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

Leash Walking Without The Drama

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

3

 

When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio