Denise and Shade come on the podcast to talk about the state of positive training in the sports world today, the skills they feel dogs are missing that they need most in seminars and competition, and what people tend to overlook when training a sports dog.
Melissa Breau: Hey guys, just a quick note before we get started here. I wanted to let you guys know there are a few little glitches in this particular recording. We had a few technical issues during the podcast interview. We've done our best to patch up where we can. There are a few places where the sound is still a little sketchy, but we thought it was a good enough chat that we didn't want to not share it, so enjoy. I apologize in advance for the couple of spots where it's a little dicey, but hopefully you enjoy it anyway. Thanks again.
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 and Shade Whitesel about how to more effectively structure training — and competition — if you are a positive reinforcement trainer.
Welcome to the podcast, ladies!
Denise Fenzi: Hi!
Melissa Breau: Hi, Denise. Shade, do you want to say hi so everybody can hear your voice?
Shade Whitesel: Hey there. This is Shade.
Melissa Breau: All right. To start us out, could you each give us a little bit of information, what sports you've competed in, and just give everybody a little context? Denise, do you want to start?
Denise Fenzi: Sure. I've been doing this for a long time. I started competing when I was a kid, so it's about 40 years now.
I started with AKC Obedience because that was the only game in town. I got some CD's and CDX's, so the lower-level titles. When I got to my 20s I wanted a little bit more dog, so I got a Belgian Tiburon. That was my first Utility dog, my first UD dog. He was also my first high-in-trial dog. He was my first AKC Tracking dog, my first advanced Schutzhund dog, he had a Schutzhund 3 IPO. I know they call these things all different names these days; I don't even know what Schutzhund is. But at the time, it was Schutzhund.
My more recent dogs, I've also done AKC. I have a couple of Obedience champions, more Tracking titles, more Schutzhund 3 titles. I do have a Mondioring 1 on one young dog, on Raika, so I covered a lot of territory over a long period of time.
Nowadays I know there's a lot of sports that are new to me and I haven't tried, so I have trained for sports like nosework, but I haven't competed in them, and I do think there's a difference between what you train for and what you compete in. But that's kind of my background.
Melissa Breau: Shade?
Shade Whitesel: I started with a mix when I was a teenager, and because at that time — because we're both old — she wasn't allowed to compete in AKC. We had to do matches that mixed dogs were allowed. So I started AKC Obedience with a Samoyed/Shepherd mix that was the cutest girl.
When I got out of college, I got a German Shepherd and wanted to do everything, and got into Schutzhund, which they do call IVP now. They recently changed it. But for the purpose of this podcast I'll call it Schutzhund.
I'm on my about seventh Schutzhund dog. Most of them I've gotten Schutzhund 3. One in particular I competed on the national circuit for three or so years and had good success with.
All my dogs, I've taken them through a little bit of AKC. I haven't done Utility. I've competed a little at Utility, but most of my dogs I do the CD and Open level to get to MACH 2. So basically Schutzhund and AKC.
Reiki, the dog I competed nationally with, I also did French Ring with, which was a good education for me and just a fun insight into other bitey sports.
So currently that's what I'm doing with my dogs.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Talk me through the day of a trial. What do you do to set your team up for success? Shade, do you want to start this one?
Shade Whitesel: Sure. The current dog I'm competing with, Ones, I really don't want my dog to have any questions about what he is supposed to do in a trial situation. When I talk about trial, I'm also talking about seminar situations, because I feel like seminars are a really good way to introduce your dog to more of a trial environment. And when you do a seminar, it's a good insight as to how your dog is going to act in a trial, which we don't get a lot of trial scenarios.
I just want them to know every single piece of that day, and I want them to be very comfortable with every single piece. I want him to be able to sleep when he's supposed to sleep, and be calm when he's supposed to be calm, and I want him to know exactly what he's doing ring-wise.
There's all these pieces of behavior that go into that, but I just want him to know exactly what he's supposed to do, because when dogs don't … just think about the clarity of our cues, or the context cues, or whatever. When my particular dog doesn't know what he's supposed to do, he might make bad decisions that I don't want him to learn from. So it really became important to me, through him, for him to know exactly what to do.
Melissa Breau: Denise?
Denise Fenzi: Since Shade hit on the training side of it, I'm going to hit on the actual "What does it look like?"
In addition to what Shade said, the training, what I do when I get to a dog show, let's say AKC, depending on where I park in relation to the field itself, I leave my dog in the car, and I get all my stuff, and I bring my stuff in, because that's an opportunity for me to see what I've got.
I decide where I'm going to set up, without my dog with me. I call them "quick barometers." Is this a crazy, noisy place? Is it peaceful? I set up my crate, I cover my crate — it drives me crazy that people don't cover their crates, because it is such an enormous benefit to the dog. I make sure the crate is comfortable, has a nice, cozy mat in it. I get my little chair set up in front of my crate, so that no dogs can be sticking their head in my dog's crate. I think about am I near doors, am I near garbage cans. I want to be in the quietest area I possibly can, even if that's inconvenient for me. I don't want to be next to the walkway.
Then I go get my dog, and I've already decided how I'm going to bring that dog into the space.
Shade Whitesel: Before I crate my dogs, I walk them around a lot at the dog show because I really want my dogs to have an opportunity to see where they are, and do a lot of sniffing and a lot of sightseeing, so that they are really comfortable there.
Denise Fenzi: Especially the higher-drive dogs, my experience is that fear becomes the issue, so I don't want to go into the ring until I'm sure that they have seen everything. I want them to hear the voice of the judge, so I will stand near the ring, so they have that opportunity to see the person, hear the person, see the stewards, and all that. But I'm obviously not disruptive about it. I'm conscious.
I wouldn't even think about trying to ask my dog to offer any behaviors to me until they are basically begging me to work, and I find that comes after they've satisfied any fear needs or curiosity needs.
When I see my dog saying, "Now I'm bored, let's not just stand here doing nothing," then I crate my dog. I keep them in the crate a lot because I want them to rest. My dogs have learned to sleep in their crates, and that's what they do at the show. I cover them up, and then I have a plan for taking them out and warming them up according to the individual dog.
Some of my dogs do better with picky warm-ups, pivots and little picky things like that. Others of my dogs do better just hanging out and me saying, "We're going to go in there and do our thing." So it's according to the dog and the space that is there.
But it's very conscious. I know where I am. I'm really looking at my space and being aware of how am I going to get from my crate to the ring, where am I going to leave my chair, my stuff, my reinforcers, depending on how the dog is trained. It's a planned event. It's not haphazard at all.
And as Shade pointed out, by the time my dog comes out of the crate, once we start doing certain things they know exactly what's going to happen, and that does happen. And then we leave the ring and they know what's going to happen from there. So clarity — I love that word. It's really about creating a safe plan and the dog knows the expectations.
Shade Whitesel: I just want to add that it comes down to you also knowing what time you're going into the ring, so that you can get there in time to be able to do all that stuff. It's not like you're rushing to meet your 10 o'clock ring entry and you get there at 9. Like Denise said, you're planning it all out so that you have time for your dog to look around and hang out.
When I've got a young dog, being first in the ring is not an advantage, because you can't get enough time for them to look around and see all that stuff, and then go back into their crate and rest and things like that. So I was just thinking about your first couple of trials, where you're normally doing Novice at 8 o'clock in the morning.
Denise Fenzi: Right.
Melissa Breau: How did you each discover those routines and figure out what worked for you and your dog? Denise, you mentioned that different dogs need different things before going in the ring, so maybe you could get into that. Do you want to start off, Denise?
Denise Fenzi: Well, I discovered the hard way. I'll tell you just a horrible story. It has a good ending, though, so it's OK.
With Raika, it was very easy to overwhelm her with toys at a trial. So what I used to do was bring her to the trial, crate her, bring her out of the crate, and play right away. This was a very traditional thing to do. I'm sure a lot of people still do it. You don't let the dog look around. It's from the crate to me. Instant. "Play with me, play with me," and make it happen.
It's easy to make it happen with a high-drive dog because they're obsessive. You show them a toy and they bite it. But I knew she didn't feel good. I could tell by the way she was playing tug, but it didn't occur to me to change my plan.
Anyway, I did that, and that's fine, and then I went to my first AKC event and I did the same thing. Didn't let her look around, play, play, play, went in the ring, didn't have a toy, she saw the judge, she said, "That's a scary man," and it was actually kind of horrific.
She heeled backwards because he was behind us. So she turned around, she still heeled, but that way she could keep an eye on him. I was mortified. It was awful. On the recalls she was watching him. When I called her, she came to me and turned around and looked at him in the corner.
It took me two years to, one, recover emotionally, and two, to figure out how to solve that. That's when I started learning about Leslie McDevitt's stuff, Control Unleashed. It had a huge, huge impact on me. I would say easily one of the most impactful things I have ever learned, and the thing that stood out for me is it's OK for your dog to sniff, it's OK for your dog to look around, and that indeed it is what allows your dog to feel safe enough to work with you in a novel environment, because we ask so much of our dogs. "Let's go to a place where there's a hundred dogs you don't know, barking, they could or could not be aggressive, who knows, strange people in trench coats walking behind you." We ask so much, and to give the dog an opportunity to look around is just a kindness.
So it's sad, but the reality is I learned the hard way. What I learned is that by letting her sniff and feel safe before I asked her to do things for me, we had an enormous improvement in our work.
Now, the dog I had before her, I don't even know how to say it. All I can say is she was a fantastic dog and I took advantage of that. So if you have the right dog, you can do everything wrong and come out looking good. Basically that's what I had with Cisu. I mistreated her every which way, and I don't mean that in a training sense. I mean I certainly did her no favors and she just rose to the occasion. Eventually she didn't, but for the longest time she did, and by the time she fell apart, my experiences with Raika gave me some insight into where I had gone wrong and helped me get back on the right path so that she could eventually end up successfully. So that's how I discovered that.
In terms of the plan I teach, I largely learned it by teaching seminars and watching what was happening around me, and seeing the results of people making some of the same mistakes I made.
Something that might or might not come up later on, and I think Shade and I have both come to understand this — I just told you the story of what happened when I took my dog out of the crate and just made her work, made her work, made her work.
And I saw a lot of it around me and I saw how it harmed us, so what did I do? I did what so many of us do. I went to the opposite extreme and I taught people, "Let your dogs look around." But either I was insufficiently clear, or maybe I've just seen different things, or maybe I've changed my direction, or who knows.
But what I see happening now is that dogs are being given too much choice, too much freedom, in the name of acclimation, or in the name of engagement training, and that's not really what I meant. I think there's a place for choice and I think there's a place for structure, and now I'm finding myself moving back into a more structured direction when it's appropriate.
And that's not what I meant, but that's the nature of training. And that's why — I think Melissa knows this — I'm currently redoing my engagement program and will teach a webinar on that, because I've realized I've allowed myself to be interpreted in a way which removed all of the structure, and that was incorrect.
So here's your 30-second introduction to my new philosophy: Your dog must feel comfortable before you start work, and once you start work, your dog must remain engaged with that work. If your dog does not remain engaged with that work, then you need a plan for handling that. And the plan is not to allow your dog to leave you and go wandering around again. That is not acceptable. You are creating horrific behavior chains that I feel partially responsible for, so I would like to do something to work us back out of that and get a little more structure in our plan.
So that's where I'm going as a result of … you know, this is how training goes. We flip back and forth. I see what I did before and I think I did some good stuff, but I think I made some errors, and I see what's happening, so I'm going to see if I can't rein it in and provide a better system now.
Melissa Breau: Shade?
Shade Whitesel: Well, everything Denise said, totally. But I'm going to tell my own story of figuring out that I should make it clear to my dog what they were supposed to do, because you discover start routines with not success from your dog, so trial and error for sure. So I'll just pick another piece.
When I was doing AKC and when I was teaching people to do AKC obedience, I always thought it was really important to train in between actual exercises and trials. So make sure you have a plan, whatever that plan is, between the recall — the recall is the end of a CD — but between your off-leash handling and then the recall. Make sure you have a good plan so that your dog isn't left hanging.
I always knew we should be, or it was always my opinion that, we should be putting more training into what I call transitions. But a couple of things happened with Reiki. One thing happened where he failed his first track. It was about halfway through his Schutzhund career, we were at Regionals, and he just didn't track. It was the weirdest thing because this was a dog who had gotten a hundred on a track, he got regular 96's, which is a good thing, and he just couldn't track.
And so I went back and looked at everything that was different that weekend or that day that was different from trialing. I methodically took every single thing and made sure that that was an easy thing, up to staying in a hotel and not trialing. Just staying in a hotel, tell your dog that it's going to be a stressful environment, things like that.
At probably around the same time, because I was doing Schutzhund and French Ring and AKC, I was doing one of Reiki's Open trials and I realized that he was thinking bitey thoughts. We were in the AKC ring, and for some reason, to him, he had never gotten Schutzhund confused, but maybe the French Ring field looked like AKC. I don't know. There's more stuff on the field, there's more people, and he was looking at the judge like, "Hey, maybe I should be biting you," which is not what we want in an AKC trials, but also not who this dog was. He was often very clear.
So then I started thinking, How can I let my dog know exactly what … if I'm going to do multiple sports, how can I let my dog know exactly what they're doing that day?
I stopped trusting context cues. I always get people who are like … obviously it's agility equipment; your dog gets in the ring with agility equipment and obviously that's agility. And I would say, "Yeah. However, in my area, a lot of times the agility ring, you've got to pass it on your way to the obedience ring. Or the obedience ring is near the dock diving. We can get mad about that happening, but since your dog might want to do one phase more than another, I just think it's really important that you have predictable routines that look like what they're supposed to do on that day. It's more than just the context cues or the equipment changes. All of that goes into it.
That's kind of taking a different tack on what Denise was talking about, but that's the two examples that I was thinking of to really show my evolution into "This other stuff is just as important to train."
Melissa Breau: Can you just give a quick example of what you mean? What are some of the differences now if you were going to walk into an AKC ring versus a Shutzhund trial?
Shade Whitesel: Obedience looks like obedience, so what I do with my dog is I separate it into I'll tell him we're doing protection; I have a different start routine for that. I'll tell him we're doing obedience; obedience on the Schutzhund would be the same cue in an AKC. And then he has an entirely different start routine for tracking, because some of the props we use for tracking, like our flags, can be misinterpreted if there are flags on the Shutzhund field, which sometimes happens.
So I just have a different start. I'll verbally tell them their equipment change when I can, but it will also be a different start to get into the ring, so that the dog understands that this is obedience versus biting versus tracking.
Melissa Breau: You've both recently spent quite a bit of time thinking about and breaking down how to help your students, other people, replicate that process of building out a repeatable, predictable system for their dogs. I want to talk about why that's so important, to take it beyond not just necessarily your own work, but why is it an important topic overall. Shade, do you want to start us this time?
Shade Whitesel: Because I go around trialing, and I go around teaching seminars, and I consistently see dogs and handlers that are confused as to what they're doing. I see it when I'm teaching, that the dogs can't hang out and then go into the ring and do stuff that we're teaching. Or I want to talk to somebody as an instructor, and their dog can't hang out for 30 seconds as they listen to my directions. So I felt that it was really important to start teaching people that that might be something they train and doesn't just happen in a seminar situation, because I think there's a lot of not training going on in classes and seminars.
Case in point: One of the things that I don't want my dog to learn is they're in the ring and we do something and I give them a reinforcement, and then I have to talk to the instructor, or if I'm the instructor, the student has to talk to me. I don't want the dog then wandering around sniffing, because as Denise mentioned earlier, we're in work mode, and I don't want to build the chain that you get your reinforcer and then I start ignoring you, talking to somebody, while you're allowed to sniff around.
It's not that the dog is doing this intentionally. It's that they've gotten no direction as to what to do in that situation. I would prefer they station or we just train a "Wait your turn" kind of thing, whatever that looks like. I'm not particular. I just want the dog to have some idea of what to do when, if I'm the instructor, the student is talking to me, or if I'm a student and I'm listening in class, I want my dog to have some idea of what to do, and that position or that thing is not sniffing around, so that I'm not building that into my chain of behaviors.
I also want to bring up that I consistently see, out of the ring — this is when I'm trialing myself — I see dogs that … there are two things. They're not competing yet, so they're either in "I'm hanging out" mode, "I'm in pet dog mode," and they're doing a really good job at just hanging out and ignoring all the stuff. They're on the end of a leash, and their owner is talking to other competitors, and they're doing awesome. They're doing great. And then they go into the ring and the dog is in pet dog mode and can't spring into beautiful, motivated heeling that we want in our routine.
And so we just have to be really clear with that. I think about clarity. The dog doesn't know when it's supposed to do one and when it's supposed to do the other.
The other thing we get is the dog is like, work, work, work, work, work. They're on their mat, sitting, and they're barking at their owners, or they're shifting and doing all that kind of stuff. By the time that dog gets into the ring, it's exhausted because it's been working and getting fed for the previous two hours, gets into the ring, and it's still in work mode, but it's so tired from reinforcement-seeking the previous two hours.
Hopefully that makes sense. I just want to educate people that if we train those pieces and we have some clarity, then our performance is just so much better.
Melissa Breau: Denise?
Denise Fenzi: Oh, Shade, so much of that — I'm over here going, "Yeah, yeah, I've seen that." The thing is, clarity matters both for dogs and people. I'm going to hit the people side of it because I think Shade hit the dog side of it.
When people don't know what to do — for example, I'm the instructor and I say to the person, "That's a great question. Put your dog on a down-stay." The reason I say that is because I want your attention, and if your dog is wandering, then you're splitting your attention between me and your dog. So if you put your dog on a stay, then I can have a conversation with you.
So you put your dog down, and he's up three seconds later, and several things have happened here. One, you're not able to hear what I need to tell you. And that's fine. In a seminar, I can adjust. I can make this work. However, what I see then is human behavior starts to degrade because you do need clarity. So in addition to the dog needing to know what they're supposed to do when they're not working, you need to know what you're supposed to do when you're listening to me when you're preparing to get your dog out when your dog is behaving and when your dog is not behaving.
What I find is that when we create a structure for people — and it can be different — but once we create a structure, one for you and one for you and one for you, then you are a better dog trainer because you know how to respond under various circumstances.
So you want to ask me a question, and without me having to tell you, you quietly call your puppy over: "Hey Brito, good boy, lay down, good down, you stay there." You then turn your back on your dog and you talk to me, knowing perfectly well that your dog is going to stay put because you trained him. Now you can ask me your question and you're relaxed because you're focusing on me. Now your attention has shifted and I can talk to you, and if I'm not clear, you can ask me for clarification. We've had our conversation, it took 45 seconds, now you turn me off, you turn back to your dog, and you perform.
That ability — because people are terrible multi-taskers, we're just terrible at it — so if we create clarity for the dog, then that creates clarity for the handler, and when the handler has clarity, they're supposed to be leading the show. Somebody is steering this ship, and I'd like to believe it's the handler. But sometimes it's not, because nobody knows where the hell they're going, and if nobody knows where they're going, what is the dog doing now? I don't know. What is the person doing now? I don't know. Is anyone listening to Denise? No.
So clarity has levels and they all need a place. Once you know what you're doing and your dog knows what they're doing and I know where I fit in, now we can really make things happen.
When I am working with an experienced trainer who is fluid and they're quick and they get things, we make so much progress so quickly, because not only do we have a shared vocabulary, but those spaces in-between are covered. I don't have to explain them to you. I don't have to talk to you about them. They're just there, and they make training really comfortable for all parties involved.
Shade Whitesel: I think that Denise brought up such an important point, and one that I a little bit neglect, because it really is the person having clarity too. I'm always thinking about the dog, but what Denise said about the person being able to give 100 percent attention to what's being said — I just want to reiterate that's so important, because you know your dog is going to stay, and you don't have to multi-task between the dog and the instructor, and then it just flows so much easier. I, as an instructor, see that when those spaces in-between are taught and a student can listen to me. It's just beautiful when that happens.
Melissa Breau: How much of this is really tailored to the dog, so maybe one dog does better with this or that, versus being standard, like this is the right choice and everybody should take this approach — skills that all dogs need to learn. Denise?
Denise Fenzi: There's two pieces to this. One, is it a skill all dogs need to learn? Yeah, absolutely. I think all dogs that are going to go into competition should be looking at the spaces in-between. But where I'm highly flexible is which skills to use on different dogs under different circumstances. It's going to sound a little complicated, but it's not, so stick with me here for a moment.
High-drive dogs are different than low-drive dogs. High-drive dogs are dogs that stick it out kind of no matter what, and my experience is that high drives fall apart because they opt in when they should not. They're afraid of what's going on around them and they opt in because that's what they do. They are so work-oriented.
But if that dog has fear, then you're putting yourself in a high-risk situation, because if the dog opts in and then the fear overwhelms the dog in the middle of competition, the next thing you know, the dog runs after the judge or some other highly undesirable thing. So with a dog like that, I'm going to be emphasizing acclimation time. With a fearful dog, especially fearful high drive, I'm like, "No, please, take all the sniffing time you want." I might well let the dog leave work under certain circumstances rather than build up fear.
But what if it's a high-drive dog with a lot of curiosity? Well, I'm not going to do that, because the reason the dog wants to leave has nothing to do with potential problematic behavior. It's the dog just has a lot of interests and maybe you're only one of them. So in that case I'm probably going to call the dog back to work, and it might even sound a little harassing, so "Hey, pup, pup, pup, pup, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go." You can call that a punisher if you want, it is definitely designed to reduce the behavior of leaving me, and then I'm going to give the dog something to do. So that's handled differently.
What about a lower-drive dog? That gets even more complicated, because if the dog doesn't have a lot of will in the first place to play your games, is it a fearful low-drive dog or is it a curious low-drive dog?
Now I'm going to start talking about structure. Does the dog benefit from more structure or does the dog benefit from more choice? That does vary by the reasons why the dog walks away from you. I think the hard lines for me are fear versus curiosity. Now in terms of exactly what it looks like, should the dog sit while we talk? Should it down? Should it stand? Should it sit in the crate? I'm super-flexible about things like that because I don't think they're the root issue.
So the actual plan you select — I don't think that matters nearly as much as first of all recognizing that the plan should meet the needs of the dog, and second, should be evolving according to what you see. If your plan is depressing your dog and taking you backwards, then you need a new plan. If the plan is getting you where you want to go, then you want to strengthen it and keep evaluating it.
I've said this isn't really voodoo. This isn't meant to be, "Oh my god, you need some expert to come in and have this big evaluation." Largely, self-evaluation takes place here. If you try something and you don't like where you're going, then you need to try something else.
But there are definitely some basic approaches that work with a high percentage of dogs under certain circumstances, and yes, I would like to see all dogs have some kind of a plan.
Melissa Breau: Shade, do you have anything to add to that?
Shade Whitesel: I do — exactly what Denise said, where the owner has to have a plan and develop what plan they're going to do. I, as a teacher, can have suggestions as to what I want that to look like, but it really is up to us as individual handlers for our dog to realize what pieces of it need to be emphasized for that dog.
Again, one dog needs to look around more, the other dog doesn't. I'm just really interested in us not masking. I want to bring up that I don't want us … we shouldn't use our reinforcement to mask the emotions the dog feels before we get into the ring. Maybe we can use the reinforcers that we associate with the ring and the arousal to mask in the ring in the work thing, but before getting up to it, I would recommend that we not.
I've met one dog in my lifetime — it was a student of mine about 15 years ago and it was a lovely Rottweiler — and literally this was before I realized that this was a piece that we had to train. I remember competing with her, or she was competing, and she hung out. The dog had to compete in the afternoon sometime, and with that Rottweiler, the owner walked around with the dog on the end of the leash, visiting with everybody, and the dog was perfectly appropriate and awesome. She would sit down and the dog would lay down. And then that team went into the ring and did the prettiest, most motivated heeling ring routine that you could ever see.
I remember that dog from this day because that is not a skill that most dogs can do, because I continually see it, like I spoke about before, where they can't do that. This dog didn't need that much. The owner didn't need to train all the pieces.
But for most of us, we really need to teach those pieces of all the stuff that goes into crating, getting from Point A to Point B with your arms full, how to wait your turn, how to get into the ring. What that looks like may be different, depending on the handler/dog team and what that individual dog needs, and also, like Denise mentioned, what that individual handler needs. So yeah, dog-dependent for sure.
Melissa Breau: Okay, so obviously anything we want to USE day of the trial — Shade just hit on this a little bit, this idea that if we want to focus on the stuff that has to happen IN the ring, which is most people's natural tendency, we tend to overlook some of these other pieces. So I want to talk about how to incorporate those pieces actually into your training and where it fits into that bigger picture. Shade, do you want to continue your thought there? Because I know you started to get into that a little bit in the last question.
Shade Whitesel: We're kind of calling them "sexy life skills" because these things are equally important for most of our dogs, and most of the time that we're not trialing they're equally important. I really feel more and more we need to reframe these skills as something that people should be spending a lot of attention and time.
I feel like people spend 99.9 percent of their time on training the ring behaviors, the field behaviors if we look at Schutzhund, and then what happens is that if they don't have a good plan, or they haven't taught the dog how to act the day of trial and how to be comfortable with that, they don't get to show off those sexy trial behaviors because the dog is a hot mess off the field.
A lot of dogs can pull this off a couple of trials. They're a hot mess off the field, you get them into the field, they're like, "Oh, I can do this," and the handler gets reinforced because the dog does pretty well, and then eventually, like Denise referenced, the dog blows up. And when you trial a lot, or your trial is potentially really stressful, like Schutzhund, it happens sooner and sooner in the dog's career.
So I really think we should be spending, as instructors and as handlers, a lot of time teaching those pieces so that we can show off our pretty heeling, we can show off our pretty stuff, because the dog knows and feels comfortable off the field.
For example, my current young dog, I'm putting most of my time into teaching him life skills. He's a German Shepherd, so he's going to be noticing his environment. I want him to feel very comfortable in all environments. I'm putting so much time into this dog knowing what to do, rather than teaching all the field stuff, and I want people to know that because it's so important, because in a year he'll be doing all his ring behaviors and it will be so much easier because he'll know how to feel on the trial.
As far as breaking it down, do you want me to go through what the actual behaviors are, or should I save that until later?
Melissa Breau: No, go for it.
Shade Whitesel: OK. Your dog has to know … and I'm going to steal this from Denise. I think she said something like "not work, work soon, and work," and I think those phrases are spot-on, they really are, because that's what a trial looks like.
This is the time when you don't work, so you're sleeping in your crate. This is the time where you're waiting your turn, where work is going to be soon. And I'm going to put in there, This is how you get from A to B, which is not really work soon, or it might be work soon, because you've got to have a plan for that so that your dog's not walking on its hind legs to the field, and then there's work.
I just think we should train those pieces and the dog should have a good idea of clarity. Maybe we as handlers should act different or have different body language for that stuff too, so that the dog knows exactly what they're supposed to do and how to feel about that.
Melissa Breau: Denise?
Denise Fenzi: One thing I'm thinking about is how many of us are doing more and more online training. And even before I was training online, I had not trained in a class environment for many, many years. I was training on my own and I was teaching other people private lessons.
That means I had access to the presence of novel strangers and dogs, which was hugely valuable. Hugely. Like, you have no idea what a benefit a trainer has who is working with other people, because you have somebody to help you out. "Can you help me with my 'stand for exam'?" Sure they will, and you often had many of them a day.
So especially if you're working online, there are certain behaviors that you probably used to train without even knowing you were training it. Let's say you went to a dog-training club once a week from the time your dog was young-ish because you planned on competing. Your dog was already learning about environment and about crating time and waiting and all kinds of things. You may not have done it particularly well, but it wasn't novel. If you had an instructor talking to you, your dog was doing something. Sometimes they were doing things I don't want to see, but they at least had exposure to these ideas of working around other people, working around other dogs.
Nowadays we do so much of our training online, many of us do, that we tend to neglect those things because now it has to be a conscious effort. You're not going to get anything if you're not conscious of it, and one or two matches is not going to do it for you.
And while I am a huge fan of the idea that generalization generalizes — for example, if I go to nine locations, odds are good that the tenth one is going to be pretty smooth, because I've been generalizing the idea of generalizing. But a dog show is a very unique environment. You're not going to generalize the grocery store to the dog show. It just isn't going to happen.
I have told people over a long period of time that about 10 percent of your training time will be spent teaching skills and about 90 percent is going to be teaching everything else. It might be the time spent driving to a park, setting up in a location, moving that location around within the park, changing the direction of the jumps. Those things are going to be 90 percent of your time.
And yet I find that people tend to reverse that. They spend 90 percent of their time … I hate to say wasting time, but they kind of are. So 90 percent of their time practicing things that their dog already knows, teaching known behaviors, teaching them and practicing them in known environments, often the environments are way too small.
Like, you can only do so much training in your house. You've got to get out of your house. When I train a dog in my bedroom, and I have 10 feet by 6 feet of space, that is fantastic for teaching very specific foundation skills: how to hold a dumbbell, how to do your positions. I can add a little bit of proofing, I can put some food on the floor, I can do some stuff. But at the end of the day, that's just not what you need four years later.
You've got to get out of your house. You have to make a plan. Every time you train, you need to be changing things. I would say the vast majority of your actual time should be going new places, opening up your spaces. You need bigger spaces to work in. You need people that are strangers. You need to practice these spaces in-between.
You need to take your crate, even though it's inconvenient and there's no reason to do it. You're like, "I'm just going to the park. I can work out of my car." That's fantastic if you mostly do IPO, because most of IPO is worked out of your car. But if you're going to do AKC, you have to take the crate. It's a pain in the butt. You have to set it up. And then, for no reason at all, you have to spend 20 minutes reading a book, even though you could just go to work. But your dog has to learn how to sit in that crate.
You have to duplicate these things, these time shifts. A lot of dogs you don't have to do it a ton, but they have to see it, and they have to see it enough times, although some dogs — as Shade pointed out with the Rottweiler — some dogs just do the work for us. Those are great dogs. If you get one, be happy. But most dogs take more, and some dogs take a huge amount of spaces in-between time.
I do think that skill training is fun. I love to do it. What drives me personally to generalize and teach all the other stuff is that my skill training gets done quickly.
If you have a dog that's on the high-drive side, and let's call it moderately talented, skills go fast. Really fast. In one year, you could train your dog to Utility and it wouldn't even be that hard, if you have a reasonably talented dog with a trainer who knows what they're doing.
But you don't go to the dog show after a year. But what happens is because you have a dog who's feeding you, that is what should be causing you to take in all the inconveniences of getting in your car, packing up your crate, driving places, stay in a hotel if you want to go really there, like Shade said earlier, setting up the complicated environments that allow you to teach the spaces in-between. Going to the matches and setting it up just the way you would. Getting your friends to come and help you out.
I do think it's a circle, because those things aren't so tedious when you know your dog is making progress. What's harder is when you're struggling with the skills. But I think some of us are getting so wound up in our skill training, and not leaving our houses because it's convenient, that we're not finishing the loops. We're not progressing the behaviors. We're not getting out on the road and finding out what needs to happen.
I totally forgot what the original question was, so hopefully I covered it.
Melissa Breau: You did.
Shade Whitesel: I would add to what Denise said: Exactly. You've got to lug your dog's crate around. You've got to put it, and you've got to spend those 20 minutes reading a book. I just want to reiterate that because I don't see a lot of that nowadays.
I remember, before I trialed, I would do that, and I would also, if I was trialing two dogs, I would set up two crates so that that dog that I was leaving behind in the crate knew what it looked like and was OK with me working with my other dog. I've had two dogs that are the same age that were competing the same level, so I very much put some importance into that.
I was really lucky because I was an instructor that taught AKC classes, and I would teach at a different park each time we had it, so that my own dogs got a lot of time of hanging out there. So I was very lucky. I would have to make a much bigger effort now that I don't teach that class.
Denise Fenzi: I agree. I used to teach a three-hour-long class once a week. Oh my god, it was a lot of work. It was ring practice. We would go to a new location. As a group, we would bring the table, we'd bring the chairs, we would bring all the ring gates. We set up. We would bring a canopy. We literally set up a miniature match each week. It was a pain in the ass.
Melissa Breau: All right, guys. Melissa here. I'm cutting back in. This interview actually ran so long that we decided to split it in half, so the second half will be available in your podcast feed next week. 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.
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!