Dog obedience training is the foundation for both how to train a dog to be an enjoyable companion animal and a framework for fixing dog behavior problems.
Dog Obedience Training Commands You Must Know
At it’s core, dog obedience training encompasses the five most basic dog training commands:
Sit: Your dog is taught to sit so that his rear is touching the ground. This is the most basic of dog obedience training commands. Any novice can pretty much figure out how to train this behavior– but technically, “Sit” means to stay in the ‘sit’ position until the owner tells their dog that the “exercise is finished.” The sit command is one of the most useful commands, because it teaches the dog to restrain himself and that he must hold the position– even in the presence of other dogs. Yet, it is not a submissive position, like the ‘down’ command. You’ll use the “Sit” command when you want your dog to temporarily stay in one place– such as when you’re waiting for a street light to change, or if another dog approaches.
Down: The “down” command is the same as the “sit” command– except that both the dog’s rear quarters and his front elbows and paws are on the ground. It is a more stable position for the dog, yet it is also a more submissive position: The dog can not be dominating you or any other animal, while in the down-position. Because of this, it can be used to increase the owner’s status as the pack leader– as it is never a subordinate dog that makes a more dominant dog go into a submissive position (unless of course, it’s in the course of play). As the “down” position is more comfortable for the dog, we can ask the dog to stay in the “down” position for 2-3 hours at a time. Functionally, it is best used when you’re our having a cup of coffee or watching television. Placing your dog against a wall if you’re in a high foot traffic area is a good way to use your dog obedience training to include your dog in your lifestyle, yet keep him out of the way of pedestrian traffic.
Heel: Heel is the dog obedience training command that simply teaches your dog to walk alongside you, in position. Your dog is in the heel position when his right leg is parallel to your left calf. Technically, your dog can be sitting in the heel position. Or laying down in the heel position. But typically the “heel” is a command of motion, so you’ll use the “heel” command when you begin walking with your dog. By convention, we professional dog trainers teach all dog to “heel” on the left side of the handler so that when two dogs pass each other, if one should snap, the two handlers are not caught in-between both dogs and can instead walk in opposite directions, thus moving the dogs apart.
Come: Your dog is taught to immediately stop, return back to you and sit in front of you close enough so that you can clip the leash to his collar, or take something from his mouth. The “come” command needs to be practiced around all types of distractions. When we’re working with a new dog who has demonstrated that he understands completely what the “come” command means, we then actively seek out new and stimulating environments that we feel might distract or tempt the dog. Only after working around such environments will your dog become 100% reliable.
Stay: The stay is not actually a separate dog obedience training command. We use a release command such as “take a break” or “free” to tell the dog that the exercise is finished. So, in essence, sit=stay. Down=stay… in the down position. There is absolutely no occasion when you would issue a ‘sit’ or a ‘down’ command and the dog would be allowed to immediately get right up. So, of course ‘sit’ means stay… in the ‘sit’ position… until I tell you that the exercise is finished. This also ensures that the dog trainer doesn’t have to incessantly repeat the command, “stay, stay, stay, stay,” — and can instead just issue the command “sit” or “down” once.
After your dog has learned these commands, the goal is to be able to do them in any situation, the first time you ask. No doubt you’ve seen videos, been to classes, or even seen out in public the dogs that appear trained (or their owners say that they are trained), but the owner always has to repeat commands, bribe the dog with food or a toy, make excuses or threaten the dog in some way in order to make it comply. While these dogs might have learned what a command means, they also know when is convenient for them to respond because the commands have been taught as tricks rather than obedience skills. In some situations during your dog’s life, there will be times when you need your dog to respond—there is no time to find a treat and your dog has learned to ignore when you yell anyway. These are the situations for which you prepare in hopes that you never have to encounter them.
There are other situations in which dogs appear trained unless you take a closer look at how and where they’re working.
The obedience ring plays a very large factor in some dogs’ willingness to respond. You’ll see dogs pulling their owners around outside the ring, but once inside, they are obedience-trial champions. Similarly, you’ll see dogs that respond well in a class setting and even hear owners complain that “I can never get him to do this at home!” These dogs are trained to the situation, and do not have the proper training and relationship with their owner to respond in any situation, around any distraction. Often, they can respond just fine in low-distraction environments, but add in any type of stimuli the dog finds interesting—and it’s hasta la vista, baby!
You’ll notice that some dogs appear in-tune with their handler until you see that they are following a food lure held in the person’s hand. While we are never against the use of food as a reward in training, it is mostly reserved for training situations that we feel would help the dog, or for special tricks. Believe it or not, these situations are not as common as most people are led to believe. Food drive can be helpful in training, until the trainer runs out of food or the dog decides it is no longer interested in treats. Never mind that there are some dogs out there that care less about food than they do chasing rabbits or making your hand their next appetizer!
You’ll notice that some dogs respond well until they have the chance to be in an open area off-leash, and before you know it, they’re off like a shot. These dogs might respond well on-leash, but have never developed the proper obedience foundation, nor the relationship with their owners, to understand that they need to respond to their owners in any situation, around any distraction—regardless of the leash or collar (or lack thereof) in use.
Along similar lines, you’ll see dogs that respond and are obedient only when they are wearing a leash, or a training collar, or a head halter. When they are off-leash, not wearing their collar or halter, they lose all appearance of having received any type of training.
Even worse, you’ll find that people with these dogs make excuses for their behavior. They might be “in training” or “a work in progress,” but they’re just so “happy” and “sociable” (or any other well-meaning adjective that all but translates into “untrained”) that they can’t contain themselves. Truth: a happy dog is a dog confident in its actions, comfortable with its surroundings, possessing self-discipline, responding to commands the first time regardless of the situation, and sharing a mutual respect and trust with its owner through good training and socialization.
You might hear people say (or you might even say yourself!) that you don’t want to break your dog’s spirit through training, or turn him into a robot. Far from creating a dog that responds out of fear, obedience training teaches him to think through his actions and have the confidence to make the right choice based on what you have taught him about the consequences of his action. While it might appear as though a trained dog does not show the same exuberance in some situations as an untrained, ill-mannered dog, this is because the trained dog is exhibiting the self-discipline needed to restrain itself from jumping on people or going to greet strange dogs. A trained dog knows that it is making the right choice by behaving, and there is no question that the praise from its handler makes the job worth it—in fact, you might even see trained dogs looking at their handlers for approval of a job well done!
We don’t accept excuses here, and that’s not what you’re here to learn. You clicked on this page to learn how to learn to properly communicate with your dog so that you can help HIM learn manners and obedience, and that’s what we’re here to give you!
Dog Obedience Training To Fix Dog Behavior Problems
Dog obedience training plays an important role in fixing dog behavior problems because it helps to establish a proper relationship between you and your dog. Every time you make your dog do an obedience exercise, you’re reinforcing your role as the pack leader. Especially when you practice obedience routines around distractions. After all: Who calls the shots in the pack? The Alpha dog, right? So, by making your dog listen to you– you’re acting like a pack leader and demonstrating leadership abilities. This builds respect, teaches your dog to respond to you and helps promote bonding and trust between human and dog– all necessary elements that must be present if you’re going to address dog behavior problems.
The truth is, obedience will fix a good number of behavior problems without your having to resort to gimmicks or expensive sessions with a “behaviorist” just to fix one issue at a time. By teaching your dog how to think and make the right choice, you can virtually eliminate problem behaviors such as inappropriate chewing, lunging at other dogs, certain types of aggression, barking, house-soiling, door-charging and running away. The key to remember is that obedience is only one piece of the puzzle: your dog also needs appropriate structured physical exercise (not just a 10-minute walk around the block on a retractable leash) and socialization to different situations (note that socialization is not the same as social interaction!) to really get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to results—and your overall relationship!
Why Passing The Canine Good Citizen Test Is A Worthy Goal
One of the main goals of the Canine Good Citizen test is to demonstrate that the handler is in control of the dog under conditions likely to be encountered on an almost daily basis, such as people and dogs engaged in a variety of activities. You will have to demonstrate that your pet responds to the basic dog obedience training commands of Sit and Heel in real-life settings.
A major caveat to the Canine Good Citizen test is that the rules to pass it are usually based on the interpretation of the evaluator, and the test is usually administered in a training area with few distractions. The more you can get out and work your dog in these obedience tasks in any situation possible, the more chance for success since your dog will understand it is to focus and listen to you regardless of what’s going on around it.
These conditions are distractions, and five of the ten tests for the Canine Good Citizen involve the dog’s reaction to a distraction.
1. Accepting a friendly stranger-–requires the dog to allow a stranger to approach the dog’s owner. The evaluator walks up to the dog and owner and greets the owner in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. They shake hands and exchange pleasantries, during which the dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness, and must not break position to try to go to the evaluator.
2. Sitting politely/or petting–demonstrates that the dog will allow the approach of a stranger and permit petting. With the dog sitting at the owner’s left side throughout the test, the evaluator approaches and pets the dog on the head and body only. The dog must not show shyness or resentment, and the evaluator then circles the dog and owner.
3. Appearance and grooming–requires that the dog can be groomed and examined by a stranger, such as a veterinarian. The evaluator does an examination to determine if the dog is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition, including the proper weight.
This basic dog obedience training test demonstrates the owner’s care, concern and responsibility for the dog. The evaluator then easily combs or brushes the dog to illustrate the dog’s willingness to be groomed and permit someone other than the owner to do so.
In a natural and light manner, the evaluator also examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot. For some reason, many dogs have difficulty with this exercise, and you may have to spend a little extra time getting him used to having his feet handled.
4. Walking through a crowd– requires the dog and owner to walk around and close to several persons-at least three, one of whom may have a dog demonstrating that the dog is conditioned to behave at all times and is under control in public places. Many evaluators will add items to the crowd, such as medical devices (a wheelchair, walker or crutches) or ask that various people in the crowd act in ways different from a healthy person, such as walking with a limp or white cane.
The dog may show some interest in the strangers or equipment but should continue to walk with the owner without evidence of exuberance, shyness or resentment. The dog should not be straining at the leash.
5. Reaction to another dog– requires a demonstration of proper behavior in the presence of other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about ten yards, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on about five yards. The dogs can show interest in one another, but cannot not leave their handlers to interact and should walk on calmly when pleasantries are complete.
This is another potentially difficult exercise – many dogs want to say “hello” to the other dog, which is not permitted. Short of practicing with other dogs, a solid Sit-Stay should see you through this exercise successfully.
Other tests focus on basic obedience command performance.
6. Out for a walk–requires that the dog walk with the handler on a loose leash. This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler, although if your dog has learned to “Heel,” there is no reason to not take advantage of this! The dog’s position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction. There will be a right turn, left turn and an about turn in the walk. The leash should have no tension whatsoever, either from the dog pulling ahead or the handler pulling back.
7. Sit and down on command and Staying in place–This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down and will remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers). The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay. The handler then walks 20 feet away from the dog and returns, all at a natural walking pace.
Although you have the choice to backtie your dog to a long line as insurance if you are not confident it will hold the stay, a well-trained and socialized dog should not need this. The choice is completely up to you. The dog will not pass the test if it does not stay in one place.
8. Coming when called—requires the dog to come when called. This test is usually done after the sit/down test for continuity purposes. After returning to the dog from 20 feet away, the handler then walks 10 feet away and calls the dog to come.
Again, with this test you have the choice to backtie the dog if you are not sure if the dog will try to play “Catch-me-if-you-can.”
9. Reaction to distraction—Requires the dog show confidence when faced with distracting or noisy situations. The evaluator presents 2 distractions, which can include dropping a chair or metal bowl, presentation of a running jogger, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, or even dropping a crutch or cane. It’s prefectly natural for the dog to express natural interest and curiosity or even be slightly startled, but it should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark.
A video example of each task can be found at the 4-H PetPals website. These are excellent sample videos with well-trained dogs and their handlers, and even include a modified form of the test for other animals such as cats and pocket pets. However, note that these clips also show some of the caveats of the test: the testing environment is low-distraction and does not evaluate the dog’s performance and obedience around real-world distractions that you encounter in daily life. While passing the AKC Canine Good Citizen test is something you and your dog should work toward, also keep in mind that it is not very realistic of obedience performance out in the real world under distractions.
If you fail any part of the test, keep in mind this is not the end of the world! Rather than thinking of it as a failure, look at the parts on which you might need to work. Believe it or not, this is a great way to evaluate where you are in your training and pinpoint what you and your dog need to work on in future training sessions.
The Canine Good Citizen test is often given at the end of many group classes as a way to evaluate what the dog has learned during the duration of the course. Another popular evaluation is the Novice test, which is a more formal test of the dog’s comprehension of the obedience commands outlined at the beginning of this article and the handler’s ability to work the dog. It does not evaluate the dog’s performance around distractions, around other dogs or around other people.
Visit this link if you’d like to learn more about the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program. If you are interested in taking the CGC program one step further, competition obedience is also an option. While AKC obedience trials are somewhat removed from the real-world training we teach you here—directed jumping and retrieving a dumbbell over a jump are not what the average dog is asked to do on a daily basis—they are, without a doubt, fun activities that continue to challenge you and your dog, and strengthen your bond. Training is not just about the commands outlined above: just as most people continue their schooling beyond high school, dogs can continue their training beyond obedience. Teaching your dog scent discrimination is a rewarding activity as well as retrieval work, such as picking up items around your residence—or even trash and litter at your local park! Tracking and trailing are a great ways to teach your dog to focus; all dogs know how to use their noses, but tracking teaches the dog to single out a specific scent and follow it, rather than going from scent to scent on a whim.
While all these activities sound fun and mentally challenging, keep in mind the end result you are probably imagining with your dog takes time and effort. Simply put, no matter the exercise—obedience, protection, tracking or even training a basic assistance dog—your heart must be in it to the end. There is no quitting halfway through, no matter how frustrated you get, and believe me, there are days when your dog will make your hair turn gray! Very few dogs have the limitations that prevent them from truly learning how to perform basic obedience; don’t let anyone convince you that your dog is “stupid” or that training should take years and repetitions of classes before you see any results. Some dogs take more repetition than others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn!
The Dog Obedience Training Book You’ll Want To Read …
Okay– I’m probably a little biased. But nothing on the market explained dog training the way we thought it should be explained that could give effective results in the most humane way and realistic time-frame. So I wrote my own dog obedience training book. You can start learning how to get your dog to listen to you with my best-kept and most effective training secrets. Download “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer!” today. If you have any questions at all after reading, either to clarify a point or ask about training for other purposes, you can always post to the DogProblems.com Master Dog Trainer forum, where there are always professional trainers on hand to help.