by Cesar Millan
The communication and connection we have with our dogs through exercise, discipline, and affection is the foundation for what I call conditioning, or dog training. I like to teach about dog psychology, and I am more concerned about a dog’s overall balance in order to prevent or correct problem behaviors than I am with the dog’s ability to answer basic commands, like sit, stay, come, down, and heel.
Of course those are important behaviors for any domesticated animal to know and obey, but for me, it begins with that foundation – pack leadership. I raise all of the dogs in my pack using energy and body language, touch and simple sounds, in a way that is more in tune with the way dogs communicate naturally. Dogs don’t understand the meaning of “sit” any more than they understand the word “birthday” – we condition them to understand what that sound means to them.
Less is more
When teaching any new command, it’s important to have your dog’s attention and to stop before you lose their attention. You want to keep them wanting more. If a dog runs away from you and goes to romp around the yard after a training session, you know you’ve done too much. This isn’t the dog saying, “I’m free! Yippee!” This is the dog saying, “I’m overstimulated.” This is especially true of puppies, which are already in a hyperactive, overstimulated state. The goal is to move them into a more relaxed, calm, and submissive state through your conditioning and leadership.
If you’ve seen my show, you’ve seen how I approach dogs. When you show them with your calm, assertive energy that you are in charge, most dogs will willingly sit and look to you for direction. Teaching “sit” requires a lot of patience, repetition, and reward. I encourage people to teach “sit” with silence – using energy – before adding a sound, or saying the word “sit.” When the dog sits, reward him with a treat. Each time he repeats the behavior for you, reward with a treat. (For some dogs that don’t respond to food, you can try a toy or a belly rub, but don’t overdo the affection. Remember, this is discipline time!) And then end your session with a success and do the exercise again later.
There are many different techniques for teaching basic commands like “sit.” Some of the trainers I know and respect use what is called “clicker” training, where they make a “click” sound to acknowledge that the dog has done the behavior desired. And then they give the reward. The dog begins to associate the sound with a treat, and when they do something that gets a “click,” they want to keep doing it over and over again. Think about it as though the clicker is a camera, and you’re “capturing” a wanted behavior.
Above all, practice patience, and don’t be too hard on yourself or your dog! We all learn at different rates. Remember that all of the time and patience you put in now will help the relationship and connection you have with your dog for years to come!
Which technique did you use to teach your dog the “sit” command? Share your experience with us in the comments