E263: Denise Fenzi, Heather Lawson, Alycia Rogal, and Nicole Wiebusch - "Year 6 of TEAM + A New Program..."

This year is the 6th anniversary of the founding of the Fenzi TEAM titles program — and we take a look at how it's grown and reveal a new, up-and-coming addition! 


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 Denise Fenzi, Heather Lawson, Alycia Rogal, and Nicole Wiebusch here with me to talk about the Fenzi TEAM Titles program.

Hi all, welcome to the podcast!

[All say hello.]

Melissa Breau: Hi, guys. To start out, I want to have everybody share a little about yourself, any current pets, what you're working on with them. Denise, do you want to start us off?

Denise Fenzi: I'm Denise Fenzi, and I have three dogs: Brito, Lyra, and baby Zen. What am I working on? I am working on reducing my dogs' possession. I'm actually working on something else too. I don't know if I should say it, but I will. It's complicated because I'm trying to keep my pants on.

I know that that sounds terrible, and I probably should explain a little bit, but I don't use a bait bag. I've been doing a lot of fitness training. I usually just put the food in my pants pockets, but they're not big enough. And then I saw this bait bag. Apparently everybody else uses them, and I put one on and that was great, but it's making my pants fall off. It pulls it down on one side. And so I have to pay more attention, I guess, to how other people are doing this, because I don't think other people are having this problem. It's a "me" problem, isn't it?

But anyway, so that's on my mind. But by the time this podcast publishes, I'm sure somebody will teach me how to do this. So that's what's on my mind. I don't know what you guys are up to. I can't wait to hear.

Melissa Breau: Maybe somebody else will have a hint for you. Heather, you want to go next?

Heather Lawson: Oh yeah, it's called a belt.

Denise Fenzi: Well, yes, the pants I'm wearing right now don't have them.

Heather Lawson: The bait pouch itself —don't they come with a belt?

Denise Fenzi: You know, you're right. I know there's people out there that are bait bag connoisseurs and they know these things. But if that's all I have to do, that would totally work. Thank you so much, Heather. My problem is solved.

Heather Lawson: Okay. By the way, I'm Heather Lawson and I have German Shepherds. I currently have Piper. What am I doing with her? At the moment we're working on no barking at squirrels as they go along the squirrel highway behind our house. She can be dead asleep on the floor, not even looking at them, and all hell breaks loose in seconds flat.

I actually got the idea from you, Denise. I've started yelling "Cookies!" and cookies go flying, and now I'm down to about one or two barks. Unfortunately, that hasn't transferred over into the park, where she still happens to be a screaming mimi. But we're working on it. So that's what I'm working on mainly with her, plus my obedience. I'm going to try and get her a couple of titles this year, if I can get to it. That's what I'm doing.

Denise Fenzi: Well, I'm glad I was able to contribute.

Heather Lawson: Yes.

Melissa Breau: Back and forth advice. We're all about that here.

Nicole Wiebusch: I'll go ahead. I'm Nicole Wiebusch and I have two Goldens. Strive is about 8-and-a-half, and Excel is her son and he is 4-and-a-half. Strive is just three triple Q's away from her RACH, which is the Rally Championship title — yay. We should be finishing that here pretty soon. And then, at that point, she's basically my daughter's dog anyway, so she's going to go to Lexi, my daughter, and she'll get to play with her in mostly agility. Lexi doesn't really love obedience and rally yet, but I'm working on it.

Excel is, like I said, he's her son, and we spent the first four years of his life working on life skills and we finally have that down, so now we're out in the ring. This past weekend he earned his first two Triple Q's, so he's running with the big dogs now in rally, AKC rally, with a ton of placements, and I was really, really happy with how he did. We've got some stuff to work on, but overall he kept his brain in his head, so I was really happy about that.

We also have a black Lab that's more my husband and kids' dog, and the kids do 4-H stuff with her. I occasionally will use her for demo dog when I need a dog that doesn't know something. Her name is Kira and she is 5.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Alycia?

Alycia Rogal: Hi, I'm Alycia Rogal. I have Labrador retrievers. Mesa is just about 13 and Coulee is 6, and I'm hoping for a puppy in the fall. We'll see how it all pans out. I'm currently working on obedience skills. I will completely admit I'm sort of a seasonal trainer in the idea that we live quite rural, we're in central British Columbia, I've still got about a foot and a half of snow, so there's not a whole lot we can do outside a lot through the winter. Once the snow all melts, then we get more into doing more outside stuff — tracking, shed training. I was just competing in barn hunt this last weekend, and I've got scent detection next weekend. I'm definitely hoping to get to some more obedience trials this year and rally as well. So sometimes, like I said, it's kind of seasonal.

In terms of other pets, I've got a whole menagerie of a lot of other critters — chickens, rabbits, pigeons, rats, fish, all sorts of critters that are involved in some sort of training at one point or another. Again, it's kind of a winter project to work with some of those guys.

So that's a little bit about me.

Melissa Breau: All sorts of fun stuff. As I mentioned in the intro, we wanted to talk a little about the TEAM program today. I want to start by talking about the existing obedience titling program. I know we've talked about the foundation of the program before, and a little about the program itself before, but it's turning 6 this year. Denise, can you share just a little bit of an update on where the program stands today, year six?

Denise Fenzi: I'm just amazed. Six years. Wow, how did that happen? It grows and it expands out and more people get interested. I would say it's doing really well. I'm pretty excited about it.

Melissa Breau: I know one of the early goals of the program was to break down obedience exercises and to really encourage good training principals to showcase how to do that for beginners in particular. Do you feel like it's done that?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, and actually maybe more important is that … when we made the program with Deb and Terri and a few other folks, I knew that it would do that. But other people didn't know that. And the difference between now and then is that other people know it also.

For example, my most common advice, if somebody is struggling with precision obedience, I'll say something along the lines of, "Are you familiar with the TEAM program?" "Yes." "Great. For one month, I don't want you to work on any obedience skills except for TEAM 1. Just go back." And they'll say, "But he knows all that." "Just humor me. If you just work on those TEAM 1 skills for one month, come back and let's talk about it."

And it just never fails. If they actually do it, they will be blown away by, "Oh my god, the dog just pivots into position. The fronts have gotten straight." You can never spend too much time or energy, no matter how advanced your dog is, no matter what sports you do, breaking things down and going back to those foundation skills. And I do think that message got out there.

I mean, we forget, I forget. I'll be struggling with some precision thing and rather than saying, "Take your own advice, go back and do it," I might fight about it for a few days. But when I remember the value of breaking it down and going back, I relearn again how amazing the basics of even muscle memory for basic exercises, using the platforms and the disks, and high, high rates of reinforcement for single behaviors. And then you put them all back together again and it just is almost mind-blowing to me how effective it is at cleaning up your work.

And yeah, I think it's done that, and I think people know it does that.

Melissa Breau: Heather, as a TEAM obedience judge and one of the instructors who teaches TEAM at FDSA, have you seen any changes in the things handlers struggle with over the last six years or in the difference from year one until now?

Heather Lawson: I don't think it's been so much changes in the things that they're struggling with, but just the consistent challenges that I see coming through. Number one, as an obedience judge, I would say, at my end anyways, with the teams that I've judged, generally it's 90 percent failure is handler errors. It's all handler errors.

The dogs are pretty darn close. They're within the acceptable levels. What happens is the handlers get way ahead of themselves and think, "Oh, I know this," and they don't go back and review the rules and how the exercise is to be set up, whether or not there's a starting point for the exercise, all these different little minutia as part of the TEAM program that they forget about. They just assume, "I know what I'm doing," and then they run their test and then they go, "Oops, I didn't know what I was doing."

The wonderful thing about TEAM is that it teaches you to take it slow and revisit your foundations over and over and over again. Because, as Denise just alluded to earlier, you always have to revisit basically the ABCs of an exercise, because a lot of people come in and they think, and maybe rightly so, "He's got this. He knows all of this." But does he know it the TEAM way? And does he know it the way that it needs to be performed as per the TEAM rules?

As far as what it's done for people is it's made them take a look at themselves and how they are actually, in a way, holding their partner back because they're not pulling up their end of the stick, if you will, and they don't realize that the little things that they do can make a whole big difference in the result of what they get from their training partner and that's with the dog.

And so I think over the last six years I have seen people really improve, and the people coming through are doing very well and they're very quick now, they weren't so before, but they're very quick now to say, "Oh yeah, palm plant to the head, I should have seen that. But now you mention it, it's right there in my face." So they're quick to change and to redirect themselves, and within one or two sessions, their dog is back on track. That's what I like about TEAM, that's it's so simple, but it's actually very hard.

Melissa Breau: Simple, but not easy, as the saying goes.

Heather Lawson: Yeah. That's the joy of it, because you have to be the partner that your dog deserves.

Melissa Breau: Anything you'd want to add to that, Denise, just in terms of how you've seen people evolve?

Denise Fenzi: I actually like that expression that the dog is trained and is doing its part, so you owe it to your dog to do your part. I never thought about it quite like that, and I appreciate that way of phrasing it.

Heather Lawson: It's funny how people think that they're doing their part, but in essence, when we do have my famous line, and everybody who's taken a class with me knows this, "Let's take a look and dissect what's going wrong, or where you need to make changes, and let's dissect." And then, when we go into and dissect something, they go, "Oh yeah, okay, I see it."

It's just like, Alycia, remember when I told you to hang on to the seam of your pants to keep you from leaning in towards your dog? You go, "No-brainer. Now I can keep myself straight." And Coulee did an awesome job because you straightened up. He was get on, smack on, on his pivots. It's just those little things like that, that if you do your part, your dog will do theirs.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Originally, what is now the TEAM obedience program was created as a more general program, as a foundation for any sport that people wanted to participate in. Things in the program have shifted a little bit. New programs have been introduced. So if somebody is looking at all of the TEAM programs, or at a sport other than obedience, is TEAM 1 still a good starting place? Heather, do you want to go first on this?

Heather Lawson: Absolutely, because it's the basic, basic foundation skills. What it does, no matter if you're doing rally, or if you're doing agility, you're doing scentwork, we cover everything, all the different little bits and pieces of all the different dog sports. But what it does is it really introduces the dogs to equipment and precision, and their owners' or their handlers' body movements.

So whether you're doing rally freestyle, or you're doing rally obedience, or you're doing agility, it teaches that connection, and it teaches that experience with equipment as well. So all of the things that you learn in TEAM really carries over and you can take it to all the different sports that you want it to work with.

Melissa Breau: Denise, do you want to add anything to that?

Denise Fenzi: No, I think she pretty much nailed it. You just can't go wrong with these basics of getting in position, coming to front, engaging with the dog. These are these are pretty foundational things for everything you do.

Heather Lawson: I think when you're talking about the foundational things as well, if you look at it, and this is kind of the old analogy, you've got to learn your ABCs before you can make a word, before you can make a sentence, before you make a paragraph, before you write that university thesis.

If you come in with the idea that you've already got your junior high, or whatever it is that people call it, and your dog hasn't even graduated out of the ABCs and you're trying to make them write that university thesis, you'll soon find out that you really do need to go back and visit the basics and the foundations, and that's where TEAM really makes you work through each of those steps.

Melissa Breau: Speaking of new programs, there is a new program in the works as we speak, this time focused on rally. I know it hasn't been officially rolled out yet, but Nicole, Alycia and Laura Waudby have been hard at work on the new titles for a while now. We were talking before this that it's been a labor of love. Nicole, Alycia, do you want to share a little on what we can expect when the program launches?

Nicole Wiebusch: Sure. We've been working hard on this program, and it's been a lot of fun. We've had a lot of fun with it. It's set up similar to the TEAM obedience program in that it builds on foundations and we realize how important the foundations are.

So it does build on foundations, but there are a few key differences. We get to courses pretty early because course and sequencing is a big part of rally. With the rally program, the accuracy, we encourage good training, but the super-high level of precision that TEAM requires, it's not quite that high in rally. For instance, for front and finishes, we say anything within 45 degrees. When we're talking about heel position, we give them about a foot leeway any one way. We want good training, we want the dogs to know what they're doing, but we're not as worried about accuracy. And that's a nice difference for the people that just don't want to worry so much about precision.

There are some other differences too. You can use praise and encourage your dog more in the exercises and such. The verbals and hand signals can both be used at the same time, which is another helpful thing. For someone who's new to this, it's a little less scary for them.

We have levels 1 to 3 done right now, and then probably in the future we'll work on 4 to 6, but we're just worrying about 1 to 3 right now. And similar to the TEAM program, there will be pre-levels, so you can hop in halfway if you need to, just get your feet wet without that pressure of qualifying or passing every single exercise.

The way we have it set up basically is for levels 1 to 3, the base levels are individual exercises. There's ten exercises, just like with TEAM, and then the Plus level is a course. So right away in Level 1, if you do Level 1 Plus, you actually do a course. In Level 1, we have two courses. There's A and there's B, and then 1-A is going to be on leash, and then we get them off leash right away in course 1-B. It's set up to transition from one to the other, but you can video them separately and that sort of thing.

With the Honors level, you do the course as well, but without reinforcements. So depending on the level for your Plus course, you get a certain number of treats that you can use. We show on the maps what stations can have treats or how many you can use throughout the level. But then the Honors, you don't get to use reinforcement. So that's how we've set up the basic program.

Melissa Breau: Alycia, anything you want to add?

Alycia Rogal: I was just going to say, Nicole, you covered everything I had in my notebook. That's fantastic. Like she said, we've had so much fun doing this.

I think we started out thinking it was going to be simple. We 've all trained in rally for a really long time, and we thought, "This won't be too difficult," but really trying to compare it to some of the TEAM obedience stuff, and breaking down those foundation skills, hasn't been challenging, just a lot of thought provoking. I think everyone's going to really, really like this program. I really like it, and we're all really excited for it. But building on those foundations, like Nicole said, it's not as precise as TEAM, so it's hopefully not going to be maybe as intimidating for some of those people that are concerned about that.

We did pull from numerous organizations of rally, and as a CARO judge myself — so people aren't familiar with CARO, that's the Canadian Association of Rally Obedience — it is one of the more precise rally organizations in terms of precision, so that was in the back of our minds as well. So in terms of training excellence, it's not as precise as TEAM, but it's probably more precise than some other rally organizations, like AKC or CKC, so that if someone was going to compete in any rally venue, then if they have those foundations, they should be successful, hopefully.

Denise Fenzi: As an outsider, I'm sitting here going, "This sounds awesome." I love the choices you guys made to differentiate rally from obedience, because foundations are foundations and they're going to be quite similar.

But I think there are a lot of people who love the concept of TEAM obedience that they get overwhelmed and frustrated with the precision aspects. Their heart isn't there yet. It might get there. I love that they could go and get their feet wet with the rally and then realize how many of the skills they have, if they just maybe tighten this one up a little bit, and that one, and that you're letting them practice those courses right away so you get some flow in there.

I think you guys made really good decisions about how to differentiate it and make it fun and still make it hard, the way it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be challenging. It's not a gift.

Nicole Wiebusch: The other thing, too, that comes to mind with the rally there is that for those who will eventually maybe want to go into obedience, it allows them to develop their skills and get rid of their ring nerves and so forth in that way because it is a little bit less intimidating and they can actually talk to their dog. And then, as they're going through, they can dial it back so that by the time they get into the ring, the obedience side, where you can't talk to your dog, they've got a transition point to work through.

So I think it's going to be a lot of fun for people that aren't quite ready for the precision, Denise, as you said, of the TEAM, but they still want to do all the foundation basics as well. And because all the foundation basics cross back and forth between obedience and rally, it's going to be a natural transition for people to be able to go from the rally into the obedience. I think it's going to be a great program.

Melissa Breau: I love that, and I love that in rally, you get signs, so I know one of the hard parts, as somebody personally who's been training for TEAM 1 for a very long time, is how hard it is to remember the exercises and the order of the exercises, and make sure you do them in the right order, and the right bit, and signs will certainly help with that.

I want to … I know you both mentioned this in your answers a little bit, but talk about how the new rally program reflects the goals of the original TEAM program. Alycia, do you want to start this one?

Alycia Rogal: Sure. We touched on it or talked about it a few times already, about how the original TEAM program was about training excellence. And we really tried to do that in this program because strong foundation skills … I mean, we're not sounding like broken records, I know. It's good to hear over and over again. They're so, so important.

There's lots of skills needed in any sport, but in rally there are so many skills and exercises that are required, especially as you move up to higher levels, and so those foundation skills are just so, so important. But again, as Nicole mentioned with how great it is to be able to jump right into courses so that there's some flow to it right at the beginning in that first level, I think it's going to be fantastic for people. You have anything to add, Nicole?

Nicole Wiebusch: At the risk of repeating ourselves, one of my favorite things about TEAM, I've done TEAM with my own dogs, I've been a judge now for a few years, and I love that it focuses on training excellence. I teach the rally classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and what I really try to show the students is it's not necessarily about being very precise, but it is about having these really good foundations to build your behaviors on, so that when you get in the ring, and you add challenge, and you add pressures, that you can still be successful, that you have these pieces to fall back on.

That is definitely my favorite thing about the TEAM obedience program, and so we worked really hard in the rally program on doing the same thing, building up those skills, starting with some basic foundation stuff, building them up from there. And because chaining is so important in rally, you're doing it super-early, we wanted to stick that in there right away.

That's the reason that we went ahead and did the courses. Like I said, Level 1 is A and B, and they're pretty short, and then Level 2 is a little bit longer, and then Level 3 there's even more courses. We try to progress both in duration, but also chaining and the difficulty of the maneuvers.

I like too that … one of you guys mentioned this about it being challenging. It is challenging. You look at it and you're like, "Oh, that doesn't look so bad. My dog can do that," and then you go out there and you try to do it. We have a little group of people that have been wonderful in helping us test out all the behaviors in the courses, and they struggled.

There's some really good dogs in this group, and even us with our own dogs, so it's not a "gimme." It's definitely it's not a "gimme" at all. You're going to have to put some effort into it, which is good. We're asking for training excellence. We want it to be challenging. I think as an overall goal of TEAM 1 obedience, we tried to follow that same idea of building on the foundations and just doing good training, and I think we did that really well.

Alycia Rogal: Yeah, and coming into that with the not being a "gimme," and that's the key thing. Everybody thinks you can do pivot on a pod, you can send your dog around a cone, you can send them over a jump, you can do this, that, and all of a sudden it's just like, "Oh, that's a lot harder than I thought it was."

If you skate through on TEAM 1, when you get to TEAM 2, it gets a little bit harder, TEAM 3, and so forth, because you don't have the reliability of the props telling the dog what to do. So it's definitely a good skill-builder program and it builds confidence in the individual.

What I like about it too is that especially when I'm teaching a class, I can say, "This happened and that happened," but the key thing I like to do is, "Here's why." When people find out the why, they then can go, "Oh, okay, now I understand." But if you're always just following through on a program and nobody tells you why something didn't work, or what's going to happen if you continue to do that, then they're going to have more difficulties in it as they go through the TEAM program, because whether it be at rally or it be the obedience side of it, they cross over so easily that if they don't understand the goal of the whole program, then they may have more difficulty than they anticipate.

Melissa Breau: I know you've already talked a little bit about the maps, but since I know for those looking at the program, maybe you're coming from another rally program where there's a different map every time you go to compete, I wanted to talk a little more about the map piece of it. Can you address that? How does that work for this program? Will it always be the same maps for the same levels? Anything else we should know about the maps? Nicole?

Nicole Wiebusch: It is the same map for the same level. We have a Level 1-A and a Level 1-B, and then a Level 2 and a Level 3. I'm the one that actually designed the maps, but we all spent a long, long time putting the pieces together in ways that provide the right amount of challenge.

With Level 1, we tried to make both courses so that they could be done in a smaller space, so we estimated 10-by-20-foot size for those courses, and then Level 2 and 3, we recommend closer to 30-by-40. But there's no requirements as far as distance is concerned, so if you have a smaller dog and a little bit tighter space and you're comfortable, you can tighten up those distances by putting the signs closer together. If you have a large dog, it gets a little difficult because you lose some of the flow. It becomes pretty choppy if you make things too tight. But it is doable, depending on the dog and how your dog works.

The challenge of this too, a challenge of this program, is that you get to build your own courses, and this is something that most rally exhibitors do not have to do. Once you start, once you've been involved in building a few courses, it teaches you a lot. It teaches you about your dog's direction of travel. It teaches you where you should be in relation to the signs so you don't knock them over, that sort of thing. So I think that the ability and the chance for these handlers to build their own courses is going to help them a lot in their rally adventures.

I think that's about it for the courses. Alycia, do you have anything to add?

Alycia Rogal: I was just going to reiterate what you said about how valuable it is for exhibitors, if they ever go on to compete in other organizations, or really anywhere, about building their own courses, because, like you said, it's going to give them such valuable information for when they go to compete themselves about "How much room does my dog need," especially if you're doing pivots or about-turns or things like that. Different organizations have different rules, but some will ding you if you can't, or if your dog bumps a cone. Others won't. But it will give more insight into that line of travel, for sure, which is valuable.

I was going to say that what's fantastic also is that we have the signs and the signs will be available, as well as the course maps, but you don't have to print those out. People that participate in this can hand-draw them. They don't need to be official-looking signs, so it's accessible to people in that regard. We are going to know what we're looking at in terms of judging, so it doesn't need to be fancy, fancy science, because I think that's sort of an issue for some people in terms of accessibility for rally is that they sometimes feel that, "I can't do this because I don't have the official laminated signs, the fancy signs, to be able to build a course." There's lots of ways to do that just by doing them by hand or things like that.

I think that's about it for the courses. You covered a lot of it. Most of it. All of it.

Nicole Wiebusch: That's a good point about the signs. Thanks for reminding me about that, too. You don't realize how challenging it is to set a course until you set a course. And so I think a lot of people doing this program might end up a little surprised, like, "Wow, I had no idea what the judges go through when they design these courses." So that will be good for everybody.

Alycia Rogal: Hey, maybe we'll get some more ring steward help out of at trials.

Melissa Breau: To be clear, you guys mean put the signs out based on the map, not necessarily come up with their own entire course map.

Alycia Rogal: No, that's exactly right.

Melissa Breau: I think that was clear, bit it never hurts to make sure that that was clear.

Nicole Wiebusch: We're going to make it really hard for them, and you just make up your own courses using these skills. No, we have chosen the signs. We have told you where they need to be. You get to set the line of travel and the distance between the signs, which I think people will find challenging enough.

Melissa Breau: Oh, me too. I think that will be one of the more difficult aspects.

We've done a lot of talking about the program, and you both alluded to how it compares to some other rally programs, but let's get it out in the open there. Can you talk a little more about some of the similarities or differences between some of the other venues? Does it still have that goal of setting a good foundation if somebody wants to do this first and then go compete in AKC or CARO or whatever other organization or venues are out there? And then are there pieces that are not covered in the program that students really need to think about, if they want to transition from this to something else? Nicole?

Nicole Wiebusch: That was our intention. Just like the way TEAM obedience prepares you for various obedience-type competitions, the rally was intended to do that too. We took skills from all the rally organizations ... I shouldn't say all. The majority of. There are a few very specific agility skills that some organizations have. We didn't go there. We didn't want people to have to worry about weave poles and tunnels and all that.

The other thing we haven't really done with it is a lot of, at least Levels 1 through 3, the heeling on the right side. There are some organizations that have you heel on the right side, which we did not focus on for this part of the program.

So ideally, if you live in North America and you want to do any of the rally venues here, absolutely this program is going to set you up very nicely for any of them. Like Alycia mentioned, although our focus is not on really precise maneuvers, we focused enough on precision that you could do well in any of the organizations, even the ones where the precision is a little bit more important.

Heather was talking about the handler mistakes being the most common in the TEAM program, and I definitely agree with that as a judge. It's definitely the handler stuff that causes usually the not yets or the questionables. After teaching rally classes for years, it's completely that way with rally too. The majority of the points lost in rally are because of the handler. Either they move their feet when they shouldn't, or they don't know what the sign is, or they don't know when to sit and when to not, or when to pause and when to not.

So just like the regular TEAM program, rally focuses on the handler. They need to know the rules. They need to know exactly how these signs are performed, where to put the sits, where to put the finishes, when to move your feet, when to not move your feet. That's going to prepare you really well for the other rally venues, because there's so many different ways you could do things, and it's really common for handlers to get confused between signs. Some of the signs look very similar, so it's really easy to get confused there.

We worked really hard on the foundation and we worked hard on every level, take the skills from that level and build up on that so the skills get more difficult. A lot of the courses, like in Level 1, you have pivots on props, in Level 2, you start to get away from the props. Or in the beginning you do a front, you get to move backwards and call the front, but then you get to the higher level and you have to stop, and then, without moving your feet, the dog has to find front position. So we really tried to build up those different skills.

And then also with the leash, too. The leash is on in Level 1-A. We discussed that and thought it was important because in most of the Level 1 base novice skills in rally, it is on leash, and leash handling can be challenging, especially for a lot of the Fenzi students, where we train in our living room and we don't put a leash on our dogs.

I still remember the first time I went into a ring with Strive and she thought it was a tug toy. I had never played tug with a leash before, but she was convinced, and it took me trying … it was interesting. I did eventually get the leash out of her mouth, but it was a little embarrassing. So we needed to see that these guys could handle some leash skills, because especially on the dogs going around you and such, you have to practice passing the leash behind your back.

I think that probably covers your question. I'm sure Alycia has something to add.

Melissa Breau: Go for it, Alycia.

Alycia Rogal: You covered most of it. Like Nicole said, this program is going to really set someone up for the foundation skills they need and the more advanced skills that build on those foundations to go and compete in pretty much any of the organizations in North America here.

The one thing, obviously, that this program doesn't do that is a little bit different, because we've got the base program, then Plus and Honors, and I know that Honors in TEAM is that you go and you take those skills somewhere new, and we don't have that in the rally program. If you are going to go and compete in in-person trials, then that is something that you are going to want to work on with your dog before you go and take them to that environment. Can they do these skills somewhere outside of your backyard and with those distractions and things around, because obviously that's a very, very different setting. So that is one difference, that people are going to take these skills that they're working on in the rally program to actual in-person venues, that is something that you would want to work on.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. To round things out, I just want to give everybody a second to maybe share a closing thought or one final thing on this topic of TEAM. Alycia, do you want to start us off on this one?

Alycia Rogal: Sure. We were talking about it a bit before this meeting. I can't believe that it's been six years for TEAM. I've known about it since the beginning, and what an excellent, excellent program, well thought out program.

My personal experience in it was, again, I've known about it for such a long time, I've trained dogs through utility, I just recently took a class for TEAM Level 2 with Heather because I really needed someone to kick my butt into gear with one of my younger dogs, and it really got me into gear with focusing on these TEAM exercises. Again, I admittedly had times where, "Oh yeah, my dog knows that. Oh, that's easy. I can do this. No problem. He can do this." And then putting it all together and getting it on film, I was able to identify where those gaps were, which was great. Obviously, we're nowhere near ring ready, but it's a great perspective for me.

I will also say that personally, me being in a very rural area, I don't have anyone to train with within hours. The closest place to trial in rally or obedience would be a good three hours away. And then in the wintertime it's even worse. There's nothing. So just to have a program like this, to be able to work on those skills when you don't have access to other trainers potentially and just really have those foundations set in stone, has been so helpful. Not just to me; I know so many people all over the world with this program. And the opportunity to earn titles as well is just fantastic. So I'm hooked for sure.

I've been doing it with my old girl. She's almost 13. She's not ready to quit. She wants to keep working. And my mantra is "Enjoy the journey." I love titles. I love competing. Very competitive person. But really the journey is where it's at, and I've been having so much fun with this TEAM stuff, even with my old girl. She's long past retired being in the ring, but it's still super-fun to do this with her.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. Nicole, do you have a final thought?

Nicole Wiebusch: Continuing what Alycia said, I love the flexibility that having a virtual program gives you, and I think people really found that out over Covid, when we were able to do Trick Dog and AKC rally as a virtual program. It opens up that world to people that can't do in-person dog shows for whatever reason. Maybe their dog is reactive, maybe they get nervous around other dogs, whatever. So I love that. The other thing I love about TEAM is how it focuses on good training and building on those foundations.

I wanted to mention, too, that if people are interested in this rally program and they're not sure where to go or how to get some help, my foundations class will definitely cover all the skills needed for Level 1. I have several rally classes that I teach at FDSA and it goes all the way up through the levels. The Rally Foundations is running this session in April. The registration is open. So if you're wondering, "That sounds really great, how do I get started?" then come and join me in Rally Foundations. It's a really fun class and we all have a really good time. So just to give people that option, too, if they need some extra help with the training.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Heather?

Heather Lawson: Both Alycia and Nicole touched on things that for a person who may not have enough self-confidence to join up with something new, doing the online is a way to build confidence and to learn without the prying eyes and the judgment that can sometimes happen in dog sports.

At least with TEAM, you've got a good way. You've got a really great group on Facebook, the TEAM Players group. Everybody supports everybody. For the different TEAM classes you have your Facebook study groups, which is fantastic. TEAM is basically building on you working with your dog and supporting each other through your journey. It's a great opportunity to dip your toes in and see those things that you see on TV and all the different types of things you see people doing on TV with their dogs. You can actually do it virtually with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy in both TEAM obedience and rally obedience.

We've got the TEAM 1 obedience class going this semester as well, so if anybody's interested, just dip your toe in. Take the plunge. Whether it be at Bronze, Silver, or Gold, it's an opportunity that is easily worked through. You get lots of good feedback. You have fun. It's about working with your dog and just doing something together.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I'm glad you mentioned the TEAM 1 class running also. I know Laura is not with us tonight, but she's got a TEAM 3 class on the calendar, which I know only comes around once a year. So for those of you that are listening to this and going, "This is reminiscent of the fact that I finished my TEAM 1, and I got most of my TEAM 2 skills, and I'm thinking about testing," I know Laura has mentioned on Facebook that because it only comes around once a year, go ahead and take the class, get the skills onboard. You don't have to already have your TEAM 2 title to take TEAM 3.

Heather Lawson: Exactly, because the TEAM 3 is a really good class, and if you've done the 1 and the 2, and you're looking to continue on, and you really should, Laura's got a really good class with the TEAM 3 going.

Melissa Breau: All right, Denise, any final thoughts about TEAM?

Denise Fenzi: I want to break it down one more level. I want to make it super-clear: anyone can do TEAM titles, whether they take classes with FDSA or not. Anyone can join the Facebook groups that are not associated with FDSA and the class, but are associated with TEAM. So you are more than welcome to join Fenzi TEAM Players or the other groups, whether Nosework or Cooperative Care. We welcome you. Anyone can test, anyone can choose to use the program simply to focus them and motivate them, because a lot of us need a little bit more direction in front of us. You don't even have to spend a penny. We're offering it as something awesome.

If you want to take it as a class, we'd love to have you. If you want a title, we'd love to have you. But you don't have to. You might just enjoy doing it for your own personal gain. And we want you to play with your dog and enrich all that comes with working with your dog and what that brings to you, somewhat independent of our role in this. So please join us, even if you choose not to take classes or aren't sure you want a title. You'll have a good time and you'll meet some nice people.

Melisa Breau: I suppose the one piece we left off of that is where they should go to actually read about the levels and register their dog and all that stuff. The head website for Fenzi TEAM titling stuff is FenziTeamTitles.com. From there, you can navigate to the individual program pages and sign up for the newsletter.

And if you want to be one of the first people in the know when the rally program is officially ready to launch, when it's out there, you can go check out the course maps and whatnot, being on that newsletter is going to be your best bet, so you can do that right there on the homepage.

Awesome. All right, guys. Thank you all so much for joining me. This has been excellent, and I cannot believe it's been six years. I still remember talking about it when the program first came out

Heather Lawson: It's like it just started yesterday. Where does time go? It flies away.

Melissa Breau: It really does. And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Petra Ford to talk about training our dogs to have a positive emotional response to the pressure of the competition ring — the in-person competition piece that we alluded to tonight.

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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