When you ask your dog to sit, at home, in the kitchen, when you're standing in front of him holding a treat, does he sit? More than likely. Most dogs default to sitting, especially when they want something. How about out on the street when there are other dogs and people walking by, and you don't have a treat in hand? Does your dog sit then? Maybe, but the answer for most dog owners that call me for help, probably not.
Why is this? Is your dog just being stubborn? Defiant? Not listening to you? Or does your dog even really know the cue "sit"?
There are a number of reasons why your dog might not be sitting consistently when you ask him to.
He may not actually know the verbal cue "sit" despite seeming that he does because he sometimes sits when you say "sit". Often times dogs default to a sit when they don't know what else to do, or figure out through hand signals or body posture that you want them to sit, but they haven't actually learned the verbal cue.
To ensure that your dog really does know what "sit" means, only say "sit" one time, then wait for your dog to comply. If he doesn't sit, give him a few seconds before trying again. If he still doesn't sit, he may not know what the word means, in which case you will need to re-teach him to sit. See how to do this here. If he sits, immediately reinforce him with a food treat or some other thing that he likes, like fetching a ball or playing tug.
Your tone of voice is intimidating or scaring the dog, causing the opposite of the desired affect, and your dog actually slows down or refuses to sit. Dogs are very sensitive to our tone, and barking a command at them,may cause them to slow down their movements and avoid looking at us in what's known as appeasement behaviors, or calming signals.
When you ask your dog to sit, say "sit" only once in an upbeat voice, then give your dog a few seconds to comply. If your dog sits, reinforce this behavior by giving him a little food treat or some other thing that he likes.
There are too many distractions in the environment and your dog does not have a strong enough reinforcement history when sitting, to comply. If your dog has a questionable sit when you're alone with him in the house, he's definitely not going to be able to sit when you're outside and there's a skateboarder going by.
Work on having your dog sit in many different locations where there are no distractions, such as in your house when nobody is home. Consistently reinforce sitting behavior with food treats or other things your dog likes, even when you haven't asked him to sit. When he consistently sits for you whenever you ask inside the house, then move outside, but keep the distractions to a minimum while you build up the behavior.
Points to remember:
- Use an upbeat voice when asking your dog to sit.
- Say your cue only one time and give your dog a few seconds to comply before asking again.
- Keep food and/or toys in different places so that it is not always obvious to your dog that you have something to reinforce his behavior with.
- Practice in many different locations with many different distractions. If your dog does not sit in a particular situation, make it easier for him by moving closer to, him or reducing the distractions.