E117: Denise Fenzi - Back to the Future (And An Exciting Announcement!)

We talk about the theme from camp this year and unveil an exciting new program, coming soon to FDSA!

Want the full details on the FDSA Pet Professionals Program? Check out the new website, www.fdsapetprofessionals.com! 


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 Denise Fenzi with us to talk about her theme from Camp this year, the state of professional dog training, and get into all of the learning opportunities FDSA has on offer.

Welcome back, Denise!

Denise Fenzi: Hey Melissa, how are you?

Melissa Breau: Good! Happy to chat today. The theme this year at camp was "Back to the Future," so I wanted to start by talking about that. How does that theme really apply to dog training?

Denise Fenzi: Well, I think you know I'm pretty obsessive about education, and applied education in particular, and moving people forward. I have often talked about paralysis — that I see a lot of really competent and capable individuals who worry so much about doing things wrong that they do nothing. They just sort of sit and talk about dog training, and talking about dog training really doesn't work.

So what I was specifically thinking about when I came up with that topic was crossover trainers, or trainers who have been around and very successful for a long time, so I know they can train dogs, they train dogs beautifully, and then either they crossed over and opted not to use force anymore, or they simply modified their more force-free methods to new methods. And I noticed that a lot of them, rather than integrating the new ideas into all of the success and all of the things they knew from the past, they tried to start all over, and now they're like a brand-new novice and going nowhere, spinning their wheels, getting nothing done.

My point in that talk was to suggest that rather than tossing out everything you have from the past, maybe do a little bit of sorting instead and really take a look at what you had and keep all the great stuff. I mean, 90 percent of it still applies. The confidence you had, the skills you got going into the ring, the knowledge you learned about generalization — all of that is still good. Don't throw out your past. Simply incorporate what's new, and then that will take you into a more progressive future.

Melissa Breau: Was there anything in particular that inspired that theme?

Denise Fenzi: My own journey. A recognition that when I changed how I taught a few very specific exercises — I don't recall if I talked about these or not: heeling comes to mind, retrieve comes to mind, and how I prepare dogs for competition in terms of stringing exercises together — I realized that I've been doing this successfully for a very long time, and when I learned new stuff, I let go of some really fundamental pieces, especially having to do with games and how I interact with dogs.

I feel like that was an error, and so I've been rectifying that in the last year in how I've been teaching other people, which is really where it comes up, because I almost never make those same mistakes myself, but I was making them in working with other people. In the process of recognizing that I had made a mistake, I realized that I was seeing other people make the same mistake and that maybe I could bring it to their attention and see where we could go from that.

And then the other part that came to mind is this tendency of us dog trainers to spend a lot of time on Facebook talking about training, and I believe in my heart that talking about training does not make you a dog trainer; training is what makes you a dog trainer, even with all the errors that come with it. And so really I've been thinking all the time about how do we solve that. How do we get people training more, talking less, so that they can move forward, because I don't think you move forward by thinking about training.

Melissa Breau: It seems like the theme sort of ties into a few other things that I've heard you talk about or mention lately. For example, I know one thing you've been focusing on at FDSA is to encourage people to do more than just learn about dog training and to actually get out there and train — that idea of the quickest way to a well-trained dog is to actually train your dog.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, actually, and you and I have talked about it, and for people who are paying attention, there have been a lot of changes at FDSA in the past couple of years, and they really have focused on this exact topic: We need to talk less and train more, because I know people have the skills. So one of the first things we did was added training assistants to a high percentage of our classes. What a training assistant is, and what they do, it's a person who's probably been in the Academy for a long time, it is a talented trainer, it is someone who is identified by a regular teacher at the Academy as a competent person within a topic, and that person is invited to lead the group, the discussion groups that exist for the classes at the school and to help the Bronze students.

So basically what they do — like for those of you who remember your college days, you had TA's — we have TA's, and the TA hangs out in the discussion group and encourages the Bronze students to submit videos and to submit their questions, because the instructors just can't take any more. Most of us take between ten and fifteen students per class, but that maxes us out. So what the TA does is vastly expand the number of people who can have personal attention, and it doesn't cost any more, so it's part of your $65 Bronze enrollment.

I would say somewhere between half and three-quarters of the classes do have TA's. It's a little hard with newer classes because the TA needs to be extremely familiar with the material and capable of helping the students, and that person does have direct access to the instructor. So if they get stuck, or a student comes with a very unusual situation, then they go to the instructor and they work something out, and the TA is able to help the students. I know that students who have taken advantage of this are delighted because it really helps them keep on track and progressing, and the TA can help them, basically hold their hand, and take them forward with the applied aspects of training and not just discussing it. So that's been very successful and I feel good about that.

The second thing we added, it may have been about six months ago, are workshops. Workshops came about because I asked the students on the alumni list, "What do you need us to do to help you progress?" And this is my obsession: it's education; how are we going to make this happen? People talked about the things that hold them back, and one of them I just discussed: it's getting stuck at Bronze and not knowing where to turn. So the training assistants are there and should have resolved that issue for people.

The next thing that came up is money. Some people cannot come up with even $65 for a full six-week Bronze class. All right, fine, what can I do about that, because I cannot make the Bronze level any less expensive. So that was something we wanted to fix.

Another one was time. People said they couldn't stick with a six-week-long class. Either they had family issues, or they had work issues, or they simply don't have the attention span to stick with six weeks. They get overwhelmed, they get tired, they get bored, whatever you want to call it. Another thing that came up is some people said the classes move too quickly for them, and it was too much information, then they would start to fall behind and get exhausted and get overwhelmed, and then they would walk away.

And so workshops were designed specifically to address those three issues: money, time, and breaking down the information. What a workshop does — for $29 as an auditor or $39 as a worker, which is very inexpensive — it gives you exactly one hour, one week's worth of material to work on, the instructor records a one-hour lecture, it provides all the written material in a verbal form, and it breaks it down into very specific steps.

For example, I have one coming up on heeling, and I already did one on precision heeling. This is a second-level workshop. And in that workshop I'm going to help you remove the food from your hands, get it off your body, get the dog moving, and get the dog off of reliance on pocket hand, because that's how I teach heeling. That has been broken into eight steps, and it says … I say, "Step one: I want you to do this," I show you a video, usually with two different dogs, and then I discuss problem-solving. "Step two," and I tell you what to do. That goes for an hour, and then that goes into the working students' library. They have one week to work through the steps and then they come back, because at the end I've told them exactly what I want to see in their videos. They can submit those videos back to me, I will review them all at the same time, I think I took thirteen students, I create a second recording for them.

Now what that does, it broke the material into very small bits so people can digest them. It put them on a strict timeline: "This is what you're doing for this week. You're going to practice these activities." It gives them feedback, even if they don't have a lot of money, and that feedback can be critical for motivation and for moving people forward. So our goal with the workshops is to solve some of the challenges that we've encountered and get people training their dogs.

Melissa Breau: To recap there, I want to recap each of those really quickly. The teaching assistant thing — it seems like the big pieces are joining the Facebook discussion groups, and then there's somebody there basically to help you, right?

Denise Fenzi: Correct.

Melissa Breau: Anything you would add there that maybe we didn't get into?

Denise Fenzi: The only thing I would say is that they are lovely, warm, kind people who really do embody the idea that training should be fun. So they'll do more than give you more than technical advice. They're going to make you want to be there. They're cheerleaders, so take advantage of them. They're waiting for you.

Melissa Breau: For the workshops, can you get into a little more about how they're different from the webinars or the classes? How do they fit into that bigger picture?

Denise Fenzi: The webinar — it costs $19.95. It's the least expensive. It's one hour of time, so it's a shorter time commitment, and it also offers smaller quantities of information. But generally, webinars are not broken down into Step One, Step Two, Step Three. Often they're more generic concepts, things like how to play with a dog, and how you play with a dog is going to vary quite a bit, depending on the dog. So they tend to be concepts, and workshops tend to be skill-specific, where "This is how you're going to do it. Go do it." So I would say webinars are a perfect option for someone who wants to grasp a concept or a big-picture idea. They may or may not even be addressing the issue right now.

So, for example, Michael Shikashio did some stuff on resource guarding. I will watch those because I want to have good overview information. Even though I don't have a resource-guarding issue in my home, I still want to understand the issue. So they're fantastic for that. Or Nancy Tucker — separation anxiety — same thing. I like to see how people address issues. That is where I think the webinars shine.

The workshop is one step up, it costs a little bit more, it's a one-week commitment instead of one day, like a webinar. The first part is quite similar to a webinar. Both of them are one-hour recorded pieces, both of them allow for a time to ask questions afterwards. Workshops do not work through the webinar software, so you don't ever have to be anywhere live or at a given time. Everything is recorded and put in your library, and questions can come in anytime during the week.

Next up would be classes. Classes are by far and away the most intense. Now, they are more expensive, so Bronze is $65 and Gold is $260 and Silver is $130 in the middle. However, in terms of value, you cannot beat a class. Nothing can beat a class. What you have is six weeks of constant movement forward, progression, you have written lectures, you have video lectures, so value-wise, I would say that you're never going to beat a class, and you're going to learn a whole lot.

But I recognize that they don't work for everyone all the time, so maybe a better choice for a super-busy individual is workshops, and maybe for someone who just wants to understand dogs and dog training better, maybe the webinar is the best direction for that person to go. You know, it's not right or wrong. It really is what you need and who you are right now. What is your gap in your education, and see if you can't find an option that's going to work for you.

Melissa Breau: If someone is trying to decide, they're trying to make that decision of which learning opportunity really does work best for them — webinars, workshops, or classes — what factors should they be looking at? What might make one a better option than another for a specific dog-and-handler team?

Denise Fenzi: I think I would encourage the person, first of all, just to look it over and say, "What appeals to me right now? Am I just looking for overview information?" Then go with the webinar. And if that person has a dog in front of them, then I would strongly recommend a workshop or a class is what's going to get them training that specific dog. So if they have a goal they're working towards — they don't want to just understand a generic concept — I would suggest a workshop or a class.

If money is super-tight, well, you can take a class because you can get a scholarship — $32.50 at Bronze — or you can do a webinar, because those are lesser-cost options for you.

And then the last thing I would be focused on is your own learning style. If you really do well with a lot of structure and "This is how you're going to do it: Step One, Step Two, Step Three," I think workshops are the winner. If you like a little more freedom to work with your dogs and you think a little bit differently, classes are probably going to be more appealing to you.

Melissa Breau: There's also that aspect of visual and audio in a workshop or webinar versus written lectures.

Denise Fenzi: Oh yeah, that's actually an excellent point. I know a lot of people listen to webinars rather than watching them. So they're doing their laundry and they're listening, and then the instructor says, "Let's look at it," and they stop doing their laundry, turn to the computer, watch the video, and then back to their laundry. Or I walk my dog. So as I walk the dog, I listen, and if I need to stop, I'll stop and look at the video, often I'll just wait until afterwards.

So that's a good point. Webinars are easier if you want to listen while you're multitasking with mindless activities. That's a great point. Some people really do learn better listening, and some people much prefer written materials. Personally, I like written materials. Classes work very well for me because I like to read lectures and then see a supporting video. But some people much, much prefer to listen and take in their information that way. Those people are probably going to be happier with webinars or workshops. Both of those are not visual. They're auditory opportunities for learning.

Melissa Breau: I know that those are not the only big things you've been working on lately. You've got a big new project about to kick off: The Pet Professionals program. For those who haven't seen any of the sneak peeks that you've shared on the alumni group, what is it? How is it different than FDSA?

Denise Fenzi: I'm so excited about this, but I'm going to be calm. I'm going to be calm and try to express myself that way, but I'm really excited about this! The Pet Professionals program is designed specifically to help people who want to be professional dog trainers, who are professional dog trainers already, who if you're already a trainer, maybe you feel like you have some gaps in your applied education.

So how do you solve counter-surfing? What do you do when the dog is running up and down the fence? How do you stop yard problems like excessive barking or digging? What are the options for loose-leash walking? What are the options for teaching dogs not to jump on people? Some people have expressed to me, trainers have expressed to me that they don't feel they actually learned these skills. They learned lots of very helpful science on dog training. They learned a lot about the theory behind training and how it's supposed to work. But where they felt unprepared when they went into the world as trainers was with very specific technique-based solutions to common problems.

They've also expressed to me they didn't feel they had adequate knowledge about managing classes, managing clients, marketing, business. What do you do when you have six brand-new people on the first day, and dogs and people are going everywhere? How do you structure a class? How do you get compliance from people who may not be the least bit interested in dog training? So these are gaps that I see right now in the world of dog training: not enough emphasis on the applied aspects of training.

And I have to say I'm thrilled that so many people are well-educated on the science, because that is absolutely going to serve them well. What I'd like to add to what is already available is a little more emphasis on pragmatic dog training. Let's get this done. We have to get this done. So when you have a client in front of you and you go home at the end of the day, that person feels that you have added value and solved their problem, and you go home feeling like you offered a workable solution. That is what we are focused on.

Melissa Breau: First of all, you didn't necessarily get into how it's different from FDSA, so do you want to address that?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. First of all, it's all workshops. FDSA is primarily classes with workshops and webinars added. We have created the Pet Professionals program to be all workshops, so that means that busy people can come in, listen to an hour-long lecture, then during the week they will take a quiz to help them with some of the information, they will submit their questions, they have a chance to submit a video, depending on the topic, and then they will get feedback on all of that, including a certificate saying they took this class. And it's all done in ten days. It's basically seven days, but then the instructor has three more to respond.

FDSA is heavily focused on dog sports, although over the last couple of years our behavior area has really increased and so has our emphasis on pet-training skills. But the Pet Professionals program is truly focused on pet skills. FDSA is 100 percent a la carte. You have to figure out a route. You are responsible for figuring out what you already have, because the assumption is you're coming in as a sport trainer, so you already started with something. Very few people show up at FDSA with no background whatsoever. So you need to come in with what you have and create a plan that's going to work. You have to look at your dog and figure out, Do I need classes on confidence building? Do I need classes on generalization? Do I have focus issues?

The Pet Professionals program was designed to be start-to-finish comprehensive, so there is a core of … I think it's fifty classes, and it really should cover all of the applied skills that a person needs. So that really is a fundamental difference between the two programs. If we had done that at FDSA, I would have had to make the assumption that a person had an 8-week-old puppy and raised it up through whatever titles and whatever sports, which would have been a fairly overwhelming task and inappropriate for most of our students.

In the Pet Professionals program, we did create that comprehensive program and then we added currently 25 more electives, but I'd almost put money on the fact that that will double, just knowing how we do things, in the next six months or a year because ideas will come to us. So if a person knows absolutely nothing, they can take every single class in the core and feel pretty good about their knowledge, which isn't the same as hands-on training, but we can get to that in a moment. Or a person could come in and just pick and choose — "I'm a little weak here," "I think I know this topic very well," "Oh, look at this one; I need this."

So we don't have any particular opinion if a person opts for every single class and makes it a comprehensive program or if a person opts for an a la carte approach. It's fine with us. The price is about as reasonable as we could possibly make it. It's $29.95 for everyone, and that includes your quizzes and your video submissions and your questions and your certificate. It's very, very reasonably priced. That is because the purpose of the program is to provide education and to fill in gaps for trainers, and I think we can do that. That's the goal. So that's the basic design of the PPP program versus the FDSA program.

Melissa Breau: Why a new program? Why did you decide to go out there and take this on and create this new thing?

Denise Fenzi: Because I want to make things better. At the end of the day, I am all about education. I want things to be better. I want people to be the best dog trainers they can be. And I felt that I was in a position to start to make that happen, and so I did it.

Melissa Breau: I know a big piece of the new program, the mission at least, is that it should be "kind, pragmatic, and effective," that positive training should be all three of those things. I think most of our audience is probably sold on the word "kind," just because they listen to this, but can you talk about the pragmatic and effective pieces of that mission?

Denise Fenzi: In the pet dog world, I think it's really important for us to understand that people get dogs to love them, not to train them, and I think as dog trainers sometimes we forget that. We get so excited about training, the science of training, and the details of training, and we want to get geeky about training, and whether we realize it or not, we alienate a lot of people when we do that.

Dog training, for most people, needs to be pragmatic. What it needs to do is make the person happy with their dog in their home. That means that if you have two solutions, one takes 10 minutes to implement and gets you to 85 percent and the other one takes five hours to implement and gets you to 95 percent, you need to err for the 10-minute solution for the vast majority of people. Now if a person says, "Oh, I'd love to learn more about clicker training and shaping," whoa! Right there, change direction and go for the five-hour approach. I'm right behind you. But the client needs to direct that. It's the client who decides what they need, and your job is to serve them.

To serve them, you have to listen to them, and pragmatic means making solutions that work within their family, not the one you would do, or the one you would have your trainer do, or even the best one. The right solution is the one that gets you to a solution and that is palatable, that the dog can live with, that the handler can live with. So you do need to be kind, I would never argue that, but you do not need to break things down into one hundred pieces. The dog can take some responsibility for learning.

And then the long-term goal is, as I say, "Happy dog, happy handler." That's what I want. It's not just happy dog, miserable handler who's frustrated because they can't possibly follow out these complex directions with all of these steps and all of the information you've given them. That is not pragmatic. So when we teach our classes, we will be teaching pragmatic solutions, lots of solutions, these are all the things we can think of that will help you.

You know, management is not a bad word. It's actually a very good word. Many people are thrilled if you can offer a management solution to a problem. They'll say, "Oh, that's all I have to do?" "Yeah, that's all you have to do." And now they're happy. "You mean I can do loose-leash walking just by using a front-clip harness and my dog doesn't pull?" "I don't know; if it works for you, it works for me. Are you happy?" "I'm happy." "Dog's happy?" "Dog's happy." "Yay! Problem solved." You might want to teach loose-leash walking on a collar for a hundred reasons that have nothing to do with loose-leash walking, and I might too, but at the end of the day, we want to make sure you have solutions that are pragmatic and that there's a decent chance you can pull one out that will work for a reasonable percentage of people.

Now obviously, some problems, especially behavior issues, are not quick fixes. There are no quick fixes. That's fine. We're still going to try to find the most pragmatic solution that works for that family. And so when I say, "Kind, pragmatic, and effective," what I'm really trying to say is, "You need to be client-centered." That is the focus. You need to listen to your client and give them what they ask for.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there the idea of being able to pull out an option for a reasonable percentage of people. You mentioned this when you explained the program, but it's really worth re-highlighting or recapping that. A lot of the workshops in the Pet Professionals program, that's the goal is to give a couple of options that solve a problem, rather than just one solution, so that maybe somebody can expand their repertoire of options to help pick the right one for the dog and handler, right?

Denise Fenzi: Correct.

Melissa Breau: Where should people go for more information if they want to learn more about all this stuff?

Denise Fenzi: There's a website, fdsapetprofessionals.com, and as we record this, it is not public, but would it be correct, Melissa, to say that when this is released, it will be public?

Melissa Breau: It should be public, and classes should be starting soon afterward, so do you want to share when the first classes will be offered?

Denise Fenzi: We'll be starting in July, so right around the corner, and it's July 7, right? Is that the first set of classes?

Melissa Breau: That's absolutely right.

Denise Fenzi: So it will always be on Sundays, classes will always be released on Sundays, and then that helps people remember that each week starts on Sunday to the following Sunday, and registration starts the prior month on the 22nd. So for those people who are familiar with FDSA, this should feel quite familiar, because FDSA also always opens registration on the 22nd for the following month.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Denise! I hope everybody is as excited about this new thing as I know you are and I know I am.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you. Thank you for having me back.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week, this time with Loretta Mueller to talk about how to improve your timing in training.

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


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! 

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