Some dogs are smart enough to learn 165 words or even more. Just how smart they can be largely depends on the breed and how much time you spend with them.
No dog, however, is smart enough to realize every single danger he can get himself into. There are poisonous snake bites, open wells, automobiles, medication, antifreeze and getting trapped in places where he cannot get out. (Don’t miss our important article on this subject: 70 Pet Dangers You Can Avoid.)
For these reasons, it is vital that every dog learns to understand and obey certain commands. Here are five basic commands your dog should know:
“Come” may be one of the most important commands your dog will learn. It protects him from being injured or killed — and it can protect you from getting sued.
Teach this command by taking your dog on a leash to a place where he sees interesting things. Don’t let him roam away from you to investigate the surroundings. If you do clicker training, wait to get his attention. When he makes eye contact with you, click and reward. When he looks at you, walk backward and click as you show him a treat. Then verbalize the word “Come.” Practice this every day for 10 minutes. He will catch on that coming when you call is a good thing.
2. Leave It
This is an especially good command for dogs who will not hesitate to grab a snake, a kitten or a dropped pill with their teeth. Some dogs will not discriminate in what they swallow.
Have your dog on a leash and drop a toy onto the ground. Walk your dog past the toy just short of where he could get it. As soon as you notice him pulling toward the toy, sharply say, “Leave it” and pull him away. When he walks away without your having to pull him, reward him with a snack and tell him what a good dog he is. Repeat this with a longer leash and later without a leash, until he listens to you and ignores the toy. Never forget to reward and praise.
3. Drop It
Dogs are really fast when they want to be. If you see your daughter’s pet hamster sticking out of your dog’s mouth, “Drop it” may be the proper command.
This also goes for playing ball with your dog. If he catches the ball but won’t release it, tell him, “Drop it.” When your dog associates this command with playing, he may be more interested in letting go of his prize. This command is not hard to teach.
Play with your dog so he puts a ball into his mouth, then stop and call firmly but never angrily, “Fido, Drop It!” If he drops the toy out of surprise, praise him lavishly. Pick up the ball and toss it so he can play again.
If he decides not to drop the ball, hold him by the collar and gently open his jaws so that the ball rolls out. Then praise him happily. Take the ball and toss it again.
This command is useful, especially when you have a large dog. If you don’t want him to jump all over you, or someone else, have him sit down. It also helps to keep a sense of order when someone rings your doorbell. And it aids in the attempt to keep your dog from jumping excitedly while waiting for his breakfast.
To teach “Sit,” you only need to stand facing the dog with a treat in hand, placed no more than an inch above the dog’s nose. Guide the dog’s head to move up by moving the treat farther up the dog’s head. The dog should raise his head and lower his rump into a sit. The instant you get a sit, praise him and give the treat. Keep practicing this, and don’t forget to come up with a release command such as “OK!”
The ASPCA has more tips for teaching “sit.”
The command “Wait” will help you tremendously when you have to take your dog for a checkup. In the time you open the car door and the crate door, your dog can be out and running into the street before you get the chance to put the leash on him.
Teaching him to wait lets him know that he has to stand still for a short time until you are finished with some task. Teach him to wait until you give him permission to go through a door, for instance.
Open your door and give him enough leash that he could walk through the door. When he is at the front of the door, pull the leash tight and say, “Wait.” Have him sit if he already knows that command. If he doesn’t listen, pull the leash and release a little in quick succession. Praise him and give him a snack when he finally gets it. Practice until he waits until you are through the door and then allow him to follow.