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Obedience Training - Pros and Cons

 Reviewed 10 June 2018 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> Ever thought about why people are so hyper for Obedience Training?

Obedience Training: cutting edge or cut it out?

Obedience Training - Pros and Cons

Dog Training Approach

If you've followed each of our MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICALS, then you've consumed or studied well over a year's worth of Periodicals by now. So is it okay for me to introduce you to a higher level of dog training insight?

Maybe not: I accept that many dog owners do not want to go beyond this: being successful in teaching their dog the rather basic commands. Finally! So that's it. No more.

If you feel you belong to that group, fine, no harm done. Indeed, you can live a happy life with simple Obedience Training alone. - Only that, if you reach your training success with force or fear, then your dog won't be happy.

And if you achieve your training success with too many food treats? Well, then your dog may be happy. Just not healthy. Which makes the vet 'happy' (income, food on the table!). But it makes you unhappy (costs, many vet visits, time waste, early dog death).

However, if you belong to those who think: "I've got a GERMAN SHEPHERD - quite possibly the PRIME dog breed in the world [if from a healthy pedigree] - and I expect from myself and from my dog that we go beyond what most dog owners achieve with their dog" - then you may want to continue reading here. Because you will be gently led (I hope) onto a level of canine insight most dog owners don't even know exists (and quite frankly, dog trainers neither).

Don't worry, I will not go into "the history of dog training" or anything like that. This is not an academic class, but a (still FREE!) personal effort-exercise for our MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL subscribers to help improve your relationship with your dog (whether German Shepherd or Alsatian or whatever dog), for a better life for both of you.

And yes, I do believe that this and the next Periodical, both about your Dog Training Approach, can indeed further improve your life with your dog. At least it did for me and others (but then I'm the curious 'explorer' type of person anyway).

Obedience Training - What is it after all??

If we forget for a moment all the academic and wannabe-academic nonsensical classifications of dog training, we can summarize dog training this way:

Dog Training Approach explained

The reason why I repeat the prior image with some additional terms (although these may be argued over too) is to make clear that if say, you are using the ever more popular Clicker Training (because it is so successful), it doesn't mean that you've stopped Obedience Training. Your training approach has stayed the same (Obedience Training), only you now apply a new training technique (using a clicker). Likewise, your training method has stayed the same as well (hopefully positive reinforcement - click the link if you object to how we use the word).

To put it simple: There exists only one popular dog training approach globally today (hence the simple image above). That's Obedience Training. So much popular so, that in practically every dog owners club and dog competition Obedience Training is the core component the dog owners agree on (while with the other components they often disagree - they are not obedient, ha!).

No doubt, for many ordinary dog owners and trainers(!), Obedience Training has become the holy grail of dog ownership. The question "Is your dog trained?" is considered to be synonymous with "Has your dog passed an Obedience Training class?"

And, don't get me wrong, for most dog owners this is a great introduction to dog ownership. They need an obedience-trained dog.

Key Benefits of Obedience Training - Reasons for its success:

  1. Let's be frank here, shall we? Having at least one individual that obeys us, dramatically improves our mood and self-esteem (even if that individual is 'just' an animal). Who can say (s)he wouldn't like that when (s)he gives a command then it is adhered to, shall raise their hand. Everyone enjoys the feeling of having some authority, no?
  2. Because we humans are so inconsistent in our behavior, and what we expect from others (dog and family members alike!), that without some strict commands our dog would be left totally confused! A confused dog is a stressed dog. A stressed dog is a dangerous dog. Hence, Obedience Training with its command-driven training approach is the lesser evil, compared to an uncontrollable dog.

So, I am certainly not against Obedience Training per se (don't get me wrong there). I just pity the millions of "daft dog training preachers" in the world who lack the time or effort to understand that Obedience Training should be no more than the baseline of dog training (whether or not the dog owner is happy with giving commands all the time).

Dog Training Pyramid

Why only the baseline? - This should become clear with the next Periodical.

And I pity the hundreds of millions of dog owners who never make it to our site, and thus who don't even get to hear of more dog training insight than what those "daft dog training preachers" tell them. Ah, what am I saying, most dog trainers don't tell their clients much anyway, do they? They train the client's dog with some dubious methods and techniques, and when they hand the dog back the owner hasn't got a clue why it doesn't work as well as it worked for the trainer (supposedly).

Most of course, I pity the dogs. Why? Because, giving commands makes only sense when we can enforce them (like having laws only makes sense when you can enforce them). The "force" does not need to be force or fear, it can also be lure or bribe. The point is: When we give a command, we want it to be complied with, we feel an urge to enforce it!

Few people give their dog a command, and when the dog doesn't comply they peacefully sit down and read the newspaper. NO! Or would you?

Obedience Training - the concept

The whole idea of Obedience Training is based on a Master - Servant mindset (1). The dog owner or trainer (Master) gives a command (2), and the dog or puppy (the servant) has to obey (3).

What's often covered up (in the above image too), is the necessary element of enforcement (4).

With many dog owners, the urge to enforce the command (to reap the above mentioned benefits of Obedience Training) leads to the dog being beaten or otherwise maltreated. Sometimes the dog is lucky to 'just' end up in a shelter (but not really lucky because at that point the dog often has already been maltreated - or will be now, in a different way).

In short:

Obedience Training has an immanent tendency to cruelty

dog beatenReason 1) above (Benefits of Obedience Training) explains why so many dog owners are rather commander than leader of their dog-family Pack (eg tearing and dragging their leashed dog down the road, enjoying the benefits of a choke or electronic collar, or being the repetitive type of person: "Sit. - SIT. - SIT! - I said SIT! - SIT DOWN NOW for God's sake!").

Treat TrainingReason 2) above explains why so many dog owners yield initial successes so fast with Obedience Training (particularly when employing Clicker Training): The dog pretty quickly knows what we want, and thus (s)he does it.

If not, hey! we fire the clicker and employ some form of force instead: shaking the dog by the collar ("the Monks' favorite"), pulling harsh on the leash ("the dog father's favorite"), or - mind you - giving the dog a kick in the ribs ("Millan's favorite").

Or we employ some form of fear: intimidating the dog with yelling, giving our face the really angry look, or raising our arm for that unmistakable threat of imminent action (with or without something in hand).

Or, if we are the rather loving dog owner, we lure or bribe the dog with a tempting food treat. And again. And again.

For instructions see any of the highly popular dog trainers in the world, eg everyone's(?) living room guest Cesar Millan, the (for many, including myself) magically attractive Monks of New Skete, the esthetically even more attractive Victoria Stilwell, the adventurous 'father of all' Don Sullivan etc. Note: I am not criticising any of them, rather saying that they can help you far better with any of the above: the 3 F's.

Once we use any of the three F's (Force, Fear, Food), the dog will do as we say. Normally, every bit of this is easy dog training. Everyone can do it. - That's the third reason why Obedience Training has become such a success story.

By now you know that I am the outspoken type, so let's not hide the fourth reason either: Many methods or techniques (or means) used in various shades of Obedience Training create one or two new problems while solving the current problem.

What did he just say?

Yes, you may want to read it again smile

This means we dog owners need new advice, more help, more tools, more books, more TV shows. This means the dog trainers, dog behavior analysts, dog whisperers and dog TV entertainers can make more money (gosh, I said it!).

Obedience Training is a lucrative dog training approach

Yep, that's the fourth key benefit of Obedience Training!

Does vocal or visual make a difference?

You bet it does! Like I often indicate in my books, if you can, try to condition your dog to follow your visual cues, rather than to wait for your vocal cues. In general, the less we talk (within reason), the better our dog understands us.


Even if you talk in complete sentences with your dog (like our free subscriber Rod does very successfully he says) and you feel that (s)he understands every bit of it, without denying you that your German Shepherd is exceptionally smart, all canine research suggests that in such case rather you have developed an exceptional relationship with your dog - ie you've reached the summit of dog training, see the image above.

Such that your dog notices your emotions through the subtle differences of your tone of voice, the look of your eyes, the movement of your head, and possibly even the changing chemistry of your skin (pheromones secreted through perspiration), and that your dog can associate your emotions with individual words as and when they appear in your sentences.

So really, an exceptionally smart and well-trained dog you have then, yes! - An interesting read is eg Hecht's Do Dogs Understand Our Words? - Hint: They do when we train them.

Back to: "In general, the less we talk (within reason), the better our dog understands us."

Why? Because:

Dog language is body language

What the Tail Tells Us and German Shepherd Communication Secrets were two Periodicals that made this clear.

When we are honest, we must admit that even German Shepherds bark rarely indeed - compared to how much body language they use, and compared to how much we speak! But all the time, every second, the dog's body language can tell us a story, if only we listen (in this case, watch).

The more we adapt to the canine way (Show - Don't Tell), the less we need to command our dog, and the better our dog understands us. Because, dogs not only communicate much more with their body than through their barking, they also focus their attention much more on what we do than what we say. (The Periodical GSD Eye Care allowed you to see how your dog sees you(!), and GSD Ear Care showed how well dogs hear)

Conditioning our dog to follow our visual cues has other advantages too:

  • Regardless how noisy the environment, our dog will follow our command
  • Regardless how dark the night, our dog will follow our command (dogs see better in the dark)
  • Regardless how sore our throat, our dog will follow our command
  • We save an additional layer of emphasis: We can add the vocal cue when we need to!

Do we need to give hand cues? No, not at all. You can condition your dog to take your shoulder-shrug, head-tilt, hand-clapping, soaping-your-hands movement, snapping your fingers, or whatever else as a cue to behave the way you want.

The more you succeed to get your dog to follow your visual cues, the more you are reaching the realm of Behavior Training (which will be the next Periodical).



  • Obedience Training is the most successful dog training approach globally. Indeed, it is the only popular dog training in the world.
  • Why? Because Obedience Training has unbeatable benefits, in particular:
    • We (finally!) have an individual who obeys us - this dramatically improves our mood and self-esteem (even if that individual is ‘just’ an animal). Obedience Training makes us feel important
    • Some strict commands avoid confusion. A confused dog is a stressed dog. A stressed dog is a dangerous dog. Thus Obedience Training makes us safer too
    • Using force, fear, or foods are easy means. Everyone can do it. Obedience Training guarantees quick success
    • Many means of Obedience Training create one or two new problems while solving the current problem. Thus Obedience Training is very lucrative (eg see premium prices for the most basic obedience)
  • The drawbacks of Obedience Training are negligible, in particular:
    • Many means of Obedience Training create one or two new problems while solving the current problem. A handful of dog owners fail to find someone with a solution to those new problems. - So what? Their fault! Too few to be relevant
    • Obedience Training has an immanent tendency to cruelty. - Who cares? If the show is great, and the title is a calm whisper, all is good! (just not for everyone involved)
    • All the commanding may give us a sore throat. - But only rarely, in harsh winds or in deep winter
  • Note that even the best dog training techniques (say Clicker Training with Morten & Cecilie using a simple clicker) do not imply that you have to kiss Obedience Training goodbye
  • Obedience Training is more the overall training approach, not a particular method or technique. It describes the mindset of the dog owner or trainer
  • The constituents of Obedience Training are:
    • Master - Servant mindset
    • Master gives commands
    • Dog or Puppy has to obey
    • If not, Master uses some form of enforcement
  • The enforcement is any of the 3 F's: Force, Fear, Foods (typically it's a combination). What it is depends on how much the owner or trainer struggles with the particular dog.
  • If you want to get the real "low down" on differences in the dog training approach - and at the same time get your dog to behave the way you want - then check out the complete House Training Guide: Training Dogs to Behave Well in a High Value Home - this will likely open your eyes in a way your dog would want wink

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