Teach your dog to sit: building the “stay”

This article is about starting to build up the length of the sit.  It is part of a series called the Two Minute Sit. Many trainers call an extended sit a ‘stay.’ However, you will not need a ‘stay’  command.

The word sit will soon mean “put your bottom on the ground and keep it there until I say you can move.” When we teach a dog to lie down,  the same applies. You do not need the word stay. Down means “lie down until I say you can move.”

Teach your dog to sit: building the "stay" - training, dog - TotallyDogsBlog.com

This keeps things simple for the dog.

Increasing duration

Until now, you have been marking the sit as soon as the dog’s bottom hits the ground.  If you are unsure what ‘marking the sit’  means, look at Part One of this series. It is called ‘what you need to know.’  In part two, you practiced getting the dog into the sit position with many brief sits.   Now, we will ask the dog for slightly longer sits to earn his reward.

You will need to start counting in your head as soon as your dog’s rear end makes contact with the ground, and you will stop counting when his back end lifts up again. Count out seconds (one thousand, two thousand, etc.). To begin with, all you want to achieve is a two-second sit.

The two-second sit

This is actually quite an essential step for the dog. And it may take him a few sessions to get the hang of it. What you will do is to start ignoring the very briefest of sits. You will not mark or reward these sites. Just ignore them entirely and wait for the next one.

This will surprise your dog.  He will expect a reward after every single sit because that has been the deal.  He will regard you with interest and quickly offer you another sit.

Don’t let too many sits go past (no more than two or three) without a reward at this early stage, or his enthusiasm for sitting will shrivel and die!

Be patient. Sooner or later, you will get some slightly longer sits. Be ready, mark them, and reward them. Once you have a couple or three of these, you will make real progress. Work on reaching the point where nine out of ten sits are the entire two seconds. Ignore the occasional short sit if it occurs.

Now, it is time to start increasing the duration of the sit once more.

The five-second sit

Building up from two seconds to five is relatively straightforward.  Start with three seconds first. Count in your head when the dog’s bottom hits the ground. This time, you will count to three. If the dog gets up before three, ignore him for a few seconds and then ask for another seat. As before, if he doesn’t make it to three seconds very often at first, don’t ignore more than two or three shorter sits. Reward him anyway. You can try again tomorrow for three seconds. What you are doing is gradually moving the goalposts.  Once you get nine or ten three-second sits in a row, it is time to increase to four seconds and then five. Take it slowly,  especially with a small puppy.  If you are getting a lot of refusals, or the dog regularly gets up after a second or two, do something else for a while.  Try again tomorrow,  and ensure the dog is hungry when you start your session.

You will get there. It may take only a couple or three sessions and a week of daily sessions. Be patient.

Five seconds is long enough for small puppies to sit still. They have very short attention spans. I recommend you not go beyond a five-second sit until your puppy is at least ten weeks old.

Introducing the lead

Many dogs wriggle and squirm when you put their lead on or take it off again. This is very annoying and bad manners. I’d like you to introduce the lead at this stage to teach the puppy to sit while you put on and take off his lead. It also introduces some structure and control into your training sessions.

Once you start teaching your dog to walk nicely on a lead, you will need him to be able to sit and stay on the lead so that you can stop and chat with people or wait before crossing the road. This is an important learning step in the overall scheme of things.

Feeding on the lead

Note that from now you will be feeding the dog from your hand and not throwing the treat for him to rush after. He is on a lead, so you can get him moving again, ready for another sit, by walking forward a few steps.

If the dog gets up between your mark and giving him his reward,  just lure him back into the seat using the treat. Don’t feed him while he is standing up.

First lead session

To begin with, just pop a lead on your dog and wait for him to stand still (don’t give the sit command while he is leaping about). Give your sit command and mark and reward the sit almost immediately. Get him moving again, stop, and ask for a two-second sit. Mark and reward. Ask for several more two and three-second sits this session and leave it at that.

In your next on-lead sit session,  you can increase the duration of the sit to five seconds. Mix very short sits between the five-second ones, and finish the session with a very short one. This practice of ‘sandwiching’ more difficult tasks between easier ones is a helpful strategy in dog training.

A good habit to get into

When you have finished your training session, hold on to your dog’s collar as you unclip his lead.  Wait for a few seconds, then give your release command as you let go of his collar. Dogs are never too young to learn that they should not rush off without your permission.

No testing

Don’t be tempted to ‘test’ your dog in front of others. Keep your training to the training sessions or when you can concentrate on him and when he is free from distractions. Dogs cannot understand that new commands apply in lots of different situations. We will address This more advanced concept later in the series.  For now, training should be

  • In the same place
  • With the same person
  • Without distractions

 In the following article, ‘Teach your dog to sit, part four,’ we will look at teaching your dog to remain sitting still while you introduce some simple distractions.

Jennifer Barker

I'm Jennifer. My passion for dogs lead to this blog's creation in 2014. I share tales of life with my pups and insights on natural dog care so fellow pet parents can nurture the joy and wellbeing of their furry friends.

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