E199: Dante Camacho - Functional Training

International trainer, competitor, and presenter Dante Camacho joined me to talk about introducing clicker training to Brazil, adjusting your training to the dog you have, and to share his story. 


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 Dante Camacho.

Dante is a professional dog trainer and international presenter who has been involved in dog training since 1998. He was one of the first to introduce clicker training in Brazil, where he lives, and has competed and performed internationally in agility and freestyle.

That includes representing Brazil in four FCI Agility World Championships, two European Open competitions, representing Canada as a competitor and as a coach in two European Open competitions and three Americas and Caribbean competitions, as well as a member of Superdogs, a Canadian Freestyle team that performed in both the U.S. and Canada for over a million people every year.

He has competed and titled dogs in dock diving and Raly-O, and in recent years says he's "dabbled" in FCI obedience and scent work.

Today he's also a volunteer at a local zoo in Brazil, where he's working with the administration developing training plans to enrich and benefit the lives of the animals there.

In addition to all of that, Dante is an invited teacher at Rio Preto University, where he teaches dog behavior and training for the post-graduate degree course on Animal Behavior and Well Being, and offers several online courses in Portuguese on his own online learning platform to over a thousand students, ranging from professional dog trainers to committed dog owners.

Hi Dante, welcome to the podcast!

Dante Camacho: Hi Melissa. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to chat with you today.

Dante Camacho: Yes, thank you.

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

Dante Camacho: My own dogs, as I look at them laying here and sleeping, they don't look like they're too excited about training right now. I have four dogs. My youngest dog is turning 9, so my guys are getting up there.

The younger ones, one is almost 9 and the other one is about 11, and we are working mostly on learning some scentwork. That's for them and also for me. I'm getting more and more involved. I really like the idea of scent. It's amazing to me. I get really excited about it.

And also with my younger dog I'm doing some training for FCI obedience. Even though there's not yet any official FCI obedience competitions in Brazil, I just find it very interesting and challenging, so I really like all the exercises and I play quite a bit with her trying to get those.

With my older guys, we don't do much. My oldest one, 13, she's going blind. I've just recently started working on scent with her, which is one of the things she can do, being blind, and she's really excited about it, so that's looking like it's going to be a lot of fun too.

Melissa Breau: There's so many interesting things that I've seen folks do with dogs who are losing their sight in scents, like adding scents to doorways and things like that. There's all sorts of interesting.. quality of life things.

Dante Camacho: It's interesting. One of our dogs is losing its hearing, so with that one it's naturally changing the way we communicate. We're much more visual, we're doing all these huge arm movements to guide the dog to cue. But the one that's going blind, she can hear very well, so we're constantly changing the way we're communicating. Sometimes you're saying something … "Oh no, this one can't hear. "

But I think just the scent, also because of all the benefits of scentwork, is a good thing for a dog that has been active its whole life and likes to learn and is excited about it. It's a good thing to do, especially with these guys that can't see very well anymore. So a lot of things that people can do with dogs that have, let's say, disabilities, but just enhanced abilities, I would say. Her nose is probably working much better now, or much more now, than it was before.

Melissa Breau: To wind back the clock, how did you get started in all this? What landed you in dog training?

Dante Camacho: It's probably what happened to a lot of people in the dog world: it was having a dog that needed to be trained. The dog wasn't even mine. It was a girlfriend's dog. I didn't have a dog at the time, but I hung out a lot with her.

The dog was a young Lab, a 6-month-old black Lab, and I don't have to say much more. I had no idea about training dogs or even about breeds. I didn't know what a black Lab was. I thought it was like a Rottweiler trying to kill me when it came jumping up on me. Through that, we just wanted a dog that we could interact a bit more calmly and walk.

I started looking up stuff in the local Kennel Club and just fell in love with it since the first time I went to a class. It was group class, I didn't agree much with what they were doing, but I thought it was so cool to see all of that, all those people with their dogs, and dogs doing stuff. I got really into it and started researching all I could about dog training.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned you didn't necessarily agree with those methods, and I know you were an early proponent of clicker training there. So next question: Were you always a positive trainer? What got you started on that?

Dante Camacho: I was actually quite lucky, because I wouldn't consider myself a positive trainer right at the beginning. We used treats and we used clickers and all that, and I didn't learn how to forcefully get a dog to do something. I didn't learn how to push a dog's butt and get it to sit, or to lay down forcefully. But we did use spray bottles. Or if you had to teach a dog to walk on leash, you would turn 180 and move the other way, and the dog would get to the end of their leash and not feel very good.

I would say it was a mix, I wouldn't call a balanced trainer, because anything you say today, it seems like any term is sort of charged. But compared to what most people were doing here, I was considered a really positive trainer. But anything we had to teach the dogs, new behaviors, were taught through luring and shaping, so in that sense it was really good. I never learned to use much negative reinforcement to get dogs to do stuff. Eventually I moved away from some of those techniques, but in the beginning they were present. Sometimes it makes me feel bad, but it's an evolution and we move on.

Melissa Breau: We do better once we know better.

Dante Camacho: Yes, exactly.

Melissa Breau: What about these days? How would you describe your training philosophy?

Dante Camacho: I actually have a name for it here in Brazil. I call it functional training. That's basically what I try to spread and also develop. That came from the functional idea of fitness. I was really into it for a while. The whole idea of teaching or learning or practicing behaviors that would help in your everyday life, and not just doing things in dog training because someone said you have to teach that, like sit or down, what is it really that we need our dogs to know in everyday life? That was one thing that I moved towards.

And also understanding that not only teaching behaviors is dog training, but it's seeing the dog as a whole, and so understanding more about how my dog's fitness is important, and how it eats is important for its learning, or the relationships that it has being with me or with other people or other dogs. Whatever happens in a dog's life influences its behavior and its ability to learn. So when I teach, I'm always thinking about all these things at the same time.

It can be a big difficult for people sometimes, especially if you're starting to grasp all these things that you have to think about. But that's my main goal — that people understand that it is a dog, it can only be a dog, but a dog is much more than most people think about right now.

Melissa Breau: I mentioned earlier that you were one of the early adopters of clicker training in Brazil. I'm going to imagine that that came with some tough moments, some incredibly rewarding ones, some good moments, some bad spots. Can you share a little about what it was like?

Dante Camacho: Melissa, you actually made me feel quite old when you said, "when I started training dogs." I won't say how many years ago, but when that happened, it was, in the very beginning, when I was not exposing myself, going to competitions and seeing other trainers, it was fine, because for me, that was all that existed. I didn't know anything else.

But yes, when I started going out and seeing other people train, and "I want to rent this place because I want to train my dog," and "I want to watch all these guys training; maybe I can go and train with them," then you show up with a clicker and a treat bag, most people didn't understand.

But even before they did, or even if you tried to explain, they just thought it was wrong. We have a very macho sort of culture, and it was like a girl's thing to use a clicker. That couldn't possibly work, especially with big dogs, or if you're training obedience and all that. So I just kept quiet because that was all I knew.

As I mentioned before, I was always looking for stuff. The Internet already existed at that time, and I was always looking up stuff and seeing that there were people doing stuff, really cool stuff. They were achieving a lot with these techniques, so I just trusted that that's what I had to do, and ignored the name-calling and all these things that people were doing.

I just kept doing my thing, and it was very rewarding once these same people started asking me to teach them. Not because I was like, "Yes, I knew I was right." I didn't have to do that. I was quite pleased that people were able to step back and, "Maybe there is something in there." I was able to go to those same places and explain to them what was happening and why things were happening that way.

Basically, though, that only happened because of results. You go into a competition and people see a dog who was not doing well eventually do really well. And especially looking at a dog's attitude. At that time, people were not realizing that it had to do with you and your training. It was not just the dog. When they saw that, that made them come after me and look for more information, which made me very happy because I knew a lot of dogs could be helped.

Melissa Breau: You started to go there. My next question was how did you go from the point where you were just learning about clicker training and swimming upstream a little bit against the trends to international agility competitions? That's pretty impressive.

Dante Camacho: It was actually quicker than I thought. I had very good teachers, as far as there were people who were good that were with me. But also I had good dogs that taught me.

My first agility dog was a Scottish Terrier, and that's when I didn't know anything about agility or dog training. So she was a bit of a challenge. She was a great dog, but for me as a trainer at that time, she was a challenge. She had her physical limitations, being a Scotty, to compete, but we got a lot done in agility.

Everything I knew about clicker training I tried with that dog. I tried targeting, I tried obedience, I tried all these things I was learning. She gave me a lot of experience. And then the next dogs I took seemed like they were a little bit easier in some ways. I didn't have to convince them that, "Look, let's play this," instead of just chase stuff.

Eventually I was lucky enough to adopt a dog that the breeder had given up. It was pretty sick, about a year old, and through clicker training and a positive approach to training, that dog was physically capable to run quite well, and through that it started competing. For some reason I was lucky enough — I don't know if people… if they just sucked too much or we were doing really well — we were able to win local competitions and national competitions and qualify for the team.

Once I went abroad to compete and saw the rest of the world, then I told myself, "I'm never going to miss this again. I'm always going to come here," because there's so much learning. It was like a natural process. It took two, maybe three years, from the beginning until I was in the team and I got to go out and compete with my dog. To me, it didn't feel like it was too long. It was just a natural process. And I've certainly felt like it developed as it went along, so that was good.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome, and so fun to hear that story and how you progressed. Props to you for starting with a terrier. What about the freestyle stuff? How did that factor in? This is still the agility piece. You also did all this cool freestyle stuff.

Dante Camacho: It started because after having the Scotty, I decided, "I'm going to have a Border Collie," because everybody has a Border Collie, all these amazing dogs, they're running so fast and doing all these things. But then I got a Border Collie puppy that had distemper, and at about 3-and-a-half months old had a fracture on one of her femurs and had to have surgery. So that wouldn't be my agility dog.

Because of her condition, I had to do a lot of different things with her so that she could recover her mobility and her strength on that leg that she stopped using for almost a year. Because of that I started teaching her to move in different ways. I had to teach her to walk sideways, to walk backwards, to spin, to put her weight in different …

So I naturally progressed to teaching so many tricks, and she was so motivated. She was a great dog in that way. We did so many tricks that I could do them in sequence and to music eventually. I had heard about freestyle, I had heard about Mary Ray, and I said, "My dog can do that. We can do that." That's how I started.

We started showing in dog shows and TV shows, just going out and playing. It was never an intention from the beginning. It was just trying to get this dog to improve physically. It helped her and brought me into this world.

Freestyle, to me, is essential also because of all the aspects and the benefits that it brings. That's why all my dogs who do agility or anything else will always learn freestyle moves and tricks, because I can see how much that can benefit a dog physically and for their confidence.

Melissa Breau: You said in there, "And we started doing TV shows," like training your dog in your back yard and being on TV. There's a gap there.

Dante Camacho: I guess the dog world in Brazil is not as big as in the U.S. I think the universe makes things happen. You meet the right people, things are happening, they see you do something, then suddenly you get a call: "I'm going to this TV show and they want something different and a dog that can do something." "Yeah, no problem." I knew that dog was solid. She was great anywhere we went. I used to say, "If we want to do it underwater, we'll do it underwater," because she always wanted to do something and was always very happy doing it.

There were obviously coincidences. I was actually talking to my nephew yesterday … opportunities will always come. The difference is not having or not opportunities, because they always come to everyone. It's just if you're prepared for them. It happened that I was prepared. I wasn't trying to be, but I was ready. I had what was needed for those situations, so then it all started.

Melissa Breau: You put in the work, and when the opportunities arose, you had what you needed.

Dante Camacho: Yeah, exactly.

Melissa Breau: Part of the reason that I got introduced to you is because you're going to do a webinar for us at FDSA. Super-excited to have you. Your focus is on training the dog you have and adjusting accordingly. I wanted to ask what happened that really taught you that lesson, the importance of tailoring your training to the dog in front of you? Can you share that story?

Dante Camacho: I kind of already started when I told you about the Scotty. I think it still happens today, but it certainly did when I was starting when I started to train dogs that there were training plans, things that you have to do, "This is how you train a dog. If you do this, the dog will respond in this way or that way."

But then you get to a dog and things don't really happen the way you expected. It's either you think there's a problem with the dog or a problem with how you're doing things. That is a very dangerous place because you tend … it's like saying something and someone doesn't understand what you're saying. You just say it louder, expecting that they will suddenly understand what you're saying, but it's not really. It's just how you say it.

Learning that from the very beginning was very important, to understand that it was not just like, "Oh yes, I realize I have to do things different." No. There was a lot of misunderstandings between us along the way. But eventually I realized by looking at my dog — actually looking at her — I realized she was telling things that were so very clear, like, "Don't do things this way. Just do this way and everything will be fine."

These dogs that were different, they were not different. They were just dogs that were not adapting to the general plan is the reason why I realized you just have to adapt to your student. Just like we do to people, we do to dogs. The dog is not going to change. The dog is going to be the same. You can't really do much about that.

But eventually other dogs that were very important to me in the beginning of my career as well, when I worked with sight hounds or toy dogs, all of that helped me see that even changing has to be different for each of them. It's not just there's two ways of training. There's a way of training for each dog. I know that can be scary for some people, but it's the truth.

There's general stuff, guidelines, there are signs that doesn't change because of the dog, but how we apply it, it's a little bit different, and that changes your results. If you're result-oriented, that definitely helps you achieve your results much faster, and makes you happy and your dog as well.

Melissa Breau: We talked about your past. I want to bring us back to the present. You've had this chance to do all these interesting things in the training world. Can you share a little more about what you're doing now, what you're working on, what projects are currently on your plate?

Dante Camacho: I do have a few projects here in Brazil for, as you mentioned, my online training platform we've been doing for maybe two-and-a-half years. We've been increasing the number of courses and trying to reach more and more people. It's been very rewarding for us because we get a lot of very good feedback in a way we feel like we are changing people's lives, and that is something that makes me feel good. It just makes me happy. I guess that's the word I would use.

Here in Brazil, that's what we're trying to work on — increase the number of courses and stuff we do towards teaching people more about our way of approaching training. Being more positive, because even though it's been more than twenty years that clicker training has come to Brazil, the idea of training, the old ways of training, are still pretty ingrained in people's heads. So I know it's work that I know is going to last. We still have a lot of things to do.

Besides that, I normally, before corona, I would go abroad quite a bit and teach overseas. Now, that has changed, so we're working a lot on doing webinars and presenting stuff for either here in Brazil but also different countries around the world. So basically that's what we're doing. Those are our projects as far as work.

But with the dogs, mostly I'm excited about doing obedience in the highest level possible. Even if I'm not looking at competing, I'm driven by the excitement of training. I just love training my dogs and studying more and more about the scent side of things. It's a different world that I'm very grateful the dogs invited me into it.

Melissa Breau: You didn't even mention the zoo stuff.

Dante Camacho: Oh, yes. They're so cute. There's so many babies where we work now. We just had a tapir baby born last week, and the zoo where I work, we get a lot of orphan animals because of contraband, or animals that got hit on the road. There's a lot of fauna here around where I live, so panthers and toucans and all kinds of wolves and all these animals. It's quite interesting.

This has also been very rewarding for me. We've been working on changing the way these animals … many of them that have been living in quite poor conditions for over a decade, and we have been able to simply completely change these animals. You would not even identify "That's the same animal I saw six months ago." It's been really rewarding. It's something that I'm getting deeply involved, but it still and probably won't be … my intention isn't to work or teach or anything like that.

It's something that's really rewarding to me, and I learn a lot and I love to help, but it's something that will always be maybe once or twice a week I'll be doing this every week for the rest of my life, if I can. But right now it's not something that I think this is work. I feel this is a huge opportunity for learning and helping.

That's probably why I didn't say anything, because I don't feel like it's work. It's just such an amazing time. It's like you go on holidays every week. You go there and just enjoy so much being there with all those animals and knowing that you're making a difference in each of them. That's really cool. We work with maybe, right now, eight or nine different species.

Melissa Breau: In addition to the FDSA webinar, you're doing a presentation for us for the Lemonade Conference, and that's mostly tied to the zoo piece, right?

Dante Camacho: Yes, exactly. How training all these zoo animals, how working with them, has helped me understand even more about dog training. Of course dog training has helped me work with them, but definitely what they show me every day has made me a better dog trainer.

Melissa Breau: I've got three questions I usually end the episode with every time I have a new guest on. The first one is what's the dog-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?
Dante Camacho: Dog-related, I believe, is just my rescue Sheltie that I went to Worlds with four times. It's not even about placements or championships or anything like that. It's just what we achieved as far as a team, how far we came to the day that I met that dog that he would look at me and take off running to being with me until 14, when he passed. That is the accomplishment, that whole path.

There are other moments where you're showing yourself off with your dog for 12,000 people and everybody's cheering. This is fun. Placing really high at an international competition — this is fun, it's cool. But I think the biggest one is that process of seeing how we evolved as a team and how life just changed through training, through that friendship, for both of us. I think that is my biggest accomplishment.
Melissa Breau: The next question is what's the best piece of training advice you've ever heard?

Dante Camacho: I don't know who I heard that from, but I recently heard Denise saying that too, and it is — I probably won't say correctly the words — that we should bring training into play and not play into training.

My training has become more and more relationship-based, and that just makes total sense. There's obviously a lot that can mean training, but as a general rule, first fun, first enjoy yourself with your dog. And then bring in the little things that maybe makes sense to you and not so much to your dog at this point. That's the order and not the opposite, which is how I learned first.

Melissa Breau: Last one: Who is somebody else in the dog world that you look up to?

Dante Camacho: There's many trainers that I look up to, and since I've been into competition, dog sports, there's so many amazing trainers and competitors that it's hard to name. You can go online and there's person after person. There's a lot of people that do really well and that I look up to and I admire. But I think that the ones that actually make me think, "Wow, these people — I would love to reach at least a little bit of what they did," are, I would say, the dinosaurs, these people that made such a huge difference for positive training around the world, like Karen Pryor, Ian Dunbar, and Terry Ryan, and all these names that we sort of take for granted that's paved a lot of the way we have today. Today it's easy to find information about training, good information, and definitely these people helped a lot. So my idea, especially here in my country, is to do that kind of work, try to pave the way, make it so that this becomes much easier for everyone.

Melissa Breau: That's quite a mission.

Dante Camacho: Yeah, it is. That's good.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Dante! This has been great.

Dante Camacho: Thank you, Melissa. It's a pleasure. It's an honor to be here, and it's an honor to be with the Academy and share a little bit of what I do. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Thank you. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh to talk about their upcoming webinar on "transports."

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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