dogs benefit from receiving an education so they can learn to reliably respond to basic commands, a process known as “obedience training.” The advantages of implementing obedience training are several. Obedience training takes more than just holding a cookie and training a dog to sit. There are different schools of thought when it comes to obedience training and methods used. There are also many tools that can aid in the obedience training process. Learning the science behind obedience training can help better understand the dynamics that may promote or interfere with a dog’s ability to learn.
For many centuries, obeying commands was a main requisite for the working dog. The dog obedience training centuries ago entailed engaging canines in tasks that were useful to owners. Someone selectively bred each dog breed for excelling in distinct roles under the owner’s guidance. Collies were herding flocks of sheep, spaniels were flushing quarry out of bushes, and retrievers were retrieving downed birds in lakes and ponds.
In the 20th century, they used many dogs in military and police operations using a militaristic approach. However, in the latter part of the century, there was a growing interest in training marine mammals for shows. Positive reinforcement training became popular as marine mammal trainers started using clickers to mark wanted behaviors and reward with food. This training way quickly became popular training way in the world as well.
Nowadays, most dogs are no longer used for work but have become companions, members of the family and society, and I expect them to behave in the public and show good manners. I accomplished this through modern obedience training.
Why should dog owners obey training their dogs? The advantages are several:
- Help reduce problematic behaviors such as jumping, barking, chewing, and digging – a dog that is taught to sit cannot engage in boisterous jumping at the same time!
- Dogs who are routinely trained are also often calmer dogs – because obedience training provides them with an outlet for pent-up energy and mental stimulation.
- Opens the lines of communication between dog and dog owner, paving the path to a deeper bond.
Types of Training
Various types and levels of obedience training constellate the sky of dog disciplines. Obedience training classes should ideally start from an early age and should continue throughout the dog’s life. It should be a lifelong commitment. The following is a rundown of obedience training classes.
. Puppy Classes
I mean these developmental classes to introduce puppies to the world surrounding them. Puppies will be socialized with people and other dogs and introduced to common sights and sounds. Puppies enrolled in puppy classes usually range between the ages of 2 to 6 months. Trainers will give information about development stages, nutrition, behavior, grooming, and the housebreaking process. Someone additionally taught a few basic commands.
. Basic Classes
These classes are suitable for older puppies and adult dogs and focus on teaching the basic commands all dogs should know. Sit, down, stay, come when called and loose-leash walking are common commands taught in these classes. A basic class lasts anywhere between 6 and 8 weeks with once-a-week encounters. Puppy owners may choose or pick among the group and private essential classes.
. Canine Good Citizen Classes
Becoming an outstanding member of today’s society is important for dogs nowadays. Dogs who attend Canine Good Citizen classes must show a good grip on basic commands even in distracting scenarios. I grant dogs who succeed in these flying colors classes a Canine Good Citizen Certification from the American Kennel Club.
. Advanced Classes,
Advanced classes focus on teaching dogs to respond to basic commands with more precision and accuracy. They also can teach new commands altogether. Often, these classes help prepare dogs for sporting events such as Rally-o, Canine Musical Freestyle, tracking, or agility. In order to enroll in these classes, the dog must have passed basic training.
The Science Behind It
In order for dogs to learn, they must acknowledge that their behaviors lead to consequences. Whether the consequences are pleasant or unpleasant will largely depend on the training method employed. Operant conditioning is the term used to depict how dogs learn to “operate” in order to attain a desirable outcome or avoid a negative one. Edward Thorndike studied operant conditioning extensively and created the famous law of effect, which is named after him. Thorndike’s Law of Effect claims: “practices that are followed by fulfilling outcomes lead to be rehashed and those that bring about terrible results are less inclined to be rehashed.” The following are the four quadrants of dog training.
. Positive Reinforcement
Here, we add a pleasant consequence to increase the chances for a dog to engage in wanted behaviors. For example, if I gave a dog a cookie every time he sits, he will be more likely to want to sit in the future because a positive association between cause and effect has been established. While food is the most common reinforcer, toys, praise, and life rewards can use as well.
. Negative Reinforcement
In this case, something the dog perceives as unpleasant is removed to increase the chances of engaging in a wanted behavior. For example, someone may release only once a squirming puppy the puppy calms down. After some time, this should encourage calmer behaviors in the future. On another hand, leash pressure is excluded the moment the puppy heels nicely in order to increase this behavior in the future. Leashes, we can use remote collars in such a way as to deliver negative reinforcement.
. Positive Punishment
In this case, I added an unpleasant consequence to decrease an undesired behavior. For example, if I scolded a dog every time he jumps on the couch, he may reduce his couch-jumping behavior because he has made an association between cause and effect. Scolding, a physical correction, or the use of a remote collar may decrease undesirable behaviors.
. Negative Punishment
In this case, something the dog perceives as pleasant is removed to decrease an undesired behavior.
For example, we may remove attention the moment the dog jumps on people. Here, the dog learns that jumping takes away something they like; therefore, this should decrease the jumping behavior. Withdrawing attention or removing a treat from sight are popular ways to decrease unwanted behaviors.
How well a dog does in obedience training depends on a variety of factors. Humans often forget that dogs are a different species and have different drives and instincts. A good understanding of how dogs learn and realistic expectations are good starting points for successful training. It’s also important to understand that not all dogs respond in the same way to obedience training.
For instance, scent hounds may challenge training because these dogs have a history of selectively bred to track a scent. They may sit nicely one moment and tracking scent the next. Coming when you call is not something these dogs excel in. Anything may distract sighthounds that move. However, there are many reported success stories about talented hound owners who could put several obedience titles on their hounds.
Other than breed, how well a dog responds to obedience training will also depend on the level of commitment of the owner. Some puppy owners find it hard to incorporate training into their busy lifestyles. Often this means it takes longer for the dog to respond; yet, it’s important to realize that even a few minutes of training a day, even during a commercial break, can be helpful.
Training should consistently begin in a quiet place where there aren’t too many distractions going on. It’s easier for a dog to learn this way. Too many distractions will interfere with the dog’s ability to focus. As the dog learns commands, then distance, distractions, and duration can be added to the picture. Once a dog responds quickly and with precision to commands, he is said to be under “stimulus control.”
Methods used to train also produce variable results. Reward-based methods are helpful in motivating dogs. Motivation is the internal motor that puts dogs into action. High-value treats can make a food-motivated dog jump for the stars, but not all dogs are food motivated. Other rewards may need to be employed, such as toys and games.
There are several methods dog trainers used to train basic commands. The choice of method may vary from one school and another. To teach a dog to learn with enthusiasm, positive, reward-based methods work best. With this method, dogs are eager to learn and they are more likely to trust and bond with their handlers. Methods based on intimidation may instead lead to a dog that is inhibited and obeys mostly out of fear. The following are some popular and less popular methods used to train dogs.
In this case, food or toys are used to guide the dog in the desired position. For instance, to train a dog to sit, I brought a treat to the dog’s nose level and then moved back towards the head area. As the dog follows the treat, his nose will point up and his rump will touch the ground. I gave the treat the moment the dog’s bottom touches the floor, causing the dog to sit.
In capturing, they reward dogs when they engage in spontaneous, desirable behaviors. For instance, during the day, the dog may sit several times even if he doesn’t know the sit command. The watchful trainer will be ready to praise and reward the dog every time he spontaneously sits. Because behaviors that are rewarded repeat, the dog will sit more and more often.
Shaping comprises rewarding dogs for small approximations of a finished behavior. For instance, in training a dog to sit, the dog will be rewarded for each small step before achieving the finished behavior. In the cases of a sit, the trainer may use a food lure and may initially reward the dog for just following the tasty tidbit with his nose. Afterward, the puppy will be rewarded for following the treatment and then slightly bending the back legs, up until the point the puppy bends the legs deeper and ultimately sits.
. Physical Molding
In this case, the dog’s body is physically put in the desired position. For instance, for a sit, the dog’s back may be pushed down until the dog is in a sitting position. This method is not very popular because some dogs may resent being touched this way. Older dogs or dogs with orthopedic problems may also have back or joint pain.
The choice of training tools can also vary from one method and another. I mean some tools to build motivation through positive reinforcement, while other tools may discourage certain behaviors through positive punishment. We can use some tools for negative reinforcement. The following are common tools used in obedience training.
Used in the past by marine mammal trainers, clickers are small, hand-held devices that make a clicking sound when one side is compressed. Clickers are used to mark wanted behaviors with innovative precision. Before clicker training dogs, the clicker must be properly introduced and “charged.” In other words, the dog must learn that a treat follows every click. Once this association is made, we can train the dog using capturing and shaping techniques.
Targets are objects I trained the dog to interact with. Curiosity naturally drawn dogs to targets. A target can be any object, but trainers regularly use things like tacky notes, plastic covers, and wooden spoons. I may use a sticky note as a target to train a dog to touch it with the paw. I can place the sticky note in different areas to train the dog to paw doors, turn off lights or even play the piano. Someone can gradually make the target smaller and smaller until it is no longer used.
Treats are used to reward desired behaviors. The best treats for training are small, soft, and bite-sized. We must consider them high-value enough to overcome other distractions around. It’s important to learn how to use treats correctly. In luring, we present the treat as a guide to help the dog learn to perform the wanted behavior; however, to prevent bribing, the treat must be faded quickly from view, otherwise, the dog learns to work only when treats are in sight.
. Tug Toys
Puppies who are not treated as motivated can be rewarded by using tug toys. Some dogs can become obsessed with games of the tug, which makes them valuable tools to reward behaviors or distract dogs from engaging in unwanted behaviors. Dogs with high predatory drives may find tug as an irresistible game.
Certain obedience competitions require dogs to retrieve a dumbbell over an obstacle. A dumbbell is simply a retrieve toy often made of wood. Dogs bred for retrieve work may have a natural inclination to carrying dumbbells around and retrieving them.
. Long Lines,
Sometimes, dogs need to be trained from a distance. Long lines allow handlers to train dogs recalls with the safety of knowing that the dog cannot just take off. We can also use long lines in training dogs to track scent or herd. Long lines are simply long leashes made of lighter materials measuring anywhere between 10 and 50 feet.
. Silent Whistles
Silent whistles also come in handy for distance work. A silent whistle reaches the ultrasonic ranges which are barely audible by humans, but readily audible to dogs. Whistle pips and blasts are used in different combinations to give the dog different commands. I often used silent whistles for herding dogs.
. Training Collars
A vast array of training collars are used to train a dog to heel; basically, walking nicely beside the owner without pulling. Some collars, though, deliver punishment. Choke collars work by tightening around the neck when the dog pulls too much; whereas prong collars may pinch the skin. No-pull harnesses and head halters offer a more humane way to train dogs to walk politely on the leash.
I mean some collars to punish undesirable behaviors. For instance, bark collars may train a dog not to bark by emitting a shock, aversive spray, or an ultrasonic sound the moment the dog barks. I mean electronic fence collars to deliver a warning beep, followed by shock the moment the dog is about to pass a property boundary line.
Electronic shock collars can deliver shock remotely so to stop unwanted behaviors. They can also reinforce wanted behaviors through negative reinforcement. For instance, in training a recall, the handler may deliver shock and turn it off only once the dog runs towards the owner. The term “remote” is used to emphasize the fact that they can deliver the shock from a distance.
Basic Training Command
These are common commands taught in basic classes that all dogs should know. These commands aren’t just for showing off a dog’s talents; rather, they can turn handy in many circumstances. For instance, a dog that is asked to sit when guests come over will be less likely to jump all over them. A dog that learns polite leash manners will be safer than a dog that drags the owner down the street to go meet an unknown dog. Following are common basic obedience commands and how they can be taught.
In this command, the dog’s hind legs lower leaving the dog in a sitting position. The sit command can be easily taught by holding a treat between the thumb and index finger and allowing it to protrude a bit so the dog can see it. The dog is allowed to sniff the treat. The treat is then moved from the nose area to the back of the head in a slow upward and backward motion. The dog will tilt his head upwards to follow the treat with his nose, and at the same time, his hind legs should lower causing his bottom to touch the floor. The moment the bottom touch the floor, the dog is praised and rewarded with the treat.
In this command, the dog’s front and hind legs are lowered, leaving the dog in a lying-down position. This command is easily taught by holding a treat between the thumb and index finger. The treat is brought to the dog’s nose level and then is brought down in an imaginary straight line that goes from the dog’s nose down to the middle of the front paws. Afterward, bring the treat out from the middle of the dog’s paws. It’s as if the trainer would draw an imaginary “L.” As the dog follows the treat, his elbows and hind legs should lower. The moment the elbows touch the floor and the hind legs are down, the dog gets praise and a reward with the treat.
In order to train the come command, a helper must keep the dog on leash in a quiet area where there aren’t too many distractions. The person training the dog shows a treat and then darts away, kneels down and calls the dog in an enthusiastic tone of voice. The moment the helper feels tension on the leash, he lets go of it. The person training then lavishly praises the dog and rewards him for coming to him by giving the treat.
. Leash Manners
The person training the dog teaches the dog that pulling no longer works. Every moment the dog pulls, the person stops in his tracks, entices the dog to return to his side with a treat, and then praises and rewards the dog for staying in heel position by giving the treat. I repeat the process several times until the dog learns that pulling no longer works and that staying by the handler’s side is rewarding. Learn more about the training of loose-leash walking in this article.
In this exercise, I taught the dog to remain immobile in a standing, sitting, or lying down position. I asked the dog to sit, lie down, or stand with the handler right next to him. Then, with the hand open as a police officer’s stop signal, the handler commands the dog to stay as he takes a few steps forward and then swiftly returns next to the dog to praise and reward the dog for staying immobile. I gradually added distance distractions and duration as the training progresses. Learn the stay command in this step-by-step guide.
The Bottom Line
As seen, obedience training offers many advantages and benefits to both the dog and the owner. A well-trained dog makes a great, cheerful companion and is a joy to have around us. Best of all, a well-trained dog is also often allowed much more freedom compared to a dog with poor manners. Indeed, well-trained dogs get to be in more places and get to share many activities with those they have bonded and trusted the most: their beloved owners.