Mastering Dog Obedience: 5 Essential Commands Every Owner Should Know


By Will Bangura, M.S., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, FFCP, (Dog Behaviorist), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant

When it comes to dog ownership, one of the most critical elements is obedience training. Teaching your dog to understand and respond to basic commands not only enhances your relationship with your pet, but it also plays an indispensable role in ensuring their safety and promoting proper etiquette. This comprehensive guide will provide a detailed exploration of the five most essential commands that every dog owner should incorporate into their training routine.

Command 1: Sit

Undoubtedly, the command ‘Sit’ is the cornerstone of dog obedience. It is often the first command taught, paving the way for more advanced commands and serving as a means of grabbing your dog’s attention.

Beyond being a party trick, the command ‘Sit’ is also about instilling discipline. It helps establish you as the pack leader, a figure of authority to whom your dog should look for direction. It’s especially useful in managing behaviors such as jumping on guests or darting out the door as soon as it opens.

Step-by-step guide to teaching ‘Sit’:

  1. Begin by holding a treat close to your dog’s nose. Select a treat that your dog finds particularly enticing to ensure their full attention.
  2. Next, slowly move your hand upwards, guiding their gaze upwards as well. As your dog’s snout points up, their bottom should naturally descend into a sitting position.
  3. As soon as your dog is sitting, say the command ‘Sit’, give them the treat, and shower them with affection. This praise helps reinforce the positive behavior.
  4. Repeat this exercise daily. Over time, your dog will learn to associate the command ‘Sit’ with the action of sitting and the reward that follows, and they will begin to sit on command even without the lure of a treat.

Common Mistakes and Troubleshooting:

Often, dog owners may struggle with getting their dogs to sit on command. Some dogs might back up instead of sitting, while others might only sit when a treat is present. Patience and consistency are key here. Make sure you’re holding the treat close enough to your dog’s nose and raising it at the right speed to guide them into the sitting position. If your dog only sits when a treat is present, gradually reduce the frequency of treats but continue to use the ‘Sit’ command. Substitute treats with praise, petting, or play.

Command 2: Stay

The ‘Stay’ command is crucial for controlling your dog in various situations, especially those that might potentially endanger them. For instance, it can prevent your dog from running onto a busy road or lunging at another dog. It’s a command that requires your dog to control their impulses, making it an excellent exercise in discipline and patience.

Step-by-step guide to teaching ‘Stay’:

  1. Start by asking your dog to sit. It’s easier to teach ‘Stay’ from a sitting position, as your dog is already in a relatively calm and focused state.
  2. Extend your hand in front of you, palm facing outwards, and clearly say the command ‘Stay’. This visual cue reinforces the verbal command.
  3. Take a few steps back, keeping your hand raised and maintaining eye contact. If your dog stays in place, immediately reward them with a treat and praise.
  4. Gradually increase the number of steps you take backward before giving the treat. This progressive training helps your dog understand that ‘Stay’ means they should remain in place until you give them another command.

Common Mistakes and Troubleshooting:

One of the main challenges owners face with the ‘Stay’ command is dealing with dogs who are too eager to move. Remember, ‘Stay’ is a command that tests a dog’s impulse control, and it might take some time for them to fully understand and comply. Ensure that you’re not moving too far away too quickly in the early stages of training. Gradual progression is essential here.

Command 3: Down

The ‘Down’ command, often confused with ‘Off,’ is not about getting your dog off the furniture. Instead, it’s about teaching them to lie down on command, wherever they are. This can be incredibly useful in situations where you need your dog to be quiet and relaxed.

Step-by-step guide to teaching ‘Down’:

  1. Hold a tasty treat in your closed hand. The smellier the treat, the better, as it will keep your dog interested and engaged.
  2. Allow your dog to sniff your hand. As their interest piques, slowly move your hand to the floor, guiding them into a lying down position as they follow the scent.
  3. Continue to slide your hand along the ground in front of them. This encourages your dog to stretch into a completely down position.
  4. Once they’re fully down, say ‘Down’, give them the treat, and share affection. This sequence reinforces the connection between the command, the action, and the reward.

Common Mistakes and Troubleshooting:

One common problem when teaching ‘Down’ is that the dog may only follow the treat partway before losing interest. Make sure the treat is enticing enough and that you’re moving it slowly and smoothly. If your dog still doesn’t fully lie down, try the command in a quieter, less distracting environment. This way, your dog can focus solely on the command and the treat.

Command 4: Come

The ‘Come’ command is a safety imperative. It ensures that you can get your dog back to you if they’re headed towards danger, or simply when it’s time to leave the dog park. It’s a command that can save your dog’s life, making it one of the most critical to teach.

Step-by-step guide to teaching ‘Come’:

  1. Put a leash and collar on your dog. This gives you control over your dog’s actions, crucial for this particular command.
  2. Lower yourself to your dog’s level and say ‘Come’ in a clear, friendly, and enthusiastic tone. The goal is to make coming to you the most appealing option for your dog.
  3. If your dog comes to you, give them a reward and lots of praise. If they don’t, gently pull on the leash to guide them towards you.
  4. Over time, practice this command in various environments and from further distances, gradually increasing the difficulty as your dog becomes more proficient.

Common Mistakes and Troubleshooting:

One common mistake is punishing a dog when they eventually come after a delay. Always remember to reward your dog when they come, no matter how long it takes them. Never call your dog to come as a form of punishment, as it can create a negative association with the command.

Command 5: Leave It

The ‘Leave It’ command helps protect your dog when they’re about to pick something dangerous or inappropriate. This command can prevent your dog from eating harmful foods, picking up unsanitary objects, or chasing after a squirrel.

Step-by-step guide to teaching ‘Leave It’:

  1. Begin with a treat in both hands. Close one hand with the treat inside and present it to your dog, saying ‘Leave It.’
  2. Your dog will likely try to get the treat, sniffing, licking, and pawing at your hand. Ignore these behaviors and wait for your dog to stop trying to get the treat.
  3. As soon as your dog stops, give them the treat from the other hand (not the one they were asked to leave). This helps your dog understand that they will get something even better if they ignore the first one.
  4. Over time, practice this command with different items, and in a variety of environments, increasing the difficulty as your dog learns the command.

Common Mistakes and Troubleshooting:

A common issue when teaching ‘Leave It’ is that the dog might continue to try and get the first treat. Be patient, and wait for your dog to stop. Rewarding them for leaving the first treat alone is key to their understanding of this command.

Proactive Behavior Training to Prevent Unwanted Behaviors

Now that we’ve covered the five essential commands, let’s move on to proactive behavior training. This form of training aims to instill good behaviors before bad ones can form, essentially preventing unwanted behaviors from becoming habits. Here, we’ll focus on preventing the top 5 most common unwanted dog behaviors.

  1. Excessive Barking: To prevent excessive barking, first, determine the cause. Barking can stem from boredom, fear, anxiety, or a need for attention. Providing plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction can prevent boredom-induced barking. If the barking is fear-based, desensitization exercises can help.
  2. Chewing: Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, but it becomes a problem when they chew on inappropriate things. Providing plenty of chew toys, and praising them for using these toys, can help.
  3. Jumping Up: To prevent dogs from jumping up on people, ignore the behavior and turn away when your dog jumps up. Only give them attention when all four paws are on the ground.
  4. Digging: To prevent digging, ensure your dog has enough physical and mental exercise. If your dog continues to dig, you can designate a specific area of your yard for this purpose and train your dog to dig only there.
  5. Aggression: Preventing aggression involves early socialization with other dogs and people. Reinforce positive interactions with treats and praise.

Remember, training your dog is a gradual process, and consistency is key. Don’t expect immediate results, and be sure to always reinforce positive behavior with rewards and praise. With time, patience, and consistent training, your dog will become a well-behaved and obedient companion.