Visual Signal Right hand raising up in front of dog’s nose.
This is usually the very first exercise that we teach our dogs and is what I describe in my classes as ‘gears in neutral, handbrake on’!
In other words, the sit tends to be used to get the dog’s attention before something else happens, i.e. sitting before being petted by visitors, sitting before being fed, or sitting before having the lead put on, or taken off.
Most owners manage to teach the dog to sit for a few moments before he gets up of his own accord, but what you want to achieve is the dog sitting until he is told he can move.
To begin teaching the sit, you don’t need to have the dog on a lead, and it doesn’t matter if the dog is in front of you or by your side. What is crucial is tidbits!
Many people seem to think that if you use tidbits for training, the dog will never do anything without them, but here we will use tidbits as an initial ‘lure’, whilst at the same time teaching the dog a voice signal and a hand signal which are going to mean ‘sit’. Eventually the tidbits will be phased right down, only being given occasionally, but to start with you will be using them all the time.
Again, many people would begin to teach the dog to sit by saying the word sit, at the same time pushing down on the dog’s rump, until he sits. There is a better way! You want the dog to work out what he has to do to get the tidbit.
In other words, he has to use his brain. If he uses his brain, rather than being pushed or shoved into a position, he will remember.
Have plenty of tidbits in your pocket, with one or two in your hand. With the palm of your hand facing upwards, and holding a tidbit between your first three fingers and thumb, ‘waft’ the tidbit in front of the dog’s nose, then straight up about three inches directly above his nose, and hold it there.
Say nothing. He may just stand there, trying to work out what it is he has to do. He may offer several different ‘behaviours’ in an attempt to get the tidbit. He may bark – ignore it.
He may attempt to jump up at your hand – just lower your hand to under the dog’s head momentarily and he will stop jumping.
The mere fact that the dog can smell the tidbit will make him tip his nose up towards it. As his nose tips up, his back end will dip down and he will sit. As he sits, say the words, ‘Good sit’, dropping your hand to the level of his mouth and offer him the tidbit, without letting go of it. Let him nibble on it whilst you are still holding it, all the time saying, ‘What a good sit, clever sit’, and continue to reward the dog all the time he remains sitting.
You should continue to re-enforce the sound of sit all the time he is sitting building up a sound to go with his action, so that he will learn the command. Keep him in the sit position, allowing him to nibble on the tidbit, for about five seconds, then, as you release the tidbit.
You will find that once the tidbit has been handed over, the dog will move almost immediately. By using the That’ll do command, you will teach the dog that, as those words are said, he can move.
If the dog attempts to move from the sit whilst he is still nibbling on the tidbit you are holding, just move your hand up slightly, then reposition it just above the dog’s nose, as you did initially, and he will sit again.
Once he is sitting immediately your hand goes up in front of his nose, you can start to use the command of sit before he sits – in other words, giving him the command to do the action.
You will find that the dog will ‘pick up’ on the hand signal too – as your hand raises, so he will start to sit. He is therefore learning both signals – voice and hand – which is very useful if the dog’s hearing deteriorates when he is older.