Obedience is Hard! Attention is Required! Part III

Jul 10, 2023
competition obedience AKC

During this blog series, I asked you to accept the obvious, obedience is hard, and agree to the goal: teach your dog to be engaged and enjoy obedience, even when it is not naturally motivating. Remember, when we connect behavior to a Reward Marker, the behavior becomes rewarding.


However, can we rely on the dog’s enjoyment of the activity to keep him engaged?


Obedience is unique to other venues as the handler is only allowed to give commands one time and cannot speak to the dog during the exercises. Maintaining attention on the exercises your dog loves is not foolproof. Something can catch the eye of even the most enthusiastic retriever, causing him to bobble a pick-up and receive a point deduction. What about the challenge of keeping your dog focused as you silently cross the ring to start a recall or signal exercise? Being distracted is not just looking away, it’s being aware of the other activities going on, or worrying about the environment.


Is it reasonable to expect that the dog’s enjoyment of the exercises, and your ability to motivate him, will keep him from ever making an attention error?


I think it is naive to believe the dog will always find you or the activity the most important thing in the environment. We can try to foster that attitude, but just as you do everything you can to prevent a car accident, you have insurance if an accident occurs. You can’t control the drivers around you, and you can’t get insurance after the accident.

I want you to do everything in your power to teach your dog to be engaged and enjoy obedience, however, we need insurance, that is the policy that says even when the conditions are difficult, your dog understands it is his responsibility to pay attention to you, not just during the heeling, but throughout the entire performance.


Have you systematically taught your dog that paying attention is his job?


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