GUN DOG Training: The Problem With Sit
August 19, 2014
Virtually all experienced pointing dog trainers will tell you training the command "sit" is a mistake. They're mostly right on this, for good reason.
But the problem with any mandate from on high is it rarely leaves wiggle room for real world situations. Many assume the warning against teaching the command means it should never be taught to any pointing dog for any reason. I don't buy that.
My four dogs all live in the house. I'll assume yours do too. Let's say one of your friends shows up with a six-pack. He knocks on your door, and in the space of a nanosecond, your dogs go absolutely bonkers. Is all this canine bouncing-off-the-walls really necessary? Couldn't your dogs just, like, chill out a little?
This is where sit is not only handy, it's almost required. In a perfect world, you'd bark out the command
"Sit!" and your perfectly trained dogs would immediately plant their hyperactive butts on the carpet. I've seen it happen.
One of my buddies had his spaniels trained to stay in the kitchen. The border between the linoleum kitchen floor and the carpeted living room was their personal boundary. On command, his dogs would sit on that line and crane their necks into the living room, not taking another step.
You may have noticed I didn't say my dogs are trained this well. The mandates from on high only go so far in the Carty household, and getting a dog to obey under that kind of distraction takes more time and effort than I've been willing to put in (so far). My guests are on their own.
In most other situations I'd give myself a B-plus. At the beginning and end of a hunt, I can command my dogs to sit on the tailgate for inspection and they'll do it (although not without occasional correction). In the field, I can command my dogs to sit to rearrange their collars or pull a thorn from their pads. And I've found that since there seems to be an endless supply of distractions that dogs use to avoid sitting, the "sit" command can serve as one way of building up their reservoir of self control when issued other commands as well.
There's one very good reason you don't teach sit right away — if taught too soon, it can complicate your training of the whoa command later on.
Maybe you've decided to teach your young dog the sit command up front. Or perhaps you're a recent convert from the Lab and spaniel ranks, whose members teach "sit" first as a matter of policy. Now you want to teach "whoa," the foundational command for pointing dogs. You've introduced the command, run your pup through several drills, and now you're ready for a trial run. You turn him loose, holler "whoa!" and...he sits.
This isn't an insurmountable problem, but it is a problem, and one you can easily avoid by teaching "sit" last, after your dog has mastered all his other commands. For the record, I've yet to see a single dog sit when given the whoa command on wild birds. But since you'll almost certainly be training your dog on planted (not wild) birds in the early stages of his development, sitting on the whoa command can get in the way.
Luckily, it's an easy fix. When your dog sits on the whoa command, simply walk out and lift him back up again. Don't give him a collar correction, which I've found almost always confuses the dog further. Hoist his back end off the ground and make him stand, then repeat whoa again.
Most dogs get the idea pretty quickly, although some can take several weeks. A very few will lapse into sitting on planted birds even months later, but if it's only an occasional lapse, I rarely worry about it, since, as I mentioned earlier, I've never found it to be a problem on wild birds.
In A Pinch
I train the sit command the same way I train everything else. First, by teaching the dog what the command means, then reinforcing it with a physical correction and ultimately with a collar correction. I do this the old fashioned way, by giving the command, then pulling up on the dog's collar (or lead), at the same time I gently but firmly push his back end to the ground.
This command, like all commands, is taught without a collar correction at first, although the dog can and probably should be wearing his e- collar if you plan to use it later on. All dogs will fight this initially, and big, strong dogs — English pointers, shorthairs, wirehairs, and the like — can make for tough sledding. Persevere. Once they figure out you're not going to hurt them they'll come around.
There are a couple training aids that can speed your progress. The first is a pinch collar. These collars, which look like something that was slapped on heretical party poopers during The Inquisition, aren't nearly as bad as they look, but will definitely get a stubborn dog's attention.
The second is a piggin' string, which you can buy in most feed and ranch supply stores. Or, for a bit more money, you can buy a "Wonder Lead," which is essentially the same thing. Both are nothing more than simple rope loops placed around a dog's neck that tighten up when the slack is pulled out of them.
Whatever you decide to use, most dogs grasp the concept of "sit," if not its perfect execution, in a few days to a week. Once they're obeying the command, I put them at heel (whether or not they've been trained to heel doesn't matter), and teach the dog to sit on command while he's walking beside me.
The process goes like this: attach a lead, pull the dog to your side, begin walking, and then give the sit command while simultaneously pulling up on the lead (or piggin' string). If necessary, give your pup some help by pushing his butt to the ground.
When he's up to speed on that concept — he doesn't have to be doing it perfectly — reinforce the command with light stimulation from his e-collar. Your dog is now trained to sit on command. How reliably he obeys will be determined in large part by how much you're willing to reinforce the command down the road.
You can make your dog sit at the beginning of a hunt while you fit him with his collars; at the end of a hunt while you give him an inspection before putting him back in his kennel; in the field for any reason you can think of, and last but not least, when friends with free spirits pay you a visit.
Who knew dogs could get that excited about beer?