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

 

Rescue – Not Just for the Dogs

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus

boy

Before you get any further, realize that this is going to be a polarizing article.  I’m not here to make friends, I’m not here to write about the “feels good” topics of puppies nor stories of bonding with your dog.  Today I write for a completely different reason, and I truly hope you understand why.

There are an (estimated) 7.6 million cats and dogs who are homeless (approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats.).  Nowhere to go, and since nobody wants them, they end up in shelters.  Of that 7.6 million, 2.7 million of these animals are killed, simply because they are the criminals whose only crime was having no place to go.  Most are harmless.  Some are innocent puppies and kittens.  All are scared.  None deserve death for the crimes perpetrated against them by some humans: not providing for them, not caring for them, and abandoning them.  They literally have nowhere else to go.

We’ve heard of their plight, and have offered assistance to them; not just domestically, but abroad.  Russia, South Korea, among so many others.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

It doesn’t matter where the dog is from; all we see is an animal in need, and animal struggling to survive.  An innocent who needs our help.  I love how passionate animal rescuers are about this.  We go the extra mile (or thousand) to bring these animals to sanctuary here in the USA.  We make generous donations to fund these rescue missions.  We make room in our already-crowded shelters for them.  Somehow we make it work. Dog is dog is a dog is a dog, as Gertrude Stein might have written.  It doesn’t matter where that dog is from; it matters that it’s a living being in danger and in need.  We open our already full hearts and let them in.

Which is why I’m so confused.

In his very first month as POTUS, Donald Trump issued an executive order which, as the New York Times worded it,

 ”…indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.”

 

You may be Republican or Democratic.  You may be neither, preferring another party altogether.  What you cannot be is untouched by the repercussions that this will have.  Homelessness isn’t something that is country specific.  It’s not something that only applies to pets.  It’s a human issue, too.  And it ends just as tragically for humans as it does for companion animals.

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy's family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives. DHA/AP

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy’s family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives.
DHA/AP

Are you shocked? Are you angry?  Are you upset that I’d post such a picture?

Good.

Because those of us who are active in rescue need to be active in all forms of rescue.  If we can’t be pro-active, we need at least not hinder those who are seeking asylum.  Because innocent victims of war, famine and poverty can be human, too.  And because if the thought of dogs suffering in China makes you more upset than the thought of a child huddled in a bombed-out town, I seriously question whether you are human yourself.

The argument that some immigrants and refugees may be dangerous is also moot.  I’ve rescued many, many dogs. And guess what?  Some of them were dangerous.  But not a lot. Not even a fraction.  I was more than willing to risk the (very) few dangerous ones to save so many other lives.  And yes, there was always the risk of getting  bit, but it was worth it.  More than anything I’ve ever done.

So by now I’m sure I’ve lost a few of you.  Maybe a lot of you.  But this isn’t a political post.  It’s a humanitarian post.  We are all connected, regardless of where we came from.  So many times on the Darwin Dogs’ Facebook page I’ve asked my followers what is your favorite breed of dog, and the overwhelming response is always “mutts” or “mixed breeds”.  It’s the diversity in the dog that makes it so wonderfully unique, so strong, so much healthier.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We need our diversity in this wonderful United States of America. It keeps us strong and healthy.  It bonds us together and is what built this great nation.  Accept the unique, the strange, the *gasp* differences between us as something to be celebrated rather than vilified and feared. That quote at the top of this article, the one we all know it from the Statue of Liberty?  Most of us didn’t know it was written by a woman named Emma Lazarus.  How fitting the name, “Lazarus”, to come back from death.  They are just words until we take action to make them a reality.

In closing, remember the compassion that drives us to rescue.  Remember why we do it: to end suffering.  Let’s just remember that suffering isn’t something that is limited only to animals, and let it be proven that dogs don’t have the monopoly on love.  There’s the saying about trying to be the person my dog thinks you are.  Even above that, try to be the person your dog would be:  color blind and full of only acceptance and love, no matter what your circumstances or where you came from.

keep

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Rescuing in Cleveland, Ohio