Hopefully you’ve mastered the technique for rewarding your dog immediately after you either use the clicker or say the word “yes” (or whatever you decided to use). Now it’s time to start training. For the first lesson, we’re going to teach our dogs to sit. Some of you may already have a dog that will sit for his food when you’re about to feed him, and if you do, that’s great. Will he sit for you when you tell him to and you don’t have his bowl full of food in front of him? Within a very short time, you’ll be able to have your dog sit on command whether he’s in front of you, or across the yard from you.
The first thing we need to do is to get your dog in front of you. If you have a puppy or a small dog, you may need to get on your knees for this. While you hold a treat that he likes in one hand, simply put your hand in front of his nose so he can try to get it (don‘t let him get it though), and move it up and towards his rear at the same time. Most dogs will automatically sit when you do this. If he doesn’t, don’t worry. Just give him a gentle push downwards on his hips to help him sit. As soon as his rear end touches the ground, make the clicker noise with your clicker, or say the word yes. Immediately after you do this, give him the reward. Now you’ll notice that I didn’t have you give the dog the “sit” command. For the first couple of days, we’re just getting the dog to go through the motions and perform the behavior. When he’s consistently performing the desired behavior (sitting in front of you), we can add the “sit” command. As you raise your hand with the food in it, simply tell him to sit. Just make sure you always remember to wait until his butt is on the floor before you click or say “yes”. He’ll catch on to this surprisingly fast. Remember, if you’re working with a puppy that’s 6 months or younger, you’ll want to keep the training sessions to 10 or maybe 15 minutes, depending on the dog. Some dogs are able to hold their concentration longer. Also, the more fun you make it, the more your dog will want to learn things. Just as a little motivation, check out the video of a 6 month old Belgian Malinois puppy. Believe me though, not everyone’s dog is as motivated as this one is. You can see how much fun the dog is having, because her handler is keeping her focused constantly. Also, notice how she holds the reward in her hand to lure the dog into the position she wants, then lets the dog have it when she‘s in the position.
Just as an FYI, the clicker noise or the word you use is known as a release. It basically signals the dog that the exercise is over and nothing else is expected of him. If he gets up right away, that’s fine. We’re not working on duration yet.
Next up: Teaching the “down” position.