RSS Feed

The weed people

Posted on

When I was a kid, my mom used to rage about people who had weeds growing in their gardens.  Those weeds go to seed and those seeds get blown around the neighborhood, leaving my mom’s pristine garden a hapless victim.

Weeds in her garden were the result of inconsiderate, stupid, ignorant weed people who simply didn’t care about anyone but themselves. What’s wrong with people these days? (Apparently, all of those folks who think it is the current generation didn’t know about my mom’s weed problem).

It never occurred to her that maybe her neighbors had different interests. Or maybe they had a different vision of what a good garden might look like. Or maybe they perceived her as eccentric and silly, especially when she started calling the police to report the worst offenders.  Who knows?  My mom was a master gardener.  She knew the facts, and their weeds were a problem, even if the offending parties weren’t much interested in learning about it.

I heard about weeds my whole childhood, as did the neighbors.

My mom was right about weeds but she was wrong about people. The weed people were not bad, malicious, or thoughtless; they were simply operating with a different set of priorities.  Her efforts to bludgeon the neighbors into submission through education were not being ignored because they were unable to learn; they were being ignored because they didn’t share her priorities.    Her mistake was assuming that once they were educated then they would gladly give up their own interests to ensure that her garden and their neighborhood remained weed free. And when that didn’t happen, she became increasingly frustrated and angry.

When we have a passion, in particular one which is not shared by most of society, we struggle with perspective. We forget that we’re the weird ones; the people with special requirements which are outside the societal norm. We are the problem.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re right. My mom was right. But being right did nothing to solve her problem because her point of view was not the normative one and she was unable to communicate in a way that might have helped other people understand what she needed from them.

“Dog people” seem to struggle with this as well.  If you are reading this blog then your beliefs about dogs almost certainly do not fit what is typical. You may have all kinds of knowledge about dogs and how things should be and you may be right! But understanding that you are outside the societal norm might be helpful the next time you try to bludgeon a person into acquiescence when they do something that isn’t to your particular liking.

What’s your issue?  Flexi leashes? Dog food? Dogs riding loose in cars?  Dogs sticking their head out the car window? Dog parks?  Off-leash dogs?

Or maybe your issue has nothing to do with dogs or gardens; maybe you’re the driving police.  Everyone should drive exactly the speed limit, use their blinkers at each intersection, cross only at marked crosswalks, and count a full second before proceeding after a stop sign.  And if they don’t follow the rules?  You’ll be sure to let them know because you are right!

Or maybe you’re all over the map, picking and choosing what you are right about while waiting for the world to recognize your knowledge so that you can finally be appreciated for the prophet that you are.

Really, perspective is everything.  And yes, that is exactly how other people perceive you.

Can you take another perspective? Can you list out several reasons why a perfectly decent, thoughtful, normal individual might raise their dog in a different manner than you do?  Or break the speed limit on occasion? Or ingore the weeds in their garden? Or feed their dog cheap store bought kibble? Or walk their dog on a flexi?

If you can’t do that without going right back to rationalizing why you are still right, then you are the problem – you simply cannot get far enough out of your worldview to recognize a different possibility. If you cannot stop focusing on the exception, the one neighbor who really does spend their every moment trying to mess with others, then you are the problem. If you really see yourself as the “bearer of truth” who bears the burden of sharing important but uncomfortable truths with the ignorant masses, then you are the problem.  If you really cannot recognize that most people are not out to get you, then it really is about you!  But maybe not the way you thought.

When I figured out that I was the problem because of my unique perspective on dogs, I became much more able to set up circumstances around me that let me focus on solutions rather than stewing in the unfairness of it all. I found myself getting my needs met, and I had better relationships with others.  A net win.

As my mom aged,  arthritis made gardening painful and dementia made it unimportant. And while I have no idea if anyone else in the neighborhood cares, I can’t help but think about it every time I show up and realize that my mom is now one of the weed people.

Philosophy or behavior?

Posted on

You had a bad training day. You got angry. You yanked at your dog, jerked them around a little bit and generally behaved badly. Ugly stuff.

What happens now?

One answer is to blame the dog. The dog deserved it. The dog is stubborn and hard. There is no other way to train such a tough dog.

You can certainly handle your cognitive dissonance by rationalizing that your dog is harder, tougher, and more stubborn than other dogs – you had no choice!

The other option is to be logical. Accept that humans make bad decisions. We react without thinking. We get upset and do things that aren’t great, emotions over logic, and that will never change because no one is 100% logical.

Now, step back and decide what you’re going to do next.

When you make a bad decision, you can change your philosophy to match your behavior, or you can change your behavior to match your philosophy.

Rationalization is the name of the game within the human condition. It’s your choice what drives you but you do need to be mindful and make your choice consciously because unconscious decisions rarely leave the individual accountable.

Logical decision-making or rationalization?

The most common reason for bad behavior in dog training is a human who doesn’t know how to do better at that time. They don’t know how to handle a problem, or they lack the skills to apply the training correctly. And maybe on top of that, they had a bad day, so they’re not in a good place to do better. Behavior happens. Human behavior too!

What happened yesterday is not important.  I’ve heard tales that would make your skill crawl and still…they are not important.  I can move past those stories because I don’t think they define the person standing in front of me.  They define the person of yesterday and that is no longer relevant.  The question needs to be this:

What are you going to do about it? Make a conscious choice and remember to keep the reality of human error front and center.  You did not show bad behavior because you’re stupid or because you’re a crappy trainer or because you have a bad dog.  You showed bad behavior because you are human and you are learning.  You are balancing what you believe with what you know and that can be pretty hard to do when it suggests you are lacking. And frustration often shows as aggression – for both dogs and people!

If you don’t know what you should’ve done then that’s fine too. There’s a lot of information out there these days. People to talk to, groups to join, and directions to explore. Not knowing how to handle something within your philosophy doesn’t mean you need to change your philosophy. It means you need education. Hopefully, you can get it in a safe space.


Cue Discrimination

Posted on

For the new AKC Cue Discrimination Exercise, your goal will be to teach your dog to listen to a specific position cue like sit, down or stand without creeping towards you.

How might you accomplish that?

First I would suggest separating out the challenges.

  1.  Listening for the correct cue. Dogs are generally not very good at listening, so you will need to work on teaching the dog to respond correctly. You do have the option of combining the verbal with the hand signal, though I would suggest teaching each one individually and then combining them only as needed for an “extra strong” cue.
  2.  Distance.   Distance is the last thing I add to cue discrimination. Instead, I practice the positions up close, but I add varying levels of complexity. For example, can my dog sit on cue when they are on an uneven surface? Can my dog sit on cue when there’s a cookie on the floor nearby?  You can check out this video if you want to understand that concept better:
  3.  Don’t creep forward! Dogs tend to be motivated to get back to us, so the biggest challenge with doing positions at a distance is that the dog starts to creep in. This can be caused by calling our dog after we do our positions, but as often as not, it simply because our dogs want to return. Heck, we are the source of all good things! We have food, toys, and personality, so it’s understandable that our dogs are in a hurry to get back to us.

How can you teach your dog to perform positions at a distance without creeping in?

First, I like to teach my dogs to do their positions on a platform. That pretty much prevents the issue of creeping altogether, because the dog has no choice. When that is solid, I teach my dogs to perform with their front feet on a target. The idea is the same, except it’s a lot easier to fade it. The dog learns to hold their front feet still and work their rear end.  This generally ends with a tuck sit and a fold back down.

When it’s time to start doing multiple positions in a row I like to back my dog up between cues. For example sit, back. Down, back. Etc. You get the idea.

When that looks okay, I combined the cues with the targets, moving backward. For example, ask the dog to sit with their feet on a target. Then back the dog onto the next target, and ask for a new position. Eventually, I also stop the dog between targets and ask for positions there as well.  If I want to do a recall, I have the dog run around a cone behind them first so they are rarely reinforced for coming in directly.

Below is a video example.

One final note…consider working on a single position per target 90% of the time – the more you work several in a row, the higher the odds that the dog will start to worry and then you’ll see errors.

This video is unedited so you can see how I handle errors.

Do words matter?

Posted on

Do words affect our thoughts, feelings, and responsive actions?

If I “cue” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language that suggests a cue? What relationship might we build from there?

If I “direct” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language of direction? What relationship might we build from there?

And if I “command” or “order” you to sit in a chair, what is your reaction? What is the language and emotion behind a command or an order? What relationship might we build from there?

In all cases you are now sitting in a chair (or not) but…how do you feel about it? How do you feel about me?  How do I feel about you, and my ability (or power) to make you do things?

And if you opt not to sit in the chair for any reason, what do each of these words suggest will happen next?

In the year 2018, I’d really like to think that most of us have removed the word “command” or “order” from our vocabulary under the vast majority of circumstances. At best, the implication is that failure to respond may well be met with some type of force or negative consequence and at worst, it poisons our thinking vis a vis the other.

Does it matter what we say? What we call these words that we generate in our thoughts and express from our mouths?

Yes, it absolutely does.

“Command” comes from a military model of the world.  It assumes both a hierarchy and a punishment based system. One being has authority over another and a system of punishing consequences is well established to deal with those who fail to comply.

I cannot remember the last time I commanded anyone to do anything.  Not even when I worked with inmates in a locked facility (7 years!).  I didn’t command people to do things. I directed them. “Commanding” obedience would have been a good way to end up on the wrong side of a very angry group of individuals, and the general consensus among both staff and management was that avoiding adversarial interactions was an excellent idea.  My position power was enough to either get the job done or to provide me with excellent leverage should I have needed it.

And when I fired people for a living (3 years!)?  I often advised managers of challenging employees to “order” an employee to do something that was currently not happening.  I did this because it was a legal requirement before termination, not because I thought it was a good idea.

And what happened after orders were given?  Well, the “ordered” individual either did or did not comply, but they sure turned into a sullen mess from that day forward, pretty much ensuring the misery of everyone around them even as they managed to stay on the “right” side of employment.  No surprise there.   Commanding and ordering others is surely one of the ugliest forms of interaction.  No one thrives on being powerless, and no healthy relationship thrives that way either.

Language matters.

There’s no reason for a person to command another person.  If you are a teacher, judge, or evaluator, go ahead and direct others.  There is no reason to “command” your dog either.  Cue him and take your decision making from there as well.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking in terms of having your “commands” obeyed or disobeyed and start thinking in terms of creating circumstances that allow for a win/win.  To get there, choose words which align with the relationship you’d like to have.

Next week I’ll give you some ideas about training in a manner that avoids forward creep in the new Cue Discrimination Exercise in AKC Open Obedience.


Note: Late registration at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy wraps up on Thursday the 15th, so pick your class and get registered if you’ve been procrastinating!




FDSA Podcasts. Free!

Posted on

I like playing with dogs.  I also like writing.

I do not like reinventing the wheel so rather than writing about play, I’m going to encourage you to listen to a conversation on that topic.

Yesterday I was interviewed for a 30-minute podcast for FDSA on the topic of play.  Click the link if you want to listen to it.

Nothing to buy and I covered a lot of ground!  Why I play with dogs.  What you can learn when you play with your dog.  How to play…in particular, how to get started.  And why I think it matters if you play with your dog – for competition purposes and otherwise.

Plus, since the FDSA podcast happens every week, you might find an entire laundry list of other topics that interest you.  Those are free too.

Here’s a direct link to all of our podcasts.  Recent topics include balancing drive and control, gaining a more reliable recall, developing fitness in your dog, and optimal arousal levels for performance. Next week Julie Flanery will talk about “Things you didn’t learn in puppy class.” If you have a really really really long drive ahead of you, that will do the ticket.  Hundreds of hours of listening right there.

Thousands of episodes are downloaded or read each time we release a new one.  If you want them downloaded to your phone each week, instructions for doing that (for Apple and Android) are given right at the top when you click the link.  So read through that and you’ll be good to go.

And if you’re more of a reader than a listener then that’s good too, because we transcribe all of our podcasts.

For free.

Sensing a theme here?

If you have specific topics that you’d like covered, go ahead and mention them in the comments!  We’ll see what we can do.



The science of words. Or is it the words of science?

Posted on

Here’s a puzzle for you based on the “Stroop Effect”

Name the colors of the following words.  Don’t read the words; name the colors.  For example, you would say red, blue, green, if you were going across the top line.


How did you do?  It’s hard!  That’s because our brain is wired to read words over processing colors; we’re forcing our brains into an uncomfortable position.

Which is how I feel about the four quadrants.  Let’s look:

Positive?   Science says to GIVE something to the dog!   And the average, English speaking, human brain? The brain says that positive means GOOD.

Negative? Science says to TAKE something!  And the average English speaking human brain?  The word negative means BAD.

Reinforcement?   The average human brain says it’s something we like, regardless of the effect on our behavior.  And science?   Well, not so much.  It’s defined by its effect on behavior.  If the behavior increases then it’s reinforcement.   Otherwise, nope.

How about Punishment?   The average human brain says it’s something that we want to avoid regardless of the effect.   And science? It’s not punishment, no matter how much the dog doesn’t like it, if it doesn’t decrease behavior.

Now, add the pluses and minuses to the reinforcement and punishment and you have fodder for hours of human brain puzzles.

This inherent contradiction between our innate use of language to organize the world and the words that represent the four quadrants will never go away.  It will never get better.  The struggle will continue until dog trainers internalize that we are torturing college students, future trainers and random pet people alike. And, in my opinion, to no particular benefit. Note that I said “torture” rather than punishing – that’s my nod to science cause…it’s not having the desired effect.  They don’t develop enough fluency with the concept to make it useful to their training.  They just suffer.

If you care, and you spend a lot of time working at it, you can override your natural inclination to apply the relevant word connotations, and actually master the quadrants.   Unfortunately, when things get weird, for example, a forced retrieve is negative reinforcement, then you will probably always spend a few seconds, or minutes, chewing on it before you get the right answer.

As applied trainers, there are other approaches that may work a whole lot better.

I ask myself three questions:

1. Is the dog engaged or disengaged?

2. Is the dog content or distressed?

3 Am I getting closer to my behavior goal?

If any of those are answered no, then I have a problem. I need to take a good look at my training and figure out what needs to change.

If you use the quadrants to get you to the same result, then all is well.  But if keeping the quadrants straight in your head is taking so much energy that you have nothing left for dog training?  Consider changing your approach.

If I had it my way, the four quadrants would disappear off the face of the earth. But since that’s not going to happen,  I’ll just offer up my solution.

It works for me. Maybe it will work for you.

Free classes at FDSA

Posted on

My guess is that most people who follow this blog know that I own an online school. It’s called Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and we are currently registering for the February Term.

We average about 40 classes each term, and cover pretty much everything from foundation skills to nosework to obedience to behavior to agility to….more.   At $65 for a bronze level class, it’s a good deal, and we have a generous scholarship program if you need a little help with your tuition. Just visit our site and follow the “new student” link to learn more at

Online, you can learn quite a bit from world class instructors who are committed to teaching both you and your dog with kindness and respect.  If you haven’t tried it, take a look and see what you think.

To encourage you to check it out you can enter the contest.  Just click on the link below, take a look at the February schedule, and tell us what class you would like to win for you and a friend. If you wish, you can also be placed on our mailing list, but that’s completely optional.  Just enter the first part and close the contest if you prefer not to be on the mailing list.

I hope to see some new faces this term!   If you’re struggling to pick a class, send me a note through Facebook Messenger and I’ll see what I can do for you.

We are worldwide, convenient, feature truly excellent instructors, and offer all of this at a tremendous value.   We also have a very strong online support community through our Facebook groups.

What more could you want?

Free bronze level class at FDSA for you and a friend!