I start with the puppy sit because it’s one of the most useful skills your dog can learn, and it’s easy to teach. The best analogy I’ve heard? Sit is your dog’s please and thank you. It doesn’t matter if your dog is eight weeks or six months or three years old, start with the puppy sit to train a polite dog. Sit is the foundation of obedience, and the beginning of self control. A dog that can put his rear end down on command is less likely to jump up, and more polite while waiting for a treat. Besides all that…there’s not much cuter than a ten week old puppy staring up into your eyes, bottom on the ground, waiting for a reward. I must admit, cuteness plays a big part in my enjoyment of dog training. 🙂
Depending on your pup’s sensibilities, find a delicious treat. I like dry dog food, shredded chicken, Zuke’s Mini Naturals and/or Natural Balance dog food rolls. This week I tried a new dog food roll, Happy Howie. It’s fine if you want to cut up the treats into small pieces, but it’s too firm for the dog to lick off pieces when you use it as a lure. But, the most important thing is to use a reward that works for you and your dog.
Next, practice when your dog is hungry. So, not right after dinner when his belly is round with puppy chow. (And remember to cut back on meals if you’ve been training and rewarding.)
Sit down in an empty room or your backyard holding quite a few treats in your closed hand.
Let your dog smell the food. I put my closed hand right under the pup’s nose to focus his attention.
Slip one of the treats between your thumb and pointer finger and let the puppy lick it. (This is called a lure. You use the lure to get the behavior you want, and then reward the behavior with additional food.)
Pull your fingers straight back over the dog’s head. The puppy will keep his tongue on the treat so his head will go back too, and his bottom will hit the floor. When that happens say, “Sit!” in a happy voice and let him have a chunk of the treat.
Once the treat is ingested, and he hears all the praise, your puppy will bound around, thrilled with life. When he makes his way back to you, tell him he’s wonderful, pet him, and then start again.
After three sits with a lure (a lure is simply the dog treat in your hand), stop. Puppies have a short attention span, so don’t over do it.
Three or four hours later, start another brief training session. Remember, short frequent sessions are the most effective way to train your dog!
The number of repetitions needed to learn the command will depend on your skill level as a trainer and your dog’s intelligence. (I’m lucky I have such smart dogs!)
As you see improvement, phase out the lure. Keep your hand closed over the treat, and move your hand over his head, but only give a chunk of the treat to him once he’s sitting. Gradually, stop moving your hand over his head. Hold it still at your chest. Say, “Sit!” and reward as soon as your dog puts his bottom on the ground. Finally, move the treat behind your back. Say, “Sit!” and when he does, reward.
As your puppy improves, practice the puppy sit with him when you are on your knees, then move up to your feet.
Dog training is a gradual progression, so if you get frustrated or your dog seems confused, take a break. Go back to the beginning.
Eventually, when you say, “Sit!” your dog should sit in front of you, make eye contact and wait for the treat. Your dog may even offer up the sit on his own, hopeful that you’ll reward the behavior. (Sherlock uses this strategy quite often. He does love to eat.)
Once you teach the basic puppy sit, you can reinforce the command in new locations. But remember, each time you change one small thing, it’s like you’ve started over. So, be patient. In a new more distracting environment, you can’t expect a perfect sit. Don’t get frustrated. Go back to the beginning. Put the treat between your fingers where he can lick it, and lure his head back until he sits.
Opportunities to practice puppy sit include:
When you pull out a bag of dog treats, your dog’s rear should hit the floor faster than you can remove a chunk of food.
When you call here, your dog should run up to you, sit front and look into your eyes.
On leash, your dog should sit at heel.
Before you throw a toy, your dog should sit.
When you open a car door, front door, back door, garage door, sitting, not door crashing, should be his response.
When your dog wants a scratch behind the ears, he should ask with a sit.
When you walk in the front door and your dog is happy to see you and being crazy IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE until you get a pretty sit. (Sherlock is still working on this one.)
Remember, sit is a dog’s please and thank you. And don’t we all appreciate a little courtesy? So, get started on the puppy sit. Only by working together can we fill the world with well behaved dogs.