How To Teach Your Dog To Sit – 2 Proven Exercises

In this article, we will introduce the first simple distractions to your dog’s new sit.   By the end of this training stage, your dog will sit perfectly still whilst you take his lead on and off,  and whilst you step all around him.

You may find it helpful to read ‘proofing your dog’s training against distractions’ before you begin.


You are a distraction

The first distractions we introduce to the dog,  are things that you,  his handler,  do.   A newly trained sit is a fragile thing.  Your dog is likely to get up if you step away from him,  or move suddenly, or attempt to remove his lead.   This is normal behaviour, and you need to train your dog not to do it.

The two exercises we will look at in this article,  are

  • Removing the dog’s lead
  • Stepping around the dog.

By the end of this section, you will be able to ‘sit’ your dog,  take your dog’s lead on and off,  and step all around him in any direction,  without him moving.


Exercise One: Removing the lead

Step one: touching the lead

Ask your dog to sit.  Reach out your left hand and touch the clip on your dog’s lead.    If he remains sitting still mark and reward.   Then walk him on a few paces and repeat several times,  each time touching his lead more firmly as if you were about to take it off.

Step two: unclip the lead

Ask your dog to sit.  Unclip the lead and clip it back on again immediately.  Mark and reward

Repeat several times.

Step three: bring the lead away

Ask your dog to sit, unclip the lead and move the lead up and away from the dog. Just a couple of inches to begin with.  Work up to a point where you can put the lead in your other hand,  then into your pocket before bringing it out again and putting it back on the dog.

If at any point the dog gets up before you are ready do not mark and reward.  Simply replace the lead,  walk on a few steps, and then repeat Step two several times.    Build back up slowly to Step three.  Take as many sessions as you need.

If your dog is wearing a slip lead rather than a fixed collar and lead, the stages are

  • Touch the lead
  • Loosen the lead
  • Lift the lead part way over his head and back on again
  • Lift the lead all the way over his head and immediately replace it.

You must loosen a slip lead widely before doing this, if it scrapes over his face he is highly like to start wriggling.



Adding duration

Before we start exercise two you will need to add a little more duration to the sit.  Take it up to ten seconds.   Teach your dog to do this in stages in exactly the same way that you increased duration from 2 seconds to 5.

The dog is now on a lead and therefore you can control when and how far he moves in between sits.  If you have taught him to walk nicely at heel on a lead you can practice short bursts of heelwork in between sits.

If you are working with a young pup just let him move about and pet him for a moment or two in between asking for more sits.


Exercise two: Walking around the dog

This second part is asking too much of a small pup.  Wait until he is 12 weeks or so before starting this.   Until that point practice Exercise once daily.

Step One: point and touch

As always you should be alone with your dog.  So the fact that you look like some kind of failed ballerina doing this exercise shouldn’t bother you!

Start this exercise with your dog sitting on your left side.  Remove his lead and stretch your right leg out to tap the ground in front of you with your toes.   Keep your left leg still and your body weight remains on your left leg.  It is a simple movement as though you were thinking about taking a step forward and changing your mind.  Now bring your right leg back in again, and replace the lead.

If your dog did not move, mark and reward the sit.  Walk on a few steps and repeat but this time touch the ground out to your right.   You are still not taking a step.  Your left leg remains firmly planted next to the dog.  This reduces the chances that he will move.

If your dog gets up during this exercise do not mark or reward the sit.  Just walk forward a few paces and ask him to sit again, whilst you stand quite still.   Repeat a couple of simple sits without moving your leg so that you can reward him a couple of times

Then repeat the exercise with a much smaller movement of your right leg.

Keep trying until you find a movement small enough that it does not trigger your dog to get up.  Mark and reward.  This is your baseline,  now gradually start introducing larger movements with your leg.

Once your dog can sit quite still whilst you tap your foot to the front,  to the side, and to the back,  it is time to take a step.

Step Two: Take a step

Now you are going to ask your dog to sit,  take one step forward with your right foot, bring your body weight onto your right foot, and bring your left foot forward to join it.  Then you will immediately step back into your starting position. Your dog should remain seated throughout. Mark and reward his good behaviour.

What if he moves?

Some dogs will get up when they see your left leg moves.  If so, go back to step one for a few minutes then try step two again but this time just lift your left leg off the ground rather than bringing it all the way forward to meet your right leg

This is not as complicated as it sounds

What we are doing is making it very easy for the dog to succeed and very hard for him to fail.

Because I have gone into a lot of detail, this may look like more of a big deal than it actually is,  but in actual fact, many dogs fly through this in no time at all.  I am putting the detail in for the benefit of the few who will have a problem.

Now that you understand how to break the exercises down into steps I will simply outline the objectives of the next few steps which are as follows (each one starting with the dog on your left side)

  • To take two steps forward and back again
  • To take two steps back and forwards again
  • To take two steps out to the right and left again
  • To take one step forward then swing round to face the dog
  • To take one step back then one step left across the dog’s tail behind him
  • To take one step forwards, swing round to face the dog,  then swing around again so that you are standing on his left (with the dog on your right)
  • To step all around the dog in a complete circle in either direction

Complete each step successfully several times before moving on to the next one. Remember to remove the lead at the beginning of each step and replace it at the end.

If at any time the dog gets up before you are ready,  do not mark and reward.  Immediately give him some easier sits to achieve success,  and then build slowly back up again.

Finish each training session with some really easy sits,  and keep sessions short.  Five to ten minutes is fine,  but you can do this several times a day if you want to.

Exercise two is successfully completed when you can sit the dog,  remove his lead, step all around him in either direction and replace his lead again.  Make sure you can do this several times in a row, and walk the dog at a few paces in between each repetition.

And be careful not to tread on his tail!