Foundations – Learning to Pilot Your Dog

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Edward Hoagland

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

There’s nothing I hate more than people punishing their dogs.  There is no point to it. Punishment is merely a method of retribution, and that concept would never occur to a dog.  Dog’s mostly live in the here and now.  They don’t dwell on what wrong has been done to them, or the need for retaliation.  Dog’s will address a misstep, and then move on.

Some people believe that dogs are mute - they aren’t.  They just happen to communicate in a way we sometimes overlook:  body language.  However, dogs ask questions all the time!  Usually when your dog does something “bad”, it’s because you didn’t answer their question.  ”Can I have that piece of steak on the table?”  ”Is that mailman gonna eat us?” You MUST answer their question.  Now, here’s the easy part:  dogs are binary creatures.  They ask “yes” and “no” questions.  They don’t have another option.  “Fido, wanna go for a walk?”  YesyesyesYES!  “OK Fido, where do you want to go?”  Blank stare.  *crickets chirping*   Fido can’t answer a questions that isn’t yes or no.

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Answer their questions before really bad things happen – photo Twigg Studios

Communication is the key.  Reward the behaviors you want with praise, treat or just a gentle pat on the head.  Answer “no” to the unsavory behaviors want using their form of communication: body language.

So let’s put it all together.

There are only 3 things your dog needs: Piloting, Activity and Work. Or, as we like to call it, the PAW method. Notice I did not say, coddling, kissing and affection. To work with your dog’s behavior, give your dog what they need: Piloting, Activity and Work.  After you have given your dog what they need, then you can give them what you want: love, affection, praise,…namely, the good stuff.

Love and affection:  the only reason you should have a dog.  Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.   Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Love and affection: the only reason you should have a dog. Piloting, Activity and Work: how you manage your dog.
Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Piloting

Why do we call it Piloting?  Well, imagine you are on a plane.  It’s just you and the pilot, and all of a sudden the pilot suddenly becomes unconscious and you have to fly the plane.  How do you feel? Terrified? Anxious? Overwhelmed? That’s how your dog feels without a “pilot” of his own. The world is a scary place, and not everything makes sense to them.

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

Quit frankly, my dog is scared of her own farts, and most dogs (including yours) are still trying to figure out peanut butter

So, let’s say the pilot wakes up while you’re still trying to fly the plane. What do you do? You’d probably let him fly the plane again right? Same thing with your pup. If you show that you can be Pilot, and that they can trust you, they will gladly hand over the controls and let you take care of them.

Piloting starts with confidence and body language. Make sure you are holding yourself in a tall and confident manner when answering questions for your dog. If you look confident, your dog will believe you are confident.  Women tend to sit and stand in an “S” shape. We tend to cross our arms and legs, which makes us seem less intimidating more nurturing. Men tend to sit and stand in a “T” shape. They take up lots of room and spread out. Make your body more of a “T” shape to help with your confident body language. Think of it as a uniform you are putting on when you need to Pilot your dog.  Make sure to stay calm as well. Adding tension and anger to the situation will not help. If you need to, step away for a few minutes. Then come back when you are calm and ready to interact with your dog.

Confident body language helps answer those questions your dog has been asking you constantly. Your pup is always asking you “yes” and “no” questions. Can I have this treat? Can I sit on the couch? Can I have some of your dinner? And more importantly: Is the person at the door a threat? Is that garbage can a threat? Is that other dog a threat?

The absence of “no” is “yes”. If you’re not answering your dog’s questions, then you are essentially telling them “yes”. (If you’ve ever raised teenagers, you know what I’m talking about.  “You never said I couldn’t!”)

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it yet, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him.  Imagine your dog is a lot taller, and you are trying to push him back from the treat using your stomach.  Remember, you are only answering one question, “Can I have the treat?”.  The body language you are using is telling him “no”.  As soon as he’s no longer engaged with the treat (i.e., staring at it or moving towards it),  remove your strong body language.  Take a step back.  He may ask the same question again immediately:  give him the same answer, (“no”) using your body language again, always removing your body language when he is no longer engaged with the treat, and adding it back when he does become engaged again.  Think of it as a giant game of Hot & Cold.

Now, if you want him to have the treat, just don’t say no. If you decide you want him to have it, you can just remove your body language from the situation.  You are no longer telling him “no”.   Remember, the absence of “no” is “yes”.

This is the same method you would use when answering the door. The question is “Is the person at the door a threat?”  Let your pup know that the answer is “no”, by making sure you are answering the door and not your dog. Pretend the door is the treat you had on the floor previously.  You are answering your dog’s question: “Need help with the door?”.  The answer is “no”.  Simply back them away from the door to give yourself some personal space (hint: you don’t need to back them up across the house, a few feet away from the door should do it!).  Now, nail them to that spot with your finger and your eyeballs (aka, the “Mom Look”), and back towards the door.  If they follow you, simply back them up again.  Wash, rinse, repeat, until you have a calmer situation to answer the door.

Calm can take a few tries.  Don't worry - you'll get there.

Calm can take a few tries. Don’t worry – you’ll get there.

The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

Activity

The second thing that is needed is Activity. Dogs, like wolves, need activity daily. Walking on a daily basis gives them their sense of roaming that they would get if they were in a wolf pack. Each day a wolf pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same instinct. It’s important that they get activity every day, and the amount they often require is a lot more than you think.

Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and it’s a great way to make your dog feel like they have a “job”. Don’t place any more than 3% of their body weight (at max! – start very small) in the pack and make sure it’s something that won’t hurt them.  For example, water bottles tend to slap them in the ribs with every step.  I prefer bags of beans, rice or coffee grounds.

Although you’ll be going the same distance, it will feel a little longer to your pup, which is always a good thing!

Fetch and playtime outside and at a dog park are great additional ways to get in activity. But the walk is so very important because it gives you an opportunity to work on your Piloting and it helps them with their roaming instinct, even if it is just in your neighborhood.

Work

The third part of the PAW Method is Work. Your pup needs mental work daily. Think of it this way, if you drive the same route home every day it becomes monotonous and easy for you. However, if there is a ton of traffic on that same route, you’re a lot more tired when you get home because there was a lot more mental work that went into that drive home. Your pup needs to feel that mentally tired. Otherwise, they’re bored. And boredom leads to finding things to keep them busy. And that leads to your grandmother’s quilt being torn up.

Stress is a good thing.  I want them to have a lot of stress in their life, because when you eliminate that stress, you get confidence.  Think of the confidence boost you get when you complete a project, or finish a crossword.  Benevolent stress = self-confidence.

An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder. Such as a Kong Wobbler or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed. These feeders make your dog think about how to get the food out as opposed to just waiting for you to poor it out of a bag, which is dull, boring and EASY. By making them work for their food, it adds some mental work into their day and doesn’t add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.

Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games. To start, show your dog a treat, then put it down on the other end of the room in plain sight. When you release your dog repeat the phrase “find it” over and over until they get to the treat and then praise like crazy. Then move on to hiding the treat so it’s behind something, repeat “find it” and praise again. Then move on to using one of their favorite toys.  This is a good way to get some more mental work in.

Remember, your dog is family.  Sometimes family really sucks.

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

Okay, hopefully not THIS bad

…but we can’t expect our relationships with our pets to be all sunshine and lollipops.  Sometimes we need to answer questions.  Sometimes it feels like they will never be housebroken (the dog, not the family).  But that’s why we Pilot our dogs.  That’s why we set them up for success with plenty of Activity and Work.  To make those moments less and less frequent.  And no, your dog isn’t perfect (mine sure aren’t), but we work together perfectly, understanding each others’ flaws, and not just loving each other in spite of them, but embracing them as part of who they are.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Danika Migliore
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Leash Walking Without The Drama

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

Kristin Armstrong

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Last week I had a rather full schedule training, including a couple of dogs who were, for lack of a better term, “aggressive”.  And this is how my week ended.

image1-8I really wish I could say I got it doing something exciting. It didn’t happen while I was training dogs.  It happened while I was painting.

I’m officially middle aged.

Anyway, I’m supposed to rest it for at least a week, so as far as sprains go, it’s not too bad.  Now that brings to light a few questions, though:  how am I supposed to do this week’s training sessions, which includes one aggressive dog, as well as 3 super-hyper dogs, whom will undoubtedly need work on leash walking.

The answer is that if I can’t walk dogs with a mildly sprained wrist, then I can’t walk dogs.

The secret to working with dogs is to never make them feel restrained.  In other words, I shouldn’t need muscle to walk a dog.  If I am able to drive a car (which I am), then I am okay to walk a dog.

The biggest complaint I hear about people walking their dog is that the dog is pulling the whole time, causing the owner’s arms to become tired very quickly.  But let’s think about it  rationally:  the dog physically can not be pulling you unless you are pulling back.  In other words, you are pulling backwards just as much as they are pulling forward.  You are trying to muscle your way through the walk.  Even worse, the reason why your dog is pulling is because you’ve restrained them…no, not with the leash, but with the tension attached to the leash.  You’ve engaged their fight or flight response, causing them to pull forward, which in turn engaged your flight or fight response, causing you to automatically pull backwards.

Number5

But what if you didn’t fall into that vicious cycle?  What if you didn’t sink your feet into the ground, and pull back with all your force?  No, I’m not stating you should let your dog run amok while you follow meekly behind.  But rather than using brute force, have you tried answering your dog’s question instead?

Dogs ask a lot of question, all the time.   Answering your dog’s questions is called “Piloting” them.  Some questions you can ignore (“Is it okay if I scratch my ear now?” or “Mind if I take a nap?”).  Others you want to give a profound, hearty “yes” to, (“Should I potty outside?” or “Should I sit politely to get that treat?”).  But the most important ones sometimes require a “no”, such as, “Can I jump on your guest?”, or, in this case, “Can I lead our walk?”.  The answer must be “no“. So how do you “answer” your dog with a negative?

Easy.

Stand up as straight as you can, pretend your dog is a lot taller, and simply invade their personal space.  Keep your feel like a letter “V” so you don’t accidentally step on their paws.  The moment they are no longer “asking” the question, you are done.  So, for instance, if my Sparta were barking at something outside the window, I would simply stand up straight and get between her and the window she’s barking at, and back her off the window using strong, confident body language. I’m “claiming” the window, or, as we put it, answering her question, “Should I be worried about that dog outside?”.  The answer is “no”.

How can I tell when she’s accepted the answer?  She will stop barking for a moment, perhaps look at me, sit down, turn her head away, or even just walk away.  She is no longer actively engaged in the window, or what’s outside, therefore, I no longer have to answer her question.  I’m done.  No force involved.  I didn’t drag her away from the window, I merely crowded her out from it, using my body.

So how does this work on a walk?  Well, let’s start with the three most important steps:
1) Control yourself. No anger, no yelling. Good, confident body language. Fake it if you have to.

2) Control the situation.  Did you just walk out that door with the dog dragging you, and then continue walking? Control each and every moment.  If you lost control, that’s okay, just reboot to regain control.  Don’t just follow the momentum. Create calm.  It’s okay to stop and start over.

3) Answer questions as they come up, using the body language.

Okay, now you’re ready.

Go to the front door.  Put Fido’s leash on.  Now I want you to “claim” the door.  In other words, Fido’s first question is going to be, “Do you want me to lead you out the door?”  Your answer is “No”, so simply pivot on your foot that’s closest to your dog, and now you should be facing Fido, with your back to the door. You yourself should look like you are a door that just slammed in Fido’s face.  Using your body language, gently back him away from the door, using an occasional tug, tug, tug on the leash if necessary, but never holding him back physically. Now he’s calm?  Okay then, you’re ready to walk outside.

Take each step slowly.  If he tries to drag you down the front steps, stop, give a series of gentle tugs until he is close by you again.  His ears should never be past your knees – if they are, he’s leading you.  Simply answer his question; the moment his ears get past your leg, give a gentle tug on the leash, and/or pivot on your foot so you are now facing him, again, looking like you are a door that just closed on him.

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When Fido backs up to where he belongs, and/or looks away, you’re good to “unslam” the door and move on.  No pulling, no yanking, and now restraining.  Merely answering questions.

At first, Fido is going to have a lot of questions that need answering, because let’s face it, he’s always lead you on the walks before.  Stick with it.  Answer his question each and every time he asks if he should lead.  The first 10 minutes are going to be very frustrating for you.  The next 10 minutes will be less so.  The final 10 minutes are going to be like a whole new, positive experience.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio