Essential Commands to Teach Your Dog

More often than not, new dog parents consider obedience training as optional. And even though handling a well-balanced dog is much more important than handling a well-trained dog, knowing few basic obedience commands can definitely come in handy on the long run.

In addition, obedience training is a good way of addressing existing and preventing future behavioral issues.

Bottom line, you can choose between enrolling your dog in obedience courses and doing it yourself. Either way, there are several essential commands your dog will have to learn. Keep in mind that training is easiest with puppies.

Older dogs take longer to accept new leaders and new habits. However, with consistency and patience, teaching your dog obedience commands can be surprisingly easy. Most dogs willingly carry out these commands because they want to please you and because it is in their interest to do so.

To make things easier we have compiled a list of those basic but essential obedience commands.

The ‘Watch Me’ Command

The ‘Watch me command is important for getting your dog’s attention and it is also an important bridge for mastering other commands. To teach your dog the ‘Watch me’ command:

  • Keep an eye contact with your dog while holding a delicious treat in your hand.
  • Move the treat from the dog’s nose upwards your face to help your fog watch you and focus on you.
  • Once your dog is focused on you or better said on the treat in front of you, say ‘Watch me’ and then reward it with the treat.
  • Repeat this several times a day until your dog is properly trained.

Useful tip:

  • When your dog learns this command avoid using treats as distractions. Instead, use treats only as rewards.

The ‘Sit’ command

Sit is the easiest obedience command and usually, all obedience training start with it. To successfully teach your dog the ‘Sit’ command, follow this simple steps:

  • While facing your dog, move away with the leash in your left hand, and the treat in your right. Be calm and try not to excite your dog as you tell it to come to you and showing it the food.
  • When the dog reaches you, slowly move the treat up and over its head. Your dog will sit in order to keep its eyes on the prize. As it starts bending its hind legs, give the ‘Sit’ command.
  • Reinforce the ‘Sit’ command from the front and to the side of the puppy. Reward each response with verbal praise and food treats. Then gradually reduce the number of treats until the word sit alone is sufficient.

Useful tips:

  • Most dogs naturally assume a sitting position in order to maintain eyesight on something above their heads. If your dog does not, hold its collar in one hand and use your other hand to tuck its hindquarters into a sitting position.
  • Avoid overexcitement. If your dog finds food treats too exciting to concentrate on your commands, do not use food as a reward. Try training on a full stomach, by using less stimulating treats or with word praises.

The ‘Stay’ Command

The ‘Stay’ command goes hand in hand with the ‘Sit’ command. Before teaching your dog to stay, the dog must have a good grasp of the sit command. Once the dog understands and responds to the sit command you can expand it with the stay command.

Teaching the ‘Stay’ command consists of several steps:

  • First of all, command your dog to sit as you hold the telescoped leash in your left hand and a treat in your right. Focused on the treat, your dog will sit.
  • While maintaining tension on the leash, step forward with your right foot and as you begin to move forward give the ‘Stay’ command.
  • Move your left foot to join your right foot, remembering to maintain gentle eye contact with the dog at all times.
  • By exerting a light pressure on the leash, held over the dog’s head, turn and face your dog. Hold the food up high to hold its attention.
  • If your dog stays, reward it and then slowly walk around it while holding the leash above its head.
  • After several sessions, your dog should sit and stay while on the leash. Once this is mastered, drop the leash and repeat the previous steps with the leash dropped.
  • When the dog sits and stays with the leash dropped reward it. Keep in mind to reward your dog while it is doing what it is told and not afterward.
  • End the training by opening your arms and saying ‘OK’. It is important to finish on a positive and happy note. It is also important not to overexcite your dog by being too enthusiastic.

Useful tip:

  • Do not train the ‘Stay’ command when circumstances make it hard for your dog to concentrate on what it is being told. For example, if there are other dogs present or if the environment is new, its mind will definitely be elsewhere.

The ‘Come’ Command

This command is important for keeping your dog out of trouble. The ‘Come’ command will be useful if you lose grip on the leash, leave the door open or if your dog wanders while walking unleashed.

To teach the ‘Come’ command, follow these steps:

  • Stand a short distance away from your dog in a quiet room with no distractions. Perhaps the hallway would be the ideal location. With a visible food treat in your hand, speak the dog’s name and as it begins to move forward, give the ‘Come’ command.
  • As the dog moves towards you, praise it by saying the words ‘Good dog’ with bright and enthusiastic voice tone. Encourage your dog to come directly to you by bending your knees and opening your arms wide.
  • As the dog approaches kneel down to get closer to its level. Praise it again with words, stroking and treats. In order to maintain your dog’s interest vary the training locations.

Useful tips:

  • To ensure your dog always complies you can use a thin houseline or the leash. Whenever you need your dog to focus on you, just give a quick jerk on the houseline/leash.
  • Do not give the ‘Come’ command if you are not sure your dog will obey.
  • Never use the ‘Come’ command to call your dog from something exciting to something less interesting.
  • Never use the ‘Come’ command to call your dog to discipline.

The ‘Lie Down’ Command

Learning the ‘Lie down’ command is considered to be quite difficult because dogs assume this position as a submissive posture. However, if the training is positive and relaxed it is not impossible. The best way to teach this command is by following these steps:

  • Tell your dog to sit down and once it sits kneel at his left side while holding its collar in your right hand. Holding a food treat in your left hand, place your hand on the dog’s nose and then move it downward.
  • As the dog’s nose follows the treat move it forward to the front of its body. The moment the puppy starts to lie down, give the command ‘Down’ but do not give the reward yet.
  • Move the treat just far enough forward to lure the dog to lie down. Then reward your dog with both praise and the treat. Repeat the exercise frequently, until the dog starts responding to words alone.

Useful tips:

  • If your dog creeps forward on its haunches rather than lying down kneel beside it and while it is sitting put the palms of your hands under its forelegs, lift it gently into a begging position and then lower it into a laying position. Reward it with praise and treats immediately.
  • If your dog refuses to stay down use both hands to apply gentle pressure to its withers, the area above the shoulders. Reward it for laying down and then release it.

The ‘Leave It’ Command

Dogs are curious creatures and this can sometimes get them into trouble. Knowing the ‘Leave it’ command is quite useful in situations when your dog might pick something dangerous off the ground. Teaching your dog the ‘Leave it’ command includes several steps:

  • Put one treat in your left and one in your right hand and then show your dog one enclosed fist with the treat inside while saying ‘Leave it’. Let your dog sniff, mouth, paw, lick or even bark to the treat.
  • Once your dog stops trying to get the treat, reward it with the treat from the other hand. Repeat this until your dog learns to move away from the first fist when it hears the words ‘Leave it’.
  • When the dog starts to consistently move away from the first treat while giving you eye contact when hearing the command it is ready for the next level. The next level includes using two different treats – one more and one less attractive. Place the less attractive treat on the floor, cover it with your hand and say Leave it.
  • Wait until your dog forgets about the treat and focuses on you and then remove the treat from the floor and reward your dog with the more attractive treat.
  • When your dog masters this routine, repeat the process while gradually uncovering the treat placed on the floor until the treat is completely uncovered.
  • Keep practicing but instead of you kneeling, you can now stand up in front of your dog.

Useful tip:

  • If your dog tries to snatch the less attractive treat while you are standing, cover it with your foot and follow the same steps.

The ‘Place, Bed, Crate’ command

Responding to this command comes in handy when you need your dog to stay put in its place. Teaching this command can be easy especially if you follow this simple steps:

  • Get your dog leashed and hold the leash with one hand while holding a treat in your other hand. Lure your dog with the treat as you slowly guide it towards the designated area (bed, mat, crate, blanket).
  • The moment your dog gets inside its place, say the command ‘Place’ and then reward it with the treat. Repeat the exercise several times. Depending on what the dog is supposed to consider as its own place, you can replace the term Place with Bed, Blanket, Crate.
  • Once your dog learns to lay down when commanded, you can start to slowly increase the amount of laying time.

Useful tip:

  • If your dog gets up before you reward it, simply give it the ‘Place’ command again and return to the last successful point.

The ‘Stand’ command

This command is important when you are visiting the vet and he needs to examine your dog. To teach your dog the ‘Stand’ command, you need to follow these steps:

  • First command your dog to sit and obtain some delicious treat.
  • While holding the treat in your hand put your hand close to the dog’s nose.
  • When your dog realizes that you hold a treat move your hand forward and down. Instinctively your dog will follow the treat lower and lower.
  • Once your dog is well focused on the treat gradually move your hand forward and up until your dog is in a standing position. As soon as the dog is in a standing position give the command ‘Stay’ and offer it the treat as a reward for being a good dog.
  • Repeat this exercise several times.

Useful tip:

  • If your dog refuses to stand up, try encouraging it by using overly-excited and high-pitched voices or by shaking a toy in front of it.

The ‘Heel’ Command

The ‘Heel’ command is important for learning proper behavior while walking beside you. It is particularly useful for situations when your dog walks without a leash or when your hands are occupied. To teach your dog the ‘Heel’ command follow this simple steps:

  • Hold your dog’s leash in your right hand and pull it on your left side while casually walking.
  • At a certain point of your walk, command your dog to ‘Sit’.
  • While holding a treat in your left hand command your dog to ‘Heel’ in a positive and reinforcing tone.
  • Make a few steps forward while holding the treat by your side. Facing towards your dog move the treat upwards and your dog will sit.
  • When your dog sits treat him with the reward.

The ‘Take it & Drop it’ Command

Knowing this command is important because it helps you easily take away things your dog has a tendency to grab. Mastering this command requires following several steps:

  • Hold a toy or other object your dog likes in your hand and provoke your dog to follow it first visually and then let it struggle to grab the toy/object.
  • When your dog opens its mouth to catch the object of interest gives the command ‘Take it’. This is important for the dog to make a conditional association between the right object with a treat or reward.
  • While your dog is playing with the object it took from you, offer it another object that is a duplicate of the first one. Since the new object is of the same value, your dog will be provoked to drop the first object and get the second one.
  • As soon as your dog drops the first object give the command ‘Drop it’ and when it opens its mouth to take the second object say ‘Take it’.
  • Repeat the exercise several times a day until your dog masters it.

The ‘Off’ Command

The ‘Off’ command is useful for situations when you need your dog to get off someone or something. To teach your dog the ‘Off’ command follow these simple steps:

  • Take treats in both of your hands and close them.
  • Put one of your closed hands near your dog’s face and let it smell it and lick it.
  • Since your dog cannot get the treat, it will eventually back off. As soon as your dog backs off, open your hand and offer it the treat while giving the command ‘Off’.
  • Repeat this exercise several times.

If your dog does not respond properly or does something wrong while obedience training, avoid the word ”No”. Save this word for some more serious misdemeanors. Instead, introduce a more neutral word such as ”Wrong”.

In addition, if your dog loses concentration, you have probably chosen the wrong time or place for training and you should try again under different circumstances.

Last but not least, it is important to let your dog play vigorously prior to the training. That way it will burn off excess energy and will be more focused on the training.