So Your Dog Knows Sit. Now What?
by Robin MacFarlane
Just about every dog knows a Sit command. It seems the universal behavior that most anyone who owns a dog teaches at some point early in the dog / human relationship.
Over my years of training, many people who bring their dog to me for a behavioral evaluation comment, "but he already knows how to Sit". I referenced this common response in this article about proofing a dog's training for reliability.
These people are correct in believing that their dog understands how to put its butt on the ground, but what they are struggling with is understanding how to build on that basic knowledge so that the training of Sit actually has a useful purpose.
So once your dog knows Sit, what should you do with it?
One of the first things is to figure out what situations it would be valuable for your dog to Sit rather than doing something else that you find annoying.
Take for example, the situation when you are out for a walk and someone asks to pet your dog. Many dogs have the habit of jumping on people to be greeted, or they do the ever embarrassing, nose-poke to the private parts. It would be so much easier and less humiliating to have a dog that could plant their rear and keep it there as people say hello.
What about the dog that does the overly exuberant, happy-dance whenever you want to clip on a leash to go for that walk? All the chasing and trying to corral the bouncing dog could be solved if Sit always meant, put your butt on the ground and keep it there.
But this is exactly where many people struggle. They teach the basic behavior but don't develop their dog's understanding to make it really solid and reliable.
The next steps are to add reliability by practicing Sit with all sorts of distractions going on.
Have your dog Sit when you put down the food bowl. Do not let the dog break position until you give permission. This means every single time the dog attempts to go to the bowl as you are moving it toward the floor you will stop what you're doing and remind the dog to sit.
Have your dog Sit when other dogs are approaching you on the walk. Step off to the side if you need to create some distance from the other pooch, but use your leash, a lure, your body language or a correction if needed and get your dog to follow through.
Have your dog Sit when you open the door. Whether it is the door to go outside or the door of your car, insist your dog Sit and remain in that position until you give a permission cue to move.
Now have your dog Sit when you open the door and there is actually someone on the other side, like the pizza guy or the mailman. This means being prepared, but if you know you ordered pizza delivery, you know he's coming to the door relatively soon. Get a leash on the dog and enforce what you've told your dog to do. When a dog actually begins to realize we mean what we say, we start to get the results that we want.
The purpose of training isn't just to get your dog to do fun or cute behaviors. The purpose is to develop communication that gives you a way to organize your life with your dog into a peaceful co-existence.
Dogs who can follow through, even when distracted are dogs that get to enjoy way more quality time integrated into their owner's lives.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.