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4 Critical Dog Training Cues That Could Save Your Dog’s Life

By Victoria Schade for

Going through basic dog training is an important step for pet parents and their dogs, particularly because some of the cues you learn together can be literal lifesavers. While obedience training helps to develop a common language and cement the bond between dog and handler, many dog training lessons also ensure your dog’s safety.

Here are four basic dog training cues that might save your dog’s life one day.

Why Sit Is an Important Safety Cue

Sit is the foundation of all safety behaviors. It can be used to keep your dog from harm by redirecting him if he is reactive around people or other dogs. It can also keep others safe if your dog has a tendency to jump on children or older people. Sit is a basic behavior that every dog should know.

How to Train a Dog to Sit

Sit is a straightforward cue to teach. Since your dog frequently assumes the position throughout the day, you can take advantage of it by “capturing” him in the act. To train a dog to sit, simply say the word “sit” as your dog goes into the position, then follow up with a small treat. It’ll take about ten to twenty repetitions before your dog makes the association between what he’s doing and the word you’re saying, but you’ll soon be able to say “sit” and have your dog respond.

You can also lure your dog into position by using bite-sized, high-value dog treats, like Stella & Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch freeze-dried chicken treats.

Take a treat and hold it directly in front of your dog’s nose so that he keeps all four paws are on the ground. Slowly move the treat back over your dog’s forehead, between his eyes, so that his nose follows the movement of the treat. As your dog’s nose goes up, his rump will go down, and the moment his rear hits the ground, give him his treat.

Repeat this luring process a few times, then stand still and wait for your dog to offer the position to you. Celebrate with praise and a treat when he does it! On the next attempt, wait for your dog to move into position, and say the word “sit” as he does it. Much like the captured sit, it should take several repetitions before your dog makes the connection between the word and the behavior.

Why Coming When Called Is an Important Safety Cue

Teaching your dog to come running to you can mean the difference between life and death. If your dog accidentally slips off his leash or manages to scale a fence, you’ll need a well-trained recall to keep him safe. “Proofing” this cue, or getting it to the point where it’s failsafe no matter the environment, takes time and dedication, but the peace of mind you’ll have when your dog races back to your side far outweighs the effort.

How to Train Your Dog to Come When Called

To begin the foundation work of coming when called, find a training partner and grab a handful of soft, high-value treats, like Wellness Wellbites beef and turkey chewy dog treats. Make sure to select a recall word other than your dog’s name, since you probably say your dog’s name frequently. Words like “come” or “here” work best.

Go to a quiet space in your home and call your dog to you by saying the chosen word once in an upbeat tone, then follow up with some encouraging hand clapping or kissy noises. When your dog gets to you, give him a treat, and praise him for his speedy response.

Take turns with your partner, calling him back and forth until he’s responding confidently to the cue. Try it in other parts of your home in subsequent sessions, and when your dog is offering consistent, speedy responses, move outside to a safe space. Polish the behavior by practicing in new locations, like fenced-in parks and friends’ yards.

Why Stay Is an Important Safety Cue

Stay can mean the difference between a dog that waits patiently in your foyer while you sign for a package and a dog that darts out the front door into traffic. A strong stay cue keeps your dog safe by encouraging him to remain anchored in one spot, even when faced with distractions.

Stay is a complex behavior since it requires your dog to hold his position no matter what’s going on around him. That’s why it’s important to set your dog up for success during the initial training by splitting the behavior into three parts, working on distance, duration and distraction separately.

How to Train a Dog to Stay

First get your dog used to the idea that you’ll be moving away from him. Place your dog in a sit or down, say the word “stay,” then take a small step away from your dog. Immediately come back and reward him with a meaty treat for remaining in place. Continue this process, stepping of in different directions, and then gradually add more distance between you and your dog.

The next step is adding duration. You’ll first get your dog comfortable with the fact that he’ll have to remain in position for an extended period of time. Ask your dog to sit or lie down, say “stay,” take a few steps away (but remain somewhat close), and then pause before you return. Give him a small treat when you get back to him. Vary the amount of time you wait, sometimes making it easy by only staying away for a second or two, and on other attempts, wait a bit longer. (Always watch your dog to make sure he’s not about to get up.)

Finally, work on distractions, or introducing “real-life” aspects to the behavior. Put your dog in a “stay,” then briefly focus on something else for a short period, like your stack of mail or dishes in your sink, then come back and reward your dog. Work up to more challenging distractions, like opening the front door or having children running by him.

Why Drop It Is an Important Safety Cue

Curious dogs can get into trouble when they pick up items like chicken bones or socks. A strong “drop it” will keep your dog from ingesting the contraband and will keep you from paying an expensive veterinary bill. “Drop it” can be challenging to teach, since you might be competing with items that dogs love, like garbage, but steady practice will help create a “drop it” cue that’s almost automatic.

How to Teach a Dog to Drop It

It’s important to start off “drop it” training by using low-value items that your dog will happily release, and one of the easiest options is to use dog toys Start the process with two toys of equal value. Throw one, and when your dog brings it back to you, offer him the other one by wiggling it in front of him. When he opens his mouth to reach for the new toy, name the action by saying “drop.” Repeat the process until you can say “drop” and have your dog automatically release the toy when you ask. You can also use treats to encourage your dog to drop items. When your dog has something in his mouth that you’d like him to release, place a treat near his nose. Your dog will likely let go of the item in order to get the treat, so say “drop” when he opens his mouth, then give him the treat. Practice this step with a variety of items, until you can ask for the drop without having to put the treat in front of your dog’s nose.

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