Don’t just focus commands, focus on character.
Oftentimes I’ve seen dogs who have been taught sit, down, heel, stay, and some version of recall (lol), and owners can be confused into thinking they have trained their dog. But often these dogs are out of control, hyper-aroused, and misbehaving.
The trick isn’t to focus on commands as an end in themselves, the trick is to USE the commands to cultivate character and state of mind.
If we’ll use these basic commands as a means to challenge arousal, create focus, develop impulse control, and perhaps most importantly cultivate an attitude of being polite and deferential, then we really can get some amazing benefit from training.
To achieve this, you need to look beyond the commands and start to look for state of mind. Place command doesn’t do much until your dog will hold it even if a herd of buffalo (or kids) came tromping by. Sit (you know those lightening fast butt drops and raises?) doesn’t create emotional value and state of mind change until the dog learns to hold the sit even when he’d rather be chasing a squirrel or galloping towards the front door. Recall that only happens when the stars and moon are all aligned and there’s absolutely nothing more interesting in the environment is happening has vey little value for your dog mentally. But when your dog learns to come running even when there’s a dog he’s crazy about, a bird he want to chase, or a squirrel zipping by, that’s where the big money is state of mind wise.
In the end, it’s all about using these simple commands to cultivate a better attitude and state of mind for a better balanced dog. Yes, a solid recall is awesome (and can save your dog’s life), a solid sit is nice instead of jumping on aunt Martha, and staying on Place when there’s the FedEx guy at the door instead of going bananas are really nice, but they’re more of the frosting on the cake that obedience offers. The real treat (see what I did there?) is in the change of attitude, state of mind, and character you build when you ask your dog to stretch beyond his “easy” zone, his default zone, his crazy zone, and instead demand he gives you his best. (And you won’t know what that is until you demand it.)
When we create rules and behaviors and demand that they be respected and adhered to (that’s the magic part), even when everything in your dog is demanding he does the opposite, that’s where the great stuff lies.
And that’s the difference between a dog who knows balance and a dog who knows tricks.