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 Accepted Way of Doing Things – Challenging the Norm

Progress, not perfection. – Anon.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

I had a session with the cutest Golden Retriever named Ivy a few weeks ago.  Like most other 10-month old Golden Retrievers, she was a bundle of energy.  I gave her owners some ideas on how to manage all that, uh…let’s call it “enthusiasm for life”, which included Ivy wearing a backpack.  Ivy’s owner loved the idea, and mentioned that she’s seen a dog walking around the neighborhood with a backpack on.  I told her it was probably one of the dogs I’d worked with, since I love dogs wearing backpacks like a Kardashian loves to pimp a scandal.

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She described the dog as a smaller shepherd with a petite woman walking it.  I knew immediately who she was talking about.  I asked my client how they looked while walking. “Amazingly composed”, she said. “They pass by other dogs or people, and the dog is just completely focused on his owner.”

This thrilled me beyond all belief, because after getting a few more details, I became convinced I knew who it was.  A dog named Oscar who I had the pleasure of working with  a few times.  Oscar was adopted as a puppy by the most wonderful, caring owners you can imagine.  He was raised in a loving household, where he was never hit nor yelled at, but was treated with respect.

He unfortunately developed dog reactivity.

There’s that myth circulating that it’s all about “how the dog is raised”.  I have experienced first-hand, puppies who were “raised properly”, who were socialized young, who were given love, affection and respectful boundaries, but still developed food aggression, dog reactivity, separation anxiety…the list goes on.  Yes, it is completely realistic to expect that a dog who was abused might become aggressive.  It’s understandable that a dog who never had boundaries set as a puppy might take to bing food reactive or have resource guarding issues.  But the majority of dogs who develop these scary issues weren’t abused. They weren’t bait dogs.  They are dogs who have their own distinct personalities, and who have determined that their behavior is correct.  And they are right.

Dogs are great at being dogs.  The problem is that they really suck at being human.

So back to Oscar and his owner, Lynn.  Knowing that Lynn had worked so hard with Oscar on his dog-reactivity issues, I was thrilled to hear Ivy’s mom talking about how well he was traveling all around Lakewood with his little backpack on, ignoring other dogs.  I sent Oscar’s mom a message that night, passing along what had been said about her walking skills with Oscar.

“Oh, that wasn’t us”, she replied.  ”We don’t walk him anymore.  His reactivity got too stressful to deal with.”

dean molly who

I was crushed.  Lynn had been doing so well last time I talked with her!  Oscar had a few extra one-on-one sessions to work specifically with his dog-reactivity, and Lynn had absolutely nailed it.  Yes, he required copious amounts of Piloting when passing by another dog, but they were able to do it. Together.  I was devastated to hear that they didn’t do those walks anymore.

But then I had a horseback riding lesson today, and my perspective changed.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I took up riding originally to learn how to learn again, it being a very, very long time since I took up dog training.  I needed to feel how my clients felt, learning a new concept.  For me, horses.  For them, dogs.

During my last lesson, Jessica (my riding instructor) mentioned that my lesson horse, Bounce, was having some difficulty accepting the bit.  Usually, Bounce was so eager to get to riding that she would just crank her neck forward and eagerly snap at the bit.

Recently, though, Bounce had been refusing the bit.  She wouldn’t take it for me at all, and Jessica was having a somewhat of a problem as well.  Finally, Jessica decided to do something different. There’s a “right” way and a “wrong” way to have a horse take a bit.  Usually, you get them into what looks like almost a headlock, with a hand over their ears, and slip the bit right into their mouth.  That’s The Accepted Way Of Doing Things (“AWODT”).

bridle

But Bounce wasn’t accepting it.

Jessica took the bridle.  ”Hang on, let me try something”, she suggested.  Jessica offered the bridle to Bounce in what she referred to as the lazy way.  Bounce immediately Hungry Hippo-ed the bit.  I asked Jessica to take the bridle off and let me try.  Again, Bounce was eager to have the thing on so we could start our lesson.  It wasn’t the AWODT, but apparently the lazy way worked.  Rather than a long, drawn out battle of wills, by simply changing direction, we got to the same place we originally tried to go: the bit was in Bounce’s mouth.

Having AWODT is always a good thing.  Always mounting a horse on the left, always making sure your dog is calm before setting down food, etc., creates a ritual, and helps keep things normalized when sometimes they aren’t.  But horses and dogs aren’t one size fits all, just as humans aren’t.  It’s important to know when to deviate from a set path, even if that path is the AWODT.

Jessica realized that with Bounce.  Lynn realized that with Oscar.

Lynn wasn’t saying she gave up on Oscar.  She decided that the “We’re going to have fun whether we like it or not” walks just weren’t working.  Yes, she was able to Pilot Oscar past other dogs.  Yes, Oscar trusted her to do it, but each and every dog was considered such a threat to Oscar that the amount of Piloting necessary was a tremendous stress to Lynn. In other words, she did it, and then knew when to stop.

Oscar is still getting plenty of exercise (with an older canine sister and a dog “cousin”, if you will).  Oscar isn’t a youngster anymore himself, and is well into middle-aged for a dog, so he doesn’t require a huge amount of activity anymore.  He was never going to be that dog who relished walking through a crowd on the busy streets of Lakewood.  Yes, he could do it, but why?  Fundamentalists will be extremely up-in-arms over a dog who isn’t walked regularly, just as I was initially.  How dare she stop walking her dog!  But no living being should be boxed into doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done.  Oscar is still getting the Piloting, Activity and Work that he needs.  He’s getting the love and affection he wants.  So where was my problem?

In the future, I will always bridle a horse in the correct way: pseudo headlock style.  But if for some reason, the horse won’t accept the bit, I will think of Bounce and remember that the Accepted Way Of Doing Things isn’t about a regimen of uniformity and correctness.  It’s about looking out for an animal’s best interest and making them feel safe, secure and Piloted, which usually looks the same way each time.  But sometimes it just looks a little different than the AWODT.

Thank you, Bounce and Oscar, for teaching me that lesson.

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio