Tackling the STAY Command in the Most Positive Way to Ensure Success!
Thanks Guide Dogs for the Photo
This is probably the most difficult training command that most people tackle and most don’t tackle it well. As a dog trainer most of my clients don’t have good down stays with their dogs no matter what the age.
It seems that while teaching it people just give up somewhere along the way when it gets difficult and that is if they even try to teach it at all.
It is pretty easy to get a dog to sit and most dogs know how to do this on command.
Down is more difficult and I still see dogs that can’t lay down on command, for that click here.
But “Stay” seems to be even more difficult, although fundamentally it shouldn’t if you break it down and understand it.
People don’t seem to have it.
We live in a fast paced world where there is not enough time in the day, it seems, to get everything done.
Life is certainly more complicated than it used to be with all the technology.
Plus I think as a society, especially the younger generation (not that I am waaay old) is constantly overstimulated.
I hate to start a sentence with “When I was young…” but When I was young… we didn’t have the internet, or cell phones, or even cable TV at my house and basic cable was not very entertaining as a kid. So I would sit and read, or just listen to music or just sit and draw or think.
I don’t think that this generation and we as a society can just sit still really well anymore. Heck, I have trouble not checking my email or my Facebook or having the TV on constantly. Just sitting still in a quiet neutral environment is not as easy as it used to be; and that scares me from time to time. I think being able to settle without stimulation is really important, but that is for another discussion!
However, I think this relates to how we interact with our dogs.
We want to see results NOW, we don’t have time for advanced obedience and hooking skills together in a chain or waiting our dogs out to see what behaviors they show us; we think we are too busy and we are used to moving at a fast pace.
So I think even when we try to slow down, it leads to a little bit of stress from us which translates down the leash to our favorite furry friend.
In Order to Teach an Appropriate “Stay” Successfully, You Need Patience
In order to teach a good stay, you need to have patience so that your dog can mirror your behavior.
If you are constantly moving, or thinking of something else or pressed to do something your dog is going to have a hard time settling in for training as well.
You need to be as calm and soothing as possible and expect mistakes.
In order for a dog to learn to “Stay” he has to make a mistake. You must tell him to “Stay” and he must get up and be put back in that position (not in a forceful manner or with leash corrections) in order to learn. That fact makes the stay command not very positive and sometimes frustrating for you both.
Teaching Your Dog Patience
I try and make dog training as positive as I possibly can, and to do that I can set my dog up for success BEFORE I teach him “Stay”.
First I teach him to be patience and that he will be rewarded for just being still.
In order for him to learn he and you must understand the basic ideals of clicker training for more on getting started clicker training click here.
Once he understands the game; that showing you behaviors gets him rewarded you can begin to teach him patience. Even a tiny puppy can learn patience that will lead to “Stay”.
How to Get Started
Give your dog a command, sit if he knows it or down (click him for sitting or downing) and then wait for a second or so after the command is given to click again and reward him for just patiently staying.
You can’t expect the amount of time to be great; instead click a fraction of a second if you need to, so that your dog wonders what he just did to get clicked. He won’t understand at first, but if he understands clicker training he will begin to think about what he was doing when you clicked and will figure it out quickly.
If you have a dog that pops right back up after giving a command; you must click before he gets up in order for him to learn. If he gets up, it is no problem, just give him the original command again and wait for that fraction of a second.
Be patient and don’t reward until he shows a little patience. If he dances around and tries a behavior or multiple behaviors just wait him out without saying anything and when he calms down give the command calmly again and wait.
Once your dog begins to understand you can begin to extend the time you expect him to “stay” or be patient; please note that you are still not using a command yet.
Intermittently reinforcing the behavior is key! For more on understanding intermittent reinforcement click here. This will help you extend the time without having your dog pop up at certain time markers.
Finally, Adding the Command
I don’t add the “Stay” command until my dog or puppy can successfully be patient (or stay without the command) for at least a minute in a calm environment.
By having him learn in this way, I know that he is capable of obeying the command once he understands it; and that makes it more positive. He still has to make the mistake of getting up, but I know that he will be more successful when I add the command.
Usually just adding the command itself will be enough to get him to break the position; which is actually good because you need him to make this mistake in order to learn.
So keep that in mind, you actually want him to make the mistake in the beginning.
And, also keep in mind that with the added command you need a release word. I typically use the command “All Done” instead of “Okay” simply because we use “Okay” too much in regular life… and if you say “Okay” to someone else and your dog gets up; it is not his fault it is yours!
Now, with patience, you can both be successful in adding to the time and duration of the “Stay” command.
And, keep in mind that however long your dog can do this at home with little to no distractions he will only be able to do a fraction of that as you add distractions.
In order to be successful add distractions slowly and go back to square one to teach him that the command means the same thing no matter where he is at or what the conditions are!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.