basic obedience modules

Our basic obedience training is offered as private lessons. In one-hour lessons I explain the 2-Minute training protocols, demonstrate the homework, and have the clients demonstrate their understanding of the homework exercises.

At the end of the hour I ask “is this sort of training something you think you can do?”  I also ask if they have any questions or if their dog has any behaviors not covered by the training I’ve suggested.

Anyone who has done basic obedience training for any length of time knows what I know — that the problems people face with new dogs, with young dogs, with puppies, whether they’re from a shelter, from the neighbor’s litter, or from a pet store, fall into one of a few categories.

1) My dog bites me. It’s usually “mouthing” more than biting. I find the owner is usually focusing too much attention on the dog’s mouth, putting their hands on or near the snout, constantly touching the dog’s muzzle, sometimes actually sticking their hands in the dog’s mouth. By working the 2-minute protocols the owner learns a new way of interacting with their dog. I also show them how to pet their dog in a way which the dog finds enjoyable without engaging the dog’s muzzle.

2) My dog jumps up on me. In my experience there’s almost always someone in the house encouraging the dog to jump up. This is sometimes an unconscious behavior where the owner simply doesn’t know the proper response to jumping up. Occasionally it is a conscious desire to sabotage the training efforts of the person who dislikes the jumping-up behavior. All the exercises will encourage the dog to adopt a begging position with all 4 feet on the floor. The name recognition, recall, and attention exercise have the dog sitting in front of the handler. Other exercises have the dog walking beside the owner, sitting beside the owner, or lying down.

3) My dog drags me with the leash. When puppies are little we laugh as they drag us around, then we expect the behavior to diminish as the dog gets older. Even experienced obedience and agility exhibitors let their dogs drag on the leash. I’m always careful to have folks practice loose-leash walking while I can oversee their practice. They must be 100% consistent in their responses in order to extinquish leash pulling. If mom and dad do the exercises and kids allow the dog to drag them the lesson will rarely stick with the confused puppy.

4) My dog poops and pees in the house.  Occasionally I meet folks who accept the idea of their dog pottying in the house. They just clean it up. But the vast majority of housetraining problems are created by undisciplined and disorganized people. Faced with a disciplined routine most dogs quickly move toward compliance. My biggest issue in this part of the world has to do with teaching people not to punish the puppy for housetraining accidents. Of course, lots of dogs around here are stuck in the yard and aren’t allowed in the house.

5) My dog runs off and won’t come back. The statement I hear more often than any other is “we can’t have a fence.” This is usually because the family has a large piece of land. So the puppy gets turned loose on this expanse of property and learns to wander at will. The family works on attention to name and recall for a week or two, then expects the training to work forever. My protocols are designed to be repeated as needed. As dogs age they’ll drift in and out of attention versus distraction. The new dog must be trained and can’t be expected to respond the same as the aged dog you just lost.

6) My dog won’t let me take toys, trim nails, put her harness on, etc. This is a skill which people often give up on. Even savvy dog trainers will often come up with tricks to make the dog surrender toys, gimmicks to get the dog to file their own nails, or ways of holding treats to make the dog walk into leashes or harnesses. Sometimes it’s important that dogs accept some things they don’t like. I encourage owners to think of their dogs as 7-year-old kids, or teenagers, to tap into what might be a more natural response to the dog “not wanting” to perform certain behaviors. With my own dogs I often say, “because I’m the mommy, that’s why you must do this.” I know there are complex conditioning exercises we can do to get a dog to accept nail trimming, for example, but most dogs quickly give up resisting when they realize you’re not planning a surrender.

My 2-Minute training for basic obedience is designed to focus the dog on positive behaviors during mealtimes. At all other times I encourage the owners to use routines and management techniques to eliminate the opportunity for the dog to engage in negative behaviors.

For lots of dog trainers this is natural, common sense. What I’ve always found, however, is that there’s no common sense with dogs. Either you have it or you don’t.

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