E149: What to Expect at FDSA Training Camp 2020

This week I had on Chelsey Protulipac, Ruth Ellis, and Megan Walsh to talk about their experiences at previous FDSA Training Camps now that registration is open for 2020!


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 Chelsey Protulipac, Ruth Ellis, and Megan Walsh, all attendees of several FDSA training camps and regular FDSA students!

Welcome, ladies. To start us off, can you each introduce yourself, share a little about your dogs, how many times you've been to camp, and whether you were an auditor or had a working spot? Chelsey, do you want to start?

Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. I'm Chelsey, and I've been an FDSA student for several years now, and I've recently become involved with the teaching side of things, which has been really exciting.

I live with eight dogs, which sounds like a lot, but it's a bit of a Brady Bunch situation between my partner and I, so five are mine and three are his, so kind of is a lot. For breeds we have Nova Scotia Duck Tollers, three Belgian Malinois, a Rottie, a Dogo, and my almost 15-year-old Australian Shepherd mix.

Today I mostly do dog sports with my Duck Tollers and my Malinois. I've competed in obedience, agility, French ring, nosework, and I'm just dipping my toes into the retriever and hunting stuff.

I've been an FDSA student since the beginning, but my first camp was only two years ago, and I attended that year as a volunteer. Last year, in Pennsylvania, I had a working spot that I shared between the two Tollers.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Ruth?

Ruth Ellis: Hi, thanks for having me. I live in Massachusetts with my two Alaskan Malamutes.

Bella is 12-and-a-half, which is pretty old for a Malamute, and she was recently retired from competition. We played in multiple obedience venues, barn hunt, therapy dog, tricks. Most recently she was competing in nosework.

My younger dog, Sakari, is 7, and she also has competed in multiple obedience venues, barn hunt, and weight pull.

We've gone to two camps, one with each dog, it was the last two camps, actually, and we had working spots both times.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Megan?

Megan Walsh: Hey, Melissa. Thanks for having me. My name is Megan and I am from Wisconsin. I have four dogs.

My oldest now is Sky, and he's a 14-year-old Border Collie. He's pretty much retired. He sits on the couch, eats cookies, and comes for walks, but when we used to compete he has his novice agility, rally, and obedience titles.

My next oldest is Fox. He is my 8-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie. I have attended two camps with him with working spots. Our main sport is schutzhund IPO IGP, the sport of a million names. We have our BH. We tried for our IOP 1 about eight months ago. Unfortunately, we failed obedience, but we did get a 91 in protection, which I'm super-proud of. We're hopefully going to trial again this upcoming summer.

After that, I have Sully. Sully is my 5-and-a-half-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Our main sport is obedience. He came with me to the last camp, in addition to Fox. He has titles in hunting, conformation, and rally. We just dabble in a little bit of everything, even though my main sport with him is obedience.

Last but not least is my accidental puppy addition, Phoenix. Phoenix is a 7-month-old German Shorthaired Pointer. We'll see where the wind blows us, but we're having fun with some obedience foundations, and we just started nosework with Julie this last term, so that's really exciting.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I want to talk about camp today. If you were talking to someone who isn't familiar with it — maybe they're not an FDSA student, or maybe they are, and they just haven't come before — how would you describe what camp is? Ruth, do you want to start?

Ruth Ellis: I had to think about this, and it's hard to put into just a few words, but the thing that comes back to me is it's like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but only for dogs and their people. There are so many incredibly wonderful treats around every corner, so many fun things to do, and there's always something for everyone.

Melissa Breau: I love that. That is a fantastic way of describing it. Now everybody else has to try. Megan?

Megan Walsh: I don't know how to follow that. I would say it's a wonderful gathering of like-minded trainers, and we're all taking on this force-free, positive reinforcement thing with a whole bunch of different breeds and a whole bunch of different sports. It's just this really cool community of people coming together, and it's this unique, interesting experience that I've never experienced anywhere else.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Chelsey?

Chelsey Protulipac: I think I would describe it as pivotal. Because I enjoy the online aspect of FDSA so much, camp becomes almost like this pilgrimage that brings this community to life.

Online, it's a great resource, but it's really not the same as meeting and knowing these people in person. I say "pivotal" because it was at my first camp, at the Ohio camp, that I finally met in person people that I now talk to on a daily basis, and I get advice from them, and we talk about our dogs and training. That's almost life-changing, to build friendships like that. I think our friendships grew because we had time at camp together, and I think that's pretty powerful.

Even if other people don't know anybody else too well yet, if you enjoy being around others who have the same passions and similar philosophy, and especially with this culture where we're just a kind group of people and we're here to cheer each other on, it's really easy to feel at home at camp, even if you are introverted.

It can be exhausting, but in the same way it's recharging to be around people who are both kind and think the same way that you do.

Melissa Breau: What about advice for folks who are attending the first time? It's back in Oregon this year, so Megan, what would you tell them?

Megan Walsh: It's hard not to be overwhelmed when you're looking at the class list, and what you can all sign up for, and what you can all do, and where do you start to get your hotel, and how do you register, and all this stuff. But really, I think the most important thing, as with most dog training, is set yourself and your dog up for success.

So if you think you're going to need some quiet, alone time at night, get a hotel room by yourself, or if you need an emotional support friend, make sure to hotel with someone that you know is going to help you be social or help you get around or know what you need to do.

Set your dog up for success. It can be a lot to be at camp for some dogs, because there are a lot of dogs, a lot of people, long days, crating, just like a normal show. So set your dog up for success knowing how they're going to do best, whether that's crating out of your car, if the weather is correct, crating inside, covering your crate, not bringing your dog if they're not going to be comfortable.

If you do those things, I think you can set yourself up for success to have a lot of fun when you're comfortable, when your dog's comfortable, when you have the right amount of social experiences, with quiet time and all of that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Chelsey?

Chelsey Protulipac: I think Megan touched on some really good points there. The lectures and the labs and the length of the days, and everything going on in-between, can make the days pretty hectic.

So I think for advice, if this is your first time attending camp, it's a hundred times easier to attend as an auditor, and then you're not obligated to taking care of your dog, and you get to take care of yourself first. There's a lot less stress about whether your dog's having a good time and whether you're getting away from the crowd enough. You can focus on making the experience work for yourself as well, because it's a lot for people too.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. Ruth?

Ruth Ellis: I think everything what everybody else already said. The thing that comes to mind for me is not to be tempted to push yourself and your dog to suck up as much training as possible because you're there.

It's like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory: you're going to want to touch everything and eat it all. But I would say go in with a plan, but be ready to adjust for whatever it is you need and whatever your dog needs. It is exhausting. Plan to take lots of breaks, and enjoy the process.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. You all mentioned this idea that camp has lots of options. It absolutely does. I think it comes up every year on the Event page on Facebook, somebody asking how do you figure out which sessions to attend. Do you try to attend the ones from your favorite instructors who you've taken classes with online, or do you try to sample new instructors? What kind of plan do you use to sort through that schedule? Megan, do you want to start this one?

Megan Walsh: I attended the last two camps as a working spot, and I think one of the biggest challenges I found was trying to predict what I might want or need six months from now. You're signing up for camp now and we're not going until June, so how do you see into the future? I thought that was an interesting dilemma, but it ended up working out both years that what I chose worked out really nicely.

The first year, I chose a smattering, a little bit of everybody, a little bit of everything, mostly obedience-based, but several different instructors all the same. I learned a lot, really enjoyed it, but I think I took more away this last year when I worked pretty much exclusively with one instructor for all my working sessions.

I did five of my six working sessions with Shade, because I have Fox does IPO and Shade knows all about that. But also I've worked a lot with Shade online, and so it was just a really nice way to cross over online training and the online piece versus me and Shade getting to work together in person. I thought I took a lot more away when I did that.

And then I chose my auditing sessions just to check out new instructors, instructors I hadn't really worked with online, or had worked with online but didn't want to dedicate a working session to.

I thought that worked out probably best for me last year, but I'm going to come as an auditor this year. But if I were to come as a working spot in the future, I think I'd probably stick with that same thing, try and stick with one instructor with one dog and really help that relationship and make that grow stronger.

Melissa Breau: Chelsey?

Chelsey Protulipac: I really agree with that. For my first working spot last year, I did what Megan did in her first year is went to meet and work with different instructors. I did that and spread my working spots across two dogs. I had a great time, and you really can't lose with any schedule you create for yourself. Instructors always meet you where you're at.

But I think there's a lot to get out of working with an instructor that you also have an online relationship with and that you're working with regularly online. It's really helpful to spend that quality time in person and have that continuity.

I think, if you're auditing, it's an awesome opportunity to meet new instructors, because you get a taste for what their style is and what they have to say, without having to register for a class.

Again, I don't think you can really lose. But I think one thing that people might not know is that while you do have to pick your working sessions in advance on registration day, you don't have to decide what you're going to audit until the day of, and you can change your mind at the last minute.

Melissa Breau: I think that's something that comes up a lot is whether you have to choose spots if you're auditing. Even if you're in a working spot, you only have to choose the sessions you're working, and maybe in-between you get to audit, so you can walk around and do whatever you want.

Chelsey Protulipac: Yes, yes.

Melissa Breau: Fantastic point to bring up. Ruth?

Ruth Ellis: I did a mix with my two camps. The first one, it's funny, I planned and I strategized and I didn't get one single thing that was on my initial list that I absolutely had to have or it was going to be awful. So I went with my second and third choices and it was awesome. It was absolutely the best camp ever. Every class I took was awesome, and it was just brilliant. So if you don't get into your classes that you think you must have, don't worry about it, because every class is wonderful.

Last year, I also ended up going with just one instructor. I took Bella, she's retired from everything except for nosework, so we just did nosework, every single one, except for our last class was a massage class. I figured it was a great way to end a long working weekend.

And both were brilliant. I agree that working with just one instructor the whole time, by the time we were done, she knew us as a team really, really well, so we got to skip any kind of, "Well, what do you want to work on?" She was like, "Oh, let's keep working on this," or "This is where you're at."

So I think it both worked out really well for me, and I think you can't go wrong, no matter what you choose.

Melissa Breau: That's good to hear, and ending camp with a massage sounds just about perfect. I wish I had that option.

Ruth Ellis: I'm hoping to see this year's schedule's got massage for people.

Melissa Breau: Somehow I don't think it got included. We'll have to mention it to Denise.

Megan Walsh: Just one thing that I think also really helps decision paralysis is that the instructors all have their lectures. In the past years we were e-mailed all the lectures right before camp, and so you still get all the lecture material from all the instructors, whether or not you actually physically attend that session.

You still get all of that information, and that also can help with some of the decision paralysis of, "I want to see it all and clone myself and be at three different lectures at once," when you can still access all of that material when you get home or before you go, to see which one of those three or five you want to try and get to. I think that's really awesome as well.

Melissa Breau: You're talking about the slides and any worksheets the instructors send out, right?

Megan Walsh: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: After camp, there's always all sorts of stories floating around. Everybody goes online and they post about stuff and they talk about things that stood out for them and that they really liked, so I wanted to ask if you each have a memory or story about camp that stands out for you that you particularly like. Megan, do you want to start this one?

Megan Walsh: I have three and they're kind of short, so hopefully that's OK that I say all three. They're all very different avenues and so I couldn't pick just one.

My first favorite memory was in Ohio. The venue was attached to the hotel, and one of my favorite memories of that camp was sitting in the hotel lobby and getting to know the instructors and the other students, and as people passed by in the lobby, they would come and sit down for a little while and then they'd leave again or whatever.

That community and getting to know the other instructors, or handful of instructors, four or five instructors that were sitting down with us during drinks and during casual conversation, I really enjoyed that.

That really made camp for me that first year and also solidified some of these friendships that I made, these people I still talk to every single day. We're all trying to get together again for next camp, and that's fun and exciting and I can't wait.

My next memory, favorite thing, is I had a one-on-one session with Shade last year. I had been struggling with some heeling stuff with Fox, and I remember going into the session like, "I don't even know where to start. Shade, help me." I walked out of that session with the biggest smile on my face. I wanted to cry tears of joy. It was the best session I'd had in months with my dog and I was so thrilled.

That's the type of training we have at camp, and I'm so excited by that as well.

My last memory is of last year. We did a team live demo and that was really fun. That was the first time we had done that. I didn't really know what to expect. I was first up in our ring, so naturally I was a little bit nervous, especially as the crowd filed in. They all grabbed their lunch and came on in to watch me. Denise was there. I just remember being simultaneously nervous but also so excited because I knew that all these people were here to support me, to watch me, they all clapped at the end, they were all cheering for me, rooting for me.

I think if that many people had filed in to watch me at a normal dog show, I would probably pee my pants. But because it was Fenzi people, just the support that I knew was in the crowd, it made some of that nervousness wash away. I thought that was a really unique, cool experience, and I was thankful to be a part of it.

Melissa Breau: That's so cool. I'm so glad that you got to do that and that it went that well.

Megan Walsh: Unfortunately we did get two "not yets," so we didn't pass. But that's OK. I still had a blast and I enjoyed it and I'd do it again.

Melissa Breau: It's not all about the pass. Like you said, you managed to get up there and you had all that support from the crowd, and that's a pretty awesome experience in and of itself.

Chelsey Protulipac: And Sully had an awesome run.

Megan Walsh: Yes, he did great. I was so proud of him.

Chelsey Protulipac: He did awesome.

Melissa Breau: Chelsey, do you have a story that you want to share?

Chelsey Protulipac: Sure. I'm probably going to elaborate a little bit further on Megan's first memory, so this is going back to the Holiday Inn that was attached to the venue and in Ohio.

There were probably about fifteen of us sitting on the floor, or sitting around, hanging out after dinner. We were laughing and joking around, and we were all very excited about the training that we did that day, and then Denise walks in and asks us why we're all sitting on the floor when the couch was very empty.

In reality, I think it was just easier to form a bigger circle that way, and it was easier to grow the circle. No one had really planned this, but as people walked through the lobby, they stopped by and they joined in, and it made the circle bigger and bigger. I think by the end we must have had eighty people down there.

And then, a few minutes later, there was Denise, sitting on the floor with us. I think it was Megan that pointed it out, and then there was this chorus of, "Hey, Denise, you're on the floor," just pointing out the fact that she joined us illogically on the floor when there were these couches that were everywhere.

As Megan was saying, many of our favorite FDSA faculty members stopped by and joined us too. And there was the infamous Jell-O shots. It's really not about the Jell-O shots, but it's still pretty funny to watch people try to get Jell-O out of a very tiny container with their tongue. You can't not laugh. So it's not about the Jell-O shots, but it also makes it a lot more funny.

There's also other memories that I can't talk about too much, but I can tell you that Julie Flannery is a great dancer.

Melissa Breau: All right! Ruth?

Ruth Ellis: Those are hard to follow. I actually have two. I'll try to keep them short.

My first was also in Ohio. I had spent the year before working with Sakari. As she was a hyper-greeter. Denise had worked with me in a couple of different classes, and we'd been practicing really hard and I really had been seeing great progress. But two months before camp, the girls got into a tangle with some wild, unknown animal and had to be quarantined for forty-five days.

Quarantined Malamutes is just not good for anybody, and right after being quarantined, we drove two days to camp.

She finally got out of the car and we walked into that lobby, which is like the size of a ballroom, with marble floors, and who is the first person who comes up to us but Denise. And I'm like, "Oh my God, this is going to be so bad. I'm going to be so embarrassed. She's going to jump on her, my dog weighs more than she does, this is just going to be a disaster."

And she didn't. I have to say it was my proudest moment. She's got some incredible titles on her, and they meant nothing compared to what it felt like when my dog didn't jump on Denise. All of that work, she didn't embarrass me, she did a brilliant job.

Also in Ohio, with the camaraderie, I think that although I felt it at other camps, that particular venue really lent itself to building those relationships. When we first got there, the rooms weren't quite ready yet, we were waiting in the lobby, and a woman came in with a young, extra-extra-large dog who was not happy to be on those marble floors in that environment. She was able to get him partway in, and he wasn't moving — he or she, I don't even know — wasn't able to move any further. And there was no way the dog was getting on the elevator.

It was so sweet to see people around just walk up and go, "Can I help?" "Do you need some treats?" Because she didn't have treats. She just came in from the car, she'd unpacked it, she didn't think she was going to need treats.

We chatted for a while and I mentioned that I knew that there was somebody who might be willing to trade, because some people were staying at a hotel, lodges, cabins, whatever they were, a couple miles away, and that might be a lot easier for her dog.

So we helped them up, next thing I know they made the trade, the uncomfortable dog moved to the lodge, and I watched them over the next three days just blossom. It was so wonderful to see. The dog got confidence and got comfortable, and mom was so happy, and I felt really special to be part of that environment to help them along.

Melissa Breau: Super-sweet. I like that. So, from stories to takeaways, guys. I want to talk about … obviously there's a ton of learning that happens at camp, but if there's something that sticks out for you, or that had a particular impact on you, from a takeaway perspective. Chelsey?

Chelsey Protulipac: First, the training is mind-blowing, but I think the biggest takeaway for me is the importance of curating your experience in the dog sports world for both yourself and your dog. It really, really makes all the difference who you choose to surround yourself with and where you choose to spend your time and your money.

I think attending the camp really shows me how amazing and how unique this community is, and how important it is, just like the story that Ruth said, how meaningful it is when people are kind to each other and you see that and you're part of that. It makes being involved with dog sports that much better.

I think I've become a better person by participating in this community, and I think in my heart now I truly believe that everyone's doing the best that they can, and I also believe that they are thinking the same thing about me.

It's one thing to experience this online, but to see it in real life and to get to know these amazing people in real life, it's really meaningful to me.

Melissa Breau: Ruth?

Ruth Ellis: I think my biggest takeaway is how much fun training my dogs has now become. Even though you get bits and pieces of that with the online classes, seeing it with other people, and how they're handling their opportunities and their dogs and their situations, it can still be fun. And it's that much easier to do in a supportive, kind group, and I hope to see everybody there this year.

Melissa Breau: I'm certainly looking forward to it. Megan, do you have anything you want to share?

Megan Walsh: It's just echoing what both Chelsey and Ruth have said, but also that this is the culture that I want for all of my training classes, all of the clubs that I go to through IPO, all the trials that I attend. This is the culture I want. It's the sort of culture where people come up to you and say good things, and say, "You have two dogs and three crates and a training bay. Can I help you?"

This is the culture that I want to see everywhere. I think the dog community could really benefit from that. And getting to experience that first-hand is a really awesome opportunity. And so I think that's my biggest takeaway.

Melissa Breau: Anybody want to make a guess on the theme this year?

Chelsey Protulipac: Is this just a way of Denise trying to come up with theme ideas?

Melissa Breau: No. I'm actually 90 percent sure she knows what the theme is going to be already.

Chelsey Protulipac: I heard a few rumblings about insects. Denise posted this video and a moth flew by, so maybe emerging from cocoons, like a butterfly. That could be a cool metaphor.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Anybody else?

Ruth Ellis: I have no clue.

Megan Walsh: I've got nothing.

Chelsey Protulipac: Insects it is.

Melissa Breau: I'll let Denise know that we expect her to be a butterfly this year. Chelsey, I wanted to ask you one more question. You're teaching this year, and we're super-excited to have you join us on the dark side. Can you share a little about that? What was that like? How did that happen?

Chelsey Protulipac: Wow, yeah. It's really exciting and I'm really honored. Honestly, I was a little bit floored when Teri asked me, because I know the schedule has to be developed really early, but when she asked, I hadn't totally made the commitment to attend, because it's pretty far for me. I'm in northern Ontario and the camp's all the way in Oregon. But I'm committed now, so don't worry, Teri, I'm coming.

I'm still working on my content, and this year I'm just dipping my toes, so I'm just doing one lecture. It's scheduled on Sunday, on the last day of camp.

Throughout the camp there's so much going on. There's so many topics that do a super job of breaking things down and getting us to work on those meaningful training pieces, and solidifying foundations, and essentially flooding everyone's minds with training ideas. But I think it can also be overwhelming.

My lecture is called "Building Endurance," and yes, it's about building your dog's capacity to stay in the game as you progress through your training, but your success is also built so much on the human end of the training process. So I want to talk about strategies to keep you focused on your own trajectory, and how to balance implementing these new ideas that you're absorbing when you're at camp while still staying on track with your own training plan.

For me, and I think for many of us, it's important to not feel like you're always starting at zero, which no one is, every time that you attend a really cool lecture and you learn something new and your brain's just exploding.

It's been a big journey for me, and I've grown a lot as student at FDSA, and I think maybe I can share some ideas that have been useful in being able to implement all these amazing things that I've learned from our talented instructors.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I am looking forward to it, and for anybody who is coming, that's 11:00 on Sunday a.m. We're not still teaching at 11:00 at night usually.

Chelsey Protulipac: I'll be doing the dry run at 11:00 at night somewhere, I'm pretty sure.

Melissa Breau: I hear you on that. Last time, I think it was last year, when I was teaching, I don't use slides, I use a big poster board, and I draw on it while talking. I hadn't done up my pre-sketches, and I was up super-late the night before, sketching out what I wanted on the thing so that we would have them the next day for my talk. I was rooming with Amy and I think she thought I was a little crazy, but that's OK.

Chelsey Protulipac: That's fair.

Melissa Breau:​ Thank you so much for coming on the podcast ladies! This has been great.

Ruth Ellis: Thank you.

Chelsey Protulipac: Thanks, Melissa.

Megan Walsh: Thanks for having us. This was fun.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thank you so much to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with Jennifer Summerfield to talk about behavior medication.

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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