Training To Sit
Sit is usually the first thing many of us attempt to teach our dogs. As with any type of training, we need to communicate to the dog what it is we want them to do, because they have no clue what the heck you are saying, much less what you are wanting of them. They are not born knowing English, or what “sit” means. How then do we communicate this to the dog?
Remember our “watch” command from a few posts back? Hopefully you have been working on it because when you are training, it is essential to have your dog’s attention. When training your dog to sit, it is helpful to remember that you want the command that your dog will eventually respond to to be “sit.” Not “sit, sit, sit…” or “Sit! I said sit! Sit, come on now, sit!” One command to one action. This is why we don’t want to teach “Sit down” as a command, because you will eventually want to teach your dog the Down, and by already having taught him that “Sit down” means to sit, you have confused him already and made more work for yourself as you will know have to re-train your dog to differentiate between the two commands. Keep it simple–“Sit.” It is also spoken as a command, not a request. While it must be happy and upbeat, you want the command to have some “umph” behind it.
If you are training your dog for obedience competition, you will start training this with your dog on your left. If you are not, it really doesn’t matter what position your dog is in as long as you get the desired response. You always want to start training on lead so the dog cannot move away from you and you can always reel them in should they wander.
Remember, we are teaching the dog something that they do not know. We must show them what we mean and associate the command with the action. With your dog in a standing position, place a treat at his/her nose and slowly begin to move it backward, over their heads (with the treat still touching their nose, not flying about in the air as this can encourage jumping), thus forcing them into a sitting position. As they are falling into position, you can speak the word “siiiiiiiiit”, dragging it out if your dog is taking his/her sweet time, which many do in the beginning. Sometimes it is helpful to do this in a corner, or up against a wall, so they have nowhere to back themselves. You do not want to push forcefully on the dog’s hindquarters, as this can cause joint damage. The motion you are making with your hand will eventually become the hand signal for the command. When the dog is in the desired position, give them the treat, praise and release.
What do I mean by “release?” This is basically a word you use to let your dog know that they can move; the exercise is over. I use “Ok!” Praise should always be less of a fuss, your release word a bit more upbeat. You can also take a few steps backward, the lead in your hand, letting your dog know that they can get up now. Never let a dog decide when they are done with an exercise. You decide. Treat, praise, release. Make this your mantra.
To create a well-behaved dog, it is a good idea to teach them that they will not get any attention unless they are sitting nicely. This works particularly well when guests come over, you are out walking your dog or you have just arrived home. No one likes a jumping, clawing dog in their face. Encourage strangers not to pet them until they are sitting. This is one they pick up on relatively quick.
Here are some photos of Cairo demonstrating the Sit command:
Standing on my left, watching me.
Treat at the nose. At this point I am usually making a “ssss” sound.
Arch treat slowly backward until dog falls into correct position.
Let them have the treat. Yum!
What a lovely sit! Good girl, Cairo! Good sit!
At this point I would give my release word (“ok!”, “yay!”, whatever you want except the actual word “release”). I often accompany my release word with a pat on the dog’s chest. Why shouldn’t you use ‘release’ as your release word? Because when you are competing in obedience, the person calling the exercise says “release.” You do not want you dog responding to someone else and not you, thus breaking position. It is simply an instructional word from the person calling the exercise to the handlers.
Next lesson: The Down.