It's the cue you assume every dog knows, and it's the first cue you'll likely try with a dog of your own. That's right—sit!
Even though it's a very common behavior, someone actually has to teach a dog how to sit. If you've recently adopted a pup that needs to learn the move, well, you're in luck. Here, we provide a quick and thorough guide for how you can teach your dog to sit.
The benefits of teaching "sit"
Why should I bother teaching my dog to sit, you might ask. Well, this move offers a lot of training benefits for your dog. First of all, sitting is the starting position for many other training cues, so if your dog can't sit, he will have trouble moving forward with other training.
Plus, as Cassie Pestana, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, adds, "sitting becomes synonymous with saying please! The more you work on it, the more your dog will offer it when they want something. It becomes a great alternative behavior that is incompatible with jumping and general excitement."
Sitting also helps by getting your dog's attention focused on you. You always want to make sure your pup is focused on you when training, and sit helps you achieve that. There are two popular methods for teaching your dog to sit that we've broken down for you here. Which one will work depends on your pup's love of treats and ability to pay attention.
Method 1: The Lure
For most dogs, the first hurdle they need to overcome is learning exactly what you're asking them to do. Now, it's likely that you've seen your dog in a seated position already, but how do you get them to understand that position means sit? One way to do that is by luring them into a position.
- Step 1: Grab your pup's favorite treats.
- Step 2: Hold the treat on the end of his nose, so he can really smell it.
- Step 3: Say "sit" as you move your hand in a slow motion back toward the dog's tail and slightly up. This should make them naturally fall into a seated position.
- Step 4: Praise them and give them the treat.
Method 2: "Capturing"
According to Cassie Pestana, another effective method is to simply catch the dog in the act of doing the desired behavior on her own, and reward her promptly. This method is called "capturing." Sitting is a natural occurrence for dogs, and every dog will eventually sit down on her own at some point. Some dogs need this method if they are particularly rambunctious or don't respond as well to food incentives.
- Step 1: Keep a small treat in your hand, ideally out of your dog's sight and smell.
- Step 2: Sit or stand within reach of your dog and simply watch for her to sit on her own.
- Step 3: As soon as she sits, click and reward her for the behavior with a treat.
- Step 4: Keep watching her — as she does this more often try saying "sit" just before or as she's sitting, then click and reward.
Why using a clicker can be beneficial
When dog training, using a clicker can be incredibly helpful. These handy little gadgets make a simple "click" sound when pressed, and they're hugely helpful for your dog.
When you reward your dog during training, you often give them treats. But how often are you ready with a treat at the exact moment your dog does the right behavior? Sometimes, if something goes wrong, you'll be fumbling with treats for a few seconds, which means you lose the valuable immediacy that will link the cue with the behavior in your dog's brain.
With a clicker, the goal is to click RIGHT as the appropriate behavior occurs. So when a dog works on sit, you "click" right as their butt hits the floor, so they understand when the correct behavior happened.
Progressing your dog's "sit"
Regardless of how you trained them, at the beginning, most dogs get a guide from you at first. Practice "sit" 5-10 minutes per day to help your dog really shine. (Don't try to exceed this time frame, even if it's tempting — short training intervals are better!)
As your pup gets better and better, start to remove the guide, which is known as "fading the lure." This should be initiated gradually and still done in a way that sets up your dog to succeed. If you're using a treat lure, try to get to a place where you're not holding the treat, just doing the hand gesture. If you're physically guiding your dog, start by taking one hand away, then take both.
Ideally, you'll want your dog to sit on just a verbal cue, with little to no guidance from you. Once they master that, you're ready to move on to more advanced tricks! For continued training, practice sitting in a variety of spaces, indoor and outdoor, and on different types of surfaces, like hardwood, and grass, for example.