Basic Dog Commands and Hand Signals You Should Know
Training your dog can be an exercise in frustration, with you standing on one side of the backyard and your furry friend nonchalantly sunning himself on the other side of the fence.
Basic commands, like sit and stay and come, seem to be particularly difficult for many dogs to grasp. Luckily, dogs are intelligent animals and most are eager to please their owners.
With that in mind, here are 10 Basic Dog Commands and Hand Signals you should know if you own or plan to own a dog
Teaching your dog to sit isn’t difficult and can really save you some time during house training or at mealtimes. If you have an untrained dog, start with a command your pet already knows, like come.
Next, hold a tasty treat over her head and tell her to sit. When she does, reward her with a treat and lots of praise. Repeat as many times as necessary until she reliably sits when asked. Once she has mastered sitting on command, begin using it in other situations.
For example, if you want her to stay out of an area while you clean up after dinner, ask her to sit and then give her a treat once she complies. Soon enough, your pup will associate sitting with good things happening—and that means no more jumping on guests!
Down is one of your dog’s most basic commands, and it’s also very useful in a number of situations. To get your pup to go into a down position, stand up tall and slowly raise your hand (or finger) up over his head.
When he reaches his limit, hold still for a moment or two—during which time you should avoid any sudden movements or loud noises—and reward him with praise and petting when he complies.
Be aware that some dogs will try to lie down facing you; if that happens, keep working at it until they understand what you want them to do. If they don’t seem interested in learning other basic commands, however, it may be best to look for a different dog who responds better to training.
Also, note that there are several variations on down—depending on your dog’s breed, he might not be able to drop all four paws to the ground while lying down. For example, pugs often have short legs and can only lower their front half. In such cases, it’s perfectly fine for them to stay put while lowering their heads as far as possible.
When you want your dog to stop doing something, teaching him to stay is helpful. A simple hand signal can also help keep your pup from getting into trouble when you’re unable to control his movements.
When you see your dog doing something bad (chewing up furniture, digging in a flower bed) or dangerous (running into traffic), stand on top of him and give him a firm, but a gentle pat on his hindquarters.
This will cause him to flop over onto his side. Then use your hands and feet (and treats!) to teach him that lying down on command means he can get up again and resume playing once he stops misbehaving. (See No below.)
This command teaches your dog to come when called, and it’s important for dog owners to be able to call their dogs back. When you’re teaching a young puppy how to come, use a leash and start close by—in your house or yard, if possible.
It’s OK if she doesn’t know what come means at first; just get her used to following you around while on a leash and make sure she associates walking with you like something fun.
If your puppy stops following you and looks like she wants to go off exploring on her own, distract her attention with an interesting toy or treat that you can toss in another direction.
The heel command is an important and valuable training tool that all dog owners should learn. It can be used to help direct your dog in any situation, from entering and exiting your home to crossing a busy street.
To teach your dog to heel, you will need a collar with a prong or slip-style buckle and 4–6 feet of leash. Attach one end of your leash to your dog’s collar.
Allow him to walk around freely for about 10 minutes so he can become comfortable wearing his collar and being connected to his leash. Once he becomes accustomed to being tethered, it is time for phase two of training.
6) Leave it (Drop it, etc.)
If your dog has something in its mouth, whether it’s a toy or food, simply say leave it (or whatever command you like) and gesture with your hand for them to drop it.
Your dog should drop what they are holding immediately. Dogs are smart and they recognize familiar words quickly.
This command is great if you have a puppy that may accidentally pick up something dangerous on your walk, or if you want to get a toy away from them before playtime gets too wild. Be sure to praise your pup when they comply!
7) Drop the ball
This one’s an oldie but a goodie. If you want to practice your dog’s recall, don’t use an actual ball: That could get pretty annoying and expensive. Instead, find a toy that you don’t mind losing (you will lose it—trust us) and use that as a training tool.
Start by tossing it 10 feet away from you and rewarding your pup for returning with it. Then toss it 15 feet away, then 20 feet away, etc., until he can bring back his prize from across a park or field. Remember: Be sure to keep him on a leash during these exercises so he doesn’t run off into traffic or other dangerous situations!
8) Play dead
When you want your dog to play dead, it’s best to do so with a hand signal in addition to the verbal command. It keeps your dog from thinking he’s being punished for something bad that he may have done and gives him a consistent way of knowing what you want.
For best results, teach your dog to play dead by teaching him three commands: sit, down and stay. Then, when you call play dead, use whichever hand signal is most comfortable for you while saying dead twice. Reward and praise your pet immediately when he plays dead on command.
9) Speak! (Come here, etc.)
While all dogs are different, there are a few signs you can use to get your dog’s attention. Sit and stay might be an old standby, but don’t underestimate how handy they can be for keeping your dog under control when you need to give him some space or keep him out of trouble in a crowded place.
The heel is great for long walks and teaching your dog to walk politely beside you. If he’s always pulling on his leash, use a stern No! and try backing up while giving him light pressure with your other hand as if there were an invisible fence (or his collar) between you—he’ll get that spark when he feels resistance coming from both sides and learn not to pull again!
10) Retrieve (Fetch, etc.)
Dogs love to retrieve objects, so start with something small and easy for them to pick up, like a favorite toy. After your dog brings it back, reward him with plenty of praise and a treat (in moderation) if you want to help develop good behavior.
Repeat until he’s responding well to you asking him to bring it back. Then try giving him a hand signal—like pointing your finger or waving your arm in an arcing motion—to prompt him into action.
As he starts anticipating his next command, mix up his routine by throwing in some new hand signals or commands.