Breed Standards: Creating Prejudices in Dog Training

Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.     

Maya Angelou

bootsandbee.com

bootsandbee.com

We all have prejudices.  Those who claim they aren’t prejudice at all strike me as imbeciles, unwilling or incapable of introspection. Prejudice can take so many forms, the most obvious being in regards to race, gender or sexual orientation with humans, but there are so many different forms.

felon

I’m prejudice against the home made frosting you make.  I don’t even need to taste it to know my mom’s/grandma’s/great grandma’s cake frosting is the best (I’ve even included it at the bottom of this post so you can agree and change the error of your icing-ways).

I think I can honestly say that I’m not prejudiced against people based upon their ethnicity (having so many different ethnic groups making up my DNA, it would be pretty hard for me to be prejudiced based upon a person’s ethnicity or religion). But I’ll admit that I’m prejudice against certain people in other capacities. I realize that the skewed beliefs I hold against these people are stupid and lacking merit, and I’m working hard to eradicate them, but sometime you’ve been “educated” too thoroughly to stop the knee-jerk reaction and let go of those ignorant beliefs, regardless of how hard you try to rid yourself of dysfunctional thinking.  But I realize I’m not perfect, and that my job is to try to do better every day, and to make sure my children aren’t poisoned by ignorant thinking. So far, so good.

But as this is a blog devoted to dog training, dog life, and just the joy that is the canine world, I completely digress.

So let’s talk about something we all tend to ignore:  prejudice of breeds.  The obvious prejudice would be pitbulls.  We’ve created entire sets of laws devoted to the prejudice of one little block-headed dog.  It perplexes me.  I hear the same tired adages from the same group of ignorant people:  pitbulls are dangerous.

To which I reply, “No shit!”

Of course they are dangers: they’re predators!  Every single dog I’ve ever worked with is potentially dangerous!  If it has teeth and can move faster than I can, it’s dangerous!

 

Yes, even this little doll-faced munchkin can be dangerous.

 

We tend to focus so much on which breeds are dangerous that we lose focus on which dogs are dangerous.  We banter around the term “breed” like it’s a make, model and year of a car.

 

 

But a car is a machine.  A dog is not, and regardless of how carefully a dog is bred, there is still plenty of room for deviation within that breed.  But we are still fed the same bullshit that Golden Retrievers are the perfect family dogs, Chihuahuas are lap sharks, and Rotties require “special training/handlers”.

We all know that’s just a bunch of Benedryl Cramplesnutch

 

(side note: Buttercup Candysnack fans, click here.  You’re welcome.)

I’ve worked with quite a few aggressive “family dogs”, and lost count of the Rotties who should be therapy dogs. By judging a dog based exclusively upon the breed, you are missing the potential of the dog.  Work with the dog, not the breed.  Focus on Fido, not the fact that he’s a rare Blue Ridged Appalachian Banjo Dog.

 

Most times, when booking a session, I don’t even ask what breed of dog you have, because the operative word here is “dog”.  I want to meet Fifi, Ollie, Peaches and Brutus. And they are so much more than just a Chihuahua, Doodle, Spaniel and Shepherd.  They are individuals, not brands of merchandise.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, there are a few breeds of dogs that I am prejudiced against.  Remember, I’m only human, and I’m working every day towards being better.  No, I’m not going to tell you which three breeds of dog I’m prejudiced against because prejudice is stupid. I know I’m being stupid, I accept it, and I refuse to spread stupidity around like a crop duster full of ignorance.

 

And every single time I work with one of the three (rare) breeds that I’m prejudiced against, I’m reminded again how stupid and misguided my apprehensions were about the dog, and each time I have less and less prejudice against those three.  There used to be four breeds I was prejudiced against, but I finally learned better and accepted new information upon which to make my decisions.  Facts win (eventually).

So I have an idea: rather than referring to purebred dogs as “breeds”, let’ refer to them as “families”.  Because there are a bit of similarities between families and we can acknowledge that.  But we always treat the individuals within the family as, well…individuals. It’s fair to say that a Weasley family member will probably have red hair. But you’re willing to accept deviations without a second thought.

 

Nobody is surprised when they meet my daughter, who at 12 is already 5’6″, because I’m 6″ tall, and my mother was 5’8″. Family tradition of tall women.

 

But with family, we allow for deviation from the norm.  My son is actually a little smaller than normal.  And besides, “normal” is just a setting on a washing machine.

That’s not to say that there aren’t certain concerns within a family that may need to be addressed.  Epilepsy seems to travel in my family, as well as asthma.  And we have a high number of ADHD and some autism swimming laps around the family gene pool. But I’m not automatically going to assume that any child born into my family will have ADHD. It’s a case-by-case basis. Similarly, learn about the medical conditions your dog may be prone to, but don’t automatically assume that your Mastiff will have cherry eye, or that your GSD will have bad hips.

A lot of people are commenting about what breed of dog they’d like to get, and with very little deviation, they are picking out dogs based upon their experience with one single dog.

“My best friend ‘adopted’ a Gaggledoodle from a local breeder, and I just love that dog, so I’m going to go to a ‘breeder’ and get a Gaggledoodle, too!”

Problems:

1) Your friend did not ‘adopt’ a dog from a breeder.  Best case is they bought a dog from a backyard breeder.  Worse (and most likely), they are supporting puppy mill industry.

2) You can’t recreate the same exact puppy as your friend’s dog just because they’re the same breed!  They are individuals, not lines of code that can be rewritten to create a carbon copy of an original.

Judging a dog by their breed first, you’re falling into the trap of prejudice.  Judge the dog by who they are.  Let your dog tell you whether or not they like to play fetch. If they are scared of other dogs, or if they actually prefer to be lazy rather than hyper. I’ve come to accept that my training sessions are so much more productive when I’m not battling against preconceived ideas of how a Pug should act, but focusing on Bailey, the individual dog in front of me.

Learn about your dog and you’ll be well on your way to building a healthy partnership with Fido, Fifi, and Peaches.  Communicate and train with the dog you have, not the breed you bought.  Plenty of Labs hate water.  I’ve met some seriously lazy Border Collies.  And most pit bulls are more interested in belly rubs and treats than murdering anyone.

trash panda

Now, as promised, here is the recipe for the best tasting custard frosting you will ever have, courtesy of my grandma.  My mom wrote out a cookbook of family recipes for me when I was 5 years old, starting in 1982, and this was in it.  Thanks, Mom!

image0
1 cup milk
3 heaping Tbsp flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
Whisk together milk & flour in a saucepan over low-medium heat to create custard base. Careful, as it will burn.  Once thickened (almost to the point of runny mashed potatoes), remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Beat together powdered sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add the milk/flour mixture until well incorporated.  Add vanilla.
Skip the cake and eat this shit straight from the bowl while binge watching The Witcher.  Toss a coin. No regrets.


Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Foundations – Learning to Pilot Your Dog

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Edward Hoagland

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs.  There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog.  Dog’s mostly live in the here and now.  They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation.  Dog’s will address a misstep, and then move on.

Some people believe that dogs are mute - they aren’t.  They just happen to communicate in a way we sometimes overlook:  body language.  However, dogs ask questions all the time!  Usually when your dog does something “bad”, it’s because you didn’t answer their question.  ”Can I have that piece of steak on the table?”  ”Is that mailman gonna eat us?” You MUST answer their question.  Now, here’s the easy part:  dogs are binary creatures.  They ask “yes” and “no” questions.  They don’t have another option.  “Fido, wanna go for a walk?”  YesyesyesYES!  “OK Fido, where do you want to go?”  Blank stare.  *crickets chirping*   Fido can’t answer a questions that isn’t yes or no.

fjsa'

Answer their questions before really bad things happen – photo Twigg Studios

Communication is the key.  Reward the behaviors you want with praise, treat or just a gentle pat on the head.  Answer “no” to the unsavory behaviors want using their form of communication: body language.

So let’s put it all together.

There are only 3 things your dog needs: Piloting, Activity and Work. Or, as we like to call it, the PAW method. Notice I did not say, coddling, kissing and affection. To work with your dog’s behavior, give your dog what they need: Piloting, Activity and Work.  After you have given your dog what they need, then you can give them what you want: love, affection, praise,…namely, the good stuff.

Love and affection:  the only reason you should have a dog.  Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.   Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Love and affection: the only reason you should have a dog. Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Piloting

Why do we call it Piloting?  Well, imagine you are on a plane.  It’s just you and the pilot, and all of a sudden the pilot suddenly becomes unconscious and you have to fly the plane.  How do you feel? Terrified? Anxious? Overwhelmed? That’s how your dog feels without a “pilot” of his own. The world is a scary place, and not everything makes sense to them.

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

So, let’s say the pilot wakes up while you’re still trying to fly the plane. What do you do? You’d probably let him fly the plane again right? Same thing with your pup. If you show that you can be Pilot, and that they can trust you, they will gladly hand over the controls and let you take care of them.

Piloting starts with confidence and body language. Make sure you are holding yourself in a tall and confident manner when answering questions for your dog. If you look confident, your dog will believe you are confident.  Women tend to sit and stand in an “S” shape. We tend to cross our arms and legs, which makes us seem less intimidating more nurturing. Men tend to sit and stand in a “T” shape. They take up lots of room and spread out. Make your body more of a “T” shape to help with your confident body language. Think of it as a uniform you are putting on when you need to Pilot your dog.  Make sure to stay calm as well. Adding tension and anger to the situation will not help. If you need to, step away for a few minutes. Then come back when you are calm and ready to interact with your dog.

Confident body language helps answer those questions your dog has been asking you constantly. Your pup is always asking you “yes” and “no” questions. Can I have this treat? Can I sit on the couch? Can I have some of your dinner? And more importantly: Is the person at the door a threat? Is that garbage can a threat? Is that other dog a threat?

The absence of “no” is “yes”. If you’re not answering your dog’s questions, then you are essentially telling them “yes”. (If you’ve ever raised teenagers, you know what I’m talking about.  “You never said I couldn’t!”)

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it yet, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him.  Imagine your dog is a lot taller, and you are trying to push him back from the treat using your stomach.  Remember, you are only answering one question, “Can I have the treat?”.  The body language you are using is telling him “no”.  As soon as he’s no longer engaged with the treat (i.e., staring at it or moving towards it),  remove your strong body language.  Take a step back.  He may ask the same question again immediately:  give him the same answer, (“no”) using your body language again, always removing your body language when he is no longer engaged with the treat, and adding it back when he does become engaged again.  Think of it as a giant game of Hot & Cold.

Now, if you want him to have the treat, just don’t say no. If you decide you want him to have it, you can just remove your body language from the situation.  You are no longer telling him “no”.   Remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”.

This is the same method you would use when answering the door. The question is “Is the person at the door a threat?”  Let your pup know that the answer is “no”, by making sure you are answering the door and not your dog. Pretend the door is the treat you had on the floor previously.  You are answering your dog’s question: “Need help with the door?”.  The answer is “no”.  Simply back them away from the door to give yourself some personal space (hint: you don’t need to back them up across the house, a few feet away from the door should do it!).  Now, nail them to that spot with your finger and your eyeballs (aka, the “Mom Look”), and back towards the door.  If they follow you, simply back them up again.  Wash, rinse, repeat, until you have a calmer situation to answer the door.

Calm can take a few tries.  Don't worry - you'll get there.

Calm can take a few tries. Don’t worry – you’ll get there.

The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

Activity

The second thing that is needed is Activity. Dogs, like wolves, need activity daily. Walking on a daily basis gives them their sense of roaming that they would get if they were in a wolf pack. Each day a wolf pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same instinct. It’s important that they get activity every day, and the amount they often require is a lot more than you think.

Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and it’s a great way to make your dog feel like they have a “job”. Don’t place any more than 3% of their body weight (at max! – start very small) in the pack and make sure it’s something that won’t hurt them.  For example, water bottles tend to slap them in the ribs with every step.  I prefer bags of beans, rice or coffee grounds.

Although you’ll be going the same distance, it will feel a little longer to your pup, which is always a good thing!

Fetch and playtime outside and at a dog park are great additional ways to get in activity. But the walk is so very important because it gives you an opportunity to work on your Piloting and it helps them with their roaming instinct, even if it is just in your neighborhood.

Work

The third part of the PAW Method is Work. Your pup needs mental work daily. Think of it this way, if you drive the same route home every day it becomes monotonous and easy for you. However, if there is a ton of traffic on that same route, you’re a lot more tired when you get home because there was a lot more mental work that went into that drive home. Your pup needs to feel that mentally tired. Otherwise, they’re bored. And boredom leads to finding things to keep them busy. And that leads to your grandmother’s quilt being torn up.

Stress is a good thing.  I want them to have a lot of stress in their life, because when you eliminate that stress, you get confidence.  Think of the confidence boost you get when you complete a project, or finish a crossword.  Benevolent stress = self-confidence.

An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder. Such as a Kong Wobbler or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed. These feeders make your dog think about how to get the food out as opposed to just waiting for you to poor it out of a bag, which is dull, boring and EASY. By making them work for their food, it adds some mental work into their day and doesn’t add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.

Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games. To start, show your dog a treat, then put it down on the other end of the room in plain sight. When you release your dog repeat the phrase “find it” over and over until they get to the treat and then praise like crazy. Then move on to hiding the treat so it’s behind something, repeat “find it” and praise again. Then move on to using one of their favorite toys.  This is a good way to get some more mental work in.

Remember, your dog is family.  Sometimes family really sucks.

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

…but we can’t expect our relationships with our pets to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Sometimes we need to answer questions.  Sometimes it feels like they will never be housebroken (the dog, not the family).  But that’s why we Pilot our dogs.  That’s why we set them up for success with plenty of Activity and Work.  To make those moments less and less frequent.  And no, your dog isn’t perfect (mine sure aren’t), but we work together perfectly, understanding each others’ flaws, and not just loving each other in spite of them, but embracing them as part of who they are.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio