Give Your Dog the Sit Test


How To Teach Your Dog To Sit – 5 Steps

Most dogs know how to sit on cue, provided the circumstances are right.  You have to be facing your dog, and often I hear people say the word “sit” several times, each time a little louder, before his bottom actually hits the floor.  This is a perfect example of how dogs learn contextually.  The circumstances are just right, and you think your dog knows what you’re asking because he usually does it.  But does he really understand what “sit” means?

To quickly and easily test if your dog really knows the word “SIT”, you should ask him to sit while you are in a new situation or position – one that might appear unusual to your dog.

For instance, in a quiet room inside your house, lie down flat on your floor, face up.  Say your dog’s name once, then say “sit”, one time only.  How’d he do?  If your dog sat down, the first time you asked, from your supine position, congratulations!  You have one of the few dogs I’ve met who really know what “sit” means.  If not, do not worry, teaching your dog to understand you is easier than you may think.

 1. To begin, add a hand signal, or visual cue, to the word “sit”.  Dogs really do not speak English, and even though “sit” is a simple word, and it is easy for most dogs to sit, they still typically perform the behavior only because they understand the context of the situation.  In other words, they know that in order to get that cookie you are holding in front of them, they have to plant their bottoms on the ground.

2. Next, practice this cue in routine situations throughout the day as you interact with your dog.  For example, before you open the door to let your dog outside, using your visual cue and verbal cue, ask for a “sit”, then wait.  It may take your dog a few seconds to “compute” what you have asked.  Try your very best to say the cue only once.  This is difficult for us humans, who tend to chatter away with our pets, who are such good listeners.  Do the same thing before you attach your dog’s leash for their  daily walk, before putting the food bowl down each morning and evening, and even before petting your dog when you settle on the couch to watch the evening news.    In each of these situations where you normally work on auto-pilot, try asking your dog (with visual and verbal cue) to sit first.  Once your dog sits, immediately open the door, clip on the leash, put the food bowl down, pet them, etc.  Again, try to perform the action before providing all the verbal information we give our dogs (“good boy, Sam”) – this verbal information is mostly for us, not for your dog.

3. Pay special attention to all of the information you’re giving when you ask your dog to sit – are you using the exact same hand signal?  Are you leaning over your dog, or standing up straight?  All of these details are important.  This “body language” is what your dog is really listening to – it’s the language they speak.

4. After a week of practicing the “sit” cue throughout your routine interactions with your dog, practice asking your dog to sit in slightly different situations.  For example, try standing beside your dog and ask for a “sit”.  Ask again when your dog is two feet away from you.  Each time, be sure to use your hand signal cue with the verbal word.

5. As your dog begins to get the hang of it, add more variations to the situations where you practice “sit”.  Be creative with it – sit on your kitchen counter with a small treat behind your back and ask (verbally and with hand signal) for a “sit”.  If your dog complies, toss the treat to him, thus requiring him to get up to retrieve it.  Now you are ready to ask again, this time while you are in the process of opening the door of your dishwasher.


Before long, you can re-test your dog’s understanding of “sit” by lying on the living room floor, as you did at the beginning of this article.  Have fun with it, and use an occasional reward when he gets it right, to keep the behavior strong.

 Photo:  Courtesy of normanack via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Susan Giordano is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and owner of K9U Training. She is a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). Susan graduated from Pat Miller’s Peaceable Paws Intern Academy, one of the country’s most respected and comprehensive dog trainer programs. Susan believes in doing no harm, emotionally or physically. Dog training should be fun and pain-free for all involved, dogs and humans. To learn more about Susan, please visit