You just drove home with your new puppy or dog. You’re excited and a bit nervous – there are many good years ahead for your growing family. When you’ve unpacked the car, you look at your new canine best friend. “Sit?” You ask.
Your dog looks at you.
It dawns on you that dogs don’t come into your home speaking English – or, at least this one doesn’t. Sit apparently does not mean sit to your dog – not yet.
WHY & WHEN TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO SIT
As a professional dog trainer, sit is one of those cues that I teach most of my clients right away. It’s a useful thing for dogs to know. When a dog is sitting, a dog can’t jump on guests, run out the front door, or hop on the furniture.
My clients tell their dogs to sit as a polite way to greet strangers, pass other dogs on the street, and wait for food. Even better, many of my clients teach their dogs that sitting without being asked to sit is a great way to get what they want.
The dog decides that she wants something, so she sits and looks between you and the desired object. My dog sits to “ask” for me to take him for a walk or to share a nibble of food. This is called an “offered” behavior. Think of it as a polite way to beg, like a toddler saying “please.”
Teaching the dog to sit, both on cue and as an “offered” behavior, is often a new owner’s first endeavor. You can teach your dog to sit as soon as you adopt or purchase her.
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO SIT
You don’t need much to teach your dog to sit – just your dog and a few treats. Always use treats or other rewards when training your dog. Think of these treats as your dog’s paycheck. She’ll want to keep training and being a better dog, because that’s how she gets good things. You can fade out the treats later.
There are two main methods to teach your dog to sit in modern dog training. These methods are called “capturing” and “luring.”
Capturing Your Dog Sitting
This is often the easiest method of teaching a dog to sit. All you need to do is to grab a few treats. Then wait. Your dog might ignore you, or she might notice the treats and start jumping or barking. Either way, just be patient and wait. If you scold your dog for jumping or barking, your attention might be fun for her and she’ll keep doing it.
Eventually, most dogs will sit. At the exact moment that her bum touches the ground, praise her and give her a treat. The verbal praise is not her reward – it marks the moment that she does the right thing, and the treat backs it up.
This method can take a little while at first, but your dog will quickly catch onto the fact that she’s getting a tasty treat each time she sits. She’ll start to sit more often, and you can keep rewarding her.
This method also helps teach your dog that she can get treats by trying out different behaviors. This may help create a dog that is more creative and attentive. As another benefit, you don’t have to worry about your dog only sitting when you hold a treat up to her nose, because she never learned that way.
We’ll talk about adding a verbal cue later.
Luring a Dog to Sit
This method is generally quicker on day one. The downside of luring is that it can be challenging to stop luring the dog with a treat. It’s important to stop using treats as a lure quickly. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a dog that can only obey cues when you have treats in your hand.
To lure a dog to sit, get a tasty treat in your hand. Call your dog over and let her sniff it. Slowly move your hand up and backwards, so your dog’s head moves with your hand. If your dog gives up, then either get better treats or move more slowly.
You might have to give your dog a treat just for following your treat at first. However, as your dog moves her head up and back to follow the treat, she’ll get a bit uncomfortable. Most dogs will sit to straighten out their spine, making it easier to watch the treat. Reward at this moment!
Repeat this five times or so, until your dog is sitting without much struggle. Then remove the treat from your hand and repeat the motion five to ten more times. Still give your dog a treat each time she sits, but don’t keep the treat in your hand. This hand motion will become a physical cue.
As you continue practicing, your job is to make the luring hand motion smaller and smaller. This is the hard part about luring! If you spend too much time luring the dog with a treat in your hand, it can be very difficult to remove the treat at all.
Pro Tip: Avoid using physical manipulation to teach your dog to sit. Pulling up on the leash while pushing down on your dog’s butt isn’t a very clear way to get what you want. Plus, it can teach your dog that hands are uncomfortable. Many dogs taught this way struggle to sit without physical pressure from their owners.
HOW TO ADD THE “SIT” CUE
Now that your pup is sitting reliably, it’s time to start adding a verbal cue. After that, your job is to practice “sit” with your dog in a variety of situations. After your dog can sit on cue in distracting environments, it’s time to fade out treats. Read about how to do all three of these tasks in the article “Adding Cues, Proofing Behaviors, and Fading Treats“.