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Sit 301: Adding a Cue

This is the third lesson in our Teaching Your Dog to Sit series. In this lesson you will learn how to add a verbal or signal cue to your dog’s sit behavior. 

Dog learning cue for sit

This is the third lesson in our Teaching Your Dog to Sit series. In this lesson you will learn how to add a verbal or signal cue to your dog’s sit behavior. 

What is a Cue?

Now that your dog can easily do a task without the treat visible, we’re ready to add a cue to the behavior. A cue can be any signal your dog can perceive. Most families choose a word or hand signal. Sometimes the environment will be the cue - holding your dog’s food bowl or reaching for the doorknob are both great environmental signals for sit. Detection dogs might sit when they encounter the odor they are trained for.

There are no standardized words or hand signals for dogs. Some hand signals are more common because they resemble how a treat lure was used or how some behaviors were historically trained with harsh leash corrections. You can choose any words or hand signals that work for you. 

The more cues you train your dog, the faster he will learn new ones. An experienced dog may learn a new word in just a few sessions, but it may take longer for a beginner dog. Note that the second word a dog learns is usually the hardest. For example, if a dog learns “Sit” first, many dogs and puppies will think that any word we say means sit rather than just the word “Sit!”  We have to work through this misunderstanding as part of the learning process. 

Sit Training Warm Up

Prompt your dog to sit by moving your hand over his head and then reward him. Give him 3-5 repetitions as a warm-up so that he’s thinking about sitting. In some situations, we might encounter a reluctant dog, which might mean he is having an off day - he may be sore, or maybe he’s not comfortable with the surface. If your dog is reluctant, end the session and try again tomorrow.

If your dog eagerly participates in the warm-up, move on to the next step.

Adding a Word

Give your verbal “Sit” cue without moving your body. After you complete the word, then move your hand over your head. Do not repeat the sit cue. Once your dog is sitting, then reward him in position. After a few treats, you can release him by inviting him to get up. Then you’re ready to try again.

At this stage, he is not sitting because he knows the word, but we are beginning to establish the pattern of hearing a word and then doing the task. So this is the beginning stage of the process. 

You can give your dog several treats for standing still and learning to wait for his “Sit” word. If he sits before you ask, encourage him to get up, and then you can try again.

Adding a Hand Signal

With luring, this sometimes comes “for free” without deliberate training needed.

Give your desired hand signal for sit, pause, then make the guide motion you have previously used. Reward your dog for correct responses. Over time, your dog will learn that sitting in response to the hand signal will earn him his reward.

Adding a Cue to Offered Behavior

Another technique that professionals often use is to get a dog to deliberately offer the behavior and then add in the cue. “Offered” is a term that means the dog will do the task without a prompt in hopes of earning a reward. This works for behaviors a dog naturally does but doesn’t work well for more complex tasks. 

Stand in a quiet room or area of the house. Wait for your dog to sit on his own. Then reward him with a few treats and invite him to get up. Repeat this process, and soon he will be immediately and eagerly sitting on his own, with no prompt needed. You can strategically choose a time and place where this is more likely, such as near the treat cupboard or a door.

Once your dog repeatedly offers the behavior, you can add your “Sit!” cue right before your dog sits on his own. Again, this is a starting point for attaching the word to the behavior. Because there is no gesture to fade, this can give us solid long-term results, but it typically takes longer to get started when we compare this method to the others listed here.  

Next Steps

Now that we’ve added a cue, you can repeat the lesson in different rooms of your house, different parts of the yard, and along your walking route. This will help your dog learn that it works everywhere, not just in the one place where you trained.

Depending on your interest levels and goals, you can add more elements. For example, your dog could learn to sit while at a distance from you, no matter what you are doing (sitting, lying in your bed, back turned in the kitchen), with distractions occurring in the environment, or even stop and sit while running full speed. The possibilities are endless!

Need a refresher? Check out Sit 101: Positions Everyone and Sit 201: Fading the Lure.

If you would like help with your training goals, reach out, we’re here for you and can provide personalized virtual training for you