Obedience training or just good manners, what does your dog need?
Recently, I wrote an article sharing tips on improving a dog’s obedience and reliability around distractions. Having a dog that can behave reliably around distractions is something many pet owners struggle with. I suspect it is the primary reason most pet owners seek help from a professional.
As a professional trainer it is my job to assist pet owners in solving these frustrations in a way that works for both them and their dog. I help people understand the difference between teaching their dog obedience skills that are useful for their daily routines versus teaching their dog to exercise good manners. There is a difference between the two and once the role of each is understood, pet owners can use the skills to create a more harmonious relationship with their dog.
You may be wondering what the difference is between good manners and good obedience, so let me explain through the example of a common problem…the dog that greets people by jumping on them.
Using obedience skills we can instruct the dog to perform a specifically requested behavior that makes it impossible to jump. For instance, a dog that will Sit reliably on command can be told to sit when someone approaches to greet them. A well trained dog will remain sitting and therefore is not jumping on the person.
A dog taught to exercise good manners is allowed to perform any behavior that keeps four paws on the ground (sitting, standing, or lying down). This dog has more choice than a dog practicing obedience.
There isn’t a “better” choice per say. It is a matter of what makes the most sense for the dog and owner in question. In either situation, teaching the dog to not jump will take repeated practice and exposure to varying situations until the new expectation becomes reliable.
I make distinctions between exercising good manners versus obedience based on the dog’s overall social skill. A well-adapted, happy-go-lucky dog that isn’t a risk will be given more latitude versus the dog that has proven himself to be a bully, pushy, mouthy, or demonstrated a propensity for fear biting behavior. Dogs that put a person at a greater risk of being harmed will be told exactly what choice they need to make in any given situation. It forces the owner to remain aware and make good choices on the dog’s behalf. This keeps both the dog and the public out of harm’s way.
Whether you’re teaching good manners or teaching obedience, it is important to understand that the earlier you intervene in the behavioral sequence (i.e. BEFORE the dog does the wrong thing), the more efficient the learning will be. Eliminating inappropriate behavior is a matter of interrupting the dog just as, or slightly before, the inappropriate behavior occurs. By interrupting at the right time you change the course of the dog’s actions. In the case of jumping, it means you intervene BEFORE the dog’s paws touch the human.
The efficiency of timing is one of the many things I appreciate about remote collar training. Once the dog is collar conditioned, (to be fair to the dog and avoid paranoid associations you MUST collar condition BEFORE you begin correcting inappropriate behavior) there is a significant advantage in the ability to be consistent when practicing greeting behavior. I can interrupt any overly excited approach and instruct Fido on how to behave with either a Sit (put your butt on the ground and keep it there) or an Off (keep four paws on the ground) command. Both have the effect of interrupting the jumping. Then I add an additional layer of reinforcement by telling my visitors they can give the dog a treat or praise as long as the dog continues to behave appropriately.
Interrupting undesirable behavior, followed by rewarding appropriate behavior, is a balanced approach to training and it makes the learning picture very clear for the dog. It allows Fido to learn that one behavior yields an undesirable consequence, whereas an alternative behavior yields a desirable one. When you provide dogs with clear choices they choose the more rewarding one.
Similar training can be done for behaviors like running to the window and barking, or getting on the couch if it isn’t allowed. You can instruct the dog to do an obedience command such as going to a place or you can interrupt the nuisance behavior and reward any alternative that is acceptable.
I encourage you to teach both manners and obedience to your dog. By teaching both, you’ll have the best of both worlds. Most importantly, the relationship you have with your dog will improve simply through the act of making time to train and practice each day.