Let me start with a story, one that I relayed in Bark Magazine in 2005:
When I was taping the Animal Planet show Petline, a veterinarian-turned-sales-rep asked to borrow Cool Hand Luke for a demonstration on dental care. Luke and I had JUST finished a segment on how much dogs dislike being patted on top of the head, and had directed the audience’s attention to Luke’s look of disgust when we did it to him. Sure enough, after jerking Luke’s mouth open several times (as though she were cleaning clams), the woman said “Thank you, Luke,” and gave him three short, bouncy pats on the top of his head. We had to stop taping because the camera crew was laughing so hard they couldn’t continue filming.
The fact is, people just love to pat, pat, pat dogs on the top of their heads, and most dogs either hate, hate, hate it, or, at best, tolerate it. (Of course, as always, there are exceptions, as anyone with a stereotypical Golden Retriever knows.)
Beyond teaching that head pats are NOT positive reinforcement to 98% of the dogs in the world–which EVERY dog training class should include–we can use this knowledge to our advantage. Do you have a dog who sits at your feet and demands that you keep petting him, no matter how long it’s gone on already? Just try what my sister, Liza, (who had come to watch the Petline taping), and I now call “happy slappies.” You simply intentionally pat the dog on the top of his head, three to four times, and say “Enough.”When first training this, I include folding my arms and turning my head away.
Here’s a video of me illustrating it with Maggie; I’ve included all the cues I use when getting started to be clear, but all I need to do now is quietly say “Enough” to both Skip and Maggie, and they will go lie down.
Here’s the video I made years ago, found by a eagle-eyed reader. Thanks so much Uta! I had forgotten that I started with the BC with a “body block,” but the second time I just said Enough, head patted, and looked away. Works like a charm! (As many commenters have already attested, love it!)
Does this work first time every time on every dog? Let’s all burst out laughing over that fantasy. If only. But it’s amazingly easy to teach, dogs pick up on it very fast. Here’s what I think makes it work so well: First, dogs really don’t enjoy being patted on the head, just as children don’t like it either. (Neither do I. Have some one do it to you and ask yourself how much you enjoyed it.) But, unless you get carried away (please don’t), it neither scares dogs or intimidates them. Second, turning the head away is an ethologically relevant signal to dogs. Dogs to it to other dogs to signal “I’m done interacting with you now.” That makes it a clear, salient signal, sort of like saying “Well, sorry, gotta go” to a friend.
So often we humans make the mistake of doing the opposite. We look right at our dogs and say “go away” or “that’s enough,” and the dog stares back, just sure that our gaze is an invitation to continue thrusting their head into our lap to remind us to keep petting. I should add that I don’t know if there is any effect of withdrawing your arms, but it does seem like it could be seen as another signal of withdrawal.
Here’s what you need to do to get this started: Wait for a time that your dog is soliciting attention, and you’d like it to give it a rest. Slowly (don’t frighten), move your hand over the dog’s head, and pat pat pat three to four times. Then, withdraw your hand, fold your arms and look away. LOTS OF DOGS WILL IGNORE this the first time! Expect that. After all, how long have they been successful at getting more attention when you were done petting them? Because really, you weren’t done, were you? You said “Enough” and then gave in and petted them some more, right? (I speak only theoretically, of course.) So, first, only do this when you are truly done for a bit. If/when your dog ignores you and continues to beg for petting/treats/another throw of the ball, just repeat it as described. If the dog is super pushy, I’ve tried standing up and it’s worked well.
Usually, the third time is the charm, if you even need to do that many. Very soon, most dogs will just go away after they hear “Enough.” (If you’ve used that word for years and your dog has learned it means “just try harder,” then choose another word!)
I started using this when Tulip, our beloved Great Pyrenees, kept slapping her massive paw into the laps of our visitors. They’d say, “Oh, I don’t mind” when I told them to just say “Enough,” but they’d never do it. After 30-45 minutes of “I don’t mind,” their smiles would freeze and you could tell that they REALLY DID. So, I added in the head pats, the ones people do too often to dogs, and my visitors got it immediately. Just another example of thinking about the natural behavior at both ends of the leash! Voila! (Or, as I wrote once to Karen London when we were working on another one of our co-authored books together, Viola!)
What about you? How do you gently and effectively discourage begging for more treats, petting, or play? Ever tried what I’m describing? I had a video of teaching it to a dog for the first time–it was great! And, I can’t find it. Sigh. It included a super pushy, young Border Collie who got it on the third try. He might have gone off to get petted by someone else, I don’t remember. But it’s a common enough occurrence if you have company. Bo Peep used to work the crowd, one at a time, then, finally lie down after trying all possible options.)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: After two months of almost no rain, it poured, and hailed, and blew like a banshee–all on a three-day sheepdog trial. The kind in which I wonder what the hell is wrong with me for choosing to spend two days like this . . .
. . . instead of lounging on a cozy couch cuddled up with Jim and the dogs. Skip ran twice, ran waaaay too wide on his first run and ran out of time on the drive. His slow, cautious lift, appropriate for herding deer perhaps, took forever. I’m calling it the ETERNAL LIFT, although it sounds like a skin cream I should be using.
He fixed it on his second run, doing a gorgeous outrun, perfect lift (yes!), and fetch, but got stalled out on the drive. The sheep were extremely hard to get moving in the right direction on the first leg of the drive, although there were certainly several teams who got it handled. (And more who did not.) Skip got stuck on the pressure and would NOT walk up directly toward them when I needed him to. I did my best to encourage him but finally left the post to help him because he clearly needed it.
On Sunday both Skip and Maggie got to work setting out sheep for the Novice class. Most of the time it’s easy work, but there are enough times that the sheep challenge you to keep a dog on their toes. All three of us had a great time; Skip made up for getting stuck on Saturday by brilliantly handling a lamb who refused to move and butted toward him, two inches from his face. Skip made an air nip, no contact, and stared her down, keeping his cool, but not backing away. It was elegant work and it made my heart all gooey for a moment. And no rain on Sunday! What a luxury.
I took some photos last week when working the dogs at home. Here’s Skip after coming out of the water tank, making it clear he’s ready to work again.
And here’s Skip saying “Are you going to put that thing down and get back to work with me or what?”
The sunset colors were amazing last week at the farm. You’d think I went crazy with color editing, but honestly, this is very close to what it looked like. It was surreal.
Although I’m appalled at advertisements for Christmas already, I admit to starting on some of my holiday cooking last week. I make homemade ketchup every year, as part of a goody bag Jim and I made for friends; here’s the first batch of ketchup in these way cool bottles I found. The hardest part of making the ketchup is getting it into the bottles; the kitchen looks like a scene from a horror movie by the time I’m done.
I’d say “Happy Slappies” to you all, except, wait, I don’t want you to go away! Writing this blog takes a lot of time, and friends often ask me why I don’t stop. Answer: Because of you. Seriously. I love this international community that has been growing and evolving since 2008. (Fourteen years, oh my!). I love reading your comments, learning from them, and hearing about your dogs, some of whom feel like old friends. So join the party and let us know how you deal with dogs who are pushy about getting attention; we promise not to slap our muddy paws in your lap when you’re ready to do something else.
Chris from Boise says
Yes! This I learned from the Other End of the Leash, many, many years ago, and it has worked like a charm with a succession of dogs. It is SO hard to convince visitors to turn their gooey eyes away from the dog, and if they cannot disengage, the dog won’t either. But once the people learn the trick, it’s like magic. Yes, our dogs work the crowd too, but if no one gives in, they’ll make the rounds once then go off and lie down with a sigh. The Maggie video is a perfect explanation.
I love the way you trial – it’s about the dogs, not the winning. Good for you for DQing to go help Skip. And I love that all three of you thrive on the actual work at trials, even if the competitions themselves are challenging.
Speaking for a lot of us (lurkers) – I cannot wait for the alternate Mondays. Thank YOU for writing these wonderful, thought-provoking posts.
I use the cue “Finished” with my dogs where I hold my hands up like I’ve just been told to stick ’em up, and turn my eyes away. It works for everything I’m done doing and was easily trained. This blog was a timely reminder though that I have this cue that Falkor Bash knows and yet I’m still falling for the bash and pet routine he’s trained me in. I laughed so hard at your description of Tulip and your guests because that is absolutely my life. D’Artagnan actually will reach a point where he’s had enough and will go settle somewhere but I’m more and more convinced Falkor Bash is a Golden/Pyr because in his mind there is no such thing as enough attention. He will get tired of being brushed and leave and lately I’ve been defaulting to switch to brushing when I’m tired of the bash/pet routine then after 15-20 minutes he’ll go away for awhile. So now I’m wondering how he successfully trained me not to use the Finished cue. Some days I really wonder why I’m attracted to the smart dogs and not their less brilliant cousins.
I learned this way of teaching ‘enough’ from your books over a decade ago and from my experience, it really does work like a charm, at least it did with my dogs, all rescues. Plus, friends and family, (older) kids included, are naturals in “happy slappies” while body blogs, folded arms and averted gazes are so much harder to teach to humans.
Could it be this video you had in mind?
Oh Uta, how could I have missed it?!! Thanks so much for finding it, I’ll put it up on the blog post tomrrow morning after I vote!
My Scottie Sunny will occasionally jump on my lap to be skritched; we both enjoy these sessions. When my hands get tired, I hold them up and say “that’s it.” She immediately jumps down and saunters off. I’ve thought, with a smile, that her reaction shows that I’m valued mostly for the skritches; if I’m not going to give them, she’s got better things to do with her time!
This is so helpful. I use ‘enough’ to stop warning barks and will certainly apply it to my other attention-seeking collie. Thank you.
My Malinois is particularly snuggly and stimulation-seeking (surprise). She has a “leave me be” cue that’s very strong and means “I am done with you, please go find something else to do, nearby if you wish.” If she wants to stay right next to me but is still getting in my space – one of her favorites is to flop her whole head onto my laptop keyboard – sometimes I’ll rub her whole face (head, snoot, etc) very vigorously for a few seconds. That’s usually enough for her to decide her face ought to be someplace slightly less intrusive.
I used to do this with horses who were overly friendly with their faces, too. I think it’s similar to the head pats in that it’s a bit overstimulating, not very fun, and yet not scary or harmful.
Judith Villa says
What a great tip to encourage my GSD that it is time to get out of my lap! Thank you. PS Your ketchup looks fabulous.
Adrienne Karoly says
Whenever Zasu our moyen poodle keeps asking for something like pets or treats I do “jazz hands” in front of her and keep waving them for a few seconds and she gets the message and goes about her business.
I use “enough” to stop the barking at passers by (like Liz) and “that’s all” (like Kat) for we are done with this now. Sometimes my 150 lb. Saint/Rottie mix tries to climb on my lap… I taught him “that’s all” purely in self defense! 🙂 I agree that teaching this to human visitors is harder than teaching the dogs. Most people seem to be thrilled that this giant creature wants to be friends, though they are less happy about the drool.
Deborah Mason says
Poor you’re dog (lab/shepherd/Heinz? mix) always wanted to gets lots of attention when I’d go to the “throne”. I think it was one of your columns where I learned of the head pat + remove and, attention. Now, many times, I only need to pet, pat, look away & he leaves the room. The other one (lab/Springer) just checked in & doesn’t (usually) need to get the pet, pat.
Nana C. says
I recently adopted a curgi (black mouth cur/corgi mix) who LOVES to give kisses. If I sat down to put on my shoes, she was licking my legs and hands, etc. I have another dog who is very submissive and stands back to wait for attention. I started pointing towards Izzie and telling her ‘personal space’ and backing her up with hand signals. It took a couple of weeks, and she’s still in my face, but she backs away immediately and heads off to play with Izzie or the cats.
Patricia Wildgen says
My hug loving Golden, Kody, was under a year old and kept pestering for more petting; one time, I said “All done”, and did the arm folding, head & shoulders turn away, and it worked. He got it very fast and we still use it when necessary; he is almost 5. I made this up myself so it’s great to see you validate it!
It was a wet, muddy and cold one at the trial this past weekend! I’m wondering if the sheep were also as done with the weather as we were… Though it was great fun getting introducing and to know people who run them. When the sun finally came out on Sunday, it really made things much more enjoyable!
Brody is notoriously pushy with wanting pats. While I love it, I only accept his pushiness towards me and not my guests. It’s very apparent in his expression that he hated headpats, and so I ask my guests to do that when he’s pushy.
Something about Autumn sunsets is magical. They seems to paint the sky with such vibrant colors that can look unrealistic at times.
Good luck with your Holiday preparations— the letchup looks delicious!
Hello and thank you for your sound advice. I use this method and it always works.
One issue I can’t seem to find a ‘fix’ for is this. We live on a few acres and our 2 English labs (one a 10 year old and the other an 11-month old) walk off leash and get along beautifully. However, once in a while, our pup will stop, look back at the older dog, and charge her – and not in a playful way. It’s almost like the younger one is jealous of the older one. I’ve tried all sorts of verbal commands, intervening physically, removing the younger dog, but it keeps happening. I feel so badly for our older dog I just can’t let it go on. Help.
It’s a testament to the times that your headline had me thinking people were harassing you online.
I’ve never understood why it is so hard for people to read the dislike for head pats. In almost every rescue video the staff secures dog and then immediately pat them on top of the head. I think it’s like a very limp handshake. It doesn’t do harm, but boy is it off putting.
That sunset is glorious. Thank you for the pictures. I enjoy seeing your boy happily working.
Becky G says
As a novice “body reader,” I do have a question about Maggie’s body language. I see the licking and leg lift as signs of not particularly wanting the interaction. What am I mis-interpreting?
Thanks Judith. It’s a recipe from my dear friend Rick, and if I do say so myself, it’s really yummy!
Becky G: Good on you for asking. Both of those behaviors can occur in a variety of situations. It IS possible that Maggie was put off a bit by Jim’s taping, but I can tell you that every night she sits on the couch, lifts her leg and licks my face when she wants more petting. So . . .
Laughed out loud Amber at your first interpretation of the title!
Helga, hmmm about your pup and the charging. If it was my dog, I’d first work, in different contexts, on a rock-solid lie down at a distance. Rock solid, reinforced with anything she absolutely adores. Start with no distractions and gradually up the difficulty. If she did it to my older dog, I be watching her like a hawk, and if she began running toward my older dog (close to you I hope), I’d ask, low-voiced, for an immediate lie down. Then tons and tons of reinforcement. If she didn’t stop, I’d run forward (silently) and stop her with a body block. No yelling! Ask for a lie down, lots of reinforcement. But beyond that, I’d be looking at the interactions between them at other times and working on teaching the youngster that good things happen when the other dog gets attention. I don’t know if this is enough to help, but give it a try. Keep us posted.
Thanks Mia, kudos for you for braving such a horrible two days! The weather was hard on the sheep too, I agree. I felt sorry for them. Later I reaIlized that their wool was sopping wet, and the lambs were carrying many pounds of water on their frames. I’m sure they were as happy as we were when Sunday dawned so clear and crisp!
Love, Patricia W, that you came up with this method too! Great minds, hey?
Deborah, ah yes, the dogs who love it when we’re on the throne. (I’m talking to you Skip.) I’m not as smart as you, I pet him often in that context. Don’t tell Maggie.
Adrienne: Jazz hands? I absolutely love this!
I have a cairn who occasionally tries to hump my leg coming up from behind. In this case he wants my leg, not my attention 😂 and I initiate getting him to stop by looking behind me and making eye contact (oh, darn, she saw me). However, I might now also try adding a few happy pats on his head as he truly does not like that and pairing it with “enough.” Thanks for the idea.
In the rest of day-to-day life it amazes me that I still find myself occasionally reach out to pat him on his very cute little head, primate that I am.
This is so timely and helpful. Interviewing a new housekeeper over beers last night and my possessive Aussie would NOT stop woo-wooing and bringing toys. I can’t wait to try it when she comes this morning! Then to see how quickly Echo learns that she can still be obnoxious out of arms reach…
Yup, Carolyn we can never get the primate out of us, no matter how hard we try!
My dogs know “enough” when it comes from me, but I’m going to try have guests use the head pat when they get too pushy for pets.
I love your blog, so would hate for you to stop giving us great information!
Cindy k Jensen says
oh my gosh, we humans (me) are soo dumb. I feel sorry for our best friends (my India) who has to put up with me, hoping I will understand what she is trying to tell me. Or vice versa. The direct stare, the backing up and pausing, …. are you going to pay attention to me???Thank God for you and your colums, that remind us how to be good animal owners. Bless you!!
Oh this sounds amazing! My shepherd mix lives a great life with kids constantly coming over for private lessons with me. But after the initial greeting, I really do need her to leave us be. So I’m going to start teaching this one today.
We have two pups, a Cavalier (who is deaf) and a Westie. I use “All Done” (with raising of my hands) when I want the Westie to leave me alone…or when it’s time to stop playing fetch. It works every time. I had to laugh at the head pats, as we have a family friend who loves cats, but doesn’t have a clue what to do with a dog! This person uses their (flat) hand and pats the tops of their heads. It is obvious that they are clueless about what to do with dogs!
Speaking of our two dogs, I would love some tips on controlling the BARKING! I know that we don’t want to discourage ALL barking, but sometimes it gets way out of control. It’s like a game. They seem to bark to get the other one riled up. I would love to hear how to make them STOP!!
Bren Axon says
Oh Patricia, we have giant breeds; Leonbergers to be precise and the paw on the lap is very typical behaviour for them. They are a hugely tactile breed and like to be in contact with you or close to you at all times. In the early days of having the breed of course, one tries simply putting the paw off the lap, but then the other paw comes up. Before Leos we had GSDs and actually none of them ever exhibited this behaviour. Leonbergers can keep this up for an unbelievably long period of time without getting bored with the game 😁 Max, our first Leonberger used to be very clever in the evenings. If we were watching TV, he would manage to very precisely place himself in front of you so that his head was blocking the screen while giving you a paw. This was guaranteed to get some sort of attention.
I have two Leos at the moment, one elderly at 9.5yrs and the other a young male of 2yrs. Both again are very insistent about getting attention. My boy likes to suddenly appear (for a 150 pound dog he’s amazingly quiet when he moves around) while I am typing and shove his bear-sized head under my elbow, making the mouse skitter across the screen and on occasions has made me lose what I’ve been typing. He’s also done it when I am in the process of lifting a cup of tea to my mouth which has more disastrous consequences!!
My usual thing is to turn away from them, especially the boy as he can be extremely persistent if the head under the elbow is ignored (he will then revert to the paw behaviour usually on my arm or basically any part of my body he can reach). I turn my back and make myself inaccessible. He will occasionally try to get around so he’s facing me but I just swing away. Usually I say “no more”.
My advice to my clients is normally “fold your arms, say ‘enough or no more’, and look away or if you are standing, walk away”.
The joys of having an over affectionate dog, eh? 😊
DONNA KELLAR says
Love this! It works just as you described! It was so much fun to try this- I was amazed in just 3 trials she got it. I love finding new ways to interact with my dog, she really listens and catches on to new ideas so readily- we both enjoy our chats immensely.
She is truly my best friend and I love the new things you teach me to enrich our time together.
Love this story Bren about your giants. We used to talk about the “Pyr Paw,” because it is so common for Great Pyr’s to slap paws in your lap relentlessly. Interesting that you too fold your arms… I wonder if that aspect is a clear signal to dog… petting not available now, the door is closed!
Nana-Mary, good topic for a blog, thanks!!!
MaryLynne Barber says
Bren – you just described my dog’s way of getting attention to a T. Bonnie is a German Saint (1/2 GSD, 1/2 Saint Bernard). That paw gets pretty annoying sometimes, especially if her nails need trimming! The nose under the elbow has also caught me with a cup of coffee in hand. I also fold my arms and turn my head away. That usually works but sometimes I have to turn my whole body away for her to get the message.
I have never used the head-pat-method because I avoid aversives whenever I can. Because that’s what it is: An aversive. When a dog of mine pesters someone else, I generally tell them to do something non-compatible that I’ve previously trained using positive reinforcement. I tend to call them over to me, but there are plenty of other options: down, go to your mat, back up, settle, etc. In terms of them wanting attention from me, I’ve found a routine to be invaluable. There’s enough cuddle time in the routine that we all get our emotional needs met – and there’s no expectation that cuddles will suddenly start happening during their nap/my computer time.
Judy F. says
I would be happy to talk about barking, too. My deaf 15-mo-old English Cocker has a piercing bark with which he celebrates meal preparation. It makes me crazy when I’m just waking up and preparing their breakfasts. I’ve been using a chop of my hand, palm facing me, to say Enough and No, but I can’t see how to reward him profusely for STOPPING a behavior I don’t want.
Tel Aviv's feral cats says
I had a cat who followed me everywhere. If he was sleeping, and I got out of the room, he’d wake up within minutes and followed me, as if he could sense my presence in his sleep.
One time, when I went to work, he followed me, crying and calling me to come back, stopped when I reached a busy street because he was afraid of people and noise.
Every time i sat down, he’d jump in my lap with his head either on my chest on on the crook of my arm, looking up at me adoringly. And he refused to get off for hours. I had to push him off gently, and he’d get mad and sometimes scratch me.