What's the Big Deal About Basic Obedience?

As a dog trainer, it's not uncommon for me to hear statements similar to the following:

  • "I don't really care about sit or down or stay. I just want my dog to come when I call him."
  • "Our dog is perfect at home. We don't really have to make her do anything. She's just good all the time. But as soon as we go out the front door, she turns into a lunatic."
  • "I want my dog and I to live in harmony as equals. Ommmmm..."

Some people really just hate the idea of “basic obedience”. I suspect it’s a deep-seeded adversity to authority, structure and/or discipline rooted in their tender childhood years. But let’s skip over the in-depth psychoanalysis and try to break this down into simple terminology. Let’s start by getting rid of the words “basic obedience”.  It just sounds BORING. We don’t even have to call it “dog training”.

The truth is that when you are working with your dog on mastering commands, you are working with them on focus and communication. Yes, all dogs have the physical ability to sit. I guess I should say most or almost all. Can we agree that all dogs have the physical ability to lie down? Pretty good bet there. So you say, “Big deal, my dog knows how to lie down.” You know it’s not about that right?

We start in the home, without distraction, where you should be able to get your dog to do anything. This is where everything should be easiest. So, we introduce a word and/or a hand signal. We probably use a treat. Great your dog got it right away. We’ve got his focus and we’ve successfully communicated.

Are you done? Well, does your dog do it every single time? Does your dog do it when there’s another person in the room? Maybe someone else who will give him attention even if he doesn’t listen to you. Does your dog do it every single time with another dog in the room? One who is willing to play or chase or engage in someway if he chooses not to listen to you?

Practicing the ability to gain your dog’s focus with incrementally increasing amounts of distraction is the only way to you can effectively communicate with your dog. So that when you want to use that “Come” command in the middle of high-distraction environment you actually get a dog that returns to you. Basic obedience commands are the building blocks of that communicative relationship with your dog.

Dog training has to be repetitive and consistent in nature to be effective but it does not need to be boring or mundane. Quite the contrary. The more fun you have with it, the more fun your dog will have. With both of you happy, you will be much more likely to continue practicing your “communication skills” and you might actually end up liking it in the end.