Should you make your dog sit before giving anything such as affection, dinner, treats, opening doors, or putting on and taking off leashes? This is often part of a ‘no free lunch’ policy.
I’m not a big fan of sit, nor do I teach it regularly. Mostly because dogs already know how to sit or people have overly requested and focused on the behavior. Most dogs know how to sit, at least temporarily, for cookies or treats. Some dogs will sit out of compliance — to get a leash put on to go outside or be able to cross the street. However, many dogs do not like sitting. They will often hesitate or look away when requested or told to sit — especially when outside on walks. Often this is because they are instructed to sit too frequently or are told to sit on hard surfaces such as concrete.
Another problem with ‘Sit’ is that the behavior is momentary. Dogs will sit for a moment, but then what do they do? They pop up. People don’t teach their dog how long to sit for (they don’t teach a release). Instructing a dog to ‘sit’ does not teach them to back away from a door or to look at a person or wait at a corner. Waiting and sitting are two different behaviors. It does not teach a dog to not bark out the window or how to greet guests politely (usually because they cannot sit for more than 10-15 seconds or there’s simply too much excitement).
Humans like ‘Sit’ and it’s a behavior/instruction that is excessively focused on, which is why many people teach it. However, if you watch dogs — most dogs will either stand or lie down. If they have to stay in one place for any length of time, they will prefer to lie down (often in a relaxed down). If they need to wait momentarily, many dogs prefer to stand. This becomes especially important for older dogs or breeds who are afflicted with diseases like hip dysplasia. Some dogs do not like sitting at all — especially small, spindly dogs — such as whippets, or long legged dogs such as greyhounds and danes.
There are definitely dogs who like to sit. They sit on other dogs, will sit on your lap, or happily sit when asked and stay in that position for long-ish periods of time. These dogs are usually stocky and heavy set dogs. Many labs, for instance, are good at sitting and will happily sit 10-15 or 20 times a day. Your doberman, energetic little mixed breed, or miniature pinscher, not so much.
Instead of thinking of training dogs in the terms of dominance, who is alpha, and requesting that they sit before everything, think of behaviors you may really like. For instance, instead of telling your dog to sit in front of the door before you open it, maybe you would like your dog to back away from it. Instead of telling your dog to sit at the corner, you may simply want your dog to wait. Many dogs will happily and easily wait while standing at a curb. It’s very easy to teach.
There is nothing wrong with sitting. But, if your dog balks a lot, hesitates to sit, or you feel there are behavior problems that are not being addressed when you request it — think beyond it. There are many ways to teach a dog a variety of behaviors. Making or instructing a dog to sit is only one of them.
© 2019 Alana Stevenson. All Rights Reserved.