How to Teach Your Dog to Sit (and Actually Stay!)
So you've got your new puppy, all their cute new accessories and now you want them to sit nicely for a photo. Here you were thinking you had an Einstein puppy because they learnt to sit for a treat on the first day in their forever home with you, but now that you want to take a cute photo to announce their arrival to your socials, you've realised that they only sit for 0.04 seconds and trying to get a photo is on your new list of things that seem very unlikely to happen. Ever.
Yep. We've heard it before. A thousand times.
Getting your new puppy to sit is one thing but asking them to stay there whilst you fumble with your camera settings, trying to get far enough away from them that you might get their full body in the photo is another. All the while, you sound like a broken record saying "stay, stay, st, stayyyyy, staaay, STAY!"
It doesn't need to be this way. We promise you'll have insta-worthy sit & stays by the time you've finished reading. And if you nail the command but don't yet have the insta-worthy outfit, you're in the right place for that too. (Just click the little 'Shop' link up above and we'll sort your wardrobe too).
Step 1: How to Teach Sit
Even if you think you don't need to read this section anymore, keep reading. It's super important that you've taught 'sit' in a certain way to make sure that the 'stay' part works in the next step.
Say it once and get your timing right
The biggest mistake people make when teaching 'sit' is that they say it first, hoping that puppy will listen to the command and then follow with the action. But it doesn't usually work like that, so then you say it again, and puppy may or may not do it the second time. But now you've said it twice, and puppy (much like a human baby) has worked out that they'll still get treats/lots of praise when they do the right action, but they don't necessarily need to listen to you the first time. Wrong!
When first teaching sit, you want to make sure that you say the word 'SIT' exactly at the same time that puppy feels their floofy butt touch the floor. No earlier, no later. And that is the first and last time you say it.
To make them sit, you can either use a treat or your hand. Personally, we used the treat method with our two doggos who loved food right from the first minute they were born. If they are in a standing position to start, simply hold a treat just above their head. To get to it, they will need to lift their nose right up and backwards, encouraging them to sit to reach it. And of course, you will be ready and waiting to say 'Sit' at the exact time their butt touches the floor. Give them lots of praise and the treat. Do this 4 times over and then have at least an hour break in between training sessions.
If you have a doggo that doesn't care for snacks, you can also start with the hand method until you can find something they want. From a standing position, simply use your hand to push down on their lower back, essentially forcing them to sit. Once again, as soon as their butt touches the ground, say the word once and give them praise. You will need your puppy to graduate from this method to the one above (doing the action of sitting by themselves) before you can move on to the next step, so if they won't do it for treats, try their favourite toy instead.
Step 2: How to Teach Stay
In order to move onto this step, your puppy just needs to be able to do the sitting action on their own (without you pushing their bum down). After some practice, your doggo should be sitting with just the action of you holding your hand above their head.
Once they're sitting, don't give them immediate praise like you were before. Instead, stay still and don't say anything. In your head, count to 3. Then hold the treat out for them at the same time you use a release word (a word to release them from the original command). We use 'Break' for one of our dogs and 'Yes' for our other dog. Then Praise!
On the next time, try it again, but increase your count to 5. And release word. And praise.
Then you can build to 10 seconds. And repeat.
If at any point your pup tries to move from their sitting position before you have said the release word, reset back to a sit and go back to the first step of only counting to 3. If you pup doesn't come out of their sitting position when you say the release word, that's okay. Just say the word and hand them the treat. It will give the same effect that they know the sit is over.
It won't take very long before 'stay' is just an extension of the command for 'sit' and you can start moving away from them during the time it was taking you to count in your head. Just like before, get puppy to sit and instead of standing still and counting in your head, take one step backwards from them. Then release. Then praise.
Next time, two steps. Repeat. Then three steps, four, five and so on. Soon enough, you'll be able to break eye contact with them, walk around the house and release them from the other side of the house. Sounds impossible? It's not - both of our dogs do it!
Now to get the perfect photo:
This part is all up to you now. They can sit and stay and they won't move until you release them. You're able to get far enough away with the camera that you can even get their surroundings into the photo. And if you want them looking at you? Hold that treat just above the camera. Want a candid side profile instead? Easy - just hold the treat out the side, or even better - make them sit, go and place the treat where you want them to look, then come back and take the photo. When you release them, they'll go straight to the treat for their praise.