E299: Julie Daniels - Every Baby's a Genius

 Can you create an optimistic dog? How DO you get to know a new puppy? What are the first steps to teaching quiet crating? Julie Daniels and I discuss all that and more in this 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 trending methods. Today I have Julie Daniels here with me to talk about everybody's favorite topic, baby puppies! Hi Julie. Welcome back to the podcast.

Julie Daniels: Hi. Thanks so much.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So to start us out, you wanna just remind everybody a little bit about you, who's in your current crew, and maybe what you're working on with them?

Julie Daniel's: Yeah. I have a blended household. My housemate has three dogs, and I used to have three, but lost my 15 year old senior a couple years ago, so I'm down to two, and that's my new number. I have to stay at two, so therefore I'm shut off of puppies for a while. But the youngest in the household is now three years old, and the oldest will be 16 in June, and my older Border Collie will turn 15 next month. So I'm shut off of baby puppies and have, as many people can appreciate, I have puppy lust in the worst possible way every time this class comes around, it's just so adorable.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So there's another puppy in my future, but I have to, I have to be strong waiting, huh?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, Exactly. Not, not so easy, right?

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. So to start us off, when you do get that new baby puppy, you know, kind of what are your goals for the first few weeks together?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, that's such an important question because the first few weeks are different from your, you know, long-term goals, and we all tend to do things with our hopes in mind. Hopefully we don't have hard and fast rules about this puppy must grow up to be, you know, my next agility champion or whatever. Most people, and I'm finding this in the puppy class amongst the gold students, more and more as time goes by, people are flexible with what the puppy wants to be when it grows up. And instead we start out, and this I think is the trend and it's the right thing to do.

We start out with relationship issues, and I have a short list of five little skill sets that I think it's important to get started as soon as possible. So, like you say, within the first three weeks, I think it's really important to establish the potty routine. For example, believe it or not, potty is a skillset, a life skill, right? If your dog can't pee on leash, you know, doesn't know how to go to the bathroom when he is excited or you know, you can't pee away from home, anything like that, these things are really important. So we start out really with very young puppies before this class is over. Even the youngest of puppies should be able to pee on leash or off leash and away from home or at home, and also on cue. So these are things that a little baby can learn that affect quality of life, you know, throughout the life of the dog. And I also think it's important to start right away with the relationship things. And everybody knows that now. It's so wonderful to see people just bonding. You know? You see, I have a wonderful picture in one of my lectures of my Kool-Aid as a baby puppy with her little baby nose in the ear of my friend, right? When a puppy puts their nose in your ear and sort of drinks in the scent of you, like, that's such a compliment. Let that happen. It's a beautiful thing. So that kind of bonding is so important to do and, and obviously you can do it later in life, but the sooner the better. So that's one of my very first goals when the puppy first comes home in the first few weeks.

I also wanna work on, just briefly talk about, I also wanna work on a reinforcement skillset, meaning food, toys, affection, play, those things are important. The socialization skillset is something everybody should think about because people have wildly divergent opinions about how much and when and with whom and where, and it's important to know what you think about that.

So that's something to start thinking about before the puppy even comes home. What I'm looking for in a little youngster, you said the first few weeks, I want to develop an optimism in the puppy about novelty in general and new people in new dogs in specific. So the other skillset that I work on with baby puppies, you might not expect, and that's the restraint skillset.

And that doesn't just mean crates, of course it means crates and X-pens and the like, but any kind of barrier. And also handheld restraints I work on in Baby Genius class. So those are all, all five of those little skill set areas we will touch on early in the class, because it's one of those, you know, earlier is better things.

Melissa Breau: I think a lot of people forget about restraint, and I agree. It's like such a critical part. Having had both dogs that have had that training from very early on and that have not had that training from very early on, man, does it make the life of having the dog so much easier?

Julie Daniels: Man does it ever? Yep. That's the truth.

Melissa Breau: So I think a lot of the time in the Fenzi community, I don't know how much necessarily outside of the FDSA world kind of talks about this, but at least within FDSA we talk a lot about this idea of like getting to know our new puppy, right? Can you just talk a little bit about kinda what you're watching for to get to know your new puppy or dog? I feel like it's a really big concept and really hard to kind of think about a little more concretely. Are there specific behaviors you're trying to observe and kind of make a note of what did they tell you? What are you looking for?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, that's another great question. I love your questions by the way. This is always fun, but this is a particularly fun one.

So I love to watch puppies. So as you say, like, what am I looking for? Well, I'm looking to see, as you said, who is this individual? Because by the time we bring a puppy home, they're not blank slates anymore, right? They really, they were not blank slates when they were born either, but we still tend to think of 'em that way.

We have so much more moldability, the younger the puppy is, and that's very true. So I wanna see, I, these are my two main questions. Is my puppy an optimist, right? Meaning do I see the puppy attracted to novelty or do I see the puppy suspicious and avoidant of novelty? And that will show up very, very soon.

And obviously I wanna develop, no matter which one he is, I wanna develop the curiosity factor. And there's just so, so much you can do. But I also wanna know who they are as an individual without my intervention. So there are times when I'm just watching the puppy play and I might see, for example, an element of frustration, and I'm not gonna rescue them.

Puppy's not in danger. Puppy's exploring, puppy runs into a problem of one sort or another. It doesn't matter. And it's just a simple little fun experiment for me. Like, what are they gonna do next? And you can't predict that you don't know, just because a puppy, it might be pessimistic, and in general, you know, not confident.

That doesn't mean he is not creative and, you know, resourceful and even resilient. So there are so many, so many little traits and emotions that I want to be able to observe in my young puppy without my intervention. So I think it's actually really important to make note of who your puppy is. Not that you're going to pigeonhole them, but it tells you what you need to work on. We all wanna get to the middle, right? We all bring home a puppy who has some things that are too much this way for our liking and some things that are too much that way for our liking, and we'd like to bring them to the middle. So if you get to know who they are as a baseline over the first few weeks, you'll be able to develop a plan for shaping toward the direction you wanna be ultimately.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Yeah. So what games do you kind of introduce first?

Julie Daniels: Now, that is a very hard question.

Melissa Breau: I didn't mean to make it a stumper.

Julie Daniels: I guess my, if I had to choose one category, it would be empowerment. I want to reward early on for initiative. And I'm sure there are some Malinois owners out there who are like, my puppy doesn't need anymore initiative. And, and okay. But that goes back to the balance thing that I've already talked about. So in general, I want to raise a puppy who's happy and confident and comfortable in their own skin wherever they go.

So with that ultimate goal in mind, the first games that I play, I want the puppy to feel successful very early on. So I set up, you know, contingencies that are easily winnable by the puppy so that we build on success and then gradually introduce challenges from there. Whether the challenge is an empowerment one or a resilience one or, you know, whatever. So all the games are good. And that's one thing about Baby Genius class. I consider it my job to introduce a wide smattering of games of all types. And I think I do that. I think the class is wicked fun because of that. It's not designed just for sport dogs, but it's a fabulous foundation for sport dogs.

And it's not designed just for, you know, dogs who are gonna be pets at home and have visitors. But it'll cover that base too.

Melissa Breau: I think you do a pretty good job of hitting a whole bunch of useful targets within that class. Are there skills that it's easiest to teach or at least, you know, introduced when the puppies are still very young? Anything that we can really maybe only introduce when they're tiny only?

Julie Daniels: Hmm. Well, off the top of my head, no. There's nothing that you'd say it's now or never, it's never too late, in other words. But for some things it's too early, but I don't think it's ever too late.

But I think there are many things that are easier done early. For example, I was mentioning the restraint skill set, and we tend to maybe overlook the importance of teaching, handling and hand restraint. That's one thing I can think of off the top of my head that is incredibly easy to teach to a youngster compared to an older adolescent or adult.

At least because they're tinier and they weigh less. Yeah. However, Melissa, you know, it's gonna be a dog's choice approach, but even so, in other words, I'm not gonna, I'm not the person that holds 'em until they stop struggling, you know? But, there are very simple games. Everything I do has a games based approach and there are very easy games to teach that bit about handheld restraint.

Melissa Breau: That's funny. Yeah. So is there anything you'd intentionally wait to teach until the puppies are a little bit older and then, you know, anything that you might see when teaching something that would lead you to just abandon it until the puppy grew up a little bit?

Julie Daniels: Hmm, yes. The short answer, we say yes, it comes up on a regular basis. Certainly there's a lot with more challenging impulse control that I need to wait for. But let me put my finger on one that I think is easily relatable and comes up all the time, and that is the proper tuck sit. Does that make sense? If you picture like nice square fronted tuck, sit up on the haunches and then the little baby just falls over and lands on its pelvis.

So many little babies do not have the quad strength. I would say most little babies do not have quad strength per se, and, and they can't hold a proper tuck sit. So guess what? Don't teach that yet, because you're gonna, you're gonna build it incorrectly. You're gonna build it as a pelvis sit, and that's not what you want your puppy to default to.

So hold off on a proper tuck sit until your youngster has the quad strength to actually support themselves comfortably in an upright square tuck sit position. So in the meantime, just don't worry about that. So people tend to wanna default to the sit they want your, the, the baby to sit to greet people. I don't do that. Don't worry about it, huh? Yeah, it's not the habit I want. That's not the picture I want sit to be. And so I'm not gonna teach a formal sit behavior until my puppy's strong enough to hold it. Now the puppy's actually, when I hold a cookie up high, like sit happens, right? Sit is a natural behavior and your dog's gonna do it,

but just let your puppy do it in their own way. And as they get stronger, you'll see the ability, you'll see the quad strength developing over time. And you'll, you'll get a good feel for when it's time to actually teach a proper tuck in which by the way, in Baby Genius class we do later in the class for that very reason. It's not a week one skill, even though you might think it should be.

Melissa Breau: No, it is not.

Julie Daniels: And that is why and when I do get around to teaching it, we're using a little station or platform to define the place to be the place for the butt to be.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So you mentioned earlier kinda this idea of creating an optimistic puppy. And I know it's something you talk about kind of a lot. I do. Can you talk a little more about what you mean by an optimistic puppy and then some of the ways that you kind of encourage that?

Julie Daniels: Absolutely. So important! I think it might, it could possibly be the center of it all. All the empowerment stuff for puppies that I do is, is probably based in, am I creating a puppy who expects good things? So that's what optimism is, right? In the experience of novelty, an optimist expects a positive experience. And that's what I'm looking for the puppy. And, and you see that that bears out in curiosity versus suspicion, right? In attraction versus avoidance of novelty. So in a nutshell, that's what I'm after. So does it have to be people? No, but if you work on some of my puppy empowerment games that will be playing in this class, a), they're just a blast and they're wicked fun. And we get to be creative and I need people to be creative. You know, don't put a colander on your head just cuz I put a colander on my head.

What else? How about your laundry basket? You know, come up with some new stuff and start with the puppy's own food bowl. You know, I have people start with a paper towel and you'll see the same puppy if they're optimistic, you'll see an instant curiosity response. If you show them the paper towel, they sniff it, they'll probably try to grab it, but that's okay. You can just gently extract it. And if you then take that same paper towel and put her on your head, your puppy will have a reaction to that. And it'll either be, it'll probably be pretty clear to you. It'll either be an instant little flinch of avoidance or it'll be an instant attraction for curiosity.

And of course, we want to build attraction, so therefore you need a whole lot of little things which are absolutely non-familiar items you might say out of place. And the best place to put things outta place is, I'm really into putting stuff on your head. Because you're holding it in your hand anyway and you just like put it on your head to present a visual surprise.

And then you take it off immediately, you know? And if the puppy is attracted, maybe you can put it back on your head and let them sniff it on your head and then take it off and let them sniff it off your head. And you may think that it's obvious that it smells the same, but you don't really know what the puppy expects.

Does he expect it to smell the same or does he expect it to smell different because it's now in a different location? You can't really separate what you're training from the location where you're training it. So it's, you know, all learning is contextual. So it's very important to do simple things with a very young baby to show them visual, maybe auditory as well, but various forms of novelty, meaning surprise, various forms of the unexpected at such a downscaled level that you are not going to cause an avoidant response. And the more of those different small, small challenges you can do when the puppies young, the better.

Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And I can see how that would, you know, lead to, as they grow up an interest in doing new things and trying new things.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, because they're optimistic. They expect, come on, this'll be fun. Instead of, oh my god, what is that? So it's not difficult and it's super fun and the videos are absolutely to die for. So anybody who like me has puppy lust rather than a new puppy of your own, take this class just for the fun of it. You know, what a wonderful winter pick me up.

Melissa Breau: I can't think of a better one. Oh, the puppy videos.

Julie Daniels: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. So one of the skills that I know that you kind of talk about in the class that I hear people ask about over and over again is creating the right way to introduce puppies to that idea of separation and building kinda that foundation for crating quietly. Can you just talk more about how you approach that?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, I think I might have a little bit different approach to that from what people are used to seeing. And that said, let me preface with, yes, I am that person who has an open crate in the kitchen, and as soon as a puppy walks into the open crate, like whatever I'm cooking, little bits start falling into the back of the crate. I don't feed the puppy at the door. So I mean, I'm a typical positive crate trainer, and I think that that stuff is very, very smart to make part of your daily life. But I also begin, the first thing that I wanna teach about, and this goes back to the generalized barrier issue.

It's not just about crating and I don't begin with a crate. I begin with any kind of gait or lattice or expend or whatever it is that you're gonna stretch out. And it's not encircling the puppy in any way. It's just going to be between you, right? So it's, you might might say, I'm working on barrier frustration prevention.

Melissa Breau: Okay, that makes sense.

Julie Daniels: And so I start out with this, it might be an expandable gate. Most people end up just using an X-pen or something like that, or some baby gate that they've got around the house, whatever, it doesn't matter. It's all good. And the more you have, the better. So I'm actually, first I just put it down on the floor and see if the puppy wants to step on it or smell it or whatever.

And that part is all good, but once I pick it up, I want the puppy to see me stand it up and then I start feeding cookies through the gate. Does that make sense? So it's, and if the puppy is avoidant of the gate, then I didn't do a good enough job with the investigating the gate. So I'm not ready for that step of feeding. So I'm not trying to, this goes on and on with everything that I teach. I use a lot of food, but I'm not using food to overwrite fear. That's a huge mistake. And it's not necessary. It's, you know, completely unnecessary. You just change your step one. Like that wasn't a good choice for my first step. This puppy is slightly avoidant of the crate. So rather than overwrite that because I've got liverwurst or meatball, I'm gonna go back to the other step and I'm probably gonna just put it as a novel item somewhere else in the house so that the puppy gets used to seeing it and not reacting to it, not feeling bad about seeing it. So I don't use food to talk puppies into things they don't wanna do.

But I use food a lot. I have a rule about the lure thing. Luring is your best friend usually on step one, but you have two seconds to lure. You don't get to coerce with the lure. Like, is there anything you'd like to come and see about this game? Like, I just cut that off immediately, like, stop yourself. We all catch ourselves doing that, but there's a line you shouldn't be crossing. And it's my job to call that out, like, eh, let's go back a step because yes, he's coming toward the gate and yes, he's eating the cookies through the gate, but he doesn't wanna be there, so let's go back to where he doesn't wanna be there.

So we all are guilty of that. None of us is not guilty of having, you know, coerced with food, meaning crossed that line. We've all crossed that line and I think it's important to like just gently call each other out on that. Like, he doesn't really wanna be there. Let's back that up. So we'll be doing, but anyway, that's how I introduce the whole barrier thing is I work with a barrier out of the context of confinement.

Melissa Breau: I like that. And I think it's definitely a different approach than I've seen kind of covered elsewhere. So, we've been talking all about Baby Genius and it's on the calendar for February. So today is actually, we're talking on the very first day of class. Do you wanna just kind of share a little more broadly about what you cover in the class and kind of the age range that's really intended for?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, in fact, I printed out the syllabus knowing that you'd probably ask that question and it's so impossible for me to keep it all in my head. This is a foundation class, right? So it, like I said, is gonna cover a wide smattering of subject material in hopes of preparing your puppy for anything you and the puppy might decide to enjoy together in the current group. Cuz I've already said hello to everybody and released a few lecture materials and things like that. This current group of gold students ranges from just under three months to an upper range of seven months.

It's open, the gold category is open to puppies up to 10 months. I think next time I'll actually lower that down around eight or nine months because I'm developing with Sharon Carroll, a separate class for adolescents. So it's just gonna be easier I think, and it tends to happen that way anyway. That Baby Genius is young puppies and I like that.

I think it's really good. So that's what the class is designed for. I would say puppies under three months might have a couple things that they're not ready to do. No problem come back later. You know, that's the beauty of online, right? The lectures stay there in the library and each of my lectures I've learned over the years to keep them short and keep them to the point and label them accurately with what's gonna be contained.

So I think it's easy to refer back in this class. It's very easy to go back and either review something or do a thing that your particular dog or puppy wasn't ready for at the time. We covered it live, no problem at all with that. So let's see, we start out, let me talk a little bit about me. So does that answer your question about the age range that's it's geared toward, you know, three, six months? That's what I would expect, but it's a wonderful class that said, it's a wonderful class for newly adopted dogs. I went through this protocol in sort of an accelerated version when I adopted untrained one-year-old Border Collie, a lovely dog who really hadn't been taught anything, so he's certainly not a blank slate at a year of age.

But working through my own Baby Genius curriculum was easy and fun, and showed me where the holes were in the foundation of this dog that I was just getting to know. So it was a nice way to develop our initial, you know, base relationship. So I think it's a wonderful class for newly adopted dogs of any age, but it is a foundation class and it covers a wide range of material. So in week one, I'll just quickly review the syllabus. We will cover musical toys, name game as a classical conditioning effort. Recall games as an operant conditioning effort, a game called the Zen Game of Face, which is one, you may not have played it this way, but many people play early on impulse control games.

This is a super simple version and it's specifically because I don't build frustration into impulse control. By week six, we're doing pretty darn advanced impulse control games, but you can't skip anything along the way. You've by beginning, at the beginning with me, you'll be able to teach impulse control as a puppy's choice game without frustration. So anyway, mat work, I start mat work and my step one on mat work, which we cover in week one, is simply called love the mat. That's all there is to it. There's no requirement there. Name discrimination. We play treats in turn, and you don't need, you don't need a pack of dogs like I have. You can even play this. It plays very successfully with stuffed animals. So if you can picture that, talk about your cute puppy videos, like it is, people have played with their cats, you know, the cat getting one and then the puppy gets one. Like there are many, many, many ways to do it. You don't need to have a pack like I do.

And this bit I talked about already about physical restraint and I have a specific game, so that's all week one that, that's a lot of, that's a wide ranging, you know, smattering. And each week is kind of like that we're not just, we're not concentrating on, oh, here's the potty skillset for week one. Like, no, that's boring. I'm not doing that. We do a little of this and a little of that every single week.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, some diversity in any given week.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think that's important, don't you?

Melissa Breau: Yeah, yeah. All right. So final question for you. If we were to kind of drill down our conversation today into a key takeaway or one key piece of information you really want listeners to understand and kind of walk away from this with, what would that be?

Julie Daniels: Hmm. I guess that Baby genius is a foundation class. It's going to show you things about your puppy or dog that you did not know. It's gonna surprise you and it's going to be a wealth of positive experience, some of which you wouldn't have thought of on your own. So it's, I think a lovely, I don't think you can get a better start for a new puppy. I've given so much thought over the years. I should also say that I tweak it every single time. Every group of gold students is different, right? So I find myself tweaking lectures and then for those of you, cuz we, our study group is now well over 800 people.

So it's, the class has been around for a while and I tweak it every single time. And then when the class is over, all the lectures in your library update to the newest version. So it's one of those classes that's never quite the same way twice. Many people take it more than once. And I would certainly recommend that too. Of course I'd recommend that.

Melissa Breau: That's right. Alright, well thank you so much Julie.

Julie Daniels: This has been an absolute joy as always.

Melissa Breau: Appreciate it. It was pleasure.

Julie Daniels: Thanks Melissa. I appreciate you too. And thank you to all of our 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 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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