By: Tyler Muto
“…Thorough obedience training does more than assure a dog’s response to his master’s command; capacities for learning and emotional stability could be increased and integrated as permanent qualities of character.”
-William Koehler, 1962
For many years, I chose to leave the behavior of sit-stay out of my basic obedience programs, and give preference to teaching the dog to stay in either a down position, or on a dog bed. This is not to say that I did not teach sit, or that I did not teach stay. I simply did not find that it was important to teach the dog to hold a sit position for a duration of time independently of his human.
When questioned about this, I held fast to two primary points of reasoning:
These were my reasons for not teaching the sit-stay, and I was certain that my logic was sound. Luckily for me, I discovered that I was wrong (I say luckily, because I am always delighted to discover a way in which I can improve my skills as a dog trainer).
My mistake was in only considering the value of the behavior in relation to its tangible function. This flaw in logic would be akin to me stating that the painting, which hangs on my wall, is unimportant because the wall itself is already painted and the painting adds nothing to the wall’s structural integrity. What I have failed to acknowledge is that filling ones home with art adds not only to the character of the home itself, but also to a sense of well-being while there. The entire feel of the space changes by virtue of the art and its placement.
Likewise, my assessment of the value of sit-stay was flawed because I only took into account its tangible functional value, while neglecting to investigate the potential value it may have of establishing qualities of character.
What I have come to realize, is that holding a sit-stay without fidgeting and without lying down is not only physically demanding for the dog, but requires a level of attentiveness and self-discipline that characterizes a well mannered companion. It is an exercise which I relate to the image of a soldier standing at attention. Compared to a down-stay where the dog can relax and her mind can wander, the sit-stay requires that she stay focused on the task at hand and possess an unwavering commitment to the act of sitting.
I find the exercise to be equally beneficial for the fidgety and impulsive dog as it is for the lazy and lackadaisical dog. While I may not use the sit stay behavior itself functionally in my day-to-day routines, the regular practice of this exercise develops and adjusts the dog’s character in such ways that generalize, and seep in to virtually everything else we may do together throughout the day. In this way it becomes highly functional.
Virtually all aspects of training a dog, when properly executed, should serve to develop and maintain a component of the dog’s character. Poorly done training, that is undisciplined, may teach a dog to respond to command, but will leave something to be desired. That something, while less tangible, is at the heart of what most dog owners want and need. It is the essence of what makes a trustworthy companion.
When setting out to train your dog or the dogs of others, keep in mind the words quoted above from the great Bill Koehler. Responsiveness to command is undoubtedly a desirable thing; but there is no greater satisfaction than realizing you have developed a dog with a sound mind and a noble heart.
– T. G. Muto