Sit and down are two of the most fundamental behaviors to teach our dogs. Most people will say that their dog knows “sit”. The definition of “knows” however tends to vary. Some dogs “know” sit when their owner (or whoever is asking) is very obviously holding a cookie. Some “know” sit when there is pressure applied upwards on their leash. Some “know” sit when it is repeated 10 times, in an increasingly irritated voice. My definition of a dog “knowing” any behavior is that the dog will do the behavior on the first cue, no matter where they are, without the obvious bribe of a reward, or threat of a punishment and you are willing to bet $100 on it. If the dog cannot reach this definition then they are simply still learning, which is just fine!
So, how do we make sure that our dogs “know” the behavior? The first step, in my book, is to take a deep breath and take the pressure off. It’s okay if your dog doesn’t sit immediately when asked every time. No one is judging you. And if they are then they need to find some better things to do with their energy. Especially in a distracting environment, or if your dog is very excited. It’s important to just take a deep breath and remember that they may just be a little too excited to give you that sit the first time and it’s okay if they don’t.
Once you take that deep breath, we start some training! If you are worried that your dog will only perform the behavior under a bribe, a threat, or with a repeated cue, I recommend going back to the beginning.
My favorite way to teach a reliable “sit” (and “down”), is to capture the behavior. Sits are particularly easy to teach with a capturing method, as most dogs will offer the behavior readily. Especially if they already know it to some degree. Capturing is a method of teaching a behavior that I really enjoy. You grab some treats, a clicker (if you use one), and your dog. You can do this on or off leash. Pick a spot in your house and stand with your dog. Now, wait for them to offer the behavior. It may take a few minutes, but that’s okay. Just wait. I find it helpful while doing this to put on a TV show, audiobook, podcast, or some music to help keep my frustration levels down. As soon as your dog offers the behavior click (or mark with your verbal marker) and treat. Once you have given them the treat, give your release cue and move to get them up. Then stop, and wait again. Repeat until your dog is sitting quickly as soon as you stop moving. I recommend doing 10 treats per session to keep things short and fun. You can do multiple 10 treat sessions a day, but take breaks in between sessions for at least 10-20 minutes.
Capturing looks like this:
Once your dog is readily offering the behavior as soon as you stop, it’s time to introduce your cue. You can choose any cue you like! As you come to a stop with your dog, and you see them start going into that sit, say your cue. When the behavior is finished, click and treat! This is how we will teach our dogs that the specific sound we are making goes with this behavior.
This is what building the cue association looks like:
As your dog improves at this behavior, you will start saying the cue earlier and earlier until you are completely cueing the behavior. To teach “down” follow the same steps, but wait for a down from your dog instead. Sometimes when capturing a down, I find it helpful to put your dog on leash and stand on it while you wait. That way your dog cannot leave if they get bored.
When you first start this process it can take a little while for your dog to start offering behaviors, but it can really be worth the wait. Not only does this method give us the opportunity to create a clean cue, it also encourages our dogs to try these behaviors when we do not ask for them. This can have the wonderful side effect of a dog who tries sits and downs when they want your attention and aren’t sure what else to do!
Give this method a try and let us know how it works for you! Remember, if you ever have questions just reach out and get in touch with us. We are always here to help!