Dog Training: Commands and Tricks

The Basics

Here are just a few things you can teach your dog.

The Absolute Basics

All dogs need obedience training. Every year many dogs are brought to shelters or abandoned because they have problems. Often those problems never occur if a puppy is both socialized well and early, and the puppy is trained. Training makes better more confident pets and much better adults. Training includes housebreaking and rolling over. Four basic commands can change an out of control dog into a good pet. Sit, stay, come and no can break most pets of bad habits and lead into teaching harder tricks.

All dog training should be positive. The dog should get different types of rewards when it accomplishes something. If a dog messes up, don’t yell, go back over some training they’ve already mastered to make them feel confident about the future. Treats are whatever your dog likes, be it attention, food, a toy, or a belly rub. Never punish a dog after it has done something wrong, only while it is doing it wrong. Dogs live in the present much more than we do. Unless you catch them in the act consider it as if it never happened. The best way to stop those behaviors is prevention. Don’t allow the dog to get into the situation again where it can do the undesired behavior.

All the training used in the dog section worked on my own German Shepherd X Lab, who has a major food fetish. For some dogs using a ball instead of a treat, or even just praise works better. Whatever your dog is interested in will make a good reward. There are several types of training. Many people buy a choke chain because they believe it is the best training tool. In reality it is one of the worse. Spike collars and head leaders are much nicer to the dog. My dog has been trained by using a halti. It is not a muzzle, dogs wearing it are not necessarily biters and the halti does not prevent biting. It works much like a halter on a horse and is self correcting for pulling. Unlike a choke chain corrections are not necessary, the dog that pulls works against their own power trying to get away. Since most people just want a dog who will be a good obedient house pet extensive training is often not needed. If you do want your dog extensively obedience trained, consider AKC Obedience Trials.


Housebreaking is often the first thing somebody wants to teach their new dog. There are several ways to do this. Their differences lie in the amount of time you are actually there to watch the puppy. Also some people want to train the dog to always go on paper or in a box because they live in an apartment and have smaller dogs. Most people want their dog to go relieve itself outside. Some adult dogs already know not to go in the house, but sometimes rescued shelter dogs need a refresher course. With them the housebreaking normally works best.

Housebreaking is actually getting the dog to never relieve itself in the house. House training is the other choice of training the dog to always go on paper or in a box. Many people treat house training as a step in housebreaking. They cover their kitchen floor with paper and wait. I think this is an adequate technique, especially if you aren’t going to constantly be there to watch the dog.

If you are there to constantly watch the puppy than try this method. The point is to never have any in house accidents, and to always catch the puppy in the act. If the puppy does have an accident and you don’t catch it in the act, do not punish the puppy. The puppy will not understand why it is being punished and may begin to fear you as unpredictable. The nice part is times to go can be predicted. Always bring the puppy out after activity, meals and after it wakes up. Some puppies sniff in preparation. That is the time you say no and bring them outside, same response if you catch them in the act.

Back to house training. House training is much better if you can’t supervise. Since puppies are normally confined to one area of the house, cover that entire floor with newspaper. Once you get the puppy going on the paper, decrease the space the paper takes up. If it stops using the paper backtrack and try again. The point is to get the dog going on only a few feet of paper. Begin moving the paper slowly toward the door to the yard. On a nice day bring the paper outside and put it on the grass. If the puppy accepts this slowly take the paper away. To avoid later accidents always watch the dog sniffing for their paper or heading to the door to be let out.

Crate Training

Crate Training can normally be considered a part of housebreaking for some dogs, it certainly makes the process easier. The idea behind it is the dog will not soil an area voluntarily if he will have to lie in it. Crates keep a dog confined to a smaller area thus preventing accidents. They are also very good at housebreaking an older dog who can already control their bladder.

In general the younger the dog the smaller the bladder. Young dogs shouldn’t be in the crate for more that 2-3 hrs straight in a day. They need to come out, get exercised, and be dogs. Puppies should not be crated when no one is home to take them out if they start to cry. Older dogs can normally last about 8 hrs, or all night. As for how much time is too much. A dog should never be crated while you are at work, then let out for a few hours when you get home, then crated again all night. That amount of time would not be fair to the dog. However either being crated while you are at work, or crated at night are options. At both times the dog will be spending much of the time sleeping.

Introducing the crate. Start with a crate size your dog can stand up in turn around and lay down comfortably. If your dog is still a puppy and will get quite large, block off the rest of the crate with something. Make sure the crate door is open, and isn’t in any danger of swinging and frightening the dog as it investigates. Put treats in the crate, and a favorite blanket or toy. The crate should have good things associated with it. Over the space of a few days get the dog used to the fact the crate door can close, but that it is okay, because there is a really great chew in there with them.

Once the dog is comfortable in the crate, try crating at night. The upside of this is the dog is already going to be doing nothing, so isn’t so stressed out by the confinement. With a young puppy make sure the crate is where you will easily hear the dog crying in the middle of the night for a bathroom break. Older dogs are normally much more vocal about having to go out.

When using the crate as a housebreaking tool, make sure that each time you let the dog out of the crate you bring them directly outside. If they produce praise and treat them, if not and they cried to get out, give them a small treat and put them back in, try again in about a half hour. If you are completely certain your dog is empty you can ignore some crying. If you give in to every cry you will get a dog that knows that crying gets him out of the crate.

One other use of crate training with a housebroken adult dog is it can help curb some destructive tendencies, provided they are not separation anxiety caused.

Sit, Stay, Come

Sit is normally the first thing a dog can learn. It is also one of the easiest to teach. First get the dog to stand in front of you. Take some type of great treat and hold it in front of there nose. Slowly push the treat over the back of the dog’s head. As the dog’s nose goes up their rump goes down. Say sit as you move the food. As soon as they sit give the food. Always say Okay or another release word before the dog ends any command. This way eventually the dog will wait to move until you releases them from the command. At advanced obedience dogs can stay in a command position for a long period of time.

Stay can be taught at the same time as sit. Many people accompany verbal commands with hand signals. A commonly used stay command is a spread palm in front of the dog’s nose. Stay is just a word. The dog will probably try to stand up or walk away before it learns it only gets the treat when it remains in one place. If the dog gets up don’t make a big deal of it, more the dog back into position and say stay again. Don’t forget to release the dog from the command, otherwise it may jump out of stay at the wrong time. Limit training sessions to fifteen minutes. Never make the training anything less than a game. If the dog doesn’t enjoy doing it, they probably don’t want to do it in a different situation.

Come is fairly easy. Most dogs want to be with you anyway. This one is easiest when the dog knows you have a treat in the first stages. The easy first stage is to have the dog on a longer leash and call their name. Hopefully by now they know their name. Call their name and say the word come in a sweet high pitched voice. High pitches make dogs excited, while low or slow noises calm them down. If the dog doesn’t even look at you give the leash a tug.

As the dog turns around say come again and begin to reel them in. This command takes a while to master, but once learned is great. Continue calling with the lead until the dog comes as you call. Once the dog comes reliably on a leash, practice without one, or with it on the ground within grabbing distance. Off lead should be practiced in an enclosed space. In a underground dog fence yard or a closed tennis court is ideal. If the dog doesn’t get that the leash training is connected to this, go back to the leash and give a refresher. The dog should enjoy coming to you. Some tips on how to make it enjoyable for the dog. Always praise the dog when it comes. When you call the dog, don’t always make whatever it was doing end. If it was playing with other dogs when you called and it came to you rather than play more, praise them and let them go back to playing. Come should not be a command you use only when you are going to put the leash on or train the dog.

Dogs should enjoy their training or in an emergency they may not follow it.

Lay Down

Lay is another easy food command. Pick whatever word you want to signal it, lay, down, it doesn’t matter. Use the same method as in teaching the sit. Put the foot or treat in your fingers and hold it in front of the dog’s nose. Slowly pull it down toward the floor so the dog has to lay down to get it. If your dog doesn’t lay, but rather bows, try putting them into a sit then leading them into the lay. Use the same release word as for sit to let the dog get up. In the early tries keep the time the dog must remain in the position short. You can gradually increase it as needed.


Wait is actually a basic dog concept. It is essential when letting a dog out the door on a leash or when they want to get out of anything. The easiest way to teach this is with food. It can be taught inside or out and is normally relatively easy. Put the dog on its leash and keep it in control distance. Have the dog sit then make sure it sees you put a treat on the ground or floor four or five feet in front of them. Tell the dog to wait in a slower than average tone of voice. If the dog gets up and tries for the food pull back on the leash and have them sit again. Release the dog after a short wait and allow them to reach the food. Practice often, especially before going outside or letting the dog out of the car.


Paw is another basic concept. Wolves paw at each other in play and greetings. If the dog has sensitive or is touchy about having its paws handled do not try this trick. You may get bitten. Ask for the dog’s paw and reach out with your hand for its paw. Pick it up from behind the front ankle joint (the wrist) and shake it once. Dog’s begin to associate you holding your hand out as a command to put their paw there. This trick can be taught so that different hands mean different paws. My dog can give either front paw depending on the command. This trick is also a great way to see if the dog can go in the living room. Your nice new white rug with muddy paw prints.


This is the most misunderstood command in history. Unless you are going out for obedience trials you don’t care how well your dog heels. Most people would just like a dog who pays attention to where you are going and would rather be with you than on the end of the leash. This is more of a state than a command. You want the dog to always walk calmly on a leash, no matter what goes by. It is also one of the most difficult to teach.

Most people just want their dog to walk without pulling them down the street. As with all training it must be started at home. When you take the dog outside begin to watch how it walks. Does it always pull on the leash or wait for you. If it is always pulling on the leash there are ways to end this. One way is following. When the dog is paying attention to you start walking in random directions. Always make sure the dog is following you or paying attention to your movements. Food is a great entice in this game. If the dog is a puppy this is a great time to teach. Gently lead them around like you would an adult dog, but not as firmly. Puppies want to follow you already, you’re just giving them an outlet.

Once the dog reliably stays close to you (This could take varying amounts of time, depending on how much you practice and the dog’s personality.) It is time for a walk. Start out short an always keep the dog from mistakes. If the dog starts pulling lead them back the way you came over and over until when you leave they don’t pull. This will probably involve a lot of walking back and forth over and over again. You might think you look funny but it shouldn’t take long for the dog begin to understand. If you want, use treats to get the dogs attention. Remember to always wean them off treats to praise from you or a pat. Otherwise they may only respond to the treat. Your praise should be enough of a reward.

As you both get better at walking together start to add controlled distractions. Have a friend ride a bicycle by you and praise the dog for being calm. If the dog isn’t calm try first with bike farther away and gradually bring it closer as the dog stays calm. Use this technique with other distractions as well, other walkers, another dog, a jogger, and cars. Eventually you should have a pet you can take with you and will obey you at any command.

Back Up

This is more of a trick than anything practical, at least to most people. It is nice when you walk in the door to be able to tell the dog to back up so you don’t drop the groceries all over. This is taught in a very interesting way. You lead the dog between a table and a couch. Keep the furniture far enough apart that the dog isn’t trapped. Say the words back up and walk toward them. The only place an emotionally balanced dog can go is back. Reward after a few steps backwards and set them up again to do the same trick. With fifteen minutes a day most dogs can learn this trick quickly. The reason for the table and couch are so the backing up is straight. Don’t loom over the dog as you do this training. They may feel trapped and react badly to the training.


This training involves a leash or just a treat, depending on your dog’s personality. If your dog has a set pattern of getting on furniture and growling at you, stop letting them on the furniture. Your dog has a few dominance issues with the prime sleeping spot. This is the type of dog you use a leash on. It is best to leave the leash on whenever you are with the dog. When they get on the furniture say off then use the leash and a treat to coax them off. Only reward them when they get off.

If your dog has no problems with dominance then a leash may be unnecessary. The leash is only to provide protection for the owner’s hands. A balanced dog can be taught using only the treat, because the dog believes you are the boss, and it has no delusions of grandeur. Use the same technique as above, but instead of the leash and a treat when they get off, use the treat to coax them off.


This command is more for convenience than anything else. If you wash your own dog it isn’t that hard to teach. When they’re wet and preparing to shake, tell them to shake. Reward them when they do it on command. It could take a bit of time before the dog gets it fully. It just involves being consistent.

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