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6 Commands That Could Save Your Dog’s Life

You never know when they'll come in handy.

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You love your dog. They spend all their time living in the moment, content with belly rubs and spending quality time with their favorite human. Because they add so much joy to your life, you no doubt want to keep them safe in return. But training your dog is more than a matter of getting them to perform fun party tricks: teaching your dog certain commands could keep them out of potentially life-endangering situations. Below are six commands you should teach your dog to keep them as safe as possible.

Quick Training Tips

Before you go into training mode, there are a few things you want to remember. First, dogs are smart, but they aren’t mind-readers; it can be frustrating when they repeatedly misunderstand or disobey your commands, but don’t let them see that you’re stressed or upset — they are emotionally perceptive, and your stress can rub off on them. Take breaks, be patient, and remain positive: positive reinforcement is a kinder, more effective training method than punishing your dog for doing something wrong. When you reinforce good behavior with rewards, it’s more fun for both you and your dog, plus it strengthens your bond — whereas corrective training can be more confusing for them, and potentially cause aggression and fear.

Life-Saving Commands to Teach Your Dog

1. Leave it.

If your dog is anything like mine, they love to stand as close as possible when you’re cooking, hoping you’ll drop something so they can scoop it up and eat it. Accidents happen, and sometimes Fido gets lucky. But what happens when you’re cooking with ingredients that aren’t safe for your pup to eat? Teaching your dog to “leave it,” or to stop and not interact with a dropped item so you can pick it up and dispose of it, could save their life. Pet blog Fancy Cats and Dogs recommends the following method for teaching your dog to “leave it”:

  1. Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose. They will probably try to eat it, but don’t let them. 
  2. As soon as they give up or turn away, give them the treat.
  3. Repeat. 
  4. Once they’ve successfully completed the action a few times, label the behavior by saying “leave it” as they turn away. 

2. Drop it.

No matter how vigilant you are, sometimes your dog picks something up that they shouldn’t, and it’s too late for “leave it.” To keep your pup from eating or carrying something potentially harmful (or if you just want them to let go of one of your favorite shoes before they can destroy it) teach them to “drop it.” Fancy Cats and Dogs gives the following instructions for how to teach this command to your dog:

  1. Give your dog a toy. 
  2. While the toy is in their mouth, hold out a treat.
  3. Once they drop the toy, reward them with the treat. 
  4. Repeat. 
  5. Once they’ve done this a few times, label the behavior by saying “drop it” when they drop the toy.

The author of the blog suggests reinforcing that this trick is a tradeoff — Fido is trading their toy for a treat. You want your dog to learn that when they drop whatever they’re holding on your command, a good thing happens.

3. Down. 

Sometimes, you just need your dog to relax. Maybe they’re jumping excitedly to greet a guest or getting too rambunctious during playtime. Maybe you’re in public together, and getting them to settle in a comfortable position by your side is going to keep them out of trouble. Whatever your reason, teaching your dog the “down” command can keep them safe by getting them to settle and be calm. It’s also a command that serves as a foundation for others — once your dog knows “down,” they can more easily learn how to “stay,” and learn fun party tricks like “roll over.” Daily Paws shares how to teach your dog the “down” command:

  1. Get your dog to sit. 
  2. Hold a treat in front of their nose, slowly lowering it downward. Your dog will probably “follow” the treat with their nose. 
  3. Lower the treat until it touches the floor, and your dog’s nose is on the floor in front of them.
  4. Lure them with the treat until they lower their front legs, rewarding them when they lay down. 
  5. Repeat this action until they anticipate the movement of the treat and lay down on their own, labeling the behavior as “down.”

4. Stay.

This command is a classic for a reason. Your dog loves to be close to you, and usually, you want them to be as close as possible too. But there are situations in which teaching your dog to stay put, no matter how close or far away from each other you are, can save your dog’s life. For example: Imagine you and your dog become separated on a walk, and you’re at opposite sides of a busy street; you don’t want Fido navigating traffic on their own just to be back by your side. Teaching them to stay, even though you’re far away, can give you the time you need to go rescue them. Pet blog This Dog’s Life recommends the following steps to teach your dog this command. (Keep in mind that this trick is easier to teach if your dog has “down” in their repertoire first.)

  1. Get your dog into the “down” position (see above command).
  2. Say “stay,” raise your hand in a “stop” gesture, and take a small step back. 
  3. Reward them with a treat for staying put. 
  4. Repeat this cycle, increasing the distance between you each time. 

5. Wait. 

This command is similar to “stay” in that you’re teaching your dog to remain where they are, but it differs in context. Maybe you have a pup who has a tendency to act on their impulses when they get excited. For example, you open the door to welcome in a guest, and Fido sees a squirrel in the front yard. They rush past your guest and run outside, out of your control. If you teach them to “wait” around things that make them excitable, you could avoid potential stress and danger. Use these instructions from This Dog’s Life to teach your dog the “wait” command:

  1. Next time your dog is sitting in front of the door, open it slightly. 
  2. Once they start to push through it, softly close it, and say “wait.”
  3. When they stop, open the door again, and repeat, rewarding when they pause at your command. 

6. Come.

Once you’ve taught Fido to stay where they are, it’s important you teach them a good recall command. They may usually be on a leash when they’re outside, but in settings like dog parks, or if you get separated, this trick can come in handy. There’s perhaps no safer place for your dog to be than right by your side, so getting them to quickly get there can be the difference between safety and danger. Pet website Pupford suggests these tips to get your dog to come to you when called. (Keep in mind that the “stay” command is helpful in teaching this trick — see tips above for teaching that to your dog first.)

  1. Put your dog on a long leash and make them “stay.”
  2. Take a few steps back, squat down to their level, and say “[Name], come!” in an enthusiastic, excited voice. 
  3. If they’re hesitant to move from the “stay” position for fear of disobeying, gently tug on the leash and guide them back to you, rewarding them when you make contact. 
  4. Repeat, increasing the distance between you, eventually practicing off-leash. 

The authors at Pupford recommend practicing this trick with added distractions nearby, like strange sounds or other people, to reinforce the behavior. 

As your dog’s owner, it’s your responsibility to be their advocate and protector. So, get your pup’s favorite treats ready and train them to be the superdog you know they are.

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