The Top 5 Most Important Things to Teach Your Dog

It’s no question that our dogs are capable of learning an impressive array of different tasks. From agility, to herding, to scent work, to trick training - they truly are amazingly intelligent. If you’re anything like me, upon bringing your dog home for the first time you couldn’t wait to start teaching them the fun stuff. For me, I strived for a beautiful head-up heel and a cute trick where my dog would wave hello on command.

Teaching the “fun stuff” is a great way to bond with your dog. But, teaching the not-so-fun stuff is also a crucial part of teaching your dog how to live in our human world. Today we’re going to dive into the 5 most important things you should teach your dog. By teaching your dog these 5 behaviors, you’re going to teach them skills that you can both use in everyday life, as well as life-saving skills that hopefully you’ll never need, but if you do you’ll be glad you took the time to teach them. Let’s dig in.

#5.) A "Place" Command

In dog training, “place” essentially means “get all four paws on this object and hang out there”. It needs to be something that has a clear boundary, usually raised slightly above the ground, and can be anything. Some examples include, a dog bed, a park bench, a large rock, a tree stump, or a pet cot. You should teach this in a way so your dog understands “place” can be all of these things and not just one object. To give you an example, with my own dogs, if I tell them “kennel” they understand that command always means to go to their crates. But, if I tell them “place, they understand that I want them to get up on to whatever I am gesturing to. It doesn’t always need to be the same object.

So, what’s the importance of “place”? “Place” is an incredibly versatile command. In your home, “place” can be used to have your dog relax in one spot while you cook dinner or to have them give your guests space as you answer the door. You can use it as a way to communicate to your dog that it’s time to relax (we often have our dogs rest on place for an hour after eating their meals), or to keep them safely in one spot while you take care of something (like when you’re bringing groceries in and don’t want them running out the open door) . However, it’s also very useful while out in the real world.

Living in Colorado, we go hiking quite often. Most of the trails we take have a good amount of mountain bikers. I don’t want the dogs getting hit on the narrow trails, both for their safety and the safety of the bikers. So we use “place” to have them move off to the side and get on a large rock or tree stump when we see bikers coming to let them pass. I also keep a small cot in my car that I can easily bring out at parks or when visiting family, times when I want my dog to have somewhere to relax without me needing to constantly be worried about what he’s doing.

4.) An Immediate Sit. Regardless Of How Far Away They Are.

Call your dog across a field, and ask them to sit from far away. Unless you’ve worked on this before, I’ll bet they run all the way to you before they sit. You see, most dogs will try to finish the first command, before moving on to the next. The problem with this is that something may happen that makes coming all the way to you dangerous. Imagine this, your dog chases a ball across the street (whoops, that went farther than you meant it to), and is now on their way back to you - very excited and wanting to bring that ball back to you as fast as possible so you can throw it again. Except now there’s a car coming and crossing the street isn’t safe. You should be able to tell your dog to “Sit!” and as soon as you say that they stop in their tracks and sit. This would stop them from running into the road until you call them when it’s safe to do so. Unless you practice this, odds are that your dog isn’t going to stop until they get all the way to you.

Another good use for this is when something at home catches their attention, but isn’t safe. Like if you drop a plate and glass shatters everywhere. If the noise catches their attention and they start to run over to see what happened, being able to stop them in their tracks can prevent them from stepping on glass and cutting their paw. Or, if you're clumsy like me and drop your husbands chocolate cake all over the floor on his birthday (insert face-palm emoji here), being able to stop them before they even get to it gives you plenty of time to clean it up without any curious noses sneaking a few licks.

3.) “Leave-it” or “Off”

Basically, this is teaching your dog to leave something alone on command. This can be food, toys, other dogs or people. You can use this at home to stop your dog from eating something you just dropped or to tell them to leave the Halloween decorations alone. However, from my experience the most valuable uses for this command are going to be in the real world.

If I were to list all of the uses for a “leave-it” or “off”, this post would be too long to read, but here are just SOME of the great examples.

Your dog is interested in that cactus? “Leave it”.

Your dog noticed that chicken wing on the sidewalk? “Leave it”.

Your dog is sniffing that strange dog in the pet store a little too intensely? “Off.”

Trying to steal another dog’s ball at the park? “Leave it”.

You dropped a bag of grapes? “Leave -it”.

You’re walking your dog downtown and a child with an ice cream cone runs up to say hello? “Leave-it”.

It’s a sad fact, but there are a lot of messed up people out there who have tried to poison dogs. Why? Who knows. They have no soul and are horrible people. But because of this, we don’t allow the dogs to pick up toys that have been left behind at the park. And this command has been a life-saver. Hopefully, it hasn’t literally. But we treat it as if it has been.

2.) A Reliable Recall.

You need to train your dog to come to you upon command, no matter what. Period. It doesn’t matter what distractions are around. The only reason your dog shouldn’t come on command should be if you told them to sit after giving your recall command.

It’s a tempting world out there. And it’s not always safe. You should be able to recall your dog back to you from wild animals, other dogs, strangers, children, cars, food, or anything else that tempts them.

If nothing else, this is the one thing you should continue to work on daily for the rest of your dog’s life. You can’t train for every situation, but the more practice you get, the better your recall will be. The only reason I’m comfortable letting my dogs off-leash while hiking (where it’s appropriate) is because we’ve put so much work into a strong recall. Unfortunately, it's impossible to practice around wild animals like bears, mountain lions, etc…. And let’s be honest, if we ever run into one, a practice training session will be at the bottom of my priority list. But, we’ve used encounters with deer to practice a recall from a safe distance. We practice at the park, at pet-friendly stores, while hiking, in the house, on walks, anywhere we can. We make sure to practice around people, other dogs, loud noises, and new smells. If you only ever teach your dog to come at home, they’ll only ever be reliable at home. So, grab a long leash, and some rewarding treats, and go take your dog on a field trip to practice.

1.) And the most important thing you should teach your dog is…. How to do absolutely nothing.

PRICE. Buying from a breeder is expensive, but for good reason. Breeders put a lot of work into making sure you’re puppy will be healthy and set up for success. While shelters and rescues generally are significantly cheaper initially, that doesn’t mean you won’t pay for it later in unexpected medical expenses or training. The bottom line is, dogs are not cheap. Whether you’re buying or adopting, you need to research the overall cost of owning a dog. Medical expenses, pet insurance, food (some breeds eat a lot more than others), toys, treats, training, and equipment. If you are doubting that you can afford to buy from a breeder, you should also consider if you can care for your adopted dog in an emergency. I’m not saying you need to be rich, but you need to be prepared to properly care for your dog.