Train your Dog to Sit - Every Time!

You want to get your dog to sit, reliably, every time you ask him? Then you and he need to be in this together! If he reckons it's in his interest to sit, then sit he will, time after time after time.

So start off with some titbits your dog really likes. Good ones would be cheese, dried liver, sausage, cooked chicken. Cut it up very small. Now cut it up smaller.

You want something you can easily hold in your hand, i.e. not chocolate (not chocolate, ever) - nor would you fancy raw liver, I'm sure! Something your dog loves, something that'll be swallowed in a trice: so that your dog is ready for more after one gulp, and you can repeat the training.

The essence of good dog training is repetition. Keep on repeating the correct actions till the associations are ineradicably built up.

The right ambience ...

Now you need a few minutes peace and quiet alone with your dog. You don't want to be interrupted, if at all possible, by a gang of excited children, somebody demanding dinner, or the other dogs barking at the postman. Indoors away from distractions is best. And make sure that everyone involved in training the dog is doing it the exact same way - imagine his confusion if several people are teaching him with their own methods, especially those excited children!

Let your dog see you getting your titbit pot out of the fridge and putting it near you on the table. Ah! You have his attention!

If you're training a puppy - and you really can start training a sit with this system at 7 weeks old - it's best to get down on the floor with him. A larger dog can be easily trained from a chair, or standing.

Shaping the behaviour

This is what the trainers call it - you tease the behavior you want out of the dog, by rewarding every move in the right direction with one of those magical minuscule titbits!

Get your dog's attention (maybe click your tongue to attract a puppy), show him the titbit, hold it up to his nose, and raise your hand slowly over his head towards his tail.

If your pup got a good sniff of the treat, his nose will closely follow your hand. If the nose keeps going up and back, then sooner or later the back end is going to have to hit the deck - you have a sit!

Instant reward

As soon as your dog makes the slightest move with his back end, you can reward him. You don't need to wait till he does the whole sit perfectly. Use a sound or word which indicates that he has done it right and a reward is on its way.

Many people like to use a "clicker" for this marker sound. This is like the child's "cricket" toy, which gives a click-clock sound when you depress the metal bar. Or you can say a quick light word, like "good!" or "yes!"

Now show your dog another titbit and go through the sequence again: attention, lead into sit with hand holding treat, action, click, reward.

You will be astonished to find that after a very short time, your dog, or your tiny puppy, will sit in anticipation of the reward, as soon as he sees your hand coming towards his nose. Now you can do it with an empty hand, and feed him from the other.

Once you can get the action every single time you encourage it, you can start putting a name on it - a command. "Sit" can be said quietly but clearly just before you start your hand signal. He'll transfer his anticipation to the word and you will ultimately have a dog who will sit on either a verbal cue or a hand signal.

And if his mind is elsewhere and he doesn't sit? Well, he missed out on a treat! Give him the opportunity to do it right straight away.

Practice makes Perfect ...

A few minutes several times a day will see this moment come round very soon, and once you have the sit perfected, you can move on to a new behaviour.

If you want to use a clicker you need to teach the dog about the clicker first. Simply click it (dull the sound with your hand for a young pup or a nervous dog) and instantly reward. He won't be long figuring out that he needs to pay attention when the clicker and titbits are about! You can gradually extend this attention to any time you require it.

There are some smashing books which will guide you through training the Sit in more detail. And for training all sorts of behaviors by this gentle method, have a look at our Clicker Training page.

Of course, training with an experienced trainer using reward-based methods is the very best way. In the UK there is Puppy School for puppies, all entirely reward-based, fun training, and many of those Tutors also run classes for older dogs. See Resources for more ideas.

An important part of this technique is timing. And there's only one way to develop this: practice!