Controlling a Dog’s Behavior –
Is Total Control Necessary?

Some time ago, I was pointed to a dog trainer’s site. When I checked it out, I was greeted with picture after picture of a row of dogs, doing perfect synchronized Sits and Downs, and giving perfect attention to their trainer.

This trainer and many others, proudly proclaim that dogs must follow all of our commands, no matter how inane, pointless, or stupid.

Blind-loyalty is the order of the day, and apparently the only way that we can feel secure of our dog’s love.

Anything else, is an indication of our failure as a dog trainer, and dog owner.

All those dogs, sitting in a row like ducks.

They all look in the same direction, get up together on command, run together on command, but always staying one step behind their God-like trainer. Suddenly, they all stop, their trainer had sneezed.

Was that a command? Nobody was sure. They need the next command, because when they do act on their own, they may get shocked by a collar, poked at, growled at, or pinned to the floor.

Ah, relief. The sneezing fit has passed, and a new command is issued. They all drop down, with synchronized precision. Then, as one, they all turn to wait for the next word from their God-trainer.

There was something terribly eerie about the whole scene – it reminded me of The Stepford Wives.

Dog Control and Stepford Dogs

If our desire is to own a Stepford dog, then there are several available currently. There is the Mio from Hasbro, Tekno from Manley, or WowWee Wrex from WowWee.

True, our scientists have not yet perfected fur quality, or grace in movement, but these Stepford dogs can be perfectly controlled from a distance. We do not need to give them any food, they come potty trained, and already understand a list of basic commands.

There will never be any nuisance barking, no chewing on our shoes and rugs, no drooling, farting, licking, biting, or pawing; unless we program them to do so. Then, we can just activate the behavior that we want, with a click of our remote controller – no muss, no fuss.

The Mio, Tekno, and WowWee, sitting in a row like ducks. Look at how they behave in response to our clicks. Don’t we feel powerful now –

Our very own Stepford dogs, that are under our total and absolute control.

Is Total Dog Control Necessary?

But what if we want a furry Stepford dog. One that moves more gracefully, is cute, furry, warm blooded, and is actually a living thing – with needs and goals of his own.

How can we turn one of those furry warm-blooded dogs, into a remote-control dog?

Perhaps a better question to ask is …

Why would we want to turn a perfectly delightful real dog, who is independent, unique, and special, into a robotic Stepford dog?

I suppose the independent spirit, really gets in the way of our synchronized precision work. All it takes is one rebel, who prefers to look at a squirrel instead of his trainer, to spoil our whole choreographic masterpiece.

Since synchronized obedience is so crucial to our dog-human relationship, let us consider how to create a Furry Stepford dog.

How to Create a Perfectly Controlled Dog

Ok, now on to the important stuff. How does one go about converting a regular dog, into a perfectly controlled dog?

First of all, the independent spirit has to go.

How does one go about destroying an independent spirit?

There are an array of methods to choose from.

The best way, is to do it quickly, with a single traumatic event. The event must be extremely powerful and stressful, so that it will break our subject’s spirit, and turn him into a Furry Stepford Dog.

A trainer once relayed to me, how she achieved this amazing feat, with a Shiba Inu that was under her care. If you have ever lived with a Shiba Inu, you will know that they are charming dogs, but they can be extremely strong-willed, stubborn, and mischievous. In this case, subject Shiba was up to something, as most Shibas usually are.

In response to some digging and whining in the backyard, the SCT (Stepford Certified Trainer) gave Shiba multiple hard corrections with a choke chain, pinned Shiba to the ground, and growled at him. Shiba pooped and peed all over the place, and from then on, became a perfectly controlled Shiba.

Actually, it is more accurate to call him a perfectly controlled dog, because there were no longer any Shiba characteristics left.

Are Fully Controlled Dogs Happy?

In a way they are.

Stepford wives have a certain type of bliss, and I imagine Stepford dogs have the same. There can be a certain type of comfort in a robotic existence, because everything that we do is fully determined by someone else. We do not have to make any decisions, pursue our own goals, or take responsibility for our actions.

Stepford dogs are outwardly calm, show no aggression, do not bark or make any other noise, and will roll on the grass on command, to simulate a joyful demeanor. I suppose that is a certain type of happiness.

Are fully controlled Stepford dogs happier than regular dogs?

That would depend on the regular dog. Stray dogs certainly have a tough life. Other dogs are neglected, or simply left in the prison of their backyard, with little human attention, and nothing to do. Others may even get starved, kicked, or abused.

It is a tough life for some dogs.

If I had to guess, I would say that a Stepford dog has a better existence, than many of these neglected, abused, or stray dogs.

Luckily, there are also many dogs that are properly trained, exercised, and who share a relationship of mutual trust and respect with their human companions. Are Stepford dogs happier than these dogs?

Probably not. These true companion dogs have their spirit intact. They are properly trained and managed, so that they can live a life where they make their own choices, and need not participate in any synchronized activity, unless they choose to.

Rules and Discipline

This is not to say that we should let our dogs do whatever they want, and run around free range in the neighborhood, or even in our house.

All dogs need some rules, structure, and routine. High strung dogs need this even more, because a consistent routine will let them know what to expect from us, and from their environment. With a fixed routine, they will be less prone to stress and stress issues, such as separation anxiety.

The best way to train a dog, and to become his pack leader, is by controlling his resources. This is done through the Nothing in Life is Free program (NILIF).

It is also important to set up a consistent way of communication with our dog, so that we can teach him what are desirable behaviors, and what are undesirable behaviors. Training good behaviors and stopping bad behaviors, can be effectively achieved with reward dog training.

Total Control vs. No Control

One of the raging debates in the dog training arena, involves exactly this issue of control.

How much control should we exert over our dogs?

Some proponents of the total control camp, want to make the debate about total control vs. no control. Either our dog is a Stepford dog, or he is an accident waiting to happen.

Do not be fooled by this fake argument.

Between total control and no control, are a wide range of possibilities – those are not the only two options. The choice in dog training is not between a Stepford dog or an out-of-control dog, but rather between total control, and a reasonable level of control.

Careful management, combined with reward training is all that we need …

  • To keep our dog safe.
  • To teach him how to greet and interact with humans.
  • To stop bad behaviors.
  • To make him happy.
  • To earn his love, loyalty, and respect.

Dogs are independent, living beings, with needs and goals of their own. Dogs are not robots that only eat and poop when we tell them to, and otherwise stay in a Down position by our feet.

My dogs are my companions. I am only their boss when I need to be, for their safety and happiness.

If we want a Stepford dog, then get one that is battery operated from Amazon. If we want a real dog, then do not try and make him into a Stepford dog.

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  1. Brenda says

    The article on “Stepford Dog” really helped. I have a relative , in which he & I disagree on the control of a dog. He is abusive in my eyes and this article confirmed thatyou do not have to beat (or hit, punch, kick) a dog to make him mind or listen! I am going to print out the article & give to him, even tho I’m sure it will do him no good as he thinks he is right. He will continue with his way & I will continue with mine.
    At least I have professionals backing me up. Thank You.

  2. Kelly says

    Can you recommend a training program to start our 8 week old puppy with? I have read several of your articles and like your philosophy and that of NILIF. What I’m looking for are some more specific steps to follow.
    I would appreciate any help!

  3. Henry P says

    Excellent article! What is the point in owning an animal with a broken spirit?
    I’d say none at all!
    Yes dogs must learn that there are boundaries that they should not cross but not to the detriment of their complete character.

  4. nbd says

    My way is: dog has to listen to me 100%, but I don’t want too much from him and most of it is ritual behavior.

  5. Olav says

    I wanted to compliment you for your outstanding article. I use multiple methods (aversive, resource-based, reward, etc) depending on the situation (and the dog’s stubbornness) . Perhaps your total control vs no control-argument deserves merits, but the way I see it, dog training is analogous to the German autobahns. In dangerous curves you ask for complete and strict obedience, but besides that you are free to drive however fast or slow you want.

    I teach a dog to obey a command at any time and under any distraction. This is his key to freedom. If I, or any other owner, can trust his dog to obey “come”, “stay,” and “down” commands at any given time and distraction, I can provide him with enormous freedom to smell, play, and do whatever he wishes the rest of the time.

  6. Livia says

    We got our Shiba Inu puppy 8 days ago, he was 10 weeks old. Sweet, wild, curious, biting…etc. HE tends to bite…I put my hands behind me with NO words. He is learning that, but still sometimes…when in wild mood…bites that my hands bleed a little. I tend to scream ouch when it hurts too much, but sometimes he keeps bitting. I am not sure what to do, my reaction is to grab his skin behind head like his mother would do, then he stops. The breeder told me to do this, but i am not sure about it. Need advice in this matter.
    Also, when we put him in crate for night, last 3 evening he throws screaming and raging, he wants out. I let him do this about 10 sec, then take him out to pee. then hug him and try to calm him down by rocking, petting and aft talk. he calms down, but when put on crate, again, he protests. I do not think he is ready to be free in night yet. He still has accidents, bites everything, is mischievous, but so adorable!
    I need to know why to do that he does not scream bloody murder when put to his crate to sleep……he is good on leash, he is almost potty trained, understands when i tell him go poo, go pee, out, home etc. But still has peeing accidents there and there. It is also very cold, snow and rain outside, nasty weather. Spring is not close yet.
    Wants the food we eat, i had to put him in his cage ( not crate for sleeping) he is very stubborn, it is our first dog, and I do not want to make mistakes in training him.
    Any advice?
    thank you

    • shibashake says

      Re: Puppy Biting

      Yeah puppies are usually very mouthy because they are very curious, very energetic, and want to interact and play with everyone and everything using their mouth. Some things that help my dogs with biting during puppyhood –

      1. Bite inhibition training.
      2. Frozen Kongs.
      3. Redirection – teach them what to do instead of biting.

      Here are a few more things that I do to control puppy biting.

      Physically based methods, such as neck grabbing, finger jabs, alpha rolls and more, were not helpful with Shiba Sephy. In the longer term, such methods encouraged even more bad behaviors, caused him to lose trust in me, and made him very sensitive to handling and grooming. Some of these “techniques” may also encourage dog aggression.

      Re: Crating

      With Sephy, his crate location matters a lot.

      Sephy is fine sleeping in his crate as long as it is in the bedroom with his people. In this way, he can smell us, see us, and knows we are very close by. When he was a puppy, we put-up a baby gate in the kitchen and put Sephy in there during his day-nap/rest time. I am usually in the kitchen with him, or right outside in the living room so that he also knows I am close by and can see me.

      In the beginning, I also slowly desensitized Sephy to his crate so that he views it as a positive and safe area where he eats and goes to sleep.

      Here are some of the things that helped with Sephy during puppyhood.
      Here are some things that I learned while training Shiba Sephy.
      I set up a very consistent routine for Sephy, and a very fixed set of rules. I also use the Nothing in Life is Free program with all of my dogs.

  7. W.R.Printz says

    Well said article. I agree with you 100%. Safe, yes…but no robot dog for me please. I love my little evil genius Shiba, sweet is best with spicy added in.

  8. says

    Very valid points. No, we don’t want a robot dog. And I would suspect that the dogs that you mentioned in the beginning working in unison were not robots either. Most of those types of demonstrations are drills in a controlled enviornment. I feel the same way about competitive obedience. The dogs and handlers go through a set or routine. Once they leave the “ring” they are back to their usual selves. (These are often times out of control dogs when not in the ring! 🙂 )
    Dogs do need rules. They need structure. They need leadership and they do need to undertand that commands are not an option (for their own safety that is). But they also need to be able to express themselves as dogs and enjoy “doggy” things. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • shibashake says

      And I would suspect that the dogs that you mentioned in the beginning working in unison were not robots either.

      I wish that were true, but sadly, the training philosophy stated at the site suggested otherwise.

      In terms of commands and options, I think that options are a very good thing. I try to set my dogs up for success, and provide them with as many options as I can, so that they can pick which ones suit them most. I try out a variety of reward motivators, and use the ones that are most effective for a given context. I believe that a big part of living well with dogs, involves finding the right motivators at the right time.

      I also believe that dogs are intelligent beings with needs and goals of their own. As such, they always decide for themselves whether to follow a command or not. Therefore, commands are *always* an option. We can certainly try to motivate our dog to follow certain commands with a reward or aversive stimulus, but ultimately, our dog decides how to act.

      This is why with a real dog, commands are never 100% reliable.

      With my own dogs, my main goal is to help them fulfill their needs and goals, while looking out for their long-term health and safety. To me, that is what leadership means – helping pack members achieve success.

  9. says

    I have a 6month old shiba and he sure is a character with loads of quirk and spunk. There’s no way we’ll ever be in total control of him, nor would we want to – his antics are part of what make him so lovable. Sure he’s sometimes a brat and sometimes I wish he came with an off switch but if we’d wanted a stepford dog we wouldn’t have got a shiba in the first place. We take control when we need to, and somehow he seems sensitive enough to know that certain situations require the humans being in control – other times he’s his own pooch and can do as he pleases. Boundaries and limitations are always in place though and we always take the NILIF approach. I don’t think our shiba boy will be winning any obedience awards but he’s a happy and healthy pup and that’s all that matters.

    • shibashake says

      Hello Suzanne,
      Congratulations on your new Shiba pup! His puppy pictures are absolutely adorable.

      I don’t think our shiba boy will be winning any obedience awards but he’s a happy and healthy pup and that’s all that matters.

      I agree! Thanks for sharing your Shiba experiences with us.

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