There are many things you want to teach your dog right when you get him. Be it sit, down, roll over, or whatever you think is great for him to know. But, there are universal things all dogs need to learn to do and/or love in order to live a healthy functional life. These top ten things to teach your dog are loosely ordered from least important to the most important, and of course, is my opinion. Some owners may look at a few of these things and simply go, “Nope. Not doing that.” and it’s fine! Like dog training in general, there are always different solutions to one concept. Now, without further ado, let’s look at my Top Ten Things To Teach Your Dog:
10. Crate Training: Teaching your dog to be in a crate is a great way to keep your dog safe and out of trouble. By instinct, dogs enjoy being in cozy den-like places to feel secure, and we can take advantage of this love and teach your dog to love the crate. Be it a metal barred cage, a plastic kennel, or a dog house, the crate should be an inviting good place for Fido to stay in when his owner’s not home or is asleep at night. Some people dislike crates because they see them as a sort of prison where you’d trap your dog against its will; well, it can end up that way if your dog isn’t properly introduced to the crate. Some people may buy a crate, stick their dog in it, and then shut the door behind him, and then wonder why he’s having a fit.
Like many things, you need to teach your dog first that the crate is good. Keep it open and let him wander in and out of it. Have a nice comfy pillow and a chew toy in there. Make the chew toy a “special” toy that can only be played with when in the crate by taking it from your dog any time he tries to sneak out with it and putting it into the crate. Feed your dog in the crate. Give your dog treats every time he sniffs or goes into the crate. Let him relax in it without shutting the door on him. Let him relax in it with the door shut, but occupied with a chew toy, and with your nearby with him. Play special soothing music whenever he’s assigned to be in the crate. Soon, the crate will be the best place ever since it’s not only a bed, but also a dinner table, toy box, and a place to be in for peace and quiet.
9. Lie Down (right here): Once your dog knows lie down without being lured to the floor with a treat, and can lie down by having you point to the floor, it’d be very useful to get him to lie down next to you, as opposed to infront of you (which is surprisingly tough since dogs want to look up at you for trick), or ontop of objects like pillows. If you can teach your dog to lie down on a specific object, and you can take that object to different places and he’ll lie down on it no matter where it is, then you can teach a very powerful stay with many powerful uses. For dogs who jump up on guests when they come into the house, teaching your dog to lie down and stay on a pillow is a great way to keep him from stampeding up to guests and bulldozing into them. Being able to make your dog stop what he’s doing and go over to where you’re pointing on the floor and lie down right there is a wonderful and useful trick that’ll get him out of trouble. If he’s sniffing around where he shouldn’t, you can call his name, getting his attention, and make him lie down beside you instead. For dogs who leap ontop of their owners when they want to cuddle on the couch, having the dog come up and lie down on the couch first will make it impossible for this to happen. If the dog’s lying down, he’s not doing anything else.
8. Off (No Jumping) – Dogs like to jump. They like to kiss, they like to have their face close to yours, they like the “attention” of you looking at them and talking (yelling) at them and petting (pushing) them. It’s a great way to demand attention, and it works! Well we don’t like it. Being jumped on, of course, is super annoying, and it’s especially annoying when your excited dog weighs almost as much as you and thinks it’s awesome to jump on you and push off your body when you yell at him to get off.
Well, if they’re going to be “fun” and get all over you, you should be allowed to have that kinda fun too! When your dog jumps on you, respond with “Off” and walk forward into him, knocking him down, taking his space, and generally getting all in his grill like he was to you. Once he lands and moves away, praise it! Yay! All four feet on the floor! Good job! Make sure that you don’t look down at him or push him off; dogs see the eye contact and touching as positive attention, even if its a glare and a shove. They’re jumping for just that: Attention.
Some people suggest turning your back and crossing your arms. You can do that too, but sometimes the punishment of ignoring the dog can be seen as acting submissive of the dog. Dominant dogs stand ground and don’t turn away when another dog gets in its face. Neither should you! If you keep walking all over your hoppy dog every time he jumps on you, and you say “Off” as you do it, he’ll learn that jumping on you is no fun, and that anytime he’s on something and you say “Off”, you’re going to get all in his personal space, and that’s no fun!
7. Loose-leash Walking: Some dogs really can’t walk well on-leash: they pull and drag you all over the place; they gag and choke and cough as you dangle behind them and they walk with their heads stretched far out ahead; they dash back and forth like maniacs; they run up to other dogs to say “Hi”; Overall, they completely disrespect you and the leash. The best way to solve this is to resort to better kinds of tools than a flat collar if it’s really bad. For Ringo, I used a harness since he liked to stop and fall behind, then dash forward at full blast a few feet, choking himself and destroying my wrist. The harness was a front-clip harness that, well, clipped in the front, and worked like horse reigns; when he pulled, the leash would pull back at an angle and forced him to turn alittle, and if he wanted to go straight, had to slow down and adjust for else he’s be completely turned around. Unlike the front clip, there’s a back clip harness that I feel is a horrible idea and promotes your dog to lean his chest against the harness and make you pretty much hold him up. It promotes pulling and goes against the whole point of getting a harness bar not choking your pulling dog to death. There are other kinds of leashes such as Gentle Leaders, Halti, Martengales, Prong Collars, and Slip Leads.
(Brief collar/leash lesson!) A gentle leader wraps around the head of the dog and kind of looks like a muzzle, but doesn’t restrict the dog from drinking, licking, or barking; it gives the most control, which makes sense since it’s wrapped around the dog’s face like horse reins. Personally, I think they’re great, but requires a lot of training and patience to get your dog to accept it and not try to paw it off or throw itself to the floor and have a fit. A halti is similar, but has an extra strap that attaches from the dog’s mouth to its collar, and the leash clips on a ring inbetween the strap. I’m actually not sure what the difference is other than the appearance. A Martengale is like a collar, except the ring the lash connects to is attached to a strap on the collar that lets the collar tighten a limited amount (a few inches) so that any time the dog pulls, the collar corrects it with a sqeeze, which loosens once the dog stops pulling. Similarly, a prong collar tightens a limited amount when the dog pulls, and then loosens when the dog stops pulling, but it has the added effect of pinching the dog’s neck alittle bit beween each prong inside the collar as a punishment for pulling. They’re also used for Compulsive Training and are a way of using positive punishment (add something bad to punish bad behavior) by quickly snapping the leash, pinching the dog’s neck, and then stopping once the dog stops. The worse in my opinion, especially for pullers, is the slip lead. It’s like a super tough rope that’s used for training and correcting dogs’ bad behaviors, but it has no limit in how tight you can make the collar, and you can pretty much hang the dog like with a noose, but it tightens. For waking, I’d go for a Martengale, harness (front clip), or Prong Collar.
Anyway! To keep your dog from pulling, make sure that he’s aware that you’re on the other end of the leash. Sounds easy enough, but some dogs don’t seem to get it. You do this by stopping often and waiting until your dog stops, looking around wondering what’s going on, and then finally looks up at you for the answer. The moment he does, mark it with a “yes”, and the reward is to continue walking. Every time he pulls from that point on, you mark with “Nope” or “Ah-ah” or whatever you like, stop walking, wait, and let him go once he looks at you. Soon, he should be looking at you all the time when you stop suddenly. You can fortify your existence (nice word use there) by doing U-turns every once in a while, making sure to turn TOWARD the dog so that you’re walking into him and forcing him to turn with you (he should be inside the U, not outside). He’ll keep his attention on you then!
6. Heel: With the loose-leash walking set-up, you can now effectively heel. This is important for when you’re passing another dog, walking through a crowd, need to meander around cars, or just need to keep your dog close for whatever reason. You hold the loop of the leash in your dominant hand and then about 2/3 down the leash, hold there with your other hand. You should have part of the leash cross infront of you. This will shorten the leash so that your dog’s right next to you. In the hand closer to your dog, hold a treat. As your dog’s walking beside you like a good boy, you praise him and give him a treat. You can also stop, call him, and as he comes to you, lure him past you alittle bit, then have him loop around so that he’s facing the same direction as you and is next to you. As you have him position next to you, use “Heel” as the command. With Ringo, I’ve gotten him able to shift from heeling to loose-leash walking by starting loose-leashed, telling him to heel and having him come beside me, and then walking heeled. After a while, I’ll stop, and when he looks up at me, I have him sit and stay, drop the leash in my other hand, and then say “OK!” and let him walk the 6-foot length of the leash to sniff around and wander alittle. He never pulls because I stop every time he does, and since I’m a mean meanie, I silently wait for him to heel beside me before we start walking again.
5. Leave It: Teaching your dog to Leave It can save your dog’s life. The most common use is to keep your dog from ingesting food he shouldn’t, and saves you money and a trip to the vet. Another way to use Leave It is to keep him away from other dogs who may not want him near them or from rudely sniffing people nearby, and is best followed up with Come. It’s also a strong impacting command that can get you from Point A to Point B without a bazillion stops in between to sniff every smelly smell on the sidewalk or neighbor’s yard. It also keeps your dog from eating poops that people were too busy to pick up during their dog’s walk, which could make your dog sick and, of course, gross and unkissable.
To teach Leave It, start with a treat and hold it in your hand, gripped in a way that your dog can smell it, but can’t take it. Just hold it there infront of him and let him nibble, lick, paw, etc. your hand. The moment he stops, say Leave It, pause for a split second, and then reward him with a DIFFERENT TREAT FROM YOUR OTHER HAND. Keep doing this until he stops every time you say Leave It five times in a row. Then, try gently placing the treat on the floor, held down and slightly covered by your hand. You can gradually move your hand away and if he goes after it, say “Leave it!” as you cover it with your hand, and when he pulls away or stops trying to take it, pause for a moment, mark the action, and reward him.
Then comes the tough part: Take a simple food that’s generally low value and large so that he can’t vacuum it up (maybe a nylabone or an icecube), and toss it idly nearby behind you. As your dog runs over to sniff or grab it, quickly say “Leave it!” and block his path. The moment he hesitates, you quickly reward him with a smelly high-value treat, then pick the object up. If your dog’s way too fast, you can do this with the leash in hand and the moment he goes for it, quickly snap it back to pull him away, and then reward once he recovers from the pull. Do this over and over until he no longer goes after the item when you say Leave It. Do NOT reward him by letting him eat the item afterward, or he’s going to learn that Leave It means “Stop for a second and then eat it” and not “Leave it alone”. You can do this with other dogs as well, or items in the house, by body-blocking (standing in the way) or pulling with the leash. Make sure you don’t drag your dog gently away and that the leash snap is quick, brief, and not too hard and not too soft.
4. Come: This can also save your dog’s life, especially if he’s found himself bolting across the street and for some reason everyone and their mother decided that this moment was the best moment ever to drive at a billion miles an hour down the neighborhood. It’s also very important to be strong enough that other dogs, small animals, strangers, and the like aren’t too distracting for your dog to “hear” you calling him.
To start, you want to make sure your dog knows his name and will always respond to you when you say it. Do this by saying his name in a “calling” tone right next to him. When he looks at you, or even if his ears move toward you, you reward it with “yes” and then a treat. Keep doing this over and over while less than a foot away until he does it every time ten times in a row. Then try when you’re a few feet away. If it doesn’t work, get closer. See how close you have to be for him to react, and then retry a foot away from there, but say his name louder. Honestly, some dogs really didn’t hear you since most of the things we say are toned out since when we’re far away, we’re talking to someone else and not the dog. Keep doing this until you’re about six feet or so (leash distance).
Then, start saying his name while walking outside. You can walk and walk, and then stop. While you’re dog’s looking around at the beautiful scenery, say his name. If he reacts, mark it and reward. If not, you can tap him on the shoulder, or catch his attention with a treat briefly brought to his nose and then lead toward your face for him to look up at. “I’m here too, you know!” Keep stopping every few feet and saying his name to get him 100% sure he knows it. This also helps with the beginnings of loose-leashing walking and heeling too.
Now’s the “easy” part. He knows his name, now he needs to know how to come up to you to ask, “Yes, what did you need?”. You can start on your normal six-foot-long leash or with a long rope; have him a few feet away, then say his name, and follow it with, “Come!” or “Come here!” or as I say it, “Come’ere!” and act excited, maybe shuffle backwards alittle, slap your knees, beckon him, make funny noises like “Pup pup pup!”, whatever it takes to get him excited and interested so that he runs up to you. If he jumps on you in excitement as he reaches you, that’s fine. Once he reaches you, act like he did the most amazing thing ever, with lots of “Yaaaay!”s and “Wooooo!”s and petting and hugs and all that jazz. Keep doing this over and over until he comes easily. Once you’re confident, you can start getting him to come to you from further and further away in low-distraction places, and eventually get him to come in higher and higher distracting places. The highest point is getting him to come while he’s running around full speed off-leash or while he’s playing with another dog. Make sure that until he comes no matter what, you always have a reward for him coming to you. NEVER call him to you and then make him do something horrible like take a bath, end a fun game off-leash, be punished for running off (Hey! I came back, didn’t I?), or take a medicine.
3. Voluntary Attention: Teaching your dog to look in your eyes is one of the most important things for your dog to learn. It’s the main connection you can make with your dog to communicate, and if your dog’s always looking up at you, it’ll be that much easier to train him and help him follow your lead. Anything you want to say to your dog will be noticed because he’s looking right at you and you’re looking right at him when you say it.
To teach this, find a quiet distraction-free place to train. Stand infront of your dog with treat in hand, hidden of course. Every time he looks at you, mark the action with a clicker or by saying “yes” or “good” in an even positive tone, and then follow up with a small treat, either given right to him into the mouth or dropped on the floor for him to retrieve. After the first treat, your dog’s going to start working his brain on how he can get more treats. Of course, he’ll start by looking up at you to see if you can give him a hint. Right at that moment, mark the action, and then treat. Do this ten to fifteen times a day as a daily routine, and when he does look at you between each session, reward with praise and petting, or maybe a rare treat or two. The importance of having a training routine is that, by standing infront of and looking down at him, that itself is a cue that the training has begun and it’s time to work, and that the training REALLY begins when you two catch eyes.
2. Reinforce Sit to Gain Leadership: Once you teach your dog to sit, you’re now able to use this easy trick as a tool to gain respect and leadership. Start a “No Free Meal” policy in your home once you’ve “mastered” making your dog do what you want. Any time and every time you’re going to give your dog anything, be it his meals, putting his leash on, going out the door, being let inside, being allowed out of the crate, starting a play session, any thing, your dog must sit first, and be able to hold it while you give him what he wants. Once his sit is super strong, and he can hold it without tapping his feet in anxiousness or barking at you to hurry up, you can start teaching “OK!” which indicates that he is now allowed to break from the sit and enjoy what you have given him permission to enjoy. It sounds like being a total Nazi, but it’s very important, isn’t mean, and gives your dog structure and strong leadership.
To teach your dog “OK!” to break from his sit, you can start with easy things like giving him his meal or letting him out. You have him sit and slowly lower the bowl or open the door. When he breaks it without you telling him to, you give him the “you messed up!” mark with a simple, “oops.”, “nope.”, “ah-ah”, or whatever you like, and then lift the bowl back up or shut the door. Have him sit again, and then retry. Be consistent and mark the mistake the same way every time and don’t add any dialog between attempts or your dog will get confused. Once he holds the sit and the bowl is on the floor or the door is open, say, “OK!” excitedly and when he breaks the sit and goes for the bowl or steps outside, praise him verbally since the reward is the food/freedom. Do this all the time as a usual day-to-day routine and you’ve become a leader without having to “really” work for it.
1. Fetch/Go Get It/Where’s Your Ball: This one may not seem like a life-saving trick or one that’s vital enough to be #1 (sorry to disappoint you), but I feel that exercise is the most important thing for your dog, as cheesy as it sounds. Your dog’s health is what matters most when it comes down to it, and having your dog know how to fetch or at least go after a toy is so important. When I adopted Ringo, I was surprised to learn that this puppy didn’t have any “interest” in toys. He was 8 months old and when I tossed a stuffed toy, he looked at it confused, and then sniffed it as if he really didn’t know what it was. I mean, it was a silly looking squeaky flat lizard toy, but still! Any stuffed toy should be fair game to a puppy! I actually had to teach him that it was good to chsse after things I tossed near him.
I did this by tossing it, and when he looked at it, he got praise and a treat. Then I took it and tossed it again. Every time he took notice of it, there was praise and a treat. When he sniffed it, he got praise and pets and a treat. When he picked it up, he got more praise and excited petting and a few treats. Then, I gave him place and let him try playing with it. It was easier in that it was a squeaky toy, so every time it squeaked, I cheered and pet him. Soon he learned that these weird stuffed things aren’t all that bad. Hell, they make my owner go crazy and that’s hilarious!
Now, he goes after anything I toss, be it a stuffed toy, a ball, his Kong, or his rubber bouncy stick thingy. They all lead to lots of dashing about, cheering and pets, and playfully rough play. It’s great to play fetch when the weather’s crummy and walks have to be brief and consist of “Go poopoo! Go peepee! Okay! Let’s go home!”.
To start getting your dog enticed enough to go after the object you threw, if just throwing it doesn’t work, you can say something like, “Go get it!” excitedly as you throw it, and if he stares, run after it alittle. If you’re gonna grab it, it must be something amazing, so I want it first! When he goes for it, cheer and act like he did the best thing in the world. You can get him to Drop It if you have two of the same toy by trading them (whichever toy you’re holding usually has higher value solely because you have it and not him) by giving your toy to him for his toy. If your dog just doesn’t like fetching, you can always hold the toy and dance around shaking it around and smack your knees (kind of like doing a play-bow) and bringing the toy out for him to tug with when he seems interested. It’s great exercise for your dog, as well as yourself, even if you’re only standing there tossing the toy/ball while he goes after it or dancing with a stuffed toy.
And those are the Top Ten Things To Teach Your Dog! This list, as I said before, is pretty loosely-ranked, so number five may be as important as number six, and number ten may be number eleven, but I feel that in general, these things are important enough to teach your dog that SOMEONE pointed it out. If anyone has any other tricks they feel deserve to be in the top ten list instead of what I have, feel free to share your thoughts! Opinions and suggestions are always welcome!