What’s Up With “Sit”?
Does your dog know how to sit? Trick question! Of course they know how to sit. All dogs know how to sit. Just like they know how to walk and eat. But did you teach them to sit on cue? Probably. Almost every dog I work with has already been taught “sit”.
I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about why humans are so obsessed with telling dogs to put their butt on the floor. Maybe because it’s the easiest thing to teach? Maybe because we think we are in control if we can make the dog do something?
I was at the vet clinic the other day and there was a lovely, elderly golden retriever in the waiting room who, of course, was wagging and looking at each person who walked by. The dog’s human kept chanting “sit, sit”, and tightening up on the leash and pushing on the dog’s rear end. I was a little distressed because it looked like the old dog was pretty stiff and might not really be comfortable sitting down on the hard floor. But I also wondered why she needed to sit. She wasn’t out of control in any way. Just standing there, looking friendly.
I’ve worked with a lot of reactive dogs – dogs that get excited/upset/angry/afraid when walking past another dog/person/bike/car. Almost universally the human’s instinct is to stop the dog and try to get them to sit. Why? Especially since it’s almost always impossible in that situation.
If you were out for a walk and a scary animal or person was approaching you, what would you do? Sit down and wait for them to get closer? Not likely! You’d get some distance from the scary thing and move away, right? Works for dogs, too!
Or if the issue is not fear but just overexcited and friendly, how about removing the dog from the situation they can’t handle at that moment and gradually working with them to be calmer around those things that make them lose their mind?
Neither situation involves sit!
I haven’t quite stopped teaching dogs “sit”, but these days I’m thinking less in terms of making dogs “obedient” and more about helping them fit in and feel comfortable in the world we’ve asked them to live in.