Let's Replace Obedience With Cooperation
Everybody wants a well-behaved dog. But contrary to the general perception, that doesn’t require obedience training. In fact, there’s a much better way to teach your dog to behave nicely.
While many trainers still offer traditional obedience training, some modern trainers are teaching skills as well as cues (instead of commands). Real-life skills are what puppies and adult dogs need in order to be truly well-behaved. As a result, they don’t have to be constantly told what to do—or corrected!
In obedience training, dogs learn basic commands like Come, Sit, Down, and Stay. It’s pretty easy to get those behaviors in the kitchen with a bag of treats. So now your dog knows those commands, right? Maybe, but can he respond when you have guests? Or in the backyard with a squirrel running around? Or when you take him on leash to a park or a dog-friendly store? How about the waiting room at the vet clinic?
Context and Emotions
Context changes everything. And responding is especially difficult for a dog who’s feeling excited, nervous, scared, or anxious.
According to the mindset and language of obedience training, when a dog isn’t responding to a command, he’s deliberately disobeying you. You can’t let him get away with that. He knows it, he’s just being stubborn! He only comes when he feels like it, many people will complain.
Unfortunately, the obedience model doesn’t seem to take into account different contexts or emotions. That’s where punishment, aka “corrections,” comes in. Obedience-focused people say No!, repeat commands, grab the collar, and pop the leash. Some use the spray bottle, penny cans, shock collars, and other unpleasant devices. The “dog whisperer” would surreptitiously deliver kicks to the flanks of insubordinate students.
Punishment has unwanted side effects for all animals, including stress, confusion, frustration, and negative associations that lead to reactivity. Eventually, it can lead to depression or aggression. Another potential consequence is great harm to your relationship. Training the old-fashioned way, with fear, force, and intimidation, may be very wrong for your dog.
More people need to be aware there’s a far better way—that pet dog training has changed dramatically over the past 25 years or so and continues to advance.
Training with up-to-date positive methods and techniques is faster, kinder, and smarter. Dogs, horses, and other animals love learning this way. And it has only beneficial side effects: willing cooperation, calmness, patience, and focus. And they are getting into the habit of doing the right thing at the right time, without being asked. It’s not unlike raising well-behaved children!
When we train for calmness, attention, and self-control, our dogs are able to think and make better choices. They learn how to handle distractions, as well as scary and exciting situations. They are able to notice things in their environment yet still pay attention and respond to our cues.
Having these foundation skills strengthens our connection. Good habits replace unwanted ones. That grows confidence at both ends of the leash. Being more confident helps prevent—or overcome—fear and anxiety.
Skills training is easier than you might think. Here’s how we get there:
1. To make the right choices easier, we make poor choices difficult.
2. To improve focus and communication, we teach cues in a clear way that dogs can understand, in conditions where they can always be successful.
3. We raise criteria and change conditions gradually, at the dog’s speed of learning.
4. We reinforce desirable behaviors with things our dogs value (food, toys, attention, and other real-life rewards), so they cooperate happily.
5. Good habits are formed with practice!
You can make a big difference by just noticing what your dog is already doing that you like. When you mark and reinforce (“capture”) those natural behaviors, you will get more of them.
Copyright Lisa Benshoff 2019