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How to Train a Dog to Sit Using Positive Reinforcement

By Laura Nativo

Teaching your dog to SIT is one of the easiest cues to master – and it’s one of the most important basic dog training commands. 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. Getting your dog to sit on command using positive reinforcement will help your dog enjoy this act so that you get consistent results each time.

What You’ll Need

Before you start training your dog to sit, you will need to select a training environment and have a few training supplies handy:

  • Clicker
  • A quiet training space
  • Healthy, high-value treats – and lots of them!
  • Treat pouch
proper dog sitting position
What a correct dog sitting position should look like.

Step 1 – Get That Sit

There are two ways to train your dog to sit: To CAPTURE a sit, or to LURE a 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 they hear the word or see the hand signal for "sit.".

1. CAPTURE a Sit

To CAPTURE a sit, 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 hand signal for sit of your choice, or even a sign. Get the sit using your Step 1 skills, only this time say or signal “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 – Release That Sit

The ultimate goal for training your dog 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.

Laura Nativo Training SIt

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.). To make the behavior reliable, it takes practice. By practicing sit frequently using positive reinforcement methods, and a variety of locations, your dog may learn to automatically offer a sit as a default behavior.

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.

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