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There probably isn’t a more basic command than “sit”—but don’t mistake basic for not useful.
Sit is one command you don’t want to pass up in favor of others that are more like party tricks! (“Play dead”, anyone?).
Teaching your puppy how to sit on command is a very valuable thing to do, and in fact might actually save your dog’s life should you ever need to root them to one spot while off-leash.
We’ll touch more on the benefits of having your dog know how to sit later, then go on to describe in detail 3 simple to follow techniques to successfully teach your puppy how to sit.
But before we begin, let’s look at why it’s such an essential command.
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Why Should You Teach Your Dog The “Sit” Command?
Because sitting is a natural thing your dog does all the time anyway (unlike say “fetch” or “paw”), it’s a great starter to your training.
Training the simple sit can help give you and your puppy the confidence you need to learn new things. It’s a pretty simple fact that if you get something right early on, you get excited to try harder, more challenging things later. The same applies to your puppy.
“Sit” is also a great building block for the trust and mutual respect in the relationship between you and your new Labrador puppy. Once you’ve both mastered “sitting” and got excited by the success, you can then progress to more complex commands, you with your chin up and your pup with their tail high and wagging.
Also, as mentioned before, the “sit” command is pretty much the most versatile and useful command your dog should know. Frankly, if you’re only able to teach your dog one command and one command only, make it this one.
Why? When you need to control your pup with a single word, “sit” can take the place of many others like “down” or “stay”. If you’ve properly taught your dog to listen to the “sit” command, you can then ask them to:
- Sit when guests arrive to cut down on the chances of your dog jumping on them in excitement—which is an especially common thing for Labrador Retrievers to do.
- Stop at a crosswalk while you wait for the light to change, so there’s very little chance of your dog lunging into traffic.
- Politely wait for treats or rewards to be given instead of breaking a position you’re training, or worse lunging for the treat in your hand.
- Give the right of way to people for doors and stairways—nobody wants an enthusiastic pup barrelling through with no warning! Painful falls are often the result.
- Control when off-leash, potentially saving your dog’s life if there’s any threat and you can’t get to them quickly enough to leash them. If they reliably sit, they are rooted to the spot and cannot bolt further into trouble.
But in order to benefit from the “sit” command, you must first be able to teach it to your dog so well that there’s no chance they’ll ever disobey. Let’s look at some of the recommended ways you can achieve exactly that.
Best Practices For Training A Puppy To Sit
Puppies are puppies: rambunctious, easily distracted and with a very low tolerance for repetitive tasks. But they’re also eager to please you, which is something you can definitely use to your advantage, though you must also make things easy to start with. Here’s how:
Start in a Distraction Free, Familiar Environment
When starting off training your Lab pup to sit, try to choose a familiar spot in your home that’s relatively free of distractions like toys, food and other people or pets. It’s important to direct your pup’s focus on you, and on what you want them to do.
Don’t worry, once your puppy has mastered sitting in this one low-distraction area, you can then move into more difficult places and even deliberately try to distract your dog to make sure that when they get the “sit” command, they really do get it.
How Often Should You Practice Teaching the “Sit” Command?
It depends on the age of your puppy, and also their own energy and focus levels.
For puppies that are 10-12 weeks old, keep your training sessions extremely short. We’re talking 3-5 minutes a few times a day and no more.
Later, you can try 10-15 minutes and end the session early if you spot any signs of boredom or inattention from your pup.
Use The Right Tone of Voice
Tone of voice is very important when teaching your dog a command. Think firm but kind.
Don’t pitch your voice at the end for any reason—you’re not asking a question, you’re telling your puppy to do something.
Never shout! Dogs have much better hearing than we do, and shouting usually just comes across as aggressive and frightening. A low tone of voice (e.g. muttering or hissing) can also read as threatening.
If you’re not sure you’re using the right tone, practice by yourself or ask a trusted friend to judge how you’re sounding. You and your dog will both benefit from this in the long run.
Praise and Reward Generously
Your puppy wants to please you. And Labs being a working breed, they also have an inherent need to feel appreciated and that they’ve done a good job well.
So use plenty of praise and rewards. It’s highly motivating and can turn what might be a chore into moments of pride for your puppy, and a fun bonding time for you both.
Always End Training Positively
Finally, try to end your sessions on a positive note, like when your puppy has successfully accomplished the “sit” command.
If you always stop when the going gets tough, you’re likely to give your dog the idea that they can just call it quits in their training by doing nothing or deliberately not doing whatever you’re asking.
Ways To Train Your Labrador Puppy To Sit
We’ve found the following 3 methods to be extremely effective:
- Lure your puppy to sit with treats
- Capture the behavior you want
- Gently coerce your dog by touch into sitting
Start with luring, which is the easiest and best, then make your way down to capture and then coercion if with luring you’re not getting much traction.
Here are the steps for each technique in detail.
Luring Your Puppy To Sit By Using Food
This is a simple and relatively foolproof way of teaching your puppy to sit on command.
Step 1: Start with a handful of small treats in your pocket. Take one out and let your puppy smell it. That should get their attention.
Step 2: Lift your hand so that it’s just over your puppy’s forehead. By now, they should be looking up and after the treat. It’s important to get this just right. If your hand is too low, your puppy will back up instead. Too high, and they might jump to grab the treat.
Step 3: Slowly shift your hand further back so that your pup’s head tilts back. The idea is that they’ll sit on their own to keep the treat in sight.
Step 4: Once you see your pup’s bum touch the floor, say “sit” and give them the treat. Timing is crucial here. If you don’t give the command when they’re just about to sit, they may not understand what you’re saying. As well, don’t give a reward if your puppy bounces right back up after sitting. You only want to give a treat when they sit, and continue to sit.
Step 5: Repeat the above a few times, and once you’re ready, try the same hand motion without a treat so you can get your puppy away from the idea of just following a treat.
Step 6: Ready for more? Stand farther away from your puppy and do the same hand motion. Give a reward on sitting. You can even use the proper hand command for sitting, which is slowly lifting your hand until it’s parallel to the floor, palm upwards.
If luring doesn’t quite get the job done, try your hand at capturing instead.
How To Use The Capture Technique To Teach Sitting
If you use clicker training, then you’re already familiar with the idea behind capturing, which is simply waiting for a behavior to happen naturally and rewarding it on time to get it to happen again.
If you spy that your puppy is getting ready to sit, give them the command and a treat, then go back to just quietly watching. At that point, your keen Lab is probably wondering which behavior it was that got them a treat.
You might see your puppy try a lot of things to get your attention (and another treat). Ignore them until you catch them ready to sit again and repeat. Pretty soon, your dog should learn to associate sitting with treats and rewards.
But if it doesn’t, here’s something else you can try as a last resort.
Physically Nudging Your Dog Into Sitting To Learn The Command
If luring or capturing just don’t seem to be the solution to teaching your dog how to sit, try gentle physical coercion instead.
Now, it’s not very pleasant to be physically forced into a position so if you do use this training method, use it with caution and compassion.
Start by having your dog by your side, both of you facing the same way. Press your right palm to your pup’s chest, and hold your left hand just underneath their bum, above their knees.
Gently push inward and give the “sit” command the moment your dog’s bum touches the floor. Hold them in position for a few seconds if you can, then release and give a treat.
Never push on your dog’s back near the tail to force them to sit. With puppies especially, you risk damaging their still-developing hip bones. Follow the exact method above if you want to try this on your puppy.
How To Not Rely On Treats For Obedience
You might have noticed that with any of the “sit” training methods above, rewards play a huge role in the outcome and success rate of your sessions.
But once you have your Labrador puppy sitting on command well, you need to begin phasing out rewards. If you don’t, you run the risk of having a dog who will only sit when they know you have treats (and you can bet that dogs always know if you have treats on hand!). That’s obviously not an acceptable scenario.
Try to combine commands if you can. For example, ask your dog to sit, lie down and then sit again before giving them a treat. You’re now rewarding more than one behavior at a time.
The next time, simply don’t give out a food treat. Give praise or a favorite toy instead so that your dog learns to associate sitting with good things in general, not just treats.
The goal is to have rewards be random. Sometimes it’s twice in a row, other times it’s not until after ten sits. This is the only way to drastically reduce the chances that your dog will decide it’s just not worth the effort to sit.
Training Your Dog To Sit In Any Situation
The final thing to consider when teaching your puppy how to sit is “proofing”.
Dogs are generally not very good at understanding they need to perform a behavior pretty much anywhere you say. Instead, they come to associate a learned behavior in only the specific place it was trained. So while you started out teaching the “sit” command in a room free of distractions, you need to work on having your dog sit anywhere, anytime.
Proofing and generalization are fairly extensive processes in their own right. Learn everything you need to know about proofing a command in this article.
Additional Tips For Teaching Your Labrador How To Sit
If you’re new to training a dog, your first instinct may be to schedule sessions. Don’t do it, especially with a command like sitting where you’ll have a lot of opportunities throughout the day to teach it.
Sure, you can start by having training sessions specifically dedicated to learning how to sit, but as you progress, don’t forget to make it a part of your daily routine for best results.
Going for a walk? Ask your puppy to sit before you put on the leash.
Dinnertime? Don’t give out the food until your dog is sitting and patiently waiting for it.
If you can’t seem to get your Lab interested or if they can’t understand what you’re asking, don’t punish them. You both deserve a break and time to breathe. If you’re feeling angry and frustrated, try to calm down by taking a walk (by yourself) or focusing on other tasks. If you want to be a good trainer, you first have to train yourself.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to get your family involved in training your puppy to sit.
Before you do, however, have them read this article and decide together on the training method to use (hint, start with luring). This way, you can be sure your dog receives consistent training instead of mixed, confusing signals.
Whether you’re new to sharing your life with a dog or just have a new puppy to teach, starting with the “sit” command can give you both a good boost of confidence and a solid start to your lifelong partnership.
It’s relatively easy and it’s a very good skill to have, plus it also paves the way for more advanced command training later.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it with anyone you think might benefit from reading it. And if you have any experience with training your dog to sit, don’t be shy – share your experiences in the comments!
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