Leanne Smith runs Dogs R Dogs, based in Devon. She specialises in Gundog Training using modern, science-based methods.

Solutions To Your Sit Before Lead Removal Problems

One of the reasons that I enjoy dog training is all the curve balls that my dogs throw in my path.  It keeps me on my toes and always looking at the basic principles and trying to find an application that suits each dog in each situation.

My sit training problem…

My youngster, Ragnar, can’t sit before he has his lead taken off at the beginning of a walk or somewhere that he thinks that he will be able to run.

Ragnar’s issue is he becomes too focused on anticipating freedom and loses the ability to function cognitively, thus he is unable to offer to sit or even respond to a sit cue.

Solution 1

For the past 2 years, I have not bothered about this as Ragnar is steady and will wait in a stand until his lead is removed and he is given permission to go.


Ragnar has been practising self-control and waiting for permission to self-reward with running.  However, it has not addressed the fact that he is not cognitive during anticipation of running.  In the short term this has been acceptable because I have had many other things to work on and he was safe, and reliably waited to be released.  It didn’t address the issue directly by it was a good workaround until I had time to address the issue directly.

Solution 2

When I decided to address this, the first thing that I tried was just waiting for him out.  However, it was regularly 5-10 mins before he could offer to sit.


All of us become bored and frustrated with standing around, plus sometimes I didn’t have that long to wait.  After trying this consistently for a couple of weeks with no consistent improvement I realised that I needed to try something different.

Solution 3

The next thing that I tried was rewarding him with food when he gave me eye contact and then luring him into a sit with a second treat.


Unless the treat was very high value, Ragnar could take it or leave it.  Even with high-value food he sometimes couldn’t focus and sit.  Again, no real consistent progress.

Solution 4

What I finally found that helps him is to wait for him to choose to look at me which he can do quite early on, praise him, stroke him and engage with him and this seems to help him come back to being cognitive and then he can sit quite quickly.  I am then releasing him straight away.


The time taken to sit is now consistently reducing.  This just highlights how important it is to find out what your dog finds reinforcing in each situation.  All of my other dogs would have moved away from me if I tried to stroke them in this situation, they wanted food or release.

Dogs basically do what works for them

So when we are faced with a situation where we would like to modify our dog’s response, we need to find what works for them.

In scientific terms, a reinforcer is something which increases the likelihood of a behaviour happening.  So, for Ragnar, in this situation a food reward was not a reinforcer as the behaviour that I wanted – Sit was not increasing.  Therefore, I needed to find something that was reinforced in that circumstance – physical interaction with me.

Erik, my older dog, in the exact same circumstance offers to sit immediately and is rewarded with food, for him food is a reinforcer.

Every dog is an individual and as handlers, we need to be aware of this and be creative when our standard rewards are not a reinforcer in any given situation.

The Use Of A Broom!

I have a creative client who had a very reluctant retriever, the only thing that he used to get excited about was chasing the long handle sweeping broom at home.  My client made this into a game and brought her sweeping broom to lessons.  The dog very quickly learned to love retrieving because it earned him a chance to play with the sweeping broom.  Once there was value in retrieving, my client was able to change to more usual rewards.  Had my client not been willing to make the effort to use the sweeping broom, then I’m sure that dog would still be indifferent to retrieving.

If you are struggling to motivate your dog in a certain circumstance, don’t be afraid to think out of the box.  Look at what your dog loves to do and will put a lot of effort into; then, look at ways to be able to use that ‘thing’ to reinforce the behaviour that you want to happen.  Learn to observe what brings joy to your dog, and use it in your training

You may also like Leanne’s books:

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