Obedience implies compliance with the direction or command given by the handler. For a dog to be considered obedient rather than simply trained in obedience, it must respond reliably each time the command is given, by what is commonly known as its handler. A dog can go through Obedience training and not be obedient. If a dog is referred to as being Obedience Trained it should comply immediately with every command its handler gives. In the strictest sense an Obedience trained dog is an obedient dog.
Training a dog in obedience can be an ongoing and lengthy process depending on the dog, the methods used, and the skill and understanding of both the trainer and the handler. The level of obedience the handler wishes to achieve with the dog is also a major factor in the time involved, as is the commitment to training by the handler.
Obedience training is often a prerequisite for or component of other training.
The actual training of the dog can be done by anyone, the trainer, owner, or a friend. Typically the individual who is caring for and living with the dog participates and trains the dog, as they will be the one who will be giving the commands. The relationship and trust between the dog and handler are important for success.
Basic or beginner's obedience is typically a short course ranging from six to ten weeks, where it is demonstrated to the handler how to communicate with and train the dog in a few simple commands. With most methods the dog is trained one command at a time. Though there may or may not be a specific word attached to it, walking properly on a leash, or leash control, is often the first training required prior to learning other commands.
In the twentieth century, formalized dog training originated in military and police applications, and the methods used largely reflected the military approach to training humans. In the middle and late part of the century, however, more research into operant conditioning and positive reinforcement occurred as wild animal shows became more popular. Aquatic mammal trainers used clickers (a small box that makes a loud click when pushed on) to "mark" desired behavior, giving food as a reward. The change in training methods spread gradually into the world of dog training. Today many dog trainers rely heavily on positive reinforcement to teach new behaviours.
At a basic level, owners want dogs with whom they can pleasantly share a house, a car, or a walk in the park. Some dogs need only a minimum amount of training to learn to eliminate outside (be housebroken), to sit, to lie down, or to come on command (obey a recall). Many other dogs prove more challenging. New dog owners might find training difficult and fail to make progress, because they expect dogs to think and act like humans, and are surprised and baffled when the dogs don't.
Dogs who demonstrate the previously mentioned basic skills, as well as walking reasonably well on a leash and a few other minor tasks, can be tested for and earn the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Canine Good Citizen certification. While not a competitive obedience title, a CGC certification demonstrates that the dog is sociable, well behaved and reliable in public settings. Some insurance companies will waive breed restrictions on dogs with CGCs, and many states have passed resolutions supporting and encouraging CGC certification as a yardstick for canine manners and responsible dog ownership.
Dog intelligence is exhibited in many different ways, and a dog who might not be easy to train might none-the-less be quite adept at figuring out how to open kitchen cabinets or to escape from the yard. Novice dog owners need to consider a dog's trainability as well as its energy level, exercise requirements, and other factors before choosing a new pet. Very high intelligence is not necessarily a good thing in a companion dog, as smart dogs can require extensive daily mental stimulation if they are not to become bored and destructive.
No breed is impossible to obedience train, but novice owners might find training some breeds quite difficult. The capacity to learn basic obedience—and even complicated behavior—is inherent in all dogs. Owners may need to be more patient, or creative, or both, with some breeds than with others.
Flat collars are commonly used in clicker training and other non-correction-based training methods. They are typically made of nylon or leather, and fasten with a buckle or quick-release connection.
Correction collars include slip collars, prong collars, and occasionally electronic collars.
Slip collars (commonly called choke chains or choke collars) are made of metal links or rolled material such as nylon or leather. A metal ring is at each end. Historically, slip collars have been used as a matter of course, and some trainers still recommend them for basic training on any dog. Correctly used, the collar should make a quick popping or zipping sound to startle the dog and then be quickly released.
Prong collars (also called pinch collars) are made of metal links which have prongs on the inside of the collar. The use of these collars is prohibited in some countries; however, it is thought that they may actually be less damaging than a slip collar as they apply more even pressure around the dog's neck.
E-collars have a receiver in the collar. An electrical stimulation or signal is transmitted by the handler remotely, at varying degrees of intensity.
For dog owners who enjoy competition and relish the opportunity to work as a highly tuned team with their dogs, competitive obedience trials are available. Dogs can earn obedience titles, including an obedience championship.
In competition, merely sitting, lying down, or walking on a leash are insufficient. The dog and handler must perform the activities off leash and in a highly stylized and carefully defined manner. For example, on a recall, the dog must come directly to the handler, without sniffing or veering to one side, and must sit straight in front of the handler, not at an angle or off to one side or the other. Training for obedience competitions builds on basic obedience training.
The United Kennel Club (UKC), the Australian National Kennel Council (AKC), the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Australian Shepherd Dog Club of America (ASCA) are some of the organizations which offer titles in Competition Obedience.
In recent years, a new form of Obedience competition, known as Rally Obedience, has become very popular. It was originally devised by Charles L. "Bud" Kramer from the obedience practice of "doodling" - doing a variety of interesting warmup and freestyle exercises. Rally Obedience is designed to be a "bridge", or intermediate step, between the CGC certification and traditional Obedience competition.
Unlike regular obedience, instead of waiting for the judge's orders, the competitors proceed around a course of designated stations with the dog in heel position. The course consists of 10 to 20 signs that instruct the team what to do. Unlike traditional obedience, handlers are allowed to encourage their dogs during the course.
Dogs competing in dog sports, such as flyball, agility or Schutzhund, must be trusted in an open field, off leash and surrounded by other people, dogs, hot dogs, and flying discs. This requires more focused attention on the owner and a better recall than that found in most household companion dogs, and more advanced training than that required for formal obedience.