Sit On The Dog
By Alisson Goldberg, Certified Dog Trainer and Owner of The Rochester Canine Academy
This morning I was sitting at my kitchen table having breakfast, and Shayna was booooored. The kind of bored where trouble will ensue unless measures are taken. It’s my day off and I really am not really interested in entertaining her. However, I also know, that if I don’t do something and she makes a less than desirable choice, it will be no one’s fault but my own. This is the perfect opportunity to work on Sit On The Dog! I have no intention of actually sitting on her, don’t worry. To be more precise, one sits on the LEASH of the dog. It’s an exercise that helps teach dogs to settle down and relax.
Sit On The Dog (SOTD), was created by a Trainer called Margot Woods. Her first application of the exercise was used during group classes that held many dogs and owners. She needed a way for the rag tag group of individuals to get into her class, settle down and be ready to learn. Once the dogs and humans were seated and focused, they were both ready to learn and effectively participate in her class. This is only the beginning of the application of the exercise however. Imagine how lovely it could be if when you took your dog out with you, every time you sat down to relax, they did as well. No more pulling or wandering in circles if you choose to have lunch at a dog friendly restaurant. The ability to take your dog to a dog friendly event such as a picnic or sporting event and know that he/she will just settle down with you and enjoy your time together. the possibilities are endless.
So How Does One Do SOTD?
Goal of the Exercise: To teach your dog that when you settle, they should also settle.
Tools Required: 1 Dog, 1 Owner, 1 Leash and 1 Place to sit down. That’s it!
- Step 1: Take the leash and drape it over your chair, leaving just enough leash for your dog to comfortably lay down, but not so much that they can wander around. (Your dog MUST have a leash and collar on to do this exercise)
- Step 2: Sit on the chair
- Step 3: Wait. Yup, that’s it. Just wait. Do not ask your dog to do anything. Don’t look at them, talk to them, touch them, give them any commands of any sort. Just wait. The only exception to this would be if your dog jumps on you, starts eating the chair leg or does any other truly unacceptable behavior. Other then that, nada. Eventually, they will sit and then lay down. When that happens, again, do nothing! The point of this exercise if for your dog to learn to relax when you relax. Other than then restricting their ability to wander off, they don’t need any additional help from you.
- Step 4: As soon as they lay down, set your timer for a minimum of 30 minutes. Realistically, because they can go to sleep, there is no time limit for how long they can stay there. 30 minutes is a great starting point however.
- Step 5: YOU must also stay seated during this time. So have your lunch, return your emails, watch a movie, read a book, knit, Face-time with your Mom, do what ever you like that allows you to remain in your seat!
- Step 6: Be Patient. Your dog might figure it out very quickly. Your dog might take a while before they settle down that first training session. This isn’t a race, so don’t worry, and don’t be tempted to start giving them verbal cues. Particularly amped up dogs who are new to this exercise may try a spectacular array of behaviors to get your attention. This is totally normal, and its ok to continue ignoring them. The only thing that is certain, is that the more often you practice, and the more varied the places you practice, the faster your dog will understand and get the hang of it!
Why should I bother to do this with my dog? Well, one way to think about it, is to think about why people bother practicing meditation or yoga. We do these things because it is good for our brains to learn how to relax and be in the moment. To learn that not every moment must be filled with high levels of excitement to be fulfilling. Our dogs also benefit from knowing this! We all slip back into the routines and patterns that we practice most often, particularly when we are unsure or stressed. Having a relaxed state of mind as one of those options is a wonderful thing for ourselves and our dogs! The question really is why wouldn’t you give this tool to your dog?!
How is this different from the Place Command? While place is similar, there are some fairly large differences between the two exercises. Both are “passive work”, meaning that their brains need to be engaged while simultaneously relaxed. However, unlike Place, SOTD requires close proximity to your dog. It’s not a good exercise to do when cooking, entertaining or any other activity that requires you to be moving around a lot. Place is much better for those situations. Both however are incredibly useful and I do recommend teaching your dog both skill sets!
So back to Shayna. This was not the first time we have practiced this, so she immediately settled down as soon as we began. I was able to eat my breakfast in peace and she was given “passive work” to do which allowed her brain to be used, but also slow down. I provided her with an activity that she could accomplish and she in turn wasn’t bouncing off the walls looking for ways to entertain herself. We both had the comfort and pleasure of spending time in each other’s company, which we all know is the best part about having a dog. And when we were done, I took her and the rest of the pack out to potty and now she’s sleeping on her bed in the living room fueling up for her next adventure. Everyone is happy and fulfilled!