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How to Teach Your Dog to Sit

Learn how to teach your dog to sit.

The sit command is essential to helping you keep control over your dog, both for his safety and to prevent a variety of problematic behaviors. No one wants their dog to jump on guests or to go running off after a squirrel at the park or elsewhere. Even when your dog is on a leash, the sit command is crucial (for example: to keep your dog from pulling you off a curb and into traffic).

Keep in mind that your dog wants to make you happy because that makes him happy. Like a child with a parent, your dog needs to know that you are in control in order to feel secure. This basic command sets the foundation for a happy relationship between the two of you. You will be happy because your dog is obedient, and he will be happy because he will be secure knowing that you are in control and are pleased with him.

Training your dog the sit command is best accomplished by reinforcing the desired behavior with a reward. This leads to the fastest learning. The method described below rewards your pup with one or more of the most powerful positive behavioral reinforcements to a dog—food, petting, and praise. Use the following tips to ensure faster success:

  • Plan your training before mealtime so your dog is hungry.
  • Choose a bite-sized portion of a favorite treat that suits your dog's particular diet to avoid the distraction of suspending training to chew something large.
  • Pick a place to begin training that is relatively free of distractions. Usually, the best place to start is inside your house or apartment. A park full of interesting things to chase, sniff, and play with is not a good choice for initial training sessions but should be gradually worked up to so that your dog responds to your command regardless of the surroundings.
  • It's also a good idea to spend a few minutes before a training session petting or playing with your dog so he'll be ready to pay attention and want to please you.
  • Limit training to five minutes, once or twice a day, so that you command your dog's full attention. Keep it fun for both of you, and avoid getting irritated.
  • Keep a positive attitude. If your dog senses that you are getting annoyed, his focus will not be on learning the behavior.
  • Use affirmative thinking. If you envision your dog learning the command, your body language will reinforce this positive outcome. Dogs are very in tune with humans' body language.
  • Experienced dog trainers advise that positive reinforcement is the strongest behavioral tool you can employ. Don't use punishment for not following the command because this will change the focus of reinforcement. Instead, ignore the failure to follow the command and simply repeat the exercise, always rewarding the desired behavior immediately.

The Lure Method

  1. Setup. With your dog in front of you, hold the treat just above his nose and then lead it back over his head toward his tail. His nose will follow, and he will naturally have to lean back on his rear legs, into a sitting position, to get the treat. Be sure not to hold the treat too high up or he will jump up, and if you hold it too low, he won't sit. If your dog doesn't follow the lure of the treat, try this method in a corner or against a wall.
  2. Give the sit command. Just as he is sitting, before his bottom touches the ground, say "Sit."
  3. Reward. Immediately upon him sitting, praise your dog ("good dog") and give him the treat while he is sitting, giving him a little petting while he eats it. Remember to reward the dog immediately, while he is sitting. If you give the reward after he gets up, you are rewarding him for getting up rather than for sitting.
  4. Release command. After he has sat for a brief time (a couple of seconds to start) say "OK" or "release," and prompt him to stand up. This releases him from the sit command.
  5. Repeat. Repeat the exercise a few times, extending the amount of sitting time for each repetition.
  6. Duration. Train for five minutes a day consistently for five days.
  7. Wean off treats. After the sit command is successfully learned, begin rewarding your dog every other or every third successful sit with a treat. If necessary, you can still use the hand motion you used before but without a treat. Give only verbal praise and/or petting.
  8. Intermittent reminders. Once your dog reliably responds to the prompt to sit without the treat actually being held over his head, periodically continue to reward him with a treat when he responds to your command. Avoid a predictable pattern of reminders. Keeping it intermittent and sporadic is a stronger reinforcement of behavior. If your dog never knows when he will get a treat, he will have to respond every time just in case.

You can also use clicker training to help reinforce your training efforts. The article "Clicker Training for Dogs: An Overview" is a great place to learn more about that technique.

Important Notes:

Give the command once. Be sure to get your dog to follow your command when you say it once. A common mistake people make when the dog doesn't respond to the first verbal command is to say it again and again, thus training the dog to sit when commanded multiple times.

Follow through: Another common mistake occurs when the dog doesn't immediately follow the command on the first cue and the person becomes distracted and doesn't follow through. The dog wanders off and quickly learns that he doesn't have to follow a command.

Your goal is to get your dog to sit on your verbal command. Wherever your dog is and whatever distractions are around, your dog should sit when you say "sit."

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