Dog obedience: you have it or you don’t, part 2

November 21, 2008

By Dianna Young

The way you communicate your decisions, as pack leader, to your dog make a fundamental difference in the results that you get. You can do it effectively either verbally or non-verbally, and you can do it non-verbally with or without a leash. The most important thing, however, is always to communicate your decisions assertively and with energy.

For example, the leader can put himself between his dog and the door of his home when opening the door. In a home with poor master imagery, the dog commonly answers the door. The dog is the first obstacle a guest encounters and must contend with. By default, the owner allows his dog to assume leadership in that situation.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but in most things — for example in greeting an acquaintance or leaving one’s home or entering the home — you need to precede your dog in order to establish and reinforce your leadership role. Ultimately, there is a leader and a follower in almost every situation, and it is up to you to decide which you will be.

If you’re a beginning dog owner, or even a long-time owner with canine problems, a formal class for you and your dog, taught by a professional, is a wonderful way to gain control of the situation. In obedience class, you’ll be taught how to correctly and effectively interact with your dog on a canine level by accurately reading canine body language. People instinctively try to interact with dogs in a way that makes sense to them as people. But a dog’s brain is wired differently than a person’s, and the difference is hard for a person to grasp without training.

People have the ability to reason deductively and to think rationally. Dogs don’t. Dogs do, however, have the ability to learn through repetition, reinforced by consequence or reward. Both consequence and reward can be effective, but my preference is for reward because it builds confidence and trust on the part of the dog.

Positive reinforcement can mean different things for different dogs, and in order to use it effectively you need to figure out your dog’s currency. You do this by experimentation; by keeping an open mind and seeing what works.

For example, most dogs — although not all — get a lot of gratification out of pleasing their owner. For such a dog, the currency could be oral praise or physical praise, in the form of petting. If your dog happens to be one of those that doesn’t care to please, you have to find some other currency. It might be food, for example, or the reward of chasing a ball or of going for a swim.

A food incentive is used as first-choice by a few trainers, but it’s not optimal. An optimal situation is a dog working for you out of respect for you, not working for you because of bribery.

One of life’s great pleasures is sharing it with a dog that is sensitive to your desires and wants to please you. No one should have to go through life with a disobedient dog. It takes all the pleasure out of the relationship. And remember: You don’t have to settle for less than excellence. Dog obedience is not measured on a sliding scale.

You can’t have an almost-obedient dog. You can’t be almost in control You either have an obedient dog or you don’t. You’re either in control or you aren’t.

Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at Her web site address is Or visit us at facebook.

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