E183: Amy Cook - "Teaching Your Dog How to Feel"

Amy and I talk about what it means to have a well adjusted dog — plus handling situations where maybe your dog isn't acting particularly well-adjusted.

Transcription 

Melissa Breau: A quick note before we get started today. This week is webinar week over at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Webinar week is our anniversary week when, for just the one week, we bring back popular webinars from the previous year and we make the recordings available for purchase for a limited time only. When you buy, you get instant access to that webinar recording in your FDSA account! One of our webinars this year is Amy Cook's Raising a Well-Adjusted Dog webinar. I talk to Amy a bit about that topic during today's interview, but if you want more, you can pick that up at Fenzidogsportsacademy.com.

That sale is only up until Monday, so if you'd like to see your options, head over to the website to see what's available! That website again is fenzidogsportsacademy.com!

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 Dr. Amy Cook.

Amy has been training dogs for nearly 30 years and has been specializing in the rehabilitation of shy and fearful dogs for over 20 years. She's the creator of The Play Way, her process for helping dogs learn to cope with the world around them. She's also a certified dog behavior consultant, a long-standing professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and has attended all four Chicken Camps in Hot Springs, Arkansas, taught by Bob Bailey.

Amy returned to school in 2006 to get her Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley. Her research there focused on the dog/human relationship and its effect on problem-solving strategies dogs employ. You can always learn more about her on her website, playwaydogs.com!

Hey, Amy, welcome to the podcast.

Amy Cook: Oh my God, Melissa, you make me sound so fancy when you introduce me like that! I feel like I've done so many things, oh my goodness! So good to be here, always love to be here. You can have me on weekly and you don't even have to record them. You can just pretend you are and make me happy.

Melissa Breau: I didn't even have to make up any of the fancy stuff. Come on now, you actually did those things.

Amy Cook: Oh, it's crazy. Life is long. It didn't feel fancy when I was doing them. I save people from Ph.D. school all the time, but I'm glad I finished, I'll tell you that.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. To start things out, do you want to remind listeners who your dogs are and what you're working on with them?

Amy Cook: I could not possibly remember how many dogs I have. There are so many. No, all of my listeners know I have two wonderful, amazing, head-cockingly adorable dogs who are the best, and they are Marzipan and Caper. Marzipan is my 9-year-old Whippet, and Caper is my — oh my God, you're 4 years old now — Chihuahua/Terrier thing.

I was thinking about what I'm working on with them, because in pandemic times a lot of your schedules shift, or your goals or your habits, and I was thinking about that in relation to our episode today. It occurred to me that I could highlight that what I'm really doing, aside from what I think a lot of us are doing, which is spending time with them maybe just bringing up some tricks or running through their fun light stuff, I realized that because of the change of the world these days, that Marizpan is feeling a little more pressed when we're out walking.

I have for a long time just walked them together, and I usually don't usually walk in the neighborhood. I drive somewhere and go somewhere that they can decompress more. But now we're in the neighborhood, and Marzipan is not used to seeing quite so many dogs out, and quite so many dogs who might be reactive out, and being surprised more by sudden things than she used to, and also not getting other things in her life that were pretty typical before. So she's had a bit of an uptick in feeling the pressure outside, a couple of reactive moments that I don't really love seeing.

And so for her, we've gone back to solo walks that I can pay attention to how she's feeling, and I can do a little bit of management when need be and help her restore the way she used to feel pre-pressured times, pre-pandemic times. So I've been doing management with Marzipan, which wasn't planned, but your dog tells you what they need and you have to do those things.

For Caper, agility has started up again, which I'm super-excited about. I'm very fortunate that my instructor has an outdoor space that she can have with very few people and that we can be super socially responsible with. I'm glad to have agility back for her because that's a really fun thing for me. And that's it. Otherwise, she's perfect. A little barky, but perfect.

Melissa Breau: To ease us into this topic of well-adjusted dogs, do you consider Marzipan and Caper to be well adjusted?

Amy Cook: Such an interesting question. I would, without much thought, go, "Of course." And then to think deeply on the topic, are they, or are there places where I either still work or would have made different choices in the beginning to get different results now?

Marzipan's 9 now, just had a birthday, and I wasn't giving a lot of thought to this as a topic really deeply when she was a baby. Thinking of who she has become now, she's now at the last third of her life, and thinking about who she is and … I was going to say "what I made her to be," it's obviously a combination of forces, but the choices I made early on, I'm seeing, and I think I would have made different choices for her. I think she's well adjusted, but I think she feels certain pressures in certain social situations that I would have loved to have predicted better and paid different attention to than the attention I paid to it, like, made different choices.

Both my dogs behave well in public and do just fine, but I can see where some of the choices I made, I've learned from now. That's why I think about this a lot and want to pass it on. Both of my dogs enjoy people, they both enjoy dogs, but they both feel a little pressured by them sometimes.

Caper is hyper-social, and while I'd like to think that's all friendliness, I think some of it is a little bit of, "Let me fix this relationship and make sure I understand it before I let it go." I always suspect there's a little bit of pressure in there, which also led me to some choices around the well-adjusted dog material that I have.

So I think they're well adjusted, I think they're mentally healthy, but I think I've learned from raising both of them, as I hope every dog trainer does. Every time you get your next dog, you're like, "I got it. I figured stuff out with my last ones," and then you make your different mistakes. I think I did a good job, but I think I've learned from it and want to pass on things, but I hope that I can do better the next time.

Melissa Breau: Always. To dig in a little more, how do you define the term, if we're talking about a well-adjusted dog?

Amy Cook: I ask a lot of people this because I struggle with terminology. I think about us socializing dogs and how that word sometimes lands on people a little too literally, and they think the entire goal of socialization is to be social. In thinking more deeply about that topic, what is it that we really want out of our pets? What is it we want from the animals we live with? So I started asking a lot of people, "What would it mean to have your dog be well adjusted? What words would you put to it?

To a one … they all said it a little differently, of course, but to a one, what people wanted were essentially three kinds of things: people friendly/dog friendly, people social/dog social, but without being super-obsessed with that, and without being super-frantic about that or agitated. A dog who can be calm in different situations, both social and non-social. Dogs who are resilient and can take whatever life has to offer without going off-balance, neither shy nor overly focused on social situations.

I was a little surprised by that. I thought they would all say, "I want my dogs to be friendly." Or friendly and confident. Or friendly and confident, and I don't know what I thought the third variable would be. Most people said, "I want friendly, but I don't want overtly over the top, in your face friendly." And I get it, because that can be as hard to manage as a dog who is not, because it's not particularly mannerly, and it's hard to take a dog to someone else's house if they're so excited by the chance to be social that they can't hold on to a lot of their manners.

So I think of well-adjustedness as I'm able to be easy-going when the situation is not directly stimulating for me, like, I don't need to perform a sport. If I'm just coming somewhere to be a good citizen, I can handle that without any rough edges, no particular shyness in any areas, fear in as many areas, and just able to not need a lot of management. So a person who owns them can make sure their needs are met, check that everything is OK, and mostly not super-hyper-manage take responsibility for every behavior the dog performs. The dog can perform those behaviors and is trustworthy. That's what I would aim for. That's what I would hope that I could create when raising a dog. I don't know. Do you have any thoughts on whether you think that's well-adjustedness?

Melissa Breau: That certainly meets my concept of it. I think, like you said, a lot of it is about being capable of handling whatever life throws at them, and I think that's hard.

Amy Cook: I think it is hard. We don't particularly breed dogs for that. Not that the individuals aren't already like that, but it's not a job that is bred for a lot. So we're asking dogs to be able to do that, and working with whatever they came with. It's a goal rather than a default or neutral state that dogs just give us.

Melissa Breau: What goes into raising a dog to be that way?

Amy Cook: Anyone who works with me in person, certainly over the last several years, has probably heard this more times than they need to. They need to tattoo it on themselves. My mantra these days is "Predict and prevent." Maybe because it's alliterative, that's helpful, but predict and prevent, predict and prevent, because most of us — and trainers too, when we're being dog owners, trainers too, when we're not being on the ball, which is normal for daily life — react to the thing that happened.

We see it happen and then do something about it, and what we do about it, of course, is going to vary by system we have. But we're still sometimes behind the ball on that one instead of ahead. When we stop and think about it, we of course all realize that you have to predict it's going to be a problem before it is. I know my dog typically is pretty bad at x, so since x is coming in an hour or around that corner or whatever, I need to predict that we're about to have a problem with my dog and then prevent it.

Now prevent doesn't mean avoid it exactly, although avoiding is fine when it's right to do, when you know you're not going to be able to handle the situation or whatever. But preventing it is maybe, "I'm going to connect some food to my dog's face and lure him away from the situation to prevent what he's about to do. If you can predict and prevent things, you are not letting problems be rehearsed.

Where this fits your question is, if we're thinking about raising a dog to be well adjusted, to be easygoing — if you want to broaden the scope of the word "easygoing," it's not too narrow — you have to predict the kinds of things that dogs have trouble with almost universally, or at least your dog could have this problem because dogs tend to have these problems, see them, predict them, and then put in training effort to prevent them from ever developing in the first place, instead of finding out you have a problem after it's already happening, or not assuming your dog would have a problem with this at all because they are this kind of breed or this kind of dog, and then realizing you didn't put any foundation for that.

For me, what goes into raising a well-adjusted dog is predicting very common areas of stress for dogs. I can tell you what those are, and anyone listening could take those general categories and add to them ones that are germane to either their own situation or their own dog breed situation.

If you have a Golden, you should add to your predict and prevent list anti- resource guarding exercises because a great many Golden Retrievers sometimes struggle with resource guarding. Instead of waiting to see if yours is going to have that, you can put prevention stuff right in place and make resource sharing and the non-guarding of resources in your plan, therefore contributing to well-adjustedness, because it might be that your dog is going to do that. And if you are with a breed where that almost never shows, they maybe you're going to put your efforts into something else.

I think all social scenarios for dogs are potentially stressful situations, either because they're pressed, they don't have the skills, they don't feel always very comfortable, or it's just so stimulating and exciting. I think you can across-the-board say meeting a brand new person or meeting a brand new dog, you can predict right away that they're going to need your guidance, they're going to need some kind of training for this, and if you can predict that's going to be a problem and prevent it by training before that's ever getting practiced, you are contributing to well-adjustedness.

They're going to meet dogs and people for the entirety of their life, most of them, and starting out on the right foot there contributes … I don't know what percentage. I was going to say 90 percent, but most statistics are made up on the spot — 97 percent of statistics, in fact, are made up on the spot! Not like that one, though. I didn't make that one up. I researched that one. But a huge percentage of the behavioral problems that people tend to face, at least pet people when they call a dog trainer, they're saying, "My dog can't greet anybody," "My dog can't see a dog without flipping out or see a person without jumping all over them." We think about that as a jumping behavior or a barking behavior, but I don't think of it that way. I think it's a much broader scope.

Melissa Breau: Makes sense. I think that anybody who's been on Facebook knows this is true: that everybody and their sister got a pandemic puppy in the last couple of months. I know I've definitely suffered from a little bit of puppy fever lately. All those pictures are hard to look at and not.

Amy Cook: I know! It's killing me! Everyone has a new dog.

Melissa Breau: But obviously right now that brings up some difficulties, and it makes the process of raising a young dog for normal life, if we ever go back to that, more difficult. What kind of thoughts do you have on what folks can do these days?

Amy Cook: To raise your pandemic puppy. Alliterative again. Predict and prevent for pandemic puppies. Say that a million times. Definitely challenging, but I've got to tell you, a lot of us, the trainers of the world, discovered or already knew, and heaved a sigh of relief, that raising a dog without everybody having comfort and just running up close to you and touching your stuff, touching your personal dog, is actually a real boon. It's a kindness. It helps raise your dog in a lot of ways. So I find it to be a little bit of a silver lining to the pandemic that you can raise a dog well and socialize him, if you will, during this, because it's really setting your dog up to succeed, and I'll say more about that in a second.

But it's not all rainbows and roses and such, because the pandemic also gives us specific challenges around getting people inside houses. I think dogs later on, and this is not the scope of what we're talking about, but later on, when we go back to normal, I think we're going to have trouble with guests in the home, and I think we're going to have trouble with some separation anxiety, and I think that those are worth delving into all on their own.

But for getting your dog out, especially considering this is a silver lining, I'll tell you why I think it's such. I love that I can say, very quickly, social distancing, and have absolutely every human being understand what I mean by that. Give me a wider berth. Stay away from me. The further away you are, the easier it is for my dog to handle your presence, as my dog is always a work in progress. Your new puppy is a work in progress for greeting people or walking past people.

Your dog has to have two skills when it comes to all social situations, all potential social situations, with either a new person or a known person or a dog. There's two possible ways it could go. One is "We're going to greet," and the other is, "I'm going to be asked to completely ignore this situation and walk right on by without involving myself." Both of those things have to be trained. Both of those things have to be prepared for. In our times now, we're getting a lot more than usual practice in what it is to walk on by a person, because people aren't as likely to come up and squeal and not ask you if it's OK to say hi, and just touch your puppy and think of them as public property.

So if you think about it, as a new owner you're getting a chance to learn to walk on by people, which is a skill that is under-sung and under-explained and makes a dog a really good citizen walking through the world. Don't bother every single human being you walk past. Say hi only to select ones. That's what it is to be socialized. Say hi to the right people, select people, and to not be afraid of anybody else. The same with dogs. You can walk on by, and you should. So this is a great opportunity here during pandemic times.

And then, because we will be greeting, and of course because you are greeting some of the people, new dog owners should focus on keeping arousal down about the opportunity to greet. In my material on raising a well-adjusted dog, I go into detail on each of the steps of those things, but the framework of it is I don't want an excited dog taking that extreme excitement into the social situation. I don't want a dog who is jumping up and down and straining at the leash to then go directly up to a dog and say hi. It's not going to get a good reception probably. It shouldn't get a good reception. Somebody should school that dog, "Don't do that to my back," or whatever. I could list a long list of reasons why we don't want any of that to happen. We don't want dogs released when they're excited, because that's how they're going to do it next time, too, and all that.

Because you have such time for social distance right now, and people are not one foot away from your dog, you can be rehearsing and therefore making habitual and making much more steady in them this sense of I'm not straining to see them, I'm not dying to see these people, and so when I get a chance to see them, I'm not bringing in this hyper-spiked-up out-of-controlness. I am bringing in thoughtfulness. I can say hi in a way that is acceptable to both parties. Dogs need to greet each other in an acceptable manner, and dogs need to greet people in an acceptable manner. Don't jump all over them, don't rip at their clothing, whatever. There's many ways that you can do it wrong.

Getting that over-the-top excitement that comes a lot of the time … not only, not always, but comes a lot of the time from how excited people are to see your dog when you're out there fostering that excitement in them … they don't create it. Dogs are often excited on their own, people are amazing to a degree, but that's going to shoot you in the foot. So having all this space to work on quieter greeting skills, to stay calm as you walk past people, to say hi very briefly and then moving on, which is what we need to do in social distancing, I think it's a great time to get a puppy, which is sad, because everyone's getting them and I'm not. So it's a great time to get a puppy, and I don't have one.

What I want is I want to be the world's puppy raiser. I want someone to give me a puppy, and then I'll raise it like... I'll raise it for a year and then I will give you back the puppy. I just want to keep raising dogs and giving them back. It's so much fun to create a dog and then, like, "I created you! Go have a life with the next person."

So people getting dogs now, please take heart. You may have some trouble later on with getting people in your house. You may have some trouble later on with separation and we can help you with that. But all the walking you're taking out there, if it's supported by predicting that it's difficult to greet people, and preventing any real focus on those people and unbridled excitement about that possibility. If you're not greeting anybody, then you're not going to be hyper-excited about the possibility of greeting anybody, and it takes it down a notch. Therefore when you do greet someone, it's like, "At least I'm bringing in a steady energy level and I won't overreact." So I think it's more than a silver lining. It's a good, thick, gold lining all around this cloud. It's a great time to get a dog. Please go out and get one.

Melissa Breau: At FDSA you obviously have two classes that run regularly — you've got your management class and your bogeyman class. I happen to have taken both of them, though it's been a while, so I want to pull out some bits and pieces and talk about both application and theory here. I think a lot of people fail to realize the value of some of the pieces in the management class, so I'd love to have you share a little bit about what kind of skills the class teaches.

Amy Cook: I think for that class … I really love that class. I'm super-proud of that class. It was a fluke, because before giving real deep thought to it, I thought, "Most people get through. They know how to manage. They know all the things one has to do." When I really looked at it, I thought, "No, no. These are skills I have because I have a lot of experience at this. A brand new person isn't predicting or preventing anything. They're reacting after the fact."

Management to other people is often, "You see a problem, manage your way through it. Get through it." Management to me is predicting that this is going to be tough and taking over. Management is being the manager of the situation.

A lot of people, when we think about buzz words in dog training, and people think, Should we call it dominance? Should we call it leadership? What should we call it? My replacement word for that is to be a director, like you're on a movie set. You're the boss of things, but you're in the role of being the director, and you're directing people on where they need to go, what needs to happen. It's sort of like being a manager; I just don't like to think of myself as the manager, so I picked director.

But in that frame, when your dog is going to have to be in a tight situation, in a sticky situation, passing a dog and they're not ready to do that yet because your training hasn't progressed that far, or seeing something that's worrisome for them and you need to move away from that, but your dog is a little stuck, that kind of thing, that's your turn to take over. You see that there's a problem, or you're predicting you're going to have one, and you take over, instead of seeing what your dog is going to do and then responding to it, or cuing your dog to do something and hoping they can follow a cue.

If your dog could follow a cue really well and handle a situation, you wouldn't be in a situation that needed your management. You're just going to live your life, tell your dog what to do if need be, and move on. It's because your dog is having some trouble in these situations that you need your management system. And so what management is to me, it means that you are taking over because your dog cannot do any of these things that you need them to do right now.

Now, like all training, none of that is going to happen if you don't practice it ever. None of that is going to work if you only pull it out in rough times when your dog is already pressed, your dog is already stuck, your dog is already barking, your dog is already needing your help and is well beyond being able to follow anything you say. So it needs practice. This is where people fall down. They don't manage their dog when they don't need to, and they manage their dog when they do need to, and then it doesn't work.

So in that one class I teach skills that can be practiced when you don't have a problem, that become very sharp for when you do have a problem and can use them. They range around how to get your dog to come with you without pulling on them on their equipment, and how to get them to hold steady in one place, let's say, while a difficult situation that's happening passes you by and you're not leaving. The situation is leaving. How to keep them in one place and keep them busy and not focused on the problem.

So it's two-pronged: it's how to move your dog positively in a really fun way and how to keep your dog stationary but not sitting and staring at the problem, actually having fun and doing some find-its and doing a whole variety of different skills. I don't know if I should go more into the skills.

Melissa Breau: I think we can talk through some of them. I don't know if the right word is … "overlooked" feels so not enough somehow. For somebody who's living with a reactive dog, having good management skills onboard has the potential to really change your relationship with your dog. It has the potential to change your life with that dog, because it takes situations that cause fear and trepidation and anxiety in the human half of the team and gives them the tools to deal. But if you do it well, it can prevent the things that make you feel bad about your dog.

Amy Cook: And you get out more. These dogs are getting out. A dog that's well managed, even if not well trained — and I guess I should parse that apart because everything's training — is going to get out more. The dog who is easy to walk is a dog who gets walked. The dog who is difficult to walk is staying home, and the person who's not walking them feels terrible, or takes them out and feels terrible. It's my job in life to make people not feel terrible with their dogs and have their dogs not feel terrible. That's the entire reason I'm sitting here.

And so having good management skills gives your dog the freedom to get out and gives you less frustration about getting them out. And sneakily, it really is training. I don't bill it as training, I don't talk about it as training, but it's honestly the kind of stuff I would do early on in my career as the training for reactivity. Teaching dogs to come along, teaching dogs to find it, teaching dogs to focus on you when things are difficult — these are the things I would do to train dogs who were having struggles with reactivity.

Now I move that all into the management piece because I treat reactivity differently through The Play Way. I took all the skills I used before to get dogs to move through the world and put it in the management side, and then just added the piece, added the tone, that has the person taking a lot of charge, the person taking responsibility for how it goes, and not just cuing dogs. I think people get stuck in that sense of, "I asked him to sit so that he wouldn't lunge and bark, but he couldn't follow the sit. I said 'Sit,' but he couldn't do it." Well, he can't follow a cue right now. This is why he needs you.

The things that we do in management, the biggest one that takes the most practice, is the magnet locking. It's distinct from what people tend to do, but the reason why it works is because it's really hard for a dog to ignore. It's easy for a dog to not hear you say "Sit," or be able to follow it because, "Yeah, whatever. Don't you see the dog over there? Oh my God, why would I sit?" It's harder for them to ignore food going in their mouth. It's harder for them to ignore really good food at a rate that is not usual for them happening.

I know people out there are saying, "My dog ignores it," but if you did six weeks of practice without the dog across the street pulling on your dog's attention, it would be a lot better. So what I have people do is learn magnet feeding, and what's distinct about it is that it's not one at a time food. It's not deliver a cookie to your dog's mouth, and then go back and reload your hand and deliver that one again to your dog's mouth. That leaves too much space. In the time you're reloading, it's too much space where your dog can still blow up or still need you to structure them.

So I take an entire fistful of food, I put that entire fistful right on their nose, and I unfurl those fingers as they're eating that entire fistful, like a magnet is stuck. Your hand and their nose are magnetically connected and you're walking together.

When people first try that, it's food all over the floor. It's bitten hands, like, "Ow, that hurts too much!" It's a fist that empties too quickly because you opened your hand and "gulp" and now what. Or people lure. They put the food there, but then they don't let the dog get any of it until they're past the situation, and then they can have the cookie. And all of those things don't work.

So we take all the time to practice how to move a dog from A to B while that face is entirely busy. And then I add — and this is a little distinct from other programs I've seen — I also add an acting component and a human component. Most people, when they're luring their dog or feeding their dog, are looking at their dog. But you can't get through a tight management situation looking only at your dog's face. You have to be able to look around. You have to be able to see where you're walking, or look behind you to see where the trigger went, or not trip, or any of that.

When I have my magnet hand full of food on my dog's nose, I can feel him eat it. As I'm feeling him eating, I'm actually free to around and not look at my dog, because I can tell that my dog is busy and on the food. If you're not touching your dog, you have to look at them to make sure they're not staring at the wrong thing, but if you can feel their nose with your hand, you have the freedom to look around.

In the class I have people — all kinds of things. They'll look up, they'll look around, I'll have them saying things, like talking to fake people, because they might in real life say something like, "Could you call your dog, please? I can't come that direction," or "No, thanks, he doesn't want to say hi." You might actually talk to people when you're trying to manage your dog, and your dog knows when you are not paying attention to them and that's exactly when they're going to bark.

So I have people practice, like, "Get an Oscar in this class. You can do it. Pretend there's a person there." We really practice as if there's stuff going on. The dogs are like, "This is so fake. Give me the cookies. Put your cookies on my nose. Let's go. I want to walk." And they just get so much easier to move places. People need to put the practice in, but once they do, it's like how training works. I just practice it, and now my dog knows how to do it. How crazy is that?

Once we put in the time, all of a sudden you can walk your dog past anything, because a good habit is just as hard to break as a bad one. If they have a good habit of sticking their face in your fist and really trying to get those pieces of food out, it will get you past the really rough spots. That's just one of the skills.

There's three skills a week in that class. A lot of them are variations on the magnet, but then there's also the stationary skills to keep dogs in one place while the parade of children across the street are … I say that, it seems like a joke, but it's actually in one of the videos in the class where I was just filming myself. I put my camera on my front yard and I was across the street, and I was just going to show myself walking up and down, and right as I started to walk, I was looking at my dog, I look up and a parade of children, a literal parade of children, four or five children with their jump ropes and their hula hoops and their tutus, were coming down the street. I was like, "Management right now, real time. Here I go." I show that video in the class. I didn't set those children up. They came out of nowhere. You never know when a parade of children will be coming your way, so you better get your magnet skills together. But it's fun.

When you take a walk with your dog, I know often you want to look at your phone — which frankly you're doing all day anyway, so stop — or meditate, have your own thoughts, be lost in your thoughts. While I get that, I think it's really good for you and your dog to go on a walk where you are both engaged with each other, and where you're watching your dog and you're saying things to your dog and you're giving them cookies for things.

So these management skills, when you're having the opportunity to practice them, you can practice them on all of your walks, whether or not anything showed up that required management. You're getting to practice it all the time, and it makes the walks interactive and fun. And while that's not everyone's idea of fun, sometimes you have to do it because your dog is reactive, so you're going to have to.

I suggest everyone do it because it is fun, and you should adopt my definition of fun, because it just is, to have a nice conversation while you're walking. Every couple of blocks you stop and you do a fun thing, and it's a nice way to spend time with your dog. I just put that out for you, listeners. Get out there and manage for fun, not just for purpose.

Melissa Breau: Really what we're talking about here is building fluency, right?

Amy Cook: Yeah, building fluency, but in the human half. We often think about fluency being a dog getting good at what they do. But your job is not to cue behaviors. You're not going to get very fluent in cuing stuff. "Come on," "Sit," Let's go" –—you already speak those things. You don't need fluency there. But if you're going to manage, you have a half to this dance. You have a half too, and getting to fluency for your dog is only half the story.

You have to get the fluency, and I'm telling you: you connect the magnet, and you start picking up your face to look somewhere else and say, "No, thanks. I don't want to say hi right now," you're dropping food all over the place, you've walked into your dog now, your dog left you to go find the food that you dropped — the whole thing can be crazy. So you need to practice this too.

Walking a reactive dog, and I know this isn't only for reactive dogs, but when you're walking a reactive dog or a fearful dog, you are stressed too, because you don't know when it's going to happen. You're not that good at predicting yet. And when you're stressed, you're not having a great time on this walk and you're going to do it less. But if you have a fluent, fluid management system, if you know that, "If x happens right now, I'm doing y, and I've already practiced y, so I know I'm going to do this and it's fine," you are calmer. You're like, "I can handle anything that comes up. I'll just do this." We both tap into management, the dog does their half, I do my half, we're out of Dodge, and the problem is over. It wasn't even a problem. You feel so confident in yourself, and that bleeds back to your dog and now you've got a positive feedback loop going and there's really just not a downside.

Any dog needs management. It's not just for the reactive ones. But it's really good for the people, too, to feel like they're competent and know what they're going to do if something happens. We all do disaster preparedness. We're certainly doing a lot of that now. Disaster preparedness for your dog. It's not disaster, but confidence comes from practice.

Melissa Breau: Obviously those things are awesome for reactive dogs, but I can see other opportunities to use those things, even for non-reactive dogs, especially as we start to go back to the normal world, with dogs who maybe haven't had a lot of exposure to large crowds of people and things like that, in the future. Transports to a dog show, getting an over-friendly greeter past the easy to knock over 6-year-old out on a walk, that kind of stuff. What other types of scenarios can you think of where those skills come in handy?

Amy Cook: They come in handy everywhere. It is not just for reactive dogs. It's tough to title a class. I title it Management for Reactive Dogs because I want people who have reactive dogs to come to it. If I titled it Management for Everyday Dogs, maybe the reactive-dog owners wouldn't come. But I'd like everyone to understand that it's really just a dog skill.

There will never be a time in your life where you have a dog who never is unprepared for a situation. Every dog is bested by something. Every dog is unprepared for something they've never seen. Every dog needs a little help somewhere, or at least most of them do, and maybe doubly so now that we are a little strange right now. One day we'll go back to being not so strange for us, but that will be strange for your dog, especially if he was just born now, during this, and there's been no other reality.

So assume that no matter how your dog feels about things that you see currently, assume that in your lifetime with them you will see things that they're unprepared for, or you will be closer to some things than they're prepared for that you didn't see coming. Classic examples are walking past people that are going to be too close to you now, they weren't so close before but now they are, walking past more rambunctious children that maybe weren't playing outside before or so much, or you weren't passing on the same sidewalk.

Marzipan is the example. There's so many other dogs out there now, and a lot of them are only getting leash walks now. Maybe there's no more park for them to go to. Maybe your dog is perfectly fine with other dogs, but how long do you think it will take with other dogs barking at your dogs over and over again for your dog to start going, "I don't so much love this."

You can prevent a problem in your already easygoing, well-adjusted dog by feeding them magnet-style past things that they're OK with right now, but might not be OK with next year, and certainly when everything gets much bigger next year or whenever that is, they won't have seen it or won't remember it.

I manage my dogs past other dogs all the time. I want my dogs to think passing other dogs is about an opportunity with Mom every time, so that they have a big buffer, a nice thick ice that they're skating on for when that dog inevitably at some point one day lunges or barks at them. They'll have hundreds and hundreds of times of walking past dogs and going, "This one's fine and this one's fine." It's a preventative for problems.

Being able to keep your dog from blowing up over being over-excited, whatever the tone of the excitement is, whether it's agitation from being a little unsure, a little fearful or stressed from something, or being over-excited because of the wonderful opportunity that has just presented itself, either of those things is difficult to handle.

You should certainly put training into that, which we talked about in the well-adjusted portion, but if you didn't and something just surprised you, you want to have management skills very easy to completely pull out to have your dog say, "I guess I'm being managed here. I know what to do. I do my half. I'm going to perch on this wall, I'm going to eat my food, and this opportunity that I thought was an opportunity is just not one. OK, I can handle it."

I don't like it when dogs think that being thwarted is a huge problem. We all learn how to be thwarted. We all learn how to not get our way and not have that be the end of the world. That's what separates your childhood from adulthood is you don't get what you want, but you don't have to make it be the worst thing ever. You just go, "I didn't get what I wanted, OK, let me see what comes next."

If a dog doesn't get a lot of practice in disengaging from stuff that they thought they were going to get or really want to have, you have a bigger problem on your hands than if you're walking your dog who really wanted something and you said, "Not this time, buddy. Here's some cookies, let's go," and they said, "All right, that's fine." That dog you can take anywhere and know you can handle something even unexpected, because they have practice at not just walking with you but wanting something and having you veto it and say, "Sorry, this isn't going to happen," and then just going, "All right, then. I'm OK with that."

That's not something you get out of the box. That's something you have to culture in them, something you have to help them come to step by step with realistic steps. Puppies are exuberant about everything, and by the time you have a well-season older dog, they're like, "I can handle all the stuff." That's not by accident. That's with experience and with you handling them in a way that supports that.

So management is for every dog, because you never know, and you want a dog to let go when you say, "We can't do that." You want them to go, "All right, that's fine. We'll get it next time." That's a dog that's easy to live with and easy to take anywhere. One day we'll be able to take all our dogs everywhere, and one day I'll see a person in real life and shake hands and have a hug. One day.

Melissa Breau: You said in there, "next year," and I was thinking …

Amy Cook: I know. I keep thinking if that's true or it's not true, or it won't be next year. We can hope. One day.

Melissa Breau: For those dogs who are the opposite of what we just talked about, those dogs that do have big feelings, as Sarah Stremming likes to say, for that there's your boogeyman class, which if management is about the skills for getting through it, then boogeyman, which is where you teach your signature Play Way method, is for actually doing something about those yucky feelings or those big feelings.

Amy Cook: Those feelings are so big.

Melissa Breau: Can you talk us through the concept?

Amy Cook: Yeah, I can, especially in contrast to management. I see them completely separately. I see them as very separate things with almost no overlap, as concept. But of course they overlap in real life because you might flip into management at any given point, so all things yin and yang overlap all over the place.

But the issue with management, it says that the human needs to be the manager here, the human needs to be the director here, because your dog can't do it. Your dog is pressed, your dog is bested, your dog can't do it, he needs your help, he needs your support, you have to take over. That's all well and good that you can do that, but ideally you would like to be in situations that your dog didn't feel bested by and didn't particularly need your help to handle. You want your dog to be like, "That's a thing and so what."

A great many dogs can walk right through the city streets and have cars and busses and all manner of all sorts of stuff going on by and they're like, "That's how the world is," whereas other dogs would be like, "What's all this chaos?!?" And so you don't want to have to manage is the ideal, so how do you get there? If your dog needs management, it needs management, and if they don't need management, they're not having a problem, what's that in-between place?

The thing that started me on this path was that often we flip into some kind of management or support role when a dog has looked at a trigger. My dog has looked at, has noticed, has seen, has registered the thing that makes them upset. Let's just call it a new dog. Your dog sees the dog, and upon seeing the dog maybe has these big feelings — thank you, Sarah — and can't handle looking at that dog, and you know that, so you help them through that. You break that focus with a cookie, you move them away, you predicted it was going to be a problem and you never let it start, all of that.

But the problem that is really happening there is that your dog is very close to the thing that they're looking at, because if they could have looked at that thing from a much greater distance, they very likely would not have had the same problem. When you are much further away from scary things, you are less scared. That's just one of those truisms. It usually applies, or applies to almost all situations. I'm sure someone will find me an exception, but I am much better a mile away from a spider than I am an inch away from a spider. I just am. And so when your dog sees a thing and starts to react, yes, you need to help, but you should also infer that they're just too close and can't handle the pressure, the fear, the trigger of the situation.

What The Play Way does is it says, "We're going to use really enormous distances, the distance determined by whether you can look or not, and not be interrupted by me and not be managed by me at all. I place the dog, let's say, really far, and I'm saying that highly specifically. You just put it really far, over there, over far over there. If you could see my hand now, I'd be making the "far over there" gesture. I don't know; 300 feet, 20 feet, it depends on the dog. Far away.

And then you say, "Go ahead and look, dog. I'm not going to interrupt you. I'm not going to try and break your focus. I'm not going to pull your nose away from that. I'm not going to reward you for not looking at it, and I'm not going to reward you for looking at it. I'm just going to let you look at this thing." What that does in all sorts of real-life fear situations, with all sorts of species studied, ourselves included, is it lets real information get in. If you're scared of something unknown in the distance and you look at it long enough, you will come to comfort about it. "I see what it is actually. It's really that thing. It doesn't mean me any harm," or "It's just a dog out there. It's not coming over here, it's not doing anything, it exists 300 yards away. I guess that's OK for now. That's fine." And you're hands-off about it.

What the play part of it is, is that I think people are not particularly good at knowing that their dog is OK. I think dogs look OK when they're not. I think dogs aren't going to show the early levels of feeling stressed by something. When you're picking how far away something needs to go for therapy to let them look at it, you also are honor-bound to make sure that inside themselves they are feeling OK now. It's hard to know how an animal is feeling. We can't know how an animal is feeling. But what we can do is engage in behaviors with them that give us good information that put us on more solid ground.

For me, and for the testing I've done and the exploring I've done, the best behavior I can find to ensure that I've got a good sense of how they feel and that they're under threshold and doing OK in this looking behavior, is play. It's specifically play. It doesn't have food in it and it doesn't have toys in it, because each of those might hide how my dog is feeling. A dog will eat food when they feel stressed, some of them. A dog will play with toys when they feel stressed, some of them. But I have yet to see a dog who will play lazily, with a silly tone to it, floppy, upside-down, like how we do jaw-wrestling with puppies and how they are — I haven't yet seen a dog who can do that while they are scared and stressed by something in the environment.

And so I teach my students to play in that manner, in that specific manner, so that they can use that as a bit of a litmus, use that as a barometer of sorts, while their dog is engaged in looking at things that otherwise might have upset them if they were up close. So the thing is really far, the dog is looking but is like, "It's not really that bad. Hey Mom, hey Dad, what are we doing here? What are you doing?" "I'd love to just play with you right now. What do you think about it?" And the dog says, "Yeah, I'd like to play, but I'm not so sure about that thing over there." Well, if that's what your dog says to you, that's good information, because now you know you need to add another hundred feet to that before your dog is comfortable. But if they said, "There's a thing over there, but I don't really care about it because it's really far and it's not doing anything scary to me, so I would love to play with you," it keeps people honest. It keeps us much more accurate, I believe, about whether our dog is or is not over threshold, and facilitates the good, relaxing feelings that brings up the therapy.

So instead of the big feelings now, they've been able to engage with the trigger from a place of safety, where it's really far away, and they're proving that they feel safe and OK by engaging with you in play that we all know would disappear if they didn't feel safe. So you have something to lean on instead of just your guess that they're under or over threshold, and your dog gets to look openly at something that otherwise has scared him before and gather all the information he might need to realize that he actually is safe.

Now you're doing this with things that are safe, or you're picking dogs that are safe for your dog, and they're really far away so they are safe. They're on leash and everything. But increasing your dog's feelings of safety is always our goal. In The Play Way, I'm trying to say, "Hey dog, you can discover that you're safe. You can look at things and feel safe." And I will use play to make sure I'm setting this up successfully so that you will be successful. Play is not just for them to feel good. Play is also to keep a trainer honest.

And these things are hard to do. You can't do that on every walk. These things are special setups. You practice play at home, you practice play in all kinds of different environments, and then you set up things to teach your dog that he is safe. That's not happening on walks. It doesn't happen ad hoc. It doesn't happen on an impromptu session until your dog is well down the path of doing this. My dogs could play an impromptu session if I was a little worried about how they might feel, but they're advanced dogs in the system.

So since you're going to also be walking your dog, not just doing therapy every single minute of the time that you're out there, you need a management system to be able to just walk and get through things, and when your dog can't handle it, you use management. When your dog can handle it, you go ahead and you let them look, and you leave that decision to them, using play only to check that you've made good choices and that your dog is still OK and doesn't need your help.

That's not a nutshell. I was going to say that's it in a nutshell, but I'm hard-pressed to ever put anything in a nutshell. If anyone ever listens to me talk, if anyone is still listening to me talk right now, I don't know what the word nutshell means, I can't — it's a dissertation for me.

Melissa Breau: We were talking about names for the episode earlier. We could just call it "Not In A Nutshell."

Amy Cook: Not In A Nutshell: Amy. I can't keep her in a nutshell. Come listen to her bust out of her nutshell. I'm in a nutshell, right? I'm so self-contained.

Melissa Breau: From that description it's pretty obvious that Play Way is not like a lot of the other methods out there for working on reactivity. You called it therapy at one point. I know you relate it more to human therapy than traditional counter-conditioning or desensitization. A lot of the time people get wrapped up in the quadrants when talking about this stuff, but I was curious just thinking about it while I was putting questions together. Does The Play Way even fall within into quadrants? Are we really reinforcing behaviors?

Amy Cook: This one is fun for me because I like to deal in concepts, and I don't mean in training concepts. That too, but in concepts for making humans understand stuff. I like analogies, and I like people talking about concepts themselves so that they are in the mental space I need them to be in to do the work. I specifically don't want that confused with truth of what's maybe happening under the surface, because I don't know what's happening under any surface for real. We only have behavioral measures, and we only have techniques we can apply, and reasonable guesses, reasonable predictions that we see if they bear out or they don't.

When I talk about it as outside of these normal concepts we use in training, it is not to say "and therefore none of those concepts are happening, and operant conditioning isn't here, and there's no classical going on," which is not what it is at all. That's always happening, and I stipulate it, I believe, to the depths of my soul. Those are always happening.

But to get to a person to do this well, I need them thinking a little bit less, in fact entirely less, about quadrants and entirely less about classical conditioning, because when we think about those things, when we bring up the skills we've learned that are connected to those models, and we react in ways that is consistent with dog training, and I don't want you doing any of those.

Now just because I have stopped you from doing those in The Play Way doesn't mean they aren't happening. They could be happening. They probably are happening, I don't know. But I want you not to think about doing that on purpose, and therefore if it happens not on purpose, fantastic.

To put a finer point on that, a good example is in the engagement/disengagement portions, when they look at things and then they dismiss that. I call that Look And Dismiss, when they look at something in the environment and then they dismiss it. They say, "I'm done looking at that. What were we talking about, Mom?" and they want to engage with you. In that portion, most people want to reward. They want to reward the looking behavior or reward the disengagement, either one, reward something regarding looking with the dog. Or, if they're in the classical frame of mind or thinking about the forces there, they want to make an association for the dog when the dog is looking at the trigger, or right after the trigger's presented they want to do something fun, or play right then, and therefore make an association for the dog. And that would be the wrong place to put play in the system.

So if I can get people to stop thinking about rewarding their dogs for this, it doesn't mean reward isn't happening, it doesn't mean the underlying forces … I'm not commenting on those. They're probably happening all over the place. They're happening. But you're not directly trying to insert yourself in the model by rewarding a thing on purpose, nor are you trying to specifically follow one stimulus with another stimulus on purpose to connect them in the dog's mind.

Neither of those things are your aim in The Play Way. You need to play out of that model. Your timing of play is in neither of those places. It's not going to happen right after the trigger presentation at all. First of all, your dog's busy looking at it, so mind your own business, let your dog do his own thing.

Secondly, when your dog disengages, looks at you, most trainers are going to want to play right then, or reward right then, or have a reaction right then, and when I was starting developing this, I did too. I thought, "I'll play instead of rewarding him with a cookie here." It has evolved through the thinking and through the practice to where if you play right then, if you try to do something right then as your dog disengaged, what I saw happening was …

Think of this as a person. There's somebody across the street, somebody down the block, and you're concerned about them for some reason. They look dangerous to you in some fashion. You're looking at them, and then you look away to say something to your friend or look at your friend or whatever, but you know how part of you is still thinking about that person. You're still attending to that person and you haven't really wrapped up your thoughts and your feelings or really dismissed it. You haven't changed the channel in your head to something new. You're still lingering in your thoughts there, but you're looking at your friend.

I'm not saying I know what dogs are thinking. I'm saying that if, when they looked away from it, they were still having an ear toward that, they were still thinking, they were still processing, still busy with whatever the effect was of looking at that thing, if you jumped in with a big response, you might shortcut whatever process they're in.

To experiment with that, I decided we're not going to play right then. We're just going to connect then. I say, "Hello, hi, how are you doing," and I read if they have full attention on me, with full expectation face and ears forward and happy body, or if one ear is still looking back where they were looking with their eyes before, or something like they're glancing at me, but they're not really connected to me at the glance, then they sniff and they look at me and then they look back. If you give it a space of time, you'll see whether your dog who looks at you is actually really engaged, or looks at you but is just about to plan to look away from you, but you usurped that by playing all of a sudden.

If you let the process unfold a little bit and play only when your dog says, "You know what? I am done with that actually. What were we doing? Do you want to do something?" now they've instigated the play. They've told you they'd like to do something, and you can, I guess, reward that, if you like to think of it that way. You can play right then, and it won't be directly connected to the disengagement that they did.

By chain of events, it certainly could be rewarding that, but I'm asking the person to not act like they are, so that they feel a little more that they can stretch that time and not feel the pressure of making sure they mark or reward something in real time when it's happening. Give it space, let your dog do the thing and let your dog drive. When we are building and rewarding classical associations, we feel like we're driving. We are the managers, we are the directors of the show, and we're driving all of this. I ask people in The Play Way to let the dog do more of that. Let the dog make more decisions, and you listen, and you offer play when it seems like play would be welcome between both of you.

It's a subtle one. It's not always an easy one to teach people. That's why I take the whole six weeks and I really build that sensitivity in people to slow it all down and don't keep rewarding. Now again, that said, it doesn't mean that reward isn't happening entirely. It could be what's underneath all of it. But I can't get people to change if I have them focusing on quadrants and on classical conditioning. They put their techniques in too early in the process and they're looking for specific behaviors to mark and to say, "Yes, that behavior I like," and I want the dog to have a little more space to do whatever it is they're doing on the inside that I can't see. That's how we do it with people, so that's what I want to apply to dogs.

Melissa Breau: Not to stick an analogy on it, but to stick an analogy on it, it's like the difference between having somebody ask you how you are and knowing that they expect you to say "Good" and move on with the conversation, and having somebody ask you how you are …

Amy Cook: And listen to the answer.

Melissa Breau: And want a real answer and they're going to listen to you.

Amy Cook: Right. And to jump in too early in a conversation when someone is telling you something difficult and they pause, they're probably still in that thought and are maybe reframing the sentence for a second and maybe want to say the next thing they're thinking. But if you took that pause to be like, "The same thing happened to me, oh my God, let me tell you," it's like, yeah, OK, humans do these things. But when a person is in a place, trying to get through something emotionally a little difficult, giving them space to process, as long as they're not losing that, as long as they're not struggling and need you to step in and help them, that's why you have 300 yards or whatever it is — please don't write that down — that's why the thing is far away, so that the dog who's thinking about it can take a breath and go, "What is happening here and am I actually under threat? Do I really feel unsafe?"

Because why dogs are … I don't know why they're reacting for sure, but a speculation about why they're fearful and why they're reacting is a misunderstanding of a real situation. Dogs are afraid of people. Dogs are afraid of strange people, dogs are afraid of strange men, and the vast overwhelming majority of strange men in the world are not a threat to your dog. Your dog thinks they are. Your dog is in a real situation. But your dog is not correct, because those people are not actually dangerous. Your dog is in a misconception place, and your dog is the one who needs to come to a new understanding.

I know most of the time when we've trained this, we've said, "I'll teach you that that man is safe by following it with good things," following his presentation with really good things. I'm not saying that's wrong. I use it all the time in certain situations. But what The Play Way is doing is saying, "You can discover that these things are safe, if I make sure that they are safe, and then make sure to give you a large distance so that you can also feel safe," and then I let you explore the space. I'll be here supportively to make sure you're still feeling safe in your body, still feeling floppy, still feeling connected to me, still feeling like I'm here, all these soft concepts.

I took a flyer on it. It seemed like a theory that could hang together and not work at all, so I started to see what it would do, and I really like what I see, so I encourage people to take the pieces of it and think about what it is to give your dog a chance to discover those things, rather than being only treated through classical conditioning. Although all of this is classical. They discover that they feel better, they have now relief, and that relief is paired with the situation. So really I do know that underneath all of this is all classical, underneath all of this is all operant. I absolutely know it, but I can't teach it to people if I don't separate the concepts so that people can slow down.

You mentioned the conversation. You and I, or you and a friend, aren't thinking classical or operant concepts when you're talking about their divorce. They're telling you how it feels. You're not thinking about rewarding their great sentences that explain well how they're really feeling. You're in a different space. It doesn't mean you're not rewarding it, but you're not thinking about doing it that way. At least that's the way I've learned to teach it to people. If I had learn another way to teach it to people, or if someone out there takes it in another direction, I'm all for it.

But letting someone finish their sentence — which I know you're thinking, "Is Amy ever going to finish a sentence?" That's what you think, but I just keep sentencing. Just letting someone finish their sentence and then have a space of thought about the next sentence is a kindness we rarely extend, I think, to dogs. I think we rarely extend it to children, and a lot of this work comes from my studies of children, my work with children, and how to demonstrate respect for someone else's process. That's what fed into some of this, and I keep developing it as much as I can.

I stopped. That was the end of my sentence; you didn't jump in fast enough, so I talked again. Now you're punished.

Melissa Breau: You're already heading in the right direction for the next question. The next thing I wanted to ask you was where you started to go with that. It's been around for a while now. You've been working with it and playing with it and testing it and whatever for a while now. How has it evolved? Has it changed at all over time? Are there bits and pieces that you've changed your thinking on? Can you talk about that a little bit?

Amy Cook: The history of Play Way is more like, "Wow, Denise is really influencing me on how to play with dogs." She knows how to play with them in a way without toys that just seems like it has thought and structure, she can put words to it, she has models, predator prey. I was blown away by the complexity that you could have in something that I felt was just "Play with dogs, whatever, done. Now back to training." I didn't give it a lot of thought. Denise had, and it shut me up. That was something I really needed to know. That was amazing.

In the beginning of boogeyman I added play stuff to the same structure of classical and operant. We interrupt your dog, or if your dog interrupts himself, we give cookies or toys or maybe this play stuff. I just put it in the model because the model is all I was really thinking about. That was the first iteration. That was a number of years ago. I know some people who are listening were in that class and are like, "Yeah, that's all we did." You were the guinea pigs. You were not the guinea pigs. I was just throwing play in because play is fun and I thought it would work classically.

But it evolved a lot. It evolved toward that stuff I was just saying before, where respect for somebody else's process and letting them finish it, or letting them come to their own discoveries, that came from me learning about how we deal with fear in people when I went to grad school, learning how we reframe stuff in our own heads, discovering new information in our own heads and integrating it.

I of course can't see what's in a dog's head, but I thought, "Can I put them in situations where that might happen to them, and can I make sure that what's around them is supportive of that process, and just see if that's how they do it and see if it helps the situation?" So I started giving little adjustments to that to class and getting better results and getting faster results, and getting more connection from the dog and getting more relaxation from the dog, and like, "What if I do this, what if I do this, what if I have people not play so quickly after the dog disengages?"

Because I would see people … once something's on video — and honestly, all of you out there in the sound of my voice: video all of your training. I know, you're looking at your hair, you're looking at your butt, you're looking at your house now because it's a mess because of the pandemic. Don't look at it. Look at your training, because that's how I discovered stuff to help The Play Way evolve.

What I saw was, let's say in an example, a field, on a blanket, the dog looks at the trigger, looks away from the trigger, looks at the owner, and the owner does play quickly. And I see a dog not play with them and disengage and go back to looking at the trigger. And then the person stops because I told them to stop, and I'm like, "Oh, right. That dog wasn't ready to play at all. That dog was not looking away from the owner because the owner played. The dog hadn't disengaged. The dog just looked around to see what Mom was doing to make sure all was well, and was going to go back anyway to that trigger." I thought, "What if we don't play like that? What if we wait until the dog's done, instead of jumping in so soon?" And I started giving that out.

So it evolved a piece at a time and is where it is now. Where I'm thinking of it now is kind of two-fold. I'm partly trying to see if it works in behavior problems I haven't expanded to for it. I've really just used it for fear, for stress, for anxiety, for things that have triggers that are either visible or just omnipresent in the environment. I haven't done it for things like separation anxiety. I've never done it for resource guarding and I'm not sure how one would. I think it wouldn't work at all, but that's not the way you go for it and find stuff. You try things. So I'm thinking about it, thinking about applying it in two places I haven't explored.

Also my exploration in The Play Way is in finding ways to be better at explaining more briefly — not really, that was a joke — but finding ways to get people to the space they need to be, to be this kind of partner. Every person gives me a different puzzle. Every person is bringing their own history and their own freedom to play, and their own body and can it get on the ground, and their own ability to be light or laugh or be silly or not self-conscious. Everyone brings something different to the team, and trying to find ways to get to universal analogies, universal human experiences, so that it's easy to inspire people to be able to do it. It's not just the skill of playing. It's the skill of respecting somebody that you're used to directing more and taking over for more. So thinking about being a better teacher is where it goes for me now.

But also I hope it can apply to other behavior problems I don't know about. What I want to do is get enough people who are skilled in this out there so that it lands in other hands, and those people start experimenting with it and seeing what they can get, because I might be too myopic. I might just be seeing what I see and not as able to be outside my nutshell, to use our nutshell analogy. I might have Play Way in a nutshell — not verbally, but conceptually. The future's bright with it. I'm continually excited about this and I want to see more people's thoughts on it and see where it can go in the future for sure.

Melissa Breau: To pull everything together, because I know you covered a lot of ground in the last roughly an hour, there's a quote from you from a while ago. You said something like, "Every time you teach your dog what to do, you teach her how to feel." I think there's a lot of threads with that that run through everything we're talking about, so I wanted to end with that, and do one more question after this. To end with that, what did you mean by that?

Amy Cook: I love hearing people hear that because it often means different things for everyone it lands on. I like hearing what it might mean to them. I'm not an artist, but I imagine it's like what people describe when they draw something, paint something, whatever, and they had a feeling for what it meant for them or what it was depicting, but someone else looks at it and goes, "That looks like anger," or whatever, and they're like, "OK, that's neat. You see my work differently."

I think that that phrase, when I said it at our conference, I said it at Fenzi camp, at Purina, because I was talking about classical conditioning and how we can be using it well, and what I firmly had in mind was that every time you're training anything, every time you are about to teach your dog to do something, like sit, you've got your cookies out, you've got your tools out, whatever your tools are going to be, and you teach your dog to do it, to do that thing, you never get to divorce from the procedure how your dog feels about being taught and how your dog feels about the behavior and how your dog feels, what your dog's opinion is. All the collateral stuff that goes on inside a living being is not stuff you get to pretend isn't there.

The simple example is if you teach your dog to sit by correcting him for not sitting, whatever feelings come along from being corrected are folded into the behavior or the procedure or school or you or the room you're in or who knows what, because — thank you classical conditioning — it can pair up with all manners of stuff.

So you're teaching your dog, and that should help guide you toward kind methods, because if I'm going to teach you to sit, I'm also going to teach you how you should feel about sitting around me and sitting with me and sitting for me. I want you to feel happy about that, I want you to feel excited about that, I want you to feel like you want to do that. So that's where it started.

But your dog feels things all the time, just like you do, and it's not just a part of the choices you make in training, where "Will I use a cookie, or will I be using a leash and a collar to explain something." It's also happening when you're not intending to train, either, like when you're going out on your walk and your dog is having all kinds of feelings out there on the walk. Every time you go out on a walk, you're teaching your dog how to feel about the walks. It might not be a new feeling every time, because maybe it's the same walk, but lately it hasn't been the same walk.

Lately it hasn't been the same walk for Marzipan. Lately she's had to feel different feelings, she has felt different feelings, out on the walk. By the time I saw them in her behavior, I was like, "You have had a feelings shift. I have taught you that your walks are now different. I taught you that your walks have a little more pressure in them than they used to have," and I didn't give that enough thought. I just didn't see it coming until it was there for me.

It's something that you can always keep in mind, that every time you're doing a thing with your dog, your dog is doing a behavior, and your dog is also drawing opinions, having feelings about it, having reactions about it on the inside, and even if you can't know what they are or read them before they're in display, you can reasonably predict that it might show up. You can give it some thought, you can look for the subtleties, when if you weren't giving it any thought or looking for it, you might miss them.

You can assume that maybe right now walks are hard for your dog because everybody's walking their dog all the time, not just at five o'clock. Maybe just assume it's a little harder, and do some things that are really fun as a prophylactic. If you were wrong and your dog was still feeling fine the whole time, well, you did fun things. There's certainly no downside to it.

So every time you teach your dog what to do, you teach her how to feel. And every time you do things with your dog, even if you're not intending to be teaching, your dog is still a feeling being. So paying attention to the emotional life of your dog, to tie it back up — thank you very much callback — you really contribute to their well-adjustedness as you raise them. There you go! Callback went all the way to the beginning!

Melissa Breau: So my last question …

Amy Cook: One more question!

Melissa Breau: One more — the one I round out all the interviews with these days. What's something that you have learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to training?

Amy Cook: That you get absolutely nowhere if you don't have a plan and make yourself do stuff. You cannot wish your way out of a problem. You cannot avoid a situation by thinking you're not going to have it. As much as I teach people to make plans, and teach people to predict and prevent, I will continually relearn this lesson in my own life that behavior is fluid and it will not stay static. Things will change, and if you don't proactively decide about what you want and really make your plans to get there, it's not going to. Complaining isn't going to do it.

I have failed to predict behavior problems. It's not a bunch of problems. He occasionally barks on the walk, but I failed to predict it. And I've been doing a lot more training in my yard during pandemic because I can invite people over for social distancing, and my dogs weren't adequately prepared for the stimulation of people being in our yard so often. I could have predicted that one too, and instead of making a plan for it, I just got sad. Now I have a problem… Just because I'm not working as much and sitting in my house a lot doesn't mean I don't still have to train my dogs. I have to prepare them for the life that I am going to show them. I can rest on my laurels as much as anybody else and get a kick in the pants that says, "You're not going to get it if you don't actually work. You can't expect your dogs to understand changes if you're not going to prepare them."

So everyone understand out there that just because you know a lot about dog training or you teach other people about dog training doesn't mean you aren't also just a person who needs to hear the same lesson again. That's what I learned in pandemic is you can't lay around. You have to still get it done. Behavior devolves as much as evolves when you put pressure on it, and the lack of pressure in the pandemic can create frustrations and sadness in your dogs.

My dogs are fine! I don't mean to end on such a sad note. They're fine, they're lovely, they're having the time of their life, but they're a little too excited about how great my yard is now. People coming over, and doing dog training, and social distancing out there, or raising puppies — I had a couple of pandemic puppies come out and have a fenced area, and my dogs are like, "I want to join!" And I'm like, "You can't!" And they're like, "But the answer is always yes!" And I'm like, "Oh shit, you're right! I told you the answer is always yes about this, and now I have to teach the answer is sometimes no." And so that's what I've learned in the pandemic is that I got lazy. Sorry everybody, I'm a real person.

Melissa Breau: You're allowed to be.

Amy Cook: I'm allowed to be a real person. Do I have to be in a nutshell?

Melissa Breau: No, not in a nutshell.

Amy Cook: OK. I'm a real person outside of a nutshell. I haven't heard too recently what other people have learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training. I hope that some of the people who answered the question learned something profound and spiritual and deep and amazing, and didn't learn that they were lazy and didn't do enough work during the pandemic.

Melissa Breau: A surprising number of us learn the same lessons over and over again.

Amy Cook: No! Is that true? Is everyone saying, "I learned that I didn't train my dogs enough for the pandemic"?

Melissa Breau: No, but a lot of people do say, "This is a lesson I had to learn early on, and I had to learn it again, and I've had to be reminded of it."

Amy Cook: Totally. It's like, "Wait a minute, you're well adjusted. Why are you frustrated right now? Dang it! Because I didn't teach you this contingency. I didn't teach you anything about yard visitors. Dang it!" It's just the way it is. It's human being stuff.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Amy! As always, it's been a joy.

Amy Cook: A pleasure. Again, do it weekly. Just pretend I'm going to get on the air. Missed you, missed you guys, love it. Bye to everybody. This was awesome.

Melissa Breau: Thank you, Amy, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We will be back next week with Shade Whitesel to talk about ready to work and toy games, from her foundation class.

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Credits

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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