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I recently taught a seminar where I asked a participant if I could handle her dog to demonstrate a specific technique.

She said no.  Nicely but…No.

I doubt this comes up more than a handful of times a year – that someone pays money to get my input, brings a dog to see me, and then chooses not to let me handle their dog.

That handler believed that her dog would not benefit or might be distressed by going with a stranger. So what did she do? She advocated for her dog.


If more people would do that – stand up to their friends, instructors, judges, presenters, and advocate for their dogs, then I would hear a lot less of the story that starts…

“He was fine until my instructor took him and ____”

You fill in the blank.

If you opt to own and train a dog, you are also opting to advocate for your dog.  It doesn’t matter how “nice” or “well-respected” or “force free” that presenter is – it’s your dog.  Your responsibility.    At the end of the day, will your dog still see you as an advocate or will you have become part of the problem?

That handler has the right – the responsibility – to do what she thinks is in the long term best interest of her dog.  I have enormous respect for her.  Honestly, I wish I saw that sort of advocacy more often.

If you’re not sure you can do it; stand up to a person in a position of authority, then that’s fine.  Leave your dog at home when you attend a seminar and then you won’t find yourself in that difficult position.  Don’t be naive.  Just because someone is well known doesn’t mean that they’ll behave in a way that is in the best interests of your dog.

And if it’s already happened?  You made that mistake?  Fine – put that in the past, learn from the experience, and do right by your dog as you go forwards.

Good luck.

Are you Listening?

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Some dogs do very well with human words, but a high percentage really struggle to listen for verbal cues.

In part this is likely due to the nature of being a dog – they don’t speak in words, so probably have much less capacity for understanding them easily.

And in part it is due to the human training the dog.  We often offer small (but definite) visual cues to go with the verbal ones.

Of course, the reverse can be true as well.  If your dog prefers words, then you might find that you’re struggling to teach your visual (hand) signals.

If you can isolate the issue of verbal from visual, then you have a better chance of forcing your dog to attend to whatever is important to you.

Here I’m working on teaching Brito his verbal cues for sit, down, wait (stand) and back.

In the following video I have taken away all of his visual information so he listens much more carefully.  He has no choice but to use his ears since his eyes are of no use.  If I were in the room he would still be using his eyes to search for clues.

This video is unedited and includes errors.  Note that I can see his shadow so I know if he is responding – I can also hear when he changes position.

If you’re working on the TEAM obedience program, this exercise will do wonders for your dog’s verbal fluency! For more information on TEAM, go to

Grief and Regret

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One of my online students lost her dog to cancer.  Her lovely dog was four years of age.

A vet check showed that she was fine; a young and healthy dog!

But she was not fine.  Not because the vet was incompetent, but because we can’t know everything; modern medicine is simply not that good.  The nature of life when working with a non-verbal creature is that we often have to guess about the animal’s internal state by their behavior. But that only works if we’re willing to listen – even if we don’t truly understand the underlying reason.

This dog?  Not much interest in tug.  Not much interest in food.  Not much interest in play. Not much interest in work.  Frustrating.

Over time, this lack of enthusiasm took a toll. What does one do when the dog doesn’t seem to share the interests of the humans?   The owner is stressed  – nothing seems to work.  The instructors are stressed – trying to help but the results seem inconsistent and slow to come by.

And that is when people start to make bad decisions.

“She knows this!” “She needs to know that she doesn’t have a choice.” “She did it yesterday; are you going to let her work only when she feels like it?”  “The vet said she was fine.” “Only feed her when you train; she’ll work when she gets hungry enough.” “Crate her when she doesn’t want to work.” “Make her do it!”  “She’s blowing you off.”

While my student grieves, I’m glad that she is only grieving the loss of her bel0ved pet, and not regretting her own behavior.





I won!

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A shiny object for me!  Best website:



Building the Retrieve on Flat

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Last week I considered the pieces you would want to have in place to create the behavior chain called “drop on recall.”

This week I’m looking at the Retrieve on Flat.

Note that the foundation elements for the ROF exercise include the stay, the send, the automatic return, the release and the finish.  If you want to set your dog up success then each one needs to be in place before asking for a full retrieve.  Moreover, each of those pieces should be properly proofed before adding it to the chain, but that is beyond the scope of this particular blog.

Note that I test most of the elements with food.  That way if I’m not happy with how a piece turns out it will not affect the actual retrieve.

This video is unedited.

If you’d like, next I can take one foundation element and consider ways to proof it. I’m open to suggestions, so if you’d like to see how I proof a specific foundation piece, leave me a comment.

Today is the last day to register at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, so if you’ve been meaning to do that, don’t wait!

Drop on Recall (DOR) – Proofed in Bits

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Can you dog come when called?

Can your dog drop on cue?

Can your dog back up on cue?

Those are basic foundation behaviors that you’ll want to teach for your DOR.  But they won’t fold easily into a drop on recall until you’ve proofed each piece.

Can your dog come when called, even when a cookie is behind the dog?

Can your dog drop on cue when you’re holding a cookie at nose level?

Can your dog back up on cue, when you’re holding a cookie at nose level?

Now a little harder….can your dog do these things when you’re moving backward?

If you have all of those pieces, you’re well on your way to an “overtrained” dog, because a dog that can back up or drop when you’re also backing shouldn’t have too much trouble with a drop on recall.

Before you create a chain with known behaviors, test the behaviors that you have individually.  Then string them together and see what’s what.  If you don’t like a specific piece, pull it out for a little more attention.  Then try again.

When I want to practice the DOR, I’m not going to practice the whole chain because I don’t need to; that takes unnecessary time and space.  Instead, I’ll emphasize proofing the pieces of the chain.

This video is unedited – I made a few errors.  That’s ok.

Consider if this exercise were the retrieve on the flat.  What steps might I need for a strong foundation?  How might I proof each one to ensure that the chain was strong?  If you’re interested, let me know in the comments and I can do that one next.

When you’ve got the chains you want just how you want them, then consider joining me for my online class, Bridging the Gap.  There we’ll take your nice chains and get them ready for competition.  That class is enrolling now and runs 12 weeks – $125 for bronze:

Head drops in heeling

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Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones.

A while ago I did a blog post on “what’s more ___ than ___”  You can read about that idea here.

Using that principle, let’s consider a dog that drops his head while heeling. Maybe on the first step, or left turns, or right turns, or on the fast pace or…you get the idea.

What’s more looking up than up?

Jumping up, with your head up.

First I taught Brito to jump up for a cookie.  For some dogs that can be a bit complicated, so start from a standstill , then progress to a slow pace, then normal, etc.  They’ll figure it out.  If your dog is taller, then your hand would be higher – just up.

Now that you have that, let’s switch that to a generic hand touch rather than a cookie. And… here we go.

Problem on the start?  Do a week’s worth of starts with a hand touch to start and reward every single one.  We want our dog to love this game!

Problem on the about turn?  Do a week’s worth of about turns with a hand touch at the exact point where the head drop tends to occur.

If your dog misses the hand touch,  just try again until they succeed, and then reward.

Watch what happens.  It’s like magic!  You will find that your dog begins to hold a lovely, head’s up heel position, even on those tricky spots.

Here’s a very short video of Brito.  The specific issues were the first step of heeling, and dropping his head when pivoting to the right, so those are the two things I worked on.

TODAY is the first day of instruction at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy!  If you’re enrolled, head to your classroom, and if not – go get registered!