I am frequently approached by people who feel guilty or upset or like they are bad dog parents because their dog doesn’t behave like “they should” or like “other dogs do.” They see other dogs walking or watch tv shows about dogs or with dogs in them. They begin to compare their dogs and realize their dog isn’t perfect.
Well, I am just going to put this out there now, there is no such thing as a perfect dog and there are no set rules as to how YOUR dog should act. Every dog is different and every person is different. This means that every person is going to act different and every dog is going to act different. You cannot, and should not, compare your dog with other dogs.
First, I do think every dog needs to know a couple of things for safety reasons. I believe every dog should have a reliable recall, meaning, every time you call your dog to come to you, she should come to you, no matter what distractions are present. Why is this important? Sure, it is just plain nice to have your dog listen to you, but the really important reason for a reliable recall is in case your dog runs in the street and a car is coming; you want to make sure she will come to you and out of the street. Or if there is a dangerous animal in the area and you need to get your dog away from it. There are numerous situations in which a reliable recall is important to protect your dog.
Another command I think every dog should know is “leave it.” To me, the reason this command is so important is to protect your dog from eating something dangerous, say, bones that are on the street. Bones could choke your dog or cause damage to her digestive tract. There are other great reasons for “leave it,” you probably don’t want your dog eating your food you left unattended on the table or the slug that is crawling on your back steps. “Leave it” will help you keep your dog safe from dangerous on a walk as well as dangerous in the house.
“Stay” is another important command, again for safety reasons. This command will help prevent your dog from running out the door, or running down the street. “Stay” can also be useful if your dog jumps on people when they enter the house. You can put your dog in a “stay” while your visitors enter the house.
Another command that could be used to keep your dogs from jumping on or bothering guests is “place” or “mat” or “bed” or some other command that lets your dog know they need to go to their designated place and stay there until they are released.
There are also many “nice to know” command such as “sit.” This command usually is taught before “stay.” Many people find it easier to have their dog “stay” if the dog is sitting; which is probably true! “Down” is also a good command to teach your dog in conjunction with stay.
With many of these commands, such as “stay,” “sit,” “down,” and “place,” you should also come up with a release word. This word gives your dog permission to break the command. If you tell your dog to “stay,” how is she supposed to know when she can stop “staying?” You do not want her to make her own decision, you want to let her know. I use the word “free,” but it doesn’t matter what you use, just make sure you let her know!
Let’s talk a little about walking your dog. Having your dog heel right by your side while you walk is excellent. This can make for a wonderful walk. However, when I walk I allow my dog to be in front of me (as long as she is not pulling). She likes to be in front and she LOVES to smell everything. Dogs have excellent noses and get to know their environment by smelling, so I let my dog do this. When I walk my dog it is for her benefit, not mine, so I want her to enjoy it as much as possible. But, she knows that she is not allowed to pull and she knows the second I call her back to me she needs to come to my side. This is important for the safety of your dog, especially if you are walking on a trail with other dogs and other people.
One command I taught my dog was “look.” When I give this command to my dog she has to look at me. For me and my dog this is an important command. My dog sometimes has fear aggression towards other dogs. If, when we are walking, we see another dog, I have her “look” until we pass the dog. This allows us to pass calmly.
In my opinion, other than a recall, stay, and leave it, all other commands depend on your dog and yourself. Do not feel guilty or upset if your dog doesn’t walk perfectly on a leash or if you can’t put your dog in a down-stay and walk around her without her getting up! Decide what you would like to do with your dog and what commands are important to you and focus on that!