E189: Denise Fenzi - "From Partner to Friend: Conversations with Raika"

Befriending a dog is a special gift — in this weeks podcast, Denise and I talk about her latest book, which takes readers through the journey of exactly how special that friendship can be.


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.

I'm here this week with Denise Fenzi — founder of FDSA and author of all sorts of things, including the reason behind our call today: her new book, Conversations with Raika!

Hi Denise. Welcome back to the podcast!

Denise Fenzi: Hey Melissa. How are you?

Melissa Breau: Good, good. Excited to talk today. Before we jump into talking about the new book, I thought I'd ask if you wanted to share a little bit of information about FDSA's new Pet Dog Training Online project.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. I don't know where all this stuff comes from, you know? You and I were at a seminar, chatting about things we see in the dog world, and what's good, and holes, and where does FDSA fit in the bigger picture.

One thing I felt was missing was a well-vetted source of information for pet people. I like to call them engaged pet people. Engaged pet people love their dogs, they want to do right, but they may have limited knowledge of dog training or skills, and they simply need some direction.

We were talking about how a source of videos on demand, where a person could get information on really straightforward pet topics like counter surfing or barking or fence running or whatever, basic things like that, where they could get help solving those problems, which is very different than a dog training book on sit, down, stay, etc. Something that might be suitable both to people who have new puppies, how do you get off on the right foot, or dogs that are already showing some issues.

We talked through some options and decided on a series of videos that we would make available. You can purchase one or you can purchase a pack. You could buy a puppy pack, which would have, let's say, five videos that are well suited to a new puppy owner. It's a really nice, easy way to get information that is targeted at a person who might have limited dog-training skills.

It is within the philosophy of FDSA, so it's kind, pragmatic, and effective, and it gives information to people who are looking for it. It is also an excellent resource for dog trainers who spend lots of time with their clients, but I know right now so many dog trainers are overwhelmed because of COVID and all the new puppies that have shown up. It's a nice way for them to say, I'm going to meet you and we're going to do these things together. You might want to watch this one-hour video before I show up. It's going to save some time, and then we can get together and actually implement the program. But it will give you some good background information.

So that is what it is, and we are excited to see where it goes to fill a gap that I've certainly had many people ask me for.

Melissa Breau: Where did the idea for the program come from?

Denise Fenzi: This is a tough question because it brings to my mind where do all ideas come from. I have no idea. I just don't know. Where do ideas come from? I keep telling you and Teri and the other people on staff, I promise, after this thing gets off the ground, it's going to be quiet for a while. We're not going to have anything else going on.

I think we're at the point where nobody believes me anymore. But Melissa, I can tell you from my heart, I mean it when I say it. I really think we're hitting status quo. And then something comes up, and then some new program shows up, and off and running we go.

Melissa Breau: I don't think we have a formal launch date yet, but do you want to tell people where they can go for more information and to sign up to make sure that they do see it when it comes out?

Denise Fenzi: Sure. The URL is petdogtrainingonline.com. You can go there and you will be redirected over to all the videos and the program. It's super-simple to use. This isn't something where you have to sign up for a class or be anywhere at a given time. So petdogtrainingonline.com. You can tell your friends and family the next time you're stuck in a corner at a party and aren't quite sure how to get out.

Melissa Breau: Alright, now to totally shift gears, congrats on the new book!

Denise Fenzi: Thank you, thank you. This is big. I've written a lot of books — I don't know how many, maybe ten — and the first one was super-exciting. I remember I slept with it the first night. I wanted it nice and close. And then with each subsequent book, of course you're excited, but some of that edge is gone. I will say that with this book, that sense of overwhelming excitement is very present for me. This book is super-special to me and I can't wait to see it. I have the proof, but I can't wait to see the real deal.

Melissa Breau: Would you be willing to read us an excerpt?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. To those who are listening, Melissa gave me a heads up on this, so she asked me to do that. She said, "Will you read an excerpt?" I had a really interesting reaction to it, which was discomfort, and that gave me something to think about. Why would I be uncomfortable reading from the book?

As I thought that one through, I realized there's a couple of things going on here. The first one is there's a pretty strong autobiographical quality going through the book. My own journey in the last years was influenced by this dog, and that comes through. Another thing is it's an emotional topic. It was a very special dog to me and I could lose that dog.

But the other thing I realized, my way of sharing my emotional life is through writing, and I am a very comfortable writer. I will put things out that are extremely personal. I'll put them on Facebook, anybody can read them, I'm totally good with it.

But I also realized I don't talk about those things, so verbally I almost never talk about my emotions or my personal situation, how I'm feeling about a personal situation. So to be asked to read a story from a book that is autobiographical and personal really stretched my comfort zone. Melissa's response was … I don't think I put her through all that, but her response was, "You don't have to do it." And I thought, no, I should do that. I need to do that because it is my story, it is my book, and I should work on that a little bit.

So yes, I will read you a story. I did look a bit, and the story I selected is Chapter 47: Eat the Best Food on the Good Days. This is from the third part of the book, and to give you a little context, it takes place after Raika is diagnosed with a fairly serious illness and I am starting the process of coming to terms with the fact that I won't have her forever. So this is one of the stories from that section.

Mom and Raika

Mom: Raika, you need to stop chasing the cat and the squirrels through the living room window. It's going to kill you literally.

Raika: I don't know about that. The vet said just last week that I'm in amazing shape and responding very well to my new medications, very healthy, three snacks a day. What an amazing vet.

Mom: Raika, I'm serious. You're going to die. Drugs help, but they don't make you perfect. They just make you better. We still need to be careful about sudden exertion. That's where the problem lies and what still causes your occasional episodes.

Raika: Do you see how the cat takes off when she sees me coming? And the squirrels panic their way right up the trees.

Mom: Raika, what I see is that you can't breathe after you do that, and you start falling over. Everyone is trying so hard to get you healthy again, but we need a little cooperation.

Raika: What a great example of perspective. Here I am, focused on the joy of the encounter, and there you are, Negative Nelly, focused on what happens later.

Mom: What happens if I'm not home and you do that? Who is going to help you?

Raika: I can get up. It just takes a while. I'll settle in for a little rest and get up when I'm ready. Plus, it appears that between you, Dad, and the kids, someone is always around to help me out.

Mom: If you pull a muscle, which is really quite likely, I don't know that there's anything we can do for you. You won't be able to get any exercise, and then what would you have left?

Raika: The end started the day I was born. We're just progressing at a more rapid clip now. Anyway, I've been doing this for fifteen years and haven't pulled a muscle yet. I'm not going to change now.

Mom: You stubborn cow.

Raika: I see we have resorted to name-calling, widely acknowledged as the lowest form of discussion.

Mom: I'm telling you, Raika, if you keep doing that, it's going to kill you.

Raika: From name-calling to threats. That might be a tie in the Least Likely to Influence Others category. I'm disappointed in you. And anyway, you have completely failed to acknowledge the cardiovascular effects of the occasional sprint for exercise.

Mom: Mark my words.

Raika: I can't. I'll be dead.

Mom: You're breaking my heart, Raika. I don't want to fight with you now. I want you to live as long and as healthy as possible. Please, can you try?

Raika: Well, now you're getting to me.

So that's the first part of that chapter.

Melissa Breau: What a great little excerpt to give people a little bit of a peek into who Raika is and the pull of the story, so to speak.

Denise Fenzi: It's a complicated book because it covers several years, and most of the book really is meant to be funny and light and entertaining, but there's a serious thread that goes throughout, and that reflects the thread.

Melissa Breau: The book overall shares the story of your life with Raika, right? For those who didn't follow the journey, can you share a little background and tell us who Raika is?

Denise Fenzi: Raika was born three weeks before my second son, and my second son is now 16. That means she was present through the rise of my raising children part of my life, that part of my family, and she was the dog that I earned an obedience championship on without using compulsion, which was a big deal at that time. So she was a huge part of my progression with my career. She was present when I started the FDSA Academy and was in her prime, so she was a huge part of my Facebook social media presence and growing my own self and who I was.

I would say that if one looks over your life at your most influential years, she was there for those years, and that alone made her a super-special part of my life. For sure I had other dogs, and they were also important to me, but as a result of — and the book goes into this — as a result of some changes that took place after she retired, and the just sheer quantity of time we spent together, and how I started seeing her and the way we started to connect, really made her into a very special dog.

Raika became, I would almost say, a public figure through the stories and the writing, and what that did is it made me start looking at her from an outside perspective. You would almost say it would be like a painter looking at a tree, and the painter is going to paint the tree. They're going to look at that tree at a level of depth so that they can interpret it through art that no one else would look at the tree.

With Raika, I started to look at her that way, as a dog that was special to me that I wanted to share what was special about her and what was special about our relationship, why it was such a beautiful relationship. And that process of trying to get it right and to share that with other people, I think, made her a super-special dog and hopefully gave a strong flavor of who Raika was to the world.

Melissa Breau: She's the dog in the logo, right?

Denise Fenzi: Yes, she is.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the obedience championship title. Do you want to talk a little more about what you guys accomplished in the competition ring, that part of her life, your life?

Denise Fenzi: She did a little of everything, so as I mentioned, obedience championship was probably the big thing. But she also did a lot of other dog sports. She did nosework, she did Mondioring sport, which is what I'm doing with my new young puppy, she did IPO and Schutzhund, she did tracking, she did dock diving. She did a whole lot of stuff and put herself on the map, and she had a whole lot of friends. She was a very present and public dog.

Melissa Breau: I believe I have my history right here: You used to breed Tervs and bred Raika, right?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, I did.

Melissa Breau: Do you remember what you were hoping for when you planned her litter?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. Boy, there were a few things. This will sound odd, but I wanted a dog who was maybe less thinking, less sensitive, less aware of the world. I was looking for a little bit more of a bull in a china shop and less of an orchid.

Much of what made Raika special was how quick she was and how aware, but it also brought some challenges to our training. I was looking for something that was a little sturdier, a little harder, a little slower. Just think for a moment. If I ask you to do something, you don't have to do it yesterday. Tomorrow will be fine. So in some ways Raika's greatest strengths were also her greatest weaknesses, and I like to balance a dog when I breed a dog, so that was really what I was looking for was a more clearheaded, slower dog.

Melissa Breau: What led you, out of her litter, to pick Raika as your keeper?

Denise Fenzi: The puppies were fantastic. I talk about the litter that Raika that was in. Her mother was Soja. I tell those stories in the book. I kept her because she was always watching me, and so I think it would be fair to say on some level Raika picked me. She was always there, always present, and always had her eye on me, and that made her irresistible. I did not plan on keeping a puppy from the litter, and yet she stayed.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. At what point did you start writing down stories, the stories that eventually became the book, from her perspective?

Denise Fenzi: When Raika was about, I don't know, 12, a few years before I lost her, I took her to the vet for an old-dog checkup and she had gained ten pounds. Now she was a 50-pound dog who was now 60 pounds, and I was shocked. I was appalled.

I knew she had put on a little weight, but she was a fluffy dog, so she could not have gained ten pounds. I couldn't believe it, because if there's one thing that dog trainers know about other dog trainers, we really like thin, athletic dogs. And so here I am with a dog who's technically obese. She's 20 percent above her body weight.

Sometimes the way I deal with things like that, little embarrassments of sorts, is I talk about them publicly, and I wanted to talk on Facebook about the fact that I'd somehow managed to let my dog get ten pounds overweight and I really needed to do something about that. And I did, but for no particular reason — for fun, I guess — I decided to do it from her point of view, and I did.

I was not talking to Raika the first year of writing. I just wrote from Raika's point of view and had a lot of fun with it, actually. It was entertaining for me, and people responded well. So we would go out on our walks, and I would observe things happening, and I would come home and have Raika talk about them.

So in a nutshell, it's when Raika gained a whole lot of weight and I started walking her. That is what drove me to start looking at how Raika was looking at the world and to talk about that.

Melissa Breau: Did you know it would be a book when you started?

Denise Fenzi: Oh no, not at all. I was really just having a good time. I often say I think life is a story, and I believe stories are for sharing, so when life happens, I like to talk about it. So when life happened around Raika, I wanted to talk about it. It was really fun for me, and it was fun to watch people interact. So it was actually fairly late in the process that I started even thinking about it.

What happened is as Raika got older, she started developing fairly classic old-dog problems, dementia, incontinence. Enough of my brain was aware that nothing lasts forever, in spite of my almost manic determination to walk. It was almost as if I thought as long as she kept walking, she couldn't die. No dog goes from walking four miles a day to dying, so since she was 14 and walking four miles a day, therefore she wouldn't die. But the logical side of your brain knows that's not quite true.

And then as more and more of these health problems came up, I did not talk about them on Facebook, and that's because I have a basic sort of a rule that you don't talk about medical problems on Facebook because I'm not always pleased with how people respond to that. They have a hard time just listening and they want to solve it, and I didn't want that.

At the same time, there was another part of my brain which was considering that I was going to lose her someday, and now I had turned this dog into a public figure and I couldn't just have her disappear. I recognized that I had kind of painted myself into a corner, so what is it going to be? Entertainment, funny, funny, funny, and now the dog is gone.

That's when I started to have a mental shift, and that led to more openness, more willingness to speak. And then I started getting an awful lot of feedback, private mostly, from people saying, "These stories have done so much for me with my own old dog and I don't feel so alone." The stories, the ups, the downs, the challenges of living with an old dog, that feedback not only freed me up to be more willing to share, but to recognize that there's so little out there that talks about the process.

There are books that talk about grief and that talk from a very clinical point of view about what it's like to lose a dog, or another, but there's very little that takes on the actual process, the day-to-day existence, of watching a dog who has always eaten everything in sight start to lose weight at quite a clip. There's no shortage of irony in the fact that my dog was ten pounds overweight when I started writing about her and the diet, and she died at ten pounds underweight because she did what many old dogs do, which is she became a very particular eater.

I think as the feedback increased and my recognition that there was a hole in what we were offering in the world of fiction, nonfiction, and such, that is what made me think, I think I do want to write about this as a book. But it was so hard for me to wrap my head around how that would happen, how I would go from all of these random stories to something more cohesive.

So the decision I made was not to make a decision until she was gone, and that is what I did. I simply wrote and wrote and wrote. And after she passed away, I waited until my brain was willing to wrap itself around, my head around, this process. I continued to write after I lost her. On Facebook I continued to talk about my personal journey and my days. And then the day came and I said to my editor, "I'm ready to talk. I want to start talking about this."

Crystal was hugely influential in helping me sort through the options of how we might proceed. And we proceeded and started over many, many times to decide. It eventually turned into it is a novel, so yes, it is composed of stories, but it eventually smoothed itself out into a novel.

And it was difficult. It was very difficult to do because I hadn't planned on writing a book. The stories were in all different places, they were in different folders, they weren't logical, I forgot to date some things, so there was all sorts of complexity that made it really overwhelming for me to start. But then I knew that book had to happen, and it would happen, and I stuck with it. And so we did that, and here we are.

Melissa Breau: Was there a particular part of the book that you had the hardest time writing?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah. In the sense of trying to make it happen, I probably rewrote the first of the three parts ten times. I suffered horribly, and I can tell you I don't tend to suffer alone, so those around me suffered right along with me, and they will probably never read the book as a result. Because I could not figure out how to get it off the ground as a novel when what I had was all these individual snippets.

The snippets took place within the context of a retired competition dog, so the people on Facebook knew that, they had that background, but I did not want the book to be about Raika's competition career. There's no discussion of it at all. The book starts with her retirement, and I could not figure out how to just start it. So that was really, really hard. I will just say openly the first of the three parts is my least favorite part of the book, but it has to be there because it gives context and it introduces us.

The second part of the book starts when the diet ends, and that's when the stories start to take hold, and that's where most people will remember Raika from Facebook, when the stories start to weave towards the final section. So I would say the actual time and the mental grief of the writing process was the worst in the first part, but the emotional toll of the third part — I still cry. I cannot read the stories in that part without crying, and I don't know that I will ever change that. My editor says the same thing. She says, "I've read that book so many times, and I still cry."

And as I'm saying that I want to tell you that on some level the book has a happy ending, and so that's an odd thing to say, but it does. The ending has a truly uplifting quality, but she does pass away. And I laugh, even in the last part of the book, but emotionally that's where I struggle.

Melissa Breau: I think that's fair. I know the story from the book that maybe had the biggest impact on Facebook was the one that talks about molecules. I'd love, if you can, for those not familiar with that story, if you'd explain a bit about what the basis is there, and then … where did that concept come from for you?

Denise Fenzi: The molecules story was the first … I wrote that story after I realized that I could not have Raika pass away from a healthy existence to nothing. I was wrestling with how I wanted to start letting people on Facebook know that there would be an end, and since I was not choosing to share the medical journey, I was a little conflicted about how to do that. I wrote that story to give people a heads up.

The story comes from my personal belief about what happens after you die, because mass is conserved, so when the body dies, it doesn't really go away. It becomes atoms and molecules. It becomes other things. It becomes trees and soil. And so it felt fair and logical to me that our being, what makes us alive, the reason you can't take a dead person and simply bring them back to life is because something leaves. That was my perspective on it — that there is more inside, and so it goes somewhere too. And each person is an individual. We aren't just the body put together. And so what makes that — I guess some people would call that the soul.

And so it seems as logical to me as any, until the day I die and actually have some inside information, that this might well be how it all takes place. And so I put that into Raika's words and I had her express it as if she already had that information, as if a dog's memory would start before death, or before birth, whereas a human's would not. That's where that story came from and that is why I told that story.

Melissa Breau: That said, how much of the book is true? How much of it is based on real things that happened and how much of it are more story?

Denise Fenzi: That's a great question. So here's the deal. The whole book is true. Every story came from an experience. We would be out walking and something happened. Having said that, I think it's fair to say that dogs don't talk, so I had to try to see it from her perspective, and since the personality that I attribute to Raika is a fairly light and humorous little soul, if you really stop and think about it, if you really look at Raika's behavior, she's crabby, she's opinionated, she's self-centered, she's irritable, she's a terrible little person.

If she were a person, she's the worst qualities of humanity. But because she's a dog, you look at that like she's a 2-year-old child. You look at it and you fall in love with her for all of her terrible, terrible behavior and qualities and ways of thinking, and especially as the book progresses and she becomes quite aware of humanity and very able to make fun of humans and who we are.

And so in the context of the personality that Raika brings to the book, and the fact that every story was sparked by something that happened out in the world, I would say the book is 100 percent true. There are some stories, for example, Raika did get in a dog fight. My 13-year-old dog got in a dog fight on a trail and I did land in a ditch trying to break up the dog fight, and the owner of the other dog did land on top of me in the ditch. So yes, it did happen.

The mountain lion story — let me give you the background on that one. One day I was on our usual walk, and there was a man standing on the side of the trail with a cell phone. I was walking past him and he said to me — it was perfectly safe — he said, "There was just a mountain lion here on this trail. I saw it. I have it on my phone."

He showed me, and you know what, there on the trail, in the little forest-y tree area that I was about to enter, a mountain lion crossed the path. So this would have been, I don't know, a couple of hundred feet in front of where I was at that moment. A mountain lion had just been there, had crossed the path, and that's an amazing thing.

I chatted with the guy for a minute and then I went ahead and walked on. As I went through, I watched Raika go to the spot, to the rock, and I saw a change in her behavior, and I realized I had seen that change in her behavior before. I realized that I had seen her stop at that rock before, and that into the future I saw her stop at that rock always. That alerted me to the fact that she had always known that there was a mountain lion there, and that she had the ability, because she can smell, to know the past in the present. And humans can't do that, because our vision does not give us the past. It only gives us the present. And that's amazing, isn't it?

That's actually one of the threads in the book is that my awareness of and appreciation for dogs grew exponentially as I watched Raika as a dog and not as a partner, not as a competitor. Watched and really internalized what a dog is and what a dog knows. In the book I do talk about the mountain lions and why she always stops at a rock, and the beginning of my awareness of how amazing a dog really is. So I'm going to say the book is 100 percent true.

Melissa Breau: Who is it for? Who did you write it for? Who should read it?

Denise Fenzi: There are several themes in the book. I think the most obvious and overarching one, and the one that I think most of Facebook will be aware of, is everyone who has loved a dog and who has lost a dog, or who is going to lose a dog at some point, because it's truly not an explored area. It's just not out there. I think it will make you laugh and it will make you cry in a good way. So if you love dogs, if you appreciate them, I think you will really like the book.

It's not written for competitors. Competitors will have an extra edge because there will be subtle references throughout the book to her past, so if you are involved in dog sports, you will have that extra layer of appreciation, a little bit of an inside joke. But the book is only about 50 percent or less of the stories I wrote on Facebook. I did eliminate the stories that were too dog-trainer-centric. I didn't want anyone else to feel lost. So the book is written for anyone who wants to read it. Yes, there are threads that you will appreciate as a competitor.

The second group of people who I think might really appreciate the book, there's a second thread in there which is about me and slowing down a little bit and backing up from my work. I think people who have a dog and appreciate the dog because it does cause them to slow down and look at the world a little bit more and get away from your computer and stand up and go out and put your phone away — if that is you, or if you think that needs to be you, I think the book has a lot of value on a subtle lower level about one's ability to allow a dog to allow you to see the world in a slower and more present way, and it would be a fine start for someone who thinks maybe they need that in their lives.

Melissa Breau: I've noticed you've started occasionally sharing stories with Dice on your Facebook page. Does that mean there is a second book?

Denise Fenzi: Oh my. Right, never say never. Don't we all learn that at some point? Maybe when you're 25, you say, "Never say never," because you never know. I have no plans to write a book about Dice. But there have been a few occasions when Dice and I have been out doing things together. Dice is a handful, so I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do to keep everyone on an even keel. And so I have written a very few stories. When they come to me, I write them.

I will say that in the Raika stories, there were months in-between in the beginning when I didn't write at all, and then I would write a lot for a period of time, so there was never consistency. With Dice, most of the time stories don't come to me, but on the occasions that they have, I have come home and written them. So they are there. There are a few. He is a young dog, he is 8 months old, he has a lifetime ahead of him, and we'll see.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. How do the stories you've done so far with Dice differ from those with Raika?

Denise Fenzi: Dice is a baby dog, 8 months old, and he is a very simple dog at this point in his life. He has seen nothing, he's done nothing, everything is new. So Dice is really quite self-centered because he's a puppy trying to identify the world. He's silly and frantic and gets overexcited by things.

By the time Raika passed away, I think it would be fair to say that Raika would say she had seen it all. There were things that as Raika got older, for example, if there was a cookie on the table …

This actually happened yesterday. I wasn't supervising closely and Dice took a cookie off the table. That should not have happened. That's on me. And then I thought about how Raika, when she was middle-aged, in most of the points in her existence would not have done that maybe past puppyhood, because she was trained. But when she got old, she would have done it in a heartbeat because she reverted to old-dog rules, which come about who knows how, but they do exist. The problem is poor Raika couldn't get on the table anymore because her hips got old and tired.

And so I do look a little bit at Dice and I see him doing so many of the things that Raika would be out there in the atmosphere cheering him on, saying, "Do it while you can, because someday you're going to be old and you're going to wish you had taken that cookie."

So I can see her enjoying him and cheering him on because he's showing behaviors that maybe Raika would have wanted to show, but I don't see them coming from a point of wisdom. He is a puppy. He is not wise. He is simple. He's not stupid. He's simple because he has no life experience. And so while I see Raika being self-centered, I see Dice being so self-centered, but coming from such a different perspective.

So that's how I see when I write about Dice. I see him being honest. Raika was honest. If it served her well, she was honest. She would tell me what she was thinking. But Raika was pretty quick to lie in a heartbeat if she thought it would get her what she wanted. Dice — I don't think he's there yet. He's not smart enough to figure out that sometimes it's in your best interest to lie. He'll get there. So right now Dice is just blunt and honest and fairly clearheaded.

Raika was a frantic type of dog. Dice is a clearheaded dog, and I think that means he can stop and look at things and think about it, and then give his opinion, maybe unvarnished, because he doesn't realize there might be ramifications to the truth. So they're very different.

Melissa Breau: It's interesting to hear you compare them that way. To bring things full circle, I hope, a natural part of the process of losing and grieving for a dog is thinking back over the life, the relationship that you had with them — the things you learned, the things you wish you did different, the memories that make you remember just how much you still love and miss them. Would you care to share any final takeaways of what you learned from Raika, things you're grateful for, or maybe even things you see impacting your training today with Dice?

Denise Fenzi: On the big picture view, I would say Raika slowed me down, and I needed to slow down. It was at a time where it was very important to my wellbeing.

Wrestling with end-of-life decisions with a dog brings you front and center to the reality of your heart versus your mind. I'm a very logical person. It is very easy for me to tell someone else how I think they should handle a non-emotional situation, because my brain works that way. The problem with emotions and logic, I can be logical if it's you going through an emotional situation. I can be logical with you. I can think I have that in me. And when you lose an old dog, what you realize is that your brain is telling you the right things to do, and your heart refuses to listen.

Writing it down and going through it and trying to see it all from the dog's point of view should really reaffirm for me the reality that our heart, our emotions, drive the show. And it is an enormous fight to ensure that your brain can participate in the important decisions. I got that from Raika, that "hit you over the head" reality of how hard it is to make good decisions when you're in an emotional place.

I think Raika forced me to engage with the real world because she was so determined to go for her walk every day, and she was so pushy and so present and so unwilling to be ignored when she got old that she forced me away from work, she forced me off the computer and got me out the door, and got me much more engaged with the reality of the world. That was a gift, and I needed that.

As a dog, I think what she gave me was she helped me look at dogs as an individual rather than as a member of a team, which is probably the reverse process of what most people go through. I think most people get a dog as a pet first, and then maybe they get involved in the world of dogs. So they really do start by looking at a dog as a dog, and then they learn how amazing it can be to have a dog as a partner.

Because I entered the world of dogs as a dog sports competitor, I've been in dogs for 35 years. I was a teenager when I was competing. So I got into dogs as a competitor. Dogs were always part of the competition world, and it wasn't particularly kind, so they weren't partners. They were objects. But as my career evolved, and as relationship became such a driver for me as a dog trainer, and as dogs became my partners, I learned to love and appreciate dogs for what they could do.

And I think Raika helped me see dogs for who they are, not for what they can do and not as a partner to me. And so Raika taught me to see dogs as the individual, not only as a teammate, and I think that was hugely beneficial to me.

Melissa Breau: I think that's maybe one of the things that in some ways FDSA is best known for, the idea of training the dog in front of you that comes from your book on that stuff.

Denise Fenzi: I think you may be right.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Denise! I'm excited about the book. Congrats again.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you. I really enjoyed talking about it.

Melissa Breau: Before we go, real quick, for those who do want to go pick the book up, do you want to share where they can do that and where it's available?

Denise Fenzi: Absolutely. TheDogAthlete.com, if you are in the United States, is my website. If you buy that before the book comes out, which is mid-November, it would be a preorder and the book is heavily discounted. Especially if you buy two or five, it makes quite the difference, and that's a very nice little holiday gift for pretty much everyone. So if you're looking for something, the price is right, and you will also get a bookmark, and I will sign those books. Preorders will be signed and you'll have a bookmark.

If you want to purchase the book after it comes out, I would be thrilled if you would continued to buy it from me at The Dog Athlete. However, it will also be available on Amazon to make it more widely available around the world several weeks later. Eventually it will come out as well on Kindle, just slightly later, just because it takes time to put all this in place.

If you are international, you can purchase it in Australia from Polite Paws. Again those signed copies, this is a one-shot deal, so if you want it, you want to get a preorder, and we will include those bookmarks as well. So Polite Paws in Australia. In England it's … oh gosh, I'm forgetting. I know in Canada it's Mungo's Books for Dog People. Once again, this is your only chance to get a signed copy and the bookmarks, so you'll want to get that from Mungo's Books.

But because I will forget or your will forget, the easiest way to identify where the books will be available is to go to my blog, DeniseFenzi.com, select "Books," and all of the possibilities will be listed there, along with a chapter that you can read the whole chapter and get a sense of the book and decide if that's what you're looking for.

Hopefully that will get some of you on the right track, and the ones you buy from me directly I will ship as quickly as I can, but I only ship in the United States, so that's from. TheDogAthlete.com.

Melissa Breau: And on the website it's Canada, Australia, and the U.K., right?

Denise Fenzi: That's correct, and the U.K. does ship internationally, so they will cover Europe as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you again Denise.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with Kamal Fernandez to talk about training high drive dogs.

Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. 


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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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