We often see dog owners turning their lap around, facing their dog, holding their hand up, chasing their dog up to see the treat in their hand, and then telling them to sit to get the dog to actually obey the command.
It is no secret that dogs communicate through body language, both with one another and with us. Dogs learn a lot through visual images – whether it is a slight head-turning when greeting another dog or lip-licking or us bending down to encourage your dog to come in. Bearing this in mind, we must be aware of body language signals that we send to our dog.
We often see dog owners turning around, facing their dog, holding their hand up, hovering over their dog, letting them see the treat in their hand and then telling them to sit to get the dog to actually follow the command. And then when instructed to sit without any body position, the dog does not respond to it. Many dog owners find themselves in this situation because that is how the dog was taught – heavily dependent on body language. This is great if you always have the luxury of “setting the scene” to get a response to a very simple command, but what if your dog is running away from you, not right in front of you or just lying on your side rather than directly facing you?
Instead of viewing simple obedience commands as ‘tricks’, we use simple obedience commands to functionally manage our pets in any situation. Because of the many situations that our dogs face, we need not only to use body language to help our dogs, but we also need to retrench or change the body commands eventually so that our dogs respond to our verbal command, regardless of what our body is doing and where we are in relation to our dogs.
When your dog is learning to sit, use as much body language as necessary and do everything possible to help them succeed. Similarly, remember to practise when you are standing to the left of them, behind them, in front of them and to the right of them. Practice seated your dog when you are sitting on the sofa, while you are sitting on the floor with them, while you have your back to them and any other situation you can think of. Use of body language is a great tool we can use to help our dogs but don’t let it become a crutch or impose limitations on your training.