Learning to sit is a crucial skill for every dog, but especially for a collie. Collies are known for being full of energy, and sometimes they can forget their surroundings when they are excited. This can be dangerous, especially if you live near a busy road.
Even if you don’t want to teach your collie loads of tricks, teaching them to be able to stop what they are doing and sit is not too difficult and is one of the foundational commands you should teach any dog.
You can teach your collie to sit by holding treats over their head, which will naturally encourage them into a sitting position. Combine this training method with positive reinforcement, and repeat the verbal command “sit” when they sit down so that they learn to associate the command with the action of sitting.
Like with all dogs, it’s best to teach them how to sit when they’re young. However, border collies are one of the smartest dog breeds in the world, and teaching them to sit is possible at any age.
In this article, we’ll look at some simple step-by-step methods and tips to teach your collie to sit with minimal fuss.
1: Hold a treat above their head
The first step in teaching your collie to sit is to find a treat they are interested in. Some collies aren’t motivated much by treats, so you might have to find something they really want. (Little slices of cooked hotdogs work well!)
Hold the treat near your dog’s nose to get them interested and slowly move it over their head, keeping it just in sight. Your collie will follow the treat with their eyes until they can’t bend their neck back any further, forcing them to sit down to maintain eye contact with the treat.
When your collie is about to sit down, issue the “sit” command, and give them the treat when they sit.
After a few rounds of this, you can start to show them the treat and telling them to “sit” without moving the treat backwards.
Your collie will quickly learn that the word “sit” means bottom on the floor and that they might get a treat for it too!
2: Use A Hand Signal
Hand signals are easy to forget about, but herding dogs like collies are visual learners as well as audible learners. Using the same hand signal each time you ask your collie to sit will give them another cue and help them learn what you want them to do faster.
Every time you tell your collie to “Sit”, make the same hand signal. A common signal for sit is to hold your hand up in the air as if you were holding a treat. This mimics the position your hand would be in during step one when you were holding a treat above their head to get them to sit.
Hand signals are useful if your dog is having trouble learning to sit, but they work for other commands too. It’s also possible to teach your collie to respond to only the hand signal without needing the verbal command.
Hand signals are super useful for deaf border collies too, since they can’t hear your audible commands.
3: Be Consistent
Collies like routines and don’t respond well to unclear instructions. They like to do a good job and if they don’t know what you want them to do it can upset them.
No matter what method you’re using to train your collie, keep your training method consistent so they can understand you and recognize when you’re giving them a command.
This means always saying the verbal command or using the hand signal if you’re using this as part of training. If you use both the hand signal and verbal command during training, you should use them both when you are issuing the command.
Border Collies are very perceptive and inconsistencies in your commands can confuse them, which can be upsetting for them. Collies are very receptive to training and try really hard to please you, so it can upset them if they know you’re asking them to do something, but they don’t understand what.
4: Don’t Force them into position
When you’re teaching your collie a command like ‘sit’, which requires them to be in a specific position, it can be tempting to just “help” them into position.
During training, it’s fine to gently guide your collie by touching their back to get them to sit, or touching their paw to get them to give you a paw, but you should never physically force your collie into the position you want them.
During ‘sit’ training, never yank on your collie’s lead or physically force their bottom into the sit position manually. Forcing your dog to sit is scary and confusing for them and doing things this way will make training much more difficult and unpleasant for your collie.
Be patient and keep trying. They will learn how to sit without force and will learn to trust your commands. Using force can also make further training more difficult and damage the trust between you and your collie.
5: Briefly pause before rewarding them for sitting
When you want your collie to sit, sitting for 0.62 seconds then immediately standing back up for a treat probably isn’t what you had in mind, but this is a common problem during training for intelligent breeds like collies, who are always looking for the most efficient way to get the reward.
If you reward your collie when they sit and stand, they will associate the treat with standing up after sitting, and not with sitting itself. Over time they will start to cut corners and not even sit down fully. They don’t do this out of laziness or disobedience, they just don’t know what they are supposed to be doing.
The solution to this is to withhold their reward for a few seconds, only rewarding them once they’ve been sitting down for several seconds. This helps your collie learn that they get a reward for sitting, not for sitting and standing.
If your collie does start sitting and immediately standing up, you can help them understand what you want by giving them some verbal negative reinforcement such as “No” or “Uh-Oh” and pulling the treat back.
At first, your collie might not understand why they didn’t earn a treat, but they will soon learn exactly what you’re looking for when they earn a reward for sitting down for longer periods. If your collie already knows the ‘stay’ command, you can combine this with sitting training to get them to sit for longer periods.
6: Gradually cut back on the treats
One crucial aspect of training your collie is to help break the expectation of a physical treat every time they follow a command.
While it’s tempting to give your collie treats every time they perform, it’s not good for their long-term health, since collies can become overweight if you’re not careful, and they can start to expect a treat just for following your instructions. You want your dog to follow your instructions because they trust and respect you, not because they want a treat.
If you reward your collie every time they do something, they will quickly work out that doing what you want will get them a treat and they’ll start to expect a treat every time they sit for you. This isn’t a good thing and will only make them unhappy in the long term, especially if they sit and you don’t give them a treat. They will think they have done something wrong.
To prevent your collie from feeling upset when you don’t have any treats to give them without lowering their willingness to follow your instructions, slowly wean them off the treats during training, instead, shower them with praise and attention so they still know they are a good dog.
This way, they learn that being obedient doesn’t always get them a treat, but they don’t start wondering what they have done wrong and they know they are making you happy.
Collies are pleasers and love to work, if they become accustomed to receiving a treat every time and then they suddenly stop getting treats they will think they are doing something wrong and it will break their little hearts not knowing why you’re not giving them one!