When you first adopt a dog and bring them home, they’re entering into a whole new world with you. Even if they’ve had previous homes before they came to you, their life with you isn’t just a new chapter – it’s a whole new beginning! Some pups may already have strong personality traits and ticks and, if you’re lucky, they may already know some basic commands and training as well. It’s important to spend those first few months really getting to know your new family member, and getting them acclimated to your life and routine. Even if they’re super well behaved, there are a few basic tricks you’ll want to master with them as they’re getting used to you being their new pack leader. We’ve rounded up five basic dog tricks you’ll want to teach them, which are easily learned no matter their current level of training. You could take a class but it’s really not necessary if you have just a bit of free time. Plus, this will be a fun and bonding experience for you both!
Sit: This is probably the easiest trick to train so it’s a great one to start with. Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose and move your hand up, allowing his head to follow the treat while causing his bottom to lower. Once he’s in the sitting position, say “Sit” and give him a treat and affection. Repeat this sequence a few times a dog until he has it. From there, cement the trick and continue to use it by asking your dog to sit before being given meals or treats, before a walk and any other scenario where you’d like to calm him.
Come: This command is important for both you and your dog in case your dog gets away from you, whether through an open door or by slipping through the collar. It can also be helpful at the dog park or places where they are off leash. To train, put a leash and collar on your dog. Go down to their level and say “Come” while gently pulling on the leash. When they get to you, give them a treat and affection. Once they’ve mastered it with a leash, remove it and practice the command without it (while still indoors in a trusted area).
Down: Down is one of the harder commands to train, as it’s seen as a submissive position. You’ll want to keep this training particularly positive and relaxed, especially with anxious or fearful dogs. To start, find a good smelling treat (like our DOGSTREAT mini peanut butter!) and hold it in your closed hand. Hold it up to your pup for a sniff and let his nose follow the treat to the ground. Slide your hand along the ground in front of him to encourage his body to follow his head. Refrain from pushing him down, he should be able to get there by wanting to follow your hand. Encourage every step of the process! Repeat this every day. If your dog tries to sit up or lunge towards the treat, say “No” and take your hand away. He’s working hard to figure it out, so allow the extra patience and time for this one!
Stay: You’ll want to start with Stay only after you’ve totally mastered the Sit command. First, ask your dog to “Sit.” Then open the palm of your hand in front of you and say “Stay” and take a few steps back. Reward him with a treat and affection if he stays. Repeat this, gradually increasing the number of steps you take backwards each time before giving him a treat. Reward him each time he stays still, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Since this is an exercise in self control, don’t be discouraged if it takes awhile to master, especially if you’re working with a puppy or high-energy dog.
Leave it: Here, you’re teaching your dog to stay away from potential dangers on the ground as well as protecting things you don’t want them to have in the house. You’ll be doing this by teaching them that if they listen, they’ll get something even better as a reward. Start by placing a treat in each hand and show him one enclosed fist with the treat inside and say “Leave it.” Let him lick, sniff and paw at you to try and get to it (if he does), while ignoring these behaviors. Once he stops trying, give him the treat from the other hand. Repeat until your dog backs away from the first fist when you say “Leave it.” As a next step, give him the treat only when he leaves the first treat and looks at you. Once he’s mastered that (leaving the first treat and then making eye contact), try it with a really smelly, great treat and a just okay one. Say “Leave it” while placing the less attractive treat on the floor and covering it with your hand. Wait until he ignores it and looks at you. When he does, remove it from the floor, give him the better treat and praise him. Once he’s got that, place the less tasty treat on the floor but don’t totally cover it with your hand. You should be able to work to a place where you can hold your hand about six inches above the treat saying “Leave it” and he still won’t go for it. You can eventually stand up, and cover the treat with your foot only if he tries to go for it.
It may take a bit of time and patience to master these tricks, but will be well worth the effort. If in the process you’ve taken it up a notch and your pup is really stuck, try returning to the previous stage for a bit. Teaching your dog these few basic commands will form a bond between the two of you and that can be helpful when tackling problem behaviors that could develop in the future. You won’t regret taking the time to work with them on trusting and listening to you from the get-go. In the comments below, share tips on how you trained your current pups and what tricks you’d still like to master.
Psst: check out the Humane Society’s tips on basic training!