The following instructions are based on positive reward-based techniques. To get the most out of this training method, you should also read my articles on dog leadership and communicating with dogs.
The definition of "sit" is very simple. The dog must but his bottom on the ground while keeping his front legs straight. Sitting is a simple behavior that dogs do very naturally. In fact they do it all the time on their own. So you will not really be teaching your dog how to sit but rather to understand what you want when you say “sit”. As your dog learns this behavior you can control his activity level by asking him to sit so he is less likely to get excited and move around. Or, have him sit still to put on his equipment. You can also use it combined with other behaviors like sit-stay or sit-shake.
Eleanor Scheidemann is CEO of The Dog Lady, Inc. You can also visit her blog, The Dog Lady Speaks, and learn more about her recommendations for natural dog food.
- You will begin by luring your dog into the sit position. Hold a reward in one hand. Make sure your palm is open and facing up with the reward held against your hand with your thumb. Hold it just in front of the dog’s face at nose level. Lift your hand with the reward slightly above your dog’s eye level, then push your hand back slightly over his head. As your dog is looking up and his nose is following the reward (tipping his head backwards), he will probably sit to maintain his balance. As his bottom touches the ground, give him the reward and praise him. Do not give him a command or say the word “sit” yet.
- Repeat this again and again until the dog is sitting without being lured. With most dogs, this will take anywhere from three to ten repetitions. At this point he should be offering the behavior without your asking. Once he understands that all he has to do to get the reward is put his bottom on the ground, he will do it over and over.
- Your next step will be to add a verbal cue. When you know the dog is going to sit because he wants the reward you have then begin saying “sit” as he offers the behavior. Say “sit” as he sits. Do not, at this point, ask for the behavior before he thinks about doing it. You are telling him what he is doing, giving the behavior a name. Say it only one time as he performs the behavior. Continue giving the reward and praise each time. Repeat this until you see he is beginning to lose interest. Do not continue once your dog loses interest.
- Throughout the next few days ask your dog to sit and offer a reward each time. Practice with several sessions a day or many times through out the day totaling at least 20 sits a day. More is better. At this point you should be able to ask your dog to sit at any time and he will understand. Continue giving the reward and praise.
- If you have been leaning over or squatting down in order to lure the dog, then start changing your body position until you are in a standing position. Do this a small amount at a time. Each time you ask the dog to sit, you will be only slightly taller or straighter than the time before. Continue giving him the reward and praise each time. As you stand taller and straighter, your hand will continue to move upward as a hand signal for the verbal cue “sit”. With most dogs this will take about half a dozen times. Do not be concerned if it takes longer. Proceed slowly and the dog will eventually be sitting as asked while you are standing up straight. This step can take from one to three days.
- Now you will begin fading the reward. If you have followed the proceeding steps, you will be standing straight, using the verbal cue “sit” and the hand signal (raising palm, bending arm at elbow). Start putting the reward in the other hand, then behind your back. Do this gradually a few tries at a time. Then, stop giving the reward every time. Continue practicing, giving the reward less and less over a period of time until your dog is following your command followed only by your praise.
- Here are some common problems:
- My dog was doing OK, but then stopped sitting consistently. Each dog is different; it may take several days or several weeks before you can completely fade the lure (reward) you are using. Slow down and go back to giving a reward and praise each time. When you fade the lure, do it slower.
- My dog is too small and I have trouble bending over. If it is difficult for you to bend over to train the dog, then try putting the dog on a table. Make sure the dog is secured with a line or leash to keep him from jumping or falling off the table. All training steps are the same except you will add one additional step. Once the dog will perform the behavior (on the table) while you are standing straight, put the dog on the floor. If this is too confusing for the dog, then you need to find different things for the dog to sit on that take him gradually closer to the floor.
- I just don’t seem to be able to get the dog to put his bottom down. If the dog just does not understand, then use the catching method. With this method, instead of luring the dog into a sit position, you just wait until you catch him sitting. When he sits on his own, reward and praise him. This may take a little longer, but once you catch the dog and reward him several times, he will start to offer the behavior and you can move on to step 2.
- The dog won’t stay still long enough for me to get his attention. If your dog wants to run around and do anything except pay attention, then make sure you begin training in a quiet, non-distracting place. It will also help to keep him on a leash so he cannot move away. You may need to use a different reward that the dog likes more.