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Top 10 Commands Every Dog Should Know

Updated on December 9, 2013
Rusty, my eager student
Rusty, my eager student

Training is important for a dog's development and quality of life in so many ways, something I've certainly learned with my German Shepherd Rusty (my husband and I adopted him when he was 3 years old). You can begin training a puppy as early as about 8 weeks of age, and you should continue to train and teach your dog for his whole life. Why train your dog? So many reasons!

One, training your dog will strengthen your bond with him - it builds communication and respect and helps to teach your dog that you're the leader of his pack.

Two, your dog will be easier for your to manage, and will be more of a pleasure to share your life with. Other people will also enjoy being around your dog more, which means he'll be able to go more places and do more things with you.

Thirdly, training is good for your dog's brain and intellect - dogs are naturally very curious and eager to please so they're born to be wonderful and eager students! And they'll have fun doing it. Also, studies show that dogs who are given training and mental stimulation throughout their lives are less likely to suffer from Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (the doggie version of Alzheimer's) as they age.

And lastly, training could very well save your dogs life. If your dog inadvertently finds himself in a dangerous situation his ability to listen to you and respond to your commands may very well make the difference between life and death. (Picture two dogs out a busy road, one who knows the 'come' command perfectly, and one who doesn't.)

Positive Reinforcement

It's my belief that the best way to teach the following commands, or to do any training is by using positive reinforcement and reward-based training. Especially because Rusty is a sensitive dog, who had been through abuse before my husband and I adopted him, I've stayed completely away from using any form of punishments in any of our training. Using positive reward-based training, you reward behaviors you like and want to encourage (with treats, praise, petting, etc.) and ignore behaviors you want to stop. Positive reinforcement is very easy for dogs to understand and it plays off of their natural desire to please their owners. When you train your dog with positive reinforcement he will view training as fun, and positive reinforcement will maintain your dog's trust in you throughout the training process.

'Sit'
'Sit'

Top 10 Commands Every Dog Should Know

10. Sit. Sit is one of the easiest commands to teach a dog, and one of the most useful. You can use it to control excitement or maintain his composure (i.e. by giving it before you serve him his dinner, or before you leave the house on a walk.) You can also use it to distract him from unwanted behavior, for instance if he's jumping up on someone or getting too worked up around another dog. The first time you try this one, gently pushing your dog's butt into the sit position as you say the word, can help teach him, as can using hand signals, showing him a sit motion.

9. Down. This command tells your dog to lay down, and I often use it following 'sit.' It's a good command for dogs to know in social situations as a dog who is laying down is very unobtrusive to others. The 'sit' followed by 'down' sequence is one Rusty and I like to use when he is preparing to meet a new person who's entering our house. It's also one of the most comfortable positions for a dog to be in if you're going to tell him to 'stay' for an extended period of time (see 'stay' below). I also use hand signals with this one, patting my hand (out flat, palm down) in a down motion as I say the word.

'Stay'
'Stay'

8. Stay. I use this one with Rusty following either 'sit' or 'lay' and it's used to tell your dog to stay put. This one can also save your dog's life if he is about to enter a dangerous situation. It's an important one to practice often, as it can be very hard for a naturally curious dog to obey when there are a lot of things going on around him. Once your dog seems to have this one down, add an extra challenge by making sure he can hold the 'stay' position even once you turn your back on him, and then even once you leave the room/his line of vision. This is another command where a hand signal can help - I use the arm outstretched, hand vertical, palm outward (like a policeman) hand signal with the command 'stay.'

7. Go potty. This one is definitely a matter of convenience. When you need to leave for work, when it's raining out and you just want to get into the house, etc. etc. there will be many times when you want your dog to go potty on command. Start this one with your dog as early as possible. The easiest way is just to say 'go potty' anytime you see him start to squat (i.e. he's already about to go) and then praise/reward him once he goes. In time he'll associate the word 'go potty' with going and go on your command.

6. Okay. This one may be your dog's favorite. It can be used when he's done a good job, to tell him you're done with the orders, he can stop whichever command he was obeying and just go play and enjoy himself.

5. Wait. This one can be tough as it requires your dog to use his self-control, often when he's excited to do something fun. It's an important one for safety though, especially if you plan to have him out of your home off leash. This command is to let your dog know he can go where he wants/have what he wants...as long as he waits a moment for you. You can use it when you want your dog to wait calmly while you set his dinner down, or when you want him to wait to enter a doorway with you rather than pulling ahead. I first taught Rusty this command while on leash, even though we were indoors and in order to set him up for success at the very start of our training I used my body to block him from entering a doorway as I told him to wait (and then rewarded him for waiting). Eventually we moved on to doing this while walking side by side without me blocking him.

4. No. Important for obvious reasons. If your puppy is mouthing you or your dog is nipping at you, you want to be able to quickly and firmly tell him that's not a good behavior. Same goes for if your dog is jumping up on someone, or chewing a pair of your shoes. When he stops the undesireable behavior at your command reward him with praise, treats, or petting (at least at first.)

'Drop It'
'Drop It'

3. Drop it. Similarly, 'drop it' can be very valuable to curb unwanted behavior (or dangerous behavior!). If you dog has your shoe, and you tell him to drop it in exchange for a toy, that discourages the unwanted behavior (and rewards him for doing so). If your out on a walk and your dog picks up spoiled food (etc.) the 'drop it' command can save him from getting sick, or worse. I taught Rusty this one initially using toys and treats. I'd wait until he had a toy in his mouth, and then show him a treat while saying 'drop it' then praise and give the treat when he dropped his toy.

2. Leave It. This one is along the same lines as 'drop it' but even better because if you can spot whatever it is you don't want your dog to have before he does and tell him to 'leave it' before he even picks it up, that's all the better.

1. Come. In my opinion this is the most important command you need to teach your dog, because it could easily save his life. If your dog is ever in a dangerous situation or even gets off leash anywhere outside of your home this is the way to immediately get him to return back to you. This is another one that can hard to perfect, especially when in the presence of tempting distractions. However, in most real life situations where it is crucial for your dog to know this command he will find himself surrounded by distractions. So once you have the basics down make sure to escalate the challenge and practice in different environments, with other people and animals around!

Which command was hardest to teach your dog?

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    • holconrad profile image

      holconrad 5 years ago from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

      Yes, they are both very different. My cocker was a typical snappy cocker when we brought him home, he was three years old at the time. I refused to have a dog that snapped at people, so we put training as a priority and he is now the greatest dog, he has not snapped in years, he is a great family companion. He has been with us for about 5-6 years now.

    • ShepherdLover profile image
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      ShepherdLover 5 years ago from Portland, OR

      Thank you, and I'm sure your dogs have been as much of a joy for you as Rusty has been for me! He definitely had some troubles with fearfulness when we first adopted him (due to his history) but he's come so so far, and in addition to loving him to death I'm so glad to have been able to give a dog who so desperately needed one a loving home

    • holconrad profile image

      holconrad 5 years ago from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

      I also love that you rescued your shepherd. Both of my dogs, a cocker spaniel and a lab/border collie come from local shelters.

    • ShepherdLover profile image
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      ShepherdLover 5 years ago from Portland, OR

      Thank you holconrad! And I agree, the 'go potty' command is defintiely a handy one - one of the biggest timesavers :o)

    • holconrad profile image

      holconrad 5 years ago from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

      Very well written, I never used the "go potty" command until my most recent two dogs and it comes in very handy.