For a novice dog owner, looking at dogs around them doing what their humans request of them with quick enthusiasm, training can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. We all know how important it is that our dogs have some training but in the beginning, looking at this furry form in front of you and wondering ‘How do I start teaching my dog to sit and lie down?’ can seem like the beginning of a massive task.
Old-fashioned methods involved pushing and pulling the dog into the required positions, using discomfort and physical strength to force the dog where we wanted them to go. Thankfully, an increasing number of dog guardians are becoming more enlightened. More and more are realising that using force and aversive measures that can cause discomfort, emotional distress, and physical pain is not the best way to work with our dogs. Why risk damaging our relationships with dogs, beginning quite possibly at the very beginning of their lives with us as new members of the family, when there are far less damaging methods that are incredibly effective, kind, and ethically sound.
How then to go about teaching my dog to sit and lie down without using physical force? Two easy methods exist that involve no risk of physical harm or damaging the human/canine bond. Both involve using positive reinforcement, reward based training that harnesses the brain’s own reward centre to make what you are asking the dog to do seem like a really great idea.
Not the quickest method but still effective is waiting for the dog to perform the action you want spontaneously. This requires good observation skills and timing to mark the moment that the dog sits or lies down, giving your chosen cue word such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’ and immediately give a reward. After a few repetitions, and again with excellent observation, bring the cue word forward to the moment before the dog actually sits or lies down, and reward when the action is completed.
A faster method is to use luring. Take a tasty treat that your dog likes and hold it in your hand in front of their nose so they can smell it and know you have it. Once they are showing interest in your hand, move it up and back over their head. As the dog tries to follow the treat, their head will come up and their bottom will move down towards the ground. Once they have sat, reward them with the treat. After a few goes, introduce the cue word and repeat, before bringing the cue word earlier so that it precedes the sit.
The same technique works to teach the dog to lie down. Hold the treat in front of the dog’s nose while they are sitting and then move it down towards the ground and a little out in front of them. As the dog follows the treat down and forward, they will naturally lie down. Add in the cue word and move it to before the action of lying down in the same way as for sitting.