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Friday, May 8, 2009

Sit. SIT. SITT!! Did you hear me??

A student asked me very good question the other night. We'd been working on "Sit," and I'd been stressing the importance of getting your dog to respond to your first command.

"Why is it so important that they sit the first time you say it?" she asked. She wasn't challenging me; she was requesting more information and clarification. Suddenly I remembered that what's obvious to trainers isn't always obvious to those we train. It's the old "can't see the forest for the trees" situation. So here's the explanation:

Everything you say to your dog should have significance to him or her. Your voice is the generally first tool you'll use to redirect your dog's attention in a crisis situation.

When your dog is in that crisis situation (i.e., running around in the middle of a busy street), you want him to respond to your FIRST "Come!" command. If you have to repeat "Come!" more than once before he responds, his chances of being hit are astronomically higher.

Responding to your commands the first time you give them is a principle. A prompt sit may not be critical to your dog's welfare, but a speedy "Come!" will often be a lifesaver. Therefore, if you teach your dog to respond to every command the first time you give it, your dog will be much safer.

The key to teaching your dog to respond to your commands the first time is to re-train him, saying the command one time and automatically helping his body assume the position. Your dog will start to get the idea and anticipate your physical assist. As soon as his butt hits the floor, reward the behavior with praise, treat, or a release.

Please take your command-giving responsibility very seriously. It's your job to never give unnecessary commands, or to use commands in any way that could cause your dog to trust your judgment. Avoid asking your dog to "sit" just to show off to your friends. Have good reasons for giving any commands; after all, you're neither a dictator nor a circus ringmaster. You're a leader.

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