How to Train a Dog to Sit: Dog Training and Teaching a Dog the Sit Command with Rewards, Praise

November 16, 2019
As a dog owner with over 25 years of experience, I can attest that having a dog is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened in my life. The companionship and joy they bring is incomparable.

Training a dog how to sit is usually among the first commands that a dog will learn. And fortunately, teaching a dog how to sit is among the easiest commands to train.

The "sit" command is a very important one for a dog to understand and master, because many other dog training commands - like "stay," "down" and "shake hands" - will build upon the "sit" command. A dog who does not know how to obey a "sit" command will be unable to move on to more advanced training skills, like "stay."

Understanding the Basics of Dog Training

Before the dog training process begins, it's important to understand the process of how the dog will learn how to sit. The dog will be given a verbal command, usually paired with a gesture. This verbal command and gesture must be paired with the action of sitting, thereby creating an association in the dog's mind between the act of sitting and the gesture and verbal command for "sit."

Once the dog successfully accomplishes the "sit" command, he must receive a reward in the form of verbal praise, a food reward or a reward involving play with the dog's favorite toy. This reward must be consistent early in the dog training process, and once the dog can "sit" reliably, the reward will be given intermittently.

Psychologists have found that an intermittent reward system based on positive reinforcement (giving something rather than taking something away, which is known as negative reinforcement) is the most effective method for controlling behavior, whether it's the behavior of a dog or a child.

Ultimately, the dog will be trained to "sit" thanks to associations that will form in the dog's mind: the dog will association the gesture and verbal command for "sit" with the actual action of sitting; and when rewards are given as a form of positive reinforcement, the dog will associate the reward with the act of sitting and it's this reward system that cements the dog's training skills.

Training a Dog How to Sit Using Food Rewards and Verbal Praise

All dog trainers use a reward system. Dog training rewards can vary from food rewards, to praise rewards and play or toy rewards.

Food rewards are usually most effective for teaching a dog how to sit, as food rewards are simple to use and simple is vital early in the game, since this is usually among the first commands that a dog will learn.

Teach a dog how to sit by doing the following:

  1. Approach the dog when he's in a calm state, like after a walk or game of fetch. A hyper dog may be difficult to train, especially if the pet is new to the dog training process.
  2. Hold a small piece of food (i.e. cheese, a baby carrot or hot dog) or a dog treat.
  3. Allow the dog to smell the food.
  4. Once the dog begins to smell the food, raise the hand that's holding the food over the dog's head - this will naturally cause him to sit.
  5. While raising the food over the dog's head (which will become the "sit" gesture), give the verbal "sit" command.
  6. Once the dog sits, give the dog the food reward and verbal praise.
  7. Once the dog sits consistently, only raise food over the dog's head intermittently, but continue to do the hand motion. And instead, give a reward from a pocket or treat pouch once the dog sits and continue to give verbal praise on every successful "sit."
  8. Once the dog sits reliably without the use of food in the hand that makes the "sit" gesture, begin giving intermittent food rewards for "sitting." Give only verbal praise and petting on some occasions.
  9. Practice the "sit" command in different situations, locations and scenarios to help to improve the dog's training. It's vital that the dog will obey the "sit" command even if distractions are present.

It's important to remember that the training reward must be given within two seconds of the dog's action (in this case, sitting). Otherwise, the dog will not associate the treat or other reward with the act of sitting. In other words, the dog will receive a treat or other reward, but he'll have no idea why; if the reward is delayed, the dog will not make the connection that the reward was for the trained behavior of sitting.

When training a dog, it's important to work with the pet in small sessions. A dog - especially a puppy - does not have the patience for a one-hour training session. Instead, work in five or ten-minute sessions to make the dog training process easier for both dog and owner.

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