Why they’re so good

People often ask us: how are your fosters all so well behaved? How do you teach them to be so good?

It’s simple, really. They are good because we don’t give them opportunities to get in trouble. From the minute they walk in the door, our foster dogs are kept on a short leash — quite literally at first, and then figuratively later on. Naturally these clever little rascals still find ways to misbehave here and there, but for the most part if they never have the chance to make any poor choices, then they’re left with only good choices to make.

Yesterday’s pesto extravaganza is a good illustration. I was busy in the kitchen, which might have given Dora plenty of opportunities to run around the house finding mischief.

Looks like you've got this pesto under control. Maybe I'll go find some trouble to get into.

But instead of letting her do that, I blocked off the kitchen door so that she had no choice but to hang out with me in the kitchen/laundry rooms, where I could keep an eye on her.

A hamper and bookcase stand in for a baby gate in a pinch.

I picked up all items of interest like shoes, a trash can, and a low bowl of tomatoes (which Dora likes to play catch with), and gave her a dog toy smeared with peanut butter to keep her occupied with authorized activities.

This peanut butter ball is so fun it makes me wanna play bow!

I like to keep a little jar of treats handy and toss one in the dog’s direction when it’s practicing desired behaviors (sitting quietly and watching, laying down on its bed, playing quietly with a toy), and ignore the dog when it’s being naughty (jumping up, barking). To prevent the self-reinforcing behavior of jumping on the counter, it’s good to keep tasty snacks out of reach. Dogs who are big counter-surfers may benefit from a tiedown to help them learn to settle and keep them out of your dinner.

I am a good girl who never jumps up on the counter, and I would like to help you build your pesto, please.

By rewarding positive behaviors and avoiding or ignoring negative ones, we have generally had good luck “extinguishing” the bad habits and promoting the good ones. Dora took to our little game very quickly, and learned that laying on her blanket means that treats would fall into her paws now and then.

Ok mama, it looks like you don't need my help building the pesto. I'll just be here on my mat relaxing like a good girl.

So far, Miss Dora has been easy. She loves to snatch an occasional cherry tomato, cork, glove, or balled up piece of paper and go prancing triumphantly around the house with it, but she readily gives it back when asked, and hasn’t shown very many other bad habits. Thanks for easing us back into fostering so gently, Miss Dora!

For more info on adopting Dora the Explorer, click here or contact us at info [at] loveandaleash [dot] com.

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39 responses

  1. This is such a timely post. I may be bringing a 3 month old foster puppy home in a couple hours (my first). I’m just waiting for the current foster parent to call me.

    I’ve already gotten an exercise pen down from the attic and I have plenty of peanut butter. Do I feel ready? Nope. But your example is inspiring me.

    • Yikes, 3-month old puppy for the first one?! You are brave! We’re on our second foster, an 11-month old pittie/mastiff mix, and we are finding ourselves way out of our depth…you do have the advantage of the puppy still being small enough to man-handle though, our Kaylee is already 60+ pounds! Good luck, and congratulations on joining the foster family – you’re gonna LOVE it!! :-)
      PS – We blog about our foster experience too if you want to check us out!

  2. This is so good! Too often we forget that these dogs haven’t been in homes (maybe ever!) and they don’t know the rules and there are so many opportunities to get in trouble. But if you take these temptations away, there really isn’t much they can do, and they will learn. When I adopted our very own Miss M, she couldn’t be out of my sight even for a minute without getting into something. She even had to come in the restroom with me.

  3. It’s amazing how quickly dogs can learn just through positive reinforcement, where they want to “be good” instead of trying to “get away with” bad behavior. Well, except Ziggy. Remember, whenever you’re ready for a real challenge I’ll just bring him right to you. ;-) In the meantime I’m glad that Dora is making it easy for you to get settled in to the new place. She’s adorable! :-)

  4. Oh, if only I’d know all of this vital information two and a half years ago. My dog would probably be much better behaved now as a result. *sigh* Better late than never?

    Dora’s fur looks so unbelievably soft. I bet her ears are like satin.

  5. We’re trying to work on things like that with miss Mia, but she is so excited, it’s hard to contain her.

    My questions is, where is Chick during all this?? Izzy would have a coronary if I was in the kitchen with Mia and she couldn’t get to me.

    • We are still on crate and rotate, so when she is with me Chick is snacking on a Kong or napping peacefully in his room. She is very excitable about other dogs and t overwhelm Chick, so We are taking it slow with them. Plus, one on one work is worlds easier than two dogs to one human.

      typed by my trained monkey. please excuse tybos.

      • I guess that’s part of my problem. Izzy doesn’t nap. Never seen a dog not need sleep like this!

        Bully sticks have saved us a few times, but Skinny Fat Kid is allergic to peanut butter and with Izzy’s weak stomach, we haven’t found a great Kong stuffer that can keep her attention. Sweet potato is great, but not all that exciting to her.

    • SFK, we are having the same issues with our foster, Kaylee, and our Oscar. Kaylee is an 11-month old bundle of puppy energy and Oscar just isn’t havin’ it, so we’re having to rotate them right now too. And both of them pitch an absolute fit when they’re not with the People! Experiment, trial and error, and tequila! :-)

  6. This is so timely for me too! New foster today, hooray! Obviously we are taking intros slowly, especially because our new gal is sick— but thank you for posting this at the perfectest timing (ps i’m exceptionally jealous about all your greenery… its freezing up here and our veggieshare/co-op is finished…waaaaah)

  7. What a smart and simple approach. My brother always has issues with his dogs getting into the trash, and I always wonder why he doesn’t just move the trash to a place that the dogs can’t get to….maybe I’ll anonymously email him a link to this post, ha!

  8. “They are good because we don’t give them opportunities to get in trouble. ”

    this is probably the most important sentence ever written about dog training in general!

  9. It’s such simple common sense but so many of us forget to take these little steps towards a well-behaved dog. We are so proud of how well-behaved our 9-month pup Hurley is. He’s got a few normal 9 month old puppy issues but by far, he’s an amazing dog already. And it’s all due to my ability to take him to my shop with me and practice calm behaviors and being tethered. By incorporating him fully into my daily life, he’s been able to make incredible progress. I know I’m one of the lucky ones and everyone can’t bring their new dog or foster to work with them but by incorporating them into daily tasks like making pesto in the kitchen rather than putting them away so they’re not under your feet, any dog can learn how to be well-behaved!

  10. Great advice. We do the same thing with our dogs and have found that it really works! The hard part is not succumbing to their cute begging faces and puppy dog eyes ;) I love Dora’s little pouty lower lip and underbite. She looks like has tons of personality!

  11. Are any of your fosters counter surfers? How do you manage to keep treats on hand when you are home, but away from curious snackers?

    And also, your new home is absolutely gorgeous! Each time we get a peak, I feel like I am looking at something on HGTV!

    • You just have to be very precise with the timing — there are some good books out there on dog learning that can help with this — “the other end of the leash” is one and “culture clash” is another — among many. Good luck!

  12. I find it a little funny that so many people don’t think about this, this is why “The Other End of the Leash” is a good book, it teaches you to think how a dog would! My friend recently told me how his dog gets into the bathroom trash everyday and how annoyed he is with it. I said, yeah, my dog used to do that. He asked how I stopped it. I said, shut the bathroom door. I am currently fostering my first dog, from Jasmine’s House. It is Ozzie, you may know him. We currently have 3 dogs at home and only one gets along with him. (Ozzie lives everyone) We are at various stages of the crate and rotate for the other 2!

  13. Love the pooch, and love getting glimpses of your new pad, looks very cool. We do a similar approach with fostering at our house, though since Molly has very few problems with new dog integration we do let them have more doggie time than if she wasn’t so keen on new dogs. We have also found that she helps keep the fosters in check, whenever a foster would take a toy to their crate in the guest room, Molly would promptly go grab it and put it back next to the toy box in the living room, hilarious to watch!

  14. Dora is so adorable. Every picture just makes me want to take her face in my hands and give her kisses.
    It’s so funny to me, because we knew when we weren’t home, they key to good dogs was creating a limited, safe space for them where they couldn’t get into trouble. It took a trainer telling us a few years later that we could create that same kind of limited space even when we were home. For some reason, it had never occurred to me to limit their movements when I was home. Once we started doing that, behavior steadily improved.

  15. Very solid training, I hope when I get a new dog some of your training advice has rubbed off on me. Nothing like a well-behaved dog and your home produces many of them. Thank you for all you do for your fosters and this blog. I love your photos too!

  16. Such good advice and such a beautiful girl! I adore her coloring and cute face. Sure wish I didn’t have 3 dogs and live in Georgia! I’ll look for the books for my 3.

  17. So simple. My fosters don’t have opportunities to get into trouble (mostly) either. My hard one was Rowdy the giant greyhound who was able to reach things IN the sink. And when he was in his pen, he was able to wrap his neck around like a giraffe to reach the kitchen counters. … My favourite foster yet. :)

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