Position Changes & Stays

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Once you have used all-or-none reward training techniques to teach your dog to sit- and down-stay, to pay attention, to walk on leash and not to touch, you will find that your dog is now so much calmer and that you have regained his attention. Now it is again possible to use the lure/reward training techniques that worked so well in puppyhood.

Lure/Reward training is the fastest pet dog training technique to teach your dog the meaning of the instructions you use. There is no need to spend time shaping behavior. The dog is lured to perform the desired behavior on the very first trial. Consequently, the dog may also start forming an association between the command and the relevant desired behavior from the very first trial. Lure/Reward training position changes has been described in some detail in the Puppy Training chapter, Lure/Reward Training and so please go back and review that section.

The science of lure/reward training is simple and comprises a four-step process:
1. Request, 2. Lure, 3. Response, 4. Reward

When this sequence is repeated a number of times, the reward will reinforce the desired behavior which will increase in frequency and also, the reward will reinforce the associations between the Request and the Lure-movement (handsignal) and between the Lure and the relevant Response. Your dog will quickly learn to respond correctly to your handsignals, because dogs commonly communicate by body language. However, it will take a long time for your dog to learn to respond reliably to verbal commands.

The art of lure/reward training focuses on discovering the best way to immediately lure the dog to voluntarily perform the desired behavior. Food makes the best lure for initial training (at home and in puppy class) but toy lures are better for adolescent and adult dogs. Use chewtoys, squeakies, tennis balls, Frisbees, and tug o’ war toys to play-train your dog.

Once your dog is focused on the lure, he will follow any lure-movement with his nose, eyes, and ears. If he moves his nose, his head will move. If he moves his head and neck , his whole body will move. So to lure a dog to sit, move the lure upwards over his head. To get a dog to lie down, lower the lure to the ground between his front paws. To lure a dog to stand, move the lure away from his muzzle.

A cardinal rule in dog training is to always work with a minimum of three commands, so that the dog cannot anticipate the next command (as often happens when training for obedience competition). For example, if you always teach sit-stay before a recall, soon the words “Sit-Stay” will come to mean “ready… steady… GO!” and the stay will break down. On the other hand if you work with “Sit,” “Down” and “Come Here” at the same time, the dog can never predict the next command but has to wait for you to say it and so, learns to pay greater attention. If he is in a sit, he doesn’t know whether the next command will be “Down” or “Come Here.”

Anticipation is very dangerous. You do not want your dog to rush off when you say “Good Dog” but he will do if you have always said, “Go Play” immediately after praising your dog “Good Dog.” Because he now thinks that “Good Dog” means “Go Play.”

When teaching position changes, always work with three positions at the same time, for example sit, down and stand. Ask the dog to move from one body position to another. Randomize the order of the body positions. You will soon realize, that you are not simply teaching yourdog three body positions, but rather you are teaching six different body positions changes. For example, you are teaching your dog to both sit from stand (very easy) but also to sit up from the down (harder). Also, you are teaching your dog to lie down from the sit (easy) and lie down from the stand (much harder). And of course, very few people teach their dogs to stand, which means that the sit and down will be sloppy and unreliable too, because the owner is only yo-yoing the dog between two body positions. And so the dog learns, “If I am sitting, then whatever they say, I’ll lie down.” And so the dog never learns that he must listen to whatever you say.

Japan offers a wonderful exception. Dogs in Japan have the very best stand-stays because after returning home from a walk their owners instruct their dogs to stand for several minutes while they clean their dogs paws before allowing them to go inside.

To test that your dog comprehends verbal instructions for all six body position changes, take one step back from your dog and ask him to come and…
“Sit-Down-Sit-Stand-Down-Stand.”

Go for a walk and every 25 yards ask your dog to perform the S-D-S-St-D-St sequence. After just one walk, he will become extremely reliable. Reliability is important. If your dog follows your instructions, you will not become frustrated or angry and your dog will not be reprimanded or punished.

Once your dog performs random position changes quickly and reliably, praise him for longer and longer (count out the time in “good dogs”) in each position before offering him a food reward. Now, you may be able to practice random length stays in each body position. Keep track of your dog’s record length stays in each position so that you can try to beat your personal best during the next training session.

Now it’s time to teach your dog other body position changes, such as, Down on-Side, Supine-Down, Beg, Bow, Creep, Roll Over etc.

Index