E212: Laura Waudby - "Debuting in Obedience"

Starting to think about obedience competition? Laura and I talk about the aspects of competing folks tend to overlook in training, and how to truly prep for heading into the ring!


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 Laura Waudby.

Laura spent the last ten years as a service dog trainer, preparing dogs for different types of service dog work and teaching puppy raiser classes. These days she's instead focused on raising her kids and offers private lessons in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area. You can find her online at TandemDogSports.com.

In her "free time," Laura trains and competes in obedience, rally, agility, and dabbles in disc dog and trick training. She was halfway to her OTCH with her UDX Corgi, Lance, before his early retirement. She has also competed at the Master's level in agility.

Hi Laura, welcome back to the podcast!

Laura Waudby: Hey.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to remind listeners who your dogs are — I know you've got some new additions —and what you're working on with them?

Laura Waudby: Our household is crazy right now. Since we last spoke, I did lose my old dog, Vito, and then my puppy, Wren, so then I began the search for my new puppy, and apparently getting a puppy in pandemic time is not at all easy.

I was lucky to have several breeders willing to help me out, but it was a hassle trying to get a puppy from Canada and the cost was astronomical trying to get the puppy over here. There was some misunderstanding on timelines for another litter and I felt like I was never going to get my puppy, and then magically a puppy fell into my lap, a Border Collie puppy. He's my first Border Collie puppy, his name is Loot. So I'm jumping into that herding dog world nonstop right, now especially with a preschooler, and so at home it's a little chaotic.

A little bit over two weeks ago I got a message from another breeder who said I had to have this Toller puppy, and I of course said that he was insane and I did not need another puppy in my life right now. But he was very convincing that I needed to see this puppy, So I said yes. I have the puppy. It was supposed to be a two-week trial period, and the two weeks, I think, just finished, so she's here to stay. Her name is Mayhem, or Mae, and she is a very sassy, opinionated little girl. So I do have two puppies and an infant at home.

And then I have my two older dogs. Zumi is a little bit mad at me right now with all the chaos going on in the house, she's doing a lot of pouting, but hopefully … we just did our first agility trial since the pandemic started, so that made her happy. I'm hoping we'll get back into the obedience world. We need to finish up her utility title and so I'm hoping this spring or early summer we'll start getting back into that.

Lastly, I have the Corgi. I can't forget the Corgi. He's still kicking. He sleeps all day, but he is here and he seems oblivious to all the puppies and the chaos. He just sleeps in the middle of everything. So he's just kind of there. He's still a very barky boy, but basically he lies there in the midst of the chaos.

Melissa Breau: Are you thinking you'll do obedience and agility with both puppies? Are you thinking one for one thing, another for the other thing, or are you just going to see where life takes you?

Laura Waudby: At this point I'm planning on doing both agility and obedience with both of them. We'll see how that actually plays out in my life right now, but that is the plan.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha.

Laura Waudby: I have a lot of babies. I have six baby chicks in my house right now, because my preschooler is obsessed with birds and so I got her chickens, so I have lots of babies in my house.

Melissa Breau: A whole housefull. You're definitely outnumbered.

Laura Waudby: Yes, very much so.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to chat today about preparing the dog for their first time in the obedience ring. What options are out there in terms of organizations, and then how similar are those? Can you prep your stuff and be okay to compete in a couple?

Laura Waudby: I live in Minnesota, where there are four active organizations, and depending on where you live in the country will determine what's in your area. And of course each country can have their own organizations as well. The ones that I'm familiar with are AKC, UKC, and CDSP. I've stewarded in all those organizations, but I only compete in AKC and CDSP around here. And there's C-WAGS as well, but I haven't actually done anything with that organization. I've heard there's some really really cool and unique stuff but generally all the organizations I'm familiar with are very, very similar. If you train for one, you're basically training for all of them.

At the novice level you have your heeling pattern as your base, a figure eight, a stand for exam, a recall, and then some type of a stay or more than a one stay. So again your heeling, your exam, your recall, and your stay. The bigger differences are whether parts are on or off leash, maybe there's a recall over a jump, like in CDSP or UKC. There may be differences as to whether there's a group stay or whether that stay is on leash or off leash, but your core exercises are basically the same.

Some dogs might have an easier time competing in one over another. Group stays are definitely not for every dog, so if you want to avoid group stays, CDSP doesn't actually have any group stays.

And there's some differences depending on who's putting on the trial, what competitors are attracted to that. My stressy dogs always prefer CDSP because they're really laidback versus AKC. I like competing in it a lot, but it can be harder for some dogs because there is a lot of tension in the air there, so it takes some time to get used to for the dogs. But basically you can pretty easily take your dog and jump from organization to organization without any problem whatsoever as long as you train those four solid skills: your heeling, your exam, your recalls, and your stays. There are some subtle differences in organizations that isn't really going to affect your scoring. Generally I recommend for my students that they train for the stricter organization. That's whether or not you're allowed to give a verbal cue or hands at the same time. AKC is strict that you can only give one cue. Most organizations will allow you to do both at the same time. Some other organizations allow you to praise your dog in the middle of an exercise or even give treats. Obviously, if you're training for the stricter rules, you're going to have no problem leaping from one to another and not getting confused about when you can do this and when you can't do that. So look to see what's in your area and just go to a trial. It doesn't really matter what organization you start in.

Melissa Breau: To get a picture in your head of how it works.

Laura Waudby: Yeah, and if you see one, you're going to be very familiar with the next one.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Thinking about that first trial with a dog, how do you wrap your head around whether or not your dog is actually ready to step in the ring? What can we do to evaluate where our training is at?

Laura Waudby: That's the million dollar question, and I really wish that I had a crystal ball for a lot of my students, because they seem to agonize and stress about whether they should enter or not, and in some sense you don't really know until you go.

The easy part to evaluate is going to be the exercises themselves, so does your dog actually know the exercise and probably a little bit beyond. So I want my students to have heelwork not just for that basic L shape pattern, but can they do a little bit longer. Can the dog do an exam where maybe the judge is a little bit obnoxious as they're going over the dog, the way they're stopping or they're approaching or touching them longer. It's that little bit more. But the exercises themselves are pretty easy to tell if your dog knows it or doesn't know it.

Another easy part to prep for, but it's often overlooked by most learners, is your ring prep routines. Does your dog know how to walk, set that reward down, and go somewhere else to train. Does your dog really know that a judge is going to approach you and talk to you? Have you trained for that? Does your dog know when you're heeling, the judge will be walking somewhat near you, not super-close to you, but there's going to be someone in that ring. Those things are all very easy to train for. It just can be hard to do when they're usually overlooked.

There's a lot of stuff on that ring prep list, but one of the hardest pieces I find that really is hard to evaluate is, is the dog going to be comfortable when you arrive at that trial and you walk in the ring for the first time or not. Depending upon where you live in the country, that can be really hard to evaluate.

Not all of us have another dog who's trialing. I'm in essence lucky with all my dogs is that I was able to bring Loot to his first agility trial, I was able to bring him to his first trial this weekend. Obviously he's a puppy, but there's no way … we spend most of the time just "Can you eat cookies?" Just barely in the entrance versus anywhere near the ring. When you have a puppy growing up in an environment and you see how are they doing in this space or how are they not doing, and not everybody has that luxury.

Or things like fun matches and run-throughs, we can kind of tell how he's going to be in that type of environment. Does he looked relaxed, how long does it take for them to be ready to work, those are the kinds of things I'm looking at that can be hard to evaluate.

Back to evaluating, if you don't have that ability, I would recommend going to a lot of different places to train. If you take your dog to a dog-friendly store, like a hardware store or a gardening center, in the parking lot are you able to train your dog, and how long does it take to be comfortable there and give you good quality work. And then can the dog work there without the treats constantly in their face. Those are the kinds of things I'm looking at when I'm deciding is the dog ready to trial. The exercises, the ring prep stuff, but really the biggest piece of this is this dog relaxed and comfortable in that environment itself, and that's not always easy to tell. But hopefully you're going to get some good idea going to those different places. So to boil it down, is the dog comfortable in that environment, what's their attitude going to be, and what's the focus going to be?

Melissa Breau: For this next one, I've been reminded of this recently. I can't speak to all the different organizations out there but we attended a conformation trial recently and have had to learn that routine, and how it feels to walk in, and what's going on, and where you're supposed to go, and how to check in at the ring, and all those crazy things.

Can you talk us through what that might look like for an obedience trial? Other than the bits that are actually in the ring itself, which hopefully are pretty well defined in the rulebook, what is an outline of a typical day that you're trialing?

Laura Waudby: It's really hard to go into a new sport, so props to you for doing that, because you could feel very lost when you arrive somewhere where you've never done it before.

It's even harder now with COVID because we're staying further away from everybody, people aren't always as willing to approach you, even if you look a little bit lost, because they might be trying to keep their distance anyway, or they're not sure if you want them to approach. It's a lot harder now with COVID to get that comfortable feeling in that environment.

When you arrive at an obedience trial, unless it's absolutely raining or freezing cold, I highly recommend that you leave everything in your car. It will take more trips to get everything, but that way you can walk in the building with just you and not your dog, and not all your crap, and then look to see how are the rings laid out and where you might want to set up your stuff, because it can be really hard if you take your dog in with you when you're trying to balance your dog's need to stare at all the things and needing to stay out of people's way while you're also trying to check in and trying to find a place to put your crate. So leave everything in the car, go in the building, and then you can check in at your ring.

If you're doing AKC and it says afternoon on your premium or your judging program you cannot start before noon. I cannot tell you how many students I've had show up at a trial at 7 or 8 a.m. and they don't show until two o'clock that afternoon. So definitely read that judging program and even try and calculate times per dog. There should be a calculator somewhere. I think it's nine minutes per dog. or sometimes eight minutes per dog, so judge your time that way.

In non-COVID times I like to get there maybe an hour-and-a-half before I go, but if at all possible it's an hour before I go, because my dogs tend to need a lot of acclamation time. That's partly why I'm not trialing Zumi right now with COVID rules, because she cannot handle going straight from the car to going into the ring for ten minutes and then walking through the building. She needs more time with that, and in agility she doesn't need that time whatsoever

So basically you go in, you check in, check with the steward, they'll mark your name off the list, and you can see how long your turn is going to go, and then can set up all your stuff, get your dog out. When I first get my dog at a trial, I do a lot of walking around. My dogs like to do a little sniff walk. I have them both sniff all the things. I'm very careful not to bother other people or dogs or crates, stay a little bit away from the dogs working in the ring. Sometimes I get them a little bit too high and they're not ready for that, so you might need to go to a quiet corner and chill on a mat for a little bit and then go back out to your crate. Basically, I just acclimation walk.

Most of the trial is going to be sitting around where it's not super-exciting. You'll see the whiteboards with the stewards crossing off dogs, and the stewards reading a book for a little while. I do encourage you, at least especially when COVID is done, is to talk to other people and don't just whisper. People are so afraid of talking in an obedience trial, and I hate it. I try to be as loud as possible. Not super-obnoxious, but I don't want it to be so quiet that any room noise stands out. I don't want the poor person who's opening up a bag of treats for their dog to suddenly feel like they just ruined the dog in the ring because that crinkly noise is the only thing going on in the room. Or the person who's setting up their crate and that tiny little metal cling interrupts the dog in the ring. I want there to be enough noise that nothing stands out. So definitely feel free to talk to people. Don't feel like you have to be hush, hush.

When it's your turn to go into the ring, there will be a small briefing for novice. The judge will tell you the heeling patterns. If you're a Novice A, depending upon the organization, the judge might invite you into the ring that you will walk a heeling pattern to and then start from there. Hopefully you have a good warm-up routine and you'll know how to get your dog out again and into the ring.

Melissa Breau: Talking about warming up, it's certainly not uncommon at a trial, at least in my experience, to see folks warming up their dog, repeating an exercise over and over and over before going in. For some dogs, that's going to warm them up, and some dogs, it's going to tire them right out. So how do you find that sweet spot? How do you learn what your dog needs to warm up without taking it to the point where they're totally tuckered out and they have nothing left for the ring?

Laura Waudby: First, if you go to the sample lecture for this class on the Fenzi website, it is somewhat on this topic: what I do when I arrive at a trial with a dog, how do I warm them up. So hopefully everything I say will be covered there, if you guys want to take a look at that.

When I first get to a trial, I do a little of the acclimation walk where I say just go sniff we're not gonna work and maybe chill on a mat for a little while. My next time out with my dog, I call it my pre-warm-up warm-up. Basically, my goal is to see how long does it take for my dogs to be ready to work. Hopefully they're already somewhat acclimated to the trial at that point. Usually we've been there for probably at least 15 or 20 minutes, if not a half-hour or so.

And I'm going to evaluate again how long does the dog need to be ready to work. So that way I know before my actual run I have a good timeline of that. When I do work them, it's going to be super-easy, happy stuff. I'm not going to drill my dog, because they're not going to magically learn how to heel in those few minutes before they go into the ring, or their stay is not going to magically be fixed. I see a lot of folks trying to fix issues and that usually just adds tension to them. And I have dogs who are not the most confident and if they screw something, up, I just don't want that added pressure on them before I go into the ring. I want it to be super-easy, happy stuff that they know how to do really, really well.

Exactly what to do depends upon my dog itself. If my dog needs motivation, I might do more jackpot work. I did a lot of jackpot work with Vito where he would watch me set the reward down, we would move maybe five feet away, ask for a very small behavior, and then lunge at his reward just to show him that yes, this still holds true at trial that we can work away from them and we run to get them and it's all super-happy, lots of cookies. It might be some energy tricks, or it might be more calming stuff, again depending upon the dog. It might be more chin rests, or some easy stretches, or just some really easy work.

That's my pre-warm-up where it's very short, for maybe five minutes max, and then going back to the crate to chill again. But I use that to gauge how long it takes them to work and then how was their work. Do they need more pumping up, maybe more calming down, what do they need?

For my actual run I use that guideline. Vito roughly needed about eight minutes when I took him out before we'd go into the ring. Zumi needs three to four minutes in obedience of time out of her crate before we go into the ring. Sometime my pre warm up is slightly more fine-tuned, depending on what I found out. It might be more motivation, or more calming work, or more energy work. After that little warm up, then I go into let's set the rewards down and get ready to go into the ring in the next 30 seconds, the next minute, max. But definitely no drilling the dog or anything like that.

Melissa Breau: What about the opposite problem? I know I certainly become a treat machine when my nerves are up. I just feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, even for not a whole lot. Levi probably got an entire bag of cookies waiting ringside when we showed at conformation a few weeks ago. So any tips to deal with that, and then any tips for sticking to the plan, even when you're nervous?

Laura Waudby: I don't tell them no, but it may not matter as much for conformation because you can get cookies in the ring. In obedience it will definitely bite you in the butt, because if you're feeding them cookies outside of the ring, and then you go right in the ring and there's no cookies, you're just advertising to your dog with a huge neon sign that this ring is horrible, nothing ever good happens, all the good stuff happens outside of the ring. So you definitely want to be careful with that.

I think the biggest thing to help practicing that routine, which again, if you've never been to a trial, you're going to want to at least watch a video and talk to a friend, but ideally you can go in with the steward and you can get used to the routine and calm your nerves and visualize what you might do.

But either way, practice that warm-up routine with your dog. Practice how you're going to wait outside the ring, whatever that's going to mean, whether that's you getting your dog waiting on a mat, whether that's your dog waiting between your legs, or you doing that jackpot practice of having them work at a distance, doing whatever works, running to it, but it's really thinking about what you're going to do, and practicing it in different environments can help a lot.

I also tell my students to practice what they do when they're nervous. I know at obedience I still get really stressy. I tend to get up and down about twenty times to walk over to the board to see if I go in soon. I can practice that so my dog doesn't go, "Mom is insane." I've been practicing up on my pacing and going to sit down while my dog is in a crate there or lying on a mat. That way, every time I twitch, they're not like, "Something is happening." They just ignore that.

Some people like to throw the leash a lot. Again, whatever it is that you practice, just shove cookies in your dog's face when they're first learning it, or practice holding your breath when you're nervous. Little things so your dog gets used to that part of their routine and isn't bothered by it.

Hopefully, when you're practicing that warm-up, and you've done that pre-warm-up, you know how long it takes your dog to kind of lose a little bit of stress on your part. So you know exactly what you're going to do with the dog when you take them out for real.

Melissa Breau: It seems like one of the parts that is maybe overlooked sometimes that we do have control over is thinking about what happens between exercises while we're in the ring. I'd love to hear what options there are for handlers to choose from and your approach for training that piece.

Laura Waudby: I talk about transitions almost every single time you interview me, because it's a favorite topic of mine. It's such a big, big thing for dogs.

Transitions are generally moving from one place to another in-between exercises, and that's typically the time when the human looks around the ring, very lost and confused about what's going to happen next. Their dog is like, "I have no idea what's happening," and they completely stress out and start sniffing the ring or humping their person. Whatever it is, it just doesn't go well. I recommend knowing, by watching the other teams, where the exercises start. So before you go in the ring, you know exactly where the heeling starts or the figure eight starts so you can confidently move from one place to another.

How you move is very dog-dependent, and from a judge's perspective, they generally don't care. As long as you're not holding up judging, so that doesn't take too long, and that your dog is under control. I'm lucky that I don't have scary-looking dogs. I have big, goofy-looking dogs. It doesn't really matter if they're jumping up at me and things like that. Might have to be a little more careful if you have a bigger, "scary looking" dog, but basically judges don't care.

My dogs tend to like a little bit more energy type of stuff, so I encourage a lot of bouncing up at me. Whether you walk forward or backward, it doesn't matter either. So with Vito I did a lot of walking backward. It made me feel a lot more comfortable so he's stepping into my space without me pressuring him. So I walk backward, you jump up at me, and we do a lot of that. May not matter with your dog, with Zumi she seems a little bit too high. Sometimes, though, I do have her do that a lot, depending upon how she is in the ring. Sometimes she's both up and down. Sometimes I will have her jump at me. Other times, I might have her do more formal heeling.

But if at all possible, I think it really benefits us to do a tiny release of pressure. So a very quick something to the ear or a spin. Whatever it is that gets them out of that formality just a tiny little bit, and then back into heeling, and maybe another really quick release and then back into heeling.

If you're talking about light play, that's fine too. Think of it as a training behavior. Even if your dog doesn't naturally like to jump up at you, you can definitely train it. Or you can train them to follow you as you walk backward, or there's shadow handling with agility, where your dog is on your left side, your right side, just follow you as you move, and then passively heeling.

Some dogs like petting. I don't have big dogs that I can pet while walking, so it's not something that I've done with my dogs, but you could try to do that with your bigger dog, if you want.

Vito really liked butt rubs, so I would have him do a really quick between my legs and I would rub his butt, and then he would move to the next class. So it's perfectly fine to take two seconds to connect with your dog and then move. Generally your best transition moves are going to all be done while walking, so you're not holding up the judging as you get to that spot.

Whatever you decide that you want your transition to look like, train it with lots and lots of cookies. As the dog is getting better, I almost always stop rewarding the finish of an exercise, and I reward that setup for the next one. If I'm practicing moving from heeling to an exam, or whatever I'm doing, I will have the dogs finish their heeling, praise them, happily move to spot number two, set up into heel, and then give lots and lots of cookies, because I want that setup to be highly rewarding for my dogs and to be a place they want to get to as fast as possible. But again, it doesn't matter what you do. Just train it with your cookies, and it's pretty rare a judge is gonna get made at what you do as long as the dog doesn't look like they're out of control.

Melissa Breau: What about the silence and formality piece in the ring? How do you teach the dog that that doesn't mean the fun is all over, we can still have a good time, and they don't have to worry that you've gone all quiet during a trial?

Laura Waudby: I made that mistake with the Corgi. He got worse and worse every trial, but that was the biggest one was the fact that when I got quiet, he thought something was wrong and he certainly stressed about that. Thankfully, I was able to fix that. I have not made that mistake again.

I guess there's a couple of pieces to think about. One of them is in your everyday training with your dog, when you're training skills, is does your dog know the difference between a shaping session versus a cuing session. If you are training a new behavior with your dog we often shape it, we want dogs to offer a new behavior. In that case, when we are silent, we want them to do something. But then, when we're training behaviors the dog already knows, we work on duration a lot. In that case, we want the dog to keep doing what they're doing when you're silent and not randomly throw out a billion things. I want the dog to know that in that case, when I am silent, it means that you are amazing, you're on the right track to earn a reward, please keep doing it.

But it's definitely fine to keep offering behaviors in those shaping sessions, as long as they know the difference in your body language or your setup when you're doing a cuing session. That's the first area I'm looking at.

The second area in that is make sure you're actively rewarding your silence and your stillness. One of the things I love from Denise is the exploding tree, which is basically you're in heel position … it doesn't have to be heel position. You're in a position, you're paused, you're creating a little bit of tension in there, and you'll explode into a party. That party happens from stillness.

As you start training that, I like to see the dog in heel and pausing for maybe two seconds, and I see my dog's mouth start to get tighter and tighter and start to close. They stop panting and they're on the edge of their seat, knowing that any second I'm going to explode into a really fun game. That's my favorite game to really work on that silence and stillness.

In general, you want to put those pauses in from a really early stage. With puppies, their pauses are very tiny, but I want them to expect that everything has a small pause in there, to a point where I begin pretending that I'm waiting for a judge's cue. But eventually, every single time I do position changes, I'm not going to be rapid-fire going through them. I'm going to be down, let's pause two or three seconds, then do the sit or whatever it is I'm doing, with those pauses in there, so that when you're in the ring, the dog is very used to them. They don't expect it as part of the routine, but it isn't a surprise. That's two areas.

This third one I think is pretty important. It's the flip side of that is when the dog makes a mistake in a cued session. Oftentimes I see handlers standing there and waiting for the dog to fix it. The dog comes in crooked on a front and they're standing there, waiting for their dog, and the dog starts to windshield-wiper, going back and forth until eventually they end up straight, and then the handler marks and rewards. But that is a pretty big problem because you're not only risking that your dog is going to frantically offer behaviors, but you're also teaching the dog that when you're silent, it meant that they were wrong and just fix it. That is what can destroy their confidence later on, when you are just standing there quietly, waiting for the judge to tell you the next thing. That's why anytime the dog makes a small mistake and I'm out of that cued shaping session, I always interrupt it. I try to do it as happily as possible and I'm still able to interrupt it. It might just be go close and I clap my hands and I play with them for a second, and then I reset them to try again.

I just don't want my dog to sit there if I'm quiet. I want them to be confident knowing that they're doing amazing, they should keep doing it, and not to guess whether they need to fix it or not. So basically shaping versus cued sessions and knowing the difference, actively rewarding your silence and stillness through games, and then interrupting errors during a session.

Melissa Breau: I tried to cover the things that jump out at me, but I'd love to hear, in your opinion, what you think the most difficult part of preparing a new dog to trial is. Can you share that and then maybe a little on how you approach it?

Laura Waudby: I think for most teams, myself included, it's really just making the time to get to those different places in training, because again, the exercises are super-easy to train for most people. I don't have a lot of space in my house, and I can train most things in my really tiny house and practice it. What I can't do and what I really suck at, especially now in my chaotic life, is actually getting to places with my dogs, whether that's a parking lot or a playground. One benefit of having the kids is that I can take them to a playground and eventually set them on the slide or the swings, and then I can have my dogs there and do a tiny bit of training in the field while she's busy, but that way force myself to get out because the weather's nice. But just basically making time and doing it.

Accountability is really big, and it's a big reason why students take Gold classes, to have that accountability. But whether that is a Gold class, or whether you have an in-person friend to do it with you, or even if it's an online friend, somebody you can report to and say, "Yes, I did get that this week," or "No, I sucked, and I didn't get that this week. Let's try again next week." Just somebody to hold yourself accountable is the easiest way to do that. You can have a sticker chart, if you'd like sticker charts, you can make it really pretty, things for yourself to motivate you to get out there and do that.

I guess the second biggest thing is going to be people pressure. My dogs, again, I don't get out nearly as often as I need to. But when I do get out, they are pretty used to working in all sorts of chaotic distractions around them. What they don't get practice with, though, is actually people pressure. And I do find that a little bit different, because when things are going on around them, it all blends with the background and they're not really noticing it. But again, being in a trial, they're typically kind of quiet, and there's somebody directly walking into our space. That is what I really suck at practicing every time and need a friend as well. Somebody to be a judge for you, to follow behind you during heeling, to talk to you, to enter your space and ask you if you're ready, all those little things you do need friends for.

Or if you're really outgoing and brave, every time I go to a store, there's people always watching. Employees have nothing better to do sometimes. Sometimes they are really busy. Other times, they want to stand and watch me. So I could sometimes say, "Are you willing to approach me while I'm working on my dog's stay?" You certainly can ask other people in public to help you. It's really hard for me as a big introvert as well.

Melissa Breau: We're talking about all this because the Novice Smart class is in April. It covers all this stuff, plus quite a bit more. I was looking over the syllabus and I was like, I'm not entirely sure how you managed to put it all in there. There's so much stuff. Do you want to talk just a little bit about what else is in the class?

Laura Waudby: Basically the class is like two different parts. They do the exercises themselves. So every week we'll talk about … I think it's heeling the first week, and then it might be fixing your fronts. I don't remember exactly the order. We're going over fronts, stand for exam, working on stays, work on setups as well.

The other half of the class, each week we talk about at least one or two ring prep areas. We'll talk about how we have the dogs wait outside the ring, or we'll talk about directly interacting with a judge, how they ask you if you're ready, how you can respond to the judge, can your dog ignore the pressure of the judge walking behind you, that type of stuff, time between rewards, that's kind of a big one, and leaving rewards outside of the ring. None of those topics are going to be super in-depth because it is more of a broad-based class, but it will get you a good start for it.

From there, you might find that my dog needs a lot of help on losing the rewards, so then maybe take a more deep-dive class, like Julie's Cookie Jar Games or my Bye-Bye Cookie class, where we go over things more in-depth. It's more a broad overview of here are all the things that you need to train in one spot.

Melissa Breau: So good opportunity to get in there, see where your dog is at almost, and figure out what needs more attention and maybe what's almost ready, right?

Laura Waudby: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: What else do students need to know before signing up? Are there skills they need onboard coming in? How would you talk about that or describe that for someone?

Laura Waudby: I typically have it as a prereq that students should be able to get a 170 on their dog, which is the minimum qualifying score in their backyard with cookies.

I don't even know if that's true anymore, because I have added quite a bit to the lectures each time I've taught it. I had that there because, again, we're not going super in-depth into exactly how to teach heeling from step one. So if you really want to work on that it's nice if your dog has some good pivoting skills, but we will meet you where you're at.

You don't even know the foundation that you might think you don't have. It's very common for someone to come in thinking that they have a front, they have a recall, they have this, and then I help them understand that if your dog doesn't know you need to go back to step one, and that's absolutely fine. It's not a big deal if you find that you're nowhere near where you thought you were. Or if it's a surprise and your dog is amazing, and you just need a tiny little push so you guys can do it, that's absolutely fine too.

So there's not any official prerequisites, as long as you know that we're technically not going over the very first steps in this class. Hopefully your dog has a little bit of heeling and a little bit of understanding of some fronts and things like that. Otherwise, you guys are welcome to join us, and if you think you might be trialing by the end of this year, I would definitely take this class. It is only offered once a year.

Melissa Breau: Last question here. It's the question I ask everybody lately who comes on. What is something that you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?

Laura Waudby: I don't think it's anything really profound. I'm reminded every single day just how different my two puppies are. Obviously they're two very different breeds, a Border Collie and a Toller puppy, but just them. I know that every time we get a new puppy or dog, we like to compare them to the last puppy or what we remember how that last puppy went, or if they're littermates, How often do we see littermates on Facebook or Instagram and we're like, "I wish my puppy did that." But every puppy is so different. Loot and Mayhem are two months apart, so there is a little bit of a difference, obviously. When I take Loot out to public we are just working on "Can you please just eat cookies here and not try to maul everybody with your love because he's basically a golden retriever in a border collie suit but also extremely not food-motivated, so that's a big challenge. With Mayhem, she's like, "I will eat all the cookies and I will look amazing and focused." But she has different challenges. She really sucks in a crate right now, so she's not able to do as much going out with me because she can't stay in a crate in the car. There's lots of different things that they're good at and things they're completely opposites on, and I know that our journey can look so different with the two of them over this next year. Hopefully it will all balance out, but there's no way that I could compare the two of them even remotely right now for where their skills are at, because every puppy is so different.

Melissa Breau: It would be really interesting to follow your journey with the two of them and see how things develop, because like you said, they're very different dogs. Obviously you're the same trainer, so …

Laura Waudby: Yeah. Hopefully, Loot will be better at taking cookies next time we talk but it feels like he was born knowing how to tug and drive for toys so his toy skills are insane over any other dog I've ever had at this point. But almost anything else is not really further behind but basically not where I would have another dog with his actual skills. But Mayhem is very different, so we are nowhere near that level in toy skills right now.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much, Laura. I really appreciate you coming on.

Laura Waudby: Yeah, it was really fun.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to 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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