E208: Denise Fenzi - "The High Drive Dog"

Denise has a new project... and that means some changes for FDSA and some exciting plans for the future. We got on a call to talk about it.


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 Denise Fenzi.

Denise Fenzi is FDSA's founder. She has competed in a wide range of dog sports, titling dogs in obedience, tracking, schutzhund, mondioring, herding, conformation, and agility. She is best known for her flashy and precise obedience work – as demonstrated by two AKC OTCH dogs and perfect scores in both schutzhund and mondioring sport obedience.

Her specialty is in developing motivation, focus, and relationship in competition dogs and she consistently has demonstrated the ability to train and compete with dogs using motivational methods in sports where compulsion is the norm.

Hi Denise, welcome back to the podcast!

Denise Fenzi: Hey Melissa. How are you?

Melissa Breau: Good. Excited to talk today.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you. I always like hearing that introduction. It's so nice. It's like, oh, this is so nice. Just keep saying good things about me. Thank you.

Melissa Breau: Anytime. Listeners are probably pretty familiar with Lyra and Brito, but we haven't had a chance to talk much about Dice. To start us off, do you want to tell us a little about what you're up to with him?

Denise Fenzi: Dice is a pain in the butt. I've had so many ups and downs with this pumpkin. I remember talking to someone — it's Kamal, I can tell you because you know him — and he reminds me regularly that the ones who give you the most grief end up being the best dogs. By that standard, this dog should do some serious butt-kicking someday because he has given me a lot of grief. But Kamal is right, and I can see how so many of the challenges that he brings to the table are a function of what an excellent dog he is. But when you're in it, sometimes it gets old.

I think to say he's an adrenaline junkie would be exceptionally accurate. He loves to work, he loves to move, and he loves arousal. Him loving to work is my dream because I love to work too, so that's a match made in heaven. Where things get exciting is the arousal piece and the movement piece, because the world is, from his point of view, his oyster. It is filled with triggers that he loves to engage with — cars, birds, all animals, dogs, people. It's everything, and so there's no resting with this one. I'm always paying attention, I'm always thinking, I've completely rearranged my life so I can get him places and get him out on a schedule that works for him.

I love the dog to bits. He's got me on my toes. I'm in the process of doing a project, and so I'm looking at a lot of his old videos, and in some ways it's so cool to see what a gift he is, how talented, and how much he likes to do the things he does.

But then I'm also reading some of my write-ups, the things I say, and a person reading it would think I wasn't quite stable, because how can my morning session I'm saying, "This is the most amazing dog on the planet," and then that night, the same day, I'm saying, "I don't think we're ever going to make it." How can I be so extreme in my emotions in relation to this dog? It's because he is in some ways the best and the worst because he's so much. He's just so much of everything. There's no small reactions in his life.

He's probably a fantastic example of the expression "You get the dog you needed." Now if you had asked me, I would have said, "No, I don't need to work this hard." But the progress I'm able to make, the things I'm learning, like the other day I realized I was starting to have an epiphany around certain patterns of behavior, and then I want to share those with people and I do. I share them a lot on Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, and I talk so much about his behaviors and relationships. I'm wrong all the time. I'll think I have something, and a few days later I'll see something that makes me back up and go, "No, no, that wasn't right."

But the amount of thought, it's really a candy land for a person like me, because a lot of people consider themselves, let's say, a science geek, they really love to read about behavior and all. I'm an applied dog training geek, so for me, it's the same mental twisting. I love to do that. I love the analysis and the twisting and the thinking and the complexity, but I like it over what I'm looking at, what's actually happening in front of me, and this dog is truly a candy store because it's so complex to try to understand him. But it's my adrenalin, too, so in some ways that's a perfect match.

So that's Dice, an exceptionally talented dog with huge over-arousal issues and a very short fuse. And so it will be what it will be. I'm going to make the best out of this dog, and it's going to be a process.

Melissa Breau: You've got a new project involving him. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, I do. I've been running FDSA for I guess seven years, eight years now, a long time. I love the school. I love so many things about what I did there, and what the school is, and what it represents in the positive reinforcement community. I also have a short attention span, and what I truly love doing is vision. That is my personal strength is vision and direction, and I still do quite a lot of that.

But I was finding myself spending more time on operational matters, the day-to-day act of running the school, getting more involved, and having a lot less fun with that because that is not where my heart lies. I am a vision person, I am a culture setter, and those things are done. And so I made a decision to resign from the active operations of the school, and that's what I've done.

I am not running the school anymore. I am still in charge of the direction of the school, and I love that and will still be quite involved with that. Instead, this opens up some free time for me because I'm always thinking about where I want to go next.

What I want to do is focus on dogs like Dice, high arousal dogs. The High Drive Dog is the name of the business. I don't think it will be a school. It will be a subscription service. It will be based very, very heavily on the videos I took of Dice growing up, because I took a lot of them. His whole process from the time he was 8 weeks of age, many of them took place on Facebook Live.

What I am doing is compiling all of those. I'm putting it through a very sophisticated app that will go through and tag all of the videos for what I did in that video. If you want to train a dog and follow along, what you would do — whether you have an 8-week-old or an adult, it really doesn't matter — you would start at the beginning and use it as a foundation program and what did I do.

The one thing I'm noticing as I'm going through these videos is how much I do processions. My average session covers at least ten skills, and I did this from the time he was 8 weeks of age, so that right there is different from how most people train a dog. You might look at that and say, "Oh, wow, that's a fast-paced session," so can you mimic that fast-paced session.

The purpose of the subscription program is to give people access to the entire library of videos unedited, because I think that's really important for you to see. What do I do when he leaves training? How did I get to the point where I could have toys all over the place? What were the steps? What happened? How did I manage that? I was looking at one today as I was walking off the field, saying, "That was not our best session." What happened that caused that reaction?

What I'm hoping is that people will use this for several things. One, because of how they're tagged, you could pick a topic, like heeling. You could search and find them in order, see the parts of the videos that address heeling, and how did I do it. I'm at Week 22, if anyone's curious; we started at Week 8. I'm realizing it took from about Week 8 to about Week 18, and then I had something that looked a whole lot like pretty heeling, but it was almost like a switch. So for ten weeks I just worked and worked, a little bit here, a little bit there. I want people to see that process. I want them to settle in. I want them to recognize that it's not an overnight thing. I want them to have access to all of the errors. I want them to see how do I celebrate, how do I develop relationship, how do I develop impulse control and skills, and what is arousal control, because it's not something I do. It's the whole thing. It's the whole package.

From the day he showed up, from the day he was 8 weeks old, trying to get the cookies off a low table in my living room, and I removed him from that table for five minutes, "You're not going to get on my table, you're not going to get on my table." And now he doesn't get on my table. So showing people that real-time thing I think is a big deal.

I want people, especially the high drive dogs, the high arousal dogs, because there is absolutely a belief that you can do positive reinforcement with the low drive dogs and the dogs don't care, but you can't do it with a powerful dog. I can tell you: you can do it with a powerful dog, and indeed in my opinion it's actually easier, but that's a story for a different day. So I would like to in particular target and attract the audience of people who is curious about learning.

Now I don't give a damn how you train a dog. I don't care if you're a positive reinforcement trainer, I don't care if you're a balanced trainer, I don't care if you don't label yourself at all. I don't even care how you feel about people who do things differently than you. What I'm going to do is provide you with information and education.

You can pick and choose, you can use all of it, you can use none of it. You can walk away saying, "That worked for her one dog because he's a 58-pound male Tervuren at 13 months of age." I have heard that story many, many times, so I don't go there anymore. Take what works for you, walk away from the rest.

I am super-committed at this point in my life. I have historically said, "I preach to the choir. The church doors are open." I've been saying that for years. I do not go out and try to bring people in. I simply have provided a place, and that's FDSA, where people can come and hear what I have to say, and they can hear what many, many fantastic instructors from around the world have to say.

It's not just me. FDSA is certainly founded on my beliefs, but many things are taught that actually I'm not aligned with. I'm not against them, but they're not my ideas, and that's fine, because I think that's how we all learn. We bring in different perspectives. The only real ground rule is "Kind and effective." That's my base.

So FDSA has been the church for a long time, and it's not going to change. It is a positive reinforcement place. I think it's super-important that people have a bubble; that is the bubble for people who are force-free trainers, and I want them to have that.

At the same time, I don't know if this is an acceptable expression or not, but I think I've picked all the low-hanging fruit. What I mean is I feel like it's there, and people who are well and truly vested in my approach to training, they know about the school. Now I want to leave the church and go out in the world and say, I'm not going to drag anybody in the door, and I'm not going to shove my ideas down anyone's throat. But I feel like it's time that I do a better job at letting people know, who might not train like me, that if they're curious, I'd like to help them. If they want to know different things, I'm there and available.

I am not judgmental. I will not get on you about the equipment on your dog. This is hard for people to understand, but I almost don't have an opinion about it, and the reason is I am a crossover trainer, and I was not a bad person in the days before, when I didn't train the way I train now. I still loved my dogs, and I think I was still a pretty decent little soul, so I'm no more judgmental of others.

I see it as a path, as a journey. You may or may not ever get on my path, and that's okay. Your life is not mine. You do not have to be me. I can like you just fine and we can have really different ideas. But if you're curious and you want to learn something, I'm going to make that possible, and that is why I'm starting this new program.

I want balanced trainers and force-free trainers to have a place where they can talk, and I will enforce respect. That is always the thing for me. It's true everywhere. The difference at FDSA, I say out of respect for force-free trainers and the goals of this organization, I'm going to ask that we not talk about your alternative choices. I don't care what you do, but we're not going to talk about them.

I think this place, this program, is going to be a little more open, a little more willing to engage in the conversations. That's my goal. I'm scared to death about how I'm going to do that, because I know how emotional the topic is for so many.

I know that a few people can truly poison an environment for the whole thing, and I have not yet decided how I'm going to address that or make that work. I'm thinking a lot, but my goal is very much to not accept balanced trainers but to welcome them, and it's not the same. And I need to find a way to encourage people to join who have that accepting point of view. I have my work cut out for me, and that's okay. I like a good challenge. So that's what the program is.

I would like to develop a super-strong community there. Just like at FDSA, we all have our passions. My passion is education, and my passion is affordable education for those who want to learn. I cannot solve people's time problems, I cannot solve their coordination problems, but if they have money problems, I can do a lot for that.

FDSA has always been super-inexpensive, has always had scholarships. This new program will also be super-inexpensive and will also have scholarships, to the point where I'm very confident that nobody can say, "I couldn't do it because I couldn't afford it." It's going to be that inexpensive. That absolutely should not even be on the radar. If somebody truly cannot come up with it, then they should just talk to me, because I'm really going to work at that. This is important to me. I want to reach some new folks now.

So that is … my God, I don't even remember what the initial question was. I hope I hit it, because I certainly …

Melissa Breau: You hit that one and another one or two on the list!

Denise Fenzi: Well, most excellent! I'm just all over. I haven't figured out all the details, but it's in process. We're working on it. I've got a super, super person helping me out, so I'm running with it. That's where I'm at.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned a whole bunch of pieces in there, so I want to go back and touch on each of them a little bit quicker. You mentioned that you're stepping away from the work at FDSA and so you have time for this new project. Is there anything else behind the scenes that you want to share, like who's stepping up, or what some of the bits and pieces are?

Denise Fenzi: For sure other people have to take on my work and do some stuff, so Teri Martin is pretty much in charge of operations now, and we do have some special projects in the works. There's always something going on at FDSA, that won't stop. So she's taking that on. Amy Miller is really stepping up and picking up a lot more of what was Teri's work, so of course there's rearranging. You, Melissa, of course, do some stuff. We are also bringing on a couple of other people to do some jobs on the side as well to make sure it all gets done.

We are going to a lot of trouble to keep our Help Desk covered as much as possible, so we have people in the United States, Canada, and Australia. That's intentional. We don't want you to have to wait a long time. We tell you you might have to wait a day, but you probably won't. We're really trying to prioritize that so that people get their needs met when they're frustrated and can't get into something and they need a little help.

Melissa Breau: You also touched on this idea of keeping FDSA as the church or the bubble. You used a couple of analogies in there, and they're all helpful, I think, in understanding what we're going for. But why a totally new thing? Why outside of the school entirely for this new program?

Denise Fenzi: FDSA, when I say a bubble, I mean it is a safe place where force-free trainers can go and share their saddest moments and their greatest frustrations and be very vulnerable. I think to do that you need to be absolutely convinced that you are with relatively like-minded people and you trust that community, and you don't feel like you're going to be made fun of or judged on a low level.

I just feel so strongly that everyone needs a safe space. I don't think it's fair to the people who have supported me for a really long time, and the community who has supported me, to change that. If I start allowing conversations that might include aversive tools that make some people not just a little upset … there are people out there who are extremely fragile around matters of what they call dog abuse. Now I use that word intentionally because that is where they're coming from. They feel so strongly.

So for me to bring in "dog abusers," in my opinion, with people who come in with such strong feelings, and maybe some personal history and their own life experiences make them so responsive and reactive to anything to do with pain, aggression, fear, then I'm not going to do that. I think that's wrong. So that needs to take place in a new place, and then people can opt into the new place, if that is of interest to them. I can't put my personal direction and goals on other people. That is their choice. And so that bubble will remain intact.

Melissa Breau: You talked quite a bit earlier about your approach and how you feel about outreach to that balanced crowd. Is there anything else you want to add to that? I feel like you covered it pretty well, but …

Denise Fenzi: I have a dog of a breed and a line, lineage, that is traditionally trained with a fair bit of compulsion. That means I am spending a lot of my time now with people who use a fair bit of compulsion and that's okay. I will model to the best of my ability what I can do. I will share my successes and failures. I guarantee there will be failures. That's the way it is, and I'm okay with that.

I need those people on my team. I need their help. You cannot succeed in sports like mondioring if you don't have a community, and I am building my community there. I like my community, I like the people, and I have no desire to be a part of them or to judge them.

Actually I saw something yesterday, it was cool, it was a cool thing a person was doing with their dog. It was a balanced trainer, but I liked that cool thing. I took that cool thing, I did it with my dog, I put it on Instagram, TikTok, and I tagged him, because that's where I got the inspiration for it. So I tagged a well-known balanced trainer and that's okay.

It's okay to give credit to someone, because I'm taking and learning from them what they have to offer me, and I am hoping that they will take what I have to offer them and they will learn from it. That is how things get better, and that is where dog training should go.

I've even said I almost wish there was a third possibility, so you got balanced, you got force-free, and what I want is middle ground, where you can do whatever you want that you believe in, but you're not locked in where you have this automatic negative response when somebody says they're on the other head of the fence. They could be doing the coolest thing you've ever seen, and you immediately scroll past because they're on the other side of the fence.

That is where we're at right now in the dog-training world. It doesn't matter what anybody says. If you're the wrong side of the fence, I will not see, hear, or listen. I will not look at what you've done and distill it and say, "I could do that exact same exercise, I could remove the compulsion at that mark, I could add my toy at that mark, and I can have that same behavior." That's where I want us to be thinking going forward.

Can we get there? I don't know. I have worked really hard on my Facebook feed to develop my wall to be the kinds of people who can hear and think and listen and talk like this. I actually love my Facebook wall. I feel like I have that. I'm working to get it on Instagram. I'm working to get it on TikTok.

Let me tell you, TikTok is no joke. I have never seen so many trolls in my entire life, but that's okay. I'm in the process of eliminating the trolls. I just go through and delete them. I take the people who can't stay on point, and I'm very kind, but I know I won't give them the kind of fight they're looking for, so they leave. The goal is over time not to have the biggest following on TikTok, which is by the way impossible — people have millions; I'm blown away. The goal is to have the right following, and that following right now probably errs toward the balanced community and that's absolutely fine.

What I've noticed and I've already seen it — I've only been there two weeks — I have already seen some force-free trainers who are following me change the way they are posting. They are starting to post, "Hey, reaching out to the balanced trainers. Thanks for doing some work with us. If you've got any questions, reach out and ask me." I'm singing inside when I see that, because I'm thinking of one person in particular who was doing something a little different a couple of weeks ago.

So to see that changed focus to we can do this, we can do this together, but it requires that we shut up a little bit more. We need to listen. We need to listen until we understand. If you cannot argue another point of view as well as they can argue it, you need to shut up, listen more, talk less. Now when you can argue their point as well as they can or better … I could out-argue a balanced trainer for their own perspective. Once you can do that, now you might have something to add to the conversation. That is where I want to go, and that's actually how I'm using TikTok.

And once again I took your simple question, I ran …

Melissa Breau: Not a topic you're passionate about at all at the moment.

Denise Fenzi: No, no. Most people know you just turn me on and I'll just go. I'll go on forever.

Melissa Breau: Totally fine. The new project is specifically focused on high drive dogs. You named it The High Drive Dogs. Why that? Why specifically that type of dog?

Denise Fenzi: The irony is good training is good training. The way I train my dog works for all dogs, it doesn't actually matter. The reason I'm focusing on the high drive dogs is that their general challenge areas are around impulse control and getting toys back, whereas the more moderate community, their problem is getting the dog to want the toy, so you're coming into the same party, but you're coming in from different doors.

I don't want to spend the time on building drive, building motivation. I want to do the other side. Not because it's better or worse, and not because one kind of dog can compete and the other cannot. That's absolutely not true at all. It's just that I've done a lot of that other side — how to create engagement in a dog who's more interested in the world than in you, how to build up toy play, how to build up personal play. It's just different, it's just a change of scenery, but the actual techniques of training a dog do not really vary.

For example, in the videos what you'll notice is a very high percentage of the work, I would say at this point 90 to 95 percent of Dice's work, is done for a tug toy or a ball. People who use a lot of food in training would be asking questions like, "How do you do that with food?" Stop and think about this for a second, because the vast majority of what we do at FDSA, do you know what the toy and tug people say? "How do we do that with a toy?" Because everything is shown with food, because food tends to be … let's call it the lowest common denominator, because most dogs have food interest.

But it is a little bit different. Not a lot different. What I tell people is you just substitute the toy for the food. But that's unfair and simplistic. It's not quite that simple, because what do you do when the dog won't give it back? So the area of emphasis will change to address what I would say is the primary concerns and drivers of the high drive side, rather than the "How do you build the dog up?" side, but the actual training is the same.

Somebody asked me, I should address this, I will not be teaching balanced techniques because I don't use them, so I'm not going to start. But I certainly understand the issues, and so that will be the focal point. But my goodness, if you have a low drive dog and you just want to watch good training, and pick and choose what's working for you, and just understand that you'll be using food, I'd love to have you. I just want you to understand that what you'll see around you might feel a little different.

Melissa Breau: Do you want to talk any more about the content, what you're including, how things are going to be structured? I know you've been spending a lot of time going through videos.

Denise Fenzi: My current structure, it's an umbrella program that has classes underneath it. You subscribe to the program, and underneath it are let's say six classes, and each class covers about six weeks of his life.

I'm trying to decide this, so what I think I'm probably going to do is focus on that first six weeks, spread it out to twelve weeks because not everyone has the time I have, or the desire, to commit to training, and then for two weeks focus on the first week's worth of material, for two weeks focus on the next week.

People can ask me questions during that period of time about the videos, or actually really anything, and then I'll probably respond a couple of times a week by video because it's hard for me to type that much. So anybody can ask the questions. I'll just compile them, and then on Monday I'll say, "We're going to spend the next hour talking about these seven questions that came in and what our thinking might be." And then separately there will be a community forum.

I think I'm going to spend most of my time actively working with people in that first six-week period, because it's very much foundation. One could argue it's an obedience and biting sports foundation, but frankly the things about toy play — working with toys, working with toys on the ground, switching toys, basics of impulse control, developing relationship — I think these are all sports things.

I know what's going to happen. Some people are going to say, "You did that in heel position. How does that apply to agility?" Well, agility has a lineup, so it's the same. It's not as different as people think it is. I think foundations cross a lot of sports. That's why we did the TEAM program. As a matter of fact, I would say now, if I had to guess, Dice is probably around TEAM 3, if I just went through. I haven't, but it covers the skills up until about TEAM 3 because those are used for all sports, not one sport.

I think a person who's competing for obedience anywhere in the world would be getting one hell of a deal with this program because I train foundation for all sports. Like, he knows his out of motion exercises even though I'll never use them, because I have no interest in doing IGP. I'm teaching him stuff for utility, even AKC, which I don't particularly plan on doing. I just do that. It's my habit to teach a bunch of things. So I would say obedience people will like it a lot. People who are doing mondioring, ring sport, or IGP are going to get quite a bit out of it.

The part where I guide, I'm still deciding. I'm still deciding if I'm going to, after two year, work my way through absolutely everything with people. I feel like the biggest bang for your buck is the first six months I work with him, when I'm really working more individual skills in the beginnings of behavior chains. After that, it's just more tiny refinements. You look at one April 1st and then you look on May 1st and you go, "Oh wow, that's much better." But then you realize there's thirty days in April, so you can go back and watch all of them, or you could just target each one and say, "I want to see the heeling on April 1st, April 2nd, April 5th," if I skipped a couple of days. That's training. It's a little bit of watching paint dry, if you actually want to watch every session, but the progress is happening.

In terms of targeting, anyone who just wants a super-solid foundation on a dog is probably going to do all right. Anyone with any kind of dog who wants to learn basic obedience skills, if you want to know how did I teach heeling, it's all in there. How did I teach the dog to do contact heeling on the right and formal heeling on the left? How did I teach middle? How did I teach fronts? How did I get that platform and how did I get rid of it? What do I do with my cones? Do I use a Pet Tutor? How do I use it?

Also just the nature of how I train. I tend to do something for a few weeks, get bored, move on. It will disappear and you'll go, "Wait, she's back to doing 'stand for exam.'" Right now that's what I'm working on in real life. He's 13 months old and I'm working on "stand for exam." I haven't worked on it since he was 5 months old, and then I worked on it when he was 2 months old. If you watch over time, you see how things pull together.

So it's a hard question for me, who will benefit. The thing that people probably say the most to me as they watch Facebook Live — actually, Melissa, I think you've said this — the thing I do which is completely different than what most people are familiar with is the pace, the flow, and the sheer quantity of things I do in a super-short period of time. Nothing stops moving.

Melissa Breau: The structure is super-unique, just the way you structure sessions.

Denise Fenzi: I go out to the session with usually three things in my head, but while I'm out there, it's moving, moving, moving, and I really think that's a soaking-in thing. When people watch it and watch it and watch it and watch it, they start to soak it in. What I say to them is, "Don't try to do twenty minutes of it. Can you do one minute?" Go out there and do one minute, and duplicate as much as you can. What did I do? You'll be a little frantic at first and that's okay. Try to settle into that.

That, probably more than any technique, is the thing I think would benefit especially the force-free community more than anything, because that's how you get off the classic reinforcers. That's how you get off the food and the toys. You make the work so intrinsically interesting that that becomes the dopamine rush.

I've made some changes in Dice's work to work on arousal stuff. In the last two days I have cut his reinforcement schedule by about two-thirds. I've done this in two days. It is a non-issue. I mean it's truly a non-issue, and I did it because I was trying to lower the value of the work, so how's that for different, right? I need him to be less excited about for working for me, and it's such a joy for me to realize we are working for a minute with high-end precision work, throwing in formal scent discrimination, which by the way I'd never done. I was like, "I guess he knows it. He knows how to get it, he knows the cue, and he knows front," so I did it. There it is. I did it yesterday, and he does know it.

Took it and then move on. How can we get back to work without stopping, without interrupting that flow? That is something you learn by soaking it in. You've got to watch a lot of video, and that's a hard thing because time is such a valuable thing for people. You can't watch it all, but the more you watch, the more you will soak that feeling in of flow and movement and joy in that work.

And not fixating. When things go badly, what you'll usually see me do is roll my eyes, shake my head, and walk away. I might walk away for a month, I might walk away for six months, I might come back in an hour because I just can't walk away. But the thing is you have options. There's no "Oh no, you've got to work through this." That's not true. And there's no "We have to break it down more." Yeah, you could, but you don't have to. Sometimes you just need to walk away and you'll realize, "I didn't do this very well."

Once again, I think I took your question and ran it all over the planet. I apologize. What's next?

Melissa Breau: I think you did a good job with it. The original question was about what's going to be in the program, and I think people definitely have a good sense of that now, how you're going to approach things and what's going to be there.

I know in real life one of the things that you are working on with Dice you mentioned a couple of times is his arousal stuff, his behavior stuff, his feelings around people and dogs and cars. Do you want to give us a little bit of a sneak peek, a little bit of info on what that is, what you're doing with him, and how much of it is going to make it into the new program?

Denise Fenzi: The behavior stuff is not going to make it into the program in quantity, simply because I'm not videotaping, I'm training. In public with him I only have so many hands and so many brain cells, and he uses up all of them — both hands and every brain cell.

There were occasions when I did take video and I walked with him and I did tape it and often I narrated what I was doing there. I'll turn those in because people have indicated an interest in it.

I will say if you're interested in those topics, please follow me on Facebook, because that is where I … again, education is everything. I put as much as I can out. This morning I spent two hours chopping up a forty-minute video, adding subtitles, and putting it on YouTube. As best I could, I edited so that people have the information. How do I handle it when he's having a meltdown? What happens if I get further away? What happens if I get closer? What happens if I throw food on the ground versus handing it to him?

I'm more than happy to talk about these things in the new program in the community forums, but what you're not going to get is tons and tons of video of me working through it step by step, just because it doesn't exist. I am more than happy, though, to chat with people about it.

What's so interesting about dogs that have some behavior stuff, especially around arousal and reactivity, there are a lot of reasons for it and there are a lot of solutions. I recognized that his issue was arousal from the beginning. I've known that for months, that everything is about containing arousal, but it's not like you can just contain arousal. It's not like you can say, "Well then just keep him calm." You just can't do that. That's like saying you have a 4-year-old who's insane and zipping and zooming and "I'll just keep him calm." How are you going to do that? Tie him to a chair? You can't make that decision for another. You have to work with what they bring to the table.

Dice must move and he must express arousal because that is his joy. So I've got myself a heroin addict, and I have to figure out how to wean him off so that he's not so hysterical that he needs those little doses. Can we work our way down? You always have to start where the dog's at. If you're at a nine, I can't come in at a one, because he'll blow me off. I have to come in at an eight, and I'm trying to get that to a seven and then a six.

But you have to start where your learner is at, and that's kind of tricky. So I'm looking at things like movement. For this dog, movement skyrockets his arousal. Here's an interesting question: How do you stop the dog from moving when moving is linked to arousal, when stopping his movement sparks opposition reflex, and opposition reflex sparks aggression? To me, there's a fascinating applied dog-training question. I like it better when it's not my dog, but it happens to be my dog. It's more fun when it's your dog and I'm like, "Wow, that's really interesting." I'm like, "This is my dog. This really sucks."

But you take that and you think, "How can I just get a little bit of movement? What happens if I tighten the leash to stop the forward movement, and then loosen it immediately and put a cookie in front of him?" You're playing and you're massaging behavior and you're seeing what you get, and you run down a lot of blind alleys. You think you have the golden ticket, and you did not have the golden ticket. But that's okay because you come back to the game because I'm a dog trainer and you try again.

He is getting better. This morning I took a video. He's in the car and he's eating and two fire trucks go by. If you didn't know that he had an issue with cars, you would not have known that that was a small miracle. He did not react to either fire truck. I'm not joking — that's a miracle. That thing went by with lights flashing, and yelling, and my dog was fine. So I look at that and I say, "That only took nine months. What's next up?"

Birds. Birds are huge. This morning birds were a thing. Dogs. Dogs are big. People. He's come so far with people. He mostly accepts them. He gives them a good look, and they can't pet him, but that's okay. I don't need him to be okay with that. I need him to be okay with the presence of people, like furniture. There he's made so much progress, I'm not even really worried about that. But days like today I go, "That's pretty good."

Anyway, that's why the behavior stuff will be more conversation, less video. I'll do my best. I'll take it when I can. I did set up my tripod today, so I did take it. I set up my tripod a week ago in a different location and I'm giving you that. I'll put it out there, but you don't have to join the program for that, because anything I do that way I also put on Facebook, I often put on YouTube, and I might put a real short clip on TikTok.

I still use Instagram to look good. I mean, we all have to have somewhere to go where we look good, so there I mostly put up clips of me looking really good and my dog looking … "God, look at that dog! He looks amazing!" That's editing. Editing is your friend. So my IG stuff tends to be heavily edited, and then I just look really good. Facebook not so much.

Melissa Breau: That's funny. It may be too early for this question, but do you have a guess at when the new program is going to launch? When people can throw their money at you?

Denise Fenzi: That's a great question. I don't. I would really have to talk to, Alla, who I'm working with, about that. She's getting the little website set up for me and she's doing honestly some of the heavy lifting, because every single video needs to be run through a transcription program, and that's very, very time-consuming, and tagged, and the tags have to be applied. It's not going to be a simple project and I'm not going to rush her.

I've really thought about this program. I want it done well, I want this done right, I want this to be exceptionally usable. The only way I could think to do that is to make it searchable library, and the only way to do that is to manually go through hours and hours of video. I would say an average week I have one hour of video, so divide it up over a ten-minute session a day, one hour of video when running it through transcription and adding tags is several hours per hour of video.

My guess is the program will open when we have about six weeks done. I won't do the whole thing before I open it. I'll open it and it will just be in process and you'll be seeing the new stuff as it comes on and that will work. I think six weeks' worth is a reasonable one classroom. I'm calling it kindergarten, so the first level is kindergarten, then you have elementary school, and then you have early middle school and late middle school and high school. It covers about thirty-six weeks, I guess, because he came at eight weeks and is about one year.

So I don't know. I would love to see it going by early summer, but again, I want this done right, so I'd rather be a little slower. I want to impress people. I want them to come in and go, "Damn! This is amazing! I can find what I need." That's what I want, and that might take a little time.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Where should folks go in the meantime to follow you, hear more about the program when it launches, and make sure they don't miss the big announcement?

Denise Fenzi: The website is TheHighDriveDog.com, and right now that redirects to my blog, DeniseFenzi.com/Subscribe. What will happen is if you go there, just go ahead and subscribe to my blog. The worst thing that happens is you have to listen to me ramble on whatever topic I decide to write about a few times a month on my blog, no problem.

The reason you want to subscribe there is because I will for sure talk about the program there when it's ready to go and make sure that you have that information. I'll put that out to my mailing list.

In terms of in process, if you just want to see how I train and what I do and what an unedited video looks like, the places to follow me, Facebook is the best for words. Facebook is a words platform. I will put up parts of video and often redirect you to YouTube if there's more, because Facebook is not friendly for putting up videos. It often shuts them down, and then I'm over here screaming because I'm mad because I just spent a lot of time doing that and it didn't go, so I'm almost to the point where I don't want to try anymore, I'm depressed. So Facebook is the words platform, the best place to ask me questions.

IG is the "make Denise look good" platform. I already mentioned that. I'd love if you followed me on IG. Please do, and then say nice things about me.

Melissa Breau: What's your Instagram handle?

Denise Fenzi: It's Raika's Mom, but if you put Denise Fenzi, I'm sure it would come up. Follow me there, and while you're there, follow FDSA, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

TikTok is the new one. I've been there a couple of weeks. I am having so much fun over there, oh my goodness. TikTok is set up to search by topic, so if you put in "dog training" — which I don't recommend because you'll see horrific training — anyway, if you put in a topic like cooking or raising orchids or I don't care what you want to put in there, you will get a lot of stuff. You will spend hours scrolling and laughing. I lay in bed and I laugh and I laugh as I scroll. Some of those videos are so great. You have one minute, and some people put their heart into those videos. So I'm having a wonderful time. I'm learning about all kinds of things.

Go there. I am Denise Fenzi there, and what I'm doing with TikTok is much broader and different. TikTok I'm really trying to focus on some human behavior chains. I talk about inoculation effect. I talk about dog training concepts applied to people. I talk about how to communicate. I model communication to the best of my ability. Even when I really want to reach out and shake someone, I don't. "Oh, that's another way to look at it. Let's talk about that." See? I can do that. That doesn't mean I don't want to shake people sometimes. I do, but I hold back, and that's what we all need to learn. Just because a thought comes into your head, it does not need to come out of your mouth. It does not need to come out your fingers.

Melissa Breau: Impulse control happens in people too.

Denise Fenzi: Yes, exactly. You can go yell. Just mute, go yell, and then come back. That's an idea. It's very doable.

I'm doing a ton of one-minute clips. I did a couple today. I did one on "When do I use patterns in training versus when do I use unpredictable options," because they're quite different and there's a reason why I sometimes use patterns. Certain kinds of dogs are more amenable and I talk about that.

Somebody asked me, "What do I do to retrain a dog?" There's a Q&A thing where you can put in your questions and I can respond by video. I have one minute. She asked me how to retrain a dog with an out problem. I spent one minute answering that question.

I'm definitely trying to do it as a video form of quick educational clips. I also do things like, "This is how I taught my moving stand," there it is, I do a series of videos. A little bit of behavior, a little bit of mistakes — not a lot, not as much as on Facebook — but for sure I'll throw up errors there too. A whole lot of looking, though. I'm having a good time looking at what's out there.

So I'd love to have you join me on any of those platforms, and for sure if you want to follow my blog. I've been less active on my blog lately. I'm still there and I still do stuff, but I find that people are so much more interactive on social media than on a blog. It's fine, and it's choice, and I try to still blog, but be aware that if you're looking for interaction, if you're looking for more of that, you might find more of that on the social media sites and less in the blogging world.

Melissa Breau: Makes sense. Last question for you, the one that I've been ending on for a while now. What's something that you've learned recently or something that you've been reminded of when it comes to training?

Denise Fenzi: Right now my dog training life very much revolves around Dice, and really what I've learned, it's more a rethinking things I have said and believed for a long time.

High rate of reinforcement is not necessarily your golden ticket. I would say that for many years now, I have been really doing a high rate of reinforcement for a lot of things for a long time, and I can see how with some dogs that's absolutely required, like a dog like Brito, that's totally the right way, and I can see how with some dogs, like Dice, that is not a good idea. So that would be, I would say, a significant piece of learning.

I would say that in this last year I do a lot less splitting of behaviors than I have traditionally done for the last, let's say, six or seven years, and what I have suggested to people most of the time. If something I do is not working, I usually come at it from a brand new angle. So I'm doing more of that and really thinking about what that means in terms of what I say to other people and what I advise them to do.

Watching the relationships between movement, obsession, arousal, and recognizing how these feed each other. What's interesting is I believe dogs come with patterns, just like people. Introverted people might be more likely to read. There's a stereotype, but it's probably got some truth to it. Extroverted people are more likely to go to parties.

I am seeing how dogs who have high levels of arousal, dogs who have high levels of opposition reflex with the potential for aggression, dogs who move a lot and move up, I think that's a pattern. The reason I think that is when I discuss these things on Facebook, people often come back and say, "You just described my dog," and they might add a couple of characteristics that I had not mentioned but absolutely fit the narrative.

That's giving me things to think about in terms of how we handle reactivity. Because in general we have protocols, let's say, for reactivity, and in regular dog training I do not do much with protocols at all. When someone says, "How do you teach something?" I'm like, "I don't know, there's ten ways to teach that." It depends on the dog.

I'm really, in real time day by day, thinking about this concept of where do protocols fit and when do we just change them and say, "I don't like what I'm seeing here. This is not working." When do we back up another step, go underneath the protocol, get to the nature of the dog, and then say because this dog shows this pattern of traits, and that movement has this impact on him, and because of his obsessive nature, which means that giving him more distance doesn't actually solve the problem, because if I move away from the trigger, he's still locked in mentally on that thing he wants to get to.

If that's true, and if I can't move him to relax him because it skyrockets him, what can I do? What if I stay in close and use food on the ground? Is that a better decision? What options do we have beyond the traditional give more distance? That's of course a big one.

Amy Cook's stuff comes into play here. Personal play starts to be something you should be thinking about, because if that soothes arousal in a different way, does that help dogs, where when you bring out food or toys, you just lose them. Of course Amy's been saying this forever. But how do we take all of these pieces of information that we get from different applied trainers who are out there really working on it and seeing hundreds of dogs, and what are they seeing and what is working for them?

We should be talking to the balanced community. We should be. Not because of their choices of using force, but because we don't know what they do, do we? And if we don't know what they do, they might be doing some pretty clever stuff, because I've read and heard enough that I know it's not all just put a prong collar on the dog.

They're also using distance, but they're also using lowering arousal. I know they're doing that, because by virtue of how dogs are trained in the balanced community, you almost always drop arousal. It's just the way they train. What impact does that have? What choices are they making? What do they know? What is their common knowledge that we may not even have access to?

I actually spent a couple of hours yesterday talking to a balanced trainer, talking to him about his experiences. I want to hear it. Are you managing the dog's behavior when you put on power tools? Is your goal management? Is your goal behavior change? Tell me what you see. Be honest with me. Because it was an honest conversation. I can't have that conversation in public because they'll get rained on and everybody will say, "You're just suppressing behavior." Are they? I need to talk to people who will be honest and who are really observing what's happening long term, if they have access to that information.

That's another reason we need to be having these conversations. I can take what he tells me and I can modify that behavior. If he suppresses behavior with a slip collar, can I suppress arousal with food? Can I suppress arousal by squishing my dog between my legs and teaching him that position as a positive place? Can I suppress arousal by teaching him to put his head in my hand and not move and cover his eyes?

I need to know what works. If I know that suppressing arousal works, you can tell me how you do it. It doesn't mean I have to do what you do, but I need to know what you see when you suppress arousal.

I think once again I just took your question and trampled it.

Melissa Breau: No, I think you're very much on topic with this one. It's just what have you learned recently, and this is very much what you're experimenting with.

Denise Fenzi: This is what I'm learning, this is what I'm playing with, and everything I've said today, in one year I might say, "I can't believe I was even thinking that." How would I know? I won't know if I don't try.

So I'm going to try and I'm going to talk, and you should know if I'm talking that this is not set in stone. This is ideas and things to look at, and look at your dog and think about what you see, and what makes sense and what doesn't make sense, and throw it out when it doesn't work for one dog. But don't throw it out of your brain. Just throw it out for that dog and be willing, because maybe it will come back to this in a couple of years in a different form and some pieces will stay.

This is why I train dogs. I can do this forever. You never run out of new dogs, new possibilities, and new things to explore. It's really very cool.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. All right, we will call it there. Thank you so much Denise. This has been fantastic, and I think folks are going to absolutely love hearing the insight into your brain right now.

Denise Fenzi: Thanks. This was a fun one for me. There's a lot going on.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. 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! 


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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