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Coming up with this list was moderately challenging. I can think of 50 things off the top of my head that I think are essential for a dog to learn. Teaching your dog to perform tricks like ‘play dead' is fun but it's vital we don't forget about the fundamentals.
These building blocks will help your pup grow into an obedient, confident and safe dog.
This list is my own personal opinion and I encourage you to pick and choose as well as add on to this list depending on your specific dog.
Coming when called. In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can teach your dog and may even save your dog's life one day. This command is worth taking the time to perfect and should be practiced often. Imagine if your dog slips off his leash and starts bolting down a busy road after another animal. You want to have the confidence that your dog will instantly come back to you when called.
There are many different ways to teach this but I had success with this technique. Start indoors in a quiet area free from distraction. Put on your dog's collar and leash. Sit on the floor and tell your dog to “come” while gently pulling on the leash. Once he does, immediately reward him with positive praise and a treat. Once your dog has mastered this, remove the leash and stand farther away. Use tasty treats! When you feel confident that your dog will come when indoors, move outside to an enclosed area. Practice with distractions such as other people, dogs or food on the ground. The moment when this command could be life-saving will be when your dog is most likely very distracted.
Practice with distractions.
Always use positive reinforcement and never call your dog to punish him or do something he doesn't love. The command “come” should always be associated with good things.
Teach your pup the appropriate place to relieve himself. Let's face it, no one wants their dog going to the bathroom in the house. Start training the day your bring your pup home. If they are a young puppy, this means taking them outside every 1-2 hours. It seems like a tremendous task but if you praise and reward him for going, he will catch on quickly and house training will go faster. Here is a detailed article on how to housetrain.
Separation anxiety can be a difficult issue to address. When a dog has separation anxiety, he may go to the bathroom on the floor, bark uncontrollably, becomes destructive and in constant distress until you come home. No fun for you or your dog. We want our dogs to feel safe and secure even when we aren't home. Training should begin the moment your bring your puppy home. I believe crate training your pup will go a long way. This article explains how to begin crate training. When you leave your house, don't make a big deal out of it. Same thing goes for when you come home. Exercise your dog often but don't constantly interact with him. Let him explore and find ways to entertain himself. Through discipline and consistent training, you will have a dog that feels content alone and welcomes you home with a wagging tail.
Most puppies love to chew on anything and everything they sniff out. As they get older, dogs still have a need to chew. Teaching them the importance of chewing approved items will give them more freedom and leave you feeling confident. When you bring your pup home, keep them in a controlled environment with only approved chewing items. For example, place them in a playpen or in a room that is gated off. If you catch them chewing on something they shouldn't, try immediately replacing it with something “approved”. Positively reinforce good behavior. Read: how to puppy proof your home and create “safe” environment.
One of the greatest things about Rocket is his love for traveling. Because he is so well behaved, I'm confident I can take him anywhere without a problem. Traveling is so much fun for the both of us.
When Rocket rides in the car, he is usually in his carrier. The carrier provides a safe place for your dog and many of them can be secured with a seatbelt. Because I travel with Rocket in the car and the plane, I use this carrier. It's soft and very easy to carry. Additionally, it has a seatbelt strap for safety and fits under the seat of the plane. If you have a larger dog, a plastic kennel is great for the car.
If you want your dog to have more freedom but still be secure, you can use a crash-tested dog harness.
If you crate train your dog early on, they will feel safe, secure and enjoy the time spent inside. When you transition the crate from the home into the car, they should feel calm and confident with the security the crate provides. If your dog still feels anxious, try sitting in the car without turning it on. Let your pup sniff around and praise and reward him. Do this as many times as it takes for them to feel happy. When they feel comfortable, turn the engine on, praise and reward. Once you work up to it, go for short drives somewhere fun like the park. You want your pup to associate the car with happiness and fun things.
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Throughout your dog's life, you will need to give them a bath, trim their nails, clean their ears, brush their teeth, groom them, and examine them. Start introducing these things as soon as possible so they feel comfortable with you handling them. When they are young, start putting your fingers in their mouth and reward them when they let you. Use positive reinforcement as you bathe them. Let them smell the brush or clippers before you start grooming them. Always start slow, reward them with their favorite treats and practice often.
Related Post: How to brush your dog's teeth
It is nearly impossible to enjoy eating when you have a dog whining, barking and jumping up on you during dinner. Teach your dog early on that he has to entertain himself while you are eating. Don't ever feed your dog from the table, couch, or counter. Always feed your dog in his food bowl. When you sit down to eat, place your dog in down/stay position and make him wait there until you are finished eating. If he breaks the down/stay, get up, place him back in the position and go back to the table. Don't pay any attention to him while you are at the table. This will only encourage him. Remember to be consistent and patient. When you are finished eating, praise and reward him for good behavior.
This command is vital because your dog has no idea what is safe or not safe to eat. Imagine a pill drops on the ground. If your dog runs over to it and ingests it, he can become very sick and potentially be life-threatening. This is a skill often overlooked by dog owners. Cesar Millan has an excellent article on how to teach the leave it command. Remember, taking the time to teach this early on will be invaluable and could save your dog's life!
This is on the list from an experience I had with Rocket. I took Rocket on a hike that led to a waterfall. We were on an off-leash trail which I prefer because he can explore on his own. Rocket managed to climb on a slippery rock by the waterfall and wasn't able to get down on his own. The rock was so small that he was unable to turn around and go back. I was unable to safely climb up to get him so I stood below him and told him to “come”. Well, this meant he had to jump. He was about 3 feet above the top of my fingertips, so not a huge jump but for how small he was I know he was very scared. He cried and was very hesitant. I kept telling him it was okay and to “come”. Eventually, he leaped into my arms and I caught him safely. In that moment, I knew that he trusted me no matter what.
I don't know exactly how this is “taught”. For me and Rocket, it came from all the time I spent training him, loving him, going on adventures with him, protecting him when he needed it, being present with him and taking care of him. I know that I can reach in his food bowl and he will never growl at me. I know that I can stick my face near his mouth and he will never bite me. He can trust me and I can trust him. It's a wonderful bond.
Teaching your dog these skills requires hard work, patience, and consistency. By taking the time NOW, you will be rewarded with a wonderful companion for years to come.