The Gift of Obedience
So how do you feel about that title?
Do you think that obedience is truly a “gift” to your dog?
But I suppose it depends on your teaching methods…
If you are using physical force, physical corrections and other means of dog training, then perhaps your dog doesn’t see it as much of a “gift”.
But if you are using positive reinforcement, positive principles, and games then I bet he does!
I recently watched a video of a man and his five dogs walking off leash through the city. The dogs heads are hanging, they look fearful and sad, and as a woman speaks to one and it turns its head, it looks like it either gets shocked (by a shock collar) or is instantly scared of getting in trouble.
I am guessing these dogs don’t think of outings like this as “fun” much less a gift.
But the good news is; with some fun, and games and a light heart, you can make your dog enjoy obedience!
Almost everything I do with my dogs is fun and silly.
I start training my puppies (and adult dogs if I get them as adults) with food, and praise. I lure them into doing some behaviors like sit, and down, and I reward the behaviors that they are showing me that I like (also rewarding sit and down, and being patient).
Treats and using them correctly, not as a bribe for more on that click here, allows me to give them the foundation of basic obedience.
If the dog does it wrong, he simply doesn’t get a treat. I don’t want a dog that is afraid of doing something wrong because he is going to be physically punished. I want a dog that thinks and problems solves and learns behaviors quickly and easily.
If he does something horrifying (like putting his teeth on me) I take away the gift of my time and training by giving him a time out; outside, in another room, or occasionally his crate (although I don’t want him to associate his crate with punishment).
Then I interject toys and play with my training.
I tease my dogs and teach them to chase balls and other such toys; for more on that click here.
Once they are excited about toys and playing with me, I interject the basic obedience they learned with treats, positive reinforcement and rewarding good behavior as well as playing some keep away with catch and retrieve games. For more on teaching your dog to retrieve click here
Obedience and Compliance Becomes Habit
I always say work on your dog’s obedience 3-5 times every day; that ends up being about 35 times per week (and sometimes more) that they are hearing their basic commands:
- Watch (commonly known as eye contact and focus)
- And, of course Leave It
So if you average that out to 3 weeks of consistent training your dog is hearing and responding to those commands at least 105 times or more. I say “more” because rarely will you give one command and stop and not use it more often in that training session.
If you are like me you hit all of them, several times each session!
So these commands become habit, it is muscle memory for your dog to listen to you commands and your voice.
Almost without thinking when you say “Sit” he sits (as long as you are raising your expectations with your training and adding distractions and more challenging environments for more on that click here ) your dog does it by default. Remember it is important to change environments and not always train at the same place or inside.
So when my dog sees a squirrel and I give him the command “Heel” and “Watch Me” his body almost starts doing it before his mind has a chance to rethink the squirrel.
I had a client who thought I was ridiculous (her words ;) for telling her that when her dog nips to give him a command like sit or down. It is impossible to nip and scratch and lay down. She said I was crazy because there is no way he would lay down when he was in the nipping mood (he is a puppy not a vicious biter).
I suppose that she is right because she hasn’t formed the muscle memory or worked on obedience enough that it is reliable.
But I guarantee that I am right and if she works on it and uses a leash she can teach him more constructive behaviors than flying and nipping and jumping. But YES it takes work and NO it is not as easy as having attended a class 2 years ago and occasionally having your dog listen to you for a treat.
The truth is you need to make obedience part of his life if you expect to actually USE it.
As a Coping Mechanism
I also teach obedience as a coping mechanism.
Not all dogs are bomb proof.
Actually most dogs have fears of “something” but some dogs have fears of a lot of things.
I have a dog that is not so brave and he is not my first!
I have learned that obedience can become a coping mechanism for “life”. When life gets scary and overwhelming dogs can find solace and relaxation in being able to perform obedience commands (or tricks it doesn’t matter what it is).
I have one dog with a weird phobia. He HATES the sound of big trucks backing up… the beeping kills him. He also isn’t so fond of gun fire.
But he has extreme drive for a toy. So he can put up with these trucks and gun fire IF I WORK HIM.
If I let him sit in a crate he shakes.
If I expect him to walk past a truck with no direction (no obedience commands or thrill of a reward) he tries to run away.
If I work him and give him commands he forgets about his fears.
I can get him to sit, and down, and sit, and down, and sit and down in repetition (like puppy sit ups) with a truck right next to him. I’m sure at some part of him way down deep he isn’t thrilled about it.
BUT HE DOES IT
And, he does it because we work on obedience at home and he knows that with obedience comes fun and reward.
It is worth overcoming his fears because the pay off is fantastic and he is almost able to put his fears aside.
If I gave you 5 million dollars could you get over your fear? Chances are you would at least try.
Now if I did your favorite thing with you (hmmm let’s say a live concert) while you were working on your fears would that help you get your mind off the thing you didn’t like (let’s say snakes)? Probably.
I think I could let a spider crawl on me if Jon Bon Jovi was in front of me singing and I got a 5 million dollar pay out afterward…
So if you think of it like that and make obedience fun and A GIFT then you can see what a benefit it provides to you both.
So get to working!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.