There is a big difference between Obedience Training and Behavior Training. These two methods or approaches are usually misunderstood even among some professional dog trainers. I very often see a lot of dog trainers trying to solve behavior problems with obedience ( “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “leave it”, “go to your place”  etc).  Flooding your dog with cues and commands does not change the underlying behaviors that are usually already imprinted or conditioned in the dog.

But before we dive into the difference of these two approaches and how we can integrate them, I want you to ask this bext question:


Do you want a family dog or a highly trained dog?


Answering this question and having clarity on what you want or need from your dog can safe you a lot of time, headaches, money and what’s more important it can help you give the best life to your dog. 

Family dogs usually need more Behavior Training (manners and self control), while highly train dogs need more Obedience Training ( Skills, performance and impulse control)

Your dog can know 100 “cues”, “commands” and “tricks” and yet still have a lot of behavioral issues.  Does this phrase sounds familiar to you? :

”My dog is very smart and sweet, but ….”

This happens because your dog can be very good at obedience (Impulse control) but have no control of his emotional responses or state of mind (Self control). Obedience is about learning skills, behavior is a way of being. Obedience has to do with performance, behavior has to do with social skills and having self control of emotional responses. 


Obedience Training vs Behavior Training.


What’s Obedience Training?


Obedience Training is your capacity as a human to teach your dog to respond to cues or commands. For example If you say “sit” your dog sits down or if you say” go around my legs and go to heel position” your dog will do that as a response of your cue or command. Obedience is based on performance and skillsets : sit, down. stay, heel, bring me etc. Obedience uses motivation, rewards and consequences. Wether the consequence is good (ex a treat) or bad (ex punishment) it’s still based on consequence. 

In teaching obedience some trainers use positive reinforcement and some trainers use positive reinforcement and punishments. But no matter what method you use your goal is to teach your dog to respond to your cues and to tell your dog what to do. For me in Obedience Training, Positive Reinforcement is king. This method is great to teach your dog to DO things. Ex: sit, stay, go to your place, leave it, bring me the news paper, come when called etc. 

Positive Reinforcement is very effective because dogs tend to do what’s reinforced with rewards. So if you want to teach your dog to Do something is a no-brainer to use rewards and motivation to do so. In order to have good and fast responses we as trainers need to make it fun and get our dogs excited and motivated. 

This way they learn fast, they are happy and it’s fun.  You can start with simple cues like “sit” or “stay” and move on to more complex skills like agility courses. In either case you want your dog to be motivated, excited and happy to learn. 

There’s a catch though, this is not so effective when you want to teach your dog NOT to do things. Does this mean we have to punish our dogs when we want to teach them NOT DO things? The asnwer is No and I will explain what’s the alternative soon, but before going there let’s talk about breed and Obedience Training. There’s this understanding and mantra that is often repeated among the dog community that dogs need a Job and that we should fullfil their breed. 


Should I Fullfill the dog’s breed because they need a job??


Dog trainers put dogs on high arousal and high dopamine to tap into the dog’s “high drive”in order to perform and win competitions like agilty, dogs sports and things like that. Why? Because they get faster obedience and it looks great in their reels or youtube videos.

 The problem with High Obedinece Training is that you can tap into their breed and nurture it. This can backfire when dealing with some unwanted behaviors like herding scooters, chasing kids, excessive barking, obsessive bahviors, attacking strangers, protecting your house/you or fighting with other dogs. Regular Family dog owners do not benefit from nurturing the breed of their dog. The most obvious examples are Pit Bulls or Dobermans whom were breed to fight or cattle dogs with herding tendencies that will chase bikes, kids, runners or anything that moves. 


So, How do you teach your dogs Not to do things? 


The answer is with Behavioral Training. When you have a family dog, usually this “Not to do things” are unwanted behaviors like excessive barking, pulling on the leash, biting, aggression, jumping on people, resource guarding, destructive behaviors etc.

All these behaviors are not fixed by encouraging excitement, high arousal, high dopamine or high drive. Quite the opposite. These behaviors can only be modified with self control, calm energy, boundaries and a sound state of mind. 

When dealing with these behaviors all of a sudden the excessive encouragement of excitement, high arousal, high drive and high dopamine used in Obedience Training are not going to help. Even worse, they can backfire if you’re not careful. 

Behavior Training is based on emotional state of mind, self control and social skills. Training and Conditioning is about micromanaging and redirecting every move the dog does without really working on the state of mind of the dog. 


What’s Behavior Training?


Behavior is based on Agency: your dog’s abilty to control their state of mind and your dog’s ability to control their emotional responses to environments or triggers. 

Behavior  training has to do with helping your dog to be in a sound state of mind. The skills needed are self control, respect and boundaries. It is based on your body language skills, energy control and mastering techniques that changes the emotional response of your dog, not necessarily redirecting them all the time. These techniques can include desensitation, counter-conditioning, enrichment, differential reinforcement, ABA and Coping Skills and Social 

A different way of seeing this is thinking of Behavior as social skills (being in a controlled state of mind and emotionally sound) and thinking of Obedience Training as going to Harvard or Yale, where you can learn very specific skills.

The one that will put you in trouble is the lack of social and behavioral skills (Behavioral Training). In other words you are not going to go to jail because didn´t go to Yale, but you will go to jail if you destroy Yale.

In animal world this has nothing to do with being ¨good¨ or ¨bad¨, it has to do with being ¨in a controlled state of mind¨ (green zone) or in an out of controlled state of mind¨ (red zone).  If your dog is in the wrong state of mind, no matter how much training and conditioning you´ve worked on, your dog wont´t listen. Any animal on fight/flight state of mind will not listen to anyone unless you force them. And forcing does not create acceptance it creates resistance.

To change behavior you basically need three things: 

1. The ability to master techniques to change your dog’s state of mind or emotional response to triggers or environments.

2. Effectively communicate with your dog: Body language and energy. Different from hand signals and treats. 

3. A solid relationship with your dog where your dog fully trusts you. This has to do with parenting not with dominance.




In a nut shell Obedience Training is a method for learning skills, while Behavior Training is a way of being where your dog learns to control him/herself.  

Knowing when and how to use and integrate this two different approaches: Obedience Training and Behavior Training is key in order to create and to maintain a harmonious relationship for any family dog. If you have a family dog and you’re interested in learning how to have a well behaved and well trained dog click this link Pawmos Online Dog Training.


© Gabriel Riesco, Pawmos Dog Training LLC |   All Rights Reserved February 2023