Here we are at the end of this series. Now, where was I? Right, I had a calmer dog who was seeking some contact and was able to stand still. At that point I started to work with “Sit.” For this sort of dog, “The Simple Sit” is my favorite tool.
Clicker work could be one choice but that work is based on the dog wanting to do it, deciding to do it. With a dog for whom decisions = stress, that would not be as calming as I would like for him nor would it help him or his handler when he didn’t feel like sitting.
I could have done hands on placement, but that, too, is not my choice for this dog. We just started getting a calm response to handling, trying to cause him to sit physically was likely to produce more of the squirmy dog we saw earlier. He’d already shown me he was ready to mouth me when stroked, seemed likely that handling with a purpose would earn me more of the same.
A verbal might work, some of the time. But if it didn’t, what tool did I have to create the response? Repeat the command, not a choice I would select. Physically place him? No, as above. Ignore him until he felt like it? Another choice that I don’t do in general and specifically not with this dog.
So, back to “The Simple Sit” - light, steady pressure upward with the leash attached to his flat collar until the dog decides to sit and then immediate release of any tension as praise and treats are delivered. How much pressure? You meet the dog where they are. The pressure should never, ever lift the dog or cause distress. It’s smooth light pressure upward straight above their head.
Having used this on hundreds of dogs both owned and in the shelter, companion dogs and service dogs, this has a calming effect on most dogs. The key is light, steady pressure applied tactfully. No yanking! If the dog doesn’t sit, a verbal cue can be used as an assist with the same results: quick release of the tension, praise, treats. The leash must be at least slightly slack between repetitions.
This is not a stay. The dog is welcome to get up as many times as he wants. Every time he does, he is “asked” with light, steady pressure to sit again. Done right, the dog sits more quickly and stays seated longer within a few minutes, often sooner.
I started this here. After eight or ten reps he looked at me for the first time. A calm look. I grinned and welcomed him. After that he sat more quickly and stayed seated longer. After a few minutes he decided to lie down on one hip (a sign of a relaxed dog) and stayed put there. Good dog! I supported that fully. I always ditch the specific project for a step in the right direction in a larger sense. So a voluntary down trumps a series of sits any day for a reactive dog.
I let him rest for a few minutes before returning him to his human, pleased with the progress we had made. As mentioned earlier in this series, this is not “the” way, this is the way I chose at that moment with that dog.
What helped this dog?
by Sarah Wilson