Why Dog Obedience Classes Don't Work
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
"My dog did obedience classes but they didn’t work."
Uh, oh. How many people hear that comment and immediately want to know where the person had gone for training so that they wouldn’t make the mistake of going to the same place? Because, really, who would want to pay to end up with a dog like the one owned by the person speaking – which, in all likelihood, pulls when on leash, ignores any and all pleas to sit, jumps up on anyone who comes close, and barks for attention.
I used to think that. I’d hear a comment like that and shake my head, wondering about the competence of people who advertise themselves as dog obedience trainers.
Then I became one.
Now, if someone says their obedience classes "didn’t work", I ask, "Did you do the homework?"
Because there are a lot of reasons why obedience training “didn’t work” for a particular dog. But most of the time it’s because the owner went to the weekly classes but failed to do anything the rest of the week.
At the start of every class, I ask students, “How did it go this past week? Any successes? Any problems?” And if I got a dollar for every time I heard, “Well, we weren’t able to do much this week …. It was a bad week. … There was a lot going on….”, I could take that cruise I’ve been yearning for.
I think the problem is not that people are busy, but that there is a general misunderstanding about what obedience classes and obedience trainers do. Obedience trainers do not train your dog. Obedience trainers give you the tools so you can train your dog.
Much like people who buy diet and exercise books in the expectations that they will become slim and healthy, possibly by osmosis, many dog owners think that spending one hour a week listening to a professional trainer, doing one-off attempts at the various training exercises, and chatting with other owners, will result in a trained dog. If only that were the case!
Unfortunately, how well trained a dog ends up depends on how much time and effort his owner puts in, not how many classes he went to or how much they cost.
That doesn’t mean you have to allocate an hour a day to your dog’s training. Who has that kind of spare time? What it means is recognizing that training your dog has to become a part of your daily life. A few minutes here, a few minutes there on specific exercises, along with consistent expectations. rules and boundaries, will turn your leash pulling, furniture destroying, barking hellhound into a model of good manners and respectful obedience.
Broken down into small bits throughout the day, it’s actually very easy. For example, you don’t let your dog drag you to the park in the morning. You tell your dog to sit before he dives into his food bowl. You ask for a down while you’re bent over tying your shoes instead of allowing your dog to smother you with kisses . You require that he sits and stays when you open the back door. You turn your back on him if he jumps up. When you want him to drop your son’s shoe you don’t chase him, you offer him something yummier as a swap as you say “drop it”. He gets off the couch when you tell him.
In other words, you don’t allow him to do as he pleases throughout the day. You decide what kind of dog you want, what kind of behaviour suits your lifestyle, and then you set about achieving that state of harmony by teaching your dog what you want, 24 hours a day.
Because your dog is always learning, whether you think you’re teaching or not. That one time you called him and he ignored you and you thought “oh, it’s okay, he probably can’t hear me”, your dog learned that he didn’t have to come if he didn’t want to. That time your dog sat and barked at you, and you absentmindedly patted him because you just wanted him to be quiet so that you could finish reading the newspaper? Yeah, your dog just learned that barking gets him the attention he wants.
It’s not the one hour a week that will turn your dog into an obedience superstar, it’s the 167 other hours in the week that will determine who he becomes. Your trainer can show you how to get the dog of your dreams, but the work is up to you.