Is the sit command outdated in the world of dog training?

Updated: Jul 4

My first dog came home back in 2007. A tiny pup who had wandered off from his litter and made his way outside the gate of the house. I had never had a dog before and had very little idea about raising one. My parents had experience but it was the first time we Ould have a dog at home as a family. The first thing that was taught or told to the dog was sit like a “good dog”. Because that’s just how a good dog was supposed to sit.

Caesar and Mau used to sit together for lunch

Then I came across a Norwegian dog trainer who has been studying dogs for over 5 decades. Her name is Turid Rugaas and her thought process has completely changed how I look at dogs.

Rugaas suggested that dogs don’t need to sit and in their natural behaviour they rarely do. I was shocked and couldn’t believe what I was reading. Isn’t a sit the way a good dog sits? This new information of dogs rarely sitting had me bewildered.

I began questioning this new information.

“Maybe it works for dogs in European countries.”

“Maybe it works only few dogs.”

I knew there was only one way forward. Seeing is believing and I had to observe my dogs’ behaviour and how often do they sit.

Kaiser, now 3, almost never sits. He sits sometimes on the hill when my father takes a photo. But on most times he prefers to stand or lie down. He doesn’t sit at all at home and prefers to sleep or stand, which seems a more comfortable position.

One of the few times Kaiser sits is when he comes for a back massage and in the process sits down offering his upper back and ears for a rub. This lasts only a few seconds and then either he is satisfied and wanders off or lies down to continue the relaxation.

I then started observing all the rescues, puppies and dogs on the streets. Of all my interactions, I could count on one hand the number of times I saw a dog sit.

The whole observation exercise felt bizarre and I would encourage you to do an experiment with your dog as well.

For 48 hours, do not ask or tell your dog to sit. Count the number of times your dog sits on their own. You would be quite amazed as was I when I was observing dogs.

Why don’t dogs sit?

The funny thing about research is that once you are hooked, you have to dive deeper. Now that I was convinced dogs don’t sit too much, the question was - why don’t they sit? The simple answer is because they don’t need to. In situations in which they need to, they sit. But that is quite rare and it is an action that is done only temporary to serve the limited purpose according to the situation.

Rugaas also notes that sitting is quite stressful on the joints, especially of young pups and senior dogs. If it is not a comfortable position, a dog would never voluntarily do it.

Why should we not ask our dogs to sit?

This is a much deeper question than it appears. As humans, we like being in control and I used to feel in control when I told my dog to sit and the dog would sit. I didn’t question why or the impact of it on my dog. I felt in control.

Asking our dog not to sit is giving the dog the choice to do whatever the dog wants. And that is something which took time for me to get comfortable with. But as I started to respect Kaiser’s wishes, his overall behaviour became calmer and he seemed at ease. In letting go of my need to be in control, I was able to get a calmer dog. Quite ironic isn’t it?

Let the dog have the choice to be in a position that the dog prefers to be in. Whether it is sitting, standing or lying down, what we want as pet parents is a relaxed and healthy dog. And as research shows, asking a dog to sit is not the way to go about it.

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