Does Your Dog Know What “Sit” Means?
Does Your Dog Know What “Sit” Means?
You probably just scoffed when you read today’s topic and said, “Yes, of course my dog can sit.” And I would completely agree with you. Your dog can sit, he can bend his stifles forward and place his rump on the floor. All dogs can sit. However, does your dog know what the word “sit” means? Here’s a quick test: walk your dog into your living room and face any wall away from your dog. Say the word “sit” and see if he does it. Better yet, have an accomplice or mirror so you can tell without turning around. If you’re less ambitious but still want to test your dog, try asking him to sit (verbal command only) when he is laying down.
I can tell you right now, your dog probably will not put his rump on the floor when you try these exercises. Dogs are discriminating learners, not generalizing learners. Children generalize. For example, you can teach your young child to sit on the floor in your living room and they will know how to sit on the floor at a friend’s house, at school, at the park, etc. Your dog, on the other hand, does not generalize and needs to be taught how to sit in many different contexts and from many positions. Your dog likely understands “sit” in all the places you practice most or where he has the highest likelihood of being rewarded, such as in your kitchen facing you and a food bowl, on street corners, etc. But he probably doesn’t understand that “sit” means sit in every context no matter where you are standing.
“Sit” is a fantastic emergency command. A lot of people try to use “come” or a recall as an emergency command, but here is one issue that is solved by a sit instead. Within half a second, you will know whether or not your dog sat down. You will not know if your dog executed a correct recall until he has run away from you, potentially towards something dangerous like a road, or run towards you but then continued moving, or correctly run to you and remained by you. If you yell “sit” on the other hand, it is immediately apparent that your dog either did it or did not. Either his butt is on the ground or it is not. All or nothing, or binary, commands are the best commands to use when it comes to an emergency or safety issue. There is one right answer and one wrong answer and there is no gray area.
Teaching your dog a fast and consistent sit is one of the best ways to have control over your dog. If your dog is about to run up to another dog or a person, a “sit” stops the inappropriate behavior. If your dog is about to pee on something you’d rather he didn’t, a “sit” stops that behavior. Get the idea? Sit is a fantastic command if your dog truly understands what it means. At this point you probably think this is all great and wonderful but not practical. Your dog did not sit with your back turned, now what?
Teach your dog that “sit” means sit in a fun motivating way. Begin with your pooch’s dinner bowl, do not give them the bowl. Use a piece of kibble to lure your dog into “sit” from a standing position. Even if your dog knows to sit, still start with the basic steps. Lure a sit by raising your hand with the kibble up over your dog’s head (for a younger puppy you may need to kneel down to their level and let them sniff the kibble the first 3-4 times). Once you get the sit, praise immediately then follow up by paying with the kibble.
Here’s where things get tricky. Now lure your dog back into a stand by holding piece of kibble against his nose and leading him up and forward slightly until the bum comes up. Again, praise and pay up. Lure the sit again. This time, try it without kibble in your hand but pay up with kibble from the bowl. You now have a “sit-stand-sit’ exercise where your dog will be able to find sit from a standing position and find stand from a sitting position. Now you work on another position change: cue a sit, preferably without the lure, then lure a down position with your dog’s stomach on the ground, then lure a sit from the down. You now have a “sit-down-sit” exercise so your dog will find sit from a down position and down from a sit position. Keep practicing position changes until your dog learns that each cue means a position from any other position. This will help him understand that “sit” means your butt should be on the ground. Plenty of dogs offer a sit when they are confused or throwing a behavior hoping for a reward, but now they are learning to put the behavior on cue. Learning position changes is step one of teaching a strong sit. Use a whole bowl of kibble once or twice a week and you’ll be amazed what how fast your dog learns to move his body in just 15 minutes of practice a day.
Step two is to take it on the road. Go for a walk and periodically stop, wait for your dog to turn and look at you. There will be a few minutes of confusion or frustration, but do not call your dog. He needs to actively think about how he will get you moving again. The second you get a glance, you will praise and pay your dog. Now you have his attention, so ask for a “sit” or a “down” or anything you like but mix it up. By the end of one good length walk, you will have a dog who knows how to check in with you and who is willing to try behavior outside. Try stopping every 10-15 yards and your dog will quickly learn that he needs to pay attention to you because he never knows when you are going to quit and need some canine attention to get going again.
Now that your dog knows how to sit from any canine body position and knows how to sit anywhere outside with you, start changing your body position and location in relation to your dog. This is where the fun really begins and you can get creative. Lie flat on your back on the floor and say “sit.” If your dog does it, pay up big time. If he doesn’t give him a known cue. For example, stand up, raise your hand over his head and praise the following sit. Now lie back down on your back and try again. Repeat as needed until your dog sits when you cue it from the floor. Really pay up! You can get as creative as you want with this, but make sure your dog learns to sit when you are a few feet away, when your back is turned, when his back is turned, etc. and you will have a reliable dog that can be controlled almost anywhere; a dog who definitely knows what sit means.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator