Mastering the Basics: 5 Essential Commands Every Dog Should Know

Dog Trainer Demonstrating 'Sit' Command to an Attentive Golden Retriever in a Training Session

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Dog Trainer Demonstrating 'Sit' Command to an Attentive Golden Retriever in a Training Session
Credit: Apple Tree House

Do you want an obedient, well-behaved dog that responds reliably to basic commands? As a dog owner, mastering a few basic dog commands can go a long way in establishing a foundation of communication, respect, and safety with your four-legged friend.

In this blog post, we’ll talk about the essential commands every dog should know – sit, stay, come, down, and heel. Learning these basic cues will help reinforce good manners, curb problematic behaviors, and strengthen your bond.

5 Essential Commands Every Dog Should Know

Dogs thrive on structure and consistency. By teaching just five simple commands, you can provide your dog critical guidance and positively reinforce desired behaviors. Now we’ll share those essential commands that form the building blocks of training.

1st Command: Mastering “Sit” for a Well-Behaved Dog

The “sit” command builds patience, control and respect. Teaching your dog to reliably sit on cue provides a foundation for good manners. When your dog sits nicely, it sets him up to listen better and earn more privileges!

Follow these simple steps to teach “sit”:

  1. Have tasty treats ready to motivate your dog to perform the behavior. Small pieces of chicken, cheese or beef liver work well.
  2. Stand in front of your dog holding a treat. Move it up to his nose, then slowly raise your hand above his head luring him to sit as his head tips back.
  3. As soon as his bum touches the ground, say “sit” and give him the treat and praise.
  4. Repeat often, rewarding every time he sits. Use the command before mealtimes or when putting on his leash so he associates it with good things.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Pushing or forcing your dog into a sit position
  • Saying “sit” multiple times – say it only once during the action
  • Neglecting to reward with a treat when he performs the behavior

Take a few minutes daily to practice “sitting.” Consistency leads to reliability! Know that this simple command lays the foundation for controlling impulses and sets the stage for lifelong good behavior.

2nd Command: Mastering “Stay” for an Obedient Dog

The “stay” cue provides critical control for your dog’s own safety and helps curb disruptive activity. Teaching it takes patience, but the efforts pay off greatly!

Here’s how to train a solid “stay”:

  1. Start with your dog sitting at your side on leash. Put a treat in your closed hand in front of his nose, say “stay” then step in front of him, give a treat, step back and release with “good stay!”
  2. Gradually increase the duration of the stays. Vary location – progress from inside to the backyard to the front yard with light distractions.
  3. Mix up the duration to keep your dog guessing. Occasionally give a very long reward to maintain his interest.
  4. If your dog breaks the stay, gently return him to the spot and repeat the cue word. Increase difficulty slowly.

Avoid rushing through steps or pushing your dog past his capabilities. Other mistakes to steer clear of:

  • Repeating stay multiple times – say it once then freeze
  • Forgetting to reward with praise and treats when the time is up
  • Getting frustrated or correcting too harshly if your dog breaks position

Aim for a solid 90 second stay to provide useful control and restraint in daily situations. Put in focused sessions daily to master this vital cue!

3rd Command: Call Your Dog Every Time With a Mastered “Come!”

A reliable recall, coming when called, can save your dog’s life if he slips out an open door or gate. Use high-value rewards and endless praise to motivate your dog’s quick response to this critical command!

Follow these tips make your recall rock-solid:

  1. Keep early sessions low key and set your dog up to succeed. Call him while on leash or from short distances at first to associate coming to you with good things.
  2. Say “come!” in a happy, high-pitched voice while stepping away. Animate your tone and body language – make it fun!
  3. When he reaches you, say “good come!” immediately reward with a jackpot of small treats or a favorite toy. Throwing a spontaneous dance party keeps it positive and prevents dull repetition.
  4. Increase distance and introduce minor distractions over time, always ensuring success before advancing. Better to take it slow than ruin a half-trained recall.

Avoid mistakes like:

  • Calling him then doing something unpleasant like bath time or nail trims
  • Calling when you have no motivation prepared
  • Repeating “come” over and over in frustrated tones

With a rock-solid recall mastered, you can breathe easier knowing your dog will return safely when called, regardless of competing environmental stimuli.

4th Command: Master a Restful “Down” For a Calmer Dog

The “down” cue instills calmness and restraint from jumping up, begging or getting on furniture. It’s the perfect settling cue for an excitable dog! Mastering this command provides essential impulse control.

Here are tips for an excellent down:

  1. With your dog standing on leash, hold a treat to his nose, slowly lower it straight down between his front paws, say “down” marking and rewarding the precise moment he lies down.
  2. Once he understands the verbal cue and body motion, add the hand signal – sweeping your flat palm smoothly down towards the ground.
  3. Practice next to furniture then ask for a down before he attempts to jump up. Reward four paws on the floor!
  4. Release with an “ok!” after variable lengths of time, so he holds position until given the break cue.

Avoid mistakes like:

  • Physically forcing or pushing your dog into position
  • Repeating “down” dozens of times causing the cue to lose authority
  • Releasing before he fully commits to remaining down

Daily five-minute sessions can yield a finished down in just a week or two! Apply this calming command before wild play, on walks, or to shush demanding behavior.

5th Command: Master a Polite “Heel” for Stress-Free Walks

Teaching your dog to heel politely on leash, staying by your side instead of pulling ahead, ensures enjoyable strolls together. Mastering a solid heel takes patience and creativity, but the payoff of walking a well-mannered dog is priceless!

Follow these proven techniques to train a focused heel:

  1. With tasty treats on hand, in your home or backyard with no distractions at first, stand with your dog sitting properly at your left side on a loose leash. Take a step forward saying “heel” marking and rewarding each step he takes in perfect position.
  2. Keep sessions very short. Alternate between treating for correct behavior and giving verbal praise like “Good boy!”
  3. Gradually pick up pace, adding slight turns. Mix up the duration of strides between rewards to keep your dog’s engagement.

Common mistakes include:

  • Progressing too quickly beyond your dog’s capabilities
  • Repeating “heel” cues excessively
  • Getting frustrated by normal sniffing or distraction

With regular five-minute sessions, your dog can master leash manners for a peaceful walk in just a couple of weeks. The rewards you both experience from a dog trained to heel politely are immense!

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

When you’re firm, fair, and consistent in rewarding desired behaviors, dogs respond more effectively to training. Employ lots of encouragement, patience, and tasty incentives. Be the leader your dog wishes to follow.

The Art of Proper Timing

Mastering the timing of when to deliver rewards and praise is key in dog training. Mark and reward behaviors the precise moment your dog performs the action you want before he gets distracted. The seconds immediately after he executes a cue correctly are the prime time to incentivize via verbal praise, treats or play. Then you can add an additional reward once he finishes the full behavior.

Troubleshooting Training Plateaus

Hitting plateaus while training basics like heel or stay is perfectly normal. If your dog seems “stuck” and not progressing further, take a step back in difficulty, amplify motivation using an extra-special reward, and end sessions on a high note with easier reps he can accomplish. Seek to rebuild confidence, lower distraction levels and re-engage your dog’s enjoyment of the process.

The Power of Short, Frequent Sessions

In canine training, several short five or ten minute mini-sessions sprinkled throughout your day often pay greater dividends than one long, tedious session. Short bursts allow your dog’s young brain to solidify concepts better. Replay the desired behavior frequently to help habits form. Keep energy upbeat and make participation fun!

Introducing the Clicker

Want to take your training to the next level? Consider adding a clicker – that metal device that makes a distinct “click-clack” sound when pressed. The strategic sound allows you to mark exact moments of correct behavior more precisely than verbal praise alone which happens after a slight lag. The clear sound tells your dog “yes, that’s it!” allowing complex behaviors to be shaped.


From sit and stay to come, down and heel, mastering just five basic cues with your dog lays crucial groundwork for good communication and behavior. Consistency, positivity, rewards-based training yield the best results.

Apply these fundamental building blocks now for a better-bonded, safer, and less stressful relationship with your four-legged friend.


What are the first 5 commands I should teach my new puppy?

Ans. The first five commands to start with are sit, stay, come, down and heel. These cues help establish you as the leader and impart structure, respect and control.

Should I use hand signals or verbal commands?

Ans. Use both! Pair a hand gesture with each verbal command at first to help reinforcement. For example, hold your palm out flat when saying “stay.”

How long should I train each day?

Ans. Aim for five to ten minute training intervals, a few times daily. Young pups have short attention spans but learn quickly with short, engaging lessons.

How soon can I start training my puppy?

Ans. Experts recommend starting basic obedience as early as 8 weeks old once vaccinated. Early socialization and commands set the tone for good manners.What rewards should I use when training?

Ans. Food rewards like small bits of chicken or cheese are highly motivating for most dogs. Also use praise, pets, and play as rewards to reinforce behaviors.

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