Teaching Dog To Sit With A Game

The other day, I had a second training session with this adorable labradoodle puppy and his family. He laid patiently at their side while we began talking through solving the issues that come with bringing a young, energetic companion into their home with sharp teeth and an incomplete understanding of human household etiquette. (It is so awesome that their whole family is on board and eager to learn about training.)

dog training tip - teaching a dog to sit by Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa DesatnikThen we got up to work on actual training. After their practicing some hand targeting and name game exercises, we started doing some work on building value for his sit behavior. Initially they were using treats as a reinforcers; however, he was noticing more of the environment than of his teachers, and being slow at offering the sit.

Remember, this is a little guy who was born to play and who had just spent over a half hour in the car followed by time resting. He was ready for activity.

So, I wanted to show another approach. I stood in the center of the room and when he followed and sat at my side, the second his rear end touched the ground, I proclaimed, ‘Yes!’ and then proceeded to run and grabbed a tug toy.

As just about any labradoodle puppy will do, he began chase. It was Game On! In just a couple of seconds, I stopped movement. He responded by putting his rear end back on the ground, and I immediately marked that behavior again with Yes! and began moving again. We even worked in some initial tug game rules (adding the cue ‘get it’ before giving him the tug and then teaching the ‘out cue – but tugging will be another topic for another post).

All of a sudden this puppy who was uninterested in his classroom became a straight A student.

So, I thought I’d talk a little about why this happened and some of the lessons here about training.

Firstly, as our pet’s teachers it should always be our goal to figure out how we can make our lesson plan clear and understandable for animals who do not speak our language. In this case, practicing capturing the sit behavior, marking it and reinforcing it with many successful repetitions in their home with low distraction will help to build fluency with sit (part of this family’s homework).

Timing is important to teaching with clarity. Especially since non-human animals do not speak English (or other human language), marking the very specific behavior you are reinforcing tells learners, “Yes, what you just did this second was exactly what I was looking for.”  Without good timing on your part, you may inadvertently teach behaviors you do not want to see.

Motivation is another important concept to keep in mind in training. Remember, when given choices, animals will choose to do behaviors that get them the most valued consequences. It is our job as their teacher to figure out how to make the behavior choices we want to see, the most valuable choices for each learner. And that changes all the time. Probably a dog will value chicken or meat over dry dog food, and my bird Barnaby will value a piece of cream cheese over a pellet. After a big meal, an animal may be less motivated by food. After a long exercise (and once settled), an animal will probably be less motivated to do activities and value resting instead. On the other hand, after a long nap, a puppy is going to be ready to play. A dog sitting at a door may value the opportunity for smelling flowers or running in the grass.

By being aware of what your pet values, you can increase the value of the behavior you are teaching by following it with (or I should say, marking the behavior with a click or verbal word that is followed by) a highly reinforcing consequence. (In this case, that consequence is the opportunity to chase or tug.) And with enough pairing of the behavior such as sit with a valued consequence such as meat, a game of tug or a game of chase, the less probable behavior (like sit) will become more probable.

The Sit Means Play Game

This game is actually terrific for teaching several skills in addition to sit. It works on self control and the ability to turn on and off active movement. You can also build up to working on duration as you wait longer in between marking and releasing the behavior to play.

Steps simplified:

  1. Initially capture your pet sitting
  2. Mark that behavior (such as either a verbal marker such as ‘Yes!’ or a click)
  3. Follow the mark with a game of chase, tug or something else (for no more than a few seconds)
    (NOTE: in the beginning you will want to stop this game before your dog becomes too aroused)
  4. Then stop and stand still
  5. When your pet sits, go through the steps again

Variations of this game can include different reinforcers such as the opportunity while on leash to greet someone or sniff the grass, the opportunity to get a leash attached, or any activity that gets your dog’s tail wagging.

Here is a video of me using this game to give our Sam the opportunity to run find treats.

As always..remember to have fun!

Teach Your Dog That Calm Behaviors Get Great Things

It happens fairly frequently when I visit the homes of clients. I am greeted by very enthusiastic dogs who jump and jump and paw me to let me know I am welcome.

Whenever that happens, just like with any other behavior issue, it’s a great indicator that that dog has had a very strong reinforcement history with jumping and pawing at visitors.

How do I know? Plain and simple, because that behavior keeps happening. If a behavior causes a positive consequence to the animal, that behavior is going to keep occurring – and even strengthen.

What are some of those positive consequences of jumping on people? For one, jumping on people gets them to pay attention and often times with either petting or excitability. There may be other reinforcers coming into play too like the release of energy used, possible sensory stimulation, etc. A dog may grab for food or other things because grabbing for those items has meant the dog having those items.

This is why I think it is so important to teach young puppies the value in skills of calmness and self control. That doesn’t mean not encouraging play and exploration, those are very important too. It just means, for many of us, we also like to see calm behaviors – calm greetings, the ability to relax when people are engaged in other activities, etc.

Always remember, animals when given a choice will choose the behavior that gets them the greatest value. Where is the value with your pet?

Cincinnati dog trainer Lisa Desatnik on Google+

Dog Training – Teaching Sit, Stay and Release

Does your dog run out the door the minute it opens? Does he charge the food bowl Teaching dog to siteven before you put it on the floor? Does he sit when you ask him to, but immediately pop up and run through the house?

Impulse control is such an important skill for dogs to have. And no force is needed to teach it effectively. In fact, the more joy you can build into your lesson, the more enthusiastically and quickly your dog will learn.

There are a number of impulse control behaviors to teach. This post will focus on ‘stay’ and ‘release’.  Stay literally just means you hold your place right there UNTIL a release cue is given. And that release cue can be anything you want to use. Whether you use ‘potato’, ‘release’, or ‘ok’, it really doesn’t matter because the word acquires meaning when you pair it with a behavior. What is important, however, is that you choose a release word that you don’t use often in normal every day conversation.

Teaching stay and release from a sit (or it can be down or other position)

Always begin training a new behavior in an environment without distraction first. Remember, you are not testing your dog to see how long you can get him to stay in position before he gets up on his own. What you are teaching him to do instead is to stay put until you give him the release cue because really great things can happen if he does.

I do not start incorporating the cue ‘STAY’ UNTIL I feel like the dog is committed and understands the lesson that he is to stay where he is until told not to.

So, in the very beginning to build value for sitting, I ask the dog to sit and I remain very close to him. I will give him high value treats very quickly, one after the other in the beginning (maybe 3 or 4), then give him the release cue and encourage him to get up.

Next, I have him sit and continue to give him treats, waiting increasingly longer increments in between treats – first maybe a couple seconds, then 5 seconds, etc. BUT ALWAYS, I give the release cue BEFORE I see any body movement signaling he is about to get up.  (IMPORTANT NOTE:  Your dog’s body language should be your guide as to how long you can go. If you are working with a dog that pops up quickly, that is feedback to you that he doesn’t understand what you are teaching him. In that case, you need to go back a step to having less time in between treats and less time before giving your release cue. It is up to you as your dog’s teacher to set him up for success by managing opportunities for mistakes while going through the lesson.)

What you want your dog to learn is that ‘if’ he stays in position, ‘then’ he will receive valuable reinforcement. When the dog can sit in position for about 10 seconds, only then will I try to move a leg while watching his body language. Is he staying put? Then I click and treat. Then move in another direction and do the same thing.

Then I’ll try to take a step backwards. Is he staying put? If so, then I will click and treat him.

I can also add distractions. While he is sitting, I may roll a ball by. And the minute I put the ball on the floor (before he even thinks about getting up and chasing it), I will click and give him a treat – teaching him that good things happen if he doesn’t move while something goes by.

Keep in mind that each time you add difficulty; you may need to decrease the time in between giving your dog treats. I also add in breaks to the lesson for a little mental recharging. Every couple of minutes when I release the dog, I’ll ask him to do something else – play, chew on something, etc. (Remember, when you do this, you must also use your release cue to call him from that activity.)

When I feel like he really understands that I want him to remain sitting after I cue him to sit until I cue him to be released, then it is time to add the ‘stay’ cue.

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