The Difference Between Dog Manners and Dog Obedience


What do you picture when you think of a "trained dog?"

Do you see a super focused, "obedient" dog who quickly and precisely responds to every "command" their owner makes? Or do you imagine something different?

The above use of quotation marks was purposeful. These words, "obedient" and "command" are important. They're words you won't hear our trainers use unless we are poking holes in them. We ask our clients to reframe the concepts behind those words and replace them with "well-mannered" and "cue." And that's just the start of the journey to enjoyable training.  


The dog in this video? He gets it. His person? She's our hero.

The differences in words used to describe a trained dog speak to everything about how we see what relationships should be like with our dogs. Dogs are our friends and family, and we consider the whole dog when we approach training. We call it, our "Modern Training" method, and our expectations match the words we choose. 

Long ago, when studying training with *Pat Miller, she was very purposeful in teaching me the need to cut clear distinctions around the language we use in our work. It not only defines our meaning but also our mission.

So let's break it down to see the distinctions with help from Merriam-Webster. 

Obedience - submissive to the restraint or command of authority : willing to obey.

Command - to direct authoritatively, to exercise a dominating influence over, such as to have at one's immediate disposal.


Well-mannered - having good manners : polite

Cue - to serve as the inciting cause of, to prompt.

Perhaps we need not say more... oh, but let's! That's way more fun.

The majority of pet dogs are not working dogs. They do not need to act precisely and quickly for safety or duty. Certain skills aside, such as a solid recall or "Leave It," used to keep a dog away from harm, most of our family dogs simply need to be well-mannered, moving through our day-to-day environment with us.

We're also not throwing out the excitement and joy found in dog competitions many enjoy with their four-legged friends, where precision can be important. As long as Modern Training methods are being used and the dog is truly enjoying the activity, great! It takes a serious amount of training to compete in any dog sport, and the more succinctly a dog and handler can complete the tasks involved, the higher the reward for those incredible efforts. Our hats are off to those incredible trainers and their dogs.

For our Wonder Pups and Dogs and their people (a.k.a., "staff"), we encourage them to unburden themselves of any predisposed ideas of perfection they bring into training sessions. "This is not Best in Show," and "'Perfect' does not exist," are phrases we repeat often when coaching dog people. Our hearts are full when we see relief in our clients' faces. They often confess they were embarrassed when their dog flubbed something and relieved to know we're not being hyper-critical or about to admonish them or their dog for not getting it quite right. We often say, "It's all just more information for us to help your dog do better next time. Let's make some adjustments," and we do. This is especially true in our Canine Good Citizen Class where there's a test on the final night. Nerves and expectations are high, but most pass and grab chocolate and candy as the humans' rewards after. Those nerves and  embarrassment come from expectations set by a story they heard about what training is supposed to be and how their dog needs to fit into that image. 

It's a new day, people! Dog training should allow for each dog to shine their own personality and remain a dog. An imperfect, mischievous, spontaneous dog brings to the party everything we adore about dogs. Embrace the whole dog and your training will sky rocket, you'll be less frustrated and your dog much happier to work with you.

Let's leave room for training to be something relaxed, fun and mutually beneficial to both dog and human - an image of a a team enjoying each other's company, based on more than a person's requests being answered. Embrace each dog for all their glorious, well, "dog-ness!"



* Pat Miller, world renowned trainer-to-the-trainers and author of many excellent dog training books we recommend. See our Pro Resources, Reading pages for her many helpful books.


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