BACK TO BASICS - THE SIT AND DOWN:
By Louise Thompson
Accredited Animal Behaviour Consultant (ABC of SA ©®™)
WHY IS THE “SIT” SO IMPORTANT?
Teaching a young pup or even an older family dog, to sit reliably on command is probably one of the most important lessons a puppy or dog will ever learn!
When owners arrive home – when visitors appear, or if the puppy is excited, he can not jump up at people, if he is in the “sit’ position.
If he is doing something the owner disapproves of – he will stop immediately and cannot continue misbehaving if he is in the “sit” position.
If he runs away from his owner or bolts to chase the cat/kids on bicycles etc – he cannot continue if he is in the “sit” position.
If he is showing aggression to someone or something – it cannot go any further, if he is in the “sit” position.
There are numerous behaviours that can be interrupted/redirected with a “sit”
All pups and dog should be taught to sit, whilst there collars and leashes are being put on before going for a walk or training class!
If an owner teaches his puppy nothing else in his entire life but a robot like “sit” on command, they will have an easier dog to live with. Make it your mission in life to ensure that you teach pups and owners to perform and perfect a completely reliable sit!
TEACHING THE “EASY” SIT:
· An easy way to teach him to “sit” on command is by the use of a food lure or his favourite toy as a motivation. Have the pup on his collar and leash for control. If performing the exercise standing you can pup a foot on the end of the leash, so that both hands are free). If sitting, the leash can be tucked under a knee etc.
- Sit on the floor, holding his toy/treat in your right hand, and if possible have the pup on your left hand side, or facing you. For later training it is a good idea to perform as many of these exercises as you can, with the pup on your left hand side, as in later more formal training he will have to learn to “heel” on your left hand side.
- Hold the treat parallel with the puppy’s nose, making sure that he is focused on it (try this only on an empty stomach.) Now very slowly, lift your hand up and move it backwards (into the pup face) keeping the treat at licking distance, attached to the pup’s nose. Do not move your hand too quickly or the pup will bounce around and loose interest. The pup in his effort to reach the food will automatically go into the “sit” position
- Hold the food at the appropriate angle to keep him in the “sit” position for a few
- NOTE: Most owners teach their pups to “sit” facing them, which gives both owner and pup gratification. The pup is rewarded by the owner’s eye contact, sound, smell and presence. Once habituated, it is often very difficult to re-teach the pup to then sit on the handler’s left hand side. To avoid this becoming a habit, from the beginning, rather encourage puppies to sit and perform a variety of exercises on the handlers left hand side
POSSIBLE “SIT” PROBLEMS:
1. When the puppy sits he is facing the wrong way:
The pup wants to swing around to face the owner and is unhappy sitting on the owner’s left hand side.
The handler should not use force or the leash to get the dog/pup into the correct position..
The handler should not use his/her fingertips or hands to force the pup into the correct position.
The handler should never lose patience or raise his/her voice!
a) Use a physical barrier to restrict the puppy’s movement. Or if indoors use one of the corners of the room to limit the puppy’s opportunity to “back” away.
b) With the owner kneeling and the pup on the left hand side - wedge the pup between their forearm and left leg – limiting the pup’s options.
2. The “hand shy” puppy:
This is a result of unintentional learning and is caused by thoughtless grabbing. Pups soon learn avoidance and to dodge out of their owners hands.
Occasionally caused by lack of contact and inappropriate punishment, it is more often caused by ignorance and inappropriate rough play / roughing up the dogs face. Inappropriate discipline in the form of face hitting (sometimes as a result of annoyance). It may also be caused by over enthusiastic facial petting and praise, which pups find extremely intimidating. When the cause of hand shy dogs and puppies is pointed out to owners, they often are horrified and feel extremely guilty.
Handlers should use slow deliberate hand movements, and if ever necessary to move or physically manipulate the pup, (for example to insist on a straight sit,) instructors should ensure that the handlers use the stiffened flat palm of the hand – never allow handlers to curve the end of their fingers!
3. The “leash pulling” handler:
Handlers who over-use the leash are very common. This mindset usually comes from antique training methods that were based on correction and punishment.
Problems resulting from over use of the leash:
- A shy puppy that is constantly pulled on the leash when walking or being worked will result in a dog that is likely to lag and be a slow worker.
- If the pup is confident and bouncy – it could result in teaching the pup that it is acceptable to pull and have tension on the leash.
- The pup learns that he only has to be obedient and comply with his handlers instructions when on leash! The minute the leash/collar is removed the dog becomes selectively “deaf” and disobedient!
- If the area is safe and escape-proof – remove the leash.
- Tie the end of the leash to the handler’s belt or moon / treat bag.
- Let the instructor hold the leash whilst the handler is working the puppy.
6b. EASY DOWN:
Using the same basic principle as when teaching the sit.
The object of this exercise is to get the puppy to lie down on command by using a food or toy lure.
1. Begin with the pup in the newly learned “Sit” position. The puppy should be on leash as before, and ideally the pup should be on the handler’s left hand side facing the same direction as the handler.
2. The handler should have the treat in the hand, level with the pups nose (he can lick it as he works.) The handler should slowly bring the hand with the food down towards the middle of his front paws aiming for the floor. As it is about to connect with the ground very slowly draw the food hand fractionally forward – just enough to lure him into the “Down” position, this is accompanied with the soft command “Down” given in a gentle happy tone of voice In effort to reach the treat the puppy will automatically lie down!
4. Once he is in the down position, keep the food hand still so he may feed, and repeat the command “Down” accompanied with verbal praise in a jolly manner so that he can associate the command with the action.
5. Again – immediately praise and reward.
The “Down” is an extremely vulnerable position, and many less confident or nervous puppies are not always so keen to comply. Do not handle nervous puppies yourself and ensure that the owner (in frustration) does not use force.
- Depending on the age group – the exercise can be postponed until a few lessons down the line, when the pup’s confidence has increased.
- If the fear behaviour is mild, then simply get the handler to kneel on the floor, and wedge the pup gently on their left hand side, between the left forearm and the left knee. The pup can then be gently assisted into the down by slowly and very gently drawing his front legs forward and down with an accompanying treat and lots of praise.
- Handlers should not be encouraged to comfort the puppy if he appears to be fearful and or the puppy could see the comfort as a rewarding, the handler would be actively encouraging the behaviour.
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