Sit, look, stay: The basis of good manners and leadership training

This training is good for all dogs but it’s especially beneficial for those with behaviour problems

A big cause of behavioural issues is anxiety. Sometimes anxiety is easy to spot – your dog shows obvious signs of distress (including fear or aggression) when separated from you or when approached by unknown people or dogs. The thing you might not realise though is that if your dog shows anxiety in these situations, she’s also likely to have higher anxiety levels at all times than most other dogs.

You can help your relieve the underlying tension that is always present and reduce the likelihood of a crisis episode developing by providing a secure environment where she learns to look to you for reassuring direction and control. The aim is for your dog to recognise that you are dependable and to understand where in the household hierarchy she fits.

A recommended training program to assist in providing this secure, stable environment starts with your dog sitting for all of the things she values (no ‘freebies’).


First you need to train ‘sit’.

There is no need to push down on her bottom. You can get her to sit by:

  • firmly hold a food reward above her nose when she is standing

  • move your hand back over her head so her nose goes up and backwards, which will cause her hindquarters to drop

  • as her hindquarters go down, say ‘sit’

  • when she sits, give her the food reward

It’s really important that this is taught in a gentle, positive manner – positive meaning she gets rewarded when she is obedient and there is no punishment for getting it wrong (ie reward the good, ignore the bad). Many people dislike food rewards as they consider them a bribe. But try and think of it as payment for a job well done! Once the desired behaviour occurs 95% of the time, you can then start alternating food rewards, voice rewards, pats and no reward. At this stage, intermittent reward becomes the strongest reinforcer of good behaviour.


Once your dog can reliably sit on command, she should be encouraged to make eye contact with you when she sits.

You can hold a favourite toy or tit-bit near your eye while asking her to ‘look’. The treat should be given as soon as she complies. Over time, the item can be replaced by a hand movement up towards your eyes only and a reward given from your pocket. If you are concerned that your dog is focusing on the food rather than you, an alternative is to hold a tit-bit in each hand and hold them at shoulder height to your left and right. Initially your dog is likely to look from one to the other – eventually she will look at you and as she does so, instantly give the word ‘look’ and reward her with both pieces of food.


The next step is to introduce the ‘stay’ and ask your dog to remain in position until a release command such as ‘free’ is given.

Make this learning process fun. Use a happy tone of voice and lots of verbal praise together with the reward of tit-bit or a game. Sessions should be short and enjoyable. No more than 5 minutes at a time but repeat these sessions six times during the day.


Once you have taught your dog to sit and look at you on request you can begin to ask this of her for ALL the things she enjoys in life. You might like to think of it as her saying ‘please’. It doesn’t mean that she has to miss out on anything – only that she must earn what she has previously been given for free, by sitting and looking at you. This needs to become part and parcel of your daily interactions.

This program will reach its full potential if you concurrently ignore any attempt on your dog’s part to control YOUR actions. For instance, if she comes up and nudges you while you are reading the newspaper (her way of saying ‘gimme’ or ‘mum, mum, mum’ on and on) it’s important not to reach down and pat her and let her choose to move away when she’s done. Doing so allows her to dictate that entire interaction and she learns that being pushy and demanding works.

It is preferable to ignore her attention-seeking behaviour (even if she whimpers or paws at you). If she jumps up, make no physical, voice or eye contact with her. Don’t push her away – this is a response. Just turn around and walk away or stand and walk away. Once she has moved away, you can call her over, ask her to ‘sit’ and ‘look’ (ie she says ‘please’) and then pat her, provided she complies. In this way, she doesn’t miss out on your attention and affection, it is just a matter of you deciding when you give it.

If she doesn’t do as requested, walk away and ignore her. It is important to watch for other potentially pushy behaviours to ensure you’re not inadvertently being manipulated (eg staring at you while you’re eating). Also watch for how she interacts with other family members, friends etc. All people in the household need to be on the same page.

Expected some resistance when you start putting some boundaries in place. Behaviours may become worse in the short term but will eventually disappear when your dog realises she gets no benefit from them.

Remember in attention-seeking dogs, any recognition is a reinforcement for the behaviour. That includes even small gestures like eye contact or negative things like yelling. These will seem like acknowledgement to your dog. We must avoid all signs of acknowledgement unless we initiate it. We need to teach our dog basic manners.

This program often means quite a big change in the way that you interact with your dog. In the short term, you might feel like you are being harsh by refusing to meet your dog’s demands if she does not comply with your directions. However, dogs are like people in that they generally value things more highly if they require some effort to obtain. The simple act of sitting and looking at you will provide her with direction and reward for listening to and showing respect to you. It helps to provide a clear set of rules for your dog to follow, which can play a major part in relieving anxiety and hence, the undesirable behaviours that often follow this emotional state.

Behaviour modification takes time and effort and can be a slow process. Dedicate at least a 4 week period to start and then assess the situation. If you are having difficulty with any of the program contact us.