Editor's Note: Dog lover, trainer and behavior therapist Jody Rosengarten has made dogs her life's work since 1980, when she opened her practice, The Bark Stops Her e. Following are her suggestions for helping you and your dog learn the simple and all-important "sit" command.
Sit is the simplest and most useful exercise of all. Think of sit as meaning I'm in control. Sit is your constitutional, when in doubt, way to go.
To teach sit, stand close to your dog, Pavlov, and scoop your hand up and over his head in a semi-circle, starting at chest-level and arching towards his rear end. Tweak or snap your fingers engagingly. As Pavlov's head moves up and back to follow your hand his bottom will go down, and Voila! Sit happens. Once in position, tell him what a brilliant boy he is while petting his chest. Now it's time for a treat. (And give the puppy one, too.)
The time to say, "sit" is as the pup moves into position. The operative words are "moves himself." To force Pavlov into position creates resistance. We want him, not you, to do the work. The point is to facilitate his figuring out how to do it himself. There's no need to yell, "Sit." Dogs can hear a Frito fall from 250 yards away. A soft, natural voice will do.
I'm big on hand signals. To learn a visual cue in addition to a verbal one is equivalent to learning French and Spanish. Hand signals encourage the puppy's watchfulness and, by checking in visually, he is more inclined to look to you for guidance. This, and all hand signals, can be minimized after the behavior is mastered.
Pavlov will soon view Sit as a prelude to good things happening. Sit makes food appear. Balls get thrown, walks and car rides follow Sit. While Sit makes good things happen, they don't automatically follow every Sit. Intermittent reinforcement keeps Pavlov on his toes by allowing you to select his best efforts to reward. With Sit meaning I'm in control, when you're feeling out of control with your dog's behavior, Sit is your broad-spectrum solution.
Do you have any dog behavior questions for Jody? Please add them here, or email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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