The Three Cs of Dog Training: Control, Control, Control

thrive (thrīv) v. to grow or develop vigorously and healthily; flourish

In my mind a Thriving Canine is a happy, well balanced, fulfilled dog that enjoys people and that people enjoy having around. There are three Cs involved in raising a canine to thrive: Control, Control and Control.

  1. Control Your Dog
  2. Control The Environment
  3. Control Your Emotions

Before going into the details of these 3 controls let’s get clear about the word control. “Control” can have a negative connotation or be misinterpreted. It falls into the same category as other potentially problematic words like leadership, dominance and even the word command. Many people misinterpret these words because, to them, it sounds like you must rule your dog like a tyrannical fascist dictator.

“I don’t want to do that,” they will say. “I love my dog. I don’t want him to fear me.”

In the past I would get bothered by this apparent softness. “Have people really gotten so soft that I have to tip-toe around every word?” I would ask myself. Then I started running into people on the other side of the spectrum who would misinterpret these words and go way overboard like this guy:

 “Oh yeah, I know. You have to let your dog know you’re dominant. You have to pin him down on the ground and stuff. Yeah, I know that already. If he doesn't listen to me I just grab this big stick and he'll  run into the back room, so I know he respects me.”

Well, suffice it to say I have come to grips with the fact that words are very important, very powerful and using one in place of the other can have a totally different effect on a conversation with any given person.

Imagine this. You spring two hundred dollars on tickets to a concert for you and someone special. This person turns to you during the show and says, “as soon as all this screaming and noise is over, I want to talk to you about something”. I think we can all agree that the preferred terms would be “singing and music.”  Semantics?

So, with that said, let me just state that the type of control I am talking about is not about being mean, stifling, fear based or any of those other concerns that may come up. I am not in the business of breaking a dog’s spirit. I am in the business of helping people have a greater and longer lasting relationship with their dog. The truth is that dogs do actually need and respond positively to proper leadership and the three Cs are a part of that package. As you will see, the three Cs will not make your dog fear you, they will make your dog love you and appreciate you.

Control #1: Your Dog

This basically has to do with training and socializing your dog. A dog that is well-trained will be a much better partner and a joy to be around. He will be allowed in a variety of dog-friendly locations, can enjoy the freedom of being off-leash, running on the beach, etc. and have a better temperament in general. He will obey commands and have good manners. The key here is that in order for this to happen your dog needs to listen to you. Not just when he feels like it or when he knows you have a treat, but anytime and every time you tell him to. This is where a bit of those semantics come in. This is why I use the word Command but some people might prefer Cue or Signal. Command may sound too harsh but Cue or Signal might sound a bit like a request, which can be interpreted by the dog as “I don’t have to if I don’t want to.” Whatever word you choose, keep this in mind. The dog who thinks he has a choice is the one who just might choose to:

  • Not “Come” when you call
  • Not “Drop It” or “Leave It” when they are getting into something nasty or poisonous
  • Not stop jumping, chewing, biting, barking, digging, etc. when you say “No”

However you may feel about the word control, it is a necessity if you want your dog to be a part of the society we live in. Uncontrolled, dogs often become a nuisance or even worse, aggressive and hence wind up in a shelter or euthanized. I call this uncomfortably common problem “loving dogs to death.” The long and short of it is this, Control Your Dog.

Control #2 The Environment

“Control the environment? How am I supposed to do that?”

Well, obviously you can’t always control the world around you. What you can do is control when, where and what your dog is exposed to, at least as much as possible. This may mean controlling and limiting access in the house until he is completely housetrained as well as limiting his freedom on your property or out at the park. It may mean being more alert to your surroundings while out on a walk. A big part of raising a dog is being prepared. Some environmental controls might be:

  • Keeping your dog on leash in the house until trained
  • Using baby gates, closing doors and keeping garbage out of reach
  • Keeping items off the floor that you don’t want chewed
  • Keeping proper chew toys available at all times
  • Leaving the dog park when it gets too rowdy or you have any sense of danger
  • Crossing the street or going the other way if you see a potential problem
  • Managing people who try to approach your dog without asking your permission
  • Avoiding dogs who are dragging a human behind them

The main idea here is to set your dog up for success by controlling the environment and his access to it so that he has as many positive experiences as possible. He will make mistakes, no doubt about it, but you will be there and you will have set up the situation so you have some form of control. Guide him and let him know what is OK and what is not. We are not trying to deny him access to the world; we are providing guidance so he will ultimately get the most access possible. Too much freedom, too soon, without a fair amount of control can lead to bad habits, dangerous situations and negative experiences. All of these can lead to phobias and aggression issues. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Control #3: Your Emotions

Last but certainly not least is controlling your emotions. I am not going to lie to you; this is the most challenging part of all for most of us humans. We are emotional beings and are sometimes so stretched to the limit we are about to pop. Our modern lives keep us so darned busy and in such a state of constant mental and physical stress that we tend to lose our cool very easily.  Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction when Honey Bunny is robbing the diner and Samuel Jackson’s character is trying to calm her down? He says something about being like Fonzie.

“And what’s Fonzie like,...”  he asks.  “He’s cool.” Honey Bunny replies.

That’s how you need to be with your dog. You need to be like the Fonz. You need to be cool.

You love your dog, of course, and there are times when you should be animated, rough house, make exciting and high-pitched voices and so on. Maybe you like to cuddle on the couch and whisper sweet nothings into your dog’s ear. There may also be times when you'll need to use a firm tone to tell him “No!”  The key though, is that these should be very occasional. Most of the time, believe it or not, you would be better off not talking at all. Dogs really don’t need that much sound. Most of the talking is for humans, not for the dog.

“Most dogs are over-talked, over-touched and over-stimulated.” – Martin Deeley, Co-Founder International Association of Canine Professionals

Regardless of how much sound you make though, the real secret is controlling your emotions. If you are angry, frustrated, sad, guilty, etc., you are not in a good place to do right by your dog. It is never a good idea to be in an overly emotional state while dealing with your dog. I am not saying to be a robot and I am certainly not claiming to have mastered this art myself. It is just a really good thing to be aware of. Your dog is very sensitive to his surroundings and that includes you and your emotional state. He may mirror your emotions, be repelled by or overly intimidated by them or simply learn to ignore you because you are unstable. Emotional control examples:

  • To calm your dog, you must be calm. Hint: If you are screaming at your dog, you are not calm.
  • If your dog needs a correction: Be only as firm as necessary and do not correct in anger. Stay in a “matter of fact” frame of mind. You are not arguing or negotiating, you are just training a dog. 
  • Don’t take your dog’s bad behavior personally. He is not trying to hurt you or make you mad. He is not a human. He is a dog and needs guidance and fulfillment.
  • Don’t feel guilty or sad. If there is any justification for your guilt, such as not fulfilling your dog’s needs, then you need to do something about it. Feeling guilty will only make things worse because it diminishes the time you do share and negatively impacts the dog.
  • Give yourself a time out, not the dog. If you catch yourself getting upset, embarrassed, etc. take a time out. Time outs don’t work with dogs; they can’t go to their room and think about what they have done.
  • If you are afraid of your dog: See Control #1 and get some professional help. Find a trainer who is well-rounded and can teach you how to train your dog and establish a re-ranking program. It is dangerous and unhealthy for both you and your dog to let this type of relationship go unchecked.

Again, we are all only human and can only do the best we can. Hopefully the three Cs have provided you with some new insight into your dog’s mind, as well as your own. The mind is a very powerful thing, underestimated by most. Who knows, heeding this advice may help you to not only raise a better dog but gain more mental and emotional control in all aspects of life.

“Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right.” – Henry Ford

Chad Culp–Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Consultant, Certified Holistic Chef for Animals

Copyright 2005-2013 Chad Culp, Thriving Canine. All rights reserved. Chad@ThrivingCanine.com