E230: Sue Ailsby & Heather Lawson - Moving Up the Levels

With Sue retiring, Heather has stepped in to ensure students can continue to benefit from Sue's awesome Levels program at FDSA — for those not familiar with the program, we chat about how it came to be, and why Heather is excited to teach 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 I have Sue Ailsby and Heather Lawson here with me. Hi ladies, welcome back to the podcast!

Sue Ailsby: Hi Melissa.

Heather Lawson: Hi Melissa. Good to be here. Hi Sue.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, I just want to have each of you remind listeners who you are, who your dogs are, a little bit on your background. Sue, do you want to start us off?

Sue Ailsby: Okay. I've been doing dogs for fifty-five years. I've tried to get into pretty much every sport that I came across. Giant Schnauzers are my breed. I've had Portuguese Water Dogs, Chihuahuas, Australian Cattle Dogs, etc, etc. Right now I'm working in drafting and carting, driving. That's all I can think of. I've been a judge.

Melissa Breau: Done a little bit of all the things. Do you want to share a little bit about your current crew, who you have in the house right now?

Sue Ailsby: Right now I have a 10-year-old Portuguese Water Dog named Syn, which is predictive, and a 4-year-old Giant Schnauzer named Sarah, but he's a boy.

Melissa Breau: Good stuff. What about you, Heather? Do you want to share a little bit on your background and your crew?

Heather Lawson: I haven't been training quite as long as Sue has, probably. But I've had dogs in my life, I guess if you count it all, probably dogs in my life about 40 years doing that, but really seriously as my job about twenty-five years.

I've stuck to a single breed. My breed is German Shepherds. They brought me home from the hospital, my dad brought a puppy home from the hospital at the same time, so that was it. That was the bond set there. Currently I am down to one dog. I haven't been down to one dog since 1997, so it's strange just having one dog in the household. I'm used to three, sometimes four, so it's quite a change. Some people might not think so, but it's weird.

My sports have been mainly obedience, rally, I've done some nosework, which I truly enjoy, tracking, done all different kinds of things with the dogs just to keep them well-rounded and also myself well-rounded as well.

I even stepped into the conformation ring, thanks to Sue's conformation classes. I actually went in feeling very confident. I didn't feel like I was going to be a fool running around the ring, although with German Shepherds you've got to have stamina. They make you run, and the last thing you want to see is that single ring open up to a double ring, because then you know that, "Oh, dang. Where's my runners?" But thanks to Sue's class, I did step into the conformation ring quite confident in my abilities, and I only have two points left to get on my girl.

And then of course Covid hit, and she got sick, and a few other things. So we're working on getting her prepped and ready to see if we can go back into the ring. She's got no coat right now, so that's a no-brainer; you've got to wait until she's got coat before you take her in. That's where I'm sitting right now, and then of course I'm teaching for Fenzi.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. For those listening who don't know, part of the reason I have these two ladies on at once is Sue is retiring from active teaching, so Heather has worked it out so Heather can teach Sue's Level curriculum at FDSA, and I wanted to talk about that a bit. As part of that, Sue, can you just talk a little bit about why you developed the Levels program and the class? Where did that come from?

Sue Ailsby: I was teaching basic obedience, and I was teaching conformation, and I was teaching tracking, and I was teaching this and that and the other thing. Across the board, people kept coming to work on, say, conformation with dogs that couldn't walk on a leash, and they wanted to do obedience, but their dog screamed the whole time he was in the car, so it wasn't pleasant coming to class, or just basic foundation ideas that are really needed across the board, but people didn't think about "My dog needs basic foundation behaviors in order to play this sport." My dogs know these foundation behaviors. Why don't other dogs?

I started thinking about how I had taken riding lessons. I've taken riding lessons my whole life. I was riding medium tour dressage and I didn't know anything about horses. I knew how to ride horses, but I didn't know anything about horses from the ground, because nobody ever teaches that. How far can they kick? I don't know. Do they actually like it when you pet them, or are you just sitting there thinking you're doing something nice for the horse? And I thought, "We're exactly the same in competition sports."

There's nothing that a competition dog has to know as a foundation that a pet dog doesn't have to know. So then I started writing out the things that I saw my competition people didn't have, and that led to the Levels. It's not specific. They're not specific to any particular sport. But after a while I realized that with 95 percent of sports, by the time you get through the four training levels, you're like a month away from a title in a sport you haven't practiced yet. Because the dog has the foundations, you have the foundations of how to train, and the dog has the foundations of how to learn. So that's what I did.

Melissa Breau: Talk more about the skills piece. What skills made the list? What's included in the Level One piece of the program?

Sue Ailsby: Sit, come, touch, don't touch, walk on a loose leash, or at least the beginnings of walking on a leash. If your dog doesn't know how to sit and lie down, you have to control them physically, and controlling a dog physically is never a good idea. And come — for heaven's sake, how can you live with an animal that doesn't come when it's called without a herding dog? So just basic and "Can you touch my hand," because that brings the dog to you and teaches him some way to interact with you.

While they're learning these basic behaviors, they're also learning the ideas of training and of learning that the dog is not respondent, the dog doesn't wait for you to tell him to do something and then he does it. The dog is in charge of learning. So if the dog wants something to happen, the dog has to give you a behavior, and then you respond to that by rewarding or ignoring. And throughout I tried to vary the methods we use to get behaviors so that people were learning about shaping and luring to get them thinking about all the different ways there are to get a behavior, and teaching the dog again to learn what you're trying to teach, to listen to what you're trying to say, because talking to a being that isn't human … talking to a human is … I mean, talking to my husband is hard enough, and humans have the same input that I have. And now I'm talking to a foreign species, an animal that is very patently not us, and I have to figure out how to explain to that animal what I want it to do and why it should bother. So that's what I tried to put into the Levels.

Melissa Breau: Heather, when did you first become familiar with what Sue had put together with the Levels program itself?

Heather Lawson: I guess about 19 years ago, I went to a seminar of Sue's in Ontario. I had at the time my 1-year-old Shepherd, Luca, who is now gone. And I came away with, "Wow, this is cool," because we had such fun. We all have our certain background in training and things like that, and I thought it was really interesting because it did set up great foundations.

If you want your dog to heel, they still have to know how to be in position on a leash and loose. So you're giving them the regular, everyday-living foundations, and I thought, "Yeah, that's lacking." Because your dogs only have a certain working, or let's call it professional, lifespan, and then they become part of your family and they're retired, so you've got to eventually live with these dogs.

If all of a sudden they've been doing all these sports, and then they're not doing anything, and they don't know the rules, or they don't even know the basic foundations, they become really hard to live with. I'd much rather have a dog I can take anywhere and do anything with than just for one specific entity, like the obedience ring or the agility ring. I still have to be able to manage that dog in my life.

That's why I probably didn't realize until now that I'm talking to Sue, and I've known Sue for a number of years, is that that one seminar actually shaped the way I teach my all of my dogs and I teach other people, my pet dog classes, my in-person classes.

It's very much how the Team Titles program is set up as well. It works on the individual foundation pieces, because without those individual foundation pieces, it's like building a brick house on the sand on a sand base. Eventually it's going to come crashing down because the bricks become too heavy. Without that solid foundation underneath, it's not going to happen.

And I like it because it gives people a way to explain in small, incremental steps, so the dogs are successful, and the dogs basically appreciate the human, and then the human appreciates the dog. So that's how I got into it.

Sue Ailsby: I have another one. I think the foundation of the Levels actually came from riding lessons. I rode in Seattle in a place that had everything ready for you. There was one guy that worked at this place whose entire job was shaving horses. When he was done shaving all the horses, it was time to start on the first one again. When you went to ride, your horse was there, it was groomed, it was saddled, it was ready to go.

And then I went to Los Angeles, and I went to a place and I got there and the woman said, "See that dirty white horse over there? That's your horse. And in that shed over there is the saddle and the grooming equipment. Go catch your horse, groom her up, saddle her up, and let me know when you're ready."

I got started, and then I went back to her and I said, "There's a problem here. There's nothing in that shed but dressage equipment." And she said, "Yeah." I said, "But I don't want dressage. I specifically signed up for western trail." She said, "No, you're taking dressage." "No, I'm taking western trail." And she said, "Okay, let me put it this way. If you take eight weeks of dressage and you're not happy, I'll give you all your money back." Free riding lessons, okay, so I did it.

At the end of the eight weeks she said, "Ride over to that gate. Put your hand on the gate, don't let go of the gate, open the gate, go through, close the gate, walk away." And I did that. And she said, "Okay, that was western trail." "Yeah, but I didn't take any western trail." She said, "Dressage is the foundation of riding." That festered with me for another 25 years, and then the Levels showed up.

Melissa Breau: So it pulled those pieces together for you in terms of how you thought the pieces build.

Sue Ailsby: Right.

Heather Lawson: That's actually a good point, because it sits and it festers and it builds, and you start to see and you look at something and you go, "Hmm, okay," and then it's packed away. And then you looked at something else, "Hmm," packed away, until finally you go, "Oh, a-ha, if I do this, this, and this, it's so much easier," and it's a smoother ride, so to speak.

Sue Ailsby: I went to do a seminar once and it was four or five days, and one of the things they wanted was they wanted me to do some agility. I said, "Are you people crazy? I'm one step above beginner agility exhibitor. I just go and play around with agility. You people live in a big city, and I bet you have a hundred high-level agility competitors, and you really don't want me." "No, no, they insist they want you." "Okay, but you tell them that I don't know a damn thing about agility compared to other people." "Yeah, yeah, okay."

Well, I got there, we spent a half-day working on agility, and you know what, there wasn't one single agility problem in the whole bunch. The problems were, "He breaks the start line." Hello? That's not agility. That's a sit-stay or a down-stay or a stand-stay. It's a stay. It's duration. It's self-control. For a handler and dog, it's got nothing to do with agility. "He goes to visit the stewards." That's focus. That's not agility. The whole half-day went like that. Not one single agility problem, just basic foundation problems.

Heather Lawson: I think that's the thing that drew me to Levels and started to incorporate that mindset when I was teaching classes. Why I jumped at the chance to step in and try and fill Sue's shoes with the Levels is because you've got to have those basic foundations, and you've got to recognize where the problem originated from, so that you can go back and re-mortar and redo it and set it up and say and re-explain — chutes and ladders — re-explain it to the dog, so that the dog goes, "Oh, I got it," and then you can move on.

But without those basic foundations, as Sue says, you're not going to progress. That's why you see all the top people — they have those foundations in place. But the people who come and sometimes learn from them haven't started out. They've just gone, "Oh, agility. I want to do that." But they don't have the foundations to work with in the very beginning. I think it should be part of almost any program — you have to have your foundations before you can do this.

Even with my pet dog people in class, in person, they all say, "We want to do agility. We want to do this, we want to do that." "Well, you've come to the right place." And they look at me, going "Huh?" "You need sit-stay, you need distraction training, you need voice control." "No, we want to do agility." "No, no, no, no, you have to have these basic things in place."

Not only because it's good for you and the dog and the communication, but it also can be a huge safety factor in a lot of different sports. If the dog is out of control, you're going to have a dog that gets hurt on the equipment, or even a human that gets hurt in the process. And so you have to understand how everything fits in together. That's why I like Levels.

Sue Ailsby: Another one for me, another light bulb moment, was I was going to do a seminar for Newfie people because they knew I had Portuguese Water Dogs who do water training. It's not exactly the same behaviors as the Newfie water training, but it's water training, and my Giants had done some carting, so they wanted me to do one day on water and one day on carting.

Three weeks before I left, I thought, "I'm taking a Portuguese Water Dog to this seminar and I'm going to spend a whole day teaching drafting. Maybe I should teach my dog drafting before I go to this seminar." She'd been through Level Four in the Levels, and by the time I got to the seminar three weeks after I started training her, she knew pretty much everything there was to know about how to pull a cart.

Two weeks after that, she got her first drafting title, and the only reason she was able to do that was because she had the foundations of learning and being trained. She could focus on the job, she knew what I was trying to tell her, she was willing to try.

Heather Lawson: That's the good part of it is because you're taking it in steps that are logical both to you and to the animal. And so when something is out of the ordinary, yes, we are setting them up to succeed when we're training, but we're also teaching the dogs to think as well, because they're able to pick out the steps and go through piece by piece, and it's built that solid foundation.

It's like when you're teaching a duration nose touch or the chin rest for the conformation, that chin rest or duration nose touch can be passed into so many different areas in sports — scentwork, conformation, cooperative care, everything that you want to do. It even is a great way because it teaches something as simple as duration of a behavior, like the nose touch, can transfer into even the first time doing a moving stand.

I remember the first time after I'd taught the concept to Piper of the duration nose touch and she understood how to actually stand still without movement. I thought, "I wonder if …" — the bad thing to do: "I wonder if …" — and so we did a little bit of heeling and I gave the signal "stand." I kept walking and she nailed the first go-round.

Sue Ailsby: So did my Portuguese Water Dog. That was so cool.

Heather Lawson: So it was like, "Okay, that works." And that was because she had all the little bits and pieces and she just went, "Okay, got it. I stand, got that. I can do it for a little bit of duration." We've worked through all the distance distraction and all those different pieces, so it was just a matter of putting all the pieces together, and it worked right off the bat.

Melissa Breau: Giving them the well-rounded concepts as well as the skills.

Heather Lawson: Exactly.

Sue Ailsby: When you see this in action in the dogs, you start noticing it everywhere. I had six 4-H kids. Five of them walked right through a gate into a pen. It was a weird latch, but five of them looked at the latch and "That goes there," and opened the door. The sixth one just went there and tried to open it, and then she just started shaking it and looking back at me like, "It won't open, it won't open." "Honey, look at the thing. Figure it out." She had never had to actually sit down and figure something out for herself before and she had no self-control. So we worked on figuring things out and self-control while I was trying to teach her about the animals.

Heather Lawson: That's actually a good point because she had none of those basic foundations, which led to frustration. Without those little individual steps, and this is why I like the individual steps and picking out the … basically you're teaching the ABCs. You can't ask your dog to write a university thesis without their ABCs. They need to know how to take those ABCs to a sentence, to a paragraph, and then you write the thesis.

But even in my concept classes, I find that once the dogs understand the process, their whole frustration levels go down. They're not barking, they're not shifting, they're not doing. They're waiting patiently. The information highway is open and they're getting clear communication. That's probably one of the best things I like about the Levels is that it's clear communication. Sue Ailsby: Imagine going through life as this child who had no way to be in control of her environment. All she could do was poke it and be frustrated. That a terrible way to live. And yet that's the way we train dogs forever. Just sit there and be frustrated, I don't care.

Melissa Breau: It's not super-fair to them. We've talked about this a little bit already. Obviously, Levels goes pretty deep in a way that's easy for both the trainer and the dog. But you go pretty deep into some of the concepts that dogs really need to be successful in almost anything you want to train. You talk about chutes and ladders, which hopefully one of you will elaborate on that just a little bit more here in a second, this idea of zen, some impulse control, ways to actually get behaviors, what your options are for training. There's a lot of concepts included in the course. Can you each talk us through maybe your favorite concept? I'll have Sue go first.

Sue Ailsby: My favorite concept. Heather, go first.

Heather Lawson: The one I like probably the most is the chutes and ladders, although I don't use chute, I use "Oh, sh …" That word. That's my inside voice. My outside voice obviously is different, especially if I'm in a class.

But I think that's a really easy way, because then it takes the focus off of "The dog did it wrong," or "I'm not getting it," or "The dog's not getting it." It just says, "Oops, let's go back. Let's explain that again." Then you go up, and then "Oops, let's go back and explain that again." It allows you to switch up a little something if you need to, but it takes the blame game out of it because you're making it more of a "No big deal," versus getting frustrated at the animal or frustrated at yourself. It allows you to focus on the individual steps. I think that's part of the whole Levels program is individual steps.

Obviously, if you're having to do a whole lot of "Oops," then you have to stop, review, change something in it, because obviously it's just not working. But it sets you up to be able to work the basic behaviors that you're teaching in almost any scenario. So no matter what you're applying it to, if you're getting a lot of "Oh, chutes," then you've got to go back. If you're going up those ladders, that's great. That's fantastic. Obviously the communication is clear, so you're on the right track. But it gives you training information in a very easy, nonjudgmental blaming situation.

Melissa Breau: For listeners who haven't taken the class who maybe aren't familiar with the concept, can you talk a little bit about what the chutes and ladders analogy is there, what it is we're actually talking about?

Heather Lawson: That's Sue's thing.

Melissa Breau: Okay, we can let Sue do it.

Sue Ainsly: It's not based on, but the game is a good description. Snakes and Ladders, or Chutes and Ladders, where you go along one step at a time and then you hit a snake or a chute, and oops, you slide all the way down to the bottom.

That, to me, was a good analogy because what we want to do is train, and the dog is doing great, and then he hits a part where he doesn't understand. He can sit-stay for five seconds, but he can't for six. You work up to five and he breaks and you go "Darn." You work up to five and he quits. "Darn!" You work up to five and he quits and you're like, "Dog, are you stupid?" And he's going, "What do you want from me?" And everybody's going crazy.

But instead of that, you chute back down to the beginning and you say — and I always throw my hands up in front of my face when I say this — "Let me explain that again." We start right back at the beginning and I say, "Can you stay for one? Can you sit? Can you stay for one second? That's great. Can you stay for two seconds? Great." And we get back up to five. If he breaks again, chute, we go right back down to "Can you sit?" Pretty soon he's going say, "I'm being paid for sitting here," and so he sits through five, and all right, we made it. Good dog, we can keep going, one square at a time, until he hits another snag.

Sometimes he'll climb a ladder, and go, "No, wait, I can sit for 25 seconds," but you don't believe it. You say, "That was great. You did that." But my game pawn is still way back here. We still have to go one step at a time, and we're still going to hit chutes and we're still going to slide back down. Sometimes, when you really know your dog and you're going along great, you look and you think, "I think that was just a little glitch. Let's only slide back halfway and explain it again." If he goes on when he gets to where the mistake was, you keep going. If he doesn't, you know you made a mistake and you slide right back down to the beginning. That's chutes and ladders.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Did you did you think of a concept that's your favorite, Sue, that you want to share?

Sue Ailsby: Zen and touch, I think, together, because they're opposites that you teach at pretty much the same time. How do I separate these two things? One of them, the touch, requires the dog to do something, not to be respondent, to be operant. So the dog has to do something in order to get something, to start the game with you. And zen, "Don't touch my hand," is the opposite: "You have to stay away from this." The zen part is, "The more you want this, the harder you have to stay away," and you actually get the dog ... you'll notice this: the better the treat, the farther away the dog wants to stay.

I was trying to take a picture of my dog. I had a sandwich on a plate on the coffee table and I was trying to get a picture of the dog sitting right beside the coffee table with her head over the sandwich, and I couldn't get it. She's like, "No, get thee behind me, Satan." She wasn't going to go anywhere near that sandwich. I said, "It's okay, it's okay. Come here, come here and sit." She's like, "No, not a chance. I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday." She really wanted that sandwich, but she absolutely could not go anywhere near it.

And the first time you see … I had a dog that was just all over the place, a Golden Retriever, and he couldn't think, he couldn't listen, he couldn't do anything. And first I got the zen. I got that through. And then I taught him to touch my hand. It took a long time. It was like the scene in the Helen Keller movie Miracle Worker, where the water pours out on her hand and she realizes that that's called water. He touched my hand, he got a treat. He started screaming and spinning all around the room, and he'd come back and bop my hand and get a treat, and scream and spin and bop my hand and get a treat. It's like the very first time in his life that anything made sense, and that was just marvelous. So teaching the dog self-control and teaching the dog to be operant — those are the two really important ones.

Melissa Breau: I'd also like to talk about … because I know that the Levels break things up into — surprise, surprise — levels. They break things up into pieces, and you were talking about moving through the squares. And so I'd love to also have a little bit of a conversation about when you know it's time to keep moving, when your dog has clearly hit a point where you're ready for that next step, or maybe you're ready to graduate to the next level. How we can tell when that's the case, versus maybe when we just stay where we are for a little bit longer or even make things a little bit easier, identifying those "Oh, chute" moments.

Heather, why don't you start this one off? Can you talk about that a little bit, how you know when the dog is doing well, how you know when the dog needs things made easier, stay at the current space, how you're judging that? I know it's a big question.

Heather Lawson: Yeah, because it's so dog dependent, dog team dependent. And circumstances. The analogy, I guess, is you have kitchen training. Everybody does. The dog performs beautifully in the kitchen. And then you take the dog out to the backyard and you expect the exact same behavior that you got in the kitchen in the backyard. And then people are so disappointed — "He won't do it when we're out in public." Well, no, because you have to start from the beginning and train it. Chute — you've got to go down.

I guess that's what I like about the Levels is it's explaining to people and to the dog that, "You know that thing that you were doing in the kitchen? Well, you can do it here, you can do it there, you can do it everywhere." But it's not going to be exactly the same right off the bat because there's so many other different environmental distractions and everything that's involved. I liken it to, for training purposes, I take a look at "Here's your tree, and each branch is a different behavior." The leaves on that branch are all the different kinds of situations or scenarios — distraction, duration, all that kind of stuff, with everything else thrown in.

You can't just train "sit" on its own and just deny that all that other stuff happens, because — "Oh, chute" — it does happen. Your dog has to understand that they still have to perform, no matter what's going on around them. So I think it gives people a clear way to judge when to move forward. If you're getting lots of chutes, you've got to stick to where you are. If you're getting more ladders, beware that you're not getting too many ladders. But if you're getting consistent ladders, and when you change location, or you change distraction, or change anything about that behavior, you don't slide all the way back down to chutes again, then you can pretty much decide that you're making the right decisions.

I think the chutes and ladders tells you when you can move forward. The common thing nowadays, if you're getting 50 percent, stay where you are. You need more. If you're getting 70 percent, maybe you can add a little bit more criteria to it. And if you're 90 percent, you can move to the next level. But that's hard sometimes for people to equate. If their dogs are consistently going "Oops," sliding back down and not able to do it, that's a much better way to give information to them, because then they know that again it's not the dog's fault. It's just a new scenario and new things.

So again, it's really dog dependent and handler dependent and everything else that's involved, and how much work people are putting into it. If you just do a couple of sits in your kitchen and "Okay, he knows it" —and I hate that word "He knows it," because how do you know he knows it? He knows. I know. It's like a magic wand. He knows it. You take it out and he knows it. But does he know it in this situation? Have you trained in this situation? So that's where the Levels come into play. That's why I like it.

Sue Ailsby: When you just decide to go out and train something … when I was a kid, one of the first books I read on how to train a dog said you take your dog — no leash or collar — you take it out to the sidewalk in front of your house, you say "heel," and you start walking. If the dog doesn't come with you, you go and get your dog, put it on the sidewalk, say "heel," and start walking.

I think one thing the Levels do is they force you to know what you're going to do and where you're going to go next. What's the next step in this? It's like shaping. The Levels are teaching you to shape by shaping you. This is where I start. This is the behavior I have to start with.

I want a sit-stay, the dog is standing there, thank goodness he's looking at me. What's the next step? Well, maybe he could bend his back legs. I'm not just going to wrestle him into position and yell "stay" at him. First I have to get him sitting. It teaches you that. And when you when you have a clear idea of what you're going to teach next, what's the next step in getting where I want to go, then you can start seeing, "Well, we failed. He's not sitting yet." Or he sits … three times I ask him to sit and he sits once. Well, he obviously doesn't know that yet, so we're not going to be teaching sit-stay yet.

So that's how you know. Heather said it well: If you just keep failing, chute, for heaven's sake. Go back to where the dog isn't failing all the time. If you're never failing, you're never pushing the envelope. You're just going to get stuck there forever. Okay, he sat, that's peachy. But now you've taught him that every time he sits, he gets to pop right back up because you never moved on. I think when it started 80 percent correct was the benchmark, but the third time you chute it at this point, you got to start thinking you're not doing well. So stay down lower for a while. That's all.

Heather Lawson: I think people are afraid to … they expect, "He's got it now. I'm going to take him out to this new location and he's got it, so he should be able to do it." They're afraid to go back to kindergarten, as we call it in my classes. Go back to kindergarten, but don't stay there too long. Just do a quick review and then start to work it up.

Your dog will tell you when you've reached that point where they don't understand anymore. And then you can slide down again, explain it again, and then go up. But you sometimes have to go back and review, go back and review, go back and help the dog push beyond what they have learned so far. I think people miss that. In some respect they have these high expectations that "He knows it, he should do it." Not so much.

Sue Ailsby: Every time you change something, every time you add a distraction, or every time you make something more difficult, you should make every other part of it easier. If we're going to work on the distraction, let's work on the distraction.

Sarah, my Giant Schnauzer, is getting ready to go back into shows after sitting out for almost two years. I discovered that he has completely forgotten that no everybody on the planet has to love him and wants him to clean out their noses.

He's supposed to do this in a show stack. He's supposed to be looking tall and magnificent. Well, we went to the park yesterday and I put him up on a bench and asked him to lie down, and that's all he did while people walked by. Just lie down on the bench and don't get stupid, and I paid him for that. And then people started coming, "Oh, what a pretty dog. Can I pet him?" I said, "Not right now, thanks. We're working on not petting." A little kid came along and he was like, "Why can't I pet him?" I said, "Sometimes you get ice cream when you want it and sometimes you don't. For him, this just isn't an ice cream day."

Melissa Breau: I like that explanation.

Sue Ailsby: And the kid, "I get ice cream every day at Grandma's." Yeah, well, I'm not your grandma, kid.

So we didn't work on show stacking, we didn't work on showing his teeth, we didn't work on getting his ears up, or leaning forward, or any of that stuff. All we did was lie on a bench and work on "Yes, people can walk by you without paying attention to you. You don't have to get stupid every time somebody looks at you."

Heather Lawson: In other words, you put him into "think and learn" zone and "concentrate" zone, no matter what is going on around you.

Sue Ailsby: One thing at a time. I'm not going to set him up in a show stack and then get mad at him because he can't pay attention. I know he can't pay attention, so we're just going to work on that one thing.

Melissa Breau: I like that. I've got one more question. Before we get to that, I thought, Sue, I'd give you a chance to share what you're doing in your retirement. What are you up to these days?

Sue Ailsby: In my retirement, the Giant Schnauzer is working on tracking, and he's working on herding, but not with me. I'm working on driving while I sit in a sulky, and working on draft excellent and some nosework, and just working on getting to train my dog again. And compete and conformation, of course. Getting to compete with my dog again, which I really didn't have time for. And getting my life back together.

Melissa Breau: I don't know. If I have to wait for retirement for that, I'm in trouble.

To round out our conversation, I would ask you each, if we were to drill down the conversation from today into one key piece of information you really want listeners to understood, what that would be. If we were to leave people one nugget that we want them to walk away with, what would it be? Heather, do you want to go first?

Heather Lawson: Only one nugget? Oh, darn. Foundations. It's the foundations, the beginning pieces. Not going too fast too soon, but not getting stuck and staying where you are for too long, because otherwise you can't move on, and the dog believes that's just the behavior and that's the way it should go.

I think with Levels it gives you such a solid foundation for anything that you want to do, but most of all it creates that two-way communication between you and your dogs so that they're easy to live with and you're easy to live with. I know that my dogs have benefited greatly from the Levels thinking, and taking things in steps, and keeping the rules in place without the need for restructuring their whole life, or my life around their unfortunate behaviors or anything.

They've all come along through the Levels program, and I would send my dogs off to live with anybody, no problem, and I don't think they would have any problems with them because they're not misbehaving dogs. They're easy to get along with, they're willing partners, and I think that's for me the basis of Levels is I want a willing partner, and by taking my time and explaining to my partner and my teammate what it is that I'm looking for, they're more willing to participate with me.

Sue Ailsby: Heather took my answer.

Heather Lawson: Oh, sorry. In a roundabout way as I covered a whole bunch of other things.

Sue Ailsby: Foundations. If your dog doesn't have a foundation of how to live with humans, how to control himself, how to be respondent instead of operant, he has no control over his life. If you don't have the foundations on the dog, you are living on the edge of control.

It's never my job to control my dog. It's the dog's job to control himself. It's my job to set things up so he can be successful, and without foundations, I have nothing.

Heather Lawson: I think you just touched on something, Sue, and that was control. I don't know where I heard this before; maybe I actually heard it from you: The more you try to control the dog, the less control you have.

Sue Ailsby: Absolutely.

Heather Lawson: Because you're better to put in those foundations, teach the dog what it is that you want, and manage them so that they're learning and that they're correct more times than they're not, so that the dogs begin to make good choices.

People say, "The leash is to control your dog." No, it's just a safety line. It's there to keep your dog safe in the big, bad city, and to keep them from chasing after that bull that they shouldn't be chasing after. That goes back to foundations again. It's control, it's working, it's living with the animals, because after all, we're asking them to play all these games. They would probably much rather roll in that cow pie in the field than do anything else. So we're lucky that we can actually have that two-way communication to ask them to participate with us.

Sue Ailsby: Another place where I learned about relinquishing control, two places: skiing and riding. In both cases, when I got going a little too fast, when I started feeling a little out of control, my instinct is to stand up and lean forward. And in both riding and skiing, that's exactly the wrong thing to do, because in both cases it makes you go faster. The way to get control is to sit down and sit back and relax.

I've had so many people say to me, "I need my dog to do this." I say, "Okay, take the leash off." "No, you don't understand. I can't get him to do it with the leash on." "I know you can't get him to do it with the leash on. So take the leash off." We keep going around and around this because they think the answer is more control from them, and I'm trying to teach them that the answer is more control from the dog.

Heather Lawson: More responsibility to the dog.

Sue Ailsby: Right:

Melissa Breau: I think that's a great note to end on. I want to thank you both for coming on the podcast. This has been a fantastic conversation.

Heather Lawson: Thank you. It was fun.

Sue Ailsby: I'm surprised we managed to get it in in an hour, because we both really got going.

Heather Lawson: We can have a whole conversation outside of this one, us two Canadians.

Melissa Breau: I think it was good. I think you built up each other really nicely, so it was a good conversation.

And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to listen to it! We will be back next week. I'll have Sara Brueske here. We'll be chatting about retrieves and disc routines.

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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