8 Dog training commands every dog should know

By Kristia Goodnight

An important part of dog ownership is investing time to teach your dog certain actions, known as cues or commands. There are several basic dog training cues that every dog should know. These cues can help you keep your dog safe.

Whether you are a new pet owner or looking to teach your old dog some new tricks, training your dog basic cues like their name, down, stay, walk, leave it, drop it, no, and recall will enrich both of your lives.

How to train a dog

Positive reinforcement training is widely considered the most effective dog training method. It’s also an easy training method, by rewarding only the behaviors you want to encourage and ignoring those you want to limit your dog will catch on quickly. Rewards can include food, treats, games, or praise.

Dogs are individuals and some will be much more motivated by a toss of a ball than a crunchy treat. Work with your dog to find the rewards that they are most motivated by – and be wary of accidentally rewarding unwanted behaviors.

If you are training your dog to not jump up on visitors, but people often reach down to pet them as they jump up, thinking the behavior is cute. This encourages the dog to jump up as they receive positive attention for the action. Instead, ignoring the dog until it is calm or sitting will encourage the desired behavior.

When training a dog, avoid punishment and force. Not only is punishment less effective, but it also damages the relationship with your dog as they associate fear and discomfort with their owner. They will become fearful and less responsive to training attempts.

Keep training sessions brief, consistent, and always end on a positive note. If your dog is struggling with a new cue, go back to one they excel at and end the training session with success. Be patient as your dog learns what you’re asking of them and work within your dog’s limitations. Puppies especially are still developing and need age-appropriate cues.

The most important thing to train your dog

Safety cues are the most important thing you can teach your dog. Safety cues range from easier lessons like your dog learning their name to more difficult tasks like a solid recall.

Training your dog to know their name

A puppy will learn their name quickly, most in one to three days with adequate practice. To teach your dog its name, say the name, and as soon as the dog looks at you mark the behavior with an enthusiastic yes! Or with a clicker (if you use one) and give a reward.

An older dog who is learning a new name will likely need a little more time, up to a few weeks to understand their new name. Be patient and keep the interactions positive.

Train your dog the down cue

The down cue is a solid foundation of the stay cue, and it’s much easier to learn. If your dog knows the sit command, start there. If not, start with them in a standing position.

Bring a high-value treat from your dog's nose to the ground in between their front paws. They will lower their head, following the treat. Continue moving the treat along the ground out from their paws to bring the dog’s body down. As soon as your dog is in position mark it with a bright “yes!” or a click of the clicker and give the treat.

After a few successful rounds, offer a treat from your other hand so the lure isn’t eaten. After your dog is consistently successful at this level, lure them with an empty hand and reward them with the opposite hand. This turns a lure into a hand signal - teaching your dog that when you make the hand signal you’d like them to lie down.

Next, add a verbal cue by saying “Down” as you give the hand signal. With practice, your dog will understand and respond to the verbal cue alone.

Train your dog to stay

The Stay command is useful for your dog’s safety, from stopping them from running into a busy street to waiting patiently while the front door is open. “Stay” can keep your dog safe, but it is challenging for dogs to learn.

Stay” is a two-part command with a start and an end. With a stay word (stay) and a release word (free, release, done) to signal that your dog is free. Choose one word and stick with it. Consistency is everything in training.

To teach stay, ask your dog to sit or down. Then say “stay” followed quickly with your release word and a reward. You can encourage your dog to release by stepping back or doing a little jump to trigger them to move. Repeat the process slightly extending the stay time progressively.

Train your dog to how to walk on a leash

Walking calmly on a leash gives your dog the freedom to come along on family outings more often, enriching their life and yours.

To teach your dog to walk calmly on a leash, first decide how much leash line you would like to give your dog and keep it consistent. Begin walking with your dog in a familiar area with as few distractions as possible. Allow your dog to sniff, look around, and even lie down – anything but pulling.

If your dog pulls at their leash, stop moving immediately and call them back to you. When your dog comes back and is no longer pulling, resume walking. Repeat this process every time your dog pulls, taking care not to jerk their leash. They will learn that pulling equals stopping - which is the last thing they want to do.

If your dog is food motivated, carrying a pocket full of treats, and rewarding ideal walking is also very effective.

Train your dog the leave it cue

The leave it cue is a way to protect your dog from picking something poisonous or otherwise dangerous that they may find interesting or even delicious. To teach leave it, start with a lower value treat. Show your dog the lure treat and place it on the floor, covering it with your hand. Your dog will try to get to the treat, as soon as they stop trying mark and reward.

However, never reward with the lure treat as you want to teach your dog that the item is off-limits totally. Offer a higher value treat from your other hand.

When your dog is successful at consistently controlling their urge to go for the lure treat, upgrade to removing your hand – but be ready to cover again quickly if needed. Do not allow your dog to get the lure treat.

When your dog shows disinterest or restraint in not going for the lure treat, mark, and reward.

When you’re successful at this level upgrade to the same exercise but with you standing. Put your dog on a leash so you can stop your dog from getting to the lure treat. Once your dog can consistently refrain from going for the dropped lure treat, you’re ready to add the verbal cue of saying ‘leave it’. Your dog should have a solid understanding at this point but keep them on the leash for training sessions. Say ‘leave it’ and drop the treat, mark, and reward.

Train your dog the drop it cue

If your dog hasn’t yet mastered ‘leave it, using the drop it cue can get your dog to drop whatever they have in their mouth. To teach drop it, start with a fun game of tug-of-war. After a few moments, let go of the toy and remain unengaged. Your dog will quickly become bored and will drop the toy.

Mark the behavior with a happy “yes!” or with a clicker and immediately offer them a treat. Start up another game of tug. Once your pup is consistently dropping the toy when you let go, add a verbal cue by saying ‘drop it’ as they drop the toy, marking and rewarding the behavior.

With enough practice, your dog will happily trade something unsavory they picked up on your walk for a known high-value treat and praise from their favorite person.

Train your dog no

No is a common human response to unwanted behaviors, and you can teach it to your dog. With plenty of high-value treats, consistency, and patience, teaching your dog ‘no’ is a simple task.

When your dog does something you’d rather they didn’t (say digging in your pile of fresh towels you’re folding) say a firm, but not loud ‘no’. Immediately mark and reward as soon as they stop the behavior. Keep treats on you so that when opportunities arise to practice ‘no’ you are prepared to mark and reward your dog when they understand the cue.

Learning not to do something is more challenging for dogs than learning to do something (like sit). Take care not to yell or become angry when teaching the no command. Dogs cannot learn when they are afraid, and it will only set back your training. Have patience and stay consistent.

Train your dog the recall cue

Teaching and maintaining a strong recall can prevent accidents and even runaway dogs. To teach recall, you’ll need a reward that your dog finds irresistible (think chicken or cheese) and a low-distraction environment.

First, show your dog a treat or toy (whichever they’re more motivated by), and as soon as they begin coming to you, mark and reward them. After a few rounds, upgrade to adding a verbal cue (come, home, etc) only when your dog is moving towards you.

Slowly increase the difficulty by asking your dog to come before offering the treat or toy. Always mark and reward with a high-value treat. Using special treats for this cue only will help motivate your dog to always choose to come to you.

Once you've mastered this level, begin adding distance and then distractions. Move from your home to your yard, and then out in public. Slowly work up in difficulty so your dog is set up for success.

Even if your dog has a perfect record with their recall, an up-to-date ID tag and microchip are always recommended. If your dog ever becomes lost, the Lifetime Protection Membership Plan gives you the tools you need to find your dog.

The benefits of a trained dog

The benefits of a well-trained dog are limitless. Training your dog is a way to communicate in ways your dog can understand, creates a stronger connection with your dog, and provides mental stimulation (leading to less destructive behaviors).

Whether you choose to do DIY training, join an in-person training class, or opt into online training classes like Petcademy - included in the Lifetime Protection Membership Plus. Training your dog is one of the best things you can do for them, teaching them the skills to live their best life.