Training your dog is an important part of pet parenting — and one that is literally a lifesaver. Having control of your dog means that you will be able to keep him safe on walks, in social situations, and in your home. It also opens up the world of pet travel to you and your dog, whether that is daily errands, trips to the dog park, or dream vacations.
Here is a look at six commands you will want to teach your dog from the start. Is your dog an adult already? It is never too late — with some patience and great treats, you can teach an old dog new tricks and have a lot of fun in the process!
Sit is the most basic of commands and one that is super easy to teach — but just because it is easy does not mean it is not critically important. If there is one command that you want to really get command of, it is Sit.
While you can teach your dog so many great commands like “Off”, to prevent him from jumping on people, you can also handle that situation with Sit — because a sitting dog cannot jump, right? Work to make sure your dog sits every time, the first time you ask. You will be able to use this command if your dog is running away or if he won’t come back to you — put your dog in a Sit, then go to him.
To teach your dog the Sit command, stand in front of your dog. Hold a treat (something really great, like a piece of chicken or hot dog, not a dried biscuit) in your hand, and slowly move your hand back over your dog’s head. His nose will naturally go up to follow the treat, and his haunches will go down. Just as he is sitting, give him the command “Sit” and then praise him greatly, giving him the treat. (If you are clicker training, you will want to click and treat just as he sits.) As he learns what “Sit” means, you can give him the command and expect the behavior.
As your dog gets better with the Sit command, add hand signals to your teaching. Most trainers use a simple hand command to ask their dogs to sit. Start with your arm bent at the elbow, your palm facing up. Curl your hand toward you to request the sit. This hand signal will be helpful to get your dog to sit at a distance with many distractions, when he may not hear your voice or your voice may sound different (and it is just plain fun to communicate with your dog through hand signals.)
Stay is also a critical command, one that helps prevent your dog from bolting out an open door or gate. It is also a great command for traveling dogs; teach your dog to stay when you open the car door before you are ready for him to step out. “Stay” does not mean that your dog is sitting; it means that your dog is remaining stationary until he hears a release word (like “OK”) which signals it is OK for him to proceed. Stay is also a command that many dogs learn through a hand signal. Just hold out your hand, palm out, as if you were directing traffic to signal “Stay.”
While it seems so simple, “Come” can be one of the most difficult commands to teach a dog. Teaching recall means convincing your dog that he should leave whatever fun he has discovered — whether that is the trail of a squirrel or a pile of trash — and come back to your side. First and foremost, your dog has to want to be with you. You are the center of his universe, and he should know that being with you is the best thing ever — an opinion you will want to reinforce during training with high-value treats when he comes when called. Start your training in a fenced area and then progress to an open area using a long lead, like a twenty-foot leash (or a length of rope or clothesline). Always reward and praise your dog for coming. If he will not come, don’t keep calling, just walk out and leash your dog, turning around to move on with no talking. Your dog will soon see that it is far more fun to come and get praise and treats!
Stop is essential for dogs who might bolt — and all dogs can bolt. Whether you are out walking and lose your grip on the leash, or you are trying to stop your dog from pulling your shoulder out of socket on a walk, Stop is a useful command that is also easy to teach.
“Leave it” can help you out in so many situations, whether your dog is chewing your shoes, eating some mysterious substance on your walk, or rolling in who-knows-what. Train “Leave it” by putting a not-so great treat in one hand and a much better treat in the other. Offer the boring treat first, then as your dog shows interest, say “leave it” in a flat (but not scary) voice, and open your second hand to reveal the better treat. Do not move your hands but have your dog make the move to the high-value treat, then praise him.
Whether you use “Watch me” or “Look,” teach your dog to look at you for your next command. Hold a treat up beside your eyes to catch his attention then praise him as you make eye contact. “Watch me” will come in handy to help your dog refocus in confusing, busy situations.