Thank you again to all the wonderful dog owners who have been emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am reading about a very wide variety of issues and want you all to know that I read them carefully and plan to address each one as we move along. That being said, every article I write applies to every situation you face, whether it’s barking, aggression, fear, leash reactivity, excited urination, etc. When we train the brain rather than simply training the body, we address all of these things simultaneously.
This brings me to my topic today—obedience. When the average dog owner hears the word “training”, I feel that most of them assume that training is obedience. Sometimes it is, but in order to truly understand the meaning of training, we need to understand the role that obedience plays in the process.
Some people and even some trainers feel that solid obedience is the end goal, but like we discussed in many articles in the past, our dogs are living in a world that wasn’t made for them, and very often we find ourselves in situations where obedience doesn’t coach our dogs efficiently. Why isn’t obedience eliminating issues like aggression, anxiety, fear, resource guarding, barking, reactivity, etc.?
Because obedience is nothing more than mechanics. Sitting is simply the act of the dog putting its butt on the floor. Downing is simply the act of the dog putting its elbows on the floor, but just because we have a mechanically compliant dog, doesn’t mean we’ve solved any of the deeper issues. A sitting dog can easily be sitting and aggressive, sitting and nervous, sitting and anxious, sitting and reactive, and sitting and fearful. Sitting did nothing but manipulate the dog’s physical position. The mind is still racing way too fast.
I can’t emphasize enough the necessity of slowing our dogs down whenever they are in a situation they struggle with. Their brains will not absorb new information, and they certainly won’t retain it if they are trying to do this in a constant heightened state. No different than me trying to teach my 6-year-old her spelling words on the first big drop of the roller coaster.
If your dog struggles with reactivity, barking, aggression toward adults or children or dogs, high prey drive, pulling on leash, over-excitement, anxiety, fear, or anything involving a heightened state of mind, you must unwind the dog completely. If your dog chases cars, that means sitting next to a busy street and watching cars for two hours while managing your dog’s energy. It does not mean we avoid cars altogether and never walk our dogs again.
If your dog reacts poorly to other dogs, find a local dog park and pick a shady place to watch outside the gates. Give your dog ample time to observe other dogs. Let your dog see how they move, the sounds the other dogs make, and the fact that they are not as threatening as they seemed. If your dog is too reactive to manage, move farther back. You will eventually find the dog’s threshold where it is aware of the stressor but is not reacting. This is your sweet spot and this is where you sit and relax. Every day. Eventually you can move closer and teach your dog to manage its energy along the way. There is no rush with these exercises. Just sit with your dog.
Bond, learn, and grow together.
Stephanie Vichinsky is the owner/head trainer of United K9, LLC in Post Falls. 208-964-4806