That question caught me off guard. Personally, I think you should teach your dog commands that are specific to your dog. If you ride around a lot, your dog needs to know car safety. If you do more walking than riding, your dog needs to know good sidewalk manners. And so on. But the question got me wondering if there are any commands that I think every single dog ought to know. And so I did a little digging, and it turns out that most dog experts agree on a rough list of commands that most dogs need to know to keep them safe. I chose the 13 that I most agree with to share with you here today.
(1) Training Methods
Before we talk about the commands, I do want to mention that I’m a proponent of positive training methods. That means doing things like clicker training or using treats to train your dog to associate commands with good feelings. I would recommend this post I wrote a long while back if you don’t understand what positive training is. It does not mean that you are taking a passive role and always rewarding your dog. It does mean that you aren’t punishing your dog for mistakes, but rather making them want to get it right.
Now let’s move on to the commands:
(2) Their Name
A dog’s name is definitely a command to them, although it may represent a wide variety of actual cues. Dogs can pick up on your tone, so if you say their name in a warning tone, they may freeze and look at you; whereas if you say their name in that cute baby voice you use when you’re alone, they may wag their tail and try to play. But I think it’s important that dogs know that their name at least merits looking at you to see what you want.
Teaching your dog to sit can be useful in so many ways. It’ll get them to stop jumping on someone, it’ll get them to sit down safely in the car so you aren’t distracted, it can get them to stop pacing when they are anxious, and more. This command can also be important for the safety of people around you and your dog as well, and it’s one of the first things I teach any dog I ever have to train.
(4) Lie Down
To me, lie down is the natural next step from sit. Often a good way to teach this command is to have your dog sit, and then take the treat they would have earned for sitting to the ground and make them come to it. Lying down offers just as many purposes as sit, and can keep your dog safe in a lot of situations. It’s a good way to keep your dog safe at the dog park especially. If your dog is starting to get into a rumble and you aren’t sure if a fight is about to break out, having your dog lie down puts him in a submissive posture, and can mollify the other dog.
This command is extremely important, for any dog owner. You want your dog to respond to this one 100% without fail, every single time. Having your dog understand that coming back to you when you say “come” or “heel” or whatever you choose, is vital for keeping them safe. But it can be a tricky one to enforce when your dog is far away or distracted, so it takes some extra training time and a very rewarding reward. You may want to save your most amazing treats for this command only so he always wants to follow it.
Stay is another one that I think is very important, especially if you have toleave home to go to work. Putting your dog in the stay position doesn’t just teach him to stay still, although that is the main point. It also teaches your dog that you will return if you do it right. Put your dog in stay, leave his line of sight, and then return. Slowly add more time to how long you are gone, up to just a few minutes, and he’ll get the idea – my human comes back after I stay. This can be a big help for dogs who are anxious a lot but don’t love wearing thunder shirts or other anxiety comforts.
(7) Leave It
This one is important for any dog that likes to go exploring with his nose. You don’t want your dog eating whatever dead thing he discovers on your walks, just like you don’t want him in your trash or stealing food off your counter. Having him “Leave It” teaches him to ignore whatever he was focused on immediately. You’ll need to offer him something else to focus on, so I would suggest turning this command into something similar to “come”. When he “leaves it”, he should come to you for a pat or a treat or some other kind of attention. This can also be important if you live in a busy area where your dog will be around well-meaning but ignorant strangers. If they try to offer your dog food that he can’t have, for example, you can tell him to Leave It to eliminate the immediate concern, and then educate the person.
(8) Drop It
Dropping something out of his mouth can be hard to teach a dog,but it may save his life more than once. You don’t want your dog choking on something, tearing up a child’s toy, carrying something gross into your house, or eating something that could harm him. In addition, the “Drop It” command can also be used to help a dog who gets super focused play fetch a little easier. He’ll drop the ball so that you don’t have to fight it away from him for the next toss. Once again, this command is going to be hard for a dog, because their natural instinct is to explore with their mouths. You’ve got to make whatever you reward him with more exciting than the new thing he has found.
This is kind of an odd one to some people, but let me explain. Sometimes you don’t need your dog to totally heel back to you, and sometimes you don’t need him to leave it – sometimes you just need him to pause for a second till you catch up, assess the situation, or are ready for him to keep doing whatever he’s doing. A good example is if your dog gets a little ahead of you on a hike. You want him to “Wait” so that you can catch up with him before he goes bounding off again. Another good example is if you want to get a good picture of your dog when he’s doing something cute – you can get him to pause for just a second with this command so you can snap a picture. (Or you can just get one of these handy thingsso you don’t have this problem.)
(10) Walk Beside You
All dogs need to be taken for walks to get regular exercise. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are walking on city sidewalks – you may live somewhere where you can just go for a walk around your property, or hike in the woods. But regardless of where you walk, or if you use a leash or not, you do need to teach your dog to walk beside you on command. They can go and explore if you want them to, but when you say the command (I use “To Me”, but you might use “Heel” or something else), they need to fall into step beside you. It’s important that they are beside you, not in front or behind, for several reasons:
- Walking in front of you gives them control, and the entire point of the command is that you need to control where they are at that moment.
- Walking behind you does not allow you to see them so you can keep them safe.
- Walking beside you means that you’ll take up the same space, which can be important when you’re trying to maneuver around obstacles or squeeze through crowds.
(11) Automatically Sit at Street Crossings
This one is important if you walk in a city or around traffic at all, and the goal of this command is to teach your dog not to need the command. You need to associate sitting with city corners as much as possible. One way to do this is just to teach your dog to sit any time he is on the leash and you are not moving. So if you stop to answer your phone, he doesn’t just stop, he also sits. If you stop at the street crossing, he sits. The biggest reason for this is to add an extra second before he can get distracted and go barreling into traffic. If he’s standing but waiting, he can take off running right then. If he’s sitting, he has to stand up first, and that gives you more time to react.
The “Focus” command can be used for a lot of different things. I think it’s important because it’s a good stepping stone to other commands. If your dog is trying to learn a new trick and keeps getting distracted, you can tell him to “Focus” and get him back on track. You can also use it to keep your dog focused on you when in a crowd or when he’s anxious – that’s a good way to stop your dog from doing something unpredictable in a new situation.
(13) Not to Beg
This last one is important if your dog is often around people who don’t know any better than to feed him human food. Teach your dog something like “No Beg” and connect that command to the act of begging for food, specifically. He’ll get the hint and stop asking for treats – which reduces the risk that someone will give him something dangerous. While it’s often pretty cute to see dogs begging, think about the fact that it can harm his health, and also remember that as a good dog owner, you give him all the food and treats he needs to be healthy and satisfied.Overtime, this command may even be phased out as your dog learns just not to do this behavior at all.