It’s Not About “SIT!”

by Camilla Gray-Nelson

Many years ago, when I first began my career  as a dog trainer, I was out training one of my students at our country feed store.  While I was putting the dog through his Sit/Down/Heel paces, a young homeless man passed me with his puppy on a rope and muttered, “Sit is stupid.”  At the time, I was a bit offended and passed off his comment as one of utter ignorance.  Years later, I realized the homeless vagabond was right.    Sit is stupid!

Let me explain.  While specific commands (like Sit, Down, Heel) are handy and convenient, they have nothing to do with human dog relationships (ie. who’s in charge) and they are unnatural in the dog world.  They are trained “performances” from your dog in response to those words.  Don’t get me wrong – I like having my dog sit to be collared, and heel smartly when working our way through a crowd.  But none of those trained behaviors get to the core of the human dog relationship, develop a sense of responsibility in my dog or make her see me as her boss.  It’s just a performance for the moment.

What dogs are looking for is the leader that will set the limits of their behavior by telling them what is NOT allowed.  An Alpha dog in a pack never uses Sit or other commands to do this!  What he does is set boundaries for the other dogs – telling them in clear, canine terms what is NOT acceptable.  I bring this up within the context of this discussion on Sit, because too many dog owners use “Sit” instead of “Stop That.”

Think about it.  When your dog is misbehaving on the leash, do you tell him to Sit in order to calm him down?  When guests arrive and your dog is jumping wildly all over them, do you shout your Sit command to bring the chaos under control?  When your dog is pulling on the leash, do you tell him to Heel to solve the problem?  While these commands may provide temporary relief, they do not teach your to think about his behavior or learn to avoid it in the future.  They simply put your dog on a command-performance where considering alternatives is not even allowed.  Since your dog has not learned that jumping and bad leash manners are not allowed, he will repeat them next time – until your redirect him with a your Sit command.

In nature, dogs don’t respond to commands; they learn to use their brains.  It is “management by exception” in the dog pack, with the Alpha dog stepping in when necessary to tell the others what is NOT allowed.  The other dogs, in turn, are then responsible for figuring out what IS allowed.  It is this process of deductive reasoning in response to these boundaries that engages a dog’s brain and produces well-disciplined and thoughtful behaviors.  When you use Sit to bring your dog under control, you are cheating him out of an important opportunity to learn responsibility.  You are missing the chance to act like the Leader that he will understand – the one that tells him what NOT to do, and encourages him come up with responsible alternative behaviors.

MY TRAINING CHALLENGE:  For an entire week, do NOT tell your dog to Sit. Instead, correct and stop those behaviors that you do not want (bad leash manners, inappropriate jumping, etc.) When your dog tries an alternative behavior, either praise it or correct it and let him try something else.  You will be amazed at the responsible companion waiting to be developed inside your whirling dervish.



About Camilla Gray-Nelson

When I started training dogs professionally, it was women who sought out my help. Responsibility for the family dog typically falls to them, after all. Their homes were in chaos; they were yelling at their dogs – and their kids – and couldn’t control either one. The life skills of personal power that I learned as a child (and assumed everyone else had, too), turned out to be rare among my clients. Since that time, it has been my personal goal to share Nature’s message of quiet power with women (and men) everywhere to help them become more effective not only with their dogs, but in their greater lives as well.

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