IT ALL STARTS WITH JUST ONE COMMAND...
"SIT" is the foundation for all obedience. All other commands, learning and control branch from this one simple exercise. Even for those who don't care to teach "formal" obedience, "SIT" will still be a valuable tool.
Consider what happens when you take your dog for a walk. Going for a walk is usually very exciting for a dog. Often, he will jump and prance and perhaps bark while you are getting the leash and collar. By this time, the dog has gone so crazy that applying the leash and collar becomes all but impossible. He is in a vicious cycle of "doggie brainlessness"! Now, try to put a firm "SIT" command to this wildness before it gets out of control: "Spot SIT!". Use firm, short words (DON'T "ASK"). Follow through by showing the dog what you want if s/he doesn't comply immediately. Don't forget to praise for a nice sit - even after you have made him do it. The sit will help to - as I like to put it - stuff his brains back into his ears. In other words, make him a THINKING rather than a REACTING animal. Insist that the leash and collar will not go on a crazy dog. Your dog must get the message: "You must "SIT" before you go anywhere!". After you accomplish THAT, you want to attempt to GO for that walk!
Now consider a dog who drags you toward the door, gasping and choking the entire way, jumps at the door, and rushes through the door as soon as you open it. This dog has no respect for his owner. Instead of allowing all the pulling and choking, insist again on a "SIT" by the door, along with a "STAY". YOU will always be the one to go through the doorway FIRST (leaders ALWAYS go first - more on that in a later article). After you have gone first, a cheerful release word "OK" signals that Spot may follow. If you must lock the door, then another SIT should be required while the dog calmly waits to start the walk.
Jumping up on you or other people can also be controlled using "SIT". We can teach "OFF" (or another word, if you wish), but we must also give your dog an alternative for jumping - one that will bring praise. And that magic "something" is SIT.
When your dog becomes excited or appears worried during a trip to the veterinarian or groomer (or wherever, for that matter), "SIT" can be the key to calm your dog and, again, get him to THINK rather than REACT.
Many trainers believe (and I believe this to be true also) that there is no free lunch for dogs. In other words, "You, Spot, don't get attention for free. You don't get your meal or treats for free, etc.". The simplest thing to have a dog do as "payment" is for these things is "SIT" and, perhaps sometimes, "STAY". Ultimately, this isn't a big payment, just a calm show of respect for you, as the owner and leader.
So, practice "SIT" - quick, small, fun sits to start. Then practice longer sits, or sits not so close to you (ON the leash helps you to reinforce the command if the SIT doesn't happen). Above all, "SIT" should always be praised and your dog must know that, in any unfamiliar situation, "SIT" will always make you happy. That is how you start to get respect and obedience from one simple command - "SIT"!
Pam Young, LVT
Copyright 1996- 2006, Pam Young