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The Workfare Program:
Rules For Badly Behaved Dogs To Live By

by Karen Privitello

"Work Fare Programs" for problem dogs are nothing new - there are a lot of them out there that go by various names: "Nothing In Life is Free", "Alpha Dog Program" etc. Essentially, all these programs are the same with variations resulting from a particular author's own experience of things they've found to be helpful - they are rules for dogs to live by that emphasize that the owner is "top dog" in a non-confrontational way. All of my dogs "live by the rules" even if they aren't problem dogs. 

These are the rules of our home as they apply to our dogs:

1. There will be no rough-housing or tug-of-war playing between humans and the "furry kids". These activities teach dogs to challenge the authority of the head of the house. They teach the dog the following: move fast, bite hard, and don't let go. These are not things my dogs need to know. When in doubt over who is the head of the house, observe the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. When the dog gets a job and supports us in the style to which we'd like to become accustomed, it may make the rules. Until then, there will be no rough games or tug games with human members of the household. Dogs may rough house and play tug with each other - outside.

2. Dogs are not permitted on furniture. Dogs do not own furniture and therefore, have no right to sit, lie, sleep, or stand on it. Being allowed on furniture is a privilege earned by extremely well behaved dogs who may take advantage of such privilege by specific invitation only. Such invitations are only issued when the dog in question has performed an outstanding task and has shown no signs of being a troublemaker (and my husband isn't home). Dogs with behaviors that the boss (that would be the humans) find objectionable will not be issued furniture privileges. Dogs may sleep in the bedroom on the floor at night but have no access to the bedroom at other times.

3. Leaders do everything first. Since the human members of this pack should be the leaders, they will eat first, go through doors first, climb stairs first, and determine which way we will walk. Dogs may not beg at the table nor eat breakfast before I've had my coffee. Dogs may not blast through doorways without permission or pass human beings on the steps. Dogs will not drag their humans down the street.

4. Dogs who are in the path of a mobile human being must yield the right of way. That means it must move. We will not step over or around a resting dog. 

5. Tired dogs are good dogs. Humans will be certain that the dog receives adequate exercise and "run time" on a daily basis. Run time means the dog gets to do just that - run to his heart's content. Fenced yards are ideal for run time. If one is not accessible, "run time" will be provided with the dog on a 50' long rope in a safe area. Such exercise will be provided at least twice a day. The length of time will vary with the requirements of the dog in question. Putting the dog in the yard by itself is unacceptable. "Only dogs" seldom get enough exercise this way. The average Chow needs only 15 - 20 minutes of run time twice a day.

6. Meals will be fed at regular times, not to exceed 15 minutes in duration. This is not the "Dogs 'R Us Buffet" - food will not be left out for snacking purposes. I don't need ants. If a dog is ill and stops eating, I'll know it quicker if I know what the dog's regular eating habits are. A healthy dog won't starve in the face of a full dish provided twice a day. I will not have a panic attack if the dog turns its nose up at food because he wants something special on it or regularly snubs a meal. I will have a panic attack if the dog that never misses a meal suddenly stops eating regularly and will take the dog in question to its vet immediately. Treats have more value if the dog doesn't have access to food 24 hours a day.

7. If any dog in the house has a "chewing problem" (chews inappropriate objects), indoor toys will be limited to 2, regardless of how many dogs currently reside in the home. Such toys will not resemble things any human members of the household value - there will be no tug toys, stuffed animals, personal items that the dog has damaged. Balls, Frisbees, and other objects that spend an inordinate amount of time under the sofa will be given the designation of "outdoor toy." Acceptable indoor toys are old "dog" bones, nylabones, Kongs, Goodie Ships, rawhides and/or cow hooves (given under supervision only). Each item counts as one toy. It is much easier for the dog to learn two self rewarding toys are ok and everything else is a "no" than these 50 things are mine and everything else is a no. When the chewing ceases to be a problem, additional toys will be added to the doggie toy box.

8. Potty duty is done at home. Walks are for exercise, not to turn the neighbor's yards into doggie toilets. There will be no "marking" of vertical objects for blocks if not miles, even if it is a boy dog. Walks will be given as a reward for performing "potty duty" not as a means of obtaining "potty duty." To make life simpler, there is a designated "potty tree" in the front yard. Dogs that don't "go" on the way out will not get a walk and will have to exercise in the yard; dogs that don't "go" on the way back in will not have unsupervised freedom. In the fenced yard, dogs can "go" where ever they please.

9. Thy shall keep thy paws on the floor. I do not appreciate dirty or muddy paws on my clean clothes nor "counter surfing." Dogs can do all the jumping they want over the obedience and/or agility hurdles.

10. There will be no yelling at dogs. None of the ones that live here are hearing impaired, and if they were, it probably wouldn't do much good anyway. Dogs, for their part, may not bark when the neighbors come home from where ever. It's none of our business, and we don't need to know about it. Dogs may not bark to boss humans around. Ok, dogs can try to boss us around by barking, but it isn't going to work because we don't respond to it. Sorry, dogs may not dictate how long they stay out in the yard, that they want dinner now, etc. etc. Dogs may bark to notify us that there is a two legged trespasser on our property. Barking at visiting squirrels, rabbits, cats, etc. is unacceptable. I'll allow dogs to bark if the mailman is here, if someone is at the front door, physically standing on our property, or breaking into our car. But, dogs must stop barking when told to "quiet."

11. Since my stepson is allergic to pet dander and has a wealth of small chewable objects stashed in his room, dogs will not, under any circumstances, be permitted in that room.

12. Each dog will be assigned a "working name" and a "nickname." The working name means "listen up" - and we expect a response. It will only be used when the dog is being spoken to. The "nickname" will be used when humans are discussing the "furry kids" and do not need a response from the furry child in question. Annie's working name has been designated as "Annie" and her nickname is "Lil Bit" when she behaves well, and "Einna" when she's being a brat. Other resident dogs include: News aka "the paperboy" (our Border Collie); China aka "Rosie", "the Rose" and "Big Bit" (our eldest Chow); Kitty aka "the smoothie" (our short-coated Champion Chow Chow); and Bootie aka "the jack" (the Jack Russell Terrier I co-own who sometimes lives here). 

13. There will be no "dog parties" upon the arrival of returning human pack members. We come and go every day and it's nothing to get excited about (even though we secretly love the fact that you missed us). However, if dogs create a bigger fuss than the humans that love each other do and we'd think the human was crazy if he or she behaved the way the dog does, the dog is probably going overboard. My neighbors don't want to hear dogs "sing" or cry while we're gone and we don't need a dog that's a neurotic nutcase. Dogs can show mild interest in whether or not I'm picking up a leash (which means some lucky dog gets to go with me) as I prepare to leave. There will be no fighting amongst dogs for car rides and walks. Dogs are welcome to greet returning humans at the door but may not attempt to dash out the door, smother the person with "hugs and kisses", or sing a sorry song about how long we were gone and how much we were missed. Dogs will be greeted when they are calm.

14. There will be no freebie dog treats but lots of opportunity for good dogs to earn them every day.

15. Before I provide a service for the dog, it must perform one for me. Dogs must "sit" or "down" or perform some silly pet trick as requested before being petted, having breakfast served, or being allowed out a door.

16. There will be daily training sessions which may involve one or more of the following: obedience skills, agility skills, tricks, behavior modification (if needed). Such lessons will teach the dog confidence, acceptable activities, and be rewarded with a combination of treats, games, petting, etc. that the dog finds desirable so that it learns to like working with me.

17. There will be weekly socialization in some way shape or form so that the dogs learn to like people and behave as ladies and gentleman when out in public. Socialization may occur more often if the dog needs it.

18. Humans will not mistreat resident dogs. Dogs will not be punished for things they don't understand or things that happened when no one was home. For example: Fighting dogs (or those having a nasty sounding discussion) will be required to perform a "long down" for 30 minutes - the dogs in question will know how to perform this task and will perform it in a supervised safe manner in the presence of the dog they were arguing with. Dogs disagreeing over toy ownership will discover that dog toys are actually owned by the humans, who will remove the toys and put them out of the reach of all the dogs. "Accidents" will not be punished since these are the fault of the humans. Dogs caught "in the act" of having an accident will be interrupted and instructed to go "out."

19. Dogs which repeatedly break the rules in a relatively short time span will be treated to a "time out" - they will spend 15 minutes in a crate or room or outside as specified by a human to allow humans time to consider how to help the delinquent dog behave more appropriately and prevent possible loss of a human temper.

20. Humans will attempt to handle dogs in such a way that the possibility of "bad things" happening is minimized. Dogs will wear leashes at all times when humans are about until they earn the privilege of not wearing one by behaving in a co-operative manner. Dogs will be crated or put in a special room until it has demonstrated that it can be trusted in the home alone without having accidents or personalizing items that belong to the humans. Humans will not provoke, tease, annoy, irritate or otherwise encourage a dog to behave badly. Humans will attempt to give the dogs many opportunities each day to behave properly and will acknowledge good behavior with generous praise, attention, and other rewards approprate to the dog in question. Dogs will know they are good dogs, and greatly loved.

© 2003 Karen Privitello, all rights reserved.  Reproduced here with permission. Contact Vicki for reprint permission.