E324: Other Dog Sports with Melissa Breau, Hélène Lawler, and Sara Brueske

Join Teri Martin, Melissa Breau, Hélène Lawler and Sara Brueske for a conversation about the "other" dog sports offered at FDSA — treibball, herding, and disc!  


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 one of the most current and progressive training methods. Today we're gonna flip the script a bit and I'm actually gonna hand the host role over to Teri Martin and instead play the role of a guest.

But before we get started, I just wanted to quickly talk about FDSA training camp. Volunteering at camp was how I got to know the team behind FDSA. By the end of the weekend, I set out Denise and then Terry told them know I'd love to be more involved behind the scenes because I loved what they'd managed to accomplish within the community. So a weekend full of fun and making new dog friends.

And ultimately it's what led to me hosting this very podcast. This year will take place October 6th through 8th in Albany, Oregon. And as of when this podcast will be released, you still have a few more days to take advantage of our early bird rates. However, early bird ends August 7th. So don't wait. I hope to see you there. And now here's Teri.

Teri Martin: Hey everybody. Welcome to the FDSA podcast. My name is Teri Martin. I am subbing in for Melissa Breau. And today we are talking about other dog sports. I have three people joining me today. I have Hélène Lawler, Sara Breuske, and Melissa Breau, to get started, let's have everybody introduce themselves and tell us a little bit about what your dogs are and the sports that you do. Melissa, do you wanna give us a start?

Melissa Breau: Sure. I think people mostly know me, know me as the host for the podcast, especially if you're listening to it now. But I also do quite a bit of random marketing things for FDSA and dabble in dog sports myself. So I teach at FDSA, I teach a Treibball class.

That's what we're gonna be talking about mostly today. But with my own dogs, my current crew, I've got Huey who's a 19 month old Labrador and Levi, who is a five-year-old English Cocker Spaniel. And we are playing in disc. We are playing newly in dock diving and I'd like to do some agility and some obedience with Huey eventually, once we've actually got some skills on board. So that's me and that's my crew.

Teri Martin: Hmm. Sara?

Sara Brueske: Yeah. Hi, I am Sarah Breuske and I am teaching this session. I'm teaching this Disc Dog - Strategies for Strategy Games. So that is Up Dog, but in particular the Sky Hounds, this dog games and the UP dog challenge games. And so that's what we'll be focusing on in this conversation with my current crew.

I have a whole bunch of retired performing dogs that I performed with professionally in Frisbee, dock diving and agility for many years. But my current active in training and competing crew, I have two young Australian Koolies. So I have Vibrant who is two and a half years old and Cake who is one years old. And then I have my Malinois Kreature who is six and my little Papillon who is just nine months old.

And so they're all doing well. Kreature only does Mondioring right now and dock diving, but the rest of 'em are doing disc dog, they're doing agility, nosework, some obedience foundations, not quite ready to trial or anything like that. It's definitely not one of our main focuses right now. But dock diving, pretty much any of those, those crazy fun sports, that's what we're doing. It Always catches me when you say you're Malinois Kreature. 'cause I always think your mind Kreature is a descriptor instead of his name. And then I remember his name.

Sara Brueske: Well. I think it actually works as both. He is pretty much just a creature.

Teri Martin: And Hélène, please.

Hélène Lawler: Hi, my name is Hélène Lawler and I'm here to talk about my herding flat work class. But I am, see, I have, I have a, also quite a, a spectrum of dogs in my house. They are a range of Border Collies, essentially from about a year old through my oldest is 10. And then I have an Australian working kelpie who's almost 13 now. And she's pretty much retired from everything and a couple of livestock guardian dogs.

And I have done a variety of sports over the years ranging from agility and sent work and search and rescue and a little bit of bitey sports for fun. Not nothing serious with that and tricks and all that, but my main thing is herding and has been herding for many, many years now. I've been doing it for I think at least 18 years.

And right now it's the only thing that I'm doing other than just fitness and having fun with my dog. I love to hike with them. So I am currently training all of my Border Collies in herding and I have a range from dogs that I'm literally just starting. They like, I've got a couple that have been out their very first time this week through not quite trained to fully to open at the point.

I have one dog who's getting pretty close to that. I have in the past that right now that that's my range. So I've got a big spectrum and we're spending a lot of time getting foundations into the youngsters is my focus right now.

Teri Martin: All righty. Let's start off with talking about the sports that you do and tell me about your favorite thing is about all of them, about the sport. Sara, you wanna start us off?

Sara Brueske: Yeah, so disc dog we're talking about today definitely is one of my favorite sports just because it can be so beginner friendly, especially if you're in like the UP dog challenge organization. So with that, they really focus on personal best as well as like overall achievement. So you can go out there as a complete newbie, go to your very first comp and walk away with something. And it's a really cool way to go about this dog in a non-traditional way. Traditionally there was just two games, there was toss and fetch, so that's your traditional back and forth. I throw the Frisbee, the dog brings it back, I throw it again, and then there's freestyle. And so both of those can be really difficult as newcomers.

So you have to be able to throw far and straight for toss and fetch and then you have to be pretty creative with some advanced tricks to be successful and freestyle. And so the strategy games with my class this session is really focusing on are all the other extra games that have kind of come about in the last, you know, 10 ish so years through UP Dog Challenge and Sky Hounds, and Discathon. So what these games do is they kind of break down disc dog into different flat work elements and then have different games that are having those elements at the centerpiece. So you have games like you have to get catches in certain squares, four-way play in UP Dog challenge for example. You have to get a catch in all four corners and then you repeat that.

So you go back and forth all the way around the square and get a catch each time and then you can repeat that and it's just the number of catches you get in those squares. And then like the sky hounds disc docathon, they have one game that's a two disc game, it's called Bullseye. And so you stand in the center of the circle and you throw back and forth basically getting as many catches outside the outer ring as you possibly can.

And so both of those games and all of the other games that are involved with these more strategy type focus, they really allow new people to come into the sport and have success because yeah, maybe their dog can't play with just one Frisbee for toss and fetch in the traditional way, but may they're gonna be really good at a multi disc game, like four-way play or bullseye.

And then I also like that they allow different things like rollers, which other traditional disc dog games don't allow. And so that's just where you roll the disc along the ground so you can bring your young puppy out and play with them in a competition type setting and be successful gain points and achievements and everything along those lines and get your dog some really good competition exposure, which a lot of other sports don't really allow. So it's super safe because the disc is staying on the ground, your dog's not gonna be doing any jumping or anything like that and your dog gets to play with their favorite thing, which is a disc in most cases for our disc dogs. And so it's a really nice way to expose 'em to that setting. So lots of really good reasons to play disc with your dogs, especially if they're toy driven. But I could sit here for an entire hour and talk about all that, so I'll move on.

Teri Martin: That is definitely a sport my dogs are very much interested in. I have to have my throwing skills though. I like the idea of the rollers.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, the rollers are definitely a lot easier. Some people say they're trickier, but once you get the hang of 'em they're, they're a little bit easier than the throws.

Teri Martin: All right. Hélène, do you wanna tell us about your sport? Sure. So herding is my sport. Like I said, right now it's the only thing that I am doing and I love it. There are a lot of reasons why I love it. The one of the things I love the most about herding is that you're working with your dog's instincts and innate knowledge. Your dog actually comes to the table. If it's, if it's a working breed dog, it's gonna come to the, it's gonna come to the partnership knowing more than you do.

So you learn a lot from your dog and it really is a partnership of kind of figuring out together how to accomplish a task that you've set out and which is moving the sheep around or the livestock that you're working with. So I absolutely love the level of partnership that you develop through this work. And it's just something really special about working with a dog in instinct.

And it's not, that's not just it, you know, exclusive to herding. I think like a lot of scent work and stuff like that is also, but this is, this is my, my avenue and I just love working with a dog's natural instinct. So that's a really big reason I love working, doing this kind of training. A couple other things that I love about it is the way that it grows your dog's confidence. When your dog learns how to handle livestock, that level of like kind of self-confidence and, and, and just knowledge that they can control something in the world that feels right translates to a lot more confidence in the world in general. I see this all the time when that light comes on and the dog starts to work and they start to actually be able to really handle themselves out there, they walk around in the world in general with just a little more spring in their staff, a little more confidence in their ability. It's one of the reasons why you'll see a lot of, like a lot of dogs that have a lot of training on them are they that just ripples out across their, across their ability to do a lot of things in life.

So I love that as well. And it does great things for their arousal levels. They can, again, 'cause they have to manage their arousal so carefully within the work and that tends to create a much more kind of robust ability to manage themselves in general. And then the other thing that I absolutely love about herding is that it is a lifelong journey.

It is something that you can do. I've been doing it for, I think it's been probably think about 18 years. And I still feel, and, and I mean this in a positive way, I still feel like a newbie every time I step out there. There's always more to learn, there's always more to grow. And I know this is true for any, any activity that is complex with our dogs, but, but I do really love how there is no limit, there is no kind of end to reach. It's just always growing and there's always more and in, in a really great exciting way, not in a, oh my god, it's overwhelming kind of way.

Teri Martin: Sounds very cool, Melissa?

Melissa Breau: Yeah, so I think Treibball's probably the sport out of our three topics here that most people haven't seen. I think people have a rough idea what herding maybe looks like and what just maybe looks like. So Treibball got its start roughly a little over a decade ago in Germany. The name itself actually means push ball and that kinda gives you a little bit of an idea what the game is all about.

It's often kind of called urban herding or ball herding. And while it does have some things in common with herding, it's really more of a cross between like billiards or pool and soccer. The basic idea is you have like a number of balls on the field, so they're rubber balls filled with air. Think like a yoga ball or a Pilates ball or something kinda like that.

And you're queuing your dog to bring that ball into the goal. So that's kind of the basically idea kind of what the game is. But what I really like about it and what's kind of cool about the sport is that it's a fairly active movement based sport without the impact on our dogs and their bodies that a lot of other sports kind of require with jumping and contact equipment and stuff like that, that makes it really great for younger sports dogs who maybe aren't quite ready for some of that stuff or for dogs that have retired from other sports because they do need to kind of step it back a little bit physically. It really encourages a lot of learning to focus under arousal for those younger dogs tends to kind of teach some distance and some listening skills off lead and kind of working even when if a dog tends to work high, it tends, it tends to teach them how to kinda work through that or even when they're feeling a little high. And for dogs that tend to work a little lower, you know, it helps us, we can use it to help kind of build that confidence and teach them those skills to really still play the game and to feel good about what they're doing. So that's Treibball in a nutshell.

Teri Martin: Fun. Okay, so next question is, is there anything controversial about your sport and the historical training philosophies and how do you handle those positive reinforcement type trainers?.

Hélène Lawler: Right, yes, there was, there's plenty of controversial material around herding, even just calling it a sport is potentially controversial. Herding evolved from actual work and predates the positive reinforcement world by probably a few hundred years if not millennia. So it's been around for a very, very long time. And today I would say we absolutely do it for sport. There are people who absolutely do it just for work and then there are people who do it for both. So by sport I mean for competition purposes and we try very hard to maintain the integrity of the work in the competition.

So there's that mental state of like, this is, this has worked, this is serious, although we are dealing with three species not two. And so we have to always keep in mind the safety of everybody involved and the sheep did not sign up for this or the, or the livestock in general that we're working with. So, so there's al there are always ethical issues to be considered around working with, with doing, herding, with, with livestock ethical issues about how we handle our dogs who have very strong drives a lot of desires and can potentially harm the, the, the livestock if they, if they don't learn how to control themselves. So how do we manage that while, you know, maintaining a philosophy of positive reinforcement with our dogs, knowing that it's not even possible for the sheep because the sheep move away from pressure, but for the sheep it's always gonna be a an r minus plus situation, right? So we add the dog, which is adding something that is punishing to the sheep. They don't wanna stay still, they wanna move off, they move off and they get reinforced for moving away. That's our negative. So we are always operating in the other quadrants, which makes it much more complicated to try and like how do we address this from a positive reinforcement perspective? And this is something that I struggle with a lot and I've thought about it a lot for a long time. I can, and so I'm, I offer my solutions or my, my, I don't know if solutions solution's the right word, but my how, how I approach it and I approach it by trying my very best to use the emotional state of the animals as a guide rather than worrying about quadrants specifically. So I want to understand what it look like when my dog is in a learning confident state versus whether my dog starts to be anxious. I also wanna understand what that's all about for the sheep too and do my very best to maintain to the best of my ability, which is not always possible. 'Cause there's a lot you can't control and a lot of stuff that goes out of control very quickly often and then learn having just so, so we wanna, we wanna have things set up to maximize success and then get back to a successful state as quickly as possible when we, when we do cross that line, which just inevitably does happen and then are a lot of ways we can do that.

And that's one of, that's one of the big focuses of my, my class that I'm teaching is to teach these foundations and to teach the understanding of how to do herding in a way that is, as you know, as much in keeping as we can be with a positive reinforcement based approach. Again in terms of keeping the animals from experiencing fear, from experiencing distress and keeping them out of a sort of a fight flight response.

Although it's always the flight response for the sheep, right? So we can't, we end up and it's a fight response for the dog, they're moving in. So it is really complicated. So, how well, how do we walk that line? And so what I teach in my class is the foundations and we can do a lot of flat work foundations away from livestock to really help build our dogs' mental state, their understanding and keep and help them develop an arousal state that keeps them as steady as possible. We also need to work on ourselves and keep ourselves in, in a, in a calm thinking state of mind as much as possible. And then we can take those foundations to the very dynamic situation of working with, with active livestock and that really helps keep things in a more common controlled place or get back to it if we, if we kind of things get a little, go a little south, like I said, which happens. Something I also just wanted to mention is that even though the positive reinforcement approaches to training, the way we talk about it, the way we talk about, you know, R plus herding and so on is quite new. If you look at a really good handler, they're using the same strategies. They also do not want anybody experiencing negativity. They wanna protect the sheep, they want to protect their dog's confidence and they do an incredible job. If you watch a really, really skilled handler, whether they are completely traditional, they, they will, they will use, you know Premack is, it's everything is PreMack in herding, which is all reinforcement using what the animal wants the most, right? Which is to keep working. So there's actually, if you look at it that way, there's already a lot of positive reinforcement based approach built right into herding when done well. It's not always done well but when it is done well it can very much be that way.

Teri Martin: I love that. Last thought with the premack Melissa, what are your thoughts?

Melissa Breau: Man, that's a hard one to follow there Hélène. It's a well thought out response about a complicated topic in Treibball. I don't know that there's really a whole lot here in terms of controversy. All of the trainers I've worked with in the sport kind of approach things from a positive training perspective.

So while there are definitely different approaches or different perspectives on like the best way to train the individual skills that you need for the game, there's not really anything controversial about them. Maybe the most controversial piece is kind of like whether or not it makes sense to use herding cues in a tribal context. Some people really feel strongly that we should not kind of cross that line, that those are herding based cues and they shouldn't be used for this game. But while I understand where folks are coming from, ultimately I think the dog doesn't care as long as you're consistent. So choose the cues that work for you as a handler that you'll be able to remember that you'll be able to use and the dogs really don't care about that piece. So not too much on the positive and negative standpoint for Treibball.

Teri Martin: Is it a sport Melissa that uses a lot of food for training or do you use a lot of toys in your training?

Melissa Breau: You obviously have the herding type dogs but I'm sure it also appeals to a broader spectrum of breed owners. So you can certainly use both.

I use both in the class. It's easiest to approach if you have at least a little bit of food drive kind of getting started just for like the initial foundation skills. They're much easier to teach with food than with toys, but it's certainly possible to do either way. And we've worked with dogs in class that have, you know, kind of had a strong preference one way or the other that said, I don't know that it's necessarily a requirement to have one or the other.

Teri Martin: Alright. And Sara, your thoughts?

Sara Brueske: Yeah, so because we're using basically the dog's reinforcement in this dog constantly, that's all they're doing is getting their reinforcer, getting their reinforcer over and over again in various ways. Typically it's mostly r plus training. You just help your dog learn how to get the reward and kind of work on it that way.

The thing that is a little bit more controversial, I wouldn't even say controversial, but just kinda the trend that we are seeing in the next last couple of years is that people are breaking down the exercises or the behaviors that are looking for specifically like in freestyle with food first teaching it with food and then transferring it to a toy. In the past, traditionally you just put the disc where you want it and what will get the behavior and the dog will do it, do the behavior to get the disc. So for instance, if you're trying to train something like a vault where the dog jumps off of your body to catch the disc, you would just arrange your body in a way, put your dog on the other side of your body, put the disc on the the opposite side and have your dog jump onto your body to get it.

And like that would be the way of teaching it. But now last few years we've started breaking it down, teaching the ideas with food first and then working on striding, making sure dogs are collecting before the jump, making sure they're understanding the full criteria of we want all four paws touching and then pushing out from the rear all of that stuff before just doing the behavior.

And so that part has really changed in the last few years from the more traditional base training that this dog has always been. But other than that, nothing really controversial, nothing really outstanding. It's all r plus when your dog is getting the thing they love. So Imagine sometimes people must struggle with their dogs wanting the reinforcer too much in disc. Yeah, absolutely. And so that's where we again try to break things down a little bit, whether we're going to food to get it or we're watching for that calm start behavior and making sure we're putting everything on cue. So that's really the aspect that's really changed in the last few years is that even the more traditional trainers in this sport are seeing that and, and they're learning how to capture those moments of calm and making sure that they're present, presenting the disc correctly for what they're wanting and they're using marker words and that sort of thing to help the dogs be successful.

Teri Martin: All right, next question. What are your thoughts on doing multiple sports with your dog? What kind of benefits and conflicts do you experience by not just focusing on one main sport? And Melissa, we're gonna start off with you.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, so I'm not, I don't currently have a dog competing in Treibball, which is kind of hard. But when I was competing in Triebball Ri who has since passed away was really only competing in Treibball. She was reactive and it was one of few sports where I felt like we were welcomed as a team despite the fact that she was fairly dog reactive and I could successfully compete with her even at in-person events because there was an expectation of everybody managing their own dog.

And the setups were really kind of friendly for that and it was just, it was a sport that we felt we could be successful in. That said, we did dabble in a lot of other sports, we played in obedience skills and she had quite a bit of rally skills there. Towards the end we were getting close to being able to do some rally competitions as we worked on some of the reactivity stuff and that part started coming together.

But my current crew does all sorts of things and I think, you know, there are lots of advantages to playing in multiple sports there. You know, the more things that you teach your dog, the more skills they learn, the better your communication skills become as a team and the stronger I think the relationship between you and your dog kind of becomes.

That said, it definitely makes goal setting more difficult and kind of figuring out what to train when and how much more complicated. But I'm sure both Sarah and Hélène have more thoughts on that kind of based on some of the stuff that they both do. So.

Teri Martin: All right, Sara, your thoughts?

Sara Breuske: Yeah, so I'm a huge, huge advocate for cross training. Do all the sports you can with your dogs because like Melissa said, the more you develop that line of communication, the more you generalize your communication and your cues to different things, the better and stronger your relationship will be with your dog. And the more that you guys will work kind of as a cohesive team, just like when you take like your down stay and you generalize it to all sorts of different areas, different environments, different distractions, it becomes a stronger behavior overall. Same thing I think with our communication systems as a whole, you might not be doing the same exact behaviors, but the way that you communicate with your dog, the markers that you're using, the session cues that you're using, all of that stuff that is consistent from one sport to the other all just become stronger and stronger each time you generalize it to something new.

But like Melissa said, goal setting is really hard. I do tend to go back and forth between one sport to another. Right now agility is my main focus and I had a goal of getting a freestyle routine done with Vibrant by the end of the year. And I don't think I would meet that goal because again, agility just keeps pulling me back again and again.

And so it's harder to get those goals if you are focusing on multiple sports at the same time. Especially something that needs a little bit more involved focus like agility might for Disc Dog though again that's one of the huge benefits. Like you can play the sport, you can be active in the sport and get just as involved as you want so you don't have to spend all that really crazy amount of time building a full freestyle routine or anything like that.

If you don't have the time for it, you can just go play those strategy games again and play the sport, achieve things, get your titles, get whatever you wanna do without investing a whole bunch of time. So that's another really cool benefit of this sport is that you don't have to be so incredibly dedicated to it. And once you have the general foundation, you can go out there and be successful in a lot of different areas with it.

Hélène Lawler: Right. Well I think there are pluses and minus or pros and cons to doing multiple sports or just doing herding. And as I mentioned, I am only doing herding now and the reason I'm only doing herding is because I have some pretty big goals for what I wanna achieve.

You know, I'm looking to get to be a national or international level competitor and this is a sport or an activity, whatever you wanna call it, that is very challenging and does require a lot of dedication and practice. And if you also work full-time and run a farm like I do, there's only so many hours in the day and I do really wanna, you know, I'm really focused on making significant progress in my training. So I am just doing nothing but herding. That said, I do also think that cross-training is a fantastic idea. I think that it gives nice balance to the dog. I think it's really good for building, herding is hard, very, very hard. And sometimes doing something that gives us a quick win is really great for keeping us in a positive, you know, confident state of mind. When I first started doing herding, I also was doing agility and I did both equally for a number of years. Mind I only had like one or two dogs to train with and I, I had, I found that I did really well in agility and that gave me the confidence that I was like, hey, I can actually, you know, I know which end of the dog is which, and you know how to, how to get, how to get some successful results. And then that sort of carried my confidence when I was doing, you know, the herding, which especially when you're first getting started, it's one of these, it's a sport that it's like at the start it's hard to get those quick wins.

The wins come later. And so you, yeah, you kind of have to be willing to go through the mud for a while before things start to click a lot of the time. So doing other activities with your dog that you, that you have those wins that you have that success with, I think goes a long way towards keeping you positive and, and feeling really good about what you're doing in doing in your relationship with your dog. So there's that. And so, and, and then just general, you know, like the all, all the things, it's just fun to do other lots of things with your dog. So the other thing I'll say is that a lot of people don't have their own livestock or maybe they do, but they don't have a a a nearby coach and you can't get out and work with somebody regularly or maybe you can only get out once a week or maybe your budget only permits that you go so often 'cause it's also not a cheap sport. And so in that case then it absolutely, it's, you know, do what you can with your dog and then progress as you're able that if you can't regular trained regularly, I mean your ideal would be you train five days a week, five to six days a week, you work with your dog usually two to three times a day, right? Like, we need a job or doing anything else. But if you, you know that that's really not possible for most people. So we do what we can. And so if that's, if you're, if you don't have your own livestock and you can only get to, I know people who do herding, they can only get out once every two or three months for lessons that will slow down your progress. But that's okay, you still make progress and that's totally fine and then you spend the rest of your time doing other things. So I think the answer really depends on the, the unique team we're talking about what works best for them. And the one, the one thing I will say however is that if you're doing herding and you wanna do other sports as well, the, it's really critical to be mindful of arousal because there are a lot of dog sports that create a lot of arousal and a lot of kind of, a lot of high energy behavior and that's really encouraged and it's built into the training and we can't have that on. She, it's gonna start causing you some problems. And I've certainly absolutely seen that with people who come to me from dogs that, you know, from, from the sport world who then wanna do herding. It's not necessarily a problem of the sport, but how it's trained. So you wanna just be mindful with your training that you're not using a lot of arousal, you don't want your dog like totally wired all the time and then coming to sheep and then you're asking them to like not be that way. That will be something that then you have to work to overcome and set some patterns that are a little bit more difficult.

So, and that's also something that we talk a lot about in my program, sorry, my program and my course, my class, the foundation flat work class is how to, you know, do this training without excess arousal so that your dog stays in that optimal, optimal arousal mental state that then can be transferred nicely from sports to sports. I also always think of the herding flat work skills is really excellent life skills for dogs.

Teri Martin: Like you wanna hike with the whole dropping at a distance go this direction, that direction I think would be so, so useful in that sort of environment.

Hélène Lawler: Absolutely. And even just premack, 'cause I, like, I started off like I premack everything and then learned about food and toys. So I'm really good at training with like whatever is around. So if you're out hiking and you see, you know, you can train with squirrels, you can train with like a pond, you can train with leaves, you can train with like whatever. You just start to get really, really good at knowing, noticing what your dog enjoys and then you learning how to just build that into your training so that you're not, you know, in case you're caught without food or toys. So yeah, there's, there's a lot that, that really nicely to just general life skills.

Teri Martin: All right, next question. What sort of fitness requirements does your sport have and what do you do to support that? And we're gonna start that one with Sara.

Sara Breuske: Yeah, so it, there's a lot. So just dog is kind of notoriously known for being hard on dogs' bodies and so we do wanna make sure our dogs are not overweight, that they're physically fit, that they're regularly seeing a sports vet or a chiropractor or whatever support they need to maintain a nice healthy structure and body and to help prevent injuries. But the biggest thing that I do to help support, other than making sure that my dogs are cross training, doing their fitness stuff, you know, all of that, they, I do a lot of swimming, hill work, everything else to keep them nice and fit as well, but it's work on my throwing. So throwing is everything. If you put that disc in the right spot, then it should be safe for your dog. However, throwing is hard and it is a skill that you need to practice away from your dog, especially at first when you're getting into that sport.

So if you think again about a behavior that we're teaching our dogs to do, we wanna teach that behavior in a nice calm setting where they're able to think and process what they're doing, especially if it's a difficult body movement like heeling or something along those lines. And so same thing with your throwing, we don't want to practice it with the distraction of your dog present and that pushiness of your dog present because then what will happen is you'll be thinking about your dog and not exactly what you're doing with your body or like what your arm is doing or how you're holding that Frisbee.

And so I always recommend that people go out and practice throwing, grab as many frisbees as you have, go out and throw back and forth across the field or grab a human partner and go practice throwing with them as well. It is the biggest, most important thing you can do to keep your dog injury free in the sport.

Hélène Lawler: Herding definitely requires fitness for the dogs and to varying degrees for the handler, for the dogs we have, of course if you're doing big field trials, which is like Border Collie style herding your dog needs a lot of cardio and needs to be able to do like, you know, run out at the top level, do like an 800 yard run outrun sometimes twice and bring the sheep back and a lot of stamina and a, you know, they, the longer runs are 30, 25 to 30 minutes long of, of nonstop work. So your dogs really have to be very, very fit to be at that level now for, you know, if you're doing arena work, close work, they don't need to have that, you know, quite that level of intensity and cardio and endurance.

A lot of the, you know, the novice levels, the runs are five minutes long so you, you know, you don't have to have quite that level of endurance but it's, it's still a very physically active sport. You really want a dog who can move well because they have to change directions a lot. So there's a lot of like going back and forth and sharp turns and, and so on. So you wanna make sure that your dog's joints are protected through a good fitness program and they don't re they don't require a lot of jumping, which is good. So like all, all four feet on the ground. And so in that sense it's not necessarily a lot of wear and tear, which is good, but, and so what I generally do with my dogs is I do a lot of, I just do a lot of hiking to keep them fit. But, but there's definitely more, but generally speaking you just wanna make sure that your dog has good cardio and good general fitness and that that comes through the work. A lot of, if you do a lot of training,

it will, the dog will become fit during the training for the handler, it really depends on where you're at. Right now I don't need a gym membership because I'm training a handful of young dogs and let me tell you like my fitness tracker shows me how much training that I'm doing. I'll get, I'll come in with, you know, 18,000 steps after, you know, a training session with, like high activity. I am running hard, hard, hard. But, but that's, that's probably not where most people are at. And if you are starting a, if you have a dog, once they're trained you can actually do everything without having to move at all. So it's actually a sport that you can, you can do well into. I've seen people in their eighties and nineties with mobility issues, you may need to buy a trained dog or pay someone to train your dog to get them up and running. But once the dog is trained you can actually do, you can do, you know, a lot of the work or even all of it and you certainly can compete without having to do a lot of physical activity at the human end of the leash.

So in in that respect it does offer a lot of, of, of flexibility and it's a, and I love it 'cause it's a sport, like I said, I can see me doing this, you know, till I'm, you know, 90 years old and people are do so, so yeah, so that's, that's the fitness end to think.

Teri Martin: Melissa?

Melissa Breau: So kind of very different from herding or disc that's fairly low impact your dog should kind of be able to move their body freely and comfortably off lead.

So like if you have a dog that is currently rehabbing a physical injury, you probably wanna wait till they're finished rehabbing to get started. Although there are some intro level skills, they could probably even start on somewhat restricted activity. It just kind of depends on what, what their restrictions are. But as long as they can kind of move their body freely and comfortably off lead run for a short distance, we're usually talking definitely not they kind of distance I was talking about for hurting 55 B, you know, somewhere, somewhere around there. As long as they can move fairly confident, fairly quickly out from you and back to you, they'll be in good shape. If you've got a dog who is capable of kind of playing fetch or something like that, like it's roughly the same level of activity a little bit potentially easier on their body.

'cause there's no hitting the object when the object hits the ground fast and hard. So for the dog it's relatively low impact for the handlers. I think during the training phase there's a little bit of getting up and down just to be able to place your reward correctly and things like that. But I wouldn't say it requires a high degree of fitness on the handler's part either.

We try really hard in the class to approach it in a way that also does not restrict success to handlers having excellent timing if that makes sense. I think the approach that we focus on for all of our intro level skills is really dependent on the dogs kind of creating their own positive consequence. And as a result even people who are relatively new to training or who don't have a lot of training experience can be quite successful with their dogs teaching the skills.

I'm sure somebody out there who plays triebball is gonna tell me that there are some fitness specific skills that I ought to be recommending people work on. You're welcome to correct me and shoot me a message and let me know. But in my experience the dogs usually don't need anything too specific or high impact for the sport.

Teri Martin: I'm curious, do dogs tend to use their nose, their head or their body to push the ball? Any of those?

Melissa Breau: The only thing they're not supposed to use is their teeth and the bottoms of their feet for potentially obvious reasons, teeth and nails can pop balls, right? So most of the time we try to train dogs to push with the front of their face and their nose. But Riley for example, used to really like to push with her shoulders and her chest and that's totally acceptable. The backs of the legs are, or the fronts of legs, depending on how you're looking at it, are also totally acceptable. We just don't really want the dog jumping up on the balls. 'cause again, that presents a safety concern or using their teeth on the ball because we don't really want the ball to pop.

Teri Martin: All right, next up, what is the hardest human related skill for your sport and Sara up first, but I think you've almost already answered this one, but I'm sure you have further thoughts.

Sara Brueske: Yeah, so throwing obviously, but I think it's also just breaking down the behaviors. I think that sometimes people don't appreciate how much help the dog might need with getting the behaviors that they want outta the dog and they just kind of assume, well I'm throwing the Frisbee over here, they should go get it. Or the delivered a hand, for example, is a trickier skill. And so really knowing how to break those down, training them with food first and then introducing the disc and the higher arousal to it, that can be really difficult for, for people to, to actually commit to that type of training for it just because you can get away with being successful in sport without those skills. And so a lot of people just wanna kind of go and compete and have fun with their dogs and win things and then they get a little frustrated when the dog doesn't bring the Frisbee all the way back, for example. So besides the obvious throwing, being the hardest human skill, knowing when and how to break down the behaviors can be a little bit tricky as well.

Hélène Lawler: I would say mindset is the hardest human skill in herding. There's, you know, there's a lot of understanding and knowledge and timing and all of that, but you've gotta keep your arousal in check because then you, if you wanna have that good timing, if you wanna be able to follow what's going on, if you wanna be able to respond instead of react, if you wanna be able to remember what you know, you need to have your brain in a calm thinking state. And so learning to manage your brain, manage your thoughts, your mind around what's going on is the, I would say the most important skill and the hardest one because we are very prone to come up with all sorts of catastrophizing when, especially when things go wrong and we start to blame ourselves, we blame our dogs, we question if our dogs have enough talent, we question if we have, we're ever gonna learn. As I said earlier, it's hard to get those early wins when you first get starting out.

It's very, there's a lot of information coming at you, there's a lot of moving parts all at once. This is one of the reasons again, that I love teaching and why I created my flat work foundation class is because I try to get some of the, I try to do some help people split out what they're learning so we, you can stay in a calm thinking, learning state of mind as you assimilate the information rather than like how I learned, which was like my, you know, I just got put out in a field with a dog and sheep, which is how most people learn and, and you know, a green dog, green handler. It was, it was, it was a lot. And I personally experienced a lot of stress, distress, anxiety and a lot of negative emotions. And so it doesn't have to be that way. And so I think if we can integrate right from the start learning what to expect of the journey, what to expect, what's normal, and how to manage our thoughts and manage our mindset so that we can stay in that calmer thinking state or get back to it.

We don't always stay there. I still get, I still 18 years later, trust me, I still get out there and go into a state of over arousal and start catastrophizing. But I'm, I'm pretty good now at spotting when I have, when that's happening and bringing myself back to neutral and grounded, you know, on the spot and keep going rather than like, you know, two weeks later, which is what used to happen to me. So yeah, so that would be, I think, the most challenging skill and that's something that works, that is that, you know, that skill is applicable for, you know, it's a life skill as well. So it's really handy to develop.

Teri Martin: And Melissa.

Melissa Breau: so in Treibball, I think probably the most difficult handler skill is, as with most new sports, just learning the rules and then applying them to yourself in training. We often do things that then when we reach the competition level are suddenly things that might un-"q" us. So for example, you are supposed to, as a handler during competition stay in the goal area. If you step over that, that depending on your level, there are various things that can happen, right? But you're supposed to stay in the goal area. And during training it's very common. We're in and out, we're back, we're forth, we're supporting our dog, we're helping our dog kind of learn the concept. So you've built the habit in yourself that you're allowed to kind of go where you need to go.

And while I will be the first person to say, if your dog needs your support, forget the rules, do what you need to do to support your dog in that environment. Been there, done that. I think just kind of reaching that mindset and teaching ourselves that we don't accidentally tiptoe over the line, just that two inches and, and accidentally un-"Q" ourselves is a big deal.

So, kind of learning the rules, getting yourself to actually understand them so you can maintain them in competition and then not over managing during training. So like I said, I, I've the way, at least the way I teach the sport, I've really tried to set it up so that the dog kind of creates their own positive consequences early on in the game.

So the dog is learning based on your setup and based on the way that you manage the environment more so than necessarily based on your timing or your reinforcement skills. And a lot of the time I see trainers, especially through FDSA who are amazingly good trainers and occasionally they wanna overthink it a little bit. They want to click for push for example.

And a lot of the times if we teach pushing a ball by clicking for each individual push, now we create a pattern where the dog pushes the ball once stops and expects reinforcement versus right from the beginning setting up our system in a way where the dog is pushing multiple times right from the start to continue to receive reinforcement. So there are just things that we can do to set ourselves and our dog up for success that are maybe easier than people consider when they're first getting started and things that we can do to train smarter instead of harder that I think sometimes handlers struggle with a little bit.

And the third thing that I would say if I'm allowed three that's kind of hard for handlers is getting out beyond their immediate space to train for the sport. So a lot of the times people don't have the space on their own property to compete. So they may not have enough land or enough space to set up a full, full regulation level competition space for video titling or what have you.

And so they need to use some other place right to, to do that piece of things. And if your dog is never trained in that other space or never done those skills in another space, that can be really hard for the dog. So just kind of keeping that in mind, while a lot of the foundation skills can absolutely be taught in a smaller space, you can absolutely teach a lot of the intro-level stuff in your living room or in your backyard, even if it's relatively small. Ultimately you will at some point need to actually take your dog in practice in a larger space so that they can compete and meet criteria for a competition level run in that larger space.

Teri Martin: Those rules will get us every time, won't they?

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Teri martin: Alright, so gonna wrap this up like here, if you guys have any final thoughts you wanna talk about for the sports and then also just tell us a little bit about your class and what students can expect in that. Melissa, do you wanna start us off on that one?

Melissa Breau: Sure. So the Treibball class is a little different than most of the classes at FDSA. It is both an intro level class and a problem solving class. And when I say that, what I mean is you can take it if you have some experience in the sport and you just have run into an issue that you would like some coaching on or some help with or if you're totally new to the sport. And because it serves kind of that dual purpose.

I actually released all the lectures on the first day of class. So the first day of class has already happened. All the lectures are currently published and live in the class. So if somebody was to sign up, you can go through, you can figure out where it makes sense for you to start based on your dog's existing skills and kind of pick things up there.

And then we really focus on kind of working with you and your dog at your dog's speed to move through them in the order that makes the most sense. So somebody may have started with a different Treibball training program or there's some books out there and some DVDs out there. And if you've had those things and kind of gotten started on your own, that's totally fine.

You can come in and we'll work with you where kind of wherever you're at you can kind of pick the right skillset to work on, which I think is a little bit different. So students can kind of expect that they can expect to really work within their own, their dog's own speed. And that said, I think it's totally possible for many sports training savvy dogs to be novice level competition ready in six to eight weeks. So you can actually do a lot by the time that you finish the class.

Teri Martin: Sara?

Sara Brueske: Yeah, so the Disc Dog Strategy class, we kind of take a close look each week. We focus on a different, one of the strategy games. So we look at one of the HON games and one of the UP dog games each week. Generally they're games that share the same skills.

And then I also provide foundation exercises and flat work to go along with those class, those games. I also provide my strategy for those games, so how I play the game to get as many points as I possibly can so that hopefully my dogs can be competitive at the international finals when we get there for those games. So yeah, it's kind of a breakdown of the different skills.

That's kind of the main focus is what are the skills needed for these games. And then I pick a couple of the games that use those skills and how you'd use 'em for the strategy in that game itself. I do have some beginners taking it, so they're working on more simple things just because the OG classes aren't super popular, it's not a huge sport or anything like that.

And so I always welcome newbies to join in in this class, even if you're not ready for the strategy game part of it yet. Hopefully by the end of class you are able to start working on more of those flat work exercises. So if you are interested in disc dog, take the class anyway and we'll go from there. So I, it's interesting to note that it's not just all about the games, these are skills that just translate to just being with your dog and disc as well, right? Yeah, absolutely. The ThoughtWorks skills really focus on communication with your dog as well as timing and placement of throws and just the different skills that your dog will need to have, like dropping at a distance versus bringing the hand and that sort of thing.

Teri Martin: Cool.

Hélène Lawler: Okay. Iso I created this, my foundation flatwork class designed specifically for people who don't have live access to livestock or regular access to livestock. That said, we actually have always have traditionally, and in this time again, a, a range of people total newbies to people who are working, to people who working their dogs, to people who have their own, their own livestock. And so, so the class is also a little bit of a mix and you know, just like the other two classes, it's not, it's not a, the numbers aren't vague for people who who take this class. So I also try to be flexible and support people wherever they're at. And so we've got the class divided into two components.

We have the foundation flatwork skills, the skill work, which are the dog training skills. And they are actually pretty straightforward and simple basic skills. And they're actually training skills that, or sorry, sport skills that you can use across the board. So a lot of, you know, like Terri you were saying earlier, the distance down, like how to get down so your, you know, get your dog to drop on a down while it's like at a distance looking away from you, but also other, you know, going around cones and we, we have other, other basic skills that are, are really useful in everyday life. And then other sports as well. So that's the flat work skill part of the equation. And I started herding without my own sheep living in an apartment in a city.

So I'm familiar with that. And that's the scenario for a lot of people. So I've designed the class to be able to do the actual dog skills training part. Like 85% of it can be done in your kitchen. You do eventually have to go outside and eventually you do have to go to livestock. But these are foundations you can do without, like, without a lot of space. The other part of the course is concepts and the concepts are much more, you know, we, we, we get really nerdy and dig into the concept, the concepts about training and the concepts about herding. So I try to give a really good understanding of what herding is all about. We just, we, like, the very first lecture that got released yesterday was understanding the herding mind. My, I actually added my whole webinar in as a bonus, this, this time around. 'cause I feel like it's really important to understand conceptually what it's all about. So we get into the concepts of herding the concepts, the fundamental concepts of training, like,

like using Premack. And that's much more, you know, kind of nuanced and in depth. So we got the, the, the straightforward practical skills and then the nerding more con or, or challenging, I would say concepts. And then I work with people where they're at. So there are people who are working on the, the flat work skills, but I also have people who are doing actual, you know, I don't know if you wanna call it wet work, but stock work and sharing videos because they just really want the coaching for that too. So, so we have a real mix and we also have an amazing mix of breeds, which is super fun. It's not all, you know,

I'm a Border Collie person, but we only have I think two Border Collies at gold. We have a Beauceron, we have a German Shepherd, we have many, many American Shepherds we have and, and you know, a nice spectrum. And we have a Dalmatian this time around, which I think is super cool. And, and she's done some really interesting work into understanding her breed and how, what that, what dalmatians bring to herding. And if you're curious it, it's pretty interesting. Come join us.

Teri Martin: Wonderful. Thank you very much to all of you for sharing your thoughts on your sports. They sound really cool. And a reminder to any students that might be the, that registration is open through August 15th for all three of these classes we've talked about today.

And always keep an eye on the other dog sports section of our calendar because we do cover a lot of other special sports as the season. So thanks ladies.

Melissa Breau: Thanks For hosting, Teri.

Thank you. Bye-bye. Thanks for including me.

Teri Martin: 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 Body 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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