Gehorsam – obedience – is defined in the VGPO as the expression of proper and thorough training and is a prerequisite for using the dog in the hunting field. It is considered the highest priority of all the accomplishments expected of the utility dog.
In the VGP there is a set of specific subjects that are categorized as Obedience on which the dog is scored. In addition, the dog is evaluated on its general obedience throughout the two-day test. Any lapses of obedience during other work or while waiting its turn will be noted and scored at the end of the test.
While obedience training is not as intriguing as many of the other subjects and could easily be taken for granted, it is important to remember that according to some long time judges there are more failures on Obedience subjects than any of the other subjects in the VGP.
Moreover, if a dog evades the influence of its handler for a long period of time during the test and thus delays the testing, it is not to be tested any further. Such a dog is not considered fit to be allowed in the hunting field.
Why is so much stress placed on obedience?
First, obedience forms the foundation for ethical hunting. The dog must work within the constraints of the hunting situation, producing and recovering game for its handler. If it cannot reliably do that for you it is of no use to you as a hunter.
Second, a disobedient dog presents a safety risk to itself and others, at home and during the hunt. The most common examples are the dog that runs into the road and is hit by a vehicle, or the dog that runs off on its own. In the hunting situation a misbehaving dog can interrupt the hunt or even interfere with safe shooting.
And finally, obedience training makes these high energy dogs easier to live with. It gives you methods for dealing with the dog that gets into things around the house, is rowdy and destructive, or is annoyingly noisy.
It is helpful to make a distinction between obedience and cooperation. It is often said that cooperation is what the dog gives to the handler; obedience is what the handler requires of the dog. Cooperation is the natural willingness of your dog to work with and for you. Obedience on the other hand is the trained behavior of your dog to comply with your commands. While these are two different factors, it is certainly easier to train obedience with a cooperative dog.
Obedience is taught like any other skill by shaping the behavior you want the dog to perform. In any complex behavior there will be a series of steps leading to the finished behavior. Once the dog has reliably mastered the first step you move on to the next one. Reinforcement of some kind should be used to motivate the dog. When required, correction should be brief and to the point. Try to make the learning experience as positive as possible for your dog.
Remember that a dog has to learn in many different locations and with different distractions. Start training in a controlled, quiet environment. When the dog is 100% reliable there, start over in another location, and then another. Once the dog has mastered the particular element in different locations, go back to the beginning and introduce distractions. Move the distractions to different locations just as you did when teaching the original command. Many new handlers think that just because the dog is 100% reliable in the back yard the training is finished. This is not the case. Training must be repeated in different locations with different distractions to be fully established.
Clarity will be important in your training. If you are uncertain about what you are doing, the dog will be as well. Under these circumstances many dogs will shut down for fear of making a mistake and incurring your wrath. So be sure to take the time to think through what you are trying to accomplish in any given training session before you start. If the training is going sour during a session, finish up with something the dog knows very well, give it a pat on the head and put it up. Then take time to sit back and think about what happened. Determine what went wrong and how you can do it better next session. Likewise, if your mind is not clear or your mood is not positive going into training, don’t train right then. You might only set your training back.........