6 basic commands to teach your dog

Find out how to teach your dog basic commands, from ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ to ‘Down’ and ‘Quiet’, with expert training tips from Petplan dog behaviourist Nick Jones.

Teaching your dog some basic commands is an important and rewarding experience for you both. It’s an opportunity to build a strong, trusting relationship with your pet, provide them with mental stimulation and aid their social development. And it’s also the first step in dog-obedience training, giving you the tools to help communicate with, and control, your pet and keep them safe in countless situations.

A puppy can generally start to learn simple commands, such as ‘Sit’ or ‘Down’, from around eight weeks of age. The sooner your dog has a basic understanding of how to follow instructions, the better! But equally, it’s never too late to try teaching an older dog something new. The following basic dog-training commands are a great starting point.

The ‘Sit’ command is a good place to start when it comes to everyday obedience training. As with any training exercise, you’ll need to reward your dog for demonstrating the correct behaviour, usually with a treat. Just make sure that any treats come out of their usual daily calorie intake. If your dog is not particularly motivated by food, try using a favourite toy instead, or giving them some affection – whatever turns the training into a positive experience.

Hold a treat above your dog’s nose, and lift your hand up over their head towards the back of their neck. Hopefully, this should encourage your dog to sit down, as they try to keep the treat in view. As soon as your dog has sat down, say ‘Sit’, and give them the treat. For a more in-depth look at this, check out our step-by-step video guide to teaching a puppy to sit.

Teaching the sit command

If you repeat and reinforce this training exercise regularly, your dog will soon learn to associate the desired action with a rewarding outcome, and the right command word. Within a few days, many dogs will be sitting on command.

Once your dog has mastered the ‘Sit’ command, you can take it further and teach them to ‘Stay’. First, tell your dog to ‘Sit’. Then, hold up a flat, open palm in front of their face – close, but not within easy sniffing distance – and say ‘Stay’.

Slowly take a step back from your dog, repeating the ‘Stay’ command in a calm, firm voice, for a couple of seconds. If your dog stays put, step towards them again, and reward them with a treat or a bit of fuss. Returning to your dog, rather than calling them over to you, encourages them to remain steady in one place.

Teaching the stay command

If you find that your dog immediately follows you when you step back, try leaning back and holding your body away from them, while repeating the ‘Stay’ command and hand signal. Then lean back towards them again, and give them the treat. If it continues to be tricky to get your dog to stay put, it may be helpful to enlist another family member or friend to keep them on a lead and prevent them from following you.

Once you’ve managed to get your dog to stay in one place, even just for a couple of seconds, you should gradually increase the amount of time they need to stay put before you give them the treat. Soon, they should learn that their patience will be rewarded.

‘Come’ is the most useful basic command to teach your dog, as it’s the first step towards being able to call them back when you’re out and about. To get started at home, simply call your dog over to you, saying ‘Come’. To make yourself as interesting as possible, use an enthusiastic and welcoming tone of voice, crouch down to their level, or hold out your arms to them. If your dog comes over to you, immediately reward them for their obedience.

Teaching the come command

Teaching your dog to ‘Come’ when you’re in the same room together, without any other distractions, is the first building block of successful recall training. Once you’ve practised this and you’re confident that your dog will ‘Come’ on command, you can gradually start to call them to you across longer distances, and in situations where there are more distractions, such as in the garden or out on walks. Always reward your dog for obeying, however long it takes.

Teaching your dog the ‘Down’ command is effectively a further development of ‘Sit’. Once they’re in a sitting position, bring the food treat right down to floor level in front of them. You should be able to get your dog to follow the treat downwards, until they’re lying flat on their belly. As soon as they successfully lie down, say ‘Down’, and give them the treat. See our video guide to the ‘Down’ command for more pointers.

Teaching the down command

You could teach your dog some basic tricks by elaborating on the ‘Down’ training exercise and using the treat to manoeuvre them wherever you want them to go. For example, if your dog is small enough, you could encourage them to follow the treat between chair legs, or to crawl through the crook of your knee when you’re sitting on the floor. Or you could get them to slide forwards on their belly when they’re in the down position. Once your dog has successfully carried out the desired action, use your chosen command word and give them their well-deserved treat – and plenty of praise!

Teaching the trick command

‘Quiet’ and ‘Speak’ can be fun commands to teach your dog in tandem, and ‘Quiet’ can be one of the most useful commands of all. If your dog is already quite noisy, however, you might want to think twice about training them to ‘Speak’ (ie bark)! And it’s always a good idea to teach your dog the ‘Quiet’ command first.

To do so, you’ll need to create a situation where your dog is barking. Some dogs bark far more readily than others, but most owners know how to elicit a vocal response from their pet – whether that means showing them a treat until they’re excited enough to bark, or getting someone to knock on the front door!

Teaching the hush command

Once your dog’s barking pauses (even for a couple of seconds), praise them and give them a treat. Practise this, slowly lengthening the amount of time your dog needs to remain quiet before you hand over the treat.

Once your dog realises that they need to stop barking to get their paws on a treat, you can add the command word, ‘Quiet’, while they’re keeping silent. This should be delivered in a calm, non-shouty but firm tone of voice that won’t further excite them. It may also be helpful to have someone else present to keep your dog on a lead while you’re training them to be quiet, to ensure you have calm control at all times.

You can practise the ‘Quiet’ command whenever your dog is barking. But as ever, it’s best to start with controlled, distraction-free training sessions at home until your dog has mastered the basic skill. Once they have done so, ‘Quiet’ is a very useful command in many situations, so be sure to practise it regularly! And bear in mind that if you’re concerned about how much your dog is barking and want to teach them to stop, you may need a training routine that addresses the underlying triggers of excessive barking.

Once your dog understands the ‘Quiet’ command, you can also teach them to ‘Speak’. Again, you’ll need to create a situation where your dog would naturally bark. When they do so, say ‘Speak’ in an upbeat, encouraging tone that lets them know it’s OK to make a noise; then reward and praise them. You could accompany the command word ‘Speak’ with an encouraging hand signal, such as flashing your hand from a closed fist to a spread palm, to provide an extra cue.

Teaching the speak command

With practice and patience, you should be able to use the ‘Speak’ command to get your dog to bark, and the ‘Quiet’ command to get them to stop again.

Always follow these golden rules for success when you’re teaching your dog basic commands:

One move at a time

Don’t overwhelm your dog by trying to teach them several basic commands in one session. Only move on to your next command once your pet has got the hang of the first one.

Little and often

As we all know, our dogs can easily lose concentration. Get into the habit of carrying out short, frequent training sessions. Aim for sessions of between five and 10 minutes in length, two or three times per day.

Keep the noise down

Keep noise levels and other distractions to a minimum when you’re starting to train your dog. Once they’ve mastered each command, you can then practise those skills in noisier or busier locations.

Be consistent

Always stick to using the same command words and signals – and make sure everyone else in the household does the same – to avoid confusing your dog.

Consider a clicker

You might like to try using clicker training to help teach your dog basic commands. Think of the clicker as if it was a camera – as soon as your dog follows the command, click to ‘capture’ that moment, so they’ll associate the click with the desired behaviour.

Keep calm and carry on training

Basic dog-obedience training is important, but it should be an enjoyable experience for you and your pet. Don’t get irritated or show frustration if they’re slow to get the hang of it. Reward and praise good behaviour, and encourage your dog to try again if they get it wrong.

Repeat and reinforce

You should recap your dog’s training on a regular basis, to keep the commands fresh in their mind. Practising basic dog-training commands like ‘Stay’ and ‘Come’ will help get your dog into good habits, and keep them under control in stressful situations where they might otherwise run off. And that’s good news for both of you!

Do you have any foolproof tips for training your dog? Share them on Instagram or X with the tag #PethoodStories.

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