I recently decided to bring back an “old” exercise in my beginner’s class, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Today’s gentler way of training does not need to rule out the use of tools that have settled to the bottom of the toolbox.
During the last fifteen years or so, the “hands-off” approach to training obedience exercises has become the favored one by most instructors I know. It seems to me that most dogs learn the sit and down positions faster if they get there under their own power. However, by abandoning the “tuck” (or modeled) sit, I unintentionally allowed an important element of dog training to become de-emphasized: teaching the dog to accept handling and restraint. Even though I continued to include handling exercises in the form of ear checks, mouth exams, and “hand holding” in class, I found that most students didn’t bother (or didn’t remember) to do them during the week. As a result, there would always be a dog or two that would still be resisting handling and restraint exercises at the end of the course. I found this to be demoralizing—it seemed that in some cases, my students of today weren’t doing as well as my students of years ago.
Unwillingness to accept restraint is not only a chronic problem with many family dogs; it also seems to be the common thread among the aggression referrals I receive from veterinarians.
Using the tuck-sit more widely would accomplish two things. First, teaching the tuck-sit helps to identify touch-intolerant dogs before serious problems develop. At the same time, it teaches the dog that physical restraint is non-threatening and can, if fact, be pleasant. A few years ago, I re-introduced the “tuck” (or modeled) sit for dogs that were extremely wild and out of control. I continued to use a lured sit as my main “sit” exercise because it is so easy.
I began the session with lured sits. After a few minutes, I chose a young Lab (one of the more active dogs) to demonstrate the tuck-sit. While working with the dog, I explained that the tuck-sit is a low-to-moderate force exercise that will help the dog learn to tolerate the handling and restraint typically encountered during a veterinary visit. (Class dogs are pre-screened for aggression problems.) The Lab began to evade by trying to flip his rear end out of reach and, when that failed, by attempting to lie down, roll over, and paw at my hands. His reaction was clearly not based in fear, but in the attitude, “I’d rather you didn’t touch me there, thank you!” Explaining that “force” did not have to equal violence, I showed them how to calmly control the dog’s front and rear actions without using excessive force. In less that a minute, the energetic Lab ceased resisting and remained sitting. He showed signs of mild stress, as one might expect when the usual antics don’t work, which evaporated as he received strokes and quiet praise.
The owner of another dog, an experienced owner-trainer with a hyper GSD, initially did not want to do the exercise because his dog “already knows how to sit.” I explained that the tuck-sit was merely a convenient way to teach a restraint exercise and encouraged him to continue it at home during the week.
At the next class, Mr. GSD Owner stopped me as I walked past. He was beaming. He said that he did just what I showed him and “it made all the difference in the world.” His dog, a high drive GSD, was enrolled because of hyperactivity and he felt the restraint exercise had worked magic. She was beginning to calm down. The tuck-sit can be quite a revealing exercise. While I’m not planning to toss out the lured sit, I am certain that I will be keeping the modeled sit as a regular exercise, too—not just if it “appears” to be needed. Sometimes you don’t know you need it until you try it!