Eight Basic Training Cues to Teach Your Dog

Learn How to Start Training a New Dog.
By Karen B. London PhD, June 2011, Updated June 2021

Trainers spend a dog’s lifetime teaching new cues and behaviors, but there are a few worth teaching every dog sooner rather than later. Training is a key element in new dog bonding and no dog is too old to learn new tricks. Remember dog training is meant to be rewarding and fun for both of you! So, keep training brief, just 5 to 10 minutes, at the start and always end on a positive note. Below you'll find the top 8 most important dog training tricks that with some gentle teaching, your dog can be a master of too.


Don’t move forward. Teaching a dog to wait is especially useful at doors. Dogs who wait are easier to take on walks and let in and out of the car because they don’t go through the door until given permission. Wait is also a great safety prompt, in that it can prevent a dog from charging or running out a door into traffic and reduce some of the chaos inherent in living with dogs. Teaching a dog to wait also allows people to catch up during off-leash walks if the dog has gone ahead.


Look at my face. Teaching a dog to watch is helpful for getting a dog’s attention and distracting him from problematic situations, such as the unexpected presence of another dog.


Put your bottom on the ground. Teaching a dog to sit is one of the easiest things to teach dogs to do. It’s a useful calming cue and — since sitting is incompatible with undesirable behavior — in defusing otherwise touchy situations.


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Remain in place until released. Teaching a dog “Stay” helps dogs practice self-control. It also keeps dogs in one spot when necessary, for reasons ranging from “It’s dinnertime and our guests are not dog people,” to “I just broke a glass in the kitchen and you’ll cut your paws if you come in here before I clean it up.”


Run to me. Run directly to me. Do not stop at the dead squirrel. Do not collect a toy on the way here. Dogs who reliably come when called can safely be given more freedom. Once your dog masters being able to come reliably in your home, move on to environments with higher stimulation.


You are free to go. Teaching a release cue to a dog like “Okay” or “Free” gives your dog permission to stop doing what you previously cued him to do. Used most commonly with “Wait” and “Stay,” it tells your dog that the behavior no longer needs to be performed — he can get up and move around if he’s been staying, and move forward or go through the door if he’s been waiting.


Say hello without jumping. The appearance of a new person, rather than a word or a hand signal, is the cue to keep all four paws on the ground. Many dogs do the opposite— jump on every new person—and that can make both guardians and guests uncomfortable. Few behaviors are more appreciated in dogs than the skill of greeting people politely.

A Trick

Being able to perform an endearing trick on cue shows off a dog’s training better than most practical skills. Sure, it may be harder to teach a dog to stay or come when called than to high-five, wave, beg or roll over, but not many people know that. So, most people will be impressed by the trick, and consider your dog more charming as a result.

Learning these cues and behaviors allows your dog to reap the benefits of being a well-mannered member of society. Education is never a waste!

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 64: Apr/May 2011

 Image: iStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life