In dog training, as in many facets of life, it’s sometimes possible to over-think things. In reality, much success can come of living with dogs if you adhere to two basic principles:
- Teach your dog to “sit” quickly when requested and to stick it until released.
- Teach your dog that good things come to those who “sit.”
It’s so simple, such an elegant solution. A sitting dog is a dog who is not getting into trouble. A sitting dog is not running away at the park (or into traffic), not jumping on people in an over-enthusiastic greeting dance, not rushing the mailman at the door or other dogs who clearly need a bit of space on the trails, not frightening children on walks, and not stealing food off of countertops and tables. Most dogs won’t sit and bark at the same time either (though some most certainly can and do).
Asking for a sit is an excellent way to stop behavior you don’t like and replace it with a much more civilized and socially acceptable activity.
Also, a well trained sit happens fast! If you can train it to fluency as a near-reflex response, you’ll have an emergency cue that will keep your dog safe.
Before you can utilize this wondrous behavior it’s important to determine your dog’s sit quotient. Does your dog have a rock-solid sit behavior on cue? Before you say yes, let’s define our terms.
The behavior we call sit actually is a combination of behaviors. Our expectations are more complex than merely a quick doggie-bum on the ground. When we ask our dogs to sit we actually mean, plant your rear end on the ground in a timely fashion (right away) every time I ask you to do so, no matter where we are or what you are doing, without me having to ask you twice (or three, or four, or ten times) and stay there until you’ve been released.
That’s quite a tall order. And likely when you taught your dog to sit you didn’t quite break it down and explain it that way. Most people only bother with the first part of the instruction, put yer bum down on the ground for a second or two. No wonder so many dogs don’t comply when asked to sit!
So be sure to practice sit in all sorts of situations, especially on walks and when your dog is playing off-leash. Also, gradually increase the duration of the behavior, and be very consistent about clearly releasing your dog from her sit so she understands that she can’t just determine how long to stay and when to get up and walk away.
The other important piece of this exercise is teaching your dog the importance of your sit request. In order to make your verbal request relevant to your dog, you’ve got to reward her big time and frequently for complying with your wishes. This is the easy part.
Simply ask your dog for a sit before you do all of the good and fun things that your dog loves in life. Ask your dog to sit before you open the door to go for a walk, before you throw the ball, or place her food bowl in front of her at dinner time, and so on. By doing so your dog will learn to love when you ask her to sit because it means good things are coming her way.
Once your dog fully understands what you want from her when you ask her to sit and has learned to love doing so, incorporating this elegant behavior into daily life will be a breeze and you’ll both begin to benefit from the simplicity and security of the well-trained sit.
Kelly Gorman Dunbar is Director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior, where she recruits and trains the instructors for the Dunbar family business, SIRIUS® Puppy & Dog Training. She is the creator of the SIRIUS Sniffers scent-detection program, and is in the process of bringing the French sport of cavage (truffle hunting) to the US. Kelly is also Founder and President of Open Paw and consults for animal shelters on various matters.