Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 20, 2017
Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips

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Obedience training basically consists in educating a dog to respond positively to our orders and indications. This is basic in any dog's education, as it lays the ground for a safe and happy cohabitation. Unlike what many believe, canine obedience is not a synonym of dog training, as obedience is only a part of a dog's education.

In this AnimalWised article we will explain what are the keys of canine obedience to achieve good communication between owner and dog. We'll overview different training methods and share our best tips for basic and advanced training. Read on and learn all about obedience training in dogs!

You may also be interested in: Pomeranian Training for Puppy and Adult Dogs

Levels of obedience training

There are different requirements for obedience training depending on what our targeted objective is. Of course, the necessary process to train a service dog will be different from that for a participant in competitive dog sports or for companion dogs, who have no special function beyond being everyone's favorite family member.

While there may be dogs that are smarter than others, the truth is that proper obedience training will never be complete if the person training the dog does not have some basic knowledge of what they're doing.

Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips - Levels of obedience training

The old method: Obedience training through dominance

You have at some point probably seen the TV show Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan's techniques left half the world mesmerized, but more and more people have spoken out against his methods. In fact, in Austria its transmission on public television was cut short. Why? He works with old obedience methods based on dominance.

Trainers who practice dominance methods state that we must be a "leader of the pack" for our dog and use techniques reminiscent of a dog's natural communication, like marking. However, this method arose studies about wolves made in the last century, and it assumes that any disobedient dog wants to be the dominant party in the pack.

Despite the fact that using some of the dog's natural strategies is positive, we should understand that some techniques can cause discomfort in our pet, worsening the behavioral problems that it may have. If we are not specialists, using dominance methods is a serious mistake. In addition, these methods are outdated and have proven to be less effective than other techniques.

Recently, canine ethologists who study wolf packs in the wild have argued that they are much less aggressive among themselves than we believed. These new studies have appeared because modern technology allows experts to study wolves in the wild: before that, all observations were made on "artificial packs" kept in captivity. These packs lived in a situation of ongoing stress, which resulted in a higher degree of aggressiveness among its members.

Wolves depend on each other to survive, so it makes sense that they're not constantly attacking and hurting each other. There is a hierarchy in wolf packs, but it is mostly transmitted through body language in order to prevent conflict, even more so than in the case of dogs.

Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips - The old method: Obedience training through dominance

The modern method: Obedience through positive reinforcement

Maintaining a positive and confident attitude helps the recipient understand us and be more inclined to follow our instructions. This applies to humans and also to dogs, which is why nowadays experts recommend obedience training through positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is simple: when a dog behaves as we want it to, or when it properly carries out a task, we reward it. While treats for dogs are useful as rewards, soft words of encouragement and petting also work.

This method completely rejects punishment, as it causes stress and is actually counter-productive, and invites us to use other actions that do not strain your relationship with your dog. Of course, eliminating punishment from training does not mean you let your dog do whatever it wants.

Non-verbal communication is essential for obedience training. You should not only use an order like "sit": you should link it to a gesture, because dogs understand physical signs better than words.

The use of the clicker is a useful and more complex version of positive reinforcement that requires more perseverance. Its aim is to "capture" the behaviors that you want to reinforce and maintain. When your dog does something you want to reinforce, reward it and use the clicker at once. Over time, the dog will associate the "click" sound with your approval and will learn what you want it to do.

Allowing the animal to make mistakes and rectify its behavior by itself is basic. The modern dog training methods we have proposed will help it feel comfortable during its education while respecting animal welfare principles. Positive reinforcement encourages the dog to learn by itself, improves its mental stimulation, makes it feel useful, prevents behavioral problems and avoids causing excess pressure or even fear.

Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips - The modern method: Obedience through positive reinforcement

Behavioral problems in dogs

Before you adopt a dog you should be aware that it may need to be monitored by a professional trainer at some point. Consulting a dog trainer or ethologist will help you a great deal if you notice that your dog does not listen to you or that it is developing behavioral issues.

In order to understand better what your dog need, revise the five freedoms of animal welfare. If all its requirements are met, it may be that you cannot properly understand your dog's physical and verbal cues and that you are not responding accordingly.

For example, scolding a dog when it growls is totally counter-productive, as the animal may initiate an attack without further warning. A growl is a dog's way of saying "leave me alone" or "I do not like that".

Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips - Behavioral problems in dogs

How and when to do obedience training

  • Practicing basic dog commands for about 5 or 10 minutes a day will be enough. Excessive training time will be counter-productive.
  • Work on one command per session, dedicating between 1 and 10 days to its full understanding and application. When your dog fully understands a command you can move on to the next.
  • Devote one day every week to revising all the orders learned.
  • Start working on a command in a peaceful place without distractions. Then, carry it out in busier places to ensure that the dog can respond effectively even with constant distractions.
  • Practice every day and be constant in obedience to ensure a good result.
  • Prevent others from gratuitously rewarding your dog: it must only to be rewarded when responding positively to a command.
Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips - How and when to do obedience training

If you are looking for more advice on dog behavior and obedience training, take a look at the following articles:

If you want to read similar articles to Obedience Training for Dogs: Methods and Tips, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

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