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How to Train Your Dog to Come & Sit

July 19, 2011 by Nylabone Products  |  Nylabone Extras  |  Comments (1)  | 
How to Train Your Dog to Come & Sit

Even if you have no interest in advanced training of any kind, a basic education will make your dog a better-behaved, more confident companion and make you a happier dog owner. So, get your dog and let’s start training and learning!

RECALL (COME)

A reliable recall—meaning your dog comes to you when you call or signal—is one of the most important trained behaviors he can learn. First of all, responding promptly to your call could save his life someday. And let’s face it, you will save yourself a lot of frustration if your dog comes when you want him. But how many dogs do you know who come reliably when their owners call them? By calling their dogs without taking the time to teach them to respond correctly, most people actually teach their dogs that they don’t have to come when called. If you follow the plan outlined here, your dog will understand that he must come when you call, and he will want to do so.


Before You Begin

Before you begin teaching the recall, I’m going to suggest a few things that you can do to increase your chances of success. First, if you don’t yet have your dog, now is the time to set the stage for teaching him to come every time you call. Plan for success, and when your new puppy or dog joins your life, follow the guidelines and avoid the potential pitfalls right from the start.

If you have an adult dog, you’ve probably already tried to teach him to come when you call. If he’s reliable most of the time, great—use the information here to reinforce what he has already learned and to improve his performance. But if he’s not exactly spot-on when you holler out the door, you need to rethink your strategy and start over. This training will go more smoothly if you treat the recall as a new behavior you are teaching rather than as a faulty one you’re repairing.

To make it “new,” find a different word to use to call your dog. If you’ve been yelling “Come” while your dog continues to sniff the bunny trails in the yard, start over with “Here.” Your dog ignores “Come,” but he has not learned to ignore “Here.” The hardest part will be retraining yourself to use the right word.

  • 1. Be consistent. Always use the same word to call your dog. If you play the obedience lottery with different words like “come,” “come here,” “here,” “get over here,”or “get your butt over here,” you will probably lose more often than you win.
  • 2. Be concise. Do not call more than once unless you want to teach your dog to ignore you. If he doesn’t come when you call, go back as many steps in training as you need to. Be patient! A reliable recall is not learned or taught overnight.
  • 3. Be generous. Reward your dog every time he comes when called. At first, the rewards should be big ones—a special treat, a jackpot sometimes. Eventually, you can scale back to an ear scratch and praise, with intermittent treats.
  • 4. Be smart. Never, ever let your dog off his leash in an unfenced area if he doesn’t come every single time you call him, despite the squirrels square dancing nearby. Even if you think he’s reliable, be extremely cautious. I know of more than one very obedient dog who was killed the one and only time he didn’t come when called.
  • 5. Be prepared. Until your dog is very, very reliable, don’t call him if you are not in a position to enforce the command. If you aren’t sure he will come when you call him, put him on a leash or long line before he goes out in the rain so that you can get him back in.
  • 6. Be happy. Never call your dog to you in anger or to do something to him that he won’t like. If you need to put drops in his ears or put him in his crate for a while, go get him instead of calling him. Coming to you should always be safe and wonderful for your dog.

  • As with many behaviors, you can use a combination of techniques to teach and reinforce the recall. You can use capturing and shaping techniques (the simplest method) to reinforce your dog’s natural inclination to come to you, or you can lure him.


    Teaching Recall Step by Step

    Capturing and Shaping

  • 1. Carry treats or part of your dog’s daily kibble allotment. When your dog comes to you without any prompting, mark that behavior and reward him, sometimes with a treat, sometimes with a belly rub or ear massage.
  • 2. After you have done this a number of times, your dog will probably begin to check in with you regularly. When he’s on his way to you and appears to be committed, you can begin to use your cue word: “Rowdy, come!”
  • 3. If your dog tends to stop and sniff or travel a zigzag path to get to you, don’t call him—just continue to reward him when he gets to you on his own. If you add the cue when your dog is not performing reliably, you simply teach him to ignore the word. But the rewards—treats, play, scratches—still reinforce the idea that coming to you is a good thing.

  • Luring

  • 1. Begin with your puppy or dog on leash or in a small fenced area or room where he can’t get too far from you. In a happy voice, say “Rowdy, come!” Then act silly, walk or run the other way, or crouch down—whatever you need to do to make your dog curious and encourage him to come to you.
  • 2. When you start, mark his first steps toward you with your marker. As he learns to respond reliably to the recall cue, wait until he’s closer to you to mark his behavior so that eventually you use the marker only when he’s within reach of you.
  • 3. Reward him after you mark his movement toward you—give him a treat, play with him, whatever makes him happy. Then let him go back to what he was doing—you don’t want him to associate responding to the recall with the end of his fun.
  • 4. Repeat the process two or three times, then quit for this session. Practice recalls several times a day, and use “real life” opportunities such as doggy dinner time to reinforce the command.
  • You can make a game of teaching the recall by having household members stand in a circle, calling your dog back and forth and rewarding him. Just make sure that only one person calls at a time.


    SIT

    The sit—meaning “put your tail end on the ground”—is a useful command in many situations. For one thing, it gives you a means of telling your dog to control himself when he’s excited or when you’re out and about meeting neighbors, watching cars and bicycles go by, or visiting the vet. The sit also provides an alternative behavior when your rambunctious pooch is doing something you don’t want him to do. By telling him to sit when you think he is about to do something you don’t like, you turn a negative behavior to a positive one and reinforce him for being a “good dog.” A dog who understands the sit command also can be reassured in stressful situations—if you tell him to sit, he knows that you’re in control of the situation and he’s relieved of having to make a decision or take action. If you plan to compete with your dog in obedience, rally, or agility, nice quick sits are indispensable.

    If you’re like most dog owners, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, Rowdy already knows how to sit on command. He always sits for his dinner.” Good for Rowdy! But does he remain sitting until you release him? Does he sit on command no matter where he is or what’s happening around him? Does he sit when you tell him just once? Many pet dogs will sit for a second or two, often for food or a tennis ball toss, then pop right back up and resume whatever they were doing before. That’s a start, but if Rowdy won’t sit the first time you tell him no matter what and stay sitting until you release him, he isn’t really trained to sit on command. This section will show you how to get a reliable sit every time.


    Before You Start

    You can capture your dog’s spontaneous sits by marking and rewarding them, or you can shape the sit by marking and rewarding closer and closer approximations of a complete sit, but those techniques take time, especially if your dog is not yet very familiar with the “mark-and-treat” game. You also could try to model the sit by pushing down on your dog’s hips to force him into position, but I don’t recommend that for a couple of reasons. First, if you position your dog, he doesn’t develop the reaction to the command and the muscle memory that enables him eventually to respond automatically. He may learn to rely on the physical signal of your hand on his posterior rather than the verbal command, or if you teach one, a hand signal. Another reason I don’t recommend butt pushing is that your dog’s natural response to pressure is to exert his own pressure in the opposite direction. You push, he pushes back. You pull, he pulls back. Why have a shoving contest when you can work together? Worse still, you could injure your dog’s spine or hips by pushing down on them.

    Luring, on the other hand, is a good technique for teaching the sit command.


    Teaching Sit Step by Step

  • 1. Begin with your dog on leash or confined in a small space. Hold a treat in front of his nose, but don’t let him take it.
  • 2. Slowly raise the treat enough to clear the top of his head, and move it back over his head toward his tail. The laws of physics will take over, and as his head comes up to keep track of the treat, his fanny will approach the ground.
  • 3. As your dog folds his hind legs to sit, tell him “Sit.” When his rear end is on the floor, mark and give him the treat. Then release him.
  • 4. Repeat this exercise three or four times per session.

  • A sloppy sit, in which your dog rolls one hip sideways instead of sitting squarely on his “butt bones,” is probably no big deal for most pets. But if you plan to train your dog for competition, it’s a good idea to insist on nice square sits from the start. To teach your dog that “sit” means “sit squarely on your butt,” be sure to mark and reward only nice, square sits. That way, your dog will learn that the only position that counts for this command is the straight, square sit. As your dog learns to respond reliably to the sit command, you can up the ante if you want to. Reward him only for faster and faster responses. Have him hold the sit longer before you reward him.


    Material adapted from Training Your Dog for Life (T.F.H. Publications, 2009), used by permission.


    One Response to How to Train Your Dog to Come & Sit

    1. Eryka K. February 28, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

      Love that you encourage positive reinforcement for training, especially for a behavior as important as a recall. Thanks for producing an article I feel safe passing around. :)

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