Teach Your Dog to Sit as a Default Behavior

If your dog is sitting, he can’t offer undesirable behaviors. Learn how to teach this cue.

Please select a featured image for your post

Even though the “sit” cue seems like a basic skill, I believe it is one of the most important things to teach our dogs. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Dogs cannot both sit and jump up on people.
  • Dogs can’t both sit and pull on a leash.
  • Dogs can’t both sit and rudely greet other dogs.
  • Dogs can’t both sit and run out the door.
  • Dogs can learn to ask for what they want by offering a sit.
  • Dogs can learn that when they are unsure of what to do, a sit always brings them happy happy joy joy.

I love to teach the sit as a “default behavior,” meaning the dog offers it A LOT. How the heck do you get a dog to offer behavior? It’s easy! You can “catch” your dog naturally putting herself into a sit and mark it with an exuberant “yes!” and also reinforce with a tasty food motivator. Food is highly motivating to most dogs, but it helps to know what your dog loves the most as dogs are individuals.

I also will use very subtle body pressure to encourage a sit. When I ever so slightly lean my body into the dog’s personal space, most often dogs offer a sit – and boy do I ever let them know that was the right choice! I am not seeking to physically force a sit or scare a dog into sitting. I never train that way for any skill.

I also look for countless ways to say the cue “sit” throughout the day. Time for a walk? Please “sit” before the leash goes on. Please “sit” again before I open the door. And again just after we walk through that now open door. As I am teaching the sit, I reinforce the dog A LOT. I am not stingy with my “yes!” that was the right choice feedback. Dogs need feedback, and it’s crucial in the beginning stages of teaching a new skill to offer huge amounts of feedback, both verbally and with food.

Sitting getting a treat by Shutterstock.
Sitting getting a treat by Shutterstock.

Try this challenge one day: Set aside 50 small pieces of yumo morsels and see if you can deliver all 50 pieces for a “sit” by day’s end. Why? Because it’s true in dog training that “we get what we reinforce.” In other words, if the dog has been highly reinforced for sitting, he offers more sitting. Make sense?

It is just as important to switch over to an intermittent rate of reinforcement once a skill is truly fluid, meaning that you can ask for the “sit” in just about any situation, even high distraction environments such as a park. After you get really good reliability, then it is important to have a random delivery of treats (but you can always confirm with praise!). So remember: In the beginning stages of training a new skill, you want to look for as many ways as you can find to confirm to your dog that YES! sitting was the right choice. As the behavior becomes fluent, then you randomize the treat reinforcer.

My two Border Collies are 11 years old, and they have been reinforced for sitting literally thousands of times throughout their lifetimes. It is so routine now that when one of them wants something – usually petting – I find they have put themselves in a “sit” position with what I swear looks like a big Border Collie grin on their faces and their tails hitting the floor in big, sweeping wags. The “sit” has become enjoyable to them, all they way deep into their brains. The “sit” itself makes them happy as they have been so often reinforced for sitting that the behavior comes with great brain chemistry.

Try the 50 sit challenge above. Then challenge yourself and go for 100 sits in a day!

Top photo: Dog sitting by Shutterstock.

Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA

Annie Phenix is a Colorado-based professional writer and dog trainer. She is the Trainer in Residence for Dogster.com and she writes a column for Dogster Magazine and other publications. She is the author of a Spring 2016 book, titled The Midnight Dog Walkers (I-5 Publishing).


Tip: Creating a profile and avatar takes just a minute and is a great way to participate in Lucky Puppy community of people who are passionate about animals.