E249: Amy Cook, PhD - "3 Ways to Change"

Amy teaches three different classes, each with a very different approach — in this episode we talk about the what and why of each.  


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 Amy Cook here with me to talk about multiple approaches to behavior change.

Hi Amy, welcome back to the podcast!

Amy Cook: Hello! It's so good to be here again. It is still and always one of my favorite things to do. I love being in conversation with you for these podcasts, so thank you for having me again. So much fun.

Melissa Breau: That goes both ways. To start us out, do you want to remind everybody a little bit you, a little about your two?

Amy Cook: Little bit about me. I'm Amy; you all know that. I did the Play Way; you all know that too. I have two dogs and they are the best dogs. I know you all think you have the best dogs, but you're actually wrong about that because mine are the best dogs.

I have Marzipan, my lovely Whippet, who's 10 now and as sugar-faced as they come, and it distresses me to no end. And I have Caper, my little Chihuahua-lette, with whom I do agility, and we're still having a lot of fun doing that in the pandemic, even though that has become just for ourselves, and not for trialing and for the world and all of that. But those are my girls, and they have been my saviors in this time of reduced sociality, so I'm really glad they're still around.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I wanted to talk today about all the different stuff that you do. You teach three different classes at FDSA and use a different approach in each of them, so I want to dig into that. To start us off, do you want to give us the overview on what the three classes are and who each one is for?

Amy Cook: Yeah, I do. I teach three classes here, and they got separated out as to their own classes for a specific reason. Each one of the classes I teach, they focus on an approach, an isolated, a very different approach in each one of them that I have serving really different populations and different problems in dogs.

When I started here, I started with the Play Way, the class called Dealing with the Boogeyman. In that class I do social, interactive, therapeutic play to help solve behavior problems in the cluster of stress, dogs who stress up or stress down when they go to new environments, dogs who are afraid of people, dogs who are afraid of other dogs, dogs who over-arouse really quickly. Sometimes in there I would have a bunch of other potential behavior things I was trying to solve. But as time went on, I realized those would make better split-off classes.

So from that Dealing with the Boogeyman, from that Play Way class, I split off one class called Management for Reactive Dogs. What that class does is it focuses on what you're doing with your dog to get through life when you don't have an opportunity for doing your behavior training. You just have to get from A to B. You just have to potty your dog. So you need a class that allows you to move through space with a reactive animal, or move through space with a scared animal, that supports their behavior not getting any worse, so not continually going over a threshold. So that took that arm of the behavior, the behavior puzzle that we find ourselves in.

In working with dogs with behavior problems, I realized that dogs that have issues with sound, I wasn't wanting to throw play at. I needed a separate class, again, for dogs who are specifically dealing with sound issues. This would be dogs who alert-bark a whole lot in the house, dogs who hear a whistle blowing in their sport and melt, dogs who have trouble with thunder or fireworks — and fireworks season is coming up now, so I'm seeing a lot of that now. For those dogs, I really wanted to have a very highly specific, concentrated form of therapy that deserved its own class.

So each of the three classes do not have methodological overlap. They're all three serving a really different problem that you might be facing, and the approach in each one is separate. I did that so that I could really make sure that the dogs weren't in a large bucket of potentially generally helpful things, but could get concentrated help that belonged to each one of those behavior problems.

Melissa Breau: Let's dig into that. Tell me a little more about how those approaches are different in the different classes. You did explain why you use the different approaches, but if there's more you want to say on that too.

Amy Cook: I want to talk about what each approach really is, because they're different in a way that I really try to make very specific.

In the play class, I'm teaching people how to socially interact with their dogs, and to use that social interaction to both relax their dog from the stressors that they feel and to gauge, so that the trainer can gauge whether they're in a good learning space for the dog, whether their dog is truly under threshold and is going to be able to help themselves dissipate that stress.

The entire thing is social. You sit on a blanket, you play, you're silly, you're light, you laugh together, and in that space you are dissipating so much of the stress that builds up in a reactive dog. That class is very dog-centric. It's dog-led. Play in dog is very dog-led. I want them to be asking to play with us. I want them to be telling us when things are getting hard. We don't really lead that class. We facilitate it by setting the stage really well.

In the management class, the person's role is very different. The person's role in the play class is to take a bit of a backseat and let things unfold. The person's role in the management class is to step up and get things done, because the only reason you're switching into management if you're a person walking your dog is because your dog is suddenly unable to do the behaviors it needs to do. Your dog is suddenly unable to handle a situation you found yourself in, and the person's role in management is to take over.

It's sort of like taking the wheel if you're driving, or as I have famously said, take the wheels of your horse or pick up the reins of your bus. You need to be the one who's making some decisions and getting out of there. You're not using that time to give some control to your dog and give them the empowerment.

Because that has to happen, I teach the class in a way that that focuses on the handler's ability to make a quick decision and to move their dog positively from A to B on food magnets. We're not waiting for a lot of things to change in the environment. We're taking control right away and going. That helps a dog not go over threshold, because you are moving through the space very quickly, and the dog is not processing necessarily all the things of the environment.

Whereas in the Play Way, I want them to process the environment so they can take it in and learn something new about it. It's the therapeutic approach. The management class is saying, "Here's some simple behaviors we can do, and we can train them." But mostly the person has to say, "I'm making a decision to get us out of here, and here we go. Let's cross the street right now." And so I give you the tools to get across that street. I give you the tools to keep your dog's attention from being on the thing that would make them go over threshold.

Those two things do go hand in hand. Most dogs who are coming to me for the Play Way would very much benefit from the management class, because every dog who needs help also needs to be able to potty, also needs to be able to go for certain kinds of walks, also needs to be able to go from their house to their car or things like that, and has to be able to live inside their house where sometimes there are stressors. So you usually would want to start with a very solid management system before you even think about what kind of therapeutic approach you're going to take, whether it's Play Way or something else.

Now the third class, the sound class, I don't use play, social play as I've described it, for sound work. Sound is its own little special category where what's going on with that dog is they are triggered into what sometimes either is or is going to be potentially a panic state over just one simple punctuation in the environment.

This is not a social fear. This is not a complex situation where the dog is trying to navigate the pressures of socializing with a stranger and learning how to make relationship with somebody or figuring out what that dog might mean. This is just a stimulus in the environment that happens, and what you really, really want is for them to have a strong association to that stimulus that is positive instead of negative.

It's much more cut and dried. It's much more straightforward. It's much more recipe-based. There's not social vagaries in it. There's not some end goal where the dog is going to socialize with the sound. There's no such thing. It's not a social thing. It's an object. When we have object fears, we can go straight to classical conditioning.

Now, the problem sometimes with saying that, with saying, "Oh, you can just classically condition that sound, why don't you," is that I've been doing this a long time and I've seen a lot of people attempt to do that and not be able to accomplish it. There are really specific things that make classical conditioning actually work, and work to its highest ability to make a new association, and a lot of times those details either are not passed along in the lesson you're getting, or you don't even know to look for the details of classical. A lot of times we know a lot of details of operant and the barest details of classical.

I think a lot of people think you're accomplishing classical if you follow a bad thing with a good thing. Or if you make the bad thing kind of small, which would be called desensitization, and then follow it with a good thing, you're going to achieve classical. And it's actually more complicated than that. And so, as I delved into ways to make it more accessible to people and more effective, if you're going to spend the time to do classical, you want to actually be using the sharpest, most effective version of the protocol, say. And the more I brainstormed and figured out how to teach this to people, the more it became clear that this could be an entire class in how to do it.

So the sound class is really a very recipe-based and very clear way to get classical conditioning to work with your dog. The people in the class are applying it to sounds, of course, but truly, once you're that sharp at applying classical conditioning to something, you could use that tool to accomplish a lot of things.

I don't tend to use that cut and dried, that very clear, regimented classical conditioning for social fears, because social fears are very complex. They're not just about "I have an association to a simple part of a person and I just need that one piece changed." It can be multifactorial to be afraid of something that is something you have to then want to, or your aims would be to socially interact with it or to coexist around the presence of it. It's different from how isolated you can get a sound to be.

Once we can isolate a trigger into very small component parts, it's very then open to the approach of classical conditioning. I just find that people don't always know how to use classical conditioning at its best, and I wanted to make sure people had a real straightforward thing. They can just start at the beginning and get to the end and have learned all of the potentiated classical conditioning. So that deserved its own class.

And really different behavior problems fall into your different classes. I wanted them to be separate so that dogs could get a very pointed approach and get the solution they really needed right away. So it's three main classes that I have and it's three different approaches. You're either going to classically condition, you're going to use social therapeutic play to relieve stress, or you're going to learn management, which is the human being's job rather than that being actually something you teach the dog as much. It's mostly for the humans.

Melissa Breau: What's our goal for each method, and does that play into that "why" for each method?

Amy Cook: The way I think of it, there's a lot of ways to think of it. You can describe what you're actually trying to get done, or describe what you think is going on underneath, in a lot of different ways. But how I like to encapsulate it is I want emotional change in the sound class and I want emotional change in the play class. In the management class, since it's a little bit less about the dog and a lot more about the people accomplishing their management goals, I keep the tasks very, very simple on the dog in the management class. It's a simple matter of "Can you walk next to me and eat?" Often the whole requirement on the part of the dog is "Can you eat something and walk with me?" Or "Can you eat something off this grass here while I assess the environment?" So I'm doing a lot of training of people there.

The end goal would be, in that class, can I prevent all over-threshold moments. Can I prevent all big displays of fear, and can I prevent all blossoming of fear inside the dog by creatively avoiding the problem, thus keeping it from worsening, which is what management will do. I want the problem not to worsen that the dog is having.

In the social play class, Dealing with the Boogeyman, what I'm trying to have there is emotional shift so that the dog is not feeling whatever. We can't say what it actually is, some form of distress, or whether it's actual fear, anxiety, we can't read their minds, but it's something in the negatively valanced category. What I want is for that to dissipate and to no longer be the reaction the dog has when it's in a similar scenario. But what I want to have happen is that the dog is the one doing a lot of that work.

In that class we set the stage, we set the environment, we do all the antecedent arrangement, such that whatever the dog is going to take from the setup, he's going to take it from the setup by discovering it in the setup. It's not actually taught by the person. So a dog will discover that they're safe by having feelings of safety in that scenario around what used to be a trigger that is now creatively placed in the distance so that it's not upsetting.

There's a lot of dog empowerment in that, and the goal would be, "Hey dog, you can avail yourself of these tools, you can find your safety here, you can discover that you are safe here, because I've made it such that you are safe here." I want the dog to come upon that, because when they have that, they have a way of sorting out where they are. Any time the environment changes, they can rely on the internal tools that they're building through play.

In the classical class, in the sound class, I also want emotional change there, but it's much more one to one. I want it to be that "Beforehand, you heard this sound and it had meaning for you. I don't know what you'd characterize it as, dog, but you're certainly showing to me that you'd like it to stop, or you'd like to leave, or you're feeling a panic, or you're feeling a really big fear. You're feeling something, and I don't want that feeling to continue, so I'm going to give you a new meaning. That new sound, that sound that you're worried about, I'm going to completely change what you think it means, from what you think now to what I want you to think, which is that it's a great thing."

I try to think of it as, "You think this is bad news, but actually, you just won the lottery. That sound is that bell that rings that says you just won the lottery." And so it's very pointed and very specific. It's very much that a sound happens, or a thing happens in the environment, and I'm going to replace the thing you think with the thing I'd like you to think. We're going to replace that piecemeal, one piece at a time, carefully, through systematic change, one piece at a time. I'm not leaving anything to your discovery. I'm not letting you discover that sounds are okay. I'm directly teaching "This sound has this meaning," and I'm going to keep working this from different angles until I see you understand that it has a new meaning.

We're not doing that in the play class. In the play class, this is dog-empowered and dog-led, as the dog discovers that they're safe. And so the structure of the setup is completely different, and the aim is really different. If I have a very strong trigger that I know I want to replace the reaction to, I will go straight for potentiated classical conditioning, which is what I'm using in the sound class. If the situation is social in nature, and if there's a lot more complexity to the presentation of the trigger — it represents social interaction, or represents a complex environment that has to all be taken in — I'm not looking at trying to classically condition each little tiny piece of an environment or each element of a human being and all the things that they could do. I want to take a more diffuse approach that the dog can use for themselves. But for sound, it's very direct.

So that's the aim of each one of these is do I have to change your thought process exactly and get a new meaning for one thing. Or do I have to empower you to be able to solve your own stress problems, with my support and my help as you do so. Or do I need to get you from A to B without making any of this worse. I need you not to get worse, so I need to enact a management system that makes sure you do not get exposed willy-nilly to stuff I can't have you exposed to, because you're just going to get worse if you are. That's what I'm trying to get each of these three things to accomplish in the dog.

Melissa Breau: I think it's pretty clear from what you're saying that they're pretty different methods, they're pretty different problems and solutions, they're pretty different pieces. Would you ever cross-pollinate methods? Is it okay for the same dog to take multiple classes? Can you talk to that a little bit?

Amy Cook: I can. There are certainly a lot of dogs who have been through all three of my classes, because it's sometimes going to be that your dog has a social fear and your dog has a very specific fear of a very specific thing. That wouldn't be unusual at all.

Management is the one in the middle. Does every dog need management? I honestly would say yes, that they do. I think every puppy needs to be in a management system, and I think every pet dog needs to be in a management system, because it's a fun system. It's a dog getting from A to B having fun with you. It's a dog learning to disconnect from the environment they're in and connect strongly to you. And while that's not maintained for an entire walk or for an entire outing, it's good to be able to say, "I need your full attention right now just for a little bit while we go over here." That's useful to every person and every dog.

Being able to do that just … you never know when you're going to need it. You never know when you're going to want to pull that out of your pocket, because you never know when even the most bombproof dog is having a pretty difficult time in a new environment. A parade goes by, you've never trained for parades, you have to find a way to positively get yourself away from that without panicking your dog or making it worse. So everybody needs that or can benefit from something like that, and I certainly put all puppies through a version of that.

As far as what else a dog might take, I would say that since it's common enough that there are diffuse social fears and actual trigger-specific fears, I don't see any conflict at all in putting a dog through both of those kinds of programs. They don't overlap with each other in that they don't interfere, so a dog would easily be able to tell that what we're doing now is a therapeutic play style of thing, and so they would not be looking to you for the food you have to give, say, that would happen in the classical approach. They would easily be able to tell which one you were doing. And so you certainly could teach a dog all three of these things, and then only pull them out as you needed them for the problem that you were facing.

But I would say more commonly it's that dogs need the play system than the classical, because I want everybody out there to be able to dissipate the stress that a dog feels through using your social relationship, because we're always going to have food, we're always going to have training, we use food and toys and training routinely and always will. But this piece that says, "I have a social connection with you that lets me read that you're starting to feel not okay" — this has strong utility everywhere for so many different kinds of behavior problems that I would want most dogs to be able to do some form of therapeutic play approach.

And then outside of that, not every dog has a sound problem, and not every dog needs a really strong and pointed approach, appointed toolset. Not every human needs a tool that says, "I can change your mind about this thing that you're feeling, to feel this other thing, or to think this other thing, or to do this other thing." You may not actually need that. Or not certainly everyone would need that. But as I say that, I'd like people listening to remember that dogs come upon having a sound issue oftentimes when they're older, and it comes out of nowhere. And if you prepared your dog with a framework that says, "I have a way to teach you a brand new thought about this thing that was neutral or maybe you're starting to worry about, I have a channel to change your mind about it, and it's really sharp and really clear between us," it would be hard to argue that you wouldn't want to have it.

I teach this material at our Fenzi training camps in person. When I teach this, I don't call it The Sound Advice. I call it Startle To Recovery, because at its essence, if a dog is startled, or its attention and potentially emotions are taken and grabbed by a change in the environment — a door slammed, someone came in, something happened and your dog is immediately drawn to it — having an ability to say, "Oh my God, you just won the lottery just now," and have a dog go, "What? Seriously? That's fantastic," and now they've taken their attention entirely away from whatever that was, and they're on the track of celebrating their lottery winnings. That's a lovely thing to be able to pull out when you need it.

So if we're talking about prevention, if we're talking about raising dogs, if we're talking about a holistic approach, I very certainly would have all dogs learning the tools of all three of these systems, because they're widely applicable to the things that you actually would face. And they don't conflict with each other. If you're going to classically condition something, that is an isolated event that happens from the trigger happening and you responding to the trigger. That does not color or interfere with or change anything you might be doing in social play.

I don't know if that's true of all potential approaches that are out there, because there are a lot of ways to train dogs and a lot of ways to do therapy, help dogs cope with the triggers they have and the fears, and help them allay those fears. There's a lot of ways to do that, and I think some would be in conflict with another. Some goals are you're trying to teach a dog one kind of thing about the trigger, and you could be confusing them if you're also trying to teach another thing about the trigger.

But the way I've set my three approaches up is that they can exist all together. It's not like they would happen all in one exact same session or something like that. You don't set it up to mix them up in the same five minutes. But a dog could learn all three of these and you could pull out all three of them, based on the situation you found yourself in. Which I just like, because I don't think people need to be more confused. I don't think people out there need to be thinking, "I don't know if I can do this, because does it match with that?" It's good to just know that we can isolate each of these approaches and then say, "When you're having this kind of a problem, that applies to this kind of approach. Just pull that out, because you've already trained it, you've already sharpened those tools."

I feel that owner confidence, especially if you have a dog who's got some kind of behavior problem, owner confidence is really not something we can take too seriously. The more confident a person feels that they can handle something that has come up, or that they know which thing to do, based on the thing that just happened, the more that we empower them. They're not going to panic and go, "Oh God, should I let them look at it? Should I prevent them from looking at it? Should I give a cookie now? Should I not give a cookie now?"

That feeling of paralysis plagues people. I see it all the time that people are just not sure what to do. And so I really try to organize my material into very clear … hopefully clear to understand categories to where if this is an object fear, if this is a sound fear, if this has been a startle, if your dog just spikes up, you can classically condition that, and here's how to do it. Here's a fully enumerated recipe you can follow to get from A to Z, or A to B, or A to whatever letter we're picking, and you know where you can apply it.

If this is something that's stress-based, but you can't easily tell exactly what's going on, and dog gets really tense, and there's so many versions of it, it's some people and some not, and sometimes it's dogs, and it's all over the place, great, we don't have to think about how to classically condition each one of those things. Let's go to something that's more broad-based and go right into play. And then the thing between the both of them is, well, you're going to have to manage anyway, so I can give you tools to be a really good manager. As I was coming up with these, I really tried to make sure they didn't overlap, but also didn't conflict, so that people felt confident in learning any of them.

Melissa Breau: Would it be accurate to call the various pieces coping strategies? That you're teaching your dog different coping strategies for different scenarios? Or does that feel like something else?

Amy Cook: A coping strategy is, at least the way I tend to conceive of it or tend to talk about it, I think coping strategies as we need to … we're going to exist in a situation in which there are going to be difficulties. Those difficulties are not going to maybe go anywhere for a while, or I can't make your life much easier. And if you're going to have to be exposed to this, you're going to have to live here, you're going to have to walk in these environments, whatever it is, I want you, dog, to have things you can lean on that help you through. It's not quite the same thing as saying these things, this environment you're in, I want you to feel that it's no longer a problem such that you don't have to cope with it at all, because there's nothing upsetting about being here.

If you're afraid of people, one aim could be I want you to no longer be afraid of people. And then that would be a therapeutic game, at least in the way I think of it. But another aim would be maybe you can't get all the way to the place where you are no longer afraid of this, but you can come to a place where you can cope with the existence of people, as long as you are focusing on, let's say, a job, or as long as you're focusing on me, or as long as you have just enough distance and just enough of an activity to engage with. That would be coping to me.

Coping is better than not being able to cope, for sure. But it's not better than no longer having the problem. And I really want to aim for getting rid of the actual problem, of course. Probably no more obvious a statement has ever been said. Of course we want to just get rid of a problem. Of course we do. But I would like a dog not to have to cope with a bunch of sounds in its environment. I'd like it to no longer really care at all about the sounds in its environment, and can go to sleep and not notice any longer that there's a problem. I would like a dog to not have to cope with the person they live with. Sometimes there's someone in the house that they're afraid of, and I would like them to no longer be afraid of that person, period, no matter what that person is doing in the house, or no matter how they're walking, or where they are.

And if we can't get there, we certainly want to give the dog coping skills rather than leaving them adrift and then the problem just gets worse. So coping, yes, but only if I can't get to a solution, if we can't get to where we really need to be. And we never know that since every dog is an n of 1, we start on day one and we take them as far as we can take them and it's hard to predict where that's ever going to go, really.

Melissa Breau: To take this, I guess, not to the next step, but I was curious if there's any time when you would look at a particular dog and recommend a different approach than your typical one for that individual, or where you might say, "I'm not sure you're the right fit for this class or for this approach."

Amy Cook: There are definitely behavior problems, behavior challenges, that are not suited for the Play Way class, for sure. The approach is definitely for certain problems and definitely not for others, at least as far as I know now. I imagine the more trainers get their hands on my training systems, the more I'll see maybe some creative uses I had not considered. But I don't use play approaches or social therapeutic play approaches with dogs who, say, have resource guarding. That is not something that it matches. Or for dogs that have owner-directed issues, owner-directed aggression, owner-directed fear. If you're kind of afraid of your person and that hasn't sorted out, or if you're maybe not so afraid but also maybe having a problem setting some limits with your mouth on your person, I'm not going to have that person start engaging in social play if those things don't match. I definitely do a screening there of is the problem your dog is having a good match for tis particular therapeutic approach.

Same with sound. When we're talking about putting a dog in a sound program, it might be that that dog is alert-barking at things outside the house, but the only thing they're alert-barking at is people who are coming to the door and are going to come in. That's not exactly a sound fear. That's a dog who is having a reaction to something that will eventually be social. Those people are going to come in the house, and that's the association that was made. It's not the sound itself. It's what the sound predicts.

If a given behavior, a cluster of problems, is so pronounced that it is happening daily, it is happening to so many triggers that we're starting to lose count, the list is getting really long, for situations like that, I really want us to be working with veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists to get a dog medically evaluated.

I just did a video that's on my socials where I joked that we have to make sure that we assess the health of any dog before we train them, because you don't want any medical problems or any physical health issues to get in the way of the training you're going to do. And then I said, "Mental health's last name is health because mental health is also a health issue." We need to be roping in our veterinarians right away, right in the beginning when we have extreme behavior problems, or problems that are manifesting in anxieties and fears, because so much is at play there. So I like to see a medical approach happening early, before we start talking about the behavioral interventions.

If I have dogs who are very concerned about their own person, or dogs who are panicking very, very easily, I'm not going to say, "Put them in one of my classes. We'll totally make great ground." I don't know how much ground we will cover from a dog who is panicking very easily. That's not the time to think about training. That's the time to think about their mental health and to approach it that way medically.

Let's see. What else is there? What other behavior … I'm losing track of the question. What would not be suited for the class? Is that what we're talking about?

Melissa Breau: When might you not recommend a dog take the class?

Amy Cook: I screen them out for play. I screen them out a bit for sound. As far as management goes, I think that management is a flexible system. It's a philosophy in that I want the people to be saying, "You can't do this, dog, because this is a scenario in which the skills you already have do not match. You don't have the skills for this, so I need to direct your body and your behavior over here."

But it doesn't say exactly how to do that. I have skills that I teach in the class, but management isn't limited to the subset of skills I have decided to teach in that class. It is an ongoing project where how to move your one dog from A to B might look different from how the other person moves their one dog from A to B. But the philosophy is still intact: you need to get it done, you need to get it done as positively as you can, with the dog just moving along with you without evaluating the situation and getting stuck on anything.

So I can't think of a dog that would not benefit from a management system, but certainly every dog's management system does not look the same as every other dog's management, because some dogs are leash-reactive, and they need a lot of support in getting their bodies where you need them to go. And other dogs are not leash-reactive at all, but are really scared in new places, so they're not presenting a lot of behavioral challenges for us maneuvering them, but they're scared. Maybe they're planting, maybe they're holding still and not able to move with you, and so you would pull out different management strategies for that dog.

But I can't think of a dog who would not be a candidate for management, because indeed management is underneath everything that we do. Management is in so many ways how we live with dogs. We have passive management and we have active management. Passive management is us using crates, us using baby gates on our doors, us blocking their sight of the window, us using enrichment toys as a form of management and saying, "Your behavior here needs a little help. Allow me to provide that help to you, instead of letting you solve your own problem or using training like cued behaviors that are reinforced. Let me give you something to direct you."

That's management. It's just there are many ways in which we manage. So I think every dog is already in some form of a management system. I've just codified it with a way that you can learn it. But I'd be hard-pressed to think of any dog that's not somewhat being managed. Maybe I'm being a little optimistic there. There's going to be dogs who are not managed somewhere, but everybody's got some system through which they're living with their dog, so they're all that.

I think that there's less out there for dogs who … dogs who have strong resource guarding are not dogs I'm seeing in my classes, because I don't have material that goes straight for that. And dogs who have separation anxiety I'm also not putting into any of these categories, because these are not designed to solve separation anxiety.

But we're fortunate in this industry that there is a specialty of separation anxiety, and dogs can go right into a class for that too. I'm liking that in our dog-training world today we're seeing specialties like that come up. I'm glad that separation anxiety is a specialty, because it should be, because the techniques you use can be very codified. You can again go right from the beginning, take step one, and go down the line.

That's how I see sound. I think of sound as a specialty of mine because it can be isolated. You can say, "Here's very specific triggers. Here's very specific behaviors they do. Here's some very specific things we can do to change those behaviors and really sharpen the tools." And so sound can be a real specialty.

I think resource guarding also makes its own specialty. I don't know that our profession does already think of it as a specialty or not, but maybe I'm posing that we do, that we should, because again it is a very potentially recipe-based approach. You can start on step one and go to step two. When the dog passes the test on step one, you can go to step two. So maybe we should start thinking about resource guarding as a specialty.

But those don't interface with any of my material, and I try to keep all that pretty separate.

Melissa Breau: To round out our conversation, if we were going to drill down everything we've been talking about, if there's something you want to leave people with, Amy … let's go with that one. Is there one key piece of information you want to leave people with, or that you wish everyone understood? What would that be?

Amy Cook: There's definitely a lot of stuff I wish people understood, and I guess that's good if you're a teacher that you think that way. But the thing that keeps coming back for me is that most people see the problem that they're having and they, understandably so, want to train in that problem. They have leash reactivity, and so they want to know what to do when you're having leash reactivity.

But if you really want to make changes in your dog, all of you out there who are listening, if you're trying to make changes in your dog's behavior, you have to think about it like we, as trainers, think about it, which is that first I need to know that you've got sharp tools.

If you're going to throw classical conditioning at your problem, you've got a sound problem and you've heard me say we're going to classically condition it, I need you to know that you need to spend some time learning how to do it outside of the context of the problem that you're having. You shouldn't be just applying it to the problem without having practiced exactly how these mechanics work and getting it completely out of context and proving to yourself.

So in my sound class we actually have people passing tests. It's not formal. They may not even know they're passing tests. But I give them one small piece of it and they keep doing it until I like what it looks like and I know that it's good enough, and then I give them the next piece.

All of this is out of context because I need to know that if you're going to counter-condition something, which means to change the way somebody feels from negative to positive, if you're going to be set off to doing that, I think we should practice on just taking something that you have neutral feelings about and making them positive, because if you can't take neutrality into positivity, I don't want you to start trying to take negativity into positivity. We need you to practice your tools.

Same with management. If I need you to manage a dog out in the world, I want you to practice how we manage in a place that's safe, so you can get your skills up to speed before you really need them.

If we're going to use play as therapy, we can't just start playing out in a therapeutic setting. I need you to start at home and really polish the skills of play.

What a trainer is doing that's different from what a pet owner is doing who's not a specialist in any of this is we are, and have been, practicing our skills out of context and making sure we can get these things done before we really need them.

And so what people should take away from this or any intersection with training is that you start somewhere else. You start where you're not having the problem, and you work out the kinks of your system. You work out the kinks of your mechanics and you work out your understanding, so that when you do actually need to use those, you're a well-oiled machine, and you know how to get it done, and you know how it's going to work.

So always practice out of context. Don't aim your solutions right in the middle of your problem. Note your problem, go back to the drawing board, practice your tools out of context, and then you know what you have. Then, if you hit a problem and you realize you don't know how to do this, or don't know this one little part of it, you weren't in a high-stakes environment to find that out. You were finding that out at home. You were finding that out with your teacher.

So always practice out of context until you feel really sharp at what you're doing. Then you can start applying it to your real problem. That's what I think people should really take to heart when it comes to all of dog training, because it's very important for anything you're trying to do.

Thank you so much for coming on the podcast!

Melissa Breau: Build fluency.

Amy Cook: And you build it out of context. It's never emphasized enough. It's not emphasized enough. People want to work right where the problem is: What do I do now when this problem is happening? What we do now is we get out of the problem, and then we go over here and we start talking about what it is you're going to do.

I find it really important for counter-conditioning, because if you can't condition something, I don't want you counter-conditioning. If you can't condition, and maybe this is too much jargon for some people who are listening, but if you can't take something that has no meaning and give it positive meaning, then you're not ready to take something that has negative meaning and give it positive meaning. You need to sharpen those skills up first. Then the world is your oyster, because you have a recipe with which you can change meaning, and there's no greater confidence than knowing you know how to do something and know when to pull it out.

Melisa Breau: We'll leave everybody on that. Thank you for coming on the podcast again, Amy.

Amy Cook: It's always fun. I love you.

Melissa Breau: Love you too. And thanks to all of our wonderful 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! 

E250: Dr. Daniel Promislow - "The Science of Aging...
E248: Jane Ardern - "Training the High Drive Dog"

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