Do Dogs Really Need Obedience Training? Part 1

If we consider our dogs to be a true part of our families, then why is it so important to “obedience” train them? Isn’t it OK for them to just hang out and join in naturally? Working with dog behavior is one of my favorite things to do! I have a bachelor of science in psychology and so watching and learning from dogs is fascinating to the point that one of my personal missions is to help integrate pets into people’s lives as The Pet Lifestyle Coach®.

Dogs are social animals and fit into the family social structure somewhere, even if they aren’t shown exactly where that is. If left untrained, they will usually explore boundaries, protect and claim their property and structure the rules for themselves. If they do the above, the results could manifest in:

  • Eating the food off counters
  • Digging through the garbage
  • Incessant barking at small noises
  • Marking and urinating in the house
  • Food aggression
  • Sofa/bed aggression…

It’s easy to see how this list can quickly expand out of control when a dog isn’t taught what his role is! Your dog should be relaxed knowing that he will be taken care of always and forever. He should look to you for cues, knowing that you will kindly guide and care for him. So, how do you create this behavior and atmosphere? Let’s take another look at the big picture.

Often, people look at the human/family dog structure backwards because, upon first glance, it is a little counterintuitive. As humans, we may think if our dog is given freedom and hugs, he will be happy and feel loved. He can jump on the sofa at will, go in and out of the house at will, protect his yard and people when he judges he should, and we will love him. Actually, this is the perfect way to make your dog more anxious.

Look at all that responsibility you have just given him! Your dog will feel the most comfortable and happy when there is a structure that supports him seeing himself as being taken care of completely. If he feels completely taken care of, he can relax knowing he sleeps in a wonderful bed, eats good food, his people handle all the details and he just has to be the happy dog.

Think of it like this: your dog barking or alerting you to an unusual sound or suspicious person is a good thing, but then he should know that his person, you, will check it out and handle it as he relaxes, knowing that he’s safe now that he has done his job. He alerted his people.

Another scenario: if he knows that the house and yard are owned by his people and not by him, and he is safe, he won’t feel the need to mark everything as his including urinating in the house, guarding the fence, staring out the front window looking for the mailman and barking incessantly to ward him away. Instead, he can relax knowing his people have all of this covered, guests at the door are friendly, he has the perfect bathroom spot outside and the growling dog on the other side of the fence stays on that side of the fence and can’t get into his peaceful sanctuary.

One last one: If he knows he is fed regularly and gets treats when he does a special thing, then he doesn’t have to spend time and energy figuring out how to get onto the counters or into the garbage. He has been taught that is simply off limits, so he can forget about that challenge and just relax.

All these results may sound like far off extrapolations from basic training, but they’re not. Basic obedience lays the groundwork for the entire social and behavioral structure in your dog’s life. It is a critical element that, when practiced consistently, can help integrate your dog into your life in simple, fabulous and complex ways. Because the basics are there, the trust is there and the communication will be there.

What are the basics? The five basic commands are:

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down
  • Come
  • Heel

Combine these with a basic household structure like sitting before he is fed, getting permission to go in and out exterior doors, sleeping in the human bedroom “den” and being invited onto furniture before just jumping up is a great start. Reward the behavior you want and ignore behavior you don’t want while redirecting it toward what you are looking for.

A good trainer can make sure you are giving clear cues to your dog so you can be consistent in your technique and take it from there. Trainers can be found in a variety of places.

4. Pack Walk 2

Pack walks are fun!

  • Get a recommendation from your local veterinarian or groomer. Also, you may want to see if the trainer is certified by the Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers. This means that they have passed certain criteria, are proficient to a certain level and not allowed to move into more extreme aversive training methods.
  • Some large pet stores offer group classes. Look in your community paper for group classes. Many are outdoors and mimic real life scenarios of meeting and greeting dogs out in the world. Pack walks with a trainer are good learning environments as well. Private classes are good because the trainer can come into your home and evaluate your specific situation. Group classes are good because they provide a structure for socialization and you can learn a lot from watching other people and other dogs. Once you feel comfortable with certain dogs and their people, you can go to off-leash venues and practice socialization mixed in with some obedience.

For me as a person, it has been all about observing what the dogs respond to and how they then integrate into our lives. Super Smiley will be sharing his thoughts next week…stay tuned!

Until Next Time! Woof and Super Smiles from,

Super Smiley and Megan Blake, The Pet Lifestyle Coach®


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