The Thinking Dog Protocol

The Thinking Dog Protocol

We all want a dog that listens not just in the home but all so outside the house, on walks and off leash. For dogs each space has its own challenges and rules. Just because “sit” works in the house doesn’t mean it will translate at the park near the playground while the wind is blowing and another person approaches with their dog off leash. We all have that dream where the dog just does what we say, but it's not reality. The dog is a living thinking creature with free will and choice. Does that mean the dog is choosing to ignore what we say or is just being stubborn? What do you think?


Back to the dog at the park… No, the dog is taking everything in and there's a lot going on. Where do I look, who do I respond to, what are you saying again? So now that the dog knows a lot of cues in the home we need to move them outside. We start off by practicing near the door while it's closed, then open with the screen shut, then on leash, then on leash while the door is cracked. We slowly expand their world and teach and guide them that “sit” still means sit even with that crazy world outside. 


Practice isn’t just about being able to do something, practice is getting better at it, working towards that dream. Don’t walk out the door and just hope it works, build it up, teach and guide the dog so they can communicate with you, read you and respond to you. Make a plan, have a checklist, practice till it's too easy and forgive when it doesn’t go right. Forgive the dog, forgive yourself then make it easier and try again.


How do we know if the dog is thinking? We check in! I like to choose 3 behaviors that the dog will do on cue. Pick behaviors they like so that when you go outside you ask for “sit, look and touch” the dog doesn’t just do the first two and then look at you. Mix them up, have some fun but make sure these cues are having your dog reengaging back to you. The point is that if your dog does, “Shake, down, sit” that the dog is now paying attention to you and is thinking about what they are doing. If your dog doesn’t do these quick easy tricks that you have picked, that the dog enjoys then they might not be ready to move on and maybe the situation you put your dog into is too challenging and more practice is needed. That is ok and now you know!


Steps in the Thinking Dog Protocol

  1. Pick 3 easy and engaging cues (not all cues will be the same)
  2. Be sure the cues are well established
  3. Use these cues to test that you and your dog are communicating before going out
  4. Test again outside 
  5. Use Thinking Dog protocol to check in while out with your dog

Written by: Marie Turner-Bailie 

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