Your dog’s education shouldn’t be considered complete just because he’s mastered the basic obedience commands of Sit, Down, Stay, Come and Heel. That’s a noteworthy achievement, but there are several other simple things that will make life with your pet more pleasant. Teaching your pet a few more skills is well worth the effort.
One useful command is “Leave it.” Teach your dog not to touch, pick up, sniff, or mess with something you’ve pointed out. The command may be used to tell your dog he may not nose around in trash on the street, pester another dog that doesn’t want to interact, tree the cat, grab a child’s toy, steal your sandwich, or bother your Aunt Tillie who doesn’t care for dogs. (When I’m preparing the dogs’ meals here at home I frequently use this command when Fergus, the over-excited teenage Airedale, tries to pick up the Chihuahua by her tail.)
“Don’t pull” is a command that can make holding onto your leashed dog easier. If you and your dog have mastered the “Heel” command and your dog can walk with you without dragging you down the street, you can apply the same training to a stationary situation. Just because you are standing still doesn’t mean your dog should be lunging or pulling to get you moving again. Teach the dog to remain with you on a loose leash, just as you taught him to do when you were walking. Usually when we are standing still while holding a dog’s leash we are doing something else that is holding our attention, such as talking to someone or picking something up off the ground. If the dog takes a lunge for the end of the leash when we aren’t paying attention to it, it’s very easy to be pulled off balance. At the worst, it’s painful. At the least, it’s annoying to have a dog constantly pulling when we want to stand still. This has been a particularly helpful command for me since my knee replacement surgery.
“Stand and Stay” is another helpful skill. Teach your dog to stand on command by luring him forward with a treat or by gently pulling him forward by the collar. Stop him from moving as soon as he is standing up. The “Stand” command is helpful when grooming and examining your dog. “Stand-Stay” can also a good command to use when your dog is approached by a small child who wants to meet him. This is sometimes a challenging command to teach, even though it sounds like such a simple thing. When we have a dog sit or lie down and Stay, the concept of not moving out of position is fairly easy for the dog to understand. If the dog is standing, it’s more tempting and much easier to move. Unless your dog is headed for a career in Obedience Trial competition, you can allow your dog to make slight “comfort shifts,” but other than a bit of shuffling in place the dog should stay where he was told to stay.
“Off” is one of the biggies. Teach your dog that “Off” means that he may not jump up on you or anybody else, and that he may not climb or jump up to get things off tables or kitchen counters. It is important to remember that there is a difference between “Off” and “Down.” “Off” means get off of me, the counter, the table, the hood of the car, etcetera. “Down” means lie down. Don’t confuse your dog by having the “Down” command mean more than one thing.
Doorway behavior is an important life skill. Use the skills you employed when you taught Sit and Down Stays. Teach your dog to stay when a door is opened. He should learn that he may not bolt out an open door. He should also be taught to allow you to go through a doorway first, or to walk next to you through the door. In most situations, your dog should not go through a doorway first. If you have a reason to want your dog to go through first, teach him to wait for a command.
If you need help or information on teaching your dog these skills there are numerous books and videos available that you can use, but sometimes the best thing to do is to enlist the help of a professional dog trainer or enroll in a good obedience class.
Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor and judge of canine events. She is a published author and contributes regular columns to several dog publications. She currently teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS Program and has recently retired from her post as instructor at That Place for Pets.