This is a simple behavior to train, it is also one of the most fundamental. You can start training this behavior as soon as you bring your new puppy or dog home.
The sit is usually the first behavior taught. Teaching it the right way from the start will go a long way toward establishing a positive training relationship. In training any behavior, from the simplest to the most complex, it is important to proceed slowly, in small steps. Train your dog to sit, using the time teaching this simple behavior to get to know your new dog.
Training With Treats
When you train with treats, you are using the single, strongest positive reinforcer available to you because it fulfills a fundamental need. It is essential to form the association in your dog’s mind that to perform the command given is the best, happiest, most wonderful thing to do. You need to be able to make this association quickly, strongly and positively. Food will do that. It is important though to monitor how much you give your dog during training sessions and decrease the amount you give her at regular feeding times.
Use treats that are savory, that your dog loves. The best ones to use are some sort of meat. There are a number of meat dog food rolls readily available. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balace is one that I have used and had excellent results with, Red Barn is another. Chop the roll into pieces small enough for your dog to have just a taste. Actual size will vary depending on what size dog you have; make it just big enough for her to chew once or twice then swallow.
Getting Ready to Train Your Dog
Have a collar and leash on your dog. Put 5 or 6 treats in your dominant hand and loosely grasp your dog’s collar with your other hand. If your dog is immediately drawn to your treat hand, put it behind your back and keep your dog’s feet on the ground, controlling her with your hand on the collar. Don’t start until your dog is standing calmly.
Have your dog standing in front of you, with her head pointed toward your treat hand. Close your hand into a fist around the treats, and bring your hand to your dog’s nose. Yes, actually touch your hand to your dog’s nose and let her smell the treats. As soon as she shows interest in and sniffs but not mouths your hand, tell her ‘good dog’ and give her a treat. You may want to practice handling the treats before you work your dog. Practice keeping the treats all enclosed in your fist, then pulling back slightly and getting just one pinched between your thumb and forefinger fast so you can pop it into your dog’s mouth.
Train That Dog to Sit
Once again, have your dog standing in front of you, his head facing your treat hand. This time, bring your treat hand in, touch your dog’s nose, then bring your hand up above his head slightly. Your dog should follow your hand. Go slowly enough that he can keep his nose in contact with your hand, quickly enough that he doesn’t have time to try and mouth your hand. Only move your hand 3 or 4 inches, you don’t want your dog to try and rise up on his hind legs to follow your hand. Tell him ‘good dog’ and give him a treat for following your hand.
Practice having your dog follow your hand just a few inches a couple of times, until you feel your dog grasps the concept. Praise your dog, let go of the collar and give him a break for a few seconds. This is especially important if you’re training a puppy or just introducing your dog to training. You want his first experience with training to be positive, keep sessions very short initially and take breaks. So let him loose for a few seconds, then get him back under control by getting him close to you and getting your hand on his collar.
Again have your dog standing in front of you, facing your treat hand and bring your hand to her nose Move your hand slowly up, but this time you’re going to continue the motion backward in an arc. Watch your dog’s body posture. Move your hand up far enough that she gets light on her front feet, almost on her tip-toes. When you see this, push gently backward and downward, into your dog. Gently. This is not about forcing, this is about moving gently but firmly.
Watch your dog’s behavior, look for her hind legs to fold as she leans backward to follow your hand. As soon as you see this, tell your dog in a firm, calm voice ‘Sit.’ Continue your hand motion though, pushing your hand back and down until she actually touches her bottom to the ground and is, sitting. Tell her ‘good dog’ open your hand and give her a couple treats. Congratulations. Your dog sat.
Is Your Dog Trained?
You’ve led your dog into a sit, but this does not mean you’ve trained it or that she understands yet. This will take patience and repetition. Practice the steps above. You’ll notice your dog start to anticipate your hand motion and move into the sit on her own. At this point, tell her ‘sit’ before you bring your treat hand in, and don’t quite touch her nose as you move your hand up and back. Practice. Soon, your dog is sitting as soon as you say ‘sit’ and you’ll no longer need move your hand over her head. Now, you’ve trained your dog to sit.