Working Obedience into Everyday Life

by Jane Gill

In the last issue of the Pyr-A-Scoop, there was an excellent article on obedience which mentioned the importance of working it into your daily life. For many beginning trainers this can prove a stumbling block. The tendency is to go to a six-week course, figure the dog is trained (BIG ASSUMPTION!), and then only call on those behaviors in the situations where we most want them, and are least likely to get them, such as at the vet's office. Then we proceed to label the dog stupid or willful.

Dogs do not generalize well. As an example, last night I was seated in my favorite living room chair, devouring a box of Wheat Thins. Conrad came by, and proceeded to lobby for some. Since I never give treats for free, I said "Sit!" Conrad looked puzzled, and continued petitioning, but didn't sit. I was annoyed, said "Too bad," and went back to my book. Then my husband, who is NOT the dog trainer in the family, made an astute observation: "You're sitting down. It's not right." And of course, John was absolutely correct. Conrad was confused, because it's been a long time since I've worked sits with him while I was myself seated. The visual picture that I was giving him was different, and he was confused. I used a Wheat Thin elevated over his nose to induce the first sit, gave it to him, then worked three more in succession. Now we had fast, happy sits, Wheat Thin-worthy.

Just because your pup can do a snappy sit in the bedroom at cookie time does not mean that he will do it in the living room, in the kitchen, in the yard, and at the bank. To a dog, a sit in heel position is different from a sit in front of you, a sit with you on his left side, a sit with you behind him, or a sit with you in a chair or on the floor. You have to practice all these sits as if they were different exercises. And the harder it was for the dog to learn the initial behavior, the harder it will be for him to do it in unfamiliar places or when presented with unfamiliar pictures. This is not because your dog is stupid, is being willful, or is blowing you off. It's just because he's a dog. But that's why you have to practice, practice, practice, in all sorts of situations and places, before you can be sure that you have a dependable behavior.

Here are some quick ideas for using classic obedience behaviors in your daily routine:

STAYS (Sit-Stays, Down-Stays and Stand-Stays)

  • At a door before it is opened--dog is only allowed through the door when you release.
  • When a car door is opened--dog must wait until you release to enter or leave the car.
  • At dog meal times--holds the stay until the bowl is down, and you release.
    (Variation: more than one dog in your home? Build toward a release by name!)
  • When you need to run into the convenience store. (TIE THE DOG ANYWAY!)
  • When approached by someone who wants to pet your dog.
  • When people come to your door.
  • When visitors are in your house.
  • At the vet's office.
  • While you're eating dinner. (Note: use down-stays for this.)
  • While a strange dog is passing by.

    Training hints: Dogs feel more vulnerable in a down-stay, so this is harder to get in some situations (such as the strange dog passing by). On the other hand, a down-stay is more comfortable than a sit-stay for extended periods (such as during a meal or a visit). The stand-stay is the hardest to hold for a long time, since they aren't supposed to move their feet. Use a stand-stay only for short periods. When working on any stay behavior, be patient, reposition the dog calmly without repeating the command, and remember to release and praise for a job well done!


    Obviously, when you are on walks. With one caveat: If you are working toward competition level, or that is the level at which your dog heels, you don't want to demand that of him for an entire walk. There is no reason, however, that when he is not heeling he should then be free to drag you hither and thither.

    There are really two levels of heeling: one for the show ring and difficult situations, and the other for other times. The "other times" heeling should still include not pulling, keeping an eye on where you are, turning when you turn, speeding up or slowing when you do, and stopping when you stop. Use two different words for the two different levels: for example, "Heel" for formal heeling, and "Let's Go!" for informal walks. You can use the same verbal and body cues (such as "Hurry!" and "EEEAASSY") in both kinds of walking.

    Practice both kinds on your walk: heading out on an informal walk, and then at some point going into formal heeling for a few blocks, then breaking the dog out and proceeding informally. When maneuvering crowded sidewalks, or crossing a busy intersection, you will be grateful for a dog that knows both levels, and can use them interchangeably. (And remember, if you don't practice it, you don't have it!) Also try throwing recalls in from time to time: a sudden "Come" with you backing up.

    RECALL (coming when called)

  • In the yard
  • When playing with other dogs
  • At mealtime
  • At bedtime
  • At treat time
  • When it's time for a walk

    Hints: Try calling your dog at least five times a day, randomly, for various reasons. Once the behavior is solid, continue to praise verbally, but reward with a treat randomly. Always call your dog for pleasant things, never when you want to scold him or do anything that he hates. (Ex.: Conrad loves being groomed, and Marple hates it. I will call Conrad, and then produce the slicker brush from behind my back--joy! When it's time to groom Marple, I go get her.)

    There are as many ways of using obedience behaviors as there are people brains to think of them, and pushing the boundaries can become a fun game. Can you get your dog to drop into a down while you're lying on your stomach? Can he hold a stay with a cookie on his nose?

    OBEDIENCE THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The best of all possible times for working on a behavior that you want is when the dog is naturally excited and focused on you: when you first come home, at mealtimes, at walk times, etc. Recognize and USE those opportunities!

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