Earlier this year, I was contacted by the Woods family to train their new dog, a beautiful rescue dog named Hugo, who had absolutely no impulse control. To make matters worse, Hugo was, well, huge.
Hugo's dad had been playing rough-and-tumble with Hugo, and was now unable to find the "off" button for his dog. Hugo was constantly nudging, jumping, and otherwise pestering his dad into playing, and it was amplifying beyond control. Add a touch of anxiety, and you've got some big dog problems: jumping, nipping, leash reactivity...and all the impulse control of a goat rodeo.
Fortunately, Hugo's owners were ready to tackle their dog's behavioral problems, and rehabilitated a rescue dog who others would have considered potentially unadoptable. Hugo still has a way to go, but he's on the right path, and has guidance to help him succeed as a dog in a human world. What did it take to get Hugo there?
Understanding the nuances of dog training vs dog behavior, and how to use Piloting to bridge the communication gap between dog and human.
Table of Contents
Dog Behavior: The Foundation of A Healthy Bond with Your Dog
Dog behavior is a naturally occurring thing. It's not right or wrong, it just is. But what it can also have is a negative effect, as Hugo's dad experienced. Behavior is a natural response to a set of stimuli, and a dog will always respond to stimuli with behavior that they think is correct and goal-focused. The problem arises when your goals don't align.
For instance, Hugo goal is to get his dad to play with him. Hugo's reasonings are many: he's bored, hyper, or just loves to play with dad. Whatever the reason, Hugo's behavior to achieve that goal is completely unacceptable, and resulting in bruises and chaos for his dad. So the first step is to focus on Hugo's current behavior, and helping him exhibit impulse control.
Impulse control is the framework that you will build upon, and you are looking to build a solid, safe and stable foundation (like that of the brick house) rather than an impetuous, impulse driven foundation (like a hastily built tent).
It's up to you to help shape your dog's behavior by helping your dog develop impulse control. The more situations where you help guide your dog's impulses towards calm and steady, rather than brash and hyper, the stronger your foundation will become, lending strength and stability in scary or high energy situations.
I tend to think of behavior as "Should I?" questions.
Should I be hyper?
Should I jump?
Should I nip?
Should I be calm?
The answers to these questions are (respectively) no, no, no and yes, and Piloting is the method we use to deliver these answers to your dog in a way they understand, without scaring them and without bribing them with constant treats. We'll get to Piloting in a moment, but for now, think of Piloting a bit like parenting a small child.
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Dog Training: Elevating Your Bond with Your Dog
If dog behavior is the foundation, floor and roof of a house, think of dog training as what makes your house comfortable: furnishings, art on the walls or your favorite quilt. Not necessary, but makes life within that house so much easier and more comfortable, but are useless without those solid walls and steady roof.
I've met many dogs who know quite a few impressive tricks (dog training) but still lack any semblance of impulse control when the doorbell rings (dog behavior)!
If behavior is a question your dog is asking (should I jump on our guest?), training is an "If ______ then _______" statement you are making to your dog.
If a guest comes over then I sit down politely.
If mom says "stay" then I don't move.
Dog training is designed to help make your life easier and more comfortable with your dog. For example, your dog's hyper behavior is addressed when they ask if they should jump on your guest. But you can take it a step further and train them to sit when a guest comes in.
Behavior: "Can I jump on our guest?"
Training: "If a guest comes over, then I should sit."
Behavior: "Should I jump on you to get my food?"
Training: "If I wait calmly, then I will get my dinner."
Other examples of dog training are leash walking, basic commands or housebreaking your dog. Living in Cleveland, Ohio, it was important to me that I train my dogs to have their feet wiped when they come inside, and they wait patiently for their turn, rather than running amok with muddy paws.
Piloting Your Dog
Back to the Woods and their hyper, overstimulated dog, Hugo. How are we going to solve their dog's unruly behavior? By Piloting.
Piloting is answering your dog's questions, and comes in extremely handy with behavioral problems such as the ones Hugo is facing. His questions all needed to be answered, and not all the answers are a resounding "yes", but we are using communication, not domination, (so no shock collars or prong collars).
Now let's lay out the plan for getting the Wood's new dog Hugo back on the right path.
Ensuring an exercise regime that works for their dog
The Woods' dog is struggling because his usual mode of exercise has been limited due to some medical issues. He's a young dog, and has So Much Energy, and walking away all his energy is not a viable option.
But fortunately there are so many other ways to exercise a dog other than just taking them for a walk. Discover all the ways you can exercise your dog beyond walking your dog in this link.
Just like kids, a dog can't focus or control their impulses if they have pent up energy. The object is to set a dog up for success, and activity is a key component of that success.
Focusing on their dog's mental work
For better or worse, Hugo is an exceptionally intelligent dog, and likes to flex his mental muscle, learning tricks quickly. But there's more to life than just tricks. By busting Hugo's boredom in an efficient manner (for the humans at least), Hugo's mental prowess can be put to good, instead of destruction. Find out some (easy) ways to mentally exhaust your dog in this link.
Behavior: Encouraging Hugo's impulse control
Developing a dog's impulse control is something that is overlooked, when in fact it is the first thing I focus on with my clients' dogs. Like any muscle, it can atrophy through inconsistent use, or never have been developed to begin with, as shown by Hugo. We are going to build that muscle up again by adding small amounts of stimuli and then rewarding calm behavior.
What does that look like? Positives for declination of energy. If your dog wants to be pet, have them sit first. If they want a ball thrown, make them wait calmly for just a moment before throwing it, gradually building up to longer and longer periods of patience your dog must show before they get any "payout", be it balls tossed, treats given or snuggles given.
By helping a dog get used to patience in easier, more manageable situations, we are able to gradually build up to harder situations. It's a marathon, not a sprint, so help them learn, rather than expecting instant compliance.
Encouraging "benevolent boredom" with their dog
Dogs, like humans, can be stimuli junkies.
But a constant stream of stimuli towards your dog is never a good thing. Learning to be "benevolently bored" is a good thing, but is not something that comes automatically. Learn how to teach your dog in this article.
Ending the "Yo Bitch" dog behavior
What on earth is a “Yo, Bitch”? It's an unsavory method of demanding things that your dog does: smacking you with their paw, jumping on you barking at you....all of those are examples of "yo, bitch". Yo, bitch feed me. Yo, bitch pet me. It's that demanding behavior that your dog is giving you.
If sitting politely and giving you puppy eyes is "may I please?", then "yo bitch" is its antithesis. It's rude with kids, it's rude with dogs. You aren't your dog's doormat. Learn more about "yo bitch" and how to end it here.
Using Hugo's dog toys more wisely
Rather than trying to have your dog puzzle out when exuberant play happens, train them to which toys they are allowed to be more energetic with, and where (while still maintaining boundaries). Hugo will only be allowed to play with his rough-and-tumble rope toys in designated areas, thus helping him understand that certain play is for certain areas.
Dogs are happiest with a natural order or flow of things. No, you don't need to schedule out your day, but knowing what types of play comes when and where can help your dog manage their expectations. Learn how in this article.
Have set doggie down time
For my three dogs, it can be difficult to keep them on a schedule, so therefore I keep them on a routine, and that includes routinely having down time. By setting aside time throughout the day where they need to be chill and calm, they are able to reboot and again, not constantly be overstimulated.
One easy way to train your dog to know it's chill time is with a series of cues. For my dogs, I have a play list for them (if you're wondering, it's Spotify's Deep Focus), and a Kong. When those two things happen together, my dogs know it's going to be down time for a while, and that no amount of cajoling, whining or Yo Bitching will change things, so they stop trying. Again managing their expectations so they know what will happen next. When they hear that music and see Kongs come out, they know they will be calming chilling out for a chunk of time, until that music ends and we're ready for Whatever Comes Next.
Hugo will know that when his beloved PB Kong comes out, he will enjoy it quietly in his crate, after which, he will be having a nap/doze for an extended period of time (anywhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hours). By knowing that naps follow Kongs, he's able an anticipate what happens next, and be in the correct mental mindset to show impulse control, rather than just the constant whiplash of flitting from high energy to low energy, a requirement he's unable to fulfill at the moment. By bridging high and low energy activities with things such as Kongs & chew toys, Hugo feels more secure in the flow of the day.
The Woods family sent me an update on Hugo recently. A mere two weeks after our initial dog training session, Hugo is already calmer, and able to to regulate his impulses. His jumping has all but ceased, and Hugo is well on this way to become their Best Dog Ever.
Dog Training vs. Dog Life
Here at Darwin Dogs, we focus on dog life, rather than merely dog training, so our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people, I guess.
But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training here in Cleveland over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dogs based on trust and communication.
Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.
Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.
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Dog Training and Puppy Training
Located in Cleveland, Ohio