Obedience training usually refers to the training of a dog and the term is most commonly used in that context. Obedience training ranges from very basic training, such as teaching the dog to reliably respond to basic commands such as "sit," "down," "come," and "stay," to high level competition within clubs such as the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club, where additional commands, accuracy and performance are scored and judged.
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 its handler gives a command.
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.
Working dogs have always learned to obey commands related to the work that they historically performed, such as when a herding dog moves a flock of animals in response to a shepherd's whistled directions, or a hunting dog searching for (or chasing down) quarry or leaving the treed quarry at the hunter's command.
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 behaviors.
At a basic level, owners want dogs with which 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 that 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.
Certain breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, have reputations as being easier to train than others, such as some hounds and sled dogs. Dogs that have been bred to perform one task to the exclusion of all others (such as the Bloodhound or Husky), or that have been bred to work independently from their handler (such as terriers), may be particularly challenging with obedience training.
Dog intelligence is exhibited in many different ways, and a dog that might not be easy to train might nonetheless 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. Some breeds may require more patience or creativity in training than others. Individual dogs that exhibit fearful or anxious behaviors should also be handled with greater care, and especially not trained using harsh corrective methods, as this training can be psychologically harmful to the dog and result in further behavioral issues.
The specific command word is not important, but consistency in usage is. There are certain commands that are accepted as standard and commonly used.
Flat collars are commonly used in clicker training and other non-correction-based training, such as puppy kindergarten. They are also effective in training small dogs, however they tend to lift the dog off the ground when giving corrections while the dog is distracted or in high adrenal mode. They are typically made of nylon or leather, and fasten with a buckle or quick-release connection.
Slip collars (commonly called choke chain or check chains) 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, mostly in North America and the UK. In the last few decades use of these collars has declined. Correctly used, the collar should make a quick clicking not zipping sound when quickly snapped and released to startle or get the attention of the dog and indicate to the handler that the technique was a swift jerk not a choke. The idea is not to strangle the dog, though this can happen if the collar is improperly used.
Martingale collars (also called limited-slip collars) are usually made of flat nylon with a smaller fixed-length section (made of either nylon or a short length of chain) that, when pulled on by the leash, shortens up tightening the collar around the dog's neck, to a limited extent. When properly fitted, martingales are looser than flat-buckle collars when not tightened, and less severely corrective than slip collars when tightened.
Prong collars (also called 'pinch collars') are a series of chain links with blunted open ends turned towards the dog's neck. The design of the prong collar is such that it has a limited circumference unlike slip collars which do not have a limit on how far they can constrict on a dog's neck. The limited traction of the martingale chain combined with the angle of the prongs prevents the prongs moving close enough to pinch. The collar is designed to prevent the dog from pulling by applying pressure at each point against the dog's neck.
Prong collars must never be turned inside out (with the prongs facing away from the dog's skin), as this may cause injury against the body and head.  Plastic tips are occasionally placed on the ends of the prongs to protect against tufts forming in the fur or, in the case of low quality manufactured collars with rough chisel cut ends, puncturing the skin. Like the slip collar, the prong collar is placed high on the dog's neck, just behind the ears, at the most sensitive point.
Some dogs can free themselves from prong collars with large wire looped sides by shaking their head so that the links pop out, so some trainers have come to use a second collar (usually an oversize slip collar) in addition to the prong collar so when this happens the dog does not run loose.
Electronic collars (also known as E-collars) transmit a remote signal from a control device the handler operates to the collar. An electrical impulse is transmitted by the handler remotely, at varying degrees of intensity, from varying distances depending on range frequency. It is also done automatically in the bark electronic collar to stop excessive barking, and invisible fence collar when the dog strays outside its boundary. Electronic collars are widely used in some areas of the world and by some dog obedience professionals. This technique remains a source of controversy with many dog training associations, veterinary associations and kennel clubs.
The leash or lead is used to connect the dog to the handler, lead the dog, as well as to control the dog in urban areas. Most communities have laws which prohibit dogs from running at large. They may be made of any material such as nylon, metal or leather. A six-foot length is commonly used for walking and in training classes, though leashes come in lengths both shorter and longer. A long line (also called a lunge line) can be 3 metres (ten feet) or more in length, and are often used to train the dog to come when called from a distance.
The clicker is a small hand-held device that makes a distinct, short sound to mark a desired behavior. (See clicker training for a more detailed discussion of this methodology.) It has gained popularity in recent years as being a means of training that does not involve physically correcting the dog, though it may be used in conjunction with these methods.
Head halters are an alternative to collars that works similarly to a horse halter. The halter fits over the dog's snout and behind its head (leading it to sometimes be mistaken for a muzzle). Halters reduce the dog's ability to successfully pull on the leash, but do not eliminate it. If the halter is used with a sharp jerk on the leash, neck injury to the dog may result, but used correctly head halters have not been shown to cause harm.
Dog training bite tug is a tool usually used as retrieve developing skills. It is used for police, military and Schutzhund dog training. Bite tugs are perfect for puppies but can be used for training adult dogs as well.
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 (ANKC), 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.
AKC obedience titles include: Companion Dog (CD), Companion Dog Excellent (CDX), Utility Dog (UD), Utility Dog Excellent (UDX), and Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH).
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.
There are many reasons for training dogs beyond the level required for basic companionship. For example, assistance dogs must obey their "sit" and "down" commands perfectly at all times, but they do not have to conform to the rigid rules of competitive obedience.
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.