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Lying down in the face of food

July 16, 2010

Sigrid is a very energetic dog, so I thought getting her to lie down on command would be a real challenge. Sitting down wasn’t as difficult; if the treat in my palm was brought above Sigrid’s head, she’d have to sit down to still see it. Lying down, however, includes less readiness to jump for the food if needed and at least some relaxation.

When Sigrid came to us from the dog shelter, she was obsessed with food. She had spent most of her life together with other dogs and had learned that eating must be done quickly or it might just get snatched away. So getting Sigrid to relax in the face of food = mission impossible? Of course not.

I started out trying what I’ve seen others do: getting her to sit down and then bringing the food down to the ground. Well, that didn’t work. She shot up like a rocket to try to get the food, and when she didn’t she looked at me with that look on her face: “What do you want me to do?!”

I’ve been reading this book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training; it sounded easy enough and sometimes I feel like an idiot when it comes to training. It says in this book that it’s ok to treat the dog when it’s making the right movement toward what you want. If you want it to lie down, treat it when it hunches its shoulders.

So I started doing that, and the expression on Sigrid’s face changed from “What the hell is this?” to “Aah allright, I can do that!”. Guess what, it took her only a few hunched-shoulder treats to finally lie down in front of me. Her tail was at this point whisping across the floor faster than the eye could see.

Sigrid, and many other dogs with her, I’m sure, enjoys managing something difficult. When she realised she had done well she jumped up and licked my face, eager to try again. It wasn’t just the food, because if it was she’d show the same joy when she’s eating out of her bowl. This was more than that: this was food plus fun!

Dinner will be dedicated to teach her to lie down with command and hand signal. I’m already looking forward to this evening!

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