5. Sit & Wait (Sit-Stay)

Exercise 5.1 - Follow My Hand

In this exercise we’re beginning the work to teach the positions Sit (and Down) so we can start Sit & Wait (Sit Stay) training.  All untrained dogs tend to struggle with impulse control, i.e they don’t naturally understand the concept of ‘good things come to those who wait!’ so this is a really important part of foundation obedience training.  A dog that can exhibit some self control will give us a much more polite dog in every situation you can think of.


You may be a little surprised since the section is entitled Sit & Wait that in this first exercise the dog is doing neither but have faith and all will be revealed!


Our very first goal is to teach the dog to follow our hand gestures (without us speaking any words).  This is a very important concept to understand in dog training.


Dogs are non verbal as a species and do not understand language like we do, they can associate the sounds and tones used when we speak words to them and they are very intense observers of our facial expressions, body language and moods but they never understand the word itself like we do.  Knowing this gives us a simple way to train our pups to respond to a word (known as a verbal cue), we just have to do things in the right order.



First we show the pup using a hand gesture what we would like them to do – this is the easiest way for them to understand us and we do it in a really quiet place free from distractions.


The first few times we can use a piece of food in our hand to encourage the pup to follow the gesture.


Once the pup is easily performing the behaviour following the food which often only takes 3-4 repetitions we can just use the hand gesture with no food and reward with the other hand.  This is an important step and when the ‘learning’ actually happens.  (Perhaps one of the most common mistakes people make is keeping food in the hand for too long so the dog is merely following the food and not really learning anything).



Once the dog is readily following our empty hand and performing the behaviour very easily and without hesitation we can make the hand signal quieter and less obvious to the causal onlooker i.e. we make it a more subtle hand signal.



When the dog is readily performing the behaviour with a subtle gesture, only now do we begin to add a verbal cue to the behaviour by saying our cue word BEFORE we give the hand signal.  It may then take quite a few repetitions for the dog to make the association between the word and the expected behaviour – how may repetitions tends to depend on your own mechanical training skills and your pups personality, confidence and prior experience and training.


My older dog Joe, for example, picked up new verbal cues extremely quickly – I would often think how can you possibly get this, we’ve only done this a handful of times! Jim on the other hand learns new hand signals quite easily but takes a lot longer to associate cue words with behaviours. 


In summary then these are the first three steps in teaching your dog a new behaviour using a technique called ‘luring’:




3. NAME IT (Add the verbal cue)


Note: There are two more steps to learn which we’ll cover a little bit later so lookout for that. 


On to Exercise 5.1 then and our goal is simply to get our pup used to following our hand gestures and to do this we use an obstacle, it can be a cone, a welly boot, a flower pot, anything about 12inches plus high.

  • Hold a treat in your hand and keeping your hand nice and close to your dog’s nose gently lure your dog around the obstacle, reward with the treat and then toss another treat away from the obstacle to reset.
  • Work in one direction first, say anti-clockwise, and use food in your hand for the first three times, then just use your empty hand making the same gesture and reward with the other hand and do a few more repetitions.
  • Then do the same thing in the other direction, do three with food and then 3 more without.

Notice how I always use the hand nearest the dog to do the ‘luring’ – this is important as we will be building on this in future exercises.  i.e. when the dog is going around the obstacle clockwise I use the right hand and when the dog is going around the obstacle anti-clockwise I use the left hand.


Practice 3 times a day for a week.


Note: you will only need to use food in your hand for the first day or so.  The goal is for the dog to be happily following your empty hand.


Exercise 5.2 - Sit, Down & Puppy Push-Ups

In Exercise 5.2 we're going to look at teaching Sit and Down, these are pre-requisites for teaching stays. 


The first thing we're going to do is establish Sit (from a Stand and from a Down) to a hand gesture first, even if you've already trained sit on a verbal cue.  This is really important and a step that a lot of people miss out. 


I like to practice this exercise on a mat or towel which we’re going to need for the stay exercises so use we can introduce it in this exercise.


To teach sit with a hand gesture (dog standing up):

  • Hold some food in both hands slightly over your dog's head so that he has to crane his neck straight up to sniff at the food. (Be careful not to hold it so high that he jumps).
  • If you see his back end go down into a partial or full sit say “Yes!” and reward immediately.
  • Keep practicing until you and your dog are finding this really easy.

To go from a Sit to a Down:

  • Be ready with some treats in both hands and use your hands like a magnet to draw your dog’s nose down towards the floor. 
  • If your dog follows your hands down with his nose and stays in his sitting position or bends his elbows slightly, say yes and reward with a treat.
  • Your dog may take a couple of sessions to get the hang of this so just be patient are keep practicing and reward any effort on his part to bend towards the down position without getting up.
  • If he does get up just start from a Sit and have another go.

Once he does go right down be ready to reward with several treats fed on the floor and while he’s chewing the last one say “Okay” and then present a hand target to get him on his feet.  “Okay” in this context is called a ‘release cue’ – it’s a special word that tells your dog it’s OK to get up.


Practice a little bit every day and your goal is to be able to easily move your dog from a Sit to a Down and back up again into a Sit which is what we call a Puppy PushUp!