The Role of Integrated Compliance and Obedience Training – In preventing and treating behavior problems

The Girls including Yazzie (rescued/adopted)

August 12, 2010

Joyce Kesling, CDBC

The Role of Integrated Compliance and Obedience Training –  In preventing and treating behavior problems

The role of incorporating obedience training or “nonconfrontational compliance training” is commonly suggested in conjunction with treating dog aggression problems.  One of the benefits, according to Tortora (1983) is dogs learn cooperative behavior provides safety.  In addition, Clark and Boyer (1993), argue “…obedience training promotes a ‘feeling of security’ because “clear lines of communication and social boundaries” using reinforcement and deterrents effectively help establish better behavior.

According to Blackshaw (1991), the use of obedience training produced a “…high success rate involving dominance and territorial aggression” using “proper restraint techniques” coupled with obedience training.

Even researchers (Cameron, 1997:271) who “discount the preventative value” seem to agree, “…obedience training provides tools for owners to use in modifying pet behavior.”  In addition, incorporating simple obedience skills such as sit and stay provide avenues for positive reinforcement facilitating “secondary control” over aggressive behavior (Voith, 1980 a; Uchida et al., 1997).

In spite of the overwhelming support and apparent success, the incorporation of obedience and noncompliance training remains controversial.  Even though literature suggests the “preventative value” of obedience training is unclear, many authors still insist obedience training does offer a preventative value (Lindsay, 2001).

Scientists like Overall (1997) say, “…dogs require rules and need a rule-based social structure” allowing communication and cooperation between parties.  Overall advocates a type of “compliance training” similar to Voith’s “nothing in life is free” and says her program “…provides a means for ‘preventing such problems and in treating all forms of behavior problems’ (Lindsay, 2001).

Whether obedience training provides a preventative effect in avoiding future behavior problems remains a question.  Some researchers suggest “…it may not perform a preventative function (Voith et al., 1992) for aggressive behavior (Lindsay, 2001).  One study, conducted by a veterinary clinic, reviewed questionnaires completed by 711 dog owners; the results were unable to show any correlation between obedience training, including “spoiling activities and anthropomorphic attitudes” and the variety of behavior problems including aggression that were presented.  An additional study by Podberscek and Serpell (1996) “failed to show a linkage between obedience training and the incidence of aggression problems in English cocker spaniels (N = 596).”  An additional case (Gershman et al., 1994) using a controlled group of “178 matched pairs of biting and nonbiting dogs” was unable to “detect a significant statistical relationship” with obedience training and aggressive problems according to Lindsay (Lindsay, 2001).

A more recent study conducted by Goodloe and Borchelt (1998) analyzed a large sample (N = 2018) of dog owners and “reported…a preventative relationship does…exist” when there is a “history of obedience training” and subsequent behavior problems, including aggression” (Lindsay, 2001).  The study results revealed a significant lowering of aggression problems, except in intraspecific cases of strange dogs.  Additionally, results showed “two complementary directions” due to obedience training: 1.) decrease in undesirable behavior and 2.)  Increase in desirable behavior.  According to Lindsay, “…training may help guide and refine a dog’s adaptation to domestic life” resulting in a “more successful…problem free” relationship (Lindsay, 2001).  In addition, according to the authors obedience training may include benefits such as “establishing limits and control” resulting from “incidental aspects of interaction” associated with obedience training including “increased time spent…added exposure…and socialization” resulting in a “better appreciation and understanding of dog behavior (Lindsay, 2001).

According to Lindsay, Goodloe and Borchelt noted the “larger sample of respondents…provided a better statistical pool for detecting the beneficial influences of obedience training” suggesting the smaller sample used by Voith and colleagues was “too small to detect these correlations” (Lindsay, 2001).  In addition, Lindsay says, Patronek (1996) reports dogs participating in obedience classes are relinquished to shelters less often.

Based on this evidence, Lindsay questions why obedience training is unable to prevent the development of aggression problems since treatment usually includes “some variant of obedience or compliance training.”  Looking at this from a behavioral viewpoint, Lindsay feels “one should expect…preventative effort to be far more robust and persuasive” than efforts obtained from treatment, especially since any effect on changing behavior already learned would need a stronger influence for change to take effect.  Lindsay points out, “treatment programs are founded on the behavior-modifying effects of learning” and learning doesn’t only occur when assisted by experts or known efforts by owners, but rather obtained through the environment in which the dog lives (Lindsay, 2001).

One cannot choose to either employ or ignore the empirically established rules of learning.  Much like
the law of gravity, the laws of learning are always in effect.  Thus, the question is not whether to use
the laws of learning, but rather how to use them effectively.  (Spreat and Spreat, 1982:593)

I would agree dogs are always under the influence of learning from their environment including the owner and tend to agree with Lindsay who says, “…it is difficult to imagine how such things as obedience training, spoiling activities, and anthropomorphic attitudes would not have a significant effect on behavioral adaptation and the incidence of behavior problems” (Lindsay, 2001).

On the other hand, behavior modification is directed consciously at a specific behavior problem and usually includes proper application of learning theory, and includes the assistance of a skilled behavior consultant and an owner who has been instructed how to effectively change undesirable behavior.

It seems more reliable research is necessary if we are going to establish any efficacy between owners’ attendance at obedience classes and prevention of future behavior problems.  For those conducting such classes, one might stress the importance for the continuance of training as an aid in further establishing a long-term relationship and bond that will be necessary throughout the pets life.


Lindsay, Steven R.  Handbook of applied dog behavior and training.  2 Vols.

Iowa:  Iowa SP.  2001.  Vol. 2.

Voith VL, Wright JC, Danneman PJ, et al. (1992).  Is there a relationship between canine behavior problems and spoiling

activities, anthropomorphism, and obedience training?

Appl Anim Behav Sci, 34:263-272.

Wright, John C.  Is there a relationship Between Canine Behavior Problems and Spoiling Activities,

Anthropomorphism and Obedience Training?

Applied Animal Welfare Science.  Vol. 34,  (1992)

Responsible Dog & Cat
Training and Behavior Solutions

Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC Professional Trainer

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948
Copyright Responsible Dog & Cat 2005-2010

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