You will overuse your verbal cues

Look, here's the thing about the "sit" cue - you're going to use it A LOT and through no malicious intent of your own, you're going to overuse it.

When you're out in public and your pup starts to jump on a friendly stranger, you'll probably be embarrassed and a little flustered and after you cycle through "Hey! No! Don't do that! Sorry!" you're probably going to say something like "sit." Maybe your pup will sit, which is great, but chances are he won't every time or even most of the time in that situation until he's had more practice.

And even if you're a savvy dog parent that knows better than to repeat cues, other people are going to tell your dog to sit and they're going to repeat it if he doesn't oblige (somehow society hasn't yet made it the height of rudeness to give another person's dog behavior cues...).

Anyway, my point is your dog is going to hear "sit" all the time, as well as "down" and "come," and the more he hears those cues, the more likely he is to start to ignore them. You can tackle this highly probable problem a few ways, but our favorite way is the "default" behavior.

Default behaviors or "how to raise a dog to think for himself"

"Default" behaviors are behaviors your dog does without you having to ask. They're not only a time saver (not asking for a "sit" is one less thing you have to do in your day!), they teach your dog to make appropriate decisions for himself, even when you're not there to boss him around.

These "default" or "automatic" behaviors are also useful to your dog when he's frustrated, overexcited, or confused as they give him something to do that he can completely control. That sense of independence can have a big impact on a dog's psyche and mean the difference between a pup that barks uncontrollably at the dog across the street and one that quietly self-soothes while you get him to a place where he can find some calm.

Uses for a default behavior

So what does a default behavior look like and when might you use it? Below is a list of the most common scenarios. If you've used Harper for a while, you might recognize some of these as "Say Please" behaviors:

  • Anytime your dog greets a person, like when he's on a leash out on a walk, you wait for him to sit before he gets his pets
  • When you open the door of your house that leads outside, your pup automatically sits in front of the doorway until you give him the okay to go through
  • When you put your hand on the crate door, your dog immediately sits and then holds it until you tell him he can exit
  • When you go to serve your pup his dinner, he politely drops into a down while you put his bowl down and then waits for you to tell him he can take it

Why ask for a behavior when you can just wait for one?

In all of these scenarios, your pup uses the context of the situation as the cue, instead of waiting for your verbal cue. This means he doesn't hear "sit" or any other cues quite as often which means when he does hear it, he'll be more likely to do it (assuming you asked nicely.)

Any behavior can be made a "default" behavior and the truth is most of the critical everyday behaviors should be default behaviors. Even though a lot of training focuses on verbal cues, your ultimate goal should be to almost NEVER have to give your dog a verbal cue. The best parent and pup relationships are where you both understand each other's expectations and you seek to live up to them, not because you have to or you've been commanded to, but because you want to.