E237: Shade Whitesel and Ann Smorado - "Getting Ready for the Ring"

Skills are only the most obvious thing you need to train before trialing — in today's episode, Ann and Shade talk about the additional skills you need both inside and outside of the ring to compete successfully.  


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 Shade Whitesel and Ann Smorado here to talk about the skills you need to make it in the competition ring!

Hi ladies, welcome to the podcast!

Ann Smorado: Thanks, Melissa.

Shade Whitesel: Hello.

Melissa Breau: I want to start us out just have you each introduce yourselves and your dogs a little bit. Ann, do you want to go first?

Ann Smorado: Sure. I'm Ann Smorado. I have two Labrador Retrievers. We do almost all the things: agility, obedience, rally, nosework. That's about it until I see another shiny thing I want to try.

Hartley is my 9-year-old, and he and I are still competing together, but no more big goals that we're working on. Right now it's really fun to compete with him because we're just having fun in the ring, and no matter what the sport is, I really enjoy it. He's just so reliable. I'm able to focus on just having fun, which is probably what we should be doing with all our dogs at all ages.

And then I have Dare. He just turned 2. He's a ton of fun. We've done some nosework, he's just getting started in agility, and we're working on getting ready for the obedience ring. I'm hoping by this time next year he'll be ready for novice, but we'll see. I'll let him tell me.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Shade.

Shade Whitesel: I've got three German Shepherds. Bailey's my house dog. She's the girl. And her brother is Ones, who is going to be 9 in the fall, and I can't believe I just said that. Nine – oh my gosh, their lives go so quickly.

Ann, I totally get it. It's so comfortable trialing the older dogs because you know what they're going to do. I don't know for you, but for me, the pressure is off more too. So Ones is almost 9, and we're going to be attempting his FH title in Schutzhund, which is the advanced tracking title, in two weeks. So that's pretty cool, but a lot of work because I've got to track every day before it.

My youngest dog, Talic, is 3 years old. We just did our first trial, which is the VH, which is the temperament test, obedience entry level, into Schutzhund. I really, really look forward to competing him in AKC, but I can't do all the things all at once. So put that off a little bit and hope to have him start doing that next year, after he gets a couple Schutzhund stuff under his belt.

But yeah, those are my dogs.

Melissa Breau: These classes are timely for both of you with, with the young, up-and-coming dogs who are working through all this stuff. Good stuff. I know you're both teaching classes in the October session on the skills that our dogs need to get ready to compete.

But the two classes are actually quite different. So I wanted to talk a little bit about those concepts today and just what it takes to actually get ready for trialing. Let's say I have taught my dog all the skills they need to do a perfect novice run in the sport of my choice in my backyard. What's next? Shade?

Shade Whitesel: Well, a lot. Spaces In Between addresses this, where what I really want the dog and handler to get comfortable with is generalizing different locations, generalizing all those trial cues, because we tend to do specific things in our backyard that we aren't able to do in a different location. So making sure that the dog has predictable trial routines, this is a workspace, this isn't a workspace, things like that.

And just making them really comfortable with different locations and all the distractions they're going to see in the trial by location, and making sure they're comfortable. And making sure that you, as the handler, have taught those kind of skills to make sure they're comfortable on the day of and the travel there.

But also that you've got protocols in place that you can ask the dog, "How are you feeling?" and you can go, "Oh no, you're overwhelmed; I need to take you for another walk around the perimeter," things like that. Also I want the handler to have some ideas of what to do when their dog says, "I'm totally overwhelmed," or "I'm ready to go," as well. So there's a lot going from your backyard to a trial.

Melissa Breau: Ann?

Ann Smorado: I saw your question, too, and I said "A lot," when I looked at it earlier. Yeah, a lot of things. One thing that Shade didn't mention is your dog working with no reinforcers on your body. We always have food in our pocket, or a toy under our armpit or shoved in the back of our pants, and they're not going to be there. And we can't fool the dogs. They know they're not there.

I remember when I first trialed my first dog. I can remember walking in the ring and I didn't have any cookies in my pocket, and I felt like someone had tied my left arm behind my back. So that's, I think, a big one that nobody likes to do, but we all really have to do, is just prepare for that. And generalization. Getting the dog out doing it in a zillion different places is a big one.

Melissa Breau: To build on that, because you both talked a little bit in there about generalization: for handlers who are new – maybe brand new – to dog sports and they haven't had much exposure to the environment that's typical at a trial, so maybe they don't even know what they need to prepare their dogs for, what kind of skills is it useful to have onboard to help ensure that when the dog makes it into the ring, they are feeling confident and comfortable? Ann, you want to go first on this one?

Ann Smorado: Sure. First, I'll preface this by saying – and I have to say one of my local students wins the big gold star award for actually doing this – I really, really recommend that new exhibitors at least go spend a day at a trial, and better yet, volunteer and help out, because that will really give them a real up-close and personal visual of what the trial environment is going to be like and what to expect. So there's that.

But as far as a skill that you teach your dog, the ability to chill and then work, and especially now, because with Covid protocols, a lot of times we have to stage. So you've got your crating area somewhere else, or you're crating in your car, and then, two dogs before your turn, you're supposed to be in the building but over here, and when you're next, you're supposed to be over here. In a sport like obedience, where the dog is in the ring for three or four minutes, that can be a bit of a wait, so if your dog has the ability to relax, and then when you give them a cue – "We're going to go in and we're going to go work now" – that they know what to expect.

I have a little routine where my dog chills, then I have a cue that lets them know we're going to go in the ring, and he can turn on and be ready to go. So I think that's a big one. I learned from my own mistakes. My older dog was taught that when he's at the other end of the leash, he should be focused on me, which seemed like a great plan. But if you've got a long staging time, their brain is burned out before they even enter the ring. So they need to know the difference between when they're in a trial environment and they're not working, and then when it's time to get to work.

Melissa Breau: Shade?

Shade Whitesel: A whole list of stuff. To build on what Ann just said, and that's really huge, knowing when to relax. Because one of the things that I see a lot of times when I teach seminars, or when I go to trials, is definitely the dog is having such a hard time dealing with the trial environment or the seminar environment outside of the performance that they're exhausted by the time they actually get in to perform, by the time you actually want them to do the trial skills, and they have no brain left. So definitely that waiting is a huge deal.

Being comfortable in a crate, or comfortable in your car, or comfortable on a mat by your chair, however you're going to deal with that. There's a lot of travel involved, so sometimes being comfortable in a hotel, being comfortable in the car, all that kind of stuff is just huge even before you get to the trial location. I think that's really huge.

And then transporting your dog from Point A to Point B. I can't tell you how many times I see dogs that are just crazy at the end of the leash, sniff, sniff, sniff. It's really hard on both the handler and the dog to go from that through the trial atmosphere, trying to get to your ring, and then get some good trial performances when your dog is like, "I'm not ready. I'm still sniffing around." So transporting, and knowing how to get the dog from Point A to Point B, into the building, or from your car to wherever, that's kind of huge.

And then also getting to a point where, like Ann said, this is a work environment. Can you hear your reinforcement cues? Can you do some simple behaviors? I want my dog's fluency on "sit" to be really fast and confident before I go and I ask for fancy heeling. So these sorts of questions to be able to ask your dog there too. All this stuff outside the ring – I like handlers feeling really confident in that before they then get into the ring.

Melissa Breau: That leaves us at a really good point to step into what I wanted to talk about next, which is actually in the ring. Once we do make it into the ring, what kinds of things might happen that we also need to train for beyond just those basic exercises themselves? The dog maybe knows to sit and stay and do the basics, but what else do they need onboard to bring their best selves inside the ring? Shade, you want to go first on this one?

Shade Whitesel: My class really covers most of the outside of the ring, so not as much inside. But one thing I'll just mention that it's really good to know when to take your leash on and off, and how to accustom your dog to that.

I saw examples this weekend where people didn't know when they were supposed to take their leash off. And then the dog … it wasn't so much a hot mess, but the judge is saying, "Take your leash off," and the handler is trying to get the leash off, and the dog is like, "What are you doing around my neck?"

When that's part of the trial routine, or part of that entry into it, I really think that's a skill that we don't often practice that might need to be practiced a little more, reaching down and messing with our dog's neck. So that's a good example.

Ann Smorado: One of the things I like to make sure my students focus on a lot that's in the ring – and in obedience; this is obedience-specific – is transitions, going from exercise finished to the setup of the next exercise, because a lot of handlers lose their dogs in that time because the dogs don't know what they're supposed to be doing.

They've got this cute behavior, they just got done heeling their cute heel, they're doing this, exercise finished, and now the handler is going away, and they're like, "Am I supposed to go with you, or am I supposed to stay? What am I supposed to do?" They get stressed and then they start sniffing, and then it just rolls downhill from there.

So I really like to recommend my students train a really good, solid transition, "This is how we go from …," and maybe a couple of them. Depending on the dog's brain that day, if the dog is super-high energy and feels like they need to release some, maybe some more energetic transitions so they can release a little bit of energy. Or maybe they're feeling low energy, so you don't want to use much. You need a few of them. But if I could at least get all my students to train one good transition, I think that that would be really helpful.

Another thing I like to focus on, too, are delays in the ring, where everything just stops because, I don't know, the steward who was supposed to bring you the dumbbell has disappeared, and so you have to wait. So just having a plan and a trained thing that you do if you have to wait for 30 seconds for the next thing to start, which 30 seconds doesn't sound like a long time, but it is if you've got your dog sitting in heel position focused on you. That's really hard on your dog.

Shade Whitesel: Yeah, that's a huge deal – training those delays, and making sure the handler knows what to do and the dog is accustomed to that as a trained behavior. I see so many performances go downhill when the handler is like, "Oh my gosh, what do I do, because I've got to wait." So yeah, that's a really good point.

Ann Smorado: I made poor Hartley, years ago, wait over a minute for the articles in utility one time. The article steward had disappeared, and they're going "Articles articles," and my dog is sitting there in heel position waiting for those. I hadn't thought that through yet, and he's sitting in heel that whole time, and I've got to tell you, he exploded in the next exercise.

I think it was one of the utility exercises that ends in a recall. He flew across that ring and just pushed on my chest with his front paws and started licking my face. It all went back to that 60 seconds in heel, just sitting there waiting. You better believe I trained what we're going to do if there's a delay after that.

Melissa Breau: I know. And you mentioned you trained it. So what did you come up with? What solution did you have? What did you teach him?

Ann Smorado: I used the release cue from heel. And then for him, he likes to do "spin left, spin right," so we do some left/right tricks. We just have a handful of little tricks that he likes to do that we can bide our time with, if there's some weird delay like that.

Shade Whitesel: I was caught off guard this weekend, and I know better than this, where we set up for a long heeling pattern and the other person is going to their long down. Oftentimes we have to wait, exactly like you said, in heel position. And that wait can actually, if it's new people or whatever, can be up to two minutes. I had trained it a little, but not enough, and I could tell that Talic was like, "Do I pay attention to you or do I look around? What do I do?" I caught myself as a handler going, "I'm forgetting – am I allowed to step out of heel position here?"

Schutzhund is so static and so formal. Sometimes you don't know quite within the rules what you're allowed to do there. I was like, "I need to think this through for my next trials." For my dog, that'll make him vocal on that first step and forge on that first step, so that's exactly what he did. He did a little whine, and forged, and then caught himself, and I'm like, "I need to have a plan for this."

Melissa Breau: What a good reminder that it's important to know the rules for your sport. You need to know what your options are, and what you can and can't do.

How old does your dog or puppy need to be before you start working on some of these skills? I know you both have "young" – I'm putting that in quotes because they're not baby puppies anymore – but young dogs who are up-and-coming, so Ann, when do you start working on some of this?

Ann Smorado: It's never too early. Seriously. I started doing things with my puppy when he was really little, working on things like just putting the cookies in a bowl up on the shelf and doing a few things and using a reinforcer cue that I use for that, going and getting it from the bowl. So he got used to, from just being a young puppy, that just because the food isn't in my pocket or in my hand doesn't mean it's not coming.

Even things like generalization. He was just a few months old, and sure, I did different things then than I do now. But I could take him places and "Can you look at me? Yes. Okay," things like that.

Shade Whitesel: It's just like Ann said: as soon as possible. One thing I was reminded of that one of my students recently said something about: when you go to a different environment, you lower your criteria. I've always had a problem with that saying, and so I really thought it through, and it's not that you lower criteria; it's that you ask for easier skills. You lower the complexity.

Ann Smorado: I'm so glad you said that.

Shade Whitesel: You don't ask for fancy heeling that they could do at home if they can't come into heel, or they can't look at you, or they can't eat food. So you lower the complexity of the skills. You don't ask for fancy heeling and accept less than fancy heeling. So I feel like that saying really gets misunderstood maybe.

Ann Smorado: That always bugged me too. I'd be like, "What do you mean, lower your criteria? You just ask for something easier, or a trick where you don't care about the criteria." If I ask you to spin left, I don't really care if it's a perfect spin left or not.

Shade Whitesel: But you're not gonna expect perfect heeling, because if the dog can't do the spin left. So that's a that's a huge deal that I think often gets miscommunicated. And I totally got off subject.

Melissa Breau: That's okay. I know that you're both fairly experienced competitors, so I thought it might be interesting to ask you what kind of unexpected things you've run into while trialing and how your dogs handled it. And if they didn't handle it, what did you do going forward to make sure that if it happened again, you were more prepare? Shade, do you have any crazy stories for us?

Shade Whitesel: Oh yeah. One time I was competing at regionals with my dog Reiki, and a dog broke on the long down when I recalled. So I recalled my dog and the dog broke on the long down, which is not uncommon at the BH level, but is pretty uncommon at regional level at the highest level. So I had two dogs coming to me. And then, just like Ann mentioned earlier in this podcast, I then had to wait in focus-to-heel position for the other handler to collect their dog and put them back on the long down, which is all the way across the field.

In hindsight, I would do exactly what Ann said she now trains, and then I would break the dog out of heel and I would do some easy motion relieving stress, because then you're stuck. The dog just did a hard behavior, came to you with another dog coming to him, finished in heel, and then you make them sit there for two minutes in focus-to-heel. So I definitely have plans for that. I know exactly what I'm going to do.

Especially depending on the dog that I have, I might have different things that I train, depending on the dog itself. I would definitely have a different protocol for Onesie, who would take exception to another dog running towards him, than I would for Talic or Reik. So that also needs to come into it. Change it up, due to the dog that you actually have. Unexpected things always happen.

Melissa Breau: It's so intimidating.

Shade Whitesel: Very intimidating. Intimidating to the dog. I think he didn't do a good front because they're aware of a dog running towards them. You have two intact males on the field, you're thinking, "What am I going to do if a dog fight, things like that, accidentally happen." This situation ended up fine.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely scary. Ann, what about you? What kind of crazy stuff have you had?

Ann Smorado: C-WAGS is another dog sport organization. This was their 10-year national, I don't know, several years ago with Hartley, and I was in the obedience ring. I guess the roof had sprung a leak. It was raining out while we were in the ring. It was a rectangular ring and we were down at the far end. Meanwhile, this leak had sprung in the other end, and the stewards went in there and they pulled the ring gates into a point. So now it wasn't rectangular anymore. It had a little V because they moved the ring gates in, and they stuck a bucket under the leak to catch the water.

All this was going on, and I had no idea that was going on. We're down at the end. It was a normal-sized obedience ring, but all I noticed was at one point the judge had us set up for certain exercises not in the place that she had told me she was going to. And so when we're all done, we're completely done, I turn around and look and I see this bucket and the ring gates and all of this moved in. I'm like, "What happened?" They go, "The roof sprung a leak."

I was actually really proud of that, though, because that told me that I was just staying focused on my dog, and that's one of the things I really think is super-important is that if we expect them to stay focused on us, we need to stay focused on them. So I don't know, but that was funny. I'm glad I didn't know.

Melissa Breau: Talk about keeping your cool, though. The judge changes where you're supposed to set up – that alone would throw most people.

Ann Smorado: Yeah, it does. But I think it was the first person in the ring that day. We'd done the briefing, so I knew where things were supposed to be, but yet I hadn't watched a bunch of teams do it. I think I just went, "Oh, all right, we're over here, right? It's not what she said, but okay."

Melissa Breau: Let's say we have a young dog, or we have a new dog, and we've just finished our first trial, and we were maybe disappointed by the results. Talk to me about how you look back over a trial or a run, figure out what went wrong, but in a productive way. How do you figure out what opportunities for future training are, based on what happens in a trial or run, and then develop a plan, patch some of those holes? Ann, you want to take this one first?

Ann Smorado: Sure. First of all, I always, always, always, always, always focus on what went right. And in fact I've even gotten to the point where I don't even sometimes think about what went wrong for a day or two, maybe even a week. If it's a week, it means I'm really disappointed and I have to be emotionally ready to look at it. I usually get video. Can't always get video, but I usually get video.

Just for example, my young dog, Dare, just started his agility career, and I've been really pleased with this work. He's stayed focused. He's doing the obstacles I cue him to do. It might not be the right one, but he's doing the ones I'm cuing. He's not visiting bar setters. He's not running amuck. He's focused and doing his job, so I've been really pleased with that.

This is why keeping records matters, because we tend to block out certain things. I noticed that he'd had a couple table faults, and I'm like, "He's bouncing the table." He's jumping on it and just hopping off the other side, which is not acceptable in AKC Obedience. You can still qualify with it at the Novice level, but not at the Master Excellent level. So I'm like, "All right."

So then when I thought about it and looked through all my articles, I'm like, I really hadn't trained a true table behavior. I just took it for granted: "The table is there, you hop on it, and you stay on it until I tell you to get off." Well, he didn't know that. He thought, "Okay, you just get on it, hop off the other side, get back on, I'll wait till you let me off." And so I spent probably couple months in the summer just working on the table, and now table behavior is fine.

But yeah, there's always those little holes. As thorough as I try to be before I enter my young dog, I always do find some holes in the training, and that's where some record keeping … and my record keeping is very cursory. I'm not going to tell anybody to do anything really laborious, because it's too much. It's too much for me. But if you're really honest with yourself to find those holes, then you can patch them.

Melissa Breau: But even like you said, you try and get video, and then you noticed over several trials or several runs, you're seeing the same behavior. It wasn't just that it happened once and then you're like, "Now we've got to create a rehab plan."

Ann Smorado: No, it had happened over a couple of trials. And I said, "Oh yeah, I actually didn't really train that." It's one of those things that's a pain in the butt to have in group classes because every dog height needs a different table height and they're kind of a pain in the butt to assemble. They're real easy for instructors to "I don't want try the table." That's time-consuming, you know.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. What about you, Shade?

Shade Whitesel: We just had our first trial on Saturday, so this is very timely. I always try to get video, because you remember stuff quite differently than what actually happened most of the time, so it's really important to get that impartial video thing.

In Schutzhund, the judge gives you a critique, and this judge really gave me a critique. He mentioned every single thing wrong. While I appreciate it, it was definitely a little bit like, "Oh my gosh, it felt better than what the critique was." So anyway, I'm always pretty good at being able to see the good part, and then also reframing the slight disappointment of, "I need to work harder on this" and forming a plan. I'm really good about that.

I would say that Talic did very well and very expected young dog stuff. But it also made me realize how I actually like to trial dogs pretty early in their career, like earlier than 3, because you really want to know what's going to be difficult for this dog, and it might be different than you know.

And it's important to get out there and test your training, so that with everything stripped away – all your reinforcers, all your tools, if you use that – and for you to go, "This is a very good look at where I'm at." Trialing always gets me sort of fired up of, "Okay, I'm going to do this," and also like Ann said, "Whoops, I haven't actually trained that."

In my case, this trial happened where I do two recall cues, and one means "speed" that I always usually break and release with it, and the other one means perfect front. In AKC obedience I just use the perfect front one, because the preciseness matters much more, but in Schutzhund I use the speed one because it's a full-field recall, and then the end of it is a default front. Well, Talic told me in no uncertain terms as he smashed into me that I haven't taught him to collect himself enough from speed. And so the judge remarked that I moved, and I basically said, "Wouldn't you have, if you've got this dog coming towards you with no intention of stopping?" So yes, I need to go back and train that recall, because he has a good front when he does a good front. So trials are fun, but also informative.

Melissa Breau: As I mentioned at the beginning, you're each teaching class on skills in these buckets this coming term, but they're quite different in the actual things that you're focusing on. When I looked at them last night, I mentally thought of Shade's Spaces In Between class as the skills we need outside of the competition rings that we bring our best dog into that ring when it's our turn. Ann's class more is building the skills you need for in the rings that your dog can hold up under pressure and perform their best in a potentially trying environment. I want to have you each share a little more about your class – what you cover, who might want to consider it – just so folks can maybe decide for themselves which class is what their dog needs and what they need. Shade, you want to talk about Spaces first?

Shade Whitesel: Sure. I think you hit the nail on the head. Spaces covers the stuff that happens outside the ring: how to be comfortable, both dog and handler, how to train those skills. I want handlers to understand that training those outside skills, that waiting around time, is crucial and huge for your dog's mental health and also crucial for the next trial.

A lot of times our dogs can go into the trial situation, be kind of stressed, and do okay in the ring with all the clever skills that we've taught them. But if they're not really comfortable in the outside whole day, then that really affects you the next trial because your dog gets into that situation and goes, "Oh, no. I remember this. It was really stressful." So Spaces really includes that outside time, and hopefully making both handler and dog feel more comfortable and have more of a plan.

Specifics: it's more about down-stays, it's about crating, it's about asking your dog, "Can you hear me?" It's about transport. It's about predictable routines, knowing when to work and when to not, waiting your turn, and things like that. So specifically.

Melissa Breau: Ann, you want to talk a little bit about your class you have coming up?

Ann Smorado: My class pulls together all the little things that are so easily overlooked when you're preparing to trial and seem to be difficult — not impossible, but difficult to include in a group class. So many newer competitors really rely heavily on group classes for trial prep, and group classes are great for a lot of things, but they have a hard time covering things like being in the ring without reinforcers. Those transitions tend to get neglected because everybody gets excited about working on heeling, utility go-outs, and stuff like that. But these other little things tend to get the groans, I guess.

And like Shade said, not having this stuff fully trained before you trial, the dog might do fine the first trial or two, and then by the third one it starts to fall apart. I've heard people say the dogs become ring wise, and I hate that term because it sounds like the dog is like, "This is a trial. I don't want to do this for you." And really, I don't think it's that. I think it's just stress because they were faced with things they weren't prepared for and now they're back in that trial environment.

Where the lack of reinforcers comes in, I think a lot of dogs get stressed because they think they're doing something wrong because they didn't get their reinforcers. So my class pulls together all that kind of stuff: working without reinforcers, transitions for obedience, planning for delays in the ring, when you're exiting the ring, when you're coming in the ring.

Just going through that threshold can be a big deal, too, for a lot of dogs. I've had agility handlers say to me, if they're going in the ring ahead of me, "Can you reach over here and make sure this gate closes softly?" Because the sound of that clang of the gate – because we have gates that open and close and they clang shut – that clang scares some dogs. There's all kinds of little things like that.

Having said all that, I think that my class is for anyone. Oh, and I forgot to mention I also have a number of lectures that are directed to total newbies, to complete newcomers, like how to read a premium, or what to look for in a premium. That's important. How to read your judging program so that you don't show up at 8 a.m. when your class doesn't start till 3 p.m.

How to find matches. We talk about going to these practice matches and run-throughs is really important. How do you find them? Because they're not usually on club websites. If you don't know, someone you know has to tell you about them. If you don't know anybody yet, how are you supposed to find out about these things? I have some lectures on how to find out about those things. So there's things like that.

So I would say that my class is really for anyone who is not completely inexperienced, had some experience, but just wants to do a more thorough job in their trial preparation. Maybe they've done a few trials and it just didn't feel so good, and they want some help before the next trial. Or maybe they're on their second or third dog and say, "I want to do a better job of this." Maybe they just want some guidance and support in how to do this and not make it stressful for them and their dog in the process. And then it's also for people who are complete newbies, who've never trialed before and "What do I do?"

Melissa Breau: I didn't necessarily include this in the questions, but I think it'd be good to have you each tack on to your previous answer, which is, what skills does the dog need coming into your class?

For you, Ann, how close do they need to be to actually trialing before they can start working on some stuff? Because you both said that you start these skills super-early on in your own training, so I'm curious what you need coming in.

Ann Smorado: That's a great question, Melissa, because I was even thinking about that while I was winding down from my last one. I thought, "I've already talked too much, too long."

I actually think it's good for anyone who wants to trial in the future. This class starts October 1. If you're thinking you want to be ready for a December 15 trial, I'd say it's a little late, but I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from trying. But I would say anyone who's thinking about …whose training skills … and say, "I want to do a trial," you're thinking about trialing in the next year or so, now's a really great time to be working on this.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Shade, what about you? What skills do folks need coming in for Spaces?

Shade Whitesel: I made it as a workshop sort of class and less of a training class. I'm expecting you to come in with some training chops already, and so that you mostly know how you're going to train your dog. You've got most of your stuff trained. This is more about "Let's now do this in this environment."

One of the things I concentrate on is having five different locations that you actually practice each skill in, and that would be easy, medium, hard locations to really get the generalization. I want you to have access to those, and I want you to already have a training language established with your dog. You can be sort of new, you can have a young dog, because all this stuff is good if you start it earlier. Anyway, I think I'm making sense.

Stuck in my head is something that Ann said earlier, and I think encompasses both of our classes, is I want the dog and the handler to … I don't want it to be such a jump from training in your group class to trialing. Ann mentioned the dogs becoming ring wise because it's such a different thing for them. It's like we have the treat on our body all the time when we're training in group class, or we have the toy in our hand, and we don't go into those stressful environments with all these big crowds and people staring at the dog in the ring.

We often don't even enter a ring. We don't even practice entering between two things. And so it's such a different experience for our dogs. I think that one thing that we need to realize as handlers teaching with the goal of trialing is that we need to try to train as much of that as possible and have it not be such a big jump.

I think probably both our classes are really important for that thing of limiting the stress on both handler and dog. I know I keep talking about the handler, but boy, I know that I, as a handler, when I know what I'm doing, it makes my nerves so much less. It's just like I know when I've trained those transitions, or when I know that my dog is knowing his marker cues before he goes into the ring, I just feel so much more confident. And I really believe that we can make our handlers and our students feel more confident when they're like, "I know what to do. I know when to take my leash off. I know how my dog is doing. I have their head," all that kind of stuff. So I just wanted to add that.

Melissa Breau: I love that, and I love that reminder point, too. Just to share a story really quickly, with Levi, his very first seminar where he had a working spot was a Deb Jones seminar. We were doing what should have been fairly easy skills. We were working on her location-specific marker cues for building a concept of zen. It was the first time he'd worked with a whole bunch of people staring at him, and he was like, "Mom, I can't do this." We had to bail from a working seminar. I had another dog in the car who'd come in and work, but he was like, "I can't. I can't eat here."

A lot of times we don't even think about stuff like that. I picked an easy seminar, it wasn't going to be a big crowd, I thought he'd be able to do it, and he told me he couldn't.

I want to round out our chat by giving you each a chance to pull out a final takeaway or drill down the conversation into one piece of information you really want people to walk away with. Ann, what would your takeaway or final golden nugget be?

Ann Smorado: We have to remember that trials are different than training. Even if the trial is being held in a building you train in, a trial is different than training. The energy is different, everything smells different, everything sounds different, everything looks different. Trials are different than training.

What it's our job to do is think about all those differences and prepare for them. To pick up on one of the things Shade said, I always find that if I have a plan for every little thing … of course things come up that you don't expect, like a leak in the ceiling or a dog jumping from another ring and coming after you, or things like that. But if I feel like I'm going in with a plan for "What am I going to do if my dog gets distracted and is sniffing a spot on the floor?" I feel more confident going in, and then those things are less likely to happen. It just makes me feel better, and when I feel better, my dog feels better.

But that said, trials are different than training, no matter what.

Melissa Breau: That's important. Shade?

Shade Whitesel: Same sort of stuff. You train as much as you can, and you realize that it's difficult to replicate that environment for your dog, so what happens in that environment really matters because then it's difficult to replicate. So you want to make sure that you prepared your dog and yourself as much as possible, so that it's always going to be different, but so it's not as different and it's not one event stressful learning for your dog, which can happen for sure. Prepare as much as you can, and realize that there's lots of little things that aren't covered in your group class on the training skills.

To pull that together, I just gave, through Fenzi, a series of heeling classes. It took three basic classes to teach heeling, and one of the questions somebody asked at the end was, "Can you cover reducing reinforcement? I'm going to trial in October." It's like, "No. This series of classes is just on actually getting the behavior. Reducing reinforcement is another whole year and probably not trialing in October." You've just taken a class. We can't go from twenty steps of heeling being expensive for the dog to being able to trial among all the distractions and stuff like that.

So I guess what I want people to understand is you've got the behaviors and you've achieved the behaviors, you've trained all your clever and sexy stuff, but then I want to give equal merit to the transitions, the plans, the not having food in your hand remote reward, all that kind of stuff. There's just as much time to attention to detail as the sexy stuff that we get into our sports for. Think of it as sexy mind skills.

Melissa Breau: Thank you both so much for coming on the podcast. I think this is super-helpful and will be really great for folks that are at that point where they're trying to get into the ring. So thank you both.

Shade Whitesel: Thank you.

Ann Smorado: It was fun, as always.

Shade Whitesel: Thanks for having us.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thank you to all our of listeners for tuning in! We will be back next week to talk about heeling with Nicole Wiebusch and Nancy Gagliardi Little.

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! 

Reactive Trainer? And Why Does it Matter?
Does Your Dog Hate Going to the Vet? Here are 5 T...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/