Where do you start?
I have heard this question from many new dog owners, and they aren’t sure where to start. I’ve prepared the Top 10 commands that I personally work on with “green dogs” or dogs that are new to training. These are not the only commands that should be taught, by any means. However, I find that many dogs pulled from the shelter only know “sit” and “shake.” While the “shake” command is a fun party trick, and fun for the dog to learn, I would not consider that an essential command. Now opinions are like…how does the saying go….everyone has one? Dog training is no exception, but these are a few commands that I personally like to start with:
# 1 House Training
For everyone’s sanity, work on house training FIRST. Consistency, frequency, and supervision are key with house training. Lots (and I mean like you just won a Nobel prize level of excitement) of praise and reward should happen when your dog does relieve themselves OUTSIDE.
# 2 Crate Training
This one is a controversial topic for some folks, but is essential in my opinion. If you cannot supervise your puppy or dog at all times, they need to go into a crate for safety reasons as well as house training purposes. Crate training and house training go hand in hand. I’ve heard many complaints of “I take my dog outside and he will not relieve himself, but will come back inside and urinate immediately.” This is frustrating for everyone, including the dog, because it doesn’t understand what is expected. I like to use the word “crate” and ask the dog to enter the crate willingly. Please do not force the dog in the crate for the first time, and then leave for a full 8 hour work day. Crate training should be done in stages, and while you are home, at first.
# 3 Sit
This command is probably one of the easier ones to teach, and usually the first command introduced if you’ve ever been a part of a puppy class. Learning this command with food or toy rewards, sets the foundation for how “training” works and how the dog will respond to you.
# 4 Down
I own larger dogs, so this is particularly important for dogs whose nose is table height when standing. Nobody wants a dog’s face in their plate while sitting at the dinner table. A dog in the “down” position is generally non-threatening to other dogs and people, so you can relax at a brewery or read a book in the park without your dog sniffing around, trying to greet people, or doing anything else but relaxing at your feet.
# 5 Recall & Stay
This is absolutely critical and I typically teach these in tandem. If you see your dog running straight towards a busy highway, you would want to be able to call the dog back to you immediately. I typically use the word “here” while some people use “come.” I use “here” because that word carries a bit further in large areas or crowded spaces, particularly with my tone of voice. Teaching the dog to stay is just as important for household management and your sanity (especially with multiple dogs.)
# 6 Leave It
Another crucial command, for safety reasons, is the phrase “Leave It.” I want my dog to be able to leave an object alone (like a venomous snake) when told. This is also helpful for dogs with sensitive stomachs if food is accidentally dropped on the floor, or if your dog wants to steal the baby’s teething ring.
For pet owners, “drop” is typically used, but for sport dog owners I have heard “out” used more frequently. I use “drop” with my dogs to teach them to let go of whatever is in their mouth, whether that’s a toy, bone, or a piece of food. This command is also essential for any dogs that are showing signs of resource guarding.
# 8 Leash Manners
Nobody wants to be dragged around the neighborhood. Teaching your dog “heel” and to walk nicely on a leash is very important. This is also important during outings where another dog (that is not necessarily dog friendly) might walk by you and your dog. To keep your dog out of harms way, they need to remain by your side (not in another dogs face, pulling you down the road, or darting into the street after a squirrel.)
# 9 Place
This one is another favorite commands for household management and for fearful dogs. Teaching the dog “place” means asking them to navigate to a designated space and staying there. Some people teach “place” with the dog either sitting or standing on place. I prefer there to be an implied “down” expectation while on place. Dogs are typically calmer overall when lying down, and are less likely to step off of their place.
# 10 Off or Down
Dogs are going to make mistakes. They are going to make bad choices and jump on you, the couch, the bed, or in Aslan’s (my personal dog) case the kitchen table. Teach a command that they understand. Instead of just yelling “NO,” teach them “off.” I like to teach this using the couch at home (if you allow your pets on the couch) or with a park bench in public.
A very large part of responsible pet ownership is teaching basic commands and forming a respectful bond with your dog. Your dog doesn’t automatically understand what “no” means, they are not humans. You should always teach a dog what you want versus what you do not want. Once the foundation training is built, then move on to the trick commands. Your dog will love learning, and it will continue to create a well-rounded, confident dog. In future posts, I will go into more techniques on how to instill these commands and condition your dog to produce the desired outcome. Stay tuned.