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  • Liz MacHaffie

Sit and Down


More than obedience cues, these skills are handy for SO MANY things in our lives!


We teach this using lure training: using food as a ‘lure’ to help your dog get into the right position. This lets us teach our dog TWO cues: A hand signal and a verbal cue


Whenever we teach a behavior with luring, we follow 4 steps:

1. Lure the behavior with food and a hand signal

2. Hand signal with no food

3. Verbal cue and hand signal

4. Verbal cue only

These steps should go by pretty quickly! The first 3 steps can often be finished in one or two short sessions.

Teaching “Sit”

1. Lure the behavior with food

  • Hold a treat in your hand so your pup can smell it, but can’t take it. Turn your hand so your palm is facing up.

  • Bring the treat to your dog’s nose.

  • Bring the treat up in an arc over your dog's head, toward your pup’s tail. (Follow the direction his nose would need to go in order for him to sit.) His nose should follow the treat.

  • Mark the behavior (say “yes” or click) and give the treat as soon as your dog’s rear end hits the floor.

  • Repeat "yes" and treat between 1 and 4 times. Your dog should stay sitting the whole time. If he gets up, that's okay! Re-lure him back into position. Try to feed quickly enough that he can hold position.

  • Release your dog with “okay!” and encourage him to get up. This is the word that means the behavior is over and he is free to do what he likes!

  • If your dog jumps, your treat is too high. Keep it juuuust over his head.

  • Repeat until your dog readily sits when you lure him. Don't linger on this step longer than necessary, we want to get rid of the food lure ASAP!

2. Hand Signal

  • The hand signal for “sit” is a flat hand, palm up, that starts low and is raised up at least 6”. You've already been doing a mini hand signal with your lure!

  • Get ready to repeat your lure with one treat in your hand, but this time, have more treats in your other hand. These are the treats you'll feed your dog.

  • When he sits, say "yes", take away your signaling hand (don't feed that treat) and feed from the other hand. Continue to say "yes" and treat, between 1 and 4 times, before releasing with “okay”!

  • At this point, you may find you can lengthen the time between rewards by a few seconds.

  • Do several repetitions, then try the hand signal motion with NO treat in the signaling hand.

  • Repeat until your pup sits readily without food in your signaling hand. You'll still feed from the other hand and release with "okay"!

  • As your puppy starts to understand the hand signal, you can do it further and further away from his nose :)

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3. Verbal cue and hand signal

  • You’re ready to introduce the word “sit” to your pup. (Don’t worry if you’ve done it already.) We’re simply going to add in the word “sit” right before the hand signal. Since your pup already knows what the hand signal means, he should quickly learn to associate the word with the hand signal and the behavior.

  • Say the cue word, “sit”, then give the hand signal. (Don't start your hand signal until after you are finished saying “sit”, or your pup might not pay attention to what you say.)

  • Repeat until he is starting to sit before or nearly before you give the hand signal.

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4. Verbal cue

  • Almost there! Start trying to say "sit" and hold off on giving a hand signal. As soon as your dog does it, say "yes" and treat!!!

  • If he hasn't sat within 3-4 seconds, you can give him a hand signal as a reminder.

  • Repeat until your dog is readily sitting on verbal cue only :)

  • If you haven’t already, now is also the time to begin lengthening the time between each mark and reward. For example, you may have needed to mark and treat every 1-2 seconds. Now, try for 3-5 seconds, then 7-10 seconds, etc. This is what builds an automatic stay! (You’ll learn more advanced stay work after this if it's a goal.)​​​​

Teaching “Down”


Follow the same steps to teach your dog to lie down. The following are a few differences to help you adjust:

  • Start with your dog sitting OR standing, but keep this consistent. (Starting from sit is easier, but once he masters this you should teach from a stand, too.)

  • Your treat/lure hand should now be palm-down. (This will be more similar to the hand signal you teach.)

  • Lure him by putting the treat to his nose and slowwwwly lowering it to the floor. Move it down in a straight line, then ever so slightly pull it toward you. You may need to keep it in the same position for a few seconds.

  • Say "yes" when your pup’s elbows touch the ground (starting from a sit) or when his bottom goes down (starting from a stand).

  • When you feed your dog, place the treat on the ground in between his legs. This helps him stay down instead of wanting to get up to get to your hands.

  • Troubleshooting: If your pup isn’t readily lying down, you may need to “shape” down by rewarding just neck and elbow bends at first. Say "yes" and give treats just for bending his neck down, then his elbows, then finally lying all the way down.

  • The hand signal for down is a flat hand, palm facing downward, moving at least 6” downward. (We usually teach the "utility signal" after your dog learns the verbal cue, as it makes life easier!)


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