Sit is one of the first basic manners we teach our dogs. But why do we ask our dogs to sit? What’s the purpose? Well, the answer is there are many reasons for asking our dogs for a sit. Some of these are:
- Sitting dogs don’t jump.
- It’s the building block of good greeting manners.
- It’s the building block good door manners.
- It’s the building block good food manners, and
- It’s the building block to settle behaviour
Frequently I ask clients the question “Why does your dog need to sit right now; he’s not doing anything wrong and you are not planning to interact with him.” Just think about that for a minute. How many times do you ask your dog to sit without any real reason? Or even worse, how often do you ask them to sit when they are in a stressful situation where more interactive engagement would better help the dog to settle and cope with the stress.
So, what are we teaching our dogs when we ask them non-stop to sit without a reason or effective consequence? The overuse of sit is not in line with how dogs learn and how behaviours can be strengthened. The ABC principle of learning helps us to understand how dogs learn.
- A = Antecedent (the environment/situation the dog finds itself in, e.g. opening and then closing a door)
- B = Behaviour (the behaviour the dog offers when in that environment, e.g. a sit-stay)
- C = Consequence (the consequence of that behaviour in that environment, e.g. a tasty treat)
When you ask for a sit, is there always a beneficial consequence or an action that will be a positive experience for your dog that will contribute to strengthening the behaviour? It’s the consequence that determines whether a behaviour is strengthened or weakened. So our excessive use of the cue “sit” may well contribute to the fading out of the behaviour as time goes by?
As an experiment try monitoring all the times you ask your dog for a sit and then ask yourself why, did the dog really need to sit. If you find that you excessively ask for a sit (for no reason), try to use a sit when only necessary and when there is a good reason and a positive consequence. This will help strengthen your dog’s sit behaviour. For example, if you’re giving your dog his dinner. In that situation the behaviour “sit” and the positive consequence of staying in a sit is getting their dinner. In this example you’ve just established the first building block in good food manners. It’s also a positive outcome for a behaviour offered in a certain environment which is why some dogs start to sit automatically in certain situations
Another real world example of having a solid sit, which automatically transfers into a sit –stay, is having the freedom and confidence to open the door for a visitor knowing that your dog will maintain that sit –stay. For that to become a reality you have to teach the behaviour in that specific situation first, without any people coming through the door and even without the door opened fully. Then slowly build the association between the situation (opening door), the behaviour (sit-stay) and the consequence of the behaviour (a treat). The consequence in this instance should be a piece of food which the positive reinforcement. As always when using food as positive reinforcement, make sure you keep your eye on your dog’s waistline. See our blog posting about weight management HERE.
A Pat on the Back
Once you have a strong sit-stay in the door opening scenario pat yourself on the back. You have taught your dog not only good greeting manners but good door manners as well. Your challenge now is to change the situation and environment in order to strengthen the behaviour (Sit-Stay). One example is to continue the training and look for a sit – stay while you open the car door.
The value of a strong sit-stay is indisputable and should be taught, generalised and practiced. To help you with teaching a solid sit – stay over the next month I will be posting a series of video tutorials on our YouTube channel. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE
Click HERE to watch Sit – Stay Tutorial Number 1
Muckyhound YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/muckyhounddogtraining
Sit – Stay Tutorial 1: https://youtu.be/5w9CawlTywE