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Sit and Down Debate

There are three main ways to train sit or down:

  1. Reward - Lure the dog into a sit or down with food.
  2. Force - Pull up on the leash or push the dog’s bum down for sit. Pull down on the leash or push down on the dog’s shoulders for down.
  3. Capturing - When the dog sits or downs on their own praise and reward.

We find Reward to be the best method to begin training sit and down regardless of Dog Type.

Here are some of the Pros and Cons to each side:

Reward

Pros:

  • Dogs enjoy it.
  • It engages their brain to think about what you want.
  • It tires them out mentally.
  • Best method for training Distance Commands with Sit and Down.

Cons:

  • Becomes a bribe - they may only do it with a treat present, not always but often it turns into a bribe.
  • Not motivating enough - The dog may rather do something else or engage a distraction instead of sitting for you.


Force

Pros:

  • Follow through - The dog knows you will make them follow through with the command.
  • Excellent for Distractions - lifting up on the leash to teach a dog to sit will help them sit even if they aren’t looking at you or listening to you. The same goes for pulling down on the leash for down. Muscle memory helps the process.

Cons:

  • Can hurt or scare the dog.
  • Can make them pass out by lifting up on the leash waiting for them to sit.
  • A dog often doesn’t know what you want so trying to have them avoid a correction that they don’t know how to avoid is stressful.
  • Pretty traumatic for Omegas and soft correction tolerant dogs. Omegas that naturally want to please would do exactly as you ask if they only understood. Correcting them for not knowing the answer can break the bond between dog and handler.
  • Don’t look forward to training - If force is used first, a dog can learn that obedience isn’t fun. They may slink down or away. When given commands, they can look like they are always in trouble.


Why Reward First?

We use reward first for 4 main reasons:

  • It works for all dog types as they can all learn this way.
  • It builds bond between the dog and handler. This is especially true for Omegas in that they would do what you want if they knew how. By using reward and staying upbeat you motivate the dog much faster. We all like a teacher that is nice and fun over the ones that are not.
  • Alpha dogs don’t habituate - If you have a really tough natured dog and you use force to train sit or down, the dog will quickly habituate to that feeling. We have had clients come that did Force training prior to seeing us. To get the dog to sit or do anything required really hard yanks on the leash. We find it is best to train them first using reward and once they understand with a hand signal or verbal command you then can use light pressure on the leash upward and say “sit”, the dog sits, you remove pressure. This allows you to teach the dog to sit or down using light pressure. You want the dog to understand that you mean business with light pressure. You don’t want to have to use a hard yank as a bare minimum just to get the dog to sit or down.
  1. Distance Commands - When training a dog to sit or down from a Distance, reward is the far superior way for training. This requires the dog to think how they can get you to come over and reward them. As soon as you increase distance or distractions a dog will make mistakes. It is easy to assume that when the dog sits or downs close to you they should understand from a distance. Of the dogs we work with it would be around 98% that won’t know what you are asking when you increase distance. Using reward makes the dog think and helps them make the mental connection of what you are asking. If a person uses force and assumes the dog is being stubborn they may come forward to correct the dog into a sit or down. If the dog sits or downs right away do you still correct them? Many dogs will become scared because they don’t know what the teacher is asking and the teacher is about to punish them for not knowing what to do in the first place. This quickly puts a stop to the progress in training when the dog shuts down. That is one of the main negative consequences of just using Force training.

    Ever seen a boss that gets mad at an employee for something and the employee wasn’t trained on it in the first place? We have. What happened to that business is they went out of business. Many people get mad and say it is “common sense” or the dog is an idiot or being stubborn. If a person wants to get better at training they have to overcome this hurdle. It is ill-advised to get mad at a person or a dog for them not understanding something in the first place. It is hard for many people to stop and think that maybe they just aren’t doing a good enough job teaching the dog. It is hard to place blame on ourselves, we would much prefer that someone or something else is to blame.

    I’ve had it happen to me before when I first started training dogs. I thought the dog was either not smart or they were being stubborn. Placing blame on outside influences takes control away from yourself. It also doesn’t produce results. If you want to train a dog, or help someone train a dog, and you just blame things on outside influences when you can’t achieve results, you won’t be doing that job for very long. People want results.

    Here is the solution we found worked best when we weren’t achieving results. Ask yourself this: “If I were the dog and I knew nothing about what I am teaching, would I understand what I am trying to explain? Could I break it down easier for the dog to understand?” That solved a lot of training problems. If you make a dog work for their kibble you will quickly find out whether the dog is being stubborn or they just don’t know what you are asking. We have had this happen to us where we thought the dog was being stubborn. We made them work for their meal and when the dog remained focused but didn’t do as asked we quickly found out they weren’t being stubborn, they just didn’t know. This led us to develop the Core Rule: A to B Rule to break things down easier for the dog.

    Tip: If you have been in this position like we have where you think the dog is being stubborn then check out the Core Rule: 33 Repetitions. This basically means that before you allow yourself to say the dog is being stubborn the dog has to have:

    1. Known the command you are asking.

    2. Done it at the Distraction Level you are asking and..

    3. The Distance you are from the dog, 33 times in a row.

    If they have not, then you are not allowed to say they are stubborn. This Core Rule really helped us out with training. We have clients all the time that think their dog is being stubborn. Because of this core rule we have proven otherwise to people that the dog isn’t being stubborn, they just don’t know. What the clients are experiencing is University Professor Syndrome.



Why Use Force Then?

There is a really strong pro from using Force and that is a dog knows you will make them follow through and there is a consequence if they don’t follow through.

The lucky thing is you can do a modified Force technique that achieves that pro with none of the cons.

Once the dog is trained with food and understands their verbal and hand signal command you can then tie in a Force based command:

  • With light pressure, lift up on the leash attached to the dog’s collar or anti-pull harness. Then say “sit” or use the hand signal and when the dog sits release the pressure and reward the dog.
  • For down you will pull down on the leash with your foot with light pressure. Say “down” or use the hand signal and when the dog goes down they will release the pressure on their own. Immediately reward the dog.
  • Repeat this hundreds of times.

Invoking Muscle Memory and Follow Through

Remember where we mentioned that tougher dogs when trained using force can get used to the correction and therefore require a really hard tug to get them to listen? Also remember the Omegas that may get scared from too much force? This avoids all of that.

Using light pressure doesn’t scare the Omegas. Using light pressure and combination of reward teaches the tougher dogs to follow through with light pressure.

This works because the dog understands what sit or down means when you begin using leash pressure upwards or downwards. You can therefore use light pressure and the dog gets used to following through with light pressure.

Example: Horses, like dogs, can be trained to work with people. We have two horses. Joey was trained with a little more bit and reign pressure and Penny was trained with very light pressure. To get Joey to turn you have to pull on his reign to apply pressure on the bit in his mouth and use opposite foot pressure to get him to turn. With Penny all you need to do is slightly turn your body, thus turning your bum in the saddle, in the direction you want to go and she will turn that way. She was taught with incredibly light commands. It is a dream to ride her because you almost feel one with the horse.

When training a dog with light pressure commands you feel one with the dog when you can give the slightest most gentle commands and the dog knows exactly what you want.

Reference: You know the people that yell commands or have to yank on the dog’s leash hard to get them to listen? Wouldn’t it be nicer if they could just say the command in a whisper or use light pressure and the dog did exactly as told?


Force and Reward Trainers Benefit by Working Together

The reward trainers that may end up with a problem of the dog not following through if a treat isn’t present (not always but a lot of dogs are like that) will find benefit in teaching light leash pressure commands to help the dog understand they need to follow through.

The force trainers who may run into the problem where they shout commands or have to do hard leash corrections to get the dog to listen will find benefit in training with reward first and then using leash pressure after. You can easily wean a dog off food in this manner so there is no bribe concern.


The Results:

You have a dog that knows their command, is happy to do it. You can say it quietly or use gentle leash pressure and the dog follows through. There is no concern of having it become a bribe and there is no concern of breaking bond or scaring the dog.