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“Sit!”, The Most Important Command


  • “Sit” can be seen as your dog saying “please” when they want something

  • Consistency in using sit- and accompanying it with other queues is key!

  • “Sit” can be used to keep your dog safe

One of the most popular commands most people know for dogs and one of the first ones you probably taught your own pup is “sit”. Growing up, we always had a dog, and I knew, even as a little kid, that “sit” was useful. Back then, I saw it as an excuse mechanism to give my dog a treat. And of course, closely following “sit” was “paw” or “shake”. However, it wasn’t until I went through puppy training with my current dog that I really learned the full benefit of this command, and just how important it is.

I’ll preface this by saying that my own experience being a dog mom is very much impacted by the fact that I lived in a city when Niska first joined our family, and I now live in a more suburban area. In this article, I’ll talk about how useful the “sit” command has been indoors, but also outdoors- and our environment definitely impacts the way we use the command. Having said that, though, I do believe that it can be useful regardless of where you live.

So, for starters- “sit” is obviously a great way to calm your dog, and teach them what we sometimes refer to as “manners”. Something that really opened my own eyes by going through puppy training was the understanding that this command should essentially be used as a way for your pet to ask “please.” You are essentially telling them to ask please before they get the treat. Beyond this, the training we went through taught me that even doing small things like sitting before I open the door to go outside could be an opportunity for this behavior.

Think about it- your dog wants to go outside, so you tell them, “sit”, to ask for permission. In Niska’s early days, we also lived in an apartment that had a gated (very small) backyard. We would often exit through that back gate to go on a walk- so when Niska was done playing in the small yard (or usually just done sniffing around), she would go to the door. This is when I really started using “sit” as a means to teach her to wait & ask for permission when she wanted something. When she approached the door, I’d ask her to “sit,” and I wouldn’t open the door until she did. Of course, before she fully understood or learned this command, she would get frustrated and whine, and it would sometimes be a while before I could open the door. I, as a busy young professional, would also get frustrated and annoyed, and want to just open the door so we could get on with our walk. And sometimes, I did just that! But have patience my reader- it’ll be worth it, I promise. More often than not, I did wait for her to sit, and ultimately, she learned the command and seemed to connect that she wouldn’t get what she wanted until she completed the behavior.

So now, I use it when she wants to go outside, while I fill her food bowl before she can start eating, when I have a new toy that she (very desperately) wants, and most importantly- when we are out for a walk. I began to morph this command slightly from her doing it for something she wanted, to also keep her safe. As I mentioned, in her early days, we lived in a city, so a walk meant lots of busy streets, stoplights, and sidewalks. When we approached a road we wanted to cross, I’d make her sit- even if we had a walking sign to cross, or even if there were no other vehicles coming. She had to at least briefly sit before we could cross. What this did (at least I hope it did), was to signal to her that before crossing, she should stop. The signal was the sidewalk ending. We got to a point where she would stop and sit before I even said it- which to me meant success! I began to not say it, and sometimes we just kept walking- I WARN YOU NOT TO DO THIS! As the rules seemed to relax, she also seemed to forget the correlation between needing to stop and sit. Dogs are simple like this- you’ve got to continue with your reinforcement, and stay strong, even when you don’t want to! Even though we no longer live in a city, she does usually remember to stop when we come to the end of a sidewalk- and I pull on her leash and say “sit” when she doesn’t.

Another big one that I think has made a huge difference now that we are in a residential area with no sidewalk (not ideal, I know), is to ask her to sit when a car is approaching (from either direction). This one was important to me because often cars do not drive as slowly as they should through the neighborhood- and I’ve been

guilty of it as well because it is just not a busy street. However, with a small 15-pound dog, I know she could easily slip in the road without a car seeing, and it would end in disaster. Sadly, I have lost almost every single dog I have ever had in this way. So you can say it is something I am hyper focused on and want to avoid at all costs. So, I started asking Niska to sit when we could hear (or see) a car coming. We started with just “sit”, and of course she does often get a treat when the danger has passed, before I say “release.” And after she mastered the concept, I started adding a word to it- “Car, sit,” to help her understand the danger and associate the sound of a coming vehicle with the need to sit. She has now gotten to the point that she will sit when she hears a car approaching, and promptly look at me as soon as the car has passed (of course waiting for her treat, or permission to get up again).

As you may know, Niska is a terrier, and her breed is often used for hunting, which means that not only is she stubborn, but she also gets very hyper fixated on smells. All of this means that when we are out on a walk, I sometimes have to tell her multiple times “car, sit” and even pull on the leash a bit to get her to stop and sit- because whatever she is smelling just has her absolutely fixated. However, she does typically stop and sit, which relieves me. I do all of this because my biggest fear is not that she will be hit when we are on a walk together, but that she may get out on her own, without a leash, and I want her to pay attention to the sounds of a coming vehicle and have a healthy fear of them.

What about you- do you like the command sit? How else do you use it for your dog? Let me know below- we are always learning and like to try out new commands and new situations!

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