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Education
Sports

Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

Updated 2 days ago

Education
Sports
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Published every other Friday, the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods.

Read more

Published every other Friday, the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods.

iTunes Ratings

120 Ratings
Average Ratings
109
7
0
1
3

An hour long infomercial

By trishiriye - Aug 26 2019
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I listened regularly this year (2019) because I kept hoping that the next week would be different...but each week is just talking about this class or that class starting up and not much more than marketing for upcoming classes. Disappointed ☹️

Learning a ton about positive, healthy relationships with my dogs ... and humans too

By BanditsFriend - Feb 26 2019
Read more
Outstanding podcast - thanks! I have referred this podcast & the dog training academy to friends.

iTunes Ratings

120 Ratings
Average Ratings
109
7
0
1
3

An hour long infomercial

By trishiriye - Aug 26 2019
Read more
I listened regularly this year (2019) because I kept hoping that the next week would be different...but each week is just talking about this class or that class starting up and not much more than marketing for upcoming classes. Disappointed ☹️

Learning a ton about positive, healthy relationships with my dogs ... and humans too

By BanditsFriend - Feb 26 2019
Read more
Outstanding podcast - thanks! I have referred this podcast & the dog training academy to friends.

The Best Episodes of:

Cover image of Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast

Updated 2 days ago

Read more

Published every other Friday, the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Each episode of the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast will feature an interview with a leading name in the competitive dog sports training world, talking in depth about issues that often get overlooked by traditional training methods.

Rank #1: E60: Kathy Sdao - "Plenty in Life is Free"

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Summary:

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

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

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

Links

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

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

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

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

I’m incredibly thrilled to have her here today!

Hi Kathy! Welcome to the podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That is so cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathy Sdao: Thanks Melissa.

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

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

Melissa Breau: FDSA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathy Sdao: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Yes. Absolutely.

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

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

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

Credits:

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

Apr 27 2018

57mins

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Rank #2: E79: Julie Daniels - Building Canine Confidence

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Summary:

Julie Daniels has worked with dogs her whole life. In fact, she learned to walk by holding on to a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She was 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, NH, and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, NH.

Julie is well known as a premier teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled and won with all sorts of dogs throughout the years, including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She is the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix finals with a Rottie or a Springer, and she did it two times each. She is also a two-time national champion and a two-time international champion.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/14/2018.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Julie Daniels.

Julie has worked with dogs her whole life. In fact, she learned to walk by holding on to a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She was 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, NH, and White Mountain Agility in North Sandwich, NH.

Julie is well known as a premier teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled and won with all sorts of dogs throughout the years, including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She is the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix finals with a Rottie or a Springer, and she did it two times each. She is also a two-time national champion and a two-time international champion.

Hey Julie! Welcome to the podcast.

Julie Daniels: Hi Melissa. So glad to be back with you!

Melissa Breau: I’m glad to have you! To start us out, can you just share a little bit of information about the dogs in your life right now and what you’re working on with them?

Julie Daniels: Oh yeah, everybody’s favorite question. My current pack is just three Border Collies. I have one who’ll be 13 very, very soon, and she does whatever she wants, completely spoiled, it’s just wonderful to see. She’s doing great.

And my competition dog is now 10 years old, which seems impossible to believe. I’ve just moved him down from Championship to Performance and Preferred level so that he can jump a lower jump height. But he’s doing great and we’re having a ball.

And I have a youngster named Koolaid, whom anybody who takes my classes has been following now since the last couple of years. She’s just turned 3, and she’s dynamite and so challenging and fun to train. Always has been, always will be. She keeps me young, keeps me getting smarter, keeps my chops honed every single day.

So those are my three Border Collies.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to talk today about canine confidence. Can you define what confidence is when it comes to our dogs?

Julie Daniels: Oh boy. Confidence can be so elusive, and I also find confidence in dogs and people both to be very elastic. It sort of comes and goes, and they look great, and then all of a sudden we’re shrinking because something makes us feel insecure, and sometimes it’s not environmental, it’s mental. So confidence is tough to define, but let’s consider confidence to be a sense of personal well-being felt by the dog. How does that sound?

Melissa Breau: That certainly makes sense to me.

Julie Daniels: In other words, an optimism that all will be well.

Melissa Breau: If that’s our definition, what are the differences between a confident dog and a not confident dog? Why is that confidence so important for dog sports and stuff we want to be doing with our dogs?

Julie Daniels: I think it’s so important, because the world throws us curve balls on a regular basis and life does not go as expected. When that happens to the confident dog, as it will every single day pretty much, the confidence of some dogs carries through a sense of wellbeing and optimism that all will be all right when the world surprises them. A dog who is not confident doesn’t feel that way.

I think what happens is a dog who has an internal or higher level of confidence tends to say, “Oh boy, what is that?” when he sees something unexpected, and that’s of course what we’re trying to develop. The dog who is not confident, whether it be in the moment or whether it be an overall set point, that dog tends to say, “Oh no, what is that?”

So there are the two extremes: “Oh boy, something new!” “Oh no, I’ve never seen that before!” Those are the two extremes between the dog who has the wellbeing, the optimism, afforded by internal confidence versus the dog who has a much lower confidence set point.

Melissa Breau: How much of that is just innate — who the dog is — versus something you can train or teach?

Julie Daniels: Tough question, but not as tough a question as it used to be, because we know that quite a bit is innate, and we also know … actually, if I can borrow from research done on humans, we know for a fact that human beings can reset their confidence set point, their happiness set point, their optimism set point. We can rewire and reframe in humans.

And certainly it’s the same in dogs. You can see overall changes in the confidence set point and the happiness set point as you work with these problems, so it’s not a life sentence. If the innate set point is low in terms of confidence, happiness, optimism, all these things which we want for our dogs in their lives, there is so, so much we can do.

Thanks to research on humans via, let’s say, SPECT analysis and many other brain work, we can measure the activity centers and the levels of involvement in different areas of the brain, and we can know for a fact that it’s quite possible to reset and rewire even, neurologically, the happiness and confidence and joy centers in the brain.

So we can change, for our dogs as well as for ourselves, we can change the hand that we were dealt with. It is quantifiable and measurable, at least in humans, that many, many people have successfully done so. So it’s not something that is fated, if your dog happens to have been born less confident than you would like.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I hadn’t realized there was research that’s been done on that in people. That’s neat.

Julie Daniels: Let me make mention of my personal favorite book, which is definitely a layperson’s book. It’s by Daniel Amen, M.D. Dr. Amen is one of the leading experts in the world on SPECT analysis of the brain in humans, and his book is quite amazing. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Melissa Breau: Interesting.

Julie Daniels: Well worth looking up.

Melissa Breau: For those who are starting out with a dog that’s a little on the less confident side, where do you start? What does that type of training look like? How do you help them reset their brain?

Julie Daniels: Well, it goes without saying, but it should be mentioned: there are no mistakes. We don’t call out mistakes on a dog who already is harder on himself than any of us would ever be. I think that’s probably the best start point is there are no mistakes. Anything that the dog offers is going to be well received and reinforced.

It’s not simple, and yet it is that simple. We want to build the dog’s feelings of wellbeing first, so no mistakes. By that I mean anything that the dog offers is by definition correct and reinforceable. That’s where to start.

And this is in daily life. This is not a measure of “I told you to do this,” or “I told you to do that.” I’m not talking about training. I’m talking about anything the dog offers in daily life.

Melissa Breau: What does that look like? Can you walk me through an example?

Julie Daniels: I would want to help any dog of any age who feels insecure. I would want to help that dog become attracted to life. To, let’s say, novelty. So one of the things that I advise people to do all the time, and I’m just saying this over and over and over, it’s so easy to do, and it’s amazing that days go by and we don’t think to do it. When your dog lacks confidence, you should make a habit of taking beloved familiar items around your house and putting them in unfamiliar places. That is the first step toward developing attraction for novelty. That’s what we want.

Remember when I said earlier we’re trying to develop the dog’s ability to say, “Oh boy, what is that?” and we currently have a dog that says, “Oh no, what is that?” So by taking beloved items … they can’t be just neutral items. They really should be things that the dog already enjoys, for example, his food bowl. There’s a good one. Put it on your head. Just put it upside-down on your head after you’ve washed it.

There you are, standing in the kitchen, washing the dog food bowls, and your dog’s probably going to be interested in that because it’s a beloved item, a familiar and well-trusted item, and there you go, you just put it upside-down on your head. Perfect. Do something like that every single day. Pretty soon, when you make yourself do it every day, pretty soon you’re doing it ten times a day because it’s just fun.

Melissa Breau: Makes you laugh.

Julie Daniels: But you forget, if you don’t make it a conscious effort initially, and sometimes you’ll think at the end of the day, Well, what did I show this dog that was different in a positive way, that was unexpected and novel in a positive way? Because obviously if you’ve scared him, you haven’t done any good. So it’s got to be a beloved item, and it’s got to be put in a novel place but a familiar place. We’re not talking about taking it on the road, because you said, “Where do you start?” You start at home. You start in a comfortable, happy place.

Melissa Breau: If you put that food bowl on your head, are you then going to get lower so that the dog can sniff you and sniff the bowl?

Julie Daniels: That’s a great idea! See? You’re good at this already! Yeah, that’s a great idea. But play that by ear, Melissa, because if your dog said, “Oh no, what is that?” then that’s a mistake. But if your dog said, “Hey, that’s my food bowl,” now it’s perfect, and I think what you said is just great: scootch right down.

You don’t need to say anything. This is one thing that I think is difficult to do. We want to talk our dogs into something: “Come and check it out.” And that really is not what you should do. You should allow the dog to show you whether he’s interested or curious enough to come and see it.

Anything that he offers you is reinforceable, even if he decides to leave the room. And the best reinforcement if he backs away would be what? What would the absolute best reinforcement you could give him if he backs away, because that’s not really what you intended to do, because you realize that unexpectedly you’re on the wrong side of confidence. So what it’s very important for you to do, if he shows you that he’s actually concerned, is take it off immediately.

I would say take the food bowl off your head, put it right side up, put it on the floor between you, and say nothing. Allow your dog to make a decision to be attracted to his beloved food bowl in this new context of it being on the floor “where it belongs.” Now you can have your reinforceable event and you’re not going to cause a problem.

I think very often, it happens so very often, either with young puppies or generally with dogs who lack confidence, I think so often we mean well, but we scare them.

Melissa Breau: Because they’re already not sure about things, and we’re throwing novel things at them, and that can be intimidating.

Julie Daniels: Yes.

Melissa Breau: I know a lot of people who wouldn’t appreciate being put in front of a full room to give a presentation, because that’s one of the things that makes them feel not confident.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, I think so.

Melissa Breau: Would you mind sharing maybe one of the other exercises that you use to help build confidence, or a little bit more on how you work on that with them?

Julie Daniels: Attraction to novelty, I think, is fundamentally first. That really is where to start. But let’s look at once we’ve made a few inroads, and now, in addition to being able to put the food bowl on your head and your dog thinks that’s funny, now you switch to a colander and you’ve got other things on your head.

So I think once you’ve got an inroad made with your dog, I think the next thing for me is substrates. Now you want to put things under foot and allow your dog to feel them. It’s not just about “Oh my gosh, plastic is so hard,” and “Tarps make a lot of noise,” and “Bubble wrap — oh no.” It’s not just about that. It’s about things that might feel different neurologically.

For example, when I started working with a teacher in canine fitness, my little Koolaid didn’t like the nubby Paw Pods. Anybody who’s done any fitness work knows about those little nubbies on the various pieces of equipment. They almost always have them, and she just didn’t like that at all.

This is in general quite a confident, self-assured puppy, but those things, boy, she just didn’t like the nubbies, and so of course being the mom I am, I thought, Well, why don’t I just teach her the skills on smooth surfaces first, and then we’ll transfer to nubbies, which would sound like a logical progression, but I was advised against it for a very important reason, which I have internalized and embraced. And that is those little nubbies are actually very important stimulators neurologically, and so we want the feet to be on the nubbies. I really took that to heart and went with it, and I am so glad that I did.

Just so you know the end of the story, Koolaid loves the nubbies and can pound onto four Pods, pretty much stick the landing, and is very happy beyond the nubbies. But it was a process getting her used to it. But that sort of fits the good advice that I was given from very good teachers who have the eye and have the chops to guide me in my canine fitness classes.

That sort of thinking fits perfectly with how I feel about substrate training to build confidence. You want obviously to start with things that are relatively non-threatening to that particular dog. Some dogs need to start with smooth surfaces. Plastic, for example, meaning hard, molded plastic. It just feels different and is smooth underfoot. Other dogs would do better to start with crinkled-up paper inside a box or shredded paper. Some dogs are a long ways away from being able to step on empty water bottles, and other dogs just jump into the kiddie pools full of empty water bottles. So it’s a continuum as to who likes what.

Remember you said earlier about it’s so a dog can be confident about one thing but not another thing. Well, look at little Koolaid who didn’t like the nubbies, but boy, she loves empty water bottles. And normal, everyday grinding sounds that many dogs are offended by, she was actually attracted to going in. So you never know. We all have different feelings about substrates, and I think one of the best things you can do as a second step after novelty would be to introduce and to find out the hierarchy of what feels good to your dog under foot and what feels a little bit concerning to your dog under foot, and try to build … not just tolerance, I don’t work with tolerance, but try to work for attraction to these things that might be concerning to your dog initially. So substrates come after novelty.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk about that just a little bit more. Some dogs definitely seem confident in a lot of situations, like you mentioned Koolaid, but they’re terribly unconfident in other situations, or in a particular setup, or something. I was curious how common that is, and how someone can work to break apart one of those more complex cases to figure out what it is that they’re actually seeing, what it is that the dog is maybe not so sure about.

Julie Daniels: It’s very common, and what is more, it’s very normal. I think probably most of us have little things that are harder for us than they are for other people, and little things that other people find difficult which we find easy. So I don’t think it’s the least bit strange. I think it’s to be expected.

I do find that if you have a dog who’s in general a little bit more reserved, it’s tempting to assume he’s reserved about everything, and that’s not necessarily the case either. So it could be that you just need to explore and experiment with what kinds of things do bother this dog, and what kinds of things is this dog a little bit more self-assured about. By that I mean he has an optimistic sense when he goes toward it that this might be a good thing.

When you see that in your dog, I think you want to make note of it, that your dog is not afraid of everything. Many people who think their dogs are afraid of everything are just plain wrong about that. And if you don’t give the dog a chance at this early level that you and I are talking about, then you really won’t know where your dog’s strengths do lie, and almost every dog has some.

Melissa Breau: So, I’m going to take the next step here. I know we’re planning a rerun of your webinar on all of this stuff on building canine confidence. That’s what inspired me to bring up the topic to do a podcast about it. Can you share a little bit on what you cover in that webinar? Maybe who might want to take it?

Julie Daniels: I hope everybody will take it! First of all, it makes me so proud and happy that I work for a person who values the quality of the webinar, the quality of the recording of the webinar, so much that she is going to give this webinar to the people who bought it the first time for free, because the audio — my fault, not your fault, Melissa — was absolutely terrible, and it was not what it should have been. So you and I have been practicing, you’ve coached me on where to be, and you and I have been playing with the microphone to make sure. I bought a better microphone, I have a better setup, and I know that the audio will not fail this next round.

But it just makes me so happy that I get another crack at this, Melissa. That I’m going to get a chance to present the material in a way that everybody can hear it the way I intended it to be heard. And the fact that my boss is somebody who wants everybody who bought it the first time to have the benefit of this improved recording production values makes me so happy. So I hope everybody will tune in, of course.

We will be talking about the various things that we can do to help dogs who feel insecure, and we’ll be talking about what’s that look like, what does it mean. We’ll pretty much take off running with the kinds of questions that you’re asking me here today.

We’ll be talking about creating attraction to novelty, and we’ll be talking about building of course a positive conditioned emotional response. The all-important CER that everybody talks about these days has so much to do with whether the dog is able to work on confidence in the first place. So this initial attraction, this initial feeling of wellbeing becomes a baseline of optimism so that the dog can feel happy about coming into training situations expecting to do well. It means a lot to me.

The next step is really that we want to build initiative. The subject of this webinar, building canine confidence, is way too broad. But we’re zeroing in on two factors: initiative and self-reliance. After we’ve talked a little bit about the baselines that you and I are talking about, we’re going to talk about building initiative as a major force in helping dogs become more confident and rewiring their brains to change their confidence set point and their happiness set point even, if you will.

So building initiative, obviously in small steps, and the first steps will vary from dog to dog, as we’ve already talked about. But all first steps should come from a feeling that all will be well. That’s what we’re after, that positive CER, and maintaining that positive conditioned emotional response as we go forward and ask the dog to experiment in the world with more and more novel stimuli.

I think I also will be talking a little bit about how it’s OK if the confidence of the team, the dog-person team, originates with the handler. I know many, many successful dogs in sports, and I’ve had several myself, who would not be able to run with anyone else, for example. And I know obviously many dogs who don’t much care who they run with. They just want to run, and if they get good information from their handlers, so much the better, but the game is so much fun and it has value of its own.

But it doesn’t have to be that way in order for a dog to be successful, no matter what the sport is. Obviously my sport is agility, but I don’t think it matters. I’ve seen many, many, many teams where the dog gets that initial charge of confidence from the handler, the leader if you will, and then from there it just energizes and snaps, and you can see that teamwork, that confidence, being passed back and forth from the dog to the handler. And they reinforce each other as they go, whatever the sport may be.

So I want to build that for people and their dogs, and it’s so very doable for us to be able to help dogs in that way and build a team using these kinds of exercises to build confidence. So I have several fun things to do along the way that make that much easier, including we raise the dog’s energy level, very important, motion builds confidence. I have people feeding in motion rather than, “Oh, we’re done. Now let’s stop and eat.” I don’t do it that way. I feed in motion because movement gets the brain working, movement helps optimism, movement builds confidence, believe it or not. It’s very important.

I also work hard to put the dog, if you will, in his prefrontal cortex, since we were talking about the brain earlier. But if you consider it a continuum from the unconscious reactions to the conscious reactions, the dog who has a low confidence set point is, generally speaking, operating from the limbic system, is operating where fear resides, operating where the “Oh no” resides.

What we want to do is bring him forward into his rational brain so he can be engaged with his brain, he can use his brain to solve problems in a constructive way. So here’s where we absolutely need the dog to welcome novelty rather than shrink from novelty, so that the dog can predict fun and predict happiness as he comes forward into a novel task, a novel presentation in the world, whatever it be.

And then we talk in the webinar a good deal about choice and control, how important those things are, how important it is to let the dog make decisions, to give the dog choices all along the way. Not just with the end goal behavior, but all along the training continuum the dog should be able to make small choices and find that every single choice is reinforceable.

The whole bit about breaking things down into small pieces, as you said, part of the beauty of being able to break things down into small pieces is that the dog gets to make all these tiny choices and every single choice is reinforceable. It’s a wonderful thing for the dog to learn how successful he can really be. So yeah, we might have an end goal behavior, and we’re breaking it down for that reason, but we really should be vested in the process rather than the outcome, and we should be thinking of this as, “He’s going to get to make twenty little choices, twenty correct choices, in the next two minutes, and that is plenty for this one session, and then we’ll come back and do it some more.”

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and I think that explains to people both what your approach is for this, and gives them a little bit of insight into what they can expect to learn even more about if they join for the webinar. I also wanted to ask you about the other thing you have coming up, which is your new Magic Mat class. Can you share a little on what the class will cover and what kinds of problems those skills help with?

Julie Daniels: Oh boy, yeah, let’s change the subject. This is a new class, which I’ve just been designing over the summer. It’s called Magic Mat: Where to be, when to go, and what to do. But it really is more broad than that. Magic Mat is a good, catchy name, and everybody knows me for my dedication to matwork, and certainly mats will be covered. But it’s really about what I call placement props – stations and platforms. So yes, we will cover some targeting and perch work and matwork, for sure, but we’re also doing platforms and stations and boundary training and that kind of thing, all by dog’s choice. So all kinds of methods and problem-solving techniques based on where to be.

I put up a picture in the course description today. I put in my front yard, in my door yard, driveway, I literally hauled out a whole bunch of stations and platforms and targets and various things, a perch or two, that I use around the house on a regular basis. I put them in my front yard and took a picture, honestly, because I want people to understand that (a) you need a variety and (b) you’ve got this stuff around your house. Everybody’s got something. You don’t have to buy an expensive item, a Klimb table. One of my favorite raised stations is a wooden pallet that I got for free, and I put a yoga mat on it.

It’s very common in my class for people to use a chair, a sling chair, a canvas chair because we take those to the shows all the time, so it’s very handy to have your dog trained to hang out on your chair. Not that you would leave them there, that’s not really what I mean, while you go have a Pepsi. But it’s a hangout place with you so that the dog can hang out with you in a comfortable and confident way without disconnecting. It’s a place to relax, a place to be, and a place to, for example, wait your turn or wait for something exciting to happen or be polite during dinner. That’s a good one. We use stations here for that.

It’s not taught by “You have to go to your station, now stay.” That’s the opposite of anything I would do. It’s taught around … here, I’ll just give you an example of how on earth would you train your dog to go wait in a certain place while you’re having dinner and just hang out there, and do it all the time.  

My now 13-year-old was instrumental in choosing her own place to wait during dinner, and she chose this very cushy armchair in the other room, the living room, being right next to the dining room. All of a sudden the other dogs were a little bit closer, and I noticed that she was over there in the living room, on this chair, with her adorable little chin coming over the top of the chair, “Hello, anyone, anyone?” So I decided, OK, she’s getting some macaroni. So I just got up from the table, walked over, and gave her a piece of macaroni. That’s awesome for her to decide.

My friend from Virginia used to say, “Go long. Teach them to go long.” Instead of being the dog who’s bugging the people, be the dog who’s out in the backfield, and good stuff will be thrown to you. So that’s how I treated her, and that’s how she taught herself to station on a chair in the other room when we were eating. Isn’t that clever?

So dog’s choice is a big component. For example, where I live now, in quarters that are a lot smaller, I have set up a couple of stations which I think will work fine during dinner, and I’ll let the dogs tell me whether I’m right nor not right. They will hang out, they’ll tend to go to the station and usually sit. One of my dogs would always choose down over sit. That’s fine. A default sit is what I’m developing in Koolaid, and so she would be more apt to sit on the station. But they can do whatever they want. This is a place where they are allowed to show patience in hopefulness of being rewarded.

I will admit out loud, here and now, that I am a person who would toss a piece of macaroni to the dog on the station. Perhaps you wouldn’t do that, so that’s fine. You’ll develop your own reinforcement delivery systems. But we’ll talk about things like variable interval reinforcement, and some of the things about how to develop duration by dog’s choice, because it’s not always that easy when good things are going on.

So in this class we’ll do things like take turns. We will use stations so that one dog is a waiting dog and one dog is a working dog, and then we switch back and forth. I’ll talk about things like, How do you do that by dog’s choice? Does waiting need to pay more than working?

I can use my own example of two brilliant agility dogs, Sport and Colt, who were very good at taking turns in this way. All of a sudden one day, I noticed a funny thing in Sport. I went to trade dogs and it was going to be Colt’s turn to wait on the station and Sport’s turn to work. As I made the switch, I saw in Sport’s face, as I said his name, I saw him say with his face, “Oh, OK, I wanted to be the waiting dog.”

Of course he came out and looked pretty happy to have a turn. However, why did he want to be the waiting dog? Dogs don’t lie. Why was it a disappointment for him to hear that it was his turn? You’ve got to look at those things, and in my family it was very clear: Sport had to be paid more for working and less for waiting, and Colt had to be paid more for waiting and less for working. It was much harder for Colt to wait. But in Sport’s case, once he learned what a great deal, a better deal, I had made waiting than working, guess what: “Actually, I’d rather be the waiting dog, if you don’t mind. If it’s all the same to you, just throw 17 cookies over here by the station, and Colt can have another turn.”

So you’ve got to go dog by dog, and you’ve got to be prepared to switch it up, as I had to do. Over time, the dog is a member of that thinking, working team, and the dog is going to have opinions, and the dog’s feelings are going to develop as the game goes along and the dog becomes an expert in the game. So be prepared. It’s a two-way feedback system. All training should be a two-way feedback system. Learn from your dog as the game goes on, and listen to what he’s saying about how it’s going to play.

Such fun, it is so much fun to use placement props. And of course if you’re interested in the TEAM Foundations training, I’m terribly interested in that, I absolutely love it. I don’t know that I’ll ever go for TEAM titles, although I guess why not? But I don’t think they’re necessary in order to get the utmost out of the program.

Denise did a podcast at one point, maybe you remember it, about TEAM, and one of the things that she mentioned still resonates with me. I still advise my students to do it. She said, “If you’re having trouble in obedience,” she of course was talking about obedience, but I’m not, I’m talking about agility, the exact same thing applies. She said, “If you’re having trouble with some of the advanced exercises in obedience, just take …” I think she said a week, maybe she said two weeks, but “take that time off from all that advanced training and just do the exercises from TEAM 1, Level 1, and then go back to your advanced work and see if you don’t notice improvement.”

Well, I heard that and decided I’m going to do that with my agility people, and it was such a resounding success for the exact same reason. TEAM Foundations is for all sports. It’s not just for obedience. I don’t think it’s sport-specific at all. And much of TEAM training benefits from good station work, good platform work, good targeting skills, perch work, all kinds of really fun challenges that use what I’m calling placement platforms.

Yeah, where to be, when to go, and what to do is the whole concept of this Magic Mat class, and we’ll use lots of fun things. Please, anybody who’s interested, go to the course description and click on the … I think it’s called Prerequisites and Supplies. Click on that tab to see the picture of all the cool stuff that I dragged out into my front yard, which is a subset of all the many different training props and placement platforms that I use around my own house in my everyday training. So you don’t need anything fancy.

I will want you to develop a station before class so you come to class ready with a target and with a perch and with a station and with a platform. It’s not hard. We’ll be talking about that before the class actually begins on October 1. So between the week and a half or two weeks between registration and the beginning of class you’ll have lots of chance to talk about what you’d like to build or make or find, or what’s the best dimension and size for your size dog. We gear the platforms, we gear the stations, to the size of each dog, so there are some good rules of thumb to go by, and we’ll be talking about those before the class gets going.

So it’ll be busy. All my classes are busy. I like them like that. There’s lots to talk about and lots of fun along the way as we see what the dog has to say about each game that we play. It’s a very, very fun process.

Melissa Breau: For folks who have already taken some of your other classes, which I know you do some matwork in some of those, can you talk about the difference between what they learn in that class and what the new material in this class will dive into and what you’re planning to cover?

Julie Daniels: I will cover matwork in Magic Mat. With a name like Magic Mat, I think you have to. But I’m best known for my matwork.

In Week 1 of the Magic Mat class, we will do both Step 1 and Step 2 of my four-step Magic Mat protocol, so we’ll go through it a little bit more quickly. The class I’m doing now, Cookie Jar Games, dives deeply into matwork, and likewise in Baby Genius I actually go through the different steps at length. But in this Magic Mat class we will do all four steps of matwork, but we don’t dive into it quite as deeply because we have so many other kinds of placement props to use.

But matwork is one of my dearest loves and really is a foundation behavior for any dog that I raise. And any dog that comes here for board and train learns matwork as well. I think it’s that powerful a motivator for the dogs.

Melissa Breau: If somebody’s listening to this and trying to decide if it’s the right class for them, do you have anything on who should take the class, what kind of guidance you can give for that?

Julie Daniels: Sure. I guess you could call it a concept class, because it’s a patience class. Some dogs lose confidence when they’re forced to wait, and some dogs just fry their brains over how difficult it is to wait. So it’s very compatible with people who have problems with impulse control in their dogs. For example, the dinner example that I gave is a good one. If your dog can’t hang out politely, if you have to lock your dogs away whenever you want to eat something, this is a very good class for you.

It wouldn’t hurt the over-eager door greeter, either, to do a little station work. It’s very helpful for them. In my limited experience with reactive dogs, station training is very, very helpful in giving them a secure place to be where nobody will bother them. So I think it could be useful for that, but I’m not an expert in that and will not be diving into that specifically. But in terms of impulse control, I think it’s a great class for dogs who need impulse control.

I think it’s a great class for confidence building and for training that is all about hurry up and wait: “We’re not going to go yet, and now you have to wait, and now we’re going to go now, and I need you at full energy now.” A lot of dogs who once you institute a pause, a major pause, in the action, inertia wins and now the dog has a great deal of trouble getting back up to full energy. This class is very good for that as well, because the “when to go” builds anticipation along with patience, and raises the value of the exercise that’s going to come after the station work is completed rep by rep. It actually builds the dog’s enthusiasm for the work at hand as well. So I think it does a lot of good for dogs who tend to get bored with training, and I think it has a lot to offer dogs who need impulse control in their training.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. Awesome. I’ve got one last question for you, Julie. It’s the question I’m asking all of my guests at the end lately. What’s something you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Julie Daniels: Oh gosh, that’s way too easy. It just hit me over the head this past weekend. I don’t get to show all that often in agility anymore, and my competition dog, Sport, who is now 10, is a pro. Thankfully, he’s still going strong, and we’re having a lot of fun whenever we do get to get out to an agility trial.

I got to trial this past weekend, not every day of the weekend, but two days out of three, and all of a sudden it became glaringly apparent that I had no start line. Here I am doing start line work on a regular basis in all my classes, in person and online. OK, I guess I haven’t trained that lately, but the dog is such a pro it would never have crossed my mind that my start line would break. But everything breaks. Everything breaks. Behavior doesn’t stay the same when you don’t work on it.

So that’s the lesson. We don’t stay in the same place when we stop training. We go backwards. That’s the way it is. And here’s me leading out on the outside of a curve because I have such a good start line, and my dog passed me going 90 miles an hour. I was able to save that run by having him wait in his contact, which drew uproarious barking from him. He thought that was about the stupidest assignment he’d ever heard. But he did wait, and I got around the corner and was able to complete the opening. Not pretty.

But that’s the lesson, boy, it just hit me like a ton of bricks over the weekend, like, Hmm, better do a little start line work with your pro dog, because nothing stays fixed if you don’t work on it. You have to constantly maintain all these foundation behaviors that you think you have control of.

Anyway, so that was my lesson, and boy, nobody had more fun with that than all my students who were at the show.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure you shared your lesson, and I’m sure they’ll take it to heart, right?

Julie Daniels: I hope so. I can only hope so, yes.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Julie! It was great to chat again.

Julie Daniels: Likewise, Melissa. Thanks for having me. Such fun to talk to you.

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

We’ll be back next week with Sarah Stremming and Leslie Eide to talk about raising a performance puppy.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Sep 07 2018

45mins

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Rank #3: E110: Helene Lawler - Arousal, Impulse Control, and Pressure

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Description: Helene and I chat about her upcoming webinar on intact dogs, and talk about arousal, pressure in training, and the difference between static and dynamic impulse control.

Next week we'll be back with Petra Ford to talk about competition obedience.

Apr 19 2019

38mins

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Rank #4: E37: Sarah Stremming - "Effective Behavior Change"

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SUMMARY:

Sarah Stremming is a dog trainer, a dog agility and obedience competitor, and a dog behavior consultant.  Her credentials include a bachelors of science degree in psychology from Colorado State University, and more than a decade in the field of dog training and behavior.  Her special interest area is problem solving for performance dogs.

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Next Episode: 

To be released 11/24/2017, featuring Hannah Branigan getting geeky about tuck sits.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we have Sarah Stremming, of Cog-Dog radio and the Cognitive Canine back on the podcast to talk about… dog behavior.

Welcome back to the podcast, Sarah!

Sarah Stremming: Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, I know it’s been a little while since you were on the show, can you just remind listeners how many dogs you have now and who they are?

Sarah Stremming: Sure. Between my partner and I, we have five. I’ll tell you about my two. I have Idgie, who’s an 8-year-old border collie, and Felix, who’s a 2-year-old border collie, and my primary sport’s agility, so that’s what they’re both working on. Idgie doesn’t really train much in agility anymore, she just competes, and Felix is mostly training with hardly any competing. And then I also play around in obedience, so they’re both working on some of that stuff as well.

Melissa Breau: So, I know that last time we talked, we just touched on the 4 steps to behavioral wellness briefly, covering what they are… but since I definitely want to dive a little deeper this time, do you mind just briefly sharing what those 4 steps are again and giving folks a little bit of background so that they’re not totally confused when we start talking about it?

Sarah Stremming: Sure, of course. The four steps to behavioral wellness are something that I came up with a long time ago when I was primarily working with pet dog behavior cases, and they are exercise, enrichment, nutrition, and communication. And basically they’re the four areas that I find are often lacking in our basic dog care, and that includes sport people. What I found is that when trying to modify behavior, if one or more of these areas was lacking so the dog’s basic needs were not being met, we would always hit a point where we couldn’t progress with the behavior modification. So that’s where they came from.

Melissa Breau: Now I believe — though I could be wrong — that most of your students today come to you because of a problem training for a specific sport, but listening to your case studies in the podcast and talking to you a bit, it seems like the solution is often a lifestyle change. So I wanted to ask why it is that a dog’s lifestyle can have such a huge impact on their performance in their sport?

Sarah Stremming: That is true. Most of my clientele now, really all of my clientele now, is sports dog people who are having some kind of behavioral issue, usually a behavior problem that is preventing their dog from being able to compete or being able to compete well. And we definitely do work on specific behavior change protocols, so we definitely do go through behavior modification. But I’ve just come to find out that, over the years I’ve seen that if a dog’s basic needs are not being met, you will not get where you want to get with the behavior modifications. So when we go through a lifestyle change, it is typically about meeting dogs’ basic needs. I think a lot of people look at what I’m doing and they think I’m trying to give every single dog an exceptional life. Now, yes, I would like every dog and every person to have an exceptional life, but that’s not necessarily the goal. The goal first is to meet basic needs, and I think that, unfortunately, that few people understand what some of those basic needs are. And so I think that’s what shines through a lot of the time when I’m talking about my cases is I always want to look through those four steps of behavioral wellness as I want to look at what adjustments were made there, and then after that’s done, we can then get into the nitty-gritty of the behavior modification work.

Melissa Breau: Can you tell me just a little bit more about that? What are some of the common problems that you run into where those 4 steps can help?

Sarah Stremming: Some of the most common things that I deal with are things that people label as “over-arousal issues,” and they’re usually in agility, though I’ve definitely worked with a few obedience clients and a couple other clients from other sports on these issues. The behaviors that we label as over-arousal behaviors tend to be biting the handler during agility, oftentimes at the end of the run but a lot of times during the run, inability to hold front line or contact in competition, and then things that I just call spinning, barking, madness. The dog might spin, might bark, might also bite, just basically explosive behaviors that occur on course or during work. Those are some of the biggest issues that I deal with. Some of the ways that the four steps can help those issues are that when I see these dogs that have these … what we call over-arousal issues, especially in agility, often this is because agility is the most fulfilling thing the dog experiences in their life. So if their agility time is the only time that they actually feel satisfied mentally and physically, they become what I think looks like desperate to do the sport. Anybody that has ever felt desperate for something understands that that’s a yucky way to feel, and I think that I observe dogs feeling desperate to do agility when I’m at trials. I’ve certainly seen it in my own dogs as well. And I think that some of the ways we train them encourage that, but the ways that we can help them feel less desperate are through exercise and enrichment, so those two steps out of the four. With adequate exercise, the dog’s going to feel more like its body has been worked adequately, so that agility isn’t the only time that the dog’s body actually feels physically satisfied. And then enrichment needs to be part of  … environmental enrichment needs to be a part of every dog’s daily life, because they do have brains and they do get to use them and they are not a couch ornament for us. If that sounds a little harsh, I don’t mean to say that most people think that way. I do think, unfortunately, it’s very common in the agility world to feel like agility class is enough. If we’re going to agility class tonight, I don’t have to do anything else today. Or if we had a trial all weekend, I don’t have to do anything else this week to fulfill my dog physically or mentally, and that’s just not true and that can definitely create problems. A couple of the others, just hitting on a few other steps to behavioral wellness, anything I deal with that has to do with generalized anxiety, so things like separation issues or fear responses that keep dogs out of the ring, anything that has to do with overall anxiety, my anecdotal experience is that diet can have an enormous effect on that. So when you feed the gut appropriately — and there is actually some cool research coming out about, cool research that exists and then also more and more research coming out about the relationship between mental health and gut health — but what I have observed anecdotally is that when a dog has a healthy GI, its overall anxiety is reduced, and so diet is a place that we look at. There’s some nutrition being the one of four steps that I emphasize on the anxiety front, and then there just isn’t any behavior problem that isn’t going to be helped with better communication. Communication helps everything. No matter what we’re talking about, that definitely helps everything.

Melissa Breau: To go back a little about the couch potato bit, even if someone doesn’t necessarily think that way, it can be hard if you’ve worked all day for eight hours and then come home and you have agility class. It can be hard to fit something else in. So even if it’s not intentional, sometimes it can be totally easy to de-prioritize those things.

Sarah Stremming: It is. It’s easy for us to go, “OK, the dog box is checked because I have agility class tonight.” Where I want to encourage people to at least provide environmental enrichment for the dogs during the day when you’re gone. So feeding them out of puzzle toys or Kongs as opposed to out of a bowl is a really simple, easy way to do that. And then just basically enrich their environment. Take a page out of the zookeeper’s book and provide them with things in their environment that they have to forage through or rip apart or something. Even if they’re crated during the day, give them stuff in the crate so that they literally aren’t just left to lay around with a bowl of water and maybe a Nylabone that they’ve had for five years.

Melissa Breau: I know that you recently published a series of podcasts on behavior change, talking about things like replacement behaviors… How can someone decide if what they need is just to teach a dog not to jump all over them or if they have a stress problem? And when is it time to look at things like nutrition and exercise — you got into this a little bit, but — versus going back to foundations to prevent frustration and stress through clearer communication in that sport?

Sarah Stremming: The answer is yes. The answer is you should always be doing all of the above. Trying to look at behavior as one thing, or trying to look at a problem behavior as one thing, meaning a behavior is always serving a function for the animal, so it doesn’t exist if there isn’t reinforcement present for it. It doesn’t exist if it doesn’t serve a function. So you always want to look at it like that first, and you always want to make a plan to change it that way first. But you have to understand that if the dog’s needs are not being adequately met that you may not be able to get anywhere with that plan. And then, as far as deciding between “Do I just need a training program, or do I also need a lifestyle change,” I think when most people get down to it and examine their dog’s lifestyle, they will see the answer. I have certainly had clients who showed up and they were pretty much doing everything right. They just needed to tweak some training stuff. That is rare, but that has happened. So I think, to try to make it a simpler answer, I think we should always, always assess the functionality of the behavior you’d like to change. So if it’s jumping all over you, try to look at what the dog is getting out of that, and try to help them to get that a different way, and make a plan to do that. And then also be sure that the dog’s needs are being adequately met, because if you make a plan to solve this problem behavior, so let’s say it is jumping all over you, what do they need? Is it that they are missing you all day long and feeling lonely? A little bit of assigning some human emotions here, but is it that? I mean, I do think that my dogs can feel lonely, but who knows? We can’t ask them.

Melissa Breau: It’s a dog podcast. You can absolutely do that.

Sarah Stremming: Right! So if it is that they’re missing out on that human connection, can we address that as well as making this behavior change plan? And not just saying, “I want to change this behavior, therefore I will,” but also respecting that that behavior has a function, and that behavior came from a need that this dog has, and it’s up to us to fulfill it always.

Melissa Breau: Most of our listeners are probably pretty familiar with the idea of stressing up versus stressing down… that is, having a dog that’s easily over-aroused versus one that completely shuts down. I know you have classes for both ends of the spectrum. So I wanted to ask a little bit about, now that we’ve talked about these four steps and a little bit about behavior change, how are the solutions to the problems different, depending on which end of the spectrum the dog falls on? Can you talk about that a bit?

Sarah Stremming: Sure. And the two classes are Worked Up, which are the dogs that are worked up, just as it sounds, and then I call the other class Hidden Potential, which is about more of the stressed-down types of dogs. And I get this question probably every time I teach a seminar on one or the other. So if I’m teaching a seminar on worked-up types of dogs, the hidden-potential dogs come up and vice versa. And the reason that that’s OK, and the reason that that should be expected, is because the solutions are similar. Both dogs are dealing with states of arousal that are not optimal. So if we’ve got a dog that is in a hyper-aroused state, he’s not able to do his job because his adrenalin is off the charts. And if we have a dog in a kind of suboptimal arousal state, he can’t do his job either, because he would rather go back into his crate and sleep and just may be bored. If we are talking about anxiety or stress, then that’s where things start to change. So if we’re talking about almost a temperament difference, we’ve all seen dogs that movement for them is cheap. They move a lot and they move quickly, versus dogs that … if you’re training a border collie versus a bassett hound, you’ve got the border collie, movement is cheap for them. They will jump a bunch of times, they can heel a bunch of times, and that’s cheap for them. They have a lot of energy. Versus maybe your basset hound has less energy than that and movement is more expensive for him. So then we’re just dealing with differences in arousal states, and what we would do is play games to either bring the arousal up or bring the arousal back down. When we’re dealing with anxiety or stress, that’s where I might deal with it … that’s where I see most of the dogs that fall into the hidden-potential category are. It’s usually more of an anxiety-based or a stress-based or maybe a fear-based issue, and that’s where I would address it in a different way. So if we can identify what the stressor is, I would actually want to tackle that head-on with a specific treatment protocol for whatever the stressor is. A lot of those dogs are worried about other dogs, and then we go to a dog show where there are tons of them. And then a lot of them are worried about people, and we go to a dog show and there’s tons of them. The good news is they can be helped with those things. Certainly some of the worked-up dogs are experiencing environmental arousal or environmental anxiety, and if they are, then we want to go down that path as well and again address it the same way. So a lot of the times the same solution exists. It’s just that we’re looking at a different picture in the beginning and still trying to get to the same picture in the end.

Melissa Breau: What are some of maybe the misconceptions people have about those kind of issues, or what do people commonly think about that maybe isn’t 100 percent accurate when it comes to stressing up or stressing down and managing that? Can you set the record straight?

Sarah Stremming: I think that for the worked-up types of dogs the most common misconception that I hear about is that these dogs lack impulse control, that a lack of impulse control is the problem. Or that a lack of … if we’re going to be very accurate, we would be saying a lack of impulse control training is a problem. Just the phrase “impulse control” makes my eye twitch just a little bit because I think that it implies that there’s this intrinsic flaw in these dogs that if they can’t control themselves that there’s something wrong with them, or that teaching them to control their impulses is something that we can do. I don’t think that we can control their impulses one way or another. We can certainly control their behaviors with reinforcement. Whether or not we’re controlling their impulses is probably one of those things that we would have to ask them about, kind of like asking them if they were lonely and if that was why they were jumping all over the person coming home. So I like to stay away from stating that lack of impulse control is a problem. I also think that in agility specifically we accept that our dogs will be in extremely high states of arousal and be kind of losing their mind, and we almost want them that way, and any kind of calmness is frowned upon. The dogs that are selected to breed for the sport tend to be the frantic, loud, fast ones, and looking at behaviors, there’s just kind of a distaste in agility, I feel — and I’m going to get a million e-mails about this — I love agility, people! I love agility! I’m just going to put that out there! But there is a distaste for calm and methodical behaviors in agility. We push for speed, speed, speed from the beginning, and we forget that sometimes maybe we should shut up and let the dog think through the problem. So I think, to get back to your original question, “What’s the misconception?” The misconception is that we need to put them in a highly aroused state to create a good sport dog, and that impulse control is the be-all, end-all of these things. And then, for the hidden-potential dogs, I think the misconception is just that they lack work ethic. They say, “These dogs they lack work ethic, they give you nothing, they don’t want to try, they’re low drive,” yada yada. I think that’s all misconceptions. Everything comes back to reinforcement. When you realize that reinforcement is the solution to everything, you can start to solve your problems and quit slapping labels on the dogs you’re working with.

Melissa Breau: To be clear, it’s not that people who have a dog that’s shutting down in the ring aren’t rewarding their dog enough. It’s that there is a kind of misstructure there somewhere, right?

Sarah Stremming: Yes. Thank you, Melissa. And actually I’m really glad that you said the word “reward” instead of reinforce, because they probably are rewarding their dogs plenty, but they’re not reinforcing their dogs enough. And the difference is that a reward is just a nice thing that doesn’t necessarily affect behavior. Reinforcement, by definition, affects behavior. So if behavior is not increasing, improving, etc., reinforcement is not present, though rewards well may be present. So if you get a Christmas bonus at work, that’s nice, but that’s not why you showed up the rest of the year.

Melissa Breau: Well, maybe! But …

Sarah Stremming: I’m going to argue it’s not. I’m going to argue the paycheck that you got every other week is why you showed up the rest of the year, and then the reward might have affected your feelings about the job. It might have made you feel nicer about it. It might have made you feel nicer about your boss. Or it could have the total opposite effect, and be a $20 Starbucks card and you’re, like, thanks a lot. But my point being there’s so many

lovely, kind people who are rewarding frequently who don’t have enough understanding of the reinforcement procedures that they could be utilizing to actually increase the dog’s behavior or change the dog’s behavior. I don’t mean to imply that those people are not training well or training nicely and training kindly and being generous. I think they probably are. In fact, they’re probably a lot more generous. But a lot of the people I see training those super-high dogs, I see a lot of super-high dogs that do not get a high enough rate of reinforcement in training, which that’s just amping them up, whereas the other end of the spectrum is that the other dogs are shutting down. So thank you for bringing that up, and I think, yeah, it’s about the fact that understanding that if reinforcement is present, then the behavior will be present as well.

Melissa Breau: I am glad that we went into that a little bit more. That was good information that people maybe don’t hear often enough.

Sarah Stremming: Good question, thank you.

Melissa Breau: Thanks for answering it. Before I let you go, I mentioned earlier that you have a series that you’ve been publishing on effective behavior change, and I wanted to ask a little bit about that. First, what led you to explore that topic?

Sarah Stremming: I’m just excited about the topic constantly, but to be honest with you, I decided to explore the topic based on dog trainers on the Internet. I saw a dog trainer on social media talking about behavior change as a kind of mystical thing, when I’m very passionate about training as an applied science and understanding training as an applied science. That certainly does not mean that I discount the art side of training, because there certainly is an artistic side to it, and before I ever knew anything about the science, the artistic side to it is what kept me in it. And so I think that’s very, very important. But I do think that our industry would be better if all trainers recognized training as an applied science, and when I say “better,” I mean just serving the people and the dogs better. I think that all dog trainers, no matter what kind of training they do or what kind of training background they have, are in this because that’s what they want to do. They want to serve the people and the dogs. They love dogs, and they hopefully like the people who own them, and they want to help people to have better connections with their dogs. I think all dog trainers are after that, no matter what kind of dog training they do. But I do see a general lack of recognition of dog training as an applied science, and specifically I think that a lot of positive-reinforcement-based trainers, especially on the Internet, can be very unkind to each other. I know this seems like, “How did you come up with this podcast series based on that? This has nothing to do with it.” Where I came to it, and where I wanted to talk about it, was because we really all should be generally training, generally the same way, or we all should understand some general basic principles, and I just don’t see that as being reality. We should all be able to talk to each other about the effects of reinforcement and punishment and what makes for effective behavior change instead of … I think what we talk about instead on the Internet is how that person over there is doing it wrong and “This is how I would do it, and that’s the right way to do it,” when in reality the right way to do it is treating it like an applied science. And then there are certainly variations within that, but I’m basically talking about it because we need to be talking about it as an applied science, and I think we do that over at FDSA, and Hannah Branigan does that on her podcast really beautifully. And the more I think we talk about it as an applied science, I think the further we can get and the more undivided we can become, and then the more dogs we can help.

Melissa Breau: Not to ask you to take these three episodes and condense them into one tiny, short, little blurb, but to do exactly that I wanted to talk a little bit about what you cover in them. I definitely fully recommend people go listen to all three, if they haven’t already. The first two have been out and I’ve listened to them and they’re absolutely excellent, and by the time this comes out I know that you’re planning on a third one and hopefully that will be available. But I did want to ask you to share just a couple of the key points or major takeaways that you really want people to walk away from after they listen to those episodes.

Sarah Stremming: Definitely. Thanks for the plug there!

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Sarah Stremming: I’m glad that you liked them and all three should be available; two of them are as we record this, and I just recorded the other one today, so it should be out soon. The first one I did just talked about replacement behaviors. So if we are trying to modify a problem behavior, we want to use a replacement behavior to come in instead of that behavior. What that means is that instead of squashing a behavior, getting rid of a behavior, we just want to swap it out with something else. And so we generally think about incompatible behaviors, so an incompatible behavior, an example of that would be the dog is dashing out the front door. That’s the problem behavior we want to solve, and we can train the dog to go lie on a mat when the door opens instead, and that would be an incompatible behavior because the two behaviors cannot happen at once. I also talked about the concept of alternative behaviors, which are not necessarily incompatible. I think that’s a really interesting concept, that you can actually train the dog to sit, let’s say at the front window, let’s say the dog is barking at passers-by, you can train the dog to sit instead. Now that’s an alternative behavior. My dog Idgie can tell you, she can bark while sitting just fine. She doesn’t need to be standing to be barking. So it’s alternative because both the behaviors can still happen at once, but what’s really nice about it is that if you’re reinforcing an alternative behavior, the problematic behavior still does decrease. So in the first episode we talk about what are some good qualities of incompatible or alternative behaviors, so basically what makes a good replacement behavior, and to really sum it up in short, what makes a good replacement behavior is that (a) it’s incompatible or alternative and (b) it’s already fluent, so it’s something the dog already knows how to do. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but you’ll have to go listen to it. In the next one I talked about antecedent arrangements, or basically just the principal of manipulating the environment in which the behavior occurs, as opposed to attempting to manipulate the behavior itself. I think a lot of times, as dog trainers, we really focus on trying to manipulate behaviors when we should be thinking more about manipulating environments. The third one, that I recorded today, is kind of the other end of the spectrum of the second one. So you can manipulate the environment, and then you can manipulate the reinforcement. You can manipulate the consequences to the behavior. So the third episode is about reinforcement, and specifically, building what I call reinforcement strategies, so that you have a huge toolbox of reinforcement from which to draw from. So the more ways that you can reinforce an animal’s behavior, the more effective you’re likely to be in attempting to change its behavior. So those are the three that I’ve got.

Melissa Breau: I’m curious now and looking forward to hearing that third one and rounding out the series. I really am glad that you tackled it and it’s been a great series so far, so cool.

Sarah Stremming: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Well, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Sarah! I know that you’re in the middle of a long drive, so I will let you get back to that. But thank you.

Sarah Stremming: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with Hannah Branigan, who Sarah mentioned. Hannah and I will be talking about detail oriented training -- things like getting that miraculous tuck sit or the perfect fold back down.

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

CREDITS:

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

Nov 17 2017

31mins

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Rank #5: E50: Julie Flanery - "The things you never learned in puppy class"

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SHOW NOTES:

Summary:

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, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog 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 stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport 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.

Next Episode: 

To be released 2/23/2018, featuring Kamal Fernandez, to talk about the benefits of competition and the concept of leadership in dog training.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to 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, Parkour, Agility, and Trick Dog 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 stand-alone sport enjoyed by dog sport 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.

Welcome back to the podcast Julie!

Julie Flanery: Thanks.

Melissa Breau: To start people out, can you just remind folks a little bit of information about your dog, what you do with her, and who she is?

Julie Flanery: Currently I work with my 7-year-old Tibetan Terrier, and we are competing in Musical Freestyle and In Sync, which is a version of Heelwork to Music, and also Rally-FrEe. She’s earned her Championships in both Freestyle and in Rally-FrEe, and a Grand Championship in Rally-FrEe, and we’re working towards our Grand Championship in Musical Freestyle and our Championship in In Sync.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to share her name?

Julie Flanery: Kashi.

Melissa Breau: Kashi. Excellent.

Julie Flanery: Kashi. Like the cereal, you know? Good for you and makes you feel good.

Melissa Breau: I like that! So I think we have a pretty fun topic lined up for today. I wanted to talk about the skills that trainers need but they sometimes don’t learn until they get pretty into dog sports. To start us out, I wanted to start with talking about shaping. What aspect of shaping do you feel is usually the hardest for new trainers to implement effectively and why?

Julie Flanery: I think there are a couple of things that can be really hard for trainers. The first thing, I think there is a very fine line between clicking what you observe and anticipating what the dog will do, so that your click is well timed. There’s a tendency to wait until you actually see it, and then in that moment we have to process that information before we can act on it and actually click it. While this happens really quickly in the brain, there’s still some latency, and this can actually result in late clicks, so you’re giving the dog information that isn’t actually what you want to convey. So first, having a picture in your head of the path the dog is likely to take, and shaping that behavior.

Let’s say you’re shaping going under a chair. You can picture the dog’s most likely path from where he’s starting, as well as from where your reward is placed, and have a sense ahead of time of where your click points will be. You want to anticipate those click points. You at least want to have the precursor to your click points in mind and what they’ll look like. This way you’re going to be able to anticipate the dog’s next likely action, and that’s really imperative to good click timing.

In a lot of respects this also relates to raising criteria, which is another place that handlers tend to have a lot of difficulty, and they’re often getting stuck by clicking the same criteria for longer than is actually beneficial. You can often get stuck by clicking that same criteria for longer than we want, longer than is beneficial, so having that picture ahead of time can actually help the handler move forward in their criteria shifts as well.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the going under a chair example. If you know you’re going to have the dog go under the chair, what is it that you’re looking for? That first drop of the head? The drop of the shoulders? Am I on the right track?

Julie Flanery: Depending on where the dog is starting, you might just be looking for looking at the chair. That might be your first click point. And certainly before the dog can move toward the chair, he’s going to look at it. Before the dog can go under it, he’s going to move towards it. But before he can move towards it, he needs to look at it. So you’re looking at that progression and the behavior to determine where your click points are going to be so you can anticipate those things. If you put your chair out and then you go stand next to the dog and wait for something, you’ve probably already missed that first click. So setting that chair out, the dog is likely to look at it. That would be your first click. And then moving towards it, we can anticipate he’s going to take a step towards the chair if he has any experience interacting with props. So we’re anticipating that, and we’re looking for it to happen, and we’re trying to time our click and mark it just as he’s doing that. If we wait until he actually does it, we’re probably going to be late in our timing.

Melissa Breau: Talking about timing, I know that one of the things you stress in your shaping class is the importance of good handler mechanics. I wanted to get into that a little bit. Can you share what you mean by that and how it’s supposed to work? Maybe where folks tend to go wrong when it comes to mechanics?

Julie Flanery: Sure. I think that we make it much harder on our dogs to shape than it needs to be sometimes. The dog needs to concentrate on the task, the task of figuring out “How do I earn reinforcement?” Remember, the dog doesn’t know we’re working toward something specific. He doesn’t know there is an end-behavior goal. We know that, but he doesn’t. He only knows that if he does certain things, he earns rewards.

But I do believe that experienced shaping dogs do learn there is an end result and that they are working toward completion. They learn there is a process being followed and can anticipate the next steps, what we sometimes call “learning to learn.” They can anticipate within the process, once we have allowed them to experience it enough, which I believe is why some dogs seem to be better at getting behaviors on verbal cue while other dogs seem to struggle with that a bit. So the more verbal cues the dog learns, the quicker he learns the next ones, so there’s an understanding of the process, what comes next, and the understanding from experience that verbal cues have meaning and value.

In terms of clean training, clean training is really about creating the best environment for the dog to concentrate on the task and not be distracted from that. So in shaping, the primary information we want to provide to the dog is the marker and subsequent reinforcement. This is really all he needs within the shaping process in order to progress toward the handler’s end goal. Yet we’re constantly hindering their ability to do so in a variety of ways. Hovering over the bait bag, hands in pockets, reaching for food, or having food in our hands all indicate reward is imminent. The only thing that should indicate that reward is imminent is the sound of our marker. Anything else is overshadowing and diminishing the meaning and value of that marker: the click. That’s our most powerful communication tool while shaping, and yet we’re constantly putting in these extraneous movements or chattering to our dogs, and all of this, if done when shaping, can draw their attention away from the task.

Think about if you’re concentrating on a crossword puzzle and someone keeps interrupting you to ask a question. It’s going to take longer to complete your puzzle, as there’s all this extraneous stimulus that you keep having to deal with. So in our attempts to help our dog — getting the treat out faster, saying encouraging things, moving in a way that we think will prompt the dog — he’s having to filter through what is relevant and what is not, and in our efforts to help, we’re actually pulling the dog off task. So let them work. Your job is to provide relevant information and not to cloud the learning process by doing things that distract the dog from working towards that task. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Sometimes it just helps to stop and think about, OK, this is the process I’m actually following: it’s a click and a pause and then reach for the treat, that piece.

Julie Flanery: Right. In terms of mechanical skills, those are the things we’re talking about. We’re talking about, What is the handler doing with their body? Is their body still and quiet? Are they allowing the dog to focus on what’s important, or are they taking the dog’s focus away from that because there’s something going on with the handler that isn’t really adding to the learning process and is actually detracting from it.

Melissa Breau: Even knowing all that, people tend to get frustrated when they’re trying shaping, especially if they haven’t done a lot of it, because they wind up with a dog that does one of two things. They wind up with a dog that stands or sits there and stares at them, especially if they’ve done a lot of focus work, or they get a dog that is throwing out behavior so fast that they’re having trouble targeting one specific thing or getting motion towards the behavior that they’re looking for. Any tips for folks struggling with those issues? I don’t know if there are generic tips that apply to both, but maybe you could talk to that a little bit.

Julie Flanery: That can be a huge deterrent and pretty frustrating to someone that’s just starting out in shaping, and I know many, many trainers who gave up or basically said, “It doesn’t work.” It’s not that the process and protocol don’t work. It’s that they need to learn how to apply it effectively. So these are two separate issues: the dog that stands still and does nothing, and the dog that just starts frantically throwing behaviors at you. But in general I’d say they have the same solution, and it’s a pretty easy mantra to remember: Click for anything but. Anything but standing still and staring earns a click, even if you have to toss a cookie to start them moving and give you an opportunity to click. Anything but standing still. A lot can happen, even in a dog that’s standing still, but for a lot of new shapers, the two-legged kind, larger movements are going to be easier for them to see. So getting the dog moving and clicking anything but standing still will help.

For those dogs that are frantically throwing things at you, you want to click way early, before they have an opportunity to start throwing behaviors out. You want to be ready before you get the dog out. A lot of dogs, we give these cues that we’re about to start shaping. We pick up our clicker, we put the bait bag on, we put our hand in our pocket, we go to a certain place, and our dogs, before we even in our minds are starting to train, are already starting to throw behaviors out at us. All of those “pre-cues” that we’re giving are actually cues to the dog to offer. So be ready before you get the dog out.

The worst thing you can do with both these kinds of dogs is look at them expectantly, like, “OK, do something,” or “Do something else.” Sometimes we have to create those first few clicks to get the dog on the right path, so setting up our environment or a session to prevent both of those things by creating some type of an effective antecedent. So if a dog is constantly throwing things at me, then I might use a prop to direct his activity. Or I might click upon coming out of the crate and each step forward toward where we want to train.

Often, dogs that throw behaviors just aren’t being given enough information of what to do, so they’re giving you everything they can think of in hopes that one of those will get clicked. So rather than shaping toward something, the handler is waiting for it to occur. I want you to click — again, it’s “Click anything but,” so if you can take that moment of behavior — a single step, a single look, coming out of the crate — and click that, that can start to define for the dog the path you’re going to lead them onto. It can tell them, “Oh, I don’t have to keep throwing all of this stuff, because she’s already clicking something. Now what did she click, so that I can repeat it?”

The other thing that often happens with these dogs that tend to throw things or push farther in the criteria than we want them to be is although we aren’t willing to drop back in the criteria, to move forward again. When the movement gets out of hand and you feel like the dog is pushing, or you’re pushing, or you’re rushing, it’s OK to just stop, breathe, go back earlier in the criteria, click something way less than what you’ve been clicking, and then build it gradually back up again. So again, I think the answer is the same for both those situations: Click anything but.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. I like that. It’s nice, short, and easy to remember. This seems like a good point to dig in more a little bit on criteria. You were talking a little bit there about thinking about your criteria maybe a little differently than most people do. Are there general guidelines for how fast to raise criteria? I know you talked a little bit about going backwards in your criteria. When is it a good idea to do that?

Julie Flanery: For me, and I think most of the Fenzi instructors, we all have a pretty common idea about raising or lowering criteria, and that is when it’s predictable, when you can predict they’re going to give you the exact same criteria again. I like to include the word confident, so when it’s confident and predictable, then increase criteria, and if you have two incorrect responses in a row, then it’s time to lower criteria.

For my dog, oftentimes she’s ready to raise criteria and looks confident, and for me, it’s predictable in her within three repetitions. I can tell whether it’s time to raise criteria, stay where I’m at, or lower criteria. A response might be predictable, but I’m not seeing quite the confidence I want to see, and so I might hold off another repetition or two to ensure that she really has some good understanding of that. But certainly if I see two incorrect responses in a row, then I’m going to lower criteria.

Now that precludes that you know where your criteria shifts are, because when I say “incorrect responses,” you have to know what that is and what that isn’t. Let’s say I’m training a bow, and I am watching for the head and shoulder lowering, and she’s moving in a progression forward, so I’m clicking the head drop, click the head drop again, then she lowers slightly lower, I click that, and I’m anticipating what her next movement is, so that I can actually see and anticipate, through my click, when she will do that.

Let’s say, for shaping, an incorrect response might be either less than what I previously clicked or no response whatsoever. She’s predictably dropping her head and starting to lower her chest, but maybe her elbows aren’t on the ground yet, and she’s done that same thing three times in a row, then I’m not going to click that anymore. I’m going to wait, and hopefully she’ll give me a little bit more, based on the fact that I’ve clicked this previously, she knows she’s on the right track, and she’ll be like, “Hey, did you see this?” and give me a little bit more, and I can click that.

So it was predictable that she was going to drop her chest a little bit and her head is lowering. I don’t want to keep clicking that because I’m going to get stuck there, because she’s going to think, “Oh, this is right, I think I’ll keep doing this.” If she is at that point, say, and the next offering, the next rep, her head isn’t quite as low, so I don’t click that and she just stands up. So she offers again and she still doesn’t get as low as the previous one, and she just stands up. Then I’m going to say, “OK, she doesn’t have clear enough understanding of what the next step is, so I want to build confidence in the previous.” In that case I’m going to lower my criteria maybe for a couple more reps and then start to build back up again. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and that was a great example because it walked us through thinking through the different steps and the bits and pieces there.

Julie Flanery: Hopefully you can actually visualize that a little bit so you can actually see and be able to anticipate what that next step is. We all know what it looks like for a dog to bow and bring his chest and elbows down to the ground. You can map that out in your head and be able to anticipate what comes next, and if what you expect to come next isn’t happening, you’re stagnated, or you’re getting lesser responses, then that’s showing that the dog doesn’t understand what that forward progression is next.

Melissa Breau: You said something recently, and I can’t remember if I originally heard it in a webinar or if it’s from class, but you were talking about “leaps of learning” and how to respond if, while shaping, the dog suddenly makes a big leap in the right direction. Maybe we’re trying for four paws on a platform, they’ve been struggling to give two, and suddenly they step on it with all four paws. Obviously you click it. Do you mind just sharing it here? Because I thought it was really interesting and I hadn’t heard that before.

Julie Flanery: I don’t know if I will say exactly what you remember, but I understand what you’re asking, and it did come up recently in the shaping class I’m teaching that you are a student of — and you’re doing very well, by the way.

Melissa Breau: Thank you.

Julie Flanery: So there are times when it seems like our dogs get it right away, like, all of a sudden — what you just described —they were struggling with two and all of a sudden there’s four and “Yay!” That doesn’t mean you’re going to hold out for four feet on the platform now. One correct response doesn’t indicate understanding, and yet sometimes we forge ahead as if it does.

I want to see not only predictable responses, I want to see confident, predictable responses, so that leap up of four feet on the platform might have looked confident, but we don’t really know if it’s predictable until we get a few reps. So I want to make sure that I see confident, predictable responses before I increase criteria, even if it appears that they’ve got it.

Now, having said that, I don’t want to stay stuck at the same criterion too long, so each handler has to determine what that looks like in their dog. For me, I can recognize confidence in my own dog, in Kashi, and for her, if she provides the same response three to four times in a row, that’s predictable, and I’m going to go ahead and raise criteria there. If I made an error in judgment, I can always drop back down, but my goal is still going to be always forward progression. I don’t want to stay stuck in any single criterion for too long, and that might be different for each dog, but consider your definition of predictable. For me, again, if she does it three or four times in a row and she looks confident in her actions, I can predict that she’ll do it that fourth time or that fifth time. If I can predict it, I don’t want to stay there.

Kathy Sdao talked about criteria shifts in one of her lectures in relation to a recording being played on a record player, and how the needle can get stuck in a groove and not advance, so the record keeps skipping over the same place in the music. Well, if we click the same criteria for too many reps, the dog will get stuck in that groove, and you risk some increased frustration in working to get out of that groove. Sometimes lowering criteria is the way out. Sometimes withholding the click is the way out. Either way, you need to get out of that groove.

Melissa Breau: Frustration on both the dog and the handler’s part.

Julie Flanery: Exactly, exactly. It’s kind of like that dog that stands still and does nothing. You need to get out of that groove. What I talked about earlier about having a picture in your mind of the likely path the dog will take – that will help you not get stuck. I think sometimes people get stuck because they just don’t know what to click next. So having a picture in your head, thinking ahead of time, “What is this process going to look like?” will help you anticipate that and will help you move forward in the process, to progress in the process, and not get stuck at any one point.

Melissa Breau: What about duration? First of all, is it possible to actually shape duration, and then if so, how is shaping duration different than shaping more active behaviors?

Julie Flanery: That’s a really interesting question, and it’s interesting because of the way you framed it. You said, “Is it actually possible to shape duration?” and that surprised me because yes, it’s totally possible to shape duration, and I think really in general all duration is shaped in that we are marking and rewarding in small increments towards that end behavior, towards that extended duration of behavior.

Shaping duration is like shaping any other skill, though your increments need to be sliced very thin in order to not get some other behavior in there. You’re still withholding the click for a little more, and for most dogs withholding the click means do something else or push ahead. Duration needs to be more finely sliced so that we don’t get some of that junk behavior in there. But that little bit, little generally less than what you might hold out for in a moving behavior, so you’re not waiting long chunks of time, too, what we have to measure can be more difficult, so it’s not as difficult to measure movement, as there is time and space, you can see a dog’s action and how it carries him forward. So clicking movement, marking movement, in increments is not too difficult for the observer.

In building duration, there’s only time, there’s no space, and we aren’t very good at keeping track of time. If I paused here, then I asked three different people how many seconds did I pause, they would all have a different answer. So I often either count in my head or out loud to measure the advancement of my duration criteria. In appropriate criteria shifts for duration, especially since they should be sliced thin, we often aren’t very consistent in our forward progression of time, and that can lead to inconsistency and a lack of understanding in the dog. I think that the reason people have difficulty shaping duration is because they aren’t slicing those increments of time small enough. They’re thinking of it like they would shape movement and larger pieces of behavior, and in shaping duration you can’t do that because the dog is going to pull off.

Let’s take for example a sustained nose target. We want the dog to hold that nose target for — let’s say our goal is three seconds. Four seconds, three seconds. Initially we click the act of pressing the nose and we click immediately. That tells the dog what the intended behavior is to which we’re now going to start to attach duration. Once the dog presses the nose and expects a click and it doesn’t come, he’s likely to pull off, which is not going to get clicked either.

Often when we withhold a click, which is what just happened here, on the next rep we will see a slightly higher-energy behavior, a little bit more, a little bit stronger, again it’s like that “Hey, didn’t you see this? Look, I’m going to do it a little bit more so you can see it.” In that moment of that second offering after the withheld click, you’re likely to see a little more pressure — and I know it’s hard to see, and this is why hand touches are a good thing for this, because you’ll feel that pressure — and in that moment of more pressure, that takes a slightly longer amount of time. The time it takes for your dog to just touch something, and the time it takes a dog to touch something and put a little pressure, is slightly longer, and that’s what you’re clicking.

That pressure is also criteria of sustained nose target, because they’re going to have to put a little pressure there in order to keep their nose there. So that slice right there is super-thin, and once the dog pushes on again, you may have to go through a couple of clicks of he pushes, or, I’m sorry, he touches, it’s not sustained even for a fraction of a second, you wait, that second one is sustained a fraction of a second, you click. Then you can start to extend by not seconds but almost fractions of seconds. So you’re not counting one-one-thousand. You’re counting one, click, one two, click, one two, click. If the dog pulls off, there’s no click.

So the dog is starting to understand, through both the withheld click for when he comes off and the click for continued small slivers of duration, that by keeping the nose to the hand, or the wall, or wherever you wanted the target, that’s what he’s building toward. But as soon as you start to increase that too far, too fast, you’re going to get frustration, you’re going to get poking at the wall, which is not what you want, and so the key to duration, to shaping duration, is really making sure that, number one, you are slicing those increments very small, and that those increments are very consistent, that you’re not going all over the place with your duration, and that’s where the counting or doing something that helps you measure that passing of time so that you have appropriate clicks will help.

I’m not going to deny that it’s a harder concept for some people to get, or it’s a harder skill for some people to get, but if you understand the concept of shaping, and progressing through a behavior through small increments, it’s just a matter of how finely you slice it for duration. That’s all.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting, because typically you think of it’s always easier to teach a dog to do something in the absence of a behavior.

Julie Flanery: Correct. But you have to think of duration as a behavior. Does that make sense? Duration isn’t the absence of a behavior. It’s the continuation of a behavior. It’s the absence of movement, and we’ve always been taught “Click for movement, feed for position” — still a very, very good rule. But in duration it seems as if it’s the absence of a behavior, when in actuality it’s the extension of a behavior.

Melissa Breau: That gives me a lot to think on.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, I’m sure.

Melissa Breau: Hopefully it gives a lot for everybody to think on. But I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about training in general. I think you gave a great webinar last year on verbal cues, and it’s part of what inspired the topic for today, the idea of what you didn’t learn in puppy class. I feel like the concept of when to add a cue and how to go about it sometimes gets glossed over for a number of reasons, obviously, when dog owners are first learning to train. So when do you typically add a cue to behavior and how do you go about it?

Julie Flanery: For me, something that I touched on earlier, I like the dog to have confident, predictable, correct responses that include the majority if not all of my criteria for that behavior. I say majority because there are some times, or some things, that I can add later, and the cue actually helps me draw that base behavior out of the dog.

So, for example, duration or distance may be something I don’t have yet, but will go ahead and put it on cue and build those in later. The behavior may or may not be fully generalized when I put it on cue, depending on the behavior. I may use cue discrimination as part of my generalization process. For me, the criteria, the majority of the criteria, needs to be predictable and confident and I’m certain that I’m going to get correct responses. As soon as I have that, I will start the process of putting the behavior on cue.

Now, having said that, that will fluctuate, so I might have predictable, confident, correct responses in a session in the morning, and so partway through that session I start to add the cue. But maybe that afternoon or the next day, when I start my session, I’m not seeing the same confidence or the same predictability, and in that case I’m not going to continue to use the cue or add the cue in that session.

There’s kind of an ebb and flow to our dogs’ ability to maintain predictability when they’re first learning behaviors. It has to do with that leap of learning we were talking about earlier, about not assuming that because the dog does it correct once that they have understanding, and it’s the same with adding the cue. I do want to take advantage of my dog’s predictable responses in any given session, those predictable responses that again that are confident and contain the majority of my criteria. But just because I’ve started putting the behavior on cue doesn’t mean that that next session, or that next location that I might work the behavior, that my dog is ready then to put it on cue.

It’s kind of like Denise’s “Work the dog in front of you.” That dog changes from session to session, and so my training strategies have to change session to session, depending on what he’s giving me at the start of that session. So again: predictable, I’m going to insert the cue; not predictable, I’m going to hold off a little bit. And that may all very well be with the exact same behaviors over different sessions.

I think you are right in using the term “glossed over.” It’s a part of the process that few spend very much time planning or implementing. It’s either almost like an afterthought — “Oh yeah, now I need to put the cue on” — or they make the assumption that if they just start using the cue while training, the dog will get it somehow. So that process they apply is often random and very inefficient.

Overlapping the behavior and the cue is a really common thing that I see. Cues should always precede behaviors with nothing in between, no junk behavior in between the cue and the behavior. You want it to have meaning for them. In putting behaviors on cue or transferring the cue, you really need to set that up. So if you’re shaping, you first need a predictable, correct response. Are you noticing a theme here, Melissa? A predictable, correct response with confidence — that’s really key to the dog’s understanding. If the response is confident and correct and predictable, then we can start to assume some understanding. Until that happens, though, we’re still working towards that. Once you have that, you insert your cue just prior to the dog either offering the behavior or the behavior being prompted.

For example, we might have used a hand signal, we might not be shaping, we might have used a hand signal, or we might be prompting the dog in some other way, a visual cue or a prop might prompt the dog to interact with it. So just before the key phrase is, just prior to the dog offering the behavior or performing the behavior, that’s when you insert the cue. Not as the dog is doing the behavior. Cues always precede behavior. It’s why they’re called antecedents. It’s that old ABC: the cue is the antecedent, then behavior, then consequence.

So when putting a cue to shape behavior, where people tend to shoot themselves in the foot is continuing to reward offered behavior. They might have started to put the behavior on cue, great, the dog is predictable, the dog is consistent, you’re doing the correct thing by inserting the cue before the behavior, but unfortunately, you might be continuing to reward that offered behavior. So once you start to put the behavior on cue, execution on cue is the only thing that gets rewarded. Otherwise there’s no value in the cue to the dog. If he can offer and get rewarded, or if he can get rewarded for doing it on cue, you’re not going to get stimulus control because there’s no value in the cue. Now there’s a caveat to that.

Melissa Breau: Of course.

Julie Flanery: Yeah, and you’ll learn about it next week in class, but there are times when you have a behavior that’s on cue and you’re going to want to remove the cue and encourage the dog to offer it again so that you can either fix or improve on the behavior. Maybe something’s gone a little bit wrong, or you’re not getting the criteria you used to have with it. It’s gone a bit south. Then you want to remove that cue so that you can refine or improve the behavior, and then put that cue back on. That’s a little more advanced process that is an important process too.

Cues are cool. To me, putting the behavior on cue is the most important part of training the behavior, if you ever want to be able to draw it out of your dog. If you want the dog to respond reliably, then you have to really apply that process of putting it on cue very succinctly and very deliberately and not in a random fashion. We don’t need cues if we don’t care when the dog performs the behavior. But we do care. That’s why we train. So cues should be a priority, and understanding how to put behaviors on cue should be a priority in any handler’s learning.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of people struggle with that concept: the idea of getting something on stimulus control, getting a behavior to the point where it is reliable but also only actually happens on cue.

Julie Flanery: And the reason is exactly that, because we have a tendency to still click off the behavior when it’s offered. We love it, we like it, it’s cute, I mean, “Oh, look at you, you did it again. How great,” and we have been patterned to click that offered behavior. We have to get ourselves out of that pattern. The rule is: Once you start putting the behavior on cue, you only click it when you cue it. That’s what builds stimulus control.

Melissa Breau: Let’s say that you like to train, and you often get behaviors to that point where they’re reliable enough for a cue. Is there any downside to having a bunch of half-trained behaviors that you never actually attach a cue to? …

Julie Flanery: Well, that depends a little on your goals. If your goal is to compete and you need those behaviors, well, that’s a really obvious detriment. But even more than that, in leaving behaviors what we’re calling “half-trained,” you’re denying your dog the opportunity and the experience to learn how to learn, how to learn a behavior to completion, and how to understand when you want him to perform that said behavior.

Like most trainers, I love the acquisition stage. I love shaping, I love developing a behavior, but I also need my dog to understand the whole process if I ever want those behaviors to be of any use to me. I need my dog to learn how the process of adding a cue works so that he can also anticipate what comes next in the process.

The more experience I give him at learning the whole process complete through generalization, adding the cue, and fluency, the faster and easier it is to train the next behavior, because it becomes something we are both working through the pieces to completion. The dog can help drive the process forward. That not only builds stronger behaviors, that builds faster behaviors, and that builds truly greater teamwork, in my mind, because you both are on the same path. You both have the same type of goal.

But if we have a lot of half-trained behaviors, and only some of our behaviors are trained through completion, the dog just doesn’t have enough experience to understand the full process and help drive that process to completion.

Melissa Breau: A little birdie told me that maybe you’re working on a class on that topic.

Julie Flanery: I was asking the other instructors if they thought a class on finishing up all those half-trained behaviors would be a good idea, and they all jumped on it. So I’m planning to call it Mission Accomplished, and in effect you’ll be providing your dog lots of opportunity and experience at learning how to learn.

I think, for some, the reason that they haven’t finished these behaviors is because they and their dog just need more experience at how to do it effectively and efficiently. People can get stuck in the process, just like dogs, and oftentimes that’s why we have those half-trained behaviors. Maybe we don’t know what we should do next, how to get it on cue, how to generalize it — all of those things that are involved in having a completed, reliable behavior.

So hopefully that class will help some people. I think it will be a really fun class, and I’m just starting to develop it, but you’ve given me a lot of ideas in this podcast now that I can include in there, so that’s super.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Do you have any idea yet when it’s going to show up on the schedule?

Julie Flanery: Oh my gosh, I have no idea. I’m just trying to get through this session. But I am keeping some notes and have some ideas floating around in my brain, and the schedule is a little bit set, but every now and then I’ll add in a class if it’s ready to go, so hopefully within the next few sessions it will be up on the schedule.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I’m looking forward to it, I will tell you that.

Julie Flanery: Good.

Melissa Breau: I think the other topic that gets overlooked — for lack of a better word — in pet training classes where most of us start out is fading treats from the training picture, so how to start reducing reinforcement. At what point in the process do you feel like a behavior is well enough established that you can start that process, and how do you usually tend to go about that?

Julie Flanery: First thing somebody said is, I don’t want the behavior well established before I take food out of my hand. That’s personally for me. My rule of thumb for luring and removing the food from my hand is really first session, three to five reps, then present the hand cue, it needs to look exactly like my active lure, and I use it as a test. In general, especially dogs that have gone through this process, most dogs can do at least one correct response, or a partial response, without the food in your hand, due to the perception that the food is actually there, and you can build on that.

Again, this is kind of important in terms of what we just talked about, about dogs learning the process. If a dog has gone through lure reward training and understands that at a point early in the process the food will no longer be an active lure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be rewarded for following the hand signal, then that’s a much easier leap for them than the dog that has an expectation of having food in the hand all the time, and really the only time he gets rewarded is when there is food in the hand. So that’s one of the issues is we tend to reward less if we don’t have the food right in our hand.

But really it goes back to that teaching the dog the process so he has an appropriate expectation, and so it’s not difficult to make those criteria shifts. The criteria shift of having food in the hand to having no food in the hand — that’s criteria shift that the dog and handler go through. So three to five reps, and then I will remove the food from my hand and I will click early. I won’t wait for the full behavior. I will click the dog following an empty hand cue on the path to the end behavior. I don’t need to have the full behavior before I click the first time I take food out of my hand.

If you tend to lure, if you use the lure for several sessions, then that’s what your dog is going to expect. Lures are really effective for showing criteria, I do use lures on occasion, they’re very effective at building patterns for the dog, but the sooner the dog learns to offer the criteria without food in your hand, the faster you’re on your way to a more robust behavior, one that’s going to, in my mind, have more strength and more longevity. So when I use lures, it’s as a means to jumpstart my dog’s understanding of what they should be offering.

I think lures are an important tool, and I don’t think we need to remove them from our toolbox, but I do think that people tend to keep food in their hand for far too long, far too deep into the process, so it becomes too much of an expectation for the dog, too much of a prompt, certainly. I hate to use the word “crutch,” but in a way it is, because really, until the food is gone, they’re just following food. I don’t believe that that stronger learning process starts to take place until the dog is initiating the behavior without prompts.

Melissa Breau: That certainly matched my experience.

Julie Flanery: I think that’s why so many trainers now are really delving into shaping and are really starting to use that more as a primary tool than luring.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Julie! I really appreciate it.

Julie Flanery: I had a great time. I hope I get to come back again. I’m sorry I took so long. I get excited about this stuff and I love sharing it, and I want to share that with people, so I really appreciate you having me back here.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I think folks are going to take a ton out of this. There’s a lot of great information here, so thank you, seriously.

Julie Flanery: Super.

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

We’ll be back next week, this time with Kamal Fernandez to talk about the benefits of competition and the concept of leadership in dog training.

And guys, this week I want to repeat my special request from the last few episodes. If you listen to podcasts, I’m sure you’ve heard other people say this, but reviews in iTunes have a HUGE impact on helping new people find the show and in letting iTunes know that our show is worth listening to. It helps us get recommended and it helps us get more eyeballs on the podcast and ears. So if you’ve enjoyed this episode or any of the previous ones, I’d really appreciate it if you could take a moment and leave us a review over in iTunes.

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

CREDITS:

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

Feb 15 2018

46mins

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Rank #6: E62: Amy Cook - "Thresholds and Therapy vs. Management"

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Summary:

Dr. Amy Cook 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.

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Next Episode: 

To be released 5/18/2018, featuring Amy Johnson, taking us behind the scenes of a major dog sports competition from a photographer's perspective. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. 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. So glad to be here. Favorite, favorite thing ever. Glad to be back.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to have you, and today I wanted to talk to you about thresholds.

Amy Cook: Thresholds [makes “doom music” sounds] …

Melissa Breau: Threshold is definitely a word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to reactivity. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what it typically means?

Amy Cook: It’s great that we open with that, because of course you want to open with a definition, it makes sense, except that that very thing is a huge can of worms. It takes a lot of time to unpack it all fully, and I’ll be doing a webinar on this in June. I think it’s just after camp, I think it’s June 7 or so, where I’m really going to go into depth about all the stuff you need to know about it.

But to get you thinking about it right now, thresholds is one of those things where we say it and we know what we mean by it, but when other people say it, either about our dogs or about their dogs while we’re teaching them, we don’t know exactly what they mean by it, and we don’t have any real assurance that we both mean the same thing, even in the same conversation about thresholds, because if you really think about what thresholds are, it just means that it’s a border between two different things, even; the two different states, if you will. So there’s a threshold between the way I feel now and the way I’m going to feel next, whatever that feeling is that is coming, and not all thresholds are particularly of interest when we’re talking about rehabilitation or dog training. There’s only really a few that we care about.

I say sometimes in my seminars, “Do you care about the panic threshold for your dog?” And I see some people saying yes, because of course we want to care about panic, but that’s not what it says. Do you care about the panic threshold? The answer should be no, because there’s plenty of other thresholds that you should have cared about well before we got anywhere near panic. So threshold is that state between one thing and another, and it’s no more than that.

When someone says, “Hey, your dog’s over threshold,” the only thing I think is, Over what threshold? What exactly are you talking about? What state are they in now that they weren’t in a bit ago that you want them not to be in or want to help them get out of? Until we have common language — and I’m not even saying that we all, as a training community, need to have one language, because this isn’t one of those scenarios. This scenario is the word makes a lot of sense, but what we haven’t defined is what states that we’re talking about. So over threshold in what way? Can or can’t do what kind of thing?

It’s worth a lot of thought, because if I just say, “Hey, my dog’s over threshold now,” if I can be honest with you, I think it’s becoming a shorthand for “My dog can’t do this right now. I’m just going to call that ‘over threshold.’ Oh look, he won’t eat. He’s over threshold. He’s having trouble with latency here. He’s going slow. He must be over threshold.” I think it’s losing a little bit of meaning because you’re not thinking about exactly what threshold you’re talking about. It matters, because where you want to put your therapy is dependent on how the dog feels and how stressed he is, so you do really have to know where your thresholds are. So it’s something people need to pay more attention to than I think that they are.

Melissa Breau: How do you even begin to start to pin down, regardless of which threshold necessarily, how do pin down exactly where a specific dog’s threshold may be between any two states?

Amy Cook: It sort of depends on what your goal is in the given moment. Is my goal right now just to get past this dog with my dog and nothing happens? I have a different definition, a different threshold in mind for a behavior I don’t want, that I’m trying to prevent and keep him under the line of expressing. That’s not the same thing as if I want to do some therapy with him. For me, that would be play therapy, and if I want to do play therapy with him, that line of where I say threshold is is going to be much, much, much lower, because the line for me would be between he can play and he can’t play. But if we’re just talking about getting past a dog, the line might be the line between “he can stay on my food and look at me and keep walking and keep himself together,” and “he can’t do that.”

So first you have to think … you asked me how can we figure out what the threshold is. Tell me what threshold you want to figure out in the first place. From there we can define what would it be to be under it and what would it be to be over it.

Why do you care about this particular threshold? “Because I want to get past the dog and I don’t want barking.” OK, so any kind of barking would be over that particular threshold, and anything under where we’re managing correctly — or managing successfully, I should say — is keeping him under. But I wouldn’t call that under threshold for, say, learning a brand new trick, because he’s probably way too busy inside, cognitively and emotionally, to learn something new.

So if it’s like, I want to keep him under threshold, I’d say, OK, what for, what is your goal? “I want to do shaping with him, and sometimes he gets …” — whatever his problem is. And I don’t say I want him under a shaping threshold. I’m not telling the world to start adding new terms for everything. It’s not like that. But if you want him clearheaded and able to be in a shaping session, then that’s what you’re trying to be under.

How can you figure out what the threshold is? Well, that’s a moving target. You need to tell me what you need to accomplish, and from there we can simply make sort of tests for it. What I do is, I have a really low threshold for The Play Way and I have tests for that. But since everyone’s definition or goals might be a little different, I would encourage people to just give it even five minutes of thought of, What are the states I’m trying to define here and get below or get into, and how would I know if I were there? It’s a question you almost have to answer for yourself.

I have answers for the kind of work that I do, but not everybody’s doing that. Thresholds is all over dog training, and so I can’t just tell you that threshold is the one I use only and not the ones you use. But I will say if you do think about this and use them, then you should put more thought into definitions and identification of them.

Melissa Breau: You talked a little bit in there about how you use them differently in The Play Way, and I did want to get into that a little more. Can you explain a little more how you use them and what you mean by that?

Amy Cook: For the Play Way, what that is, if you’re not too familiar with my work, it’s using social play, so that would be play without the help of toys, like you’re playing tug or playing fetch, and without the help of food, although certain exceptions will apply. So social play with your dog to help them relax, to help them feel a lot better about where they are, and to help you read how they’re feeling so you can determine whether you are under threshold or not. That would be under my threshold, under the threshold of interest to me, in this case.

Really, the whole reason why play is so important, there are two reasons. One is of course it’s really fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s relationship-building. But the other real function of it is directly to help me determine a threshold. The threshold I want is one between the two states of interest for me are the dog is perfectly fine, absolutely nothing wrong as best anybody could tell, just like I can tell in you, you feel perfectly fine, you’re not stressed, you’re not tired, you’re just being you, just being Melissa, and then whatever you are one step away from that.

That’s not super-specific, but it can’t be. It’s when the dog or you feels perfect, everything’s fine, totally normal, nothing wrong, and then the first step away from that state is happening, and if you keep going on that path, if you keep taking more steps on that line, you’re going right to eventually panic, or you’re going right to stress, you’re going right to upset, you’re going right to can’t handle, you’re going right to trembling or yelling and screaming.

A lot of different things can happen along that number line. I call it a one-step threshold as a shorthand for myself so that I can see it as everything was fine, nothing was wrong, and now we’ve just taken our first step away from that perfect state.

And I’d like to know that that’s happened for you. If I’m trying to help you stay in that really great state, I’d love to know that you have just left it. And because I have language with you and all other people, I can say, “Hey, let me know when you’re starting to leave perfect and you no longer feel that way anymore.” But of course it’s very difficult to ask a dog, and what I use play for, or really, more accurately, the disappearance of play. When it disappears for me, I can infer that something has happened.

You play in your perfect state, and we of course train that a bunch, and we rehearse it a whole bunch, and then you can’t. Something impeded, something got in the way, something interfered with our play. Are you starting on your stress path? Are you starting to leave this great state we’re in? When play leaves, and they’re just starting to have questions about whether they’re OK, that’s when I can best apply my rehabilitation techniques, my interventions for them. That’s the best place because they haven’t gone very far away yet, and I can get them back to feeling OK.

Threshold is super-important to me for that reason. It’s super-important to everyone for that reason. We’re trying to get therapy into a dog who can benefit from the therapy. We don’t do that when they’re over threshold, but we have a moving target for where threshold is, so for me, I want it really codified. I call anything where the dog can’t play like he normally plays at home, and behave like he normally behaves at home, socially with you as over threshold. To me, it’s over threshold for therapy. I wouldn’t apply therapy there. I might switch to management, which is going to be a different topic that we can talk about, but if you want to apply some kind of therapy to your dog to help them feel better, you want something that indicates that they’re crossing the very threshold you care about, and for me, that’s play.

For me, so much is over threshold. So much more is over threshold for me than your average trainer. But I don’t mean to say that therefore everything over threshold is bad. It’s just over my therapeutic threshold. I wouldn’t do therapy now. We’ll do something else.

But you can see how it hangs together. You want to know what you’re dealing with so you can know what to put at it. I’m not going to throw therapy at a dog who’s four steps away from perfect but still many steps underneath flipping out. I still have many things I can do there, which is what management is.

Melissa Breau: Most dogs, to some degree, aren’t quite as relaxed as maybe would be ideal just in everyday life.

Amy Cook: Sure. Are you?

Melissa Breau: Exactly.

Amy Cook: I’m not. For the record, I’m tightly wound, very tightly wound!

Melissa Breau: I just want to ask you, you mentioned management, and I do want to ask, on the flip side of all this, we have this ideal state that you’ve talked about. But what happens when a trainer inevitably … everybody makes mistakes, and the trainer makes the mistake, they misjudge something, they think their dog can handle something their dog definitely can’t, and the dog reacts, whether it’s just a couple of steps further away from that ideal state, or whether it’s dramatic and lunging and barking and crazy. What do you do?

Amy Cook: I don’t think there’s anybody within the sound of our voices tonight that hasn’t done this, and that includes me. I’ll just raise my hand. I assume you’re going to raise your hand. We’ve all had a dog that we don’t want to have react, react. Or conversely — this isn’t really conversely — it doesn’t have to be that they even react. It can be that they have been put in a situation that is beyond their skill set right now, and it might be that they tremble, or it might be that they just are now going into sniffing and don’t want to do this and leave, and that’s a form of being over threshold. You’ve made a mistake in how much your dog can handle or wants to do, and you’re not going to get through a day or week — that may sound like a miscalculation — on the feelings of others who can’t talk to you.

If anyone out there is like, “Yes, that inevitable mistake,” it’s inevitable. You will make it. Because of that, just know that you will, assume you will, try not to in a moment, but don’t try to be a person who doesn’t do that. You’re just going to be your best all the time and accept when you’re not. When that happens, though, you need to stay, as best you can, clearheaded about what your next options are, where your next acts need to be.

Let’s say this is reactivity and your dog has now blown, because it’s a very easy example to use. Your dog has just blown up at somebody who showed up where you were training. I have a video of that in my class in fact, of me recording a video for class and someone just shows up and I had to respond. If anyone wants to see me do that, go in my classes in the videos, in the video section. You have to … or I recommend that you immediately drive the bus or pick up the reins — whether you like horses or cars better, pick your metaphor — pick up your reins and drive, pick up your wheel and steer your horse. You have to take over the situation, make immediate decisions, and those immediate decisions should involve getting distance and getting your dog on something else right then and there. You stop your training, you don’t negotiate, you don’t see if you can get your dog back on you while you’re sitting right where you were, or tell the person that showed up “Hey, can you give me some room?” That’s not the time to think about restoring what you had a second ago. It’s your time to get up and march. I usually tell people “March,” and they’re like, “I don’t know how to march.” No, no. I mean walk fast. Leave. Get out of Dodge. Go.

If you’ve made a big mistake, your dog went [barking sound], or you didn’t notice, you didn’t have to make a mistake, you could have been completely unaware or thought, Maybe that’s a mistake, I don’t know, and something showed up and your dog barked, and too many of us spend too much time frozen right then. You go, “Oh, oh, God, oh, sorry, sorry,” to whoever it was that your dog just now barked at. Or you’re holding, “Dog, dog, cookie, cookie, dog, here,” trying to fix it in some fashion, and I don’t recommend anyone do that. If you were sitting — I was imagining while you were talking, I was imagining sitting because most of my therapy for dogs is done sitting, so I was going to say, you stand up and you get out. You start walking. You take control. If you can’t get out, you immediately get your dog’s attention by hook or by crook. Interrupt that behavior. Get them on something else right away.

The thing is, that can be difficult. I don’t minimize that at all. First of all, you’re frozen. Second of all, your dog hasn’t seen you do this very much and doesn’t have a ton of skills around that. That’s why I have a class on this, because I firmly believe that people need to rehearse everything they’re going to do in the clinch.

If you need to practice getting up and marching out of the way really, really quickly, then you need to practice that when nothing’s going on, so that you get fluent in it and so that your dog sees this picture many, many times before you ever need it. That’s the one thing we don’t do with management is we don’t do that. But aside from the practicing issue, if you flip into your mind that first I was being dog empowered, and we were training a little bit, and you were figuring out my shaping puzzle, or I was doing some play practice with you and I’m listening to you and you tell me what you’re feeling, dog, and then something happened and your dog goes [gasps] “I can’t,” you go, “That’s it, let’s go. You get up and you just take over.

So much of what we’re trying to do here at Fenzi and so many of the classes are about giving the dogs a lot of control and a lot of ability to drive a session and to be really active partners, and this is the one time when you go, “All right. We’re going. We’re not negotiating this. We’re getting out of here.” I think people are a little reticent to do it because they’re trying to stay in the dog empowerment place or just aren’t sure what to do, so I recommend you start driving. You pick up your reins and you drive your car, to mix my metaphors continuously.

Melissa Breau: Pick up your reins and drive your car. There you go.

Amy Cook: Pick up your reins and drive that car.

Melissa Breau: For dogs with reactivity, it’s not just about what happens when something goes wrong in the moment or when you’ve made a mistake. There are some things you just have to deal with. The world can be a really scary place and a really rough place, and there are just normal, everyday things that have to happen, even though they’re scary and unpleasant. You have to go outside to poop. We’re not going to do that in the house. That’s not a negotiable thing. So there are some things that still need to happen in everyday life. How do you handle those things? What do you do?

Amy Cook: I think that should be one of those infographics: The world might be a scary place, but you still have to go outside to poop. You still have to do it. I remember being a baby trainer and being really frustrated with the answer of “Don’t put your dog over threshold.” I had a dog who was over threshold even by any definition, anyone’s definition, outside of a home. Outside of a house, outside of four walls, she was losing her mind, and the answer was you’re supposed to keep her under threshold while you’re helping her classical condition to whatever, doors and things. And I’d say, “But she has to go outside. I can’t keep her under threshold.” I didn’t get much of a satisfying answer. It was like, “Well, try not to.” I was like, “That’s not helping.”

I get it. The world is a rough place, and going about normal, everyday things might be you running a gauntlet, might be you going from challenge to challenge to challenge, and if you’re working with me at all, I’m saying, “Hey, let’s do a lot of play. Let’s keep your dog under threshold as much as possible.” I’m certainly saying those things.

So going hand-in-hand with helping your dog be better in any way, whether it’s through classical conditioning or whatever it is you’re doing, you’re training, you need to have an alternate way that you behave, an alternate plan for times that are not those times. Times when we have to go outside and go potty are not times when we’re going to be working on how you feel about going outside and going potty. We’re going to flip into our management mode. We’re going to get our management boots on and we’re going to behave as we do in management mode.

That means I may have to override you. I will do it certainly as kindly as I possibly can, but we’re not going to go that direction. We’re going to go this direction, because I know this direction is better, even if you want to go that way. Or you’d like to go up and see that gentleman because you’re on the fence about whether you’re scared, and I know that when you get there you’re going to flip out, so we’re not going to. We’re going this way.

So the first thing you’ve got to think about is you’re in control and you’re possibly overriding, although very kindly, your dog. Secondly, your dog needs to know they’re part of the management system. The management system might be all the little tricks that you’ll do to get your dog past a thing.

A certain example might be a magnet walk, a cookie magnet. If I teach you — and you’d think dogs would know this really well, but you’d be surprised how many dogs don’t know how to do this because we don’t practice it — you take a bunch of cookies, a bunch of them, and you put it right on their nose. Don’t just let them sniff it and wish they had it in their mouths, but you’re actually feeding in a specific way out of your hands the whole time you’re walking.

I challenge all of you listening: Can you take ten steps with your dog actively eating the entire time out of a hand, out of your hand — not any hand, your hand — that’s right on their nose and eating all the way through. We’re going to say these are not 10-inch Chihuahuas, but dogs you can reasonably reach with your hand, because they’re the ones you can pick up and we can talk about that later. Can you walk ten whole steps with your dog eating the entire time? No pauses, no time do you take your hand away and put it back, no time for reloading, no time where he’s sniffing it and wishing he had it and licking it, but is actually eating the whole way.

I think most people can’t … maybe not can’t do it, most people can get it done if you practice it a bit, but that’s the whole point of that. You’ve got to practice, because your dog is like, “What’s going on here?” and you’re like, “I don’t know. My hands are dropping treats everywhere,” and you’re not even the good dog-and-pony show, you’re the disastrous dog-and-pony show and you’re the pony. That requires that the dog understands that that’s what’s going to happen, that the magnet should not break. And you’re responsible for not letting that magnet break by making that super-interesting and “Let’s go, and here’s the cookies, eat them, eat them, let’s go, come on, eat, eat, eat, go, go, go,” as you’re walking past nothing because you’re just practicing. If you’re just trying to introduce that to your dog in the moment because you needed it right then and there, but they’ve never seen it before, it’s not going to go so well. They need to see their parts.

But to the larger thing that you asked, which I’m never going to stay on one question because you pressed the button on my chest and I take off, an everyday walk that is scary will need specific and well-rehearsed management techniques to get through. So if you’re going to pass a little too close to something, you flip into magnet walking. If you’re going to see something else pass by you and you only have to pause for a couple of seconds, you might do some Find Its, but you’re going to have a plan.

You’re going to go outside and go … in fact, sometimes, when I’m walking my dog, I might say, hey, you know, if that happened right now, like I’m passing a house, if that door just opened and a dog came running out, what would I do right now, right this minute? There’s traffic in the street right now, so I’m not going to go walk in the street. I mentally rehearse that, and I try to see if I needed to manage it, if my dog were over-fazed right this minute, what would be my choice? That mental rehearsal is very helpful to getting the reality to be like that.

So management is for when you cannot train and you have to get through, and training is for when you can be reasonably under threshold, however it is we’re going to define threshold for that particular task, and you don’t need to drive the bus. When you can give your dog the reins and the wheel of the horse car, then you’re not managing. When you pick up the reins and take the wheel of the horse car, you are now managing, to be tortured with this ridiculous example.

Melissa Breau: That was exactly my next question for you. I wanted it to be specifically on what the difference is between treating reactivity and learning management, because I think sometimes it’s really easy, I know you draw a really clear distinction between the two, and I think for a lot of people it’s a muddy line there. They’re like, “But we’re working on treating reactivity,” and the situation just changed and now you just need to manage it and get out of there. And sometimes it’s hard to understand that those are two sides of the same coin, maybe, where yes, you need to do both.

Amy Cook: They are two sides, and I think of them as flipping back and forth a lot. In the way I learned dog training, we talked about flipping from operant conditioning to classical conditioning too. I’m not saying people don’t do it now, I’m sure they must, but in the sense of “I’m training you to do a thing. Oh, a scary thing happened. I’m just giving you cookies.” Give and give and give and give, it’s a scary thing, and I’m changing right into classical conditioning mode, don’t care what you’re doing, here’s cookies. We flip back and forth on what we can reasonably let a dog do without too much direction and when we have to take over, and I see this as a very similar flip but between two different states, because I do my therapy different now.

So in this case it would be training reactivity for me means I let you have your head — back to the horses — you can make some decisions. I want you to tell me what you need to look at. I want you to tell me how you’re feeling by the quality of your play. We’re having a nice session here where you’re looking at something in the distance and gathering some information about it, and then you can dismiss it a bit and come back to me and we play some, and we’re doing all this and I’m letting you tell me how you feel. I’m not driving it and telling you to sit and telling you to high-five and giving you things to do. It’s very dog-driven.

And then, when I see that something has changed, either you’ve changed or I really see that literally a thing in the environment is now here, I utterly change and flip only into management tasks and I make sure that they happen. I create them all.

In play, and even in other kinds of training, if you’re not doing specifically rehabilitation, you’re doing some heel practicing. The dog is doing the behavior and you’re rewarding it. Once management has to be there, I don’t ask the dog to do anything. I create it all as best I can.

That’s what the magnet walk is. It’s not a heel, which the dog does and looks up at you and you reinforce. however often you’re reinforcing it. It’s instead I put a magnet on your nose and I’m drawing you forward and we’re walking that direction. And the dog is like, ‘I don’t know. I’m just following my nose. I’m not doing anything,” if you think about it that way.

I’m taking as much control and I’m doing the behaviors. I’m making sure the behaviors happen. I’m insisting as kindly as possible so that the dog stays contained and stays focused on me and the world can pass by. If the world isn’t going to pass by, I’m going to run out of there.

And you know what? Running has to be practiced too. If you’re going to run away from stuff, you better run the right way. You don’t want to run in panic. You don’t want your dog to go, “Why are we running? Oh my god!” It’s a practiced skill, like any other. You practice running away, yay, from stuff so that it’s not surprising for the dog and they don’t have to go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what?” There should be no “what.” There’s only a lot of “Oh, we’re doing this? All right. I can do that.”

So the distinction I make between training reactivity or learning management is that in one you are responsible for everything that happens and in the other one you’re lightening control. You’re letting the dog tell you a lot more stuff. You’re responding to the dog instead. In management, the dog’s responding to you and you go. Hopefully that’s a clarity moment.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, yeah, and as you were talking about it earlier I was thinking in one situation it seems like you really want the dog to think, and in the other situation you want to remove any need for the dog to think.

Amy Cook: That’s a good way to put it. I want you thinking and driving and telling me on your own. You want to look at something, look at something. I don’t need to interrupt you. I want you to have your process — and more of that in the Bogeyman class — but a dog showed up, “Oh no, come here, you just need to think about me, and I’m going to take care of all of this.”

That’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. We sit there and “Oh God,” and we deliberate, “Should I give a cookie? He barked. I’m so nervous that it’s reinforcing the bark, and I can’t give the cookie.” In that time, while you’re deliberating what you should do, that dog made it all the way to you, or that person got on his phone and started arguing. Everything got worse. You should have left before you started thinking about what you should do for your dog. Leave and then decide. Magnet-walk and go. Take it over.

Melissa Breau: One of the biggest takeaways for me when I took the management class, which I loved, was the importance of practicing the skills. You talked about this a little bit: practice and practice and practice until they become a habit, not just for the person but for the dog, something that the dog and you can really fall back on when you need it, because it’s so embedded and it’s so patterned the fact that it has basically becomes... you don’t have to think about this. It’s so fluent for both of you.

Amy Cook: It’s dancing. We’re all better if we have instructions. We’re all better if we know what we’re going to do. We are all better if things are patterned. All of us. Then especially, and if you want a dog to come magnet-walking with you, that dog’s got to have seen it dozens and dozens of times, or they’re going to go, “Yeah, magnet walk, but I’ve got stuff to yell at.” They don’t have a groove to get into that’s been super-practiced, and you know what, you don’t either.

The class, and the way I teach it to people, we’re not using it maybe ever in the class, maybe. But certainly not until the last week, because I want fluency beyond fluency. I’ll start throwing in little … here’s one thing you can do, anybody listening. If you have a few management skills already, like a find it and a two up, putting two feet on something, maybe some quick sits, something that keeps their attention while all things around are breaking loose.

What I want you to challenge yourself to do is you’re out on your walk today on a regular suburban block, and you see up ahead a fire hydrant, and you see farther ahead than that the tree that’s there, and I want you to manage, flip right into management the second you come to that fire hydrant, and manage the whole way all the way to the tree. Nothing has happened except that you decided you got to the fire hydrant and then you made it all the way to the tree.

The dog might at first go, “What? Why are you managing me?” And if that’s true and he’s looking around, then he’s not that practiced at management. He’s expecting something to go wrong, he’s expecting a big problem, and that’s the last thing you want. You want to teach your dog that management is this crazy game I sometimes play for ten seconds for no reason at all. Every once in a while there’s also a dog there, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because I’m crazy and I just like to do fun things.

Get your dog to believe that, and if you can flip in and flip out when nothing around you has happened, and do that any old time … in fact, some people have their partners say a code word, and then they have to manage right then and there and get out of Dodge right now and for no reason. It lets your dog see a little bit of panic in you, it lets your dog see a little bit of “Oh God, oh God, oh God” in you, and you’re just freestyling, you’re ad-libbing, you’re able to take any challenge that comes up.

I have people practicing that in the last two weeks of class, where they have to freestyle it, I call it. You’ve got to go out there and start responding to the tree and the bumper of the car and the fire hydrant, and make me believe that a dog showed up and you got out of Dodge, so that your dog has all of that before he ever needs to have it used.

You’d be surprised, I’m often surprised, at how much dogs are a creature of habit. You’d think something like this, I hear people say, “My dog won’t eat when we’re outside.” They’re a creature of habit. You don’t start training it outside. You train it inside. You train it in careful places, and dogs really do go with the program. They really do. It’s super-helpful, and even if it isn’t perfectly helpful at every turn, 80 percent helpful is better than what you had before you started having a management system, so really anything is better than nothing.

Melissa Breau: Right. You mentioned a couple of examples of some of the games you include in the management class. You mentioned two paws up, I think, and quick sits. Do you mind sharing some of those examples and describing them a little bit?

Amy Cook: I like to separate the skills into the categories of “We are leaving in some fun way. I’m getting you out of this place.” It might be that I’m just pulling up a driveway. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re leaving far, but I’m taking you and we’re going to a new location. That’s one set of skills.

The other set of skills is “Well, I’m stuck here.” Oops, my exit is blocked. Or oops, that person showed up, but I see that they’re actually just leaving and will get out of here faster than I would ever be able to get out of here, so I might as well stay here for a second and let the trigger leave.

Those are super-separate. Getting out of Dodge, leaving quickly, involves connecting a magnet and then deciding which side your dog is going to be on, because perhaps it’s better if they were on your left and now they need to be on your right, so you need to execute that really smoothly without breaking your magnet. Perhaps you need to make a U-turn. Can you do it without breaking your magnet? Most people don’t. They make a U-turn and then connect the magnet again after they’ve made the turn.

So we fix all those mechanics, how always you can leave a scene, all the directions you could go, all the sides your dog could be on, front crosses and all that stuff.

You get one of those a week, and then you get a skill in the “Oops, you’re stuck” series. I should call it that. I should just rename it that in the class: “Oops, you’re stuck.” This is oops you’re stuck, number one.

And the next one is find it. I like those to be on cue, although it’s really OK if the cue is they saw you drop the food, because that’s going to work in a pinch, it’s really fine. But I’d like to be able to say, “Dog, find it,” and then they go down and search immediately, even though you haven’t put food down there yet while you go and get the food because you weren’t ready because it wasn’t in your hand because something surprised you. And so you go, “Oh god, find it!” and they immediately start going, “What? Really?” and they’re looking down and they don’t see anything and in that moment you’re like, “Here it is,” and you spill it all over the ground and now they have something to find. That keeps their nose down and on their food.

And you should get super-involved: “You missed this one, look at this here,” pat, pat, pat, pat, touch, touch, touch, nudge, nudge. “Look at these, you missed these here, oh my goodness.” Keep them super-engaged in that. What it does is first of all control where their head is, which you totally need, and then if it was a dog that was passing by, or even a person, but if it was a dog that was passing by, that dog is not being enticed by whatever your dog was doing, making it then harder for your dog to resist.

Also you look super-busy. If someone was passing by and you’re afraid of what your dog was going to do, or really wanted to protect your dog from that greeting, all of a sudden they’re in a find it, you’re doing training, you’re busy, the dog isn’t soliciting or looking like they’re soliciting attention, which people misinterpret all the time, and is busy. So that’s a great one to train. You might think there’s no training in that one, but there is, because they want to break from that and you need to really get involved and you need to teach them that on verbal.

I like them also to perch on things, so a two up and a four up. Two up is just front paws up, and four up they jumped onto it. I see them really differently from each other. The two up, I want you both facing the same way. It’s like we’re standing at a fence and both peering over it. We’re both facing that way, so if something passed behind us, oh no, we didn’t notice because I’ve got a magnet right in front of your face and “Look at these cookies, honey,” and “Look at that view, sweetheart.” It’s not really a view, just imagine it, and then that person or whatever it is, the trigger, can be leaving while you’re stuck there. This is your stuck series of skills.

The four up I see the other way. I want the dog all four up, but you’re going to face me. Tuck your face in close to my chest so I have your head here and you’re up at my chest height, say a half-wall or a bench or something like that, and I’ve got control of your face. I can now look at the trigger passing behind your butt, but you’re not, because I’m like, “Look what I’ve got, honey, look at this,” and if she breaks the magnet to look behind her, you’re like, reconnect: “Look right here, cookie, cookie, cookie.”

Each scenario might require you to … you want to look at the trigger to make sure that it’s going away, so you put them in a four up, or you might neither of you need to look, because if you’re looking, you’re dog’s going to look, and every dog’s a little different, so you want to know how that goes. I like those kinds of stationary skills. There’s a lot of others, like leave its, which a lot of people have already, but if we practice them in this situation, it helps them resist the urge to want to go look at whatever it is that was scaring them.

And we do a thing called a classical recall, so it’s not actually about the closing of the distance. I’ll let that one remain in the class because it’s actually a really long explanation when we do it. It’s a special kind of recall. And a bunch of other things. I like dogs to wait at doors, just as impulse control, just don’t dart out in front of me for stuff. Stay really connected to me when we’re walking. It’s not really a loose leash walking class, but I think it ends up being that a little bit too because there’s so much magnetization when we’re walking.

The class also gets a little customization. If your dog in particular needs this one kind of skill, there’s room. I built in room in the curriculum for a custom-built trick or a custom-built skill that you can use when you’re stuck, your stuck series. So the class is customizable to your situation.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I will say the find it game has worked, I told you this privately a bunch, but it worked wonders for me with my Shepherd, just having that game as a patterned game where she knows what her job is in such a concrete and understandable way and it’s just to find the cookies. Something can pass us by, it can even pass by in the same direction that she’s looking as she finds her cookies on the ground, and she knows her job, so she can focus.

Amy Cook: I think some of them are self-medicating. It’s like, “I wanted not to have to do that anyway, this yelling at dogs thing. I just did. Look, I can do a thing. I can just concentrate on this thing I’m doing.” But if they can’t really do that, then you’re pointing out every one of them until they’re able to concentrate. What I like about the find it is that it can go on as long as you want, because I have an endless stream of pocket cookies.

Melissa Breau: Yes.

Amy Cook: I’m replete with cookies, so if I want find its to go on for a full minute, it’s like, “Look, you missed this one here, and there’s a whole trail of them here. Look at what we’ve got in the grass. Look at all these cookies.” Dogs love to forage, so it’s playing to their strengths, and you can get their attention, walk run another fifteen steps to get a little further from something that changed again, and do another find it. You can do find its the whole way while you’re walking. It’s very customizable.

Find its are the unsung hero, I think, of management, because people think, Oh, I put it them the floor but the dog didn’t really care, so this doesn’t work for me, and it’s actually not a simple matter of using it when you’ve never practiced. Practice is the game changer.

Melissa Breau: Right. I want to round things out by asking you if there’s anything else that you’ve got in the works that you care to share — new classes, other goodies people should keep an eye out for, what you’re working on.

Amy Cook: Goodies. What I’m working on. Well, let’s see. Coming up, I mentioned I’ve got the webinar. I’m going to talk about thresholds solely in that webinar because there’s more to say about it for sure than I was able to say here. And then starting in June, I’ve got two classes. Starting in June, I’ve got this management class. I alternate it with The Bogeyman and The Play Way class because people need access, I think, to the whole picture of it, so I just try to make sure one runs into the other runs into the other. So next up is management, so if anyone is interested, this is the time to sign up.

Concurrently with that, I’m going to run a sound class, which is for dogs who are sound sensitive and who need some classical conditioning essentially, but I use a lot of play and a lot of celebration and a lot less of the dry “I’ll give you cookies after the sound happened.” True to form, I use a ton of play in it, but it’s not just personal play, so if you have trouble with personal or social play, that’s too weak for this class. We do crazy, raucous, amazing play with all the toys of the world that have a sound. That comes up only once or twice a year at most, so if that’s your issue, you’ll want to pick that up now.

In the future, what I’m toying with now, I want to write, I’m in the process of writing a new class about raising puppies or socializing your new dog, if you just got a new dog, in The Play Way style. All this stuff I’m using The Play Way for is usually responding to problems dogs already have, but it would be really great if we could just prevent them in the first place, at least as best we can, and so I’m writing a class that’s aimed at “You just got your puppy, or you just got your new dog, you don’t know too much about him, and you’re in the honeymoon period. What can you do to start off on the right foot?”

Really, for me, that means rethinking socialization. Socialization, at least to my mind, is not about being social. It’s actually about being civilized and learning to ignore a lot of things, but not through forced connections. So I’m going to write a class for people who want to raise their dog in that dog-empowered way and get started on that right foot. It’s in the works, but I take quite a long time to get all the pieces together, so don’t expect it soon. Maybe fall, maybe into the next year, I’m not sure. But it’s going to be a companion class to The Play Way for people who don’t already have a reactivity problem but don’t want to have one, they can get into that way.

Melissa Breau: That sounds fantastic. I am super-excited about the new class. I’m looking forward to it. And thank you for coming back on. It was fun to chat again, Amy. It always is.

Amy Cook: Always a pleasure. You can have me on weekly. I’m available weekly and also daily, if you need more podcast for this.

Melissa Breau: If only that were actually true.

Amy Cook: If people would interview me every evening, I would be happy.

Melissa Breau: In truth, it’s a little after midnight here, so …

Amy Cook: OK, all right, we’ll be done. But it was really great to be here. I’m really happy you asked me back, and it’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

Melissa Breau: It’s always a fun chat. It absolutely is. And I’m glad you could come on. And I’m glad all of our wonderful listeners could tune in to listen to it.

We will be back again next week, this time with our other Amy from FDSA — Amy Johnson. We’ll be chatting about what it’s like behind the scenes to photograph a major competition event, so we’ll be talking to her about the recent … I think it was agility nationals she just shot, what that’s like, what’s involved in that, and all of that good stuff, so it should be fun.

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 if you don’t know how to do that, we have directions on our website. If you go to the site, we have buttons right at the top that tell you how you can subscribe if you’re on iPhone and how you can subscribe if you are not on an iPhone, if you are using an Android phone. So I hope you’ll go and do that.

CREDITS:

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

May 11 2018

44mins

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Rank #7: E74: Dr. Jennifer Summerfield - Behavior Medications & Training

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Summary:

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

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

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

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

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

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

Hi Jen, welcome to the podcast!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s my guys in a nutshell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: That’s right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: It’s our very first one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: Lots of sticky issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Summerfield: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Aug 03 2018

44mins

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Rank #8: E49: Denise Fenzi - "Play"

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Summary:

Denise Fenzi is the founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (FDSA). She has competed in a wide range of dog sports, titling dogs in obedience, tracking, Schutzhund, Mondioring, herding, conformation, and agility.

She is best-known for her flashy and precise obedience work, as demonstrated by two AKC OTCH dogs and perfect scores in both Schutzhund and Mondioring sport obedience. Her specialty is in developing motivation, focus, and relationship in competition dogs, and she has consistently demonstrated the ability to train and compete with dogs using motivational methods in sports where compulsion is the norm.

Next Episode: 

To be released 2/16/2018, featuring Julie Flanery, talking about all the things you were never taught in puppy class.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Denise Fenzi.

At this point, Denise probably needs to introduction, and I want to save every minute of this interview that we can for what we’re here to talk about today: the benefits of play.

So welcome back to the podcast Denise!

Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa. Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited. This is a good topic. To start us out, do you want to just remind listeners who each of the dogs is that you share your life with right now?

Denise Fenzi: I have three dogs. Raika is the oldest. She’s 13-and-a-half and doing very well. There’s Lyra, and I believe she’s about 6 now, and she is also doing well. And there is little Brito, my terrier mix. He’s 4 now.

Melissa Breau: It seems like it was not long ago that you got him.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. Every time I think about it, I’m kind of amazed at how time goes by.

Melissa Breau: As I mentioned in the intro, we’re going to talk about play today… and I think a lot of people who sign up for your class on the topic, they’re thinking about one thing: its benefits for competition. So do you want to just briefly talk about what those are, and how play fits into the competition picture?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. My online play class covers personal play, which is interaction without toys and food, and also covers toy play and play with food. Most people, when they talk about play, personal play, are thinking in terms of what they can do when they go in a competition ring with their dog when they don’t have their cookies and toys. That’s actually pretty understandable and is actually what caused me to explore the issue in the first place. But the longer I’ve been playing with it, and teaching the class, and exploring the topic, the more I’ve realized that the question’s a little bit premature. It probably makes more sense to think about play in terms of building the underlying relationship, and less energy should be spent on what you are going to do with that play.

The reason it matters is because the play you can use in the ring may have absolutely nothing to do with the play you do at home while you are working to develop your relationship. But you can’t jump ahead. You have to go through the process. So it’s kind of an issue of goal versus process.

I have noticed — I’ve taught this class many times now, I would say maybe five times — and I have noticed that the students come into the class with a different perspective. The very first time I taught the class it was kind of universal. Every person said the same thing, which is, “But how will I use this in competition?” And honestly, this term, so far not one student has actually said that. So change is taking place. I don’t know if it’s because the reputation of the class has encouraged that, or if it’s our student base has developed and they see things differently. I’m not sure, but it certainly has saved me some time writing to people, “Please let’s focus on the process for now. We’ll get to that later.”

Melissa Breau: What kind of benefits can learning to play with your dog really have on that underlying relationship?

Denise Fenzi: The one I usually bring up first is that to play well with a dog without food or toys requires an incredible amount of attention to how the dog is responding to what you are doing, kind of on a second-by-second basis, because if you do something that you think is attractive to your dog and your dog has a different opinion, you have about a half a second to figure that out before your dog avoids you. Now I look at this as all a great big learning opportunity, so it’s not a problem that your dog runs off when you do something. You say to yourself, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t do that again.”

What I find is that the process of teaching play is probably the fastest way for me to teach people how to observe their dog’s body language, because everything is so immediate. The handler does something, the dog responds, the handler responds, the dog gives a final response, and if you made good decisions at those two junctures, then you will have a good response or a neutral response, and if you misread the dog’s behavior, you will get instant feedback, and I find that’s invaluable.

Melissa Breau: So how does that compare or maybe mix with play’s role as a motivator for training?

Denise Fenzi: Well, within training, if I still have my food and my toys, I primarily use it as a way to break up sessions. For example, over the last month I’ve been recording every single session with Lyra and Brito learning to heel on my right-hand side, which is a new thing for all of us. That means I’m spending longer than I should on each training session. So let’s say that an ideal training session with a new skill is a minute, which is probably about right. After I’ve taken the time to set up the video camera and make it happen, just for purely pragmatic reasons I cannot do that. But what I can do is train for a minute, stop, and play with my dog. It can be as little as five seconds. As a matter of fact, it often … that would be normal. Five seconds, 10 seconds, maybe 15 or 20 seconds — that would be unusual — and then I can ask for another minute or two.

Those little mini-breaks relax everyone. They relax me and the dog, and they let go of the stress which is invariably part of learning. So while positive reinforcement training is designed to be fun and to be low stress, that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the dog or the human is not getting it right and that builds up stress. So being able to play in the middle of a session is really a fantastic thing for everyone. If nothing else, it reminds the handler of why they have their dog, and it reminds the dog that “Everything’s good, mama still loves me even if I make some mistakes, everything is fine here.”

Melissa Breau: I know you touched on this a little bit already, but how does learning to play really help people read their dog and why is that beneficial?

Denise Fenzi: I think for anybody involved in dog training, being able to read your dog is 90 percent of the game. It’s actually so significant that now when people describe to me what is happening with their dog, I almost refuse to answer if I don’t have a video, because I find it so common that I see something different than they see. So when people can see what their dog is doing and accurately interpret it, their training is going to skyrocket. It’s hard to underestimate the value of accurately reading your dog’s behavior.

For example, when dogs walk off in the middle of training to sniff, the vast majority of novice trainers see that as the dog finding something better to do. They found a good smell. It takes a lot of time to learn that most of the time the dog is actually avoiding you, and while that’s a little uncomfortable, recognizing it for what it is, it’s not a condemnation of you as a person. It simply means that whatever you are doing at that moment at that time is causing distress to your dog. It’s nothing more than that. So if I’m in a training session and it seems to be going OK, and my dog starts to scratch or shows some other sign of distress, I don’t get upset about it. I just change my ways. That is something that play can give to you — that quick ability to in real time instantly identify how your dog is feeling.

And while I specifically called that distress, that’s equally true of a happy dog. So what are your dog’s happy signals? What do the ears do? What does the mouth do? What do the eyes do? What does the tail do? There’s a lot to the picture. And there’s just the sheer fun of it, right? So for the handler to look at their dog and recognize their dog really wants to be there, and to feel confident in that assessment, that really does amazing things for your training.

Melissa Breau: What about specifically for anxious dogs? Are there benefits to learning to play for those dogs?

Denise Fenzi: Personally, I don’t go in that direction in my classes. What I tell people is, “My job is going to be to help you become a better play partner to your dog.” That is my emphasis. However, I know that, for example, Amy Cook, who also teaches at the Academy, she uses play as a way of relaxing dogs in stressful situations, and also as a barometer for the dog’s suitability for the place where it’s at. So being able to play with an anxious dog is actually super-critical to behavior work. The other thing is, in my opinion, when you play with your dog, what you’re able to tell them is that everything’s OK and that you’re on their side. To be able to communicate that is a big deal. If I’m with somebody and I’m feeling a little nervous, they can absolutely hand me something to eat, it will certainly distract me. But if they put their hand on my shoulder and tell me, “You know what? It’s OK. It’s going to be OK. I’m right here with you,” that’s a completely different level of support. And I think being able to play with your dog, especially with an anxious dog, will take you in the right direction.

Melissa Breau: What about me as the human or handler? Is play really all about the dog, or are there benefits for me, too?

Denise Fenzi: A few years ago I was going to give — not a webinar — a presentation on play to an audience, and I thought it might be a tough sell to that particular audience. So I felt the need to have a little bit of background and backup for my assertion that I think play is important — and I sure hope nobody contacts me and asks me for the information now, because I don’t have it anymore — but I found quite a few studies which talked about the effects on both the dog and the handler on mutual interaction. In some cases the interaction was simply looking at each other. In other cases it was playing together, sometimes it was about playing ball or whatever. And there was just a lovely thread of discussions about how the hormones on both sides of the picture here, for both the dog and the human, the happy hormones went up, the sad hormones went down, and the end result is a more content picture. Like I said, I don’t have that anymore, but I’m sure if somebody wants to investigate it they can find that information again.

Melissa Breau: It would be interesting to look up some of that stuff and be able to point to some of those studies. I know that you also teach engagement, obviously, so do you mind just talking a little bit about how play, or being able to play with your dog, can impact or influence your engagement training? And maybe just start out with a little bit of explanation on what engagement training is, for those who may not know.

Denise Fenzi: The word engagement is a little bit complicated, because when we say “to engage another,” we simply mean to mutually interact. When I talk about engagement training, I’m actually talking about a very specific training process which teaches the dog that it’s their responsibility to let the handler know, first of all, when they’re comfortable, and secondly, that they would like to work. The second part of that involves the dog engaging the handler in play or strong interactive behaviors. So an example of play would be that the dog play-bows at the human and the human responds. An example of just a strong behavior might be that the dog jumps on the person. So there’s variations. I teach engagement online, and I find that students who already have developed some repertoire of play with their dog have a much easier time with it because, first of all, it actually occurs to their dog to offer play, because engagement is a shaped process. It crosses the dog’s mind that maybe they should ask the owner to play and see what happens next. So that’s a huge benefit right there. The handlers who don’t have play training or some comfort with play, they struggle. Not only do their dogs not think to offer it, but even if their dog does think to offer it, they don’t know what to do next, and so now it sort of stops the process of training engagement and we redirect into the process of training play. And while that’s not terrible, I just find that most people came into engagement class to learn engagement, and the ones who came in with play already make a lot more progress on that skill, and the ones who have to stop and redirect simply don’t go as far. Now that’s no emergency, but for sure having play skills will make your engagement training easier.

Melissa Breau: Let’s assume that some of the folks listening are convinced… they want to give this a go, they want to focus on trying to play more with their dog. Where should they start? What are some good ways to start play, especially if it hasn’t been a big part of life with their dog before now?

Denise Fenzi: Well, right off the bat, loud and crazy is probably not the direction you want to go. Generally when people think about play, they think they’re going to imitate how dogs play with each other. That’s a little unrealistic in terms of a place to start. So unless you’re 5 years of age, you are not going to run around the back yard like a crazy person with your dog, and even if you did, your dog would think that was so bizarre and out of character that you would actually be likely to frighten your dog. And then I’ve noticed that people get a little intense and nervous because that’s not the response they were looking for, and that’s when they start to sort of, for lack of a better word, assault their dogs. They come up and start — they call it “playfully,” but anyway — they start pinching and pulling and doing weird things, and that drives the dog further into avoidance. So Rule Number One: start low key. I find it so much more effective to start with what we would normally call praise rather than play. Pet your dog, scratch their ears, gently and sweet. Now, from there, can you ratchet that up to look something like what happens when you walk in the front door and your dog is glad to see you? So maybe you went from a gentle massaging-type interaction, let’s call that a 1 or 2 out of 10, to something a little more “Oh boy, you’re home, Mom, I’m so glad to see you.” Let’s say that’s in your 3 to 6 range, depending on your dog. Can you start to get that behavior you get at the front door in your play session when you don’t have that context? What do you do at the front door? How do you interact with your dog? Do you clap? Do you pet them? Do you talk to them? And what happens, and what does your dog look like at that moment? What kind of an expression does your dog have? All of that should feel fairly natural and seamless to most people. From there we can start ratcheting up, and little taps and running away. That brings me to my second rule of thumb: I generally strongly suggest that people try to figure out on a scale of 1 to 10, what energy level is your dog showing you right now, and can you match that plus or minus 1? So if your dog’s being kind of crazy, and you don’t really want to hang out at a 10 with a Great Dane, the problem is you can’t go to a 1 because you’re not going to register and your dog’s going to leave you. So can you get to a 9, and then quickly to an 8 and a 7 and a 6 and a 5? From my point of view, it’s perfectly legitimate to put a toy in the dog’s mouth or use food for redirection, if it’s really rambunctious and you need to get your dog to a level that’s more sustainable for both of you. But using the matching system, the number system, helps a lot. It helps people match their dog and stay in the game without it getting out of control, feeling free to add food and toys if you need to. This is a little bit new for me. A few years ago I tried to do a lot more without that, and I don’t do that as much. And also starting on the low end of the scale and working your way up — that is also something I would say is new to me. Over time I have discovered that works much, much better for all parties. The final thing I would mention is really watch for signs that your dog isn’t having a good time, and take your dog seriously. Respect that. So if you can get one great minute, that’s fantastic. Just stop. Don’t go for 5 or 10. And if your dog says they want a little break, honor that. It’s not personal. Your dog didn’t take a break because they think you’re horrible. Your dog took a break because he needed one and he recognized that he was struggling with his own arousal — too high, too low, whatever. If you pursue, you will drive your dog into avoidance. So I think I would start with that package and see where that gets you.

Melissa Breau: Do you mind just talking a little bit more about that toy piece? What made you change your mind, or how can people use that in a way that it doesn’t become all about the toy?

Denise Fenzi: Well, I think a lot of it was simply safety. Dogs can hurt us with their teeth, whether they mean to or not, and if you give the dog a toy, and they chomp on the toy instead of on your arm, that’s obviously a lot more pleasant. There’s all sorts of other things that go with that, you know — habits, and teaching your dog that it hurts when you bite, and all kinds of stuff. The problem is, asking a dog not to use their mouth in play is a lot like asking a human child not to use their hands. That is how dogs communicate with each other. It’s how they communicate in play. And so if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time teaching them how to do that. So in the same way that if you tried to teach a child to play with their hands behind their back, while doable, if you gave them something to hold in their hands behind their back while they were doing that, they would be much more likely to remember, and it would give them something to do with their hands, to grip a thing. If you give the dog something to hold, and they have those urges to bite down or to grab, they have something in their mouth already. With Lyra, I don’t think I tried to play with her without a toy in her mouth until she was probably 2 years old, and what I discovered is after that time we had made enough progress that she didn’t need it anymore. And so then, when the toy was out of her mouth, she didn’t have that desire to grab me. She knew what to do. And the time when the toy was in her mouth gave both of us time to learn how to play with each other and kept us out of over-arousal situations while we were learning the game. So it solves a lot of problems. Now if the dog says, “It’s all about the toy. If the toy’s in my mouth, then let’s play with it,” that’s actually not that much of a problem. What I do is I will pull on the toy, let’s say every 10 seconds, just enough to keep the dog holding it. But the rest of the time is spent quick little tap, run away, little play bow, clapping, finding ways that the dog keeps the toy in their mouth but redirects their energy to me. When I say the dog holds a toy, I don’t mean you never touch the toy, and I don’t mean it’s not OK to play with the toy a little. It’s a balance issue. So let’s say the first day it’s 50/50: 50 percent of the time you’re playing with the toy and 50 percent of the time you’re playing with the dog. The next day could you get that to 48/52? So over time can you get it to the point where it’s 10 percent toy, 90 percent dog, and eventually can you get it where you take the toy away from the dog, play with the dog for 10 seconds, and then go get the toy together and go back to your 90 percent playing with the dog, 10 percent toy. That’s how I’m approaching it these days.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting to hear how you’ve evolved that concept a little bit. What about those people who want to do this, they try to play with their dog and … their dog just doesn’t seem to be interested. What might be going on there? Is there still hope that they can figure this out, that they can do this?

Denise Fenzi: Well, there’s definitely hope. I’m actually amazed at how many people who go through the play class make significant progress when they were pretty sure they weren’t going to get anywhere. And, in fairness, I have read some introductions where my initial reaction was, “This is going to be really hard.” And most people progress. Now I define progress exactly as that word states. It’s progress. I’m not a goal-oriented person, so what I’m looking for is did we move forward? If we moved forward, I’m probably pretty happy, and I find most of my students get there. So is there hope? Absolutely positively. Might it look the way you thought it was going to look? Might it look like your neighbor’s dog? Well, maybe, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t need to look like your neighbor’s dog. It needs to work for you and your dog, and honestly, if that never gets past the point where you are able to scratch your dog’s head and thump your dog’s side, even though you’re in the middle of a training session and you have access to food and toys and your dog knows it, I’m happy, because as soon as I can get the dog off that look of “Don’t touch me, I want my food and toys,” I’m going to be happy. That to me is a huge success. So rethink your goals, and make sure that you’re really being reasonable, and I think you will progress.

Melissa Breau: If people want to see some examples of this stuff, if they’re having a little trouble picturing it, because some of this stuff is complex and it’s hard to visualize, can you talk about where they might be able to go to find some of those examples, which pieces of this you cover in class?

Denise Fenzi: This particular class I believe has over a hundred videos. It’s incredibly dense and complex. One of the cool things about the class itself is the active students, the ones that are learning. Every term I learn a new way to play with a dog. Somebody does something I’ve never seen before and I go, “Oh, I never thought to cover the dog with a towel and snap it off. I never thought to cover myself with a towel and let the dog find me.” So little things like that. It’s a constant process of evolution. Deb Jones and I did write a book on the topic of play, so the third book in the Dog Sports Skills series is on the topic of play and has an awful lot of detail. Having said that, I would say that between a class and a book, this is something … I think you make a lot more progress if you watch videos, because it is so second-by-second, so that is one place where I think video would serve you well. I’ve never actually searched YouTube for videos of playing with a dog, but you know what, if you are not interested in taking classes, that’s not your cup of tea, and you don’t really want to sit down with a book, the first thing I would probably do is go to YouTube and search “playing with a dog,” and something has got to come up. It has to. In this day and age there’s so much out there. That’s probably where I would start. The second thing I would do, if I really wanted to go it myself, is just go back through this podcast, because I gave you a lot of places to work from and a lot to start with, and just give it a shot. See what you get. If you end this podcast feeling inspired to try it, then you’re halfway there already.

Melissa Breau: I was actually going to add to that, if you don’t mind, that I think that some of the TEAM videos have some really nice examples of engagement, and some of those samples of engagement have really nice pieces of play in them, if people wanted to see some additional examples. That’s just on the TEAM site free.

Denise Fenzi: Not only that. I forgot about that. The Fenzi TEAM Players Facebook list is very active, and a couple three weeks ago I did do a flash challenge on the topic of engagement. So many people did put up their examples of working on engagement, and because it was a flash challenge, I respond to those videos, so I would have given my input and my thoughts on that. That would have been playing more specifically focused towards engagement and work, but regardless, you got to see play there, so maybe join that list.

Melissa Breau: That list is free, right? Anybody can join that. They’re welcome to join.

Denise Fenzi: Sure.

Melissa Breau: Just a last question here. If somebody does want to take the class, is there a dog that’s good for the class, or maybe not a good fit for the class? Is there anything they should think about from that stance?

Denise Fenzi: This term I probably have the widest variety of dogs, off the top of my head, that I’ve ever had. Let me think about it. I have a Great Dane, a Mastiff, then I have some more typical dogs, Sheltie, Corgi, then I have some teeny guys. I’ve got a Chihuahua, a softer. more fragile dog, I have a small mix, I think she said it was 10 or 11 pounds. I do believe there might be an Aussie in there, a Corgi. I have much greater size discrepancies than I’ve ever seen before, so I’ve got the tiniest and the largest, which is fun and interesting. I have non-players. I have dogs that have shown no interest whatsoever in a toy. And actually those dogs, the first week’s lectures, the ones that have been released this week, are all about toy play. So we are focused on toy play right now, but I’ve seen the baselines for all types of play. So right off the bat the toy play’s going really, really well, and the owners are excited because they’re seeing things they hadn’t expected. Next week, around the 9th or so, is when I start releasing the personal play lectures, and having seen the baseline, there’s going to be a little of everything. There are going to be dogs that tend toward over-arousal, and there are going to be dogs that think it’s all kinds of crazy and don’t want to stay in the game at all, maybe showing avoidance, and I think there will be some middle ground as well. My personal preference when I teach a class is an incredible variety of dogs, and when people join the class I really try to encourage them to understand that there are no good dogs or bad dogs, there are just dogs. So it’s OK, the responses your dog gives you, they’re not right responses or wrong responses. They’re just the response that the dog gave you, and we can just keep changing direction. That’s no problem. We explore and look for what works for a more serious dog, a more anxious dog, not an aggressive dog but an assertive dog, and try to find a way, find a route, that makes you love your dog a little bit more and makes your dog think you’re just a wee bit more interesting than they did yesterday. Which does bring up a point I meant to say and I forgot it. In my experience, when I go back and read my survey results for this class, probably the most common thing that people say to me at the end of class is that they’re surprised at how much more their dog watches them in life. Without being trained to do so, the dog simply finds them more worth their while than they did before, and the dog checks in more. So when they go on walks, the dog just checks, “Are you coming? What are you doing?” The dog just seems to recognize that they offer more than Pez-dispenser-style training. They’re more than a food dispenser or a toy machine. They are a valuable person who means more than the next person, and if I get that feedback, if I get that result, then I have won, and I feel very good about that.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome, and I think that’s a great point. There’s some really great gems in there for people that want to tease them out. Thank you so much, Denise, for coming back on the podcast. It was great to chat again.

Denise Fenzi: It’s always great to be here, Melissa. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Julie Flanery, and we’ll be talking about the things no one ever told you in puppy class. That is, we’ll be diving into some of my favorite topics — handler mechanics, verbal cues, all those types of things.

And guys, this week I have a special request. If you listen to the podcasts, or you listen to other podcasts, I’m sure you’ve heard other people say this, but reviews in iTunes have a HUGE impact on helping new people find the show and letting iTunes know that our show is actually worth listening to. So if you’ve enjoyed this or any of the previous ones, I would really appreciate it personally if you could take a minute to just go into iTunes and leave us a review.

And if you haven’t already, subscribe while you’re there, and our next episode will automatically download to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

CREDITS:

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

Feb 09 2018

29mins

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Rank #9: E96: Trish McMillan - "Dog Body Language"

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Summary:

Trish McMillan is a certified professional dog trainer (through CCPDT),  certified dog behavior consultant and associate certified cat behavior consultant (through IAABC) who holds a Master’s degree in Animal Behavior from the University of Exeter in England.  She specializes in training and behavior modification work using positive reinforcement with dogs, cats, and horses.

Trish has an extensive background in the shelter world - she spent seven years with the ASPCA, three years as the director of the animal behavior department at the ASPCA’s New York City shelter, and has helped assess and rehabilitate animals from cruelty, hoarding, and dogfighting cases, and more. She also co-chairs the Shelter Behavior division of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and runs an online shelter behavior mentorship through them twice a year.

Next Episode: 1/11/2019

Jan 04 2019

33mins

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Rank #10: E57: Dr. Jessica Hekman - "The biology of a great performance dog"

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Summary:

Dr. Jessica Hekman is a postdoctoral associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where she researches how genetics affect behavior in pet and working dogs. Jessica received her Ph.D. in Animal Studies in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied canid behavioral genetics.

Previously, Jessica graduated from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012, with a dual DVM/MS degree. Her Master's work was on the behavior and cortisol responses of healthy dogs to being hospitalized overnight. She also completed a shelter medicine veterinary internship at the University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program.

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Next Episode: 

To be released 4/13/2018, featuring Laura Waudby to talk about getting a happy dog in the competition ring.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Jessica Hekman.

Dr. Jessica Hekman is a postdoctoral associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where she researches how genetics affect behavior in pet and working dogs. Jessica received her Ph.D. in Animal Studies in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied canid behavioral genetics.

Previously, Jessica graduated from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012, with a dual DVM/MS degree. Her Master's work was on the behavior and cortisol responses of healthy dogs to being hospitalized overnight. She also completed a shelter medicine veterinary internship at the University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program.

Finally, she is also the most recent addition to the team of FDSA instructors!

Hi Jessica, welcome to the podcast!

Jessica Hekman: Thanks. I’m very excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to have you, and I was a little nervous reading that bio because I knew there were a lot of things in there that my tongue was not going to wrap around well.

Jessica Hekman: You did great.

Melissa Breau: I’m pretty happy with that. To start us out, do you want to tell us a little bit about your dogs and what you’re working on with them?

Jessica Hekman: Yeah, I love that you start with the real easy question, because everyone likes talking about their dogs.

Melissa Breau: Of course.

Jessica Hekman: I have two dogs. I have Dashiell and Jenny. When I got Dash, I knew that I wanted to do dog sports with him. He’s a 19-month-old English Shepherd, and for people who don’t know that breed, they’re closely related to Aussies and Border Collies, so it’s sometimes a little scary how smart he is.

He’s really docile, sweet, interactive, he’s so much fun to work with. We’ve done treibball, and we’ve done agility, which is my favorite sport and one I’ve really wanted to do with him, but he has a chronic shoulder problem right now that we’re in the middle of getting under control, so agility’s on hold at the moment. We’ve also done some parkour. I think that’s his favorite because he loves to jump on things, and there’s still some parkour tricks that he can do, even with his shoulder issues, but a bunch that he can’t. So at the moment he’s in an in-person rally class with my husband. They both really like the structure of rally, even though it’s not really my thing, and then with me he’s doing nosework. We did that Intro To Nosework class with Stacy last session and we both really enjoyed it. Dash is the first puppy I’ve ever raised. I always got rescue or shelter dogs before, but I have wanted to get into studying socialization in dogs, so I wanted to actually go through it with my own dog before doing the research.

My older dog is Jenny. She’s an 8-year-old mixed breed, and I know just from talking to the shelter that she came from that she definitely has some Lab in her, and we also did an ancestry test, which suggested some Samoyed, and she looks a lot like a tiny, little golden-colored Border Collie, and she sort of acts like a herding breed. She’s also super-smart.

She did not get enough socialization at a young age. I got her when she was about a year old, and at the time she was terrified of all people and all new places, and she peed every time I touched her. She spent the first week huddled on a dog bed in terror, and when I needed to take her outside to pee, I would crawl backwards toward her without making eye contact, and then, without looking at her, I would have this leash, and she had a little tab permanently on a harness that she wore 24/7 exactly so I wouldn’t have to touch her by the collar. So I would reach backwards without looking at her and attach the leash to her tab sort of by feel, and then we would go downstairs and outside.

After a week of this, one day I started crawling backwards towards her and she stood up and was like, “I understand the system and I can do it myself.” So I took her downstairs off-leash and she went outside — safely fenced yard, so that was OK — she went outside, she came back in. So that’s Jenny.

She’s really scared of everything, but she’s also game to work through it, and she finds her own out-of-the-box solutions to it. Most of the time that she’s been with me we’ve just worked on her confidence levels, but they are really improving now, and since I got Dash she has also let me know that she is really interested in doing sports stuff too, so she also enjoys doing parkour, and we are doing nosework together as well. I don’t think she’s ever going to be able to go to a nosework trial, but that is fine with me. So those are my two dogs.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that Dash is the first puppy that you’ve raised, but you knew you wanted to do agility when you got him. How did you get into dog sports? What got you started there?

Jessica Hekman: I was looking for something to do with my first dog, who was Jack, he was a Golden Retriever, so I was looking around for stuff and we started doing agility and I loved it. Jack liked it. I think he would have preferred to have done dock diving. I never found a good place to do that competitively, but we’d go to a local pond and he’d do his really impressive belly flops, so that was a good time.

We did agility together for two or three years, and we got to the point of going to trials. He cued a few times. I was very impressed with myself with him. But then I started veterinary school, and that was that for any extracurricular activities all through vet school.

As you said, I did this dual degree program, so it was extra long as well, and by the time I got out, Jack was elderly to do sports, I had Jenny at that point, and there weren’t online classes, online options, and she couldn’t do in-person stuff, so I was out of sports then for quite a while, through vet school and through my Ph.D., so that was about ten years, and I missed it horribly. I would watch agility on YouTube and stuff.

Jack lived to the very impressive old age of 16, which is great for a Golden Retriever. After I lost him, I got Dash, and I immediately got back into doing sports then.

Melissa Breau: What about the positive tilt of things? Have you always been a positive trainer? If not, what got you started on that journey?

Jessica Hekman: I had never trained a dog before when I got Jack. I got him in 2003. We went to what I guess you would call a balanced class for basic manners. It was not a terrible class, they didn’t have us abusing the dogs or anything, but we did use some leash popping to try to get good leash manners, stuff like that. At the time I thought that was entirely appropriate. When I first learned about clicker training. I remember saying, “Oh, but there should be consequences if a dog doesn’t obey you.” That was where I was then.

When we started agility together, that was 100 percent positive, of course, and that was when I first learned to use clicker training myself. That was when I started shaping. At the time, though, I was still open to mild positive punishment in basic training, so I think I was gradually converted. I was going to a lot of seminars with positive trainers, I was reading books by people like McConnell and Sdeo, and eventually I started to realize, I can have a better relationship with my dogs than I do.

I’ve realized since then how great the approach is, not just for dogs, but for interacting with people. I use a lot less punishment in my relationships with friends and family than I used to, although I find humans can be hard to reward. You can’t pop M&Ms into everyone’s mouth, and you can’t stop a conversation to have a friendly wrestle, so that’s challenging. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Melissa Breau: We should, as a community, decide that it’s perfectly appropriate to hand out M&Ms left and right. I think that would make the world a better place.

Jessica Hekman: That would make life so much easier.

Melissa Breau: Obviously your day job now is heavily research-based. You started off in veterinary school, you started off in dog sports, how did you end up in research specifically?

Jessica Hekman: That was the long way around, for sure. I majored in medieval studies in college, and by the end of college I was already starting to feel like, you know, I really liked reading the stuff I was reading, I was reading Arthurian romances, it was great, but I was feeling like I was following paths that other people had taken before.

I had this one moment where I had some insight that I thought was fantastic, age 20, I thought I was brilliant, I took this to my advisor and he was like, “That was a great insight. It was exactly the same as this other person said 20 years ago.” Basically he was saying it was so good because it was exactly the same as something someone else did, and I was like, Oh, man, I have to get out of this, and I have to do something new. I have to have some effect on the world.

I didn’t go into biology then. I got into computer programming. It was the mid-’90s, we were in the middle of the dotcom boom, they were hiring warm bodies off the streets to do computer programming. That was actually a fantastic career. I was in online publishing programming for ten years. I got to the point where I was working four days a week, three of them from home, I was making a lot more money than I’m making now, and that was great. It was great for having a dog. I was at home with my dog all the time. But then I got bored. I started feeling again that I was having no real effect on the world.

The dotcom crash happened, there was a lot less money in the industry, and that meant there was a lot less interesting work going on, and right around that time I had gotten Jack, my first dog, and as a result I had also gotten into Retriever rescue. I was working with a local Retriever rescue, and because of that I started getting really interested in dog behavior. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about it, I started going on the seminar circuit, and when I read The Other End Of The Leash, by Patricia McConnell, I was like, Oh, this is it. This is what I want to do. I want to learn all about this stuff.

So I started looking into being a behaviorist, and just a quick spoiler alert — I did not actually end up being a behaviorist, but you can become a behaviorist, either with a Ph.D. or with a DVM. At the time, I knew research was the interesting thing to me, so I tried that route.

It was 2005 at this point, and there were, at that time, no labs studying dog behavior. I talked to one professor, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and he said to me, “Well, you can study wolf behavior, but Ph.D.’s don’t study dogs because they’re domesticated, so they’re not natural animals. Vets study dogs, but they study them medically, no one studies their behavior. No one studies dog behavior.”

So I was like, What do I do? I guess I could go to vet school, and I want to be able to prescribe meds in my theoretical behavior practice. So I went to vet school to become a veterinary behaviorist. At that point I had to do all my basic sciences before I could even apply. As a medievalist turned computer programmer, I had zero sciences under my belt, so I had to do all of that. It changed the way I saw the world. I had been this arty medievalist turned computer nerd, and I was like, Oh, now I’m starting to understand what goes on in bodies and brains. That was real interesting.

I got into vet school, I went to Tufts, they had this combined DVM/Master’s program, as you said. I decided to do that because I thought it would give me some exposure to research. The way it works is the first two years you do the vet program, you take a year off in the middle to do the Master’s, and then you go back and finish the vet program for two years.

My second year doing the veterinary program, I shadowed a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts, and that was the first time I got to, week after week, see a behaviorist in action. That was when I realized I totally did not want to do that with my life. I did not want to try to fix broken dogs. I thought it was much more effective to try to figure out why dogs break in the first place and try to stop that from happening.

Shortly after that, that was the end of my second year, and then after that I did my research year. So I spent a whole year just doing research. I still remember this one day, walking through the parking lot at Tufts on the way to my car, and thinking, Wow, I love this stuff so much. I am not looking forward to going back to vet school. It was like the skies opened and I thought, I don’t have to be a behaviorist! I can go get a Ph.D. after all! It all came together. That was when I was like, I can go do research, and that will help with the prevention of behavior problems.

The research world was really changing while I was in vet school. I said that there weren’t any labs doing dog stuff when I started, but while I was in vet school, people started to realize that, in fact, dogs are totally fascinating models for research. They are natural animals, and the fact that they’ve evolved to live inside civilization along with humans — that makes them more interesting, not less interesting.

So after I finished vet school, I did do an internship, but then I did a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working with Kukekova Lab, and that lab was actually founded just the year before I came there. I was one of her first two grad students. So it’s very much been a process of when I’m ready to take my next step, things have appeared just barely in time for me to get there. In that lab we studied tame foxes, not dogs, but the tame foxes are a fantastic model for dogs and for domestication. It was a really great opportunity for me. I learned a lot.

But I really wanted to get into studying the genetics of pet dogs, and again, while I was in that program, a few people were starting to do that. No one had quite figured out how to do it at a large scale, so when you’re working not with lab animals but with pets, and there’s so much variety in their genetics and in how they’re raised, you need really, really large numbers of them, and that was really hard for anyone to figure out how to do.

But just a couple of years before I was ready to graduate, again, this new lab sprang up, they were doing exactly that, so that’s where I am now, Karlsson Lab at the Broad Institute. It’s spelled Broad but it’s pronounced Brode, just to be super-tricky for people. I like to say of Karlsson Lab that it’s, like, thank God they’re doing exactly what I thought I would have to do, so I don’t have to organize this massive citizen science approach to studying pet dogs, because my new boss, Elinor, has already done that, and I can just focus on the fun parts. So that’s my crazy journey. It’s probably a longer answer than you were looking for.

Melissa Breau: No, it’s interesting. You’ve had a lot of interesting experiences and steps along the way. I’d love to dig a little more into what you’re doing now. Do you mind sharing a general overview?

Jessica Hekman: Sure. Karlsson Lab, where I am now, takes what we call a citizen science approach to studying pet dogs. What we do is we collect a lot of dog behavior information and DNA directly from dog owners, and we use that to try to find connections between differences in the dog’s DNA and their different behavioral traits.

The main project that has started out collecting that is called Darwin’s Dogs, and you can go to DarwinsDogs.org and participate, and I’m sure that all of you will do that, and you should definitely do that. Right now we’re very much in the data collection phase, so at the moment I’m doing a lot of what turns out to be basically project management, making sure that all the stuff is coming together, that we’re storing the data in a reasonable way, things like that. But I am already getting to do some data analysis. I actually, really excitingly just last week, I got my hands on about 15 years worth of pedigree and behavioral data from a school that breeds guide dogs. I’m getting to analyze that in order to write a paper about it. As the data is coming in from other projects, the plan is that I’ll be one of the ones to analyze that as well.

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome. I know we’ve chatted a bit about having your boss on the podcast, too, to talk more about some of this stuff, but I’d love if you want to share just a couple of the projects you guys are working on. You mentioned DarwinsDogs.org, so I’ll make sure that there’s a link to that in the show notes for folks. Do you want to share any other stuff that listeners might be interested in?

Jessica Hekman: For sure. We actually have a brand new project that’s about to launch that FDSA folks can participate in, and it’s actually, even if you don’t have a dog, although I know that pretty much everyone listening to this will have a dog. In my nosework class that I did with FDSA, I was Bronze in the introductory nosework and one person was at Gold with a cat, which was fantastic.

Melissa Breau: That’s very cool.

Jessica Hekman: Yeah, that was neat. This new project is called Muttmix. That’s at muttmix.org. The idea is that we will show you photos of a whole bunch of mixed-breed dogs, and you get to guess what is in their breed mix. We will collect guesses from a whole bunch of people, and then we will e-mail you back afterwards and tell you what was in those dogs, based on their genetic analyses that we did. So it should be a lot of fun for you. And then the data that we collect will be used to help us analyze how good people are at looking at a dog and telling exactly what breed is in there, which, just a spoiler alert, it’s really hard to do that by looking.

It turns out that mutts are really, really interesting, and very few people, if any, have really surveyed them. Most of the papers out there on dogs, particularly genetic papers, are about purebred dogs. So muttmix.org, and it’s starting in a few weeks, but if you go right now, you can give your e-mail address and then we can let you know when it goes live. That’s Muttmix.

And then the main project that I personally am working on is called the Working Dog Project, and that is, we collect behavioral and genetic information from working dogs to find out the genetic influences that make dogs more or less good at their job, or more or less able to succeed in training programs. For example, a guide dog school typically only has about half of the puppies that they train succeed at becoming guide dogs. Why is that? Is there anything we can do to help them do better?

And, by the way, if it occurs to you that sports dogs are a lot like working dogs, that has also occurred to me, and I am totally planning to expand this project to include sports dogs, so stay tuned about that. And if and when that happens, I will definitely be letting FDSA folks know.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I look forward to that, and I can’t wait to see what some of the outcomes are of the research you’re working on. It all sounds so interesting.

Jessica Hekman: Us too. It’s sad that research is so slow, because we would really like the answers yesterday.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I know that, talking about research, you did include a bunch of that in the webinar you just did, kind of the other end of things, on the biology of socialization, and you’ve got another coming up on April 12 on epigenetics. Do you want to explain what epigenetics is, and then share a little bit on what the webinar will focus on?

Jessica Hekman: Epigenetics is a way that organisms, including dogs, record the experiences that they’ve had in their DNA. We used to think that the DNA sequence is something that never changes for a particular individual. It turns out, though, that epigenetics is this mechanism that this cell has. It’s like marks that you put on the DNA, so the sequence itself doesn’t change, but there’s these marks that are added on it, sort of like a bookmark in a book, so that the content of the book doesn’t change, but you can put a bookmark in it to save a really important page that you want to come back to again and again.

Animals can do this with their DNA to say, “This is a bit that is really useful for the environment that I live in, and I want to use this bit a whole lot.” So this is a new way that we look at what makes up an animal’s personality — not just their genetics, but

also this way that animals have of recording their experiences in their DNA.

In this webinar I’ll talk about what we know about epigenetics, and I will specifically relate it to dogs. A lot of the epigenetics resources that are out there for people to read are obviously very human-oriented, and so I will focus very much on “What does this mean for your sports dog?”

Melissa Breau: Kind of to take that and ask what is probably a way-too-broad question, what does go into a perfect performance dog from that standpoint?

Jessica Hekman: Lots of things. There’s very complex effects on a lot of different genes interacting with each other in ways that are really hard to predict, but that’s what my job is, is to try to find ways of predicting how that’s going to work.

And then equally complex there’s the effects of the dog’s environment, of course. But the environment — we don’t always think of it as it actually starts at conception in the uterus, with the hormones that the mom passes on to the puppies in nutrition, and then the environment also includes the time in the nest with their littermates, how the puppy is socialized, how the dog is trained. We can only control a tiny portion of all of this, like some of the socialization and the training, and I knew that theoretically when I got Dash as a puppy, but I have to admit I still figured I’d be able to control a bit more of him than I could in the end. So yeah, perfect performance dog.

Melissa Breau: Are there common misconceptions that dog sports people tend to have about this sciencey stuff? If so, what can you do to set the record straight?

Jessica Hekman: I think that a lot of people have this hope that science, and particularly genetics, will be able to give us black-and-white answers to questions that we have, that maybe a dog who has behavioral issues, or issues in the ring, has some underlying genetic problem that can’t be changed and that perhaps could be identified in a test, that we’ll maybe discover one gene for aggression and be able to breed it out.

Of course, in real life, biology is incredibly complex and there’s no black-and-white, there’s really just shades of gray. But of course that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to learn and understand about how the body and brain work that can be really enlightening when we’re thinking about how to interact with our dogs. I hope that answers that question.

Melissa Breau: That’s actually an interesting way of thinking about it, and I think it’s important to note that even science doesn’t have all the answers. It’s a complex topic, and to a certain extent you do need to wade in waist-deep to get a good understanding of all the bits and pieces. What do you think about for the future? Where do you think the future of some of this stuff will lead us, and what subjects are there out there that you hope that science can find the answers to?

Jessica Hekman: Personally, I’m really hoping we’re going to find ways of improving how we breed dogs. There are genomic technologies that can be useful to help the process of selecting dogs to breed in order to produce puppies with the traits that we want, and in fact this is done as a matter of course in the cattle industry. The technology is there. It’s made a massive difference in the ability of the cattle industry to select for traits like milk production.

What we need to make it happen for dogs is just for the community to get together and to pool genetic and behavioral data. The data that Karlsson Lab, where I work now, is collecting could be used for exactly this kind of thing.

But the hard part, I think, will be not so much the science, but will be agreeing on what everybody is breeding for. It’s the intersection of science and society where stuff gets interesting. How do you work together to breed for things like health and solid personalities instead of things like fancier coat colors and flatter faces? That’s really going to be the big struggle, but that’s where I hope to see the dog community going.

Melissa Breau: I guess part of me peripherally knew that the cattle industry had been breeding for things like increased milk production, but you don’t really think about it as a concerted effort, as, like, the industry sat down and looked at it from a scientific perspective. You think, Oh, they did it the same way we do it in dogs, where it’s just two that have a line, or have a history, and let’s just keep going down that thread. So it’s interesting.

Jessica Hekman: They’re massively well organized, and it’s kind of scary if you look at the statistics. The output of milk from an individual cow since 1950, it has more than tripled in individual cows from 1950 to today. One of the things that the cattle industry has going for them is USDA. They have this federal agency that is paid to organize them. We don’t have anything like that, and trying to imagine organizing dog breeders to work together is kind of crazy.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough, yes.

Jessica Hekman: Imagine talking to one person who has their lovingly curated and selected line of dogs, and saying, “OK, for the good of the whole breed, we think you shouldn’t breed this particular dog anymore.” Not going to happen. So it’s a really interesting difference between the two groups.

Melissa Breau: Fascinating. It’s such an interesting concept to think through and think about. To shift gears a little bit, in addition to your webinar, you’re doing a class on some of this stuff in June. I wanted to ask you to share a little about the class and maybe help folks decide whether or not the class would be a good fit for them.

Jessica Hekman: I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be BH510 it’s called The Biology of Building a Great Performance Dog. It’s going to be basically about the biology underlying dog development, like what makes each dog her own individual self.

A lot of what I’ll talk about has to do with genetics and very early socialization, so the class will be particularly useful, I think, for people who want to think through how to find their next dog, what to look for in choosing a breed and a breeder, or in choosing a shelter dog or a rescue dog. But we’ll also talk about decisions on things like spay/neuter, whether to do it, when to do it, so that could be useful for people with puppies or even people with young adult dogs.

And then I also think it should really appeal to anyone who wants to get their science geek on about dogs, like what makes up a dog’s personality. So even if you’re not thinking about getting another dog, just if you want to learn some genetics and some biology from a dog perspective, and a think through what’s going on in their brains, what’s going on in their bodies that makes them act the way they do, it ought to be a great class for you.

Melissa Breau: Since it’s your first time on, I do have three questions I always try to ask each time somebody comes on for the first time. I want to round things out with those. To start us off, what’s the dog-related accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Jessica Hekman: Oh, Jenny, for sure Jenny. When I got her, as I said, she peed whenever I touched her, and now I can actually bring a stranger into the house. She still gets nervous and shakes, but as soon as the stranger tosses her a treat, she flips over into, like, Oh, a treat game, and she stops shaking, her ears come up, she starts making cute faces at the stranger to get more treats.

Very occasionally, if someone really is good with dogs, Jenny will let them pet her, even though she’s just met them that day, which I never would have believed a few years back would ever have happened.

She can go out in public, she can go walking on leash around the neighborhood, she can go off leash in a safe park. So we’ve made some amazing progress together. Sometimes I can’t believe she’s come so far.

You asked for my proudest accomplishment, and I feel like she’s really been working hard on that too, but the two of us together I think have made some fantastic progress.

Melissa Breau: I absolutely think that counts. I don’t think she could have done it without you. What’s the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Jessica Hekman: It’s only in the last couple of years I heard this, I think from Jean Donaldson. She said, “Most people don’t use enough treats,” which I love. It’s simple, it’s concise, it’s totally useful. Use more treats. It’s easy, and it’s so helpful in getting us out of the mindset of thinking, The dog should do this because I asked her to, and into the mindset of, How can I make this more fun for the dog?

Melissa Breau: Right, right. That’s fantastic, and I think we hear similar things in a lot of different places, but I do like it in that concise, easy to digest. For our last question, who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Jessica Hekman: Can I have more than one?

Melissa Breau: Yes, absolutely.

Jessica Hekman: OK. The obvious answer, I guess, would be Denise, because in addition to her stellar dog handling skills, she also has stellar human handling skills. She’s so great at helping people learn while making them feel good about themselves, and that’s really hard to do — not just be good at dogs, but be good at people.

I already mentioned Patricia McConnell, whose books are the reason I chose my new career. She had insights into the fact that dog minds are really fascinating in their own right, and I will always be indebted to her for that.

And finally, he’s not exactly in the dog world, but my science hero is Dr. Robert Sapolsky. He learned some amazing things about how the stress response works. He’s a fantastic lecturer, and a lot of his talks are on YouTube and I highly recommend checking them out, if you’re interested in how the brain functions and how stress affects behavior. He does not talk about dogs specifically, but his material is totally relevant to them and to training. So Sapolsky. Highly recommended.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. I will try to find a YouTube video or two that we can link to in the show notes for everybody.

Jessica Hekman: Let me know. I can find you one.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. That would be great. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jessica. I’m thrilled that we got to chat. This was a lot of fun.

Jessica Hekman: Oh, thanks. I had a fantastic time.

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

We’ll be back next week with Laura Waudby to talk about training for a happy dog in the competition ring.

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

Credits:

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

Apr 06 2018

28mins

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Rank #11: E80: Sarah Stremming & Dr. Leslie Eide - "Raising an Agility Puppy"

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Summary:

Sarah Stremming, founder of The Cognitive Canine and host of Cog-Dog Raido and her partner, Dr. Leslie Eide, join me to talk about their latest addition: Watson, a 6-month-old Border Collie puppy.

Next Episode: 

To be released 9/21/2018.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we have two guests joining us, for the first time ever: Sarah Stremming, of Cog-Dog Radio and the Cognitive Canine, and Leslie Eide. Longtime listeners are undoubtedly are already familiar with Sarah, but let me share a little about Leslie.

Leslie graduated from Colorado State University’s Veterinary School in 2006. She completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine in Albuquerque, N.M., and then became certified in canine rehabilitation with a focus in sports medicine. She is now a resident with the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Eide also helped to create and teaches some of the classes to become a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT) through the University of Tennessee's NorthEast Seminars.

Like Sarah, Dr. Eide is involved in the agility world. She has trained two dogs to their ADCH Agility Dog Champion title and one to ADCH Bronze, an Agility Trial Champion title and a Master Agility Champion title. Three of her dogs have qualified and competed at USDAA Nationals with multiple Grand Prix Semi-final runs. And today, these two lovely ladies are here to talk to us about puppies, especially one in particular … . But we’ll get to that.

Welcome back to the podcast, Sarah — and hi Leslie! Pleasure to “meet” you.

Sarah Stremming: Hi Melissa.

Leslie Eide: Hi Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, Sarah, can you just remind listeners how many dogs you have now and who they are?

Sarah Stremming: I have two Border Collies. Idgie is 9 years old and she’s my main competition dog right now. And Felix is 3 years old, and he’s in training and just keeping me on my toes.

Melissa Breau: Leslie, would you mind sharing the same intro for your dogs, including the newest addition?

Leslie Eide: My oldest is Brink, a 12-year-old Border Collie, and he right now is champion of holding the couch down. Next would be Stig, my 7-year-old Border Collie, who’s the main competition dog right now and who most of my online training videos have in them. Next is Ghost, my 5-year-old Australian Shepherd, and she is quickly trying to surpass Stig as the main competition dog. And then finally the puppy, Watson, is 6 months old and 1 day, and he is a new Border Collie.

Melissa Breau: So, it’s Watson I really wanted to talk about today. Leslie, would you mind sharing a little on how you wound up with him? And why him … even though that meant bringing him over from Japan?

Leslie Eide: It just kind of happened. I didn’t go out looking for a Border Collie and saying, “Japan is the place to get him!” I actually met Miki, who is sort of his breeder but not really, a couple of years ago at Cynosport, which is the USDA agility national competition, or international competition, but it’s always held in the U.S. One of her dogs had something happen to him, and I worked on him at the event and he did really well, and we became Facebook friends and stayed in contact.

Last year, she won Grand Prix with her dog Soledea. And Soledea, the weird part about it, actually belongs to someone else. She just competes with her. She announced that Soledea was having a litter, and I had been looking for, I don’t know, probably had my feelers out for about a year, looking for a Border Collie puppy. I really liked Soledea, so through Facebook I was like, “Hey, I’m sort of interested,” and she was really excited about it.

When the puppies were born, I many times thought it was too much trying to get a puppy from Japan, and everything you have to go through, and blah, blah, blah, blah. I kept saying, “No, no, no, no,” and finally she said, “I’m getting the puppy to L.A. Make sure you’re there to go pick him up.” And I was like, “OK.”

So that’s how it ended up getting a puppy from Japan. It all comes back to the world of sports medicine, and that’s how you find puppies. So a little bit of fate in a way of it was just meant to be, despite all the odds.

Melissa Breau: Sometimes, when it’s meant to happen, it’s just meant to happen, and it doesn’t matter how many times you say, “Well, that’s pretty complicated.” You end up with the puppy.

Leslie Eide: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: I know Sarah has talked a bit about him on her podcast and you’ve both blogged about him a little bit. My understanding is that you guys are doing things a little … for lack of a better word … differently than other agility handlers or even dog trainers might with a new puppy. Can you share a little bit about your approach thus far with him? What are you working on, what have you worked on?

Leslie Eide: For me, it’s not much different than I would say I’ve raised my other puppies. I’m maybe what you would think of as a lazy trainer. I’m more about building a relationship than necessarily having a list of things I have to accomplish — “He’s this old, he must be able to do these ten things.” I just let everything happen in a more organic manner of he shows me he can do it, and then I say, “OK, I’m going to reinforce that.”

An example is I had him at the agility trial this weekend. He hopped on the measuring table and … we’ve never worked on “stay” a day in his life, and because he was willing to stand on the table, I took the opportunity to say, “Hey, I can reinforce this,” and got some really good training in when it was again more organic of him telling me he knew he was ready for it, rather than saying, “He has to know how to stay by a certain age,” or “He has to be able to know how to wrap a wing jump by a certain age,” that kind of thing.

Sarah Stremming: For me, more what I do with Watson is teaching him how to be a dog in this house, and how to go out on off-leash walks — as everybody knows I’m pretty into — and providing him with lots of environmental enrichment. I just want to make sure that he maintains this delightfully optimistic personality that he has.

I know that you had Julie Daniels, I think just last week, and she talked about optimism. I loved it. I like that word for describing what he is, because it’s not like he doesn’t have any fears, because they all do. That’s not real. That’s not realistic. It’s more that when he encounters something novel, his first guess is that it’s going to be good for him, and I just want that to stay there, because if that stays there, then agility training is a piece of cake.

If you’re not trying to overcome fear of other dogs, or fear of strangers, or fear of loud noises or weird substrates or anything like that, agility training is not that hard, especially for a pretty seasoned competitor like Leslie. I think both of us feel pretty confident in training agility skills and also handling. Not that we can’t improve and that we’re always trying to improve, but for me, I want him to maintain that really optimistic outlook on when something new is happening, he’s game to try it.

Leslie Eide: I guess I would add, goes along with what Sarah was saying, is I also want him to learn what it’s like to be a dog in my life. So, like she said, being able to live in a household with lots of dogs, but it’s also about getting used to our schedule.

I’m a busy person and usually work 12-hour days, and while he may get to come with me to work, he also has to realize there’s going to be some really boring time at work where he just has to sit and chill. And that happens at home too.

So that’s really important to me that he doesn’t necessarily get upset or get stir-crazy or all upset when he doesn’t have something to constantly do. Border Collies are definitely busy, smart dogs, and so learning what our life is like, and not necessarily doing things out of the ordinary while he’s a puppy, and then suddenly, when he’s grown up, being like, “OK, now you’re an adult, and you just have to live with how our life is,” but rather teaching him how to handle it when he’s young.

Sarah Stremming: You said, “How are you guys doing stuff differently?” I think that is the primary component, because most sport people that I know, especially in the agility world, really, really want their puppy to have tons and tons of drive to work with the handler.

I’m not saying that’s bad. We want that too. But they tend to go about it in a way that seems really imbalanced to me, and the dog experiences isolation/boring-ness or super-exciting training time.

That’s not how we live. I guess if your dogs all live in kennels and they come out to train multiple times a day, then you could pull that off. But we both want our dogs to be free for 90 percent of their time. We just don’t want them to be crated, kenneled, etc., for large portions of their lives, so they have to learn how to just hang out early on.

Melissa Breau: I don’t remember if it was the blog or the podcast, but I feel like I remember something one of you at one point put out about planning to hold off on teaching certain skills until he’s a bit older. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that too. What skills are you holding off on, maybe, and sharing a little bit of the reasoning. I know we’ve talked about it a little bit already.

Leslie Eide: I think mostly the blog was relating to agility skills, and that a lot of times we start teaching the foundation movements right away with a puppy, like wrapping a wing, groundwork. You’re not necessarily putting them on equipment or doing anything like that, but everything that you are teaching them in some way relates to eventually an agility skill, including convincing them to tug with you. That’s a big thing of “They have to tug,” and it goes from there. Those things I think will come. I’m not going to push for them too soon.

That’s kind of going back to the story of working on a stay on the table this past weekend. If he shows me he’s ready for something, then I’ll take advantage of it, but I’m not going to push him ahead of his comfort level. I’d rather him be comfortable with everything, be happy with playing with me, and know that good things come from me and that we’re going to do fun things, rather than taking it straight to an agility focus.

Melissa Breau: I’d assume the two of you have had a pretty big influence on each other, and your approach to dogs and all that good stuff, over the years. From the outside, at least, it seems like you’re essentially taking all Sarah’s developed with her Whole Picture approach and applying it to Watson. Sarah, is that accurate? And for those not as familiar with your approach, can you give us the down and dirty version of what I’m talking about?

Sarah Stremming: I would say that’s accurate. The Four Steps to Behavioral Wellness is what we’re talking about. That would be communication, nutrition, exercise, and enrichment.

The communication front — that’s just training. That’s just having a positive-reinforcement-based training relationship with the dog, where you give the dog a lot of good positive feedback all the time.

Nutrition is kind of self-explanatory, and Leslie’s a vet, so I pretty much defer to her in that regard with him.

Exercise — I like free exercise. He certainly goes on leash walks, but the leash walks are more about learning how to walk on a leash than exercise. Again, I defer to Leslie in the exercise department because her field is sports medicine. You definitely don’t want to be overdoing it with a puppy at all, and he would like to be completely wild and run and run and run all day long, so we have to talk about that.

The enrichment piece is really big for me. We do lots of things for him to shred. You should see our house. There’s cardboard shreds everywhere. So just giving him things to shred, feeding him his meals out of a slow bowl, we have all kinds of little kibble-dispensing toys around, lots of chew bones, things like that.

So just making sure that his brain is exercised, his body is exercised, he is not confused, he is communicated with appropriately, and that he is fed well. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Melissa Breau: Leslie, I’d guess your background’s had a pretty big influence on your general approach, right? How has your experience as a vet and a canine rehab specialist influenced your views on this stuff and led you to take this approach?

Leslie Eide: It’s maybe changed it a little bit, but not much. I’ve always been a little bit more laid back with my approach with puppies. I’ve always had this belief that puppies should get to be puppies and experience their puppyhood, and not just be thrown into intensive sport training right from Day 1. Maybe that’s a little bit of backlash from my own experience of being thrown into competitive swimming as a 5-year-old and doing that for most of my young life, and everything was about training and being really serious.

I also would say, from the vet side of things, I think there’s a lot of injuries that can happen when they’re young, and by pushing things and doing stuff repetitively that causes problems at a young age, or maybe they’re not as visible at a young age, but then they show up a little later in life and can definitely cut their careers short.

I want to be successful, but I also want to do it for a long time, and not just a year or two and then have to give it up because they’re hurt for some reason.

Melissa Breau: We’ve talked quite a bit about what you’re NOT doing. So I’d love to hear … I know you mentioned a little bit of leash walking. I’d imagine you’re doing some other training with him. What ARE you focusing on as far as training goes with Watson right now?

Leslie Eide: Well, Sarah’s trying to teach me how to teach him marker cues. We’ll see how that goes. So we definitely have that going on. He gets the basics of “sit” and “down,” and again, most of it is capturing offered behavior, rather than setting out as a training session of “OK, we’re going to learn this behavior.”

We do fitness exercises, so I have my building blocks that I use to make all my canine fitness exercises. So starting to work on ones that are appropriate for him, like learning targeting, front paw targeting, rear paw targeting, being comfortable getting in an object or on an object, like a box or a disc or something like that.

And then a lot of new experiences still. Most recently, over the past couple of weeks I’d say, I worked to introduce him to the underwater treadmill so he can start getting some exercise in that, since that’s a really easy way for me to exercise him at work.

Melissa Breau: That’s so cool.

Leslie Eide: Going places, we went to the beach for the first time, he goes to shops and meets people, he goes to agility trials and hangs out. Like I said, at agility trial learned how to do a stand-stay on the measuring table.

So I’m the anti-planner. I don’t set out with “We’re going to learn this.” It’s more see what happens and go from there.

Sarah Stremming: For me, the things that I need to teach him are things that make him easier for me to manage in a house with six dogs.

We’ve recently started working hard on all the dogs are trained to release out the door by name, and so I want Watson also to know that with everybody else. So we’ve been working on some very early iterations of that. And things like the best stuff for puppies is not on the counter or the kitchen table. The best stuff for puppies is on the ground.

And body handling, so handling your feet, and looking in your mouth, and accepting passive restraint, as is so important for all of them to learn. Things like that are more my focus with him.

Leslie Eide: I would say something that’s really big is playtime, too. That’s not necessarily something like a skill we’re teaching, but just making sure that playtime happens every day in some form.

Melissa Breau: Are there skills that you think get overlooked that you’re making sure to cover right from the start? You mentioned handling, you mentioned play skills. Anything else on that list for you?

Sarah Stremming: I do think body handling gets overlooked, but for me, especially within the sport of dog agility, I think a lot of people start out with puppies ringside, watching agility, trying to “teach them” to be cool waiting their turn. And then what happens is at a certain age the puppy notices what’s going on in the ring, and they start to wiggle and scream and not contain themselves.

And then, depending on the trainer, the puppy might get a correction, or the puppy might be removed from the arena, or they might try to distract the puppy with food, or I saw a competitor once basically just hit the side of her puppy with a tug toy until the puppy decided to turn around and latch on the tug toy instead of squeal at the dogs in the ring.

For me, again, it’s an answer of what are we omitting? But it’s about the teaching him the skill of waiting his turn before we ever ask him to wait his turn. The early, early iterations for that, for me, look like feeding all of the dogs a little bite of something, and I say their name and I feed them, and then I say their name and I feed them.

Watson is trying to eat everything that I’m feeding, but he doesn’t get anything until I say his name and then feed him. So he’s bouncing around and being ridiculous, and all the other dogs are sitting and waiting, and eventually they go, “Oh, this isn’t that hard. When she says my name, I get to eat.”

Just like what Leslie was talking about, they show you that capability when they have it. It’s kind of like a 3-year-old child only has so much self-control, and I really feel that way about puppies too. They only have so much ability to “wait their turn.” So teaching him the skill of waiting his turn way before we ever ask him to wait his turn is a big one for me that I think people maybe don’t overlook, but go about it in a way that I wouldn’t.

Leslie Eide: For me, it’s relationship. He can train, and he knew how to do that from pretty much the moment I got him, but he didn’t necessarily know that I was a special person to him. So, to me, it’s about building a relationship before asking him for a list of skills that he needs to be able to do.

Definitely, training can help build that relationship, but I think it’s also just one-on-one time, especially when there’s a large number of dogs in the household. And it’s about snuggles and play and that kind of thing.

Melissa Breau: Obviously we all TRY, when we get a new puppy, to do everything right, and there’s definitely nothing more stressful than that feeling. But inevitably something goes wrong. We’re out and about and another dog barks and lunges at the puppy, or kids come flying at the puppy’s face, screaming, and they scare the bejesus out of him. Have either of you had to deal with any of those types of moments yet? And if so, how did you handle it? Is there prep work you’ve done, or things you do in the moment … or even afterwards, stuff you do for damage control that you can talk about a little bit?

Sarah Stremming: We honestly haven’t had anything big that I have experienced, but there have been things that he saw and went, “Huh, I’m not sure about that.” Like, we had him in this little beach town after running on the beach and there was a lot of construction going on, and so there was a jackhammer going into the concrete, and he wasn’t sure if that was what should be happening, and I can’t blame him, really.

What was important for me, and what I usually tell people to do, is as long as the puppy is still observing the thing, allow them to continue to observe the thing. So he looked at it until he was done looking at it, and then he turned away from it, and then we all retreated away from it together.

I think what people try to do instead is they try to distract the puppy away from it with food, or they try to make it a positive event with food, or they try to drag the puppy towards it, maybe, or lure the puppy towards it, and it’s best to just let them experience their environment from a distance that they feel comfortable with.

He really hasn’t had any huge startles about anything. I tend not to let him see a lot of people unless I know them, because he is going to jump on them and I don’t want them to be a jerk about that. He did meet one strange dog that I hadn’t planned on him meeting once on a walk. And that dog — I actually posted a video of this on the Cognitive Canine Facebook page — that dog was inviting play before Watson was ready, and he scared Watson a little bit, but not terrible. What was amazing was that Felix walked up and intervened, and then the dog played with Felix. Watson still stayed there, and then he was like, “OK, I can tag along if there’s three of us, but I don’t want to be the center of attention.”

If he had run away, let’s say that dog had really scared him and he had tucked his tail and run towards me or something, if the puppy is coming to me looking for shelter from whatever it is, I always give it to them. So I would have absolutely picked him up and just allowed him to look at the dog from a distance.

But I tend not to try to involve food in those moments unless the dog is trying to approach. Let’s say, when Felix was a puppy, he saw a fire hydrant, seemingly for the first time, and decided that it was monster. I let him look at it as long as he wanted to the first day he saw it, and then we walked away. And then the next day, he looked at it and he wanted to sniff it and approach it, and I fed him for that. And then the third day, he was like, “Oh, here’s the thing. Feed me.” And I was like, “OK, good. Done. Here’s one cookie, and now I’m never going to feed you for that again because it’s over.”

I think people freak out, and if you freak out and they’re freaking out, then we’re all freaking out, and it’s not a good thing.

Leslie Eide: Yeah, he really hasn’t had anything, but I completely agree with Sarah. And I’m pretty good about it, again, going along with not planning everything. I’m pretty chill about everything, so when he reacts to something, I’m not going to feed into it by being like, “Oh my god.” It’s about, “Cool, dude. Check it out. I’m not going to force you into anything. We’ll just stand here. If you’re comfortable staying here looking at it, then that’s where we’ll stay.”

If food comes into play, it’s for when he turns around and looks at me and says, “OK, let’s go.” It’s more of a reinforcement of choosing to be back with me and go on with me on our whatever we’re doing, not a reinforcement for necessarily …

Sarah Stremming: Which we would do if the thing was exciting, too, not just if it’s scary. It’s “Choose me over the stuff in the environment that interests you.”

Melissa Breau: I’d love to end on a high note. Can each of you share one piece of advice for anyone out there with their own puppy, hoping to raise a happy, balanced dog?

Leslie Eide: My piece of advice would probably be something like, “It’s all going to be OK.” We all can make mistakes, and luckily dogs are very forgiving, so don’t beat yourself up if something bad happens or you make a mistake. There’s lots that you can do to bounce back and still have a perfectly wonderful puppy.

Sarah Stremming: I think mine is really similar to yours, in that I would say … Melissa, you had mentioned we’re all paranoid about doing everything right and that’s really stressful. So my piece of advice would be to embrace and accept that you will not do everything right. Embrace and accept that you will screw something up at some point and that you’ll survive, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll learn, and that will in the end be a good thing too.

I seriously look back on every puppy and go, “Yeah, could have done that better, could have done that better.” All of us do that, and that’s fine. Embrace it and run with it.

Melissa Breau: For folks out there who are interested in following along as Watson grows up, what’s the best way to do that? And where can people who want to stalk — or at least follow — each of you, where can they go to stay up to date?

Sarah Stremming: The first question, where can they follow Watson, we are running a subscription to a blog just about Watson. It’s called “Puppy Elementary,” and you can find that by clicking the Puppy Elementary tab on my website, which is thecognitivecanine.com.

Again, you can follow me at thecognitivecanine.com. That’s where I blog. I also have a podcast called Cog-Dog Radio, and of course I’m on Facebook with The Cognitive Canine and Cog-Dog Radio, and just me, so that’s where you can find me.

You can find Leslie at work — all day, every day! We are teaching our course together … is it next term? October? Jumping Gymnastics, for FDSA, together, so you can find Leslie there too. But your website is thetotalcanine.net?Leslie Eide: Yes. And Facebook. I’m on there. My business-y type page is The Total Canine, which has a Facebook page, and then the website is thetotalcanine.net and it is “canine” spelled out. And my real work is SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center, and it’s on Facebook, and the website is soundvetrehab.com.

Melissa Breau: Where are you located again, just in case somebody is in your area and wants to come look you up?

Sarah Stremming: About 40 miles north of Seattle, but the SOUND Veterinary Rehab Center is in Shoreline, Washington, which is just north of Seattle.

Melissa Breau: One last question for each of you — my new “last interview question” that I’ve been asking everyone: What’s a lesson that you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training? Sarah, you want to go first?

Sarah Stremming: Mine is exceedingly nerdy. When I told Leslie what it was, she was like, “Oh God.” It’s to remember not to stay on lesser approximations for too long. In real words, plain English, basically that means to progress as fast as possible. So don’t wait for perfection before moving on to the next thing that you’re going to be reinforcing.

I’m always shooting for low error rates, high rates of reinforcement, I like nice, clean training, and because of that, sometimes I can stay on approximations that are not the final behavior for a little bit too long because I get a little bit too perfectionistic on those, and it bites me every time. I was recently reminded of it in Felix’s contact training.

Melissa Breau: I’ve never done that.

Sarah Stremming: I know, right? I think it’s the sickness, honestly, of people who are really obsessed with training just get way too fixated on the details. But anyway, that’s mine.

Leslie Eide: I think I’m going to pick one specifically to make fun of Sarah.

Sarah Stremming: I expect no less.

Leslie Eide: In that it’s something that I never do, but she probably really wishes I would, and that’s take data.

Sarah Stremming: Leslie never takes data.

Leslie Eide: No.

Sarah Stremming: I take data on everything. I always say that if we could put us together, we’d be a great trainer, because I’m too detail-oriented and nitpicky, and she’s too freeform.

Leslie Eide: Yeah.

Sarah Stremming: Which is why together, with Jumping Gymnastics, I think we do a nice job teaching together, because we do come from both of those different sides.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, ladies, for coming on the podcast! And we managed upon a time when both of you could join me, so that’s awesome. Thank you.

Sarah Stremming: Thanks for having us.

Leslie Eide: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week talking about details with Hannah Branigan to talk about prepping for competition and more.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Sep 14 2018

35mins

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Rank #12: E67: Denise Fenzi - "Facing Your Fears"

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SUMMARY:

This week we talked to Denise Fenzi about FDSA Training Camp 2018!

In previous years, we’ve shared the audio from Denise’s opening talk, but unfortunately the camera this year didn’t do a great job picking up her voice, so instead we’re just going to talk through all the themes from camp.

Next Episode: 

To be released 6/22/2018, featuring Sue Yanoff, talking canine sports medicine!

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Denise Fenzi about FDSA Training Camp 2018!

In previous years, we’ve shared the audio from Denise’s opening talk, but unfortunately the camera this year didn’t do a great job picking up her voice, so instead we’re just going to talk through all the themes from camp.

Hi Denise. Welcome back to the podcast!

Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa. It’s always nice to be here.

Melissa Breau: For anyone who is new to the podcast or to FDSA, can you share a little bit about camp? What is it? Why is it awesome?

Denise Fenzi: Well, camp is probably the highlight of my year in relation to FDSA. For starters, we have so much going on at any given time. I think we had 15 or 16 instructors this year, and we run six sessions at a time. So if you come, you have a whole lot of opportunity to see pretty much anything, and we cover a lot of dog sports now, you know, nosework and obedience and behavior, and it goes on and on.

Probably the thing that stands out for me is how consistent all of the instructors are with things we really care about, the wellbeing of the dog, and at the same time how different we all are in what we care about and where we choose to put our energy. So it’s a pretty amazing experience for me and I think for most of our participants as well.

Melissa Breau: I definitely agree. I feel like a lot of seminars and things, as an attendee you go and at the end you feel, OK, I’ve got some stuff to work on. Whereas I feel like the biggest takeaway for me from camp was the end of it I heard over and over and over again, “I’m so proud of my dog. They did awesome this weekend.” And I really think that can be attributed to the staff and the way the instructors work with the students. I think it just makes them feel good about their relationship with their dog.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. I think the corollary to that is that the instructors spend a lot of time saying, “I’m just so proud of my students.” Because the dogs got that from somewhere. Those dogs didn’t just show up being amazing. They’re amazing because the people who work with them have spent so much energy making training a wonderful experience. I’m so proud of my instructors because my instructors give so much to their students, and I’m so proud of my students because they give so much to their dogs. So it’s an amazing cycle for all of us.

Melissa Breau: This was the fourth annual FDSA Training Camp, and each year, camp has a theme. Do you mind sharing what the theme was for this year?

Denise Fenzi: This year we did Face Your Fears. So many students, they want to do it right, they care so much, and that’s amazing, but sometimes it’s also a little paralyzing, and what if? What if my dog pees in the ring? What if … you can fill in any blank you want, people are all over the map. And so I think that is something that is holding us back. So our theme this year was Face Your Fears. What can we do to allow us to succeed?

Melissa Breau: Do you mind … can you share the story of the dream that inspired all of that?

Denise Fenzi: That was not our original theme. We changed it. What tends to happen each year is something happens during the year that sparks a topic. So, for example, the first year was The Red Dress. That was because one of the students drew a picture of me which is often associated with the school, it’s our logo. But she put me in a red dress with heels, and it was kind of cute and fun and a lot of people talked about it, so what the hell, I dressed up in that outfit, which was actually quite hard, but it was fun.

The second year, we did a lot of conversation about the idea of ripples and bubbles, so the idea that you want to go out in the world and make change, and at the same time you’ve really got to have a safe space, so that’s a bubble that you hide in, and so I dressed up as a mermaid and represented that theme.

The third year, we had talked a lot about advocating for your dog, which is very much a focal point at FDSA, as we just talked about, and so I dressed up as a superhero, Wonder Woman.

This year, I’m not going to tell you the original theme because, who knows, we might come back to it. But I had a dream, not an amazing dream, just a regular dream, but it was something of a nightmare. What happened was at first I showed up for camp and there was some fellow teaching a lecture, a lab, and everybody was there, and he was somebody I did not know, and all of the students were riveted by him and he was teaching them about football. I remember being a little bit like, Wow, that’s different. I didn’t expect somebody I don’t know to be here teaching football, but I’ll figure it out later. And then I went outside and I saw all of these lions in cages, and I thought, I really have to talk to my instructors about telling me if they’re going to do something like that. But I was kind of OK with that too. I’m pretty easygoing. Then I came back in and looked at the clock and I realized I was about to teach, and I looked down and I was wearing a towel. I hadn’t gotten dressed yet. Of those events, a stranger teaching at camp football to the students and lions in cages outside, those didn’t particularly bother me. But being in a towel bothered me very much. And I did teach, by the way. I think in my dream I went ahead and taught. I don’t remember how it went beyond that.

But as I brought that up on the alumni list and I talked to the students about that dream and said, “Oh, I must be anxious about camp,” and that led to an amazing discussion where people talked about things that had happened to them for real at dog shows. Funny things, mostly. Well, it depends — funny is from your point of view. It’s not funny when your skirt falls off. It is funny when somebody else’s falls off. But the thing that came back to me is that people overcame those experiences and did continue to show, because they’re on the alumni list. They’re still in the community.

That led to my thinking about how is it that some people are able to face the fears that have happened, the clothing failures, and how other people are really more worried about what might happen, and how much of that is centered around the issue of being embarrassed. It’s not physical harm that most people were worried about. It’s emotional harm. So that was the dream that inspired our theme, and that was where we went with our discussion.

Melissa Breau: I think it’s funny that you say of the three things, the thing that bothered you most is talking in a towel, so you actually made that happen. For anybody that wasn’t there, Denise came out in a Pac-Man towel.

Denise Fenzi: I did, yeah. I think next year I’m going to go for a lot of clothing. It’s a little easier.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. During your opening talk, you had three tips for helping to deal with embarrassment. Can you rehash those for us?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. The first one is a little bit of an understanding of biology. When you are anxious, your body releases a variety of hormones that tells you, “Oh my goodness, you’re having an emotion.” But what’s interesting is those hormonal experiences are the same if you’re excited or anxious. It’s your brain that tells you, “I’m really excited because this amazing thing is going to happen,” or “I’m really anxious because this horrible thing might happen.”

That’s actually a fascinating and powerful thing to know, because if you know that, then you actually have a lot of control over the situation. So rather than saying, ‘I’m really anxious about showing my dog. She might pee in the ring,” you have the option of saying, “I’m really excited about showing my dog. I’ve never done this before. This is going to be new.”

And admittedly you have to do a little mental gymnastics, because our natural tendency, I think in particular for women, is to assume anxiety maybe when it really isn’t anxiety. Maybe we really are excited. They’ve done some really interesting research on that topic that you can tell yourself “I’m excited,” and that will help you become excited as opposed to anxious. So that would be one thing I would recommend is an awareness of that, and then just keep telling yourself, “I’m so excited to be at the dog show. This is going to be amazing,” rather than “I’m so scared.”

The second thing I talked about was preparation. When you’re afraid, instead of hiding it and smushing it down in your head, pull it out. What are you concerned about? And then prepare to make those incidences less likely. So if you are afraid that your dog is going to pee in the ring, teach your dog to go to the bathroom on cue, if that’s important to you, if that will give you comfort, so that when you go in the ring that is less likely to happen. Or if you think that you might go in the ring and your dog is going to have a meltdown of whatever type, ask yourself where that is coming from and is it a legitimate concern, because if it is, there are things you can do to prepare your dog and yourself to make that less likely. Don’t turn away from the things that concern you. Address them.

The final thing I suggested was train yourself and treat yourself with the kindness that we treat our dogs. We talk a lot about criteria with our dogs. Don’t put your dogs in circumstances that will over-faze them and make them uncomfortable. Don’t put yourself in circumstances that are above your readiness.

Your first dog show does not have to be a great big show with six rings and a lot of activity. Maybe start with some video competitions or a smaller local trial or a fun match. Ease into the dog show world or the world of competition. You may never go to a dog show, but I guarantee you will be just as nervous at your first video competition when you turn on that video camera as you will at a show.

So treat yourself with some kindness and set yourself up for success, because success really does breed success. That is absolutely well researched. We know this is true for dogs and people, that when people have many successful experiences they build confidence in themselves and they are willing to keep trying and moving forward. Failure, it’s wonderful to say “Well, just get back up,” but the fact is failure has a tendency to beat people down and they don’t keep getting back up. They stop trying.

So those were my three suggestions: a little understanding of biology, prepare yourself well so that you can feel like you’ve done everything in your power, and set some criteria that will set you up for likelihood of success.

Melissa Breau: You also shared some advice on what to do if it DOES all go to hell. How would you recommend people handle that?

Denise Fenzi: I’m a pretty big fan of preparing for everything, because I find that if I have a plan for how I’m going to handle it if it doesn’t go right, so just in a very straight training sense, I have asked my dog to do something, I have asked my dog to spin, and my dog just looks at me, has never heard that in her life or his life, it’s actually important to me to already know exactly what I will do. I asked you to spin, you didn’t do it, I am going to move my hand in a way that is going to cause you to spin and make it more likely.

When I do that, what I find is two things happen. One, I am more likely to recover quickly because I’ve already made a decision about what I’m going to do. But the second thing is, in a very subtle way you send off signals to your dog that tell them you have a plan and you are in control.

So if I think it is possible that my dog might run amuck in the ring and take off, I’ve already worked on an emergency recall and I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to kneel down and call my dog to me, because standing and looking paralyzed, not only is that very, very hard on you emotionally, and your dog, it creates long-term issues. Often if I give someone a plan for when things don’t go wrong, I’ve noticed that they have this instant change in their demeanor and then they never have a chance to practice their emergency situation because the dog reads their confidence. So I absolutely believe that you should have some ideas for everything if it’s going to go right. You can’t pick every possibility, but the ones that are biggest in your head you can pick some strategies in advance.

Melissa Breau: Our shirts this year all said, “Game on,” and they had a Pac-Man theme. I’d love to hear how you came up with that, and obviously it connects to the “eating your fears” concept. So I’d love to hear where all the awesome designs come from and where the thought process occurs for that.

Denise Fenzi: Well, the school, FDSA, is quite a bit more than me. It’s many, many, many people. Teri Martin is sort of, well, she’s kind of everything, you know, she’s always right there supporting me in many ways. She is the one that came up with the idea of the Pac-Man creature eating up your fears. And then Rebecca Aube is my designer, and she’s designed all of the T-shirts for camp. She took Teri’s ideas and said, “I can run with that.” There’s always a process of back and forth, so we had power-ups. Eating the fruits in the real game of Pac-Man gives you power, so for us, eating up your fear, your anxiety, your worries. So it’s a cumulative process and effort of many people on our team to come up with these ideas.

Melissa Breau: That was all for the welcome talk or the intro talk, but you also gave a short closing talk, and your focus for that was on the importance of being happy in order to learn. I’d love to have you elaborate a bit more on that, why it’s important, and what made you talk about that.

Denise Fenzi: Well, I think most of us are aware that when we are embarrassed or afraid, we do not learn well. If something happens in a circumstance and we find ourselves embarrassed, most of us lose the next 15 or 20 minutes of the talk or the event or whatever it is, because we’re stewing. I mean, some of us lose days or months or years, even, over embarrassment. And fear is the same. When you are uncomfortable and nervous, really, fear dominates everything and we tend to focus on that.

Now, if you think about it, camp can be a very high-pressure situation for both the human and the dog. You’re standing in front of maybe a hundred people, you’re about to be taught and directed, and that’s stressful, so it’s so important that we have people as comfortable as we can possibly make them.

As a result, everyone — the instructors and the students and the dogs — we all think so much about the importance of maintaining happiness, and I know our students think about it a lot in relation to their dogs because we talk about it so much. That’s called a CER: a conditioned emotional response. We want our dogs to be conditioned to loving being with us and training and finding it fun and low stress. But the same is true for the people, and as a result, staff at FDSA and the design of camp is set up to minimize the human stress as much as possible, and to make sure that people are happy and feel loved and warm and excited to be there and understand that if they make an error, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s OK.

What I found as the years go by this becomes easier for all of us. We all become more comfortable with how this works. You could see the effects in camp. You could see that people were able to learn in real time and they were happy, so then of course their dogs are happy, and then of course the staff is happy, and again you have that circle.

I do not choose my closing speech in advance. I just talk about whatever stood out for me at camp. And it really stood out for me, was almost a bit of an epiphany for me, that CER, that conditioned emotional response, the importance of it, the importance of happiness and feeling good is just as important for the handler as it is for the dog and that we all take some responsibility for making that happen.

Melissa Breau: Of course the other thing you talk about during the closing talk every single year is the date and location for next year. I want to talk a little more about that, but first, where and when is it next year?

Denise Fenzi: All right. It is May 19 through the 21st, it’s three days, 2019, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The location is the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center. Once again we have lots of space. We go to some trouble to ensure that we have a lot of space so that we have the best possible sound. Once again we’ll have a wide variety of instructors. We do have a few changes, I think people will be excited about that, a couple of new people coming in.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to get in a little bit more into what goes into choosing the location and the space and stuff like that. I know everybody at camp was pretty excited about where camp would be, but obviously choosing that location is a very involved process, and I know usually Teri is working on it pretty much as soon as one year ends, trying to plan for the next year. So how do you decide where to have camp each year? What goes into that?

Denise Fenzi: It’s actually, it’s really quite complex. Planning camp is actually a two-year cycle, so we are already picking our 2020 facility now because you have to start really far in advance.

For 2019, we have a contract signed, but I think maybe more goes into camp than people realize, and it’s a very complex thing. Just finding a facility that can host us is hard because we need large, open working spaces. Many conferences don’t have working dogs that require large open spaces. It’s just the nature of our dog sports. That alone takes a lot of space.

The second one is sound. If you’re going to run six rings at the same time, you need six distinct spaces. But you don’t want six huge spaces, because one, sound does not, it’s not as efficient to be in a huge building with a smaller number of people, and the second thing is just expense. You pay for all those large spaces.

Just logistically there are only so many places in the United States, and each one that we investigate ends up taking us several hours, once we narrow it down, and then we find something that’s just not going to work, so lack of air conditioning or no airport nearby or whatever is part of that.

Some of the criteria, we are looking for heavy student population centers because experience has taught us that people generally drive within about an eight-hour radius, although I did notice this year people are coming from further. So we’re looking for places where we already know we have a lot of students.

In addition, we are trying to rotate it around the country, sort of a north, south, east, west, but it’s not that clean because again we’re looking for population centers. So this year we’re about eight hours east of last year because we feel that we can fill that effectively at this time. We can pull people down from the northeast, it was too far for them, and we can pull people up from the southeast because it was too far for them, and hopefully we’ll also pull people in from the middle of the country, and we have an airport within about an hour. Next year we’ll probably make a more radical change the year after that and head back to the other side of the country.

It’s actually very, very difficult for us to pick locations, and we worry and we want everyone to be able to participate, but we recognize the difficulty of that. And we do generally have people come internationally, so hopefully people from Europe and, well, Europe in particular will consider coming over next year, because it’s really only about six or seven hours to get to the East Coast, so we’re trying to maximize, and Canadians tend to represent very, very well at camp, so we’re hoping they’re going to come down. They’re some lively people, those Canadians.

Melissa Breau: I’m sure they’d appreciate that. I know that you were talking about the sound thing, and a lot of the time when those threads pop up on the alumni list, people suggest places where they’ve had great nationals and things like that. I think there’s often a failure to realize what you said that not only do we need the space to have six rings essentially, but they need to be divided into their own rooms, because otherwise you get so much bleed from sounds. I know that’s been an issue in past years. And you’ve worked to remedy food issues from past years and bathroom issues from past years. There’s just so many factors. I think it’s incredible.

Denise Fenzi: We do ask. We do a survey every year and it’s incredibly valuable for us. We get feedback about what does or doesn’t work. It also comes when I read the survey that I understand that some people just don’t understand. For example, we don’t choose the caterer. Most of the time the facility tells us what our options are, so we don’t say, “We’re going to bring in pizza.” They say, “No, you’re not.” For example, that is one. They tell us where we can do it. They tell us if we can or cannot have outside alcohol. They tell us what the prices are going to be. We do not make money on those things. So we have to work within the constraints that we have, and I think people are unaware of many of our constraints. However, we always get suggestions every year that we look at and we say, “This we can do.”

So if you are really passionate about something and you don’t understand why we are ignoring you, it’s not necessarily that we think it’s not a good idea. It may be outside of our control, or there may be other expenses or other things that people are not aware of that we have to dovetail all of these things together. It’s a very complicated and rewarding experience for us.

Melissa Breau: I just have one more question on my list, but before we get to that, I wanted to give you an open choice question, for lack of a better term. Is there anything else fun or exciting going on at the academy or favorite moments from camp that you want to share?

Denise Fenzi: There’s so much. You know, you go home from camp on such a high, and I think a big part for me is this sense of wonder. I’m amazed at what FDSA is and who it is. It is the people. Where did I find a Teri and a Melissa and a Rebecca? Where did I find these amazing people? So, for me, camp is really the people. Where did I find these amazing students? The volunteers — they’re fantastic. They work so hard, they’re focused, they just do so much.

I think the thing I flew home with on my airplane as I came home was that sense of people, how amazing people can be, if you’re looking for what’s going right. Camp is a great example of what went right, and that will hold me probably for months. I’ll stay excited about that.

Melissa Breau: So I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve been trying something new at the end of each episode. The three questions at the end of every interview were definitely one of my favorite things early on, but it obviously doesn’t make sense to ask them over and over when people come back. So I’ve come up with a new question for returning guests, and I think you’re the second or third person I’ve had the chance to ask it. What is a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Denise Fenzi: This is one I talk about a lot for other people, but it came home to roost. I would like to talk about videotaping. Has anybody not heard me tell you, “You have to videotape your work if you really want to improve.” Of course you can do it other ways, but my goodness, if you videotape and look at it — this is the second part — look at it from an outside perspective, don’t watch yourself training your dog, watch your friend training a dog, and that extra step of removal will show you things. It will allow you to relax your brain and your defensive side that says, “I know I’m doing it right,” because we all have that, and it will allow you to say, “Oh, that’s really a quick tweak here, just let’s change that little thing.”

It did kind of come home. I’ve been doing some new stuff with Brito, and I was reminded that I need to pay more attention to my basic mechanics. Many of these things are fairly muscle memory for me, but if you don’t pay attention, you will start to slide. You’ll just get a little bit sloppy. And I realized as I’m trying to teach him some new skills, I am reminded that I need to pay more attention to my mechanical skills. Think about it. You give your cue, you give your hand help if needed, you take your food out of your pocket. That simple sequence has started to blend together over time. So I would say that has been my lesson, my recent lesson that is serving me well.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Denise! This was great.

Denise Fenzi: Oh, it’s always great to be here. Thank you, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! As a last-minute reminder, this comes out on Friday the 15th, which is also the last day to register for this session at FDSA. There are a ton of amazing classes running this term, so if you haven’t, you should go check them out. And we’ll be back next week, this time with Sue Yanoff to talk about canine sports medicine.

CREDITS:

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

Jun 15 2018

26mins

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Rank #13: E128: Anxiety in Dogs

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Description: Drs. Jennifer Summerfield and Jessica Hekman both join me to talk about anxiety in dogs -- we talk about the cause, effect, and treatment of anxiety in dogs!

Aug 23 2019

37mins

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Rank #14: E89: Barbara Currier - Learning to Love the Weaves

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Summary:

In 2004 Barbara Currier and her husband Michael were relocated to Richmond, VA, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her foundation-based training, centered around impulse control and relationship building with your dog.  

She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned from each of them into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method in 2014. She has successfully competed in agility with over 10 different breeds of dogs.

Along the way, she started her own in home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue in assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.

Barbara has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series Satisfaction and various commercials. She is also the head dog trainer for the F.I.D.O Program run at Georgia Tech which creates wearable computing for military, SAR and service dogs.

Links:

Next Episode:

To be released 11/23/2018, we'll be talking to Amy Cook about overcoming sound sensitivity.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Barbara Currier.

In 2004, Barbara and her husband Michael were relocated to Richmond, Va., where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her foundation-based training, centered around impulse control and relationship-building with your dog.  

She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned from each of them into her training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method in 2014. She has successfully competed in agility with over ten different breeds of dogs.

Along the way, she started her own in-home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for the Richmond Boxer Rescue and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue in assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many different rescue organizations in numerous states.

She also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel’s Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series Satisfaction, and various commercials. She is the head dog trainer for the F.I.D.O Program run at Georgia Tech, which creates wearable computing for military, search-and-rescue (SAR), and service dogs.

Hi Barbara, welcome back to the podcast!

Barbara Currier: Hi, thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely! Excited to chat again. To start us out, can you remind listeners who your dogs are and what you’re working on with them?

Barbara Currier: Sure. My oldest is Piper. She’s a 10-year-old Parson Russell Terrier, and she pretty much just does dock diving. She loves that. She’s not happy that the season has ended now, so she’s in her winter rest, which doesn’t make her real happy, but she loves her dock diving. And then I have Blitz, who is my 9-year-old Border Collie. He is retired from agility. He also does dock diving now, and he is also my medical alert service dog. And then I have Miso. She is my 4-year-old Miniature Poodle. She is my main agility dog right now. She is also a medical alert service dog. And my newest is Eggo. He will turn a year tomorrow. He is my English Cocker that I imported from Europe. He is doing agility. He’s not competing yet, he’s still very young, he’s only going to be a year. But he is hopefully going to have a promising career in agility, and he’s also doing dock diving, which he already is obsessed with.

Melissa Breau: That’s fun. The waffle, right?

Barbara Currier: Yes, that’s the waffle.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to focus on weave poles today, since I know you have a class on that coming up, but as a non-agility person I’m going to totally admit that some of my questions are a little on the basic side. First off — wow. Without knowing how to train them, if you look at weave poles in general, it seems like such a complex behavior. Can you break it down for us a little bit? What pieces or skills have to come together to have really well-trained weave poles?

Barbara Currier: Weaves are actually my most favorite piece of equipment to teach out of all the agility equipment. It’s the hardest behavior for the dogs to learn because it’s the most unnatural. But if you look at agility as a whole, it’s pretty much all natural behaviors for the dogs, things that you would see them doing if they were out running in the woods, except you don’t normally see them weaving through trees. So weave poles is very unnatural, and so it can be quite difficult to teach them that. I find it such a fun puzzle to teach it, and I love to make it a game for them so that they find it as much fun as I do.

The downside on weaves is it can be hard on their bodies, so you just want to make sure that they’re physically ready to ask what we want them to do. You want to make sure that they’re old enough and that they’re strong enough, because it can be quite taxing on them.

One of the parts of weave poles is the dog must learn to always enter with the first pole at their left shoulder and then continue the rhythm through all twelve poles. It’s a very specific behavior, and it can be difficult for the dogs to do this at extreme speeds and still maintain all twelve poles. So they have to learn how to use their bodies so that they’re at full speed and they can hit all twelve poles. Oftentimes the dogs will pop out if they haven’t been taught properly how to do that, or they’ll get their entry and not be able to hold on to the poles, because there’s a lot of things that come together with weave poles. There’s a lot of body awareness, there’s a lot of them knowing how to rock their weight back on their haunches to collect to get into the poles, there’s footwork involved.

There’s two different styles of footwork in poles. There’s the swimming or the single-stepping and then there is the bounce stride. Most big dogs single step and most little dogs bounce stride, which looks like a rabbit hopping in between. I say “most” because I do know quite a few big dogs that bounce stride and they do just fine, their weaves are just as fast, it’s not a problem. But people sometimes get a little too hung up on the footwork. If they have a big dog and they see their big dog is bounce striding, they don’t like that, they want to make them single-stride. But I think it’s important to let the dog choose what is most comfortable for their body type and for the way they move, as long as they’re not doing a combination of both. That tends to have problems.

But you really want it to become muscle memory for the dog, so that when they’re doing the behavior, they’re not thinking about it, they’re just doing it. That’s where the speed comes from. The more that they think about it, the slower it is, the more methodical it is, so we want it to become muscle memory so that they’re just going through the motions.

Melissa Breau: Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page, single step you’re talking about when they go into the weaves and it’s, “OK, I’m on my left foot on the left side and my right front foot on the right side,” and bounce is when they have both feet on the ground on each side, right?

Barbara Currier: Yes, yes.  

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I wanted to make sure because, you know, terminology and stuff. Even not knowing much about the topic, I’ve heard of things like 2X2 training, I’ve seen trainers use guide wires, moving poles and gradually bringing them closer together, and things like that. Can you briefly explain what some of the different methods ARE that are out there, what those things are, what people are talking about?

Barbara Currier: There’s basically three different methods to training weave poles. There’s the 2X2 method, where you teach them — much like it says in the name — you teach them two poles at a time.

The channel method, where it basically looks like a chute of weave poles and you slowly can close the chute — it’s the way the base is made so that it slowly comes together — so the dog starts with running down the middle of the poles in a straight line, and then as the poles start to come closer and closer together, the dog has to start weaving to do it.

The third one is the guide wires, where it’s guide wires that are put on the poles, so it looks like a maze that the dog walks through and they can learn that way.

Melissa Breau: That’s interesting. Which approach do you usually use for your dogs and what are you using in the class?

Barbara Currier: My preference is the 2X2 method. The base of my preference is from the method that I learned from Susan Garrett with her 2X2’s, and then I have, over the years, adapted for some things with my own dogs and some holes that I was constantly seeing with dogs that were coming to me.

I’m kind of known as the weave guru in my parts, and so whenever people start having weave problems, they come to me. I kept seeing a lot of the same issues, and even with people that had taught their dogs with 2X2’s. But what was interesting was I didn’t see the issues with my dogs, and I wasn’t sure quite at first what I was doing differently than what everybody else was doing, where my dogs weren’t having this issue but other people’s were.

I took a young dog that I was just training, and I basically documented every single thing I did to try to find what I was doing differently than what everybody else was doing, and found that it was a lot in my beginning stages of my approaches that would prevent these holes from happening that I was seeing in other people’s dogs. And so I have modified it to adding more of that stuff in, and a little bit of other things that I have found here and there that have helped with it, I think.

Melissa Breau: When you say approaches, you mean the dogs approaching the poles, or are you talking about something else?

Barbara Currier: Yes, when the dog approaches the poles. In the class, we do what’s called “entries” on an around-the-clock game, so you have your poles in the middle, and you pretend you’re standing on a clock and you work through your different entries.

But what I was finding with a lot of people is a lot of people stayed at the straight-on approaches or the more straightforward easy approaches, and I wasn’t being methodical about this, I just didn’t do it. I did not stay at those approaches much. I stayed at the harder approaches. And so right from the beginning the dogs would learn to bend and hit those weave entries from a more difficult angle and would speed right from the beginning. On two poles, it’s easy. The reward comes fast and it’s easy to find, and so I was finding that with my dogs I was building up the muscling along their spine right from the beginning and was building up that drive to find the pole, really dig in, and grab that entry. So I do very few easy entries right off from the beginning, and I don’t really concern myself with those entries until I start adding in the full six and the full twelve, because I consider those entries easy.

Where those entries become difficult is when the dogs are at full speed and they have to learn how to power down to get into their poles. So I worry about that once I start adding in sequencing and that type of thing, but from the beginning I work those hard entrances right at the first two poles, and it seems to help with some of the fallout that happens down the road, like getting the entry and not being able to hang on to the poles, or missing the entry and going into the second pole, and those types of things.

Melissa Breau: That’s really interesting. I was actually going to ask you, this feeds well into what my next question was, which I think our listeners, in particular, are probably pretty familiar with the idea of building up skills gradually, but it seems like there are so many pieces to the weave poles. There are so many different axes that you have to gradually make more difficult. You’ve got your speed, you’re got the number of poles, you’ve got the entries, you’ve got the sequencing, your more advanced handling … so can you talk a little more about how you juggle all those different pieces? Is there an order that makes sense for people as they try and put the things together? Do you work on them in different training sessions? How does that work? How do you approach it?

Barbara Currier: I start with two poles and teach the dog to find the entry from all the different angles, and with speed and enthusiasm right from the start. And then, again, like I mentioned before, the reward comes fast when you’re only using two poles, so it’s the perfect time to get the dog to think that the game is really, really fun.

I also keep my sessions incredibly short, like, three correct entries on each side and then done. So my dogs are looking at me like, “Seriously, that’s it? That’s all we get?” And I’m like, “Yes, that’s it, we’re done. That was the session.” And so the more we play this game, and it’s super-fast and it’s super-fun and it all happens really fast, the more they’re like, “Oh my god, this is the most fun game ever.” All my dogs love weave poles so much because I keep everything so fast and exciting, and when they’re like, “This is the most fun on Earth,” I’m like, “Yeah, I know, and we’re done now.” And they’re thinking, “What, what? No, I was just getting into it.” And I’m like, “We’ve got to wait until the next session.” So I really want them to love, love the game.

The other thing that’s important is that I don’t worry about if they’re wrong. I want them to make mistakes. If they’re not making mistakes, it’s too easy. But I also want them to understand that making a mistake is not a big deal. I want them to learn how to fail and just keep trying with the same amount of enthusiasm. Often, dogs, when they make a mistake, they’re like, “Oh, I can’t do it anymore. It’s so hard. That reward didn’t come, I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” and then the owner gets stressed and then the dog gets stressed, and suddenly it’s a meltdown for everyone. When my dogs make a mistake, it’s just, “Oh my god, we’re going to try that again!” and they just don’t get the reward and they’re like, “OK, OK, I’ll be better this time. I’ll get it, I’ll get it.” To them, it’s just like a mystery they’re trying to solve, or a puzzle they’re trying to figure out, and so they’re super-happy to try again for me and it’s not a big deal. There’s never any shutdown and “Oh, this is too hard, this is too hard.”

Now, if they fail twice in a row, I will take a step back and I might back-train, like, “This maybe standing here at 3 o’clock is a little too hard for you, but what if I stand at 2:30? Can you do it at 2:30?” And we’ll go from there. If they’re correct a couple of times at 2:30, then I’ll go to 2:45 and “How is this? Can we do this now?” And so on and so on.

From there we move to four poles and follow the same thing as above, and then we move on to six poles. Of course we angle them a certain way, and then we gradually make them straighter and straighter. I stay at six poles until I’m in love with the dog’s footwork, speed, and understanding of their job.

Oftentimes a lot of people will get to six and then they’re like, “Now it’s twelve.” But the dog doesn’t fully understand their job yet, and all we’ve done by adding in six more is we’ve just made it harder, we’ve made the reward farther away, and the dogs really start to slow down. So I’m in no rush to leave six until I’m in love with the behavior the dog is showing me.

I really want them to be confident in their footwork. I really want to see what we talked about earlier, the muscle memory, and not so much the hard thinking about the job. I want all that to come out now, so that when we move on to twelve, then it’s just getting the stamina of doing this behavior longer for twelve poles and just getting the speed going for that long of a distance.

Once I have the footwork and the speed that I really like at the twelve, then I’ll start working in distractions like, Can you do your weave poles when there’s a dog playing tug next to them? Can you do your weave poles if I’m throwing a Frisbee? Can you do your weave poles if I have a plate of chicken next to you? All these things so that when they get into working in a trial environment, the stuff that I like to call my “torture,” which my dogs love because it’s like a super game to them, that they’re like, “Oh yeah, trial distractions. This stuff is easy compared to what Mom does to us at home.” Because they get these huge, massive jackpots when they can go through the weave poles when I’m throwing a Frisbee.

I’ve had a few dogs over the years that were food-driven dogs only, and of course we worked up to this, but one of the things I do with my food-driven dogs for a distraction is I will line the base of the weave poles with steak, and they have to weave over the top of the steak and not touch it. And then, at the end, if they’re successful, they can come back and eat all the steak. It’s so much fun.

Recently, I have a young group of dogs in a class that just started trialing, and they had been with me since they were 8-week-old puppies. Now they’re all trialing and it’s been really cool to see. When they were all learning their weave poles, I had a little Sheltie that was very food-driven, not toy-driven, and we did that and she’s like, “Oh, she’s never going to do it,” and she did it like a rockstar. She was like, “Steak on the weave poles, we’ve got this. I know my job.” So it’s really, really fun.

Once I work through distraction stuff, then I start handling moves. Can you stay in your poles when I’m front crossing before and after the poles? Can you stay in your poles when I’m rear crossing, when I’m blind crossing? And then I add a jump, and now, Can you do your poles when another piece of equipment’s been added to it? Can you do your poles when a jump is after the weave poles, when you see something else coming? Can you do your weave poles when there’s a tunnel nearby, when we’re going to go to a tunnel? Then, once I’m loving all that stuff, then I add the next six and we do the distractions again, and then we start adding in more difficult sequencing.

Melissa Breau: You’ve definitely got it down like a method, an approach, and all the pieces are there. I think that’s important for people to recognize that you do have to work through all those things systematically.

Barbara Currier: Yeah, for sure.

Melissa Breau: Both in the course description and just now, you mention the idea of having your dog LOVE the weave poles. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like a big piece of that is about confidence, making sure that they know how to do the behavior correctly. Can you talk a little bit about that? How does loving the weaves and confidence, how do those things go hand-in-hand when it comes to getting good performance on course?

Barbara Currier: Like I talked about before, it’s all about teaching the dogs that the game is awesome. That means keeping the sessions super-short, making them always want more, making them understand that mistakes are fine, mistakes are not a big deal, and that it’s just a puzzle, this didn’t work, good try, let’s try something else. And the more value that they have in knowing exactly what their job is, the better the performance is going to be and the drive into the weave.

So I do little … I call them mini-weave drills, which I go over in the class too, that I do with my dogs a couple of times a week. I go outside with one stick of cheese, and when that stick of cheese is gone, game over. I take off really big bites, huge hunks, probably an inch piece of cheese, so super-easy to see, not crumbly, and I get maybe four to six pieces of cheese out of one stick. I go out, and whatever course I have set up in my field, and I take all the jumps and I just put the bars in the ground, because for me, when I’m working my mini-weave drills, it’s not necessarily about the jumping. It’s about the love for the weave.

So I put all the bars in the ground, and then I just randomly walk around the field, and from different approaches of jumps without having bars, I send my dogs to the weaves, sometimes with motion, sometimes with no motion, and I will sometimes do very weird handling moves, things that you would never see in a course. I will send them to the weirdest types of entries.

Sometimes my husband will come out with me, and he doesn’t really know agility very well, so I’ll say, “Tell me how to get some of these weaves, tell me something.” He’ll be like, “All right. Go from that jump to the weave.” And it’s completely random, she has to skip, like, four jumps, or do this massive, crazy entry, and we do it and it’s fun and she thinks it’s the most amazing game. I do that a couple of times a week and it’s super-easy, it’s quick, she gets these big hunks of cheese, which are like a meal for her, and so she thinks that weave poles are the most fun thing in the world to do.

In fact, my agility field is fenced off from the rest of my property, so when the dogs are outside, they can’t get into the agility field. They all run to the field gate all the time, and if I let them in, the first thing they do is run over to the weave poles because they’re like, “Oh, are we doing those drills? Because those are super-fun.” That’s what you want to get from your dogs, and that’s going to get that performance. When I’m at trials and I say to my dogs, “Go weave,” they hit those weaves with such intensity and such stride, and they dig in so hard to get those entries and keep those poles, and they work so hard because I created so much value for the poles.

Melissa Breau: To take a little bit of a step back, I guess, when people are working on things, what are some of the common training mistakes people make as they’re trying to teach weaves? What problems do they cause? If you’re looking at a little bit of problem-solving there, what do you see people doing that maybe isn’t optimal?

Barbara Currier: The biggest one is moving too fast. Moving to twelve poles before the dog is solid at six. I tell my students there’s no trophy or title for the person who can train their weaves the fastest.

When people get six, they’re like, “I’m just going to add on the next six and it’s going to be great,” because we all want to say, “My dog has twelve poles,” but all you’re doing by moving too fast is that the dog is not clear on what their job is, you’re getting slow, inconsistent weaves that have to be managed or babysat because the dog doesn’t really understand. So they’re just going to get slower and slower, and they’re going to get frustrated because they’re going to be confused, and then you’re going to get frustrated, and it becomes this vicious cycle.

That’s usually when people start coming to me and “My dog can get the entries, but they can’t hold on,” that type of thing. So then they come to me, and I often find that they moved to twelve poles before the dogs really understood six, and my advice is always, “Let’s go back to the beginning. We need to redo this.”

Melissa Breau: My next question is, how do you problem-solve some of those issues? Do you basically just do that, take a step back, go back to six poles and retrain all those different aspects before you go back to twelve, or is there more to it?

Barbara Currier: It depends exactly what the issue is. The most common problems are missing entries at speed. If it’s a missing entry problem, I usually recommend that we go back to two poles, so that we can start with, Can you find your entry from all different areas without having to have the dog wait for the reward to get through all six poles, if that makes sense. Because, again, the reward comes quicker on two poles than it does on six poles, so it’s easier gratification for the dog. So I like to, for missed entries, start back at two poles, and then I work up to the four, up to the six.

Now, with a dog that already understands the concept of poles, it goes really fast. It doesn’t take long at all to revisit these things and get the dog to understand. If the dog is having problems with they get their entry, but then they can’t hold on to the poles because they’re going at speed, then I will start them back at four poles or six poles, but add in sequencing, so coming off of a tunnel so we’ve got some speed, and teaching them how to grab that entry and hold on to the poles.

With that, they also need to be building up some muscling for it. And so a lot of it, I think, with those dogs comes from doing more straight-on approaches and not enough of the angle approaches from the very beginning, where they can build up that strength along their spine.

One of the other ones is the popping out at ten poles, which a lot of dogs do. Oftentimes I find those are from the handlers that try to lead the dogs, whether they’re going lateral, or they’re trying to get a little bit ahead, and they never taught the independent poles from the beginning. They really babysat the poles because they wanted the dog to be right so badly, so they stayed back and they matched the dog’s speed and they were right there, but once they wanted to put them into sequencing, they wanted to leave, but we didn’t actually teach the dog that, and so now the dogs are like, “Well, you’re leaving, so I’m leaving too.” So when I teach this from the very beginning, it is completely independent from the handler. We are quite far away from the beginning. We have nothing to do with it, we don’t help them, we don’t lure them through the entry, we don’t do any of that. It’s all on them.

So it’s quite easy the way I teach it from the beginning to have that lateral independence, because we teach it to them from the very beginning, as long as you continue with it. Because oftentimes what I’ll see is the dogs have these amazing independence when we get through the end of the training, but then the owners go right back to babysitting and then the dogs will lose it. So I have to constantly remind my students, “Your dog has the skill. Trust them. Let them show you they can do it, and leave them.”

Melissa Breau: This is a question I don’t usually ask here on the podcast, but I used to love, back when I was a journalist asking this question, because it seems to always get unexpected nuggets of interesting information, and since I have never trained a dog to weave and don’t know a ton about the topic, obviously you’re the expert — is there anything important that I didn’t think to ask or that you’d want people to think about as they’re working on weave poles with their dog?

Barbara Currier: Probably the most important thing about weave poles that I think sometimes gets overlooked, forgotten, or people don’t think it’s as important as it should be is: your dog must be done with growing before you teach weave poles.

Like I said in the beginning, it’s one of the hardest obstacles on their body, and I always make sure, when I have young dogs, that I take them and have them x-rayed to be positive that their growth plates have closed before I start training weave poles. You can do a lot of damage to them. It’s very hard on their shoulders, it’s very hard on their spine, it can be hard on their neck, and it’s not something you want to do until you’re a hundred percent sure that they are done growing.

The other great thing about doing the x-rays is that usually, around 14 months, I always have full x-rays done of shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees, and so, one, I can tell if the growth plates are closed or not closed, and depending on your breed … I have a student that has a borzoi, and she x-rayed her at 14 months and her growth plates were nowhere near done being closed. But she’s a Borzoi, but it was good information to have, because we certainly, especially with a breed that large, don’t want to be doing even contacts, if their growth plates aren’t closed, and hers didn’t close for quite a while after that, so that’s really important information to have.

It also gives you a picture of what your dog’s body looks like before you do the sport with them, whether you’ve got any elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia. Without getting a picture, some dogs don’t even show these things, and to me, I just think it’s super-important to know what you’re starting off with.

Melissa Breau: Right, right, and I would imagine it’s good to have those, heaven forbid they do get injured at some point later on, you have a baseline, a picture to refer to.

Barbara Currier: Yes. For sure. The other thing that I always … and I bring this up in the class, too, is if I have somebody come up to me and they say, “My dog has always weaved really well, and they’re now popping out at pole ten,” or “They can’t hit their entry, but they never had a problem with it before,” my first thought is, Your dog probably has an injury, and that needs to be addressed first.

As all the Fenzi instructors try to teach, dogs are not out to try to make us mad and push our buttons. That’s not the way dogs work. So if your dog is all of a sudden exhibiting something that is unusual for them, the first thing I check is injuries.

My poodle, who loves her weave poles, a tell for me that she has a rib out is if she misses her weave entry, because she never misses weave entries. So if she can’t hold on, I immediately leave the ring and will bring her to a chiropractor, and sure enough, she’ll have a rib out. I certainly don’t want her running with a rib out. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a rib out before, but it is incredibly painful, and I don’t want her running like that.

And so I let my dogs tell me. I don’t just assume, “Oh, she’s being bad,” or “She’s being lazy.” I assume, “Oh, you’re really trying to tell me something, and what you’re telling me is, ‘That really hurts, I need some help here.’” Once we get everything back, she’s totally fine, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be annoyed at her and expect her to run all weekend like that. So that’s something that I try to instill in my students is make sure that we’re thinking about that, first and foremost.

Sometimes there is … something’s happened. Sometimes what can happen is if they get an injury, the injury is then fixed, but they now associate poles with pain. And so sometimes we have to go back and desensitize them to that and say, “Look, see, it doesn’t hurt anymore, so we can do these again.” Or something has happened and our training has whittled away and we need to go back and take a look at that. But I always try to stress that people make sure that somebody checks them first that it’s not an injury or something going on that way that’s affecting their weave poles.

Melissa Breau: Let’s chat about the course for a minute. It’s called “Love ’em and Weave ’em,” and it’s on the calendar for December, which this is coming out on, I believe, the 16th of November, so registration will be opening the week after this comes out. What level of training should dogs and handlers have, if they’re interested in the class? Can you talk a little bit about that, and what you’ll cover, who it’s designed for, that kind of stuff?

Barbara Currier: For this class, the dogs should already know weave poles. It moves a little too fast for a dog that doesn’t know weave poles. I think later on in the year Julie Daniels has a foundation weave class coming up, and that would be the class for the dogs that don’t know weave poles at all yet. But this one is for dogs that know weaves, but the handlers aren’t in love with the performance.

It will address all the common problems: the going too slow, the inconsistent footwork, the getting the entry but not being able to hang on, missing the entry, popping out pole ten, it will address all of those things.

It will also give you the independence so that you can put them in the weaves and leave them and get to where you need to go next. The way I think about my weave poles is, when I send my dog through a tunnel, I want to just be able to say “tunnel,” and know that they’re going to come out the other end. I’m not expecting that they’re going try to dig out the middle of the tunnel. So I want my weave poles to be the same way. When I send you in Pole 1, I expect to see you exit at Pole 12, and I’m going to go do what I need to do. That’s your job, I’ve got my job, we’ll meet at the end, is my theory. So that’s what this course will teach.

Melissa Breau: One last question – it’s the question I’ve been asking everybody when they come back on. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Barbara Currier: Probably to train the dog that’s in front of you. Often we go out expecting to train one thing, and the dog’s telling us that they need to work on something completely different. And we really have to listen to them and be flexible in what they need, because if you think about it, they’re the ones doing the hard work. They’re the ones running and jumping and doing all of this crazy stuff. Oftentimes I go out with my plan of, “Today we’re going to go out and work on threadles,” and my dog says, “No, today I’m struggling with my start line stay, and so that’s what we’re going to end up working on.” So you have to be willing to abort mission and listen to what the dog is telling you.

Sometimes my dog says, “You know what, I’m not feeling it today,” and I say, “All right, let’s go play a game instead,” or “Let’s go for a hike,” because I wake up some mornings and don’t want to work, and my dogs are no different. So you really need to listen to your dogs and hear what they’re trying to tell us.

And also to embrace and love the dog that you have and stop mourning the dog that they’re not.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Barbara! I love that.

Barbara Currier: Thanks for having me. It’s so much fun!

Melissa Breau: It is! And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We’ll be back next week, this time with Amy Cook to talk about noise sensitivity in dogs and what you can do about it.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Nov 16 2018

34mins

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Rank #15: E70: Donna Hill - "Owner-handler Trained Service Dogs & Awesome Recalls"

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SUMMARY:

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

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

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

Next Episode: 

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

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Donna Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Donna, welcome to the podcast!

Donna Hill: Hi, how are you doing?

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That’s pretty neat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Breau: That’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CREDITS

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Jul 06 2018

48mins

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Rank #16: E72: Deb Jones - "From Trainer to Teacher"

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Summary:

Dr. Deborah Jones — better known around FDSA as Deb Jones — is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. 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.

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.

Links mentioned:

Next Episode: 

To be released 7/27/2018, featuring Sue Ailsby, talking about Rally. 

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones -- better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.  

Deb is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. 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 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.

Hi Deb! Welcome back to the podcast.

Deb Jones: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me back again. It is always fun to be here and get a chance to chat with you.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just reacquaint listeners with the furry friends you currently share your household with?

Deb Jones: Of course. I never pass up an opportunity to talk about my pets. First of all, there’s Zen. Zen is my nearly 11-year-old Border Collie, and it’s impossible that he could be nearly 11. I tell him every night that he needs to stop getting old right now, because I’m not going to allow it. Zen is perfect in practically every way. He’s fun, he’s smart, he has done a lot in his life, and he still enjoys a lot of things, like hiking with me.

The second dog I have is Star. She’s a 7-year-old black-and-white Border Collie. Star has done quite a bit of demo work in classes, as well as we are starting out on working nosework, doing nosework with her as well. She’s also another hiking buddy of mine.

Tigger is the 2-year-old tiny little Sheltie. He really belongs to Judy Keller, but I get to share him. Tigger is fun and he’s funny. He’s very fierce for someone who weighs 7-and-a-half pounds, and he tells you all the time that he’s the biggest dog in the house.

And finally, we also have Trick, the kitty. Tricky is now about 8 years old, I think. Trick has been in a lot of videos. He loves to train just as much as the dogs do, and he’s actually a whole lot of fun to train and a challenge. It’s different. It’s not quite the same as training dogs. But every time you get ready to tape a video, Tricky is here, so he usually gets involved in some way or the other.

So that’s our household right now.

Melissa Breau: I asked you on today to talk about something we haven’t talked about before on the podcast: teaching people. Professional dog trainers are typically training people to train dogs, not actually training the dogs themselves, and even those who aren’t professional trainers often find themselves asked for advice, or maybe they just want to be a positive ripple in their area.

Based on your background, you seem like the perfect person to ask, plus I know you have a class coming up on the topic. I think most of our listeners probably realize you teach for FDSA, but some of them may not realize you also taught psychology at Kent State University for 20 years. Did you always want to be a teacher? What got you started on that path?

Deb Jones: I’m actually pretty surprised that this topic of teaching has not come up until now. It seems to me it’s pretty central to everything we’re doing here at FDSA, so I’m really excited about starting a program for teachers.

Let me go back a little bit and talk about my background in teaching, and give you first of all a personal confession is that I never wanted to be a teacher. That was so far away from anything I ever thought I would do with my life. It was never any kind of consideration for me.

There were some, I think, pretty clear reasons why that was the case. I grew up fairly isolated. I was an only child, I lived way out in the country, we didn’t have a lot of people around, but we did have a lot of animals. Especially across the street from us there was a large farm. They always had chickens, pigs, and lot of horses. So I spent lots of time over there with the animals, and I interacted with the animals very easily. With people not so much. So that started out my idea of spending time animal training, because I was simply much more used to them and more comfortable being around them.

Also something that I know about myself and I’ve come to learn over the years is I’m a pretty strong natural introvert. I’m relaxed and comfortable alone or with a small number of people around. When you start to get a large group of people, that takes a lot of energy from me in terms of interaction. It’s just not quite so natural for me to interact with large groups, which is pretty funny considering that I teach very large classes sometimes.

That was not at all what I would ever have guessed I would have done. It’s something that I learned how to do over the years. It became a role that I could play. But it’s not who I am. There’s a big difference between the role of what we’re doing and our personality, and it’s very clear to me that I’m not a natural teacher, but I could learn how to teach very effectively, and I think it’s something that anybody can learn how to do, if that’s what you want.

I never chose to teach when I went college. I didn’t go back to college until I was about 30 years old. I went back as an adult and I had no idea what I was going to do. My plan was to take one college class and see what it’s like, and that one class happened to be Intro Psychology. So I took my psychology class and that was it — I was hooked. That was the thing I was most interested in. All through undergrad I never really thought about what I would do with this degree, except I realized a bachelor’s in psychology doesn’t get you anywhere. You really have to go on to graduate school, and you really need to get a Ph.D. And so I thought, OK, I could do that. I liked a lot of things about research, so I figured I’d be a researcher, and I saw myself working alone in a lab somewhere, spending a lot of time doing my own individual work and then socializing with people every once in a while. I didn’t really see myself interacting with large numbers of people on a daily basis.

Since I was older when I went back to college, I got to know my professors a little better maybe than some students of a traditional age might have, and they were really, really influential in my decision on what to do and how to go about approaching my career. There are two in particular, Marion Cohn and Anne Crimmings, who were the psychology professors that I worked with as an undergrad, and they both encouraged me strongly to go on to graduate school. In particular, Marion was a really strong influence on me. She was a behaviorist. She trained under somebody named Ivar Lovaas. Anybody in the ABA world probably recognizes the name Lovaas, who pioneered doing behavioral work with people with autism. So she was very much influential in the fact that I knew I wanted to go into something that had to do with behavior and that everything I found there made a lot of sense to me.

So I headed off to graduate school. I had no plans to teach. Again, I thought I would be doing research. But once I got to graduate school, they have an expectation of your work for them. You will work for them 20 hours a week in addition to your class load, and you’re going to be assigned to be either a research or teaching assistant. What I discovered was that research assistantships were harder to get, and usually that happened for the upper-level students. I was pretty much told, “You’re going to be a teaching assistant,” and it was not a happy day for me. That was not what I wanted to hear.

It got even worse, though, because I was going to be a teaching assistant for a statistics class, and I don’t like statistics. There is nothing about it that I cared about in any way. I squeaked through it as an undergrad, but I never felt confident in it or felt like I understood it. I just managed to get an A somehow, and it seemed to me like it was luck as much as anything else.

Since stats didn’t make sense to me, I didn’t want to do it. I’m going to have to teach something I don’t understand, and the final straw there was that it was going to be an 8 o’clock lab, an 8 a.m. lab, and I’m like, I hate everything about this. There was nothing that sounded like a good plan. I seriously considered dropping out of graduate school. I’m glad I didn’t, but at the time it did not seem like this was going to lead me anywhere down a career path that I wanted to go. Just the opposite. It seemed like it was taking me away from what I wanted to do.

But in the end of it, what happened was I learned a really, really important lesson, and that was that in order to teach something, if I had to stand up in front of a group of people and be the expert on something, I really needed to understand it completely. In order for me to understand statistics, of all things, I needed to break it down into tiny little parts and basically split it, is how we talk about it in training now. I needed to split it down, and it needed to make sense to me first before I could use it to make sense to anybody else.

I spent a lot of time that first year learning statistics myself. I would take the lesson I learned the night before and present it to my class the next morning. What happened was my students liked it and they did well. They liked the way things were broken down. They liked that things were very clear and understandable to them. As we know, many times you get a professor who really understands the topic, but they can’t make it understandable to the student. With my own struggles I was able to do that right off the bat. I was able to find ways to make it understandable to others.

We keep it sort of a secret among teachers that many times we’re barely ahead of our students in the material. We may have been reading that textbook right before we went in the classroom to teach it. So you become, again, play your role. You become good at projecting confidence, even when you may not totally have it. But that’s part of the teaching role that we take on.

I finally did get away from teaching statistics in grad school. I got to teach a lot of other classes as well, though my career in teaching altogether I taught statistics every single semester for 20 years. It kept me employed because nobody else wanted to do it. It became very easy for me to do over time, and they were very popular classes, so I always had full classes, which was good. But I taught a lot of other classes in grad school.

Once I got my master’s, I taught at a few different area colleges and I started to feel like I was getting control of this, or understanding how to develop material and how to teach it. Of course, when I decided to get a job, then I found out that any job I got was going to be mainly teaching. If there was any research involved, it was going to be minimal.

Academic jobs at the time I was looking were very competitive and hard to get, so I was lucky that I had a good friend, Lee [Fox], who is going to be teaching this teaching class with me at FDSA, and I’ll talk about her more in a bit. I was lucky that she had gotten a job at Kent State a few years before me and come up here. So she knew about the opening, she connected me to an opening here, I got the job at Kent State, I decided I’d probably stay for a year or two. Twenty years later, here I am, just retiring from Kent State. So things kind of take on a life of their own.

But I’ve been really happy here. I moved from the big Kent campus down to a regional campus called the Stark campus, which is in Canton, Ohio, where my classes were small, I knew most of my students, I had good colleagues, so it’s been a really good career and a really good experience. But I was ready to get away from it. Probably for about the last four or five years I’ve been really done with college teaching. It takes a lot of energy and it does burn you out over time.

At the same time I was also starting to teach more and more for FDSA and I saw a couple of things. One of those is that, gee, this thing is going to continue growing. It’s not going to be something that lasts for a year or two. It just keeps expanding, and FDSA has a lot to offer the dog training world. I knew I wanted to get more and more involved here, but I still had a full-time job there, so finally I was in a position, luckily, that I could make the decision to focus my teaching efforts more at FDSA and go ahead and retire from Kent State.

That was a long-winded way of telling you where I came from.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s all good. You mentioned a bunch of things in there, though. One of the things you talked about were some of the skills that go into being a good teacher, and obviously there’s a difference between being given a job as a teacher and really learning how to teach. Can you identify what some of those skills were? What skills do teachers need that someone might not think about until they are actually in that role?

Deb Jones: There’s a lot of on-the-job learning typically involved in teaching, and that’s not always a good thing. In fact, we’d be much better off to have more preparation, but we don’t get that often. We get knowledge of the material. So you come in to teach something, you’re teaching it because you know it, because you understand it, or you do well at it.

If we switch from college teaching to talk about dog trainers a little bit — we understand how to train an animal. Once you get that, people are going to encourage you to teach others, which is a good thing. We should share that knowledge. We shouldn’t keep it all to ourselves. But if you’re only good with animals and you don’t know how to teach people, it’s not going to go well for you.

People skills, being able to communicate very clearly and effectively with the person, because animals come with people attached. Whether we like it or not, we need to work with the person to change the animal’s situation or to change their behavior. So learning how to communicate with another human, as opposed to communicating with an animal of any species, is much more difficult. People are more complicated, much more complicated.

I’ve also come to see that our job is not just to present information. We really are there to motivate and support students, much more than just give them info. That is probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned over my career is that I need to be, and I am now more than I was, a motivator and somebody who’s there for support when the person needs it.

As a teacher, being able to take theoretical information, and an understanding of that information, and make it into something that the student can use and apply right away. Some of us are good at book learning. That’s why I’m an academic, because I like that kind of stuff. But if I give all that to my students, I’m going to overwhelm them very, very quickly. So I need to be able to take what I know from theories and pull out the important pieces of information and use those appropriately. I don’t want to overwhelm students. We don’t want to flood students with new information, and that easily happens sometimes, especially with new teachers. You tell them everything, and everything is too much.

In college teaching we’re still in the model of lecture. I lecture to you, you listen to me, and then I test you on what you remember from the lecture. That’s the whole mode. It’s not really the best model for learning, probably, but it’s a very strong tradition of that in academics, so that’s not going to go away anytime soon.

But in dog training it’s different, because if I lecture my students for very long, they’re bored and they’re finished. I need to be working with them. I need to take information and make it into something that you actually physically do. That can be hard, because I do things without thinking about every little detail and every little step, and when I have to think through that, all of a sudden something that I thought was very simple to teach takes ten times longer because I have forgotten all those details that go in along the way.

I think we’re really good at FDSA with this is we approach students differently. It’s not “the instructor has all the power, the student has none” relationship and all the information flows from me to you. It’s much more interactive, it’s much more about the information flow coming from the student as well. I learn as much as I ever teach a lot of people. And it’s much more about how to support our students and help them, as opposed to just give them information. I think those are very different things that we’re doing here with dog training than I do in college teaching.

Melissa Breau: How did you learn some of those skills? Where did those abilities come from?

Deb Jones: We learn on the job, which is not the best way. Trial and error. When I first started teaching at Kent State, when I got hired at Kent State, one of my first classes was 500 people. It was 500 people, Introductory Psychology class. That’s daunting, and nobody tells you what to do or how to do it. You are basically left on your own: “Here you go, here’s your class, teach Intro Psychology.” And I’m like, OK, I know Intro Psychology, but I’m standing on a stage in an auditorium, which is like my worst nightmare ever, trying to figure out how do I keep these people interested, how do I give them what they need to know, and how do I control this group? Because now I’ve got this large group of people I have to somehow control. So it’s very much sink or swim, trial and error, and I don’t think that’s a good way to do it at all.

And so what happens? Some people do well. Some people learn how to teach, they figure it out, they thrive, they have a career out of it. But other people don’t. They hate it, they do poorly, either they quit or they find a way to avoid teaching as much as possible, which is actually true of many college professors. They teach as little as they possibly can.

If you have somebody to support you and mentor you, that can be helpful, but that’s not something always that occurs. It’s not a big deal in most colleges. They’re more interested in research than in teaching. Teaching is seen as something we have to do, but that’s not their focus for a lot of people in college. You’d think it would be, because that’s what a university is all about, but oftentimes it’s much more about doing research. So there’s not much effort put into supporting teachers, or showing people how to teach, or giving instruction.

So we tend to model, I think, mostly after how we were taught. You probably had a professor that you really liked, and a professor that you felt like you got a lot from their class or classes. And that’s what we tend to do — we model after them. That’s good if you had a great professor, and if that happens to work for your personality and for your topic, but it doesn’t always work out quite that way.

That’s one of the reasons, I think this is the main reason, we thought about first offering a class on how to teach. Because it can be a very painful, difficult experience if you don’t know what you’re doing, and hopefully we can save people from some of that. You can learn from our pain. You don’t have to have your own. We can show you and help you along the way, and that’s why we’re doing this.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of dog trainers, when they decide to become professionals, like you’re saying, they jump right into it, so it leads to a bit of flying by the seat of their pants, for lack of a better term. I’d love to hear a little bit about how much of teaching can be, or has to be, that ad hoc, that fly by the seat of your pants, and how much it really requires careful planning and should require that careful planning. What’s the balance like there?

Deb Jones: That’s an excellent question, because I think everything requires planning. I’m not a big believer in spontaneity. Part of that is my personality, but part of it is also my experience of teaching for about 25 years now. Very few people … now there are some who can be spontaneous and it goes really well, but they’re not a lot. For most people, when you’re spontaneous, things start to go off the rails pretty quickly. It’s also frightening, it’s pretty scary, to not have a plan, so I’m a total big believer in planning.

You may be very good at what you do with animals, but you may need much more work on how do I take that and make it into something that is going to be understandable to humans. Lots of times, students never see the preparation stage of teaching. They have no idea it exists, because it’s invisible. They don’t know how much work we put in behind the scenes before we even get to interacting with them.

I know you’ve taught a class or so, and you’re going to be teaching classes, and you know now a little bit about how much work goes on before you ever get there. There’s a lot that needs to be done. We don’t just jump into class on the first day and go, “Ah, I wonder what I’m going to do today.” I know what I’m going to do for the entire session. I have it all planned out, and even if my plan falls apart somewhere along the way, at least I had a plan to start with. I often in my college classes make up a schedule, I always make up a schedule, for every day of the semester for the four months that we would be there. I knew exactly what I was going to do before the class ever started.

Whether or not I stuck to that plan is something else. That’s where the spontaneity might come in, where I have to change things because I moved faster or slower than I thought I would, or I needed some more time to talk about a particular topic. So I can change things as I go along, but I need the plan first. That, to me, is just vitally important, and for all the good teachers I know, that is the case. They know what they’re doing. They always know every single day. It’s not, “Huh, I wonder what I feel like teaching this morning.” It’s very much “This is where we go now in the lesson plan.”

It helps a lesson plan to be sensible and to be logical and to build one thing on the next. If you’re just jumping around from one topic to another, that feels disjointed and people don’t like that so much. So more planning never hurts. This is what I always say: Plan everything. You can never over-plan. It’s fine. Do as much as you think you need to do. Then, once you have the plan, now you can be flexible. Now you can be a little more spontaneous, if you see the need arise. But don’t just go into it cold, because that’s unlikely for most people to end well.

Melissa Breau: That leads directly into what I was going to ask you next, which obviously, no matter how much planning you do, there are going to be times when you have to think on your feet and you have to respond when something unexpected happens, especially if you’re dealing with a dog training class in person, where you have students and you have their dogs and you never know exactly what crazy things could enter somebody’s head, or a dog’s head, in a given moment. How did you learn to handle that aspect of the job — handling the unexpected — and any advice you have, of course.

Deb Jones: What do they say, “Expected the unexpected.” Things are going to happen that you could never have planned for or predicted. That’s always very, very true. Things that in your wildest dreams you would not have imagined they’d occur, happen, and I think with new teachers we’re terrified of those possibilities. We’re very worried that something is going to happen, out of my control, I’m not going to know what to do about it. And it will. There’s no question it will.

So what do you do? You can panic. You can kind of lose your ability to think and process information. I’ve had that happen now and again. I’m thinking about instructors in early teaching of anything. You’re often worried that you’re going to get questions that you can’t answer. That’s an interesting fear to have, because it is reasonable. There will be questions that I don’t know the answer to because I don’t know everything in the world. I have no idea what the answer might be to certain questions. But I usually can figure out where to find that information. It might not be something I can answer right away, but just that fear that people are going to ask me something I don’t know — I don’t worry about that so much because usually my answer to that is something like, “Well, that a really interesting question and I haven’t really thought about that. So let me think about it a little bit and we can talk about it later, or let me go do some research on it and next time we’ll discuss it.”

So you don’t have to answer everything right now. You don’t have to know everything in the world, even about the topic you’re teaching. You can only know your part of it. There’s nothing wrong with that when it happens, and it will happen.

The other thing that sometimes happens that’s unexpected is you made your plan for class, you know what you’re going to do, you’ve got it all figured out, and when you get there, that plan is just not right for that group. It may be that my material is too simple, and my group is beyond where I thought they would be. The more likely the problem is my material is too complex, and the group is not ready for this level of material that I was planning to give them and talk about and work on that day. You have to be able to figure out when do I need to go back and go to an easier level, or when do I need to add some challenge that I wasn’t necessarily expecting I was going to have to do here.

So my lesson plan is sort of a suggested outline for what is going to happen in a class. That can always be changed. If I have that dog that does something I didn’t expect, either good or bad — either they do much better than I thought they would, or they’re nowhere near ready to do what I had planned for them that day — that’s when I do have to be flexible and be spontaneous. We develop, as we go along with training, ways to deal with that: What am I going to do when I get into that situation?

Let’s say you have the dog and the owner that show up to your advanced class and they’re not advanced. They’re barely beginners, and somehow they ended up in your advanced class. This happens all the time. So what you planned for them to do is absolutely not possible for them. Now the question is what do you do at that moment? We want to very quickly drop back down to the level where they can be successful and start them there. That’s all you can do in the moment is to give them something to work on that they can succeed with. Trying to hold them to the same level as everybody else in the class is just never going to work. It’s going to be frustrating for all of you.

After the fact, it might be they don’t really belong in that class, but that’s not something to address immediately. You can address that privately at the end of class. Maybe that the class is not right for them, they don’t have the background or the skills that they need, but we can’t derail the whole lesson and say, “OK, because Joe and Fido are having this problem with reactivity and it’s an agility class, we’re all going to stop and I’m going to work with him on this problem.” We can’t do that either.

We have to think constantly about the group. What is the group here to be taught? What did I say I was going to teach? I have to do that. Like I say, I can try to alter things as much as I can for somebody who’s not quite fitting, but in the end they may or may not be right for that particular class. We can’t be all things to all people all the time, and we can deal with that after the fact.

The other issue, the opposite issue of that, is you get somebody in class who is well advanced of what you’re teaching. This can be disconcerting, especially if you’re a new instructor, because now all of a sudden the student knows more than you do, and you don’t know what you have to offer them. In these cases, with experience, you start to learn to add challenges for those students who are ready for them as part of what you’re doing in the class.

Judy used to complain when she had her first agility dog, Morgan, who was Mr. Perfect. Morgan did everything right all the time. Morgan would do an agility sequence perfectly, and they’d be, “That was great, OK, next.” And then the next dog comes up and they’re having trouble, so they get three or four tries at the agility sequence and much more of the instructor’s time. When you get something like this, you’re not real happy if you’re the person who has the perfect dog, because you haven’t been challenged in any way, and you really haven’t gotten the time from the instructor that you should have.

So knowing I have to give the same amount to each of my students and I have to meet them or start where they are. Even though I have this general idea of where they ought to be, I’m working with them from where they are right now, which is exactly the same thing we do with dogs. We work from where they are right now. It’s the same with people.

Melissa Breau: As somebody who has taught in both a traditional classroom setting and who has taught people to train their dogs, what similarities or differences pop out at you?

Deb Jones: This is a really interesting distinction to make between teaching my college classes and teaching my dog training classes because I’ve done both for over 25 years. In terms of preparation, I think they’re pretty much the same. I prepare the same way no matter what the topic is that I’m teaching, whether it’s dog training classes or college classes.

Some of the issues you’re going to see that are similar include just dealing with people — interpersonal issues, group dynamics that you have going on. How do I deal with this large group of people effectively? Most of us don’t know naturally how to do that, so that’s something we learn. In dog training, though, it’s interesting because you would think you’re training the dog. That’s what it’s called. It’s called dog training, so our focus is on training the dog. But we all know, who have taught for any time at all, what you’re actually doing is teaching the person to train the dog. So I, as the instructor here, have a double job. I’m teaching a person, also making sure the dog gets trained at the same time.

Many dog trainers would say, “The animal is easy, the person is hard,” and that’s probably true. I feel like I could train the dog very quickly, but that’s not the job. The job is to teach the person to train the dog, and that’s not going to be as quick and easy.

If you’ve ever learned how to ride a horse — I spent a lot of time when I was younger with horses and riding horses and at stables — oftentimes when you take lessons, what happens, you get a new person who’s never ridden a horse before, and we give them what’s called a school horse. The school horse is usually the one that’s going to be very easy. That horse is experienced. It knows what’s going on. The person knows nothing, but at least the horse knows. And so the horse is pretty easy going, it’s used to beginners, it’s not going to hurt anybody, everything will go along OK. As you get better as a rider, you get the horses that are less trained or more difficult to work with.

We don’t do that with dogs. We don’t have school dogs. I think that would be a really good idea, if you had these well-trained dogs that people could practice on before they work with their own. I think that would make things simpler. But we don’t have that. We’re teaching a person and an animal brand new things at the same time, which makes it difficult.

We’re also teaching … in dog training, the difference is that’s a physical skill, and it involves a lot of motor skill, and it involves timing, observational skills. These are things I don’t teach in college classes. I teach information. I teach material. I talk about academic stuff out of books, theories and ideas. That’s very different than teaching somebody how to click at the proper moment. That’s a whole different set of skills. Or how to manage a clicker and your treats and your dog and your leash and all those things at one time. This is a lot of mechanical stuff that we work with when we’re teaching animals different behaviors. And again, things I don’t think about. I just do them. So when I have to start to think about how to explain it to somebody, then I have to break it down into tiny little parts.

I remember when I first started thinking about teaching FOCUS. I didn’t know how I taught FOCUS. I just did. I just somehow had it with my dogs. There were a lot of things I was doing, but it took me a while to think through all those and to actually be able to verbalize them to other people, because I felt like it’s just what you do, it’s just how you are with your dog, it’s how you live with your puppy. But clearly it’s not, because everybody wasn’t doing those things. Once I started to verbalize it, it just kept growing and growing. It’s like, I do a lot of things I never said or I never even recognized.

That’s a lot of what happens in dog training. We have to go, we do this and it works, but how do I tell you to do the same thing? We get students … because we’re working with physical skills, we all end up with students who have difficulty with those skills, who have trouble following direction, or who have some sort of issue with something that I might think is simple. I might say, “Turn to your right,” and to me that would be a simple cue that I would give a person, but that might be very complicated for them. They might struggle with the difference between left and right. So I have to break it down and make it easy enough for that one particular person in my class, and then I have, say, ten of those people, and I have to do that for every single person that I’m working with.

Those are challenges, those kinds of things that I didn’t see in college teaching. I just had a group of people sitting in chairs, looking at me. I got to talk to them, which was fine, which was easy, but you didn’t get that intense one-on-one that you do with dog training.

Melissa Breau: To kind of flip the switch there, you talked about “The animal is easy, the person is hard.” What are some of the similarities or even the differences, I guess, between teaching your actual dog and teaching those human students? Are there things that stand out?

Deb Jones: I think there are a lot of similarities. I mean, the general rules of learning still apply to everybody. I always say they apply to all species, and I don’t say “except humans.” They apply to all species. We all learn in the same way, and we all also need to consider motivation, emotional responses, and reactions to things. I need to consider those in my human students as well as in my animals, and sometimes as teachers we forget about that stuff. We think about it with the animals, but we figure the people must be motivated or they wouldn’t be there, so they must be able to figure it out and they want to do it. But not always. We can have a big effect on their emotional responses and on how much they try and how hard they work.

Lots of times, something I see that is challenging with people in animal training, and especially for those of us who are positive-reinforcement-based trainers, is that what I’m teaching you pretty much contradicts your previous learning. It does not agree with what you think you know or what you know about dog training, and what I’m telling you is completely different. So we’re getting into space here where we have to be very, very careful. Even if I’m just implying everything you’ve done up to now is wrong, just listen to me and I’ll tell you what’s right, people don’t like that. They become defensive. They go, “No, wait a minute. I know what I was doing. I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” or “The fact that you’re implying I was doing something wrong is bothersome.”

So we have to be very delicate in how we present information that we know is going to disagree with the way that they have always done things. The last thing we want our human students to do is become resistant to learning our ideas. We want them to be open to it, so we need to be very, very careful that I’m not implying to you that everything you’ve done up to now is wrong, thank goodness you found me, because otherwise you’re just messing up left and right. That’s not going to go over well.

When you first learn about positive reinforcement training and you’re so excited about it, it’s easy to let that creep in, that this is the right way, everything you’ve been doing is the wrong way. We need to be careful about that as teachers, or we’re not going to convince anybody if we take that approach.

Also with humans what I’ve come to see is it’s not my job to convert anybody to believe what I believe about animal training. I feel very strongly about the way I train and teach, and I feel like it’s the right way to go about it. But my job is not to convert the world. My job is to do what I do to the best of my ability. When somebody’s ready to hear what I have to say, they’ll be there. They’ll find me, and then they’ll be ready to make the changes that are necessary. But I’m not going out, pulling people in, trying to make them see how right I am. I think that is something that just turns people away from us, so we need to be careful about that.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned that students sometimes are at different places in their learning, and I’m curious how, when professional trainers are dealing with a new class, I think they often struggle with this idea of how you break things down into tiny pieces so the dog can be successful without frustrating their human learners. Do you have any advice or suggestions around that?

Deb Jones: Oh, of course I do. I definitely do. This is something I think about a lot. As animal trainers, we’re always talking about the importance of splitting things down into small pieces and making it easy for our animals to learn. We know that lumping things together is going to lead to confusion and frustration. It doesn’t help in the bigger picture. We apply that to animals pretty well, but oftentimes as instructors we have difficulty applying that to our human learners.

One of the problems I see here is that our human students come in with unrealistic expectations about how much progress they’re going to make in a class or over the course of a session that you have. They expect a lot more than is realistically possible. I think one of our jobs as instructors is to help them set those expectations more realistically. They want to see some big change right away, and we know that it’s not about big change. It’s about a whole lot of little tiny bits of incremental change that eventually lead to the bigger change. So one of our first jobs, I think, is to convey this information to them, that what you’re seeing here, this is progress. This is what we’re looking at, how do we know it when we see it, and then they can start to look for it a little more as well.

The other thing that often happens in classes, and it’s often with new instructors, is that you just feel like you have to give your students everything you know. Give them so much information that it becomes overwhelming to them, and they tend to shut down and stop hearing you pretty quickly. You can only process so much information at a time. We want to tell them everything, we want to give them everything they need to know, but we need to edit that. We need to keep that to a point where it’s enough for now and I can give them more later, so enough to be successful, and then we can build on that in the future. But when we flood people with large amounts of information, it’s not useful to them in any way, and it does make them feel overwhelmed and frustrated, so that’s not helpful as a learner.

If you have students in class, as I sort of mentioned this already, lots of different places, some are more advanced than others, finding the level of material and difficulty to give them can indeed be difficult. You’ve got the new pet person in a class along with the experienced dog sport trainer. How am I going to make them both happy? That’s a big challenge, and you’ll probably never feel like you do it perfectly.

Perfect and teaching do not go together. Those are not two words that happen. We do our best. We do our best every single time we teach. Later on, you’ll think, Oh, I wish I’d said this, or Oh, I wish I’d done that instead. Next time. Now you know. Next time you can do it that way. But we learn more, we do better. We don’t expect ourselves to be perfect all the time and hit it exactly right for every single class. You’ll have absolutely great classes and then you’ll have absolutely awful ones, and it may or may not have much to do with the material at all.

Back to this idea one more time, because I’ll say it again because I think it’s important: More material is not better. It’s flooding. New instructors go into too much theory, too much detail. Narrow things down for your audience. What do they need to know right now? I think that’s the best way to find a balance here. If you have somebody who you really feel like is interested in more and wants to learn more, or is ready to learn more, then you pull out the extra stuff you have for them and give them a little extra instruction in that and give them a little extra challenge.

Melissa Breau: I think that so often new instructors are a little bit … I don’t want to say unconfident, but to a certain extent it’s, OK, I’m going to prove you can trust me by telling you all the science that I know to prove that I know the science, so that we can do this thing and it’s going to work. But obviously that’s not, like you said, more information is not better.

Deb Jones: Right, and the science is something we can talk about with our colleagues. We’re behavior geeks, a lot of us. That’s why we do this. We love to talk about the science of things. But we have to know our audience. Is my audience one that wants to talk about all this science or not? So save that for the right situation.

Melissa Breau: For those who are listening who maybe don’t actually plan to become a teacher, but inevitably, as positive trainers, they find themselves questioned about their training and their techniques, do you have any advice for ways that Joe Schmo or the average positive trainer can maybe bridge that gap and help educate others around them?

Deb Jones: Yeah, this is going to come up for you. If you train with positive reinforcement, people are going to be curious, especially if they’ve had more traditional training techniques. That’s all they know, so they’re going to want to know what you do.

I’d say a few things that I think can be helpful here. First of all, your first job is to be a good example of positive reinforcement training. Nobody expects you or your dog to be perfect. I know I and my dog are far from perfect in our training. Many positive reinforcement trainers actually have very challenging dogs and that’s why they made this switch to more positive reinforcement, because they found it worked better for them. So you don’t have to be perfect, but do your best to actually train your dog so that they’re a good example of what you can do.

If you can get a lot of hands-on experience with more dogs, that’s all the better. There are a lot of people who are very good at the theory and the science, and they understand it cognitively, but they can’t apply it to their own animals or to anybody else’s. I’ve seen that more than once, where somebody talks a very good talk, but when you see them try to train an animal, they haven’t bridged that gap yet. They’re not capable of taking from one to the other.

When I first started teaching at Kent State, there was another professor who’s very well known in the world of learning theory. He’s written textbooks on learning, and he came to one of my dog training classes. He was my worst student. He was terrible. He understood the theory better than anybody in the room. That didn’t help him when it came to the hands-on stuff. So I think just because we like the theory and we think all that part of it is interesting, we also need to have a lot of hands-on training of a lot of different animals.

So train your own dogs. Train any dog you can get your hands on — your family’s, your friends’, the neighborhood dogs. Train. If you can find a good positive reinforcement trainer to apprentice under, do that. The more animals you can work with, the better. Volunteer at a shelter, do rescue work, lots of dogs. The more dogs, the more you will learn, there’s no doubt about it.

You can’t really teach other people until you’ve had a wide variety of experiences. Working with one type of dog does not always translate into helping people with other problems and issues. So getting that variety in.

I think one of the best things that ever happened to me was training so many different types of dogs so early in my dog training career. I got a little bit of everything, and I got to see the differences as well as the similarities.

Then, once you’ve got that as a positive reinforcement trainer, when people ask you for advice and information, this is kind of a dangerous moment because we want to help so much. When somebody asks me for help, I want to help them. I want them to take my advice, I want my advice to work, I want everybody to be better, I want everybody to be happy.

But that’s not always how it ends up working out. People often ask you for advice, and do they take it? No, they do not. Or they apply it very poorly. Or they mix it with something somebody else told them to do and it doesn’t work out. Especially if it’s family, then almost always they’re not doing what you tell them to do, because you’re family, what do you know? So my general rule for other people asking for help and advice and information is I don’t put more effort into solving their problem than they are putting into it.

Oftentimes we put so much into it to try to get them fixed. That’s not my job. My job is to give advice. If I choose to — I don’t have to, but if I choose to — my role is to give advice. I’m not responsible for their issues. I like to give enough advice that they can find more help, they can find more hands-on help. And maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but again, I have to let them be responsible for that. I can’t take responsibility for everybody who has a problem and comes and asks for help with it.

So don’t get too invested in any one single person. Have an idea of how much time am I willing to spend working with somebody, especially if they’re not paying you. How much time are you willing to spend, because if they’re not paying you, often they think it’s not very valuable, and then they don’t take you very seriously.

Melissa Breau: I mentioned earlier, and it’s come up a couple of times, that you have a class coming up on all this, so I wanted to talk about that briefly. What led you to create the class, and maybe if you can share a little on what it will cover, that kind of thing.

Deb Jones: Sure, yes, I’m very excited to talk about this. This class, and actually we have a series of two set right now and maybe a third one, enough material for a third one sitting in the works somewhere. About two years ago, my friend Lee and I went to Florida for a vacation. You wouldn’t think we’d be talking about teaching when we’re on vacation, but we are.

My friend Lee is also a social psychologist. She’s the person who got me the job here at Kent State. We were roommates when we were in graduate school. We’ve known each other for a long, long time. I’ve probably known her longer than I’ve known any other friend, as far as I can remember, except from high school.

Lee and I went on vacation together, and we were talking about the fact that I was looking forward to retirement at some point, hopefully in the not too distant future. Luckily, that worked out really well for me and I was able to retire, but what would I do? She actually asked the same thing. She did not choose to retire, and part of the reason is she doesn’t know what she would do. I said, “There has to be something we can do together that would be interesting to us and that would use our skills.” What do we know how to do? We know how to teach. That’s what we do. Between the two of us we’ve been teaching for something close to 55 or 60 years, if you add it all together. That’s a lot of teaching.

We started talking about this, and I had also been talking about the classes at FDSA and how much I enjoy online teaching, and I see that as the big wave of the future. In fact, most colleges now have a lot of online classes as well. Lee and I have both taught online classes at Kent State too. But we saw that, again, nobody tells you how to do it. There’s no sort of teacher training happening. So here’s an area where there’s a need that’s not addressed, and this is something we thought we could do.

We started talking about it, and we had, like, an 18-hour drive home from Florida. We started taking notes, whoever wasn’t driving was taking notes, and talking about it helped us pass the time, anyway. But by the time we got back, we had an outline for a class pretty easily. From there, we started to get more specific and spent some time together last summer working on pulling together actual lesson plans and getting much more thoughtful about, OK, we took this vague idea, now what are we really going to do with it?

Melissa Breau: Do you want to just share a little bit on what type of material you’ll be covering in the class and who should be a really good fit, if they’re interested?

Deb Jones: Yes. As I said, we have two classes planned right now. The first one’s completely done. We’re just finishing up some of the videos on that. The second one’s written. We’ll still have to do the videos that we’re going to do for that one. Possibly a third going on here.

Our focus is on how to teach, not on what you teach. Not on the content, but on the process. This could apply to any area of training, whether you’re interested in teaching classes in agility or obedience or nosework or rally. Whatever the dog sport or activity, pet classes as well, whatever the dog sport or activity, it’s going to be how do you approach and teach something. Not exactly what to do — that’s your part of it to bring to the table is the information itself.

As always, of course, we’re splitting it down into little parts, as we would do in beginning stages for anybody, teaching being not a natural thing for most people.

Now there are a few people who are very extroverted who enjoy talking in front of groups, but most of us do not. Most of us find it somewhat aversive and difficult. But if you’re going to do it, you need some practice at it, and you need to be able to have a safe place to practice and get some supportive feedback. That is what we are planning to offer. Breaking it down into some little pieces, having you work on small assignments that take a minute or so to present and to show, and then letting us give you some feedback on the clarity of it, what might be changed, just as we do with all FDSA classes, how can we make this better, what can you do to improve this thing.

Of course, there’s no formula for teaching. Everybody can approach it in different ways and be successful at it. But we are going to give you some structure and some guidelines for what has worked well for us over time.

Let’s see … what can I say? Most people … I talked about being stressed, so how can we deal with that? We deal with stress by being prepared. So preparation. The class will give you, hopefully, confidence. If you take this class, you go through the materials, you work through the exercises, we have both written and video exercises to do. Once you work through those you’ll come to get more comfortable teaching something, presenting something. We put you under a little bit of time limitation in terms of how long you have to present certain information, which forces you to narrow it down and to not get too big, and that’s a really important thing.

So we’re going to work on those kinds of exercises, thinking about what you’re going to teach, how are you going to convey to your students it’s important, how are you going to start at the level that the student is at. We go through talking about these kinds of questions and how we start our interactions with students, how we basically start to get them to buy into what we want them to do.

Practice … something that, as dog trainers, those of us who train and teach have done a lot is I have a demo dog, and I’m demonstrating with my dog while I’m explaining to the class what’s going on. That can be really, really hard to do. That in itself you’re asking somebody to do two things. I’m asking you to pay attention to your dog and use the proper mechanics to get them to do this thing, and at the same time pay attention to an audience who’s watching you do this and tell them exactly what you’re doing as you go through it.

Something that sounds easy like that, it’s not so simple in the beginning. If they’re both difficult for you, you’re going to become flustered. If you’re good at one, and typically we’re pretty good at the dog part, then we can concentrate on the other. But putting those kinds of things together in terms of having a demo dog and how useful they can be for certain things, and how to do and talk about what you’re doing at the same time.

Something that we’ve added in here that I don’t think a lot of dog trainers think about at all, but I believe it’s really important — we think about it all the time in academics — is where do you get your resource material and where are you getting your information from? In college, of course we have textbooks or journal articles, and so that’s where we get the information that we teach, and then we supplement with many other things.

But in dog training, where is our information coming from that’s going to be our class? Lots of stuff in dog training is common knowledge, public knowledge, and you can’t always figure out where this idea or this technique came from. But when we can, when we can know something, when I know where I learned something, or I know somebody who is working with this and has done a certain application of it, we want to give them acknowledgement and say, “OK, I learned this from …” and “Here’s another way you can use it that I saw in a video by …” whoever is doing that. So we talk about giving credit, we talk about finding valid and accurate sources, we talk about avoiding plagiarism, things that we think about much more in academics than the dog training world, but I think it has a place.

The other thing that, at least in this first set of classes, we’re going to address is how to take on that role. I mentioned teaching being a role, so how to take on that role of teacher so that it’s still authentic to you, that you’re not being fake about it. It takes part of your personality and also then takes on the necessary demands of the role of being a teacher. How do you combine those things together? Because I say all the time I’m not a natural teacher, but I do it well. How do I do it well? I figured out how to mix these two together. So that’s something we’re going to talk about and have people work on as we go through the course as well.

Of course, we’re trying not to overload people in the first course, so in the second one we get more into things like how do you develop a syllabus and lesson plans for a six-week class, how do you deal with challenging students — I won’t say difficult — challenging students to manage, and group dynamics, classroom setups, things like that.

Of course I’m going to say, who should take this class, I think everybody. But particularly if you’re instructing anybody, even if you’re instructing one other person, knowing how to do that well, I think, is a really important skill, and if you are ever intending to teach a group, I think it will be really, really helpful. You’re adding the teaching skills set to your training skills set and that can be a very valuable thing to have.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and it sounds like it’s a very full, chock-full class of lots of different bits and pieces. I’ve got one last question for you here, and it’s my new “last interview question” for everyone who comes on. What’s a lesson you’ve learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Deb Jones: Oh, there are so many lessons. The thing I would probably say here right now, the thing that I’ve learned, is that we’re never done learning. There’s absolutely no end to how much we can learn as dog trainers. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always something more out there. These days I define somebody as an expert, and I think somebody who’s an expert in what they do, they’re still learning. They’re a lifelong learner. So if you’re an expert, you should still be learning as much as a beginner does.

Melissa Breau: I like that, and it’s very on theme for us today.

Deb Jones: Yes, it is, actually. Excellent.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Deb!

Deb Jones: Thank you Melissa. I always enjoy it.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!

We’ll be back next week, this time with Sue Ailsby to talk about training for Rally.

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

CREDITS:

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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

Jul 20 2018

1hr

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Rank #17: E114: Sarah Stremming - Training Teenage Tyrants

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Description: Sarah Stremming and I talk about training to get through the teenage years — what it takes to get through them and how to create the foundation for a well-balanced adult dog.

We'll be back next week with Nancy Tucker to talk about getting better greetings. 

May 17 2019

29mins

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Rank #18: E98: Sara Brueske - "Bombproof Behaviors"

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Summary:

Sara Brueske has been training dogs for over 15 years; she became a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in 2011 and jumped into the world of professional dog training.

Sara and her dogs work at Purina Farms in Missouri where they demonstrate the sports of disc, agility, and dock diving for the public in over 200 shows each year.

She and her dogs also compete nationwide. Currently, she is active in the sports of disc dog, agility, mondioring and dock diving -- plus, she’s a trick dog enthusiast.

Sara believes in positive reinforcement not only for dogs, but for their handlers as well.  Her biggest joy in training is watching a handler and dog become partners and grow as a team.

Next Episode: 2/1/2019

Jan 25 2019

22mins

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Rank #19: E90: Dr. Amy Cook - Dogs with Noise Sensitivity

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Summary:

Amy Cook, PhD., 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.

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TRANSCRIPTION:

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

Today we’ll be talking to Dr. 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 back to the podcast.

Amy Cook: Hi Melissa. Always good to be here. So happy that I get to talk to you about stuff again.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat. To just briefly remind everyone, can you just share a little bit of information about the dogs you share your life with and what you’re working on?

Amy Cook: Sure. There’s over there on the couch, where you can see her, Marzipan, in her full glory, doing what she does best, which is sleep in a nice little ball. That’s what she does. She had an injury a bit back, and so we’re still discovering what the second half of her career will be like.

And then I have Caper, who you also can see right over my shoulder. She’s a little … I don’t know what, terrier something or other. She’s learning agility, and she’s very happy that we just bought a teeter. I now have a teeter in my yard. It’s my first big, expensive piece of agility equipment, because now we get to do teeters every day. It’s so exciting!

Melissa Breau: That is exciting!

Amy Cook: It is!

Melissa Breau: I want to dig into I know a topic that you’ve been talking about often recently: noise sensitivity. What is it? Can you describe what behaviors people might see if they have a sound-sensitive dog — both at the “slightly sound sensitive” end and the “extreme” ends of the spectrum?

Amy Cook: It’s an interesting topic because this runs the gamut. Everyone has a different experience with noise sensitivity, and it’s one of those dog trainer catch-all terms, like reactivity, where we may mean a lot of different things about it, and in this sense I think that’s OK.

It does run from the slightest noise in the category of things I’m afraid of, makes me panic and salivate and run to dive under the bed, or sit there catatonically, or it might mean I have some slight trepidation about that sound out there and I’m not exactly sure what to think about it.

They may turn to us in those times, and I think what we most don’t want is for it to get to the extreme. It might already be there for a given dog, but it’s one of those things where, because it can be so impactful in their life, we don’t get to control sounds, we don’t get to change where dogs are when sounds happen as much as we’d like, that we need to take almost any presentation of this really seriously. Behaviors can range and vigilance is often missed by us, I think, where a dog hears something, puts their ears a little bit back, shows a little bit of a worried face, but then maybe it’s gone before we saw them worry about it.

So I think doing a little bit of protective noise work, as I like to call it — not the protective part, but the noise work part — can never hurt. Teaching a dog that noises are just harbingers of fun times is a good and protective thing to do, even in dogs that don’t seem to have a problem just yet. So it really runs the gamut.

Melissa Breau: Is it typically tied to a specific noise? Do folks usually come to you and they’re like, “Hey, this particular beeping thing,” or is it more generally just noise? What have you seen?

Amy Cook: I do see both of those. There’s definitely dogs that feel like anything sort of sudden that makes a noise is worth worrying about and is scary for them. And I don’t know if, when we have “environmentally sensitive dogs,” if part of that or a lot of that isn’t just that environments have a lot of strange noises in them and if it isn’t noise sensitivity folded into general environmental sensitivity.

So I do see that a lot, where we don’t have just one specific noise, it’s just this, and all the rest of the noises “I’m OK with all of the suddenness.” I see dogs like that as being tense in a lot of ways all the time. Not a hundred percent of the time, of course, but dogs who are tightly tuned can be affected by all sorts of unexpected noises in the environment.

And then there are dogs who have very specific triggers. The ones that we commonly hear about or think of are the ones who are afraid of large booming noises that we find on Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, and then the thunderstorm-type noises, because those are the big, very dramatic, out of the norm, completely scary, gunshot-type noises.

But it doesn’t cover all of them, because a lot of dogs are afraid of, weirdly, beeping or high-pitched metallic or electronic sounds, so the sounds from your microwave, the sounds from an electronic timer, sounds from a whistle at flyball, from a timer at flyball trials, sounds you might make in the kitchen that are high-pitched, something metallic hitting your kettle, for example. Those can be really distressing to dogs.

And then I would say anything that your dog hasn’t had a lot of exposure to. Maybe you’ve moved somewhere … I don’t live somewhere where there are thunderstorms, so it’s not something that I tend to see a problem with, but if I were to move to places with summertime thunderstorms, which is pretty common across the country, I would expect them to feel a bit sensitive to anything that’s new like that. So noises can run the gamut too, just like the behavior that shows from them. We never really know what it’s going to be probably until we see it, but again, not a bad idea to prevent it if we can.

Melissa Breau: Is it typically something people see show up early in the dog’s life? Is it something they have forever? Do they develop it? Do we know anything about what causes it?

Amy Cook: I don’t personally know anything super-scientific about what causes it, but as a practitioner of helping dogs, I see a lot of dogs develop it later in life. It certainly won’t be all dogs, but it’s so many of them that we have that sort of dog trainer lore of, if someone says, “Hey, my dog has become noise sensitive,” the question you first ask them is, “Is your dog 7?” Because it’s so super-common that somewhere in middle life, middle age, and that’s of course going to range for breed, it can just develop. It’s some kind of brain change where there’s a noise processing change, the areas of the brain that process noise, are they changing, are they aging, is something happening there?

Also some say, “It’s been seven years now, you’ve had seven years of storms, seven years of fireworks, you’ve had them long enough that you could sensitize.” It could be something like that, although I would expect to see it happen more gradually if that were true. But that’s not necessarily the way it would present. Maybe you’re hiding it, or you’re dealing, you’re coping, and now you just can’t cope, and so you show it. That’s possible.

Or it could be that hearing is changing around that time, and so the way things sound have just become a bit distorted. But this is just speculation. It’s hard to say.

You can certainly have noise sensitivity your whole life. It can be a thing that shows in puppyhood or adolescence as a thing they just don’t know how to process and don’t have a positive opinion about, and they definitely need our help at that point, for sure, so they can get through that.

I think dogs who develop it later in life, who didn’t have a problem before, can accept and change, I think, at least in my experience, more quickly from an intervention because they’ve had a fair amount of time in their life of doing OK with it, and maybe just learning something new about whatever this new sound feels like to them can stick pretty well.

But of course if it shows up in puppies or young dogs, we really want to get on it, because we certainly don’t want the dog to have a lifetime of feeling terrible about the normal sounds of their environment.

Melissa Breau: I know from reading through some of the things you’ve written, this is one of those problems that often gets worse if folks ignore it. What are some ways that it can escalate? What might that look like?

Amy Cook: It is one of those things that I feel is really important to get on right away, and I suppose I would apply that argument to almost any fear-based behavior problem. Dogs are suffering when they’re afraid. If they’re afraid often, that’s a terrible feeling, so we want to get on almost any behavior. I don’t mean to overly highlight noise in that way.

But one thing that happens to noise phobias, noise sensitivities, that doesn’t seem to happen at least the same way as, say, a fear of strange men, is that it escalates and can escalate really quickly. A dog who shows some sensitivity to a beep, beeping sounds — say they were in your house when your smoke alarm batteries went bad. Now it’s been six months, they need replacing, and it beeped all day while you were at work and they couldn’t escape that. You could come home to a dog who’s sensitized to that sound.

Of course not all of them, but some will, and then they start hearing anything that’s similar to that and feeling the same triggered way. And then things that are not terribly similar to it, such as the microwave beep, which would be similar, but now a fork on a plate can do it. Once you’re afraid of noise and you’re vigilant about noise, dogs can become more and more sensitive very, very quickly, whereas fear of men tends to stay relatively stable, if you control the trigger some and nothing much is happening.

It’s not like that’s going to make them better, but they’re not likely to get massively worse over the next few months, whereas in noise sensitivity that’s coming up really quickly, you need to get on top of it because it can spread too quickly, and once it’s all over the place, and as most noises or many noises that are sudden, we really do have to be talking about medical intervention because of how difficult that is.

So if you see something in your dog that shows he might be getting a little sensitive to the banging of the metal door at that trial that you go to, or the gunshots that you know you’re going to hear a lot in hunting season, you want to get on it right away and really quickly, just in case this is going to be one that spreads to a point where your dog will be suffering.

Melissa Breau: Looking at your syllabus for your class on this, it looks like there are a few pieces that you use to help sound-sensitive dogs — starting with classical conditioning. I want to talk about that, but can you just start by explaining what classical conditioning is, for anyone who might not be familiar with the terminology?

Amy Cook: Yes, definitely. There’s two models we use in dog training, or in changing behavior in dogs. One is the one that everyone is familiar with, whether the terms or not, where we reward things we like and we punish things we don’t like. We of course try to minimize any of those experiences, but that’s part of the model of operant conditioning, and it’s about responding to a behavior and having that behavior work or not work for the dog.

In classical conditioning, it happens irrespective of a dog’s behavior. What you’re trying to draw a picture of the dog, draw the line between for the dog, is that, “Hey, this thing that just happened is a predictor of this next thing that’s going to happen, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter what you do about it. You can have any reaction at all, but these two things are tied.”

When it comes to noise work, which I’m saying distinctly so it doesn’t sound like nosework — it’s just a cute thing I like to call it, noise work — when it comes to working with noises, what you’re trying to say is, “Hey dog, this sound that you hear — you don’t know it yet, but it’s actually the thing that comes right before this other thing that you might enjoy.”

If you can set things up such that they come to that conclusion, they see the connection between those two, that noise that has been troubling them up until now will take on new meaning. It’s like, “That thing I don’t like … oh wait … but doesn’t that always mean that this other thing is going to happen?” When you can crack that door open a bit and let them see that the relationship exists, and it’s not just, “Hey, the noise happened and now you’re just scared,” but “The noise happens and now you have something to look forward to,” it can help them change their reactions and their feelings about the whole thing.

So classical conditioning is just saying, “I will draw a connection between one event and another event, one stimulus and another stimulus, technically, and through drawing that connection for you so that you can see that relationship, it can help you, dog, feel better,” or at least take new meaning from the sound that before maybe had a pretty terrible meaning and give it something that hopefully has a positive meaning, if we can get in there carefully and do it just right.

I do it mathematically, I guess … that’s not fair to say because there’s no math involved. Don’t be afraid! There will be no numbers! But I do it strictly. I really think about the relationships of those two elements, those two pieces that I’m trying to put together, the strength of the noise and the strength of the thing I’m following it with, so that I’m much more able to make that conclusion for the dog as clear and as powerful as I can. So it’s doing classical conditioning, but the way I do it for this class is very strict and very specific so that I can have the best bang for my buck, if you will, in doing it.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk about that a little more. I think people who ARE familiar with the term classical conditioning, you’re talking about, most of the time, a visual stimulus — something where you use a lot of distance and it’s something the dog can SEE. How does that change or how is it the same when you’re talking about a noise instead of something visual?

Amy Cook: I had to give that a lot of thought when I wanted to work specifically with this and have a way I think that everybody can follow and have it step by step, because when it’s something you see, you do fully control the strength of it.

I can put the thing right in the environment right when I need to, or have you look at it right when it would be appropriate, and I can play with strengths a little better than I can with noises, because noises, maybe, whether they’re loud or soft, might already be so disliked by a dog that you can’t get it down to be safe enough to experience while you’re teaching them something new.

Because if you just have noises happen, and then try to follow them with something good, you’re very likely to get a dog who says, “Oh my god, that was so awful. Oh look, it’s followed by something good that I don’t care about right now because I feel so awful because oh my God that just happened,” and then you’re not going to get any change. So you do have to play with these things.

And with noises, yeah, sure, there’s many of them you can make smaller. I know people who have CDs and they play them really lightly, but what I like to do instead is teach them the entire framework of how noise work, noise therapy, will go on sounds that are not frightening at all, so therefore I completely control