Guest Post: Obedience, friend or foe?

By Marcy Stewart

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Start your puppy off right.  Training should begin in puppyhood and will always be something you do throughout the dog’s life. Here are some tips for creating obedience as a lifelong habit:

  • Start with a good kindergarten puppy class that is aimed at teaching your puppy to learn from you. Make sure the class teaches the basic commands, such as loose leash walking, sit, leave it and come to name a few.  
  • A puppy play group can be used along with a puppy kindergarten class, but not as the sole means for socialization and training.   
  • As the pup moves from young puppyhood into adolescence (around 8 months of age), your young dog may have a working knowledge of basic commands and your expectations. The dog will need consistent rules and eventually an understanding of the consequences to breaking those rules. This does not mean you become ugly, or angry. It means you remain firm, and consistent. There will be times when the young dog will need reminding of how to act in a particular situation. Take this opportunity to remind the dog that what they are doing is unacceptable.  But don’t get caught reacting to unwanted behaviors. Instead, teach the dog what you want him to do and build on your successes.
  • Timing is key, you need to immediately respond to the inappropriate behavior to be able to show the dog, nope that is not what you should do, but do this instead.   

Continue obedience training throughout his life. Incorporate training activities in your daily routine: waits at doorways, gets in the car when invited, feed them after they sit, comes when called etc. Once the basics are mastered teach them new advanced commands to stimulate his mind. Dogs have to do in 18-22 months what it takes human beings 18-20 years to do: they have to grow up. A human child’s education begins at an early age, and they may attend school for 13 years and many continue their education for another 4 plus years in college or trade school.  Even as adults we may need additional training on new tasks that come up at work, getting a new phone, etc. Let’s create those opportunities for our dogs as well. One 6-week-obedience course or a few private lessons aren’t going to fix everything; although, it will lay down a great foundation. We will not be able to introduce all of life’s challenges or experiences in one 6 week course.  You must continue using what you have learned and strive to learn more. Give your dog the opportunity to succeed and teach him right from wrong.

Dogs do not learn about us by watching other dogs.  They do not learn through osmosis or some other form of divine intervention.  Dogs do not know how to act unless they are taught what is right or wrong. The moment the pup is born it is being trained or taught by their mother about how to be a dog, but the training necessary to life in a household with us must come from us.  The question is then, who should train a dog?  Simple answer, everyone that owns a dog should train their dog.  Each dog you own has their own personality and will not be the same dog as you had as a child or your last dog, the dog that just seemed to know what was right or wrong.  Suffice to say someone had to show the dog what was right and wrong or provided that training.  

Training is a joy for the dog and their owners.  It is a language you create between the two of you.  The language you are creating is one of cooperation, consistency, reward and praise.  Nothing about training a dog should be dominant or prohibitive.  We are showing them the way to a more successful life like we show our children the way to adulthood.   

Since we want the best for our dogs we should take the time to find a qualified instructor who can show us the best way to start bridging the language barrier between us and our dog.  We would want to make sure the trainer we choose demonstrates with their dog what we want our dog to look like or be able to demonstrate.  If the trainer’s dog does not sit when told the first time we should ask ourselves how effective of a trainer are they? Also take the time to monitor classes they offer and watch them interact with other people and their dog.  Get and call references of people they have worked with before.  Take the time to find the right trainer and training method that is right for you and your dog.  The dog will only succeed if you give them the right opportunities.   

Training a dog increases the bond we have with them by earning the dog’s respect.  The dog sees us as their leader if they have respect for us which is different than the dog having love or affection for us. Love and respect is a part of our relationship with our dog but love is different than respect.  Love is not earned but giving to us freely.  Respect must be earned. Our dogs will love us even though we do not have their respect.  A dog and their owner have love by their personal attachment to each other.  

Respect, on the other hand, is earned by teaching the puppy/ young dog self control and we are their leader.  Dogs live by a social structure of rank or hierarchy.  Our dogs need a clear leader and social hierarchy. The basic principle of the game follow the leader is a great example of how dogs live.  If the dog leads and you follow they are in the leadership role. If we do not take the role of the leader they will become unruly, ill-mannered dogs.  Gaining the leadership role should be carried out in a consistent non bullying way.  The leader should be silent, confident and in control.  Gaining a dog’s trust and respect requires rules and compliance with basic training commands, such as sit, down, stay, come. The dog will grant you only the respect you have earned so if you are in the follower role there will be no respect given to you.   Dogs should earn everything he gets, if we give in to every whim of the dog they will never learn to respect us and will become bossy.

We are not voted the leader for life, you earn the respect daily.  If you are lax in your leadership role the dog will easily climb right into the role and downgrade his respect for you.  This is a daily dialogue you will have with your dog.  The way you react to this dialogue will help shape your relationship with your dog.  Demonstrate the leadership role with your dog often and in every place you can think of and possible locations.  Act like a leader, earn the respect your dog desires.    

Basic obedience training is the most important aspect of raising a dog; they are happier and require fewer restrictions.  By training our dogs we are allowing them more freedom.  Freedom for dogs directly corresponds with their ability to exist harmoniously in the human environment Training a dog ensures a reliable dog that you are able to trust to be well mannered in a variety of situations.  They will respect your belongings and not tear up shoes, counter surf, potty in the house, etc.  They can be more reliable around children, tolerate people and other dogs, and walk without dragging their owner down the street.  Dogs given these tools based on basic obedience will be able to go with their owners on errands, trips, etc.  A dog without these tools may experience stress in these situations.  

Training your dog basic commands may very well save your dog’s life.  If your dog gets out of the yard they can easily be called back to you by using the basic ‘come’ command and avoid tragedy.  If the dog is untrustworthy and reactive around children biting of the children will occur and may result of the dog being put down. The #1 reason dogs get abandoned at shelters or turned in to rescue is due to a lack of training, and the behavior problems that result

Training a dog is a necessary step to owning a companion dog and takes time and patience.  There are many debates about the best method or approach, although I won’t get into that here. Suffice to say that one important aspect of training dogs is to be consistent.  Training that starts in puppyhood should be direct, simple, and fun with lots of rewards and praise. As the dog matures, we begin to ask a bit more from the dog in terms of impulse control and prompt responses to learned commands. This doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable, but our dogs benefit when we make clear distinctions of our expectations of our rules, as well as giving the dog a clear understanding of what will happen if they break a rule.  We cannot change what our rules are to suit our mood.  Negative emotions like anger or frustration should never come into play when training, always be calm and positive.  Never, ever train your dog when you are angry.

Clear and consistent rules will make training successful.  How can you be clear and consistent, by only saying the command once.  As the dog is learning the command we have to help them know what the command means so this is when we are teaching the behavior.  While we are teaching there should be no negative corrections at this point we should be guiding the dog.  Once the dog knows the command ‘sit’ if the dog does not sit the first time it is told to sit a correction needs to be made immediately.  By doing this you are being consistent and tells the dog your expectation of the command.  If you chant the command you are only undermining your training and leadership and giving the dog a confusing message.

It is a feature of their personality that dogs don’t generalize well. So training and teaching will have to occur in varied locations. Training our dogs should take place everywhere and anywhere.  We should look for opportunities to train.  A dog needs to learn to deal with unexpected as well as expected stimuli.  Since dogs do not generalize very well our biggest mistake as owners is when we do not teach our dog that they can listen to our commands in the presence of challenging distractions.  

When our dog barks or lunges at a person riding by on a bike this is a learning opportunity.  We just learned that this distraction is a challenge for this dog.  Once we see this behavior in our dog we need to teach our dog that he can endure the stress or challenge by backing the dog up and reducing the stress on the dog.   As we teach the dog that he can withstand the challenge at a distance from the distraction we slowly close the distance between the distraction and our dog.  Our goal is to eventually have our dog be able to walk calmly next to the distraction without them reacting to the distraction.  By teaching that the dog can withstand a challenge by following our lead we are teaching them life skills to help them become well adjusted dogs.  There are so many things a dog will come in contact during his lifetime, a person in a wheelchair, children running, elevators, automatic doors, these are just a few of the distractions or challenges that become training opportunities.  As we approach these new environments with our dog we take the time to show the dog how to respond to our commands in the presence of new things.  This is a continuous conversation we have with our dogs, the opportunities are endless.  

So why train a dog? Because training a dog to be a responsible, trustworthy member of the family is the first and best means to empty out shelters, and take active, positive progressive steps to make sure they don’t fill up again.

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