Behavior versus obedience

First Posted: 1/20/2008

Behavior and obedience are intertwined, but different. Obedience refers to your pet?s ability to ?obey? commands, such as ?sit? or ?stay.? Behavior refers to your pet?s ability to ?behave.? Not biting, not jumping, not chewing ? these are signs of well-behaved pets.

Have you ever noticed the parent of a child who is ?counting? their child? ?That?s one, Brice. That?s two, Brice. OK ? that?s three. Go to ?time-out? for five minutes.? If you came in on the end of this display, what you may or may not have noticed is whether this counting was an attempt to get the child to ?stop? a bad behavior (such as annoying his brother), or ?start? a desired behavior (such as putting on his coat and gloves).

From a technical aspect, a parent should not ?count? a start behavior. The technique is entirely more effective if the parent only counts ?stop? behaviors. Obedience can be likened to ?start? behaviors, or things that you do want your pet to do. Sitting, staying, laying down, shaking, and heeling all fall into this category.

Behavior, however, is divided into good and bad behaviors. Good behavior should always be rewarded. Pottying outdoors is an excellent example. When your pet does this, he should be lavishly praised and given a very small, but desirable, treat.

Bad behavior, however, is a little more tricky. When your puppy mouths, nips, or chews, he should not be smacked on the nose or have his tongue depressed by your thumb. This inadvertently serves to reinforce the undesirable behavior by offering an interaction which the playful puppy views as ?game on.? Instead, you should turn your back on him and stop all immediate interaction. This response is perceived as ?game over,? and the puppy is left to wonder what he did wrong.

Similarly, a puppy should never be scolded for having an accident in the house by spanking him, swatting him with a newspaper, or rubbing his nose in it. He does not know whether he is getting in trouble for going indoors or for going in front of you. Good luck trying to get him to eliminate on the end of a leash if you?ve done that!

Obedience school is strongly recommended for all dogs. Beginning with puppy kindergarten and extending through adult training and agility classes, all dogs have the potential to become well-trained. A side benefit is that his behavior may improve as well as some of his pent-up energy is channeled through the regular exercise and interaction with his beloved owner.

However, behavior problems must be dealt with by a ?behavior specialist.? Often, this begins with a trip to your veterinarian. He may be able to begin behavior modification techniques and discuss possible drug therapy. It is important to remember that there is no ?silver bullet? for behavior problems. All forms of therapy require time and dedication by the owner.

If the problem is severe or the veterinarian does not feel comfortable dealing with behavior issues, he may refer the client and patient to a true behavior specialist. One of the closest behavior specialty centers and arguably the best in the country is the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue University.

So, if you need an effective way to discipline your children, read ?1-2-3 Magic? by Thomas W. Phelan. If you want your pet to sit, stay, shake, or perform various other fantastic tricks, please contact the Hollowell Academy of Dog Training. They do a marvelous job. But if you need to stop your pet from inappropriately eliminating, chewing, nipping, or barking, contact your veterinarian. He may be able to save you from relinquishing or euthanizing an otherwise healthy pet. If he cannot directly help you, contact the Animal Behavior Clinic.

Dr. Adam Ferguson is a partner at Baker Animal Hospital in Cridersville. It is with great pain that this writer would mention any place other than his beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University. Therefore, in order to earn a mention in a column such as this, the Animal Behavior Clinic at Purdue must truly be a top-notch referral center.

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