If your dog is acting fearful or stressed, ALWAYS remove them from the situation causing their anxiety before asking them to perform a specific behavior such as SIT.

Dogs do what works. They operate on everything in their environment, including you. Your dog does things that are rewarding and which make him feel good. He avoids doing things that are unpleasant. For example, one of the easiest ways to get a dog to sit is to give him a treat whenever he sits. Your dog quickly learns that placing his butt on the floor results in something he really likes and he will probably start sitting every chance he gets.

In fact, one of the greatest tools we have for training and managing our dogs is the fact that we have the potential to control every single good thing that happens to them. Unfortunately, many people do not take advantage of this opportunity.

Take a moment and think about the all the things that your dog likes that you can control. You can have direct control over his access to:

  1. Treats
  2. Food
  3. Play with you
  4. Play with toys
  5. Play with other dogs
  6. Physical affection through touch
  7. Walks
  8. Car rides
  9. Going outside
  10. Getting on furniture

Now look at that list again and think about how often your dog gets access to these things on the list for free. If you are like most people, your dog probably gets many of the items listed for doing absolutely nothing, but instead for just being there or because he has indicated it is something he wants. This is not necessarily always a bad practice, but with some dogs it can create problems.

The following anecdote illustrates the dogs thought process in certain situations.

Let’s say that Sparky has gotten in the habit of jumping up on the couch and sitting next to us whenever we are on the couch. He hops up and since we enjoy his company we say “Hi Sparky” and start petting him. We are teaching Sparky that getting up on the couch is a rewarding experience. We are giving him attention by talking to him and petting him, and the nice soft couch is much more comfortable then the cold, hard floor.

Sparky may decide that he likes the couch so much, that he starts hopping up even when we are not there, and if he is not chewing it apart, we may walk past, say “Hi Sparky” and give him a quick pat, further reinforcing that we like him on the couch even if we are not on it with him. Now a couple of months later Uncle Arthur is visiting and he tries to push Sparky off the couch as he sits down. Sparky growls because he has learned that the couch is a comfortable place and because he has been rewarded for being on the couch many times in the past. It is where he thinks he is supposed to be, and now this person is making his being there unpleasant. This is a potential problem. And if Uncle Arthur responds by sitting someplace else, Sparky has just learned that by growling he can get people to leave him alone.

The best way to prevent the type of problem described above, as well as many others, is to teach your dog that nothing in life is free. Teach them that they can earn many great rewards, but they have to do something first. By doing this you will get a dog who will be more focused on you because you are this wonderful creature who makes all good things happen. The easiest way to do this is to require Sparky to “sit” or “down” before he gets access to anything he wants. Once you have taught your dog to “sit” on a verbal or visual cue, start asking them to sit or down to earn everything they want. Ask and wait for them to sit before you put their food bowl down, open a door, pet them, and allow them on the furniture. Nothing in life is free.

Now, if you have a dog like Sparky, already at the point of growling when he’s on the furniture, you need to do a bit more. You never want to do anything that might cause someone to be bitten nor do you want to punish the dog for growling. Dogs that are punished for growling learn to bite without first growling in warning, which is exceedingly more dangerous than growling.

If your dog is growling when you try to get them off the furniture, lure them off with a treat, wait for them to sit on the floor, then give them the food and praise them. You are now rewarding the dog for getting off the furniture and sitting. Start asking the dog to “get off” the furniture every time he is on the furniture, and always reward him for doing so. In fact, you can make a game of teaching him to get on and off the furniture. Pretty soon he will be jumping off the furniture when he sees you, and you now have a means where you can reliably get him off it anytime you want. Also manage the situation so the dog cannot get on the furniture unless you are present, he sits first, and then you invite him up.

Starting your dog on a “Say Please” or “Nothing In Life Is Free” program is the best way to get them to: 1) focus on you, 2) become more responsive to you, and 3) teach them good manners. The sooner you start, the quicker your dog will learn. For optimal results, you need to make sure that everyone that interacts with your dog consistently uses the nothing in life is free approach.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (

Dog Training – Teaching the SIT Behavior


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