E248: Jane Ardern - "Training the High Drive Dog"

Jane Ardern joins me to talk about training high drive dogs, share a bit about her own gun dogs, and give us a sneak peek at her upcoming webinar on release cues!  


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 Jane Ardern here with me to talk about training high drive dogs, training gun dogs, and release cues in particular.

Hi Jane. Welcome to the podcast!

Jane Ardern: Hi Melissa. Thanks for inviting me today.

Melissa Breau: I'm excited to talk about all this stuff. To start us out, can you share a little bit about you, your current pets, what you're working on with them?

Jane Ardern: Yes. I have seven working Cocker Spaniels. I got my first working Cocker Spaniel eleven years ago now and got addicted. They range from 11 years old down to my youngest one is just 13 months old.

I am currently working with my three youngest, which is Letti, who's 13 months, Pebbles, who is 18 months, and Huey, who is 3. I'm currently working with the three dogs, training them to be working gundogs so they can go out and work in the field.

I already have two dogs which I currently work now, which is Stig and Drift. And Pebbles has just joined the team and has been going out beating with those.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. You mentioned before we started recording — when you say you're out training them, you mean literally you're on a training getaway this week, right?

Jane Ardern: Yes. I've booked a whole week dog-training holiday for gundog training, working the dogs in a shoot environment. So yeah, we've booked a little week away. I've taken the three young dogs. Really, it's for exposure and experience. I live in the city, so it's quite challenging for me to get opportunity to expose them to a working environment.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. I want to go back a little bit. I think you said eleven years ago you got your first Cocker Spaniel. How did you originally get into the dog world? What sucked you in there?

Jane Ardern: My first dog that I got when I grew up and left home was a St. Bernard-cross-Rottweiler. He was about 8 months old when I got him, and he had lots of behavioral issues. Aggression was a huge problem with him. He was great with other dogs, but he was really not very good with people. He also had quite severe hip dysplasia.

I started a journey, I think, looking for a cure for aggression, and here I am, still looking for one. Obviously, trying to work with his behavior problems really sparked my interest just in dog behavior and dog training, and it went from there.

After him, I had Leonbergers, and I had Leonbergers for twenty years. I used to show them, and again I just got more and more into training dogs and understanding behavior. I always say to people, after twenty years of trying to motivate Leonbergers, I just got a Cocker Spaniel instead.

Melissa Breau: That is quite the switch from Leonbergers to Cocker Spaniels.

Jane Ardern: It was a huge shock.

Melissa Breau: That's a long time in the dog world. When you first got started, were you a positive trainer? Do you consider yourself one now? What got you started down that path?

Jane Ardern: When I took my St. Bernard-cross-Rottweiler to my very first training class, it was actually a positive training class. When I say "positive," as positive as you got back then. They were using food and treats, there was quite a lot of luring, but there was also modeling. But yeah, it was pretty positive.

I always remember the experience because he was really grabby and mouthy. He was also really jowly and drooly. We were in a freezing cold church hall, and I remember that I was using the food and trying to lure him, and he was grabbing my hands and slobbering on them, and they were freezing and they were sore from his teeth catching me. I remember that I asked the assistant trainer for some help. I actually said to her, "I don't want to use treats," because he was hurting my hands. She took him off me, and she struggled to really change anything. She just gave him back. So I left that lesson and never went back — not really, I suppose, because of the training, but just because I had an unpleasant experience.

I ended up going to the library, and I got a book out of the library. It was the only dog-training book in there. It was by a guy called John Holmes, and it was just called The Obedient Dog. I popped down to the pet shop and I got myself a choke chain, as recommended in the book, and off I went and trained my dog. I then moved on to training with an ex-police-dog handler. So really interesting in that I could have been a positive trainer from day one, but I didn't. I went down the traditional route originally, and that worked for me at the time.

And really, the more and more that I learned, the more and more I started to change what I do. I was never very good at punishing dogs. It really quite sat uncomfortable with me, and I always felt that I just wasn't very good at dog training. But actually, as I progressed, I learned that I just wasn't very good at punishing animals.

Melissa Breau: What a big takeaway that is. It's totally possible for the right environment to still feel like a poor fit, just because it didn't meet your needs at the time, and it was made so aversive for you as the trainer, as the human trainer.

Jane Ardern: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I really focus on now is making sure that it's not just about the dog. It's a team. It's really important that the dog has a positive experience, and it's really important that the handler has a positive experience as well. As I got into dog training, it drove me into being very aware and making the effort that the teaching people, understanding how to communicate and support and help people, is so important if you want to get your dog training method across to people.

Melissa Breau: Which ties in really nicely with what I was going to ask you next, which is, what is your current training philosophy? How would you describe how you approach training these days?

Jane Ardern: I would say I'm classified as the positive reinforcement trainer. I'm not too keen on the force-free, probably from a semantics point of view. The way I look at training is I would say I'm a positive trainer, but for me, it's not about treats and clickers. For me, it's really about the journey, the experience, and the learning journey that the dog has on an emotional level should be as positive as possible, and that we can support dogs to have mostly positive experiences through their life. A lot of that is about coping strategies. So, for me, it's that the learning journey that the dog has is as positive as possible.

Melissa Breau: I like that, and I like that you brought up that phrase "coping strategies," because I can see how it's very possible to be positive in terms of using only food and only clickers. But if you don't give the dog those other pieces, ultimately the experience overall for the dog may not actually be all that pleasant. Is that what you're getting at?

Jane Ardern: Yeah. I see a lot of dogs who are positively trained. They're often getting clicks and treats, but sometimes there's too much pressure on them. The criteria is too high, and you see that they're actually finding learning a frustrating experience, even though they're getting treats and so on. So, for me, it's really about looking at the whole dog and making sure that the experience they have when learning is fair and supportive to that individual dog's needs as well.

Melissa Breau: And you wrote the book, quite literally, on training high drive dogs. I want to talk about that a little bit. Can you share a little bit about the book, what led you to write it, how that fits in all the stuff we're talking about?

Jane Ardern: Obviously, from moving on to Leonbergers and into Cocker Spaniels, I was starting to experience working with high drive dogs, working with dogs with high prey drive as well. My first Cocker had quite an intense prey drive and we had to work through quite a few issues. My last Leonberger I had was actually a sheep chaser. I'd worked through that as well with her, using positive reinforcement training. That was where I was growing as a trainer.

I was approached by the publishing company and asked to write a book. Originally they asked me to write a book on motivation, and it was like, "Well, my dogs now are motivated about everything, all the time." So we had a discussion. I was doing a course at the time called "Controlling Crazy Canines," which was about mostly impulse control, and prey drive as well. So we made an agreement that I would write the book around those things, because that was what I was working with. I was quite dubious at first, because I'm dyslexic, on whether I would be able to write a book, but I thought, "Let's just go for it."

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. So you based it on what you were focusing on with your clients at that point? Is that what I'm hearing?

Jane Ardern: With my own dogs, but also with my clients. I was attracting people that were having those kinds of problems. Even when I'm doing courses and workshops, I do like to speak just from my personal experiences, and how I've lived and breathed and experienced problems and resolved them, and really just trying to keep it real. So the book is very much about my experiences with my dogs, and what they've taught me and what I've learned.

Melissa Breau: Just so folks have it, do you want to share the full title here so that people can go over to Amazon and look it up?

Jane Ardern: It's Mission Control: How to Train the High-Drive Dog.

Melissa Breau: As dog sports people, which most of our audience fits into that bucket, we all love this idea of having a dog that's high drive when it comes to training. But sometimes, especially with our first one, we maybe don't take that step back and think about the potentially difficult aspects of having a high drive dog. You mentioned in some of what you said previously, like the thing about working on frustration and impulse control and some of that. Can you talk to that a little bit more, like what some of the difficult aspects are that maybe come with a high drive dog?

Jane Ardern: In my experience, when I got Pickles, who was my first Cocker Spaniel, she was quite strongly field trial bred. She was actually quite a good dog. She was great to train because she was always busy, she always wanted to do things, she always wanted to learn.

After having Leonbergers, this was really exciting. But what I didn't do was install an off switch, because I'd never had to do that with Leonbergers. It was never an issue. And so I ended up with this little dog who was just wanting to do things all the time, so I struggled with her being able to settle to switch off. Even as a professional trainer, I'd never experienced the intensity that when she got into a high state of arousal and would lose the plot, I had never experienced that before.

I ended up going to a traditional trainer, and we had a conversation about what I would and wouldn't do with my dog. I said to him, "But I need some help. I need someone who understands these dogs that can help and support me." He supported me really well, and he was great, because I said to him, "I don't want you to get hold of my dog. I don't want you to do anything horrible to my dog." We worked together, we had lots of conversations, and we worked through a lot of the problems, which was great.

I think, for me, with those dogs, it always reminds me. I used to show my Leonbergers, and when you go to a dog show, especially in the open dog class, one dog would just walk in the ring and everybody's eyes would be drawn to this dog. They had what's called "ring presence." I always remember that those were the dogs that won, those were the dogs that just drew attention to themselves.

They probably had more testosterone than the other dogs in the ring, a little bit like a stallion. And these successful dogs, they were a nightmare to live with. When you took them home, they were really hard work, because they had that presence and they were usually full on and drive-y. When we talk about a high drive dog, I think they're kind of like a stallion, where when they're doing their thing, they're absolutely fabulous, if you can get a handle on them, but they can actually be challenging in other aspects.

I find with the Spaniels that they are bred to be intense. They're bred to be persistent, they're bred to not quit, they're bred to work through pain. All those things, especially in pet homes — and I work a lot with working dogs in pet homes — is those desirable traits of a working dog can really create a lot of problems for people who don't understand them and don't understand why they behave like they behave.

Often what I would class as desirable traits are often seen as undesirable traits, because if you've got a puppy that's misbehaving, and you've got genetic persistence, and a dog that's genetically designed to not quit and work through pain, that's going to create problems when they're doing the wrong thing as opposed to the right thing.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I can totally see that. How do you work around that or work with that? How do you approach training a dog that's like that, using positive reinforcement techniques to minimize some of those hard things and maximize the good parts, and help them learn how to fit into our world and still meet their needs? Do you know what I mean?

Jane Ardern: Yeah. I think it's about understanding what those traits are and why they're there, why the dog has been genetically selected to have those specific traits, what their purpose is, and really working on channeling them in the right direction. That's usually lots of shaping behavior, because that stuff's just in the dog already, so it's down to us to shape that in the right direction.

I think, with these dogs, a lot of what we're doing is we're not just training behavior. If we want to have a partnership with the dog, or get the dog on the right track, then, for me, it's very much about we're teaching a cognitive skill. It's really about wiring the brain so it processes in the right way. It's not just about the dog must learn a behavior and then follow an instruction and be obedient. What we do with these dogs, certainly what I do with my working dogs, is I'm developing cognitive skills, and that takes time.

Melissa Breau: What an interesting way of thinking about it. I love that — the fact that you're thinking about it as how you want to wire their brain, rather than what specific behaviors do they need to have installed. I'd imagine, like you said, some of that varies by breed. But do you think that holds true regardless of whether we're talking about a purpose-bred gundog or a Malinois? Are there commonalities there? Are there things that are just totally different? And how does breed play into all this?

Jane Ardern: I think different breeds are bred to do different jobs, so there's different behavioral traits. Collies are very visual, gundogs are very scent-driven, and you're always going to get the exception to the rule of variations on that.

But you can get a good idea of … if you take a Spaniel into an environment, the environment is going to trigger probably scent-type behavior patterns, where the dog's head is going to be down on the ground, where if you have a herding breed, for example, they're going to be visually scanning the environment. So you've got different traits. But again, they all have certain traits, they're all designed to grow those behaviors as they mature. I think in all dogs, really, they come with these traits, and the environment switches on these genes, and then the dog just behaves impulsively, based upon its genetics.

What we're really doing is teaching impulse control, which is a cognitive skill where we're trying to harness and teach the animal how to manage itself, how to control its impulses, how to manage its own emotions. We know in humans they've done MRI scanning. So when people learn to be mindful, when they learn to stop and think and not react, we know in humans that that causes eventually the brain to rewire. I think they reckon it takes about two years of practice before you can be less impulsive.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. I'm not as familiar with that research, the idea of humans rewiring the brain. It's super-interesting that there's a period of time there. It would be really fascinating to do a study with dogs on that type of thing.

Jane Ardern: Definitely. I always think it would be fascinating to see, to MRI scan a dog that's been trained in impulse control and then a dog that hasn't, and actually see what is their differences, what are the differences, does the brain function differently. They did some MRI scanning on a monk who'd meditated and reached enlightenment, and the MRI scanning showed that when he was meditating, his brain was functioning at perfection and everything was working exactly right. So the science says that enlightenment actually is a thing.

Melissa Breau: How cool is that? That's really, really neat. To pull it back to dogs, you're going to zoom in on some of that stuff for us next week in your webinar, because you're talking about relaxation versus anticipation. Do you want talk a little bit about what the webinar will cover, so people can get a sense of what you'll be talking about?

Jane Ardern: When I did my previous webinar, I think there was quite a few questions on me talking about teaching different release cues for the dog. That's where this came from.

Again, I always think, when people are training, release cues are a cool and popular things that people do. But the webinar is delving into the emotional state and being aware of, when we release dogs from specific behaviors, about reinforcement and association, and if we want relaxation, are we creating relaxation or are we creating anticipation. So understanding where reinforcement should sit if we want relaxation and where reinforcement should sit if we want anticipation, and giving the dogs some clarity around behaviors we train and how we release them, so we create the right associations.

So really the webinar is looking into the difference between a working dog ready for action, doing waiting but ready for action, and a dog relaxing, because a lot of the working dogs struggle with the relaxation aspect in life.

Melissa Breau: Like the difference between a start line stay for agility and "Go to your mat and lay there while we eat dinner" type of thing.

Jane Ardern: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. It's delving into the detail of how I train that with my dogs. And also looking a little bit into shaping behavior, capturing and rewarding so the dog has options, because again, especially with a young dog, you can't just go, "Hey, relax," and they can just change their neurochemistry and fall asleep. Most humans with a bigger prefrontal cortex can't switch off and fall asleep. We expect our dogs to have this amazing capability, which we can't even do ourselves sometimes. So it's about delving into that and understanding what our expectation is, for especially young, maturing dogs, and what their capability actually is.

Melissa Breau: That'll be fascinating, because I'm really looking forward to sitting through it with you next week. I'm going to be raising a service dog puppy, and it's going to be a Lab, and I'm sure there's going to be some of that that I would like to work on with a new puppy from the beginning, so all sorts of fun stuff. Thinking about that, who should sign up, or who might really be a good fit for the webinar? Who was it directed at as you created it?

Jane Ardern: Everybody, really, because the teaching varies from, if we think about anticipation for a pet dog could be just sitting and waiting before it's going through a doorway, versus taking the dog to the pub and you wanting it to relax, and moving right across to your sport dogs.

Working gundogs, for me, when I have my dogs sat waiting to be sent for a retrieve or sat waiting to be cast out to hunt is no different than a dog waiting in the start line of agility, because they're actually waiting to do a job. If you have frustration or over-arousal in that anticipatory behavior, then normally the performance is poor. So, for me, everything is about "Can your dog manage itself while it's waiting to do something exciting."

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is there anything else you want to share about the webinar or let people know in advance?

Jane Ardern: Just really that. There's some videos in there. It's quite heavily practical stuff, starting off with a little bit of theory and then moving on to practical. There's some practical training exercises in there on teaching settle, and also teaching an anticipatory stay as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. To round out everything you've been talking about, because we have covered a lot of ground, if we were to drill everything down into one key piece of information, or one key takeaway, that you really want people to walk away from listening to this with, what would that be?

Jane Ardern: My big thing is really getting people to understand that they're teaching the dog a skill, often rather than behaviors, especially when you have dogs who are excitable in high arousal. For me, it's not just about having a behavior and putting it on cue. It's about the skill for the animal to be able to perform those behaviors and for them to be reliable.

Melissa Breau: That's a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Jane. This is awesome. I'm so glad you've come on the podcast. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We will be back next week. Don't miss it! If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


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

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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