E338: Preparing Young Sports Dogs for Competition (Part 2)

Join me, Megan Foster, Stacy Barnett, Barbara Lloyd, and Hélène Lawler for a continuation of our conversation about preparing young sports dogs to compete - including the good, the bad, and the ugly! Note: This episode ran long so we've split it into two parts.


Melissa Breau: Hey guys, just a reminder that this is part two of our episode on preparing young sports dogs for competition. If you haven't listened to part one already, I do recommend you go back and do that 'cause we are picking up in the middle of the conversation here. That said, we're happy to have you and I hope you enjoy.

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. I have Megan Foster, Barbara Lloyd, Hélène Marie Lawler, and Stacy Barnett here with me again to talk about preparing young sports dogs for competition.

And we're gonna jump straight in. So I wanna switch gears a little bit. Guys, you guys echoed this a lot throughout the conversation. You know, a lot of what you know comes from experience and having done it and having been there with lots of dogs and kind of your own learning journey, right? And so I wanna talk about for new handlers for a little bit, you know, a lot of newer handlers have less access to a facility. They have less equipment. They may even have fewer dog handler teams that are friends, right? So they count on for some of that help with training, especially when compared to more experienced competitors. So what options may there be for, you know, training some of these skills, preparing their dogs for those realities of competition that maybe you're less obvious and aren't just, you know, being able to bring a dog along if you're already competing or kinda in those situations already because you have some, you know, kick butt awesome dogs tips, tricks. I'm kinda looking for the full, full spectrum here. So, Stacy, you wanna start us off?

Stacy Barnett: Yeah, absolutely. Because honestly I would say you don't need a training building. You really don't need a training building. In fact, what I love about the sport of nosework is that you can train and prepare basically entirely on your own. You don't need to have, I mean, it's great honestly to have somebody at, you know, when you feel comfortable enough to enter a trial to set some hides for you, that's awesome. But I think you're actually better off knowing where the hides are for 95% of your dog's education leading up to that. So I would say, you know, those things that you know, that you may like, oh, I don't have, you know, a training buddy. I don't have, you know, a place to train.

I don't even have local classes. It's actually okay. And I think you're almost at an advantage because I think sometimes when people get so into the, I'm going to a class mindset and they're working every time in the same location, what happens is that the dogs get very comfortable in that location. And you know what, the airflow in a training building is gonna be very different than the airflow that you're going to encounter everywhere. It's gonna, and they're gonna get in there and they're gonna get used to that airflow. It's kind of like if you only ever train in your house, your dogs get really used to the airflow in your house and it can impact their ability to problem solve away from home.

So I would say there's a lot of things that you can do to help yourself to be successful, being new and getting ready for that first trial. Other, well, first of all, videotape, I'm gonna just put this out there. Videotape all of your searches because you're gonna learn the most by watching your video back and paying attention to your dog's changes of behavior prior to getting to that hide.

And this way, I mean, even if it's a GoPro and you're not even videotaping yourself, although it's really great if you can also get your yourself, have a, have a tripod or something so you can pay attention to your handling. But just even be learning how to read your dog. It's an amazing tool. It's an absolutely amazing tool. The other thing is challenge yourself to search.

And I'm gonna put out a number and I don't, this isn't, I'm just kind of throwing this number out. Let's say 80% of your training searches should be in locations that your dog has never searched before. Now, that may seem really high, but there's a way that you can do this even if you have a dog that's not supremely confident and which first, okay, so I'm gonna back up for a second.

Confidence is number one. So we were talking a lot in our previous questions about like what we would do with young puppies and stuff and well, you know what, I, last couple puppies I got, they came from working lines, they came confident. I can tell you they came confident. I picked them for environmental stability before I brought them home. You may not have that, right? So what I would say is look at confidence and your best way of assessing your dog's confidence is assessing your dog's motivation. 'Cause what happens is when confidence starts to dip, you start to see a dip in motivation.

'Cause those two things kind of work together. And when that confidence dips, you see it in the motivation. So if you are training and you see a dip in your dog's motivation, kind of assume at that point that you may have a confidence issue. You need to kind of back up a little bit. Now, a really great way of, if you wanna go work in a novel environment, and again, you don't have to train like you trial. And actually I don't train like I trial. I train to train, which means I need my dog to be comfortable in that location and to have really good focus. So what I may do with a less confident dog is I may take my dog into my search area prior to setting my hide.

I may let them acclimate and may let them sniff. I don't even care if they pee. I'm gonna be honest with you, right? Because we're, I'm not asking them to work. I'm just asking them to get comfortable with where they are. And when they're comfortable, I put them back in the car and oh, oh by the way, hey, that's practice. That's practice for crating. This is so amazing. This helps us to practice the skills that we need to be able to go to a trial and be comfortable, right? We put the dog in the car, we let the dog wait, we go set the hide in the place where they just were and we come back and maybe we can even let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes if we have the time.

And then we go and we get the dog and we come back and we search. Now the dog has seen the environment, but it's still novel. It's still got different airflow than what they've seen before. It's still different odors than they've encountered before. And then, and you go and you do this every time you go out and you train, you go someplace a little bit different. So you may not have a ton of places around you, but even if you have a park locally, well in my first training session, I maybe go to that pavilion over there and my next training session, maybe that playground area over there, or maybe, hey, you know what?

There's that loading dock I passed on the way here. It doesn't even have to be a park or pavilion. I mean, anything you pull over, you're like, whoa, that looks cool. I'm gonna go search that. You know, when you start doing this, you start realizing there's so many different opportunities for search areas that you don't need to repeat them very often as you're driving, it can be like, hey, that, hey, you know what, that bank closed and now there's nobody over there and it's completely empty. Which I've, I've done that. I've done, you know, drive-in teller areas. It's pretty cool actually. You know, anything, you start to get creative. You start to kind of get some ideas in your head. But again, get your dog out, get them comfortable, and then pay attention to their motivation. And the last piece I would say is pay attention to your reinforcement hierarchy. Make sure you are truly reinforcing your dog. You're not rewarding your dog, you're reinforcing your dog.

Those two things are very, very different. It's not the cookie in your pocket, right? It's what does the dog find reinforcing, which could include the delivery. Actually it does include the delivery praise. Be genuine about it. Play. You don't need to rush the reinforcement. Make sure your dog enjoyed it, right? Make sure your dog really loved that reinforcement event. And I think when, if you get those pieces together, you don't need a training building and video yourself, you're, you're not even gonna need that much of a training partner. Although they're great. If you have a training partner, that's awesome. But all those pieces, you know, I have a lot of students that never went to a class and they're up at the elite level or they never really had an opportunity to train with anybody else.

And they're up at the elite level. You don't need it. I mean, they're great, but you don't need it. And I think sometimes those training buildings and, and some, you know, when we get in that habit actually becomes a crutch and it works against the teams. So you're actually better off.

Melissa Breau: All right, Megan, wanna take it from there?

Megan Foster: Yeah. So different sports here. Very different sports. Whiplash to agility where I agree with if your dog only ever trains in one place, that's not going to help you in the long run. And also, if you're only going to a weekly class, I am going to say it's going to be very hard to be prepared. And when I was teaching in-person classes, I had a huge group of classes that, or a huge group of students that were taking multiple classes at one time. So they were getting in a lot of training. Even if they didn't feel like they could replicate it out on their own, they were having to supplement it by coming to more classes. So that helped a little bit, right? Because it was a different time of day and different people and a different purpose at that class.

So while agility without access to things has its limits. So I don't think we have to talk too long about that. Yes, at some point you need access to equipment. Yes, at some point you need to have access to a big enough ring that you can actually run a full-size course. Yes, those are real, those are facts. However, I don't think that we have to do all of our training with all of that access. Just like Stacy was saying, I love training in the wild. My number one tip is to find a public park that has like a lot of different, as many different things there as possible. The one that it's like a gold mine, like spitting distance from my house, but it has, they just added a tennis court. So they have a tennis court, they have a fenced in dog park, there's a skate park, there's a playground, there's two baseball diamonds, there's like horseshoe on one of the fields. And the other side of the fields is soccer, lacrosse fields. At any given time, Monday through Sunday, any time between any daylight hour, it could be a different location 'cause you could have no one there. Or you could have the parking lot overflowing into the neighbor's field. Like it's insane. So finding places like that to do a little bit of work to expose the dog to a little bit of novelty, a little bit of excitement, just anything is going to help you in preparation. It's not gonna do much for your handling, not gonna do much for your obstacle skills, but you're doing that in your group class anyways, right? And a lot of the people that I work with online don't go to an in-person class either. They have just accumulated equipment over time they've decided to be all in for agility.

You do kind of have to decide that you're all in one way or the other. Either in finding the classes in person to drive to and spend that time or finding the equipment to acquire at your home or to take it to public spaces that I do think that that's kind of a reality of agility as a sport. But I also have a lot of students, and I did this, I do this as well, is that we do enroll in other sports. My students do rally and obedience and nosework and tracking and truffle hunting and whatever. Not necessarily to be because that's their passion, but they still enjoy it and they're still getting a lot of experience and a lot of exposure and they might learn that they have lots of passions, right? So it doesn't have to be a fancy agility facility with all of the fancy equipment. I do have access to equipment that I could go every day if I want. And it's not far, it is not a hardship. And if I'm there three times a week, that is a lot. Once, maybe twice a week is more norm. And I would say that I'm obsessed with agility, but the most of my training isn't agility training, it's all of the other training. And so I can do that in the wild anywhere.

Melissa Breau: Hélène, what about you?

Hélène Lawler: For sport, for trial prep in general, one of the things that I do is I take my dogs to random dog sport events in my area that have nothing to do necessarily with the sport that I do.

I think a lot of people think about like, you know, like, oh, there's only one agility trial, you know, every two months in my area. Or you know, there are no herding trials local to me or whatever. And I'm like, oh look, in the summer there are a bunch of agility trials. There's big conformation events, there's obedience competitions, so on and so forth. And I will just show up with my dog. And I mean, sometimes depending on the event, I may reach out to the event organizer if I don't know the culture, but a lot of these places, a lot of these events like spectators are allowed to come with their dogs or you know, if you, like you go to an agility trial, they're all always people there with young agility dogs who are not competing. So you can show up with your dog. And one of the things that I love doing is that I am not there for the competition.

I am only there for my dog. I'm not there to socialize. I usually don't even know anybody. And so, and I'm not there for like an entire day and you know, where I can over face my young dog. So I will literally just like drive out there, park, get out, walk around, let my dog acclimatize, maybe do a little bit of, I don't know what I feel like doing really depends on the dog. Little bit of training, little bit of play, little bit of what whatever's sort of, you know, that will vary a lot. If I go to a herding trial, I'm not gonna sit there and throw a ball that would, that would get me excused very quickly from the, from the event. But you know, in an agility trial I might go and, you know, if there's a like put out a jump and do a few jumps next to my car or something like that. I don't compete in agility anymore, but I used to do that sort of thing. But, so finding events.

You could go to dog parks. I've also gone to, I go to like the big pet stores and I, when I say I go to dog parks, I don't go into dog parks. I will do some work around, like outside of the dog park where there are dogs. So there's a lot, you know, protected contact. There's no chance of any other dog coming up to me.

But my dog will, you know, there are dog parks around here where, you know, there's a big grassy space outside between the car, the park, the parking lot, and the park. And I do some things there and then we leave. So I just find places or just public parks and so on, depending on, you know, for me it's really, really important that I'm not gonna have strange dogs come up and get in my dog's face. So I don't necessarily tend to go to places. Like I said, I wouldn't go in a dog park, I wouldn't go to a public park where there are a lot of people just like pet people letting their pet dogs run around willy-nilly and they might come charging up to my dog, something like that.

So I'm careful about that. But I do look for places. So that's one of the things that I do because I do not take classes, I haven't for a very, very long time. I've done almost all of my training online for at least 10 years now. And with the exception of there's a local person who runs lovely puppy classes and I will take a puppy class, like a five week puppy class if the timing works out. But otherwise I haven't. I've done everything. So I do also look for these places specifically to herding that, that can get really tricky. And I know a lot of people who are in herding, they're like, but I don't have sheep. And that's, that's really a whole other conversation. But one of the things that I have suggested to people in the past is like, drive out to the country and, you know, find, if you'll see you can, you might see a farm with some livestock and you can just like get out on the side of the road as long as your dog is, you know, you can go as far away as you need to and just have your dog hang out and just sit like on a leash next to you, next to your car inside of the stock. And then you get in your car and leave.

One of the biggest challenges a lot of people who do not have their own livestock have with doing herding is that their dogs, when they show up to work, you know, they show up for their lessons, the dogs get very excited and they start to associate, when I see stock I work, they don't ever learn to just like, oh, there's sheep over, like, my dogs grow up, there's sheep on the other side of the fence. They have no idea that that's even a thing for them until they start their training. And my dogs, even when they're in training can be out and about and you know, with one, with one exception, the one I mentioned before who's been my challenging puppy, he's getting a lot better.

But he would jump the fence and go, but the other ones don't go in with the sheep and they understand like unless they're coming out one-on-one with me, I have a little routine. I take them out, we're working, otherwise we're not working. And the sheep are just like trees. They literally can be on the other side of the fence. My dogs pay no attention to that. And that's a really important skill for stock dogs to learn.

So it's similar to, you know, a lot of the waiting when you go to trials in other sports where the dogs have to just learn how to relax. They really need to learn how to relax when they're not working. So finding, like I said, finding places where that you can be safely and politely so you're not like harassing and causing panic to the livestock, you know, in view of livestock.

And then like, you know, one of the things I'll do, sometimes I have my own sheep, but I would like put out a lawn chair and read a book with my dog tied to the chair and, and then we leave just so that they learn to be like, okay, there's sheep over there, it's no big deal. And so finding ways with that. And another thing you can do also if you wanna do herding is find people who have sheep and offer to help them. And never, even with the intention of bringing your dog there, your dog can come and sit in the car and you do and you just help them. Trust me, if somebody showed up and said, I really wanna learn about sheep, I'd be like, come, come on in. And you know, and that's how I got a lot of my experience when I lived in the city before I had my own sheep. I volunteered on sheep farms and I did a lot of work. And then when they trusted that I was, you know, had some competence, they would let me work their sheep.

And so that, but that I really put the effort into building those relationships and building the trust and getting out there and regularly and helping out and being there for all the big events that they need on their farm and so on and so forth. So there's a lot that you can do without, you know, your own livestock without your own farm to prepare your dog for trialing. And a big, as I said, a big part of that is just learning how to be relaxed when nothing else is happening. You know, when things are going on around you and it's not, it's not your turn.

Melissa Breau: Wow. What about you Barbara? Advice for newbies?

Barbara Lloyd: Yes, I would love to, and I'd like to talk about two specific, I operate in two worlds. I operate in the worlds that Hélène alluded to, which is the Border Collie world. And I also operate in the all breed herding world, which is completely different because that's more CKC, like Canadian Kennel Club, American Kennel Club herding. And when you are dealing with all breed, I think one of the big differences is that you rely a lot more on obedience because that super strong instinct to control the stock might not necessarily be there. And the trials are set up for all breeds.

Like here in Canada we have all breed, like you could, I mean Stacy, you could take one of your labs in and go and do an arena trial in CKC here. And so they're set up in such a way that if you have really good obedience and you've taught your dog flanks and you've done certain things, you can actually be quite successful. So if you don't have sheep and you're just starting out, for the CKC people and this somewhat for the Border Collie people too, but especially for the all breed herding people, get a really good down on your dog. Like have that teach your dog to walk out ahead of you because that's a drive and it might not be a natural thing for a dog to do. And you do have to do a little bit of a drive in CKC.

So even teaching your dog to go forward and you can use a treat and train for that just to go, you know, it's like an agility and you say, go on, or you know, however you get the dog to do the line, you can do that same kind of thing to prepare your dog for CKC herding. So there's a lot of obedience in that type of herding that you can do without sheep.

You actually wanna do it without sheep first because you wanna get those behaviors on cue and you want the dog to understand and then you can build in the livestock to that. And then if I'm gonna move over now into the Border Collie world, which is the other world that I operate in, what again, I really do wanna, I wanna recall and I want a down, but I do those two things without the sheep, I mean, and anybody that's gonna go to sheep and you don't have sheep, you can work on your lie down and you can work on your recall and you need a down in, in stock dog work. You need a down at a distance. And I'm talking like at a football field distance or three football fields maybe, depending on how big the field is that you're competing in. So you gotta start somewhere. So when I started working on my downs with my young dogs, I started inside my training school, but I would tether them. So I'm tethering them so they can't go anywhere. They're on like a three foot tether, they can't go anywhere.

So they don't have to lay down, but they can't go anywhere anyway. So, but I would start close and they knew lie down on a verbal, they also have to have it on a verbal, not on a hand signal. So I knew that they knew down, so I just slowly added in distance and I wanted them in a stand when I would walk away so that I could be at a distance when I would ask them to lay down.

So it was a position change and I love training position changes anyway, like if any of you have seen my Brian videos, like his discrimination is amazing for position changes. And so for me it's, it's kind, it gets me jacked up doing it. So I have a lot of fun, but I would highly recommend that even in the Border Collie world and if you don't have sheep, but you need to start your training and be prepared for when you can get to sheep, get those downs, use a tether. That's what I did. So I got it so that the building I was in at that point, I think it was 65 feet long. So I could leave my dog go 65 feet, tell 'em to lie down and they would then I started to where I was leaving the building and I was walking outside and because I'm anal retentive, I had a series of mirrors set up so I could see my dog and I'd be outside and I could, I'd know if they laid down and if as soon as they laid down, then I'd come in and I'd reward them.

And, but if you can do that, and then what I did was I took that show on the road, I went to empty parking lots and I just put the tether on the wheel well and you know, over by the airport where there's all kinds of noises over by the park where there's geese and all kinds of stuff, because that my dog needs to know that when I ask it to lie down, it can lie down. So that's, I think for the Border Collie stuff, that's really important. Now the other thing that I would recommend is whether you're in the CKC or you're in the Border Collie world, if you're out there and you're really trying to get your bearings and you really wanna get started and you know, you're really having a hard time with connections, one thing that I would recommend is look for a herding camp.

They're about a week long, you know, either five to seven days long, sometimes three days, but, and they're offered all across North America. So you go for four or five or six days and you work with either one trainer or a variety of trainers every day, usually in the morning and the afternoon. And you start to pick up some really good skills. And more importantly though, you're making connections with other people who are doing the same thing that you are and are probably at the same level.

So you can start to get support groups. You're also making connections in the training world with people who know what they're doing. So maybe what you can do is start to forge relationships with those people where you can start to do distance learning with them, even if you're not in the same community. And then the other thing that I would recommend is something that Hélène touched on, which in our sport, because we have another species which is sheep, you have to dedicate as much time learning about sheep with no dog.

Because if you don't know how to read those sheep, you can't effectively tell your dog what to do because those sheep have a lot of tells as far as what are they thinking, how comfortable are they, which direction are they gonna go in, are they gonna move, are they gonna stay? What are they gonna do? And if you don't know how to be around the livestock and read their cues, you are not, it doesn't matter how good your dog is, you're not gonna be able to direct it 'cause you're always gonna be telling it the wrong thing. So get somewhere where you, where you work the sheep, like I can't tell you how many times I've gone in and thought, okay, so well I want the sheep to do this. I'm the dog. What am I gonna do? How am I gonna get these sheep?

You know, if I'm in an arena or something, how am I gonna get these sheep to go through that chute and do this and do that and stay together, not take off, not turn on me, not do this, not do that. Because if you can start to work the livestock yourself, honestly, that's 50% of the equation. And it, and when you get into this as a sport, people will, people, it, it's talked about a lot, but I don't think enough novice handlers take it seriously and then they start to, you know, to get into training and thinking about trialing and then they realize they went out there and they couldn't read those sheep and they didn't know what was going on and it was because they had no idea what the sheep were telling them.

So definitely, definitely go hang out at farms where there's sheep help out, like Hélène said, move those sheep around, look at videos even like go online, look at YouTube videos of competitors, especially when you're looking at the, at the shedding ring and at the pen because that's where it's a lot of hurry up and wait and a little bit of movement, hurry up and wait and a little bit of movement. But what you're watching for is what are the sheep telling you?

What did the sheep do when the handler then moved in to make that shed happen? And this week actually, Hélène and I briefly discussed a monumental iconic shed by this man in England. His last name is Cropper. And if you watch the shed, he is shedding off this single and two sheep. He's there, he's got, there's, you know, there's five sheep, but he's down to kind of these two that he's gotta split up. And the, I don't, we still haven't quite figured out how he did it. And we know sheep and, and things like that. The two sheep start moving and they start kind of moving at a run and he miraculously brings his dog through lets one go and stops the other one at a dead run and turns it without gripping the sheep without doing anything.

He knows his sheep and that's why he's an international competitor. So as a novice, spend time and resources because I understand time as a resource, but spend your time wisely and learn about sheep. That's a very important piece of this puzzle as well. I'll just add, my first entire year of herding training was I went out and I was the Border Collie for my instructor 'cause I had a puppy who couldn't, we couldn't even start the training 'cause you don't start till they're at least 12 months old. So she would just have me hold sheep in place, move sheep for her, help her with the sheep. I spent an entire year showing up every Saturday morning and, and being her assistant and, and that taught me, it was incredible how much that taught me. So, yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Alright, so to kind of summarize bits and pieces of that just so that it's kind of a little applicable sport agnostic, right? We've got lots in there about observing the environment, learning about kind of your dog as an individual, learning about looking for places. In other words that you can expose your dog to a lot of chaos even if it's not necessarily the specific chaos of your sport. Looking for people who are really good at the thing you wanna do and watching the skills that they have and that their dogs have and the other things in the environment that are going on while they're doing those things so you can better prepare your dog. Kind of all of those pieces kind of pulled out of everybody's conversation there. Hopefully that kind of summarizes a little bit of that because I know we went on quite a bit on that question from everybody's perspective.

So, okay, so those are some of the things that folks can do. Now I do think that as we talk about all of the things and build this huge to-do list for all of these newbie competitors who are just trying to wrap their head around the fact that their dog needs to do A, B and C just to cue right, it can be a lot, it can be overwhelming and a lot of the kind of conversation out there these days hasn't been super newbie friendly, right? So I'd just like to hear a little bit about how we can encourage newbie handlers or folks who are maybe, you know, brand new to a sport newbie competitors are kind of the lifeblood of any dog sport, right? Like if we don't have new people coming in, eventually the sport will die off. So, you know, in your sport or kind of sport agnostic, what can more experienced competitors do to help welcome new competitors? What can new competitors maybe do to help make themselves welcome? I dunno, I dunno how to say that nicely. You know, kind of what, what does that look like? Megan, do you wanna start us off on this one?

Megan Foster: Sure. I think that we can take this whole thing like see something, say something and turn that into a more positive framework. So if you are seeing someone, whether you know them or not, but especially if you don't recognize them and you see something and you appreciate it, whether it's just how they're interacting with their dog at any point or something specific about their run, go tell them one, you will feel great. They will feel great, everyone will feel great and will and they'll remember you. I had not been competing for quite some time. I had a couple of dogs that weren't really into competition and then also a pandemic.

So there had been some time and there were a couple of things I experienced. I did this for someone that I didn't recognize. I found something very specific, it stood out. I went and found them later, I told them about it. We had a nice little exchange at that point. But then a few trials later, that person found me again and asked me something specific because they were new and they were like, that person was nice to me and they seem like they know something more than I do. So they came and they asked me, they had no idea who I was, I wasn't a name to them. I wasn't anything other than a person that was nice to them at some point. And so now we have that connection and she also knows to where to find me, right?

So there's, there's this whole just the doors open wide when we just go and say nice things to people. And then if you are seeing something that is, that you would like to help with someone, but giving unsolicited advice is not great, don't do that. Go ask them, "Hey, do you like, do you want to talk about this thing? Are you okay with it?" Just ask them if they want your opinion because if the answer's no, you turn, you walk away. If the answer's yes because they are new and they had no idea that they couldn't do this because they weren't prepared, right? Most of the time when I ask people, do you wanna work on this thing? They're usually relieved or do you want help with this thing? Or do you, do you know that you know, this shouldn't really be done this way?

There's usually a sigh of relief because they just didn't know. They didn't know that their dog shouldn't be screaming ringside. They didn't know that their dog was gonna have to be in a crate the entire day at the agility trial. So there's those things. But I was also on the receiving end of this when I got back into competing with Sprint again, I was gone for a while and I will show up places to where people don't know who I am and they say the kindest things to you about your dog and like how nice they are. And it makes it, it's like almost every time someone said nice things about my dog, it's like, oh, I have one more compliment I can give away to someone else.

I like it, it's a really cool feeling. And I don't experience that everywhere I compete and I know which places I enjoy competing at more because of it, just because of that energy. And so if I, someone who's been competing for 25 years can feel the difference of like, I feel welcome here or not, then of course these people new to agility are also feeling that way.

So kind of give out compliments is I think the number one behavior that we can all be modeling. And rather than gossiping about unwanted behavior, make sure that you're modeling the behavior that you want to see. Or if you're complaining about someone's behavior, check yourself, right? Check that you're not subconsciously criticizing your own behavior and putting that out as negative information because the new people, they just don't know and everyone is doing their best.

Melissa Breau: Alright, Hélène, what about you? What about herding?

Hélène Lawler: Yeah, absolutely what Megan said, and that's something that I've been, since I've been getting back into going to, you know, trials and clinics. I've absolutely, and I was out of it for, you know, for several years, like I mentioned earlier. So there are a lot of new faces and then there's, you know, the usual suspects and our community's pretty small. So I've been going over and introducing my, first of all, anybody that I already know, I've been saying, I go out and say, ask 'em how they're doing and so on.

And I really take it on me. I'll preface this by saying, I used to show up at these events and my number one thought was, I do not belong here. I do not belong here. And then I would feel like I didn't belong here and I would behave like I don't belong here. I would probably give off the vibe that I don't wanna interact with people because I had that sort of energy about me. So I've completely changed that and now I think I totally belong here. These are my people. And I'll, like, I just go over and I just keep that thought in mind. And, and so if I don't know someone, if I see a new face, I'll walk over to them.

I'll say, "Hey, I'm Hélène, nice to meet you. I haven't seen you around here before. Are you new?" I've been outta this for a while, so maybe, maybe you are, you're not. But I just wanted to, you know, just introduce myself and what I've found I've made a lot of new friends that way, which has been really great.

The other thing I love doing is complimenting people on their dogs. I think a lot of humans struggle to accept, when I tell, if you say, oh, you, you know, they're like, oh, that was awful. And they're like, no, no, here's the things that you did well. And I'll, I like to do that. I find people often struggle to receive compliments, but if you talk about how great their dog is, they're, you know, in the moment. So for instance, I was at a clinic earlier this year and this woman was working with her dog, and it was a complete train wreck. Her dog was gripping and busting up the sheep and then, you know, the instructor had to get in there and stop things. And she came off and you could just see, you know, like her lip was quivering, her eyes were like, you know, filled up. So I gave her a little space.

I didn't like jump on her right at that moment. She took her dog out. And then, I don't know, maybe a little half an hour later, I went over to her and I just said, Hey. I said, "I know that was, that was a little bit not probably what you were hoping for, but this is what I saw in your dog." I could see like the talent there and your dog has beautiful movement and had, and I just pointed out a couple things that I really liked about what I saw on the dog. And her whole body language completely changed. And, and then we just went from there.

And then in the herding world, you ask somebody about your dog's breeding and then, and then, and then they puff up like a peacock and they love to talk about their dog's breeding. I know in other sport, in other sports, that doesn't seem to be a thing, but in the herding world, it's like the biggest compliment if you ask somebody about their dog's breeding.

So, so anyway, so those are things as an experienced handler that I am adopting and I'm doing very, very intentionally now. But as a newbie competitor, the recommendation that I would make is start your mindset training. Now, one of the things that I have encountered, because I, you know, I am a mindset coach. I see so many people who are like, I don't need that. Now. When my dog is trained and I'm competing at higher levels, that's when I need it. And I would really would encourage everybody to start studying the mental management side of things, like from day one, because no matter how good your dog skills are, if you are a hot mess, you're not gonna be able to execute and, and work with your dog. So, and it takes a long time to develop. It's like it's going to the gym for your brain and you can't start it too soon. And you can't practice it too often.

So it's something that we don't talk enough about in sports. If you go into like human sports, they're like, that is something that gets built in very early on. We really need to be building that into dog sports because it is vital and some people have it more naturally than others, but it's a really important skill to develop. And so I would love to see more, like, I would love to see all new handlers, learn it through, you know, books, take courses, get coaching, you know, whatever. Find your path. Get started on that like yesterday.

Melissa Breau: All right, Barbara, advice for making things welcoming.

Barbara Lloyd: I think that in the herding world, one of the things is, you know, like when you first start and you're all nervous and you're all worried, you know, like really what's gonna happen? So I think one of the things that we can do, we can do this on social media, we can do this at trials, we can do this at clinics. And I think that we can discuss our wrecks, like literally discuss our wrecks because it's, it's great to always talk about how many ribbons you've got and how many placings you've had and all of these things that is not welcoming to somebody who's coming up the ladder, right? I mean, it's intimidating. And I think it's really important to talk about wrecks and say, oh my God, you should have seen what happened.

Like, I just sent Hélène a funny little video. I love video, I love doing stupid things with pictures. And then I do voiceovers for my dogs on this little app.

And I had a wreck just the other day. Hélène doesn't know what the wreck is, but I'll tell all the listeners what the wreck was. 'cause it was a bad wreck. It was a really bad wreck. And it was my young dog. What happened was, my pasture has a really kind of bad, not so good man gate. It's kind of pathetic. So what happened was, I had my, my crane dog pearl out and she was holding the sheep in a corral, but the corral door wasn't closed, like the big gate wasn't closed, but the man gate was kind of closed. And I brought Ken out, who was one of my young dogs that I'm training. Well, Kenna slipped under the gate and she ran into the corral. I was on the outside of the gate and it went, it went bad, really bad, really fast. So what happened was she moved all the sheep out of the corral. Of course she's the Border Collie, so what is she doing? She's bringing 'em to me. I'm on the other side of the fence.

They busted through that gate and then she went out after them, her mom, who's Pearl, laid on the other side of the gate and looked at me and said, I don't know what you want me to do, but this doesn't look right. And then, so then there's sheep and we're right by the highway. Well, gee, did those sheep end up on that highway?

And my friend Becca's running down the road, stop, stop and getting people to stop and there's sheep on the road. And then I'm like, I'm trying to get Ken to lie down, right? Because then she's up on the road trying to bring the sheep to me, but I'm like, just leave the sheep. They're big. Everybody can see them.

And Becca's on the road stopping people. And then I finally, Ken finally comes back to me and I get her in a lay down and I'm yelling like probably 600 times, lay down, lay down more like this, lie down, lie down. Sure enough, she lays down. But then I've got my back to the, to really the other stuff that's going on where the sheep are on the road and on the side of the road I have eight whole sheep. And then at some point when Pearl realized that I was getting control of Kenna and getting the situation under control, and Becca was up on the road, Pearl actually went and she went on the road and she collected the sheep up and she brought them off onto the shoulder. And then my sheep are pretty tame as far as people go.

So then Pearl came back once they were on the shoulder, she came kind of navigated back to me by the gate, and I was still dealing with Kenna and getting Ken Leashed. And then Becca just started yelling, which is my head sheep, and she knows her name. So Becca was heading towards the sheep, and then the sheep went to her because they'll gravitate to a person.

And then once they started gravitating to her, and I had Ken leash and put her in her crate in the car, then I just flanked Pearl and then lifted the sheep off Becca and, and brought them into the training area. But really stuff happens. Anybody you talk to, this stuff happens. The differences are you gonna talk about it and be honest about it, or are you gonna pretend like it's always perfect? Because I'm telling you, my training world and my competition world is not perfect. And I think that when I can be transparent about that with people coming up the ladder, it takes so much pressure off of them because they realize stuff is gonna happen and it's probably not gonna be as bad as their sheep ending up on the highway.

Hélène Lawler: I'll just interject to say that I have had sheep on the highway a bunch of times, so I totally, yeah, fair enough.

Barbara Lloyd: I'm in good company. Yes. So, I think that for me, that would be one of the, the big flagship things is just be honest and be transparent. And because it's gonna give those new people hope and they're gonna see you as a person and they're gonna be able to realize that it's not always perfect. It might look perfect when you walk out onto that field, but really what's going on in our training and at home, and we go through, there's things that happen, like things fall apart. We have wrecks.

I had that wreck, those sheep were on the highway, thank the goddess. Nothing bad happened. Everything was okay. And you know, I mean, and then I did this funny little video where Ken is talking about it and saying, yeah, you know, gran and auntie Becca had a heart attack, but mom saved the day.

And so I think that Melissa, I think for me that would be a big one. It's just sharing the downs, not just the ups, you know, and letting people know it's not just a steady stream climb up there, it is rocky and things are gonna happen, but can you take it in humor and can you put it into perspective and what are you gonna do about it? So I'll tell you what we did about it. We fixed the gate today. That's what we did. We fixed the gate. So that's what I would have to say on that subject.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Stacy, what about you for being welcoming?

Stacy Barnett: So I'm gonna say for my sport, ost of what we do, we don't have spectators. So your, you know, your errors and everything that might have happened, they're usually, you know, people don't really see them. Maybe some of the people that volunteer, that sort of thing. The issues that I see mostly are on social media. And I see this a lot where I think the experienced people sometimes forget that they were once beginners.

And I see a lot of comments, well read the rule book, read the rule book, and that's not welcoming. You know, this is, you know, nosework or if you wanna call it scent work, whatever, it's the same sport. It's full of new people and it's one of the fastest growing sports. It's probably, I don't know if it's the fastest growing sport, whatever, but there are a lot of new people and we want it to stay that way. We want new people to keep coming in. And I think the best thing you can do is remember that you were once a beginner too. And you know, You learn a little bit by doing. And I think giving people a little bit of grace when maybe they don't quite, you know, know the rules or they don't understand something, or maybe they're making an egregious error and they post a video and you're like, oh my goodness. You know, be kind.

I think being kind is probably the best thing that we can do. If you can be kind people, people, they'll learn, they'll figure it out. But, you know, I think just being kinder to people on social media. I mean, as an experienced competitor, yeah, you should be out there volunteering, you should be supporting people, you know, in our sport for instance, if with the one organization, it's only one level test in a day, so you could be just like doing just NW one.

So even though people might be on their, you know, second or third dog or whatever, you know, you're still kind of all competing at that same level. So, but then there are some organizations where you may have multiple levels in the same day, but I would say get out there, volunteer, be the smiling face for the newbie, right? And be kind on social media. That is probably the biggest thing is just, just be kind, you know?

Melissa Breau: Yeah. I know we're running super long, so I am gonna ask you guys the last question I had prepped, but I'm gonna challenge you all to try and answer it shortly with a little quick answer, even though I know it's a big important question.

So the final question I wanted to kind of ask you guys about were, you know, we've talked about kind of the list of things that folks need to get done. It's really easy to fall into that, you know, paralysis analysis kind of mindset, right? We're now like, my dog's not perfect, so I can't compete, I'm never gonna try and trial because oh my God, there's just so much out there to learn, right? Like where we get in our own heads and essentially never think we're ready to trial or that our dog ready to trial. How do we balance kind of that desire to prepare our dogs adequately so they're not over faced with knowing that at some point, if you want the title, you are going to have to actually compete? Hélène, you wanna start us off?

Hélène Lawker: Sure. What I have done is, as I discussed before, there's, you know, I wanna have my dog's skills and my skills to the point where, you know, so specifically for herding, I wanna make sure that, you know, I have the basic skills in place so we can get out there.

I will not be going out there to win, but what I do is I set criteria for myself, for the run, for either for the whole trial or for the run itself. What is my criteria here? And then I focus on that criteria. So my criteria may not be, and is almost never going to be I want to win, right? Which maybe I do, right? But that's not the criteria I'm focusing on. It will be like, I'm gonna go out there and my focus is on, I'm gonna maintain connection or I'm going to, you know, work on some specific skill that I have. I'm going to, let's, well, I'll give you an example.

So when I moved up to open in herding, I did the really brilliant thing and chose to move into open at one of the hardest trials in North America, just because it happened to be in my backyard. And people travel from literally all over the world to compete at this event because it is known to be like such a challenging event.

And I thought, well, that would be a great place to start. But so what I did is I showed up the first day and I set some criteria for myself. I said, I have, I have my criteria. And I remember this very clearly. My criteria was I'm not gonna lose my sheep. I'm not gonna lose my dog, and I'm not gonna lose my cool. And I thought to myself, if I start to panic, I'm going to stop the run. And I visualized this. I was like, I'm just gonna lie my dog down, take a breath. And then if I feel like I can't get back on track, we will just end the run. So I went out to the run and I knew my dog was not gonna lose our sheep because I'm not gonna walk onto a field if I think my dog is gonna like, bust up the sheep and chase them all over the place, and I'm gonna be running down the field trying to catch my dog. That is a criteria for me. I do not want that. And, and, and I just knew, I knew, I knew we had that piece in place.

So we get about, we got about halfway through the run, and my arousal started going way up. And I just was, I started to get really stressed and I wasn't focusing, I wasn't supporting my dog in the way I wanted to support my dog. So I laid my dog down and I turned to the judge and I said, thank you. And I left. I had set that criteria and I was very proud of myself for the fact that I had that criteria and I went in, I did what I could, and I left the second run of the event, which was two days later, I gave myself another criteria. I stepped it up a bit. I was like, I'm gonna keep the first three criteria that I had, not gonna lose my dog, not gonna lose my sheep, not gonna lose my cool, and this time I'm not gonna step off the field until the clock runs out, or the judge asks us to leave. And I went out onto the field and I then just got myself into a mindset of this is just like working at home.

And, and then I focused on when we are at home, this is how we work together. And then it was a hot mess, but it didn't matter because my criteria was we're gonna stay on the field until the clock runs out, or the judge asks us to leave. And in that time, I'm going to just focus on doing the work that we know how to do and just being the partner to each other that we are.

And I had a great run. And I came, you know, I came out with, I actually had numbers, not letters, which was awesome. No DQ, no retire. I actually got a score. I am prouder of that run, I think, than if I had, like, than anything else that I've like won because it was so overwhelming for me to go into that event. I was doing this in front of a crowd of 5,000 people with an MC. Like I was talking about it like I was so over faced, but I went in there with very specific criteria for myself. And we can set that no matter what that is.

I'm gonna stay connected to my dog no matter what happens. I am going to, you know, if my dog starts, if I notice my arousal go up, I've got an exit strategy, you know, or I'm going to the whole point of, you know, agility was something I coach a lot of my students on, and Megan, I don't know if you do something similar, but I'm like, you're gonna just finish your run. You're not gonna stop and train in the ring. Or you could have the choice of, I am gonna stop and train in the, like, it doesn't matter what your criteria is, but you get very clear criteria for yourself. What is it that I want outta this run?

What do I wanna practice? What do I wanna, what do I wanna test? And then you go in and you do it. And then when you stay focused on that one piece, it keeps you out of overwhelm. It keeps you out of anxiety. And so as a newbie, you can go in and be like, my goal right now is just to, you know, be able to go into the ring and, and remember to breathe. And if I remember to breathe, like that's a win. Next round, I might, you know, work on another little piece and we develop that way. But just setting that very clear criteria for ourself, for our focus. And then that's all you have to maintain. And then you set wins for yourself that are not dependent on external circumstances.

So like, I felt I walked off that field feeling like I won, even though I was far from winning, right? But I won because I had set my criteria and I had been, I had shown up like I wanted to show up. So that's how I would recommend.

Melissa Breau: Alright. Barbara, can you keep it short?

Barbara Lloyd: I can. Okay. It's gonna be short, sweet to the point. And what I do and what my intention with, especially these young dogs that I've got coming up, and I've done it with Pearl as well. I walk up to the post and when I was first learning, and now when I'm training my young dogs, my intention is I'm gonna go to the post, I'm gonna look at the course, and typically there's an outrun. They bring the sheep through some panels, you, and then you turn the post and then do some other stuff.

But what I'm really good at is being able to say, if I can get my outrun and I can turn the post, that was the win. Thank you, judge. I'm out of here. So I'm leaving the field before anything has gone awry. And, but that's where I'm looking at it as a series. It's for training. I'm going there and I'm training and I've given my dog and myself, the experience that I want. But I look at those components and then the next round, I think, okay, so I rounded the post. Now I wanna work on the drive out to the, to the drive panels, but it's, I'm building up a course at trials. I'm not going in thinking I'm doing the course.

So I think that that's what, as a new person, don't think you've paid your money and you have to do the whole course, look at the look at it and break it down and think, what can me and my dog do? What, what's gonna benefit us? And what can we do nice? Or how far can I get?

And then when you get to a certain point, just let it go. Just say thank you and walk away. And there's nothing wrong with that because then you've walked away, you've had some success, you know what you need to work on, and you know where you're at on that course. That would be my recommendation.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. All right, Stacy.

Stacy Barnett: All right. What I would say is you don't have to be a perfectionist. You know, you need to have a confident dog that's gonna be okay with being in the environment, and your dog needs to understand how to find a hide. But I think if we think about the initial trial as kind of a functional assessment, rather than we feel like we have to go in and win the thing. That functional assessment gives us information and helps us to understand what we need to do to train. And, you know, whether, you know, I, yeah, I may have a certain standard for my dogs when they go out, but I also have all this experience, honestly, going in and behind it.

And if you're a new competitor, you don't have that. But it is important to get that functional assessment. And, you know, it's, I don't think you have to be perfect going out there. You've gotta have a confident dog, you've gotta be able to manage your dog. And your dog has to be comfortable in the environment. But you know it's information. You know, use it as information. You wanna be competent. You don't need to be perfect, but you need to be confident.

Melissa Breau: All right. You kept short. Excellent. All right, Megan, go ahead and bring us home.

Megan Foster: Alright, I don't think it's exactly this way in the other sports that we've discussed, but fortunately or not in agility, you can do it quite often. And depending on where you live, that might be every weekend you might have multiple options for agility. And so I see that it's very, I don't, I guess it's probably, it's just not talked about. So this is what is culturally accepted is that you just show up and you keep showing up and then results happen eventually.

Like that is the approach that I hear. A lot of people tell me that that's their approach and that's from all levels. I've heard this from people trying out for world teams, that the approach is just show up and keep going. And I think that's not the approach we need to take because as the others have said, we need confidence. And confidence comes from preparation.

So I mean, number one, if you don't feel confident that you're prepared for the event, I would say that would give me pause, right? But if you feel like, yeah, I've checked off enough of these boxes, yes, you do have to go see if you've done your homework, but if it feels hard, if you're struggling in competition, you don't need to keep struggling in competition. You do the hard work and training so that competition feels easy. And I think that's kind of what isn't broken down quite enough. So think when we're, and and you're, everyone here is already and everyone listening is already doing this. You train, you make notes about that training, you change something for the next time and you make progress that way.

Apply that to your competition. You compete, you gather all that data, you train a whole lot, you compete again. And only when you're really, really happy with the results that you're getting, do you start to compete more frequently. And if we go about instead of like, okay, now my dog's ready for competition, I'm going to compete all the time, every chance that I get and blah. That I think is where we do get kind of stuck in not being able to improve the performance. So if it just becomes a regular part of our observations and feedback, I think it's really valuable tool in our training and I think I can leave it at that.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Awesome. I think there's some good tidbits in there for everybody.

So kind of regardless of what sport or kind of what angle you're coming at it from, I think there's some good pieces in there. Alright guys, I was gonna ask you for final thoughts, but I think we've kind of covered enough stuff that if we try and round everything up, we're going to go on for another half an hour. So I think we're gonna call it where we're at.

And thank you all so much for your time and for being here for this and for chatting through all this stuff. I think it's such an important topic. So thank you all for being here.

All: Thanks for having me. Thanks Melissa, you so much.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We'll be back next week with a number of different presenters for the Confident Dog Conference to talk about that specific topic. So building confidence in your dog. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast and iTunes the podcast app of your choice there. 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! 

E339: What is a Confident Dog, Anyway? with Dr. Am...
E338: Preparing Young Sports Dogs for Competition ...

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