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The problem with sit.?!.

Today I was training Molly. Molly is a perfectly well mannered, sweet tempered, mixed breed who is in training to be a therapy dog. We were doing a simple review of basic commands, then a mistake on my part, repeating a command, led to an observation that reminded me of the problem with the simplest of commands: "sit."

These pictures of Molly show us that she clearly knows how to sit.... right? Right. Right? Well, that depends on what we mean by sit and when we give the command. When Molly is standing and I say "sit" she bends her rear legs, places her haunches on the ground and keeps her front paws flat on the ground. This is the flawless execution of a "sit" that we have all come to know and love. And most of us accept this as evidence that our dogs have learned "sit".

But, what happens when your dog is lying down and you give the "sit" command? For most dogs, nothing happens.

Today, I was habituating Molly to people in hats, so she was a bit slow responding to a "sit" command. In a moment of weakness I repeated "sit" - but I was too slow, she was already sitting, so in response to hearing sit twice she laid down. CRAP! This is evidence that Molly is just like all the other dogs and that I made the same mistake as all the other people.... I never taught Molly to define "sit" like I define "sit".

While Molly will obey "sit" at a distance, further work showed that she will not sit up from a "down" position. This indicates that, to her "sit" means to be part of the way down to the ground, which is not as precisely as I want or need her to know it. Now I have to shift our training so that "sit" also includes sitting up, not only sitting down (i.e. McConnell, 2003).

Ugh, the problem with sit.?!.

- Dr. O


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