Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obedience "must-train" -- The Practical SIT

A strange thing happened to me last week.  Two different people in two different "venues" commented on what a well-behaved dog I have.  This would not be unusual if I were out with Maggie, but it is VERY unusual as the dog I had with me both times was Rip.  Yes, Rip!

Perhaps he's just growing up?  Is he a changed dog?  I wouldn't go that far.

Well, Rip does look calm in this picture.
Until you notice the "I-might-cause-trouble" glint in his eye.

The thing that has changed Rip's behavior in public is one simple command:  SIT

This may sound a little crazy, as sit is pretty much the first thing taught in obedience class, and Rip has been training since he joined our pack.  But I'm talking about a more practical version of sit.

I had an "ah-ha" moment during my first lesson with Bridget.  Between exercises, or when Bridget was giving me feedback, Rip was sniffing, looking around, and wandering to the end of the leash.  Then I had to correct him for sniffing, wandering, etc.

Finally Bridget asked me if my dog knew how to sit.  Of course he does - didn't she see those nice, quick, straight sits while he was heeling?

Oh, not that kind of sit.  

She was referring to the kind of sit that means I tell my dog sit, then I can pay attention to something else because I know that my dog will be sitting in that same place and not sniffing.  The criteria for this sit aren't the same as they are for a "sit stay."  Rip can look around, he can even shift a paw if he wants - he just needs to stay sitting in that same place and keep to himself.

It's weird that this was such an epiphany for me.  It seems so obvious, but the world of "sit" was opened up for me again.  Sit means sit and keep sitting.  I may shift my attention off of you, my dear dog, but you need to keep sitting.  You may want to jump up and lick that small child, but you just keep sitting.  A dog is walking by who you just KNOW wants to be your friend, but you keep sitting.

Since that time I have heavily reinforced the "practical" version of sitting.  Here are some examples:
  • When we're out on a walk and we see another dog, I tell Rip to sit next to me.  When he's sitting, a regular stream of treats is deposited in his mouth.  
    • At first I needed to hold onto his collar to reinforce the sit, and stand between Rip and the other dog, but we've moved on to just sit + treats.
  • If someone wants to pet Rip, he is told to sit.  I then kneel down next to him and feed him treats when his front feet stay on the ground, and his rear end stays in a sit.  
    • This one is really hard for Rip, as he thinks everyone must be licked, so most of the time I'm not yet able to stand up when he's being petted - but we're getting there!
  • When I'm training and setting up for a new exercise, Rip gets to sit.  He gets the occasional treat for maintaining the sit.
This version of sit has allowed me to reinforce the good and quit nagging Rip so much.  After all, it's hard to get into too much trouble if you're sitting in one place.  I can reward the sit and not nag about sniffing, etc.

As a bonus, all of this reinforcement of sit has made my life so much more pleasant.  At last week's soccer game, Rip was a jewel.  He sat as kids petted and hugged him.  He sat as dogs other dogs went by.  (I didn't even have to hold his collar!)  It made taking him to the game such a pleasure.  And, yes, he got lots of treats for all of this good behavior.

I highly recommend training a "practical" version of sit.


  1. That's a great 'ah-ha' moment. Funny, out of need, I've been doing things like that with my dogs for a long time. Kind of like my horses, some things were just practical to do, then I realize that I had trained something without really understanding why. I tend to use a down though, because I hate leaving a dog in a sit for a 1/2 hour at a time while I'm working with a class full of dogs and kids. Moose or Lace, down in the middle of the ring and know, regardless of me saying stay or walking all over the place, that's where they stay. Thanks for pointing this out for me-a reason behind why I did something!

  2. I HATE worrying about what my dog might be doing if my attention is elsewhere. The "practical sit" sounds like the answer to my worries. Chase is an old hand at doing as I ask. It's now Naughty Nola's turn to learn.

  3. "Lie down" is my practical sit.

    1. Down is great, too - but I'm quite sure Rip would launch himself and get in a good lick if someone bent down far enough to pet him when he was in a down! His good behavior only goes so far :)

  4. Hi Lani! I just found your blog somewhat on accident and I LOVE it! I have a 9 month old Boston terrier mix, and I am trying to include the "practical" sit into our training as well. She's passed beginning and intermediate training, but I eventually would love to train her to be a therapy dog if she has the personality for it (I work at a children's hospital) when she's old enough. The practical sit comes in handy for so many things! We are trying so hard to get her to stop jumping when she greets people. I think she thinks everyone has a puppy kiss deficiency and she needs to cure them.

    1. Thank you for the note! I'm glad you enjoy the blog, and have fun with your training. I enjoy watching Rip figure things out, and do them, even if he'd rather just lick someone!


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