Baby Thor

Baby Thor

Training Thor

In January 2010, Thor, a 5-month-old weimaraner, came crashing into my life.

Here, I will outline the steps taken to train him to be a well-mannered dog,

to do agility, and to perform some service dog tasks.

At five months, he is pretty wild.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


For a long time, I've been uncomfortable with the use of the word "obedience" in regard to dog training.  But I haven't been able to come up with an alternative that I like.  I recently settled on "cooperation."  I prefer the word "teach" to the word "train." Years ago, I discarded the word "command" in favor of "cue" or "cue word."  Why does it matter?  What difference does semantics make?

Let's look at the definitions (provided by of the following pairs of words.

1. the state, fact, or an instance of obeying, or a willingness to obey; submission
1.the act of cooperating; joint effort or operation

I don't want blind obedience from my dogs, and I don't want submission.  I want each dog to be a well-behaved partner and pal.  I  want my dogs to develop as the thinking creatures that they are.  A service dog, for example, should not "obey" if doing so would place his handler in danger (example: handler asks the dog to guide him across the street but dog refuses because a speeding car is coming).  An agility dog should not "obey" if doing so would put his own safety in jeopardy (example: dog steps onto a contact obstacle and then does not go up...later it is determined that the obstacle was not properly stabilized).  Submissive behavior in dogs is an automatic response.  I don't want my dogs on automatic; I want them thinking.  In short, I want my dogs to have an attitude of cooperation.  I want them to play/work with me because they want to, because it is fun and rewarding to do so, not because they "must."

6. to discipline or condition (animals) to perform tricks or obey commands
"Teach" show or help [someone] to do something give lessons, to guide the studies of; instruct

The word "discipline" has developed a connotation of punishment in common usage.  In fact, self-discipline is a very positive thing.  In the above definition, however, the implication is the the animal is coerced into performing or obeying.  Certainly not how I want to teach my dogs.  Teaching, as opposed to training, implies gentle guidance toward understanding.  I want my dogs to understand their tasks rather than doing them because they "have to."

1. (tv) to give an order or orders to; direct with authority
1. (iv) to exercise power or authority; be in control; act as a commander
3. anything serving as a signal to do something

There is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference here.  A command requires obedience.  A command indicates that one individual has power over the other.  There is a militaristic meaning inherent in the word.  A command requires compliance.  There is an implication that non-compliance is a bad thing and will result in a negative consequence, a punishment if you will.  A cue is more forgiving.  If my dog does not heed a cue, it is my responsibility to understand why that is so.  Does the dog understand the given cue?  Does the dog understand the cue in this particular setting?  Does the dog understand the cue with distractions? I cannot assume understanding.  Because I expect my dogs to live in my world (not a "natural" world for them), I must ensure that they understand the workings of that world.  Through my signals, I provide them with direction and understanding.  If a dog seems to ignore a cue, I have to examine whether or not it is completely understood.  I have to give the dog the benefit of the doubt.  No commands, just suggestions.  Most of the time, the dog will realize that my suggestions make sense!


  1. Hooray Melinda! Very interesting! The dogs you teach are lucky pups. PD

  2. Well written, Melinda!! Well said.