January, being the first month of the new year, is traditionally known for starting new habits and adventures, and focusing on self-development. New Year’s resolutions usually happen in January, and gym memberships typically skyrocket during January.  With the idea of self-development for yourself and your family members this time of year, let’s not forget about the pets in the family!

Have you ever heard someone comment on how great it would be if we could talk to our animals? Well, we CAN communicate with our animals! Animals, especially dogs, are rather smart and can learn basic commands and behaviors. Teaching your dog basic commands will not only improve your relationship with your dog, but it could also save your dog’s life one day. Whether you have a puppy or a senior dog, it’s never too late to be continuing to develop your communication and relationship with your dog. In the pet world, January is National Train Your Dog Month, as well as National Walk Your Dog Month.  In the interest of self-development for you and your dog, here are 9 commands your dog should know to improve your relationship with them. 


The “come” or recall command is one of the most important commands for your dog. There are a lot of distractions in your dog’s environment, and developing a strong “come” command for your dog is crucial for their safety. Even if your dog is in a controlled environment such as a fenced yard, there are still dangers that could surface.

In any of the above situations, having a reliable recall command for your dog can be essential to ensure your dog does not get hurt or lost.


Teaching your dog the sit and down commands are beneficial in thousands of situations. These two commands are helpful when your dog tends to get too excitable about something, and you need them to stay still or calm down. 


Whether you are in your yard and want to cross the street to retrieve something, or you are in the house, and you don’t want your dog to go to a specific area, teaching your dog to “stay” can be very useful. This command can be challenging for dogs that tend to be excited or are very impulsive, so practicing the “Stay” command often will keep them sharpened up on this skill. I regularly exercise the “stay” command when I am serving up my dogs’ meals. Mealtime is an exciting time in our house, and I don’t like to be bombarded or tripped when I am trying to put their food dishes down, so I taught them to sit and stay while I put their food bowls on the floor and get out of the way.


Most dogs love to jump up on furniture, into vehicles, or even on other people. Teaching the “off” command helps your dog understand you do not want them jumping on things, or you want them off whatever they may be sitting/jumping on.

Having a “Go to..” Spot

If your dog is in the way, excited, or maybe needs a “time out” because they are overly excitable, teaching them to “go to your bed/mat/kennel/spot” can be very helpful.

Using a “Release” Word

Having a “release word” for your dog is an excellent way of communicating to them that you are done with whatever command you gave them, and they can go about with whatever they were doing.  I use the release command after I have told my dogs to sit or stay at certain places. As I have mentioned before, with our three dogs, mealtime can be hectic, so it was constructive for us to teach our dogs to sit/stay while we prep their meals and place them down on the floor, and then release them to eat.  I also use a release command when I have called my dog to me for something, or if I have asked them to sit while I have put their leashes on.

Some people use the words “OK,” “Release,” “Done,” “Alright,” or even make up a silly word to teach their dog the release command.  Just make sure whatever term you decide to teach your dog is not one that is often mentioned in a conversation, as you may accidentally release the dog before you intend to!

“Leave It”

If you have a busy household with kids dropping stuff, leaving things everywhere, or a dog that can be easily distracted, the “Leave it” command can be beneficial. My husky is a very social dog and assumes everyone wants to play with him, so I have taught him the “leave it” command when we are going on walks so that he doesn’t try to run over to every dog or person he sees. My pugs are food hounds and have food allergies, so teaching them to “leave it” when someone drops something on the floor, or when another dog drops a treat ensures they are not eating something they shouldn’t.  The “leave it” command works very well during walks if your dog finds something that you don’t want them to pick up or they see an animal they wouldn’t mind chasing. 

Teaching Proper Leash Manners

No matter what size or type of dog you have, teaching proper leash manners is very important. At some time in your dogs’ life, they will need to be put on a leash to go somewhere.  Whether you have a chihuahua or a great dane, all dogs should have some form of exercise daily. Walking your dog is a great way to exercise them and relieve stress!

Having a dog trained to walk politely on a leash will make a world of difference for you and them! When walking your dog, it is a much more pleasant experience when your dog is NOT pulling or jerking on the leash, excitably barking, or even scared of being attached to the leash.  Teaching your dog to walk with a loose leash can prevent them from choking themselves or pulling you off balance.  Working with your dog to walk calmly and not get too excited when they see other people and pets will be much more pleasant for both you and everyone around you.  

Gentling and Handling

In addition to teaching specific commands and proper walking on a leash, handling your dog is extremely important. Get your dog comfortable with being picked up, touched, lightly hugged, and handling their face and feet areas.

Proper Training Will Ensure A Happy Lifestyle for Both of You!

Now you have learned about 9 essential items to teach (or practice with) your dog.  As we already discussed, proper training and communication with your dog will make a world of difference in your relationship with your dog and the lifestyle you can have with them!  Make it a priority to spend a few minutes a day to work with your dog on practicing a command or learning a new trick. If you are not sure where to begin, ask for help from a dog trainer, or take an obedience class with your pup. Your investment in their training will come in handy one day!

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