to spend my allowance and spend my vacation and travel time. So long before there were any official competitions there were a few of us diehards who were driving oh, certainly it was 800 miles down to Danville, Virginia, and I would drive that just to play with friends down there for a weekend on their equipment on their location. And there were no trials, so we’re not even going for any kind of prestige, we just want to play the game. So to be in at the ground level, I think it’s true in any endeavor but it certainly was true in agility, you just really had to want to play the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever lost that. I love to play the game. It’s the best team sport I’ve ever enjoyed.
Melissa Breau: Well, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your recent Baby Genius class at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy as well as the class you’re offering this session, and I think the day this airs will actually be the very last day before registration closes. People have one more day to actually go sign up. Which is you’re offering your adolescent sports dog class this session.
Most people, when they first get a puppy, there’s kind of a mix of emotions there, right? People are really excited but there’s also this sense of fear, this fear of messing up that perfect puppy. So I wanted to ask you, any advice you have for kind of overcoming that fear to actually accomplish things?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think that’s a very important point, Melissa, because I think we all have that kind of fear and should embrace it and laugh about it. We all know with our positive training methods that one rep is only one rep. One session is only one session. So you got off on the wrong foot? Just go in a different direction and do better next time. It really is that simple.
But I know that fear that you’re talking about. Usually when I have chosen a dog or a dog has chosen me in the past I tend to gravitate towards dogs who have issues, what other people would not want to try to raise. But yeah, I do have the occasional puppy in my life. In fact, Kool-Aid is one of those, my current youngster, who really didn’t come with any issues. She was beautifully bred, beautifully raised, a wanted child, and came without the problems that I normally embrace in a puppy and boy, did I ever have that feeling too.
So when I first started Baby Genius class I thought, I just have to put that out there. So I wrote that, how does that feel? Exactly like you’re saying it, I sure hope I don’t screw this up, and I have that feeling just like everybody else has that feeling. Even though I know in my heart it’s going to be a wonderful and beautiful relationship that will change and grow as we both grow together you can’t avoid that feeling of gosh, I hope I don’t screw this up, and did I cause every little thing that happens. Oh, no, did I cause this? Look at the monster I’ve created.
But you have to embrace that, laugh it off, just like we have to do that with parenthood and human children, you know, any one day…in fact, I remember posting on Facebook when Kool-Aid was ten months about criteria and I had asked Karen to please tape because Kool-Aid was just in one of those adolescent moods that are so difficult to regain your equanimity with. She just was being a little brat at the door if you know what I mean. And by ten months old these criteria of being polite when the door opens, those are pretty well in place, right? But nothing is perfectly well in place with an adolescent. That’s the beauty of the adolescent, you never know. She just was berserk. I can’t describe it any other way. Screaming, flipping, pounding, rushing the door and banking off it, punching me, punching the other dogs. So my poor adult angels, you know, and are being long-suffering and polite at the door, and this little brat puppy is just throwing the tantrum of her life.
So I remember posting it, putting it out there, and just saying, “I don’t care who you are, your ten-month-old puppy can look perfectly trained day after day but then come tantrum day.” And I think it’s very important to embrace. Tantrum day is a normal part of adolescence, a normal part of growing up, and not the end of the world. The test is for the handler, the owner, the dog mom to embrace the needs of the puppy in that moment. So the real question becomes, do I let her work this out? Do I help her by holding her collar? Do I let the other dogs go and make this dog stay behind? Which, by the way, don’t do that. That’s a mistake.
What I ended up doing was a lot of fun. It was interesting for me and it sort of gave me the next phase of that work that I needed to do with Kool-Aid. I really didn’t know that the tantrum was going to go on for a full two minutes. You don’t know that kind of thing until you’re in the moment, and it really did go on for two full minutes. I looked at the video afterwards and decided based on that…
By the way, you should tape yourself, I don’t care if you’re taking a class or not, videotape is so incredibly useful. The camera can always see something that you didn’t see in the moment nor should you see everything in the moment. You should be focused on your criteria and let the camera do its job of catching what’s going on behind you. Anyway, a little bit aside, but a plug for videotaping yourself whether you’re gold, silver, or bronze.
Melissa Breau: So what did you wind up doing that day with her throwing her tantrum?
Julie Daniels: Well, I truly did let her work it out, Melissa, and in the future I decided, no, I think because she really had so much trouble working it out I put my hand in the collar next time and just helped her. I didn’t pull her down but I eliminated the option of, for example, charging the door and banking off of it or harassing the other adult dogs. I eliminated those options by just holding, slipping two fingers down through her collar. A bigger dog, more fingers, simple as that, and eliminating the options that I really did not want to see again, did not want her practicing which might inadvertently be self-reinforcing because they feel pretty good, that kind of venting.
So eliminating those options actually helped her better herself in the future so that’s the way I do it now with this particular dog. A different dog, if it had played out differently, letting her work it out might be the best way to go, but for Kool-Aid it wasn’t.
I’ll have to share that video. It’s not currently in one of my lectures for that class. I bet I should share that. Especially now people are going to want to see it.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Probably. To kind of talk back through that for a second, I was originally just going to ask you what’s special about dogs at this phase of their life, kind of that ten month to two year old phase. Kind of what do you see…is it just that you should kind of expect that they’re going to go through that testing boundaries phase and be prepared to deal with it? Is it something more than that?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I actually love that question, what’s special about that phase, and I think there’s one underlying common denominator and that’s puberty. It is a special phase and I think what you said is true, you do need to embrace that the boundaries will be tested. I think any sport dog is going to be testing all your theories. So I think it’s important to embrace that phase, but puberty changes everything.
It’s very, very different and we tend to expect that what was taught to the teeny baby is in there pretty good by virtue of our having taught it young, and I think it’s fair to say it’s in there, but what you said is absolutely true. In this stage of puberty everything will be tested. So all those things you thought were in there pretty good, they are still in there, don’t worry about it, you’ll get back to them, but you’re going to have to earn them over and over again through adolescence. I think it’s very important to embrace that stage.
Melissa Breau: So is there anything that people can do when they’re still dealing with a puppy to kind of help make that phase of their dog’s life a little simpler?
Julie Daniels: I think expecting and learning to predict your dog’s likely behaviors is a very important part of getting through puberty. So as you get to know your adolescent dog better and better you become better, hopefully, at predicting how the dog will feel about a certain situation. So for example, I truly did learn from that ten month old example of full blown tantrum at the door over a behavior, mind you, which had been well taught. Well taught, well learned, well received, not particularly difficult or demanding. I think it’s really important to learn from each development that surprises you and to adjust future expectations accordingly the way I did with Kool-Aid.
So the next time at the door I didn’t even wait to see whether there would be a tantrum or not, I just hooked a finger downward through her collar, I think it was just one little finger. She didn’t look like she was going to throw a tantrum and she didn’t, but just that little bit of reminder. It’s not a reminder, don’t worry, you’re not going to be able to get away with this, it’s a reminder, don’t worry, I’m here to help you. That’s really what the finger is saying. There’s no pressure on the collar, it’s just a little reminder that we’re a team, we’re in this together, if we stay connected at the door we’ll all get outside much more quickly.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. I want to help you. There are rules but I’m going to help you get through them.
Julie Daniels: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: I kind of want to know if there are any other common threads that you kind of see running through that adolescent dogs class, any particular problems you see that come up over and over again? Maybe that you could kind of talk us through how you would handle them just so people kind of get a sense of what’s in the class and also kind of your problem-solving style.
Julie Daniels: I solve problems, first and foremost, through games. Games are powerful because they relax everybody, both the trainer and the puppy, and they remove the necessary behaviors from the context of the sport where they will be used. That’s actually very, very important, that the behaviors are taught out of context first and then brought, you know, in a pretty well learned way, are brought to the environment where they will be used.
So that’s one reason that adolescent sport dog class is not sport specific. So we’ll be using props of all sorts. I love props and they are very, very…well, the clicker is a prop. Well, every little tool that we use and then have to wean from is helpful to getting the behavior in the first place in a way that minimizes mistakes and maximizes the fun of learning.
If your dog doesn’t love school, I don’t care what your sport is, you’re going to have a little bit of trouble learning behaviors which require things like self-control, impulse control, focus, and heavy thought. It’s very important that first and foremost your dog loves school.
So obviously we start that in Baby Genius class. The most important thing that we can give the baby is not any particular skill, even a basic skill like sit, I’m probably one of the most lax people I know, for example, in requiring a baby dog to sit, to greet people. That is not my first priority at all. My first priority is I love people. So the decorum, the elements of decorum, come a little bit later for me than for some people, and obviously that’s dog specific too. So if you have an adolescent Malamut jumping up on a human has to be long gone by the time they’re ten months old. It does make a big difference how big or small the dog is.
But it also is important even as we train these specific behaviors such as greeting behaviors, just the example that we’re using, it’s really important that we don’t lose the joy of greeting. So this whole concept of my dog can do this, my dog can do that, and he’s only x months old, I’m already competing and my dog is just 18 months old, I’m not likely to be doing that. I’m much more likely to be developing the teamwork, the love of the game, and the ability to work together than I am in being sport specific.
So adolescent sport dog is not sport specific. It is advanced foundation work to be carried over into any active sport. It is designed for active sports therefore things like impulse control are hugely important and we will play with impulse control forwards, backwards, sideways, and inside out. So the dog really understands how to offer certain behaviors in the context of high activity and excitement.
Melissa Breau: So I think that’s really interesting because I think that’s a problem a lot of people have found they have even with their older dogs. If they didn’t curb it in adolescence they end up with a three or four year old or even five year old dog who may still be struggling with nice greetings or some of those behaviors that sounds like you’re addressing really in this class.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I think the ability to think amid distraction is something that we all have to work on steadily, don’t you, for the people as well as the dogs, right? Because it’s very common for people to become disconnected from the dogs at the drop of a hat and that’s part of this class too. It’s not just the dog who needs to stay focused amid distraction, that focus and that team play are a very important two way street and we give, we will learn to give as well as we want to get.
So the ability to tell the person who just came in the door to wait a minute without even looking at that person in order not to break the connection which you were in the middle of with your dog, I think that’s a very, very important skill for a human to develop as a trainer. We have to give as good as we want to get. That’s not simple and that requires multitasking skills which is also a focus of this class, the ability to take in peripheral information while we’re operating on the information currently on the table, that’s tricky, and it’s tricky for both humans and dogs, and both members of the team need that skill.
Melissa Breau: That’s very interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that quite looked at from that angle before.
Julie Daniels: I’m always siding with the dog, right? So it’s always clear to me the unfairness of people requiring things from their dogs that they’re not willing to give themselves. I call people on that all the time as gently as I can, although I admit that my in-person students are apt to say, “You’re much gentler with your online students than you are with us.” I think that’s true. That’s true. Guilty as charged. Boy. I call people on things immediately when I’m looking at it in person, right?
Melissa Breau: Of course it’s real time and you can call them live whereas online it’s after the moment, it’s already passed.
Julie Daniels: That’s right.
Melissa Breau: All right. To round things out I just have three more short questions. They’re the questions I’ve asked everybody so far who have come on the podcast. The first one is what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Julie Daniels: Proudest of. I don’t think I’m a very proud person in general, but no, there is something. Over the years I think maybe it’s because I was involved in my sport of agility from the very beginning, before we had competitions, but I do think that over the years I’ve become both comfortable and philosophical about winning and losing even in big competition, even in very prestigious competition. I think one strength of mine is that I do not stand on a podium and think wow, I kicked everybody’s butt. I don’t think like that, I don’t act like that. Instead, if I had to put it to words, I think it’s more like, I have let this great dog down more times than I can count but not today.
Melissa Breau: I like that. I like that way of looking at it.
Julie Daniels: It’s not world peace when I go to the start line with my dog, it’s a game I get to play with this wonderful teammate that I enjoy every day.
Melissa Breau: So my second and perhaps my favorite question that I ask the guests who come on is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Julie Daniels: Yeah. I remember hearing that on the other podcasts and I remember thinking at the time, oh my God, how did they choose? It’s such a difficult question. So I actually gave this some thought and obviously it is hard to choose, but I decided to go with some words that struck me at the time like a ton of bricks and still come back to me strongly almost every day when I work with other people’s dogs particularly. And it’s from an abnormal psych class that I took in college, but you said training, you didn’t say dog training. So it pertains to everybody, it pertains to everybody including dogs. But this professor said in abnormal psych class, I don’t remember the question he was asked that he was responding to, but it was about irrational fears, it was about irrational fears, phobias and the like, and this professor just, I remember the stroking the goatee type thing, and he says, “You can’t help anyone unless you begin by accepting their premise as valid.”
So I think I try to bring that acceptance to all my dog training. So therefore I’m less apt to judge the dog, I’m less apt to waste time trying to talk him into things that he’s obviously loathe to do or certainly afraid to do. I go deeper, I get inside his head, I fell in love, and I help. And I help by starting where the dog is right now and I accept his premise as valid.
Melissa Breau: And that premise can really be almost anything, it can be fear, it can be excitement, it can be joy, I mean it really can be almost anything. That’s a really interesting angle to look at training, kind of a lens to look at training through.
So my last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Julie Daniels: Another tough one. I think one of the people who helped me the most with a couple of difficult training issues with my own dogs is Temple Grandin. I first saw her book, Thinking in Pictures, it’s not her first book but it’s the first book of hers that I saw. Since then, long since then a movie has been made of her life and the work that she’s done with animals. She’s primarily a livestock person but she actually likes dogs very much. Her three books that I would recommend everybody pick up, Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation which came after that, and then later than that, Animals Make Us Human.
Temple Grandin, you would think because of her background with livestock would consider dogs and certainly my sport, dog agility, as absolutely frivolous. I mean, you could make a case for that, it’s not the kind of thing that she works with. But I’ve been to three of her conferences, and actually she thinks dog agility is pretty cool. She loves the whole, as I do, loves the whole interspecies thing. I grew up with all kinds of different animals, and the whole interspecies relationship, interspecies communication thing is just fascinating and wonderful to me. I can’t get enough of it.
And Temple Grandin is like that. She’s the kind of person who wants good for all creatures and really is one of the world’s experts in accepting the animal…she doesn’t say it this way, but she accepts the animal’s premise as valid better than anybody else I know.
Melissa Breau: I actually haven’t read her books. Now I’ll have to go pick them up.
Julie Daniels: Yeah. She helped me a great deal with one very special dog I had named Superman, Clark Kent, my students used to say he’s Clark Kent in the house but he’s Superman in the arena. He was certainly an autistic dog, you know what I mean, more than ADHD, he really was challenging to train, and he became, ultimately made challengers round the only time he went to AKC National. So no slouch, the dog was, let’s just say had a lot going for him but was extremely challenging to work with.
She said to me about him, “You’re treating it like he needs the big picture but he can’t…there will never be a big picture. It’s all detail. All detail. So when you give him cues you’ll have to give them sequentially.” Of course me as a world class agility trainer I’m like, oh, you have to do at least three things at once. Who are you kidding? But she was absolutely right and when I started breaking down what she had said and trying to apply it to the way I was training Clark at seven yards per second she was absolutely right and that is what helped me more than anything else with being able to communicate at full speed with this phenomenal dog.
So anyway, that’s just one little example, but she’s helped very, very many people by giving them a different way of looking at things, but it always, always embraces that premise that you have to accept the dog where he is, and that’s your start point.
Melissa Breau: Very interesting. Well, thank you so much, Julie, for coming on the podcast.
Julie Daniels: Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our audience for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Symons to talk about versatility in dog sports, obedience, and scent work. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Stacey Barnett is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love.
To be released 4/14/2017, featuring Julie Daniels.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today, we’ll be talking to Stacy Barnett. Stacy is an active competitor in nose work, tracking, obedience, rally, agility, and barn hunt and the host of the Scentsabiities podcast, but scent sports are her primary focus and her first love. Welcome to the podcast, Stacy.
Stacy Barnett: Hi, Melissa. How are you?
Melissa Breau: Good. Good. How are you?
Stacy Barnett: I’m doing very good. Thank you so much.
Melissa Breau: Yeah, I’m excited to talk today. To start us out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Stacy Barnett: Sure. I have three dogs currently. I have a seven-and-a-half-year-old rescued Labrador-ish dog named Judd. Judd, he’s my elite dog, my NACSW. That’s National Association of Canine Scent Work. He’s my lead dog, and we’re competing at that level. He’s the one that really kind of got me started in the nose work and really made me very passionate about the sport. I also have Joey. Joey is a nine-year-old standard Poodle, and Joey taught me all about building motivation into my training methods, and Joey is at the NW3 level, and I have Why. Why is a mini Aussie. He is about five years old. He has very, very little confidence. He’s a rescue. He’s got a lot of baggage, and you know, he’s really taught me how to build confidence into the way I teach.
Melissa Breau: Did you start out in nose work? How did you originally get into dog sports?
Stacy Barnett: So how I got into dog sports, actually, I spent a lot of years...you know, I was a horse trainer for a while. I rode in dressage.
Melissa Breau: I Didn't know that.
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Yeah. I was really big into horses. Loved horses. I still love horses, but they’re just a little bit too expensive for me, which, I know, they’re walking money pits, and so I’m a little bit of a frustrated horse trainer. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I love training things. So I’m like, well, if I have a dog, I’m going to train it. Then it just kind of went from there. It just seemed to be a very natural transition. I just love doing it. You know, I love the training aspect, what it does for the relationship that you have with the animal, and I enjoy competing.
Melissa Breau: What was the first dog sport you dove into?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, the first dog sport, I would say it was probably a little bit of agility. I did start out with a little agility, a little bit of rally, not successfully. I don’t have a successful past in any of the sports. You know, nose work’s really it for me.
Melissa Breau: Well, what led you to specialize in nose work? Obviously, being good in it is a big plus, but what led you down that path?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say it was a little bit of a whim. I decided, you know what, hey, I’m going to try nose work, and I tried it with Judd, and he gravitated to it, and I just saw this passion come out of this dog, a dog that...you know, he’s got a nickname. I call him fragile little flower. He’s a washout, and I’m saying that in a very loving way, but he’s a little bit of a washout in a lot of the other sports. I tried all these other sports.
He’s got some titles, but he was really only doing the sports because I wanted him to, and it was to please me. When we got into nose work, he just kind of was like, wow, I really love doing this, and to see my dog so passionate about a sport and so...you know, this inner drive, this inner excitement, this inner desire to do the sport, it made me passionate about it, and then I saw, with my other dogs, the benefits that nose work provides, and it’s just become something that...you know, I eat, sleep, breathe nose work at this point.
Melissa Breau: So you kind of mentioned the benefits in there. I know that nose work’s often referred to as confidence building. Is that what you’re alluding to?
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes. Nose work is not only a confidence builder. It can also help reactive dogs. Nose work itself is very reactive-dog friendly in those venues because the dog doesn't have to work within eyeshot or earshot of another dog. They get to work on their own. However, it really does help from a confidence perspective. The sense of smell is actually pretty amazing. It goes through the limbic system, which means that it goes through the hippocampus and the amygdala. So the amygdala is kind of the fight or flight area, and the hippocampus is responsible for developing those early memories.
So what happens is, is that the dog is scenting, and the dog is using about one-eighth of his brain with scenting, and this is all going through this system that’s responsible for emotion and responsible for memory. If we can develop this positive feeling toward sensing and toward scent, we can actually help to put the dog into a really good space so that they can work, and also, you know, as long as you’re working the dog under threshold, the dog is able to continue to work and will actually become more confident over time and actually less reactive over time.
I saw this particularly with my little dog, Why. When he came to me, he could not work at all away from the house. He was also fairly reactive to other dogs. Had about 100-foot visual threshold to seeing other dogs. Now, through nose work, he has developed a lot of confidence. He’s now able to search in novel environments with very little acclimation, and he’s also quite a bit less reactive. He’s got about an eight-foot visual threshold now to other dogs, which I think is absolutely amazing. So the behavioral benefits, especially for a dog like Why, they’re off the charts. Absolutely off the charts.
Melissa Breau: I hadn’t realized that part of that was tied into the actual areas of the brain and some of the science behind that. That’s really kind of neat.
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating, and also, if you have a dog that has a lot of energy or a dog that might be a little bit on the hyper side, it’s really a fantastic way to get them a little on the tired side, because they’re using so much of their brain. They also have a tendency to be less reactive in the moment because an eighth of the brain of the dog is being used at the time, so they’re a little bit less focused on what they see and what they hear.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say nose work seems like it’s really unique just even in the sense that most sports, we really want the dog focused on what we’re telling them to do, and it’s really dog led, right?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, it is. It is. It is, and you know, when I tell my students when they’re handling, I say try to think of it as 80 percent dog / 20 percent handler. You’re in there, and you have responsibilities for the search, but the search is really driven by the dog. We use something called scent theory, right? But again, it’s just theory. So although we have ideas of what scent does, we really don’t have a perfect representation of what scent does except by watching the dog, because dogs are able to...
I don’t know if you know this, but they’re able to scent directionally, which actually means that, you know, with a human, we can hear directionally. So if I’m talking to you, you know if I’m in front of you or behind you. Dogs are able to do this with their nose, so they really have to drive the search. This is something that we’re not able to get in there and be involved in this, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we’re covering the search area, and we have to interpret our dog’s body language, because we have to be able to say is the dog at source and call alert so that we can get credit for that hide. So it does require a lot of teamwork, but it is driven by the dog. Absolutely.
Melissa Breau: And you mentioned reading your dog’s body language. I feel like that, in and of itself, is such a valuable thing for people who have dogs who are behaviorally challenged in whatever way.
Stacy Barnett: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I don’t have official figures, but at least anecdotally, it seems like nose work is one of the fastest-growing dog sports out there. Do you agree with that? Is that accurate from your perspective?
Stacy Barnett: It’s growing at a pretty good clip, yeah. Last figure I heard with the NACSW, I think there are, like, 15,000 dogs registered at this point.
Melissa Breau: That’s kind of incredible. I mean, I’m a Treibball competitor, and I can see just, comparatively speaking, nose work has taken off in a huge way. So I was wondering if you could give us a 10,000-foot view for people not involved in the sport, maybe what venues are out there, anything else that people should know if they’re just learning about the sport or just starting to become interested?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, certainly. Certainly. Essentially, what the dog is looking for is essential oil, and what we typically use, we use scented Q-tips. So the dogs are able to actually source or actually find these scented Q-tips, and they’re hidden. We call those hides. They could be hidden in a number of different elements, and depending upon which organization you’re competing in, you might have different elements, and these are just basically different searches that the dog has to do.
The searches could be inside a building. It could be outside a building. You know, in some venues, you might have to search vehicles, although we never actually search the interior of the vehicles. We’re just searching the outside of them, or you can be searching containers. So containers could be boxes. It could be luggage, or in some venues, they’re even burying or starting to bury the scent in the ground, and the dog has to be able to locate the source of scent and then to communicate the location of that to the handler.
What we do is we train the dogs very similarly to the way like drug detection dogs are trained. So it’s kind of like having your very own pet detection dog, which is a lot of fun. It’s really a lot of fun. I mean, as an aside, I was driving down the road the other day, and I saw a couple of police cars pulled over, and I saw somebody putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle or a policeman putting a Labrador into the back of a vehicle, and I’m like, oh, I know what you’re doing. It’s kind of exciting.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right. In terms of venues or organizations, what does that look like right now for the sport?
Stacy Barnett: So that’s also growing. So probably the largest organization in the United States currently is the National Association of Canine Scent Work, or NACSW. That’s a very large organization. I compete a lot in that organization as well. In the United States, we also have the United Kennel Club, or the UKC, that also has their own version of scent work. AKC is coming out with a version. The trial should be available starting in October of this year. We have organizations popping up worldwide. We have an organization in Canada, which is SDDA. They use, you know, some slightly different odors, and there’s a handful of other venues. So, basically, if you want to do nose work, there’s something out there and available for you, and it’s just growing.
Melissa Breau: Is there a lot of crossover between the different venues? Like if you train in one, is it possible to compete in others, or is that difficult to do?
Stacy Barnett: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve competed in NACSW. I’ve gone up to Canada. I’ve competed in SDDA. I’ve done a little bit of UKC, and I’m a Performance Scent Dogs judge. That’s another organization that’s also growing. I compete there. Most of the organizations will use a lot of the same odors. Some of them use slightly different odors, but it’s very easy to get your dog onto a new odor. That’s a very easy thing to do, but essentially, at the core of it, the dog is still searching. The dog is still identifying, you know, the location of the hide, and it’s still communicating that location to the handler. So although there are small nuances between differences between the organizations, they’re all pretty much consistent.
Melissa Breau: So you mentioned AKC’s new program, and congrats. I hear you’ve been approved as a judge.
Stacy Barnett: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: What do we know about the program so far? You mentioned they’re starting up in October.
Stacy Barnett: It’s a new program. The preliminary rules and regulations are out there. There’s still I think some discussion about the fourth odor, which right now is identified as peppermint, although I think they’re still trying to decide, I think, if that’s going to be the final odor. I’ve heard some things that they might be reconsidering that, but otherwise, it’s still the same first three odors as a lot of the other organizations, the birch, anise, and clove. The AKC also is going to have buried hides. So this is where, at the novice and at the advanced level, the hides are actually going to be buried in dirt in a container, and the dog has to be able to pick out the right container.
At the higher levels, they’re going to have a larger area, and it just might be outside, and the hides will be buried up to eight inches deep into the ground for the dogs to be able to find. They have that. They also have, as a part of the AKC program, is handler discrimination, which is, essentially, the dog is looking for the handler’s scent, which is, you know, trained very similarly to looking for an essential oil, but it requires some different skills for that, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think it’s going to provide a lot more trialing opportunities for folks and open up a lot more doors for a lot of dogs.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, just AKC’s marketing program, in and of itself, is so much more robust than any individual organization can easily manufacture, so hopefully that’ll give the sport an additional boost, too. I heard a rumor that there’s a new FDSA class in the works, specifically to prep competitors for the new AKC program. What do you know about that?
Stacy Barnett: Well, funny that you ask. I was working on a syllabus for one of them this morning. We’re actually taking a look at the whole program, and we think of FDSA nose work as preparing the competitor for nose work regardless of what venue you compete in. So we’re not focused on just one specific venue. So in order to prepare our students also for AKC, we’re going to be making some key changes to our program and adding material. There are a couple different classes that are in the works for April that people can register for come registration that has to do specifically with AKC.
I’m doing one that’s going to be Introduction to AKC Scent Work, and in that class, what we’re going to be doing is actually practicing each of the different elements and learning how to do buried hides and learning how to really, you know, work the dog using the challenges that AKC is going to provide, and all within the guidelines of AKC, and Julie Simons is going to be doing a really great class on handler discrimination, because she has an OTCH.
So she’s done a lot of scent discrimination work. So she’s able to actually take her obedience side and bring a lot of that experience to the table as well. So we’re going to have a class on handler discrimination, and then we’re also going to be looking at our core classes and saying what do we need to do to help to make those more applicable to people who want to also trial in AKC? So there’s a whole lot of stuff going on with that, and I think it’s really going to position our students and really put them into a good position to be able to take advantage of AKC.
Melissa Breau: I think Denise had mentioned the goal is to offer enough classes between now and October that, theoretically, FDSA students could be competing when the first trials are available in October. Is that right?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, I think that’s about right. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So my understanding now, being a nose work competitor, is that there are very common methods out there for teaching the fundamentals. Just based on my research at FDSA, you guys use operant conditioning. Can you explain a little bit what that means, and maybe what some of the other things are out there, what maybe the advantages are to that method?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah. Sure. Certainly. Basically, what I want to do is preface this with all methods work. There are a lot of methods out there for teaching nose work, and I have to say that all the methods I know of are based on caring for the dog, and they’re really positive in their approach. So I do want to say that all the methods work, so I’m not one to say, you know, one method works and one doesn't, but I do think that the method that we teach at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy is a fantastic method, and it does use operant conditioning.
So, basically, the dog learns clarity at the get-go. They learn kind of a cause and effect relationship. They learn that putting their nose on source or on the source of an essential oil, right, the odor from the essential oil results in a cookie, or I use cookie generically. I use things like hot dog. Exactly, that’s still a cookie. A hot dog cookie, but what they learn is that they learn very clear from the get-go that their action results in reward. It’s a very, very clear way of teaching nose work. We also introduce hunting very early on, so they understand the discrimination to find odor.
So, for instance, we’ll start out with containers, and they can actually pick out the correct box with the odor in it, and then we build hunting into that approach so that the dog also learns that they have to search for it, and it’s not just selecting one box out of many. One large method uses hunting for food initially, and then they use classical conditioning to pair odor with a food and then wean off the food so that they just have the odor. So all of the methods do work, and they get you to the same place, but I have to say, I think our method, it’s very quick, and it’s very clear to the dog, and I think, from a clarity perspective, clarity builds confidence.
So I really think that the method itself has to build confidence in the dogs. The other nice thing is that, you know, as the dog goes up in levels, food is used as a distraction. So if we start the dog on odor only, the dog never feels that they can self reward on food, right? So food is already out of the equation. We don’t have to teach the dog, okay, I know you’ve been searching for food in the past, but now food is no longer an option. So I think it’s a really clear way of the dog being able to understand what’s going to result in a reward and understand exactly how to play the game and how to win the game.
Melissa Breau: Now, I know that a lot of the questions I came up with, because I don’t compete in nose work, were a little bit beginner things. So I wanted to make sure we included something for the people out there, who are probably your number one fans, who are actually actively competing in the sport. I was curious if there’s one skill or one problem that you find people having issues with again and again and what you recommend or how you typically suggest they tackle that?
Stacy Barnett: So, I don’t actually necessarily see a particular skill. Actually, well, I do see a skill that I see that people have a hard time with, but I’m going to talk about this in two stages. So the first thing that people are focused too much on is skills and not enough on the foundational aspects of good training, and this is just what I see in general. It’s not focused anywhere specifically, but it’s just what I see in general. When I teach, I use a framework, and that framework is built like a pyramid. So, at the bottom of the pyramid, the first layer is confidence.
Then on top of that layer is motivation, and then the third layer of that pyramid is skill. So you don’t even get to skill until you’ve built up a good foundation of confidence and motivation, and then the final layer of that pyramid is stamina. So what I like to do, you know, when I’m taking a look at a dog and I want to see does the dog have an issue, and what kind of problems is the dog exhibiting, I try to take a look at this framework of confidence, motivation, and skills, and stamina to try to understand where the breakdowns are occurring.
A lot of the time, the breakdowns do occur in confidence or motivation, and it really isn’t skills based. So when I see a dog that’s struggling in nose work or having a really hard time with one thing or another, what I’m finding is it’s not a skill usually. Usually, it’s an issue with a motivation issue or it’s an issue with the dog’s confidence, either the confidence in their skills or the confidence in their environment, and I find that if you remedy these things, that then the dog is able to tap into their skillset, and they’re actually able to be a lot more successful. So that’s kind of the one side of things, because I like to, again, diagnose based on that framework.
The other side of things, if we’re going to talk about specific skills, then, that I think a lot of dogs do have a problem with, it’s a fundamental skill that I think sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to. Is, actually, when the dog is searching at the higher levels, they have to be able to search and source more than one hide. So what I’ve actually taught my dogs is once they find a hide and they get rewarded for it, that hide is essentially finished. So the dog is able to then work on the next hide, versus if we say find another, the dog might just go back to the previous hide and expect reinforcement.
So there’s a certain amount of training that has to be put in place so that a dog can effectively search for more than one hide. This is especially important if you’re working on converging odor where the scent cones overlap and the dog might have to work for finding multiple hides within a small area. So, by being able to give this dog this skill and if the dog has the skills, they’re able to find a hide, search, find another hide, search, find another hide without being enticed back to an original hide, and I find that that’s a really core skill that is really essential for being successful at all the levels.
Melissa Breau: Well, I’d imagine that’s something that’s incredibly hard to teach, because you’re rewarding the dog for a behavior and then expecting them not to repeat it.
Stacy Barnett: It’s actually not that hard to teach.
Melissa Breau: Really?
Stacy Barnett: Yeah, it’s really not. Dogs are really smart, and we have to give them a lot of credit. Each hide has a different scent profile. So they’re not only looking for birch, anise, or clove, but they also can smell, you know, where the hide is placed. They can smell it’s in a tin. How much QuakeHold is used? A magnet, a Q-tip, everything. So there’s a whole scent profile associated, and they realize that once they get rewarded at that hide, that hide, yes, it’s valuable, but the next hide is even more valuable. So we teach them to actually go to the next hide as being something even more valuable, and then they start to realize through training that a previous hide is no longer valuable. So it’s really just working with the value that you place on what’s going to be reinforced and what’s not going to be reinforced.
Melissa Breau: To round things out, there are three questions I’ve asked everybody who’s been on so far. I wanted to make sure we got to them. So, first, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say, that has got to be quitting my job and doing full time nose work.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations. That just happened, right?
Stacy Barnett: It is, and I’m completely free of corporate. I just love this sport so much, that now it’s my complete...you know, this is what I do for a living. I train dogs in scent detection. That, I have to say, is my biggest dog-related accomplishment because I just finally figured, hey, I have one life to live. I could either be semi miserable in my day-to-day job, or I can really embrace my passion and work on something that I love, where, I know I’m working 24/7 it seems, but I love it, and to me, that’s a really big accomplishment because it also means that I can share this passion with other people, and I can share this passion with my dogs.
Melissa Breau: So what does that look like? Obviously, you’re teaching through FDSA. I know that you’re doing some seminar work. Are you teaching locally as well?
Stacy Barnett: I do. I do. I have about a dozen live in-person classes. I teach seminars. I do webinars. I write a blog. I do the podcasts. I have to say, though, that the bulk of what I do is teaching with FDSA, but this has just kind of become all encompassing, and it’s really what I do, basically, day in and day out, and I absolutely love it.
Melissa Breau: So, for those who may be local to you, where are you based?
Stacy Barnett: New Jersey. I’m in Northwest New Jersey.
Melissa Breau: Okay, and then for those who are not close to you, what’s the best place to go to find your webinars, and your blog posts, and all that stuff as they come up?
Stacy Barnett: So I have a website. It is www. ScentsabilitiesNW.com. I also list all my online classes there through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Those are listed there. My webinars are listed, and my seminars schedule is listed as well. I write a blog. The blog is pretty informative and seems to be well read, and that’s on my website as well. So I definitely recommend that, or just contact me. I’m on Facebook. I love chatting with people, so go ahead and reach out to me, and I can point you in the right direction.
Melissa Breau: So the next question here is usually my favorite of the whole interview, which is what’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Stacy Barnett: I have to say the most impactful part is, actually, I have to credit Denise with this. It’s training the dog in front of you. It is so easy to take a dog and try to apply a recipe to it and try to train each dog the same way, but that’s just not going to work. You know, even when I look at my own dogs, each one of my own dogs is such an individual. Judd’s kind of a rock star, but he has a little bit of a fragile past. Joey had some motivation issues. I had to really work through some really big motivation issues with him.
Why comes to me with a whole history, whole baggage behind him, and he had to really learn how to be confident. So in order to set out the way I was going to train each dog, I had to understand what that dog came to the table with and what kind of history the dog has. So understanding where the dog that you’re working with as a starting point can really help you figure out what is the path forward. So I think that that’s probably the best piece of training advice I’ve ever had.
Melissa Breau: And our last question, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Stacy Barnett: There are many, many, many people. I have to say, from a detection side of it, I really look up to Randy Hare. He’s a professional detection trainer, and I have his DVDs. I watch his DVDs. I’ve learned a ton from him. At some point, I would love to be able to work with him in person. You know, just learning a lot from him. I look up to him. That’s on a detection side.
On the other sports, I have to say, every single instructor at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy I look up to, because I started out as a student. I didn't start out as in instructor. So I’ve learned so much from each and every one of the instructors, and all of that information, all of that knowledge, I’ve been able to transfer and translate a lot of that into how I teach nose work. So I just find that there’s so many people, that I really can’t identify just one person, you know, people that I look up to.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Stacy. I really appreciate it.
Stacy Barnett: Well, thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. It was great to dig a little bit into nose work, and hopefully we’ll do some more nose-work-focused stuff in the future — and for our listeners, thanks for tuning in.
We’ll be back in two weeks with Julie Daniels, one of the foremost names in dog agility in the US. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Sue Ailsby has done a little bit of everything when it comes to dog sports -- from water trials to herding -- but is particularly well known for her Levels training program. In this episode we talk about how that program came to be, and what she's learned in over 50 years training dogs.
To be released 3/31/2017, featuring Stacy Barnett.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Registration opens next Wednesday for the April session of classes, including obedience, rally, nosework, and agility. So head over to the website, fenzidogsportsacademy.com and take a look.
Today we’ll be talking to Sue Ailsby. Sue is a retired obedience and conformation judge. She has been in dogs for more than 54 years, having owned and trained everything from Chihuahuas to Portuguese Water Dogs.
She has trained for virtually every legitimate dog sport including, and guys this is quite the list, sled racing, schutzhund, hunting, tracking, scent hurdle and flyball, carting, packing, agility, water trials and herding, rally, conformation, obedience, and nosework.
Sue’s an internationally known speaker on the subject of humane training for dogs and llamas, and has been fundamental in introducing clicker training to Canada.
Welcome to the podcast, Sue.
Sue Ailsby: Thank you very much, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: I’m super excited to be talking to you today and I would love to start off just by having you tell us a little bit about the dogs that you have now and what you’re working on with them.
Sue Ailsby: Okay. My oldest dog right now is Stitch. She’s 12 years old, and what I’m working on with her is mostly going outside to rescue her because she forgets how to come back in through a dog door. She has achieved the lofty status of being able to walk around all day with a smile on her face wondering what’s happening.
And my second dog is Sin, and these are both Portuguese Water Dogs, by the way. Sin is six and I’m working on her, let me think, she’s a champion, she’s finished all her drafting titles. We’re still working on high-level water trials. She’s starting nosework. We’ve done work in studies for medical detection and now I’m looking at competition nosework. We’ve done agility. We’re looking at tracking. Getting ready for some obedience trials. We’ve done rally with her. Yeah, etcetera.
Melissa Breau: Little bit of everything, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I know that you mentioned you’ve done a lot of different breeds and now you’ve two Portuguese Water Dogs. Do you think you’re sticking with the breed for a while?
Sue Ailsby: Oh, right now she’s six. I’m starting to think about another dog, and I had 17 generations of Giant Schnauzers, I so miss my giant Schnauzers. But I’m having such a good time with water trials that I’m really torn, do I get another Giant…because I’m old and it will probably be my last big dog. But then I wouldn’t be able to do water trials with that one, so I have no idea.
Melissa Breau: So we’ll all be on pins and needles to wait and see.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. No less than my husband, believe me.
Melissa Breau: We talked a little bit in the intro about the fact that you’ve been in dogs for quite a while, so I’d love to get your take on what you’ve seen during that time and kind of how your training has changed and what your training philosophy is if you were to look at it today.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, I was tough. I started when I was 11. The only way to train was tough. I used to go to a jeweler to get choke chains made for my Chihuahuas because they didn’t sell choke chains small enough for them. And now I look back and think, you needed a choke chain to train a Chihuahua?
When all there is, is a hammer, everything looks like a nail and you do what you’re told.
And I was very good at it, too. But one day, actually it was in conformation. I got a Best in Show on a Giant Schnauzer and we were waiting for the photographer, and to get a Best in Show you have to look brave and confident and noble and like you’re having a really good time. We’re waiting for the photographer after we got the Best and she was getting a little fussy and I just turned and said, “Sit,” and she turned into an obedience dog. She half closed her eyes and she pulled her neck in and she kind of slowly sat down, and I thought, I’m not ever doing that to another dog.
Melissa Breau: Wow, so it was really that one moment, huh?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If I can’t do obedience any more, then I won’t do obedience any more. But I’m just not making another dog feel like that when I can make her feel glorious to do conformation, and so I quit completely. And then after about six months I started hearing about this weird new cookie pushing sort of thing that was coming in, and I went to Toronto on a plane to talk to a guy who was doing some of this. And he didn’t really know what he was doing, but he got me started and gave me a couple of other leads, and then I went down to the states to see a seminar of a guy. And it wasn’t a ‘how to do this’ seminar, it was a ‘let’s repair the damage’ seminar.
So I didn’t get to hear why he was doing what he was doing, but he’d bring somebody up with a dog that was having a problem and then I’d watch them fix the problem, and from that I kind of started extrapolating what his rules were about how he was doing this and kind of went from there and learned more. And I think about things that I saw before where the dog was actually thinking and how astonished I was.
I had a puppy…I heard about this new thing where you teach the dog to ring a bell to go outside. Oh, what an interesting idea. So I got a bell. Now I’ve got a bell, how do I teach the dog to ring the bell? And just maybe because I’d been doing conformation that morning, certainly not because that’s the way any other obedience trainer would have done it, I smeared some wiener on the bell and I hung the bell down, and she started licking the wiener off the bell. And when she licked it hard enough she made the bell ring, I got all excited, like, “Oh, what a good girl. Good job. Wow, are you ever great.”
And I put more wiener on the bell and hung it down again and she licked it again and made it ring and I’m, “Oh, what a good girl. Wow.” And put more wiener on the bell and put it down. I have no idea whether this is going to work or not. I put the bell down again and she didn’t lick the wiener off. She looked at the bell and she looked at me…this is a five-month-old puppy. Looked at the bell, looked at me, looked at the bell, and then she pulled her great big Giant Schnauzer paw back and whacked that bell into next Tuesday.
And then she looked at me. Is that what you wanted? You wanted me to ring the bell? And that kind of a leap from the dog was completely not part of the training in those days. There was nothing in training that could explain the dog having a brain like that. And those things were so precious, and now I see them all the time. It’s wonderful.
Melissa Breau: It makes you feel totally different about your training relationship and about your dog.
Sue Ailsby: Absolutely. It was all about anger. The dog is doing this deliberately, the dog is defying me, the dog must learn to obey.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: The first dog I trained, it wasn’t clicker training but it was without corrections, was a Giant Schnauzer and I got her to about eight months and it was glorious. And we were getting ready for an obedience trial and I’m heeling along, and part of my brain is saying, isn’t this glorious? She’s never had a correction and she’s heeling. And the other half of my brain is saying, but she doesn’t know she has to. And then the first part, why should she know she has to? She knows she wants to, but she doesn’t know she has to.
I’m going to put a choke chain on her and I’m just going to tell her that she has to. This is not negotiable. You don’t want to put a choke chain on her, you’ve spent eight months telling her how to enjoy this and you’re going to put a choke chain on her? I can handle it. So I put the choker on and we’re heeling along, and she just glanced away for a second. She didn’t quit or anything, she just, her eyes flicked away and I gave her a little pop on the chain, and my good angel is screaming, “Don’t. Don’t do that.” And the bad angel is, “She can’t refuse.”
And she kind of... “What was that?” And I say okay, so we go on and a few minutes later her eyes flick away again and I give her another shot with the collar. And she stopped and the angel is saying, “Now you’ve done it. You’ve ruined it completely. Why don’t you just go shoot yourself right now.” And the devil is saying, “I could just give her another shot. She can’t just stop.” So she stood there for a minute with a confused look on her face and then her ears came up and her tail came up and she started wagging her tail and she got all excited, and she ran around and started heeling on my right side.
Melissa Breau: Okay.
Sue Ailsby: Okay? Heeling is good, I like to heel. Heeling on the left just became dangerous, let’s do it on the right side instead. And I just sank to the floor and I’m sobbing and apologizing. That was the last time I ever had a choke chain on a dog.
Melissa Breau: She showed you.
Sue Ailsby: She sure did. Oh my goodness. And what an amazing solution.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. She was brilliant.
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: That’s so funny.
Sue Ailsby: And yet still the devil was screaming, “She’s refusing. She can’t do that.” Fortunately it got smaller and smaller as we went along. I didn’t listen to it any more. So training has changed amazingly.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Hopefully almost entirely for the better.
Sue Ailsby: Entirely for the better, yes.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the classes coming up through the Fenzi Academy because I know that you’re offering the levels program, and this will air just before registration for that, so do you want to just explain for those who aren’t familiar with it what levels training is and what the program is?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve been training classes since I was 16. You get to the point where I’m tired of teaching people off the street. Not that they don’t need teaching, not that they’re not nice people, but I started doing them in private lessons and I was doing classes for competition people. And I noticed that my competition people were learning to do the competition behaviors but they weren’t learning to handle their dogs. They weren’t learning the tools to teach their dogs, which is the same way I learned to ride.
I took riding lessons for years and I learned a great deal about riding. I’m a pretty awesome rider, by golly, but I don’t know anything about horses. As long as I’m on top of them, I’m good to go, but on the ground I know nothing. And that to me is an extreme failure of instruction, because surely knowing the animal is the bottom line.
So I started noticing that my competition students, most of them didn’t have the bottom line. And when I’m training, I’m looking at the behaviors that the dog needs to know in everything. The dog needs to know how to be in a crate comfortably. There is nothing worse than trying to go on a six-hour drive to get to some competition and the dog is screaming in the crate the whole way. That’s bad for the handler and it’s also bad for the dog because when she gets there she’s all upset and she’s tired, so nobody’s going to do well.
I had students with competition dogs who were never off leash unless they were in the ring because the people didn’t have a decent recall, and to me a decent recall is a foundation and oh, foundations. So I started thinking about the things that the dog needs to know as foundation behaviors and when they know that foundation, they know already more than they have to know about what’s coming up, no matter what you want to do with them.
I go to a nosework class. Whether my dog knows anything about nosework or not, she knows how to learn. She knows how to behave around other dogs. She knows how to keep the leash loose. She knows that I’m trying to teach her something and she’s eager to learn it. So I started thinking about how we could start with basic behaviors to teach basic concepts, and then I started writing those out, and then taking them to extremes. And then I started thinking about the idea of zen, doggy zen or leave that alone or whatever people call it in whatever program.
But why can’t I put my treats on the floor beside me then work the dog? I can do that. Most people can’t because the dog’s going to be grabbing the food off the floor instead of paying attention. To me that’s a foundation behavior. I’ve got eight-week-old puppies that won’t pay attention when the food is on the floor. And so we start working on that. And then you think about that, the idea of the dog controlling herself to get what she wants rather than just trying to grab it is a foundation concept.
And if she knows that I go into herding, she’s not going, “Give me the sheep, give me the sheep, give me the sheep.” She’s going, “What do I have to give you so I can have those sheep?” And no matter what circumstance we go into, she’s giving me, “What can I do for you to get what I want out of this situation?”
And from there training is just incredibly easy. So that’s why I wrote the Training Levels. Also, people have a problem with splitting behaviors. That’s the one thing people say about clicker training, “I don’t know how to split behaviors. All I’m doing is lumping. I want the dog to sit. I can’t see anything that the dog does that takes her from standing to sitting. She’s just…” They’re describing the enterprise beaming the dog up and beaming her back down in a sit position.
Melissa Breau: Right. Right.
Sue Ailsby: So I wanted to write them also to teach the trainers how to split and how to reward and how to look for the little behaviors that lead where you want to go. So that’s the training level, and they’ve been enormously successful. I’m really, really proud of them.
Melissa Breau: You updated them a few years ago, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yeah because I started to realize that I had written them originally for my competition students, so there was competition stuff in there, like how to do a stand for examination. And then I realized that these are foundation behaviors I’m talking about, these are not competition behaviors. If you’ve got all your foundation behaviors in place, you’re six or eight weeks from getting a beginning title in any sport because you’ve already got the foundation behaviors.
What is a stay but self control in a sit? It’s an easy explanation. So I rewrote them because I had changed my focus and I realized I was now looking at foundation behaviors for life rather than foundation behaviors just for competition or just for obedience. Now they’re foundation behaviors for pets and service dogs. The service dog community has gone nuts over the training levels as foundation for training service dogs.
Melissa Breau: Right. Now are there any kind of criteria, I mean you can do this with a puppy or as an adult dog, or really with any age, right?
Sue Ailsby: People have done this with llamas and cats and horses and goats and…
Melissa Breau: Wow. You don’t think of a goat as super trainable. That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: Oh, goats are very smart.
Melissa Breau: So you do a lot of different things with your dogs and I would love to hear how you decide what to do with each dog, like whether you have goals for them when you get them as a puppy, whether you kind of explore things as they grow up, like how do you decide what sports to focus on?
Sue Ailsby: A lot of it is what’s available at the moment. I have a friend that I trial with who is also interested in all different kinds of sports and that I grew up with in a junior kennel club, and we kind of look ahead and say, “So what are we going to do this year? Oh, well, there’s a tracking test coming up in so and so and oh, that’s relatively close, let’s do some tracking,” and things like that.
And well, there’s some degree of guidance with the Giant Schnauzer. Do I get another Giant so I can do more carting and sled racing sort of stuff, or do I get another Porty so I can continue doing water trials? And then sometimes something’s available and you give it a shot and it’s clear that the dog either isn’t going to enjoy it or just has no aptitude for it. I’ve had lots of Giant Schnauzers with herding titles. My first Porty had a herding title. I take my current Portys out to the sheep and they’re like, “they’re not bothering me.”
Melissa Breau: No interest, huh?
Sue Ailsby: No. And back to how the training has changed, my six-year-old, I took her out as a younger dog onto sheep at a clinic and she was awful. She was just completely uninterested in sheep, and as I started back, okay, my turn is over, I’m starting back towards the other people at the clinic, and I can see on their faces they’re all thinking oh, dear. Sue’s dog was terrible, she’s going to be so mad. And I can see this going through their heads and I’m like mad at my dog because she has no aptitude for herding sheep? That’s kind of silly. But they don’t know that.
So in a big loud voice I said, “She’s terrible at herding sheep.” And they’re all looking at me like here it comes, she’s going to give the dog away or... and I said, “Do you know what this means? I don’t have to buy sheep this year.” Okay. If herding sheep is really, really important to me, then I will sit down and guide her and show her that she can have a good time herding sheep. And if it’s not important to me... which it isn’t. It’s a fun thing to do if the dog’s enjoying it, but in itself it’s not important to me. So okay, so we’re not going to be herding with this dog.
Melissa Breau: That’s really funny. That’s one of those things where especially in a sport like that where at least a big part of it is instinct, you really can’t fault the dog. If it’s not there, it’s just not there.
Sue Ailsby: Right.
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And she loves nosework. If I would hide 20 things around the house every day and send her to find them, that would just make her entire year. So we’re going to do some, and they seem to enjoy the carting. And it’s a thrill for me to see her in obedience with her coat flowing and her flag flying and strut stepping and having a good time.
Melissa Breau: Now you also teach rally, right?
Sue Ailsby: Yes.
Melissa Breau: So I haven’t had the pleasure of taking your rally class, but I’d love to know what you think you kind of maybe do differently than how other people teach those skills. I know for example, Hannah’s really taught the obedience skill building series very differently than how most people approach obedience, and I’d imagine, you’re an outside the box thinker, that you probably approach rally a little differently. Can you talk to that?
Sue Ailsby: What I see in a lot of physical rally classes is the same thing I see in a lot of physical conformation classes, which is: this is the course. You go through the course and here you get the dog to sit and here you get the dog to back up and here you get the dog to do this, and no, you have to keep the leash loose here and no, you have to give only one queue there, and they’re talking about teaching the handler how to do the course but they’re not teaching the dog how to do the behaviors.
So it’s even worse in conformation where they just take the dog to a class and walk around in a circle for an hour and bore the dog out of its mind and that’s a conformation class instead of teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and how to have a good time. And so I don’t even introduce courses until we’ve gone at least several weeks, and then a course might be two signs. Just maybe walk from this sign to this sign and have the dog sit. And I’m not looking at whether it’s heeling straight or anything, just walk from here to there and have the dog sit because we’ve already talked about how to walk and how to get the dog to sit.
I don’t know, the only thing I’m doing different is that I’m teaching the dog how to do the behaviors and I’m teaching the handler how to teach the dog.
Melissa Breau: Now in the skill building series, is there a particular organization that you‘re focused on, or... I know that you can do rally with a number of different organizations these days.
Sue Ailsby: Well, because Fenzi is an international school, I can’t really focus on one venue, and I know there are people that have taken rally from me in Europe who are doing cyber rally. They’re doing rally where they send in videos and the videos are judged because there’s no rally organization within physical distance of them. So I kind of say this is the basic idea of this sign. Now read the rules of the venue you’re going to be in and we will discuss what the rule says for your venue and any changes you’re going to have to make because of that.
Melissa Breau: I’d imagine that’s one of the classes where the gold students are extremely helpful, just having the…
Sue Ailsby: Gold students are always precious. Oh, the training levels. A training levels isn’t one class, one session of classes, it’s a semester, it’s a bunch of semesters which you can sign up for one at a time. But the gold students in the fourth semester have been taking the program right from the beginning and it’s a family. It was such an amazing dynamic. It was thrilling to have these people and to realize that now I’m not telling them basic things any more, they know the basic things now. I’m telling them minor modifications, and that was absolutely thrilling.
Melissa Breau: I’d love to make sure that everybody listening to this kind of gets the chance to see a little bit of how you teach or a sample of kind of what some of the things that you tackle are, so is there one skill or problem that you find people consistently have issues with and just come up again and again and again that you wouldn’t mind maybe walking us through how you typically tackle it?
Sue Ailsby: The one thing you absolutely have to have to train a dog anything is the single most important foundation behavior, which is paying attention, I call it being in the game. If the dog is in the game you can teach her anything. If she’s not in the game, you can’t teach her anything.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: Go to an agility trial. Oh, if I’m doing a seminar somewhere…one time people in Detroit or somewhere said we want you to spend one day of the seminar doing agility, and I’m like, “You people are insane. I’m not a high-end agility handler, I do agility because my dog enjoys doing agility and because it makes me move. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m disabled. Surely in Detroit there are world class agility instructors.”
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: And they’re like, “No. We already work with them. We want to know what you have to say about agility.” I said, “Okay, but you make sure everybody who signs up for the agility session knows that I’m an amateur agility person. I’m not going to be out there pretending I’m some agility guru. I was a conformation judge, I know conformation. I don’t know agility like a judge.”
“Okay, we’ll tell them, we’ll tell them.” Well, I get there and they’re like okay, what problem are you having with this dog and I’m thinking, oh, she’s not doing precisely the right behavior on the down contact or I’m having trouble with threadles or something. No. We get halfway through the course and she goes off to visit the steward, or she can’t work if my husband’s watching. These are not agility problems, these are foundation problems.
So I was there for a whole day doing an agility seminar and absolutely nothing of what I did was agility. It was foundation behaviors.
Melissa Breau: That’s why they wanted you to come in.
Sue Ailsby: Yeah. If the dog isn’t able to focus on you, if the dog is afraid in that situation, if the dog is nervous in that situation, if the dog is just distracted by everything else that’s going on, you can’t be teaching the dog to do a teeter. And yet the more distracted the dog gets, the harder people try to work on the teeter. “No, we’re doing teeters. Come on, you have to do the teeter.” Stop doing the teeter. You can’t teach a teeter when the dog is distracted. You have to get the dog focused. That’s a foundation.
Melissa Breau: So how would somebody who realizes they have that problem start to tackle it? What would you have them do as like that first step of fixing it?
Sue Ailsby: I’ve started students’ dogs sometimes in the bathroom with the door shut and the toilet paper put away so there’s absolutely nothing to distract them. I have students with Salukis. Salukis don’t eat in public.
Melissa Breau: Oh. That’s not a thing I knew.
Sue Ailsby: “Excuse me, I’m a sight hound, I do not eat in public.” And so we start them in the bathroom. Okay, not public. Can you do this, can you take this food from me? Can you take this food from me? Can you look at me and take the food from me? Can you touch my hand and take the food from me? Then you go into a slightly more distracting situation like open the bathroom door and repeat the instruction, and then maybe you go out in the hallway and you repeat the instruction. And you go into the living room and “Oh, you can’t do it here? Okay, let’s go back to the bathroom and we’ll start there again at let me explain that again.”
You touch my hand, you get a treat. You like that? Okay, let’s go out in the hallway. You touch the hand, you get the treat. Let’s go out…no, still can’t do it? Let me explain it again and we go back to the bathroom until they can do it, until they can do it from scratch in the living room. Oh, boy. Now we can go out in the backyard or we can go in the front yard or we can go in the car. We can drive the car to a parking lot and we can get out in the parking lot and see if they can do it there.
Because the big problem with having a class is you take the dog there and the dog is expected to do stuff, and maybe the dog has never been in that situation before and they can’t do stuff there. Mostly they’re just standing there going holy cow, I didn’t know there was that many dogs in the world.
Melissa Breau: Fair enough.
Sue Ailsby: So the absolute bottom line foundation is paying attention, focus. And if you don’t have focus, stop working on something else and go back and get focus. It’s like clothes. Okay, you’re in grade two now, you have to wear clothes. Yeah, but I’m late for school. Oh my God, he’s late for school, let’s go to school. Oh, wait a minute. You still don’t have clothes on.
Melissa Breau: I like that analogy.
Sue Ailsby: I’m not going to take you to school and shove you in the classroom. It doesn’t matter if you’re late for school, you’re going to put your clothes on first.
Melissa Breau: Right. Absolutely.
Sue Ailsby: And trying to get people to the point I think has been a lifelong battle of me trying to get people to the point where they see that the clothes come first. Stop trying to get the dog to do a sit stay when all he wants to do is go see that cute dog at the end of the line. You’re not working on forcing him to do a sit stay, you’re working on him to focus. If that means taking him out of the room into the next room where he’s by himself, “Can you focus now? That’s wonderful. Good job. You can focus.”
And then you take one step into the training room again and he loses it and you take him back out again. “You want to be in the training room where you can see that lovely creature? I need focus. You can focus here. Shall we try it again?”
See what happens to me when I start thinking about the dog getting out of control is I get calmer. My voice goes down. I felt my shoulders come down. Instead of getting more excited and going, “No, no, no. Come over here. Sit.” I said, “No, you can’t do it here, we’ll go back out in the other room. Can you do it there?” And over time he’s going to get to the point where he can walk into the other room and see, oh, she’s still there. Isn’t she cute? But he’s still focused on you and on what he’s supposed to be doing.
My llamas actually taught me this. I have a breeding pen and when I’m going to breed a female I put her in the breeding pen and then I go and get a stud. And if he won’t put his nose in the halter, which is a trained behavior that he already has, if he won’t put his nose in the halter because he’s too busy running back and forth along the fence going “breeding pen, breeding pen,” then I’m going to walk away. I’m not hunting you down, son. The halter’s over here. You don’t get to come out of your pasture until you’ve got your halter on.
Melissa Breau: Right.
Sue Ailsby: So the second or third time I walk away he’s like, can I put my nose in the halter please? Like yeah, yeah, you can. And then we step out, and he knows in his soul because I taught him this when he was a baby. Tight leashes go away from where you want to go and loose leashes go where you want them to go.
I bought a stud who weighed 400 pounds, an adult, and he didn’t know that. He thought if he wanted to go that way he’d just go that way and you’d come with him. So I had an ATV and I just tied the leash to the ATV and when he tried to drag me to the breeding pen, I’d just turn around and drive the other way.
And so while other people are arguing with their studs, it takes three people to get him safely to the breeding pen, I’m walking across the yard with one finger on the leash and he’s walking backwards because he’s concentrating so hard on keeping that leash loose. It’s not my job any more to control him.
And that’s the bottom line of all training. It’s not my job to control the animal, it’s the animal’s job to control himself. All I do is supply the consequences. Tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, loose leashes go to the breeding pen. But people say, “But my dog really, really, really, really wants the treat. He just goes crazy.” “Honey, your dog doesn’t want the treat more than my stud wants to get to the breeding pen. Trust me on this.”
Melissa Breau: Yeah.
Sue Ailsby: And if I one time tell him that dragging me to the pen will get me there, then I’ve lost all the training I did. He has to know in his very soul that tight leashes go back to the bachelor pad, and when he’s got that he’s got everything. So I had 4-H kids with breeding males standing in the waiting ring at a show surrounded by females and they’re just like, my leash is loose. Isn’t it great?
Melissa Breau: That’s impressive.
Sue Ailsby: And yet it’s very standard training.
Melissa Breau: It’s one of those pieces of advice that is simple but not easy.
Sue Ailsby: Yes. Absolutely. And it’s a piece of advice that you have to keep in front of you all the time, just like if you’re not focusing on me, we’re not working on anything but focus.
Melissa Breau: I have three more short questions. I’ve asked these questions to everybody that’s been on the show, and the first one’s usually the hardest. What is the dog-related accomplishment that you would say you’re proudest of?
Sue Ailsby: I’m proudest of my relationship with my dogs. I’m proudest that I can go to a competition and people watch me in a water trial or whatever we’re doing and people will come up after and say, “That was so beautiful. She was working with you so beautifully that you were like a team. And it didn’t look like you were trying to get her to do anything, it just looked like you thought, I think I’d like her to do that, and she went and did it for you.” And that to me is the essence of why I have a dog.
Melissa Breau: My second to last question is, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Sue Ailsby: Get yourself out of the mix. Don’t take it personally. Our entire culture is based on antagonism. I have to fight to defend everything I get and everybody else is trying to not let me have it. And that, especially in the training that I grew up with, was the key to everything. This is my idea and if you’re doing the same thing, you’d better credit me because it’s my idea. And my dog has to do what I tell her to do. She doesn’t have a say in this or she’s defying me.
And to turn it around and take myself out of the mix and say, “How do I get the dog to want to do this, and how do I nudge her gently in the direction I want her to go and still have her think that it was her idea?” I was talking about this to somebody who took tai chi once and they said, “That’s tai chi for dogs.” You don’t meet force head on, you receive it and you change its course and send it on its way. To take something the dog is doing and not think she’s defying me but to be able to sit back completely without rancor and say, why did she do that? How can I make it better for her to do what I want than it was for her to do that?
Melissa Breau: So the last one up is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to? And part of the reason we ask this question is because we’re always looking for who we should talk to in the future, so who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Sue Ailsby: Denise Fenzi. That didn’t help much, did it?
Melissa Breau: That’s all right.
Sue Ailsby: I’m absolutely awe struck at her ability, not just to build a business and to manage a business, but to assemble a group of instructors that I think every single instructor is just giddy over the idea of working with instructors of this quality. To keep us sane and to keep us, and I said before that training was all very tight and greedy. This is mine, this is my idea, and that’s not what happens at Fenzi and it’s because of the kind of training that we do. But it’s not I don’t care how she’s doing it, this is how I do it. It’s more like yeah, that’s not the way I do it but that’s a perfectly legitimate way of doing it and so since you’ve already got that, let’s just work with that.
And the other person I admire is not a single person, it’s the students. It’s the students who know so much and they come to learn more, and it’s the students who know nothing and come and take gold classes to learn more because they trust us not to make fun of them because they don’t know something. It’s to the point where you can tell somebody who has been in another Fenzi class with another instructor because they’re not afraid to take the coaching. They’re not defensive because they know that you’re coaching, you’re not making fun.
The people I really admire are the people who started out in traditional training and are trying to change because changing is so difficult.
Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much, Sue. I really appreciate you being willing to do this.
Sue Ailsby: That was fun.
Melissa Breau: Thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Stacy Barnett, one of the excellent nosework instructors at FDSA and founder of the Scentsabilities podcast. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Nancy Gagliardi Little has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
To be released 2/17/2017, featuring Sue Ailsby.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Nancy Gagliardi Little.
Nancy has been training dogs since the early 1980's when she put an Obedience Trial Championship or “OTCH” on her Novice A dog, a Labrador Retriever. Since then she has put many advanced obedience titles on her dogs, including 4 additional AKC OTCH titles and multiple championships in herding and agility.
Nancy is also a retired obedience judge; she retired from judging in 2008 to spend more time training and competing with her own dogs.
Welcome to the podcast Nancy!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks Melissa, it's great being here.
Alright, well can you start us off by telling us about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Sure. I've had border collies since 1986, and i usually have about 3 in training. Score is my 12 year old; he's retired. I actually had to retire him around the age of 8 due to a back issue and he was close to finishing his herding championship; he was one point away from finishing it, had all his majors. He competed at AKC Nationals twice, got his ACK MACH, and he was one snooker Q, actually a super Q, away from ADCH in USDAA.
Schema is my 8 year old border collie. She's a bitch. She's actually a really really nice dog; she really is not a bitch, but she's a girl. We're competing in mostly agility. we do USDA and AKC. She's in the masters USDAA; she's got her ADCH. She competed at USDA nationals, she's got a MACH too, she just finished that recently, and she's competed at AKC nationals for the last 3 years. I think it's going to be her fourth time there coming up in March. I do train obedience with her; she's got lovely heeling on both her right and left side. I actually get a big kick out of training heeling on the right side, it's fun. Most of my training with her is in agility. I sold my sheep about 7 or 8 years ago, so i don't do as much herding as i used to, but she is probably one of my most talented herding dogs. She is amazing. I just haven't had the time to go any further than the training.
And then my youngest is a 3 year old border collie named Lever. He was introduced to sheep when he was young. And I did some training with him between a year and two, and he's quite a talented jumper in agility, he's pretty amazing. I can't take any credit for that; I didn't screw it up, but he's just really amazing. He's got the power and speed, and he's just getting used to controlling his body right now. We compete in Master's level in AKC and he just needs one more advanced standard Q to move into Masters USDA. He's doing pretty good.
And then last but not least, I figured I'd bring up my husband's dog is a Toller and this is kind of new for us. He's a year and a half; I'm not training him, he's being trained purely by my husband. I just really love this breed; it's new to us, he's the first Toller we've had, we've had other sporting breeds before, but what a cool breed that is. Yeah, so he's a year and a half.
Melissa Breau: So I don't know if you know this, but Tollers are the breed I'm looking at next, so...
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Really!
Melissa Breau: It's good to hear positive things.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I'm very impressed with the breed.
Melissa Breau: Obviously, you've achieved a lot in the sport -- even with just the dogs you have now that was a lot of letters and a lot of titles, but how did you originally get into dog sports and those types of games with your dogs?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: My dad actually bought me a shetland pony when I was 5 years old. Can you believe that? He can't believe that he did that, but he just says he'd probably be arrested now a days. I just loved animals, and I did a lot with all of my animals. I taught them things. My horses all had recalls from the pasture and just that love of animals.
When I got married my husband and I both loved dogs, and we each got a dog, a Labrador, and we decided to take them to a formal obedience class at a training school here. We were introduced to competitive obedience there. and scent hurdles, and fly ball and it kind of went from there. It was something we could both do together on the weekends; we were both working long weeks at work. So it's not -- it's probably not all that different from a lot of people getting involved in dog sports.
Melissa Breau: So, when you started out, I'm going to guess -- though I could be wrong -- that it was more traditional methods.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah.
Melissa Breau: I'd love to hear -- what got you stared on the journey from that way of training to where you are today, which is much more positive?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: That's interesting, because I'm basically a really positive person. I was raised in a positive environment. So throughout my life I've continued to make changes to make live more pleasant and enjoyable. I think everyone does that sort of thing as the years go by.
So yeah, I started training obedience with traditional methods and I think a lot of people have; I was pretty successful using them, but then one of the last conflicts for me in the quest for me to make life more enjoyable was just addressing the way I was training my dogs. So I did lots of experimenting on my own, with my own dogs. I loved what I was seeing and of course it was much more fun for me. I loved getting out and training, instead of just trying to find the time and I got more involved in the sport of agility finally and as I did that I continued to learn about positive training methods since the majority of that sport trains that way.
I'm a really creative person; it's kind of my forte. I love thinking and obsessing over training. So I started breaking things down more and become more aware of arousal levels and stress contributing to it all, and I started using those ideas and incorporating them into lessons with my local obedience students. And they enjoyed training a little differently. So it's kind of been a wonderful transition for me, and I love training more now than ever.
Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that you were raised positively. So Denise and I were chatting about this and the fact that I was going to have you on the podcast, and she mentioned your dad, John Gagliardi, and I'm not a football person, so I had to go look him up. I'd heard of you, but I hadn't heard of him. And he's really really well known as a coach with the most wins in college football history, but beyond that he had a really unique approach to coaching. My understanding is that included things like not letting his players call him coach, not using a whistle or blocking sleds, and he even prohibited tackling in practices -- just kind of a very non-traditional approach, very non-traditional techniques and I'd like to hear how that impacted how you train and your perspective on dogs sports.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Oh yeah, that had a big influence on me. His coaching style was quite a bit different than the norm. It still is. He was ahead of his time by 50 years. By focusing on what he believed in, and not on traditionally what was done. Believe it or not, he actually started coaching when he was 16 years old.
His high school coach -- this is actually kind of a cool story -- his high school coach was drafted into the war at that time and they were going to cancel the football program; they were at the bottom of the conference and always loosing, and so he loved football, so he approached the principal and he proposed to take the team over and coach it himself. So kind of a self-coached team. And they decided to give him a chance, and he changed things so he made practices more fun with a lot of things. Apparently at that time they weren't allowed to drink water; they would drink water, they were told they were going to die, they were going to die if they drank water. Interesting.
So with all the changes his team went from the bottom of the conference to winning that conference that year. He was successfully just making changes to do things that they enjoyed doing, and so many of the things he did in 63 years of coaching are now being looked at by the NFL and other coaches to help prevent injuries. He never wanted to hit in practice. He wanted to save his players for the game. He didn't like injuries. So his practices were centered around enjoying live, having fun, things like that. And his players absolutely LOVED playing for him. They rarely missed practice; he kept things simple worked on fundamentals, and he only added more difficult techniques when his players had mastered all of those pieces. And then he would break those plays down into small pieces, get those pieces perfected, build those pieces into a lot of complicated plays, and so his team rarely lost games because of the depth of training he put into those kids.
He was a master at analysis, details and creative solutions and i think that's something that I've either inherited or I've learned from him.
Melissa Breau: I was going to say, even just listening to you I can hear the parallels to dog sports; just the idea that he broke things down into pieces and foundation skills.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Exactly. This is the other piece that I think is so cool is he expected them to be X1 players, as well as X1 human beings, and he believes in people, respects people, loves to learn about people. There's so much about coaching that parallels the way I train my dogs because I expect and focus on their excellence too. I believe in my dogs -- I always believe in them. I believe they're right and they're telling me things. I listen to them and try to make changes to my training based on what they need. Those are all things that my dad taught me through the way he coached his players. There are so many parallels between coaching and dog training; just his way of coaching it helped me as a dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: I'd really love to hear how you describe your training philosophy now -- what's really important to you? Or what do you see as the big things that you believe in training when you work with dogs today?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Well, i guess to sum it up, it's not a really long philosophy. What sums it up for me is I just always look at my dogs as my coaches. So the dogs are my coaches, whether they're students' dogs, or my dogs', they're the ones who they're helping me develop a plan, and I like to look at it that way because it keeps me always evaluating and looking at things.
Melissa Breau: I want to make sure we talk a little bit about your experience as an obedience judge. Having had the experience of being a judge, how has it changed how you train and how you prepare yourself for competition? So can you talk a little bit about that?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I got to watch a lot of dogs over the years -- 20 years, i think I was judging, around there. I don't think judging has really influenced the way I train at all; it's kind of separate. But it has made me aware of handling and timing issues that unknowingly contribute to problems in handlers. It's also helped me develop a system of handling for heeling where there's no footwork involved. That's one of the classes I'm doing right now, and it's really different. I noticed, when I was judging, handlers coming in and -- especially new handlers -- even handlers that've been around for a while that are just struggling with getting on the right foot and that. Those are just a few things.
Timing is another issue. Commands that I give to handlers and handlers quickly giving the cue to the dog, and you start to see anticipation issues; those kinds of things.
Melissa Breau: Like I mentioned, I'm fairly new to obedience, so I've been volunteering to steward every chance I can get just to surround myself with the sport, learn a little more about it, make sure that when I do eventually wind up in the ring I'm not quite as nervous. At the very first trial where I got to steward, the judge said something to his beginner novice handlers -- I don't think I'll ever forget this -- he said, "I'm here to work for you. If you're not ready when I ask, tell me so; I'll wait. Take your time." He really emphasized this idea that they were paying for him to be there, not the other way around. Most handlers probably haven't ever thought about a competition quite that way before, or the judge at least quite that way before, and I was curious if you had any nuggets, things you which handlers had known when you were judging that you wish handlers knew when they walked into a ring from your time being on that side.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that's wonderful advice from the judge. So true. That was one of my biggest... one of the things is I wish people would slow down and just take more time, so that's awesome that he or she brought that up.
A couple other things come to mind and one is, I think it's a little better now, but just playing and engagement between exercises. There is countless times when the judge is busy scoring, and you're moving between exercises, when the dog needs a break. And i just wish more people would break the dogs, rather than heeling them, and just play a little bit between exercises. It's fine to do that, if you just don't hold up the ring. Just make sure you're moving between exercises.
Another important thing is just to be your own dog's advocate in the ring. Just making sure that if something is going on that you step in and take control. Just because somebody's telling you not to do that -- just make sure you do what's good for your dog.
Melissa Breau: I didn't include this in the questions I sent over in advance, but I'm curious, since you've had so much experience with the sport, just what some of the changes that you've seen over the years have been. From what I hear, even the instructions the AKC gives to the judges have changed a little bit. They've become a little more about trying to make the sport more acceptable and more interesting for people maybe new to it --
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Which is awesome.
Melissa Breau: Do you have anything that comes to mind about how the sport has changed and what your thoughts may be?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I don't think the sport has changed too much. I wish it would change more. Some of the exercises have changed; the orders in the B classes at one time there was only one order, and now the open B and utility B exercises have... i think there's 6 different orders. At one point in time you could not excuse yourself from the ring and you can do that now. That's fairly recent to change.
There's lots of little things like that. Utility, a long time ago, utility A and B were split recently but at that point in time they could be combined into just one utility class, and there was also an exercises in utility that was a group stand, where the dogs would all be standing and the judge would go down and examine each. That was before I was judging; I was competing then, but the dogs would all stand and the judge would examine them all 12 of them at the most. Those are some changes; in terms of judging, the judges have changed according to the rules. Basically, I think procedures are pretty similar to what it was... since I haven't been judging since 2008, I can't really say what is going on currently.
Melissa Breau: Well just to round things out, I have 3 more short questions that so far I've asked everybody whose been on the podcast. So the first one might be a little hard to answer, but what's the dog related accomplishment you're proudest of?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, that can be hard because everyone has that issue, i know for myself, each of my dogs have given me some pretty amazing things to be proud of -- but actually I could think of one thing and I think my proudest accomplishment was that the American Kennel Club's Border Collie Parent club, which is Border Collie Society of America, gave me the 2010 Good Sportsmanship Award, which I was very honored to receive.
Melissa Breau: Congratulations!
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Thanks.
Melissa Breau: So the second to last question -- what is the best piece of training advice you've ever heard?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: I had one ready for today, and it's not so much training advice buy more life with dogs and that includes training and it's something I love so much I have T-shirts made with it on, and that's "Be the person your dog thinks you are." I just love that slogan or saying. But today Julie Daniels posted a respondences in the instructors' email list, and it was on a discussion we were having and she said something that became my new favorite piece of training advice. So that just happened today, and what she said was, "consequences are not always the enemy, but anger is always our enemy." I just love that.
Melissa Breau: I'm sure she'll be very flattered that that's what you chose.
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Yeah, so that's just awesome.
Melissa Breau: This last question is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Nancy Gagliardi Little: Boy, this is a heard one. There's so many people in the dog world that I admire, there are too many to mention, so I think I'll say the entire group of instructors at FDSA as an entity. It's an incredibly supportive family and Denise is just the best boss that anyone could possibly have.
Melissa Breau: I'll agree with that. Alright, well thank you so much for joining me, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back in two weeks with Sue Ailsby, the creator of the Levels training program.
If you haven't already, subscribe now in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Loretta Mueller has been involved in agility since 2003. Loretta and her dogs are no strangers to the finals at the USDAA World Championships and she currently coaches the World Agility Organization USA Agility Team.
She also runs FullTilt Agility Training in central Minnesota. Outside of the agility world, Loretta has been involved in herding, competitive obedience, rally and service dog training.
To be released 3/3/2017, featuring Nancy Gagliardi Little.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Loretta Mueller. Loretta has been involved in agility since 2003. Loretta and her dogs are no strangers to the finals at the USDAA World Championships and she currently coaches the World Agility Organization USA Agility Team. She also runs FullTilt Agility Training in central Minnesota. Outside of the agility world, Loretta has been involved in herding, competitive obedience, rally and service dog training. Welcome to the podcast, Loretta.
Loretta Mueller: Thanks for having me Melissa, I’m excited to be here.
Melissa Breau: Excited to be talking to you. So, to get us started out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and kind of what you’re working on?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. I have six dogs. Their names are Clink, Gator, Lynn, Even, Crackers and Gig and I train all of them in agility. I also work the dogs on sheep, except for the terrier.
Melissa Breau: And Crackers is your terrier, right?
Loretta Mueller: Yes, correct.
Melissa Breau: Okay. So how did you get into competitive dog sports and training?
Loretta Mueller: It all started out with my first dog, Ace. He was a rescue from a no-kill shelter and he had a lot of fear issues. On top of fear issues, he also had separation anxiety and an excessive amount of energy, so I started taking some dog obedience classes with him to see if that would help with some of his behavior issues, and it did of course. After obedience, I discovered agility and pretty much never looked back. I still do obedience and I still train it a lot, but agility is my passion for sure.
Melissa Breau: So in your bio on the Fenzi website, it says that you believe there’s never a one size fits all method in training. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. I never just go into a lesson or a seminar thinking today we’re going to learn about “insert topic here.” I go with a general plan, but I let the dog dictate what we work on. I’m about the entire picture. So, to try to teach each dog and each handler in the exact same way doesn’t make sense to me. There’s always adjustments, sometimes to the point of trying something totally different so the team gets it. I really want to teach people to read their dogs to try to put themselves in their dog’s place as much as they possibly can. There’s always a reason the dog does something, and I feel it’s our job to know why they’re doing it, or at least to help them find the correct path. And you can’t know why if you don’t observe.
Melissa Breau: Do you have any examples where that’s kind of happened recently that you can give us or kind of talk us through?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah. Just recently at a seminar I actually had a woman that was having some major issues with start line stays. The dog was breaking in trials. The dog was breaking in training and she was really frustrated because, of course, the normal does everything perfect at home, and so she came in to the seminar wanting that help, and what happened was it turned into a, what is your dog’s emotional state, and are they stressed, and in this situation, the dog was definitely stressed. And so, we had to adjust all the training that she had planned for the day to work on the dog’s emotional state and then by the end of the day the dog’s emotional state was awesome and magically the dog was able to do a start line stay with no issues whatsoever. So, I think it’s just about seeing what dog comes into the ring and you have to figure out what the main issue is and then go from there and I make sure I do that with each and every team so if you go to a seminar with me, you’re going to see me do a ton of different techniques and a ton of different things for dogs. Each dog’s going to be a tiny bit different or majorly different, depending on the dog.
Melissa Breau: Do you kind of see that as a philosophy of how you teach and train?
Loretta Mueller: For sure. Yes, definitely. It’s all about the dogs in my opinion and I think that if I can get a person to understand that and to learn how to communicate with their dog, that’s the number one thing I’m there to do. Once that happens, everything falls into place.
Melissa Breau: So, how did that kind of come about? Like, how did you reach that conclusion that that’s really how you wanted to teach and train?
Loretta Mueller: I think, you know I used to do research, and so my years in research taught me that there are always things you’re looking for, obviously, or expect to happen, and people are really good at that, right? They know to expect this and they know to expect that, and usually that’s not the issue. It’s normally those small moments that missing a tiny change in behavior or not taking into consideration the dog’s emotional state that can really get you into trouble. I’ve never met a dog that was bad. I’ve only met dogs that were trying desperately to communicate with their owners. Sometimes their form of communication isn’t what we want, so it’s up to us to learn how to communicate with our dogs. It’s hard I think for us to get into that mindset sometimes that we have to make all the changes so that the dog understands. Can dogs change? Of course they can, but they are going to communicate with us in the only way they know how, and so for us, we have to learn their language and I think once that happens it’s amazing how obvious everything turns out to be.
Melissa Breau: So I was doing some googling and looking up stuff and doing my research before we got on the phone, and I came across a review from one of your seminars where a student was singing your praises and she mentioned that you’ve a quality that’s really hard to find in a trainer. She said that you were “able to work with fast dogs, motivate slow dogs, build confidence in the shy and calm the crazy.” She said that you were “equally good at handling both experienced and inexperienced trainers.” What do you think, I mean we’ve been talking a little bit about the idea of adapting to the dog, but especially that piece in there about both experienced and inexperienced trainers. What do you feel that you do differently that’s allowed you to be so successful with a wide variety of dogs and handlers?
Loretta Mueller: I think I try to not get myself so much into rules but more about guidelines. I always tell people I would be that dog that everyone doesn’t want. So, I’m that environmentally sensitive dog who can stress up or down. I personally am the type of dog that if the leader doesn’t know what they’re doing that’s going to stress me out, so, if a person’s learning a front cross, things like that, people make mistakes. I only have a limited number of reps and in my opinion, what’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I can be very food motivated, not always toy motivated and I can be very oppositional, so if I feel I am being forced into something, anything basically, I’ll put the brakes on instantly. And if you start to get frustrated with me or I feel like you’re not being fair with me, I’m done. So, that’s how I train people too. I just think in terms of, I don’t want to put them over their head. I want to minimize any frustration and I want to give them a good experience as far as that goes.
When I’m teaching, and this is very, very important I think, is I don’t have expectations of a team when they come into the ring. I don’t assume that I know what the team is or what they need. I observe them for that moment in time that I’m with them and I show them the things that they need to work on or change. Again, it all starts with the dog and then goes to the human. I like to think of it as I’m observing a science experiment. I write down what the team needs in a totally non-emotional way and then I work to solve the problem. As I said before, I’m all about the dog, so people ask me all the time, how do you work with people who are not open to change, because I get that in seminars sometimes. And people are amazed, I guess that I can get people who are normally like, I don’t want to do this and I don’t want to do that, to change and to be honest with you, from my standpoint it’s very simple. They see the dog change and they change, and so I think that that’s a really important thing.
Another thing for me, is it’s just my experiences, so I’ve had so many experiences with all different types of dogs and teams and I need to make sure I thank the people that have really helped me with that and the big, big group of them was my very first set of private students, though I like to call them my island of misfit toys, and that’s actually a good thing. They were all people who were ready to give up agility and they came to me and asked me for lessons. The dogs were frustrated or had behavior issues. The people were frustrated and it just wasn’t fun for them. One of my examples is one of my dearest friends, she had a lab and the first lesson she put the dog on the start line and let out to cue jumps and said, okay, and the dog spent an hour chasing birds. So these students, they taught me so much, and their dogs taught me so much and I wouldn’t be here without them, you know. I’m still giving lessons to all of them 13 years later with their newer dogs and just seeing that type of evolution.
I’m all about what the dogs have to teach me. So, every dog I’ve had has taught me something. I’ve had the range of dogs. People always say, oh border collies are all the same, and you know, I’ve had one really good border collie that was a nice mix of high drive, but totally could control herself. She was great between training and trialing. She didn’t change. The rest of my dogs I’ve had a range, so some of them are scared. They were unmotivated. Some of them were over threshold, losing their brain, and each one of my dogs has also taught me so much in my opinion. They really are the best teachers. They’re super consistent and we can learn a lot from them if we just choose to listen.
Melissa Breau: So, kind of talking a little more about your dogs, and switching gears at the same time, I guess, Denise mentioned that you have, what she considered, a different approach to raising puppies, at least those first couple weeks and months after you bring them home. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, I can. I thought she’d maybe do that. So, this doesn’t sell books or DVDs, but when I get a puppy home, I don’t normally do what everybody else does. I don’t instantly start training them. I observe. So, I’m sure you noticed that the word observation comes up a lot in this interview, but I observe my puppies, and yes, I do some playing, so like normally, with or without toys, and I get them out. But I do a lot of watching and I write down things, and what that allows me to do is, it allows me to get a baseline for this puppy so I know what the ins and outs of the puppy are. I believe with each training session you’re changing the dog and one must always realize that when they’re training, so I think it’s so important to know exactly what you have. What’s the base model so to speak? Are they timid? Are they bold? Do they problem solve well? Do they get frustrated easily? All those things come into play when I work on how I want to train that specific dog. And the only way you can get a totally sterile idea of what the puppy is, is just to observe them those first few weeks. It’s really quite fascinating and you’ll learn so much about your puppy. It’s not that you’re just letting them do whatever they want, but a lot of trick training and stuff like that, I just don’t do the first few weeks just so I can really get an idea of what kind of puppy I actually have.
Melissa Breau: Is there anything specific you look for in a puppy that you’re trying to validate or not validate, or what have you?
Loretta Mueller: You know, people always ask me if I want doers or thinkers, and personally I’m okay either way. It doesn’t really bother me. What I’m looking for usually in a puppy is I want to see that they’re taking on the world, they can be cautious if they want, but that they bounce back. I want to see a puppy that’s curious, but the one that just throws himself into situations, I don’t necessarily care about that positively or negatively. But I just want a puppy that’s going to bounce back from things. That’s to me the biggest thing because the bottom line is, for me in competitive sports, you can have the most amazingly structured dog and the dog can move just perfect, but if they can’t handle noise, if they can’t handle flags flapping in the wind, people behind them, things like that, it doesn’t matter how well they move. All that matters is that they can’t compete if they’re like that or they’re going to be a challenge to compete.
So, that’s really what I’m looking for and if I get a puppy that’s not quite how I want it, the nice thing is I can get a good sense for where they’re at and then from there I can design some training whether I’m building confidence or building some control into the training and things like that. So, it’s a really good place to start and get a great idea before you start training something you may or may not have wanted in a dog.
Melissa Breau: So after this first couple of weeks of observing their behavior and kind of getting to know them, do you mind just telling us a little bit about how you approach this first steps of building a relationship and socialization and what training you do do with a young dog or a puppy?
Loretta Mueller: Sure, yeah. If you would compare how I used to train versus how I’m training now, it’s really changed a lot. I could say with each dog I’ve gotten, it’s taught me so much about this. I guess for me it’s all about in the beginning just being there which I know probably sounds kind of weird. But just the act of being with the puppy is so much more important than teaching tricks. Now, I have no problem with teaching tricks. I love teaching tricks. I’m going to usually start with basic tricks like wave and things like that. I think it’s a great way to get your dog’s brain worked and teaching them to be resilient and keep trying, but honestly it cannot be a replacement for just being with your dog.
But I’m going to work on…you know I have a dog with a lot of motion sensitivity. Obviously, they’re all herding bred border collies, and so I’m going to work on a lot of motion desensitization as far as look at me games and getting them to redirect automatically, and that’s the first thing I teach all of my puppies is, they see something they want, they immediately look to me. And that’s the foundation obviously for recalls and it’s the foundation for attention and things like that, and I’m going to be working on that the entire time they’re growing up because it’s really important that my dogs don’t look at a jogger and say, ‘oh, great. Taking off now, thank you very much.’ I don’t want that, and so that’s going to be a big one. But as far as tricks, whatever you want to teach your dog. If you’re playing with your dog, I’m happy. But for me, a lot of times what I see with my students, is they have a working relationship, which is great. That’s what you want to build, but sometimes I see some of it lacking in the actual just relationship of being with a puppy.
A good example of this is my youngest border collie, Gig. She’s two now, but when she was six months old, she tore a muscle in her shoulder after a freak accident where her leg got caught in a metal crate, and I had nothing to do with her. Yeah, it was tough you know. A six-month-old very high drive border collie puppy and I didn’t have much I could do with her. If you’re familiar with shoulders, they’re just really a pain in the rear end to have to rehab, and the only things I really had that I could do with her was, I could be in an ex pen with her and just kind of sit with her, pet her. I could nap with her… which, she didn’t sleep much, and I could do some little tiny playing, like I call it bitey face. You know, where the puppy kind of bites at your hand type of thing, and that was it. I couldn’t teach her anything, and it kind of broke my heart when this happened, obviously because it happened, but also because this puppy was by far my most independent dog that I’ve ever raised. She was an eight-week-old puppy and she would just run away. So when I put her down, I’m thinking eight-week-old puppies they come with me, yay, right? Nope, gone. See ya. Bye-bye.
And so I spent months going, this is going to be horrible when I get this puppy out of an ex pen, when I can put her on a leash and take her for leash walks, because all I had was just the act of being with her. That’s it, and without tricks and training could we bond, and the bottom line is, yeah. She’s the most bonded dog I have, and so just being there in the moment with puppies, no expectations, I think is key to having great relationship and building a foundation for all the tricks, training and things like that that you want to do. Socialization is also key, right, but then again, I’m just there. I don’t force the dogs to interact with the environment. It’s just kind of one of those, here you go puppy, we’re at the park. What do you think? Take them. Let them take it all in. No expectations, and you know when I’m doing training, as far as the actual skill sets, like I mentioned before, there are doers and there are thinkers.
The doers just like to go, and then the thinkers are always trying to analyze stuff, and I like to take my training and make the doers more into thinkers and vice versa. I do a lot of drive training with my dogs and what that does is for the dogs that are thinkers it makes them more into a doer and they grab at the toy and I say kind of go a little feral for a while and get that drive up, and then the doers have to put a little bit more control, control their drive and I think that that works great with all of them. And everything’s going to be tailored using that information that I gathered in the first few weeks of having that puppy. I know what I have. I can start my training program adjusted for each puppy. Of course I have general guidelines, so dogs all need to start line sync, but how I get to that finished product isn’t the same for each dog, and then also when they’re young, I’m not much of a record keeper. I kind of have tendency to not do that, because if I put things down in a record, what happens is my type A personality says, okay, in this session you must do dumbbell retrieves. But the problem is, sometimes the dog changes the program and you have to adjust.
So, I tend to not write down plans for stuff, but I will, for my young dogs and I do have a book for each one of my dogs the first two years of their life, I reevaluate my dog each month. So, I treat it just as if I was evaluating a new student’s dog. So, dogs change constantly and they should, because you’re training them, and so I want to make sure that, for example, the timid dog that I had at eight weeks has not gotten more timid, or I need to definitely change something. And if I had a high drive dog, let’s say that I put too much control on, so the dog won’t do anything on its own, then I will adjust my training to get them to party a bit more, and it’s all about that balancing act. Dog training’s definitely an art in many situations and so it’s nice to be able to look back and then be able to somewhat predict or change things to make sure I’m progressing in a way that takes me where I want the dogs to go.
Melissa Breau: Now when you say you evaluate them each month, do you have a specific way that you do that? Or do you just kind of reflect on what you’ve done or reflect on how they’ve been the last couple of training sessions, or what’s your process there? Because that’s really interesting.
Loretta Mueller: Yeah, so what I do is I kind of go through a series of little situations. So for example, I’m going to write down the dog’s weaknesses, and what I do when I’m doing this, is I don’t read the previous month, because I believe that it kind of will make you change things. So, I just say, what is the dog I have right now today? If a student brought this dog in, what would I say about it? So, what are the dog’s weaknesses, whether it’s a skill set or something like that? What are the dog’s strengths? What do they know? What do they not know? And resiliency. So, does the dog bounce back? Does it care if there’s a mistake made? Things like that. I work pressure work with my dogs so people behind my dogs to prepare them for trialing, and I always take note of how the dog’s handling it. Do they care about the pressure this month? Do they not? At what point does that bubble happen where the person invades their pressure and they don’t like it? Things like that.
So, I’m looking at those skills. Delay of reward. Are the dogs able to work through that as far as you not having any treats or toys on you, because that’s something you definitely have to work on before you start trialing, and things like that. So, I’m looking at individual skill sets, but also just the overall picture of, is the dog in drive? Are they staying in drive? Are they emotionally happy, and are they resilient and bouncing back? And if I see anything that doesn’t make sense or when I look back the previous month, that I noticed that they did something where they kind of backslid a little bit, then I’m going to adjust things.
I just started working on that actually with my young dog, Gig, who has suddenly started, when the weave poles are in situation, she will, instead of going to the weave pole, she will come back and try to redirect to me and usually it’s my sweatshirt, which is not an appropriate behavior and she wasn’t doing it a month ago, and now she’s doing it now. And so, I’m in the process of saying, okay that’s a big change. I have to figure out how to make that better and for her, it was just mainly an over threshold thing. So, we’re working on different levels of threshold and she’s getting it. So next month, I’m probably going to have another thing, right, because dog’s just continuously change things, and that’s a big thing I always think of in terms of, is instinctive drift, right?
We’re always training against instinctive drift, so weave poles. Dog’s don’t weave stuff in nature, ever, and weave poles break. Stopped contacts break. Why? Dog’s don’t run down hills and slam into a sit or a down. They just don’t do it, and so usually those are the things that are going to break. Those are the things that are going to show up most often in those journals, is okay, the weaves are bad this week or the A-frame contact was bad, and normally it’s not necessarily jumping or handling or tunnels. Usually tunnels don’t break, but it’s just those behaviors that the dogs really have to go against what they instinctively know and do naturally that have a tendency to kind of break down and so you’re going to see those. But if I see an emotional thing in looking through stuff, what I’m going to immediately do, is I’m going to say, okay there’s an emotional aspect to all of this. Everything else stops, and I must deal with that.
And so it’s just, those are things I’ve encountered and it’s just really good. Because I think a lot of people…you know I see people that come to seminars and they say, my dog is a bar knocker or my dog is stressy, and a lot of times I’ll end up asking them, well the dog I see is not stressy, so when was this dog stressy? And you know when they actually…you’ll see them kind of sit and think, and they’ll go well, like when he was six months old he was stressy. Okay, well he’s changed since then, right? And so it’s a nice way for us as trainers to be able to let go of stuff, because we have a tendency of holding on to things way longer than the dogs do, and the dogs are just like, you know, I know I was sensitive six months ago. But I’m not now. I’m good. I’m cool. And so then you can train that dog, which could be a totally different dog.
I look at my dog Lynn. As a young dog, she was an analytical…she reminded me of Sheldon off Big Bang Theory. Super analytical, super thinky, didn’t like to try a lot, it was tough. She was sensitive, and now whenever anything goes wrong, very vocal and it is completely my fault. All of it, and I like that. I want a dog to respond to me and say, you know what, you caused all of this. Especially a dog like her who was the type that would just lay down and go, I’m not going to do anything I’m just going to lay here because I don’t know what’s going to happen. And so you know, she’s not at all the same dog, and so it’s just neat to go back and be able to see that, and then the nice thing about having all those journals is, you get another puppy and you can compare and say, okay, so my Clink dog who had over threshold issues, is growing up a lot like my current young dog, Gig, who also has over threshold issues, and I can actually take those two journals and compare them and I see a ton of similarities. So, it’s a nice way to predict a lot of times what you’re going to have and then you can kind of copy some training along with it.
Melissa Breau: And it gives you a sense of whether what you’re doing works or doesn’t work and…
Loretta Mueller: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Normally I tell people if you’re going to try something different with a method or whatever, give it two weeks. See what you have. See what’s happening. If you have some little steps forward, that’s great. Don’t expect something huge. If you get something huge, awesome, but if you notice steps back then it’s time to reevaluate and to say, okay, this isn’t working and most of the time we get so stuck in patterns of working on usually our strengths, because we want to make ourselves feel better, that we have a tendency to lose some of that stuff and so this just kind of keeps you on track and keeps you honest about what you really should be working on with the dogs.
Melissa Breau: And you mentioned, and I just think this is important so I want to emphasize it, kind of the idea that sometimes we get stuck on labels for our dogs that no longer apply to them, and so we continue training a dog that’s no longer the dog in front of us. I just think that’s so poignant and crucial for people to understand that they need to actually look at their dog for who they are today and not be judging the dog they had six months or a year ago or when they were six months old.
Loretta Mueller: Exactly, and it’s hard for us, because we get wrapped up in this emotionally and we have such a great emotional connection with these dogs that we just, yeah, we get stuck sometimes. I’d be the first person to say that I’ve gotten stuck on a couple dogs and it just…it’s hard for us to let go of it. Meanwhile, the dogs are changing, but at the same time they’re getting treated the same. If you think about when you were five years old versus now, you’re definitely not even remotely the same person you were probably at five and you had a foundation temperament, but in general you’ve changed a lot and so I think it’s just really important, because that’s what I see a lot of. When I do just problem solving seminars or stress seminars, especially, I see people that come in and they are already stressed about something that hasn’t happened yet, and then of course that feeds down to the dogs and then that makes them stressed.
I think that dogs in general, they’re either affected by their environment or they’re not, and so if the person’s stressed and the dog is the type that gets affected by the environment, then you’re going to have a dog that’s going to react differently. And if you can just stop and say, you know what, your dog is not this stressy dog anymore. It’s amazing when you change the person how much different the dog changes and it’s very cool to see the dog go, ah, okay. This is good, and then the confidence comes out, and I’ve had my share of not confident dogs. I’ve had my share of scared dogs.
My ten-year-old dog, Gator, who’s been to finals many, many times, doesn’t like people, and doesn’t like cameras and that’s what happens in the finals and he runs and he’s a good boy and life is good, but that’s due to training and due to trust and the fact of the matter is, now that he’s ten, he doesn’t care about anything. But as a young dog, when he was 18 months old, he cared about everything and all things were horrible and children were bad and now, he’ll play tennis if someone wants to hit a tennis ball or whatever, he’ll play with a kid. He doesn’t care, and so it was up to me to say, okay, Gator, you know what? He’s just pretty normal now, and so it’s easy to get stuck there and so it’s just that book…like I said I only do it the first two years. In reality, I probably should do it a lot more and a lot longer, but it just gives you the ability to say, for most people, wow, you know. We’ve really come a long way, and I think that’s really important for people to be able to see that.
Melissa Breau: Yeah. I feel like that’s definitely a lesson I’ve been gradually absorbing. My shepherd can sometimes get awful environmentally sensitive and barky and all that other stuff and we’ve done a lot of work on it and she’s come a long way and it took me a while to actually realize how far she’d come and realize I didn’t have to be quite so nervous all the time.
Loretta Mueller: Exactly, yeah.
Melissa Breau: I wanted to kind of round things out by saying three final short questions that I’ve asked everybody so far that’s come on the podcast. So the first one is what dog related accomplishment are you proudest of?
Loretta Mueller: Wow. There’s so many. I have a lot of moments with my dogs and my student’s dogs. It’s really hard to pick sometimes. I would say probably getting a silver medal at the USDAA Cynosports World Championships with Clink. She’s my 11-year-old. She was the dog that at six months I was told would not make a good agility dog because she was so over threshold. She screamed every single moment on course. Every photo I have her mouth is wide open, slobber everywhere, and she was the dog that I would have called the bar knocker. And you know, I have a story about Clink that I always tell people, especially when they’re struggling, and it was during one of my runs at a regional after I was a little frustrated with her because she’d been knocking a lot of bars. I bent down, right before the run, and I kissed her on the forehead, which I didn’t normally do, and I felt her whole body relax, and she went on and ran and got a silver medal, and I realized at that moment that she was not a bar knocker. She was a dog that was really anxious and really, really wanted to please me, and as long as she knew that she was fine. And so overnight at a regional my entire thought process changed about her and I went from thinking she was a tough dog and a dog that didn’t always listen, to a dog that just really kind of had a Dennis the Menace, right? I’ll fix it, I’ll fix it, and do it faster and I learned a lot from her. So, for her to be able to get on the podium at the World Championships USDAA and get a silver medal was just, to me, an amazing thing, because I already knew she was awesome. But then the whole world got to see just how cool she was, and so for her that was huge and for me as a trainer and then also just as my relationship with her for sure.
Melissa Breau: That’s an awesome story. I like that.
Loretta Mueller: Thank you.
Melissa Breau: So, our second to the end, I guess, question. Is what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?
Loretta Mueller: I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people in obedience and herding and agility, and I guess, I don’t know what everybody else has said, but to me, one of my most cherished and amazing statements that I’ve heard was from Ray Hunt, who was a horse trainer and he said, you must realize the slightest change and the smallest try, and so meaning, reward the effort. Acknowledge that the animal is trying and if you choose to recognize that smallest try or slightest change, that’s what makes or breaks your training. And if you don’t notice that small change in the dogs, then they do one of two things. They either give up, or they get harder, and they say, you know what? I tried. You didn’t acknowledge it, therefore, meh, I’m good. And for me, if you ever owned a dog like that, they do that. They just go, eh whatever. I’m going to keep doing my thing.
And so for me it was huge, because we get so stuck in a world of criteria, right? Criteria, criteria. Did they meet criteria? When in reality, when you think about it, it doesn’t matter how much training your dog has. It doesn’t matter if their weave poles are spotless, right? It doesn’t matter any of that stuff. If your dog is in the wrong emotional state, that training will never show. So, what they’re doing, is a lot of the dogs, they are trying so hard, but then they don’t get rewarded and then that causes a lot of issues. So, that’s why I always have kind of a graduated reward system that I do with my dogs. So, I’ll use either lower value, higher value treats. To differentiate, I’ll choose the way I play with the dog, and that way these dogs always get rewarded for that effort and I acknowledge those small changes in their behavior and I don’t ask for too much too soon and I think that that keeps the dogs confident, it keeps them feeling like they’re a champion, because that’s very important if you want a dog to be confident and feel like they can conquer the world, you have to tell them that they can conquer the world.
So, if they give you the smallest change, then you reward it and you have a dog that’s going to try even harder the next time, and so for me that totally changed a lot of my training. Because before, an example would be if my dog didn’t do six weave poles and let’s say they were in a novice trial and they were baby dogs. I would be frustrated. And if they continuously did it, before I got this little nugget of information, I would go home and say okay my dog has a weave pole issue and I’m going to go train the weave. But in reality, is it a weave pole issue, or is it the fact that the dog’s not emotionally right? Most likely it’s because the dog’s not emotionally right. So you actually have to deal with that. So what does that involve? It might involve the dog doing three weave poles and you clapping and having a party and leaving. But that’s not to criteria. And so for me, it was just a huge eye opener that the dogs know how to do these skills. It’s just we have to have them in the right emotional state so they can actually perform the behaviors that they’ve been taught. And that’s just to me a cornerstone of what I think of when I’m training. So, it’s just been huge for me to have that statement and understand that and apply it to all of my training.
Melissa Breau: I think that’s one of my favorite questions in the whole podcast because we always get such great responses. Totally different and fantastic, so thank you for that.
Loretta Mueller: Cool. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: And the last one is, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Loretta Mueller: Again, I’ve had chances to work with so many people and I’m probably going to go outside of the box here, but for me it’s going to be in the herding world. My mentor has been Kathy Knox, who’s a border collie enthusiast and herding and sheep trials. She’s the first person to really get into my head that there’s always a reason the dog does something, and I think that’s really important to understand, because we have a tendency to say, well they didn’t do this and they didn’t do that. But in reality, we should say, what are they doing? Because they’re obviously doing something that you don’t want them to do, so we have a focus on that and so there’s always a reason they’re doing stuff and for me, before I met Kathy, it was just like, do the thing that I tell you to do, right?
And then it changed from there, and a lot of my students, I always tell them, if you can go to a natural clinician in the herding world, so somebody that just uses the dog and just uses the sheep, so no harnesses or ropes or anything like that, they are the most, in my opinion, talented clicker trainers you will ever witness. Their timing is amazing. They understand exactly how and when to reward and their placement of reward, it’s not based on where they can put it, right? You can’t just tell the sheep go over here to point B. They have to know at that exact moment when the sheep are right and what to do instantly to help the dog, or to reward the dog. And so, I always think in terms of, can you imagine if your reward had a mind of its own. Like trying to train a terrier with a live squirrel would be an analogy that would be quite fitting.
And so, these people they have this amazing ability to teach these dogs using extremely high value reward that is instinctive that is bred into them and they can get these dogs to totally understand what behaviors they want and use that reward and their timing, and they’re just, a good clinician. They’re going to do just what I do when I go to a seminar. They’re going to look at the dog. They’re going to read the dog. They’re going to figure out what the dog needs, and again, you change the dog, you change the person, and it’s just an amazing thing and I think for me that’s where the passion comes into play. It’s just to see where…I always joke that it’s like the dogs are sitting there trying to decipher things because dogs in agility read motion first and then they read verbal second. So verbals are a second language to them, and so they hear human, human, human, human, dog. So a person suddenly does something that they go, oh my gosh, right? So, if you’ve ever watched a movie that’s been in a language you don’t know and all of a sudden they say one word that you do know, it’s like this sudden understanding. Wow. Oh, I get this. This is what you want.
And so for me, that’s the key is, I don’t want to present the dogs with questions as far as handling goes. I want to present them only with answers so they say, okay, I’ve got this. There’s no thinking required, and to me that’s an important part of it and you can’t present the dogs with answers in quite the best way possible if you don’t understand what language the dogs are speaking. So suddenly, you start speaking dog, and these dogs just go, oh my goodness, thank you. And I see it every single weekend I teach. The dogs just changing and then the people change. I have people come in that you can tell they’re ready to quit agility. You can tell that if this dog doesn’t do something that’s going to give them a little bit of hope, they’re going to quit. And people always say, don’t you get frustrated with that with people that are, you know? No, I don’t get frustrated with them and the reason why is they just, they’re at their wits end. They don’t know what else to do. They’re lost and they’ve tried everything. People have told them a big menagerie of what to do and none of it’s worked.
But a lot of times it’s because people tell you to do stuff based on what? Human. And I’m trying to convey to people, learn dog, and it’s so much easier. Everything becomes so much easier. Then these people do something, and usually it’s a minor thing, like don’t bend over, or make eye contact, or look at the right place, or use your hand this way, and you see the people who go into a situation and they’re very worried and frustrated and you can see all of it just melt away. And it’s just such a fascinating thing for me as an instructor to be able to help people on that level, and we’re not talking just backyard enthusiasts or weekend warriors. We’re talking world team people. It’s all the same. It’s these little things usually that cause the issues, and so for me, I’ve learned from herding clinicians and people like Kathy Knox and Ray Hunt that those little moments are the ones that really matter. Those are the moments where trust is built. Those are the moments that really open up that light for the dog to understand exactly what you want from them. And then, from there, all those little moments build up into a fully trained dog and so we have to concentrate on those tiny moments in time and we have to observe and pay attention so that we can get to where we want to go.
Melissa Breau: Gee, that makes me kind of want to go see a herding seminar.
Loretta Mueller: They’re pretty cool. I’m telling you, it’s pretty awesome.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well thank you so much for joining me Loretta and thank you to our audience for tuning in.
We’ll be back in two weeks with a retired obedience judge, Nancy Gagliardi Little to talk about dog sports from a judge’s perspective. If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Shade Whitesel has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid.
Always interested in how dogs learned, she has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring.
What started out as an experiment, competing at the national level in IPO without the use of an e collar, has now turned into a firm commitment to positive training and the desire to teach other trainers and dogs how to be successful in bitesports with as little punishment as possible.
Her focus as a trainer is on clear communication with your dog -- as we discuss in the podcast, she believes this relieves frustration and improves the overall quality of the dog's work.
To be released 2/17/2017, featuring Loretta Mueller.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Shade Whitesel. Shade has been training and competing in dog sports since she was a kid. Always interested in how dogs learned, she has successfully competed in Schutzhund, AKC obedience and French Ring.
What started out as an experiment, competing at the national level in IPO without the use of an e collar, has now turned into a firm commitment to positive training and the desire to teach other trainers and dogs how to be successful in bitesports with as little punishment as possible. Hi, Shade. Welcome to the podcast.
Shade Whitesel: Hi, Melissa.
Melissa Breau: So, to start out can you tell me a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Shade Whitesel: Sure. My youngest dog is Ones who is 4 years old and he just recently earned his Schutzhund 2 in December. I’m looking forward to getting his Schutzhund 3 this spring and then going on to compete nationally with him if it looks like we’re a good enough team.
Briefly, Schutzhund is kind of like a triathlon for dogs, based on police work. It requires tracking, where they have to follow a person’s track and indicate articles that the person’s dropped, and then an obedience portion, and then a protection portion. So, Ones attained pretty good scores in his one and his two, and I’m excited about his future career.
I tend to do AKC later in the dog’s career, since it’s easier on their bodies than bitesports. I also have Baileys, Ones’s sister, who was returned to me a year ago and we’ve start setting the foundation for AKC obedience, and she’s coming along.
She’s been teaching me a lot about working an older dog with established habits before I got them. So, kind of what to do with that and how to retrain.
And Reiki my old guy, he’s both Ones’s and Bailey’s dad, he’s 10 years old and I had really hoped to get him in the AKC utility ring. He’s got his CDX, but he’s getting older there so we’ll see. And he has numerous IPO 3’s. We competed nationally for four years, that kind of thing, and he did really well. So, that’s my current dogs.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. And they’re all German Shepherds, right?
Shade Whitesel: They are. I have only German Shepherds right now and I’ll add a couple of more breeds eventually, but right now because of Schutzhund, I need to do the bite work and so I’ve chosen the German Shepherd as my breed for that.
Melissa Breau: How did you get into competitive dog sports and training?
Shade Whitesel: Well, I always wanted a dog when I was a kid and I finally got a mixed breed dog. And at that time, your training classes were kind of like AKC obedience and she did really well in her training class, but I couldn’t compete with her because she was a mixed breed.
So, I always wanted to kind of compete and then when I got my first purebred dog I got interested in Schutzhund because it’s a breed test for the Shepherds. And I started really getting into it and getting titles on the dogs.
So, that kind of morphed into people asking me to give training lessons to them and once I put a Schutzhund 1 on a dog then I figured that I could at least start training other people. So, that’s kind of when it morphed into becoming a professional dog trainer.
Melissa Breau: I’ve heard you talk before a little bit about your positive training journey and kind of what got you started. But can you kind of share it for the audience?
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. In bite work sports and in Schutzhund training you’re normally dealing with pretty strong dogs physically and mentally, that really like to bite. So, they have lots of reinforcement history for biting, whether that is the ball or the tug, or the bad guy.
And there’s a culture correction in this sport when it comes to getting control. Because these dogs are really strong willed and eventually you have to get obedience around that high value reinforcer, there’s a lot of correction involved.
When I first started doing Schutzhund I definitely was no different than anyone else. I used a lot of correction with my dogs, but I really started breaking down the behaviors much more than anyone I knew at the time. Teaching them at lower arousal, breaking it down in much tinier steps... and then I realized that I could use the helper as a reward.
So, for instance, “Hey, dog heel two steps and then I’ll send you to the helper for a bite,” and then I really started questioning all the correction, because that worked so well. And so, I kind of started out as a trainer using a lot of correction and then figuring out, and gradually getting more positive as I went till what I am right now.
Melissa Breau: And I’ve seen some of your videos. I mean, you really truly manage to get that same precision and that beauty in the performance that I think most people are looking for. And I know from talking to you, you really do, do it completely positive so it’s really impressive.
Shade Whitesel: I think there’s this thing that sometimes...I remember in Schutzhund even when I used correction we always said we use the ball for reward, but we can’t get as precise behaviors when you do that and that was the argument against using a lot of motivation. And I always was like, “Well, I want both. I want the motivation, I want the strongness and then I want the preciseness.”
So, even when I was figuring out how to do it without correction I was like, “I don’t want to sacrifice anything. I still want really high quality behaviors,” and since Reiki took me to Nationals, now I’m not satisfied with anything other than as good as I can get. So, yeah, it’s been a journey. That’s a cliché thing, but it’s definitely been a journey to figure out how to do that.
Melissa: So, how would you describe your training philosophy now?
Shade Whitesel: Right now, I feel like I haven’t said no to any of my dogs for like four years. No. Seriously, I’m really currently most interested in what the dog is feeling about our training session and what their emotional state is.
That’s been my task. Ones has been definitely my teacher in that way, because I really need to know what his emotional state is in bite work. They’ll tell you way before the behavior skills breakdown. Either lost focus, stressing, whatever that looks like. So, that’s currently what I’m really into, trying to figure out how the dog feels and what that tells me of my training plan. And that kind of segues into creating the toy play as a reinforcement.
So many of us use toys with our dogs because we realize how joyful they can get with that and how excited. But we could get much more efficient training done if we created more of a significant reinforcement if we had some rules in there like bring the toy back. When they all of a sudden don’t drop the toy they’re not being belligerent, they’re pretty much telling us our rate of reinforcement wasn’t up as much as it should be in the training plan. Also, when we use toys to teach stuff it gives us ways to work through high arousal situations, like, we’re going to encounter in agility or bite work, or anything else a dog wants.
I mean really a high arousal situation for my dogs is going from the car to the beach. That’s a situation where they have to be on leash and it is none too fun if I can’t get them to walk calmly from point A to point B.
So, the toy play reinforcement gives us ways to work through that. I’d say that Ones is my most positively trained dog to date, since he’s my youngest and I bred him so I’ve known him since minute one. I feel like sometimes I’ve gotten so positive in my teaching that most cases where we use negative punishment I look at that and I’m like, “We could teach that without even that.” So, I feel like I’ve swung really far in a very positive way in my training, which is good.
Melissa Breau: And just in case anybody’s not familiar with the four quadrants. Negative punish is the removal of something the dog doesn’t like, right?
Shade Whitesel: Exactly. And we as positive trainers tend to use that when we don’t know what else to do or when we’re having a dog that’s doing behaviors we don’t like. That’s accepted for us to go there and it can be good. There’s still some fallout sometimes, but it can be a polishing technique.
Melissa Breau: So, I was super lucky. I got to shadow you at FDSA Training Camp last year. I have to say I definitely learned a ton following you around for a couple of days.
Shade Whitesel: And I appreciated your technical skills, because I don’t have any.
Melissa Breau: Well, it was a pleasure to get to follow you around. I feel like I learned so, so much. And some of my favorites were just listening to you talk about play and how you structure some of that. And just some of the takeaways that I got at camp definitely I brought them home and worked with my own dog differently, and it really has had an impact.
Shade Whitesel: Well, good. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, it included everything from play to location specific markers... kind of, you ran the gambit, I think, at camp last year and it seems like, or at least seems to me, that there’s a theme that kind of runs through all of your FDSA classes and all of the talks that I’ve heard you give — this idea of communicating as clearly as possible with your dogs. So, do you mind just sharing a little bit why you feel that’s so critical?
Shade Whitesel: No matter how you train, communicating as clearly as possible is so important, because 99.9 percent of our problems are due to the unclarity of our teaching.
And all of our problems with dogs — I mean it’s really our problem it’s not theirs — go away when you look at the clarity, or more accurately the ‘not clarity’ of your teaching.
When your communication is clear arousal levels go down, frustration from your learner dog goes down, and you get more confident and fluent behaviors from them. And this holds true over trialing, over living with them, over everything, just to be as clear as possible and predictable, that goes into predictability too. So, no matter what method you do that is just so important I think — obviously, since I talk about it.
Melissa Breau: So, I think one really good example of that is the work you’ve done with location specific markers. Do you mind just briefly kind of explaining what that means and kind of how you use them?
Shade Whitesel: You know, markers are such a good thing and people are exploring them, and figuring out that it’s really nice to bridge what behavior your dogs doing to get their reward. Tell the dog where to collect their reinforcement, like, technically I want a different marker that means collect it from my hands, whether that’s food or a toy and I want a different marker that means collect it away from there, whether it’s go pick-up the toy on the ground or whether I’m going to throw the toy, and again it’s just that clarity. And I notice with my own dogs if I had a different marker word for, “Strike the tug out of my hand,” versus, “I’m going to throw it,” the dog stopped mugging me, they stopped looking for where the toy was all the time when I was asking for behaviors. Because they knew that I would tell them exactly how to get their reinforcement. And again, it just goes back to the clarity.
So, location specific markers is just the dog knows exactly where to go and they don’t have to be checking where the toy is or the food — is the food in your pocket? Is it over there in the dish? Because you’re going to tell them so they can put 100 percent of their attention to figuring out what behavior you want them to do, because they can trust that you’re going to tell them where the reinforcement is.
Melissa Breau: I think a lot of trainers tend to rely really heavily on one or two training methods. So, somebody may lean really heavily on shaping, while somebody else tends to mostly lure behaviors or throw a ball, or whatever. I know that in the current session at FDSA, which will be current when this goes live, you’re going to be teaching a class to help handlers better use all of their tools. Do you mind just talking a little bit about what that class is, and what it’s about?
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. I think the more we know and feel comfortable about all the positive ways we can train our dogs the more effective we’re going to be as a teacher. And then, if we know how to lure and we know how to shape, and we know how to capture, we can then be more informed about what technique that we want to use to teach a certain behavior. I think we all could use a little more knowledge on how to get behaviors on cue. How to name it, how to get it on stimulus control, whether that behavior is lured or shaped and the one constant that I know I always struggle with is timing. Click, pause, treat.
And I see many students coming through the academy, who are great at one technique, but they’re kind of unsure of the other techniques and I’d like to help out with that. I’d like to teach that and help people figure out what effective technique they want to use to teach their dog a behavior.
Melissa Breau: Now, does the class have specific behaviors that you try and work on through the course of the class? Are the students going to pick their own behavior and use different techniques to accomplish it? Kind of how do you structure it?
Shade Whitesel: I’ll give a couple of examples of what they can do. They can use behaviors their dog already knows or they can pick new ones. But it’s really more about we can, for instance, ‘go to a bed’ behavior, we can lure that, we can shape that, we can capture that so it’s not so much about having behaviors already for your dog, but about explaining the different ways of getting there. It’s good if your dog has some behaviors already on cue; so they can be experienced dogs, where the handler just wants to learn more about it, or it can be a dog that’s brand new to stuff.
Melissa Breau: So, when you’re working with your own dogs how do you decide which technique to use? I assume you’re probably better with all of them than say me.
Shade Whitesel: Well, it’s a steep learning curve for everything.
Melissa Breau: But how do you decide whether you want to lure something or shape something, or capture something? Like, how do you pick which method to use when you’re teaching something?
Shade Whitesel: Well, I have to say when I first started training I was a big lurer and I came late to shaping. I really had no idea and my evolution in my last, I don’t know, six, seven years has been really getting better at shaping. I’d be the first to say I’m not the greatest at it, but I’m getting better. So, for my own dogs shaping and capturing shaped behaviors, like, the dog offering a completed shaped behavior that’s my preferred technique at this point.
If I can communicate to the dog effectively through shaping and then they can choose the behavior, I’ll always teach that way first. I think it creates stronger and then more confident and faster behaviors out of the dog.
But I can’t always figure out how to communicate via shaping. And so, if I can’t figure that out I’ll lure the behavior. I have no issue luring, but I’ll then always put it on what I call capturing. And so, even if it’s a lured behavior, I’ll eventually want to have the dog offer it and then it becomes a strong shaped behavior, so to speak.
Melissa Breau: So, to round things out. I have three more short questions that I’ve asked everyone so far at the tail end of the interview. So, first what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Shade Whitesel: That’s such a hard one because every single dog I have had there are accomplishments that I’m really proud of with the individual dog. So, I don’t think of it so much as what I’ve done, but more of what me and dog have done. [I Recently competed with Ones]. Schutzhund is tracking, obedience and protection and you get 100 in each. And he got 99 out of 100 in the tracking phase, he got 95 out of 100 in obedience and he got 96 out of 100 in protection. And that’s a pretty good score for a young dog, because in the one and the two in Schutzhund we’re kind of just seeing what does he know, how is my training going and you kind of get your three. And then, if you want to compete, you compete nationally and that’s where you start to get your good scores. So, I’m excited for what the future holds for us.
Melissa Breau: So, what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Shade Whitesel: It sounds cliché, but listen to the dog. I’m so into listening to what the dog says at this point. It holds me accountable in my training, it holds me accountable in their reinforcement and I feel like many people say, “Listen to the dog,” but I think we could be doing a lot more of it.
Melissa Breau: And the last one. So, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up too?
Shade Whitesel: That’s always such a hard question as well. I’ve been training dogs for 20 years and there’s too many to name. I’ve learned so many things from each and every trainer, and person that I’ve encountered and trained with. So, I’ve just learned from so many people and I look up to each and every one of them.
Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thanks Shade so much for joining me.
Shade Whitesel: Yeah. Thanks so much.
Melissa Breau: And for those listening, thank you for tuning in. As a heads-up to those of you who aren’t currently part of the FDSA community, registration is currently open when this airs for February classes, including Shade’s Crucial Concepts for Competition Class, the one we talked about during the podcast.
And in two weeks we’ll be back with Loretta Mueller to talk about why one size does not fit all when it comes to dog training.
If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Hannah Branigan has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 12 years. In addition to being a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, she is a faculty member for Karen Pryor Academy and a teacher at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Hannah is a Professional Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.
She has presented at APDT and Clicker Expo and teaches workshops all over the USA.
Owner of Wonderpups, LLC, Hannah is committed to training both dogs and people with positive reinforcement methods. She has titled her dogs in Conformation, Obedience, IPO (Schutzhund), Agility, and Rally.
To be released 2/3/2017, featuring Shade Whitesel.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today, we'll be talking to Hannah Branigan. Hannah has been training dogs and teaching people for more than 12 years. In addition to being a Karen Pryor Academy-Certified Training Partner, she's a faculty member for Karen Pryor Academy and a teacher at the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
Hannah is a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and a certified professional dog trainer. She has presented at APDT and Clicker Expo, and teachers workshops all over the US.
Owner of Wonderpups LLC, Hannah is committed to training both dogs and people with positive reinforcement methods. She has titled her dogs in conformation, obedience, IPO, agility, and rally.
Hannah Branigan: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Breau: Thanks for joining us. To get started, can you just tell us a bit about the dogs you have now and what you're working on with them?
Hannah Branigan: We're actually down to four right now, which is kind of weird. I still keep getting out five bully sticks, and then I wonder why I still have one left in my hand.
Right now, I have…Stormy is my oldest and she's pretty much retired from anything competitive. She acts as sort of my guinea pig if I have a new, crazy idea that I want to try out on something. So, I'll often try it out on her because I figure, hey, she's 14, she's not going to be in a dog show again, and so if I completely ruin her heeling, then that's not a big deal.
So, she will often show up in some of my videos that you'll see in class or on YouTube. So, she still stays busy and still likes to stay active that way.
And then there's Gambit. So he's an AKC Champion. We finished his UDX. He's got an OM--something, I don't even remember which number we're on at this point, finished his CDSP OCH last year. We tinkered a little bit in Nose Work. I think this year we're going to go ahead and finish up his RAE, and he's still showing in CDSP, mostly for fun.
He's older and he's had a knee injury when he was younger that's starting to kind of catch up with him, so that we appreciate the lower-jump heights of the CDSP Obedience, and we're still hitting the occasional AKC trial locally, depending on how he's feeling, but that's sort of where he is right now, and also, again, guinea pig and often video star.
And then the next one down, in order of age, would be Spark. She's also an AKC Champion. In AKC, she's finished her UD and she has I want to say 25 or 30 OCH points, all in Utility. She has some personal space issues with other dogs that have caused me to be a little reticent to put her back in the open stay ring situation. So, I haven't quite decided what I'm going to do with her in that area yet, and we may just kind of rest on our laurels there. She did, this year, just finished her CDSP OCH, where of course there is no group stay. Right now, our main focus with her -- with me and her together -- is in expanding our agility skills. So, we've been doing a lot of playing in agility and doing some trials in that.
And then the baby of the family is Rugby, who I think everyone on the internet knows, and he is, let's see, he's currently training in obedience and of course also rally and then also cross-trains in agility and flyball.
This past year, he debuted in CDSP Novice and picked up his first High-in-Trial and was basically awesome, so I was really, really happy with how he's working there, and I think we're going to set our eyes on going into the AKC Novice Ring this coming year. I need to look at my schedule and actually see when I have a weekend available to aim for, but he likes to do a little bit of everything. So, we're hopefully going to be competing, eventually, in all four of those sports and maybe a little barn hunt, maybe a little nose work. He's a terrier, so I feel like I feel compelled to at least…
Melissa Breau: ...Honor that side?
Hannah Branigan: Show up. Yeah, exactly, take advantage of that, those instincts, rather than always working against them. I think he would definitely enjoy barn hunt.
Melissa Breau: Congrats on the High-in-Trial. That's very exciting, especially with your baby dog.
Hannah Branigan: Thank you. Yes.
Melissa Breau: Now, I'm lucky because you're here in North Carolina, not too far from me, and I had the pleasure of actually attending one of your workshops…I think it was at Lap it Up, and you tend to describe yourself as a dog-training geek, and I think you started the workshop out by kind of mentioning that. So, I wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit about what you mean by that.
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I usually apologize in advance when people have me in person. There's no editing involved.
You know, honestly, it's more in the more modern sense of the word geek, really, rather than the original definition, but well, all I really mean by that is just that I'm sort of inordinately fascinated with dogs and behavior and learning, possibly to the point of obsession, and I really love, you know, like I love really digging into those sort of like microcosmic details of the behavior and really looking at how things can be broken apart atomically and how they're all interconnected, and that's really sort of what I spend my Friday nights doing, watching videos in slow motion and trying out stuff and just really, yeah, okay, obsession is probably the right word. Yeah.
Melissa Breau: So, I'm guessing you didn’t start out that way. How did you get into dog sports and training and kind of into being interested in all this?
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I'm not even really sure. That was kind of a complete accident. I think, like a lot of trainers, I had a pet dog, who was a rescue, and he turned out to have more challenges than I knew how to handle, and so through the process of learning more about training and learning more about dogs to figure out how to help him, so that he would stop biting me, I got kind of like hooked on this concept of training, and then somehow that turned into, once I had the dog that I could take for walks around the neighborhood and be relatively safe with, then I had to teach him to retrieve beer from a fridge.
That one, in all honesty, was also to impress a boy, who I then married, so it turned out to be worth it.
So, after the beer retrieve, then it was like well, what can I teach him next, and so we tried a little bit of agility, but that was going to be a lot for him, behaviorally, to manage, to handle that environment, and we kind of just ended up finding our way into a UKC Obedience Trial, and I still don't even really remember exactly how that happened, but there we were, and then I thought, well, that was kind of fun, what if I got a registered dog?
And I started from scratch, because of course if you buy a purebred dog or, in my case, were given a purebred dog, it's absolutely a guarantee that they'll be easy to train for sports, right?
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. That's everybody's favorite line. I think that may be the first time I've ever heard somebody get into dogs to impress a boy, though.
Hannah Branigan: Well, I mean I did get the dog on his own merits, but it was the beer retrieve that was…
Melissa Breau: That was to impress the boy?
Hannah Branigan: Was really, yeah, to show him up. That's how I impress boys, I prove that I'm better than them at whatever the thing is, and it's actually kind of a funny story because, so, my husband, who I was dating at the time, was a computer engineer, and for his project in college, his team was making a beer robot, a robot that would basically retrieve a beer, and I said that I could train my dog to do that faster than he could make a robot do it, and so I did, and I was right.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome.
Hannah Branigan: I know, right? Exactly. So, and that's how it happened.
Melissa Breau: I mean, I think that's a great story to tell. Now, I know that at FDSA, one of like your big series is the skill-building series, the obedience skill-building series, so I wanted to make sure we talk a little bit about that and the role of foundation skills overall. So, do you mind talking for a moment kind of how foundation skills turn into obedience exercises and kind of why they're so important to start out with?
Hannah Branigan: Sure, and I think the skill-building series is kind of a…it's an interesting place to start because it's not structured the way most people who are used to competition obedience training expect.
So, your average obedience club will typically have, they'll have, you know, maybe some kind of introductory class, if you're lucky, or they may start right out with novice, but they'll have a novice class where you learn how to do novice, and then you go to the dog show and you get your novice title, and then you start attending the open class, and you go to the open classes and learn how to teach that, and you get your open title, and then you go to the Utility class and you learn how to do those exercises, and that's really what most people are expecting when they're thinking about sort of a training progression, but that's not how the experienced elite dog trainers actually train their own dogs.
Nobody who is really successful in obedience teaches that way, so, or trains their dogs that way, at any rate.
So, when we designed the skill-building series, the goal was really, or our priority was let's set up a series of training progressions that actually mirror the way we would actually train our own dogs. So, you know, when I get a young dog and I intend to compete with that dog in obedience, I don't start with novice. I actually start with most of Utility, so, you know one of the first things that I teach a puppy is scent discrimination and we get started with some of the beginning steps that are going to become go-outs and directed jumping, and also there are things that will lead into heeling, but I don't wait until I have the novice title.
We're actually, you know, mostly almost teaching it in reverse, right? So, with the skill-building series, we've very much done that. So, like the skill building one class, we're giving you the building blocks for scent discrimination, for directed jumping and go-outs, for the retrieve, for signals, drop on recall, all of the jumping-related exercises, all of the retrieving-related exercises, and getting those first steps trained, and then as we move through the progression of the classes, we build on those and we start to put them together and form sequences that become the exercises.
So, it's a much more logical progression from a behavior standpoint, assuming that you're planning to take that dog into Utility at some point. The way that I think about it is really, like, well it's sort of like Legos, right?
So, if you open up a box of Legos, which I was just playing with a minute ago, so that's where my mind is, there's really only like 5 or 6 different types of Lego blocks, right? So, they come in lots of different colors, but there's really only a couple of different shapes. There's the ones with like the 2 dots, and then there's the ones with the 4 dots that are kind of square, and then there's the 6 and then 8 and 12, and using just those blocks, you can really build almost anything, right, like anything from a Millennium Falcon to a dining room table, and it's just by putting those blocks together in different orders and repeating different ones, and I'm kind of getting lost with this metaphor.
I don't remember where I was going with it, but…yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, so my point is that all of these exercises really only break down into kind of a handful of behavioral units that we can then sort of change the colors of, right, like we can put them together in different ways and we can modify them in kind of cosmetic ways, but there's not that much, really, to teach, and so if we concentrate on building these really strong, ubiquitous units of behavior that go into all of these advanced exercises, well, the exercises don't turn out to be quite that hard, right?
So, the challenge is in getting those really strong little individual units, and then I can build lots of different things out of those, so, a dog that really understands concepts of targeting, that really understands the concept of stimulus control. I can teach a new behavior with a target, fade the target, get a cue on it really, really fast, and it's a strong behavior because they really understand how it works and how we're communicating that way.
So, a large part of what we're doing, when we're talking about those foundation skills, is establishing these kind of, you know, we're looking at kind of two categories, right?
There's the movement skills that I need the dog to know how to use his body in a certain way, so I need him to be able to shift his weight back and forth and I need him to be able to control his body and then use that to form these positions and understand the communication strategies that we're going to use to communicate with each other, and once I have those things, I can build so much out of it, and I get very excited, so, sorry.
Melissa Breau: No. Absolutely.
Hannah Branigan: So, yeah, so that's my goal. I want to take this like really mystical, challenging Utility exercise or any of the obedience exercises — I think heeling is more mystical than scent discrimination, really, but that's just me —and how can I break that down into its atomic units, like what are the things that the dog needs to know that then I put together that makes that heeling pictures, makes that scent discrimination picture?
Those blocks, those little, individual Lego blocks, are really very achievable for anybody, and that makes it…it takes away that mysticism element, right, and it makes it very actionable, very practical training, and then it also then makes it easy to put them together, and then when they break, take them back apart and fix it and put it back together again.
Melissa Breau: I think that leads really naturally into the next question, which is how does having strong foundation skills really help when it comes to proofing and problem solving, when you get to that point where you're starting to prep for competition?
Hannah Branigan: First off, I don't love the word proofing, but I know why you're using it and I'm okay with that. I like words like fluency enhancement, just because it puts us in a little bit more of a positive reinforcement mindset, but I understand what you're saying.
So, yeah, so having those really strong units of behavior, what I love about that is when I think about training an exercise in sort of a modular way, then if something does break, it's really easy for me to separate out the broken piece and figure out what's wrong here, what does he not understand, because the problem with teaching, and it's just as much of a problem while working human-to-human as gosh, well working between species, human-to-dog, is are they actually learning what I'm teaching, and the answer is not always yes.
So, when we start putting together more increasingly-complex behaviors and chains of behaviors and sequences, we'll often find out that no, actually what I was laying down is not what he was picking up, and I need to figure out where that miscommunication happened and what I need to do to clarify that, or is there a legitimately missing skill here, you know, just from a mechanic standpoint, my dog can't do the thing.
When I've gone through the thought process, the mental process, of breaking that complex sequence into individual behavioral components, then that really saves a lot of time when I need to go back and kind of debug, right? So, like what is wrong here, and I can check. I can pull it out and I can say okay, is it Unit A? No, looks great. Unit B? Looks great. Unit C? Absolutely perfect. Unit D? Oh gosh, oh, this isn't right.
So, all right, this is where I need to spend my time. So, it really saves a lot of time because I've done all of that thinking in advance, right, during the original training process. I mean the behaviors are always functioning as behavioral sequences. That's not something that we've invented. It has a lot more to do with our approach for how we're thinking about it and how we go about teaching it that have the advantage.
Melissa Breau: So, to take that and kind of, I don't want to take it from conceptual to practical, but kind of to take that idea just to that next step. Is there a common problem that students run into again and again where maybe you can kind of talk us through having strong foundation skills might help?
Hannah Branigan: Like so the vast majority of problem-solving issues that people bring to me come down to exactly that thing, right? There's a piece, there's one of those components that was not well-understood, that the human part of the team thought they had taught, and the dog was not learning exactly what the human thought that they were teaching, and in fact I've dropped the term problem-solving or troubleshooting from my workshop materials just because, again, it so often puts us into that mind-space, which then makes it really hard to take a proactive approach to the training when we're trying to come up with a training plan, but so a really common example that I'll get all the time, and I get it online, I get it in person, so it's the drop on recall. It's a really common one.
It's, you know, relatively easy to squeak through your novice, and you get into open and there's a really big monster on that drop on recall, and it catches a lot of teams, and a lot of teams struggle with it, and so people come to me that the dog is, you know, classically they're not dropping when I call him or he's dropping very slowly or he's creeping forward or he sits or he just stands and stares at me, and it is a complex exercise.
There's a lot going on there, both bio-mechanically and behaviorally, with that exercise.
We give a cue 'come,' and then we interrupt that behavior with a cue to do something completely different, suddenly stop and lay down, which is weird, and so there's a lot of stuff that can go on there, and it's a fairly complex training process, and when we have that kind of complexity, that opens a window for a lot of emotional problems when the people get frustrated, and the dog gets frustrated and confused, and so there can be a whole lot of baggage there, and what often it comes down to is that, you know, we start peeling away the layers and digging. Now, what's actually broken here is, well, it turned out the dog didn't actually have stimulus control on the down itself, right?
So, the handler thought when I say down, the dog understands to lay down, and of course we're kind of on thin ice for a cognitive science standpoint when we talk about what dogs know and what dogs understand, but we're going to go with it, and what frequently has turned out to be the case, like, we could write a book about it, is the handler has taught the down with some kind of lure or prompt, nothing wrong with that. That's often how I teach it myself, right?
But as part of the training process, if we're using some kind of physical gesture to teach the dog to lay down, and it's assuming that it's not a legal one that we can use in the ring, which in the case of food lure, of course you can't, and under no circumstances, for the drop on recall, can you step towards the dog, put your hand in front of his nose, and point towards the ground, right? That's not a valid cue at any venue that I compete in.
So most of the time we transfer that either to a hand signal, and the classic hand signal, of course, is the one-hand-straight-over-head like a traffic cop, or verbal, down, plotz, whatever, and so we have to do some kind of fading of the prompt or lure, that extra, illegal physical gesture, which often involves some amount of dropping of the head and shoulders towards the ground and/or into the dog's personal space, which is a really common way to teach a drop is we use a little bit of that spatial pressure to push into the dog's space, which causes the dog to lay down, and then we go through the steps of fading that, and then hopefully, we're now completely still and quiet with our body language. We can stand completely neutral, say "down," and the dog hits the dirt, right?
What often happens is the handler thinks that's the process that's happened, but what's actually occurred is that the handler's continuing to do some amount of gesturing with the upper body, either at the same time as they say down or even just before it, and then they get in the ring, they say come when the dog is 25 feet away, they say down without that little ducking movement of the head and shoulders that has become the functional cue for the dog, and then, of course, there is no down because you did not give the same cue that you've been giving in training, and classic way to solve that is while you call the dog, and while they're coming towards you, you say down. If they don't down right away, you lean forward, step into them, with or without some amount of intimidation, and then perhaps the dog downs, and then you can say good boy and you can repeat it.
Well, we can't do that in the ring, so it still doesn't solve the problem in the ring, and what the problem really is, is that original piece of the behavior, the down, is not actually on the cue that the handler thinks that the dog should be responding to.
Melissa Breau: So, for problem-solving that, you then break that piece out and go back and work on just that piece, right?
Hannah Branigan: Right. So, you know, what we would do to test it, then, is well, let's try just stand there and give your cue for down, and so, like 99 percent of the time, if we have the hander cross their arms, look at the ceiling, and say down, the dog just looks at them hopefully and wags his tail, right? So, "I know you're talking to me but I've never seen that cue before," and if you have them, you know, how would you normally handle this, and they will often drop their shoulders, lean forward, maybe point at the ground and gesture down, there's some upper-body movement, and the dog goes, "Oh, right, right, right!" and lays down, with or without emotional baggage, depending on what the last six months of that dog's life have looked like, right?
My standard protocol is, okay, so now we know this is the situation. Let's just walk through the progression that you used to teach it originally, and so, you know, a lot of the time it's a food lure, which is fine, so we'll lure them down, great, that looks fantastic, fade the lure, now it's a gesture, dog's still dropping really nicely, start fading the gesture, the dog's continuing to drop, and then we'll get to some point in that progression where something's not quite right, like either there's a little bit of a hesitation on the part of the dog or the behavior starts to degrade. Great.
That's where we want to act, right? We don't want to wait until we're at a complete failure. We're looking for that first glimmer that there's a question mark. Is it a down? Did you still want me to lay down? And then we shore that up and then continue through the progression from there.
Melissa Breau: So, that kind of covers what my next question was going to be, which is what would your recommendation be to a student struggling with this issue. Is there anything you'd want to add there? I just want to make sure that, since I sent you the questions in advance, you get a chance to say anything else that you may have wanted to say.
Hannah Branigan: I know. I cheated. They sent me the questions in advance.
I think the main thing is kind of my visualization that I would love to share with people is when you use words like foundation, and I think that's a completely valid word to use because we are building our exercises out of these critical supporting concepts — but we often kind of think of it as like, it's like a one and done, like once I've trained these foundation skills, whatever you consider…you know you put these particular items in the foundation box, and you're done, and you tape it closed, and then you keep going.
And I think that that doesn't really do us any favors, and I really kind of prefer the learning model that we'll run across a lot in human learning and human sports, which is really more of a spiral staircase, rather than like the house, right, with the bricks, and then you just start building the house on top of the foundation, but it's more like the spiral staircase because we're never done with these behaviors.
Behaviors, always, are dynamic. They're always changing, and they're always responding to their environment and processes of reinforcement and punishment and everything else, and so when I'm thinking about it in the way that I approach training and I think the way that a lot of people do, whether it's conscious or not, is I'm always moving up, I'm always moving forward, and we're always progressing, but we're always also circling past these same concepts and refining them and strengthening them and building on them, and sometimes yes, picking up gaps and filling them in as we discover them, because dogs are really good at letting us know when we've left a gap in our training, and so that's, you know, I think that spiral staircase is a really good visualization for me because I do spend a lot of time, so, you know, working on maybe positions, like the mechanics or the positions.
Well, all of my dogs have sit down and stand on cue, I think, and then it's not a done thing. So, we periodically, you know, we're circling back around, and now what does my sit down and stand look like? Oh, how could I sharpen that up? What if I improve the latency on this one a little bit, or those mechanics are slipping, I need to make sure that my dog is really planting his rear end before he pushes into that drop, before we get into the drop on recall, and there's always little things that we can keep improving and refining and strengthening as we continue to build on these behaviors and make bigger, more complex exercises out of them.
Melissa Breau: Awesome, and I think that that spiral staircase, I actually haven't heard it used quite that way before and I think that's really interesting and really helpful, even for me to just kind of think through training in that way.
Hannah Branigan: Yeah. I invented it myself. I just thought of it. You can call it the Branigan Spiral Staircase Method.
Melissa Breau: Deal. Done. I'll name the whole episode that.
Hannah Branigan: Perfect.
Melissa Breau: So, to round things out, I just have three more short questions for you. So, to start, what's the dog-related accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Hannah Branigan: Yeah, so now we're into the beauty pageant section of the interview. Okay. So, it's not dog-related, but it's kind of fresh in my mind since we've been out of school and home for a whole week…I mean it's dog related, but not the dogs themselves.
I would say that right now, at this stage, life stage that I find myself in, I am most proud of how my daughter Harper has learned to invite the dogs for petting and attention, rather than reaching out for them or grabbing them.
That was something that we've worked really, really hard on for, well, four years now, and it's so awesome to watch it starting to solidify into this interaction that they have, and it started out…it's something we still coach her in, and it was very, very coached. We used a lot of tag teach to initiate it, because as a toddler, she's very grabby because she's a small primate infant person, and so I was like okay, we have to invite dogs to be petted. We don't reach out for the dog.
She learned to pat her knee, pat-pat, clap her hands, clap-clap, and then she opens up her hands, palms up, and invites the dogs to come and greet her, and what is so cool is she pats pat and they're like okay, and when she opens her hands, they clearly make a choice of yes, and they come push their neck and chest into her hands and she can start petting them, or they'll just do a beautiful, smooth head-turn away, very canine, thank you, not right now, and we're still working on handling disappointment.
That's, of course, that's something I, as an adult, continue to struggle with, but watching them communicate that smoothly when I'm cooking dinner and she's sitting there, and she sees Gambit and she really wants to pet him because, of course, who wouldn't? He's gorgeous. And she pat-pat, clap-clap, opens her hands, and he says oh, yes, please, finally someone to rub me, and he just melts into her hands, and she pets him, and it's so smooth and just seamless and natural, and that's another thing that, you know, when I see it, even though it's just one of those little daily miracles that kind of makes me like, oh, I get chills.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. You share lots of parenting and dog stories online, on Facebook and in other forums, so it's kind of neat.
Hannah Branigan: It's all the same thing, completely the same.
Melissa Breau: So, what is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?
Hannah Branigan: Oh, that one's easy. So, Leslie Nelson: "When in doubt, throw food."
And I fall back on that all the time. Whenever there's a question, something weird comes up in a training session or even at home, I don't know what to do right now, that was a very weird behavior and I have no idea how I should handle it, throw a handful of food on the ground, and while they're gobbling the food, I can think about my solution, and it turns out that there's a whole lot of behavior problems out there in the world that we can solve in very practical ways by throwing a handful of food at them.
Melissa Breau: Both to give ourselves five minutes to think and to give them something else to do?
Hannah Branigan: Exactly.
Melissa Breau: All right. So, the last one, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?
Hannah Branigan: Oh, okay. So, well, of course, you know I really admire Denise and Deb and Shade and all the other folks in the FDSA community. Outside of that, Ken Ramirez is really somebody that I admire a lot, well, basically because he's perfect in every way. So, I'm definitely a member of the Ken fan club. We're going to get t-shirts, maybe to share.
Melissa Breau: I hope he listens to this, just so he can hear you call him perfect in every way.
Hannah Branigan: He knows. I've told him.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome.
Well, thank you so much for joining us, Hannah, and thank you everybody else for tuning in. We'll be back in two weeks with Shade Whitesel to talk about location-specific markers and being a top IPO competitor, using R+ philosophies. If you haven't already, please subscribe on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice, and our next episode will automatically be downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!
Sarah Stremming is a dog trainer, a dog agility and obedience competitor, and a dog behavior consultant. Her specialty is working with behavior problems in competition dogs.
During her interview we talk about her approach to training -- including allowing dogs their dog-ness -- and the 4 things she looks at before making behavior recommendations: exercise, enrichment, diet and communication.
To be released 1/20/2017, featuring Hannah Branigan.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we’ll be talking to Sarah Stremming. Sarah’s voice may be familiar to some of you since she owns the excellent Cog-Dog Radio. Sarah is owner and operator of the Cognitive Canine. She has been working with dogs in the realms of performance training and behavior solutions for over a decade.
Her special area of interest has long been helping dog owners address behavioral concerns in their competition dogs. Reactivity, anxiety, aggression, and problems with arousal are all major concerns for many competitors, and Sarah works to help her clients overcome these issues and succeed in their chosen arena. Hi, Sarah, welcome to the podcast.
Sarah Stremming: Hi, Melissa, and thanks for having me.
Melissa: Absolutely. Sarah, to start out, can you just tell us a little bit about the dogs you have now and what you’re working on with them?
Sarah: Sure. I have Idgie, who is an 8-year-old border collie, and she’s competing in agility and her agility training is really just kind of in maintenance phase, but I’m getting her ready to go into the open level of obedience next year; and I have Felix who is also a border collie and he’s a year and a half, so he’s learning everything. He’s learning agility, obedience, and mostly how to just kind of keep his head on his shoulders in the agility environment is our number one project… and those are my two dogs.
Melissa: Excellent. How did you originally get into dog sports?
Sarah: I saw agility on TV when I was probably nine or ten and immediately knew that that was for me, and it was like five years later that I actually got to do agility, but as soon as I saw it I wanted to do it and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Melissa: That’s awesome. So did you start out R+ then, since you started in agility or kind of what got you started on that positive training journey?
Sarah: I definitely did not start with all positive reinforcement. I am definitely what I would call a crossover trainer. I started in not just agility but competitive obedience. Agility really got me started, but the kind of local dog training school required an obedience class before you started agility training, and I actually really liked the obedience side as well, so I competed in obedience and agility with my first dog Kelso.
He had some really severe behavioral problems, primarily aggression towards other dogs, and so I learned to do all kinds of nasty things from people who…everybody I worked with was really trying to help me, and so I did all kinds of corrections as far as obedience is concerned and as well as his aggression was concerned.
Because he had these behavior problems I reached outside of the realm of performance training into the animal training world and found out that all of these corrections that I had been taught from really the competitive obedience sector were not only not necessary but probably causing some of my problems. So when I started to realize that and started to change the way that I did things, he started to get better and that was really all that I needed to see.
Melissa: I know that for most trainers it’s definitely an evolving journey, so how would you describe where you are now in terms of what your training philosophy is and kind of how you approach training?
Sarah: My training approach I actually have a philosophy that I really sat down and figured out and wrote out a while ago so that I could reference it and come back to it in my work with my own dogs as well as with other people and so it’s kind of four different mantras, and the first one is ‘Do not deny dogs their dogness.’ So meaning dogs are dogs, they’re going to act like dogs.
Dogs like to bark and pee on stuff and dig holes and do things like that, and we really have no right to deny them those things because we chose to bring dogs into our lives, but that segues into the next mantra, which is to teach dogs what we need from them in a kind way, so we need them to not do those things all the time and it’s important for us to teach them what they need to know to live in our world in a way that is kind. Then the next one is ‘Provide dogs what they need,’ which is a big deal to me to just make sure that their needs are being met.
I find that a lot of dogs living with people don’t have all of their basic dog needs met, and then the last one is just ‘Above all honor the dog,’ which means always honor their experience of what you are doing, that this isn’t just about you. They’re here. They have autonomy. They have ownership over their own lives and we really have no right to not take their opinions and experiences into account.
Melissa: I know you kind of mentioned Kelso at the beginning, and your specialty now, at least as far as I understand it, is over-arousal in competition dogs. Does that kind of tie back to that or can you tell me kind of how you got started in that and kind of just a little bit about your work now?
Sarah: That being my special interest area was really shaped by the competitors and the current climate of agility. Kelso actually wouldn’t be described by anybody who knew him as over-aroused. They would describe him more as one of those shut-down type of dogs, so he was overwhelmed by the environment, but it translated into a dog that was slow and didn’t do agility very fast versus most of the dogs that I work with now are kind of the opposite.
They are also overwhelmed by the environment, but it comes out in big displays, big behaviors of biting the handler, excessive barking, not being able to stay on the start line, that kind of thing. I do work with the dogs that shut down too. Most of the dogs that I work with are over-aroused, and I think that that has been largely cultivated by just the culture in agility right now, which is we’re breeding dogs with hair-trigger arousal on purpose and we are fostering really, really high levels of arousal in training and the reason is everybody wants faster.
Everybody wants speed, and they really think that this is how they’re going to get there. When you put all of this arousal into the picture and you’re not actually sure how to deal with it once you’ve got it, you run into problems and it’s everywhere. Every single time I go to an agility trial, which is frequently, I see dogs that are really struggling with the environment and really just if they were people would be screaming and banging their fists against the wall and instead they’re a dog on a leash being asked to stand next to a handler quietly. So we see a lot of problems come out because that arousal has got to come out somewhere.
Melissa: So I’m actually going to shift gears slightly and then come back to this topic. Before starting this podcast, I asked around for other good dog training podcasts. Cog-Dog came very highly recommended, which is how I first learned a little about you and a little about what you’re doing. For anyone listening who may not be familiar with it, can you just briefly tell us a little bit what Cog-Dog Radio is and kind of how you have it set up?
Sarah: Yeah. So I really started getting out there through my blog, which is at the cognitivecanine.com and I wanted to cover specific cases that I have worked on. I thought that was a good idea for material basically, and I tried to write them as blogs and they really weren’t working out, and a friend of mine suggested that I try a podcast and so that’s how Cog-Dog Radio was born and so it’s my podcast. You can find it on SoundCloud or iTunes just by searching for Cog-Dog Radio. You can also get it through my website.
The format is that I do a series of three episodes at a time, and the three episodes cover a case that I worked on. So I start out talking about kind of the basics of the case and then in the next episode I talk about specific behavior modification that happened in the case and then the third episode, which is turning out to be everybody’s favorite episode is that I interview the owner of the dogs that we’re talking about.
Melissa: Now I know, kind of to tie this back to the previous question, which is why I wanted to make sure we talked about this first. In one of your early podcasts, you talked about like the four things that you consider before creating a program or a behavior modification process for a dog. Exercise, enrichment, diet, and communication. Did I get all of them that time?
Sarah: You got them. So this is what I call the four steps to behavioral wellness and this is something that I came up with a long time ago when I was working primarily actually with the general public with their dogs so general public versus the dog sport public, which is more who I work with now, and it’s basically just these four areas.
If you come back to my philosophy in dog training, one of them was to provide dogs what they need, and since we examined these four areas, we find out where we maybe aren’t giving them what they need and that way we can adjust it. So exercise is the first one that you mentioned and I really advocate a specific type of exercise for dogs. I find that them being allowed to just mill around and sniff around and be a dog in an open space type area is best so off-leash or on a long line and a harness if off-leash is not safe where you are.
I find it really best for them as far as reducing overall anxiety and stress in their life versus the exercise that most dogs get, if they get any, it’s fetching a ball or a Frisbee. Going to agility class, a lot of people tell me that they see that as a form of exercise for their dogs, and I would totally disagree, or just walking on a short leash around the neighborhood. A lot of times that even does the opposite of what we would like it to do. It creates more stress for the dog so exercise is a big one for me. I find that most dogs aren’t getting enough and I would include my own dogs in that statement. I mean, it is very difficult to get them what I would call enough, right?
And so the next one is enrichment, which is basically just that we’ve got a hunter/scavenger species on our hands here, and we put kibble in a bowl and hand it to them twice a day and we could be using those calories in a way smarter way. We could be having them work to find their food essentially, so giving them projects that they can do that help them meet their own needs somehow as opposed to a lot of people recommend giving all the food through training and there’ve definitely been situations where I’ve recommended that, but usually I think if they also are allowed to search and find food as their way of getting food as well as not all dogs are super-hot on food and we’ll use toys and hide toys and have them find it.
Just any kind of mental enrichment that we can give them that helps them meet a need of theirs on their own without human interaction tends to be really helpful and the people that I work with learn a lot about their dogs through these things. If you hide food and give your dog a puzzle to figure out, the way that they figure out how to get to the food or if they figure it out at all tells us a lot about them.
So if you, for instance, wrap a bully stick up in a paper bag and then stick the paper bag in a box and then put the box underneath a blanket, there are going to be dogs that are not even going to try to figure it out. There are going to be dogs that are going to plough through it really, really quickly and really frantically.
There are going to be dogs that think really hard but wind up getting there and basically learn a lot about what kind of problem solver your dog is and what kind of thinker they are just by giving them problems to solve. And then over time if you don’t give them things that are too hard, but you give them things that are kind of just hard enough, they start to be this dog that says I can solve problems and their confidence in training gets better and their confidence in other situations, maybe competition, gets better because, and this is purely anecdotal, I don’t think there’s any research on this, but what I witnessed is that over time they start to have more self-confidence because we’ve provided them with puzzles to solve.
Then diet is something that I am not specifically trained in and technically cannot advise specifically on. I get a lot of emails asking for specific diet recommendations and formulas and I always tell people that I can’t give them that. What I can tell you is that what I observe anecdotally is that a fresh food diet is best when we’re talking about behavior and I think all of us know that already when we think about ourselves, whether it’s a better idea to have a meal made of fresh whole food or a pre-processed powder, I think we all know which is better for us.
We just forget what’s better for dogs because there are so many processed options for dogs that are supposedly healthy and good for them, and I’ve just seen too many of my cases where the behavior change that we really, really needed happened after the diet change. I have to mention it, and I really do think that even if you switched from one processed food to maybe a better one that works better for your dogs, diet should always be considered, especially when anxiety or over-arousal are involved.
Then the final one, communication, I just want people to better tell their dogs when they’re right and to have a better system for telling their dogs when they’re “wrong.” But basically we need to be telling them when they’re right more often. And I really like Kathy Sdao has a system for this that she calls SMART x50, and SMART stands for See, Mark, and Reward Training and then x50 is just that your goal is to do it 50 times a day. And all that means is you see the dog doing something right, you tell them, hey, that was right, I liked that and then you give them a piece of food or a game or something.
So that’s how you can reinforce behavior throughout the day that’s working for you and then I have people do something so instead of corrections I want them to instruct, so we are going to replace correction with instruction and then always follow up that instruction with reinforcement. So if my dog is let’s say barking at the front window and I ask her to go lie on the mat instead and then I give her a cookie for doing that, that’s a more effective way for me to alter her behavior than to spray her with water or throw something at her or yell at her for barking. So those are my four areas.
Melissa: And I’m assuming those didn’t sort of immediately pop into your brain all together fully formed. How did you come to that?
Sarah: That’s a good question, and to be honest I came to them through my own kind of journey with mental health. So I have an anxiety disorder and that really, even though it’s not fun for me, it helps me to really help dogs better. There’s some really great research in the human world as far as anxiety disorders go and other mood disorders go as far as what we can do in our daily lives to help lessen our needs for medications.
One of them is exercise. You’re not going to find a single resource on any mood disorder, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or anything else that won’t tell you exercise will help. For me personally I know that getting out and walking up a dirt path with a forest and trees and animals and everything is better for my brain than getting on a treadmill, and I see the treadmill as like us walking our dog around on concrete in the neighborhood. So that’s the exercise piece.
The enrichment piece is just you have to feel that’s being satisfied in your daily life so that’s liking your job, finding your job interesting, not being bored, that’s the enrichment piece for people. Being involved in hobbies so not just sitting and watching a television but reading a book or writing or something like that. These adult coloring books. There’s a craze right now, adult coloring books and it’s because of enrichment. It’s because we all need a little bit more of it in our lives.
We need to unplug and do something with our brains and our hands and that’s exactly what we’re doing with dogs when we give them a puzzle to figure out. And then diet’s a huge component. It’s a huge component for me, and I know it’s a huge component for everybody that I’ve talked to that has any kind of mental health concern but if they really examine what they’re eating and really adjust what they’re eating towards a whole food-type of diet, they get better and then communication for me that is mostly about dogs.
That stems from my belief that I’ve kind of formulated over all this time working with dogs, that there is nothing that a dog finds more aversive than confusion and there is nothing that they will work harder to avoid than confusion, meaning that’s why you have so many trainers who are still using x, y, z aversive tool, prong collar, choke collar, or shock collar, whatever, who say but look at my dog and look how happy they are working, and a lot of those people are right.
The dogs do it great. The dogs look fine, and the reason is they’re skilled using that tool and the dog is not confused. The dog fully understands how to avoid the correction and they’re not confused. To be clear, I’m not advocating for that, but I believe that their priority one is to better understand what’s going on in their own lives and that we throw them into kind of an alien existence and expect them to just figure it out and I do believe that it causes a lot of stress for them so that’s where that one comes from.
Melissa: Well, I mean that’s true with people too. If you have a boss and you just don’t understand what he or she wants from you and you just don’t understand how to succeed at your job, you get frustrated and upset and unhappy.
Sarah: Absolutely. Any kind of human-to-human relationship that does not have communication will not work for very long.
Melissa: Right. Right. So to round things out, I have three more short questions that I’m trying to ask kind of towards the end of each of the interviews. So the first one, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?
Sarah: I have to think pretty hard about this one because I feel like every time my dogs do have some minor breakthrough, I’m really proud of it, but this last year at AKC Nationals Idgie and I made the Challengers round and if you’re familiar with AKC Nationals, the Challengers round is not easy to get into.
Just making the Challengers round that’s not what I consider the proudest moment for me, but the fact that Idgie who’s a dog that used to really struggle with arousal issues in agility was able to not only have a clean round and run really nicely but really fully be the dog that I have been training in the most intense pressure-cooker type of arena that she’s ever been in.
Just standing in the dirt in the Challengers round in the main arena with the crowd cheering and a lot of really intense competitors around us and to be able to just stand there ringside with her and know that she was okay and know that I was okay and we could both walk into that ring and we could both do what we know how to do, I would say that’s my proudest moment in dogs so far.
Melissa: I mean that’s a pretty good proudest moment. My next question is what is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?
Sarah: I’m not even sure if this is advice but just kind of, I guess it is advice, and it’s not from a specific person but it’s kind of a collective idea that is a common thread amongst some of my biggest influences in training, which is that if something that you’re doing is species-specific, meaning it would only work for the species in front of you, there’s probably a smarter way to do it.
Melissa: I like that. So my final question to wrap everything up is who else is someone in the dog world that you look up to?
Sarah: I look up to so many people in the dog world and a lot of people really in the training world, but a person who’s a competitor in dog agility who I really look up to is my friend Tori Self, and she lives in Wales now, but she has been on the FCI Agility World Team multiple times with a lot of success and she’s a person that to me is able to achieve the highest level types of achievement in my favorite sport and still maintain this really deep, loving connection for her dog that she would do anything for.
For her it’s always been about the dog first and the sport second and yet she’s still able to achieve these really high-level things, and for me that’s the ultimate because I know a lot of competitors really it is about the sport first and the dog second whether they would admit that in words or not, that’s what I observe in their behavior, and that’s never been the case with Tori and I really respect her for that.
Melissa: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate you taking some time out to chat through this with me. Hopefully it was fun for you. It was definitely fun for me.
Sarah: Definitely. Thanks, Melissa.
Melissa: Thanks for tuning in. We’ll be back in two weeks with Hannah Branigan to talk about the relationship of foundation skills and problem solving. If you haven’t already, subscribe now on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice and our next episode will automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!