If you have never trained a dog before or don’t have any idea where to start then this article will be helpful. It is aimed at beginners and we will be providing step-by-step instructions on how to teach your dog obedience commands. In addition, we will also be providing practical training tips for each of the dog basic commands we cover.
All of the commands we will present here are based on your dog’s understanding of the Sit Command.
In our article entitled How to Train Your Dog- By Understanding How He Thinks, also contained Dog Training Theory and Command Training Method. Both topics are vital in helping you be successful with the obedience commands we will now present.
Before we begin, let’s refresh you on some training methods, training theory, and terminology from the article ‘How To Train Your Dog’.
To teach any Dog Obedience Command you need two things;
- Hand Signal
- Verbal Signal.
1. The Verbal Signal
The verbal signal can be whatever word you choose.
2. The Hand Signal
It is the hand signal that is important in the beginning when teaching a command. The hand signal must mimic the body movement you want from the dog. So for example, when teaching sit, the hand signal looks like a rainbow over the head. So the dog looks up at the hand signal and falls back into the sit position.
Also, remember the hand signal almost always starts at the dog’s nose level and there is almost always a treat in your hand when executing a command. We do this during the initial training process to grab the dog’s attention.
The trainer’s ‘command hand’ refers to the hand that is executing the hand signal. Typically, if you are left-handed, the command hand would be your left and if you are right-handed, the command hand would be your right hand.
Specific Verbal Signal
Also remember you need a specific verbal signal, or word, for each command you teach. The command does not have to be the same words we are presenting here. You can choose any word you want for a command. Just make sure your family is consistent using the same word that you have chosen. For example, in a moment we will be teaching the Watch Me Command. But some trainers prefer to use the word Look or Look at Me. You are free to choose whichever word you would like, just stick with your choice.
Pitch of Voice
One last tip when teaching your dog obedience commands is to know that dogs will learn right from wrong by the pitch and tone of your voice.
For dogs, a high-pitched voice is a sign of approval, and a low-pitched voice is a sign of disapproval.
A low-pitched voice for a dog resembles a mammy dog disciplining its pups whereas a high-pitched voice is considered praise to a dog.
In beginner-level obedience, the Sit Command is usually the first command taught. It is relatively easy to teach. Also, the method used to teach many of the other obedience commands is aided by having the dog in a sitting position. Therefore, it makes sense to teach this obedience command first.
To teach your dog to sit, you are going to put a dog treat in your ‘command hand’. If you are right-handed, for example, your right hand is your command hand. If you are left-handed, your left and is your command hand.
Now although dogs see with their eyes, the easiest way to gain their attention is through their sense of smell. So you will take the treat that is in your command hand and lower it to your dog’s nose. This will get his attention. Without that attention, you will not be able to teach this command.
Rainbow Over The Head
So your treat is in your ‘command hand’ at ‘doggie nose level’. Bring the treat up over the dog’s eyes, keeping it close to his face. Continue, up over his head. So as he looks upward and his eyes follow the treat, the rest of the body will follow and the dog will fall back into the SIT position.
As you are doing this say “Sit” (just one time). As soon as his body is in the sit position, you should praise him in that high-pitched voice and give him a treat. It is important to give him the treat and praise as soon as he is in the sit position.
Remember from our training theory that dogs connect your pleasure or displeasure with ‘what they just did’ So if your dog successfully sits, but then gets up before you deliver the treat and praise, you would have to refrain from rewarding them and start all over again. This is important, otherwise, you will be inadvertently rewarding him for the wrong action.
Think of the hand signal like a ‘rainbow over the head’ of the dog.
So to review, using your command hand, bring a treat to the dog’s nose and bring it up over his eyes, like a rainbow over his head, following through until he falls back and sits. Immediately praise the dog and give him the treat.
Tips For The Sit Command
Although ‘Sit” is a fairly easy dog command to teach, some dogs have minor issues mechanically when first trying to learn. These training tips for the Sit Command should help if you are having trouble.
What Do I Do If My Dog Jumps for the Treat?
If your dog leaps and jumps in the air at the treat when you are teaching the sit command, the most likely reason is that your command hand is too high in the air. This means you are dangling a treat over the dog’s head and he thinks you want him to leap for it. It must be close enough to ‘dog’s nose level’ so there is no urge to jump for the treat.
Also, when you make a ‘rainbow over the head’ keep your ‘command hand’ as close as possible to your dog’s head and body. There will no longer be a reason to jump and he will be able to focus on learning ‘Sit’. This training tip is especially important if you are teaching a small breed or toy dog because of the height difference between you and the dog.
Kneel On The Ground
We recommended that you kneel on the ground when you are first teaching this command to your dog, By kneeling on the ground you will be able to execute your hand signal in such a way that leaping for the treat will not occur. Once the dog understands the hand and verbal signal, you will be able to execute the Sit command standing upright.
Dog Backing Up
Another training tip for the sit command has to do with the dog backing up as you make your ‘Rainbow over the Head’ hand signal. Instead of the dog rounding his body back into a sit position, he is misinterpreting the hand signal and taking small repetitive steps backward.
First, reevaluate your hand signal. It should be slow and steady moving as it travels from the dog’s nose over his head toward his back. The hand signal should flow smoothly and mimic the body movement you want from the dog. If you feel your hand signal is correct, then try adding one of these two techniques to counteract the mechanical issue your dog is having.
(i) Gentle Push On The Backside
The first technique is as follows. As your command hand is giving the Sit hand signal, have your free hand gently nudge the dog into position by pushing on his backside. If you push too firmly or abruptly on the dog’s back area, he may become startled or confused. Although we are teaching the Sit command with Inducement Training, this technique described is a mild form of compulsion training which was discussed earlier in this article.
It is a good example of how you can integrate compulsion training into the inducement training method. It also further illustrates why it is important to be well versed in all methods. As we said earlier ‘different things work with different dogs’.
(ii) Use Short Leash
The other technique you could try would be to put your dog on a short leash. Drop the leash onto the ground and hold it with your foot. Anchor the leash with your foot so your dog only has enough room to only take a step or two backward. When you teach sit and your hand signal goes over his head, the dog will not be able to back-peddle due to the restraint of the leash. He will learn the only position to move into will be the Sit position.
2. Teaching The “Watch Me” Command
The Watch Me Command is an attention dog training exercise. It is based on the notion that you cannot teach your dog very much if he is not paying attention to you. It is also very helpful when working with a variety of behavioral dog problems.
Both of these concepts will be discussed later. For now, we will teach the basic mechanics of the command.
Basic Commands of Watch Me Command
- Start with your dog in a sit position.
- You will have a treat in your ‘Command Hand’.
- Place your command hand at the dog’s nose to get his attention while he is sitting.
- Then thrust your Command Hand from the dog’s nose towards your face,
- Touch your pointer finger to your chin/lip area as you say ‘Watch Me’; in a light-toned, happy voice. This will cause him to look up at you and make eye contact.
- Then praise the dog in a high-pitched voice for looking at you.
Begin this first session by just trying to grab a second or two or three of attention. After a few tries build to 5 or 8 seconds of positive eye contact and continue to build the duration over time.
So from scratch, the Verbal Sequence is as follows:
- Good Sit (high pitched voice)
- Watch Me, Good Watch Me (high pitched voice).
The Hand Signal Sequence for Watch me is as follows:
Watch Me Command
Training Tips & Common Handling Errors
When first teaching the Watch Me Command, your dog may look away before you are finished executing the command. This is quite common as your dog is really trying to figure out what you really want and at this stage, he is just guessing. This is why you will need to be consistent until he fully understands what you want him to do.
If he looks away during the Watch Me Command, you should drop your voice low and say “No” in a low-pitched voice. You must do this in order to show him that looking away was incorrect. Then start all over by saying Watch Me with a normal voice, with the treat by his nose, and thrusting it to your chin/lip.
You can not reward him for looking away!! Do not bargain with yourself and say,
‘Well he did look at me for a few seconds before he looked away, so I will give him a treat and hope for a better result next time.
Do not think like that! You would be teaching your dog to look away. So you must show disapproval with a low voice and try again.
If your dog looks away before you finish, try the following two tips.
- Reduce the amount of time that the dog has to watch you for. If you are at 5 seconds of positive eye contact, for example, cut down to 3 seconds.
- Also, I find it helpful to tap my chin/lip area with my pointer finger repeatedly for the number of seconds I am engaging him in the Watch Me Command. I find the visual movement catches his attention for a bit longer and makes the difference in being successful.
Please note that some trainers instead of having their hand signal extend from the dog’s nose to their chin choose a different area of their face. This is based on how the dog connects the command. The trainer may bring his command hand up to his nose or eyes and then extend their pointer finger to gain the dog’s focus. So if you find your dog is not looking at your chin/lip area during the command, feel free to adjust the hand signal to the area of the face your dog is looking at.
How to Prevent Dog Jumping
When teaching Watch Me, another common problem people have is if the dog jumps up at and breaks the sit position when they are giving the “watch me”hand signal. This can happen sometimes when you are first teaching the command.
For example, if you give this hand signal too slowly when you are first teaching the dog, they may think the hand signal is instructing them to jump up. That is why the training directions say to thrust your command hand from the dog’s nose to your chin/lip area. Thereby giving him no time to react to the jump behavior.
If this does not work, you can also try placing a few fingers from your free hand in the dog’s collar while executing the watch me command. Applying light pressure downward to signal to the dog that he should not jump. Or you could put your foot on the dog’s leash with only a little bit of leeway. This will give him an immediate correction if he attempts to jump.
Remember, if the dog does jump up when you execute the Watch Me Command, your sequence should be as follows
- “No” in a low voice
- “Sit” in a normal voice and
- Then try once again to perform Watch Me.
Finally, remember that once the dog understands the command, you may no longer need an elongated hand signal in most circumstances. You may only need to tap on your chin/lip area as you say Watch Me in order for him to understand the command. The evolution of hand and verbal signals overtime happens with most obedience commands and will be the topic of a future chapter.
Uses for the Watch Me Command:
Behavior Problems & Distractions
There are so many ways to use the Watch Me Command. We taught the Watch Me command from a Sit position. But once he understands the command, you can use it from any position. For example, the dog could be on the other side of the room, about to get into some mischief, and instead of having to warn him to stop with an unpleasant alert voice, you can simply use the Watch Me Command to gain the dog’s attention and thwart the bad behavior before it starts.
You can also use this obedience command “Watch Me” for a variety of dog behavioral problems.
For example, if your dog barks at somebody walking by and you don’t want the barking to continue then you could use this “Watch Me” command to grab the dog’s attention. This wins over shouting at your dog any day.
What you need to is as follows. As the person walks by and your dog begins to bark, bring a treat to the dog’s nose and give the Watch Me command. This will get your dog to make positive eye contact with you until the person walks by and is gone out of sight. By having the dog perform an alternative behavior that is incompatible with barking (such as watch me) the problem ceases.
Watch me is also a good command to use as a distraction. Let’s say you see something that you know would annoy your dog. You see it before he does. You can use “Watch Me” in order to distract him from the event so he will not react to it.
For example, you see a cat sitting on a fence post. You know if your dog sees it that he will start pulling you on his leash in an attempt to chase the animal. You could give the Watch Me Command to get all of his visual attention on you. And then change direction, leading away from the cat. The problem is usurped before it begins.
Watch Me can help with many other behavior problems as a distractor or as an incompatible alternative behavior as described above. It is really just a matter of being creative when trying to solve a problem. In addition to solving behavior problems, Watch me can also help with teaching and enhancing the consistency of other obedience commands.
Combines With Other Commands
Because Watch Me is a command that helps a dog ignore distraction, using the Watch Me Command opens up a whole new level of perfection when teaching other obedience commands. For example, teaching a dog not to pull on the leash is known as the Heel Command.
In a future sections of the website we will teach the Command Heel. Often, trainers will incorporate the attention exercise Watch Me when teaching Heel. Basically, as the dog walks, he is commanded to look up at you using a treat and the Watch Me Command. This enables the dog to focus on you while walking, thereby not paying attention to the distractions that may make him pull.
Command Combination Sit Stay & Watch Me
The Watch Me Command can be incorporated with many other obedience commands to enhance consistency and duration of the execution of the primary command. #
One example would be the command combination Sit Stay. If during the Sit Stay, the trainer then incorporates Watch Me, it will cause the dog to stay for a longer period of time because the dog is focusing on you while staying, instead of the other stimuli around him that might cause him to break the stay.
By the way, we will be teaching Stay later. One final area where the Watch Me command can be of great help is with Attention Training.
Dog Attention Training & Watch Me
Attention Training in Dogs starts with the Watch Me command we have presented. It is the first step in teaching a dog to focus. Paying attention is a learned behavior. Remember as we said earlier, if your dog is not paying attention to you, you can not teach him very much. It takes practice.
When a dog is gaining attention he is ignoring distraction. Attention Training is used more and more as your dog learns upper-level obedience concepts. It is the foundation for our level 2 class called Obedience With Distractions. We will be exploring Attention Training in future articles.
Building Duration of Command Watch Me
As a beginner, having just learned the command, focus on building the duration of the command. Earlier we taught you to grasp your dog’s attention for 2, 3, 5 seconds at a time. We did this so as to help ensure that he would not look away too soon. Keep building the amount of time he looks at you. Work towards 8,10 15, 25, 30 seconds. Once you can achieve this, you can look to other attention exercises such as Watch Me with Distractions.
As a beginner, start with proper execution of command and the build duration. We will incorporate more attention exercises as we go along. At this point your dog should know Sit and Watch Me. Next we will move on to teaching the Lay Down Command aka Down.
3. Teaching the Lay Down (The Down Command)
There are a variety of ways to teach the Down Command. After 25 years of training dogs, I find the following method the most likely to be successful rapidly.
First, we teach the Down command from a sitting position, that way the dog is already ‘halfway there’. As a result, there is less for the dog to think about and is grounded mentally in a command he already knows. It becomes much easier for the dog to focus on what he is about to learn.
Once the dog thoroughly understands the Down Command, it can then be instructed from a standing position.
Second, it is also recommended, in the early stages of teaching the Down command that you place your hand lightly on the dog’s back; a little below the hackles. The purpose of this is not so much to push the dog down but to stop him from getting up as he learns the command. This is only a temporary measure but is very useful in your beginning teachings of this command. This will make more sense in a little bit.
But for now, begin by having a treat in your Command Hand. Bring it to the dog’s nose to get their attention.
Next, gently place your free hand upon the dog’s upper back. Now give your dog the Sit command with the hand signal you learned earlier, praise him for sitting but do not give him the treat.
Next, bring your command hand (with a treat) from the dog’s nose to his toes !!! as you say “Down “.
You should perform this hand signal Straight down, just like an elevator, Nose to Toes. As the dog’s head follows your hand signal downward, once your command hand is by their toes (aka paws), slowly drag your hand along the ground away from the dog.
The dog will theoretically crawl after the treat and find himself in the down position. At which time you praise the dog and give him the treat while he is still laying down.
To Summarize Lay Down Command
To review, our Verbal Sequence is Sit, Good Sit (high pitched voice), Down, Good Down (high pitched voice). Our Hand Signal Sequence for the Down Command is, Command Hand with a treat by the dog’s nose, gently place your free hand on the dog’s upper back, give the dog the sit command and praise him but do not give him the treat, slowly lower command hand straight down to dog’s toes (paws). Once the dog’s head is all the way down staring at the command hand then slowly pull it away from the dog so he follows and falls into the down position.
Lay Down/Down Command:
Training Tips & Common Handling Errors
Noses To Toes
The most important training tip is our humorous saying ‘Nose to Toes’ !! When teaching the Down Command, always remember to start with your Command Hand and treat at the dog’s nose and move straight down to his toes.
The hand signal should be straight down, like an Elevator. Not like landing a Plane. This is significant because in most cases you want the dog’s head to already be as close as possible to the ground before you begin to pull your command hand away from this body. This is because dogs have a natural tendency to follow the smell of the treat when first learning a command.
Therefore if your hand signal looks more like ‘landing a plane” the dog will more likely ‘walk’ to the treat and end up standing instead of lying down.
Occasionally, some dogs, are successful in spite of this angular issue. But most often dogs learn the Down Command more smoothly and quickly with a straight hand signal. This is a common handling error that can be easily corrected. So remember, ” Nose to Toes. ”
Another Common Handling Error involves a sequence issue. As we discussed, in the initial stages of teaching the Down Command, it is helpful to gently place your hand on the upper part of the dog’s back, just below the hackles. We do this to help guide the dog into position.
It is important to remember that ‘Step One” is to place your hand on the dog’s back. To do so at any other point can be very distracting for the dog and will be counterproductive. He will not be able to learn the down command because he will be preoccupied with Why your hand is on his back!
So do it gently, with no pressure, and while distracting him with a treat. Then give him the Sit Command and begin teaching the Down Command.
As with many obedience commands, it is often helpful to teach the Down Command with the trainer kneeling. It will not be forever. It just helps, especially with this command, to be more on the dog’s level when giving the ‘nose to toes’ hand signal.
We also recommend, that while kneeling, you position yourself ‘beside the dog’ not directly in front of him. This is due to having to place your hand on his back. Once the hand on the back is no longer required, you can shift to kneeling in front of the dog and then shift to standing in front of the dog. This shift is usually a matter of 10 to 20 repetitions.
Uses For The Lay Down (Down Command)
Gain Mental Control of your Dog
First and foremost, laying down is a submissive position to place your dog in. Many dominance exercises involving the Down Command will be integral in your dog’s training.
Dominance exercises, as we will learn in later chapters, help us gain mental control of our dog. Without them, we will have a dog who knows all of these obedience commands but does them whenever he feels like it!
An example of a dominance exercise might be commanding your dog to Lay Down while you brush his coat. That’s a double whammy exercise !! with two dominant measures of control being demanded. It is therefore very important that he knows the Down Command.
Helps With Distractions
Another use for the Down Command relates to this notion of Obedience with Distractions. Remember if a dog is gaining attention, he is ignoring distraction.
Paying attention is a learned behavior and it takes practice. Hence Obedience with Distractions!! Many of the obedience training exercises involved in distraction work and attention training require that the dog understand the Down Command.
For example, having your dog lay down while you walk around the room or around the field and come back to him is a common exercise used. This type of training is important because, without it, you will have a dog who understands all of these great obedience commands but won’t do them for when something more exciting is going on out in his yard, on his walks, at the dog park or when friends come to the house!!!
Helps With Behavior Problems
One final use of the Down Command is to assist in dealing with behavior problems. Remember the best way to stop unwanted behavior is to have a dog perform an incompatible behavior.
The Down Command can be very useful when it comes to this training adage.
For example, if your dog begs at the table while you are eating you can give the dog command “Down Stay” during dinner. As you can now understand, learning “Nose to Toes” as soon as possible in your very first obedience training session is going to pay off due to its many uses.
4. Teaching The Stand Command
Getting your dog to Stand from a Sit position or Stand from a Down position may seem like one of those commands you would contemplate skipping over in favor of something more exciting like Stay!! But to pass this one by would be a mistake. True, in the big picture once your dog is trained, you may find that you won’t use this command as often. However, it is an important exercise for beginners to learn for a variety of reasons.
First, it is a useful Transition Command for when your training gets to the point of having your dog perform a series of commands in rapid succession.
For example, you can have your dog sit, then stand, then watch me, then sit, then down, then stand, then sit, etc. Also, the Stand Command is used in a Dominance Exercise we will be teaching early on in the training process. It is based on having your dog sit and stand and sit and stand and sit over and over again. So it is important that your dog intellectually understand this concept of Stand.
How To Teach Stand
- Start with your dog in the Sit Position
- Have a treat in your Command Hand as a motivator and bring it to the dog’s nose.
- Pull your hand away, very slowly and in a straight line. Be sure you are keeping your hand at Doggie Nose Level when you pull away as you say the command Stand. The dog should pop out of the sit position and glide into standing by taking a simple step or two forward.
- The Verbal Signal Sequence is Sit, Good Sit (high pitched voice) Stand, Good Stand (High Pitched Voice).
- The Hand Signal Sequence, once the dog is in the Sit Position, is Command Hand with Treat at the Dog’s Nose, Pull smooth, straight, and slowly away from the dog.
Training Tips & Common Handling Errors
The most common handling error when teaching the Stand Command would be this notion of keeping your command hand smooth, straight and slow-moving as it leaves the dog’s nose.
If the hand signal is delivered too high, the dog may think you want him to jump up. If the hand signal is given too low as it leaves the nose, the dog may interpret it to mean lay down. And if the hand signal is too fast, the dog may not have enough time to react. In which case he may just sit there and do nothing
A few training tips would be as follows if the dog is having trouble learning Stand:
If your dog won’t stand then move your command hand so slowly that it almost appears as though it is attached to the dog’s lip. If this technique does not work, then you may give a slight tug on the leash as you give the hand signal.
Uses For The Stand Command
We have already covered the important uses for the Stand Command. It is a good transitional command when performing repetitive command combinations. And it is used in dominance exercises such as the Sit-Stand Sit exercise. These are topics we will learn in later chapters.
One final application for this command is very practical. Whether it be a frightful examination at the Veterinarian or a stressful visit to the Groomer, there are times when we will need our dog to Stand and he will not want to. He may even refuse due to fear or stress. Having a command your dog has already learned in your arsenal to get your dog to Stand will be very advantageous.
To this point, we have presented how to teach Sit, Watch Me, Lay Down, and Stand. In another article, we discuss How to Practice Dog Obedience with Tips.