You’d like your pup to sit politely for attention 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). 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!
Your puppy should sit every time he wants something, just as if sitting was his way of saying “please”. It is polite doggy manners to sit for please before receiving food, treats, affection, going outside, coming inside, having a leash clipped on, and so forth.
All you need is one hungry dog of any age and some highly palatable food.
*NOTE* Don’t say “NO” to the dog if he gets it wrong. Instead say “whoops!” in a friendly voice so he knows to try again. Saying “no” makes the dog worry that if he guesses incorrectly he will be yelled at. It could cause him not to guess what you want him to do. Keep “no” only for things you don’t ever want your dog to do and not for incorrect guesses during training.
How old to start? Well, I regularly (and successfully) train 6 week old 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 such thing as “too early” in behavior shaping.
Step 1: Handfeed your dog.
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.
Use food in small pieces that is very fast and easy to chew and/or swallow. My absolute favorite food for hand-feeding training is Fresh Pet Select (in chicken or beef. Not the one for puppies; just the normal large log). This is found in a refrigerator in the dog food section of Target, Shoprite and a few other stores. It is in a log like hamburger. Slice it up with a bread knife and then cube it. If you don’t mind spending the extra cash they have for sale a bag of food that is already cut up for you. For tiny puppies these bites are too large still so I snip the food in half with kitchen scissors.
Or use bits of (real) cooked meat, poultry, fish or egg.
Step 2: Taste Test
Show the dog a piece of food pinched between your thumb and index finger. For small puppies put the food right under the nose so they can smell or taste it. Give the dog the piece of food. Don’t sit or kneel or your puppy will put their paws on you.
Step 3: Convince your dog to sit.
Don’t use the word “sit” just yet. This command doesn’t mean anything to him and you’ll be repeating it unnecessarily and making it a useless word. He won’t understand what you’re asking and he will learn to filter out that word as meaningless noise (as is much of human language to dogs). Wait to use the word until after the dog understands what you want him to do. I’ll explain in step 5.
Reload with another bite. Hold the food between your index finger and thumb, up where your dog can see that you have 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. Hold the food straight out almost over your dog’s head.
Do not wave the food around or hold it close enough to tempt a lunge or jump. Just be relaxed and casual. Remember, this is a game. (If your pup sits immediately put the food directly in the pup’s mouth and praise by saying “good sit!! Good sit!!”.)
If your dog doesn’t sit immediately just be patient. Trust me, he’ll sit.
Your dog might bark at you, whine, hop around, 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?”
If he doesn’t sit after another couple of seconds then hold the food directly above his head (too high for him to try to jump for it) and move it steadily back toward his tail, tracing a parallel line down his spine (but high above him). He should attempt to look at the food by looking straight up and he will either back up or sit down or both.
(If he sits then put the food right in his mouth and praise by saying “good sit! Good sit!”.)
Sometimes puppies just won’t stop lunging and jumping for that piece of food. When this happens many people have the natural reflex to pull their hand back away from the dog. You end up yo-yoing like this and all you’re doing as you draw your hand toward your body is encourage the pup to continue to move toward your hand in a chase game. If your pup jumps or lunges do not pull back; instead put the piece of food in your palm right where your fingers begin. Fold your fingers down so that your fingertips are covering the food. Keep close to your puppy and if they lunge let them smell the food and even lick or paw at your hand. They can’t get that hand trap to pop open and release their yummy prize!
And keep trying. Come forward and move back toward the tail. Hand back to the nose. Get his attention (remember they’re babies. They have short attention spans) and keep trying. Don’t get frustrated. If you feel yourself getting frustrated then just stand still and wait for your dog to sit naturally. If your dog gets really frustrated himself and begins to wander out of the room squat down and call him enthusiastically. When he runs to you immediately give him that piece of food to reward “come” and reload and try “sit” again.
If your pup refuses to focus then set a timer for 15 mins, play with some toys together, have a potty break and then try again. You can always offer a sip of water too. Thirsty puppies won’t often eat until they’ve had a drink.
Step 4: Reward and Repeat. The very second he sits his little back-end down say “good sit!! Good sit!!” as enthusiastically as you can muster and push that bit of food directly into his mouth. Don’t offer it. Don’t set it at his feet. Don’t hold it in front of his mouth. Push the food right onto his tongue inside his mouth so there is a direct connection between three things: the sit, the verbal “good sit!! Good sit!!” and the food (or simply the action of sitting and the food appearing deliciously in his mouth).
While he is eating (and possibly being delightedly confused by the manner in which he was fed) reload your food hand and let him see the food. 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 (usually to chew) he will sit again using the same method as outlined in step 3. When he does repeat the same action as before; push a new bite of food directly into his mouth.
*Note* sometimes really submissive dogs will refuse to take food directly from your fingertips. If this is the case then try holding the food in the palm of your hands right at the spot where your fingers begin. Curl your fingers down so that your fingertips can hold the treat in place. Let the puppy smell the food but he can’t get it until you open your fingers. When he sits open your palm and allow the puppy to eat out of your palm (it is less intimidating) and if all else fails place the food on the floor between the pups’ paws and take one step backwards. If your pup is so submissive that he still won’t eat be sure to turn your head and look the other way so that he can eat. A pup this submissive is going to be a challenge so call your breeder or start looking for a good trainer from whom to get advice asap. The earlier you start with a submissive dog the better off he will be.**
If your puppy remains seated grab another piece of food and give it to him and continue praising him. Do this again if you can.
What if he remains seated after 2 more bites? Take a few steps backwards and away from him encouraging him to follow. If he doesn’t follow you great. Tell him to “come”, reward with a bite and praise him for coming to you. Then get him to sit again. You can go back and forth across your kitchen this way until his meal is complete.
Step 5: Connect the verbal command “sit” with the desired action.
About halfway through your meal (or at your second meal for training that day) begin using the verbal cue “sit” as your pup is actually sitting.
It is important to begin using the word “sit” as the action is already taking place. That is what will tie the command word to the specific action and give this word meaning to your dog.
If you use the word “sit” over and over again as a command to a dog that doesn’t yet understand the word it could become nothing but useless babble to the dog. A word he may filter out as human garble and nothing important. Using the word “sit” as the dog is actually sitting will help him understand the word so in the future he can do what you ask because he’ll know what the heck you’re saying.
Once you have used the word “sit” while he is actually sitting for about 2 meals you can begin saying the word before tempting with food at all. If it doesn’t work go back to linking the word to the action. Practice makes perfect.
When he begins to show signs of disinterest and distraction then he is full 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 final performance, and then pay it out as a “jackpot” reward for an action. Otherwise you can play the game again in an hour or two or at the next mealtime. 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. (And make sure he sits before receiving the bowl of food.) After finishing this training session take your puppy out to potty. He will probably have a bowel movement for you.
Step 6: Practice to reinforce.
By the end of the first meal he will have a very good connection between the between sitting, verbal praise and food reward. And he’ll also be well exposed to the meaning of the word “sit”.
Continue this game at every meal. 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.
If you simply do not have the time (there are lots of days this happens to me so I can relate) to go through an entire meal then just 5 minutes can do wonders. It doesn’t seem like a lot but sometimes less is more; especially if the session happens to be successful, pleasant and rewarding for you and the dog. Then it will make an impact on Fido and he will be apt to repeat the successes of the session the next time you have a longer period for training.
Do this several days in a row and you’ll have a dog or puppy that sits on command anytime, with or without food and also that sits patiently and waits for a meal. You should always wait for a sit before offering any “free” meals in a bowl. Otherwise 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. It need only take 5 minutes most days and it will reinforce everything you’ve worked hard to achieve.
No dog is too young or old for this game. If he can eat and stand and sit then he can play.
Tip: “Pay” the puppy
Don’t use the “sit” command unless you’re giving your dog a food reward for about a week after introducing the command. This will help to ensure that you don’t set back your training. If you do choose to ask him to sit without a food reward be sure the dog completes the sit and that you praise heavily as a reward. Believe it or not studies indicate that dogs usually do not feel inclined to work for praise alone, nor do they like to work for praise any more than you want to sit in the office on Monday morning for an “atta boy” instead of a paycheck.
I carry little liver treats or crumbled bacon in a snack bag in one pocket just about everywhere I go. (But everyone knows I’m the crazy dog lady and they don’t seem surprised if I smell like liver or bacon.)
I like Bil Jac’s “Little Jacs” liver training treats along with just about any freeze dried real meat and so do my dogs. Those are handy in my pocket and don’t make a mess. I tend to cut Little Jacs in half with food scissors when training cockapoo puppies under 16 weeks. Otherwise I use bits of cooked bacon (real bacon) or bits of fish like sardines, salmon, Mahi and so forth (but don’t carry fish in your pocket!). They like bits of scrambled eggs or cooked chicken as well. And then there are just bits of their normal food which works just as well as everything else. Fresh Pet Select is the best “normal” food for this job. It isn’t as messy as canned food and it is a lot more palatable than dry kibble. You can also use a canned food. But keep paper towels handy.
Congrats! You have a dog or puppy that can sit on command.
SIT FOR PLEASE is especially important to enforce when giving your dog attention and petting. If they learn to sit nicely before they get affection and attention they will not jump like crazy animals all over you or your guests.
A tiny puppy jumping on you in joy is very cute. A muddy 18 pound cockapoo jumping all over you in joy is not quite so cute… especially since it always happens when you’re heading out and wearing nice clothes (for once).
Start the habit asap. Do not reward jumping behavior. Push a jumping puppy away with a knee or leg and ask them to “sit”. Simply wait until they do it while being as unexciting as possible.
When your puppy is tiny, fluffy and adorable (and brand new to you) don’t expect people to wait for him to sit before rushing to squeeze his fluffy face. They’re going to ignore you when you ask and it’ll annoy and frustrate you. Learn to avoid the habit of jumping puppies when guests come over by simply picking your puppy up to greet guests the first few minutes they meet them. This is ok to do if your puppy is on leash as well.
If your puppy will reliably sit and stay seated until given pets and attention then don’t worry about this. But the first week or so you bring your puppy home just lift the puppy and try to avoid allowing him to be rewarded for jumping on people. (The reward is petting the dog. He is jumping up to get attention and affection. If he receives what he is looking for he is going to continue the behavior.)
Well, that’s all she wrote.