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You might think that it is obvious what “sit” means. However, you can’t take anything for granted in dog training.

What it means to the dog:

In correction training which relies on physical manipulation, “sit” means when you say “sit” and pull up on the lead and push down on my  hind quarters, thereby shoving me into a sitting position, you will then say “good dog”. So “sit” means wait until you pull up on the lead and push down on my  hind quarters. My question is “what has this got to do with me?” Then sometimes you say “sit, sit, sit”, which clearly means do nothing in particular, but wait for your  next move. You are probably about to push down on my hind quarters and say “good dog”. I get the impression that if you touch my hind quarters, and push me into a sit, you will be nice to me. So I’ll wait until you do that. Then you say “sit, sit, sit”. It’s like, “on your mark, get ready, get set …” and I’m still waiting. Then suddenly CRACK, the lead whips up, jolting me off my feet. I don’t think I like the sit game any more. You could at least  stick to the original rules.

What it means to obedience trainers:

Generally in basic training, “sit” means “go into the sit position”. This is not very useful, because the dog tends to “touch down and take off again”. In formal obedience, dogs are generally only taught to sit at heel when the handler stops walking. This is called the “automatic sit”.

A more useful meaning:

I like to teach three aspects of sitting, namely that your goes into the sit position, continues to sit, and then does not get up until specifically released. Each of these should be taught as a separate step in training. Also, I usually start to teach a dog to sit facing the handler, rather than at heel. This dovetails into other uses of the sit, such as sitting to say hello, sitting rather than jumping up, sitting after coming to you.

Most dogs, even those with hardly any training, know how to sit in the kitchen at dinner time. Sitting at any other time or place is a different matter. If the doorbell rings, does your dog still know what sit means? Probably not. You need to work on each variation, place  and context.

I believe that such a basic command as sit can be used in many ways. It is very undervalued, underused and undertaught and generally misunderstood – as in “she knows how to sit … but I don’t know if she’ll do it”, or “he knows how to sit … but how do I stop him from jumping up?” “My dog will sit, but he won’t stay.”

A reliable “sit” it will go a long way to meeting the needs of the average pet owner. Your dog should sit when asked to, regardless of the situation, but also for practical purposes you can control your dog’s general behaviour if you make use of the sit in everyday life.

Your dog should:

  • sit on command, signal or cue
  • sit to greet people, rather than jumping up
  • sit before coming in the door
  • sit before going out the gate for a walk or being released in the park

Asking your dog to sit before giving him or her any attention is also a good way to establish leadership – see Earned Rewards.

To teach your dog to sit on command, signal or cue, follow the steps outlined in the *STAR* system.

First find a way of getting your dog to sit – such as by luring, gentle physical manipulation or clicking spontaneous sits. How to lure a sit is described under the heading lure-reward training.

By rewarding, you reinforce this behaviour, and your dog will be more likely to sit.

Then, as soon as you can be pretty sure you can predict when your dog is going to sit, the voice command, signal or cue “sit” is introduced :

  • your dog consistently sits in response to your lure hand movement;
  • your dog easily goes into a sit position when gently guided; or
  • your dog has been “clicked and treated” for sitting, and is now “on a roll” – just about to sit again;

Say the word “sit” just before your dog sits, then immediately click or mark the behaviour with a “good” or some other reward word, then give your dog a reward. The sequence is important:

1. SIGNAL: Say the word “sit”

2. TEACH: Bring about the action, e.g. by a lure hand movement

3. ACTION: Your dog does it, then

4. REWARD: Give the reward.

This allows your dog to associate the word “sit” with the action that immediately follows.

Your dog learns that the action is correct, because you mark the  behaviour with a click or reward word, then give your dog a reward. If your dog does not sit, or offers an incorrect response (such as lying down), there is no need to repeat the command, say “no” or try to force the dog to do it. Simply refrain from rewarding.

The opposite of reward is no reward, and your dog will soon learn from experience, as long as you are consistent in the feedback that you give.


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