E192: Helene Lawler - Loopy Listening

You may have heard of Loopy Training, but have you heard of loopy listening? Helene and I talk about why loopy training is making waves and what she means by loopy listening!


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we'll be talking to Helene Lawler.

Hélène has been working with animals her whole life — she started by training her cat to use the toilet when she was 12! Since then she's spent years heavily invested in both training and the rescue world. She's dabbled in nosework, tracking, and Search and Rescue, and then began training agility in 2004, followed by herding in 2005. It didn't take long before she was hooked. She won the Ontario novice herding championship in 2008, after just two years of training with her dog Hannah, and together they went on to become an Open level team while simultaneously competing in agility to the Masters level and qualifying for the AAC Canadian Nationals.

Today, she runs a working mixed livestock farm, with sheep, goats, and poultry and works full-time as a dog sport coach, specializing in R+ herding, troubleshooting sports problems, and handler mindset coaching.

Hi Helene, welcome back to the podcast!

Helene Lawler: Hi Melissa. Great to be here.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to share a little bit about your dogs and what you're working on with them?

Helene Lawler: That could be a podcast in and of itself. Right now I have thirteen Border Collies and an Australian Kelpie, plus my two livestock guardian dogs.

The reason I have so many Border Collies right now is that I have five extra puppies that I am currently raising and putting some foundations on, so it's super-fun. I'm revisiting all my foundations and how to raise puppies and thinking about all those things. I love doing it, and I'm growing by leaps and bounds as a trainer because I have so many that I'm working with at once that are all different.

I'm also working with my one livestock guardian dog because she really needs some improved social skills around humans. Fortunately nothing negative. She's just very enthusiastic and overly friendly and likes to interact with us the same way she does with my hundred-pound other livestock guardian dog, and that's not super-fun when you're human.

The other thing that I'm working on is really advancing my herding skills, taking everything to the next level and pushing through some blocks that I had. The fall is the best time for training and herding, so I've been making great progress with that.

And then I've been doing a lot of work on the other end of the leash. That's maybe my biggest focus is working on me, my mindset, and my understanding of training, which has been really fun, and my physical mechanics and all of that as well. So the whole package on this end of the leash is getting a lot of focus right now as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Which fits nicely with what we're talking about today.

Helene Lawler: Exactly. This workshop has come out of this work for sure.

Melissa Breau: Obviously loopy training is kind of a buzzword right now. Everybody has heard it, maybe they don't necessarily know what it is, but they've probably heard it at this point. It's a hot topic. I know it's something you're playing around with and exploring in quite some depth. Do you want to share what it is and why it caught your interest?

Helene Lawler: Sure. The concept I first came across through listening to Alexandra Kurland's podcast, "Equiosity," and Hannah Branigan also talks about it in her podcast, so those episodes got me really curious about it. The term "loopy training" was coined by Alexandra and it comes out of her work. I started to study that because I think she does such fantastically interesting work with horses, and of course Hannah was also applying it to the work that she's doing, and I was watching her results and going, "Wow, I want that too."

I started to really study it, and so what is loopy training? Loopy training is reframing how we think about training from a linear process into a circular process. Typically, many of us who have done any kind of work on learning behavior, we think about the ABCs of training, so antecedent, behavior, consequence, or cue behavior, reinforcement, or "sit," dog sits, click, and then we give them a cookie.

We think of that in this linear process, but what loopy training does is it points out the fact that the training process is circular. We'll stick with this example, sits from the dog. You give the cue — "sit," dog does the behavior and sits, and then we click, and then we feed. After the dog is finished swallowing the cookie, the dog is going to do another behavior. The dog doesn't turn into a stone. There's another behavior.

When the dog has finished swallowing the cookie, the dog is going to be cued to do something else, depending on what the situation is at the end of the swallow. If we don't control that process, if we haven't planned ahead to decide, "When my dog is finished swallowing the cookie, I want the next step to be x," then the dog will respond to something in its environment and make the next step y. Or x, but then we're gambling.

Loopy training is about thinking about our training in a loop, so that we don't just feed the cookie and be done with it. We go, "What do we want our next step to be?" For example, if we're working on a sit, we feed the cookie, and if we want to do another sit, if the dog is sitting, we can't ask them to sit because they're already sitting. What we need them to do is get out of the sit so they can sit again. If we want to have a loop, what we would do is we would have our standing dog start. We ask for a sit, that's the cue, the dog sits. We click to let the dog know that that's what earned reinforcement, and then we will hold the cookie in such a way that the dog has to stand back up to eat the cookie, and that completes the loop. The dog ends where they started, and then you have a loop around the sit behavior that doesn't include any other behaviors.

That is a way of thinking about how we can train that will help advance your training skills a lot when you start to dig into this. It makes our training so much more efficient and clear to our dogs, and so we can move things along much more quickly when we start thinking in a circular, in a loopy way instead of in a linear way with our training.

Melissa Breau: It seems like it ties into the idea of smart reinforcement, thinking about where you're delivering your cookie, and how you're delivering your cookie, and things like that. Are they really different things, or just different versions of the same or a similar idea? Where do you draw the line between those two things?

Helene Lawler: Great question. Loopy training is just good training. It's very simple. We all already train in loops. We're just not aware of it. Once we start to learn to see our behavior happening in loops, we can then intentionally set it up in a circular fashion this way. Using the smart reinforcement or location-specific markers or location-specific reinforcers — there's more and more terms coming out for what we're doing with this — but having your reinforcement in a position that will ensure that the dog is set up to do the behavior we want next is part of the loopy training process. So it's absolutely one and the same thing.

Melissa Breau: We've talked through what it is and we've talked through the idea of smart reinforcement. What do you see as the benefits here? Why do we want a clean loop when we're training our dog?

Helene Lawler: A clean loop gives us information that we need to progress our training. The rules of loopy training are … when you have your loop … we'll go back to our sit loop that I talked about. When you have a dog who starts in a stand, sit, click, feed so they end up back in a stand, and then you have that nice little clean loop, then the dog will understand that word "sit" means his butt on the ground. And then you can pull it out of a sit.

If we don't have a clean loop, let's say we have some other behaviors in, so you say "sit" and the dog lies down and then pops into a sit, and then maybe barks at you. I'm sure we can all relate to that. What ends up happening is you finally get your sit. You say "sit," the dog lies down, barks, pops into a sit, and then you click, and then you feed, either in a sit or in a stand, what you've got now is a behavior loop that has a sit and a down and a bark. When you click, you have reinforced all of these.

What ends up happening is you end up reinforcing that behavior chain, and you know what? Maybe you don't care, because you just want your dog to eventually end up in a sit, and that's totally fine. But let's say you're doing competition obedience. You so don't want that. Or even if you're doing tricks or you're doing other things, you want that specific behavior. So when we aim for the clean loop, we will start to see how those other behaviors get built into the cue that we're giving and how that can mess up what we're trying to achieve.

Getting to a clean loop, one of the important things about that, is that we will prune out all those extraneous behaviors and then we don't end up with what we commonly call junk behavior in our behaviors. That's one big reason for it, that if we want to have effective training, we need to think about it in these simple clean loops as we build it. And have little building blocks. If you think about it as each loop is a block that we build on to grow our behaviors, as opposed to having this big lumpy mess that we then have to try and build on.

Melissa Breau: You've iterated on the idea, the original idea, and you've started to talk about this new concept, I think you're calling it loopy listening. Do you want to talk about what that is, and how that's different than the concept of loopy training itself?

Helene Lawler: Sure. Absolutely. Loopy listening is a term that … I'm pretty sure I coined it. Maybe my brain picked it up somewhere, but I think my brain created it. What I use it to mean is we use the strategy of loopy training to learn to hone our eye to be able to listen to what our dogs are saying.

That's why I call it loopy listening, because our dogs speak through behavior. We have to watch it, but what we have to do is then interpret what we see as communication for our dogs. That's why I use loopy listening as opposed to loopy watching. I can watch my dog perform a behavior and then see what other behaviors are involved in that loop, what is the dog adding to the loop, and how do I interpret that. That is what loopy listening is all about.

I have a definition here that I use to define it. Loopy listening I define as the application of the principles of loopy training, which is what we just talked about, so we learn to hear our dogs whisper before they have to shout.

Whispering are the little subtle behaviors that they do that show us where our training is starting to break down, where they have some confusion, where they're feeling a little bit of frustration or boredom.

This is really critical to our training process because what ends up happening is we don't respond to the whisper. You think about it, somebody's whispering something, they whisper it a few time and you can't hear them, what do they do? They get louder. Exactly. And they get louder and they get louder.

So often we don't hear the whispers. We're not aware of them. We don't know what they mean, we don't understand them, and then our dogs have to up the volume, and then they end up shouting at us and then we're in trouble. By the time our dog is shouting, we have a problem, as opposed to just a training tweak.

Melissa Breau: When you say shouting, you don't literally mean they're barking at you, right? It could be that, but there are other things that represent shouting too, right?

Helene Lawler: Absolutely. They absolutely could be shouting. They could be barking. I'll give you the difference. Whispers could mean … the way our dogs whisper to us is they'll do a lip lick. They might blink. They might give us a little bit of whale eye, when they turn their eye to the side and we see the whites. They might be a little slow in their responses. They might start sniffing the ground a little bit. They might suddenly be itchy or discover a crumb on the ground that is super-fascinating they have to investigate in the middle of performing a behavior. These are all whispers.

As opposed to shouts, which would be barking and biting and spinning, zoomies, quitting, running away, other types of reactive behaviors. The big-feeling behaviors that so many people struggle with in their training or competing, and they're like, "There's a dog with really big feelings," and they express them in these very dynamic ways. That's what I mean by shouting.

Melissa Breau: You already talked a little bit, and my next question was going to be, why is this concept so important in training? I know you already talked about that a little bit. Is there anything you want to expand upon there?

Helene Lawler: Absolutely. There's a lot. The concept of watching for the whispers, the reason it's so important … I talked about getting clean behaviors, but that's the fringe benefit. The really important part of this work is that arousal comes from having to raise their voice.

What I see so often in sport dog training is arousal problems. That's my number one thing that people come to me for work with their dogs is arousal problems, either dogs that stress high and we have all the worked-up dogs, or the stress-lower sensitive dogs, the dogs that just don't want to engage in the training. Now some dogs are inherently very naturally high arousal already, and some dogs are very naturally sensitive, and there could be pathological reasons for that, and genetic reasons for that, and medical reasons for that.

But a big portion of that also comes from the training process. The dogs will start whispering and saying, "I'm confused. I don't really know what you mean here. Can you give me a little more information? This is uncomfortable. Ouch, that hurts." They'll give us these little tiny whispers and we don't listen. We don't hear them, we don't see them, we don't know what to look for, we don't know what they mean. And so we keep going, and the dog starts to raise its voice in behavior sense, and that emotional state and that arousal state gets built into our training, as well as the extraneous behaviors.

For example, that dog who drops into a down and barks at us before popping into a sit, the barking might be annoying and the down is messy, but the bigger issue here is that the dog has a conditioned emotional response of probably frustration built into the cue "sit," and an arousal reaction to go into high arousal when you say "sit." and that's deeply problematic.

I'll give you an example of when I was training a sheepdog that was there, having a really hard time with the dog biting and gripping sheep. I took the dog in to do a little bit of work with myself. I had a small area and I had everything controlled and the dog was working beautifully. I said nothing, I was being very quiet, I was just watching and observing the dog.

Things were going well and I said, "Away to me," which is the cue for the dog to go to the right around … it was ducks. As soon as I said the cue, the dog dove in and tried to bite the ducks. We had him muzzled, so it didn't. That was like, wow, the cue itself, the dog was working perfectly, no problem. The context wasn't setting the dog off. Being with the livestock, the handler, all of that wasn't setting it off. But the cue, when I said, "Away to me," the dog shot into high arousal, exploded forward, and tried to grip. So that behavior that was so well rehearsed was built into the cue. Then we had to work at coming up with new cues and retraining and so on and so forth. I thought that was such a very clear example. That was one of my first big aha moments of how the arousal habit was built into the cue itself.

Melissa Breau: That's obviously a big dynamic behavior. It's obvious to see that that's tied to arousal and really clear. I think a lot of times people miss it because, like you said, the down/bark thing is less obvious to most trainers than diving in after the sheep.

Helene Lawler: Exactly. One of the dogs that I'm working with … and I share a lot of this work in the workshop because I think it's so important to my livestock guardian dog, because she bites and slams and paws and she manhandles me like crazy. When I create any frustration in our training, I pay for it in skin.

The work came out of the horse world, and I expect this also in people who work with wild animals and so on, because the consequences are quite serious. Most of the time, if your agility dog gets the zoomies or barks at you, it's frustrating and it's annoying, but it's very different from when you have a thousand-pound animal that throws you off its back.

In the horse world, they're very cognizant of these things, and for us, we don't have that level of positive punishment to the handler when we don't pay attention to these things, and so we can get away with it a lot. We can get away with it until we can't.

As I said, Juno is like … I'm covered in bruises and scratches and stuff from working with her. But most of us what we end up with is a dog we can't reach our goals with. They can't go into a competition environment. They quit or they get zoomies or they leave us or whatever. For us, that's the fallout at the extreme end. And the damage to our relationship, and the damage to our emotional state around training, and the same for our dogs, their emotional responses to training. So when I've done the loopy listening work with teams and with my own dogs, we've been able to reverse so much of that. Sometimes it goes away almost immediately. It's amazing.

Melissa Breau: You talked a little bit about what a whisper is and what a shout is. Are there other things that you're "listening" for when you're working on this? What is it that we're trying to tune our eye or you notice?

Helene Lawler: You're basically trying to train your eye. There's so many things that our dogs do because they speak for each other through body language that's so subtle that we, as humans, miss 90 percent of it. We need to learn to train our eye. I can tell you that six months ago I didn't see what I see today. Six months ago I saw more than I saw a year ago, and two years ago, and so on.

What loopy listening does, which is why I'm so excited about it, is it's a fairly systematic process. It's an art and a science, but it gives us a step-by-step process for training your eye to watch for those things, to learn how to spot it. It requires practice, it requires a lot of thinking and paying close attention, so I always recommend that people don't try and apply it to all your training all at once, be it loopy training or loopy listening. Just pick one thing and work on it for two minutes and let that soak into your brain for a little while.

Over time, your brain is going to develop that skill, develop that muscle, and you'll be able to see more and more and more over time. It gets really exciting when you start to be able to see an ear twitch and know what it means, when you catch that little tongue lick that you never used to notice and now you see all over the place. It starts to improve your relationship with your dog and your communication skills.

It's very exciting, because all that training is is communication. It's a conversation between us and our dogs. They already know how to sit and down and do all the things. All we're trying to do is give our words meaning so they know that when this weird sound comes out of our mouth, we want them to do the thing they already know how to do in response. So we're having a conversation, and they're talking to us just as much as we're talking to them, in that they talk to us through their bodies and through behavior, and this just helps us understand their language so much better. So I think it's really exciting.

Melissa Breau: How much does it differ from dog to dog? Is it a set of things that you learn to listen and watch for, or is it more about learning the signs that your specific dog gives out?

Helene Lawler: I'd say a little bit of both. I read my shopping list of behaviors that we watch for, and it tends to come in packages with different dogs. Dogs who tend to stress low will do certain things. Dogs who tend to stress high will do other sets of things. But you'll see it in both types of dogs.

A dog like Juno, my livestock guardian dog who scratches and jumps and muzzle-punches me, and bites and body-slams me, will also look away and give me whale eye and lip licks. I think there's a set repertoire that they all have access to, and certain dogs will default to some more than others.

Like my Desiree, for example. She's so subtle, and one of the things she does a lot of is the lip-licking and it's so fast. She's a speedy little thing. But now that I've learned to see it — which I had to learn through watching video because I couldn't see it real time — now I see it all over the place, so I know to watch for her. So when I'm working specifically with her, I watch for lip licks. Whereas another dog I might watch for … like with Juno, I'm watching for muscle bunching in her hindquarters, which are going to tell me that she's going to launch at me.

We have this repertoire that we can learn, and then we want to see the vernacular of each individual dog, how each individual dog is going to express. They're going to have a set of defaults that they tend to do more often than others, and then we can know where to look for that in that particular dog, which really helps us because we have so much to watch for already. With Des, if I keep an eye on her lips, I know that's an easy thing for me to watch for.

Melissa Breau: You talked about what you're watching for and what you're listening for. What do you when you see that stuff? If a dog starts to exhibit signs that they're getting frustrated or that their arousal level is going up during training, how do you handle it?

Helene Lawler: Great question. How do I handle it? It depends, is the answer. That wonderful answer we use so often in dog training that nobody wants to hear. What do I do? In a perfect world, which I don't live in, but let's say we can visit the perfect world. You go into a training session and you know exactly what you're planning to train. You have your step-by-step criteria already planned, and you have all your steps split, and you have backup splits that you can default to so you can make your next criteria a little bit smaller.

When you see the dog exhibit these behaviors, let's say you get that tongue lick or you get a muzzle punch, depending on the dog, you can say, "What's gong on here? Maybe I've raised criteria too quickly and I need to step back." I already have in my brain what that next step is, and I quickly go to that, and then my dog is like, " Now I understand." And I move on in smaller steps, for example, or maybe I say, "I waited too long. I've dropped my rate of reinforcement. I need to increase my rate of reinforcement, so I'll start clicking faster and getting food into my dog more quickly." Or I'll be like, "My dog is totally confused. Maybe I need to lure her."

There are things that I've trained a lot, and dogs that I've worked with a lot, I will already know how to solve some of these problems. But more often what I'll do is … now if I just see one little bit of frustration and the dog comes right back to work, I'll make a mental note of it, if I'm on my game, and be like, "OK, I did that," make a note of it, and carry on with my training.

But if I start to see breakdowns in the training where the dog is doing this repeatedly, two or three times in a row, and I don't instantly know on the fly how to fix it, which is a lot of the time, I will drop a scatter and stop. I'll throw a bunch of cookies on the ground so that my dog doesn't feel like they're being punished by ending the training, and I'll stop for a second and think. In a perfect world I have this on video and I can go back and watch it. If I don't, and if I don't know how to solve it, I set it up to do it again and video so I can watch it, and then I'll come up with a training plan and figure out what's going on.

So again, it really depends. Sometimes I know how to fix it on the fly, sometimes I don't. But it usually involves reducing your criteria, so there's a few things that we start with. Split your criteria. You've probably increased what you asked of the dog too much and they're confused, so you want to decrease it to the point where they can be successful. You may have dropped your rate of reinforcement too low, and so the dog is going into an extinction first, which is what happens with Juno every time she muzzle-punches me. Frustration barking, things like that, can all be extinction bursts, so it just means you've dropped your rate of reinforcement too much. You might need to add in some more information through a lure or a prop.

The other thing that we also need to pay attention to is the overall energy of the dog you're training. For example, is the dog in a good mental state to be training right now. The dog might be stressed out about something. Maybe you had a thunderstorm a couple of hours earlier and your dog is not in a good mental state. Maybe you have an older dog and it's first thing in the morning and they're arthritic and they don't feel like doing stuff. Maybe you have a young puppy who is full of beans and needs to go for a run. There's a lot of triage to be done.

This is not like, "If A, then B," very simple, straightforward. It's not linear. But there are lots of things we can work with, and the more we work with it, the better we get at figuring out how to solve the problem. There's the science side of things in terms of there's a set a number of things we can try, and then the art of it is putting it into practice and seeing what works, and that will be a little bit different for each dog.

Melissa Breau: That makes sense. I know you were talking about this a little bit in the FDSA Alumni Group on Facebook, and a number of folks were talking about how it factored into playing with their dog specifically. That seemed like a topic that folks got a little excited about. Do you want to talk about that a bit, how it all factors into play?

Helene Lawler: Absolutely. That was something that came up in my Sensitive Dogs class because several of the working students were really struggling with play. Their dogs didn't want to play. It's not quite loopy training, because they weren't playing in loops, we didn't approach it by trying to set up play in loops, per se. But having the eye honed to the whispers through the loopy listening, they started to see when the dog was whispering in play, telling them they weren't having a good time.

That was so powerful, really exciting, actually, because there were dogs that would just not play with their people. We started to look at it and video it and watch and say, "Look, when you take that toy, see their whale eye. Notice the stiffness in the body. Look at how long the dog is not bringing the toy back." That opened up the option to question how we play with our dogs.

This is a whole rabbit hole to get into, so I'll just open it and leave it there for people to explore. We, especially in dog sports, have this manual of how you're supposed to play with your dog. I don't know who wrote the manual, but we all seem to have the manual in our heads. You know what I'm talking about — how we're supposed to have total control over them, how they're supposed to out the tug beautifully, how they're supposed to switch between toys and play. Everything is a toy, they play with anything we hand them, we have all these rules around play.

Really, a game is fun when everybody involved is having fun. When the dog is not having fun because our rules are not fun for the dog, they're going to stop playing. They're going to be like, "This is not a game." I always tell my dogs, when one of them gets a little too much for the others, I always tell them, "It's only a game if everybody is having fun." Otherwise it's a dictatorship. My dogs don't listen to me, but my students do. The human students, I mean.

So we need to pay attention to when our dogs are not liking the rules that we've set for play. Learning the whispers that we learned to train our eye to through loopy listening will start to show us, "My dog took two laps of the field with that Frisbee in her mouth before she came back to me. Maybe there's a little bit too much pressure happening here and she's not finding it super-fun," whatever I just did before that happened.

Desiree, for example, who I mentioned earlier, I used to play all sorts of tug with her. She wouldn't let go of the tug. She just wouldn't. If I let go, she'd run off and go lie down under the dog walk or whatever. I finally realized that possession of the toy is hugely important for her. I don't care about the toy, I don't want to tug, so we completely changed how we play. Now our game is she has the toy, and I try to steal it from her and fail, and she thinks that's the most fun game in the world.

I know a lot of people who would be horrified that I let my dog do that, but it's a game and I want her to have fun. I'm having fun because she's having fun, and that's the game we play and it works for us. Because of that, I've got my dog back who wants to play with me all the time now. From there I've been able to bring in a few of my own rules around the training, but 90 percent of the time we play her game and 10 percent of the time we play my game, and that's slowly shifting. It probably maybe will end up being at 60/40, but I let her set the rules.

But I had to pay attention to the whispers she was doing, which was slow release of toy, not bringing it back, and that was getting louder, and then running off and going into the tunnel where I couldn't reach her was a very big shout.

Once we train our eye to see the whispers, and respect them and respond to them, and believe our dogs when they're whispering, then we can apply it to anything we're doing with them, and play is a big one for sure.

Melissa Breau: The workshop on this stuff is right around the corner — Sunday, November 15! Anything else folks should know?

Helene Lawler: Come take the workshop! I think it's so important for people to understand. If you still have questions after listening to this podcast, come join us and ask them in the workshop and give it a try.

What should people know about the workshop or just about loopy listening n general? Video, video, video, because until your eye is trained, and even then, we can't see the subtleties in real time. We have too much going on in our heads and things happen too quickly, so when you have video of your training and you can watch it. I use the Coach's Eye app, which I love, and I throw my videos into that, and you can backwards and forwards and stop and freeze-frame with your finger on the screen, and draw all over it. It's eight dollars or something like that for the app and it's really worth investing in. There may be other apps, too, that do something similar. Video is your friend.

The other thing is that this is a process that evolves over time, so wherever you're at right now is perfect. Don't expect perfection. The goal is not perfection. The goal is the process of the learning process and the conversation you're having with your dog.

We tend to always want to be perfect, and we tend to be critical of ourselves when we're not, and it's important to recognize that we're never going to be able to read our dogs as well as other dogs can read our dogs. So as a human being, give yourself some compassion if you haven't been reading your dog as well as you'd like to. There's a process you can learn to improve that, and it's just going to be an ongoing thing.

Like I said, six months ago I thought I was doing well. Now I see more, I know six months from now I'm going to see more, and two years from now, who knows where I'm going to be. It's just going to be this constant process. It's a journey.

Melissa Breau: The last question I'm asking all my guests lately: What's something that you've learned or something that you've been reminded of recently when it comes to training?

Helene Lawler: Oh, just one thing. So many things. I'm going to throw a couple of things out there.

The first one is, as I've already talked about Juno, my livestock guardian dog, who has shown me that I'm not the clean, precise trainer that I thought I was. I'm very grateful for that and I'm excited about that. I love being shown how I can improve, so I'm really grateful for that.

And I think it's so important to not be critical of ourselves when we discover that there's something we can do better, but embrace it and be excited about it and be curious about it.

As you mentioned before, I do mindset coaching and my number one student is me, and so I work on this all the time. I'm getting much better at getting excited about anytime I see where my dogs are teaching me new things. I think it's super-fun, and that's the best part of training is learning from them. That's something I keep learning over and over again, and I'm so grateful for that.

Melissa Breau: I think it's funny because I think that most often when I ask this question, the answer is almost always whatever topic is most in your corner, people are always learning new lessons about. I talk to Shade and she's like, "I had to learn again about playing with toys and listening to the dog." You talk to Deb and she says something about focus. It's like whatever your area where you're generally seen as an expert, you're also still constantly learning about that. I love that.

Helene Lawler: Absolutely. It's like these never-ending layers that we keep peeling off and learning new things and peeling off and learning new things. Like I said at the beginning of our call, I'm working on this end of the leash as much as I'm working on the other end of the leash, and oh my goodness, I'm mind-blown about things that I'm uncovering with the mindset and the handler mechanics and don't even get me started about balance. We'll have to have a whole other conversation about balance. That's my new exploration.

So the more I learn about my own contribution to the training process, the more excited I get. My thing these days is discovering how much I can improve my training without doing any more training. It's all about working on me, and my dogs just keep getting better and better, the more I work on this end of the leash. It's very exciting.

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

Helene Lawler: Thank you for having me. It's always so much fun to be here.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Laura Waudby to talk about the benefits of training a "Zen Bowl" and how you can use it to reduce reinforcement.

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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