To Sit or Not to Sit - Should you teach your dog to Sit?
Imagine that you are in town just after a rainstorm. Each time you have to cross the road, you are told to sit down before you can cross. The ground is still wet, and if you refuse your backside is forced down onto the cold, wet surface. Nice…
I have heard so many dog trainers use the “sit” command as their “cure-all” for problem dog behaviour. It’s almost as if they regard it as a magic spell that instantly calms a dog. I have said many times over the years that training a dog to sit is fine and dandy, but it is not nearly as important as many people believe it to be.
I remember well a dog owner who had some issues with their dogs so, like an awful lot of people who don’t know where else to turn, she enrolled in dog obedience classes. Of course, a big part of the lessons was teaching the dog to sit. The instructor told everyone to ask their dog to sit. If a dog did not do so, they were to push their dog’s bottom down to the floor. This lady’s dog resisted her attempts to be pushed down, prompting the trainer to come over, tell the lady that she was “far too soft”, and forcibly shove the dog’s backside down. This caused the dog to yelp – not great.
This treatment carried on for a few weeks; each time the trainer forced the dog’s bottom down, causing a yelp. It was only when the owner noticed that her dog had trouble walking for a day or two after the classes that alarm bells started ringing. A quick trip to the vets led to an X-ray that found chronic hip dysplasia. We advised her to stop going to the classes…
Greyhounds find it difficult to sit like other dogs; the way they have been genetically engineered makes it uncomfortable for many. Personally, I had two request for my dogs; to come to me when I asked and to stay where they were if necessary. Sitting, standing or lying down was their choice but I put no pressure on them as frankly it is not important.
If you enjoy teaching your dog tricks then that is great. Expecting a dog to understand what you mean right away is not realistic. Using force to make them perform risks creates a negative experience or even physical pain (as in the case of our poor dog with the bad hips). Nowadays, we are turned off by the idea of seeing trained animals in a circus as we know that there is often a definite element of force and coercion. Good trainers use no force but do practice plenty of patience.
Several years ago, I went to an elephant sanctuary in South Africa. We were introduced to four elephants that performed “tricks” for us – one stamped its foot, the second shook its ears, while Number Three trumpeted. The fourth one gave us a kiss (actually it sucked at our faces with its trunk).
N.B. I have subsequently seen where they stick their trunks – I would never have one do that to my face again…
Anyway, when I asked the staff how they taught the elephants to do that, I was relieved to hear that they noticed the animals doing them anyway – they simply introduced a treat when they did it to create an association (a lot like clicker training which was originally developed for dolphins).
Human babies learn through patience and repetition too; can you imagine what would happen to parents if they smacked their baby around the head for not getting the idea of saying “Thank you” on the first attempt? Time and patience are both crucial when learning any skill, no matter how basic. Whether you end up on a TV talent show with your dog as it performs incredible feats, or your 4-legged friend only knows to come when you call them, make sure you both enjoy the experience. Remember that teaching a dog to sit is OK, but it is not what makes for a well-behaved and calm canine. Knowing how to convince your dog in their language that they can trust you with the big decisions – that’s the real deal.
You can see how I use patience and repetition with a puppy here to quickly make progress: