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Basic Dog Training Commands

3 min read

Basic dog training is a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. It’s important to begin training your dog at an early age to get the foundations right before your puppy grows into an adult dog. Find out how to teach your dog basic commands in our guide.

Dogs are fast learners, and with your loving guidance, training your dog how to ‘come’, ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and even go to the toilet will nurture your relationship as well as encourage good behaviour. Well-trained dogs are less likely to stray, and generally have more comfortable and fulfilling lives compared to their untrained counterparts.

Young puppies make eager pupils, so you can start with basic dog training as soon as you get them home. It’s a myth that pups need to be at least six months old before they can be properly trained – the younger they are, the easier it is to teach them. Think of them as little furry sponges, waiting to soak up all the learning you can give them!

Here you’ll find lots of advice on the basics of dog training. For more detailed and advanced dog training advice, try contacting a professional trainer. Visit The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for more information.

Basic dog training top tips
Puppy training with owner
  • Keep puppy training sessions short and sweet. Young puppies lose concentration easily, so it’s better to do six five-minute sessions each day than one half-hour session.
  • Only have training sessions when you’re in a good mood. Dogs are very receptive to human emotions, so they’ll be able to tell if you’re stressed or grumpy.
  • Always finish dog and puppy training sessions on a high with an exercise you know your dog can do easily so you end with success.
  • In the beginning train with no distractions. Get the basics down in a quiet setting, and add distractions later, so your dog gets used to a variety of environments.
  • Training must always be reward-based, so use lots of toys, treats and cuddles. Negative or punishing techniques are cruel and don’t work, and never use a choke chain as you can injure your dog’s neck very easily.

Once your dog has got the hang of an exercise, swap food-based treats for toys, or subtract treats from their daily food allowance, to avoid weight gain.

Now that you have all of the tools and rules for basic dog training, you can get started!

How to teach a dog to sit
Labrador next to water bowl

Sitting on cue is something that we all expect our dogs to do but how many of us have spent the time training this cue so that it’s reliable?

It’s never too late to teach your dog to sit so let’s get started.

  • When your dog is standing calmly, hold a treat near their nose.
  • Don’t give them too much time to explore the treat as you don’t want them to start jumping up. Hold the treat near your dog’s nose and move your hand slowly over the shape of their head.
  • As your dog follows your hand and raises their head, their bottom will hit the floor. The second that happens, praise your dog and reward them with treats.
  • Keep practicing this in really short bursts.
  • Now that your dog is used to sitting, you can add the word ‘sit’ as they’re moving into the sit position.
  • Now keep practising this in really short bursts. Remembering to say the word ‘sit’ as they’re moving into the position, not before or after.
  • When you think your dog has associated the word with the movement, you can ask your dog to sit without the lure of a treat.
  • If their bottom hits the floor, praise and reward them. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, they just need more practice so go back a step and given them a bit more time.
  • As your dog’s response gets faster and more reliable, start asking them to sit in different environments, with some distractions or a small distance away from you.
How to teach a dog to lie down
Dog playing in garden

This is another basic dog command, but be careful not to confuse your dog by saying ‘down’ if you want them to get off the sofa or to stop pawing at your legs. Use ‘off’ for those times instead, and reward them when they obey you. Here’s how to teach a dog to lie down:

  • Hold a treat in your hand with a little bit sticking out, so your dog can see it.
  • Show it to your dog, and then place your hand flat on the floor with the treat underneath it. Your dog will try every which way to get at it!
  • Eventually, they’ll lie down. The moment they do, give a click and give them the treat – and lots of praise!
  • Keep at it, and as soon as they’ve learned that your hand on the floor means ‘lie down’, add the verbal cue ‘down’ when they do the action.

With practice, they’ll lie down on request, without the treat.

Teaching your dog to stay or wait
Dog learning to stay

It’s important that you make a distinction between ‘stay’ and ‘wait’ so that your dog understands the difference and what’s expected of them when they’re learning each cue.

  • Stay = stay where you are until I come back to you.
  • Wait = wait where you are until I call you to me.

It really is an important distinction for your dog. If you want your dog to understand the difference, you need to know what you want them to do and resist recalling your dog out of a stay.

Let’s start with how to teach your dog to stay and in order to work on this, you’ll need to have a reliable ‘sit’ or ‘down’ cue.

  • Ask your dog to sit or lie down and count to two in your head. If they’re still in the same position, crouch down, praise them reward them then release them from the sit/down. If they did get up, work on the sit/down cue and try again when your dog is more settled.
  • Keep practising until you can count to four or five before crouching down, praising and rewarding your dog.

The reason you’re crouching down is so that your dog knows that nothing happens until you’re back with them and this is different to recalling them from the position they’re in. At this early stage, you need to be the distinction.

  • Now, go back to counting to three after asking your dog to sit/lie down but after three, shuffle your feet a little bit, then praise and reward your dog for staying where they are. If they don’t stay where they are, try again but be much more subtle in your movement and work up from there.
  • Keep repeating that, counting between one and five and doing something slightly different each time with your feet.
  • Once this is reliable, you can step away, just with one foot to begin with. Praise and reward your dog when you step back to them and crouch down.
  • Keep working on this until your dog is relaxed with the movements and happy to stay where they are. Now that they’ve got the hang of this, you can introduce the cue ‘stay’ or whatever word works for you – as long as you know what you’re asking of them. Go back over the steps using the cue to ask your dog to ‘stay’ before counting, shuffling or moving away so that your dog can make the connection and then you’re ready to move on.
  • You have the start of a reliable stay and now you need to increase the distance between you and your dog before you start to increase the distractions.

Don’t start practising the ‘wait’ until you have a reliable ‘stay’ and your dog understands the cue.

  • Then, when you’re ready to start teaching a wait cue, follow the same steps but instead of crouching down, recall your dog to you and praise/reward them when they come to you at each step.
  • With each cue, you can really put your dog’s understanding to the test when they’re ready. You could turn your back on them, you could lie down on the floor with them, and you could walk out of sight or, if you’d like to really challenge your dog’s understanding, you could run away!
How to teach your dog 'no'
Dog giving his paw to owner

Dog training works by rewarding good behaviour and ignoring unwanted responses – after all, your dog wants your approval. But sometimes you have to show your dog that their behaviour isn’t what you want. Rather than shouting or constantly saying ‘no’, teach your dog a ‘no’ signal that tells them to stop whatever they’re doing whenever they hear it.

Teaching your dog ‘no’ signal can be done with dog-training discs (unless your dog has a very nervous disposition or is easily frightened by sudden noises). These are five metal discs, a little like mini cymbals, joined together on a key fob. You can hold them silently, but at the precise moment you need to say ‘no’ they can be dropped to make a unique sound your dog isn’t likely to hear anywhere else.

  • To teach your dog ‘no’ first get some treats. In the same way that you would teach the dog to associate the click with a treat, you now need to teach them that the sound of the discs means they won’t be allowed a treat.
  • Place a treat on the floor. When your dog goes to eat it, rattle the discs in your hand. Remove the treat as you rattle the discs but say nothing – let the sound do the work.
  • Over a few repetitions, your dog should stop being startled by the sound and will begin to associate the sound with not getting a reward. Eventually, they won't even attempt to take the treat, anticipating the sound, and give up, looking disappointed.
  • Now get them to perform another action, such as a 'sit', and give them a treat. This will make up for their previous disappointment and frustration!

Soon your dog will associate their actions where the discs are involved as a ‘fail’, and will stop trying without you having to use the discs, and instead just the word ‘no’.

How to teach your dog to leave it

If your dog is walking towards the chocolate bar you have left on the table or the medication you have dropped, can you confidently ask them to 'leave it' and be sure that they’ll know what you're asking of them?

Training your dog to leave it could save their life, so in this article we have six easy-to-follow steps.

Over the next couple of weeks, when you’re relaxing with your dog, try these steps and it won’t be long before your dog understands what you mean by the cue ‘leave it’.

Step One:

  • Hold a small piece of food in your fist so that your dog does not have easy access to it.
  • Slowly extend the food towards your dog’s nose and let them work out how they are going to get it out of your hand. They’ll probably try smelling, nibbling, or pawing at the treat.
  • When they make any motion to move their head away, praise them and give them a piece of food from your other hand. It’s important that the reward comes from the other hand so your dog doesn’t learn to go back to the thing you’re asking them to leave!
  • Repeat this exercise a few times until your dog consistently makes the decision to take their nose away from the food.

Step Two:

  • Now add the words ‘leave it’ while your dog is in the act of moving their head away. This builds up an association between the cue and the action.
  • Repeat this process a number of times. It doesn't matter how long it takes; every dog learns at a different pace.
  • Once your dog is responding reliably, ask them to ‘leave it’ as soon as you present your hand to them; then reward them (from the other hand) for moving their head away.

Step Three:

  • Put the food in your open palm so that your dog can see and smell it.
  • Show your dog the food in your open palm and ask them to ‘leave it.’ ‘Ask’, don't shout!
  • If your dog tries to eat it, just close your hand. Try again, but if you need to do this more than twice in a row, go back a stage… it just means that your dog needs more practice to learn what ‘leave it’ means.

Step Four:

Only move on to this when your dog is reliably responding to the words in step three.

  • Put the food on the floor and ask your dog to ‘leave it’.
  • Repeat the process, rewarding your dog with a treat in your hand, not the one on the floor.

Step Five:

  • Put your dog on their harness and lead and walk past the treat on the floor with them.
  • As your dog looks at it, say ‘leave it’ without pulling on the lead, then praise and reward your dog when they walk past it. If they grab the treat, don’t try to get it out of their mouth or tell them they've done something wrong; they haven't. Go back to the previous stage where your dog was successful and build up the cue until they are ready to try again.

Step Six:

  • Keep repeating the exercise by placing other objects on the floor – preferably the types of things you want your dog to leave alone. Don’t practice with your dog's toys… this cue is for things you want them to walk away from.
How to teach your dog ‘off’
  • If you find your dog on the sofa or a bed, say ‘off’ and encourage them to come to you.
  • When they come ‘off,' reward them calmly with praise and a 'click', and use your basic training to ask them to 'sit' or lie 'down' instead. This can then also be rewarded.
  • Consistency is important. If one member of the family turns a blind eye to the house rules, you've had it!

If they growl at you for attempting to remove them, back off, and seek the help of a qualified behaviourist via your vet’s referral as soon as possible. Don’t attempt to tackle any aggression problems yourself, as you may make things worse.

How to teach your dog to ‘go to bed’

Being able to ask your dog to go and relax is really important. If you find yourself getting frustrated because your dog is drooling on your knee while you’re eating at the table, or they’re bouncing around while you’re welcoming visitors, or they’re sitting in front of the TV during your favourite programme, you need to be able to ask them to do something else instead.

In order to ask them to do something else, they need to understand the cue. In order for them to understand the cue, you need to teach them.

A great cue to teach is ‘go to bed’ (or, ‘on your bed’ / ‘go settle’ – whatever works for you) and you can use it when you need your dog to go and relax.

Here’s how to teach your dog to go to bed:

  • Make sure that your dog is relaxed and somewhere that’s free of distractions.
  • Put your dog’s bed in the place that you’d like them to go and relax.
  • To start with, just lure your dog with a treat or a toy and when they have all four paws on the bed, praise them and give them the treat or the toy. This can be easier with a small treat as some dogs may be too excited with the toy.
  • To begin with, you’re just getting the dog used to the action of walking to the bed, putting all four paws on the bed and being rewarded. You don’t need to worry about asking them to sit or lie down.
  • Now, you can start adding in the cue. Say ‘go to bed’ as you start the lure, which will also involve your hand moving to point to the bed. Your dog has practised the behaviour you’d like them to show, so now you’re adding the words and pairing those words with the movement. Repeat this until your dog is quickly and easily following the cue and being rewarded.
  • Now, you can ask your dog to sit or lie down when they get on their bed. So, you’re saying the cue, your dog is going to the bed and once they’re on it, you ask them to sit or lie down… then reward them.
  • The aim is that your dog knows the cue and that they learn to stay on the bed so that they’re happy to settle while you have a meal or chat to a visitor. So, you need to start waiting a little bit longer before you reward them. Gradually build up the time and if your dog is unsettled, it just means you need to build up the time more slowly.
  • You also need to ensure that your dog is happy to relax on the bed without you sitting next to it, so practise while you’re standing and at different distances from the bed as well as starting to walk away.
  • If you take a couple of steps away, go back and fuss/reward your dog… then take four or five steps… so you’re not just disappearing and your dog is happy to relax.

It’s important that you practice this in a quiet environment and that your dog really does understand the cue before you put them to the test for a family meal or when there are lots of visitors. Give yourself the time to teach this over a couple of weeks, set your dog up to succeed and make it fun so that when they hear the cue in the future, they understand and know that going to their bed is a great place to be!

How to get your dog’s attention

An important life skill, as well as a valuable means of improving your connection, is ensuring your dog creates a habit of checking in with you. The aim is that your dog looks to you for guidance and direction, that they know they can trust you to offer support if they’re unsure of what to do.

  • Fill your pockets with kibble or healthy treats and head to a small enclosed area where you can hang out with your dog.
  • When your dog turns to look at you, praise this immediately and throw a treat away from you. They’ll find the treat (a fun game in its own right!) and when they’re ready, they’ll look at you again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Your dog will become quicker at looking at you and will be less distracted by their environment, but without taking the enjoyment of exploring away from them or being on their case with cues when they’re trying to have a sniff and enjoy their freedom.
  • As your dog checks in more regularly, you can gradually increase the size of the enclosed area, increase the distractions and keep practising while your dog is on a harness and long-line in an open space, until you’re ready with reliable recall and your dog can go off-lead.

This is something that you can reward when you’re not playing the game, it’s something that’s worth reinforcing regularly as it’s important your dog checks in with your when you’re out and about.

How to teach your dog ‘let’s go’

This cue is one to practice so that it can help you and your dog get out of a situation at speed, if you need to. For ‘let’s go’ to become an automatic response, at speed, and something your dog responds to immediately, it’s going to take some practice.

Just as with any other cue, you need to start somewhere with limited distractions. You’ll need your finest treats and your finest high energy voice.

  • As you’re walking, without pulling on the lead, turn in the opposite direction and encourage your dog to turn and walk with you, offering praise and rewards.
  • You’ll need lots of energy and your dog’s favourite treats because this has to be to be something that’s instilled as a no-brainer cue for your dog to follow. Imagine you’re creating the walkies equivalent of opening a packet of biscuits. You know that the sound of that packet opening means you have your dog’s full attention. That’s the sort of response you’re looking for.
  • After a few turns with high energy, fun and your dog’s favourite treats, start introducing the ‘let’s go’ cue as you turn and your dog comes with you.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Keep it fun, keep the rewards coming and make sure your dog knows that at the sound of ‘let’s go’ they don’t need to look around, they don’t need to hesitate, they just need to be with you.

Vary the distraction levels and soon, you’ll be ready to try when you’re out and about. The reason it’s important to practice this often is so that your dog doesn’t think twice when they hear that cue. That means, for example, if you see someone in the distance that you’re not sure they’ll want to meet, you can say ‘let’s go’ and your dog is ready to turn and walk with you at speed. They don’t do it because you have the treats with you there and then, they do it because of the hundreds of times you’ve played this game before, great treats have come their way.

Always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s health, as they can recommend individual advice or treatment options. For detailed behavioural advice tailored specifically for your pet, we suggest you contact a qualified pet behaviourist.

Looking for advice on how to train an older dog? Read our guide, next!