By Grace Park
Published: 12/15/2020, edited: 10/26/2022
So you have a new puppy. Congrats! You get Fido home, and the reality hits you. You’ll have to teach them everything they need to know — from scratch.
Puppies are a blank slate, and the thought of dog training them can be overwhelming. Teaching commands to dogs may seem like a chore, but it’s not as hard as you may think. Sticking with it is the hardest part. So what are the essential commands you should start with when training a puppy?
"Come" should be first on your list of commands to train your new puppy. This simple command can keep your pup out of trouble and prevent accidents. Reliable recall is one of the most important commands to teach and potentially life-saving. Basic recall is pretty simple to teach, and something dogs will naturally do when you get their attention, but reliable recall is a different story. Reliable recall is when your dog comes to you when you call, distractions or not. This command is something you’ll need to work on from puppyhood into adulthood and practice regularly.
Put your dog on a standard leash and stand about 3 feet away from them. In an encouraging voice, tell your dog to “come”. Most dogs will naturally gravitate towards their pet parents in close proximity. When your pup does, give them a treat. If they don’t automatically come to you, lure them with a treat while using the “come” command. Repeat regularly until your pup comes to you each time you call them.
"Sit" should be the second dog training command since many other commands build on it. This is an incredibly easy command to teach since it’s something dogs naturally do. "Sit" is a handy command for your dog to know since it can promote relaxation and calm them in overstimulating environments.
One strategy for training your dog to sit is to wait until they sit naturally, then click, say, “Good sit,” and give your dog a treat. The clicker will mark the behavior faster than you can give the cue, telling your dog exactly which behavior is the right one. Repeat the click-and-treat routine until your dog starts sitting on command.
We’re not going to lie to you. "Stay" is a tricky command to teach, mainly because it goes against your dog’s instincts to move and interact with the world around them. You may be surprised that to teach “stay”, you’ll need first to give the “release” command. The release word can be anything you want it to be, like “okay” or “go”. Stay is one of those commands that you’ll need to work on all your dog’s life.
With your pup in the dog sitting position, throw a treat on the floor. As your puppy walks to retrieve the treat, use the release command. Do this a few times until your dog stares at you expectantly while they are sitting still. The next step is to use the cue and wait until Fido steps forward to reward. After that, instruct your dog to sit, and then wait longer and longer periods before using the release cue and giving the reward. Finally, add the “stay” command and continue waiting for more extended periods to use the release command. Learn more about training your puppy to sit in our detailed training guide.
Most people think that the “heel” command means your dog is right by your side, following in step with you. But "heel" can be used while in motion or while staying still. Heeling is a huge part of loose-leash walking and leash manners, but it’s often one of the more difficult commands to teach. It may help to practice this command near bedtime since excitable puppies have a hard time sitting still and want to roam.
Stand with your dog sitting calmly beside you on the left side. When Fido sits calmly by your side, give them a treat. Next, command them to “heel” and take a few steps forward, guiding them with a treat at waist height. Click and treat if your dog walks at your same pace and stays near you. Gradually extend your walks and try different settings while practicing the “heel” command. Some dogs find it more challenging to heel in unfamiliar environments. When your dog starts to get the hang of it, you can phase out treats.
"Lay down" builds upon the "sit" command, and like sit, it’s pretty simple to teach since lying down is a natural behavior. "Lay down" is an excellent calming command when your dog is getting too excited or won’t leave something alone.
For this method, your dog will need to know the "sit" command. Instruct your dog to sit. When Fido sits, hold a treat in front of their nose and slowly bring it to the ground and while saying “lay down” Once Fido’s chest makes contact with the floor, click, praise, and treat. We've covered more methods for training your puppy to lie down in our training guide.
"Leave it" is relatively simple to teach, but many dogs struggle with obeying the command even if they know what it means. Teaching your dog to reliably respond to the “leave it” cue is another thing entirely.
One of the best methods for teaching “leave it” is to catch your dog in the act of doing something they shouldn’t. When you do observe your fur-baby doing something undesirable, say, “Leave it,” sternly. When they look at you or turn from their undesirable task, praise and treat them.
"Leave it" and "drop it" are often used interchangeably, but these are two very different commands. "Leave it" is for when a dog is smelling something they shouldn’t be or taking an interest in something you don’t want them to. “Drop it” is for when they have something in their mouth and you want them to put it down. You can use two methods to teach the drop it command: the exchange method and the toy method. For simplicity, we’ll focus on the exchange method. You can learn more about the toy method for teaching “drop it” in our training guide.
For this command, you’ll need your dog’s favorite toy and some high-value treats. Wait until your dog is holding their toy in their mouth, and then say, "Drop it," and hold out a treat. When they drop the toy, say, “Good drop it,” and reward them. It may take some experimenting with different treats and toys to get your dog to “drop it” successfully.
Remember with all commands, consistency is key. The more you work on these essential commands, the more reliable your dog will be. With some patience and a lot of treats, your puppy will be a pro at responding to commands.
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