E176: Julie Daniels - "Self Control for the Wild Child"

Julie Daniels is back — and we're balancing out last weeks chat on sensitive dogs with a talk this week about the wild child... and how to put the "good" in "crazy good." 


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 Julie Daniels.

Julie Daniels has worked her whole life with dogs. In fact, she learned to walk by holding on to a German Shepherd. Today she is one of the foremost names in the sport of dog agility in the United States. She was one of the early champions of the sport and helped many clubs throughout the country get up and running.

She owns and operates Kool Kids Agility in Deerfield, NH.

Julie is well known as a premier teacher at all levels of play. She has competed, titled and won with all sorts of dogs through the years, including two Rottweilers, a Springer Spaniel, a Cairn Terrier, two Corgis, and four Border Collies. She is the only person to make USDAA National Grand Prix finals with a Rottie or a Springer, and she did it two times each. She is also a two-time national champion and a two-time international champion.

Hey Julie! Welcome to the podcast.

Julie Daniels: Hi Melissa. Thanks so much for having me.

Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you just share a little information about the dogs you currently share your life with and what you're working on with them?

Julie Daniels: I live in a blended family. We have five dogs total. My best friend, Karen Kaye, shares a house with me and she has two dogs who are extremely different from my own.

I have three Border Collies, and as people who have Border Collies know, those three are very different from each other, too. Just because you have the same breed doesn't mean you have the same dog. I have a nearly 15-year-old, I have a 12-year-old, and I have a just the other day turned 5-year-old. Those are my three Border Collies.

Karen has a Heinz 57 mixed breed who is 7-and-a-half, and she also got last year an Australian Koolie puppy or German Koolie puppy — she got hers from Germany, but they are Australian — and that's a different breed to live with. Many people think they're more closely related to Border Collies than they are. So I'm having a lot of fun getting to know her youngster too. I have the privilege of being allowed to train with her dogs as well as my own.

So we have a pretty busy family — five dogs and a cat who's a dog. We have a dog who's a cat and a cat who's a dog, so we have a very interesting and active family around here.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Last week I had Helene on to talk about sensitive dogs, and this week I wanted to talk about dogs who are on the other end of the spectrum a little bit, that "wild child" side of things. What kind of behaviors do we often see from dogs that qualify as "wild child" dogs?

Julie Daniels: I enjoyed Helene's podcast very much, and I do see this as being the complement to that class. The "wild child" dogs present usually with a lot of impatience, and that leads to a lot of frustration, which presents typically as, let's say, "naughty" behavior, and there's so much we can do with that. It's all behavior, right?

These dogs who are complementary to the sensitive dogs Helene is talking about, these are dogs who tend to stress up rather than stress down, who tend to throw a lot of behavior around when they're unsure what to do. Sometimes you look at a "wild child" dog and you think, wow, that dog is perfectly happy with the way things are going right now, even though he or she looks crazy. And sometimes — I think all too often — I look at a "wild child" dog and I think the poor dog is so confused, the poor dog is so frustrated, that those behaviors that they are throwing about, those aren't happy. So I can help. There's so much we can do to turn, you might say, inappropriate behavior into appropriate behavior without changing who the dog is.

So "wild child" dogs are dogs who stress up, who tend to throw a lot of behavior at you rather than freeze, which Helene described so well. Just because a dog is frozen doesn't mean the dog is in a low state of arousal. I think that's really important. It's a little bit easier to see, I think, in the "wild child" when the dog is in a high state of arousal.

Melissa Breau: When you say "naughty behavior," are we talking zoomies? Are we talking barking? What are we seeing?

Julie Daniels: Naughty is a construct that's in the eye of the beholder. I was just throwing it out there as a general picture that most people will describe, and it will look different to different people, for sure.

Melissa Breau: For those folks who are hearing that and they're nodding little bit, they're thinking that sounds a little bit like their dog, what are some of the things we can do to help these dogs bring their best self to our training and to our life with them?

Julie Daniels: As the always-understated Karen Pryor taught us, it's all behavior. The most useful thing to remember, I think, is that in the "wild child," not surprisingly, arousal gives us a lot of behavior to work with.

I think the most useful thing to remember is that we're going to want to use action as well as passive behaviors, that we don't make the "wild child" feel more comfortable just by "calming them down," if you know what I mean. If that makes sense.

It's all behavior, but the "wild child" comes with a set point that's a little higher in the action realm, and I think it's fair to use that. We can use that even as a reinforcer directly. I very often will raise the arousal state as a reward for the dog showing a lot of self-control.

We train them very differently from the more sensitive dogs, but it's almost unfair to say that a "wild child" dog is not a sensitive dog. They certainly can coexist. A lot of "wild child" dogs are sensitive. It's just that their action set point is higher, and they tend to solve their problems by throwing more behavior around.

Melissa Breau: We've danced around it a little bit, but to get right to the heart of it, what role does arousal play in all of this?

Julie Daniels: It plays a huge role. I don't think that's surprising, either. Let me approach it this way. Denise talks a lot about matching energy. The first class that I took at Fenzi was her Play class. I took that class because I wanted to see how the boss did things before I started my own class. I was hired in 2014, and I taught my first class in February 2015, so this goes back more than five years.

The biggest takeaway for me on that class was her work on matching energy, if you know what I mean. She was talking more about sensitive dogs there, where you tone your energy down so you don't overwhelm.

But very often we tend to underwhelm the "wild child" dog. When we try to match energy with a "wild child" dog, just remember that set point is higher. You're going to drive them nuts if you come across like a robot with no personality and you try to introduce the session super-calm, let's say, at an energy level of 2 out of 10 because the dog happens to be at an 8 and you need them in their prefrontal cortex and you're seeing crazy behavior and you want to train.

We need our prefrontal cortex for learning, and so these limbic nutso behaviors are counterproductive, granted. But to say, "I'm going to start this training super, super calm because my dog is super, super crazy" — that's not fair and it's not always useful.

If you go back to Denise's thoughts about matching behavior, if your dog is at an 8 and you'd like to train cognitive behaviors, maybe you want to go in at a 6 and gradually get down to the 3, where you want it. Or maybe you want it at a 2, but let's see if you can get to a 2. First, get from an 8 to 6 to a 3. Don't go in at a 2 because that's what you want, and expect the "wild child" dog to all of a sudden be a different individual. That's not fair.

Is that helpful?

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Julie Daniels: The way I like to think about the arousal that I'm looking at is, how can I get where I want to go on the arousal scale, and how do I meet that dog where he can accompany me down to that lower arousal level.

Is that helpful?

Melissa Breau: Down the ladder. Thinking about that, do you have an example? I'm trying to picture what it would look like to start with a dog at a 6 or a 7 in a training session. What kind of activities are we looking at here?

Julie Daniels: I guess the easiest way to describe it is action. Not just words, not just cues, not just a "lie down and stay." Can you picture the dog just quivering in his own skin, trying to comply with … at that point it would be a command such as "lie down and stay."

We can build the dogs through the use of pattern games and stations and a whole lot of tools that we'll be using. We can build the dog's desire to go to a place and remain there. But to just say, "I need you to get out of your 8 and go down to this 2 as quickly as possible, so I'm going to make you down-stay," that's unkind.

I think the easiest way to look upon how that would look at the onset of a session would be action. Maybe it's a structured game of run over here and jump up to a hand touch and go back to the station, and then run over here and jump up to a hand touch and go back to the station. Do you see what I mean? We're combining the use of patterns and the use of stations to create a dog who is ready to work, you might say.

One of the things I love about Shade Whitesel's "Ready To Work" protocol is that she uses movement. Many people forget that part — that there's not just the hand touch and then I'll throw the toy. You want the dog to move his feet. The "wild child" gives you that for free sometimes. But it's part of helping to meet the "wild child" at an energy level that gives you the toe in the door, so to speak, so that you can gradually calm the dog down.

But just to demand that the dog be calm, "I'm only going to work at a 2," that's not fair. But to meet him at a 6 is not that difficult if he's at an 8. It's not that difficult. But you want to add the structure and the patterns to it so that you can actually get from the 6 down to a 3 or a 2.

I love that question, by the way, because it's not just about "You have to do what the dog wants." That's not really what I'm saying. It's about how to meet the dog where he can become the teammate that you'd like to have in your session.

Melissa Breau: Knowing that you've got a dog that likes to play a little high, or that goes into things with a little more motion, a little more throwing behavior at you, to use the way that you phrased it earlier, I think a lot of people would think, how do you counter that to have good sessions and avoid having sessions going sideways. That's where structure and careful planning comes in, and that maybe that's the only way to have clean loops — I know clean loops come into those conversations a lot — to avoid … getting unintentional or superstitious behaviors that we've built into whatever we're shaping or we're training. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Julie Daniels: Well, that's awesome. That's a perfect introduction to the way I think about it and the way I use props and structure in a training session, because you hit the nail on the head. And I love that "to avoid having the training session go sideways," because boy, does that happen a lot.

Yes, unintentional behavior, superstitious behavior, meaning the dog thinks it's an important part of the protocol when in fact you'd like to get rid of it; in your mind it's garbage behavior and you'd like to clean that up … which, by the way, is the scientific term, garbage and cleaning that up. Anyway, we will use stations — says the girl who teaches a six-week class about stationing, Magic Mats — we will be using stations and we will use clean training loops, and even more important, I think, will be our discussions about using clean reinforcement loops.

I touched earlier on how I can use the raising of arousal as a reinforcer, and we certainly will do that, that the energy goes up after the click, so to speak, in response to the correct behavior, which presumably includes an element of self-control.

One good thing about working with dogs like this, when you want to add stationing and structure and you want to pay attention to your mechanics and clean, clean training loops and reinforcement loops. One important thing to remember is that's not really difficult with a "wild child" because they don't get stuck so much. The "wild child" dog tends to offer behavior, so to tease out the piece that you want is not really that difficult. You just have to be a good observer and you have to not be frustrated yourself by the fact that the dog can't calm down just because you want him to.

I actually have a good example of that from when my daughter — who is now 36, by the way — was 13. She had outgrown her pony in pony club and needed a new pony club horse. So it was a very sad time and a very important time in looking for the right horse — on a budget, let me add.

She fell in love with a Morgan, a purebred Morgan, who was half old type and half new type who was a very pretty horse. Turns out he was stuck in a thoroughbred jumping barn and he didn't belong there. His owner had … I won't say rescued, but had bought him out of a situation that wasn't ideal for him and she didn't really have a use for him, but she cared deeply about the quality of his life.

He had become, in that barn a real brat. Let's just say he was the "wild child" in the barn, and that's the horse, of course, that my daughter fell in love with. Teenager to teenager, they bonded, and she related to him so differently. The horse had vices. I'm not just saying he had bad habits. I'm saying he would ram you against the wall. He would kick you. This was not a good horse for a 13-year-old girl's pony club project.

Let me just say I could afford him because they were practically ready to give him away. But more important, I struggled with whether it was the right thing to do, because she was in love. And it was clear to see that they had a connection immediately.

My daughter did the cutest thing. He was in the arena with her and we were looking at him officially. I was ready to say, "I think this is a little too much horse for us," but we both were attracted to him emotionally, which is not the way to buy a horse, may I say, for your pony club daughter. But he had so much to offer. He was so interesting.

What my daughter did was the coolest thing. At age 13, she just dropped the lead shank and walked away from him. He was being a brat, and she just dropped the lead shank and walked away from him. Those little ears perked forward, and he turned his head around and watched her, and then he followed her. They were the cutest thing. He came right down into his calm, thinking brain.

The two of them puzzled out the cutest little game together. She would back up and he would walk toward her, and then she would stamp her feet and walk toward him, and he would throw his head and back up a couple of steps. She thought that was great, and laughed, and the two of them had such a good time.

My daughter, on meeting this naughty horse — I was going to say nasty, but it's just behavior, it wasn't personal, but he was not nice — she trained him through a pattern game to calm himself down. But remember, she's using an action game. She didn't just ask him to stand still. She knew better. At the visceral level, my daughter used action and patterning to train a behavior which looks to us to be polite, in exchange for a behavior that looks to any of us to be dangerous and usually walk away.

And so, needless to say, that became our horse. And boy, the stories. I used to write about him for the Clicker Journal, which was popular at the time. We clicker-trained him and he became this amazing teammate for her. And that is the consummate "wild child."

I hope that's helpful, because if I just use a dog example, then everybody says, "That's not my dog. My dog's different." Yes, yes, your dog will vary, there's no doubt about it. But I think you can get what I'm saying about the concept of the "wild child" in any species, and how it's best to meet them in a more active way, and use the actions and the scientific skills that we have, and the visceral level of connection and understanding that we have with them, to help them find for themselves a different way to respond.

Melissa Breau: Which I think is very different than most people picture when you say "creating structure" and "creating a carefully planned training session." I think a lot of people picture calm and slow. You're talking about how you use all those things, but also how to use them working with the animal's innate tendency and level of movement.

Julie Daniels: Exactly that. And by the way, you said something else that's important. You said "calm and slow." I'm just going to say, slow is not necessarily calm. When we take a "wild child" animal in any species, but I'm especially seeing it in dogs, just because you make them go slow does not mean they are calm. Yeah, good point.

Melissa Breau: We're talking about structure and we're talking about movement and we're talking about all these pieces. Where do props come into all this? I know that a lot of times props can play a big role in creating structure. Anything specific we need to think about when it comes to props and these kinds of dogs?

Julie Daniels: You're asking the girl who teaches a six-week class called Magic Mats, all about the wonders and the power of stationing. So yes, I'm big on props. Sometimes it's for the position or the location. We want the dog here, and that's a good and easy way to do it. Stationing is big, and it will be big in this class, no doubt about that. But targeting is also big, like, front feet on this or rear feet on this.

The use of stationing in this class will be in large part for position and location, no question about it, but also in large part for the mental puzzling out that it offers the dog, so that the dog gets to choose. The props will also be used to help the dog choose to operate from his prefrontal cortex. So there will be elements of puzzling things out that will help the dog choose to calm himself down and use his brain a little bit differently and perhaps more productively. So yeah, props are big. Props will be very big in this class.

Melissa Breau: This isn't one of the questions I prepped you for, but I'm picturing some of the dogs who fall into this category and some of the struggles people will run into. Especially when it comes to props, sometimes you get so much enthusiasm that the props go flying.

Julie Daniels: That's right. That will never happen in this class.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Julie Daniels: I just had it happen to me. I was working with ... I don't want to say her name, because she's sleeping right beside me and she will jump up at the ready if I say her name out loud, so K-o-o-l-a-i-d — thankfully she didn't jump up at that — but anyway, and I was using a prop in the arena when I was training a certain something for Karen Kaye's fitness class and I simply did not have the piece of equipment that I should have, and so I improvised, of course, as we all do.

In her zeal, when she understood that I wanted her to pull into a tight tuck-sit very close to the bar and do nose bops, just lifting the front end and not the back end, so you can picture. This is a very controlled exercise, and it's strength-building, and she has to use core and I don't want her rear end to move at all, and she's way too close to the bar.

This is a precision behavior, and she has to lift up and do the nose touches three, four, five times in a row. When she realized that she was actually going to be allowed to jump the bar from that position, she was so excited. She did a beautiful job bringing the elbows back, because, you understand, I was doing this exercise way too close to the bar on purpose, so that I could create that core strength lift-off from the rear and the snap back from the elbows. So I was standing directly in front of her to do the nose bops, and they were beautiful.

I stood to the side, if you can picture this, turned 90 degrees to open up the bar to her, and when she saw that the bar was open, I saw the eyes go wild, only the eyes, "Oh my god, I'm going to jump this thing!" It was set at approximately 14 inches, so you have to understand this is a precision exercise. This is not about an extension jump. This is a precision exercise. So I know I'm in trouble, but I want to see what's going to happen because she hasn't moved. She's being patient. She's looking at it with eager patience, let's say, would be an understatement.

So I offered the cue to jump, and the dog did the most beautiful job of using her body correctly. The elbows moved back and then lifted, the front end lifted, she's using her core, I can actually see it, and the quads and everything are operating off the rear, which would be the only way to clear the bar.

And that prop that I had set for her — I'm too embarrassed to tell you what it is, because let's just say it didn't work — that went flying about 15 feet as soon as she left the ground and took off. She was using her rear end correctly, and that rear end just threw my prop across the turf, and in my mind it went about 15 feet.

But the poor thing, so then, therefore, because her energy went the wrong way, so to speak — it wasn't her fault, but the energy went into that — now she's going to hit the bar with her rear end. Well, my little girl immediately, in the blink of an eye, said, "That's not going to happen."

She threw herself in rotation, if you can picture this. I think as soon as she felt the prop slipping out from underneath her, she just accelerated her movement and added a twist of torque to her takeoff — that's the way I saw it at the time — and cleared the bar with this beautiful gymnastic somersault round-off. Actually it wasn't a somersault. It was more like a round-off, if you can picture that gymnastically. She did clear the bar. She cleared the bar by about a foot because she threw herself as to clear the bar.

So let's just say I didn't look so good. She looked great, but I had chosen unwisely for what I wanted that prop to accomplish. It just went sideways, as you say. It went crazy and what turned out to be counterproductive. Anyway, I'll try to be a bit smarter in the future about what I want the prop to do.

I think that's another way of saying you're not going to need fancy equipment in the class, but you will need to open your eyes, look around you, and choose props that will get the job done for you. Sometimes, every once in a while, just like that, we'll guess wrong and it won't work, so we'll just choose better next time.

But when you have a "wild child" dog who works that hard to meet the spirit of the exercise, I just threw all my freeze-dried liver treats on the floor and let her have them, and clearly my session was done, because that prop wasn't going to work. I didn't want to repeat it, so we were done with that session and I just rewarded her heavily for her effort.

And that's, I think, going to be a critical piece of working with the "wild child" is there are going to be things that go very, very badly, which you will need to reward in the moment. Not just because I want them to feel good. It's because that was a valiant effort, that was an amazing effort, and effort counts in this class, just like it would in any other. You have to be able to recognize when the dog is doing the very best that he can. It might not look the same as another dog might look, but you want to reward effort in this class, just like any other class.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk about this in the angle of impulse control for a second. How does what we're talking about differ — or does it? — from impulse control and the types of things people typically associate with that kind of work?

Julie Daniels: I think the main difference is that we want to be thinking about what can they do here. That sounds obvious, but we tend to get stuck with "wild child" dogs and all the things we don't want them to do, because they throw so much behavior at us. "Don't do this," "I don't want that," "I'm not going to reward this if he also does that." That is wrong thinking.

Scientifically and as a trainer, and as an emotional being connected to this creature, that is wrong thinking. "I'm not going to reward this because they also did that" has got to go, and that's the first thing. We're not going to be thinking about what we don't want.

We're going to be choosing things we do want, and we're going to get better and smarter at our timing to be able to reward early on, or mark early on, prior to the dogs going off on the tangent we don't want, whatever it may be. We want to be very astute about using impulse control in a productive way instead of the nonproductive way, which looks like … the nonproductive way looks like the dog ultimately not doing the behavior correctly. That's an example. When we make a statement like that, we are talking about, "I waited for the outcome, and the outcome wasn't what I wanted."

That kind of thinking has to go. With a "wild child," that will never work. They're always going to throw in something that you didn't want. You have to expect that. Just because they never did that before doesn't mean that you're not going to see it in this class. You certainly will.

So the answer, of course, goes back to the maxim "Reward movement, not outcome." Reward early enough in the process that you're capturing a correct piece of the puzzle before the dog starts trying to jam all these other pieces in there. So we're going to get quicker, we're going to get faster, we're going to get more astute, we're going to be very observant, and we're going to learn a lot about who this dog is as an individual and how we can use his tendencies, the behavior tendencies, in order to get where we want to go.

Let's go back to my daughter's horse, Beau. I think by using the horse instead of using a dog for an example, it might get the concept across a little bit better. This is a short true story after my daughter and I had this horse and were working with him every day. I couldn't let her go out there by herself. You have to understand, this horse just wasn't safe.

When we first started clicker-training him, he was 9 years old. He was inside the stall and we were outside the stall. That barrier of separation was very important, just as if he were a wild animal. There are many, many setups that use that kind of barrier between, and this is how we started training him.

There was one time when we were working, and I'm just admitting this about myself: I'm just a mom. When my 13-year-old daughter looks like that horse could hurt her, my heart goes in my throat.

Heather had let Beau out of the stall to demonstrate something that he was doing so well with, and immediately on coming out of the stall, I saw the horse push her aside. You can picture a big dog doing this and a person saying, "That's not good. He's going to take you out at the knees."

Well, imagine a 900-pound horse taking you out at the knees. That's not good.

I said to Heather a very stupid thing. I said, "He's so stubborn about that push behavior. He's still plowing through people." Because we'd been working on that, as you can imagine. We'd been working on that in a positive way for so long.

But he was very excited to be let out of his stall, and he came charging out. He just did the thing that he usually does. If I had known then, 20 years ago, what I know now, I would have station-trained him. It would have been much better. But anyway, let's just say, "When you know better, you do better."

And so my inadvertent comment was not necessarily directed at my daughter, but it was vented in frustration, just being honest, and I said, "He's so stubborn about that push. He just wants to keep that push, that plowing-through behavior." My daughter whipped around, looked at me, and said, "He's not stubborn. He's not patient enough to be stubborn."

Whoa. Talk about being schooled by a 13-year-old. That is absolutely true. I've never forgotten it. I don't know whether she's forgotten it. I'll have to ask her. But we still talk about that wonderful horse to this very day, and how much he taught us, and what a wonderful, incredible teammate he became for her. But isn't that something? I don't take credit for this. This is my daughter. "He's not stubborn. He's not patient enough to be stubborn."

Melissa Breau: I love that.

Julie Daniels: Me too. So that's the beauty of the "wild child." You'll get a lot of behavior to choose from. So impulse control is all well and good, but we are going to be using the dog's brain in different ways, in additional ways, not just how to teach them not to do stuff. We're going to take advantage of that brain and put the dog on the same page as us, so that we have a teammate that wants what we want, and then we'll both piece it out as to how to get it. Does that help?

Melissa Breau: Yeah, absolutely. To take this to that next step, we were talking about dogs, just as you said about the horse, who maybe don't make good decisions when given the opportunity to make choices for themselves. How do we merge that or mesh that with the big topics in training today, which are consent and choice? How do those things all come together?

Julie Daniels: Oh yeah, that's great. We tend to think of structured training as so that we don't have to go down that path. But we actually want to. I love this, actually.

Consent and choice are huge, and here's why they're so huge for the "wild child." You can talk a "wild child" into trying to do all kinds of stuff, but that doesn't mean that they're confident. We tend to think … remember I was saying "Slow is not necessarily calm." Well, fast is not necessarily confident. I have to write that down. Fast is not automatically confident, and slow is not automatically calm.

If we're thinking about those things, then consent and choice become even more important, because just because you can get the dog to do something doesn't mean that they're confident about it or that they're calm about it, and we need both those things when we are learning new tasks. Both those things are very important.

When the dog is allowed to decide when to begin, when the dog is allowed to choose whether or not to offer a certain behavior, to try a certain behavior, those things are super, super important for the "wild child" because it's all going to be over very quickly. The dog is going to do whatever he's going to do, and he's probably going to do it fast. That can mask a lot of confidence issues, and it does all the time. I see it all the time, I bet you have, too, where you see a dog just going at a ferocious pace, whatever he's doing.

Let's take the agility dog walk as an example. "Oh, he's so confident. He's so fast." What I see is the dog trying to get off that scary thing as soon as possible, as quickly as possible. That's because the trainer could talk the dog into doing that under those circumstances, which might be different from how they behave when they are calm and confident.

But under those circumstances, the dog wanted off as soon as possible. He knows he's going to have to do the thing, so, "I'm going to do this thing, and by God, it's going to be over with," and they just rush to get it done. That, of course, is the opposite of the emotional state that we're trying to develop in association with whatever sport or whatever life skills activity we actually want.

So consent and choice are huge with the "wild child" because we want them to be able to tell us that they are operating from the prefrontal cortex when they're learning something new, and that they are able and ready to work, so to speak. That they are ready and able to want what we want, instead of making it an adversarial can you get him to do something. Consent and choice make all the difference.

Stationing will have a big part in that too. The dog will be able to understand. As we get several weeks into the class, the dog will have clear understanding that if the thing is not working for him, if the dog doesn't feel comfortable working with whatever it is he's being asked to work with, then they can go to station. A return to station is never going to be a bad thing for a "wild child." It's actually very important that they understand that.

Melissa Breau: How much do we really know about what's happening in the dog's brain during all of this? I know in your class description … you mentioned earlier this idea about prefrontal cortex versus the limbic system. What do we really know about what's going on there?

Julie Daniels: I don't presume to be an expert. There are others who know a whole lot more than I do about what's going on there exactly. For example, prefrontal cortex. I'm just using that to say I want the dog in a conscious thought, conscious decision-making frame of mind.

There are many, many sections of prefrontal cortex, and there are different elements and different activities that go on all within that very large part of the brain. I'm not going to differentiate with that because I'm not really qualified to. But we will be talking about, we'll be breaking things down, and we'll be discussing the prefrontal cortex elements, which we will lump together.

As opposed to when the dog is using the limbic system, as you said, which is simply meaning the responses are originating in the amygdala, which is a whole primitive, important area of the brain which we are not the least bit afraid of. We're happy to have responses come from the limbic area when they are well learned and well practiced.

That's where muscle memory comes from. You can't have muscle memory without operating from the limbic system. That's very fast. The reason that we need the limbic system when behaviors are well learned is that if we want something to happen powerfully and fast. For example, we can look at agility, but there are many, many other sports, too, that need limbic responses.

Just as when a professional basketball player runs down the court dribbling the basketball, trust me, he is not thinking about, "First you push the ball, and when it hits the floor, it's going to bounce back up to your hand and you're going to push it again." That has to be limbic. Those responses come from the amygdala so that the individual is available to think about something else with their prefrontal cortex.

That's going to be very important in "wild child" class is that we're not afraid of the limbic system. We're going to use the limbic system and why, because the responses that come from the amygdala are not conscious, and therefore they are extremely fast. Limbic responses come at least a hundred times faster than prefrontal cortex conscious thought. That's what we need. So when we're on to behaviors that call for the utmost speed and power, we want those responses to be limbic. Therefore, we'll be working toward creating muscle memory for the things that we want to be so well understood that they're felt rather than thought about, and the response can be limbic because it will be so much more powerful and so much faster.

Melissa Breau: We lost connection for a minute, so Julie and I are going to pick up where we left off. I think you were talking about the limbic system, right?

Julie Daniels: When my computer shut off, I think I was talking about how we want limbic responses as well as the prefrontal cortex-generated responses. The limbic system has a lot to offer us, particularly in active dog sports, but even in aspects of daily life and life skills, because limbic responses are so automatic and they are so very fast, approximately a hundred times faster than responses that are generated via the prefrontal cortex.

So the limbic system has a lot to offer us. We're not going to be afraid of it. We're not going to be afraid of arousal. We're not going to dive into brain science because I'm not really qualified to do that. I am a student of that game, and so people will be invited to share resources that they come upon that are of interest, just as I will. We'll all be students in that aspect of brain science together, just because it's interesting to us.

But we will make the differentiation between a limbic response and a considered conscious thought response. I think it's easy to see when we would need one and when we would need the other, and, by the way, how to combine them in multi-tasking efforts. We'll be doing some of that as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I want to talk a little more about the class itself. It's on the schedule for August, so when this comes out, registration will have just opened. Can you share a little but about what pieces of this the class is going to cover and if there's pieces we didn't talk about?

Julie Daniels: Typical, I think, of most of us Fenzi instructors, once I set about working on the syllabus, I realized that I had way, way too much material, which I hear the other instructors talk about all the time as well.

So I decided to concentrate on the dogs that I described, the dogs who stress up and the dogs that offer a lot of behavior, and for whom matching their energy begins with starting higher up the scale than you might want to and then gradually coming down, because there are plenty of dogs who would benefit from this class who start a little bit lower, and their energy will rise as they begin working, and there's nothing wrong with that. But this class is going to be geared to the dogs that are a little bit higher in energy to begin with.

Let me just say there are three main categories that I'll be working with in this six-week class. The first is the obvious impulse control, which as you and I have talked about a little bit, has a bad name. I'm going to be talking about it as self-control.

So three categories. Self-control. Another important category is the explosion on cue, meaning when to do the thing, when to offer behavior, and how we can use that back and forth. The third element is the hurry up and wait aspect, which we think about with bitey sports and agility and active dog sports, but it's in all dog sports and it's in many aspects of daily life with our dogs. That whole hurry up and wait is a way of life, and for the "wild child," that can be very difficult. Meaning the back and forth aspect of the brain work, when to do the thing, when to hold back, when to think about what to do, when a discriminative stimulus is coming into play, as opposed to the automatic response that we expect.

The class will go into those three major categories, and within those categories we'll dive into some super-fun things like multi-tasking and how to help our dogs learn the concept of multi-tasking. That's a very fun aspect I've been looking at a lot lately, and I'll be sharing that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. If we're talking about an "ideal candidate" for the class, what kind of team should consider taking it?

Julie Daniels: The dogs who get excited and want to do the things now. Those are the dogs. The dogs that stress up, for sure. It's not always about "I want to do the thing." It could be about "I can't stop moving." We can help those dogs, too, and get them on the same page, too. And certainly the sport dogs, the active sports dogs who tend to rush everything, to do things fast.

The handlers, too, who have some issues with their dogs offering … I'm trying to be gentle about this, but some people aren't well suited to training dogs who are crazy. So I think I can help.

I think handlers who just might want to learn some new impulse control games, self-control games, that they can use in their own way with their "wild child" dogs. Those handlers will get a lot out of this class, because with me, it's all about the games.

This class will be when to use which game and why. We're going to know what we're doing and why. What are we trying to accomplish, what actually happened, how did the dog respond, and how we can use that. It's all behavior and how we can use that information to help any dog feel more calm, confident, and happy in the environmental context that we find ourselves in.

So that's who should take the class. It's not exactly everybody this time. Usually, when you ask me that question, I say everybody should take my class or my workshop. But this one I've had to narrow down the material in order not to dilute it too much.

That's the decision that I made is let's work with the high-energy dogs. There are lots of other Fenzi classes which are dedicated to other aspects of impulse control and the like, so this is going to be my take on it.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned games in there. I know that's your typical approach. Can you share an example of a game that listeners might be able to play with their "wild child" to help add some of that … I think in the description you said "to add good to the crazy."

Julie Daniels: Crazy good. Oh boy, I have to pick one. OK, I will pick one that maybe other people have not played. There will be many games included which people think they're familiar with, but they haven't used it in quite the same way that I've used it, and we'll talk about why to do it my way and how that could help you. That happens in a lot of the games that I teach, beginning with mat work, in fact. I approach mat work a little bit differently.

I'll share with you one of my favorites. It's certainly one of my favorites for agility dogs, but I think it's useful in all kinds of dog sports. And it's fun in daily life and it's a terrific parlor trick.

This game is the Lineup Game. The physical cue that the game is on, that the game is available, is the handler snapping the hand open with the fingertips pointing at the dog. That says, if you can picture that motion … is that clear? Obviously, direct eye contact will come with that too, but it may take a second for the dog to realize that's the game.

This is a game that you can play sitting in a chair. You don't have to stand up. You can be in your living room. You can try it during a TV commercial or something. Snap the hand open with the fingertips facing the dog and make direct eye contact with your dog. That says, "Game on. Lineup Game." The dog will already be lined up with those fingers, if that makes sense, and I don't care what position they're in, although I would choose standing or sitting.

I would choose to play this game until the dog learns the game and understands it. I would not choose to begin this game when the dog is sacked out on a dog mat. But I'll just be honest: my dogs think that's hysterical. But let's just say during the early phases of teaching this game, it's a training session.

So that says "Game on." And then what you're going to do is take that hand of yours and move it slightly to, if I'm using my right hand, I will begin by moving it to the right. What I'm looking for is for the dog to take a step to their left, because their left is my right.

That's not going to be pretty at first. It might initially just be a head and neck movement. It probably will be. That's no big deal. We'll get the feet later. But if you can picture what I'm going to mark, it's a response. It's the dog noticing and reacting to that the hand is no longer where it was. It's now over to the side.

So it's not gong to be pretty initially, but ultimately, when my dog's playing, it's a beautiful game. The dog moves. People who do herding might love this game, I don't know. But by moving the hand, and then what the dog learns to do is change their position and line up with the new position of the hand.

So, as you can imagine, when you start this game, you're relatively close to the dog, and by the time you get to increased distance up to 20 feet, a small hand motion, or a change in the angle of the fingers from the wrist, is a huge movement for the dog at 20 feet, but it's a small movement for the dog at 3 feet. Does that make sense?

The Lineup Game is one of my favorites for "wild child" dogs, and it's a very good game for playing in all sorts of situations. That's why I chose it. You can play it sitting down in your living room, and once the dog understands the concept, it's really fun to play outside.

I usually combine it with a reinforcer, such as a ball. I'm going to throw the ball when you line up with the hand. Ultimately, I might have the ball in the hand that's pointing to the dog, but I don't start that way. I start with the fingertips, because that's going to be the initial cue which doesn't look like anything else. And so that will be the "Game on" cue for the Lineup Game. And then the reward for the dog lining up, or attempting to line up, in motion toward to the final product of lining up is that I'm going to throw the ball.

Melissa Breau: Awesome.

Julie Daniels: Does that sound fun?

Melissa Breau: Yeah, that sounds awesome. I want to see a demo video now.

Julie Daniels: It tells a story, for sure, and I have the video of all the steps. I wish I could show you.

Melissa Breau: Alright, one last question for you, Julie. What's something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to training?

Julie Daniels: This comes up regularly for me: Dogs are telepathic. Let's just say, to get out of the woo realm and get into the practical realm, how important and useful it is for us to feel sincerely the level of calmness that we want the dogs to display.

It's normal for me, in my life with my dogs, to behave as though dogs are telepathic. Whether you believe it or not makes no difference to me, but as long as you're able to behave as if dogs are telepathic, you'll make good progress with being able to elicit certain mental states — I was going to say calmness states, but certain mental states — from your dog when you want them, just by being able to model that mental state yourself. It's huge.

We tend to think, "I told him to do this. I told him to get on the station." Can you picture this? And he's spinning and barking at you because you're crazy. So if you can work on your own mental state first, behave as if dogs are telepathic to your mental state — which, by the way, they are, but let's just say it doesn't matter whether they are or not — you will be able to impart the benefits of your desired energy by projecting that sincerely and honestly to your dog as part of your cue. How's that?

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I think that's great, and it goes really well with what you started off saying about matching energy and things like that. It all comes together.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Julie!

Julie Daniels: Thanks, Melissa. I really appreciate it.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week. Don't miss it!

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Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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