The Three Most Crucial Things to Teach Your Dog

Posted by Allie Layos

High-fives are fun, but these simple training commands may actually save your dog's life. 

Rolling over, playing dead, speaking, and crawling are fun ways to challenge your dog intellectually and impress your friends with your dog-training abilities. But, while they may be less impressive, some of the simplest dog training commands are actually the most important.

Here's why.


Coming when called is one of the first commands taught during obedience school, and for a very good reason -- it's not just a convenience thing, it's a safety thing. If your dog gets loose near traffic, it could actually save his life.

Your dog should come immediately when called, whether he's in the yard, inside chewing on a bone, playing with other dogs, getting attention from other people, or even when he has something he knows he shouldn't, like a food wrapper.


To teach your dog to "come," you should start out practicing this command at short distances and at times when you are almost positive your dog will listen. When he does, be sure to reward him thoroughly with verbal praise.

You can use a treat as well, but don't show him the treat ahead of time -- you don't want a dog that only comes when he sees the treat bag! Some dogs respond better if you run backward while calling them, because it makes it into a game of chase. If this works for your dog, do it until he has understood the command, and then gradually wean him off of it until you can call him while standing still.

If your dog is still struggling with the command, consider using the word "here" in place of "come." Some dogs like the sound of this command better.

Leave It

While most pet owners associate the "leave it" command solely with food, it can be used in a variety of scenarios, and can also help keep your dog safe. Whether your dog is chasing a dangerous wild animal or diving toward medicine or chocolate that was dropped on the floor, the leave it command can be a literal life saver.

Your dog should respond to this command both on and off leash, and at a distance of 10 and 15 feet. He should respond whether the item he is being directed to "leave" is his favorite food or tennis ball, an item that has dropped to the floor or something that is moving, like a squirrel.

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To teach the "leave it" command, use something your dog desires, such as a tennis ball or a piece of food. Hold it in your fingers in such a way that your dog does not have easy access to it, and extend it toward him. Let him sniff, nibble and paw at it, attempting to get it out of your hand, but don't give it to him until he stops trying. As soon as he pauses, moves back or turns away, praise him and give him the object.

Once you have repeated this exercise enough that your dog is consistently making the choice to turn away from the object, add the "leave it" command at the moment he begins to turn away. This will build an association between the cue and the action. Finally, ask your dog to "leave it" as soon as you present the object to him, and don't forget to reward him when he does what you ask.



The "wait" command is the last of the three most crucial commands. While it may appear to be the same thing as "stay," there is actually a significant difference between the two. If you ask your dog to "stay" while he is sitting, he should remain sitting. If he is laying down, he should remain down. When you ask him to "wait," however, he can hold whatever position he likes as long as he doesn't move past an established point.

Because of this, the command helps to keep your dog safe in countless scenarios, preventing him from rushing out the front door or darting out of a vehicle before the leash is on.

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A dog who has been trained to "wait" should do so when you're preparing to take him for a walk, when visitors are arriving at the front door,  and in many different locations, such as his crate and in vehicles.

Teaching the "wait" command is easier when there are no distractions, so practice with your dog at the front door when you don't have company arriving. If you use a leash to prevent your dog from ignoring your command, be sure to keep it loose unless he makes a mistake, and to use a release command such as "okay!" when you are ready for your dog to proceed past the established point. As always, don't forget to reward your dog when he does what you want.


There are dozens of fancier tricks your dog can learn, but when it comes to your dog's safety, no commands are more important than these three. Besides, keeping your dog free of harm means he has a long, healthy life ahead of him, and plenty of time to learn all the tricks you can dream up.

Does your dog know these commands? Tell us in the comments below. 

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The Three Most Crucial Things to Teach Your Dog