A puppy learns by the consequences of his behavior. Positive reinforcement for a job well done increases the chances that the puppy will do that behavior again! This is great news for us. Pay attention to your puppy and reinforce him for behaviors you want to see more of! In order for us to get reliable behavior from the dog, we need to go through a series of steps when teaching. For the sake of explanation, let’s review teaching the puppy to sit.
A puppy naturally knows how to sit. We want to teach the pup to sit when we ask, in different situations. We will go through this one step at a time. These steps are adaptable to anything that you want to teach your dog. We will also talk about the use of food, first as a lure and then as reinforcement for doing the behavior.
At any point during the training process, if you see things begin to deteriorate, backtrack and set your puppy up to succeed.
Lure the pup into the sit position. As we talk about in the Life Skills section, it is not necessary to use the word sit in the beginning, since the pup has no idea what the word actually means. We just want to be able to smoothly get that pup following the hand with the payola so he plunks down into a sit.
Once you can easily lure the pup into a sit insert the word “sit” as you do it. Feed the pup immediately as his butt hits the ground.
After a few sessions of multiple repetitions, your puppy will associate the sound of the word sit with the position that you have been luring him into and reinforcing him for.
It is important to fade the food lure quickly. This does not mean you aren’t reinforcing the puppy. The difference is the treat comes from your other hand. Once the puppy is sitting every time you lure with the food, start to lure him the same way but with no food in your hand. The pup will recognize the hand movement (that previously held food) and will sit. With that, reach into your treat pouch and reinforce the pup with some food.
Now start to mix things up. Lure with your empty hand (no treat) and reward the pup with a treat from the pouch. Ask the pup to sit without the hand signal. Continue testing to see if he knows what you want when he hears the word sit. The goal is to not need the lure. You can teach him to sit with both a verbal cue and with the hand signal alone. The hand signal for sit can be the lure hand without a treat that evolve into an open hand, palm up, that quickly swoops up a few of inches.
Before we go any further, let’s look at the environment that we will work in. By that we mean where you do the work and the amount of distractions that are present. It is important that we start this work in an area that the puppy is comfortable and familiar with, an area with minimal to no distractions. It is equally important that as we progress with our training, we change the environment and the level of distractions.