Puppy 101 – The 3 commands every puppy should know

If you have brought a new puppy into your home, you know that the time commitment is huge at first. Let me give you some pointers to make your efforts turn your puppy into a well behaved one.

The top three commands that you should teach your pup are “Sit”, “Come”, and “Watch Me.”  By teaching these three commands, your whole world opens up to teach anything from basic good manners, to complicated tricks.

Puppy command #1 – “Sit”

When starting to teach the sit command, I actually prefer not to use words.  I like to have the pup come to me and I ignore any jumping – then when he sits, boom! – he gets a treat. I like to use Cheerios for this because they are small, easy to carry around for quick rewarding, and are pretty healthy (plus now they come in peanut butter flavor – what pup can resist).

Every time the pup gets to me and offers a sit, they get rewarded. Make sure you are only rewarding when that bottom is on the ground and not on the way up or down. When you are consistent at this, your pup will be in the habit of sitting with approached by people, or when approaching someone whether they are standing or sitting.

Once your pup is getting the habit, you can begin to walk around the room or yard so he begins to understand that the rules are the same regardless of where he is, or who is doing the approaching. You can begin to wean off the treats when you see your pup offering the sit behavior routinely. Now when he sits, you put a word to it so it is not only his habit, but a command for you to use when you want  him to put his bottom on the ground (maybe at corners when walking, or when a car is passing by).  Not only have you given him the tools to have good manners when approaching people, you have eliminated the possibility of him jumping – which can be a huge safety issue with a big dog.

German shepherd puppy sitting head tilted

Puppy command #2 – “Come”

The “Come” command (also referred to as recall) is extremely important. Your pup needs to have a solid “come” in case of emergency. The easiest way to teach this is to put your pup on a long (20 ft.) leash and let him wander. When he gets far enough, yell Puppy (use their name)– Come. The tone in which you call them has a lot to do with it being successful.  If you are monotone, or angry, the chances of success are almost none. Have a happy, fun voice – think Ice cream truck.  When you were a kid and heard that music coming down the street you associated it with a great thing. You want your dog to think good things when he hears you say “come.”

The tone in which you call them has a lot to do with it being successful.  If you are monotone, or angry, the chances of success are almost none. Have a happy, fun voice.

A few reminders about this command –

  • In order for it to work every time it has to ALWAYS be a good thing for him to do. Even if he comes to you with your best shoes, or a squirrel in his mouth you have to be pleased and show it. The first time he is reprimanded for coming, he will question it forever.
  • Also, if he gets selective hearing and just continues to wander – use the leash and reel him to you – he has to understand that it’s not a request, it’s a command and you will go get him if needed.
  • Coming to you should not always mean the end of fun either. If you call your pup and then put him in his crate every time so you can go to work, he will start putting off coming so he doesn’t have to come in. Periodically just throw a ball, or chase him, or whatever you think is fun after he responds to your come command.
  • Lastly, when your pup gets to you when called remember that he should sit in front of you upon arrival. You should take advantage of him sitting to reach down to fluff his neck and play with his collar. That will get him comfortable with people putting their hands toward him and touching. It will also him feel more at ease with people handling his collar (vet, groomer, sitter). It should also be a signal to him that you are happy with what he has done and the exercise is over.

Puppy command #3 – “Watch me”

This exercise is very easy to practice and can have huge rewards. It is strictly meant to get your pups’ attention from whatever it is on to you. Start by having your baggie of Cheerios handy – hold one in your fingers and start at the dogs’ nose. Take your treat from their nose to your eye and say “watch me” are you are moving it. You can also say “focus” or “look” but choose one word and everyone in the household should use the same word. As soon as your dog makes eye contact (not looking at the treat, but at your eye) give the treat. Practice this as much as you can because you want your pup to understand that no matter when or where, when he hears those words his attention immediately shifts to you.

Knowing “watch me” has a multitude of uses – distractions while walking, barking out windows or doors, moving his attention from things he should not be chewing on or chasing. This is a great thing to practice during commercials – they are consistent enough to practice quite a bit, but not long enough to get bored.

beagle puppy looking up at owner

Bringing them all together

Now that you have a handle on what each command is intended to do and how to achieve it, start putting them together. When your dog comes up to you and sits, also ask him to watch you before he gets a treat. When he brings a ball to you when playing fetch, he should sit before the ball is thrown again. After he really starts to be consistent, you can start weaning him off of treats – replace treats every time with treats sometime, affection sometime, or continued play. These three main commands can be the cornerstone of a well behaved dog. Just remember to be consistent with your working, tone, and timing.

Good Luck!

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