E302: Diamond in the Ruff: Loving and Living with Sensitive Dogs

Living with and loving a sensitive dog comes with pros and cons, lessons and blessings. This week Hélène Lawler, Barbara Lloyd, Amy Cook, PhD, and Dresden Graff joined me to talk all about sensitive dogs.  


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 Hélène Lawler, Barbara Lloyd, Amy Cook, and Dresden Graff with me to talk about living and loving sensitive dogs in honor of FDSA's upcoming one-day conference, Diamond in Ruff: Success with Sensitive Dogs. Hi all. Welcome to the podcast.

All: Hi. Hi.

Melissa Breau: Hi guys. So to start us out, I wanna just give everybody a chance to kind of match a name and a voice and let you each kind of introduce yourselves, share a little bit about your background. Hélène, you wanna start us off?

Hélène Lawler: Sure. So I'm Hélène Lawler and I've been working and training with dogs for about 35 years now. Specifically Border Collies. My primary sport is herding. I also do agility. I've done both competitively and then I dabble in all the things and I have lots of dogs and they're all sensitive.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Barbara?

Barbara Lloyd: Hi, my name's Barbara Lloyd. I've been in dogs for about 20 years and like Hélène, I'm very much into the herding world. Competitively. I have Border Collies and then Border Collie crosses and just a bunch of mutts really, but a few actually pedigree dogs. And like she said, they're sensitive so most of my dogs are sensitive and so I have a lot of intimate knowledge about living with this stuff.

Melissa Breau: Both of you. Yeah. Fair enough. Dresden?

Dresden Graff: I'm Dresden Graff. I've been in dogs professionally for about 15 years now. I have Papillons and then a shepherd mix and a lab who are all delightful, some much more sensitive than others. And then I do behavior consulting and sports coaching. So I do a lot of working with sensitive dogs and working with sensitive people.

Melissa Breau: I like that you added the sensitive people in there. I think it's an important part of the whole picture, right? All right Amy, round us out.

Amy Cook: I like that too, Dresden. That was cool. I'm Dr. Amy Cook, I'm the developer of the Play Way and I've been training, I've lost track of the year so I'm just gonna say 30 plus and working at FDSA now for 10 for the whole time. Pretty exciting anniversary we have coming up. I teach the Play Way, I teach a management class, which I really do feel is appropriate sensitive dog material. And I teach a sound class for sound sensitive dogs and I have in for a lot of my life lived with sighthounds and I think as most people just feel immediately that those can be very, very sensitive animals that need a, I don't know if a light touches right. But certainly real, a lot of care taken for their psychology. So that's how I come about that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So the conference, as I mentioned, is about sensitive dogs. It only seems kind of fair that we start out by kind of talking about what we mean when we call a dog sensitive. So how do you determine whether a dog is a sensitive dog? Dresden, you wanna start off?

Dresden Graff: Sure. Oh, I think we have the exact same question when I did the podcast on seesaws, but they, sensitive dogs are definitely like, you know, really observant. They're very quick to notice changes in the environment, be that around you or from the handler or trainer themselves. They do tend to be kind of lacking in resilience, so they have a difficult time bouncing back and they seem to have a very good memory when it comes to the bad and scary things that happen.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, the good memory is the thing that probably bites us in the butt the most. Right? Yeah. Amy, what about you?

Amy Cook: It does, you know, the memory is definitely a, you know, a good point and you know, I'm sure that all of us here have a very similar take on what the sensitive dog is. Right. And I agree with everything you just said Dresden and the part that often stands out for me is that you're, you're not going to have as much leeway, I think with these dogs to make your own garden variety.

You know, the mistakes you tend to make or be too big or be too fast or be, you know, unclear and other dogs are like, fine, I kinda know what you meant and go with it. You, you've got to really think about how everything you are doing is impacting them because there might not be as much in the bank account, you know, in that resiliency bank account to just kind of roll with something a dog might, you know, be pessimistic if they're sensitive. And I don't, I don't know that that's necessary in the definition of it, but, but maybe expecting the worst or expecting, I don't know if this is gonna go well. And so they need a lot more reassurance that what they're doing is great, where they are is great and things like that. So that's sort of an aspect that I wanna highlight that I see a lot in sensitive dogs, although there's a lot of ways to be sensitive.

Barbara Lloyd: Yeah, I think I agree with what Amy said there. I think that sensitive dogs do have a tendency more than other dogs to think in catastrophic ways and the sky is following, the sky is falling. And then I think the other thing that happens is that cascades onto the handler cuz then the handler gets stressed because they think, oh no, something's just got wrong and my poor little sensitive dog is gonna be crushed. And then they project that onto the dog as well. So it's such, such a, it's such a tough dynamic to work with and it, it's very rewarding and, but it's very, very difficult and I think that working with sensitive dogs, you need to take a lot of emotional breaks and have a lot of fun.

Hélène Lawler: So I see sensitive dogs as dogs who I take a kind of a nervous system lens when I'm, that's my, that's my deep rabbit hole I'm in right now. And so I see sensitive dogs as dogs that are much more likely to go into a fight or flight response much faster and have like a much lower threshold for going out of a kind of a normal, gentle nervous system, regulated nervous system and getting stimulated into fight or flight, which could lead to stress high or stress low behaviors. And I think that's really important to also mention because often we think of, I, I think a lot of times in our conversations about sensitive dogs, we're thinking about the dogs that tend to shut down and get slow and sticky and and hide and everything, but the stress high responses can all or I see as also being a sensitive dog response. We just don't often necessarily think of it that way. But we have these dogs that, you know, bark and lunge and chase and zoomies and or they get silly, right? So because we have fight flight fawn, so the silliness as well and clownish behavior and then, and then the freeze mode. And so I think we can often focus a lot on the freeze mode and miss the fact that the other dogs that are in the fight flight or state will are also sensitive dogs who are, who've been, who've been triggered or or activated in their nervous systems.

Amy Cook: That reminds me though of your dogs or your, your favorite dogs, you and Barbaras with the, I see that so much in Border Collie of the over frantic hellos and the over fawning and the overs silliness and the, it's just so much wiggle and you know, you wanna think is that like it feels to me like you're also trying to accomplish something else with this massive amount of deflecting or absolutely redirecting they're doing with from the social pressure. I see it so much in the Border Collie, which is why it reminded me of it when you said that.

Melissa Breau: Yep, absolutely. Yeah. And I think everybody, several of you at least kind of hinted at this like piece of what the handler, how the handler kind of fits into this picture, right? And so I wanna, I wanted to ask the big chicken or the egg question, right? How much does a handler kind of feed into sensitivity? How much of it is genetics? How much can dogs like feed off a handler's nerves? Is it learning history, you know, I guess kind of the short version, is there sensitive dogs born or are they made? Amy you wanna start us off?

Amy Cook: Yeah, I, you know, I really love the nature or nurture question, right? Because it really does sort of have an answer in, instead of it it's not, is it either or? It's always, always both because and for people to think of it and to take that forward because there is no way to enact genetics if you don't have an environment that it's being enacted in so to speak.

And there's no way to have an environment if it's not interfacing with the genetic package of the dog. Neither of those things is independent. They can only express themselves with each other. That doesn't mean, I don't hear what that question really is. It's like, you know, what, where can we lay, you know, a large percentage.

The thing is we've all known plenty of dogs who no matter what we do, no matter how, you know, sloppy our training or how angry we get at ourselves or how any of those things that they just seem to remain at least observationally, unaffected by, you know, us, us being like, darn it, I missed that. And they're like,

I don't, okay, you missed it. I don't care. At least seemingly so and so, it's hard to say that there isn't a personal component on the, on the part of the dog. We also know that we can breed fearful dogs, fearful dogs and get much more fearful dogs. We know there is a component that they come with.

So going with knowing that both of those things are true, we should also just know that we can't know in an individual whether or what the percentages are. What we can say is I see that you take a lot more out of this environment than this other dog I have worked with or than the average dog that I see. Right? And so therefore my actions are going to very likely impact you a lot more.

Therefore the onus is on me to maybe really watch, you know, every piece of, of the things that I do. And because your learning history could maximize your sensitivity, what I do to you can maximize that hit your resilience, give you habits and, and pessimistic viewpoints or you know, you're just waiting to see the stressor that's coming next because of what I've done or accidentally done or chosen to do.

It's landing on a dog with that kind of ground. But I don't feel very convinced right now that I could through those same actions on a, on a completely different, on a dog with a different sensitivity, I don't know quotient we could call it. I don't know that I could get that kind of behavior out of them. So, key for me would be identifying that that dog is in the space where things matter so much more and then saying it's now really even more important that I watch the things that I'm doing to, to at least not make something like that worse. I dunno if that's really a chicken and the egg answer cuz it's completely middle of the road, but I'm sticking with it.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Dresden?

Dresden Graff: Yeah, no, I mean Amy said that beautifully. It is very much, yes of course it is very much a both situation where some dogs just are gonna be predisposed to being a lot more sensitive than others.

Clearly not this one, there is a obviously an element of, you know, handler and learning history that comes into it too, but I think it's one of those things where if your dog's already genetically predisposed to being really sensitive, making those wrong choices as a handler can make things so much worse. So you have a lot more to lose in that situation.

But ultimately it comes down to it doesn't really matter whether it is nature driven or nurture driven, you really just gotta look at the dog that you have and make the choices that are building their confidence and setting them up for success either way.

Melissa Breau: I like that. I think that's kinda ultimately saying like, yes, maybe it's both, probably it's both. But going back to that kind of train the dog in front of you picture right Hélène?

Hélène Lawler: Yeah, that's, can I add anything that was just was said cuz that was pretty comprehensive. One thing that I will say, so I also would agree that it's both and it'll vary with the individual and some individuals are born very, very sensitive and that can be, can be genetics, it could be trauma, it could be gut health. I think there are a lot of reasons why we can have that sensitivity and some things we can, we can work with and some things maybe we can't and then we also can create sensitivity or exacerbate it or through life experience with the dog. And so, so yeah, so I would say they can be born that way. They can be created, we can have a melting pot of both. And so I think one thing that's really important that I this is what I, the work that I do is I like to try and separate out the handler from the dog and do and do some work to try and tease those two apart so then we can see what's left in the dog that's not necessarily connected to the handler. It's not easy work to do, but when we can get that separation then we can see more clearly what is the dog and as opposed to what is being contributed to perhaps by that, you know, that sensitive or upset or distraught handler who is working with this dog. And then that still doesn't mean we can tell whether what's left and what's the dog is nature or nurture or both. But I think having that separation gives us a little more to work with.

Melissa Breau: Can you just go into that just a little bit more just around like kind of what you mean, you're saying kind of separate the handler from the dog? Are you talking about like mental management perspective? Is that kinda what you're getting at there?

Hélène Lawler: Yeah, absolutely. So, so mental management that, that's the first thing that I, I like to a address because us has already been mentioned often we have these sensitive handlers with these sensitive dogs and when the dog is struggling, the handler is struggling. And so I like to, I start by supporting the handler and get the handler into a calmer, more grounded place so that they are better able to support the dog. And often when we get that, sometimes I'll see a shift in the dog and sometimes I won't. And that's what we wanna determine, like if some of the sensitivity is coming from that, you know, that dynamic. And so if we can sort of ease back on that a little bit and help the handler feel more confident and secure and grounded and then that gives us a little more breathing room to work with the dog.

Barbara Lloyd: Yeah, it's a really good question and I think that it is both, it's definitely a blend of both. I do however think that there are some dogs though that, like Hélène had mentioned, sometimes it can be due to trauma and I think that there not a lot of dogs become sensitive from trauma, but I do think that there is a percentage, and I happen to live with one because I live with a dog that suffers from PTSD and because of a horrible abuse situation that she was subjected to, which was documented and went to court and everything. And so I think that all of her sensitivities are a result of the abuse and the torture that she went through. However, my other sensitive dogs were not subjected to anything, but their sensitivities are completely different from the dog that with PTSD. But I do believe my other sensitive dogs, it is a blend of nature nurture and, but doing what we do, being trainers and working with behavior, I think that we're very, very lucky in that we understand that we can work on resilience, we can work on small challenges and we can build our dogs up and we can very, very, in a very calculated way, we can challenge them and bring them almost like to that razor's edge of a, of a, of a brink and make them successful and build up that resilience even if they are naturally a sensitive dog.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned in there that they were sensitive differently. Do you mind just expanding on that just a little bit? Yes.

Barbara Lloyd: Well for instance, like with Didi, her sensitivities all had to do with being alone with a person and things like going outside into a doorway, not inside doorways, but always outside doorways. So they were very specific things that were in her life that led to the abuse that were always the antecedents to when the abuse was going to occur. So they were very specific in that way.

Whereas with the other dogs, their sensitivities are different in that they're almost superstitious beliefs. They're just, it, they're, they're sensitive to certain amounts of pressure, and I mean just the projection of pressure not, you know, pushing on them or anything like that as well as maybe a little bit of sound sensitivity or sensitive to objects, you know, kind of more the classical things that we think of and not like with a case like Didi where things that you wouldn't think that a dog would be sensitive to. She is. So that's kind of where I was coming from with that. I think it's also worth noting that it's not a thing we will necessarily know from the beginning. So let's say that there isn't, but let's say that there's a genetic marker for this thing, you know, it won't be identifiable by you early on, it's puppyhood, right? And the dog who is let's say, going to be resilient, not sensitive quotes around those words could take a number of ways that you structure your lessons or structure the, the life and pressures around them because it, you, you would've, you wouldn't find out everything would be fine, right? And whereas the, the dog say with that marker, and again, I'm making that part up, is going to be different in those two different systems, but you won't know that until one of those systems is enacted, right? So the resilient dog, both systems, and I don't mean training systems, I just mean anything you choose to do both are gonna be fine. The not so resilient dog, the sensitive dog is gonna be fine and you wouldn't know they would've been sensitive possibly in one of those systems, but the vulnerability will show in another. And so it it puts the onus on us to prevent, to make, to make sure that the way that we do things would serve a potentially future more sensitive animal. Preparing, you know, that our, our lessons or the way we, the challenges we put in front of them are do not require already a lot of built in resilience but that are aimed toward, hey, if you're sensitive I would see it and hey, this would build up any dog. I'm not going to assume you're gonna be fine unless you tell me otherwise, but I'm going to assume that you could be and treat you sort of with that in mind on the way up. So the, and then maybe there's probably a lot of dogs who really wouldn't, who would have shown more sensitive, they'd been treated differently from the beginning. I don't know if that line of thinking makes sense, but yeah.

Hélène Lawler: I just wanted to add a little bit to the concept of trauma with our sensitive dogs. And I'm not speaking from any place of like, I'm not trauma certified or anything like that. This is just, but this is research I've been doing there, there are different ways of understanding trauma now that are emerging and we, I think we often think of like that abusive situation and those like horrible events and that's absolutely, you know, one form of trauma, but we, we can experience trauma, the differentiation is you can have like too much too fast too soon, which is like a cap, big T trauma, like a trauma, like an event. But we can, they can, we can also, we and our dogs can experience too little for too long and like, and, and that over time can also create a trauma effect and you know, maybe trauma's the wrong word, but like prolonged survival, stress and so dog there, a lot of dogs may have gone through that and a lot of handlers may have gone through that too and not even recognize that that's what's going on.

So there's a lot of really interesting work around that's starting to become much more in the, in the kind of mainstream understanding. And I mean people have been studying this for a long time, but there's a lot coming out right now, more generally. And I think it's really interesting and, and and offers a lot of interesting opportunities. So I think also often we see a lot of dogs and people are like, oh I think they were abused and maybe they weren't in that like a big T sense, but they may have experienced something and it could even simply be like in the, in the welpinh pen where they had a litter mate who bullied them and no, and that wasn't, you know, addressed cuz nobody kind of noticed that and then they kind of experienced that like not feeling safe at a very formative age.

So there's lots and lots of reasons why these things can happen again, I don't know that like, you know, like Dresden said, like we, we need to just work with the dog in front of us and I don't know how helpful it is to like really pick that apart too much with the individual dog, but just sort of more at a like, kind of an academic discussion level. I think it's really interesting to think about all these different ways that it can happen.

Melissa Breau: So to kind of flip that whole thing on its head, right, I think a lot of the times when we talk about sensitivity we think of it as such a like a negative thing, but are there times when having a sensitive dog is a pro or when sensitivity is actually a desirable trait, something that's kind of helpful in our lives to our dogs. Barbara, you wanna start us off on this one? Oh absolutely, yeah. In the herding world stock dog world, if we didn't have sensitive dogs, we couldn't do the things that we do, there's no way a dog would go and do a half a kilometer outrun if it wasn't sensitive because that dog has to be able to go out there and be sensitive enough to still take guidance from us.

And sometimes it's just a little bit of body pressure, but they're so in tune to us that they understand that if we just put our chest out a bit, that means kick out sometimes. So there are definitely, I mean there's definitely benefits to dogs being sensitive and I also think there's benefits in that the, sometimes Hélène and I have talked about this as well is just the whole concept of if somebody's sensitive, they're more, in a lot of ways they're more self-aware because they're more, they're thinking about what they're gonna do and how they're gonna do it and how those things are going to affect the environment and other things and other people and other beings in the environment. So I do think that sensitivity when used appropriately can be very, very, very beneficial. And even in agility, dogs are in protection dogs because if those dogs aren't sensitive, they're not gonna care about the handler. They're just gonna go out and they're gonna do what they wanna do. And I have done protection work in the past with Rottweilers and German Shepherds and it, you have to have a dog that is sensitive, but it's not in the classical sense of what, you know, you think, oh they're, they're kind of, you know, they're shy and they're this no, just sensitive to the handler and what the handler is saying and wanting to work with the team. And that's more the type of sensitivity I think that is beneficial in those working relationships.

Hélène Lawler: Oh yeah, absolutely. I love sensitive dogs. I would choose the sensitive dog intentionally. And of course like I said, I have a house full of them, I breed them. My dogs are sensitive and the reason I like them, the sense I love these sensitive dogs, there's a number of reasons, but they, they, they make incredible partners and they, they just, they just like, they just partner up with us because as Barbara was saying, like they just, they, they're sensitive to the handler, they care so much. And then the sensitive dog gives us the opportunity to, to become a, a much better handler because as I forget who mentioned it earlier on, but like we don't ha I think it was Amy, we just don't have that leeway of making the mistakes or being sloppy or having poor timing and we have to really get all that stuff dialed in. So my sensitive dogs are the ones who have made me, like my, my, my less sensitive dogs are the ones who got me into the sports and got me, you know, hooked on it. And then the sensitive ones got me to dial in my skills. And so I feel like ones they…

Amy Cook: Built your confidence cuz you could do and it worked out.

Hélène Lawler: Exactly, exactly. They got me in, I was like doing well, this is great and then I get my next dog. And then the other reason I, I think sensitive dogs are an incredible gift is because they, they give us the opportunity to be a better human.

They teach us compassion, they teach us sensitivity, they teach us how to, my, my sensitive dogs have taught me how to love them for who they are not despite who they are, not to like tolerate who they are, but to actually fall in love with them because of who they are. And that has rippled out in my life across the board with all my relationships. So I am deeply, deeply grateful to my sensitive dogs for having made me a better human.

Amy Cook: Yeah, I can really agree with that. I think that they raised the bar on you. They, they, if you wanna be successful with the sensitive dog, you are going to have a different skillset you're gonna have to dial into. There's a, there's a reason why people didn't choose whippets for a long time, for a lot of things that we do with them, even just competition obedience, you don't see that. And it's because you really need to, you know, very carefully craft the confidence of that dog and the, and the, and protect what you do teach them and be very consistent and trustworthy and careful, right? So I really enjoy that, that gift they give us and sort of taking it in the the other direction too in sort of in the pet world for a while I would think, oh, the sensitive dog it makes, it's a difficult pet because people have to do so much, you know, make caretaking and have to think about it. But it really depends on what kind of sensitivity we're talking about because it doesn't necessarily have to be that they're emotionally really fragile.

It can be they're, they just, they notice everything and they, they, you know, want to, I don't know if it's be involved, but they're, they're seeing everything we're doing. And sometimes for a pet that makes for really easy training, the dog notices when it's time to go out and when it's not time to go out.

The dog notices all of your rhythms and can predict everything you're gonna do and it's paying attention to everything. And so, you know, a lot of times I think that's a plus in the pet world, depending of course on the emotional level, you know, the emotional sensitivity there. Maybe that's hard for some, but you know, a lot of times that dog is gonna be the one that goes along to get along and doesn't really have a, a lot of extra, you know, they, they, you present, you know, the, this is the way we walk on the leash and they go, I, okay, I'll walk like that on the leash because they're, they're not just kind of tuned out and doing whatever their own thing is.

And so the, you know, the sensitive dog, as long as we can really do the emotional part well make sure they're feeling safe and secure and, and all of that is okay. I think they make, I like that phenotype. I think they make a good pet and a good sport companion.

Dresden Graff: Oh, those were all beautiful points already. So going off what Amy was just saying as far as them being like exceptional just kind of partners in life and in the house is pet dogs. I've had a few friends recently who have inherited dogs as their owners have passed away and those dogs were, you know, they went everywhere with their person and now my friends are inheriting these dogs and realizing the dog is not actually like trained in the, in the traditional sense it doesn't know anything, but it could go everywhere because it understood the patterns and it paid attention and it knew the routines and it just didn't wanna make a fuss and just went with the flow and yeah, so like that absolutely is a wonderful benefit for a lot of people. A lot of people meet Hawk who I did not continue trialing with because of his sensitivities and they think he's just the most absolute perfect boy and he is, he's the best, again, the best house dog, the best demo partner, the best, all of that. But that the stress of the competing was just something that he said no thank you to and that's perfectly fine. I compete in agility, that responsiveness is extremely important. It's been really fun learning the different buttons between Papillons, which I've always had, and then handling Doberman for a breeder and then handling my lab who have very different sensitivities. So, you know, there's, there's a lot of very subtle things that I can do with my papillons that I definitely have had to make valuable for the dogs that cared a lot more about having fun and kind of their own thing more than what we were doing.

I also have found, at least with my dogs, that the sensitive ones do take that environmental information into account and they do tend to be a little bit on the safer side as far as making intelligent choices when it comes to unsafe approaches and agility. Whether that is something that I have set them up for accidentally or if that is something in the course design, they're much more quick to go this is absolutely not happening. And I'll circle back and, and make a better approach to that and that's definitely something I, I really value. And of course they make us such better people. You really, really do have to learn how to reign in that frustration. Your dog doesn't care if you're frustrated at yourself or if you're frustrated at them, of course it's about them, everything's about them. So learning how to reign in your own frustration and learning how to just go, you know what, I've had enough today, I'm just gonna throw the ball a couple times and then we're gonna go inside and that's fine. And it's gone such a huge way, especially in coaching, learning how to really meet people where they are.

And again, just because they are being particularly crabby that day is not because they have taken offense to my teaching, it is usually because something else is going on and sometimes we just need to take a moment and listen before we can move on. Is it possible to take these sensitive dogs who do maybe tend to worry and help them worry less, whether, you know, kind of what we're talking about is worrying because of a new environment or a training mistake or, I mean, you've all kind of talked a little bit about how your sensitivities can be to many different things.

Melissa Breau: Are there things we can do to just help them feel less negatively sensitive? If that makes sense? I'm not sure I phrased that well, but Amy you wanna maybe start us off?

Amy Cook: Yeah, sure. I mean I, I would, I would feel, you know, that it would be terrible if there weren't things, you know, that we could do. There are certainly so many things and, and that's what makes this the sensitive dog phenotype one that, that a lot of us want or prize because we know that there's so much we can do there, right? It's not really a lack of, this dog isn't like that, that this dog is a way. And to support that, I really feel that at least some of what we can do is predict the very common areas or these, or notice the very specific areas in which your dog is, is likely to stress up. If we want to, to frame the sensitivity right there, not just to noticing everything, but to also maybe feeling a way about that. If you know that it's, it's always these four things or if you don't know, you can pretty much start predicting that it's gonna be meeting new people, meeting new dogs, having to have these social situations happen, being in new places that they haven't been before.

Those are certainly the big three. And for each of those things is absolutely possible to have a completely codified plan of how you're going to do that so that your dog says, oh I know this script, I understand this. That script would be made sensitively by you knowing your dog. You know, there are specifics to that, but a dog who knows how things are gonna go gets more familiar with those things and it's the lack of familiarity that can be so, you know, stressful for a dog. How is this new relationship gonna go? I have to greet this person, how is that gonna go? Oh my god. But if you know how that's gonna go, because we wrote the script for you and we practice it a whole bunch, I think what we get from that, or at least what we, what I always cross my fingers that we're gonna get from that is a sense of optimism that they often are a little challenged in. So I know how this is going to go and you know what, it's gone well every time we've done this, it's probably gonna go well again the next time we have to do this. That's what I wanna see in a dog.

Sensitive or not. I want them to say, I recognize this, therefore I feel at least a measure of safety here. Oh look, it went well, that's information for next time. That's really what I wanna see. So the more we can predict and have a plan for, and of course, you know, in my classes and other places, I give you details for how to do those plans. But thinking ahead and saying, okay, this is a new environment. I know what you're like, I know you need 10 extra minutes than the other dog did and I know you wanna be on the outskirts, there's really no reason I can't do that in order to help you feel safe. And we'll do that every time your dog starts to recognize that,

oh, I know we're on the outskirts, that means we're gonna go in a few minutes. All of that is information they can rely on. So, you know, and that's just one slice. There's so many other things of course we can do to help them in these environments, but that's just one real big one that I think people can pull out and do proactively like right away.

Dresden Graff: Yes, I love that. I love the scripting, I love being proactive. That is a key to success and just a lot of dog training and life. I am a planner, so I do, I do like having a script. I do also like knowing what's going on and then I'm not sure if this is a direction that we're touching base on at all in the conference, but like knowing when to reach out. So like let's say you do have those, you know, three areas where you know your dog is going to struggle and you've tried a couple things or maybe don't even know where to start finding a good trainer or starting here at this conference coming up and starting to write those scripts and finding a thing that works for you and for your dog along with maybe the sensitivity is leaking further over into like anxiety.

Like is that something that you can have a discussion about with your vet? I think that the world is starting to warm up to behavior medication a little bit more, but like there are vet to vet consults available for your local vet to speak to a vet behaviorist. So there are a lot of ways that you can help support your dog beyond just training as well.

Hélène Lawler: Yeah, but they said, And I'll add, so I also, I love the whole getting, getting really clear, getting everything really clear, having a lot of structure for your dogs, really clear patterns, really clear, like predictable routines. And I think that's all extremely important. And, then I'm gonna add to that couple things.

One of them is just like we can work on our training skills. I specifically when I teach like in my classes, my, you know, my, my classes that deal with specifically with these issues, right? My sensitive dogs class and my optimal arousal class. Big thing is loopy training, taking a loopy training approach to training and taking and also what I call error instead of I, I've dropped the whole errorless learning approach and I now call it errors as learning. And I, I, we, I advocate reinforcing essentially, and I, I know I, we don't have time to dive into this, so I'm gonna like create a straw man here and I know people are gonna be like … I recommend reinforcing a hundred percent of the time. And that creates a lot of resilience when we're working with these dogs. So they're never, they're never wrong. And then we just adjust our training to get the correct behavior while they're continually see getting their, continuously getting their reinforcement. So we wanna keep that rate of reinforcement really high so they always know that they're gonna get that and they don't stress about it.

And then the other piece that is huge is working on the handler end of the leash. Well that's all working on the handler end of the leash, right? It's like training skills, training philosophy and then also, but also our mindset and really working on managing our own brains around what we're making our dog's behavior mean. So that's the first thing I do when I work with people, I'm like, okay, what are you making your dog's behavior mean? And when we spend some time unpacking that, there are lots of thoughts that come up. Like, I'm making it mean that I'm a terrible handler. It makes it mean that, you know, I'm, I'm not, I'm failing my dog.

I'm making it mean that my dog is failing me. I'm making it mean that I'm never gonna be successful at, like my hopes and dreams. And so the dog shows like, you know, is in a new situation and it's ears wilt and then our brains catastrophize and then we don't respond in ways that maybe are necessarily the most helpful.

So really working on the handler's brain to help. And I've done, I've done a lot of work on myself with this. I'm very, very familiar with this work and uncoupling what we make our dog's behavior mean from what we make, what like what we make it a about ourselves and just be like, okay, it's just my favorite thought is to replace any of those catastrophizing thoughts is it's all behavior and all behavior is modifiable.

And then we could, that just takes our emotional response out if we can just remind ourselves of that and then be like, okay, it's just behavior. It's just a dog, being a dog, all behavior is modifiable. Let's see how I can modify this a little bit in the direction I wanna go right now today and let tomorrow take care of itself.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Barbara?

Barbara Lloyd: Yes, I'm a really big fan of what they've all said about the predictability. I think predictability for sensitive dogs is the key because they need to know what's coming and you can, like Amy had said, build your routines and then you can take those routines on the road. And I think they're very, that that's a really, really important thing. And I know in particular with one of my dogs Dory time, she's, she's, she's a sensitive dog, horribly sensitive, but she's also very accomplished. And, but it's because I've been able to take small things that are predictable for her and I've been able to expand on them and then use them in, in different environments. But I think the other side to that coin as well is that's a lot of thinking about we're projecting onto the dog what we want them to do and we have these training plans and we have these, you know, we want, we want things to be predictable. But the other side to that, for me, and I think it's probably from my indigenous culture, is where this comes from because I know I was raised this way was a sense of autonomy.

My sensitive dogs, my dogs have a sense of autonomy and they get to choose. So if they don't wanna do something, they don't have to do that thing. There's very few things that I think a sensitive dog has to do or any dog for that matter. I do believe that if you can grant them autonomy, you're, what you're going to do is you're gonna build their trust and you're gonna build their confidence and therefore they're not going, they're still gonna be a sensitive dog, but they're gonna trust you more and they're gonna defer to you more and they're going to be happier overall. So I think that that autonomy piece is something that I, I super, super, super focus on and my work with sensitive dogs and as a result of that, I think that's why, especially with my own dogs,

I can get some pretty good results. Because if they say, nah, no thanks, I, I'm like, okay, that's okay, let's go. We're gonna go for a run or we're gonna go play stick or we're gonna do whatever you wanna do. Cuz it's not about me, it's about them. And separating that out. And I think that that's a really important piece because I might have an agenda what I think I'd like to do, but at the end of the day I always let them decide. So I think that that, that, that piece of autonomy is very important.

Melissa Breau: Which I think brings us really nicely to what I wanted to talk to you guys about next, which is, you know, are there limits to what you can, or maybe that you would wanna do, right? With a, with a sensitive dog, how do you determine where that line kind of falls for the dog that you're working with? And Dresden, I know you mentioned that line earlier about kinda training the dog in front of you, so you wanna take us off on this one?

Dresden Graff: Sure. I do think that that is, that's a huge question of, you know, what should we do just because we can do something, should we be doing it ultimately, I think it comes down a lot too, being really honest with yourself and reading the dog that you have taken with you into whatever situation that is. Be that trialing, be that your buddy into town, whatever the situation is your dog actually enjoying this and how do you feel, how do you feel at the end of it? So if it is a, we go into the ring, everything falls apart and we get out of the ring and my dog is upset because I'm upset, no one's having fun, that is not a dog that I'm going to continue trialing with. And right now I have the luxury of having a few dogs.

So I go, you know what, if trialing is not for you, that's okay. You get to be a demo dog and someone else will come off the bench and get to go in. Or with my Papillons, I'm a little bit too intense for one of them. Renegade, he's a, he's a softer guy and that's perfectly fine. So I, you know, trained him beautifully in agility and then he just kind of hung around the house for a while and then my wife was like, you know what, I would like to try one day. And she takes things much less seriously than I do. You know, she queued at one of her first couple trials and someone ran up and was like, it's okay. And Elena was like, I know, like it's fine. And they do great together. He has a great time. They try once a month, one day and they have a blast. And more than that would probably be too much for him. But again, like that's all that they do and that's all they need to do or want to do.

So they have a great time. But yeah, that's a lot of, ultimately depends on the situation, right? I love that note though because I mean, sometimes it really is just a matter of, you know, relieving the pressure or maybe somebody else could handle that dog in that situation and it would be just fine. But I think, you know, it's about the partnership and ultimately deciding what's working for both of you. Are you both happy? Are you both having fun? And if not, let's change course, right? Like let's, let's change something.

Melissa Breau: Barbara, you wanna go next?

Barbara Lloyd: Yeah, that was, that's so true about the, do I think that, I mean, I do think that dogs need a choice. They have to be able to choose what, what it is that they're, what they wanna do. And, but we also have to keep in mind, I think that even within those choices, when they do make the choices to do those things, that there can still be things that go wrong. And I, I have a really funny story about,myou know, because my mindset is like Dresden's wife's mindset when it comes to, you know, doing things with the dogs. It's very much, oh, well whatever's gonna happen is gonna happen. And I park my pride outside and I pick it up on my way out, right? So I was at a herding trial with Dory and in practice the day before, she had actually gotten roughed up really bad by a eue she got rammed up against a wall on the side and the next day we had competition and I mean, I was three provinces away, so I thought, oh, well we'll go in and we'll see what happens. So we went in and there was a, what they call a take pen. So you've gotta, you're supposed to take your dog into the take pen, the dog's supposed to bring the sheep out and then you do a course. So I walked over to the take pen and I said, oh, come on, come on. And she just walked by the take pen and there was a watering bucket down at the end and it was quite large, it was a barrel.

And she jumped in it and she literally started swimming around in it. And so I'm like, oh, that's okay, Dory, here, look, I'm gonna go into the pen. And so I go into the pen and she's swimming around and then she jumps out and she shakes off and I think, oh, maybe she's gonna come over here, right?

I don't know, what does she do? She literally rolls in shit. Like she rolls in shit, right? And she's, and I mean, and she's wet and it's, oh my God, it's such a mess, right? I'm like, oh, that's okay, Dory, right? Just shake it off. Like literally shake it off, right?

So then I come out of the pen and she comes over and again, she looks into the pen and, and she's like, no, no, I don't think so. And she goes off onto the course and she does her own thing. And I call it, I say, okay, yeah, thank you. We're gonna, we're just gonna leave now.

And as I'm walking out, I have, I grab my leash at the gate and I'm coming out and everybody, all the spectators, they're, they're just, oh no, like what a, what a catastrophe. That was awful. Like, you must be, you must feel so bad and you know, your dog was just jacking around in there and da da da da da.

And I looked at Juan and I said, that's okay guys, you can laugh. That shit's literally funny. I mean, what she did in there, I mean, she went for a swim, she rolled, now look at her, her tails up, she came out, she's happy as a clam. I said, next time we go in, she probably gonna do something pretty darn good. So I'm happy with that. So it didn't, I don't, I don't take that with me. I don't have an agenda when I go in. And, and sure enough, the next time we went in, I mean, yeah, she, she blasted right through it. And I mean, that year she ended up being the, the top dog in CKC herding mixed dog division, even though we would have performances like that. So it's just going with it and, but like I say, she, she has a choice. She wants to do that herding thing, but sometimes she says that, that today and I say, okay, we don't have to, we can do whatever you want. Yeah. So I just wanted to share that. Yeah, I love that. And I love the, the kinda attitude going into it, right?

Melissa Breau: Like, I love the line about leaving your pride outside. Yeah. Hélène, you wanna pick us up there?

Hélène Lawler: Yeah. So thank you Barbara for sharing that story. I love that story. And, and it illustrates exactly what I was gonna say is like, I think that once again, we need to separate our stuff from our dog. And so when we can get our mind, our mindset in a really good place where it's like, I'm just in here to spend time with my dog and whatever happens, happens, and it, it's not a statement of like, my value as a human being or my potential, you know, future or all the, the things that our, our brains tend to do with all our brain drama and we can just walk into, you know, whatever event the classroom or the seminar or the trial without all of that, which is very challenging. We are not all like Barbara, I certainly, like, I can, I, when I, I was competing in, I haven't, I, I was competing in agility and herding at the same time for a while and I could walk into an agility trial and like not care at all and be totally calm and, and collected and just like run my dog. Whatever happened, happened, it was great.

And then I would walk, you know, into a herding trial and I would like not like be able to eat for three days before the trial and I would be like running to the porta potty like 20 times before my run and all of that. Like the stress went through the roof. So like I, I just would had so much emotional drama around herding and I absolutely had none around agility, which was actually very helpful for me because it allowed me to really kind of recognize how much of it was just like in my brain as opposed to my, like the event that I was at. But so when we can get to that place where our brains are nice and calm and we're just like, okay, it is what it is, and then we can, then we can really let our dogs show us what they want and what what make their choice. And also I'm, I'm also a huge advocate of letting the dog choose. And so that and that because that also when we're, when we can be really kind of grounded and in that kind of neutral mental place, then we become a safe, a safe place for our dogs.

And then the dog, if the dog feels safe, like if the dog is like, yeah, I know that I can say no or I know that I can, like, it doesn't matter what happens out here, you know, like, I'm still safe, everything's still gonna be okay. My, my human's not gonna get really upset. Then we can take the show on the road and, and then really kinda evaluate what's going on. I would say, cuz you're asking where to draw the line. I would say that for handlers who are struggling with that mental drama, if you also have a sensitive dog that's, it's maybe a good idea to, and I don't wanna like make decisions for anybody, but it can, it can be helpful to step back a little bit and do some of this work.

And it doesn't have to be forever. It's just like, let's get, let's get ourselves into a little bit better place, a little calmer ground, more grounded place. Let's kind of look at like, what am I making my dog's behavior mean? Can I make it mean something less distressing? Can I get to that place? And then yes, okay, great. Now let's take a step back into the, you know, either the seminar world or the trail, you know, classes or trialing or whatever we've needed to step back because we were just not working as a team in that environment. So I don't, so I kind of really like to evaluate on that basis of like, let's work at both ends of the leash, but first really ground that handler and then see what's left with the dog and then let the dog make choices going forward. And I find when we do that, we're able to do a lot more than we might expect. So I don't like to draw a line ahead of time before doing that work.

Amy Cook: Yeah, I mean, letting go of your predetermined goals is certainly a very important part of really doing anything with dogs. I mean, not even sensitive dogs, honestly. You can have all the plans in the world, but you're a partnership. So, so there's that. Your question is, are there limits to what we can, or would or should do with our sensitive dog? And the answer for me is absolutely yes. Yes, absolutely. There's a limit. There are limits to what you should do.

There are limits to what you can do and, but the more important follow up is how do you determine that line for a particular dog, right? And there's your, you know, your big money question, but it really to me is a matter of how you are conceiving of training in the first place. What is this thing that you are doing?

Because, you know, and and for me it comes down to in our positive 2.0 mindset, which is, you know what I'm all about now, which is that you don't get to, to do things that your partner does not want to do. I don't feel like I have the right to say, yeah, but I want to, so therefore we're going to, right? I don't get to do that in my partnership. And so built right into the foundation of training a dog, I'm going to advocate and say should be a sense of not only do you know what your dog's opinions are, where their, you know, comfort level and their, their choices are, but that you build into the system a specific way that they can tell you all of this information.

You can build in yes and no systems. You can ask the yes or no question you can ask. And frankly, you can ask more than just yes and no. You can ask things like, do you want to, can you, right. That's different from just a, yes I want to, because maybe they want to and maybe they can't.

I'll, you know, I'll ask Sarah Stremming, sure you want to, but is your head in, you know, in the place to do this well, right. We have to ask multi-layers of questions or, or can I think we should. And then, but also things like how has our relationship brought us to this point?

You know, what, what have I taught you about our training that, you know, that you can always opt out and opting out does not cost you anything. You're not gonna lose anything by opting out, right? So my reinforcement strategies say with you have not been so, so high value. So, so important to you that I'm going to be able to leverage them as coercion.

You're not so desperate to get to this thing that I control, that you are not going to say no, if I give you the choice. And I say, do you want, do you, do you want a million dollars or not? The answer's gonna be, yes, I do. Even if, you know, I have to walk through fire to get the million or whatever, whatever. It's right. So being very careful, not just with your sensitive dog, but with any dog that you have control over that you don't leverage that control in such a way that you get to blow right past their lines and they don't tell you anymore, or you don't see the subtle signals, or they're not going to give them, because it's so important that they go, that they'll, they'll do something they'd rather not have if, if you hadn't been holding out that thing on the string or putting that thing in front of them. I imagine, I, I don't, I don't work with livestock, but I imagine the opportunity to work with sheep can be, can be quite, you know, I don't wanna say compelling in that, in that way that that word means, I mean, sort of compelling in the, oh my gosh, I really want to, right? And that can happen in all of our sports. And that can happen for dogs with certain relationships to food and certain relationships to their toys. And so building in from the get-go, this idea that I'm not gonna use your reinforcers coercively with you, I'm going to be making sure that you're in this game and not in the game because I had all the money and all the big stuff. And I can ask you sensitively what you actually feel about wanting to do this to make this a partnership and not a, yeah, but I want, I wanna do this and I can kind of make you want to do this.

And so I'm, I'm gonna kind of put in motion this thing that says, come on, you want to, I know you do. Come on, let's go hard persuasion on my part. That's where the limit can be easily seen. I mean, I, I don't mean easily as in that's an easy system to put in place, but it becomes very clear if you can't get a dog to want to do that without pulling out all the stops and putting in a lot of, you know, pressure, even even pressure of getting the good thing. If you, if you don't have a partner who wants to do that, you have your line right there. Your dog needs to buy in, have choices, have full agency over whether they do or don't do this. Because when they do say yes, then you have the whole dog, you have the whole thing, you have everything they have to give you without reservation and without your, your leverage. So I really am a strong advocate of agency and choice and training in such a way that lets them at all stages be able to tell you when things are going awry or that you are leveraging too hard, this thing that is so important to them that they would do anything for.

I'm starting to get very sensitive to using things that dogs find incredibly important. And we've gone in, in the past into very high value reinforcers, cuz gosh, you get a whole lot of, you know, you get a whole lot of bang for that buck, right? You get a lot from a dog that you have the reinforcer of. And now I'm really kinda swinging the other side and saying, how much is that hiding from me? How much information does that hide from me? That I'm being able to leverage that? So that's where I would determine a line for a particular dog. And really for any dog, not just a sensitive one.

Barbara Lloyd: Can, Can I just add two, two 2 cents to that? I lo I loved everything you said there, Amy, but I just had a really interesting conversation recently with, with a, a high level agility coach and she said she was just like, I can't believe how much the presence of agility equipment masks engagement. Oh yeah. You saw dogs that were like, they would if you, if they walked into an empty arena, totally different dog, but when like they would just lose their engagement and get all sniffy and show all sorts of stuff.

And then, and I, and I mean some of that is they, you probably, they gives them confidence as well. So we need to like, you know, like sheep, my dog can see sheep. I know what to do, okay. I can handle being in this environment. It's familiar. I know what we're doing.

Amy Cook: Yeah, exactly. So I, it's, that's not necessarily always a negative thing, but I think it's really important, like you said, to really recognize like if that agility equipment, then we would, I I just wanted to add that because in addition to food and toys, it's also the props if those sheep right have my dog willing to go to walk through fire and you know, what's my responsibility there? So I love that you brought all that up. It's a good example and it's one of these places where also that can get them very not clear-headed. Like, I want this so much. I've seen the agility equipment, so what is it? Jump, run, go tunnel. What, what did you say? They almost can't even think clearly around such an incredible reinforcer.

And that's just as much a limitation and a no answer as the dog who said no and didn't wanna do it. The dog who's saying yes to doing it but cannot perform in any way that makes any sense. It's still saying a form of no or a no that you should take, take seriously as a limitation because that that dog is also not capable of doing that work.

And, and if they could have said no, if they could have thought to say no in the face of something amazing, they might have done so, but they can't because the power balances is off there. So it takes a lot of structuring to get to that answer. But I think it's, I think it's the way we treat them the most respectfully because they are experiencing those things and, and just because they can't tell us it doesn't mean we can ignore it. We have to find the ways to ask.

Melissa Breau: So we've talked a fair bit about what sensitive dogs are, but I think that sometimes there are maybe other things that cause similar behaviors and it can be misread as sensitivity. So I wanted to just talk about that briefly before we kinda round things out.

For example, maybe a dog just doesn't seem interested in a particular sport, say agility. Would you immediately begin thinking of them as a sensitive dog or are there other things you wanna kind of look at first or take into consideration before kind? Just making that assumption that that's what you're dealing with. Helene?

Helene Lawler: Yeah, I love this question cuz that's something that like, I think I'm, I'm looking at more and more are the ways that we can misread what's going on. So often, like right now I'm working with a number of people in my optimal arousal class and we're starting, we're like digging in, we're like, is there a lack? We're like, oh, I think there might be a lack of clarity of criteria.

And I was like, or is it that there's a lack of clarity in the criteria, which is absolutely a reason why dogs will not perform. Cuz they're like, I actually don't know what to do and, and then they go into a fight or flight response. So that's, that's so making sure that they are, they actually understand and that's, that's way more complicated than we think. And then there's also can they physically do it. So I did this, I just did a review for one of my students and this is, you know, I wish I could share it here. The video is such a powerful example of she was working with a great dane and the Dane is very big and she's sitting down and right in her space and she was working on chin rests and on the video you can see the dogs hind legs are starting to splay because she's out of balance because of the kind of being crunched up close to the handler and, and then her feet and like, and of course the handler can't even see the feet, but I can see it from the video cause we're watching from the side and this dog's feed kind of slaying on this sort of slippery floor cuz she's leaning forward and she's front weighted herself anyway, she ends up sitting in the middle of the training session just step taking a step back and sitting down and it looks like she's opting out, right? And so if we ha if you know, but it was because she was out of balance. She lost her balance. And having a sense of balance and feeling balanced is actually really important. And Marie Valgma talks a lot about this with her work. And I I, that's what opened my eyes to understanding the importance of like how when we are out of balance and when we are or physically incapable of doing something, our arousal goes up, right? Which is that fight flight response. So if you think about like if you walk and you like lose your balance, you, we have a little adrenaline spike, right? And so dogs who struggle, you know, often we often they'll go fast, like especially in agility, you see dogs, they go so fast, but speed can mask function and ability to, to stress. So you have a dog, let's say, who, you know, loses his balance going over the dog walk and then starts to just become really afraid of dog walks and we think, oh, he is a sensitive dog. Or maybe he actually needs how to, he needs to learn how to manage his body better.

So I've been kind of going down that rabbit hole a bit lately of kind of like really studying like, is that dog sensitive? Is that dog shutting down cuz they don't wanna do it? Or is that dog, does a dog struggle with understanding what they're supposed to do or are they actually struggling with physically being able to do it? And I don't just mean pain, but, or, but, you know, or fitness or, or appropriate assumption or, or just being able to stay in balance cuz they don't have the core strength, for instance. So there's a lot of other stuff that's starting to come in that we can look at. We need to like pull all those things apart and look at them and explore all those areas.

Melissa Breau: I find it fascinating and actually pretty exciting that we can dig into all of that. Yeah, I, my was on the podcast recently and we talked about it, she mentioned that like this idea that the dog can understand the criteria and then not be able to physically accomplish the criteria at speed specifically and just how frustrating that must be as a learner.

Helene Lawler: Yeah. And that spikes their arousal. And then depending on whether the dog is a stress higher, a stress low dog, we're gonna see, and that can look like us being sensitive and they, and they are in terms of like, you know, they wanna be right and then they, and then they, but they can't be right. And then that stresses them out and creates frustration and then the dogs, then the dog will develop like a negative condition, emotional response to the training. And if we don't understand all that, we may target the wrong response to try and fix that. Or we might just be like, oh yeah, my dog just hates agility, you know, or like that kind of like, we, we can draw the wrong conclusion.

So all of that is worth exploring a hundred percent, Right? And we don't have the, the pin in the right, you know, question. You're, you're applying the wrong answers to it, right? And failing and then you're gonna interpret the failure to have solved the problem as more evidence of whatever else. And, and so really getting to what something is, even though that's incredibly challenging is, is often pretty important. You know, I, I know from my own, my dogs won't jump from the floor to, you know, the couch, the chair or whatever from a slick floor. It isn't, it isn't gonna at least one of them, if not both, it isn't going to happen. They don't wanna do that.

The slip of the feet out as they, as they jump up not gonna do it. And you know, if, if you don't have a wider view of why your dog might not do something, you might just as a human being, just put more pressure. Come on, just you can do it. Come on, just get up there. You know, come on. Encouragement, encouragement is a form is another form. It's benign pressure, but it's, it can be pressure on the right animal, right? The right person. And so, you know, then the dog is again gonna say no thanks, and now you, now you have a misinterpretation possibility. Whereas if you just had solved that problem, you might see utter enthusiasm and, and none of this like, I can't do it, we are very, we're human-centric, you know, we're, we're self-centric and it can be pretty difficult to cast ourselves into what, what the animal might really be having a problem with. So going down toward all the rest of the other possibilities is, I think is key.

And of course pain is the, you know, the number one, it's the one, it's the hoof beats, it's the horses hoof beats that your dog doesn't feel right in some way that will absolutely affect everything they do. I often just go on the concept of, hey, it isn't going well today. Maybe she's got a headache. I'm not saying they have headaches, I'm not saying she does, but like, I won't know if you do. We'll just why don't we try this tomorrow? Like I, I don't have to, you know, solve this right now. I can look at trends, right? But dogs hide body pain. We all know this. Dogs hide tooth pain, we all know this. And that can be difficult to find, right? Dogs have a lot of GI potential interrupt, you know, issues with their body that can show in all sorts of interesting behavioral ways that the longer I do this, the more impressed I am that a GI being off. And I don't mean that you can see it in the poop, I mean that you find out accidentally by some other treatment for something else and it solves or, or it finally becomes symptomatic enough and then you solve it. Behaviors can utterly change. There's interesting stuff right now in zinc in using zinc, finding dogs who are zinc deficient and having that show in a lot of their reactivity and aggression, aggressive behavior. There's just stuff on the forefront. I've seen so many dogs that when they've been given an an acid by the vet all of a sudden have completely different responses to, to training and not so sensitive, I mean to use that term much more broadly. So look at, I I'd say since we can't say for every dog going forward, I'd say as a person, look at what your core assumption is when things don't go as you expect when your dog says no thanks or seems a little more fragile to you, your encouragement and they're like, I don't think so. Don't marry the first idea that you have. See if you can come up with five, five potential ideas. Just sure they're unlikely. Can you come up with five as an exercise? Could you think of five different reasons that this could, could be? Because maybe one of those is the other thing, staying flexible and not over-interpreting or marrying your ideas as oh this is the dog's fault,

or oh this is my fault, or Oh it's never my fault, it's always the dog. Or Oh he's just being x, or Oh I suck so much. No wonder, look at your scripts and keep it open because we can't really answer what else there really is for your dog. I'm gonna need you to stay creative and open to possibility.

Melissa Breau: I love the thing about the headache too because it goes back to what Helene was saying earlier, right? About like sometimes we get so into our own story and then it's like the dog just didn't feel great that day. For whatever reason the dog was just a little bit off that day. Let's not make it, you know, symbolic of everything about ourselves as a trainer. The dog just had a headache, right? Like, like that concept. I think that all fits together well, Right, right. Yeah. Barbara?

Barbara Lloyd: Yeah, I really agree with everything that they've said and about the pain and about not, you know, making it all a catastrophe and everything like that. But I do think that pain can definitely play a role.

And I also think that with what Helene was talking about with the, the conditioning, if the dog isn't physically in a, in good enough condition to do the thing, they can't do it. Also I think if the dog isn't, there's conditioning and there's body awareness, there can be dogs that are in really, really good condition but they don't know how to use their body.

And I am a very strong proponent of teaching dogs how to use their body appropriately so that they understand it. Just like how we understand it when we're, when we do yoga versus when we do other types of activities. But I do think that it's not always going down to sensitivity. I do think that there's a lot of other things that go into it and sometimes like when Helene was talking about that great dane on that floor and not having the space, I mean that was just an environmental thing. That was a very, very specific thing. It wasn't that the dog quit, it was that the dog couldn't hold position. And I see those types of things a lot because of the types of classes that I teach and I still do a lot of in-person stuff. So I do see a lot of things like that where I'll see, you know, a really goofy happy lab that is got like resilience coming out of every orifice. I mean the dog is just kaboom, right? But it can't do something. Well sometimes it's just because they don't have the space to do it because the handler doesn't know how to create the space for the dog to be able to adequately do it. So it's not always sensitivity.

And like Amy said, it's also not just the dog being stubborn. And I also, Amy, when you said that you're the very first person that's ever I've ever heard say that, cuz I say it too about, well maybe the dog's just having an off day. Like think about it. I mean I always say to people, you know, I have an off day,

I can see people's lips moving, but I cannot comprehend what they're saying. I just, and it doesn't, it's not a behavioral thing, it's just I can't do it that day for whatever reason. And I'm sure dogs have those kinds of days. They must, they have to have to, my body is sore sometimes. I'm not limping, you wouldn't know, but I'm sore from yesterday. I don't wanna give all my effort today. I mean maybe. Right, exactly. I totally agree with that. And I think that having those conversations, and I, and I'm glad that we live in an age where we can have those conversations about dogs versus, you know, because you know, 10 years ago it was always, oh the dog is just, you know, being stubborn or the dog is just being silly or you spoil your dog or you know, there was all these other things that would would come out and I mean certainly those things still come out now, but at least we're willing to talk about really what could be going on because they are a sentient being and they do have feelings and they do have biological systems just like we do.

Helene Lawler: And sometimes those biological systems fail and that has nothing to do with sensitivity. I have a quick story to share on that with a dog that I bought who's a, she was a really, really high level herding trial dog and I purchased her to be my partner so that I could grow my own competition skills and not have to focus on the training side of things.

And I was trying to come together as a team with this dog and of course I spent a lot of money on this dog. And so I'm like, and I, and she was winning trials and then I'm out there working with her and we are not coming together as a team. She is so fast I can't keep up with her. And my brain was making up all this drama about, you know, I'm not, I'm not fast enough, I'm not good enough. I've gotta grow as a handler. And I'm like really working on my skills to try and manage this, this dog who was incredibly talented but just would work at, at like mock 10 speed. And then I, one day I had somebody come over and video cause I wanted to send some video out to have somebody do some coaching with me.

This was during Covid so I couldn't go for in-person lessons and I had, I had somebody video me working with this dog and then working with one of my other dogs so I could study that as well. And what I noticed was that the two dogs, the one dog that I was working really well with, she was always in a trot. And the other dog who was work, who was, I was, I had labeled as running hot and was like super keen and very forward and all that. She was always working in a cantor. And if you study the difference of the gaits, a trot is a scissor, the back ends are scissoring and if, if the and a cantor, the back end is working together, the legs are moving together and that made the light go on.

And I had her hip examined right and she was very dysplastic and so she was, I don't know that she never showed any sign of pain. I don't know that she even had pain but she couldn't scissor her legs and so she compensated by always being in a Gallup, which made her work the do the sheep really, really fast. And it was it,

right? And, and I, it was just like, it blew my mind. So now I like look at things so differently because you know, and of course I had gone into all the the, you know, here I am the brain, the brain coach going into my own brain drama, a very like it's me when it's, it was actually a physical limitation on the dog that made her run a very, you know, perform in a way that someone with, with really top level skills was capable of handling and doing really well with. And then it took my, you know, less stellar skills to really highlight the problem and figure out what was going on. Oh, interesting. Yeah and that's not the kinda solution that you like think of, right? If you're not thinking outside the box and you're not examining your own training and looking at your own videos and stuff like that.

Melissa Breau: Dresden, anything you wanna add to this one? So obviously we touched on pain first, so that kind of vet check and making sure everything is working how it's supposed to and there's a lot of importance in a second opinion if the first answer is a very quick, the dog is fine. I recently had a student who, you know, they went to their normal vet dog was, they're like, yeah the dog's fine. Just like he was last time we saw him and then you know, found a canine massage therapist and was like, oh well he's actually having a lot of heat here and he needs to build up his rear. And then suddenly magically six weeks later the dog's no longer hitting the high jump on the retrieve over the high.

So like, you know, things like that where it just comes down to making sure your dog does have the appropriate fitness and body awareness and that you have the right resources in your area to get that second opinion from grooming is another one that I have dogs. So a lot of issues can come up simply from the hair being too long between our toes or two of my papillons have really, really gorgeous earing, but it will get so long that it will cause issues. Like they'll trip on it in the weave poles and then we might have some weave issues where if I hadn't gone back and looked at the video to see that they tripped on their ear fringe and smacked right into the pole, I would never have known that that was what was going on.

So I would've spent, you know, weeks trying to fix a problem that did not really exist and that we needed to be focusing on something else or just giving them a haircut. But, but yeah, no, I mean same with what everyone else said. That's about all that I have to add to that. I like that. No, but I think it's super important to highlight the fact that, you know, sometimes it does take being a little persistent, seeing a second opinion, maybe seeing somebody who's specialty is a little bit different, right? Being willing to call that in but also like, what a point like that your hair was in the way. Like, you know, like that's like a thing you never would think of on your own, you know what I mean? Like it really does take going back and looking at some video and maybe having a second set of eyes who kind of saw it happen or you know, something else. There's something to be said for just kind of being willing to be open-minded about what's really going on and not spending several weeks fixing something that you could fix with a pair of scissors in five minutes.

Melissa Breau: So Yeah. Alright, so I wanna kinda round out our chat today, which has been fantastic by the way, which is kind of an open-ended question. If we were to kind of drill down all the stuff we've been talking about, if there's like one key piece of information you wanna leave people with or like one final thought you kind of wanna share, I just wanna give kind of everybody a chance to do that. So Barbara, you wanna start us off?

Barbara Lloyd: Yes. I think that if I had to kinda try to impart something on, on somebody that has a sensitive dog, the biggest component for me is autonomy, personnel, autonomy and, and like Amy had said agency because I think that if that if the dog or or, or the being can't have autonomy and agency, they can't feel safe and if they can't feel safe, they can't feel confident. So I think that overall really looking at what the dog is, is saying yes and no to, and providing more of what they're saying yes to. So that would be it for me.

Dresden Graff: I love that point and right with that I would go just choosing kindness again and again and again and again. There have been, you know, times in the past where I'm sure this is something that has happened to quite a few people where I definitely thought that I was having a, you know, more emotional issue with the dog and it ended up being a physical one that she was trying to tell me no to for a very long time. And you know, in hindsight I just wish that I had listened a lot more and, and chosen more kindness. Whether that is just saying no to today, you know?

Amy Cook: I would say your dog is not a machine. Your dog is not a car that you're driving, your dog is not an input output, you know, device. Your dog has a perspective, a real one. Your dog has, you know, a real valid opinion and view and history of how they expect things to go. And they're your partner. You're not driving them toward things, you're not aiming them and you know, releasing. So they deserve your actual respect for their viewpoint, for the way they see things, for what they're actually really feeling. The same respect you'd give, you know, an equal human partner. They deserve that. And don't lose sight of the fact that there's a lot more going on than you probably know. So it's, it's correct to go slowly and to interpret your dog charitably instead of with some idea you already have. Just stay respectful.

Helene Lawler: Gosh, I love everything everybody said. And so what I'll add to that is I choose to believe that what my, each dog that comes into my life comes into my life as a teacher. And so I want to stay open to the lessons. And so I encourage anybody with a sensitive dog, especially if they're feeling stressed and frustrated or discouraged, to try to look for the lessons and the learning and the gifts because they're there. And when we can do that, magic happens.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. All right. I think that's a…magic happens is a fantastic place to kind end things off. Thank you all so much for coming on the podcast. Seriously, this has been awesome.

All: Thank you. That was a pleasure. Thank you. Yes, thank you. Thank You so much, Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thank you to all of our fabulous listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com.

The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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