Pets, Video Tours

Pet-Proof Living: Protecting Windowsills from Jumping Dogs

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Work on the step stool exercise several times a day, for several days (or weeks) in a row.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Sometimes you can trick them into jumping on the stool by holding treats in the air above the stool, just out of their reach.
  8. 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.
  9. Don’t just reward the good behavior with food, also lavish praise on them each time they do the task correctly!
  10. 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!

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  • Reply Beautiful Habitat at 1:58 pm

    I love it! I have also made many design choices around my house to accommodate my dogs (and have blogged several tips, too). I wouldn’t have it any other way and it’s come in handy for helping clients with pet/design conflicts! This is a great tip that I’ll share with some of them.

  • Reply Sunny's Life in Rehab at 3:21 pm

    I was JUST THIS MORNING recommending to squirt bottle thing to a coworker. Mom’s pup, Stirling, was a barker, and I was having none of that. He’s 8 years old and was allowed to make all the noise he wanted. I had him broken of the habit in under a month.

    I’m shooting this post to my buddy as back up. Great tips, thank you.

  • Reply Mikalah at 8:19 pm

    Wow, that is so cool! We don’t have a dog, and I have always wondered how on earth we would train a dog if we got one. You make it look so easy!

    Also, I love your hair. I wish my hair would lay flat, I would totally cut it short like that! Super cute!

  • Reply April in CT at 12:13 pm

    What a great idea!! We have a dachshund and it’s of the utmost importance that he has a window to see out of while we’re gone so he can keep an eye on things. My hubby is in the military and each time we move it’s a grueling process of getting our dog acclimated to his new digs. Luckily in our current rental there is a window that goes to the floor and he’s got a great view which keeps him calm. He’s got a past of eating carpet and doors trying to get out so it’s such a relief to have found a way to acclimate him and keep him happy when we’re out of the house. It was a long process of figuring out how to train him, but hopefully after our next move the same steps we took here will work in the new place.

    Your dogs are adorable!!

  • Reply Amy Goldfine at 4:06 am

    So smart!  My biggest adjustment recently has been my little rescue terrier Helo, who we call the Helo Monster because he is systematically trying to destroy everything in my apartment!  Apparently he dislikes my taste in shoes because he destroyed quite a few pairs – ones I didn’t even remember I had, because they were stashed in a corner of a closet or under my bed.  I sucked it up and got an over-the-door shoe rack and I’m really glad I did.  It freed up space on the closet floor, and it forces me to be tidy because I *have* to pick them up if I want to ever wear them again!

  • Reply Maribeth at 4:38 pm

    What would you suggest for a dog that jumps at the window (which is not a new vinyl window, but an old, handblown glass window) when owners are leaving the house, and not when they’re at his side with a squirt bottle? When he looks out the window, without jumping, he generally rests on the radiator, which is in front of it. But when we leave he jumps AT THE WINDOW itself… yikes. I’m so afraid he’s going to break it–cannot afford to replace it right now, so that would be an absolute disaster.

    • Reply Jane at 9:14 am

      Honestly, when my dogs have done things like that I’ve gone back to crating them when I’m out, because it usually means they do the same thing when you’re away and they see other people/dogs outside. I know it can feel mean to crate them, but you’re protecting them from getting into trouble and that makes a relationship more positive for both of you! Plus, my friend’s dog once went THROUGH the window of my rental because of this, when we were out. He was 7 and hadn’t ever done it before, but he did it that day. Not only did we have a missing, injured dog – we also had to pay to get the window replaced. Good luck! I know how it must worry you!

    • Reply Jane at 9:15 am

      Hy Maribeth, one more tip – try to be as calm and uninteresting as possible when leaving. Don’t do anything to give them attention when you leave – a simple, calm “see you later!” and nothing else can help, too. The dog trainer I used was amazing, and she talked about how the more we try to calm them, and to get them to stop doing whatever they’re doing, the more they feed off of that. Sure enough, when we are calm and boring about coming and going, the dogs get less spun up.

  • Reply Gary Castelle at 12:59 pm

    If all else fails, get Sill Shields.

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