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How to Teach Your Dog Basic Commands

There are five important commands that every dog should know: sit, stay, lay down, come, and heel. These commands will help you communicate your wishes to your dog, essentially giving you a line of clear communication with your pet. If you give your dog a good training in the basic commands, you set the groundwork for future advanced training, as well as simply aiding in a conflict free relationship with your furry best friend.

Method One of Five:
Teaching Your Dog to Sit

  1. 1
    Begin training by teaching your dog how to sit on command. Sitting is the dog form of politeness. It is a natural action. It shows that a dog is not aggressive and that she or he is willing to wait.[1]
    • As you enforce the 'sit' command, the dog will learn that when it wants something, or you are busy, sitting and waiting is the right thing to do.
    • The goal is for the dog to learn that when you give the 'sit' command, it is time to pay attention or calm down.
    • Stand up right in front of your dog. You want to exude calm but assertive energy. Get your dog's attention, looking it right in the eye. As you say "[Dog's name], sit," hold a treat above the dog's nose.[2]
    • In order to see the treat, the dog will need its head up, which will make its bum go down.
  2. 2
    Give positive praise when your dog sits. As soon as she or he sits, say "Yes!" and deliver the treat. The goal is for the dog to connect the action, phrase, or word with the treat and the praise.
  3. 3
    Replace the treat with hand signals. As your dog learns the verbal command, stop assisting the action and begin to use an accompanying hand signal. A common one begins by placing your flat hand over and in front of the dog's head. While saying "Sit", pull your hand up into a loose fist, or lift it in a J motion to end with your palm facing up.
  4. 4
    Repeat until your dog responds to your command every time. This can take some time, especially if you are training an adult dog or a stubborn dog. However, don't give up! It is important to the relationship between you and your dog that it follows your lead. This will help you live together and will actually keep your dog safer.[3]

Method Two of Five:
Teaching Your Dog to Stay

  1. 1
    Teach your dog to "stay." There are some commands that can literally save your dog's life and the "stay" command is one of them. Keeping your dog out of dangerous situations, in addition to simply keeping it out of trouble, can be achieved more easily when you can train your dog to stay put.[4]
    • A pup has an instinctive understanding of how to stay when being threatened and the mother uses a very distinct "stay" command as well. This instinctive and early training should help you to train your dog to follow your command to stay.[5]
  2. 2
    Start your training with your dog in the "sit" position. When your dog is sitting, stand so that he or she is on your left side facing the same direction. Later this will be referred to as the 'place' position.
  3. 3
    Hold the dog's collar and say "[dog's name], stay!" You should do this while placing your open hand in front of, but not touching, your dog's face. The tips of your fingers should be pointing up and your palm should be facing your dog. Wait two seconds. If the dog stays in place, say "Yes!" and it a reward.
    • If she gets up, say "Oops!" and start again. Begin with "sit" and proceed again to "stay".
    • Repeat this until your dog stays in place for at least ten seconds and then praise it. This means you may need to repeat this whole sequence several times.
  4. 4
    Gradually increase the amount of time you have your dog stay. When your dog learns this command well, you can start to increase the length of time while gradually moving away during the stay. If your dog gets up, go all the way back to sitting and repeat the sequence, until you can move around freely during the stay.[6]
    • You should also have a certain command to release your dog from the stay such as "okay!" or "come". This way, your dog knows when it can move.

Method Three of Five:
Teaching Your Dog to Lay Down

  1. 1
    Teach your dog to lay down. "Down" is usually combined with "stay," and is meant to be a stronger command. Down actually stops whatever action was happening before the command, so it is useful in controlling behavior.
  2. 2
    Start again with your dog in a 'sit' position. As you say "[dog's name], down!," hold your left hand above your dog's head, palm toward the floor. With a treat in your right hand, lower your hand towards the floor slowly and relatively close to the dog's body.
  3. 3
    Give your dog positive reinforcement for completing the command. Once both bum and elbows are on the floor, say "Yes!" and deliver the treat. This will make an association in the dog's mind between the action and a reward.[7]
  4. 4
    Repeat this sequence several times. Repetition is key to your dog learning, and following, the command. The goal is for your dog to follow your command no matter what it is doing when you give it. That way, if your dog is doing something naughty, you can stop the behavior quickly and effectively.[8]
    • Like training other commands, if the dog does not follow the command or does something different, start again from the beginning. Put the dog in sitting position once again and start from the beginning.

Method Four of Five:
Teaching Your Dog Recall

  1. 1
    Teach your dog to come when you call it. The "come" command is also known as "recall." Like training for other basic commands, begin with your dog in "sit" position.[9]
  2. 2
    Gently pull the dog towards you while saying "[dog's name], come!" You should do this in a more encouraging voice than you use for other commands, as you want the dog to want to come to you. Accompany the command with a gesture to show the dog what you want.
  3. 3
    Lure your dog to come with a treat. Once you have shown your dog how to come and what command you will give, place a piece of dry dog food at your feet and point to it. After a very short time, the gesture of pointing at the floor in front of you should be enough. Later only the command or the gesture will be needed.
  4. 4
    Reinforce the action with praise. When your dog reaches you, praise it using the phrase "Good come!" Give him or her a nice pet on the head, showing the dog that you are appreciative of what it just did for you.[10]
  5. 5
    Practice the command at a variety of times and in a variety of locations. When interacting with your pet, take opportunities to call it from across the room by using its name and saying "Come!" and praising it when it gets there. This will make your dog familiar with the command.

Method Five of Five:
Teaching Your Dog to Heel

  1. 1
    Teach your dog to "heel." This command is often the most complicated one to teach.[11] However, most dogs can learn it if you are consistent with your training. Teaching your canine companion to heel will save your back, your shoulders, your dog's neck, and dignity for both of you (although, dignity may be low on the priority list for your dog).
    • Your dog will probably naturally want to jog at a canter and sniff and veer off in many directions. You need to show him or her that there is a time for exploring and a time not to.
  2. 2
    Put your dog in sitting position. Using the regular walking lead, put your dog in a "sit" position beside your left leg, facing the same direction as you. This is known as the "place" position.[12]
    • Always use the left side to avoid confusing the dog.
  3. 3
    Tell your dog to "heel." Say "[dog's name], heel!" while stepping forward with your left foot. Starting with the left foot will become a signal that it is time to move forward. Your dog may either resist or hurry past you. In either case give a gentle pull and repeat the command "heel."
  4. 4
    Instruct the dog to stay by your side. If he or she strays too far off to the side, pat your leg and say "Keep with me!" or "Over here!" or another short phrase. Always say the same phrase to mean that particular thing.
  5. 5
    Correct wrong behavior. If the dog moves out ahead, say "No, [dog's name], heel" in a calm voice. If necessary, tug on the lead. When you stop, always stop on the left foot and say "[dog's name], sit." If your dog moves ahead again, gently pull or physically place him or her beside your left leg using the "sit" command.[13]
    • If things get a little to out of control, stop and place the dog in a sit position at your side once again, praise him or her, and start over. You should always adjust the dog to your position, not adjust your position to his. (if you adjust your position to his, he will eventually have his human well trained to obey him)
    • You should get your dog used to not feeling any tension on the lead unless you are making a correction, or the dog will get into the habit of pulling constantly. Make your corrections by voice and gesture and only use the lead if it isn't listening.
  6. 6
    Give praise when the dog heels. You may gently praise your dog while he or she is heeling well, but keep it toned down so as not to distract it. Once it is obeying the spoken commands consistently, remain silent and only use the spoken commands for correction.
    • The length of time to learn is individual so don't be in a hurry to move things along.
  7. 7
    Teach the dog to sit when you stop. When you are ready to stop, you should stop on your left foot and say "[dog's name],sit." After a few repetitions you should no longer need to use the sit command. Your dog will come to know that stopping on the left foot is the signal for him or her to stop and sit.
  8. 8
    Practice the command solely through body language. When your dog is consistently obeying the "heel" command properly, start unexpectedly starting of with the left foot and stopping without verbal commands or hand signals. Also, when your dog is in the "place" position, occasionally step off with the right. Your dog will want to start with you, so you use the "stay" command and walk around him back to the "place" position.
    • Alternate stepping off with the left and using the heel command and then stepping off with the right and using the stay command. After a while you can advance to randomly stepping of with either foot and reinforcing the appropriate "heel" or "stay" behavior. When you and your dog has learned this well, you will be able to function smoothly as a team no matter where you are.

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • What do I do when a dog balks while walking, and won't continue the walk?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Motivation is the key. Call your dog, have treats outs, even drop the leash and walk away (as long as he won't run off).
    Thanks! 13 3
  • We just go a rescue dog. She is about 5 months old. Every time I call her to come, she lays on her back and won't come to me. How do I get her to stop that?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • You have to be persistent and patient. Next time you call her, if she doesn't come, have someone else pick her up and nudge her toward you while you're calling her name. Don't give up! Every dog can learn this, it just takes time.
    Thanks! 4 0
  • Can I start training my dog as early as 2 weeks?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Many puppies are uncoordinated at 2 weeks; wait until five weeks.
    Thanks! 7 1
  • How many minutes per day should I practice with my dog?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • It varies. If a dog is having trouble with a command and you've been trying for a while, give it a mental break and take the dog for a walk. If the dog has a command down for the first time, stop and then go back to it relatively soon so the dog does not forget it. Never overtrain a dog, as the dog can lose focus, which makes training harder on both of you.
    Thanks! 9 3
  • What are the first steps to train a dog to stop?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Call the dog to you and put your hand out suddenly and say "Stop!" in a slightly loud, clear tone. After a while, drop your hand and call the dog to you to get a reward.
    Thanks! 7 3
  • Whenever I hold a treat, my dog just sits, but I want to teach her other tricks. What should I do?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Try using different body language than when you teach sit.
    Thanks! 4 1
  • What age should I start trying to get my Yorkie puppy to do tricks?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • As soon as possible! It's a great way to bond with your dog. When your Yorkie is small, keep the training sessions short and sweet, and keep it fun with lots of treats and affection.
    Thanks! 3 1
  • At what age should I begin command behavior?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Start as young as possible. If you are the breeder,begin teaching sit, down, stand, come and stay as young as 5 weeks. If you adopt or buy a puppy, start the second you get it.
    Thanks! 5 4
  • Can I do this with a lazy dog?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Sure! These commands should work for any kind of dog. A couple of treats might do the trick. Try to be patient if your dog doesn't get it right away.
    Thanks! 1 0
  • How many people giving commands is too many?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Only one person should be giving commands at a time.
    Thanks! 1 0
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  • Dogs love rewards and are usually highly motivated by them. For example, once your dog sits for the first time on his own, give him a treat, or rub his belly. Once your dog associates sitting with treats, it'll be more likely he'll do it.
    2 Helpful?  0
  • Keep your early training sessions indoors or outdoors on a lead and in a quiet place to avoid distractions. After you have both learned the commands well, then start to have sessions in different places so your dog will learn to listen in spite of distractions.
    1 Helpful?  1
  • Training is best begun in early puppy hood, but older dogs can learn just as well. However, it may just take a little longer to overcome bad habits.
    1 Helpful?  0
  • Always make sure that the sessions are not too difficult and that they stay fun! Otherwise, your dog may not want to participate in them anymore.[14]
    1 Helpful?  0


  • Don't show frustration or irritation during training. This will simply confuse and frighten your dog, making training sessions a negative experience for both of you. If you become frustrated, move on or back to a command that your dog is better with and end your session on a positive note.
    36 Helpful?  4
  • Do not let the dog take advantage of you. Be gentle with him, but firm.
    29 Helpful?  3
  • Do not postpone training or give up on it. Dogs are the easiest to train when they are puppies rather than adult dogs.
    25 Helpful?  4
  • Do not ever let your dog off lead until she or he is performing these exercises correctly 100% of the time. The dog only has to disobey once and get out of your reach, in order for you to understand that you can't enforce what you can't catch. You need to have your authority firmly in place before you can start working successfully off lead.
    26 Helpful?  9
  • Never, ever scold or discipline your dog when it comes to you on command, no matter what! Even if the dog was being disobedient before it came, the fact that it obeyed your last command will be the only thing it connects with the disciplinary action. Talk about mixed signals!
    25 Helpful?  11
  • Try not to have too many people while training the dog. If the dog hears multiple things at once, he will be confused.
    21 Helpful?  9

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Expert Review By:

Veterinarian, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

This version of How to Teach Your Dog Basic Commands was reviewed by Pippa Elliott, MRCVS on May 6, 2018.

124 votes - 92%
Co-authors: 30
Views: 337,122
Categories: Dog Commands

Reader Success Stories

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    Feb 2

    "Thanks for the information.This helped me very much."
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    Tyler Obermiller

    Dec 10, 2017

    "It taught my dog lots of manners and he is a very polite dog now."
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    Jennifer Wilson

    May 26, 2017

    "I am puppy-sitting my 20-week-old grand dog for 3 weeks while her family is away. She has had no training and I can tell it's going to be a long 3 weeks. I am starting today with the sit command, and am hopeful it will work. Your article was concise and sounds easy to do. I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks."..." more
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    Jun 25, 2016

    "It helped knowing not to get discouraged when your dog does not get it as fast as you want. You need to take time until they get it 100%. That's when you go to the next one."..." more
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    Dec 24, 2016

    "Thanks for the very detailed article! I just got a chihuahua/pug mix yesterday, and this really helped me learn to teach Chatterly some new moves!"..." more
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    Oct 29, 2016

    "Simple, yet very helpful! Uses the KISS principle, and gets to the point. "
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    Dec 30, 2016

    "I just read it, but I'm using the techniques."
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    Meia Havour

    May 4, 2016

    "Awesome! Helped a lot with my pet, Lucinda."
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