Why Didn’t Obedience Classes Work?

The Right Tool for the Job

Pat Blocker, CPDT-KA, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with over 19 years experience. She offers private in-home training specializing in solving canine behavior issues. 

Trick dog training kids

kids can train too!

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

“What do you want to get from this class?” It happens in almost every obedience class orientation. Someone responds to that question with the likes of, “I want my dog to stop barking and lunging at other dogs.” “I want my dog to stop growling at children.” “I want my dog to stop barking all day while I’m at work.”

Owners are surprised to learn that the aforementioned are behavior issues, which cannot be effectively addressed with obedience training. In reality, there is obedience training and there is behavior modification. They are not the same. To use Maslow’s analogy, attempting to solve behavior issues with obedience training is treating the problem like a nail, because the only tool we think to be available is a hammer.

The widely held belief that obedience classes are an easy fix to all problems can ultimately result in owners believing that training doesn’t work. Take the problem of barking, for instance. The dog that is barking all day while home alone is not disobedient or unruly. Her barking might be due to separation anxiety, boredom, and/or lack of basic needs being met. It’s not a disobedient dog that is growling at children or barking and lunging at other dogs. The behavior could stem from, among other things, fear, which cannot be addressed with obedience training.

Behavior modification and obedience training have different objectives. Obedience training is for the disobedient and unruly dog. It sets boundaries and establishes rules. Behavior modification is intended to change the dog’s emotional state. It requires effective management and training that addresses the root cause of the problem. Manners can help with the management and control of many issues, but don’t change them on the emotional level. If we change the way a dog feels about something, we will change the way she behaves in its presence.

Behavior modification and obedience training are, however, intertwined. Obedience exercises can be taught to complement behavior modification. For instance, basic obedience training can help build the fearful dog’s confidence and leash-walking skills, like paying attention, can help the reactive dog. Basic obedience builds communication and both types of training help to establish a healthy relationship between owner and dog. (Communication and understanding canine body language are important elements in preventing problems and instrumental in the treatment of behavioral issues.)

Behavior modification addresses issues, which are often complex. It requires evaluation and treatment by a skilled trainer or behaviorist with knowledge of learning theory, animal behavior, and ethology. Some owners, believing that obedience training will solve behavioral issues may employ ineffective, even abusive punishment resulting in frustration (on both ends of the leash) without solving the problem.

Taking a dog in need of behavior modification to obedience class could make matters worse. For example, immersing the fearful dog into a roomful of other dogs, risks creating extreme fear and even damaging the owner-dog relationship.

Obedience training in lieu of behavior modification may not only exacerbate the problem, but can be unkind as well. In my opinion, it is cruel to ask the frightened dog to sit and look at me or to punish her in the presence of the thing that terrifies her. For example, training methods based on the theory of dominance, often use obedience as the solution. In theory, if the dog is afraid, make her obedient and submissive. Here, it appears that dominance has worked because the dog is not reacting. However, if anything, the dog is more afraid–afraid of the frightening situation and now of you. Pushed to her limits, she will revert to the old behavior. Punishment and dominance can serve to suppress the behavior, but like a beach ball held underwater, sooner or later, it will resurface.

Behavior modification takes you from reactive to proactive. Sure, I can correct a dog for lunging and barking at another dog. I can (maybe) get the dog to sit and look at me instead, but this won’t change future behavior.

Choosing the right training tool can be confusing because the same problem might require a different tool. For instance, your dog lunges and pulls on the leash whenever another dog passes. The problem could be solved either by obedience training or by behavior modification, depending on the emotion that lies beneath the behavior. Is the dog lunging at the passing dog because she is excited and wants to greet him, or is she doing it because she’s afraid and attempting to warn him off?

The friendly dog with no leash-walking skills wanting to greet the passing dog has, perhaps learned that lunging and pulling gets her what she wants. If she’s been allowed to pull her owner up to other dogs, she gets a payoff–greeting the dog. Here, we could use obedience training to teach polite meet and greets.

The fearful dog is lunging and barking at passing dogs in order to get space from them. She’s using a good offense as her best defense. A behavior modification plan to help her feel more comfortable in the presence of other dogs will address the root cause of the behavior. When the emotions behind the actions are dealt with, the lunging and barking will diminish naturally. Then, if we want to tweak leash-walking skills we’ll do some obedience training.

Knowing the difference between obedience training and behavior modification will help you choose the right tool for the job. Ensure that your training choice meets the criteria to resolve the issue by properly defining it, and then implement the plan. Now, you’ve nailed it.

 

Pat Blocker, CPDT-KA, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with over 19 years experience. She offers private in-home training specializing in solving canine behavior issues. Contact Pat at Peaceful Paws • 303-364-4681 • http://www.peacefulpaws.netpat@peacefulpaws.net. Pat the author of Taking the Lead with Jerking the Leash available on Amazon. www.peacefulpaws.net

 

Success Stories

When an adopter walks the rows of adoptable dogs, they are looking to feel a connection with a dog.  In their mind they are picturing enjoying a patio lunch with a dog sleeping at their feet or walking at the park with the leash in one hand and their coffee cup in the other.  Sometimes expectations fall a little short of reality.

That okay, dogs don’t come perfect.  The good news is behavior is changeable!  You can teach a dog to not jump up, walk nicely on a leash, perform a down stay at a restaurant.

Dogs aren’t born knowing these types of skills, so it is up to us to teach them these doggy life skills.  Dogs are exceptional at adapting into the human world.  They were bred to work with humans and fit out lifestyles.

I see people giving up on dogs with fixable behavior issues on a daily basis.  Which is why we offer free phone support to new adopter and we offer discounts to newly adopted dogs, but sometimes this can feel extremely overwhelming to new pet parents so I decided to start a page dedicated to success stories written from the heart from pet parents of naughty dogs that became successful with a little help and understanding. Here is the LINK I hope it inspires you!

Feel free to share your dog’s success stories with us.

trick training

Markers are great for all dogs

Spend The Day With The Family And The Dog

We spend so much time at work, playing on the phone and not enough time spending quality time with our dogs. Spending time with your dog builds a stronger relationship, develops stronger communication, and provides your dog with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Plus the majority of these activities are free or cheap! You really can’t beat that.  These are not only great ways to spend time with your dog, but also great ways to get your family together.

Scavenger Hunt– This one you can do indoor or out. Use playing cards and hide them/hang them out on the trail or in the house. The person to find the most playing cards wins.

Make it a training exercise:
Have your dog sit for every heart, down for every spade, shake for every spade, and stay for diamonds.
Charity Pet Walk- Get active for a good cause

Make it a training exercise:
Since there are tons of people and possibly dogs this is a great place to practice loose leash walking. Give your dog a treat when he looks at you.
Hike– there is a hike for everyone from a short one to a long one.

Make it a training exercise:
This is a great place to practice recalls. Bring a 10-15 foot long line and every time your dog gets close to the end of the leash say “Come” as you jog backwards.
Bike Trip– Going for a long bike ride is a great way to get out as a family.

Make it a training exercise:
Have your dog sit before crossing any street. If you are riding in a area where there aren’t streets try stopping and asking your dog to hold a sit as people pass.
Sunset– Go out and watch the sunset.

Make it a training exercise:
Ask your dog to hold a down stay or bring a KONG so your dog can practice patiently waiting.
Picnic– Go for a walk to the nearest park and enjoy a picnic park with your family and pup

Make it a training exercise
: Practice having your dog leave food, be sure to bring dog treats and a KONG
Yoga– Go to the park and practice Yoga with your dog.

Make it a training exercise:
You can have your dog hold eye contact, do a down stay, sit stay, or leave it while you hold a pose. If there is more then one person in your yoga party try calling your dog from one person to another.
Take a Trip- Go camping or spend the weekend at a dog friendly pet hotel. This is fun for everyone.

Make it a training exercise
: Staying at a hotel? Practice down stays in the lobby during busy check-in/check-out times. This will be great for practicing with distraction. Going camping- This is a great place to practice rewarding your dog for coming when called. Since there is a lot of fun things for your dog like wildlife, smells and food you can also practice your leave its.

You can also join a fun drop in agility, rally or tricks class with your dog.