Get Your Dog on the “Nice List”

By Veronica Rigatti, VSA-CDT, Canine Behavior Specialist

With the holiday season in full swing, you may want to brush up your dog’s manners to secure their place on the “nice list” this year. After all, dogs aren’t born with household manners so it is up to us to teach them good canine behavior. This is best done through positive reinforcement training, which rewards desired behavior with treats, play or praise.

During training classes, dogs learn basic cues, such as sit and down, before moving on to more complicated behaviors like stay and place. You and your dog can work together as a team to master these and other commands.

So, how can you teach your dog to sit or lie down at home? It can be easy when using a positive reinforcement training technique called luring. Follow these simple instructions:

Bring a treat from your hand to your dog’s nose, then move your hand upward toward the top of their head. If your dog jumps, your hand is too high. Make sure to keep your hand at nose level. As soon as they sit back, say “yes!” or “good!” and give them the treat. Repeat each step until you have completed five successful, consecutive repetitions.

Next, take the treat out of your hand and repeat that same motion. As soon as they sit, praise again and give them a treat. You have now created a hand signal for the sit cue.

Start teaching your dog the word “sit,” then immediately give the “sit” hand signal, while ensuring that your dog is standing prior to giving them the cue.

Continue with verbal praise and treats, repetition is key! See if your pup has learned the word by only saying the verbal cue and not giving the hand signal. If at any point they are struggling, return to the previous steps.

Starting with your dog in the sit position and a treat in your hand, bring the treat to their nose, then move it toward the ground between their front paws. If their elbows touch the floor and they are completely in the down position, say “yes!” or “good!” and give them the treat. Follow the same process as with the sit command by praising and treating your dog and repeating each step for five successful, consecutive repetitions.

If they did not get in the down position, try moving your hand with the treat forward or backward. If at any point your dog’s nose comes away from the treat, bring the treat back to their nose and start over. You may need to move your hand more slowly this time.

Next, remove the treat from your hand but repeat the motion. You have now created a hand signal for the cue “down.”  If your pup doesn’t understand the cue, ask them to sit and try again.

You may now begin teaching your dog the word “down.” Start by saying the word, followed by the hand signal. Make sure your pup is sitting prior to giving the cues.

See if your dog has learned the word “down” by saying the verbal cue and not giving the hand signal. If at any point your pup is struggling, return to one of the previous steps.

Although these tips will start your canine companion on a path toward better manners, more advanced training may be time-consuming and require a professional’s expertise. This holiday season, consider giving the gift of behavior training by enrolling in an Animal Friends University training course at

Happy Holidays and happy training!

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