How to Train Your Dog to Sit At Scent – Part 1 “Up-Sit” for Scent Detection

Question: My dog’s indication on hides over 3 feet is good, but not as intense as his indication on low hides. He finds them easily, but he sits looking at me instead of sitting with nose at source. I’ve never had anyone explain or teach me ways how you’d get a dog to stay focused and zeroed in on hides that are more than 3 feet. If there is a chain of steps to use in teaching this behavior I would appreciate hearing and learning them.

Answer: Many dogs encounter the odor plume and sit before finding source. Unfortunately that lack of specificity doesn’t help you to identify the precise location of source, and can cause problems in competitions and tests if the judge asks you where source is.  In comparison, a rock solid indication where the dog eagerly keeps his nose and attention at source is far clearer at communicating the precise location of source. When you’re searching a building for bed bugs, and need to verify K9 alerts by finding physical evidence, a precise indication is a valuable time saver that is more likely to provide peace of mind.

This blog summarizes the first step to teach the trained formal response of a sit indication with nose at source for high hides in scent detection.


This photo shows ZZ shifting her weight away from the reward to sit back onto her hips. Photo by Hunter’s Heart.

Many dogs sit by shifting their weight backwards. If their nose was at source before the sit, then they end up sitting at least 1 foot back. If you missed where their nose was before the sit, you’ll have a hard time answering the judge if she asks “where is it”. If you’re happy with your dog’s indication then you probably don’t need to worry about this.

If you’d like to strengthen your sit indication, watch this video: of ZZ and Jager (our 6-month-old bed bug detection candidates) working on “up-sit” away from odor.

For the purpose of scent detection, there are 2 styles of sitting:

  1. Rocked back sit – The dog shifts his weight backwards. His shoulders and front move back towards his hips. The direction is away from the reward or source. This may be undesirable in scent detection because the dog’s nose is no longer at source.
  2. Up-sit – The dog stretches his nose up and forward towards the reward, tucking his rear up towards his front his front end. The direction is up and towards the reward or source so the dog’s nose remains at source.

Puppies are especially prone to rock back sits or crooked sits on one hip. They know they have a nose but are unaware they have a rear end with 2 rear paws, which simply follow behind without conscious thought. This makes it unlikely that they will sit up tight and tidy next to a wall with nose pressed to a high hide. Especially with puppies, try training tuck up sits with forward weight shift away from odor, where any mistakes are “inexpensive” and won’t directly impede your scent detection.

It can be challenging to teach an up-sit with weight forward and nose at source. It must be learned over many repetitions, and humans can be impatient. Imagine it like walking a tightrope, typing, or learning a new video game. At first, expect it to be hard and frustrating. Only over time and practice does it become easier. If you stick with it long enough, you can become comfortable with that skill.

You can introduce the behavior of tuck sit by luring above the puppy’s nose with a piece of food. For the first few reps, it may help to gently tuck his rear and scootch it forward with your hand. (But you need to get rid of the help ASAP. Moving the puppy’s body is insufficient for teaching the behavior since an indication must be performed independently in response to odor.) Try luring the puppy from your far left to tuck up sit, then a little to the right and repeat until they’re on your far right.

Another method that tends to work well is to teach the puppy to sit on a platform, in a cardboard box, or make your own pause box by connecting 1 inch PVC pipe into a rectangle just large enough for the dog to fit. Sit with your knees or feet on either side of the box to prevent it from moving and use the food to lure into sit position at first. Once confident, put your hands behind your back to prevent yourself from “helping” and see if the pup can repeat sit on platform alone.

Gradually decrease the size of the platform or box until it is just big enough so the puppy can sit on it.

Generalize by putting the platform different rooms around the house. Also teach sit on the platform when it’s located in different positions relative to your body. If you started in front position (toe to toe), try putting the platform on your left side in heel position, then on your right side.

Be patient. Rear end awareness takes a long time to build! Concurrently working other rear end awareness exercises will also help e.g. perch work, backing up, pivots around front paws on a platform, trotting slowly through low cavaletti, etc. Once your puppy understands how to move his rear in concert with his nose, then it’s time to add all the components together.

Generalizing the Up-Sit

Sitting or lying down is more difficult in challenging environments. Consider training your sit or down in a wide array of conditions you may realistically encounter:

  • Sit on wet ground or snow
  • Sit on rocks, dirt, concrete that’s cold or asphalt that’s uncomfortably warm
  • Sit amidst strange objects like a bunch of running shoes
  • Sit on the first cue, then add distractions. For example, can you sit when there’s rodents in the grass outside? Can you sit when there’s a favorite toy in your mouth?

In Part 2, we’ll add a hot box and practice sitting with nose at source.


If you’re in the Calgary area, join our classes at Kayenna Kennels and we’ll show you how to train all  of the steps up to elite international competition or certification. The next session starts April 18, 2018.

Don’t forget to have fun and let us know how you’re doing.


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© 2018 Hunter’s Heart. Media by Hunter’s Heart, Videoblocks, Storyblocks, Epidemic Sound and Nancy Thornton.

3 thoughts on “How to Train Your Dog to Sit At Scent – Part 1 “Up-Sit” for Scent Detection”

  1. Pingback: How to Train Your Dog to Sit at Scent – Part 2 Scent Puppy Foundation, Hunter's Heart, Canada

  2. Pingback: How to Train Your Dog a Sit Indication – Part 2 Scent Puppy Foundation, Hunter's Heart, Canada

  3. Sandi Christiano

    Perfect thank you! I will take a look at it tonight.

    On Fri, Apr 13, 2018, 2:45 AM Hunter’s Heart, Canada, wrote:

    > carlalsimon posted: ” Question: My dog’s > indication on hides over 3 feet is good, but not as intense as his > indication on low hides. He finds them easily, but he sits looking at me > instead of sitting with nose at source, so it’s hard to te” >

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