Quit The Sit

 

This might surprise you, but I think teaching a dog to sit is one of the the skills your dog really doesn’t need. Now hold on, hear me out before you hate me. It might be convenient but it’s not essential. It’s not a life or death skill, like leave it or recall. And in most contexts when owners tend to use sit, we could easily swap out stand instead. Sit is such an overused, under-rewarded skill. People ask their dog to sit, for no real reason, far too often. Why does your dog need to sit to get a treat? Do you perform a “trick” every time you go to the cookie jar for a snack? Do you perform a “trick” every time before your partner gives you a hug or shows you affection? I doubt it, so why do you ask your dog to perform for snacks or affection? What are we proving?

Nearly every time we take our dog BooBoo to the pet store, the workers ask, “Can she have a treat?” I say yes. Then they proceed to take out a treat and ask her to sit. I interject. “You asked if you could give her a treat, not make her sit. She’s 15 years old, has bad hips, is deaf, and isn’t going to sit on your slippery floors for a treat she’s not even sure she wants from you. You can give her a treat for free. She doesn’t need to earn it.”

I honestly don’t understand what peoples’ obsession with making their dog sit at every opportunity is, other than some weird sense of control or alpha/dominance holdover.

I very rarely include sit in my training plans and if I do, it’s for safety reasons, and in most cases, it can be substituted for a stand. What are some examples where I include a sit?

  • I have dogs in urban environments learn to sit/stand at crosswalks before crossing.
  • I teach families walking with strollers to have their dog auto-stop and sit/stand when they stop moving with their stroller.
  • And sure, if there’s a dog jumping for attention at greetings, I’ll train a sit/stand to be pet for attention, instead of jumping and knocking grandma over.
  • For some vet or grooming stationing procedures, like a jugular blood draw or paw wiping, I will train a sit.

More often than not, sitting just isn’t part of my training plans because it doesn’t need to be. For many training plans, I don’t want the dog planted without a choice to move. I want the dog to have the ability to keep moving, to have a choice to move away from a trigger or to have freedom to engage or not. Asking a dog to sit removes that dog’s choice and forces them to engage with something that potentially is scary or uncomfortable.

I see this when dogs meet children. People put their dog into a sit, presumably so the dog won’t jump, but then the dog can’t move away if the children scare the dog. Now we’ve potentially created a situation where we have a dog unable to move away and if that dog is scared then their only option might be to growl or snap. This isn’t ideal. I’d much rather have a dog standing, where if a child reaches and the dog is unsure, the dog can take a step backwards or decide they’re free to move away. And then the person has a clear read on that dog’s body language.

The other observation I make is that people LOVE to cue chant SIT, SIT, SIT, SIT, SIT until their dog sits. Trainer tip: Unless your dog is losing their hearing, if your dog isn’t sitting the first time you ask, it’s not because they didn’t hear you. Saying it over and over and over isn’t what is making them sit. Maybe by the time you got the 6th ask, your dog just felt like sitting.

Maybe your dog isn’t sitting because the surface you’re asking them to sit on isn’t comfortable. People don’t realize that sitting on a comfy, soft carpet inside your familiar house is very different than sitting on slippery hardwood, wet grass, rough concrete or an asphalt street. Or maybe your dog is having a little pain in their hips and sitting isn’t so easy anymore. Maybe they’re distracted and your training isn’t well proofed? Or maybe you’ve just overused sit so much and your dog has learned that sitting when asked rarely gets reinforced, so why should they do it?

But really, why do you need your dog to sit in that exact moment?

What purpose is that sit serving, and are you rewarding it?

Let’s rethink the sit. And dare I say, quit the sit, in most SITuations. (See what I did there?) If you need help with your dog you can schedule your session here!

Happy training!

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