E259: Jake Schneider - "Adding Precision in Play and Balance in Bitework"

Jake Schneider joins me to talk — we discuss how to stop your dog from biting your hand instead of the toy and add value to yourself even when there's something else valuable in the environment (like a decoy!). 


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 how bite sports people can use training to compete with the ultimate reinforcer … the decoy! And how we can teach precision for where to bite, which applies to everything from tug to protection sports.

Hi Jake, welcome back to the podcast!

Jake Schneider: Hi Melissa, thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk today.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely, and they're fun topics. To start us out, do you want to remind everybody a little about you, your pups, and what you're working on with them?

Jake Schneider: My main thing is I'm a mondio decoy judge and handler. But for my dogs, I have one right now. He is a retired Mondioring 3 dog. His name is Luda — Ludacris. He turns 6 in about a week, so he's not super old. He's doing a bunch of decoy training. We're using him to train the new crop of mondioring decoys. He loves it. He loves to just run down and bite decoys, and there's less obedience.

The other little thing we've been playing with, up where we live there's a lot of deer hunters and stuff, so we've been teaching him tracking to help for deer recovery and stuff. It's been awesome watching him use his tracking abilities and how amazing he is at tracks that are twelve, fifteen, twenty hours old, like it's nothing. It's like the easiest thing in the world, which is incredibly impressive to me.

Melissa Breau: That's so cool. It's so fun that you're using him to help the next round of decoys come up and get their skills.

Jake Schneider: He's middle of the range when it comes to hardness, and his technique is really good, so he's a really good starter dog for a lot of decoys. He loves it, they love it, so it's perfect for him. He's happy.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. You mentioned the whole bite thing, and of course that's where we're going to jump in. Let's talk about the topics I mentioned in the intro, but in the opposite order that I mentioned them, starting with the idea of precision in toy play. What is precision in toy play and why does it matter?

Jake Schneider: The reason I came up with this — and I won't name names because I still train with him, but if he's listening, he knows who I'm talking about — I've watched people with their dogs for a long time. Whether they're doing obedience stuff and they reward their dogs with tugs or whatever, they get bitten hands.

This dog in particular that got me to start thinking about this is a Malinois, of course, and it seemed like every time he left his training session with his dog, his hand was bleeding. He started to not enjoy playing with his dog and everything, and I'm like, "There's got to be something better than what's happening here."

What it is is just basically teaching dogs how to actually target the toy. It always seems easy to hold the toy and the dog takes it, but the problem is some dogs are taking handles, taking the ball on the rope, taking the rope part and catching the handler's hands, pinkies.

You can't see it, but I have a mark on my hand from a seminar I did two weeks ago where the dog traveled up a toy when I was playing with it and got me right in the hand, and I'm like, "This is why I'm doing this." It's going to make play more fun for the handlers and less painful, and if it's more fun, it's going to be a better relationship you're going to have with your dog. So that is what it is.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. The skills that you're going to be talking about — at what point in the game would you introduce them to a young dog?

Jake Schneider: Right away. The second my dog shows joy or desire to play with me, or play with toys, but even before that. Look at a Lab. I have a lot of young Labs I'll train. You hold that treat out and the Lab is so excited to get that food, instead of taking that tiny piece of food that's in your hand, they eat your whole hand. That's almost the same concept. I always look at the dog, I'm like, "It's right here. Just focus and process and look. Just use your brain for a second."

I think if you can start off at a young age and start to do it the second you get your dog, whether your dog is 8 months old or 8 weeks old, whenever, it doesn't really matter. I think starting right away and trying to curve that habits that could come up of the dog trying to eat your hand or shift up the bite or do different things to make playing not fun for you. If you can start right away, then you're not behind the eight ball trying to untrain the bad habits. You can get them before they start.

Melissa Breau: Is there a bigger concept at work here, thinking of this idea of working in a state of high arousal? Does the skills we're talking about, like being able to have that precision in toy play, carry over into other things we do with our sports dogs?

Jake Schneider: I totally think so. I think this is just one small part of the whole goal of getting a dog to process through everything when they're excited. And it's super hard, but I think thinking during drive is something that a lot of sport people would admit their dogs probably need to get better at.

I've judged so many dogs where you can see when they get high drive, their brain falls out. So whether that's playing with your dog, or your dog not wanting to let a decoy go, or the dog running around the field offloading its stimulation or whatever, I think this is just one part of a big thing or a big goal of getting a dog to process.

Melissa Breau: You're doing a workshop on this starting March 20. Registration is open now, for those listening who want to go sign up. Is there anything else you want to share or talk about in terms of what will be in the workshop, or what folks who may be interested should know?

Jake Schneider: This came from conversations I had just a couple of weeks ago. First off, when we were putting this together, Denise was like, "Agility people will really like this," because agility dogs, there's a lot of times where they get so excited, and they're taking their toy or whatever, and they're catching their handlers.

But I talked to somebody at the last seminar I did, and they were talking about flyball, and it wasn't even something I was thinking about, and how flyball dogs, when they're targeting their toys and stuff like that, they catch the handlers and the hands and everything like that.

So don't think of it as a bite sport specific thing. Think of it as I want to play with my dog and actually have it be enjoyable thing, and help the relationship that me and my dog are building to be even better.

Melissa Breau: The other thing that I wanted to talk about was a webinar you're doing for us coming up on March 3. I don't usually do this, but I did want to, for this one, quickly read your description, which I think it will make sense why when people listen. The description says, "It's no shock that dogs quickly learn the value of a helper or decoy. All too often this love turns into an obsession that all but turns you invisible to your dog when the decoy or helper is around. Jake walks you through what he likes to do to make sure that a balance is kept and/or created between the dog, the handler, and the decoy or helper. Be the reward your dog wants you to be!!" It seems like, first of all, it's a big promise, it's a big challenge. Where do you even start with something like that?

Jake Schneider: It's definitely a huge challenge. Again I go back to being a decoy and a judge. I've seen these dogs struggle, whether they don't want to leave the decoy, or they break their startline too early, or whatever, and it's definitely a huge challenge.

But it starts with the handlers, with us, creating that relationship, or that bond, or that joy of play, or whatever, with the dog. If we get that, if the dog likes to work with you and enjoys playing with you, that's step number one. And you'll see that. I'm not throwing any spoilers out there, I promise.

Step number one is let's get the dog to like you and want to play with you. You always want to start with you.

Make yourself valuable, because the decoy or the helper, if the dog is really good in the sport or wants to do the sport, it's going to be super easy. The dog is going to quickly value that helper or decoy, and if we're not prepared, it will quickly overtake our value.

Melissa Breau: It seems like in some ways this is a more advanced version of the skills we were talking about, in terms of being able to think in a state of high arousal. Would you agree with that? Is that what we're talking about here?

Jake Schneider: It's more advanced, but it goes to processing through stimulation. It's advanced, but you can do the training side by side. You can do all this at the same time.

Being able to think in high arousal is hard for even people. You think about people when they get super excited, they start to stutter and make mistakes. And dogs it's the same thing. So it's more advanced, I think, but in the end, everything is about processing through stimulation. Just use your brain. You have it, let's just teach you how to use it during this exciting time.

Melissa Breau: The second piece of this question is, will the things that you're going to cover here … it's obviously targeted toward decoy work, but would it also work if there are other things we want to create that balance around? Say if a dog is just super environmentally focused or there is some other reinforcer that they find really reinforcing, would the same concepts apply, the same things be valuable?

Jake Schneider: I think so. I feel like I'm repetitive and I'm sorry for that, but I feel like it's that relationship. It's building that drive to want to be with you, and work and play with you, and your value increasing.

If you have high value to your dog, then it's going to put you up higher on their list of things they prefer over other things. So maybe they'll start to like you more than that squirrel. Maybe. Or that other dog or that person. Maybe they'll be excited, but they'll come check back in to you sooner. I think all of this is all related. It's just again processing through stimulation, working in high drive situations. So I definitely think it can work in tons of different environmental stuff.

My own dog, he's a dog who gets super … I don't want to say nervous, but if someone's walking by themselves, he'll think, "I want to bark at that person, because it's a person walking by themselves. They've got to be trouble." What he starts to do now is he'll start to look at that person and then he immediately goes, "But Dad." He looks to me and he's like, "Let's just play."

He wants to re-engage me because we've done so much of this training in a bunch of different levels that, for one, he thinks everything is a

test. He thinks I'm always messing with him now. He sees a squirrel and he's like, "Dad put that there," and he looks to me like, "All right, let's play," instead of "Go chase the squirrel because I know you're trying to trick me."

I do think they're all related. It's all a dog is excited and how we can get them to work through it.

Melissa Breau: What role does habit play here versus choice? Are we trying to help the dog learn to make the right choice to think through stuff when things get hard, or are we trying to install a habit so the dog doesn't have to think at all? They just do the thing.

Jake Schneider: I think there's a little bit of both involved in this, but in my opinion … . It's no secret that the sport that I mainly do is mondioring, and the whole "doesn't have to think" thing in mondioring, you can do it in certain areas, but I don't think it applies all that well to it. There's not a lot of pattern training we can do. There's always things that happen differently. The dog has to figure out how to get to a decoy, how to bite the decoy, how to get back to us, and everything in between.

And so yes, you can certainly do this to the point where the dog doesn't have to think. But the thing you said even before that, the hard choice, that hard choice — my goal is to not make it a hard choice. It doesn't have to be, I guess is what I'm trying to say. It doesn't have to be a hard choice.

My own dog, he's a Level 3. I've never used e-collars or anything like that on him. I have some videos of this in the webinar. You'll see he comes back to me because he wants to come to me. It wasn't a hard choice for him to let go of that decoy — even though he loves the decoy — to let him go and come back to me, because decoy might be 1-A, but I'm 1-B when it comes to his value.

I think what my goal is is to make that choice less difficult for the dog so that it's not a hard choice. The dog just goes, "You're fun to play with, but I've been told I've got to go play with my other toys. So I'm going to take off and go do that now because it's fun."

I think you can have both. You can have it where the dog doesn't have to think, and if that's the way you want to train this, you certainly can. But I like to make it so that you're valuable and the dog goes, "Heck yeah, I want to go back to my mom or dad. That's the best thing ever."

Melissa Breau: Anything else you want to share about the webinar specifically so people can decide if it might be a fit for them?

Jake Schneider: I'm trying to think if there's anything that I haven't talked about. The biggest thing, I think, is if you're struggling at all, especially because we, as trainers, are trying to get away from aversives as best we can, and we need to figure out ways to up our value.

That's what this webinar is all about. It's upping your value, and then how we start to do the balance, because everything in sport work is a balance. If the dog likes the handler too much, then the dog is bailing out on the decoy too soon and coming back too soon. If the dog is valuing the decoy too much, I talked about it earlier, it's just a mess. You have no control, and your dog is trying to leave you to go visit the decoy all the time, even when they're not there.

And so really my goal is just the relationship. If you're looking to improve the relationship you have with your dog, and get your dog to want to play with you and be around you in the presence of a decoy or helper, I think this will do good for you.

Melissa Breau: I want to round all this out with one last question. If we were to drill down all the bits and pieces we talked about into one takeaway or key piece of information you really want listeners to understand, what would that be?

Jake Schneider: I could go back to say the whole relationship thing, but think I've already said that about a thousand times, so I think I can go to something else I mentioned before. This falls into both things I'm doing here. The whole phrase "It doesn't have to be" — to me, it's a huge thing that I think people need to hear.

Playing with your dog and your dog biting your hand — it doesn't have to be unpleasant. Playing with your dog doesn't have to be this scary thing where you know you have to do it, but you know you're going to end up getting hurt or something because your dog bites crazy. It doesn't have to be like that.

The same thing with working with a decoy. Making a choice to come back to you doesn't have to be hard. It just doesn't have to be. We can do things in positive ways. We don't have to use aversives. You can do things in positive ways to make your dog want to be with you and learn with you and still value the decoy. That's a difficult thing for a dog to lose value in, I think, if done right.

I think the big takeaway is you don't have to be miserable or you don't have to struggle. There's things that we can do to make things better.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I like that final note, the idea it doesn't have to be as hard as it is. Sometimes it feels hard and it doesn't have to be.

Jake Schneider: Oh yeah, for sure.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jake. This is great, and I'm so glad you could.

Jake Schneider: Thanks for having me. Anytime I can talk about dogs, or in particular talk about bitey sports, I'm all for it. This is my stuff. This is my jam. I absolutely love doing this, so I really appreciate you guys bringing me on again and letting me talk about it.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I'm looking forward to the workshop and the webinar.

And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We will be back next week with Karen Deeds to talk about reactive integration — that is, putting the pieces together for your reactive dog.

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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