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How to Improve Your Service Dog’s Basic Obedience Positions

basic obedience positions boxer dog

Basic obedience positions, consisting of sit, down, and stand, provide a foundation for much of the movement your Service Dog does throughout the day. Public access uses long downs, mobility work relies on rock solid stands, and sit is the most commonly cued position for most dogs. Lots of puppies learn sit first. Next, they master down and down stays. Some go on to learn stands, but many don’t.

By improving your basic obedience positions, you can improve your communication with your Service Dog while also improving task work, public access, and functionality. You can also use basic obedience positions to build your dog’s strength, mobility, and flexibility. In addition, improving sits, downs, and stands offers a great chance to work on your dog training skills, including timing, reward placement, and reinforcement schedules. These skills also serve as a base for more advanced obedience and positioning skills, like pivots, emergency downs, and stays out of motion.

Basic Obedience Positions and Cue Differentiation

Does your dog know sit? Many people believe their dog does but then discover their dog relies on a mixture of physical, environmental, contextual, and verbal cues and not on the cue “sit” itself! The same goes for downs and stands — does your dog still respond to the cue if you’re standing straight up and you don’t use your hands? What if your back is turned? Many dogs, including highly trained ones, only know what their handler wants if the cue is delivered with precisely the correct elements.

Work on improving your dog’s response to verbal cues. Strive to reduce or remove physical elements from your cues. Change the way you deliver cues — sit down, stand up, lay on the ground, try it from an elevated position, etc. Work until your dog performs reliably off a single verbal cue regardless of the environmental set up or the position you yourself are in. Expanding your dog’s generalization of a cue might come in handy during emergencies or in situations your dog can’t readily see you.

Basic Obedience Position Transitions

Playing position transition games is a great way to improve basic obedience positions. Most dogs can go into a down from a sit, but does your dog pop into a sit from a down on cue? Do they stand on cue while sitting or in a down? How many times can they transition cleanly? These games are great opportunities to work on cue differentiation and to work your dog’s mind, mobility, and strength.

Remember to start slow and reward success. Don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t understand cues and positions as well as you thought they did! Feel free to include other positions, like sit pretty, bows, playing dead, etc. if your dog knows them well.

Tuck Sit

Tuck sits allow your dog to stay in one place when they sit by “tucking” their rear end towards their front feet without their front feet moving. Most dogs have a “rock” sit where they drop their rump to the ground and either leave their front feet in place or move them backward. That results in your dog being several feet away from where they started! Teach a tuck sit to build shoulder strength and mobility while also cleaning up this oft-used basic obedience position.

Sphynx Down

A sphynx down happens when your dog “rocks back” into the down, folding directly into the position from a stand. Lots of dogs sit and then slide their front feet forward until their chest hits the ground. This often results in a sprawling, sloppy, imprecise down. For Service Dogs, sprawling downs are particularly problematic, as they must not protrude into aisles, walkways, etc. They can’t be a tripping hazard or block potential emergency escape routes. Sphynx downs allow tight, precise downs and careful, efficient use of space. PAVLOV Dog Training Denver offers a great explanation and demonstration for teaching and using sphynx downs.

Kickback Stand

The kickback stand happens when your dog “kicks” their back feet out of a sit or down while leaving their front feet in place. This results in a tight, compact, balanced stand with the dog’s feet optimally placed under shoulders and hips. It also keeps them from requiring a lot of space for the stand, which is particularly useful for mobility dogs and working K9s. There are several methods for teaching a kickback stand. Eileen and Dogs outlines a great one that uses capturing.



  • ServiceDogTrainingDallas January 4, 2020

    I understand that verbal cues are good for the dog to know, however aren’t hand gestures or physical cues also good? In all my reading I am learning that dogs respond better to a physical cue than spoken. For instance, my service dog knows sit, down, stay, come etc. however at times, especially when out and there is a lot going on, she responds quicker to the hand signs I have taught her. It’s not that she doesn’t respond immediately to the basics, but that the signs are easier for her in some instances. We practice daily on the basics but I always include the sign to further associate the two. If I’m in public and am in a quiet place or maybe am right next to a person; I don’t want to verbally say sit, down etc.. The sign is more effective.


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