Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sit on the Dog, aka: The long down

Because I am constantly getting requests to explain my 'sit on the dog' exercise I have finally decided to put a copy here. Before you go on to read the instructions you need to know these FACTS:

  1. Students who actually come to me for training seem to find this a very difficult exercise.
  2. People who hear about it, almost NEVER get it right.
  3. People who read about it, seldom get it right.
  4. Everyone wants to either add or take away some part of it.
  5. More than 50% of those who hear about it or read about it don't believe it will work simply because it is TOO EASY.
  6. When it is done EXACTLY as explained, it is 100% successful.

THE LONG DOWN (Margot’s sitting on the dog exercise)

There is a major difference in the down/stay and the long down. The down/stay can only be taught after the dog has learned to down on command. Teaching a dog to down on a voice command can take up to three weeks of working three sessions per day, every day. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.

The long down can be taught in a couple of sessions. It has a totally different focus. It cannot be called a long down unless it is at least 30 minutes in duration. The dog has on a collar that it can’t back out of and a 6’ leather leash is then attached to that collar. The leash is then run, from left to right over the seat of a solid chair that does not have wheels. The owner then sits on the chair and the leash. The leash is adjusted so that when the dog decides to lie down there will be gentle upward pressure on the collar. At no time does the owner touch, look at or talk to the dog. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.

The owner must have something else to do during the long down period. Read a book. Play a computer game. Write out all your complaints about having to do this stupid exercise. Talk to a friend. Eat a meal. Pay some bills. Do some homework. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are doing something. The only time you would acknowledge the dog is to push it away if it tries to climb into your lap or tries to eat the leg off the chair you are sitting in or some other behavior that is equally unacceptable. When this happens, you must take whatever physical means necessary to cause the dog to stop the behavior at once and not resume it at a latter date.

This is an exercise in leadership and dominance. You are supposed to be the dominant one and the leader. As such, you are the one who decides where the two of you will be and for how long and it is not a voting matter. This is an exercise in patience. Something every dog must learn if it is to survive to live a comfortable life. There are no maximum time lengths for this exercise. However, the minimum time is 30 minutes. The exercise should be practiced twice per day, every day. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.

After the first couple of days, this is a very calming and soothing exercise for both parties. During the first couple of days a really determine dog will go through the most amazing series of behaviors. Not only that, they will repeat the series in the same sequence over and over. When none of the behaviors win them the leadership post they will literally throw themselves down, give a very loud humph and refuse to look at you. After this period has past it is all smooth sailing and happy tail wags.

Again, the long down has nothing in common with a down/stay other than the physical position of the dog. You can NOT leave a dog that is doing a long down because you are a major part of the picture. You do leave a dog that is doing a down/stay. You can NOT tell the dog or show the dog how to do the long down. You must give the dog the chance to figure out what the most comfortable position is going to be. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.

There you have it. Nothing difficult about it. Very straight forward. And simply because it is so very easy just about everyone wants to twist it, change it, turn it into something it well and truly isn't and never was.

The back history one this exercise goes back more than 40 years now. I wanted to teach group classes that were really meaningful. Group classes that actually felt like a class room where learning was valued. To me that meant students sitting in chairs, able to take notes if they wished. It meant quiet, attentive students. But what to do with the dogs? The wild, untrained, heathen sorts. The dogs that had been labeled fighters. The dogs that had been labeled biters? The shy dog? The overly bold dog? How could I have 15 to 20 misfit dogs, dogs who had been kicked out of every club and training school for 50 miles in the same room with owners sitting quietly in chairs and taking notes on what was being taught?

Enter the sit on your dog exercise. Some first week classes were so bad each owner had to be escorted into the classroom and settled in place before the next team dared enter. By the second week of class the owner's had no need of an escort and by the third week I could walk into the classroom at the start of the class and find the quite, attentive students I so craved. And so was born the "sit on your dog" exercise. Over the years it has had much refinement and most was due in a vain attempt to get people to just do the exercise as it was taught. Neither add nor take away from the instructions, that it would seem is the true key to success.

No matter how hard an owner works, no matter how clever a trainer happens to be, the dog will learn nothing of value unless it is paying full attention to the lesson. That means the full focus of the dog's mind must be on the lesson and this is a thing that will never happen until the dog is given a chance to find that calm center point. The same, by the way, is true for the human. There really isn't much of anything useful to be gained by trying to teach or learn when the mind is in a scattered and unfocused condition.


  1. Margot, this is THE most valuable exercise I have ever learned how to teach, hands down. I used to "water it down," as you would say, but after your Bedrock class I stopped doing that. Now I teach it exactly as it is written (except I don't encourage my students to do it while they eat until about the 3rd lesson; it just saves them some headache).

    I present it with the following caveat: "You will very likely wonder why, as you sit there, that you need to do this exercise. You may find it silly, or stupid. Fine with me. But if you don't do it, none of your other training will have a field in which to take root. Your dog will be lesser for your skipping of it. A martial arts instructor I had once said, 'You must build the floor before you can build the walls.' SOTD is building the floor. It connects together everything you will teach your dog, and makes your dog whole. Do not skip it."

    I know every student doesn't do it--I can tell. Some skimp on the time; some probably fondle during it; some give too much slack. But the ones who do it and do it right are easy to spot: their dogs automatically flop at their side ANY TIME they have a short amount of leash.

    And the students who do it RAVE about it, and how great an exercise it is, and what a difference it makes. I tell them I wish I'd invented it, but I didn't. A much wiser trainer than I named Margot Woods did, and I'm really glad I got the chance to learn how to do it correctly.

    Thank you for all you have given those of us who are listening. Believe it or not, some of us are...


  2. Mailey - You have no way of knowing just how much I am appreciating what you wrote. For some reason my S.A.D. started much earlier this year and is much worse than ever before. Maybe it was the early blizzard. Whatever.

    The end result has been one of "why bother?" and "no one cares" and the real biggie, "no one ever listens". Pretty much all the pity party crap.

    I decided that what I needed to do was to print out your comments and post them on the wall in front of me and then once every two hours I read those comments out loud and by golly, I do feel better.

    Thanks, Doc.

  3. I'm glad I could help, though let it be known that not only am I NOT a doctor, I have never played one on TV or even been asked to audition for the part.

    But I wasn't just blowing smoke, either. This exercise has saved many, let me tell you--dogs AND owners. I am grateful for it. It makes owners' lives easier, and that is one of the biggest considerations they have as to whether training is "worth it" or not.

    Thank you. And take care of yourself.

    P.S. Thanks also for the newest post re: small dogs/thin-coated dogs and whether or not a bed is good. Very helpful.

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  5. Jacey Shropshire8:22 PM

    Thank you very much for your explaination and the pictorial - unfortunately, I'm still in the "People who read about it seldom get it right" category. You stated that the only time you are to acknowledge the dog is if he climbs on your lap or something equally unacceptable. When the Dobe was pulling, was that behavior corrected, or was it simply ignored and the dog learned on his own that pulling wouldn't work?

    My issue is whining. High -pitched, i -want-to-stab-my-own-eardrums whining. I CAN out-last Mr. Whiner if you tell me that's the way to go ... i'm just wondering becasue i really do see the benefits of this exercise and want to do it correctly.

    Jacey Shropshire
    Pittsburgh, PA

  6. I love the explanation. Thanks a lot. I am also curious about the whining. I have a persistent whiner with a heap of anxiety behind it. Is this exercise right for a dog like this? Do I wait out the whining or is it enough to just practice twice a day for 30 min.?

  7. Thanks a lot for the explanation and the pics to go with them. Very helpful. I am also curious about the whining. I know a very persistent whiner with a heap of anxiety behind it. Is this exercise right for a dog like this? Do you wait out the whining or just practice it twice a day for 30 min? I have a feeling this dog can whine for hours.

  8. Margot's 'Sit on the Dog' should be incorporated into every training program/behavior protocol.

  9. Thank you, Margot. I lost this in a harddrive crash and could not reproduce the text myself. Shared, shared, shared.

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