Let’s Talk About Dog Training

History Of Obedient Training in Dogs

Working dogs have always learned to obey commands related to the work that they historically performed, such as when a Herding dog moves a flock of animals in response to a shepherd’s whistled directions, or a hunting dog searching for (or chasing down) quarry or leaving the treed quarry at the hunter’s command.

In the twentieth century, formalized dog training originated in military and police applications, and the methods used largely reflected the military approach to training humans. In the middle and late part of the century, however, more research into operant conditioning and positive reinforcement occurred as wild animal shows became more popular. Aquatic mammal trainers used clickers (a small box that makes a loud click when pushed on) to “mark” desired behavior, giving food as a reward. The change in training methods spread gradually into the world of dog training. Today many dog trainers rely heavily on positive reinforcement to teach new behaviors.

At a basic level, owners want dogs with whom they can pleasantly share a house, a car, or a walk in the park. Some dogs need only a minimum amount of training to learn to eliminate outside (be housebroken), to sit, to lie down, or to come on command (obey a recall). Many other dogs prove more challenging. New dog owners might find training difficult and fail to make progress, because they expect dogs to think and act like humans, and are surprised and baffled when the dogs don’t.

Dogs who demonstrate the previously mentioned basic skills, as well as walking reasonably well on a leash and a few other minor tasks, can be tested for and earn the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Good Citizen certification. While not a competitive obedience title, a CGC certification demonstrates that the dog is sociable, well behaved and reliable in public settings. Some insurance companies will waive breed restrictions on dogs with CGCs, and many states have passed resolutions supporting and encouraging CGC certification as a yardstick for canine manners and responsible dog ownership.

Dog Intelligence

Certain breeds, such as German Shepherds,and Labrador Retrievers have reputations as being easier to train than others, such as hounds and sled dogs. Dogs that have been bred to perform one task to the exclusion of all others (such as the Bloodhound or Husky), or who have been bred to work independently from their handler (such as terriers), may be challenging to obedience train.

Intelligence in dogs is exhibited in many different ways, and a dog who might not be easy to train might nonetheless be quite adept at figuring out how to open kitchen cabinets or to escape from the yard. Novice dog owners need to consider a dog’s trainability as well as its energy level, exercise requirements, and other factors before choosing a new pet. Very high intelligence is not necessarily a good thing in a companion dog, as smart dogs can require extensive daily mental stimulation if they are not to become bored and destructive.

No breed is impossible to obedience train, but novice owners might find training some breeds quite difficult. The capacity to learn basic obedience—and even complicated behavior—is inherent in all dogs. Owners may need to be more patient, or creative, or both, with some breeds than with others.

Evaluation of intelligence

The meaning of “intelligence” in general, not only in reference to dogs, is hard to define. Some tests measure problem-solving abilities and others test the ability to learn in comparison to others of the same age. Defining it for dogs is just as difficult. It is likely that dogs do not have the ability to premeditate an action to solve a problem. Some dogs may, however, have more drive to keep trying various things until they accidentally reach a solution and still others might have more ability to make the association between the “accident” and the result.[citation needed]

For example, the ability to learn quickly could be a sign of intelligence. It could be interpreted as a sign of blind subservience and a desire to please. In contrast, some dogs who do not learn very quickly may have other talents. An example is breeds that are not particularly interested in pleasing their owners, such as Siberian Huskies. Huskies are often fascinated with the myriad possibilities for escaping from yards and catching small animals, figuring out on their own numerous and often ingenious ways of doing both.

Assistance dogs are also required to be obedient at all times. This means they must learn a tremendous number of commands, understand how to act in a large variety of situations, and recognize threats to their human companions, some of which they might never before have encountered.

Many owners of livestock guardian breeds believe that breeds such as Great Pyrenees or the Kuvasz are not easily trained because their independent nature prevents them from seeing the point of such commands as “sit” or “down”. The Molosser breeds are said to be particularly sensitive to physical or vocal aggression and, as such, are generally thought to respond to positive reinforcement-based methods of training. Hounds, (such as Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Basset Hounds), rank in the bottom tier of “The Intelligence of Dogs” list, but probably suffer from a certain approach to intelligence assessment.[citation needed] These dogs are bred to have a tenacious tracking mentality, taking advantage of their acute sense of smell, and less ability in “problem solving,” which is the central task of Working and Herding dogs. In addition, many dog “authorities” are unaware of the Scenthound’s extraordinary ability to perceive and evaluate things other than odors. They can detect pheromones, among other things, and may have the ability to evaluate a human’s or another dog’s personality or disposition from as far away as 300 feet. This can be described as “conditional intelligence” where the animal is quick to learn some things, while appearing reluctant to learn others.

Obedience Training

Obedience training usually refers to the training of a dog and the term is most commonly used in that context. Obedience training ranges from very basic training, such as teaching the dog to reliably respond to basic commands such as “sit”, “down”, “come”, and “stay”, to high level competition within clubs such as the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club, where additional commands, accuracy and performance are scored and judged.

Obedience implies compliance with the direction or command given by the handler. For a dog to be considered obedient rather than simply trained in obedience, it must respond reliably each time the command is given, by what is commonly known as its handler. A dog can go through Obedience training and not be obedient. If a dog is referred to as being Obedience Trained it should comply immediately with every command its handler gives. In the strictest sense an Obedience trained dog is an obedient dog

Training a dog in obedience can be an ongoing and lengthy process depending on the dog, the methods used, and the skill and understanding of both the trainer and the handler. The level of obedience the handler wishes to achieve with the dog is also a major factor in the time involved, as is the commitment to training by the handler.

Obedience training is often a prerequisite for or component of other training.

The actual training of the dog can be done by anyone, the trainer, owner, or a friend. Typically the individual who is caring for and living with the dog participates and trains the dog, as they will be the one who will be giving the commands. The relationship and trust between the dog and handler are important for success.

Basic or beginner’s obedience is typically a short course ranging from six to ten weeks, where it is demonstrated to the handler how to communicate with and train the dog in a few simple commands. With most methods the dog is trained one command at a time. Though there may or may not be a specific word attached to it, walking properly on a leash, or leash control, is often the first training required prior to learning other commands.


The specific command word is not important, but consistency in usage is. There are certain commands that are accepted as standard and commonly used.

Basic commands and advanced commands

(English and German)

Heel: Fuss(fooss)

Sit: Sitz (siitz)

Stay: Bleib (bly’b)

Down: Platz (plats

Come/Here: Hier(hee er)

Stand: Steh (shtay)

Retrieve/ Fetch: Bring (brrring)

Jump: Hopp

Go Out: Voraus (for owss)

Track: Such (tsuuk)

Guard: Pass auf/ Wache

Bite: Packen/ Fass

Out/Let Go: Aus (owss)

Speak/Bark: Gib Laut (gheblout)

Narcotics/Dope: Rauschgift

Findnarcotics: Such Rauschgift

Building/ Blind Search: Voran/ Revier

Kennel/ Crate: Zwinger Box

Go Outside: Geh Raus/ Geh Draussen

Go Ahead: Geh Voraus

Go Inside: Geh rein (gay rine)

What is going on?: Was ist los?

Good (praise): So ist brav

Correction Word “No”: Pfui (fooey)/ Nein (nine)

Don’t do that!: Lass das sein

OK: In Ordnung

Eat food: Nimm Futter

Helper Stand Still: Bleiben Ruhig/Steht Noch

Article Search: Such Verloren

Leave it: Lass es

(English and their meaning)

Sit: The dog is in a sitting position.

Down: A dog is typically down when its elbows (front feet) and hocks (rear legs) are touching the ground or floor.

Heel: The dog’s head or shoulder is parallel to the handler’s leg on the left side of the handler.

Come or Here: (referred to as the recall) “Call your dog” equals “come” or “here”.

Stay: The dog must remain in the position (sit, down, stand) and location under which the command was given until it is released by the handler.

Stop: a dog that will simply stop whatever it is doing and lie down on command no matter how far it is from its keeper is a dog that can be taken anywhere. Some handlers use the German word Platz (related to “place”, i.e. stay in position) for this action.

Back up: keepers of large dogs or dogs with a reputation for aggressiveness can make strangers more comfortable by teaching the dog to back up on command.

Growl: the inverse of backing up. Some owners teach non-aggressive dogs to growl on a subtle command – not the word growl, usually a small hand gesture – as a way of letting strangers know that you and your dog value being left alone.

Shake: Directs the dog to shake whole body. Generally used after bathing or swimming to prevent dog from soaking owner.

Shake Hands or Shake: Directs dog to lift paw and place it in the hand of the owner as if shaking hands.

Steady: keep near by. The dog can walk free, but not dash off.

Stand: dog stands still. Useful for grooming. Many dogs are groomed frequently and need to stand quietly during the process.

Go to bed, kennel, or get in: Directs the dog to go to its bed or its crate and to remain there until released. The dog has freedom of movement in that location to stand up, turn around, or lie down, unlike when placed in a Stay. Useful to keep a dog out from underfoot and safe in a busy or complicated situation.

Drop or drop it: Dogs pick up all sorts of things, some of which they shouldn’t have. A dog that drops anything on command, no matter how attractive (and “attractive” to a dog can be “rotten and smelly” to a human), is a dog under control that the owner can prevent from eating dangerous items or from destroying valued personal property.

Leave it (lass es): An adjunct to Drop, directing the dog to not touch an item. Also useful before the dog has picked anything up. Leave it is also used in conjunction with Take it.

Take it: The dog leaves a desired object, such as a toy or treat, untouched until given this command. Alternatively, the dog takes and holds an object which it has no interest in. This can protect an owner’s, visitor’s, or child’s fingers.

Give: The dog has an object in its mouth and “gives” it to its owner by releasing the object into the owner’s hand. Object of choice in training is usually a light-weight dumbbell or a glove. This is useful for when your dog has one of your belongings and you want it back before the dog hides it or chews it up.

Speak: A dog, when taught this command, will bark once (or more) when told to do so.

Roll Over: When taught this command a dog will lie down, roll over, and stand back up.

Attack: A dog will attack something (or someone) when told to do so. Common commands are either “Attack” or “Sic’em”.

Fetch: A dog will retrieve a thrown object (usually a ball or a stick) and bring it back to the one who threw it.

Training devices


Prong collars
Prong collars (also called pinch collars) has the same design as the martingale collar but are made of metal links which have prongs on the inside of the collar. The collar is designed to inhibit forward movement and issue corrections by causing the dog temporary discomfort or pain. Proponents state that prong collars are gentler than slip collars. Sometimes rubber tips are fitted on the prongs to reduce damage to the fur and skin of the dog.

Flat collar
Flat collars are commonly used in clicker training and other non-correction-based training, such as puppy kindergarten. They are also effective in training small dogs, however they tend to lift the dog off the ground when giving corrections while the dog is distracted or in high adrenal mode. They are typically made of nylon or leather, and fasten with a buckle or quick-release connection.

Slip collar
Slip collars (commonly called choke chain or check chains) are made of metal links or rolled material such as nylon or leather. A metal ring is at each end. Historically, slip collars have been used as a matter of course, mostly in North America and the UK. In the last few decades use of these collars has declined. Correctly used, the collar should make a quick clicking not zipping sound when quickly snapped and released to startle or get the attention of the dog and indicate to the handler that the technique was a swift jerk not a choke. The idea is not to strangle the dog, though this can happen if the collar is improperly used.

Martingale collar
Martingale collars (also called limited-slip collars) are usually made of flat nylon with a smaller fixed-length section (made of either nylon or a short length of chain) that, when pulled on by the leash, shortens up tightening the collar around the dog’s neck, to a limited extent. When properly fitted, martingales are looser than flat-buckle collars when not tightened, and less severely corrective than slip collars when tightened.

Shock collars
Shock collars (also known as E-collars) transmit a remote signal from a control device the handler operates to the collar. An electrical shock is transmitted by the handler remotely, at varying degrees of intensity, from varying distances depending on range frequency. It is also done automatically in the bark electronic collar to stop excessive barking, and invisible fence collar when the dog strays outside its boundary. Shock collars are widely accepted in some areas of the world and by dog obedience professionals. Shock collars are also banned in some countries, and some dog training associations, veterinary associations and kennel clubs condemn their use. Lindsay says that competent electronic training appears to promote positive social attachment, safety, and reward effects

Other devices

The leash or lead is used to connect the dog to the handler, lead the dog, as well as to control the dog in urban areas. Most communities have laws which prohibit dogs from running at large. They may be made of any material such as nylon, metal or leather. A six foot length is commonly used for walking and in training classes, though leashes come in lengths both shorter and longer. A long line (also called a lunge line) can be 3 meters (ten feet) or more in length, and are often used to train the dog to come when called from a distance.

The clicker is a small hand-held device that makes a distinct, short sound to mark a desired behavior. (See clicker training for a more detailed discussion of this methodology.) It has gained popularity in recent years as being a means of training that does not involve physically correcting the dog, though it may be used in conjunction with these methods.

Head halter
Head halters are an alternative to collars that works similarly to a horse halter. The halter fits over the dog’s snout and behind its head (leading it to sometimes be mistaken for a muzzle). Halters reduce the dog’s ability to successfully pull on the leash, but do not eliminate it. If the halter is used with a sharp jerk on the leash, neck injury to the dog may result, but used correctly head halters have not been shown to cause harm. Some experts consider halters a safer option when dog obedience training.

Competitive obedience

This Smooth Collie retrieves an obedience dumbbell made of wood; others are made of metal.

For dog owners who enjoy competition and relish the opportunity to work as a highly tuned team with their dogs, competitive obedience trials are available. Dogs can earn obedience titles, including an obedience championship.

In competition, merely sitting, lying down, or walking on a leash are insufficient. The dog and handler must perform the activities off leash and in a highly stylized and carefully defined manner. For example, on a recall, the dog must come directly to the handler, without sniffing or veering to one side, and must sit straight in front of the handler, not at an angle or off to one side or the other. Training for obedience competitions builds on basic obedience training.

The United Kennel Club (UKC), the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC), the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Australian Shepherd Dog Club of America (ASCA) are some of the organizations which offer titles in Competition Obedience.

AKC obedience titles include: Companion Dog (CD), Companion Dog Excellent (CDX), Utility Dog (UD), Utility Dog Excellent (UDX), and Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH).

In recent years, a new form of Obedience competition, known as Rally Obedience, has become very popular. It was originally devised by Charles L. “Bud” Kramer from the obedience practice of “doodling” – doing a variety of interesting warmup and freestyle exercises. Rally Obedience is designed to be a “bridge”, or intermediate step, between the CGC certification and traditional Obedience competition.

Unlike regular obedience, instead of waiting for the judge’s orders, the competitors proceed around a course of designated stations with the dog in heel position. The course consists of 10 to 20 signs that instruct the team what to do. Unlike traditional obedience, handlers are allowed to encourage their dogs during the course.

Recently, another dog performance competition has been gaining ground. Known as “Dock Dogs”this method of training has dogs jump off a “dock” and into the water. The dogs who can jump the furthest, on command, win the competition.

Obedience for Other Purposes

There are many reasons for training dogs beyond the level required for basic companionship. For example, assistance dogs must obey their “sit” and “down” commands perfectly at all times, but they do not have to conform to the rigid rules of competitive obedience.

Dogs competing in dog sports, such as flyball, agility or Schutzhund, must be trusted in an open field, off leash and surrounded by other people, dogs, hot dogs, and flying discs. This requires more focused attention on the owner and a better recall than that found in most household companion dogs, and more advanced training than that required for formal obedience.

Socialized dogs can interact with other non-aggressive dogs of any size and shape and understand how to communicate.


In domesticated dogs, the process of socialization begins even before the puppy’s eyes open. Socialization refers to both its ability to interact acceptably with humans and its understanding of how to communicate successfully with other dogs. If the mother is fearful of humans or of her environment, she can pass along this fear to her puppies. For most dogs, however, a mother who interacts well with humans is the best teacher that the puppies can have. In addition, puppies learn how to interact with other dogs by their interaction with their mother and with other adult dogs in the house.

A mother’s attitude and tolerance of her puppies will change as they grow older and become more active. For this reason most experts today recommend leaving puppies with their mother until at least 8 to 10 weeks of age. This gives them a chance to experience a variety of interactions with their mother, and to observe her behavior in a range of situations.

It is critical that human interaction takes place frequently and calmly from the time the puppies are born, from simple, gentle handling to the mere presence of humans in the vicinity of the puppies, performing everyday tasks and activities. As the puppies grow older, socialization occurs more readily the more frequently they are exposed to other dogs, other people, and other situations. Dogs who are well socialized from birth, with both dogs and other species (especially people), are much less likely to be aggressive or to suffer from fear-biting.

Dog intelligence is the ability of a dog to learn, think, and solve problems. Dog trainers, owners, and researchers have as much difficulty agreeing on a method for testing canine intelligence as they do for human intelligence. One specific difficulty is confusing a breed’s genetic characteristics and a dog’s obedience training with intelligence.

Certain breeds, like Doberman Pinschers, Border Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Papillons, Australian Cattle Dogs and Golden Retrievers, are claimed by some to be “smarter” breeds of dogs because of their obedience. However, the ability and willingness to learn and obey commands is not the only possible measurement of intelligence. Other breeds, such as sled dogs and sight hounds demonstrate intelligence in other ways

Inherited abilities

Dogs are pack animals. They understand social structure and obligations, and are capable of interacting with other members of the pack. Adult canines train their young by “correcting” them when they behave in an unacceptable manner (such as biting too hard or eating out of turn) and reward them for acceptable behavior, by playing with them, feeding them, or cleaning them.

They are also den animals. This means that they can easily learn behavior related to keeping the den clean (such as housebreaking) and relaxing in an enclosed area (such as a crate during travel or for training).

Some breeds have been selectively bred for hundreds or thousands of years for the quality of learning quickly. That quality has been downplayed for other breeds in favor of other characteristics like the ability to track or hunt game, or to fight other animals. The capacity to learn basic obedience and complicated behavior, however, is inherent in all dogs. Owners must simply be more patient with some breeds than with others.

Nonetheless, inherited behavior is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence. For example, a sheep herding breed, like a Border Collie, would be expected to learn how to herd sheep very quickly and might even perform the job with little training. The same breed, however, would be a challenge to train how to point and retrieve game. A Pointer often points to game instinctively and naturally retrieves game without damaging it, but training it to herd sheep would be difficult if not impossible.