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What is Functional Obedience – Real World Obedience
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What is Functional Obedience – Real World Obedience


…Thorough obedience training does more than assure a dog’s response to his master’s command; capacities for learning and emotional stability could be increased and integrated as permanent qualities of character.

[quote_signature name=”Name”]William Koehler, 1962[/quote_signature]

Some people are surprised to learn that I do embrace some of the older obedience styles and masters, like Koehler. What they don’t take into consideration is that these people were not ’10 minute a day trainers.’ They were focused on the dog’s well being. Their puppies had more training by the time they were 12 weeks old than most of today’s dogs have by the time they are a year old.

Tricks and Tasks

Most pet owners today are only interested in the tricks and tasks. Sit, stay, down, walk on a leash, potty training, not jumping up on people, etc are tricks and tasks. They may even be labeled Canine Manners. But they do nothing to change how the dog interacts with the world. They do not teach coping skills, or stress management.

Functional Obedience – Real World Obedience

The theory around this type of obedience is to teach the dog real world skills:

  • Can I control my dog?
  • Can my dog control its own actions/reactions?
  • Can I have my dog stay but keep an active mind?
  • Does my dog mirror my body movements when we are walking?

Most people’s mistake is to give an obedience command value in relationship to their end goal.  “I don’t want my dog to pull.” So they take a basic obedience course in a sterile environment, with ‘high pack’/’low drive’ dogs. The dog learns to heel in a straight line, and make a couple of turns. The dog doesn’t learn:

  • What to do when another dog rushes you
  • What to do if your dog is afraid of another dog
  • To stop when the owner stops, and walk when the owner walks
  • To pay attention to the owner, not everything in the surrounding environment

Basically, most obedience classes do not teach a task in relationship to its real world function.

Behavior Vs Obedience

Functional obedience teaches the behaviors needed for the dog to reliably complete all commands and expectations without a) being micromanaged and constantly corrected, b) in a calm and focused manner, c) teaching the dog to be responsible for its own behavior.

Most people ignore their dog’s behavior and temperament until the dog. They let it practice primal survival skills, and then wonder why they have a dog that is aggressive and won’t listen. At 9 months old, when the dog’s behavior is fixed, then they want a quick fix.

There is an onslaught of new trainers who promise to ‘fix’ problems in 2 or 3 sessions, without ever considering the consequences. How will this effect the dog’s behavior? Will it make the dog more stressed, or fearful?  Will it break the dog’s trust in people?

None of these matter. The owner is happy, and for the most part the owners never ‘see’ the damage done to their dog, until it develops more behavior problems.

What You Can Do

Before you worry about training, focus on ‘what’ you are teaching a puppy.  If you are teaching a sit then teach the puppy to stay down. Don’t give it a treat as it bounces back up. Teach a long down. Teach the puppy that laying calm at your feet is a normal part of every day life. Teach your puppy to control its impulses. Teach it to be still. Teach it to ignore distractions.

Introduce your puppy to new environments, people and dogs until it is a year old – at least. If you can do these things then you will build the foundation of a great dog who will be a pleasure, and improve your lifestyle, for the next decade.

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