One of the questions I always ask humans who bring their dogs in for an evaluation is “How is your dog’s obedience?”
Most people respond something like “Oh, she’s really obedient, she knows all the basics, sit, down she’s not so good at stay but we’re working on it.”
Of course, I naturally must probe further “How is she if there are distractions around, such as other dogs?”
“Oh, if there’s distractions forget about it! She doesn’t listen at all if theres something else she wants to do.”
Let me just start by saying that I commend anyone, who takes the time to teach and lead their dog, regardless of how successful they may actually be.
The reality however, is that if your dog doesn’t listen around distractions, or if she doesn’t listen if theres “something else she wants to do” then your dog isn’t obedient.
The very function of obedience is that you can have your dog perform a task, at your command, regardless of whether they want to or not.
Yes, in an ideal world we would always be able to make the dog want to do the things we ask. But the real world doesn’t work that way. There are too many conflicting motivators such as rabbits, squirrels, other dogs, smells, noises etc. that are often way more exiting than the prospect of maybe getting a morsel of food from us, and most of us have no interest in always carrying around t-bone steaks in our pockets and purses.
The unfortunate truth is that many dogs in our society don’t actually know a single command. What they do know are a whole lot of suggestions. They view their owners cues as “If you want something that I have to offer, here’s how to get it. If you don’t want it, or if I have nothing to offer. . . . . . . . . .then no big deal.”
The very definition of a command however, is that it is a big deal! Because we are fair leaders, we as much as possible, try to reward good behavior and obedience. Yet, just because I am willing to pay the dog for their efforts, does not make the work optional.
Real world dog training teaches commands, not suggestions. A command means “you must do this.” Being a good and fair leader means “Don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your time.”
Unfortunately, the majority of dog trainers these days, don’t teach commands anymore. Dogs do what they want, when they want, and this often leads to trouble. I firmly believe that this fact is the root of 90% of the behavioral issues that dogs have. Dogs need rules, they need structure and order in their lives, and without these things, many become unbalanced.
The following clip is of Coco, a 7 month old Airdale Terrier. She started training with us 3 weeks ago, and prior to that did not have any obedience work. She is practicing the ‘place’ command, and a down-stay. No she doesn’t want to be doing it, she would rather be running around with my dog. She is learning that rules are rules, and they have to be followed. She is not unhappy, in fact her tail is wagging throughout half the video, and she is showing a tremendous amount of self control, especially for a dog her age. I am proud of the work she has done in 3 weeks, and when working with her, it is clear that she is proud of herself too.
True obedience gives the dog a sense of purpose. All of us are happier when we feel we have a function in the world.