If you’re about to get started training your unruly puppy, we sure have a lot to tell you. Training dogs 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.
In this article, you’ll learn about basic dog commands and how to teach them to your dog. Just pick up a few of these dog training commands from us, and your dog will be barking at your command in no time flat.
A command is a thing you exhort your dog to do by 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 “tricks.”
It’s a certainty that you’ll want to teach your dog some commands, but the extent that you take your dog’s training is up to you.
At a minimum, you’ll want your dog to master the basic verbal commands that allow you to control your dog’s movement and its 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. The two types of commands break down into verbal commands and hand signals.
You should train your dog in a command either verbally or with a hand signal because the combination can be confusing for your dog and make them slower to learn.
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.
Elsewhere, hand signals are just another way to get your dog to follow your intent. 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.
Dog’s aren’t as attuned to human hands as they are to human voices or faces, though. Remember that when you are teaching dog command hand signals, you’ll be doing your pup a favor to include some pertinent facial expressions at the same time.
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 cues are dog command words that your dog can hear—even if they aren’t looking at you—and respond accordingly.
Verbal cues have the advantage of carrying tone as well as volume, which your dog will pick up on as additional channels of communication.
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 doubly dangerous during training.
Your dog will need to learn the most common dog commands no matter what, and thankfully there are many well-established protocols for educating your dog in these basic actions.
To prepare yourself and your dog for a training session, make sure that you and your dog are:
If you or your dog are irritated, tired, or too full, you won’t have much success during training.
Remember, your primary tool while training your dog is good will. It’s much harder to muster good will if you’re agitated, and an agitated dog is going to be less receptive to any good will that comes its way.
You also should have a training area picked out. A training area should start off as a very low-stimulation environment. Once your dog has mastered a command in an environment with few distractions like inside your home, you can move onto more difficult areas like the backyard barbecue or the dog park.
Lastly, make sure you have a supply of treats. If you pay a little attention to your dog during training, you’ll be able to tell which treats are their favorite, and which aren’t.
It’s a good idea to use your dog’s favorite treats sparingly, and only in situations of genuine accomplishment. The other treats are good for regular reinforcement.
Now that you’re ready to begin, there’s a right way and a wrong way when it comes to how to teach your basic dog commands. Following these rules will help you train your dog faster and more effectively than otherwise.
Consistency is the only way that your dog can learn. 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 constant throughout.
Your dog might become a dog rocket scientist, but even rocket scientists have to start at the basics. Remember that each action you try to teach your dog is totally new, and there’s no background to build off of per se.
Your dog’s intellect will affect the rate at which they learn what you teach them, but if you aren’t consistent about breaking down commands into their constituent actions and walking your dog through each of the steps, all the smarts in the world won’t be able to help your dog.
You don’t speak the same language as your dog—yet. 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 drop into a training session more frequently and with less resistance than otherwise.
Everyone knows about this directive, but few implement it enough. Even professionals struggle with not repeating commands. You are training your dog to respond to your command.
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 constitutes 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 commands with repetition builds on your dog’s idea that maybe it’s not so important to obey commands after all—a cannonball puncturing the waterline as far as training is concerned. Commands should be issued clearly, firmly, directedly, and only once.
Your dog needs an incentive to pay very close attention to you during training. Coincidentally, your dog also will respond to your attempts to train him much better if there’s a reward waiting for successful action after detecting a command. Treats fill both these roles nicely.
It’s important to note that treats are not the only form of positive reinforcement for your dog upon successful completion of a command. If anything, treats should wait 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 ending of your training session, to make sure that it ends on a high note.
As far as the end of the session goes, it’s not too much to say that you need an excuse to give your dog a treat to reward him for being attentive.
If your dog has struggled with a new command and hasn’t quite been able to get it right yet, it’s worth going back to another 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.
For your dog to effectively learn a new command, their actions in response to the command need to occur immediately after the command and before they do anything else of their volition.
If you let too much time pass between command and response, your dog won’t necessarily learn to follow commands immediately, and may accidentally introduce one of their actions into the process of following the command—not good.
Keeping your initial training in a low-distraction environment helps a lot with preventing timing from becoming an issue. 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. Scaling down rewards is where the opportunity to start on another command comes into play.
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.
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.
Your dog’s attention span is shorter than yours, and it’s unhealthy to keep plying your dog with treats for a long period anyway.
Short training sessions allow you to drop into a training session whenever it’s convenient, which means that you’ll likely end up having more sessions—a boon to your dog’s education.
Once your dog has mastered a command in an easy environment, move on to a harder one.
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 even in a very busy environment, you still expect him to follow your lead.
Expect that your dog won’t be as quick to train in more stimulating environments. Just remember not to repeat yourself if you don’t have your dog’s attention right away in a new setting.
Sometimes it will take your dog a minute or two to acclimatize to the idea that the dog park can be a place for learning, too.
Sometimes your dog doesn’t seem to be working with you or external distractions are ruining a training session. Your dog will appreciate it if you stay calm regardless.
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.
Your dog can tell when you’re frustrated before you can, and it’s better to avoid introducing negativity to the training process.
You are your dog’s master. Your dog is not your equal. You can believe both of these things are true, and still love your dog and be a great owner. In fact, training your dog relies on you internalizing these ideas and ensuring that 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.
Especially during training, reinforcing your dominance means setting the terms of when training starts and when training ends, and maintaining them firmly and formally.
Once again, consistency is key. If your dog gets to thinking that you’re a playmate first and an owner second, you won’t be able to get your dog to follow your commands. Your dog won’t view commands as a priority but rather as a suggestion.
If you approach your dog and find that your dog rolls over onto his belly and exposes it to you while keeping his paws still, your dog believes that you’re the dominant one. It’s hard to encourage this behavior explicitly—and maybe undesirable—but be sure to keep your eye out for signals like these from your dog.
Your dog is going to need a lot of practice to fully master all of the commands that you’re interested in having him learn.
Multiple short daily 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” take over from the practice environment.
Just remember that your dog might get rusty with a command if you haven’t used it in a while—a perfect excuse for more practice.
Dog commands for puppies are a special subset of general dog training commands. Puppy command training is special because it’s a bit more frustrating and a bit more limited than training a grown dog—but even more important.
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 an attentive response to you calling its name.
Paying attention to its name may seem like it’ll happen whether or not you explicitly try to teach it to your puppy—and it might—but you’ll have the best luck if you formally teach your puppy to respond to its 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 its name being called in a natural way, not in a robotic snap-to-attention.
Calling your dog’s name should result in its direction of attention toward you and acknowledgment that you are paying attention to it. Once you’ve taught your dog to respond to its 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—outside your home.
As always, positive reinforcement is key when it comes to housebreaking your puppy. Lucky timing is 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 “shush” 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 to human communication, and you don’t want to deny your dog its voice.
Without further ado, here’s the full list of commands that you might want to teach your dog.
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.
Everyone probably already knows the basics of teaching Sit: push down on your standing dog’s rear end as you say “sit.”
Come is also a fundamental command, but 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.
If you plan on having guests over, “down” is an invaluable command. A good method for teaching “down” is to guide your dog with your hand on his butt and shoulders while you give the command, much like in “sit.” For some owners, “sit” may be sufficient to take the place of “down.”
Teaching “stay” should build on “sit” and be taught in the same session as “come.” First, get your dog to 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 typically a good starting point because few dogs deeply 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.
Heel is typically a tough command to teach. 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.
If you didn’t tell your dog “leave it” in time, “drop it” is the next command to follow. Grab one of your dog’s toys, and offer it to him. Assuming he takes it, let him play for a moment or two so.
Then, using a treat, hold the treat close to your dog’s nose.
You’ll find that your dog immediately drops his toy and allows you to feed him the treat—great.
Add your verbal cue next time, and build on it from there.
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.
“No” is one of the most critical commands for your dog to learn early. Like “okay,” your dog will probably learn “no” without any formal training as a result of 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. Be sure to withhold rewards for learning the “no” command, lest your dog gets confused about exactly what you want.
“Stand” can be taught like the inverse of sit. Gently tug on your dog while your dog is in the seated position while saying “stand.”
“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. Keep your hand on your dog’s toy while you say “release.”
“Take it” is as easy as holding an object near your dog’s mouth and instructing them to “take it.” A stick works nicely. 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.
No, this isn’t the same as “kill.” “Eliminate” instructs your dog to urinate or defecate on command, which is quite useful. It’s a bit complicated to teach “eliminate”, and requires luck with timing.
“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, reinforcing him verbally when he chases it with his entire body while remaining on the ground.
“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 afterward.
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.
Once he reliably barks, you can introduce the verbal cue and phase out the toy.
“Back” is yet another common command that’s a stumbling block for training because dogs don’t typically back up so much as reorient to face forward again in the opposite direction. Use body pressure on your dog’s chest to get him to step back.
Teaching “Yawn” requires luckiness with catching your dog’s natural yawns, then reinforcing them in a clear way.
“Leash” teaches your dog to accept the collar or the leash of your choice without being difficult. This command solidifies over the course of many sessions with careful attention to when your dog behaves the best.
“Dish” teaches your dog to bring you his dish, presumably for your convenience of filling it with food. To teach “dish,” combine “take it,” and “drop it” while adding the verbal cue of “dish” and rewarding your dog with his dinner.
“Find it” is an advanced command which is hard to teach for items other than treats or toys.
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.
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 “sit” 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.
Maybe you’re interested in having a multilingual dog, or maybe you’ve adopted your dog from a foreign country. Either way, here are a few of the basic dog commands in other languages, displayed phonetically in non-Romantic languages.
Seduto or Siedasi
Now that you know about how to train your dog with many of the basic commands and even a few of the more advanced 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.