Position Changes Out in Front: Exploring the Sit

Teaching your dog to sit seems so simple until you start thinking about the different ways a dog can sit. There is a stand to sit and a down to sit. In either of those position changes, the dog can either plant his front end or his rear end.

When I'm thinking about teaching my dog position changes, I try to think about the final behavior. If you do obedience or rally, you will need to teach your dog sit in front and in heel. Exercises that include a sit in front of you are the signal exercise, command discrimination, and several higher-level rally exercises. You'll see a sit in heel much more often, such as during heeling patterns and command discrimination.

Let's talk about how to teach the sit position!

I like to teach the positions out front before I put them into heel. I think this encourages the dog to be straighter from the beginning, rather than looking up at us in heel position. It's also a lot easier for me to see exactly how my dog is doing the position changes.

There are two ways that a dog can sit, depending on the starting position. Generally we think of a sit as the dog going from stand to sit, but your dog will need to go from down to sit as well. Let's first discuss stand to sit, since that's the more popular position change.

Stand to Sit

My guess is most of your dogs know how to sit. It tends to be something we teach the dog fairly early. Now, I want you to start focusing on *how* your dog sits. Does your dog naturally do a tuck sit? Some puppies come pre-programmed to do a tuck sit, and it's wonderful! Most pups, however, tend to do more of a rock back sit.

Here's a quick video to remind you what to look for:

Notice that in the tuck sits, the dog's legs do not move back. The dog shifts his/her weight to the front and brings the hind legs underneath. In contrast, with a rock-back sit, the dog moves the front end backwards into a sit over the rear.

If a dog does a rock-back sit in heel or front, one of two things happens. Either the dog ends up behind heel position or far away from the handler in front, or the dog has to forge right before the sit in heel to end up at the handler's side, or the dog bumps into the handler during the front and still usually ends up too far away. For this reason, everyone that does obedience or rally is going to want to teach a tuck sit. There are several ways you can go about teaching a tuck sit, and you'll have to play around to decide which works best for your dog.

First, you can lure the tuck sit. If you keep your treat high and forward, many dogs will start to tuck under for a sit, so you can start by rewarding that and eventually reward when the dog actually sits.

You can use a couple of different props for teaching tuck sits. Front foot targets can keep the dog's front feet in place. Check out this video of Excel. See how his front feet are stationary, and his hind end tucks right underneath him?

Some dogs do this very well, but some dogs can keep their front feet on the target but still manage to lean back into a sit. In order to have a clean tuck sit, the dog needs that weight shift forward.

Platforms can work similar to a front foot target, because there is not room for the dog to back up. In this video, Excel has to tuck his rear in underneath himself because he doesn't have anywhere else to go.

Just like with front foot targets, some dogs still manage to lean backward while they sit. I often see this in dogs with straight fronts structurally, like terriers and poodles.

Another method that I enjoy is to teach the dog a target behavior and use that to keep his head up and weight on the front end as he sits. I typically use a chin target in front, and mostly use this when I'm working on the front behavior (dog sits in front of you, centered and close, at the end of a recall). If your dog struggles with a tuck sit, this can be a really useful tool.

Down to Sit

There are a couple of ways your dog can go from a down to sit, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both ways.

If the dog backs up into the sit, the shoulder/head ends up farther back than where they started. This is great for maintaining this position change at a distance, because a dog that backs up that way will not tend to travel forward. Check out this example of Strive doing signals for Utility. Many dogs will travel forward while doing signals, so this a great way to teach her to stay out and not come forward.

In heel position, if a dog sits from a down by backing up, this will cause the dog to end up behind heel. Having a tuck sit in heel is valuable. Here's a video that shows a dog planting his front paws and tucking underneath himself for the down to sit. We can get this behavior with a front foot target or a platform.

This is an example of a dog doing this kind of sit for signals. Notice that he nicely plants his front feet as he sits. In this scenario, it's pretty easy for the dog to scoot forward on that sit. For this reason, I'm playing with retraining this behavior to get a back up sit when in front of me.

For heel position, this tuck sit would work very nicely to keep the dog from ending up behind heel position.

With some training and consistency, you can certainly teach your dog to execute the positon change one way in front and the other way in heel. Try playing with different props to see what works best for your dog!

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