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

Why Puppies Suck – Or The Benefits of Senior Dogs

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

I just got home from my third puppy session this week.  I’m exhausted.  Puppies are the worst.  Don’t get me wrong… I love puppies!  They’re adorable, entertaining and so stinkin’ cute!  I guess I just like other people’s puppies. Personally, I wil most likely never own a puppy again, because under that exterior lies an un-housebroken, hyper, destructive little beastie.

It's all fun and games until someone chews a shoe.

It’s all fun and games until someone chews a shoe.

Puppy sessions are easy in the sense that I know I won’t have to deal with aggressive behavior (usually).  I know I can hang out on the floor with the little demon angel and play while I work with the owners.  I also like knowing that people are getting of on the right start with a puppy by having it trained and knowing how to avoid problems in the future with a little effort starting now.  But let’s face it:  puppies are just…exhausting.

The PAW Method is rooted in the belief that dogs can ask questions:  “Can I eat this?”  ”Can we play now?”  ”Can we cuddle?” and that it’s up to you to answer their questions in a way they understand and doesn’t require force nor bribery.  You Pilot them to answer their questions, which puts “money” in your Piloting Piggy Bank.  The more “money” you have, the easier it is to Pilot your dog.  Which brings us to puppies.

Puppies don’t have a lot of money in their own piggy banks, so it’s not tremendously difficult to get that money out.  It’s just constant.  Like furry little toddlers, they scamper around asking questions about everything (integral to their learning, but highly annoying). And just like toddlers, they’ll ask a question, accept the answer only to immediately ask The Same Question.

How about now?

How about now?

So yeah, puppies have very little “money” in their Piloting Piggy Bank, but even when you Pilot it out of them, they can refill it faster than you can say, “But how about now?”.

Of course, in the words of Shakespeare, “This too, shall pass.”  Puppies grow out of their little toddler stage, they being to gain some sanity, and you don’t have to watch them like a weeping angel.

tennant

Or you’ll poop in the hallway AGAIN.

So puppies are adorable, but they are so much work!

“But I wanted to get my kids a puppy for the holidays/their birthday”, you may say.  That’s all fine and dandy but are you ready for the work that a puppy entails?  The work that your children say they will help you with but in reality won’t?  Didn’t think so.  So consider this: adopt a senior dog.

Now I know you want that whole Hallmark moment of a puppy in a box with a bow, and the accompanying chorus of “awwww…”.  But there are many reasons why the better choice may be a senior dog.

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1) Senior Dogs Aren’t Usually “Old”.

I know…it doesn’t make sense.  But remember, a lot of dogs are considered seniors at just 5 years old.  For a smaller dog whose life expectancy can be around 15 years…., well, let’s just say that would make me more of a senior citizen than that dog!

2) Senior Dogs are Usually Housebroken.

Obviously this is not always the case, and even housebroken adults can have a few accidents in a new house during their adjustment period.  But that’s a far cry from a puppy who goes every two hours, yet somehow still leaves you looking for paper towels and cleaner.

3) Senior Dogs Have “Been There” and “Done That”.

Yes, it’s totes adorbs to take your new puppy on their first adventure to the park.  To the pet store.  To the vet…but after the 1,224th “new adventure”, the constant questions and wrangling of a quick-as-lightening puppy can get tedious as they find new and innovative ways to get into trouble.  Your senior dog?  He’s already been to the park numerous times, and is more interested in your company during the hike, rather than investigating that hornets’ nest nestled near that tree.

senior 1

4) Senior Dogs Can Focus.

Remember how organized and rational your thoughts were as a child?  Remember how you could focus on anyth-….hey wanna ride bikes?!  Yeah, me neither.  Older dogs aren’t wrestling with their need to explore Everything All At Once.   Meaning it’s often easier to teach an old dog new tricks, rather than working with your kinetic little puppy who…wait….where did the puppy wander off to now?!

5) Senior Dogs Have Little Hope of Finding Homes

shelters

Let’s face it: everyone wants “this year’s model”.  Grey isn’t cherished and revered anymore.  Puppies fly out of shelters, while the senior dogs look on, not knowing that they most likely won’t ever see the inside of a home again.  Simply giving a senior dog the chance to love, and be loved, when everyone else overlooked them…well, isn’t that the greatest gift of all?

So re-think what it means to bring a new best friend into your home and into your children’s lives.  While I will always love my puppy sessions, it’s truly the sessions with the “new” old dog that I cherish.  Because the love I see in the eyes of a senior dog, that kind of love only grows greater with age.

marcella

Marcella, is a super sweet, friendly senior available through Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter. She’s 8 years 3 months 9 days old. Just right!

 

5 years 2 months 19 days

Canberra looks like he’d make the perfect hiking companion at 5 years 2 months 19 days.  What a face!  He is available through Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.

Gucci is 7 years 2 months into looking for a forever home.  Sweet companion, he's available through Cleveland APL

Gucci is 7 years 2 months into looking for a forever home. Sweet companion, he’s available through Cleveland APL

Delilah is a 15 year old former beauty queen who wonders why she all alone.  She is available through Cleveland APL.

Delilah is a 15 year old former beauty queen who wonders why she all alone. She is available through Cleveland APL.

 

Sanctuary for Senior Dogs is truly a beacon of hope for dogs who have been "thrown away" by owners because they are "outdated"  Please consider a donation to their worthy endeavor.

Sanctuary for Senior Dogs is truly a beacon of hope for dogs who have been “thrown away” by owners because they are “outdated” Please consider a donation to their worthy endeavor.

As Garcia sang:
Oh well a Touch Of Grey
Kind of suits you anyway
That was all I had to say 
It’s all right…

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