E365: Dr. Amy Cook, Crystal Wing, and Erin Lynes - "The Power of Play"

What's the big deal about play, anyway? Join us for a conversation on the benefits of play... and how to tap into your inner child, so both you and your dog can enjoy playing together! 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Dr. Amy Cook, Crystal Wing, and Erin Lynes here with me to talk about playing with your dog in advance of the One Day Play Conference. Whole lot of the word play in that sentence. All right. Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast.

To start us out, I'm gonna have you guys each just kind of briefly introduce yourselves, give folks a chance to maybe figure out whose voice belongs to. To whom. All right, Amy, go for it.

Amy Cook: Hi, everybody. I'm doctor Amy Cook. Fancy doctor. When I say that I'm the developer of the Playway, I teach here at the academy. Been here. Gosh, Melissa, is it eleven years now that we're in? I think we're in 11th year. God, maybe more. I teach the Playway. I teach Active Management, and I have a Sound Advice class that I teach there as well. Those are my three specialties. And I've got my two dogs with me, my aging whippet, Marzipan, my lovely little Chihuahua mixy thing Caper. Who Melissa named. I'll add. That's me. And every time you mention how old Caper is, I have to do, like, a calendar check. I never actually believe you. Eight. I know. Not fair.

Melissa Breau: All right, Crystal, your turn.

Crystal Wing: Hello, friends. I'm Crystal Wing, CB wing on Facebook. And I do protection sports and search and rescue. And with my protection sports, I get to be a helper and a decoy, which means that I get to really be up close and personal with dogs as we play.

Like they're attached to me, close and personal kind of play. And so it's just a really fun game that we get to play together. And that's where my angle comes in, is trying to learn how to build up dogs to get them to interact in really fun, powerful ways.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And Erin.

Erin Lynes: I am Erin Lynes. I'm the northernmost guest on this podcast up here in Canada, and I've got a house full of Labradors and a beagle.

So play is sort of my day to day routine for the Fenzi Academy. I teach all kinds of things, from puppy classes to senior dog classes and some sport classes, especially dock diving stuff. So for the play conference, I'm coming at play from the perspective of retrieving sports and how we can incorporate play into that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So let's start with a huge question, because that's how we do things. So what is play and why kind of bother? What are the benefits of it for our sports dogs? Crystal, you want to start us off?

Crystal Wing: Yeah. So I was so lucky to get to teach out here at the FDSA ranch about play this last weekend, and it was really fun to ask the participants, what is play? And you get to see some faces that start to go, huh?

What exactly is it? And the thought that I had this whole group of people that showed up to play that didn't really even have a clear idea or definition of what it is, I think is interesting. And what I asked them to do is just start to list some words out. And one of them that kept coming up was the word of interaction, and I thought that was interesting.

And my rabbit hole, I'm an ADHD human, so I get rabbit holes all the time and play as my rabbit hole for the last several years. And also being a high school art teacher, that has been my passion for 22 years, is to teach art students how to play. They have lost sight of that even in high school. So now, as adults, when I'm asking them, it's been a long time since a lot of them have rehearsed playing, you know?

So interaction, when I started getting my rabbit hole, made me think about sports. And play is not just sports, but games and a lot of that. When I think about sports, like, we don't play swimming or play bowling or play track and field, but we say we play soccer, football, all of the team sports, we play baseball. So when you say interaction, I thought, yeah, I'm kind of seeing how we relate that.

But really, I think interaction is the heart of it, because I think about. I play with ideas. I had to have ideas to start with. I can play in the dirt. I can play with my dog, but there's always this interactive quality about it. So that's when I think about what is play? It's this low stakes way of learning about myself and learning about others. And I think that's a really important piece of it.

You can discover different ways that you're proficient and areas that you're not as proficient. And it's okay, you know, like, I think about games even, yes, it's great to win. Yay. Fun. But when I lose, it's not that big of a deal. Like, we just move on. And when I was with the last seminar, we talked about the adrenaline and the arousal of the dog, and you don't want that to be super high because then it doesn't give you the openness, the willingness to be able to explore and play.

So even when you get really competitive, if you can be a good competitor and keep your arousal low, you're gonna be better and more playful, and you're gonna be better able to handle the things that are thrown at you. So that's kind of why what I see play as and kind of why I bother. Andrew Huberman, if you ever listen to his stuff, if you don't, he has an entire podcast episode like 2 hours long on play.

Go listen to that. If you're in a rabbit hole and you love play as much as I do, I think I've listened to that thing at least a dozen times, and I take something new every single time, and it really talks about the benefits neurobiologically and chemically. So if you wanna go that route and get really super nerdy, two thumbs up on that one. How about you guys? I'll shut up.

Melissa Breau: Go for it. Erin.

Erin Lynes: I loved a lot of what you said there, Crystal, especially you talked about interaction. And when I'm thinking about play from a dog sports perspective, that's what I'm thinking about. And moderating the dog's arousal a little bit. But also for the human handler, because when we get serious about training, we're thinking about our criteria and our reward timing and all the little pieces of it.

But when we're playing, we're, we're having these moments with our dogs where the stakes are a little lower. Um, we can, we can see what they're doing right and what we're doing right and sort of laugh off any errors a little bit. So bringing a little bit of play into our sports training, I think it's, I think the benefits are, are such that you can, you can build sports skills without worrying about the big picture so much, without the added stress of thinking about it from a competition perspective.

Just even when you think about the idea of playing more than competing or playing versus training, the words in your brain frame it differently, don't they? Like, I'm going out to play with my dogs sounds different than I'm going out to train my dogs. And as a result, I think we approach things differently when we think about it from that perspective. I often am telling my in person students, like, play with your dog a little bit.

Play with your dog a little bit. Recently, one of them said, like, what, am I supposed to be a clown? The whole time? I thought, oh, well, you don't have to be a clown the whole time. But, but I want you to be a little lighter. And as soon as she lightens up with her dog, you can just see the energy transformation. And her dog is like, oh, this is a game.

We're playing a game. I love this. You can see the handler loosen up, the body language is looser, everybody's having a good time. And the crazy thing is, they're so much more successful when they're in that state of mind. So for those of us who are positive reinforcement based trainers, and we're really trying to make things fun for our dogs, approaching training with play in mind helps make it a little more fun for us, too.

And there's just no way that doesn't get absorbed by the dog when you're feeling a little bit lighter about it. Yeah, that's sort of what I'm thinking about when I'm thinking about play.

Melissa Breau: Amy?

Amy Cook: So, yes to all of that for sure. And often when I, when I ask this question of people, as you mentioned that you did recently, Crystal, I ask this in seminars, and, and I try to say that, that we don't just, just for the sake of the argument or for the sake of considering this, we can put things that people think of as play, like tug and fetch.

Go out and play with your dog. Okay, I'm going to play fetch with them or go out and play with your dog. Right. I should tug with them. I think we can put those kinds of interactions in their own separate category, necessarily. Did not call them play, but if we look at them critically, they're not always very playful as interactions. They are transactional. They are, they give us a lot of benefits.

They give us, you know, recalls when we do fetch and you get mouth behaviors when you do tug, and those are activities that we do that are codified and specific. And I liken it to playing basketball. Basketball has rules. It might be fun, it might be very playful, but it has rules and it has an aim. And while we say we are playing basketball, I would like to offer to us all that there's a kind of play that is none of that.

There's a kind of play that is just silly social interaction. And it's what I've specialized in all this time. And it's something that is in its own, can be in its own category. It's why I call it social play or therapeutic play, because it is separate from the kind of play that we would use to reinforce or that we would used to maybe even classically condition something. Now, while they're all called play, I just have this drive to make them have their own categories and be different, because not, you can be silly and tug, but you can also not be.

And it would be an interaction, it would be a reinforcement, a thing you're doing, a wonderful activity, really enjoyable, but not necessarily play. Play is this extra element that has a social component, at least to me, and how I'm defining it now. It has a social component. So you can tug non socially and you can tug like a big goofball and really doing a lot of social element added there.

So for me, play is a silly social interaction. That is not something you can mechanize. That is something that has a lot of communication back and forth. And it's distinct to me from how training can sometimes work. Not to say that it's in a higher or lower or lesser or more valuable category, just distinct and different. And the benefits there for me are profound. There's so much benefit that we can reap from being a good communicative partner, a good, sensitive social partner, someone who takes in feedback from your learner that comes in play.

And, of course, Erin, you mentioned the lightning of everything. It's lighter to think of things as play with animals. I think we're honor bound to make as much of what we do play as possible because they are not really always getting to choose what they get to do. So the more fun it is and the more collaborative it is, I think the more benefits we get out of it.

Crystal Wing: I was thinking about that, too, and you said it's the social interaction. I was watching my little dog Radish, and she was playing with her ball, and she's on her back and she's got the ball up in the air and she's doing the cute little playful thing. And I always, I like. I like just watching how animals play by themselves. And then I even think about us as humans and watching children play and when they are entertaining themselves. And I. I do try to tap into that. And I think by doing that, it makes that social aspect easier because you really get to see what that, you know, individual enjoys.

Amy Cook: I mean, that's what all of my work is. The therapeutic social play is that kind of play. It's not the reinforcing kind. It's the. The kind you would do just to. Just to enjoy it is just for the enjoyment of it.

Crystal Wing: Yeah. And I think we get so hung up on the idea that play a game, and so it automatically almost gets into competitive feelings. And I just think that so many rules and that was just a huge thing that I keep kind of talking to people and kind of feeling out and seeing what they think about it. And it's. It's not just that. It's games and rules. I'm so on the same page with you.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So you all kind of brought up this idea of, like, how serious we can get, right? Sometimes even in play. Any tips for tapping that inner child? Maybe figuring out how to loosen up things and lighten up things and make play more fun or kind of play in a way that our dog can actually really enjoy? Erin, you want to start us off on this one?

Erin Lynes: I think the key is to be authentic and to be genuinely in the moment with your dog and what they're doing.

And I know that as someone who is supposed to be a grown up and often with witnesses around, you can feel a little silly. If you are, you're getting playful with your dog, but when you're really in one of those playful moments, I don't know about you guys, but I get so much joy from just shutting everything out. And when my dog responds and I do this thing I call tickle fingers, and you see their little eyes light up and they kind of dart around a little bit, you don't, you're not really worrying about how it looks from the outside or how silly it might be.

It just feels fun. It feels like you are, like Amy mentioned the communication and how your dog is responding to your play tactics. If you can get them instigating a different pilot player, sometimes they'll say, like, not that game today. Hang on, I've got a better game. And they'll come up with a different game. And I just love that. I think, oh, look at you wanting to play with me, but you've got a better idea.

I don't know. I think dog people are, maybe they're. Maybe we're a little better at this as we get a little bit older and just generally more silly in general. But letting go of what you think you should be behaving like and just being in the moment with your dog, don't worry about what other people are seeing or thinking or video can make this tricky. So if you're working on your play skills and you want to get better at that and you're videoing it, that feels almost like the same as somebody watching.

You know, even if you never show that video to anybody, it feels like somebody's watching. So one of the things you can do, practice videoing yourself, playing with your dog, and then don't even look at it for a little while. Just delete it. It's like it's just the practice of playing under pressure. Right. Um, and you'll, you'll soon start to think like that. None of that stuff matters when you really start to get the, the back and forth vibe going with your dog.

Melissa Breau: Amy?

Amy Cook: Yeah, you're so right. We do get really serious as we grow up. And as Crystal mentioned, you don't have to grow up very far to start to get serious. I think most of my professional life now, I've been coaching people to get silly, coaching people to play. I'm not really coaching dogs. I'm helping you do this with your dog. Dogs already know how to play. But the thing is, so do we.

We've often forgotten, but we know how to. And so my job is to identify the pieces that are in the way. And one of the things that I'll just highlight, one thing that I find that's in the way here, and it is that we're not as practiced at listening. We're quite practiced at talking. We're quite practiced at directing dogs. We're quite practiced at training dogs and leading and telling them where to go and what to do.

We're not very practiced at listening and actually seeing what answers we get. We're so ready to jump in and fill in the rest of the sentence or reinforce something so quickly. So when people are trying to learn to do this, trying to find their inner child, remember that children take what's called tarry time. Children process more slowly. Children take it all in. They're not doing a lot of narrative on the inside.

They see what is in front of them. And so if you're trying to learn to do this, slow down, take a breath. Really, really listen, really look warmly at what your dog is doing. It may not get you there right then in that moment, but the practice is eventually going to get you there. You'll find your childhood if you do that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome, Crystal?

Crystal Wing: Oh, my brain is exploding. I'm trying to narrow down all these thoughts I have. So I'm going back to my high schoolers because that's what I know, that's where I come from, and I'm thinking about as adolescents, we start to prioritize our logical brain at that point, we start to become better problem solvers, and the imaginative play starts to diminish. I mean, that's just part of that. And this can be really good for solving problems and working through logical things, but it diminishes our emphasis on creativity and imagination, and that's what play is.

And that creativity is also super vulnerable because when you're being creative, you're being kind. Those are all kind of linked together in my mind. It takes a lot of confidence to do that. And I think that's something that is really hard for us to build as adults. You have to be vulnerable to allow yourself to be different, and being creative is being different, and that all relates back to that play.

And so if you're thinking differently than others, you're kind of becoming yourself, and that's kind of a scary thing in our world, there's so many things I want to keep going. So I think what I heard from Amy, too, is recognizing what's holding you back, because holding you back there, as you're saying, listening. And I so 100% agree with you. You have to be able to listen and observe, and it's like observe with a capital O, and you have to be willing to let in any answers that maybe you didn't expect.

And we kind of want to have this control over things and control over our reactions and control. And with play, you have to let go of that control. A lot of us are out of practice. It's probably been a couple days since you've been a child, and so the longer you haven't been there, the harder this may be for you, and it's okay to recognize that. So what is holding you back if it's perfectionism?

One of the fun things that I made up in this last seminar is I told people that they had to draw their dogs badly, and we were going to share that because it was really hard for people to let go and try to draw badly, and they would say, I'm a bad drawer. Well, then do it. Draw something really badly. But knowing that they were going to put it in front of others to see it was that perfectionism piece holding them back.

So what is it that's holding you back? And I think that's going to be a great way to tap into your inner child. I do want to give a quick little thing to think about. What's his name? Doctor Stuart Brown. He talks about there's eight distinct playstyles for adults. And I think when I talk about holding you back, also think about who you are, and maybe that can help you identify or kind of create a playstyle.

He talks about the joker, the kinesthete, the explorer, the competitor, the director, the collector, the creator, and the storyteller. So he has said that these eight different types are kind of what you might identify more with. And if you already kind of know where you fit in that realm and you can go and look them up again, it's Doctor Stuart Brown. Then you can go, okay, I'm a creator or I'm a storyteller, or I'm the Joker.

And how can you then translate those things you already do naturally and start branching out from there? So also identify what holds you back but also who you are and develop and kind of grow from there? How can we use these skills then to kind of first kind of build our skills?

Melissa Breau: Right. How can we use play to build our skills and then actually apply that play to improve our training? Amy?

Amy Cook: You know, I can let certainly my esteemed colleagues here really talk about using play in training, using play as reinforcement, using play to sharpen the things you do with your dog. The way I sort of think of it is that what it's going to build skill wise for you is that you will be a better listener, which I did just say, and that that always improves your training because then you're not just going on autopilot.

You're actually in the same moment with your dog on the same page, and you will catch an error. You'll catch a place where your dog is starting to say, no, thanks, or I'm not okay with some of these things. So catch it better if you're in the moment and play makes you stay in the moment. I don't know if all other kinds of training does that as well as that.

And then I think it definitely improves your training because play really helps your dog just be in a better mood and in a better place as a learner and so sort of globally and indirectly, it's going to be helping all of that. But I know, of course, that play skills really help with reinforcement, but I'll let others talk about that kind of thing.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Crystal?

Crystal Wing: Okay, I will. So I think culturally, too, a lot of us think that if we have a fun job that it's not really working. It's, you know, like, if you want to be a photographer because you love photography, then there's this kind of thing of like, oh, you're just doing this thing because it's fun and you shouldn't make a lot of money at it. And I think a lot of creatives get that.

And so there's a cultural expectation that fun and work don't go together. And so that's where I come from. If we can think of play as fun and instead of going ABC antecedent behavior consequence, let's start thinking about the end of the reinforcement is the opportunity to start the next cycle again. So if you're tugging and it's an out, it's not ABC out. Now we're done. And now we start back over at A instead.

Think about the tug is maybe A and then the out is the next piece, and then now, you know, because out is a behavior. And so then what's the consequence for the out? So we can start thinking about A little differently. And when I think about training, play is the foundation of everything. If I can play for two minutes, that was something Fanny Gott told me, that it really stuck.

She's like, if you can't play for two minutes, then how are you going to expect your dog to be able to focus and work for two minutes? And I thought, oh, okay, all right, let's go play for two minutes. And instead of thinking about play as the afterthought, as the consequence, I think about play as the entire thing, and I start intertwining little bits of obedience into it.

So in my play, all of a sudden she offers something or my dog offers a little something that I'm like, oh, I can use that for behavior, and now I can capture that in my play and I can keep building on those behaviors. And all of a sudden I'm training. But my main focus of my session was play. And I ask a lot of people, how often is play your main focus?

Because I get a lot of the, well, I guess I could just go out and play. Just play. Oh, my brain explodes when you say that. I'm like, what do you mean, just play? I'm going to go out and play capital P-lay, exclamation point. And then I'm going to start interweaving my obedience in there because play is fun and obedience is fun, and all of my behaviors all just seamlessly flow into it.

I want to do tinkering. I want to have curiosity. And one of the. Oh, one of my favorite things I love to do in play is I think about play as a way to limit power. I'm big and strong. I'm more powerful than my dog. And so this is my way to kind of role play a little bit. I can be a weak little bunny, and I can be this, like, little, you know, thing that you can play and then kick around and beat up, and then I can become a sparring buddy and it's like, oh, we're kind of like jabbing back and forth.

Don't hit your dog. Okay. But just the idea that, you know, and then, you know, I can become weak again. So I love that play. Gives me a chance to kind of role play for my dog, and I can just make it fun the whole way through, because isn't that what it should really be, or am I just crazy? I don't answer that one. That's rhetorical.

Melissa Breau: Erin, you want to give the question a go?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, you're crazy, but we love it.

Melissa Breau: Oh, no, not that one.

Erin Lynes: Okay, Crystal, everything you said, I was like, are you reading from my presentations group? No. This is great. So we're on the same page, because the more involved I get in dog training, the more my dog training doesn't feel like dog training. It feels like play. And those spontaneous behaviors that show up during play that are like, oh, I like that you can do that.

And we build from there. So my current super excitement fascination is building stays out of play. So my, all my youngest dogs love to stay because stay starts the engine of all the fun things that come next. And they're like, look at me. I'm staying. Oh, my God. I'm staying. What's gonna happen next? This is great. And I can get really great stays without, like, honestly, I had one of my dogs on the dock the other day, and I was like, who taught you this brilliant stay?

And I was like, oh, we just played. We just played in it. It came out of that, because she's like, I know that this leads to fun things that I enjoyed, and it's. I'm sure it's not the same thing as Doctor Amy's therapeutic play, but I think that there's these similar benefits that come with your relationship that are taking the pressure away from failure. Because when you're playing these little games with your dog and you've got the toy or you've got cookies or you've got just personal play, and it's spiraling into behaviors that you're starting to reinforce a little bit by how you shape the game.

Your dog likes that. And when the. When a mistake happens, it's not a big deal. There's. You're. You're taking that feedback and saying, okay, well, I took two steps too far that time, and the play didn't shape the way I wanted to be. So I'll take it a little easier next time. So there's. There's. There's that definitely that aspect of listening to your dog and them telling you what they're comfortable with, what they, um.

What they understand, um, you reading their body language, and I, like, I can see, when my dog is way too over aroused that their brain isn't on because their play behavior changes. Um, all those little clues, it's very, it's just, I think it's just everything about training is better when your play skills. And by play skills, I mean, like the humans play skills almost more than the dogs play skills because, um, the dogs do know how to play.

We have to figure out how we do it with them so that it's an enjoyable thing for both of us. And so there's that communication back and forth. But that's the fun part, is just watching the communication happen in their responses to, to all the little play decisions that come through it. So that's, it's just really fun to talk to other people who are obsessed with the play part of it, because that is, that is all my training is these days is just spiraling play into new and interesting opportunities and seeing what takes us.

And part of how I'm dealing with that with my own dogs these days is I'm letting the play that we do together shape what direction we even go in sports training. Like, oh, you really like to tug or you really like to chase me or what are the things that I'm seeing as their favorite parts of play and growing those in a way that sort of, I think, and I hope, makes sports a more fulfilling part of their life. Not just something that I like to do with them, that something that they, that meets a need for them and that, that they're really enjoying and looking forward to in every possible way.

Crystal Wing: I love what you said about teaching this stay in play because I taught my down through play. I taught my stay through play, and my stay is what I use for my human remains detection dog, for Radish.

So by using the toy and the toy freezes, well, what do they do? They naturally freeze, too. And that it all just is so seamless and beautiful. And now it's all through play, and it was all so much fun. So now it's in this high arousal, too. And so I think in answering the question, we can use play to build our skills. Because when you talked about your dog changes when they're in high arousal.

I'd rather learn that through play and figure out how to modulate that through the play that I do versus in real life when something happens. And now they're higher than a kite and I can't figure out how to bring them back to earth. So that's also a great way to use play, to use arousal and then get your stillness but then also, you're super stoked at the same moment. It's such a cool thing.

Melissa Breau: I love it. Awesome. All right, so I want to talk for just a moment about each of your presentations. So I kind of pulled out a question for each of you, kind of based on that, I know you're each talking about slightly different aspects of play in your talks for the conference. So, Crystal, I'm going to pick on you first here. I know you're planning to kind of break down the predatory motor pattern. Can you share just a little bit of. Of a sample for us, kind of what it is and why it matters and why it's included in our conversation here about play?

Crystal Wing: I'll try to overshare. So, Ray Coppinger's work. Ray and Lorna, his wife, they looked at this sequence of behaviors, and each one builds on the next. And if we think about our dogs and ourselves as predators, there are a certain motor pattern that they will go through.

And some people are lucky with dogs that are into the entire process. They'll go from scanning and searching to stalking, creeping, chasing, biting, thrashing, dissecting. And I add parading in there, like what Jo Rosie says, because it needs to be in there. You watch the dogs when they get their toy, and they're just like, liquid I got, and you get the wiggle body. Are you seeing it? You see it in your mind?

Yeah, it's the best. Right? And then they go over and they're, like, defluffing the toy. So even though I'm talking about predators, I'm talking about it in relation to play, not as in, I'm talking about, I want you to go out and let your dog go kill some animal. It's not what I'm talking about. This is all pretend make believe. It's just like we pretend make believe different things, too.

And so, by understanding this, um, we can then kind of figure out how we can use those behaviors. Notice I didn't really mention the toys. It's the behaviors. So by observing and listening and seeing what our dogs enjoy doing, then we can start to say, okay, well, my dog really loves to chase. So what are things that my dog can chase? Um, my dog really loves to kill, thrash.

You know, they. They love shaking the thing around. So what toys would I choose? And if my dog likes one thing more than another, I can also start to kind of build the gaps in between. And by knowing the theory, it makes the learning and the skills easier. Once I know the science and the theory, it makes me answer or ask questions differently. So the more kind of background I have, the more I can start to understand what my dog is doing. So what they enjoy, it builds our connection, our relationship, and, yeah, I'll just stop there because I can keep going. I'll stop.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. But I still think that's a pretty good sample. Right. It gives you a little bit of an idea what you're going to dive deeper into in the presentation.

Crystal Wing: Oh, and if you're tired of dogs biting handles, I have some ideas. I also want to talk about that. So if you're one of those friends, you should tune in.

Melissa Breau: Perfect. Erin, you're taking a slightly different angle. So you're talking about the retrieve, right, as kind of a core aspect of a number of different dog sports, most of which you teach something for or something on. For us at Fenzi, fetch is also kind of that iconic game, right, that we think of when we think about playing with our dog.

Usually, you know, your average pet owner kind of gets the dog and expects to play fetch in the backyard. That's kind of a given. But how do we ensure that we carry the fun of fetch through to our work instead of accidentally adding work and suddenly making the fetch no more fun?

Erin Lynes: That's a really good question. So I think that a lot of teams do see a pretty clear distinction between the fun fetch that they play in the backyard and the more formal retrieve that they may need for a sport.

And I think that the play patterns that I'm going to show you in my presentation are going to help bridge the gap a little bit. So, of course, we as handlers tend to think, what is the big picture that we're needing to see for a competition? What does a hunt test retrieve need to look like? What are the skills that I need for a dock diving retrieve?

What is it got to be for shed antler competition? All those different sorts of things. We have a slightly different vision of what the retrieve needs to look like when we get a little too stuck in thinking about the final picture, sometimes that can suck the fun out of it because we worry about getting that big end goal picture where our dog likes to chase the ball in the backyard and we can totally just shape what they like.

So part of what I'm looking at in my presentation is, WTF? Where's the fun? So where is, what part of the retrieve chain does this dog specifically enjoy the most so that we can take those, that that enjoyable part and, and use it to our advantage in our training, but also so we can take the parts of the retrieve that they don't like the most and add play to make them more fun.

So, um, Crystal, you're, you had some good examples in there, and it's coming all from the predatory motor chain. Um, but there's lots of dogs who like to chase an object and they, they pick it up because it's part of the retrieve, but they like the chasing part, the next dog, they want to have the toy in their mouth and they like the parading part and they'd like to keep it, please, and not give it back so much.

So I'm teaching patterns of play that we will do primarily at the end of a retrieve that the dog learns to anticipate. Okay. There's these three different super fun things that we might do at the end of the retrieve. I'll wait for the cue to see which one it's going to be, but they're taught separately from the retrieve. You install them when you realize what your dog needs to help bridge the fun factor into the game for them.

And then the idea is that our dogs anticipate that it could be any one of these games that they really like. So part of playing is what is the other person going to do next? I can't wait to see what happens. That little anticipation factor. So we're building that into our system, and it adding play into a formal retrieve situation does not need to make it less fun or make it too serious or make the criteria so strict that we, we kind of suck the joy out for either party.

It's just a matter of balancing those different play patterns and making sure our dogs know, so the dogs know that those are the different options and how to use them strategically. So that's what I'm covering. And I've got, I've got so many super fun videos I can't wait to show you about little puppies in training and big dogs and working all the different sports. So it's, it's going to be really fun.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. All right, so third take, totally different. Again, Amy, in your work, you kind of use, play quite differently than everybody else has been talking about for all their sports stuff. I know you even use the word therapy kind of when you're talking about this stuff. So what is it about play that is so different and then maybe just a little bit on how it's kind of different the way a lot of people go about changing our dog's feelings. I mean, I know that's kind of your bread and butter.

Amy Cook: So it is my bread and butter. And as we know, or maybe some of you don't. I could talk about that question for two days, and I do in a two day seminar. So the challenge, of course, is to pare down what to focus on to answer your question. So I will. I will say that to give new listeners an idea, I use play differently when it comes to using it therapeutically.

And I'll say, sort of to wet your whistle, I'll say that I don't put play this style of play. I play like everybody else as well. I also play for reinforcement. I play a lot of ways, but for Playway, I don't put it as the C in the ABC. It's not a consequence to any behavior that's chosen by the dog. I also don't put it in the place where we put classical conditioning things like food or toys, not trying to change their feelings by pairing play with something that changed in the environment or something that they chose.

So for this, it's about almost not quite an establishing operation, but almost, I want to make sure you're in the right frame of mind to be learning anything at all. And if you can't be in your body and be silly and loosen up and play with me in the way that we can in other places, maybe just at home, when you're safe, I'm sure you are safe.

I don't know that you're in the right frame of mind to be learning things I want to teach you or. Or things about the environment that have changed things you're scared of, things you have questions about. So I use play as a. As a gauge, as a barometer for myself as a trainer. And I use play to help me set threshold correctly. Because if you can't do this one thing that is, you know, that would really show if stressors are coming in, then I don't want to ask you to concentrate on my.

On my play for the. I'm sorry. Concentrate on my training for the more valuable reinforcers or to concentrate on what you might find to be a trigger for classical reasons. It's kind of a low bar. It's my. It's my bar to entry. If you can't do this, I don't want to progress you to other things, and it has plenty of other benefits. But that, again, the two day thing I would need, but for a main takeaway I want new people to think of is that I don't want you to be reinforcing stuff with this style of play.

That's not what social interactions do. They're not for reinforcement. They're owed us anyway. They're not part of quid pro quo. They're not something you earn. And I want people to think of it as, how is my dog feeling? Let's do a temperature check, and let's get away from the really high value things like food and toys and tag and prey and other things like that, which would hide whether your dog is truly ready to work, because now they're going to say, I'm ready.

I'm ready. I really want that thing. And, like, actually, are you? Are you really ready? Are you really sure that you feel emotionally safe here? People, dogs, anybody will say they're safe to get the thing they want. I feel safe. I do. I want the thing. I need to actually ask you on a lower level. And so that's one aspect of the many therapeutic aspects of. Of play that I certainly like to delve into and want two days to explain.

Melissa Breau: Well, unfortunately, we don't have two days.

Amy Cook: I know. I know. It's hard for Amy to be brief. She's trying very hard. She's trying.

Melissa Breau: I think you've earned points. I think you're doing an excellent job. All right, so I wanted to just. I know we just talked a little bit about presentations, but I wanted to just kind of round things out here as we come to the end of our hour by giving you guys a chance to maybe just share a little more about your presentation and any maybe final thoughts you kind of have on the bigger topic here. Erin, you want to start us off?

Erin Lynes: Oh, yes, I do. So, for my presentation, we're really looking about how we can make training not just more fun, but a little bit more productive. So sort of the opposite of what Amy was just talking about. Yeah, but it's in a way that I think that allows us to develop those interaction skills. Listening to your dog, what is valuable to them, seeing what parts of the retrieve, assuming our dogs want to retrieve, is part of the process here, but you're also going to find out that there's dogs who like enough parts of the retrieve that we can build a retrieve, um, based on playing to their strengths.

So getting that back and forth interaction, um, listening to what our dog's preferences are, growing those, being a fun partner, and. And giving them some options that are exciting because they don't always know exactly what's going to happen. So a little bit of the the game action, um, in our game, within a game, is what I call my presentation, because that's really what it is. It's not focusing so much on the end result that we lose sight of the picture, that it is fun and it's playful and that we can build out little pieces with little smaller games as well. So have fun with your dog and play with your dog and keep things light and silly, and everybody wins.

Melissa Breau: Excellent, Amy?

Amy Cook: Yeah. So in the presentation this time, I'm going to compare and contrast a little bit in the beginning about what kinds of play that we would use for reinforcement. I won't delve too far into it, but I want to show that playing as a reward, as a reinforcement for something a dog did is distinct.

It's different. You've got things you can choose from that category, but it's being used differently. Same with if people want to use play in behavior change, in trigger work, in aggression and fear and things like that. The how where you put it, where. How your timing works for those two models, for the operant model and the classical model are distinct. They're different. And. And I'm going to show how that is not like using play for therapy, using play to.

To get behavior change in a different way by saying, I want to prepare you for learning and I want to check myself as a trainer to make sure you. I'm not stressing you out. So, um, I'm going to cover how that's different and then how to kind of drop into that frame of mind yourself and and and know when you're out of it. It is a conversation, and in.

In what I want to present to you, it's a conversation that the dog leads, which is not always true in the ABC model and then the classical model, the trainer is leading that. I mean, we're certainly collaborating, we're listening, but. But the trainer's leading that. And in playway or in therapeutic play, I want the dog to lead, not only because it's just kind of great to give a dog a chance to do that when their life isn't really built around that, but also because in them leading, they can say a much more clear, no, thank you, or a much more clear, I don't feel right or a much more clear, wait, I'm busy.

I'll lead you when I'm done doing a thing, and I need to know that if I were the one leading, they may not veto me, they may not feel powerful enough to say, hey, wait, stop it. Or some dogs are, but many dogs aren't. So. And I'll show how letting them have a strong voice in it can give you the information you really need. I think going forward, especially for behavior work, but certainly for training as well.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. All right, Crystal?

Crystal Wing: So for mine, I think if you want to learn about the play as a natural education, kind of the selective breeding that we do and how we can use those characteristics, I'll cover some flirt pole stuff. Not huge in depth, but how to use one, some toy and candy selection keys. Calls it candy instead of treats. I like it. It makes me think more playful way about gripping toys and not being so aversive to handlers of biting hands and such.

So that's always helpful stuff. And the idea that I'm taking away from today, and I'm just sitting here in awe of all three of you and how inspired I am just getting to have this opportunity to chat with you. But just that play is more than games. And I love how Amy said that it's a barometer, and it so is, and in so many different ways. And I love how we are using it in similar and different ways.

Just, oh, it's so great. And then thinking about how Erin started off saying, we need to be a little lighter, that's also a huge takeaway, because a lot of people have a hard time being lighter because culturally, you know, everything is just serious. You know, point a to point b, you know, don't. Don't deviate. And so here we're asking, and we're. We're giving you tools to be creative.

And in being creative, we're asking to be vulnerable. And that's such a huge ask of anyone. And that's really what play is. And that's why it can be so hard for so many people. But I will say that once you can really tap into that creativity, it is so empowering. And I think that when you see your dog become creative and that you can observe and you can listen to them, it is super empowering for your dog, too.

And that's. That's the real power that I've seen in play. Um, you. You just build this sense of self that it's when you get the dog that looks at you like, finally you get me. And I've really only seen that huge change through play. It's not through the obedience, it's not through any other way that is through play that you get that. And it's because it's low stakes, and it's such a beautiful thing. It's the foundation of everything we do.

Melissa Breau: I feel like that's the perfect place to kind of round things out. So, thank you all so much for coming on the podcast. What an excellent place to finish. We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty free by Bensound.com. The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


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

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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