We Give You Permission

Do you let your dog sleep in your bed, but feel guilty because you’ve heard you shouldn’t? Do you avoid playing tug-of-war because someone told you it can cause aggression? Are you beating yourself up, and frustrated with your dog, because you haven’t mastered a perfect heel while on walks?

Well, here’s some good news. We can actually let go of many of the perceived “must-do’s” we place on our dogs and on ourselves. There are many things we feel or have been told we should or shouldn’t do. Many of these beliefs can cause us to miss out on mutually enjoyable activities, place unnecessary pressure on ourselves and our dogs, and strip away the joy of living with our beloved canine friends. Some can even lead to or exacerbate problems.

I reached out to some of my fellow dog training and behavior colleagues for examples of common misconceptions of doggy dos and don’ts. We hope this helps you to find even more joy with your dog, to be your dog’s advocate, and to celebrate your dog…well, being a dog!

We give you permission.

Let it hereby be decreed: I, Kristi Benson, professional dog trainer, do thusly grant permission for you to let your dogs out the door first.

From this day forward, you shall be free of any shame or prejudice (except for maybe a judging look from your Uncle Ralph, but I mean, your Uncle Ralph judges you for a lot of stuff, right? Between spouting golf facts? So don’t get too hung up on that).

Permission is granted for the canine in your life to precede you through the portal of your (and their) choosing, because the rule to always go through a door before your dog was enacted based on faulty information. Dogs go through doors first because they are faster than us and more curious than us, and because they are cooped up all day and are simply motivated to experience their worlds. Dogs don’t go through doors first because they have some kind of status game in mind. The very idea that dogs have a status game in mind should be, frankly, tossed out that open door.

If you prefer to have your dogs do a nice wait-at-the-door behaviour, then sure, train it up. But if it’s safe for your dogs to barrel out the door first, and you’re ok with it, then give them that moment of joy. Permission granted.

Kristi Benson CTC, PCBC-A
Kristi Benson Dog Training

Photo of Sadie on the couch with some apples.
Photo of Sadie by Oleg Sobol

Not only do I give you permission to give your dog “human” food, I encourage it!

I share an apple with my dog, Sadie, almost every day. Picture the scene: I am on the couch. Sadie is in another room. I take one bite. Car-RUNCH. Sadie moseys on over to where the apple dispensary (that’s me) is sitting. She hops up, lies down, and waits quietly and patiently for her apple-ing. This ritual occurs, without exaggeration, almost every day. And I love it. I have no training agenda. Just the primal, communal act of eating together. It brings me such joy to share this food I love with this dog I love. I like to think it brings Sadie joy too.

Did I create a food-scavenging monster? Does Sadie pester me at every meal now? Does she bark relentlessly for food all day long? Nope. I did not teach Sadie to want food. Evolution did that. I did, however, teach her when the all-you-can-eat apple buffet is open for business (when we’re on the couch), and what behaviors will produce apple goodness in her mouth (lying down calmly and quietly next to me). I could also use apple bits or other human food for formal training exercises. We ask our dogs to do some pretty weird stuff when training them. The weirder and more difficult the stuff, the better the paycheck needs to be. For Sadie and many dogs, human food is a nice paycheck. Check out my blog here for more on using food in dog training.

Whether for joy in everyday life, or formal training, share some human food with your dog. Give it a try! The proof is in the pudding. Or the apple.

Oleg Sobol, CTC, CPDT-KA
Polite Pup Dog Training

Happy dog lying on the sofa.

Share the sofa– and the bed, while you’re at it!

Forget what you’ve heard or read about dogs and dominance and how letting them on the furniture puts them in charge. There is zero science supporting this!

We know that generally speaking, dogs are social beings who want proximity to us. They desire comfort, safety, warmth, and all of those things come with a good snuggle on the sofa or (gasp) in the bed! Who can blame them for hopping into our seats when we head to the kitchen. It’s the warmest spot! There’s nothing more to it.

Bothered by fur on the upholstery? (AKA FURniture. See what I did there?) Pick up a few inexpensive, washable vintage blankets at your favorite flea market or hit the post-holiday sales at West Elm, Target, or wherever you’ve been eyeing cozy textiles. Designate these dog blankets, cover your friend’s favorite spot on the furniture, and forget your worries!

Lizzy Flanagan CTC
Lizzy and the Good Dog People

Say hello and good-bye to your dog. Yes, even separation anxiety dogs.

So I’m here, as a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, to give you permission to NOT ignore your dog when you come home or leave. Go ahead — greet them. Say hi. Pet them. And while you’re at it, go ahead and say “I love you. I’ll be back.” or “See you later.” when you leave. Please DO NOT ignore your dog. READ MORE HERE.

Kate LaSala
Rescued By Training

Beagle playing tug-of-war game with a toy.

Play tug with your dog!

Meeting our dogs’ needs goes well beyond food and shelter. Providing outlets to express species-normal behaviors is critical to quality of life for all animals. Playing tug allows your dog to engage in a simulation of cooperative predation activity, which is great for both exercise and enrichment. Dogs are social predators after all, and they come with that corresponding genetic software. There is an added benefit to us, as well. Tug is a crafty way to practice skills and teach our dogs to settle down and focus when super excited if played with a simple plan: https://dogeducated.com/tug-rules/

It’s also okay to let your dog play tug with another dog if both enjoy the activity and any arguments are settled without injury.

Lisa Skavienski, CTC, CSAT
Dog Educated

Let your dog pull on leash (sometimes).

Loose leash walking is one of the hardest behaviors for a dog to learn. It’s not very natural for a 4-legged creature to slow their pace to a bi-ped human walking gait. I have a sled-dog who is big, fast and strong, and he LOVES to pull. So here’s what I do:

  1. Set up a context where it’s OK to pull. Use different harnesses for pulling and walking sessions. I use a back-clip canicross harness (which attaches to my own hip belt) for pulling, and a completely different front-clip harness for walks. Even our leashes are different for runs and walks.
  2. Use environmental cues. When we are on a specific forest trail: OK to pull, I’ll run (or bike, or ski) with you. When we’re on a neighborhood sidewalk: walking only.
  3. Practice your loose leash walking after your dog has had pulling or running time. Wear them out a bit first!

You can also add in verbal cues to help your dog know when it’s time to pull (“hike!”) and time to walk (“slowly…” or “with me”). Permission to pull (sometimes) can also be used as a reward, so think strategically!

K. Holden Svirsky
Holden K9

Small white dog in the park sniffing the grass.

Let your dog stop and sniff when they want to!

Did you know that leash walks on their own are not generally a sufficient form of physical exercise for a dog? It’s a tale as old as time that dogs need to be walked regularly so that they get enough exercise, but this is an outdated belief that needs to be resigned to the history books.

When it comes to physical exercise, activities like swimming, running, fetch, tug, and dog-dog play are far more likely to meet most dogs’ actual needs. But wait — don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! If our dog enjoys leash walks they are a great activity choice to help meet our dog’s psychological needs provided that they are given a lot of opportunities to stop and sniff!

A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science in 2019 entitled Let me sniff! Nosework induces positive judgment bias in pet dogs concluded “that allowing dogs to spend more time using their olfaction through a regular nosework activity makes them more optimistic. By allowing dogs more ‘foraging’ time, their welfare is improved.”

So the next time we head out for a walk let’s remember that the scientific community has given us data-driven permission to let our dog stop and sniff the roses as many times as he wants. Shifting our mindset about walks being a physical endeavour to that of a mental endeavour we’ll end up tiring out our dog even more than before because the brain power utilized during our “sniffari” will use up more energy than purely walking at our bi-ped pace ever will for a dog.

Jodi Beedell CPDT-KA, CTC, CTDI
Raising Fido

Let your dog lead the way on walks.

You have permission to let your dog lead the way on walks. Dogs love to explore and sniff things on walks, and they don’t generally walk at our exact pace. Walking right by your side is boring for your dog and can be frustrating for you. Try a longer leash and let your dog go ahead or out to the side. Here are some tips for success:

  • Use a 6-8 foot leash. A longer leash will allow your dog more room to explore without pulling.
  • Carry treats with you and reward your dog whenever they check in with you. Make sure you deliver the treat right by your side, so your dog is encouraged to check in close to you.
  • Use a cue like “Easy” to let your dog know when they’re about to reach the end of the leash. Over time they’ll learn to slow down or come closer when they hear that cue.
  • Teach your dog a Hand Target, which is an easy way to call your dog back to your side whenever you need them to be close. You can also use a Hand Target to keep your dog close while you’re walking through crowded areas. Check out this video to learn the Hand Target skill.

With practice, you and your dog can have a fun and satisfying walk together!

Beth Sautins
Doggy Geeks University

Dog sits with a tilted head and leash attached.

I give you permission to advocate for your dog on walks/hikes.

It’s okay to look out for your dogs and be their voice when you’re out in public. All kinds of dogs — exuberant dogs, inexperienced puppies, senior dogs, nervous dogs, fearful dogs, reactive dogs, dogs with physical ailments — they ALL deserve to get out and be in public on walks and hikes. Random strangers don’t get to decide things for your dog, and you have not only permission but the right to speak up for your dog’s wants and needs.

You can ask someone else to temporarily leash their dog or otherwise keep them from approaching yours. If you have a reactive dog, people will no doubt prefer your style of communication over your dog’s (which could be scary-sounding growling, snarling, snapping, and/or biting if her personal space is breached). Don’t worry about what other people think of you if your dog needs more space. She has the right to be left alone.

You can request that young children keep their distance from your dog, and you can say ‘no’ when a child asks to pet them. A child’s or adult’s desire to pet your dog does not win out over your dog’s desire not to be touched. You don’t have to apologize. It’s fine to kindly explain, “No, he doesn’t enjoy being touched by strangers, so I appreciate you asking.” Or, “She’s feeling overwhelmed right now, but maybe another time.”

We get to serve as interpreters for our canine companions so that other people can understand them. I wish you all — humans and dogs — many happy hours of enjoying fresh air, exercise, and the space you need.

Donna Furlani
Your Trusted Ally

I give you permission to let your dog growl.  

Clients oftentimes share concerns about their dogs that are growling at family members or other dogs in the home. I always ask, what happens when your dog growls? The answers are usually indicative of some sort of punishment; the dog is yelled at, made to leave the room or kicked off the couch. What would be a better option for managing a dog that is growling? When a dog growls at me, I immediately stop what I am doing and say “thank you” to the dog. A growl, while it may be alarming to us, is also a non-violent form of communication from the dog. Oftentimes dogs start by letting us know they are uncomfortable using body language. These cues are subtle and very easy to miss to an untrained eye. So, the dog who has been trying to communicate discomfort using body language feels as if she is not being heard ramps up the communication style, by growling. Imagine the dog saying, “Can you hear me now?” I interpret a growl as an excellent sign. Why? Because the dog could bite instead of growl, but did not. The dog chose a non-violent form of communication. When dealing with a dog that has growled, it is time to freeze, and back up and let the investigation begin. All behavior is a form of communication. We need to understand why a dog is growling, not punish the dog for growling. If they are growling because they are uncomfortable in the situation, we need to manage the situation to help the dog feel comfortable. It is up to us to help our dogs feel comfortable in all situations, including growling.

Kathleen McClure, CTC, Cert. SAPT
The Happier Dog

I give you permission to feed your dog in any order you like, relative to your own dinnertime!

Dogs don’t ascribe “respect” to humans as a result of an elaborate chronicle of observed eating order. While they can learn to feel safe with us because we care for them and feed them, and they *do* pay attention to what happens in what order, it’s mostly because they can’t wait for the good stuff to happen and they learn which tip-offs predict that their food is coming. So if you want to get them really jazzed about something they’re normally worried about, such as the vacuum cleaner, you could always make a point of running the vacuum right before they get their own food. They’ll learn vacuum cleaner predicts meal times, and learn to love, rather than fear, the suctioning brute.

As for your own dinner, it might even be more convenient to feed your dog first, so that they aren’t drooling quite so much when you sit down at your dinner table. Even better, you could provide them with a long-lasting work-to-eat toy to enjoy and keep them busy while you enjoy a nice dinner free from worry about what your pup is up to!

I give you permission to feed your dog in any order you like, relative to your own dinnertime!

Maria Karunungan CTC, PCBC-A, CSAT
Fetch the Leash

I’d like to give you permission to NOT train your dog if you don’t want to.

Sure, one of my dogs knows 65 behaviors – because she lives with a dog trainer! But really, if your dog never learns to roll over on a verbal cue, she can have a full and lovely life with you. If your dog doesn’t have good recall, you’ll have to be careful about keeping him on a leash in places he could get hit by a car or get lost. But if your dog is happy and safe and you are happy with your dog, that’s enough training as far as I’m concerned. For “safe” I like a good recall, and a solid stay (so they don’t dash out the door). But this whole idea that dogs “must” know some arbitrary list of trained behaviors is rather silly.

Tim Steele
Behavior Matters Academy

If you are happy with your dog’s behavior, let go of preconceived notions about “training musts” and decide for yourself what you want to train and why.

Let’s take jumping to greet as an example.  Jumping to greet is commonly thought of by humans as rude dog behavior. However, as a dog trainer, I do not see a problem in small dogs jumping to say hello as long as there is no risk of injury to small children. READ MORE HERE.

Erica Gennaro
Everdog Training and Behavior

Brown and white dog doing wave trick.

It’s okay to teach your dog something silly or fun before you solve all their behavior problems.

There is no shortage of views and arguments about which behaviors to teach — or not teach — to your dog, and why. Sometimes, these views and their arguments are less about what to teach, and more about how or when to teach certain behaviors. One view I encounter with some regularity is that one shouldn’t teach tricks until any behavior concerns have been resolved or “fixed,” or until the dog has considerable obedience-type skills.

Here’s the real talk. We all have different priorities when it comes to training our dogs. It’s a good practice to set goals and priorities, especially when we are stretched thin on time, energy, and resources. Because our dogs are individuals, we have to consider their individual needs and interests in their training. In addition, we have to consider our own needs as individual humans who live with our dogs, and our own individual training preferences and abilities. Our priorities, needs, preferences, and abilities can change over time, too. 

It’s a good practice to prioritize modifying, changing, or managing those behaviors that are compromising for safety or quality of life. But, aside from that, there is no right, ultimate, or perfect order of priorities. 

I’m here today to tell you that you can teach your dog tricks whenever you want, if that’s something you and your dog will enjoy. You can teach your dog the most ridiculous, silly, useless stuff in the world. It’s okay, as long as you and your friend are having fun together. Really, it’s okay. READ MORE HERE

Joan Forry, Ph.D., CPDT-KA, CTC, FFCP (Trainer)
The Dog Abides, LLC

Cut yourself (and your dog!) some slack.

Many of us have this general idea of the perfect dog: well-mannered, with polished, flashy traditional obedience behaviors. The dog whose world revolves around their guardians, and nothing else matters.

This probably is not your dog. Your dog pulls on the leash. Sometimes he eats things he finds on the ground. Sometimes, he so enthusiastically greets strangers that you think he’d walk off with them and never look back. Does he even know that you exist?

We also seem to have this idea that every dog can and should achieve that “perfect dog” status. That if you don’t work to train your dog to that level, you are somehow doing him a disservice. That if he ever has an off day, he is somehow defective. Maybe you get sympathetic looks, or people kindly offer you the names of trainers they have heard of.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to have the perfect dog. Train or manage what is important to you and keeps your dog and others safe. That’s it. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty about it, either. You are allowed to say “I could train those flashy behaviors to get that perfect dog. But I love him how he is, and we are happy, and that’s enough.” Life is already hard enough. Cut yourself some slack, and love your dog for who he is, in all his perfectly imperfect glory.

Allie Kirby, CTC
Sky’s the Limit Animal Training and Behavior

Happy dog running in a meadow.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in my previous post “Client Confessions: How I’m Secretly Ruining My Dog.”