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Seminar Review: Denise Fenzi

by | Mar 19, 2012 | 2 comments

I just returned from a dog training seminar.  For two straight days I spent a total of 16 hours in a chair, listening to lecture and watching demonstrations of dog training.  This is actually a pretty normal thing for me, since as a CPDT-KA I obtain continuing education to uphold my certification status.  I’m also just a complete dog training nerd, and really enjoy learning.  Denise Fenzi was the seminar presenter, and it was focused on building drive and motivation for competition-style obedience.  I have said for a while that she is the only person in this country that I would pay to learn Obedience from, and after seeing her work in person I am only more convinced of that fact.

The thing is, and I truly say this with no ego, it is difficult for me to find a seminar that actually has a lot to offer in terms of *new* information for me.  Typically I find that seminars reiterate things I was already aware of, or demonstrate techniques that I am already fluent in.  (Sometimes, as was the case with the last seminar I attended before Fenzi, the speaker presents information so old and outdated that it could fall under the category of abuse, and I am left wondering why on earth that person is so well-respected.  Luckily that doesn’t happen very often).  The seminar I just returned from did indeed reiterate a lot of things I already knew, but I also genuinely learned a lot, and that is rare.  The last time I left a seminar as enlightened as I am now was when I saw Susan Garrett in 2008, someone I had followed for a long time and was very excited to see.  That seminar was similar to the one I just returned from because they were both sport-specific, and I believe that is why they both had so much to offer for me personally.

The dog training fundamentals involved in these sport seminars are the old information bits for me; but I recognize the value in hearing something old from a new person’s mouth.  This is where I often get instruction tips–and there were plenty of those this past weekend.

Where the magic happened for me, besides in getting several pressing questions about the sport answered (like how to teach a passive stay–HALLELUJAH!), was in watching Denise’s kind and compassionate teaching style aimed at both the people and the dogs.  I have never, before or since, seen a dog trainer that was so excellent at teaching people.  She genuinely cares about dogs and loves the sport of Obedience, but she also truly wants to help people learn–and learn we did.

Since I know some of you are wondering, here is a bullet list of some things that were new and exciting for me:

  • Like I said earlier, how to teach a passive stay.  I already know how to teach an active stay quite well, and Denise cleared up two different stay mysteries for me.
  • A super fun way to introduce scent discrimination.  I am teaching this to all. the. dogs. It looks so fun!
  • How to teach your dog that silence=you’ve got it right, which you need in the ring.  This was a “duh” moment, but one I needed to have.
  • A million and one things about play I needed to hear.
  • A million and one things about building drive in heeling I needed to hear (not for Squidgen, she is plenty drivey, but for my students’ dogs).
  • Some clarity about teaching pivots that I hadn’t gained from the agility crowd.  Idgie has brilliant body awareness–but pivots are NOT about bending.  Denise made that so clear, and the way she teaches pivots actually makes more sense to me than using a perch (which I will still do for rear-end awareness–just not for heeling).

If you’re involved in dog sports and you ever have a chance to work with Denise Fenzi, do it.  You won’t be sorry and your dogs will thank you.

You can learn more about Denise on her blog, www.denisefenzi.com, her breeding site, www.spritebelgians.com, or you can buy your dog some of the awesome toys I bought Squidgen at the seminar at www.thedogathlete.com


  1. Kathy Fischer

    What is the difference between an active and a passive stay? Isn’t a stay a stay?

    • cogdogtrainer

      An active stay is an impulse control stay. The dog is waiting for something. They should release explosively toward whatever it is they were waiting for. An active stay is used on the startline for agility and in the obedience ring for retrieves, jumps, etc. A passive stay is a “hang out a while” behavior. You would use it in your house if you put your dog on a down while you work or eat dinner. It’s what you need for the group stay exercises in obedience because the release is boring and non-explosive and nothing happens afterword. I understood this concept but did not understand that I should teach the two differently, and Idgie, like many clicker-savvy dogs felt that she should spice up the passive stays and I was struggling. Denise helped me understand what to do. I wish she lived here!


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