E160: Laura Waudby, Heather Lawson, Ann Smorado - "Virtual Titling with TEAM"

Stuck at home but need something to keep you motivated and training your dog? Check out the virtual TEAM titling program!


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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.

With everything going on in the world, I wanted to talk about virtual titling through the Fenzi TEAM program. It can be hard right now to set goals and motivate ourselves to keep training, since most trials have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. So, if you're one of the many of us who need that external measuring stick to evaluate and motivate your training, we'll be talking about TEAM today and how you can use it for exactly that.

With me to discuss the topic are Laura Waudby, Heather Lawson, and Ann Smorado!

Hi ladies, welcome to the podcast!

Ann Smorado: Hello.

Laura Waudby: Hey.

Heather Lawson: Good evening.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, I'd love to have you each introduce yourselves — maybe share a little on what you teach, who your dogs are, and a fact or two about you. Laura, do you want to start?

Laura Waudby: I'm Laura and I teach the TEAM classes on FDSA along with Heather. I have four dogs right now, as I just got a puppy. I have two old retired dogs right now, a Corgi and a Toller. Then I have Zumi, who competes in obedience and agility, and now I have Wren, the bird, and she turns 4 months old this week.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Heather?
Heather Lawson: Hi, I'm Heather. Along with Laura, I teach TEAM 1 and 2. I am working with my current dog, a German Shepherd, Piper, who is 5 years old, and I have another retired boy who's 14. Obviously my breed of choice is German Shepherd. I will be getting back into obedience with Piper, doing obedience and rally, as soon as we can all get back to normalcy in our lives.
Melissa Breau: Ann?

Ann Smorado: I teach a couple in-person TEAM classes locally at my local training center, and I just started up a third one right before we had to shut everything down, so I'm trying to keep all of them going through Facebook groups. So that's what I do.

I have two dogs now. I think last time we talked I only had one. They're both Labs. I have my 7-and-a-half-year-old, Hartley, who I think a lot of people are familiar with, and then I have my 8-month-old, Dare, who is just training in everything. Our biggest problem right now is I should be having him training around other people and dogs, and I don't because I can't. He's super-friendly, so we'll see how that shakes out later when he's finally able to be around others.
Melissa Breau: Since we're here to talk about virtual titling, I'd love to just start out with what you guys see as the advantages of virtual titling rather than in-person trial. What are those differences or the pros and cons of each? Heather, do you want to start this one?
Heather Lawson: Virtual titling is great for that particular handler who gets really super-nervous in the ring when everybody's staring at them. It gives them an opportunity to maybe do a couple of runs before they finally submit for a title. So it's cost-effective in that way.

The con about that part of it, the handler nerves, you just don't get sometimes the same kind of camaraderie that you might otherwise get if you were doing it with your friends, although nowadays everybody does it virtually online anyway.

But that's one of the best things, I think, for a lot of people is that those who get stage fright, shall we say, this is a great opportunity for them to go ahead and title their dogs and set themselves up for acquiring different levels of whatever they want to do within TEAM.

Melissa Breau: Ann?

Ann Smorado: The pros and cons are the same for in-person versus virtual at least with TEAM, is that there's no date, there's no trial date, so a person who's setting out to get a TEAM title, you train your dog, and when your dog is ready to chain together and you think ready to test, then you can do the test.

The downside to that is, in an in-person trial, there's a trial date, so there's this date set in stone, and for a lot of people, having that deadline is what you need to put more rigor in your training. You can be like, "I can get this done someday," when there's no date, but it's really hard to let go of that goal.

Say you want to be ready for novice for that October 1 trial and then you're not, a lot of handlers will go ahead anyway. Probably every trial I'm at, when you're the novice ring, I'll hear handlers say, "Well, my dog's not really ready for this, but …" and they're going forward.

With virtual titling, or at least with TEAM, you don't ever have to do that. If you put a date out there for yourself to put the rigor in, you can erase it if your dog's not ready, and I think that's a really beautiful thing with that.
Melissa Breau: Laura?

Laura Waudby: When virtual titling first came out, I was really apprehensive about it. It made sense to me for people who had reactive dogs who couldn't handle the trial environment itself, or if there were any local trials in your area. But I honestly didn't see the appeal for a lot of other teams. I pictured it as a way of people who wanted to put a whole bunch of titles at the end of their dog's name and then not really do a lot else.

But as it kept coming on the scene and I saw more people do it, I saw how it could keep people motivated and doing stuff with their dogs. As Ann was saying, even without that … with that clear end date set in stone, you could still work towards things and get motivated to actually finish each trick

Even just the trick titles out there — I like teaching a lot of things, but I don't really put them on stimulus control and on cue. So this can be a way to get out of your house and do some fun training outside, whether it's trick or parkour …there's so many online titles nowadays.

So mainly I tend to see it as a way to keep people motivated to actually do stuff with their dogs, and as a way to test more the skills of your training versus testing how well you are at prepping your dog for trial environments. I know it's really hard for people to prep for trial environments. We have a lot of classes on FDSA for that, but that tends to be the hardest part for most teams. And so this can be a way to really … do you know how to train those skills, and can you still show off to the world that your dog can at least do it, even if they can't quite do it in different environment yet. So in that sense, I've come to really embrace the online titling atmosphere.

Heather Lawson: Heather here, sorry. Just to jump in on what Laura was saying, too, is that there's a huge cost factor if you're doing trials in person. You've got to travel, you might have to do hotels, you've got food, you've got gas, you've got everything like that. Whereas with a virtual titling, you can do it right in your backyard. The only cost, basically, there is maybe your equipment, and most everybody has an iPhone or a phone of some sort, and just your submission for your test video. So it can be a lot less expensive in that way and therefore allows you to do more things with your dog,

Laura Waudby: Especially because you only pay when you actually submit it and not the 500 times that you failed before that.

Heather Lawson: Yeah. Been there, done that. Exactly, exactly.

Melissa Breau: What about the TEAM program specifically? What are the strengths of the program? Ann?

Ann Smorado: It's structured in a way to help people, handlers, trainers, really prepare their dog for an in-person trial, because it makes you think about learn the good habit of reading the rules and understanding them, being more precise in your training. Because whereas in an AKC event, straight fronts are still important, but you get a deduction. You're not going to get the exercise not qualifying for it.

But in TEAM you have to think about all of those details and tend to them, and you have to know the rules and do everything correctly. I found as I took my older dog through it, it improved my habits of training, reading rules, thinking about it, thinking about what I really need to do. So I think that's a real strength with TEAM in particular.

Melissa Breau: Laura?

Laura Waudby: I always recommend that my in-person students check out the TEAM program, even if they have zero interest in submitting the online titles. The main reason for that is because so many people get lost in training for obedience and rally, as they don't know what the end picture is. If you haven't done it before, you don't know all the little stuff to train. You're just thinking about all that novice heeling, and you don't really know how to start everything else.

I really like that TEAM gives you a roadmap. It's very black-and-white for the people who need that structure. It's like, "You're going to train this and this and that, and here are your precision goals." As Ann was saying, you don't have to care about exactly what style, but it's going to give you behaviors that will hold up, once you start to add the distance, the distractions. TEAM also works on reducing the cookies you give to your dog, so all the things you don't actually think about.

Personally, it's designed the exact way I want to prep my own puppy, the way that I am prepping little Wren right now with the skills she'll need at high levels. So it's not just, "Let's heel in a circle and do some fronts," but little tiny baby go-outs, scent articles, all those little tiny pieces. So it's way more fun for people than just working on those novice skills.
Heather Lawson: I can absolutely agree with what both Ann and Laura said. It adds a complexity in small increments and in all four of the areas, which is your dog and handler teams. So the difficulty of the skills gradually gets harder and harder. The challenges in the form of reducing the food —we start out with, yeah, we can reward lots in TEAM 1, and then it gets finally to the point where there's nothing. And then finally, too, because we're requiring them to submit in different locations, you get that distraction and challenge. They get sort of a trial environment without the official trial environment because we are asking them to change locations and work under different circumstances for the titling.

The other thing, too, is that not only can TEAM be applied to sports; I use a lot of the TEAM exercises in my in-person pet dog training too. So it's a good way to get people who are, like Laura said, a little bit lax on their pet manners training, making it more fun for them to do the training by putting them in through the TEAM side of it. So it goes into both aspects of the sport dog person and the pet dog person. It applies all across the board, really.

Melissa Breau: You're all pretty involved in the program on an ongoing basis. I'd love to talk a little bit about the common mistakes or issues students run into when they're training for their TEAM titles. Laura?

Laura Waudby: The biggest mistake I tend to see in the Facebook group is a ton of over-testing. Maybe their dog does have really nice Level 1 skills when you practice in your pristine environment, and the dog can do several reps in a row, the same thing at once. But it's not the same thing as the dog doing the formal test with everything on the first try, no warm-up, a ton of formality from the handler, and the dog makes a little mistake for the test, and the handler restarts and then restarts, and then they film again the very next day. And then we see so many reports of people being burned out and frustrated with not passing.

So I would highly recommend testing no more than once a week. And honestly, if you do that twice and you still fail, then take several weeks not testing and just training. I recommend always looking at the next level to see where the skill is going, so not just training your Level 1, but maybe you're at Level 2 for some things, maybe at Level 3 for other behaviors. But really challenging the dog's understanding so that when you do go back to testing, you actually do pass and you don't just keep the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results the next time. 

Melissa Breau: Right. I'm so glad you mentioned the Facebook group, because I was thinking about that when writing out the questions and it wasn't something where it felt natural to bring it up. For those who are listening who aren't familiar with it, can you just for two seconds plug what the group is, Laura?

Laura Waudby: I love the Facebook group. Anybody can join. You don't have to be a Fenzi student. You don't have to be registered for TEAM. Absolutely anybody can join. You can post your training questions. A lot of people will post their videos on there, whether it's their actual run-through that the test or whether just their training. But you can basically chat about whatever you want, chat about how to make props, and it's just a really good way for people to cheer each other on and help each other.

Melissa Breau: The name of the group, for those listening, is Fenzi TEAM Players, and it should come up if you do a Facebook search for it. Heather, do you want to pick up where Laura left off? 

Heather Lawson: Well, actually, Laura made the same point that I was going to make, and that was that people get stuck doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result and not really taking a look at why something maybe isn't working. They're only training to that point, and they get to that point and they say, "This is good enough."

Good enough is good enough sometimes, but if you then don't take it that little bit of extra stretch and make sure that you're … not perfect, nobody's perfect, but if the dog doesn't have it, then when you go to the next level, you're going to run into even more problems. So you've got to make sure that when you're training for a title, that you're not just stopping at that one particular thing, that you can see beyond where you currently are. Sometimes that's hard for people when they're first getting into something like this. They don't see it. That's where our job — Laura's and mine anyway — as Fenzi instructors is to say, "This is where this exercise takes you, and this is why we're asking you to do this, and this is why we need you to do this." If they can at least look beyond just the single simple one exercise and see that it is going to take them further, then I think that's going to make their whole training for the title even that much better. 

Melissa Breau: Ann?

Ann Smorado: What trips some people up is maybe at first blush they look at it and they say, "My dog has to be able to do these ten things to get the title," and this thought process that says, "I can demonstrate that my dog can do the ten things."

Yes, you have to demonstrate that the dog can do the ten things, but it's more than that. The dog has to be able to do the ten things, and you need to be able to chain the ten things into one single event, which isn't always all that easy, because the dog has to stay somewhat engaged with you for four or five minutes while you're moving equipment around and doing all of that. They're not off work in-between basically.

And, as I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of handling that needs to be done correctly as well. So my dog can fly around a cone. I was able to show you that, but you've got to send them from your left side. That's the rule. You could argue that that's a dumb rule, but it's the rule. So there's all of that that goes into it too.

And so I think that that is a mistake that some people can make going into it that can frustrate them, when all of a sudden they're trying to test and they are suddenly discovering that it's not just a matter of the dog can do ten things.

Melissa Breau: The dog can do the behaviors individually, but when you're actually asking them to do one after the other, after the other …

Ann Smorado: Correct.

Melissa Breau: Different story.

Ann Smorado: And then all the things that you need to know.

Melissa Breau: I was going to say there's certain amount of fluency on the part of the handler, too, during a run, just being able to know what the thing coming up next is, so you're not constantly checking your notes to be like, "Oh wait, what exercises am I doing next?"

Ann Smorado: I've heard that too. 

Laura Waudby: There's some really great charts that are also on the Facebook group — I think on the website, too — that have those picture diagrams. Hopefully you've memorized it, but you can still look at a glance, "Oh, this is next, and then this is next," without having to sit down and read in the middle of your training test.

Heather Lawson: Oh yes, those diagrams are absolutely a must. Take it and pull it off and blow it up so that you can just stick it on your wall. It's a great visual, because you don't need to know all the rules and all things. Just a quick reminder, like Laura said, is fantastic because it helps you then keep the rhythm in whatever it is that you're doing and it doesn't leave a lot of lag time for your dog. So definitely, definitely got to go to the TEAM website and pull off those exercise sheets for sure.

Melissa Breau: What about when students are in the process of videoing their run? Are there issues they run into that make their exercises questionable or not yet that they could avoid if they just did a little extra prep work? Heather?

Heather Lawson: Actually, if you just mark out the space that you're going to be using, so that you can ensure that the camera is going to work for where you're going to be standing. If you just mark it out, put some tape on the corner so that you know that if you step out of that coroner, you're going to be off camera, because there's nothing worse than having a beautiful run, but you keep going off camera. Then it becomes questionable, like, "Why is she going off camera all the time?" Or "Why is the dog going off camera all the time?"

The other thing, too, is having your equipment set up off to the side and ready to go in the order that you were probably going to be using it. That takes a lot of stress off of you. If you say, "Here's number one exercise, number two exercise, number three exercise," boom, boom, boom, and you're going.

The other thing, too, is make sure you don't cut your head off. We have to see all of you, can't just focus on the dog. Something that I always suggest that people do is actually do a dry run, but without your dog, and then videotape and see where you would be and where they, because you don't want to do a session and then find out that, "Oh, I should have not put the dog there." If you can use a fake stuffed dog and put them in the spots that they're supposed to be in, then you've got a good chance of understanding whether or not your video is going to actually work for when you sub in your real dog.

Ann, what about you?

Ann Smorado: Well, you sort of stole mine, or at part of it in there, as I said, I always tell my students — I see their eyes glaze over whenever I tell them — is to practice your run without your dog and video it at least once. At least once. And then watch the video. You can see if your head's cut off, if you're going out of the frame. And you don't have to watch it in normal time. You can speed it up when you're watching your dry run. You don't have to watch five minutes of you handling an invisible dog.

I can't tell you how many times I've done dry runs when I was getting ready to do my test with Hartley, and get out there and find out that I didn't have some thing I needed, like a dumbbell or something, like, "The next thing is the retrieve. Oh gee, my dumbbell is still out in my car." So it's really useful because, one, you do know that you have all your equipment in the order that you're going to use it or you know that it's all there. I've also discovered, when I'm doing my dry runs, "Oh, this spot right here isn't such a great place for me to keep that jump post. I should maybe put it over here because that didn't work so smoothly." By the time you've done a dry run, by the time you bring your dog in, you're a lot more confident because you know what you're going to do and where you're going to be.

I also always tell my students who also do rally and agility, "You wouldn't dream of running your dog in an agility run without your 8-minute walk, where you've walked and practiced," or same thing in rally. So why would you do this without doing your dry run without your dog? It just doesn't make sense. So that's my biggest piece of advice.

Melissa Breau: I like that. I like the analogy to the agility walkthroughs and rally walkthroughs too, because I think that just makes more sense for people, like, why, logically, you do that. Well, of course if you have the chance to walk through the course before you start, you're going to take it. So why don't you do that for yourself?

Ann Smorado: If you ever come across a handler … and I've been that handler, where I missed my walkthrough before agility runs and I'm like, "Oh my God, am I going to be able to do this?"

Heather Lawson: That's the same thing. What do you do at an obedience trial? You watch the pattern, you watch where the judge sets up, you watch where the figure-eights are set up, you watch all these different types of things. Personally, I don't watch where the halts are, because I don't want to have any anticipation. But that's what you do anyway, so you might as well.  

Laura Waudby: That reminded me of when you're looking to see where everything is set up, and if you're actually in the camera, also think about your position so you're not blocking the camera. I can't tell you how many times I've stood directly in front of the camera and they can't even see my dog. They can only see me. So think about that.

The other thing along the camera stuff too is try to set it up so the judge can actually see the angles they need to judge. For heel-in-front it works so much better if you're directly facing the camera so that the judge can actually see is this dog parallel with you for heel, or are they within that 30-degree range for front and heel. Backup — it's nice if there's a side view to see if the dog actually went that distance. So just think about what is really being judged here and is the judge able to do that from your camera angles.

Heather Lawson: Exactly, Laura, exactly. So many times you think, I can see that you're off angle, because you have a pattern carpet that's got squares and a line, so I can actually see it. But it would be really nice to be able to see you straight on and make sure that I'm viewing you correctly. So absolutely you've got to make sure that what is being judged, so to speak, is is actually visual to the judges. 

Laura Waudby: The other thing to think about, too, is if you've haven't ever done it before, I highly recommend again that you post to the TEAM Facebook groups. Post your videos so others can watch it and tell you where you're wrong, and get that handling in play because, again, it's almost always handler errors.

We also have the Pre-Level titles that are phenomenal for giving you advice too. The Pre-Level 1 — you only need to pass six of the ten exercises, and the judges are very, very thorough in giving you advice, too. They'll catch things that you didn't know about and then give you tiny bits of advice on how to fix it. Obviously, they're not seeing you really doing your training session, so the advice is limited, but it's incredibly helpful for the students who have done the Pre-Levels to get that advice from the judges themselves on what to fix for the next time. 

Heather Lawson: I think sometimes people don't really want to submit the TEAM 1 because they're so nervous and so afraid. But when once they submit a Pre-Level and they get that opportunity to get feedback, they go, "Oh, OK, that wasn't so bad after all, and I actually didn't do as bad as I thought it was going to do." It gives them confidence to continue on and submit more videos and finally do their TEAM 1 or TEAM 2 or TEAM 3 tests. So the Pre-Levels — excellent, Laura. I forgot all about that. Yeah, that's a good one.

Ann Smorado: I also want to add that the Pre-Level isn't "less." I know I've come across, "I don't want to do the Pre; I want to wait until I can get the full TEAM 1." A 1-P is not a lesser title, in my opinion. We realize that getting ten things right is a lot. Getting six things right is a lot for a novice dog and handler. So I would just really encourage people to not look at going for the Pre-Level as something lesser. It's a title to be proud of and feel really good about, and then next time, you get all that advice, get more confidence, and then you go on to the Level 1.

Heather Lawson: I know some people do think that it's a lesser title, but it's really not, especially if you've never done a dog sports situation or trial situation before. It's a really great way to get your feet wet and understand the process and understand what is required and then be able to put that P-1 on your dog's title list. Why not? Go for it. I think it's a fabulous option. 

Melissa Breau: One of you brought up this idea that a lot of the time, "errors" are handler-related. Our dogs typically perform as they're trained to perform, but us — the people — are much harder to train. So I wanted to talk about that a little bit. What kind of things do you guys commonly see that handlers should pay attention to when it comes to themselves when videoing or submitting a run? Ann, do you want to start us off this time?

Ann Smorado: Ooh, I could probably name three of them, but I'm not going to hog them all. The one I am going to talk about is the pauses. That's a huge one. At Level 1, we only really have one pause. That's at the very end. The stay-with-distraction requires a 2-second pause before you release the dog. Then, when you get to Level 2, there's a lot of pauses all of a sudden, and when the rule says it needs to be a 2-second pause it, it means a 2-second pause. And two seconds is a long time when you're waiting.

They're really super-important, because if your ultimate goal is to go in, say, the AKC obedience ring or CKC or where there's a judge, you don't get to set your dog up for, say, a recall, stay, walk across, turnaround, call them, and finish. You have to wait for the judge to tell you that you can leave your dog and that you can call your dog and that you can finish your dog. So those are all those pauses are in there, and if you don't include those pauses in your training, your dog's going to anticipate you're not going to wait. So those pauses are put in TEAM to really help us be better trainers, to prepare our dogs for the pauses that are going to happen in a real-life trial. They're in those exercises for a reason.

I often see handlers, I'm sitting there, I'm doing the count, I'm like one, 1-100, 2 … and then they release their dog to the end and I'm like, "Oh, now I've got to look at the counter and did they really wait 2 seconds to let the dog go." So it's a really easy handler error to avoid. Just count a long time in your head. If it's 2 seconds, I say count to 3-100 slowly and then let your dog go. That's a big one. 

Melissa Breau: Laura?

Laura Waudby: I was going to do pauses too, just because that was the hardest one that people suck at in training and in our dogs because it gets really hard to do nothing. Thanks, Ann, for bringing that up, because we want to prevent anticipation and we want to get rid of that antsy dancing feet too. So I'll go with handler body language.

Heather Lawson: That was going to be my thing. OK, go for it.

Laura Waudby: Shoulders turned in to the dog — shoulder help is probably one of the biggest problems we'll see actually through all the levels, but especially Level 1, when the dogs are still learning. We like to always turn our shoulders huge to the left anytime we want our dog's butt to get in, to get them further rotated into heel position. And while that does work, it's a big no-no for TEAM.

Even just for training, it's really going to screw up your training, guys, because the dog isn't really learning where proper heel position is. So when your shoulders do become straight, your dog's going to be forged and wrapped around in front of you and they just will always need that shoulder help. So try really, really hard, and then make sure you're videotaping your practice, too, because you will see yourself doing it all the time when you really thought that you were doing such a good job of keeping your shoulders straight. So shoulder help is probably the biggest error I see handlers make in actually submitting their test levels.

Melissa Breau: Heather, did they leave you something? 

Heather Lawson: Yes, they did: start position. All the exercises have a starting position. Know what it is, because if you don't, an otherwise beautiful run is going to go down the drain real quick.

For instance, in Level 1 you've got your fine front position. You've got to start with the dog in front. That is where you bring your dog to front. And then you do your two tosses, your straight and your angle. Same thing with your fine heel. You dog must start in heel position and then you do your tosses. If you're doing the backup, you need to bring your dog to the front, pause, and then give your cue, because we want to make sure that your dog is going to wait for the cue to back up. So if you call your dog front and then they're still in motion and you cue back up, that makes it questionable as to whether or not you're just anticipating the fact that your dog is going to automatically reverse. So make sure that you're doing that.

And make sure that you're not making things more complicated than they really need to be. Take a look at the demo videos on the Fenzi TEAM website. That's what they're there for — so that you understand how the exercise is to be completed, and then you have a really good idea as to what's expected. And then if that's what you see, then that's what you train for, because the more you make the judges or me think — and Laura is judging and Ann's judging — the more you make us think, the more trouble you're going to get into. So make sure that you have all your starting points right off the bat, and then you should be good. 

Laura Waudby: And thanks to Ann, all those demo videos I think were all recently redone. So lots of good training on the website so you can actually see what it's supposed to look like.

Heather Lawson: Exactly, exactly. If you're not sure what it's supposed to look like, go and look. That's what it's there for. That's what all of that work went into for TEAM, so that you would have an understanding as to what is considered a pass.

That is so important, because if you go in there doing something and sometimes somebody will give you advice and say, "I got a pass with that," or "I got this," or "I got that." That's that person on that day under that judge. That might not necessarily be what's going to happen with you. You're going to get a different judge, you're going to have a different perspective, you're going to have the whole thing. Just like in obedience or any other sport, it's what happens on that day under that judge. So make sure that you're going as much to the rules and as much to the actual format of that exercise as you can. Don't get creative. 

Melissa Breau: Did they hit everything that you mentioned at the beginning, Ann? You said you had three things originally. Did we cover it all?

Ann Smorado: They did.

Laura Waudby: Hand signals is another one. A lot of people will keep their hand out to make sure the dog is lying all the way down, even if they're holding it there for several seconds. And so a signal has to be continuous. So put it out and put it right back to your side. In general, your hands always go back to your side once the dog is in heel position.

Heather Lawson: I got one more thing to add, sorry. The other thing I was going to add was don't rush through the exercises. So often you see the dogs — the handler goes from one exercise to the next exercise and they barely let the dog get set up in position and then they're off and running again. The poor dog can do the job, you can see the dog can do the job, but the handler hasn't given them enough time to check in and focus and get ready for that exercise. So then you got some questionable … I know the dog can do it, but you didn't help support your dog that much.

Ann Smorado: You've got to give them a chance to get their head in what we're doing now.

Heather Lawson: Exactly. 

Melissa Breau: In the early levels of TEAM, platforms and equipment play a big role. Do you have any tips for TEAM competitors when it comes to choosing the right equipment for the job and making sure they're using it in the right ways? Laura?

Laura Waudby: I love that TEAM requires certain types of targets in the early levels, because it forces dogs to be in the correct position and for handlers to really see what the dog is doing. So for us, I'm just very grateful that TEAM actually requires it.

There's a couple of different dimensions we can talk about with equipment size. I'll just pick height and let the others tackle some of the other dimensions. One error that I see in equipment with a dog first learning is that it's way too low and the dogs doesn't understand their job is to get their feet even on it. A lot of people like to use the foam puzzle flooring as platforms, which is a fantastic way to make a platform. It's light and cheap and easy to make, but just one or two layers is not going to cut it if you have a baby dog who doesn't know about platforms yet, so make it tall.

It does not have to be super-tall. Some people will try to use like a climb with the legs on and that's not really what we want to see, but just a few inches more off the ground can make a really big difference for dogs actually caring about the equipment and learning that it matters. It can help you get that nice tuck-sit pretty easily.

Once the dog learns what they're doing, you can pretty easily lower the size back down if you want to. But if your dog doesn't know it, go ahead and just add several inches to the equipment and that should help a lot in getting your dog to actually notice that something's there versus a half-inch of flooring that the dog doesn't even see.

Melissa Breau: Heather?

Heather Lawson: In TEAM 1 we get a lot of people who are new to possibly using platforms and so forth. The actual dimensions are extremely important, so that when you're first teaching your dog, you just want them to get on a platform. It can be almost any size, preferably about 3 to 4 inches tall. So you want to get them magnetized to that platform. They don't have to have a cue on that platform, nothing. It's just the presence of the platform means "Get on it, four feet on it."

Generally, you're better to start with a default stand on that. Once your dog is able to stand on it, and no matter what you do with that platform, you can hardly take it away from them, then, when you're starting to work on precision, that's where it's so important to have the narrow platforms, because technically, when your dog is on that platform with all four feet, they're correct. No matter what position they are with those four feet, they are correct.

So you need to start to take that platform — and this ties in with what Laura was saying about height — is you double-height your platform so that when your dog is now learning the precision, they understand when they're not quite on it and when they need to adjust, and you can then actually let the platform and the narrowness of it, the precision of the platform, adjust the dog for you versus you constantly adjusting the dog. Because if you constantly adjust the dog on too wide a platform, you're basically always telling them that they're wrong, and technically they're not. It's us that are wrong because we haven't given them that narrow precision in order to place themselves. Once they understand where they're supposed to be, then we go back down to normal height of the platform, which is again generally about 2-and-a-half, 3… actually I prefer 3 inches myself. And then you're off to the races.

What people forget is that they need to take a look at the platform or the target or whatever they're using and how it's going to affect their end-goal behavior. For instance, if you're doing a foot target and you're wanting to have the dog line up center in front of you, you're not going to use a 3-foot plank that's about 4 inches wide. That's too much room, too much variation for your dog to line up on. You're going to use one that's just barely wide enough for them to put the front paws on, so that that foot target is right in front of you.

So choosing the right equipment for the right job — just like you wouldn't necessarily use a square foot target for your pivots. You can't pivot in a circle around a square. It just doesn't really work that well. You've got to think about what the goal behavior is and what you're trying to teach. That's my thing.

Melissa Breau: Ann?

Ann Smorado: Oh, find a carpenter. That's my tip. Really, everything that Laura and Heather said. The pivot discs are pretty easy because a couple of sizes are going to be right for most dogs. You need a pretty small one for little dogs and a medium or bigger one for big dogs. But a lot of different size dogs can use the same size pivot disc or bowl.

But those platforms have to be custom, and when you're first starting out, when they're young, you want it high and you want it a little bit too big, really. With a puppy, it's nice, because the puppy is going to grow, so hopefully you can keep using the same one. But at first they're just trying to figure out how to get on it, and so you don't want it to be too difficult for them. You want them to get confident getting on it.

But then, when they really understand about getting on that platform, it needs to be a very precise size, like Heather was talking about. So you're going to have to either move to a smaller one or you're going to have to be able to cut it down. That's why I'm like, "Oh, you need a carpenter."

I have a funny story. My in-person class, I had had a couple of women with these Malamutes, and these are big dogs. They had these giant platforms that were heavy and they had a teenage son bring them in. And I'm like, "Those are too big. You've got to bring them down narrower." They kept saying, "We'll do it this week." But cutting it down was a job.

Heather Lawson: One other little thing. When I was talking about goal behavior and such, you can use the pivot pot — it's called a perch pot — in heel position for having your dog pivot around and into heel position. But you're better off not to use something like that when you're working on sits in heel position. The reason being is that the dogs cannot do a proper tuck sit when they are on that round disc because that round disc protrudes too far into where their back feet come. So then you're going to get that splayed sit and you're going to lose your nice tuck sit.

That's something that I see a lot of people doing quite a lot in their training, and I always try to get them to either switch to a platform or make sure that they're just asking for that stand on that pivot perch when they're using it, but not to use it as part of a sit exercise in heel position or in front position either. That's just my added little thing. 

Laura Waudby: I just want to go back quick to the width comment with the platforms. I know some dogs who, no matter how tiny you make that platform, they are amazing at sitting sideways, or they don't care if their hocks are off of it. One thing that people can use is a PVC box or something with the edges on it, so that way it's more like they're in something versus on something. That way their feet can't splay over the sides. You don't have to be quite as precise with that, I don't think, as you do when they're on a platform.
Heather Lawson: I've actually had somebody do one. It was a platform and then it had a little raised edge around the thing. So you had the niceness of the precision of the platform, which I like, and then they had the edging, which kept the dog's rear end from going off. Once he got used to it and fine, then they took the edging off and all was good, but it took a lot of patterning to get that before he finally realized that, "Oh yeah, I've got to sit straight." 

Ann Smorado: I might be adding some edging to my platform.

Melissa Breau: For those who are considering TEAM now who maybe haven't in the past, any final tips? Anything else you think it's important to bring up? Heather?

Heather Lawson: It's fun. If you're wondering what you can do with your dog, and if you are strapped by distance or you're strapped by cash or you're strapped by anything else, you can do TEAM virtually by using things in and around your home. You don't have to buy special equipment. You don't have to have anything, any special training area. Set up a good-size room, or your backyard is just fine.

So take your chance. Take a look at the TEAM website, see how things are done, and then just go for it. It's fun. It builds relationship. It helps your dog mentally, helps a lot of dogs physically as well because they're using their bodies in different ways, and I think generally it just gives them an overall wellbeing for both of you. 

Ann Smorado: I agree with Heather. It's a lot of fun. I guess my tip for someone who's considering TEAM and is starting to train for it — at first you're spending a lot of time teaching your dog how to pivot, teaching your dog how to do these things.

When you start even beginning to think, At some point I'm going to want to test, I would say each day take one of the exercises. We'll say 1:1 Engagement to Pivot. Look at it, read it, look at the rules, look at the sample videos, and then that day go and train it, videotape yourself, and compare what you have to what's on the site. And that day that's what you focused on. And then you can start to see how you're going to video each of these things, rather than waiting until you think you have it all trained and now you're going to try to put it all together. Do that that way, so then you know that you're teaching each individual exercise really to how it should look on the site.

One more comment, and I think it was brought up earlier. I was just thinking the other day how when Hartley was Dare's age — he's 7-and-a-half, he kind of knew how to heel. I thought he knew how to heel. But I was doing heeling with him at 8 months old, and Dare's done hardly any heel work other than the bowl. I'm like, "Oh my God, he's so far behind," but he's not, because Dare has started scent articles, he's started go-outs, he's started all these different things that we do in TEAM all the way through utility, because of TEAM. So he's got a much broader base than my older dogs had, and it's a lot more interesting and fun, I think.

Laura Waudby: My plug, if you don't know if you want to do it or not, is to just join the Facebook group for TEAM players. It's very active, a lot of support and advice, and you can ease yourself into it. It doesn't cost any money whatsoever. And maybe you can join one of the contests that go on on a regular basis and just train one behavior. Obedience is not as scary as it sounds and TEAM is a really great way to ease yourself in. Maybe you're going to find yourself enjoying some of the precision stuff, but definitely join the group. It's free and there's a lot of fun stuff happening on there. 

Heather Lawson: One thing that actually just popped into my mind — and I know that we've mentioned it earlier, and I think Laura and I had a chat about it at one point — was taking a look. So final tip is don't just look at TEAM 1. Take a look at TEAM 2 and even TEAM 3 so that you can see the difference in what the skill that you're training now for, say, TEAM 1, how it can actually build and how you're going to use it in, say, TEAM 3 or even TEAM 2. Because if you just focus on TEAM 1, even though you might be new, you still need to start to say, "Where is this going? What am I going to do to … I need to start thinking about once I get this, how am I going to use it for that and for that level and for this level and that level." So don't just sit at your TEAM 1 level. Look ahead. 

Melissa Breau: All right, ladies, I've got one final question here. It's the one that I've been asking all of my guests when they come on, as a last question. What's the lesson that you have learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training? Ann, do you want to go first on this one? 

Ann Smorado: This one's easy for me because I have a puppy. Just this week I was telling one of my students — she took her go out, her touch vertical target, outside for the first time. It's spring, we haven't been outside much, and her dog was a little distracted but did a pretty good job. I said, "You always have to go back a few steps when you make a big change in anything you're teaching."

Well what did I do? I went outside and I put up ring gates and take my puppy and have him six feet away from it and send them to his stanchion. All winter long he learned that touch a vertical target was a freestanding stanchion without any gates and it was inside my garage. So what do I do? I take it outside and add the gates-gates and I expect him to do it from as far away as we were doing in the garage. So I saw him go and not touch the stanchion.

I went, "Oh yeah. What was I just telling my student 5 minutes ago?" So then I went back and went back to teaching him. I went back to the very first step and say, "OK, this is what we do. We're going to touch this here," teaching it from the beginning.

So that lesson is when you make a change, especially with a young dog, you need to go back several steps in what you've taught. If your dog can do touch a vertical target from five feet away in your normal training area, you go somewhere else, you're going to go back to one foot away or maybe even less.

Melissa Breau: Laura?

Laura Waudby: It's been a pretty stressful last couple of weeks recently. Sometimes life just throws you a curveball and it's hard. But one thing it forces you to do as well is be really creative and still get a lot done.

I have Wren, she's almost 4 months, so thankfully she's mostly out of this socialization crucial stage, but still I have a pandemic puppy and I need to introduce her to the world and all its sights, sounds, and surfaces. I'm trying to be really creative in how I do that, so we're having a lot of fun in the house. I have a toddler, too, and so she's having fun helping me.

This week she's practiced going bowling in the house to knock down pins made of bottles and cans to make a lot of noises and show movement. Wren has joined her in the ball pit that we have now set up in an x-pen. We're making a lot of stuff out of Amazon boxes and making a lot of noises and movement, basically watching the world at a distance. It's a little bit tough, but hopefully it just is embracing our creativity and we'll have a lot of fun trying to get her socialized. 

Heather Lawson: For me, it's probably been that things don't always go according to plan. That's probably because Piper has been sort of sick and we have been dealing with a health issue with her. So all of my conformation plans went down the tubes, all of my obedience plans went down the tubes, as I try to get her healthy and get her back on track.

Luckily, she's a great little dog and she's a trooper and she just is willing to work whenever I ask. But I have to be very, very careful that I don't make it negative for her. It's been a very painful row for her. She loved the vet and she doesn't like the vet anymore. So we've got all those different types of things to go back to. 

But I guess the other thing, too, if I was telling somebody else, is what you think you're training you may not be training, so really take a considerate look at it. Take your dog's point of view when something isn't working. Don't just say, "Oh, he's not getting it. He's not getting it. It must be the dog. They're such-and-such and they're not getting it. They're sensitive, they're this and they're that." Nine times out of ten it's us and our lack of clear communication, so just consider things from the dog's point of view and be kind. 

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

Heather Lawson: This has been fun.

Melissa Breau: Hopefully we get some folks interested in TEAM.

Ann Smorado: I hope so.

Heather Lawson: We've got a TEAM 1 going, and Laura, are you at TEAM 3 going?

Laura Waudby: Yes. TEAM 3 is running this session as well.

Heather Lawson: OK, so we've got TEAM 1. Anybody who was in TEAM 2 last session, starting with TEAM 3, and anybody who is thinking about TEAM 1, hop in. We've only got a couple more spaces left.

Melissa Breau: Thank you, ladies. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Lucy Newton to talk about tracking.

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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