Every household and its needs are unique, and there is no one right way to train a dog. For example, as a trainer, I do not require a heel when walking my dog so if a friend were to take my dog on a walk, they might be surprised to find that he happily trots in front of them, stopping to sniff trees and grass as he sees fit. If my friend had wanted to go on a brisk, 4 mile walk for exercise, my dog would be very poorly trained for it. It doesn’t mean my dog isn’t trained, it just means he’s not trained for fast, purposeful walking (which we never do). This is a good example of different training needs for different families.
That being said, there is some fundamental training that is needed in every home. If you are a dog owner, consider if your dog is well versed in these five fundamental cues:
1. Sitting at thresholds
Every dog should be taught to sit and wait to be released at doorways and curbs. It’s a great cue to teach and it’s often taught simply by building a habit. Training your dog to cross thresholds at your cue ensures that you won’t have any accidental run-aways or close calls with cars.
Whether you have a older dog or a puppy, you can start teaching this right away. Old dogs can learn new tricks! It’s always better to be safe than worry about your dog darting out in front of a speeding car.
2. Leave it
At some point in your dog’s life, if not daily, you’re going to have to ask your dog to leave something alone. It might be some food you left on the counter, some trash on the sidewalk, or even another dog (who doesn’t want to play) that he won’t leave alone. Often, the result of your dog not leaving the thing alone is actually a big hassle to you–you might lose your dinner, your dog might ingest something to make him sick, or the other dog may get over threshold and turn aggressive.
So training a solid ‘leave it’ cue before any of these situations happens is pretty critical. The most important thing to remember is that without training, your dog will not leave it alone. Without training, there are no benefits to him walking away and your yelling is often not a good enough punishment for him to stop. Start building a positive association with the words ‘leave it’ through obedience training.
3. Leash walking
What good leash walking skills are may differ from family to family, but whatever standards you may set for your home, your dog should be trained to abide by them. For most homes, no matter how loose or close they walk their dogs, some common standards are no pulling, no sitting, and no constant crossing in front.
Poor leash skills are one of the most common reasons why people avoid walking their dogs. Make sure your dog gets the enrichment and exercise he wants from walks by training good leash skills. Leash walking can be fun and stress-free for both you and your dog!
4. Reliable recall
Whether our dogs are on or off-leash, indoors or outdoors, we ask our dogs to come to us for a thousand different reasons. They may be serious, like calling your dog away from a dog fight, or silly, like calling your dog to the couch just so you can give him some cuddles. But big or small, a reliable recall is hard to come by naturally.
A big factor inhibiting naturally great recall is that you often unknowingly punish your dog for coming to you. You may use “come here” to call your dog in from the yard, or start grooming him, or to get him away from a toy or piece of food. In all these scenarios, your dog has to turn away from something great (outside, food/toy) to something significantly less great (going inside, being groomed). Despite this difficulty, a reliable recall is a must have for practical and safety reasons. The best way to ensure your dog has a reliable recall is to work on training it.
5. Settle (on a mat)
You may call it place, climb, chill, spot, settle, mat, or really any number of different names but at the end of the day, your goal is to get your dog to go to his bed or mat and stay there, calmly.
This is an all around great cue to have at home. When guests come over, you can ask your dog to settle so he doesn’t jump on them the second they walk through the door. When you’re cooking, you can ask your dog to settle, so he’s not constantly under your feet or trying to counter surf. If you need to get some laundry folded and he wants to play–settle. Settling on a mat is easier for dogs than laying down and staying. In addition to being more comfortable for longer stays, the mat has physical boundaries so dogs have a clear understanding of where they are supposed to be.
We love our dogs, but they don’t come with natural, genetic behaviors that make them perfect companions for the modern home and lifestyle. That’s where training steps in. It gives you and your dog a system to live by that reduces stress for both of you! So how do your dogs measure up to this list? Do you have different fundamental cues in your home?