Teaching the Sit
To teach the sit, first place your treat at the dog’s mouth and very slowly lift your hand upwards and backwards so the dog naturally tilts its head back. As the dog’s head leans back, his bottom should start to lower to the floor. As the dog’s bottom touches the floor – click and feed the treat.
If your dog seems reluctant to sit, keep the treat at the dog’s mouth and you can start to click just for the dog leaning its head back and also click if the dog’s bottom starts to lower slightly.
This is called shaping a behaviour and we are rewarding the dog for making an attempt towards the end goal which, in this case, is the completed sit. Each time we do this we can see if the dog will do a little bit more towards the final goal, which is its bottom on the floor, and we reward the successive approximations.
Adding a Cue
Once you have achieved 10 fluent repetitions of the dog moving into the sit with its bottom on the floor you can then add the cue or command which is ‘SIT’.
As you place the treat in front of the dog’s mouth, give the instruction to sit and then move your treat to make the sit happen, click and then reward.
If this it doesn’t happen immediately don’t get into the bad habit of repeating your instructions. Always just ask once and wait for it to happen.
Fading the Lure
Once the dog is sitting on cue you can start to fade the lure. This time you’re not going to have a treat in your hand, you are going to give the sit cue and still do exactly the same hand movement i.e. holding your hand in exactly the same position as though there is a treat between your fingers.
As the dog moves into the sit position click the clicker and then deliver the treat from your pocket or your treat bag.
We’re giving information to the dog, which is ‘just because I don’t have a treat in my hand does not mean that you are not going to get rewarded’. At this stage we must still reward the dog every time.
Fading the Body Language
Because dogs communicate with body language they are more aware of what we are doing as opposed to what we are saying, so at the moment the dog sitting is dependent upon the word but also, more importantly, the hand movement that you are doing. The word is called a verbal cue and the hand movement is called a visual cue or supporting body language.
We can fade out of the visual cue very gradually so the dog will just follow the instructions of the verbal cue.
Next time you get the dog to sit use the hand movement to start the behaviour but, instead of doing the full hand movement which you have been doing up to this point, withhold and stop the hand movement just before the dog completes the sit and then wait and see if the dog finishes the behaviour by itself. If the dog sits – click and treat; you can then gradually start to fade off how much hand movement you make. It is important, especially at this stage that the hand movement comes after the verbal cue. Breaking them apart enables you to remove one of the cues for the behaviour.
Teaching the Down
I am going to show you three ways to teach the down
- From the sit
- From the stand
- Luring under your legs
It is good to observe your dog at home and see how they naturally lie down themselves. Do they drop from the stand? Do they sit first? Do they drop into a sphinx upright down? Do they flop over onto their side? Do they curl up in a ball?
It is important to observe how the dog naturally lies down as this will help you in your decision on which approach will be best for your dog.
From the sit
Ask your dog to sit or lure your dog into the sit.
With your treat at the dog’s mouth slowly take your hand in a straight line vertically towards the floor making sure the treat stays at the dog’s mouth, and making sure that you don’t go faster than the dog.
Hold the treat on the floor for a few seconds and if the dog drops into the down position click and then treat.
The completed down is elbows on the floor, but if your dog doesn’t go all the way down after a couple of attempts then you can break down the requirements into sections, as explained in the sit, using successive approximations such as a head dip, shoulder dip or elbow movement.
Most people focus on the dog’s legs and paws when teaching down and looking for movement there. You need to focus on the dog’s shoulders and elbows because this is where the movement begins, so if your dog crouches and you see movement in the elbow or the shoulder then click and feed them each time. Then see if you can get the dog a little further towards the floor working towards your end goal which is elbows on the floor.
If the dog stands up from the sit while you’re luring, which is very common with the smaller or short-legged breeds, you can pull the treat away from the dog’s mouth. Wait for the dog to sit again and then put the food treat back towards the dog’s mouth, so that you are giving the dog information that if they sit the treat is close at the mouth, if they move out of the sit the food moves away. This will help to lock the dog’s bottom onto the floor while you work on getting the front end into the down position.
From the stand
Put a treat at the dog’s mouth and move your hand slowly down towards the floor pushing towards the dog between their front feet.
This should cause the dog to drop its head down and then backwards into a bow position, working towards the elbows moving down to the floor.
Most dogs can’t hold the bow position and once the elbows are on the floor they will naturally drop their bottom onto the floor.
The click point for the down from the stand is the bottom on the floor.
If the dog is struggling you can break down your criteria and use the successive approximation approach.
The Bridge Method
Luring under your legs is a gentle modelling method. Firstly sit yourself down on the floor with your legs out and your knees slightly raised, creating a gap between your knees and the floor so that there is enough space for your dog to crawl under.
With your dog on one side hold your treat in the opposite hand and put your hand under your legs towards the side that the dog is on, and let the dog see the treat.
You are then going to slowly lure the dog under your legs. As he follows the treat he will need to start to lie down as he crawls under your legs.
As soon as the elbows and the bottom are on the floor, click and feed the dog. It is recommended that you feed a few treats one after the other after you’ve clicked to help the dog feel comfortable in the position.
If the dog is a little shy about going under your legs then break the exercise down as described before and reward by clicking and feeding small successive approximations for first the head under, then the shoulders, then the body, and finally relaxing the bottom onto the floor.
Once the dog is reliably crawling under your legs into the down position you can start to fade out the physical body language you have had to use to get the behaviour to happen. This time just lure the dog under one leg. Each time you repeat this try not to take your treat as far under your legs, holding the treat on the floor and see if the dog starts to take the down position itself. Once you have achieved this you can add your cue. You can then start to put your treat in front of your leg so that the pup comes towards the treat but now needs to lie down of its own accord. The final stage would be to bend your knees completely out of the way and see if the dog is going down purely on the food lure and verbal cue.
Fading the lure
Once the dog is lying down reliably and you have introduced a cue, you can start to fade the lure. Firstly you are going to complete your physical lure action in exactly the same way as before in order to get the behaviour to happen but this time you’re not going to have a treat in your hand. You’re going to give your cue followed by your hand movement to the floor. If the dog lies down click and then treat. Each time you do this you are not going to put your hand as far down as you did previously until you can stand up straight and just give the verbal instruction.
There may be times when the dog hesitates because you’ve changed what you’re doing slightly, if this happens give the dog the chance to think about what it needs to do, but do not get into the bad habit of repeating cues to the dog. Wait for 20 seconds, if it doesn’t happen then start again
Teaching the Stand
Stand it is not commonly used by pet owners in day to day life, however it is a very useful position to teach for health checks, handling and grooming. It is also another behaviour and cue that your dog can learn early on, helping the dog to develop skills to listen and associate specific words with the different behaviours.
From the Sit
From the sit put your treat in front of the dog’s mouth and then very slowly draw a straight horizontal line away from the dog’s nose, as the dog stands up to follow the treat click and feed.
If the dog shuffles his bottom then move the treat away more quickly and hold it out of reach so that the dog has to get up and move forwards, click and treat as the dog stands up.
From the Down
From the down put the treat in front of the dog’s mouth and very slowly bring your hand upwards and forwards at an angle of around 45°.
Click and treat as the dog comes up into the stand.
Once your dog is reliably standing by following the food lure then you can add your cue. Remember, cue then hand movement afterwards.
You can then fade the lure and body language as with the sit and down.
Watch the Video
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Copyright © 2018 Jane Ardern BSc (Hons)