One behaviour that a dog needs to know without fail is “Sit”. Sit is probably the most common behaviour that is taught to dogs by their humans. A good sit is important because it is a basic behaviour that can help a dog learn self control, especially around heavy distractions or things that the dog loves – like people, food, toys etc.
For many dog’s humans (i.e. people) however, sit can easily become one of those elusive behaviours that is seemingly simple, and that a dog “should” know but often ends up not being able to do with any or consistency or regularity.
OK, so it’s boring
When teaching your dog a good sit, it is often helpful to think of it as a trick and try to make it fun for both you and your dog. I know it may seem impossible to have training SIT be fun, but it is really all in one’s mindset, just as actually getting down to DO the training. Frankly, this is the most important part of training the “sit”. Actually DOING the training.
There is a fairly simple way to get the sit that you want from your dog and not make it boring to train or learn. Here are the tips to make it NOT as boring:
KEEP THE SESSIONS SHORT. Self explanatory. Not only does this make things less boring but it makes it easier for a dog to learn. If there is too much for the dog to absorb during a session, it makes it difficult to remember. Short sessions help.
USE REALLY TASTY FOOD REWARDS (Your dog’s motivation). Yummy rewards make anything better 😉 Seriously, it helps to keep your dog’s attention and prevent boredom.
KEEP IN MIND WHY YOU ARE DOING THIS (Your own motivation – delayed results, but there nonetheless). If you don’t have a reason to teach your dog a good sit, then it will likely be difficult to do it. Setting a goal is always a good idea when training as I have said before because it keeps you on track. Writing down your progress towards that goal also makes it seem less daunting. If you want to teach your dog to sit around high distractions you will need to do that in a progression. In order to know where you are in the process, goal setting and tracking is essential.
Here is the actual process to teaching the sit. The following method is what I have come up with over years of learning and teaching. The progression of the training does not have a name and is kind of a compilation of many different methods/instructors/programs that I have learned from over the years. This is what I have come up with that I find works the best for me. Follow it to a T and/or create your own method using some parts and leaving others.
Get the behaviour with a lure in an area of no distractions. A good reason to use a lure is that the motion that you make with the lure while you are teaching the dog will actually become the hand signal after you no longer use food rewards to get the behaviour. Also, if you plan on doing any competition training, such as Rally or Advanced work, you will need a hand signal that the dog responds to immediately. First you get the behaviour with the food reward and then you quickly move to just a hand signal. This will help with getting your dog used to you not having food in your hand. This is actually the most important part of the whole thing. If you are not able to convince your dog that he can sit without food in his face, then there will be problems 😉
Use the lure to induce the sit – i.e. your dog moving his butt to the floor. With the food lure at the dog’s nose move it over his head so his head tips up. The lure will at first tip the dog’s head backwards, so that the dog is likely to look up and sit. At this point say NOTHING to the dog. Don’t use a cue because this is nowhere near a finished behaviour. You don’t want to dog to associate the cue with the wrong thing. If your dog stands up you are going too fast. Slow down the hand movement and keep the food reward very close to the nose.
A good rule of paw is to practice sits with the lure for very short sessions – say five to ten reps at a time – spaced throughout the day in different locations in your home. Make sure it is in a no to low distraction area. Over the course of several days, I like to do 100’s of reps. By the time you have trained for about a week, if you have done it properly, your dog will know what you want when you make your hand signal. When your dog is doing well – about 80% correct (this is standard but I like 100% for my own dogs at this level) move on to step two.
Do the same procedure as above only you will now be asking for the dog to hold the sit for two to three seconds. This step should prevent a dog who immediately jumps up from the sit, and helps you in the future when you are lengthening the sits. To do this simply cue the sit with your hand signal, then count in your head to two or three and then reward.
If you dog jumps up before that, DON’T reward. Simply say nothing and redo the exercise. You may need to go back and practice in a less distracting location. You are still not using a cue during these sessions. You want the word “SIT”to mean “put your butt on the floor or ground in this highly distracting location for several seconds (or more) without seeing food, when I ask”.
In an area of no to low distractions, practice the sit in the same fashion WITHOUT the lure. Move your hand over the dog’s head as if you were holding a piece of food, so that he leans back and sits. Keep the food in your pocket or somewhere on you so that you can get it easily. It is always better if the dog can’t see a reward bag on you.
Keep the sessions short, and do several sessions throughout the day. Increase the length slightly. When your dog is doing well, move on to the next step. Still say nothing to the dog.
In an area of low to moderate distractions, repeat the process as above. First use the lure (if you need to) to induce the sit, then use your hand signal to “sit” the dog. Keep sessions short and do several sessions throughout the day. Work up to a two or three second sit before rewarding.
If you find yourself itching to increase your own distance from your dog – DON’T. The behaviour you are teaching is SIT not STAY. Refrain from lengthening the sit more than a few seconds or being any distance from your dog until you have practiced the sit in many locations and in a high distraction environment WITHOUT a lure in your hands.
If the sit itself is not taught well, even if your dog can stay, the behaviour will likely fall apart at some point.
First things first.
When do you add the cue?
When you feel your dog understands what the hand signal is for this behaviour well and can do it in at least a moderately distracting location without a lure, you can start to say the cue JUST BEFORE you dog does the behaviour. There needs to be some lag time between the verbal cue and the hand signal for the dog to be able to process it. Again, when you start adding the cue, you must retrain somewhat by working in lower distraction locations and possibly even bringing back the visible food reward.
To keep going and get a decent finished behaviour, check out my blog post on teaching any behaviour. This will include increasing distractions, distance and duration. https://alldogsaresmart.com/2015/12/28/977/
So, having said all this, there are no guarantees that your dog will have a good sit unless you do the work. Even then, a good behaviour requires some upkeep from time to time. But since anyone who has a dog should be willing to spend time, money and effort on the well being of that dog, it shouldn’t really be that much of an issue.