Zen and the Art of Dog

The Five Most Essential Dog Commands For Anxious Dogs

Benji was a complete disaster when he first came home. He didn’t know any dog commands at all and he was so badly behaved that I nearly had a complete emotional breakdown.

Benji is happy now that he knows some dog commands!

This was a major blow to my ego because I had spent a lot of time training our other dog, Denver, and thought I knew what I was doing.

I definitely did not know what I was doing.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, though. I’ll start from the beginning.

There is a wonderful shelter in Denver called Maxfund. (Seriously, check them out. They are top notch.)

I started volunteering at Maxfund as a dog walker. It was a lot of fun. The dogs at Maxfund were all so special. I wanted to take them all home with me.

One day, a new dog came in that caught my eye. His name was Nelson. Nelson was the weirdest looking dog that I had ever seen. He had a really long body, like a dachsund, and thick stumpy legs. Maxfund was calling him a basset/german shepherd mix.

I only walked Nelson a couple of times. He seemed pretty easy to walk and I enjoyed spending time with him.

At the same time, my wife was really interested in adopting another dog. Mostly because we loved Denver so much.

Since Nelson caught my eye, I suggested we bring Denver to meet Nelson and see if we might adopt him.

Nelson and Denver got along famously. So, we submitted our application to adopt him and took Nelson home a few days later (we thought Nelson was a horrible name for a dog; we renamed him Benji).

The first couple of days Benji seemed okay. However, some of his behavioral problems were starting to surface.

Benji would get over-excited on the walks. This led to some blow ups when passing other dogs and he would get too mouthy and jumpy with my wife.

He also had awful separation anxiety. If I left the room he would start barking and would not stop. We lived in an apartment building; this made our neighbors hate us. Once, he peed all over his bed because I left him. Here are some tips about how to keep your dog calm when you leave.

Benji was super stubborn as well. If he wanted to do something, he would insist on it and get very mouthy with us if he didn’t get it.

Anyway, I knew that if we were going to live with Benji I had to learn how to adequately train him. Luckily we live during the time of the internet and I found plenty of resources to help Benji acclimate to his new life.

Here are the five dog commands that changed his attitude completely.


The down is a common command that most dog owners teach their pups.

However, and this is especially true for a behaviorally challenged dog, the down should be trained with an implicit stay.

So, in other words, when the down command is given your dog should go down and should not get back up until you release them from the command.

For an even greater challenge, train the down/stay from a distance!


The place command directs your dog to a specific location. We can use a mat or rug for this. Professional trainers will often use a platform or a box. Sometimes, we will use the place command to refer to some furniture, like a couch. Any of these will do.

Similar to the down, the idea is that once your dog is in “place” they cannot move from the spot until they’ve been released. Typically I direct my dog to place and then give them a down command once all four paws are on “place”.

Check out my post here about how to train the place command!


Crate is just like place, except the dog knows to go into their crate.

If you’re struggling with a dog with separation anxiety, the BEST command you can teach them is the crate command. It changes their entire mindset about being in the crate.

Now, after training the crate command, Benji regularly goes into his crate on his own to nap.


Training a recall command, or “come”, is absolutely necessary for any dog owner that wants to do outdoor activities with their dog. You never know where there might be a snake, porcupine, skunk or any one of a million things you need to protect your dog from.

Also, if you want to take your dog to a dog park (I advise against it), you’ll definitely want a strong recall to pull your dog from trouble.


The heel is the most important command if you’re struggling with leash reactivity or aggression.

The idea is that as you walk your dog, they have to maintain position with their head either at your side or slightly behind you. The dog has to hold this position unless released.

Wrap Up

There is a basic theory about these commands and why they help with negative behavioral patterns. Basically, you’re giving your dog a “job” to do. The dog isn’t doing just one action and then they’re are done. These commands require ongoing concentration until the dog is released from them. The dog cannot focus on other stimuli because they are focused on the command you’ve given them.

There are many other commands that refocus your dogs as well. Watch (where your dog has to look at you), hold (where your dog has to hold something in its mouth) bother also demand that your dog focus on the command and not on that squirrel over there or the dog eyeing them from across the street.

However, I chose these five because they are the most practical at solving common behavioral problems.

Benji is now part of a household with three dogs and a baby. I wouldn’t be able to have as full a life if I hadn’t trained him in these commands.

I hope you found this post helpful! All the best!

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