Why I don’t teach reactive dogs how to sit

Tell me what you do in this situation:

You’re out for a walk with your reactive dog. It’s a beautiful day.  The sun is shining. Birds are chirping.  Your dog is happily sniffing the grass.  

But then you hear it. The jungle of a dog collar.

Your zen state is interrupted and your focus turns to your dog.  Their eyes have already zeroed in on the incoming dog.

You ask your dog to sit in hopes to avoid a reaction.  And maybe your dog does sit for a second.  But they keep staring at the other dog. You can see your dog getting more tense and worked up.  What do you do?  

Asking your dog to sit is a common response to avoiding a reaction.  It makes sense.   Ever met a dog that just automatically sits when greeting?  Many dogs have figured out that “sit” equals good things for them.  A treat, a pet, or maybe praise.  And if your dog is sitting, they are not lunging, barking, and reacting. 

But using it in the context of another dog is different, especially if your dog is leash reactive.  Considering that leash reactivity stems from either fear or frustration, asking your dog to sit might not be the best option.

Let me explain with a human analogy…

Think of something you are the most afraid of.  I am terrified of most bugs but especially cockroaches.  If you ask me to sit still in a chair while cockroaches crawl around me, that’s not going to make me feel better.   Stand on the chair, walk around freely, leaving the room…any of those things would definitely make me feel better than just being forced to sit there and not move.  *shutter*

I know for my own dogs, asking them to do a behavior that keeps them active and moving greatly decreases the chance a reaction will happen.  

I don’t want to say I’m anti-sit…it certainly has its place and usefulness.  But “sit” is not a behavior I teach in my curriculum for the Calm Canine Program.  In fact, I haven’t taught a dog how to sit since leaving my job at the pet supply store.  There are just so many, better, more creative options!

If you want to try something besides “sit”, here are some things to experiment with your dog!

  1. Find-it  Always a favorite for my dogs (and many client dogs I work with!)  Check out this blog post for why find-it is so awesome.
  2. Treat toss – your dog can catch treats in the air or you can toss them on the ground for them to chase.  Check out this video of Fezco and his mom playing a treat toss game in a stimulating environment with triggers nearby.  It helps keep Fezco focused and chasing after the treats is fun for him!
  3. Sniff – You can cue the behavior or just let your dog sniff as they wish.
  4. Jump up on something – Doggie parkour – aka “barkour” is a great choice for more active, working breeds.  If you follow me on Instagram, you can see that “up” is one of Rosie’s favorite tricks. 
  5. Middle – stand between legs.  This is great for when you are stationary, perhaps you are waiting for a trigger to pass by. 
  6. Keep walking – I use this one often when we walk by a house with a barky dog.  
  7. Move to the other side of me – sometimes, this is all Rosie needs to stay relaxed. She wants me in between her and the stimulus.  
  8. Hand targeting/touch – easy and fun.  
  9. Spin – another creative option for the more active, energetic pups.
  10. Walk in a different direction – Some trainers teach u-turns but I say why limit yourself?  My dogs have a cue that when I say it, they know it means we are changing course and they should follow because a big reward is coming.  

What alternatives to sit are you going to try?  What behavior do you do with your dog that’s not on the list?  I want to hear your creative ideas so leave me a comment!

Until next time,


2 responses to “Why I don’t teach reactive dogs how to sit”

  1. Michelle Rundio Avatar
    Michelle Rundio

    All of it! Let’s do it all. 🤍 but definitely not a sit. For Beau Beau makes it worse for sure!


    1. I had you and Beau on my mind as I wrote this!


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