Positive Paralysis – Now what?

You’re picking up after the kids in the family room when you hear sounds coming from the kitchen….where your dinner roast is cooling on the countertop.  You have a sinking feeling that your dog is about to make a meal out of your dinner.

You’re a “positive” trainer who doesn’t use fear, intimidation, or physical force to train your dog.

You enter the kitchen to see what is happening and your worst fear is confirmed – your dog is well up on the kitchen counter and heading for your roast.

What do you do?

Wait a sec – I have to change that around a bit, because I have no idea what you do.  Let’s talk about what I’d do.

So, what would I do?

Protect my dinner!

There is a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to stand there helplessly, watching my dog eat my dinner, so that I can avoid any unhappiness in my dog.

My dogs do not have more rights than I do.

My dogs do not have more rights than my children either.  And if I came in the kitchen and I found my child sitting on the counter, about to eat the cake that I had sitting there….

I’d put a stop to that too, lickety split!

HOW I put a stop to that would depend on the dog or the child.  Ideally, I’d do exactly what needed to be done to interrupt the behavior.  (By the way, that is what this is called – an “interrupter”).

That interrupter could vary anywhere from saying “eeek!!!!” for a softer dog, to physically taking hold of the dog and pulling my roast right back out of their mouth for a harder or more determined dog.

At which point I might not really want to eat it – but damn it – the dog isn’t going to eat it either.

Going forwards – put the roast somewhere else while your dog learns not to get on counters.  All of mine do figure that out but in all fairness,  it’s generally not a good idea to leave a hunk of hot steaming meat on the edge of the counter.  At the very least, your dog might start licking the bottom and you’ll never know about that.  But it’s still disgusting.

My dogs are not allowed on my table or counters – if I find them up there, I’m going to handle it like I would a toddler – I’m going to remove them very quickly and I’m very likely to be saying something as I move in – how forceful I am is totally dependent on the dog.  No, this will not scare them, or at least not if you know your dog and what gets their attention. But it will certainly put them on notice that you have an opinion about their behavior.

This action may or may not train your dog.  If your dog cares what you think, then they may well never touch your food on the counters again.  If your dog does not care what you think, then you might actually have to put some time into teaching your dogs that food on the counters is not for them.  Or just manage the situation – no tempting food on the edges of the counters.

Positive does not mean becoming paralyzed when something is happening that you don’t like.  Deal with the situation.  Decide if you want to move forwards with management (no food on counters) or training (when food is on the counters the dog is taught an alternative behavior like staying out of the kitchen or on a mat).

Going forwards…what’s your plan?

On another note, registration starts at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on March 22nd – check out the schedule and come join us if something looks interesting!:  Class Schedule at FDSA


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
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9 Responses to Positive Paralysis – Now what?

  1. Marcy Graybill says:

    Yes! I love this post. I don’t know how many times I’ve been given nasty looks because I tell people, I’ll remove ill-gotten food from my dogs mouth. My Danny dog was horrible at stealing food and he taught one of my current dogs, Quinn quite well. In the past, I took a bagel out of Danny’s mouth and fed it to my other dogs instead of letting him eat it.


  2. iwanttotrythatrecipedana says:

    LOL … I would go in and scream “Have you lost your mind?!” Which is actually a semi-command that most of my dogs know quite well. We have all lived through these moments and no dog psyches were permanently damaged… they have sometimes grabbed and swallowed faster, but still sleep on the bed at night. 🙂


  3. Karla says:

    Bravo again Denise!

    I hope it doesn’t violate copyright laws to reference word for word from a book.

    Karen Pryor, in her book “Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs,” revised edition, copyright 2002, page 53, answered this question, “But doesn’t that mean I should never punish the dog? What if the dog jumps up, or nips me, or takes food off the counter, or runs away?”

    “Some people think that using positive reinforcement means you never reprimand the dog or control it physically. That’s unrealistic. Leashes are a fact of life for dogs. It’s necessary to keep a dog on a leash when you are going to strange places, or out in traffic, or amongst strange dogs. And of course your dog needs to understand the meaning of “No.” You need to interrupt behavior such as mouthing your hands and clothes, for example, or trying to grab food from the kitchen counter. Remember that timing is just as important in correcting misbehavior as it is in reinforcing good behavior. Your response should occur while the behavior is happening, not afterwards, or just before you think it might happen.
    While correction and scolding can stop behavior (while you’re around, anyway) they are not efficient ways to teach the dog to do something new. For that, clicks and treats work best. As for stealing food, tipping over the garbage, and so on, it’s up to you to monitor the environment and put temptation out of reach.”

    Sounds like Karen Pryor, nearly the “God/Goddess” of positive, would also say to this post, “Bravo!”

    We love you Denise!


  4. ejhaskins says:

    Don’t you use the tried and true “Dunbar Response”? Take a rolled up newspaper and it your self on the head with it!
    Also known as ‘don’t ever leave your dog unsupervised in a room with a roast cooling in it 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anne says:

    Not sure I agree with this. Sure, in an emergency, the dog has a dangerous object, I may dexude to wrestle my dog for it. However, I think it’s much more to the point that we shouldn’t leave things out for our dogs to practice on. Preventive management can go a long way to ensuring a behavior never gets a chance to begin. And speaking from the view of someone who has five years of minpin fosters under my belt (you know, those counter surfing stomachs on four legs?), I can’t say I have had an issue with just “pin proofing” and using sensible management. The result is four of my own Minpins, who will never once look at the roast I left lying on the counter, even if I leave the room. They just never learned they could.
    I firmly believe we should set dogs up for success and reinforce that, not set them up for failure, then tackle them for our own mistakes. After all, they are dogs, not toddlers.


  6. tassie2013 says:

    Thanks so much for the chuckles, Denise. :Loved this post, and the common sense/real life view. There’s theory, but we all make mistakes in our management of dogs (and kids). To me this post highlights the fact that you can apply cheerful (or even less than cheerful) interrupters without damaging the dog’s psyche when you’ve spent the dog’s life building a great relationship with your dog. I’ll happily use the “Dunbar newspaper” approach as well .. but after I’ve removed or shortened the dog’s possibilities for continued self reinforcement. Oh, and while I might be able to manage the counter-surfing issues (if I was a much more organised person), I cannot realistically manage things like the opportunity for my Border Collie to snack or roll on or both, the rotting wallaby she has found in the bush in the back corner of my bush block. For her sake and mine, I need to interrupt that as quickly as possible.


  7. Mara says:

    My first thought after reading this article and subsequent comments was, “This is a joke, right?” If not, you all have lost. your. collective. sanity, IMHO, and you’re quite lucky that your dog hasn’t lost it’s life to boot. Management fails. Period. It fails by simple virtue of the fact that LIFE IS UNPREDICTABLE , and YOU CANNOT SUCCESSFULLY MANAGE THE REST OF THE WORLD for the rest of your dog’s days. Unless your rule is “Dogs don’t eat anything besides what has been expressly given to them by their owners / handlers” you are “positively” gambling with the life of your dog as well as with your dinner. This is accomplished via training to standards – and that includes sharing consequences for poor behavioral choices. Trust me, your dog will recover from his hurt feelings much faster that his surgery for intestinal impaction, or that meatball filled with strychnine that some wack job left lying around the dog park (SF, CA, Google it !) – when you’re done self – flagellating w/ Mr. Dunbars’ newspaper, and gargling the PP+ Kool-aid that is. Sheesh.


  8. Laura says:

    I’m not opposed to a stern voice and teaching your dog the meaning of the word “no”. However, I’d like to share my favorite way to interrupt an undesirable behavior that I believe is more effective than voiced in this article. You know how some dogs will hear the crinkling sound a bag of treats makes when you’re opening it and it grabs and holds their attention immediately? Or for some dogs a squeeky toy? Nothing else exists for them in that moment. This is one example of a positive interrupter. Rather than using the sound of a treat bag (for obvious reasons) to interrupt a behavior, I use the sound of the word “STOP”. I train dogs to have a strong association to that word in such a way that when they hear it, they excitedly stop anything they are doing and come running. Obviously, this takes time and that word has to have an amazing association with it before it can successfully be used in a “stealing the roast” situation. But it works. “STOP” is always followed by redirecting their behavior after it’s been interrupted. I could get in to more detail, but I sense that this comment is going to be more wordy than I originally intended already.

    I’ve seen many dogs respond to being yelled at, or hearing a loud sound, and\or being chased as an interrupter, by running and gulping down that “roast” as quickly as they can before you can get to them. The “roast” is just so good and they know you’re coming to stop them. Alternatively, there are dogs that will freeze and growl at you to back away from “their” food because they have a strong “resource guarding” behavior; these dogs may even attack you. I’ve also seen dogs that are less confident, shy, or fearful react with submissive urination or shutting down, furthering their fearful and reactive state only compounding on all of the undesirable behaviors that stem from fear.

    Then you have these truly amazing and inspiring individuals who can train dogs to leave food on the counter alone entirely even if you’re not in the room. It’s easier if the food isn’t in reach though….obviously. There are some great trainers on YouTube that have insightful, instructive, educated, and free dog training/behavioral tutorial videos like Emily Larlham, Zak George, Ian Dunbar, Patricia McConnell, Sophia Yin, Victoria Stilwell (have you SEEN the cupcake dog video?!) – I could go on. Of course, we are not all professional dog trainers and might not have hidden cameras with baby monitors, and we are all doing the best that we can for our dogs. We are all reading this article because – we love dogs! I felt the need to comment because I’m hoping that it will inspire some dog lovers to see that rather than simply “reacting” to a situation, we can “STOP” our first instinct and redirect our own behavior to be more thoughtful, patient, and informed with the actions that we take. The benefit is a stronger bond of mutual trust, love, and respect. I hope this doesn’t come across as judgemental; only helpful.


  9. anne robinson says:

    Living with dogs means training dogs to be good household companions and for some of us, competition partners. I differentiate between competition (obedience) training and that which teaches safety and manners. In obedience training, I do of course keep things as fun and happy as I can, helping my dog learn in baby steps and always helping him succeed. I try not to let negativity, punishment, or the pressure of success and the disappointment to failure to cloud my training techniques. Keep it upbeat, keep it simple. Let the dog figure it out as much as possible. After all, his life is not in jeopardy when learning how to find a straight front.
    However,when it comes to safety and manners, not all interactions I’ve had with my dogs are positive! Training my dogs not to barge out the front door, not to jump on my 5-year-old grandson, not to counter surf, and teaching them about all the many other No-no’s they will encounter in their life with me – these things I take very seriously. Consequently, I do want my dog to understand that an infraction on one of these rules or boundaries may bring on the wrath of Mom. As you said, I use the methods that work best for the dog in front of me, taking into consideration the dog’s temperament and ability to bounce back from a correction (meaning punishment of some sort).. But for safety issues, I do not shape nor do I especially give the dog time to figure it out himself. If I drop the Tylenol on the floor, I want Leave It! to mean Leave It NOW, and so my training is very specific and in black and white with no room for interpretation. It’s too important.
    That said, when living with dogs, there is training and there is management. Moving food out of reach is management as is closing the bathroom door for those toilet paper stealers. Training is necessary when teaching a solid recall, the Leave It command, or threshold training. It is of course done step by step, but with whatever methods will work to impress upon my dog that there is no room for error or creativity. And yes, I may use a collar “correction” for Leave It or physically haul my dog off the counter or let him know the world just might end if he jumpos up again or if he barges out the front door. For me, safety issues are dealt with in an unequivocal way.


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