Lately I’ve been working a lot with Sword, a protection dog in training. Protection dogs are a big investment, usually around $20,000 to $50,000.
Today we were working on Sword’s sit command. He often understands this command to mean sitting at someone’s side, but right now I want to train him to sit in front of me. Right now he gets confused and tries to sit at my side, so I’m teaching him to sit where I ask him to sit.
Now, I’m teaching Sword this particular command because his owner will probably want to use it in the future. But the sit command is probably the least valuable dog training command out there, yet it’s the one that almost everyone gives to their dog. Think of what you do when you meet a dog—you ask it to sit. But what’s the value of having your dog do that?
There are a few uses, of course. I have a dog sit when I’m about to give them a meal or whenever I’m about to walk into the street. It’s not like I never use this command. However, I see so many owners spend most of their time training their dogs to sit, when in reality it’s not a very valuable asset. If I want my dog to stay in one spot, he’ll be much more comfortable holding a down or a place command than he ever would be sitting. The sit command works well for a few seconds, but it’s rare for me to need a dog to stay for such a short period of time.
Over my career, we’ve placed plenty of very expensive protection dogs. They typically know between twenty and thirty commands, but end up using only three for most of the time: they come, they follow you, they lay down. That’s what every dog needs to be able to do, and that’s all.
This is not to say that you should never teach your dog a bunch of cool commands, but to urge you to focus on what will give you the most bang for your buck—whether that’s actual money that you’re spending to hire a trainer or just time that you spend training your dog. Focus on the commands that will give you the most value before moving on to do the “cool” stuff.
I’ve seen a lot of dogs who can roll over and shake and wave goodbye, but still attack other dogs. All that fancy stuff doesn’t make your life any better, but a dog that can hold a down-stay or come when called or walk next to you calmly? That will definitely improve your life. Even Sword will spend most of his time following people around, coming when he’s called, and lying down. So get that stuff mastered before you move on to the tougher things, and get