Teaching your puppy to sit

“Sit” is one of the most important cues you can teach your puppy. If a pup is sitting, he cannot be jumping up, surfing the counters for snacks, or running off with slippers. This important cue is usually the first thing we teach a new puppy when they come home.

There are several ways to teach a puppy to sit

The easiest is with lure-reward training. Hold a small treat between your thumb and forefinger, and let your pup sniff it. As your puppy is sniffing and licking at the treat, bring it slowly backward over top of his head, so that his head goes up – this usually makes his bottom go toward the floor. Don’t say the word “sit” yet, you want to wait until you’re pretty sure the dog understands the behavior before you say the cue.

Teaching your puppy to sit

As your pup’s rear end touches the floor, say “yes!” and give him the treat. Make sure you feed your puppy in position; he will remember the position he got the treat in and will be more likely to sit next time you hold a treat above his head. Tip: If your puppy is jumping up toward the treat, you are probably holding it too high.

Take a step back. Your pup will likely stand up and follow you. Take another treat and again lure him into a sit. Say “yes!” and then give him the treat.

Continue taking steps in different directions, then lure your pup into position. Soon you will soon find that your puppy is sitting without even being shown the treat. Once you’re 90% sure your dog is going to sit, start saying the word “sit” right before he’s going to do it anyway.  If your puppy does not sit when you ask him, show him what you meant with the treat-over-head trick.

Once your puppy is eagerly sitting when you ask him to, it’s time to take the show on the road! Unlike humans, dogs do not understand a new word until they have practiced the behavior in several different locations. Ask your pup to sit in the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom, and show him with the treat if he doesn’t remember in a new location.

Once your pup has this behavior down pat in the house, ask him to sit on your porch, in the back yard, in the front yard, and on walks. You can start asking for a sit before you give him attention, before you clip the leash on for a walk, before you throw the ball or open the door to go outside, and before you put his food bowl down. Your puppy can learn to use the behavior of sitting as saying “please”

Asking your puppy to sit for many different types of rewards will strengthen this behavior, and keeping him guessing means you have other reinforces to use (petting, toys) if you don’t have a treat nearby.  Many dogs learn early on that if they see a treat up front, they will get a treat. If they don’t see the treat up front, they will never get the treat. We call these “Show me the money” dogs. It’s a good policy never to show the food up front once your puppy understands the meaning of new words – you want to build trust that you are a magical creature, and can make great things happen when your pup does as you ask. He may not know what the reward will be, and this will keep him working for you enthusiastically.