Tricks To Teach Your Dog: Part 1 – The Basics

I never saw myself owning a dog, I don’t even really like them. The missus on the other hand always wanted one. So, we compromised and last year we got a sausage dog – a miniature, black and tan, long-haired Dachshund to be exact – and called him Dax.

As I worked from home, the main responsibility to train him fell at my feet. That’s right, the bloke who doesn’t like dogs found himself spending every waking second attempting to train a puppy. It sounds like some kind of crap American sitcom that doesn’t get passed the pilot stage, and trust me, it often felt like it. But instead, the sound of laughter in the background was replaced with whines, whimpers and barks from the dog and the sound of my tears hitting the laminate floor.

Still, a year on, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m not a dog whisperer by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to think that we have a pretty cool dog that is well behaved, well trained and has people instantly fall in love with his stupid T-Rex arms and over-sized ears.

I therefore thought I’d share the training that I’ve done with Dax and explain the commands and tricks that we’ve taught him. I’ll do this as part of two articles – the first one being this post which covers some of the basis and a second post covering some of the trickier and more impressive things. Before we start, check out the quick video below showing Dax doing each of the commands talked about – forgive my Super Hero trousers and pay special attention to Dax being so excited that he fell on his face when he was called!

Before we get to the commands, let me share a few of my rules and learnings when it comes to puppy training which you should bear in mind when reading through the commands later in the post:

  • Most dogs will do anything for food, so use treats as a way of rewarding behaviour. That means not giving the dog any treats unless they have done something to earn it. Don’t give them a biscuit or a treat just because they look like they want one!
  • Reward doesn’t just mean treats, otherwise you’ll end up with a fat dog. Giving affection through stroking and giving verbal praise to the dog also works.
  • Choose one keyword per command and only use this, otherwise it could confuse the dog. BUT, don’t start associating the key word until the dog has mastered the actual command. Take it one step at a time.
  • Don’t overuse the keyword – if the dog doesn’t do what you say when you first say the word, don’t continue to say it as he’ll learn that he can ignore you and choose when and where he does the command.
  • Associate a hand action or movement with the command, but again, don’t try this until he knows the command. This allows the dog to still get direction from you even when you are in a noisy environment.
  • Dog’s naturally want to learn and take direction from their owner, so use this to your advantage. Dogs that misbehave or are troublesome is mainly a consequence of their owners not setting boundaries and teaching the dog what is acceptable.
  • Start training your puppy from as young as possible. Stay consistent in your approach and ensure you practice, practice, practice.
  • If you see the dog doing something you want to train them, then don’t be afraid to treat them for doing it. All dogs will sit, lie down etc as part of their normal life, so reward this behaviour if you see them doing it.
  • Immediately treat the dog when they’ve done the action or command. Don’t wait a few seconds or they’ll get confused. They may think they are getting treated for standing up rather than sitting down if you treat after they’ve sat.
  • Once the dog has mastered the tricks inside, practice in other environments too, like in the garden or at the park. You want your dog to obey you no matter where he is and what distractions are on offer.


Learn His Name

On getting a puppy, you want them to know their name for when you recall them at a later stage. This isn’t difficult, just takes a bit of time. All you need to do is choose a name and then stick to it! Have treats ready and call his name – if he looks at you, reward him with a treat. If he doesn’t, do nothing. Wait a little while, then call his name again – if he turns his head, reward with a treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Get Him To Sit

One of the most basic commands that you should start with is to get your dog to sit on command. This not only starts to teach your dog that he should obey you, but is also really useful. If you are attempting to put on or take off his lead, then getting him to sit means you don’t have to chase him around. Similarly, if someone comes round who isn’t a massive fan of dogs, you can get him to sit on their arrival to stop him jumping up at them etc.

It is pretty easy to achieve a sit as you can naturally use the dog’s urge to follow the treat once he knows it is in your hand. Lift it above his head and move your hand away from you – he should look at the treat, and as he tilts his head up, his backside will naturally hit the floor. Once it does, give him the treat to reward, then repeat. After he understands what you want him to do, associate with the word “sit” by saying it when his bum hits the floor.


Get Him To Down

Getting your dog to down (no sexual innuendos please) is really useful and is the foundation for a few other things. When mastered properly, it is a command that you can say wherever and whenever to ensure that he removes himself from danger, e.g. there’s a car coming or bigger, scarier dogs for instance.

It is a bit more difficult to get a dog to down. You could wait for the dog to do it naturally, then reward. Or you could put your dog in the down position by lightly pushing down between their shoulder blades. Once they’ve been treated a few times for going into this down position, they will naturally do it more often in order to get the treat. As usual, reward when the trick is done, then repeat. Associate the keyword “down” when the dog is comfortable with knowing what you want from him.


Get Him To Come Back (Recall)

Getting a dog to come to you when you call him is one of the most important commands. It allows you to have your dog off the lead, safe in the knowledge that he wants to return to you. The last thing you want is your dog running off and not coming back, so make sure you teach your dog a good recall. This can potentially save his life by keeping him out of danger, but also makes it safer for other people when he’s off his lead.

In a safe environment initially, build on from the name command by saying his name with the word “here” or “come”. If he looks, then treat. Move to a further distance away from him, then say “here / come <dog’s name>” and reward if he comes over. If he doesn’t, wave the treat a bit, slap your leg, make a cooey sound etc – anything to get him to wander over to you. When he does, give him the treat.

With a friend / family member, take it in turns to call the dog. One person can hold the dog whilst the other goes into a different room or behind the settee etc. Have the treat ready, call the dog with the command and he’ll hopefully run over to you. Continue to do this A LOT, before moving into the garden, then out on walks. As an additional point, when you call the dog over, get him to sit directly in front of you, wait a few seconds, then treat. This will mean that you are in control once he arrives at your feet so that you can put his lead on, for instance. If you are having trouble with getting your dog to come to you when you call him, you can always coax him to you by doing a recall on the lead to start with.


Get Him To Wait / Stay

If you go to puppy training or plan on taking your dog to shows, then you’ll be taught that there is a difference between wait and stay. You use wait when you want your dog to stay still for a short period of time, so that you can release them from it by calling them over or command them to go and do something, like a fetch. The stay command is when you want your dog to stay in the exact same position for a long period of time, e.g. you leave the room. I understand the difference between the two, but I personally don’t think there is too much problem just using one or the other, rather than splitting it into two separate commands. The overall goal is the same – you want your dog to stay where they are.

This can take a bit of time, so bear with it. It will also take a lot of putting your dog back to their starting position. Put your dog into a sit or down (you’ll want to practice with both), wait for a few seconds, then treat if they’ve not moved. Slowly build this up from five seconds to 10 to 15 to 30 etc, whilst associating with a keyword and hand action, such as holding an open palm with fingers extended towards your dog as if to say “stop”.

Once your dog gets this, then you’ll need to start putting more distance between you. Do this by getting your dog to sit / down, tell them to wait, then take a step back. If they don’t move, step towards them and reward. Repeat, but this time take 2 steps back. If the dog stays still, then reward. Continue doing this for longer periods of time and further distance. You should get to a point where you can get your dog to stay in the same position for minutes at a time whilst you are out of the room. If the dog follows you or moves, then you have waited too long or have put too much distance between you – instead, shed a few seconds off the wait time or don’t move as far away. Wait / Stay can also be useful for recall – when out with your dog, get them to sit and wait, take off their lead, walk away from them whilst they are waiting, then call them over to you.


Get Him To Leave Something, Then Take It

Leaving something that they want takes incredible discipline from a dog. It is a pretty impressive trick to put a treat down in front of a dog without them taking it, but it has some great applications in real life. Having just had a baby, we know we can tell Dax to leave any of her stuff when it is on the floor and to leave her if he is getting a little bit too boisterous in her company. We can also tell him to leave any of the deer poo that he loves so much when we take him on a walk in the woods!

Start by holding a treat in a closed fist. The dog is likely to smell it and attempt to get it out of your hand, but don’t let him (easier said than done with a big dog!). When the dog gives up and backs away, open your hand and give him the treat. Continue this until he realises that he will get a treat quicker by not going for it than going for it. Begin to associate the keyword “leave” when you open your hand, then wait a few seconds and say “take” as you allow him to take the treat.

To reinforce this further, try putting the treat on the floor and telling him to “leave”. If he goes for it, pick the treat up, but if he waits, then give it a few seconds before saying “take” and encouraging him to take the treat. You can then start moving further away from the treat to instil a stronger discipline in the dog. Next, try it with the dog’s mealtime. Put down his bowl and tell him to leave it, only giving him access to the food when he has left it for long enough.

This may sound a little cruel, i.e. teasing him with food, but if we see Dax stealing the baby’s sock from the floor or sniffing something he shouldn’t on a walk, we tell him to leave it and 9 out of 10 times he does. Very useful!


Get Him To Turn Around / Spin

To be truthful, teaching your dog to turn in a circle has very few practical applications, however it is the start of teaching tricks. As mentioned, dogs love getting direction from their owner and are always keen to learn and please. So the more you can teach them, the more mentally stimulated they will be and (hopefully) well behaved. This is one of the easiest tricks to teach your dog as it just involves them turning around.

The best way to do this trick is to hold a treat above your dog’s head, then with a large circular motion, move the treat away from you and then back towards you. Hopefully the dog is watching the treat and will follow it as you draw the large circle in the air above his head. Remember, only treat when he completes the full circle – you might find he takes a little while to get it and only part turns, but don’t be tempted to give him a reward for a job half done!

Keep practising and rewarding. Then build in the keyword such as “circle”, “turn” or “around”. If you’re feeling particularly brave, once the dog has mastered this trick, you can then get them to do a double spin before rewarding and also get them to turn in the opposite direction by reversing your hand movement and choosing a different keyword.


So that’s my first instalment of basic dog training and tricks. In the next article we’ll take a look at some more complicated things like getting the dog to go to the toilet on command, ringing a bell to go outside, fetching the post, jumping into the car and balancing food on their nose!

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