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Problem Solving: Go back! and…

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I wrote this for the TEAM Player Facebook group but thought I’d throw it out here as well since it applies to all dog sports.

When you’re struggling to get a behavior, try this:

“Thoughts on problem-solving for TEAM:

Are you “Stuck” on a behavior at Level 2 or above? Try this:

If there is a corresponding behavior at Level 1, go back to working on it for a few days and leave the higher level behavior alone! Then “add complexity” to the lower level behavior.

For example, let’s say you’re struggling with pivots at Level  2 – your dog can’t keep his rear end in.

Go back to pivoting on the disc – a Level 1 behavior. Spend one day doing it exactly as is stated for level I competition.

Now, can you make it a little harder? For example, instead of doing 180°, can you make it 360°? Excellent! Can you do it with no cookie on your body? Super! Can you do it without the hand target above your dog’s head? You’re on your way! Can you do it when there’s a cookie on the ground nearby? Awesome!

This is proofing. Making it a little bit harder in manageable pieces so your dog becomes stronger at the base behavior.

Now, after you have mastered the above, go back to doing it off the disc – the Level 2 behavior. What happens?

Off the disc is just another form of complexity. You might discover that your dog is now a pivoting pro with no additional training 🙂

The levels were designed specifically to make this approach to problem-solving work well. That’s why we call it a training program; it will make you a better trainer.”

While the above statement was targeted at TEAM trainers, it applies to all sports and skills.

Struggling with your fronts?  Work on them with a platform but add distractions nearby or place your hands behind your back or stare at the sky or or or….  Then try it without the platform or the distraction – and see what happens!

Struggling with a full set of weave poles?   Go back to a much smaller number, and add guides if you used them in the initial training. Now add complexity! Hop like a bunny, or run backward, or hold your arms at weird angles. After a few days, try a full set of weave poles again, but this time remove the proofing elements. Did it help?

How about nose work? Is your dog struggling with endurance? Stop working on endurance! Instead, try some super easy hides, but add complexity. Maybe a distraction nearby like food in a box. Or work outdoors if you normally work indoors. Or leave your other dog loose in the house if you have one. Or sit on a chair! Remember though, the base behavior should be easier than the one you are trying to work towards. And when you are ready? Remove the proofing, make the challenge more difficult, and see what you have.

It’s amazingly effective . Give it a try!

On another note, next week is Fenzi Frenzy Webinar Week at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy!  Starting on Monday, we’ll have a full week of Webinars to cover lots of topics that may interest you!  I’ll kick it off on Monday with Engagement, so I hope I’ll “meet” some of you there.  For more information, Check out our webinar schedule.

Remember, you can watch the webinar for at least one year from your “webinar library” even if you can’t participate live, but you have to purchase it before it runs! Each one is $19.95, and will give you a chance to get to know our FDSA instructors.  I look forward to seeing some of you there, and answering your questions about Engagement!


FDSA Podcasts

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If you like to listen then check out the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcasts. Each week you’ll spend about 45 minutes learning something interesting from someone interesting!

When you click the following link, you’ll see two greenish buttons – click the one for your phone type if you want to have future episodes downloaded automatically to your phone.  We now have thousands of subscribers…and room for more!

Or…scroll down and pick and choose what you’d like to learn about. We have 34 episodes to choose from!

Transcriptions are available for each episode if you prefer reading to listening.

Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Podcast





Is it time to take stock?

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Is it time to step back and take stock of your training?

On a typical training day, I head out of my house to my training area with whatever dog I want to train. I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to work on before I walk out the door, but mostly my plan is to build on whatever I did the day before, and hopefully, over time, that plan will take me a little bit further than the week before…

And then every once in a while I either run into a problem or I realize that I really haven’t taken stock in a long time.

When I say “take stock”, I mean put the dog away, step back and take a hard look at the various elements of your training.

It’s important to do this because sometimes we’re a lot like frogs dropped into a pot of cool water that slowly comes to a boil; we didn’t jump out of the pot because…we weren’t paying attention!  We didn’t realize that things weren’t going quite right. Maybe the problematic changes were very small or incremental.  Maybe we focused so much on teaching a particular skill that we hadn’t even noticed that our dog had lost motivation. Maybe we didn’t see that the problem we’d been battling for weeks or months was really the symptom of a bigger problem and not what we had focused on at all.

Is it time to stop and take stock?  Have you really stopped to think about your entire training plan?

How is your dog’s motivation?    How are your dog’s skills?    Are you doing a nice job of breaking training down into small bits that your dog can digest easily?    Is your dog opting into training willingly?     Is your dog physically and mentally thriving?    Is it obvious to your dog how their work affects what rewards will happen and when they will appear?    Have you realistically assessed your dog as an individual, and stayed within their abilities over time?  Do you feel good about your trial preparation plans so that either now or in the future, you can be successful in competition?

There’s no time like the present, so why not stop and think about these things?

If you’d like a systematic way to take stock of your dog’s current state of training or if you know that something is broken in your work but you’re not sure how to diagnose the root problem so that you can start working to fix it, join me for a webinar on this topic on Thursday, October 26, at 6 PM Pacific time.  There will be time at the end for questions.

Here are the details:

Denise Fenzi – Problems to Polishing: Evaluating your Progress

Date: Thursday, October 26, 2017
Time:  6-7pm Pacific Time (you don’t have to attend “live”)
Fee: $19.95 – Registration required PRIOR to scheduled presentation time.

Description:  In this webinar, Denise will consider what it takes to develop, maintain or rehabilitate your performance dog.  What factors do you need to consider when you’re not progressing quite as you’d like, but you’re not sure where the challenge lies?  By occasionally evaluating one’s training by comparing what we have against a set of standards that remain constant, handlers can find their weak spots and work to improve, making training more fun and effective for both the dog and the handler.

And if you’re already struggling with your training?  Think you’ll never get your dog ready for competition?  That’s okay too!   This webinar will also provide a framework for identifying where the challenge may lie and give you a starting point for getting back on track.

Suitable for all sports.

Note:  A recorded version will be made available in your webinar library 24-48 hours after the presentation.

Register here!



Stay straight!

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Does your dog’s rear go out wide when you cue sit, down or stand in heel position?  Annoyed with the fact that handler errors are judged?

Check out the TEAM newsletter for advice:

TEAM newsletter

Competitive Obedience

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Originally published on Facebook:

My preferred dog sport is competitive obedience. The sport is struggling right now and various powers-that-be are working to make it, in theory, more appealing. How might we get there?

Making dog sports easier is not going to solve the problem of new people not coming into the sport. Adding food, allowing talking, and keeping dogs on leash is not going to solve the problem. Removing stays is not going to solve the problem. Blaming whatever training method you don’t approve of certainly won’t work. Adding more levels between titles might help a little, mostly because trainers will break their work down more.

At the end of the day, the dog sport’s underlying training culture is the issue. Obedience is perceived as unkind, unwelcoming, inflexible, stuck in the dark ages, and too difficult. If that does not change, then the issues will continue.

People need to learn how to have fun while gaining cooperation and control with their dog. You need all of that. That is not a matter of adding cookies or corrections. Both of those additions will work for a percentage of dogs but at the end of the day, what you need to do is learn how to train dogs.

Training is innately interesting to many people (and palatable to dogs) if it is done well. That requires understanding. In my mind, that is what is missing in competition obedience training facilities across the country. Some have added cookies because they have learned that when an owner is holding a cookie the dog is more likely to behave. Some use harder and harder corrections for the same reason – they have found that when the dog is on leash he appears under control. These are not the answers – both are crutches that mask the lack of training.

Understanding and teaching excellent training, rather than “training to the competition exercises” is the answer. Treating people with care and respect so that they want to learn is the answer. You can do that as a competitor, a coach or as a judge. Talking badly about others with differing views is a rather poor way to attract people to what you love. It might be somewhat gratifying to those who are already there, but it certainly won’t bring in new people. Or at least not the kind of people that will make for a very warm environment.

When your ship is sinking, it’s time to consider structural changes – patching the leaks only works for so long.

I want to talk about the TEAM training program. Not as a way to title your dog, but as a way to change the culture of training within obedience based sports.

The point of TEAM is to teach people how to train by breaking down exercises and improving them. It emphasizes good training that leads to results, rather than results driving training. Poor trainers could get through it, but it would be a whole lot harder for them.

If you have not taken a hard look at the TEAM program, consider doing that now. Notice how the levels build on each other and emphasize excellent training at every step.

Now consider what would happen if your local dog training club started competition training in this way. Consider what would be happening in the entry level class – compare “one step halt” to doing things with impulse control, cones, jumps and scent work – as the starting point? Consider what would happen if the trainer learned early on how to maintain control in the face of distractions, in new places, and when they weren’t holding a cookie or a leash. Consider what would happen if entry level obedience was more than precision heeling?  Consider what would happen if a person got stressed during a videotaped run, and saw that their dog reacted badly to that – before they ever hit a live competition. Consider what would happen if a person realized that taking the cookies off of their body or working without a leash ended their dog’s work.

People can’t wrap their head around that, but to me it’s obvious – excellent training illuminates the holes long before you go to a show.

Why can’t people visualize this? Maybe it’s because incremental change (or better yet, no change at all) is a lot more comfortable for people than fundamental change. But sometimes a new foundation is the only viable solution.

Take any exercise at any level of any rally or obedience organization that interests you. See if TEAM skills would cover it with just a bit of behavior chaining – I bet it would. A new way of thinking. Much more intriguing for dog and handler. Kind. Friendly. Welcoming.  If you’re not sure what that might mean, join the Facebook group, “Fenzi Team Players.” You’ll see what kindness looks like.

If clubs trained TEAM and then pulled those skills together into finished exercises, that could potentially change all of the obedience based sports altogether because the process would teach the training excellence. Are they ready? Maybe in a while.

Fenzi Team Titles

Sit, Down and Stand from a Distance

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I teach Cue Discrimination for a variety of reasons.  I needed it in competition for Mondio Ring Sport (sit, down or stand under “adversity”), for TEAM3 (Two positions at 20 feet with the handler taking unusual positions) and now…AKC is proposing adding cue discrimination into the Open Class as well.

While that proposal is still under discussion, some handlers may wish to begin working on it now, so I’m sharing the August 2107 TEAM newsletter since the topic was…Cue Discimination at a distance!

TEAM Newsletter

If you’d like to get a jump on the proposed AKC exercise, take a look at the newsletter.  Note that the emphasis should be on adding challenge before distance.  If you take that to heart, I may well have saved you and your dog a fair bit of grief.  Remember, distance is simply another form of adversity.

Also by good luck, this particular TEAM newsletter discusses “backing up” – that skill will be quite valuable to you if you find that your dog likes to creep between cues.  What you can do – give your position cue – ask the dog to back up – give another position cue, etc.  If your dog learns to back after each cue, you may eliminate that creeping altogether.

If you find the TEAM training program intriguing – either because you can use it to teach all of your competition exercises for any organization or because you like the idea of a systematic training program that leads to the option of video competition, check out the TEAM1 Training class we’re offering this term.   We start on Sunday the 1st of October – so get registered!  At $65 for bronze, you can’t go too far wrong.

If you do decide to pursue TEAM as a standalone training or titling option, you’ll absolutely want to join the extremely supportive Facebook group where you can submit videos and get help from other Team Players.

The program is fun!  We look forward to seeing some of you there!






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You just read something. Or you heard something. Or a thought entered your head, and now you have an opinion. So the question is, should you express it; that thought or opinion?

As an avid user of social media, I am consistently amazed at the number of people who feel that every thought that enters their head should come out of their mouth. Why is that?

If I think people with blonde hair are not attractive, and I think people with brown hair are absolutely fantastically attractive, do I need to express that opinion? Or might I want to consider the fact that many people have blonde hair? What does my expression of my opinion add to the world at large? And how might it harm people, whether I intended to or not?

It never hurts to take a moment to consider your opinion before you throw it out there.  What are you adding to the conversation?  Can you add to the conversation without demeaning the opinion or interests of others?  My mom often said, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Maybe there’s something to that expression.

So your favorite sport is agility and you don’t like obedience very much. That’s fine. Now can you explain to me why you feel the need to tell people who love obedience how boring it is, and how much better agility is? Remember, if you’re speaking publicly on a Facebook list, you’re talking to thousands, many of whom will love obedience. And if you love obedience, can you explain to me why you feel a need to tell agility competitors how easy their sport is, and how you don’t do it because it offers no challenge?  Have you taken a moment to consider how you just affected an agility competitor who just managed to squeak out their first agility title…barely?

Maybe we don’t have to express every opinion that enters our head. Maybe we could keep in mind that people are individuals with different interests. Some of us prefer one thing, and others prefer another. It’s not a matter of right or wrong; it’s not even a matter of expressing ourselves. Maybe it’s a matter of respect. Admiring that different people can appreciate such different things! Admiring another’s enthusiasm for their sport, without worrying too much about where we might fit inside their world.

Hell, my dad is fascinated by cactus plants, and while I can think of few things that interest me less, for the life of me I cannot think of one reason why I should tell him that.  Mostly I’m just interested in how excited he gets about the whole thing.  And no; I haven’t developed any desire to raise cactus but that doesn’t need to become a point of conversation. He loves his hobby.  I support his love.  Full stop.

In this day and age where every thought that enters anyone’s head seem to have permission to come out of their mouth or keyboard, I can’t help but wonder if we are doing ourselves any favors.  Why not build each other up instead?  Admire another’s enthusiasm, even if it’s not your passion?

Dog sports competitors are on the same page. They are fascinated by dogs and dog behavior. They enjoy training to a high level. And many of them are willing to compete and test their skills. That is worthy of admiration right there, whether or not you choose the same route as another.

Consider reserving your opinion for those times when you can actively support, encourage, and praise those around you; adding value to the overall conversation and feeling in the space.