Friday, June 15, 2012

Denise Fenzi Seminar, Part III: Odds and ends

I’d like to wrap up the highlights of the Denise Fenzi seminar and touch on a few ideas I found helpful and/or thought provoking. Since this was a problem solving seminar, my notes are all over the place, since they reflect the issues each new dog and handler team brought out on the floor. So these are pretty random. Again, any misinterpretation of her ideas and theories is my fault.

• Before you try solving a problem, make sure you know what problem you’re solving. Is it:
A) An emotional well-being and comfort problem for your dog?
B) Does your dog WANT to work for you or is he doing it only because you’re making him?
C) Motivation problems - look at your motivator - if your dog doesn’t want it, it’s not a motivator, might be time to change to better food or different toy or play style
D) Handler skills or lack thereof: these show up both at home and in the ring. Are YOU causing the problem? Example - dog chronically heels wide because handler can’t walk a straight line.
E) Does the dog understand access to his motivator is linked to work? Some trainers produce motivators at such random and haphazard times, they dilute the “behavior=motivator” equation and dog really doesn’t understand WHY he’s getting the cookie.
F) Trial preparation. Don’t confuse dog’s ring errors with mis-understanding of the skill. If he can do it at home, he knows how to do it. But he may not be motivated to be attentive and engaged at a trial, leading to errors. So this is actually a motivation problem.

• If the dog makes an error, instead of a compulsion correction, show him the cookie he’s not going to get. Uh-oh, so sad, look at this delicious cookie you missed! Put the cookie back in your pocket (or even eat it yourself!), then try again. (Seriously, there’s a reason I train with cheese tortellini!)

• “Take a break.” This exercise is from the book “Control Unleashed.” It allows the dog to make the decision to ignore distractions and to value you more than “the world.” It also allows the dog to “see the world” and make the choice without the added stress of a compulsion correction, which is good for dogs who have environmental issues. Through repetition, the dog is able to build a positive emotional reaction to distractions because distraction=look at mom=get reward. (Obviously the dog is on leash so his access to the distraction is controlled; you’re not going to turn your dog loose in a room full of cats and expect miracles.)

• Stress can be the result of taking the motivator away during training.

• When taking motivator off your body, increase reward schedule briefly.

• For the dog who drops his head and checks out during heeling, try backing up a few steps and insisting he come backward with you. Dogs hate backing up. Going forward will be a relief.

• Build strong hand touches with high reinforcement, so you can psyche the dog up in the ring with an “Oops! Missed it!” hand touch and dog will be “truly remorseful” (Denise’s words, love it) that he missed the cookie. (The cookie won’t be there in the ring, of course, but he doesn’t know that.)

• Build strong cues that tell your dog “We’re working now.” Don’t get your dog out of his crate, put on the collar, connect the leash, grab your gear, then stand around and chat with your friends.

• Avoid too much heeling in a straight line. Mix it up with circles left and right, turns, hand touches, tag and run away.

• Be aware of putting too much frontal pressure on a dog. This can be very confrontational and dog will be offended by it and may become “depressed.” (Not sad, just low energy and not engaged.)

• Work scent articles with a variety of items, not just traditional articles.

• Build a feeling of approval and connection with your dog when you’re in the ring.

• Condition ring entries. Good for young puppies as well as older dogs. Teach the dog nothing fun happens outside the ring, then going through the gates make marvelous things happen.

• If your dog goes flat at a show or in training, give him only slightly more energy when trying to bring him back up. Don’t overwhelm him with too much crazy energy or he may shut down even more.

It was a great two days and I'm looking forward to putting some of her ideas into practice with Phoenix this summer. We're already play a lot of tag - it  may be my new exercise program.


  1. Thanks for the write up! This post has loads of little nuggets of information that I'd like to implement with my dog. The backing up after her head drops sounds like it could be very effective. And as always, reminders to stay engaged with your dog while setting up for exercises is always a good thing!

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