Monday, July 13, 2015

Puppy Probation

What's it got to do with Puppy Probation?
From structure comes respect.
 With respect, Chuckie earns freedom.
Even the freedom to shamelessly pose in the landscape like friggin Lassie.

I've recently recently received so many requests for my Puppy Probation handout that I decided to put it here for easy access.

If you have been in dogs for any length of time, you have seen various flavors of this kind of protocol -- "Nothing in Life is Free" is a popular title, though that title is slapped onto many different sets of instructions. Job Evans called his a "Radical Regime For Recalcitrant Rovers," which, Dude, just, no. Most credible trainers have some sort of shot-gun approach to dogs who are generally pills, and it is very similar to the new dog burn-in program that each recommends. This one is mine.  I tweak it about once every ten years, which seems about right.

The thing about shot-gun approaches is, they aren't very scientific. When Puppy Probation "works" (which it almost always does when the dog owners actually follow through and get the whole family on-board), we have no way of knowing what worked for a given dog. Items 1, 5, and 7? Items 2 and 10 only? Every item was totally necessary? The gestalt of each item interacting? The simple fact of a change? The owner's expectations?

Science-bitch dog trainer wants to tease apart all the variables and find the golden thread at the core, discard the unnecessary, reduce the problem and the solution to evidence-based, coherent purity.

Neandertal dog trainer tells her to STFU. Don't care. Just trying to fix dog. Something worked. Don't matter if it was the one pellet at the edge of the grouping or all 30 of them. Keep doing.

If you would like a copy of Puppy Probation to print out on two pages and tape to your fridge -- recommended -- you can print a PDF from here.

I do not offer specific dog training advice to strangers online, so specific questions about applications will probably be ignored.


Puppy Probation is a re-ordering and rehabilitation program for dogs who are dominant, unruly, aggressive, wild, unfocused, derpy and destructive, or who are showing any apparently isolated undesired behavior. It is also a very suitable regimen for newly-adopted untrained dogs. 

Its aim is to change your dog's attitude by reducing his choices to a very clear set of simple options and requiring him to work for the things that he wants. It is not punishment. You must not have a "gotcha" attitude during the probation period; rather, you should think of it as a time to re-order the dog's world so that he can learn to respond by being pleasant and cooperative instead of wild and bossy. He will begin to see you as a credible, competent leader, and will love and respect you for it.

Many of the Puppy Probation provisions involve changing your behavior, not your dog's. If
you do not consistently follow through on the protocol, even though the rules seem unrelated to the problem at hand, you are unlikely to achieve the desired change If you start Probation and then apply it inconsistently, or back off when your dog's behavior worsens, you will have done more damage than no training at all -- you will have taught your dog that you are unreliable, and that he can succeed at getting what he wants in the moment by resisting you.

Puppy Probation lasts a minimum of one month, and is applied along with obedience training and other interventions to address the specific behavior problems that your dog is exhibiting. Items that are underlined are habits and rituals that you should apply to your dog for his whole life.

(1) The dog is confined to his crate (in your bedroom) at night, and
confined when you are away.
He is not allowed to choose his own sleeping place or roam the house unsupervised.
But he is allowed to be near you while you sleep. Remember, isolation is punishment,
and he will feel resentful if you isolate him every night.

(2) Two obedience sessions every day.
Work your dog on the obedience commands that he knows and introduce new commands in structured ten-minute sessions twice a day. Be absolutely firm and consistent during these sessions, and ask your dog to progress each day. Do not use treats in obedience sessions beyond the teaching phase of new commands, but praise lavishly.

(3) The long down
If your dog knows how to down and stay, he must do it once a day for a half-hour (minimum). If he does not know the down-stay, start teaching it now, and immediately begin the "Sit on the Dog" exercise every day.

(4) Nothing is free
When your dog comes to you for petting, play, or attention, he must obey a command before he gets it (sit, down, heel). He must sit while you put his dinner down and wait to eat until you tell him okay. He must not be free-fed; dinner bowl comes up five minutes after you put it down. There should be no prolonged or absent-minded petting sessions, and absolutely NO nudging, pawing, barking or whining to get attention.

(5) Time out
When your dog is being a pest, he goes to his crate for ten minutes to a half-hour of time out. Don't inject a lot of drama in this, just quietly get him out of your hair. (Or require a down for the same period, if you can watch him and enforce it.)

(6) You control the space
Your dog gets no furniture privileges. If he is in your way, he must yield -- don't step around or over him. He must wait at the door for your permission to go through, and for permission to jump out of or into the car.

(7) Get a grip
The dog wears a martingale training collar with a tab or four-foot leash all the time when someone is home or he is at liberty, so that you able to easily catch and correct him. 

(8) Hit the dirt
Command him to down whenever the mood strikes you, and enforce each command. He should perform a minimum of fifty downs a day. Have him do "situps" -- a sitdown- sit-down sequence. At least ten times a day, roll him belly-up. Reassure or center him with a quiet "nose hug" or scruff tug whenever he needs it.

(9) Run it off
Your dog needs exercise to vent off his energy if he is to pay attention. Give him one hour of solid exercise a day -- chasing a ball, structured play, swimming, or jogging with you. 

(10) Tone it down
You have probably been yelling at your little canine terrorist when he acts up, which may be all the time. You are probably unaware of this. Stop it now. Practice silent physical corrections. Hold daily near-silent eye contact sessions, and reward him quietly for looking to you. All commands are to be given in a normal tone of voice. Praise and correction should be titrated to the dog's temperament and the circumstances, with the goal never to get the dog either hyped-up or cowed.

Copyright 1995, 2005, 2015 by Heather Houlahan.