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6 Basic Commands All Dogs Should Know

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Puppies can be taught to sit when they are as young as eight weeks old!

Puppies can be taught to sit when they are as young as eight weeks old!

These are not the tricks that will impress your friends and neighbors, such as rolling over or giving kisses on request. Rather, what we'll cover here are vital everyday commands that may even turn out to be lifesavers, given the right circumstances. Many of these commands are quite easy to teach, and with some patience and determination, even young puppies and the most stubborn rescue dogs may learn them. And remember: There is no such thing as an old dog that cannot learn new tricks!

6 Commands to Teach Your Dog

Before viewing the six commands all dogs should know, it is important for owners to arm themselves with some tools of the trade. A room with little distractions will work wonders to help your dog concentrate. It would be unfair to try teaching your dog these commands in a heavily congested area full of distractions. Training in order to be successful must start in a place with little or no distractions and then once the dog demonstrates the ability to perform the command, he or she may be introduced to more challenging and distracting scenarios.

The Importance of Rewards

Dogs need rewards! In order to learn well, the dog must understand that there is a reward for when they behave correctly. Most dogs that are food-oriented will happily take treats; however, some dogs may prefer a toy or lots of praise. Some dogs work better if you present them some high-value rewards, like liver treats (a favorite among many dog trainers), sliced hot dogs, or chunks of last night's steak.

Make sure the rewards are easily accessible because timing is of the essence. You do not want to lose precious seconds searching for that small treat right at the bottom of your paper bag!

Now, let's discuss the commands.

1. "Watch Me"

You really cannot teach a dog that does not focus on you. The first dog I ever trained gave no eye contact at all! When I spoke to this dog, there was no response because he literally ignored everything I said. Therefore, the first command I taught this dog was ''watch me." After teaching this command, training the rest to this dog was a breeze!

The watch me command is handy in many scenarios, such as when passing other dogs, scary trucks, or other distracting scenarios where you know your dog may react out of fear, aggression, or excessive vigor.

How to Teach It

The dog is always praised when it gives you eye contact. Eye contact must be made every time you call the dog's name or give an attention command like ''watch me'' or ''look.'' A good way to master this is to call the dog's name and wait until it makes eye contact. As soon as eye contact is made, even for a split second, the dog is praised and given a treat right away.

Dogs that have a hard time making eye contact because of their shy nature or they are simply new to training may be helped by placing a treat in front of your mouth while kneeling down at the dog's eye level. The dog will sooner than later make eye contact and is praised lavishly every time it does. The owner then can practice this standing up, adding distracting elements and keeping eye contact for increasingly longer periods of time.

2. The Recall

The recall is an essential command that can turn out to be a lifesaver. Just imagine your dog bolting out of your door and heading towards that street full of cars. You want to have a good recall in case your dog is in any life-endangering circumstance! Yet, you also want to use the recall for less dreadful events, such as calling your dog to you when it is time to put on its collar or to prevent him from going somewhere it should not.

If you must call your dog at the dog park, ensure you play with him for a few seconds or give treats so he does not associate being called with something negative such as slipping his leash on and going home. Also, try not to call your dog while he is sniffing something interesting, as this takes much concentration and may mean putting him up to fail.

How to Teach It

One vital consideration first: Never call your dog to you for something unpleasant! In order to work well, the recall should be pleasant, and the dog should be called with an upbeat tone of voice promising many good things. A good place to start is from your home's hallway. Have a friend hold the dog and call your dog's name. As soon as the dog is attentive, the friend can release him to come to you. Praise lavishly and give treats. Repeat several times until the dog will associate his name with good things.

3. "Sit"

This simple obedience command may come in handy in many scenarios. Just imagine having your dog sit composedly when putting on his collar or your dog sitting nicely at the traffic light. Sit also comes helpful when your dog needs to be visited by the vet or when being pet by friends and family, everybody will love a dog that is well composed and not jumping around hysterically! This simple command can even be taught easily to eight-week-old puppies!

How to Teach It

You can easily teach this command using a food treat as a lure. With the dog in front of you, place the treat in front of its nose at a certain height and in such a way that the dog will be forced to sit in order to get the treat comfortably. Associate the word sit as soon as the dog puts its back legs on the floor. If the dog has a hard time sitting it may help to place him in a corner so it will be easier to sit rather than backing away. Praise and reward in a timely matter and sooner than later upon hearing the word sit, per association, the dog will automatically sit.

Always remember to release your dog from a sit when the command is done, a simple ''well done'' or ''ok'' should tell your dog the command is over.

4. "Lay Down"

The dog learns to lay down and quiet time begins! Many owners teach their dog to go to their place and lay down when they need some peace and quiet. I tend to use it during dinner time for a good half-hour stay so my dogs are not in the way while we are eating. This command comes in handy when you want your dog under control such as when guests arrive and you do not want them jumping all over them.

How to Teach It

In order to lay down, the dog must know how to sit already. Use a tasty treat as a lure, therefore the dog is invited to sit with the treat up near the nose and then create an invisible line with the treat mimicking an imaginary ''L." The dog will very likely follow the treat and be forced to lay down in order to receive it. For dogs that have difficulty performing this command, they can be placed under a bench so to prevent their rump from sticking up in the air. Always remember to release your dog from a lay down when the command is done, a simple ''well done'' or ''ok'' should tell your dog the command is over.

5. "Stay"

As mentioned in the lay down command, your dog must master the stay command so it learns to stay where it is left. A stay command is important and comes in handy when you want your dog to stay immobile and in place. Just imagine you are mopping the floor and you do not want your dog to leave paw prints all over, what to do? Teach him to stay!

How to Teach It

The stay command can be taught to dogs in both sit or lay down positions. I personally use the ''sit, stay'' for short stays, and the ''lay down, stay'' for longer stays. With your dog sitting or laying down tell him to ''stay'' with your hand's palm open facing the dog. Then step away. If your dog follows you take him by the collar and reposition him, repeating the order. Start with brief stays from small distances and then set them farther and for longer times. When the stay is over call your dog to you, praise and reward with a tasty treat. Always remember to release your dog from a stay when the command is over, a simple ''well done'' or ''ok'' should suffice.

6. "Drop It"

Another life-saving and essential command is the ''drop it ''command. Basically, this command tells your dog to drop anything from its mouth. I have found it a lifesaver as I have had my dogs drop from their mouths cigarette butts, dead mice, sharp sticks, and even leftover food that may have been spoiled. This command is not hard to teach as long as you make it convenient for the dog to drop whatever is in its mouth.

How to Teach It

Start with a toy. Give your dog a toy and then offer a high-value treat. The dog will drop the toy in exchange for the treat. As soon as the dog drops the toy, say ''drop it." Then praise and give the treat immediately while taking the toy. Then upgrade using different toys and then move to something more valuable than a toy, like a large piece of bread. As soon as the dog attempts to eat the bread and has it in its mouth offer something more valuable than bread, like hot dogs or pieces of steak. The dog will learn only if you offer treats that are more valuable than the item you give the dog; yet, in an emergency, the dog will drop anything because it has learned to do so.

I have taught my dogs to even drop their bones for me. Bones are perhaps the most valuable items for them so how could I find something more valuable to replace them? I simply added to them! I told my dogs "drop it" and then quickly smeared their bones with peanut butter for added value. Now my dogs will happily drop their bones, tails wagging when they see me nearby with some peanut butter! Of course, do not attempt this on food aggressive dogs!

Next Steps

There is actually another thing all dogs should learn—and that is walking on a leash. More than a command, I believe this is an art. There is nothing nicer than a dog following its leader quietly on a road. It takes quite some practice, but most dog owners will obtain a well-mannered dog if they teach their dog to focus on attention and practice every day. There are also special tools that may help accomplish this, such as Haltis and gentle leaders.

So these are, in my opinion, the most important commands all dogs should know. If your dog knows these all, then it may be time to upgrade to advanced training, or teach them those other commands that may entertain family and friends.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Eiddwen from Wales on January 21, 2012:

Another great hub.

Gunnar22 on September 14, 2011:

I like this, it is very informative. Thanks for sharing.

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on February 17, 2010:

Great hub and fantastic advise, all us dog lovers really need your hubs, you really know your stuff. Thanks

Akhil Anil on February 17, 2010:

I have a dalmation, i guess i gotta teach him these! Thanks. Great hub alexadry!