If you’re about to get started training your unruly puppy, we sure have a lot to tell you. Training dogs, and the use of dog commands, is an art since prehistory, and we’ve learned an awful lot about dog psychology—and human psychology—as a result of humankind’s experience with dogs.
Don’t let your neighbors’ experiences with dog trainers set you into the habit of keeping up with the Joneses. You don’t need a pricey dog trainer to get your pet to follow your lead. With a bit of time, effort, and gumption, you can train your dog just as effectively as a trainer while building a strong bond with the new member of your family.
In this article, you’ll learn about basic dog commands and how to teach them to your dog. We'll even share a few dog commands in different languages. Just pick up a few of these dog training methods from us, and your dog will be barking at your command in no time flat.
A command is a message that you relay to your dog to elicit a desired behavior. Dog commands are a way of communicating your desire to the dog.
Dog training commands run the gamut of the most basic (no) to the simple but essential (sit) to the advanced and whimsical (riding a skateboard). In general, the most advanced commands are “dog tricks.”
You'll certainly want to teach your pet a few basic dog commands, but you may also want to teach him a few advanced dog commands and tricks too. The extent to which you train your dog is your decision.
However, you’ll definitely want your dog to master the basic verbal commands that allow you to control your dog’s movement and his basic interactions with the environment.
If you’re interested in impressing your friends or making the most out of a particularly smart dog, the more advanced commands might appeal to you. Some people even make a hobby out of teaching their dog new tricks.
There are two basic types of commands you can use with your dog: verbal commands and hand signals (you can also train your dog to respond to other types of audible stimuli, such as a whistle).
Hand commands for dogs are a useful way to communicate your desires to your dog in situations where verbal commands may be unsuitable, such as during hunting. They are also helpful for controlling your dog in loud environments or when he is far away.
Hand signals require your dog’s attention to be trained on you before they are receptive to the command, unlike in verbal commands.
If you plan on making extensive use of hand signals with your dog, it’s probably a good idea to teach your dog to have the habit of looking at you frequently. For every verbal command, there’s a corresponding hand signal that accomplishes the same thing.
Just remember that dogs aren’t as attuned to human hands as they are to human voices or faces. Accordingly, you'll need to use good technique and remain patient during the training process.
Your pup will use your facial cues to guide their action in combination with your hand signals. As your dog hand commands become more familiar with your dog, you can phase out your facial communication.
The Deaf Dogs Education Action Fund is a great resource for training your dog in hand signals, even if your dog isn’t deaf.
Verbal commands are audible messages that instruct your dog to exhibit a given behavior. And unlike hand signals, verbal commands can work even when your dog isn't looking at you.
Verbal cues carry a wealth of information, including tone as well as volume. This provides your dog with multiple channels through which he can determine your intent.
It’ll also be easier for people who aren’t the dog’s primary master to deliver verbal commands correctly than with hand signals.
When training your dog in verbal cues, you need to take note of these additional channels, though.
Your dog may not know that your sharp tone is a result of being irritated by a parking ticket or something other than your dog’s behavior, and may feel bad as a result through no fault of its own. Mixed messages are counterproductive to the training process.
Your dog will need to learn the most common dog commands no matter what. Thankfully, there are many well-established protocols for teaching your dog these basic actions.
To ensure that your dog is ready to learn a few dog commands, make sure that you and your dog are:
If you or your dog are irritated, tired (be sure to check our our melatonin article to ensure your dog gets a good night's rest), or too full, you won’t have much success during training.
In fact, training too quickly after a meal can even be dangerous. Also, you'll usually have better results by training your dog when he is slightly hungry -- it will give him extra incentive to earn the treats.
Remember, your primary tool while training your dog is goodwill. It’s much harder to muster goodwill if you’re agitated, and an agitated dog is going to be less receptive to any goodwill that comes its way.
You should also identify and use a proper training area. The training area should be safe, enclosed and provide a relatively stimulation-free environment, so that you don't have to fight for your dog's attention.
Once your dog has mastered a command in an environment with few distractions, such as your living room, you can move onto more difficult areas, such as the backyard or dog park.
Lastly, make sure you have a generous supply of treats on hand. Treats serve as a positive reinforcement during the training process, and they'll help accelerate your dog's progress.
It is important to use your dog's favorite training treats to obtain the best results. Just pay attention to your dog during training, and you should be able to tell which treats are his favorite.
It’s a good idea to use your dog’s favorite training treats exclusively for training sessions. Use some other type of treat for everyday reinforcement.
Now that you’re ready to begin, it's important to teach your dog training commands in the most effective manner possible. Follow the tips and tricks detailed below to train your dog quickly and effectively.
Consistency is imperative during the training process. If you vary the setting of training, the conditions of reward or the consequences of failure, your dog won’t be able to figure out exactly what it is that you want.
Think of dog training as a kind of science experiment where you’re only allowed to change one thing at a time if you want your results to be useful.
Building towards mastery requires building a rapport between you and your dog, and that rapport relies on your dog’s experience of you being consistent throughout the training process.
It is important to begin your training sessions with simple commands and tricks. This will help your dog build confidence, which will be valuable as he progresses.
Your dog’s mental sharpness will affect the rate at which he learns what you teach him, but if you aren’t consistent about breaking down commands and walking your dog through each of the steps, he'll struggle to learn new commands.
You need to teach your dog how you communicate, and jumping into Shakespeare from the start simply won’t work.
Keeping your training regimen and commands simple guarantees that you’ll be able to initiate training sessions more frequently.
Everyone knows about this directive, but few implement it enough. Even professionals struggle with not repeating commands.
Your command is composed of the verbal or hand signal, not two instances of the verbal or hand signal.
Aside from building frustration quickly, repeating commands will mix up your dog’s impression of exactly what amounts to the command.
Rather than learning that hearing “sit” means that your dog’s butt must touch the floor, your dog will learn that hearing “sit” followed by another and slightly more exasperated “sit” a few seconds later means that your dog’s butt must touch the floor if your dog feels like it.
Following up your dog commands with repetition builds on your dog’s idea that maybe it’s not so important to obey commands after all. Commands should be issued clearly, firmly, and only once.
Your dog needs an incentive to pay very close attention during training, and treats are one of the best ways to ensure your dog remains focused during training sessions.
It’s important to note that treats are not the only form of positive reinforcement for your dog upon successful completion of a command. You can also provide verbal praise, scratch his ears the way he likes or pet him on the haunches whenever he successfully executes a command. But treats are often the most effective reward.
In fact, it is often helpful to reserve treats for the big successes—the hard-fought commands that your dog couldn’t quite get right the first few times.
You should also keep a treat in reserve for the end of each training session, to make sure that it ends on a positive note.
If your pet has struggled learning new dog commands, and he hasn’t quite been able to get it right yet, it’s worth going back to a previously mastered trick so that your dog can finish the session with a sense of accomplishment.
As mentioned earlier, knowing which treats your dog prefers gives you an additional edge because you can offer rewards of different sizes in proportion to your dog’s performance.
Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to dog training treats to find a great treat for your dog.
It is important to insist that your dog executes a given command immediately, just as it is important that you reward him immediately after he completes the desired action.
If you let too much time pass between command and response, your dog won’t necessarily learn to follow commands immediately, and this type of behavior may corrupt the command you are trying to teach him.
Teaching your dog training commands in a low-distraction environment helps to limit these types of problems. With few distractions, there won’t be any barriers to performing commands immediately after you issue them.
It’s impractical and also unhealthy for your dog to require a treat after every successful action, which means that you’ll have to be ready to phase rewards out from your training efforts once your dog has a given command down.
A great way to phase out rewards for one command once your dog has mastered it is to introduce the reward elsewhere as part of the training of a new command.
Once your dog has mastered “sit,” instead of giving him a treat after sitting, give him a lesser treat or verbal reinforcement or petting instead of a large reward.
Your dog will likely notice the lack of treat and inform you that they’ve noticed. This is a great time to move on to other dog commands.
Show your dog that yes, you still have a treat ready for him, but he’s going to need to work for it a little bit more than usual by learning a new command.
Once you have your dog’s attention again, start teaching the new command and offer the treat as a reward. You’ll find that your dog’s initial heartbreak quickly mends.
Note that you can also use a beloved toy instead of treats when training your canine. Just be sure that you use a safe and durable toy, which will last.
It can also be helpful to use a clicker to train your pet. A clicker is a small, hand-held device that makes a clicking sound when you press a button. By teaching your dog training commands in conjunction with the clicker, he'll begin to associate the clicking sound with positive reinforcement. Eventually, the clicking sound will become its own reward.
Your attention span is probably on the order of an hour or so, but your dog’s is much shorter. Keep training sessions no longer than 20 minutes, and preferably around 5-10 minutes.
Short training sessions allow you to squeeze training sessions in whenever it’s convenient, which means that you’ll likely end up having more sessions. This will clearly help accelerate the training process.
Once your dog has mastered a command in an easy environment, it is time to try training him in a more chaotic environment.
Your dog needs to learn that the place they initially learned the trick — your home — isn’t the only place where you expect them to follow your commands.
Eventually, your dog will learn that you still expect him to follow your lead, no matter the location.
Understand that your dog won’t learn as quickly in stimulating environments. Just remember not to repeat yourself if you have trouble keeping your dog’s attention in a new setting.
Sometimes it will take your dog a minute or two to adjust to the idea that the dog park can be a place for learning too.
Make sure that you remain calm if your dog doesn’t seem to be working with you, or if external distractions are ruining a training session.
Goodwill becomes a much harder currency to rally and disperse when you’re agitated, regardless of the cause. If you think that your dog is frustrating you to the point that you’re becoming flustered, end the training session and start over another time.
Dogs are incredibly skilled at reading body language, so your dog will be able to tell when you’re frustrated very quickly. Accordingly, you'll want to avoid introducing negativity to the training process.
It is important to instill the proper hierarchy between you and your dog. You are your dog’s master; he is not your equal.
This doesn't mean you should use harsh training techniques, nor does it mean that you can't still love your dog and treat him like the light of your life. In fact, training your dog requires that you internalize this principle and ensure your dog believes them, too.
You don’t have to get Machiavellian and make your dog fear you first and love you second, but you do need to show your dog who’s boss—but not necessarily via aggression.
This essentially means you must assert your leadership through body language and behavior, so that you can establish the terms of your training sessions.
Once again, consistency is key. If your dog starts thinking that you’re a playmate first and an owner second, you won’t be able to get your dog to follow your commands. This will cause your dog to view commands as suggestions, rather than requirements.
If you approach your dog and find that your dog rolls over and exposes his belly while keeping his paws still, your dog believes that you’re the dominant one. It isn't always possible to elicit this behavior, but be sure to keep your eye out for signals like these from your dog.
Your dog will need a lot of practice to fully master all of the commands that you teach him.
Multiple training sessions ensure that your dog will get into the habit of being trained while fortifying what he already knows while learning new things.
Positive reinforcement of good old habits helps to keep them fresh and helps your dog internalize what you’d like him to do.
Once your dog is “conversational” with a command and can easily obey it without thinking even outside of a formal training session in a distracting environment, you can let the "real world" replace the practice environment.
Just remember that your dog might get rusty with a command if you haven’t used it in a while, so be sure to practice previously mastered commands regularly.
Basic puppy commands are a special subset of general dog training commands. Puppy commands are special because it’s a bit more frustrating and a bit more limited than training a grown dog. But it is extremely important to begin training dogs from a young age.
In actuality, many of the commands that you’ll want to teach your puppy are more like habits. Thankfully, the method of teaching doesn’t change.
The very first command or habit that you’ll need to teach your puppy is to pay attention when you call his name.
Your dog will likely learn to respond to his name with time, but you’ll have better luck by formally teaching your puppy to respond to his name.
While teaching this basic response, make sure that you’re not too narrow with the exact action, which is the exact opposite of everything else you’ve read here so far. You want your dog to respond to his name being called in a natural way, instead of doing so in a robotic fashion.
Calling your dog’s name should cause him to direct his attention toward you, at which point you should acknowledge that you are indeed paying attention to him. Once you’ve taught your dog to respond to his name, the next step will be housebreaking.
The specifics of your living situation may vary the exact habit that you’re interested in teaching, but a good second command to teach a puppy is to hold their bathroom needs until they’re in the right area— somewhere outside.
As always, positive reinforcement is key when it comes to housebreaking your puppy. Lucky timing is also your friend.
Once you’ve housebroken your new puppy, you’ll also probably want to teach it to not bark incessantly or out of turn.
While it’s possible to use the “no” command for this purpose, realistically the "hush" command is a better choice than “no” because it’s more focused.
Though it may seem aggressive, gently holding your puppy’s mouth shut while saying “shush” is an effective way of teaching the trick because it’s difficult to set up a positive reward for not barking when there’s an impulse.
Just be sure not to shush your puppy a hundred percent of the time— barking is a totally essential element of dog-human communication, and you don’t want to deny your dog its voice.
Some of the most essential commands to teach your dog are listed below. Some of the commands induce basic dog obedience, while others are primarily taught for entertainment value.
We'll list the best dog commands in rough order of importance:
Come is the single most important basic dog command. However, it can be bizarrely difficult to teach if your dog is clingy or if there’s a distraction while they’re trying to learn the command. Having an extra-long lead helps.
Let your dog run wherever it wants on the long lead — and maybe incentivize it to run far away by throwing a treat if he’s clingy.
A gentle tug on the lead while saying “come” should be enough to get your dog to understand what you want, and a treat waiting for him at the end of the leash will keep your dog coming back for more.
Eventually, you’ll be able to remove the lead.
“No” is another critical command that you must teach your dog. However, most dogs will learn “no” without any formal training — they'll simply learn from your tone and facial expression.
If you’re having trouble with teaching “no” this way, tugging on your dog’s leash and forbidding him from performing the action you want to stop will also work.
Don't use treats to teach your dog the “no” command, as this may confuse your canine.
Sit is one of the first few commands that you’ll want to teach your dog after the bare basics. Sitting is essential in establishing the training relationship further, as it can be an excellent introduction to a training session or a closer after a tough session.
Don't try to force your dog to sit by pushing down on his haunches. Instead, step toward your dog and lean over him a bit. Most dogs will try to keep eye contact, which will cause their head to go up and their rear end to drop to the floor.
If you plan on having guests over, “down” (or "lay") is an invaluable command. A good method for teaching “down” is to have him sit and then "lure" him toward the ground by holding a treat down on the ground a foot or two in front of him. Don't try to force him to the ground. Once he lays down properly, give him the treat.
For some owners, “sit” may be sufficient to take the place of “down.”
To teach your dog to stay, begin by having your dog sit. Then, walk away while keeping your eyes locked on your dog’s while saying “stay.” If your dog gets up to follow you—as he probably will—tell your dog to sit, then again to stay.
Hopefully, your dog will stop following you, sit down, and stay put—thus successfully completing the command. More training will be needed for longer distances and un-learning the “sit” component of stay.
“Leave It” is a command that your dog will need to learn for its safety. To best teach “leave it,” you’ll need to pick something that’s normally a treat—but not a treat that’s liked very much—and teach your dog to ignore it. Celery is often a good tool for teaching this command, as few dogs seem to enjoy it.
Drop the object on the floor near your dog, and ensure that your dog is paying attention to it. At this point, tell your dog “Leave it!” and cover the object with your hand or foot. Your dog will probably gently try to get around you and access the item, but don’t let him.
Eventually, he’ll get bored of trying and stop paying attention to it—success.
To teach “heel,” stand with your dog at your leg facing in the same direction of you. Say “heel,” and take a few steps forward. If your dog follows in lock step, give him a reward. Keep building on longer and longer distances.
The line between “wait” and “stay” may be a bit blurry, but the method of teaching can be the same as either “stay” or “leave it,” depending on how you choose to do it. The idea is to get your dog to stop its desired actions until you give it the okay.
With “wait” comes “okay.” Okay indicates that your dog can proceed with its original intent. Your dog should be able to pick up “okay” based off of your tone and facial expression without much extra help.
“Release” tells your dog to relax his mouth in a more general way than “Drop it,” and the teaching method is much the same with one difference: You want to keep your hand on your dog’s toy while you say “release.”
“Take it” is a fairly easy command to teach most dogs. Simply hold a favorite toy near your dog’s mouth and instruct him to “take it”. Reward him with praise and a treat when he complies.
If you want to get fancy, teach your dog to associate “take it” with the object that you’re pointing at or that your dog covets.
“Bring it” is harder than “take it” for obvious reasons, but combining “take it” with “come” should get you there. Bring it is easiest to teach dogs that have a strong retrieving instinct, such as Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers.
“Eliminate” instructs your dog to urinate or defecate on command. This is a useful canine command, but it can be tricky to teach. .It also requires a bit of luck regarding the timing.
Just begin by using the eliminate command when you take your dog out to go to the bathroom, and offer plenty of praise (and a treat, if possible) once he takes care of business.
“Leap” is easy to teach to your dog by combining “stay” and “come” with some prop obstacles to put in between you and your dog. Prompt your dog to “leap” while gently lifting when they realize they can’t complete “come” due to the obstacles you placed.
“Go” requires your dog to understand that your pointed finger or verbal cues refer to a certain place. The basic technique for teaching “go” involves putting treats at a given location, making your dog wait attentively, then directing them toward the location with the treat.
Teaching “spin” is as easy as holding a treat above your dog, and spinning it around him in a wide arc. Once he complies, give him praise and a treat. Also, you'll want to use the "spin" command to help him associate the command with the behavior.
“Shake” is a cute trick that you can teach after “sit” quite easily. Teach “shake” by using a verbal cue and a little physical guidance of your dog’s paw to meet your other hand.
“Roll over” can be tough to teach because it’s difficult to physically guide your dog through the motion of rolling over. Start with your dog lying down, but upright.
Using a treat near your dog’s nose, guide your dog’s gaze from left to right, gently helping them to flop over onto their side to follow the treat as it passes beyond their field of view.
Next, help your dog to roll over such that they’re still tracing the treat, and deliver your verbal cue. Be sure to deliver the treat after he complies with the command.
To teach “beg,” get your dog to chase a treat that’s close to its nose while in the sitting position. Then, get your dog to chase the treat even if it’s vertical.
“Speak” or “bark” is also a trick that’s difficult to teach sometimes. In general, you want to find a way to get your dog very excited—maybe by wiggling a toy around—then use that as a way to get him to bark.
“Find it” is an advanced command which is hard to teach for items other than treats or toys.
To teach your dog this command, have your dog sit in a comfortable location. Then show him his toy or a treat. Have him remain in place, while you go and place the treat somewhere in the room. Once the treat is placed, give the "find it" command and reward him once he goes and gets the treat.
Over time, you'll want to gradually move the treat farther and farther from your dog, and eventually start placing it in places that your dog can't see.
Helping your dog by pointing and the “go” command will help the training process along.
Most dogs won’t need any help to learn “catch,” but if yours does, try gently lobbing treats towards his nose while offering the verbal cue—but grab the treats off the floor if your dog doesn’t nip them up mid-air. The trick is to teach him that if he must catch the treat in the air to eat it.
Teaching your dog to bark a certain number of times is tough, but think of it as a process of getting your dog to stop barking after a certain nonverbal cue — in this case, the cue is that the number of barks is equal to the number of objects.
Add a verbal cue after stopping him from barking at each successive number of times to teach your dog each number individually and have his “count” command function fully.
Bowing, for a dog, involves bringing the dog’s chest to the ground while leaving its rear end in the air. Using the same dog body guiding principles from teaching “down” should be sufficient.
It might come in handy to have your dog understand how to turn off the lights on command. “Lights” is quite complicated, and requires your dog to know “leap,” “touch,” and “look.” First, get your dog to understand that it’s valid to leap up and touch a spot on the wall.
Then, get your dog’s attention, and give them the verbal cue “lights” while you turn off and on the light.
Finally, introduce “leap” and “touch” to your dog, while pointing at the switch while providing the verbal cue “lights” at the end.
You will probably have to teach your dog that “lights” is a concept which refers to the light switches on the walls and not just any old spot on the wall.
If your dog isn’t picking up on the shape of the light switch in rooms other than where he first learned, you can probably just teach him individually on each light switch in each room, and he’ll figure it out.
Be sure to give your dog plenty of practice with this one, and a big reward for getting it right.
“Crawl” combines “down” with “come” and should be relatively easy to teach to your dog with a little physical guidance. Remember that it’s pretty tiring for dogs to crawl around because it’s not a natural posture for them.
There are a variety of reasons to teach dogs in another language, but one of the most helpful reasons for doing so is that it prevents you from using language to talk to your dog.
No matter how smart your dog is, he doesn't have language skills. Very few dogs can learn to put together a variety of commands — instead, you'll want to use a single command to elicit a single behavior.
But many owners mistakenly use language when trying to communicate with their dog. For example, they may say "get off the couch, Fido." To which, Fido will surely respond with little more than a quizzical look. Instead, you should teach Fido a single command that means "get off the couch."
But because it is natural for humans to speak to their dog in their natural language, it is often helpful to teach your dog commands in a foreign language. This will usually prevent you from using a command as part of a sentence.
Here are a few of the basic dog commands in other languages. Those in non-Romantic languages are spelled phonetically.
Seduto or Siedasi
Now that you know how to train your pet many of the basic dog commands and a few advanced training commands, it’s time to spring into action.
Decide whether to focus on hand signals or verbal signals for a given command and get your dog’s attention to start the training session. Use rewards as your punctuation marks during dog training— and don’t overuse them.
Eventually, you want your dog to be responsive to all your commands whether or not you have a treat handy, so keep this goal in mind and work toward it as your dog masters commands.
Remember to stay consistent, stay positive, and use training as an opportunity to bond with your dog.
If you’re struggling with training on a particular day, don’t push things too hard. Every dog has his day, but not everyday is the right day to train your dog. Your dog will appreciate your discretion.
If you are serious about teaching your dog commands, you’ll likely find that you want to learn more about the training process. Additionally, you may teach your canine all the dog training commands listed above and find yourself needing help with further commands.
In either case, a good dog training book will prove invaluable. Two of the best dog training books include Training the Best Dog Ever: A 5-Week Program Using the Power of Positive Reinforcement and 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog.
Either of these books should help improve your dog-training skills and teach you a variety of new dog commands to teach your canine.