An Asthmatic’s Guide to Dog Training

“So perhaps the best thing to do is to stop writing Introductions and just get on with the book.”

Winnie the Pooh

I firmly believe in simplifying things.  I don’t like strict rules about what to do and what not to do with your dog.  There needs to be some room for interpretation.  Also, who wants to remember so many different rules and mantras.  So I like to keep things simple.

The first rule of three: The PAW Method.  Piloting, Activity and Work.  

Think of it as a recipe with only three simple ingredients, like my favorite shortbread cookies.  You can’t cut corners.  You can’t give your dog Piloting, Activity but no Work and expect to have a happy, healthy, well-adjusted dog.  Your bond with your dog is a living thing, and in order for it to thrive, it deserves the care it needs. Giving your dog the Piloting, Activity and Work they require is the way to ensure it grows in a healthy manner.

My second rule of three is more like the tools you use to bake those scrumptious short-bread cookies.  Yes, the cookie recipe has three ingredients (flour, sugar and butter), but I need a mixer, a cookie sheet and an oven to work those ingredients into their final form.


Actually, cookies are the sub-final form.  Regret come bathing suit season is actual the final form of shortbread cookies. But I digress.

Just as Piloting, Activity and Work (The PAW Method) are your ingredients to work with your dog, you will also have tools you will use.    And I have an interesting story about how I finally discovered those three tools, and how I use them everyday.  See, I have asthma.  Full-blown, can’t breath, searching for air air like a Kardashian searching for publicity.



Asthma was a huge problem for me. Until one day I decided it wasn’t. I came up with a method to help regulate my breathing during an attack.

  1. Control Myself - Meaning I have to watch my posture during an asthma attack.  Sitting up straight, or standing straight, seemed to help with my breathing, rather than slouching or tensing up. Force myself to be calm.
  2. Control My Situation  – Okay, so I can’t breath right now.  My airflow is restricted, but not gone.  So I take small sips of breath.  If I try to take in too much air, I panic.  I take only what I can handle right now.
  3. Add Stimulation - Gradually I can take larger and larger breaths, until things are back to normal.  If I try to take a larger breath and it doesn’t work, I simply revert back a step, and figure out at what point I have control of the situation.
Now Luke here!

Now Luke here!

At first it was a struggle to implement these three tools, but gradually I started to notice that I would start reaching for those three tools rather than my inhaler.  Yes, I still carry an inhaler, but I haven’t actually needed it in a very long time.

So what does all this have to do with your dog?  Well, you’re going to use the same three tools whenever you’re answering your dog’s questions. And believe me, your dog has a LOT of questions.  Let’s use those tools to answer them.  For example, let’s say that Fido is asking a question about the person who just knocked on the front door. We need to answer his question (“Is that a threat?”).  To even begin to answer the question, we need to do the following:

1. Control Yourself  – Are you angry?  Frustrated? Rushed? Annoyed?  Then it won’t work.  You must be calm.  Do not add any energy to the situation. No yelling or shouting. Actually, just don’t talk at all.  As you can hear, Fido is adding enough energy for both of you.  Also, what about your body language?  Your posture should look like a letter “T”, not a letter “S”.  In other words, you need to look like you can answer the question your dog is asking.

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2.  Control the Situation.  Figure out what “The Situation” is.

Hint: not THAT situation.

Hint: not THAT situation.

In this case, the situation is the door, or rather, your dog’s response to it.  Your dog is not calm, so you can’t add more stimulation to the situation by say, opening the door.  You need to control the present situation first. Back your dog off from the door using strong body language.  Pretend that it’s a child behind you instead of a door, and your dog is a snarling alien. Use body language that conveys the message that your are protecting what’s yours, namely, the child/door.

"Get away from her you...."

“Get away from her you….”


Remember, you are only backing your dog a bit away from the door, not into the next county.  You only need to control the current situation.  Don’t anticipate what your dog might do next.  Don’t start answering questions your dog hasn’t even asked yet, just give yourself a bit of room to operate.  Some personal space for you and the door.  A few feet back from you should do it.  There, you’ve controlled the present situation.  If your dog starts up again, back them off the door again.  Remember, this is probably the first time you’ve ever answer their question about the door, it’s only fair that they don’t take you seriously at first. Keep at it.

Add Stimulation.  You’ve got control of the present situation (Fido is calm and a few feet away from the door).  Now you’re ready to add stimulation: answer the door.  Back towards the door, with your eyes on your dog at all time, facing him as much as possible.  Remember, dog are based on body language, so you have to see if he’s going to ask a question.  As you back off of him, point at him to keep him secured in his current location.  Otherwise he’s apt to follow you as you answer the door.  You should look like Uncle Sam.

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

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

If as you open the door, Fido comes charging at you, simply go back to Step 2 and control the current situation. Just like my asthma, you can’t gulp air if you can’t even sip it yet.  Take it slowly, and you’ll do fine.

These three tools apply to every single situation you could possibly be in with your dog, from teaching them a new trick to answering scary questions for your dog while at the vet’s office.

Control yourself. Are you freaked out about being at the vet’s office yourself?  Are you nervously petting your dog?  Is your body language looking calmly confident?

Control the situation.  Is the dog next to you acting like an idiot while their owner is oblivious?  Perhaps you need to move to a different chair?  Control your environment as much as you can.  Is your dog asking if they should be nervous?  Remember, the answer is no.

Add stimulation.   Let’s go into the vet’s exam room.  If you need to answer a question on the way, go for it.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Three simple ingredients: Piloting, Activity and Work.  Combine and shape using three simple tools:  Controlling yourself, controlling the situation, adding stimulation.  Can you smell what we’re cooking?

Yes you are

Yes you are

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


4 thoughts on “An Asthmatic’s Guide to Dog Training

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