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Basic obedience training for your dog

By Mary Anne Miller

There are five basic dog obedience commands: Sit, Stay, Heel, Come, Down

Achieving Basic Dog Obedience:

So how do you achieve these commands? First off, you enroll in a basic dog obedience training course. You’ll find these classes offered through dog clubs, or major pet supply stores like PetsMart or PetCo. When I took my one-year old German Shepherd Dog Kenai into her first basic dog obedience course, we walked into the building where we were directed to the back of the store. Inside a small ring, I noticed several people trying to maintain order with their dogs on leads. We stepped into the ring quietly standing off to the side and waited.

Commanding “Heel”

The instructor entered, introducing herself. She told us that we would learn how to lead. “Until a dog knows how to lead correctly (without pulling)” she explained, “the lessons would not advance.” We were instructed to begin to walk our dogs in a circle following the outside perimeter of the ring. Our dog was to be on our left-hand side, parallel to our leg. The dog should not surge ahead or pull. Their shoulder should be flush with our leg.  If the dog pulled on the lead, we were told to tug gently but firmly with an upward pressure raising the neck and bring the dog back to position without stopping. The proper equipment to use in dog obedience training she explained was a choke collar and a six-foot lead. As you walk, you say the dog’s name followed by “Heel.”  If she stays in position, you praise her, and reward her with a toy or a treat. You don’t want your dog to think her name is “No No Bad Dog!” So you don’t scold your dog. You quietly work with the collar, lead and proper hand signal. The hand signal was demonstrated; your arm comes down in front of your dog, palm extended forward. Sweep your hand up, so she knows to walk while saying your dog’s name then commanding “Heel!”

Thankfully Kenai, true to her breed is quite intelligent. Just a few times around the ring she got it right and was heeling nicely. As we made our way around the ring, I could see out of the corner of my eye, a bull terrier that was pulling his owner all over the ring. The dog had his nose to the floor, having a good time following scent.


The instructor suddenly hollered “Stop!” I stopped walking of course Kenai kept going. We were told to gently correct the dog, bring the dog back to our side. I pulled her back. She was facing forward. Following the instructor’s guidance, I told Kenai to sit. She didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I pulled up gently on her collar (so her neck was extended) placed my hand on her rump and gently pressed her to the sit. Be sure the dog remains facing forward straight by your side. When a dog leans on its owner, it is a sign of disrespect. It means the dog considers itself Alpha. In other words, the dog is claiming you. When Kenai sat, I took her Kong out of my pocket, and gave it to her. That was her favorite toy and also her “treat.”

Preventing Dog Obedience Burn-out

The first dog obedience training lesson was over. To prevent burn-out we were told to only practice once a day and not overdo it. Our dogs were supposed to have fun while being obedience trained. “Understand,” the instructor said “that your dog may execute the command perfectly one or two times, and the next time you work with your dog it will forget everything taught. You will then need to start over. Practice in dog obedience training means patience. You know you have achieved the desired result when as you are walking, your dog leads with a slack lead, staying parallel to your left leg, shoulder square to your leg and automatically sits when you stop.”


The second dog obedience training class was easier on the nerves. Clearly people had been working with their dogs, and there was less stress. The Stay command was demonstrated: In the Stay command the hand signal is given while the dog is sitting next to you. The dog should be watching you attentively. Your hand and arm slowly is extended straight down, palm flat landing right next to her nose, without touching or striking her. If she lunges forward to sniff or smell your hand, a gentle correction will stop her. You do this until your hand can come down next to her with no contact. On the fourth attempt,  I did not feel Kenai’s wet nose against my palm.

As the hand swings down the command is “Kenai Stay!”  Slowly move your hand back to a normal position and walk out to the end of your six-foot lead (hoping your dog is not following you). Kenai was whining, but she stayed put. I turned back toward her and on the instructor’s command waited 2 minutes before calling her to me, but Kenai broke the two-minute barrier and came trotting up. We went back to try it again.

Finally, mastering the command, Kenai stayed put. I gently tugged on the lead and she came at a run almost knocking me over in her joy to be next to me again. You want the dog to come straight to you, stay facing you and then you give the command “Kenai Sit!”  She should sit ahead of you on command and if not, then you try it again until it finally clicks and the dog gives the proper response.


Now that we had mastered Heel, Sit and Stay, it was time to move to the next level. You show your dog how to move from in front of you, circle around you on the right, and end up on your left hand side, facing forward, shoulder square ready to heel…Can we just say a tangled leash and lots of false starts before we got that one right? The hand command is a sweep of the palm along your left side, behind your back, while juggling the leash to be sure the dog is following the hand signals. We were not given a verbal command for this; it was all done by the hands. Class dismissed, a week of practice and at the next class, we were ready for the “Down” command.


How do you achieve “Down?” You are standing there with your dog sitting at your side watching you. You give the verbal command, “Kenai Down!”  Then you execute the hand signal which is; your palm parallel to the floor, arm bent at the elbow- one sweeping motion down. Don’t look like you are churning butter, you give one arm signal, one verbal command then you push gently and firmly on the shoulders pulling down on the lead toward the ground. Your dog should have her stomach on the floor, be on her haunches, feet straight in front. You don’t want your dog lying down on her back, with her paws waving in the air.

These are the basic dog obedience commands. If you stay enrolled in the class and go to the next level, you will learn about working off-lead, working with long sits and stays, be introduced to obstacles your dog has to learn to maneuver through at your command. Long-term dog obedience training class means you are working toward your CD (Companion Dog Title) which shows that you and your dog have mastered basic obedience commands as well as the more advanced dog obedience commands. This enables you to (among other things) enroll your dog into Dog Agility, but best of all, be able to take your dog into public places without losing control of the situation.

While we were in our six week class, Kenai and I became bonded in a way that is difficult to explain. She loved the challenge of working, and it was simply a matter of grabbing her lead, and her Kong, and her ears would prick up and she would bark one time as if to say let’s go! Then we would head for our lesson.

Basic dog obedience training classes should be a requirement for anyone who owns a dog. When Kenai and I take our daily walks,  I often see other dog walkers being pulled around the street by powerful, and undisciplined dogs. I look over at Kenai during these times, and she is trotting with me, her head erect, her shoulder parallel to my leg and the lead is slack. I know then, that I am glad I took the time to take this course, and I imagine she is too.

(author’s note:  For newcomers to dog obedience training- In order to expedite the writing of this article. I used my dog’s name Kenai in front of each command. You would of course use your dog’s name in front of any command given.)


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