Faulty Logic – Who’s Really At Fault for your Dog’s Behavior

Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.

Douglas Coupland

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Today I had a conversation with my friend Anne (not her real name), who was having some problems housebreaking her dogs.  I spoke with her for several minutes on the phone.  While I was sitting on my couch with a nice, hot cup of coffee, helping her identify the housebreaking issue, Orion jumped up on the couch, jumped over me, and knocked my arm holding the cup of coffee , spilling it all over my couch.  I pose  question: whose fault was that, mine or Orion’s?

The answer:  Neither and both.

Let me explain.  There is one mantra I’d like you to chant over and over again.  Something that will help you get through moments like the one I had today.  Moments when your dog chews up your favorite shoes, or leaves a puddle on the floor.  This is important enough to tattoo somewhere (inconspicuously, of course).  Something that explains why you’re having problems with your dog,and what your reaction should be:

My dog is a wonderful dog, who is learning to be human. I am a wonderful human, who is learning what it is to be a dog. 

Ink it

Ink it

It’s a learning curve for both of you!  Cut yourself some slack.  Cut your dog some slack, and understand that you are working on a bond that transcends species!  How many of us can say they have the perfect friendship/relationship/marriage that doesn’t have its ups and downs?  Not me.  And that’s a relationship that’s at least with someone who speaks the same language as you!  That’s why I’m completely, 100% against blame of any kind.  Wait a minute:  let me get Captain Jack to explain.  Everything sounds better coming out of Johnny Depp’s mouth, right?

But you HAVE heard of him?

But you HAVE heard of him?

Look at it like this…what are your goals for your dog?  To be good?  But a good what?  Your dog can only be the best dog he can be.  You can only be the best human you can be.  Leave room for lots of error.

There’s an old saying about how to housebreak a puppy.  Basically:

“A rolled up newspaper can be an effective training tool if used properly immediately after a housebreaking accident or if your dog chews something. Take the rolled up newspaper and hit yourself over the head while chanting the phrase “I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog.”

hate that mentality.  Blame.  It’s like ketchup to a kid. It goes with everything.  

"Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!"

“Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!”

That’s not to say there isn’t a problem.  But let’s start out in the right frame of mind now, and starting off training by blaming anyone isn’t the way to go.   Here are some simple ways to appropriately deal with a situation that you’ve deemed negative (remember, “negative” doesn’t mean “bad”, merely that you don’t want that behavior again).  Let’s focus on the two problems that occurred today, Annie’s housebreaking problem and Orion’s incident, which we’ll dub Coffeegate:

Be rational.  Orion didn’t wake up this morning and decide to leave a huge coffee stain in the middle of my couch.  Dogs don’t premeditate anything.  The universe isn’t conspiring against me, and my life doesn’t suck.  I have a coffee stain on my couch.  End of story.  Your dog doesn’t hate you when he pees on the rug, nor is he getting back at you.  You aren’t the world’s worst dog owner and your dog isn’t stupid.  You’re trying (as a human) to understand why your dog is acting, well, like a dog!  Understanding the logic of another human is difficult, let alone another species.

Determine if there is indeed a problem.  Orion is allowed on the couch.  I’m allowed to have coffee.  Perfect storm of clumsy dog vs. clumsy owner?  Possibly.  Odds of the same situation happening again?  Minimal.  But that’s not always the case.  Housebreaking issues?  Yeah, you know that’s gonna happen again.

"Deja-Poo", when you feel like you'e pooped here before

“Deja-Poo”, when you feel like you’e pooped here before.    Britany Graham Photography

Have a plan.  My plan for the couch?  I flipped over the cushion.  My plan for if the perfect storm aka “Cofffeegate” starts up again?  The PAW Method.  Answering’s Orion’s questions about whether or not he can jump up on the couch when I have coffee (hint: read this article to see how).  Annie’s housebreaking issues are going to take a bit more effort, but here’s the Darwin Dogs’ method on dealing with housebreaking issues.

Move on.  Yes, come on. You can do it.  Don’t cultivate anger.  As Mark Twain said:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Now think about all the times your dog has been angry at you. Or blamed you for something.  Sparta, Orion and I had a pretty terrible day last week.  Within the first 2 hours of waking up I accidentally kicked Sparta in the face while going up the stairs, and then punched Orion in the throat when I reached for my phone.  Do you know how each dog reacted? Without blame.  I felt terrible. That’s because I’m stuck being a human.  My dogs?  They got over it instantly.  How lucky are they who have no word for “blame” or “guilt”.  As Hoagland stated so succinctly:

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.

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


The First Day – How to Handle Your New Dog’s First Day Home

Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.

 - Sarah Ban Breathnach

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve done your research and done a good job of it.  I’ve made an educated decision about which dog you’d like to adopt, and there he sits in the backseat of your car, on your way home.  You’ve got the the dog food, the vet appointment is set up, and perhaps you’ve even made an appointment with a dog trainer to get off on the right paw foot.

So now what do you do?

Here’s a step by step on how to acclimate your dog to their new home. It’s all about stages and not overwhelming a dog at any point.

1) On the way home, in the car, give your new family member plenty of time to sniff you. Give him a positive (a tiny reward or at least some praise and petting) every time.  What you are doing is linking your smell to a positive.  You’re a good thing.  That will translate later when he’s in a house that smells like, well, you.

Scent is a very important thing for humans.  We bond through scent.  We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed.  We hug for the same reason – sharing scent.  How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls asleep?  They smell mom and feel soothed.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack.  Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells.  You are the dog’s new pack.  Familiarize him with the scent as much as you can.  Providing a lot of positive combined with your scent makes it a very comforting thing for new pooch needs.

2) Take your dog immediately into a quite, secluded area of the house.  If you’ve set a crate up for them, put them in the crate and just quietly hang out by them for a while, again, equating your scent with the safety of the crate.  The crate isn’t a bad thing, it’s their “bedroom”.  A place that is safe and entirely theirs.  Allow them to become familiar with it immediately.

3) Give frequent potty breaks.  A lot of shelters will say that a dog is housebroken because the dog never messed in their cage.  While they aren’t lying, the dog may not be housebroken.  A lot of dogs will not eliminate in their cage or crate.  Start off on the right foot immediately by following the basic rules for housebreaking, outlined here.

Don’t get upset if your dog marks in the house.  This can be quite normal for the first day.  A lot of dogs will do it once or twice, and then never do it again.  They are merely adding their own scent to the house, often as a way to self soothe.

4) Put yourself in the Pilot position.  I say over and over again that Piloting is a huge piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins the position.  Start adding money to your bank immediately, before your dog has any chance to add money to their bank.  Don’t allow them to jump on you.  Don’t allow them to demand your attention (a dog version of “may I please be pet” should always be expected).   Start answering their questions now.  They’re going to want to know the rules of the house, so be kind enough to give them the answers.  Some answers are “yes” and some are “no”.  Read here to find out how to give it to them.

5) Take them for a (calm) walk.  No, not in the Metroparks, or downtown.  Try your backyard.  Somewhere that still sorta smells like pack, but will still require a leash (yes, even if your yard is fenced in).  You are adding even more money to your Piloting piggy bank.  If you need some help with leash walking, read this series on how to do it without drama.  Remember to praise and reward for any potty activity that takes place outside.

6) Put your dog on a leash and walk them around your house, allowing them to sniff and smell.  They are familiarizing themselves with the area, and it feels safer to explore if their Pilot/New Best Friend is doing it with them.  Remember, though, a lot of dogs have never been acclimated to living in a house.  Some may not know the rules.  They’re dogs not humans, so be prepared for some crazy behavior, such as jumping on tables or counters to investigate, etc. You have them on a leash so you can easily answer their question, which is, “Is this acceptable?”  Um….no, Fido.  Not in the slightest.

Do not allow your dog full run of the house immediately.  Start with small areas, and has your trust in them grows, go ahead and add areas of freedom for them.  Baby gates are integral for this.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

7) Bedtime.  Ah…this can be the hard part.  You’ve set yourself up as Pilot, your dog is (mostly) acclimated to the house.  But now comes the scary part…being alone all night.  If you want your dog to sleep in bed with you, go for it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  However, if the dog is to sleep elsewhere, you have to help them prep for this.  The worst thing you can do is try to pop the pup in the cage for the night without any prep work.

You are going to do a crash course in separation anxiety.  The first time he’s alone in his crate shouldn’t be for 8 hours while you’re (trying) to sleep.  Put him in the crate for five minutes, leave the room, come back and let him out.  Now try for 15 minutes.  You are creating normalcy out of being alone in the crate. Pop him in and out of the crate all day, focusing on longer and longer periods of time.   Think of it as dress rehearsal for the big show.  Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when it’s bed time.  For a more detailed description on separation anxiety, read this article.

Wash, rinse repeat.  Some dogs take 5 minutes to feel comfortable in new home.  Other take a little longer.  Take your time.  Don’t rush them.  They’re worth the wait.


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

Brittany Graham Photography