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My Top Five Dog Training Essential Commands

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

That every dog should learn!

two dogs sit on a path
Zander & Jaffa hold a reliable sit whilst I'm setting up their photograph

As a dog owner, you want your fur friend to be happy, healthy, and have a great life, but I bet you also want them to be included in family gatherings, activities, and holidays. For this, they need to be well-behaved. A dog who has a solid basic repertoire of commands is much more likely to be a valued family member and is therefore more likely to be included.

One of the best ways to achieve this is through clear training.

By teaching your dog a few basic commands, to a rock-solid level, you can improve communication, strengthen your bond, and make your life together more enjoyable. In this blog, I'll be sharing the top 5 commands that I recommend every owner train their dog to do. These commands are essential for having an obedient dog, and that dog is then far more receptive to the introduction of day-to-day manners, boundary setting, and behavioural problem-solving. If they aren’t even clear on what you do want them to do, they’ll very likely be unclear about what you want them to stop doing.

So here are my top 5 commands:

1: Sit

It sounds simple but there is actually a lot to this command AND there are generally a lot of preconceived ideas around the word sit. So much so that many dogs may think it means something different than what you want it to mean.

two schnauzers hold a sit
Bruno & Leo hold their sit until released

Sit is one of the most basic and important commands that every dog should learn.

For me, sit means ‘put your bottom on the ground’ and I never use the word sit when I want my dog to calm down, shut up, or stop jumping. It never means ‘touch your bottom to the ground and then stand back up again’. Nor does it mean ‘touch your bottom to the ground then lie down’, so I won’t reward those things. And I never say sit, sit, sit, sit, SIT! If I accept second best, second best is what I’m going to get so I need to be clear about what I want and what I accept.

So, this command should mean that your dog will sit on the first command and hold that position until you release them. Make sure you have a release word. You should never need to say stay or wait if your release word is doing its job. They should sit when requested nicely to do so (and be rewarded for doing so when you are ready) and they should sit for however long you need them to. You’ll need to build this up gradually of course, just as you’ll gradually need them to sit under increasing levels of distraction AND whether or not you are by their side.

But they need to hold that sit until you release them.

So many dogs have been hearing sit, but not having to actually do it, for so many years that they may have many ideas about what it truly means, and for many dogs, the word sit is just like a lot of white noise – nothing to even worry about.

Changing that preconception can be a challenge.

2: Drop

The drop command is also known as ‘down’ or ‘lay down’. So long as you are consistent the choice of the word doesn’t much matter. This means that your dog will lie down on their stomach and remain in that position until you release them. Choose a different word for them to relinquish an item. And again, make sure you have a release word and make sure you know what you want from them.

two dogs lay by the lakeside
Zander & Jaffa hold their drop by the lakeside

For me, the drop command doesn’t mean crawling along on your tummy, nor does it mean keeping your bottom up in the air – ‘downward dog’ is not a drop. When I’m supervising my dog in a drop, I’m assessing their intent, as some dogs when in a drop may hold a sphynx-like position, whilst some might relax a hip or even roll over to their side. I’m ok with all of those if I see they are doing their best to do as asked.

The drop command is useful for helping your dog learn self-regulation and impulse control skills, as well as for keeping them still in situations when you need to examine or groom them. Because it’s fine for them to relax, and they are not fighting gravity, an extended drop is not only doable, but I recommend it.

My dogs can easily drop for an hour plus and yours can too if you teach them how.

3: Mat/Bed

a bulldog on a bed
Winton holds his mat command

This command means that your dog will go to their bed or mat and remain there until released. Some people prefer the command ‘bed’, ‘spot’ or ‘place’, but as we said earlier, the actual word doesn’t really matter so long as it’s used consistently. This command is great for allowing your dog to be a part of the family activity without being constantly underfoot or interacting with guests who might be scared or allergic.

Common mistakes that a lot of people make when they try to teach this command would include sending the dog to its mat as a punishment, only practicing in challenging moments such as when guests come over, and failing to pay attention so that the dog is able to slip away rather than waiting for their release.

Always finish up with their release word.

4: Recall

a schnauzer runs towards the camera
Zander comes flying over when I call him

Coming when called by name is crucial for keeping your dog safe and under control, but it’s a challenging command for a lot of dogs because they are often hearing the command, their name, a thousand times a day when the owner gives no thought whatsoever to their over-use of the so-called command, and in a lot of situations they are also inadvertently using the command when chastising their dog.

I suggest you save their name for their recall (but feel free to use nicknames freely to your heart's content when you chat with them).

When you work on this one, start in a quiet area with no distractions. Call your dog's name and if your dog comes to you, praise them excitedly the whole way in, not just when they arrive, and when they do arrive make sure you release them so they can head off again. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog and add more distractions. It's a big, big mistake to start teaching this one at the dog park or head there too soon.

If you’re having trouble with this one, why not grab my free eBook “Do’s & Don’ts for teaching your dog to come when you call them”?

5: Release Command

Your release command is arguably the most important command that you can possibly teach your dog because it should become the word/command that your dog is desperately waiting for to allow them the freedom to head off and resume doing their own thing.

I suggest you consider these possible release options:

  • Free: allows them to finish their sit, drop or mat command – say it in a fun happy way and reward them for staying in position until you were ready for them to head off – freedom is a big-time turn-on for dogs so this one should become super valuable for them

  • Eat: will release them from the holding pattern that sees them waiting for their meal or treat and they’ll recognise that value with no help at all

  • Through: waiting at the doorway, gate, or open car door has a lot of imperative and the release when you finally offer it rewards them big time if you use it happily

  • Let’s go: not crossing the road until the way is clear is a big-time danger moment, which we all recognise, and the release command that allows the resumption of the walk not only helps keep your doggo safe but rewards them big time for waiting calmly

a schnauzer walks towards the camera
Zander is free to do anything he likes when released

Training your dog doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming but does require clarity and some clear practice strategies. By teaching your dog these five essential commands, you can improve communication, strengthen your bond, and make your life together more enjoyable. Plus, this level of training places you in a great position to deal with anything behavioural that might be going on because your dog has already learned to listen, wait, and resist their natural impulses. With practice, consistency, and clear reinforcement, you can help your dog become a well-behaved and obedient pal that you can be proud of and take anywhere.

Need a hand to get these commands started or to take what you have to a rock-solid level? Drop me a line now because I have an option to suit every dog, owner, situation and location.

About A New Leash on Life Dog Training

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using positive reinforcement and rewards, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.

So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.

What do you believe in?


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