4 Essential Dog Commands – Sit, Down, Stay, Come

“Properly trained, a Man can be a Dog’s best friend” – Corey Ford

Training your dog is so important as it teaches them life skills. The good news is that it is never ever too late to train your dog. No matter the age or habits, training helps to build a positive relationship with your dog, gives them confidence, mental stimulation and helps them learn skills to live happily amongst humans and other animals.

As a dog owner it is your responsibility to ensure your dog is trained, not only for their well being but for the well being of those around you and your dog.  The benefits of training your dog are endless for the both of you.  It will increase sociability, help to avoid behavioural problems, enhance your bond and relationship and is a great form of exercise both physical and mental for the both of you.

Most importantly it is fun, fun for your dog and you!

Before you Start

Keep it Simple

Always keep the environment around your dog during training stress free and free of distractions.  Some dogs are quicker learners than others, but don’t give up, don’t lose patience. They will eventually get there!

Immediate Reward

Don’t wait to reward your dog.  As soon as they do what you are teaching them to do, reward with a treat or praise.

Keep at it – Practice Makes Perfect

Your dog may be a quick learner or a slower one, whichever they are, they will need constant reminders of what you have taught them.  Just because they respond well to training one day, doesn’t mean they will a week later.  Practice makes perfect!

Types of rewards

Don’t under estimate the power of praise and a happy voice.  Of course treats always come in handy but some dogs will really respond well to a happy voice full of praise too, especially when they have learnt the command.

The Sit Command

Banjo, Mely and Rufus sit proudly for a photo

The sit command is usually the first command people teach their dogs. It’s a basic and easy command that plays an important role in managing unwanted behaviours.  A dog who knows the “Sit” command will be much calmer and easier to control than dogs who aren’t taught this simple command. Additionally, the “Sit” command prepares your dog for harder commands such as “Stay” and “Come.”  By training your dog to sit, you’ve begun the work needed to prevent it from jumping.   A dog who is sitting can’t jump at the same time.  Additionally , training your dog to sit can help them settle down and relax when needed.

The most popular way to teach your dog to sit is to

  • Hold a treat to your dog’s nose whilst they are in the standing position- this will get their attention.
  • Lift the treat over your dog’s head to towards their bottom.
  • Your dog’s bottom should touch the ground once you have reached their bottom with the treat as their nose is following the smell.
  • Immediately your dog is in the sitting position reward them with the treat and praise.

Repeat these steps until your dog has mastered the sitting position.  Don’t tire your dog out, keep the session short, fun and full of praise.

Your aim long term is to get your dog to sit on command without constantly rewarding with a treat.  The best way to do this is to keep repeating the above training steps on a regular basis whilst fading out the treat.

  • Move the treat to your the hand you are not using to encourage your dog to sit.
  • Your dog’s nose will follow your empty hand into the sitting position.
  • Reward your dog with the treat from the other hand
  • In doing this your dog is learning the empty hand is the one to follow to sit which will result in a treat from the other hand.

Now it’s time to introduce the verbal cue “sit”

  • Once your dog has mastered following your empty hand, add your verbal cue ‘sit’.
  • You can continue to reward with a treat from your other hand but do this intermittently, not every time they sit.
  • Repeat until your dog masters sitting with the cue ‘sit’.

Will lots of practice your dog will learn this basic command and throughout the day you can ask your dog to sit (outside of specific set training times).  For instance before a meal, when putting a lead on your dog, when you are cooking or watching television.

Never physically put your dog into the sitting position.  Always ensure they get into the sitting position themselves.

The Down Command

This is a slightly harder command to teach your dog, the reason being that you have to teach them to be in a position of submission.  This can be more difficult especially if you have an anxious or fearful dog.  It is therefore important to keep the training positive and relaxed with am encouraging and happy tone.

Rufus trying to be patient and stay lying ‘down”

Teaching your dog to lie down can be done in a similar way to the sit command:

  • With a treat in hand, hold your hand to your dog’s nose.
  • As soon as the dog’s elbows reach the floor give your dog the treat.
  • Practice and repeat the above steps a few times.
  • Bring your empty hand to the floor with the aim of your dog following the empty hand.
  • Give your dog the treat once he has followed your empty hand and is lying down.
  • Once he has mastered following your empty hand and lies on the floor introduce your cue “down”
  • As your dog follows your hand to the ground say “down”
  • For the first few times you can continue to reward your dog with a treat
  • Over time reduce the times you reward with a treat to intermittently.

If your dog tries to sit up or lunge toward your hand, say “No” and take your hand away.

Your over all aim is for your dog to lie down upon hearing “down” and for there not to be a treat at the end.

Don’t push him into a down position, and encourage every step your dog takes toward the right position.

The Stay Command

The stay command is useful in many situations. It can keep your dog out from under your feet, or it can save its life by preventing it from running into dangerous situations. If your dog knows how to stay on cue, you can manage its behavior well in public and private. It may also allow you to let your dog off the lead in certain situations when it must stay still.

This is an exercise in self-control for your dog, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to master, particularly for puppies and high-energy dogs. After all, most dogs prefer to be on the move rather than just sitting and waiting.

A dog who knows the “stay” word will remain sitting until you ask them to get up by giving another cue, called the “release word.” The goal is to teach your dog to remain sitting until the release cue is given, then begin adding distance.

Mely and Indy learning the ‘stay’s command

Teaching the Release Word

  • First, teach your dog the release word. Choose whatever word you will use, such as “OK”  and stick to that word.
  • Stand next to your dog in a sit or a stand and proceed to throw a treat on the floor.
  • As your dog steps forward to get the treat say your chosen release word “OK”
  • Repeat this a couple of times until you can say the word “OK” first and then throw the treat after your dog begins to move
  • This teaches your dog that the release cue “OK” means to move their feet.

When your dog knows the release cue and how to sit on cue, put your dog in the sit position, turn and face them and give a treat.   

Teaching the Stay Word

  • When your dog knows the release cue and how to sit on cue, put your dog in the sit position, turn and face them and give a treat. 
  • Pause and give them another treat for staying in the sit position, then release them “OK”
  • Gradually increase the time you wait between treats.
  • If your dog gets up before the release cue, this is okay.  It just means they aren’t ready to sit for that long so you can make it easier by going back to a shorter time.
  • Once your dog can stay in a sit for several seconds, you can begin adding distance.
  • Place them in a sit and say “stay,” take one step back, then step back to your dog, give a treat, and your release word “OK”.
  • Continue building in steps, keeping it easy enough that your dog can stay successful. Practice both facing your dog and walking away with your back turned.

The Come Command

The come command, or recall, can save you from a lot of aggravation and frustration. You can use it to get your dog to come into the house from the garden, if they slip out of their lead, to get them to come for playtime, a cuddle or bedtime. When you are training your dog to come make sure you ask your dog to come for good things.  This way, your dog will learn to associate ‘coming’ with good things.  The key is to teach your dog that being with you is the most fun they can possibly have, much more fun than the smell they want to follow or the dog they are playing with.

Killo responding to being asked to “come”

When teaching your dog to come it is best to start indoors in a quiet environment with no distractions for your dog.  Make the training a game for your dog. It has to be lots and lots of fun for them.

  • Sit with your dog and say ‘come’ or your chosen cue word
  • Each time your dog comes when you say “come” or the cue word reward them with a treat
  • Drop a treat on the floor.  When your dog goes to the treat and has finished eating it and looks up and at you, give them another treat

The key is for your dog to learn that the word “come” or the cue word and looking you is a good thing and results in a treat.

  • Repeat this a couple of times until you can begin throwing the treat a little further away, and your dog can turn around to face you when you say come or your cue.
  • Avoid repeating “come” too often when they don’t respond.   Instead if they ignore you go back to the first two steps.  
  • Once your dog can turn around to face you, begin adding movement and making the game more fun! Throw a treat on the ground and take a few quick steps away while saying “come”.  They should run after you because chase is fun!
  • When they catch you, give them a lot of praise, treats or play with a tug toy. Coming to you should be fun! Continue building on these games with longer distances and in other locations. When training outside (always in a safe, enclosed area), it may be helpful to keep your dog on a long lead at first.
  • When your dog comes to you, don’t reach out and grab them.  This can be frightening or confusing for some.  Instead reward them and give them praise verbally.


Once your dog has mastered these basic commands sit, down, stay and come, remember to incorporate them into your dogs every day lives and routine.  They can become second nature to your dog.  Make sure the training time with your dog is fun, full of praise, rewards and in a quiet environment with few or no distractions to begin with.  And of course – enjoy!