TEAM is an acronym for “Training Excellence Assessment Modules,” which perfectly describes our goal; a progression-oriented titling program that emphasizes excellence in training.  Each TEAM level adds complexity for the dog-handler team in four areas:  the difficulty of the skills being assessed, the potential challenges in the form of food and toy distractions, the challenge of the actual testing location, and finally the quantity of reinforcement allowed during the test.  The dog-handler team is presented with a wide range of interesting skills to master right from the start; there’s no reason to hold back on distance work or jumping exercises while teaching your dog to heel!

Instead of focusing on finished behavior chains early in the titling process (for example,  formal heeling complete with starts, stops, turns and changes of pace), TEAM emphasizes that the dog-handler team demonstrate components, many of which are intrinsically more engaging than formal heeling or learning to stay.  By gradually adding distractions, changing locations and removing reinforcement opportunities, the team can complete tests and earn titles in a way that mimics excellent training – gradually increasing challenges while building complex chains of behavior over time and in a systematic fashion.

Here’s an example with the skill of scent work:  For Level 1, the dog must indicate the correct article (that may contain food) among three identical ones, with the handler sitting by his/her side. For Level 2, the dog must indicate the correct article (which no longer contains food) among identical ones with the handler nearby.  No scent work is required for Level 3, but at Level 4 the dog is expected to stay, retrieve the scented object (among three other identical ones placed ten feet away) and then formally present it to the handler from a distance.  It is not until much later in the process that the dog will be asked to perform the entire exercise with varied articles at a greater distance without any reinforcement available.

The ten specific skill areas that are assessed in TEAM include:  Engagement and Focus, Heeling, Recalls, Fronts & Finishes, Distance Work, Targeting, Jumping, Retrieving, Scent Work, and Impulse Control.  There are no group Stays, but the dog will need to demonstrate proficiency in their Stay training as part of several exercises.  For example, in Level 1 the dog must hold a Stay for two seconds with an open food distraction a few feet away and in Level 3 the dog must hold a stay while the handler sets up for a specific exercise.

All of the components of competition obedience can be introduced very early in a dog’s career, and indeed, there are many excellent reasons to do so.  Not only is it more fun for the dog-handler team, it gives the dog a longer period of time to master complex tasks.

Obedience is more than heeling, fronts and finishes, so why not train for more right from the start?  We believe this approach creates an incentive for handlers to remain focused on excellent training rather than preparing for “entry level” titles that are far from entry level!

TEAM titles emphasize high-quality components over poor-quality chains.  Exercises are defined with the expectation of excellence built into the criteria for a successful performance.  For example, a pivot at heel must be smooth, parallel and continuous to be considered a passing performance.  This ensures that trainers demonstrate their ability to teach small components of correct behavior before they build chains on those pieces.

The fact is, excellent chains of behavior are the product of excellent foundation skills.  TEAM requirements look for this excellence right from Level 1.  A dog that can demonstrate a correct left pivot in heel position at Level 1 will likely demonstrate a correct left turn when added to a short stretch of heeling at Level 3, because a left turn is simply a left pivot with movement leading into the corner – a chain that includes a correct left pivot and a few steps of forwards motion.

At the higher levels, we relax criteria for precision since the handler has already demonstrated that their dog has the training for precision.  At that point, the handler can choose to maintain that level of criteria as they begin to combine their base behaviors together into more complex behavior chains required at the higher levels.  Here the focus for the team is on mastering complex skills that require the dog pay careful attention to the handler in order to succeed.  A dog that relies on set patterns will find it extremely difficult to make it through the TEAM levels.

TEAM has not duplicated any other organization’s finished exercises.  Instead, we combined obedience exercises from around the world and put together options that we felt were most relevant to a dog-handler teams participating in the sport of obedience right now.  We eliminated group Stays, added a significant amount of distance work, emphasized cue discrimination, allowed for a greater range of handler choice and discretion, and removed the requirement for multiple formal fronts and finishes per level.  Our goal is to ensure that a dog competing at the higher levels would be proficient at paying careful attention to their handler rather than running through a predictable set of exercises.  As a result, that dog should possess the basic skills to succeed in any obedience organization anywhere in the world!

TEAM also provides an attractive option for handlers who cannot travel to competitions because of handler nerves, cost, a dog that is poorly suited to the trial environment, or other reasons.  By using a video submission process, there are no geographic barriers, and we welcome teams from all over the world to play!

You will find that our criteria  include video examples of the correct execution of each of the various exercises.  Handlers are strongly encouraged to submit only passing videos!  If you take a video and your dog fails, stop and try again.  If you cannot move quickly and smoothly through the level, then there are holes in your training.  Stop testing and get back to training!  In this manner, training “for” the test will create an extremely well trained dog by design!

We invite you to take a careful look at our levels. We have worked hard to design a challenging program that both promotes excellence in training and provides plenty of entertainment for the team too!

Do you wanna play?

Then register your dog and give it a try!

If you’d like support in your training journey, join the Facebook group: Fenzi Team Players.  There you will find more information, a map of other trainers who are also playing in TEAM, and tons of support as you work through the exercises!