Teaching your puppy to “sit” on command is a great tool you can use in many ways. This is an easy command to teach and helps your new puppy feel like a winner when it gets praise for the natural behavior.
Once your dog knows how to “sit” on command, you can use this as a default behavior the way children are taught to say “please and thank you.” For instance, giving the command to “sit” is a terrific technique for you to control those rambunctious puppy bursts of energy. As long as their tail stays on the ground, they can’t get into more trouble nose-poking into off-limits areas.
Benefits of the Sit
Your puppy will learn to use this default behavior as a way to pay for bigger rewards. A sit becomes puppy currency to ask for (and receive) benefits because she needs to know that only by following the rules of the house will she get what she wants.
Here are some examples. To go out the door, the dog should pay with a “sit” first. At mealtime, a “sit” becomes a polite request and their reward is getting the bowl placed before her. When the puppy brings you a toy for a game, teach that they must first “sit” and then they’ll be rewarded with the game.
This isn’t mean—just imagine the chaos of that blustering pushy puppy once it reaches adult size! Teach the default "sit" now. That places you in control, while it reinforces your puppy’s social position in the family. They learn from the very beginning that as a part of the family, they have to get along with humans and since you control the resources—the food, opening the door, games—they must be polite to you.
There are several training techniques available today. Lure training uses a high-value reward like a favorite treat or toy to gently lure and guide your puppy into the sit position.
- Stand in front of your puppy and say, “sit.” Be sure to speak to them in a firm, calm voice.
- Hold the lure just above their head but in front of her nose, and lift the lure upward over the top of her head. To follow the movement of the toy or treat, they have to lift her head, and that puts them off balance. As their nose follows the treat, their furry bottom must touch the ground to keep from falling over.
- As soon as they sit down, give them the treat or toy reward.
- Set up a puppy routine and repeat this exercise several times each day. If you’re working with treats, be sure to schedule the training before meals so they're a bit hungry. Within a short time, your puppy learns they can shortcut to the treat by simply planting their bottom as soon as you say “sit” rather than waiting to be lured.
- Once they know what “sit” means, partner the word command with a hand signal. Decide on what signal to use—like a closed fist—and use it every time. By using the word command with the same hand signal each time, and without the lure, they’ll begin to associate the hand signal with the command. Your goal is for the puppy to recognize the hand action and word, perform the behavior, and then be rewarded with the treat or toy.
- At first be sure to reward with the treat or toy EVERY SINGLE TIME. Be sure you use a reward that the puppy ONLY gets during these training drills so they look forward to the lessons.
- Eventually, ask for the “sit” without rewarding (other than verbal praise) and offer the treat/toy reward only every second or third time. This is called “intermittent rewards” and is a powerful teaching tool. Your puppy learns that they might get a goody, and they never know when, so they're more liable to be faithful. The goal is for them to learn to recognize the command and perform the action with or without seeing a reward.
Clicker training shapes a natural behavior. Rather than luring the puppy into position, or pushing/prodding or otherwise placing them into a sit, clicker training and shaping lets the puppy do their own thing, and then rewards them for the action you like—in this case, a “sit.”
It takes a bit longer, but once the light bulb goes off, your puppy will nearly turn backflips to “discover” what else you want them to do. Clicker training is great fun for puppies and teaches them how to learn, and how to please you. Use tiny smidgeons of treats, so it’s more just a taste and smell than anything to fill up the tummy.
- Gather your treats and clicker, and set the treats aside so the puppy doesn’t focus on them. Then simply watch for your puppy to sit on their own—and click as soon as their bottom touches down. Then toss them the treat. Timing is key and it’s important to CLICK exactly when the tail makes contact. That’s how you communicate to them “sit” CLICK! is what you like. The treat follows to reinforce the behavior.
- They’ll probably look a bit confused but grateful as they gobble up the reward. Now they know treats are handy, and they want another one. This is when puppy brains kick into high gear, trying to figure out how to get another treat. Don’t talk, don’t lure, don’t point or offer other guidance. Let them figure it out on their own. Puzzling out how it works teaches the most powerful lesson. They’ll know something prompted the “click-treat” but it may take several mistakes before she happens to repeat the sit—and you immediately click-treat.
- After this second or third treat, they recognize their on to something! You can nearly see the wheels spin as they start offering all kinds behaviors that led up to the click-treat. Maybe they paw your leg, bark, grab a toy, scratch, and fall into a sit by accident (click-treat!).
- When the light bulb goes off—if I “sit” that click sounds and a click means a treat—your pup may offer half a dozen or more sits in a row. Quite while they're still excited so you don't wear out their enthusiasm. Several short fun sessions teach more than a single marathon one that wears them out.
- Once they realize the behavior prompts the click-treat, you can start associating the command with the action. As their bottom hits the ground, say “sit” at the same moment you click, and then give the treat. That way they figure out the word identifies the action.
By teaching your puppy a default “sit” command, the whole world of possibilities opens up for you both. Everyone loves a polite puppy. You’ll be amazed at how your dog will figure out many ways to “ask” for privileges once they know this doggy please-and-thank-you behavior.