What’s the point in teaching a puppy to sit?

On my puppy training course, the very first skill we teach is the “sit” command. It’s pretty basic and I’ve often seen people wondering why. Why not start with lying down, or rollling over? Equally, I’ll have a lot of people who have already trained a sit before coming to the class, in one of a range of ways – some perfectly, some less so. This article is about why I feel “Sit” is such a great place to start, and why it’s important to teach it the right way, to get what you really need from it.

It’s a natural position

Dogs were born to sit, whether we had taught them to or not and, unlike other commands (such as ‘Roll Over!’ or ‘Paw!’) it is comfortable for your dog. So, we’re really giving ourselves a big headstart here. Obeying your sit command doesn’t put your dog’s body under any sort of strain or pressure because it is an easy position to assume, biomechanically speaking. This means that it is easy and quick to repeat, which means it is easier and quicker to teach to your dog.

It’s all about reward-based training

Reward-based training is the most effective, as your dog is more likely to respond if they know that they will get a treat for doing so. For puppies, receiving an award demonstrates that they have done something to please you, which strengthens the bond between owner and dog, and lays down the neural pathways that will encourage to puppy to repeat the action. We need to teach the puppy the whole relationship between the word “sit”, the reaction that you desire and the positive consequences of performing that action. Not only is your puppy learning a new skill, they are also learning about your attitude towards them as an owner, and that the puppy can essentially get what it wants, by giving you the behaviour you ask for. That’s why teaching sit the right way, and with the right methods will set you up for life – but doing it wrong will hinder your progress severely.

Teaching “Sit” shows you their learning style

Training a puppy to sit is not simply about teaching your puppy to obey commands, it is also about you learning to understand how your puppy learns. Are they an auditory learner, responding to commands without any other sort of encouragement? A lot of puppies are very visual learners, relying on a physical gesture to help them understand the command.  Others are highly auditory and will largely ignore your body gestures and focus on your words. Not all puppies are the same, and by the time we’ve trained “sit” together,  you’ll probably have a good idea how your puppy needs to be commanded.

It’s the perfect foundation to progress from

Once you have perfected the ‘Sit!’ command with your dog, you already have a perfect mechanism to develop their self control and focus. Your puppy is now completely ready to progress onto other more complex commands. Not only will teaching your puppy to sit be useful in a practical sense (such as preventing them from running out of the door or across the road), it is also a basic way of helping you and your dog to understand one another, which means that you will better understand how to train them in the future.

So, teaching your puppy to sit is incredibly useful for the obvious reason that your puppy will sit and stay say on command – but really the point of it goes way beyond that, and establishes the whole groundwork for all of your future behaviour shaping.