Why traditional dog training is failing you, and what to do about your dog's behaviors instead
Everyone loves Google, but nobody quite as much as the owner of a new puppy who hasn't gone to the bathroom outside in the full two weeks they've had said puppy.
The new puppy panic sets in:
Hey Google, what basic commands does my dog need to know? Hey Google, am I housebreaking my dog wrong? Hey Google, how much exercise does a puppy need?
And of course Google is more than happy to supply you with All The Answers. All 7,338,241,060,935 of them. So far.
You're up late at night reading anything that remotely sounds like "How To Train A Dog". Everything is contradicting everything else. Shock collars are abusive. Your dog needs to know who's alpha dominant master head chef pack honcho. Don't feed your puppy after midnight.
There's just too much info out there. Everyone knows how to train a dog. But nobody knows how to train your dog.
Understanding Your Dog's Behavior
Let's start with one very important fact: everyone is obsessed with The Latest Thing. The newest hack. New and improved. We are overcomplicating everything, including our dogs. The more steps there are to housebreaking, the better this method must be. These dog classes meet 3x per week for 6 weeks instead of just 2x per week for 7 weeks, so it must be better. More complicated, more steps, more more....it must be better.
But your dog is simple in the most perfect way. Your dog doesn't need all the entrapments and gimmicks of a human world. Your dog only needs one thing: communication.
And how your dog best communicates is through Piloting, asking and answering questions. But what they need to communicate to you about is something nobody but your dog can tell you.
Piloting Your Dog Instead of Training
The PAW Method is based upon three simple tenants: Piloting, Activity, and Work. Activity is just exercise. Work is mental stimulation, or enrichment. The Piloting can also be thought of as parenting, they're almost alike. And what is parenting? Teaching through communication. Asking and answering questions.
Honest and open communication and dialogue. Children should never be forbidden to ask a question, and while they may not like your answer, they should never be afraid of your answer. Kids are on a quest to understand this crazy-ass world they were squelched out into, and so is your dog.
Learn to see the questions your dog is asking, which is completely different than your neighbor's dog, your parent's dog, or hell, maybe even your other dog. For example, in my house, the questions most often asked by my two dogs:
Arwen: "Can I chase the cat?" and "Wanna play fetch?"
Ellis: "Wanna cuddle?" and "Should I be afraid of that dog across the street?"
By merely seeing each dogs' individual questions, I can focus on what's important, rather than doing dog training that doesn't apply to my specific dog. In other words, I don't need to work on dog reactivity with Arwen, but I do need to negate her questions about the cat (although the cat is an asshole who deserves what he should get from her, but I digress). I give Arwen a simple negative, she chooses to accept the answer or not. If she accepts, we're done. If she doesn't, I continue to answer her question until she does accept (ie., stops chasing the cat who is once again taunting her).
While the answer to the questions Ellis asks is indeed usually a resounding "yes" to cuddle time, it obviously must be a "no" to whether or not he should be afraid of the other dog. While Ellis isn't quite dog reactive, he is definitely very timid, and needs not a firm hand, but a loving, guiding Pilot to answer those questions for him. Once he's no longer asking about the dog heading our way (ie., trying to ignore them and stop trying to bolt off the leash away from the other dog), we are done. No punishment is needed - that's just plain gross anyway. It's a question, not an infraction. They don't need correction, they need answers.
The Piloting Piggy Bank
Okay, so you understand the basics of what Piloting is, so what can it do for your training?
So each time I answer Arwen's question about the cat, and she accepts my answer, I get what I call money in my Piloting Piggy Bank. Each question she asks costs a certain dollar amount (which is different for each dog). I answer the question, I get the money.
Ellis and Arwen both want to know if they can have any of the carrots I'm chopping up for a salad. I'm going to negate both of them. Arwen only requires a very minimal negative before she accepts my answer, so we'll say that question only cost me $5 out of the Piloting Piggy Bank. Ellis, however, has decided that accepting my negative will cost about $15. Is he bad? No, it's just that carrots are more valuable to him, so I have to pay for my answer. Which he accepts after just a bit more negatives.
Now I have added $5 to my bank account with Arwen, and $15 to my Ellis account. So what do I do with it?
I can then use that money to pay for the next question. Both dogs are barking at the door because the Fed-Ex guy is making many deliveries at our door. That's a $5 question for each of them, but since I just earned more money, this question requires just a hint of a negative before they accept. Remember, any dog behavior isn't bad, it's just negative or positive.
So now my running total in the banks are $10 and $20 respectively. And the amount just keeps growing throughout the day with each question I answer.
It doesn't matter the cost of the question; if I have enough balance in my Piloting Piggy Bank, they accept the answer almost immediately. If the question costs more than I have in the bank, then I simply earn that money by continuing to answer their question until they accept my answer.
Case in point: The cat pounces on Arwen's tail. She wants to chase him ($100). The Piloting ensues.
Arwen: Can I chase the cat? ($50 question)
Me: No (with $25 in my bank)
Arwen: Can I chase the cat (still at it)
Me: No (got $10 with that negative)
Awen: Can I chase the cat? (still going at him because I don't have the $50 yet)
Me: No (another $15, bringing my total to $50).
Arwen: Ok. (accepts my answer and brings me a ball instead
I now have another $50 to put into my Piloting Piggy Bank. That balance continues to build until Arwen starts to trust me that I will indeed follow through with my answers until she accepts them. Meaning now that the cat question is $50, it requires barely any answer, if any. No algorithms, no calculations or machinations. No memorizations on how to handle each, individual scenario. In other words, no training required.
You don't train kids, you don't train dogs. You answer their questions until they start to anticipate the answers.
No bribing them. No negotiating. And no domination.
Just simple communication that has created trust. Your dog is starting to trust that you have safe, good and cruelty-free answers. They are more apt to ask you a question instead of assuming an answer themselves.
Now when Ellis sees another dog, he doesn't immediately go on his toes, meerkatting, as I call it, trying to find out if they are a threat.
He looks to me to see if I have an answer regarding that dog. Yes, it's a $5,000 question he is asking, but I've been patiently saving my money, answering his questions with empathy and understanding instead of force and coercion. I give him a gentle negative, and he accepts my answer.
Good boy, Ellis.
Dog Training vs. Dog Life
By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, 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 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 dog based on trust and communication.
Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.
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