E238: Deb Jones - Cooperative Care, Zen Work & Consent

In this episode Deb and I talk about the overlap between zen work and cooperative care, plus Deb shares what, why, and how consent can be important in your training.


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 to talk about cooperative care and consent.

Hi Deb, welcome back to the podcast!

Deb Jones: Hi Melissa. Thanks for having me back. I always enjoy being here chatting with you.

Melissa Breau: I always enjoy chatting with you too.

Deb Jones: Thank you.

Melissa Breau: To start things off, do you want to remind listeners who you are a little bit, who your dogs are a little bit?

Deb Jones: Sure. I have been training dogs for something like twenty-five years now. It just keeps rolling on. I'm a former full-time psychology professor. I taught for about twenty years at Kent State University, happily retired, and thought I would have plenty of free time now, but it seems like it's all been taken up with dogs and dog training and dog-related things of all sorts that I enjoy, so that's good.

Melissa Breau: The work just grows to fill the time.

Deb Jones: It sure does. It's amazing how that happens. I think it's been three or four years I've been retired now; I can't even remember anymore, but been keeping pretty busy.

I've been an instructor at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy almost from the very beginning. I think the second term that they had, maybe, that I started teaching, and that's been almost eight years now that we've been doing that. And I also like to write, so I'm an author. I've got Book Number 13, and it's been 90 percent done for a year now and I need to finish it.

Right now I have three big herding dogs. I have Zen and Star, who are the Border Collies. Zen is 14-and-a-half now and does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Just ask him; he'll tell you that's the rule. Star is 10-and-a-half. And I have Wizard, who is an Australian Koolie, and he is 7 months and he's exhausting. I had forgotten.

Melissa Breau: He's right at that age.

Deb Jones: Yeah, and that age is a hard age. I love the baby puppy stage. When we get to the teenage stage, that's a challenge all in itself. But he's really sweet, he's kind of goofy, who knows what he's going to turn out to be like, but he's fun.

I also live with two Shelties: Tigger, who's 5, and Pixel, who's 3. So we have a very loud household sometimes, with five herding dogs all getting each other wound up like nobody's business, but that means I always have a dog around to train if I feel like training a dog. So that's us right now.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I know that you've turned cooperative care into your "niche." I want to talk about that a little bit +today. To ease into the topic a little bit, what was it that got you started and interested in the topic initially?

Deb Jones: That's a really good question. At one point — and this has been about ten years ago, I think, or so — Star was young, because she's 10-and-a-half now, so she was in her first year and she had a very bad experience with a vet. It was very traumatic for her. It wasn't that they did anything horrible, but I think she panicked and freaked out, and I wasn't there. I was out of town when she had to go to the vet and it turned into something that stuck with her.

All my previous dogs, they went to the vet, they did what they did, they liked it or they didn't, but we got through it, and you never thought about actually preparing them in any way. You just expected, "You get these things done and you learn to live with it." Star was like, "No, ma'am, I am not going to live with this. This is not going to happen." This sweet little dog turned into very, very scared and defensive, and so I knew I had to do something.

At that point I'd taught a lot of dogs a lot of things. We did a lot of sport-specific skills, we did a lot of real-life manners, I did tricks and all that, and I realized, "Maybe I should start applying this to the work she's going to need at the vet's office in particular," because it wasn't going to get better on its own. It was clear to me that this was only going to get worse and worse, and she was a very young dog and had a lifetime ahead of her where she was going to need people to be able to do things to her. So that's what really got me started on it.

When I started doing this, nobody else was working on it. We didn't talk about cooperative care or husbandry training or any of that because nobody was doing it. Everybody was doing exactly what I did, which was just taking it for granted that you'd be able to get your dog through the grooming and vet care they needed, some liked it, some didn't, that's how it goes.

But I started looking at it from a couple of different perspectives and trying to find ways to make it all easier for everybody involved. That got me working with veterinarians much more so because it's only to their benefit if their subjects are cooperative and if their patients are cooperative when they're working with them. And so that got me started down the path. So I can thank Star for that.

Melissa Breau: Baby Star.

Deb Jones: She's a good girl.

Melissa Breau: You touched on this a little bit in that answer, but I'd like to talk about it a little bit more, if we can. When we're talking about cooperative care, what behaviors are included under that heading? What gets dumped in that bucket?

Deb Jones: The first thing I would say about that is it's not really just behavior. In fact the bigger part of cooperative care I think is emotional, and feelings of comfort and security. I saw early on that's the root of the problem. If you're not comfortable, it doesn't matter what behaviors I've taught a dog. They can't do them. That made me take a step back and look at this from the perspective of learning emotional and physiological states, and classical conditioning rather than operant conditioning, meaning emotions rather than behaviors.

We want our dogs to be comfortable with this whole process, but also they need to be more passive than active for a lot of cooperative care, meaning we're not asking them to do something so much as to let us do things to them. And that's a whole shift in how I approach things. It's like, I don't want you necessarily to give me your foot; I want you to let me take your foot. Those are two very, very different things to teach.

I was starting to see that if you went at it from the operant behavior perspective, you were cuing behaviors, but your dog still couldn't do them if they weren't comfortable enough with the process and with being handled, with being restrained. Those are the two big things for me. "Let me handle you."

I talk about it all the time. I say, "We want our dogs to think we just do weird stuff to them all the time, but it pays off." "Let me touch you, let me poke you, let me move you around and manipulate your body in a bunch of ways, and here, I'll pay for it. I'll pay you to let me do those things." That makes them more comfortable.

And going along with "Let me restrain you," sometimes I have to hold you still," and for a lot of dogs that causes panic, which we don't want to happen because we don't want them fighting and defensive. So we have to work up to being able to restrain them while they're still very comfortable with the whole process.

So it's much more about the behaviors that we do as the handers that it is about what we're asking the dogs to do. I'd say probably 90 percent of what I want my dog to do is just relax and chill out and hold still. I know that sounds almost impossible for a lot of dogs. I've got that 7-month-old puppy. He doesn't like to hold still, but I can make it worth his while enough that he does it and he understands, "This will pay off."

That's the approach, which is a little bit different than the idea of, "I have to teach my dog these behaviors." Really we have to teach our dogs to tolerate a whole lot of things happening to them, and once we start down that path, it typically feeds on itself, and it generalizes and gets easier and easier. The more they learn to trust you and that what you physically do to them doesn't scare them, doesn't harm them, then the more that grows. That's what we're trying to build — that sort of relationship with our dogs.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Deb Jones: Did that answer it? I hope so.

Melissa Breau: I think it covered what I was looking for. Let's say that I haven't done cooperative care before with my dog, and I just want to take that first bite into it, take that first step in the right direction. Where should I get started with teaching some of this stuff?

Deb Jones: I can tell people first that we have a couple of really good free resources. I have a Facebook group and I also have a YouTube channel. They are both called "Cooperative Care with Deb Jones" — not very creative, but descriptive.

The Facebook group is great — lots of support, lots of ideas, very, very friendly to people who are lost and don't know what to do or where to go. We have lots of professional trainers; we have lots of veterinary professionals on there as well. I'm actually getting close to 10,000 people in that group, yet it feels like a very small, friendly group. It doesn't feel like this huge group, so I'm amazed when I see how close we're getting to having that many people in the group. So that's one place to go. You can ask questions, and people will help you troubleshoot and get you down the tight path for what to do there.

The YouTube channel I have has a lot of public instructional videos, so if you're looking for something in particular, you can put that in the search bar on the YouTube channel and probably some things will come up that might be helpful to you and get you started down the path.

Those are the places I would tell people to start. And then from there we have a whole bunch of other stuff that we'll get to.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I know there's this component of consent that is pretty involved in some of the stuff that you teach that fits into this category. I want to talk about that too. Can you talk to me about what it is, what it can do for my training, how it impacts my dog's care, what role it plays in all this stuff?

Deb Jones: Consent has become one of those trendy concepts in dog training recently, and for good reason. I think it's a very, very good thing for us to be thinking about, because it wasn't something we thought about in the past. You trained the dog, and the dog did what you trained it to do. But now we're looking more at the dog buying into the training session with you, and agreeing to go along with what you're doing.

Since our dogs can't talk to us, we have to have some sort of communication system so that we know when they're comfortable. I assume that they're consenting to something if they stay in the session when they could leave. My dogs, in every training session I do, they have the option of leaving — as long as it's safe, of course. Not out in traffic, but anywhere else they have the option of opting out of the session, just physically walking away, and I think that's important. So by staying, they're giving me consent to continue on.

If my dogs did leave — which is an extremely rare event, but if it happened — it would tell me that I was pushing them too hard. If I push them to the point where they can't remain in the session, I need to rethink what I'm doing and go back to something that's going to be more comfortable to them.

It's easy to inadvertently coerce our dogs into staying in sessions and working with us by putting a little bit of pressure on them. I actually teach my dogs as part of my training process that "If you come up on this grooming table …" — where I do most of my cooperative care training; I have my grooming table sitting in my living room all the time — "you come up here, you get a lot of cookies. But if you want to leave, you still get cookies." You can leave and get cookies. It's not like I'm going to withhold the reinforcers.

So I teach them "Get on the table, have ten cookies, get off the table, have a cookie." You want to come back up, here's some more, you want to leave, have another one, so that they're not feeling punished by the removal of the reinforcer if they have to leave. If they chose to get off the table, that would still be okay.

I do a lot of work with a zen bowl. I have the open bowl of food out while I'm working with my dogs, and so most of my dogs will use that as a focal point. They'll be looking at the bowl because that's where the food is, why wouldn't you look there? As long as they're able to look at the bowl and they're thinking food thoughts, I assume that what I'm doing is comfortable for them and I can continue.

If they stop paying attention to the bowl, and especially if there's a really sharp head turn towards me when I'm doing something, I'm like, "You just told me that's uncomfortable. I need to back off." And I do something differently going forward.

So I'm trying to read their body language for consent, and I'm really thoughtful about the ears are going back, is the tail going down, is the dog stiffer than they were? Every dog has different tells, different things in their body language that tell you whether they're comfortable or not. So I'm reading those for consent all the time as well, and trying to make sure that my dog stays in their comfort zone.

Sometimes we do have to move them out of their comfort zone. Sometimes we are going to have to do something that they're not that comfortable with, but we need to do it slowly and thoughtfully and carefully. Probably to me one of the biggest things is just holding still. If you can hold still while I do something to you, I'm taking that as your consent. If you can't hold still, I'm going, "We need to go back a couple of steps and work on that part of the process first, and then we'll come back to it."

I guess overall what I'd say is I want my dogs to choose to stay in sessions with me. That makes me comfortable that I have their consent to continue on, when they freely choose to stay, even though they have other options.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the zen stuff in there a little bit. Can you talk a little more about how that factors in? And maybe before we get there, let's talk about what zen work is, what it involves, give people a picture of that, and then we'll come back to how it factors into cooperative care.

Deb Jones: I use the term "zen work" a lot. People call it some different things. It could be called impulse control or self-control exercises, something along those lines. But I like this concept of zen — being calm and relaxed, yet still thoughtful about what you're doing.

The zen work that I do, I want to work, as I mentioned before, as much on their emotional state and their arousal. I want it to be low, I want them to be relaxed, I want them to be calm, especially in the face of things that they might want, which normally we're talking about food here. Some dogs get highly excited about that process, so we want to calm that all down.

Zen work basically is a way for my dog to learn that getting what you want often involves just waiting. It meant a hard concept for a lot of dogs, especially active, sporty-type dogs. Just waiting seems ridiculous to my Border Collies: "Why would we wait for something when we could take it?" The zen work tells them, "It's in your best interest to wait, and I will tell you how to get the things you want. I will give you the clues to how to access what you want."

But the dog's part of it is, "Hold on, listen to what I'm going to tell you next, and then you can have what you want. There are a lot of specific zen exercises that are built around that central concept of waiting for what you want, waiting until I tell you what to do. I like to think of it as we're really building more thought and less reaction in the dogs, and that's vitally important. We can do this even in puppies, who are all reaction. They're no thought. But you can start to build it up, even in puppies, and it becomes a habit at some point in time.

So I have a number of zen-specific exercises. I mentioned zen bowl before, and that's a common one that people use. But then we have a lot of other zen exercises that we work through with the dogs, so that they get this general concept of "When in doubt, wait a second, and actually even orient towards me, and see what I'm going to tell you is going to happen next." That saves us so much grief in so many training scenarios, if we can get that to happen with our dogs. That's my basic description of zen work, I think.

Melissa Breau: Now let's talk about how that factors into cooperative care. How do those two things overlap or work together? How does it all come together?

Deb Jones: I didn't realize it, I think, at the time, but zen work became a central part of being successful with cooperative care. I wrote down a seven-step process for how to go through your foundation for cooperative care, and zen work is your second step. The first step is establishing a place where you're going to do your husbandry work and making it the best place your dog's ever been. But then the second step is to start doing your zen work there.

I remember when I was talking to my vet, who I've had for about fifteen years now, about what would be helpful. If you could have dogs come in knowing how to do any particular thing, what would be helpful? She looked at me, and I'll never forget because she shocked me. She just said, "Just stand still. If the dogs would just stand still, our jobs would be so much easier."

I don't know what I thought she'd say, but that wasn't it. But that is the basis of zen — just wait. Just because something is happening around you or to you doesn't mean that you have to be active and start moving around. So just hold still, but calmly.

We don't want dogs who freeze because they're scared, and we don't want dogs who are going to explode in anticipation. We get that a lot with some dogs that hold still, but the arousal gets higher and higher and higher and higher, and that's not really what we want either. So zen work can help us get that calm, that body still, brain relaxed, thinking but not overreacting to things. All of that comes together.

Whenever somebody says something to me like, "I need to put eye drops in my dog. What should I do?" my answer is always going to be the same. It's "We need to go back." And if you do zen work first, this will be so much easier because your dog will understand the concept of holding still to get what they want, and once they get that, then you can start adding all kinds of things, including cleaning the ears and putting in eye drops and brushing their teeth. But we've got to get that stillness in there first. So, to me, that's a really, really strong foundation for everything that comes after. If we can get the zen work right, you'll cut the difficulty of all of this at least in half, if not more.

Melissa Breau: In half? That's a big promise there, Deb.

Deb Jones: I know, and it's true. I'm estimating the "in half" part because I don't really know how hard it would be, but I'm saying it makes it a heck of a lot easier, so it's worth the effort on the front end. If you put in that effort, you'll be glad you did later, because jumping into the actual procedure without doing the zen work or the foundation work tends to be harder.

You get a whole lot of conflict going on with dogs, and that's when you start then putting pressure on them to let you do what you want to them, and then they start resisting, and you often end up having to go back to the beginning anyway, or just not eve getting it really right. So, to me, that's a key part of this whole process is get that zen work in there first.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely makes sense. For those who are listening and nodding along and "But how do I actually do some of this stuff?" I know you've got some stuff coming up. If people are looking for more help, do you want to talk about what options you offer for coaching and classes and whatnot?

Deb Jones: Sure, yes, definitely. The first thing that I always recommend is to get the book. There's a book. It's called Cooperative Care: Seven Steps To Stress-Free Husbandry. You can get it on Amazon; that's the easiest way to get a hold of it. The book really does lay out step by step by step, first this, then this, then this. I tell people, "Go back to this, and that will really give you a good foundation."

I'm also going to be teaching my cooperative care class at FDSA. I'm only teaching it once a year now, so this is the only time it will happen for probably close to another year. It's what I call the "big class." We would consider it a sampler class — there's everything in it.

You're not going to come out of it knowing how to do everything, or your dog's not going to come out of it comfortable with everything, but it's how you start everything, and all of our foundation steps. We hit on all the important things that people are most likely to need when they're either grooming or doing veterinary stuff with their dogs, healthcare stuff. That class is coming up — we're taping this ahead of time — and classes start [on] the first.

Melissa Breau: Classes will start the day this comes out, I think.

Deb Jones: Okay. What good timing I have here. And then the final thing that I'm offering right now this year is a workshop called "Your Daily Zen." The workshop starts, I think, the 10th of October.

I set it up as every day there's a new zen exercise. They build on each other, so I want people to do them in order. They should take you no more than ten minutes a day, working two or three short sessions, so it's not a lot of work, but it's work that will have a huge impact and pay off.

I go through seven zen exercises in the week. You may or may not get through all seven, that's fine, people are going to be at different places with what they do, but the idea is to go back and make sure you've done all these things and that they're in good shape before you try to add on more challenge or difficulty to them.

I just finished up making that workshop, and most of the videos are with Wizard, who is the youngest one, and so you see his learning process in it. I'm a big believer in leaving mistakes in and talking about what they are and moving on when I do videos, and so we had some errors, but I show how to fix them. They're very common errors that I show people how to fix when that happens. My dogs are far from perfect, and they all have to learn just like everybody else.

I'm really pleased with this workshop, so I hope people will take advantage of a really, really dense week of working on it. You'd be amazed at how much that will help with everything else you do with all your training in the long run.

And so that's what I've got going on in the near future.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I want to round this out with one last question. If we were to drill down all the stuff we talked about today, leave people with one takeaway, one final thought that you want them to walk away from listening to this with, what would that be?

Deb Jones: I actually have two things. I can't just have one thought. I have two thoughts. They're both pretty short. The first thing is "Train it before you need it." When your dog has an eye infection is not the time that you can train eye drops. It's too late, and then you're in a situation of having to do something that's going to be unpleasant for everybody involved. So train it beforehand. Look at it like you would any other sort of foundation training, and do the basics long before it comes into play, as much as you possibly can. That's my one big thing.

The other one is a saying that I always say that my students are very used to, which is, "Be the turtle in your training: slow, steady, persistent." That pays off over time. It's not when you put in this big push of effort for a day or two. It's what you do every day over months and months. And it doesn't have to be a lot. I'm also a big believer in very short training sessions, so a couple of minutes here and there. That will pay off for you. Don't worry if progress is slow. It's still progress, and it's actually usually better that way, if it's slow.

So those are my two.

Melissa Breau: Excellent. Thank you so much, Deb. I'm really that I got you on the podcast this week and that we could chat about some of this stuff.

Deb Jones: I am, too. I was really happy to be here. You know I love to talk about this stuff, so anytime.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, and thank you to all our listeners for tuning in!

We'll be back next week with Nicole Wiebusch and Nancy Gagliardi Little to talk about heeling. We will be talking about all the different bits and pieces about how people get stuck and how to get started.

If you haven't already, subscribe to the 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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