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Should we be teaching our puppy to sit?

The concept of teaching a dog to "sit" has become deeply ingrained in everyday interactions between dogs and their owners, often as a means of managing behaviour. While training behaviours like "sit" is important, it's also crucial to consider the natural capabilities and limitations of a puppy's body. The repetitive nature of constantly asking a puppy to sit, especially through traditional training methods, may raise concerns about potential physical strain or damage.

An ongoing study, associated with Turid Rugaas, is exploring the frequency of natural sitting behaviour in dogs throughout a 24-hour period. Preliminary findings suggest that dogs may sit less frequently by choice if they are constantly prompted to do so by their owners. For instance, puppies asked to sit multiple times a day may naturally choose to sit only a few times if left to their own devices.

Interestingly, initial results hint at a possible breed or breed-type connection regarding sitting behaviour, with some breeds, like hounds, exhibiting a tendency to avoid sitting altogether. These insights underscore the importance of considering both behavioural training practices and the natural inclinations and physical needs of our canine companions.

Indeed, while dogs are anatomically designed to sit, habitual and unnatural sitting can potentially lead to cumulative strain, especially as puppies grow into adulthood. Factors such as running on slippery floors and repetitive jumping can exacerbate these issues. Compared to humans, while children may find sitting cross-legged on the floor comfortable, many adults may not. However, unlike humans who can choose not to adopt uncomfortable positions, dogs are conditioned from puppyhood to routinely sit in various situations, leading them to continue offering this behaviour even if it causes discomfort as they age.

This conditioning to sit frequently throughout the day, whether before being fed, receiving a treat, or at a kerbside, can lead to continued strain on their bodies. Galen Myotherapy specialises in managing and treating loading issues and anatomical imbalances in dogs. They have observed over nearly twenty years of practice how habitual actions like sitting can contribute to uneven stresses and wear and tear on a dog's body, particularly during development. Thus, they emphasise the importance of considering these potential sources of strain and imbalance to promote the long-term health and well-being of our canine companions.

To understand the impacts of a sit, let's look at the biomechanical action of a stand to sit, and sit to stand in an adult dog with no known underlying issues.

The biomechanics of stand to sit

The stars indicate where the main forces are being driven, static, rotational, and kinetic.

When a dog sits, they must hold their weight against gravity during the process.

The large percentage of that load and cantilever force goes through their elbow. They tend to dominate one elbow rather than equally spread the load.

There is also a load through the neck and shoulders using eccentric contraction (muscles having to hold a load and allow a controlled muscle fibre release), excessive challenge can be damaging to muscle fibres.

The elbow is really taking the load to ease the settling into a seated position, that will release the loading.

The knee or stifle is now taking up some of the stress and load, as it the carpus or wrists of both the front legs.

The neck now takes up some of the load, but the elbow continues to brace the body whilst the pelvic region meets the ground in a sit.

At this point the elbow is still bearing weight, even though the dog looks like she is sitting, she has not fully settled her bottom on the ground.

If we now look at this final stage of the sit more closely you’ll see that the dog goes almost from a hover (5), then settles onto the ‘seat bone’ of the pelvis (6). When the bottom finally settles onto the ground, there is a large forward thrust from the tibia towards and into the stifle joint that also impacts in the hip, until the weight is fully settled onto the ground.

From the images above you can see the main forces are being driven and the areas of the body which are being loaded when a dog sits, with a large percentage of the load going through the leading elbow. Now let's look at the biomechanics of sit to stand.

The biomechanics of sit to stand

The dominant elbow takes up the load. Other areas are preparing to lift the body off the ground.

The body here must support itself fully against gravity and swing itself forwards into a stand. The elbow, the wrist, the stifle, and hip all are under massive load and kinetic force.

The pelvic region and lower back is supporting the body as the fore quarters start to take more of the load and the forwards trajectory into the initial stride, which will be taken up by the dominant elbow, until the body is standing on all four legs and can balance the weight and load.

We can see that once again the dominant elbow takes a large percentage of the load during this action and as with most physical activities, it is the repetitive nature of the action that can be detrimental. With puppies in particular their skeleton is developing and their skeletal structure grows quicker than their associated musculature soft tissue attachments. Therefore, for a puppy with proportionally less developed muscles, especially over the hindquarters, will find it difficult to push themselves up from a sit; they will have to adjust their hind limb position to aid and create the required drive and force. (They do this by drawing the hind legs and feet closer together, to combine strength). However, much of the force and drive will be also driven through the forequarters or forelimbs.

As responsible dog owners, it's crucial for us to be mindful of what behaviours we're training our puppies and how their environment and activity levels may impact their physical development. Even seemingly minor injuries or strain during puppyhood can have long-lasting effects on their overall construction and function as adults. Physical overloading and stresses can contribute to joint problems, and statistics from Canine Arthritis Management suggest that 80% of dogs over 8 years old will be affected by arthritis. By being proactive in understanding and addressing potential sources of strain and imbalance, we can help mitigate the risk of future health issues and promote the lifelong well-being of our furry companions.


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