Top 5 things to teach your dog.

There are many, many things that you can teach your dog, but there are a handful that are particularly important. Millicent Hayes, dog trainer and owner of Unleashed Potential Dog Training, has put together this fantastic resource for you all... 5 commands not only to make life easier but can keep your dog safe from harm.

  1. A solid recall – returning when called. This can save your dog's life. Imagine you are at the park, by a busy road and your dog gets spooked and slips his collar. Without a solid recall this scenario can be a recipe for disaster.

  2. Sit to say please – A dog that has been taught that sit means please knows that they will only get attention, food, toys, once they are sitting nicely. It is a basic command that makes life with your dog much more pleasant.

  3. Walking on a loose lead – Walking a dog that pulls is a pretty unpleasant experience for everyone involved. It can then mean the dog gets walked less often. Which often means it pulls even more when it does go out. Walking on a loose lead is a basic skill that can greatly improve a dog's life.

  4. Settle – Teaching your dog to lie down and relax on cue, is helpful for yourself and your dog. There are times when you need your dog to settle down. One good example is if you have very old or young people around that could be hurt by a boisterous dog. However it is a useful cue in a multitude of situations.

  5. Leave it – This is another command that is not only useful but can potentially save your dogs life. Dogs, as much as we love them, can be pretty gross. They love smelly things. Sometimes those smelly things can be dangerous. Say like a puffer fish at the beach, or a cane toad. Having a solid leave it is invaluable in these situations and many others.



Start by practising this in a low distraction environment, like your back yard. Wait until your dog wanders away from you, then call his name followed by the command “come” (or whichever word you would like to use). Pair the command with a hand signal. I hold both of my arms out to the side so I look like I am on a cross. The reason I use this signal is that it is very easily seen from a distance, so works well at the park. Once your dog comes to you give them a treat (their favourite tasty treat as we really want to motivate them) and give them lots of praise. If you find your dog does not come, call them again and use a really excited, silly voice. You can also dance around or run in the opposite direction. Whatever it takes to get their attention. In a low distraction environment you generally find call them is sufficient.


                                                                  Once they have it down pat in the back yard it is time to start proofing the behaviour.                                                                     This just means you are going to try more distracting environments, until they have it

                                                                  down pat in all those places. I suggest trying the front yard or verge next, then down                                                                     the street a bit, and finally at the local park. In places without secure fencing, make                                                                       sure you use a long line to keep your dog safe until it has a solid recall in that place. A                                                                   long line is just a very long lead, often 5-10 metres long. They can be bought from                                                                         your local pet store or online. They are a very useful tool when training any dog.


The most important thing to remember is to never scold or punish your dog when they get back to you, no matter how long it took for them to return. Dogs should always see recalling to their owner as the most fun thing ever. I often advise to keep their absolute favourite treat (my dog loves tuna) exclusively for using on recalls. Feel free also to use toys, many dogs prefer them over treats. A squeaky toy that they can also play tug with when they get to you is a good choice. Even once your dog has a solid recall, you should practise it regularly during outings to keep it solid. If the only time you recall them is when you leave the park, you will find their enthusiasm starts to wane. I always have at least a few treats tucked in my back pocket for precisely this reason.

Sit to Say Please


Training your dog to sit to say please is the foundation for teaching calm, focused behaviours. Plus having calm behaviour is something that will be appreciated by everyone that comes in contact with your dog. Teaching this behaviour is very simple. You start by teaching the sit command. Have a treat ready and call your dog to you. Once they reach you lure them by bringing the treat up directly above their head. Make sure you don't bring the treat up too high as this will usually cause them to jump up for the treat. Hold it directly over their head. As they bring their head up to investigate the treat, their bottom will automatically touch the ground. As it does, say yes and give the treat. Practise this and once the dog can do it reliably (4-5 times in a row), add the command sit and a hand signal. I hold my hand out in front of me and bring it back towards my body with my palm facing in. Once your dog has this down pat you can start rewarding every 2nd sit, then every 3rd, then 4th. If your dog stops offering a sit when asked, go back to a treat for every sit. It just means you moved to the nest step too quickly. Once you can get 5+ sits in a row without a treat, then you can start rewarding intermittently. So after 7 sits, and then after 2 for example. Keep them guessing. Do not completely remove all rewards, as dogs are like us and like to get paid for their work. Always praise them with your voice after every sit.


Now your dog has sit down pat, ask for a sit every time you pay them any attention.

If they want a pat they must be sitting. If they want a treat, or before their dinner

they must sit. If they want you to throw the ball they must sit. When you have

guests and they want attention they must sit. They must sit to have their lead put

on before a walk. This is very important, the more consistent everyone is the

quicker your dog will learn. I often foster puppies and generally find they pick this

up in days. With adult dogs it can sometimes take a little longer, but persevere,

dogs are smart and will pick it up in time. Any undesirable behaviour, likely jumping

up, ignore (I turn my back). Soon you will find your dog offering the behaviour

before you even ask. This is what we are looking for. Remember to praise them for

the sit when they do it, before patting, or playing etc.

Loose Lead Walking


Many dogs pull on the lead while they are on a walk, often people think their dog is being naughty or even dominant. This is far from the case and the reason is simple... walks are fun and exciting and your dog just wants to get where it is going as quickly as possible. We call this a self rewarding behaviour, because they pull and therefore get where they want quicker. Which is why it can be a hard behaviour to change. The solution is extremely simple however. There are 2 main techniques, stay still and reverse direction.


With the stay still technique as soon as there is any tension on the lead you stop walking. Usually your dog will quite quickly turn around to see why you aren't moving. When they do the tension is released from the lead. Praise the dog and start moving forward again. Repeat if  there is any tension on the lead.


The second technique is to reverse direction. When there is tension on the lead call your dog, say “Let's go” and walk in the opposite direction without jerking or yanking the lead. Once they catch up to you, praise them, turn around and walk back in your original direction.


The key to this, like most things, is consistency! Every single time they pull, stop or reverse direction. You can also use a combination of both. Yes it does make for a boring walk the first few times. But remember that this will be making their minds work hard and that tires them out far quicker than physical exercise. Plus the more they practise the behaviour the quicker they learn how it works. Pull means stop or reverse direction, and loose lead means go. They want to be moving, not standing still or turning around, so it usually doesn't take too long to figure it out.


You can do a few things that will help. Firstly, avoid using their collar and get a harness. Definitely do not use a choke or check chain. These put pressure on the delicate throat structures, increasing the risk of injuries. Plus some harnesses, like front attaching harnesses, actually help prevent pulling. Just make sure you get the harness properly fitted and check your dog to see if it is rubbing or uncomfortable in any areas.



Teaching your dog to settle down, or turn “off” can be the most important thing

you ever teach them. It can definitely save your sanity if nothing else. To start with

you need a distraction free environment, their bed or a mat to lie on, and some

treats or a toy.


Start by standing close by the mat (or bed) with your dog. Point to the mat and

lure them towards it with the treat or toy. Once they have all 4 feet on the mat,

say yes and reward them by giving them the treat or toy. Repeat this until they are reliably going to the mat every time you ask. At this point add in the cue “settle” as you lure them to the mat. Once you have them doing this reliably you can ask them to lie down when they get to the mat. Repeat that until they do it automatically every time they get to the mat. Don't forget to reward them every single time.


What we want to do next is build both duration and distance. Start by waiting a couple of seconds before giving them their reward. Build up the time little by little. Now you can start building distance. Once they have laid down ask them to stay and move away one step. Return to your dog and reward. Then take 2 steps and repeat the process. Slowly build up the distance you move away. Then you can try going out of sight, making sure you return quickly at first and then build up the duration you are gone.


If your dog gets up it means you need to go back a step and build up again. Do not try and rush the process, it takes time to get it right. With time and practise you will find they pick it up relatively easily. Once they have it down pat do not forget to regularly praise them for being on their mat. Giving them a durable chew toy will help keep them occupied. Also do not expect them to spend large amounts of time on their mat. Let them get up and move around when you don't need them on their mat.

Leave it


Teaching your dog to “leave it” is important tool in teaching general impulse control. It can literally save your dogs life. There are a number of stages in teaching this command. It starts fairly simply...


Firstly get a treat in your palm and make a fist around it. Place your fist in front of you dog. They will usually start sniffing your fist, then licking or pawing at your fist. Ignore them and wait. After a while they will stop, some dogs take longer than others, but persevere. Once they do, open up your fist so they can see the treat. If they try to grab it say “leave it” and  close your fist again. Repeat the exercise. Eventually they will stop trying to take the treat and look at you when you open your fist. As soon as that happens say yes, and give them a treat (not the one in your hand) and praise.


The next step is to place the treat on the floor and ask him to “leave it”. If your dog tries to get the treat put your hand over it so he can't. Once he stops trying to get the treat and looks at you say yes and give him a treat (not the one on the floor). Repeat until he has it down pat, usually 5-10 repetitions. Once your dog can do this reliably you can move to the next step.


Now you can try this with different foods, toys and other items your dog finds interesting. Then you can try practising on lead by walking your dog past the item and saying leave it as you approach. Once you pass the item say yes and reward your dog with a treat. Up the ante by taking the exercise outside. Start in your yard and try it down the street and at the park. Like with recall always praise and reward heavily every time they leave something alone. You want them to view the leave it command as the best thing ever.


You can use the leave it command for people, animals and other dogs as well as food, toys or items on the ground. The command has a huge variety of uses and you will find invaluable for the life of your dog.

Our beautiful website images are courtesy of Houndstooth Studio and Shutter Paws.


Site terms and conditions.

WA Pet Project is a Perth based cat and dog rescue focused on improving the lives of pets and their humans. 

© 2016  by Alexie Green.