Chrissi Schranz shares how you can find time to train your dog while still successfully tackling even complex behaviors... often without even leaving your couch.
Links & Notes
- ABA Inside Track Podcast
- Leave FDSA A Voicemail! We're collecting questions for our annual anniversary edition! Have a question for an instructor? Leave it here!
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'll be talking to Chrissi Schranz.
A dog trainer, translator and chocolate addict, Chrissi is now based in Antigua, Guatemala.
She has been fond of dogs of all sizes, shapes, and personalities for as long as she has been able to think — especially the so-called difficult ones. After training the Dachshund of her early teenage years in traditional ways at her local obedience club, she learned about clicker training and got hooked on force-free, motivational methods.
Her work days are spent doing the things she loves most: thinking about languages, writing, and teaching pet dog manners and life skills to her clients and their dogs. Chrissi loves working with people and dogs, and training, playing, and hiking with her own dogs.
Hi Chrissi, welcome back to the podcast.
Chrissi Schranz: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me.
Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I'm excited to have you back. To start us out, can you just remind listeners who the dogs are that you share your life with?
Chrissi Schranz: Sure. I brought my two Malinois with me from Austria when I moved to Guatemala. That's Grit, who is a little over 2 years old, and she's currently working on her Team 2 title. I hope we'll submit the video in the next two weeks. And then there's Game, who just turned a year old, and she's enjoying being a teenager and working on her intermediate trick dog title.
Melissa Breau: With two working dogs, I imagine it can sometimes be hard to find the time to get in as much training as you think might would be ideal, or to decide who gets to do what, especially when you have a limited amount of training time available. How do you balance making sure they each get their needs met, and what advice do you have for other trainers with multiple dogs?
Chrissi Schranz: My dogs are very different, and I find that really helpful when it comes to fitting them into my day. They're the same breed, but they have different interests and different needs.
Grit needs both physical exercise and a little bit of mental stimulation in order to be happy and relaxed, and Game really primarily needs physical exercise, but she also really loves socializing with people and with other dogs. I try to take both of them on an off-leash hike every day, but then Grit is the one who gets more formal training sessions, and Game is who I take with me when I meet a friend or when I run errands, or when a client wants their dog to socialize with other dogs. That way, both of them get their needs met, and both of them get some one-on-one time every day as well.
I guess, along these lines, my advice for the owners of multiple dogs is to listen to your dogs. What do they tell you that they need? I think it's more important to pay attention to the dog in front of you than to a textbook breed description. You should know what they need and then find ways to integrate it into your life without sacrificing your own needs. Your own needs matter just as much as your dog's needs. I think for us dog trainers, sometimes it's easy to forget that. But with a little bit of creativity, it's always possible to find ways to do things and spend time with your dogs that both you and your dogs enjoy. For example, I choose to meet my dogs' exercise needs by spending time in nature. They would probably be equally happy if I met their exercise needs in some other way, but I love walking in the woods, and so that's the way I do that.
Melissa Breau: How do you make sure you're fitting in that time, even when you're basically running two different businesses? It can't be easy to fit in the off-leash hike every day and other stuff.
Chrissi Schranz: I think, for me, my biggest secret is probably creating habits. I find that to be true for a number of clients as well. Once something is a habit, it requires relatively little effort to do it.
For example, with the hiking example, I try and start every day with an hour-long off-leash walk. I love walking, but I'm also really lazy, so it's become a habit that makes it easier for me to get up without sleeping in or thinking twice.
Another thing that I started using, I think, a few months ago to motivate myself is a technique I learned about from the podcast called ABA Inside Track. I don't know if you know it. It's a podcast about applied behavior analysis. They read studies and then discuss them and talk about how they apply to practical settings.
Melissa Breau: What was the name of it again?
Chrissi Schranz: ABA Inside Track. I'll send you the link after.
Melissa Breau: I'll include it in the show notes for everybody else who's listening.
Chrissie Schranz: I think it's really worth listening to. A lot of the things, it's studies about humans, but a lot of them apply to dog training as well, I think.
They often talk about working with autistic children, and apparently one thing that is often used with autistic children is sticker chart. I don't know if everyone knows what a sticker chart is, but I had never heard of such a thing before I listened to that podcast. The children collect stickers for desired behaviors, and once they have a certain number of stickers, they get to trade them in for a prize.
I heard about this a number of times, and I thought that I think I would also be motivated by collecting stickers, and I wanted my own sticker chart. So I made up my own system, and I'm using these colored dot stickers in different colors, and I'm putting them on my calendar, and I find it really motivating to put new stickers on the calendar and see, like, it looks like I feel like I'm doing a lot if there's lots of stickers. I've used it to get myself to walk regularly, but also to work on certain dog training things, and I'll be adding it to my Finding Five lectures this term.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. So, mentioning the class, what are some of the common obstacles people run into that get in the way of training regularly?
Chrissi Schranz: The two most common ones are probably perfectionism and exhaustion. They are often related as well. People spend a lot of time thinking about what the perfect session should look like and how to make the most progress. Many listeners of this podcast are probably people like that. I know I am. We can easily end up with perfectionism paralysis. We want all our sessions to be perfect, and we are aware of how hard it can be for a session to go exactly as planned. So we may sometimes find it easier not to train at all than to train and "fail." That's especially true when we're already out of spoons and exhausted after a long workday, for example.
So I try and help people see that perfection is overrated, and I like reframing the goal of our training sessions to accomplish that. The goal could be to spend a few minutes of quality time with your dog and to mentally exercise her. You cannot fail at that, if you train her for a few minutes a day. Even if the session doesn't go as planned, you still spent time with her and you made her think, and that should count as a success.
Melissa Breau: I like that. So to talk a little more about the class, I know the concept is fitting training into roughly 5 minutes a day. Are there limits to what you can achieve with that approach? Things you wouldn't be able to teach in 5 minutes a day?
Chrissi Schranz: Yes and no. Yes, because if you live in an apartment and you're training things like agility or herding, or something else that requires you to go somewhere for your equipment or for your sheep, the commute for thirty minutes each way, you obviously can't fit it into five minutes. On the other hand, pretty much everything that doesn't require special equipment can be trained in five minutes a day and at home.
Five minutes a day is actually two or three short training sessions, and that is plenty. If you commit to spending five minutes a day on training, when you realize this is relatively little time, then you tend to really think through your sessions and make them count, so you optimize your training and you get very efficient. I'm usually happy with my own training if I set a timer and make sure that I stick to the time limit than if I just train without having a plan or time constraints.
Melissa Breau: What about things like "proofing" or "generalization" when you're talking about a time crunch? How do you handle a concept like that? It seems advanced and kind of broad.
Chrissi Schranz: It certainly is, but there is a lot of proofing and generalization you can do at home. For example, if you were practicing heeling, you could do it in every room of your house, you could practice heeling up or down stairs, past the temptation of an open dishwasher with dirty dishes, or while your child is playing with toys on the floor, and when the TV is on, with toy or food distractions that you've placed on the floor, maybe on the sidewalk outside your front door at different times of day. These things aren't the same distractions that you will encounter in a trial, but they will make your behavior stronger anyway. You will always need to practice away from home as well, but the more you proof your behaviors at home, the more likely they will hold up under challenging conditions too.
Melissa Breau: What about when we're talking about a complex behavior? How do you approach it so that you can work towards … I don't know, I'm trying to think of a complex example and I'm sure something will come more quickly for you, but how do you pick something and then work through it in 5-minute chunks? Can you walk us through an example?
Chrissi Schranz: It's all about splitting, really. It doesn't matter how complex the behavior is. It can always be broken down into smaller puzzle pieces.
It's like when you have a 500-piece puzzle, and your goal behavior is the picture on the box, and it's broken down into these 500 perfect pieces. You need every one of them to get the final picture, but you don't need to work on all of them at the same time. So you could start putting together a tree in one corner of your kitchen table, and a few puzzle pieces of sky in another corner, and in the very end it all comes together.
A fun example that I taught a few months ago, when I had just gotten to Guatemala, I rented an ATV, and I wanted my dogs to learn to ride on it and to run next to it and to jump on and off on cue. The puzzle pieces of that would be being comfortable near the ATV when the motor is on, hopping on and off, sitting down where I wanted them to sit — I wanted Game to sit behind me on the saddle and Grit in front of me between my arms — and of course I wanted them to stay there, even when there were distractions, and I needed them to be comfortable with the vibrations and the movement.
My dogs have some of these elements already in place, which made it a little easier. They're comfortable hopping onto obstacles, and they have good body awareness and a good sense of balance, but they have — neither of us — they had never seen an ATV before.
I didn't time myself, but I don't think I spent more than five minutes working on this every day. First we had two short sessions learning to not bark at the thing when the motor was on, just be comfortable around it. Then we had a few short shaping sessions about hopping on and sitting down, and I don't think any of these took more than two or three minutes either. Then I did duration, staying on, and again that was probably two or three minutes per session. Then we talked about jumping on and staying on, even when I started the motor. And finally I started driving it a little. Of course I did that very slowly because I wanted to keep everyone safe, so don't worry.
In the beginning, a session of this would just consist of asking them to hop on and feeding them a cookie, then driving a few meters, feeding them another cookie, and asking them to hop off. I repeated that three times and then we ended the session. So I only ever worked in very short sessions, but they learned to ride on the ATV in about a week.
Melissa Breau: That's a pretty neat trick. That's pretty complicated.
Chrissi Schranz: Yeah. Unfortunately I had to give it back because it was a rental. I hope to buy my own sometime.
Melissa Breau: So, for your sample lecture you created a board game for dog trainers. First, seriously, that's so creative! Second, can you talk us through it? How does it work, and how does it help folks who are struggling to fit in training?
Chrissi Schranz: You can print out the board game. I think it's the sample lectures, so you can use that link to play it, even if you're not taking the class. You need a die and game keys or a coin and three fluent behaviors. And you need treats.
One round of the game only takes five minutes. It's for students who can't decide what to work on, so the game will decide for you. You cue well-known behaviors while doing things like looking at the wall instead of your dog, lying on the floor, sitting on the couch, standing on one leg. If your dog gets it, she gets a cookie, and if she doesn't get it, your task is to help her understand that the cue still has the same meaning, even if you are behaving strangely while you are cuing her.
For example, if your dog can't sit when you turn your back to her, you could split it down into first asking her for a sit while you only turn your head, and then you turn your body sideways a little bit, and then a little bit further, and then finally you turn all the way around. Of course she gets cookies all the time. It's meant to be fun rather than serious, to make your dog think, and to proof well-known behaviors.
Melissa Breau: I know you have a couple of other fun assignments in the class. Can you share a little about the writing a letter assignment?
Chrissi Schranz: This is one of the assignments I created for students who struggle to motivate themselves to train. Maybe they have lost the joy in training, and I want to help them get it back. I want them to remember what they like about their dog. The assignment is to sit down and write a letter to your dog. You can say whatever you would like her to know and whatever comes to mind. Maybe you're proud of her for the progress she has made, or maybe you want to thank her for always making you laugh, or for being there when you're down, or maybe you want to apologize for a mistake you made, or maybe you just want to let her know how you feel about her and why some things are hard for you. It's a simple assignment, but it's also powerful.
Melissa Breau: Do you want to share just a little bit more about what you cover in the class in general? What people can expect if they sign up?
Chrissi Schranz: I've broken the class down into three paths. I call them the lectures path, the assignments path, and the games path. Students can choose one of these three paths or work on all of them, whichever makes the most sense for their team and their situation.
The lectures path is all about planning, the record keeping, creating new training habits, and splitting behaviors down into small puzzle pieces. That's the path you should follow if you have a particular training goal in mind and you don't know how to get there because it seems so overwhelming, or if you have a very busy life and you want to find a few minutes of training time in every day, but you don't know how and where.
The assignments path is about building or improving your relationship with your dog. The letter assignment we just talked about is part of this one. That's meant for students who have hit a rough patch in their relationship with their dog. Maybe they just don't feel the connection anymore, or they have been frustrated or disappointed by their dog's behavior. And really, just like in a relationship between humans, that can lead to feelings of resentment and to guilt. It's hard to make time for dogs or people who we resent, and guilt is not a good motivator either. So the assignments are for students who need a little help rediscovering a joyful relationship with their dog.
And finally the third one, the games path, is for anyone who's busy and hardly finds time to train their dog, but would really like to do a little something with them every day. Just fun little activities that don't take themselves too seriously and that don't require you to decide what to work on, and that fit into five-minute sessions, like the board game we described earlier.
Melissa Breau: Is there anything else that a team should know before they sign up? Is there anybody who maybe is a particularly good fit, or not such a good fit, for the class?
Chrissi Schranz: There are no prerequisites apart from not having enough time or motivation, but people shouldn't shy away from trying new and completely different things. There are some unconventional homework assignments, and it's meant to be a fun class, and it might not be a good fit for someone who is only interested in the deadly serious side of dog training or life.
Melissa Breau: Quickly before we go — you also have the recalls class coming up again in February. Do you want to talk briefly about what that class covers and who it's for?
Chrissi Schranz: That's another really fun class. It starts with introducing a new recall cue, then we play recall games in more and more different environments, and we systematically introduce distractions. It's useful for beginners, but also for advanced students, if they're facing a recall challenge.
I ask everyone to start with classically conditioning a new recall cue from scratch, but I tailor the kinds of distractions and environments we use to the particular problem areas of the Gold students. That could be critter distractions, or car distractions for dogs who like to chase vehicles, or it could be learning to listen to the handler when you're in the agility field. So I'd say the class is really for anyone who'd like to improve their dog's recall.
Melissa Breau: Excellent. So my last question, the one that I've taken to asking everyone when they come on, is, what is a lesson you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Chrissi Schranz: I really like this question, and I like hearing everyone's answers to it. Every time I listen to your podcast I also ask myself the question, and my answer is usually different every week. It's really interesting just to think about yourself.
This week I'd say I've been reminded that there are as many different ways to love a dog as there are different people out there, and just because someone has a different idea of how they want to share their life with a dog doesn't mean it's better or worse than my own way. It's just different. Traveling and observing the dogs in another culture is reminding me of that.
Melissa Breau: That's really a neat takeaway. I like that a lot. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Chrissi! This has been great.
Chrissi Schranz: Thank you. It was fun chatting with you.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week, this time with Julie Daniels to talk about empowering our dogs even when conveying difficult concepts like delayed reinforcement and working through removing treats from our body.
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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!