Despite tales of lost remote controls, couches chewed to smithereens, shoe after shoe after shoe lost to determined jaws, holes in the backyard landscape big enough to hide a body or four, I am actually a professional dog trainer.
No really…I even have an official looking certificate and letters after my name. CPDT-KA: Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed. You can even Google me.
And to my credit, I do live in relative peace with a rotating number of foster and on-purpose dogs that requires me to stop to count heads on my fingers…and yeah…my toes. So you know, I have that on the old resume.
And Jim. I have Jim. He has mad dog training skills all his own.
My professional training work is with other people’s dogs. And while I love the clean slate of helping someone train a new puppy, more often than not, I’m called in to “fix a dog” (which really means “undo something the human accidentally taught the dog”).
The most common training requests I get, beyond basic manners training, are usually related to jumping up on people, too much barking, pulling on the leash, and dealing with shyness and/or aggression issues. And sometimes I have people who ask me to teach their dog to stay off of the furniture.
If you’re anything like me, that last one is a real head-scratcher.
This request often comes from owners who held a baby puppy on their laps for months, but now the big dog is just too much. Ahhh…the old rule change. Dogs love that. They totally get it.
Not so much.
After months and months, perhaps even years, of snuggling up next to the humans on the couch, now the dog is just supposed to understand that it’s time to move over to that fancy dog bed way over there in the corner. Sigh.
Well, of course we can teach dogs to stay off of the furniture, stay off of the bed, and sleep on the dog bed. It starts with retraining the humans…that tends to be the tricky part. But it can all be done fairly and in a positive fashion. Because you don’t punish the dog for something that was rewarded with a hug and a belly rub just five minutes ago, right? Right?
The old off-the-furniture mandate is not the end of the world for the dog or the people. Worse things have happened. But still, as I go through this particular training process with families, I really want to ask them if they know what they’re giving up. Do you really want your dog to get “off” and “go place” over there?
Don’t you know how great it feels to have your dog next to you on the couch, pressing his head against your cheek to help the stress of a long day at work melt away? Won’t you miss that warm body curled up in the crook of your knees on a cold night? Don’t you know that it’s the ultimate compliment that this loving, devoted creature wants to be as physically close to you as possible?
Oh I know. Not everyone wants to live as I do. My dogs are free to get on the furniture and the bed. Admittedly, my furniture and bedding do pay a little price in the wear and tear department. I get it. Some people choose to have nice things and don’t want dog hair and paw prints included in the decor. Yes, I get it.
(But I really don’t.)
Yes, I admit that dogs and humans can exist in perfect happy harmony with the “no dogs on the furniture” rule in place. I’ve seen it. I lived it as a kid in my own family.
But if you come to our house? Well, I will ask the dogs not to jump on you. I will ask them to give you space on the couch, though feel free to invite them to snuggle up – they will happily comply. Truth be told, if you don’t want a pretty close friendship with my dogs, we should probably just meet at a restaurant.
I may have methods for teaching other people’s dogs to stay off, stay away, stay in your place, but in my home, the closer the better. And when I wake up in the night and feel the warm bodies of my dogs curled next to me, when my Brooke puts her head on my shoulder and snores contentedly in my ear, my soul smiles.
Training clients, you may want to stop reading now.
You want my heartfelt, professional advice? Rules and furniture be damned. Snuggle with your dogs, people.