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Essential Commands Every Dog Should Know and How to Teach Them

Essential Commands Every Dog Should Know and How to Teach Them

Training your dog is one of the most important things you can do as a dog owner. A well-trained dog is a joy to live with – they are polite, happy, and confident. Untrained dogs can develop all sorts of behavioral issues like barking, chewing, digging, and not coming when called. Training establishes good communication between you and your dog. It also provides mental stimulation that helps keep your dog happy. The time you invest in training your dog will pay off tremendously down the road.

How to Train Your Dog

Effective dog training relies heavily on positive reinforcement. This means rewarding your dog with treats and praise when they demonstrate the behavior you want. You'll get much better results using rewards-based training rather than punishments like yelling or jerking on the leash. Training sessions should be kept short, fun, and engaging. Try to end sessions on a positive note while your dog is still motivated. Be patient – changing behavior takes time. Work in stages by mastering basic commands first before moving on to more advanced training. Consistency is key – everyone in the family should use the same training techniques.

Essential Commands

There are certain commands that every dog should know. Master these basic cues first before moving on to fancier tricks. Always use the same verbal command and/or hand signal when giving a cue. Be patient and consistent. It may take dozens or hundreds of repetitions before your dog responds reliably. Reward liberally when your dog performs the desired behavior. The most important commands to teach are:


Coming when called is an extremely important behavior that could save your dog's life one day. Start training this in a low distraction environment. Have your dog on a long leash so you can reel them in while saying "come!" Praise excitedly when they come to you, giving treats as soon as they reach you. Build up to calling your dog while playing and practicing in spaces with more distractions. Always reward when they come.


This basic command is a great way to get your dog's attention focused on you. Hold a treat above your dog's nose, slowly raising it over their head so their nose points up as they sit down. Say "sit!" as soon as their bottom hits the floor, then reward. Keep practicing until they respond reliably, then start adding in the verbal cue before they sit instead of as they sit.


Stay means your dog should remain in position until you release them. Have your dog sit, say "stay", take a few steps away, then return and reward. Gradually increase the duration and distance. If they start to stand or move, say "uh uh!" and have them sit again. Release with "okay!" and praise. This builds impulse control.

Leave It

This cue tells your dog to ignore something. Place a treat on the floor and cover it with your hand. Say "leave it!" If your dog licks or paws at it, repeat the cue calmly. When they back off, reward from your other hand. Build up to leaving food on the floor while you walk away and instructing your dog to leave it alone.


This is similar to sit, except your dog's belly should touch the ground. Hold a treat in your closed fist near their nose, then lower your hand to the floor. Say "down!" when they lie down, then reward. You can also gently guide them into position by putting light pressure on their shoulders or hindquarters. Reward when their elbows touch the floor in the down position.

Drop It

This cue tells your dog to release an object from their mouth. Offer a toy then say "drop it!" When they do, reward with a high value treat. Don't try to pull it from their mouth as this can promote aggression over guarding items. Only give the drop it cue once during a training session – you want them to let go, not take it as a cue to pick the object up again.


This cue signals your dog to move off of a surface like a sofa or bed. Say "off!" and point where you want your dog to go. Praise when all four paws are on the floor and reward. If your dog doesn't comply, gently guide them into the proper position. Always reward the desired behavior.


Going into a crate or kennel on cue helps with confinement training. Toss treats inside while saying "kennel!" Allow your dog to come back out. When they enter reliably, practice with the door closed, opening when they are quiet to reward calm behavior inside.

How to Correct Unwanted Behaviors

In addition to teaching your dog what you want them TO do, it's important they learn what NOT to do. Rather than punishing them physically or emotionally, the best way to redirect inappropriate behavior is by interrupting it with a loud "eh eh!" or other verbal cue. Then immediately give a command you've trained for a desirable behavior. For example, if your dog is jumping, say "off!" and reward four on the floor. Consistency is critical – everyone in the family should use the same strategies. Other examples:

Chewing = "Leave it!" then reward

Digging = "Sit!" then reward

Barking = "Quiet!" then reward

Behaviors that put your dog or others at risk require immediate redirection. Consulting with a professional trainer can help ingrain new behaviors and permanently change unwanted habits.

Advanced Commands for Fun and Convenience

Once your dog reliably responds to basic cues, you can begin training more advanced behaviors just for fun. Smart dogs need mental stimulation, so teaching tricks keeps them engaged and happy. Refining your dog's obedience skills takes time and patience, but allows them more freedom and integrates them into family life. Useful advanced commands include:


Walking properly on a leash without pulling or leading is heel. With your dog on leash at your side, step forward saying "heel!" Use treats to keep them in position. Don't allow them to walk ahead or lag behind you. Mastering a solid heel creates a well-behaved walking companion.


This cue is similar to stay, but allows your dog freedom to stand, lie down, or reposition while remaining in one spot. Say "wait" when your dog is exiting or entering the home, car, or yard. Release with "okay!" once you invite them to move. Wait prevents door bolting or rushing through thresholds.


Having a designated location like a mat or bed where your dog should go and stay helps them settle in distracting environments like company in your home. Say "place!" and reward until they learn to go to the spot reliably. Use a release cue like "okay!" Allowing them to exit on their own builds independence.


Excessive barking can irritate neighbors and be tough to live with. Teach your dog to stop vocalizing when you say "quiet!" Use it as a warning before giving a time out. Reward with praise and treats when they comply. Persistency is key to reducing nuisance barking.


Playing fetch is a great way to exercise your dog. Start by showing them a ball or toy and encouraging them to take it from your hand. Say "take it!" and praise excitedly. When they pick it up, say "drop it!" and reward that too. Build up to tossing the object a short distance and asking your dog to "fetch!" Reward when they return to you with the item.

Take It/Give

Having your dog politely accept items from your hand is handy. Say "take it!" when offering something. Reward when they gently grasp it without snatching. "Give" is the cue for them to release the item into your hand without pulling. These are the foundation for fun retrieval games.


Teaching your dog to place their paw in your hand is adorable. Gently take your dog's paw when you say "paw!" Praise when they leave their paw resting in your palm, then reward. Keep sessions short to avoid irritating their legs. Once mastered, it's cute to prompt paw before feeding meals or treats.

Troubleshooting Common Training Issues

Training a dog takes consistency, patience, and creativity. Here are some common problems people encounter and how to get over them:

My dog seems "stuck" learning a cue

If your dog is struggling to understand a behavior, go back to basics. Increase the rate of reinforcement by rewarding every repetition of the right response. Make your training sessions easier by reducing distractions in the environment until they find success. Then rebuild slowly in more challenging contexts. Break the skill down into smaller steps if needed.

My dog responds well at home but not in public

Dogs don't automatically generalize behaviors between locations. Help your dog succeed by raising criteria gradually. Practice new commands in low distraction environments first before expecting them in public areas. Always reward desired responses and keep training sessions short, fun, and motivating.

My dog seems to understand but chooses to ignore me

Make sure you have your dog's attention before issuing cues. Be upbeat when giving commands and use high-value rewards for compliance. For continued disobedience, remove attention, freedom, or access to rewards for a brief time out. Persistency will convince your dog it's in their best interest to listen!

My dog is aggressive or fearful on walks

Don't physically force or punish unwanted behaviors on walks. That can worsen reactivity. Start by acclimating your dog to the harness, leash, and general outside environments at a distance where they are still relaxed and able to learn. Slowly decrease distance to triggers as you countercondition with tasty treats and praise. Seek help from a certified trainer if problems persist.

My older dog seems unable to learn new things

While puppies have an edge, you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks! Senior dogs retain the ability to learn their entire lives. Adjust your training approach by keeping sessions short and rewarding liberally. Work on one new behavior at a time to avoid confusion. Stick to positive methods that won't cause anxiety in older pets. Patience and creativity in training older dogs has big payoffs.


Training your dog enriches the bond between you, provides critical behavioral skills, and enhances their confidence and quality of life. Make an investment in your relationship by mastering this essential set of obedience cues. Consistency and positive reinforcement are key – use rewards your dog loves, practice daily, and keep a sense of fun! Whether teaching the basics or advanced obedience, training sessions with your dog build communication, trust, and a willingness to learn. Put in the work now and you'll reap benefits for years to come with a canine companion whose friendship you'll treasure.

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