Command Structure Chart

This command structure chart is for Foundation Style Dog Training version 3.1

This article is a work in progress. Check back often for updates!

It is improved over the old chart because it represents that commands are always in a state of a cycle.  A dog is either in a command or "free" from a command without there ever being a true end to the handler's guidance.

The dog's name is what technically communicates to the dog that our guidance is about to shift gears.

K9-1 command structure

Name - The name is probably the most overlooked part of a proper command structure.

The name ideally should only be used when there will be a change in what the dog should be doing.

The name will help get the dogs attention during the mild distractions of everyday life and the chaos of high charged real-world working situations such as in apprehension work.

Proper use of the name is essential when handling more than one dog at a time so a dog knows which is being addressed.  It also allows training where you will address more than one dog at a time to both follow the same command. This can be done by training each dog to their own name and also a "common name" which will refer to both dogs at the same time.

Proper use of the name greatly reduces the frequency a dog will break their command. In "real life" situations where a dog may be asked to hold command while the handler is holding a conversation or even training other dogs, a dog may break their command if they hear any word that sounds like a command that they know. It is easier for a dog to be successful if they can relax in command and only listen for one word, their name, instead of worrying about missing one of the numerous commands that it knows. Once the dog hears its name, it can then more easily focus on the command to follow.

If compulsion is used in the training plan in the form of avoidance conditioning the proper use of the dog's name will prevent errors and help maintain a more confident dog overall. Imagine if someone barked commands at you randomly throughout the day during the regular distractions of the environment and while you were busy at a task WITHOUT addressing you first. Not only would it be easier for you to miss that command, overall you would be less confident and tentative at your task because of the fear of missing a command. Saying a dog's name first will grab the dog's attention in the same way it does ours and allows the dog to focus on the various commands that will come after more easily.

The name used before a command also signals to the dog that the command is "neutral".  When it is "neutral" there is never an automatic consequence good or bad.  The dog gets a chance to decide whether to obey or disobey the command or try/"not try" if the dog does still doesn't understand the command.  This prevents the command from becoming classically conditioned to automatically mean good or bad things and prevents the side effect of "poisoned commands" where the dog reacts in a way as if it is experiencing punishment (or reward) simply by hearing the command.

This paves the way for handlers to pair the command with an aversive during disobedience, without side effect, later in the command structure (without the name preceding the command) to help the dog understand why it was just punished and what to do to escape further punishment (what escape conditioning plan to use).  This is extremely important when using non-directional punishment such as an ecollar.

Proper use of the name eliminates the need for rigid commands that are unnecessarily shouted or said in a stern voice as is common on a benign competition field.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to use proper spacing between the "name" and the "command" to follow. a time lapse of about one half of a second will make a HUGE difference in preventing errors from the dog.  Think of the child's game "Simon says". It is easy to make an error when you don't have enough time to think. It leads to anticipation of the command that the dog MOST likely thinks will follow instead of paying attention to what the next command actually is. So do not say " RexSit." Be sure to say "Rex...sit."  A clue that your name and command are too close together will be that your dog starts anticipating the command while you are still saying the dog’s name instead of waiting for the actual command to shift tasks.
  • Do not ever use the name before a marker. Markers are your conditioned reinforces and conditioned punishers which include the words you communicate to your dog that they just did right or wrong. If you do this, the name becomes devalued as to what it exactly means to the dog. That meaning is that "A NEW command is to follow." Therefore, if you say their name immediately after they obeyed correctly, the dog can lose commitment to the command in anticipation of a new command instead of hearing the immediate marker which specifically tells the dog it has just done correct or incorrect. The same goes for using the name AFTER a marker (unless a new command is to follow immediately). This can cause a dog to unnecessarily weaken its commitment to a task in anticipation of the next command and otherwise dilute the meaning of what the "name" means.

For example:

Incorrect: "Rex" "sit" "Rex good boy!"

Incorrect: "Rex" "sit" "good boy Rex!"

Correct: "Rex" "sit" "good boy!"

Also correct: "Rex" "sit" "good boy!" "Rex" "down" "good boy!"

In conclusion:

The name is the great divider of all the tasks you will ask of your dog and essential for building confidence and commitment to each of those tasks. Command structure should always be extremely technical. If it is not predictable and make sense to us, we cannot have it make sense to a dog. To not be technical will riddle us with side effects and cause much "false disobedience". A confused dog is never to be considered a disobedient dog.

You can see a demo of a handler using the name properly during a training exercise:

YouTube player

Here you can see a handler using the name properly to control a single dog or both at the same time (with a common name "team")

YouTube player


Command or "Free" - unfinished section - check back

At first, it may seem unusual that these two are grouped in the same category since a command and "free from command" are opposites.

When you start thinking of this step in the command structure as what the dog should be doing and guidance, it will make more sense.


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