Why Your Dog Won’t Sit from a Down (and how to train them to)

how to get a dog to sit from lying down

Many dog owners delight after teaching their dog to sit only to find themselves repeating “sit, sit, sit!” in vain when it comes to getting their dog to sit once they’re already lying down. You know your dog knows how to sit, and yet there your dog is, belly on the floor and looking at you like you’re a crazy person.

So what gives? Why does your dog have no problem sitting from a stand, but never sits when they’re already lying down?

The reason for this is actually simple: the dog doesn’t know how, yet.

It is normal to think that dogs will identify commands based on the end position. We get frustrated when our dogs know down, they know sit, but they won’t go into a sit from a down.

But while the end position might be the same, sitting from a down position is actually very different (to your dog) than sitting from a standing position.

What dogs really understand is the movements they have to go through to during a command. The movement pattern is what is associated with a command, and so when we ask our dog to move into a known position from a different starting point, we are asking something entirely different from a kinesiological perspective.

Sit from a stand and sit from a down are entirely different movement patterns. Rather than bending at the knees and planting their rear down, your dog now has to push their front up off the ground without lifting their rear at all.

When we teach a dog to sit by luring their head up and back, like I teach in my article, Train a Dog to Sit, we are not actually teaching the end position; we’re teaching the movement pattern. Your dog does not sit from a down yet because they understand the “sit” command in the context of the movement pattern of bending at the hind knees. They can’t do that from a down, so the command sort of fizzles.

To get a dog to sit from lying down, we need to practice these movements as well so that our dogs can develop the movement patterns and “muscle memory” around them, and give them a chance to associate them with the cue.

photo of short coat tan and white dog

How Do You Teach Your Dog To Sit After Lying Down?

When teaching a dog to sit from a down position, in a way we are starting from scratch with a whole new command. To train this command, your dog should already know sit (from a stand) and down.

As with all new behaviors, skills, and tricks, teaching your dog to sit from a down is an entirely reward-based protocol.

Given that we’re starting from scratch, hold off on adding the “sit” verbal command until your dog has many repetitions under their belt. We will start adding it in later, but in the early stages prompting with a known command might cause some confusion. For now, focus on getting your dog to practice the movement pattern.

This is a step-by-step of how to teach your dog to sit from a down position, using food lures. If your dog is not super into food, you can either make the food lure something higher in value, or you can also use a toy to lure.

Step 1

Cue your dog with their down command, and give them a reward for the down.

Immediately take a food lure and hold it to your dog’s nose where they can sniff and investigate it. From there, move it upwards and slightly back. You may have to do this slowly to keep your dog on the lure and engaged.

This will cause your dog to crane their neck to stay on the food lure.

Hold the lure at the height your dog would be when sitting. Just hold it there for your dog to figure out.

When your dog pushes up into a sit, release the food lure for your dog to eat. Make sure that your dog actually receives and eats the treat while in a sit position.

Be careful not to move the lure forward/towards you. Pulling the food lure away from the dog will likely cause them to stand up completely.

At this point, the sit does not have to be “pretty.” Just look for chest off the ground with butt planted. If your dog is slightly hunched, that is not a big deal at this step.

When your dog gets their repetitions reliably with the above pattern, move on to step 2.

Step 2

From here, move your food rewards into your other hand (the hand you are NOT using as a signal/lure hand). Put that hand in your pocket, behind your back, or otherwise out of sight for your dog.

Signal your dog with your empty hand, following the same movement you used in step one. Freeze your hand at your dog’s head-height in the same way you did before.

Give your dog a few moments to work it out.

When your dog sits, mark and reward from your hidden hand, being sure that your dog is fed while in a sit position.

If your dog stands, start the command over my prompting your dog back into a down.

When your dog is reliably sitting from a down with the hand signal and no lure, move on to step three.

Step 3

In step three and onward, we will be adding back in the verbal “sit” command. Start your dog by prompting them into a down position and reward.

Verbally say “sit,” and wait three seconds to give your dog a chance to work it out. If your dog sits at this point, immediately mark, reward, and praise.

If your dog does not immediately understand from the verbal command, that is still okay. After the three seconds, provide the signal you used in step two. Hold your hand steady there as you did before.

When your dog sits, mark and reward, feeding in the sit position.

Practice this step until your dog starts to anticipate the command. When your dog starts offering a sit before the hand signal, move on to step four.

Step 4

Prompt your dog into a down and reward.

Give your verbal “sit” command and wait at least five seconds. If your dog sits at the verbal command, mark and reward. As usual, make sure your dog is fed in the sit position.

If your dog goes five seconds without showing any signs of starting to sit, start the command over. If your dog continues to not understand the verbal command for several repetitions, you need to back down to step three for more practice.

If your dog starts to sit but doesn’t complete the movement, you can use a halfway point between steps three and four by giving your dog the signal during the hesitation. This will reinforce that they were correct to start the sit, and will give them a chance to complete the movement pattern and be rewarded for it.

When your dog is consistently sitting at the verbal command, you’ve successfully taught your dog how to sit from lying down!

Author: Kimberlee Tolentino

Kimee has worked hands-on with dogs for over ten years, and today serves the role of head trainer and owner at Lugaru K9 Training in Port Orchard, Washington. Kimee has been a shelter volunteer, a dog walker, dog behavior intern, a dog trainer, and now specializes in behavior modification for pet dogs.