Updated: Sep 12, 2020
In this post I hope to help you understand the difference between the two main types of training a pet dog owner would need; obedience training and behavior modification. There of course is different dog sport training out there, but those sport dogs had to get these foundation lessons to move onto that type of work. So, what type of training does your dog need?
Case number 1: My 6 month old boarder. He is a neutered male and a rescue. His presenting "issues" were jumping up, not coming when called, getting into things; as his mom said on our form, "everything". Here's the thing, this dog is not behaving abnormally. Now, whether you like it or can live with it (or should live with it) is a different story. But as this dog sits, there's nothing "wrong" with him. His behavior is a product of whatever his life was before they got him and not quite knowing how to help him once they brought him home. So what kind of training am I doing with dog number 1? Obedience training. I'm not really doing anything special here folks, I'm not FIXING anything. I'm simply giving him rules of what he can and can not do and sticking to them. This is not always easy for dog owners to do themselves (Obviously or I wouldn't have a business anymore! ), and I feel the internet has made it that much harder. Just when you read one thing and think "Yes! This is it! I'll do that!" You read something else that says if you do that you're a horrible person who should go to jail. Now we're back at square one. The other piece to this is your dog. As I've said before they are individuals; even if they are from the same litter, same age, same sex, same breed etc. Just because one persons dog will do back flips and bark like a seal for their everyday kibble, does not mean that will motivate your dog to work. Recently I had a young rescue boarder and this dog would not eat ANYTHING I tried to give her! Hot dogs, freeze dried treats, cat treats......nothing. She did enjoy praise and petting somewhat, and while she plays with toys they are not something she wanted to work for. Again she was a case of general obedience training, and I was trying to find what she found motivational payment. Unfortunately the dog decides this not us! Her mom, once home, discovered she would do ANYTHING for lamb scraps and BOOM the second phase of training really took of! She has now made leaps and bounds in her work and is doing amazing. Sit, Stay, come, heel, place, down, leave it.....all basic obedience training.
Now, case number 2: This dog is super sweet! He has two dog sisters (All rescues) who he gets along with amazingly. He is great with his owners and was a doll for me upon our first meeting because he's SUPER food motivated. So, what could this dog possibly need?? Well, he has a very high prey drive. Again, not an actual "problem", all dogs have it to some extent but most dogs don't act on it much. Does your dog look at birds in the trees as you walk them? That's a bit of prey drive coming out! However they are not fixated and can keep moving and forget about those birds. This dog has killed a couple small animals (not cats) and that helped to increase his prey drive more. Every time a dog "wins" at something, it helps cement it in their brain, for better or worse. When his owners wanted a cat, this dog was not having it. Fixating, teeth chattering, rigid body, whining, he just couldn't help himself. Coupled with the fact this cat is sweet as can be and has no self preservation (she really wants to play with her new brother like she does with her new sisters) this could've went sideways quickly! Which is why I contacted them because, you guessed it, this needs true behavior modification. We need to change the way he feels about this sweet fluffy ball of love. We are not trying to get them to be besties, we are simply trying to get them to be able to coexist without stress on anyone in the house, people or animals. (You can follow us on facebook to keep up with this case, his owners have been gracious enough to let us use his story to help others in his situation) If you have to change the way a dog thinks or feels about an object or situation, that's behavior modification.
The thing is, it doesn't have to be one or the other. Your dog may need both. Certainly every dog needs basic obedience, even if they don't need behavior modification. There is another piece to this puzzle you should understand, behavior modification will in general cost you a bit more than a basic obedience program. It's much more work to undo something than it is to start fresh and shape good behaviors. So next time you are contacting a trainer to help you with your dog, give some thought to which type of training you need and be honest. A knowledgeable trainer can tell you which type and why, and will charge accordingly. As always, good luck out there and reach out if you need any help! We're here for you and your dog!
For the Dogs,