Monday, August 25, 2014

Manners vs. Obedience


Most training can be broken down into Manners versus Obedience. Obedience is when you ask your dog to do something, and she does it. Sit, Down, Here, Stay, Drop It, Spin, Beg... these are all examples of Obedience.

Manners are all the things you want your dog to do without you having to ask for it. Mostly, this is a list of "Don'ts": Don't chew on the furniture. Don't jump on guests. Don't pee in the house. Don't bark to get your way.

The irony is that while most owners think they want their dog to be obedient (and most trainers offer “Obedience Classes”), what they really want is for their dog to have good manners. Give 99% of people a dog that never chews on furniture or shoes, is calms when guests come over, is housebroken, and is never pushy or barky to get its way, and they'll be thrilled – even if it never learns a decent Down or Stay.

Teaching Obedience is relatively simple. A few minutes of good reward-based training a few times a day will train a dog to understand a command. Of course, you then need to “proof” the command for increasing levels of distraction, but ultimately, that's still a fairly straightforward task. My Day Training option – where I train a client's dog for them directly, and then “transfer” the behavior over to the client – is best suited to Obedience: I teach the dog to do X when someone gives the command.

Manners, on the other hand, is a very different approach. With Obedience, you're just focusing on the training a little bit at a time a few times a day, and in between you're not worrying about it. Manners, though, requires A) always being there to interrupt bad behavior when it happens and redirect to a better option, and B) managing your dog's environment so that it can't practice the bad behavior during those times when you can't be on top of it. 
"We had to destroy your wine-in-a-box.  It was gauche."
Manners, in other words, is a full time job compared to Obedience's part time work. But don't worry. Manners might be full time, but it's also just a temp gig. Most dogs can pick up good manners in just a few weeks of consistent behavior from their owners.

(Obedience, on the other hand, should really be a permanent part-time gig – never stop training your dog, and you'll have a happy dog forever.)


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