Obedient? No, not disobedient. Unmotivated.
I always ask what people want of their dog when I first arrive. The gentleman said ‘an obedient dog’ and the lady said a dog that she could walk.
The two are part of the same thing. In my own words what they want is a fulfilled, happy and motivated dog.
The less compliant and obedient a dog is, the more a frustrated owner may intensify his or her approach. They repeat commands with a crescendo until they are shouting. This may intimidate some dogs into being obedient.
With adolescence came attitude
Not so Blaze. The one-year-old German Shepherd, perfect as a puppy, with adolescence gained attitude!
They had told me they no longer had visitors to the house because he barked at them. I’m used to that and being careful. I have been to many German Shepherds who bark ferociously, quite obviously wanting to get rid of me as soon as possible.
I was expecting to be on my guard and carefully set up my first meeting with Blaze.
He was to be in the garden while I settled myself at the kitchen breakfast bar. I scattered some food on the floor around me and instructed the lady and gentleman to let him in. They were to completely ignore whatever Blaze did and so would I.
(I knew that he had never bitten anyone, so without any confrontation on my part he was unlikely to start with me).
We fell in love
I was so pleasantly surprised the moment Blaze came into the room from the garden. He came straight over to where I sat. He curiously sniffed me (and my dogs).
What a lovely boy. Huge ears! We immediately fell in love.
Blaze hasn’t been on a walk for a month now and before that not daily. This isn’t only because of his behaviour when a person comes close, it’s also because they can’t put on his collar or his harness. He simply makes it impossible.
When adolescence set in along with attitude, they may not have reacted to this in the best way for Blaze; the previously obedient puppy would ignore them.
Strict commands simply roll of him like water off a duck’s back. He will comply when and if he’s ready.
He’s a big, strong dog. The last time the lady managed to get his harness on she cornered him in his big crate and got in there with him!
They soon saw from how he was with me that ‘less is more’. Fewer and quieter commands with gentle voice (more like a ‘cue’ than an order) worked.
I allowed him space to think and to work things out. I didn’t repeat but simply waited because I didn’t want him to be obedient but to work with me.
Seeing they wanted to join in by repeating my command more loudly, I said ‘Wait. he heard me. He will do it’.
And he did. Then I thanked him – with food.
Blaze began to fully engage with me. You could call that ‘obedient’, I would prefer to call it ‘motivated’. He loved the clicker.
Key to the whole thing is rewarding, paying him. We work better for payment and so it is with an animal. It’s not about us imposing our will upon the dog, but more about working in tandem. Working together on the same wavelength is very enjoyable for both parties.
Currently they have to crate him for the five hours he is left daily. He has damaged his crate and would wreck the room otherwise. I suspect this is no more than boredom and understandably so.
They have four cats, and without an outlet for his energy, he chases them whenever they move and each has its own bolthole.
We looked at various activities that will give Blaze more enrichment in his life, particularly until they can give him regular walks again.
Getting him out again
They will start to make real progress when they are able to get his harness on and take him out of the house. A suitable harness, along with reacting appropriately when they meet a person, should mean he won’t pull the lady over anymore.
They both agree that it’s not right to have a young working dog cooped up in a house and small garden, but haven’t known how to change the situation. Initially they will take him by car to a nearby safe and enclosed dog field so that a couple of times a week at least he can be a proper dog, running free, chasing things and sniffing smells.
A satisfied dog will naturally be a more biddable and obedient dog.
The lady was almost ecstatic to see her adored Blaze so well behaved, friendly and willing. She saw hope that things could become right. I can’t wait to see him again!
Ultimately, with time and work, they should be able to give him a daily walk or have a dog walker. He is great with other dogs and unless alarmed by an approaching person, he walks on a loose lead.
Until everything began to go wrong, they were doing so well.
With a proper life again, Blaze should become less excitable around the cats (we have a plan) and hopefully they will no longer need to crate him when they go out.
I’m not keen on the words ‘obedience’ and ‘obedient’ myself. This doesn’t mean I’m permissive.