Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

Today's topic is another hot topic that countless people think is "bad" or "unacceptable": Letting your dog go through a doorway before you.

Dear Lord, If I had a nickel for every time that I heard that if you allow this behavior, your dog is trying to dominate you, I would be that much closer to buying the Lamborghini I've always wanted.

So, here I am again with another confession to make...

Oscar goes through doorways before me.

Gasp! Oh wait a minute....the lights are still on!  The sun is still shining and I'm still on my two feet. What?!  How did that happen?!

Because my dog is doing what works for him.

You see, dogs are innocently selfish...oh, how I love that about them...and they are always doing what works for them. Dogs are not born with an understanding that they should let humans go through doorways first - that idea was created by us and taken way out of proportion when people started saying that your dog is trying to dominate you because they want to get outside. Wrong. All they are doing is trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible because arriving at point B is highly reinforcing. It's plain and simple. That's it.

As an example, let's focus on an entry door to your home. Usually the doorway leads to "good stuff" for the dog. If you are in your house, going out the exterior door leads to The Almighty Outdoors. There are things to sniff, stuff to explore and items to be peed and pooped on.  There are games to play, walks to be had and a potential car ride to go on. Going outside is typically VERY reinforcing for dogs.

That said, I think everyone should teach their dog to wait at physical thresholds until they are cued to go through. It's one of my top 5 life skills for all dogs and it is one of the first behaviors I teach a dog that becomes a part of my family.

~ Mr. Handsome Pants showing off his door manners ~
Oscar is allowed out of our entry door multiple times per day and he almost always goes out first. Sometimes my husband or I go out before him to scan the yard for squirrels or make sure his toy box didn't tip over and spill all over the driveway. Most times, however, we open the door and while we are still standing inside give him his release cue to go outside.

Since waiting at the door has been heavily reinforced (at least 5x/day for 4 years), it has become one of Oscar's strongest behaviors. So much so that he sat waiting at the door while the wind blew it open a few days ago as I was standing about 20 feet away (and up a few steps) in the nearby kitchen. He just sat there, looked at me and I thanked him profusely as I walked down the steps, closed the door (and locked it), then called him upstairs and gave him a bone.

Oscar could really care less if one of his humans goes out the door before him. All he wants is to come outside and we have made it contingent upon him offering an auto wait at the door. He doesn't get to go outside every time we go outside, however when he does, we don't worry about whether or not he goes out first. What's important for us is that he exhibits some self control and can wait until he is cued to pass through. Plain and simple.

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #4: My Dog Eats Before Me

Monday, November 11, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #2: My Dog Pulls On Leash

In this edition of "Confessions of a Dog Trainer," I am going to talk about another behavior that is at the top of a lot of dog owner's "Must Fix" list; pulling on leash. In my previous post I talked about the first of my dirty little secrets and today's post is aimed at another common "problem" behavior that I hear complaints about...a lot.

So as I stretch out my legs and begin my ascent onto my soap box...let me start by asking a few warm-up questions to those of you out there reading...and be honest with your answers.

Question 1: Are dogs born knowing how to walk on a leash?
Question 2: What is your dog's natural walking pace compared to yours?
Question 3: How many dogs pull when they are NOT on a leash?
Question 4: Who's idea is it to walk on leash? Your's? Or your dog's?

Now, think about your answers. Like, really think about them.

If you're like me, your answers were:

Answer 1: No.
Answer 2: Faster. In my case, a lot faster.
Answer 3: Zero.
Answer 4: Mine. 

Walking on leash is NOT a natural behavior for dogs. 

Yet for many dogs, being on a leash is an everyday occurrence and it is a necessary safety precaution to keep themselves and others safe. Have you ever seen an off-leash dog hauling ass down a busy road in the city as cars swerve and slam on their brakes? I have. And It's scary. Really scary. It is a hazard to more than the dog at large...I have seen cars swerving in rush hour traffic to avoid hitting a dog who was on the loose.

I do think leash laws are important for safety reasons and I wholeheartedly believe that all dogs should be taught how to walk politely on leash. Do I think every dog needs to walk in a perfect heel position? No. Do I think that they should be taught to walk on a loose leash - even if they are in front of their owner from time to time? Yes.  Do I think that owners should allow their dog to pull them down the street the entire walk. No.

But, I do have a confession... 
My dog is NOT perfect and pulls on leash, on occasion.
Oscar pulling on leash. GASP!
Oh wait, the world kept turning!

The leash pulling is usually in one of the following contexts:
  • At the initial sight of a squirrel or bunny rabbit.
  • If we are on our walk and get home to see Aaron has arrived home while we've been gone.
  • When he gets dropped off at doggy day care.
  • When I have released him to "go sniff" in nature's shopping mall.
Is Oscar being a "bad" dog when he pulls on leash? No. He simply wants to get from point A to point B as fast as possible...which happens to be faster than I can move...and wouldn't you know, there's a piece of leather that doesn't let that happen and tension is created on the leash.

Have I taught him how to walk politely so I can cue that behavior when I think it's important? Yes I can.

Do I stop moving if he is pulling on leash when I don't want him to be? Yes I do.

Do I "allow" Oscar to sniff on walks? Um, yeah. And a lot. 

Do I use access to what he wants (squirrel chase, Aaron, day care gate, pee tree) to reward a few steps with me on a loose leash? YOU BET.  

Do I want him to be a robot dog that walks perfectly at my left knee at all times? Nope. How boring for both him and I.

Do I think a walk should be a mutually enjoyable time for us to be together? Absolutely

Do we negotiate during our walks and listen to each other's requests to stop and sniff or keep walking? Yes.

Do I sometimes adjust my pace to keep up with Oscar? Yeup. 

Does Oscar sometimes adjust his pace to keep up - or slow down - with me? Yes.

To me - in my life and in my situation with my dog - an occasional pulling on the leash is completely acceptable. I don't lose sleep over it and I certainly do not think Oscar is trying to take over the world by pulling.  I actually like having a dog that acts like a dog from time to time...a dog that is excited about the environment around him.

And here's my challenge to you, on the loop end of the leash:
Have the same respect for your dog as you would like. If you don't want your dog pulling on leash, then you should mirror the same behavior...don't pull them all over the place. Instead focus your efforts on reconnecting with your dog with your voice, body and mind and invite them to come along with you. Unless if it is a life-threatening situation - or you NEED to get your dog out of somewhere (say, there are 20 toddlers running toward you and your not-so-kid-friendly dog), NEVER initiate a leash pull. 

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #3: My Dog Goes Through Doors Before Me

Monday, November 4, 2013

Confessions of a Dog Trainer #1: My Dog Sleeps On My Bed

Those who know me know that I talk about dogs a lot. No matter how a conversation with my co-workers or friends begins, it’s not uncommon for it to turn into questions about dogs. A few of my friends - and countless dog training clients - often confess to me that they know it's wrong that they let their dogs up on their furniture and allow them to sleep in bed with them. They are often very apologetic and often times humiliated by the "awful" truth that they allow their dog "human" privileges.

Well, I've got news for you, my dog is allowed on furniture and he makes himself quite comfortable each evening at the foot of my side of the bed.

Oscar, on "my" side of the bed

While allowing pets on furniture is a personal choice, let me lay a few guidelines as to when I feel it is and is not appropriate to allow pets this comfort.
  • If my dog growled at me while he was on any piece of furniture, I would not allow him to be up there. I would use varying levels of management to prevent his access to it and actively modify this behavior if my end goal was to share the space with him.
  • If I would like to gain access to a certain piece of furniture, at my request, I expect my dog to relinquish his spot and take up camp somewhere else. Of course, I don't expect him to be born knowing this behavior...I train it and make it worth his while for moving (treats, access to a different squishy, warm spot, or an invitation to jump back up after he has jumped off).
  • If I am already up on a piece of furniture and my dog wants to join me, I expect him to wait for an invitation. The majority of the time I will offer an invitation, but other times I do not because I am eating or simply want to relish in the full surface area of the couch and stretch out my tired legs.
Oscar sleeps on our bed and he is allowed on both of our couches. Of course he has other options too...and most of the time when we are hanging out during waking hours, he finds comfort in strategically placing himself on a nearby rug or dog bed where he can keep tabs on every single entry door to our house while simultaneously keeping track of all of his humans. 

This simple matter of comfort and choice has not made Oscar a "dominant" dog in any way, shape or form. He is a healthy dog who enjoys being comfortable and I am confident in the relationship we have that I do not need to worry about his furniture privileges. 

If your situation is similar to that of mine, don't apologize or feel guilty that your dog sleeps in bed with you or hops up on the couch with you. I guarantee you he is not trying to take over the world...he's just more comfortable being on a soft piece of furniture.

Stay tuned for more confessions from my daily life with my special boy...

Coming Up Next: 
Confessions of a Dog Trainer #2: My Dog Pulls on Leash