Get Your Dog to Automatically Sit with These 6 Steps

Want to teach your dog an automatic sit? Follow these six steps from Sarah Hodgson, author of the forthcoming Modern Dog Parenting.

Sarah Hodgson, Writing for
4-minute read

Parents everywhere teach their kids good manners. Kids learn to say please when they want something and to wait patiently for help. Kids who learn these things get recognition; they're more fun to hang out with or take on outings.

Dogs can learn good manners too. Good dogs sit to say please, and can be conditioned to wait for what they want. Sound impossible?  It’s easier than you think. Whether you’re conditioning a new dog or puppy or rehabilitating a delinquent dog, let me tell you how it’s done.

First remember that all dogs like to figure things out. They form habits that optimize face time and will pattern routines that work to get them what they want. Some of their choices center around:

·         How to act when being let out of an enclosure

·         How to greet a stranger

·         What to do before each feeding

·         Where to go when the people gather round the table, talk on the phone, or stare at a screen

·         How to alert people when a ball is out of reach, someone is ringing the bell, or an animal is passing by a window.

Since all dogs need to learn: a) where to go, and b) how to act when stuff happens, from meal times to greetings, daily walks, etc., you are in the perfect position to condition any routine that pleases you. Good dog training is really just picking a routine, pairing it to a word or two, and sticking to it.

In the Human Mind    

If I were to ask you how good dogs act, you’d know.  You could easily list all the attributes of a well-adjusted dog.  You’d tell me “Good dogs don’t jump, they quiet down when asked, and they sit when they’re told.”  I wouldn’t disagree.

In the Dog Mind      

Before you go lopping all the jumping or barking or growly dogs in the world as “bad,” take a minute to look at life from their perspective. When a dog—any dog—is given attention for jumping, barking, pulling, growling, etc., that dog (or puppy) will develop those habits. Since science now confirms that dogs have more in common with toddlers than wolves, it’s no surprise that they act just like kids—repeating any action that gets a reaction, whether the attention is negative or positive!

Here’s today’s challenge: Instead of reacting impulsively, then getting mad at your dog when they act up ( jump, bark, growl, or pull), encourage your dog to sit automatically to his needs, wants, and desires. If I make it sound simple, good. Because it is!

6 Steps to an Automatic Sit

First, to play this game, follow these five rules:

1)      No talking

2)      No posturing

3)      No clucking, cooing, or baby talk.

4)      No impulsive frustrated flare ups.

5)      No body contact

Chief motivations:  Use tasty treats & tantalizing toys to get this ball rolling. Once your dog’s sitting automatically, make a list of your dog’s life’s pleasures. My list includes going outside, being freed from a pen, crate or enclosure car rides, greeting visitors, and attention pats!   

Practice:  You can either set aside 5-10 minutes a day to practice if you’re the lesson type or you can do what I do and  play this game throughout the day. 

The pros call this move operant conditioning. I know these terms, but if these words are hard for you to memorize, don’t sweat it—just do it!

1)      Call your dog over and hold your chosen temptation 6”-8” above your dog or puppy’s head.

2)      If he jumps or barks, bring your hand up and out of reach quickly, and—this is really important!—look at the temptation in your hand, not your dog.

3)      When he quiets and stands back on all 4 paws, lower your hand to the starting position 6-8” above his head and wait.  Lift up each time he barks, jumps or paws at you.

Any action other than sitting makes both the treat and your eye contact go away.

4)      Eventually your dog will sit and when he does drop your hand fast or just let the treat go—what I call “Bombs Away!”

5)      Repeat until he sits three times.

6)      If your dog holds still, you know you’re heading in the right direction.  Condition patience by giving him another treat for holding still.

Is your little Einstein catching on? Great, now branch out! Wait at the door, stop walking if he’s pulling, wait until he sits before you toss his toy or give him a pat.

Watch as the light bulbs go off in his head. Before the week's done, you’ll notice him prompting you for everything from attention at the door to opening the crate to asking for his dinner bowl by sitting instead of acting up. And if he doesn’t, just wait it out. You might have a week of staring idly at your hand or the ceiling—but one week of patience on your part is worth a lifetime of polite doggie manners, don’t you think!  

For more tips from Sarah Hodgson, check out Modern Dog Parenting, available for preorder on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, and Booksamillion.


Having trouble communicating with your dog or puppy? Sarah Hodgson, aka the Happy Dog Mom, is here to help. She's written multiple best-selling books on dog training, and her next book, Modern Dog Parenting, will be out Fall 2016. Stay tuned, and join her in fight against dominance-based training by signing the pledge on thehappydogmom.com.