After starting this Back to Basics topic a few weeks ago with Attention and Find It/Name Game, I have allowed my own attention to wander a bit, but now it seems like a good time to refocus on basics, starting with the first behavior most people think about training a dog to do: sit.
The ubiquity of the “sit” cue and the ease with which most dogs learn this behavior is both a blessing and a curse for dog training. Of course, it’s a blessing to have a dog who will sit when you want him or her to do so. However, although many new students tell me that their dog knows a cue for “sit,” a little investigation often reveals that the dogs do not know this cue out of it’s usual context. One truth of dog training is that our dogs often do not focus on the same things we focus on. Humans are highly verbal, and we tend to think our verbal cues are the most important aspect of the environment, but dogs are often more focused on environmental cues, including body language and whether we are dangling a treat in front of their noses.
It is, therefore, important to practice any new cue in a variety of situations that represent variation in location, context (including whether any treats are visible), and our body language. If you have a specific situation where you want a strong sit (while you are holding a baby or toddler, while you are carrying groceries, while you are opening or closing the dog food), you can practice in those specific situations or stand-ins for them. Even if you have no similar situations in your regular routine, practicing in a variety of locations and situations will help prepare you dog to perform the behavior in any situation.
Teaching Sit with a Lure
- With your dog standing in front of you, hold a food treat in front of his or her nose.
- Slowly move the food up and over the dog’s head into his or her blindspot. Don’t move the food too high, as this encourages jumping.
- As the dog tracks the food, his or her butt should lower to the ground.
- As soon as the dog’s but hits the ground, mark the behavior and give the reward. The reward can be tossed on the ground to get the dog to stand again for a repetition, or can be handed to the dog directly.
A lure is not required to teach sit, and it is not always preferable, but it can be easier for people to learn. If you use this method, it is key to quickly fade the lure itself (usually food) out of the process, as well as to move quickly towards your desired hand motion.