Sitting dogDependable Sit Around Distractions

Once the connection between command and posture clicks in the dog’s mind, the teaching phase of training this command is over forever! In truth, the average dog only requires a dozen or so placements with commands to be comfortable with this association. As a trainer, you can always tell when your dog reaches command savvy by the degree of cooperation with the actual placement. With a competent handler and a run-of-the-mill dog, each placement should meet with less resistance until you reach the one magical command where your canine student beats you to the punch in assuming the correct posture. From that very moment, the trainer shifts into reinforcement mode, the second aspect of the training process, and never looks back. If there are any doubts about your dog’s clarity in understanding his obligation, keep teaching. You’ll not hurt the training process. As your dog’s caretaker, you should feel confident and comfortable about moving on to the reinforcing phase of this project.

Reinforcing the sit command so that it becomes the dog’s sole responsibility to assume the sitting posture within a couple of seconds is the second aspect of training the second formal command. In the reinforcing phase of training, it is paramount to success that the handler be prepared to deliver timely consequences, both positive and negative, depending on a dog’s decision to cooperate or not. The entire thrust of this aspect of training is to completely relieve the handler of any placement responsibility.

So with your dog in the heel position (the right side of his neck next to your left side) and your leash held in short lock fashion, give your dog a pleasant sit command. There is no need for harshness in the command tone or drill-sergeant-like inflection to show the dog you’re serious. The immediate consequence following your dog’s decision (to sit or not to sit) will demonstrate your earnestness. Remember, though, you’re not asking or hoping that the dog will sit. All of our formal commands should be viewed as directives that are pleasantly delivered.

Keep in the forefront of your mind in this stage of training that the handler no longer instantly places the dog in connection with the command. Teaching is done. Now we must wait (only a moment) to see what the dog chooses to do after the command.

Obedience training is a relationship-building process between handler and dog, centering around three concepts: a dog’s self-control over his drives and energy, deference to the handler before action, and distraction management.

Just as soon as the command is given, your dog’s response clock begins ticking. Allow him no more than a slow one-one-thousand to commit to his task. Allow him another slow one-one-thousand to complete his task. Giving your dog any more time than this promotes debate over obligation and sloppiness in response. Be careful not to reward your dog before he completes his task or else he may think that a partial sit is good enough or that maybe his handler will jump in and help out. It is just as important to reward your friend the exact moment he assumes the appropriate sitting posture so he knows this is precisely what you had in mind when you gave the command.

Any of our standard rewards work as a positive consequence for the dog’s correct decision as long as they’re not overly done, creating a disruption in the training process. For example, genuinely soothing or lightly stimulating pats and praise are good. Too much praise and the dog dances out of the sit position forcing the handler to follow the positive response to sit with the negative management of this error.

Although unintended, the dog is left with a foul taste in his mouth even though he made an effort in the right direction. The same is true for food reward. Food should be utilized as a bonus only at this point, not as bait for the dog to focus on. If the food is used as bait, the dog will become dependent on it and only respond properly if the bait is present and he is hungry at that moment. Besides, we want the dog to focus on what is really important: his handler’s wishes. Therefore, any food used for reward should be out of sight and out of mind for the dog until it is delivered. That’s why at the training center we carry our food in a pouch worn in the small of the back or on the right hip, invisible to the dog, yet immediately accessible at the very moment we need it without any fumbling through pockets or packages.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

This is where the rubber meets the road and will eventually set your dog apart from others. Most people get their dogs to respond to commands only in a vacuum, or when there is an absence of certain distractions. If we can’t get our dog to sit, down or come and hold it because there’s a specific distraction present, like other dogs, then our command is worthless. Take notice that we first work on manners before working on the commands, learning control around distractions without commands is what allows us to be able to do commands around distractions in the first place. It’s important to practice “sneaking away” from our dog (quietly backing away until a leash correction is needed or the dog follows us) to maximize focus around distractions.

Every new environment, every new distraction is an opportunity to work on proofing our commands. Don’t let your concentration prevent you from having fun, we want both handler and dog to enjoy working. Begin the work at a distance from the distraction, politely and calmly ask your dog to sit, give a one-one thousand time limit. If the dog sits back on their hind legs without slouching then reward, if the directive is ignored then remove slack from the leash to create a bite like correction then politely repeat the command. When you give the command sit stand tall, face forward, try not to intimidate with your body or voice. While maintaining the sit, calmly praise, if at anytime the dog releases themselves from the command then calmly and smoothly correct them back into the sit. Once you can pet your dog and stand up straight afterwards then you can release them with a command like all done or go into another command like walk. Don’t stray to far because we want to continue working closer and closer to the distraction target. There’s no rush, get as close to the distraction as you can while still being successful, with each work try to move a little closer though. Our goal is to be right next to the distraction and still get a dependable sit.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer