Basic Dog Training: Sit and Down

I believe that the formula for a well-trained dog is obedience training, socialization and physical exercise. Obedience training is a positive way to teach your dog that you are his pack leader.

Dogs have no inherent desire to please humans, just because we’re humans. Dogs care to please only a pack leader. If your dog does not view you as the pack leader, he or she will have no interest in taking direction from you.

Training your dog helps you achieve pack-leader status. And, of course, teaching your dog to respond reliably to specific obedience commands will allow you to control your dog in any situation.

“Sit” and “Down” on command are the most basic. Your objective is to have a dog who will “Sit” and “Down” in immediate response to your first command. Step 1, described here, shows your dog specifically what you want him to do.

My Step 1 technique is called a compulsive method of training. You are physically compelling your dog to do the behavior as you give the command. In addition to teaching your dog how to respond, you are asserting your authority as pack leader by handling your dog in a gentle but assertive manner. This helps your dog understand that you are in charge.

Imagine this: Someone asks you in a foreign language to close a door. If you do not understand what the person is saying, you cannot respond correctly. Repeating the request, shouting the request or having the person whap you on the head with a newspaper would not help you understand. However, if the person leads you by the hand to the door and shows you what to do as he or she repeats the phrase, eventually, you will understand. This is what you are going to do with your dog.

“Sit” on command — Step 1: Compelling the dog
Start with your dog standing at your left side.
Place your right hand, palm up, through your dog’s training collar. Your fingers should be pointing toward your dog’s tail.
Place your left hand at the back of your dog’s neck.
Give the dog the command “Sit” in a clear, pleasant tone. At the same time, pull up and back with your right hand on the collar. Simultaneously slide your left hand down your dog’s back, along his spine and over his tail, tucking him into a sit.
As soon as he sits, praise him enthusiastically. Give one command only.
Practice many sits throughout the day. Do not test your dog at this stage of training by saying “Sit” and waiting to see what he will do. Make sure that every time you give the command “Sit,” you are in a position to make your dog comply immediately. Your job is to help your dog form an association between the command “Sit” and what he is supposed to do with his body when he hears this command. Your dog’s job is simply to comply, by allowing you to sit him. The only thing that your dog can do wrong is to fight, bite and resist.

“Down” on command — Step 1: Compelling the dog
Start with your dog sitting at your left side.
Hook the thumb of your left hand through the top of the collar. Your palm should be open on your dog’s back with your fingers pointing toward his tail.
Slide your right arm under your dog’s right leg. With your right hand palm up, take hold of your dog’s left leg. His right leg should be resting on your arm. Lift your dog’s left leg off the ground until both legs are in the air.
Gently pull back with your left hand on the collar, toward your dog’s tail, with just enough pressure to keep him in a sitting position. This will prevent him from standing up when you lift his legs.
Give the command “Down” as you lower your dog’s body to the ground.
Keep your dog in the down position for a few seconds. (You are not teaching “Stay” at this point.) Praise your dog and then let him up.
Practice several downs using this technique throughout the day. When you “Down” your dog, it does not matter whether he lies down on his chest, flops on his side or rolls belly up. You are just trying to help him understand that the command “Down” means “Lower your body to the ground.”

Do not test your dog at this stage of training. Make sure that every time you give the “Down” command, your hands are on the dog and you are in a position to make him comply immediately. Show him what you want him to do each time he hears the command.

A final thought is that the degree of difficulty (or impossibility) in teaching these basic commands will give you a good idea of whether your dog views you as his leader. If you cannot obtain obedience from your pet on these basic commands, you should strongly consider professional help. If your dog is telling you that he is the leader of your pack, then the inevitable result will be unruly, destructive or even aggressive behavior unless professional intervention is obtained.

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