When I tell people I teach dog obedience, they usually say something like, “Oh! I need you to teach my dog how to behave!” While I love to think of myself as a miracle worker who can teach behaviors and troubleshoot problems with your dog, the truth is that I can’t do it without you. My actual job is to teach owners and caretakers how to communicate with their dogs. I know it sounds all new-age, cable tv show, touchy-feely. It’s a fact, though. You and your dog will have better results and a better relationship if I teach you, then you teach them.
Three tips for better dog obedience results:
Always Reward Good Behaviors
Our dogs, like ourselves, are much more likely to repeat a behavior that they find rewarding. The problem is that we end up inadvertently rewarding undesirable behaviors. When our dog barks and we yell at them to stop, we’re rewarding their noise by yelling right along with them. If my dog jumps up and I respond by pushing him off of me, I’m rewarding his annoying behavior by giving him physical contact and attention. Some behaviors are even self-rewarding—meaning that the act itself gives the dog pleasure (think counter-surfing or garbage eating).
For us to teach our dogs to make better choices, we have to make those desirable choices pay. Reward your dog with a pet or a treat for sitting or lying down calmly. Reward your dog when he’s quiet. Reward him when he doesn’t put his feet up on the counter. The more a behavior is rewarded, the more your dog will perform that behavior.
When you’re training your dog, think of it as teaching English as a second language. You want to say things the same way each time to avoid confusion. Did you take Spanish in school? I did. I was pretty awful at it. The worst part was when I thought I finally got something, and then I learned that there was a similar word that meant something completely different. Our dogs can become frustrated, too. Set them (and yourself) up for success by being consistent in your language, tone, and reward timing.
Make Time To Practice
To master any skill, it takes practice. Just because our dogs get a behavior right one time doesn’t mean that they will automatically get it right every time. Regular practice is necessary to perfect the skills that we are teaching them. You don’t have to spend hours a day on obedience—but 2 or 3 10-minute sessions each day will make a huge difference in how quickly you and your dog will master each behavior. Think of it like playing the piano. Even if you know your scales, that doesn’t mean you can play a Mozart piece without practicing it first, and you have to practice those scales first to have the foundation in place to tackle songs in different keys.
To keep dog obedience practice from feeling like a chore, you can make an appointment with me to learn some great obedience games to play with your dog! From “Hide & Seek” to “ Puppy in the Middle,” there are some really fun ways to help your dog want to learn.