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How to Teach A Puppy to Sit

Puppy Clicker Training and Lure Training

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How to Teach A Puppy to Sit

Learning to "sit" can open doors for puppies--literally!

Image © Merri Harrison-Quarles/Flickr

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 he gets praise for the natural behavior.

Once she 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 her tail stays on the ground, she 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, she should pay with a “sit” first. At mealtime, a “sit” becomes a polite request and her reward is getting the bowl placed before her. When the puppy brings you a toy for a game, teach that she must first “sit” and then she’ll be rewarded with the game.

This isn’t mean—just imagine the chaos of that blustering pushy puppy once she reaches adult size! Teach the default sit now. That places you in control, while it reinforces your puppy’s social position in the family. She learns from the very beginning that as a part of the family, she has to get along with humans and since you control the resources—the food, opening the door, games—she must be polite to you.

How To Teach Sit: Lure Training

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.

  1. Stand in front of your puppy and say, “sit.” Be sure to speak to her in a firm, calm voice.
  2. Hold the lure just above her 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, she has to lift her head, and that puts her off balance. As her nose follows the treat, her furry bottom must touch the ground to keep from falling over.
  3. As soon as her ass-ets touch down, give her the treat or toy reward.
  4. 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 she’s a bit hungry. Within a short time, your puppy learns she can shortcut to the treat by simply planting her bottom as soon as you say “sit” rather than waiting to be lured.
  5. Once she knows 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, she’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.
  6. 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 she looks forward to the lessons.
  7. 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 she might get a goody, and she never knows when, so she’s more liable to be faithful. The goal is for her to learn to recognize the command and perform the action with or without seeing a reward.

How To Teach Sit: Clicker Training

Clicker training shapes a natural behavior. Rather than luring the puppy into position, or pushing/prodding or otherwise placing her into a sit, clicker training and shaping lets the puppy do her own thing, and then rewards her 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 back flips to “discover” what else you want her 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.

  1. 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 her own—and click as soon as her bottom touches down. Then toss her the treat. Note: Timing is key and it’s important to CLICK exactly when the tail makes contact. That’s how you communicate to her “sit” CLICK! is what you like. The treat follows to reinforce the behavior.
  2. She’ll probably look a bit confused but grateful as she gobbles up the reward. Now she knows treats are handy, and she wants 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 her figure it out on her own. Puzzling out how it works teaches the most powerful lesson. She’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.
  3. After this second or third treat, she recognizes she’s on to something! You can nearly see the wheels spin as she starts offering all kinds behaviors that led up to the click-treat. Maybe she paws your leg, barks, grabs a toy, scratches and falls into a sit by accident (click-treat!).
  4. 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 she's still excited so you don't wear out her enthusiasm. Several short fun sessions teach more than a single marathon one that wears her out.
  5. Once she realizes the behavior prompts the click-treat, you can start associating the command with the action. As her bottom hits the ground, say “sit” at the same moment you click, and then give the treat. That way she figures out the word identifies the action.

By teaching your puppy a default “sit” command, the whole world of possibilities open 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 she knows this doggy please-and-thank-you behavior. Once your puppy has learned this default you can progress to teaching her to sit and stay with these tips.

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