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5 Essential Dog Training Commands I Use Daily

5 Essential Dog Training Commands I Use Daily

Teaching a few basic dog training commands right off the bat goes a long way in terms of obedience, relationship building, and leadership.

The biggest keys to success for teaching these essential commands is consistency, clear communication, and accountability.

Working with your dog daily will result in better proficiency with obedience. For example, I set aside at least 20 minutes each day to work on basic training commands with Sitka. It’s fun, builds our bond, feeds him a meal, and reinforces his skills.

The five dog training commands in this list are the ones I use every single day and in a variety of circumstances and environments. As a result, these commands keep Sitka safe, focused on me, and provide structure when we’re out and about.

Understanding How Dogs Communicate

Dogs are excellent communicators, however, humans often miss what their dog is saying because they have not taken the time to learn dog language.

We teach dogs what we want in English, often without realizing that dogs don’t actually speak English.

Dogs speak dog.

It’s on us, their handlers to learn to speak some dog.

How dogs learn and communicate:

  1. Tactically (physical touch)
  2. Visually
  3. Verbally

How humans learn and communicate:

  1. Verbally
  2. Visually
  3. Tactically

When you watch dogs play with one another or observe how a mother corrects a puppy, you’ll see they use their teeth to communicate.

This is important to keep in mind when you’re training a dog and why it can take longer for a dog to learn if you communicate verbally primarily.

Leash pressure and the tools used in balanced training are incredibly effective communication methods to teach dogs what you want them to do.

I understand they’re not for everyone, and they’re certainly not the only way to train a dog, but I have found them to be the most efficient way to communicate with a dog.

You Must First Teach Your Dog What the Words Mean

Have you seen this person?

“Sitka! Sitka! Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. No! Wait, stay. Sit! Wait! No! Staaaaaay. Staaaaaaay. Staaaaaay. STAY! No! Sit!”

I’ve definitely seen that person.
I’ve been that person.

As handlers, we are talking way too much to our dogs, which leads to a circle of frustration.

Consequently, we are frustrated because it seems like they’re not listening, and they’re frustrated because they have no idea what we’re saying!

Teaching your dog marker words gives them clear communication of what is expected of them.

Dogs Don’t Speak English!

In Suzanne Clothier’s book, Bones Would Rain from the Sky, she describes an exercise she performs at workshops to help humans understand what our dogs go through when we try to teach them new concepts in a way they don’t understand.

She paired participants in teams and asked one person to teach the other a new “trick” using only vegetables. For example, “sit” might mean “carrot,” but the student has no idea what that carrot means sit.

As the game continued, the teachers would become frustrated and raise their voices and repeat the same word over and over, but the students still had no idea what the word meant.

This is not all that dissimilar from how our dogs feel when we teach them new concepts.

This is where marker words come into play.

Marker Words

I use these four marker words to clearly communicate the dog training commands and behaviors I seek from my dog.


Terminal marker that marks the moment that your dog does what you want. Example: You ask for sit, your dog’s butt hits the ground. “Yes” them the second that butt touches the ground and reward.

Yes always get a reward and means that your dog can come out of the command and come to you to receive their food.


Good is a duration marker that means “keep doing what you’re doing.” You go to your dog to deliver the reward, as they must remain in position.


Use “no” as a correction marker when your dog breaks a command or when they are not following through on a command. Always follow up with the command you desire.

Here are two examples:

You ask for a sit, your dog sits, you say “yes” or “good” (depending on where you are in your training), after a few seconds, your dog breaks. You say “no, sit,” to correct and reinforce the command.

You recall your dog on the trail, they start to come back, then get distracted by a smell. You say, “no, come” and make sure they follow through on the command.


“Free” releases your dog from whatever behavior you had asked of them and they can go be a dog and do whatever they want.

Avoiding Overuse

If you find that your dog is failing to respond to a certain word, you may want to swap it out for a different one. Overuse or incorrect training can render a word useless.

As an example, let’s say you’re trying to teach your dog recall using the word “come.”

When you first started out, you’d say, “Come, Sitka! Come, Sitka! Sitka, come! Come! Come! Come! Come!”

Sitka ignores you and therefore the word has no meaning.

Maybe you allowed your dog to run off and play with another dog you met on the trail or chase a squirrel before you taught them the meaning of the word.

Other dogs and squirrels are way more exiting than another treat.

If this sounds like your dog, then try a different word, like “here.” I know someone that uses the Spanish word for here, which is “aqui.”

Do I Have to Use These Exact Commands?

Nope! You can have as much fun with the command names as you like. The key is consistency. Pick a word and stick with it.

Keep in mind that if you choose random words, other people, like a friend or pet sitter may not be able to communicate with your dog as easily.

Common swaps:

  • Lie down vs down*
  • Come vs here
  • Heel vs with me
  • Stay vs wait
  • Out vs leave it

*Your grammar nerd author would like to encourage proper word choice for dog training by using “lie” down vs “lay” down. Lay means to put or place something down. Lie means to rest or recline. The phrase that helped me remember the rule is that chickens lay eggs.

To confuse you more, lay is the past tense of lie. “My cat lay on my keyboard while I was gone and sent out a few choice words to my coworkers.”

Sitka relaxes on "place" at camp while I set up my tent. Place is one of the essential dog training commands I use on a daily basis.

My List of Basic Dog Training Commands

The list of five basic dog training commands below are the words I use on a daily basis. Whether we’re at home, hiking, running, walking, you name it, these are the words I use.

I have created a meaning for them and I hold Sitka accountable when he breaks a command.

I view these basic obedience commands as safety mechanisms to keep Sitka safe.

You’ll notice the word “stay” is not listed below. This is because I’ve eliminated it from my dog’s vocabulary, and here’s why:

It’s redundant.

Sit means sit.

Down means down.

Place means place.

If I ask these behaviors of my dog, then they should not be doing anything else in the meantime. Therefore, it is unnecessary to add, “stay” when “sit” means “sit there and keep doing that until I tell you otherwise.”

The trick is keeping them accountable and teaching them marker words before you teach them anything else.


Sit is usually the first command most dog owners teach their dogs. It’s easy and frequently used.

The command gives a dog something to do when they might otherwise choose to react.

I have also taught Sitka to sit when I stop walking, before thresholds, and at crosswalks.


Down typically follows the sit command in training progression. It goes a step further than sit, because it puts dogs in a submissive position and makes it more challenging for them to react to stimuli.


I don’t know how I ever lived with a dog before I knew about the place command. It is one of the first behaviors I teach a dog and has proven to be among the most important.

Place teaches your dog to chill out on demand, allows you to eat dinner without a dog begging at the table, lets you enjoy happy hour at a brewery without having to manage your dog constantly.

On the trail, it lets you create space for passing dogs and people. Reactive dogs learn to process their anxiety around scary things like dogs and people by just learning how to chill out.


If you’re planning on letting your dog off leash for hikes or trail running, then a solid recall is a non-negotiable.

We practice recall on every single hike and run, which occurs most days of the week.

Before letting your dog off leash, make sure they can recall away from other dogs, their food, squirrels, and anything else they might find enticing. If they can’t recall off those high distractions, then they’re not ready for the wild.

I worked with a professional to have Sitka e-collar trained for recall and I love knowing that he will come sprinting back to me every single time I call.


We practice heel daily, on every single walk. We practice structured walking, which helps Sitka with his leash reactivity and teaches him not to pull on the leash.

I also practice heel on hikes and during runs. This way, we can easily pass other users without having to stop and put on a leash (though I will always do so when asked).

Out or Leave It

For the most part, “out” is synonymous with “leave it,” however, I find that it is more versatile.

In addition to using it to ask Sitka to ignore something on the trail, I also use it to release a toy or drop a stick or toy if it looks like he’s maybe becoming a bit possessive around another dog.

What are your go-to dog commands?

What is the most important command you’ve taught your dog?

Lynda Waters

Thursday 29th of April 2021

Hi i just found you, very good information, i have a rescue dog, from Texas i am in Ontario Canada. She is just starting to trust other people, has made one or two dog buddies. My problem is she is super jealous, if a dog comes near me, the teeth show, and the growl comes out, she sometimes looks as if she is going to go after the other dog. I tell people she is just new i have had her only for 6 weeks, oh she is either an Aussie shepherd mix, or an Aussie ranch dog. She weighs about 42 pounds, i thought i was getting a 20 pound dog, i have had two Border Collies and know the work that is involved. we are walking in three walks about 3 hours a day. If she sees a squirrel that is it she is gone, the middle one the longest, on Sundays one walk is aprox 6-7 miles. I would love to have her walk off leash, or at least when we meet other dogs be friendly, i tell the owners i would love my dog to socialize but i can with their dog and explain. do you have any advice. thanks i am so happy i found you, oh yes my dog is about 1 year old, had a bad start, has been trained but not i think kindly she is afraid of sticks, owners cut off her tail herself. She loves me, smiles, and now when she comes in her little tail is going a mile a minute and her body is trying to keep time with it. Still wont sleep with, wont do her business in the yard, loves to be outside, now knows she can come in and go as she lives. Great dog

Jen Sotolongo

Friday 7th of May 2021

Sounds like you have a nice project dog! I'd recommend seeking the guidance of a professional trainer in your area. I have a friend (@falcothedog) on Instagram who lives in Toronto who might have some trainer recommendations for you. In the meantime, I'd start with a lot of structure at home and on walks, hand-feeding all meals in exchange for training, and socializing her only with dogs you know and that have a good temperment.


Friday 16th of April 2021

I use “stay” when my Cooper is in an automatic sit, as when I stop walking. I take a step to the side and ask him to stay. We also have an auto-sit when picking up poop. Otherwise I agree with your 5 commands. I also had a professional layer in the e-collar primarily to have a reliable recall and rarely have to use it.

Jen Sotolongo

Friday 23rd of April 2021

Yep! Stay is great for sure! "Sit" or "down" or any command for my dog just implies a stay until I release or give other instructions. That's great that you've had such success with the e-collar!