One might think that teaching a dog to sit is the easiest trick in the dog training book, but there is a lot more to it than a basic obedience skill to be taught.
Training a dog to „sit!“ on command can be useful in many situations and helps your dog to behave in a calm and controlled way rather than being hyped up and jumping all around you. Once your dog learns to sit on command you will have its attention and focus, which will make any future training much easier. Sitting can also becomes your dog’s polite way to say “please” for things it wants.
But the most important fact is that by training your dog to sit, you are beginning to establish relationship roles between you and your dog. Any dog training is never about superiority, or having power over the other, but rather building up a strong bond between you and your best friend, in which your dog is happy to accept you as its leader.
There is a huge difference between conditioning a dog to learn a skill like „Sit!“ through bribery with tons of treats and allowing your dog to understand that every time it sits down calmly in front of you, it confirms the special interspecies bond and acknowledges its own and your place as leader in the pack.
The Integral Dog Evolution Approach allows your dog to make a choice to obey or not obey your command and make it understand at the same time, that sitting down is the best possible choice, which guarantees happiness and joy. It is the act of understanding a certain behaviour instead of just acting upon a trained conditioning, which makes all the difference and allows your dog to evolve together with you.
When I started to teach my adopted shelter dogs Jimmy and Julie to sit!, I was in for a surprise and great lesson. Julie, a Kanni dog and at that time about 2 years young, learned to sit! in less than 10 minutes. I always teach a new behaviour first in a silent, non-verbal way and used the „luring method“ with Julie, which you can read in details below. The moment Julie’s bottom touched the ground, she received as reward the tasty cookie and felt my enthusiasm and joy. After a few repetitions she had understood that by sitting down and remain calmly in place, she is getting my attention, praise and the cookie.
Jimmy, my 12 year old Shepard Mix on the other hand just couldn’t get it! No matter what method I tried out patiently with him, he just didn’t understand that sitting down is what I wanted from him. At some point I simply gave up on him, but continued to train Julie, while he was watching her how she received one cookie after the next for sitting down without me having to even command her.
Then the miracle happened. By observing Julie sitting down and remaining calm, Jimmy understood that this behaviour will get her amazing cookie treats. From one second to the next, he sat down beside Julie, shaking from excitement if he will get the cookie or not.
Jimmy is the perfect example of „monkey see, monkey do“ and to this day he hasn’t forgotten how to sit!, when I command him or when he wants something from me.
Below you can find several methods, which will help your dog to understand how to sit! calmly in front of you, when you want your dog to sit or when it is asking something from you the polite way.
I don’t even list an outdated and false method, which relies on pushing a dog forcefully to the ground in order to force it to sit, as I don’t believe in, nor use any methods which use violence to condition a dog to obey.
Ways to make your dog understand „Sit!“
Praising your Dog’s Natural Behaviour
– Stand in front of your dog while holding some of its favourite treats in your hand.
– Then simply wait until your dog sits down by itself.
– The moment its bottom touches the ground, express through your energy triumphant joy and confirm with an enthusiastic „Yes!“ that this is the behaviour you want from your dog.
– Reward your dog with a huge treat and lots of praise. As it is the first time your dog sat down in training, make sure to feed it a generous amount of treats, so that your dog understands that sitting down will be mega rewarded.
– Step backwards or walk a few steps away to encourage your dog to stand up and wait again for it to sit down.
– As soon as it sits, reward it with another, bit less generous amount of treats, but with lots of praise.
– After a few repetitions, start to use the word „Sit!“ the moment your dog’s bum touches the floor, followed as before by the reaffirming „Yes!“, a treat and praise.
– I always use hand signals together with the verbal „Sit!“ command, as it facilitates understanding and allows you to communicate with your dog through hand signals over long distance.
– When your dog has learned to sit!, wait a second until your dog is completely calm and then only reward it. Gradually expand this time until your dog remains still like a statue for 5 seconds.
– Once your dog has mastered the „Sit!“, ask your hungry furry friend to sit calmly and wait before you serve its meal.
– Before leaving the house to go for a walk, have your dog sit down, so that you can leash it without having to catch it. Lots of praise and a great walk are the reward!
To Sit, just follow the Treat!
– I personally prefer to crouch down in front of an energetic dog or a puppy to get its attention, but you can also do this method while standing in front of your dog.
– Hold a super nice smelling treat like freshly oven dried chicken in your hand. Show it to your dog, then slowly lift the snack from right in front of your dog’s nose upwards and back over its head.
– Move your hand very slowly to allow your dog’s eyes and snout to follow the lure.
– Once your dog has tilted its head fully upwards, it is left with only two choices, either to jump forward to grab the treat or to sit down.
– If your dog moves its bottom until it touches the ground, reward it with a confirming and enthusiastic „Yes!“ and a generous amount of treats and praise.
– Most dogs will probably go for the other option and try to grab the treat by jumping forward. In that case, gently push your dog aside, wait for it to calm down and try again.
– Using treats as lure could lead for some dogs to become dependent on you holding a treat in your hand. You can prevent this problem by getting your dog into the sit! position and mark it with an enthusiastic „Yes!“ or an affirming noise from the clicker if you use one. Immediately reward your dog with a treat but this time out of the treat bag and by using your other hand! Don’t give your dog the treat from the hand where you hold the treat with which you lured it. Once your dog has understood this behaviour, fake that you hold an actual treat in your lure hand and reward it with one out of your treat bag.
Tips and Tricks
– When your dog is one of the very energetic and hyper type, you can try to train it while on leash in a non-distracting environment to prevent it from running around and focus on you.
– If your dog jumps up instead of sitting down to get the treat, gently push it aside, remembering your calm-assertive leader energy. By this your dog will understand that jumping up on you won’t result in a treat.
– If your dog remains in the sitting position, you can signal it that it’s all right to get up and move around by using your energy and body language or by saying “OK”. Tossing a treat out far enough that a dog, who didn’t get the clue has to stand up to grab it also helps.
– Be consistent! Throughout the day practice „sit!“ at random times and in different environments with various levels of distractions.
– Always remember that the goal in teaching your dog to sit! is not that your dog simply sits but focusses its attention on you in a calm and secure position beside or in front of you. This is the foundation to build other skills and behaviours upon it.
– Never force your dog into a sitting position while training it to sit!
– If you keep the leash on during training, don’t even think of using the leash to pull or yank your dog into a sit position.
– I personally always prefer to wait until a dog has reliably performed a task, skill or behaviour, before I form the association with a command word, in this case „Sit!“. By allowing your dog to solve the puzzle of what you want from it, on its own, you will definitely unlock more of your dogs immense potential and strengthen your bond of understanding, trust and respect.
To find out more about the ? I.D.E.A. ? Integral Dog Evolution Approach, just click here.