When you first bring your new puppy home, teaching them dog commands might not be high on your list of priorities – but it should be! In order for you and your puppy to have a happy, adventurous life together, it’s important that you can control them to keep them safe. The best way to do that is by helping them learn dog commands.
Dogs don’t come into the world understanding our language. While canines are very intuitive animals, and they can often sense how we feel by our body language or tone of voice, they don’t know what our words mean unless we teach them. Puppy obedience training can be a fun bonding experience for you and your dog, and it also ensures that you can always communicate well with your best friend.
In this guide, we’ll explore why dog commands are important, how to approach basic dog training, and five basic dog commands to get you and Fido started.
Why Dog Commands Are Important
As you and your family adjust to having a new pet in the house, it might be tempting to brush off puppy obedience training as unimportant. It’s easy to make the mistake of procrastinating, especially when you’re having so much fun playing with your new furry friend. The older your dog gets, the more habits they create, and the harder it is to teach them the basic commands. It’s best to tackle puppy obedience training when your dog is still young, energetic, and happy to learn.
It’s crucial that your dog understands commands because they keep your pet safe, which allows you to go more places together. Additionally, understanding commands makes your dog feel secure, and the process of learning these commands can be a bonding experience.
Dog Commands Keep Your Pet Safe
Safety is always a number one priority with pets. Dogs are instinctive and wild creatures, and those primal instincts can easily get them into trouble in the modern world. For example, Sparky might run across a busy street to chase a squirrel, or, scarf down something that is dangerous for him to eat and could cause health issues.
By teaching your dogs basic commands, you can interrupt those instincts and grab your dog’s attention, preventing them from doing something unsafe. When you have better control over your pet’s actions, you can be more relaxed while you are out together.
Keeping Your Dog Under Control Allows You to Do More
When your dog is responsive to commands, you two can enjoy your time together even more. When your dog knows how to listen to and understand your requests and keep themselves safe, you can visit a wider range of places. For example, if your dog knows how to “sit” and “stay,” you can easily visit the dog park without worrying about them approaching another dog who doesn’t seem too friendly.
Dog Commands Make Your Pet Feel Safe and Secure
Dogs like structure and routine, and they enjoy knowing what to expect. If you haven’t taught your dog commands, you might find yourself speaking urgently and aggressively to your dog, trying to get them to come or stay or stop what they are doing. This is confusing and super stressful for your pooch, who really just wants to do whatever you want, but doesn’t know what you want. When you can communicate with your dog effectively, they feel safer and are less likely to show stress signals in a new situation.
Basic Dog Training Can Be a Bonding Experience
Dog commands are important for your pet’s safety and security, but the experience of learning these commands also has inherent value. Learning new things together is always a great way to bond.
By setting aside a few minutes daily (see more below about how long basic dog training should last) to engage with your puppy and help them learn something new, you are building a relationship with them. Your dog needs attention, love, and affection from you. Puppy obedience training is one way that you as a new pet parent can meet all of those needs while also teaching your dog something that will keep them safe!
Strategies for Basic Dog Training
Now that you understand why teaching dog commands is important for you and your pooch, let’s look at how to do it effectively. There are a number of different strategies for dog training, and it might take some trial and error to find out what works best for you and Fido. Take your time and don’t be afraid to try new things, but follow these dog training tips as you go along:
- Use treats for positive reinforcement
- Never discipline or punish your dog for “getting it wrong”
- Keep an eye on the clock – don’t train for too long
- Speak clearly and use distinctive hand signals
- Always end on a positive note
Use Treats to Encourage and Reward Behavior
Special doggie snacks are key to successful training. Your dog has to have an incentive to do what you are asking. They need to associate a successful command response with something tangibly enjoyable: a dog treat.
Never use high-value treats like peanut butter, as these are too high-calorie and should only be used on super special occasions (never daily). Using high-calorie treats for puppy obedience training could result in your dog having weight problems, so it’s important to choose a small, healthy treat that you can use several of during the training session. Even better if those treats have a distinctive smell that can capture your dog’s attention. Many people like to train their dogs or puppies with blueberries!
Never Use Punishment or Discipline During Basic Dog Training
Punishment causes confusion and it’s not going to get your dog to do what you want. When your dog experiences fear or discomfort of any kind during training, it’s going to make them try to avoid that process. Yelling at your dog, jerking the leash, or otherwise creating a negative experience will set you back and make it very hard to teach your dog commands. This is a learning experience – if your dog doesn’t follow a command, it’s likely because they still haven’t learned it. Punishing them for a lack of knowledge is unacceptable and ineffective.
Take Breaks and Don’t Train for Too Long
Training should always be fun and exciting for your puppy. It should mean treats and undivided attention from their best friend. If your dog starts to seem bored or overwhelmed by obedience training, it’s time to stop.
You should try to get in a session of puppy obedience training every day for about five to 10 minutes. Younger puppies have much shorter attention spans than older, adolescent dogs, so the training schedule needs to be respectful of their abilities. As they get older, they’ll be able to commit more time and focus to training, and you can even try more complex commands. But as you get started with basic dog training, keep the sessions short and sweet. Daily consistency is key, and don’t expect immediate results.
Enunciate Clearly and Use Hand Signals
To understand commands, your dog needs to be able to hear them and differentiate between them. That means you need to speak clearly and loudly. When choosing the actual verbal cues for commands, be sure to use commands that are very different from one another. For example, “come” and “stay” are very different commands, so it’s helpful that the words themselves sound very different. You wouldn’t want to choose two similar words to mean different things.
Additionally, your verbal commands can be complemented by hand signals. While you should rely predominantly on your voice for dog commands, your hands can also indicate what you want from your dog. For example, an open palm raised up in a “stop” motion can indicate “stay.”
Always End Your Training Happily
You don’t want your dog to associate training with distress or negativity, so always be sure to end your basic dog training sessions on a positive, happy note. Celebrate with your pooch, give them lots of pets, and always hand over the remaining treats!
Once the training session is over, make a little time for play or a walk. Puppies have a lot of energy and they need both physical and mental exercise, so a fun romp after they’ve worked hard at training can help them stay happy and healthy.
Five Dog Commands for Puppy Obedience Training
Keeping these strategies in mind, let’s look at some of the easiest and most important dog commands that you can start teaching your puppy right now. These are essential basic dog commands that will help you in a variety of situations, and they’re also relatively easy for most dogs to learn. Start your puppy obedience training with the following commands:
- Leave It
Teaching Your Dog to Look
This is a dog command you don’t hear often, but it’s a great place to start with basic dog training. It’s very hard to train a dog unless they are looking at you and paying attention, so this command can signal your pooch that it’s time to focus. People use the cue “Look” as well as “Watch Me” to get their dog to turn their attention towards them.
This one is relatively easy to teach because puppies are often very responsive to even the most simple voice attention from their owners. Wait for your dog to look away and get distracted, then say your chosen cue firmly and loudly. When they look at you in response, hand over a treat!
Teaching Your Dog to Sit
Sit is considered by many to be the most basic of dog commands. It’s especially useful because your dog is subdued when they are sitting – they aren’t poised to run off or tackle something. If you’re ever in a situation where you want your dog controlled and at attention – such as when another dog is approaching on the sidewalk during your daily walk – “sit” is the perfect command. The “sit” command is thought of as a building block for other physical commands like “stay” and “lie down.”
Get your pet’s attention and make sure they know you have a treat – place it up close to their nose and have them follow it as you raise it above their head. While their focus is on the treat, use your other hand to gently push their bottom down until they are in a sitting position. Once they’re sitting, hand over the special snack.
For the first few times, you might have to keep your hand on their bottom to keep them in a sitting position while you reward. Then try removing your hand and seeing if they stay seated for the treat. Remember, be patient – learning is a process!
Teaching Your Dog to Stay
A follow-up to the “sit” command is the “stay” command. Teaching your dog to stay helps you to maintain control from a distance or even when you are out of sight. This can be crucial in a variety of situations, such as when you are trying to clean up broken glass in the kitchen, or you get a surprise visit from your neighbor who is allergic to dogs.
This command should only be tackled once your dog has mastered the “sit” command, because that’s the starting point for teaching them to stay. Holding the treat aloft, get your dog seated, and say the command “stay” loudly and firmly. Then begin to slowly back away from your pet. Don’t start by turning your back, as this will break their focus and they will probably find it confusing.
Once your dog is sitting, they will expect the treat – they’ve completed a command, right? But when you don’t hand the snack over and you start to move away, their instinct will be to follow you. Even if your dog remains seated for only a few seconds, reward them with the treat. The process of teaching the “stay” command is simply trying to get your dog to stay seated for longer as you move further away and eventually out of the room.
Teaching Your Dog to Come
“Come” is another classic and highly valuable dog command that you should prioritize teaching to your puppy. If your dog is around a threatening situation, such as another aggressive dog or busy traffic, having a command that brings them directly to you can be crucial to their safety. Even if you always have your dog on leash when you’re outside, accidents happen – you might drop the leash or they might get loose from their collar. Plus, the “come” command just makes things easier and less stressful for both of you. No dashing out into the backyard in the rain to bring your pooch inside!
You’ll need a leash and collar for this training session. Place both on your dog and step away as far as the leash will extend. Crouch down low to your dog’s level and speak the command while gently pulling on the leash. When they come towards you, reward them. Eventually, graduate to practicing the command without the leash.
Bonus tip: Many pet owners choose to teach their pet a different, more serious command for emergency situations. This will be a different word from the “come” command and it will require a different training strategy to impart the seriousness of the command. This is called “emergency recall” and it’s a more intermediate form of training, but it’s something to consider when choosing the verbal cue for the “come” command.
Teaching Your Dog to Leave It
This command is a little more complicated than the others on this list, but it is equally important. Your dog is a curious creature, and when something smells interesting, they’re likely to try and eat it. This can get your dog into a variety of unsafe and even life-threatening situations. Eating foreign objects can cause intestinal blockage in dogs, and there are also many household items and foods that are poisonous for dogs. So it’s important you can command your dog to “leave it” when they express interest in something unsafe.
Training this command is unique because you have to provide a temptation that you want your dog to avoid. The best way to do this is by taking two reward snacks and placing one in each hand. Hold one treat behind your back and hold out the other treat in a closed fist towards your dog. Say the command “leave it.” Your dog will probably sniff, lick, and maybe even try to gnaw on your fist to get at the treat in your closed hand. Once they stop these behaviors, reward them with the treat behind your back.
Once they’ve gotten comfortable and familiar with this stage of “leave it,” it’s time for a mini-graduation! Place a treat on the floor and cover it with your hand. Say the command and reward your dog when they leave the floor treat alone. Slowly move your hand away from the treat and eventually try standing up and getting them to ignore the floor treat while you are not in close proximity. Always reward your dog when they ignore the treat on the floor.
Later on, you can build on this dog command to teach your dog to “drop it” for those times when they manage to get their teeth into something they shouldn’t have – like your shoes!
Start Puppy Obedience Training Today
Dog commands are especially important for a number of reasons. They keep your new pet safe, secure and bonded to you. When you and your furry friend can communicate, you’ll both be happier. Start as soon as possible with your new puppy, be patient, and reward them with lots of praise, love, and treats!