How to train your dog to sit

By BBC Maestro

The ‘sit’ command is a powerful tool for every dog owner. It plays an important role in building a trusting relationship and encouraging your dog to follow good behaviour.

‘Sit’ is one of the most basic commands to teach your dog, whether you have a puppy or an older rescue dog. Learning to sit can form the building blocks of more complex training further down the line. In this article, we will share guidance on how to train your dog how to sit.

Why train your dog to sit?

It’s important dogs learn how to stay still – to keep themselves safe as well as those around them. You can train your dog to learn new behaviours, and you can work towards changing unwanted behaviours too.

Using the sit command can be useful if you want to:

  • Train your dog to ignore other dogs and focus on you.
  • Contain their excitement when welcoming new visitors.
  • Keep them calm when you take their lead off at the park.
Dog sits on grass

How to get your dog to respect you

According to renowned dog trainer, Steve Mann, in order to train your dog, you first need to gain their trust and respect. Your dog will look to you to get what they want – food, water, and toilet breaks – so if you are not convinced that they need you, think again. Remember that trust is a two-way street, and the aim of every dog owner should be to work with their dog rather than against them. This is commonly referred to as positive reinforcement training and relies on rewarding positive behaviour, instead of punishing the bad.

One way to build trust is to practice eye contact. Some dogs really struggle with this, but it can be a great route to strengthening your relationship. As Steve Mann puts it “eye contact is the spine of all other behaviours”.

His advice on this? Drop a few treats on the floor around them. They’ll most likely begin nibbling. Once finished, kneel, and hold your arm out with another treat in front of them. They may sniff, paw, and tug at you. When they look into your eyes, reward them with the treat and lots of praise. With regular practise your dog will start to automatically make eye contact with you when you ask for their full attention.

If your dog gets really excited when someone comes to the front door and they jump up over the visitor, then a sit is an ideal mutually exclusive behaviour. There’s no way your dog can sit and jump up at the visitor at the same time.

Steve Mann, British professional dog trainer
Dog rests in grass

How to train your dog how to sit

The ‘sit’ command is an effective cue you can use to ensure your dog stays still. Teaching your dog to sit takes patience – some dogs will pick it up straight away, others may need a little time.

Treats and toys can be a useful tool when it comes to teaching your dog and will feature in this guide. Keep the treats or toy in your hand or an easy-to-reach pouch as you’re training, so you can quickly reward your dog when they get it right.

1. Positivity

Start as you mean to go on. Before you begin, it’s important to remember to keep training sessions positive. Maintaining eye contact and lots of praise when they do well will help reinforce love and care. Remind yourself that you are a team, and you are in this together.

2. The treat

Show your dog what their reward will be (a treat or a toy, depending on what motivates them) and let them sniff it. As they become engaged, begin to lure their head upwards by lifting the treat. This will lower their bottom to the ground. As their head goes up, and bottom lowers, mark the action by saying ‘good’. When they are in a sitting position give them their reward and some love.

3. Introducing Cues

Next, introduce the famous verbal cue ‘sit’. The tone of your voice is important here. Try to make this sound like a cue rather than a demand. Show your dog a treat and let them sniff. Once their head goes up say ‘sit’, and as their bottom lowers say ‘good’. Once they touch the ground, reward them with a treat.

4. Repeat

Repeat the above a few times. Once you think they are comfortable, move on to the next step.

5. Increase duration

Now you have a basic sit in the bag, it’s time to increase the duration of the sit – in other words, the time between your dog sitting and then being rewarded. Repeat step 3, but this time, leave 3 seconds before you say ‘good ‘and reward them. You can increase the timing more as your dog improves.

6. Distractions

This time, once you achieve a sit, introduce a distraction and wait a few seconds before you reward with ‘good’. A distraction could be patting yourself on the head, jumping in the air, or even another person entering the room. If your dog continues to sit, reward. If not, lower your criteria and incorporate more distractions later. Remember, patience is key.

7. Stepping in the right direction

Now, get your dog to sit, take two steps backwards and then return to your original spot. If they remain seated, step towards them and reward them with ‘good’ and a treat. If they don’t, lower the distance for now. Remember to only reward once you have stepped to them, otherwise your dog will learn they are rewarded when they break the sit and run up to you. Keep practising and once they are comfortable, then increase your step count.

8. Practice makes permanent

Repeat these steps regularly until your dog has learned the cue and more importantly, the ‘sit!’ response.

The sit command is among the top 7 common commands for dogs and it’s an essential part of your dog’s training. Want to take your dog’s training to the next level? Expert Steve Mann offers an online dog training course that covers everything from the basics, right through to important lessons on separation anxiety and advanced tricks. Whether you have a puppy or an older dog, it’s never too late to learn something new.

Learn more about dog training with Steve Mann

Build a happier life for you and your dog with Steve Mann. Whether you’ve got a playful pup or a pooch who could do with a nudge, Steve will teach you all the tips and tricks he’s learned across his 30-year career.

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