Our next installment in the new puppy series is all about teaching your young dog manners. We know how hard it is to be a strict dog parent when your puppy is so darn cute it’s tempting to let them get away with everything, so the following guidelines will help teach your dog to be mannerly and respectful – without making you the bad guy!
Teaching Your Puppy to Say Please
Rules to Live By
No one likes having to follow rules all the time, but dogs generally behave better and are happier when they are given some boundaries in life. Using the following method can be a baseline for shaping your puppy’s behavior and creating a well-rounded, respectful adult dog. The method is based upon two simple rules that dogs must be taught to follow for their entire lives:
Rule 1: Nothing in life is free.
Your puppy should learn that he or she needs to respond to a sit command before they receive anything they want or need. This teaches your puppy to defer to you when they need or want anything. It ensures that all good things come from you. It creates a respectful puppy that will grow into a respectful adult dog. Finally, it can give your dog a “job” to do, which is an invaluable tool for all dogs but especially active and working breed dogs that were bred to do a specific job. These dogs can develop severe nuisance behaviors out of boredom.
Teach your puppy to sit on command, and then ask them to sit whenever they want something. This includes sitting for the following:
- Food and feeding
- Being able to go out – and come in
- Having the leash, halter, or harness put on.
- Having feet toweled
- Being invited onto the bed or sofa (if desired)
- Playing games
- Playing with toys
- Being petted or loved
- Anything the dog wants!
Your dog’s only responsibility is putting his bottom on the floor or ground, being quiet, and awaiting your direction. Everyone in the house must be involved for this method to work well. Consistency, again, is very important.
All dogs can benefit from this method; however, they will need to be taught how to sit on command first. A sit command is extremely easy to teach, and puppies as young as five weeks can be taught how to sit.
Teaching a dog anything boils down to two simple facts.
- Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding.
- Dogs retire behaviors that are not rewarding.
Keep in mind that something might be rewarding to a dog that wouldn’t necessarily be rewarding to a person. Some dogs find rolling in stinky things supremely rewarding where as we would think otherwise. A lot of training issues stem from people misreading what is or isn’t rewarding to their dog. Always remember: If you want a behavior to stop, find out how it is rewarding to your dog and remove that reward. If you want a behavior to be repeated then reward your dog for doing that behavior.
To teach the sit command you will be rewarding your dog with food for performing a sit. You can either lure your puppy into a sitting position or try to catch them when they sit on their own and reward them. Sit can usually be taught with luring in a handful of five minute sessions. Frequent yet short training sessions work better than one long session, especially in young puppies.
Steps for Training Sit:
- Grab a handful of small treats. You can use your puppy’s kibble if it is hungry or close to a meal time. The treats need only be the size of your pinky fingernail.
- Take your puppy on their leash to a quiet, non-distracting place for their training sessions at first. Remove all toys and food from the area before beginning.
- Capture your pup’s attention by holding a treat in front of their nose, when they try to take the treat slowly move the treat over there nose towards their forehead and finally back over their head. The puppy should follow the treat with their nose, tilting their head back in the process. This usually prompts the puppy to sit down.
- If the puppy will not sit when you lure them then you might be moving the treat too quickly. Remember to move slowly over their head so they can follow the treat with their nose.
- As soon as the puppy’s bottom touches the floor give them a verbal praise such as “Yes!” or “Good dog!” in a happy high pitched voice and immediately give them the treat.
- Back up a few paces so your puppy stands up to follow you and repeat.
- Once your puppy gets the idea and is sitting reliably with the lure you can begin adding a word with the action. Repeat the word “sit” as their bottom touches the floor so that they associate the word sit with the action of sitting. Repeat this step 20-30 times.
- Try holding a piece of food in front of your dog’s nose and saying “sit” one time. Give them 5 seconds and if they sit down say “Yes! Jackpot!” and give them several treats. If they don’t get it yet, do not repeat the command. Simply begin to lure them into the sit, reward them and try again. Avoid giving the command more than once. Repeating commands confuses your puppy. They won’t know if “sit” means sit, or if “sit… sit… sit!” means sit.
If your puppy starts to sit but just won’t put his bottom all the way on the floor at first go ahead and reward him for the partial sit so they do not become frustrated and give up. On subsequent tries only reward your puppy when their bottom goes a little further than before. This method ensures they get rewarded for progress and they will eventually get the idea. Keep rewarding as they get closer and closer to the end behavior you desire (the sit) until they are sitting all the way down. Once they completely sit down you can give them a “Jackpot!” of several treats to put emphasis on that behavior.
Using Food Rewards
When working with a food reward it is generally a good idea to schedule training sessions around times when you know your puppy will be hungry such as in the morning before breakfast or right before dinner in the evening. Different foods have different values according to your dog. The value your puppy gives certain foods depends on his or her preferences. The general rule is to use a high value treat when trying to train a new behavior as it makes a bigger impact on your puppy mentally, and helps you train behaviors much faster. Once your puppy has learned a behavior reliably you can switch to a lower value treat.
Some High Value Treats Include:
- Real Meat
- Soft or Squishy Treats
- Stinky Treats
Some Low Value Treats Include:
- Dry Biscuits
- Regular Dog Food Kibbles
If you use real meat for training your puppy make sure it is a lean cut of meat and keep the rewards tiny. Boiled chicken breast works very well as a high value treat. It is affordable, lasts a long time and is very bland and easy on a dog’s stomach. You can shred it or cut it into tiny pieces and freeze what you won’t use right away.
Working with Distractions
Most dogs behave well in their homes but their owners are baffled when they go to the park or to the vet and their dog refuses to listen to commands. The issue is usually distractions! If you have trained your dog to ignore other things and listen to you while in a distracting environment they will be better prepared to listen to you in any environment. You do this gradually by starting in your home, then moving to your yard, then to a park where other people or dogs might be walking around.
Before you start any training session with your puppy make sure they have had a chance to empty their bladder and bowels so they won’t be distracted by those urges. Start with the leash on in a quiet area and then move to different rooms as you continue solidifying your puppy’s sit command. Work up to noisier indoor environments and eventually to your yard outside where there are more distractions.
Once your puppy has gotten the sit command down make them sit before they get anything they want or need. Ask them to sit before you pet them, before you put down their food bowl, before you snap on their leash, and before you play. Your puppy will learn that sitting calmly gets them what they want. Ignoring your puppy and withholding what they want (the reward) when they are acting up and being crazy will teach them that crazy behavior doesn’t work in their best interests. By doing this you cause the dog to make a decision.
“Hmm, jumping on Dad and barking isn’t getting me any attention, maybe I’ll try that sit thing.”
The thought process in your dog will be to try everything in his arsenal to get what he wants. It is your job as a pet guardian to teach your dog how to appropriately ask for it. This method is safer and works better than any kind of dominance training such as alpha rolls or scruff shaking. When your dog is behaving well because he chose to out of his desire to get what he wants you will have a dog that is doing what you want him to, and it was his idea. This makes for a very easy road ahead of you as you raise your puppy. For more information on Say Please by Sitting, watch this video. There are also many excellent articles on Dr. Sophia Yin’s website.
We hope this blog post helps you to get your puppy on the path to saying please by sitting. Have an older dog? It’s never too late to teach them this method. Once they get the general concept, you will be surprised at how well-behaved they can be once they know that only calm behavior gets them what they want! Try it with your dog today, and see if it helps!