A training opportunity at the SHEDD aquarium in Chicago led Deb Jones down a new path — considering how we can incorporate cooperative care training for our canine companions.
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And now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.
Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.
Today we have Deb Jones back on the podcast.
For those who don't know Deb, she is a psychologist who specializes in learning theory and social behavior. An early innovator in the use of clicker training, she has owned and worked with a variety of breeds and has earned top-level titles in agility, rally, and obedience over the last 25 years.
In 2004, Deb worked with agility trainer and World Team member Judy Keller to develop the FOCUS training system. FOCUS stands for Fun, Obedience & Consistency lead to Unbelievable Success. Deb has also worked with Denise Fenzi, co-authoring the Dog Sports Skills book series, and authored several other books, including Cooperative Care: Seven Steps to Stress-Free Husbandry.
Hi Deb! Welcome back to the podcast.
Deb Jones: Thanks, Melissa. It's always nice to be back and to chat with you.
Melissa Breau: So, to start us out, can you just remind listeners who your current dogs are and share a little about anything you're working on with them?
Deb Jones: Sure. Who doesn't love talking about their dogs? I have two Border Collies: Zen, who is now 12-and-a-half, and I hate even saying that, because I can't believe he's getting older, and Star, who is going to be 9, which also surprises me, because in my mind she's still the baby. Also my roommate and training partner, Judy Keller, has two dogs. She has two Shelties named Tigger, who's 3-and-a-half, and Pixel, who's now about 1-and-a-half. So it's all herding dogs, and sometimes it's loud.
Mostly, for all four of them what they do, most of the time when I train, I'm training demo videos for classes or workshops or webinars at FDSA, and that is now the majority of their training. So I do a lot of show-and-tell with them, show what I want students to do and then use them for that purpose. They enjoy it. They really like the chance to do any sort of work.
And Zen is now at the stage of old dog immunity, which means he gets to do whatever he wants, and he takes full advantage of that. That's for now. There's thinking about a possible puppy in the future, but it's still in the thinking stage.
Melissa Breau: Gotcha. I know have a new project in the works related to Cooperative Care, but before we get to that, I'd love to talk a little about what got you interested in the topic in the first place. My understanding is it all started at the Shedd Aquarium. Can you share that story?
Deb Jones: I'd love to. This goes back a little bit to the summer of 2014. That was the summer when I had decided I was going to go out and get a lot of continuing education in animal training, and I wanted to do things with species that I had not had the opportunity to work with before. I took a lot of time that summer and traveled a lot of places, taking whatever opportunities came up.
One of the ones that was actually the very last thing that summer is there was a program at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago by Ken Ramirez. It was a one-week program where you went in and there was some classroom training, but then you also got to go right out into the back of the aquarium area, and you got to watch them work with the animals and participate in some of the work and get private showings of a number of things. So it was a really, really excellent program.
I remember pretty clearly when this idea of thinking, We're not doing enough with our pet dogs in terms of cooperative care, the husbandry work that we do both for grooming and for veterinary care. We were getting a little lesson. We were standing around the dolphin pool. There were trainers in the pool with three different dolphins, and they were demonstrating some of their daily training of the dolphins.
I thought at that time, Oh, they do this every single day. They prepare these animals every single day for their vet care. And we don't do that. We take our dogs in to the vet when they need it and we hope for the best. So that moment really stood out for me as I need to think about this more, because we're not doing enough for our dogs in this particular way.
Melissa Breau: What skills were they working on with the dolphins to prep them for vet care? Do you remember?
Deb Jones: I do, because it was one of those light bulb moments that makes a big impression on you, and so you remember a lot more about that than you do anything else in your life that ever happened. So I do remember a lot about that.
There were these three trainers in the pool with three dolphins, and the one that I was watching and was closest to was teaching the dolphin to flip over and go belly up, and then they were finding a vein that runs that runs down along the underside of the tail, and that's where they take blood samples when they need to do that. And so every day they would practice the flipping over, they would reinforce everything really, really highly with lots and lots of fish, and they would practice poking at that vein, and they would practice duration in that position.
So they were doing all this really, really good training of that one thing that they don't do very often. They don't take blood very often, but they were still making sure that there was a lot of upkeep on that, and it was going to be a very valuable behavior, so when they did have to do it, it would be no big deal. And that really struck me. It was like, We could do so much more of this than we do with our dogs, and that was what made me want to focus in this area more.
Melissa Breau: That was going to be my next question. What was it about that experience that really stuck with you and inspired you? You focused on it so much that you began to shape your career around it at this point, on building this topic for our canine companions.
Deb Jones: It wasn't anything that I thought about much or even intended to do. It was just that that experience kept, I guess, percolating under the surface, and I kept coming back to that and thinking about it and going to myself, There's probably a way to set up a program, because I'm a very logical left-brain kind of thinker. I like to do things in order, and I like to make them make sense. I'm not the most creative or flexible trainer, but I'm the one who puts the most thought in up front and thinks about how to avoid problems and how to do all the little details.
So I kept thinking about how we start this, how we make a systematic approach, how can I make all of the things that are normally going to be done to a dog at the vet, or that might need to be done to my dog at the vet, along with all the grooming that dogs require on a regular basis, how can I make all those things pleasant, and not just even pleasant but actually valuable for the animal, so that they will want to do them rather than just tolerating them.
I'd say lots of times that tolerance can be enough, we can get by with them tolerating what we do, but if I can make them want to do it, if I can set up a situation so they find it like, "I can't wait; it's valuable to me," then I think we're doing really good training, and that's how I wanted to go about it. So all that was going on in my brain probably for a couple of years before I ever started actually developing my cooperative care system.
Melissa Breau: I think a lot of people hear that term "cooperative care" and think nail trims, vet visits, but I know you've broken it down into a lot more pieces than that. Can you share some of the skills that fall into this category and how they can be beneficial over the life of our dogs?
Deb Jones: Yeah, definitely. As I said, I think a lot about something before I do it, and I try to think, How do I get to the smallest possible thing that I need to teach to get started. We all know what the end goal is. The end goal is I want to be able to trim my dog's nails. Everybody will say that, and everybody realizes that's a pretty big thing. But for me, where does that actually begin? If I want to trim my dog's nails, what do I have to have in place as a foundation before I even get there?
And then I started thinking about foundations for all of the husbandry-type behaviors and what we needed to start with. And typically, where people think they need to start, they need to go back about three or four steps in the process. That's actually where you need to start. But we don't know that when we're first going into training. You don't realize that there's an invisible foundation under there that you can't see yet.
So I asked my vet one day when I was in, I said, "If you could have dogs know one thing coming into your office for exams, what would that one thing be?" What she said, without hesitation, was, "I want them to stand still." I was kind of surprised. I thought it would be something else. But I'm like, "OK, stationary. That makes a lot of sense." Most anything we want to do, the dogs are going to have to hold still for it, and so that became my starting point: Can I get my dogs to voluntarily hold still, happily hold still, and be relaxed while we then start to do things to them?
That, to me, became the part that most people completely gloss over and don't even realize they need. They're trying to cut nails on a dog that's thrashing around. Now, if we got stillness first, cutting nails is going to be a lot easier and a lot less dangerous, so we go back to that.
That got me thinking about being stationary, which got me thinking about impulse control work, because I teach all my stillness behaviors to my dogs through teaching them that controlling your impulses always pays off really well. So those things came into play as foundations.
Melissa Breau: I can totally see how those things carry over to many other parts of life with a dog.
Deb Jones: Yes, very much. They're valuable all over the place, so it's worth doing as just your general foundation work.
Melissa Breau: You've taught the class at FDSA a number of times now — in fact, it's open for registration right now. I'd really love to hear how your thinking on the topic has evolved over time. Is there anything you do differently now, or focus on more, or anywhere that you have changed your approach?
Deb Jones: Definitely. When you teach, I think you find very quickly that what you thought was going to work for a class doesn't always work the way you think, and the things that I just assumed, I should not. So I did a lot of looking at where my students were coming in, where they were having typical issues, and trying to focus on those areas.
So always breaking it down smaller, always going back a few more steps, so that dogs can be successful and people can be successful with their dogs. To me, that's one of the biggest things for any class.
In this class as well, something that I became more and more aware of as I continue to teach it was that it's not just that we're teaching our dogs what to do, which is a lot of holding still and being cooperative. We're not just teaching them what to do, and back to something Amy Cook says about we're teaching them how to feel about what they're doing.
That's the classical conditioning piece, and the classical conditioning is very, very important to me. It's taken on even more importance over time. I want my dogs to feel comfortable. At the very least, I want them to feel comfortable about what's happening to them.
So I'm focusing a lot on teaching people to look at their dog's body language very, very closely and carefully, and to pay attention to what the dog is telling them, because lots of times we can do things to our dogs and we get them done, but that is not always good training. In fact, sometimes that sets us way, way back because the dog wasn't comfortable with what we were doing to them. So we accomplish something once, but you're not going to be able to get it again, because we failed to pay enough attention to the emotional aspect of what was going on during the behavior. So I started really focusing on that.
I've also added in more and more as we've gone along, as I said, reading the dogs and teaching them consent behavior, teaching them to let us know that it's OK to continue, and to also let us know when they need to stop, to have a signal that tells us "I can't do this now, this is making me too uncomfortable." Those can be very subtle sometimes, and working to recognize those and to even train specific behaviors that say "stop" and "go" are something that I'm working on more and more in the class.
The last piece of this that also comes along that people ask about often is thinking about and dealing with non-optional behaviors when there is a time or procedures. When there is a time when we're just going to have to do it, no matter how you feel about it, but in particular, how can we minimize the damage, because there will be damage. Anytime you have to force an issue there's fallout and damage, but sometimes it still has to be done. So now I think a lot more about, and teach a lot more about, what can we do to mitigate that as much as possible and get back on the right track as quickly as possible.
So there's always a lot of changes when I teach, every time I teach the class I teach differently than I did the time before.
Melissa Breau: If people were to only do ONE thing to improve their dog's cooperation when it comes to this stuff, what would you recommend? What would you have them work on?
Deb Jones: One thing is hard, so I'll give you two related things, I guess. The first part of that comes back to classical conditioning and emotional responses, making it a happy thing, making it a valuable thing. This doesn't have to be unpleasant. In fact, my dogs want to do these things because they've learned through lots of repetition that getting brushed or getting your nails done or getting your teeth done, whatever that thing is, it's going to lead to pretty good reinforcement consistently. So they're happy to do it because it pays off well for them, and also I have worked up to that over time. So one part of it is pay attention to the emotional aspects.
The other thing that I think is important, if you're only going to do one thing, is let's look at some impulse control work. If we get in a little bit of impulse control, we can get the dogs to settle and to think, rather than reacting. Then we can move forward with learning and training. So I'd say some basic impulse control is a very, very good start.
I spend the first couple weeks of the class on these very two things. The first week is mostly about classical conditioning, the second week is mostly about impulse control before we get to actually doing things that people think about brushing them or examining their mouth or whatever the case might be, because we need those as a foundation for pretty much everything. So those are my two things, I would say, even though you only asked for one.
Melissa Breau: That's OK. I mentioned earlier, I teased this idea, that you've got this new project you're working on related to all this stuff. Are you up for spilling the beans? What have you been working on?
Deb Jones: I am. I'm very excited, actually, to talk about this new project. The project is developing a cooperative care certificate program. I'll talk a bit more about where it came about shortly, but let me just describe what it is first. It's a three different level program, and in each level there are ten exercises that I think are very basic to cooperative care and that every dog should be comfortable with and learn to be comfortable with.
This program, trainers and owners can earn a title, it's like a video titling type of program, by showing that they've mastered these particular skills at each level. They'll submit a video of their performance, there are ten exercises, and to qualify at that level of the three, they have to show that they could complete successfully at least seven of the ten.
We thought about doing it this way because sometimes there's a skill that you're struggling with and it's kind of holding you back, but everything else is looking good and you want to move ahead. And occasionally maybe there's a skill you don't need or don't like or whatever the case is, so you don't have to have perfection. You can move ahead and make progress without being perfect. I think that's important in everything that we do in dog training is that we keep moving ahead, because if you try to be perfect, you'll never advance.
So it's these three levels and these ten skills. That's what I'm set on now. Everything is still open to change as we go along, so I'm being flexible on that so far.
Melissa Breau: Can you give us a sneak peek at what kinds of exercises we're talking about here? What should people expect to be included?
Deb Jones: I can indeed. I came up with ten exercises and I call them the Ten Essentials. People who do a lot of hiking have probably heard of the Ten Essentials. Those are the ten things that you should take with you on every hike, and of course they're the common things that would be important to help you or save your life.
I started to think about, because I like to hike a lot, I had this carryover, this overlap, and I started to think about what are the ten essential types of behaviors or skills that you would need in cooperative care. So let me list them out for you.
The first one is a chin rest. The second is the dog lying on their side. The chin rest meaning that the dog holds their chin in the palm of your hand. We use that a lot throughout many of the procedures we do. It becomes a very comfortable position for the dog to be in, and moving out of the chin rest often gives us information that they're becoming uncomfortable.
Lying on the side for examinations and sometimes for grooming, that's a comfortable position for the dog to be in that can be really helpful.
Just general restraint, so can I hold my dog still when I need to, and sometimes that's absolutely necessary. I want to teach it before it's an emergency. I want to teach all of these things before they're an emergency, but restraint in particular. I want my dog to learn that sometimes I come up and I grab you and I hold you and then I feed you a lot, and they start to go, "OK, you're weird, but OK. That's another one of those things that happens, but hey, it works out for me," so they're used to it before it has to happen in a situation.
The fourth one is wear a muzzle, and I do think every dog should learn to comfortably wear a muzzle. If dogs are in pain, they may well bite. Every dog will, or has the possibility of biting. Sometimes it makes the people around the dog more comfortable in that setting if they can be muzzled, so I think that's something that's important.
The fifth one is handling their feet, which of course leads to nail trims. Sometimes that's what I see with people who tell me they're having trouble cutting their dog's nails. They're really having trouble holding their dog's foot to start with, and you can't really cut the nails until you get to the point where you can hold the foot.
Looking at the mouth and the teeth, so being able to open the dog's mouth to look at the teeth, to stick your fingers in their mouth and examine. That's another one that I think is important and necessary. We know that we should be brushing our dog's teeth and doing dental care, so that's important.
The seventh one I have is taking medication. Again, something that's probably going to happen to your dog at some point in time, they're going to need to take pills, and they may be pills that don't taste very good as well. So we can often get by with fooling them about medication. You can put it in a big enough treat, and if you have dogs like mine, they pretty much swallow anything that you give to them, and in fact if you dropped it on the floor, they'd probably grab it and eat it too. Not that I want them to do that, because that's dangerous and poor impulse control.
But to actually teach them, "When I put anything in your mouth, swallow it," as a behavior, I think, is really helpful and important, especially when you have dogs that become wise to the idea that you're hiding pills in treats and they become very suspicious of that from that point on.
And then we often have dogs, as they get older, who have a very poor appetite and don't want to eat, but they still need to take medication, and if they won't take treats, now we've got a problem, because we can't get the medication in without forcing it, and I don't want to have to do that if I can avoid it.
The eighth thing is an injection or a blood draw, so getting used to the fact that … we're not going to actually, in training, be sticking them with needles on purpose, but we're going to simulate that to a great extent, get them used to restraining the area, to using an empty, needleless syringe, to even tying up a tourniquet on the leg sometimes, so we're going to work on all of that.
The eye exam is Number Nine, looking in the eyes, shining a light very briefly in the eyes, because that's going to happen at the vet's office.
Ten is the ear exam. Lots of dogs need their ears regularly cleaned, and it often happens that when that occurs, it's also painful. So getting them used to eye exams, ear exams, eye drops, ear drops, ahead of time can be very, very helpful so that we're not introducing these things when it becomes an emergency and it's a "Have to get it done now." They have a lot of previous experience where these things always lead to good outcomes.
So those are my ten behaviors. And then, over the three levels that I'm looking at, we would increase the challenge or complexity of what you have to do at each level.
For example, in the chin rest behavior, at the first level, a single chin rest is where your dog will hold his muzzle in the palm of your hand. A double chin rest, also in Level 1, is where you hold out both hands toward your dog and they will hold their muzzle there.
In Level 2 it becomes a double chin rest with a muzzle wrap, which means they'll hold their muzzle in both hands — I'm doing this; I'm actually demonstrating this even though you can't see it! — they'll hold their muzzle, you can put both hands out and they'll put their muzzle in, and you can wrap your thumbs over the top of the muzzle, and also then they will hold their muzzle on a pillow or a towel in your lap.
And then we get to the third level, where they will hold their muzzle on your lap or on another object, like a stool or a chair, and while they do that, you can lightly touch the head and the neck.
At each level I'm moving up that challenge for that particular behavior to get to the point where it would be something that we commonly need to do, either in grooming or at the vet's office.
So that was my long answer to your question.
Melissa Breau: That's awesome. It gives us a lot of detail. I think it gives people a really good picture of what to expect and what the program will look like. So, why a certificate program, and who might be interested in earning those certificates?
Deb Jones: That's a really good question, because it is something I would never have thought of doing. It didn't occur to me that a certificate program for this area would be something that people were interested in. But, of course, as I get many ideas, this came from online, and a student asked about it. An FDSA student mentioned something about it, and I thought, Well, that's an odd idea, at first, that you would somehow get a title or a certificate for cooperative care, because to me that's just what you do with your dog as a good owner and trainer is you do this stuff.
But the student mentioned, I was a little skeptical, I thought about it, so then I took the idea and asked some of the other FDSA instructors. We brainstormed around with whether this was a good idea or not, and what it could look like, and whether it would be valuable. I got pretty good feedback and pretty helpful feedback that people thought it was something that could be useful because it encourages people to do some very important training with their dogs. It gives them another reason beyond that it's good for your dog to do this.
After that, I went into my own Facebook group. I have a Facebook group called Cooperative Care with Deb Jones, so people can find it easily, and there's a couple thousand members in that group right now. So I just asked people there what they thought about this idea of a certificate program, because I was still not convinced that it would be popular. But overwhelmingly people said they would love to do it. They thought it would be a great thing and they would be really, really interested in it. I was surprised because I would not have thought of it myself, number one, and even if I did think of it myself, I would not have expected it to be a really popular thing that people would truly want.
I think part of it is that we like to have some sort of evidence from an external source that our training is good, and this would give people that. It would say, "Yes, you've trained your dog up to these standards," and it would give some evidence to people that they could then have and show and be proud of doing, to be able to say, "Yes, I was able to do this. I was able to earn this certificate."
The other part of it that I think, once I started thinking about why would this be valuable to people, why would they want this, because I wouldn't go to all the effort of doing it to find out nobody wants it or it's not useful. That would be not a good use of my time at all. But I do think the other part of it is that the way I will set it up, because of the way I teach and the way I approach things, it's going to be very organized and very systematic. Basically by looking at what you need to do at each level for each of those ten behaviors, it gives you a training plan. It's pretty much, "Here's your training plan. Work on this with your chin rest, work on this with your restraint, work on this with foot handling," whatever the case might be. So I think that the program overall is one big giant training plan for what you should be doing for your cooperative care.
I think for instructors it's going to be nice for them to know that they've hit all the bases and that they've done all the basics, and then they can take it to their students and be confident that they're not forgetting or missing anything along the way. It's also nice to be able to say, "I've gone through this program with my own dog and I've earned this certificate, so now I can teach it to you." It gives you that evidence that you've reached a certain level of competence with what you're doing, and now you can teach it to other people as well. So I think it will be helpful for instructors in particular, but I do hope it goes beyond instructors because I think it's good for everybody.
Melissa Breau: Do you have goals in mind for the new program? What would be the ideal outcome here?
Deb Jones: I think my outcome with this has always been, ever since I started working on it, I just want people to keep doing this. I want people to see how valuable it is to teach husbandry-type skills and behaviors to your dog. To me, this is something that can make your dog's life much, much better. There's direct, really, really valuable benefit to doing this for your dog, and I want more people to do it. I want more people to even know about it and think about it.
I've been in dogs for 25-some years, and I've owned dogs even longer than that, and it never occurred to me for most of those years that this is a really important thing that would be in my dog's best interest and would make their life much easier and more comfortable. So I think that's what I want people to take out of this, that this is an important thing, and it's a really, really valid thing to spend your time working on. I hope that's what people get and what they take away from it.
Melissa Breau: Anything else you can share? I know the program is still evolving a bit.
Deb Jones: It is. It's definitely still evolving. It's at that stage where I've got everything out now and I'm just thinking about it, and then I'll go back and make a few changes and think about it some more, and then when I start to talk to people about it, I make even more changes. So it's in that revisionist kind of stage.
What I can say about it is that I'm teaming up with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and we're presenting this as a joint effort, so this is between myself and my cooperative care work, and then it's also going to be hosted by Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, so I'm excited about working out the details on that.
Fenzi, as many of you know, listening, and if you don't, FDSA has a TEAM titling program in place already, and TEAM — Training Excellent Assessment Modules — this was developed by Denise Fenzi, Teri Martin, and myself, and it's probably been maybe four years ago or so, maybe longer. That got developed and has turned into a really, really nice online video titling program, so the cooperative care certificate is going to be an offshoot of that. It will be set up in much the same way because they already have all of that in place, the work on that in place, or much of it, and as you know, Melissa, you'll be working on some of this as well, so we're getting that together. The TEAM is also a series of exercises, and then you move up a series of levels. So I think this just adds another topic to an already really, really excellent program. We're going to keep working through all the details.
In my mind, when I first started talking about it, I said, "Oh, it will be ready in the spring of 2020." I have revised that, and I'm thinking maybe fall of 2020. In the very back of my mind I'm like, maybe the end of 2020. There's no huge rush, but I do want to keep consistently working on it. I don't want to put it out before I'm really, really proud and happy with it. So working through all the stages now, and we'll let people know. I will be letting people know all over the place when it's ready, because I will be very happy about that.
Melissa Breau: If anybody wants to get a jumpstart taking the class, this is a really good place to start.
Deb Jones: It is. It definitely is, because that's, I think, one of the questions that is going to come up with people: "OK, you've told us what to do. Now how do we do it?" You told us we need to teach these behaviors, so now we need to find a place to get some instruction on it. So the class is a very good place to start with that. I'm also typically often offering webinars and workshops on that topic. They come up pretty regularly.
Melissa Breau: One last question for you, Deb, and it's the one that I'm asking everybody to end things out for the podcast interview these days. What's something you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to dog training?
Deb Jones: OK … I'm always learning something. One of the things that I say a lot, though, and it holds very true for me, when people are getting frustrated with their training and they're having trouble and they don't see progress, I always say, "Be the turtle." By "Be the turtle," what I mean, and I need to remember for myself, is that slow progress is still moving forward. Doing anything in training is still better than doing nothing.
It's very easy for me to sit back and think a lot about training, but not actually do it, so I have to give myself that advice regularly to just do something. Do a two-minute training session. That's better than a zero-minute training session, and you're going to be further ahead than you were when you did nothing.
So I'm constantly reminding myself, as well as everyone else around me now, that turtles win races, turtles still get where they want to go. So don't feel like you have to be quick to do it. Just do something. Do some sort of training.
Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming back on the podcast Deb!
Deb Jones: I'm always happy to be here, Melissa. Thank you.
Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with Nicole Wiebusch to talk about competing in the higher levels of Rally and Obedience.
Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.
Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.
Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!