Depending on your and your dog’s lifestyle, what they need to know varies. Not every dog needs to know every command there is, but they do need to know the ones that are applicable to them and you.
In my opinion, every dog needs to know 2 commands and they are Heel and Come when called. However, that’s for the very basic level of training that will get you around outside without being pulled and of course being able to recall your dog when out at a dog park. To cover what I have found to be the essentials for every dog owner’s needs I can shave it down to 5.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend training your dog then these are the 5 you want to focus on. I’ve put them in order of importance to me. You may find that the ones that 3 may be more important than 1 and that’s ok! These are simply what I believe to be the 5 Commands Every Dog Owner Should Teach And Use.
1. Recall (come when called) – This is the command that you want to start teaching from the moment you bring home your puppy/dog. Immediately. You want to make sure your dog has a full-proof come when called because this is the command that can save your dog’s life (actually, a few commands can, but for the sake of this article…). Should your dog ever take off running, this is the command that’s going to get them to come back to you, but it takes a lot of practice and reinforcement in order to get it to be 100% reliable.
For beginners, using high-value rewards like hot dog, ham, turkey, cheese, etc is a great way to get started building that relationship with your dog. Creating the positive association of “when I call you, good things happen when you come” is a good foundation to build off of. Using higher value food will also prove to be more effective when you get into more distracting environments, just remember, food only has it’s limitations so practice a lot to know what yours are.
I begin on a short leash, doing short distance recalls whenever I release a dog to go potty. Once they’ve done their business, I’ll call them and move away with a treat in my hand to get them to start understanding the concept. Then I practice with a long line (15-20 foot leash) out in an open area as that’s more realistic. Practice around squirrels, birds, geese, etc so that you can learn what your limitations are with whichever methods you are using. When possible, I’ll walk close to distractions until the dog caves in to chasing a squirrel so that I can practice recalling while they’re in prey mode, but always on a long-leash and at this phase, always with an e-collar.
2. Heel (walking beside you, no pulling) – If you’re sick of your dog dragging you all over the place then Heel is your best friend (besides your dog of course). A traditional Heel is on the left side because we carry our guns on our right side and don’t want to shoot our dog by accident. However, Heel can be right or left, it’s whatever your preference is.
A good Heel is a nice slack leash with no tension. There should be a J-like shape in your leash. Your dog’s right shoulder and leg should be parallel to your left knee and leg and their nose should not pass where your foot lands when walking. That’s the general guideline for how it should look.
If I take one step, the dog takes one step. If I take 5 steps, the dog takes 5 steps. When I stop, the dog stops with me and automatically sits. If I run, the dog runs beside me and if I walk turtle-speed slow, then the dog should walk turtle-speed slow. All with complete slack in the leash, that’s how it should be when trained correctly.
A bad Heel is a short/taught leash. I’ve heard so many people say their dog walks well and when they show me, the dog is nearly hanging they have the leash so short. Of course they can’t pull if you walk them like that! The moment I tell them to slack the leash, the dog takes off pulling. The other problem with tension in the leash is that it feeds into reactivity and will make it worse.
Teaching a Heel where your dog is “mentally” walking with you is where I believe every dog owner should be in the end. This will help alleviate most reactivity and if it doesn’t, it will at least give your dog a reference point when he or she gets corrected.
3. Out/Drop (drop what’s in your mouth) – This command is another life saving command and definitely one that serves my puppy owners well because puppies like to eat everything they can put in their mouth. From cigarette butts to glass to chocolate candy to poop! If they sees it, they eats it.
For puppies I generally start by using high value food like cheese to get them to drop things in the home like tennis balls, bones, chews, toys, slippers, etc. If I give them a bone, I’ll let them have it for 10 minutes or so and then come in with a little piece of cheese in my hand. I’ll bring the cheese up to their nose and once they catch the scent and drop what’s in their mouth, I ‘ll cue the word “Out” and give them the cheese.
I’ll also pick up the bone. Sometimes after I ask them to relinquish it the first time, it’s done and I’ll put the bone/toy away. Other times, I may return it to them and come back again and repeat the process so they don’t think every time I tell them to release it that it means they’ll never get it again. I do this quite a bit in the beginning to establish a really good understanding of the cue.
4. Kennel (go to your cage) – I don’t believe this command is used as much as it should be. I believe it is because people feel bad that they’re dog has to be in a kennel while they’re at work. Don’t feel bad.
Dogs are denning animals and sleep anywhere from 16 – 20 hours a day so it’s no big deal. All we’re doing is choosing where they doing it while we’re gone. Getting your dog acclimated to the kennel immediately will also help with addressing separation anxiety issues so you’ll definitely want your dog to understand that you will not always be around and to learn how to be away from you.
I tell all of my clients that bring home a dog to kennel them while they are away and overnight. I do this for the first year of every puppy and dog’s life because I’ve come into too many homes where they’ve brought in a new dog, have let them free roam on the first day only to come home to a chewed up couch, door, etc. Keeping them kenneled for the first year keeps your stuff from being destroyed and also gives the dog a year to acclimate to the new home and family so that they learn they’re place within the new hierarchy.
For older dogs that are already potty trained, overnight kenneling is optional, however for puppies, I always suggest people kennel as it aids in potty training. Over time, once the family knows the dog and vice versa, they can experiment with short times out the kennel when gone. But in my experience, if I’ve seen them destroy something once, they’ll destroy it again so I just recommend that people keep them kenneled any time they’re unsupervised.
5. Down (lay down and don’t move) – This command is important if you take your dog out to friend’s houses, picnics, and restaurant patios. Or if you have a lot of children running around and you don’t need a four-legged kid running around with them as they can knock down your children or nip due to overstimulation.
The Down command keeps them in place so that it is easier to keep tabs on what your dog is doing which is….to lay down, being calm, and not moving much. You can begin duration exercises as soon as your dog learns how to lie down. It doesn’t matter how fast they lay down, just the fact that they know how.
I begin doing 2-hour downs with dogs the day I teach them the command. You don’t need to build your dog up slowly, you just need to know how to go about it. The way I prefer to work on duration is to have the dog lay down at my feet when I know I won’t be moving for a while which could be when I’m typing up a blog, watching a movie or washing dishes (just kidding, I use a dish washer). You can have your dog down for as short as 5 minutes to as long as you want, but you decide when your dog gets up, not your dog.
Well there you have it folks. The top 5 commands every dog owner should use. Please keep in mind that your dog’s performance of these commands depends on the methods that you use. Each method has its limitations, pros and cons, but in the end it’s you who decides how far you want your dog to advance in regards to reliability. I always want 100% control so I always layer remote collar over every command aside from cute tricks.
That’s it for this week’s blog.
Until next time.