- 9 Commands Every Dog Should Know
The following is a great place to start to get you and your new pup off on the right paw with some positive reinforcement techniques!
Arguably, the most important word a dog should use is the one most oft overlooked by pet owners—their name! While human children will often learn what their name is naturally, dogs need a little more direction. When you take your new dog home, you must understand that they have to be taught their name. This is the case whether it's new or you are changing the name of a dog owned by someone else.
To teach your dog their new name, take them into a small room with a bunch of yummy treats. Say their name—once, and give them a treat as soon as they look at you. If they do not respond quickly, wait five seconds, repeat the name again, and give the treat. Repeat this exercise until your dog quickly turns their head when they hear their name. Once they master that, you can make this exercise harder by calling them from a few feet away and then from across the room. This could even be made into a game with two people calling the dog by their name from across a room or yard. It's a fun way to get your dog excited to come to their name!
Extra Tip—Dogs don't understand the concept of abbreviations or derivatives of their name. If your dog's name is "Max," he may not understand that "Maxwell" or "Maxie" is also his name. He will get confused over what name should elicit your desired response, so only use your dog's true name.
The foundation of all canine obedience is, of course…sit! The command "sit" will not only teach your dog to literally sit. It will also help you keep their attention and give them a polite way to solicit yours.
When you are teaching your dog to sit, you should get your dog's attention and hold a small treat between your fingers and thumb. Get your dog to smell the treat, which we call the "lure," and with the hand pointed towards the sky. Once they are eagerly sniffing it, move it towards them in an upward motion. Most dogs will instinctually back up and eventually land on their rear end. As soon as your dog is in the sit position, give them the treat. When the dog does this reliably, you'll want to "fade" the treat (remove it from your hand). From this point on, you can give your dog the upward motion hand signal to sit and reward them once they do. Once the dog sits, every time you give them the hand signal, you can add the verbal command "sit."
"Down" is often the command that immediately follows sit and is the lesson that teaches your dog to lie down. To establish this command, the dog should be in a sitting position. Then, you take a treat in your hand, between your thumb and fingers, with your hand pointing downward. Put your hand in front of your dog's nose and move it to the floor between their paws. Ideally, your down should move their face towards the treat and slide into a lying position.
Most dogs don't lie down on the first attempt and instead require a few tries. If your pup struggles, reward them for almost lying down until they finally do, and then "jackpot" them with a handful of treats. Repeat the exercise several times, and your dog should begin to lie down quicker and more reliably. Once they do, remove the treat from your hand, move your flattened down, palm down, towards the floor, and add the command "down."
Extra Tips: Many people will use "down" to mean lying down, getting off furniture, or stopping jumping. Do not use this command for all these behaviors. While these things may mean similar things in the human vernacular, the dog will become confused about the same word used for these very different physical motions. If you also want to teach this behavior, make sure to use two different verbal cues!
Stay + Release
Though most people know they must teach their dog a "stay" command, many attempt to train it on their own and get frustrated and confused as to why their dogs do not reliably stay on command. Oftentimes, this is because the "stay" is not paired with a "release" word. While a dog may quickly learn that "stay" means not to move, they do not understand when they are allowed to get up. Due to this uncertainty, many dogs will get up when they want to—which is rarely when their people want them to! To create a reliable stay, you must also pair it with a release word that tells the dog they can get up and only get up when you release them.
Put your dog in a Sit, and hold the palm of your hand towards the dog in a "stop" hand signal. Take one step backward; if your dog stays put, treat them. Then, move your hand in front of their face and move it backward with a happy "okay!" (or "release!" or "free!"), and as soon as they get up, you give them the treat. Repeat this process several times, slowly increasing the distance between yourself and the dog.
Extra tip: For excitable dogs, taking even one step back might be too much for them to stay sitting. If your dog gets up each time you take a step back, try to lean back and reward your dog rather than take a step. Once your dog stays for the leans, take a step and move forward.
The knowledge that your dog will come to you when called is more than just having a well-trained dog who can potentially walk off-leash; but the comfort of knowing your dog will come to you in a potentially dangerous situation.
In order to teach recall, first have the dog on a leash and take a treat in your hand. Hold the treat by the dog's nose, step back, and motion towards you with the treat hand. Your dog should follow this and (ideally) sit in front of you. When they do this, reward them with a treat. Repeat this exercise several times, slowly extending the distance between yourself and the dog. When they reliably come each time you give them the hand signal, start using the word "come" or "here."
Dogs always seem to get into things they shouldn't have—be it your sandwich, the cat's food, or something gross you don't want them to eat off the street. "Leave It" is a command that will teach your dog not to smell or touch a forbidden object.
To teach your pup this command, you should get low-value and high-value treats. Put the less exciting treat in your "temptation" hand and the high-value one in your "reward" hand. Place the reward hand behind your back, present the temptation hand to your dog with a closed fist, and say, "Leave It." They will likely sniff, lick, or try to pull the treat out. The moment your dog stops going after your hand, mark it and reward it with the tastier treat. This will teach your dog that ignoring a forbidden treat will earn them an even better one! As the dog resists the temptation hand longer, you will slowly increase the difficulty by opening your hand, having it closer to the dog's face, and then eventually putting the treat on the floor or dropping it there.
Drop it is one of the most common commands people shout at a dog who doesn't yet know what it means! Everyone's dog has grabbed something they're not meant to have. Then they either end up fighting them to open their mouth before they swallow or unsuccessfully prying their mouth open like a lion tamer. In order to avoid this (and have more fun games of fetch and tug!), you'll need to teach your dog to "drop It."
To do this, you first have to have your dog hold an object they like very much. Take a treat in your hand and wave it underneath their chin while giving the command "drop it." The moment they release the object from their mouth, reward them with the treat. Repeat this exercise until they reliably release the object. Then, practice simply waving your hand under the dog's chin and giving the "drop it" command.
Extra Tip: Dogs who aren't excited by a favorite toy may need the object for this lesson to be edible, such as a bully stick, no-hide, or consumable Nylabone.
Crate training is an excellent tool in your dog training toolbox that can be used for the lifespan of your dog. Many owners only use their dog's crate for the first few months of their lives while during house training or puppy destructiveness. However, a dog who is well crate-trained can have a "safe space" to go to settle and be comfortable in crates in the future. This will be beneficial for travel, medical issues, or other emergency situations where the dog may need to be contained in a crate.
To crate train your dog, take a treat, show it to the dog, and toss it into the crate with a command such as "Kennel Up" (or "Crate" or "Go to Bed"). When the dog enters the crate, reward him again. Repeat this exercise until the dog is fully in the crate each time. When the dog does this, close the door and reward them again. Continue giving the kennel command, and then keep the door shut longer before rewarding the dog. Once your pup reliably goes into the crate every time you toss a treat in, start saying the verbal cue and reward him when he enters. To get your dog comfortable in the crate for stretches of time, help them develop a positive association. First and foremost, try not to use the crate as a punishment—this will cause a negative association. You can encourage positive associations by feeding your dog his meals or special treats when he goes in the crate. With practice and positive association, your dog will likely consider his crate a "safe space" for years to come!
Extra Tip: Some dogs will be shy about entering the crate and take many repetitions until they are comfortable fully being in the crate.
As a dog owner, walking on a leash is likely the most common activity you will share with your pup. Walks are also dogs' most common source of exercise and method of relieving themselves. Not teaching your dog to walk properly can result in an under-exercised and potentially destructive dog. In cases of large dogs, it can even result in injury to you, your family, or a dog walker. Teaching your dog "loose-leash walking" will improve your quality of life together.
As soon as you bring your dog home, get them accustomed to the feeling of a collar or harness you plan on walking them on. Consider attaching the leash to the dog so they can drag it, but make sure they don't chew it up in the meantime! Take your dog out on the leash with a bag of treats and get their attention. Apply a gentle amount of pressure to the leash with a motivating command such as "let's go" or "walk on!" in an excited tone. When your dog gets up and follows, give them a reward. Repeat this several times until your dog regularly follows your lead. When they start to pull, stop walking in that direction and say, "This way," applying leash pressure to the dog in the opposite direction and rewarding them when they follow you. This will teach the dog that they only get to move forward when they are not pulling on the leash. Allowing the dog to keep walking forward when they pull is self-rewarding, and they will continue the pulling behavior you don't want.
Extra Tips: It's important to remember that "leash pressure" means gentle tension applied to the leash. Pulling hard and dragging the dog will not only not help teach them to follow your lead. It may make it more challenging and even make the dog develop an aversion or fear of walking on a leash. Using a retractable leash for your dog may initially seem like a good solution to pulling, but it does not teach your dog to walk nicely. It generally encourages poor ones by teaching the dog to pull forward and reduces your control over your dog.
Dogs love to learn with positive reinforcements such as treats and praise. Enjoy your time together, bonding along the way.