Updated: Jan 18, 2021
So, you’re just starting out! What a project you have in obedience, and what fun. I’m excited for you, I really am. The good news is you can do SO MUUUUCH from your home. Don’t stress about meeting up with a group. If you have one great, but you can really accomplish so much by yourself.
Let’s go over a few terms that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with. The first one is “marking”. And no, I’m not talking about peeing on a tree. Marking a behavior signals the dog that the behavior they just did is getting rewarded. It’s can be a verbal marker, but can also be a clicker.
It translates into “that’s what I want!” We use the word “chip”.
Luring is another term you will hear and that's like leading a horse around with a carrot. We quite literally show the dog exactly what to do. Muscle memory then sets in, making it easier for the dog to show the exact behavior once all the help is gone.
We use luring a lot to show the dog what to do, and it’s very important to know when you can start weaning off that help.
For example, if I’m teaching a dog to lay down, I’ll start out luring them down and marking as soon as they get there ("Chip!"). Use food for as long as you can since you’re able to get more reps in and in a more controlled fashion, meaning you can steer the dog more easily using a food lure than a toy lure.
During this stage, you don’t need to worry about giving the command, just focus on marking and praising.
My rule for starting to introduce the command is when I’m 99% sure the dog will do it. For something like the down, that can take 2-5 sessions. For a recall, where I have a long line on the dog and know they’ll chase me when I run away, I can attach the command almost immediately. Right? I know the dog is going to come running at me when I run away and reel in my long line so I can go ahead and give the command right before doing so. With other behaviors that aren’t as easy to get, you’ll wait until the dog is doing it readily before attaching a word.
We want the word attached ONLY once we’re getting what we want.
Once you see the dog is immediately going down for the lure, you can attach the verbal command to it just before luring down. As you progress, any help you give should come AFTER the command. This is very important in ensuring the dog actually recognizes the word as the cue to respond, NOT your body language. The end goal is to show them NO help when the command is first given, immediately followed by the exact help needed to do the behavior perfectly.
Throughout this, we can build in tools that allow us to demand the behavior later, like a pull downward on the leash.
With obedience, you want to do many many reps of showing the dog exactly what you want. With each progression to the next step, you’ll need to go back and help again.
Using the down as an example, we start with getting the dog able to smoothly do it from a sit, then a stand, then walking, then finally running. With each of these new progression, it’s important that we take a step back and offer the dog all the help he needs to physically do it the way we want.
My hand drops as fast as possible because that’s the reaction I want from him.
He doesn’t know I’d like it fast, that means nothing to him.
You have to show your dog exactly how to do it and not expect him to do it perfectly from the start. For some dogs, doing it fast comes more naturally where others need lots and lots of help to do it properly. The smaller dogs often have the advantage in obedience, able to turn quicker and drop faster, so take your dog’s physical ability into consideration whenever beginning to teach something.
BE Sure that you are, separately from obedience, learning to play with your dog. Play with my dog?? This is obedience, I’m the king, he’s the dog. No, playing is the core of why a dog will show up at a busy, loud, distracting trial and WANT to engage and be there with you. You need to learn how to show him you’re worth hanging out with. And we’ve got a free course on that so no excuses.
When on your obedience journey, constantly gage your dog’s opinion of obedience. DO they run to the area where you work, excited to get started? Or are they avoiding it and stressed when confronted with an obedience session? That is not the road you want to go down. Your dog should enjoy this and if they’re not, evaluate and consider why.
Emotion is MUCH more important than technique so even if you do a thousand down reps, if your dog is nervous or stressed at trial, they are going to be “off” and not fully absorb the command. So first and foremost, make sure the dog is enjoying working with you.
This is why relationship is the cornerstone of communication with your dog.
For simplification, we’ll measure it in two main areas:
One, can you go out and play with your dog? No food, no toy, just goof off and be silly with them? Do they value interacting with YOU? The desire to engage and play with you is crucial in both training and trialing.
And two, does your dog respect you? Can you ask them to leave a room or go lay down during distractions with no correction collar on? This respect is not unlike the respect a child should have towards their parent and is important when communicating with your dog.
No means no, if you will.
A clicker or ecollar will not give you a relationship, you must cultivate it by using yourself.
Obedience is a huge huge project, but the general map when teaching anything is to first show the dog how to do it exactly how you want. This is done to the point where the dog is offering the behavior in certain scenarios. Then layer in tools that help you demand it later, like leash pressure. Finally, demand the behavior from the dog once you're certain they fully understand. All of this must be backed up with relationship. You must have a relationship with your dog that goes beyond food, toy.
We have LOTS of free courses dealing with obedience so be sure to enroll and take advantage of them.
Now let’s train!!!!