Two Steps to Working with your Dog, or Why You Need More RuPaul

“The ego urges you to accomplish, while the soul merely asks you to enjoy the process.”

— Doreen Virtue
Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham
Photography – By Brittany Graham

I got pulled over by the police yesterday.  I was going X amount of mph in a x mph zone.  I never speed, either!  First time in 20 years (maybe more) that I’ve gotten a ticket. So what happened?

I didn’t follow my mandatory three steps for everything in the whole wide world.

 No, that wasn’t me; not my style.  However, I did ask the officer if I got bonus points for not ugly crying.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

I had a lot to do yesterday before my evening training session.  And to be honest, business has been booming.  It’s been difficult to keep up with everything sometimes.  I tried to squeeze in working on a blog post, straightening up my office, walking my dogs and returning phone calls all within the 2 hours between sessions.

I was like a cyclone of energy.  Meaning I was pretty keyed up by the time I had to leave.  I also meant that I didn’t keep track of time very well.

Now, if you know me, I’m am punctual.  To a fault. Typically I arrive 10 minutes early to each session (to everything, really), and kill time on a side street until it’s actually your appointment time.  So running late is not something that is normal for me.  But I hadn’t controlled myself, and had whipped myself up into a frenzy. So from the beginning, I was destined to fail.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Every now and then I fall apart.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

I never add energy or stimuli to a situation until I have control of the current situation.  So what happened?  When I suddenly realized that I was going to be 10 minutes late, rather than controlling the situation by calling my client and letter her know, I was going to make up the time.  Problem was, she was pretty far, actually outside my normal travel area.  So there we go; doomed to fail.  Which I did.

 

How does this apply to your dog?  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  Your dog does something you don’t like, say…barking, jumping, dragging you on a leash, etc.  For this instance, we’ll say the doorbell just rang.  That’s your dog’s cue.

Step 1 – Control Yourself

Fido goes nuts!  Barking, howling, jumping at the door.  It’s time for action.  But before you do anything, as yourself: are you angry?  Frantic? Yelling?  Then it’s not going to work.   Take a deep breath, organize yourself, and make sure you’ve got it together.  Remember, you can handle this.  Keep calm, and pull yourself together.

Don’t forget to watch your body language, too!  Put on your Piloting uniform.  Stand up as straight as you can.  I always tell my clients, pretend you rubbed Viagra all over your body.

Stand tall. Hand either beside you or behind your back.  Don’t feel the need to get down to your dog’s level; aim your belly button either at them or directly over them. I call this stance your Piloting  uniform. It’s the uniform you wear whenever you’re about to answer your dog’s questions, such as, “Can I bark at the door?” or “Can I jump all over our guest?”.  And do you know who wears this uniform best?

Drag queens.  Yes, you read that right.

Perfect body language, as usual, from RuPaul.  She  looks confident.  In control of herself.  She doesn’t look aggressive, but she looks as if she could handle just about any opposition without breaking a sweat. Is that what she (or any drag queen) looks like all the time?  Not necessarily, but it’s part of the job, so they put on their uniform. Their armor.  And they wear it proudly.

Step 2 – Control the Situation

Okay, you’ve released your inner drag queen.  You have your armor on, or your Piloting uniform, as I like to call it.  Now it’s time to control the situation.  Your dog is most likely misbehaving at the door already.  That’s fine.  You’re about to control that by claiming the door.  Simply walk up to the door, get between your dog and the door (stomach facing your dog still, RuPaul style) and back him off the door.  Pretend you’re a snowplow and gently, but firmly, use your legs to plow him back from the door like snow.

Now you’ve got a few feet to operate.  As soon as Fido is backed off the door, I want you to start backing up towards the door while pointing at him like your finger is a squirt gun and you’re going to shoot him between the eyes.  Nail him to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you move towards the door.

If he starts to move towards you, simply start over.  Snow plow him back, and then RuPaul him by pointing at him and nailing him to his spot with your finger and eyeballs.  Each time you are doing this, you are giving him a negative.  His question is, “Do you need help at the door?”.  This is how you give a dog a negative.  It may take a few times, but as you do it, you’re getting more and more money from his Piloting Piggy Bank into yours, and whoever has the most money wins.  Only once you have enough money in your Piloting Piggy Bank will you be able to s-l-o-w-l-y open the door (keeping your back to your door and your front towards your dog as much as possible).

Continue to control the situation.  If you lose control (your dog comes running up again), simply stop and reboot.  Close the door again even if you need to.  Your guest would rather wait outside a few more moments rather than be mauled and jumped on when they come in.

Once you let your guest in, you’re going to make a sandwich.  Your dog is bread, you’re guest is bread, and you’re the cheese.  Bread doesn’t touch bread.  You will be the cheese between them, answering your dog’s questions about your guest, even as they come through your house and sit down. Continue answering your dog’s questions using the same body language.

Congratulations, you’ve just answered your door without all the drama.  And the best part is, each time it gets easier and easier!

RuPaul would be proud.

Remember, these two steps are integral for any time you are Piloting your dog.  Dogs don’t require training in these circumstances, they require answers.  Think of dog training as tricks. Or something one dog wouldn’t teach another to do.  We train dogs to sit (teaching them English), to come on command (English again).  We may train them to go outside to go to the bathroom, or even to walk on a leash.  Those are commands we give them.  Piloting is when you are answering a dog’s questions: Can I jump on you?  Can I steal food from the counter?  Can I bark?

Usually I’m very good at Piloting myself, but like every other human, I’m not perfect.  Sometimes I flub things.  Hence my ticket.  But here’s the interesting thing:  I know that speeding is not acceptable.  However, I hadn’t controlled myself nor the situation. In other words, I didn’t Pilot myself.  A cop actually had to do that.  Piloting is simply giving negatives and positives.  My question was, “Can I speed?”.  It was preempted by my lack of controlling myself and the situation.  Cops answer: no.

Funny thing is, after the ticket, I actually felt better.  Rebooted, if you will.  While I was waiting for my ticket, I texted my client and informed her of the delay.  She was very understanding. I was only 15 minutes late. Not the end of the world, but now I was rebooted.  Calmer, even. I realized that I was going about everything wrong.  My unwillingness to control myself and my situation had cost me both time and money.  That’s a negative.

So I took a deep breath, pulled away with a fresh ticket in my hand, and calmly drove to my next session, singing along with Robert Plant and enjoying the ride rather than focusing on the destination.  Once arriving, I rebooted again, taking a deep breath, focusing on how lucky I am to have such a wonderful career that I work with dogs all day!  And then proceeded to have a wonderful session with amazing people and three incredible dogs.

Thank you RuPaul.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack & Special Guest: RuPaul
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Superstitious: Debunking Training Myths

When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way – Stevie Wonder

Darwin Dogs Alumni Duchess!

Darwin Dogs Alumni Duchess!

Phone calls with new clients can sometimes be a little challenging. A lot of times, they’ve already tried to fix whatever behavior problems they’re having themselves.  And they use Google as their main tool.  Now I’m as big a fan as the next person of Google and solving my own problems, but as a lot of my clients are quick to point out, everything one dog trainer states contradicts another dog trainer.

I personally try to think of it more as parenting rather than training.  You aren’t here to “train” your dog so much as to answer their questions and guide them onto the right path of behavior.  Once they are there, it’s pretty easy to keep them there with lots of positives, and the occasional gentle negation of unwanted behaviors.

But sometimes I hear some really off-the-wall ideas.  Downright fallacies not based on science, but rather based on…superstition..  Thoughts and ideas that crumple once faced with logic.  “Flat Earth” level nonsense.

 

So here we go.  The top 4 “facts” I hear about dogs and behavior.

1)  Don’t wrestle with your dog; it teaches them they can win.

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

This is my Sparta.  She’s a 120lb Rottie/Shep mix that I rescued over 10 years ago. When we wrestle together there is no doubt in our minds who will win.  She will.  Every.  Single. Time.  When we wrestle, she Nerfs it for me, and we both know it.  Wrestling with your dog is like 50 Shades of Gray: Safe words are a must.  You stop as soon as the first person says the word. That way there are no misunderstandings.  Good, safe fun for everyone.

But not playing because Sparta knows she can win?  That’s a power trip.  That’s like me never playing Super Smash Bros. with my 11yr old daughter because she might win. River/Bip kicks my ass all the time.  Except this one time.

MommaGeddon still knows how to throw down on Smash, though!

MommaGeddon still can do a throwdown on Smash!

So go ahead and wrestle with your dog. Just make sure that everyone is respecting when it’s time to stop, and when things have escalated too far.  If your dog hasn’t learned impulse control yet, or doesn’t stop when you call it quits, that’s a Piloting issue.  Get it sorted out first, and then enjoy your own little WWF.

2) Puppies only need 5 minutes of exercise a day per month of age.

puppy exercise

WTF is this?  Good luck with your Boxer who is only getting a 25 minute walk every day.

First, let’s start with the fact that at six months, little Fido is no longer a puppy; they are a viable young adult, (roughly) akin to about a 15 year old human. At 15, a 25 minute hike was a warm-up for me.  Secondly, is there a one-size-fits-all amount of exercise that a human needs?  Dogs are so much more varied in size and athletic ability than humans, you can’t really make such a generalized statement about their exercise needs.  Rather than relying on various memes posted, learn to read your dog’s own specific needs.  Is Fido climbing the walls? Maybe time for some activity (learn how to exercise your dog beyond the walk here).  Is Bella suddenly stopping and dropping on the walk? It could be that she’s overstimulated, especially if she’s still rambunctious in the house.  Again, that would be a Piloting issue that needs to be resolved.  But if Bella is calm on a walk, or seems to be able to calm herself down in the house, then you are probably giving her enough activity.

Final thought on activity for dogs.  More frequent and less duration is key with younger dogs.  Break it up into smaller “meals” of activity rather than just one big lump of a five-mile run.  Learn to read when your dog is “hungry” for activity rather than what some random meme tells you.

3) Don’t play rope toy/tug with your dog. It teaches them to be aggressive.

 

Newsflash: your dog is a predator. They were born aggressive. And guess what?  It’s okay.  Rope toy looks awful sometimes when your dog is really into it, but the Fifty Shades of Gray analogy still works:  as long as you’re both still having fun, it’s all cool. When you say “stop”, the game should be able to end.  If Fido is still going, it’s indicative of a Piloting problem, not an aggression problem.

Also, everything a dog does is geared towards being a more effective hunter, and working with the pack to effect a kill.  Paying rope/tug is just practicing how to hunt an animal together.

In the end, you do you on this one.  If you like practicing how to kill innocent rope toys with your dog, have at.  If not, there are plenty of other ways to bond with your dog.  But honestly, it’s the only upper body workout I ever get, so Sparta and I will still continue to play tug.  And she will still Nerf it for me so I can sometimes win, too. #GoodDog.

4) You shouldn’t let your dog on your bed/couch/chairs.

Client:  Is it okay if I sleep with my dog?
Me: I don’t care who you sleep with; that’s none of my business.

Don’t fall for anyone else’s rules.  Rules are stupid, and nobody pays attention to them anyway.  Just like Monopoly…I guarantee you aren’t playing by the rules ;)

 

Rules are different than when you give a dog a negative.

1) When you don’t like their current behavior; and

2) When they’re “Yo, Bitch-ing” you.  Learn what the “Yo, Bitch” is here.

That’s it.  If you don’t care about their behavior, and it isn’t a “Yo, Bitch”, it’s okay.  If you’re fine with the behavior, so am I.

 

There are a lot more fallacies and bits of misinformation out there, but these are the biggest bits of lunacy I hear on a regular basis.  And as Stevie says:

Keep me in a daydream, keep me goin’ strong
You don’t wanna save me, sad is my song 

I’m inclined to agree:  Superstition ain’t the way

What kinds of silly nonsense have you heard about dog training?

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio