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Teaching a Dog to Sit


Techniques Conditioning > Teaching a Dog to Sit

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Teaching a dog to sit is one of the basic early training exercises that

Coincidental command

As your dog will naturally sit many times during the day, you can simply say 'sit' as they are sitting. Then praise them. They will then get to associate sitting with the word and the praise. Watch for them beginning to sit and say 'sit' as they sit. Do not bother say 'sit' after the dog has been sitting for more than a couple of seconds (it will not associate the word with the action).

Raising attention

If you can lift their head and attention up, their backside may well naturally go down. A simple way to do this with treats is:

  1. Get their attention and show them a treat. Wait until they are very interested in it. If needed, let them sniff it.
  2. Steadily move the treat backwards over their head, at the speed at which they will follow it.
  3. Hold the treat so they cannot jump up and grab it as you move it backwards.
  4. At some point, their backside will start to descend so they can follow further back with their head.
  5. The moment their backside starts to move downwards, praise them, say 'sit' and give them the treat.

Another way to raise their attention is to step a little in towards them. They will need to raise their head to watch your face and may drop their bottom. If all they do is to step back then try another method.

Leash lift

If the above methods do not work, you can try this method.

  1. Attach a leash to their collar.
  2. Stand next to them.
  3. Hold the leash vertically up so their head cannot descend (do not try to lift them!).
  4. Gently push their bottom down.
  5. When they start to let you push them down, praise and reward them.
  6. Repeat, saying 'sit' until they sit properly.

If the dog fights against the leash or plays with it, you will first need to get them used to having the leash put on before moving on to a sit. To get them used to the leash, first reward them when you put it on, then reward them further for not trying to grab it. Gradually extend this period in the usual way.

Other considerations

Other notes to consider:

  1. If anything is not working, try something different. If nothing still works, take them to dog training class.
  2. If the dog moves backwards, do this where they cannot reverse, such as against a table or wall.
  3. If they are too keen on the food (for example if they jump up), use something less tasty or interesting.
  4. Repeat the method a number of times, each time waiting a little later until the backside is a bit lower before giving the treat, praise and command.
  5. You can introduce a hand signal, such as a raised finger when you say sit. Eventually all you will need is the signal as the dog realizes that sitting after this is shown will please you.
  6. When they are reliably sitting, extend the period during which they must stay sat until they get their reward. In this way you can extend from 'sit' into 'stay'.
  7. Gradually phase out the rewards, initially giving them often but not every time and moving to only occasionally rewarding.
  8. Also, once the dog is reliably sitting, vary the place where they are asked to sit so they learn to sit anywhere.
  9. Get them to sit as a calming measure before nice things such as getting dinner or going for a walk.
  10. Train for distance sit. Initially you will be close to the dog. You can also gradually increase the distance so they will sit when they are further away.


Sitting is a natural position for a dog and they will naturally take this pose when they are resting but want to remain reasonably alert. Teaching the dog to sit is not really teaching them new tricks, but rather is about teaching them to sit on command.

Why do we teach dogs to sit? To make them immobile and stop them wandering around the place. We also use 'sit' rather than 'lie down' because lying down puts the dog in a lower, inferior, more vulnerable position.

If the dog is not interested in the treat you are offering, try something else (different food, praise, scratching, etc.) or try at another time or in a different place. In other words, find what works for your dog. Be flexible.

If your dog decides to sit when they know you have a treat in their hand, teach them other tricks so they learn that they have to listen to and obey a particular command before obeying. A good one may be to stand (as they are already sitting). Rewarding them for sitting before they are told to sit only teaches them to do this every time.

See also

Clicker Training


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