Don’t be a “stage mother”. Listen to your dog…

Is your dog ready to work? Feeling safe and secure at optimal levels?
Don’t be that “stage mother” who subjects their dog to unfair, unrealistic situations and pressure for their own personal aspirations of glory.
Prepare your dog fairly and thoroughly, but prioritize their comfort level-even though that may not always be convenient to the human expectation.
Shade Whitesel of Fenzi Dog Sport Academy explains her “ready to work” protocol to determine your dog’s readiness and ability to work in any given environment. A great article here packed with practical step by step protocol for assessing your dog’s readiness to work-

Are you Ready to work?

Dog shows and trials, thoughts and reflections…

I am sharing below a link from a blog by Denise Fenzi that I believe to be a great truth in this age of ubiquitous dog sports. It is something I have thought about for the past few years, and Denise says it better than I ever could! But I would still like to share my thoughts here, and the link to Denise’s blog is below that:)

After years of trialing off and on, I realized at some point that I had gradually left the dog show scene behind. Although I had my share of successes that I will remember fondly, at some point I came to realize the competition ring with all of the human trappings was just not important to me-and certainly not to my dogs. My true joy and reward comes from simply living with my dogs day to day, teaching them, watching them learn, and learning even more from them in return. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to be challenged as a trainer and to realize my dogs’ potential in certain areas. But for me it’s all about the process. And without those years of showing and competing, I may not have come to appreciate that as I do now. I certainly would not be the same trainer that I am now-training for the ring is a great learning experience! But dogs don’t “need” competitions or titles or ribbons- that’s strictly a human creation, of course. In fact many dogs (likely more than not) find the show environment stressful rather than enjoyable. So I had to ask myself, do I really want to spend the bulk of my training time preparing my dogs to cope with the whole trial scenario? My answer was no, life is too short. I want to see happy dogs enjoying learning with me, period. No pressure, no hard expectations, just learning and enjoying the whole process.

Because of that truth, my priorities in training for sports these days is simple. A mutually enriched life, training for fun and entertainment on our own terms. Fully enjoying the process. Seeing dogs truly happy in that, makes me happy. To this end I find great satisfaction through continuing education in all formats, and any titling we might do is by video- which in 2019 we have an abundance of options these days-tricks, treibball, parkour, obedience, just to name a few. These are great options for providing a structure for the training high level skills minus the excesses of trialing.

And just for fun the other day I videoed my whippet, Flash, doing a lightning fast recall from out of sight in a 20+ acre field. I get as much satisfaction from that as anything else we might do, (I even posted it on facebook as a “brag”:) That’s the kind of stuff that makes me feel great about our training and relationship. And these days my dog related social life is mostly through classes and informal get togethers with other dog friends, minus the intensity of the trial environment. I enjoy life with my dogs more than ever, and I rest easy knowing that my dogs do too.

Happy training and happy living with your dogs, however that works for you:)


Thoughts from Denise Fenzi:

Choosing CER-what you “DO” is what you “GET”…

Feelings toward anything are often hard to change, and negativities associated with anything we do can be even harder to change. Did you ever have a teacher you didn’t like so that subject was effectively poisoned for you, and you struggled with it from then on? Or maybe there is a person in your life who has-maybe unconsciously-said the “wrong thing” just one too many times, so now your feeling towards them is more avoidance rather than seeking them out. Or maybe you had a brilliant training instructor but they made you feel incompetent so you never want to go back to them again.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you associate a certain food with a warm and comfortable feeling, as I do with my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings. Or maybe there is someone in your life who never fails to make you feel optimistic and uplifted, so you naturally enjoy their company. Or maybe it was a teacher who could always see your progress no matter how slight, and encouraged you every step of the way. For the rest of your life you never forgot how she made you feel, and to this day you still love that teacher and that subject.

These are all examples of Conditioned Emotional Response, and it is something that we have huge influence over in training our dogs. The CER is not always easy to change and tends to stick with us, so as dog trainers this should always be in the forefront of our human-dog interactions. The premise in working with my dogs is that my attitude towards what is happening in the moment directly affects my dog’s CER for whatever they are doing in that same moment.

The thing is, our attitude and how we display feelings IS a choice we can make in situations where we want to have influence. So given that we want our dog relationships to have a positive CER, our choice to project a positive attitude and feelings will cultivate this in training, performance and everyday life.

So just think about this. How do you want your dog to feel about learning to retrieve?  Learning a recall? Learning to heel? How do you want them to feel about learning anything? And the bigger picture here-what about learning how to feel towards working with you in general? Learning how to feel about working in any given environment? How your dog feels about it will reflect your conscious choices in approach to teaching it-this includes your attitude and feelings about the kind of relationship you want with your dog. Remember the teacher you wanted to learn from? And the one you didn’t? Or the person you want to spend time with? Or the one you avoid?

I have spent most of my life working with dogs and other animals-always my passion, always learning, but not what I would consider an expert. Now in my 60’s I continue to learn, study and evolve in my training. With an underlying philosophy and goal of positive CER, there are many resources, tools and techniques to help cultivate this in any training process or experience. It is up to us to learn as much as we can in this regard from credible, science based sources. And then, it is up to us to conscientiously apply this knowledge to every aspect of  life with our dogs.  In most recent years I can thank Fenzi Dog Sport Academy for providing even more learning opportunities from some of the best in the field today, and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a top notch resource to learn from.

With kindness in training we have happy learning=happy dogs and happy humans!


And How Does That Make You Feel?

A great article by Deb Jones, PhD. I have taken many classes from  Dr. Jones, including the one she is teaching right now referenced in this article. Always eye-opening and inspiring, here is a quote from the article:  “Behaviors and skills cannot be separated from emotions. In fact, we are building emotional associations every single time we train our dogs. It’s just that most people don’t realize it, or don’t realize how powerful it is, so they don’t give it enough attention and consideration.”

K9infocus's Blog

And How Does That Make You Feel?

By Deborah Jones, Ph.D.

The phrase “and how does that make you feel?” is pretty much a stereotypic response that you’d expect from a therapist.  But as a dog trainer you probably don’t use that phrase very often.  It’s particularly unlikely you’d address it to your dog.  But that’s exactly what we should be doing; keeping a close eye not only on what our dogs are doing, but more importantly, on how they are feeling.

Dog trainers spend countless hours working on training specific and precise behaviors.  They obsess endlessly over small details, plan out session after session, and troubleshoot solutions when problems arise.  They understand and implement training plans based on operant conditioning principles, splitting behaviors into small parts and providing appropriate reinforcement.  And yet, for all that care and attention, things still go wrong.  The dog doesn’t learn the desired behavior…

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