Teaching a Puppy to Sit

Puppies can learn how to sit on command through a variety of different ways and by using several different techniques. Some are better than others and some you might have heard of that we recomend you don't use in teaching your puppy. We prefer the hands off, positive reinforcement way of training here at Fynn and Friends.

What NOT to do: modeling. This technique tends to be used by those who have no education on dog training and also by those who use aversive methods. Simply put, we place a hand on the puppy’s croup (chest) area and push it towards the floor; as a result, the puppy will sit. There are a few problems associated with this method. If you’re trying to make a big and heavy dog, such as an English Mastiff, to sit through the use of force, the chances of success are slim. Besides, he’s not actually learning how to sit on command; he’s simply reacting to the push.

Capturing, on the other hand, can be a much more effective way to teach the puppy. When using this technique, we simply wait for the puppy to voluntarily offer the desired behaviour, we mark it and then offer him a reward. With enough repetition, the puppy will start to present that particular behaviour more often; when we’re pretty sure he’ll sit, we can say the verbal cue and as soon as he sits, we mark the behaviour and reward him. Eventually, one day, we’ll say “Sit!” and the puppy will respond.

Shaping is a method that should be used for professional dog trainers who love a training challenge; it can also be used on that puppy who rarely sits. Simply put, we’ll mark and reward behaviours that will lead us to the desired one. So, in practice, we’ll start by marking and rewarding the puppy as soon as he slightly bends his back legs towards the floor. This technique may require patience and a good level of training skills. It's like rewarding your pup for getting almost there continuously until he or she gets their bum all the way down.

Lastly, another option for teaching a pup how to sit is luring.

  • We grab a piece of food (it can be kibble, boiled chicken, dried liver, a dog biscuit, amongst others).
  • Place it above the dog’s nose and slowly move our hand up and backwards.
  • The puppy will naturally follow the treat and, as result, his head will go up. As the head goes up, his hindquarters will go down and the puppy will sit.
  • As soon as his bottom touches the floor, we mark the behavior and offer him the treat.
  • When the puppy is familiarized with this step, we need to remove the food from our hand. Otherwise, we’ll end up with a dog that will only do what he’s told if he sees a piece of food first. Then, we can start adding the verbal cue and decreasing the emphasis on the hand movement.

Some puppies will sit all the time; others may take ages before they finally sit. Respect their individual differences and learning rhythms. And, don’t forget: the whole process is meant to be enjoyable for the puppy!

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