Everyone loves a trained dog, but not everyone needs to train every command. There are 10 dog commands you needs to know. They are the foundation for all training. These are the commands that I rely on most for Miss Millie and most are used daily.
Training your dog is something that you should start right away but it is never too late to begin. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks!
In the beginning I treat every command as a game and provide LOTS of rewards. Start with high value rewards, such as hot dogs or cheese, and gradually lower the value. Eventually your dog should perform the commands with little to no reward.
As with most anything, there are multiple ways to train your dog. This is how I trained these dog commands with Miss Millie so maybe it will help you with your dog.
- Mark each behavior with “Good” or a click if you are clicker training. Then provide the treat as a reward.
- Train each trick for 3-4 cycles, do NOT push your dog. You will have better success if you train 5-10 minutes and then take a break.
- Do NOT add the word into the training until your dog has mastered the action. Remember you can name these behaviors anything you want because your dog doesn’t know what the word means until you put it to the action.
- These are great treats to use for training
For Miss Millie this is a default behavior now. If she doesn’t understand what I’m asking her to do, she will automatically sit. However, in the beginning that wasn’t the case.
To teach “Sit,” hold a cookie in your fingers just in front of your dog’s nose. Move the cookie slightly up and back so the head extends upwards which generally will force the rear down.
You may need to tweak how you hold and move the cookie to get the rear down. Eventually you can just use “cookie fingers” as the hand signal for “Sit.”
This is another command that is relatively easy to teach. You can teach “Down” from the sit position or from standing. The method to teach is the same for both.
Hold a cookie in your fingers just under your dog’s nose. Move the cookie down and in toward their belly so the head turns under and forces the rear down continue to move the cookie to the floor until they are in the down position.
To get the down position you may need to tweak how you are holding and moving the cookie. Once your dog gets the command you can add “Down” to it, you can add a hand signal such as your forefinger pointing down.
Miss Millie knows this command best as “Settle.” She will drop to the floor if I say “Settle” but hesitates when I say “Down.” When she was a puppy I taught “Settle” first so she would chill on her mat, I didn’t do a good job differentiating the behaviors I was looking for, so Millie’s command is “Settle.”
“Stay” and “Wait” are two separate commands but are sometimes used interchangeable. “Stay” implies a longer-term hold than “Wait.” “Wait” is command that you would use if there is a second or two before the next command. I use “Stay” when I need Miss Millie to hold her position for at least 30 seconds.
This is a more difficult command to teach, regardless of what you name it. It is easiest if you put your dog in a sit or down to begin. Once they are in position, take one step back from them with your hand up like a stop sign. Return to your dog and give them a treat. Do NOT have a treat in your hand when you step away from them.
Next take a couple steps away from them with your hand up like a stop sign. Return to your dog and give them a treat. Repeat this until you can be 5-10 feet away. At this point you can name the behavior. I would call this a “Wait.”
To shape “Stay” I would get to a duration of 30 seconds with me standing 10 feet or more away. At that point you could add the command “Stay.”
The younger the dog the less impulse control they have, set them up to succeed. This can be one of the commands that is the most frustrating to teach. It’s ok to go slow, it took Miss Millie what felt like forever to grasp the concept.
Teaching “Touch” will help you when you get to teaching “Come,” “Leave It,” and “Drop It.”
With your dog in a sit position, put you hand in front of their face maybe 2-3 inches away. Hold your hand there until any part of their face touches your hand, mark the behavior with a click or “Good.”
Repeat this until your dog is touching your hand with their nose consistently. Once this happens you can name the behavior.
This is also a foundation command for teaching more advanced tricks and playing games. Check out our blog post for 10 Games to Eliminate Boredom.
This command is used to release your dog from the position they were in. For Miss Millie I use “OK” and “Free.”
Place your dog in a Sit, Down, or Stay position using either or both the verbal and hand signal then wait about ten seconds. After this drop the hand signal and use the word you have chosen, mark the behavior with “Good” or a click and give a treat.
The next time you do it increase the duration of the initial hold position before you release. Over time your dog will understand that you give them the go ahead to move.
If you have an issue with your dog releasing early there are a few causes, it may be because you are too consistent on how long they hold for and they know when its time. Or it may be that you are giving them a nonverbal cue that is causing them to think they are done.
This is my issue with Miss Millie. I inevitably do something like twitch or swallow or move my arm and she knows that she is going to get released. Once you figure out your tell you can control it better. Or if you are like me you just know that your tell is your release word.
Once your dog has a “Stay” or “Wait” you can leave them and walk away 5-10 feet. Remember to keep your hand out like a stop sign when training this, drop your arm and use “Free” or “Release” so your dog knows it is ok to break. If your dog has a strong “Stay” or “Wait” you can transition your arm out of it. You may still need to keep an eye on your dog, so they remain in position. Once you are to this point you can add the verbal command “Come.”
Miss Millie was taught to “Touch” my hand when she came to me, so that I knew that I had her under control. This helps the dog understand that they are still following directions and not just running wildly at you…..although Miss Millie still loves doing that!
This is a command that you will want to work on in different situations with different distractions. The stronger the command is for your dog the more likely they are to respond to you. You can practice in different areas with a long-line, this is one that I particularly like because I can use it in the water as well.
It is super lightweight, so you can really see how your dog reacts in different situations when training the “Come” command.
“Leave It” is a command that every dog should know, and you should begin training it as soon as possible. Most people use “Leave It” and then yank their dog away from whatever it is that you don’t want them to touch. Clearly the dog gets mixed signals here and they don’t understand what they are supposed to be doing.
The first thing I do when training this is to work on impulse control. I’ll sit on the floor with my dog and put a cookie out of reach. If they reach for the cookie pick it up, don’t say anything but “No.” If they don’t reach for it mark or click the lack of reaction and give them treat but NOT the one on the floor. You may want to add a “Look” command so that they look at you instead of the treat once they have acknowledged it. If you haven’t trained “Look” you can check out this article for more.
This is a “trick” that you can work up to where you place the treat on their paw and have them hold it there until you give a command to “Take It.”
Once you have some impulse control going you can put them on leash and have a cookie on the floor. If they reach for it, turn around and walk the other way. If they look at but don’t reach for it, you can start to name the behavior “Leave It.” Make sure to mark or click and then treat your dog.
Eventually start dropping things, on and off leash, randomly that your dog would like to pick up and say “Leave It.” If you trained “Look” at the end of the behavior your dog should look at the item and then immediately look to you for reward. It is important to consistently mark and reward this behavior.
Many people think “Drop It” and “Leave It” are similar commands. They aren’t. If you have given a “Leave It” command the dog should never have the object in its mouth.
I have reserved “Drop It” for those times when you want the dog to immediately release whatever they have in their mouth. Say a hamburger that was dropped on the sidewalk or a dead mouse……yes both of those have happened to me. Because I hadn’t overused “Drop It” Miss Millie immediately spit both of those out of her mouth.
To train “Drop It,” use a biscuit or other hard cookie hold on to one side and hold it for the dog to take it. As soon as he puts his mouth on it, mark it and give him another cookie. Repeat this making the duration that he holds the cookie longer each time. Once he grasps that when you say “OK,” or whatever your marker word is, he drops it and gets a different cookie. You can name the behavior.
I like training with these biscuits
You can practice it the same way you did “Leave It” but this time letting the dog put it in its mouth, don’t use the same objects for “Leave It” and “Drop It” because it could confuse your dog in the beginning.
This isn’t a common command that people teach. It has come in handy so many times that I truly believe it should be one of the first commands your dog learns. The purpose of this is when your dog is off leash regardless of what they are doing they immediately stop. They make no further movement until you give another command. I started teaching this to my dogs the first time Molson tried to cross a busy street after getting out of the house.
This was hard for me to figure out how to train with Miss Millie because with Molson it was literally a panicked scream and she stopped because of that……with Miss Millie I wanted it to be a behavior I could control. Here is how I trained “Freeze” but this is a tough one that you may need to fiddle with for your dog.
With your dog on leash start walking. Randomly stop. When your dog stops, immediately mark or click and then given them a treat. Keep doing this and once they are stopping right next to you can start naming the behavior. Now move to off leash, and unless you regress don’t go back to on leash because you don’t want to confuse “Halt” or “Heel.”
When your dog is randomly walking, inside or out, give the command “Freeze.” When they stop immediately, mark it, and then give them another command such as “Come.” And then treat the completion of the behavior. This is another command where using a long line and training with lots of distractions will come in handy.
“Drop It” and “Freeze” are my emergency commands. I only pull them out if I need Miss Millie to immediately stop doing something. Once you train them you should practice them occasionally, so they don’t forget. These are commands I only want to pull out when I need a reaction instantaneously.
“Off” is a command that you want to teach to stop jumping up on people or things. This is one of the few behaviors that you must train while they are doing the action. If you are looking to stop the jumping up action, when the dog is doing it turn and walk away from him. I give a “Sit” command when I turn away. When I turn and walk back if he remains in the “Sit,” I mark or click the behavior and give a treat. You can repeat this for what feel like FOREVER but make sure they get four feet on the floor before you give them any attention or treats.
The next time you can add “Off” and then “Sit.” This behavior tends to rear its head when you first arrive home. And if you are like me I don’t have treats on me when I return home. When you are training this if you can throw some in your bag or car, so you can grab a couple when you get home it will help reinforce the correct behavior much faster.
I use “Off” for everything that their paws don’t need to be on, me, my guests, my counter, etc. The training is the same for all of them. When the paws are up you give an alternate command such as “Sit,” and then the next time you catch them you can preface the command with “Off.”
Note: If you have a Portuguese Water Dog this is a command that you may or may not ever be able to fully teach. I have not been successful in training Miss Millie, but she does know the command if I pull out stern voice.
Hopefully this list helps you in training your dog. Are there any critical dog commands that I left off the list? Let us know!
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