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I love it when people ask me about the most important commands a dog should know. Although there are many behaviors that promote safety, there are three basic commands that are especially critical: "down stay," "drop it" and "come." Not only should every dog be familiar with these behaviors, but dogs should be trained to perform them anywhere, anytime.
A dog who immediately drops his body into a down, regardless of distance from his owner, will be better able to avoid danger. I work as an evaluator for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which teaches search-and-rescue dogs to respond to this command even if they are running at top speed toward a victim or are on top of a pile of rubble. A search dog needs to respond to this command promptly and stay in place until the potential hazard passes or the handler can safely reach the dog.
Pet dogs see similar safety benefits from this training. There are occasions when dogs need to be directed out of danger, but calling them to us could actually put them in more danger. For instance, imagine that your dog is running toward a fast-moving car. Depending on the distance and timing, calling him over could put him directly in the path of the oncoming car, but directing him into a down stay will keep him out of the way and safe.
Dogs manage to get their teeth on all sorts of things that are unsafe for them, which is why the drop it command is so important. The number-one poison hazard for dogs is human prescription medication; even a single pill can have devastating effects on a dog. Everyday household items can be dangerous for dogs as well — ladies' underwear is a common choking hazard for dogs, but other typical offenders are chicken bones and apple cores.
Chewing on and swallowing items that can get stuck in their throats or intestinal tracts can lead to death or, in some cases, a very expensive surgery. Unless a dog has been taught to drop whatever is in his mouth, he may play keep away or swallow the item before the owner can retrieve it. A dog that understands “drop it” will let go of the item, which can then be taken away.
Dogs are often happily oblivious to dangers around them, and unless they can be depended upon to always come when they are called, they may easily run right into a deadly situation. As a child, I had a dog named Scooter who had a habit of dashing outdoors and pulling out of her collar on walks. This risk-loving Wired-Haired Fox Terrier would scamper away at top speed, often darting into traffic and completely terrifying me. My childhood experience with Scooter is not unlike the experiences of many dog owners, and it’s truly risking life or death to not instill a reliable recall.
To learn more about this important command, check out my video, Teach Your Dog to Come When Called.
People usually invest in dog training to fix problem behavior or brush up on manners, but dog training does more than instill polite behavior. Key training commands could one day save your dog's life.
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