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Dog Training Differently: The PAW Method of Dog Training


The beautiful thing about Darwin Dogs dog training is the simplicity of our core philosophy, which is captured in our innovative Piloting, Activity and Work, or as we refer to it, the PAW Method.  The PAW Method of dog training centers around the belief that dogs are dogs, and that’s why we love them.  Treat humans like humans, expect cats to be catty, but the beauty of dogs is that they are dogs.  Minimalists.


But where does the love and affection come in?


Think of love, companionship and affection as the reason you got a dog (honestly, the only reason why anyone should have a dog), just as the only you have a car is for transportation.


The PAW method is your your responsibility as a dog owner.


So what is The PAW Method?

Puppy training

Blending Dog Training with Dog Behavior: Piloting


Let’s start at the beginning:  Piloting.  Imagine you are on an airplane and there’s only one pilot. Suddenly the pilot becomes unconscious.  Who is going to fly the plane?!  Obviously you are going to give it your best effort, but how do you feel?  Terrified? Nervous? Overstimulated and overwhelmed?  In short, not good.  You don’t understand this situation you’ve been thrust into, but it’s a life/death situation!


That’s exactly how your dog feels.  Your dog is a dog, and most of their instincts are still set for survival in the wild.  Dogs and wolves are the same animal.  They can viably breed together.  A pack of dogs and a pack of wolves have the same social dynamics, rear their young the same, hunt the same….there is nothing on the planet that humans are so compatible with.  A dog can even be integrated into a wolf pack.  A dog still has instincts that allow them to survive in the wild.



Living in the wild is dangerous.  Not everyone survives, and it can be difficult, but the issues dogs and wolves face in the wild are pretty simple to understand: how to catch your prey, and how not to be prey. They are constantly on alert for anything that can injure them or kill them, as well as anything that can supplement their diet.  Pretty stressful, but they understand the rules of the game.


So what do we do? We stick them indoors, where we change all the rules.  First we mess with the natural order of light/dark by means of lamps and curtains.  Then we humans do some pretty crazy things, such as letting non-pack members (read: possible threats) in our house without properly checking them out. (To you it’s your Aunt Sally, whom you haven’t seen in years.  To a dog, it’s “Not Pack”).  


Furniture, strange smells, strange sounds – it all adds up to a pretty stressful environment for a dog.  Then to top it all off, we ask them to Pilot our human world.  We answer none of their questions, and believe me they have them. No wonder so many of our dogs have separation anxiety, fear aggression and many other issues!



So, going back to that airplane (that you are flying while the true pilot is unconscious)…what would you do if the pilot regained consciousness? Maybe check him out, make sure he’s okay, and then jump out of that seat like it’s hot and let him fly the plane!  The sense of relief you would feel, not being in charge of the situation anymore!  Well, that’s exactly how our dogs feel when we finally start Piloting them. 


So how DO you Pilot a dog? Simple.


Dogs ask questions all the time.  “Can I have that shoe?”  “Is that other dog a threat?”  “Can we play ball right now?”  Problem is, most humans never bother to answer a dog’s questions.  So Piloting a dog is merely giving your dog answers to the questions they ask.  To do that, you have to realize that dogs operate almost exclusively on body language. So the bad news is you have to learn a new language, but the good news is that dogs are binary creatures: they only ask yes/no questions.  Even easier: yes is the absence of no Those of you who have children understand this concept (“Well you never said I couldn't!”).


So it's not really about dog training. You don't train kids, you don't train dogs. What you're doing is answering your dog's questions enough times that they start to anticipate the answer you will give to each question. Learn more about it here.


So how do you answer a dog’s 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, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him, with the treat behind you. This means that you are “claiming” the treat. You can move into his personal space to back him off it a bit.  Once he’s engaged with you, nothing, or everything (in other words, looking everywhere but at the treat), remove your strong body language by walking to the side or away from him. This shows him that he is giving you the correct response: accepting that the treat is yours. If he looks at your treat again, simply use the body language again. Learn more about how to do it in this article.


Think of it as a game of hot/cold.  His question is, “Can I have that?”  The answer is “No”. You answer his question using that body language.  When he accepts the answer (looking at you, everything, or nothing, but definitely NOT looking at the treat), then you’re finished.  Remove your negative body language.  You may have to put the negative body language right back on him if he immediately tries to go for it, but that’s natural – it may take him a few times to accept that you are finally ready to fly this plane.  Remember, remaining calm is the key.  Anger should never be a part of working with your dog's behaviors.


So again, Piloting is answering a dog’s questions, which makes it so much more efficient than simple dog training. You have the ability quickly answer a dog's question about barking or begging at the table ("no") and then move on with your life, rather than setting up countless dog training sessions.


You would answer the question in the same way if he is asking if something is a threat (stand between your dog and the perceived threat, facing your dog, and simply back him off while standing up straight). Pretty easy, huh? The more you show your dog behavior that you are capable of being in control and the Piloting, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. Your dog's anxiety will lessen. 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.


Exercising Your Dog Easily: Activity


Activity is just the amount of exercise your dog gets.  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/dog pack. Each day a pack hikes miles to and from a hunt. Your pup has this same extinct. It’s important that they get Activity every day and probably more than you can even imagine that they can handle!


Some ways to enhance your Activity time is to invest in a backpack for your pup. You can find them on Amazon and your local pet stores. By adding a very small amount of weight to the backpack (I start a typical pitbull on 1 cup of dried beans or rice on each side), and having them wear it around the house as well as on walks, you are giving them more activity (talk to your vet first before starting this routine).


My tiny papillion, Orion, only has 2 tablespoons of coffee in his backpack.




Fetch, agility 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.


Learn about how exercising your dog makes training your dog so much easier in this article. And for additional resources on how to wear out your dog, check out this article.


Dog Mental Enrichment: 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. Boredom leads to your dog figuring out their own ways keep themselves busy, which leads to your shoes getting new ventilation.


An easy way to get some mental work in for your pup is to use an enrichment feeder, such as a Kong Wobbler, Omega Ball or Busy Buddy Twist N Feed for your dog’s mealtimes. 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 think about how they will get their food, it adds some mental Work into their day, but doesn't add anytime to yours as you are going to feed them anyways.  Also, while getting the food out of an enrichment toy can be stressful, your dog will figure it out, and when they alleviate their own stress, they build confidence.



Other things you can do for some mental work are playing “find it” games, teaching them a new trick, or even just rapid firing commands at them that they already know:  sit, down, up, roll-over, sit – all of these commands said quickly makes your dog focus intently on what you may have them do next.


For more information on mental work, and easy ways to give your dog the enrichment they need, check out this link.









Each of these three parts of the PAW method are extremely important. It’s a tripod – remove a leg, and it all crumbles, so don’t “make do” with Piloting and Work, but skip the Activity.  Each component is integral. It takes commitment, but, it’s also a ton of fun. By giving your dog what they need (Piloting, Activity and Work) you will be getting exactly what you wanted: your best friend.

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.



Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.



Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?



border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio


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