Obedience – It’s All in the Love!

High energy, cute and has perfect obedience  – – when she feels like it.

She has perfect obedience skills, if she wants

She has perfect obedience, if she wants…

That’s our new-this-spring mini-Aussie puppy.  We love her.  But when she doesn’t feel like obeying? She does exactly what she wants.  And lately what she wants, is to jump.  She loves jumping somewhere near your face.  Actually, preferably ON your face.  She’s got springs for legs and can actually almost get my face on a leap from the ground.  I’ve been desperately trying to teach her “off”.

She’s not interested in that particular skill.  I push her off the bed and she slides off with all her brakes on.  I yank her off my face when she leaps up against my shoulder while I’m on the couch.  I shove her off my new shirt before she can snag it.  “Off!” I insist.  She leaps and licks.  She happily and completely ignores my command.

I’m the dog trainer around here.  I make her obey.  I’ve trained her.  She sits on command.  She lies down on command.  She shakes hands.  She rolls over.  She jumps (on command).  She speaks.  She even plays dead (although it’s a very excited little ‘dead’).

Why won’t she get off?

Friday night, as I pulled her off the back of the couch yet again, insistently telling her “Off!” I said aloud to no one in particular, “Why does she obey me so well at times and not at all when I tell her to get off.  Again I pushed her and pronounced firmly, “Off!”

And it hit me.

The first training I did was “sit”.  We had pieces of cheese and any time she got near obeying, I rewarded with cheese and excitement.  I taught her to go to different family members by each one holding cheese to reward her for seeking out the right person.  I taught her to play dead by giving the order, pushing her over and immediately rewarding her with high praise and cheese.  Training was a joy and a game to a working dog like this little Australian Shepherd.

For some unknown reason, it had never occurred to me to teach her off when I wasn’t actually wanting her off.  It had never been a game, it had never been rewarded.  It had never been demonstrated unless I was frustrated and she felt like failure.  When my tone of voice was stern, she didn’t want to obey, she wanted to slink away.  When I was frustrated at her jumping into my face and hollered, “Off!” she knew she was in the wrong and wanted to apologize – by licking my face!

So Friday night I followed my exuberant puppy down the hallway where she had leaped onto the bed where my husband lay reading.  “Gemma,” I spoke happily, “Off!”  I pointed off the bed.  She stared at me and leaned against my husband.

“Come on girl, Off!”  I pointed at the floor and she looked at me.

“Off!”  I gently pushed her off the bed and as soon as she hit the floor, I praised her extravagantly and patted her with joy.  “Good girl!” I crooned.

“Up!”  I patted the bed encouragingly, “Up!”  She hesitated, double-checking my face and then leaped up onto the bed in ecstasy.  I praised her.  Petted her.  And told her to get off.

She stared at me and leaned over the edge of the bed.  “Off!”  I repeated.  She sadly got off and as soon as she landed I praised her.  She began to jump with joy.  We played the up and down game for about 5 minutes, with lots of hugs and pats and praise.

Last night, when she leaped onto the couch and jumped at my face I steadied my voice and said encouragingly, “Off!”  She looked at me with regret, but jumped down onto the floor and awaited my praise for a job well done.

It’s all in the tone. It’s in the expectation.  It’s in the practice.  It’s in the love.

Now I don’t want to compare our children to our dogs…but, well… I’m going to compare our children to our dogs. Children want to obey too.  But first we have to let them know our expectations.  When I used to teach grades 1-3 and had student teachers they often told me how amazed they were at how much we practiced obeying in my classroom.  I explained to them that practicing how to do it right prevented me from having to discipline them for doing it wrong later.  I wouldn’t have to waste learning time later, if I taught them how to do it right before they had a chance to mess up.

I start teaching again in a few weeks, so this timely post is for me, as much as you mom, dad, teacher, Pastor.  We have to share our vision – explain what we want to see, hear.  We have to practice.  We have to speak with a loving tone and not teach in a moment of anger or frustration. Expecting obedience?  It’s all in the tone, in the expectation, in the love.

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  • Carol, love this post (and love the picture).

    One of the interesting things about having two service dogs is that they train each other (and are training another dog as their relief). Part of that involves over-riding what I might want in preference to what’ they know they should do.

    So they know how to hide tools so I can’t work when I’m too ill. And they know how to ‘dogpile’ me to keep me from getting up when they know I might collapse. I tell them not to, and they just smile, wag their tails…and suggest I just put in a CD and relax. That’s all they will allow. (Today, it was “The Last Samurai”…I show them the jewel case to get their input.)

    I guess they are listening to a Bigger trainer.

    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 185 – Listening to GodMy Profile

    • If only we could all be so good at listening to the Bigger Trainer! Right now, my dog would over-ride all my wishes too. I should, according to her, spend my day catering to her every whim. Frankly, that doesn’t sound so bad to me, but I do need to work! 🙂
      Carol Bovee recently posted…Obedience – It’s All in the Love!My Profile

  • Smiling, because I, too, have made mental connections between training dogs and training kids. Love and consistency — God has wired small creatures to need both.
    Blessings to you and your pup!
    Michele Morin recently posted…Parenting Past the Mid-Point: More Thoughts from the GardenMy Profile

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  • Love this: “practicing how to do it right prevented me from having to discipline them for doing it wrong later.” It changes the whole atmosphere for all involved.
    Barbara H. recently posted…Nursing WoundsMy Profile

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  • I don’t envy you being in puppy-training mode. It’s something I hope I don’t have to live through again. ha. Puppies are sweet, but they are often more stubborn than I am. I’ve seen a lot of similarities through the years myself between dog training and raising children, so no offense taken at your comparison. 🙂 Praise and the right tone work best with adults too!
    Lisa notes recently posted…Are We Separating or Attaching?My Profile

  • This was such an interesting post. It’s cool how you realized that you had never really taught her the meaning of off. When you did, you found it pretty easy to train her. Your analogy is great! Hope you have a wonderful week! Blessings!!
    Gayl Wright recently posted…Break Time and a Book ReviewMy Profile

  • “It’s all in the tone. It’s in the expectation. It’s in the practice. It’s in the love.”

    I need to remember this esp with my husband. Too often my tone leans toward exasperation. Thank you for the reminder and the adorable pic!

  • I love this post! I think it is so important to praise dogs and let them know they are on the right track! Thanks so much for sharing, good luck with your continual training!

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