Ask any person attending a dog obedience class on the first night and they will tell you that the reason they have enrolled is to have more control over the dog. They want the dog to walk with them (without dragging them down the street) and they want the dog to come when called. They want a better pet. Probe further, and you will find that most of these dogs enrolled also have behavior problems that their owners are hoping can be solved through obedience training, the most common being housebreaking and jumping on people.
While teaching the dog to heel, sit, down, stay and come is very important, it is not always enough. It should be the obedience instructor’s goal to produce not only obedience trained dogs, but well behaved pets -and responsible pet owners.
Behavior related problems can easily be included weekly in the lesson plan. While some problems may require individual attention, most can be covered on a general basis. Each week, a general discussion about a behavior-related problem can help avoid future problems. For instance, a short explanation of housebreaking methods may be all an owner needs to set the dog on the right track. A discussion about aggression (biting, growling, etc.,) the causes and preventatives, might prevent a dog from becoming a biter. It only takes a few minutes to show the corrections for teaching the dog not to jump up on people. This is one of the most common complaints from pet owners, yet, few instructors ever address the problem. While every instructor has his/her own methods of correction, the important factor is that the problems are brought out in the open. The first step toward solving any problem is for the owner to recognize that a problem exists.
The obedience instructor is sometimes the public’s sole source of dog ownership information. The responsibilities of pet ownership is another facet that the instructor should discuss with his/her students. Topics such as health care, simple grooming, dog laws and breeding can be covered under this subject. Some owners do not realize that their dog’s DHLPP shots must be boostered yearly. Many know nothing about the more common worms and most have never even heard of “heartworm.” Basic grooming tips (cleaning ears and teeth and trimming nails) are helpful, and everyone always wants to know about flea control. A discussion of laws and ordinances pertaining to pet owners can be written in conjunction with the local animal control officer. This makes the owner very aware of his responsibilities as a pet owner under state and local laws. Licensing can be discussed at this time, as well as cruelty, abandonment and dogs running at large. A discussion about breeding dogs should deal more with why NOT to breed dogs and why spaying and neutering are so beneficial.
Heeling, sit and down, stay and coming when called are all important aspects of the dog obedience class; but it just may be that the instructor’s greatest contribution is providing the community not only with obedience trained dogs, but with well-behaved pets and educated, responsible pet owners.
©1990 Bonnie Thiel