Catahoula Issues » Obedience  

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"My dog hunts, works, or is a family pet. Why do I need obedience training?"

This question has been asked on more occasions than I care to remember. Unfortunately, most people think of obedience training in the form of what they see on televised broadcasts of dog shows. Yes, it's the same type of obedience training I'm referring to, but perhaps it would be better understood if I called it Manners.

Teaching your dog manners doesn't seem to bother anyone. If someone were to say to you that your unruly dog needed to be taught some manners, you would probably agree. But, on the other hand, if someone were to say to you that you should take that dog to an obedience class, you'd probably put up an argument as to why your dog doesn't need to prance around like a sissy.

Obedience is not a show. It's a behavior. What you see at shows are dogs that are responding to commands given by their owner/handlers. Obedience is nothing more than manners. You are giving your dog a command that should be understood by the dog and achieve a positive response from him. You don't have to carry this into a show ring, or create a show dog. What you need to do is teach your dog his place in life and within the life of the community with which he is involved. Any number of commands may be used to guide the dog's actions while working, playing, hunting, or in the presence of friends and/or strangers.

I have had discussions with some hunters and working dog owners, and their contention is that, if you use too many obedience commands with a dog, he will not work. Is there such a thing as a dog having too much obedience training? Why would that hamper his working/hunting style or ability? Obedience has nothing to do with the dog's ability to perform his assigned task. The problem lies with the owner/handler. It's not the dog that gives the commands. It's the owner/handler.

Most hunting/working folks tend to talk to their dogs entirely too much. Give a command, then let the dog go to work. If you are giving more commands or talking to the dog because you think this is encouraging him to do better, you are wrong. Chatter or talking to the dog only serves to confuse him. Your voice is where the commands come from, and, when you are talking, he is listening for a word that he recognizes as a command for him to do a required task. He isn't working less. He's working more. Not only is he trying to accomplish the task you have given him, he's listening to your voice for recognition of another word that will guide him. Simply put, give your dog a command, then shut up. Allow him to do what you want. When that is completed, you may talk, unless you decide that you want something different from what he is doing.

My Search and Rescue dog, now retired, understands 40 words/commands. When we went looking for a lost person, I didn't talk to her unless it was needed. I put her through her assigned task, then I observed her. Observation will teach you more than talking. She knew what the command "Go Find" meant, and she would begin her job. Through observations I learned that if I talked continuously to her, she would slow down her search and listen to what I was saying. She listened for a word recognition to follow. It took time for me to understand this, but, once I understood, the dog did a fantastic job.

Let me try to convey this another way. On your job, you know what you have to do. You go about your work without any interruptions. When the boss comes in and says, "File these papers when you are through," you begin filing when you are finished the assigned task. You were given a command, and you obeyed. Your boss didn't stand there and chatter. Taking this one step farther, let's say your boss is one that likes to compliment you on your work. Here's the Scenario:

You are doing the job he assigned you, and he comes in and pats you on the back and says, "Great Job, Keep it up." Ten minutes later he returns, and does the same thing. Again, ten minutes from then he returns and does it again, and again, and again. Well, this boss is paying you compliments, and you are about to smash him in the nose because of his interruptions and constant chatter about the same job you are already doing. This is the same thing your dog perceives when you are talking to him while he is working. Give the command, and shut up. If you have to change his actions, do so and be quiet. Allow him to work, and give him directions only when he needs it or you desire it.

For those owners that have pets, the same holds true. Give the dog a job. Obedience training will give your dog a job to do. Even simple commands are a job if he has to comply to your request, taking him away from what he wants to do. Not only does this give the dog a purpose, it gives him the idea that you are in control and in charge. It places him in his proper pack order. He will learn socialization with other people and animals. Why not do this? Even protection trained dogs and apprehension dogs like the police departments use must go through an obedience course. They have to learn to deal with people as a friend and/or as a foe. They must know the difference before they are allowed to work. How can they know the difference if they are never brought into a situation where they have to obey commands?

Call it Obedience or Manners, it makes no difference. Your dog is doing his job, and he is doing it well. Obedience/Manners is not just walking around a ring showing off. That's just one way to TEST the dog's ability to listen to the handler and follow the assigned instructions. Working and hunting are the same thing. If you don't believe it, think about when you put your dog to work. You tell him what you want. When you want him to stop what he's doing, you tell him. When you want him to do something different you tell him. If he doesn't comply, you take the time to find out what his problem is, correct it, and put him back to work. Whether it's the same day or a week later, you try to fix the problem. Obedience!

In my observations of working trials, it's not the dog that make the mistakes. It's the handlers. They try too hard to make the high score by attempting to move the dogs around with words and constant talk. Take a good look at those who are winning. There isn't much chatter from them. Just command and action.

Obedience? Manners? Instructions? Being the Boss? In Charge? No matter how you put it or what word you use, you are looking for your dog to respond to a given word with a given action. If you want to find that definition in a dictionary, it is listed under Obedient.

For more on Obedience Training, Tracking, Blood Trailing, Search & Rescue, training tips, first aid, and general information please visit Abney Canine Training - ABCANTRA.

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