“Sit” and “down” are two of the first commands I teach every dog. “Sit” is one of my fundamental behaviors, as it’s a building block used in teaching so many other behaviors and tricks later on. It is also a perfect behavior when out in public.

My dogs also know “sit” gets them all the treats, so, instead of begging and jumping up for dinner, “sit” is the preferred behavior in our house. If my dogs are waiting for their food, they know to sit while they’re waiting and they’ll be rewarded for it. It’s a nice, calm behavior that can be used in so many situations.

Here is a guide on how to teach “sit” as well as “down.”

If you find your pet is wandering mid-training, start with your pup on a leash. This will help keep your pet nearby and focus his attention on you.

  1. Have a treat in your hand and show your pup that you have it by letting him smell it, but without giving it to him.
  2. Hold the treat about one-half inch from your pup’s nose, and, in an upward arc, raise the treat over your pet’s head. You’re guiding his nose upward and, naturally, his bottom will go down as his nose goes up.
  3. As soon as your dog’s bottom touches the ground, give him the treat immediately. Timing is very important right now, so be ready!

Practice a few times, and end on a good note. Be sure you tell your pup he is doing a great job and give plenty of verbal praise.

When you are confident that your dog does it EVERY time, you can start saying the word “sit” right before you give the cue, this will help you pair the action of sitting with the word “sit.”

Troubleshooting tips:

  • If your pup is jumping up to get the treat or is licking and trying to eat the treat instead, don’t worry! When your dog jumps up to get the treat, try lifting your hand just a hair higher. Be sure to be smooth with your movement and don’t pause.
  • If your pup is trying to eat that treat instead of looking up, raise your hand slightly and begin your arc back. Keep practicing every day and I’m sure your pup will be sitting in no time.
  • If your dog is backing up when you raise your hand, try practicing with a wall behind your dog − this will prevent backing up.

Once your dog has mastered sitting, it’s time to teach him to lie down. For your dog to learn to lay down it will be much easier if he already knows a sit behavior. If he is still learning “sit,” I recommend going back and practicing a few more times.

You’re going to have to get down to your pet’s level for this one. If you have a small dog, you may find it’s easier to train this on a platform or table.

Have a treat in your hand and ask your dog to sit. Show your dog the treat and slowly lower it to the ground until your hand is flat on the floor. As your dog starts to lower, reward him and tell him he’s doing a great job. He doesn’t need to go all the way down yet. We are taking baby steps here towards a great goal − this process is known as “shaping.”

Ask for that “sit” again and you will slowly reward lower and lower movements until he’s laying down completely. It may take a few sessions, but keep at it, be patient and reward for progress.

Once your dog starts to understand what you’re asking, you will speed up the hand movement to just a flat hand with the treat between your thumb and pointer finger going down to the floor. Then, begin to say the word “down.”

Troubleshooting tips:

  • If your dog is just sniffing your hand and licking it, slowly slide your hand farther back away from your dog with the treat in it. Your dog’s nose should follow your hand and cause him to lower his body. Be sure to tell him he is doing a great job!
  • You want to reward as soon as he touches the ground. Otherwise, the dog might think we’re rewarding for something entirely different, such as putting his nose out to sniff the air.
  • If you find your dog isn’t quite going down, sometimes it helps to really get on their level and just be patient. Wait for your dog to make a small movement down and reward.

Remember to always have fun training together! — Nicole Ellis

Photo Credit: Nicole Ellis

Nicole Ellis is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), American Kennel Club CGC evaluator and APDT trainer. Using positive reinforcement methods, Nicole has trained hundreds of animals from basic behavior and puppy manors, to trick training, therapy work, and service dog training. Nicole believes with love and positive reinforcement we can train any dog. She is the Co-Founder and Head Trainer at Pupster, a new platform that provides pet parents with science-based training, behavior help, and product recommendations.