E151: Leslie McDevitt - Pattern Games for Working on Reactivity & Focus

The fabulous Leslie McDevitt joins me to talk about her latest book and upcoming FDSA webinar on Pattern Games... games she teaches to help with reactivity and build better focus.


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 Leslie McDevitt.

Leslie is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

She was mentored by world-renowned veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall, becoming first a dog trainer and later a behavior consultant. She was volunteering at urban shelters and studying behavior and clicker training when she caught the dog sports bug — and feels her work with anxious, reactive, impulsive, and aggressive dogs gave her a unique perspective when she became a student of dog sports training.

That same background in behavior modification, and her experience working with dog sports clients, led her to create her popular program for performance dogs "with issues," Control Unleashed. Her award-winning book based on the program, Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog, was published by Clean Run Productions in 2007. That was followed by her Control Unleashed: Puppy Program a few years later, and then, most recently, Control Unleashed: Reactive to Relaxed, published last year.

She is also a rotating faculty member for ClickerExpo.

Leslie has worked with a diverse population of dogs, from pets to performance to police dogs, and is known as a versatile, compassionate, and intuitive trainer.

Hi Leslie, welcome to the podcast!

Leslie McDevitt: Hi Melissa.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, can you just remind listeners who your current dogs are and share a little about anything you're working on with them?

Leslie McDevitt: Current dogs: Easy is my Border Collie that is going to be 14 in a couple weeks. Mostly he sleeps, but I did take him to a current class that I'm teaching, so that he could be the new dog for other dogs to see. So he got to be a helper again.

I have Ever, she's my little rescue Border Collie, and I have my young dog, he's a Terv, and he's a little under 2. He's the only one that I'm actually doing work with, primarily nosework. I'm doing a little obedience with him. I'm in Hannah Branigan's obedience group, but my ADHD doesn't let me sit down and focus on it very often.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Leslie McDevitt: But I am in it. And I have two clicker-trained cats and a bunny and a pony. They're not doing any work, but they do know a lot of behaviors.

Melissa Breau: How fun! I wanted to chat because you're going to do a webinar for FDSA on February 6 about your pattern games. For those who haven't had a chance to hear you talk about them before, and who haven't read the book, can you give a brief description of what pattern games are?

Leslie McDevitt: By pattern, I mean a series of repetitive things that are predictable and reliable. If the dog is going to be exposed to something that distracts it, upsets it, excites it, something that they're going to notice, it's easier for them to recover from that and keep focusing on whatever their work is in the moment, if they're operating within a structure where they know the next thing that's going to happen, and they know the next thing after that that's going to happen.

So it's giving them between three and four repeating things over and over that is so predictable for them that they just trust this is what's going to happen next. There's a bunch of those. I made one for if you have to walk a dog through crowded dog show, if you have to wait in line, if you're sitting in class, if you're walking on the street. There's moving ones, stationary ones.

The other cool thing is that the dogs can be put in control of the patterns, so they can use a start-button behavior to start their pattern. That way, it gives you a lot of feedback about is this dog willing to stay engaged in this pattern knowing that that other dog is going to run by, or whatever the thing is.

I think that'll make more sense when we go into specifics. But that's the point of having a pattern. It's like holding your dog's hand past something, with a lot of feedback that is always reliable. 

Melissa Breau: To build on that, I know basically you're saying a pattern game is various rule structures that you put in place, and then once the rule exists, the dog controls the game. And the rules stay the same even as other aspects change.

Leslie McDevitt: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: OK. That's a decent summary?

Leslie McDevitt: Yes. That was a beautiful summary.

Melissa Breau: OK. Can you walk us through an example? I was thinking maybe your Up and Down game and how it works.

Leslie McDevitt: Up and Down is so easy. They all are really simple, because it's not what they are; it's the fact that they're a pattern, and that you and the dog will recognize that. So Up and Down is super-easy. It was made for if you aren't moving, if you're stuck waiting in a line, waiting at the vet office, or if dog gets confused or reacts to something, or just can't think. It's one that you could go back to, to restart your dog back into work.

All it is, is you put a treat on the ground … and in a lot of these games I put a treat on the ground, because the dog learns that once it eats the treat, it should find you. So the treat itself is becoming a cue for attention.

In Up and Down, it's just that: You put the treat down, the dog eats it, you're standing there, saying and doing nothing, the dog looks up at you. That moment that the dog looks up at you … and if you want eye contact, that's OK. It doesn't have to be intense eye contact. I just say orienting, oriented towards you. You could click that or mark it, in however you're marking it, and put the next treat on the ground.

Don't throw the treat, because the dog might get distracted looking for it. Just place it on the ground between where the dog's front feet are, front paws are, and then stand there and the dog will look up at you again, click, and put the next one down.

So the dog is looking up and down, and then, say, something walks by. The dog is going to orient to that thing, notice it. You just stand still. When the dog turns back to you, click and put the next treat down on the ground, so the dog can start learning that stuff happening around her while she's doing that pattern are quickly becoming cues to keep doing the pattern: "I saw something. Oh, I should look at you and then the food goes down, and then I look at you and the food goes down. I saw something. Oh, that means I should look at you and the food goes down."

Rather than you having to ask the dog to turn back to you, you're setting up a situation where the dog is figuring out that whatever happens around it during that pattern isn't separate. It's part of the pattern that reminds the dog to then look to you for continuing the pattern. Does that make sense? 

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And like you said, they sound pretty simple. So what is it that makes that so powerful that that works so well? 

Leslie McDevitt: Part of it is the predictability. They know what's going to happen next. That's why it's called a rule structure. It's not rules like, "You must obey this." It's rules like … gravity, like, you can rely on gravity … I hope. So this stuff happens, but once you're within a pattern you can rely on that pattern continuing.

For a dog that might be reactive, the more they know, the more feedback they have, and the more they can predict what will happen next, the less reactive they're going to end up being, because reactive is about questioning, about being unsure and asking questions of the environment: Are you a threat? Should I be worried?

This way, there's just so much constant feedback that the dog can stay under that certain level. And also it's easier for the people. If the handler is walking through the parking lot at a show, and there's lots of dogs in crates in the trunks, and your dog is hearing barking and stuff, rather than waiting, you hear barking and then you're trying to give your dog a treat or something like that, you're reacting to your dog reacting.

This way, you have a pattern and you just move your dog through that space across the parking lot within the pattern. And then barking just becomes part of, yes, this happens within that pattern, so you look back to the person and you continue your moving pattern.

I have lots of video examples of that I'm going to do in the webinar. I have some from … I consult at the Working Dog Center at University of Pennsylvania, so those dogs that are mostly Dutchies and training to be patrol and detection dogs, some of them are a little reactive. You might be able to imagine that. So I've done some patterns with them, just like walking through campus at U-Penn. We see a bicycle, part of our pattern, not going to bark at civilians.

Actually a trainer friend of mine who consults for the Melbourne Zoo just sent me some video. I coached him online through teaching a pattern game to a dingo — it's being used in a conservation education show — that was worried about walking up to the stage. I have some video footage of the zookeeper and that dingo, so I'm going to try to put that in the webinar. But same pattern that I created to help students walk across a parking lot, or walk through a classroom, or walk towards the ring, moving past lots of stuff while staying focused — same thing that got used for the dingo. 

Melissa Breau: I think it's super-fascinating that the games serve this dual purpose between reducing activity and building focus, depending on what the dog …

Leslie McDevitt: It does both.

Melissa Breau: How does that work? How does it do both? 

Leslie McDevitt: They're happening simultaneously. Rather than just rewarding the dog for looking at the person and not looking at something else, these games are very actively turning the something else into a cue. Look at the person: That's going to decrease reactivity, because reactivity, the way that I've been trained to see it, is an information-seeking strategy for a dog that's worried versus pure aggression.

The dog that is worried, the different things that worry it become cues to do something else. You've got some operant counter-conditioning going on, where he goes, "A monster! Oh, wait — that monster means I should X, Y and Z." But they're going to feel better about it and they have something to do, which is usually focused on you, so it teaches both at the same time

And it's an example of operant counter-conditioning, which is my thing. It's what I like to do. For me, it works the fastest and it works very well, and the learning stays. It sticks and it works pretty quickly, I think, because it gives the dog control and the dog can say, "Take me over here," or "Don't take me over here," which is part of the patterns too. The dog knows its behavior of looking at you is going to move you forward to the next station, because I always use a lot of stations.

In these games, the dog knows where we're going. If I tell you to go there, and if he doesn't do that thing, if he sniffs or doesn't look at you or offers a different behavior, you are not going there. So the dog can actually control if you're going to go closer or not to whatever it was, is it going to continue this pattern or not?

It's also constant feedback for you because if the dog isn't paying attention to you, the dog doesn't want to be doing what you're doing. The dogs usually get engaged real fast in a pattern and keep going and keep going and they want it. So if that's not happening and you lose your pattern, you have to sit back and go "Why?"

Melissa Breau: Right. And actually looking at that.

Leslie McDevitt: And then fix it.

Melissa Breau: Right. I was lucky enough to come audit when you were here in North Carolina and get to that mat thing, one of the games that I found personally most interesting — you played a game with a dog and a whole bunch of mats laid out in different places around a ring. In that game you had, like you were talking about before, the dog controlling its exposure to the stimulus. In this case we used your daughter and Hannah's daughter outside the ring …

Leslie McDevitt: I know! It was the Dani and Harper weekend! I mean to tell you that Dani and Harper played for thirteen hours straight that day.

Melissa Breau: Wow. 

Leslie McDevitt: They started in the morning before the seminar, played for the whole seminar, and then played until 10 or 10:30 at night when Hannah finally said she had to go home. They never stopped talking for thirteen hours. I counted. It was amazing. And they just Skype-chatted the other day. It's so cute. 

Melissa Breau: For the game, can you talk a little bit about that? What was going on? How does it work? What exactly was the setup there?

Leslie McDevitt: I actually don't remember specifically which one you're talking about. A lot of times at workshops I make it up as I go, and so I don't know what I was doing. But I definitely teach dogs … I have four steps of mat work that I wrote about in the puppy book, and then in my newest book, I added a fifth step, which is … for the people that know my old game, don't look at that game I teach. Look at that as a fifth step of mat work from all the dogs who are on mats now.

With these four or five steps of mat work, the goal is the dog is learning not just to go to a mat and lie down and stay on it, but to actually trust in the context of what it means to be on a mat — that nothing's going to bother him and he's safe. They learn that with these steps, which include a lot of desensitization — I have people walk up and away and there's specific steps. Once they have those, then I can use mats as stations and patterns.

I use other stations, too, that dogs might be able to see easier than mats on the floor far away. You could use cones, you could use bowls, you could use platforms. I teach chairs, I teach the dog to go away from me to a chair and get a treat on the chair. Anything that they can see from a distance, because then they know that's where they're going next.

I don't know if the dog that you saw in North Carolina was given a behavior and asked to go to different mats, or what I was doing with that specific game. But an example of one that it might have been is the One-Two-Three game, which is the first one I teach everybody, where the dog learns that three means a treat. It doesn't have to be "three." You could count in a different language. You could say different words, just three words. The third one means a treat.

This game is not contingent on the dog's behavior. It's just that every time you happen to say "three," you happen to have a treat available in your hand. And then you start moving around, and you're still saying those three words, and your dog is going to start following you and listening to you for that third word. When they look like they're actively heeling, but you haven't told them to do anything, you just keep saying words. When they look like that, then you're ready to add something else in.

And then you could put mats and you could do "one, two, three" walking in-between stations. The dog knows when he gets to his station, what happens on a mat? You lie down, you relax, you get reinforced for resetting, and you're safe there. And then the person goes "One" and starts walking, and the dog's like, "Oh, she's doing this again." "Two, three, here's the treat." "Oh, I see another mat coming up."

So then what you can do is add stuff. At Dani and Harper, I think at some point they were crawling around on all fours. I know Dani was clicker-training her stuffed unicorn at some point and putting it in the dog's crate and clicking it. Whatever crazy things they were doing, obviously not too much at once, but I remember telling them, "OK, walk to this spot. Now stop!" and stuff like that. They were mostly doing that.

You add a thing and the dog's like, "Huh?" There was at least one Border Collie there that did not like kids. I remember we had to really break down what the girls were doing. They're like, "What?" But you're like, "Two," and the dog's like, "Oh, Dani and Harper. But I think three comes after two. Yes it does." "Oh, Dani and Harper, but oh, right, I know where I'm going after three. I'm going to another one of those mats," and stuff like that.

So the dogs know where they're going, and something like One-Two-Three is sort of holding their hand. Like I said, it's carrying them through something, and it takes the pressure off you to be like, "Leave it, look at me, do this, do that," because it doesn't matter. All your job is to do is just have a treat available when you hit "three." And if the dog isn't looking at you and is doing something else, that's OK. You haven't told him not to.

Actually, that's another point to all this. There's no pressure here, because you haven't asked him to heel, you haven't asked him to leave, you haven't asked him to do anything. But he's starting to pay attention to you and do those things because dogs like to get sucked into a pattern. They like to know what's going to happen next, and they like to know where they're going to go next, which is why I like to have stations in play too. 

Melissa Breau: I do think that that's roughly what was going on. It was a while ago. I have my notes, but yeah, I think it was after you taught us that "One, Two, Three" game that we were working on it. So that would make sense. 

Leslie McDevitt: Yeah. I have a lot of students that work with shelter dogs or work with pet dogs, and this has actually become their go-to thing because the populations they're working with, human and canine, don't have to have any understanding of anything to immediately start this, and it helps right away. They don't have to have a lot of skills. They just have to be able to count, walk, and have a treat out. And for some people you have to practice coordinating that. The dogs don't really have to have any skills. They just have to know "three" is being paired with a treat. 

Melissa Breau: And most dogs pick up on that pretty quick.

Leslie McDevitt: Yeah, they pick up on it very fast. And for shelter dogs that are going to be worked by a bunch of different people, different volunteers in and out take them for a walk or whatever, and have to walk past kennels where they see other dogs, this is a perfect thing that you don't need a lot of skill or experience to do and it's going to get the job done so that it's not loud in the shelter and it's an easy one to grab.

But I did make it up for my agility students who had to walk their dogs past rows of barking crates. I was like, I want to create something so that a dog can move past a row of barking crates and not have it be as disconcerting as it is for a lot of the dogs that I get. So that's how it started and I was like, wait, you could use this in all kinds of ways.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, absolutely. And like you were saying, I'm sure it makes it so much easier for the people, and especially if you have multiple people handling the same dogs, having those rule systems set up that it's so easy to teach the people and the dog so that it's consistent and works.

Leslie McDevitt: Exactly. Even that zookeeper in Australia, that dingo has several keepers, but they can all do that and the dingo can go, "Oh, they know that. OK."

If you have, back to sports dogs, a dog that worries about going off with the teacher or going off with your friend to be handled and stuff like that, the friend or the instructor can, if they wanted to, just do a simple pattern, even if it's just a couple reps. The dog is like, "Oh, this." It's just one of those, "Oh, you know this too. OK." 

Melissa Breau: It gives them something comfortable to settle into.

Leslie McDevitt: Exactly. Because they trust it, and that's like you're signing the contract. Your end of the bargain is you have to keep it going as long as they are telling you to, because they have to trust that this … you're giving the dog a system, and this system has to work, or there's no point in using it. You have to pay attention.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So you led us really naturally to my next question, just bringing up the agility piece, which is, how do these skills really translate to reduce your activity in getting ready for a competition environment?

Leslie McDevitt: It's so fun because the first pattern game is Give Me a Break game. That was in my first book, and I didn't even think of it as a pattern yet. Basically, it's setting up a situation where the dog is sent away for reinforcement at a distance, and you turn your back and leave and you go to a station, and the dog learns that if they want to continue getting more reinforcement at a distance, they have to go find you at your station and make you go back with them.

I'll have the person sit in a chair, the dog gets a treat in the corner of a box of ring gates or something like that, and then the dog is free to sniff around or whatever. When he goes up to the person in the chair, they get up right away and put another treat down in a different corner and go back to their chair. So the dog keeps going back to the chair and saying, "Get up and put another treat in the corner."

So the first pattern is this back/forth, but also it's establishing the person's absence or the person turning and walking away is a cue now to pay attention, and a treat on the ground is a cue to go back to the handler to pay attention.

So it's working on leave its and recalls and distractions for off-leash work, all with this one simple thing. Because once the dog is just racing back to the chair so you can't get to it before they do, I'll have people walk outside the ring, or I'll put a stuffed animal dog outside their real dog, and we'll build up in small steps to big stuff happening, and your dog is loose, but they're choosing, if they're not right with you, to come back and get you.

And then I will take the chair away — remember, because the person's going to a chair, so it's a station, so they know where they're going — and then I'll just have them start walking. The dog goes up to them, they roll a treat away, turn their back on wherever the dog is, go somewhere else. The dog is going to run to catch up with them, put the next treat down, and walk away.

Then it's a pattern of putting the treat down, getting the dog's focus off you so that you can leave, so that the dog comes back to you and says, "Do that again."

When they're at that stage of this game, for agility people I integrate equipment into it. For dogs that are running away on course, or dogs that notice stuff on course and go towards it, I'm always like a ring crew, and I put the ring crew and that kind of stuff into the structure of the Give Me A Break game.

If they put the treat on the ground and the dog is eating it, and they walk away and the dog is running up to them like, "Hey, do that again," then you start incorporating one obstacle at a time. The dog is with you, you go, "Hey, do that again," and there's a jump there, because I'll set up a sequence and walk with the students and tell them where to go and where to stand, so that they can get the setup right. And "Jump," and then you roll a treat over the jump, and then you turn your back and walk a couple steps away and just stand there and suddenly your dog's at your side, "Tell me to jump again." "OK, jump," and then maybe do a tunnel, put a treat down, down, turn your back, walk away a couple of steps, and here's your dog, "Tell me to do more things."

Dogs that you have to say their name a million times on course and stuff, you don't have to call them at all. They're chasing after you to tell them to keep doing agility, and you can just keep adding things until it's a whole course. And then you can add, like, I'll just sit on a chair so that they're having to run past me, go over jump, throw the treat, walk away. You're just incorporating every single thing you would find in whatever the sport context is into this pattern.

It really helps with dogs would have to be off leash that aren't going to be working with you, or getting feedback from you the whole time, because everything around that dog is becoming feedback that this is still a pattern, patterns are safe, you're going to go to your person next and you're going to go away from your person and you're going go to them, you're going to go away. Stuff like that. It's a constant stream of information that keeps them doing what they're doing and not just wandering off. 

Melissa Breau: I think it's so interesting to think about those concepts. I don't know how familiar you are with Denise's engagement work, but to think about those two concepts in parallel and how much it's really about the dog cueing readiness to work, almost. 

Leslie McDevitt: Right. Exactly.

Melissa Breau: Denise's program. I just think it's super-super-interesting to think about how those two things overlap in really interesting ways.

Leslie McDevitt: Yes, I definitely do. And that's why I asked Denise to read the manuscript of my last book, and she wrote a blurb for me, and we had lots of talks about the way things go together and stuff like that. Because it's true: If it's the dog's idea and the dog has some control, then yeah, the dog likes it better. Imagine.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. And man, to have been a fly on the wall when you two were on the phone talking about, or in chat talking about, that kind of stuff. That would have been fascinating. 

Leslie McDevitt: Yeah. I mean, it's fun. It's what I like most about training at this point. What my third book is mostly about is now that we've got all this stuff, we know how to teach dogs now, how can we go back and make everything voluntary so the dogs are telling us to do all of it. That's what excites me the most.

I've got a lot of friends, like Deb Jones, who are doing all of the animal husbandry, that voluntary stuff, and I got so interested in that idea, I wanted to take it and turn back to counter-conditioning and go, how can I use this in a behavioral sense where the dogs are in charge of saying, "Yes, walk that dog by. Yes, take me over there while this is happening." Because I'm too lazy to clip nails. I really like working with dogs that are worried about stuff, because I used to be them, so I like working with them. I understand them.

Melissa Breau: Right, right. I've got one last question here for you, which is, what's something that you've learned or you've been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training. You can take this anywhere you want to go with it. I just want to hear what you're thinking about these days. 

Leslie McDevitt: I think I've learned more empathy for humans, because I have not a really difficult dog, but a really difficult kid. His brain is not wired as mine is. And so the level of environmental management and motivation and constant feedback and everything that I need to do to just get him to school and home and homework and occupational therapy and whatever is exhausting.

I know some of my students feel that way about living with their dog. And I did, too, twenty years ago when I started out. I look at a dog that's reactive at this point and I'm not just looking at that dog, and I don't have the emotions between me and that dog, because it's not my dog. I'm looking at that dog from a lens that I've done this with a few thousand dogs and I know what's going to help. So I'm not worried or exhausted. I'm just working.

But sometimes, if I take my kid to a therapist or something, they're looking at him through the lens that I might look at your dog, like, I'm not worried or exhausted, and I'm not living with this being. I know what's going to help. I've done it before. I'll tell them what to do, then I'll go home, and then they get to live with it.

So it reminds me, because so many people are … they're very emotional. It's very emotional. There's so much involved in having a dog that's hard to live with or hard to train. And it's also very emotional having a kid that's hard to live with and hard to train.

Melissa Breau: Right.

Leslie McDevitt: And the laws of learning applied to him too. And yet I go, "What? I should be able to figure it out." He's got some sensory processing challenges, and so you think something's really motivated him for several days in a row and you go, "OK, I can use that." And then all of a sudden he hates that thing because the senses decide to process it differently on a different day. He'll eat this, and then suddenly you put it in his lunch and he spits it out at the lunch table, for example. And you say to the teacher, "I thought he was eating that this week."

So it's not as easy as just …what do they say … the ABC's. It's behavior analysis: antecedent, behavior, and consequence. No, because if I can't predict what the antecedent is, then my consequence is of no relevance. So basically, everyone needs a kid with ADHD and sensory differences to make them humble. 

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Hey, at least, for better or worse he's probably in the best hands he can be, because you have the background and the knowledge and the understanding that you do.

Leslie McDevitt: It's so weird, because I totally do, but he's my kid. It's just not the same. If he was your kid, I would probably tell you all kinds of stuff.

I worked with his dentist, and I actually convinced his dentist to give me professional dental equipment, like scalers, so that I could go home and clicker-train my kid to allow his teeth to be scaled. We went through hours of this, where he scaled his stuffed animals' teeth, where he controlled it by putting his hand up if he wanted me to go towards him or not.

And it worked. I have videos of my kid asking for his teeth to be scaled, and the dentist almost dropped dead. So that's great. But that's one behavior that I can sit back and make a plan. And that's different from living with my kid 24 hours a day.

That's really the whole point that I'm making in terms of empathy is that you could bring me a dog and I can sit back and make the plan. Yes, your dog is going to ask to have his teeth scaled now, but that's not the same as the day in and day out, minute-by-minute, what excitement, what is coming next. Two different things.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Leslie McDevitt: So anyway, I guess that's my answer. Oh, the other thing I was going to say about that, Melissa, in terms of what I've done for him, I think the best thing I've done for him — because I do recognize how he thinks and mostly what he needs and also that that changes — and my thing for him has always been find the environment that's going to support him so that he can keep learning. It's figuring out what that environment is. So I'm always trying to find the right therapists and the right doctors and the right schools. It's been this huge journey of constant advocacy.

But same with the dogs. If you've got a dog that's anxious or reactive, you don't want to take her to a group class where another dog … it's not manageable. Another dog is going to get loose and run up to her. Or you don't want to take her to a dog show if she's not ready and something's going scare her, because then she's not going to learn well, she's going to think she doesn't like whatever that context is.

And it's the same. I want him to think school is a safe place where you're listened to and people present material in a way that you can understand it. Because so many kids like him that are super-smart but different, they end up hating school and getting in trouble because you can't be like, "Sit down and do this."

And there's lots of dogs that you can't be like, "Sit down and do this." FDSA community and so many other trainers are so good about figuring out the right circumstances for a learner, but schools and doctors for human learners are not still. So you have to be so careful.

That's something that I know so deep down from my years of working with dogs — how you have to curate their environment and their experiences so that they can learn what you want them to, and they're not going learn it unless they're feeling safe and unless they like what they're doing.

So to circle back to what you were saying about Denise and engagement in dogs, making choices, if the environment is overwhelming, if you are worried about stuff, you are not going learn optimally.

Denise wrote about thresholds. I read something about that on Facebook today and she's talking about optimal learning. You have to set up an environment so your learner can learn optimally, and sometimes you have to look around and go, "My dog is not going to get that right now." So just go home.

Don't stay for the second run of the day, or whatever it is. Leave, because you have to protect your dog's nervous system from learning the wrong thing. Because, as you know, it takes one thing to happen and months of work is going to go down the toilet. It takes that one bad experience and they're like, "I knew it. I knew it all along." I guess that's the end of my very long ramble there. 

Melissa Breau: I think the main … where you started with the idea of just remembering what it's like to be on the human side, even when you're working with dogs, is an important takeaway. That idea of being able to still be empathetic. 

Leslie McDevitt: Right. And it's different. Working with someone's dog is not the same as living with that dog. It's different. You can work on your mechanics and your timing and this type of thing, but at the same time, you have to know there's a level of feelings going on there. There has to be, because you're living with your learner. This is not a laboratory experiment, and so you have to keep that in mind. 

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, Leslie. This has been super-interesting, and I think everybody's going to be super-excited to listen to this, so thank you so much for coming back on the podcast. 

Leslie McDevitt: Awesome. I'm excited. Thanks, Melissa. 

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We will be back next week with Deb Jones to talk about a new project she has in the works.

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!

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