sit, really?

I’ve been pondering this question for quite some time, why is teaching our dogs SIT so high on the priority list? The reality is, they know how to sit long before we ever meet them, in fact when they learn to walk and move around, they also learn to sit, all on their own without help from us.

Out of all the things I teach, SIT is still the number one requested behavior, hmmm. I don’t think it’s because we lack creativity, but we have, somewhere along the line, received information that it’s necessary and part of dog ownership. I’m not so sure.

Sit is part of obedience competition.

Start line stays in agility are generally in the sit position, not always but mostly.

Sit before the door opens.

Sit before friendly handling.

Sit before crossing the street.

Sit because I have asked you to sit.

and so on …

And then there are the old school hunters that forbid sit. Yes, there are people under the impression that, if sit is taught it will override 100’s of years of genetic instinct bred into their hunting dog to point or flush.That will be for another post.

Do I train my dogs to sit? I’m not sure?! They all ready know how to sit, I just make them feel better about doing it when they are puppies and offer great rewards for doing it, shaping, capturing and conditioning. When they are older they will generally offer sit, or sit easily when asked because their conditioning was positive, never in punishment.  I think it would be arrogant for me to assume I taught them something that they came to the planet with. Does that make sense?

About three years ago I went to a training/behavior conference in Oakland and was treated to some amazing speakers, one was Turid Rugaas from Norway. To say she is both loved and debated in the dog world would be an understatement. Her whole philosophy and focus is on raising a dog that is emotionally balanced, not a bad way to approach training at all really. But that we need to stop working on sit, down, stay and come. We need to work on balance and the relationship.

And then there is Alexandria Kurland, a horse trainer. I saw her in Portland at another conference. About five minutes into her lecture she said, “you cannot train an emotionally unstable animal, you need to work on stability first, balance”, so here it was again.

I’m a healthy skeptic. I tend to listen, take in information, sit on for a while, roll it around in my head, try it out if it makes sense on some level, and then decide.

What I found was that my philosophy isn’t so different. $eeker, our almost five year old border collie is a great example. He was the least balanced puppy I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. During his first year we worked on breathing, capturing calm, my space being a safe and friendly space, desensitizing noises like barking, playing nicely with our other dogs, and so on. Life was a trigger for him, that gets a bit tricky.

I did not work on specific positions, like sit, until he was over 1 year old. Did he sit? Yes, all dogs know how to sit, and he loves to offer that position, and I rewarded him for it. But we had bigger fish to fry, emotions to balance, and skills that were more important for a healthy life. Does $eeker have any formal behaviors under his belt? You bet, 100’s of them, and they came quickly after he had more balance. He loves to learn, trusts learning, and he breathes rather well.

Do I train sit in my classes? I train people how to get a SIT on cue and reward it so their puppy will continue to offer it as a polite behavior. But honestly, we spend a ton of time on body awareness, calm, socialization, tricks for fun, and trust in team. Relationship work and variety is balance in motion, in my opinion. Once you have this I think sky’s the limit.

So the next time you are showing your friends what your dog can do, be proud, show everything, you and your dog deserve kudos for working together, just don’t tell anyone you trained your dog to sit.

Nancy, who is currently sitting in a chair!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Penny says:

    Nancy, I was told the reason owners of pointing breeds say not to teach “sit” because the old school way to teach sit was to pull up on the dog’s collar and push down on the butt. This method caused problems when you tried to teach “whoa” using a long line attached to the collar because the dog would sit when the line tightened on the collar. Oops. I doubt “friendly sits” would cause the same problems with “whoa”. I’ll be interested to know if there really are people who believe sitting on cue interferes with instinct to point or flush. For me, the “pointers shouldn’t sit” is a handy excuse for my dogs not sitting on cue when it is really just that I’m lazy and don’t insist on it. Now can you find me a “hunting excuse” for why my dogs shouldn’t come when called? 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Penny, I would love to believe that, but it’s amazing how many people we have had over the years that bought lovely puppies for hunting, and who’s breeder/s scared the beejezus out of them and told them never to teach sit, ever! Some were top kennels. Totally confusing for some of our clients. We see this will our racing greyhounds too, especially the money winners who were in the system for awhile, sit was forbidden. I think mush of this is such old school info and training methods, but nonetheless it;s still out there! Hope all is well with you!

      1. Penny says:

        maybe the concern for the ‘mighty hunters’ is that the dog might choose ‘sit’ as a default behavior (first thing most dogs ‘learn’, right?) when stressed about learning something new in the field like holding a point, etc. rather than take responsibility themselves for reading the dog’s signals and adjust their training in a positive way. Frank, of course, believed that the dog who slept with him would hunt better for him and style be damned as long as she found birds!

    2. R & Alva says:

      Another group I have heard refusing to teach sit is dog show people. For the very same reason: so the dog would not sit in the ring.

      And the reason could be similar to what was suggested above. The dog misinterprets handler’s behavior as they were told to sit. This is easy in the show ring if the dog has been taught to sit with a food lure and taught little or no other stuff. People want to make the dog to stand tall in the ring and raise the lure – it looks easily like lure for a sit. Or the dog has learned at home that it earns treats by sitting and when the handler has treats in the ring the dog tries sitting for them. Nowadays though many people teach their dogs how to trot and stand in the ring and survive the show routine, and even participate classes for that purpose so I wonder if this myth is still alive.

      Maybe it is a good question why sit is so popular. It is an essential part of obedience. The dog has to sit in heel when the handler stops. Every exercise in obedience starts in a sit (at least where I trial). It is probably the most famous obedience task. Another thing is that is very easy to teach and also resembles a trick so it has been a good starting point for someone who has little knowledge about dog training. A dog can live a happy life without ever knowing how to sit on command. Maybe it gives its owners the feeling of control if their dog can sit when told so. Sit is also an useful command at home if you know how to use it. You can ask your dog to wait for a short time in a sit ie. while you lace your shoes for a walk or the dog should stay put for a photograph. To be honest, I started my puppy’s training with a sit. Just because it is so natural to teach it. (We also were housetraining in full throttle and visited as many different places I could think about. I got a dog I can take almost anywhere.)

      1. Nancy Tanner says:

        Hello R & Alva, I hope this ‘myth’ goes away. It is just ridiculousness all the way around.
        Yes I would like to know when ‘sit’ became the end all to the ‘good dog fairytale’. Maybe because it shows politeness or self control, but it is over used a bit in my opinion.
        All the best, Nancy

  2. Nicole says:

    I wonder this all the time! but it’s true, we use “sit” so often we don’t even really think twice about it.

  3. Lisa Marie says:

    You crack me up! This was a great reminder about what your dog offers – sometimes I forget that and miss a reward opportunity. We need to work on the emotional to balance for sure. I too am sitting but pretty sure physician prescribed:)

Leave a Reply to R & Alva Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s