Chrissi joins me to talk about the winter blues, and how we can overcome them (and our busy to do lists) to find time to train our dogs in the bits and pieces of time we have each day.
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 Chrissi Schranz.
A dog trainer, translator, and chocolate addict, Chrissi is now based in Antigua, Guatemala.
She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she has been able to think — especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the Dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free, motivational methods.
Her workdays are spent doing the things she loves most: thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs, and training, playing, and hiking with her own dogs.
Hi Chrissi, welcome to the podcast.
Chrissi Schranz: Hi Melissa. I'm glad to be here.
Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just remind listeners who the dogs are that you share your life with?
Chrissi Schranz: My newest addition is Mick, a Border Collie. He's currently teaching me how to herd sheep. That's been an incredibly fun and also humbling new adventure.
He's also working on his confidence around strangers and in urban environments. He grew upon a farm, and going for walks in town is probably something he never did before I got him. He was already 2 years old when I got him. But he's making great progress, and he even rode the bus for the first time the other day.
Game, my Malinois, is my "take everywhere" dog. She usually goes wherever I go. She's currently learning to bike-jore — that's to pull me on my bike.
Melissa Breau: That's exciting. As we head into the holidays, I think many of us — I know I certainly am — are struggling with the additional items on our "to do" list as we try to prep for travel, or having company over, or whatever else we happen to have going on. Conveniently, you're running your Finding 5 class this term, which is perfect to help us all out. Can you share a little bit about what the class is and how you approach it?
Chrissi Schranz: That's actually why I run Finding 5 in December most years. That's the time of year when we need a little extra motivation. For many of us, it's cold outside, and the holidays can get really stressful. So Finding 5 is about finding that extra motivation, whatever that means for you and your dog.
This term, for example, we've got Gold students who have plenty of motivation, but they're so busy, and there just isn't enough time to train. So we're looking at their schedules and finding hidden pockets of time, and turning those into training sessions. Just two or three additional sessions a week make a difference.
We also have Golds who have time, but they're struggling either to find the motivation to train or to decide what to work on. We all know that feeling too. Sometimes you just get stuck in a training rut and it's really hard to get out of it. In this case, it's all about making training fun again.
I release a new game every week, and those games are among the least serious homework assignments you ever get. They're really centered around having as much fun with your dog as you can, and they don't take more than a few minutes.
Melissa Breau: In your class description you mention the idea of creating training plans. I want to dive into that for a minute. We've talked before on the podcast about how important it is to keep records. Julie Flannery mentioned it last week or the week before. But if somebody is pressed for time, they may understandably be a little less likely to keep that training log. How important is it to have a training log when trying to create a training plan? And then any tips for keeping those records, even when you're really pressed for time?
Chrissi Schranz: For people who have a specific goal in mind and maybe they don't know where to start, or they don't know how to start, or maybe they've been working on something but they feel like they haven't been making any progress, that's when training plans and record keeping really help.
Whether you need a training plan or not really depends on what you're working towards, and also maybe on how many dogs you need to keep track of, and whether you're someone who likes making plans or not. So not everyone will have a plan, and that's OK.
What I do find really important is to plan when you train and pace. That's almost more important than what you train, because our dogs love to be trained, and training helps our relationship. So the dogs don't really care whether we're training just for fun or for a certain goal. In order to get them their training time, I like to identify specific time slots for training sessions and then stick to those time slots.
If someone has more than one goal, we'll narrow it down further. For example, Mondays, after breakfast and before work, you'll work on that heeling class from your library that you've been meaning to work on. Wednesdays, in your lunch break, you'll play the weekly game from the class. And Sundays, before bedtime, maybe you'll work on counter-conditioning your dog to the clippers.
Once things are scheduled this way, people will then share their videos of their respective sessions. So for Gold students, the homework thread becomes a training journal. I will give feedback, or they will themselves point out what they think the next steps should be, so when that next training slot comes around again, it's easy to go back through in Gold thread, read what happened last time, and pick up where you left off.
If you're a Bronze or Silver student in Finding 5, be sure to join the Facebook group and post your videos or your training logs there. It's really, really helpful to share these things and have something to go back over, and it's motivating to share that progress with others, rather than just taking notes for yourself.
Melissa Breau: I know personally I have a hard time, especially when I'm creating a training plan for a short session, because it's hard to know exactly what I'm going to get through. What sorts of things do we need to take into consideration when we're creating a plan, or trying to think about this process, when we're looking at training for a few minutes at a time?
Chrissi Schranz: Let me share what works for me. My dogs have a calendar that's like a family planner calendar, where you have several rows. It's meant for you to put the names of your children there. Every dog gets two rows. That's for two behaviors that we're currently working on.
For example, Mick has been working on his down. I make record keeping super-simple. I want it to fit into that one little row, that field next to the date, the current date, in his row. In order to do that, I need to decide on a single criterion to track.
The first one, I had moved him off the food lure. It was the hand signal. One session would have ten reps and I'd count out twenty treats: one to work the down with in position and one reset treat per rep to get him back up. And then I'd count how many of those ten times he laid down on the first hand signal. That's the only thing I tracked until I got eight out of ten. That means 80 percent lie-downs on the hand signal alone. Once I hit 80 percent, I'd raise criteria.
In my calendar, in his row, I would write down 70 percent, or seven out of ten, or 60 percent or 80 percent. Then I usually know if it was time to raise criteria or if I should still stay at the same level.
At the stage where I'd add the verbal cue, I'd do the new cue/old cue approach, where you first say the new verbal cue, and then pause for a second, and then you do the familiar hand signal. At this stage I track how many times Mick laid down on the verbal cue alone, without needing the hand signal as a reminder. Again, that's all I tracked, and that's all I wrote down in my calendar until I got eight out of ten. Then I'd raise criteria again, starting to add distance and so on.
So I guess my tip is, if you're working on something specific and you only have a little time, pick the most important criterion and focus on that one. Aim for 80 percent correct responses, and if you work in ten-rep sessions that's really easy to calculate. The moment you meet your 80 percent mark, you focus on the next detail in the following session. That makes record keeping really simple and not overwhelming, and it gives you a clear plan of when to raise criteria.
Melissa Breau: It also sounds like it really helps with that "just one more" problem.
Chrissi Schranz: Oh yes. Counting your treats or setting a timer is super, super helpful.
Melissa Breau: I was going to ask if you could talk us through a sample training plan, but it sounds like you've done that. Is there anything that you would add, or any additional tips that you have, on that piece of things? On setting up the training?
Chrissi Schranz: A ten-treat session is over really quickly, so if I want to do a little more, I'll do a ten-treat session and then I'll play for a minute or two minutes, do another ten-treat session, play for a minute, do another ten-treat session, just to keep mixing things up.
Melissa Breau: I know in the class you also get into motivation. You mentioned that a little bit earlier when you were describing the class, and I want to talk about that a little bit. What kind of motivation issues do you often see that lead people to sign up for the class?
Chrissi Shranz: I actually did a survey once on that on the FDSA alumni list. The most common obstacles to motivation, if I remember correctly, were perfectionism, decision fatigue, and just a general loss of your training mojo.
Perfectionism means that you have a goal and you have time, but you feel like you're never good enough, or the session never goes well enough, or you're scared of breaking your dog, so it's just easier to not train in the first place.
Decision fatigue is what happens when you feel like there's tons of things you want to train, but you can't decide which one to start with or which one to focus on.
I think that often goes hand-in-hand with feeling overwhelmed. And it's not surprising. There's so many little choices we have to make on a daily basis, from what to have for breakfast and what T-shirt to wear, and what route to take for the dog's morning walk, what to have for lunch, and what friend to meet for coffee, and which brand of yogurt you want to buy. And the ability to make decisions is a limited resource. There's only so many small decisions you can make on a given day without feeling depleted.
The third one, losing your training mojo, I feel like that comes up a lot, especially at this time of year. It sometimes goes hand-in-hand with winter depression. It gets dark early, it's cold and wet, and then the holiday season is coming up, and it makes you feel lonely if you have no one to spend it with, or if you feel like you don't fit in with your family, or maybe you're just appalled by the consumerism that we're all immersed in. I'm sure many of our listeners are familiar with that feeling. You're just tired and down all the time, and training your dog seems like a big chore, and sometimes that's just too much.
All these things are actually quite common. We've all been there, or many of us have, anyway. So if you're listening and that's you, you're in good company.
Melissa Breau: How do you take and address those things? Can you walk us through an example?
Chrissi Schranz: Let's say your training obstacle is the inability to decide what to work on. You feel guilty for not entertaining your dog, but you're also paralyzed because there's so many things you could do. The games in Finding 5 take care of this issue because they just tell you what to do. You don't have to make a decision. The game will make the decision for you.
Or if it's a concrete training goal you're trying to decide on, we'll talk through it, and then we'll prioritize. Sometimes I'll just ask questions, and students themselves realize what they want to focus on or what they want to tackle first, and sometimes I'll make a suggestion.
Melissa Breau: Sometimes it's amazing how much it clarifies your own thoughts when somebody else starts making suggestions.
Chrissi Schranz: When somebody just asks the right questions, or maybe when you start writing these things down yourself. Even before I read, sometimes people start writing and, oh, all of a sudden it becomes much clearer.
Melissa Breau: Right. You also note that you'll help folks figure out what to work on, and which dog they want to work with, if they only have a few minutes for training. I'll be honest: that sounds a little like magic, as somebody with two dogs here. So what's the secret?
Chrissi Schranz: I love the multiple dog dilemma. We get that every time Finding 5 runs. Actually, there have been people with cats and parakeets, not just dogs, who are competing for training time.
This time, one Gold student has five dogs. Now that's a lot of dogs, and she was struggling with who to train when. We found a very simple solution. All the dogs go to work with her, and there's usually time to take a five-minute break and train dogs during the workday. Now every dog has a day, and on his day or her day, that dog will be trained for five minutes. She just decided to start with the oldest dog on Monday and end with the youngest one on Friday. Now that there's a system, the need to make a decision has been taken out of the picture.
Melissa Breau: That makes an easy, clear …
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah.
Melissa Breau: I like that a lot. I'm switching topics on you a little bit again, but I think we all know, theoretically at least, that short training sessions are ideal for our dogs. Can you talk about that a little — why short sessions are better, or may be better, for our dogs?
Chrissi Schranz: Mostly because dogs have very short attention spans — and so do we. If you train for a long time, your training gets worse and your dog gets more tired. So, very often, the longer you train, the less you get out of the time you spend training.
Also, if you train for half an hour without interruption, we tend to just do the same thing over and over again. That's not necessarily helpful if you're working on a new skill. You need to evaluate your progress and then decide whether what you're doing is working or if you need to change something.
Maybe you're asking too much of your dog, or maybe it's time to raise criteria.
Also, dogs get bored if we keep doing the same thing over and over. So it's a good idea to take breaks, evaluate, and then maybe pick back up again or have another short session the next day.
Melissa Breau: Let's say I have a really big goal in mind, like a sport I want to compete in, or maybe I want to earn my TEAM titles. Is it possible to achieve something big like that if all I can find is a couple of minutes each day?
Chrissi Schranz: Absolutely, yeah, especially with things like TEAM, because they don't require you to drive anywhere or set up lots of equipment. When Finding 5 ran last year, or maybe that was two years ago — I'm so bad with keeping track of time …
Melissa Breau: Me too.
Chrissi Schranz: A bunch of us were working on TEAM, and we had a thread in the discussion forum where everyone would share their TEAM progress. I participated too, with Grit. In the end of that class, Grit earned her TEAM 1 Plus. I think that was the one I worked on. Maybe it was TEAM … anyway, one of those titles that we were at that point working towards. I'd been working on it for a while, but just having the accountability of that thread and the class and the discussion forum made sure I actually practiced a few minutes every day, and that paid off.
Melissa Breau: Just having broken it down, having thought about it, and constantly applying those couple minutes.
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah, and feeling like you're not the only one. It's almost like getting together to train together, if other people are working on the same thing.
Melissa Breau: On the off-chance folks haven't been clicking around the website, there are sample lectures for most of the classes that are scheduled this term, yours included. Your sample lecture is a bit unusual. Can you talk about that?
Chrissi Schranz: My sample lecture is a board game. It's called Proofing Madness. It's about proofing your dog's behaviors in a fun and entertaining way. You choose three behaviors you believe your dog is fluent in, and then you roll the die. The board will tell you where or in what position to practice the behavior. So you may be doing a sit while doing a handstand, or a spin while your dog is standing in the bathtub.
Melissa Breau: I love that. What inspired you to create it as a board game?
Chrissi Schranz: I have a friend who collects board games. He always finds fascinating Kickstarter-funded things and obscure cooperative board games, so not the kind of stuff that everyone's familiar with. We used to play a lot of them and it was super-fascinating to me what games people had come up with. Some of those games were intricate and complex, and some were political, and some were really simple but incredibly fun. I think that's how I got the idea to create a board game too. I wanted it to be flexible and fun and different from the ways we usually train our dogs.
Melissa Breau: I was looking at it while prepping questions, and it does look like it would be a lot of fun to play. And really useful, too, because I think it's easy to get stuck in a rut when you're proofing behaviors and proof the same things over and over again instead of experimenting a little bit. For those who choose to up the stakes, there are additional rules. Do you want to share a little about that, about the alcohol or shot edition?
Chrissi Schranz: There's a drinking game version of the game, where you take a shot every time your dog struggles with a behavior or every time you land on a certain field. Depending on the poison you pick for yourself, this can certainly be fun. You can play with other people. You don't have to play by yourself. You can play with friends and their dogs.
Melissa Breau: I love that. I think it adds a neat twist to things.
Chrissi Schranz: Oh, it does, yes. Also, the more alcohol is involved, the more rewards you're supposed to give your dog. You might become sloppy in terms of cueing, or you may not be able to speak clearly anymore, so we pay better.
Melissa Breau: Right. One last question that I'm asking all my guests lately: What's something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Chrissi Schranz: Last week, Mick reminded me how incredibly adaptable the average dog is. As I said, I think he hadn't walked in the city or been around strangers for the first two years of his life, and you'd think that means he would always struggle with certain situations, but that's not what happened.
It took him a long time to trust the first new person after me, and then still a while to trust the second new person, but by the time his social circle had expanded to the third new person, he suddenly generalized that people maybe are not quite as scary after all. He's still a work in progress, but he has really impressed me.
I think, especially as dog trainers, we have to see the extreme cases, the dogs who aren't average dogs, the ones with serious behavior problems that don't just go away by casually introducing them to the scary stimulus. So it's really nice to be reminded that most dogs aren't extreme cases. Most dogs are masters of adaption and they will thrive in all kinds of environments, if we are patient with them and let them casually get to know the new stimuli.
Melissa Breau: I love that. I love that he's adapting so well. I think it's always good to stop and think about whether what you're looking at is normal or not so normal, and how to adjust your expectations based on that. So thank you. And thank you for coming back on the podcast Chrissi!
Chrissi Schranz: Thanks for having me. This was fun.
Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!
We'll be back next week with Megan Foster to talk about start and end of run routines for agility.
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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!