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Essential puppy training commands

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puppy obeying sit command
Photo: Puppy obeying sit command

In this article I mainly refer to puppy training, as most dogs who have passed the puppy stage, have benefited from some form of basic training and they should already know what I feel are the top 10 first basic training commands outlined below for a dog to be taught.

There is no such thing as a dog that can not be trained, all dogs can be trained. It is up to you to ensure that all training is fun and be careful not to bore or overtire your dog. Keep your training sessions short and above all always be patient and calm.

For my dog I found that treat and reward based training worked best. You can use either food or toys (or both) whichever your puppy finds most interesting. Many people and trainers also like to incorporate clicker training in the early stages, but if you decide to use clicker training, you must be consistent which means you need to ensure you have the clicker on you at all times.

If you are not going to use a clicker, before you start your training decide on a praise word which will be something you say when your dog does what you are asking. I use “Yes” and then maybe “good boy” and at the same time give him a treat or reward. 

I just want to point out that “Yes” is NOT my “release” word, which is the word I use for releasing him from a command I have given.

Top 10 first basic training commands

Here are, what in my own personal experience, were the top 10 one word commands that I taught my dog to get him started on basic training:

  • Teach your dog its name
    Before you can start any form of training you need to be able to get your puppys attention and get him focussed on you, so you need to teach him his name. Use it every time you talk to him and with every command (except when using the word No). Try not to associate your dogs' name with anything negative. Don’t change the puppys name or call him by a nickname as it will confuse him. Once he has learnt and responds well to his name, it is ok to use a nickname.
  • Come Command
    This is perhaps the single most important command you need to teach your dog. It is often taught in conjunction with teaching them their name. Initially you will have little or no control over your dog, it may be running freely at a distance, therefore you need to be able to ensure that it will return to you immediately upon the “come” command. Never scold your puppy after it comes to you, no matter how long it takes to respond.
  • Sit:
    This is one of the first commands that most people teach their dogs, and the reason is not because it is the easiest but having your dog sit gives you more control over him so you can keep him from getting into mischief or even into danger.
  • Release:
    When you give a command to your dog, you need to have a release word that you say to them so they know the exercise is finished. Choose your own release word and stick to it.  The release command should be taught in conjunction with Sit, Wait and Stay.
  • Stay:
    The stay command should be tackled after your dog already mastered and responds well to the come and sit command.  You need to clearly differentiate between the stay and wait command, something that confused me when I was training my first puppy. Stay means exactly that - your dog must remain how and where you put him in a stay until you return to him and give another command or release him.

  • Wait:
    Once your puppy knows the stay command you can move onto the wait command.  The wait command is used slightly differently to stay,  for instance if your dog is running ahead of you and you say wait he should wait until you get to him. You can also use wait when putting down his food until you tell him its ok to start eating.  Wait is often used in conjunction with sit before crossing a road  etc... It is important that your dog understands the difference between stay and wait so you do need to be very consistent with the usage.

  • Leave:
    Puppies are very inquisitive, which makes the leave command important as it will help to stop them chewing items in your house and eating things you’d rather they didn’t or when they are just going to do something you’d rather they didn’t. My friend found this command extremely useful when her new puppy kept on bothering her older dog.

  • Drop:
    Similar to the leave command but used when the dog has something in its' mouth that you want them to immediately release. I think this command is especially important with puppies as they pick up anything and it could be something hazardous or even potentially poisonous. They are not always close enough to you for you to grab it from them. You can also use the drop command when playing games like fetch or tug to get them to release their toys. The drop command will help with possessiveness.
  • No:
    This one is not on many top 10 lists but to me, it definitely belongs there.  It will more than likely be the first command you give to your dog naturally. The “No” command can be used for a multiple of occasions and is a short, sharp word and something that we automatically say when we see them doing something we don’t want them to.
  • Down:
    I selected this one last in my priority of the top 10 as for me once I had mastered the Sit, Stay and Wait command, the Down was the least important but it still warrants a place in the top 10, others may place it a lot higher. Down is very useful command if you have a dog who is fearful. When dogs lie down they are automatically more relaxed. Knowing the down command keeps your dog out of trouble and safe from harm especially when they are a short distance away from you.

I have used one word commands as I feel puppies respond better and it is easier for them to learn. Many people will say “leave it”, “drop it”, “sit down”, “lie down”, “wait here”, “stay there”, as this is what comes naturally.  I feel that it is fine to add on a suffix once your dog knows the one word command.

Finally when training remember your dog will want to please you, staying calm and positive and taking the time to play with him during training sessions will soon teach him that it is fun and rewarding to obey.