Sit, Down, and Stay
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Teaching your dog to sit, lie down, and stay is vital to the training of your pet. As you train your dog to perform different behaviors, you will find that a thorough understanding of, and reaction without hesitation to sit, down, and stay commands are absolutely prerequisite. Also, enforcing basic commands like sit, down, and stay helps you establish your role as pack leader. Enforcing a sit stay before feeding or walking your dog exerts your dominance, and goes a long way towards curbing behavior issues. Sit, down, and stay are also great alternate activities to enforce when your dog is displaying undesirable behavior.
Sit is the first thing you should teach your dog. Before you move on to any other obedience activities, your pooch should consistently sit without hesitation when you issue the command. Make sure you are as consistent as possible while teaching sit. Also, be sure to keep sessions short and don’t let your dog get frustrated. This will be your first shared training encounter with your dog so you’ll want to make sure it is as positive an experience as possible.
To teach your dog to sit, equip yourself with all the patience you can muster, and a treat pouch full of small, easy to eat treats. Soft treats are preferable over crunchy treats because your dog can eat them faster. Big or crunchy snacks take a long time to eat, so he will often forget what you were working on by the time he finishes the treat. Cut up pieces of hot dog, or liver treats are perfect.
Start with your dog on a leash (so you can easily keep him from losing interest and wandering off). Sit on the floor with him in a room with no other distractions. It is best to conduct your training sessions with the TV off, with no other pets or people around to draw your dog’s attention from the task at hand.
Hold a treat just above your dog’s nose and say “sit.” Then move the treat over his head in the direction of his tail. Your dog will try to keep his eyes on the treat, forcing him to sit down. If he puts his paws up in the air instead, you are holding the treat too high. The instant your dog sits, say “good sit,” give him the treat, and plenty of praise. Just do this over and over in five to ten minute sessions two or three times a day.
Once your dog sits every single time you say “sit,” whether you have a treat or not, you can move on to teaching down. Start by telling your dog to sit, and giving him a treat. While he’s sitting, hold another treat between his front paws and say “down.” If he stands up, tell him to sit, and try again. When he looks down at the treat between his paws (which he inevitably will if there are no distractions in the room) move it along the ground towards you, this should lure him into a down position. As soon as he is down, give him the treat.
If you can’t lure him down in this way, don’t try to physically force him to lie down. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you with your knees bent just enough to make a space under which your dog can crawl. Have him sit facing your bent knees, directly next to you. Hold the treat between his front paws again and say “down” as you move the treat under your knees and to your other side. Your dog will crawl under your legs after the treat, and will find himself in the down position. The instant he is lying down, say “good down,” and give him the treat and praise. Again, do this over and over in five to ten minute sessions two to three times a day. Don’t forget to continue working on sit as well to keep it fresh in your dog’s mind.
Once he gets the concept of lying down when you say “down,” start asking for a down from the standing position too. You don’t want to condition your dog to only lie down when you have asked him to sit first.
Stay is a hugely beneficial behavior for your dog to learn. Once your dog understands how to stay, you can teach him the place command, which is a target exercise that cues your dog to go to a specific location and hold a down stay. You can use it to keep him from pestering guests, begging at the dinner table, and being underfoot while you perform tasks like feeding or changing a baby. A place command is also a perfect alternate action to encourage when your dog is performing undesirable behavior like excessive barking. Once your dog has stay down, read about Teaching the Place Command.
To teach your dog to stay, give him the down command. After he lies down, say “stay.” Wait one second, then say “good stay,” and give him a treat and plenty of praise. Make sure that you only give your dog the treat when he is still lying down. If you are not quick enough, and you treat the dog as he’s getting up, you end up rewarding getting up from the stay, rather than the stay itself.
Do this several times, and then wait two seconds before giving him the treat. After he will consistently stay for two seconds, wait three. If he gets up before you make it to three, start back at one. Once he stays for three seconds, take one step back as you count to three. Once he has this down, take two steps back. Continue gradually increasing both the distance you stand from the dog and the amount of time you require him to stay down before you give him a treat. This should take place over several five to ten minute sessions two to three times a day. Don’t try to move too fast or it will only take longer.
Eventually, tell your dog to stay and leave the room all together. When he is willing to stay even when you’ve walked out of the room, provide a jackpot reward. A jackpot reward is a larger quantity prize that has exceptionally high value to the dog, used to mark particularly good behavior or the completion of an especially difficult task. Continue working on sit and down as well so all three behaviors are fresh in your dog’s mind.
Some dogs will get the hang of each of these actions in one session, while other dogs will take weeks to just consistently sit. Just go with the pace that seems to compliment your dog’s speed of picking things up, and try to stay as serene as possible. Remember that dogs are extremely sensitive to our moods, so be patient and don’t let yourself get frustrated. If you are frustrated, irritated, or just having a bad day, go back to a behavior your dog is performing consistently, like sit, and end the session on a good note. Do not continue training until you feel calm and ready to be patient.