E159: Barbara Currier - "Learning and Loving the Weave Poles"

Barbara Currier and I chat about how to build a love for the weave poles from the ground up — plus we talk a little about teaching the teeter!


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And now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.

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 Barbara Currier.

In 2004, Barbara and her husband, Michael, were relocated to Richmond, Virginia, where she began teaching agility at All Dog Adventures. It was there that Barbara was introduced to Susan Garrett and her amazing foundation-based training, centered around impulse control and relationship-building with your dog.

She continues to train with some of the best handlers in the world and has implemented what she has learned from each of them into her own training program. She became heavily involved in the OneMind Dogs handling method in 2014, and has successfully competed in agility with over ten different breeds of dogs, and is a multiple-time national finalist and World Team member.

Along the way, she started her own in-home training and behavioral rehabilitation business. She was the trainer for Richmond Boxer Rescue and also assisted Southeastern Virginia Golden Retriever Rescue in assessing some of their dogs. Over the years, Barbara has worked extensively with many rescue organizations in numerous states.

She has also worked as an animal wrangler for Marvel's Ant-Man, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the TV series Satisfaction, and various commercials, and was heavily involved with the F.I.D.O Program run at Georgia Tech, which creates wearable computing for military, search-and-rescue, and service dogs.

Hi Barbara, welcome to the podcast!

Barbara Currier: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Excited to talk. To start us out, can you remind listeners who your dogs are and what you're working on with them?

Barbara Currier: Sure. My oldest dog is Piper. She is an 11-year-old Parson Russell Terrier. Now she's pretty much the princess who does whatever she wants. She's retired from dock dive. We almost lost her two years ago. She went into acute liver failure on us, and she miraculously bounced back from that, and so she gets to do whatever she wants to do when she wants to do it. At this point she's pretty spoiled.

My next dog is Blitz. He will be 11 in May, and he's my Border Collie. He is a retired agility dog. He is also my service dog and he is a medical alert dog for me. He also gets to do whatever he wants. He's my golden boy. He's perfect in every way.

We started doing canicross together in the last year, which is a sport where your dog is attached to you by a harness and they run out in front, kind of like a sled dog, except instead of attached to a sled, they're attached to you. It's like competitive 5k's and they pull you. I really despise running, and I never thought I could love running as much as I do when he's attached to me. So we've been doing that, and that is super fun.

My other dog is Miso. She is a 6-year-old Miniature Poodle. She was my international competition agility dog. Unfortunately, we had to abruptly retire back in November. We went to world team trials and got some pretty bad news when we got home that she had degenerative disc disease, and so her career became suddenly over. Now she is in retirement and she's been doing a little bit of running with me, and she enjoys that, and hiking, and whatever she wants to do except agility.

And I'm getting a puppy in May. I'm getting a French Spaniel puppy. I don't know if you've ever heard of a French Spaniel.

Melissa Breau: I have not.

Barbara Currier: They're actually a pretty rare breed in this country. They're a very old breed in France. There only one breeder in this country, and so as far as I know, I'll be one of the only people in the country doing agility with it, so we'll see how that works.

Melissa Breau: That sounds like fun. It's always fun to try a new breed.

Barbara Currier: I love trying all the different breeds. It's just so much fun. Did I miss Eggo? I missed Eggo, didn't I?

Melissa Breau: You did.

Barbara Currier: I did! Oh my god! How could I almost forget my waffle? Eggo is my youngest right now. He is my English Working Cocker. He is 2- and-a-half and he is currently my agility dog.

He has big shoes to follow with Miso, but he's doing really, really well. He's been competing now for about six months and he's already in the highest levels in AKC. He's just an absolute goofball and I adore him, and he makes me laugh every day.

Melissa Breau: Wow, I can't believe you've already been trialing him for six months. I saw the post when you first competed with him, and I can't believe that was already six months ago.

Barbara Currier: It might not be … because I only trial once, maybe twice, a month, so though it's six months, it's only been maybe six trials. That's probably why it doesn't feel like it's been that long, because it's not a lot of trials. He's moved up pretty quickly, much quicker than I expected for as goofy and immature as he is.

Melissa Breau: They grow up fast.

Barbara Currier: I know.

Melissa Breau: I always feel like I have to stick in a disclaimer when talking about agility, since it's not a sport I've played in. But I wanted to talk to you about your new weaves class, Love 'em from the Start. Even as a non-agility person, I know that there are a lot of different approaches to teaching weave poles. Can you talk a little about what approach you use for the class and why?

Barbara Currier: I use two-by-twos. I've done all the different methods. I've been doing agility for about 25 years now, and I've done all the different methods, and my personal favorite is the two-by-twos.

The thing that I love about the two-by-twos is that from the very beginning it not only teaches the dog to bend, but it also teaches the dog to bend at speed. One of the biggest problems that people have with weave poles is the dogs will learn to get entrances, but once you add speed into it, the bending back into the second pole once they get the entrance is really hard.

Some of the other methods out there teach the dogs to go through the poles really, really fast, but once the poles start to close and the dogs have to bend, they're going to lose something, whether they lose their speed or they lose the accuracy of being able to hang on to the poles. The thing that I love about the two-by-twos is that they learn both things right from the beginning.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. I hadn't thought about how that would affect the dog learning to do that particular motion with their body. Because it's specific. Interesting.

Barbara Currier: It is, and it's super-unnatural. It's the most unnatural thing we teach them to do in agility.

If you think about dogs out running in the woods, we see them jumping things, climbing things, so that's all super-natural. What you don't see them doing is weaving between trees. The fact that we're like, "You need to weave between these twelve poles, and oh, by the way, you can only enter on your left shoulder," it's super-super-unnatural. And so breaking it down right from the beginning, I just found that I get better results with the two-by-twos than I have with the other things.

Melissa Breau: Heading into the class, are there skills the dog and handler should have already? What do they need, or where should they be in their training, before they start working on weave poles?

Barbara Currier: This class is teaching them from the ground up. Other than it's great if they already have an understanding of being able to do some jumps and tunnels, because we add that in once they're on six poles, and then again when they're on twelve poles, we add in jumps and tunnels because they have to be able to do the poles in sequence and speed coming off of other obstacles.

Weave poles are pretty much the last obstacle that I teach when I'm teaching a dog agility. When I'm teaching my own dogs, they already have all of the rest of the equipment, so it's easy for me to then add the weave poles into some sequencing.

So people will get the most out of the class if they can at least do some jumps and tunnels that we can add in. Other than that, the only major important thing for this class is that the dog not be any younger than 14 months and they be done growing, because weave poles are really, really hard on their bodies, and you don't want to put dogs that are still growing, that their growth plates have not closed, you don't want to be asking them to do weave poles.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk me through those first few steps when teaching weave poles? Let's say my dog has never seen the poles before at all. So I set them up … and then what? How do you start?

Barbara Currier: You start with the two poles and you angle them, so the dog just sees the two poles and they're going to walk right in-between the two poles. You reward them. You can use a toy. For food-motivated dogs, I use big chunks of string cheese. I use the white stuff because it's easy to see in the grass. It doesn't crumble. For people that train outside, it's easiest to use a food that doesn't crumble, because then they don't spend a lot of time sniffing, looking for it. They just go in and grab it. So I just throw a hunk of cheese out when they walk through the two poles.

Then I start to angle, close the poles, so it's more they're walking straight on and they find the entry a little bit more versus "Just walk between these two poles." I slowly get it to that point on a few poles, and again I reward. But what I don't do … it depends on the dog. Some dogs will turn and walk in that direction when you circle them around your body the way that I do. Other dogs, you need to be a little bit closer and show them once or twice.

But then, beyond that, I make sure to get way out of the picture, because right from the beginning, I want it to be very, very independent of me. I don't want to be having my body show them where to go at all. I want them to be thinking it through, "I go between these two poles like this to get that reward."

For weave poles, the end result that I want is I want to be able to think about weave poles as a straight tunnel. When I send my dog into a straight tunnel, I expect that they're going to go in one end and come out the other. They're not going to dig out the middle of the tunnel. And so I expect that with weave poles. When you go in Pole 1, you're going to exit Pole 12, regardless of what I'm doing or where I'm going.

And so right from the beginning on two poles, when they're just walking through these two poles, I want to get myself out of the picture as much as possible, so that they are thinking it through and they know independently what they're doing to get that reward.

Melissa Breau: So first step is getting the dog to walk between the poles, and then starting to increase the difficulty of the angle, and then getting yourself out of the picture? Am I summarizing that?

Barbara Currier: Pretty much, yeah. In the beginning they're just walking down a channel, and the more you turn the angle back so it's a little bit straighter, obviously they have to think a little bit more. If they were walking … how do I describe it without seeing it? I need a map! Basically, if you were walking toward a straight line directly out in front of you, if that was the two poles, if you were standing, looking at the two poles, and you only stare at a straight line in front, so you only see one pole because the other one is directly behind it. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Yes.

Barbara Currier: If that's the way your poles look, the dogs then have to actively try to figure out how they're going to get into that on their left shoulder entering that. That's much more difficult than if we have the poles turned so that they're looking at the pole and they see a pole on their left and a pole on their right. Does that make sense?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, yeah.

Barbara Currier: OK. I'm so glad!

Melissa Breau: One of those things that it's hard to describe in words.

Barbara Currier: It is.

Melissa Breau: I looked through the syllabus, and it feels like you're adding poles pretty quickly — from two to four to six poles all in the first two weeks. I wanted to ask, how do you figure out when a dog is ready for that next step for you to add those additional poles? What does that look like?

Barbara Currier: Most dogs actually learn this really, really quickly. There are some that struggle more than others, so it's very dog-dependent. But I will make things harder when they have about a 90 percent success rate.

I'm OK with mistakes happening, that's how they learn from them, but when they are 90 percent correct first try, then it's time to make something a little bit harder, whether you're closing the poles a little bit more, whether you're asking for a little bit harder entry. But that's pretty much what I go by when their success rate is 90 percent.

Melissa Breau: I noticed that you call out separately adding motion and then adding handling. How are those two things different? Why do they need to be separately addressed?

Barbara Currier: In the beginning, when we're teaching the poles, we want to be doing as little as possible, because we want the dog, again, to know what their job is, without any influence from us.

A lot of people, right from the beginning, will add motion. They'll move forward with the dog. The problem is, especially for a dog that has lower drive, they learn to follow your motion.

Say you needed to do a rear cross on a weave, and so you're not ahead of the dog. The dog is going to slow down, because they've paired their behavior of being in the weave with you up ahead almost motion-wise — almost like drafting, if you know anything about car racing — like you were drafting them through the poles, because they were following you. So it's really important that they learn, from the beginning, "This is your job, without me doing anything."

And then we add in the motion first, not only for the lower-drive dogs will they become dependent on our motion, but for the higher-drive dogs and the large herding-based dogs that we have in this sport, they are easily distracted by motion.

Doing weave poles is really, really, hard, and when we add in motion too soon, it becomes very difficult for them to focus on the task at hand and the fact that, "Oh my god, Mom's moving, oh my god." So many things can happen, so we want to make sure that they understand their jobs first, without any motion. Then we can add motion.

Now motion is just you moving forward, and we start it as a walk. Can you stay in your poles while I'm walking, can you stay in your poles while I'm jogging, can you stay in your poles while I'm running full bore and leaving you? Can you do that? We start all that on six poles. We don't want to make it super-hard on twelve.

From there, we add handling, because not only is handling motion, but handling is changing sides on the poles. So now we've added two different distractions for the dogs. So rear cross: Can you drive ahead of me and go in the poles, even though I'm behind you and I'm now going to cross sides behind you? Can you stay in your poles while I'm front crossing at the end of the poles? I'm doing a turn in front of the poles while you're still weaving. Can you do that? Can you stay in the poles while I'm blind crossing them? Can you stay in your poles while I'm running across the base of the poles with my back to you? All those things are very, very difficult, and so you don't want to add them all at once before the dog truly understands what their job is.

Melissa Breau: For those who are listening to this and considering the class, they have a dog who is an agility prospect and they need their weave poles taught, what else they can expect to work on, or is there anything else you'd want them to know as they're debating signing up?

Barbara Currier: I'm hoping that they're going to have lots and lots of fun, because I will say that of all the things we teach in agility, weave poles is my number one favorite thing to teach. I love it so much, and I love to watch the dogs problem-solve and figure out what is expected of them and this little puzzle that I have presented to them.

The other thing that we address in this class is the different entries. So many people, when they're first teaching weave poles, stick to the pretty easy, straight-on entries. I go right for the hard entries, right from the beginning. The only time that straight-on entries are a problem is when you are sequencing, because speed is involved. So right from the beginning, I teach the more difficult entries so they're easy for them right from the beginning. They're like, "Oh yeah, this is what we do," because it also builds up muscling along their spine that they need to hang on. And then we address the straight-on entries with speed, once we add in some sequences.

And then also, right from the beginning, they're going to have independence in their poles. They'll be able to lead them in their poles and get to their next place on course, so that they can tell the dog where they're going and have the utmost trust that their dogs are going to do what they know they've trained them to do and do well.

Melissa Beau: Shifting gears a little bit, in addition to the weaves class for April, you're also doing a class on teeters and contacts. I wanted to ask, first of all, is this class appropriate for all contact agility obstacles? And then, how do you approach teaching contacts?

Barbara Currier: We do address all of the contact obstacles, but there's a heavy focus on the teeter because that's the one that most dogs tend to have problems with, whether they have noise sensitivity or height sensitivity or motion sensitivity. The teeter is usually the problem child amongst the three contact obstacles, but we do address all of them.

The way I teach contacts is done with tons and tons of small games, so it's all broken down into small pieces that create the large finished product. All the games are super-fun for the dogs, and teach them confidence and independence, and again that they're doing this on their own without help from me, so that I can trust them to do their jobs so that I can leave them on course to show them where they're going next.

Melissa Breau: Does the class start the teeter from the ground up, or are there skills that folks need before taking the class?

Barbara Currier: No, this one does it right from the ground up, so they don't have to know teeter coming into it. Or, if their dog has teeter issues and they're trying to work through them, really, this class is great for any of the dogs. Again, you want to make sure that their growth plates are closed, because it is contact obstacles. But it's good for a retrain of the teeter and it's also good for the dog that doesn't know the teeter yet at all.

Melissa Breau: Can you share a little more on the approach you take teaching contact and teeter skills? I think in the description you mentioned that you use two-on/two-off as a method for these particular obstacles.

Barbara Currier: Yeah, there's two methods for contact training. There's two-on/two-off and there's running contacts. In this class we're teaching two-on/two-off, which means their back feet are on the obstacle and their front feet are on the ground, and they stop and hold that position until they're released by the handler.

We do lots of small games, and the more criteria that you put on a behavior, the more it's going to hold out over long periods of time. As you know, dogs don't really understand gray. They understand black and white. So instead of saying, "Come down and put one foot in the yellow," that's really, really gray. But by saying, "Come down, and your back feet go here and your front feet go here," it's much more black and white for the dog, and so you're going to get a faster performance because they know exactly what's expected of them, versus an –ish performance, where as long as this is in the right place-ish, you're good.

Melissa Breau: I like that — an –ish performance. The sample lecture that you share on the class is the first assignment on "motion override." I wanted to ask about that. Can you explain, first of all, what motion override is, and then talk us through how you teach it?

Barbara Currier: Sure. As I said before, the sport is dominated by herding breeds, which are very motion-sensitive. So it's really hard sometimes for dogs, when they see motion, to continue to do what's been asked of them. In handling, motion is one of the first pieces of information that we give our dogs in what we're doing. As my friend and fellow Fenzi instructor Loretta says, "Motion go dat, I go that way."

What motion override teaches the dog is that I'm going to ask you to do something, and it doesn't matter that I'm still moving. I need you to continue to do what I ask you to do.

I teach this with my puppies at a very young age. Basically, I start with something as simple as a sit and a down. Can you perform a sit and a down while I'm moving? And eventually, can I be in a full run and ask you to sit or lie down, and you'll ignore the fact that I'm running, I'm not stopping, and perform those behaviors.

What that translates into are contacts that … say your verbal for your contact behavior is "Touch." They're coming down the A-frame and you say, "Touch," and you're running by, full speed, to your next position, not stopping, not slowing down, and they're going to know, "Mom told me to touch. That means my job is come down, stop with my front feet on the ground, my back feet on the obstacle, and wait for her to release me, regardless of what I'm doing."

That's where the motion override comes into play. If they can't do it with something as simple as a sit or a down command, adding agility, and the whole mindset and the whole arousal stage of agility, is going to be so much harder. So I like to start this game early on with the simple exercises.

Melissa Breau: I like that. And that's an important skill no matter what your sport – having the dog understand how to do the behavior no matter what.

Barbara Currier: Yes, absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Thinking through these two classes, both contact behaviors and weave poles, I assume that you have to think through what you're going to do when it comes to maintaining them over the long term. First of all, is that true? And then can you talk a little bit about how you make sure those behaviors continue to look crisp and are strong, even when the dog is actively trialing?

Barbara Currier: The biggest, biggest key — I preach this to my students all the time because everybody gets sucked into it — is staying consistent when you start trialing. Everybody has these clear guidelines and criteria in

place for the dogs when they're in training. And then they get to the trial and they get caught up in that atmosphere of cuing and wanting to win, and all the criteria goes out the window. And then they wonder why they're losing their contact.

The most common thing that will start to happen is dogs will start creeping down to their contacts. My students will come to me and they'll say, "They used to drive down and it was so great, but now they're creeping." And my first question is, "Are you quick-releasing on your contacts?" They'll sheepishly look at the ground, "Well … maybe." And I say, "That's what caused it." Because the problem is the dogs become ring wise. They learn what is expected of them in trials and then what's expected at home. At home they get in trouble if they don't come all the way down, and so they might be taking off and then they get a chance to do it again.

But at trials people get caught up in, "I want a cue," "A paw was in," or "They stopped four on; it's close enough, we're still clean, I'm going to release them." But then the dogs start creeping down the contacts, saying, "Are you going to release me now? What about now? What about now? How about now?" They creep their way down and then the handlers get mad. And I say, "It's not the dog's fault. You got grey in your criteria and now they're questioning it." So it's really super-important that you don't get caught up in that, and that you think, going long-term, what your end result is.

With my dogs I'm always hoping for World Team dogs, so when I'm bringing up young dogs, I don't get caught up in the whole cuing thing because I'm always looking long-term, thinking, If I'm in the finals at World, do I want to be concerned about their contacts or their start line or anything that has an impulse control? And the answer is no. So at local trials I'm going to make sure that I continue to work that.

Now that we have fix-and-go and the FEO in AKC and stuff, there's so many ways to be able to work those behaviors and have the dogs be able to be rewarded right at the trial, which is so awesome. I'm so glad they finally did that.

And then I continue at home in my training to really, really highly reward super-wonderful contacts and continue to do distraction training with them. Can you hold your contact if I'm throwing the Frisbee as you're heading down to the end? Can you hold your contact while I have one of your friends tugging at the bottom of the contact? I do all those things to them at home to try to stress them and push them out of their comfort zone, heighten their arousal to try to mimic more of the dog that I have at trials.

Melissa Breau: This is a little bit of a change of topic, but I was looking through your classes and your website while prepping questions, and there was a line on your website that really caught my eye. It mentions that you are a strong believer in teaching dogs how to fail, but to continue to learn through their mistakes instead of shutting down. I think that's a skill a lot of people struggle with, so before I let you go, I wanted to ask if we could talk about that a little bit. What is it about your approach that helps with that, and how do you build that in a dog?

Barbara Currier: When I bring new dogs along, I'm always very conscientious to not create learned helplessness in them. I really want my dogs to be able to problem-solve and understand that making mistakes is not a big deal. Now I don't allow them to fail multiple, multiple, multiple times. I watch them, because I don't want my dogs to get frustrated. But in life, mistakes are made and we learn from mistakes, and so I am OK with my dogs making mistakes.

I've always felt like this, but Eggo was my biggest challenge for this because, from a puppy, he had zero tolerance for failure. If he did not immediately get reinforced, even from a 10-week-old puppy, he was gone, he just left, he just took off and sniffed.

So I really had to stop and look at the way I trained, and how was I going to need to adjust to him, because weave poles in particular, the dogs make a lot of mistakes in weave poles, and if they're going to shut down after one mistake, weave poles are going to be very, very frustrating. And I want them to be more like, "Oh, I made a mistake? OK! I'm going to try again! I'm going to try again! I'm going to get this! I'm going to get this!"

And I'll adjust, like I said, I don't want them to fail repeatedly and become frustrated. But also, when they do make a mistake, I remain very, very upbeat. I never, never, never punish or anything like that for mistakes.

For instance, if Eggo breaks the start line, if I'm leading out and he breaks the start line, and I turn around and there he is, I go [high-pitched voice]: "What happened? We've got to try that again!" His tail is going nonstop and he's like, "OK, this is great!" He doesn't get away with breaking his start line, but he understands that we're not running this course, because I put you in a stay, and I expected you to be in a stay, and so we're going to go back and try this again.

When I put him back in his stay, I may race out to the second obstacle, and if he holds the stay, "Oh my god, that was amazing!" and I'm going to run back to him and reward him and play tug with him or whatever. So he has learned that making the mistake is not a big deal. He's going to try again for me. But I had to break things down, really, really down, in minuscule behaviors for him, for him to be able to function with being able to make a mistake and bounce back from it.

I also had to learn that things had to be super-short and I had to jump from one behavior to another pretty quickly because he got super-frustrated very quickly. A sit, for instance — I shaped those. I would wait for him to sit, he would do it, I would give him his cookie, and then we would run off and play Frisbee, and then I would come back and wait for another sit.

We didn't sit down in this five-minute session where we're working sits. It was once the behavior happens, we're off, we're going to go do something else, and then we're going to come back. It was very, very, very short for him.

Melissa Breau: I have to say, I've definitely seen a little bit of that with my English Cocker, too, so it might be a Spaniel or a Cocker thing. We'll see. You'll have to tell me after you get the new puppy if it's a Spaniel trait.

Barbara Currier: I'm wondering that, because don't you agree that they're a very soft/hard dog?

Melissa Breau: Yes. They're completely resilient to some things, and super- super-easy to get frustrated and really sensitive to other things.

Barbara Currier: I've been amazed at how much of an oxymoron he is. He's really a soft/hard dog.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Levi had an x-pen fall on top of him as a puppy, and he was like, "What? Oh, that's nothing," totally bounced back, no problem. But there are some things where it's like, "Wait, no, I didn't get that right. I'm totally going to get frustrated."

My favorite thing that he's learned to do – he's 3 now, he's finally starting to mature — but my favorite thing that he will do for me now is if we're in a training session and he has the option of going to a bed in the middle of the training session, if I'm not being clear enough, he will go and lay himself on his bed because that's a reinforcing behavior and he knows he'll get paid for it.

Barbara Currier: Excellent!

Melissa Breau: But I know I need to stop my training and reevaluate my plan.

Barbara Currier: Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Very punishing to me.

Barbara Currier: Yeah, but I love when they learn these little ways of communicating so clearly to us. Really, as dog trainers, they really are the absolute best trainers.

Melissa Breau: Yes, totally. They will make you be a better trainer. That's for sure.

Barbara Currier: Exactly.

Melissa Breau: I didn't mean to take you off your track there. You were talking about Eggo and breaking things down. Was there anything else you wanted to say on that note, or did you cover your points?

Barbara Currier: I think we covered it.

Melissa Breau: OK, then just one final question. What's something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Barbara Currier: Probably the one that I'm learning right now with losing Miso so suddenly was not the way I planned on having Eggo coming out. I expected to be running Miso at the same time and she would leisurely retire into her 10-, 12-year-old-ness and he would slowly slide into her place and that would be that. I didn't expect to have my leg amputated and thrown back in the deep end and expected to swim. So losing her, she's my heart, and just jumping back into trials with him and not having her there, I didn't realize how hard it was going to be.

Even though they're two different breeds, unfortunately he's getting compared to her a lot. It's not fair to him, and intellectually I know that, but I'm working really hard through it, and I'm learning that sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Even though intellectually I know you can't compare dogs, it can be hard.

What I've done recently is, he measures into 14 nationally, but internationally he has to jump 16, so he came out jumping 16, which he has no problem with. But he's a different dog, he's a boy, he's goofy, he's not as mature as she was at this age, and so he deserves to have his own journey.

But taking him out at the international level, I had it in the back of my head that, "Oh, we needed that cue for crawls, we needed that cue for this, for that," and that just wasn't fair to him, because in my head I'd be thinking, Miso wouldn't have made that mistake.

It's just not fair and I knew it, so I moved him recently down to 12 inches, so any of that international stuff is just off the table, and when we didn't have perfect runs, my first thought was, Oh my god, we had such amazing training opportunities out there. And that's where I need to be with him, not even thinking about international or any of that stuff, because we're not ready for that as a team and it's not fair to him.

Melissa Breau: He's a baby dog still.

Barbara Currier: He's a baby dog. Miso was so much farther along than he was at this age, but she's a girl. She was born serious and he was born a waffle. There's nothing serious about a waffle.

Melissa Breau: Man, that's been a wakeup call for me — a boy after having mostly girls. I get that.

Barbara Currier: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So that's been my lesson that I am learning and trying to really learn hard for him at this point. I don't want to make it not fun for him because I'm putting unrealistic goals on us.

Melissa Breau: I always admire agility trainers because so many of you do run multiple dogs, or train multiple dogs, at the same time. If you're handling two dogs in obedience, or two dogs for some of the other sports out there, you do have to adapt your handling a little bit. But I feel with agility it can be so drastic between dogs, and that's such a hard thing to do in your own head. I've always really admired …

Barbara Currier: For sure.

Melissa Breau: … that skill.

Barbara Currier: It is a learned skill over time. The longer you do it, the easier it becomes, because you're working off of muscle memory. Obviously there's always a timing thing you've got to get used to with dogs, but it's muscle memory. So those of us who have been doing it a long time, we're not really thinking about what we're doing; our bodies are just doing it. So it does become easier with time. But depending on the dogs you're running, sometimes it can be quite difficult to jump back and forth between one and two of them.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Barbara! I think this has been super-interesting, at least for me, and I'm sure for a number of our listeners. There were lots of good nuggets in there, so thank you.

Barbara Currier: I hope so. Thanks for having me!

Melissa Breau: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with a discussion on the virtual Fenzi Team Titling Program.

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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