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Standard Obedience Training:
What is in it for the Dog?

From the desk of Mogens Eliasen - first published: March 12, 2003

Mogens Eliasen - the author of this article
on 'obedience'

Different dogs do different things for different reasons and at different times.

If a trainer ignores this, somebody is bound for trouble - the dog first, the owner next.

What determines a dog's behavior

Dogs are intelligent and will choose behaviors that satisfy their most important need at the time. What those needs are changes with time and a thousand of other factors. In addition to obvious needs, like safety, food, water, etc., the entire scale of social needs is a very important factor for dogs. We often ignore this. An example: being able to please its pack leader is more important for a dog than eating, even if it is hungry - provided it has a pack leader...

Because you legally own this dog, or you have a professional degree as trainer, or 80 years of experience, - this means squat to the dog... Any dog will judge your leadership qualifications on your behavior and how it fits with the dog's natural gene-coded picture of what a good pack leader is supposed to look like and act like. If you fit the picture well, you can get this dog to do anything you want, provided you can communicate your wish. If you don't fit this picture very well, it really does not matter how much good advice you get from how many knowledgeable people - it won't work for you and your dog...

Pack leadership qualifications

The big question of course is "What exactly does this ideal pack leader look like and behave like?"

Looks are, fortunately, not important. But even then, the answer is very complex. It is like asking, "What are the features of a great boss?" The answer to that will vary from one person to another - but there ARE some well-researched common features that are taught by thousands of trainers and management consultants.

In people management, there is room for positive reinforcement (praise, salary etc.), as well as negative reinforcement (reprimands, terminating etc.). You cannot provide good leadership without using both. Whether they work or not has little to do with the specific method, but has a whole lot to do with the quality of the management structure of the company, its fundamental leadership, and exactly how the specific method is applied in the specific situation, time after time. Good leaders have few problems. Few leaders are good. Using a few good tools does not make you good. But using just one single bad one definitely makes you bad…

The good leaders are those who stimulate the wanted behavior from their subordinates' side. They do not restrict themselves to either punishing bad behavior or rewarding wanted behavior, both of which are re-active, not pro-active. They educate by providing effective structure, supporting safe social environments, and organize meaningful activities for their subordinates. It is a lot about initiative.

Choosing relevant training activities

When you have done all this to your dog, it makes sense to discuss specific training methods. Mind you, this is not done by attending any standard obedience classes, and it is most certainly not done either by having someone else train your dog...

And also, you have to do this on the dog's terms. The activities you choose must make sense to it. You have to respect that you are, in fact, dealing with a domesticated wolf, whether or not you call it a "pet". Simply restricting the dog from following its nature will certainly not cut it. You have to instigate and promote and support behaviors that make sense for the dog - and that takes that you think beyond your own convenience when you decide what you want the dog to do and what not.

If you take a standard obedience program as your primary objective, you are already doomed to fail….

I wish more professional trainers would be able to get this across to impatient average dog owners who are all too quick to see the problems they experience as being related to the dog. Sure they are, but they originate in the owner's own incompetence and lack of understanding of the fact that a dog is a social animal that functions in a social context, not a programmable robot.


Mogens Eliasen


Mogens Eliasen holds a mag. scient. degree (comparable to a US Ph. D.) in Chemistry from Århus University, Denmark, has a extensive education also as military officer and in business management. He has been working with dogs, dog owners, dog trainers, and veterinarians since 1970. A large part of his dog work has been in the area of education and education planning, and as consultant for dog owners and dog training associations. He is a strong advocate of treating the dog with respect for its nature as domesticated wolf, and has published several books and videos on topics related to dogs, dog training, dog behavior, and responsible care of dogs. He publishes a newsletter "The Peeing Post" containing lots of tips and advice on all matters pertaining to dogs.

For more information about Mogens Eliasen, including links to other articles he has published, please send this e-mail to or visit or

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Titles available from K9joy®:

Anders Hallgren:
"The ABC's of Dog Language" (140 page book - 1996)
Understand what your dog is telling you - and communicate with it on its own terms. A must have for all dog lovers. Easy to read. Easy to use as reference.

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Dog's Social Behavior" (2.5 hr. video - 1998, updated on DVD 2006, with support materials on a CD)
How the dog's behavior is linked to its instincts and needs. What you can change and what is "for life". How you use this information to dramatically improve your relationship with your dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"BrainWork for Smart Dogs" (380 page e-book - 2003)
How you get a happy and well-behaved dog, stimulating its brain with 15 minutes of fun per day. Dogs need to work and use their instinct in order to be in mental balance. Everyone can do it with these instructions. More than 40 exercises to choose from!

Mogens Eliasen:
"Don't Pull on the Leash!" (40 page e-book - 2005)
The 5 simple steps in this complete training manual will effectively stop any dog from pulling on the leash, with no pain or abuse and no special equipment - and make the start of a much better relationship with the dog.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Is Your Dog's Drinking Water Safe?" (30 page e-book - 2005, updated 2006)
A layman's overview of how and why drinking water gets contaminated - and what you can do about it.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Feeding Your Dog - the Natural Way" (1 hr. video - 1998)
The fastest introduction to get you started on feeding your dog a natural diet. It explains the dog's physiology in simple terms, so you also understand why you should do this.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Canine Choice - by Nature" (80 page e-book - 1999, updated 2005)
The simple "how-to" about feeding a natural diet for optimal health.

Mogens Eliasen:
"Raw Food for Dogs - the Ultimate Reference for Dog Owners"
(340 page e-book - revised/expanded 2006)
Everything you need for making your own informed decisions about what to feed your dog, and why and how. Includes numerous examples of feeding plans plus two chapters on how to work with your vet, also if he/she does not approve of your feeding...

Mogens Eliasen:
"The Wolf's Natural Diet - a Feeding Guide for Your Dog?"
(125 page e-book - 2004 updated/revised 2006)
What we know and don't know about the wolf and its natural feeding, and about the dog and its domestication, and what we can and cannot conclude from wolf to dog... this is the big "why?" behind any responsible approach to feeding your dog.

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