One of the most difficult behaviours for dogs to learn is the “Stay.” This is a command that must be well-defined for your dog. This includes teaching the stay in several stages, as well as teaching the behaviour in reverse, starting with the end and working backward for longer and more reliable stays.
Here’s how you can teach your dog to master this command:
Create a Definite Beginning and a Definite Ending
The first and important rule of the stay is to have a definite beginning and a definite ending. This means pairing your stay command with a release word that signals that the stay is finished. Common release words include “OK,” “Free,” Release,” and “All Done.” Choose one word as your release word and use only that word consistently when the “stay” is finished.
To teach the release word, command your dog to either sit, down or stand. Then give your dog a stay command, followed almost immediately by your release word and a reward. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t move following the release word. You can step back, clap your hands, or engage in other positive interactions to cue them that it is OK to move.
Watch out for these common pitfalls when teaching stay:
Three D’s: Duration, Distance, and Distractions
Once you have successfully paired a release word with your stay command, you are ready to move to the next step. Dog trainers refer to these as the Three D’s: Duration, Distance, and Distractions.
- Duration – The amount of time your dog remains in the stay is called duration. To begin, position your dog. Give your stay command, and without moving, count to three, then release your dog using your release word. Increase the time you ask your dog to stay by two to three seconds. If your dog breaks the stay, just reset and ask your dog to stay for a lesser time in which they were successful.
Distance – Moving away from your dog is referred to as distance. It is common for owners to rush through this phase of training, so try to practice patience during this step. Position your dog as you wish and give them the stay command. Step back with one foot, lean back, and step back to your dog to release them. Next, take one full step back and then return to your dog for the release. Remember to give your dog a reward for their efforts. Continue slowly, adding only one step at a time. Also, return to your dog before you release them from the stay position, and do not always call your dog out of it.
Distractions – Distractions are anything, big or small, that happen during your dog’s stay. It is important to have a strong foundation with your release word, stay duration, and distance before you try to add distractions. Once distractions are added, start with something easy, and work your way up to more distractions in various environments.
People love their dogs because they help us remain in the moment. Dogs live very much in the here and now. This means anything, everything or even nothing at all can cause a dog to break the stay. Proofing is an important part of training for reliability in a variety of situations. The key is to always start simple and gradually increase what you are asking of your dog.
- Proofing for duration - from the science of canine cognition we know that dogs understand if we are paying attention to them or not, no matter what the proximity. Practice this by asking your dog to stay while you sit, lie down, read, watch television, or cook. Be sure to reward your dog at various intervals for the stay, but don’t allow them to get up until you have given the release word.
Proofing for distance means moving away from your dog, and also includes going out of their line of sight. Practice this by moving away from your dog at various angles, either leaving to the side, diagonally and/or going behind your dog. When working out of sight, use a mirror to see your dog around corners. You could do this by either set him up angling a wall mirror or, as inconspicuously as possible, using a hand mirror.
Proofing for distractions is one of the more difficult tasks. In order to create some distraction, you could try bouncing or rolling a ball while your dog is in position, jumping up and down, or even running past your dog. Remember, you have to start slowly and build up to things that your dog will find interesting. One helpful hint is to use the “leave it” command during the stay. Often, with distractions, dogs are more likely to succeed with additional information such as reminding them to stay or to “leave” things alone.
If you think your dog is going to move, repeat your command.
Set your dog up for success. Do what you feel you need to do to help your dog be successful. The more successful they are, the more reliable their behaviour will be.
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