The first thing we have to do when we train a dog is create what I call the “little black dot”. That dot represents a small, but perfect foundation of respect from your dog to you. We create this foundation of respect through the use and teaching of the obedience commands. Basically, we use the obedience commands as tools to create it. For example, if I teach your dog what down is and down is good for him and now I command him down up against a tempting distraction, his physical response to my command (whether he lays down or not) allows me to read his mind. If he lays down he is clearly putting my desires over his and he is having respectful thoughts which I can encourage. If he doesn’t lay down he is putting his desires over mine and clearly he is having disrespectful thoughts which I can discourage.
We create this solid foundation of respect because if your dog’s basic relationship to you is one of respect, then it would not make any sense for him to misbehave because misbehaving is disrespectful.
Let me explain how this applies in the real world and why we take this approach. Most dogs I evaluate over just a few months of age already know almost all the rules and regulations that their owner has been trying to teach them. Jumping, chewing, house training , not coming when called. They know all the rules, they just don’t respect and follow them. For example: most dogs know what “sit” means. They will sit at least once in awhile when asked, perhaps for a treat or when there are no distractions around. It is no accident when they sit at those times. They know what you want. But if you ask them to sit when there is someone coming in the front door or a rabbit is running across the yard, forget it. They won’t do it. At that moment they certainly understand what you want but it is a lack of respect that causes them to not obey. It is a lack of respect, not lack of understanding that causes the problem.
Going at the problem directly and trying to teach the dog that he must sit while the rabbit runs by or someone is coming in the front door is the hard way to train. These things usually happen at random times when we can’t always be consistent with the dog. We get caught off guard and the dog ends up getting away with the misbehavior. The real problem isn’t actually the dog’s misbehavior at that moment. The real problem is always traceable back to something that is not right at the foundation and we have relatively easy access to fixing the foundation through the obedience training. It is easy to be consistent when working on the foundation because we can set up obedience exercises completely on our terms when conditions are optimized for the dog’s success.
Once the foundation is complete, most problems just go away because they were a symptom, not really the problem. We rarely have to work directly on a problem because when the foundation of respect is complete, most behavior problems just simply go away.