How to Train a Dog to Sit Using Positive Reinforcement

Laura Nativo

Long before I was a dog trainer, the terms “sit,” “command,” and “obedience” made my stomach turn. I envisioned a drill sergeant-type dog trainer barking out orders to a subservient dog. Not me!

When I first brought home my heart dog Preston 15 years ago I was determined to create a joy-filled relationship based on trust, reciprocity, and communication. He was my first dog, and all I knew about dog training was from one of those “Idiot’s Guide To…” books. I was pursuing a career in show business and that meant long hours on set and jet-setting around the country. Dog training became a natural side effect in my quest to help him feel comfortable in my world.

My journey towards becoming a dog trainer was awesome, though accidental. I needed Preston to remain quiet in a crate while on a movie set, chill in a bag while I ran errands, relax on a mat while I had business lunches, and become trained enough to pass a therapy dog test because I wanted to help him bring joy to children in the hospital. Preston, the son of an aspiring actress, started booking his own work as a doggie actor and model. Over time, my brilliant little Pomeranian learned over 100 words and phrases – he could surf, skateboard, play the piano, he knew the difference between CRY, SPEAK, GROWL, and SNEEZE. But all these cues began with SIT.

Laura Nativo Training SIt

What’s the big deal about teaching basic obedience skills to dogs? Why is formal training important to do at all? I get this question a lot and it’s a simple answer. Let’s take the word formal out of training. As guardians and advocates of our dogs, it’s our responsibility to not only ensure their safety, but to learn how to communicate with them. We have domesticated dogs, but that doesn’t mean they know how to navigate in our human-dominated world. It is only fair we invest the time into teaching them a shared language of verbal sounds and visual gestures. This communication, this teaching of cues, is key to establishing benevolent leadership with our dogs. We owe it to them to learn the way they learn, learn to understand their body language, and only then can we have the relationship we so desire and deserve. Think of obedience cues like, SIT, STAY, COME, DOWN, etc. as games you play to establish a language between you and your dog. In the end, it’s about safety and knowing that you have a dog who is bonded to you in the most respectful way.

Teaching your dog to SIT is one of the easiest cues to master – and it’s one of the most important foundation skills. You can teach what we trainers like to call an “automatic sit” to help your dog make good, independent decisions – even before you ask. This can be used in the simplest of ways – like when you’re waiting for an elevator door to open to let the riders off – but it could also save your dog’s life – like at a crosswalk waiting for your release cue instead of darting into busy traffic. Using positive reinforcement will help your dog enjoy this act so that you get consistent results each time.

What You’ll Need

  • Clicker
  • A quiet training space
  • Healthy, high-value treats – and lots of them!
  • Treat pouch

Step 1 – Get That Sit

There are two ways of teaching your dog to sit. No matter which way you choose to use, make sure to always give lots of praise and high-value treats so that they think of that mouthwatering steak when you say the word.

1. CAPTURE a Sit

In this way, you wait for your dog to offer the behavior. Make sure to have your treat pouch at the ready and get your dog in training mode by creating a quiet space for activity. Using the capture method allows your dog to think about what you want from them and is a fun way of bonding. When your dog offers a sit naturally, CLICK or say “YES” and give them a treat the second their bottom hits the ground.

2. LURE a Sit

This way is a bit more traditional. To lure a sit, you will have a treat in your hand above your dog’s snout. Slowly move the treat straight back – as your dog’s head goes up, they’ll usually move into a sitting position naturally. The second their bottom touches the ground, CLICK or say “YES” and treat them. A key to luring a sit is to hide the treat or even go in empty-handed so they don’t become dependent on the treat but rather the motion of your hand above their head. Be sure to treat them afterwards though.

Once you feel that your dog is comfortable with either of these methods, move on to step two.

Step 2 – Name That Sit

Now that you and your dog have mastered the behavior of SIT, you’ll need to cue it. This is just a way of adding a gesture or verbal tag to the behavior. You can be a bit creative here if you choose – use the word “Sit,” use sign language or a gesture of your choice, or even a sign. Get the sit using your Step 1 skills, only this time say or sign “Sit” right before they give you the behavior. As soon as they sit, CLICK or say “YES” and treat them.

Step 3 – Generalize That Sit

Once you’ve practiced 10-15 times with the word Sit, reinforce the cue by adding different elements like duration, distance, distractions- and generalize it by practicing in as many locations as possible. Try asking your dog to sit in the backyard, from the kitchen while you’re in the living room, while a toy is squeaking, etc. Be creative and always remember to be generous with treats!

Step 4 – Train a Release Cue

The ultimate goal for your dog learning to sit is that they’ll do it until you tell them to stop. When you teach your dog a release cue, you give them permission to proceed. Once your pup is sitting, say OKAY or BREAK (or whatever word you’d like!) for a release cue.

Step 5 – Proof That Sit

Make the behavior reliable by proofing everything you’ve taught in every situation you plan to use it (stopping at a crosswalk, while they’re playing, when they’re off-leash, etc.).

Teaching simple obedience is the glue to a relationship built on trust. It’s how we communicate with our dogs while building a strong bond. Trust is the most important aspect of any relationship, and when we have trust as our foundation, our dogs will always look to us when they are uncertain or confused. This is how we can ensure their safety.

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

Mind if we pay your vet bills?

Copyright 2005-2018

Pet health insurance is administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency, LLC and underwritten by one of the licensed insurers of American Modern Insurance Group, Inc., including American Modern Home Insurance Company d/b/a in CA as American Modern Insurance Company (Lic. No 2222-8), and American Southern Home Insurance Company. Coverage is subject to policy terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, underwriting review, and approval, and may not be available for all risks or in all states. Rates and discounts vary, are determined by many factors, and are subject to change. Wellness Rewards is offered as a supplementary, non-insurance benefit administered by Embrace Pet Insurance Agency in the United States. © 2016 American Modern Insurance Group, Inc.