SIT HAPPENS – Part 2: How to Add Context Changes to Your Dog’s Training

Welcome back and kudos to all of you who have worked through Challenge #1!  In Challenge #2, you will learn how to add context changes to your dog’s training.  Assuming your dog is consistently responding to SIT cues throughout your house, you’re ready to move forward.  If not, keep working through Challenge #1 to build a solid foundation before continuing.  Be sure to post any questions for me below the blog post.

In Part 1 of this series, we embarked on a journey to create more reliable responses from our dogs.  Challenge #1 took us through a series of impromptu indoor training opportunities designed to not always resemble a formal training session (treats stashed, single reps, varied locations).  We defined “consistent” and set some ground rules regarding context, reinforcement and what to do if SIT did not happen.  We moved from room to room and always cued our dog from a  standing position.

Part 1 also taught us that dogs don’t generalize well.  This means that unless you and your dog practice SIT in a variety of situations and you incrementally build consistent responses from your dog within those circumstances, you inadvertently teach him to ignore you…that your cues are optional. The result of not listening runs the gamut from inconvenient to downright dangerous (think about your dog not coming when called). In today’s challenge, we will begin to add changes to the conditions of our in-home practice sessions.

Image by Cedric Clth from Pixabay

Your Dog is Always Learning

So, let’s assume your dog has acquired a 90% consistency level working through Challenge #1 in your home.  Should we expect him to respond as efficiently at a friend’s house?  The answer is … it depends.  As discussed in Part 1 of this series, a dog’s behavior needs to be practiced in a variety of contexts before it becomes generalized.  Without that experience, you should anticipate the possibility of inconsistent responses at your friend’s house, regardless of the training level you’ve achieved in your own home. Avoid falling into the trap of asking for a SIT, not getting compliance, and shrugging it off.  Your dog is always learning, so be sure you’re not teaching him the wrong lesson!  The best laid plan would be to set your expectations accordingly, step back to Challenge #1 in the new space (albeit briefly) and build from there.

I realize this process may sound a bit daunting, but once you recognize some of the common training pitfalls, the adjustments you need to make to support your dog’s success will become second nature.  As we move through future challenges, your dog’s success will always be your number one priority, so you’ll need to keep your expectations in check and know how to adjust your training plan on the fly.

Raise Criteria One-at-a-Time

In Challenge #2, you will randomly ask your dog to SIT in various places (different rooms and areas) throughout the house as you did in Challenge #1.  However, in Challenge #2, you will add a few context changes involving the handler. To promote success, you will need to raise the criteria one piece at a time (splitting), rather than combining the steps (clumping).  The human tendency is to clump – we naturally want to add the new context changes all at once.  After all, “my dog is smart – he can do this – no need to make it easier.”  But that’s not what’s important.  Building a strong foundation and keeping your dog successful are the keys to achieving consistency.  In Challenge #2, you will add each change one at a time, work until reliable, then drop that step before you begin to work on another, and so on.    

Challenge #2
Add Context Changes (for handler) to Challenge #1

Goals

  • To build a consistent response to SIT cue anywhere in the house with added context changes for handler.
  • Again, let’s define “consistent” as 9 out of 10 successes (90%) on the first cue without food being shown up front.
  • For dog to learn that you’re always in training mode even if you’re doing other things and treats are not visible.

Add Context Changes for Handler

Please add changes one at a time, without clumping.  This means you work one item until reliable, then drop that item to work another, and so on. 

  • Enlist other family members to participate (one at a time)
  • Cue is given to dog while handler is seated.
  • Cue is given to dog while handler is (pretending to be) on a phone call.
  • Handler turns his back on the dog and cues SIT (verbally).

Setup and Rules are the same as they were in Challenge #1 and are listed below for your convenience:

Setup

  • You and your dog will be working together inside your home.
  • Break soft, smelly treats into tiny pieces.
  • Fill small, lidded containers with treats and stash them throughout your home where they are easily accessible to you (but not your dog).
  • Be certain the treat stashes are in place and/or replenished at least 15 minutes prior to practice.
  • No treats in your hands or pockets.

Rules

  • You may use verbal and/or hand signals to cue SIT, but no physical contact.
  • Only cue SIT one time (no repeating) and wait patiently for your dog to comply.  If using a hand signal, hold signal in place until SIT happens.
    • If SIT happens on first cue, immediately say “YES”. Then, go to the nearest treat container to get a reward for dog. It’s ok if he follows you, just don’t forget to say yes as soon as his butt hits the floor!
    • If SIT does not happen at first cue, encourage your dog to follow you to another part of the room (or another room altogether) and try again. Be sure to only give the cue once for each location change.
    • Within a few successes, your dog will begin to understand the “game”.
  • Practice sessions may consist of one-offs or several repetitions.
  • Maintain a 1:1 ratio of sits to treats.  We will fade food when it’s time.
  • Always end a session while your dog is still successful.

What to Expect going Forward

Part 3 in this series will intentionally add more than one context change simultaneously (clumping) and learn how to address the fallout.  Watch for our next newsletter and, until then, be sure to post your questions and feedback through this blog post.  Happy training!