Obedience Training 101: Start With a Calm Dog
Before any obedience training we need to calm our dog. A dog won’t focus on us if it is worried that something will come around the next bush or building. A dog will forget to stay at our side and heel if it is watching another dog play ball.
The first step to an obedient dog is to teach your dog exactly what you want. But you can’t teach a stressed dog. You need to learn how to keep your dog calm.
Check Your Ego and Emotions At The Door
Dogs are emotional, thinking, animals. They are not ‘dumb’ animate objects that you can program to obey you. Like children they need to be taught. Like children they will do exactly what you teach them – both intentional and unintentional.
If you want an obedient dog the worst thing you can do is try to make it obey you. You need to take the time to teach it what you want. Then you need to condition the dog to do that thing. If you use the proper definition of the word obedience, then no dog will ever give you obedience.
Obedient dogs have a good relationship with their owner. They trust them to take care of things. Their owners are usually calm. If you want a calm dog then you need to be calm. The alpha is calm. The alpha is not the biggest and strongest. The alpha is the smartest and the one who can remain calm under pressure.
Dogs have ‘calming signals’ and ‘calming behaviors’ that help them shake off stress. If we keep an eye on these we can anticipate something that is stressing our dog. Your dog will tell you when it doesn’t feel comfortable in a situation. You can choose to say ‘let’s go’ or if it isn’t necessary you can choose to walk away. The more often you walk away the more the dog learns to cope with stress.
You can also teach your dog body language. Teach your dog to follow your hand. Teach it that when your left leg moves, the dog moves. When you stop moving the dog sits. When you move your hand, the dog follows.
Communication – Secret to Effective Obedience Training
If you want an obedient dog then you need to learn to communicate with it. There are 56behaviors you will see in almost every obedient dog/handler team.
- The handler reinforces positive behavior instead of negative
- The handler talks to their dog
- The handler has a loose leash
- The handler doesn’t put the dog in stressful situations (like letting strangers pet the dog)
- The handler/dog team is ‘dog focused’ not ‘owner focused’. The team is relationship based, not master/slave based.
- They are always training. Training is a way of life, not an 8 week series of 20 minute practice sessions.
If you don’t communicate with your dog then your dog won’t know what to do. The dog won’t look to you for the next cue (command). It will just walk along exploring the world waiting for the next correction.
The more you and your dog learn to communicate, the more ‘obedient’ your dog will appear to be.
Most people do not realize that you can teach a dog to be calm. Calming cues are not magic. They only work if you spend a lot of time practicing them. The more you practice, the better they work.
I use a count down when I’m in stressful situations. The dog knows it only needs to hang on until I count backwards to ‘one’. When the dog hears one it knows the stress is over and it will be rewarded for remaining calm and at my side.
There are other calming cues, like the squeak of a ball, a clicker, or you can create your own calming cues.
Practice when it is fun. Practice when there is no stress around. But Practice, Practice, Practice. Then when your dog is totally focused and relaxed you can start adding mild stressors. These can be a ball bouncing, a treat, loud noises, you singing, you leaving a room, and they can build up to someone knocking at the door, another dog in the area, or you talking to someone.
One thing that almost every calm dog has in common is ample exercise. Dogs need exercise to help them relax. They need to burn off excessive energy and pent up stress. It is emotionally and psychologically good for them.
Never take a dog to obedience training classes if it hasn’t had a good run and a chance to potty.
As you learn how to calm a dog you’ll soon learn that you need to invest more time into teaching a dog to be calm than you need to spend teaching a dog to follow your cues (be obedient). In fact, after a while the two exercises will become the same thing. You and your dog will start working as a team, and in the end, you’ll have the obedient dog you always dreamed of.