Teach your English Bulldog an important new rule: From now on, he is only touched and petted when he is either sitting or lying down. You won’t need to ask him to sit; in fact, you should not. Just keep him tethered near you so there isn’t much to do but stand, be ignored, or settle, and wait until sit happens.
He may pester you a bit, but be stoic and unresponsive. Starting now, when you are sitting down, a sitting dog is the only one you see and pay attention to. He will eventually sit, and as he does, attach the word “sit” – but don’t be too excited or he’ll jump right back up. Now mark with your positive sound that promises something good, then reward him with a slow, quiet, settling pet.
Training requires consistent reinforcement. Ask others to also wait until your Bulldog is sitting and calm to touch him, and he will associate being petted with being relaxed. Be sure you train your dog to associate everyone’s touch with quiet bonding.
Reinforcing “Sit” as a Command
Since your English Bulldog now understands one concept of working for a living – sit to earn petting – you can begin to shape and reinforce his desire to sit. Hold toys, treats, his bowl of food, and turn into a statue. But don’t prompt him to sit! Instead, remain frozen and unavailable, looking somewhere out into space, over his head. He will put on a bit of a show, trying to get a response from you, and may offer various behaviors, but only one will push your button – sitting. Wait for him to offer the “right” behavior, and when he does, you unfreeze. Say “sit,” then mark with an excited “good!” and give him the toy or treat with a release command – “OK!”
When you notice spontaneous sits occurring, be sure to take advantage of those free opportunities to make your command sequence meaningful and positive. Say “sit” as you observe sit happen – then mark with “good!” and praise, pet, or reward the dog. Soon, every time you look at your dog he’ll be sitting and looking right back at you!
Now, after thirty days of purely positive practice, it’s time to give him a test. When he is just walking around doing his own thing, suddenly ask him to sit. He’ll probably do it right away. If he doesn’t, do not repeat your command, or you’ll just undermine its meaning (“sit” means sit now; the command is not “sit, sit, sit, sit”). Instead, get something he likes and let him know you have it. Wait for him to offer the sit – he will – then say “sit!” and complete your marking and rewarding sequence.
“OK” will probably rate as one of your dog’s favorite words. It’s like the word “recess” to schoolchildren. It is the word used to release your dog from a command. You can introduce “OK” during your “sit” practice. When he gets up from a sit, say “OK” to tell him the sitting is finished. Soon that sound will mean “freedom”.
Make it even more meaningful and positive. Whenever he spontaneously bounds away, say “OK!” Squeak a toy, and when he notices and shows interest, toss it for him.
I’ve mentioned that you should only pet your English Bulldog when he is either sitting or lying down. Now, using the approach I’ve just introduced for “sit,” teach your dog to lie down. You will be a statue, and hold something he would like to get but that you’ll only release to a dog who is lying down. It helps to lower the desired item to the floor in front of him, still not speaking and not letting him have it until he offers you the new behavior you are seeking.
He may offer a sit and then wait expectantly, but you must make him keep searching for the new trick that triggers your generosity. Allow your Bulldog to experiment and find the right answer, even if he has to search around for it first. When he lands on “down” and learns it is another behavior that works, he’ll offer it more quickly the next time.
Don’t say “down” until he lies down, to tightly associate your prompt with the correct behavior. To say “down, down, down” as he is sitting, looking at you, or pawing at the toy would make “down” mean those behaviors instead! Whichever behavior he offers, a training opportunity has been created. Once you’ve attached and shaped both sitting and lying down, you can ask for both behaviors with your verbal prompts, “sit” or “down.” Be sure to only reinforce the “correct” reply!