Teaching your chihuahua to sit

“Sit” is one of the first things dogs learn, and for good reason. It’s a valuable skill that makes handling your chihuahua much more pleasant. It’s so much easier to pay at the pet store when your dog is sitting instead of winding you up in the leash, and everyday tasks like feeding or even opening a door are much easier. Teaching your chihuahua to sit is easy though, and this article is aimed at showing you how.

There are many ways to teach this command, but not every method will work on your chihuahua. If you find one simply does not work, try switching techniques to see if your pet learns better a different way.

This section of our guide is a walkthrough of three different methods of teaching the sit command and is only meant to get you as far as your dog learning to sit on command in a distraction free environment. To get that coveted sit in public, or stressful situations, you’ll want to keep reading the rest of the series.

Method 1: Luring

One of the easiest methods for teaching your chihuahua to sit is through luring them into the position, and then rewarding them. You can use a clicker to reinforce this, or simply praise each time.

To lure your dog, take a treat and hold it above your dog’s nose. Your dog will likely tip his nose up to sniff it. If you drag the treat above his head, from his nose to between his ears, the dog will most likely try to follow the treat by tipping his nose up and back. The easiest way to maintain balance for this is to sit.

Reward your pet with the treat and praise if they sit. If they back up or jump around to get the treat, simply try again—no negative reaction or treat.

It’s also important not to tell him to “sit” verbally until after he is already performing the motion. If you say “sit” before he knows what it means, he may end up pairing that word with wild prancing, backing up, or trying to gobble a treat.

When your pet sits nearly every time you lure, he’s ready for you to add a voice command. Start pairing the word with your training sessions, and after one or two repetitions with the voice command, start fading the lure.

To fade the lure, you simply use the verbal command without making the motion once out of every 10 attempts, then 8, and so on until you no longer use the motion or treat to get him to sit.

Common Problems

Cute, but not sitting.

It’s normal for your dog to try literally everything else besides sitting down to get the treat. Backing up, rearing to reach the treat, and attempting to snatch it from your hand are all normal responses to this luring method.

Remember, your dog doesn’t know what you want. He simply spies a treat and is trying to get it. Dogs are not robots, and while luring in this way frequently works, it’s not a guarantee.

If your dog constantly backs up, try practicing in a corner of a room so he can’t.

If they’re constantly snatching at the treat, the next method is likely to be more helpful to you, until you can either play games that teach your dog to be operant, such as “What’s in a box?” or teach him not to snatch treats.

Method 2: Clicking for natural behaviors.

This method requires a loaded clicker. If you have taught your pet the value of a click, teaching your chihuahua to sit can be as easy as capturing it. Simply hang your clicker around your neck and watch your dog as your cleaning house or watching TV. At some point, he is bound to sit during your day. If you catch it, click it!

Your pet might be mystified as to why you click at some points instead of others at first, but as he narrows down what you could be clicking for, he’ll soon sit on command.

This works especially well for dogs that are extremely treat motivated, as they’ll spend time working out why you are clicking in order to get more treats.

Method 3: Approximation

This method requires a loaded clicker. Although this method takes longer to teach, it often results in a stronger sit command.

This method involves clicking for tiny steps toward sit, rather than getting the dog in the position all at once. Instead, you might click for your dog’s hind end lowering slightly, regardless of whether he actually sat or not.

If your dog understands the clicker means a treat is coming, or has done a foundational exercise like, “What do we do with a box?” He’ll likely start offering all sorts of behaviors to see if it gets a click.

Once your chihuahua is dipping his hips regularly, become pickier. Only accept his butt going an inch down instead of just a dip. Once this is all he offers, select the best approximation he offers out of every 10, and click for that. Eventually your chihuahua will be in a full sit every time.

This method takes a long time, but it has its benefits. If your chihuahua breaks sit during an unexpected event, he’ll often go back to the last approximation he learned. That means if sit was taught in one big lump, the dog might just leave. If he was taught using tiny motions on the other hand, he may just lift his butt a few inches.

This method is also best for dogs who don’t get luring and seldom sit naturally.

Why you shouldn’t force train your chihuahua

It’s frustrating when teaching your chihuahua to sit doesn’t come easily. Sometimes you can work for ages and never seem to get your dog to sit. Many people jerk up on the collar and push down on the butt to force their pet to sit. The thinking is that forcing the position will force the dog to understand what you want.

While this does neatly force your dog into a sit, it’s also possible you will permanently damage your dog. Yanking on the collar can lead to a surprisingly common condition called a collapsed trachea. Pushing down on the butt, especially if they resist, can worsen conditions like slipping patellas.

Forcing your dog to sit in this way can also cause them to become collar shy. Collar shy dogs may bite when someone grabs their collar or approaches their neck. Finally, even if none of these things happen it can cause your dog to have a very slow sit.

If your dog isn’t motivated by treats, even especially tasty ones like Ziwi Peak or shredded chicken, experiment with motivators. Every dog is motivated by something—even if it isn’t entirely obvious to us.

You might be able to lure your pup with a baby sock instead of a treat for example. We’ll go into more detail in searching for a motivator for your pet in another article.

Once your pet knows to plop his little butt on the ground when he hears the word “Sit,” the next step is to proof it. You’ll want to practice that command in a variety of different settings, so you can reliably expect your chihuahua to sit in most situations.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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