Whether you’ve just got a new puppy, a new adult dog, or a dog you’ve had for a while, it is paramount that they know four basic commands: Sit, lay down, come, and stay. These four commands are the foundation for you being able to control your dog in the future, and even teach them tricks. “Sit” and “lay down” can promote calm positive behavior, while “come” and “stay” could save your dog’s life.
First steps in dog training
There a few concepts to understand first when starting your dog training. These are clicker training, inside out training, and lure training. Clicker training is using a clicker to mark a behavior that you liked. It tells the dog “I like that. You will get a treat for that”. If you do not have a clicker you can use a marker word like “yes” or “good”. Dogs do not understand clickers from birth, so will first need to shape your dog for clicker training. Inside-out training is when you get the dog to do the behavior because it is something they want to do. Let me explain. If you want a dog to sit you let them get into the sit position because they want to do it. The opposite would be pushing your dog into the sit position. They aren’t sitting because they want to they are sitting because you made them. Both methods will get the dog to sit but inside-out training builds a more positive bond with the dog. So how do I get the dog to do what I want on its own? This is where lure training comes in. Lure training is when you use a lure, such as food, to move the dog to the position the want, and rewarding them when they do it. Generally dogs are food motivated and this is what we will use to get our dogs to do what we want.
With those concepts covered let’s start with our training.
To start training for sit, take some food or a treat and place it in front of their mouth but do not give it to them. Then, slowly bring the food up and over their head. Your dog’s natural instinct will be to sit down. Once their rear hits the ground, click or say your marker word, and give them the treat.
Leave out any hand signals and verbal commands for now. Just practice getting them to follow the lure. Once they have that down, start saying “sit” and then lure them into sit. Make sure that there is a slight delay between the command and action. This will help the dog build and association between the two. Continue practicing this.
Now it is time to phase out the lure. It is not realistic nor desired to have to lure them to sit every time. To phase out the lure, move your hand further from their head. Move it back slowly and start transitioning to your hand signal. In no time they will be sitting like a good dog.
For lay down we will move our treat down from their mouth to the ground, and allowing them to lay down on their own. Your dog may be resistant to laying down. If your dog is trying to get the food while standing up, instead of just rewarding them for completely laying down, try rewarding them if they are moving in the right direction. Lowering their head, bending their legs. Progress slowly and be patient.
Now we will incorporate the command. You can choose whatever word you want. I have heard people say “lay down”, “down”, and “platz” (German for place). Generally you want to use a word that is short, so I recommend “down” or “platz”. Just like with sit, have a delay between the command and the lure.
When your dog is consistently laying down, it is time to phase out the lure. Move your hand incrementally away from their nose and transition to your hand signal.
Teaching your dog to come consistently is hard. Your dog may think you’re interesting indoors and come when you ask, but when they are outdoors you are nowhere near as interesting as that squirrel. The key to a consistent “come” is establishing to your dog that life is much better when they are with you. If you call your dog to scold them for something they did, they won’t think they are being scolded for peeing in the house, they’ll think it’s for coming to you, and they will fear hearing their name. So how do we get our dogs to consistently come to us?
Start small by working with them in a place with few distractions. Keep in mind you want your dog to think that being with you is the best place on earth, so provide them with treats or their favorite toy. When your dog is roaming around call their name, and when they look at you get excited. Excitement attracts dogs. As they come to you, praise them, and when they reach you give them a treat and play with them. Come is not something that you work on for a little bit, it will have to be worked on every day and outside of normal training times.
When you can get your dog to come to you in a low distraction place, move to a place that has a few more sounds and repeat the steps above. If you are outside and not in a fenced area, put a long lead on your dog to allow for them to move, while keeping them safe. Keep increasing the difficulty by adding more distractions, but don’t increase it too fast. We want our dog to succeed. With time and patience, your dog will come to you even when that squirrel is running through the yard
Puppies especially love to be with their people and some older dogs are just like Velcro, but sometimes we need them to stay. To do this get your dog to sit or lay down. Say “stay” and hold up a hand (I use an open hand like I’m a traffic guard telling a car to stop), move back a couple of inches, then quickly return and reward your dog for not moving. Slowly increase the distance and time. Mix it up. Dogs are great at establishing patterns, so if you reward every 5 seconds and then switch to 7 seconds, your dog will move at 5 seconds. Just like with come, this needs to be practiced regularly. Be patient and your dog will stay when you are 30 feet away.
If your dog is really struggling to stay, put a leash on them and tie them to a table. This will keep them in once place and allow you some needed control.
That’s how you teach your dog four basic commands. Consistency, patience, and positive energy are the keys of a good dog trainer. If you want to learn more about training explore the website to find more articles or sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on all things dog training.