How To Teach Your Dog 3 Basic Commands

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Did you recently get a new dog and now you’re looking to teach her some basic commands?

You’ve come to the right place.

Not only are commands important for making sure your pup is safe, confident and secure, but the entire training process is also a great bonding experience for you both.

In order to find out which commands are the most important for your dog to know, The Dodo spoke with Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City — and she also shared some insights and tips on how to teach them to your dog.

Below you’ll find out how to teach sit, down and stay — and Semel may have thrown in an extra fun one *just* for you.

Is a dog too old to learn a new trick?

According to Semel, the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is totally bogus.

“No dog is too young or old for some fun command training sessions,” Semel said. “As long as your dog is not restricted by any health problems, you can get started right now!”

What to know before you begin teaching your dog commands

“All dogs are different,” Semel said. “There is no set way to teach commands that will work for every dog on the block.” 

Because of this, it’s up to you to discover what works best for your individual dog in regard to the motivation you use, length of training sessions and how quickly you progress through each new skill.

This means that if you have two dogs, you might notice that one picks up on learning new commands faster than the other — or even that one dog gets more restless faster. These sorts of nuances will only come as you progress through training your dog(s).

“When you start out training a new command, always keep it simple for your dog,” Semel recommended. “Start out with an easy skill, in a familiar place to your dog and with no other distractions present.”

According to Semel, it’s important for you to always provide clear, consistent and timely feedback to your dog. “It’s amazing how much your dog will look to you for cues and guidance. Ensure that you are relaying the right message to your dog in a timely and consistent fashion,” Semel said.

What you’ll need to teach dog commands

You’ll only need a few things for basic obedience training: you, your dog, treats and possibly a clicker.

It’s best to get small treats — or even kibble — so that you aren’t giving your pup too many snacks for your intense “sit-down-stay” days.

If you’re looking to use a clicker — which is basically just a cute little device that makes a “click!” sound to help reinforce to your dog that they’ve done what you’ve asked — you can get one easily from Petco in store or online, like this one for $2.99. Boom!

The best time to teach your dog a new command

“Generally speaking, you are better off not training tricks immediately after feeding your dog, when he/she is bursting with energy,” Semel advised. “It’s ideal if your dog is in a somewhat calm state and ready to focus on the task at hand — I know, this is not easy!”

Once you’re all set and ready to go, here are the three basic commands, with steps recommended by Semel:

Command #1: Sit

1. With a piece of food cupped in your hand, put your hand directly in front of your dog’s eyes.

2. Slowly move your hand toward your dog’s forehead and then above her head.

3. You want your dog to look at and follow the food in your hand without moving her feet. When her head goes back, her butt should go down.

4. Say the word “Yes” (or click) when her butt hits the ground and she has done a sit!

5. When she is regularly sitting using this “lure” technique, take the food out of your hand but still use the same motion to get her to sit. Say “yes” and give her a treat from your other hand.

“This teaches your dog to give you behaviors (sit, in this case) without you having to bribe her with food,” Semel said. “It also teaches her to tolerate a short period of waiting for the reward.”

Command #2: Down

1. Get down on one knee in front of your dog.

2. Put a treat in your fist and hold your index finger out.

3. Put your index finger in front of your dog. You may need to put your dog in a (silent) sit first — meaning you don’t verbally say “sit,” you just perform the “sit” motion. Then put your hand in toward your dog’s chest, and move it slowly down to the floor. Then move your hand and index finger slowly toward your own body as your dog follows it. She should follow you and lie down.

4. Do not allow her to have the treat until she is fully down. Once she is down, mark it with a “yes” (and a clicker if you have one) and open your hand and allow her to eat the treat.

5. If she will not go down, you should “shape” this behavior by using the marker signal (saying “yes” or clicking) if her elbows bend or she gets part of the way down. Gradually get her to lie farther down each time.

6. When she’s consistently going down, use an empty hand, but don’t let her know there’s no treat.

7. Once she’s down, mark with “yes,” show her that your hand is empty, praise her, and then give her a treat from your pocket. This helps teach her patience and willingness to work without food being present.

8. Next, start changing your body posture little by little each time you give the command with your hand until you are in a standing position.

9. Introduce the command word (“down”) by saying it each time you give the signal. This can be done once you are in standing position and the dog is doing the command by following your hand signal 90 percent of the time.

Command #3: Stay

1. Remain close to your dog and have her “sit” or “down,” whichever command she’s stronger at following.

2. Show your dog the palm of your hand as a hand signal (do not use the verbal command yet).

3. Count to “two Mississippi” (in your head) and then mark with YES or CLICK, and treat.

4. After three successful performances, stretch the count to “four Mississippi”

5. If your dog doesn’t stay for “four Mississippi” then go back to two, or three. You will slowly work up to 15-second-long stays.

6. If your dog gets up before the predetermined amount of time, make a discouraging noise (like “Eh Eh”) and turn your back for three seconds. Then try again but for a shorter count so she can succeed.

7. When you are reliably getting 20-second-long “stays,” begin adding the verbal command (“stay”) at the same time you give the hand signal.

Learning how to give paw

Now that your dog knows some basic commands, it’s time for her to learn one of the easier fun tricks: paw!

Here’s how it’s done, according to Semel:

1. Put your dog in a sit position.

2. Tap gently behind one of your dog’s front kneecaps until she lifts it off the ground. Say “yes” or click and give her a treat.

3. Now, as you do that, swiftly put your hand under your dog’s paw as she lifts it off the ground. Say “yes” or click and give her a treat.

4. Repeat five to 10 times.

5. Now try just leaving your hand in that same spot next to her paw without tapping it. If she does the action — JACKPOT (which means just a bunch of extra treats *heart eyes*). If not, repeat step 3 five to 10 more times and then try again.

6. Once your dog is doing this consistently with your palm out, add a verbal cue like “low five” or “paw” as she’s performing it.

7. Start weaning out treats by using an intermittent schedule of reinforcement — e.g., every other time gets a treat until you wean them away.

Once you have your basic commands down, you’ll be able to build and layer into more advanced commands and tricks like heel, roll over or whatever else you can dream of!

Like “Get me a beer!” — promise, it’s not impossible.

Just remember to be patient, always use only positive reinforcement, and give your pup plenty of breaks if you start to notice her getting restless.

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