E272: Laura Waudby - "Creating a Positive CER for the Ring"

It's never too early to begin building a positive conditioned emotional response to the ring. Laura and I discuss exactly how to go about that in the latest podcast episode. 


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 Laura Waudby here with me to chat.

Hi Laura, welcome back to the podcast!

Laura Waudby: Hey, happy to be here.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you want to remind everybody a little about you, your current pets, and what you're working on with them?

Laura Waudby: I still have Lance, the Corgi. He's 15 years old now. He's puttering around and doing pretty well still. Then I have Loot, who's a Border Collie. He's 18 months old. We are still working on our foundations for obedience and agility. It's probably going to be a bit longer. He's teaching me a lot, as all my dogs do, of course.

We've had a little bit of a puppy swap in the last few months, where Mayhem went to live with my mother because I made room for Ginny, who is a Toller puppy who just turned 12 months old, and she reminds me a lot of Zumi, who I lost last year.

Every dog is different, of course. She's not the same dog, she has her own personality, but I just had to have her, and since I can't have three puppies all the same age, I might as well just have two puppies. Mayhem is going to be doing some foundation dog sports with my mom, she's really excited to learn agility with her, and Ginny is going to be learning obedience and agility skills with me.

So I have three dogs right now.

Melissa Breau: Two puppies is certainly enough.

Laura Waudby: Two puppies is definitely plenty.

Melissa Breau: Podcast listeners may not know this, but I know that you've been posting a ton of training videos on Facebook and Instagram the last couple of months. Can you talk a little about what you've been sharing?

Laura Waudby: Since I've basically had only puppies this last year and a half, they're learning so many foundations that I thought it would be really good for everybody to take a look at, no matter what sports you're doing, though primarily the videos that I'm showing are for competitive obedience foundations or trial prep foundations.

Basically I'm just throwing up a minute clip of training sessions with my various dogs, and I'm trying to post them on Instagram and Facebook, and I'm trying to do TikTok as well, although the algorithm doesn't seem to like me quite as much over there. But basically, if you're looking for stuff to train with your dog, you can check out my daily training videos.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I didn't realize you were on TikTok. I'll have to follow you after we get off the call.

Laura Waudby: Not many people are, so you can be one of the first.

Melissa Breau: Well, there we go. I think you mentioned a little bit about the trial prep stuff. I know your class on ring confidence is on the schedule. Why is ring confidence something that we need to train?

Laura Waudby: If you want to trial a dog, even for virtual trials, there are a lot of pieces of formality that make it different than how you run your practice sessions. Usually they only focus on the skill pieces that need to be tested, such as teaching a dog how to heel, how to retrieve, how to sequence agility obstacles.

But in a trial, the time actually spent doing those skills are pretty short, compared to all the other stuff that goes in a trial: how are you going to enter the ring, how are you going to move to the start line. In obedience, the time between each exercise is a huge piece where we lose a lot of dogs. And so it is really important to train that stuff.

Generally, when we're doing something new … actually, even if it's not new, it helps to learn exactly what is going to happen, because anxiety tends to lessen the more you know what to expect. I really like social stories or social scripts for myself, even. I get really anxious in public, and they describe the routine of what is going to happen at different places.

The most common example for people is if you go to the airport, you need to know what is going to happen with security. Do you take your shoes off this time, do you not take your shoes off this time, what's going to happen. They even make social scripts out there for going to Costco and all those different types of routines that you need to know.

For our dogs, doing this trial prep is basically providing that social script for them, so they know exactly what is going to happen. How are they going to warm up, how are you going to move from warming up to approaching the ring, how are you going to enter the ring, what should the dog do when the judge approaches you. There are so many little pieces that we need to teach the dog what to expect, so that they are not anxious in those settings.

Melissa Breau: When I think about this big picture of ring confidence and all the pieces that you're talking about, it seems to break down into two columns: the specific skills that help our dog handle the challenges of the show ring, and then this idea of a positive conditioned emotional response. I'd love to talk about each of those. To start us out, can you start by sharing some examples of the skills — I know you mentioned a couple of them just a second ago — that we can build that help our dogs handle the pressures of the show environment?

Laura Waudby: I recommend making a list of all the things that happen at a trial before you go in the ring, during the actual work. It's a pretty long list. In my Ring Confidence class I have a lot of that, and there is a Ring Confidence II class by Denise, as well, that goes over even more stuff that is not in my class, because it really is a pretty long list. It is very doable, though. You just do one thing at a time.

Some examples of things to think about is how are you going to enter the ring. In obedience and rally, you're probably going to heel into the ring, you're going to move past the steward's table, so you have to take into effect how is the dog going to focus past all those people, maybe the toys on the table over there, they're going to be heeling up to a judge who's going to be talking to you, so all those little pieces.

In agility, you have other things to think about. Maybe you have to work on the ring steward calling out your dog's name before you go into the ring, because that can be really distracting for your dogs.

You have to decide, if there's a push gate to open, are you going to wait right at that gate. If you have a sensitive dog, do you want the dog, once you get there, to paw-touch the gate or poke it with their nose to tell you that they want to go in right at that moment. Or if you have a really pushy dog, maybe you want to teach them that when you get to that gate and you put your hand on it, that they should pause, collect themself, give you eye contact to let you know that they're mentally ready to go into the ring, and then you enter the ring. So what do you want that picture to look like, what does your dog need, again that more excitement building, that more calm, collected focus.

The other thing to think about is how are you going to handle delays in the ring. Maybe it's a very small delay, where your dog is already in heel, you're not quite sure, the judge could tell you to go any second. Do you have little things they can do in heel position to keep connection with you, such as maybe a chin rest, maybe a quick nose bump to your hand. Or, if it's going to be a long delay, do you break the dog out of heel, do you play with them, do you put them between your legs, do you pet them. What should you do in each of those moments.

It's a really long list when you break it down, but you train one thing at a time and you can get there.

Melissa Breau: On the flipside of that, what is this idea of a positive emotional response? What is it, and why might we want to work on that also?

Laura Waudby: A conditioned emotional response is going to happen regardless of what we do. Anytime you go somewhere, you're going to have a response to that place, again for both us and for our dogs.

Hopefully, training time has a really positive association with you and your dog, where your dog loves to work with you, they love to do the sports. But when you go into the trial environment, the dog learns that everything is a little bit different. You don't have food on you, you are probably really stressed, your dog quickly learns, especially in obedience, that another person is giving you an order. They're commanding you around the ring. And so all of that can feel really different.

With a dog who already has developed more of a negative response to a trial environment, I want to recondition them to have a positive response. So I do a lot of going into the ring and having a party with them, a lot of playing with them. That's nice, too, for a dog who has never trialed before, just so they can have that really happy start. But it's extra-important for the dog who has had those bad experiences.

So we're going to very gradually add challenges before we have a party in the ring, but I like to start with the challenges being on the outside of the ring. We're heeling up to a lot of pressure, maybe distraction outside of the ring. As soon as we enter the ring, we have a big party so we can keep that association that the ring is this really happy, easy place that stressful things don't happen there. Again, we gradually add challenges inside of the ring, but always to a level that the dog has already trained for, so it's hopefully very, very easy for them.

Melissa Breau: Will a positive conditioned emotional response just happen if we focus on training the individual pieces and the skills, or is there more to it than that?

Laura Waudby: The short answer is yes. Technically, as we train the dog, the skills to start putting it together, the dog will know what to expect, and again, knowing what to expect will greatly lessen their anxiety in the ring.

But we do have to be very careful that we're not over-challenging the dog, we're not rushing it and always adding something harder to their ring work, because if we rush it, they're going to develop that negative association to the ring. Even though we're trying really hard, like, "Yes, we're having a party, we're having fun," but if it's really, really hard to get there, that's going to overpower the ring, so it's not going to be that happy spot.

So yes, they can just focus on the skills, but we do want to take it pretty slowly. And the more the dog already has that bad association, the more you really want to work on conditioning just the ring equals a fun place to play, no pressure, nothing else, and very gradually adding stuff to it.

Melissa Breau: Recently you shared two videos on your Facebook page, and I'm going to guess you probably also shared them on Instagram and TikTok, of you working on ring entrances — one video each with each of your young dogs. Can you talk a little bit about your setup? And then I know that the two dogs you're working with have fairly different personalities. Can you also talk a little bit about how you adapt training for each of them?

Laura Waudby: I very recently started doing some more people pressure to Loot's and Ginny's ring entrances. I have done ring work for a while with them. My general setup is the same as what I've done in the past with them. Basically I set up some ring gates, I add a table in front of it, I add some chairs in front of it to mimic a trial.

If I'm out in public with the dog, I use what I've got. At Home Depot I like using those orange accordion gates. Those are really nice ring gates in public.

But generally you make a ring entrance, and then you start to add a little bit of pressure to that. Some ones I've done recently with Loot and Ginny is I've added a lot of spatial pressure, so I've made some really narrow aisles for us to try to get to the ring. I've had us heeling directly towards a table and then turning to go into the ring, so they're heeling towards a barrier, which is a lot of pressure for the dogs, easy for them to look away.

And then I start to add some people pressure to this, because especially for both these dogs, that part is going to be very difficult for both of them for opposite reasons.

Loot is basically a Golden Retriever in a Border Collie body, but one who doesn't really like food. But very, very people-friendly, he wants to maul them with love. I've spent most of his life working on can you eat cookies while a person is at a distance. That was very difficult, but now he's gotten better, so I'm starting to add people pressure to the ring entrance itself.

For him, I'm using a lot of different people and a challenge that I know that he can succeed. I'm using a toy reward for him for this because a cookie reward I don't know if he would quite be able to do it. I want him to know he can eat cookies, but he's working for a toy right now.

I've been working on can he heel up to a person to get into the ring. I'm starting to add the people talking to him, people staring at him, which is very hard, because once they're looking at him, he wants to go say hi. So for him, I'm using a lot of different people, and again, the whole goal is that you do not get to greet people when we are working.

For Ginny, she's the opposite. She does not want to interact with people she doesn't know. She's a little bit nervous around people she doesn't know, definitely doesn't want to be petted by other people. And so for her I'm using one person for our ring entrance work with pressure. I'm using just my mother, who she knows very well because she lived with her, and we're working on learning that yes, you can get in heel by her, you can ignore her talking to you. I want her really, really comfortable with the setup, and knowing what to expect, and having no issue with that. I want to get to a higher level with my mom before I switch to somebody new, because when my switch to somebody new, I'm going to go back several steps, that person further away, so there's no pressure at all.

For both dogs, I want them to learn that people are just like furniture. They are not exciting, they're not scary, you ignore them, and you do not interact with people and work. Because even when I built up to the interaction pieces, like a judge approaching them to say hi, even for the exam work, when a judge approaches to examine them, I want them to know that is nothing to do with petting. It is just a distraction, and their job is to keep focus on me. So with both puppies, they're learning the same stuff. I'm just a lot more picky about who I'm using with my more nervous dog.

Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense. I think it's really interesting to hear your thought process and why you're approaching those things in those ways.

I know we've talked a ton about ring confidence, but you've also got your class on taking TEAM obedience training into the Open Obedience ring on the schedule. So I thought I'd ask if you could talk a little bit about how directly those skills carry over.

Laura Waudby: The TEAM skills in Levels 1 and 2 really lay the foundations for pretty much any advanced obedience work. We start working on that right away. So even though we're not doing the specific exercises that happen in open, we're still working on all those core pieces. The beta retrieves are still started in Level 2 — your fronts, your finishes, jumping without needing the person to walk forward, your baby heel work, and some of the pieces we've started to combine in TEAM. The command discrimination is one that will hopefully be pretty easy for my TEAM students in some sense, because they already have the distance work with their position changes.

A really big part of that is the pause in-between positions. In a trial, we have to wait for the judge to tell us when to give the next command, and a lot of dogs will either start to anticipate in those pauses, or more common in a trial is they freeze.

They freeze because there's all this pressure starting to build. They don't know why they're not being praised. They don't know why the next command hasn't been given yet. And so they start to freeze up. And so in TEAM, we have those pauses built in. Very tiny pauses, but hopefully the dog is starting to get used to that.

Those are some of the foundations that will help you as you prepare for Open Obedience.

Melissa Breau: Can you walk us through how some of those Level 1 and 2 skills combine to build Open exercises in particular?

Laura Waudby: Two big ones that I want to talk about are the cone sends and the backups. I think I use a cone send for almost all of the Open Obedience exercises. I use it for the broad jump, I use it for teaching the retrieve over the high jump, and I use it for drop-on-recall foundations and for position changes as well.

So let's talk about one of the games I use it for. One of my most favorite games is for a baby drop on recall, where you're combining your position changes. You're combining positions at a distance with a position in motion for that game. The cones are a really easy way to start, because when you send the dog around the cone, if you give the position change cue when they're at the back of the cone, they're already collected as they make that tight 180-degree turn, and it's an easy way to add just a tiny bit of motion in at a distance for me to start.

Basically the dog goes around the cone, I'm cuing the down right as they are at the back of it, and hopefully they learn to lie down right at the cone. The cone also acts as a little bit of a target, like, "Oh, I lie down right here." I can progress that to make it harder by adding a second cone or more distance, so now the dog doesn't know when I'm going to tell him to drop. Maybe I send them around the cone, and then I turn and send them around a second cone or even a third cone.

And then I start to vary where I tell the dog to drop. After they drop, I can reward them. I can even send them to go back around the cone behind them, to have another intermediate behavior between "I down at a distance, and then I turn and go behind, so I'm going further away from Mom before I get my toy, before I get my food," to help build some of that distance and prevent creeping there.

Of course, backup is another great TEAM skill in Level 1 that I can apply toward some of the Open skills as well. I might have the dog back up after doing the drop on recall, so that they're moving further away from me. Or I might have them back up after doing each position change, so again they're getting further away from me.

Those are two foundational pieces that we use from TEAM 1 that help build some of the more advanced exercises.

Melissa Breau: I was looking through the syllabus. If listeners have a lot of the skills for TEAM 1 and 2, even if they don't have the TEAM titles yet, could they still work through the class? Or does somebody need to be working through the TEAM program in order to benefit from the class?

Laura Waudby: They don't need to have done any of the TEAM testing at all. It is recommended to have the same foundations, though. You don't have to have taken a TEAM class, you don't have to have the TEAM class senior library, or have any of the titles, but there are some prerequisites in the syllabus that I do want down.

Primarily, going around a cone at a distance is a big one that I talked about. I use that for a lot of the Open skills, going out around a cone. You want some backing up to a target, positions at a distance, and probably the one that most people don't train a lot of is the zen-bowl work. I use that for some exercises as well.

You don't have to have it advanced, but I do want the dog knowing that if you put down a container with a reward in it, to at least not move towards it, and offer you eye contact. You have at minimum that skill. Bonus points if the dog can do a simple behavior like a chin rest or a position change with their zen bowl on the ground, because then we build off of that.

But you're welcome to join the Open class if you have done none of the TEAM skills. At Gold, I would like a little bit of those prerequisites. But most of you have been training it already.

Melissa Breau: Anything else that you would like to share about either class, who should take them, or anything else that you're working on?

Laura Waudby: I think the big thing that I want people to know for the ring confidence work is that anxiety lessens when you know what to expect. The more we prepare our dogs and ourselves to know exactly what is going to happen in a trial, every little piece, it will help you feel a lot better because you know how to handle the dog in those moments. And the dog can relax because it's not unexpected. So everybody will be calmer if you teach all those little pieces.

Melissa Breau: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Laura!

Laura Waudby: You're welcome.

Melissa Breau: And thanks to our listeners for tuning in! We will be back next week with Loretta Mueller to talk about agility basics and the importance of timing!

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! 

Breed, Behavior, and Mutt Genomics
Master the Moving Down!

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