E227: Deb Jones - "Wizard in Training: Bringing Home a Puppy"

Deb recently brought home the newest member of her household... a koolie puppy named Wizard! Today we talk about what she's been working on since bringing him home and how she approaches building a relationship with a new puppy! 


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 I have Deb Jones here with me.

Hi Deb, welcome back to the podcast!

Deb Jones: Hi Melissa. I'm always happy to be here and chat with you.

Melissa Breau: I'm always happy to chat with you too. To get us started, do you want to remind everybody who you are, who your dogs are, and a little bit about your background?

Deb Jones: Sure. I've been teaching here at FDSA since it started. I think we're going on eight years now, so it's been a while. I've been doing classes, webinars, and workshops.

I have a Ph.D. in social and behavioral psychology. I taught full-time college psychology courses for twenty-plus years, in addition to training dogs for those twenty-plus years as well. Now I've dropped the psychology part and I'm just training dogs.

I have two Border Collies: Zen, who is now 14 almost; he'll be 14 in a couple of weeks, and Star, who is 10, which seems impossible. We live with two Shelties who belong to Judy Keller. We have Pixel, who is 3, and Tigger, who is 5. And we just added the newest member of the household, Wizard, the little Koolie puppy.

Melissa Breau: He's super-cute.

Deb Jones: Yes, he is.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned Wizard, so how is the transition from Border Collies for the last two to Koolie going? Why the change?

Deb Jones: I guess I have a thing for herding dogs, though I've had many different types and breeds of dogs in the past. I've had Retrievers and Papillons as well, but I guess I have an affinity for herding dogs.

Border Collies can be quirky. I'm trying to say it nicely. They can be a little odd and they can be intense and a lot of challenge for somebody to train. I love a lot of things about them, though, and I enjoy training them. But when I was looking around this time, knowing I'm older and knowing maybe I want something with a little less intensity to it, but I still like a lot of the qualities of Border Collies.

As I looked around, I heard about Australian Koolies. I think mainly I heard about them from Sara Brueske, who is one of our instructors here as well, and saw the work that she does with her dogs, and was interested for a number of reasons. I like a dog that's active and sporty but not too wild, and a dog that likes to do things, yet at the same time doesn't push you too hard.

So I looked at Koolies. I looked at some litters. They're still rare in the United States. I had even talked to somebody from Australia who was importing some puppies at one time, but the timing didn't work out. So I went on Facebook, as of course you do when you're looking for a puppy. I said, "I'm going to be ready in the spring. Does anybody know of any litters?" I wasn't real specific about breed or type. I said something herd-y dog-like.

I heard about this breeder from Leslie McDevitt, and she said, "You've got to talk to this particular breeder because she's got these great Koolie puppies." It happened that I know this breeder. I've known her for twenty-some years as an acquaintance, but I didn't know that she bred Koolies. I knew her as a trainer, and Judy and I did a seminar for her probably seventeen or eighteen years ago. I'm like, "Really? She's breeding?" I got on and started looking at her puppies and talking to her and got on her puppy list.

People often ask me what's the difference between Border Collie and Koolie. I have a subject of one here. I have a population of one to compare, so I don't know. I can't generalize anything yet. It's like training a Border Collie. I don't see big differences. He doesn't have the tendency to become over-aroused as easily, and frantic, which mine both do. But I don't know if that was me and the way I trained them, or if that's them, or if that's the breed, or if I've learned a lot and I can do it better now. And so I don't rule that out in him. But that's the only thing.

Otherwise he's fun to train, he's very willing to train all the time, which is one of the things I was really looking for in a puppy. So I'll let you know as it goes along, if I can figure it out.

Whenever I ask people the differences between Border Collies and Koolies, they're kind of vague and they're not real clear. You get things like "maybe a little more independent" and "maybe a little more sociable." Maybe. I don't know yet. So we'll see, as it goes along, who he really is and what he's like.

Melissa Breau: What are your goals with him?

Deb Jones: I was thinking about it, because we know you should think carefully about what the puppy is likely to be like to fit what you want. Probably one of my number one things is he needs to be a demo dog for all my online stuff, because I need somebody I can just grab in five minutes and get this video done, and then I can put it into a class or a webinar or whatever the case is.

I've always been very lucky and very spoiled that I've always had dogs that I could do that, and whenever I say, "Let's get up at two o'clock in the morning and let's have you do this," they're like, "Cool. Whatever." So I wanted that. I wanted a dog that would be easy and willing to train at all times.

I wanted a dog that's eventually going to be a hiking partner for me, so I wanted a good structure and somebody who had a lot of energy, a dog that will travel with me.

I don't at this point in my life have any real competition goals. I feel like I've done everything, "been there, done that twenty years ago" kind of thing. I don't really have the interest to go back into agility or rally or whatever, but I train a lot of the skills anyway, just because I like to train. Even if I never show for it, that doesn't mean I don't like to train it.

The one thing I'm looking at that's new with him, and it's kind of funny, because when I told the breeder this, this is her favorite thing is search and rescue. She said, "That's my favorite thing, and I think he'd be really good for it." I haven't done it, but I'm joining a local group starting Sunday, and so I'm going to see what search and rescue training is all about with him, because I just have a feeling that might be his thing, so we'll try it out.

Melissa Breau: Lots of fun.

Deb Jones: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned before I hit "record" that he's 17 weeks now. Is that right?

Deb Jones: Yeah. Just a little over 4 months, oh my gosh.

Melissa Breau: At this point, what have you and been working on, or what have you taught him so far?

Deb Jones: I feel like I have done so much, and yet I have done nothing. It's been a little over two months, and it seems like forever and a second. I think about puppy training in a number of stages, and you're laying foundation groundwork in your stages.

The first one for me is just establishing some basic things, like these are the reinforcers I'm going to use, and I know they're going to be important to me for your whole life. I want you to work for food. I want you to want to work for food. I definitely want you to work for toys. I want you to play with me with and without toys. I want us to have a lot of interaction together. I want you to learn the basic rules of the house. I think about those things in the very beginning.

Long before I teach behaviors and skills, for what lot of people do, I seem slow. It seems like I'm not actually teaching anything and putting it on cue for a long, long time. But then when I do, which tends to be nine or ten months or so, it all comes together really fast.

But I've done a whole lot of work before that to get here. I'm doing a lot of relationship building. I'm doing a ton of learning how to learn, how to shape, how to target, and even how to lure. That's actually been the hardest thing for him is luring.

I never thought I'd have a dog who wouldn't lure with food easily, but I also haven't focused on it as much as I have shaping and targeting, because I can use that to get most of the behaviors I want.

So I'm looking at laying the foundations for him to understand, when I put out a prop, what I do with it. I'm also contrasting something like shaping with zen work and impulse control, and getting that in much earlier than a lot of people start it. I'm working on waiting for turns and not grabbing for things you want, but waiting for permission to get them kinds of things, but in a fun way.

And of course I'm working on cooperative care. One of my hopes for a puppy was that he would be a short smooth-coated puppy, so that I didn't have so much grooming. And of course I knew that I had to start on nails and be able to do nails very quickly, and he didn't think that was a very good idea at all. If he had his way he'd be left alone. But I'm very pleased with where we are with that. I've worked on that every single day so that I can now do all his nails very easily and comfortably.

I'm working on things like crating comfortably and quietly. We're working on the quietly. And recalls. So that's the kinds of things I've been working on this first couple of months.

I'm just now getting to the point where I'm doing a lot of body movement and positioning. I teach a down first. Lie down is one of my first behaviors. The two cues they have are come and lie down. That covers a lot of ground when you need something. "Come to me" and "lie down" tend to work, so I work on those and get those on cue.

I've just recently put sit on cue, and I'm working on stands, and I'm working on spinning left and right, and going around a cone, and climbing on things, so we're getting into more physical skills. He's getting a little more coordinated now and able to do these kinds of things, whereas before he was just falling all over his feet. It takes a little bit of physical maturity to start to do a lot of these kinds of skills that we're working on here.

And I'm putting things together. I'm putting together food-chase games and zen games and recalls, and throwing in these little behavior chains that will eventually become bigger behavior chains, and at the same time fading out reinforcers without him being aware of it at this point, and switching reinforcers from food to toys and back again a lot.

So when I tell you I'm tired, even if I'm not training, I'm thinking, "What am I forgetting? What do I need to get in here? What haven't I done yet?" And keeping them in the right order so I'm not trying to jump ahead to something that's over his head at this point. I'm doing a lot of work, and we'll have a lot more to do yet.

Melissa Breau: I was going to ask what your priorities were, but it sounds like you mentioned in there your reinforcement stuff, the house rules, the relationship, and "down" and "come." Are there other things that are high priority?

Deb Jones: My first priority is survival.

Melissa Breau: For him or for you, Deb?

Deb Jones: For both of us. Survival for me means he has to know where to go potty, so I have to do house training. That to me is number one on my list. The fewer mistakes we make, the happier I am, and that all revolves around me being on top of it all the time and making sure I'm giving him plenty of opportunity.

Also where you can go to relax. I have a big x-pen set up in the living room, or in the crate. There are times when we just have to chill out. But sleep is a number one priority for me too, so we started waking him up at six. I'm not a morning person. I got it to seven, I got it to eight, we're almost to nine.

My ideal is you sleep until I get up, not I sleep until you get up. We're getting there really well; it's just that we're not quite there yet. I sometimes tend to forget about that and stay up too late, and then I have to get up in the morning before I want to. But I want him to realize that we sleep, and we don't get up at the crack of dawn.

I think about the fact that I want my puppy to trust me, I want him to feel safe, I want him to know I have all the good stuff in the world, and I'm going to share it with him. I'm going to be very generous with him with the good stuff I have in terms of food and toys and interesting experiences out in the world. Those are the main things I start to think about within the first few weeks, within the first few days even, is that I have to work on those kinds of things first, before I get into the fancy stuff or the fun stuff. Got to lay those foundations a little more.

Melissa Breau: How much of that is tailored to who he is as an individual, as a puppy, versus stuff you focus on for all of the puppies you bring home? At this point you've had the chance to have enough dogs that you probably have some things that are part of the system, right?

Deb Jones: Right. That's a good question. I was counting, and I think I've had something like a dozen puppies now, I think twelve or thirteen, as an adult. Some of them are shared with Judy. We've co-owned some dogs together and had them in the same household, and some have been just mine.

So I've gone through this a time or two.

The first few weeks are pretty basic. It's like taking care of a newborn. So everything is pretty much the same. I'm still working on getting them on a schedule. I'm working on getting them comfortable with things in the house, and all that crating, and stuff along those lines, the potty stuff. I'm focused on all that.

While that is happening, I'm also learning who they are and starting to get a sense of how this puppy is different, and what they need that's going to be different than other puppies. I start to look at stuff like, and start to think about, does this puppy need more motivation in general or more control? Are they really bold and outgoing and pushy, or are they more cautious and thoughtful?

Wizard was a little more toward the cautious side, just a little bit. Not as much as some dogs that I've had and Shelties that I've had. Shelties tend to be overly cautious at times. But enough that I wanted to work on that, and I knew that what I really wanted for him was more boldness. So I wanted to do things that are going to bring that out, and I want to be careful to avoid things that might cause him to feel concerned or uncertain in the environment.

With another puppy like Zen, who a lot of people know, he's very bold, so whatever. Throw him in any situation and he's like, "Cool. I'm happy to be here. Things are great, life is good." A little bit different. Wizard is like, "What's going on here? Should I be concerned, or is this a good thing?" So I look at that.

I look at, as I said, are they thinking or are they just doing? You have those puppies that throw themselves at everything in life with great abandon, which is fun, but it's also not good for training because you have to think. You have to slow down. You have to consider your options sometimes. I look at Wizard and I say, "He's good at that." Now I want him to feel even more comfortable in environments and to be more of a doer in certain situations than a thinker because, as we know, overthinking can be the kiss of death for humans and for dogs.

Melissa Breau: I don't know anything about that.

Deb Jones: Overthinking? I've never done that. I'm looking at my puppy in those first few weeks and trying to go, "Is there anything here? What are his weaknesses? What are his strengths? What can I build on, and what do I have to help him with?" I'm trying to get a feel for that.

Is there anything I see in this puppy that's a little bit concerning to me? Maybe it's nothing, maybe it becomes something, but I'm always a little cautious because I've had a lot of herding dogs and they can be strange, as I've said. I love herding dogs, so I've said it a couple of times. I don't want it overstate it. I love them, I've had a lot of different ones, but they can have some weird tendencies. So I'm going to be watching for that.

I'm always trying to adapt my training to do more of what a puppy needs. With Wizard, for example, the zen work is really easy for him. The impulse control is really easy for him. The tendency then is to want to do more of it because it's fun and easy for both of us, but I really need to do the opposite. I need to do more motivational, more enthusiastic, more active, less waiting, less control. So that's the kind of thing that I'm always looking at here, and I'm changing that as I go through the rest of his training.

Melissa Breau: Which can't be easy. It's not easy to look at the puppy and go, "These are the things that are hard for him and hard for me to teach him. Let's do more of that."

Deb Jones: Exactly. That's why we end up practicing what we're already good at, because it is really hard to do the stuff that you really ought to do, but you don't really want to do.

That's what I'm always telling students as well in classes. We just had it in Focus Games that we just finished up. It's like, "You're good at this, so stop doing that." They're like, "But look how good it is." I'm like, "It's great. Now move on to the hard stuff." "I don't want to do the hard stuff. I want to do the stuff that's fun." But that's, I think, the key is we help them balance out their challenges with their skills and strengths, and then we get something that's really nice in terms of a dog to work with.

Melissa Breau: That concept has been on my mind a lot lately, this idea of balance, because I think it's true for both traits, like you're talking about, but also for skills. Denise and I have been talking about it a little bit, and Stacy mentioned it in something that she wrote or was talking about around needing to balance out her dog's natural tendencies versus whatever the other end of that spectrum is, so that we can build value in the right places and get the actual skills where we want them.

Deb Jones: It's interesting, too, how at FDSA sometimes we're all working on the same general idea but from different angles, and we don't realize we're all doing it until we start to talk about it. I think this is one of those concepts. Its time is here somehow, and it's one of those things that we're looking at in a lot of different ways, which is really cool, which is why I like working here. People think about those kinds of things, and it's fun.

Melissa Breau: It's for sure something we'll be chatting about more in the future, because I've got some thoughts that I'm working on. To go back a little bit in our conversation, you mentioned "relationship." I know that's a big thing for you early on. But I think it's an ambiguous topic. It's a little vague. When we break that down, what does that actually look like? What is it that you're doing to actually establish a good relationship with a new puppy?

Deb Jones: That's a good question, because you're right, it's a very vague term, and it could mean anything or nothing. It's hard to really know. I think first of all, I want to be important to my puppy. I want to matter a lot to them. To me, being in a relationship means I have to give him a lot of time. And so time both in quantity, which I've been doing, and it's easier to do especially since I'm retired from full-time teaching now, it's been easier to do. So quantity, but also quality. We have to have activities that we do together that are valuable and that my puppy enjoys.

I like to think of myself as making myself interesting for my puppy, setting myself up in a partnership with my puppy so he wants to do things with me, so he enjoys being with me more than anybody else and more than the other dogs that he's around.

That takes work. It doesn't just naturally happen that your puppy is going to want to do that. I spend time with him every day alone. I get him away from everybody else and we're just hanging out, informally playing, strolling around the neighborhood, having an outing every few days, at least with him, where we go someplace new together and we do something. I'll typically go to Starbucks or somewhere along the lines, and I get him a little cup of whipped cream, the pup cups they give you, and then we go sit somewhere out in public, and he'll have his whipped cream and I'll have my coffee.

Just the hanging out thing with the two of us, keeping him relatively close to me most of the time, but now we're also working on you can be away from me and it's not the end of the world. I'm trying to start to build that with experiences and also with our training. That builds a lot of it. If you have consistent training sessions that the puppy really enjoys, that's going to build so much value into him being with me, because I give him something to think about. I give him mental challenges, and as long as he can figure those out and work those out, then he has a lot of fun with that, and I think that builds on our relationship as well.

I've been thinking about this a lot more with this puppy than I have with others, just because I've never really tried to sit down … well, I have tried to write down what I do with my puppies because I have a book about it from eleven years ago, but now even more so. I'm trying to get it all out and track it and think about what is it that I'm actually doing, because when people ask, I want to be able to tell them. So there's a lot more thought going into it this time.

There's something with the relationship that's beyond food and toys. There's definitely something more than the external reinforcers I can give you. It's like any human relationship. Why are you in a relationship with anybody? Typically because it's pretty reinforcing naturally to be with them, except when it becomes not reinforcing to be with them. We know that happens in relationships too. There's a lot of it that's invisible, things that we're doing just because we're together, and ways that we are managing to co-exist together. So I'm thinking about all of that stuff. No wonder I'm tired all the time.

Melissa Breau: Gee, you make it almost sound like maybe there's another book in the future.

Deb Jones: I've got a little bit before I get there.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. We talked a little bit about relationship, and I want to talk a little bit about the idea of choice versus structure. I know a lot of people, especially in the positive training community, talk about puppies and how to make sure puppies don't develop bad habits. A lot of that is management, a lot of that is structure, but ultimately we want to give our dogs a lot of choice. How do you walk that line, especially with a puppy, and how and when will that evolve or change as he grows up?

Deb Jones: I think of choice and structure with puppies just like you would with kids. I don't give them choices unless I'm fine with whatever outcome they choose. If there's something where I don't care what your choice is, like we're going to go out for a walk, we get to the end of the driveway, I typically let my dogs decide which direction do you want to go.

Left or right, I don't care; we're going to end up in the same place anyway, so pick a direction and we'll go that way. That's a choice that they get to make. I might let them choose between the toys they want or the bones they want to chew on. Pick one and you can have whatever.

But I don't let them make decisions I don't think they're ready to make. And I always set it up so that they're most likely to make the choice that I want them to make anyway. I'm pretty manipulative about setting things up so that what I want turns out to be what they want — without them realizing it, of course.

I always give them choice of if they want to train with me or not. From the very beginning they're never forced into a training session. You can train, you can not train, whatever; it's all the same to me. If you don't want to train, I'll give you a handful of cookies and we'll go do something else anyway, but that rarely ever happens because training is so reinforcing in so many ways for them.

I'm big on management. I manage the environment very carefully. I'm always observing what the puppy is doing. They're never out of my sight when they're loose, never, because that's always going to end badly. We have baby gates everywhere. It's like lockdown around here most all the time. It's almost as soon as we get done with all of that with one puppy, another one comes along and we go back into the whole thing again, so we have many baby gates.

But I don't want them to make choices I don't want, because that's when they become habit very quickly, so I don't ever want them to start. I see Wizard looking up at the kitchen counters and I'm like, "Oh, no." Right off the bat, he's never going to be in this kitchen with an opportunity to get up on those counters. None of my other dogs have tried, and so I'm pretty lax about that. I leave food around all the time. He's one who will do it, I just know.

He hasn't done it, but I can tell his intention just looking at where he's focusing, so I'm not going to let that happen. I'm not going to let him loose in the kitchen when there's anything in there, because I don't want it to start. So that's not a choice. You don't get a choice as to whether you get on the kitchen counters or not. That's something that falls back into rules. I have my rules and you have yours. Things I don't care about, other people care deeply, and that's fine. But I care about my kitchen counters, so we don't do things like that.

I don't give them a lot of decisions. I try to build good habits. I try to build in what I want and to keep out what I don't want, so he doesn't have much choice in those kinds of things. I found that if I do that for about the first year, then I don't have to worry about all of that anymore, because now I've established the patterns of behavior day to day that I want.

Where does he get decisions? He gets decisions in whether he wants to train or not, and he has yet to tell me he doesn't want to train. I have seen times when I go, "I need to stop training you, because your brain is not in it anymore, but you're still trying."

That kind of decision when we're doing cooperative care work, he gets to make choices about whether I continue or whether I back off and do something easier. I read his body language throughout that process to decide when to do more and when to do a little bit less.

I think letting him have that kind of choice is really empowering, because he goes, "Oh, you're not going to force me? Go ahead, do it. No big deal." Whereas if I push the issue, then we're going to get resistance. And so I try to avoid ever putting them in a situation where there's going to be resistance to something I want them to do.

I want cooperation for anything to be their first response, like, "Okay, I don't know what this is about, but whatever. You do a lot of weird things and it always turns out okay." I want to build that in so that their choices are always to do whatever I think is the right thing at the moment.

I'm pretty controlling that first year or so for sure, but it has worked out for me and paid off for me. I know other people and I should say this: there's no right way to do any of this with a puppy. I know other people who do the exact opposite of what I do, and it works out fine for them too. They're very laissez-faire and very easygoing about it, the puppy does what the puppy wants when it feels like it — that's not me, and that's not the way I go about it. But their puppy turned out to be just perfect for them in the bigger picture.

I think a lot of it is just up to what you are comfortable doing or not doing, and letting them have decisions. We want them to feel powerful, we want them to feel confident, but I don't want them thinking too much for themselves early on, because usually they're thinking stupid thoughts, and I don't want to let them go down that path.

Melissa Breau: Have you had to do any work, or what work have you had to do, to help Wizard integrate with the other critters in your house? You've got dogs and Tricky and all that stuff. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Deb Jones: Ever since my first dog, I've always had an existing group that a puppy is coming into. That's another place where I'm fairly controlling about what happens and I supervise very carefully. I don't want the puppy to have a bad experience with the older dogs, I don't want the older dogs to dislike the puppy, and so I'm always monitoring what they're doing together. They get some free time together, but it always depends on the puppy's behavior.
With Wizard, he can have maybe five minutes here or there before he does something that irritates the heck out of somebody, and then he has to go away. I'm just trying to build it up slowly while I'm watching it. I don't need my dogs to be friends. I wish they would be, but I don't need them to be. I just need them to co-exist.

I'm looking also at age and size differences. That makes a big difference when we have a couple of very small dogs and he's going to be a bigger dog. I have to be very thoughtful about that. I have Zen, who's almost 14, so Wizard is not allowed to do anything to aggravate Zen, because older dogs get protected. And then we have poor Star who puts up with the brunt of it. She'll survive, but she's not crazy about it. I try to work on them out together, supervised. The cat is on his own. The cat does what he wants. He's used to dogs, he knows how to put them in their place, and he does. Wizard is learning: quit aggravating the cat all the time, because he will turn around and smack the heck out of you.

We work on things like taking turns, having them all out and everybody takes turns getting treats. I do a lot of group zen work, where everybody has to take their turn with some zen exercise. They all have to show control waiting for their turn, and then they have to show control within their turn. I think that's good for a puppy because he's just part of the group. We're going through and we're doing it with you, and then with you, and they're all right in front of me.

I think that's a really good exercise to get him to get him to learn that other dogs get things, other dogs get to do things, you don't always get to do everything, you don't always get to be the only one. Sometimes you have to wait for what you want. I think those are really good lessons there.

When I train him I'll often have one of the older dogs in the room, just doing a stay somewhere, so he's used to those dogs being around while he's working. That's the distraction. It also gets them used to co-existing without interacting, and that's a lot of what I think about with my dogs now is co-existing without interacting is fine. If you can be friends, that would be great, but you don't have to be.

I do the same with play sessions. We'll play with him while the other dogs are in the room, but they're doing something else, or they're on a stay or whatever the case might be. And then they get their turn to play while he has to be the one who does the zen work. Or we're outside playing, one dog is fetching and I'll do a cookie scatter for Wizard on the other side of the yard so that he's learning how to be around them.

But that doesn't mean you have to directly do something with him all the time. In fact it's better not to, because herding dogs will start to want to herd each other, and then it gets really unpleasant when nobody gets to be the one to be the herder.

Melissa Breau: Nobody wants to be the sheep.

Deb Jones: Exactly. Nobody wants to be the sheep, and then they can run into trouble, so we avoid that as much as we can. I'm careful about that. I'm thoughtful about that. I take him out now for walks with Zen. Mutual walking, I think, is a really good way to get dogs … they're doing something together, but again they're not face to face. They're side to side and they're each exploring the world on their own. I think it's good for him to do that with the other dogs and get used to that as part of his day to day life as well. So I'm working a lot on those different things and he's doing well with that. He's coming along.

He's getting to that age where he wants to body-slam everything and everybody, and nobody thinks that's a good idea. None of us like it, including the cat, so we're going to have to keep working on that. Trick's like "Are you kidding me? This is not how we play." It's like how Labradors play, just bam into each other like they're pinballs, and all the other dogs around here are like, "That's not normal."

Melissa Breau: They're herding dogs. That is not how you interact.

Deb Jones: Exactly. Go find a Retriever if you want to play like that.

Melissa Breau: You do have a webinar coming up on some of this stuff next week. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Deb Jones: Sure. I'm excited about this webinar. This is Wizard's big debut at FDSA, so I'm excited. He's in all the videos, of course, and I'm basically talking about him the whole time. He already did some work in my chin rest workshop that I just did, and he did well in that, but here he's definitely the star of this thing.

It's called "Eat, Play, Love," and that is definitely how I'm thinking about and talking about early puppy training. This is the first stage of puppy training for me — what you do before you actually train anything. How do we set the stage so that we can train.

It's something that I think a lot of problems people have in training go back to not having done this stuff. They didn't realize they needed to do these things, so it's all about foundation you didn't know you needed. Once you know you need it, you can avoid so many problems in the future.

I was thinking about things like why are my dogs always all so food motivated? I hear people talking about dogs that aren't. I kept thinking I'm going to get one that isn't, and then I'm thinking maybe it's what I'm doing and it's not just their natural tendencies. I know some dogs really are naturally not food motivated, but what can I do to build on what I have? I started thinking about what do I do with food.

So we get into the eat aspect of it. I do a lot that I never really thought much about, but when I put it all together, it's like I have this whole thing that I do when I'm thinking about introducing food and using it as a reinforcer, and I never have pulled that all apart and talked about it.

When we talk about food, we often say things like, "Use high value food." I don't even do that. I try to use low value food. I try to go as low as I can with food, and then I get cheap with it pretty quickly. It's the opposite of what most people say, but my dogs will work for dirt. I mean, they'll work for anything. I don't ever have to go high value to get work out of them, so I must be doing something to get that. Or I'm very lucky, and every dog I have has just been highly food motivated.

I'm thinking about things now like introducing a marker system to them, which is something we didn't think about too much maybe even five years ago, and now it's everywhere. So I'm talking about marker systems and why it matters.

It's physically how you give the food, especially if you want to avoid losing your fingers. Wizard is one of the sharkiest puppies I've ever had from the get-go. Now that he's teething, he's actually less sharky than he was when we got him. I'm like, "What the heck?" So how physically do I provide food, and what can I do to get rid of this and avoid this unpleasant grabbing of food from me.

There's a lot of mechanical skills that go on there, and also the marker system helps so much of that, because they can predict where the food is going to be. They don't have to guess and grab, which is what I think a lot of dogs and puppies do. They're not sure. We're not doing a consistent job with how we provide the food. All of that are things are things I've done and have always done, and never thought much about in terms of food.

The same with play and with toys. I want to play with my puppy. Most puppies will play. But then I see all these adult dogs who won't play anymore, or who will only play when all conditions are perfect, and no other time will they play, so you can't use play as a reinforcer.

I want to be able to use play as a reinforcer, and so I'm starting to think about how do I strengthen what we have to work with, how do I nurture it and develop it, how do I put some structure and rules around it, and then the hard part: how do I go back and forth between food and play, both in training and have them be effective, because I see over and over again that once the food comes out, the play is gone. I don't want that. I want the dog to take either thing just as happily.

All of this goes into that foundation before I even teach the first thing. It's like we're going back and forth with food and toys. I'm teaching them to let go of toys if they have a hard time. If they have a hard time getting motivated to want to play with toys, I'm working on that instead. So I'm trying to build all that along with the relationship stuff that I talked about. In the webinar I go into some more detail on exactly what I do when I think "relationship," in terms of how do I establish that, how do I maintain that over time, what does it actually mean to me.

All of those things I think people jump right over and they go into the next stage, which is teaching them about things like learning to sit or lie down or whatever that might be. That's actually my third stage of things to do.

So I'm trying to, in this webinar, talk about before you teach anything else, here are the things you ought to be establishing. Once these are established, then you can go on to teach them about skills to learn, and go from there.

That's what it's all about. I think it's something that hasn't been quite put together that way before. At least I haven't put it together that way, and I haven't seen anybody talk about it quite like that, so I'm hoping it will be something that's a little different and valuable to people when they hear about it.

Melissa Breau: It sounds like a great webinar for folks, whether they have a puppy or they're thinking about a puppy.

Deb Jones: Exactly, because we're all getting the next puppy at some point.

Melissa Breau: Always. The next puppy is always in our thoughts.

Deb Jones: The next puppy will be perfect, right?

Melissa Breau: Of course. We won't make any mistakes.

Deb Jones: No, we make different mistakes every time. We're creative with our mistakes. We just make new ones.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Other than the webinar, where can folks go if they want to see more Wizard videos of Wizard and stalk him or follow him?

Deb Jones: Wizard has a fan club now, which is fun. I started a Facebook group just for his stuff. It's called Wizard In Training: Raising a Puppy with a Little Bit of Magic, and you helped me out with that title back when I was thinking about it, so thank you for that.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely.

Deb Jones: In that group I show my day to day training. I just throw up my unedited raw video. It's ugly sometimes, I make mistakes, I'll talk about my mistakes sometimes, Sometimes I don't, and I figure somebody will point them out to me if they want to.

I show the bad stuff as well as the good stuff for the things that need work, because we all make mistakes in training. We all have bad training sessions. We all have sessions that look like we don't know what the heck we were doing. Sometimes that's okay and we work it out. Other times it tells us that we need to change course pretty quickly.

In that group I talk a little bit about what I do, why I'm doing it, why this order, why this thing, right now is important to me. I show little bits from his outings that we take, his field trips that I talk about. It keeps me from spamming my personal Facebook page with puppy stuff and nothing else. I actually know a lot of people who don't care about puppies. Hard to believe …

Melissa Breau: No way. You have non-dog friends? Is that allowed?

Deb Jones: I have non-dog friends here and there, yeah. It's hard to believe. So I keep it all in one place. And then I'll have this diary to go back to, I figure as well. People can come and join that group. Anybody's welcome to join it. There's no cost to doing it. And I intend to keep it up.

I probably will stop posting so regularly in a couple more months, so it will go months two to six, the first four months that I've had him, and then I will probably be less frequent in talking about what's going on with him and what I'm doing there. But that's a good place to start to take a look and to see what I do in the way of puppies.

I also have The Focused Puppy book out that's been around. It's 11 years old now, and so there are a few things I do differently. I talk about that in the Facebook group as well. We evolve a lot. Sometimes I'm amazed that the things I said eleven years ago are still relevant, and sometimes I'm like, "What was I thinking? Why did I do that or do it that way? I never do that anymore."

In the group I talk about that, because once you put it in a book, you can't take it back, unless you stop publishing the book and rewrite it as a new one, and I'm too lazy to do that right now. So I'll just say, "I don't do it that way anymore. Here's what I do instead," and add on there.

So those are some good places to check and see what I'm doing and how my puppy training goes.

Melissa Breau: Sounds good. I want to round things out with one last question, which is, if you were to think back through our conversation and drill it down into one key piece of information or one key takeaway that you really want all new puppy owners to understand, what would that be?

Deb Jones: I feel pressure. I feel a lot of pressure with that, that feels like a huge thing to pick out because it feels like everything is so important with puppies and you don't want to forget anything, and that makes us all kind of frantic and wild.

But if I have to say one thing, I'd say learn who your puppy is before you try to train him, and be open to the fact that he may not be exactly what you expected or thought you wanted. Oftentimes they are not. Our view of what our next puppy is going to be often turns out very different than reality. The sooner we accept who they are, the sooner we can then start moving forward with our relationship with them and moving toward some goals with them. But if we're trying to train them as if they are some other puppy, that's never going to work. That's never going to get us where we want to go. Oftentimes we're training our last dog, or we're training the opposite of our last dog, but we're not actually training the puppy that we're looking at right now.

I guess it goes back to that "Train the dog in front of you" thing I've heard somewhere. I've heard somebody around here say that a time or two. It's learn who your puppy is. Don't try to make him what you want him to be. That's my advice.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Deb.

Deb Jones: You're very welcome. I'm always happy to be here.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week with Sharon Carroll to talk about reactive and hyper-aroused dogs.

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!


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!

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