Written by: Anne Handschack of SpiritDog Training

Part of responsible dog ownership is giving your dog some of the essential skills they need to survive in our world. There are many commands that a dog needs to know – but there are five that can be potentially life-saving. 

Many of these commands are simple to teach, but it does require quite a bit of practice. You should teach these commands regularly and practice them even after your canine has “mastered” them. 

You don’t have to teach these commands in any particular order. However, we do recommend selecting one and then moving onto the others later – it can be difficult for dogs to learn more than one new command at a time. 


The come command is probably one of the most vital for your dog to know. This command provides you with a way to recall your dog should it ever get in a dangerous situation. While most people don’t plan on putting their dog in a dangerous situation, you never know when they can get away from you. 

You may drop the leash accidentally or leave the front door open. You may also need to get your dog away from something dangerous indoors, like broken glass. This command prevents you from physically grabbing your dog – which can be dangerous in many situations. 

Teaching this command is simple. Just start very close to your canine with treats and say, “come.” When your dog sees the treats, they should come. Eventually, they’ll link the word with the act of coming. Then, increase the distance. 

Eventually, your pet should come with a variety of distances and with distractions. 

Leave It

You never know when something potentially dangerous will appear on the ground in front of your canine. Whether it’s garbage or potentially toxic food, it’s vital to prevent your dog from eating these things. 

The easiest way to do this is with the “leave it” command. With this command, you can tell your dog to leave anything alone. This includes things they find on the ground, as well as other animals and people. Once your dog knows this command, it becomes easier to keep them safe and control their attention. 

Teaching leave it can be difficult and often takes a while. However, it is more than worth the effort. Start small, such as with something in your hand. After your dog leaves that item alone, make it difficult. Be sure to practice with people and other distractions as well!


You won’t find this command on many lists, but we consider it essential. 

Up is helpful for many practical situations. Perhaps your dog is lying on the couch, and you need them to get up. A quick “up” command can easily take care of that. At the same time, the up command can also be used to get your dog into things. 

If you need to put your canine into the car, the up command can be used for this as well. Sometimes, you may need your dog to get onto the couch for one reason or another. Again, you can use this command. 

Perhaps most importantly, you can utilize this command when your dog isn’t listening to your other commands. Many dogs won’t “come” if they’re lying down and comfortable. However, they will jump up when asked. Therefore, you can use this command to set your dog up for other actions. 

Sometimes, the two-part procedure of getting up and then coming is too much for some dogs. The up command lets you break this up and makes it easier for your dog to listen. It’s setting them up for success. 

Up is pretty easy to teach, especially if your canine already knows to sit or down. Just put them in a down position, and then tell them “up” excitedly with a treat. Most dogs will react to the excitedness by standing up, at which point you can reward them. 

Be sure to practice in a variety of situations, including outside. If you need them to get up into the car, this is the perfect opportunity to tie in that training too. 


Many dogs are prone to jumping. This command helps stop that. We recommend this command for all dogs, though bigger dogs will often find it more essential. After all, they can hurt someone if they jump on them. If you own a dog that will be 40 lbs or more fully grown, you definitely should work on this skill right from the start.

This command isn’t complicated to teach. However, dogs often have a hard time following it because it requires a lot of self-control. You may be better off teaching this command after your dog has mastered some others – and therefore built up some self-control skills. 

Some dogs may benefit from practicing self-control through games before moving onto this command. Dogs also tend to get better control as they age. Therefore, you may want to wait until your dog is a bit older to teach this command. 

Be sure to practice this command in practical situations as well. The last thing you want is for your canine only to follow this command during training – not when you need to prevent them from jumping on something. 


The stay command can be essential in many situations. Otherwise, it isn’t easy to keep your dog in one spot when you need them to. Often, you can teach this command right alongside the come command. After all, you’ll probably want to tell your dog to come after they’ve stayed. 

However, you can use the stay command in other situations too. Putting your dog in a stay position can be especially useful if you need to answer the door. We recommend practicing this command in many different situations and with distractions.

Be sure to introduce this command to real-world situations, or you may find yourself with a dog that doesn’t quite understand that “stay” always means “stay.” Sometimes, dogs have a hard time expanding what they know to all situations, so teaching them is essential to their success in many situations. 


There are many different commands you can teach your dog. However, some are more important than others. If you only teach your dog five things, we recommend choosing the five commands we’ve discussed above. These are extremely important for your dog’s safety. 

You never know when you might need your dog to stay or come to get out of a dangerous situation.

We recommend working on these commands regularly. Dogs often learn best when they’re learning one command at a time. However, some of these commands are easier to teach if your dog first knows other basic commands. 

For instance, it is much easier to teach a dog to sit if they know how to stay. Therefore, feel free to make minor detours to learn these other commands first. 

Even though you should only work on one new command at a time, you should continue to increase the difficulty of commands your dog already knows. Be sure to practice all commands regularly, preferably weaving them into your daily life. 

Dogs will forget things if they are left unpracticed.