Why Your Dog is an @SSH0LE

Never negotiate with kids. They don’t have life experience, and they don’t have repercussions for bad decisions; they still get fed and housed.  - Gene Simmons

Matheus Bertelli

 

I never thought that I’d be using a Gene Simmons quote in my blogs, but there you go.  Sometimes life takes a funny turn, and his quote was perfect for what I wanted to tackle today:  this image that has been floating around The Internets.

dog uncomfortable

Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t even know where to start with this.  Ready for an unpopular, possibly offensive truth?  Your dog is making people uncomfortable because he is an asshole. 

There.  I said it. I guarantee a lot of other people were thinking it, and just never told you.  And even worse, you’re pretty much victim blaming.  So now that we have opened up that can of worms, let’s get down to business and de-asshole your dog. 

 

What’s making people uncomfortable about your dog?  Let’s break it down:

Fido is in their personal space. 

 

I personally don’t not want to be licked by either of them.  I love dogs.  Like, LOVE, dogs.  I don’t like drool. Or Gene Simmons, but here we are.

Think about it.  How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and was completely in your personal space?  Uncomfortable, right?  Or what if I invited you to my house, let my kids climb all over you and trample you, but stated that if my kids were making you uncomfortable, I can lock you up in another room? (C’mon, they’re only trying to be friendly!)  Yet we accept that behavior from our dogs?  I guarantee that if your Fido tried that behavior with another dog, Fido would get corrected very quickly!  It’s about manners, and dogs have them the same way people do. Learn to expect good manners from your dog.

Fido is guarding. I can’t tell you how many times a client calls me to their house to work with their aggressive dog, and when I arrive and ring their doorbell, they simple let their dog loose on me to snarl, bark, and lunge at me.  Their reasoning?

“We wanted you to see what he does.”

Oh, by all means, let me whip up an anti-aggression incantation.  That will solve the problem!

I freaking know what Fido does…he’s aggressive towards strangers!  You told me on the phone!

I know how to deal with a dog who is snarling at me, or giving me “fuck off” body language.  You stand perfectly still and let the dog thoroughly investigate you.  You do not move.  You do not make eye contact.  Even after decades of doing this, it’s still terrifying every time it happens to me (usually at least once a week).  I have resources, knowledge and experience.  What do your guests have? Fear and anxiety.  And you have a potential lawsuit coming your way when Fido finally snaps.  Just because he’s never bitten anyone before doesn’t mean he never will.  And no, the answer isn’t just to “just let Fido smell you, and then he’ll be fine.”

Your dog is jumping/trampling your guests. And what do you do about it?

“FIDO NO JUMPING! FIDO, NO!!! FIDO STOP OR I’LL SAY STOP AGAIN!!!!”
Yeah, it’s not helping. Fido is still jumping.

I work with quite a few “aggressive” dogs.  Usually at least one per week.  And you should see all the massive bruises and injuries I have…from “friendly” dogs jumping on me.  My legs look like I play professional soccer without shin guards.  I have scratches all over me (yes, even through denim jeans).  All because of Fido who “just wants to make friends”.  Sorry, but consent exists with dogs the same way it exists with humans.  Your dog is hurting me, and it’s not a game, nor is it cute.

As I said, we need to un-asshole your dog.Let’s start with how you are perceiving your dog.  It has to do with your soft bigotry of low expectations. You expect so little from your dogs.  You claim that your dogs are your kids, yet you allow behaviors from your dog that you’d never tolerate from your children (I hope!).  The thing to remember is that it’s not about having perfectly well behaved kids/dogs; it’s about having a game plan for anything that happens.  Can you predict that your preschooler would suddenly start rifling through great aunt Bertha’s purse? No, that was unexpected. But what makes you a good parent is how you deal with the situation, or more importantly, if you deal with the situation.  

I firmly believe in treating everyone appropriately.  Dogs are great dogs…they just suck at being human.  Kids are great kids…they just suck at being adults.  It’s up to you to be the adult human in the situation and to Pilot them through whatever issues or questions they are currently embroiled in. So let’s get started.

It starts with Piloting.  Piloting is answering your dog’s questions, and they have a lot of questions.  “Can I jump on you?”  “Can I eat that chocolate?” Wanna snuggle?”  You answer each question according to how you feel.  My answers would be No, No and Yes respectively.  How do you give a negative?  Using simple body language outlined here.   No prong collar.  No shock collar. No need for a spray bottle full of vinegar(?!)(seriously, I’ve been hearing this a lot…stop it).  It’s a conversation.  Communicate, don’t dominate, subjugate to alleviate…

…sorry, that was a little INXS.

Just remember, it’s a conversation.  Your dog isn’t bad, Fido just has questions.  So answer them!

I’m going to give you a bonus hint:  I don’t ask my kids or my dogs if they want to do something.  I tell them, and then ask for questions.

Example, if I want the dishwasher emptied and re-loaded:

Me: River, would you please empty the dishwasher and then load it?

vs.

Me: River, I want you to please empty the dishwasher and then load the dirty dishes.  Do you have any questions?

Do you see the difference?  If River does indeed have questions, (“Do I have to?”), I’m prepared with my answer.  I do not negotiate.  I will listen to hear reasoning why she shouldn’t have to (and sometimes she’s correct), but I do not make deals with her.  I do not lower my expectations unless new or different information is given.

For example, if River says she doesn’t want to because she wants to play video games, oh well!  I want a pony and I don’t have a pony.  Now get in there and do the dishes.  But if she says she doesn’t want to because she’s trying to (legit) study for her test tomorrow, I may change my mind about her doing dishes, based upon the new information.

How does this apply to your dog?  Suppose I show up to your house and Fido starts to jump on me.  It’s up to you to Pilot your dog, giving them a negative. And they accept your answer, calming down.  Nice job!

But what if later while I”m at your house, you see Fido start to jump on me again?  You start to give him another negative, but then I tell you that I started it because I wanted to wrestle with him.  What do you do?  Let it go?  Give a negative anyway?

The answer is entirely up to you. If you decide you don’t want your dog getting riled, you give me a negative  If you are okay with us wrestling around, then by all means let it go.   You’re the Pilot; you are actively choosing to let a behavior continue, rather than not doing anything about it because you don’t know what to do.  Remember, it’s not about having the dog with the perfect manners all the time. That dog doesn’t exist.  But now you don’t have to tolerate those unsavory behaviors any longer.

So congratulations, we’ve successfully de-assholed your dog!  And let’s face it, he probably wasn’t really an asshole to begin with.  He’s just a dog.  A wonderful, intelligent, perfect dog….who really sucked at being human.

 

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Nailed It – The Art of (not) Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

Photo: Ruby Schmank @rubyschmank

Photo: Ruby Schmank
@rubyschmank

Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment.

- Lao Tzu

Nail cutting time.  My favorite. If given the choice between cutting Sparta’s nails and skipping voting on mid-terms this year…I’m going to still fucking vote!!! Are you crazy?! Register!

Seriously, though, there’s nothing I hate more than cutting Sparta’s nails.  Her nails are black.

 

 

I’ll admit, I was even terrified to cut my kids’ nails when they were little.  Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with my first dog, Darwin.  He had black nails as well, and the first time I tried to cut his nails, I cut a little too deeply.

 

It was awful, and it scarred me forever.  Looking back, I barely nicked him, and literally a drop of blood came out, but still, I was traumatized for life.  So for the rest of Darwin’s life, he went to get his nails trimmed at a groomer. Same thing with Orion and Sparta.  Now here’s the problem, though.  I have plenty of clients who would tell me that their dog was terrible about getting their nails trimmed, getting all Cujo on them.  They would ask while I was there if I could show them how to do it safely.  Sure thing!

I would Pilot  the dog, moving slowly, but confidently. I would take the clippers in my hand, continuing to maintain calm.  I take the dog’s paw in my hand, position the clippers on the dog’s nail…

“And then you cut”, I would say.  But here’s the rub. I never would actually cut the nail myself because I was terrified.  In my mind, my rationale was that my clients weren’t having problems cutting the nail, it was cutting the nail without being shredded by their dog that was the issue. I didn’t want to project my on neurosis onto them, so I faked it.  My clients would always take the clippers from me, Pilot their dogs as I had just shown them, and then actually cut the dog’s nails.  Voila!  Mission accomplished.

However, something about it didn’t sit right with me.  Yes, technically I solved their problem, and they were happily cutting away at their dog’s nails, but I felt awful that I couldn’t make that leap myself.  So a few months ago, I became determined to do it.

I grabbed my clippers and had Sparta in a down position on my floor.  I grabbed my clippers and headed towards her holding her paw out.

Yeah…she kinda sensed there was a slight problem.

 

Now here’s the thing: I have Piloted Sparta through some pretty terrible things.  For example, when she was 11 months old,she tore her ACL.  The examination by her vet was pretty rough and painful.  Her vet took her leg, and gently moved it, causing Sparta to jump up in pain, swing around, and pretty much ask if she could bite the vet.

My answer was “no”.

Remember, Sparta was in pain, and she was asking if she could hurt the vet to make him stop hurting her.  I obviously knew that the exam was indeed necessary to help her heal.  Yes, it hurt my heart to tell her that the vet was allowed to hurt her, but she accepted my answer.  Because I accepted my answer. I had complete faith and trust in my answer, and was able to convey that to her.  She calmed down, accepted the exam, and was set on the road to recovery.

But this was different.  I was still terrified of hurting her.  And she knew it.  I was acting differently.

We’ve secretly replaced your regular Pilot with Nervous, Shaking, Train-Wreck Pilot.  Le’ts see if Sparta notices.

Oh, yes, she figured it out right quickly, but I kept pushing on, ignoring the body language she was giving me. I had neglected to adhere to my own training rules:

1) Control yourself; and

2) Control the situation.

But I was plodding along like a dolt, ignoring the fact that Sparta was absolutely terrified.  Suddenly I realized what was happening.  Sparta was actually going to bite me, and I had been ignoring all of her body language that was absolutely screaming at me to stop what I was doing.  She wasn’t being willful nor disobedient; she was simply scared.  She was telling me with her body the equivalent of, “Don’t make me shoot, ’cause I will”.

I’ve written before about knowing your physical limitations when it comes to Piloting your dog, but mental limitations are a real thing, too.  And I suddenly realized that I was forcing a situation without having control of myself, let alone the situation.  That I had come *this close* to Sparta biting me, all because I kept pushing through a situation without taking the temperature of the situation.

So I stopped.  I put down Sparta’s paw and dropped the clippers.  Instead, we played a game.  The “I’m Not Clipping Your Nails” game, meaning she started to get positives for being calm (learn about positive reinforcement here).  It started with me taking Sparta’s paw, with the clippers on the ground. I would pinch her nail gently between my fingers, and then immediately give her a treat (frozen green beans – her favorite).  Pretty soon when I started to grab her paw, she would immediately look to the green beans, anticipating the Good Thing that was to come.

Next, I would take her paw in my hand, gently tap her paw with the clippers, and then give her a treat.  Sometimes I would just pick up the clippers, put them back down again, and give her a treat.  Soon, all things regarding the clipper were a Good Thing.  Finally, after a few days of this, I was ready.  I picked up her paw, did our usual game, but at this point both of us were condition to the clippers being No Big Deal.  I wasn’t a nervous wreck anymore. I was ready to cut.  Not trim her nail to where it should be, but just cut.  Such a small cut, that it really made no difference in the scheme of things except that I had just cut her nail.

And nobody died.  Nobody got bit.  Nobody was terrified.  And Sparta was looking immediately at the bowl of green beans, waiting for her treat for playing the I”m Not Cutting Your Nails Game. It had actually happened, though.  There was a little teeny-tiny piece of nail on the ground, proving we had done.  I didn’t stop there, but, more importantly, I didn’t push forward.  In other words, I continued our usual game of tapping her nails with my fingers, and generally messing around with her, but that day I only cut that tiny little piece of nail.  But I had done it.

Each day, we would do one more nail.  Sometimes two.  Just a little bit.  Now when I grab the nail trimmers, I usually feel comfortable enough to do all of her nails.  If I spend a little too long holding her paw while trying to determine how short I can cut the nail, I stop, put her paw down, give her a treat, and then resume the examination.  Things were going beautifully.

Until this past week when I realized that yes, I could cut her nails without drama now, but I was still being ineffectual.  They were growing faster than I could safely (in my mind) cut them.  I felt like a failure.  What was the point of this exercise, anyway?!

The point is twofold.

1) I re-learned how to control myself in a scary situation.  Piloting does indeed require a uniform.  Confidence. By making Sparta feel I had control, she felt safe enough to continue with The Scary Thing.  And the by-product was that the more I wore my Piloting uniform, the more confident I became.

 

 

2) I prepared Sparta for the groomer.  She will be getting her nails cut by a groomer, just like my other dogs, only this won’t be a new sensation for her. I’m sure she will look for a treat as her nails are getting done rather than for an escape route (or even worse, making her own escape route!).  But the difference now is that I know I can do it. Yes, I will be trusting a better Nail Pilot to cut her nails, but remember: Piloting is a contest,however, we all want who ever is best to win.  Mariah at Pet’s General is a much better Nail Pilot/Grooming Pilot than I could ever be. I will give it up to the professionals, but knowing full well that if it ever came to it, I could do it.

 

 

With a little more time…and green beans.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Nail Cutting Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio