When you bring home a new puppy, it is best to start training as early as possible. Puppies absorb new experiences and information like sponges during the first few months of life, so it is the perfect time to begin teaching. When you do start to train your dog, it is best to begin with simple commands. The first order you should teach your dog to respond to is the “sit” command.
Step-by-Step Training Guide
- Start by standing in front of your dog and hold a small treat in your dominant hand, pinching it between your thumb and forefinger.
- Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose so he can smell it, but do not let him grab it out of your hand.
- Look your dog in the eye and give him the “sit” command.
- As soon as you say “sit,” move the treat forward and up toward the back of your dog’s head.
- When you move the treat forward, your dog’s nose should follow it – as he lifts his head, his bottom will lower to the floor.
- As soon as your dog’s bottom hits the floor, praise him and give him the treat.
- Have your dog stand back up, then repeat the training sequence several times until your dog gets the hang of it.
It may take a few repetitions for your dog to make the connection between the command and the behavior, but as long as you reward your dog immediately when he sits, he will learn what is expected of him. When going through this training sequence, your dog may back up or jump up to try to get to the treat. If this happens, start the training sequence over. It may help to position your dog in front of a wall so that he cannot back up.
Phasing Out the Food Reward
Using food rewards is a great way to encourage your dog to repeat desired behaviors. Your dog wants the treat, so he will do whatever it takes to get it. What you do not want to happen is for your dog to become dependent on food rewards to perform the desired behavior – this is why you should phase out the food reward once your dog gets the hang of the training sequence. A great way to do this is to replace the reward with a hand signal. Follow the steps below to teach your dog to sit using a hand signal:
- Start out in the same way you began the first time, standing in front of your dog, but put the treats in your pocket rather than holding one in your hand.
- Position your fingers the same way you did when you were holding a treat and hold your hand about an inch from your dog’s nose.
- Give your dog the “sit” command and move your hand the same way you did when you were holding the treat.
- As soon as your dog’s bottom hits the floor, praise him then take a treat from your pocket and reward him.
- Repeat this sequence a few times until your dog gets used to it.
- After a few repetitions, start to move your hand further away from your dog.
- Give your dog the “sit” command and hold your hand in a fist about 8 to 10 inches from the dog’s nose.
- If your dog sits on command, praise him and give him a treat from your pocket – if he does not, move your hand forward a little (not as much as you did before).
- Repeat this sequence several times until your dog responds consistently to the hand signal.
After your dog gets the hang of responding to the hand signal paired with the verbal command, you can try using just the hand signal a few times. As you work with your dog, start to give the food reward only every other time – you should, however, continue to praise your dog each time he responds correctly. To further phase out the food rewards you can start rewarding your dog with a toy or a scratch behind the ear instead.