Teaching Your Dog The Five Common Commands

Person telling dog to sit

Teaching Your Dog The Five Common Commands

No one wants to be around a dog with bad manners, including their owner.  If you can train your dog to follow just 5 basic commands, you will bring peace to a potentially chaotic living situation with your furry friend.  More than anything, training your dog requires a ton of repetition and patience. Throw in a healthy dose of consistency and positive reinforcement, and you’re well on your way to having an enjoyable companion.

The 5 Common Commands are:

  1. Sit
  2. Down
  3. Stay
  4. Heel
  5. Come

Different Types of Rewards You Can Use:

  1. Treats
  2. Verbal Praise
  3. Physical Praise
  4. Toys

Start with tiny treats that your dog loves.  Retailers sell bags of training treats, like Blue Buffalo Blue Bits, that are mini-bites for capturing you pup’s attention and motivating her to try to get the reward.  Why tiny treats? Most people forget to cut back on their dog’s daily calorie intake when adding a large portion of training treats into the mix.  You will be repeating the action many, many times, and giving your dog large treats for training can lead to serious weight gain. You also want to maintain your dog’s attention, and if she has to stop to chew up the treat or lie down to eat it, she will lose focus on the task at hand.

Another option is to buy a fresh-food roll, like RedBarn Naturals Dog Food Roll, and cut it into small cubes.  You can cut as much as you need to the size that you’d like and store the rest in the fridge until your ready for more at your next training session.

The treat that our dog was without a doubt the most crazy about was DOGSWELL Duck Grillers (specifically the duck flavor).  We would cut them up into really small bites and Buddy couldn’t get enough of these.  He would do anything for them!

It’s also important to note that food-motivated training should be done before mealtime.  If your dog has just eaten a meal, she may completely lose her motivation for food rewards.

To make it easier on yourself, you might like a treat bag to hang at your waist, like the Chuckit Treat Tote that simply clips onto your waistband, or the Hero Dog Treat Training Pouch that can be strapped around your waist for added stability.  This way, you’re not trying to hold all the little training bites with one hand while attempting to manage your dog with the other.

Treat pouch

A Word On Patience (and Frustration!)

Training really does require you to practice with your dog over and over again.  Don’t enter into a training session if you’re already frazzled from your day or feeling agitated.  Getting mad at your dog for not following the commands only leads to confusion for your dog. It may cause some dogs to get excited (and not in a good way), or cause others to become fearful.  Either way, you will not achieve your goal. If you reach this point, stop immediately and come back to it later when you’re in a better frame of mind.

Even training for 5 minutes at a time will keep you on the path to success.  If you and your dog are only up for short bursts of training, no problem. Try to do it a couple of times a day.  Do it while you’re in the kitchen waiting for a pot to heat up, or when your standing in front of your sink waiting for the hot water to run.  This practice is just like practicing anything else in life. Every minute adds up and builds on top of the last, reinforcing the behavior. The key is to make it a positive experience for your dog so she is motivated to keep pleasing you.

Clicker Training – Taking The Emotion Out Of It

If you are not interested in clicker training, then don’t worry about this.  But, if you are a person who is finding yourself easily frustrated by the training process or quick to anger if your dog doesn’t seem to be getting it, you may want to consider clicker training.  It’s hard for me to believe that for a dog, a little metallic click can equate to an exuberant “Good Boy!,” but that is the case.

Clicker Training uses a little handheld training aid (a “clicker”) with a metallic tongue that clicks when you press it.  You use the clicker to mark correct behavior, signaling to your dog that she has gotten it right, and that a reward will immediately follow.  You do not use multiple clicks, and you never use the clicker as a way of getting your dog’s attention. The single click simply means, “Yes, that is the behavior I want!,” and your dog knows she has earned a treat as her reward.

You can do something as inexpensive as buying a PetSafe Clik-R and finding how-to resources online, or you can get detailed instructions with a book like Clicking With Your Dog: Step-byStep in Pictures for in-depth instructions on clicker training and dog training in general.

Here’s a short, descriptive video on getting started with clicker training if this has piqued your interest:


Having had a number of dogs in my lifetime, I personally think “Sit” is the easiest place to start.  It can be achieved in the shortest amount of time and is a quick win.

To begin, stand in front of your dog with your dog facing you.  Hold the treat just above and in front of your dog’s nose so she is looking slightly up.  Say “Sit,” and slowly move the treat back and over her head. As she follows the treat with her eyes and nose, her head should come up, causing her butt to go down into the sitting position.  Once your dog sits, give her verbal praise with “Good,” or “Yes,” and immediately give her the treat.  If, while moving the treat back and over your dog’s head, she starts to walk backwards, gently and calmly reach back and press down on her rump so she can understand what you’re looking for.  Again, give her the treat and verbal praise. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

For those f you who are visual learners, here’s a short video to help get you started:


Once your dog has mastered “Sit,” the “Down” command is a natural continuation of the process.  With your dog sitting, hold the treat in front of her nose and say “Down” while lowering the treat to the floor between your dog’s paws.  When your dog’s elbows hit the floor, her back end should follow. Once your dog is lying down all the way, immediately give verbal praise with “Good” or “Yes,” and give her the treat.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  

Check out this short video on teaching your dog to lie down:

Before we move on to “Stay”…

The trainers we’ve worked with in the past never really worried about teaching our dog “Stay.”  Their intention was that when they asked a dog to sit or lie down, the dog was expected to stay there until she was released with a command like “OK” or “Free.”  This is an alternative approach to getting your dog to hold a command and you should do whatever works for you.


One of my main sources of frustration is that when I ask my dog to sit, or lie down, or “Place,” he will do it, but immediately gets back up and continues doing what he wants to do… which is usually something that is annoying me… which is why I asked him to sit or lie down in the first place!  Uugghh!!! (It’s a good thing he’s cute, because boy, is he stubborn!)

Before teaching “Stay,” you need to make sure your dog has mastered the “Sit” or “Down” command.  First, ask your dog to “Sit.” Then say “Stay” with your hand held in front of you, open palm, like a traffic cop telling you to stop.  Take a step back. If your dog stays, move forward toward your dog and reward her with a treat and verbal praise. Gradually increase the number of steps back you take before giving your dog the treat.  Always reward your dog for staying, even if it’s only for a few seconds. You can eventually move around your dog and increase the amount of time you are asking her to wait. “Stay” is a challenging request, particularly for high-energy dogs and puppies, so maintain patience and be prepared for this to take a while to master.  

Here’s a short video on teaching your dog “Stay”:


Do you ever take your dog on a walk and feel like your dog is walking you?  If so, your ready for “Heel.” “Heel” is a command that asks your dog to walk directly next to you instead of walking in front of or behind you.  You’re asking your dog to move at your pace, stopping when you stop, and walking when you walk.

Start with your dog on your left side, her leash held in your left hand without much slack.  First, you need your dog’s attention. Hold a treat near your chest, up under your chin, so your dog’s eyes are drawn to your eyes.  When you have her attention, reward her with a treat. Now, say “Heel” and begin to move with your dog moving alongside you. Reward your dog with a treat as she moves alongside you.  It is important that you reward your dog as you are moving with her in the correct position.  If you stop and reward her with the treat, she may associate the stopping with the reward.  Gradually extend the intervals between giving treats so your dog is maintaining the position next to you longer each time.  If you dog pulls at you or lags behind, either reverse direction or come to a stop. Refocus attention (with the treat up under your chin if necessary), say “Heel,” and set off again.

Many trainers suggest you always keep the dog on your left side.  (For safety purposes, you don’t want your dog crossing in front of you as you walk.)  And you should always begin training “Heel” away from distractions, like in your living room, fenced in backyard, or your basement.  You don’t need a huge area. You just need your dog’s attention, and for her to move next to you on your left side as you move.

Here’s a short video of teaching your dog “Heel”:

Teaching “Heel” with a Clicker

A less rigid version of heel is loose leash walking, or having your dog walk on a leash without any tension in it.  All that matters is that your dog is not pulling on the leash. Here’s a short video of what that looks like:


Begin training “Come” in an area without distraction.  You will want your dog on a leash with treats in hand. When your dog is a few feet away, say “Come” in an excited voice.  You might clap your hands or tap your legs to encourage her to come all the way to you. If she does, offer high-value, excited praise (verbal and physical) and a high-value treat.  (If you are out and about and your dog slips away from you, you want her to come when called, and the association with the reward needs to be great when you start teaching this command.)

If your dog does not turn toward you or come when called, use the leash to encourage her to come.  Give one quick tug (not hard or aggressive) just to bring your dog’s attention to the direction you’re asking her to go.  Once your dog turns in your direction, repeat the process. Say “Come” and encourage her with an excited voice. Reward her when she comes to you.  Do this many times until your dog associates the word “Come” with the act of coming to you.

The reason it is good to teach your dog “Stay” or “Sit” before “Come” is that once your dog associates receiving a treat with coming to you, it might be hard to get some space.  If this happens and your dog is all over you for the treats, put your dog in a “Stay,” move away, and then turn and tell her “Come.”  

Over time, increase the distance you are asking her to come.  Then move to an area with distractions, preferably an area that is fenced.  You can also switch to a 25 or 50 foot long-leash if you can’t find an area that’s secure.  That way, even if she tries to wander too far in a park or open space, she is still ultimately tethered to you.

Here’s a quick video on getting started teaching your dog to come:

It may go without saying, but NEVER use the “Come” command to call your dog to you to discipline her.  Imagine that you are the dog. Your owner tells you to “Come,” and you do what is asked. Then you get punished for it.  How much sense does that make to your dog brain? I just did what was asked, and now I’m being punished for it! And does that make you want to come the next time you are called?  Probably not.


Teaching your dog these 5 common commands can help them be good citizens in the world, and more importantly, in your home.  The keys, of course, are practice, positive reinforcements, and repetition.

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