If you’re a new dog owner (or hoping to become one soon), I’m sure you know already know that dogs are a bundle of energy. The problem is, all that energy can become quite overwhelming, especially if you don’t teach the commands that can enable you to easily manage their behaviour.
We’ve all seen some exceptionally trained dogs, whether it be on YouTube or at the local dog park, but you should know it all stems from the basics – sit, down, stay, come, and leave it.
This article will guide you on how to successfully teach your dog these 5 simple commands. The best part is — it can all be done at home and it only takes a few minutes of practice each day!
Before teaching your dog the specific commands, it’s a good idea for you to understand; the foundation of your dog’s training should be based on positive reinforcement. What’s that? Positive reinforcement is the act of giving your dog a reward for obeying your commands, this might be in the form of a treat or favourite toy. The idea behind positive reinforcement isn’t to bribe your dog for good behaviour, but to reward it using something your dog values.
Note: Always keep training sessions short, around 5 to 10 minutes, and always end on a positive note (praises and treats) to not overburden the dog or lose gains made in training.
Command 1: ‘Sit’
You should teach your dog to sit because a sitting dog is more likely to pay rapt attention to you, wait politely, and interact with people in a calmly, friendly and non-aggressive manner. Sitting is a natural concept for dogs and is consequently one of the easiest commands for them to learn.
You can teach your dog to sit by holding a treat in front of your dog’s nose and move your hand up and back at a 45-degree angle over its head slowly. Your dog should follow the treat, bending its head back until it sits. Say yes and then reward it with the treat. Repeat this a few times and give a reward each time. To reinforce this, show it the treat again, but don’t attempt to lure it with the treat like before. Wait until it sits on its own, then reward the treat. Repeat this until it immediately sits every time you show it a treat. Once your dog understands the signal to sit, begin saying sit right before you give the signal. Keep doing this until you don’t have to reward your dog every time it sits again.
Note: You shouldn’t physically put your dog into the sitting position as this can confuse or upset the dog.
Command 2: ‘Down’
Down is a very useful command to keep your dog at rest in one place for a prolonged period of time. In this state, your dog is resting, quiet and not paying attention to you. It’s a great command to calm your dog down when you aren’t ready for any strenuous activities.
Start with your dog sitting. Hold a treat in front of its face and bring it straight down to the floor between its paws. It will likely follow the treat to the floor, lying down as it does. As soon as it is lying down, say yes (in a happy tone) and give it a treat.
Repeat this without the treat and if it obeys, say yes and give it a treat. You can then begin saying ‘down’ before rewarding the dog until it associates the command with lying down even if there is no treat.
Command 3: ‘Stay’
The stay command is useful for when you’re distracted and don’t want your dog bounding off into more trouble. This also tests the patience and attentiveness of your dog and lets you know how dependable they can be in emergency situations.
This command can be used together with the sit command. As your dog sits, hold your open palm in front of its face and say, “stay” while holding the leash with your other hand. When it stays for a few seconds, say, yes and give it a treat. Repeat this a few times. Gradually moving further away from your dog and increasing the time you ask it to stay.
Command 4: ‘Come’
Dogs can easily be distracted by a new experience, especially when you’re walking them. This might be them running after another animal or human, and can endanger them if they get into a fight or run into traffic. This is why the come command is very important. It’s used to recall your dog immediately and if taught well to the dog, is a lifesaver.
You can achieve this by playing hide and seek with your dog. Practice this inside your house when everywhere is calm. You will also need to recruit a helper, someone your dog is familiar with. Have them hold your dog while you hide in the house. Call your dog with its name followed by a loud ‘come!’ You will need to repeat the command a few times before it follows your instruction. Once it does, say yes and give it a treat. Repeat this as often as needed and begin adding distance between you and your dog each time you use this command. Don’t forget to give your dog treats as it responds.
Command 5: ‘Leave it’
This command is useful to get your dog to leave or let go of something which interests them. This might be a bone or some other object, person, or even another dog they shouldn’t be interested in.
Hold an object that your dog desires in the palm of your hand. When it reaches for the object, close your hand, pull away and say, ‘leave it’. Repeat this several times until your dog doesn’t reach for the object anymore. Now, place the object on the floor. If your dog tries to reach for it, cover it with your feet or hands. When your dog begins to consistently leave the object alone, say ‘leave it’ just before you present the object. As soon as it backs off, say, ‘leave it’. Doing this training consistently will teach your dog to leave things you don’t want them to have.
By teaching your dogs these easy commands, you’re setting yourself up for a very fulfilling relationship with your pet. Don’t forget, these are basic everyday commands. Think of them as the first stepping stones, once your dog has learned them, your dog is ready to learn more complex tricks and commands!