A golden cavapoochon sitting down and smiling during his dog photoshoot at Oxleas Wood

Embarking on the journey of teaching your dog basic commands, whether they are a playful pup or a seasoned rescue, is not just about obedience—it’s a pathway to building a stronger bond, instilling confidence, and providing essential mental stimulation. As you guide your furry friend through commands like “sit,” “lie down,” and “stay,” you’re not just imparting skills; you’re fostering trust and understanding between you and your canine companion.

Let’s explore the benefits of teaching basic commands further:

  • Improves the bond and trust between you and your dog – your dog needs to watch and listen to you, whilst you are helping them understand what it is you want them to do. And you’ll both have fun whilst doing so!
  • Gives your dog confidence – teaching your dog how you want them to behave will give them confidence when they’re faced with something new or unexpected.
  • Mental stimulation – whilst your dog needs physical exercise, mental stimulation is equally important so that they don’t get bored. Did you know that just 10 minutes of training a day can be beneficial to your dog and tire them out?

And I’ll throw in another reason for good measure!. Whilst not a requirement, basic commands also come in handy during a photoshoot! We can get a variety of portrait photos – your dog standing, sitting and lying down. And a “stay” will come in handy during both portrait and action photos. Check out my portfolio if you’d like to see some of the poses we can capture.

Training Basics

There are two things you’ll need when training dogs new commands. The first are treats! The second is a clicker. I should say that a clicker is optional but it really does help with getting your dog to focus. I’ll talk more about these below, as well as discussing some other general pieces of advice.

Treats

I’m a firm believer in positive reinforcement. That means using rewards during training; treats, praise or a toy for example. When your dog behaves in a way that you would like them to behave, they get something they want, and that way, they’re more likely to behave in that same way in the future.

Given most dogs are motivated by food, treats are a common way of rewarding dogs during training. A key point to make is not to use treats that are too big. During a training session you’ll probably be feeding quite a few treats so keep them small and nutritious! I love these training treats from JR Pet Products; they are 100% meat, and are grain and gluten free.

Clicker

Whilst not mandatory, a clicker, when used correctly, can help your dog associate a behaviour with a reward. You can instead use a marker word, such as “Yes”, but this can be confusing for your dog because you’ll likely be saying that word at other times, not just during training, and the tone and volume of your voice changes. The sound a clicker makes is consistent, and your dog will only hear it during training. They’re inexpensive too!

It’s crucial to time your use of the clicker correctly – when your dog is doing the exact thing you want them to do, click and then quickly reward your dog with a treat. For more information on clicker training, please see this guide from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

Cue word or hand signal

You can teach your dog a command using a verbal cue word or hand signal; or both. Whilst the steps below use cue words, you can also introduce hand signals. For example, my dog will sit when I raise my index finger, lie down when I move my palm to the floor, and stay when I hold my palm up towards him.

Keep it short

Keep training sessions short – 10 minutes is a good length, maybe shorter for puppies. You don’t want your dog getting bored, distracted or tired. So keep it short, give them a rest, and then have another short session.

Environment

Always teach a new command at home; where it’s quiet and with no distractions for your dog. Once they’ve mastered the command, try practising outdoors. You may find you need to go back a few steps because your dog will be more distracted by smells, noises, people and other dogs.

Go back a step

If ever your dog seems to be struggling when you move on to the next step, just go back a step and repeat several times before moving on. Patience is key!

Teach a Dog to Sit

The first command we’re going to look at is the “sit”. It’s a command most dogs learn, and can be used as a starting point for other commands such as “shake” and “sit pretty”.

Five Simple Steps

You can teach your dog to sit with these five easy to follow steps:

  1. Whilst your dog is stood in front of you, hold a treat close to their nose.
  2. Move your hand slowly up and over their head, so that their nose follows the smell of the treat, and at the same time they will sit on the floor. As soon as they sit, click and reward with the treat.
  3. Repeat these first two steps until your dog is consistently sitting on the floor when you move your hand over their head. Try also luring them into position without a treat in your hand.
  4. Now it’s time to introduce the cue word. As you start to lure them into position say “sit”. Once they’re sitting, click and reward.
  5. Again repeat this step several times until you can say “sit” and your dog will consistently sit without having to lure them into position.

Teach a Dog to Lie Down

Next up – teaching your dog to lie down. From here you can progress to the “roll over” and “play dead”.

Five Simple Steps

Follow these five steps to teach your dog to lie down.

  1. Start off with your dog in a sitting position.
  2. Hold a treat close to their nose then slowly move your hand downwards towards their chest. They will follow the treat and will end up lying on the floor, at which point you click and reward them.
  3. Repeat until your dog is consistently lying down and until you can lure them into position without the use of a treat.
  4. Introduce your cue word as you start to lure them into position. I personally use “down”, but you could use “lie down” or “lie” instead. Remember to click and reward as soon as your dog is in position.
  5. Repeat, repeat and repeat until your dog lies down with use of the cue word alone.

Teach a Dog to Stay

Lastly, another basic command is teaching your dog to stay. I use this command every day – it comes in handy in lots of scenarios including teaching good behaviour by asking for a “stay” before releasing them to eat their food.

Six Simple Steps

Follow these six steps and your dog will be “staying” in no time!

  1. Whether you want your dog to stay whilst standing, sitting or lying is up to you. Practice with different starting positions. Here we’re going to start with asking your dog to lie down.
  2. When your dog is lying down, wait for one second, then click and reward.
  3. Gradually increase the wait time to five, ten seconds before clicking and rewarding.
  4. Repeat this until your dog consistently stays while lying down.
  5. Introduce your cue word. When they lie down, say “stay”, wait and then click and reward.
  6. Keep practicing – introduce longer wait times, and also try moving away from your dog. You should get to the point where you can ask your dog to stay, you walk to the other side of the room, and they stay lying down.

Final Words

I hope you have found this post helpful. Good luck with teaching your dog some new commands! Remember to take things slowly and be patient. Some dogs learn quicker than others. And some find certain commands easier than others. All dogs are different.

If you’re interested in the history of dog training, understanding how dogs learn, different training methods, and using a professional trainer, these are good articles to start with: Wikipedia’s article on Dog Training (Article 1) and Rescue Dogs’ article on The Importance of Professional Dog Training (Article 2).

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