The Ultimate Guide: Teaching 20 Essential Dog Commands

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

The Ultimate Guide: Teaching 20 Essential Dog Commands

Dogs have been domesticated companions and best friends for thousands of years, and with a little care, love, attention, and effort, you can train your furry child to do all kinds of things.

There's a whole range of training, too. Some people train their fur babies for the bare minimum – the commands like sit, heel, come, and stay – so they can keep control over their unruly pup and maybe give them a few tricks they can perform.

Other people have very well-trained doggos who faithfully stay at the side of their designated pet parent, seemingly unconcerned with the cool smells, squirrels to chase, or distractions in the world around them. We think of these pups as well-trained, but even they aren't as trained as they could be.

The extreme end of training is service dogs. Whether they're the local K-9 unit, trained to sniff out drugs and catch bad guys, or they're disability service dogs who can do everything from fetch a beverage to perform specific kinds of first aid. It's crazy what you can teach a dog with some dedicated effort and training!

If you want your fur baby to be able to do just about everything short of holding down a paying job, it's all about the training. Training requires consistency, a keen understanding of how dogs work and what their reward system encourages, and patience. It also helps to start when they're young, but you can keep adding more commands over time. You can actually teach an old(er) dog new tricks if you do it right.

So, let's talk about the 20 best commands you can teach your pup. This encompasses everything from the most basic, common commands to more complex and nuanced commands, but once you have the full roster down, you'll have a dog that is better-behaved and more capable than a lot of people you and I know.

Before we dig in, though, I'll note that these are commands, not necessarily generalized behaviors. As such, things like training your dog to let you clip their nails aren't on the list because they are not commands. What are commands? Let's get started.

1: Come!

One of the most important commands to teach a dog, and often one of the first you teach them, is how to come when you call them.

Commanding a Dog to Come Image by Toe Beans

This is such an important behavior that it's the foundation of recall training, and I wrote a whole guide on just this one command. You can read that guide to dog recall training here.

2: Sit!

Sit is an essential command that ensures your pup can stay in one place calmly enough to avoid being a disruption while keeping themselves planted on the floor.

Commanding Dogs to Sit Image by Toe Beans

It's a good way to keep them from jumping up or onto people, and it's useful in a ton of different situations. Here's how to teach it.

3: Stay!

Teaching a dog to stay where they are is one of the most important commands you can teach.

Commanding a Dog to Stay Image by Toe Beans

It keeps them out of trouble while you do something they shouldn't be part of, whether that's stepping into the bathroom, waiting to cross the road, or just testing their self-control before giving them a reward.

4: Potty

Potty training is important for every pooch, but relatively few people actually teach a potty command.

Teaching the Potty Command Image by Toe Beans

I recommend it, though; it can be a good way to make the distinction between "we're going out for a walk" and "we're going out for potty," which can be a pretty significant difference, especially when you're waking up at three in the morning to deal with your pooch.

5: Lay Down

Often, "lay down" is the follow-up command for sitting, and it's a way to get your dog to get themselves comfortable where they are. It also often forms part of a trick chain, where you get them to sit, lay down, roll over, shake, speak, and more, all to show off how well-behaved they are.

Teaching a Dog to Lay Down Image by Toe Beans

Laying down is relatively easy to teach, though getting them to stay laid down is another matter.

6: Drop It!

Dogs investigate the world around them with their faces. Since they don't have hands, there are only so many ways they can interact with an object, and the most common is with their mouth. That's why they chew on pretty much anything, after all.

A Dog Playing With a Stick Image by Toe Beans

Well, if you want to keep them from chewing on something valuable or important – or, critically, something potentially harmful to them – teaching them to drop it is critical.

7: Go To Bed

The "go to bed" command can be a very useful one, and not just for the evening when you want to go to sleep. It's also a good way to get your fur baby to settle in when you and the family are having a meal, or when a guest comes over and you want your pooch out of the way until they're settled in.

A Dog in a Bed Image by Toe Beans

It's part of crate training and definitely something you should teach.

8: Find Your X

Sure, an entire breed is called the "retriever," but that doesn't mean retrieval is limited just to our dopey goldens.

A Dog Retrieving a Toy Image by Toe Beans

Retrieving an item can be useful for any number of circumstances, such as:

  • Grabbing a toy or pillow to present to a guest to keep them calmer.
  • Grabbing a specific toy to play with.
  • Grabbing designated household items as part of service training.

The key is to make sure every distinct item you want them to get has a specific name they can attach to it in their adorable doggy minds.

9: Heel

Heel is another very important command when you and your fur baby are out on the town. The goal isn't just to get them to come to you but to keep them at your side as you walk.

A Dog on a Walk Image by Toe Beans

A well-trained pooch sticking to their parents' side while they walk, even without a leash, can be impressive to witness. Fortunately, it's just like any other trick and isn't all that hard to train.

10: Down

Some dogs are extremely excitable and love to hop or stand up, especially if they're trying to get a closer look and closer sniff of whatever it is you have in your hands. Or maybe they just love you and want to lick your face, but your face is all the way up there and they're down here and just let me up!!!

A Dog Staying Down Image by Toe Beans

Many people don't enjoy being jumped on, though, so teaching your furry child to stay down is always a good option.

11: Leave It

Similar to "drop it," "leave it" is the command you give to your pooch when you see them about to get into trouble.

A Dog Leaving a Toy Alone Image by Toe Beans

Whether they're about to try to steal another dog's toy, take a nibble of that delightful roadkill, or just pick up a big gross stick you don't want them carrying around, getting them to leave it alone is a great command to teach.

12: Paw

Another great command you should teach your fur baby is to hand you their paws. It's sort of like "shake," except that instead of just being a parlor trick, it's a useful command for grooming.

A Dog Paw Image by Toe Beans

You need to check paw health and trim nails, and if you have to fight your pooch to do it, it's going to be worse for everyone involved.

13: Speak

Interestingly, a lot of the time we pet parents try to teach our pooches not to bark. So, teaching them to speak on command seems like it runs counter to the plan, right?

A Dog Barking Image by Toe Beans

Well, it actually works together with keeping quiet. You can even teach them different volumes of barking for different commands, like whispering. Sadly, no matter how much you try, you aren't going to be able to teach them English words; they still only speak their native canine!

14: Hush

Dogs bark all the time for just about anything. Teaching them to bark on command doesn't necessarily teach them not to bark at other times. That's a whole other process and one I've written about before.

A Barking Dog Image by Toe Beans

The goal of teaching a hush or quiet command is to try to get your fur baby to be quiet when their barking is otherwise disruptive. They still might let out some boofs when they see a squirrel they'd love to chase or an unexpected visitor shows up at the door, but

15: Under

Unlike the tricks above, Under is a service dog command. It's not one you're likely to be using in casual life with a dog, but if you have a service dog that accompanies you when you're out shopping, going to restaurants, or otherwise engaging with the world around you, it can be very useful. The main use is to instruct your fur baby to position themselves under something, usually the chair you're sitting in, so they're out of the way and as minimally disruptive as possible. Unfortunately, despite society allowing and normalizing service dogs, plenty of people still find them disruptive even when they aren't.

A Dog Under Their Owner Image by Toe Beans

Your pooch doesn't need to be a service dog to learn service dog commands, though, so if you find that this behavior would be useful to train, there's no reason not to give it a shot!

16: Find Todd

Another potentially useful command is teaching your dog to go to another member of the household. Maybe it's "go find daddy" or "go find mommy," or maybe it's a more robust list of people you know that you can teach them to find.

A Dog With Their Owners Image by Toe Beans

You can even accompany this with another command to get them to bring an object to someone else. It's a more complex command, though, so you'll likely want to teach this one after a lot of the rest on this list are already learned.

17: Open

This is perhaps one of the riskiest commands you can teach a dog. It's essential for service dogs, but if your dog isn't extremely well-behaved, it can be very dangerous.

A Dog Opening a Door Image by Toe Beans

Open is the command you teach to get your dog to open a door. It's usually accompanied by special tools to help your pooch open a door, and it's a very useful service command if your hands are full or you have trouble opening doors on your own, but left to their own devices, a dog with freedom of movement can be risky.

18: Back Up

Another potentially useful command is to train your dog to walk backward.

A Dog Backing Up Image by Toe Beans

Taking a few steps back is useful for a bunch of different situations, including keeping your pooch away from something dangerous, from another dog, or from a person who is afraid of dogs. Teaching them to walk longer distances backward, meanwhile, is a fancy trick you can use to show off.

19: Sit Pretty

Sitting pretty is another word for beg and is just an advanced form of sitting.

A Dog Sitting Pretty Image by Toe Beans

You're not actually teaching your dog to beg – they're more than happy to do that without training – but it's a fun display command.

20: Car

Car can be a useful command to get your doggo to hop up into the car when it's time to go somewhere, like to the park or to the vet.

A Dog in a Car Image by Toe Beans

It's tricky, though; you need to use it all the time and avoid poisoning the command by only using it when you're taking them somewhere unpleasant. You may also have a unique command specifically for longer car trips where they'll be chilling in the back seat for a long time.

21: Post It

Did you know that with a little dedication, you can teach your dog to write whole blog posts? It's true!

Well, okay, it's not actually true. As much as I love my fur babies, their command over the written word leaves much to be desired. Kind of everything to be desired, actually. They can't even write their own names. Wouldn't it be cool if they could?

A Dog by a Computer Image by Toe Beans

On that note, there are tons of different commands and variations you can teach, and dedicated service or working dogs have specialized commands as well. You really can teach a dog just about any behavior, as long as you find a way to reward them for doing it in a way that associates the behavior with both a command and a reward.

What are your favorite dog commands? Have you taught any of your fur babies anything particularly unique or useful that I didn't cover here? If so, tell me all about it in the comments below! There's nothing I love more than hearing the stories of adorable fur babies and their antics.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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