Dog trainer and veterinarian Ian Dunbar has always been a big proponent of teaching all dogs an emergency sit, and it’s an invaluable skill for owners and dogs. Essentially, it’s asking your dog to sit no matter where they are, where you are, or what’s going on around them, and it’s trickier for most dogs than it sounds!
For many dogs, the cue “sit,” means to come and sit directly in front of their owner, and that’s a great start. The goal for an emergency sit is for your dog to learn that “sit” means that no matter where they are or what they’re doing, when we say “sit” they put their bottom on the ground immediately.
It’s an impressive and useful skill to have so that your dog can be safe no matter where they are, on or off-leash. Before you start teaching your dog this behavior, your dog needs to have a solid “sit” on verbal cue. That means that when you say sit in your house, out on a walk, or in any other context, your dog will put their bottom on the ground 90% of the time, without any other cue or lure.
There are a lot of ways to teach an emergency sit, and here’s the technique we’ll use in play group.
1- Call the dog to us from several feet away.
2- As they move towards us, we’ll say the word “sit” while giving an exaggerated hand signal that’s a sweeping upward movement of our arm with the palm upward.
3- When the dog sits (ideally a foot or two away from us), we quickly go to the dog and give them a treat.
4- Once the dog will reliably sit two to three feet away from us we can introduce more distance by calling them when they are farther away from us, and repeating the process.
Once you teach an emergency sit, it’s important to practice it regularly and always reinforce it with whatever your dog likes best, whether it’s a piece of yummy hot dog, a rousing game of tug, or return to play with other dogs.