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The first 3 things you should teach your dog

We often find that the first thing most people tend to teach their dog is "sit". This is generally a nice and easy command to teach and can be very helpful in certain situations, but it is never the first thing that we teach. Similarly, whilst we love teaching cool tricks our dogs are primarily pets and we would much rather that they are able to function in our daily lives before they are able to compete in high level competitions.

Whether you have just brought home a puppy or adopted an older dog, there are some behaviours that are much more important to instil than others, and which we always recommend teaching first, as they lay the foundations for other behaviours. We like to think of training like building a house - there is no point spending lots of time and effort decorating the interior if the house isn't built on solid foundations in the first place.

A key thing to remember whilst working through your foundations is that a good relationship with your dog is key. A relationship is build on trust, respect and communication, and if any of these is missing or breaks down then this is where we start to see issues. One of the best ways to build (or rebuild as the case may be) a relationship with your dog is through training them, provided you communicate effectively.

A follow command

The first thing we teach is always a follow command, whether that be "lets go", "this way", "walk on" or whatever else you choose. A follow command allows us to move our dog on and get them to follow us as we change direction, whether they are next to us or further away from us. It also helps our dogs through any situation they may find themselves in, whether it be to give them direction walking past something that they find scary, or to move on from a dog or person. This command is the one we use the most and so it makes sense that is is the first one we start to train! We always teach a follow command before a formal heel command. A heel is made up of two things: a loose lead and a position on your leg. There is absolutely no point in teaching the heel if you are unable to keep a loose lead whilst your dog is there.

Another reason why this command is so important is because it helps our dogs with the understanding of leash pressure. In the world we live in dogs need to be able to walk on the lead for their own safety, but people often take it as a given that their dog will accept this without question. As a result, a lot of dogs have a complicated relationship with the lead, and this is the cause of a lot of problems. If our dogs don't understand what the lead means, or it causes them to feel frustration and conflict, then you are missing an important communication tool. Using our follow command we can teach dogs to follow the pressure of the lead to find the release, which in turn allows us to teach dogs not to pull.

A release cue

Your release cue is something that lets your dog know that they can stop doing the thing that you have asked them to do, whether that is to walk in a heel, recall or sit. It is often the most forgotten command, but it is important that we tell our dog when they can go off and do their own thing because it ensures clarity. For example, if you ask your dog to heel, but then don't tell them when they can leave that position, then your dog will not have a proper understanding of what you mean by heel. They will likely drift off from the heel when you don't want them to because you have let them do it sometimes, and this leads to confusion as to what is expected from them. It would then be unfair to correct your dog for not heeling, when the reality is that you haven't been clear as to what a heel is in the first place. Another example would be if you recall your dog but then don't use a release cue afterwards, this means that your dog can come back and run off again straight away. This can be completely useless and even dangerous if you are calling them back because there is a bike approaching or similar. The absence of a release cue can therefore create confusion, and can weaken other behaviours that you are trying to teach.

There are a whole host of words that people use as their release cue; free, finish, break, relax, all done, off you go and more. The only word we would not recommend as a release cue is "ok". The reason for this is that we often say ok in conversation, and we don't want our dog to hear us say this and think that this means they are released from their command.

Your release cue comes hand in hand with lead walking because we can teach the dog when to walk close to us and when they are allowed freedom to sniff. We can then generalise the release cue with other behaviours in the future, such as sit, place, down etc.

Crate training

We believe that all dogs should be comfortable being crated, even when you do not plan on using one long term. This is because if your dog ever has to stay at the vets they will need to be crated or kennelled, and if they haven't already been conditioned to this then it can make the whole situation much more stressful. It can also come in very useful in situations where you need to manage your dogs interactions with others, such as when new dogs come into the home, if you have workmen coming in and out of the house or if you have people round that aren't used to dogs.

Crate training is one of the first things we do with a new dog. Giving some dogs, especially puppies, complete freedom and responsibility to make their own choices out loose in the house can be unrealistic, and crate training them gives them a safe space to stay whilst we we work on giving them the tools to cope with more freedom. Crates can be an invaluable tool for dogs that are anxious and struggle to settle, as well as dogs with separation anxiety. They create a safe space for your dog where they cannot hurt themselves or damage anything, and they are a great way of helping a dog to "switch off" and learn to be calm inside the home.

With crate training, we are creating a physical barrier to teach our dog to settle. Alongside this, we also want to teach our dogs to settle with a "mental barrier". This is often called place training or bed training, and the principles are exactly the same as crate training, but instead of closing the crate door, we leave it open so that the dog has the responsibility of staying in their crate even when there is the option to leave. This can be done alongside crate training so that your dog learns to settle regardless of whether the crate door is open or shut.

As we mentioned at the start of this post, our dogs are primarily pets and so this is our main focus when deciding on the most important behaviours to teach them. If you have acquired a dog for another purpose, then your priorities are likely to be centered around that purpose. For example, if you acquire a dog primarily for detection work then your priorities will likely be imprinting the dog onto the scent, and you will likely not care so much for a follow me command.

So, we have listed our three most important commands as being a follow command, a release cue and crate training. That is not to say that you should exclusively teach these three, and forget about all others, but that they should be your main focus at least to start with. You can then build on these by adding in commands such as sit, recall and heel. Anything above and beyond that is the icing on the cake!

Do you agree with us? What are your three most important commands? Comment below and let us know!

1 Comment

One of my most important commands has been “bed”. I can deal with most situations in the house now that they have a strong place command. Crate training definitely up there along with “relax”.

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