E247: Jake Schneider - "Grip Development for Bitey Sports"

 Today Jake and I talk about all things Bitey Sports and how being told it wasn't possible to train a dog for Mondio without the 'traditional' tools for the sport led him to do exactly that.


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 Jake Schneider here with me to talk about mondioring and give us a sneak peek at all things bitey sports.

Hi Jake, and welcome to the podcast!

Jake Schneider: Hi Melissa, thanks for having me. This is pretty exciting. It's my first podcast that I've actually been a part of being on, so this is actually really exciting for me, so thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I'm excited to chat. To start us off, can you share a little bit of background about you, any current pets you have, and what you're working on with them?

Jake Schneider: As I'm sure people know, I'm a mondioring judge, a decoy, and a handler. That's where my background comes into. The dog I currently have right now, he is a finished Level 3 dog. The reason I say "finished" is because I'm not going to go pursue any nationals or international with him. But he's a Level 3 dog, and so his current, or our current, goals, I should say, is we're actually doing a lot of nosework. He has his AKC CDX, so we're going to push beyond that. His nosework stuff's doing really good.

And so we're just kind of playing around. He's 5-and-a-half, so I call him half-retired. He's also our decoy trainer. When I'm working with clubs and stuff, he's the one who's helping decoys learn. That's our stuff.

Currently, right now, I'm just running two businesses, our physical and online businesses for dog training, with my wife.

Melissa Breau: Good stuff. How did you originally get into the dog world?

Jake Schneider: Well, the dog world in general … I don't want to say I was born into it. My mom quit working at 3M when I was very young, and pursued full-time dog training. She's been doing it now … I don't even know. I haven't kept track of the years now, and I don't want to really remind myself how long it's been, because it's been a while.

But she's basically been doing it most of my entire life, and so she's the one who got me into dog training in general, and the mondioring, though, it definitely came later on. But it was thanks to her, and her allowing a schutzhund club to come and train in her facility. That opened my eyes to the whole bite-sport community. And then I happened to meet up with someone who became a really good friend of mine that surprisingly didn't live far from me and I was training. I trained for her for about thirteen years.

Melissa Breau: Wow. I know we talked about this a little bit before we got started, but do you consider yourself a positive trainer?

Jake Schneider: I could say yes or I could say no, and I think there's going to be an asterisk next to it, no matter what. I'll explain that. I started doing mondioring back in 2009. I did a little bit of schutzhund about a year or so before that. But when I got into the bite sports stuff, the idea of training, you were using pinch collars, you were using e-collars. It's what the standard was.

There were exercises in mondioring like an object guard, where a dog has to guard an object, you're out of the scene, you're out of sight completely, the dog has to guard the object. The thought was that's how you control the dog, that's how you get a dog to stay, is through using e-collars and stuff, because you're not there to physically tell the dog they're not doing something right. And so that was the mentality starting out.

What ended up happening over time is I allowed my competitive nature to start to kick in. I was talking to somebody, and this was after I finished my first Mondio 3 dog, Cato. We went to Europe with him and trialed all over at high levels, and I reached what I considered the peak of mondioring. I went to the biggest event in mondioring and we competed there, and so I was like, "My next dog, I want to do some different things."

My goal with him was to train him with no pinch collars, no e-collars, no nothing. The main reason for that is because someone told me I couldn't. To be honest, that's how I got started in trying to do things more in a positive way is because someone said, "It can't be done." And I started thinking, "I think it maybe can be," so I started playing around with different ideas. Thankfully, the club I was training with was open to me doing this, as well, and just trying new things with their dogs. It just stemmed into me going, "I'm just going to try and do pretty much as much as I possibly can without using any form of correction."

Punish-wise, I'll still punish a dog by withholding something, or there's a consequence to obviously the dog doing not something great, but I really try to stay away from physical correction stuff, because over time I've started to figure out that it's not necessary to get results all the time. It's just something I've started to get away from.

But, like I said, there's an asterisk there. I didn't start that way. I'm definitely progressing into that way as fully, and I embrace it because I think it's really an interesting, fun sort of thing to do with the dog. And if someone says I can't do it a certain way, I have to at least try.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. If I was to ask you to describe your current training philosophy then, what would you say?

Jake Schneider: To go back into what I was saying before, I would say my philosophy is heavily based in the relationship you have with your dog. You have to be able to communicate, you have to have a bond with your dog, and especially if you're not going to use certain corrective devices, you have to have a relationship where your dog wants to be with you.

If your dog doesn't want to work with you — and this doesn't matter if you're a decoy or if you're the handler — if the dog doesn't want to be with you, that's a problem. It's absolutely a problem.

And so my training philosophy is heavily based in relationship stuff, making sure that the dog … I mean, obviously I want the person to enjoy their dog. But I don't want to say more importantly, but the dog has to like their people. If the dog doesn't like their people, it's going to be a struggle.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned earlier you do mondioring. You're a handler and decoy. And judge. I'd imagine that doing those three roles, there are obviously similarities there, but there are some pretty dramatic differences. When I was thinking about questions, I was like, I really am curious how one role and taking on different roles has really influenced your perspective when you're performing the other roles. How has that all worked out for you?

Jake Schneider: It's actually been really interesting. As a judge, as far as I know — and someone could correct me if I'm wrong — at least at this point, there are some new judges coming up that are going to be similar to my experience. I think I'm the only one who has been a decoy for a long time. I've decoyed over thirty trials. I've been a judge now for three years, and I've been a handler through two different dogs up to Level 3. And so I think I'm the only or one of the only judges that have been through all three realms of the sport.

It definitely does give you a different perspective. I think handlers sometimes maybe don't appreciate the perspective I have, because I'm able to set things up that are weird, or I'm able to coach decoys in the trial and be able to help them, like, "If you try this or do this, this might get more points."

But at the same time, I think the biggest thing for me is going from a decoy to a handler. When I started in mondioring, I didn't have a dog. Well, I had a dog. It was a Basset Hound. That was my dog.

Melissa Breau: You were going to do bite sports with a Basset Hound?

Jake Schneider: They started introducing the obedience-only and it crossed my mind: "I should totally do this with my dog." But no, Copper was not a mondioring dog at all. Very trainable, not athletic. So I actually started off in mondioring as a decoy.

And then I got my first dog. When I got my first dog, he was a Malinois. Being a decoy first showed me how dogs love decoys. When you're doing bite sports, your dog loves the helper, loves the decoy, they love the game. What it allowed me to do is when I was playing with my dog, whether it's in sport or just at home playing with my dog, I was able to do it in a way that was very decoy-esque. I don't know if that's the right word, but where I could do movements and twitches and noises and all these things that the decoys would normally do with the dog, and it made our relationship even bigger.

It helped out a ton just because the dogs is like, "Wait, you do this stuff? You move like this? Oh my God, my best friend or my favorite toy in the world moves the same way." And so me being able to move and stuff at home like the decoys move, the dog was just like, "Oh my god, I love you. You're awesome. You're the best plaything ever."

So I think as much as being a judge now, the handling and decoy has helped, I actually think going from a decoy to a handler helped me even more when it came to just being successful in mondioring.

Melissa Breau: It's having those skills going in with your first dog.

Jake Schneider: Oh yeah, for sure. I think I was a decoy for almost two years before I decided to get a dog.

Melissa Breau: That's a long time. I would guess it's a pretty unusual progression.

Jake Schneider: Yeah. Most people get into the sport because they're like, "I got this dog who I think could do it." I just was like, "I'm into sports and stuff," and I'm like, "Wait, a dog running down and biting me?" I actually was thinking about doing schutzhund, and I'm like, "I could do a sleeve or a whole suit." I was like, "Oh, a whole suit. That just sounds awesome." It was just the sporty side of me saying, "I want to do this."

At the time, like I said, we had a Bassett, and going from a Bassett to a Malinois was an intimidating thought. And then I started to get to know Malinois and loving them, and then that was just the best decision I think we ever made.

Melissa Breau: What about the step up to the judge? Was there anything that surprised you or that's influenced things there?

Jake Schneider: It definitely affects how I set things up. I feel like, as a judge, I can look at a field now and be … as a handler, when I step onto a field, I'm hoping that the trial flows, if it's really clunky and you have to go from one side of the field and walk to the other side of the field for the exercise and everything. But I think a lot of judges … a lot of judges, well, all judges have been handlers. I think we all want it to flow.

As a decoy, it's almost the same way. I want it to flow in a sense where the decoys don't have to run on and off the field crazy. So I think it gave me that type of perspective. But it also, I think, like I said, it allowed me to communicate to decoys what I wanted them to do. And I think, coming from a place of being one of them, I think it was easier to explain to them what I was thinking, or show them if I needed to.

Melissa Breau: In the not too distant future, you have a two-part webinar series for us coming up, specifically on grip development. I think you really keyed into something important in your description that you mentioned, which is not everybody has access, regular access, to a decoy or a helper. I know you mentioned earlier how much of a difference it made for you having those decoy skills when you got your first dog. So I wanted to ask how much is it really possible to do at home on your own?

Jake Schneider: When it comes to just mondioring in general, there's a ton, even beyond what this webinar is going to cover. I think there's so much you can do. There's obviously the obedience side of it. But there's exercises within even bite work that you can be practicing at home, like defense and handler contacts, object guard, there's all these different things you can do. For grip development stuff, I think that the idea is people think, "I need a decoy to do that," or "I need all this equipment." You'll see in the webinar: if I need to, I'll use dog toys for engagement. The only thing that's a special buy, if you absolutely needed to, is a harness, but you probably have one anyway. Or a bungee and something like that to add some flex to when you're doing certain exercises. But there's a lot you can do at home.

I consider the webinar is almost … I consider it a supplement to decoy work. It doesn't replace it. Obviously, in order to compete in whether it's mondioring, French ring, schutzhund, PSA, whatever, you obviously have to work with decoys to some degree, but I think there's a lot that you can do with the grip development with these things at home that really will help build.

As someone who's run seminars before, seeing someone go home and work on something and then come back to you, and even if they hadn't worked with another decoy in-between, seeing the progression is awesome. That's what I think is super-important is them to understand. I learned it firsthand. Obviously I'm a decoy, but we lost one of our decoys; he ended up dropping out of the sport. And so I was left without a decoy when my current dog now, Luda, was maybe a year. So still within that, we're really trying to figure out exercises and building and stuff like that. It took me going, "I have to train these things on my own now," outside of a suit, in a suit, whatever I had to do, but I had to figure out, "How am I going to do this at home? How am I going to do this with I'm supposed to be handler and decoy at the same time?"

It made me think outside the box, and I think that's what this webinar is about is trying to teach people, "Don't just think, 'The decoy teaches the good grips.'" There's so much stuff you can do at home through interactions with your dog that will help develop grips and relationship and everything.

Melissa Breau: As somebody who doesn't do mondio, doesn't have a buddy dog, how much of a dog's grip is really instinctive or influenced just by how they're built, and how much is really tied to something more like their confidence level versus what pieces are really trainable behaviors that we can influence?

Jake Schneider: Obviously genetics do play a role when it comes to having certain styles of grip. But I think if you have a dog who's not very confident, you can build them into a mondio dog.

The lady who introduced me into mondioring, she had one dog that borderline periodically scared the heck out of me when I was training him, because he was so confident and so powerful. I trusted him, he wasn't going to be mean to me, but he was powerful and confident. And then she had another dog at the same time who was the polar opposite. He wasn't as confident, he was quite a bit more sensitive, and so our training just had to switch around and play around. So really it came down to the training.

Now obviously, like I said, genetics play a role in everything, but it's more of there's never that cookie-cutter way of training a dog. We have to adjust. She won nationals with both of those dogs, and she took both of those dogs to Europe and competed internationally with them, and podium with one and did pretty good with the other.

It's just about the mindset of "Maybe genetically my dog wasn't good, but there's things I can train." I can 100 percent train a lot of stuff to at least build something that's there. Will it be as good as a dog who's genetically super-confident and environmentally just doesn't care? Maybe not. But it doesn't mean we can't compete high level.

Melissa Breau: How do we actually influence that grip? And maybe, again, as somebody doesn't do it, what makes a really good grip? What is it we're looking for, and then how do we actually encourage those things in training?

Josh Schneider: The influence of the dog's grip, I think, is more of a mindset for the dog. As people, when I'm playing with my dog, or interacting with my dog, I'm looking at what the mindset is. And it's the same thing with mondioring or any bite sports.

The mindset I want in the dog is that "I'm playing a game with me or the decoy or the person," not that "I'm trying to take this thing away from them." Some dogs, when you're playing, the dog goes, "I want to win," and then when they win, they run away with the thing.

In the webinar we talk about the pushing and grips, and that's important too, and that will create this, but the mindset of the dog should be, "I'm playing a game, and when I win, all that means is the game stops. I need to come back, reengage, and start this game up again."

I think that, as people, we need to train that mindset. We can do that through playing with our dogs, just daily interactions where we teach them, "It's not about taking it. It's about interacting, and you bite on it and you push it. That's part of the game." That's how we encourage it is we're like, "When you win, bring it back. When you win, bring it back. When I win, I reengage you." It's never like, "I win, and then I trot around and show it off and tell you to come try to get it back from me and play keep-away."

Now when the game's over, that's too bad. You see it in a lot of different sports or a lot of different things, even search-and-rescue and stuff. A lot of times the dogs look disappointed when they find the person, because that means the game is over. They're like, "No, no, no, no, let's go look for somebody else." They want to keep going. And that's what I want the dog to do when they win. I want it to be like, "Dang it. Okay, let's play again," and come back into you.

If you watch the webinar, you'll see that with my dog. He is all about constantly bringing it back to me, almost to an obnoxious point, almost to a point where I'm trying to video certain things and I'm like, "Dude, you're not doing what I need you to do. Regress to being a puppy for a second," because he's like, "No, we interact. I push this." I think that's the biggest thing is the mindset of the dog needs to be one of this interaction as opposed to this competition of me trying to take something from you.

Melissa Breau: Makes sense. Is there anything else you want to share about the webinars themselves, information on either what you're going to cover, or who should consider taking them, or even any prerequisites that they need before they can work through the information that you're talking through?

Josh Schneider: Sure. When it comes to the prerequisite, I think you either need to have a dog or at least have the thought of getting a dog. That's pretty much it. Because in my opinion, even though we're going to be talking a lot about bite sports stuff, mondioring, IPO, French ring, whatever, we're going to talk a lot about that, but in the end, even if someone who doesn't do sport work sees this, they're going to see ways to really learn how to engage your dog through this tugging/playing-type stuff.

Even if I had a dog who couldn't do mondioring, I'd still be doing this type of stuff, again because it's a mindset that I want my dog to have. To me, that's the biggest thing is it's not necessarily for any specific dog. If you're looking to get into sport, if you're looking to increase your grips and things like that, or your dog's grips — people don't need to bite; it's fine — but you definitely could watch it and take something away from it, I think for sure. So it's not just for sport dogs. I think it's for anybody really interested in a new way or a different way of interacting with their dog.

Melissa Breau: Gotcha. To round things out, if we were to drill down all the stuff that we've been talking about today into one key takeaway or piece of information you really want listeners to walk away from this with, what would that be?

Josh Schneider: I think, and whether it comes across as me saying anything like that or not, I honestly think a big takeaway from even talking about the webinar and stuff like that is that there's a lot of stuff you can do on your own, and you cannot be afraid to make mistakes.

One of the biggest things I find with people not wanting to do this work outside of working with a decoy is they're afraid to screw their dogs up. In my opinion, it takes a lot to screw a dog up. If you're making mistakes, as long as you're trying to progress towards a certain goal, it takes a lot to really screw a dog up. Obviously, if you're harming the dog, that's not good. But if your dog bites at a weird angle, or doesn't get the deep grip, or whatever, who cares? You made a mistake, or your dog made a mistake, you just keep going. And people just need to be okay with that.

I talk about that in the webinar: make mistakes, it's okay. You'll see in the webinar, I promise, I actually say, "I probably should have targeted him a little bit lower." It's not like I go through every session and be like, "Well, that was perfect," because it never is. Bite sports can be messy. Just messy. If anyone's ever seen mondioring, you know there's just a lot of stuff on a field, and it can be literally anything, any theme, and it can be weird. I trained with a club last night and we were coming up with weird scenarios. So you just have to be okay with making mistakes. Don't get worried if something goes south. Just have fun and train your dog. That's what I want people to take away is just do this stuff. Your dog will love it. Just do it.

Melissa Breau: Okay, I can't help it. What kind of weird things were you coming up with last night? Can you share an example?

Josh Schneider: Last night, we have a dog who just newly became a Level 3, I think this past weekend or the weekend before, and it's a German Shepherd. There's just not a lot of Level 3. I think there's three of them in the country and he was the highest-scoring one ever, so we were pretty proud of that whole thing.

We would put the dog up on the stairs, or we're climbing up on the "little giants," those big ladders. We'd climb to the top of those, and we were having the handlers do stuff underneath it. For food refusal stuff, I would lay down on the ground and be eating the food next to the dog. We do so many weird things in mondioring. I feel like if you don't try to do really weird things, you're going to miss something. We were working inside, but we did water. We were spraying a garden hose onto a board that I was standing behind, screaming, "Don't spray me with water," as the dog is laying down five feet from me, doing a stay. For Halloween we like to put masks on and … I don't know. It's so many weird …

I've been doing this for thirteen years. There's so many weird situations, like driving golf carts around and doing all this different stuff. It's a blast, but jeepers, you never stop thinking of new, interesting things to do to test your dogs. That is for sure.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jake. This has been awesome.

Jake Schneider: Thank you. I really appreciate it. It's been really fun to just talk. I love talking about dogs, and mondioring especially, and just bite sports stuff in general. This is my jam. I definitely enjoy this a lot.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it!

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

E248: Jane Ardern - "Training the High Drive Dog"
E246: Heather Lawson - "Canine Good Citizens"

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