Published on
15 September 2022
Professional Dog Trainer
Professional Dog Trainer
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This will be everyone’s first question after finding out you have trained your dog in a program or two. While our own dogs can certainly perform tricks, it’s their routine obedience and calm demeanor that really impress everyone.

Tricks are things we do together for fun, but the formal obedience we practice together allows us to comfortably engage with kinds of people in all sorts of places. We meet tons of dogs, who can sit or lie down, and some can even roll over, shake, and do other fun things with their owners. Very few of them, however, can lie down and stay while their owner walks a simple circle around them, and most can’t lie down for more than 10 seconds.

There’s nothing wrong with that scenario, until you need your dog to lie down and stay during Thanksgiving dinner, and all they want is to jump on the table and eat the delicious turkey! That’s when the distinction becomes crystal clear between the trick and obedience. The trick of lying down on command is fun, but the obedience of holding that posture calmly during dinner is crucial…if you ever want to host again!

A closer look at the nature of these two:

A trick is completed as soon as the dog successfully executes the action prompted. Training “down” as a trick means that as soon as my dog lies down, they get their treat, and they are released to stand back up immediately. You can advance this form of trick training through reinforcement with additional treats, luring, or other reward systems, but this creates a dangerous pattern: you will have to constantly reward your dog to maintain the desired behavior. You would have to stock pile treats, toys, or some other incentive wherever you wanted your dog to lie down anytime you wanted to eat dinner. And, if they leave their bed, you will have to interrupt your dinner and work at enticing them back where you wanted them. In situations where you absolutely need your dog to stay away from the dinner table, you will likely have to restrain them physically with a tether or even put them in another room or kennel, but this doesn’t teach them anything new. It only limits their behavior physically.

In contrast, practicing for obedience enables us to teach our dogs boundaries and reinforce our commands by clearly communicating when they have succeeded as well as when they have made a mistake. Teaching them what we actually DO want vs what we DO NOT want makes our communication clearer, more concise, and as a result, much less stressful for our dog.

Constantly bribing a dog into a short-term action with long-winded praise or begging clouds that communication and creates stress for our dogs and for us. If we fail to communicate when and where they have made mistakes, we confuse them, and our expectations feel muddled and inconsistent, which is ultimately unfair. This tends to compound, as we become stressed or frustrated, and they are left guessing what they could do to help. For many this ends in yelling or  stricter deterrents like electronic collars or invisible fences, or the dreaded squirt bottle. While some have had success with those strategies, most do not create lasting obedience.


Plenty of methods and products promise quick fixes, but they fail to recognize the complexity of the problem. We want to create dynamic relationship with our dogs, and that requires time and emotional investment. Obedience practice will teach you and your dog to communicate in clear and simple ways, so that expectations and enforcement become consistent and predictable. This is the path to trust. Here, your dog trusts you and you can trust your dog, giving them more freedom to enjoy the world with you.

With focus, understanding, and a useful method of communication, trick training with treats becomes even easier. Of course, everyone loves seeing a dog shake, roll over, or spin on command, but their jaws drop when you’re able to quietly tell your dog to lie down and stay at a busy restaurant or the beach and they simply do it.

Tricks are fun, they're crowd-pleasers, letting your dog show off and providing them with mental exercise. But it's obedience that gives you the confidence and skillset to bring your dog into a bigger part of your life. Showing them how they fit into our world with commands and expectations makes them a more welcome and manageable addition everything you do.


A better life for you and your pet starts here.

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