A reliable and crisp remote sit is a staple for any working dog. Whether it’s a retriever that may need to be handled while on a retrieve, an agility dog that needs confidence sitting on a platform (or at the starting line), an upland dog sitting to a flushing bird, a herding dog, protection dogs - you get the point. A remote sit is important.
With most commands that we teach, the teaching starts well in advance of the final objective. We need to make sure that we take small baby steps that never put a lot of pressure on the dog, that are easy for the dog to understand, and that allows us to win along the way.
So how do I teach remote sit?
- Step one is teaching the puppy to eagerly get on a Cato Board and sit. Please reference the blog post “GETTING THE CATO BOARD INTRODUCTION RIGHT” if you need help with this. It’s crucial that your puppy is comfortable on the Cato Board, and that they see it as a positive place from which positive activities originate.
- Step two is teaching a prolonged sit on the Cato Board. At this stage, I want the pup to start understanding that they need to remain on the Cato Board until a further command is given. I do this by increasing the reward interval incrementally. With a young puppy, the reward is instantaneous. With a six month old puppy, the reward will not come nearly as quickly. Eventually, puppy should be calmly sitting on Cato Board and allowing you to move away from him while he remains sitting. It’s absolutely crucial that puppy is comfortable with you moving to a reasonable distance away from him without the need to follow you. If he does want to follow you, calmly put him back on the Cato Board and try again. Eventually he’ll become comfortable with the idea of waiting. Be sure to always come back to puppy before rewarding and releasing him; never call him to you as this will cause him to start anticipating coming to you, rather than calmly waiting for you to come to him.
- Up until this point, your Cato Board should have always been right in front of you when you had puppy sit on it. For step three, I want puppy to start going AWAY from me to get on the Cato Board. Again, small steps are key here. Start with puppy only having to go a couple of feet to get on the Cato Board, and gradually increase that distance. IMPORTANT: don’t call puppy in to you to reward it for getting on the Cato Board. The reward needs to happen where they are sitting. If you’re using treats, walk up to puppy and reward on the Cato Board. If you’re using retrieves, be sure to throw the retrieve while puppy is on the Cato Board as well.
- At this point, puppy should be very comfortable sitting on the Cato Board at a distance. There should be no indication that puppy is stressed by the distance. For step four, we remove the Cato Board from the equation and have puppy sit on the floor/ground. At this point, I cut the distance back down, and gradually increase it. While puppy is moving around within about 10’ of you, give the sit command (I like to use one tweet on the whistle to sit, but also use voice interchangeably). Hopefully, puppy sits down immediately. If he does sit, a calm verbal praise should happen immediately (we don’t want to over-stimulate with loud praise) and the reward should follow. If using treats BE SURE to walk to puppy where he sat and give him the treat there. You do not want him to think he needs to come in to you in order to get rewarded.
If puppy didn’t sit even with repeated verbals, there are two options. One, did you take shortcuts on steps 1-3? If so, you may want to slow down a bit and make sure that puppy is very comfortable up to step 3. If you truly feel that puppy is ready for step 4, then at this point I will pick puppy up, put him back where I originally gave the sit command, give the sit command again, and then immediately praise and reward. I may need to repeat this several times for puppy to understand the concept. Note: make sure you are starting out close enough that you can quickly pick puppy up and move him to the area where you first issued the command. A lot of people start out with too great of distance, and that creates issues.
Once puppy is sitting reliably inside of the imaginary 10’ circle, I you can then begin to increase that distance. Never too much at once...just gradually ask for the sit farther and farther away from you.
5. If you followed steps 1-4 carefully, you should now have a puppy that will sit sharply at a distance. Step 5 would be to remote sit with a distraction. While puppy is sitting by my side on a Cato Board, I will throw a retrieve and send the puppy (I’m making the assumption that by this point they have been taught to wait until sent). Almost immediately after sending the puppy, I will give a sit command. If your timing is right, puppy should immediately sit and look at you. I then issue a verbal praise and the reward is to be sent for the retrieve. I don’t want to overdo this drill as it can cause the puppy to begin stopping on retrieves in anticipation of the sit command. However, I do like this drill because it shows me that puppy understands that when I say sit, it means to sit regardless of what other agenda puppy might have had in mind.
You might choose to use other distractions besides a retrieve (a dog in an adjacent yard, a bowl of food across the house, etc). Whatever distraction you use, be sure to make sure you start out asking for the remote sit at a close distance before you stretch it out. Remember, we want to win every time!
- The sharp sit comes from the expectation of the reward. If you’re getting a sloppy sit, it is likely because puppy doesn’t have the right incentive, or your timing with the reward is poor (it should be immediate, especially early on).
- Often you’ll find that puppies want to come into close proximity to you before sitting. This is either because they are apprehensive about the distance, or because they have been conditioned to get a reward by staying close to you. More pressure is not the answer to fixing this. Instead, make the distance shorter, add plenty of calm encouragement, and make sure the reward is happening at a distance, not by coming in close to you.
- If you’re really struggling with the remote sit, it is very possible that your puppy has not matured enough for this concept. There’s nothing wrong with taking a couple of steps back, letting puppy grow up a bit, and then trying again after some time has passed.
- Please don’t do too much in one session - we want this to stay fun for the puppy. I typically would never ask for more than three remote sits in one session with a puppy. More than that and they may start to resent them.
Teaching remote sits doesn’t have to be difficult, but it definitely takes patience and a good game plan. Take your time, enjoy the process, and before long you’ll have a companion that has a strong remote sit and is ready to move on to more advanced training!