5 Basic Commands Every Dog Should Know (and What You’re Doing Wrong)

By: Sarah Hall-Weaver

Of course you should start training your puppy as soon as possible but who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? With patience, encouragement, and practice, practice, practice, any dog can learn these five basic commands.

How to Teach Your Dog to Sit

  • Get your dog’s attention with a small treat held between two fingers.
  • Raise the treat above your dog’s head and say “Sit.”
  • As your dog raises his head to follow the treat, his bottom will naturally lower.
  • When he finds a proper sitting position, reward him with that well deserved treat.
  • Repeat a few times each day. Gradually alternate rewards between treats and just a good dose of affection so your dog learns to respond solely to the verbal “Sit” command.

Not working? What you’re probably doing wrong: You might be standing too close, making your dog back up. Give him a little more space and try again.

How to Teach Your Dog to Stay

  • Start your dog in a stationary position like “Sit.”
  • Hold out your hand, showing him your palm in a “stop” gesture, and say “Stay.”
  • Take several steps from your dog and reward successful stay behaviors. If he moves, calmly say “Oops” or “No,” and start again.
  • At first you can gently hold your dog in his seated position. As he makes progress, try moving away from him to other rooms and for longer amounts of time.
  • Make sure you release your dog by saying “Ok,” “Release,” or another word you use consistently.

Not working? What you’re probably doing wrong: If your dog isn’t getting it right away, are you responding by saying “Stay” over and over again? Use the command word only once. Over repeating and talking to your dog during training will confuse him.

How to Teach Your Dog to Come

  • Stand several paces from your dog while he is in the “Sit” position.
  • Call your dog’s name followed by “Come.” You may also lure him with a treat.
  • When your dog comes to you, command him to “Sit” again and reward him.
  • At first you can gently hold your dog in his seated position. As he makes progress, try moving away from him to other rooms and for longer amounts of time.
  • Practice the “Come” command on a leash at first, then without a leash in a safe, enclosed space.

Not working? What you’re probably doing wrong: As you experiment with distance and space, don’t chase your dog while yelling “Come.” It confuses the command and you might end up the one who gets trained.

How to Teach Your Dog the “Down” Command

  • Command your dog to “Sit” and let him smell a treat concealed in your hand.
  • As he sniffs, lower your hand to the floor.
  • While his head lowers to follow the treat, slide your hand along the floor leading his body to follow his head into a down position.
  • Say “Down” and reward him with the treat. If he sits up or lunges at the treat say “No,” do not reward him, and then start over, but never push him into the down position.

Not working? What you’re probably doing wrong: Is your dog popping back up right after his reward? He’s just excited. Don’t push him back down or start over repeating “Down.” Do the full exercise again and try rewarding him after he holds the position for longer and rises at your “Release” command.

How to Teach Your Dog to “Leave It”

  • Get two types of treats—a boring treat and something extra special. Hold the regular treat in one hand and keep the special treats easily accessible nearby.
  • Show your dog the boring treat to get him interested but as he paws, licks, or nibbles at your hand, do not let him get it.
  • As he loses interest, say “Leave it” and immediately reward him with a special treat using the hand that is not concealing the boring treat.
  • Gradually wait longer to reward your dog, and then only reward him as he moves away from the concealed treat. Next, practice by laying treats on the floor or using other objects like your dog’s favorite toy—just make sure you reward him with the special treats or lots of affection when he is successful.

Not working? What you’re probably doing wrong: You might be moving on to another command too quickly. “Leave it” is a tough one, so make sure your dog is very comfortable with the basics before moving on to something too complicated too soon.

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