Training Tips and Tricks Part 5: Sit!
I have mixed views on 'sitting' greyhounds and I will explain why. As most of you know we are a two greyhound family (well four for another five days but that's another story!). One of our hounds 'sits' really easily - Blondie, the other does not - Priceless. I have been able to train a 'sit' of some description but it does not look particularly comfortable and Pricey is reluctant to hold it for too long and will either stand up or lie down completely. The fact of it is some greyhounds just can't physically sit 'correctly'.
Priceless' inability to sit correctly does not in any way shape or form interfere with her being one of the best pet dogs in the world (you might guess who the other one is!) I have not placed a lot of emphasis on teaching her to sit and it's more of a trick than a behaviour that I want to be able to hold for any length of time. However I have worked on her 'lay down' and 'wait' as these are useful behaviours.
If you have never seen your hound naturally in either of these positions then the odds are they will find correct sitting difficult:
Jez and Blondie
But with some training (I will explain how soon) you will be able to get a sit that looks like this:
Notice both Priceless and Zing are sitting on their hip sideways rather than their butt/tail with their feet tucked nicely under their butts. Also how uncomfortable they both look! I have never seen either of these hounds in the crouch down or sit position that Jez and Blondie demonstrate above. Also notice that they are on cushions. Again I have not seen either Pricey or Zing attempt a sit/lay down on anything harder than carpet - Priceless doesn't even like grass and will only lay down on it of her own accord if she is knackered!
Now onto the training of a 'sit' for either type of greyhound. Arm yourself with your clicker (or voice) some treats, hold your hand in a relaxed fist (or another hand gesture if you prefer) and pop your hound on his bed or a soft surface and then wait. Eventually your hound will start to lay down. As soon as his butt starts to drop 'click' (or 'yes') and get a treat into him. Ideally while his front feet are still reasonably straight and his head is in the air and his butt is on the ground in some way. As long as he holds the 'sit' pose with either butt behaviours keep clicking and treating. To break I like to throw a treat a short distance away so the hound has to get up and get the treat.
As your hound gets the hang of this hold a split second before clicking while the hound is in the sit position, then click and treat. This is how you get the duration and understanding from your hound of what sit is.
Then repeat. At this stage there is no use whatsoever of the word 'Sit'. I like to hold my hand in a loose fist as this has now become my 'cue' to get my hounds to sit. You can use any hand gesture you like though.
This gorgeous picture Kirsty Harris took of Blondie and I at a competition shows the gesture exactly, however it does look like I am about to punch Blondie in the face! A second after this pic was taken she sat beside me as I had asked her to.
When your hound is consistently dropping his butt into a 'sit' and staying there for a few seconds with your closed fist (or whatever hand gesture you choose to use) you can start adding the vocal 'sit' command. So the process would be: Hand gesture - 'sit' - hound sits - click and treat.
Do remember that to get consistent behaviour you need to train in different areas and if you move areas go back to the beginning of the training sequence to start with. Your hound will catch on quickly if you set him up for success by taking your time so he truly understands. If he's not getting something, go back a step, your hound is not stupid, he just needs a bit more time to understand what you are asking of him.
You have probably noticed that I take a very hands off approach to training my hounds. I had an awful experience very early on with Blondie and a very 'old school' (now I know better I prefer barbaric) trainer. This person wanted all dogs in choker chains and made us force our dogs to sit with pressure on their hips from our hand.
At that stage Blondie sat easily and in the training I had already done, was pretty good at it. The problem was as I hadn't done any formal obedience before, she was good at sitting in front facing me, not beside me. I was uncomfortable with this method of training but as this trainer was supposed to be an expert I tried their way.
We got home from this awful session and Blondie took herself to a corner she had never lay down in and curled into the tightest greyhound ball I have ever seen, didn't eat her dinner and wanted nothing to do with me. I burst into tears, felt physically ill and vowed to find a better way to communicate with my dogs.
It took me a very long time to get Blondie's trust back after that day and I still kick myself for not going with my gut instinct. If you are ever in the situation when you are unsure about a technique or method in training don't make the same mistake I did - Force is not Training and will only land you with a very resentful greyhound.
I'll finish with these pics of Blondie. As she is pretty good at sitting she had to do 'sit stays' while I got the other hounds to 'sit'. In this picture you see her tail is a blur because it is wagging so fast, her mouth is open because she is barking at me to hurry up and pay her attention all whilst maintaining her stay. I'm confident we are on the right path training wise.
And if you look really closely you can see that her butt is actually off the ground and she is carrying all her weight on her bony back legs not her butt. So is it really a sit? And is it any wonder the majority of hounds do not like hard ground?
Bec, Priceless, Blondie, Zing & Jez