CGC Step 2: Sit Politely for Petting

It’s a crisp, clear fall day and there’s no better way to celebrate one of nature’s most perfect days than taking your dog to a local park for a peaceful, long walk on the trails. Off you go, just you, your happy family, and your new dog.

The exhilaration that comes from an experience like this is the reason many people decide to add a four-legged friend to their household.  You’re relishing the cool breeze and on his end of the leash, your dog is having great fun sniffing the trail and enjoying the scenery.  Within minutes, people begin passing you on the trail.

With the CGC award as a goal, you’ve been working on teaching your dog how to accept a friendly stranger (CGC Test Item 1) so when strangers pass and say hello, your dog behaves beautifully.  Sooner or later though, you’re going to learn a secret about dogs. The secret is that dogs and puppies are proven people magnets and the dog lovers in this world are plentiful. When dog lovers see a dog, they want to touch it, feel it, ask questions about it and interact with this wonderful canine creature.

For the dog who is just beginning Canine Good Citizen training, strangers passing by, saying hello and commenting on the gorgeous weather is one thing. However, having an enthusiastic dog lover stop to pet, embrace and make a fuss over your dog is another story. With some untrained dogs (as well as those who are just beginning training), once the petting from a stranger begins, the dog turns into a wiggling, spinning, jumping, giddy bundle of silliness. Some dogs may roll over when petting begins, and dogs who are very active may jump on the unsuspecting person who is just trying to say hello. All of these behaviors can be the signs of an enthusiastic or excited dog. When receiving petting from an unfamiliar person, the dog who rolls over to expose his or her belly may be submissive or shy.  Any of these less than perfect greeting behaviors require training and Item 2 of the Canine Good Citizen Test (Sitting Politely for Petting) is precisely where this skill is taught.

Sitting Politely for Petting is a skill that consists of three primary components. These include 1) sitting on command, 2) tolerating petting, and 3) sitting while being petted by someone other than the owner.

Teaching Your Dog to Sit on Command

In CGC Test Item 2 (Sitting Politely for Petting) you are going to string together three behaviors: sit on command, tolerating petting, and finally, sit while being petted by someone other than the owner. One effective method for teaching sit on command are provided below.

This method describes how to use food to guide the dog to sit. When food is used to guide the dog into position, sometimes trainers refer to this as using food as a lure. Using food to guide the dog means the food is moved around by the trainer and the dog moves into position in order to get to the food.  This is different than using food as a reinforcer or reward. In this case the dog gets the food after performing the behavior.

Using Food to Guide the Dog to Sit

1. Get Yourself Ready. Choose a time when you have about 20 minutes of uninterrupted time that you can devote to a training session.  Your dog will be on a leash and collar. You’ve already selected your food (or toy) reinforcers based on the reinforcer sampling you did before starting training.  Get your treat bag or put a few pieces of food in your pocket.

In some cases, dogs are more motivated by toys than they are food. If this is the case for your dog, you can use a toy to guide the dog into position in the following exercises. Where we suggest you reward the dog with food, if you’re using a ball or toy, you’ll give the dog the toy to hold for a few seconds.

We suggest that at the beginning of each training session you cheerfully say something to your dog to let him know this is training. You can say something like, “Let’s work!” to let the dog know what is happening.  Your dog will soon learn to recognize training time. Before you begin your training session, make sure you’ve also brought along a ball, toy or something your dog likes to do for fun. When “work” is over, play and fun with you should be the reward.

2. Stand in front of the dog. Your toes will be about one foot away from the dog’s front paws and the dog will be standing. Hold a piece of food in your hand as you stand in front of the dog. You can kneel in front of a small dog.  Let the dog see the food.

3. Then move the food so you are holding it slightly higher than the dog’s head and in front of the dog’s eyes (about 6 inches away).

4. Now, holding the food, move your hand (now slightly higher than the dog’s head) toward the back of the dog’s head. Your hand should be moving parallel to the floor. This motion will cause the dog to look up so he can visually follow the food. Looking up and tipping his head back will result in the dog rocking back into a sit without you touching him. When you hold the food above the dog’s head, it should be about two to four inches above the dog. If you hold the food too high, there is a good chance you’ll accidentally teach the dog to jump for the food. If the food is held too low, the dog is likely to simply reach out and take the food without sitting.

5. Give the verbal instruction, “Sit,” in a calm, unemotional, flat but firm, non-shrieking, normal voice.  Avoid up-speech when you give your dog a command. Up-speech marks you as a Valley Girl and it is when statements are expressed as questions as in, “Sit?”  This indicates to a dog that you are not in charge and are not sure of yourself.

6. The timing of when you say, “Sit,” is extremely important. If you say, “sit,” before the dog knows what is happening and before you are in position, the dog will ignore you. Now you’ve taught your dog that you give instructions and they can be ignored. Say, “Sit,” just as you move the food back over the dog’s head, his back legs starts to bend, and as he is moving into the sit position.

7. As soon as the dog is in a sit position (rear end on the floor) say, “Good Boy!” (or “Good Girl!” or whatever praise you choose to use). At the exact same time you say saying, “Good Boy!” give the dog the food as a reward.  So, his sits and as soon as he does, you praise him and give him the food.

8. Initially, your dog can sit momentarily (a second or two) and then after praising and giving the reward, you can say, “OKAY!”  (or whatever command you want to use to release the dog) taking a step away to have the dog stand up.

9. As your dog gets more proficient with Sit on Command, things will happen faster and you’ll be able to eliminate some of these steps. You will be able to stand in front of the dog holding the food as in #3 above. When you say, “Sit,” the dog will get to the point that he quickly sits. When this happens, give the dog the food and praise without progressing to #4 above.

10. As a final step in teaching the Sit on Command with you in front of the dog, hold the food in your hand at your side, say, “Sit,” and the dog will sit without being guided by the food. Then reward and praise.

Before long, you’ll completely fade the food and your dog will sit automatically at times when he is expected to meet someone.

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About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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