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What IS Obedience, Anyway?

What is obedience? The best kind of obedience is the kind the DOG chooses.

What do I mean by that? I certainly don't mean that Mr. Barks-a-lot gets to pick and choose which commands he listens to, when he'll listen, and for how long. And I also don't consider micromanaging (e.g., tight leash to hold a dog close to you on a walk), begging (sit... SIT... siiiiiiiit... staaaaayyy... no, siiiiiiit...), or body language (blocking a dog's path till he gives up, etc.) to be obedience. So what do I mean, "the dog chooses?"

Simply this: Imagine a world where there are rules. Every choice, every action, has a consequence. Depending on the choice, that consequence could be awesome, or uncomfortable. Every situation provides opportunity for a choice. Every moment is a Y in the road.

This world MAKES SENSE to a dog. It’s how nature teaches: running into trees hurts, that smell means food, sleeping in a den keeps you warm and dry. There is no guessing, no anarchy, no confusion due to lack of feedback. This world is rampant with clear communication--which is great! Even when the wrong choice is made, the subsequent discomfort proves to the dog that the world still has order.

True obedience is teaching the dog that every command or cue he learns has an implied choice. No correction (uncomfortable consequence) is given until the choice is enacted. Rewards, comfort, praise, affection, belly rubs, and other great things are ensured for correct choices. Wrong choices are never ignored. Ignoring wrong choices allows for the possibility that the choice is self-rewarding. Ignoring self-rewarding behaviors will not reduce or eliminate that behavior.

Consider counter-surfing. No dog will stop counter-surfing simply because we ignore the unwanted behavior. There always might be a lovely snack on that counter, and it will always be worth it for the dog to check.

But right choices can't go unacknowledged either! A dog who is rewarded for everything we love that he does will choose to do those things more often! True obedience requires dedicated consistency from the handler/trainer/owner. True obedience, lasting obedience, is the result of clear, predictable, consistent communication.

Dogs are similar to people in a lot of ways. This is why humans and dogs connect so well. One of those similarities is that dogs instinctively act in their own self-interest. If I, the human, build a world for my dog that makes his self-interest synonymous with desired behavior (per the rules of that world), I will have a well-behaved, obedient, and happy dog.

Obedience should be always. Obedience should be no-matter-what. Obedience should be RELIABLE. Which means I need to be always, no-matter-what, and reliable in my communication with my dog.


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