DEAR DIDI: I notice that almost everyone here in the Del Webb community ask their dogs to sit when they come to a stop at curbs. It seems like a good idea but when I do it my dog isn’t learning. I always have to tell him to sit. What am I doing wrong? – Maltese mom
DEAR MALTESE MOM: You are very right. It does seem like a good idea. After all, this is exactly how we teach our human children to stop at curbs and then look both ways before crossing. I want you to know that you aren’t doing anything wrong. Your dog is doing exactly what you ask of him. Each and every time you say “sit”, he puts his little white buns on the cement. Right?
Dogs learn differently than little humans. We can explain to a kid that we are stopping because of a curb. We can then point to the curb and they will connect what it is. We can even reason with them about the dangers of cars running us over if we don’t stop and look. Unfortunately, none of that can resonate with the four-leggers. If your dog is trained to do so, he will only know what to do when you say “sit”. He can’t connect that you just happen to be saying that every time we step downwards. Dogs don’t know what a curb is or why it exists. It is just a change in elevation.
What we should be teaching our fuzzy toddlers is to sit anytime we stop. It is a safety issue. You might forget to say “sit” because you are busy chatting with a friend. We instinctively stop at curbs but your dog keeps going because he didn’t get the sit cue. If he is trained to turn left when you turn left, turn right when you turn right, don’t walk faster than me, and don’t refuse to walk, then he should sit when you stop. These are the foundational skills taught for good leash walking.
I have my students teach their dogs Auto Sits (automatically sit when I stop walking) in their house. This way it is a learned skill that can be performed outside when there are distractions around. Learning something is hard when we are distracted and the same applies to dogs. I walk my dog on a leash in the house and then go down a long hallway. I have treats and say absolutely nothing. He knows I have treats! I walk then stop suddenly. When I stop I make it obvious by making a little stomp noise with my feet. The treat is held high so my dog is looking straight upwards which isn’t very comfortable for him so he sits down to alleviate the tension on his neck. I excitedly tell him “Yes!” and then take a few more steps forward and stop again.
I stop against walls or furniture to keep him from spinning around to face me. I want him to stay facing forward and next to me. It never hurts to take a refresher course either. Sycamore Lane Kennels in Lodi offers an excellent group class for a very reasonable price and on a gorgeous property! Check them out. The trainer’s name is Candy.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.