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What You Should Teach Your Dog and Why

There are so many things you can teach your dog from basic manners to problem-solving to fancy tricks to cool dance moves. What you should teach your dog depends on a few factors including your lifestyle, hobbies, and needs. In this article series, I’ll share the basic manners I like to teach all my clients, some fun hobbies you can teach your dog to do with you, and teaching your dog how to fit into your lifestyle. This is a two-part article. This week I’ll cover the basic manners to teach your dog, followed by some of the fun hobbies you and your dog can share in the next article, and wrap it up with an article about creating a lifestyle that works for you and your dog.

Basic Manners to Teach Your Dog

First, let’s cover the basic manners I like to teach puppies and newly adopted dogs. These create the perfect foundation for future tricks and hobby training and set your dog up for a lifetime of good manners. I’m not going to explain how to teach these today (look for those instructions in future posts). For now, think about which ones your dog already knows and which you’d like to add to their repertoire.


Sit is nice because it’s easy to teach and gives your dog a behavior they can offer when not sure what to do (or to do something cute to get a treat out of you)


Stay and wait are actually two different behaviors. I’m combining them here because I often have clients that end up using them interchangeably which is fine. The technical difference between the two is that in “stay” your dog remains where you asked them to until you return to them and in “wait” your dog remains where you asked them to until you call them to you. You definitely want your dog to remain in a spot when asked for safety reasons as well as lifestyle.

Come when called

Dogs love to run so you can easily see the need for this cue! Teaching your dog to reliably come when called even when surrounded by distractions like rabbits or other dogs can be a challenge. The secret is to always be the better option for your dog. You want your dog to be filled with joy when they hear you call their name rather than look around and give you a doggy eyeroll.

Attention/watch me

One of the first things dogs learn is their name but some dogs don’t respond reliably to their name. The reasons being that they may never have truly learned it, you use so many versions of their name they aren’t’ sure which one is the real one, you say their name so much they’ve stopped listening to it or some other reason known only to your dog. For this reason, I like to teach dogs an attention cue. You can use their name for this if you are careful about how much you use their name. You can use their full name here and a nickname most of the other time as well. Or, you can use a word/phrase like “look” or “watch me.” This is a great cue because dogs are easily distracted by the sights, sounds and smells of the world. If you feel the need to get their attention, you can use the attention cue to get them back on track.

Down/lay down

Like sit, this is a cue that dogs will often choose to offer for a treat or when not sure what’s expected. The difference is that instead of sitting, your dog lays down on their belly. Some people use the word “down” to mean take your paws off the counter while others use “off” for that. All that matters is that you choose what words mean what and stay consistent so your dog doesn’t get confused. This cue is also a great starting place for teaching “place/go to mat” and the trick of crawling. You’ll find that many cues build on others so that your dog ends up with a robust vocabulary once you’re done.

Drop it

Drop it means just what it sounds like. You are asking your dog to drop something that they have in their mouth. This cue is helpful for dogs who like to pick up all kinds of trash off the ground during walks. It saves you from having to stick your hand in your dogs mouth to get that chicken bone they just found away from them. It’s also great if your dog comes running through the living room with your child’s favorite stuffed toy. It can also help your puppy to like giving up things so they don’t develop any toy guarding habits.

Leave it

Similar to “drop it,” leave it is a great cue in lots of circumstances. This is often the first one I teach clients. Leave it means just what it sounds like: leaving that thing alone/don’t touch that thing. Basically, you would use leave it on a walk if you spot the chicken bone before your dog has a chance to pick it up while drop it would be used if your dog had it in their mouth before you spotted it. This is one of my favorite cues as you can use it in so many different situations.

Got to mat/place

Often called “place” this cue teaches your dog to go to a particular place (or their bed) until you “release” or tell them they can move from that spot. Dogs are often asked to go to their place when their dinner is being prepared, guests are entering the house or any other instance when you might not want your dog roaming around the house. You can also teach your dog to remain in “place” outside.

Emergency stop

This is a relatively new cue I’ve started teaching as a standard behavior. This cue is tailor made for a dog who might run out of the house when the door opens and head for the road. The dog is taught to stop in place when you should out “Stop!” Then you can ask your dog to come, wait, etc. Like the name, the emergency stop is used in unusual circumstances. You’re hiking along and your dog bolts off into the woods in the blink of an eye. You shout “Stop!” and your dog stops in their tracks. Then you get to take a breath, get your dog’s attention and go from their.

Loose-Leash Walking

Having a dog that walks nicely on leash is a dog walkers dream. Dogs enjoy pulling on leash. It’s fun, they naturally walk faster than humans (they do have twice as many legs as we do) and pulling gets them to the awesome smells faster. It’s actually pretty simple to teach a dog to not pull on leash. The secret is to teach your dog to partner with you on walks rather than just have you there following along. Walking with your dog is a great way to deepen your relationship and get your daily dose of nature. It is one of my all time favorite activities.

Knowing the above will give your dog the best chance for staying safe, happy and well-behaved. You can adapt these cues to your lifestyle in the sense that if you like to take your dog with you to outdoor eating, go to mat is a great tool for helping him relax while you eat. If you want your dog to be able to be off-leash on hikes, then recall and an emergency stop will keep him safe. Think about the activities you like to do with your dog and adapt the cues accordingly. Download my free ebook on how to teach your dog to walk politely on leash.

These basic manners also create a foundation for being able to take your dog out and about with you. You’ll want a well-behaved dog in order to participate in some of the great hobbies that are available to you. Having a foundation of basic manners and an experience of learning will also help your dog excel at new activities. After that, I’ll cover ways to create the perfect lifestyle for you and your dog.

Stay tuned next week for a roundup of some of those hobbies! Subscribe to our email list to be sure to receive the post.


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