Training Mechanics

There are plenty of people out there that never seek out professional training for their dog. Perhaps they have an "easy" dog, or maybe an older rescue with no issues, but I have a feeling that most people that don't at least take a basic obedience class with their dog, refuse to do so because they think they can do it themselves just fine at home. While I am not denying that there are those out there with wonderfully trained dogs that did it all themselves at home, I see many "home-trained" dogs that aren't very well behaved. The owners missed out what is really taught in classes; training mechanics.

Training class really isn't about how many things we can teach your dog to do, it is about teaching owners how to be effective teachers! There are plenty of bonuses that come with attending a group class; socialization to people, dogs and a new environment, learning new things, bonding, motivation to practice etc.

I can take a dog that isn't listening to his owner and get him to perform a new or known command for me. I know where to place my lure, when to be quiet and when to speak up, when to praise and when to redirect. My goal is to teach the owner to do all these things that come naturally to me from training so many dogs. This is why board and train does not work except for very specific circumstances!

Biggest training faux pas:
1. Repeating the command over and over.
2. Commanding the dog when she doesn't actually know the command.
3. Luring incorrectly.
4. Forcing the dog physically to perform the command.
5. Towering over the dog menacingly.
6. Using a harsh tone.
7. Not rewarding enough.
8. Not using a high enough value reward.
9. Expecting the dog to preform at too high a distraction level.
10. Giving mixed signals physically or verbally.

With that being said, how would I go about teaching a novice dog to sit?

Sit: novice dog would be on a 4 foot leash and I would be stepping on the very end of the leash. That way my hands are free and the dog isn't going anywhere, but isn't glued to me unable to move. In a class situation, I would be at least 6 feet away from other dogs, perhaps further, maybe even behind a visual barrier if novice dog was too distracted. I would have something very very yummy, like natural balance food roll in my treat bag and take a pea sized chunk and slowly place it almost on novice dog's nose while simultaneously moving it backwards toward his tail. If I move slowly enough and keep his interest, his bottom will touch the floor and I will say "good sit!" and pop the treat into his mouth. I am not commanding him to sit, nor am I pushing him or moving the food too fast or dancing it out of his reach. After doing this a few more times, if he is keen on it, I can start telling him to sit when it is highly likely he will do it and I can start introducing a hand signal and omit the lure and start giving him only hidden rewards. If he gets confused, I will go back a step and help him. After about 10 reps, he would probably need a break and we would move onto another exercise. If I was to use a clicker, the process would be slightly different, as I would mark his bottom touching the ground with a click versus a word marker "good" or "yes."

For a dog that already knows how to sit, but does not do so without multiple commands or help or forcing on the owner's part, the mechanics would look a little different.

I would tell average dog to sit and assuming he does not, I would get out a yummy morsel and show it to him, then ask him again. If he immediately sits, he would get the treat. That scenario tells me that average dog does not understand how to do a command without seeing the reward first and he needs some "fake-outs." Meaning I will show him a treat, tell him to sit, he sits, he gets it. Next rep I pretend I have a treat in my hand, he sits, he gets a hidden treat, and I go back and forth between fake-out treat and real treat until I am doing more fake-outs than real and eventually showing him my hands are empty and asking him to sit. After so many positive reps, he should sit with seeing empty hands and I will give him a big jack-pot of hidden treats! The trick with this is to not now go to empty hands all the time, but switch between visual treat and empty hands and slowly the dog will start to do a command without seeing a reward. It is also helpful to use life-rewards with a dog that does this. My post on Value is very helpful when it comes to this problem.

If average dog will sit without a treat but only on the second command and does so slowly, then a game is in order! I tell average dog to sit, he does not, I show him what morsel he missed out on and walk away for a second and come back. I tell him to sit again, he does. Jack-pot! Then we run around together and I stop, ask for a sit and if it is quick, he gets a goody, and if it is slow, I walk away and we try again. I am only rewarding what I want; quick sits on the first command and I am ignoring what I don't want and showing him that he missed out. Hopefully what I have is exciting enough that he wants to work for it.

If average dog will only sit if pushed into a sit, then he never was taught properly and must go through the novice dog steps.

Command Rules

1. Only say a command 2 times!
2. After the second time, help your dog! This means going back to baby steps and most likely luring your dog.
3. Assess if what your asking is too much.
4. Assess if your dog cannot preform due to too high a distraction.
5. Make sure you are using an even, nice tone of voice and aren't yelling at your dog.

Do you have a specific question on how to teach or clean up a certain command? Comments are always welcome! I teach classes and offer privates in the East Bay area of California.