Head Trainer, St Johns County, Florida
Sit Happens Dog Training, LLC
I came to be a dog owner by way of adoption in December 2012. I grew up not having a pet of any kind.
When I adopted Riser I had the extraordinary fortune of receiving him from a family that was fostering him. The reason it was extraordinary was because when I arrived to pick up Riser (Adam, at that time) this family provided to me everything you could need for a dog: kennel, bed, bowls, food, and, a Sit Happens dog trainer.
Dave Stellato, Owner and Trainer at Sit Happens Dog Training quite simply turned my world upside down. I just thought I needed to provide shelter, food, love and some walking for Riser. And while this is the case it is the way in which these things are provided that makes my dog who he is today!
Now that I too am a trainer for Sit Happens (in St Johns County, Florida) I see, daily, dogs that lack discipline and owners that struggle and are frustrated. I get pure joy out of helping these people understand why their dog does what it does and how they can make the smallest changes to fix much of it.
The best way for me to explain how I discipline my dog through being disciplined myself is to share a day in the life of Riser and hit some highlights throughout to provide explanation.
Wake up time.
After I wake and go about my morning ablutions I take my dog on some sort of exercise iteration. This comes in the form of biking, running or walking. Prior to departing the house he must sit so that I can fit his collar and attach his leash. Discipline is making Riser sit and what he earns is love in the way of being allowed to go outside! Does he have to sit? No. Will he standstill when I put his collar on? Yes. But why not continue to get one more sit repetition in anyway? Moreover, sitting and forcing him to be disciplined slows that brain of his down so that we can enter the outside world in a calm and focused way and on my terms, not his!
Physical and mental exercise.
Exercising with my dog is so much fun. During our exercise (about 30 minutes in duration) he is allowed to sniff and do his thing at various points along the route. But if at anytime I need him to heel or come I don’t care what he’s doing because I’m commanding him to do these things for good reason: safety, passersby or a loose dog for example — this is the mental exercise. Better still there are points where he is allowed off-leash within my neighborhood. I say this as a trainer that has 100% recall capability regardless of distractions but there are ways for you to achieve this too – like with longer leashes and practice! Sit Happens dog training can help you get there! Once we’re home from our exercise routine it’s time to eat. He has earned the food by way of exercise. Exercise is the hunt for food for domesticated dogs.
Remember that all dogs are descendants of wolves. Wolves have to run and jump and sniff to get to their prey, it is a mental and physical exercise to make the kill. Apply this to your dog too! Make them earn the food in a big way!
During the day.
With three exceptions, Riser gets to make no decisions for himself. The exceptions are water consumption, going to his kennel and barking at any entry point to the house if he perceives something to be a threat (in fact I encourage his barking with huge amounts of praise when he does this). I decide if he gets on and off the bed, gets on and off the furniture, when games start, when games end, there are no toys for him to go get and play with on his own, when he eats is also strictly monitored. No decisions. I am the leader in all capacities but only because I have his respect through controlling the mentioned activities and making it fun for both of us!
More examples: he goes in and out of all doors last (humans first), he gets in and out of my car when I say it’s okay, I decide if he says hello to a dog or a person, I decide when he goes to the bathroom! When I come home and Riser greets me I don’t touch him, talk to him or make eye contact. I walk in my house like I own it! After a few minutes and maybe a trip to the bathroom then I’ll acknowledge him but only if he is being calm – that I’ll reward with love and affection and, yes, even baby talk voice! My leadership is absolute! He knows it and loves it and your dog will too!
Many people will read this with disdain and think, “My God! What an awful person!” There is a payoff with an uncountable amount of zeros after it however! The return on the investment of this discipline is beyond compare and Sit Happens helped me to appreciate it! I have a dog that worries about nothing! This is why when I’m in public Riser doesn’t move after I’ve given him a command, or even none at all, when a peanut butter-covered squirrel runs by. Sure he’ll acknowledge it, and yes, he wants to go after it but he won’t and he doesn’t! I have a happy dog that’s under control because the leadership/discipline tells him – I’m going to take care of it (prey/distractions/threats)! I can literally take my dog anywhere and have complete trust in him to behave because I’ve established that in my house, at my front door, in my driveway and everywhere in public!
Frequently, owners want their dog to wait at the front door and not dart out just because it’s open! This ties back to the things I previously mentioned! For example, because I withhold his food and don’t allow him to free feed I have demonstrated control and asked for his attention prior to putting the food down and eventually this behavior will exhibit itself at the front door and elsewhere in life but only if I demand it (my discipline to follow through). If he wants food, I need a sit and eye contact (attention/discipline). If the door is open he now gives me eye contact, which is a plea to be released but I make the choice at that time and it’s either yes or no – but I can’t do that without his attention, his discipline or my discipline. It must also be a full-spectrum approach! All of these aforementioned things that I make decisions for him on must be on par and done in order to achieve what I have! And, I must continue to do it until the day he dies. Cesar Millan, AKA The Dog Whisperer, is able to go in to someone’s home, where he has never been and make a dog get off a couch. How does he do it? He walks in like he owns the place and is very clear as to what he wants! He doesn’t care what the dog wants to do. He can’t! Or he wouldn’t be where he is today. Cesar never asks where the dog came from (although the owners frequently share) because it doesn’t matter! Should a rescue dog be treated differently than a $10,000 imported Belgian Malinois? No! They’re dogs and both need structure by way of exercise, discipline and finally, affection! Frequently, clients start by saying, “Well Fluffy is a rescue and …” Doesn’t matter! If I ever allow empathy into my brain and begin treating the dog differently I’d never be able to do what I do — help dogs and clients have a great relationship with their dog that they never thought possible. Riser is a rescue too. In fact someone gave up on him because he kept escaping! That sucks! But I can’t worry about that, and I don’t. Riser escaped on me twice. The first time he made it four miles away before someone took him to the vet and got his chip scanned and I went and got him! Never give up on your dog! We owe it to them!
End of the day.
I simply repeat the exercise routine and Riser earns his food yet again! If for some reason I didn’t get in as much time outside with him, due to weather for example, I’ll hide his dinner! He must find it! Riser is a German Shepherd/Collie mix — a working dog breed. I am exercising that part of him which has a drive to work and solve problems. He always finds the food by the way! When it’s time for bed he goes to his kennel and is rewarded with love and affection for doing the right thing!
Is Riser perfect? No. Well, almost! He makes mistakes. But I simply turn those in to training exercises! Does he sleep in the bed with me while my wife is away on business? You bet! Does he hang out on the couch and “watch” TV with me? Absolutely! The love and affection that I give my dog is deep and strong! But it is the order and amount in which I give it that makes the difference!
In the end.
Owning a dog is a huge responsibility and takes a lot of work and it can never cease! Simply leaving them to their own devices and letting them get their way will make you weak in their eyes — they are programmed this way. Remember they are wolves and we all have seen how wolves treat the weakest member of the pack!
The discipline of being disciplined has served Riser and me very well. I’m so very fortunate to have met Dave and to now be a part of the best elite dog training company in Northeast Florida, Sit Happens Dog Training!