Learning to Learn
Sit -- When you would bet your next paycheck that the dog is going to offer a sit, then start “pairing” the behavior with the command… when his butt is about to touch the floor, say “sit”, then c/t as his butt touches the floor (SEE NOTE, BELOW). Again, do this over and over, in many locations, with and without distractions, for several days.
NOTE: Only add the command when you are SURE that the behavior you are seeing is the one that you want to keep!! If you’d like a perfect, formal “sit”, don’t add the cue until that’s what the dog is giving you, consistently! If you want the dog to only sit at your left side, then start at this point ONLY c/t-ing those sits that occur at your left side. If you want the dog to “front”, then only c/t those sits that occur with the dog in front, facing you (and use the “front” command, when you’re ready to add the cue). To get those perfect, straight sits, shape them – weed out the less-than-desirable ones, until the dog is consistently offering the ones you want to see, using this command.
Down -- When you would bet your next paycheck that the dog is going to offer a down, then start “pairing” the behavior with the command… when his belly is about to touch the floor, say “down”, then c/t as his belly touches the floor (SEE NOTE, BELOW). Again, do this over and over, in many locations, with and without distractions, for several days.
NOTE: As with the sit command, only add the command when you are SURE that the behavior you are seeing is the one that you want to keep!! If you’d like a perfect, formal “down”, don’t add the cue until that’s what the dog is giving you, consistently! If you want the dog to “drop” on command, for example, don’t use the “down” command… use the “drop”, and shape using your foot or another guide to “accordion” the dog into drop position. Then, build speed before adding the cue. Weed out the less-than-desirable downs and drops, until the dog is consistently offering the ones you want to see, using this command.
Now, up the criteria again: click when the dog has remained in a down for a full second. After 4-5 downs are offered where the dog will remain in position for the full second, make it 2 seconds… then 3 seconds, then 4. You must use your own judgement on upping the criteria – if your dog can’t remain in position for 6 seconds reliably, then back off to 5 seconds, and do that until he’s reliable. Then, progress.
Let’s Go! -- When he’s reliably walking on loose lead through the house with no distractions, add distractions like strangers or friends sitting, standing, tossing toys in front of him (start with the ones he doesn’t like as much, then move to those he loves), offering food, etc. As he becomes reliable with the distractions, move to the back yard and repeat – first, with no distractions, then with distractions.
If you're teaching 'heel', remember that it's not a behavior that you should have your dog do for more than 10 seconds or so without heavy reinforcement... heeling isn't a behavior that has any inherent rewards built it, and it can be tiresome, to a dog who wants to look around or sniff.
Keep some treats (really good stuff, not store-bought doggie treats!) handy. For heeling, it’s best to keep these on your person, in a hip-pack or pocket. Use a 4-foot or 6-foot lead to keep your dog close to you – this behavior can also be reliably taught without a lead, so long as you work in a secure area. Practice walking through the house, with the dog in the heel position. Keep the dog in heel position through luring (a treat in your left hand, held in appropriate position, works well! If your dog is a small dog, a target stick will save your back!) Keep the rate of reinforcement high – every 2-3 seconds, at first, by c/t-ing often.
Practice this 3 times daily, for 30 to 40 seconds each time, for the first week (more often, if you can manage it – but keep the sessions short!).
Brenda Rushman, CCBC