My experience as a trainer and student of other trainers has revealed to me a flaw in many training programs. While all dog trainers know what to do. The simple mechanics of repitition. Working commands and rewarding certain behaviors is a simpe concept. What gets lost in translation, though, is why we do these things. Afterall, a pushy or snotty dog can still be pushy and snotty after having learned it's commands. We see it time and time again. Dogs that will complete commands, but do so only when there are treats or some other reward involved. Or a dog with reactivity issues will undergo an obedience program and seem solid with commands... until someone gets just a lttle too close for comfort. Or, one owners have a hard time spotting, the dog will carry out the command while focusing on another dog that may be passing by rather than focusing on the handler. When this goes uncorrected, the dog typically holds the command (all the while feeling more and more tempted to break it) until finally playing with the other dog is more important than listening to the handler. These are typically seen as the, "there was no warning, he just did it out of no where" situations.
So, back to basics we go. Why do we train dogs? How does teaching a dog to walk respectfully on leash translate to aggression? Why would asking my dog to wait for food stop them from running out of the house and into the street? How is crate training supposed to help with separation anxiety? Simple answer is that these behaviors that we ask for are only small pieces of a much bigger picture. While these commands definitely allow for some very valuable conversations with our dogs, the mechanics of the commands themselves are secondary. The real benefit of these things comes from working to cultivate the dog's ability to give focused attention. To slow down enought to listen to what it's being asked to do. To create healthy habits of listening for direction and making good choices even when tempted to do otherwise. Here's the big one!! To trust in the handler's ability to safely guide the dog through all of the clutter, all of the white-noise, anxiety producing uncertanties of not knowing what to do. Instead we offer a fair deal, you listen to me without fail and i'll take care of the rest.
The real challenge is still getting owners to understand this concept. It's not about having the dog submit to you or look super impressive because it's obedience is just that sharp. It's about understanding that our responsibility as owners is to remove as much of the fear, nervousness, and insecurity inducing nonesence as we can in order to protect our dogs. They need us to create a safe space for them where they need only to focus on one thing, us.
Therefore, when working obedience it's imparative to keep your eyes on the prize. Don't work commands for the sake of working commands. Instead, use commands to build structure, set boundaries, and don't be afraid to hold your dog accountable for poor choices. Work commands to cultivate a calm and relaxed dog that is focused. One that believes in the benefit of your guidance and leadership. One that won't feel pressured to deviate from the plan when confronted by life's innevitable curve-balls. A calm and happy dog is an obedient dog. That's why we do it.