Obedience Training: Keep Your Dog on Track

Obedience Training: Keep Your Dog on Track

Key Points

  • Every dog needs obedience training to learn at least the five basic commands.

  • If your dog is destructive, the reason may be anxiety rather than disobedience.

  • The American Kennel Club offers the S.T.A.R. Puppy training program.

  • Do obedience training in your home if you choose.

Do you feel like your dog is off the rails and out of your control? They need obedience training. Your dog may have specific issues that require intervention, but every dog needs to learn how to act appropriately when out and about in the world.

Obedience training isn't just for "bad" behavior, but like a child, they must learn manners. Given the proper lessons, your dog is back on track and on their way to becoming an upstanding citizen of the animal community.

Why Does Your Dog Need Obedience Training?

If your dog displays behaviors that you deem inappropriate, they need obedience training. They may also be causing conflict with others or interfering with your regular daily routine. There are a few reasons why your dog must receive training.


Some dogs lash out at people or animals they don't know. This likely isn't because they're a mean dog but because they're afraid. When dogs get scared, they have a "fight or flight" reaction. They either run away or act aggressively.

It's challenging to know the reason for your dog's reaction. It could be that they lack socialization or had a traumatic experience with a stranger in their past. Help your dog overcome this by gradually exposing them to social situations with precautions (keeping your dog on a leash, monitoring their play with other dogs, e.g.).

Give them positive reinforcement when they display calm behavior by giving them treats, pets, and other reassuring physical gestures. Reward only positive behaviors to train away the aggression.

Dog group training


Your dog may lack socialization. It's essential to have this skill because they're interacting with the world around them. If your dog doesn't have appropriate social skills, they have difficulty when out for a walk, going to the dog park, or when new people come to the house.

You want your dog to get physical exercise, but if you don't teach them how to interact appropriately with those around them, everything becomes a distraction.


If your dog tends to take off suddenly after a squirrel or a car, this is potentially dangerous. Without the proper training, your dog won't stop at your commands, and they put themselves in harm's way. They also may cause a car to swerve and end up in an accident.

Yes, your dog is on a leash, but sometimes equipment fails. There also may be a moment when you relax your grip, and your dog decides to take off unexpectedly. Now they're off to the races with the leash trailing behind them.

Disobedient Dog or Scared Dog?

Does your dog whine or bark excessively? Do they destroy furniture while you're gone? Are there scratch marks all over the door where they tried to escape? These may not be signs of "bad behavior" but symptoms of separation anxiety.

To know the difference, look at when the behaviors occur. Does the barking happen during times when there are loud noises outside? Do they bark and whine when you're getting ready to leave for work? Do they scratch at the door only while you're gone? If the answer is yes to these questions, your dog likely has separation anxiety.

Dog holds leash in its mouth prepared for training

These behaviors still require intervention, but it's training of a different kind. It's not about obedience but about relieving anxiety. Some methods are similar, like using positive reinforcement, but the goal isn't just to change the behavior; it's to treat the underlying cause.

When you return from being gone, a dog with separation anxiety likely shows excited behavior (barking, jumping up on you, running around). It's best to ignore this behavior until they calm down. Then, give them the command to sit.

When your dog responds appropriately in a calm manner, reward them with a treat. This not only trains them to obey your command but also reinforces their calm behavior, which helps curb their separation anxiety. You may then add the command "lie down" which is an even more subdued posture.

Getting your dog a calming dog bed helps when they're anxious. Whether their anxiety appears at night or while you're away, they go to bed for security. It supports and comforts them, giving them peace and calmness.

Types of Training

There are two different kinds of methods that trainers use. One is aversive-based and the other is reward-based. Different experts prefer one over the other, so when choosing a trainer, observe which one they use and make an informed decision.

The experts at Fetch at WebMD explain that "Aversive-based training uses techniques like loud, unpleasant noises, physical corrections, and harsh scoldings to get your dog to act the way you want. On the other hand, reward-based training uses rewards whenever your dog does something you want it to do. Treats, belly rubs, or other dog-pleasing actions are used to reinforce that a behavior was good."

Organizations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) recommend positive reinforcement when training your dog. Teaching your dog to fear you is a negative approach. In essence, you're rewarding fear-based responses.

You want a dog that's happy and wants to please you. Especially if you have a dog that is prone to anxiety, aversive-based training feeds into that negative emotion.

Dog is trained in a large open field

Professional Training

If you don't feel up to the task of training your dog on your own, that's what professional trainers are for. There are likely trainers in your area if you know where to look and your vet may recommend a reputable trainer.

Most trainers allow you to watch a session or two to know if they're a good fit. Not every trainer may align with your values or ideals when it comes to handling your dog. Don't settle for someone that uses techniques that you disagree with.

If your dog gets anxious around other dogs or strangers, give them a calming treat before you go to your training session. They're more subdued and relaxed as they deal with an unfamiliar environment.

Petco offers group training classes for puppies and adults as well as private lessons. Petsmart offers puppy, beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes, as well as one-on-one virtual training.


When you and your dog learn from a professional certified dog trainer, you receive effective instruction from someone with experience and knowledge. A good trainer answers your questions and explains things in ways you understand. They train your dog in the manner that best fits your lifestyle.

Tips for Choosing a Trainer

Anyone may advertise themselves as a dog trainer. To ensure your trainer is fully qualified, choose someone with credentials from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).

Individuals who complete training with the CCPDT master intense exams to show their skill in humane, science-based dog training techniques. Visit their website for a list of resources, including where to find a trainer.

If your dog has specific issues with aggression or anxiety, choose a trainer who is also a behaviorist. A trainer works with you and your dog to teach them to obey commands. In other words, a trainer corrects symptoms, but a behaviorist tries to solve the underlying issues causing those negative behaviors.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers the S.T.A.R. Puppy program. The acronym stands for socialization, training, activity, and responsible owner. You and your puppy attend the S.T.A.R. Puppy classes for at least six weeks, and then the trainer administers a test at the end of the course. If your pup passes the test, they become enrolled in the program.

Go to the AKC website, where you're able to type in your state and find an approved evaluator in your area.

Man embraces dog while on the trail

Training at Home

Traveling to a dog trainer may not be feasible if you live in a more remote or rural area. A disability or transportation may be an issue as well. For whatever reason, you choose to train your dog at home.

With the right instruction, it's possible to train your dog successfully. You don't need a degree or certification in dog training or animal behavior to train your dog. However, if you're unsure about what you're doing or your dog isn't "getting it," don't hesitate to ask for help.

Contact a professional trainer and explain what's going on. See if there's something you're missing or doing incorrectly. If not, there may be an underlying issue that's preventing your dog from picking up what you're laying down.

Remember that successful dog training takes time and is different for every dog. Some breeds tend to be more adept at learning new skills more easily than others.


There are some reasons why it's a good idea to train your dog at home. If your dog is overly-aggressive toward other dogs or humans, it may be best to keep them separated until that behavior is under control.

A dog with anxiety may be uncomfortable or frightened in unfamiliar places. You may find getting your dog to concentrate difficult under these circumstances. Eventually, part of their training must include socialization with other dogs and new places.

If you have a puppy, that socialization must begin early. A good breeder provides plenty of exposure to humans and littermates during those crucial developmental weeks.

When it's only you and your dog at home, a strong bond develops between the two of you. Your dog not only feels secure with you, but they're in their own home, which is a safer environment.

Lastly, you know your dog, so adjust their training to meet your and your dog's needs.

Dog trainer holds treat over dog's head during training

Tips for Training at Home

Begin as early as eight weeks of age for a puppy, but for an adult dog, the sooner the better. However, if you adopt a dog from a shelter, it takes them a while to get used to you and their surroundings. Getting them to follow your directions is difficult if they haven't yet developed a trusting bond with you.

Before you begin training your dog yourself, getting some expert advice is best.

The RSPCA offers these tips for owners who choose to train their dogs at home:

  • Minimize distractions: Always start lessons for new tricks in a quiet room in your house away from any distractions.

  • Chunk training sessions: Break training up into short but regular sessions so your dog isn't overwhelmed.

  • Be patient: Dogs learn at different rates, so don't worry if your dog doesn't pick things up immediately.

  • End on a high note: Always end with something your dog knows so the session finishes positively.

  • Have fun: Training is a great way for you to bond with your dog!

Come, heel, sit, stay, and down are the five basic commands every dog should know, according to most trainers and the AKC. Other trainers add commands like no, drop, or leave it, in addition to name recognition.

Remain consistent when training your dog; always use the same commands, and expect the same responses from your dog. Avoid using commands that rhyme with each other to avoid confusing your dog.

Many owners want to know how long it takes to train their dog. This depends on what kind of training they receive, how much time you put into their training, and the frequency of the sessions. The consensus is that learning the basic commands takes about six weeks.

Dog pulls on rope during training session

On the Right Track

Whether you do it yourself or employ a professional's aid, your dog needs obedience training. You don't want to be at the dog park, call your dog, and watch as they happily ignore you. It's an embarrassing scenario. Besides that, it's potentially dangerous.

You may send your dog off to dog obedience boarding school, but you create a bond when you train with them. Being separated during that process may give them anxiety as well. Schedule a training session with your dog and learn how to communicate with each other.

Get your dog on the obedience train, and soon they'll be on the right track.

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