I can hear the groan you just let out…We are all stuck at home, and the best training article idea you have is to write about ‘sit’ and ‘down’? Well, at the moment, yes, it is, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve trained dogs for over forty years now, mostly using the Old School obedience methods that are still, unfortunately, quite common today. I began transitioning to the LIMA (Least Invasive Minimally Aversive) way several years ago – but to be honest it was not very deliberate until a little over a year ago. The impetus came when Jenna and I had intent to retain a puppy from the Powder X Joeri litter, and then take that puppy to Brad Higgins for her field training. Brad is a highly dedicated and devout LIMA trainer who has developed his own highly effective system for field training… In my research and preparation to take Ila to train with Brad I watched hundreds of hours of videos, read multiple books, signed up for on-line dog training courses and am now beginning to work towards a CPDT-KA or equivalent from an accredited institution.
Great, so what does that have to do with teaching a dog to sit or stay? Well, for most of us who keep dogs in our homes and take them to pubs or other public gathering places (well, hopefully soon we will all be doing this again), when we ask our dog to sit or lay down, our expectation in most cases is for the dog to stay where and as they are put. Yet we still teach ‘stay’ as a separate stand-alone ‘command’. I learned this little trick recently and I think it will forever change how I teach Sit, Down and Stay. I’ve already begun working my already trained dogs on this, and the transition has been seamless and easy.
The process is the same for both ‘command’ sequences - the only difference is in one scenario your dog is sitting and in the other he is laying down. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
Assuming you have been using my other training articles, your dog has most likely been offering a polite ‘sit’ as a response to get what he wants from you – and if not, you’ll have a little more work to do. Either way you will need a sack of your dog’s favorite training treats and to have your dog on a long lightweight line. A TGK Precision Lead, a 15’ section of biothane cord with a high-quality brass snap on one end and a straight-raw end for the other is a perfect example. Use your bait to lure pup into a sitting position. Be aware of how you hold your ‘bait hand’ which is also your hand-signal hand (this will be important later when you back off the use of the treat). Once pup sits, immediately mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’ and treat. Next you will use a release cue, consider “all done” (I have a really bad habit of using ‘okay’ which is used way to often in conversation to make it a good choice for a release cue – my producer nearly choked me out during a day of shooting…). With pup finishing his reward, say ‘all done’ and lead the dog a few steps away. Ask/lure him into a sit, ‘yes’ him, treat him, give ‘all done’ and move again. That is the basic drill to get started with. In this early work, more or less, anticipate your dog to break the sit and if he does, simply lift the line straight up and give a tiny bit of upward pressure and a gentle ‘jiggle’ to encourage pup to once again sit. Once he does give him the happy ‘yes’ as before. As his sit response improves taper off the use of the bait. Additionally, you will transition to having your treat in a pocket to be awarded only for the crispest most perfect sits – be sure to use the same hand configuration whether you are using a treat or not. This will teach him the verbal cue and the hand signal. Do not move to the next phase until your dog is reliably sitting on cue with little to no treats involved.
For phase two we begin to introduce a waiting period for the pup. Here are the steps:
1) Ask pup to sit, you pick up a foot as if to step back, but don’t. If pup remains seated mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, treat, give the release cue ‘all done’ and move to a new spot. Wash, rinse, repeat until you have confidence in pup’s reliability to stay seated. If pup chooses to break his sit, use the same corrective measure described above. It’s a very low threat and no drama way to help make your point, in these early stages where you begin to move, watch pup closely to anticipate him breaking before you offer the release cue. If you are experiencing trouble, just keep your session short, check your frustration and go back to a step where pup was successful.
2) Once you have that, now work towards taking a step backwards with one foot. Just as before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you step back, then return. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a ‘happy yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup. Again, work this step until you have a reliable behavior from pup.
3) This next step is the same as before, but you will now introduce dropping the rope into the mix. Like as before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you then drop the lead followed by taking a step back, then return. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup.
4) This next step very similar as before, but you will now introduce a full step using both feet. As before, give the cue to sit, he sits, you then drop the lead followed by taking a step back with one foot, then the other, smartly return to pup. If he stayed seated, mark the behavior with a happy ‘yes’, then release with an ‘all done’ and move away with pup.
5) Exactly as step 4 but take three steps back.
6) Just like step 5 but now take six steps back.
7) You know the drill quite well now, as does pup. We continue to proof the sequence by now taking ten steps back. This may all sound tedious, but each increment adds a small layer of complexity to the task. Once pup really has it down, you can add distractions to the environment, but when you do, be sure to work closer to pup and work outward like you already have done. If pup struggles with a new distance, just go back to a distance where he was successful and get him a taste of success again. The process is the same for down and you will have taught your dog to stay while doing this. No unnecessary ‘commands’ to give when you build the skills you desire in a commonly used sequence.
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