Canine Q & A: If A Dog Could Only Know One Command, What Should It Be?

Canine Q & A, where we ask several canine professionals to respond to the same question. This week’s question: if a dog could know only one command, what should it be and why?

"Although it's challenging to pick just one command for a dog to know, if I had to choose, I would choose recall. I like to teach my clients that recall not only means to come but also means to wait for permission to be released again. Having a solid recall can strengthen your bond with your dog and can also save your dog's life. I live in Colorado and I love to go hiking off leash with my dog. Without a solid recall, I could not grant my dog the freedom to explore off leash. He might get too close to large wildlife and get hurt. Once, he even joined a pack of bicyclists and dogs that had a more enticing, faster pace than our walking. A solid recall is the best way to keep your dog safe from dangers and temptations while still having freedom to explore and get exercise. To ensure that your dog does not associate recall with the end of freedom or playtime, call him often, praise him, and release him to play again." —Jaime Bessko, Erie Dog Co

"I do a lot of work training therapy teams to share the love with those in need in our community.  This group is often pretty good with the basic commands so for them I Iove to teach "Lap.”  Some dogs will instinctually put their head in your lap for attention, affection, etc. This is a great alternative to "Shake" or "Paw" to help a therapy dog connect with her audience.  In a situation where dogs are visiting elders or in medical settings, it's best if their paws—and the chance for a scratch from the nails or germs from the pads—stay on the floor. By putting their head in the lap of the patient/audience member, it provides access to interact and creates a connection between the dog and human in a safe manner. As many dogs already do this, I encourage clients to shape the behavior then attach their own word to it.  Most find this fun and rewarding and especially enjoy watching the patient's eyes light up as the dog places her head in their laps during a visit." —Kate Titus, A Loyal Companion

"I imagine most folks will say sit or down or even stay is the most important command a dog should know, so I will go out on a limb and say the most important command for my specific dogs is STOP!

Teaching your dog to STOP! all forward momentum, either by sitting, laying down or standing, can save their life should they be on an opposite side of a busy road.  Or while walking three at a time on extended flexis, I can quickly shout out STOP! when a car is approaching thus allowing me to gain control of my dogs by moving towards their "frozen" bodies without risk of them circling out into traffic to come in to me.  STOP! can also be used when you have a youngster with very little impulse control, who flails when you try to put them on the ground, risking loss of control and a bad fall. Teaching them to STOP! all movement decreases potential for accidents." —Linda Daves Siekert, Sinbaje Basenjis

When I asked Polite Canine owner Lynn Grenci this question, without missing a beat she responded “Come.” Lynn explained for safety reason a solid recall is essential. Even if you always have your dog on a leash, a leash can pull out of your hand or break. Your dog could be running towards a busy street or another dog who doesn’t welcome the interaction. Lynn recounted a time when her dog Nigel started down their driveway at the same time the neighbor’s loose dog was charging towards him—like a quarter horse turning on a dime, Nigel heard the word "Come" and changed direction, running back up to the house and avoiding certain conflict with the stray dog.

While I absolutely agree a solid recall can save your dog’s life, I’ll offer up another perspective. One of the most useful commands I’ve found is “place.” Having a dog who can stick to his designated place mat or cot can make life so much easier for you, and also teaches your dog excellent impulse control and self relaxation. If you have a dog who bolts out the door or jumps on guests entering the house, telling him go to “place” when you open the door prevents those unwanted behaviors. It also makes it so much simpler to take your dog out in public with you—you can tell him “place” while you enjoy your lunch on the patio and not worry about him tripping the server or bothering the other diners. "Place" is super practical command that I recommend all dogs learn.