Behavior Modification vs Obedience Training and How to Teach Them in a Boarding Environment
By Steven Appelbaum
If you are considering teaching dog training in your boarding or daycare facility, let’s talk about managing client expectations.
Most dog owners tend to lump obedience and problem solving into a single category they call “training.” They want a dog that doesn’t jump on people, chew the furniture, pee on the floor and run out the gate; but also one who comes when called, walks comfortably on a leash, sits when asked, etc. While all of these requests are reasonable, they fall into two separate categories: obedience and problem solving.
Obedience commands (A.K.A. “cues”) include walking properly on a leash, sitting, staying, laying down and coming when called. Dogs that consistently listen to all of these cues on a six-foot leash, regardless of distractions, can be taken out safely and comfortably in public. This is the first level of what I call “functional obedience.”
The next level of obedience is to have control of the dog off leash, regardless of distractions. Most owners never really attain full functionality here because it can take a great deal of work and time to achieve consistent off-leash control around a myriad of distractions. Additionally, safety in specific environments and leash laws must be taken into consideration when training dogs to listen off leash. Regardless, owners want/need some obedience control of their dogs.
Obedience cues can be taught in a boarding environment. The challenge isn’t getting a dog to learn cues, but teaching that dog to listen to those cues when their owners give them. This is an important distinction and one that must be made crystal clear to any owner taking a board and train program from you.
“Problem” behaviors include perfectly normal but unacceptable canine behaviors like chewing, digging, jumping, barking excessively and house soiling. They also consist of more difficult challenges such as phobias, separation anxiety and aggression. Some problem behaviors are almost impossible to address in a boarding environment, for example, house soiling. While this might seem obvious to you, it might not be to clients spending top dollar for training programs. So, it is crucial that all clients are very clear on what you can teach and what you have to teach them to teach.
What’s more, and I know this might sound negative and perhaps as though I am belaboring this point, but put that in writing and get the owner to sign it prior to starting any training program.
Training In The Boarding Environment
Generally, board and train programs can be highly effective in teaching dogs to learn cues and, depending on the behaviors, might be somewhat effective in starting to modify some pesky problems.
With all that being said, let’s take two behaviors—a problem and an obedience cue—and outline how to teach them.
Teaching a Dog Not to Jump up on People
- Try to greet the dog calmly.
- When the dog jumps, turn away and ignore the behavior. Don’t say anything to the dog. Many dogs will continue jumping for 30 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes. This can take some patience!
- Eventually the dog will stop jumping and approach you while remaining on all four paws. When she does, praise her! If the dog is food motivated, you can give her a small treat, but keep it hidden until you give it to her.
- Most dogs get excited upon being praised and rewarded and will start jumping again. If this occurs, immediately turn away and ignore the dog until she greets you without jumping at which point praise and reward can be given again.
- Dogs jump for attention and because they haven’t learned how to properly greet people. If every time the dog jumps, she’s ignored, and every time she greets people properly, she gets the attention that stimulated much of the jumping in the first place, she will learn not to jump.
- Everyone interacting with the dog needs to do the same thing; you can’t have two people encouraging this behavior while another two attempt to modify it.
This can take 2-3 weeks of consistent work for the dog to learn the behavior, although some dogs pick it up more quickly.
Training a Dog to Sit
- Stand directly in front of the dog with a small, odorless food treat in your fist.
- Hold your hand 4-6 inches in front of the dog’s muzzle and slowly bring it toward the dog’s face, and over the top of his head and shoulders. Try to keep your fist no more than 2-3 inches above him. If done correctly, most dogs will follow the path of your hand, look up as it passes over their head and sit. It’s important not to hold your hand too high over the dog’s head or he will stand up.
- As the dog sits, give the cue “sit” then praise and reward the dog. Don’t ask the dog to sit until he is already moving into the sit position.
- Try to repeat 10-15 times and do this three or four times each day. Start with minimal distractions. You can teach this both on and off leash, although be mindful about safety when teaching anything off leash.
Clearly communicated goals, managing client expectations and a great dog trainer should allow many facilities to offer a variety of successful, quality training options.
Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in animal career training programs. ABC offers pet grooming, dog training, cat training and veterinary assistance programs and will be launching an aquatics management and zookeeper assistant program in 2019. The school also offers a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including; pet nutrition, pet massage, dog walking, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. Aside from managing ABC, Appelbaum works as a freelance author, lecturer and pet business consultant. For more information about Animal Behavior College, please visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com