Thursday, 6 September 2012

Denise Fenzi Seminar

I recently attended a seminar with Denise Fenzi on Drives and Motivations.  I stumbled on Denise’s name about a year ago and then it popped up on a few blogs that I enjoy reading plus she started her own blog where she talks about raising her own puppy. I really enjoy her style of training as she advocates relationship and play with our dogs.

The focus of the seminar was on various types of drives (hunt, prey, food, pack) and how they can affect training decisions, play methods and the overall needs of our dogs. This blog does an excellent job of summarizing the same seminar for anyone interested in the specifics (drives, tugging, relationship, working) so I will just blog about the moments that “clicked” for me.

A friend and I were recently discussing the science of dog training and she made mention to me that “science is good, but putting theory into practice is an art”.  I believe Denise excels in that.  She was able to assess each working team quickly and provide information that will work with that dog.  She gives dogs a lot of credit for figuring things out and believes we often under challenge our dogs. 

When it was our one-on-one time I asked for some help with heeling.  I taught the initial heel position with a target stick and had achieved some good position but need to progress that for duration and different heel exercises.  I had been concentrating more on getting a series of steps from start in a line but felt I was losing her attention.  Denise had me heel around with her for a bit and then told me she couldn’t tell by my body language what my dog was doing.  I was basically doing the same motions if she was with me or if she was distracted.  She recommended that as soon as I start to lose her attention I remove the opportunity for Stella to be in position.  I do that by moving out of heel position towards her tail which redirects her attention back to me.  Most dogs don’t like when we stand behind them so will shift to face us and will follow if you move backward.  Once I had her focus back I could then pivot back into heel position and praise and reward for correct position.  This exercise seemed to work very well with Stella and I look forward to working this more as well as doing some video to see what I am doing.

I also need to be aware of direction with Stella and move more to the right.  I tend to want to correct position by moving to the left (into the dog) but that puts way more pressure on the dog and going right removes the pressure and will help her to drive into position.  Denise also rarely heels in a straight line while training and uses lots of twists, turns, circles etc. to make it more interesting for the dog.    A dog that forges in training would use more left turns and/or backup steps to correct.

Denise is a big fan of making sure the dogs understand the link between their behaviour and a reward.  She does this partially by sharing “missed opportunity” with the dog.    When the dog knows a behaviour but makes an error she will show the reward and communicate “too bad, so sad” that the dog has missed the opportunity, put the cookie away and then try again.  If the dog repeatedly fails then there is a training problem and the dog does not understand the behaviour. 

She took that “missed opportunity” thing a bit further when answering some questions.  A dog that doesn’t want to go in the crate gets a handful of yummy food thrown into the crate and the door closed so the dog can’t go in after it.   A dog that downs during a sit stay has the “judge” go along and feed the other sitting dogs and the empty space where that dog’s head should have been.  A dog that breaks the stay is held by the ring steward while the owner comes back and has a reward party where the dog should have been.    It sounds strange but if it works what the heck!  Stella has been going through a strange phase being reluctant to go in her crate.  I have just waited her out with the cookies in my hand until she gives up and goes in and then feeding her.  After the seminar I tried throwing the treats in and closing the crate, then left to brush my teeth while she waited to be let in for the treats.  Within two nights she was back to her normal crate routine. 

Denise also believes ring preparation routines and an on/off position while training our dogs.  Her thinking was very similar to the Michele Pouliot seminar that I recently attended.  Dogs should be put into a down stay while we speak with our trainers or prep for the next exercise.  In a trial situation she has specific routines for each dog to prep for the ring.  She says at that stage it is not about drilling the dog as you should know what to do by then.  Instead she wants to connect with the dog with some easy, quiet games.  She also has a position called “squish” where the dog stands across her legs against her body and it knows that position is just to relax and look around (take a break).  She then has a set step sequence out of that that has been heavily rewarded and it reorients the dog into a working position.

Another thing I found quite interesting was Denise’s use of praise and silence.   She believes in vocally encouraging the dog as it is working to give feedback to the dog and then going silent as the dog achieves what you want.   She then rewards with play or praise after a short silent moment.  She makes sure there is a difference in tone between encouraging and the reward praise.  This conditions our dogs that silence is an indicator of success and good things so that when we get into the ring they don’t freak out that we are all of a sudden silent and serious.

Other odds and ends include creating a love for things you can take in the ring.  First on the list is you but it can be useful to have a dog that loves a dumbbell, glove and articles.  It is important to have a solid trained retrieve first to prevent the dog from incorrectly picking up the item.  We can create a love for these items by playing hide n seek games with them and using them as rewards.  Then when these items are used in obedience trials the dog has good associations and believes it is being rewarded.  This would probably work well with Stella but Riley’s personality would likely have him obsessing on those items and distracted.

I really enjoyed this seminar and was pleased with Stella’s performance in the various exercises we did.  She is young and I am a novice so it is wonderful to get information to try and head off some bad habits.  Denise has an excellent blog  and youtube channel for anyone looking for more information.


  1. I first heard about Denise on one of the many Yahoo groups I belong to, and am excited to attend her January seminar here in PA (that seems SOOO far away). Her blog is one of THE best I have ever read!!

    1. I'm sure you will have a great time at the seminar!

  2. Wow. This sounds like a great seminar for peoples. Donna was always going to seminars trying to fix me. Until she gave up, that is.

    But I think this Denise person had a lot of original ideas. For example, I always wondered why Donna would get all silent and serious in the ring. It always freaked me out. This would have been a good way for her to get me used to it.

    Now, as for the crating thing. I ALWAYS go in my crate, because my peoples give me toys filled with treats in there. But Meadow doesn't always go in hers when told, DESPITE the toy filled with treats, which I can't really understand. Maybe my peoples should try something like this with her? I know I would just DIE if someone locked me out of my crate while there was food in there...

  3. Terrific post. Always nice to learn some new techniques & philosophy. And thanks for sharing!!

  4. And thanks again! Very useful information. Indi recently went through a similar phase of not wanting to go into her crate but is back to normal now.
    I like the idea of moving out of position so they have to work to get back in again.

  5. At last I got round to reading this and I am glad I did. Super points made and some I already understood, others were "oh yes, that makes sense!" moments that give me some new ideas :-) My heelwork isn't super snappy, but when it's not working so well, I do revert to "choose to heel" techniques (which is how my clicker trainer here started me out originally and I use on all the pups) where you keep moving around and the dog is off leash and has to seek you out constantly to get the reward. Even if they stop to sniff something, they move back to you really fast once they see you doing this and it's saved my bacon in the ring more than once! And it's not necessarily a recognised technique, but as I have multiple dogs, I sometimes let more than one be out with me when I'm doing more casual training because they vie for closest position to me. It tends to keep them on their toes and fast to get into that position because only the dog in position gets the reward (likely a bit like the missed opportunity you speak of above).