by Danielle Haywood
Your dog sitting nicely can be immensely helpful for you when you are getting ready to leash them up to go for a walk, when you’re filling up their food-dispensing toy, or when you need them to sit still so you can towel off the rain. It’s also safer for your dog to sit patiently than to, say, jump up on houseguests, or maybe pace wildly while waiting to get in the car. Every dog should know “sit”. There are a couple ways to teach them that might be new to you, though.
People used to pull the leash up or push their dog’s bottoms down to make them sit. Not only can those techniques cause damage to your dog’s throat or hips, but they can greatly damage your relationship with your dog too. Good thing we now have better ways to train!
One better way to teach your dog how to sit on cue is by luring, where you use a treat in your hand to entice them into a sitting position. Another way is by capturing the behavior when it naturally occurs, using a clicker and a treat.
For either technique, you will need:
● a healthy, undistracted puppy or dog. You may want to find a quiet five minutes of the day (after a walk?) and a quiet place (the living room?) to begin training. Work up to distractions and generalize to new places later.
● lots of little, delicious treats. Deliciousness is determined by your dog! Offer a few options and see what they go ga-ga for (usually real meats and cheeses.) Cut it pea-size and save only for training time. You can wean off treats after your dog learns things.
● a clicker or marker word. Clickers offer precision and consistency in training. You should be able to find one at any pet supply store. If you prefer a marker word, like “yes!”, it’ll work best if it’s a one-syllable word that your dog only hears right before getting a treat, the same way we use a clicker. You can teach your puppy or dog that the clicker/marker word predicts yummy things by simply clicking and giving them a treat repeatedly a few times before you begin training. Click, treat. Click, treat. Click, treat. Even if your puppy wasn’t paying attention or doing anything to “earn” the treat yet – they will be shortly!
Step 1: hold a tiny treat near your puppy’s nose, slowly raise it up over their face at a 45 degree angle. They should sink back into sitting position. (treat is the lure.)
Step 2: as soon as puppy’s bottom is on the floor, mark with “yes!” or click, and give them the treat. (treat is the reward!)
Step 3: repeat process, gradually using your hand (but no treat) as the lure. Still reward with a treat once puppy sits.
Step 4: repeat process, gradually moving your hand further away (your luring hand will become a signal), reward with a treat at the end.
Step 5: use hand as a signal only (no longer luring your dog into position, because they understand the exercise now,) still reward.
Step 1: wait patiently, with treats hidden on you and one eye on your pup.
Step 2: puppy sits on their own = click and treat! Like you’re taking a picture of the behavior you want.
Step 3: repeat process a few times. You’ll notice puppy figuring it out, sitting quicker.
Step 4: add hand signal of choice by motioning just as puppy begins to sit. Click & treat!
With either technique, you will be able to add a verbal cue, like “sit”, after the puppy has learned the behavior. If you are certain they will sit, say “sit” once clearly just as they begin to sit down. Click & treat! Repeat several times. After some practice, puppy will learn to associate that word with that action, and will happily comply.
Now you’re ready to practice sitting for different family members, in the front yard or driveway, out on a walk, etc. until your puppy has generalized the cue – “sit” always means “please put your bottom down” no matter who says it or where they are.
Wean off the treats by gradually mixing in alternative rewards or real-life rewards, like opening doors or throwing the ball, if puppy is reliable with “sit” in different places, with different distractions. This could take days or weeks to achieve. But you’re well on your way!
Danielle Haywood, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA of D is for dog is a certified professional dog trainer and certified behavior consultant new to Portland, OR. She lives with her human partner and two rescue dogkids. For more information check out www.disfordog.net and follow on Facebook.