This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page Four of an eleven-page section

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The Big Deal

At this point you may be thinking, This is all really silly. Sure my dog responded perfectly, but that's only because I put my hands on him and guided him so closely that he could not have done otherwise. So what is the big deal?

The big deal is this. Your dog was able to achieve perfection because of the support that you offered him across three dimensions.

That is to say that:

  1. You physically positioned yourself close to your dog.
  2. You spoke to him.
  3. And you touched him in a certain way.

And that is why he was able to do it perfectly.

Thanks to many decades of research, we now understand how you can remove those three supports so gradually that your dog will continue to deliver a perfect performance even after they have been removed altogether.

The Need to Get From Here to There

What you have now, then, is a dog who can achieve perfection only if you kneel right next to him, talk to him, and move him into position. What you want is a dog who will instantly obey your command even if you are a great distance away, even if you don't touch him and you don't talk to him at all, other than to issue the command just once.

Your problem then, is to get from here to there. Fortunately, I can tell you how to do that.

How to Get From Here to There

To get your dog to always obey your Sit order on the first command, from a distance and without you having to touch the animal to ensure continued compliance, there are three things that you will need to do:

  1. Gradually remove the tactile cues that guide your dog.
  2. Over time, imperceptibly, extend the distance from which you give the command.
  3. Slowly fade out your verbal cues.

The Tactile Cues that Guide Your Dog

The word tactile refers to the sensation of touch, so when I speak of "tactile cues," I'm simply referring to all the things that you are doing with your hands to get your dog moved into the right position after you give him the command.

When you are using your hands to help train your dog to follow a Sit command, the process goes through four stages. In the beginning, your dog will not have a clue what it is you want him to do when you command him to sit. Therefore, at the outset you will actually have to physically move your dog into the right position by exerting an upward pressure on the front of his chest with one hand while pressing firmly down on his lower back with the other.

As the tactile portion of the training process develops into its second phase, your dog will start to get the idea, so that, after he hears the command to sit, he will willingly cooperate as you move him into position. At that point your dog will be working with you, but he will still be waiting for you to initiate the movement. The role of your hands in that phase will be to prompt, remind, and reassure your dog, but once you get the movement started, the animal will readily move with you.

In the third phase, your dog will begin to initiate the movement himself, so that in that brief instant that you pause after giving the command, your dog will sit down all on his own.

After that, if you have been rewarding him properly, your dog will begin to respond to the command to sit all on his own, with increasing regularity.

During that phase, if your dog fails to initiate the movement himself, you will need to use your hands to get him started. However, other than that, you really should not be doing anything with your hands other than resting them passively on your dog's chest and haunches as he makes the movement himself.

Gradually Removing Your Tactile Cues

Nonetheless, even though the phase in which you pressed your dog into position with your hands has passed, it is still essential that you do not just suddenly remove your hands from your dog and, thereby, eliminate them from the equation.

That's because we know two things at this point. We know that your dog is sitting on his own when you command him to do so. Therefore, that response, fragile and tentative though it may be, has been established, or at the very least, we can say that it is established under those tightly controlled conditions.

We also know that any abrupt change in the conditions that produce a newly established behavior may well threaten the survival of that new response. That being the case, it could well prove counterproductive, if you were to just suddenly change what you are doing with your hands as you command your dog.

Your goal, then, in the fourth phase of providing tactile support, should be to remove your hands so slowly and with such great subtlety that your dog will not even realize that you are doing it. Therefore, for a time after your dog begins to sit on his own, you should keep your hands in the same position, resting on his frontal chest and lower back, as you command him to sit. However, at that point your hands should no longer be a force that drives your dog's sitting motion. On the contrary, they should just be resting lightly on his body as he responds to your command by doing it all by himself.

Then, in subsequent trials in which you command your dog to sit, you should strive to touch the animal with less and less pressure, until, many repetitions later, you reach the point that your hands are simply hovering near his body rather than actually touching him. After that, you should begin the gradual process of commanding your dog with your hands moved further and further away from his body, until he will accept the command even if you issue it with both hands at your side.

If at some point you find that your dog stops following your command to sit, resume the practice of moving him into position for a while, then, try again to slowly fade-out your hand motions.

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This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network