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


Simply Put

If simple things amuses simple minds, image how wonderfully simple it could be to be happy.    – Me


I’m having a bad morning.  I’m out of coffee.  My son just informed me that he forgot to do his math homework last night, so I’m sitting here trying to figure out 4th grade math with him.  My daughter is crying because….?

Ugh.  Life sucks.

Orion is following me around like a shadow.  I trip over him.  I dub him with a few new names.  Sparta is hiding out in her room until another dog has the audacity to walk by the front yard.  She’s barking at the window full force.  I give her a negative signal, but she’s not having any of it.  She makes me get up and use my body languageWho invented dogs anyway? 

I’m going through my emails for the morning while trying to figure out Core Curriculum with my son (uh….?).  Someone has sent me a link, and out of character for me, I open it and am suddenly having a good day.  You will, too.

I’ve forgotten one of my basic mantras:  “If simple things amuses simple minds, image how wonderfully simple it could be to be happy.”  I’m focusing on the big things and forgetting the small things, and the small things make up the biggest thing in the world:  life.

So far I’ve had a 4 minor catastrophes this morning: Eric forgetting his math homework (he’s done now).  River is crying (she lost her favorite stuffed animal in her bedsheets – found).  Sparta barked out the window in her defense, the dog was on a retractable and almost to our doorstep). I tripped over Orion (but he forgave me instantly for the names I called him).

My kids are usually wonderfully easy and well behaved.  The same can be said for my dogs.  Everyone is allowed a slip-up, and my gang just had their slip-ups all at once.  Big deal.  As Elsa would say, Let It Go.  So many phone calls I get from my clients start with frantic speech:  “We were doing so well but yesterday Fido slipped up and lunged at another dog again he hasn’t done that in months are we regressing I thought we had this handled but OMG I was so worried he’s back to his old ways isn’t he?!!!!”  I always have them step back and look at what just happened:  Your dog, who couldn’t even see a dog on TV before without going berserk, barked and lunged while on a walk…  At another dog on a retractable coming right up to them.  You Piloted your dog out of the situation, and now the situation is under control.  You did it.  Your self confidence is shaken, that’s all.  You’re looking at the here and now and assuming this is forever (like I did this morning).

The moment has passed.  You’ll get your self confidence back (but fake it until you make it).  Remember, we’re only looking for progress, not perfection.  You’ve helped your dog be who they are supposed to be.  You know how to answer your dog’s questions now.  It’s a forever job, but the questions are no longer asked with such urgency.  You’ve done it, and you’ll continue to do it.  Slip ups are there to remind us how far we’ve come.

Life is good. It’s all about how I choose to look at it.  As the dog in the video figured out, either you can complain about getting wet, or revel while dancing in the rain.

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