Q. How can I train my 2-year-old pit bull, Vegas, to sit on his hind legs, holding his front legs in front of him (the begging pose or what some people think of as praying). I have taught other dogs to do this when they ask for a treat, but Vegas cannot seem to understand or balance. He can do it if I allow him to balance on my arm, but when I move away from him he falls back into the sitting position. If we keep trying he gets so excited that he rolls over on his back. He is a clown and I love him, but we need some new tricks — he just doesn’t understand what we want him to do.
A. It sounds like your pit bull is trying to do what you’re asking, but he just hasn’t developed the balance yet. Some dogs have rounder or narrower butts than others, which can make it more difficult to balance in the beg position without some help. Leaning on your arm hasn’t helped him learn to balance on his own, because leaning on you makes him put some of his weight forward on his balance point, and when the support is removed, his legs drop back to the floor.
Try this instead: Sit him facing away from you, with his butt close to or between your feet. Lure him up into beg position, using a treat, and let him get his balance with his back against your legs. This way he’ll feel secure, knowing he won’t topple backwards, and will be able to find his upright balance point.
This trick needs to be taught in brief sessions, and the dog should not be asked to stay in the upright beg position very long. This upright position is unnatural for dogs, so the muscles that take care of balancing that way need time to develop. It’s good to develop those muscles, but take it slowly or your dog could strain himself and not want to do the trick again. As those muscles strengthen, your dog will be able to comfortably stay upright for longer periods, but you still shouldn’t overdo this trick. A dog’s spine isn’t built for staying in an upright position very long.