Basic Obedience Training 101
firProtocol for Deference

(Please note that the text below is a composite of many articles written on the subject by experts in dog behavior with many more experience on this subject that I will ever have – I recommend that all dog owners implement the protocol for deference with their dogs, puppies and adult, with or without behavior problems alike.)

The fundamental behavior that the Protocol for Deference teaches your dog is to defer to you in times of stress and uncertainty. By implementing a protocol with your dog that involves him reorienting to you and asking you permission before he is allowed to engage in daily life activities, you set a solid foundation and reinforcement history with your dog for deferring to you in situations where he may feel frightened, nervous, uncomfortable, or unsafe.

Teaching your dog this foundational deferment, builds a solid relationship with your dog based on the very basic trust that you, the owner, will take care of your dog and keep him “safe” no matter how unsure he is feeling about a situation. By teaching your dog this very elemental trust in you, you avoid your dog learning that in stressful situations he needs to control the environment himself, as most dogs who attempt to control an uncertain world do so in ways that are unacceptable in the modern human world; i.e., growl, bite, jump etc.

The Basics of the Protocol for Deference:
Ask your dog to defer to you--comply with a basic obedience cue such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’--in order to gain access to things he wants. Examples of things your dog wants include:
  • your attention
  • playtime with toys
  • being let out of his crate
  • being allowed through an outside door
  • eating meals out of his food dish
  • being given a food treat

Reward your dog with a tangible reward, such as praise,  a food treat, or whatever he wants at that moment, when he successfully defers to you. An example of this is:
  1. Your dog wants to go outside for a walk. To gain access to the outside through your front door he must first defer to you. You go to the front door with your dog and quietly ask your dog to ‘sit.’ You give the cue one time, you don’t shout it, you don’t demand it, and you simply ask your dog to ‘sit.’
  2. If your dog sits right away, you praise him and open the front door so you can go enjoy your walk, giving him what he wants--access to the great outdoors.
  3. If your dog does not ‘sit’ when you quietly ask him the first time, stand at the door and silently wait. Don’t ask your dog a second time, don’t nag him, don’t get exasperated, don’t push on his rear end, don’t yell at him.  Simply, silently and patiently wait.
  4. If your dog loses focus and gets distracted, silently walk away and ignore him. You gave your dog a chance to win what he wanted--access to the outside, and you gave him a good solid chance to be “right.” It’s ok that he lost focus, but it also doesn’t mean you are going to give him what he wants--going for a walk.
  5. Go do something else that doesn’t involve paying attention to your dog for 5 minutes or so, then once again go to the front door and quietly ask your dog to ‘sit’ one time. If your dog sits on the cue, then yay! Good dog, he gets to go for a walk, he earns what he wants. If he loses focus again, quietly walk away and go do something else for 5 minutes, then repeat the exercise at the front door with one quiet request to ‘sit.’
  6. Repeat this pattern until your dog successfully sits at the front door and earns the privilege of going through the front door on his walk.

Everyone in the household must be consistent and work with the dog. Children need to be monitored to ensure their safety and to make sure they don't tease the dog or teach it the wrong behavior.

NOTE: The first few times you go through this process with your dog, you should realize that it will take a good amount of patience and time, but the long-term rewards you reap for your patience are tenfold: you are teaching your dog that you will only ask him to complete a behavior once, and if he doesn’t comply he loses the chance to get what he wants. The consequence for not complying with your request is simply that you walk away and he cannot get what he wants. You teach him that he very much wants to do what you ask, because complying quickly and enthusiastically earns him everything a dog could ever desire.

If your dog has dominance aggression, it is important to note this is a behavior disorder that can also be corrected with time and patience. The dog must learn to defer to you before you let it do anything--eat, go inside or outside, have a leash put on, sit on the sofa or bed, play with toys, even get your love and attention. Actually, all dogs should be raised this way, and no dog is too old to learn this behavior. It will not lessen your dog's spunk or individuality. It will allow you to have a better, more trusting relationship with your dog and help you control your dog, which is critical if it puts itself in a potentially harmful position.

So, starting immediately, your dog must earn everything that it wants for the rest of its life. The dog does this by deferring to you, which means sitting quietly and staying for a few moments. When teaching your dog to defer, be sure to work with him or her on a regular schedule of 15 to 20 minutes once or twice a day. Don't scream at or hit the dog; these are unacceptable methods of punishment.

The Benefits of the Protocol for Deference:
  1. By deferring to you for everything it wants, your dog learns to look to you for cues about the appropriateness of its behavior, which, in turn, prevents undesirable behavior.
  2. Deferential behaviors can act as a form of time-out, giving your dog a respite from a situation before it gets worse. The dog can learn that if it responds to your request to sit, then you will help it decide what the next best behavior is. This can be a great relief to dogs who are anxious about appropriate responses (i.e., all dogs with behavior problems).
  3. Deferential behaviors allow your dog to calm down. A sitting dog is less reactive than one that is tearing around. These behaviors allow the dog to couple a verbal cue, a behavior, and the physiologic response (e.g., relaxing while getting a food treat) to that behavior. All this has a calming effect.
  4. Deferential behaviors, consistently reinforced, let your dog know what is expected and let it earn positive attention.