Dog Training | Basic Guide to the Top 5 Commands

Collage illustration of dog training.

Getting started with dog training.

Whether you have a new puppy or a dog that's a year (or more) old, there are five commands every well-behaved dog should know for their safety and wellbeingand—for your sanity. They are as follows:

  1. Sit

  2. Lay down

  3. Stay

  4. Come (Recall)

  5. Walking on a loose leash

The first thing you must understand before you undertake the process of training your dog is the idea of positive reinforcement—that is, using special treat foods and praise—to reward and encourage the desired behavior. Praise in the form of saying "Good dog!" in a happy tone of voice is perfect. Petting, ear scratches, or belly rubs are also acceptable forms of praise and can be used in combination with saying, "Good dog!"

You should never use punishment such as yanking on the leash, yelling, hitting, kicking, or other punitive actions, as this will only confuse your dog and teach him to fear you.

Your dog needs to understand that he will get something beneficial for himself out of it by doing what you're asking.

Using high-value treats (special things he doesn't get at any other time), such as a piece of real chicken, cheese, sausage, or other delicious "people food," will go a long way in furthering your training goals.

If you're training a puppy or young dog as opposed to an adult dog, it will help to remember that like toddler children, puppies and young adolescent dogs have shorter attention spans than adults. On the flip side of that coin, like human adults, older dogs who have been allowed to develop bad habits over the years may be stubborn and resistant to change. Adjust your patience accordingly and allow your dog to dictate the pace of training. It's about daily persistence and consistency, and if you don't give up, you'll see success.

The following guide will walk you through training your dog to learn these basic commands.


It's best to work on dog training when your dog is not wound up full of energy—for instance, when you've just arrived home and haven't seen your dog all day. It's a good idea to get some of that energy out playing ball or whatever your dog's favorite play activity is—even just a walk or jog, before starting training. Then, once you begin, keep your training session short—5-10 minutes—and make sure to end your training session on a positive note with lots of praise for a job well done.

Picture of little girl teaching her dog to sit.

Teaching your dog to sit.

Teaching Your Dog to Sit

Before you can teach your dog the "stay" command, you must first teach him to sit.

There are two ways to teach your dog to sit—neither of which involve physically trying to force your dog to sit. These are both positive reinforcement methods.

  1. Capturing

  2. Luring


You will need a supply of treats in your pocket or in a container held in your hand for both methods.

The capturing method is quite simple. It involves using a treat to capture your dog's attention and then patiently waiting for him to sit. You hold the treat at your chest level (whether kneeling for a small puppy or standing for a larger dog chest level is appropriate) and out in front of him, and then when he sits, you say, "Yes!" and give him the treat.

If your dog stands up again on his own, repeat the process above. To encourage your dog to stand up, move away from him, and when he stands up, repeat the process above.

Once your dog has successfully performed several repetitions, you may begin saying "Sit" instead of "Yes" just as he is starting to sit. Reward him with the treat and give praise.


This method is just as easy as capturing and involves using hand movement with a treat in hand to position your dog and get him into the sitting position.

You'll want to either kneel or stand in front of your puppy/dog and hold a treat right in front of his nose.

Then slowly raise the treat directly above his head until he sits, and when his butt touches the ground, say "Yes!" and give him the treat.

Repeat the process as described above, using the "Yes! affirmation until he has the idea, then, you can begin to replace "Yes!" with "Sit."

Once your dog understands the command, you can remove the treats and use the hand motion with the "Sit" command.

This will take several practice sessions and perhaps several days, but with patience, persistence, and consistency, he will master it.

With both of these methods, once you feel he has a grasp of the hand and voice command, then you can try without a treat in hand.

Always give plenty of praise in the form of "Good dog!" when he obeys your command.

Picture of man teaching dog to lay down.

Teaching your dog to lay down.

Teaching Your Dog to Lay Down

Teaching your dog to lay down is done the same way as the sit command.

You can use the capture method, waiting until he lays down and then rewarding with a treat as you give the "Down verbal command.

Using the luring method in the opposite direction works well from a sit. Hold a treat in front of his nose and slowly lower it to the ground.

When he begins to lay down, reward with the treat, give the "Down" verbal command, and praise him.

If your dog stands up again on his own, simply repeat the process, and if you need to, use a lure to get him up.

The same luring technique can be done if your dog is standing. Hold the treat in front of your dog's nose and bring it slowly down toward the floor. Reward him with the treat when he is about halfway down.

You'll soon be able to do this with no treat, using only your hand signal and your voice command, saying "Down" as you move your hand downward. It's all about incremental improvement and persistence. Be patient.

Easy, right?

Picture of woman teaching her dog to stay.

Teaching your dog to stay.

Teaching Your Dog to Stay

The "Stay" command is possibly one of the most important. Having your dog be disciplined enough to stay until recalled is a foundational skill for many other dog training scenarios.

Teaching your dog to stay involves two parts: the stay and the release.

It takes time and patience (on both your and your dog's part). Teaching your dog to develop the patience and discipline to stay for longer and longer durations before being released will require lots of practice.

You go about teaching your dog to stay in reverse order—meaning, you first teach him the release word, then you teach the stay command.

Most people use either one of these two release words: "OK" or "Free."

To teach him how to release, stand facing your dog a few feet apart, with him either sitting or lying down. Toss a treat on the floor ahead of him at your feet, and as he steps forward to get it, say "OK" or "Free."

Repeat this process several times to help your dog make the association between moving forward toward you and the release word.

Once you've done it 5-10 times, you can try saying the release word before giving the treat, and then when he moves, give the treat, again giving the treat at your feet. This teaches your dog that from a stay, the release word means that he should move to your feet.

Now comes the fun part!

This is where you combine the "Stay" command with the release word and teach him to remain sitting or lying down until you use the release word.

Stand facing your dog a foot or two apart and give him a treat for staying in a sit or lying down. Wait a few seconds, and give him another treat for staying.

Then, release him by saying "OK" or "Free."

You want to gradually increase the time that your dog stays before being released. A second or two at a time, just keep increasing the duration that your dog stays put.

The next step is to add distance between you so that you can have your dog stay from any distance or location. Again, do this incrementally as you did with adding duration to the stay. Each time, adding a little bit more space between you, one step away at a time.

Be sure to give him lots of praise for successes and remember, have patience, be persistent, and consistent. Make sure you are giving treats and commands at the proper times.

Remember to keep your training sessions short, as we discussed above—5-10 minutes maximum—and be sure to give your dog some fun playtime afterward to burn off energy and relax.

Work your way out of giving treats by giving them at random intervals and eventually, to no treats at all, or very seldom giving treats to reinforce the learned behavior. In this way, you're not just bribing your dog to do what you say, but he has learned the commands and has mastered essential skills!

Picture of girl teaching her dog to come.

Teaching your dog to come.

Teaching Your Dog to Come (Recall)

The best way to train recall, in the beginning, is to do it in a quiet place where there are no distractions—you wouldn't want to train recall, for example, in a busy park or even your own front yard (unless you live somewhere you have no neighbors, cars going by, or other distractions.

Your backyard is a great spot if it's quiet or indoors in a closed room away from family and other pets.

You'll begin by sitting on the floor with your dog right next to each other. First, get his attention by saying his name, and when he looks at you, say "Come" and reward him with a treat.

This is simply to begin the association of the word "Come" with a benefit for him. Once you have a few repetitions of this, next, you'll toss a treat on the floor near you, and when he finishes eating, say his name and reward him with another treat when he looks at you.

Remember, all dog training should be based on the idea that your dog is getting something he wants, not just doing what you say. You're building the association of words and commands that result in a favorable outcome for him—praise, playtime, treats, and most of all, being with you—his favorite person!

Once he's made the association that "Come" means praise and petting and treats, you can begin to start adding in some movement.

Toss a treat on the ground for him to eat and back up several steps, and then call him. He should be very excited to come to you and when he does, give him plenty of praise and another treat.

Just like the other skills we've so far discussed, begin to phase out treats and use praise only, and give treats at random intervals or none at all, but always praise.

Before long, you and your dog will have mastered recall, and you'll be able to call him to you at any time you like!

Picture of woman walking her dog on leash.

Teaching your dog to walk on loose leash.

Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Loose Leash

One thing that annoys many dog owners is a dog that charges hard everywhere he goes, pulling the leash and the owner along for the ride.

But there is a better way, and loose leash walking is easy for your dog to learn.

First, you'll want to decide which side you want your dog walking on—right, or left, and be consistent as you progress through loose leash walk training.

We like the command phrase "Let's go" for walk training, but you may also prefer to use "Heel."

The key to teaching your dog how to walk loosely on the the leash is to take it slow and stop frequently while giving treats at knee or hip level when you are either stopped, and he is sitting next to you, or when you are moving slowly forward with a loose leash.

If your dog is a puller, the most effective way to stop this behavior is to change direction. Stop your dog walking by standing still, then cross in front of your dog and face the opposite direction than you've just been walking, keeping him on your preferred side, and continue walking, keeping the leash loose.

As you walk, keep giving treats, spacing them further and further apart as you take more steps and go further. Always keep the leash loose and remember to change directions, walking in front of your dog to face the opposite direction when he pulls.

You may end up doing a lot of stop and cross until your dog gets the hang of it. Remember that from a sit or stay, with your dog at your side, when you start walking, you give a treat at hip or knee level and say your command word "Let's go" or "Heel.

Picture of man and his dog hugging at sunset.

Happy dogs mean happy owners!

In Conclusion

Dog training should be fun for both of you. Remember to keep your sessions short, positive, and above all, remember your dog loves you and wants to please you! Just be patient, persistent, and consistent, and you'll get there.

Allowing your dog time to master these five fundamental commands will pay dividends later on if you ever want to do more advanced training, and at the very least, will create a well-mannered dog that is a joy to be around.

Happy training!