E137: Cat Warren - "What the Dog Knows"

NY Times Best-selling author Cat Warren joins me to talk about her cadaver dog, Solo, and what she learned while writing a book about their life together.


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 Cat Warren.

Cat is the New York Times bestselling author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World.

The book tells the story of learning to work with her impossible young shepherd as a cadaver dog to find the missing and dead. The Young Readers Edition just came out this month, so we thought we'd have her on to discuss the books!

In addition to her work as an author, Cat is a professor at North Carolina State University, where she teaches science journalism and creative nonfiction.

Before starting her academic career, she was a newspaper reporter across the United States, from California to Wyoming to Connecticut, and won numerous journalism awards for that work.

She's also local to me, so I get the honor of training with her occasionally.

Welcome to the podcast, Cat!

Cat Warren: Thank you, Melissa. It feels like just yesterday that I talked to you.

Melissa Breau: Saw me, even.

Cat Warren: I know. I was fortunate.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you share a little bit about your current dogs and what you're working on with them?

Cat Warren: Right now, David and I have two dogs. We have Jaco, who will be 6 years old in February. He's a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and he has pretty bad epilepsy that he's had since he was just 2 years old. He's on a panoply of drugs, a cocktail that … they're working right now, but it really does limit his mobility a little bit and how with it he is. So he is our pet and he lives with us, and he sleeps in our bedroom at night, and we run him a number of times a day, but he does not get out and about much.

We have another Shepherd, Rev, whom you know, who's just about a year-and-a-half old. What am I not working on with him? That would be a better question. He's so smart and sensitive and wonderful. He came to us a little shy through absolutely no fault of the breeders, and his way of dealing with the world is fairly different than other Shepherds that I've had. So we just work getting him out and letting him be a dog and working on basic manners, which you were helping him yesterday because he's always so happy to see you and wants to leap. He's a delight. He is smart and funny and sensitive and he really adores us. And we adore him.

Melissa Breau: He's rather good looking, too, for those who can't see him.

Cat Warren: He's a nice-looking pup. I love Sable Shepherds, I have to say.

Melissa Breau: To take things back a little bit, how did you originally get "into dogs"?

Cat Warren: I grew up in Oregon, and I think that my dad had hunting Labs going back to when he was quite young. We also had a host of female Irish Setters. And when I got old enough, I did not want an Irish setter. What I wanted was an Irish Wolfhound, because I was tiny, and I had really studied all the dogs, and I had been to dog shows, and that was the breed I'd fallen in love with. And so my parents got me a miniature Dachshund.

Melissa Breau: That's the same thing.

Cat Warren: Really, really, so totally similar in so many ways. I named him Clancy. I needed a little bit of a revenge: an Irish name for a German dog. So Clancy was my first dog, and then I moved on to have a few English Setters. And the moment I was out of the house, I started getting German Shepherds, and that's what I've had ever since. 

Melissa Breau: Once you found them, you fell in love.

Cat Warren: Yes. Despite all their problems.

Melissa Breau: Well, we'll definitely get into that. Before we go there, though, obviously I trained with you today, so I know that you work pretty hard to be a positive trainer. But have you always been on that path? If not, what got you started there?

Cat Warren: No, I've not always been a positive trainer, and probably with prior dogs, I wouldn't have even known what you meant when you said that. It's so funny, because some of the early books that I read — I mean, I'm 63; what can I say? — The Monks of New Skete … thank God I didn't grow up on Cesar Milan.

But I think that probably Jaco, the dog from the Czech Republic, was the first dog that I started trying to train in a positive way. That was due to the influence of Lucy Newton, who teaches scent work sometimes for Fenzi, and also what kind of a dog Jaco was.

He came over to be a law enforcement dog. He was 18 … 17 months old when we got him. He definitely had an edge. East German Shepherds can have a real general … people call it "reserve," but it was essentially suspicion about the world.

I truly believe that when I looked at him, I thought, This dog needs to learn to just utterly trust me. I think to some degree I looked at him and thought, I have to treat him as I would a slightly feral animal, and that is with slow, kind, and treats.

And then, when I started with Lucy, she basically started to slowly inculcate me, and by the time Rev came around, July a year and nearly a half ago, it was delightful that even though I still wasn't very good at it and was still struggling, I knew immediately that he was going to be trained in a positive way.

Melissa Breau: To dive into that just a little bit more, how would you describe your approach today? What are you doing, or how are you approaching that when you work on training with him?

Cat Warren: I'm awkward because I'm still learning, and you think about R+, and think about all the things, you know, shaping and luring and timing and how you do cues. And in a way, my learning curve has been steep. I have had a lot of help, which has been so necessary, because in a way I think that when people talk about R+, you don't have the assumption that … it's a dance between you and the dog. And if it's an unfamiliar dance, you sometimes aren't the most ideal partner.

But I can see the difference that it makes with Rev, and I can see the trust, and I think that more than anything else, R+ allowed me to slow down and be a little more observant and think about what state of mind the dog was in. "Are you ready to train?" is such an important question, and I don't think I'd ever considered it before these two dogs. 

Melissa Breau: I love that line about it being a dance and really having to think about it. I also want to give credit where credit's due, Cat. Even in the time that I've known you, you've made huge leaps and bounds, both in your own training and Rev, in terms of what he's accomplished. So props where it's deserved.

Cat Warren: Thank you. He's helped train me too. He's big, so there's this level at which there's not a ton of room for error. He's a nice big boy, and I don't want him leaping up and kissing everybody's nose.

Melissa Breau: What does he weigh now?

Cat Warren: He actually is not all that far off of 85 pounds, so he's big for working line Shepherd. He's a big boy with big bones. 

Melissa Breau: Very pretty boy, but definitely a big boy.

Cat Warren: Yes.

Melissa Breau: So we talked a little bit about your current duo, but your books are about Solo, so I wanted to take a step back. Can you share a little bit about Solo?

Cat Warren: Sure. It's funny, because it sort of seems like yesterday and it also seems a really long time ago, but Solo came into my life and into David's life in 2004. He was a West German German Shepherd from a breeder where I had really researched what I wanted in a dog, because I'd had an American German Shepherd who had had so many health problems that I had just sworn to myself that I was not going to go through the tragedy of some of those health problems another time. Of course you can never insure yourself against that happening.

Solo was a singleton, so he was the only pup in his litter. He came to us sort of like a pup who had an Exeter education, a little Ivy League education from his breeder, who was absolutely wonderful. But the issue of him being a singleton really made his life difficult because he did not know dog language very well. And as a result, his reaction to other dogs and other pups was what we called aggression back then, and what I currently would call reactivity, and probably a fair amount of fear, just because he didn't speak the language. So he just could not get in and out of a situation gracefully with another dog. 

Melissa Breau: From having looked at the book and talked to you … obviously some singletons wind up just fine, but he really struggled with all of the stigmas or the things that people say can happen. It sounds like he really got dealt the worst hand as far as those things are concerned.

Cat Warren: Melissa, this is the kind of thing where, ex post facto, had I been a more experienced trainer, could I have helped mitigate some of these things or made the learning curve a little shorter? I'm sure that I could have, because by the time he was truly an adult, he was capable of paying attention when there were other dogs around. But I would say he was never fully comfortable. They weren't his people. People were his people. 

Melissa Breau: For those who haven't read the book, you went on to train Solo as a cadaver dog. What led you down that path, of all things?

Cat Warren: Serendipity is probably an odd term to use, but it really was serendipity that I knew a trainer whom I hadn't trained with for quite some time. My former Shepherd, Zev, had been an obedience dog and was mid- through his AKC obedience titles when he got sick when he was just 7 years old. And so I went to Nancy and said, "What do I do?"

I do remember because it was a hot July and he was 4-and-a-half months old and he was a little monster. He was loose in the yard and he was bounding toward the cyclone fence where the kennel dogs were, and bouncing up and growling and snarling, and of course the other dogs would react. And I was trying to lure him away — you know how well that works — with liver traits.

That's when Nancy and I talked, and she said, "What do you want to do with this dog?" And my response was, "I just want him to not do what he's doing right now in front of you. That would be a really great start."

But I didn't even know what a cadaver dog was. She had had a couple of dogs. She had search-and-rescue dogs and a couple of dogs that were cadaver dogs. She explained, and also explained that one of the advantages with cadaver dogs is they work separate sectors, and so it's not quite as big a deal to have a dog that is reactive with other dogs, if he's under control in his sector when he's searching. And that was very much the case.

So I went home and I immediately started reading about cadaver dogs. It was the one thing Nancy told me not to do, and of course I did it. She said, "You think too much." But I went home and started reading, and I found it fascinating. That's what started me was here's this dog who has flunked out of a number of puppy classes — I mean, truly flunked out — and what are we going to do with him?

Melissa Breau: He needed something.

Cat Warren: He needed something and I needed something. He was a dog where my preliminary hopes were that I was just going to go back to the obedience ring. But that really was not going to happen at that stage with him, so I started training him with Nancy.

Melissa Breau: In the book you recount in quite some detail what that first training session with her was like. Can you share that story?

Cat Warren: I'd be most unhappy to. It's so funny, because I can remember it. Nancy Hook is absolutely wonderful, and her methods of laying foundation are really sophisticated. At the time, though, people were using things like concrete blocks, where they would put the scent in one of the concrete blocks.

Nancy used unused paint buckets, plastic buckets from Home Depot, and laid them out in the yard. I think people who do scent work are very familiar with this or other versions of laying a foundation. Nancy put her soon to be ex-husband's wisdom teeth in one of the buckets and the rest of them were blanks.

And then she explained how I was to take him and just run him down the buckets, and that if I would present a bucket, that he should just dip his head in, and then the next, and then the next, and it would be really smooth, and then he'd hit the positive bucket. At that moment I would — if he paused, which he would, because dogs are so good at detecting anomaly, and those teeth would have been an anomaly — at that point I was to quickly reward him.

It didn't go that way. Solo was very excited and very rambunctious and on lead, and my timing was all off. I had liver treats in my pouch, but trying to wrestle them out when he was jerking me from bucket to bucket … and I mean, Nancy was just hissing at me, "Reward him! Reward him!"

He was yowling, and quite literally … he was a smart dog and he figured out almost immediately that there would be a treat coming if he kept his head in the bucket with the teeth in it. But then I wasn't there fast enough and he started yowling at me. Nancy said, "Oh, you can use that as his alert." 

Melissa Breau: That's a nice spin for it, right?

Cat Warren: That's right.

Melissa Breau: Take what they give you.

Cat Warren: I think I described it in the adult book as the funky chicken dance with a little leash bondage. I think in the kid's book that I just kept it at the funky chicken dance. I didn't add the leash bondage part.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Cat Warren: But had me tied up. 

Melissa Breau: I'd imagine most of our listeners are dog people, and probably almost all of them are also dog sports people. But the idea of a working dog, or a dog that's actually doing calls and things, that's a little bit different. Can you talk us through what maybe a typical call might look like for you and Solo? When you were working, how did it work? What was that like? 

Cat Warren: I had a somewhat unusual situation in that I was not working with a team per se. Most search-and-rescue folks and cadaver-dog people are associated with a volunteer team or they're officers in a police department. I was actually training as a volunteer with a law enforcement agency. Actually I was with a couple: with Durham Police Department Canine Unit and with Durham Sheriff. I think that I trained for about a year before I got hooked up training with the Durham Police Department. I was really lucky in the Canine Sergeant allowed me in.

Once Solo and I were certified, a standard call-out would be word of mouth, so it would usually be a homicide detective or just a detective from this county or from another county. It often went that I would get a call in the evening. I would look at my phone and it would say, "No caller ID." These days we know that it's a political call. Back then there was no Caller ID. I knew that it was the police, and they would explain the situation. Inevitably, it would be somebody who hadn't been heard from for four or five days. The police knew, for instance, that a boyfriend was a suspect, or a drug dealer was a suspect, or that this person was suicidal, and some cases it was because of Alzheimer's or dementia.

We would schedule when we would go out, because oftentimes you have to have several police there, and ideally you want more than one cadaver dog. There were a number of cases I worked where I was the only person with a cadaver dog, which isn't great, but it's inevitable.

And then you go and you would meet, usually at the police department offices, and you would get maps and you would talk to them for a bit about where the search was and how they plan to run it. Or they would sometimes ask me how I would ideally run it, and we'd talk it through and then go out. Very often there would be several places. If it was, for instance, a suspected boyfriend, there would be an area behind the house. But then there also might be an area off a park where they used to sit and do drugs together. In some homicide cases we would be searching along a highway, for instance, in the ditches and back, because it was believed that the person had been dumped out of the car.
We would search these sectors, and dogs in sniffer mode … so many of your listeners already know this, but especially in North Carolina, during the summer it can get pretty panty pretty quickly, and you want to work the dog, and then cool them down and hydrate them, and then go back out. So there was a lot of that. There were a lot of 10-minute searches, back into the car with the AC on, and then moving to another area and back out of the car. Solo always almost always worked off lead unless we were searching along a highway or if we were in a very urban area. When we even did searches inside houses, in some cases that was all off lead.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. If I remember right, you've mentioned that part of the reason the cadaver work also worked for you is there's a little bit more flexibility around scheduling than with the traditional search-and-rescue situation, right?

Cat Warren: There is, and, and if you think about live search and rescue, where the victim is presumed to still be around, time is so of the essence. The 3-year-old toddler who wanders off, the person who has dementia or Alzheimer's, where the caretaker realizes that they've been gone for four or five hours and it's the middle of the summer — that's where minutes matter. I was teaching, and also I'm really aware of the fact that … I started this work when I was 50, but being able to dash out from NC State, where I was teaching, was just not going to happen.

The cadaver work, the saying is "The dead can wait," and that's true to some degree. Sometimes we would wait a day and a half or so, until we could get enough police officers together to do an effective search, or get another dog if we were working something that was, for instance, a clandestine burial, because those are such difficult cases.

Melissa Breau: I think you've also mentioned that a lot of the times you'd be called at research and you might not even find anything. Once you graduated to that point where you were working on real cases, what are we looking at in terms of training versus working? What kind of training did you have to do to keep things up so that it was still reinforcing for him? What did that look like?

Cat Warren: The thing is, I don't think you ever stop training. Probably, to some degree, I trained as much when he was actually being deployed than I did when he was "training to get certified," because searches are always different. They're always difficult.

There are times when you have to be honest with somebody. If your dog does not have a ton of experience in training on clandestine burials, you can't say, "Oh yeah, I can take my dog out there." So there were always things for us to work on and to hone.

I think that Solo was such an easy dog, in retrospect. I was so lucky. I doubt that another dog would have been as forgiving of my errors and also so quickly able to generalize things so that he goes, "Oh, this problem is like that problem."

I was always amazed. One day he was out on the field. and Nancy had put a cadaver hide in one end of a drainage pipe and the other end of the drainage pipe was 60 or 70 feet away. He was out in the field. and he ran and he sniffed the drainage pipe on one end, and darn it if he didn't go and run to the other end.

I didn't even see that there was another end of the drainage pipe. And he checked that and then he came back to the original end and said, "No, it's stronger here." Once he started doing something like that, I watched him on several searches, and if he had one end and he thought he was getting a little scent, he would always go say, "Hmm, let me see if there's another end here that I can check out first." 

Melissa Breau: That's pretty impressive.

Cat Warren: It is. It is. Let's face it: not all dogs have that kind of ability. Jaco was going to be a super cadaver dog. I had him certified and before he started having seizures, but not in a million years would Jaco have intellectualized a problem. Jaco's idea of searching was, "I'm going to go out here and I'm going to run back and forth really hard and really fast, and it's going to be out there." And it's true. I mean, you work hard enough long enough, and if you're a hunting dog and you're quartering back and forth, yeah, you know, it's an approach.

Melissa Breau: Different dogs are different and have different strengths and weaknesses, but that's interesting that he was able to problem-solve quite that effectively. That's really brilliant. 

Cat Warren: Yeah, he was a smart dog.

Melissa Breau: When writing the book, it's clear that you did a lot more than just share your story; you obviously did quite a bit of research, including delving into the science. I'd love to dig into that just a little bit. When we're talking about finding a dead body, what is it that dogs are actually detecting or actually looking for?

Cat Warren: There's the short answer and then there's a longer answer and then there's a really long answer. The short answer is we don't actually know what it is that the dogs are detecting. We're rewarding them on a range of scents.

People who have disaster dogs don't actually want to train on blood because in a disaster there's going to be blood everywhere. But you can train a dog on everything from fresh blood to ancient bones, and when the dogs are being properly exposed to those things, they'll say, "Hey, I found it."

The idea is do we know what the volatile organic compounds are that are saying to the dog, "This is something I'll get rewarded for." And the answer to that is … there are some theories.

One forensic anthropologist who's done a lot of work in this identified, like, 480 different volatile organic compounds, those things that go up in the air so that the dog's nose can capture it. He basically says that humans are a messy pile of pollution. And it may be that some of the things that make humans different, for instance, from a dead deer are all the chemicals that we ingest during our lifetime.

So this is the longer answer, and that answer depends on what the dog has been trained on. It's why it's so important and people get into such rancorous arguments about "You shouldn't train on this because it doesn't represent the full spectrum," and "This is not really proper to train on," and "Please don't train on this or that."

The long answer is it would be good for us to know what it is that lights the dog's brain up when it is smelling something that is human remains and it says, "I found it," because then we could actually do a better job of creating what we call pseudo-scents that are good mimickers of human remains. Right now it really is ideal that you train on human remains and a nice range of them.

What we do know is that well-trained cadaver dogs can find human remains, and they can find them consistently if the handler is good and if conditions are right. So to me it's a really interesting scientific question, but I don't tear my hair out thinking about, "God, we've got to know what those compounds are, like, tomorrow."

Melissa Breau: I thought it was interesting because getting to hear you talk in person about some of this stuff, and through the book, you've mentioned teeth, you've mentioned somebody who had surgery and had a piece of their rib removed and wound up using that for testing. It sounds like there are lots of different ways that you get your hands on those materials for training. I just thought that was so interesting to hear where some of those different things came from. 

Cat Warren: We have very, I think, liberal laws here in North Carolina. I've had long discussions with people at the medical examiner's office about you have to be clear about what is legal to have in your possession and what's not, and different states have really different regulations.

I was lucky that I had access to a forensic research farm. They're colloquially known as body farms up in western Carolina, where people have donated their bodies to science and, and the researchers put them out in the woods and allow them to decay in various scenarios. They have a cadaver dog program, so the cadaver dogs can learn a great deal with that. But that said, it's also true that because I trained with police, there was more than one occasion that Mike Baker, the Canine Sergeant, would call and say, "We've just found someone, and the area has been completely processed in terms of the crime scene investigators have been there and gone. Do you want to come out with me."

What that meant is that I would grab a bunch of Mason jars, and a lot of gloves to cover my hands, and he and I would go out and I would collect training material, because in North Carolina, when somebody is out for a few days in summer, there is always plenty left over in the surrounding area where that body was removed. Was that too explicit? That's a little explicit.

Melissa Breau: No, I think that was interesting. A little bit … a little detailed, but I think it was interesting. It was respectful. You dealt with that well.

Cat Warren: Yes. Actually I was always … I have to say that it does matter to me. This is always somebody's family or friend, and I was frankly always incredibly appreciative of having that material to train Solo and always having the sense that I was actually lucky to have access to those training materials. 

Melissa Breau: To take it back to research for a minute, you included quite a bit, at least in the young readers edition, about dogs and their historic relationship with death. I thought that was interesting, because I definitely didn't know that. So can you share a little bit about that? 

Cat Warren: Yeah, I'd love to. This is like "Dogs eat dead people," just to summarize that whole area. Actually, I think that one of the things that we know about when we look at ancient religions is that almost every ancient religion has canids playing some role. Whether those are jackals or dogs or mixes or coyotes, the fact is that early civilizations often used taking a body out into the desert and leaving them there knowing that scavengers would come and take care of them.

And so we have figures like Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead, and everybody's familiar with that beautiful canid with the big ears. He looks like a nice little black Malinois to me. Some researchers think that's actually a golden wolf. Be that as it may, Anubis was protector of the tombs, and he was protector of the tombs because he wasn't afraid of dead bodies. Clearly he wasn't afraid of dead bodies, because people had seen the wolves, or the jackals, or whatever they were, eating dead bodies.

You look at that, and then the Zoroastrians, who had really close relationships with dogs. They had herding dogs and house dogs, but they had a ceremony called Sagdid, which means "Seen by the dog." And quite literally, for their ceremonies, they would choose a dog that looked … it would be a two-color dog, so it was probably a kind of herding dog by color, maybe like a Canaan dog.

The dog would be led up to the body and usually they left little pieces of bread on the body. Of course that was pretty tempting for the dog to just eat the bread. But that scared away the corpse demon. So the scene by the dog was really necessary before the person was finally laid to rest. It was an elaborate ceremony, and it's really evocative that the dog's gaze drives the demons away. I still kind of feel that way.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that just by sitting there and looking at the body that that has a power in and of itself.

Cat Warren: Exactly. Exactly. 

Melissa Breau: Did you discover anything that you found really surprising or particular interesting in your research, even if it didn't make it into the book?

Cat Warren: There's a lot that I was surprised by where I decided it wasn't part of the central function of the book. I think I do in a couple of chapters talk about things like false alerts or false positives or handlers who move from being delusional into being criminal in their actions. I think that even though I started out skeptical, what surprised me is how really, really good the good dogs and handlers were, where it just blew my mind.

But then it will also surprise me where there were dogs and handlers that were just bloody awful and shouldn't be out there because of the responsibility. There's no point in writing a book where you're spending your whole time saying that, but I think it's also really important because I see so much magical thinking about dogs and how perfect they are and how amazing their noses are.

The fact is that all of that — and sports dogs people … everybody who's listening already knows this, right? — is that you have to have a really good handler and you have to have a really good dog. And you know how when conditions change just a little bit, things can go awry.

The same is true in doing search work. It's that nightmare of "I searched downwind, and I should have been searching upwind." So, in a way, it was that finding how beautiful it is when everything comes together nicely, and also realizing that that's a beautiful and not entirely common thing.

Melissa Breau: That it takes an honesty with yourself about your dog's skills and your own skills and some self-awareness to really achieve that, and maybe it's not quite as common. 

Cat Warren: Yes. Yes. And I will say that one of the things that actually delighted me so much, and I think delights and surprises anthropologists, is that these dogs, properly trained, are very good at alerting on bones that are between, like, 800 and 1400 years old.

The fact is that when we talk about volatile organic compounds — that's the scent that goes up into the air column — the fact is there's nothing coming. Those bones — there's no decay happening in those bones anymore. It can't be detected with a machine. So that beautiful mystery is what is it that the dog is detecting that it can find something that has what we would say little to perhaps no scent, and yet they do.

Melissa Breau: It's impressive.

Cat Warren: It's a miracle! It's not a miracle. It's just that we don't know yet. 

Melissa Breau: Right. That living beings are actually ahead of science in this.

Cat Warren: Isn't that nice? And isn't it nice that you have a really beautiful, as some people call them, biological tool that you can use because it works, and you don't absolutely have to know exactly why it works.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. I mentioned in the intro that the young readers edition is now out. I got to come see you talk a little bit about it at a local bookstore this weekend. What age group is it written for? Can you share a little bit about what kind of kid might be interested in the book?

Cat Warren: I wrote the book for 8- to 12-year-olds. I had a really, I think, sophisticated and astute editor, because I really wanted to make sure I didn't condescend to kids. Kids can be pretty sophisticated. So it's written for 8- to 12 year olds, but it's a chapter book. I've got, like, 130 illustrations and photos in it to hopefully make it pop along.

But kids who are interested in science, kids who obviously love dogs or animals, and I think even kids who like a kind of mystery or adventure. I remember when I was growing up I loved Encyclopedia Brown. It sort of solved the mystery. And so I hope that those are the kids that are drawn to it, because I think that it's dogs … well, I like to think they're sort of like these furry science labs. The kids who are interested in learning about the natural world, very often the dog is the thing that's closest to giving them access to observing and appreciating all the things that are exciting about the natural world. 

Melissa Breau: I imagine it's available in all of the expected places: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, that kind of thing?

Cat Warren: Yeah, and independent bookstores too. I think it does have a cute cover. Thank goodness they put a little German Shepherd puppy on the cover. But obviously, if you go online, it's pretty easy to find.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. We're coming up on the end here, and I have three questions I usually ask everybody their first time on, so I wanted to work through those. The first one here is what is the dog-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?

Cat Warren: This is going to sound really odd because I was very proud of the work that Solo and I did together. I feel that the dog-related accomplishment I'm proudest of is having Rev love and trust and like us.

You and I talked at the beginning about how R+ has changed my approach in how I do things. The degree to which I so wanted to have the perfect cadaver dog, and the idea of saying, "I need to listen and look and not rush with this dog," and the degree to which we grok each other, that learning how to understand and appreciate him and fully falling in love with him, even though he's so different from Solo, I think is an accomplishment for me because it's really unlike me. Usually there's a goal and it's like, "I'll do it by hook or by crook, and I want the dog to come along for the ride." And it doesn't work that way. 

Melissa Breau: You've really taken the time with him to honor his part in the process.

Cat Warren: Yes, and not to worry, and to feel like, "You know what, we'll do something together." And it's fun, and I'm learning with him.

Melissa Breau: What is the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Cat Warren: Oh, you know, there's a short answer and a long answer. I think training advice comes along when you need it. Amy Cook's "Every time you train your dog, you're teaching them how to feel" is a very good piece of training advice.

But I've also been listening to Sarah Stremming, and having her talk about this relationship and the relationship she has with her 4-year-old Border Collie, and the degree to which it's just enjoying what you're doing, enjoying the training, not worrying how long it takes or where your dog's at in the process, and when are we going to be able to do such-and-such. I think that that's a big piece of advice. It's not "Love the one you're with" quite, but there's something about "Enjoy the one you're with." 

Melissa Breau: I like that. Last one here: Who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Cat Warren: Everybody says — because I have listened a time or two to your podcast — everybody has a number of names. I'll just talk about a very early name, and that's Patricia McConnell.

Because Patricia, her book The Other End of the Leash, which came out a couple of years before I got Solo, was one of those books where I read it … I actually think I was somewhere on a bus, believe it or not, but I still remember. I mean a bus drive, like, a several-hour trip on a bus, which — who does that anymore?

But I remember how much reading it changed me and opened my eyes, and I think that Patricia has … her contribution to the field of positive dog training has just been huge over the last couple of decades.

Melissa Breau: I absolutely agree with you. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Cat! This has been great.

Cat Warren: Oh, thank you for having me, Melissa. It's really a pleasure, and I have to say I'm honored to be part of the Fenzi world.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week. I'll actually be interviewing Denise Fenzi and Shade Whitesel, and we're going to talk about the parts of training, handling, and competing with our sport dogs that they feel are often overlooked.

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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