Episode 14: Interview with Deb Jones - "Focus and Foundations in Dog Training"

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Summary:

Dr. Deborah Jones is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. 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 has authored several other books with more in the works.

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer.

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Next Episode:

To be released 6/16/2017, featuring Andrea Harrison.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you’re listening to the Fenzi Dogs 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 will be talking to Dr. Deborah Jones, better known around FDSA as Deb Jones.

Deb is a psychologist who specializes in theory and social behavior and teaches those subjects full time at Kent State University. 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 has authored several other books with more in the works.

At FDSA, Deb offers a wide range of popular classes including a number of excellent foundations classes. Her focus is on developing training methods that are enjoyable and effective for both the dog and the trainer. Oh, and she’s working on a cat class, too.

Hi, Deb. Welcome to the podcast.

Deb Jones: Hi, Melissa. Thank you, very much, for having me.

Melissa Breau: I’m excited to chat today.

Deb Jones: Oh, so am I.

Melissa Breau: So, usually to get started I ask people to tell us a little bit about their dogs and what they are working on with them, but since I know you also have the cat class coming up, do you want to just walk us through your full furry crew and what you’re working on with all of them?

Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. I have quite a crew right now. I have three Border Collies and three Shelties that I’m working with, along with the cat, Tricky, who is going to be the star of the cat class -- because he insists. Every time I train dogs he’s there, so I figured if he’s going to show up regularly he might as well earn his keep and be part of a class at FDSA.

I have my three Border Collies that I work with the majority of the time now. Many people know Zen, who is almost 10 years old, which seems impossible. He is my demo dog for everything. Always willing to work. He’s done Agility, Obedience, and Rally, and titled in all of those and, these days, he’s pretty much semi-retired. He gets to do almost whatever he wants except what he wants to do is play ball 24 / 7, so we don’t do that, but other than that he gets to do whatever he wants.

Star is my next oldest dog, a Border Collie, who is, I say constantly, the smartest dog I ever met. She’s scary smart and Star is also great demo dog. Also showed her as well. And my youngest boy now, who is actually Zen’s nephew, Helo is going to be three. A lot of people have seen him in class videos. Ever since he was a puppy he’s been working for FDSA in some form or the other.

And the latest, youngest Sheltie is Tigger, who is a tiny little seven pound thing and he is just so full of himself and full of life, and he’s a lot of fun, so he is also in quite a few of the class videos and he enjoys every second of it, and then the other two Shelties are a little bit older, so they have what we call old dog immunity, which means, again, you get to do whatever you want and they enjoy that.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Deb Jones: So it’s a busy household.

Melissa Breau: I’d imagine -- but I’ve seen some of those videos you share of Tigger. He’s so cute.

Deb Jones: Oh. He’s a little firecracker. To have such a tiny little dog…he’s way below size for what Shelties usually are and this was just by chance. It was just a fluke that he was this small, but oh is he full of it, so he makes us laugh every day. That’s the thing we say about Tigger is he makes us laugh constantly, so there’s a lot of value in that.

Melissa Breau: So I wanted to ask about how you originally got into dog sports -- I know that you’ve done a lot of different sports and with a lot of different dogs, so what got you started?

Deb Jones: Yeah. I have. I’ve had a lot of different dogs over the years. Settled on herding dogs now, but I actually started out with a Labrador Retriever, black lab named Katie, and I was in graduate school and I’d been in about two years and just had to have a dog. I’d always had dogs just as pets, and never done a lot with them, but I really felt the need to have some sort of companionship in graduate school that was not stressful, so I got Katie, who was a rescue…from a rescue. She was about 18 months old and we did training classes. Took her to local training classes.

And this was in 1992, so at that time all there was, was obedience. If you wanted to show a dog in anything you were going to show it in Obedience, so I went through a number of classes. I met a lot of people. I got to know quite a bit about obedience competition and the only…the problem was I was already trained in behavioral psychology and learning theory, and what I saw happening in classes did not match at all my expectation for how we should be training animals. It was still very, very heavy handed and traditional back in those days.

So I liked the idea of competition and performance but I didn’t like the way that people told me you had to train in order to get to it, so that sort of started this conflict in me about I want to do this but I don’t want to do it that way and made me work very hard to try to figure out 'how can I apply what I know from academics and get successful performance?' And so that was the start of it.

Melissa Breau: So how did you bridge that gap? What actually got you started on that positive journey and at what point did you get introduced to clicker training?

Deb Jones: Around the same time I got Katie I was introduced to the book Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, which was probably the very first book that many dog trainers ever saw that had anything to do with positive training. I’m a voracious reader so I read every dog training book out there and this was one of many, but this was the one that really, really spoke to me and said to me you can take what you know from science, you can apply it to training the animal that you’re working with now and you can be successful. Except the thing was nobody had actually done it. It was theory. It wasn’t yet application.

And so that set me on the path of being able to do this training the way I want to do it and having an enthusiastic and very willing animal partner rather than one who was basically forced to do it because there would be unpleasant consequences if they didn’t, so I really would credit the book with getting me started on that.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Is that also how you were introduced to clicker training and shaping and all that good stuff?

Deb Jones: Yeah. It all came around about the same time. There was actually…the first internet email group that I was ever on, which was called Click-L. This is really ancient. This was also back in about 1993 or so. When we first got internet at home, which was a big deal at the time, but ClickL was a group of like-minded people and we were all just simply trying to figure out how do we do this? How do we apply this?

And Karen Pryor was on the list along with a number of other people who are still training today and we were all just kind of talking and throwing ideas around and trying to figure out how we could use this kind of technique, a clicker training technique, to get the…all different sorts of behaviors, so it was a time when nobody was really an expert because nobody had done it yet, but that’s really what I wanted to work toward was to make it work in our day to day training.

Melissa Breau: I bet back then you never would have thought you’d be teaching online in today’s day in age.

Deb Jones: Absolutely not. No. I remember my great excitement the first time my modem actually hooked up at home because for the longest time we only had access at school, when I was in graduate school, for the first couple of years, so no, I could never have foreseen that one day I would be involved in these online classes. That just would not have ever crossed my map.

Melissa Breau: So one of my favorite lines to come out of the podcast so far Sue made this whole analogy during her interview about training without focus being almost like sending a kid to school without clothes on, right? Like you would never imagine…

Deb Jones: I love that.

Melissa Breau: ...sending a kid to school…

Deb Jones: No. Yeah.

Melissa Breau: …without his clothes on. Like why would you train a dog if you don’t already have their focus? So I wanted to talk a little bit about that concept. Focus seems likes a place where people just tend to struggle and I was kind of curious to get your take on why you think that is?

Deb Jones: Oh, so many reasons. Yeah. Sue always has the best descriptions of things and I think that one is perfect. The problem with focus though is that it’s invisible to a large extent. Oftentimes people have the illusion that they have focus because they have cookies and they have toys and they’re in a training mode. Then they try to go into performance and all of a sudden it becomes very clear it was only an illusion. You did not have actual offered focus from your dog. You thought you did but you didn’t, so that’s about the time people contact me. They’re like I don’t know what went wrong. Everything was going so well and then they’re really surprised.

Sometimes people equate focus with eye contact and what we say is that’s only part of it because you can be focused but not looking at each other. Looking at each other is not always focus. It’s easy to look at somebody and to be a thousand miles away in your mind and dogs do it the same way that people do it, so it’s more than eye contact, which can be a trained behavior.

There has to be this desire to want to do whatever the activity is or the task is. And if that desire isn’t there, there’s not going to be any focus. You’re always going to be looking around for something else that’s more interesting, and I think people just don’t realize any of this. You’re training your dog. You’re teaching behaviors and skills but you’re not teaching it with focus and it falls apart very quickly when it’s put to the test.

Melissa Breau: It’s very hard to...I mean even as a person, right? If you’re focused on one task there’s a big difference between being focused on the task and having eight million tabs open on your browser and you’re jumping back and forth between Facebook and the thing you’re writing and something else and it…

Deb Jones: Yeah. There is and it takes a while. It’s not something we can expect to have immediately. Every once in a while, and it’s very rare, you get a dog that just is naturally focused but it’s really rare. I’ve only known one dog who, I would say, was really, truly always just focused from the get go. That’s not the norm, so we all have to work at it to get our dogs to that place and people then don’t know. Okay, they want focus but then they have no idea. What do you do? How do I get focus? And that’s really the tricky part of it because there’s a lot of things you do. Some of them work. Some of them don’t.

Melissa Breau: So how do you approach it in the class?

Deb Jones: We have two classes that address focus and the first…I always hope people take them in order. The first class is Get Focused, which is what I always recommend people take first and then a follow-up to that is called Focus Games and we always try to offer Get Focused in one term and then Focus Games in the next so people can follow through with it.

What I try to do is isolate focus from…take it out of the context of anything else and distill it down to this mutual desire to interact with each other, so convincing the dog that what we’re doing is what he wants to do, which sounds hard and it is hard. Sometimes it is very difficult. It’s not easy. We have a number of very specific exercises to work on letting our dogs know that focus pays off and if you focus on me I’ll pay you for it and we try to get people quickly to move from food to toys and back and forth and into personal play as well so that you get paid in some way for focusing. There’s a reinforcer for focusing.

Then we start adding work to focus but what we do is typically the opposite of what everybody else does. We have to have focus first before we ask for work or play even. If the dog isn’t focused we do not go on. We never train an unfocused dog and I say this…this is like a million times. I say this over and over again. If my dog’s not focused I need to stop and this is really, really hard for people to do because they have a plan in their head for something that they wanted to train, but training an unfocused dog is just a waste of time if you truly want to develop this. Work and training always has to be combined with focus.

So we go through a series of exercises designed to improve focus and also to teach people what to do when it’s gone. What do you do? What’s the protocol for when the focus is lost? Because lots of times then people are just kind of stuck. They don’t know what to do so they take responsibility for focus and try to make it happen rather than allowing the dog to offer it.

Melissa Breau: That whole being more exciting than a clown on crack line from Denise, right? Like that idea of just trying to be more and more exciting and your dog just continues to ignore you.

Deb Jones: Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah.

Deb Jones: Yeah. That ends up being kind of a death spiral. Things never go well if I have…if I have to add more and more energy to the interaction then there is a problem. I’m giving everything. My dog’s not doing anything. We need to go back to getting the dog to want to focus and work with us and so we continually go back to that and we don’t try to overwhelm the dog with fun and excitement because that’s a dead end. You won’t get very far with that. The problem is it often will temporarily work but it won’t work over the long term. It won’t hold up.

We work on all of this in the Get Focused class. When we move onto the Focus Games class, that’s a lot more about finding the flow and the rhythm to working together and extending it out and adding things like movement and taking food off our bodies and still getting focus, so we add all those kinds of things in there, so it’s a good 12 weeks worth of focused focus on focus.

Melissa Breau: Right, so both the Focused class and your current class, the Performance Fundamentals class, seem to fall into that foundations category, right? So I wanted to ask you what you thought it was so…what is it about building a good foundation that is so critical when it comes to dog sports?

Deb Jones: Foundation really is everything. I truly believe that. If you do your foundations well you won’t run into problems later on or…I won’t say you won’t. You won’t run into as many problems later on or if you do run into problems you will have a way to fix them because the problem is in the foundation. Ninety-nine percent of the time something wasn’t taught to fluency or you left something out somewhere. You’ve got a gap or a hole, so going back to foundation and making it strong is always the answer. It’s never a wrong thing to do.

So I really like being able to try to get in that really strong basis for everything else you want. I don’t care what sport people are going into or even if they’re not going into sport at all. If they just like training and they want to train their dog this…a good foundation prepares you for any direction in the future because oftentimes we change direction. You have a dog you think you’re going to be doing obedience with but if you focus in the beginning too much on obedience behaviors it may end up that dog just isn’t right for that, and so you have kind of these gaps for.. "oh well, let’s see if I want to switch to agility. Now I need to train a new set of behaviors." We don’t want that to happen so we’ve got the foundation for pretty much everything.

Melissa Breau: Talk a little bit more about the Fundamentals Class specifically. Do you mind just giving some details around what you cover in that class and how you work to set up that foundation within the class syllabus? Within the class…within, I guess, what you teach there?

Deb Jones: Sure. Yeah. Sure. We approach performance fundamentals very differently than many other people do or the way that people think they should approach dog training. I’m considering typically as a class that you either start with a puppy or you’ve gone through a puppy class and now you’re ready to move onto the next thing, so that’s where we would come in. I also think that it’s a really good class for people who haven’t done a lot of positive reinforcement training and they don’t quite understand how to get started with it and what to do.

I think it’s also a good place for that, but the thing is rather than focusing on skills and behaviors…I don’t care at all in a class if the dog learns to sit or lie down or do whatever it is on cue. In fact, lots of times they won’t and they don’t need to. What they need to do in Performance Fundamentals or what I want them to be able to do is to build the foundation for a good working relationship so that, again, the dog is ready. The dog’s willing. The dog really wants to do what you’re doing.

We work hard on balancing things like getting dogs to play as well as food motivation and going back and forth with those quite a bit and my goal is always to make it seem like the dog doesn’t know if you’re playing or training. If they don’t believe there’s any difference, that’s perfect. That’s perfect training, so we do a lot of the foundation things like targeting behavior, so you might have the dog targeting to your hand. You might have the dog targeting with their nose to other objects. Have the dog targeting with their front feet or with their back feet, so we would explore okay there’s all these different things we can do with targeting behavior and those are all going to come in handy for you on down the line.

We’ll look at and play around with shaping because shaping is one of my favorite techniques and it’s also one that’s really hard for people. It takes a lot of practice and you make a lot of mistakes. There’s just no way around it. It’s experimenting, so we play around with shaping and I always like to shape tricks and things that people don’t care about a whole lot so if you mess it up nobody cares. It’s no big deal, you know? You don’t want to start being like.. on your competition retrieve, you don’t want that to be the first time you shape. Because that matters to people, and so we try to get them to do the easier things first.

In that class we’re also just looking at can you effectively use…once we’ve taught targeting, can you use luring? Can you use shaping? You can teach any behavior any number of ways and so we look a bit more at the techniques that underlie that and there’s…people can make decisions about what they want to train and how they want to go about approaching it and we help them with that once they make some informed decisions.

Melissa Breau: For sure. I thought, writing the questions for this talk, I felt like there were eight million things I wanted to ask about and jumping back and forth between focus and then the Performance Fundamentals class and I’ve taken the Cooperative Canine Care Class and loved it, so I wanted to at least briefly kind of touch on the other subjects. We’ll definitely have to have you back to talk more in depth about them, but can you tell us a little bit about the Cooperative Canine Care Class and a little bit about the new cat class you’re working on? And give people…

Deb Jones: Oh.

Melissa Breau: …a sneak peek?

Deb Jones: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Cooperative Care has turned out to be one of my favorites. Which I think we’ve only been teaching it for a couple of years and I was…I became interested in this whole idea of husbandry work and working on grooming and veterinary procedures with animals after I had gone to a week-long training seminar at Shedd Aquarium a few years ago and the majority of the training they do is cooperative care type training.

They train every day for things that their animals may or may not ever need but if they need them then it’s there, so training their dolphins, for example, to flip upside down and hold still so they can take blood out of the vein by their tail and that’s something they work on everyday even though it happens very rarely, and that got me thinking a lot about what we do with dogs because mostly what we do with dogs is we wrestle with them and usually because we’re a little bit stronger and because they’re nice they don’t bite us, but in reality we do some pretty unpleasant things to them and we don’t prepare them for it. We just do it, okay.

So I wanted to really explore with dogs what can we do to make this more pleasant, more fun for everybody involved? Because it’s no fun for the people either. It’s just a stressful thing all the way around when you have to do something to an animal that it’s afraid of and doesn’t want you to do, so that was the idea for it and we’ve had a lot of fun with it because if you make it all into games and tricks and trained behaviors it really tends to be amazing what they will cooperate with and what they will allow you to do and I’ve used my own dogs as guinea pigs, of course, for everything on this and really been amazed at how much better it is for them than it was in the past.

One of my dogs, Star, had developed a terrible fear of the vet. I was out of town and she ended up having to be spayed and it was unpleasant and just terrible things happened to her at that point. To the point that I was worried she would bite somebody at the vet, and now she goes in. She’s pleased with herself. She jumps up on the table. She wants to do her chin rest and take her squeeze cheese and it just made her…it just made everything so much better for her and that made me so happy and that’s what I hear from students all the time. It’s these little things, you know? That my dog went to the vet and jumped on the scale by themselves or they held still while the vet gave them a shot and didn’t even act like they noticed and that’s what I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things that make that class worthwhile.

Melissa Breau: And I know, for example, I have a German Shepherd with some pressure issues and just the working through the class and working through being able to touch them in different ways that just helped her so much in terms of wanting to cuddle and be a little bit closer to me at different times. It just had so much of a positive impact in the relationship over all. I can’t recommend the class highly enough.

Deb Jones: Oh. I’m really happy to hear that. I just love hearing things like that because I think when we give our animals a choice…everybody’s afraid to give them a choice because they’re afraid they’re going to say no. We’re afraid they’re going to say no I don’t want you to touch me. No, I don’t want this to happen, but if we approach it in a very incremental, systematic way and make it highly reinforcing they’re much more likely to start saying yes and the whole idea that they have a choice, I think, makes them brave. It makes them confident and it increases our bond with them because we no longer have to wrestle them to the ground to try to do something with them, so they trust us more.

Melissa Breau: Right. Do you want to share a little bit about the cat class?

Deb Jones: The cat class. Yeah. I was just thinking about that. I’m still working on the cat class, which I honestly…honestly when I said it, it was a joke. I didn’t necessarily actually ever intend,…when I first brought it up, I was like you know oh I’m so busy so here I am thinking about teaching a class to train cats and I thought that was funny, but people started jumping in and what I realized from that is every video I get from a student that has a cat the cat is there. Like I said earlier. The cat’s in it. The cat’s interested so what the heck?

And people really do not believe that cats can be trained. They think cats are totally different than any other creature on the planet and you can train everything else but not a cat, so…and working with my own cat, Tricky, who’s about six years old now, I think. I’ve worked quite a bit with Tricky over the years. He likes to train and he trains differently than a dog but in some ways, he’s faster. In some ways a little bit…it’s a little bit more challenging than I expected, so it’s an exploration. It’s an experiment but I’m looking at…started looking at what could we do with a class like this? How could I set it up?

So it’s going to be a little bit different than some of my other classes because first we have to convince the cats that they want to work with us and I think that’s a little…that’s even more than it takes with a dog because our dogs we tend to be a little more social with anyway and cats sometimes we allow them to be very independent and we assume that’s what they’re supposed to be, so convincing them now that they want to do something with us and that it’s going to pay off. I think that’s going to be a big step, but other than that 90 percent of what I’m looking at it’s the same way you train any animal.

We use lots of positive reinforcement. We break things down into small bits and we work our way up, so I don’t know that it will be that vastly different. It’s not like there’s one way to train cats and then another way to train every other animal in the world. It’s that we train the same way but we have to remember that they are cats and that there are some things that we’ll have to keep in mind that make them different than dogs, so it’s an interesting challenge and I’m really excited about it now, so I’m spending the summer training my cat.

Melissa Breau: I can’t wait to see some of the videos from that. It sounds like it will be entertaining and really useful. I mean, it’s always…I feel like anytime we learn more about training a different species than dogs it only improves your overall ability to train.

Deb Jones: Oh. Definitely. I think I’ve learned more from other species by far than I have from training dogs. They’re always more challenging. You have more to learn about them. Approach them differently, so yeah. I love training other species. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Melissa Breau: We’re getting towards the end of the podcast so we’re at those last three questions that I ask every episode. So what is the dog related accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a tough question. First I…because you’d think okay I’d want to talk about titles or something but not really. What I think I’m most proud of just overall with all of my dogs is that they all want to work with me. If they have a choice between me and anything else in the world they’ll choose me and there’s a lot of effort, on my part in terms of training, that went into that but I’m very proud of the fact that my dogs freely make that decision and I don’t ever have to coerce them to make that, so I’d say that has to be my overall answer.

Melissa Breau: I think that’s an accomplishment almost everybody listening to this would love to have, so I definitely think that’s a good answer. What is the best piece of training advice that you have ever heard?

Deb Jones: Oh. That’s a hard one, too. These are hard questions, Melissa. I’ve heard lots of good and bad training advice over the years but most recently what’s sticking in my mind comes from Denise, actually, which is train the dog in front of you. Train the dog you have right now not the dog you want or the dog that you think you ought to have, but train the one that’s standing there and that is harder than it seems to be, but I think that’s a very good piece of advice. They’re all different and we need to work with each one as a unique individual.

Melissa Breau: And even as a unique individual I mean the dog you have today is not the dog you have next week and it’s so hard to see that sometimes.

Deb Jones: Oh, it is. It’s really hard because we just have built up in our minds this image of what this dog’s like and even if the dog changes our image doesn’t always change, so I think that’s a really good point and I sometimes…I’m so bad I forget which dog knows which behavior. So I’ll tell Helo to do something that Zen knows how to do and then I’ll look at him like oh I never taught you that, so I need to focus a little more on the dog that’s in front of me at the moment.

Melissa Breau: That’s funny. And then finally, who is someone else in the dog world that you look up to?

Deb Jones: Oh. Quit asking me hard questions. Well, I have to say as a group really, truly every instructor at FDSA is just amazing and they really inspire me. I feel challenged to always do better because of the people I’m working with. Because the instructors are all so awesome and I don’t want to be the weak link so I always feel like I have to do more and work harder because of them, which is a really good thing.

If we move out of that realm a little bit someone that I do truly admire would be Ken Ramirez. I worked with him at Shedd. Got to know him and work with him at Shedd Aquarium when I was there and have seen him several times since then and I like his approach and I like the fact that he’s worked with so many different species and that he still maintains the science of it but at the same time it’s not clinical. It’s also humanized in a way. I don’t know if that even makes any sense.

Melissa Breau: Very practical. It’s applicable.

Deb Jones: Yes. Very, very applicable to a huge variety of situations, so I admire that.

Melissa Breau: All right. Well, thank you, so much for coming on the podcast, Deb. It was really great to chat.

Deb Jones: Oh. Thank you for asking me.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. No. I was thrilled that you could make some time and that we could fit this in and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week. This time with Andrea Harrison to talk about the human half of the competitive team. 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.

CREDITS:

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 and transcription written by CLK Transcription Services.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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