My dog is driving me crazy! : be smarter than your dog! : a practical guide to understanding and correcting problem behaviors
Welcome the Dog to the Human World
Have you ever watched The Dog Whisperer and thought, ‘Wow, that guy is amazing! What a great way to train a dog!” I know I have many times. Cesar Milan teaches one basic principle about dogs — a dog is a pack animal by instinct. According to Cesar, your job is to become the pack leader, a dominant Alpha male/female with ‘balance’. I guess by ‘balance’ he means you should treat the animal fairly, as they would expect to be treated in a wild pack. He gets very good and fast results with this method. I won’t say it’s a bad method, but it’s not the way I choose to train my dogs and here’s why.
There’s one thing very wrong with the ‘you’re the pack leader’ concept — it assumes the dog inhabits a dog’s world, and for you to control it, you must behave as a dog would, the Alpha male or female of the pack. For the majority of dogs who are family pets this means the owner will treat the animal as though it had only instinctual processes going on in its head, no rational thought processes. To refute that thinking go and watch these two short videos of Lucy’s behavior: Lucy Remembers Her Ball and Lucy and The Vacuum Cleaner (links appear at bottom). A dog does not inhabit a dog’s world unless it’s in a pack of dogs, roaming the wilderness like a wolf, bringing down prey and sharing its kill. This is not your dog. Your dog wouldn’t chase its supper if it went hungry for a week! It would no more kill a raccoon and rip its flesh apart than would your six year old child! If you do have such an animal it’s a sure bet that it’s a dangerous dog, one that causes people in your neighborhood to cross the street to avoid.
If you become the pack leader, you’ve descended into the dog’s world. Having done so, the dog will integrate well with other dogs, live in a pack happily, know its place in the human pack, and generally behave well, but it won’t reach its full potential. When you adopted the dog into your family, you didn’t decide to become a primeval growler, (which can work if you have the cahones to back up the threats), you decided to introduce an animal into the human world. As the two videos show, Lucy is an animal with human-like tendencies developed to the full potential of her smaller dog brain. She, like 99 percent of dogs today, belongs to a family, has been introduced to human concepts, and lives in a human world. It’s better that you train your dog to live well in your world, rather than you in its, for the sake of the dog and yourself. You will have a much better companion, and so will the dog. The dog will learn to love humans above dogs.
Lucy is a thinking dog. Lucy will position herself at the ready depending on where a person places their foot behind a ball. She correctly anticipates which way the ball will be propelled by the positioning of the foot. She also cheats quite badly, arriving at the destination of a tossed toy before it gets there. Her brain has computed where you’re likely to throw or kick an object. Lucy knows which way you will kick a ball simply by shifting your weight from one hip to the other, without even moving your feet! Better than a goalie in football (soccer).
Lucy knows several hundred concepts and commands, from Jump In The Boat, to Don’t Go In The Street. She rarely plays now but when she was younger I would throw her ball into the street (a rural highway) and when she realized the ball had gone out of reach, rolling into forbidden territory, she would put on the brakes and stop before crossing an imaginary line. That line used to be a piece of yellow rope lying across the driveway about 20 feet from the street. After she learned the concept the rope was taken away, she was allowed to go out to pee on her own; I could trust her not to go past the imaginary line. That concept, Don’t Go In The Street, is central to a dog being able to live happily in the human world. It’s the difference between a deer or a raccoon crossing the road and your pet’s thinking. It has learned that highways (a human construct not appearing in the dog pack vocabulary) are very bad.
Dogs have rational thought processes. Dogs have emotions. Dogs also have a conscience. Dogs learn to love. Dogs have language skills and can understand about five hundred human concepts with words. None of these things are in a puppy when you get them, they are learned behaviors.
A dog cannot do differential calculus, that’s obvious, but it can reason out how to manipulate an owner into giving it food. Lucy was given a treat every time she asked me to go pee outside. If she gets slightly hungry, she has learned to ask to go outside, wait for thirty seconds and then come back in the house to get her reward. She will do this every hour or so until I’ve clued in and watch her. If she doesn’t pee, the rewards stop, and so does the manipulative behavior since it’s now a waste of time. But that shows you a dog can manipulate people. It isn’t surprising really; a dog manipulates its owner many times during the day. If you rattle its leash, it will waken from a dead sleep and circle, pant and bark at the thought of going for a walk. That is doggy manipulation. The dog is saying how happy they would be if they went for a walk, and you’re feeling guilty already if that wasn’t your plan.
So higher reasoning aside, what can a dog do? It can learn. A dog can learn so many things you’d be surprised. If you simply teach it what it needs to know to function well in a human world, it would knock your socks off. Every day that Lucy and I wake up, we tell each other with hugs and kisses how happy we are that we have each other. Lucy loves humans, so much so that she almost ignores dogs. Can they make her food for her? Can they throw her ball? Her stick? Her little teddy bears?
There’s a Border Collie in Germany that can remember any one of two hundred and fifty toys. Alan Alda of Mash fame visited this dog for Nova on PBS. The dog has all her toys in a big pile in one room. In another room she is shown a miniature sample of the desired toy (about one fifth scale). The dog leaves, enters the room with the massive pile of assorted frogs, teddy bears, squirrels, puppets, dolls, devils, Muppets, rummaging around and returning quickly, and surprisingly, with the correct toy. She does this flawlessly, even when it’s a new toy that she’s never seen before.
But once you’ve taught that dog human concepts, it’s no longer a canine — it’s a Canine Sapiens, a hybrid between dog and Homo Sapiens (which is Latin for Thinking Man). It cannot happily go back to the pack. Without wishing to conduct such an experiment, I went to England for two weeks and Lucy went to the kennel. The kennel belongs to a reputable breeder and Lucy had her own ‘penalty box’ (cage) placed inside a three by six foot kennel. There were other dogs there so you’d think she’d be fine, but these were ‘Pack Dogs’, dogs that the breeder keeps solely for breeding. One barks, they all bark. One runs around the yard, they all run around the yard. Lucy was having none of it, and their primitive antics had her stressed out. When I returned to pick her up she went wild with joy! She ran around the truck about ten times barking, crying, tail wagging, face licking, and all manner of expressions of love. I began to speak with the breeder about England but Lucy jumped into the truck through an open door and barked her head off so loud that she could not be ignored. “I guess I’m being summoned,” I told the breeder. Man, was she happy to get out of there!
This is why several universities in the U.S. have stopped teaching gorillas and other primates American Sign Language in doctoral theses. Once the studies are over the animals are returned to cages in the zoo. No more riding around in cars for you! No more ice cream cones for you! The animals, now capable of reasoning to a degree, are back in cages languishing for the good old days with their human friends, unable to relate to the other primates around them. The universities have decided that it’s unethical behavior to abandon them once they’ve formed attachments to their trainers. You need a PHD in behavioral psychology to figure that out?
It can be frustrating to try teaching a dog an advanced concept. If you find yourself yelling or getting frustrated with the dog simply back off. Stop. The problem is too complex for her present state of understanding and she doesn’t know what you want. The solution is to break the problem into smaller steps. You didn’t learn algebra before you learned to count, add, subtract, divide and multiply. You didn’t learn to multiply until you learned to add the same number three times to itself. Dogs have similar minds to humans, except that they’re somewhat limited in potential. But if you give the dog credit for being able to think with the ability of a three year old child, you’ll be surprised at what they will learn.
Your dog has a conscience. How do I know this? Your dog dreams, which is a sure indication of a bifurcated mind with a conscious and a subconscious. The dog dreams after having a good day, or a bad day. When they’ve had a good day, they fall asleep and within five minutes enter the REM phase of their sleep pattern. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, and it happens almost right away in dogs. In humans it takes about an hour and thirty minutes. During REM sleep the dog can be whining, barking, chasing, wagging its tail, eating, chewing, swimming. You’ll recognize a dog who is dreaming when you see it, trust me, but what that dream indicates is that it has a subconscious mind that’s free to relive the experiences of the day. If it has a subconscious mind then it must have a conscious mind, because you can’t have one without the other, unless it’s in a coma.
The conscious mind contains the rules construct — the things I’m allowed to do, as well as the things I’m not allowed, but want to do. The subconscious mind contains the entire spectrum, desires, memories, emotions, autonomic functions, but it’s missing one important thing — the rules construct. It’s ungoverned. If you accept this, then you accept that a dog’s brain is constructed similarly to ours and is capable of many of the same things our brain can do. To love, to feel guilty, to think, to desire, to reason, to manipulate, to trust, to obey, to not break certain rules. A dog learns within four months of age not to pee in the house. Amazing when you consider that it spent the first 10 weeks at its mother’s breast. How then, if it did not have a conscious mind with a rules construct? By instinct? By pack mentality? No, from learning, which you will be responsible for.
So that’s where it starts: by giving the dog some credit for being able to think. If you don’t you’ll be treating her just like The Keller parents treated their deaf and blind daughter Helen. Helen Keller became a successful author and public speaker but only after a miracle worker, Anne Sullivan, decided to credit her with a brain that worked. Her parents had written her off as backward. That’s your job, to be the miracle worker for your four legged Helen. Don’t credit the dog with thinking ability and it won’t learn anything useful.
Your dog is handicapped in several ways. The first is that it devotes ten times more of its brain to odors than we do. It devotes one tenth of its brain to visual information than we do. A dog can have a cookie right in front of it, but when it’s searching for it using scent, it can’t see it. A dog seems to shut off its visual memory in favor of olfactory memory. When they are sniffing you can hear the nose whoot, whoot, whoot, as they sample quickly for a trace. They also move their heads when sampling so they know which direction to go. You’ll learn to redirect the dog’s brain to become a listener and a watcher while giving your lessons. They’ll learn faster when they know they’re being taught something. With a visual and verbal clue, your dog will pay attention, “Aha, the Master is trying to show me something important.”
Your First Lesson: The Binary Method
I have always had it easy training my dog — I live alone. If you have a family, all of whom suddenly are doggy experts from watching the Whisperer, tell them all to take a hike. If they won’t go, then take the dog out for a walk in a private setting. Be alone with the dog, period. No distractions. No other dogs or people. You are the only sensory inputs that the dog will have to deal with. This makes the job much simpler. When you’ve taught the dog one simple thing, make sure that all family and friends use the same method of communication. The dog has a limited capacity, which is high enough, but it will be wasted if it has to learn three ways to sit, six ways to come here, and so on. If it’s your dog, take responsibility and get other people to address the dog in your manner or leave the animal alone.
Your dog learns very quickly and easily using the binary method. With the binary method, the dog learns quite a lot and quite fast. They also learn by association. The binary method is how we begin a dog’s training and it works wonders with puppies or new dogs. The association method is for later, when your dog has learned the basics and is ready for more. We’ll talk about the binary method first, and association in later parts of this article.
What is the binary method? Binary means two. There are two things that your dog has to learn from you. That’s all, just two. Everything else follows from there. Once they’ve learned those two things, you’ve got it made in the shade. Your dog will become the most obedient, happy little fur creature on the street. And she’ll be ready to learn more. Once a dog has picked up the binary method, there’s no going back, she now thinks like a human.
On my walks with my dog, I show her off to people and tell them about the binary method. “There are two things your dog must learn and once it has, she can learn everything else. Do you know what those two things are?” I ask them. I’m amazed at the responses I get, and have yet to hear the correct response. “Patience and humility,” one guy says. I haven’t taught my dogs humility yet, so I have to refrain from laughing at some of these stabs at a very simple concept. Does he think I’m prepping her for Divinity College?
What are those two things you must first teach your four legged Helen Keller? Here we go — Yes and No. Yes, you are allowed to do something. No, you are not allowed to do something. That’s the first lesson to teach your dog. Once he/she has learned these two concepts, everything else you’re trying to get it to do will be very much easier to accomplish. Two things, hence the binary method.
How do I teach the dog these two seemingly simple concepts? First, replace the word Yes with the word Okay. The word No remains No. So that’s what you want to teach the dog. Okay, and No.
If you have a dog that doesn’t like food, take it back, get a refund, it’s probably not a dog. If your dog does like food and is attracted to a certain treat then have a bag of those treats at the ready. The smaller the treat, the better. Small treats permit you many repetitions of the lesson until the dog catches on. It can take many repetitions of a lesson before the dog learns, but it will surprise you how few times a dog must be shown something to learn it completely. Usually, a simple concept is learned in under ten repetitions.
Tell the dog the following, “Lucy! Watch!’ and point to your eye with your finger touching your face under the eye. Do this every time you begin a lesson. Repeat it a few times and then begin the lesson. At first, it’s meaningless to the dog, but it will pay off later, because the dog will have learned YOU ARE TEACHING SOMETHING.
Now place the dog in the sitting position on the floor or ground. Say ‘Lucy, Sit’ clearly and distinctly as you do it. The simpler the command the better. One syllable, how much simpler can it be. When the dog is sitting and only when the dog is sitting, put at least one small treat on the floor about one foot in front of her. Give her a treat for sitting. Leave the other food in sight close by.
Always, always preface an action command with the dog’s name. “Lucy, Sit”, “Lucy, Come Here.” There’s a very good reason for this. The dog learns its name firstly, but more importantly, she learns that she is being addressed at that moment. When you are with a group of people and don’t use her name here is what the dog perceives: “… bla bla bla bla bla bla bla — sit — bla bla bla bla bla.” The ‘Sit’ got lost in all the bla bla. The dog has tuned you out because you’re all talking gibberish and boring her to death. Give the dog a warning that something is coming. First pause your talking and say ‘Lucy!” Pause until you notice her react, then give her the command — “Sit!”, making the hand gesture as you do.
All dog training is to be done with ‘theatre’. I believe the dog responds to signals first, and since they’re accompanied by voice commands, they will respond to the latter on it’s own at a later date. Always, always give a command with hand signals or other types of visual clues to start. I call it ‘theatre’. I have a ‘Come Here’ signal which my dog can see and responds to even when she’s too far away to hear: I flap one arm up and down by my side.
So going back over the ground already covered, tell your dog to ‘Sit’ by placing her firmly but gently in the sitting position. Give her a treat when she sits. When you say ‘Lucy, Sit’, make a hand gesture by putting out your outstretched hand. Any dog that is worth its salt will not immediately obey this command, he/she will lunge for the food on the floor. That’s instinctual behavior, to eat. Dogs, especially Labs, can write the book on ‘There is food, therefore I eat’. This is what you’re hoping for the dog to do. There are few things that motivate a dog more than food, especially a pup.
Wait a moment. When the dog lunges from the sitting position to reach the food, this is where you jump in. Place your hand, palm and fingers outstretched firmly, right in front of her face and say in a loud, unmistakably officious tone ‘NO!” Like a traffic cop. No, means no, you twit, and if you move that car one inch more I’m hauling your idiot behind to jail. That’s what I mean by theatre. The hand is thrust forcefully, the tone of voice is severe and stentorian, and the look on your otherwise pleasant face is mean and ugly. You could also preface the whole charade with a ‘Psssshhhht!” which distracts the dog momentarily and has her focus on the source of the strange noise.
Once you’ve given her this very theatrical admonition, sit her back down, and say “Wait until I say OKAY,” emphasizing the word OKAY by pointing to your lips. The dog at this point is merely confused. After three or four attempts to lunge for the food she will sit back down and wait. She won’t go for the food. Make certain that she doesn’t get food until she does what you wish. This is key. It isn’t cruel. You’re using positive stimuli to get a desired result. Your boss does it to you each week with a paycheck.
The dog has learned by association to sit. It’s from pleasurable stimuli. Every time I sit he gives me a treat. The best thing to do is to sit so he’ll give me a dog treat. I don’t know what the hell he wants but I do know to sit. I don’t know why he’s blocking me from getting that food over there, but he’s nice enough when I sit down, so I’ll sit down.
Once the dog has learned to sit and stay quiet without lunging for the food, then you will permit her to get it. You will say in a soft and light tone, ‘Lucy, Okay get it,” and point to the food.
Here’s what the dog is thinking. If I go for that food he’s going to yell at me and put me back here and say “Sit’ again. I’m not going for it. I’m sitting here. If I sit he gives me treats. If you’ve waited until the dog is unsure of what to do at this point, you’ve done the right thing. Your dog is afraid to go for the food and won’t lunge at it. It will ask permission with head movements toward the food. At this point it hasn’t a clue what OKAY means.
So now you’ll show your dog what okay means, and gently lift its bum off the floor and allow it to approach the treats, all the while saying ‘Okay, Lucy, get it’ in sweet tones and pointing to the food. You may even move the food closer until it’s within reach for the first few iterations.
When he says OKAY and pushes me toward the food, he seems to be saying it’s quite alright if I go get it. So that’s what OKAY means. Eureka, I get it!
With about five repetitions of this exercise your dog will have learned the difference between Okay, I’m allowed and No, I’m not allowed. It actually learned the two concepts using the association method, but it now has a tool, called the binary method, in which all other behavioral concepts are learned. Everything, from Come Here, to Heel, to Don’t Go In The Street will be so much easier to teach. Many things must be learned by a dog. No pooping or peeing in the house. No jumping on people or other dogs. No barking when not called for. Come Here, Sit, Inside, Outside, Go to Sleep, Get Up, Get down, Stop That, Be Quiet, Get In, Get Out, Heel, Lie Down, Stay Here, Wait… the list is quite long.
All learning must be reinforced. When you start to learn multiplication in math, your teacher will thoroughly review addition first. She will also teach the advanced concept of multiplication by using the addition lessons as a stepping stone. “Add ten plus ten. How much is that? Twenty. Right. How many times did we add ten? Twice. We added ten two times to get twenty. How much, therefore, is Two times Ten?” Teach furry Helen, the Okay and No commands every lesson before teaching her to Come Here, or to Wait Until I Say Okay (Stay). Furry Helen will be as quick to learn this concept at three months of age as a child of eight can learn the times tables.
A dog is very much like a human in intellectual developmental abilities. In this one lesson, your four legged Helen Keller has learned very many important things. One, you are in charge of everything. Food, most importantly. Two, cooperation means positive stimuli such as love and food, defiance means negative stimuli, such as disapproval and denial of food. A dog, as a member of a family seeks approval and positive reinforcements and avoids negative stimuli. If it prefers negative stimuli you’ve got a neurotic on your hands. Neurotic dogs, like people, are made, not born, and now is the time for Cesar to do his magic because this is where his method outshines all others, rehabilitating a neurotic dog. Thirdly, your dog has learned when you’re trying to teach it something to help it fit into a family of humans. Lastly but most importantly, the dog will have learned the binary method and will even learn to ask permission like Lucy does when she wishes to sleep on the couch. She stops and waits for an OKAY before jumping up.
Remember, if a lesson goes badly, don’t allow yourself to become frustrated with the dog. Step back, break up the problem into two or three steps. Above all, give the dog some sweet love, treats and a play period after a training session, no matter how it went. If the dog is play obsessed like Lucy is, use the play sessions for training as well.
Keep watching this space for Training Your Dog Humanely: Part Two. And give me some feedback in the comments section, please. For more interesting videos of Lucy go to my FB page and browse my public videos.