You’d like your pup to sit politely for meals instead of jumping all over you. Or maybe you’d like to keep your new puppy from chewing on your heels and biting at your hands out of boredom (hey that’s a great puppy game, you know). Or maybe it is just time to teach Fido to sit. Well this will get you started and don’t underestimate how clever your best friend is. He’ll have “sit” figured out in one day. Reinforce it for a few days and he will be doing it on cue, like a polite doggie should!
All you need is a living, breathing dog of any age, the amount of food that dog eats in an average meal and a little cheap plastic clicker.
You do not need a leash, a shock-collar or choke chain, indeed no collar at all and you do not need to manually force your dog to sit down, yell, hit or punish the dog in any way whatsoever.
You don’t even need to touch your dog at all.
Sound too good to be true? Well, for once in life it is NOT too good to be true! Don’t believe me? Bring your dog to my house. Give me one lesson. I’ll prove to you that I can have your dog sitting in ONE lesson with nothing but a cup or two of tasty food and a clicker.
How old to start? Well, I regularly (and successfully) train 7 week old Cockapoo puppies to sit using this fun game. It is never too early to begin playing fun games (which are learning experiences for both you and your puppy). Keep your sessions short and positive and there is no “too early” in behavior shaping!
Step 1: Don’t feed your dog in a bowl. Train at a normal mealtime, whatever that meal is. Then you’ll have a naturally hungry (but not over-hungry) dog or pup. Measure out the appropriate, normal ration for that meal into a doggie dish and encourage your hungry dog to follow you into a room with a hard floor (like the kitchen). I use the kitchen in case the puppy drops food and makes a mess. Easy clean-up.
Make sure you are using food that is in small pieces and very easy to chew and/or swallow. Try a can of ground up dog food if you’re not using a real-food, fresh food diet. Taste of the Wild and Wellness are both easy to find and have very doggie-approved canned foods. Better foods exist but these are the easiest to find at big box pet stores.
Step 2: Now grab your handy-dandy clicker. You can use a whistle if you prefer, but most people use a clicker. They are convenient and deliver the same pitch, length and volume of marker for every event. A whistle is very useful for the exact opposite. If you’re new to training using an acoustic marker (or “clicker” training) then a clicker will do it for you. These cost less than a dollar and can be found easily. If you want the Ferrari of clickers get the “iclick” from Karen Pryor and while you’re at it read her book “Reaching the Animal Mind” or any of her “clicker training” books.
Step 3: Set the bowl of food on the counter where the dog can see. Your dog has likely noticed that it is food time and is appropriately hungry and has followed you into the kitchen. Holding your clicker in one hand, thumb ready to click, lift a small bite-sized amount of food in your other hand. Do not wave the food around or hold it over the dog’s head. or close enough to really entice him to jump or reach for the food. Just be relaxed and casual. Remember, this is a game. That is all it is. A really fun game that you both are going to enjoy and benefit from.
Hold the food. Your dog doesn’t know the rules of the game yet, but that is OK. Trust me; he’ll catch on quicker than you think.
Look relaxed but be ready; clicker in hand, thumb on the trigger, ready to go. Your dog might bark at you, play bow, whine, hop around, and paw you and all kinds of other things. He is thinking “Hey, what gives? Why am I not getting that yummy food? What do you want? What can I do for you?”
Be patient. Just wait. Your dog will sit. Trust me. It will happen. In fact, it might happen immediately. If he wanders away and has given up you can wave the food a bit and encourage him to come back into the training area. Do not repeat the word “sit” over and over. But you can encourage your dog in an exciting voice to keep his interest in the game. “Come on Rex, you’re such a smart puppy. You can do this buddy.”
Step 4: The very second he sits his little back-end down click your clicker and push that bit of food directly into his mouth. Don’t offer it. Don’t set it at his feet. Push the food right onto his tongue inside his mouth so there is a direct connection between three things: the sit, the click and the food. When you are finished putting the food into the receptive doggie mouth please say “good sit, good sit” and be sure to enunciate the word “sit” for your dog.
While he is eating (and possibly being delightedly confused by the manner in which he was fed) reload your food hand. Get another perfect bite size, no bigger. Your pup will undoubtedly enjoy his little bit of food. Then he will look at you. “OK, what now? How do I do that again?” And if he stands back up he will eventually sit again. When he does repeat the same action as before. Click the clicker and push a new bite of food directly into his mouth.
What if he remains seated? Take a few steps away. He’ll follow you and then he’ll sit again, quite possibly immediately. Click and feed him. Verbally praise and use the command word “sit”.
What if he remains seated across the room and you’ve fully walked away? Squat down to his level and call his name excitedly. Wave the food and hold it toward him as if you’re offering it to him. He’ll come. When he arrives click your clicker and push the food into his mouth. Now you’re teaching him to “come” and to “sit”. Double duty. That’s good stuff. Also you’ve encouraged him not to give up on the game.
Step 5: Continue this game. Remember this can happen the first session or any subsequent session. Every dog and training session is different, with all kinds of external factors influencing our particular chances at covering ground for that day. There is no “too slow”, so remember that all positive training sessions, even without “success” are really measurable successes.
Trust me, your dog will catch on faster than you think. Pretty soon he’ll be sitting immediately, then being fed, then following you a few steps away and sitting and being fed. After you repeat this fun little exercise about 4-5 times begin saying “sit” as you can see him sitting down or right before. If you say “sit” and he doesn’t sit, that’s fine. Just repeat the command clearly just as he is sitting down, followed rapidly by an affirming click that tells him “Yes! That is right! Food will promptly be paid out!”
After he sits, is clicked and fed, you can pat him and tell him “good sit! Good sit!” This will reinforce that word.
Step 6: Finish his meal this way. By the end of the meal he will have a very good connection between the clicker and a food reward. He will also have a connection between sitting and a click/food reward. And he’ll also be well exposed to the verbal command “sit”.
When he begins to show signs of disinterest and distraction then he is full and done eating and the game is over. That is OK. Do not put the remainder of his food down for him unless you’re extremely pleased with his performance. Otherwise you can play the game again in an hour or two. At the end of the day be sure to feed him the rest of his normal amount of food if he hasn’t earned all of it by then.
Do this several days in a row and you’ll have a dog or puppy that sits on command at anytime, with or without food and also that sits patiently and waits for a meal. You should now wait for a sit before offering any “free” meals in a bowl. I suggest waiting for a “sit” before allowing the dog through any door or blocked passage that he obviously wants access to. You don’t even have to use the command “sit” most of the time. The dog will actually figure it out all on his own, and so very much sooner than you think.
I highly recommend taking the time to make at least one meal a day a fully “earned” meal. These short training sessions are very rewarding and fun for both you and the animal and they will strengthen and deepen the relationship you have in wonderful ways.
No dog is too young or old for this game. If he can eat and stand and sit then he can play.
Don’t use the “sit” command unless you’re giving your dog a reward (food or his food or water bowl or access through a door or other passage, etc.) AND a click from your clicker, until a good, solid week has passed with these games. This will help to ensure that you don’t set back your learning. If you do choose to ask him to sit without a food reward or a clicker be sure the dog completes the sit. If he does not, do NOT repeat the command over and over because you’ll be teaching him to ignore your command word “sit”. If this happens I suggest you say nothing at all but wait patiently for your dog to sit all on his own. As he is sitting down, about to touch the floor with his rump and too far to spring back up without effort say “sit” and then tell him what a great puppy he is.
If he romps off and doesn’t sit don’t stress about the situation. There is absolutely no need to use your hands and arms and put him into a sit. And please never attempt this if you can’t easily and gently put your dog into a sitting position. I know this is the most common way taught to get a dog to sit, but if you can avoid forcing your dog into a sitting position you’ll actually have a dog that learns a lot faster and isn’t feeling unsure about his person.
For me, I carry little liver treats in one pocket and a clicker in the other everywhere I go. I like Bil Jac’s “Little Jacs” liver training treats and so do my dogs. Those are handy in my pocket and don’t make a mess. Otherwise I use bits of cooked bacon (real bacon) or bits of fish like sardines, salmon, mahi and so forth. They like bits of scrambled eggs or cooked chicken as well. And then there are just bits of their normal fresh food which works just as well as everything else. You don’t have to smell like some kind of carnivorous diet all day, but anything your dog wants can be a reward. This includes his favorite toy, which you might be holding, an antler chew or bully stick, entrance into the house or out into the yard, even playtime with another dog or family member. If he wants it then it will reward him and reinforce his behavior of obeying your requests.
When the dog loses interest in this game of sit-and-get-fed then the game is over. It doesn’t matter if the puppy sat 2 or 20 times. It is a successful session so long as it was a positive experience for your puppy. You are laying the foundation for your dog to associate training and commands with something he feels highly motivated to participate in. If you’re sensing he is filling up with food (no longer hungry) or tired or just getting distracted then end the game and on a good note and transition to your next activity.
So do this and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Congrats! You have a dog or puppy that can sit on command.