By Carolyn Fuhrer
AKC defines its obedience program as trials set up to demonstrate the dog’s ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring to emphasize the usefulness of the dog as a companion to humans; and it is essential that the dog demonstrate willingness and enjoyment while it is working, and that handling be smooth and natural without harsh commands.
In other words – the dog and handler enjoy working together. If you have ever seen beautiful heeling, you understand the wonderful flow of energy between the dog and handler. If you have ever seen bright, crisp signals and recalls, then you understand the focus and understanding between the team that comes from the heart.
Obedience is the foundation that enables our dogs to do all the wonderful things they do with us and for us. Obedience enables our dogs to be search and rescue dogs, herding dogs, therapy dogs, assistance dogs, agility dogs, freestyle dogs, and on and on.
Without obedience as a foundation, dogs could not participate in these activities. They need to be able to ignore distractions, make good choices, work under pressure, follow directions, and have focus and attention. This is what obedience teaches and this is not a bad thing. All pet dogs could use these skills – it could even save their lives at some point.
There seems to be some feeling that commands are bad. Actually, in reality we give our dogs commands all the time, such as “wait” when we open the door to let them out; “sit and wait” when we go to put their food bowls down; “come” when we need them to join us. Whether you want to call them cues, requests or signals, is a question of semantics. We still expect some compliance and good manners when we ask something of our pets. This is not bad. Correction seems to be another difficult term – correction is simply a way of showing how something should be done. It does not imply pain or harshness mentally or physically. To anyone who has a poor opinion of obedience my guess is that he or she has never attended a good obedience class. In a good class, there is fun, excitement, laughter, challenges, and lots and lots of rewards in many shapes and forms. Dogs are never – and I repeat – never corrected in any way for something they do not understand. This would be self-defeating for all involved. How could we create a willing, joyful, trustful partner if this was a method we employed? Are there poor obedience teachers out there? I’m sure there are, just as there are bad doctors and poor attorneys.
Positive training is not an entity in and of itself, but simply a way to teach obedience. Positive training and obedience training should not be an antithesis. Positive methods are employed to teach dogs obedience and life skills, and most successful obedience instructors use positive methods. There are also people out there claiming to use only positive methods and are not very good at it because they do not understand how to teach.
Even improper use of “clicker training” can cause terrible mental stress to a dog that is overwhelmed by the improper criteria.
So, let’s work together to bring more mutual respect to all those in the dog world and for how we choose to spend quality time with our dogs. We all basically share the same goals to enjoy living with our dogs and enjoy special activities with them.
A dog with an obedience foundation is a joy to live with and actually gets a lot more freedom than an uncontrolled dog. It is irresponsible to allow an uncontrolled dog total freedom. All dogs need an obedience foundation.
I am very proud of all of my students and the relationship they have developed and built upon through obedience. Not sure? Find a good obedience class to watch and talk with the students and learn how much it could do for you and your dog.
Carolyn Fuhrer has earned over 125 AKC titles with her Golden Retrievers, including 3 Champion Tracker titles. She is an AKC Tracking Judge and the owner of North Star Dog Training School in Somerville, Maine. She has been teaching people to understand their dogs for over 25 years. You can contact her with questions, suggestions, and ideas for her column by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.