Everyday Training: The Sit Game

When you own a dog, life becomes a game.  Because, let's face it, who doesn't like to play?  Even my hikes with Jake and Nan (now affectionately referred to as "The Pipsqueaks") are games. Off leash, they go out to point, see what's new, and come back and check in.

At home, we play The Sit Game. The philosophy behind it is, if you sit for me, you'll get what you want, such as petting, a treat, dinner (or breakfast depending on the time of day), and the ultimate reward - the opening of the door and going for a walk (but they have to wait for the signal before they can walk through).

The Sit Game is something that you can use everyday to teach your dog that their default behavior should be to SIT and be calm.  A great example of this is when I get home from work.  Now, whose dog isn't totally off-the-wall happy to see them when they get home?  They are so excited that they start to jump on you.  My dog Nan is the same way. She is 3 weeks new to our household, so she tends to still jump on me when I get home, which means she REALLY wants me to pet her and say HI.  

The problem with this scenario is that if I pet her in this state of mind, it will actually encourage her to keep standing on her hind legs and jump on me.  A behavior that I try to discourage in my household. My philosophy in canine response behavior is a quote from my favorite dog trainer, Jen Freilich, At the End of Your Leash Dog training: You Get What You Pet!!   

How do I work with this behavior? As I come in the door, I act like I would any time I walk through a bedroom door, bathroom door or kitchen door. I ignore everyone, especially is there is an air of excitement! I stay calm.  There is no BIG "Hello!!  How are you?".  I walk through the entrance way to put my keys and other things away. Then I stand and wait.  As Nan come towards me and starts to jump on her hind legs, I turn my back to her. I don't say anything at this point. I am calm. In 30 seconds, she will just stand there, no jumping but tail still wagging with a big smile on her face. As I turn around to look at her, I see she wants to be fully engaged.  I give her a hand signal to sit. She sits. As a reward for her sitting, she gets pet. If she starts to get excited while I pet her, I stop.  If she starts to stand up, I stop. I wait. I give her the hand signal and she sits. She gets pet again.  In the time she has been at my house, her "Jump Greeting" behavior has been curtailed. I LOVE it. 

Now, you might ask, why don't you give her a verbal command? It's because I'm excited too. I really want to pet this dog. It will come out in my voice, she will hear it, and she will get excited. And then I'll get frustrated.  I know myself.  The hand signal takes the emotion out of the equation.

The Sit Game can work with feeding time. Every day at feeding time, the dogs must sit or lie down in the kitchen or in their pen/crate and wait for me to bring their food.  If they are excited, we must WAIT until they calm down. SIT. WAIT. REWARD. It's a great game, and it's not formal training. You just use what you have, a kiss, a pat or a meal. The reward for them may be attention or food; but your reward is a calm dog that remains engaged with you.

It won't work overnight, but consistency in your expectations for this behavior will bring consistency in their response behavior. It works because you have what they want; and they will WORK to get it.  As a result, you now have a dog that will sit for you, as a default behavior, and you did it without any corrective action, without a "treat" reward, and by staying calm.

Keep calm and train your dog everyday, with Love and Respect...