Basic Dog Commands – How to Teach a Dog to Sit, Stay & More!
For his safety and your sanity, every dog needs to know basic commands. You don’t want a dog that jumps all over people or humps your visitors’ legs. A big benefit of training is teaching him good manners.
The best way to train your dog is by using positive-reinforcement (+R) methods. In this model, you reward your dog when he does something right and ignore him when he doesn’t. You won’t use punishment of any kind.
When practicing training, it’s important to use the right rewards. When you start, use all three of the following rewards in tandem, and then eliminate them in the order they are listed until your dog responds to a simple “good boy.”
• Training Treats
When you begin training, use small, tasty, smelly treats specifically marketed as training treats, usually dehydrated liver or chopped up dog food roll. Only give these high-value treats during training, and your dog will pay attention and learn faster.
Scratch his ears or chest, rub his belly—whatever he likes best.
Praise your dog loudly when he does something right. Tell him what a good dog he is and how smart he is.
If you’re practicing the clicker method of training, click the clicker when you reward him. The goal is the same: to satisfy his need for the reward with a simple thank you or pat on the head.
Seven Important Commands
Teach your dog as many commands as you’d like, but make sure he knows these seven important commands, several of which could save his life in an emergency situation. As you teach each command, combine it with the appropriate hand signals.
Also known as “recall,” “come” is the single-most-important command you can teach your dog. If he bolts or is approaching a dangerous situation, being able to call him back to you could save his life. “Come” is the first command you should teach your dog. Start in the backyard or another enclosed space that isn’t too large.
Say “come,” and wait for your dog to return, even if it takes a few minutes. If your dog enjoys fetching, throw a ball for him and say “come” once he’s caught it. Reward him, and then throw the ball again. When he finally does come over to you, give him a high-value treat. Be consistent, and the period of time between when you issue the command and when he returns to you will shorten quickly.
When your dog is coming back to you regularly, wean him from the treats and praise him instead. Once he has mastered recall, take him to the dog park and practice there—don’t bring treats or your training will be interrupted by other dogs who’d like a nibble. It’s inadvisable to practice recall on the street or in an unfenced area, so make practice frequently at home or at the park.
Hand signal: Make an arced “come here” motion with your forearm and cupped palm.
2. Look at Me
This command is the foundation of all other training. You’ll teach the dog to make eye contact with you, which will, in turn, teach him to pay attention to what you want him to do. “Look at me” is easy to teach: simply hold a training treat next to your eye and say “look at me.” He’ll get it right away! Soon he’ll obey this command even when you aren’t holding a treat.
Hand signal: Point to your eye.
Another very basic command, “sit” teaches your dog to sit down on command. To teach “sit,” hold a treat just above your dog’s nose and wait for him to stretch up to eat it. Move the treat away from you and up, which will prompt your dog to sit back to reach it. If your dog backs up to get the treat, practice “sit” near a wall so he can’t back up.
Hand signal: Hold your arm at your side, close to your body, with your open palm facing out. Bend your elbow and bring your hand up to should-height, with your flat palm facing you.
Once your dog knows how to sit, teach him to lie on the ground on command. Give him the “sit” command, reward him, and then hold out another treat. Lower it slowly to a spot about a foot in front of him, which should prompt him to lower himself to the ground to get the treat. Make sure his hindquarters remain on the ground.
Hand signal: The reverse of the “sit” hand signal—start with your elbow bent up with your open palm facing out, and then bring your hand and forearm down to a 45-degree angle.
An extension of “sit” and “down,” “stay” teach your dog to remain in place when he’s sitting or lying down. After you give him the “stay” command, reward him before he can move; stop praising him when he does. Practice “stay” diligently, gradually increasing the amount of time he must remain in position before you release him. Once he sits for at least 30 seconds, move further and further away from him each time you issue the command until he obeys from across the room.
Hand signal: hold your hand out firmly, palm up, and facing the dog.
“Off” and “down” are two different commands. “Down” means lie down, whereas “off” means get off that person/chair/other animal. When your dog jumps on off-limits furniture, give him the off command and point to the floor. Reward him when he does so, even if he’s not obeying you, but getting off when he feels like it. If he won’t get off the furniture, pull him off and ignore him.
When you’re training your dog not to jump on people, gently knee him in the chest or move him aside with your leg or foot (no kicking—just a nudge in the right direction) while you give him the off command. Reward him when he does so. Pull him off and ignore him when he doesn’t.
Hand signal: Bring your hand forward toward the ground, flat palm down.
7. Leave It
Like “come,” this command is essential for all dogs, but especially those that try to chase cats, lunge at other dogs or show too much interest in something yucky they find on the ground. Basically, “leave it” means “stop paying attention to that really interesting thing.”
It’s easiest to teach while on a walk. When your dog strays from the sidewalk and tries to walk in the neighbor’s flower bed, tell him “leave it,” gently pull the leash until he’s back on the sidewalk, and then reward him.
Hand signal: Point to the floor.
If your dog enjoys learning these basic commands, try teaching him a few tricks, like “shake,” “sit pretty,” “dance” and “roll over.”
Tips for Successful Training
It’s often said that training dogs are more about training owners. It’s true! If you don’t follow the same rules every time you train, you can’t expect your dog to follow your rules, either. Memorize these tips for training success.
• Reward him instantly.
You must reward your dog the very instant he complies with your command; this is called a “marker.” Using the same word, “yes,” will be easy for you to remember, and you can say it quickly, as soon as you see him respond to the command. If you wait to reward him, he may not understand what you’re rewarding him for.
• Be patient and go slow.
Only train for five to 10 minutes a day when you begin. Then increase your sessions to twice a day, and then to longer periods of time during each training session.
• Don’t push your dog.
If your dog begins to act bored, anxious, restless or belligerent, stop the training session and return to it later.
• Be consistent.
You must issue the same command, in the same manner, every single time you want your dog to do something or he’ll become confused.
• Be firm.
Dogs know when you mean it and when you don’t, so mean it! Use strong hand signals and a firm voice and when you issue the commands.
• Train in different areas.
If you only train your dog in the backyard, he might think the rules only apply to that area. Hold your training sessions in different areas of your property so that he understands the rules apply everywhere.
Although you may want to progress to training your dog in public, especially if you are at the end-stage of training him to be nice to strangers and other dogs, it’s best to avoid other people and animals in the early stages of his training. He needs to remain focused on you and the tasks you want him to perform.