Everyone ready for lesson two? Great!
This week we get into the sit command. This command is a true control command. By that I mean we can have more control over your dog if they are in a motionless state versus pacing around you distractedly. Keeping him still means you won't have to fight him pulling on the leash to sniff something when you're trying to talk to your neighbor or someone on the street.
So how do you teach your dog this?
To begin, have your collie in front of you on leash standing nice and close to you. You'll practice teaching him to sit at your side later after he understands the sit command. Holding a treat in your right hand with your thumb and forefinger, palm facing up to the sky, call his name in that happy way you use to get his attention. If you've been practicing your name game well then you won't have to reward for his attention all the time now, especially if you plan on doing a command after the call to attention. Put your "treated" hand in front of his nose (don't let him eat it!) and slowly begin to draw the treat up and over his head in a straight line with his back. (You shouldn't actually be showing the treat to him when you do this. Just let him smell that its there.) Ideally, the dog should follow the treat by lifting his head up and back to keep the treat scent in his nose at all times. In order to follow the treat back when his head can go no further he should want to realign his back to look further back. This means sitting! Keep the treat close to his nose the entire time. If your treat is too high he may try to jump for it. If this happens simply lower the treat so his paws are back on terra firma again and continue. As soon as he drops his rear to the ground praise him happily, "Yes! Good Sit! Good Boy!". Give him the treat and then follow that up in a short moment with your release word. (To encourage him up out of a sit when you say the release word simply hang your hands low and clap gently a few times as you say the word. This is usually enough to encourage most dogs to stand up. On a rare occasion some dogs may need you to almost move a step before they will get up. You'll want to work on not needing to be so dramatic with the clapping so a release from a command is the word only.) Your dog does NOT get treated for the release! This is because we do not want him to think that releases get reward too and end up with a dog that sits to get his treat and then pops up immediately because he expects another. Another great reason to using the releases besides the increased control factor is that it makes it much easier to get the dog up and ready to do another sit when the previous one is done. Many dogs get into a sit and know so well that they might get a treat if they just remain there that owners will get frustrated and resort to trying to drag the dog to get it up to do another sit! Repeat the whole sit procedure as often as you can throughout the next day or two until he is sitting quickly every time you even begin to draw your hand up in the least bit of a hand signal.
Yep! I said hand signal. You just taught your collie a hand signal! We teach the hand signal first so your collie learns to pay attention to you that much better.
Does he have it down pat yet?
Great! Now begin to say the command word after his name every time you give the signal to sit. It won't be long before he understands that the spoken word is the same as your hand signal. Be sure not to repeat the spoken command more than once. Repeating the verbal command teaches the dog to either ignore your voice or that "Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit" is what he should sit for and in his mind it certainly isn't as important to listen too if you have to repeat it! After a day or two of using the verbal queue with the hand signal you'll want to try to begin fading the necessity of the hand signal with the word. Just pop a verbal command without the hand signal every once in a while and really praise/treat if he does it. Do it more and more as he gets better and be sure to vary when you do the verbal queue only so he doesn't learn to anticipate doing it simply because it comes next. Its amazing how quickly a dog can learn to sit for a verbal queue every other time or even every other four times! If his sitter is on strike for your verbal queue, try repeating the hand signal since that encourages him to keep his eye on you and he associates it more strongly with a possible reward. And if he totally tunes you out after fifty sits in a row, try to get him to at least look at you for one final treat so you can end on a good note, than call a break and play a game. Lets be fair too folks... collies are not one to repeat a command endlessly just because you say so. We will get bored of the repetition easily after we know the command so make it fun and exciting by surprising us! It isn't very hard to pop a command in on a game once in a while!
You will also want to work on "finishing" your hand signals after he has learned to sit with the least little bit of a signal. Work on standing straighter, holding your hand higher and doing it with less motion when you give them. After that you'll want to do it without the treat in your hand and reach for it from some other place like a treat pouch, container or if need be a pocket.
1. If your collie is having trouble getting the idea, you can try a bit of "catch training". Catch training is the process by which you encourage a behavior to be repeated by rewarding the dog when ever he does it just on his own. This is a very big component to the popular "clicker training" methods available. In this instance you'll want to "catch" him in the act of naturally sitting on his own so you can tell him "Good sit! Good boy!" and give a treat quickly. Because he should already have some idea that "good" means that he was generally right or was proper, he will begin to make the association of "sit" with the action. If you are right there and he is looking at you when you are saying "good sit" you can even try quickly giving the hand signal right before the treat so he still has an opportunity to learn to respond to the hand signal. (This is actually how I learned to sit on command in less than one week when I was only 8 weeks old!)
2. If your dog tries to back up, you can try holding the leash short or gently encourage him to step back towards you to tell him you don't want him to move backwards. If you hold the leash then be sure to hold tight. Some dogs are pretty strong! We don't allow him to back up because your collie will come to think that backing up before sitting is correct and you will end up with a dog that always sits three feet away from you. This puts the sit on his terms rather than yours. Keep a close eye on his rear end. As soon as it begins to drop release the pressure on the leash and let him finish sitting with a loose leash then praise and reward as above.
3. To make our sits better and longer you'll begin to wait a little longer before he gets rewarded for doing his sits and add distractions only as he gets better and more reliable in quiet situations first. Once you are getting good reliable responses you can then begin to wean him off of the treats by lengthening the interval between he treats and your release and eventually by occasionally not giving him a treat but a little extra verbal praise. (You can use the "praise&treat, pause" example from the attention lesson as a good base.) This has the added advantage of setting your collie up for doing better stay commands in a future lesson! Eventually you will work towards the transition of more without the treats than with and for those of you that are working on fast or straight sits, you can begin withholding the treat until he does the type of sit you want.
4. Continue to practice and reward for the "name game" by itself on a regular basis so your collie's response to it stays strong. Too often people forget to do this and then two months later they are left wondering why their dog doesn't respond to it as well as they did in the beginning.
Did you enjoy that lesson? Cool! See you next time!