I have a long history of standing by my statement that dogs are very simple creatures. They definitely aren’t stupid. They’re refreshingly simple. There’s not much subterfuge about them. I’ve never thought much of traditional dog training, with it's long lists of "do’s and don’ts" and massive flow charts for the various "if/when" scenarios. Why complicate such simplistically beautiful creatures, such as dogs are, with all kinds of clauses, addendum and notations? Dogs are beautiful because they are simple and pure. It's less about training them to specific behaviors than it is about communicating with them about those behaviors.
Still, humans tend to fare better when at least given the general direction of where to start with dogs, preferably written down. In stone. So I therefore present to you the fifteen commandments of dog training
Um, I present to you the ten commandments of dog training.
1) THOU SHALT PILOT THY DOG. Thy dog is not savvy unto the ways of the human world, for thine canine is but a canine,though created perfectly, as a canine.
In other words, if you want a square peg to fit in a round hole, it’s going to need some help. Both the square peg and the round hole may need to change and accommodate each other, but both need to change. In most households, I see the dog is expected to adapt to living in a human world, whereas the humans are expected to merely expect the dog to accommodate them by changing into a human. Dogs need Pilots. Until they develop opposable thumbs, help them to understand this human world. Answer their myriad of questions, whether it be as benign as “Hey, you going to eat that?” to as serious as “Is that other dog going to kill us?”. Give them the answers they crave in the form of Piloting, and help them make sense of this place.
2) THOU SHALT KEEP THEY DOG IN MOVEMENT. For thine canine is not a machine, it has a heart which loveth thou deeply. Keep it pumping.
Your dog is not a mobile area rug, nor should you expect it to behave as one. If you want a good dog, give your dog the Activity he craves, no just for his enjoyment, but for his well being. A dog who is not exercised has plenty of demons. Exorcise Exercise those demons.
3) THOU SHALT GIVE YOUR DOG A JOB. Thy canine was created for a purpose, and a purpose he must have.
Don’t treat you dog like he’s stupid, because he ain’t. He’s got a big ol’ brain in his head, designed to help him work with his pack to hunt his food. Right now that huge cranium is being used to hunt down the last Cheerio from under the couch. Treat a dog like a dog…like the intelligent, sentient being he is. Give him food for his brain. Mental work: enrichment feeders, stupid tricks, scent detection, or even a silly game of agility in your living room.
4) THOU SHALT NEVER PUNISH A DOG FOR BEING A DOG. Thy canine has been created perfectly, as a canine. Thou shalt not punish him for not acting human.
You got a dog because you wanted a dog. If you want another human, go on a date, realize it’s stupid, humans are dumb, and then get a dog, because dogs are so much better.
Don’t punish the dog because it doesn’t fully understand a human world, and doesn’t do human things. Punishment is sick and gross, and so overrated.
5) THOU SHALT USE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT LIBERALLY, BUT ONLY AS APPROPRIATE. Thou shalt Pilot thy dog, not bribe thy dog.
You simply cannot use positive reinforcement for every single situation your dog gets into. Learn to identify when positive is merited (a lot more often than you’d think) and how to give it (it’s not just treats!). Marking a behavior you like (housebreaking, calmness, or a trick) with positive reinforcement is only half the answer. Making sure you don’t mark unwanted behaviors with positive is the other half.
6) THOU SHALT REALIZE THE DEPTH OF DEVOTION THY CANINE HAS. And thou shalt strive to be worthy of said devotion.
Your dog will only live 10-15 years. Some less, some more. Most of their time is spent waiting for you. For that brief moment of happiness they get when you spend just a little bit of time with them. For that quick “Hi Fido. Miss me today boy?” that they get in that five minutes between you coming home from work to let them out and you going out again for drinks with you friends. It means the world to them. You mean the world to them. Be worthy of it. They spend their entire lives waiting. Don’t let it be in vain. Love them.
7) THOU SHALT SCREW UP, AND THOU SHALT BE FORGIVEN. Thy canine is but a canine, and thou art but human. Forgive thyself as thy canine hast already done.
I stepped on Orion’s tail yesterday. After I kicked him in the face during our walk. I totally suck. But he forgave me, and I forgave myself because I did the best I could. I look back at my first dog, Saint Darwin (he’s been canonized for this post), and I see so many things I would have done differently with him, but it was over 20 years ago when I got him. I did the best I could. If you can truly say that, then you’re forgiven. Grudges are never held. That’s the beauty of the Church of Dog.
8) THOU SHALT NOT FEEL THE NEED TO LIKE THY CANINE AT ALL TIMES, FOR HE CAN TRULY BE AN ASSHOLE. Yet thou shalt still remember to love thy canine despite his proclivity towards assholery.
Sometimes you really want to murder your dog. Usually over a new pair of shoes, or what is now 1 1/2 pairs of shoes. Remember, your dog isn’t out to get you, your dog isn’t angry, and your dog isn’t “acting out”. But that doesn’t help assuage your anger, though, does it?
I have a saying: ”I’d rather say a mean thing than do a mean thing.”
I give you permission to call your dog is an asshole. To not like him at the moment. To call him whatever name you want to (Hint: ”Shitbird” has already been taken by Orion; Sparta is “Crazy Bitch”.) I will never yell these names at my dogs, because my dogs are not ever to be demeaned by yelling. But calmly acknowledging that I don’t like them right now …well, that’s imperative. I’m not going to pretend that I love working with Sparta’s dog reactivity, or that Orion’s anxious nature is something I had long dreamed to have in a dog. I may not like these issues, but I’m the human, and it’s up to me to deal with them. And it’s ok not to like them. But I will always love them. No matter what they’ve done, I love them still.
9) THOU SHALT LOVE THE CANINE YOU HAVE, NOT THE CANINE YOU WANT. For the canine thou want is but a mythical beast which lives only in thy imagination.
Sparta is dog reactive. Orion is hyper. Not the dogs I necessarily wanted, but always the dogs I love. I will never try to turn them into something they aren’t. Stop the comparisons between your dog and other dogs.
10) THOU SHALT KNOWETH THAT THY CANINE IS UNIQUE, AND SHALL REMAIN SPECIAL IN YOUR HEART FOREVER.
One of a kind. The best dog ever. Mourn them when they’re gone. Get a little weepy eyed when you see another dog walking down the street that looks exactly like your old dog, Rex.
They spend such a brief period with us…physically. In spirit, though, let them linger on for as long as you breathe for that is truly the best monument to give to a dog: memory of them. A small smile and a misty eye are the best shrine your dog could ever have, even 30 years later. And they deserved it. Even after everything, they always deserve it.
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio