What your dog needs to know how to do depends on your and your dog’s lifestyle. Not every dog needs to know every command there is, but there are a few basic dog commands that every dog needs to know because they are applicable to your dog and you.
For example – in my opinion – every dog has to know how to Heel and Come when their name is called. However, that covers only a very basic level of training that will get you around outside without being pulled and – of course – being able to recall your dog when you’re out at a dog park.
In order to cover the essential commands for every dog owner, I can cut the list down to no less than 5.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend training your dog, these are the 5 you want to focus on. I’ve put them in order of importance to me, although you may find the third one listed to be more important than the first one listed, and that’s OK! These are simply what I believe to be the 5 basic commands that every dog owner should teach and use.
1. The Come Command
Getting Your Dog to Come When Called
This is the command that you want to start teaching from the moment you bring home your puppy or dog. Immediately.
You want to make sure your dog has a full-proof response to the Come command because it can save your dog’s life (actually, a few commands can, but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick with this one). 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.
How to Teach Your Dog the Come Command
For beginners, creating the positive association of “when I call you and you come, good things happen” is a good foundation to build off of. Using high-value rewards like hot dogs, ham, turkey and cheese is a great way to start building that association.
Using higher value food will also prove to be more effective when you get into more distracting environments. Just remember, food has it’s limitations, so practice a lot to know what yours are.
To teach a dog the Come command, 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 or other animals so that you can learn what your limitations are with the methods you’re using. When possible, I’ll walk close to distractions until the dog gives in to chasing a squirrel so that I can practice recalling while they’re in prey mode. But always do this on a long-leash and – at this phase – always with an e-collar as well.
2. The Heel Command
Getting Your Dog to Walk Beside You, and No Pulling on the Leash
If you’re sick of your dog dragging you all over the place, the Heel command is your best friend (besides your dog of course). Traditionally, a Heel is on the left side because we historically carried guns on our right side and didn’t want to shoot our dogs by accident. However, your Heel can be on the right or left, whatever your preference is.
A good Heel results in 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. If I walk turtle-speed slow, the dog should walk turtle-speed slow. That’s how it should work when trained correctly – and all with complete slack in the leash
Signs You’re Not Teaching Your Dog to Heel Properly
A bad Heel creates a short/taut leash. I’ve heard so many people say their dog walks well and when they show me, the dog is nearly being hung because 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 their reactive behavior worse.
Teaching a Heel so that 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 they are corrected.
3. The Out/Drop Command
Getting Your Dog to Drop What’s in Their Mouth
This command is another life-saving command. It’s also 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 see it, they eat 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 and anything else they get their teeth on.
For example, 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, I’ll put the bone away. Other times, I may return it to them and come back again and repeat the process so they don’t think that every time I tell them to release it, 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. The Kennel Command
Getting Your Dog to Go to Their Cage
I don’t believe this command is used as much as it should be and I believe it’s because people feel bad that their 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’re 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, and let them free roam on the first day only to come home to a chewed up couch, door or something else.
Keeping them kenneled for the first year keeps your stuff from being destroyed, and gives the dog a year to acclimate to the new home and family so they learn their place within the new hierarchy.
For older dogs that are already potty trained, overnight kenneling is optional. But for puppies, I always suggest people use a 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 they’ve destroyed something once, they’ll destroy something again, so I recommend keeping them kenneled any time they’re unsupervised.
5. The Down Command
Getting Your Dog to Lay Down and Not Move
This command is important if you take your dog to friend’s houses, out to picnics and to restaurant patios. It’s also good if you have a lot of children running around; you don’t want a four-legged animal running around with them, as they can knock down or easily nip your children due to overstimulation.
The Down command keeps them in place so that it’s easier to keep tabs on what your dog is doing which – when they’re laying down – is 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, as long as 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 dishwasher). 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.
And there you have it, folks: the top 5 dog 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 own limitations and 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 percent 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.