To Train a SIT or Not?
22 Oct 2020
By Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt (Animal Physiotherapy), CAFCI, CCRT
There’s a blog that’s burning up the internet in the dog community.1 Some of our clients have been asking questions about it. So, I thought I’d share some of my comments (and those of others) here. The blog in question is written by a very well respected canine behaviourist. Her work and insights in the behaviour arena are fabulous. Her latest blog talks about ‘Sitting’ and whether or not to train it in puppies or ask for the behaviour from your adult dogs.
The blog makes the following assertions:
- Sit is usually the first thing people teach their puppies.
- The author and her dog trainer students have been observing sit behaviours in dogs for 20 years now. They concluded that if dogs have a choice, they do not sit – they stand, lie down, and only in certain situations do they sit.
- The reasons presented as why a dog would not choose to sit are listed as: 1) it takes a lot of muscle work and power, which puppies do not have and that doing repeated sessions might cause pain; 2) Old dogs without good muscling have pain when they sit; 3) Puppy joints are not connected. Their hips actually float around out of socket, and asking them to sit could make them pop out of position.
- (Sight) Hounds don’t like to sit because of their conformation
- The author discusses the reasons why dogs sit: 1) To raise their heads to see into the distance; 2) To transition between standing and lying; 3) As a calming signal.
- A claim is made that some veterinary studies showed that sitting for more than a couple of minutes disturbs blood flow, which raises ocular pressures enough to cause problems with eye sight.
- The advice given in the articles is as follows:
- Does he sit down easily, or does it look a bit hard, doing it slow, not willingly? Then you should not.
- Do you know that your dog has a physical problem, is old or very young and therefore does not have developed muscles yet? Then you should not.
- Do you have a hound or dog with hound shape? You should not.
- Do you have a very heavy breed? He will need so much more power to sit and get up that you should not ask him either. And absolutely never a puppy from a heavy dog breed.
So, what has the canine rehab community of practitioners got to say about this? (It's been discussed on several Facebook platforms.)
- Where’s the research? There is no research to back up any of the claims. That in and of itself is a red flag.
- If your dog is avoiding a sit, then it’s likely smart to get a physical exam. It’s a bit more likely that something is wrong! (See the article in the reference section that I wrote on this topic. It’s actually from 2005, but the information is still worth sharing.)2
- Regarding the Intraocular Pressures – there really isn’t much in the literature on this topic, and from what I could find, the opposite could be true.3
- I think the author is making correlations that can’t be proven (i.e. dogs with dysplastic / arthritic hips may avoid sitting… but sitting didn’t cause the hip issue)
- None of the obedience dogs that I treat (from puppyhood well into their old age) end up developing hip weakness because of the excessive sitting (if they develop rear end weakness later in life it’s more often related to aging degenerative discs or the occasional stifle arthritis due to a cruciate tear earlier in life).
- I have never noted painful hind end muscles in puppies because they’ve been asked to do sits.
- There is a claim that the joints aren’t ‘connected’ in puppies, as noted on x-ray. This is not true. The ends of the joints are cartilaginous… which doesn’t show up on x-ray. However, the joints aren’t ‘floating’ in space as suggested. In fact, the bones and joints are developed in utero (see the picture below). They just aren’t fully ossified until later into the first or second year of life.4
The first picture is at the 40th day of gestation and the second is at the 45th day of gestation. The bones are developed / developing… They just aren’t fully ossified (indicated by the portion in black).
Sits do have a place. I listened to a good podcast that discussed this blog and the use of “Sit” as a training tool and an exercise tool.5 It’s a good listen! Essentially, yes, we may be over-training it to our puppies. However, it’s an easy thing to teach and easy to inadvertently reward. (Calm puppy comes over and sits. You reward. Puppy is jumping and crazy and you want him to calm down, so you reward him when he sits.) Is this breaking our puppies however? I don’t think so.
From a canine rehabilitation / physiotherapy perspective, it can be prescribed as a strengthening exercise FOR a weak hind end. However, it’s not always the best exercise to prescribe either, and really depends on the when and why your dog would be prescribed “Sit to Stand” as an exercise.
For example, if the dog is already too weak in the rear end to do a sit to stand USING its rear leg muscles, then it’s not the right exercise at that time. If the dog is pulling itself up to stand, then the muscles you’d want to target aren’t being targeted. The same would hold true for an early post-operative knee surgery. If the dog isn’t using the surgical leg effectively, and instead is compensating by using the other three legs to get up from a sit, then it’s not an effective exercise then as well. In these cases, a half-sit might work best (i.e. Sitting onto your leg or onto a platform.)
However, in late stage rehabilitation as the dog is gaining strength and you are looking to get him/her back to sports perhaps, THEN a sit to stand exercise can be very valuable.
From a conditioning perspective, it can hold value as well as a means to build rear end strength.
So, while it may not be the best exercise for all scenarios, it does have some benefits AS an exercise.
Additionally, I don’t truly believe that it will do harm.
On that note, I believe you can train your dog to sit on command or reward the behaviour if you choose to do so. Additionally, if your rehab therapist prescribes it as an exercise, then there is likely good reason for doing so.
That’s my 2 cents on the topic anyways!
- Rugaas, Turid. When, where and how do dogs sit? http://en.turid-rugaas.no/sit.html (Accessed October 17, 2020).
- Edge-Hughes, Laurie. Sit Problems in Obedience Competition Dogs. https://www.caninefitness.com/docs/Sit-Problems.pdf (accessed October 19, 2020)
- Broadwater JJ, Schorling JJ, Herring IP, Elvinger F. Effect of body position on intraocular pressure in dogs without glaucoma. Am J Vet Res. 2008 Apr;69(4):527 - 30. https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/ajvr.69.4.527?fbclid=IwAR0JOxAHy1OG61rPhVjqTnfrEeTNwDj3bn_MvHPiAlqh6lWt7Tlo9wgf7-s&
- Evans, Howard & de Lahunta, Alexander. Prenatal Development. In Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog. Elsevier. St. Louis, Missouri. (2013) pp 13 – 60.
- Eide, Leslie & Mattioli, Katharina. Let’s Talk Canine Fitness (Podcast). October 18, 2020. https://letstalkcaninefitness.com/?p=306