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The Perfect Trainer!

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I got the following response to last week’s blog:

“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard YOU use No Reward Markers in your training.”

I have no idea how to respond to that.

You should see what I do when a squirrel cuts across the front of my house and all three dogs go careening and screaming from window to window.  I yell something along the lines of, “DAMN IT STOP THAT!”  Two out of three generally take note and settle – for that moment anyway.

But I’m not training; I’m being irritable.  I’m interrupting the behavior at that moment so I can finish my conversation in peace.  The fact that the careening behavior happens again for the next squirrel strongly suggests I’m accomplishing nothing, and if I really wanted to change that behavior then I’d need to commit to a training plan.  Right now that’s not a priority so I yell, two dogs care that I’m annoyed so they stop, and the third will quit on his own when he realizes his cohorts have abandoned him.

Good training? Of course not. Since training requires change, I think it’s fair to say it’s no training at all.  It’s just me being crabby and too lazy to deal with the dogs properly.

Being a positive reinforcement trainer doesn’t mean I’m some kind of Buddha.  I’m just not there as a person.  My husband has to put up with the fact that sometimes I’m grumpy and irrational.  My kids have to put up with the fact that sometimes I’m grumpy and irrational.  And the dogs?  Same deal.

If I take a five minute video of my training, within that five minutes I will easily be able to pick out good decisions, bad decisions and everything in between.  Since I put my training videos on my blog and I often train in public, anyone is welcome to watch a five minute video and pull apart the good from the bad.  Have I used NRM’s?  All the time!  Do I think that they are helping my training?  No, but that’s a different question.  It’s just me being human; being a bit frustrated at the moment. And the dogs aren’t freaking out, so they’ll have to keep putting up with me as I evolve as a trainer.

I follow a philosophy of training.  I test variables and I refine my training all the time. But as often as not, I’m muddling along.  Maybe I’m muddling at a higher level than many other trainers, but muddle I do.

It’s good enough for me.  If you’re looking for the perfect trainer, keep looking.

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.

36 responses »

  1. I like her blogs.  She’s an excellent trainer.  

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  2. smwald@qpkennels.com

    I absolutely love this!  I have this wonderful 4 month old puppy that I am diligently trying to train with positive reinforcement.  I find myself falling back on old habits and just as you said sometimes I am just being crabby or too lazy to deal with it.  Hearing it said from an accomplished trainer like yourself means so much!  Nobody is perfect and what a great reminder that even the people you hold up as a measure aren’t perfect either and to stop being so hard on myself!   Thank you!

    Sheila Dezertfyre Vizslas AKC Breeder of Merit http://www.DezertFyre.com    

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  3. Bravo. Articulate, realistic and honest. Thanks for posting!

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  4. “But as often as not, I’m muddling along. Maybe I’m muddling at a higher level than many other trainers, but muddle I do.” This sentence rings so true!! We are all at different points in our journey, some just beginning and some (like you) at a higher level……..love the human in you!!! Keep inspiring those of us that keep muddling along!!! 🙂

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  5. Wonderful – how true of most us! Thanks for your honesty and for making me I’m not alone!!

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  6. Nancy Gagliardi Little

    I love this. No one is perfect. Good trainers recognize the patterns of good and poor training. I love that you are so open about being human. It’s what makes you so easy to relate to.

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  7. sirring4@yahoo.com

    Thank you for this, it shows that you are a real person just like all of us. I so enjoy your emails, your book Beyond the back yard.

    Jil Jones and Zoie the Afghan hound

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  8. Well said! I prefer honest imperfection to fake perfection any day.

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  9. dorannadurgin

    Applause! A wonderful response to such a comment. It’s applicable to so many instances when people hold others up to impossible levels of scrutiny and perfection, when in fact those people are offering a gift in the first place.

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  10. Compared to what I see around the globe you are good real good and I am not sure we live long enough to be perfect. I do not even think I had a perfect teacher in my education but there were plenty out there to adore and plenty to dislike. Perfection is displayed in the work product as long as who is judging you does not see the mistakes! I am my my own judge most of the time and I notice all my mistakes. I guess that means I might be striving for perfection at my personal level. It would be nice if more people would do the same.

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  11. I have a balanced trainer friend that makes fun of me when I yell at my dogs. “Oh, is that “positive training?” she’ll say. Your blog post is such a good explanation of how I feel about that… I hate when I yell at them because it doesn’t fit in the framework with how I want to train, but like you said, I am being irritable and at that moment, I am not training… I am trying to finish a sentence. You explained it beautifully. Thank you.

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  12. 20 years ago I met Karen Pryor and mentioned how hard it was to transition to be positive all the time. She laughed and said her Border had run out of their cabin one night straight towards a skunk, and the first thing out of her mouth was the ugliest scream of Nooooo! Her puppy stopped because she had never heard that sound before. But she said we can’t eliminate human responses to situations like that in real life.

    It was very reassuring to me back then, as is everything that Denise writes that makes training where we set it up for success and never do it if we don’t feel good, the dog doesn’t feel good, or things go south…..and we go to Plan B to end on a positive. That’s not what we have the option to do in real life when our dogs are part of our family and are with us through thick and thin. My dogs do not live in kennels, so they see it all.

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  13. As another reader described it, “Bravo!! Magnifique!” When will everyone realize there are no pedestals……

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  14. Nice..Took me a long time to realize that I don’t even care to train some things, I am content to have them on a management plan. That is working well for me…

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  15. Brenda Benedetto

    A good to know you are human like the rest of us.

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  16. How wonderful to know that Denise Fenzi yells at her squirrel-crazy dogs too! I no longer feel like a bad trainer…I’m just human!

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  17. Thanks for your honesty, Denise. We are ALL humans and therefore we are all muddling along the best we can. Love your post and how you train!

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  18. You have perfect timing (I really needed to hear this blog today)… just finished yelling at my dogs about how they eat anything they find on our walks and then come home and throw up (usually on a rug). 😦

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  19. Michelle Williamson

    Yeah for you, we are all human and I think if people are honest it occurs in most households.

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  20. Absolutely nothing wrong with a interrupter!!!! They are for ‘real life’ .
    I use them the whole time. Last time was wit m DH, he drove out into an intersection and I screamed and put my hand on his arm. He braked IMMEDIATELY — just I time to completely avoid the speeding car about to t-bone us.

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    • PS I wouldn’t give up using interrupters for quids! I don’t think life for any of us would be safe if we did!
      I suspect (think) that the much acclaimed “Really Reliable Recall” is nothing more than a very effective interrupter 🙂

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  21. Your imperfection is perfect ;-). Thank you for muddling on a higher level.

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  22. Love it! Not that you lose patience but that you’re sometimes human too. 😉

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  23. Cheryl Parker

    You just became my hero!

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  24. Cathy Withall

    Brilliant, thank you for the reminder that we as mere mortals shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we lose our patience or get grumpy with our dogs – we do it to people, so it’s only to be expected that occasionally our dogs might fall foul of our impatience/grouchyness! I think we often feel worse because we can’t explain the them afterwards ‘sorry I shouted at you but it was an important call’ or ‘sorry I snapped because I’m fed up of cleaning that rug you keep being sick on’. Love your blog 🙂

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  25. I know I am constantly observing and testing things to see how they work. Is that muddling through? I think that’s the way animal trainers have to do it because we never know exactly what the animal is thinking….

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  26. Love it! We all do it. But we don’t all have the self-awareness to recognize it for what it is: “being irritable and lazy.” I appreciate your honesty. I’ll own up: I’m irritable and lazy sometimes, too. I think the best thing about your post is that I kind of said to myself “as long as it’s rare and I don’t expect to be a solution, it’s probably not hurting the dogs any more than other random mild aversives they encounter in life.

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    • I don’t agree with the ‘lazy’ part. Rather say ‘Irritable and tired”, or “running out of patience.”

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  27. Nice to know that you’re human too, Denise. 😉 My dog gets to be my demonstration dog for beginner and 4-H classes. Yes, they’re impressed that he is focused on me and works for me readily; but they also are amused and I think a little relieved when he breaks a stay. Sometimes I’ve accidentally cued him, other times I’m sure he’s thinking “You need a demo dog, right mom?” I think it helps people to relax when they realize that even the teacher’s dog sometimes doesn’t do what he’s asked. 😀

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  28. Maybe we should alter that well known phrase just a bit . . . “Positive is not perfect”.

    That can be applied in a lot of ways, and I believe it could be quite useful!!

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  29. Catherine Mills

    OMG! Love this! Maybe because it sounds like me!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  30. Holly Kilpatrick

    I. Hate. Squirrels! I would join the Squirrel Eradication Project if there is one!

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  31. Martha Cardassi

    You are more than good enough for me!

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  32. I absolutely love this! I have this wonderful 4 month old puppy that I am diligently trying to train with positive reinforcement. I find myself falling back on old habits and just as you said sometimes I am just being crabby or too lazy to deal with it. Hearing it said from an accomplished trainer like yourself means so much! Nobody is perfect and what a great reminder that even the people you hold up as a measure aren’t perfect either and to stop being so hard on myself! Thank you!

    Reply
  33. Pingback: The Perfect Trainer! | Cognitive Dogs

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