What order should you teach a dog their first commands in?
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What order should you teach a dog their first commands in?

Dogs
Education & Training

When it comes to training a dog for the first time, knowing where to start can be hard, and dog owners often wonder if there’s a specific order in which they should teach their dog their first training commands.

This article will tell you which commands to start with, and what to take into account in terms of command order when training a dog or puppy. Read on to learn more.

Start with the “sit” command

The first command dogs usually learn (and for good reason) is the “sit” command. While the “sit” command is a useful one that has many applications – including ensuring that a dog shows good manners, curtailing potential excitement, and being relevant for things like stopping to cross the road – it might otherwise be considered to be a peripheral or lower value command than some others.

For instance, the recall command and the “drop it” or “leave it” command are highly loaded commands that can help to keep your dog (and other people, animals, or property) safe; enabling you to recall a dog that might be running towards a road, or getting a dog to drop something they were holding if it were dangerous.

So that being the case, why would you teach a lower value command like sit before any other command? Put simply, because it’s more or less universally considered to be the easiest command to teach a dog, and this is really important for the dog’s first few commands.

When a dog learns their first command, they’re not just learning that command; they’re also learning how to learn! Essentially, teaching the first or first few commands imparts to the dog not just the command in question but also what a training session is, and that you want something from them; for them to learn to execute a certain action or activity when you tell them a certain thing, and that there might well be a reward in it for them if and when they do as asked.

The ease with which “sit” can be taught comes from the short simplicity of the word itself, and the fact that sitting is a natural action for dogs, and one that you can physically guide them into if needed. Some intelligent dogs will even learn to sit by observing other dogs being given the command and earning a treat for it, even before you try to teach it to them directly.

When a dog has learned the “sit” command, they will also have begun to learn the training process itself, which helps you with teaching your dog their later and potentially, more advanced commands too.

Assess how many commands your dog might be capable of learning

Before you can set a running order of commands in terms of what you will follow sit with, you need to make an informed assessment or guesstimate of how many commands your dog will be capable of learning. This is something you will only find out for sure as you go along, and some dogs can retain a huge number of commands (including complex ones), while others might struggle to reliably learn and comply with just five or so simple ones.

This means that the order you teach your dog commands in will be partially dictated by how many commands they might top out at. If you suspect your dog might only have a very limited repertoire, teach them the commands that are most important first, and only then think of moving onto others.

If your dog has a little more going on up top, you may get a little more leeway in terms of teaching order, and using an order in which one command might lead on to or support another less-vital one, as you can circle back to other key commands later.

Factor in both the importance of a command and the challenges of teaching it

When trying to determine what commands will make your list and where in the order they should fall, you need to take into account both how important the command is (such as for safety or control) and how easy or otherwise it is to teach.

For instance, recall is a hugely useful command and one that, if your dog always complies with it, can help to keep them safe from a huge number of hazards. However, it is also widely thought of as a hugely challenging command to teach for many reasons, and is one that dogs with a high prey drive and/or less than Einstein-level smarts may never exhibit reliably.

Teach your dog key commands before tricks

It may seem obvious, but you should teach your dog all of the essential or key commands you want them to get to grips with before you consider teaching them party tricks like playing dead or shaking a paw!

These commands can be fun and there’s no reason not to teach them; but wait until your dog has the basics down in case they can only retain a certain number of commands in total.

Some commands take longer to teach and so, require ongoing work

You can and often should have several commands in the pipeline at a time. You do not have to get one command down from start to finish before moving onto another one, and waiting until a dog gets one command before starting to teach another can be counterintuitive as it may make training monotonous for your dog, and so make it harder for them to learn.

Also, some commands like recall can take weeks or months while others can be taught in a session, so really it might be helpful to think of the order you teach training commands as more of a map or scatter graph than as a linear list!

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