Like a heart-wrenching scene straight out of Animal Cops, the dog wandering the streets was hairless; an emaciated skeleton of what should have been a 60-pound dog. The day was hot, over 100 degrees, and the dusty streets of Richmond’s less desirable neighborhood offered no shelter to the pup. A young girl drove through, on her way to a better part of town – but had to stop and help. She didn’t know it at the time, but that day would forever change the trajectory of her life.
That girl was me, and that dog was my Charlie.
I threw her in my car and took her to the vet hospital where I worked, where she proceeded to live until I rented a house that allowed dogs. That’s right, I moved to a house I couldn’t really afford JUST so I could bring my sweet Charlie to live with me.
Ok, enough sap.
When I first caught Charlie jumping on my window sill to look out the window, I knew that had to stop. Do not pass go, do not collect 100 dog bones. I was dead broke and renting my house, and couldn’t risk losing my security deposit because my dog had torn up the window sills with her claws. Working in the veterinary field, I’d seen that kind of destruction caused by dogs in several of my coworkers’ homes.
I wanted her to be able to look out the window, but in a less destructive way. Enter the step stool:
Now you may think that this photo is staged, but seriously – I’m not joking. This is what both Charlie and Merlin do when they want to look out the window. Even when I’m not home. If there’s a step stool they stand on it, and if there isn’t then they just crane their necks. They are so freakin’ smart and awesome!!!
I wanted to share how I trained the dogs to be such mild-mannered window watchers, so I went out on a limb and made two short videos about it. I felt like a total dork as I recorded them, but I’m sharing them anyway. The movies are not perfect, but I hope they help.
In this first video, you can see that Charlie (my black dog) is a bit distracted by the concern that even the smallest crumb of treats may have fallen on the ground. That’s the story of her life. Never mind that she’s lived with me for 8 very spoiled years now, she still thinks that she lives in danger of starving like she did back when she roamed those dusty streets.
And in Part 2, Merlin’s the sole star of the show, demonstrating his mad step-stool skills.
10 tips for training your dog to stand on a step stool:
- Keep a water-filled squirt bottle handy when training your pups. When you see an undesirable action, such as jumping on a window sill, squirt them a few times, until the jump off the sill. This comes in handy for stopping the habit.
- Be sure the step stool you use is stable. I had one that would flip if the dogs stood on the end of it. After a few times the dogs started to avoid the stools and I had to re-train.
- Work on the step stool exercise several times a day, for several days (or weeks) in a row.
- For best results, make sure your dog is in a calm place before starting the training. Then bring them to the window, and have them sit on command to connect with you and listen.
- The first time you put their feet on the step stool, they may freak. Remain calm, have them sit again (to get their minds centered again) and then try again.
- If the dog is really scared of the step stool, acclimate them by putting treats on the stool. After a few times, they should start to associate the stool with happiness.
- Sometimes you can trick them into jumping on the stool by holding treats in the air above the stool, just out of their reach.
- If you’re using treats as part of the reward, use single pieces of dog food – so that you can reward the pups over and over without dietary impacts.
- Don’t just reward the good behavior with food, also lavish praise on them each time they do the task correctly!
- Remember, practice and patience make perfect. Every dog learns at a different speed.
So that’s my two cents on how to train your dogs to exercise good manners while keeping an eye on the neighborhood. If you own your house, it’s a great trick. But if you rent, I think it’s absolutely crucial – because renters who let their dogs destroy their apartments make it harder for even the most conscientious pet owners to find nice rental properties. Oh, and if your dog has mad step-stool skillz, it’s a great bragging point for when you market yourself to future landlords.
Got any questions for me about this, or any other, pet-proof living idea? Have another “pet” peeve when it comes to living classy with four-legged friends? Maybe you need a little extra help with training? Let me know what stumps you, and I’ll see what I can write to help! And while you’re at it, let me know what fun tricks your pets can do!