When it comes to dog training, it can be tough to know where to start. You may have friends whose dogs can do all sorts of tricks - playing dead, barking on command, or even some fancy agility training.
But are those skills really important? What are the basics that every dog should know? More importantly, how can you as a dog owner choose what to teach your dog first? In this article, we’ll review 11 of the most important and fundamental commands you should teach your dog.
Why Is Dog Training So Important?
You are responsible for your dog. If your dog destroys someone else’s property or hurts another person, you’re responsible for the damage. If you have a dangerous or uncontrolled dog, you could face serious penalties for not taking precautions.
Badly behaved dogs - even ones that aren’t aggressive - can be troublesome and even destructive. Your dog needs to see you as their parent, the person who can control them when they’re being naughty. If you can’t control your dog, you shouldn’t have one.
11 Commands Your Dog Should Know
The next few commands are ones that every dog should know. The words used for these commands don’t really matter. For example, you might say “drop”, instead of “leave”, or use some particular word or phrase to tell your dog to go to the toilet. What matters is that you use the word consistently so that your dog associates it with that particular action.
“Sit” is an absolute basic. It’s often one of the first tricks we teach our dog. It sets the groundwork for further training and can be used to calm your dog down. Teach your dog to “sit” by holding a treat above its head. Your dog should automatically sit to keep looking at the treat, which is when you reward them. Soon, you won’t have to move back the treat to get the result.
Another staple. You can use “no” in any situation. Train your dog into this by making them sit and wait for a treat, or pushing them down from jumping up (or any other bad behavior) while saying a firm no.
Stay is another crucial command which can keep you and your dog safe. Teach your dog to stay by making them sit, telling them to stay, and then moving away. If they start to move towards you, say no, and make them sit again. If they sit still while you move away, come back to them and reward them with a treat.
Down can be used to make your dog lie down, or to get them to stop jumping up at guests. You can teach your dog “down” by placing a treat on the ground and having them follow it with their nose until their bellies are on the ground. Down can be a tricky command to teach, but be patient.
5. Leave (or, Drop It)
“Leave” is another essential command, and you’ll probably use it when your dog has picked up something they shouldn’t. To do this, take two toys, and give your dog one. Tell them to drop it (or leave, or whatever command you’ve chosen), and when they do so, reward them with the other toy.
6. Toilet Command
This is a command you’ll use from day one, during toilet training. Your puppy might not know what you want from them when you take them outside, and this can take time to teach. Choose a specific command (Go quickly, handle your business, go potty, anything you like), and say it when your puppy goes to the toilet outside. Do this repeatedly, so your puppy learns to associate that command with going to the toilet.
A good recall is essential, especially if you plan to let your dog off the lead. It’s also a vital command if your dog is in danger - near a road, for example. To use this command, give your dog a bit of space - as far as the end of their lead, for example. Call out “Come”, and tug slightly on the lead. When your dog comes, reward them with a treat.
“Heel” is an important, basic command which will make walks that much easier. Hold a treat about your dog’s head as you walk, keeping them close by your side. Repeatedly say “heel” so that they associate walking this close to you with the command. Periodically stop, and make your dog sit.
Quiet is a great trick for dogs who like to bark at night! To do this one, loudly say “Quiet” whenever your dog barks - but don’t shout. When they stop barking, reward them with a treat. Some dogs are barkier than others, and you can’t eradicate barking altogether.
Bed, Go to Bed, In your Bed, and other varieties of the command all mean the same - sending your dog into their crate or doggie bed. To do this, place a treat on your dog’s sleeping place and say “Bed”. Then, let them go to bed and eat the treat.
11. Paw (or, Shake)
Paw isn’t really a necessary command, but it’s a fun one that dogs pick up easily. First, get your dog to sit. Take their paw and shake it, while saying “paw”, or “shake”. Reward them with a treat, and they’ll soon start waving their paws at you of their own accord!
Training Dos and Don’ts
Let’s take a brief look at what you should - and shouldn’t - do while training a dog.
Stay calm. Be patient, and repeat lessons if necessary.
Use positive reinforcement and reward good behavior.
Give your dog lots of love and care, even if they don’t learn as quickly as you hoped.
Be consistent. Use the same commands for the same actions.
Shout or get angry at your dog.
Punish your dog for getting commands “wrong”.
Teach your dog tricks they’re too young to know.
Change the goalposts. If your dog does the action you want, they get the promised treat. No exceptions!