One of the great comments on my post about the new Puppy Book reminded me that training “step by step” is not intuitive. Someone may know that there are multiple steps between a dog sitting on cue when asked in the kitchen at dinner time, versus being asked to sit when barking at the visitors at the front door. But what are those steps? And how do you know when to move on to the next one?
I thought it would be helpful to give a few examples. However, I would love it if some of the experienced readers would add an example of their own. My favorite part of writing this blog is the wealth of knowledge of its readers, and I am sure that many of the readers would benefit greatly from hearing a range of examples.
Here’s an example, using the dog sitting on cue when it’s easy for him to comply and when it’s hard (in kitchen, no distractions versus at door, company ringing door bell): Note that this is only one way to get to Step 25: There are many paths to the top of a mountain…
Step 1: Teach the dog to sit (I use the Lure/Reward method to get it started quickly) when holding a treat as a lure, with as few distractions as possible. Use food as lure, do not say “sit” yet.
Step 2: Once dog will sit as you move your hand through its ears and toward its tail, say “sit” before you move your hand.
Step 3: Modify your hand movement so that it is less of a lure and more of a hand signal, sweeping your hand upward toward your face. (This could be in session 1, 2 or 3, depending on how well things are going)
Step 4: 3 times in a row, use your visual signal (hand movement) and reinforce with the treat. The 4th time, immediately after the first 3 (assuming they were successful), say “sit” and don’t move at all. Wait for the dog to respond just to your voice.
Step 5-8: Practice using either the VISUAL or the VERBAL cue one at a time, being careful to only use one or the other.
Step 9-12: Begin to ask your dog to sit when there are MILD distractions. For example, try it outside in the yard when it’s relatively quiet or in the house when someone else is making some noise. Be sure to practice in many different places, not just the kitchen. Begin to give a food reinforcement when asking during mild distractions, and substitute other reinforcements for times when it is easier. For example, you could clap, say GOOD! (I also teach people to condition an association between a praise word and a food treat) and let your dog chase you as a game. Or throw a toy, or rub a belly….
Step 13: Start asking your dog to sit when you are by the front door, or whatever door company comes in through.
Step 14-18: Have all family members ask the dog to sit when they are greeting the dog. Put treats by the entry door so that all family members can easily reinforce the dog for sitting while greeting. Get in the habit of ringing the bell or knocking before you enter your own house, then ask for the sit. Once you’ve given the treat, squat down to greet your dog so that he or she doesn’t have to jump up to get to your face.
Step 19: Have good friends who are dog lovers AND who will listen to you (the hardest part!) start helping you teach your dog ‘door manners.’ Have only one person come at a time. Ask them to ring the bell or knock, and immediately ask your dog to sit (using BOTH the verbal and visual signals) as soon as you open the door. They ask for the sit, but YOU reinforce the dog (because you are the one with the best timing, right?!). If the dog doesn’t sit, close the door and have the person try again. Repeat 3-5 times in a row if you can.
Step 20: (Can be during the same time period as Step 19) When people come over who aren’t part of training, get the best food treat imaginable, and ask your dog to sit (not sit and stay, too hard for now!) before you open the door. Give copious treats for any positive response. If your dog tends to jump up a lot, even after a first greeting, just lure him away from the door with pieces of chicken and put him in a crate, or give him a stuffed toy once he’s made an initial greeting.
Step 21: Once your dog is sitting well when your friends come over and ask for a sit, try it with two or three people coming together (even more exciting and distracting!). Have each of them ask for a sit, and be ready to give out lots of food as fast as you can!
Step 22: Assuming again, that all is going well (at least 80% compliance), ask for a sit before you open the door when ‘regular’ visitors come over, but this time don’t have a food treat in your hand. Explain through the door that you’ll be right with them (I always say “Just a minute! I’m training my dog to be polite to visitors!”), ask your dog to sit and if you get compliance, praise liberally and run to the kitchen and give your dog a great treat.
Step 23: As above, with anyone, but this time use your praise word and skip any primary reinforcement.
Step 24: Continue alternating primary reinforcements (especially food or toys if dog is toy motivated) with a praise word that you have conditioned.
All this can easily take nine to ten months! (Hey, it’s hard for a dog to control his or her emotions and excitement when people come over. I can relate.)
Step 25: Dog becomes an adolescent. Go back to Step 9, rinse and repeat.
I know that sitting at the front door isn’t a serious behavioral problem for many people, but trust me, for some it really is. I’ve seen so many families whose dogs were out of control at the door, which has resulted in dogs being yelled at, kicked, or stashed in crates for too long. I’ve also met lots of people who have just simply stopped having visitors because they are embarrassed about their dog’s behavior. It can be very stressful to have a dog misbehaving around company (like you didn’t know that.) Of course, there are many alternatives to problems related to greeting visitors (my favorites are training to run into another room when the bell rings, or going to a designated place, see the Manners Minder that Sophia Yin designed.)
Of course, this is just one tiny example… (and I’ve SURE I’ve actually skipped some steps, I reserve the right to modify later!) I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to tackle a description.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: On Sunday, the University of Wisconsin Vet Students interested in small ruminants came out to do pregnancy checks under the supervision of Dr. Harry Momont (standing in back on the left). That’s my girl Rosebud on her butt, getting an ultrasound through her lower belly. We didn’t get a shot of the screen, but the lambs are far enough along that the students could see beating hearts, backbones and other bones of the lambs, all due within 4 to 6 weeks. The ewes didn’t exactly volunteer, but everyone was very gentle and I doubt that any of the sheep were unduly stressed. Jim took the photographs, (thanks hon!), because I had gone up to the house, a tad under the weather and wanting to get out the raspberry/cherry/strawberry pies I’d made for everyone. Ahhh, a little bit of summer in the middle of a snowy day goes a long way!