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The Important Difference between Behavior Modification and Obedience Training

When you think of dog training you likely think of teaching your dog how to walk on the leash, come when called, not jump on people, and so many other useful and important life skills. You would be right to call this dog training and it's considered obedience training. However there is another type of training called behavior modification, or B mod, for short. B mod focuses on the emotional responses a dog has to various stimuli or triggers. Obedience training uses operant conditioning to teach your dog how to follow directions, while B mod uses both classical and operant conditioning to modify your dog's emotional response to a particular stimulus.


In general, there are different ideas of what dog training should be and how it should be performed, however there is so much research out there that tells us what dog training should look.


Dog training should look like this:

  • Setting your dog up for success always!

  • Keeping your dog under threshold and easing into more difficult situations as they are ready (see the above point).

  • Allowing your dog the freedom to be a dog as often as possible.

  • Creating a training plan (with the help of a trainer!) to set your dog up for success by utilizing small, incremental steps to get to your final goal whether it be obedience or B mod based.

  • Reinforcing your dog when they do what you like.

  • Consistently following your training plan and rules to keep you and your dog on the right track.

  • Redirecting and aiding your dog when they do something unwanted.

  • Always taking your dog's specific needs into consideration, such as health, thresholds, enrichment, and more! Read a past blog on the four pillars to a well adjusted dog for more info on this.

  • And more!

Dog training should not look like this:

  • Asking your dog to do more than they are ready for or can handle.

  • Assuming your dog needs more obedience to help cope with anxiousness or fear.

  • Punishing unwanted behaviors no matter how subtle you may think the punishment is. Research is out there to show that the use of punishment in training has adverse effects on the your dog's well being and that it does not provide better results compared to positive reinforcement training, here is one such study.

  • Trying to dominate your dog, or assume the role of the alpha, as dogs do not follow this social construct.

  • Confusing the dog by asking for different cues/behaviors in the same contexts.

In an unregulated industry, such as dog training in the US, you can imagine how difficult it is to get helpful and useful information to the general public. There are far too many people out there calling themselves trainers however they have little to no knowledge of proper ways to deal with various behaviors. If you are told that your fearful/reactive/aggressive/anxious dog needs to be punished and taught how to control themselves because they are the way they are, you need to run from that trainer. A fearful dog needs love, support, and to be kept on a path of success while working on a behavior modification training plan, not to be told to sit when a dog they don't like passes by and then corrected for lashing out.


Obedience training has its place, of course! However so many people try to rely on more obedience when they really should be focusing on behavior modification. If your dog is reactive, fearful, aggressive, or anxious, they don't need more obedience. In fact, I'm rarely if ever going to include obedience training in a training plan for a dog who needs B mod. Your anxious dog doesn't need more obedience, they need help in learning how to cope with their triggers and learn alternative behaviors to the ones they currently perform such as reacting or being flighty.


Dog training should be fun for both you and your dog! If either of you aren't having fun then your results will show for it. You want to know how to be sure you have fun? Always set your dog up for success so that you both can enjoy the learning process and your dog can trust you to help them through it, no matter if obedience or B mod is your focus!


Happy training!

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