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How Do You Teach A Dog A Command?

All responsible dog owners recognise the importance of training and managing their dogs appropriately, so that they are well behaved, well mannered, and under control. This is important for so many reasons, including to keep your dog (and other people and animals) safe, as well as to ensure they’re not horrible to live with and be around!

However, for the first time dog owner or puppy buyer, whilst you might realise that training your dog is important and have every intention of being very conscientious about doing this, knowing exactly how to teach a dog a command in terms of the actual process isn’t always obvious.

This very basic element of dog training is commonly skipped over or ignored entirely in general dog training advice for beginners, in favour of making clear the importance of consistency, positive reinforcement and so on, as well as covering how to tackle dog training problems.

However, if you’re all ready to start training your dog and are armed with a handful of treats and a manual to refer back to if things don’t go to plan but then realise you don’t have a clue about how to actually start, this is no help at all!

This type of problem is more common that you might think, and entirely understandable if you think about it. After all, why would anyone know instinctively how to teach anything to another person, let alone another species? For instance, if you were tasked out of the blue with teaching a child to read from scratch, would you immediately know how to get across to them that words on a page mean a certain thing and sound a certain way? Probably not!

The same is true when it comes to training a dog for the first time, with the added complication that dogs are a different species that communicates in a different way to us humans. With this in mind, this article will teach you the basic steps involved in training a dog from scratch to learn a command.

It doesn’t matter what the command is as the principle is the same for most commands taught to pet dogs by their own owners – and will help you to train your own dog from scratch effectively.

Read on to find out how to teach a dog a command step by step.

The basics of teaching a dog a command

Before you begin, ensure that your training area is quiet and without a lot of distractions, that your dog is not overly excited, and that they haven’t just had a meal (as training treats won’t be as effective).

Have your command in mind, with the word you’ll use for it picked out, and some treats in a pocket or close by, but out of your dog’s reach.

As mentioned, teaching basic commands to pet dogs follows the same principle regardless of the command in question, and so for the purposes of this article we’re going to use the “sit” command as our working example. This is pretty much the easiest command to teach, and usually the first command dogs learn.

Starting with a really easy command is a good idea, as your first taught command teaches your dog more than just the command in question – it teaches them what training is too, so that they begin to build up associations between what you want and what they do, which will help when teaching future commands.

Keep your first few training sessions short – no more than five minutes – and always praise and reward your dog at the end.

How to teach your dog a command in five steps

Before you can teach your dog that saying a certain word means you want them to do a certain thing, you need to get their attention.

Use their name and get them to look at you. Don’t proceed until you have your dog’s attention. Use a training treat to catch and keep their attention if needed by holding it in view. 

Do not give your dog the treat, and if they jump up or make a fuss, tell them “no” calmly and confidently (if your dog is really smart, they might actually inadvertently learn this as their first command along the way!) and provide no other reaction until they calm down and look to you once more.

When your dog is engaged, relatively still, and giving you their attention, tell them “sit,” and gently push their bottom down into a sitting position. If they lie down, roll over or otherwise don’t quite get the hang of things, speak encouragingly to them to get them up again, but do not praise and reward.

Repeat this as needed with the spoken “sit” every time until your dog moves into the “sit” when you place pressure on their butt, and/or sits without the need for you to show them.

Every time your dog either lets you push them passively into the sit, begins to go into a sit when your hand approaches them, or starts to sit on their own at the command, praise them strongly and offer a treat.

Most dogs will go through an interim stage of passively letting you push them into a sit but not lying down or rolling about between the time when they don’t understand what you want and why you’re gently pushing them, and getting to grips with sitting on their own.

You must use the spoken “sit” every time, initially alongside of the action you show your dog, and then as they get the hang of things and begin to associate the word with the action in their heads, a touch before, to give them the chance to sit on their own!

Be fairly liberal with your treats at first and reward every time, but phase them out as your dog begins to respond reliably to the command without other direction.

You can then move onto other commands with the same principle – get your dog’s attention, show them what you want with the command, be calm and encouraging if they get it wrong, and reward and give treats with lots of praise when they get it right and during the interim stages when they’re heading in the right direction.


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