It’s an endearing trick that is both fun for you to train and for your dog to learn. And, it’s so easy, even the greenest of trainers can do it!
Of course, I’m talking about “sit pretty,” or what’s sometimes called “beg.” During this adorable trick, your dog sits back on their hind end and raises both front legs up off the ground. Taken one step further, this trick can be shaped into a “hands in the air” behavior that can be tacked on to the beginning of an epic “play dead.”
If you’re new to trick training, sit pretty is one of the best behaviors to start with. It can be trained in only a few easy steps. It introduces some key trick training elements like luring, cues, and shaping. And, its a ton of fun for you and your pup!
The Benefits of Trick Training
Even though the fundamentals of teaching the sit pretty behavior are fairly straight forward, working with your dog on this simple command will have a powerful impact on your training as a whole. In fact, trick training, in general, is one of the best ways you can improve your dog’s obedience skills and make the “less fun” training sessions more enjoyable.
But trick training has even more benefits than that.
Trick training is the perfect way to spend more quality time with your dog. Not only will you strengthen your training prowess and your relationship, but you’ll both have a lot of fun while you do it!
Strengthens the Bond With Your Dog
Training with your dog should only ever help strengthen your bond with your dog. Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced session when this wasn’t true. Maybe you were trying to teach your dog a complex skill like walking nicely on leash or heel and they just weren’t getting it. Or maybe you were working on problem behaviors like separation anxiety, chewing, or barking.
In these types of high-stress training sessions, frustration can often get the better of us and our dogs. This can lead to you and your dog leaving the session feeling like your relationship was damaged in some way.
This is when trick training is so important. When you are teaching your dog to do something fun or silly like roll over or shake, there isn’t a lot at stake. If they aren’t quite getting it, it’s easy to change directions or just call it a day and go play fetch.
These light-hearted, fun training sessions help restore the bond you have with your dog, even when obedience training is at a standstill.
If you want your puppy to become a well-behaved dog who actually gets excited about training, incorporate some trick training into your daily routine.
Hones Your Training Skills
But beyond adding some fun back into training, teaching your dog tricks also provides you with the opportunity to hone your own training skills. It gives you a chance to observe your dog learning without the added pressure of resolving a problem behavior or teaching an important obedience command.
Without all that extra weight on your shoulders, you can stay more relaxed and take better mental notes on what works for your dog and what doesn’t. Maybe you notice that tossing treats on the floor is a useful way to get your dog to mentally reset in the middle of a session. Or that your pup brings a lot more energy when you use a ball as a reward instead of food.
In addition, trick training often requires the use of complex skills like shaping and targeting. And many tricks require expert timing of markers and praise. After you’ve built these skills during trick training sessions, you can easily apply them to obedience sessions. You may even find that making those little changes to how you reward your dog or improving your timing makes all the difference in teaching your dog to stay or lay down.
Provides Mental Enrichment for Your Pup
Of course, one of the greatest benefits of trick training is the mental enrichment it brings your dog. All canines enjoy a good challenge, their mammalian brains were built for it. And positive reinforcement training was built around that idea.
A proper sit pretty can even be shaped into “paws in the air,” a trick you can use to jazz up your dog’s play dead. All of these kinds of fun tricks are great enrichment for your dog’s mind.
When you show your dog a reward, such as a treat or a toy, their first reaction is to figure out what they need to do to get it. The behavior is the puzzle. And since trick training is all about having fun and getting your dog to perform random actions and movements, there is an endless amount of enrichment available.
And since 10 minutes of mental work is equal to about 30 minutes of physical work, trick training is the perfect solution to wearing your dog out on a cold day or when you are crunched for time.
Increases Communication Skills
Best of all, the more you work with your dog in any type of training session, the better your communication will become. And I mean your dog’s communication with you as well as yours with them.
Each time you successfully teach your dog a new trick, you are both learning more about how the other communicates. When your dog finally solves the puzzle and earns the reward, suddenly they know how you want them to react when you move your hand in that way. Simultaneously, you’ll learn that you need to move your hand slower during the lure if you want your dog to rise up instead of jump.
These communication skills will transfer to obedience training as well as your day to day life together.
If you feel like you have a hard time understanding what your dog wants, how do you think they feel? Trick training is a fun way to practice communicating more clearly with your dog.
Training Your Dog to Sit Pretty
Are you ready to improve your relationship and communication with your dog while also honing your training skills and having some fun?
Before you get started teaching your dog how to sit pretty, you’ll need a few items. Make sure to load up your treat bag with a bunch of tasty treats. If your dog is clicker trained, you can use that as your positive marker, otherwise, you can use a verbal marker such as “yes!” or “good dog!”
Find a room in your house that is quiet and void of distractions so they can focus on the puzzle you’re about to present them.
Step 1: Reward the paw lift
With your dog in front of you, ask them to sit. Then, hold a treat directly in front of their nose. Let them sniff it, but not eat it.
Slowly raise your hand up and slightly back until their paw leaves the floor.
The moment it does, use your positive marker and give your dog the treat. Some dogs, especially those that are used to luring, may immediately raise both feet off the floor, that’s fine too! In that case, you can skip to step 2.
If your dog knows how to shake or wave, they’ll probably pick up on this trick a little sooner since they are used to being rewarded for lifting their paws off the ground.
Other dogs may be more hesitant to lifting both feet right away, so shaping the behavior by rewarding lifting one paw first might be easier.
TIP: If your dog gets up out of the sit, stop luring and ask them to sit again. This time, try moving your hand slower so their nose stays with the treat as you raise it. Reward them the moment their foot comes off the ground. You may even have to reward them for slightly moving or raising a front leg and then ask for more movement with each repetition.
Continue luring and rewarding your dog for lifting their paw until they are doing it consistently with each repetition.
Step 2: Reward the double paw lift
Once your dog has figured out that they need to lift a paw off the ground, you are going to ask them to do a little more by having them lift both front paws off the ground.
Start with your dog in a sit as you were before, then slowly raise the treat up from their nose. Once they lift their first paw, raise the treat just a little more so they have to stretch their neck and raise the second paw off the ground to get it.
How do you want your dog’s sit pretty look? You will need to shape the initial behavior into your vision of the finished product by selectively rewarding the attempts that look most like what you want.
The moment that second paw comes off the ground, mark, treat, and praise. Make sure to reward them the moment the paw lifts. If you wait too long at this stage, your dog is likely to move up out of the sit or jump at the treat to get it.
TIP: If your dog does move out of the sit, use your negative marker, get them back into a sit, and try again. This time, you may need to move the treat back slightly as you raise it or raise it more slowly. Praise them the second that other paw comes off the ground.
Continue with this process until your dog is easily lifting both paws off the ground each time you raise the treat.
Step 3: Shape the behavior
Now you are ready to ask for a more dramatic behavior. To this point, you’ve been rewarding your dog the moment they lift both front paws. Now we are going to ask them to raise their paws higher.
Start as you were before and slowly lure your dog up until both feet are off the ground. Continue to lure upwards until your dog shifts their weight back slightly and their paws come up higher off the ground.
If they drop back down or jump out of the sit before you reward them, use your negative marker and try again. Make sure their nose is right up against the treat as you lure and use the treat to hold them in position.
Once your dog can successfully shift back and hold their paws up higher, then you can ask them to hold the position longer. This time, as you raise the treat up, hold it at the highest lure point for about a second before rewarding your dog. If your dog struggles with this, you may need to start with a shorter amount of time and build up slowly.
Once your dog can successfully sit back with both paws off the ground for a sustained period of time, you are ready to give this behavior a name.
In this video, you’ll see how to reinforce your dog for lifting both their paws and then for sitting back with both paws higher for a longer period of time.
Step 4: Add the cue
Once your dog is able to perform the full behavior with a lure, you are ready to give it a name. Most commonly, this behavior is called “sit pretty,” but you can also call it “beg,” “paws in the air” or any other novel cue you want to use.
Get your dog set up in a sit in front of you just like before. But this time, before you start luring, say your cue. Then lure them into position just as you were before. Pause at the top and have your dog hold the position for a second, then reward them.
Repeat this a few dozen times so your dog builds an association between the sit pretty cue and the behavior they are already doing.
Step 5: Reduce luring
Eventually, you’ll want to be able to give your cue and a quick hand signal and have your dog perform the full behavior without a lure. To get to that point, you’ll have to reduce your dog’s reliance on the lure.
The easiest way to do this is to do less and less with your hand each rep and force your dog to fill in the gaps on their own.
Start with your dog in a sit, give your sit pretty cue, and then quickly raise your hand with the treat. You’ll still raise it as high as you were before but do it much more quickly now so your dog can’t follow it directly. Hold your hand in place for about a second and then reward them.
If your dog doesn’t do the trick correctly, slow the hand signal back down and do a couple dozen reps before trying again.
Once your dog can easily sit up with a faster hand signal, try starting with your lure a few inches above their head instead of right over their nose. Give your cue, and move your hand quickly up to where you normally stop.
Repeat this process, rewarding your dog after each success, until you can hold your hand above your dog’s head, give your cue, and have them move into position without having to move your hand at all.
Once they can do that, try the same thing, but without holding a treat in your hand.
What you have done, is turned your big bulky lure into a simple hand cue. If you want, you can even create a novel hand cue by holding your hand in a specific way above their head, such as making a fist or holding two fingers out.
You can continue to polish the behavior by working to remove your hand after you give the verbal cue and still have your dog hold the position until you reward them.
In this video, you’ll see how to add the verbal cue once your dog understands the behavior and then how to turn your lure into a hand cue.
Reflect on Your Training Observations
Once you have taught your dog how to sit adorably on cue, spend some time showing off the new trick to your friends. But don’t forget to also spend some time reflecting on what you learned during that training session.
Consider the areas your dog struggled with and think about how you overcame them. Think about the areas your dog picked up right away and why those pieces might have been easier for them than others. And consider your disposition during the different parts of the training. Were you able to maintain a positive, fun attitude the whole time? Did your dog react differently depending on your mood and tone?
These are all great things to keep in mind for your next obedience training session or the next time you have to work with your dog on a problem behavior. If you can employ the methods that worked during this trick session and emulate the same mood and feeling, you’re sure to get the same positive results!
How satisfied are you with your trick training session versus your last obedience session? Try bringing some of the elements that made this session more fun into your next obedience training.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.