As you know, I love dogs. I also love art. I am not sure how these will end up together, but I thought I’d include some of my art here and see what happens.
Some people hear “art” and freeze.
“What am I supposed to think of it?”
“Do I have to say I like it if I don’t?”
“What if I like it, but I don’t know why?”
To this I say, pretend you’re a dog. If a dog sees a new toy, he or she doesn’t worry if they “get it” or if they are reacting appropriately (well, unless they’ve been punished around toys). Generally speaking, they act according to what they’re feeling and thinking and don’t sweat it.
So, you may see a new painting here and think, “Wow!” or “Nope. Doesn’t do a thing for me,” and either is okay by me.
If one of my paintings makes you happy, or if it gets under your skin, or if it reminds you of your Aunt Mildred for reasons you can’t put your finger on, I would like to hear your comments. Because, to be honest, when I ask my dogs what they think, they always say, “We think this should be in the Smithsonian. Now may we have a treat?” It’s just so hard to get a more nuanced response, you know?
I made this painting after doing some sketches at a dog park. I was incognito, on a bench with my sketchbook, until a very powerful dog showed serious predatory behavior toward a much smaller dog, who screamed in panic and got no help (at which point I took off my artist beret and put my dog trainer hat on). I left that part out of the painting.
No matter how perfectly socialized and dreamy your dog is, please download the $0.99 Dog Park Assistant for your phone and do not ever get sucked into bystander mode. If you don’t think you need the info on the App, you may be the very person who could use it the most. If you’re not sure about your dog, you can even upload a video clip for professional analysis. I highly recommend it!
Alrighty, before I start today’s topic I have got to tell you about a ginormous, bonus offering on dog training books. (Just skip this sentence if you are eager to get to the blog post. I mean, who has time for chit chat in this zany, fast-paced world?) Until midnight tonight, Monday, November 4th, you can get 40% off Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs (and all other books) at Lulu.com. Just enter coupon code FALLSALE40 at checkout.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
I was recently asked how a person, especially a child, should approach a dog. Naturally that is a trick question. Anyone who wants to interact with a dog should be waiting for the dog to approach them. This begs the following six questions:
1. What the heck are you talking about? 2. What if the dog doesn’t approach me? 3. What if the dog is prevented from approaching me because the owner has asked the dog to hold a position like a sit-stay, or is holding the dog by the collar or in their arms? 4. What if my dog goes bananas around people and therefore I purposefully prevent the dog from approaching others by having the dog hold a stay? 5. What if I have a dog who never voluntarily approaches people? 6. What if people don’t give my dog a chance to approach before reaching toward him or her?
I think it might be fun and useful to take on each of these questions in a blog series. What better timing than right before the holidays, when people and dogs are packed so tightly in each other’s space they might as well be stuffed into one of those little clown cars.
Let’s jump right in and start with the first question…
What the heck are you talking about?
As you can tell by my ABC’s of Dog Safety and Respect I am not only an advocate (as are other modern dog trainers) of asking the dog’s person whether it is okay to touch their dog, but I’m also an advocate of asking the dog. If you see a dog you’d like to greet, here is the way to do it:
Ask permission of the person.
Be a tree in order to ask permission of the dog: With hands at your side, stand and wait for the dog to approach you.
Chin or chest is where you should pet.
Fight the urge to stick out your hand (presumably in an effort to allow the dog to sniff you). That is outdated advice. As in, using-leeches-to-treat-a-fever outdated. The dog has already smelled you. He or she can smell you from Coney Island, trust me. When you stick out your hand, you are making a rude gesture to the dog. “Rude in what way?” you may be thinking.
Rude like so: Imagine I just introduced you to a pal of mine, and she said hi and then went right in toward your neck with both hands and straightened out your crumpled collar. “Whoa! Easy there, well-meaning new friend!” you’d be thinking. On one hand, she has kind intentions, but on the other hand, she doesn’t pause to imagine how you would feel about her actions. Think how differently you would feel if she said, “It’s so nice to meet you. I notice your collar is rumpled; would you like me to fix it?” She has just invited you to be an active participant in the interaction. If you want to make a connection with her that is more on the intimate side, you might well take her up on it. If you’d rather wait to get to know her a bit before having her adjust your clothes, you will appreciate how thoughtful she is and just fix it yourself. By asking you first, she may well have earned your trust right off the bat, instead of alienating you by coming on too strong. Maybe, just maybe, she will become one of those rare you’ve-got-parsely-stuck-between-your-teeth friends.
If you’ve always extended your hand toward dogs and swear you’ve made zillions of dog buddies this way, please consider this: When you choose to reach toward the dog’s nose you are proving that there is a gap between you wide enough to allow a reach. That means the dog has not come up to you voluntarily. What might the dog be saying by hanging back a bit? (Dramatic pause for reflection.) Are you willing to listen?
It is polite, respectful, safer, and compassionate to wait for the dog to approach you, and here’s why (here comes the rough love portion of the post). Wanting to show your affection for dogs is a wonderful, wonderful thing. You may want to touch a dog because that makes you happy. Or maybe you are taken with a particular pooch. Or you want your child to feel comfortable with animals, or your child is desperate to touch the dog in front of you. These reasons are all perfectly understandable. However, and this may be difficult to acknowledge at first, none of those reasons is more important than the dog’s feelings. Remember, the dog has few options due to being on a leash, tethered, in a small space, or otherwise confined. If you fail to ask the dog, but instead just move in using old timey moves like sticking out your hand or patting the dog on the top of the head, you are invading the dog’s space and starting off your encounter with a fairly rude (and also potentially unsafe) maneuver.
Ask yourself: Would you want someone touching you (or your child) just because they feel like it, or because your child is (or you are) super cute? How about if you were saying, “No, I need my space,” loud and clear to the grabby person, and they touched you anyway? Even worse! And then there’s the awful ripple effect you could create: Do you want your child to learn that “I wanna!” is a good enough reason to touch others who are saying “no?” That thought should give you the heebie jeebies. No person should get to touch someone just because they really, really want to.
Dogs have their reasons for sometimes not wanting us to get close and touch them. And that should count. We should listen. And we should show our love in ways that take the other’s feelings into account. We should also teach kids to listen and to care about how others feel. We are all connected, and the more we practice paying attention to that, the better off we will be. This “ask and listen” practice may seem like no big deal at first glance, yet thinking of others this way is so powerful that it can change our world.
What do you think about doing an experiment the next five times you see a dog you’d like to touch? Would you be willing to try just standing still, and seeing if the dog comes up to you? If you’re even the least bit curious, give it a try! I would love to hear what you experience.
Tune in next time when we see grown adults have massive meltdowns on the sidewalk, trying to cope when dogs do not approach them, and we answer the question, “What if the dog doesn’t approach me?”
Imagine how useful it would be if your puppy or dog knew that when you say, “Spot,” he should lie down and relax on his mat.
Teaching “Spot” means you won’t have to deal with your dog doing any of the following:
Going berserk when someone rings the doorbell
Sampling snacks off your coffee table
Hanging around the dinner table or under your baby’s high chair
Putting paws on the counter while you prepare a meal
Bothering your kids or guests while they are seated or standing
Pestering other pets in your household
Dropping toys in your lap while you try to relax after a hard day of earning money to buy dog treats
Jumping up on people you meet on the street
Straining and whining at other dogs or people in the veterinarian’s waiting room or in puppy class
None of those aggravating things can happen if your dog is lying quietly on a mat, so teaching this one skill will be of benefit to you in many ways. Your dog will benefit because he will earn plenty of rewards in the form of praise, petting, treats, a stuffed Kong, being included in more activities and having a chance to chill out.
Believe it or not, this is not advanced training. It’s the kind of basic skill (like sit or come) that any dog can learn.
You’ll need a bath mat to start (later you can transfer the skill to a mat as tiny as a washcloth, and just carry it with you!), soft yet non-crumbly treats in a contrasting color to the mat, and an indoor location free of distractions. Some practice teaching “down” is a bonus that will speed the process. Use a leash or train in a powder room if you think your pup may wander off.
Here’s how to teach it. For more details and troubleshooting tips see Puppy Savvy, and ask questions in the comments section below.
Have a few treats ready in your pocket. Be prepared to say “yes” and bowl the treat onto the mat as soon as your puppy looks at the mat. Why will he bother to look at it? Because you will start by spreading out the mat, standing two feet away and looking at it yourself. He will look, and you will reward immediately by saying “yes!” and tossing the treat onto the mat. When he is finished eating his tidbit, encourage him off the mat by patting your leg and saying “ok” (in the video I say “free,” which happens to be Ruby’s release word). Repeat 2-3 times.
The hardest part of this training is resisting the urge to convince your dog to look at the mat by pointing, leaning, or outright bribing with food. If you do this, the training will take ninety-two times longer, and his skills will never be as strong as they could have been. Just stand there and look at the mat. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Warm up with a few reps of the above exercise. Then allow your pup to look at the mat, but don’t say a word. Just wait. His wheels will turn and he will walk over to the mat (because that’s where his reward has been magically appearing). When even one of his paws touches it, say “yes!” and feed him a treat. On each subsequent repetition, withhold your reward until another paw touches the mat (such that by the fourth repetition, he is leaving you, walking up to the mat, then putting all four paws on it).
Start right where you left off. Spread out the mat and wait. Your pup will look at it, walk to it, and stand on it. Reward as usual. On the next repetition, count to one or two and then reward. Woo hoo! He went to his mat and stayed for two seconds. Now anything is possible! Repeat a few times, encouraging him off the mat in between repetitions.
Take a short break and play with a toy, or just run around the room and act silly together.
Back to training. Go near the mat. Wait. After he is standing on it, wait some more. Don’t say anything. He will likely plop his butt into a sit, because by now he’s figured out from your other training that sitting pays the big bucks, and that staying on the mat is also highly rewarding. Say “yes” and feed him several treats like it’s a big deal (which it is!).
Only do a few of those because the goal is for him to lie down, right?
Repeat the last exercise, but this time wait for a down position (this will go quicker if you’ve already started teaching “down” separately). Instead of staring into the pup’s eyes, look at the spot you want his elbows to land. When he goes even partway into the down position, lavish him with praise and treats fed low between his front legs. Remember to release with “ok” before he has a chance to hop up.
Now we make it look like real life. For the next few sessions, practice in several different places in the room. Then try your body in several different positions (sitting in a chair or lying on the couch—good practice for when you have the flu and don’t want your dog disturbing you). Work up to different rooms in the house and you standing at varying distances from the mat. Use awesome treats. If you get stuck at any point, try again, but do make it a wee bit easier if you get two failed attempts.
When to say “Spot!”
When you can roll out the mat, in any room of your house, with you sitting or standing, from any distance you like, and your pup trots right on over to the mat and lies down, waiting for your release before he gets up (after a few seconds), then you are ready to add the magic word to cue him to go there. Just say, “Spot!” right as he’s about to do it and he’ll start to associate the word with the action he already knows.
You can add to the length of time he is able to stay there by counting more seconds before you feed his treat in the down position.
Soon he’ll be lying there for 30 minutes at a pop, perhaps enjoying a chewy while you have cocktails with your friends. It might even make you nostalgic for the days when he was so young and naïve, all cute and eager to learn this handy, new trick.
If you have a new puppy, you probably have pulled up your sleeves to show your veterinarian teeth marks covering your forearms. Puppy bites are painful. And most people are shocked to discover the degree to which their puppy bites them.
For a puppy under the age of 5 months old, most biting is perfectly normal. Puppies need to bite to explore the world and to learn about social interactions with humans. A puppy who did not attempt to bite would be like a toddler who did not attempt to put things in her mouth. Just as the toddler is not being bad and in need of reprimand, your puppy is doing only what comes naturally as a part of his normal development.
But do not despair! The incredible thing is that you can meet your puppy’s normal behavioral need to bite while instilling in him the ability to make alternative choices to biting you. That’s kind of amazing when you think about it.
As you’ve discovered, puppy biting most commonly occurs when you attempt simply to pet your puppy. (There is also leash biting, biting at your clothing, biting your shoes and feet, biting at kids when they’re running or just sitting in a chair, and more—phew!—solutions to all of which you can find inPuppy Savvy.)
If your puppy bites your hands when you pet him, get relief starting today by assuming this will happen and proactively changing your interactions to the following:
Attempt snuggle time only when your pup is very relaxed or even drowsy. Anything else will invite a bite fest.
Before you settle in to snuggle, hold a plush toy twice the size of your puppy’s mouth. The pup will bite the toy while you pet him or her. Should the pup miss the toy and bite your hand, yelp once, quietly stand up and silently leave the room with the toy. Return after 15 seconds and try again (this usually works after three days of being consistent, and sometimes after just a few repetitions).
Play with a toy attached to a line that you flick along the ground to keep teeth at a distance. Keep the toy touching the ground to prevent your pup injuring himself by leaping and landing awkwardly.
Interact in constructive ways that bypass biting; teach the puppy fetch, find it, nose touch and come-when-called games.
If the puppy bites when you wrestle with him, pet his face, tussle his ears, or pat him on the head:
Don’t touch him like that. I hate to say it, but that kind of touch explicitly invites biting; puppies get other puppies to bite and play with them by grabbing each other’s faces and ears. Instead, pet your puppy gently on the chest. Show others how to do this, and feed your pup a few treats to keep his mouth occupied while they pet him (that’s a great way to prevent leaping during greetings, too).
Meantime, teach him to be relaxed about being touched on the head and face because, let’s face it, it’s going to happen when humans want to show affection or when your pup needs to be examined. Just do the super quick and easy body handling exercises in Puppy Savvy. Here is aone-minute videothat shows how.
No wrestling. Wrestling will sabotage a lot of important skills the puppy needs to get along well in the world, like accepting being touched, restrained, reached for, caught and calmly patted. Instead, get physcial by playing chase, tug, or and hide and seek games (the pup chases the person, never the other way around).
Notice which times of day your puppy is wired so that before the shark attack begins, you can initiateconstructive activitiesor confine him with a chew toy. This simple but powerful change in your routine rewards the pup for behavior you like. Otherwise you risk not only his rehearsal of biting (ouch!), but also him being rewarded if you have been handing him a toy after he bites (gack!).
If you are consistent, you should be bite-free in about a week. Personally I think you should treat yourself to a reward for all that work…perhaps a new, short-sleeved top to show off those teethmark-free arms!
The other day I noticed one of my dogs has not learned the concept of a Zen “leave it” the way I meant him to. The Zen leave it means, if you notice something tempting, automatically (without prompting from me) leave it alone unless you’re given permission to investigate, grab or eat it. This goes for food belonging to people eating at the table, sitting on the couch, or putting a plate of food put down on the coffee table. It goes for food accidentally dropped on the floor, and for snacks clenched in the tiny fists of toddlers ambling around. In other words: dog, that food is none of your beeswax. Even if I leave the room. The cue to leave it alone is not a threat or even a pleasant verbal cue like “leave it.” Rather, the very presence of the food is the signal to avoid grabbing it. (That’s the Zen part.)
Fancy as it sounds, most dogs pick up on this very quickly, and they don’t need reminding, reprimanding or bribing to maintain the behavior. (Generally speaking, behaviors trained using reward-based methods become rewarding in themselves to perform, so gradually you don’t need any external rewards once the dog has the hang of it.) With my other dogs, I have left the room with a snack out in plain view, intending to use the restroom but getting sidetracked with email, and then returned to find my snack intact.
It all starts with teaching the concept of “leaving the food alone is the surest way to score something you like; trying to eat the food makes it disappear.” Once those concepts are established, it is not hard to move to more advanced versions of it. You can teach your dog if the tiny kid has a snack that temps you, that is your cue to leave it alone (to get started, see the how-to teach leave it video.)
Back to the dog in question. I have trained him not to take food from someone’s hand, their plate, or the coffee table. But I’ve noticed that he will hover within literally a half-inch of said tasty morsels. Technically he is correct. “See, I didn’t touch it, momma!” he must be thinking. And yet, his adorable whiskered lips, his gigantic head, and the enthusiasm for the game oozing out of his very being are not what I want in a dining experience. In fairness, the reason he has learned to hover over the food is that I have not put in the effort to help him choose as his default behavior “leave other people’s food alone with room to spare.”
So I decided that, when I enter the room with food on a plate, sit on the couch with food, or place food on the coffee table I want those actions to be his cue not just to leave the food alone, but to go to lie down. Believe it or not, you probably already know how to teach a dog to do that.
If you have ever taken a dog training class, you know that luring a dog into a sit position ends up giving you a hand signal to indicate you want the dog to sit. The hand motion associated with luring with the food becomes the salient cue for the dog. Meaning that, even without food, when you sweep your hand upward the dog reads that as a signal to sit. But you may want to switch to a new cue, like the word “sit” (with no arm motion). The tried and true method is to use the new cue (“sit”), pause a beat (important), then use the old cue (arm motion). A few pairings later, the dog figures out that the new cue predicts the familiar cue, and the behavior you want him to do.
I applied that same principle to to this issue around food. My dog already has a cue to go lie down, which is “place.” So I cut up some treats, put them on a little plate, walked into the room & sat down (new cue), paused a beat, then said “place.” When he lied down at his place I rewarded him by tossing a treat to him. I released with “ok” and did that a few more times. Then I walked into the room & sat down (new cue) and paused. And paused some more. And the wheels in that magnificent head sprang into motion, and he went to his place and lied down. I tossed a treat to him for that. Then I generalized it to me sitting on different pieces of furniture. I’d come in with food, sit down, and he would go lie down at his place. I started doing it at human mealtimes with a real plate of food (dog treats in my pockets to use as rewards).
I think he is getting the hang of it better than I’d realized, because we had dinner guests the other night who did something more challenging than I’d yet practiced. Someone walked into the room with the appetizer, put it on the coffee table, and guess who trotted right on past it, right to his place, and lied down? (My jaw was on the floor, but I tried to play it cool.)
The moral of the story is you don’t have to live with behavior you consider obnoxious, pushy, loud, aggravating or rude. And you don’t have to nag, punish, bribe or distract your dog from doing it every time the same situation comes up. Why not teach the dog that the very thing that used to prompt the reaction you don’t like is actually a cue to do something you do like? Pretty soon a simple “good boy” will be all you need to help him keep it up (just like you probably no longer give your dog a treat for sitting every time).
If you are like most of us, your dog engages in a behavior or two that bothers you. What would you rather your dog do instead? If your hand on the door predicts attempted bolting, then maybe teach him that hand motion is a cue for backing up. If a stranger approaching predicts jumping, try teaching that is actually cue to sit. You may need to be creative, breaking the training into tiny steps, and many times you have to be very patient if the temptation is very great, or the dog has been practicing the annoying behavior for a long time. But it works, and it’s amazing to see the dog’s wonderful brain engage as he learns the association with the new cue.
Your dog is doing the best he can with what you’ve taught him. Start the new year with a plan to replace dog behavior you don’t like with dog behavior you like a lot. Happy new year, and happy training!
“Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” Perhaps you’ve heard that sentence before, or maybe you’ve even uttered those words yourself. They are usually called out by an owner whose dog is off-leash and approaching another dog or dog-person pair.
If you have ever said these words I will now let you in on a little (albeit tough love style) secret: It does not matter if you think your dog is friendly. It doesn’t even matter if he actually is friendly. What matters is that, at best, it is poor doggie etiquette to fail to gain immediate control over your dog (i.e. have him at your side, leashed) as soon as others come into view. At worst, you are making life more difficult for the other person. Many people are afraid of dogs, and, honestly, you are putting them in an awful position by allowing your dog to galavant around them, run towards them, or approach them in any way. If you encounter someone who is with a dog, you should know that, even if your dog is the sweetest dog on earth, and has never fought with another dog, and who in fact has had magical calming effects on every dog he has ever met, you are putting that person’s dog in a very difficult position. Many dogs have a very hard time with other dogs coming up to them, and it is unfair for you to make that dog feel that way, or to potentially sabotage the training the person has invested in getting their dog to be more comfortable with other dogs.
When you call out, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” you may be trying to reassure the other person. Your intentions are good, but the effect is the opposite. By calling out reassurances instead of calling and leashing your dog, whether you mean to or not, you are letting the other person know you a) don’t have control over your dog, which is usually a bit nerve-wracking for them; b) you are putting your convenience above how they feel or how their dog feels, which is not a nice thing to do to your fellow human beings or their pooches; and c) somewhat paradoxically, they may automatically find your dog annoying, which will earn him a bad reputation, despite your belief that he is friendly and a nice dog.
The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter whether or not your dog is friendly. It is simply rude (and likely illegal given leash laws) to fail to gain immediate control over your pooch when you see other passersby. You may be scaring someone and you may be upsetting their dog. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem. If you allow your dog to run off-leash, teach him to come instantly to you, even in the face of distractions. That will immediately put others at ease, show off what great training and control you have, and give the impression that you and your dog are both good community members. There are many effective strategies for improving your dog’s leash manners, too, so that you won’t hesitate to walk him on leash when needed.
With so many people enjoying their dogs on hiking trails, in town, at dog parks, and on suburban walking paths, it is time we all polished up our doggie etiquette. If you don’t know how to train your dog to pass other dogs politely, or how to get him to stay with you when other people pass, do not despair. There is a wonderful new book that will teach you what to do, step-by -step. It is called Out and About with Your Dog: Dog to Dog Interactions On the Street, On the Trails and at the Dog Park by Sue Sternberg. It will teach you how to pass others on a trail, how to recognize doggie communication and play styles, how to recognize dog park habits that we humans have that are helpful (and some that are not), and, I am not making this up, how to teach your dog to ignore other dogs (and how to know whether that is what your dog needs). You’ll also find a cool quiz so you can assess your dog’s behavior, and beautiful color photos throughout.
If you have a dog, you have probably had a furniture issue at some point. Maybe you’ve had trouble keeping your dog off the furniture when you’re using it, keeping him off it when you’re not at home to supervise, teaching him to use only a particular piece of furniture, trying to get him out from under the furniture, or keeping the furniture free of hair, not to mention free of teeth. We like our dogs, we like our furniture, and sometimes these two things together create problems.
In terms of teaching your dog rules about getting on the furniture, you have many choices. I provide a few options below, plus their effects on your furniture. Whichever way you decide to go, your dog will be neither deprived nor ruined. Just be consistent. Regular readers will recognize the recurring theme of preventing dog behavior you don’t want and rewarding behavior you do want:
Allowing your dog access to any piece of furniture, anytime
Training difficulty: Pretty easy to teach once they figure out how comfy it is up there. And no, allowing your dog on the furniture will not make him dominant, homicidal, or spoiled. But if you have a new dog or puppy, I do not recommend starting with this. That’s simply because you don’t know each other yet and you haven’t had the chance to establish any boundaries and rules. To help your dog develop into a polite family member, it is best to make sure your dog listens well, understands boundaries, and has the training and self-control skills that are important to you. Once that’s established, you’ll be able to make more places and activities available. I also recommend teaching a simple cue to get your dog off the furniture in case your Aunt Betty would like to have a seat. To teach that, say your cue word like “off,” then pat your leg to encourage your dog down. If he’s reluctant, say the cue then bowl a dog biscuit away from the couch. He’ll soon respond to the cue and hand motion that went with bowling the treat.
Keep in mind: If your dog growls or otherwise threatens people when he’s on the couch or bed, he is not a good candidate for this option. He is likely guarding the bed or anticipating being touched. Get professional help with any underlying pain or anxiety.
Furniture consequences: Hair, drool, claw marks, hair, odor, hair. Use a throw blanket that you can launder and easily remove when you have guests.
Keeping your dog off your furniture, all the time
Training difficulty: This is the second easiest option to teach, because it is one of the least confusing (“never” is pretty straight-forward!). If you have a dog with back pain or who is recovering from surgery, your veterinarian may tell you furniture is off-limits to your dog.
The idea here is to a) prevent furniture climbing and b) reward lying elsewhere (like the floor or a dog bed). It is incredibly useful to have an exercise pen handy for this. I find it speeds the transition for a new puppy or dog tremendously. Even if you don’t have an x-pen (as they are called for short), make sure your pooch has a chewy down on the floor before he is tempted to get on the couch. If he likes to lie down on a very soft surface, provide him a cushy dog bed so the couch won’t tempt him as much. Initially you can tether him to a heavy piece of furniture within range of the dog bed (provided you’ll be present). If you do this whenever you are seated on the sofa, at the computer, or at the table, you will condition him to occupy himself quietly at those times. If you are consistent, it will become a habit for him.
To prevent him from leaping onto the sofa when you first enter the room, have him drag a lightweight line or light leash for a week or so. Be ready to step on the line to prevent him bolting for the couch, and then direct him to his bed or place near the couch he can work on his chew toy.
If you are already seated and he enters the living room, be ready; don’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. Call him to you with a treat held down near the floor. You can also teach him to nose touch—-ask him to do that before he has a chance to consider the couch. Try having your dog do a couple of sits and downs to help him get the ants out of his pants before encouraging him onto his dog bed and tethering with a chewy. You can also imagine you are a soccer goalie, and physically block the couch with your body. Slide or move left and right if your dog tries to get by you (no need to say anything, it will just distract him). Many dogs get the message after a few attempts and decide it’s less trouble just to lie beside the couch.
During the training process, which depending on the dog might be a couple of weeks or less, prevent access to the furniture when you can’t supervise. Crate your dog, close the living room door, or use baby gates to prevent access.
Furniture consequences: Your guests will hardly know you have a dog.
Allowing your dog one piece of furniture
Training difficulty: This is the trickiest option to teach. Follow the guidelines for never being allowed on the furniture, but with the following exception: Teach your dog to ask for permission to get up on the allowed piece of furniture. Have him sit, and release with “Ok!” as you pat the sofa. Just to keep things clear (which always smoothes the training process) make sure he never gets on the designated couch or chair without permission at first. Self-control and manners first, then furniture time.
Furniture consequences: Most of your furniture will be hairless, except of course for the chair he’s allowed up on. Consider using metal cookie trays spread out on the off-limits pieces in your absence (store them under the cushions) until he’s in the habit of using only the chair you’ve selected.
I don’t recommend booby-trapping furniture. I know of dogs who have become wary of the entire living room as a result, or fearful of whomever was standing nearby when they were spooked, which are much bigger problems than a little dog hair. Just use a throw blanket and call it a day.
“Leave it” is a handy cue to communicate to your dog “it is none of your beeswax, leave it alone, period.” While it is pretty common for people to command, “leave it” at their dog in a threatening tone to get the dog to back off of something he wants, I would venture that those dogs are reacting to the tone of voice and don’t understand the words (try growling “rutabaga” in the same tone next time, and see what happens…).
Does it matter whether the dog understands the concept of leaving something alone on cue, as opposed to being scared into backing off? Maybe, maybe not. You’ll have to assess that for yourself, but here is some food for thought. There are times it is particularly important to get your dog to “leave it” without sounding threatening. For example, if your dog is approaching your baby, or thinking of going up to another dog, you probably wouldn’t want your dog to feel threatened or worried in either of those situations. You’d probably want him feeling relaxed, responsive, and capable of moving away on one, neutral, unemotional cue from you. Or on a “leave it” cue given by anyone in your family, even a child. Furthermore, you may prefer to tell your dog to “leave it” without having to keep after him. Ideally “leave it,” means to leave it alone, period, so that you can turn your back or leave the room, and your dog is not busy sorting out, “Is it safe or dangerous to go for it?” They are just happy to “leave it” without you repeating yourself or trying to catch them at something. That’s a much more reliable, practical state of affairs in my experience. And it means your dog can hang around you when you have guests over, appetizers at nose-level, because just the presence of something tempting can become part of the cue. It is very handy when “leave it” becomes the dog’s default behavior.
There are four steps to teaching “leave it.” This video shows the first two steps (the other two are putting the desirable item in more challenging places like the floor or a coffee table, and, finally, putting the behavior on verbal cue before working up to real-life scenarios). Things to know before you start:
In Step I you will present your dog with the temptation of treats held in your fist. The dog will try nudging, licking, pawing, and nibbling to get at the goodies. The object is to pay close attention so you will notice the instant your dog’s nose moves away from the temptation. And his nose will move away, if only an inch, if only for an instant. It is that voluntary withdrawal from the temptation that you will reward by saying ‘yes’ and feeding a treat from the opposite hand. What could be better than your dog volunteering to ignore items of great interest?
It goes very quickly. Even if you drop a treat or say ‘yes’ at the wrong time (I do each of those once in the video), it doesn’t matter, just keep going. Your dog will pick this up very fast, so be ready!
Use ho-hum treats in your “leave it” hand and super duper, really good treats in your reward hand. (In the video, my right “leave it” hand holds dog biscuits and my left hand holds tiny bits of meat as rewards.)
For Step II, you will hold a treat in your open palm, which your dog will go for (be ready!). When he does, say nothing. Do not withdraw your hand, but rather snap it shut like a clam.
Do not utter the words “leave it” for these first two steps. (You will not hear me say “leave it” in the video.) You would not want to pair the dog going for the food with the words “leave it,” right? Only when the dog understands that avoiding the desired item brings him rewards should you add the cue.
As a bonus, if you can keep the dog from sitting or lying down, that is optimal. In real life, the dog is usually up on all fours, moving about when we need a “leave it” cue. Possible scenarios might be on a walk and there’s something disgusting on the sidewalk, in the kitchen and you’ve just dropped a hunk of chocolate, or in the family room and your toddler is ambling by with a snack in hand. So if the dog sits during your “leave it” training, reward close to your body so he has to get up to get the reward. Or just back up and pat your leg before the next repetition. (In the video, the dog is sitting and even lying down at one point, partly because with such a tight camera angle I would have been out of sight had I backed up.)
That should be what you need to get started. Happy training!
Sorry, a little recession humor there. But in these times, besides trying to keep an optimistic outlook, it’s also good to come across a discount or two. So I am now offering a Friends and Neighbors service. Here’s how it works:
Buddy-up with someone you know for an hour of customized dog training at Top Notch Dog, LLC. You and your friend split the cost of the session, plus receive a 10% discount, so that each of you pays $45/hr instead of $100/hr. You, your friend, and your dogs will get a lot out of learning and practicing together. Give it a try!
Some of the common things people like to work on together include:
walking politely on leash
coming when called
greeting visitors without jumping up
teaching “leave it” or “go to your place”
basic training (sit, down, stay, come)
advanced training (preparing for therapy dog work, or attention, motivation, or control work for dog sports)
all things puppy (biting, indoor accidents, chewing on your things, crate training)
tricks! (especially fun for kids)
preparing your dog for your new baby
paying attention to you even around another dog
other goals you may have that lend themselves to sharing an appointment (your goals do not have to be exactly the same)