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Is Your Dog Self-Employed?
Using Positive Training to Correct Problem Behaviors

by Paul Owens

“The dog ate my homework.” That may be a top excuse that teachers hear but sometimes it's actually true. In over 30 years as a dog trainer, the number one reason that people call for my services is because of problem behaviors.

The fact is that if you don't give your dog a job to do, she will become self-employed, such as the homework eating “student.” One of the main reasons that people have problems with their dogs is that the dog is unemployed, hence there is a lack of mental, physical, and emotional stimulation.

All animals are genetically encoded with the instinct to expend energy in order to survive. In Nature, this comes in the form of the hunt for food, safety from predators, and safety from the elements. They even have to work to mate and certainly to provide for their offspring.

In most cases, when we take dogs into our homes, they no longer have to work for anything. This creates a situation where the dog is unemployed. So, to fill the vacuum, she may herd the children or retrieve the neighbor's newspaper. She may guard her food and toys or protect the home from the mail carrier and even nice Aunt Minnie. An unemployed dog might express her boredom by exhibiting manifestations of stress such as chewing on the furniture or even herself, ripping up linoleum, and destroying houseplants.

Here are some of the top occupations that dogs take on:

They become gardeners. At the end of the day you come home and find your sprinkler heads and flowers torn up.

They become official greeters, jumping all over your visitors and knocking them over when they walk in the door.

They become home decorators. You come home and find all of your cushions and designer shoes chewed just the way they want them.

They become alarm systems. The only problem is that you can't turn off except when they are sleeping. So the neighbors hear your dog barking all day and all night long.

They become hunters. My dog Molly used to “capture” dead fish from around Lake Erie and proudly laid the garden mouse at my feet as she walked in the door.

They become the home security system, protecting the house from intruders. And if the dog is aggressive, poor old Uncle Bob might soon be referred to as “Lefty.”

They become firefighters. They put out all the imaginary fires on your furniture.
The solution is simple. Become your dog's employer. Employment is important because it not only provides the stimulation that your dog needs but also because it promotes and develops a sense of self, purpose, and pride. The objective of giving your dog a job to do is not to stop them from doing any of these behaviors–but to make you the boss. When you become your dog's employer, you tell him when and where he should do all of these behaviors….or not.

Then, the gardener dog learns to dig in a sandbox. The official greeter learns to lay down on his spot when the doorbell rings. The home decorator chews on appropriate objects, including such “smart toys” as especially designed tennis ball machines and gum ball machines for dogs; voice activated toys; and appropriate chew toys such as Kongs and Buster Cubes. The alarm system dog learns to bark three times when the mail carrier or visitor arrives and then lay down. The hunter learns to chase, track, hunt and kill Frisbees, pieces of cheese, and toys like Kongs. And the firefighter learns the proper places and times to eliminate.

To help explain and illustrate the importance of dogs “working” for their living, I developed the concept of “canine currency.” When you institute the concept of canine currency, you pay your dog in response to appropriate behavior, which is looked at as his work or his job. A dog then works for the currency, which is represented by food, affection, play, and special privileges. “Want to go outside? Sit first.” “Want to chase the ball? Lay down first” “Want to go for a walk? Open the fridge and get me a soda first.” The idea is, you promise that you will give your dog everything she wants: petting, praise, food, exercise, meeting other dogs and people…as long as she does something for you first.

Having to work for a living challenges dogs and engages them in life. It eliminates boredom and gives them purpose. Once you institute the rule that “Nothing in life is free,” your dog will work for almost everything and be happy to do so. Jobs include retrieving toys, doing tricks, and playing games. My dog Molly can answer the phone and throw it in the wastebasket if it's a bill collector. She can run an agility course, retrieve a ball under water, guard my car. When we visit elementary schools as part of our Paws for Peace animal-assisted therapy program, she demonstrates twenty different tricks. Not a bad job!

Unless your dog displays moderate to severe aggression, you can learn a lot about positive dog training from books and DVDs. However, it can be fun to join a group class or even have a private session with a trainer. Because many dog trainers still teach methods that include physical force, I suggest interviewing the trainer before hiring him. Or you can find a trainer that uses only positive training methods through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers ( or The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (

About the Author:
Paul Owens
Author: The Dog Whisperer DVD and the book: The Dog Whisperer,
A Compassionate Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training
Certified by The Association of Pet Dog Trainers
Endorsed by the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors
Director: Raise with Praise, Inc. Dog training

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