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How to Teach Your Dog to "Sit"

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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The "sit" exercise is probably the most practical skill you can teach your dog. Whether you're waiting at the curb of a crowded street or competing in an obedience trial, you'll thank yourself (and your dog) for taking the time to master this exercise.

Teaching a dog to "sit" also provides a kind of obedience gateway to all the other basic exercises, including: "sit-stay," "down," "down-stay," "come" and "heel." Training should be fun and relatively easy: Use a food lure and positive reinforcement. Short, training sessions will help your dog learn quickly – even young puppies will be eager to work if the reward is enticing enough.

Using a Food Lure

Find a quiet indoor environment with few distractions. Start by using a small piece of food to lure your dog's nose to point upward (toward the treat) and move the treat backwards over his head so that he naturally lowers his haunches to a sitting position. Don't hold the treat too high or he may jump up for it.

Be prepared: As soon as he sits, give him the treat food. Repeat the exercise, adding the word "sit," so the dog can learn quickly what you expect of him; rather than forcing his body into position, allow him to discover what is required on his own. (Note: If your dog jumps at the food, you're probably holding it up too high).

Once this exercise has been learned, take it on the road. When your dog has mastered the skill in the quietness of your yard, try asking him to sit in other places like on the sidewalk or in the garage. Then "up the ante" by having him follow the instruction in a busy, distracting place, like a park, supermarket entrance or a crowded sidewalk. As your dog proves he has learned the meaning of the word "sit," taper off his rewards so that he only gets a treat every third or fourth time he sits. The goal of any reinforcement program should be to graduate to supplying rewards intermittently and on a variable schedule. By rewarding your dog unpredictably - but always continuing to offer rewards at times - you can best maintain his interest in the exercise.

Think Positively

The key to successful training is patience and a positive attitude. Scolding and physical force will only turn your dog off to the fun of these exercises. Try to keep your sessions short, approximately five to 10 minutes once or twice daily. Work with him only at times when he seems enthusiastic and attentive and end each session on a positive note. The more successful he feels, the more rewarding your efforts will be.

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