As far as history tells us, canines have been partnered up with the human race for longer than any other animal species. They get us in a way that very few other species can, but even the most attentive of dogs isn’t a mind-reader.
The secret to any good partnership is communication and communication takes practice and training. No matter what type of skill you are teaching your dog, as long as it is taught with kindness and consistency, it will open lines of communication. While military dogs may not need to learn advanced herding commands and seeing-eye dogs don’t tend to learn attack commands, there are some commands that every dog should know for their safety and the safety of those around them.
Here is a list of the top 5 essential commands that all dogs should learn, as well as a few preliminary training steps. While formal training is often delayed until dogs are around six months old, these simple obedience commands can be started at home as early as seven to eight weeks of age, and are actually more effective the earlier you start.
Work with each step of the training until the dog is responding consistently before moving on to the next step. For very young dogs or dogs that are hesitant, each step should be practiced in a handful of five- to ten-minute sessions each day. As your dog gains confidence you can increase the length and number of your training sessions.
Command #1: Come
One of the first commands that most people teach their pups is the recall command, or “come”. Giving your dog a solid understanding of the “come” command could easily save their lives if they are headed towards traffic or chasing after an animal that may be dangerous or diseased.
- Stage 1: Sit next to your dog with a high-value treat. Say your dog’s name, then the command “come”. Give your dog the treat. Repeat.
- Stage 2: Sit a little bit behind the dog. Say your dog’s name, then the “come” command. When your dog turns their head towards you, praise them and give them the treat. Repeat.
- Stage 3: Stand or sit far enough from your dog that they have to take a few steps to get to you. Say your dog’s name, then the “come” command. When your dog comes to you, praise them and give them the treat. Repeat.
You can actually start teaching a pup this command as soon as they are old enough to walk, although training sessions should be kept extremely short for young puppies. It is best to start recall training in a safe, distraction-free environment in order to give them the best chance for success. Eventually, you can add in more distractions, and eventually eliminate the treat, replacing it with just praise.
Command #2: Leave it
The “leave it” command is also a lifesaving command, and if well-established can become a powerful tool in your training arsenal. Countless dogs and puppies are poisoned each year because they ate or played with something that they shouldn’t have. This command, paired with a watchful eye, can help you to mitigate their desire to put their mouths on everything. To train this command you will need two types of treats, one of higher value to your dog than the other.
- Stage 1: Put a treat in each hand. Offer your closed hand with the lower value treat to your dog. When they start sniffing or licking your hand, say “leave it.” When your dog stops paying attention to your hand and turns its head away, give it the higher value treat from your other hand.
- Stage 2: Repeat the steps from stage one, but with an open hand rather than a closed hand. Close your hand when the dog attempts to get the lower value treat. This step is complete when you are consistently able to leave your hand open without your dog taking the treat.
- Stage 3: Put the treat on the ground rather than in your hand. Tell your dog to “leave it.” When they turn away from the treat, give them both praise and the higher value treat.
As your canine progresses, you can put down other novel items, so that the dog eventually comes to understand that “leave it” applies to all things, not just food items. With consistent training of the leave it command, most dogs will even be able to resist the lure of a moving object, like a running squirrel or a flying bird. Once again, remember to keep sessions short and upbeat, and try and end the session on a positive note.
Command #3: Sit
The “sit” command is an excellent way to gain control of an unruly or overexcited dog and is an easy command to teach even the most stubborn or clueless of dogs. While this may not be as critical as the “leave it” and “come” commands, it will make life with your dog much easier, and your dog’s compliance to this command will help them to learn much-needed self-control.
- Stage 1: When your dog is in a standing position, hold a high-value treat in front of your pup’s nose as a lure. Say “sit” then slowly move the treat above their head. The dog will naturally move their head up and bottom down as their nose follows the treat. Praise them and give them the treat as soon as their bottom hits the ground.
- Stage 2: Use just your empty hand to lure the dog into the sitting position. When their bottom hits the ground reward them with your other hand and give them plenty of praise.
- Stage 3: Give your dog the command to “sit” without the hand lure. When their bottom hits the ground, praise them and reward them with a treat.
This command is one that pairs well with a hand gesture. Once you have trained your dog to sit using the vocal “sit” command, you can pair it with a hand gesture. With consistent training, your dog should be able to learn to respond to either the spoken command or just the gesture itself. It is important to never physically force your dog into the sitting position as this is more likely to confuse and upset your pooch.
Command #4: Down (or Lie Down)
Many pet parents and trainers naturally progress to the “down” command after their dog has mastered the “sit” command. Down, or lie down, is an important command as it, like sit, helps to keep your dog under control and calmer, even in unusual surroundings. A dog that is lying down is not chasing things, nor are they starting fights, nor are they jumping up on people. This command may be particularly useful with large-sized dogs as it may make them seem less imposing to other people or pets, allowing them more opportunities for social interactions.
- Stage 1: Ask your dog to sit. When your pup is in a sitting position, hold a high-value treat in front of their nose as a lure. Bring the treat down to the ground and slightly towards yourself. This should encourage the dog to lie down as their nose follows the treat. Reward the dog with both praise and the treat when their elbows touch the ground.
- Stage 2: Use just your empty hand to lure the dog into the down position. When their elbows touch the floor reward them with your other hand and give them plenty of praise.
- Stage 3: Give your dog the “down” or “lie down” command without using the hand lure. Praise them enthusiastically and reward them with a treat when they are lying down with their elbows on the floor.
The “down” command is often paired with a hand gesture as well. Once your pooch masters the vocal command, begin using your hand gesture each time you speak the command. Eventually, your dog should respond to either the spoken command or the hand gesture by lying down. It is vitally important not to attempt to physically force your dog into a lying position during their training as this may frustrate or frighten them.
Command #5: Off
The “off” command is the one you need when your dog has their paws somewhere that you would rather they not be. It is an important command to keep your dog from jumping on other people, putting their paws on the counter or table, or even getting your dog to jump down off of the furniture. It is much kinder to teach your dog to get down off of things with a spoken command than to unceremoniously push them off, and in the long run, much more effective.
- Stage 1: When your dog has their paws or body on something you want them off of, like a counter or a guest, say the word “off” and use a treat in front of their nose to lure them off. Praise and treat once all four paws are on the floor. Consistently repeat these steps for the next four to seven items the dog gets on.
- Stage 2: Test the command by telling your dog “off” without using the hand lure. If the dog gets off, treat them and give them plenty of praise. If they do not respond to the command, go back to Stage 1.
Once your dog is responding reliably to this command under calm and controlled circumstances, you can add in challenges, like tasty treats on the counter, and distractions like being at a busy park. This will help generalize this command to many different objects and environments. This is a versatile command. It can be used in singular situations, like when you want to sit on the couch and the dog is in the way. However, it can also teach your dog not to put their paws on the counter in the first place, by using it every time that you see your dog’s paws touch the counter.
At-Home Training Tips
Keep in mind that puppies, like kids, have short attention spans, don’t push them past their limits by enforcing over long training sessions. Give each stage enough time to become solidified before moving on to the next stage, and don’t be afraid to go back to a previous stage if you need to. Never respond to a failure to comply with verbal or physical aggression. Following these guidelines will help to ensure that you are setting your dog up for success.
While we are not dog trainers, we hope this blog has been helpful for some easy at-home sessions with your pup! These are all common commands that most pet parents and trainers will have experience with. If your dog manages to slip their lead while walking or digs out of your backyard, it may be easier for concerned citizens to return your pooch to you if they know these basic commands. Teaching your pup to respond to these commands will not only make your dog safer, but it will also offer them more opportunities to explore the world.
A well-behaved dog can accompany you to more human-oriented places, like outdoor cafes or pet-friendly stores, as well as being more likely to gain access to fun canine activities such as doggie daycare, pet parties, and canine competitive events. A trained pup also gives you and your family more freedom to travel, allowing you to more comfortably leave your well-trained pup with wonderful pet sitting companies like Space Coast Pet Services.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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