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SG Susan Garrett
SG Hey, everybody. Welcome to Shaped by Dog. I am Susan Garrett, and I've got a super important
podcast today. You know what? They are all important. I feel very passionate about what I'm going to
talk about today. And I got so many things to share. I hope I get it all out. It is all about confidence.
About what is confidence in a dog and how can we grow it and why do we need to grow it? Why do we
even care about growing it? I'm going to give you three things that are the big contributors to bringing
out the most confidence that you have in your dog.
I'm really going to be talking about the puppies because I've got puppies on the brain right now. But
what I have to share with you, you can use it with any age dog that you have with the three big areas of
focus that we have. First, I'm going to start with a story. I had a Jack Russell in the early 90s and her
name was Decaff. She was actually three quarters Jack Russell, one quarter Border Collie. And some
people might describe her as a less confident puppy. She sometimes would be environmentally
worried. I'll give you an example. When she was about 10 months old, I was very excited. I was going
to Florida. I was going to train her on contacts. I think she was maybe 10 or 11. She was almost a year
old because she turned a year in February.
I was super excited because I was going to get her in a new environment and away from home and I
had this great end of contact behaviour at home and I was going to try it on the new contacts there. We
got out of the motor home and she started jumping around because like the grass in Florida is this wide
leaf grass and at home it wasn't. And even when it was, I mean, it was snow at home. And she walked
around like a dog that had boots on for the first time. And that didn't stop, like the next day. She always
was environmentally sensitive.
When she was born, we had a dirt floor in our arena and probably when she was seven or eight
months old, we changed to a rubber floor. For the rest of her life when she would go into the arena, she
would play with me, but when we would stop, she would find the cloth shoot so she could stand on
because she didn't want to stand on the floor, which was different from the floor she knew. She just had
environmental challenges. Well, I think that one became a habit with her because she overcame her
So, from Florida, I went, and I taught a workshop in California and it was in an olive orchard. There
were dead olives all over the ground. I would get her out to do a demonstration. And again, with the ‘oh
my gosh, I've got boots on my feet. I couldn't possibly walk on this’ behaviour and I was able to
overcome all of this and I will share with you at the end what I did.
And from there, I was in Houston at a trial and it was a dirt floor and the same thing, like ‘ew… I've
never, I'm not familiar with this’. It was, they called it hog fuel and it was something she'd never been
on and so as she got older. Now, Decaff was my fourth dog in a long line of US national champions.
So, they were amazing agility dogs, phenomenal. I would hear the room mumblings behind me when
she was a two-year-old or a little less. They started calling her Deke the Freak. Because I called her
Deke for her name was Decaff, but often I called her Deke. It's a move. I was a hockey goalie, and
Deke is a thing.
Anyway, people behind me you know, actually friends would call her Deke the freak and because of
her responses. Those were labels that people put on her. But the strategy or the process that I'm going
to share with you today, those three key things are what kept me and allowed me to overcome
everything, all of these challenges with Decaff, she went on to not only be a US national champion, but
also to be a two time world champion.
And when she won her first big event, one of the people who spoke not so highly of her initially wrote
me an email. And said, “Respectfully Susan, I always knew you would overcome some of her issues,
but I never thought she would be a great agility dog.” And I just wrote her back one line. “When I look at
my dogs, all I see is brilliance and it's up to me to be able to bring it out for the world to see.”
And so that's what confidence does. It shines what's there. What's there that's now cloudy that we have
to bring it out. Why do we have to bring it out? It's not about winning. It's allowing the dog to have their
best life. Because a dog who is showing signs of stress or anxiety, they're not having their best life and
confidence can replace that stress and anxiety.
You know, I hear people say, they use this term, ‘he is my once in a lifetime dog’. And I personally have
had 10 once in a lifetime dogs. Because I work at bringing out confidence in my dog. And when
confidence comes up, I've heard people say to me over and over again, “Susan, your dogs have so
much character and personality.” It's because when you allow confidence to seep out, the true self of
the dog comes out, and all this big personality is there for the world to see. Because they are confident.
So, it's not about winning. Although confidence allows the dog to be faster in the agility ring. But for me,
it's about that dog having their best life. So, there's, as I said, there's three ways we're going to start.
The first one is, I talked about this in episode 8 of Shaped by Dog, is the belief loop. It is your belief in
your dog. Briefly, what I talked about, is that the beliefs that we have, that is what controls the thoughts
that we have.
So, if we believe our dog is a scaredy cat dog, or is a freak, if I bought in to what these so called
experts were saying about my young dog, that she's a freak, that she's never going to accomplish
anything, that those beliefs create thoughts for our brain.
So, we start looking for the dog to stress or to break, shut down or to do what it is that a scaredy cat,
freak, fearful, anxious dog does. We believe that's who they are so now our thoughts look for
opportunities to see “Oh yeah, there she is, yeah that's who she is. She's, you know, she's not going to
be one of my good ones. She's going to be one of those stressy dogs.” That controls our emotions
because, you know, even my body language, when I just talked about the stressy dog. Like I'm not
proud, I'm disappointed, I'm frustrated.
And that controls our actions. So maybe we're not going to go to as many places, or we're not going to
put all that effort into training because really, you know, she'd rather just stay on the couch and that
would make her happier. So that creates our actions and that gives us more outcomes, which is the
dog is exact, doesn't really move, it doesn't really stay there.
And when people see this, and the reason I bring this up, I'm going to just change speeds here is I
have four puppies right now, four eight-week-old puppies. And last week I was training them. I brought
them to a new environment, and I was training these four puppies, four completely different reactions.
So, the one puppy came in and would engage with me a little bit, but then would alarm bark, like she
heard something, or she saw a ghost. Then she'd come back and engage with me a bit and then she
would engage and I'm just going to say she for all these puppies, cause I'm not going to tell you which
one was which.
And then the next puppy came in and wouldn't engage with me at all. Just wanted to sniff, sniff, sniff,
sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff. Where am I? Sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff, wanted to check out every
corner of the environment. And then she would come back and work with me. And then the next dog
came in and right away, came in and played with me and you know, we had a great old time.
And then the last dog. Oh, was very, very low in her body language and came in and was timid and
played a little bit and then looked around and then played a little bit. And it's not like I took them to a
freeway. It was just a new environment that they hadn't been before. They were just maybe not quite
seven weeks old. Now somebody getting one of those puppies. It would be easy to say, “Oh, let's label
all but one of them, we're going to label the one as the ones that are lifetime dog and all those other
ones are going to be labeled as anxious or stressy, or worried, or scaredy cats.”
That allows you, that gives you a lifelong excuse. “Well, I did the best I could, but remember when he
was six-weeks-old, he was a scaredy cat. Yeah.” So, you've got that excuse. Or you could say, “Well,
that's what I'm starting with.” It doesn't matter if you have a six-week-old puppy, a six-month-old puppy,
a six-year-old dog, this is your today.
This is your starting point. That is the clay you have to mold what's happening next. Now granted, it's
easier to start with a mold of six weeks, but it's not impossible at six years. You can still make it better
than it is today. It starts with your belief. And if you can't believe that it can get better, then draw on
stories of other dogs who have. Go to our Recallers Successes page in Facebook, there's all kinds of
stories there of dogs who have overcome challenges. The story I just told you about Decaff, who was
an amazing dog. She won so many things in the sport of agility, but started out as a dog who was very,
So, it starts with your belief. That's number one. Number two, the strategy you choose to adopt, to
overcome, to get you from where you are right now to where you want to be. And I would encourage
you to buy into play small in order to play big. That's the strategy that I took with Momentum who
showed a lack of confidence as a young dog. Play small to play big.
I'm going to come back to that, but let me share with you what most people, when they see a dog or a
puppy that's shy, that's alarm barking or worried, they'll often do things like give cookies to the person
that their alarm barking at and say, “can you feed my dog?” But that's a flawed strategy. Because the
dog is still in a high anxious state of arousal, and now it's kind of going in and coming out and coming
in and going in and going into, I don't know if I should take it and they grab a food. And the thought
process is, if you do this enough the dog will overcome it.
You know, a better way to be is just ask that person to ignore the dog, just ignore my puppy. And
instead of saying things like, “Well, this is strategy number one. I'm getting ahead of myself.” So, we
have belief, we have the strategy, the approach that you take, and that is play small to play big. Don't
ask people to feed your dog. Don't correct the dog for being worried. You're going to play small to play
I look at those four puppies and I will consider confidence a bag of marbles. So, every new experience,
new experience or new training session I take them to, I start off with 50 marbles in my bag. Now that
one that I took them to, it was an experiment. I videoed it and only one puppy came out with more than
50 marbles. The other three puppies came out with less than 50 marbles because the training,
although they all ended on a good note, in my estimation there was some fear and anxiety that
happened during the training for three of those puppies, just a little bit, maybe more for one.
And I made a vow to those puppies we’re going to train every day and we're going to come out with
more than 50 marbles in every single session. “And how do you do that Susan?” I played small in order
to play big. I focus on one, what I call marble building behaviour. So, the strategy would be, I would like
you to choose a trick or choose a game or for me that's tug. Motivational or life coach, Tony Robbins
says, “In order to change your emotion, you need to change your motion.” So, in order to change the
dog’s emotional state, you need to change their physiology. And for me, tug is it. Now before you turn it
off and say, “Oh, my dog doesn't tug. I can't do that.” There's other ways you can do it. But for me, tug
is the easiest.
You get a puppy and that's all I focused on for the last two weeks with these puppies. I’ve trained other
little things, but I focused on no matter what environment I take you to, you grab onto this tug and you
have a good old time and that is our marble building behaviour. So, any environment that, that puppy,
might be just a little worried about, no, I'm not going to take them into an environment I know would be
super scary for them, but we're going to play tug. And so, they learn that anytime we say tug, it's going
to be a great outcome. We're playing small.
Now I'm not going to take those puppies to a playground filled with kids. Although a couple of them
adore children. Because there might be bicycles and there might be skateboards and there might be
kids screaming and there might be who knows what. Eventually I will get there with them tugging, but it
might be, for me this is what this last week looked like with these puppies. I would come up to my office
and I would just corner off a little section with an ExPen, and we're going to play tug in that.
And we're going to play various forms of tug with different tug toys and little rounds and you know, from
Recallers or Home School the Dog. And then we're going to go into a cornered off section of my
bedroom. And then we went to a cornered off section of the gym. And then we went to a cornered off
section of the apartment across the way. And we got rehearsal of success after rehearsal of success
after rehearsal of success. We played small. I had very little expectations. I wanted you to play tug with
me, and then I played various games with the tug. Right.
So that allowed these four puppies to flourish. The confidence is oozing out of them. And now as
they're getting ready to go to their new homes, they're going to be going in a different state and their
owners are going to go and do the same thing. Play small to play big. You're not going to take the
puppies to like, you know, a trucker stop when they might not have built up the layers to allow you to
put them in an environment with that much noise.
So, play small to play big. Every new environment or situation, you start with 50 marbles. Your goal is
to come out with a hundred. But if you have a dog that has a less than positive experience, you may be
coming out with 40. Now, guess what? When you go back to that environment, you're not starting with
50. You might be starting with 40 and you might be starting with less because the dog may have had
time to think about what went on and get more worried about it.
I see this a lot in the performance rings. We see dogs who their owners didn't play small before they
played big. They put their dogs in this environment, in the agility ring and the dog was not equipped.
There was no marble building behaviour that they could go to, to say to the dog, “Here's how you be
confident in this environment.”
And so, the puppies or the dogs, excuse me, the agility dogs, they show their lack of confidence by
maybe running around obstacles or running off and getting the zoomies or going to visit the ring
steward or just shutting down and starting to sniff.
They are showing this lack of confidence. Unfortunately, a lot of times those dogs then get labeled as
the scaredy cat behaviour or the scaredy cat dog. And that brings me to the third thing that you're going
to do to help build that dog's confidence, is you are going to focus on your language. What comes out
of your mouth, you can define the behaviours by what's real, but you need to define your dog or your
puppy by what's possible.
I'm going to say that one more time. Define the behaviours by what's real. My puppy, when I was
tugging left to sniff the environment, that's real, but I'm not saying my puppy is a shut down, scaredy
cat, environmentally sensitive dog. That puppy is a superstar. That puppy is a gem. That puppy is
amazing. You define the behaviours by what's real, but you define the dog by what's possible.
That's what's going to allow you to bring out the absolute best in a puppy. That’s what’s going to allow
you to bring out the absolute best in your dog. It's a three-prong approach. It's your belief, it's your
strategy and it's your language.
Now, if you're unsure what that strategy looks like, I encourage you to go to our website,
DogsThat.com, look at Home School the Dog, or look at our Recallers program. Quite often, we have
little mini workshops that you can get access to. Some of them are for free and some of them have
massive discounts, Home School in particular, because we want people to have the strategies to be
able to bring out the best in their dog.
So, go to DogsThat.com right now, see what strategies are available for you, because that's what's
going to make the difference. How many marbles are you adding to every new experience? Or to
repeated experiences that left your dog less than positive. How are you going to be adding marbles
until your marble bag is over full? We'll see you next time on Shaped by Dog.