What is show dog obedience?
Caller: “Uh, I’m looking to get some training for my dog. He’s not a bad dog, but he doesn’t always come when he’s called, and he jumps on the kids a lot. My wife wants to get rid of the dog because she’s afraid he’ll hurt the kids. I just need to get better control. I don’t need all that ‘show dog obedience’!”
What the caller doesn’t know is that you can’t just ‘spot-train’ away certain behaviors since they are essentially all connected.
Dog behavior is intimately intertwined with many things, and individual behaviors cannot readily be parsed out without affecting others, whether they are desirable, or undesirable.
Dogs are not cars, or clothes dryers or stovetops, where one component fails and can be replaced or repaired. That failure to function properly is mechanical. In a dog, that failure is primarily conditioned and learned.
Behavior requirements are the exact same for that dog show competitor as it would be for the young mom walking down the street with her 7 month old German Shepherd Dog, pushing her two youngest kids in a stroller, while the third rides the bike dad just took the training wheels off of.
It requires the same mental acumen to teach both dogs in these scenarios how to remain focused on the task and not succumb to the surrounding distractions. In many ways, the mom with the three kids mentioned above has it much harder than the competitor that goes into a predictable performance dog venue, knowing exactly what to expect.
The competitor only has himself and his dog to worry about. The woman with the dog and the three kids must balance her attention towards her children, the dog, and the environment.
Companion dog obedience gets marginalized because people think that ‘anybody’ can teach it or they think that it couldn’t possibly require as much effort as a top-level performance competitor.
Well, I gotta tell you- most of the components for obedience exist across all disciplines, but the demands for the companion dog remain exceptionally higher.
You heard me.
The ring or the field doesn’t have the same demands or distractions as the average household with 2.2 kids living in suburbia, with its squirrels of the two- and 4-legged kind, the wheeled humans screeching and throwing their leftover KFC out the windows of their loud, smelly rolling machines, and the self-absorbed, entitled folks that traipse through the public green spaces with their dogs off leash, shouting how their dog is friendly, and just wants to “say hi!”
Don’t forget all the loose, free-roaming dogs that have escaped their yard, or even just let out the front door to maraud the neighborhood and terrorize its residents.
I would genuinely like to see any of that occur in the obedience ring or the trial grounds. Does stupid stuff happen there? Absolutely, but nowhere like the frequency or complexity of the average human household.
There is always much more at stake in a home. The safety and security of its members and their guests. The preservation of property and the property of surrounding homeowners. Safety of others in the community… and more. Much, MUCH more.
These are the things that a dog should be trained for.
That ‘show dog’ obedience? How to be still while a stranger approaches, remain in one space until called on, even under overwhelming distraction, perform a feat specific to the venue while hundreds of strangers look on?
It’s the same training. The end goals might look different, but the execution remains identical.
The mom with the German Shepherd Dog faces these challenges every day. Millions of people just like her walk out their doors with kids and dog in tow, attempting to navigate the chaos of their neighborhoods with as little drama as possible.
She might also face challenges from her groomer or vet. Many people prejudiced by her choice in dog breed will also pray that she did the right thing and trained her dog to an acceptable standard of control.
The ‘show dog’ obedience is all about manners, or should be, as it should be with dogs in any discipline. The measure of performance begins and ends in a pass or fail scenario on the field of judgement.
You pay your fee to be adjudicated by an individual looking for a certain level of measurable performance against a written standard at an obedience trial or other dog sport.
Your average pet owner has no such options. They didn’t pay a fee to be judged by an individual against a written standard of performance.
They are judged every time their dog barks, is tagged as a nuisance, is visibly difficult to control in public, tries to attack the kid riding by on her scooter, or chases cars.
Those people are who we train for. Their veterinarian, the vet’s staff, their groomer and their staff, the boarding kennel manager and their staff, too. Every person that dog encounters should feel confident about its safety and level of control.
That ‘show dog’ obedience is exactly what everybody needs, it just looks different in its application. That ‘show dog’ obedience prevents a dog from jumping on the kids, raiding the counters or the trash, or scaring the neighbors.
Walking on a loose leash in the neighborhood while insults are being thrown by every dog behind a fence is a sought-after skill that is within everybody’s grasp! It doesn’t take years, but it does take effort. Where you go with the training after you are done is entirely up to you.
Competitors in dog sports choose to compete. Owners of companion dogs, although they don’t really acknowledge it, are competing too, for the safety and harmony of their family, respect from their community, and for control of their dog, show dog or otherwise.
It’s all the same training!