Teaching Your Dog To Master Basic Commands

picture of a woman who trains with a young husky on a dog training field

Key Points

  • Start with the basic commands like sit, stay, and leave it.

  • Use positive reinforcement training to teach your dog.

  • Consistency in training is key because not having a set routine means your dog doesn't know what you expect from them.

  • Train in short bursts of three to five minutes for training success.

A piece of food falls onto the kitchen floor. Suddenly, you're in a standoff. Who gets there first? You or your dog?

The Western movie theme plays — doodle doodle do, da dooooo doooooo — and before you know it, your dog is scarfing down the fallen food.

Every time something falls from the counter, it doesn't have to be a cinematic experience.

Your dog needs to understand commands to keep them safe. A well-behaved dog is at a lower risk of getting hurt.

It isn't just about food falling off the counter. Dogs that bolt out the door when it opens risk getting hurt by running into traffic. Basic commands are the fundamentals of the cool tricks your dog can do.

Pups have to get the basics down before they start rehearsing for the lead in the next Lassie reboot.

Man trails dog on an outdoor trail

Start With Basic Commands

Commands are a way of communicating with your pup. They help your dog learn the rules and what you expect of them. Commands don't have to be verbal. Many dogs benefit from hand signals paired with verbal commands. Dogs read our body language and pick up on simple hand signals.

The average dog learns around 165 human words. This is on par with the average two-year-old. Like a child, they need to learn what these words mean.

Start with the basics: sit, stay, and leave it. These three commands are the foundations for many other tricks.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Before starting, be aware of three key elements: positive reinforcement, consistency, and short training sessions.

The foundation of training is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding a dog to encourage the behavior you want. It is like going to work and getting a paycheck.

Avoid punishments like yelling. Punishments cause your dog to become confused and unsure about what to do. As with a child, you must be patient when training your dog. Punishment can result in fearful or aggressive dog behavior.

Patience goes a long way in helping your new puppy or adopted dog learn how to behave.

Reinforcements are anything your dog likes. Most people use food for training. Things like treats, or even just your dog's kibble, make great training tools.

A toy they love that they only get to play with as a reward also works.

Most dogs are "people pleasers." They want you to be happy. Your dog needs to know that praise is good. Praise means you're pleased with them, and they get more of it when they do what you ask.

Line-up of dogs in a training session

Be Consistent

Consistency isn't just helpful in your training journey. It helps your dog feel comfortable and at ease with how things run in your home.

Dogs react negatively when they don't feel in control. Dogs feel less stress if you trust them and adhere to a consistent structure at home.

For owners of rescue dogs that might have past trauma, a routine puts the dog's mind at ease. There is nothing unexpected with consistency in training. Knowing when it's time for feeding, training, and playing creates a confident dog.

A calm dog is a happy dog.

When you create your dog's routine, include training, mental stimulation, exercise, and downtime. Dogs need time to decompress from their day, just like humans do.

You must be consistent in your routine and how you react to your dog. If you react differently each time, the dog doesn't know what's coming next.

Dog trainer works with two dogs

Calming Dog Ad

Train in Short Sessions

Never have a training session longer than three to five minutes. Yes, that is a short training session, but that is the sweet spot — especially for young dogs.

Ideally, end the session before your dog loses interest. When you start training, no matter your dog's age, start in 30 to 60-second bursts. Slowly increase the duration of training time.

Short training sessions allow your dog to stay focused without distractions and keep their brain engaged.

As your dog gets older or used to training, increase these sessions to a maximum of 15 minutes. Anything more and the training success rate goes down.

In this case, less really is more.

Dog trainer has dog sitting at her side

Add Distractions Gradually

Avoiding all distractions is impossible. Control what goes on at your own home, but realize you have very little say about the rest of the world.

When you start training, having a distraction-free environment is critical to success. "Gradual distraction training" is the art of adding distractions slowly.

The trick is to start with small distractions after you've introduced the basics. For example, if your dog has difficulty mastering the stay command, put the treat at their nose. When they "stay," move it a few inches away. Slowly increase the distance as they learn "stay" means "stay."

If your dog ignores you in favor of the distraction, you must reduce the distractions again. If your dog ignores you, you must stop that behavior before it becomes a habit.

Reward them immediately every time your dog successfully obeys a command.

Don't lose patience if it feels like it is taking forever. Training requires patience. Stay at it in short bursts daily to keep on top of gradual distraction training.

Dog extends paw to trainer

Seek Professional Help if Needed

Not every dog needs professional dog training, but many dogs and owners do. Working out where to start is difficult if you're new to training. Talking to an expert is the best way to learn.

Some dog behaviors need a professional. You need professional dog training if your dog snarls, snips, or growls when you try to get close to their toys. This dangerous behavior leads to someone getting bit if not corrected.

A dog that bites is a dog that ends up feared and unable to be a family dog.

Separation anxiety in dogs is another sign you need to see a professional. A trainer helps you work out a routine to keep your dog from getting anxious.

A trainer not only trains the dog but also trains you as the owner. Having the tools to help your anxious dog makes it easier for you and your dog.

If your dog is mean to other dogs, immediately get a trainer. Your dog doesn't have to be BFFs with every dog, but they absolutely can't be aggressive.

A trainer teaches your dog to be safe and calm around other animals.

Practice Every Day

Training your pup takes time and patience. Keep the training short and sweet. The moment you feel yourself getting frustrated, stop training. Being upset only complicates matters.

Remember, your pup is learning something new for the first time. It takes patience to teach those new lessons. Do not beat yourself up if your dog doesn't get it on the first try. Just try again.

How many times did you stumble through "Run, Spot, run. See Spot run. Spot can run fast" before you finally learned to read?

Practice makes perfect, and that is why daily practice exists. The old saying, "if you don't use it you lose it" is true even in dogs. If you don't practice their training, they forget it.

A little thing like putting your dog in a sit-and-stay position while you get their dinner counts as a daily practice. These little things add up to training success.

Dog owner embraces dog with training session

Don't Give Up

Cesar Millan, one of the top trainers in the United States, says, "I believe a calm dog is a happy, obedient dog that won't get into trouble."

Knowing the basics makes your dog safer, but training is not always easy. It takes work, dedication, and consistency in training to get the desired results. Have as close to a distraction-free environment as possible.

Once you have the basics down, the rest is easy! The fun tricks and commands that come after learning to sit, stay, and leave it make training worth it. Take it in short bursts of time, do something every day, and don't be too proud to ask for professional help if you need it. You don't have to train your dog on your own.

For more information on training tools, check out BreedExpert for tips and recommendations for your new pup.

Was this article helpful?