Ya Gotta Be Worth It: Increasing the Odds of Doggy Obedience

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What are the odds of your dog obeying you? 75%? 90% on Sit? 50% until you go outside? Would you like to increase that number?

The number of things dogs can be taught is incredible. From basic obedience to complex service dog tasks or search and rescue skills, they are capable of a lot.
Regardless of what's being trained, at the heart of each skill is compliance. Obedience of any kind requires the dog to say "yes" to his owner and "no" to the rest of the world.

  • "Leave-It" means she has to drag herself away from something she found intrinsically interesting in order to give attention to her owner.

  • Nice leash manners dictate she slow way down to match a bipod's pace and that she doesn't chase every squirrel that skitters across the street.

The dog has to have a reason to choose her owner and her owner's requests over everything the world has to offer. You gotta be worth it from the dog's perspective.

A number of clients I work with have dogs who listen and obey unless there are distractions. These distractions range from children playing on the floor, to other dogs walking through the neighborhood. Because dogs have a "what's in it for me?" approach to life, owners have to be worth more to their dog than the distractions the world has to offer.  

Sound overwhelming? It doesn't have to be! There are several ways to make yourself more valuable:

  • Adopt a rewards-based lifestyle and relationship with your dog. Relationships are more than training sessions. Come is a great example of how the overall relationship is crucial for success. The dog who has a history of fun, safety, and pleasure with her owner is more inclined to say "yes" and join him than the dog who has a history of uncertainty, discomfort, and distaste with her owner.

  • Learn some canine body language basics so you can gauge how your dog feels about activities. Some dogs don't actually enjoy petting, and using that to make yourself more valuable will actually de-value you.

  • Work on distractions at an appropriate level.

  • Train your dog to volunteer eye contact: "looking at Mom gets me treats!!!"

  • Choose wisely: select food rewards that are appropriate to the level of distraction and amount of work the dog is doing. Kibble doesn't cut it at the park.

  • Add verbal praise while you're delivering the food reward.

  • Learn to adjust expectations so your dog can be successful. That doesn't mean you're stuck with beginner level behavior for the rest of the dog's life. It's just about meeting him where he's at and then gradually requiring more.

What kinds of things do you like to do to make yourself more valuable?