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My last blog stirred up a bit controversy.

Wait a sec.  Let me rephrase that.

My last blog made some people so angry that I was worried for their physical health.  In short – because I said there is no ‘have to’ in competition. You get what you get based on the training you put in.

And the reason people got so angry?  It’s not likely that it was caused by my words.  I was pretty clear that neither adding cookies nor corrections would increase reliability – better training would.

So what happened?

People are hyper sensitized right now because there is a split between the people who…..

Wait a sec.  What is the split? What are we arguing about?

We are arguing about words.  The vagaries of language.

We can’t say balanced because that word has lost any and all meaning.  It covers me (because I may use a cheerful interrupter when my dogs make an error) and it covers the most extreme shock level trainers, (because when the dog succeeds they remove the shock and say “good dog.”)  And it surely doesn’t mean ‘middle’ (because no one I know actually strives for that.)

We can’t say force free (because I’ve told my dogs “no” so I don’t qualify.)

We can’t say purely positive because…I object!  I don’t think it exists, so I’m uncomfortable with it.

What most balanced trainers mean is that they use the appropriate method for the given dog at the given time.  Or at least that’s what I think it means.

While that statement sounds awesome, it’s equally meaningless because each of us has radically different ideas of what that might mean. What is appropriate and at what time?  What is appropriate to one person is appalling to another.

So, to help people make sense of it all, I have a suggestion.

Why not just start a blog?  If you’re a trainer, start a blog and post unedited videos of your training sessions when you feel like it.  You don’t even have to add words if that’s not your thing.  Just show what you mean.  How do you teach something? What does your session look like?

No, you won’t be giving away all of your special training secrets.  You could train a dog off my blog and it hasn’t hurt my business.  We’re in the age of information sharing – hoarding is a poor business strategy these days.

No, this is not time consuming.  Turning on a video camera once or twice a month is nothing.  I mean, if you have time to argue on Facebook over meaningless words, then you have time to turn on a video camera and upload unedited footage.  One less argument means one more video. And one more video might just mean one less argument.

People can watch.  They can decide through their own observations what they like and what they don’t.  What they want to try and what does not work for them.  What seminars they want to attend.  What trainer demeanors resonate for them.  What seems logical and what seems…not so much.

To say that words are failing us right now would be a pretty serious understatement.  So forget the words – and forget edited videos and only finished performances.  Show the process; the whole thing.  Assuming you are comfortable with how you teach, which I believe most people are, then showing unedited videos should be fine.

Then it all becomes very simple.  People can look at the process.  Look at the dog and look at the trainer.  Then they look at the end results and decide what they want to do, who they want to see in person, and maybe even clarify their own training program.  No surprises.  Everyone benefits.

And if in the process of making your videos, you realize that you’re not too comfortable showing your sessions to the public…think about that too.  If it’s your training, then own it. You don’t need to make excuses or explain anything to anyone.  Stand behind it or change your behavior.

There is no downside.  If you don’t want negative feedback just turn off the comments.   People say they are constantly misunderstood – here’s the solution.  When people aren’t sure what I mean by “force free” I simply point them to my blog.  Then they know what the words mean to me.  They can like or not like it.  They can have a different vision of what force free means. It’s irrelevant.  We can speak the same language.

Now, when someone starts to use words like ‘balanced’ or ‘force free’, ask them to show you their blog.  No more arguing over words.  Discuss videos.  Not to “prove” anything but so that you can be speaking the same language.

If the first thing that pops into your head is all of the reasons why you can’t do this then think about that.  I presume you want to be understood, right?  So make yourself understood.  Show people what you mean.

That’s my challenge for 2016.  More videos.  Less words.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

Go for it.



About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

68 responses »

  1. I agree totally. Words don’t mean anything and people get hysterical over such simple things like saying “no”. Show me what you do and I’ll decide whether that suits my dog.

  2. Love this!
    We have our blog! I say positive based training, and while we don’t correct our dogs I do say, “no” sometimes.

  3. You are right on the money !
    The simplicity of it makes me chuckle .
    Yes I would like to see those videos but I don’t think many will show up .

  4. Too true, great article! Your definition of balanced training is what it should mean, but I find that it usually means mostly positive punishment with a sprinkle of +R and -R. The use of the word “balanced” is a red herring that certain types of trainers use to obfuscate their training methods. Either way we should follow your advice, trnasparency allows us all to learn and improve. In the end isn’t that the main goal? To be the best trainers we can be

  5. People are reactive more so then our dogs sometimes! I stay calm for my dogs and the rest of my family. I agree with Denise as she is truly informed and absolutely right on. I recently read that it is believed that wild canines were attracted not to prehistoric fires or meat in early man’s caves but most likely to the human feces scattered outside the cave to roll in. Isn’t that the first thing your dog finds in a park,beach or camp area. Disgusting but they love it and parade it like Shalimar! Have I made a point?? I hope Denise is laughing with a lot others at this point! Happy New Year to All!

  6. I applaud you for everything you share. You are fearless. I love watching “the process” and how you handle what comes up. That is how I learn best. And if I learn I can teach my dog and become a better trainer in the process. So kudos for everything you share with us!

  7. Funny thing, I have a core group of people that I train with. Between us we started a private Blog called Show me UR Stuff. It is exactly what you talk about few wordy entries, but lots of video.
    Our common ground is Field work. But we all do agility, obedience, rally etc. We all have different training styles,…often I hear from people “Oh you do Field training you must use an E-collar because all field trainers us e-collars”….”oh you train with so and so…Oh you can’t say “No” to your dog”. I hate being shoved into a pigeon hole by people who know nothing of what I do or how I train.

  8. Sadly what you see in not always what the dog “gets!” Transparency I don’t think really does exist and it saddens me to see some “professional” trainers who promote their methods using “fluffy words” but forget what is seen at show and what is not considered “public” that it is acceptable to physically harm their dog- What many forget is that the unedited videos are just that but what “really” happens often occurs what they think their behavior is well away from the viewing public…. I have learnt so much from watching trainers at show when they think no one is watching…. and hence I avoid anything they preach or try to pass off as “force-free, positive, and kind – fluffy words”- Words mean nothing- sadly these first hand account are never told due to the “whistle blowing” on a handler and no doubt your chances or competing and succeeding is hindered , due to the chain of fellow followers who believe their trainer is the best ever……. I never ever just take peoples opinion on a” trainer- I will watch at show, many many shows, watch then with the dog before and after competing and I really do believe trainers that I have seen over the years punch, slap, and abuse their dogs will never changes their ways and sadly the new “fluffy” kind words that now promote their training does not fool me…..

  9. Hear, hear! Good words to live by.

  10. Well written. There are many ways to accomplish something. A person who wants to grow will constantly evaluate how “it” is working for them and for others. They’ll evolve and their training will evolve too. Words don’t make it work.

  11. The training MUST meet the goals whether it’s trying to get a high placement at the NOC, high placement at an IPO national or world championship, run competitively at field trials, etc. (agility is excluded because it’s more of a sport of timed efficiency and not about absolute accuracy). It is IMPOSSIBLE to go high level without adding some “have to” as you termed it. Giving the dog feedback both ways is essential to get reliably accurate performances at that high of a high level. Name me ONE trainer, including yourself, that has reached a top 5 placement at a major championship in any of the arenas I’ve mentioned. There are hobbyists and there are top competitors at every championship or big competition…you just have to pick which one you want to be and choose your training methodology with that in mind.

    • Because this comment is not on point to the blog post, I have put it through but will not allow comments to go through that respond to it – so please don’t bother.

  12. I want to see videos. In the ring. Open and Utility. Multiple dogs. No food, no toys. That is dog training. It is so easy to get great video in your back yard or training building. I want to see videos of real life. Trials.

  13. Great blog Denise and you are so right!!

  14. Well said!! Agree totally!!

  15. You rock, Denise!

  16. I have found it useful to ask people questions to determine the definition of the term or phrase they are using. A common catchphrase is positive training. I ask how they handle a dog that is jumping on them. If the answer is that they turn their backs on the dog and ignore it, I know they think “positive” means “nice.” I think it is important for all professionals to take the high road while talking to clients. An honest discussion is educational while a useless debate over words is counterproductive.
    Having a blog is great for the person who is checking you out online. In person, I expect your time and attention. Responding to a question with a glib “Read my blog!” would run me off. There has to be a balance between interacting with the client and letting someone waste your time. This balance must be determined on a case-by-case basis and comes with experience.

  17. This is a very honest, coherent, brave post, demonstrating great use of “words”, offering good advice. Thanks for sharing!

  18. So funny! Spot on you are! Dogs would scratch their heads at all of the nonsense if they could ever understand any of it because God knows I can’t. Let’s just be kind to everything and try to have more empathy in 2016 😊

    Forget all the people that just want to disagree & argue!

    Much love to you this year! Pat

    Sent from my iPhone


  19. I surely sympathize with anyone who’s been sucked into a semantic argument. Videos hopefully circumvent that. Somehow people become so heavily invested in their own verbiage, that the discussion becomes mostly emotional. It is too bad that we are confined by the words we use to describe and then the substance gets lost.

  20. This recommendation of blogs with videos is a very wise suggestion.

    I hope that many, many trainers take you up on this and that those who use all types of training create such blogs and videos and share them. Especially videos of the training process as it progresses, not just the finished product in the ring . . .

  21. Genius!

  22. Words!
    When I saw “Sit means sit” a year ago I interpreted it to mean what I learned from Roger Abrantes back in the 80s, which was write out and clearly define each cue you are using. As my definition meant put your butt on the ground until I ask you to do something else, the phrase fit. Away from the dog training world for a decade, shocked by the anger using that phrase aroused.
    Asked to volunteer my dog for a group doing agility ( a sport I had not experienced) with children on the autism spectrum, the director met my Giant Schnauzer and asked who trained her. I replied no one because I hadn’t gone to classes, I had though used all past education and experience to let her know how to live with me and my other dogs. Sit means sit at my house as I define it.
    If we can learn to quietly listen rather than being ready to attack that which does not fit our definitions, we are better able to create kindness toward all. My behavior is not perfectly as I wish it, I am a work in progress and only hope to be as honest and kind as possible in all relationships. Not there; this discussion will have me writing out a few more definitions.

  23. People got angry??? Haha 🙂 YOUR thoughts are excellent. Don’t worry, be happy!

  24. I don’t really know you but I love you.. Oh my lord a difference of opinion! And life goes on..68 years old and still have managed to survive the dog world for 50 years!

  25. I appreciate the complexities of different people’s training methodologies, as well as the complexities of how these can be adapted to diverse dogs and situations, and I think the suggestion of posting unedited training footage is a good one. Nevertheless, I do think there is also something worthwhile in our struggle to find the right language to speak about these issues. The need to articulate our ideas clearly, and the challenges we face when we fail to do so, are important spurs for us to closely examine what it is we are trying to accomplish. Yes, what we *do* is crucial, but the attempt to articulate our viewpoints and techniques is also very important. Not just for improved communication with others, but also because it invites us to truly scrutinize our own positions. I am guessing you appreciate the power of words or you would probably not be writing a blog. I certainly do, which I guess is why I’m an English professor. 😉 Video posting and writing are not incompatible and I hope that you and others will continue to struggle to find the language to articulate your training goals and practices, particularly when these touch on ethical concerns.

  26. If I were not a hobbyist, and if I were using judicious have to’s to communicate, I would not post video, because I believe too many people would not understand the process, but immediately attack– Real life example: Traveling from Chicago to Springfield on the train, was having a very amiable conversation with my seatmate, and ended up discussing dogs—imagine that. I made the mistake of showing her some video from an IPO trial that Kaleb and I were in and she had a fit when she saw the stick hits, immediately became loud and very vocal. By the time we got off the train, she had suggested, for all to hear, that I had been abused as a child and needed psychiatric help because I chose to compete in IPO and allowed the stick hits. .I believe most people thought she was the nut as I got a lot of sympathetic looks, but it was upsetting to me anyway, and certainly wasn’t worth the time I took trying to explain the sport to one who made an immediate judgement without knowledge. I can see the same kind of thing happening on the internet to good people with different training philosophies.

    • Yeah. Lots to be said for removing the comment options :). But if people are comfortable sharing their words, then they should be able to share what those words stand for – and since words have become a bit meaningless….

  27. Great suggestion. Especially for the very early stages of training. It’s nice to see those first steps of a new task right from scratch. Especially with a dog who is learning in real time. Keep up the inspiring and thought provoking writing.

  28. I’ve just started doing that. No editing, no music, just down and dirty dog training. I keep them ‘off’ the disc dog pages because I don’t fit the cult profile, but the feedback on my own wall has been overall positive. (No pun intended). When I tally up the time I’ve wasted having arguments and disputes over all things dog related; from fat dogs to training methodologies to working multiple dogs at the same time… that time could be better spent on training dogs. Happy New Year!!

  29. I agree with you in principle, but there are too many abusers of people professing kindness to animals in this world. I like what Wolffdogs said, “If we can learn to quietly listen rather than being ready to attack that which does not fit our definitions, we are better able to create kindness toward all.” That’s my happy bubble and New Year’s Wish for the dog training community. 😉

  30. “What most balanced trainers mean is that they use the appropriate method for the given dog at the given time. Or at least that’s what I think it means.”

    That is exactly what being a balanced trainer means.

    “While that statement sounds awesome ,it’s equally meaningless because each of us has radically different ideas of what that might mean. What is appropriate and at what time? What is appropriate to one person is appalling to another.”

    It doesn’t matter if anyone has radically different ideas of what those things mean, because only one person is training the dog. If that person is experienced, it is quite likely they are choosing appropriate methods and tools for whatever dog they happen to have in front of them each time they go to train. And really? It isn’t anyone else’s business. Unless the dog is screaming or bleeding, (and some dogs scream just to get out of having to something they don’t want to) outsiders should not be trying to force their definitions of “humane” or “abuse” off on anyone else.

    • I’m putting this through but I will not allow responses to it because it is not on point.

      • Actually, it is on point because viewing videos isn’t going to help much if we cannot agree on labels for what we are seeing. Some people viewing videos of me working my youngest dog heeling will automatically say that I am being abusive because he is on a pinch collar, even tho it is obvious that he isn’t even upset, much less feeling abused. Or if I’m training a dog on distance work and using the e-collar, many people will freak out and insist the dog is being abused, even tho it would be obvious from the video that he isn’t. This is why I say that people who don’t use/don’t understand certain tools or methods shouldn’t be making emotional judgements on other trainers. Abuse is in the eye of the dog, not the beholder.

      • As you know, you do not owe explanations to anyone. If people interpret your training differently than you then no problem. Same as balanced trainers who watch my videos and conclude that my dogs cannot be well trained as a result of my training choices – no worries there either.

        I’ve been doing this video blog for about four years and nothing terrible has happened – people just like it or they do not like it. I owe no one an explanation – they can watch, as you do, and come to their own conclusions. I am not responsible for what you or anyone else thinks. They can also go out on public media and scream that I am a moron who is taking down dog training, and they can point to training videos if they wish. As we know, that certainly happens. That’s fine too.

        I can call my training force free and there is no more argument- someone else can label my training differently. We can look at videos and know where the other person is coming from. As far as your training – all I know is that you say you select the right method for the right dog. There’s no way for me to know if I could agree with that, because I have no dog to look at. Only your words and they have become meaningless.

        Own your actions. Forget about words. You are spending so much time being angry about this topic – why not just show people what balance should look like and get on with it? You’ll find yourself being much more persuasive.

        Who cares what people think who don’t agree with you? I sure don’t care. People who are “on the fence” can watch you train – and you may well create converts to your belief structure if your logic and videos make sense to them.

      • No, I don’t owe anyone explanations, but it’s kind of hard to continue to ignore people who insist that we are being abusive to our dogs. Four years? I’ve been putting up with this sort of thing for 15-20 years – whenever it was that the “positive” movement first started. And I am not the one that starts it in any way, other than not conforming to whatever current method is in vogue.

        I am not angry about any of this, if I was I’d have burned out a long time ago. I am merely pointing out to you that methods/tools that you don’t like are not abusive, evil, wrong or whatever.

  31. Funny and nice for me is that I just read this today and started idly browsing online for tracking training again in my new town. Found a trainer who had lots of video footage on her facebook page so I could match up what she was doing with the words on her website. She turned out to be a great contact for me. 🙂

  32. I agree completely with this blog post! I have shown others what I’ve meant in my training. And not just the end results, but part of the processes to get there. I also send my clients to my blog and Youtube channel. I put down not only my extreme successes, but also my struggles and how I work through them. I am completely transparent and honest about my training and that’s how all trainers should be.

  33. Love your writing. And agree totally. Training is teaching. Each individual is different as we all know. We need to be using our intelligence and body language more and perhaps our sense of humor. If someone is harsh with me or confuses me with instructions of expectations beyond my ability. I don’t enjoy the interactions. Perhaps we need to relax more and enjoy our dogs for who they are and not just what we can get them to do for us.

  34. What a great set of blog posts Denise. It has certainly spurred some interesting discussions. I love this video as an example of using words and how bad things can go:

  35. Denise, I just have to chime in here. I love, love, love your training methods. I came across some of your videos a few years ago and was just in awe of the connection/attention you have with your dogs. Then I started looking at your training videos to try to see how you got to that level. We’re a work in progress, but I so appreciate that you are putting your training videos/methods out there – you are our inspiration!

  36. New, here, to your blog. As a companion dog lover forever, I’m most appreciative of your healthy common sense approach. ( Wish some of the adults in my life had been introduced to the concept of NO before they reached the age of forty!) Having “inherited” a naughty adult male dog, “Eddie Chihuahua” who truly believes he pays the bills in our household, you can bet I’m going to be a frequent visitor here. Thank you so much.

  37. You are right on the money. Excellent post!

  38. That is what I like about the person who helps me field train my dogs. He posts LOTS of videos and explains what he is trying to accomplish, shows the steps and the outcomes in the videos. Owners can also go any time and watch him train their own and other dogs. Those complaining about a blog post need to get a life and go out and train their dogs — train don’t complain!

  39. I think It all comes down to respect and how you feel about yourself after a training session. I train the way I would like to be taught anything, with respect and patience. I have followed your blog and taken and recommend your classes to my students and friends. I think you are an awesome trainer! Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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  43. I must be stupid, or the video has been removed, but I can’t find the link to watch your unedited training session. I’d very much like to watch it~

    • There are hundreds of unedited videos here (you’re reading a post on my blog).

      Just scroll forwards or backwards, find a topic that interests you, and watch the video.

  44. I put up a web-based training chronicle, videos shot about every 2 weeks of our progress learning bits and pieces of IPO/VPG. People outside of these sports LOVED it, that my dog, a Flat-Coated Retriever obviously loved her activities and that the bite work was all done via play. That I’d desensitized her to the soft-stick so that it whizzing past her head and smacking me made no difference to her. Granted, I don’t know WTF I’m doing, so was looking at desired end behaviors I’d seen and used ABA principles to try to arrive at those … added to the mix, I’m NOT a perfect trainer like some people.

    Most IPO people were appalled what I was doing to the dog, who was obviously not appropriate for this activity. Then the fun started with the personal insults and accusations – i only posted these to try to discredit the real sport dog people.

    I ended up taking down the webpage due to certain legal considerations here that pretty much make it impossible for me to trial using the methods I wish to use – no registered helpers willing to work without compulsion. It turns out, according to Swiss law, I could be prosecuted for training in a deserted meadow in a forest instead of in an enclosed training area and for the fact that I’m not a registered Schutzdiensthelfer and don’t train with one.


    But … I could be persuaded to repost the page with the requisite disclaimers…

    • Dogs are like anything else. They have variables and no two are alike when it comes to training. There is training that many dogs fall into easily and others do not. But there is still a huge difference between them and the many reasons that create the difference is all part of nature. There is no perfect dog or perfect trainer. As for the Swiss there rules are to protect their neutrality. I think all trainers honestly can say at some point they do not know WTF they are doing. Well with the exception of Denise!


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