Getting Your Dog's Behavior Back on Track
"Hi, my name is ________ and I'm calling to get training for my dog. She's a great dog, and we love her so much, but she's got some behaviors we need to work on."
I always love how clients first introduce themselves when they call. I try not to be a judgmental person, but those are almost exactly the words I want to hear when speaking to a client the first time: that your love for your dog always comes first, but you admit there are some problems that can't be ignored.
There's a handful of times that all I hear are complaints about the dog, and I know those sessions are going to be excruciating; the owner is unable to separate the dog's negative behaviors from their dog, only focusing on the negatives. They forget a key point:
Your dog is not out to get you, he's merely doing rational things that make sense to a dog.
Your dog is not trying to "get back" at you. They don't work that way. So, yeah..."rage shitting" in the house is not a thing.
It’s easy for me to understand dogs, because I realize it’s not about training them. Not really. As Edward Hoagland stated,
“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.”
It’s more about working with your dog to build a relationship and trust so they can live comfortably live in a human world.
When clients call me to their house, they are at their wits end. They’re frustrated with certain behaviors they don’t understand. My job is to try to build a bridge between dogs and humans, and to do that, I need to help humans understand exactly what’s going through a dog’s mind, and why Fido does that.
Once they can empathize with their dog, it’s so much easier for them to build that bridge of communication, and meet their dog in the middle. After we've established empathy, we start with the Piloting, one of the three pillars of The PAW Method of dog training.
Not the WAP Method. Let's not make this awkward, hm?
The PAW Method of Dog Training
Piloting - Working with Your Dog's Behavior
Answering your dog's questions. It's almost like parenting. Every question you answer for your dog gets you money out of your dog's Piloting Piggy Bank and makes a deposit into your Piloting account. Whoever has the most money wins. The more money you have saved up, the easier life in general is with your dog.
The truly easy part about Piloting? Every question they "ask" you is answered with either a yes or no. Hot/Cold. Red light/green light. No long, drawn out answer. A simple positive or negative.
Arwen: Can I chew on your shoe?
She accepts the answer and we are done. I've got some money out of her Piloting Piggy Bank. She's not bad; she merely had a question. The amount of money I get out of the bank depends upon how "expensive" the question is. For me to negate her chewing on a piece of cardboard isn't that expensive, as it's not high value. Maybe two dollars. However, if she's chewing on the cat food, that's more like $25.00. Each time I answer the question, I get money until I can pay for her to accept the answer. In other words, I may have to answer a few times. I call that a case of the "Are You Sure?".
Arwen: Can I chew on your shoe?
Arwen: *Looks at me, and goes back to chewing on the shoe* Are you sure I can't chew on your shoe?
She's not bad, I just simply need to get more money out of her bank by negating her behavior again. I answer the question again, earning a bit of money with each answer, until I have the amount I need to finally pay for the shoe.
Now she's left it alone to go do something else. I've just made a big deposit into my Piloting bank account.
I can now use that money to pay for the next question she asks. My Piloting Piggy Bank then snowballs with compound interest, until questions are a breeze, and some that are always receive a negative ("Can I chase the cat?") are being anticipated as a negative by Arwen, so she stops asking altogether.
Arwen: Can I chase the ca-.....never mind. It's always a negative anyway.
This is the framework of Piloting. No shock collars or prong collars. No violence or yelling. Simply a cruelty-free series of Q&A.
Activity - Setting up Your Dog For Good Behavior
Exercise, plain and simple. Each dog, as an individual, has a set amount of calories they need to burn in order to function comfortably. The amount varies based on the individual dog, not necessarily the breed, as siblings from the same litter can have a different level of activity they require. Unless your dog is getting enough activity, your dog is bound struggle, and therefore, so do you.
Your dog's activity should be based upon a few things, such as:
- Build (long and lean like a Border Collie or stocky and strong like a Mastiff)
Work - Keeping Your Dog Mentally Engaged
A source of positive, productive stress in your dog's life.
Your dog requires positive stress in their life to feel fulfilled. Without it, they can become anxious, rebellious, unfocused, and downright destructive. Just like Activity, each dog has a set amount of mental work they require to feel mentally sated.
My Ellis, for example, is exceptionally intelligent, and picks up tricks in no time flat, but definitely has a lower Work ethic than Arwen. His requirements for mental work are pretty low, and can be sated by simple enrichment feeding, boosted with learning a new trick.
Arwen, however, may not even be smarter than Ellis, but definitely is obsessive with the learning. Think Hermione Granger. Arwen needs enrichment toys, games of "find it", learning tricks, as well as rudimentary agility. Without these outlets, she's an absolute troll to live with.
Check out this link for some ideas to easily give your dog the mental work they require.
Piloting, Activity and Work in Conjunction - Making it Effective
During my in home training sessions with my clients, I always go over the specifics of Piloting, Activity and Work. It's amazing to me how often these principles are confused.
When I ask what kind of mental Work their dog is getting, I hear things like tug, going for a walk, fetch. While they provide a small amount of mental Work, these are actually forms of Activity. Teaching a dog a trick is Work, not Activity (although a small amount of Activity may be involved).
Just as a flower needs sunshine, water and soil to grow, your dog needs Piloting, Activity and Work.
You can not expect your dog to be calm and have impulse control through Activity alone; even if you take them for a 10 mile hike, they still need Piloting to understand that jumping is a negative behavior. You can be the most amazing Pilot, gently, but firmly answering every question, but unless you've given them a mental and physical outlet through Activity and Work, your dog is going to be prone to destructive behaviors and potentially anxiety.
The PAW Method of dog training isn't difficult, nor is it complicated. It requires merely that you recognize your dog is a sentient being capable of questions. No, your dog doesn't want to "please you". They aren't sycophants.
What they do want is to have a bond, and to work together. Understand that your dog is liable to make mistakes. Afterall, they are a dog living in a human world. They need help navigating our world. Piloting, Activity and Work are the tools you use to help him succeed.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio