Cheryl May's Basic Dog Obedience

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

Obedience -- The Sit

The Basic Sit

In the old days, the sit was taught with a pop up on the lead and a push down on the dog's rump. The method is called J&P for Jerk and Praise, and has fallen from favor.

More and more, today's trainers use inducive methods, mostly involving food. I've found that food vastly improves the attitude of most dogs. They are anticipating a reward for doing something correctly, rather than watching out for a correction for doing something wrong.

The food you use should be tastier than the stuff the dog gets for free. I use a variety of treats from day to day -- hot dogs, Rollover, Oinker Roll, etc. I save the real stuff (liver) for dog shows.

To teach a sit, I use a piece of food (raisin size) to lure the dog into a sit. The position of your hand in relation to the dog's nose is very important. Hold the food an inch or less above the dog's nose. Slowly make an arc with your food hand from the dog's nose toward the tail. Remember, do this slowly. The dog should follow the food with his nose. If he isn't following the food, you are holding it too high. Lower the food and try again. If the dog scoots backward away from your arc, place him near a wall so he will back into the wall. As he starts to sit, give the command, "sit." When his rear hits the ground, feed. You can work on the "stay" part later.

I encourage you to use a conditioned reinforcer -- a special word you don't normally use in conversation, ("Yes!") a tongue cluck, or a plastic or metal clicker. I've found this helpful in pinpointing for the dog the exact moment he is doing something right. First teach the dog about the c.r. Click, feed; click, feed.

Then, when the dog is starting to do the exercise correctly, click and feed. Raise the criteria as the dog improves. As your dog is learning, feed every time you get a correct response. Later, you'll switch to a variable schedule of reinforcement to maintain correct behavior. For more information on this, read "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor.

The Sit Pretty (Beg, Sit Up, etc.)

To get your dog to sit up on its hind legs, place your dog with his rear against a corner in your home. (The corner walls will help support him as he learns to use his back muscles to sit up.) Your dog should know the sit command before you teach this variation. Start with the food arc you used to teach the sit, only bring your hand up higher. You may want to support the dog's chest with one hand. Reward efforts to bring front feet off the floor. You can raise the criteria for this exercise as your dog gains experience. Some dogs find this very difficult and some are unable to do it at all. Most catch on quickly though. Continue to use the corner until your dog gains expertise.

I do not teach this exercise to puppies, and I don't let any dog do very many repetitions at one time.

Problems with the Obedience Sit

You obedience types may enjoy the following tidbit from the May 1995 issue of the "Collar and Lead" newsletter of the Bayshore Companion Dog Club, Red Bank, N.J. Reprinted with permission from Carol Mount.

Diane Bauman lists four components of a good sit during heeling:

  • the dog is paying attention
  • the dog is in heel position
  • the handler gives the correct cue that the team is halting
  • the dog knows the cue to halt and sit

    If your dog is forging the halts, probably one (or more) of these four things is missing. To prevent forging at the halts, you must cue the dog that you are halting. This can be an upper body cue or a break step. Actually, as long as it complies with AKC rules, your cue is okay. It's just important to have a cue.

    Fixing Problems

    Some exercises that will improve the dog's obedience sits are left and right pivots, left and right turns, side steps in both directions, steps up and back. Teach the dog he can come to heel position from anywhere. It will come in handy in the ring. It's also helpful in Freestyle, which, simply put, is dancing with your dog to music.

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