Monday, 12 December 2011

Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good Dog.

As an owner of a former racing Greyhound, I've slowly learned a thing or two about training a clueless adult dog. Because of her history, she really had to learn all about living in a house with a family almost from square one at the ripe age of 2. Like most dog owners, I set out to teach her how to "sit". All the reading I did about racing Greyhounds pretty much told me the same thing over and over: they don't like to sit - so if she didn't want to sit, I should let it go.

Dashed were my hopes of having a well trained family dog! Ok, that's a little dramatic. Is it really important that your dog learn how to "sit"? Not at all, really. You and your dog can have a perfectly harmonious and respectful relationship without it. But growing up in the 80's meant that a few words would always be a part of my "good dog" image:

So here is how it all went down. Before I begin, I just want to say that I'm not a professional and certainly don't claim to know what I'm talking about. It just worked for me. Before you start sit/stay/down commands, it will certainly help if you've already built trust and respect with your dog through regular exercise, positive stimulation, and care.

Bum on Floor + "Sit!" = AWESOME
  1. Since most dogs are insanely food-oriented, grab a handful of treats/snacks. Anything small and tasty works.
  2. Your dog will probably notice this, but ignore your dog's attempts to get the treat (unless, of course, s/he decides to sit!)
  3. Follow your dog around. Not too closely, but close enough that you are able to give instant praise (within 1 second), if necessary. You're now looking to catch your dog spontaneously about to sit.
  4. When dog sits on his/her own, promptly say "SIT!" and give reward. Go bananas with glee and face rubs.
  5. Relax.
I've found that touching or attempting to push the dog's rump down never encouraged the action of sitting with my dog. If that does help you, then go ahead and do it. But don't be discouraged if that technique backfires - it might actually confuse your dog. Waiting for the dog to sit on its own will allow it to rest in a more comfortable and natural sit.

Once you've gone through the steps above a couple of times, take a break. This can be a few hours or a few days. It really depends on how well you're both catching on. If you're frustrated, end the training session on a good note and leave it until the next day.

 Once your dog recognizes the word "sit" and associates it with the sitting action, you can try to ellicit a "sit" by approaching your calm dog and asking for the sit, while raising the treat just above his/her head.

Eventually, no food bribe will be needed and you'll have a new command under your belt. Good, dog!

The relaxed sit. Dogs are prone to sitting like this (on one hip) if they feel they will be sitting for a long-ish period of time.
The attentive sit. Better known as the "I'm gonna get something good" sit. The more bony-butted dog breeds (like the Greyhound, Boxer, or Chihuahua) will likely not actually rest their rears on the floor. This squat of sorts is simply more comfortable.
The best part about command training is that the steps work for pretty much any command (sit, stay, come, etc.). With patience, your dog will quickly learn to connect his/her actions with your words and good times.

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