The Worst Four Words and How They’re Impeding You and Your Dog

“The meaning behind the words, the feeling is more significant than the words themselves, so listen.” Anonymous

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

I use a lot of strange lingo here in my blog posts.  Words you might not think belong with a dog training site.

Piloting: The act of answering your dog’s questions; guiding their voyage through life.

Rapunzel Syndrome: A dog who hasn’t been acclimated to a set of stimuli; for example,  a puppy mill dog who is finally get out of a cage for the first time, or simply a dog who isn’t walked very much and hardly leaves their own back yard. Overwhelmed, terrified, excited, terrified, excited….

Yo Bitch:  A certain unsavory behavior some dogs give.  Read about it here.

Paris Paw: As in, Paris Hilton’s dog.  The most frightened dog in the world.  Always has his paw up by his chest, denoting his level of terror and uncertainty.  We humans do it when we aren’t sure or aren’t wearing our Piloting uniform.

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There are a few words you will never hear me utter, because they have absolutely no place in dog training.

Dominant/Alpha Male

I see on tv all the time, or hear from people, “You just need to show him who is alpha male of the pack”.  Probably some of the dumbest words I’ve ever heard uttered.

David Mech coined the term over 50 years ago when describing behavior of captive animals. In his book published in 1970,  “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” he describes how fights among the wolves determined who would control the pack, thus making them Alpha Male.

In 1999, Mech published a paper recanting his original term, and describing it as incorrect.  Based upon more evidence, he realized that the proper term should be “breeding pairs”, if anything, and that his original observations were based upon wolves kept in unnatural circumstances.

So the gentleman who coined the phrase no longer uses it, and claims its an obsolete notion; why are you still using it?  There is no concept of “alpha” in your dog.  Same goes for “dominating” a dog so they “know their place”.  Their place is asking questions, of you or of themselves, and you Pilot them by answering their questions.  “Can I bark?” No. “Can we play fetch?” No, not right now.  “May I please have a treat?” Yes you may.  At no point is domination needed.  The more you answer their questions, the more questions you look for them to answer.

Think of it like a contractor.  I recently discovered water dripping from my ceiling in my kitchen (!).  Obviously, I knew I needed to ask someone about that.  So I called the gentleman who had laid the tile on our entire first floor of our house last year. He also did a lot of other work for us through his contracting company.  Could he handle this issue?  I don’t know, but the fact that previously he had answered questions and handled other situations for us made us want to speak with him again regarding this.  And yes, he is able to handle the situation.

So you don’t ever show your dog that you’re alpha/dominant.  You prove to them that you can Pilot them. You have to earn that ability, just like anything else.  Read how here.

Bad Dog

Good grief.  By whom’s standards are you judging your dog?  Because your dog is not bad.  They’re a great dog!  They just reallllllly suck at being human.  See, it’s right there in our tagline, at the top of this page. So rather than trying to train them and declare what behaviors make them “bad dogs”, let’s work on communication.  Helping them live in this alien world we call suburbia.  Pilot, don’t berate.

You’re Doing it Wrong/You’re a Bad Owner

Oh my…didn’t we just address this?  Yes, you agreed that your dog isn’t a bad dog, but rather a mess of a human.  You’ve shown them sooooo much patience for their lack of humanity, and are working towards communication with your dog. 

And then you go and lay an egg like that.

My dear, you aren’t a bad owner.  You aren’t doing it wrong.  You are a perfectly wonderful human….who really sucks at being a dog. You’ve cut your dog some slack for not being human, now how about a little patience for yourself as well.  Your dog has already moved past any faux pas paws you may have made.  Now forget what has been going on in the past; as long as you were acting through love and concern for your pet, I already forgive you for not being a good dog ;).  And get frustrated.  You have my encouragement.  Just do it appropriately.  Read here about How Not To Kill Your Dog Through Frustration, Even Though He Chewed A Hole in your Sofa, a guide to surviving your bad dog.

Punish

Right along with the last two terms I hate, “punish” has no place in working with dogs.  No matter what your dog did, they acted as a dog.  They don’t need punishment; they need answers.

To help understand this, you need to understand that dogs live in the here and now.  (I’m envious, actually).  They have no concept of always, never, nor forever.  It’s literally “yes” and “no”.  Meaning Fido can ask me if he can jump on me.  I give him a negative.  He accepts that negative.  Whose fault was that?  Nobody’s, right?  It’s just a question, and I answered it for him.  What happens if he jumps on me again, though? Then whose fault is it?

Nobody’s. (I set you up for that one.)

It’s a brand new question.  Each and every time.  Remember, dogs don’t understand always, never, forever…they understand “yes” and “no” in response to their questions.  Does that make them stupid?  No, it makes them perfect and guileless.  However, dogs are extremely intelligent (yes, even yours).  And what they do understand (after a bit of repetition) is that the same question will yield the same answer.  So for instance, it took my Sparta about 6 times of answering her question, “Can I hang out in your walk-in closet?” (she’s weird), but now she anticipates that the answer will be “no”, and she rarely, if ever, has asked that question since.  It took only a few times of me answering my Orion’s question, “Can I go on the couch?” before he realized that I’ve been saying “yes” every time, and now doesn’t ask permission anymore. However, when he asks about my bed, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no, so he knows he has to ask every time, and not just jump up there.

So you can teach your dog a rough translation of always, never and sometimes by answering their questions.  Just keep your eye on the ball and answer the important questions.

Learn how to answer their questions while maintaining your sanity here.

That handles all of the words that I abhor.  The ones that should be stricken from the dog-dictionary, if you will.  The way to start communicating and working with your dog is to start by jettisoning those words from your vocabulary.

I’m sorry… I have no idea how that got there!!!!!!!

Movingrightalong…..let’s talk about  an iffy word. A word that I don’t hate, but I don’t love.

Training

This is a weird one, isn’t it?  Wondering if you’ve stumbled on the wrong site?  This is dog training after all, right?

Well….yes and no.  “Training” is a word that is over used. Let’s go over the mantra again, and perhaps you’ll see where the problem is.

“Your dog sucks at being human.  And you aren’t the best dog.”

So what exactly are you “training” your dog to do?  Let me put it this way: do you “train” your kids?

Um, hopefully not.

What do you do with children, though?  You answer their questions. Big, little, easy, difficult… you answer them to the best of your ability.  Just today, these were the questions I answered from my kids:

Mom, can I have a Klondike bar?

Mom, what time is it?

Mom, can I play on my 3DS?

Mom, why did Aunt Donna get cancer?

 

Yes

3:30

No

holyshithowdoIanswerthat?

Just like with kids, you do the best you can.  The more you answer their questions, the more they look to you for answers, and the more they start to trust your answers as solid, even if they don’t like your answers.

So you aren’t really training your dog any more than you are training your kids.  You are helping to Pilot them through life with big, little, and difficult answers.  The difference between kids and dogs, however, is that you will be Piloting your dogs for the rest of their lives.  Children we start to back off the answers as we encourage them to find their own answers so we can finally let them go as fully functioning adults.

And finally, let’s talk about words that I love.

Anything positive.  Seriously.  If you see a behavior your dog is giving, and you like it, give it a positive.  Catch as many as you can, be it through words, affection or an occasional treat.  I want you to be the positive-fairy, spreading positives where ever you go. Spread it like glitter.

There’s a saying about not saying something you will regret, but I think the reverse is true as well.  Make sure you say something you will regret not saying.  Because a day will come, and you won’t realize it, but it will be the last time you will ever tell your dog that you love them.  The last time you scratch them behind the ears.  Or the last time you say, “Good dog!”.  Catch up on the positives, and if you find yourself  crying at the other end of the rainbow bridge, when asked when you last gave your dog a positive, can you honestly say it was today? Or would you have to struggle to remember the last time you let your dog know how good and wonderful they are?  Because he lets you know each and every day. Every minute.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Communicating in Cleveland

The Difference Between “Wait” Command and “No”

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography by Brittany Graham

I hate the “wait” command that some people teach their dogs.  In a world full of useless commands, this has to be the most useless.  I see it play out all the time while I’m training.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps some background is necessary. Let’s set this story up properly, perhaps using the typical training session as an example.  So I present to you, Wait For It, an original play written by Kerry Stack.

Cast:

Kerry Stack:  Dog Trainer  Beautiful, graceful, always well-dressed with a witty comment on the tip of her tongue (hey, it’s my  play….I can be whomever I want to in it).

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play.  Our resemblance is uncanny.

Angelina Jolie can play me in the movie adaption of my play. Our resemblance is uncanny.

SophieDog Owner.  Super-wonderful owner, but having some issues with her dog knocking people over at the door, as well as some mild dog reactivity.

Ajax: Handsome mix roughly a year old.  Big boy, weighing in at roughly 100 lbs. Typical No No Bad Dog.

ACT I, Scene I
Sophie’s House

Kerry has been called to meet with and work with Ajax.  Upon meeting Ajax, he immediately rushes up to Kerry, jumping on her before she’s even through the entranceway.  Kerry, knowing full well she can’t Pilot a dog who doesn’t know her yet, simply pushes him off of her, stands up straight, and allows the dog to smell her until he’s a bit more comfortable with her presence.  Now they are ready to begin the training session. 

Kerry begins to describe the things a dog needs:  Piloting, Activity and Work, stressing the importance of each. They discuss Activity, and various ways to make sure Ajax is getting enough (hint: it doesn’t have to be walking non-stop), Kerry also addresses issues with Ajax being bored, meaning he needs more Work.  Now they are ready to tackle the big problem:  Piloting.  

Kerry:  Piloting is the big issue you are having here.  The reason I refer to it as Piloting is this – imagine you are on an airplane, and there’s only one Pilot.  Mid-flight the Pilot dies.  What are you going to do?

Sophie:  Panic?  I don’t know…try to fly the plane!

Kerry:  Exactly.  And how do you feel flying that plane?  Nervous, excited, desperate, overwhelmed and overstimulated.  All because you’ve been put in charge of a crisis situation that you don’t understand and you can’t control.  Who does that sound like?  Ajax.  Each and every time someone rings your doorbell, that’s a potential crisis situation for Ajax.  Is it a threat?  Is it a friend?  By the time he gets to the door, he’s so worked up over the situation he literally can’t control himself, nor the situation.

Sophie:  So how do I handle it, and let him know it’s not a threat?  That I can answer the door without his help?

Kerry:  By answering his questions.  Dogs have a lot of questions.  Most of them are pretty stupid…”Can I eat this?”  ”Can I eat this after the cat ate it?”  Regardless of how stupid you think the questions are, you still have to answer them.  And some of his questions are pretty important.  ”Is the person at the door a threat?”  ”Do you need help?”  Those questions need to be answered, and in a way that Ajax understands.  Dogs are not based upon vocality or language.  Dog’s first language is body language. They have no second language.  Sure, you can spoon-feed them a few words in English….sit, come, etc., but the most precise way to communicate with your dog is with their native language.  So we’re going to respect them enough to use their language in their presence: body language.

Dogs happen to be binary creatures, though. This means that every question they ever ask you will be a “yes” “no” question, and every answer you give them will be a “yes” or “no”.  It’s like a giant game of “Hot or Cold”.  The questions Ajax asks (“Do you need me to answer the door?”) are answered with a “no”.  Just remember, Ajax isn’t bad, he’s merely asking a question, and the answer happens to be “no”.   So let’s practice the body language involved first.

I’m going to take these treats in my hand, put them on the floor, and tell Ajax (using body language) that he’s not allowed to have them.  What do you think Ajax is going to do?

Sophie:  Well, we have been working on the “wait” command.  He’s not allowed to have his food, any treats, etc., until we release him from that command.

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Kerry:  But remember, I’m not telling him “wait”, I’m telling him “no”.  There’s a huge difference.

(Kerry puts the food on the floor, and answers Ajax’s question, “Can I have the treat?” by using body language.  Ajax sits on the floor and looks to Kerry to see what to do next)

Kerry:  So he’s no longer engaged with the food.  Here’s my question: when does he get the treat?

Sophie: When he’s good?

Kerry:  My answer is “never”.  This isn’t a trick. I’m not teaching him “wait” and you can have what you want.  The problem is that you’re teaching him “wait”, which then ends with his getting whatever it is he wants.  Yes, he has to be a little patient, but he always gets what he wants in the end.  So when you’re trying to tell him “wait” at the door, what you really mean is “no”.  As in never.  You never need his help at the door.  Unfortunately, up until now, he’s never been taught to understand that some things are “no”…he’s been learning to wait to get what he wants.  But what if that was a baby wrapped in bacon on the floor?  If he’s polite and patiently waited for a few moments, does he then get the baby?   Or even better, have you ever tipped a waitress for not stealing your purse?  No, because that’s yours.  You don’t reward someone for not taking what’s yours.  The same concept applies to Ajax. The door is yours.  Whomever is behind the door is yours.  

(Kerry works a little bit with Sophie to make sure she understands the body language involved. Within a few minutes, Sophie is able to answer the door without drama, a first for her and Ajax.  For a more detailed description on how to answer “no” for you dog, check out this blog post)

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As you can see, “wait” means nothing to a dog, because it’s difficult for a dog to understand that concept appropriately.  In dog world, either they can have something (human, food, door, etc.) or they can’t.

When feeding my dogs, I don’t use the “wait” command.  I get their food ready, and they “ask” if they can have it yet.  My answer is “no”.

Boot and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boot and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

When I’m ready, I call them to their enrichment toys so they can eat.

When someone rings the doorbell, they ask if I need help at the door.  My answer is no.

Sometimes I put food on the ground, and they ask if they can have it.  Sometimes my answer is no, and they never get it.  Sometimes my answer is yes.

“Wait” involves a mindset that I think we need to change as humans.  We use that word as a place filler, for when we don’t want to come across as “mean”.  But since when is claiming what is yours “mean”?  My job as a Pilot/dog owner isn’t to make sure my dogs get everything they want, it’s to make sure they get what the need.  In some instances, that’s a definite “no”.

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