A well-behaved dog.

Basic obedience training

by Dennis Fisher.


This article is one of a great many articles written by Dennis Fisher about a very wide variety of subjects concerning different  dogs, such as obedience training, breeding, showing, health matters, training problems and other subjects.  All these articles appear on Dennis Fisher's websites.   Visit  http://www.allaboutgermanshepherddogs.com the site that has been set up specifically for German Shepherd Dog enthusiasts, or http://www.freedogadvice.com  if you interested in a breed   other than German Shepherd Dogs



A trained, obedient dog is a pleasure and a delight; a reliable, trustworthy and dependable companion whose behavior will never give you cause for concern.  On the other hand a spoiled, rowdy, pampered, undisciplined animal is a nuisance and frequently a source of great embarrassment. In the case of the larger, powerful breeds, an uncontrollable dog is a positive danger.

 Although most dog owners would agree with the above, there are many who nevertheless shirk the responsibility of training their dogs because they mistakenly believe that it is a long, complex time-consuming process.

 Obviously if you have ambitions to train your dog to Competition standard and to work with the perfect precision necessary for top honors in the Obedience ring, you must be prepared to devote a considerable amount of time to training.  But if your purpose is simply to have a well-disciplined companion, you can achieve this goal without great effort and in a relatively short space of time.

 If you are able to join one of the Obedience Dog Clubs in your area, so much the better. You will receive competent direction from an experienced trainer and in addition will have the opportunity of allowing your dog to come into contact with other dogs, which is a very great advantage.

 Let us assume however that for various reasons this is not possible or convenient.

 At the outset it is important for you to accept the fact that in order to have a well-behaved dog it is necessary for your dog to respect you in addition to loving you.   You will command this respect by being firm, calm and confident in your manner without creating any confusion in your dog’s mind.

 How can you can command this respect?  This is not as difficult as this may seem.  There are certain basic rules to follow.  Guide your dog in such a way that he has no doubt whatsoever as to what is required of him.   Insist when you give a command it is in fact a command not a request. Praise him lavishly and unstintingly when he obeys your command.  Reprimand him suitably and appropriately when he refuses to obey your command.

 This is the basis of all obedience training.   Praise for obeying a command and reprimand for disobeying a command.

 Of these two factors, the question of reprimand is clearly the more difficult to apply.  It also gives rise to the greatest difference of opinion  in training methods.

 Whereas it is virtually impossible to praise a dog too lavishly, and even if excessive praise is given no harm can result, an unnecessarily harsh reprimand of a sensitive young dogs for a relatively minor misdemeanor will have serious consequences and set your training back many months.

  Understand the command.

  Another point that should always be borne in mind is that you must always be absolutely certain that your dog understands the command you have given.  If you have the slightest doubt on this score, the dog must be given the benefit before he is reprimanded.

All commands must be given in a firm, confident manner without raising your voice unnecessarily.  There is no need whatsoever to act as if you were a drill sergeant on a parade ground.  Any screaming or loss of control on your part – even if you consider you are being deliberately provoked – will only jeopardize the training process.

You want your dog to respect you by accepting the fact that you are someone prepared to guide him but who will  not allow yourself to be taken advantage of by disobedience.

This can be accomplished without loss of control on your part.  It can be accomplished by reprimanding him adequately and suitably for any disobedience.  As soon as he accepts the fact that your commands are not requests, will respect you.   The whole relationship between you and your dog hinges on this attitude.

  How to reprimand

  Now to turn to the important question of how to reprimand for disregarding a command you have given.    It must be accepted that the temperaments of different dogs are as varied as that of human beings.   The temperaments of different breeds vary enormously and even within a breed certain strains vary in sensitivity.   Dog and bitches will also react differently to reproof.

Because of this it is most important for you to assess accurately the level of sensitivity of the dog you are training.   For example, a mild correction such as a sharp “No! You bad dog!” could quite easily be sufficient reproof for a sensitive Border Collie bitch in order to bring about the required change in behaviour.  On the other hand a boisterous, Great Dane male or Rottweiler would, in some instances, require a more vigorous and pronounced indication of disapproval.

 It must be remembered however, that one should not fall into the trap of categorizing breeds with regard to behaviour patterns. 

In mentioning the boisterous   Great Dane this by no means is meant to suggest that all Great Danes are in any way obstinate or difficult to train. There are tremendous variations in temperament within the breeds.  In fact a young harlequin Great Dane that I have at the moment responds so readily to commands t it only necessary for me to give them in a very soft voiced - almost as a  whisper!

 The same applies to Shepherds.  I have had obstinate, self-willed Shepherds, while others I have owned have been so eager to please they have been an absolute delight to train.  They have required an absolute minimum of effort in training.

 When you are absolutely certain your dog understands your command and there is no confusion as to what you want him to do, it might be necessary for you to give him a really hard jerk of the leash.  Before doing so make certain his training collar is of sufficient length to give positive effect to the jerk.  You should accompany the jerk with a very definite and unmistakable  “No!”

Limits to the extent of training.

It might be well to mention at this stage that with certain dogs there are limits to the extent of training to which you can hope to aspire.  Now this may sound very negative advice indeed but it is raising false hopes to pretend that every animal can reach the same level of training.

Certain breeds are noted for their independence of spirit and in fact devotees of these breeds admire them for these very qualities.   For example, it is highly unlikely if your happen to be training a Daschund – as lovable as this breed of dog happens to be – or a miniature Schnauzer – that you will reach top honors in Obedience tests.   This in no way is meant to suggest that your Daschund or Schnauzer cannot be trained to become very well disciplined, obedient and responsive.

 Patience, understanding and application of the principle of praise and reprimand will achieve the desired results with any dog.   But with certain dogs it requires more patience and perseverance than with others.

  Choice of breed to train.

If  you are an ambitious and competitive type of person and anxious to excel in Obedience tests, it will be necessary for you to be very judicious in your choice not only with regard to the breed you select, but also to the strain within the breed.  There is no doubt whatsoever that some dogs are more amenable to training than others and the training process will involve far less time and effort

This applies particularly to the German Shepherd Dog, a breed with which I have been associated for more than fifty years.  Any competitor in German Shepherd Dog working trials will tell you that if you hope to be successful in this highly competitive field  it is necessary to be very selective in your choice of the Shepherd you intend training.

A examination of the pedigrees of the top winners in German Shepherd  Dog working  trials in Germany, the United States and Britain  will reveal that certain “working” lines  consistently produce  the top winners. There is no question that intelligence and –more important – willingness to work are inherited traits.  

In all probability however, you already have a dog.  You love him dearly and have no intention of parting with him merely because his ancestors were not noted for their working qualifications.

Training dogs with different temperaments.

In order to assist you with your training methods, let us try and simplify the process and deal with three distinct types of temperaments frequently found in dogs.

Obviously there are many variations and many traits overlaps but for the purpose of this article let us deal with three distinct type of temperaments and examine the training methods necessary in each case.

1.Dog Number One.

The highly-strung, over-exuberant dog.

Here is a bundle of nervous energy; a highly-strung, excitable, over-exuberant, extremely noisy, boisterous animal.  Sometimes he barks excessively without any apparent reason.  Often he is over-aggressive towards others dogs and even humans.

2. Dog Number two.

The shy, timid dog.

This dog is very shy, timid and completely lacking in self-confidence.  He shrinks from human contact and when confronted with any situation with which he is unable to cope, he either backs into a corner and barks hysterically or otherwise rolls on his back in abject submissiveness.

3. Dog Number three.

The lazy dog.

This animal is quiet, docile to the point of disinterest, sluggish, dully and lazy, completely without enthusiasm except for his dinner dish.

Now we have three distinct types of dog – possibly somewhat exaggerated – but nevertheless easily recognizable.  Our objective in each case is the same – to have a well-disciplined animal that will obey our commands,

Because this article is limited in scope let us presume that our initial training objective is to have a dog that will walk quietly at heel without pulling, dragging, straining or lagging.   Let us examine how this can be achieved using the above three dogs as training examples.

For our purpose we shall require a leather lead and a training collar of sufficient length and sufficient strength.   Place the collar over the neck in such a way that when the leash is jerked the collar will tighten and when the lead if relaxed the collar fits loosely.  This simple training collar is a remarkable training device that will work equally well with all three dogs.

Let us commence with Dog Number 1.  We will to refer him as “Blitz”.


With your ball of fire on our left side, you step briskly forward.   The dog is given the command “Heel”.    Holding the leash very firmly in your right hand you nevertheless make certain there is sufficient slack to give the dog the impression that he is NOT firmly restrained.  In fact, because of this slackness,  the dog is uncertain whether he is on lead or not

As expected the dog proceeds for exactly five seconds and then like a bolt he surges forward.   With leather leash very firmly held by the right hand – or both hands if you prefer - you allow the dog to bolt forward until almost at the end of the lead.   At this point you simply do a smart about turn.   Note:  There is no reprimand whatsoever!

In fact not a word is said.   If your timing has been correct – and this may require some practice – a very surprised ball of fire will find himself being air-borne and completely jerked off his feet by his momentum.

He turns in mid-air to find you walking in the opposite direction   At this stage you call his name very pleasantly and enthusiastically.  “Good boy, Blitz!  Heel boy!” and you pat your left leg encouragingly.

A somewhat confused “Blitz” comes running up to your left to receive his just rewards – lavish praise and a loving pat on his head!

Remember No word of reprimand should be given.  “Blitz” was told to heel.  He didn’t heel and the jerk he received will not be associated with any unpleasantness caused by you.  It was entirely his own fault; due to his own ineptness and clumsiness in not staying close to your left side.

There will be occasions in the future where you will be required to jerk the lead as a definite reprimand and accompany the jerk with a vocal reprimand.   “Blitz” will then have no doubt in his mind that this jerk is a reprimand.  But at this stage our purpose is to confuse “Blitz” into believing that the discomfort he received by being jerked off his fee was entirely his own fault.

After no more than 4 or 5 incidents of this nature a very disconcerted “Blitz” will suspect that every cat that darts in his path and every motor-cyclist who happens to ride by is merely a trick that has been devised to fool him into rushing after it and being jerked off his feet.

  Quite soon you will be well on your way to having a dog who is a pleasure to take for a stroll because he heels comfortably at your side in spite of every possible distraction.

  Dog number 2.  “Flinch”

  Quite clearly the method we used with Dog Number 1 will be unsuitable with dog Number 2 – the shy, timid dog who is lacking in self-confidence.

This dog – le us refer him  as “Flinch – is so lacking in confidence that he is constant need of praise and assurance.  Let it be quite clear that if one has the patience, perseverance and calm temperament to deal with a dog of this nature it is possible to have a remarkably good worker who will do everything possible to please you and earn your praise.    He will ask nothing more  from life than your praise and he will become absolutely devoted to you.

But, it should be stressed, dogs of this type do require a tremendous amount of patience, understanding and – above all – self-control.   Whereas it is possible to speak harshly to most dogs without serious consequences, a dog of this nature will react most unfavorably to harshness and one  thoughtless reprimand can set you back weeks of hard work in building up his confidence.

Dog refuses to budge.

After placing the collar on your “Flinch” and attaching the lead he is more than likely to set his hind-quarters on the ground and refuse to budge; or he will twist himself around your legs – pull to the right – to the side – dart off in the direction of home and do absolutely everything anything but the “heel” you have commanded him.

  In this case you must resort once again to a little trickery, but of a different kind.   Try and let him associate the training collar and the leash and the stroll with something pleasant. In your left hand or your left pocket keep little pieces of boiled liver that you have dried in the oven, or some other delicacy.   If he refuses to budge coax him – encourage him.  Once he has come to your left side praise him with great enthusiasm and give him a tit-bit.

As you walk he will, haltingly, be tempted to follow.   With very gentle jerks of the lead, accompanied by soothing words of encouragement, keep on re-assuring him how good and clever he is.   It might try your patience but eventually you will have gained his confidence.   Any distractions that may present themselves must be accompanied by slight jerks of the lead.   No words of reprimand, remember.   But plenty of praise when he eventually comes to heel. 

Regard this type of dog as a challenge to your perseverance and self-control.    If you are capable of meeting this challenge – and capable of controlling (or at least hiding) your understandable and justifiable bouts of irritability,  you will eventually have an excellent Obedience worker of whom you will one day be justifiably proud.

Do not continue to “baby talk”, coddle and pamper this type of dog.

There is another important point to remember with regard to this highly sensitive, nervous type of dog.  Once you have managed to overcome the first step of your training, which was the extreme reluctance to walk at heel and  you have a dog that now walks willingly at heel, you must start to modify your method of training.

Very often owners with dogs, who have this nervous disposition, persist in to trying to reassure their on every occasion they demonstrate fear when faced with some unaccustomed unusual object or situation.

If, for example, while out walking with the dog, the animal is frightened by some unusual object in the street, the owner resorts to soft, soothing, “baby-talk”, words of encouragement:

This is quite wrong.  All that is happening is that the owner is endorsing the dog’s nervous behavior. In effect the message the dog receives is:  “I quite understand your concern.  It is quite alright for you to be frightened”.   Instead of reassuring the dog with exaggerated words of reassurance and soft talking, the owner should behave in a completely, unconcerned manner with words and actions that reflect the following attitude.  “Don’t be silly now. You are acting foolishly.  There is nothing to worry about”

Distract the dog.   Do a few obedience exercises.  “Sit”  “Down”.   Speak in a mater-of-fact tone of voice. Act unconcerned  as if there is nothing to  worry about.

The lesson should be clear.  In the initial stages of training you can reassure and encourage as much as you consider necessary so that you can overcome the initial hurdle of the dog not wanting to heel. But one you have got past this stage, move on.   Do not go back  to kindergarten classes.

  Dog Number 3.   The lazy dog.  “Dozy”

  The third type of dog – the dully, sluggish, and lazy dog – requires yet another approach.  Here the enthusiasm must come from you.  Once again it is important to remember that you must no show irritation as much as you are goaded.  Muster as much enthusiasm a you can place the collar around “Dozy’s” neck.

Walk briskly forward giving the command “heel” pleasantly and brightly.  As “Dozy” lags behind – as he inevitably will – give little jerks on the lead and accompany these jerks with sounds of encouragement.  Use your left hand  to pat his hear with great affection.   Show excitement as you walk briskly forward and remember that even though you are tempted to give the lazy blighter a smart kick in the rear, resist the temptation. Do not show any irritation at all.

One advantage of the lazy dog is that very often he is  also a very greedy dog.   Once again you can make judicious use of the tit-bit to encourage him to walk, closely at heel.   But obviously do not make a habit of this form of encouragement because he will soon come to expect it as his just dessert every time and will not be satisfied with mere praise.

Because a dog of this type is not usually particularly sensitive you can correct lagging by turning sharply to the right without giving “dozy” any prior warning.   While walking forward, and aware that “Dozy” is a few paces behind, pivot suddenly on your left leg and lunge sharply right.   Accompanying your turn to the right with a sharp jerk on the lead as “Dozy” is caught unawares.   He is forced to increase his pace in order to catch up with you.  Praise him enthusiastically when he eventually does come to your left side.

Even though the approach is quite different with these three types of dogs, it is clear that the basic principle remains the same.  When using the training collar to teach the dog to heel correctly, the dog must be left with the distinct impression that the jerk and discomfort that follows are his own fault. 

The dog soon comes to realize that when he corrects his behavior not only does  the discomfort cease but there is also the additional incentive of  praise from his handler.

Use the training collar correctly.

Take full advantage of the training collar during these early stages of training.- the jerk followed by praise.  At a later stage of training when the dog is required to work off lead, you will not be able to do so.  But at this early stage of training make full use of the training collar to help you establish the correct relationship between you and your dog.  In this way your dog will learn not only to love you but also to respect you.  He will  become an eager- to- please,  willing, obedient, lovable companion.