Dogs are estimated to have the equivalent intelligence of a 2 year old, according to Live Science Managing Editor Jeanna Bryner. In language development tests, average dogs were able to learn 165 words (similar to a 2-year-old child), including signals and gestures. It is believed that the top 20 percent of dogs with above average intelligence can learn 250 words.
Dog obedience training is founded on research that includes canine behavior, breed-special characteristics and positive, consistent messages. As a puppy grows, she learns first from her mother the basics of simply being a dog. Nurturing, grooming, teaching by example and playing allow dogs to learn how to feed themselves, how to fend for themselves and even their place in the pack hierarchy. Left alone with no human interaction, dogs that were once domesticated will turn back to their instinctual behaviors becoming feral and running in packs much like their ancient forebears – wolves.
Dogs and humans have a fascinating and complex relationship. Dogs have been attached to humans for thousands of years and their place in history is well-sealed with acts of courage and bravery on behalf of the humans they consider their own. Depending upon breed(s), dogs are companions, hunters, protectors, workers. Whichever breed, all dogs share the need for consistent training and continual learning challenges to bring out their full potential.
Like children, dogs respond best to clearly set boundaries. Although dogs may have an innate desire to please, they need to know explicitly what they can and cannot do and what the limits are. Training within these boundaries include learning basic etiquette, public obedience to following detailed, complex commands.
Socialization, housebreaking and learning to follow basic commands are the three main areas puppy kindergarten focuses on. Socialization includes not only interaction with other dogs but, more important, learning to behave around new and different people. Dogs show their personalities early and it becomes very apparent if there is any aggressive or fearful behavior needing to be worked on.
Dog training professionals agree that it is the humans who will also learn to train and handle their own dogs. For example, housebreaking: an experienced trainer will spell out techniques, strategies, tips and tricks but it will be up to the owner to follow through consistently day-to-day.
Basic commands are sit, lay down, stop. A leash is introduced early on because leash training is a primary goal of puppy kindergarten. In just about every public place in any community, leash laws are in effect and will be enforced.
Breed-Specific Dog Obedience Training
Beyond the basic instructions all dogs learn in obedience training, specialty training depends upon what the dog is bred to do. Knowing what their instinctual behaviors related to particular breeds is necessary background information the dog obedience trainer needs. Approaches and training techniques depend heavily on what kind of dog it is and for what purpose training is intended to accomplish.
According to the Dog Owner’s Guide, the Bloodhound is celebrated for its prowess as a search dog. Newfoundlands are well-known avalanche rescue dogs. Labrador Retrievers are “the best cadaver dogs in the world”.
“Dogs are trained to follow the scent in different terrain and weather conditions and to identify cadaver scent in bodies of water. Their skills are sharpened through regular training sessions and by handlers with daily training at home.” Said Gina Flannery, an Ohio search and rescue handler and trainer.
Possibly the best known jobs for working dogs are as guides for the visually-impaired and companions for people with disabilities. Guide dog training is particularly rigorous and is done by professional handlers. Choice of breed, personality and attitude, the ability to follow commands and anticipate potentially dangerous situations are all taken into consideration during training and before pairing a guide dog with its owner.
Typical tasks guide dogs are trained to do include leading their person from one location to another, stopping at all elevation changes such as curbs and steps, avoiding low-hanging branches and bypassing any obstacles in the way. Obedience training for guide dogs goes even farther by teaching the dog to disobey any unsafe commands. For example, a properly trained guide dog will not lead someone into the street when cars are coming even if ordered to do so.
Companion dogs for the disabled are also highly trained to accomplish tasks the owner cannot do for themselves such as picking something up off the floor, opening the refrigerator door, fetching the newspaper and bringing in the mail. Their purpose in life is to please and protect their humans and to keep them company. Companion dogs are not outdoor dogs and they certainly do not appreciate being left alone for hours at a time.
Comfort dogs do exactly what their name implies. Their job is to comfort people, especially children, during and after a traumatic experience such as a tornado or hurricane. Comfort dogs also visit hospitals, nursing homes and hospice facilities bringing joy to the ill and suffering. Comfort dogs need to be very well trained in these settings – smaller dogs with a gentle, calm demeanor who love to be held and petted are the best suited to serve as a comfort dog.
Therapy dogs are much like comfort dogs but their purpose, for example, is to help people work through mental health issues like veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. Therapy dogs also help injured people overcome physical problems through exercise and treatment.
AKC Competition Training
The ultimate in dog obedience education is competition training. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) website “AKC Obedience Trials demonstrate the usefulness of the dog as a companion to man. Obedience trials showcase dogs that have been trained and conditioned to behave well in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs. AKC trials and tests allow exhibitors and their dogs to enjoy companionship and competition as they proudly earn AKC titles.”
The AKC recognizes 180 breeds and varieties of dogs. AKC-sponsored obedience trials include agility, tracking, running a timed obstacle course and following complicated commands, among other events. Classes specifically designed for competition are offered by the AKC on an ongoing basis. Historically, obedience competition trials have been limited to pure-bred dogs; however, the AKC has in recent years added events for mixed breed dogs. Training for competition on this level is most typically done by professional trainers and handlers.
Positive Dog Training
Regardless of which breed is being instructed to accomplish whatever task, the approach to training all dogs has shifted from coercion and punishment to encouragement, persuasion and positive reinforcement. This change in training strategy can be seen most clearly in the competitive world. Pinching, slapping or severe forced leash handling has been replaced with gentle but firm handling and rewards (either praise or treats or both) for correctly following commands. Simply put, fear and the threat of punishment are not productive techniques for training dogs.
Dogs are not born knowing how humans expect them to behave. They do not know the rules. Grabbing food off the table or jumping on visitors, for example, are natural behaviors that must be discouraged for everyone’s sake. Learning to walk on a leash and follow commands allows the owner or handler to control the dog for their own safety. Since dogs participate in just about every area of human activity, manners and obedience are a necessary part of a dog’s development from an unruly puppy into a loving, trusted and productive member of society.