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

 

Working the Stay Command – You’re Doing it Wrong

Stay just a little bit longer
Please please please please please tell me that you’re gonna
- The Four Seasons

 

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

So you’ve worked hard at recall with your dog.  Now what?  How about the “stay” command?

If you go about it like most people do, you’ll put your dog into a sit, slowly back off of them, saying “stay, stay, stay”, then crouch down, and call them, giving them a treat when they get to you. Um, yeah…

bush_doing_it_wrong_1

 

Remember, you’re trying to catch a behavior and reward it with positive reinforcement.  So let’s start at the very beginning.  A very good place to start.

indeed

Remember the three steps to working with a dog:

  1. Control Yourself.  Don’t be angry, don’t be frustrated.  Be calm.  If you can’t be calm, be gone and try again later.
  2. Control the Situation.  Don’t add energy to a situation you don’t already have control of.
  3. Add Stimulation and Answer Questions.  “Can I get up yet?”. Not yet, Fido.

Okay, now, you’re ready to go.  Or stay.  Whatever.

We will be using positive reinforcement in this situation because we are asking a dog to do something human: learn a new language.  Of course your dog already knows how to stay.  So does an elephant, or any other animal. What we are teaching Fido how to do is link a word with a behavior.  Any word will do, be it “stay” or “Bananarama”.  The trick is to link it to the precise behavior you want.

So let’s take another look at what you did. You started off well, putting your dog in a sitting, calm position.  You then calmly repeated the word “stay, stay, stay”, as you slowly backed off your dog, adding as little energy as you could, making sure you “nailed” your dog to that spot with your eyes and your finger as you back away from your dog.

Listen to your Uncle Sam.  He's got it right.

Listen to your Uncle Sam. He’s got it right.

And then you derailed the whole thing by calling your dog and rewarding him when he came to you, telling him he was “Good stay!  You’re such a good boy…good stay Fido, good stay”.  Um,

521e4-whatitmeans

You’re trying to catch the behavior of “stay”, not “come”.  Now your dog is confused.  Stay and come have become entwined.  Remember, one word for one action.  ”Come” means moving towards you.  ”Stay” means not moving at all.  But you just mixed them up for your dog.

Great.  Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

Great. Total protonic reversal. Nice one.

So instead of calling them, after you’ve taken a few steps away from them, as you’re repeating “stay, stay, stay” ad nauseum, simply start moving towards them again, finger out Uncle Sam-style.  When you get to them, calmly give them a reward.  Your dog should not have moved a single muscle, staying glued to the floor the entire time.  That’s how you catch a behavior.

So, you did it once or twice, merely taking a few steps away from your dog, and remaining in eyesight the entire time.  You’ve controlled the present situation (as in Step 2 outlined above).  Now you’re ready to add more stimulation:  stay command out of sight.

So you put your dog in a sit, Uncle Sam him, and then leave the room, go outside, and take a jog around the block and, yeah…

youre-doing-it-wrong

Of course your dog didn’t stay!  You added too much stimulation.  Take baby steps…progress, not perfection.  The first time you go out of the line of vision of your dog (maybe around a corner for just an instant), you will still be repeating the word “stay”, calmly, over and over again.  You will only pop out of sight for just a brief moment.  Your dog stays as you walk back. You reward.  All is right with the universe.

Gradually add more and more to the amount of time you disappear from sight.  Gradually repeat “stay” less and less.  If the first time you repeated it 15 times during the exercise, the next time, try for 14.  If Fido gets up, go back to 15 times for the next round, and then try 14 again.  And then 12.  And pretty soon you’re down to once or twice.

So how long does it take until your dog “gets” it?

Well, look at it like this.  I’m currently learning Spanish.  Ten minutes after I do one of my language exercises, I can remember almost 100% of the vocabulary words  Two hours later, maybe 90%.  The next day, 50%.  That’s why I practice a lot  Your dog is learning not only a new language, but a new way of communicating.  Dogs aren’t based on vocal communications like we are.  They don’t understand inflection or tonality.

No, but you're learning now!

They are based on body language.  So cut them some slack, and don’t get angry when they’re being “stubborn”.  They’re doing the best they can learning an entirely different form of communication.  Give them some help:  frequent micro-training sessions of less than a minute.  Praise and rewards for getting it right.  And the well-earned gift of your patience.  Because that’s were true staying power comes from.

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