ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Technique Challenge: Sit

"Exerpted from The Good Dog! Training Manual", copyright Janet Smith

Training Behaviors

Any behavior that your dog can physically perform can be "trained" and put on cue/command. The process is the same no matter what behavior you are trying to teach.

The Steps are:

  1. Get the Behavior!
  2. Reinforce the Behavior.
  3. Attach a cue/command to the behavior.
  4. Shape for a better response to the cue.
  5. Get the behavior under stimulus control.

Step one: Get the behavior*. Have a clear picture in you mind of the "finished product". A behavior that occurs naturally...a sit, bark, etc. can be marked and reinforced (click and treat). This is called "capturing behaviors" and is simply a matter of marking and rewarding (c/t) the behavior. More typically behaviors are targeted or lured...for example a cookie held over a dog's head will cause the dog to sit.

*at step one there is NO command/cue for the behavior.

Step two: In step two you reward the behavior. The click should occur the instant the behavior does...followed by reinforcement/reward. Think of your clicker as a camera photographing the behavior the moment it occurs. Generally one will stay at step two for a minimum of 20 repetitions.

prompt behavior-------click----------treat

Do not go on to step 3 until the behavior is occuring on a regular basis, every 3 seconds or so, and the dog is not offering any other behaviors.

Step Three: Attach verbal cue to the behavior. Choose a cue/command for the behavior (preferably a short single word) say the word just before/as the behavior is occuring.

as dog sits-----say sit-----sit-----click------treat

Remain at this stage until the verbal cue causes the behavior to occur...without any extra body language or food prompts-you may need to repeat the command at this stage which is fine, you will go to step four when the behavior is occurring on a regular basis with 3 commands or less.

Step Four: Once the behavior is occurring on 3 commands or less slowly raise your criteria to 2 commands or less...if the dog does not respond within 2 commands use an LRS (least reinforcing stimulus). A LRS is simply communication which tells the dog "that incorrect/non response will not be reinforced". You move to a slightly different spot and cue/command the behavior again. Correct response (c/t), incorrect response (LRS).

*If your dog repeatedly fails to give you the correct response he's telling you that you've raised the criteria too quickly...go back in the training steps to get him successful again.

Remain at step four until your dog quickly responds to one command/cue.

Step five: is getting the behavior under stimulus control in a variety of settings. You've taken your show "on the road" so to speak. Your dog will respond to the first command no matter what he is doing no matter where he is!

How to get stimulus control:

  1. Do many, many, many repetitions. Repeat. I said many repetitions!
  2. Practice in a variety of locations, inside, outside, at the park etc. Realize every time you change locations you change the exercise...dogs do not generalize well. So the first time you ask for a "sit" outside you will have to "go back to kindergarten"...back to step 1...luring the behavior. Your dog will catch on and go through the steps2,3,4 quickly BUT it is important to go back to step one. Always provide your "help" BEFORE the dog fails...don't TEST FIRST and then HELP.
  3. Change your position relative to the dog. If you always ask for a sit when standing...sit...and ask for the behavior. Lay on the floor and ask for the behavior...include as much variety in terms of your position/dog's position/location as possible.


Janet Smith
Good Dog! Training
Okemos, MI


I like to toss the treat away so the puppy has to run to get it. This brings the pup out of the sit, rewards it AND gives it a great opportunity to return and offer another sit. I suggest clients feed a few meals like this... offering a few kibbles for each sit.

As the pup gets the idea that sitting is fun I will pause for a bit before the click and tossing the treat... we are now working on a silent sit-stay (extending the time by nanoseconds sometimes :-)

I implore clients to refrain from attaching the cue word for as long as they possible can. The longer they wait the more accurate they are at reading when their dog will sit. Their accuracy in predicting the behavior strengthens the word association for the dog.


I believe that the one behavior that should be taught better than all the rest is "sit". Puppies and adolescent dogs have a hard time because they do not have the maturity or finesse to engage their brains AND their bodies at the same time. This leaves them in an "either - or" situation. When a dog sits, its body has effectively been disengaged so its brain can now turn "on".

I like to teach "sit" as the default position. If my dog can't figure out what to do in a given situation he sits. If we are at a door or a gate I simply wait for the sit before we go through. To get into the car he must sit. To get out of the car he must sit, To get me to lower the food or water bowl to the ground he must sit. Occasionally I'll ask for the behavior but the vast majority of the time I do not. He offers a sit and gets what he wants.

If an adolescent dog is about to or has already made a bad choice of behaviors I find that a strong "sit" cue may give him an alternative (and better) behavior which I can reward.

Laura Van Dyne
6283 County Road 100
The Canine Consultant
Carbondale, Colorado 81623


Teaching Sit

  1. Have everyone handling the dog agree on a definition for the behavior. Does sit mean, in front of me, at my side, whereever the dog is when the cue is given, or something else.
  2. Find a room with no distractions.
  3. Move treat in front of dogs nose, allow to sniff, then move so dogs head falls back and dog move into a sit. Click the precise moment the dog sits and then toss a treat a short distance away. Repeat this 3 to 4 times.
  4. Place your hand in front of the dogs nose, sans treat, and get them to follow your hand as if it had a treat. Click the precise moment the dog sits and then toss a treat a short distance away. Repeat this three to four times.
  5. Patiently wait for the dog to offer a sit on their own. Click the instant the dog sits and jackpot (first treat, second treat, third treats, etc.)
  6. Wait for the dog to offer a sit on their own (usually this comes quickly) and click and treat. Do this for 20 repetitions, then end the session. Use small treats and work to get the dog to offer the behavior as rapidly as possible so as to maintain a high rate of reinforcement.
  7. Second session you will go to the same room and wait patiently for the dog to sit, clicking and treat for each repetition. If the dog does not offer the behavior after a minute try luring to get the dog started, first with just your hand, then with a treat if necessary. Session ends after 20 repetitions.
  8. Go to a new location, with little or no distractions, and wait for the dog to sit. Because this is a new location you may need to use luring to get the dog strated the first times. Do 20 repetitions.
  9. Practice as above in at least 4 different distractions with minimal distractions, doing 20 repetitions per session. After dog is readily offering the behavior in these locations move to a location with slightly more distractions and repeat.
  10. Start refining the criteria of the behavior for speed and accuracy, rewarding only for the sits you like. Work on one criteria at a time.
  11. When the dog is freely offering the behavior in areas of varying distractions, and you like the behavior (it is fast and accurate enough) you will start to add the cue. As the dog starts and is committed to the behavior say "Sit," clicking as they sit and then treating. Do this for 20 repetitions in several locations.
  12. Ask the dog to sit, click and then treat. Do for 20 repetitions through various locations. The dog should now have a reliable response to your sit cue.

Don Hanson
Green Acres Kennel Shop
Bangor ME USA


Two methods depending on the situation and the trainer. One, wait for the dog to sit click and treat, repeat. Change positions relative to the dog and areas as the dog progresses. Begin to name it when the dog is consistent. Sounds really easy right? It is. When the dog has been taught a couple of other stunts mix 'em up so that the dog has to pay attention to the cue to win the click.

Two, holding food in hand raise it over the dogs eyebrows so that their but drops in order to keep eye contact with the treat, say sit as the dog is in the process of placing bottom on the ground. Repeat until the dog is familiar with what earns the treat. Fade lure into a slight hand gesture, begin to precede the hand gesture with sit cue. If the dog takes too long then oops and move on denying chance to get a treat.

Cynthia Wunder


Here is how I am now working to reinforce "SIT".

I get the dogs excited initally by chopping up treats and ignoring them.

Then I put the treats on a high table and sit in my chair, hands folded. Because my dogs are little, they have to look UP to get my attention. When they do this, they normally sit because of the strain on their necks to keep looking up so high. The moment the dog's rear hits the floor, I click and deliver the treat. I then move my position, move forward a few inches or backwards--making the dog change position and stand again.

And again, I sit quietly with my hands folded and when the butt hits the floor, I click and feed.

I work hard to keep the momentum up, to keep moving around the floor, in a sort of dance so that the dog has many opportunities for quick reinforcement. I use heavy constant reinforcement, upping the criteria as I go, to new rooms, to the porch, to outside with limited distractions, to outside with mega-distractions.

I do not even attempt to put a cue or signal on this behavior until the dog is freely offering it to me every time I sit quietly waiting for a behavior to be offered. I want to establish the "sit" behvior as a default behavior, as I have service dogs. I want them to first offer me a "sit" with attention before any other behavior.

I am not critical about the TYPE Of sit I get at this point. But I do start refining which Sits I will reinforce, once the dog has the idea that the act of sitting will be reinforced, and do not keep reinforcing sloppy sits.

I have lured the sit, and this has actually worked out splendidly, as well. I'm just finding that I have a bit stronger behavior by capturing than by luring, but it could be that becasue I use so much inadvertant cueing, that my dogs are constantly reading my body language getting mixed signals. I realize I have a weakness in this area, and constantly strive to reduce the unwanted cueing my body seems to do without my bidding! So free shaping seems to work the best for me.

I put the cue on the behavior once I'm getting the TYPE of sits I want about 90 percent of the time, and in many environments. I do this by watching my dog carefully, giving off the pre-cue (my sitting quietly waiting), then just as my dog begins to sit, I say the cue word "sit" and click as the rear end hits the floor.

But, I also wean them off the verbal cue as soon as possible, because I want them to do automatic sits whenever possible, giving me attention.

By linking the attention behavior with capturing the sit behavior, it's made the sit a very nice default to have.

Debi Davis
Tucson, AZ


Before I begin to teach the sit I spend a few minutes conditioning the dog to the reward marker -- either the Click! or a verbal "Yes!" I do this by following the Click! or "Yes" with a treat a half-dozen to a dozen times. By doing this I also engage the dog's attention. Once he learns that I'm a little treat machine he usually has little interest in anything else!

Most dogs will start offering sits during this conditioning process. I encourage this with my body language -- standing up straight and holding the treat up toward my chest. If the dog is offering sits, I begin clicking only for sits, and continue to reward for every Click! I will back up to encourage the dog to follow me, and click and reward when I stop and he sits. When I know that he will volunteer sits as I move away and stop, I add the verbal cue *as he does the behavior.* That is, just as his rump touches the ground I say "Sit!", then Click! and reward. I will gradually -- over 6 to 24 repetitions -- begin giving the "Sit" cue sooner, until I am asking for the sit *before* he offers the behavior. Then I start to fade my body language; hiding the hand with the treat behind my back as I ask for the "Sit." If necessary I will bring the treat back out to cue the dog to sit if doesn't respond to the verbal cue alone, but this is rarely necessary.

A very few dogs need a more deliberate luring of the "Sit." In these cases I will let the dog nibble at the treat, then move it back over his head so that he sits in order to watch the treat more easily as it moves above him. If the dog insists on backing up to watch the treat I will back him into a corner and keep trying to lure the sit.

Pat Miller
Peaceable Paws


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