Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Factors affecting response of dogs to obedience instruction: a field and experimental study

By Maya Braem and Daniel Mills


Communication is an essential component of the translation of learning theory into the practical control of the behaviour of dogs. A handler sends a signal (e.g. a command), to which their dog responds. This response is dependent on the dog’s perception of the signal rather than the intention of the sender. Previous research has shown that a dog’s response can be influenced by specific changes in the verbal and non-verbal qualities of signals (i.e. the commands) used, but there has been little scientific evaluation of what happens in practice. Therefore in a first study, 56 dog handlers were videotaped giving their dogs a “sit” command and the significance of verbal and non-verbal factors on response was analyzed. Two factors were associated with a significant decrease in obedience: the dog’s attention to its handler and the handler giving additional verbal information preceding the actual verbal command. Based on these results, a second more controlled study was run with 12 dogs that were trained to a new (“uff”, i.e. jumping onto a raised surface) and a known (“sit”, “down” or “paw”) command. Once trained to predefined criteria, dogs were tested for their responsiveness with each of three additional types of verbal information preceding the command: the dog’s name, the dog’s name followed by a pause of 2 seconds and a “novel word”, i.e. a word with no established relationships in this context (“Banane”). The results suggest that the addition of the novel word significantly reduced response to both the known (p = 0.014) and the new (p = 0.014) commands. The name plus a pause preceding the command significantly reduced the response to the new command (p = 0.043), but not the known one. The use of the name before the command without a pause had no significant effect on performance. The dogs’ ability to generalize learned commands from the training context to a new context was tested by going through the same procedure in an unfamiliar environment. There was a significant reduction in correct responses only to the new command independent of the preceding verbal information (name (p = 0.028), name plus pause (p = 0.022) and novel word (p = 0.011)). This suggests that dogs may have more difficulties generalizing a less well-established command than an already known command

Topics: C120 Behavioural Biology, D210 Clinical Veterinary Medicine, D328 Animal Welfare
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.03.004
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2005). A comparative study of the use of visual communicative siganls in interactions between dogs (canis familiaris) and humans and cats (felis catus) and humans. doi
  2. (2003). A simple reason for a big difference: wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. doi
  3. (1990). Acoustic structure and receiver response in domestic dogs, canis familiaris. doi
  4. (2006). Are dogs able to recognize their handler’s voice? A preliminary study. doi
  5. (2003). Attention, Reseachers! It is time to take a look at the real world. doi
  6. (2003). Avian psychology and communication. doi
  7. (2008). Can stimulus enhancement explain the apparent success of the model-rival technique in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris)? doi
  8. (1999). Communication goes multimodal. doi
  9. (2001). Comprehension of human communicative signs in pet dogs. doi
  10. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare.
  11. (2002). Dogs´(canis familiaris) responsiveness to human pointing gestures. doi
  12. (1999). Functions of repetitive talk to dogs during play: control, conversation, or planning? doi
  13. (2001). Handler’s beliefs on the ability of their pet dogs to understand human verbal communication: a case of social understanding.
  14. (2000). Intentional behaviour in dog-human communication: an experimental analysis of “showing” behaviour in the dog.
  15. (1985). Interspecific communication in cooperative hunting herding: acoustic and visual signs from human shepherds and herding dogs. doi
  16. (2005). Issues in the classification of multimodal communication signals. doi
  17. (2002). Learning, training and behaviour modification techniques,
  18. (2005). More than just a word: non-semantic command variables affect obedience in the domestic dog (canis familiaris). doi
  19. (2004). Multisensory Animal Communication, in:
  20. (2005). Multisensory learning: from experimental psychology to animal training. doi
  21. (1931). Sind wir berechtigt, vom Wortverständnis des Hundes zu sprechen? Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für angewandte Psychologie.
  22. (2003). Successful application of video-projected human images for signalling to dogs. doi
  23. (2005). The effect of human command phonetic characteristics on auditory cognition in dogs (canis familiaris). doi
  24. (2005). The effect of signals from experienced and inexperienced dog handlers on the behaviour of dogs.
  25. (2002). The emergence of a new paradigm in ape language research. doi
  26. (2007). The quality of the relation between handler and military dogs influences efficiency and welfare of dogs. doi
  27. (1928). The sensory capacities and intelligence of dogs, with a report on the ability of the noted dog “Fellow” to respond to verbal stimuli. doi
  28. (1998). Use of experimenter given cues in dogs. doi
  29. (2004). Verbal attention getting as a key factor in social learning between dog (canis familiaris) and human. doi
  30. (2005). What’s in a word? Recent findings on the attributes of command on the performance of pet dogs.
  31. (2003). When dogs seem to lose their nose: an investigation on the use of visual and olfactory cues in communicative context between dog and handler. doi
  32. (2004). Word Learning in a Domestic Dog: Evidence for “Fast Mapping”. doi
  33. (2004). Word learning in dogs? doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.