Dog Training 101: What to Teach Your New Dog
In between cuddle sessions, work on these eight basic cues with your pup.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
Now that your new dog is home (and staring at you), what’s next? Well, after you give them a treat just for being perfect, it’s time to prioritize one thing: Training. Dog training is a key element in new-dog bonding, and no dog is too old to learn new tricks. It’s true: Dogs thrive when their minds are engaged.
To begin, it all starts with a “cue.” In dog training, a cue is a signal to the dog (either verbal or physical, or both) to do a particular behavior. As you and your dog work together, your dog will associate a cue with a new skill or a cool trick.
Remember, dog training is meant to be rewarding and fun for both of you. So, keep training brief, just five to ten minutes, at the start, and always end on a positive note. Below you’ll find the top eight most important dog training tricks that, with some gentle teaching, your dog can master. Learning these training cues and behaviors allows your dog to reap the benefits of being a well-mannered member of society.
Basic Training Cues for Dogs
Don’t move forward. Teaching a dog to wait is especially useful at doors. Dogs who wait are easier to take on walks and let in and out of the car because they don’t go through the door until given permission. The wait cue is also a great safety prompt. Teaching this can prevent a dog from running out a door into traffic and reduce some of the chaos inherent in living with dogs. Teaching a dog to wait also allows people to catch up during off-leash walks if the dog has gone ahead.
Look at my face. Teaching a dog to watch you helps get a dog’s attention and distract them from problematic situations, such as the unexpected presence of another dog.
Put your butt on the ground. Teaching a dog to sit is one of the easiest things to teach dogs to do. It’s a useful calming cue and — sitting is incompatible with many undesirable behaviors — can be useful in defusing otherwise touchy situations.
Remain in place until released. Teaching a dog “stay” helps dogs practice self-control. It also keeps dogs in one spot when necessary. Stay is helpful in many situations ranging from “It’s dinnertime and our guests are not dog people” to “I just broke a glass in the kitchen and you’ll cut your paws if you come in here before I clean it up.”
Run to me. Run directly to me. Do not stop at the dead squirrel. Dogs who reliably come when called can safely be given more freedom. Once your dog masters being able to come reliably in your home, move on to environments with higher stimulation.
You are free to go. Teaching a release cue to a dog like “Okay” or “Free” gives your dog permission to stop doing what you previously asked them to do. Used most commonly with “Wait” and “Stay,” it tells your dog that the behavior no longer needs to be performed. For example, your dog can get up and move around if they’ve been staying or go through the door if they’ve been waiting.
Say hello without jumping. In this case, the appearance of a new person, rather than a word or a hand signal, is the cue to keep all four paws on the ground. Many dogs do the opposite — jump on every new person — and that can make both pet parents and guests uncomfortable. Few behaviors are more appreciated in dogs than the skill of greeting people politely.
Performing an endearing trick on cue shows off a dog’s training better than most practical skills. Sure, it may be harder to teach a dog to stay or come when called than to high-five, wave, spin, or roll over, but not many people know that. So, most people will be impressed by the trick and charmed by your pup as a result.
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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.