Does “sit” really mean “sit”?
Although we know dogs are considered highly intelligent animals, they are not deep thinkers. Their intelligence lies in their senses. Their sense of smell is off the chart and their hearing is extraordinary. So, while we appreciate these characteristics in what makes dogs both smart and special, their senses also help to distract them and make it extremely difficulty to train them at times.
For this reason, it is important to practice training your dog in novel places and at different times during the day. For companion dogs, outside distractions pose the greatest obstacle in learning and in building attention and focus. It’s always best to start your training indoors where there are fewer distractions. Put anything that might pull the dog’s attention away. Make sure there is no food being cooked or other distracting smells, turn off the television or radio and, if there are other dogs in the house, put them outside or in another room. In order to build attention and focus with your dog you must be able to give him your undivided attention.
In our Puppy Kindergarten as we begin the learning process for both the puppy and the owners, I urge dog owners to use a verbal command just once. If the puppy fails to do what you ask the first time, I urge the owners to simply lure the puppy into place by holding a treat right over the pup’s head until he or she “assumes the sit” position. By repeating the verbal command over and over, the verbal command becomes meaningless. At first, only say the word “sit” the moment the pup’s butt hits the ground. If the puppy breaks out of position to reach for the treat, pull it away with a firm “uh, uh” and take the treat back. Then, try again and see how well the puppy maintains his or her position.
You’ll want to do this when teaching any new skill. By requiring the puppy to maintain the position, you are beginning to teach the puppy “impulse control”. This is a very important lesson to learn, and the earlier you teach it, the easier it will be to extend this skill to other areas.
Dogs, especially puppies, are not terrific at remembering what they’ve done before. Their very short attention span, along with their amazing senses, creates a world of distraction. This can make training your puppy a challenging and frustrating experience. Train for only a couple of minutes several times throughout the day and if you’re feeling tired or edgy, the puppy will know it. If this is the case, stop and begin again later when you are in a better state of mind.
So, when you ask a puppy to sit, each individual occurrence of that action is a new experience until the pup finally “gets it”. You’ll know when the puppy is able to do a skill in both distracted and non-distracted circumstances, inside and outside, that skill has become generalized!
Tune in next time for more dog training tips on basic obedience and achieving “peaceful living with your dog”.
Deborah Rosen is President and Founder of Good CitiZEN Dog TrainingⓇ, a dog training franchise business based in Tacoma, WA. Deborah is known within the industry for her innovative ZEN dog-training methodology and her commitment to using positive and progressive techniques to teach clients the science of canine behavior. Deborah is now spreading her training philosophy of “peaceful living with your dog” from coast to coast through her Good CitiZEN Dog Training franchisees. In addition, Deborah also authors blogs, magazine articles, and is working on a book. For more information about Good CitiZEN Dog Training, see www.goodcitizendog.com.