Do Puppies Need “Obedience” School?

“Obedience” will not “fix” behavioural problems

The call starts like this.  “He’s 8 months old and is great at home!  He sits, drops, rolls over and waits for his food.  But!  And there it is, that big BUT!  But, he bites the kids, jumps on the visitors, won’t listen, won’t come back, pulls on the lead and growls when we he has toys, hates being groomed and is scared of strange noises.

“Obedience” is not a relationship. “Obedience” is traditional dog sport where a dog performs exercises at the command of the handler for a short duration of time.  I think it’s pretty difficult to be “obedient” all the time, every time.  Not many of us could do it!

On the other hand developing a great relationship with someone or your dog will set the stage for understanding, some give & take, a bit of fun, the occasional tiff and a safe and happy life together.  I know that’s what I want from my dogs. I love their personalities and watching them grow. I love watching them problem solve, think, learn and make decisions that are good decisions.

A young dog at 8 months is an adolescent with lots of learning & life ahead. Mistakes will be made!  What matters is your skill in identifying what went wrong & how you show your dog what to do instead. Your reinforcement history with that pup will determine how strong the new behaviour will be …. the behaviour you want!  So, don’t be mean. Reinforce powerfully!

Here’s what I think matters for new puppy owners. A great foundation for a long happy life with your pup means you:

  • Understand dog body language – how does your dog feel?  Is he happy, scared, fearful, apprehensive, about to bite or just excited?
  • Learn how to show your dog what you want, clearly & fairly. If you don’t want your dog doing something, what exactly do you want?  Do you know?  If you are just punishing, your dog is not learning. Show your dog exactly what you want!
  • Learn how to handle, groom & care for your dog without frightening them. If you can’t touch or handle your pup while it’s well, it will be very hard & stressful to care for them if they are injured.
  • Understand the value of calm behaviour in the presence of distractions. Any dog can be obedient at home without distraction.
  • Teach your pup how to be happy alone.
  • Have fun with your dog. A dog that enjoys being with you, develops confidence & a connection to you!
  • Teach your dog to trust you!  Trust is everything. Be predictable.  Be fair.  Be clear.  Be consistent and reinforce what you want, powerfully & often!

Remember – Socialisation is NOT just play. It is the process of your pup learning to make confident choices in the big wide world they live in with you!  A well socialised pup is a confident happy dog.  That’s the stuff that makes for a fabulous family dog!

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