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.

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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

The Worst Four Words and How They’re Impeding You and Your Dog

“The meaning behind the words, the feeling is more significant than the words themselves, so listen.” Anonymous

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I use a lot of strange lingo here in my blog posts.  Words you might not think belong with a dog training site.

Piloting: The act of answering your dog’s questions; guiding their voyage through life.

Rapunzel Syndrome: A dog who hasn’t been acclimated to a set of stimuli; for example,  a puppy mill dog who is finally get out of a cage for the first time, or simply a dog who isn’t walked very much and hardly leaves their own back yard. Overwhelmed, terrified, excited, terrified, excited….

Yo Bitch:  A certain unsavory behavior some dogs give.  Read about it here.

Paris Paw: As in, Paris Hilton’s dog.  The most frightened dog in the world.  Always has his paw up by his chest, denoting his level of terror and uncertainty.  We humans do it when we aren’t sure or aren’t wearing our Piloting uniform.

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There are a few words you will never hear me utter, because they have absolutely no place in dog training.

Dominant/Alpha Male

I see on tv all the time, or hear from people, “You just need to show him who is alpha male of the pack”.  Probably some of the dumbest words I’ve ever heard uttered.

David Mech coined the term over 50 years ago when describing behavior of captive animals. In his book published in 1970,  “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” he describes how fights among the wolves determined who would control the pack, thus making them Alpha Male.

In 1999, Mech published a paper recanting his original term, and describing it as incorrect.  Based upon more evidence, he realized that the proper term should be “breeding pairs”, if anything, and that his original observations were based upon wolves kept in unnatural circumstances.

So the gentleman who coined the phrase no longer uses it, and claims its an obsolete notion; why are you still using it?  There is no concept of “alpha” in your dog.  Same goes for “dominating” a dog so they “know their place”.  Their place is asking questions, of you or of themselves, and you Pilot them by answering their questions.  “Can I bark?” No. “Can we play fetch?” No, not right now.  “May I please have a treat?” Yes you may.  At no point is domination needed.  The more you answer their questions, the more questions you look for them to answer.

Think of it like a contractor.  I recently discovered water dripping from my ceiling in my kitchen (!).  Obviously, I knew I needed to ask someone about that.  So I called the gentleman who had laid the tile on our entire first floor of our house last year. He also did a lot of other work for us through his contracting company.  Could he handle this issue?  I don’t know, but the fact that previously he had answered questions and handled other situations for us made us want to speak with him again regarding this.  And yes, he is able to handle the situation.

So you don’t ever show your dog that you’re alpha/dominant.  You prove to them that you can Pilot them. You have to earn that ability, just like anything else.  Read how here.

Bad Dog

Good grief.  By whom’s standards are you judging your dog?  Because your dog is not bad.  They’re a great dog!  They just reallllllly suck at being human.  See, it’s right there in our tagline, at the top of this page. So rather than trying to train them and declare what behaviors make them “bad dogs”, let’s work on communication.  Helping them live in this alien world we call suburbia.  Pilot, don’t berate.

You’re Doing it Wrong/You’re a Bad Owner

Oh my…didn’t we just address this?  Yes, you agreed that your dog isn’t a bad dog, but rather a mess of a human.  You’ve shown them sooooo much patience for their lack of humanity, and are working towards communication with your dog. 

And then you go and lay an egg like that.

My dear, you aren’t a bad owner.  You aren’t doing it wrong.  You are a perfectly wonderful human….who really sucks at being a dog. You’ve cut your dog some slack for not being human, now how about a little patience for yourself as well.  Your dog has already moved past any faux pas paws you may have made.  Now forget what has been going on in the past; as long as you were acting through love and concern for your pet, I already forgive you for not being a good dog ;).  And get frustrated.  You have my encouragement.  Just do it appropriately.  Read here about How Not To Kill Your Dog Through Frustration, Even Though He Chewed A Hole in your Sofa, a guide to surviving your bad dog.

Punish

Right along with the last two terms I hate, “punish” has no place in working with dogs.  No matter what your dog did, they acted as a dog.  They don’t need punishment; they need answers.

To help understand this, you need to understand that dogs live in the here and now.  (I’m envious, actually).  They have no concept of always, never, nor forever.  It’s literally “yes” and “no”.  Meaning Fido can ask me if he can jump on me.  I give him a negative.  He accepts that negative.  Whose fault was that?  Nobody’s, right?  It’s just a question, and I answered it for him.  What happens if he jumps on me again, though? Then whose fault is it?

Nobody’s. (I set you up for that one.)

It’s a brand new question.  Each and every time.  Remember, dogs don’t understand always, never, forever…they understand “yes” and “no” in response to their questions.  Does that make them stupid?  No, it makes them perfect and guileless.  However, dogs are extremely intelligent (yes, even yours).  And what they do understand (after a bit of repetition) is that the same question will yield the same answer.  So for instance, it took my Sparta about 6 times of answering her question, “Can I hang out in your walk-in closet?” (she’s weird), but now she anticipates that the answer will be “no”, and she rarely, if ever, has asked that question since.  It took only a few times of me answering my Orion’s question, “Can I go on the couch?” before he realized that I’ve been saying “yes” every time, and now doesn’t ask permission anymore. However, when he asks about my bed, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no, so he knows he has to ask every time, and not just jump up there.

So you can teach your dog a rough translation of always, never and sometimes by answering their questions.  Just keep your eye on the ball and answer the important questions.

Learn how to answer their questions while maintaining your sanity here.

That handles all of the words that I abhor.  The ones that should be stricken from the dog-dictionary, if you will.  The way to start communicating and working with your dog is to start by jettisoning those words from your vocabulary.

I’m sorry… I have no idea how that got there!!!!!!!

Movingrightalong…..let’s talk about  an iffy word. A word that I don’t hate, but I don’t love.

Training

This is a weird one, isn’t it?  Wondering if you’ve stumbled on the wrong site?  This is dog training after all, right?

Well….yes and no.  “Training” is a word that is over used. Let’s go over the mantra again, and perhaps you’ll see where the problem is.

“Your dog sucks at being human.  And you aren’t the best dog.”

So what exactly are you “training” your dog to do?  Let me put it this way: do you “train” your kids?

Um, hopefully not.

What do you do with children, though?  You answer their questions. Big, little, easy, difficult… you answer them to the best of your ability.  Just today, these were the questions I answered from my kids:

Mom, can I have a Klondike bar?

Mom, what time is it?

Mom, can I play on my 3DS?

Mom, why did Aunt Donna get cancer?

 

Yes

3:30

No

holyshithowdoIanswerthat?

Just like with kids, you do the best you can.  The more you answer their questions, the more they look to you for answers, and the more they start to trust your answers as solid, even if they don’t like your answers.

So you aren’t really training your dog any more than you are training your kids.  You are helping to Pilot them through life with big, little, and difficult answers.  The difference between kids and dogs, however, is that you will be Piloting your dogs for the rest of their lives.  Children we start to back off the answers as we encourage them to find their own answers so we can finally let them go as fully functioning adults.

And finally, let’s talk about words that I love.

Anything positive.  Seriously.  If you see a behavior your dog is giving, and you like it, give it a positive.  Catch as many as you can, be it through words, affection or an occasional treat.  I want you to be the positive-fairy, spreading positives where ever you go. Spread it like glitter.

There’s a saying about not saying something you will regret, but I think the reverse is true as well.  Make sure you say something you will regret not saying.  Because a day will come, and you won’t realize it, but it will be the last time you will ever tell your dog that you love them.  The last time you scratch them behind the ears.  Or the last time you say, “Good dog!”.  Catch up on the positives, and if you find yourself  crying at the other end of the rainbow bridge, when asked when you last gave your dog a positive, can you honestly say it was today? Or would you have to struggle to remember the last time you let your dog know how good and wonderful they are?  Because he lets you know each and every day. Every minute.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Communicating in Cleveland