Why Your Dog is an @SSH0LE

Never negotiate with kids. They don’t have life experience, and they don’t have repercussions for bad decisions; they still get fed and housed.  - Gene Simmons

Matheus Bertelli

 

I never thought that I’d be using a Gene Simmons quote in my blogs, but there you go.  Sometimes life takes a funny turn, and his quote was perfect for what I wanted to tackle today:  this image that has been floating around The Internets.

dog uncomfortable

Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t even know where to start with this.  Ready for an unpopular, possibly offensive truth?  Your dog is making people uncomfortable because he is an asshole. 

There.  I said it. I guarantee a lot of other people were thinking it, and just never told you.  And even worse, you’re pretty much victim blaming.  So now that we have opened up that can of worms, let’s get down to business and de-asshole your dog. 

 

What’s making people uncomfortable about your dog?  Let’s break it down:

Fido is in their personal space. 

 

I personally don’t not want to be licked by either of them.  I love dogs.  Like, LOVE, dogs.  I don’t like drool. Or Gene Simmons, but here we are.

Think about it.  How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and was completely in your personal space?  Uncomfortable, right?  Or what if I invited you to my house, let my kids climb all over you and trample you, but stated that if my kids were making you uncomfortable, I can lock you up in another room? (C’mon, they’re only trying to be friendly!)  Yet we accept that behavior from our dogs?  I guarantee that if your Fido tried that behavior with another dog, Fido would get corrected very quickly!  It’s about manners, and dogs have them the same way people do. Learn to expect good manners from your dog.

Fido is guarding. I can’t tell you how many times a client calls me to their house to work with their aggressive dog, and when I arrive and ring their doorbell, they simple let their dog loose on me to snarl, bark, and lunge at me.  Their reasoning?

“We wanted you to see what he does.”

Oh, by all means, let me whip up an anti-aggression incantation.  That will solve the problem!

I freaking know what Fido does…he’s aggressive towards strangers!  You told me on the phone!

I know how to deal with a dog who is snarling at me, or giving me “fuck off” body language.  You stand perfectly still and let the dog thoroughly investigate you.  You do not move.  You do not make eye contact.  Even after decades of doing this, it’s still terrifying every time it happens to me (usually at least once a week).  I have resources, knowledge and experience.  What do your guests have? Fear and anxiety.  And you have a potential lawsuit coming your way when Fido finally snaps.  Just because he’s never bitten anyone before doesn’t mean he never will.  And no, the answer isn’t just to “just let Fido smell you, and then he’ll be fine.”

Your dog is jumping/trampling your guests. And what do you do about it?

“FIDO NO JUMPING! FIDO, NO!!! FIDO STOP OR I’LL SAY STOP AGAIN!!!!”
Yeah, it’s not helping. Fido is still jumping.

I work with quite a few “aggressive” dogs.  Usually at least one per week.  And you should see all the massive bruises and injuries I have…from “friendly” dogs jumping on me.  My legs look like I play professional soccer without shin guards.  I have scratches all over me (yes, even through denim jeans).  All because of Fido who “just wants to make friends”.  Sorry, but consent exists with dogs the same way it exists with humans.  Your dog is hurting me, and it’s not a game, nor is it cute.

As I said, we need to un-asshole your dog.Let’s start with how you are perceiving your dog.  It has to do with your soft bigotry of low expectations. You expect so little from your dogs.  You claim that your dogs are your kids, yet you allow behaviors from your dog that you’d never tolerate from your children (I hope!).  The thing to remember is that it’s not about having perfectly well behaved kids/dogs; it’s about having a game plan for anything that happens.  Can you predict that your preschooler would suddenly start rifling through great aunt Bertha’s purse? No, that was unexpected. But what makes you a good parent is how you deal with the situation, or more importantly, if you deal with the situation.  

I firmly believe in treating everyone appropriately.  Dogs are great dogs…they just suck at being human.  Kids are great kids…they just suck at being adults.  It’s up to you to be the adult human in the situation and to Pilot them through whatever issues or questions they are currently embroiled in. So let’s get started.

It starts with Piloting.  Piloting is answering your dog’s questions, and they have a lot of questions.  “Can I jump on you?”  “Can I eat that chocolate?” Wanna snuggle?”  You answer each question according to how you feel.  My answers would be No, No and Yes respectively.  How do you give a negative?  Using simple body language outlined here.   No prong collar.  No shock collar. No need for a spray bottle full of vinegar(?!)(seriously, I’ve been hearing this a lot…stop it).  It’s a conversation.  Communicate, don’t dominate, subjugate to alleviate…

…sorry, that was a little INXS.

Just remember, it’s a conversation.  Your dog isn’t bad, Fido just has questions.  So answer them!

I’m going to give you a bonus hint:  I don’t ask my kids or my dogs if they want to do something.  I tell them, and then ask for questions.

Example, if I want the dishwasher emptied and re-loaded:

Me: River, would you please empty the dishwasher and then load it?

vs.

Me: River, I want you to please empty the dishwasher and then load the dirty dishes.  Do you have any questions?

Do you see the difference?  If River does indeed have questions, (“Do I have to?”), I’m prepared with my answer.  I do not negotiate.  I will listen to hear reasoning why she shouldn’t have to (and sometimes she’s correct), but I do not make deals with her.  I do not lower my expectations unless new or different information is given.

For example, if River says she doesn’t want to because she wants to play video games, oh well!  I want a pony and I don’t have a pony.  Now get in there and do the dishes.  But if she says she doesn’t want to because she’s trying to (legit) study for her test tomorrow, I may change my mind about her doing dishes, based upon the new information.

How does this apply to your dog?  Suppose I show up to your house and Fido starts to jump on me.  It’s up to you to Pilot your dog, giving them a negative. And they accept your answer, calming down.  Nice job!

But what if later while I”m at your house, you see Fido start to jump on me again?  You start to give him another negative, but then I tell you that I started it because I wanted to wrestle with him.  What do you do?  Let it go?  Give a negative anyway?

The answer is entirely up to you. If you decide you don’t want your dog getting riled, you give me a negative  If you are okay with us wrestling around, then by all means let it go.   You’re the Pilot; you are actively choosing to let a behavior continue, rather than not doing anything about it because you don’t know what to do.  Remember, it’s not about having the dog with the perfect manners all the time. That dog doesn’t exist.  But now you don’t have to tolerate those unsavory behaviors any longer.

So congratulations, we’ve successfully de-assholed your dog!  And let’s face it, he probably wasn’t really an asshole to begin with.  He’s just a dog.  A wonderful, intelligent, perfect dog….who really sucked at being human.

 

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
Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio