PODCAST E101: Denise Fenzi - Do You Want to be Goal Oriented?

Denise comes on the podcast to talk about the latest happenings at FDSA (and boy is there a lot happening!) and then to chat about the differences between being goal oriented and process oriented. Which do YOU want to be?


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 we have FDSA founder Denise Fenzi back to talk with us about goal setting, the latest happenings at FDSA, and more.

Welcome back, Denise!

Denise Fenzi: Hi Melissa. How are you?

Melissa Breau: Good, good. To start us out, I was hoping to talk about the stuff going on at FDSA right now, because there's a whole bunch of it. Let's start with February's class session. Registration closes today — the day this episode comes out. Anything folks should know about this session? Any advice for those procrastinators who are still on the fence about registering for one class or another?

Denise Fenzi: Well, get to it, because you're already about two weeks behind. The good news is, especially if you're at Bronze and you are auditing, you really can't be behind because all of our classes run at your own pace. We talk about this all the time, but I know that some people put pressure on themselves. You don't need to do that. You can take your time.

I am excited. There's so much going on. We have some super, super good classes and some new stuff, so if you've haven't taken a look, go ahead and wander over to the classes section and see if there's something for you.

Melissa Breau: The next big thing coming up is Camp. For any listeners who may not be in the know, can you share the details?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, absolutely. Camp is one of the highlights of the year for students at FDSA. We have already exceeded all expectations and already have more people registered than we've ever had before, so we're going to have a big event. The dates are May 17 through 19 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I don't know how many instructors we have. Do you know, Melissa? Is it like ten, fifteen?

Melissa Breau: It's more than that.

Denise Fenzi: Twenty?

Melissa Breau: I would have to count.

Denise Fenzi: I have no idea. It's a lot. We have a lot of people and a lot of coverage. We have behavior, and all the various dog sports, and we have introductory work, and we have problem-solving sessions.

I often emphasize that camp is so much more than what you will learn. Camp is about spending time with like-minded people who will support you, and we put a lot of energy into that. We also put a lot of energy into ensuring that our prices stay very, very reasonable. I believe early bird registration wraps up at the end of this month. We have less than fifty auditing spaces left, working is sold out, so I fully expect camp will sell out. So if this is something you want to do, you want to do it sooner rather than later, and it's a little less expensive this month than it will be next month. So I hope to see you there.

Melissa Breau: So we have seventeen. I went and counted. Well, sixteen plus one that's not yet an FDSA instructor.

Denise Fenzi: All right. Well, seventeen is lots of people to talk to and see, and I don't know … what do we have … four, five, six labs running at a time, so there really is something for everyone.

Melissa Breau: I know each year the theme is a big secret, but are you willing to drop a hint?

Denise Fenzi: Oh dear. Melissa very kindly told me that she was going to ask me this question, but I wasn't paying enough attention and now I'm going, Oh dear, a hint, a hint. I do have a hint, but then part of my head says, "Is it a big hint? Is it a little hint?" So I'm mentally going through a few possibilities. I will tell you this. I'm going to tell you two things. I'm going to give you a concrete hint, but I'm also going to tell you that I start dropping hints about camp roughly three to four months before camp starts. So it's one of those things that after camp you can look back and say, "Oh my God, how did I miss it? It was so obvious." So I have already started that process. That is your hint. I've already started.

Melissa Breau: All right. Now, up on the FDSA Camp site — which, for anybody who hasn't been, is FDSAtrainingcamp.com — there is a new tab that appeared just a couple of days ago labeled "Mini Camps." What's that about?

Denise Fenzi: Yeah, mini camps are cool. My personal interest in terms of the growth of FDSA is more community: more groups getting together and working together. One of my ideas or visions for making that happen is encouraging people to bring in two or three or four instructors to work together so that a community can develop around that. What happens is if you bring in one person, maybe you get, oh, thirty or forty people show up. If you bring in two, now you get fifty or sixty. If you bring in three, you get more. And that starts to create opportunities for people to connect.

What mini camps are is individuals around the world who have said, "OK, great. I will bring in two or more instructors and work something out, make it happen." And they ran with it. We mentioned it, and the next thing I know there were seven mini camps listed, and I think many other people are talking about them and considering what options might work in their areas. So I am really excited about mini-camps. They are not FDSA-sponsored events, but they are something we encourage and we like to see, and hopefully they will spread all over the place.

Melissa Breau: Is there any particular reason why now?

Denise Fenzi: I think I'm always thinking about what else is out there, and where do I want to see the world of positive reinforcement training go, and where do I see the role of FDSA within that future. Really, this has been on my mind for a year or two.

We had one last year in New Hampshire and it was such a fantastic experience — actually, we're doing it again this year, I don't know, five, six, seven instructors; as we know, I don't count very well — and it was so uplifting, not only for the instructors, but for the students, and there was a lot of casual time. And then I saw Megan Foster hosting one in Washington, and it was super successful, and then pulling together another one in Colorado.

I think just in combination with my sense that it is so important that instructors have an opportunity to work with students, and even more important that students have an opportunity to create communities. And I felt that the time was right. The online opportunities for learning are undeniably excellent, you can learn everything, but you still need to have in-person friends, and I would like to be a part of that process.

Melissa Breau: Those aren't the only new things going on with the Academy. The very first workshop just opened for registration. Can you share a little bit on what they are and how they work?

Denise Fenzi: As I said, I'm looking for ways to bring community together, but I'm also looking for ways to inspire and hold more students. So the goal is not to get students; it's to retain them, it's to educate them, it's to excite them, it's to keep them with us.

Workshops are designed for students who find six weeks just a little too much, or for students who do much better with a visual presentation style. What they are is a one-week-long class. The first class is a presentation by an instructor for roughly an hour, maybe a little less, on a very narrow topic. And then the students have a week to practice what they learned, and they will be given specific steps. The people who sign up for working spots in a workshop will then submit a video.

At the end, after about four or five days, the instructor will review that video, and then all of the students, whether working or auditing, who took the workshop will come back for a webinar together, where they will review together what the instructor saw with those student videos and answer any questions that the students may have. So it's a really nice opportunity for one topic, intense focus on it, and an opportunity to see many, many students apply it who are going to have all different skill levels.

One of the really exciting things is that the price is so reasonable. It's $29.95 for an auditing spot, so that means you have two opportunities: the first one to watch the presentation, and then the second one to watch the students apply it and talk to the instructor.

A working spot is $39.95. This means that people who struggle to afford a Silver or a Gold spot can start to get world-class feedback and to have a chance to ask questions and interact and create that community that we can do in webinars.

So I'm very excited about this, and I think they may be super-popular and bridge many goals that I have together.

Melissa Breau: For folks who haven't been on the page yet, who haven't looked at the site yet, the first couple, Sarah's doing one on Happy Holds, and then we've got one on fronts, one on pivots, Julie Flannery is going to do one on three behaviors for freestyle, and then Denise is doing on one precision handling. So we've got a good mix there of skills and things that people tend to be excited about working on but maybe are a little too narrow to do a whole six-week class about, right?

Denise Fenzi: Perfect.

Melissa Breau: Alright, now that we've gotten the new stuff out of the way, we wanted to chat about the role of goals in dog training. I think most people either see themselves as goal oriented or … not. Before we jump in, I wanted to ask: Do you see yourself as goal oriented?

Denise Fenzi: No. No, I don't. Not in dog training. If you had asked me that ten years ago, I would have said I'm exceptionally goal oriented, but I've really lost a lot of that … let's call it forward and focused drive. I still have a lot of drive to train, but I would say I am no longer a goal-oriented dog trainer.

Melissa Breau: I think most people would look at being goal oriented as a good thing. Would you agree?

Denise Fenzi: Well, this topic comes up a lot. It comes up in seminars, it comes up in in-person conversations, it comes up on the alumni list — the issue of being a goal-oriented person or not. I'm actually fascinated by this topic, that people think that this is a good or bad, so I'd love to spend a few minutes talking about what I see as the benefits or disadvantages.

When I was goal oriented … and so, for example, when I was working on my obedience championships and many other dog sports that I've done, I was highly goal oriented, and I would say it's a mixed bag.

On the plus side … I'll give you an example. My dog Raika had a very hard time learning to do scent discrimination, and it took … I don't know, it's been a very long time, but let's say weeks or months, and there was a lot of stress and a lot of suffering and a lot of frustration, largely on my part, but probably a little bit on her part. I didn't feel I was able to communicate with her, and as a result, two things happened. First of all, I came up with a new way of training it, so that's always, always a benefit. But the second thing is I was forced, whether I like it or not, to stay in the game and to find a solution.

If I hadn't been goal oriented … so, for example, now, if I'm training my dog to do some random thing and it doesn't go well, if I don't actually have something out there, a carrot that is pulling me, and I don't have a competition or something, I just walk away from it. I don't push through it because why? Why suffer unnecessarily?

When I am goal driven, when there is something out there for me, I don't walk away. I cannot walk away. Well, that's not totally true. I walk away, but I come right back. So in the morning I'm upset and frustrated, and in the afternoon I have some idea. And then the next day I'm upset. What happens is the lows are very low and the highs are very high, and so when you make a breakthrough, it's huge, it matters, it's everything, but when things don't go well, the lows are quite low because the frustration, "It's over; if I can't get through this, everything is gone," and you can really work yourself into quite a space, and I've done that.

So what I would say is when you are goal driven and there's something out there that's not flexible, it forces learning, it forces creativity, and that is fantastic, the learning. What is not fantastic is if you are not a flexible person, or if you take things seriously, it can really harm you and erode your confidence in yourself and your love of why you're doing it.

If I look back, I have certainly done sports where if I asked myself now, I would say, "Did I even want to do that? Was I doing it because I enjoyed the process, or was I doing it because I was going somewhere?" And I would say sometimes I was going somewhere. I don't know, is that good or bad? I don't think it is good or bad. It just is.

Now I'm fairly process oriented, so what I would say is the highs are not as high because I don't have to work so hard, but the lows are not as low, so there's a little tradeoff. But what I have found is where goals force depth and excellence, because when I was competing in obedience, out of 200 points, a 198 very often did not place, so if you need to come up with a 199, I guarantee you are going to become a good trainer. You have no choice because the precisions, the expectations, are so high.

Now what's happened is instead of focusing on depth, I focus on breadth. Because I don't have to sweat the small details, I do a lot of "what if." What happens if I let my dog choose his reinforcer? What happens if I start the session by leaving him in the yard to wander around with me for ten minutes while I do something else? I spend a huge amount of time … I would say more than fifty percent of my training time now is "what happens if."

What that does, whereas when I was pushing for depth within a specific field, what that did was refine my skill and problem-solving at something that was predetermined from the outside. What happens now is I have a lot more range to explore what's in my own mind.

Out of curiosity, on many occasions I've put out a variety of possible reinforcers and a variety of possible things for my dog to do, dumbbells and platforms, and then just asked my dog, "What would you like to do?" and then watched. Did he go for a working object and bring it to me? Did he go for a reinforcer directly? How is my dog communicating with me? I don't think I would ever have allowed that to happen, I would have been too fearful when I was goal-driven to be quite that relaxed.

In the greater scheme of things I'm pretty mellow, even within goal orientation, compared to my peers. But now everything is like, Eh, you know, what's the worst that can happen? There is no worst thing. It doesn't matter. I'm not going anywhere.

And then sometimes really unusual things happen. For example, I was sort of curious about verbal discrimination. I spent the weekend with Julie Flannery, and she is involved in sports where verbal discrimination is very important. I've never been in a sport where it was very important, but I got intrigued. So I came home and I said, maybe two or three weeks, I spent a lot of energy on verbal discrimination strictly for fun. There was no goal out there. And then I decided to play with the TEAM program, which is the obedience program I support, and a really amazing thing happened. I recognized that my dog's ability to do several of the skills in that program had improved tremendously as a result of the fact that I had worked just on verbal discrimination, which is quite an interesting result. I would not have been able to see that if I had just been focusing.

So what I would say to people is it's not good or bad to be goal driven or to be a little bit more on the … I don't know what you call the alternative to goal driven, because I simply enjoy training dogs. I enjoy training dogs whether I have goals or not. It's just something I like to do. But I think it's important to recognize what different people bring to the table, and your goal-driven individuals, they're going to bring depth, especially when the problem is defined. And I think what your process-oriented people are going to bring to the table, the ones who are simply exploring opportunities, they're going to bring breadth, and they are going to bring completely new ideas, whereas the goal-oriented person is going to bring new methods and new problem solving. The concepts are going to come from people who don't have a goal. And so which is better? To me, those are both amazing opportunities. It just depends where you are in your life, and what you want to learn to do, and what your dogs want to do.

I'm very happy with where I am today. I don't know where I'll be in five years. Maybe I will go right back to a hardcore, driving direction. But right now I'm really enjoying seeing what there is to see in the world of concepts. It's sort of like we could do a whole 'nother episode someday on the issue of the practitioner versus the academic in the world of dog training, and I think, again, they both play such important roles. They're just different roles. They're not better or worse.

So when I see goal-driven and then I see people who simply explore, I say, "You know, there's so much to learn from the other, and there are so many ways to respect and appreciate the other for what each brings to the table. We need both." And so I hope people relax a little bit when they get too wound up that they aren't enough of a goal-driven person, or they haven't tried all these new and amazing concepts: "I haven't let my dog pick reinforcers, I haven't played with mimicry, all these cool things." That's OK. You bring something different to the table.

Melissa Breau: Do you see the option of being goal-oriented versus, I guess, more process-oriented as a choice?

Denise Fenzi: I do, but there's a lot of external drivers, so I think where you start matters. If you are in an environment where everybody else is goal driven, then almost certainly you are going to feel like you should be that person, whether you are or not, and if you're hanging out with people who are exploring concepts, and they're really going nowhere but they're learning a lot of cool things, I think the inclination is to go there.

What I see on the alumni list is some pretty hardcore vacillating back and forth. When people are accomplishing things, they got their CD, they're excited, then somebody else pipes up in sort of a sad little voice and says, "I've been training for three years and I still don't have all of the skills." OK, that's fine, but the thing is you've done a lot of interesting and cool things. And then somebody else says, "I've never done mimicry. I don't know anything about that." But that's OK. You've been going to dog shows and you've been doing other accomplishments. So do we choose? I don't know that we choose as much as the environment somewhat selects.

Mostly I see a lot of regret, which is why I'm concerned. I don't personally care what direction a person goes, but I just wish that they would value where they're at, and if they recognize that they lack understanding, that they can choose to switch. But that is where the choice comes.

After having done a lot of competitions, I would not say I consciously chose to go in a new direction. I'm glad it happened, but I could have made that choice. I could have said, "I'm a little tired of dog shows. I'm a little tired of getting up. I'm a little tired of expectation and pressure." I could have become conscious of that. I didn't, but I could have.

So maybe somebody else can listen to this and they will say, "You know, I've explored a lot of range, and maybe it's true — maybe, when the going got tough, I walked away rather than really learning to push through and persevere." That person could right now make a choice and say, "I'm going to set a goal, and I'm really going to try to meet it." Doesn't mean they will meet it, but they're going to try, and they will learn as a result.

Somebody else might say, "You know, it's true. Everything I've ever done was driven by an external goal. An external title required that my dog had this skill, that skill, and the other skill, and that's all I've ever trained. And now I want to do cool things."

Let's find out what there is to know, let's push forward with these things we talk about. Plus our 2.0 is … our Plus 2.0 is what we've been calling that. And let's see what else there is to learn. So that is the side I think is a choice, but first you have to be conscious of it, then you have to recognize the value of both possibilities, and then I think you can go forward.

Melissa Breau: And actually be intentional about which you're pursuing.

Denise Fenzi: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Talking about this online before we decided to jump in and do the recording, you mentioned this idea of "training paralysis" as something that ties into this concept. Can you talk a little bit about that? How does that fit into this picture?

Denise Fenzi: When people become goal oriented is when I see training paralysis. I don't tend to see that with the more generalist. What happens is they decide they're going to meet a goal, and in order to meet a goal, they need to learn to do it right — and this word right is very important to me, because I will tell you one thousand ways … there are so many ways to get from here to there.

But when people become goal oriented, they also tend to lock in on a method, and this is the one they're going to use to bring them to their goal. The problem is so quickly when we become super, super conscious of what we're doing and how we're doing it. Some percentage of people will fly, and others will get stuck and will just literally shut down.

I read a book recently that was talking about … I think he called it "The 80/20 Rule." In general, the first twenty percent of effort and learning you put towards a topic is going to get you eighty percent of the benefit. And I absolutely believe that. So if you train dogs, what you learn, what you take, what you hold is going to get you eighty percent of the way there. The refinement is the last twenty percent.

Where I am seeing some challenges is that people don't want to do anything until they're at one hundred percent, and I think that's an error. I think once you have a basic grasp, just get out there and do it. When you have an eighty percent understanding, don't sweat the details. Just do it. Don't "Should I hold my hand two inches higher or lower?" Don't worry about it. Just do it. Get your eighty percent, because that's going to give you a baseline and some confidence, and go forward from there.

I think that is something the goal-oriented folks need to be really conscious of and thinking about. Don't get too wound up in one hundred percent. Get to eighty percent. Maybe the next dog will get you to ninety, or maybe this same dog next year.

Then people say, "Oh my God, but there's the matching law, all those incorrect repetitions." So what? Is it better to get nothing done and sit around worrying about what you could have made a mess of, or is it better to do something? So you went to the dog show, and maybe you didn't do very well at the first show, but you went. You were at the show. Maybe at the second show you qualified by the skin of your teeth, but you went, and you did it, and you learned from it. That is your first step. Get out there. Get your foot out there and go forward. You'll get better. You get a feedback loop going. So just because you're goal driven, that doesn't mean you have to be perfect. Get out there and set your own goal.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned this in passing earlier, this idea about communicating with each other. I think that a lot of the time people in these two camps struggle with that part of it. They struggle to have a conversation because, to maybe phrase it poorly, they each have different goals. Any thoughts on how to improve that? Or at least disagree with more respect?

Denise Fenzi: Boy, what a challenge. I spend a lot of my time and energy thinking about and talking about the concept of perspective and seeing things from other points of view.

I think just taking that extra moment when you feel a little defensive twinge, like, Wait a second. Is she suggesting that what I'm doing is wrong? Stop. Stop with that and ask yourself, Is that really what's happening here? Because it seems to be a bit of a natural human response to take our perspective and to build up our own defenses and make it right, so "I'm goal oriented. That's right."

And then another person says, "Those goal-oriented people, they'll just do anything to get where they want to go. They'll abuse their dogs. I'm right. I'm just enjoying the process." When you say things like that — "I'm just enjoying the process" — you are, whether you mean to or not, slapping the other person in the face, because what's the implication? If "I'm just enjoying the process, you … fill in the blank …" it doesn't look too good. And then, when the other person calls them on it, they say, "No, no, I never said that. I was talking about me." Well, we call that passive-aggressive. And then the goal-oriented person starts in on the "Yeah, so when are you going to show your dog?" Well, right there, there we go, there's another slap in the face, because you know perfectly well that person's not going to show their dog.

The point is there is no greater good. There is nothing out there that says, "Goals are the way to go," or "Exploring for the sake of that is the way to go." Taking the time to recognize, as I look at my own process as a trainer, and the choices I've made and the directions I've gone, I'm not a better person for one direction or the other, and I am learning different things, and that's really the cool piece.

You went to shows, and you did a great job, and you learned a lot, and I owe you respect because I know that you put in the depth of understanding. And then your buddy down the street, also training fifteen minutes a day, they deserve respect for what they are learning about broad concepts and how their dogs think, and a little bit more of an open concept orientation. It's not right or wrong, but it does take a moment to realize that you're learning different things, and I really think just being conscious of those choices is half the battle.

Melissa Breau: To finish things up here, I have a question I've been asking people when they come back on, at the end of each interview, and that's what's something that you feel like you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to training?

Denise Fenzi: Boy, that's a hard one. I've been reading a lot lately about everything, biology and a wide variety of nonfiction, and I think the thing that I've been reminded of is there are no experts who know it all.

I find myself recognizing that I was doing things instinctively very well ten or fifteen years ago, and that as I have learned more — and I have absolutely learned a lot in the last ten years — the thing I need to do is not walk away from what I already knew and felt to be correct. The thing I need to do is constantly integrate, and then stop and look and say, "Do I want to take this? Do I believe this? Do I accept this? Does it fit within the whole that I already had as my base, or do I need to change aspects of my base on a fundamental level?"

There are things in my base I have fundamentally changed. For example, I will no longer cause a dog to interact and work with me by being exciting. That is out of my repertoire. It is something I used to do, and I'm done with it. I've moved on. But there are other things that I can see as I moved away from them over the last ten years, I'm looking back and I'm thinking, I think I was right before, and I'm circling back around.

So I think that is maybe a reflection on my own process has been the biggest thing in dog training I've learned lately is don't throw things out. I don't care what other people say. Always test it against what you feel, what you know, and what worked for you before, and then integrate your information.

Melissa Breau: I'm curious: Is there something that sticks out in your mind that you maybe threw away in the past that you're beginning to reintegrate into your training?

Denise Fenzi: Yes, but it's not a one-minute thing. It's a whole podcast.

Melissa Breau: Then I guess we'll just have to have you back.

Denise Fenzi: Someday we'll talk about that.

Melissa Breau: OK, fair enough. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Denise! This was fun.

Denise Fenzi: Thank you Melissa. It's always fun.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Hannah Branigan to talk about her new book, and then chat a bit about her new class series on heeling.

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!

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