By Barbara Smith- CPDT-KA, Owner of TheThinkingK9, LLC
What is “Sit to Say Please”?
Sit to Say Please was first coined by veterinary animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin DVM MS. The Sit to Say Please method has since been adopted by a variety of trainers with the same common goal, which is to teach dogs impulse control in a positive manner.
Dogs can’t vocalize the word “please,” but they can say “please” with their body language. Through the Sit to Say Please procedure outlined below, we will use our own body language to teach our dogs to control their impulses and calmly use the sitting position as a way to say “please” for what they want. Once they are calmly sitting, they will be given a “life reward” that directly relates to the reason they are Sitting to Say Please. An example of this would be a dog Sitting to Say Please to get their leash clipped on = a life-reward in the form of a walk. No treats are necessary with this method, because the life-reward is better than any treat we could possibly offer. Additionally, there is no need for punishment when employing the Sit to Say Please method of training our dogs, because they will learn by contrast. No sit = No life-reward. This easily executed method creates a dog with manners and makes life with our dogs much more pleasurable.
Sit to Say Please procedure:
For the sake of example, we will use our dog’s meal time (meal-time is a life-reward) to demonstrate Sit to Say Please. However, you can apply the Sit to Say Please procedure to many different life-rewards, such as those outlined in the section below.
- Without making a stir about what is about to happen, calmly get your dog’s food bowl (with food) and hold it out of their reach (do not wave it around). Your dog is keenly tuned in to what their food bowl sounds like, therefore your dog will likely come running and may proceed to jump on you out of excitement.
- Stand tall and as still as a statue, with the bowl out of your dog’s reach and completely immobile. Do not acknowledge the jumping in any way– don’t even make eye contact. By doing this you are teaching your dog that jumping will never give them what they want, including your attention (bear in mind that negative attention, such as yelling at them to get off, is still attention and will often result in more jumping). In this instance, ignoring bad behavior will force the dog to use their brain to problem solve the situation, instead of excited jumping and force.
- It may take a few moments to see results, because jumping and force may have gotten your dog what they wanted in the past. Calmly wait your dog out by remaining motionless. You will see the moment your dog stops trying to use force and begins to problem solve. At this point dog’s usually become motionless (even if it’s for a split second), look at their handler while evaluating their situation, and they will often sit on their own (don’t worry at first if your dog doesn’t sit. That will come later). This is your opportunity! Be prepared! In this split second that your dog shows self-control, calmly attempt to reward your dog by slowly bending over to give your dog the food bowl.
- Your dog will likely become overwhelmed with excitement by the idea that they will be rewarded with their food bowl, resulting in the spontaneous recovery of the jumping behavior. Stand up tall and still like a statue again, with the food bowl immobile and out of your dog’s reach. You are again requiring that your dog engages their brain to problem solve this situation. Your dog is smart and will catch on to the game of Calmness = Life-reward. Have patience and wait them out.
- When your dog calms down again, repeat steps 2 – 4 until you are able to get the bowl of food to the floor without your dog jumping and becoming too excitable. The key to the success of Sit to Say Please is patience and consistency on the part of the handler.
In the beginning we are not going to require that our dog is sitting. At first we are only asking that our dog is calm, always keeps 4 feet on the floor, and that the dog is not using force to get what they want. As our dogs master this procedure, we can ask more of them, such as sitting. You will know that your dog is ready to Sit when your dog has good impulse control (your dog is not jumping on you to get the life-reward) and your dog will consistently Sit on command.
Life-Rewards that your dog should Sit to Say Please for:
This removes the chaos around food time. Dogs need to learn manners rather than knocking someone over or pushing them out of the way for food.
One of the biggest struggles we have with our dogs is when they jump on people, especially jumping on children and the elderly. Dogs that jump on people can cause injury. If you wouldn’t let a full grown dog jump on someone, don’t let your puppy jump on someone now. Your puppy will be a full grown and capable of causing serious damage in no time. Stop the problem while your puppy is little, before they are capable of injury.
Teaching our dog Sit to Say Please can be difficult for us, not only because we are teaching our dog manners, but because we also need to teach the humans that want to pet our dog! Some people try to dismiss the seriousness of jumping by saying that it’s okay if dogs jump on them. It is up to YOU to be your dog’s advocate in these situations by insisting that it is NOT okay to allow jumping. Be firm with the humans and don’t feel guilty for being a responsible pet owner by requiring that your dog has manners when being pet! Tell the other person “My dog is in training right now. We are teaching him/her manners by requiring that he/she remains siting when being pet.” The only way your dog will learn not to jump on people is if they are never allowed to jump on anyone, including those that say it’s okay. If someone wants to pet your dog, explain the Sit to Say Please procedure and insist they follow through. Require that your dog is sitting the entire time they are being pet. Make it clear to the other person that if your dog gets up, they are to immediately cease petting, cross their arms, and ignores your dog. Once your dog calms and sits again, petting can resume.
Going through an entryway
It is good practice, at least until they learn proper manners and impulse control, to have dogs wait for humans and other animals (such as other dogs) to go through entryways before they do. Most dogs don’t realize that everyone must use the same entryway, not just them– this is one of the reasons they bolt through doors without worrying about knocking anyone else over. We must teach them that others use doorway too, by having them sit and watch other people and animals go through first. Teaching awareness and impulse control will help prevent collisions. Sit to Say Please before going through doorways also teaches dogs not to bolt out the front door, potentially running into traffic. Your dog should NEVER be allowed to run outside without waiting for you to release them at the door with a Sit to Say Please. Teaching this can save your dog’s life!
Going up or down the Stairs
This is taught in the same way, and for the same reasons, as Sitting to Say Please to go through entryways. Our goal is to have our dog sit the entire time humans and other animals go up or down the stairs, then they are released to follow us. It is important to understand that it may take a while for dogs, specially puppies, to show enough impulse control to stay the entire time.
Putting the collar/leash on to go for a walk
If your dog runs and jumps around when you get the leash out, stand tall and still like a statue until your dog calms down. Don’t participate in your dog’s game of chase or over excitement! The leash doesn’t clip on until they are calm.
Getting on furniture
Your dog should always wait to get on the furniture until you tell your dog that it’s okay to jump up. This can help curb possessiveness and stops collisions, including accidentally sitting on your dog. Humans should get comfortable before inviting the dog onto the couch. * This only applies if you want to allow your dog on furniture. Whether or not you want your dog(s) on the furniture is entirely at your discretion.
Sit to Say Please has nothing to do with “Dominance.” The “Dominance Theory” has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked, despite what attention grabbing “reality” TV shows would like you to believe. The Sit to Say Please exercise is about teaching our dog self-control and manners, just like we teach our children. Learning proper manners helps our dogs become better members of society. It can also prevent injury, including their own. We are not “dominating” the dog, we are simply teaching them etiquette and helping them gain awareness for their surroundings. As an added benefit, we are also teaching them to use their brain to get things by forcing them to problem solving situations instead of trying to use force.