E195: Julie Symons, Stacy Barnett, & Melissa Chandler - The New Nosework TEAM Titling Program

On Dec. 8th FDSA will launch a brand new Nosework titling program as part of the TEAM titling options! Today we have Melissa, Julie, and Stacy on to talk about the program and what you can expect!


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 have Stacy Barnett, Melissa Chandler, and Julie Symons here on the podcast to talk about an exciting new addition to the Fenzi Team Titling program — Nosework Titles!

Hi ladies, welcome back to the podcast!

Julie Symons: Hi Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Hi Julie.

Stacy Barnett: Hey Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Hey Stacy.

Stacey Barnett: Hey, how are you doing?

Melissa Breau: Good, how are you?

Melissa Chandler: Hey Melissa, so excited to be here.

Melissa Breau: Hey Melissa. Thrilled to have you guys. To start us out and help listeners figure out whose voice is whose, can you each just say your name and share a little bit about your training background, including maybe who your current dogs are? Stacy, do you want to start?

Stacy Barnett: Yeah, that sounds great. Stacy Barnett, and training background, I've been teaching with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy for quite some time. I love competing, I do a lot of nosework with my dogs, and I currently have five dogs. They're all going to do nosework.

One is only 16 weeks old, but she's really cute. She's a 16-week-old Labrador puppy named Pride. I also have two other Labradors. I have a 3-year-old Labrador named Brava. She's competing at the Elite level in NACSW. I have an 18-month old Labrador named Powder who is competing at the NW3 level, a 9-year-old miniature American Shepherd who is competing at NW3, and a 13-year-old Standard Poodle who is also competing at NW3. So I've got my hands full there, but I love training them and competing and teaching and that sort of thing.

Melissa Breau: Melissa, do you want to go next?

Melissa Chandler: Hi, I'm Melissa, and I've been involved in dog sports and competing since junior high school and I've pretty much done all the things. I have a Vizsla, Bam, and a 1-and-a-half-year-old Weimaraner, Grit. Bam loves to hunt, play parkour, and fitness, and he helps out a lot in my nosework classes, and Grit is currently training in nosework, hunting, agility, and conformation. We've been enjoying our time at home, and we've been hiking and playing parkour and just hanging out at the pond.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Julie?

Julie Symons: Hi. I started dog training back in the 1990s, doing the traditional sports. We had the obedience and tracking. Then I started in flyball, which is a little bit of a different sport. Fast-forward to six years or so ago, I got involved with Fenzi, started teaching, and teach both nosework and obedience.

My older dog — I can't believe Savvy is going to be 13 in February — she's pretty much retired now, and she was my nosework Elite dog. Luckily I was able to get that finished earlier this year. And then my middle dog, Drac, we're focusing on nosework, tracking, and herding. My young dog, Moxie, is 2, and she is so fun and biddable, and we're focusing on agility, nosework, and herding. So they still all keep me really busy and I am amazed at how much there is still to learn, not only within the same sports they've been in, but things are constantly changing and growing, and it's amazing how I think all of our lives have changed because of our dogs.

Melissa Breau: As I mentioned during the intro, we are here today to talk about your brand new Nosework TEAM Titling program. So to start us out, what is it?

Julie Symons: It's basically an opportunity to earn virtual titles, which can showcase the skills and the areas that you'd encounter if you were in an in-person trial. Instead of having to go to a trial in person, you can submit your searches online to earn titles. The acronym for TEAM stands for Training Excellence Assessment Modules, which really describes our goal. We want a progressive-oriented titling program that emphasizes the excellence in training. We just want to ensure that people have a good foundation in the sport of nosework, whether they continue to do online programs or they can get experience before they go out and trial in person. So that's pretty much it in a nutshell.

Stacy Barnett: The other cool part about it is that at the initial level you can do all of this at home. Your dog doesn't need to be searching away from home yet. Later on, you can do those levels where you're searching at the Plus levels. You can start to do those where you're searching away from home, but initially you can do all this at home. So if you have a dog that's a little bit more environmentally sensitive and is happier searching from home, you can get started, you can get out there, you start earning these titles.

Melissa Breau: Why a new titling option? How is the TEAM program similar or different from some of the other options that are out there?

Stacy Barnett: There are a couple of really cool things that are a little bit different with the TEAM program versus what you might experience if you're trialing in a live organization. Part of it is, again, like I just mentioned, you can start to earn these titles at home, and for a lot of dogs, that's really beneficial. And then you can start to take it on the road later on. The other thing is that there's a heavy emphasis on the training aspect, so a lot of the exercises that we have built into the titling program emphasizes really good training. So it's not necessarily just the end product, which you might see if you go to a trial, where they're really testing the end product. We're testing those steps that try to showcase the training and how your dog is progressing.

Julie Symons: The one thing I want to mention is I know you mentioned some of the different programs because there are some online ones you see out there that are a little bit smaller scale and the ones that I know about are more competition-based. It's a short timeframe, so it might run a couple of weeks, where you submit and they give out placements as if it was a remote trial. And exactly what Stacy was saying earlier — ours is intended to be focused on training. There's no end time, you go at your own pace when you're ready to train and submit your videos. That's one of the differences I've seen with some of the other online options that are more like pockets here and there. What we really like about this is it's bringing it to a very similar titling program, but you're able to do it at home and you can submit it online, especially if you can't get out to trials.

Melissa Breau: Can you share a little more on how the Nosework TEAM program is structured?

Melissa Chandler: In Nosework TEAM we currently have three levels available, including a Plus at each level. The Plus level is taking each level on the road. You are training the exercises at home, and then you're taking them to a new location for the Plus. We emphasize a strong focus on foundation, and then each level adds complexity for the team from the previous level. The program is set up to help the team progress in their training and all the different elements as they move through the levels. There are plans to add three more levels, so eventually there will be a total of six levels of titling, and all six will have the Plus option to go through the exercises at home and then away from home.

Julie Symons: One thing we haven't even gone into a little bit more of the detail is that it's structured with the search elements in mind, like interiors and containers and vehicles and exteriors. You're going to see all those same type of search elements and we're going to focus on typical hide placements that we often see, because those are the smart things to train on, things that we know we've been doing nosework for a long time, we've been trialing, so we know what you're going to need to have the skills when you do trial. So we base it a lot on that as well.

Melissa Breau: The program is in conjunction with the Fenzi TEAM Titling program. I'm curious: why the partnership?

Julie Symons: I've been involved with the original TEAM program from the start. I'm one of the judges for that. It was because it was built on the same premise — excellent training, good training, we've mentioned that. It was pretty amazing when we took a look at the website how much we could reuse. Not just because we wanted to reuse it, but it completely applied, like the mission and the structure that Melissa just went over. It was so comparable that it got us all really excited. I remember Denise Fenzi was also realizing it too, just as we started rolling with it. It was like, wow, this fits in so nicely.

Stacy Barnett: Just a quick shout out to our partners in crime over there, Julie and Melissa. As far as partnership goes, you guys have been great to work with and we've had support from some other individuals as well. So when we think about partnership, it's not even just the partnership between the nosework side of it and then the original TEAM, but we brought together all of our different perspectives on this, and that partnership has been pretty special.

Melissa Breau: Looking at the program a little bit deeper, what kind of equipment or training tools do folks need as they work through things?

Melissa Chandler: That's the exciting part. They will not need a lot of extra equipment, mostly just your standard nosework equipment and your basic nosework kit. We do provide an equipment list, so you want to be sure to review and make sure you have all your supplies ready before you start to work on your searches. And make sure you have your props available. Some of those are like a chair or a tote. Of course we talk about doing vehicles, and sometimes we talk about a certain kind of exterior, so you may want to scope out where to do your search. But there are not a lot of additional items that you're going to need. The only thing may be some specific containers, but we do give you a list of options. So we do not require one specific container. We give you options so that you don't have to go out and buy something specifically to do the program.

Melissa Breau: Are there any aspects of the program that you think students might find particularly challenging? If so, I'd love if you could share a tip or two for training those pieces.

Stacy Barnett: There's a little bit of an aspect that we do cover with our TEAM titling program that you're not necessarily going to see laid out in that manner in a lot of the live program organizations. We introduce things like mazes, we introduce deep accessible, things that emphasize problem solving.

The problem solving is going to be critical from the training perspective and to help the dogs as they get more advanced and they start working toward an accessible hide. It reinforces a lot of the sourcing that is related to the problem solving. I think that might be partly where some people might have a little bit more challenge there.

As far as a tip, my suggestion is don't make things too complicated initially. Start a little bit easier, because keep in mind what you might see from a physical perspective, like a physical maze, it may look very simple to you with your eyes, but you want to think about the fact that the dog is following odor. So something that might look very simple, the dog is following odor and it is a little bit more complicated than that.

My suggestion is to start easy and build up your skills. But I think if you look at the exercises that we've laid out in TEAM, it helps to take you through those steps.

Melissa Breau: Julie, anything you can think of that folks might find challenging?

Julie Symons: One obvious thing is perhaps video editing, which we have for any online type of course or programs. They'll have to be able to do their videoing. I do know that even us who provided some of the example videos, there are some exercises that require you to call finish. If you do the whole thing and you don't say "finish," you have to redo it or you're not going to pass.

Stacy Barnett: Good point. So read the directions.

Julie Symons: Read the directions. That's a very good point. I can attest to that with the other TEAM program, that sometimes just a silly thing that we make a handler mistake. Another thing is you're running known hides. It's the honor system. You're running known hides, for the first three levels at least, and you've got to make sure you aren't influencing your dog. We're pretty good at determining that, so the judges will have to make an assessment — don't make the judge think if you're being pretty obvious about where the hide is. I think that might be one thing that's different from a true trial when it's a blind for you.

Melissa Breau: That's a good point.

Julie Symons: The last thing I have, and I could have let Melissa chime in more, is we do have distractors in the various levels. We specify the types of distractors as well as having a toy outside of a box in the search area. I think that's going to be one of the challenges. I don't know, Melissa, if you want to chime in on some tips in training there, because I think that's going to be pretty hard for some dogs.

Melissa Chandler: I was also going to mention that working away from home could be one of the huge challenges. I think a lot of dogs, if they've only worked at home, depending on how they've done their nosework training so far, just always make sure that your dog is ready to search and you have the proper focus.

If your dog can't pay attention to you or can't do a well-known behavior, you do not want to ask them to search. I like doing compression walks and pattern games. You just want to bring down their arousal and increase their confidence and have an overall sense of focus and calm before you ask them to search. If they're not in the right headspace, I know it could be frustrating to drive there and set up your search and then not go through with it. But if your dog's not ready, it will be better overall for your dog, your relationship, and your training program. So that would be my take of one of the challenges and how to handle it.

As far as the distractions and toys, you want to start very low level, so something that your dog will check out but not get stuck on. With toys, you could start with the toys in a container so they cannot retrieve them, or something that is not as exciting to them, and then gradually increase the criteria of the toy. If they get stuck on it, just remove it from the search and keep going. Don't keep pushing it or telling them to leave it or pulling them away. We want it to be their decision to move on. So set them up for success with the level of distractor.

Melissa Breau: I love that. And I like that Julie mentioned the example of videos, because we hadn't touched on those yet, just the fact that as folks go through the rules, that it makes sense to make sure you're watching the example videos and know what it is that the final picture should look like.

Julie Symons: Exactly. We have some really nice example videos already lined up. I want to add one thing to what Melissa said. It was a great point about make sure your dog is ready and able to focus, because I've done some at-home agility trials and I've been a bad dog trainer and I didn't get my clean run.

They do allow you to rerun them, even in the other programs that do online titling in other sports, as well as we know that if you forgot to say finish or something, you're going to redo it. But we ask that you use a brand-new location, because if you move the hide, your dog is potentially going to have … there could be some residual lingering odor left behind.

But you don't want to drill it, because it's going to start affecting your dog's response to the search. So just like Melissa said, if it's not going to happen, pack it up and try another day.

Stacy Barnett: That's a great point, Julie, just from the standpoint that we don't want the dog finding the hide by memory because they've already found the hide before in practice. You want the dog to be using their nose to find the hide, rather than remembering where you placed it, so good point.

Julie Symons: Like I said, it's an honor system, and so we really, truly want you to feel proud of what you set up, that it was a realistic, brand-new search for your dog.

Stacy Barnett: Exactly.

Melissa Chandler: Also, in many of our training programs, we do not want to reward our dog for going back to an already found hide, so you have that coming into play if you rerun the same hide again. It's not worth it for your title.

Melissa Breau: Can you give us a sneak peek at what went into creating the program behind the scenes?

Julie Symons: Spreadsheets, spreadsheets.

Melissa Chandler: Lots of them. Corrections, corrections.

Julie Symons: I was thinking earlier if you could picture the old style of when you'd roll up your piece of paper and throw it away into the trash can. We had talked about this on and off for a few years now. Interestingly, we had thought this was a great opportunity, and then when COVID hit, we turned up the speed on it and we had such a nice framework already to start with because we had already pursued some of it. We referenced the existing TEAM program a lot, which was a huge benefit for getting it done in the time that we did. I just want to thank Denise and the FDSA program for already doing a lot of the work to develop the structure for that.

And another thing that I wanted to share, which I thought was funny was between the three of us to get together for meetings, we all are busy and it was hard to find the time to get together. We had due dates and stuff, but we would find the time and we would stay on the phone another half an hour and talk. We were totally done, so we found more time to talk, and we did that every time. We had to find that one half-hour window, and then we all stayed on. So it was really fun working with the other two.

Melissa Chandler: Like Julie said, it was a lot of spreadsheets and we had a lot of fun doing it. And finding time, and then going through everything, and then getting our Facebook page set up, and then we had our TA's help, so we've had some helpers along the way. And then trying to modify everything as they would find our booboos that we did and get them corrected. So it's been a lot of fun, a fun road.

Stacy Barnett: It really has. It's been so much fun working with everybody on this and seeing something develop and come together. A lot of spreadsheets and trying to stay organized. Organization is not necessarily my forte, so I'm very appreciative that it is other people's strength. It was a blast getting the videos together. I think it came together at a very good time, and I'm looking forward to seeing some videos from people.

Melissa Chandler: I want to add one more thing: a big shout-out to Melissa and Amy, too. We could not have done this without them and all the help with the website.

Julie Symons: Absolutely.

Melissa Chandler: It took us a long time, and in conjunction to what they were doing, so it took us a while and they were speed demons getting everything set up on the website for us. So shout-out to Melissa and Amy.

Julie Symons: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Thank you, and I have to say, most of it was Amy, because she put in a lot of the time behind the scenes to get it all into the site.

Julie Symons: I want to add one more thing that might lead into another topic. When we did create the program, some of the behind the scenes was we definitely had the novice competitor in mind, starting from as if you were going to go to a novice trial. I'm real excited because I know I have local students, people who can't go to trial yet because they don't have their ORT and things are shut down, or teams that have the reactive dog or environmental sensitivities. I'm so excited for them because I think it's going to give them a goal. We made sure to make it very doable, especially at the first level, for a first trial experience. We talked about it a lot and made sure it was enough that you could bite off enough to chew. We weren't were asking them to do so much when they started off, so that it progressed at a more reasonable pace.

Melissa Breau: Big question now: What options are out there for folks who need help learning to do all of this stuff, who either are new to this sport entirely and need to get their feet wet or, specifically with this program, for them to learn the bits and pieces?

Julie Symons: We have a website that we had mentioned already that's very well laid out. They can learn all the information there. And then we have a Facebook group for Fenzi Nosework TEAM players, which is parallel to the other TEAM one. That is open to non-Fenzi participants. You don't have to be a Fenzi student to participate in this program. That's a great place to learn more, submit practice videos before you send it to the program, but basically right now just to get started with the program is the website and joining the Facebook group.

Stacy Barnett: Definitely, and I have a workshop that is scheduled for later in December that is focused on the first level of our Nosework TEAM program. I'm going to be going over the rules, how to get started, some tips and tricks, that kind of thing. You'll have a chance there also be able to practice one of the exercises and get feedback on that. That is available for signup now, and that's another resource as well.

Julie Symons: I think once the program gets up and running, there'll be more opportunities, like maybe webinars and some other workshops that we'll find is going to be beneficial once we see how people are receiving the program and what they're submitting.

Melissa Breau: We haven't actually said where people can go, the name of the website, yet. So where should people go to read all the rules and check out all the stuff?

Julie Symons: It's FenziTeamNosework.com.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Finally, since FDSA registration is currently open, I thought we'd wrap things up by giving you each a minute to talk about what you're currently teaching this term. Melissa, do you want to start?

Melissa Chandler: I'm just teaching my class this session, and I'm teaching Nosework 120M, which is the second class in our core series. This class is where we add the sexy to our nosework skills by introducing all the elements. These include more interior searches, exteriors, vehicles, and buried hides, including water and sand. We also start adding more distractions to containers and continue working on distractors in the interior. I find exteriors and vehicles to be a little more challenging as we start working outside, as we talked about previously, where we cannot control all the distractions. I enjoy covering many different ways to help your dog focus and get ready for their search, and a lot of this we do through pattern games, start buttons, and even cover some loopy nosework.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Stacy, do you want to go next?

Stacy Barnett: I'm teaching three classes this term. The first one is NW170, which is Building Blocks Before Odor. It is a class where we teach the dogs to search for food rather than odor, and this makes sense for a lot of dogs. A lot of puppies, for instance, it's great for puppies to build that hunt drive, or if you have dogs that may need a little bit more confidence or a little bit more independence, maybe you have a dog that's naturally handler-focused. All of these dogs benefit from this type of approach. I also cover a lot of things like scent theory, handling, how odor moves, how to read your dog, things that will come in really handy in later classes.

My second class that I'm teaching is NW270, which is Foundations, Foundations, Foundations. Even though that sounds like a really basic class, it's really not, because what we're doing is we're getting into the pieces that bring all of our skills together and make a rock-solid nosework dog for the future, and that helps you understand what are the foundations. So when people say, "Go back to foundations," you have a sense for what that means. It's great for dogs who are already searching on odor and want to get solid performances. It's also good for more advanced dogs who may be having some problems, and it helps them with diagnostics to address any issues that are coming up.

The third class I'm teaching is NW290, which is just plain killer nosework skills and setups. That's an advanced class. When I mean advanced, I mean it's taking it beyond... we end the term with suspended hides. So we have that, we've got blowing odor, we've got pooling odor, we've got handling arousal and containers. There's a whole lot of different skills. Each week we go through a different skill and we really get in-depth into it and start to develop those skill sets, which are critical for the higher levels.

Melissa Breau: Julie?

Julie Symons: I am teaching Nosework 101J, which in general it's a good time of year for people when winter comes. It's a great class to take to work from home, but it's also a great place to start nosework if you haven't, and especially if you're interested in this nosework titling program. I think we're going to see, as we are with other sports, online titling options are the rage right now, so that's a great place to get started.

I'm also teaching Nosework 180, which is Developing Scent-sational Skills For Competition. A lot of it is talking about your handler role, your handling, your mental game, and basically some of the things you're going to expect that could happen at a trial. But there's definitely skill-based and exercises that we go over that are going to prepare you for the types of challenges for early trialing teams.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thanks so much, ladies, for coming on the podcast!

Julie Symons: You're welcome. It was fun.

Stacy Barnett: This was fun. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week. 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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