Like any other relationship, the best dog training is about building trust.
But training isn't about control. It's first and foremost about communicating well with your pup, managing the situations they’re put in and using positive reinforcement to reward good behaviours. Dogs don’t come into the world knowing how to live within the context of human environments or expectations—they must be taught. So every cue or command is a conversation.
Not every dog needs to be a contender at Crufts. For most dogs, being able to pull off just a handful of skills and commands with confidence and consistency is enough to create a safe and enriching environment for them. It can be the difference between
While puppies can be slightly easier to train, there’s no age at which a dog stops learning. You can (and should!) teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, with life-long training with the right approach, can help improve your dog’s overall health and happiness.
When you’ve mastered the basics, you can level up training by incorporating the AKC’s three D’s of dog training: distance, duration, and distraction. But before jumping into training cues, it's essential to take time to learn about what motivates your dog. This will be how you reward them, so it’s important to know what they’ll work for. Dogs who are food-motivated will work for most treats. Other dogs may be more eager to work for a favourite toy, verbal praise, or owner affection.
To that end, we’ve compiled a list of basic commands most dogs can pick up quite easily at home, along with tips for setting up an environment for success.
Personal preparation and communication
Arguably the most important aspect of dog training is not your dog’s ability to learn but your ability to communicate effectively.
Training requires precision, like marking a desired behaviour with a word or a clicker. It also requires discipline and consistency. Dogs are adept at recognising patterns, making them fast learners of both good and bad habits—so training needs to be intentional and thoughtful. The best way to set yourself and your dog up for success is to do your preliminary research, gather the necessary tools and acumen, and dedicate a little time each day to training. Start with short sessions, easy wins, and realistic expectations.
Use Meal Times as Training
Simply putting a bowl of food in front of your puppy is a missed opportunity for training. Instead, why not use mealtimes as an opportunity to feed by hand while training? This should only be done in short, sweet sessions, as long as your dog is focused and happy. If your dog shows signs of stress, end the training and let them eat freely.
Focused dog training
Knowing when and how to get and hold your dog’s attention will help shift focus from triggers out in the world that might put dogs over the threshold when they can no longer pay attention to anything except the trigger.
This is especially important for reactive dogs: dogs who get aggressive or overly excited by specific external stimuli. If your dog is looking at you, it’s not looking at the trigger. You can start this training in your own home, rewarding your dog every time it makes unprompted eye contact with you. Treat often and generously. Eventually, they will learn that looking at you, or “checking in,” is a positive and default behavior. Practice this skill in gradually more distracting environments.
Desensitising a dog
The world can be an overwhelming place for dogs, especially puppies who are experiencing it with all of their senses for the first time. Vacuums, sirens, skateboards, wheelchairs, people in hats, nail clippers, and sewer grates are just a few examples of the types of seemingly innocuous things that could be frightening or cause anxiety for your dog.
Slowly desensitising or counterconditioning your dog to these triggers will help build their confidence and create positive associations with scary stimuli. Start small in your own home by treating your dog for every positive interaction it has with a trigger.
If a vacuum is terrifying, for example, treat your dog with every glance, step toward, or sniff of the vacuum while it’s off. Over time, you can decrease the distance from triggers and increase the time spent interacting with them.
Teaching dogs patience can be difficult, but solidifying manners like “sit,” “stay,” and “wait” have a whole host of benefits.
When guests enter your house, you might use these commands as part of a polite greeting routine. They can also be used as part of a polite greeting routine with dogs they encounter out in the world. Or, you might train dogs to stay whenever a door (house or car) is opened to prevent them from running out into streets or car parks.
Begin in your own home by rewarding patient choices your dog makes, even without a verbal cue. If your dog chooses to sit, treat them for it. If your dog calmly watches you move around without following, reward that behaviour. Eventually, dogs will learn that these choices lead to positive outcomes.
Down you’ve got the basics down, why not give these simple commands a try?
How to train a dog to walk on a lead
Lead training is critically important, especially if walking is one of your dog’s main forms of exercise. No human likes to be dragged by a dog pulling on a leash, and no dog likes to be yanked constantly. Ideally, lead walking should be a choreographed dance with communication, cues, a leader, and a follower. Also, consider attaching the lead to a harness instead of directly to your dog’s collar—it’s safer and more comfortable for your pup.
You can begin at home by letting your dog get used to the weight, feel, and sound of the leash. Practice walking from room to room or around the yard, slowly introducing tension. Whenever your dog “checks in” while on a lead, walks next to you, or walks with slack in the lead, reward them generously.
How to teach your dog to 'leave it'
Being able to communicate with your dog about when to leave something alone could save you an emergency visit to the vet.
Dogs are curious and will explore the world with their mouths, which could mean accidentally eating or chewing something dangerous. This type of impulse control is especially hard for dogs.
It’s a big ask to expect a dog to leave a chicken wing on the street without getting something better in return, so training this command starts with small victories at home with safe objects — like rewarding your dog when they simply look away from the thing you want them to leave.
Over time, with increased difficulty and many repetitions, your dog will be conditioned to simply walk away when they hear “leave it.”
How to teach your dog recall
Recall is one of the most important skills you can build with your dog to keep them safe. The best way to start is in your own home.
Like most other skills, starting with small distances — like calling your dog to you from a few feet away from indoors — will help build confidence and understanding of the verbal cue and expected outcome. Reward generously and celebrate each time your dog makes it to you and increase the recall distance when they are consistently coming when called.
Next, you can move the training to your garden, which offers more real-world distraction. Eventually, when you move to even more distracting environments like a park or field, start with your dog on a long lead so they’re safely secured if they lose focus.
How to teach your dog to ‘stay’ and ‘place’
The ‘stay’ command is to teach your dog to remain on the spot they’re already in, whereas the place command instructs your dog to go to a specific spot and stay there. This is slightly more complicated than ‘stay’, but it creates a safe, comfortable place for them to relax in potentially stressful situations such as when guests arrive or if you’re cooking and don’t want your dog underfoot.
“Places” can be dog beds, crates, or cots. Begin by designating a location as the “place” and reward them for interacting with it: looking at it, sniffing it, putting their paws on it, or lying down on it. When they’re comfortable with that spot, you can add the verbal cue and increase the three D’s.
How to teach your dog to ‘drop it’
If you’re too late to deploy the “leave it” command when your dog picks up something it shouldn’t have, “drop it” is your next best tool. With lots of practice, this command eliminates the bad habit of chasing your dog (which they love and will view as play) or prying something away from them in order to retrieve a harmful object.
This command can also be used in polite play with you and other dogs. It’s tough to play fetch or tug-of-war with a dog who won’t release the item. But “drop it” keeps play engaging and fun.