The Complete, Unabridged Set of Dog Rules

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Questions like these from my clients make me crazy.  No, not because they are asking me questions, but because somehow they got it in their head that there are hard and fast rules to “dogging”.  They get a dog, and the first thing they want to know is what the rules are.  All. The. Rules.

winterBecause obviously, if something isn’t complicated and supremely structured, it doesn’t work.  The more rules, the better you’re doing, right?  After all, t’s been working for the DMV.

We must be cautious.

We must be cautious.

So obviously, rules suck.  Unless you’re a dog owner, and then you want the rules.  All the rules.  Well, you want ‘em?  You got ‘em.

Before I tell you the rules, let’s review the steps to working with a dog, in any capacity.  Whether stopping the barking, teaching them to sit, or maybe something a little more intricate.

Everything starts with these steps:

1) Control Yourself. 

Controlling yourself means you are calm (even if only on the outside).  You are using confident body language (stand up straight!).  You are not yelling, or even talking.  In other words, you are NOT Corky Romano.

Don’t be a Corky.

2) Control the Situation.

Meaning if you can’t stuff 10 pounds of dirt in a 5 pound bag, why are you trying to stuff 15?  Stop, take a look at the current situation.  For example, if someone is at the door, but your dog is there barking, jumping, and, well, being Corky Romano, do you have control of the situation?  No!  Then don’t add any stimulation (such as opening the door) until you have control. Answer your dog’s question about the door, and then move forward when you have control. Reboot if necessary.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Okay, now that you know the playing field (controlling yourself and controlling the situation), now for the rules.

I use a mix of negative and positive.  The same way you do throughout your life.  I asked my husband it was raining outside  He said “no”.  That’s a negative  My daughter asked if she could go to a friends house. I said “yes”.  That’s a positive.  Think of it as a game of “hot or cold”. We call this Piloting your dog.

Rules of When to Use Negatives

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Yes, seriously…it’s that easy.  Ask yourself if you like the behavior your dog is giving (barking, jumping, or just laying against the fridge that you are trying to open), and if you don’t like it, give them a negative.  Remember your dog isn’t bad.  Dogs are incapable of being bad.  They are perfect… for a dog.  They just happen to suck at being human.

And guess what?  You probably don’t make a very good dog.

So let’s jettison the whole “Good/Bad” thing…and the gun.  You’re answering questions for your dog, not deciding if the questions make your dog “good” or “bad”.

2) When your dog is “yo-bitching” you.  Now there’s an interesting term:  ”yo-bitching“.  What does that mean?  It’s when a dog slaps you with their paw.  Or jumps on you.  Or pushes you out of the way.  It’s the human equivalent of saying, “Yo, Bitch, gimme a cookie.” Or “Yo, Bitch, that’s my chair”.  Vulgar?  Absolutely.  Acceptable?  Never.  You wouldn’t accept a human addressing you like that, so don’t accept that from a dog.  Dog’s are perfectly capable of using polite, “May-I-Please” body language.  Start to demand and expect it at all times.

On to the positives!

1) The come command/recall.  Positive, people.  Give your dog a good reason to come when you call.

2) When you are asking your dog to be human.  Think about what one dog will tell another dog.  Things like, “Go away”, or “Let’s play” or even “That’s mine”.  But dogs don’t teach each other English (“Sit”, for example). They don’t housebreak each other.  So if one dog can’t teach it to another dog, and you’re asking your dog to be a little bit human, you must use positives.

3) Calm.  This is the most important, most overlook opportunity for positives.  I want calm to be a like a lottery ticket:  You have to play to win (you’re probably not going to win), but unless you have a ticket, you definitely aren’t going to win.  That ticket is calm.  The more your dog has the “calm ticket” the more likely he is to win.  So if he’s calm, give him a gentle positive.  Anything from chilling out on the floor, to trying his best to be calm at the vet.  Reward the effort.  Progress, not perfection.

So there you have it.  That’s all the rules.  When to give positive and when to give negative.  Everything you ever needed to know about how to work with your dog.

But I didn’t address your questions from earlier?

“Is it okay that my dog is on the couch?”

“Can we play tug with a rope toy? Or is that wrong?”

“We’re using puppy pads.  Is that bad?”

Yes, I did!  About the couch, think about the negatives.  Do you like what your dog is doing on the couch?  No?  Then give him a negative.  Don’t care that he’s on the couch?  Well, then, neither do I, as long as he isn’t “yo bitching” you.

Playing tug with a rope toy?  Cool!  I love a good, rough game of tug.  My husband doesn’t.  I encourage it.  My husband negates it.  Remember, ask yourself if you like the behavior, and if the answer is “yes”, go for it.  If the answer is “no”, then negate it.  Just make sure that you have your limits adhered to.  My Sparta is allowed to really go at it with me when we wrestle…until she isn’t  When I feel things have escalated too much, I simply give her a negative, and she stops.

Puppy pads?  If it works for you, it works for me.

In short, nobody should be telling you how to enjoy your dog.  My dogs are allowed to beg from the table, as I frequently give them a small amount of table scraps.  But once I’m done with them, they are given a negative, and they know to stop begging and stay away from me while I eat.

My dogs, like yours, are only here for my enjoyment.  They make life easier, and so much sunnier!  Don’t let a book full of rules tell you how you should be enjoying their company.  Make sure you are indeed enjoying your dog, and not merely tolerating their behavior.  If you don’t like their behavior (say, getting up on the couch), it’s up to you to answer your dog’s question (“Can I sleep up here?”), and set your own rules of how to enjoy your dog.  The rules will differ from house to house, but the enjoyment will be constant.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to snuggle in bed with my dogs while I share my snack of cheese and crackers with them. I’m tired from all that rope-tug I played with Sparta.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Problem with Pitties

It matters not what one is born, but what they grow to be.
- Albus Dumbledore

3-13-14(1)I recently wrote a post on why I love (accurate) breed profiling.  I briefly mentioned pitties (A.K.A., pit bulls), but didn’t really go into depth about them as a specific “breed” of dog. Right now pit bulls are a polarizing breed.  Lovers or fighters?  Vicious or victims?

As I’ve previously written, I’m all for accurate breed descriptions, or profiling. Name things accurately. Describe things correctly. As Dumbledore pointed out to Harry Potter, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”  Sage words.

Polarizing things, such as pitties, puts them in angel or devil categories, each side slinging skewed statistics and unrealistic qualities, towards the other:

  • Their jaws lock on their victims/There’s no such thing as an aggressive pittie
  • The pit bull terrier is the breed of choice for criminals./Pit bulls are the best family dogs.
  • Pit bulls will readily fight other dogs/Pit bulls are the most social dogs out there

Who’s right?  The problem lies within the fact that we only have two choices within to categorize pits: angel or devil.

In 1820, Sir Walter Scott wrote his famous Ivanhoe, a medieval romance set in 12th century England.  One of Ivanhoe’s characters that doesn’t get a lot of credit is Isaac of York, a Jew.  In 12th century England, where the story is set, Jews were basically a pariah. Hated and maligned, and apparently quite capable of witchcraft against Gentiles, according to the ludicrous thinking of the period.  They had mostly, if not always, been portrayed in western fiction as evil, base and cowardly.  After a bit of time, a small, select group of people began to loathe the treatment of Jews in literature, and portrayed them to be enlightened people, who were innocent beyond reproach (even Rebecca in Ivanhoe was treated as a pinnacle of beauty and innocence).  Obviously neither description of Jews was accurate – any large group of people cannot possibly be all good or bad.

Then comes Isaac.  Sir Walter Scott did something amazing when he created the character of Isaac:  he allowed Isaac to be base and elevated. Kind and cruel.  Able to be callous one moment, and show extreme tenderness the next.  In other words, Scott made him real.  To my recollection, this was the first time in history that Western culture had portrayed someone Jewish as, well, neither angel nor devil.  He was merely human. He was just like other humans.  And we judge humans on a case-by-case basis, not by gender, by ethnicity, or by…well, anything other than who the individual is.

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Consider Isaac when debates about pit bulls come up.  The best thing we can do for pitties as a “breed” is to allow them to land somewhere between angel and devil, just like any other breed of dog living being.  Pitties are not perfect. Please don’t put that label, so full of pressure, on them.   Pitties are dogs, no more, no less.  Just like every other dog, they have their quirks, and they have their amazing redeeming qualities.  Most importantly, they are individuals, not to be defined as a one-size-fits-all breed standard.

I am admittedly a pittie fan.  Being a trainer, I am familiar with these dogs. I’d say roughly 60% of my clients own pitties/pittie mixes, however, I have never been bit by one. They can be very timid sometimes, and occasionally very submissive, but stand-offish is not a word for them.  Sometimes shy, sometimes boisterous. Love playing with toys.  Always a riot, though.  Typically, they’re the type of dog who’d apologize for apologizing too much.

I’ve worked with a few clients who had dog-reactive pit bulls, but then again, I’ve had 4 pugs in the last week who were dog reactive.   Pitties are not suitable for every situation, but then, no dog is. But I’d confidently say they’re appropriate for most situations. I will not lie and say they are without fault; believe me, they can have faults, just like every other dog.  But they have heart. They have loyalty.  They seem to be willing to try to do what ever you want them to do. They are a dog. I personally do not own one because, unfortunately, that would be illegal in my home city of Lakewood.  But hopefully I will be able to in the near future.  I’ve kinda developed a crush on pitties, you see.

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This is why Darwin Dogs is so vocal about ending breed specific legislation (“BSL” or “Breed Bans”), and are aggressively pursuing an end to them..  As our mission statement proclaims, we are dedicated to peacefully and logically examining the necessity of Breed Specific Legislation in various cities, starting with our hometown of Lakewood, Ohio.

So instead of serving the Kool-aid of “Perfect Pitties” or the poison contained in the BSL’s, it’s time to give the victims of the BSL laws what they deserve: the opportunity to be looked upon with all their glorious faults and beauty.  In other words, just a regular dog. Perfectly imperfect.

Please help us in our fight against stereotypes, such as BSL.  For more information about how you can help, please check out All Breeds Lakewood, which is comprised of a handful of Lakewood citizens who have banded together to end breed discrimination and promote dog safety in our city.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio