Friday, March 28, 2014

Sit Happens

You know what's awesome? A dog who can sit on command. You know what's even better? A dog who sits on command the FIRST time no matter what's going around- it's magical to see this happen. 
Want to know a secret? 
   It's not magic. 

It's the product of good training technique, practice, patience and PROOFING the behavior. Proofing is the process of practicing cues/behaviors a number of times (thousands) with different levels of distractions, distance and time (it's also called generalizing in some circles). Some service organizations will require a dog to practice a cue up to 8,000 times before they are considered proficient. 
The other criteria, aside from sheer number of times of practicing the cue includes: 

-Distance (distance from you when performing the cue/behavior, like a long distance recall or down-stay)
-Duration (duration of time that the behavior is held, like a stay)
-Distractions (pretty much anything that can distract your dog)
-Speed (how long it takes the dog to perform the behavior, like how long it takes him to come to you for the recall once he starts moving to you)
-Latency (how quickly your dog responds to the cue once you give it)
-Precision (this is a bit more advanced and generally only for performance/competition- it's how accurately your dog performs the behavior, like putting a specific toy in a specific place on command)

How can you do this with your dog? Start with baby steps. Below are my instructions for the sit command, straight from my curriculum. 

The sit position is a natural behavior for the dog.. which makes teaching it easier (yay!) A sitting dog is not jumping or demanding anything from you, just waiting for whatever will come next! It is also a precursor for many more behaviors your dog will learn in time.

-pocket/pouch full of treats
-hungry dog
-leash, attached to a collar or harness
-quiet, comfortable area

  1. Bait your hand and place it in front of the dogs nose.
  2. Gradually move your hand back over the dog's head towards his/her tail.
  3. Most dogs will default to the sit at this point since it is more comfortable to follow the food lure from a sit than look around while standing ... some take a little more coaxing
  4. The instant your dog's bottom touches the ground say “sit” then click and treat.
  5. Release your dog from the sit position ('ok')

-Move your hand up and over your dogs head so they have to look up and back to follow your baited hand and help them do default to the sit
-If your dog backs up with the lure, try next to a wall so that your dog cannot go anywhere
-Be sure to move your hand at a pace that keeps your dog's interest- too slow and they stop paying attention, too fast and they get lost
-Once your dog gets it.. make them sit for everything- breakfast, dinner, going outside, getting leash on.. this helps them to look to you for direction and to practice a little self control when there are exciting things going on!
-You can add a physical cue to this behavior once they begin to understand the verbal cue, I usually hold out my hand palm down and turn my palm up as I say “sit”
-Any time your dog is sitting at home.. give a click and treat or at least some love and attention!! The more a behavior is rewarded, the more it will be offered by your dog!

As your dog gets better with the sit cue, you can add the focus behavior to the sit so that you have a sitting dog who is looking at you (everyone will be really impressed by this one!)
The faster your dog sits, the better the reward.. this creates a quick compliant dog!

What's next? Once your dog is about 90% consistently responsive to the food lure, drop the food lure and use the hand signal. Once your dog is 90% consistent, fade the use of food treats and switch to real life rewards, random reinforcement, and only rewarding the best behaviors. 
Next, go outside and practice- be prepared to lower your expectations a little. You may need to step up the treats, you may need to start all over again with the food lure. That's ok. Your dog is in a different environment and needs a little patience from you. It will not take as long for him to generalize the behavior to this new(ish) place as it did for him to learn it in the first place. 

Every time you change something about the environment (where you are, what the distractions are in the environment, if someone else is giving the command, this list could go on for paragraphs). You can also add in those other things we talked about earlier (distance, duration, distractions, speed, latency, precision) as well- just make sure you only change one thing at a time so your pooch doesn't get too confused. 


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