This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page One of an eleven-page section

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The Purpose of Command Training

By doing happenstance work with your dog, you can teach him right from wrong, so that he will learn what he is supposed to do, and if you work it right, he will also develop the desire to always do the right thing. Therefore, the happenstance-trained dog can be depended upon to do what he is supposed to do in all situations for which you have prepared him.

However, having a well behaved dog who knows how to comport himself throughout the day is not necessarily the same as having a dog who always does what you tell him. The purpose of command training, then, is to teach your dog to follow your instructions.

The Three Steps Necessary to Get the Job Done

If your goal is to obedience train a dog who can be counted on, there are three things you are going to have to accomplish:

  1. You are going to have to learn how to tell your dog what it is that you want him to do.
  2. You are going to have to teach him how to do what it is that you want him to do.
  3. You will have to make him want to do what it is that you want him to do.

Step One: How to Tell Your Dog What it is that You Want Him to Do

To successfully handle your own dog, you need to have two distinct personalities. First, there is the person that you are when you are acting as your dog's caretaker. As his caretaker you undoubtedly indulge him. You think first of his comfort and you hope he will regard you as a loving family member, rather than as someone who bosses him around and demands that he immediately follow every instruction that he is given.

However, obedience training your dog is about just exactly that. The thrust of command training is to bring your dog to the point that you will know with absolute certainty that he will always follow your commands immediately, in all circumstances.

Especially if you are going to be walking your dog off-lead, his life, along with the lives of nearby pedestrians and passing motorists may well depend on him fully complying with your instructions the instant they are given. That means that, along with being your dog's family and his best pal, you also have to be his boss, and insist that he immediately follow all of your orders to the letter.

The problem for your dog is that he has no way of knowing which of those two roles you are playing at any given moment. Are you his endlessly indulgent pal, or are you his no nonsense boss who must be obeyed without a moments hesitation?

The Four Modes of Human to Canine Communication

From the canine perspective, it can be a perplexing puzzle. To add to their confusion, we people speak to our dogs in at least four different contexts, and then we expect the poor mutts to cipher-out which mode we are in at any given moment.

Often, when we humans speak to our dogs, we are just babbling on in a one-sided solitary conversation. For the most part, we don't really even expect our dogs to understand what we are saying or to make any sort of response, but we speak to them, nonetheless.

In the second instance, we make requests of our dogs, but we don't really care whether or not the animals actually comply with those requests. For example, you may turn to a dog a short distance away and call out to him, "Hey boy, why don't you come on over here?" But you don't really care if the dog comes or not. If he would rather continue on with his current activity, well, that's fine with you. That is the nature of requests - compliance is optional.

In the third instance, we make offers to our dogs. For example, you may open the door and say to your dog, "Do you want to go out?" In that case it is not even a request. Rather, it is just an offer to let him do it if he wants to. So again, compliance is optional.

That brings us to the fourth context of human to canine communication, which is the command.

Your dog needs to learn that when you are in command mode, an entirely new set of rules applies. Unlike the other three modes of human-to-canine communication, when commanding your dog your every utterance is part of a directive, and every directive constitutes an order that must always be obeyed, even if that means that you must gently and patiently put your hands on your dog and move him into position yourself.

As your dog will soon learn, when you are in command mode, it becomes a whole new ballgame, one in which kindness is still ever present and patience is almost endless, but where, nonetheless, participation is not optional.

That's all very straightforward, then, all commands must be obeyed immediately. All right. Good enough.

But the question then arises, how is your dog going to be able to tell the difference between when you are commanding him, and when you are simply babbling on, or offering him an opportunity, or making a request?

Go forward to page two of the command training section

Go to the command training index

This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network