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Train Your Dog to Sit - Four Simple Steps to an Obedient Companion

Updated on May 10, 2013

Even a Manchester Terrier Can Learn To Sit

Jumpstart Chinook Winds (Packet)
Jumpstart Chinook Winds (Packet) | Source

Build on a Natural Behavior

The best way to train any dog to learn a new behavior is to build on what the dog does naturally, give that behavior a name that the dog understands, and reinforce the correct response to the word every time it happens.

Another key component to teaching any dog to sit is patience on your part. Taking into consideration the breed of dog that you're working with could save you a lot of frustration down the road. If you watch any obedience trials on television you're sure to notice one things fairly quickly. The dog breeds that do the best in these events are ones to whom trying to please their people comes very, very naturally. Golden retrievers will do their best to turn themselves inside out just to get a pat on the head in most cases, while Border Collies live to work, and if sitting is the job at hand then they do that as well.

Your training will not go well if you attempt to force your dog to do something that it doesn't particularly feel like doing right at that moment. If your dog is a breed that is one known to be strong-minded and independent - anything with the word terrier at the end would fit in this category -- then trying to bend the dog to do what you want could end up in a battle of wills. If you're not ready to be the pack leader every single time you give your dog directions you can expect that they are going to resist doing just about anything else you ask them, especially if they are more occupied in something that they REALLY want to do right then.

4 Simple Steps

  1. Standing in front of your dog, hold something they really like in your clenched fist, allow them to sniff at the treat and then move the treat slowly up over their head. If the dog really wants the treat the most natural thing in the world is for their nose to follow that treat smell as it moves up and behind their head. The object in this step is to get the dog to sit down in order to keep following the scent without backing away from their favorite thing (you). Pawing at your hand for the treat, backing away from you, or jumping up on your hand are all the things that you don't want to have happen so if your dog does any of these things simply move the treat away and wait until the dog is back facing you expectantly, with the memory of that treat smell in their mind. Repeat the motion of moving the treat up and towards their back -- slowly, until the dog naturally sits.
  2. The second your dog's bum touches the ground, give them the treat. Reward based training is simply the fastest way to train a dog to do virtually anything -- don't worry about how many treats the dog is getting at this point, fattening treats can be replaced with other rewards as the training goes along. For now simply reward the correct behavior, the sit, with a treat.
  3. Repeat Step 2 several times. When your dog is sitting every time your hand moves over their head, add the word sit in a firm tone of voice. This is not a question or a casual request, it is their command for that specific behavior. Dogs are not DUMB and most of them will quickly make the connection between word/behavior/treat especially if good food is involved.
  4. Reward the correct response to the word sit. Word, behavior, reward. Don't give the treat when your dog's back end is part way down. A great many dogs will start to sit, get the treat and jump back up again. Once your dog is sitting when you say the word sit, delay the reward a bit longer to reinforce that they have been given a command, have done what they were told and got the reward for completing the task. Eventually the treat can be removed all together as sitting becomes an automatic response whenever the dog wants or expects to receive something from you.

Sitting with a Non-Verbal Command

  1. Once you have rewarded your dog for sitting down whenever they hear the word sit it is an easy matter to add in a simple hand command for Sit. A clenched fist works well because your dog already associates your clenched fist with containing something good to eat. Hold your arm bent at the elbow parallel to your body (like a stop sign) while verbally telling your dog to "Sit." Reward correct responses as soon as they happen.
  2. Practice the sequence repeatedly and gradually begin leaving out the verbal command. Always reward the correct behavior with either a treat or praise, and change the training up a little bit by alternating hand command with verbal commands.

Problem Child Breeds

Virtually all dogs can be trained using the above method of rewarding correct behavior. Pushing your dog's bum to the ground may also work, because the dog will eventually connect the dots between the word "sit" and your pushing his bum down, but if you use rewards for something that the dog was doing anyway the command/reward link will be created much more easily and be much longer lasting.

After two intensive sessions of obedience training, I figured that my first dog Packet (shown above) was ready for the big test of Obedience competition. There isn't space for all the gory details -- at two years of age he was NOT ready for any kind of obedience trial -- but I will share kind comment made to me by a competitor in the Master class. Her beautiful Sheltie stayed glued to her side and sat promptly as soon as she stopped walking behind me and said for my ears only "Don't give up, he is a terrier after all."

Dogs can easily learn well over 100 words of commands so with a little patience and persistence "Sit" will be the first of many skills you and your dog master together. Packet may be a terrier but he will drop his bum just about anywhere with a simple flick of my finger -- after just 10 years we've got that skill mastered.


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    • Practical Paws profile image

      Debra Hine 5 years ago from Longueuil, Quebec

      Thanks for reading, since both canine members of the Practical Paws pack are Manchester Terriers, we sympathize with all who struggle with heeling challenges. Terriers by nature feel that their position in the pack is handling "point" duty so walking behind or beside the pack leader doesn't sit very well with them. One quick tip that worked for me in the training sessions was to have a small flashlight in my hand close to my side. Packet is VERY light obsessive so he will stick like glue to me in anticipation of the light being turned on for him to bark at it. My husband has both dogs heeling perfectly, off leash whenever he is holding their favourite toy in their hand. They will even ignore other dogs in their vicinity when they are following that toy.

    • Joan King profile image

      Joan King 5 years ago

      Teaching a dog to sit using the techniques here is easy but as you said, it requires lots of patience. Now if I could only get my dogs to heel.Great hub