Friday, August 17, 2007

Sit. Stand. Down.




Basic Obedience. All dogs need it. All puppies can learn it. It isn't hard. And, it starts Day One when your puppy comes home.

All puppies should be taught three simple commands. Sit and Down are self-explanatory, so let me praise the virtues of Stand. Stand is great when your dog is wet and you want to towel him off, or when you are walking on a muddy path and you don't want him to sit in a puddle. And, as a vet, I love Stand for Exam - it is impossible to palpate a Golden Retriever's abdomen when he is rolling on the floor. Teach 'em all Stand, I say.

Teaching Sit, Down, and Stand doesn't have to be harsh. No jerking, pushing, pulling, or shoving required. All you need is a puppy and some high value treats.
Just remember, wherever his nose goes, his body has to follow.

Sit is the foundation of all our training. Sit is what you say so he isn't jumping up or running away. Sit is a job he can always do. Everything else proceeds from the Sit, so let's learn it first.

I don't like methods of teaching Sit that involve pulling up on the puppy's neck or pushing down on his lower back. Not only do I worry about hurting him (remember, we are training puppies as young as 2 months here) but these
methods are passive - we say something and we shove the dog where we want him to go. Blech. I like active training - I say something and puppy moves himself. That's learning!

Sit: Hold a treat in front of the puppy's nose. It should be contained within your fingertips so he can smell it but not take it from you. He will probably try though, so be prepared. If he snatches at the treat (and therefore your fingers) bump his nose gently and say "Off." If he paws at you, say "Off." Don't let him mug you. This is your show.

Get ready ...

Say "Sit." (Remember Rule 3 - Say it once, and don't shout.) Slowly move the treat back over your puppy's head. As he follows the treat with his eyes (and more importantly, his nose) his head keeps going back and his backside sinks.

Going, Going ...

When his butt hits the ground, say "Good Sit!" and pop that treat in his mouth right away. (Quickly - Timing is Everything, says Rule #9)

Gone! "Good Sit"

Tone of voice: Use a short, snappy siT!" command (I accentuate the "T") and a slow, drawn-out "Go-o-o-d sit" (less emphatic "sit") on the praise.

This is my way, but it is not the only way. Some people prefer giving the command after the puppy sits, not before. Another author I read said to give the command first, but don't repeat it after the action is completed. These variations are personal preference, and I don't believe that there is only one right way. Whatever method you choose to use, stick with it. Be Consistent! (Rule 10.)]

Stand: Much easier than you might think. From the Sit, pull the treat slowly straight ahead, in front of the puppy's nose, saying "Stand." Use your long drawn-out "Sta-a-a-nd" with a rising tone at the end. When he stands, give him the treat. Easy-cheezy, right?

moving from Sit to Stand -
pull treat forward and the dog will follow.

Occasionally, you get a puppy who is so fixated on the Sit that he won't move. Give him a nudge. Keeping the treat in place and using the back of your other hand with palm facing the floor, tuck your fingertips into his groin area, right in front of his rear legs, and lift up slightly. DON'T do this palm-up; you will be tempted to grab. This is not a pull, this is a nudge, and the back of your fingers nudging into his groin is a lot like the nose of a dog doing the same thing. He understands this sensation, and he will stand. I
guarantee it.

Practice moving from the Sit to the Stand and back again before going on to the next lesson.

Down: This is the hardest one, so take your time, and don't be surprised if your puppy doesn't get it right away. If Down is defeating you, do a couple of Sits and end the lesson on a positive note. Try again tomorrow.

From the Sit, hold your treat in front of his nose. Say "Down." Tone of voice is firm and low, not quick and snappy like Sit, not slow and rising like Stand.

Lower the treat to the floor in one smooth motion and hold it there. You hand should go straight down from his nose or just a smidge in front. SAY NOTHING else, just WAIT. (This will be excruciatingly painful - for you. Bite your lip if you have to, but BE QUIET.)

His nose should follow the treat to the floor. Slide the treat slightly forward, but DON'T move any other part of your body. His head should follow the treat as he moves lower and lower. When his elbows hit the ground, treat and praise.

"Good Down!"

He may do several things as he is learning, including pawing at your hands, nipping for the treat, or he may sit up in confusion. Bump him for "Off" if he gets greedy. If he is having trouble with the Down, you may reward when he is half-way there at first. With each repetition, make him go a little further before he gets the treat. This is a difficult and scary skill to learn, so DON'T say "NO" if he gets it wrong. We want zero negativity attached to this behavior. (Rule #7: Praise more than you correct.)

Now you and your puppy know three commands. Practice every day in short bursts - 5 minutes at a time, three or more times a day. Go from Sit to Stand, back to Sit, then from Sit to Down and back again. I still surprise my dogs with "puppy push-ups" from time to time like a pop quiz (Sit-Down-Sit-Down-Sit-Down.) It keeps them on their toes.

By the way, did you notice? In every one of the photos in this post, my left arm is held behind my back. One handed dog training!


Credits: Photos taken by Sarah (first three) and Katie, from our office - Thanks guys!
Inspiration from Ian Dunbar's Sirius Puppy Training Video. Get it - the original is much better than my poor rehash.

About the model: Mitral is a 1 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, belonging to my colleague. He comes to work most days, and is a real delight. He has a Mom, but I am his Teacher. He is bright and very trainable. I had him heeling, off-lead, at about 4 months old. His mom came to me one day and exclaimed, "I called Mitral and he ran right to me and sat in front of me!" I smugly said, "Yes, I know. I taught him that."


KGMom said...

These puppy training tips are such a treat for this human to read--I get to see adorable models (the puppies, of course).
And I get to enjoy your self-deprecating humor.

Holly said...

In your most esteemed opinion- at this time, we can take one dog through training (financially). I would like to take Libby. She is younger, much stronger physically, smart and headstrong. She knows sit and come already but doesn't always listen. Lucy hasn't had any training but is very eager to please and never lets me out of her sight in the yard. I don't worry about her bolting which Libby occasionally does-although she comes back in a few minutes I don't want her doing it at all (I know, part of it is the Husky in her). Lucy is just dying to make her people happy, Libby does it if it suits her.

I thought Libby would be the better candidate for 'official' training right now and perhaps we could use what we learn on Lucy and take her for more training later on. Your advice?

Anonymous said...

How wonderfully refreshing your blog is! Your practical advice and great pictures are wonderful.

Why is it that many people don't recognize how much more content the dog is when he knows what to expect and is secure that someone else is in charge? These folks seem to think of training almost as a punishment. Why can't they understand that a well-trained dog is ever so much happier than a dog who senses his master's anger and frustration, but doesn't know why or what to do?

These people say they "love him as he is," but they are only fooling themselves. Do they really think they will fondly recall the dog pulling on the leash because he wasn't trained? Perhaps, but it's far better to fondly recall the wonderful walks that both of them thoroughly enjoyed.

KatDoc said...

Holly: Of course, you know my first answer has to be "Take them both!" but if there are limits to your time or budget, I would take the more difficult of the two dogs, that is, Libby. It would be better all around to have professional help with your "problem child." If you take the "easy" dog to class, you may not be able to transfer what you learn with her to your "pushy" dog at home, whereas if you attend a training course with the more challenging dog, it is easier to convert what you learn in class to the "softer" dog.

When you are doing your homework, practice with both dogs. Keep one confined so she doesn't interfere with the other while you are working. (I used to keep one dog crated or tied up in view, so she could watch while I trained the other, in case they might learn by example!)

Just remember that Lucy may not need the same level of intensity in your voice or your corrections as Libby does. Temper your tone of voice and physicality to her degree of sensitivity. (Did that make sense? I'm really tired.)

Anon: You got me - I don't know why so many people are opposed to training. I often hear "I don't want to break his spirit." Acckk!!

I call it the "You have the dog you want" syndrome. Somewhere in the deep recesses of their soul, they must enjoy their dogs this way. I do know that well-trained, well-socialized, mentally stable dogs do so much better in the exam room. They still don't like having their blood drawn or their ears examined, but they submit to it (with resigned looks of "Oh, man - not this again!") Dogs without this training struggle, pant, get big dilated eyes, cry out, try to bite, and urinate, defecate and express their anal sacs in fear. (Ever get "skunked" by a dog? Avoid it, if possible.) No fun for owner, dog or the vet team.

That's why I keep spreading the word: A well-trained dog is a content and happy dog.


Holly said...

Yes, you're making sense, don't worry! Lucy is crushed by a harsh voice. If I even raise my hand to her (not to hit her *ever*, just to emphasize No!) in a 'Stop' motion when I'm telling her no, she immediately obeys (so she does know some commands) but she looks heartbroken. And no, I don't immediately baby her but I do praise her MUCHLY when she does stop whatever it is.

You should have seen her tonight when I came downstairs after my shower. Libby's like 'Oh, it's you...YAWWWNNN' but Lucy must have thought I was gone forever. She acted more happy to see me after 20 minutes than my humans do at the end of the day, lol!