Smart pet owners take a pro-active approach to their dog and cat training, says Dr. Shibata. "It's a good idea to take basic obedience classes with a new puppy or adult dog," she advises.
Start them off young, and use positive reinforcement (kind words, affection, treats) to get positive outcomes from your dog or cat. Here are the key commands every pet – and pet owner – should know.
4 commands that dogs should know
Dr. Shibata says there are four essential commands your pup should know.
1. "Off" or "Leave it"
These essentially translate as "Do not touch!," a key safety command indoors and out. "If you were to accidentally drop something that may be dangerous like medication, cleaning chemicals, hot or sharp objects, or toxic foods like chocolate, grapes or onions, this may be a life-saving command," says Dr. Shibata. It can also be used to stop your pooch from jumping onto a person or other animal.
"If a dog is obediently sitting, she or he cannot be jumping on visitors or bolting out an open door," says Dr. Shibata.
"Inside and outside the house, it's important to train your dog to have a good reliable 're-call.' Most people use the command 'Come!.' It allows you to call them away from dangerous situations," says Dr. Shibata.
This slightly more advanced command is often accompanied with a hand signal like arm extended high up in the air where the dog can easily see it from a distance. "An example of when this would be useful is if your dog was on one side of a street and you were on the other side and a car was coming. You would not want to call the dog to you, but instead, would use this command to stop the dog in his tracks and make him lie down and stay until it was safe to call him to you," explains Dr. Shibata.
Three commands that can help protect you cat from harm on page 2.
3 commands that cats should know
"While cats are often more challenging to train than dogs, it is still a good idea to teach them a few commands," says Dr. Shibata, acknowledging what every cat owner knows: that cats generally expect you to please them, not vice versa. But finicky felines need to know two essential commands.
"This is to get them off counters or tables," says Dr. Shibata, whether for their own safety (i.e. away from dinner candles) or your own preference (i.e. eating in peace without paws reaching for your steak).
Most cats can be trained to come when called. "This is important if you need to call them away from a dangerous situation indoors or out," says Dr. Shibata. Calling them indoors is also important at night, when a storm is coming, or it's a holiday where fireworks are going to be going off. (Pets should always be indoors if fireworks displays are taking place in your community. The light and noise terrifies them and causes them to run and hide, often getting lost in the process, so call cats indoors and keep them locked up well before the scheduled lightshow begins.)
3. A re-call
"The fastest way to train a 're-call' to a cat is to give it something good as a reward," says Dr. Shibata. "You can start by shaking a treat can and then giving a treat. You can then start calling their name first, then shaking the can, then giving them a treat. Eventually, you should be able to call them and they will come running to you in expectation of the treat."
Visit the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association for more info and links to other websites about caring for companion animals.